The bandwidth of memories

Anoth­er fam­i­ly vaca­tion is com­ing up, which for me means think­ing once more about the pre-nostalgia of fam­i­ly pho­tos. While blog posts are osten­si­bly for vis­i­tors, the audi­ence I care more about is actu­al­ly future me.

Just before a 2013 trip, I wrote “Nos­tal­gia Comes Ear­ly,” a post about mem­o­ries and why I go to the trou­ble to share the­se posts — as much with my future self as with read­ers (I con­tin­ued this thought lat­er with Recov­er­ing the Past Through Pho­tos).

Every suc­ces­sive fam­i­ly trip cre­ates a mag­ni­tude more data than the one pre­ced­ing it. I have exact­ly 10 pho­tos from the first time I vis­it­ed Walt Dis­ney World, with my then-fiancée in 2001. I have only fuzzy mem­o­ries of the trip. A year or so lat­er I returned back to Flori­da (Key West this time) for a hon­ey­moon with her, a trip that has zero pho­tos. I remem­ber may­be a half dozen things we did but few locales vis­it­ed.

Con­trast this with a 2013 Dis­ney World trip, for which we made a whole blog, A Spe­cial WDW Fam­i­ly. The focus was trav­el­ing Dis­ney with autis­tic kids. There’s a lot of infor­ma­tion in there. We wrote about meals and rides, small vic­to­ries, and child melt­downs. The band­width of mem­o­ries isn’t just in the num­ber of jpeg files but in the dis­tinct mem­o­ries I have of the events of that week-plus.

We took many hun­dreds of pho­tos over our most recent fam­i­ly vaca­tion in Decem­ber 2015, only a small frac­tion of which went online. In addi­tion, I have Google Loca­tion data for the trip and Foursquare check­ins logged in Ever­note. I know how many steps I took each day. I know whether I had a good sleep. We didn’t make a pub­lic blog but we have a long anno­tate log of each restau­rant and stop, with anno­ta­tion tips to remind our future selves about how we could do things bet­ter in the future. The meta­data is in itself not so impor­tant, but it’s use­ful to be able to drop into a day and remem­ber what we did and see the smiles (and tired­ness) on faces each day.

Wheat planting at Howell’s Living History Farm

We’ve got­ten into the habit of vis­it­ing Howell’s Liv­ing His­to­ry Farm up in Mer­cer Coun­ty, N.J., a few times a year as part of home­school­er group trips. In the past, we’ve cut ice, tapped trees for maple syrup, and seen the sheep shear­ing and card­ing. Today we saw the var­i­ous stages of wheat – from plant­i­ng, to har­vest­ing, thresh­ing, win­now­ing, grind­ing, and bak­ing. I love that there’s such a wide vocab­u­lary of speci­fic lan­guage for all this – words I bare­ly know out­side of bib­li­cal para­bles (“Oh wheat from chaff!”) and that there’s great vin­tage machin­ery (Howell’s oper­a­tions are set around the turn of the twen­ti­eth cen­tu­ry).

Maple sugaring at Howell Living History Farm

photo_25126572241_oYes­ter­day the fam­i­ly trav­eled north of Tren­ton to a liv­ing his­to­ry farm to learn about maple sugaring.The kids col­lect­ed buck­ets of sap, prac­ticed drilling a tap, watched the boil­ing off process in a “sug­ar shack,” cut fire­wood, and then — yes! — ate some pan­cakes with farm-made maple syrup.

Reg­u­lar read­ers might remem­ber a trip to How­ell Farm last Feb­ru­ary, when the weath­er was cold enough for ice har­vest­ing on the lake.

Yesterday’s vis­it was a mud­dy, sog­gy day and the lake was clear. But I think every­one had just as much fun. See more pics on our Flickr set:

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Up Into The Cherry Tree

Robert Louis Stevenson's A Child's Garden of Verses
Robert Louis Stevenson’s A Child’s Gar­den of Vers­es

My moth­er died a few days ago. While I’m over­whelmed with the mes­sages of prayers and con­do­lences, at least at some lev­el it feels like cheat­ing to accept them too ful­ly. This isn’t a new con­di­tion. This is just the final moment of a slow-motion death.

A lit­tle over five years ago my moth­er was for­mal­ly diag­nosed with Alzheimer’s. It was quite brave of her to get the test­ing done when she did. This had always been her most-feared sce­nar­io for aging. Grow­ing up, we had befriend­ed an active elder­ly neigh­bor who had gen­tly died in her sleep after a minor slip on some ice. My mom thought that was the best exit ever. She swore Mrs. Gold­smith had come to her in a dream the next night to con­grat­u­late her­self, say­ing “See, I told you I was lucky!” For years after­wards, my moth­er con­vinced her­self that she would go in a sim­i­lar­ly ele­gant way.

My mom, Liz, must have sensed that Alzheimer’s was a pos­si­bil­i­ty when she sched­uled that doctor’s vis­it. The news didn’t come as much of a sur­prise to us fam­i­ly. I had been jok­ing for years that my mom seemed to have only twen­ty sto­ries that she kept on rota­tion. After she read a study that cross­word puz­zles keep your brain sharp as we age, she became an obses­sive cross­word puz­zler; when the Sudoku craze hit, she was right on top of it. She had brave­ly bought her first house in her late 60s. How proud she was. At the time she let us all know, repeat­ed­ly, that she would be leav­ing it “in a box.” Caulk­ing trim, replac­ing win­dows, and trou­bleshoot­ing a mud room leak that defied a dozen con­trac­tors became her occu­pa­tion, along with vol­un­teer­ing and watch­ing grand­kids. But by 2010, she must have known she wasn’t going to have Mrs. Goldsmith’s luck. It was time to adjust.

When she called to tell me the diag­no­sis, she couldn’t even use the A-word. She told me her “brain was dying” and that the doc­tor was putting her on Ari­cept. A quick Google search con­firmed this was an Alzheimer’s drug and a call with the doc­tor lat­er that after­noon helped map out the road ahead.

Alzheimer’s is a slow-motion death. She’s been dis­ap­pear­ing from us for a long while. Reg­u­lar out­ings became less fre­quent till we couldn’t even take her out to a near­by restau­rant for her birth­day. As words dis­ap­peared and speech began fal­ter­ing, I’d show her recent kid pho­tos on my phone and tell sto­ries to fill the emp­ty­ing space. Even­tu­al­ly she stopped show­ing inter­est even in this. On my last reg­u­lar vis­it with her, I brought the kids and we had lots of fun tak­ing pic­tures. Mom kept point­ing out at the phone’s dis­play as if it were a mir­ror. But con­ver­sa­tion was too dis­joint­ed and after a few min­utes, my kids start­ed wan­der­ing in ever widen­ing cir­cles look­ing for inter­est­ing but­tons and alarms to touch and pull and I had to round them up to leave.

In the past few weeks her for­get­ful­ness has extend­ed to eat­ing and swal­low­ing. Inter­ven­tion would only buy a lit­tle more time until she for­got how to breathe. Alzheimer’s is a one way trip.

On my last few vis­its she was most­ly sleep­ing. She’s was calm, preter­nat­u­ral­ly calm. Lying on her back, pale and peace­ful, she looked as if she might already be a body rest­ing in a cas­ket. Only the slight rise of sheets as she breathed gave away the news that she was still with us, if bare­ly. I felt awk­ward just sit­ting there. Some peo­ple are good in the­se kinds of sit­u­a­tions, but I self-consciously strug­gle. With lit­tle chance of inter­ac­tion, I struck on the idea of read­ing from a favorite book of poems that she had read to me on count­less nights as a child.  “Up into the cher­ry tree, who should climb but lit­tle me?” I don’t know if she heard me or pic­tured the cher­ry tree in her haze, but it was a way for us to be togeth­er.

The slow-motion nature of Alzheimer’s means she slept a lot until she didn’t. For rea­sons that go deep into biog­ra­phy, she was a won­der­ful­ly friend­ly per­son who didn’t have a lot of close friends any­more. It seems pecu­liar that one can walk upon the earth for so many decades and only have a dozen or so peo­ple notice your depar­ture. But then may­be that’s the norm for those who live deep into their eight­ies. Most of us will leave life with the same kind of qui­et rip­ples with which we entered.

Camp Acagisca

A two-night scouts camp­ing trip with two of my kids to the coun­ty facil­i­ties at Camp Acagis­ca nears Mays Land­ing turned into a one night with one kid affair (my 11yo got way too mouthy when it came time to decide who was going to share a tent with dad and went home imme­di­ate­ly; the 9yo end­ed up in a melt­down mid morn­ing on the sec­ond day.)

 

Rain camp­ing

A video post­ed by Mar­t­in Kel­ley (@martin_kelley) on

 

And while I assumed the name was some sort of Lenape con­struc­tion, it’s appar­ent­ly an amal­gam of Atlantic City Area Girl Scout Camp.