Dad Is 100

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Dad, around 1940
Dad, around 1940

Today would have been my dad’s 100th birthday. He passed away in 2010, at the age of 88. At the end of his life, I think I loved him just as much as he loved me at the beginning of my life.

I am his firstborn. There are five of us, the four girls and then, finally, our brother. The happiest I ever saw my father was the night John was born, when Dad arrived back home from the hospital that steamy August night in the old black Rambler and started handing out blue-wrapped cigars to the men of the neighborhood who had gathered to celebrate my baby brother’s birth. Dad was aglow with joy and pride.

My dad worked hard all his life, worked with his hands, tough, heavy, dirty jobs. He could fix anything and he taught me to fix things too. With 5 kids in 9 years, someone had to be his assistant in maintaining the 6-family apartment house he owned. I was the assistant. I learned to fix a running tank toilet when I was 8. I helped him hang window screens every summer and take them down every fall. I loved helping him. It was our special time together.

My dad came to this country from the new nation of Yugoslavia when he was 14 years old. His father was already here, living in what is now Chelsea, working as a longshoreman, a proud union man. Dad sailed here with his godmother, leaving his mother and sister in Punat on the island of Krk. He would never see either of them again. He went to high school in Harlem, walked up from Chelsea every morning and  back down to Chelsea every afternoon. He learned English in school and from reading the New York Daily News. He joined the longshoreman’s union after graduation, worked with his dad, and later became a machinist in the Brooklyn Navy Yard. He was working on the USS Constellation when it burned, leaving 50 coworkers dead.

When the Navy Yard was closed by Robert McNamara (his name was anathema in our home), he went to work at the Army Pictorial Center. When that closed, he worked in the Queens Midtown Tunnel for the TBTA. He was a union man through and through. His hard work earned him a good retirement, brought on early when he was hit by a car and broke his leg in 3 places. He was in traction for 12 weeks. I don’t know how he stood it, but he hardly complained at all.

When our mother died after an awful, wrenching, excruciating month in the hospital (of sepsis after a badly botched transfer to a rehab center), he was bereft. But he had his job, driving our youngest sister’s daughter to school each morning and picking her up every afternoon. I credit that with keeping him going for 5 years after Mom passed. He adored Alyssa and her friends, and his love was reciprocated. When he died, he was wearing a brand-new jacket given him by the mother of one of Alyssa’s friends as a thank-you present.

His death was harder on us than it probably was for him. He disappeared one beautiful June morning, and after 4 days of endless searching, was found by the Essex County Canine unit, deep in the woods, by a fallen tree, about 50 yards from Union’s Galloping Hill Road, just a 5 minute walk from his home. The coroner said he probably died the first day, which was a comfort to know after the fact.

My father was a hard worker, a devoted family man, a good friend and neighbor, a believer in God and an afterlife. I loved him with all my heart by the end of his life, and I miss him and love him still. A lot of the things about me that drive the people who love me crazy are things I got from him: stubbornness, nearly-psychotic self-reliance, a passion for argument, and a foul mouth. A lot of the things about me that the people who love me value most about me also come from him: my steadfastness, my empathy, my sense of fairness.

Dad, I thank you for all your gifts to me, and especially the gift of life. Happy birthday where you are, and if you can, try to look in on us and give us a smile. Love you always and forever.

I’m a Met fan, and I have something to say about what Javy said.

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Javy Baez, I have something to say about what YOU said.
Your idea of “struggle” is NOT your fans’ REALITY of struggle. You want to see struggle? Visit Our Lady of Sorrows Catholic Church Corona NY, just a long walk or a 2 minute ride from Citifield. Last year, 100 people who go to that church died of COVID. Our Lady of Sorrows was the center of the epicenter of COVID in the WORLD at that point in time– only a year ago. Lots of children–your children’s age– lost parents and grandparents.
When you speak of struggle, please understand that you are speaking from a position of enormous privilege. You earned it with natural talent and hard work– but it is ultimately the fans who are responsible for you having the job you have. Where was baseball last year without its fans? This year, when you were once again allowed to play before a limited audience, and then a full stadium, all the players said how much it meant to have the fans back.
You are all essentially entertainers. You do not have paying work in your chosen field without fans who buy tickets, television packages, baseball merchandise. Don’t forget that while baseball is your job, for a lot of us, it’s an expensive luxury and an indulgence. If we REALLY withdrew our support, what do you think would happen to baseball?
I grew up in Corona. I watched Shea Stadium being built from my 4th grade classroom in Our Lady of Sorrows. My mother took the 5 of us to day games in the summers of 1966 and onward (once I was old enough to help guide us on our walks under the el, from 103rd Street to Shea). In those days, general admission seats were $1.85– the same as the minimum hourly wage for my first job (in Corona, at the 5&10). We brought our own snacks to the stadium. In those days you could take a family of one adult and 5 kids to a professional ballgame for less than $20 and watch Tom Seaver, Jerry Koosman, and John Matlack pitch. These days, you can’t even park at Citifield for $20.
Understand that your career is a gift from the fans. We have the right to boo if you are swinging at the first pitch and popping up without ever having seen that pitcher in a game. We have the right to boo if you aren’t running out every single ball you hit. We have the right to boo if you are looking lazy and distracted in the field and that missed chance loses a game. WE have the right, and you have the responsibility to take it, as long as it isn’t abusive or dangerous to you.
I’ve been a Mets fan since 1964. I was at Game 7 in 1986 (Section 47, Row U–my ticket cost $50). I suffered through the Bamberger years to get to the Davey Johnson years. I am not the only one.Respect your fans (including your owner, Steve Cohen, who is probably not too happy with you right now). You owe us all an apology. You already have what we owe you– our attention, and our fandom. But it’s an easy thing to lose.

Eight Years, Today

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Today is eight years since my father took his last walk.
This is my imagining of his last day.

The brightening sky is clear; the birds sing. It’s too early. He doesn’t sleep the way he used to. Slowly, carefully, in the dark, he feels his way down the stairs. He shuffles through the living room, the dining room, into the kitchen; he turns on the light, the radio. He gets his plastic glass, his cereal bowl, a spoon, his box of Cheerios. He looks at the empty fruit bowl. Bananas. He ate the last mushy brown one yesterday. That’s the problem with bananas; you buy a bunch and they’re green, and you have to wait a few days until you can eat them. Then, they all turn ripe at once. At least one will be almost black by the time you eat it.

Bananas. It’s not too early for the 7-11 at Salem and Chestnut. They’re always open.

He turns off the radio and goes into the dining room. He takes off his pajamas and drapes them over a chair. His clothes from yesterday, and from the day before, are on the other chairs. He picks up the clothes he wore the day before yesterday. He already has on a short-sleeve undershirt, boxers, socks. He puts on a long-sleeve thermal undershirt that is yellow with age. On top of that, his lined flannel shirt. He puts on his pants­­ and his belt (to which he’s added a few holes), and buckles it in the last hole. He puts on his new windbreaker, a gift from one of his granddaughter’s friends. He puts on his shoes, his watch, takes his wallet and a handkerchief. He puts on his old tan hat. He takes his keys, locks both doors, walks down the steps and down the driveway, past his car. It hasn’t worked for months. The battery is dead. His kids won’t let him replace it. His kids won’t let him drive any more.

Yesterday had been so strange—people in and out of his house all day. His youngest daughter had come in the morning and brought her friend, that nice lady, the nurse—what was her name? The nurse helped him with his physical therapy exercises, made sure he took his pills. She said she was coming again today.
As the girls were going, his son-in-law’s best friend stopped by. They talked for hours about things he forgot he remembered, about the old country, about his job in the shipyard during the war.
Later, the doorbell rang—it was the Meals-on-Wheels girl. His visitor tried to get him to eat the food she had brought while it was hot, but the food from the day before was still in the refrigerator. He ate that instead. It’s a sin to waste food.

Then, his visitor left. Alone in his home for the first time all day, he stretched out in his recliner and fell asleep. When he woke up, it was time for bed. He undressed, put on his pajamas, went upstairs.
Strange day.

Oh.
Bananas.

He walks down his street to the corner, turns left, and goes down to the shortcut path through the woods to Salem Road, where the 7-11 is. He will get the bananas, go back home, eat his breakfast.

He hears something: a woman? Is she calling him? He follows her voice, veers off the path into the woods. He used to walk here with his granddaughter, when she was little. Now, there are brambles, branches, tangles of vines and weeds. The more he walks, the more mixed up he gets.

He hears her again: “Tony…Tony?”

He looks up, down, all around; no one is there. He walks some more. He’s deep in the woods now. He knows these woods end in a grassy half-circle on Galloping Hill Road, across from the hospital, a block away from the 7-11. There’s a playground, a small basketball court, a bench facing the brightly colored slide. He could sit there for a bit, then walk down to the 7-11. If he keeps going, he should come out on the other side.
Ahead, in the middle of a thicket of vines and brush, he sees a log, a fallen tree, lying on the ground. Hasn’t he seen that tree before? It’s all beginning to look the same. Maybe he should take a little rest.
He makes his way to it, sits, and thinks: Why is it so hard to get out of here? It’s not a big forest. There are streets and houses on all four sides, the playground at the end, the hospital across the street. He used to walk here all the time.
His head is swimming. His feet really hurt. He unties his shoes, takes them off, places them next to the log, in arm’s reach. He is breathing hard; he tries to catch his breath. God, his head hurts. His chest hurts. Everything hurts. He is so thirsty that if there was a puddle, he would drink from it. A little dirty water wouldn’t hurt him. You should have seen the stuff they had to eat back in Europe, back when times were bad.
He’s going to take a little rest now, then put his shoes back on, and he’ll find his way out. He shakes his head, tries to focus on the dial of his watch. It says 12:15 and 25 seconds, but the second hand isn’t moving any more.
It was so bright when he left the house, but it…it looks so dark now. How long has he been walking? He can’t tell if it’s still daylight. He is so tired. He takes off his hat and lies down.

Four days later, the bloodhound from the Essex County Police Department will find him by the fallen tree, fifty yards from the grassy half-circle edging the suburban forest, his untied shoes still in arm’s reach.

Missing Dad Flyer
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Fighting Back

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It’s not any easier the second morning. Seeing the cover picture of the NYT today…reading words I never thought I’d see ~ “President-elect Trump”… reading that it was WHITE WOMEN that turned this election over to Trump, not the forgotten, angry, unemployed, under-educated, over-medicated, working class, suicidal white men….

I am bereft, unmoored.

This feels to me like the days right after 9/11. When I walked down Northern Blvd. to the Y yesterday for my swim, it was ghostly quiet. The corners where the day laborers hang out were empty. A few years ago, when trying to find a safe corner to traverse after an ice storm, it was two Latino day laborers who picked me up and set me right when I nearly fell into traffic. The women wearing hijabs, with their children in tow, looked at me and looked away when I smiled at them.
I want to tell every one of them that I AM NOT ONE OF THE WHITE WOMEN WHO CAUSED THIS.
I am in grief.

But I want to fight back. Here’s a tool:
Since our nation’s new ethos is pure materialism, the best way to fight back the forces of evil is financial. The new lingua franca of America is pure greed.
If we hit back the forces of evil in their greedy pockets, perhaps our voices will be heard.

Join the Injustice Boycott.
PLEASE sign up, and please share this information.  Help this boycott go coast to coast.

And if you think what happened on Tuesday was good, or right, or a proper result for this country, I cordially invite you to drop your subscription to this blog. If we were friends, we aren’t any more.

Nothing less than the future of the world is at stake.


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Six Years Ago Today…

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Six years ago today, my 88 year-old father went for a walk in the early morning and did not return. This is my imagining of what happened that day, June 11, 2010.


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From Missing Dad: John Is Born

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Today is the anniversary of my brother John’s birth. This is a story I tell him about that day every year… and it’s also the story I told about my father at his post-funeral repast.


After four girls, we were all sure that John would be a girl, too. We decided that our new baby would be named Christine Marie. I drew a picture of my baby sister-to-be on the last day of third grade in Mrs. Gumpers’ class at Our Lady of Sorrows.
Every summer, we went to Playschool – the free vacation day camps that the New York City public school system ran in the neighborhood school buildings from early July through the end of August. At the end of the season, there would be a huge gathering of all the schools in the district at Newtown High School’s athletic field, and each school would put on a little musical show. We’d make costumes out of crepe paper, do the Charleston, sing Oklahoma!, things like that. It was great fun, and parents were encouraged to attend and cheer for their offspring.

It was in the high 90s and humid the day of our pageant. My parents attended anyway — my father brought folding beach chairs, and he and my enormously pregnant mother watched and cheered and sweated in the boiling sun as class after class did their song and dance routine. It was over by about half past four. We piled into the car, went home, had dinner.

Mom’s labor pains began, and Dad took her to the hospital at around half past six. Our Yaya (Mom’s mother) was already at our house (probably watching Barbara, who would have been too small to sit still and watch the pageant at Newtown Field).

We waited and waited and waited for the call that our new sister, Christine Marie, had arrived.

The phone rang, and Yaya picked up, listened for a minute, and made some uncharacteristically loud sounds. Somehow, Janet and I gathered that we had a brother. We jumped up and down, and ran down the three flights of stairs, yelling. “IT’S A BOY! IT’S A BOY!!”

We took it to the street, running up and down 42nd Avenue, from 99th Street to National Street, the full length of our block, yelling yelling YELLING “IT’S A BOY! IT’S A BOY!!”

The neighbors came out, everybody was out. If it hadn’t been August, it’d have been a Christmas miracle.

Everyone was so happy, so excited that we finally had a brother. When my dad came home, and handed out the first-ever blue cellophane wrapped cigars, the look on his face said everything. I had never before, and never since, seen such a look of pure and absolute joy on his face.

And that was how Christine Marie, now named John Steven, was welcomed to the world.

John1963


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Five Years On ~ Missing Dad: Day 5 ~ FOUND

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Tuesday,  June 15th, 2010

That day is a blur; it was supposed to be my day of rest, after going out to Union to search for Dad on Saturday, Sunday, Monday. I had set Wednesday as my return to work, if we didn’t find him. I had very mixed feelings about going back to work. I couldn’t stay out indefinitely; what if we never find him? Sometimes, people who go missing are never, ever found. They just disappear without a trace. How does a person just disappear? The laws of physics tell us that matter cannot be created or destroyed in a closed system; therefore, he can’t just be gone. He is somewhere in the Escheresque universe in which I’ve been living since 8:40 Friday morning; I just can’t find my way to him. The angles are all wrong, they are impossible, incomprehensible.

I’ve been saying: “My dad is missing”. I could just as easily say: “I’m missing my Dad” and mean it in all its double-entendred glory; he’s missing; I miss him; oops, have I missed him? What am I missing?

When someone goes missing, what happens to the people who are missing them? What do they do? Do they return to their jobs? Do they shop for groceries on the way home from work? Do they still buy Metrocards, and make sure that there’s milk in the refrigerator for breakfast the next morning? Do they plan their meals for the coming week? What about the laundry? Do they carry on, do they do all of these things, all the while waiting for a call from the police or the FBI or a hospital or a morgue that their loved one or their loved one’s body has been found?
Or do they simply sit still? Do they wait by the telephone, or stake out a spot in front of the computer, searching, researching, unable to move? Do they take their cellphones into the shower? Do they take showers? Whatever I am doing, I feel like I should be doing something else instead. What if I’m doing the wrong things, and that’s why I can’t find the right angle? Is my approach all wrong?
I don’t know how to do this. If we don’t find him, I don’t know what we will do.
I’ve never known anyone else who had this happen. I have no experts to consult. I need a roadmap for this terra incognita where we are marooned.

My plan for Tuesday was to talk to the detectives in the morning and get them to set the bloodhounds looking for my father. We were in Day 5; Dad had been missing for ninety-six hours (I had decided that, when we got to one hundred hours, I would switch to counting days). Frank and I awoke to the alarm, took our showers, ate our breakfast, drank our coffee, shared the New York Times, watched Weather Channel, just like we do every day. It was all so nice and normal.
I turned on my computer to check email. I had messages from my friend Janice asking if there’d been any word (no); from my friend Peg, who pointed out how easily the elderly become invisible to the rest of us, allowing as how if Dad had gone out in his pajamas, someone might remember having seen him (he had done that already, the week before); from Nancy, letting us know that she, Chris and Grant would be in New Jersey by around 2 that afternoon. She added that Chris suggested that one way to get Dad back would be to buy and install an air conditioner in his dining room (Dad was legendarily spartan about heating and cooling).
The detectives called me while I was still at my computer, sometime after 9AM.
Det. Moutis confirmed to me that today was the day that the bloodhounds would search the woods while the helicopters flew over.

Today was the day that Dad would be found, but I didn’t know that yet.

The search had become its own creature, apart from Dad; Dad and the search for Dad were two separate beings. There had been moments when I felt we were searching just for the sake of doing something. It wasn’t that I thought our efforts were useless or hopeless; there was a small (and shrinking) part of me that thought we might yet find him, and find him alive. Surely there was a reasonable explanation for him being missing; the Laws of the Conservation of Matter decreed that he was still somewhere in the known universe.

What I would say, or do, if I saw my father sitting on a park bench, or walking down a side street?
Would I run up to him, hug him and kiss him and ask him if he was hungry, thirsty, tired?
Come to Me, all who are weary and heavy-laden, and I will give you rest.
Would I just stand there, mouth agape, unable to speak?
Would I even believe my own eyes?
Would I yell at him for putting us through this living hell for almost five days?
Or would the stress of all of it, combined with the shock of seeing him again, cause my body to crumble into a pile of dust and blow away on the wind?

I do not know how to do this.

Since Friday, I had been dealing with the unknowingness of my situation by trying to control those things I could. To be effective, to move forward, I had to be dispassionate about the alternatives that lay before us. I had to be on task, I had to manage time well, I had to ruthlessly prioritize. It was like managing the store (people/product/operations), except this really was life and death. I wasn’t alone; I had lots of help, all the help I could ask for; my husband, my siblings and sibs-in-law, their children, our friends were living through this with me; but I felt so terribly alone.

These were the things I could control at this moment: I could check email and respond; I could talk to people on the phone; I was home this day, so I could do research online to find something, anything; there had to be something, and I was just missing it.
I had promised Frank I would try to rest, just this one day; I planned to take a nap at some point, lie on the couch with the windows open (the weather had been so gorgeous since Friday) and let myself drift…
But first… I had to…
Okay, so the detectives would have dogs and helicopters … Det. Moutis said that we should register for a Silver Alert. I said I’d set it up if he sent me a link.
As soon as we got off the phone, I followed up with him by email, confirming the details of their plan for the day, and copying my sibs; I asked if the police had issued a general press release yet, because some news outlets would do nothing without something from the police.

Monday night, when I got home from New Jersey, before we had dinner, Frank and I were talking about places that George and Barbara and Alyssa and Kevin and Glenn and the neighbors and I couldn’t get into to search on our own. Frank had made a list of the kinds of places that should be searched; abandoned buildings within a reasonable radius; houses that had been foreclosed upon, and were vacant; garages, sheds, outbuildings, even on occupied properties—we’d had a cat years ago who had gotten locked in a neighbor’s garage by accident, and he’d been missing for three days before the neighbor returned, opened the garage, and out came our Patch. Maybe Dad crawled into or under an abandoned car in a foreclosed garage and has been unable to get out and come home. Maybe he fell through a rotted floor in a vacant, derelict house. Maybe he got lost again, and went into a house that he thought was his, except it was empty, and now he thought we had sold all of his things or that he had lost the house to taxes. When we had his income taxes done earlier that spring, he got confused, and thought the new accountant was there to take his house away. Maybe he was looking for Mom.

I asked Det. Moutis if anyone had searched abandoned buildings in the area, homes that were vacant due to foreclosures, sheds, outbuildings, anywhere where someone who was tired, lost, and scared might crawl in to get some rest.

Come to Me, all who are weary and heavy-laden, and I will give you rest.

I asked Det. Moutis if we should hire a private detective. Would that help or hinder the police effort?
I told Det. Moutis that Nancy and her family were coming in that afternoon, that John would be arriving Thursday, and that my siblings and I had decided that I would be the point of contact in order to streamline our communications.
My email to Det. Moutis crossed with his email to me giving me the web address for setting up a Silver Alert. I should have guessed it—www.silveralert.org – and I can’t remember now why I couldn’t. I registered my dad for the Silver Alert and uploaded the picture that we’d used on his flyers. I emailed the link to Det. Moutis and all my sibs with the login and password. For some reason—and I don’t know if it still works this way—the login and password were only good for an hour, and I had to re-log-in and re-upload his picture once the hour was up.

How do people who really are alone in their search for their missing loved one manage the logistics? You have to be at least three people at the same time to do everything that needs to be done; one to be out in the world, searching, one to be researching new places to search, and one to be the operations point person coordinating the searches and eliminating time-wasting redundancies and duplications of effort.

It helped me to try to think of all of this as a management problem, which could be broken down into small, discrete components, and thus be solved.

I called my contact at Union’s Channel 12 to give her Dad’s information and the Facebook page URLs so she could do a screengrab of the flyer. I promised to follow up with a flyer by email, in case the screengrab wasn’t sufficiently clear. Lexi promised to get the information on the air that day.

Janet and Wally were at Dad’s, getting ready to leave for Maryland, since Nancy was coming up. Someone had to be in Maryland to take care of the total of five cats and one dog between the two households, so Janet and Nancy tag-teamed. I think that George and Barbara were both back at work—it’s so hard to remember now, and my cell phone and text records aren’t clear. Alyssa had finals coming up, so she was back in school. John was planning to arrive on Thursday. Maybe we’d find Dad by then.

At the same time we were searching for Dad, we each had to consider the possibility of needing to take time off from our jobs to plan and hold a funeral.

We had arranged for Glenn to be at the house to meet the detectives and the canine unit, so that the dogs could start the search and (we hoped) find Dad. I texted Glenn to let me know when the police arrived.

Done with email, done with the phone, I turned up the ringer on the answering machine in the studio, left my computer, turned on the television to a channel that only played New Age relaxation music, and I lay down on the couch.

Come to Me, all who are weary and heavy-laden, and I will give you rest.

I drifted in and out, aware of the music and the traffic noise from Northern Boulevard, coming and going.

The phone rang: it was Glenn.
The detectives had arrived, with the bloodhound and his handler from the Essex County Canine Unit. It was mid-day. They’d had to wait for the bloodhound to come from the next county, because Union County didn’t have one of their own.

This is what Glenn told me:
The handler needed a scent article for the dog. They used the pajamas that Dad had left on the dining room chairs.
The handler, wearing latex gloves, took my father’s old worn pajamas outside, and spread the top and bottom out on the lawn in front of Dad’s house. (The image I conjured for myself of my father’s nightclothes spread out on the lush grass is indelibly imprinted on my mind’s eye.) The handler wears gloves so that he doesn’t transfer his own scent particles to the scent article.
The dog sniffs and paws at my father’s garments on the grass not too far from the huge oak tree; the dog gets Dad’s scent.
After a minute or two, the leashed bloodhound pulls back from the pajamas, excited, hyper, panting, wanting to go. His handler settles him, looks the dog square in the eyes.
“Do you wanna go find him, do you wanna go find him?”
The bloodhound—his nose to the ground—and his handler quickly turn and head down Huntington to the corner of Livingston; they turn left, and go down the incline (it is not quite a hill).

(Glenn didn’t see this next part. He will recount this to me in our next conversation, after he speaks with the detective by the park:
The dog and handler crossed Forest Drive, and approached the shortcut path that cuts through the woods to Salem Road.
The dog veered left at the head of the path, into the woods, without hesitation.)

Glenn stays at my father’s house. He is waiting.
I am in my living room. I am waiting, too. I text Glenn (not wanting to tie up the phone); he has heard nothing, and is getting anxious. They have not been gone long.

Sometime, not too much later, one of my father’s neighbors, a woman, tells Glenn that there is a police car and an ambulance at the little park across the street from Union Hospital.
Glenn thinks he knows what that is about, and he drives down to see. He meets the detective where the park’s grassy half-circle meets the woods.
They have found a body deep in the woods. Glenn wants to go, but the detective shakes his head, tells him he won’t be able to identify him.

The bloodhound veered left at the head of the path, into the woods, without hesitation. They went deep, deeper, following my father’s scent, over brambles, and weeds, and thickets of vines, into the heavy brush. They found him lying on the ground.

Glenn comes back to Dad’s and calls me and tells me what he saw and heard.
I thank him.

Come to Me, all who are weary and heavy-laden, and I will give you rest.

I don’t remember the details exactly. I think at some point, not too long after, Det. Moutis called me.
They found the body of an elderly man, a man they believed was my father, in the woods, about fifty yards from where the grassy half-circle of park begins.
He said it would have been impossible to find him without the bloodhound. The brush and tangles of vines and weeds were more than two feet high; Dad had sat down on a log, taken off his shoes, and either lay down or fell back. He was on the ground, his glasses and tan hat were off to the side, his watch still on his wrist. He was clothed except for his shoes, which were on the ground next to the log.
They would have to confirm his identity with dental records. He had been out in the elements for more than one hundred hours. The coroner would later say that he had almost certainly died the first day. That would account for the lack of sightings, I thought to myself.

Nancy, Chris, and Grant arrived at Dad’s house at about the time that the detectives were calling me. I must have called Janet and Walter, John and Cheryl, Barbara and George, but I don’t remember doing so. Frank came home sometime in the late afternoon and I told him. I am sure I was crying, but I don’t remember. I texted my friends. I called the store and told Emery that they had probably found my father, and I wouldn’t be coming in on Wednesday after all.

Come to Me, all who are weary and heavy-laden, and I will give you rest.

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Five Years On ~ Missing Dad: Day 4

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Monday, June 14th, 2010

Dad has been missing for over seventy-two hours; sometime soon, I will switch from counting hours to counting days, but not yet.
Janet and Wally are due in from Maryland at about noon. I have to make some calls before I leave. I’ll be on the 9:47AM LIRR to Penn, and pick up the 10:37 NJT train to Roselle Park. That will get me to Jersey at about twenty past eleven. I’ll have the chance to get a couple of things done here before I leave, and to get a couple of things done at Dad’s before Janet and Wally arrive.
Every single second is precious and must be used to a purpose.

I call the UCPD. The dispatcher recognizes my voice. I ask to speak to the desk sergeant. I verify that the new platoon has my dad’s photo. I tell them we are continuing our search today, and that I need to speak to the detectives when they come in.
I want to know when they are going to start using search dogs. I still don’t know that search dogs are used when they are pretty sure that they are looking for a body.
I realize that I have not yet called my mother-in-law to tell her about my missing father. I have to do this before I leave, or it will prey on me all day.
“Hi Mom, it’s Claud.”
“Oh, Claud–how are you, dear?”
And I tell her that Dad went for a walk on Friday morning and no one has seen him since.
She wails, “Oh that poor man! All alone out there…”
I can’t listen. I love her, and would have spared her this news if I didn’t feel I had to prepare her for a bad outcome. But, I have my own burden of fear to carry, and it is heavy enough. I detach myself carefully, tell her I have to leave for New Jersey to continue the search, and promise to keep her informed.

Next, I call Meals-on-Wheels and suspend Dad’s deliveries, pending…whatever happens. When I tell them he went missing on Friday, they tell me he was there at the house when they delivered his meal on Friday at about half past one.
I already know it wasn’t my father who received the meal; it was Glenn who accepted it from the delivery lady. He was talking to the detectives in Dad’s dining room when she rang the doorbell.

George and Glenn are waiting for me at Roselle Park. As we edge out of the parking lot, I look at each of them and ask if they mind if I speak very freely. They both nod for me to go ahead.
“I think that if we find Dad, we won’t find him alive. We may not ever find him at all. He’s been gone too long.”
Glenn says that he didn’t want to be the first one to say that, but he agrees. So does George. They are both relieved that I have said this out loud. I ask George if he thinks Barbara and Alyssa are preparing themselves. He isn’t sure. I tell him about my conversation with Barb in the A&P parking lot on Sunday, when I asked about Alyssa.

I really want the UCPD to search the woods with dogs at this point. We have covered all the obvious places, and the less obvious places, many times over; we need help to get to the places we can’t reach.

We get to Dad’s and open up the windows to air it out. The weather’s been beautiful since Dad disappeared; there was only a brief shower on Saturday, late afternoon; otherwise, it’s been sunny and not too hot. Glenn’s been taking care of the mail over the weekend, not letting it pile up on the porch. The neighbors all know about Dad, and have walked the woods and the neighborhood themselves. Ron, the neighbor across the street, tells us about a shelter in Elizabeth; maybe Dad is there. George’s neighbor Joanne had mentioned one too. Both places were on the list that Nancy and Janet have been calling all weekend. None of the neighbors, or the shopkeepers, or the cemetery workers saw him Friday morning. It’s like Dad walked out of his door and into thin air.

I have been playing phone tag with the detectives through the day. Finally, I get to speak to them briefly. They give me their direct dial numbers and email addresses. I talk to them about where we looked for Dad over the weekend. Detective George Moutis told me that everywhere he and his partner, Detective Ken Elliot, canvassed, we had already covered. He and his crew had seen scores of our flyers all over Union. And they had fewer leads than we did—they had no sightings at all. They hadn’t come across even one person who had seen Dad on Friday, or since.

They will keep up the investigation, and the platoons of patrolmen will keep looking for Dad; by tomorrow, if there’s no progress, they will call in the search dogs.

Janet and Walter are going back to Maryland in the morning; Nancy, Chris and Grant will be up in the early afternoon. Barbara is at work, and Alyssa is at school. John is flying in on Thursday. I am going home to rest for a day, and go back to work on Wednesday, unless of course Dad is found.

Wally drives me to the station, and I make my way home, Roselle to Newark to Penn to Murray Hill. I am exhausted, disappointed, frightened, resigned; I am struggling to keep a glimmer of hope alive in me but it is nearly impossible for me to do so.

When I get home, I tell Frank about what the day has held. We eat our dinner, watch a movie or some South Park episodes (I don’t remember, and I think I fell asleep). Before bed, I email the detectives’ contact information to all the sibs and spouses.

I fall into dreamless sleep, exhausted.
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Five Years On ~ Missing Dad: Day 3

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In the Catholic Church, June 13th is the feast day
of Saint Anthony of Padua.
He is the patron saint of lost things; my father was named for him.

I had hoped that Saint Anthony would bring us back our missing dad
on his feast day, Sunday, June 13th, 2010.

I am up by 6AM. Dad has been missing for forty-six hours. I take my shower, check my email and begin with my plan for the day. I spend the early morning tracking down local media outlets—broadcast and cable television, radio, newspapers–and emailing them flyers. By 9AM I have contacted local channels 2, 4, 5, 7, 9, 11 and NJ 12 (who said they needed a press release from the police—that will be my first thing Monday morning, if we haven’t found him by then). I contact the NY Post and the NY Daily News. I don’t bother with the Times because this is happening in Jersey and they won’t care. If he is still missing tomorrow, I will also hit the local New Jersey newspapers—I can look them up and get their contact information when I get back tonight.

A bit past 9AM, I talk to the dispatch officer at the police station at the beginning of the day shift. The new platoon is out with pictures of Dad in their cars. My mom’s best friend Thea has made the same arrangements at the 110th Precinct in Corona, just in case Dad (somehow) did make there. It is looking less and less like a realistic scenario, but we all feel the need to cover all the bases. If I thought he could come up with the idea of flying somewhere, I’d have posted at the airports too. I just want to find him.
The dispatch officer assures me that they will notify us right away if they hear anything. In the meantime, he says, keep posting flyers, keep looking.

All the sibs have the flyer in their email inboxes, and all the sibs are forwarding it to their address books with instructions to pass it on. All of us on Facebook have forwarded the page I created last night. Alyssa made up her own page, using the same layout, and called it Help Me Find My Grandfather. She forwarded the link to all of her Facebook friends and they are in turn forwarding it to theirs. The page has over a hundred “likes” already, most of them Alyssa’s friends in Union. John and Cheryl are tweeting it on Twitter, Barbara is posting it on her fitness boards. Barb emailed me first thing this morning that she’d had a dream that their cat Dallas was missing. She said she found her on the side of Dad’s house, alive, buried in some snow.  Barbara says she is going to look by the side of Dad’s house this morning, again, just in case.

I head back to New Jersey to look for Dad again. We will post more flyers, check hospitals and shelters again, talk to more people.
At this point, we know that if Dad hasn’t been taken into an ER or shelter by someone, his mobility will be limited, he will be exhausted, hungry, dehydrated, off his meds for more than forty-eight hours. Our best hope for finding him is that he is resting somewhere—a park bench, bleachers, a shady spot under a tree. We covered that ground yesterday and will do it again today. We’re going to visit some of the same places, in case there are new people there who don’t know about Dad.

Before I leave, I email Nancy and ask her to find email addresses for Our Lady of Sorrows and P.S. 19 in Corona, and send them the flyer with a note. I ask her to get email addresses for the hospitals and shelters on her call list, and send them the flyer. Everyone at these places is aware that we are looking for Dad; it will help keep him in the front of their mind if they have a picture to refer to, and the knowledge that there is a family who desperately wants to find him. Barbara offers to fax the flyers from work to any place that doesn’t have an email address.

I make my usual trip to New Jersey: the LIRR/Murray Hill to Penn, NJT from Penn to Newark, Raritan Valley line to Roselle Park. George and Glenn pick me up at the station at ten before noon, and we stop at Overlook Hospital (formerly Union Hospital) on the Chestnut Street side, and I run into the ER to see if anyone has seen Dad today.
The guy at reception today is the same guy who was there yesterday, and he still hasn’t seen Dad and there have been no John Does admitted. Our flyer is posted on the wall behind the desk, behind the thick Plexiglas window that separates him from me. I use the hospital rest room and go back out to the car. George takes me back to his house, where he and Glenn are working replacing a faucet, and Barb, Alyssa and I leave in Barb’s car.
We cover a lot of the same ground, the cemetery again, the parks, the hospitals, the shops. We put up more flyers.

At 2:02 PM, my cell rings. It’s George. Patty from Café Z thinks she saw Dad near the Lowe’s on Morris Avenue in Union. It’s two miles from his house, but Dad has walked that far in good weather many times. George and Glenn each get into their cars and separately approach the location Patty described from opposite sides of Morris Avenue. They don’t want to miss him.

Walter calls me at 2:08 and I tell him about the sighting. I am talking with both him and Janet when Glenn calls me. I switch to Glenn’s call.
“I see him!”
Glenn slows the car down and comes around next to where the elderly man is standing by the side of the road.

It’s not Dad.

George is coming up in the other direction, sees Glenn’s car, sees the old man, sees it’s not Dad. They go to Café Z to tell Patty, and to thank her. It’s the only real glimmer of hope we’ve had in fifty-four hours. They go back to the house, deflated.

At 2:24, Patty calls my cell.
“Claudia, I’m so sorry…”
“Patty, I am so grateful. Thank you from the bottom of my heart, from all of us.”
“I’ll keep an eye out. Again, I am so sorry.”
I appreciate that she cares enough about my family and what is happening to us to give us what would have been a lifeline that we might have missed, if it had been Dad, and if she hadn’t called.

(The elderly man that Barbara saw yesterday at 7AM by Union Station was the same elderly man that Patty, and then Glenn and George, saw today at 2PM. These were the only sightings throughout our entire search.)

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Five Years On ~ Missing Dad: Day 2

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Saturday, June 12, 2010

I take the 10:03AM from Murray Hill to Penn. I bring an extra $50 and the Capital One credit card statement so I can stop at the bank at the corner of 7th Avenue and 33rd Street in between trains. The NJT train won’t leave until 11:07AM anyway. That’ll give me almost half an hour to cross the street and pay the bill on its due date. It’ll also add the slightest semblance of normalcy to my increasingly surreal situation.
How can I think about paying bills, and the schedule at work, and when to do the laundry, and is there milk in the fridge, and what will we have for dinner tonight, when I have no idea if my father is alive or dead? I am used to multitasking, but a part of me is standing here, looking at my self, arms crossed across its chest, and shaking its head at me.
“You cannot control this situation. You should try to control what you can, though.”

When I get to Penn, I go to the NJT ticket machines and get two off-peak round trips (I can always use them, is my very practical thought). I go up the escalator, turn left and walk to the Capital One on the next corner. It is empty at 10:35AM. There is one teller on, and no line. I pass the statement and my fifty-dollar bill under the bulletproof glass. She takes the statement and the money, inputs the account information, completes my transaction, and slides me my receipt.
“Thank you”, she says.
I want to say, Please pray for my missing father, I am so scared right now. But I don’t.
I walk through the door, and as I cross the street back to Penn Station, my tears blind me. I stop for a moment and just stand there, crying, while people in the middle of their Saturday mornings pass me quickly on both sides.
I collect myself, pull out a tissue and wipe away my tears, and walk back to Penn.

I arrive at Roselle Park at ten to twelve. George is there to pick me up.
We go back to Dad’s, so I can walk around the house myself. I just want to see for myself how he left things. I know this is not logical, because since Dad left, Vee has been here, Glenn has been here, the policemen have been here, detectives have been here, George and Barbara and Alyssa have been here, and maybe some other people, too.

I just want to start at the beginning of Dad’s day yesterday.

The self that was standing next to me earlier, looking at me and shaking her head—that self is looking at me again.
“Do you think you can change what happened if you look around this house, these rooms, look at his clothes, his bed, his kitchen table? Do you think that if you retrace his steps, you can unwind them, and rewind them so that the result is different?
“You can’t. Go find him”,
this other self says to me.
We leave Dad’s, grab a quick bite at Galloping Hill, go back to George and Barbara’s house, and go over what’s been done so far. They walked the woods by the house yesterday, and again today. They walked the woods by Washington School again this morning. They’ve been driving around the neighborhood.

Barb thought she saw Dad when she was out driving and looking. It was about 7AM. She was driving up by Union Station, on Morris Avenue, when she saw an elderly man walking. She slowed down, and took a good look. She couldn’t really tell; he had his hat pulled down, and he wasn’t facing her. The man’s clothing was similar…. could it be Dad? She got out of the car, and went up to him, looked at his face, closely.
“Dad?”
Not Dad.
Back in the car, and back to searching.

I’d brought my staple gun and packaging tape with me from home. We have to make a flyer for posting. I ask Barb if I can use her computer. I go downstairs to work. I remember that Alyssa has recent pictures of Dad on her Facebook page—she and Dad visited the cemetery right after one of the huge snowstorms this past winter, and I know that there are a couple of full-face ones. I right-click copy the one where he and Alyssa are looking right at the camera, paste it into an image editor, and crop Alyssa out. I close in on his face and center it. I type my text, fine-tune the spacing and size of the text so it can be easily read from a passing car, and print out about a hundred of them.
Then Barb, George, Alyssa and I get into the car and go to look for Dad.

The first place we visit is the cemetery. We post a flyer on the tree by Mom’s grave and ask her to watch over Dad, and to please help us. We know that if he can be helped, she will see to it.
We go to the office and speak to the manager; he knows my dad. He has seen Dad visit Mom’s grave every day in every kind of weather. He says all the groundskeepers know who Dad is, too. He asks the ones on duty if they saw him. No one can remember if he was there yesterday or not.
He promises to keep an eye out. I give him some flyers, and ask his permission to post some more around the cemetery. He agrees. I look back at him over my shoulder on my way out, and I catch the unguarded sadness on his face.
We drive the cemetery road carefully, the four of us looking out the windows in four different directions, seeing nothing. We take the turn out of the gate on to Galloping Hill Road.
We drive around Union and the surrounding communities.
We visit every park, every local body of water (dementia patients are attracted to bodies of water, I had read somewhere, sometime) every doctor’s office, school and playground that Alyssa ever went to with Mom and Dad, posting flyers. We go to Town Hall (post, outside and in), to the library (post on the bulletin board and on trees in the parking lot), up to Café Z to tell Patty, the owner, and leave her some flyers and our cell phone numbers. She knows Dad well—we’ve had our family Thanksgiving dinners there since the year Mom died. We drive up and down endless streets, posting. We leave flyers with whomever we speak with in Union. We post more. In Westfield. In Kenilworth. In Cranford. In Garwood.

We go to Dad’s church, Holy Spirit, and to Mom’s church, Saint Demetrios. We speak to a handyman at Saint Demetrios and give him some flyers, and get out of the car to post some more on the church grounds and on the nearby telephone poles.

The first time Dad went for a walk where the cops brought him home, they found him up by Saint Demetrios, almost three miles from his house, a few blocks away from the precinct house. That was almost three months ago, in late March. Two patrolmen just starting their midday shift saw an elderly man who seemed confused and went up to him and asked him if he was okay. He couldn’t figure out where he was, but he knew who he was and where he lived, so they took him home and called Barb at work. At about 2PM, George left a voice mail on my cell to let me know what had happened, and that he had sent Glenn over to Dad’s to look in on him and make sure he was all right. I called Dad as soon as I picked up the voice mail, but only got the answering machine (with my mother’s voice on the outgoing message; we’d never changed it). I called Barb, and we tried to figure it out; we thought that Dad must have been on his way to the cemetery, which meant he was walking for about four hours, if he followed his habit of leaving the house at around 8AM. He had probably just continued on Chestnut Street instead of taking the left fork on to Galloping Hill, at the Five Points intersection where Galloping Hill Road and Chestnut cross the end of Salem Road. He was found all the way up on Rahway Avenue, past the entrance to the Garden State, past the turnoff on to Stuyvesant and Cioffi’s, almost as far from the house as Alyssa’s high school and Café Z.
When I talked to Dad about it later that afternoon, he said he didn’t know what happened, that he was “in a dream”. He said he’d gotten turned around and “a little bit lost” before, a block or two off course, but he’d always been able to right himself.
As I saw it, the good news was that his physical therapy was working; he could walk all that way, and all that time, without falling. The bad news was that he hadn’t known where he was when he stopped.
This happened at the end of March, on the first real spring day of 2010. It was the first time he couldn’t find his own way home.

We drive and walk and post flyers for a few more hours, all over Union. By Dad’s house. Around the corners, both ways. On Salem Road. On Chestnut Street, by his bank and the vegetable store where he buys his bananas and the Dunkin Donuts. By Eisenstat’s office on Galloping Hill Road.
I am finally exhausted, and George drives me to the station so I can go home. We post flyers all along Chestnut Street as we go. Tomorrow, we will do this again.

Dad has been missing for almost thirty-six hours now. It will be a while before I stop counting hours and start counting days.

Missing Dad Flyer

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