Grandma Dawn

5 Aug

DawnLookoutOn Saturday I stood between my wife Kate and my first cousin once removed Barbara as my grandmother Dawn was laid to rest.  Surrounding the gravestone was my family including my sister, my cousins, my uncle, my parents, and those conducting the memorial service.  It was supposed to be a cold rainy day, but Dawn was too nice to have a funeral on a grey day…so the clouds cleared and let the sun beat down as crystal clear blue skies opened up overhead.  My black suit jacket stuck to my back, Kate squeezed my hand, and Barbara read a poem her daughter had written as Dawn Kathleen Preston was finally free from the confines of her body.  Tears rolled down my face hidden behind sunglasses as I stared at that little marble green urn and came to terms with the fact that I was never going to see one of my most favorite people in the world again.  Grandma Dawn was gone.

I’m not much of one to read deep into things but funerals make you question the meaning of life and the happenings of the world around you.  It didn’t rain a single drop during the 48 hours I was in Bolton Landing, NY though it was supposed to be riddled with thunderstorms.  Aside from my flight to Albany being delayed by 3 hours, travel was smooth.  The lake was warm, the air was warm, the water wasn’t rough, and I got a mini vacation…as odd as that sounds…but I like to think that was the purpose of this trip.  I know Saturday, August 2 is a day I will never forget…but it is a day I’ll remember for good reasons.  The service afterward was conducted by my uncle and father in which they set the tone by telling funny stories from my grandmother’s life and our family’s trolley car diner.  They got the whole place laughing hysterically and quickly tears of sadness turned into tears of joy as we celebrated her life instead of mourning her death.  Then, people from the town of Bolton started standing up and adding their two cents…and it was the same message over and over…Dawn had touched their lives in some way that had brought them there that day in love of her.  She was simply put, “A nice lady.”

She was never mean, she always carried a smile on her face, she was generous, she was loving, she gave hugs and kisses, and she cooked for every single person in that town at some point or another whether it be from the diner days or baking later in life.  Her pancakes are still a well guarded family secret.  Her love was felt by all…and if you were forced to think of something bad about her you’d find yourself with nothing to say.  She was just a good person who left a wake of happiness in her path.

2014-08-01 14.11.21My sadness came for my dad and my uncle…watching them in the cemetery as their mom went to rest next to their father Bill and their sister Jeanine, both whom died far too young.  Jeanine was 53 when she died of lung cancer and I never smoked a single cigarette since.  Bill was 69 when he passed, the same age my uncle is today.  Barbara clenched my hand and I couldn’t help but realize she and her brother Bob were the last of that generation.  Dawn was my last grandparent, outliving my mother’s mother by 18 years.  18 years I got to bask in the sole adoration of one grandparent…Grandma Dawn.  I was 17 when my maternal grandmother Florence passed away and 10 when both my grandfathers passed away in the same year.  I was a child then.  Now…as an adult, the full consequences and emotions were apparent to me as I tried to process it…and I couldn’t.  It was easier when I was 10…I just cried and cried and cried.  When I was 17 I lamented for time I should have spent.  At 35…I just keep thinking about that green marble urn and I don’t know what to do.  I didn’t know what to do.  So when the skies cleared and the sun came out I did what I think Grandma Dawn would have wanted me to do…I took a little vacation.

Kate and I ate sushi together in Chicago, drank to my grandmother’s memory at 30,000 feet, dined on lobster with family at the club, and plunged into the dark waters of Lake George for a skinny dip on Friday.  Saturday we took an early morning waverunner ride to Huddle Bay, caught up with old friends and family, swam in the lake together, drank together, had a big boisterous meal together with friends, and again…plunged into the cool waters of Lake George to cap off the day.  Sunday we had a big family breakfast, we swam off the dock, went for a long boat-ride, and went to my favorite spot on Lake George: the buoys off of Commission Island.  Kate and I explored the tiny islands to the north, swam along the point, stacked rocks to make a structure above water in the middle of the lake, swam the channel, and enjoyed the company of our family.  It is one of the things we didn’t get to do during our planned vacation to the lake 2 weeks prior.  It was a blessing.  It was like desert.  Its my Heaven on Earth.

My hand clutched a tiny rock I snagged from Commission Island Point as Kate and I ate sushi at Wicker Park in O’Hare before the final flight home.  We took our time during our 2 hour and 45 minute layover to savor each bite, sip our drinks, and enjoy our “date” before returning to our lives as parents with jobs, responsibilities, and needs.  Grandma, however you want to take this, gave Kate and I a date weekend…and it was lovely.  I still see that green marble urn in my mind, I know what I whispered to it before leaving the cemetery, and I know it hasn’t quite sunk in…and that’s okay.  My only fear is that when my father processes it, I won’t be able to be there to hug him the way he has hugged me so many times throughout my life since we are 1,500 miles apart right now.  Mom is there.  My sister is there.  My uncle is there.  Friends are there.  I just wish I could be there, to comfort him the way only he can comfort me.  So I woke up my 1-year old son Dodge on Sunday night and showered him with kisses before handing him to my wife to do the same.  I then climbed into bed with my 3-year old son Max and hugged him as tight as he’d let me hug him while stroking his soft blonde hair and whispering over and over, “Dada loves you, Dada will never stop loving you…”  Then Kate took my hand and led me to bed where I slept for 10 hours…and I dreamed Grandma was standing on the boat waving while I swam around Commission Island Point.

DawnBeach“Look at me Grandma!” I shouted as I stood on a rock.  She waved back and gave that sheepish smile of hers.  I slipped on the rocks and caught my balance, Grandma gave me her look of goofy surprise.  “You can see so deep today!”  I shouted back, then dove into the water.  My ears should have popped at about the 12 foot mark but they didn’t and I swam past the point where I normally turn around til I touched the bottom.  Rocky and smooth.  Calm.  Peaceful.  I placed my feet on the rocks and pushed upward toward the surface and emerged victorious!  “Grandma!  I touched the…”  But she wasn’t there anymore.  Just a warm summer day with blue skies, perfect water, and my favorite swimming spot.

I can’t wait to get back there next year and go for a swim.  I discover something new every year.  It is a special place to Kate and I and for some unexplained reason other than that dream…it will always be a place for me to go and connect with my grandmother, perhaps because it is a better way to remember her than thinking about that small green marble urn.  I don’t know where she is, but for me…I think she’s on the boat some days waving to me when she’s not drinking a beer on the couch or jabbing Grandpa Bill in the ribs for saying something embarrassing.  So…no “So Long Grandma.”  How about, “See you next summer.”

Me and Grandma, 1980.

Me and Grandma, 1980.

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Hidden Waterfalls of Bolton Landing New York

30 Jul

After moving away from Lake George for work…I often find myself as a tourist in my own town when I return home to Bolton Landing, NY.  When I am home, I usually find myself giving visiting friends and family tours of the lake, Bolton Landing, and the surrounding areas.  As a kid we walked everywhere, our boats required oars to move, and gas was less than a buck.  Nowadays it has become expensive to getaway, that is unless you are smart about how you travel.  With today’s economic changes, consider taking advantage of alternative transportation opportunities like carpooling, talking public transit, or peer-to-peer ride sharing like RelayRides to have a great vacation without breaking the bank.  Vacation destinations can also be exploring hidden gems in your own back yard which in my case, is Bolton Landing, NY.  While some places will always be private and special to me, here are a few waterfalls and nature spots you might not find on the tourism maps when visiting Bolton Landing:


  • Short drive
  • Park/walk

brook-at-melody-manorIf you haven’t visited the Bolton Historical Museum, you should.  I like learning about small towns, especially when I spend time there or have work to do there.  In the museum there is some information about my family and how we helped settle the area along with some amazing artifacts and stories from over 200 years of Bolton’s founders and inhabitants.  The Gates family settled Huddle Bay (“The Huddle”) and remnants of our farm and property are still there today such as the 1800’s homestead, trails, and Gates Falls.  Gates Falls is tucked back behind Melody Manor and often confused with the overflow fall just south of Villa Napoli Restaurant.  However, if you follow the sound of the Huddle Brook behind the restaurant you will come to a beautiful 15 foot waterfall that cascades down to a shallow pebble wading pool before feeding into the lake.  The north side of the falls is owned by Melody Manor and the south side is private property.  The lake is everyone’s to share.  This little waterfall can be walked to easily and there is parking 100 feet away in the Melody Manor parking lot.


  • Boat ride
  • Anchor/3 mile hike

4747044592_cd3b8b975d_zThis is no mystery and every local or regular visitor knows it is there…but it is still a must!  By boat go to Log Bay and drop anchor in the shallow sandy waters.  Be sure to lock up your boat and secure your anchor.  You’ll want shoes so either wear water shoes or wade in while holding your hiking shoes.  There are trails on both the west and east end of the creek, so enter where you like.  The trail is on the east side of the creek and for the best experience take the low road, though it will require climbing over logs, tiptoeing across ledges, and sliding in some mud…but you are right on the creek with all the little falls.  For an easier climb take the high road which is a steep incline but more direct and smooth.  At the end is Shelving Rock Falls which boasts a gorgeous wading pool at the bottom, double falls from the top at about 35 feet, there are sections kids can slide on, a deep pool near the top on the south side, and you can cross from side to side at the bottom or top.  This is the east side of the lake so if you need to rent a boat, I suggest Chic’s Marina.


  • Long drive
  • Park/walk

23579_433570718834_2282992_nThis drive is best in the fall and done in either a convertible or with all the windows down.  Drive north out of Bolton Landing on 9N to the flashing yellow light of County Route 11, make a left then an immediate right onto North Bolton Road.  A few miles up, the road forks and you want to stay right onto Padanarum Road.  After a while it will turn into a dirt road by a marsh and you’ll wonder if this is the right way to go…the answer is yes and you need to keep on going.  Padanarum twists and winds through the trees following the water.  You’ll pass the oldest cemetery in Bolton.  Just keep staying right and if you choose to get out and look around, be respectful of the Private Property signs.  You’ll pass Indian Pond before coming to an “intersection” in the middle of the woods.  Should you choose to go left you’ll wind up on Crystal Lake or Route 8 eventually, I stay right and make the loop back to Bolton.  After making the right the road opens up a bit as it jogs back and forth across the river with little bridges and great spots to pull off and explore a little.  Then the river drops away below you as the road goes higher and higher til you find yourself driving along the edge of a deep gorge with the falls rushing below you!  At the end of the road, you’ll find yourself back at Route 9N and all you have to do is turn right and you will be back in Bolton in 10 minutes.  It’s a great little loop to drive and take your mind off things.


  • Short drive
  • park/hike

northwestbaybrookfalls04_575At about the same spot the Padanarum Road lets out onto Route 9N you’ll find a parking lot on the east side of the road with a small reservoir.  Park your car here (about 10-12 spaces) and walk south along route 9N on the east side till you come to the trail head.  Follow the trail, which is a very easy hike, to come to the top of the falls on the east side.  The falls are about a 25 foot plunge and they feed into Northwest Bay of Lake George.  For a view from the bottom you’ll need to trek through the woods on unmarked trails from the bridge by the highway and simply follow the sound of the water.  From the base you can launch a canoe or kayak and paddle your way into Lake George through an amazing marsh area.  I recommend having someone drop you off with a canoe or kayak and then picking you up at Bolton’s Memorial Park.  There are also kayak rentals on Green Island and you can easily paddle to this spot from there.


Not everyone can to get out on the lake, and sometimes its just nice to see it from land.  With lakefront property at a premium, sometimes it is hard to get someplace where you can truly appreciate the lake.  Here are a few hidden gems of places on land in Bolton Landing to see the lake without a boat or hiking:

If you like to hike, the Cat Mountain and Thomas Mountain trails are the way to go with stunning views from above!   Best in the fall.

Hidden gems are only found when you explore…so go out there and find your hidden gem.  I remember when I found Gates Falls and was amazed it had been there my whole life and I didn’t know.  I am a big fan of a little mini bay inside the bay across from Indian Brook by Fan Point, it holds special meaning to me and I remember “discovering” it.  There is another tiny bay like that on Gravelly Island in the Northeast corner.  My favorite underwater spot is the eastern rocks off the tiny island just north of Commission Island.  If you have never done the northern portion of the lake by boat and gone through the natural dam…you are missing out.  I love walking through the channel between Long Island and Speaker Heck Island…its fun on a waverunner or canoe too.  Standing on the rocks south of Canoe Island is a trip and putting through the Needles Eye channel has always been my favorite.  Fall is my favorite time on Lake George, when the water is calm as can be, the air is crisp, the leaves are changing on the mountains, and the lake is warmer than the air.  Sugerloaf Mountain comes to life with vibrant colors, reflecting in the glass-like water, and the only sound is wind in your ears, the splash of the water, and the hum of the boat.  However, you explore Lake George…have fun!

Boating on Lake George in Early Fall

Boating on Lake George in Early Fall, 2008

Standing In The Middle Of the Rapids on Padanarum

Standing In The Middle Of the Rapids on Padanarum in Fall, 2010

My Son Max at Shelving Rock Falls in Summer, 2013.

My Son Max at Shelving Rock Falls in Summer, 2013.

Lastly, much of Lake George’s eastern shore is owned by the state of New York and “forever wild.”  The Adirondack Park is the largest State Park in the United States and together, we can keep places like this for generations to come by respecting the environment and using alternative transportation to leave a smaller ecological footprint.  Check out solutions like RelayRides for fun ways to vacation in your area that save you money and are better for the environment…and be sure to tweet us at @SoLongFreedom if you’re ever in the Lake George area!  Now get out there an find your #HiddenGems!

Going Through The Needles Eye in Summer, 2014

Going Through The Needles Eye in Summer, 2014

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Product Review: KOHLER’s Touchless Toilet Flush Kit

28 Jul

With two little boys running around the house, germs are a constant factor we are combating.  Currently both boys have a virus and are running fevers of 100+ with sore throats…so this seemed like a good week to install a KOHLER Touchless “No Touch Flush” system and see how it worked. Kohler-Touchless-Toilet-Flush-Kit img_8817_draftMax (3) is potty trained and has transitioned into underwear, only wearing a pull-up at night in case of accidents while Dodge (1) hides behind the door and grunts out his business into a diaper.  One of the things I worked on with Max that I LOVE was teaching him to go on a full-sized toilet…which means when we go out to eat or travel, he can do his duty anywhere without me holding him over the seat.  All was well and fine til one night at our regular Sunday night dinner spot.  The bathroom had very nice toilets with the forward facing sensor as you see in most restaurants and airports.  You sit, you do your thing, you stand, and it flushes for you.  Unless, of course, you are a squirmy little 3-year-old.  Then it flushes while you are still sitting on it.  This toilet was also flushed with great vigor and the sound echoed throughout the high-ceiling bathroom scaring the sh*t out of Max…literally.  Since that moment, Max has been afraid of toilets and potty training has taken a step backwards.  Much of that is due to an error on my part, and it went like this:

Max:  “Why did you flush it Dada?

Me:  “I didn’t.  It did on its own”

Max:  “Why?”

Me:  “Because it has an eye, and it thought you were done.”

Max:  “It has an eye…like a robot?”

Me:  “Yeah, like a robot.”

Max:  “…and it was watching me.”

Me:  “Yup, to make sure you pooped.”

Max:  “I’m afraid of robots.”

Me:  “Oh…well…um…its not really a robot…er…its…”

Max:  “Is it watching us now?”

Kohler_Touchless_toilet_conversion_kitOops.  Smooth move Ex-Lax!  Now my kid is deathly afraid of toilets and bawls every time we go into the bathroom.  Incidentally, he hold his hands over his ears whenever we go to a bathroom (public or private) in fear of the loud sound, which means his dirty hands are touching his face and he can’t sit on the toilet without me supporting him.  He is scared to death of “THE EYE!”  Like Lord Saruman is constantly watching him as he treks through Middle Earth with the one true ring.  With that in mind…I thought the KOHLER Flushless System could be a great way for him to learn that not all toilets are loud and he can get back to going all by himself.

Kohler TouchlessThe install took about 10 minutes and is very self-explanatory.  The hard part is getting the right height because if the sensor is touching the lid it will flush every time you flip the seat up, bump the top, etc.  If it is too low it either won’t flush or you have to touch the lid of the tank to flush.  I didn’t need any extra tools, everything clipped into place, and once tweaking things a little bit my toilet was magically flushing by waving my hand over the top of the tank instead of reaching over to the handle.  Fun.  Kate and I keep reaching to the side for the handle and then remembering the sensor is on top and there is no need for the handle (which I chose to leave on for guests).  One of the things I love is that we had one of those old toilets where you had to hold the handle down for a good flush.  The KOHLER Touchless eradicates the need to do this because the kit automatically holds the flush for a set period of time.

Max Kohler ToiuchlessThe real story though, is Max.  Max thinks the Touchless Sensor is the coolest thing since sliced bread.  The old handle was too hard for him to flush and this one is a piece of cake.  He liked it so much we had to have a talk about how it isn’t a toy since he was flushing it over and over and over again.  I like that he can get up on the toilet and do his thing, then flush the toilet without touching the handle and spreading…whatever he has touched to the rest of us.  We also picked up a KOHLER Transitions seat which has a seat for the little guys as well a seat for the adults which is going to be a blessing when Dodge is ready to stop hiding behind the door and grunting.  Max is pretty excited about it too.  The seat fits our downstairs toilet while the sensor was installed upstairs and Max has asked if I am going to put one on the downstairs toilet as well…and I think I may have to.  Maybe a touch-less faucet too?

Here is the breakdown of PROS vs. CONS:


  • Easy to install
  • No more touching the toilet
  • Less germs/cleaner
  • Can leave handle on for guests
  • East to use
  • Kids can use it easily
  • Makes potty training fun for kids


  • Can accidentally flush when lid is bumped
  • Can’t place anything on top of lid
  • Can be confusing for guests
  • Can’t set length of flush hold

20140728_092248The pros greatly outweigh the cons and honestly, the only part that I don’t like is that we can’t place anything on the lid of the tank anymore since that is where the sensor is.  Also, I had to make a little riser to get the sensor just right for my old janky toilet.  Not being able to put things on the tank lid is why we chose the upstairs bathroom over the downstairs.  In the downstairs bathroom the tank lid is home to a vase of flowers, 2 picture frames, and a box of Klenex since it is the only surface in the small powder room.  If we installed the sensor, the Klenex would have to go.  I like that the kit holds a timed flush but it would be great if there was a way to set it for short, medium or long depending on your toilet…or a way to do a long flush if you held you hand over the sensor for a long period of time.  This would allow you to do short flushes for water conservation when flushing #1 and having a little more force for #2.  I also think future models should look at the idea of a remote sensor so you can put it wherever you want instead of only on top directly over your canister or flapper, you could even install the sensor in the old handle hole.

In conclusion, I think this is a low-cost and effective way to reduce the spreading of germs on any toilet and I would definitely recommend it to anyone with little kids that like to touch everything…which is every little kid.  It has helped Max start to get over his fear of auto-flush public toilets, made going to the potty easier since it is now fun, and made me feel better knowing that I’m not touching a ton of germs on the toilet handle.  I think it would be great in houses without small children as well, as a sophisticated option for guests to show you care about sanitation.  I am also recommending my office buy them as it is a great option for small businesses or restaurants.  For me, I like going to a restaurant and having the toilet, sink, and hand drying all be touch-less.  It shows the restaurant cares about sanitation and is a direct reflection of how clean the kitchen is.  The KOHLER Touchless Kit is the same concept but in your home.  Great for kids, great for parents, great for adults, easy to install/use, and an affordable upgrade.  I give it 2 thumbs up and Max jumps for joy! 20140728_100257

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Backyard Pear Tree

27 Jul


Harvesting pears from the tree in our back yard today and thinking of my grandmother Dawn, maybe I’ll make some jam to bring with me to NY next week in memory of her.

Goodnight Grandma

25 Jul

DawnGates1My paternal grandmother, Dawn Kathleen Preston, was born on June 24, 1924 in Castelton, Vermont to parents Elmer F. Preston and Kathleen E. Towers.  At age 6 she moved to Albany, NY and by 1940 she was living in Bolton Landing, NY spending a majority of her time with her cousins Pauline and Robert.  On April 23, 1944 she married my grandfather, William Beckers Gates, near her home in Castleton, Vermont at the age of 19.  The two of them went on to do what I strive to do every day…become good parents and make each other happy.  Bill went to the Navy and returned home as a hero for saving his shipmates.  He and Dawn purchased a trolly car diner and opened The Bill Gates Diner in Bolton Landing, NY…my home sweet home.  They had three lovely children:  William, Walter and Jeanine between the years of 1945 and 1954 and the five of them all worked to feed the town of Bolton every day.  Walter, or “Buddy” as everyone called him, is my dad and thus I’m here writing this today.


Everyone will have their own memories of people and things that stand out for them.  As the youngest of the family I will always remember the cookies, the pancakes, and all the sweet smells that came from the kitchen when I visited.  I remember the smell of the house, the cool damp basement where my grandfather taught me how to fix things, the hand-knitted blankets my grandma made throughout the house, the doilies and lace everywhere, Grandma’s bell collection, Grandpa’s cologne, M&M’s in that little glass container on the coffee table with the cube picture frame next to it, the powder blue toilet with a cushioned seat in the bathroom, the smell of rotting leaves as I cleaned the gutters, the putter of the 1949 Willy’s Jeep, my socks stained pink from picking strawberries with Grandma all morning, her paintings…everywhere…so many paintings, and then the blue chair near the entrance to the dining room where my grandfather passed away on February 24, 1989.  I was 9…and I didn’t understand what death really meant.


Grandpa and I had restored a canoe the summer of 1988 and by the time the fire-engine-red paint dried in the fall, cancer had whittled him down to skin stretched over bones.  When he passed away I knew if I closed my eyes long enough, prayed hard enough, and pictured him clear enough in my mind…he’d be sitting next to me when I opened my eyes to wrap me up in one of those big hugs of his.  However, he was never there when I opened my eyes, he never gave me another hug, and we never got to say goodbye.  When I read a piece I had written called “My Grandpa and Me” at his ceremony I couldn’t hold the tears back.  It felt like my insides were being torn out and the world was never going to be the same again.  How could it?  Then, I looked up from my tear-covered sheet of paper and locked eyes with Grandma Dawn…and she was smiling.  She wrapped me up in that hug I was so desperately waiting for and the emotions came spilling out of me all at once.  I realized he was never coming back.  She told me she was proud of me and that she loved me very much, then she showered me with kisses before I sat back down…and then the thought hit me, “What about Grandma?”

Sterett-book-cover-jpegFor weeks after the ceremony I would lay awake at night wondering what my grandma was thinking?  She slept next to him every night…and now he was gone.  How do you recover from something like that?  Every summer since, I spent as much time at her house as possible, stayed with her for extended periods of time, and developed one of the deepest friendships with a family member I have ever had.  We kept no secrets from each other, we played the games I wanted to play, then I watched the TV shows she wanted to watch and we napped.  Every day, Grandma drank a beer (sometimes two) then took a nap after Wheel of Fortune.  When she lost the appetite for alcohol she switched to NA beer and the ritual continued.  She taught me how to paint, sew, crochet, and other skills I am so happy to know.  She taught me how to bake, especially her famous pancakes from the diner!  We were thick as thieves, Grandma and me…til one day this guy named Bus kept showing up.

Bus asked Grandma to marry him and she said no.  So, he asked again.  She said no.  He asked again, and she said yes.  By this time I was a young teenager and fully capable of trying to sabotage Bus’s relationship with Dawn and I gave it a darn good shot.  Bus cornered me one day, grabbed hold of my shirt, and told me as we stood nose to nose, “Don’t bullshit a bullshitter.”  It made me like him even less.  He seemed bossy and I didn’t like that Grandma was baking for him now instead of me.  Then one night he had a few too many Manhattans and told me the story of how he’d fallen in love with her back in the 1940’s but she was waiting for Bill.  Bus got married but never lost track of what Dawn was up to.  When Bus’s wife passed away he needed a friend and so did Grandma.  They found each other.  Through decades of life, they found each other, and he made Grandma was happy.

With her boys Bud (left) and Bill (right)

With her boys Bud (left) and Bill (right)

I never stopped calling her, and even today I sometimes find my fingers dialing her home number when I pick up the phone.  Bus and I came to understand each other as soon as we both figured out we wanted the same thing, to see Dawn happy.  I never missed an opportunity to stop by, always called every week, and introduced her to every girlfriend to see if I got approval.  We were thick as thieves again and I went to college only 4 hours away which meant I often got to see her on the weekends and always on holidays.  When Bus passed away…it took a hard toll on her.  One of the last things Bus told me was that her memory wasn’t so good.  I remember replying, “Well…she’s old Bus.”  He shook his head and said, “I’m old too…this is different, sometimes she forgets things…big things.”  I wasn’t sure what he meant.

DawnGates2It started with her cooking.  She’d forget crucial ingredients that would leave food inedible.  Recipes that only existed in her head disappeared forever.  Cookies became dry, cakes became bricks, and sometimes cereal was served with orange juice poured over the top instead of milk.  Then it was people.  She’d recognize a face but couldn’t put a name to it.  Then, once the daily routine of the house was gone…she drifted off somewhere far away.  She moved into a nursing home and the memory loss was astounding…it happened so fast!  She’d remember me and be telling me a story…then stop, look at me with confusion, and get shy.  I could see her forget who I was.  Alzheimer’s?  Dimentia?  All of the above?  Who knows.  All I know is my grandma’s brain was sick but her body was perfectly healthy.  I think the last straw was when her daughter (my aunt) Jeanine passed away in 2007 at the age of 52.  Lung cancer.  That was my last cigarette and the the beginning of Dawn’s retreat to someplace far away in her mind where she only remembered things from long ago, and music…she remembered all the music and would sing songs with Bud and Bill.

Slightly confused but happy she attended my wedding.  She sat right in front and I could feel her gaze on me throughout the ceremony.  Sometimes she seemed to know what was going on, other times she seemed completely flabbergasted by where she was, and other times she simply seemed content to have a change of scenery.  It was the last time she left the nursing home and the last time she looked like the grandma I had shared so many beers with over the years.

Grandma Dawn (left) & Aunt Barbara (right)

Grandma Dawn (left) & Aunt Barbara (right)

Last summer I visited her with my family at the nursing home.  I walked right past her…I didn’t even recognize her she was so gaunt.  The nurse woke her up slowly, she was sleeping in her chair, and physically moved her head towards me so her eyes were lined up with mine.  Nothing.  Blank.  I wanted to cry but knew that was a terrible thing to do in a nursing home so I just said, “Hi Grandma!”  Her eyes focused on me and studied my face.  Then, like a bolt of lightning, she shot up and smiled and gave an expression on her face that can only be described as “I KNOW YOU!”  Cookies, cakes, and pancakes all over again!  I introduced her to my son Max who was 2 at the time and my son Dodge who was only 3 months old.  Her expression was that of, “Yes, yes, yes…I see the babies…I know you!  I know you!  I know you!”  So I held her hand, looked straight into her eyes, and told her about what was happening in my life as if we were drinking beer on her couch back in the 90’s.  I combed her hair, I stroked her beautiful face, and I showered her with kisses like she had for me the day Grandpa died.  I wrapped her up in a hug and told her I would see her again soon.  Then I went outside and broke down in the parking lot.

That was the last time I saw her.

She passed away this Wednesday at the age of 90.

I’d be lying if I said I felt like I was a good grandson in the end.  I did not visit her this summer, intentionally.  Selfishly, I was scared and didn’t know if I could handle seeing her again after last summer’s experience.  Last summer’s experience was so hard and so rewarding that it seemed like the best note to end on.  Now, I don’t know.  My dad saw her just before she passed and she recognized him.  I can’t stop thinking that I should have gone a few weeks ago when I was there, and I’ll have to live with that decision for the rest of my life.  However, I have so many memories to to hold her in my heart and last summer is the punctuation on my life with her.

Great Uncle Bob, Grandma Dawn, Aunt Jeanine, Uncle Bill, Great Grandpa Preston in front of the diner

Great Uncle Bob, Grandma Dawn, Aunt Jeanine, Uncle Bill, Great Grandpa Preston in front of the diner after it closed.

Last night I sat in the back yard, stared up at the sky, and picked out a star to talk to and said my goodbyes.  I didn’t scrunch up my eyes and hope she would appear next to me, I prayed she was released from the confines of her body and was somewhere with lots of beer, Wheel of Fortune reruns, Grandpa, Bus, and a kitchen stocked with everything she needed to make pancakes for the universe.  She was my last grandparent.  She was a living connection to that time period.  It is a chapter closed…but never forgotten.  In the end I think we all wish for that one last goodbye, that last memory, that last morsel of cake…but why cry over crumbs when you got to enjoy the prime cut?  It is so cliche but enjoy every moment of life with those you love, NOT because it could be the last…because it is what you’ll remember when its over.  If your grandma or grandpa is still alive, give them a call.  Stop by.  Give them a hug.  Tell them you love them, even if they don’t remember who you are.  It doesn’t matter…everyone likes to hear “I love you.”  Finally, if you knew Dawn…please think of her and maybe her spirit will touch your dreams or add a dash of love to your next batch of cookies.  I thought of her last night as I spoke to that star and suddenly the sky was filled with hummingbirds!  20-30 of them swarmed my mimosa tree in search of something sweet.  Then a deep Kansas wind rolled through and off they went as the ash tree bended and swayed through the gust.  Then everything was calm.  Not a sound in the night air.

Good night Grandma.  I love you.  I miss you.

Tell Grandpa (and Bus) I said, “Hi.”

Bill Gates Diner


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