BY Barry GINTER
As I think back on my trip to Wisconsin last week to visit my family, old friends, Brett Favre and former haunts, I'm feeling especially thankful, even though this holiday finds me at my desk catching up on e-mail and piles of paperwork.
Out of that vacation blur, the image that stands out most distinctly is visiting my mother for the first time in more than a year. She's in the advanced stages of Alzheimer's disease, and lives in a care facility. On top of that, she has suffered a few minor strokes and is able to get around only by using a walker.
We feel lucky as a family, however. She lives with seven other residents in a care facility that feels more like an inviting home, with a fireplace, TV rooms and around-the-clock care. Because of that and a handful of medications she takes each day, her condition hasn't deteriorated much in the past few years.
All of us came to terms with the disease long ago. Her memory is mostly gone, although she always recognizes my sister, Barb, who is her most frequent visitor. No, this isn't the mother who raised us alone, who worked at several jobs to help put food on the table whenever she could find time from taking care of eight children.
But she's still a pretty amazing lady, and spending time, any time, with her is quite enough.
Just like she did last year, she seemed to recognize me. When one of the assistants said, "do you know who this is?" she looked up at me and said, beaming, "That's my son."
Probably, she didn't know exactly which son ... there are five of us, and we look quite a bit alike. But it was more than I expected.
And I left feeling good about another thing. Growing up, my mother did her best to provide plenty of experiences for her children that would be common for any normal family, ranging from camping trips to excursions to amusement parks. Often, her best friend, Lorraine, another widow she met through a church group, accompanied us and it sometimes was like having two mothers.
They'd lost touch over the years until recently, when Lorraine, by chance, was visiting the care facility with a relative and saw my mother sitting there in a chair. She recognized her as her old friend, although my mother did not remember Lorraine.
Lorraine has Alzheimer's, too, though she is in the early stages and you wouldn't know it talking to her. She is frail and lives by herself. And like my mother years earlier, she is proud and the idea of moving out of the home where she raised her family is traumatic.
That is, until she saw my mother in that chair. She began visiting regularly, and now that one of the rooms has opened up, she's moving in. It's not because she needs to, she made it clear, it's because her old friend is there.
There is no family that's dealt with the ravages of Alzheimer's that would say there's anything pleasant or fair about the experience. You take what little you can get. But to know my mother will spend her final years well-cared for, with her friend at her side ... that seems like a blessing.
The other overwhelming memory from the trip was attending a Packers game with another fan from Carson City, Mike Cross. It was my first trip to Lambeau Field in at least 15 years. To Mike, it was more of a pilgrimage, his first trip to not only the stadium, but the state.
And I have to admit that his credentials as a Packers fan put me firmly in the Pop Warner league of fandom.
It was like sitting next to a football computer. What number did Jerry Kramer wear when he played for the Packers in the 1960s? How high was Koren Robinson drafted in 2001? How many sacks does Aaron Kampman have this year? Those type of questions were child's play to Mike, as was picking apart the action on the field. If there were a holding penalty, Mike usually had it called before the ref ever threw a flag.
Even the diehard Packer fan sitting on the other side of me was impressed with the guy from Nevada, even though his credentials were pretty solid, too. In fact, he proudly showed me the photos on his digital camera he'd taken of Brett Favre's house on the way to the stadium.
But the true caliber of Mike's fandom was apparent after his plane tickets were royally screwed up both on the way to Green Bay and the way back to Nevada. It cost him hundreds of dollars extra and an extra night in a motel near an airport on the way home. When I saw him next, as we watched last Sunday's game in Carson City at Grand Central Pizza (a local gathering place for Packers fans), the subject barely came up.
It's a little like that credit card commercial: A staticky emergency phone call with an India-based agent for the travel company who can barely speak English ... well, actually, you couldn't pay him enough to go through that again; a last-minute emergency plane ticket on a different airline ... $800; a A trip to Lambeau Field to see Brett Favre blow out the Vikings ... priceless.
• Barry Ginter is editor of the Appeal. You can reach him at 881-1221, or via e-mail at email@example.com