Onward Through the Fog

Onward Through the Fog
Art credit: Pixabay

A Crozet Diary

By Amy Satterthwaite Pappas

I arrived at my dad’s retirement home today in time for lunch. They sit four to a table and all four at my father’s table share the first name, Bill. The staff has a nickname for each; Dad is “The Marine.”

All was as usual, each in his own lost mind, when a newbie rolled himself in. He was admitted yesterday. When he saw me, his eyes lit up.

“Where is the exit to this house, young lady?” he said.

I remembered my father’s first confusing days here, so I said, “May I help you find a seat at lunch? It’s pizza and salad today.”

He narrowed his eyes. “Look, I need to get outta here, right NOW,” he said, as if raising his voice could stop him being helpless.

“I’m sorry, sir, I ___”

“Don’t give me that “sir” bullshit,” he said, leaning forward in a way that used to intimidate people, maybe younger women. “I’ll break that goddam window out!” 

“Ah,” I said. “Like in One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, right?”

He glared in silence. I didn’t move. A few minutes later, his daughter arrived, the staff having called her as a school might call the parent of a worked-up kindergartner during the first week of school.

I stood up to leave when she came to him and said, “Dad, what’s the matter?”

“Take me home,” he pleaded. 

The newbies break your heart.


There once lived a fierce and freckled little girl, curious but immoral, who captured insects, killed them with chloroform and posed their intact bodies on a shelf in her bedroom. Her mother disapproved, claiming the collection made it impossible to dust the room. But the girl prevailed, as her family was always a bit afraid of her. The child was given an ant farm in hopes of distracting her from hunting wild bugs—and it was watching those little ants tunnel in a trap that pierced her heart. So she set her ants free and never killed another bug (as a collection piece, anyway). I’m her, if you haven’t guessed—all grown up and still enchanted by insects of summer. Beetles are my favorite—especially the great horned monsters that beg to come inside. Katydids singing us to sleep…. Luna moths like ghosts peering in…. Lightning bugs so high they’re mistaken for falling stars…. Praying mantises so wise and wary. I touch them only with my eyes.

(As I write this, I’m scratching the chigger bites on my belly. I hate chiggers, ticks, flies, roaches, mosquitoes, stink bugs and hornets. I mean, I’m not a freak.)


Fought the holiday crowds today at the grocery store and farmer’s market. Approaching my driveway with a week’s carload. I’m hot. Hungry. Cross. There’s a black beef cow, escaped from her field, chewing something at the end of my drive. Don’t tell me those cows are out again. I pull up fast, ready to jump out and encourage her with wide-spread arms back towards her herd.

My hand’s on the door handle when I realize it’s not a black cow. The bear and I share a mutual shock before he lumbers across the road, over the guard rail and into the woods. Thanks, bear.


My dog Huck may have chased his last deer. We were out in the yard. I heard him yelp in pain. Turned around and he comes flying towards me with a doe on his heels. She pinches his rear with her lips before zooming away. Huck likely disturbed her fawns where she’d stashed them and she was protecting them. Deer chases and bites dog. Unforgettable and hilarious. Injury to his pride only.


There’s a married couple at my dad’s facility. The wife is in Memory Care, too. The husband lives upstairs in Assisted Living. Today, he was downstairs in his wheelchair visiting his wife. In the middle of the common room, she accused him of having an affair. “I can’t wipe my own rear-end, dear, let alone have an affair,” he told her. She wasn’t buying it. They glared at each other until their daughter came back to take her father upstairs. My father enjoyed the entire episode. “Better than what’s on TV” was his summation.


Ah, today is the spring running of the Foxfield Races here in Charlottesville—our own little Mardi Gras/Kentucky Derby/Easter’s weekend rolled into one glamorous, drunken bacchanal.

I was almost 17 when Foxfield debuted in 1978, with newlyweds Elizabeth Taylor and Sen. John Warner tooling in from D.C. We chased the limo onto the farm and were rewarded with actual hugs from Ms. Taylor, who thought we were “cute” in our preppiest outfits. Little did she know we had eaten magic mushrooms and were out of our damn minds. 

Seven years ago today, I was skipping Foxfield and transplanting some things into my front garden. I tripped over my shovel and fell onto my slate walk—shattering my right knee in three places. The EMTs who pumped me with painkillers and whisked me to UVA Medical Center repeatedly told me how lucky I was to be hitting the Emergency Room before 5 p.m., because the evening was sure to be full of the drunken casualties of Foxfield. Tally ho, lovelies, and party on.


You’ll never convince me that the body’s ability to suss out what’s rotten in the belly, and then defy the laws of gravity to project it straight up and out of the mouth, isn’t one of the most brutally brilliant skills in the universe. We become active volcanos when we vomit. Amazing. (I’m fine; just watching Huck eating weeds when I was supposed to be serving jury duty. Trial was resolved, unfortunately; I was feeling judgy.)


This morning when I visited Dad—after answering his questions about where his parents have been (in the grave, for decades)—we decided to go for a lap around the facility. Blocking the entrance to the library was one of the Queens of the place, an elegant silver-haired woman in a wheelchair who enjoys bestowing passersby with her malevolent stink-eye. We politely asked her to scoot out of the way. She blinked at us like a cat. “Come on, lady,” said my Dad, and believe me, that was Dad being patient. She refused. I checked to make sure we were alone, and leaned down to meet her baleful gaze. “Don’t try me, bitch,” I whispered, and used my foot to slide her chair backwards at a rate that surprised both her and me. And do you know she cackled at me? Thought it was funny. My father ambled in on his walker and told me, “Well done.”


Somehow, in a manner lost to time and memory, I acquired a hot-pink T-shirt. Too loud a color for me to wear in public. But today is a home chores day, and I put the hot-pink on. Mistake! Every time I stand on the porch, pollinators think I’m a giant flower. Hummingbirds and hornets have menaced me to the point where this garish shirt is officially a dust rag.


What scares me:

  1. Hornets.
  2. Sharks in the surf.
  3. High, narrow ledges.
  4. Hidden submarines.
  5. MAGA winds.
  6. Grizzly bears.
  7. Active shooters.


Dad fell yesterday for the 12th or 15th time this year. He’s a master at it—crumples himself so he gently drops on his butt. Never broken a bone.  But yesterday’s fall left him bleeding internally and he’s in hospital. The young UVA geriatric resident was examining Dad’s body while asking him questions. “Do you know what year it is?” “No, I don’t.” The doctor’s hands started working lower, moving toward Dad’s groin. My father perked up: “Young man, you aren’t going to find out what year it is down there.”


Did you know that the closest kin to whales are hippos? Whales were once land mammals who 55 million years ago entered the water and never came back out. Not only that, whales can drown if they don’t remember to surface breathe—and they must consciously remember to breathe, it’s not automatic—so they don’t ever fall asleep. Half of their brain must remain active to remind them to breathe at least every 30 minutes or so (their lungs are huge and can store oxygen). Hippos, those ungainly and ill-tempered land mammoths, breathe without having to think about it—like us. So a hippo can sink to the bottom of a river and fall asleep. When it has to breathe—about every 5 minutes or so—it automatically surfaces without waking up. So whales—excellent swimmers—can drown. But hippos—who actually do NOT swim, they gallop along the river bottom—do not drown. All this kept me up to the wee hours last night. Some pandemic rabbit holes are worth it. 


Movie monsters I can’t shake off:

  1. Anton Chigurh, No Country for Old Men.
  2. Sarah Paulson, 12 Years a Slave.
  3. Dead Granny, Heredity.
  4. Shark, Jaws.
  5. Jame Gumb/Buffalo Bill, The Silence of the Lambs.
  6. Ralph Fiennes, Schindler’s List.
  7. Babadook, The Babadook.


Last night’s drama: I’m watching the Cubbies struggle and over the crowd noise I hear my 12-year-old cat howling outside with that unearthly sound cats make before they fight. I grab a flashlight and stomp outside ready to break it up. Roxie is under my car, pressed up against the tire, still howling. Waiting beside the car, trying to wedge his snout under the wheel, is a large coyote. This particular coyote gives me a look of utter disdain. We stare at each other in silence, my flashlight beam in his gorgeous face. After an awed couple of seconds, I bark some curse words at him and swing my light like a weapon. He slinks away so slowly that his message is clear: “Bitch, I can take you but I’m not feeling it tonight so I’ll go…on my own. You don’t scare me.” Grateful, I return to the 7th inning just in time for the stretch.


My father is not an affectionate, sentimental guy. He’s ex-Marine and ex-CIA. He’s direct and unsparing, and his sparse praise used to hurt my feelings when I was a young girl. But he could always crack us up, and that seemed to suffice. He’ll be 90 soon. He knows us and generally keeps up with the news; yet he won’t remember if you’ve just been to see him or whether he’s eaten his breakfast. He can’t pull off a joke anymore, or wield his wit as a weapon. What remains is his ancestral British stoicism and bravery. I’ve come to admire and rely on it. My Dad would be the band director on the sinking Titanic—making sure there was music as people submerged into the freezing ocean. “Ah well,” he’ll tell me after he’s fallen or had a day of complete confusion. “We will carry on, won’t we? Onward through the fog.” 


Amy Satterthwaite Pappas lived and wrote and raised two children in Fredericksburg, VA before moving back home to the Charlottesville area in 2010. She fools around with writing and painting when she’s not fighting the wild woods from taking over her Crozet property or entertaining a captive heavily-medicated audience at her father’s Memory Care facility. 

“Inner Circle,” 2023, Acrylic on round canvas, by Amy Satterthwaite Pappas