As I write this today, the two most important men in my life are in hospice care.

One is my father, who has a worn-out and tired heart but a sharp mind. The other man is my husband, who has a strong heart but a mind all mixed up with dementia. I wish they could trade their health status for just a few hours. Then Barry would get my dad’s brain and would be able to tell us what he feels and what we should do for him. My dad in this swap scenario would feel a strong heart beating in his chest and maybe he would play Go Fish with the great-grandchildren one last time — or reach into his pocket and pull out candy for kids.

My dad spent a lifetime building a family and laying sidewalks all over the city. His sidewalks took people to church or temple, led children to school and took people to see paintings at the Minneapolis Institute of Art. He made sidewalks that led lovers holding hands to the city lakes for a walk or to picnic on the grass.
My husband and I were one of those lovers long ago, walking on sidewalks to the lake. I might have stopped and said, “Look down Barry, my dad made the sidewalk we are on.”  It was stamped with the words Victor Carlson and Sons. The family company was founded by my Swedish great-grandfather before my father was born. My dad took over when his father died in his 60s, leaving a young man with a young family to become a reluctant company president. I remember the day my Grandpa became sick. It was the day I learned to hold my breath under water in the blow-up pool in the backyard. As I saw my dad and mom crying, I would stick my head underwater. It was quiet under that water and much less scary than trying to understand what was going on with my grandfather.

While my dad’s sidewalks took people to places they wanted to go, they also sent me to camp, got me skis and paid for skiing trips out west. The sidewalks bought my first mini skirt and bell bottoms and an old red Cutlass car. Those sidewalks made our vacation time in the winter possible and woke us up in the middle of the night when some little shits would carve their names in the wet cement. My dad would have to get out of bed and go smooth out the cement on hot summer nights. He always had a Camel cigarette in his mouth until he finally quit when my siblings and I were teenagers. Those sidewalks also sent me to art school where I met


Barry also spent time building a business. His company specialized in design and marketing. But in the very beginning, Barry started with signs that he and his friend Joe designed and painted and could be seen hung all around the city. I think one of their signs still hangs at an old record store in town. I haven’t been out that way for a long time, so the sign may be gone by now. I should really go see if it is still there and point it out to our kids.

Both men – one at home in his favorite chair watching basketball and one laying helpless in a care center — worked very hard. They each tried to do the right thing, and both liked to play once in a while, too. But sidewalks or design are nothing compared to what these two men are most proud of. And that is their kids.

My dad sees his kids, grandkids and great-grand kids all here in the Twin Cities because he was lucky to marry our mom, also from the area. Today he can sit in his chair while the great-grandkids spill their juice or trip over his oxygen cord. Sidewalks led him to this moment. He is proud of where he has come, his work and the extended family he has created. My dad also islucky that he is still aware of all this joy around him. On the other hand, he is also aware that his heart is slowly stopping, although maybe there are still sidewalks that he would like to take him to more places.

Barry’s heart works effortlessly, strong from exercise and good genes. He has no idea now of all the good he has done in his life. He, too, has created a legacy of kids, grandchildren and future great-grandchildren that he will never know. I hope that before frontotemporal dementia (FTD) took over his brain that perhaps Barry looked across the dinner table at our kids one happy evening and thought to himself, “This is my best work of all.”

So we wait on this hospice journey while grandchildren are off into adulthood, falling in love and finding their way, and while the great-grandchildren are learning new things each day. All of us kids, grandkids, great-grandkids and future great-great-grandkids will carry with them a part of these two men.

Thank you Dad and Barry!

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45 comments on “MY JOURNEY
  1. Sara O'Brien says:

    Thank you Nancy for your candid sharing. My heart goes out to you and your family. You all remain in my thoughts and prayers.

  2. Melissa moore says:

    Beautiful words. <3

  3. Melissa moore says:

    Beautiful words. <3

  4. Patricia Schenk says:


  5. Patricia Schenk says:


  6. Suzanne Pohle says:

    I love how you weave a story, Nancy. I’ve never thought about sidewalks before. Beautiful.

  7. Nancy Carlson Wangstad says:

    Oh Nancy what a struggle you are having. My thoughts and prayers with you all. It is so great that you are doing so well with your Art and all. Our hearts are with you!!!!!‚ô°‚ô°‚ô°‚ô°‚ô°

  8. Paul Strickland says:

    I was recently on the West Bank and noticed some sections of Victor Carlson and Sons sidewalk. Built to last! I still remember when your dad supervised the planting of so many tree seedlings one Saturday so many years ago at Su-Na-Da farm. He got a kick out of working my tail off.
    Like Barry, a good man.
    So much to go through all at once. My thoughts are with you.
    Stay strong,

  9. Laurie says:

    Nanee, I am sitting at my desk in tears. This is one of the most beautiful yet heart wrenching posts, for me, that you have written. I am sorry hear this about Walty. I still think of him as I did when we were kids. (Remember that “naughty” tie he had in his closet :-)?)

    Thank you for such a beautiful post.

  10. Thank you for sharing- this has been a journey that has made us all richer. I will be looking at sidewalks and signs today. Thinking of you Nancy!

  11. Karen Daniels says:

    What beautiful words you write, Nancy! Bless you for how you value family, life, and the world around you. Thanks for bringing much Joy into the lives of all your readers in spite of all you are going through each day. This reader was moved today.

  12. Karolyn Lee says:

    Thank you! Two wonderful men in your life.

  13. And both of them have helped you become the strong, wonderful woman you are. What a blessing to have these memories.

  14. Barbara says:

    Sending warmest thoughts

  15. Dedra says:

    Beautiful post! Prayers for peace for both men and your family.

  16. Carol A. Wobschall says:

    The words you chose to give tribute to each beloved man are as heartfelt as language can be. Thank you always for “putting one foot
    in front of the other” while we who cherish you can wrap you and your dearest ones in the comfort and grace of prayer.

    Your spirit in the midst of this still glows.
    This is what your children and grandchildren will remember about you, Nancy.
    We who have had the joy of seeing through your eyes when we look at your ever delightful doodles are blessed to see as you see for a few moments.
    Carol A. Wobschall

  17. Christine bekiares says:

    Such good memories and kind thoughts. Thanks for keeping us enlightened.

  18. David Geister says:

    Beautifully said.

  19. Karen Bauer says:

    Sad, but beautifully written. How wonderful for them to have you in their lives to record the family history. Prayers sent to you and the family, you have a lot of emotions to endure.

  20. Nancy Paxson says:

    Oh, Nancy!
    Thanks for the update. I have been wondering about Barry recently, but didn’t realize that your dad was also in serious condition. Two such different situations. Hospice is such a wonderful assistance for these endings. Blessings to you and your family! You are so wonderful to share these thoughts with us!

  21. Betsy Huebscher says:

    Sending love to dear Uncle Walt – and to Aunt Weezie, Susan, David, you Cuz and all the grandkids. Thinking of you all…. ‚ù§Ô∏è

  22. Colleen says:

    Beautiful, loving tribute, Nancy.

  23. Heather Holle says:

    Nancy, I’m sorry to hear of your father’s failing heart. He and your mom are part of my wonderful memories of St. John’s. My husband and I were members there when we were first married. I also appreciate all the thoughts and feelings you share about Barry. My mother was diagnosed with a similar form of dementia at a too early age and it’s an incredibly heart wrenching thing to deal with.

  24. JoAnn Griffin says:

    Sorry for this part of your journey in life, Nancy. You are in my thoughts and prayers. So comforting that you can write and draw to ease your pain and cherish your good memories.

  25. Maryanne Coronna says:

    I’ll never forget those pumpkin fests! Your dad worked hard to make sure they were always special!

  26. Ann Carlson says:

    These posts are all so, so good. But the metaphors (sidewalks as the life journey) and symmetry (Barry/Walter) simply took my breath away.

  27. Tim Moodie says:

    I’m overwhelmed, you are burdened by too much. May God help you through this.

  28. Jill says:

    So beautiful. Thank you Nancy.

  29. Tricia says:

    Nancy, this was so touching, it brought tears to my eyes. How you wove the stories together was like listening to Bach. Past, present new generation, old generation, life and death all creating this beautiful heartfelt tapestry! I know your dad and Berry will be looking after this dynasty forever….you all are in some fine hands!!!!

  30. Tricia says:

    Nancy, this was so touching, it brought tears to my eyes. How you wove the stories together was like listening to Bach. Past, present new generation, old generation, life and death all creating this beautiful heartfelt tapestry! I know your dad and Berry will be looking after this dynasty forever….you all are in some fine hands!!!!

  31. Bette Ashcroft says:

    I love this post, Nancy! I remember so vividly the stamp in the corner of the sidewalk, and never made the connection to your family until now. What a beautiful story, thank you for telling it.

  32. Laurie says:

    Nanee I sat at my desk this afternoon with tears in my eyes while reading your post. This is, to me, one of your most beautiful yet heart wrenching posts ever. I was unaware of Walty’s condition and for that I am sad. I still think of him as the way he was when we were growing up (remember the “naughty” tie in his closet we used to peek at every now and then?) I remember him driving us somewhere around the airport or Hwy 5 to look at a big concrete job he was doing and how cool it was to see Victor Carlson & Sons stamped in the concrete. What a wonderful thing, though, that he still has a sharp mind and can enjoy his family. Dad’s getting worse, but I guess that’s to be expected. Anyway, I loved your post. Great work, Nanee!

  33. Dandy says:

    Wow Nancy thanks for sharing from your heart. Beautiful metaphors. My prayers are with you all as your journey continues.

  34. Kada says:

    So moving, so loving,so insightful AND heartbreaking Thank you Nancy for sharing your journey with all of us. You are truly remarkable… Hugs!

  35. Karen Allbright Jones says:

    Reading this in Arizona, remembering our sidewalks to the lakes in Minneapolis, praying for your dear dad and for Barry and for you, wise and sweet Nancy. Hard to type this through the tears. Thank you for your spirit of love of family and your spirit of gratitude . I am grateful for your wisdom to remember and cherish what is good and lasting even in the midst of pain and loss. And an OWL just started hooting outside my window!! I love your owl drawings and share your love of nature. Your vision of it is healing too.

  36. claudine coughlin says:

    Dear Nancy, Thank you for your beautiful posting regarding Barry and your wonderful dad. You are not only a fabulous artist but also a unbelievable writer. My tears are for the love I have for your mom and dad and you and your siblings, children and grands and great grandchildren you have. I pray that both of these wonderful men will have peaceful passings when the time has come. Take care and let me know if I can do anything for you and your parents. Love, Claudine

  37. Judy Peterson says:

    As always, your writing touches the heart and soul. But even more so, you have caused me to look at the people in my life with great appreciation for who they are and helped me to love them just as they are- your words have an impact on all of us. Thanks!

  38. Teresa Krueger says:

    Thank you for sharing. Like you, my husband is disabled. Your posts are always encouraging and offer me hope. I appreciate them, and you, so much. On a side note. Today, our daughter, a new college grad, was on the third day of her new job as a preschool teacher. She sent me an excited text with a picture of an awesome author that she had just seen…it was you!!!! Thank you for all of the ways that you share.

  39. Rachel Milsten says:

    Hello, Nancy. I was wondering if this very meaningful work of art is for sale. It is the first that touched my soul in a way no other has. I can very well understnad if you don’t want to part with it.

    With sincere love, RacheL

  40. Mary Sue Boelter Lienke says:

    Stay STRONG Nancy! God Bless.
    Mary Sue

  41. Norma Sewell says:

    Peace and comfort to you. You said it so well. As a fellow traveler of the journey you are still on, your comments about your Dad and Barry were such a poignant reminder. My eyes are overflowing with tears. I frequently check your blog and usually find something that brings a bit courage. Tonight, I just feel sadness for what is to come and for all that our loved ones lost in life. Your unique gift of expressing yourself has been a blessing to so many of us. Thank you.

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