Letter to Elizabeth in June 2009
Thanks for your invitation to visit.
There’s nothing I’d like more than to take some time off for a leisurely drive down to see you and the grandkids. It’s not a question of money or vacation time.
Thirteen months ago I moved my Nerac office to a loft over the kitchen at mom and dad’s house because Becki was going to be away for the summer. I felt I had to do this because we had had too many emergencies and Becki would not be around to step in. By the fall I learned how fragile my parents existence had become. Every week there were problems that I had to address … the furnaces, squirrels in the house, needed groceries and pills, and innumerable other problems. My mother actually lost the ability to walk for a month or so and needed constant attention such as trips to the doctor, trips to the market, etc. Between her doctor’s appointments in late October and April, she lost 7 lbs and has become very weak.
Over the last 6 months dad has become more senile and very confused about things like ‘what day it is’ even though they have the newspaper right next to them. He also has delusions about something that happen a day or week ago that actually did not happen. I have to make sure that all the bills are paid and I pay most of them. I have had to guard mom and dad’s money from my brother David who has been demanding money to pay for his financial mistakes. When he visited several times in April and May, I had to remove the check book and credit card from the house. In May, I felt that it was necessary to freeze dad’s checking and savings accounts to block David from getting access to dad’s savings. Keeping an eye on the money situation is absolutely necessary because dad has limited savings left even though I cashed in his life insurance policies. There has to be enough savings to pay $10,000 property tax for the next 2 years and fix a lot of things so we can sell the house and land. It’s like having 2 full time jobs, not just one.
There are things that pop up almost daily. I work 40 hours a week at the farm using the Internet so Becki and I can survive if or when I lose my job or have to retire (Nerac has laid off half the staff). On weekend days, I visit my parents in the morning and afternoon to make sure they are alright. My mother is greatly relieved by my presence whereas dad is just in a fog. Also my mother is very frustrated by dad’s deafness, so my presence is necessary to relieve the strain.
Last Sunday morning mom took a dangerous fall. She lost her balance and fell backwards banging the back of her head on the driveway gravel. Dad called us in a panic and I raced over to pick her up off the ground. Fortunately she had struggled to pick herself up and was sitting in a lawn chair when I got there. I had to take her inside because she could not get there by herself. Then I had to fix the wounds on the back of her head. I realized that if she had fallen on her side or front, she probably would have broken an arm or a hip and this would have been a disaster. We then watched her for several days for complications that might require us to take her to the emergency room.
This is my life right now because David is untrustworthy, Phoebe is incapable of helping, and Peter and Andy are struggling to support their own families. I cannot imagine leaving my parents alone for even one day and 2 or 3 days is out of the question. Until this situation resolves itself, I will not be able to pay you a visit. Frankly, I don’t expect this situation to go on too long into the future.
I can’t wait to have the opportunity to see Elijah and David and visit you and Kyle. At the first opportunity Becki and I will come down to Virginia Beach.
Letter to Elizabeth in March 2010
Sorry I missed your birthday, Honey. Bad Daddy. No excuses … but I’m spread pretty thin.
I have pictures of Elijah and David that you sent us nearby. They look healthy and happy. They must be looking at their mom. I’m sure you’ve been very busy with daycare. How time flies. They are already 2 and a half and 1 years old.
It’s like I have 4 jobs. First, I am working full time at Nerac. Then, I am trying to get the farm ready so it can be sold … no small matter. Then there are my parents who require full time monitoring. Finally I’m managing the RowaytonKids website which has brought together a lot of kids from the 1950s. This new website has been a lot of fun and has brought back many fond memories through sharing of pictures taken in the 40s, 50s, and 60s (www.rowaytonkids.com ). Of course we still have the Café which is busy also. If you look at some of the pictures at RowaytonKids, you will see Connie, Patty, Margo and Paul. They were close childhood friends of mine. I lost touch with the three girls after sixth grade and Paul was my best friend through high school.
My work at Nerac has taken an interesting twist. Last July the German university system Max-Planck sued the University of Massachusetts and the Whitehead Institute (MIT) over infringement and breach contract having to do with the invention of “interfering RNA” (gene silencing). This is a powerful genetic technology that will eventually produce many drugs. It’s my impression that UMass and Whitehead are trying to steal the rights to this invention, but we will see how the trial comes out. Nerac is going to let me attend the trial when it starts on June 1 and report on the daily events of the trial to the Biotech/Pharma industry. I find this to be a fascinating fight with $billions at stake so it has stimulated my interest to keep working as long as possible. After losing $2 million in 2008, Nerac was barely in the black in 2009 and things seem to be picking up. This turn-around only came when we cut the staff by more than 50%.
In addition to doing all of the physical work cleaning up the farm house, I have had to find ways to raise money to pay for necessary improvements and the taxes and insurance since mom and dad’s savings is just about gone. This is partly because I support Phoebe with their money. To raise money I am selling all of the furniture and some other things on consignment. I am also selling timber with the help of a forester. I have had to involve lawyers to pull this off without opening us up to serious liability. The attached picture shows about a half week of harvest of white pine. The fact that there is now a market indicates to me that the economy is coming back. The corporation will net about $18,000 from the timber which will likely be spent by the fall.
At the farm, I spent the last few weeks painting downstairs walls flat white, shampooing rugs, and vacuuming cobwebs, all in my spare time. I’ve got the house almost empty. I have three high school guys lined up to help me finish emptying the house. I finished most of the painting of the outside just before it got too cold last fall. Luckily we had a relatively warm February and March so our heating has not been a nightmare.
As I said mom and dad require full time attention. Mom wets her bed almost every night and we have also had some problems with dad’s incontinence. We wash 5 times as many dishes and laundry than we did before they moved in. We have to keep their section of our house 70 degrees; otherwise they complain about being cold. We live normally at about 64 degrees. This temperature differential turns out to be a good device for keeping them in their section of the house and not in ours. The only waking hours that we have completely to ourselves is between 7:30PM and when we go to bed. Usually for me it is 9PM because I get up with Becki at 5AM. I’ve always needed a full 8 hours but lately I find myself starting to wake up a 3AM.
When Becki and I are at work, we have homecare specialists come to our house when we are not going to be there. We have Angie (older than me) for two hours in the morning and Pam for 4 hours in the afternoon. They do a great job and help us with house cleaning and the dishes.
To get through this eldercare part of our life I have mandated two trips to California for Becki each year. She spent the second to last week (9 days) of February in the Bay Area and had a wonderful time. Did you see the video of Mariah surprising her shown on Y-Tube? Becki’s next 9 days off will be at the beginning of July.
There are no complaints about our situation and we have it completely under control.
Love you and a belated Happy Birthday, Dad
Letter to Elizabeth in March 2011
I am writing to wish you a HAPPY BIRTHDAY in advance for a change and to give you an update on us.
Normally weather is not worth talking about but it has dominated our lives for the last three months. The news says that we have had about 93” which is hard to believe unless you saw the 6-8 foot piles of snow around our driveway entrance. The snow never thawed and these piles were built up by our snow blower. I almost had to beg the heating oil company to deliver to our house a few weekends ago – I never felt so anxious to pay a $715 bill for 204 gallons. I had gone home early to try and clear the two driveways and do something about the snow on our roof. Fortunately Becki had the smarts to pay $41 for a roof rake which I used to remove much of the snow on the roof over the weekend. The motivation for this was that one house and several barns collapsed in Woodstock in February and several people fell of their roofs trying to clear the snow. We still have a significant “ice dam” at the edge of our roof in the back. One couple over-reacted to the snow on their roof and started spraying their roof with hot water, much of which ended up in their living quarters. The last week has been warmer and rainy so I think we have turned the corner. The explanation for our winter is “global warming” which causes more moisture in the atmosphere leading to greater amounts snow, ice, and rain.
Becki and I have been recovering slowly from the 16-month ordeal surrounding guardianship of my parents in our house. That experience was not easy. Both mom and dad had serious senile dementia much more severe than most elderly. They never bothered us about moving back to the farm. It was as though they had completely forgotten where they had lived for the last 30 years. Dad thought they were living in their house and we were just visiting and many times thanked us for stopping by. Sometimes mom would say that she wanted to go out to her car that was parked on the street so she could drive home … to Rowayton. She would explain that she just drove to our house the night before and then dad would join in and say that he came with her. Mom would get angry when I told her that she hadn’t driven in six or eight years (I actually recorded one of these difficult conversations). However, at that point she could not walk without help and was nearly completely incontinent. Toward the end, we had to lock my father in his suite at night because he would get up after midnight and start wandering. Then, he would bang on the door with his cane and I would have get up and get him back to bed. This mostly went on between 1AM and 3AM. We had to remove all objects that he could use to cut or break things and then finally his cane. We swore that after they were gone we would go to the movies, this finally happened in mid February when we took in a Sunday matinee to see “The King’s Speech”- a terrific movie. Danielle (Phoebe’s daughter) had given us a gift certificate for that occasion.
I got a nice call from Drew around then also. Seems like he and Michelle, along with Daniel, are happy and I’m impressed with Drew getting a new and better job. And Christina seems happy with Levi and part-time work at school.
Two weeks ago Becki spent five days in Virginia Beach and she tried to contact you by phone and email and then drove over to your house also, but no luck. Haven’t heard from you in a long time and so I have been wondering how you and the kids, and Kyle are doing. I tried to call twice but got a message that you are not accepting calls.
It’s amazing but I am still a survivor at Nerac (knock on wood). Currently I have four interesting genetic engineering clients that I am working with fairly routinely. One is a company called Synthetic Genomics (an Exxon company) which is going to engineer algae to make fuel oils. Another is a company funded by Bill Gates that wants to engineer plant chloroplasts to make useful things. Then, I have Aqua Bounty, the company that has engineered giant Salmon for food. And last but not least is Bluebird Bio, and gene therapy company that performed the first cure of a patient using gene therapy. They created red blood cell precursor cells (stem cells) with a correct hemoglobin gene and transfused a patient with beta-thalassemia with these cells. The gene-corrected cells started making red blood cells that functioned properly and should last for a lifetime. Before this, that 17 year old patient had had monthly blood transfusions from the age of 3. He’s living in France and apparently now has his first girl friend and a serious smoking habit.
I‘m also covering a lawsuit that will end with a trial in late March (now it looks more like settlement). (http://blog.nerac.com/rnailitigation/ ). If the trial occurs, I’ll be able to go to the US Federal Court in Boston every day. The Max-Planck Institute has sued the Whitehead Institute (MIT) and UMass for trying to steal their invention of “gene silencing”. I’m very biased in favor of Max-Planck. My former colleague, Klaus Weber (a grand old professor at Max-Planck) is involved on the Max-Planck side. He and I corresponded last spring and we agreed that ‘it’s a small world’. One of my most recent posts has a video with Klaus and the key inventor, Thomas Tuschl, discussing the invention at stake. Weber’s lab helped me in 1980 by sequencing the mutant actin protein that I discovered. Our work together launched my career as an NIH-funded molecular biologist.
We’ve already started to see signs of spring so it’s not too far away.
Give my best to Kyle. And give Elijah and David hugs for me. Their pictures are spread around the house.
Love you, honey. Dad