Foreword by Gwendolyn M. Parker
My dear sister, Gwen, wrote this foreword for my upcoming book Running All Over the World, Our Race Against Early Onset Alzheimer’s. I have selected the fee based Publisher Newman Springs to publish my mosaic description of what it is like to have all of your processions in your suitcases as we bounced around every four days for over 5 years. This is just the beginning of this 6 month process to release my long awaited desire to further inspire others to see the world a bit differently.
Like many older siblings, when my baby brother Tony was first born, I didn’t pay much attention to him. To my five-year old self, he was a mere curiosity, a miniature human who seemed to have only one or two tricks: crying, eating, and kicking his legs in a fun way. When he became an active toddler, he occasionally became a playmate, but I still did not take his measure as a person in his own right. However, I distinctly remember the moment he first impressed me, where I saw something nascent in him that I would return to again and again, as an early harbinger of the man he would become.
It was sometime before Christmas. Each Christmas our parents would give me and Tony and my older brother Garrett money to pick out presents for our extended family. We would shop and carefully craft our Christmas tags – to Aunt Ginn, love Gwennie Mac one of mine might read. But Tony – five years my junior – announced when he was seven that he would not be accepting this money. He logically pointed out that the presents were not really from him if he had not paid for them, and since none of us kids had any money of our own, he would work before Christmas to earn money to buy his own presents.
He had a red wagon that he took around the neighborhood collecting bottles and cans to return for the deposits. He also raked leaves and did other odd job errands. I was stunned by this decision – with one fell swoop he had surpassed both me and my older brother in measures I hadn’t even considered yet – namely maturity and independence, a desire to stand on his own two feet and make his own way in the world. I suddenly saw him as someone with a very strong ethic that had grown quietly all on his own and then sprung, full grown, like a tree someone might have secretly seeded in their basement till it was ready to meet the sun, sturdy trunk, leaves and all.
I saw that same sturdy young man when, after two years in college, he decided that college was not for him and instead left to enroll in flight school. I recognized him when he drove his three children, all young elite soccer players, all weekend long to away games in their motor home, snacks and sodas and lunches and uniforms and school books all meticulously packed the night before, supervising schoolwork for one while the other played, covering hundreds of miles in a weekend so that they could all participate in sports at their highest level, then back to his full time job that often took him away from home for days at a time. And I saw that man years ago when he took care of our mother in a way that allowed her to want for nothing, and to maintain her independence until the last three weeks of her life.
You’ll meet that uncommon man in these pages. A man of unusual grit and determination and unfathomable love. He describes himself as a man who was not particularly good at anything, who succeeded in life by turning what he called his C plus skills into something more with his A plus effort. I won’t weigh in on the skills he denigrates (our family’s emphasis on grades might have had something to do with that given the dyslexia that made school difficult for him) instead I will say that when judging my brother any sensible person would say that character counts, ethics count, commitment counts, and in all of those ways his measure is extraordinary.
This book is an account of his last five plus years on the road, as he and his partner ran all over the world after his partner Catherine’s diagnosis of Early Onset Alzheimer’s and Tony’s open-heart surgery. If you are a runner, you will recognize the focus on one step at a time, pushing past pain, setting and meeting goals. If you are a traveler, you will revel in adventures and monuments and exotic locales vicariously experienced. And if you are a spouse or other loved one to a person with Alzheimer’s, whether early onset or diagnosed at a later stage, you will recognize the daily challenges, the commitment to being the best partner one can be to someone who was facing loss on a daily basis. Yet despite this looming specter of loss, Tony was committed to an additive model. Neither he nor Catherine focused on or were deterred by the stumbles, the falls, the broken ankle, the leaky heart valve – instead, every day, every step they took was animated by: what can we add? What new people can we meet? What new goal can we conquer? What new vista can we experience?
If you take this journey with Tony and Catherine, you can share in their determination that turns obstacles into challenges, their openness that transforms strangers into, as Tony puts it, new best friends, and the zest for life that embraces new experiences and the horizon beyond measure.
Tony says he is a vista junkie, driven to climb mountains, steep winding road and treacherous paths all in order to see a dazzling novel view- a heretofore yet seen vision as the world opens up in a new and glorious way. Despite whatever hardships you may be facing, this attitude says, there is always a new way of viewing and experiencing your life if you just keep going till you find that new perspective.
You can join Tony and Catherine in experiencing these new worlds and you don’t even have to get off of your couch – just open these pages and take that first step.
Gwendolyn M. Parker
Author, These Same Long Bones, Houghton Mifflin, 1994
and Trespassing: My Sojourn in the Halls of Privilege, Houghton Mifflin, 1997
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