Pop Tarts

August 1st, 2010

I hate Pop Tarts. It didn’t used to always be that way. As a kid they were as close to heaven as my palate had ever imagined. Lacking in any nutrients, it was like candy for breakfast. Even as an adult I’d swipe one from the stash that Brooke bought for the girls the shopping trip before, always taking care to eat the second from the wrapper lest my robbery would be discovered. To this day I wonder if they always thought a box only came with four tarts instead of six. No my distaste for Pop Tarts started almost four years ago. I just never knew it until now.

Embarking on our first vacation in three years Brooke bought them for convenience. When cooking in a camper, easily prepared meals take a priority. Without electric, limited refrigeration and hours of driving between destinations they were the one breakfast choice that was instantly ready to eat and didn’t require a spoon. She choose a strawberry one. I took both a cinnamon and strawberry.

With one bite the memories came flooding back. I could tell it was the same for Brooke, just by the look on her face. And without saying a word, we each carefully wrapped the remaining tart in a napkin and threw it away, instead opting for hunger until lunch. You see, four years ago it was again a breakfast of convenience. Somewhere in between IV treatments, steroid mixing and catching the bus to St. Jude, both she and I would stop to grab something for breakfast. Something we could eat with one hand and something to energize us after two hours of sleep. Never would we do this together – balancing work and care for Elena in Memphis we’d never be together except on the weekends, when schedules were lighter and we’d go for waffles at Elena’s request. Still, at the hospital, it was life as we knew it – a life no doubt shared by most parents experiencing the same thing.

Gracie was too young to remember. Brooke and I weren’t about to destroy her sugary paradise either. But for us, it wasn’t about the taste – it was about the memories. Memories of a cancer that took our daughter.

It’s funny how a taste can bring you back. To this day I also hate the smell of isopropyl alcohol, the look of syringes and head pillows, the sound of a blender and the taste of turkey dinner (which makes Thanksgiving harder than it already is – it was also the day after that she was diagnosed). On the other hand I love ice cream. Nutrionally I even think this is an even swap for Pop Tarts. Specifically I like Elena’s Blueberry Pie ice cream from Graeter’s. Sure, it’s named after Elena, but it’s more than that. It’s about why it was created more than for whom it was created. And in the end, every spoonful benefits the research to give children with this deadly form of brain cancer a fighting chance.

Everyone asks if Elena liked blueberries. I try to avoid this question. She really didn’t. She was a vanilla kind of girl. Only after her diagnosis did she branch out and try chocolate and vanilla swirl. Actually the flavor has nothing to do with Elena beyond the name. Instead it was the invention of family friends who participated in The Cure Starts Now auction, intent on naming their creation after her. They liked blueberries, but most of all, they liked pie crust. Somehow I think Elena would have agreed, though, if she ever had the opportunity to taste it.

With ice cream month in full swing, I jokingly tell Brooke I’m going on an ice cream diet. She looks down at my stomach then back at me and shakes her head. I can’t tell if she disapproves or just thinks I’m a lost cause. Then again, she might be right on both. Still, it has to be better than Pop Tarts. Who knows – maybe I’ll even start taking a pint with me in the morning on the way to work. Then again, maybe a cone instead. After all, it would serve all the critical requirements: convenient an

November At The Beach

July 18th, 2010

November at the beach. Swimming with dolphins. Driving on Christmas Morning. They are the pictures of our life and they wallpaper the hallway to our bedrooms – just the way I want it. Replaced by glass, frames and smiles, our bare walls tell the story of the lessons that Elena left behind and the memories that Gracie still creates today.

Last week I was asked how we survive after losing Elena. I didn’t have an answer. In truth, even we still don’t know. As I wander through the house I see the pictures she painted, the coffee cup she created, the coasters bearing her smile and the book to capture her lessons for Gracie. I have a dog she renamed, a charity she inspired and friends I never would have met if it weren’t for Elena. Still, I don’t have her. And in the end, I would give it all up just for another minute with her.

Some days are easier; most are still hard. The scar from her loss will always remain, but thankfully our mind now returns to the happier memories instead of the sad. But sometimes even these memories bring the most tears. I force myself to relive it all, up until the very last minute as I carried her to the ambulance after her passing, afraid that if I don’t I’ll forget something as the years pass. There never was a smiling picture to capture that moment – just a feeling that I never want to relive. Still, I pick, like a scab that you just can’t let go, watching the blood pulse once again from the scar. And somehow it makes it feel better if only because it gives you control over the very last memory.

I think the answer to how we survive is that we just live. In the end, I think it’s the same answer everyone has after losing a loved one. With Gracie we have no choice. When we awake we count yet another day without Elena. When we say goodnight we give thanks for another day with Gracie. And so it begins again – starting with the memories and ending with new ones. I guess that’s the promise of life and the lesson of religion. Each day is a new opportunity as we are reborn anew.

This week Gracie is with her grandparents. I hate these weeks. Ignoring the obvious, both Brooke and I run away to work to avoid the memories that we share but dare don’t repeat to each other. This week is also the week that I realized that Gracie is now older than Elena ever was when we lost her. Elena’s hand-me-downs no longer fit, her personality has matured and I, as a father, must now learn all over again. Time for new memories, new experiences and new challenges. Time for a rebirth – for all of us.

As I walk to our bedroom tonight, only half of the walls are covered. The other half remain bare, as testament to still what remains. In many ways they are Gracie’s memories now, but they are also lessons from Elena. Without her I doubt there would be pictures at all, instead remaining undeveloped in a hard drive or never taken at all. And for this lesson I am thankful.

This is how you survive. You remember, you learn and you live. And I am learning myself only now.

It’s a Small World

July 4th, 2010

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THANK YOU FOR ALL YOUR LETTERS. WE HAVE BEEN ON VACATION (SEE BELOW) IN THE LAST WEEK AND DID NOT UPLOAD AN ENTRY LAST WEEK. STILL WE WERE HUMBLED AT THE AMAZING AMOUNT OF LETTERS WE RECEIVED FROM MANY OF YOU EXPRESSING YOUR INTEREST IN FOLLOWING THE STORY. THANK YOU FOR YOUR SUPPORT.
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I’m convinced that Yellowstone is nothing more than an amusement park. Sure there’s a few more trees, plenty more RVs and a little more than a chance of permanently maiming yourself or getting gorged to death by a buffalo, but at heart, not many other differences remain. And somehow I imagine if I dug deep enough I’d even find that Disney owned the park from the beginning.

Take the international appeal for example. Yellowstone National Park attracts everyone – no matter what language and no matter what background. As a matter of fact, people watching becomes an art as you watch tourists battle over right versus left on the boardwalk trying to pass each other. The Americans push towards the right side, keeping the left only to pass. The foreign tourists start on the left, then the right, and finally back to the left – as if questioning if walking is like driving. And in the end, the battle is nothing short of spectacular as each realizes that one step off the boardwalk may land them in a pool of boiling geyser water.

Then there’s the map. Much like Epcot, the Magic Kingdom or that animal place I can’t exactly remember the name of, the map is laid out not so much according to efficiency but according to themes. Just as there is Tomorrowland, Yellowstone has Geyserland. Just as there is Fantasyland, Yellowstone has Lake Village. Just as Disney has Pioneer Land, Yellowstone has…well… Pioneerland. Of course, they also might have had a little help from the Creator Himself, but that never stopped Walt either. And don’t expect to finish it in a day. No, no,no – Yellowstone is a five day adventure as well. Spread 20 miles apart, each land is carefully arranged so that no matter how fast you drive and no matter how cheap you bought your “Magic Your Way” Yellowstone pass, you’ll never see all nine lands unless you upgrade to a premier pass and plunk down your money on a night or two at the Yellowstone branded resort and choose from the Yellowstone branded cuisine. Just the way Walt himself planned it.

Then there are the characters. Only this time, instead of Mickey the Mouse, you have Biff the Buffalo. Of course he’s joined by his other 10,000 or so buffalo friends (probably named Bertha, Billy, Buffy and Bob) that you’ll meet over the next three days. In our case, it was a meeting over the hood of our car as Billy the Buffalo helped fog our windshield with just one huff – guess who was boss then? At first you think it’s a novelty, but then on day two, it becomes a bit tedious. Somehow I imagine that in a year or two the nightly buffalo report will resemble the LA traffic report (“There’s another buffalo broke down on the big loop – don’t hold up dinner.”)

Of course, there’s always the wolves, the foxes, the deer, the elk, the moose (is it “meese” or “mooses”) and the bear. But then again, just like a Disney resort, they are held back for special occasions. Sure you may see Pluto twenty times at a Walt Disney Resort, but did you ever see Arial or Peter Pan? No, these are the special ones – the ones reserved for the parade. And even if you are lucky enough to catch a glimpse, its not long before they are quickly ushered out of sight by the “Animal Care Wardens” that roam the park desperately trying to keep those over anxious fathers out of harm’s way while they get the perfect photograph to bore the extended family with. Assigned orange gloves and neon green vests, they help direct traffic, tell people to get back in their car and politely inform the guests that it’s time for Greg the Grizzly to say goodbye and go backstage where the sign says “Cast Members Only” behind the big pine tree on the side of the road. “But don’t worry”, they tell you, “he’ll be back out in another 15 minutes to sign autographs.”

And the rides. Take any ride at Disney and you’ll quickly find a match at Yellowstone. The “Jungle Cruise” quickly becomes the Forest Cruise as a ranger drives you throughout Pioneerland in a yellow truck telling you to “watch out for the charging buffalo”. The fountains at Epcot become the Old Faithful Geyser of Yellowstone (is it just me, or does it seem strange for 400 people to gather to watch a glorified sprinkler). The Jamboree Bear Show at the Magic Kingdom becomes…well…OK, there was always something disconcerting about a bear that played the harmonica.

Then there’s the gift shops. More plentiful than restrooms, they carry everything you could never need including a personalized ranger badge (Gracie’s favorite – “Dad – I really need one of these!”), a collection of bear ornaments (which Brooke quickly snatched up), and Yellowstone wine (direct from California). Forgot something for the family back home? Don’t worry, every ride ends with a stop at the gift shop just in case you forgot.

Yes, Yellowstone was in many ways much like a trip to Disneyworld. But just like a trip to Disneyworld, it was a trip of a lifetime. For the next few months I’ll recount our trip through the hundred of buffalo pictures and mountain landscape shots I took throughout the park. Because, of course, I was also one of those anxious fathers standing 20 ft. from a 2,000 buffalo coaching him to say cheese. And in the end, I’m glad we went. Just be forewarned, if you come to my house, be prepared for a slideshow.

Ten More Years

June 20th, 2010

By the way I figure it, I have ten more years left. Brooke tells me I’ll be lucky to have six. Still, I know better – I’m the Dad.

Last night we celebrated the wedding of my cousin. It was a wedding eight years in the making to a cousin I was sure would have eloped years earlier. But in a surprise to us all, her wedding was both elegant and traditional – and by traditional, I mean a non-air conditioned church in the middle of one of the hottest weeks of the year, a formal gown and tuxedos and the perfect reception just a half a mile from home. For us, it was a pleasant evening, if not only for the relief of my entire family who had been rooting for the groom all along. But probably the biggest surprise wasn’t the ceremony at all, instead, it was Gracie’s request that I dance with her that amazed me the most.

Lately I’ve seen the signs: the headbands on the vanity, the matching sandals on the floor, the fashion games that remained on our computer after she left. It all meant one thing – she was a girl. Not that I was surprised – we knew that after the third ultrasound. Sometimes I just wondered if she knew it – or wanted to admit to it. For years she shunned the color pink, hair bows and anything with flowers, but lately she’s compromised her position, even considering the “hot pink” shirt, headbands and flowers as long as they are “sporty”. But still, a dance? And with Dad. I wasn’t about to say no.

So we danced. I twirled her. She stepped on my toes. I tried to instruct. She told me to be quiet. And Brooke sat on the sidelines laughing. Somehow, I guess it wasn’t the picture of elegance. But as the only pair on the dance floor, we didn’t have much competition. At least for a while.

I twirled her again, this time catching a glimpse of him. Four foot tall with a tie and vest he stood waiting patiently. I looked around. Certainly he didn’t want to dance with my daughter. After all, she was MY daughter. I looked away and twirled her again. He didn’t move. I looked to Brooke. She motioned to me to let him cut in. I shook my head. No, not tonight. After all, this was the first dance I’d ever shared with her and I wasn’t about to get bumped by some 8-year-old.

I’d like to tell you I relented. That I stood back and let Gracie dance with the 8-year-old in the corner. But then again I’d be lying. After all, he wasn’t tall enough, wasn’t old enough, wasn’t young enough and generally wasn’t good enough for my daughter. Going home, Brooke lectured me on if any boy would be good enough for Gracie. Probably not – even I know that. Besides that, I had a little less than two minutes before I had competition. And that’s just not enough time.

Gracie never noticed. She was too busy twirling, giggling and yelling at me to see the boy waiting patiently for nearly an hour. And I wasn’t about ready to stop, not matter how poorly I executed Miley Cyrus dance moves or line dancing. I wasn’t even going to give him a chance. Brooke says one day she’ll notice. I tell her I’ll keep her busy. She laughs again. She knows better. She always does. Still, I have ten more years at least and they’ll all just have to wait.

She’s my daughter.

Superstore Karate

June 6th, 2010

Chongul pandae chirugi. Kima yop chirugi. Hugul sudo hadan makki. To me they all mean the same – “just another way to beat up Dad”. Of course it also means something else – and that’s “a way to beat up future boyfriends”. But that’s why I like it.

Three years ago we started on a mission. At the time it was more about preoccupation (for us all) after losing Elena. I told everyone it was about getting Gracie ready to beat up all the boys, but in truth it was just as much about finding an excuse to get out of the house. At the time I was unsure if Gracie would stay with it. And after sitting for hours on metal folding chairs watching endless lines of forms and posturing, I almost hoped that she would give us both an excuse to give up. One month in I almost had my wish. The tears flowed with every critique from her teacher, but the allure of the yellow belt was just too much. With it came new responsibilities, new challenges and most important to Gracie was status. She was no longer a white belt and it mattered. And she had a new place in line.

I remember the day I learned the value of her training – and that lesson was painful. It started in the line of the local Sam’s Club. It was our first stop after karate – a 40 lb bag of chicken and a 200 can pack of soda. At the register I pulled out the check while Gracie clamored for my attention. “Look Daddy, look what I learned today”, she said while pulling at my sleeve. I kept on writing, waiting for the screen to either show me how much I owed or the payment plans necessary on the 40 lbs of chicken. “Daddy, daddy – KEITH!” she tried, this time with emphasis. Still I looked on, calculating the pennies.

Two seconds later I was on the ground. Gracie had lost her patience. Standing over me, she now had my attention. “Look Dad”, she exclaimed proudly while standing in a fighting stance, “I learned how to sweep today!” Checkbook in hand, I dusted off my shorts, cautiously bracing myself for a second-wave attack that I was sure was to follow. None came, but I learned my lesson. Even cashier noticed, covering her mouth to conceal her giggle.

To this day Gracie has my undivided attention when it comes to anything she learned in karate, lest I fear the hidden punch, a chokehold or a crane-karate-kid-move designed to paralyze me below the waist. Now six belts higher, the punches are harder, the kicks are higher and her confidence is unwavering. Now the boyfriends really have something to be fearful of. So does Dad.

The Hunt

May 22nd, 2010

It’s a hunt.  And it occurs each afternoon at 3:30pm.  I park my car down the street to avoid any chance of detection.  It’s still early on in the process, but one misstep now could give it all away.  And there’s too much to lose to take a chance. 

I walk quickly down the sidewalk to the school – passing parents gathered in the grass talking to each other or herding young kids towards the playground.  My attention remains focused as I see her rounding the corner.  Even her teacher is in on it.  She sees me ducking behind the bush along the school window and nods her head as if to say “I got it”, and then gestures to the playground on the far side of the parking lot.  Gracie takes the bait and her eyes follow her finger.  This is my chance, but I have to act quickly.

Greetings with Gracie are a punch to the gut – quite literally.  As is her explosive nature and animated smile, I quickly learned the difference in the afternoons when I would pick her up from preschool.  And as she’s grown, the greetings are more forceful.  Today all 65 lbs of her start at a sprint 40 feet away as she runs head first with her arms outreached to give me a hug.  Not so much a loving gesture in as much as a body slam, it’s how Gracie says she loves me as her head slams into my gut and I brace for impact.

To me the hunt is just as much about lunch preservation as much as it is about love.  And if I catch her off guard I’ll be able to avoid the running-sprint-slam-hug.  Tomorrow the hunt will become a necessity;  another 10 lbs and she’ll quickly knock me off my feet.  But that’s just Gracie.

Her teacher helps me win and today I’m successful.  I think she feels sympathetic for my attempts.  Without her help I’d watch her teacher wince as Gracie would tear across the playground and almost knock me off my feet.  Now I think she wants to avoid the schoolyard carnage.  And I agree.

Don’t get me wrong, I love the hugs.  I’d just like them a bit softer, like the ones Mom gets.  Still, I’ll take whatever she offers, at least until I get a bit older and she gets a bit heavier. 

So when you see me hiding in the bushes you know that I’m involved in the hunt and Gracie is near.  You might even want to stay away lest she’ll tackle you as well.

Are We There Yet?

May 16th, 2010

She hates the motorhome. Of course she’ll never admit to it. After all, it was her idea. In anticipation of charitable events across the country she suggested we buy one. I wanted the cheap one. The one fresh with the smell of hunting and beer. She wanted the pretty one, complete with air conditioning and a fully functioning engine. The salesperson saw us coming. And after explaining the importance of resale value (beer and hunting doesn’t sell) and fuel economy we left with visions of adventures to come. And by that, I mean that I dreamed of camping while she dreamed of luxurious travel from hotel to hotel.

One year ago, when we bought the motorhome we failed to communicate. Today we’re making up for that. And the communication is lively and animated. Two weekends ago we drove to Nebraska for a walk-a-thon. By that I mean I drove 20 hours and she slept. This weekend we went to Virginia for a golf fundraiser. And once again I drove 16 hours. As I write this she’s behind the wheel for the first time. Twenty minutes to be precise. And she’s already told me she’s too tired to continue. Of course that was after driving twice over the rumble strip and calling for caffeine. Now she tells me to go back to sleeping, but once again I’m too frightened to sleep. I guess she won. I might as well drive.

I’ve always known she wasn’t a “rough-it” kind of girl. Dirt, sweat and bugs never were her thing. Still that never stopped me from trying. But for Brooke, her idea of roughing it is McDonalds and the local Red Roof Inn. I guess we just communicate on different levels.

She says she doesn’t hate the motorhome. She just sighs with a tense smile. Even Gracie knows the truth. And now Gracie sides with Mom. Of course she likes bugs, sweat and dirt, she just doesn’t like being away from the television and video games. And in the end my best chance may be a little wilderness camping at a Hilton Hotel with a television. Think they’ll let me pitch a tent in the hall in protest?

This summer I’ll try again. While we have the motorhome I’ve planned a trip out west to Yellowstone. Everyone has to do it once in life. Gracie asks if it’s like the Wilderness Lodge at Disneyworld. I can just see her trying to pet a buffalo. Brooke wants to know if there are any mountains. She can’t stand how slow the motorhome travels up mountain roads. She’s been driving now 30 minutes while I write this and is now seeing her first West Virginia mountain behind the wheel. I guess she missed it all the other times asleep in the back. Still, for me, it’s all about the journey. And maybe this time I might be able to drive all 42 hours by myself. Plenty of journey.

Anything But Pink

May 9th, 2010

She says she is a Tom Boy. We insist that she’s athletic. Either way, Gracie is nothing like her sister. Elena loved princesses, butterflies and the color pink. Gracie loves cars, bugs and blue. Where her sister would have collected soft stuffed animals and headbands, Gracie collects rocks and pony tails. But no matter how much she shuns ruffles and bows she’ll always be a girl.

Today marks exactly 12 days before May Fete, the celebratory “skip” day of our community. School all but gives up in the face of cotton candy and nauseating twirling rides of terror and doctors, lawyers and other professionals of the community call in sick. After all, work comes every day, but the “carny” only comes once a year. So backpacks and briefcases are traded for funnel cake and insanely large stuffed animals that only seem like a good idea until you get to the car. And in the end, the entire community is precisely $20 less wealthy, a bit sick from cotton candy and ready to get back to work while the “carny” waits another 364 days.

As May Fete fever captivated the community, Gracie informed us that at school the official king and queen of May Fete selections were underway. And just like every democratic election process since the revolution has been conducted, this too was more of a factor of who volunteered rather than who was elected. Grace informed us that at first she thought she might like to be queen. Despite the chance of a pink crown and flowing dress, she thought that it might be nice to be the center of attention – a predicament that Gracie has never had any qualms about basking in. After all, even if for just a moment, she’d be happy to wear ruffles and lace, as long as it came with flash photography and bragging rights. But then, she informed us, she had second thoughts. What about the king, she said. After all, the king, just like the queen was also a function of who volunteered more than popularity and wouldn’t that mean that she might possibly have to hold the hand of a boy that she didn’t really like? And if she did, would everyone think she really LOVED him? That would be just too much.

In the end, the May Fete king and queen was decided by default and Gracie withdrew her nomination for fear of the consequences. No fear of ruffles, no pink and no holding the hand of a boy she didn’t like. No drama, just plenty of funnel cake and more time to spend on twirling rides of terror. And that’s just the way we want it.

Caps for the Cure

April 25th, 2010

I love Spring. Not for the flowers, the warm weather or even the pollen. Instead it’s the reminders that mean the most. Late April into early May they start. A tattoo here, a hat there; each a subtle reminder of Elena’s influence and our desire to help other children in a way we could not help our own. I drive home and smile as I pass by the school. The children are on their way home too, only this time they wear hats. Ball caps, knit caps, even sombreros – each signifying a unified front in the battle against brain cancer – each a participant in the Caps for the Cure benefit that touches tens of thousands of students each and every year.

Tomorrow they’ll be wearing tattoos – a gift to each and every participant that helps us raise funds for The Cure Starts Now. What we don’t tell them is that the tattoos aren’t as easy to remove as a hat. When we purchased them we had a choice of 1 day or 1 week temporary tattoos – one more easy to remove that the latter. We chose the latter. After all, they call it a tattoo for a reason, even if they also call it temporary. Still, it’s a reminder of the cause they won’t forget, long after the hat is buried in the far reaches of the closet.

The first year the school decided to hold Caps for the Cure the day before graduation. Of course I knew what to expect – I just didn’t say a word. And in the end there were over 150 pictures of smiling graduates, each with a tattoo of Elena’s picture and the www.thecurestartsnow.org address blazoned upon their arms or even their foreheads. I could only imagine the frustration of the expectant parents as their once-in-a-lifetime moment was marred by our once-in-a-lifetime message. Still I couldn’t be happier, even if Caps for the Cure has since now been safely planned two weeks before graduation ceremonies.

It’s a message from one to thousands. It’s about curing cancer, one child at a time. It’s a reminder that the homerun cure for all cancers starts first with brain cancer. And it’s a message that can’t touch enough families and enough schools. Help us today and bring it to your school. We need all the help we can get. Then you too can smile as you pass them on the street, knowing the difference started with you.

For more information, please visit www.thecurestartsnow.org and click on “contact” at the bottom of the page and select “caps for the cure” as the subject. We’ll take care of everything else.

Spaceless

April 18th, 2010

“DamnforgottogetmilkohwellguessIcanusecream”, his journal begins before filling the page. In 10 pt. courier font, single space it continues, “havetodothewashoutofsocks”. From line to line, the subject changes, often without punctuation and without spaces – all a blend of to-do lists and a stream of consciousness, often at the same time. And it all comes from the desk of Ken.

It started around the time Elena’s journal started. Unable to read as his eyesight failed, my mother would read weekly journals from our experiences with Elena in Memphis to my grandfather back home. It was our way of communication, much simpler than telephone chains and more composed than the emotional roller coaster we felt. In so many ways it also became more. And just as we reconciled our feelings and established a legacy for Elena, my grandfather decided to establish his own right there at his kitchen table and a 40-year-old typewriter from the basement.

Today that legacy continues. At first it was deliberate and planned. He told of visits from family, news of the day or even the weather. In time he would start to write grocery lists, fights with the squirrels that raided his handmade birdfeeders and even of “that Jenny” (the obvious favorite of his children) as she performed the latest heroic act of taking him shopping at the local close-out store. The spacebar didn’t work, the shift bar sometimes stuck (leaving the occasional CAPITAL LettER) and the enter key skipped a line if he pressed too hard, but the journals continued. Corrections initially made with a strong XXXXXXX strikeout in time became pointless and the errors remained, giving his journals a human-like quality with the errors offering grace to his observations, even occasionally highlighted when he would comment “damnmisspelleditagain” or with a “hahahahaha”. But in the end, it came to be a journal we would appreciate and beg to read each Sunday as we joined him for dinner.

I doubt he could read the words he put to the page. Sometimes even we had trouble, both with the lack of spacing to discern the day’s events and when the ink would run out mid-sentence but the journal would continue, obviously pounded into the paper from the keys he continued to press, lost forever to a memory that wouldn’t last. Still, the 20 of us would clamor around the 8 foot kitchen table passing the days journal from person to person as if completing a group crossword puzzle that clearly took a family effort, if only because of the misspellings and lack of punctuation.

43 lines later, it would end – often as abruptly as it started, but not because his thought was finished. Instead, because it was the end of the paper. And so, in mid-sentence, the stream of consciousness would conclude, to be completed on the black typewriter roller where all sentences must end. Still, if you ask him I doubt he worried about what he wrote or even how he wrote it. Because just like Elena’s journal was a way to communicate with Gracie and our family, so are my grandfather’s ramblings still today. But not because of the do-lists, the lack of spacing or even the weather report. Instead, it’s about the communication he fosters right there at his kitchen table. Laughs, jokes and love around an eight-foot table set for 20. Complete with an old-typewriter to tell his story.

*140 characters can never be enough – not for Ken and not for me. In celebration of his journal and on my twitter account of keithdesserich, spaces are optional. Plenty of room to tell you damnIforgottogetthemilkagain.