Sunday, January 30, 2022



                            Chapter 6

“You must understand, Mr. Peck, this is nothing at all like diagnosing a heart condition or a broken bone. There are few organic signals to tell us what we’re dealing with. For the most part we must rely on behavioral clues.” 

Dr. Bruce Flescher had sent Leona Peck down the hall with a nurse on the pretense of yet another phase of his examination. Meanwhile in his private office, with Aaron Peck seated across the desk, the doctor was ready to render his verdict.

“As you suspected,” the specialist continued. “I believe we are dealing with Alzheimer’s Disease, or some other closely related form of dementia.” Aaron’s expression remained stoic and unchanged.

“We may never know the exact diagnosis, which in one sense doesn’t matter, because there is so little we can do to limit or alter the process.”

"There's nothing at all?” Aaron asked. “No way to help her?”

“There are things we can do that may minimize some of the symptoms....especially the anxiety and agitation episodes. Perhaps we can help her deal with the withdrawal tendencies. 

"As for her memory loss and disorientation, there are new medications being tested. But so far their impact is rather limited and not at all uniform. We’ll be looking into those possibilities, but there’s no need for me to get your hopes up too high. In most of these cases there’s not much we can do.”

“And you know for sure that’s what it is?”

“We’ve conducted tests to rule out other, more treatable causes. We’ve found nothing else that would account for her condition.”

Aaron stared blankly into his folded hands. “She’s gone downhill so fast this last year. Will it be that way from now on?”

“That’s impossible to say,” the doctor answered. “These are incredibly variable diseases. The fact that it came on so rapidly may mean it will continue at an accelerated rate. Sometimes, however, a patient will stabilize at a particular level for months at a time. There’s just no way of knowing.”

No way of knowing.” Why did that seem to be the standard medical disclaimer for Leona Peck’s decline? Beyond that, Aaron remembered again how deflating the words “We don’t know” could be when spoken by a physician.

“So what do we do now?," he asked. "How can we deal with this?” 

Those had become Aaron’s operative questions. He had relied on the steady wisdom of that spirited woman for more than half a century. In the face of this new trial, he must find the proper way to repay her trust. “How can I help her get through this?”

Dr. Flescher looked over the top of his glasses into Aaron's worn and aging face. It had happened so often he reminded himself....a dejected husband or wife asking for more than he or any physician could offer. By then he was wondering if Mr. Peck was up to dealing with what lay ahead. 

Finally the doctor cleared his throat to explain, “This will be a test for both of you. The two of you, Mrs. Peck and you, will have to ‘get through this’ together. There’s no denying, however, that most of what has to be done will fall on your shoulders. You’ll be carrying more of the load, along with whatever help you receive from family, friends, and other care givers.”

“How will I know if I can do that? What will it take?” 

Rubbing his chin Dr. Flescher returned to the words he had recited so often before to anxious spouses and children. Never once, in the course of dozens of such explanations, had he been satisfied with how he had made his point. 

“Mr. Peck, the only way I can be fair to you is to be completely honest.” Aaron nodded his silent assent. 

“There is only so much you can do. There may come a time when you won’t be able to provide the care she needs, the kind that is best offered by professionals. At some point in the future I will probably have to recommend that your wife be placed in a care facility. Do you understand?”

“I guess so.”

“I’ve known people, men and women, husbands and wives....who could not accept that fact. Instead they chose to keep their loved one at home, right to the end. When it was over....and it only ends one way....every one of them understood that what they had done was for their own benefit, not the patient’s.” 

“What does that mean?”

“It means that their wife or husband, their father or mother, was never aware of their sacrifice or their extraordinary love. The care-giver took on that burden for themselves, for their own reasons. I’m not saying that’s wrong. But you ought to understand the difference, so you won’t be fooling yourself.”

“How will I know that it’s time?”

“We’ll be here to help you know that. But the final decision will be yours.”

“And what about the time between now until then?”

In the minutes that followed Aaron received, in a condensed form, his first lessons in CAP....the Care of Alzheimer’s Patients. He listened to the doctor’s advice and accepted a small stack of pamphlets that described in detail the future he could expect to face. 

The basic instructions were remarkably simple. Within the walls of their own home Leona Peck should be encouraged to remain as self sufficient as possible. But she must never again be out of the house alone. And all the while Aaron must be vigilant, confirming that she was making good choices. If she was not, he must be prepared to help. 

It remained to be seen how long Leona would be able to take care of herself. The doctor had stressed that the more stable and predictable her surroundings the better. Stress, aggravation, and upsetting surprises were to be avoided. But in even the best of circumstances her feeding, hygiene, and health concerns would more and more become Aaron’s responsibilities.

Finally the doctor ended his overview of Leona’s situation by addressing a final set of issues that Aaron had never stopped to consider....his own mental and physical health. 

The doctor's advice was clear. It was important that Aaron have occasional breaks from his role as Leona’s primary companion. A weary and reluctant care giver, who could not take an occasional break from those consuming duties, would surely come to resent his role, putting the patient at even greater risk. 

Dr. Flescher had made his point. His description of Leona’s probable future, and its impact on the lives of those who cared for her, was intended to get Aaron’s attention. It had certainly accomplished that. 

Though it was nothing at all like the future he would have chosen, it was where his long-standing promise to Leona was taking him. That unhappy realization led naturally to a new concern. How would he introduce the girls to their mother’s new reality?


The next Saturday, after a light lunch, while Leona retired to the back bedroom for her nap, Aaron gathered their guests....daughters Mindy and Carol, their husbands Don and the living room of the Peck home for a family council. 

“We have to talk,” he began reluctantly. “About Mom and what’s happening to her.” 

Again he wondered if he could find the words to explain their dilemma. Across the room the four of them exchanged anxious glances, seeming to ask what they should expect to hear.

After a few quiet seconds it was Mindy who spoke up. “What is happening to her, Dad? Is she sick or what?” She glanced over at her sister. “What is it?”

“Your mother is sick,” Aaron nodded. “The last few weeks we’ve visited with a couple doctors. She’s had quite a few tests and exams, trying to find out what's wrong. As you’ve probably guessed by now the problem is apparently Alzheimer’s or something like that.” 

He was having trouble looking them in the eye. In fact his disclosure seemed easier with his eyes closed. “Whatever it is, it’s still in a fairly early stage. But she won’t be getting better. They can’t tell us how fast it will happen, but they’re sure she’ll only be getting worse.” 

'Only be getting worse.' His frightening proclamation was enough to create a momentary pause in their dialogue. Down the hall the girls’ mother lay sleeping peacefully, while they were gathered to discuss the painful truth of her future.

“There’s nothing they can do?” Carol finally asked, already on the verge of tears she could not hold back.

“Probably not. It’s mainly a matter of seeing that she’s comfortable. That she doesn’t get stressed or upset, or hurt herself.”

“She’ll be able to stay here at home. Won’t she?”

“She will for now. For how long depends on how fast her condition changes.”

“So what are you going to do?” Mindy was reading the undisguised concern in her father’s eyes. “How can we help?”

For the first time the hint of a smile crossed Aaron's lips and the hard lines around his eyes relaxed a bit. 

“Thank you for asking, Sweetheart. The thing is, the doctor told me that I can’t do this alone. He made a big deal of that. I didn’t want to believe him, but I’m sure he’s right.”

“So, how can we help?” Mindy repeated.

“There are two main things. The first one sounds selfish. I know that. But Dr. Flescher says I need to have a break once in a while. To relax and unwind a bit. I’m sure some of the ladies at the church will be willing to stay with Mom. But I’m hoping one of you can do that sometimes. I know she would like that better.”

“Dad, you know we can,” Carol offered. “We can both do that. You just need to let us know when.”

“It’s not that easy, honey. You two have lots of things going on in your own lives.” 

Aaron nodded toward Don and Hal. “Your families need you to be there for them. I just wanted you to know what the doctor said.” He shifted in his chair and for a moment looked like he might be done.

“What about the second thing?” Hal asked. “You said there were two.”

Aaron got to his feet....crossing the room to the front window, staring out into the street. In all his years he had never faced such a moment. On his own he would have left the subject for later, for another day. But this was not about him. It was Leona who needed, and deserved, the best he could do. He had promised her that much on their wedding day.

Finally he turned back to face the wondering couples. “It’s about money. About the cost of the care your mother may need. If it gets to that point that will probably mean something for you two.”

“You know we’ll do what we can,” Carol said. “We don’t want you worrying about money. We can afford to help out.”

Aaron was grinning at that. “Before you get the wrong idea, let me explain. I don’t need your money. I can manage just fine as long as Mom is here at home. And I hope that’s for a long time. But if there comes a time when she has to go to a care facility that will get pretty spendy.” 

“How spendy?”

“Thousands a month.” He watched Mindy’s mouth drop. “Our health insurance doesn’t cover that. Social Security doesn’t either. Medicaid can help, but only after we’ve used up most of our retirement account. 

"So if that time comes what will probably happen is this....I’ll sell the house and use the money to pay for Mom’s care. If she’s not here with me I won’t need more than a small apartment. I’ll have enough for that, and selling the house will cover her care.”

“Are you sure?,” Mindy asked timidly. The girls had never been in that uncomfortable space before, discussing their parents’ finances. Was their father willing to be completely honest with them? “We could help out, you know.”

“In a way you would be. That’s the downside of having to do that. You see, your mother and I have always planned on leaving the house to you two. It’s the one thing we have to pass on. It was supposed to be your inheritance.” 

His voice had turned to a shaky whisper as he looked from one daughter to the other. “I’m not sure we’ll be able to do that now.”

“Dad, you mustn’t worry about that. If it ever comes to that, the money has to be for Mom," Carol insisted. Standing, she walked across the room to wrap an arm around her father’s shoulder. “You wouldn’t be taking anything from us. It’s yours. And it should be for Mom.”

“Let’s hope we don’t have to worry about that for a long while.”

A moment later Mindy joined them at the window with a suggestion of her own. “The doctor says you need a break. Why not do that this afternoon, while we’re here? You could get away for a while. Go to a movie or something. We can watch Mom.”

“That would be nice,” Aaron nodded. “I’m sure I could find something to do for a couple hours.” 

In fact a possibility was taking shape as he spoke. “I just might give Johnny a call.” 

Minutes later he walked through the dining room to the quiet of the kitchen. There he took out his cell phone and punched in Johnny Blanton’s number.


Surprisingly, Johnny answered after a single ring. “What the hell are you doing home on such a nice day?,” Aaron asked with the grumpy gruffness he reserved for his best friend.

“Just watching an old Bogart movie,” Johnny replied. “Though it’s more static and snow than picture. I’m too damn broke to go anywhere. The Social Security check won’t be in the bank until the middle of the week.”

“Mind if I come by? I’ve got some time on my hands. Thought I’d catch up on your latest lies.”

“I’ll be right here. You know the price of admission.”

Half an hour later Aaron climbed the stairs to the second-floor landing of the Senior Housing apartments. Halfway down the dimly lit hallway he stopped to knock on the door. When it opened he thrust a six pack of Coors into Johnny Blanton’s hands.

“Hello there. Here’s my ticket.”

“Always good to see you. Even better to see your ticket. Come on in.” 

Johnny paused to push the unruly pile of newspapers off the sofa. “I probably told you before, Mrs. Perkins gives me her day-old papers. They keep me up to date on the news. At least I’ll know if we go to war....a day after the fact. Besides, it keeps me current on the funny papers.” 

Twisting the cap off a beer he handed it to Aaron. “So what brings you around today.”

“Just needed to get out of the house for a while. The girls are with Leona, so I thought I’d stop by.”

Aaron had come knowing that he would be sharing his news of Leona’s situation with Johnny. Other than the girls, who else could he talk to about things like that? But how to introduce such a depressing dilemma?

“I’ve been kind of cooped up lately. That’s why you haven’t seen much of me. Haven’t had a chance to get away. Been busy looking after Leona.”

It took a moment for Johnny to pick up on his friend’s not-so-subtle hint. “What do you mean, ‘looking after her.’ Hell, for as long as I can remember she’s been ‘looking after’ you.”

“You’re right about that,” Aaron nodded. There was no humor in his reply. “But things have changed.”

By then Johnny was leaning forward in his wooden rocker. “Okay, Peck. Let’s have it. What the hell is this about? I can tell it's more than a sociable beer call.”

“It’s about Leona....and her memory. The doctors say it’s probably Alzheimer’s. Anyway, someone has to be with her all the time. ”

For the next fifteen minutes, and another round of beers, Aaron did his best to explain away the anxiety that had grown unabated for weeks. As they visited Johnny probed for more details, determined to understand his friend’s plight. As always his questions were blunt and often socially incorrect, but filled with caring.

Finally Johnny looked over to his friend. “Damn, this is altogether terrible.”

Then came the silence, as each of them sipped his beer and drifted off into his own mind world. It had been that way for nearly sixty years. Even in the most sociable of times, when there was nothing more to say they said nothing. 

“Tell you what,” Johnny finally offered. “I need to get over and see her. Do you suppose she’ll remember me?”

“I think she probably will. She still knows the girls. She’s known you for fifty-some years. I suppose she’s got ‘Johnny Blanton’ imprinted somewhere in her brain.”

“I want to see her while she’s still at home,” Johnny explained. “I hope you won’t take it personally if I don’t come visiting at a nursing home, if it comes to that. Those places are against my religion.”

Friday, January 28, 2022



    Chapter 5

Aaron had been busy in the garage, having vowed to bring order to his cluttered work bench, when Leona looked in to say she was off to pick up a few things at the store, a short two-block walk from home. 

By the time he came back inside she had been gone nearly an hour. That was enough to trigger his concern. Something was not right. Stepping out on the front porch he scanned the sidewalk in both directions, looking for her approach. 

Back at the kitchen table Aaron drained his coffee and told himself again there was no reason to worry. Yet try as he might he could not relax. After ten anxious minutes he stopped pretending.

Slipping on his jacket he started off on the short walk to the shopping mall that fronted Center Street. For the first block he proceeded at a moderate pace. By the time he reached the mall’s parking lot he was moving faster, striding in time with his growing sense of urgency.

Once inside the sprawling supermarket he paused to lean against a row of nested shopping carts to get his bearings. It was not the short walk that had his heart racing, but a fearful anxiety he could not will away. With a deep breath, he closed his eyes and waited for the queasy lightheadedness to pass. Then he started toward the daunting maze of aisles that crisscrossed the store.

For fifteen minutes Aaron hurried from aisle to aisle, looking desperately for the slightly-stooped, gray-haired woman who could be his Leona. Pacing the width and length of the mega-store his stride quicken and his panicked thoughts grew more demanding  Finally he realized there was no reason to continue. She was not there.

Returning to the back of the store he approached the glass-enclosed Manager’s cubicle, set on a raised platform above the main floor. There he tapped on the glass door.

The chunky gray-haired man at the cluttered desk looked up, then rolled his chair to the door. “Can I help you?”

“My wife. She’s lost. I can’t find her anywhere. She’s just gone.” Aaron's words came in a rush, matched by his anxious frown. “Can you help me?”

“Please, sir. Calm down.” The Manager stepped down from his cubicle to stand beside the obviously distraught old man. “Your wife is lost? Here in the store?”

“I don’t think so. I’ve looked everywhere, but I can’t find her. She must be somewhere else.”

“Let me explain, sir.” The man’s hand was on Aaron’s shoulder. “The store’s security people can only help if she’s here in the store. And the shopping mall company has their own people. But they spend their time securing the parking areas and warehouses. They probably wouldn’t be much help in locating a missing person.”

“What can I do? I have to find her.”

“If you’re sure she’s not here in the building, I suggest you call 911. Perhaps they could help.”

Minutes later, on the sidewalk in front of the store, Aaron sat down on a display of sacked lawn fertilizer and took the cell phone from his belt to dial 911. 

“I want to report a missing person,” he explained when the operator answered. “It’s my wife. She’s gone. I don’t know what to do.”

In a matter of minutes the pleasantly-efficient Emergency Operator had managed to calm her frantic caller, assemble the information and description he provided, and assure him that city police patrols would be alerted at once.

“I suppose that’s all you can do,” Aaron said, taking some comfort in knowing that others would be looking too. “Anyway, I’ll be walking through the rest of the stores in the mall. Maybe she went window shopping.”

“Please keep your phone turned on, so we can reach you.” He appreciated the hint of concern in the operator’s voice. She was probably trained to sound that way. Still, it helped at a time like that.

“Please find her. That’s all. Just find her.” 

Wiping at tears with his sleeve, Aaron closed the phone and started toward the pharmacy next door. For the next half hour he moved mechanically from one store to the next, while his panicked distress mounted, filling his thoughts with mind-numbing questions. 

Where she was? Why couldn’t he find her? What could have happened? His hands were shaking and it was becoming harder to concentrate. Then suddenly he was startled back to the present by the sound of his cell phone ringing.

“Mr. Peck?” he heard when at last his fumbling fingers opened the phone and pushed the Talk key. “Mr. Peck, is that you?”

“Yes, Ma’am. This is Aaron Peck. Have you found her? Have you found Leona?”

“Calm down, Sir,” the operator pleaded. “I have Officer Petrillo on the other line. He has a woman with him who fits the description you gave us. The officer would like to talk to you. To confirm that it’s your wife.” 

“I’m sure it must be her. Let me talk to him. I could tell in a second.”

“Mr. Peck, I can’t pass his call through to you. He’s asking for your cell phone number so he can call you. Is that okay with you?”

“Of course,” Aaron replied. Why did it have to be so complicated? “I’ll hang up right now. Have him call me.”

Standing in front of the hardware store, leaning against a wood fencing display, he was talking impatiently to the phone in his hand. 

“Come on, ring. What’s the hold up?” A moment later the sound of the tiny phone’s loud ring surprised him so much he nearly dropped it.

“Hello,” he yelled into the phone. “Do you have her? Is she there?”

“Mr. Peck.” Officer Petrillo paused, waiting for a break in the rush of anxious questions. “Are you there, sir?”

“Of course I’m here. Do you have Leona?”

“I think I do. She’s kind of confused and not sure where she is. But she says her name is Leona. She knows that. And she says she’s been looking everywhere for Aaron. It sounds like Aaron must be lost.”

“You mean she thinks I’m the one who’s lost? Doesn’t she even know it’s her? Could I talk to her, please?”

Seconds later he heard her voice. “Aaron, is that you?

“Yes it is, dear.”

“Where are you?” she asked. “I’ve been looking everywhere. Why weren’t you where I could find you?”

“You’ve found me now, sweetheart. And I’ll bet the officer can help you get home. That’s where I’ll be. May I talk to him?”

“Of course,” she smiled up at Petrillo. “He’s really very nice. He said he would help me find you. And he did.”

Fifteen minutes later the relieved couple was reunited on the front steps of their home. “I’m so glad they were able to find you,” Leona said as she hugged Aaron. “I was worried sick.”

“Why don’t you go inside and freshen up, dear,” He suggested. “I’d like to talk to the officer for just a minute.” He watched her disappear into the house, then turned to ask the patrolman, “Where was she?”

“Down on Sixteenth Avenue.” Petrillo was shaking his head. “Almost to Randal Street. That’s a rough part of town. Not a good place for her to be on her own.”

“My God, that has to be at least a mile from here. How could she get that far?”

“She was moving right along. A girl at the coffee shop told me an old lady had come by there.... asking everyone she saw, “Where’s Aaron? Have you seen Aaron?”

“I can’t imagine what made her think I was lost. She’s never taken off like that before.”

“She’d gone another three or four blocks before I caught up with her,” the officer said. “She was obviously confused. 

"And she had her purse with her, which was certainly going to attract attention down there. Not the kind she wanted. When I got her in the patrol car I double checked the missing person alert I’d just received. I was pretty sure it was a fit.”

“Well, I can’t thank you enough for being on top of things. I don’t want to think about what could have happened.” Aaron shook the officer’s hand and started up the steps to the house.

“Mr. Peck,” the officer called behind him. “I’m no doctor, but I know that something like this could be a serious thing if it happens again. If you haven’t done it yet, I hope you’ll see that she gets the help she needs.”


The help she needs.” Neither the words nor the meaning Aaron assigned to them settled easily on his mind. 

To admit that Leona needed “help” was to ask why that was, which in turn risked hearing answers he had tried his best to avoid. Years before, as a young man, he had watched helplessly as an unseen intruder made off with the heart and soul of a vibrant life. He could not bear the thought that Leona might be facing the same sad fate as Uncle Jerome.

In Aaron’s mind dementia, and its debilitating impact, had always been personified by Uncle Jerome’s Alzheimer’s Disease. That had been more than five decades earlier, but the memories of that time were still vivid...of driving his mother to the nursing home to visit her uncle Jerome, and waiting in the back of the room as the two of them struggled to communicate. 

No matter what time of day they called on Jerome Terrance they always found him sitting in the corner of the entry lounge, gazing blankly into space, lost in what Aaron assumed must be the empty, unresponsive void of his mind. 

Remarkably, regardless of how far from the present his thoughts, or non-thoughts, had taken him Jerome always recognized his niece. At the sight of her his disconnected stare dissolved and he would break into a wide, exaggerated grin. 

Although he had long ago misplaced the name that went with her face, Jerome had never failed to know that Dorothy Peck was a part of his world. What followed his effusive greeting was a never-changing scenario. 

While Aaron watched from across the room Dorothy and Uncle Jerome would talk their way through what had the appearance of a scripted exchange, one that seldom varied from visit to visit.

“How did you know I was here?” Jerome would ask. It was always, without exception, his first question....a perfectly rational one, which she answered in a straight forward manner. 

“I brought you here in the first place, months ago. So I knew exactly where to come.”

“I was sure I drove myself here,” he would respond, nodding toward the window and beyond to the parking lot. “Why else would my car be out there?”

“Your car’s not here. You don’t have a car anymore.”

“No car? You can’t be serious.” His soft laugh was almost a giggle, as though he had tricked her. “Of course it’s here. I drove it just yesterday.”

“The doctor won’t let you drive any more.”

“You’re kidding.” For seconds he sat grinning at what he took to be her teasing joke. Then he would fall silent once more....until, as if he had returned to the top of the script page, he would look up to ask again, “How did you know I was here?” 

The entire scene could be replayed over and over, until Dorothy Peck finally altered her response and led their conversation off in some new direction.

It was a surprisingly stressful process, those apparently casual conversations. His mother often complained of the anxiety their visits produced.

"We grow up learning to answer questions the best we can,” she would explain. “We give our answer and assume that it has been heard by the other person. We expect them to pay attention to what we said, and use what we told them when they answer us.

“At the very least we expect our answer to stick in their mind, whether they like it or not. When Jerome can’t hold on to my answer it’s like I never replied in the first place. So he asks his question again.” 

At that point she would pause, shaking her head and smiling the sympathetic smile she reserved for Uncle Jerome’s dilemma. “We’re not used to having our answers answered by the same question we just answered.” 

After all those years Aaron still remembered the puzzling tangle of Jerome’s logic. In the course of hearing Dorothy’s response Jerome appeared absolutely rational. 

If she had answered his question “How did you know I was here” with “The chair is blue,” he would have known at once she was not responding to his question. He would not have settled for such a reply. However, once he accepted her reply as appropriate, his question and her answer were immediately lost, as though they had never been spoken.

Those exchanges with Uncle Jerome had been played out years before. Yet, though Aaron did not realize it at the time, they had laid the foundation of his personal understanding of dementia. 

His mother and Uncle Jerome had been gone for years. In the meantime Aaron's exposure to those fearful possibilities had been limited to newspaper articles and newscasts. Occasionally the subject had moved to the front of his mind, accompanied by fleeting allusions to “poor old Uncle Jerome.” But those were passing thoughts that soon retreated as he moved on to more absorbing matters.

Now, however, in light of Leona’s impromptu hike and the patrolman’s pointed caution, Aaron was left to consider “The help she needs.” 

His first impulse had been to turn away from that awful prospect, telling himself he was exaggerating her symptoms. Surely he could wait, at least for a while longer.

For the next few days he scarcely let Leona out of his sight. Relaxation had become impossible. Then, on Thursday he woke from an unscheduled cat nap to find her recliner empty. Frantically he hurried through the house calling her name. 

Only when he spotted her through the bedroom window, in her garden, trimming dead flowers and pulling weeds, did the panic subside. The next morning Aaron called Dr. Lacy’s office to schedule an appointment for late the following Wednesday. As much as he dreaded the prospect, it must be done.

A week later, in Dr. Lacy’s Tanner Clinic office, Leona could tell that her long-time doctor was concerned about her. But why? She felt fine. She and Aaron sat hand in hand through the entire visit. While Leona struggled to comprehend the doctor’s strange questions, Aaron watched helplessly as the depth of her descent became even more apparent.

“I don’t understand,” Leona finally protested after another round of questions. “Is there something wrong?”

At that point Dr. Lacy set his pen and pad aside to sum up his findings. “Leona, there are some questions about your short-term memory that should be looked into. I would like you to see Dr. Flescher. He’s a specialist in those matters. He’ll have a better idea of how to proceed. Hopefully, he’ll be able to help the situation.”

“Oh. I see,” had been the extent of her reaction that morning. 

The following Thursday, as they left Dr. Flescher’s office, Leona turned to Aaron to say, “He’s very nice, isn’t he? So nice and friendly.” 

Unfortunately, Dr. Fleschers’s prognosis had not been friendly at all.

Wednesday, January 26, 2022


                           Chapter 4


For all his gregarious instincts Johnny Blanton led a spartan, decidedly-isolated existence, the unfortunate result of circumstances over which he had little control. 

In the course of his four-year residency in the County-operated Senior Housing Complex he had concluded that his neighbors, as a group, suffered from a multitude of shared failings. To a person they were old, financially strapped, grouchy, and judgmental. Most depressing of all, it seemed that not one of them subscribed to his long-cultivated interest in having a good time.

Wary, unsmiling widows were everywhere. He passed them in the hallways. They crowded the dingy activity room. Without exception he found them to be unnaturally distrusting of his well-intentioned attention. At one time or another he had approached nearly all of them, hoping to spark some degree of interest. He had struck out at every turn. 

Except for Mrs. Perkins, who lived across the hall from his apartment and provided him with a steady supply of day-old newspapers, Johnny had not made one female acquaintance in the entire thirty-unit complex. He took that sad reality, and the slight it represented, very personally.

To make matters worse Johnny’s success at winning friends among the male residents, he called them “inmates,” had been only slightly better. Some were deaf, blind, or immobile....which tended to limit their “good time” potential. 

The few who still found drinking beer a viable social pursuit were no more affluent than Johnny. After years of having Aaron Peck and others pick up the tab, he was reluctant to cultivate drinking buddies who expected him to play that role. 

As a result, his social life had become seriously constrained. For three years Willie Thomas, who did not drink at all, but played a mean game of cribbage, had been his most reliable ally among the residents. With Willie’s passing the previous December that welcome friendship had been lost.

In his heart of hearts Johnny Blanton was a very social creature. It appeared, however, that in the sterile confines of the Senior Complex his declining years were destined to be lived out in a state of stagnant depression. To his way of thinking it would take a miracle to change that unfortunate situation.


It was a stifling hot August Sunday, a normally quiet-day in Johnny Blanton’s normally quiet-week. The squeaky swivel fan on the table in front of the open window moved hot air around his living room, without cooling any of it. Johnny was in his recliner, watching a National Geographic rerun, sipping ice water, and reminding himself how much better a cold brew would taste.

Sadly, cable television was not a part of his present condition. His ancient television set was connected to an even more ancient roof-top antenna that shook when the wind blew. On a good day he could pick up three channels, only one of which came in sharp and clear. For that reason alone, he normally watched the local public television channel. 

That afternoon he was watching a documentary about endangered gorillas. To his eye they were homely beasts, who seemed to spend an inordinate portion of their day pursuing elaborate mating rituals. After watching their primal demonstration for only a few seconds Johnny had concluded that the program was in particularly bad taste. At that point he had turned off the sound, though he did not bother to change the channel.

Do they ever stop he asked himself, sneaking another peek at the disgustingly-friendly primates. A moment later his attention was distracted by a rap on his door. 

Who would that be, he wondered. Mrs. Perkins had brought her newspaper over before lunch. She would not be back again. Aaron Peck never visited without calling first. There was only one way to find out. He pushed his recliner upright, turned off the television, and walked to the door.

At first glance he did not recognize her. Then his jaw dropped and for an instant he was speechless. Finally he blinked again to be sure he was actually seeing what he saw. 

“Darien? What are you doing here?”

“I came to see you, of course. Why else would I come?” 

She was a cute one. Not much over five foot tall, with long, sun-bleached brunette hair. Best of all was her smile, which looked a lot like Johnny’s, especially when she added, “It’s good to see you again, Daddy. It’s been way too long.”

“Well, don’t just stand there. Come on in.” 

With a brief hug he ushered her into the tiny living room, pushing newspapers off the sofa to make room for her. “What brings you out here? Are you in town to see your aunt Doris?”

Darien Blanton was shaking her head as she paused to look around the room. “Not this time," she finally answered. "I came to see you.”

“All the way from New Mexico just to see me? That doesn’t sound too likely.” 

Johnny was in the kitchen now, gathering the last of the ice cubes from the refrigerator and filling a glass from the tap. “Sorry about the air conditioning,” he joked as he returned to hand her the glass. “This is about as good as it gets.”

“I didn’t come from New Mexico.” 

Looking down into her lap Darien was smoothing her loose fitting slacks. When she looked up again her smile was wider, as though it was hiding a secret. 

“I live in Portland now. That’s just a few miles up the road from here.”

“I think I’m getting confused. You were in New Mexico. Right? I know you graduated from college there. I got your announcement. That was what, a couple months ago?”

“Three months. And I got the nice card you sent me.”

“That’s right. I did send one, didn’t I?”

“Yes you did. That was very sweet of you. I put it with all the others.”

“All the others?”

“You’ve always sent me a card for my birthday.”

As she talked Darien was quietly tidying up the coffee table....stacking empty TV dinner trays together on top of the empty potato chip sack, creating a more orderly mess. 

“I’ve kept those cards, all the way back to my fifth or sixth birthday. Along with a bunch of Christmas cards you sent.”

“Oh my. You are the organized one, aren’t you?”

How could he not be impressed? To think she had cared enough to save all those cards? “You get that from your mother, you know. Not me.” He paused a moment, then asked, “How is she?”

“She’s fine. Has a new job in Oakland. Seems to be happy.”

“Good for her.” 

For an instant Joanne, Darien’s mother, was in his thoughts, until he returned to Darien’s original pronouncement. “And you’re in Portland now? What’s that about?”

“You won’t believe this, Daddy. I’ve been accepted at the university law school there. I’ll be starting their two year program next month.”

“Law school? To be a lawyer? In Portland?”

Johnny’s mind was suddenly on overload. A lawyer in his family? Who would believe that?

Twenty-four years earlier Johnny and Joanne had dated only a few weeks before she moved in with him. In those days their arrangement had been enough to raise small-town eyebrows....a single woman of thirty with a much older man, forty-eight to be exact. 

Though Johnny was not the kind to pay attention to such gossip, Joanne’s parents had been crushed. The appearance of impropriety, with a man so much older and unpromising as Johnny Blanton, had been almost too much for her mother.

 Soon Joanne had learned she was pregnant, and their domestic informality was about to take a decidedly formal turn. She had insisted that they marry. Her baby would have a legitimate father, no matter what. 

Sadly their hastily-arranged alliance had scarcely lasted until Darien’s birth. Even at his advanced age Johnny was still unwilling to settle for a permanent relationship. In a matter of weeks mother and baby had relocated to Southern California, 

Yet from the beginning Joanne had honored her commitment to Johnny’s fatherhood. She saw to it that Darien and Johnny never lost their connection.

In those early years, whenever Darien was in Tanner to visit her grandparents, Johnny was reluctantly received as a guest in their home. He always had his daughter’s latest school picture. And his birthday and Christmas cards to her continued to arrive without fail.

Now came the surprising revelation that his little girl was in Portland, an hour’s drive away. “You’re going be a lawyer,” he gushed again. “I just can’t believe it. I’m so proud of you.”

“Please, don’t get too excited. It’s a tough program. It will be two very hard years. I just hope I can make it. Not everyone does, you know.”

“You’ll make it, honey. I know you will. I don’t doubt that for a minute.” 

Johnny could hardly contain his pride. His daughter had received the very best of good news, and had been willing to drive all that way in the summer heat to share it with him. 

“You know what this calls for?”

“Please, Daddy. Not a beer. I have to drive.”

“No beer,” he laughed. “I was thinking of something even better. How about a butterscotch milk shake. Frosty’s is just over in the shopping center. They have ice cream and air conditioning. That sounds pretty good, doesn’t it? It’s on me.”


In their Elm Street home the signs were no longer new or surprising. For more than a year Aaron Peck had watched Leona struggle with her sometimes vague, but always frustrating symptoms.

Most days, in most ways, she carried on with a minimum of distraction. At church, among the ladies who knew and cared about her, her forgetful repeating was little more than a minor irritation. In the company of her own family, where love outweighed personal judgments, she was at ease. In that setting, surrounded by the girls and grandkids, her robust laughter could still be heard.

But over time the symptoms had grown more persistent and debilitating. The memory lapses had increased in frequency and intensity. She repeated herself more often, sometimes eliciting half joking comments from friends and family. Even well-established meals, housekeeping, and medications....had become increasingly random and haphazard. At times she simply lost interest in such things.

Yet all the while Aaron managed to keep the two of them on course, though his own patience was sometimes tested. Like the September morning when Leona looked up from her breakfast to ask, “Will the garbage be picked up this morning?”

“That’s tomorrow,” Aaron answered without glancing up from his sports page.

For a few seconds there was silence, until she asked again, “Will the garbage man be here this morning? Is that today?”

Aaron looked up to be sure she heard his response. “Tomorrow, honey. Not today.”

Minutes later Leona got up from the table and walked to the counter. Opening the cupboard door under the sink she pulled out the small trash container. “Will the garbage man be coming this morning?”

By then he was shaking his head and for an instant the long-forgotten specter of Uncle Jerome crossed his mind. Smiling his best smile, he said, “I’ll take it outside, dear. Just leave it there. I’ll get it.”

As the months passed Aaron and Leona continued to play out their unscripted coping-dance. There were days when she played her role without missing a beat. 

If the unpredictable late-autumn weather allowed she spent her afternoons working in the back yard. “Putting the garden to bed for the winter,” she called it. As always those hours....serene and stress free, were the moments she enjoyed the most.

Yet from time to time Aaron noticed new behaviors, ones he had not seen before. Complicated, multitask situations were more apt to mire Leona in agitated frustration or silent withdrawal. 

Meal preparation seemed to go more smoothly when he was on hand to help oversee the process. Her apparent willingness to tolerate his presence in what had always been “her” kitchen was itself a sign of significant change. 

The ebb and flow of Leona Peck’s behavior was most noticeable to those who did not see her every day. Mindy and Carol visited their parents every month or so. They were among the first to observe that “Mom seems kind of confused today.” 

In spite of the signs Aaron Peck carried on, unwilling to read too much into Leona’s increasingly erratic behavior. Until, that is, the frightening February afternoon when she walked to the store, just two blocks away, and did not return.