Return to the Colonel’s Plan

March 5, 2020

Dear Daddy—

When did I last write? I don’t know. Months. Not good months. No one is to blame. Life gets too busy to handle. One person’s anxieties clash with another person’s anxieties. Changing life situations catch us by surprise and make the ground beneath our feet seem unstable. We take it out on each other.

There has been little to no progress on the house since I last wrote. I take that back. Christian has organized the tools. Ethan and Christian have cleaned up the basement, actually trying to reclaim it as usable space. Ethan unearthed two lab cabinets that you have bought decades ago. I remember carrying them into the room I think of as the “lab” room. It contains the water tank, the darkroom, the electrical panels and phone interface. It also has your workbench that you built in the 1960s with your own hands. It has the bloody (literally, as I recall) steel lab bench with the transite top that we bought from Sacred Heart Hospital. And it has lots, and lots and lots of oscilloscopes. And one last b-52 gunsite. Oh, and, yes, one more missile.

“These cabinets have nice, glass sliding doors,” I remember you saying. Or maybe they were plexiglass. But some of the tracks for the doors were missing. You bought new tracks, new glides, new pulleys… and then stacked them on top of the cabinets, shoved the doors in a corner, filled the cabinets with surplus equipment, and finally covered them to the point that we all forgot they were there. I unearthed them while trying to get the room at least passable for pedestrian traffic, and Ethan rescued two of them and set them up in the room I call the “train room,” to hold action figures and the models we finish on Wednesday nights.

We’re still trying to coordinate a couple more pickups of electronics by our friends at eCyclers. The East room of the basement is packed to capacity, and we’d really like to have it emptied. We desperately need t place to move all the furniture we’ve accumulated that isn’t being used. Some of it will go to the landfill. Some of it, I’d ultimately like to restore. But I’d like to have space for it to sit while we get to that, and have that space not be in front of cabinets we need to get to.

But that’s not a lot to get done, up against what we accomplished in 2017 and 2018. I still have finished the pink bathroom’s tile. I put up 28 tiles yesterday, opened the last box of tile, and have only about 50 tiles to go, but that’s been in progress for over a year. I don’t like that. The blue bathroom needs painting and towel racks. The green bathroom needs that, plus two doors hung.

Living in an unfinished house is not for the feint of heart. It was all I knew growing up, but the kids are reminding me that it can have an emotional effect, living in a place where there’s so much work in progress that you fear it will never be finished, that life will never be “normal.” It’s important to have periodic victories, something to show for your work. And, although the dining room looks amazing now, those victories have nevertheless been few and far between.

Last week, we sat down as a family and made a list of all the things that we think are outstanding and need to be attacked. We picked some priorities. We claimed some tasks as our own. We talked about making progress. I think we’re feeling better. I’ll be honest, I think the whole family was feeling pretty defeated.

And I know you know how that feels.

So let’s hope we’re not defeated. As of today, I am beginning these weekly letters again. And, after posting this one, I’m going to go back and share the dozen or so I wrote a while back. And, God willing and the crick don’t rise… (I hear you up there… “Crick! Did you call It a ‘crick?’ That’s a branch!”)

Mother’s memory is really failing her. It’s not Alzheimer’s, like it was with you. It’s just age. Her brain is measurably shrinking, comensurate with age, and there’s nothing really to be done. Medications can slow the loss, but her neurologist says those will only be effective for two years at most.

She can’t keep track of the bills any more. She forgets from hour to hour what she’s told people, and the answers they gave her to questions they’ve asked. She loses things. She knows she should not lose things, so she takes those things out of the place they are, and carries them around, then puts them somewhere “safe.” Trouble is, when she gets agitated, a “safe” place may be a place that neither she nor anyone else will ever know to look. She’s lost her wallet, her checkbook, her birth certificate, all in an effort to keep them “safe.” It’s very frustrating for her.

Last week, she said, “There was a letter from the MVA. I don’t know what I did with it. I guess it’s not important, because I don’t own a car.” I said, “Let me know if you find it.”

Well, she found it this week. It was a letter from four months ago, saying she needed to deliver RealID documents to the MVA by February 12th, or her license would be recalled. She doesn’t drive, but everyone needs a license or state ID. So I had to make an emergency run to the MVA with her, to get her license fully legitimate again. She has no idea where that letter was for four months, or even how it appeared again. She found it, and forgot finding it. By the time we got to the MVA this morning, she did not know why we were there. On the drive home, she said, “I couldn’t have done this alone. It would have made no sense to me. I kept forgetting what I was trying to do.”

I know this happens to a lot of people. I know it happened to you. But it’s hard to watch. And it frightens me. I truly fear my time if it comes to be the one who can’t remember. I hope someone will do right by me. I hope I’m doing right by Mother. I hope I did right by you.

At the time, you sure didn’t think so. If you’ve changed your mind, maybe someday you can let me know.

Love,

Steven

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