by Theresa Snyder
One crystal-clear Sunday as temperatures hovered in the mid-70s, I had the idea to take Mom and Dad to the Japanese Garden. We put Mom’s wheelchair, nicknamed “Caddie,” in the trunk. The outing would be her first time using it.
At the Japanese Garden, Dad and I hefted the wheelchair out of the trunk and fumbled Caddie’s footrests back on. We soon realized we had them backward. They would have worked fine as stirrups on a saddle – not a comfy fit for someone in a wheelchair.
We got things in the right position, located the brakes and told Mother she was in charge of the braking.
We moved down the slope to the entrance, navigating a speed bump and a small trench. Tickets purchased and map in hand, we were ready for our adventure.
I lovingly referred to my mother as “Ladybug.” She was five-foot two-inches tall and shaped somewhat like a ladybug. There were times when she lost her balance and fell. Unable to get up on her own, Dad and I would help her get back on her feet. Let me assure you, having her on wheels brought an entirely new experience.
First, we had to navigate the cobblestones under the lovely wisteria arbor. That took some pushing and proved to be a bit of a bumpy ride for Mom. We took advantage of a photo opportunity at the large stone temple. At this point, we were still on flat ground and still smiling.
Around the corner to the left, at the bottom of a sloping walkway, we saw the Koi pond. Dad took one look and suggested that Mom get out and walk, steadying herself with his arm. I foolishly told her to hold her position; we were going down the slope. Too late, I realized that what one considers a slope when walking becomes an extraordinarily steep hill when trying to control a wheelchair.
Hanging on with an iron grip, I learned back but could feel myself losing footing on the gravel. Trying to stifle the panic in my voice, I asked Dad to take hold of the handle on his side and help me. Dad grabbed on. We were still losing ground – and much quicker than I thought was safe. If we kept on this way, our legs would buckle under us as and we’d be pulled down the hill like tin cans behind a wedding car.
There was a log bench at the bottom of the hill. I had visions of Mother hitting that and being tossed head first into the pond.
I desperately wished Mom had big wooden extensions on her brakes like the ones on a Conestoga wagon. Luckily, we got her stopped right before we ran into the bench.
Out of breath and feeling as though my arms were stretched out of shape enough to allow my knuckles to drag the ground, I slumped onto the bench. Dad wandered off toward the iris bed. I thought he just didn’t realize how close we had come to letting Mom take a swim with the fish. As it turned out, he was looking for a smoother exit from the pond area so we wouldn’t have to push Mom back up that hill.
One of the nice ladies at the garden must have seen our Herculean effort to get Mom down there, because she came over with food to feed the lovely Koi, enabling Mom to see them up close and personal. Dad wandered back from his flower-gazing for another “Kodak Moment,” this time with the fish. He informed me there was no way out except back up the hill.
Mother suggested we push her up the first third of the hill and she could walk the rest of the way.
Three gentlemen walked by and one advised her to get a buggy whip.
Not to be out done, his friend suggested a riding crop.
I told her she should just yell, “Mush!”’
This led to Dad suggesting that we get two malamute dogs and hook them up to the front. I suggested we could knit little sweaters for them that said “service dog.”
All these crazy ideas made us laugh so hard, we barely made it up the hill. Even at that, pushing was a whole lot easier than trying to stop a runaway wheelchair from careening downhill.
We kept Caddie on flat surfaces for the rest of our Japanese Garden adventure.
There is a hole in the hedge at the base of the ramp from the main pavilion. On the other side is a drop of several hundred feet. I told Mom someone riding in a runaway wheelchair made the hole. Mom smiled and said she was so glad she had safe drivers like Dad and me to depend on.
This is the sixth in a monthly series, “We 3,” which introduces VoiceCatcher readers to Theresa Snyder and her stories – sometimes touching, sometimes hilarious, always authentic – about caring for aging parents. First printed as a monthly column in the Gresham Outlook between 2003 – 2008, they were collected in book-form in 2007 (Mt. Hood Community College Press). The columns have been updated and are reprinted here with permission of the author.
Theresa Snyder has been writing ever since she can remember. In 1996, shortly after she moved her elderly parents in with her, she realized she couldn’t resist writing “out loud.” She found an audience in east county interested in reading about the challenges and rewards of being a baby boomer caregiver. Unlike other authors, she does not possess a degree or a long list of publishing credits. Instead, she likes to think she has earned her title as “author” through life experience and a great deal of reading. Check out her work at Baby Boomer Caregiver.