My dad has Parkinson's disease. Taking a trip with him one weekend taught me a lot.

"Watch him like a hawk. Take no excuses."

Those were some of my mom's last words to me as I set off with my dad for D.C. He hadn't been up north to see his own father, who is pushing 100, in over a year, and my dad's advanced Parkinson's disease made traveling alone impossible. So I was enlisted to go with him. For the first time, I'd be in charge of his medication, along with shepherding him through the airport, getting him in and out of bed — pretty much everything.

"You can't take him at his word," she'd tell me.


"Don't hand him his pills and walk away. He'll never take them. Don't leave him while he's brushing his teeth at night. He'll never make it to bed before the medicine knocks him out. Don't assume he's going to do what he says he's going to do."

"You have to watch him like a hawk," she said. "Take no excuses."

Maybe that's why it felt so good when I was finally able to text her, on our return trip, that we had made it through security and were almost at our gate.

My dad was in the bathroom while I leaned against the wall outside waiting for him. We were flying out of Reagan International, and in four days of travel, there were no emergencies. No crises. No disasters or catastrophes. There had been no medicine mix-ups, no missed doses, no falls, no accidents. Everything had been fine.

That's not to say it had gone easy, but at least it had gone. Though we weren't home yet.

Not quite anyway.

When my dad came out of the bathroom, we headed to the seating area in front of our gate. As we passed a small concession stand, awkwardly pitted in the middle of the room like a prize counter at an arcade, he mumbled something about being thirsty.

"A pink lemonade sounds good," he said. And he reached out and grabbed one from the cooler.

We had all of our bags on us. Him carrying one, me rolling the other with a duffel slung over its handle. I looked at the narrow, winding queue leading to the cashier and back down at our bulky bags as my dad slowly started to drift away from the concession stand, lemonade still in his grasp.

"Why don't we get settled over by the gate, put our bags down?" I said. "Then I'll come back over and get you something to drink."

With him, I had learned to think several steps ahead. I learned to scout obstacles and anticipate problems.

I learned enough to know that, with only one hand free, he'd have trouble getting his wallet out of his sweatpants, or he'd trip over his feet and tumble into the people in front of us, or he'd inadvertently shoplift this lemonade if I didn't take it and put it back.

But still, it felt awful to say something so patronizing to my own father.

He agreed that we should get settled and we made our way over to the gate, finally coming to a stop in front of a row of roomy handicapped seating.

"Dad, you want to sit here with the bags while I go get us a drink?"

"OK, sure."

He just stood there.

"Dad?"

He does this thing where he's always standing. He'll wander into a living room conversation where everyone's sitting, and he'll just stand in front of a seat and talk from there. You'll ask him if he wants to sit, and he'll bend his knees slightly but then pause, almost as if he's forgotten he was going to sit in the middle of doing it.

There's something unsettling about someone standing when you feel like they should be sitting.

"Dad, you want to just sit here for a minute while I get us a drink?"

On that, he plopped down and I positioned our bags so they'd be in his sight and reach.

"A muffin would be good, too," he added.

"OK. I'll see if they have muffins."

I turned and headed back to the concession stand. I couldn't have walked more than five or six steps before I glanced back over my shoulder at him. He was still sitting there. I don't know what I expected to see — like he was going to erupt in flames the moment he was out of my sight or something.

I got in line, and as I waited my turn, I kept looking back.

“Watch him like a hawk."

We hadn't come this far to have him fall down and break his wrist or have our bags stolen from under his nose.

We hadn't come this far without a disaster to have one now.

I paid for the lemonade and a blueberry muffin I spotted in the display case. And I looked back over at my dad again.

He was standing.

What is he doing? I wondered. Is he sifting through our bags? Is he going to wander off?

I hurried back over and found him contemplating our belongings. He was hoping to find a bag of sliced oranges we'd packed for the trip, trying to solve our luggage like it was some impossible puzzle.

I unzipped the outermost pocket of my suitcase and handed him the oranges, the lemonade, and the muffin.

We both sat down and he began to eat.

He attacked the muffin the way you might eat an apple — gripping it with the entire width of his hand and lifting it to his face for enormous bites. It crumbled as he mauled it, massive pieces tumbling over the wrapper and landing on him. All over his lap and his shirt and his seat and the seat between us.

He was not mortified, like I would have been if it were me.

He wasn't even affected.

Halfway through, he had clumps of muffin pinched precariously between his fingers. He was picking up stray blueberries off the seat and eating them.

People were staring. I wanted to help, to do something, but I didn't know what.

I had my phone to my ear now, working out the last minute details of our shuttle pickup. I had my other hand death-gripped around his pill case, which I was under strict orders to never let out of my sight.

As my dad gnawed his way further into the muffin's core, I noticed this older bald guy in a fleece jacket across from us stealing glances at the scene. I thought about telling him to mind his own business, but reconsidered given the absurdity of what was happening. I understood why he'd be compelled to look.

But I started to hate this random guy anyway.

There was nothing spectacular about him. He was bald with some prickly silver stubble covering his chin and an orange fleece pullover. He was just a guy, really.

But what stood out about this man, to me, was that he didn't have any food stains on his clothes.

He didn't have elastic shoelaces or drawstring pants. He didn't have hearing aids. He didn't have anyone with him to help him get on the plane without getting lost.

I started to hate him because I thought, this is who my dad was supposed to be.

My call finally ended and I hung up. At this point, I had seen enough of the muffin massacre and was ready to go get us a plate, some napkins, something. But I remembered I hadn't gotten us a preboarding pass yet and we'd be boarding any minute. My dad — not surprisingly — doesn't do well with people nipping at his heels, squeezing around him, crowding him, hurrying him. We needed to board before the rest of the passengers. It was one of the last obstacles between us and home.

At the ticketing desk, I kept glancing back as I talked to the agent.

“I'm traveling with my father who is, uh, he has… He's handicapped."

I never know how to describe it.

When it comes to Parkinson's, "handicapped" always seems to be both wildly conservative and entirely overly dramatic at the same time.

It doesn't come close to telling the whole story.

As we wrapped up the transaction at the counter, I caught my dad standing again from the corner of my eye.

Is he sifting through our bags? Is he going to wander off?"

As soon as I got our preboarding pass, I hurried back over to him.

He had, to my complete surprise, cleaned himself off pretty well with a stray napkin. He'd brushed the crumbs away from his shirt and pants. He'd wiped the seat clean, save for a few hangers-on in the crevice. And he had stuffed all the trash into the small white bag that the muffin came in.

In that moment, I got a glimpse of my dad. The real one.

The one who raised three kids and taught us how to throw a football, how to use a hammer, how to treat people. The one who, in another world, would have been leading me through the airport, reciting Civil War trivia as we walked. The one who, to an outsider, would have been just a guy.

The one who, to those who knew him, was far from just a guy.

He looked at me as I approached and said, "Are we ready to go home?"

For a second, it felt like we were already there.

We stood and waited to board, watching travelers deplane from the previous flight. We were mostly silent because no one ever wrote a handbook on how to ask your father if he's sure he doesn't need to use the restroom and then jump into shooting the shit about sports.

So it was easier to just say nothing.

But it was a comfortable silence. Maybe even a happy one. Because the catastrophe I had dreaded and been warned about and tried so hard to avoid, well, it ended up just being a particularly unwieldy muffin.

And all it took was a single napkin to wipe away any trace that anything had ever gone wrong.

If only for a second.

True

Judy Vaughan has spent most of her life helping other women, first as the director of House of Ruth, a safe haven for homeless families in East Los Angeles, and later as the Project Coordinator for Women for Guatemala, a solidarity organization committed to raising awareness about human rights abuses.

But in 1996, she decided to take things a step further. A house became available in the mid-Wilshire area of Los Angeles and she was offered the opportunity to use it to help other women and children. So, in partnership with a group of 13 people who she knew from her years of activism, she decided to make it a transitional residence program for homeless women and their children. They called the program Alexandria House.

"I had learned from House of Ruth that families who are homeless are often isolated from the surrounding community," Judy says. "So we decided that as part of our mission, we would also be a neighborhood center and offer a number of resources and programs, including an after-school program and ESL classes."

She also decided that, unlike many other shelters in Los Angeles, she would accept mothers with their teenage boys.

"There are very few in Los Angeles [that do] due to what are considered liability issues," Judy explains. "Given the fact that there are (conservatively) 56,000 homeless people and only about 11,000 shelter beds on any one night, agencies can be selective on who they take."

Their Board of Directors had already determined that they should take families that would have difficulties finding a place. Some of these challenges include families with more than two children, immigrant families without legal documents, moms who are pregnant with other small children, families with a member who has a disability [and] families with service dogs.

"Being separated from your son or sons, especially in the early teen years, just adds to the stress that moms who are unhoused are already experiencing," Judy says.

"We were determined to offer women with teenage boys another choice."

Courtesy of Judy Vaughan

Alexandria House also doesn't kick boys out when they turn 18. For example, Judy says they currently have a mom with two daughters (21 and 2) and a son who just turned 18. The family had struggled to find a shelter that would take them all together, and once they found Alexandria House, they worried the boy would be kicked out on his 18th birthday. But, says Judy, "we were not going to ask him to leave because of his age."

Homelessness is a big issue in Los Angeles. "[It] is considered the homeless capital of the United States," Judy says. "The numbers have not changed significantly since 1984 when I was working at the House of Ruth." The COVID-19 pandemic has only compounded the problem. According to Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority (LAHSA), over 66,000 people in the greater Los Angeles area were experiencing homelessness in 2020, representing a rise of 12.7% compared with the year before.

Each woman who comes to Alexandria House has her own unique story, but some common reasons for ending up homeless include fleeing from a domestic violence or human trafficking situation, aging out of foster care and having no place to go, being priced out of an apartment, losing a job, or experiencing a family emergency with no 'cushion' to pay the rent.

"Homelessness is not a definition; it is a situation that a person finds themselves in, and in fact, it can happen to almost anyone. There are many practices and policies that make it almost impossible to break out of poverty and move out of homelessness."

And that's why Alexandria House exists: to help them move out of it. How long that takes depends on the woman, but according to Judy, families stay an average of 10 months. During that time, the women meet with support staff to identify needs and goals and put a plan of action in place.

A number of services are provided, including free childcare, programs and mentoring for school-age children, free mental health counseling, financial literacy classes and a savings program. They have also started Step Up Sisterhood LA, an entrepreneurial program to support women's dreams of starting their own businesses. "We serve as a support system for as long as a family would like," Judy says, even after they have moved on.

And so far, the program is a resounding success.

92 percent of the 200 families who stayed at Alexandria House have found financial stability and permanent housing — not becoming homeless again.

Since founding Alexandria House 25 years ago, Judy has never lost sight of her mission to join with others and create a vision of a more just society and community. That is why she is one of Tory Burch's Empowered Women this year — and the donation she receives as a nominee will go to Alexandria House and will help grow the new Start-up Sisterhood LA program.

"Alexandria House is such an important part of my life," says Judy. "It has been amazing to watch the children grow up and the moms recreate their lives for themselves and for their families. I have witnessed resiliency, courage, and heroic acts of generosity."

Simon & Garfunkel's song "Bridge Over Troubled Water" has been covered by more than 50 different musical artists, from Aretha Franklin to Elvis Presley to Willie Nelson. It's a timeless classic that taps into the universal struggle of feeling down and the comfort of having someone to lift us up. It's beloved for its soothing melody and cathartic lyrics, and after a year of pandemic challenges, it's perhaps more poignant now than ever.

A few years a go, American singer-songwriter Yebba Smith shared a solo a capella version of a part of "Bridge Over Troubled Water," in which she just casually sits and sings it on a bed. It's an impressive rendition on its own, highlighting Yebba's soulful, effortless voice.

But British singer Jacob Collier recently added his own layered harmony tracks to it, taking the performance to a whole other level.

Keep Reading Show less
Images courtesy of John Scully, Walden University, Ingrid Scully
True

Since March of 2020, over 29 million Americans have been diagnosed with COVID-19, according to the CDC. Over 540,000 have died in the United States as this unprecedented pandemic has swept the globe. And yet, by the end of 2020, it looked like science was winning: vaccines had been developed.

In celebration of the power of science we spoke to three people: an individual, a medical provider, and a vaccine scientist about how vaccines have impacted them throughout their lives. Here are their answers:

John Scully, 79, resident of Florida

Photo courtesy of John Scully

When John Scully was born, America was in the midst of an epidemic: tens of thousands of children in the United States were falling ill with paralytic poliomyelitis — otherwise known as polio, a disease that attacks the central nervous system and often leaves its victims partially or fully paralyzed.

"As kids, we were all afraid of getting polio," he says, "because if you got polio, you could end up in the dreaded iron lung and we were all terrified of those." Iron lungs were respirators that enclosed most of a person's body; people with severe cases often would end up in these respirators as they fought for their lives.

John remembers going to see matinee showings of cowboy movies on Saturdays and, before the movie, shorts would run. "Usually they showed the news," he says, "but I just remember seeing this one clip warning us about polio and it just showed all these kids in iron lungs." If kids survived the iron lung, they'd often come back to school on crutches, in leg braces, or in wheelchairs.

"We all tried to be really careful in the summer — or, as we called it back then, 'polio season,''" John says. This was because every year around Memorial Day, major outbreaks would begin to emerge and they'd spike sometime around August. People weren't really sure how the disease spread at the time, but many believed it traveled through the water. There was no cure — and every child was susceptible to getting sick with it.

"We couldn't swim in hot weather," he remembers, "and the municipal outdoor pool would close down in August."

Then, in 1954 clinical trials began for Dr. Jonas Salk's vaccine against polio and within a year, his vaccine was announced safe. "I got that vaccine at school," John says. Within two years, U.S. polio cases had dropped 85-95 percent — even before a second vaccine was developed by Dr. Albert Sabin in the 1960s. "I remember how much better things got after the vaccines came out. They changed everything," John says.

Keep Reading Show less