I have a confession to make; I had a great childhood. I know as an author people expect some huge trauma or some other disaster to mark a childhood capable of producing the sort of introspective tidbits which are the writer's fodder, but the truth is; there really weren't any.
I grew up in a suburb of Washington DC called Wheaton, in the state of confusion... Sorry, I mean, Maryland. We (my sister and I) had lots of friends in the neighborhood, played in the various backyards, caught fireflies in the summer and played in the snow in the winter.
Through the years my parents worked hard to provide not only the staples needed for our health and growth, but also a good number of luxuries which brought the kids to our yard to play. Among these were a huge swing set, a 4'x8' covered sandbox, and a series of above ground and then in-ground swimming pools.
The truth is, I suppose, my sister and I were spoiled. Yet, somehow not. We never thought ourselves superior, richer, or in any way better than those on the block who didn't have these things. In fact, we couldn't wait to share them with our friends. This was even true as we became teens, and our friends would come over to "hang out" in the pool, on the back porch, in the living room, or the garage.
Me and my fellow friends tended to be "car guys." It was a bit natural, I suppose, as my father was a hard working auto mechanic, first at a local Oldsmobile dealership, and then at a service station he purchased.
Over the years we built many a car in our backyard garage, beginning with my uncle's '72 Pontiac LeMans and '72 Oldsmobile Cutlass, through a series of old Chevys including a '61 Impala, '66 Chevelle convertible, '61 Corvette, and a '57 BelAir my father built my mother as a 25th anniversary gift.
Some of my fondest memories were walking through Leon's Junkyard in Leon, Virginia. The smell of cow manure features prominently in these memories as, at least for the first few years we made our several times a year pilgrimages to Leon's, there were cows grazing in the yard. Let me tell you; it's something to be working under the hood of a car and see a cow come up in your peripheral vision!
My sister didn't have (get?) to build her car, but my parents did buy her one. Still, though both of our cars were paid for by my folks, they somehow managed to instill a sense of responsibility for both the value of the car and the destructive power of 4,000 pounds of iron and steel. Neither of us wrecked our car or got a ticket during our formative driving years.
But the river of time flows rapidly, washing us downstream into the eddies and undertows which define life. My parents are now around 80.
Both my folks smoked for years, and now both have COPD. They manage, but it is disheartening to see what such a stupid little habit has done to them. Yet, they also somehow managed to impress upon both my sister and I that smoking was a stupid habit. Neither of us ever did take up the habit, though I have smoked twice in my life, with both times being the result of my having set an article of clothing on fire.
The real issue, however, is with my mom. Progressive Supranuclear Palsy, or PSP. It's a "Parkinsonsism" which, apparently, means it's not really related to Parkinson's Disease at all. It is a progressive neurological disease which, like so many such diseases, steals the sufferer away from themselves and their family.
Three years ago they moved to their final retirement home in The Villages, Florida, where they wanted to take full advantage of all the games, concerts, and other amenities that sprawling retirement community has to offer. They had a house built to their specifications, and my mom picked out the colors, cabinets, and decorations throughout. The future, their "golden years" looked assured and filled with love and fun.
We got the love part right.
By the end of their first year in Florida, my mom was showing serious signs of this new disease. Confusion, an inability to monitor her own medications, and a stiff gait were all early symptoms.
But PSP is a fast-moving disease. Today, a mere three years after they moved in, my mother is wheelchair bound, has bouts of severe agitation where she cannot sit still, calls out for long deceased relatives, and questions whether the place they are living is actually their home. On good days, these symptoms only appear late in the evening, and are explained by the term "sundowning." On bad days, the entire day will be comprised of trying to keep her calm with a steady diet of walks, sitting outside on the porch, and CBD gummies.
Sometimes it all works; sometimes it doesn't.
My sister, God bless her, lives about an hour from my parents. She and her husband have been a Godsend, taking my parents to appointments, ensuring their medicine containers are filled, and their fridge is stocked with the sort of foods an overwhelmed man and his PSP-suffering wife can easily cook and eat.
I, of course, do my part as well, making trips south whenever needed. This is easier said than done as my wife has Multiple Sclerosis and needs my assistance fairly regularly. Nothing serious, as she is quite mobile, but there are things she really needs a hand with. Thankfully we have friends and acquaintances who can help out by coming over everyday to feed the cats, keep the litter boxes clean, and do any chores Kristy cannot. In the past two months I've been down to stay with them twice already, with two more trips scheduled over the next month and a half or so.
Which brings me to faith. Don't worry, this isn't some bit of religious proselytization. But I have to tell you, I don't think I have leaned as heavily or questioned as often as I have in the last three years. I thank God for the memories both my sister and I have. They help pull us through, and I cannot help but think they are often sent to us at just the right time.
So that's my bit of rambling, today. If it helps you, great. If you have any questions, whether about PSP, dealing with aging parents, or my faith and why I have it, drop a note. I don't claim to have all the answers. Hell, I'm not sure I have any of them. But I do seem to have narrowed the questions down to a manageable few.
-William K Elliott
William K Elliott
William is a member of that ever-popular group known as “Aspiring Writers,” also known as “unemployed.” He has been dabbling in writing for some twenty or thirty years, and has finally decided to “get down to business.” With inspiration from Steven King’s “On Writing,” and a lot of support from his wife, Kristy, he has been working on his first novel.