Five Pages a Day

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Authors: Peg Kehret
Marriage to Carl, but he didn’t know that. It began a tradition that has continued with every book: I don’t tell who the book is dedicated to until the book is published. Then I give the first copy to that person.
    I could hardly wait! Daily I imagined handing Carl that first copy of my first published book. He would be so excited and happy! Perhaps we would go out to dinner to celebrate, carrying a copy of the book to show to everyone we met. It would be a glorious, never-to-be-forgotten event.
    Like so many things in life, it didn’t quite work out as planned.
    I lived in Washington, and my brother, Art, lived in Minnesota. Throughout the sixteen years of our father’s illness, Art and I both went to California, where our parents lived, several times a year.
    On the day my first book arrived, I was flying to California to visit my parents. The box of books came just before I had to leave for the airport.
    I opened the package, admired the cover design, checked to be sure the dedication was right, and stuck one book in my suitcase to give to my mother. I left the rest on the dining room table, where I knew Carl would find them when he got home.
    Later that night, by telephone, he told me how pleased he was by the dedication. We agreed it was a wonderful book, but our enthusiasm was dampened by worries over Father’s worsening mental condition. The once-in-a-lifetime moment of seeing my first book in print was not as joyful as it should have been because my father was so sick.
    I have used Alzheimer’s disease many times in my writing. Anything that has such a major impact on my life will find its way into my work. The first time was my play, Spirit! One of my favorite characters, Esther, has severe memory loss. Like my father was, she is childlike and completely unaware of her former career. That play was written before my dad forgot how to feed himself.
    I also used my experience in Night of Fear , a novel about a boy named T.J. whose grandmother has Alzheimer’s disease. T.J. is appalled by Grandma Ruth’s brain disorder and embarrassed by her behavior when his friends are there. He remembers the vital, intelligent woman she was, and wishes desperately that she could be that way again.
    T.J., of course, is based on me—just as all my main characters are, the boys as well as the girls. They have my thoughts and my feelings because those are the thoughts and feelings I know best.
    Often in the early years of Father’s disease I shed bitter tears over the enormous injustice of this vibrant and intelligent man’s mental decline.
    After eight years of caring for him at home, Mother was tired and too thin. Father couldn’t talk or dress himself. Twice he fell and couldn’t get up again. It was hard to find reliable home health care. Although it had seemed unthinkable to let strangers care for him in an unfamiliar place, it was clear that soon we would have no other choice.
    I flew to California again, and Mother hired someone to stay with Father one afternoon while we looked at nursing homes. After we returned from this sad task, I sat in the den and tried to distract myself with a magazine.
    Soon Father shuffled into the den. He no longer spoke to me, but I believed that he still knew who I was. He smiled a docile, little-boy smile, and I knew he was glad to see me.
    As I watched him, I remembered the piano duets we had played when I was growing up. I recalled family card games with my aunts and uncles, when Father always figured out which cards everyone else held. I thought of the many times when I’d shrieked that the swimming pool was too cold, and Father had replied, with a grin, “Just like a warm bath.”
    I recalled how his good humor and thoughtfulness had cheered me and my roommates when I had polio. I remembered the outgoing businessman who had invited me to the Rotary Club’s annual father-daughter luncheon, and the handsome man in a tuxedo

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