Growing up in the 1970s I was, in many ways, a typical male child of divorce being raised by a single working mom. Sure, having Asperger’s Syndrome, early onset manic-depression and paranoia set me apart from my peers in many ways, but the near-absence of my father probably did more to mold me into the person I am then any of my mental quirks and defects. I’ve never had anyone I truly considered a role model or a hero as I have always been too busy looking for the flaws in people hoping to avoid the attachment that my experience had shown me old led to heartbreak. But if anyone could have been a hero to me it was Pampaw – my mother’s father.
I’ve never met a better man, or a better role model and it saddens me greatly that my daughter never got the chance to know him. But it may just sadden me more that I missed the opportunity to know him better. Perhaps if I had paid more attention during my summer visits and on various holidays I would have turned out to be a better man myself. By the time I even began to consider this, however it was too late. When I was in my late teens, Pampaw came down with Alzheimers. The decline was a slow one and painful for all around him. As the family member with the least attachments I was drafted to move in with my grandparents and help Mamaw take care of her lifemate of many decades as he spiraled off into a world of his own.
By this time he was no longer permitted to drive, his well stocked tool bench went largely unused with the only exception being small hand tools for exceedingly minor home fixit projects, and the man who had once been great was on his way to being a body on a rollaway bed in the dining room of his home. For the most part I would just sit and talk with him. More than half the time he referred to me as Chuck. Chuck is my uncle and was Pampaw’s only son. I would nod, smile, and laugh along with the stories Pampaw would tell, sharing in memories of events that took place years before I was born between a father and son despite my not being either. I do not know how many, if any, of those tales were true and which were complete figments of Pampaw’s imagination as I’ve never shared them with anyone. I’m afraid to find out they aren’t true, because they’re all I really have to remember the man who seemed to want nothing more than a family that loved each other and their lives.
Pampaw wasn’t a young man when he died, but he wasn’t particularly old either. A man of his generation he’d worked and played hard for many years, eating the traditional American meat and potatoes diet and drinking his fair share as well. So it’s unlikely he’d have been around much longer regardless, but the mind-stealing living death that is Alzheimers was no way for a strong man to go into the darkness.
This fall the Alzheimer’s Association will be holding Memory Walk events in more than 600 communities across the country. The Alzheimer’s Association is dedicated to finding prevention methods, treatments and an eventual cure for Alzheimer’s and providing support for all those affected by the disease. Please visit their site and join the walk in your area. If you can’t walk yourself (walks are typically 1-4 miles) you can still volunteer (these events always need more volunteers) and you can still be a Team Captain, helping organize other walkers and assisting them in their fundraising efforts. My daughter Z and I will be participating in the Monterey Bay Memory Walk in Aptos, CA on September 29th (stay tuned for my donation pitch – the $30 I’ll receive for this sponsored post is just the start of my fundraising efforts). I hope we’ll see you there or you’ll share the walk with us in spirit while participating in your own local event.