I have so many stories, poems, and ponderings. Despite publishing two books in the last nine months, I still have so many stories to share that the force of my soul demands release. I thought this would take the form of a rather straight-forward book on poetic living, but I just had the idea to approach the stories and poems and notions from a different angle, one that is very unique personal. My new idea is to present these things as a dialogue between me and my wife Bev. I have Parkinson’s and she has Alzheimer’s, yet we are both able to derive so much joy from the diverse tales of the wild lives we shared. What do you think of this approach? Check out an excerpt below…
I walk into my son’s house. I give a low volume yodel and from the kitchen beyond comes an expressive welcome from my wife. “I love you!” she calls, “Come and get me and we’ll go snuggle! We’ve had such a great life together, haven’t we?”
My wife has advancing Alzheimer’s but is a rarity in that she at almost all times bubbles over with enthusiasm and love and happiness. Everyone is pleased to have her with them, including the two seven-year-old twin boys, their older twelve-year-old sister, and our son John and his wife Candice, whom Bev lives with in the nearby town of Davis. Our daughter Lyndsay and her husband Jeff also live in Davis, and are especially helpful to me with my Parkinson’s. The combination of my Parkinson’s and Bev’s Alzheimer’s made it difficult for me to be Bev’s major caregiver.
Just then Bev said, “Come and snuggle and tell me a story.” I help her get into her bed and we both sit under a light sheet while she throws her best snuggle at me, her head practically in my armpit and her arms around my waist. “Are you a doctor?” she asks. “Yes,” I respond. “I’m so lucky to have a doctor to take care of me like this.” Before the stories, Bev often wants to get a little extra reassurance.
As we settle in, I read her a story from a book I am just finishing called Mink River, which has to do with a talking crow and a whole community along the remote wooded Oregon coast. Many of the population were people who left Ireland during the ‘great hunger,’ as well as the local Indigenous people. The small coastal town is bursting with Irish lore, local Indian tales, and other wild happenings. The author is Brian Doyle, an unbelievable imaginative Oregon author. The book was given to me by my editor.
Despite my Parkinson’s which has been going on for a dozen years, almost as long as my wife’s first Alzheimer’s symptoms, there is some good news. The data seems to show that Parkinson’s disease in its more benign form actually allows people to be better artists, imaginative writers, storytellers, etc. Sometimes I feel that drive. It has helped me publish two books in the last nine months. Apparently this jump is caused by the knocking around of powerful brain hormones, including dopamine and oxytocin, along with supplemental surges in neural epinephrine and who knows what else.
My first book was called Reckless but Lucky, the same title as was given my photograph which appeared in the LIFE magazine July, 1960 in an article on shark attacks. I had just undergone a brutal shark attack, probably being the only person in the world that lived through such an attack where the shark had my head and upper torso in his mouth. As a grand adventurer and under unique circumstances I had many other adventures, some nearly lethal, and these made up my first book. My second book is Follow Your Dog, again, amazing adventures with nature, with the dog as a metaphor for wild nature. My wife and I are both naturalists (she with a master’s degree in ornithology) and I am a retired hand surgeon. The two of us have been all over the world with our different adventures, with my teaching and hand surgery, and with my special hobby of teaching freedom concepts, including lectures in eastern European nations and Russia after the wall came down.
I come back and ask Bev about the life of the characters I’ve just been reading in Mink River, but she couldn’t answer most of my questions. Even in the stories from my books she’s been involved with, she can’t remember most of the details. Although she certainly hasn’t forgotten the shark attack, nor the javelina stampede in the jungles of Ecuador. My wife is so appealing and so able to remember amazing bits of her past, but often forgets the stories as I am telling them to her. However, she and I both get great pleasure out of the intimate contact of her snuggling and my reading, delighting her at every turn.
My family and I and Bev’s sister, who lives in our same town of Winters, California are always amazed at the depth of Bev’s understanding. She is always asking me, “Why do I have Alzheimer’s?” and I try to explain that there is a genetic factor, as many of her family members have also been involved. At that point, sometimes she will start to cry and I put a comforting arm around her saying, “That’s okay honey. We’re together.” She will then ask, “Did your father marry us?” And yes, sixty years ago, my father the protestant minister, did marry us. She will sometimes ask me the names of her children, but most of the time remembers them. She will sometimes ask if she has any children. When she asks about her grandchildren, I tell her about one granddaughter Dezla, and then describe the poetic story I wrote for her birth, called “Nature’s Child.”
Bev will often say that she is confused and does not do well where there is a larger group with different conversations. I feel an emptiness in my life when I am unable to be with her for a longer period.
I ask if Bev is ready for another story. She is, but her eyes are drooping, so I stop and we take a little nap, fulfilling our closeness in harmony. I carefully get up as she tumbles off to sleep. I will come back to see her again in a few days, avoiding the anxiety of her seeing me leave. I admire her courage in the face of disability and mental confusion, yet always ready to be, to do, to go. When asked which of the character traits is the most powerful, Churchill said ‘courage,’ because it guarantees all the others.