Left to Right, me, my parents and siblings:
John, Gail, Mom, Dad, Monica
You may believe that I am too old to enjoy receiving gifts. At a recent celebration, my granddaughter gave me a small rock with the inscription “My Grandpa Rocks.” Delightful. Frequently for birthdays or Father’s Day, it may be an article of clothing. January 2021 was extra special. I received an inheritance from my mother, who died on November 29, 2019, a few years after my dad passed on November 22, 2013. It may have been a reward for Linda and my parent’s support during their time of need.
Mom was born in Sandflats, later renamed Patterson in the Eastern Cape, South Africa. When I was five years old, I had my first opportunity to visit my maternal grandmother, who lived in a small house on a tiny plot. The home had no electricity, no running water, and the lavatory was an outhouse a short distance from the home. The toilet consisted of a horizontal plank with a large and small hole for adults and a child’s use. There was no shortage of flies, and old newspapers to help with cleanup were plentiful. Rainwater from the roof fed a storage tank outside the kitchen with water drawn for use in the house for bathing and cooking. The kitchen had a woodburning Aga Stove, and water boiled using a small Primas kerosene (paraffin) burner. It is no stretch to say that my mom grew up dirt poor. Mom was seriously burned when a pot of boiling water fell off the Primas onto her upper body at age 14, ending her schooling. Mom spent weeks in hospital in Port Elizabeth and elected to earn an income as a clerk after her recovery.
Despite mom’s lack of formal education, she was a voracious reader. She consumed tomes such as Leo Tolstoy’s War and Peace, and other challenging books reread several times. Mom enjoyed singing lessons but never sang professionally. I grew up in a home filled with music. Mom loved all things, Irish. I have no idea why. She watched the movie The Quiet Man more than a dozen times, even owning the CD/DVD version. Mom was of French (Marais) descent from her father and Portuguese (Ferreira) from her mother. My Dad’s ancestry was from British Barry’s located in the northwest of London, not from the infamous Thomas Barry, prominent guerrilla leader of Irish Republican Army fame. Additionally, Barry’s relocated to South Africa from Scotland.
My selection of sweaters/jerseys my parents produced for me
Dad was born in the small village of McGregor, in the Western Cape, South Africa. He was sent to high school in Cape Town at age 16. Dad became a refrigeration technician through a contact his father had at a refrigeration company. With motivation and studies, he later qualified as an electrician. Dad was a member of the Cape Town Highlanders and sent to Port Elizabeth for military exercises. Smitten by mom’s beauty, they married and set up home in Cape Town. Dad started an electrical store, ran short of money, took in a partner who drank, stealing money from the cash register. The year I was born, mom insisted dad get full-time employment with regular secured income. Joint Pump Company hired dad, and after they split the organization, he transferred to Mobil Oil, today ExxonMobil. Dad retired 35 years later. Due to the international pressure against the apartheid policies of the South African government, many American multinationals withdrew their business from the country. This development impacted dad’s pension. Mom and dad started a home knitting machine business utilizing a few electric machines. By that time, Linda and I had relocated to the United States. My parents were struggling financially; we provided a monthly cash infusion until their knitted merchandise supported them financially.
Dad was born with abundant intelligence and intellect. I respected those qualities. He was creatively practical. While I was at university, I had a challenge with a chemistry question. Lamenting my struggle to dad, he solved the problem using common sense. What was there not to love and admire about my father. When I was a young kid, probably six, dad purchased a secondhand car, an Austin A40, stripped the engine, and while helping my dad, learned how a motor car functioned as we rebuilt the vehicle.
When my maternal grandmother died, she left a small estate split between my mother, brothers, and sister despite her mother’s impoverished circumstances. Eight years later, the attorney informed my mom that there was no money to distribute. Mom was devastated. She clearly understood that the attorney had used the money over time to feed his pocket, leaving nothing for her and her siblings.
Dad (Fred) and Mom (Monica)
From very humble beginnings, mom and dad grew into a solidly middle-class family through hard work and dedication. Mom and dad built their first new home in Claremont, a southern suburb of Cape Town, in 1961. They purchased a newly built home in Durbanville’s Pinehurst garden village after retirement in 2003, a northern suburb of Cape Town. Later they sold up and moved to Montagu in 2011, a two-hour drive from Cape Town, to live near my sister Gail, where she provided them free accommodation. My parents invested the proceeds from the sale of their home to provide for retirement.
After my dad’s passing and needing to draw up a new will, mom approached an attorney. I can only imagine the negotiation that went on at the initial meeting. Mom was not going to allow eight years to pass, resulting in zero inheritance for my two sisters and me. I will add that the time to wrap up the estate took far longer than anyone anticipated. We had not counted on the COVID-19 pandemic to impact response times, including the fact that many of the regulatory offices in South Africa were either closed or working short-staffed. Eventually, everything worked out well. My siblings and I were rewarded with our inheritance a few months late but in time to celebrate a Happy New Year, 2021. Mom gifted each of her seven grandchildren and three compassionate caregivers.
I owe a very special thanks to my sister Gail Whitehead who ultimately forwarded my portion of the inheritance to me.
It begs the question; how wisely did Linda and I pay tribute to our inheritance? In retirement, we are no longer able to generate new income. We decided to apply our gift to increase our stock market investment, building net worth over time to honor mom and dad. We loved you, mom, and dad.
Mom died after a protracted battle with Alzheimer’s on November 29, 2019. Watching her deterioration over time as her mind stopped functioning was heartbreaking. It motivated me to research forms of dementia while focusing on Alzheimer’s. I downloaded my DNA (deoxyribonucleic acid) genetic code to determine if I carried the APOE3 or APOE4 gene variant. I was not smart enough to understand if I had that or the E1 or E2 gene. I initially read everything that I could find on the subject.
On January 4, 2021, while listening to National Public Radio, I heard an interview Terry Gross held with renowned Neurosurgeon Dr. Sanjay Gupta regarding his experiences with dementia, including the fact that his grandfather had Alzheimer’s, and this disease was personal to him. Dr. Gupta recently published his book Keep Sharp: Build a Better Brain at Any Age.
When I read a book, I love to see that within the first sentence in the very first paragraph, a book is professionally written, grabs your attention, and is a page-turner to the very end. Sanjay is an excellent author, explaining medical and scientific detail written for a grade school kid. What did I learn?
5.4 million people in the US have Alzheimer’s, projected to grow to 13.8 million by 2050, and 50 million people worldwide are inflicted with this condition. Currently, there is no cure for Alzheimer’s. No pill to pop or available injection to magically make the disease disappear. However, there are lifestyle changes that you can follow to avoid getting Alzheimer’s. Sanjay’s research covers one hundred people and societies where he solicits information. He discusses what he observes when he performs brain surgery. His global travels included Japan, the Amazon jungle, and especially The Netherlands, where he found how people can be compassionately cared for during their end times. Expect to find checklists to follow as you change your lifestyle for a better tomorrow.
What was most alarming to me was to learn that it is possible to begin your journey to Alzheimer’s in your 30s and may continue on for decades before you may become fully aware of the disease. Prevention at any age is possible by following sound advice through lifestyle changes, including diet and food choices. More than $1 billion is spent annually in the US for over-the-counter dementia medication with zero benefits. It is not a regulated industry, so manufacturers can make exaggerated claims if you are prepared to part with your hard-earned funds. We are all after a quick fix, aren’t we? Exercise, food selection, weight loss, and sleep habits are all essential to preventing dementia in general and specifically Alzheimer’s. I was shocked to learn that even brushing your teeth is necessary!
My only message here is to invest in yourself and your family. Please purchase Dr. Sanjay Gupta’s book, read, learn, and apply all that he is striving to do to help you avoid this devastating disease. I highly recommend Dr. Sanjay Gupta’s book.