Saturday, July 30, 2011

Making Ethel Smile

By Joseph Walker


Her name was Ethel. I didn't know it at the time, of course. To tell the truth, it really didn't matter. All that mattered was that the music was playing, the dance floor was beckoning, she was woman, I was man. Let's dance.

I know – I was married. It was OK. My wife, Anita, was on the same dance floor, cutting a rug with a good-looking' guy named Clarence. That's sort of the way it is during dances at the nursing home. You come, you see who is ambulatory, you dance.

We had gone to the nursing home "hoe-down" to be with my Dad, who was a resident there. But my sister, my daughters and my wife were handling Dad's dancing needs, which left me free to check out the female talent. I danced with several women, including one who whistled – loudly and beautifully – throughout the song, and one who started screaming when I asked her name. They were all wonderful ladies, and I enjoyed each moment of musical movement – even when that "movement" consisted mainly of keeping my partner from falling down (sort of reminded me of a sorority dance I was invited to in my college days – but I digress).

Ethel, however, was special. There was fire in her eyes, and passion in her voice. When I asked if she would like to dance, she looked me dead in the eye and responded brightly: "Yes I would!" Her eyes never left mine as we danced. When I asked her name, she said, "My name is Ethel!" When I asked if she liked dancing, she told me, "Yes I do!" When I told her she was a good dancer, she replied, "Yes I am!" Always brightly. Always with energy. Always with grace.

But never with a smile. For some reason, during all of our pleasant interaction, she never smiled at me. Not once. After our dance was over and I returned her to her seat, I asked one of the care center employees if there was a reason why Ethel couldn't smile.

"No," I was told. "She can smile. She just doesn't smile very often."

Well, that sounded like a challenge to me. So I spent the rest of the night trying to make Ethel smile. I told her both of my jokes (note to self: a care center for Alzheimer's patients probably isn't the best place to try out a standup comedy routine). I brought her food. I made faces at her while I was dancing with other women. She watched me carefully – almost intensely. She nodded at the jokes, thanked me for the food and made faces back at me. But she didn't smile.

I was about to go Jerry Lewis on her – you know, drop my pants, fall on the floor, break a vase over my head or some other sophisticated form of comedy – when something funny happened. Or didn't happen, as the case may be. Clarence, Anita's former dance partner, wandered over to where Ethel was sitting and sat in the chair next to her. He reached over and gently patted her hand. She looked at him. He smiled at her. She smiled back. Simple as that. The smile I had been working for all night was given to Clarence for just a pat and a grin. It wasn't fair. Unless . . .

"They're married aren't they?" I asked the attendant. "Or maybe sweethearts?"

"Nah," she said. "They're just friends."

I've heard that phrase before – "just friends" – and I'm not exactly sure what it means. It seems to infer a relationship that somehow lacks something. But my experience has been that a good and trusted friend is more than just . . . well . . . "just." Friendship is an extraordinary thing. It can bring depth to your life, comfort to your soul, joy to your heart and a smile to your face.

Just ask Ethel.

Monday, July 25, 2011


Just a few for now - I have hundreds of pictures to go through from this weekend...but I wanted to get some of the favorites up at least.

Everyone after graduation (except for one sister who had to leave)

And of course, Sam on the motorcycle all dressed up - apparently a big hit in Rexburg. He said lots of people honked at him.

At the graduation party we had Sam get all dressed up again so that we could take a few more pictures.

My new favorite picture - and Squirt's too. He's got a fever today and he really wants his daddy who left for scout camp this morning. Squirt is mostly satisfied if we have this picture up when he wants Daddy.

I'll add more as I get around to editing them.

Sunday, July 10, 2011

Warm River 2011

When I asked Squirt if he wanted to go swimming this is how he looked....


Picnic with Kathryn and Christian - and not forgetting the most important thing - Sam's solar hot dog cooker!

This is a project that has been in the works for several months. Though it has only recently been working. Sam's turning it in for a final project for one of his classes. The parabola - the big shiny metal thing - is shaped in such a way as to direct all the sunlight it catches to one point. You can direct the light and by placing the cooker in the direct sunlight you can slide a hot dog onto the skewer thing in the middle and cook it - yes - they really get cooked!

It takes about 5 minutes to heat a hot dog to where it's nice and hot. Closer to 10 minutes if you want it toasty like the picture above.

If you leave it for half an hour...

It will burn the hot dog - no that's not a shadow - it really is burned.

Squirt enjoying a solar cooked hot dog (actually he enjoys all hot dogs - he'd eat hot dogs for every meal if we would let him)

Yesterday we needed a last minute improvise to cook a hamburger. Thanks to a pickle lid, my wonderful engineer and his pocket knife - a plate was fashioned that cooked the hamburger. It sizzled and smoked like hamburgers do when you cook them on the grill. So cool! Sam's got plans to make a separate attachment to cook hamburgers - something more long lasting than a pickle lid.

After lunch it was time to float the river.

Caleb didn't mind the river...

Until he felt how cold it was.

He was not very impressed and even tried to climb up Sam's legs so that he could get out of the water. Despite the name of the river being Warm River - it wasn't really warm.

Even sitting on a tube that kept him out of the water was too much for Caleb...nope - he wasn't impressed.

Even being in the tube(s) on land was traumatic.

But when he rode down with Dad he was pretty happy.

He liked the ride until it was time to get off and he got splashed a little. I didn't know there were little kids who didn't like to splash...but we have one. (I took him to the splash park in Rexburg a few days ago and after an hour his swimming suit was still dry - pictures to come.)

Caleb much preferred doing this while the others floated the river:

So he and I sat on the bank and ate chips

and Oreos

and watched the others float past

And life was good - and we enjoyed the view

After the final run Dad insisted that sitting in a tube and watching the river was even better than floating the river - and he and Christian came up with some ideas for a motion ride at Disneyland that was like floating the river. I think they called it The Great Idaho Adventure ride...and Kathryn added that there should be a squirt bottle to get you just a little bit wet.

We went down the river a bit to feed the fish after everything was over.

I've been up to Warm River to feed the fish a number of times - but this is by far the best picture I've ever gotten of fish there. I'm so proud!

Caleb liked the wind in his face on the way home.

Silos in Ashton

We stopped here to get ice cream and mashed potatoes. Mashed potatoes for dinner - ice cream because that's what you do if your last name is Robbins and you've been swimming.

The bathroom was kinda scary - but really, really clean.

And look at how beautiful the fruit is there!!! I especially love the mirrors behind it - makes it look like there is tons of fruit.

And for the Psych fans...yes, I found the pineapple

Sam got Cotton Candy ice cream and I got Huckleberry (one of my favorite flavors of ice cream EVER!)

And then we came home and had showers and went to bed. It was a long day but so fun. I think I'm the only one who ended up sunburned - and only a little on my face. We stopped by the Jet Stream on the way home just to show Christian where it was...but the water at the Jet Stream is incredibly high this year.

Like so high we may not get back here before we move. And that makes me sad. Here's a comparison for you:

I posted with the blog post from 2009 that the water was higher than normal that year - but it's nothing like this year.