Memory Can Be a Precious Thing
Posted by Bob Barcus on April 22nd, 2013
Memory can be a precious thing. Remembering the past helps us forge our future and live in the moment. It can help us relive the good times and helps us recount the bad ones. I watched my step-grandfather lose his memory through the effects of Alzheimer’s disease. I was still in high school when Cliff was diagnosed. I actually knew him longer than most people. We moved to Argos in 1978 and rented the farm off of Cliff and his wife Ruth Bailey. Ruth passed away just a few years later from cancer, which left a void in Cliff’s life.
In 1984, Cliff married my grandmother, Elizabeth, and they were the perfect couple. They enjoyed their life together – traveling the country, going dancing and attending various social events. Unfortunately, it was not to last, as Cliff passed away in 1996.
Cliff took my brother Bill and I on countless adventures. He had a lot of farm machinery and heavy equipment and was eager to show us boys how his business ran. He would take us out into the fields with him, down to Eddy Lake where he dug the marl out of the ground and out to the gravel pits to load stone. If we weren’t in school, we were more than likely with Cliff. The first time I ever drove was in Cliff’s old green Ford pickup truck. Cliff had brought a load of leaves out to the farm and wanted to rake them out onto the field. He told me to drive while he and Bill raked them out of the bed. I don’t remember how old I was, but I do remember that my dad was furious when he found out.
Cliff was a popular guy in the Argos area. I think he knew just about everybody and those he didn’t know he just smiled and carried on a conversation with them like he had known them for his whole life. To this day, I still run into people who knew Cliff and I’ve never heard a bad thing said about him. He was a great guy and a hard worker. He had retired from Bendix in South Bend and spent his retirement working on the farm.
Around 1990, Cliff started having memory problems. Things really got bad after he had surgery for prostate cancer. Dad, Mom, Bill and myself went to go see Cliff in the hospital and were surprised when the nurse told us that he had been released. We came back to Argos and stopped by Grandma’s house. That was the first time I knew something was wrong – Cliff didn’t know who we were when we walked in the door. Grandma told us that the hospital said it was the effects from the anesthesia and he would be OK after a couple of days. He never recovered.
My grandmother retired from her job at Hart, Schaffner & Marx in Rochester in 1992 to take care of Cliff, but it wasn’t long before he was out of control and Grandma couldn’t take care of him anymore. She had to put him into the nursing home in Culver. They couldn’t control him either and he ended up in a special ward at Miller’s Merry Manor in Huntington.
Even as a young man, I could see how difficult it was for Grandma to make that decision. She loved Cliff with all her heart. It’s sad, but almost of half of their marriage was spent with Cliff barely knowing her. Grandma and I took several trips down to Huntington to visit with Cliff. On one of our last trips, we took him out to eat with us. When he got in my truck, he remarked, “Boy, this is a nice truck! Where did you get it?” I replied, “I bought it at Oliver’s in Plymouth, Cliff.” He then stated, “Well when I get back home I’m going to have to buy me one of these.”
While staying in Huntington, Cliff started complaining about his stomach. Grandma asked the nurses about it, but they told her that it was a natural symptom of his Alzheimer’s and that there was nothing to worry about. Cliff continued complaining that his stomach was hurting, but they ignored his complaints. What they failed to recognize was that Cliff had developed a massive ulcer. He was admitted to the hosptial in Huntington where the doctors did everything they could for Cliff.
I called Grandma from work one night and that’s when I got the news. Cliff was dying and probably wouldn’t make it through the night. I was devastated. I tried to go back to work that night, but I couldn’t do it – I was too overwhelmed. I left work after a half hour of thinking and put the pedal to the floor. I drove down to Huntington by myself, as Grandma, her sister Chris and my mom had already left. To this day, I still don’t know how I was able to travel that whole distance without getting a ticket, but I was only five minutes behind them when I arrived. But we had all arrived too late – the look on Grandma’s face when I walked into the room was more than I needed to see. Cliff was gone.
This is the first blog post of a multi-part series on my family history. Preserved for future generations in an online format, it is my hope that these posts will help truthfully recount events as seen from someone who was actually there.