by Theresa Snyder
A new monthly series, “We 3” 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.
How we became We 3
In 1995, at the age of 70, my father fell off a ladder at his part-time job. He landed with all his weight on his left heel. After surgery, he had a plate and 16 screws holding his foot together. The orders from his physician: “No weight-bearing for three months.”
A year before, their post-retirement dream of travel in a motor home had been brought to a grinding halt by Mother’s plethora of health issues. At the time of his accident, Dad was my mother’s caregiver.
They had purchased a singlewide mobile home and set up residence where I could assist Dad with the care of my mother. Now, however, the care giving fell squarely on my shoulders.
I would leave work, pick up something for dinner, drive to Mom and Dad’s, fix dinner, clean up after, help Dad to the shower and back to his chair, clean house, water or mow the lawn, make sure they had what they needed for the evening, then run home to bed – only to rise the next morning to start the process all over again.
Exactly three months into Dad’s recovery, he experienced a heart attack, which led to triple bypass surgery.
It was unthinkable that Mother could care for Dad. I couldn’t continue the way I was – running on my caregiver treadmill. Something had to be done.
In April of 1996, the three of us purchased a home and moved in together. This began the saga of our lives as We 3.
Cast of Characters
Let me introduce the cast of characters for these stories, for “characters” they truly are.
My mom, Lorine, the matriarch of the family, died in April 2011; however, she was alive during the four years the “We 3” columns appeared in the Gresham Outlook.
Mom was born in Texas in 1922 and raised in Oklahoma and Arkansas. She spent most of her formative years, from ages 18 to 50, in Southern California. When I was growing up, she was “The Rock.” The wrestler with that title had nothing on her. What she said was law. Mom raised us with lots of love and heartfelt listening. She could cook hamburger 365 different ways. She could walk into what looked like an empty kitchen and come out with a three-course meal. She could make a dishrag taste good.
Mother was a librarian for many years and was extremely well-read. She had an opinion on just about any subject, yet would listen to the other sides of the argument if well presented. She raised three of us “natural” kids and 23 foster, adopted and, what we all learned to refer to as, “borrowed” kids.
The three of us born to Mom and Dad are Wade, my older brother; Jeff, my younger brother; and me. The rest of the kids came to us in their teens and were all boys. This was good for me because I never lacked for transportation and always had a room of my own.
My dad, James, will be 87 years old this August. He was born in Los Angeles and raised in Anderson, Indiana. He moved to Southern California after World War II and became the best friend to my mother’s California cousin. That’s how my parents met.
From the time I can remember, Dad was going to night school and teaching high school auto shop classes during the day. In 1971, he chose to move us all to Oregon after we saw the state on vacation in 1970. He taught in the Eugene School District for several years. All together, I think he put in about 27 years as a teacher, although he is still teaching me – so maybe it is a lifetime vocation.
I was born in Pasadena, California. In the first 25 years of my life, we moved 29 times. I have lived in Oregon the longest and consider it my home. Currently, I work at Mt. Hood Community College. I have been working since my summer jobs in the ‘60s. You can guess at my age. A girl has to keep some secrets.
I have worked for a zoo, groomed dogs and been an employee in a Fotomat. I have pursued retailing on several different levels, including management. I have been a dispatcher for a Ford dealership, an office manager for an elevator company, a jeweler, bookseller, storekeeper, legal assistant, marketing coordinator, make-up artist and writer, not necessarily in that order.
I have never been married and have never had anyone propose. I am the girl next door that the boys all consider “sister” or “best friend” material. I am content with myself and how I turned out, and I have no problem with this as it gives me more time to write, read and garden.
Now to the supporting characters of our drama: Corkie, Isis, Bigfoot and Jewel.
Corkie was Mom and Dad’s dog, a little bouncy bundle of gray fur. Isis turned out to be my “cat-from-hell.” The assistants at the vet took vacation days when they knew I was bringing her in. Both Corkie and Isis were a big part of all our lives and will pop up periodically in the columns as we discuss past events. We lost both animals between Thanksgiving and Christmas 2001.
A year later, we went to animal rescue and got Bigfoot and Jewel. Bigfoot is an American Tabby and polydactyl (six toes on each front foot – looks like he has boxing gloves on). Jewel is a modified tortoise cat and, even though much smaller than Bigfoot, she is the top cat. Bigfoot adopted Mom and Dad. Jewel has taken to me and sleeps in Isis’s old bed.
So, there you have it – the cast of characters for these columns. Oh, I almost forgot The Garden. It is now nine years old and plays a major part in our story. At first, it was a reason for escape, but then it became a place to relax, bond further, and enjoy nature coming to us since we often cannot go to nature.
Next month’s column begins with the old horror story cliché, “It was a dark and stormy night … ” – and that isn’t too far off. Stay tuned!
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 other work www.theresasnyder.blogspot.com.