'Trading Places': Ann Curry
Everything is gray about him now -- his hair, his skin, but not Dad's eyes... full of mischief and sparkling green like a lily pond at sunset, they invite you to jump right in.
I always do, into our intense debates about politics and war and history and inevitably his lessons about life, part of his constant effort to teach me the value of being of some service to others so that at the end of my days I will know it mattered I was here. He started telling me that since before I can remember.
Now 77, as he approaches the end of his days, he has never seemed more alive. A hospital candy striper, health club Tai-Chi teacher, and senior citizens' club ballroom dancer, he is so happily busy that I must check his schedule before I visit.
You would never guess watching his whirling dervish energy that he has both a defibrillator and a pacemaker in his chest, reminders of his nearly fatal heart attack three months after mom died.
They had been married for 53 years, meeting during the occupation of Japan, marrying in the face of racism, surviving 24 years in the Navy, and five children, before losing one in the line of duty. When he lost her too, he asked me how he could go on before collapsing, doctors said, because his heart had enlarged.
So what gives one in old age the strength to climb from the valleys of sadness and loneliness to a new summit of happiness? For Dad, it was realizing, with encouragement, that he could find ways to contribute.
Just look at him in this photo I took Saturday, after interviewing him for tonight's report in our "Trading Places" series.
Am I blinded by my love for this soul who set the course for everything I am? Or do I really see a youthful glint in the old man's eyes?
Oh, how I wish he could stay forever.
Nightly News Producer Clare Duffy shares what it was like to work on Ann and Bob Curry's story
Ann's father Bob and I were just wrapping up our first conversation, discussing the plans for shooting our story. I'd been thoroughly entertained by this most gregarious and engaging man, and I could easily tell where Ann gets her good nature.
"And you, what about your father?" Bob asked.
"Oh, unfortunately, he passed away two years ago," I told him. I looked down at the date in my notebook. Two years ago today. I hadn't even noticed it was January 18, but now I realized why I'd been feeling a bit melancholy about this assignment. Taking care of elderly parents is something everyone thinks about, and when you've lost a parent, as I have, after a long and debilitating illness, it's easy to look back and wonder how things could have been different. I miss my father very much, and chatting with Bob Curry made that feeling even more acute.
We arrived in Oregon last Thursday to follow Bob around, capturing everything this extraordinarily active man does. The camera crew and I were hard pressed to keep up with him. Ann joined us on Saturday for our interview. We squeezed around the dining room table and settled in for a conversation. Ann and her father have the kind of relationship where it seems they've never stopped talking. They discussed everything: love, loss, learning, what it's like getting older, and how to keep one's zest for life.
If there's one thing I'd like to see people take away from this series of reports, it's this: Do what Ann did. Sit down with your parent or parents, set up a video camera and start talking. Don't do it around a holiday, when there are presents or other distractions. Do it for no other reason than to get them on the record - both the stories you've heard a thousand times, and the things they'll tell you that will surprise you. It might feel strange, but eventually you'll all forget the camera is there. And don't wait.
Photo by Clare Duffy
Ann Curry shows her father, Bob, a digital image on her camera. NBC cameraman Ray Farmer is in the background.
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