Excursion 7, Phase Two, Day 10 to 11, East to Gilbert, Minnesota

by | May 26, 2022 | Road Notes, Locations and Destinations

Today we met the other Peter Kjenaas who says, “I’m not a real Kjenaas.” I listen in complete fascination because I am not a real Kjenaas either and my story is his story. Exactly the same.

We are heading East for just a couple hundred miles. Then we will make the right turn south to visit with family for many more days. Just two more nights of camping for a while with minimal driving and I’m really looking forward to this first night, or the next morning which is how I want it to work out and how it ends up working out.

I will meet the other Peter Kjenaas. Hey, if my last name were Smith it wouldn’t be such a big deal, but my last name is the oddity it is and I’ve only met two people who could pronounce it.

We have been friends on Facebook for a few years, my brother stumbling on him first and letting me know there was another and then connecting. We are nearly the same age and grew up, at least in the early years before I ended up in California, in the same state. I’m curious and I think he must be too.

But this day and the night before we set out did not go well. It was, basically, Hell for Michelle. She spent the last afternoon and evening in Park Rapids pretty much screaming and as we set off in the Bus around 11, an hour she would normally be very content, the wailing began.

This happens, one of the deep mysteries of Alzheimer’s. You try things to calm the storm but, in this case, nothing worked, not food, beverage, stops to stretch the legs, music, CBD oil, etc. Nothing. We arrive at the Sherwood Forest campground and I warn the owners—though they can hear her in the bus from the office—that they might want to put some space around us. They do and we are at least a hundred feet from any other campers.

But she keeps screaming and screaming in frustration. It’s not terror, it’s anger or something like that. And I empty the bag of tricks that usually work and it just keeps going. A fireman is working a fire break they are doing near the campground, burning off dead grass and bushes and he uses the Porta-Potty alongside our campground. He looks over and asks, “Everything okay over there?” I tell him it’s Alzheimer’s. “This happens in the afternoon.”

He seems dubious and so am I. I break out the map and I am seriously considering just heading home, maybe down to the ultimate destination, her best friend Cindy in Iowa and then straight West on 80, this isn’t working. Two nights in a row and this is up there with the worst nights she’s ever had.

I get her up in the Bus, which makes her scream even more, and change her, screams, nothing much there, and as I’m exiting the Bus with diaper in gloved hands, a Cop pulls up. The fireman called him. Hey, I would have.

I walk over to him. I’m not worried, I’m numb. After about 10 hours of screaming her voice is giving out and my patience is as thin as a spider web. “She has Alzheimer’s,” I tell him. He explains why he came and looks very sad. She screams away. “My Aunt had it.” He says and he takes my information just in case. I give it, freely. He is a kind young man.

I try to sleep outside on the cot and she keeps screaming until nearly midnight, at least three hours after her normal bedtime. I decide that if this continues for one more night, I will head home, cut the trip short. We have had these nights at home, but the cops don’t come and it’s scaring people, it’s not fair to them, I reason. Finally, she sleeps and I sleep.

And the next day, like another Storm that passes, there is a whole new beginning.

Pete and Rita Kjenaas arrive around ten. Michelle is calm, eating cereal in our folding chair, no worse for wear, fresh clothes and a fresh outlook. I breathe with crossed fingers.

I scan over what I know of Pete and we like music and irony, but we differ in how our lives played out and in our politics. I made a decision long ago not to engage in that, it doesn’t matter to me because I feel like he’s family in a strange way and I don’t get into that with family if I can help it. Besides, what we all share in life is so much more than what separates us.

And it is a wonderful meeting. We compare notes on a lifetime, and he grew up in this area of Minnesota, just a couple hundred miles north of Minneapolis where I spent much of my early years and where my heart resided every summer. Rita is a joy and she and Michelle hit it off instantly and Michelle smiles. Smiles are rare for her for the past several months and this gives me great hope.

They met while serving in the Army and eventually married and had children. I really like them. Mo likes them. They just arrived back from Winter in Florida yesterday, the same day we arrived. I’m happy they are meeting us today instead of last night.

Then Pete says, “I’m not a real Kjenaas.” And he goes on to tell the story of how his grandmother had a child, his father, out of wedlock, and that his Grandfather Kjenaas adopted his father. I listen in complete fascination because I am not a real Kjenaas either and my story is his story. Exactly the same. My biological grandfather, Stumley, took off on a motorcycle for California rather than take on a child and family.

What are the odds? I wonder. A year apart and my father’s family is from this general part of Minnesota. Two unexpected pregnancies, two Peters, both adopted by different Kjenaases. What really messes with my head is that I wonder if it was the same man who had two girlfriends. I suppose we could find out with a heredity test. Crazy.

We say our goodbyes. Then it occurs to me to ask for some help and Pete comes over and the two Peter Kjenaases with a bizarre mutual history, position and hoist Michelle into the Bus. I am aware, doing this, that this will be a signal moment in my life.

As they are loading into their awesome Jeep, I hear Rita call out, “She waved!” I had had my back turned, scanning the campground for final packing and they had waved to Michelle and she had waved back. This is a big deal. She doesn’t do that kind of thing any longer. They assure me it’s true and I know it is.

As they drive off, I feel tears welling and know that maybe all will be right in this world.