OFJ Field Journal from Glenn Orton - 11/10/95Today our whole family went to visit my mother in Oceanside, about 30 miles north of San Diego and about a two-hours drive from Arcadia. She's been widowed now for a little over a year and a half. The kids had no school on Veterans Day, and - although I hardly can afford the time off work - it gave us the chance to repay numerous visits she's made to us. I'd feel more guilty if we hadn't taken her to Hawaii with us, of course. On the way, we visited Frances Brown, my wife's mother, in the hospital, where she's trying to get rid of pneumonia while deep in the midst of Alzheimers' symptoms (her dementia could be the result of true Alzheimers or a series of continuous cerebral strokes, no way to tell). This is hard to watch, although Linda's gotten a little used to it, as this late-in-life college graduate who became a schoolteacher had deteriorated mentally to the point where she is incontinent and unable to feed herself, unable to recognize us, and is incapable of uttering anything that is meaningful. Mrs. Brown's doctor confided in Linda that he didn't think she'd come out of the hospital alive, as her IV's were failing because her veins were collapsing around them. But an arterial chest entry later, she seems to be doing better in fighting the pneumonia at least, and she could say 'applesauce' when asked whether she'd like her pills in applesauce. It's the first thing she's said in 4 weeks, and Linda was happy to hear her.
What we miss by going down are two parties: (a) one for the launch of the European Space Agency (ESA) Infrared Space Observatory (ISO), on which I'm associated via the Long-Wavelength Spectrometer team, and (b) one for Linda's group working on the Spacelab's Atmospheric Trace Molecular Occultation Spectroscopy (ATMOS) instrument. Still, Linda was quite happy to go, and so were the kids! Mom had never lived alone in her life - she moved from a family of eleven to a "ready-made" family of 5 when she married my once-divorced father.
I like to take the time to do things with the kids when we go on trips like this - not just Hawaii (and a contemplated trip to Paris next July), but short days not at home, where they are not always off playing with the neighbors. Gregg is intellectually talented and it's a joy to hear him read; we're working together on reading Michael Crichton's newest, "The Lost World", a sequel to Jurassic Park. We also helped him with one of his history assignments, making sand paintings, in the traditional style of the southwest Indians. This involved glue, coloring sand with food coloring, and was a really enjoyable mess! Sarah has a harder time struggling with reading and math, but loved the art projects, and she liked painting rocks with acryllic paints my mother supplied her. My father had done this and probably sold more of them than canvas paintings, a late-in-life pastime which provided a little income and a lot of pleasure up to a few months of his operation for stomach cancer early in 1993.
On Thursday, I had a surprise - a free volume of Jackie Mitton's book on the Shoemaker-Levy 9 collision, which another colleague - John Spencer, at Lowell Observatory - helped put together in record time. Jose Luis' picture is in it, and he autographed it for me. I supplied a number of the pictures and commentary in it, which is how I got the free copy, I suppose. I left it with Mom for a few days to read; she can return in for Thanksgiving. My one regret is that Dad, who spent most of the time carting me off to astronomy club meetings and cold nights timing Jupiter's satellite eclipses when I was in high school, didn't live to see the Shoemaker-Levy 9 event, or his youngest son on CNN Headline News (for all 5 seconds!) or on the Discover Channel (this Dec. 4, or on the editing room floor!). At least he knew I was lucky enough to be doing pretty much all I ever wanted to do since I was about seven years old.