My father was the king of crossword puzzles … so starts a poem I wrote a few years ago. He loved working through the tiny squares, pen in hand. Words and word games were a passion of his. When kids in the classroom ask me about my early writing influences, I proudly say, “My father!”
Growing up, he taught me to love cryptograms and word scrambles, dictionaries and various kinds of convoluted language. Crossword puzzles though, were his domain. I never developed the knack (or interest) he had with them. For some reason last night, I picked up a magazine with a crossword on the back page and completed it … in pen. And this morning I woke up thinking about my dad.
My father had a massive (left-side of his brain) stroke at age 77. The following years were obviously difficult for him (and us), yet he maintained a mostly positive attitude, with a continued interest in life and living. Though he could no longer speak, he was still able to have a ‘conversation’ and always … an opinion. He’d sing along to music and enjoyed ‘The Price is Right’ and ‘Jeopardy’ (and ‘Jerry Springer’ … ouch!). And he loved, loved, loved going for rides in the car!
As his daughter, I was fascinated with all he was still capable of and believe it was primarily related to how well he’d always taken care of his brain. “There is quite solid evidence that staying physically and mentally active is a way toward brain maintenance,” says researcher and Umea University professor of neuroscience, Lars Nyberg.
I know this ‘use it or lose it’ attitude is not new, but sometimes we still need to hear it. When we were told our mother had vascular dementia, we were given pages of hobbies and word games she could play to help slow the progress of the disease. When I’m in line at the grocery store and hand the clerk $20, I like to do the change-back in my head. I memorize poetry, create mosaic art and enjoy reading most anything. The brain is a muscle, requiring exercise.
Lately, I’m loving online Scrabble. Just started a game with my niece in Germany and my brother has yet to win one 🙂
Here are a few games from the AARP website – http://www.aarp.org/health/brain-health/brain_games/
And a good article from Huffington Post – http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/01/13/keeping-the-aging-brain-h_n_1202899.html#s423675&title=Stay_Intellectually_Challenged
Four Letter Word
My father was the king
of crossword puzzles.
he’d come home from work
covered in grease and engine grime.
After a quick shower,
the first thing he’d do
was the evening paper’s puzzle,
in the time it took my mother and me
to put dinner on the table.
My father always did
the crossword puzzle in pen,
once a square was filled.
He parented in much the same way –
once spoken, no taking back.
No need to check tomorrow
for today’s answers.
a morning newspaper was also delivered.
He’d do that puzzle
in the bathroom before work.
Sunday morning crosswords were the bomb.
Practically the entire page checkered,
across and down clues
squeezed in underneath.
And on the facing page
along with Dear Abby,
was the cryptogram and word jumble
he’d save for me.
As a young girl
he taught me the art of hidden meaning,
a love of words and language
that spills over and floods
my life as a poet.
Some of my best memories
are coming home from church,
my father still in bed
propped up on pillows,
large and invincible.
I’d bring him a fresh cup of coffee
and he’d hand me the cryptogram.
Climbing up beside him
I’d huddle until Sunday dinner –
knees bent beneath me,
chin in hand, chewing the pen cap
while working through patterns and clues
the way he taught me.
The other day on a subway in NYC
the young man beside me
is tentatively doing the Times crossword,
using a pencil and eraser.
Furtively I watch
as he struggles with 10 down,
eraser dust all over his black Armani suit.
A four-letter word
beginning with L –