Tracer of Lost Persons

Featured image: Mr. Keen, Tracer of Lost Persons. (Artist unknown)

In 2005, the year that his dementia worsened markedly, Dick wrote Dick Cain, Tracer of Lost Persons on a scrap of notepaper, then drew a descending series of spiraling lines beneath it.

            A snippet from his childhood had shown up, like a tattered ticket falling from an opened book. When he was a boy in Minneapolis, he’d enjoyed radio shows. He told me that he’d preferred mysteries, so he must have listened to a detective show, Mr. Keen, Tracer of Lost Persons. It aired for almost two decades, beginning in 1937; Dick would have been five years old then.

            Mr. Cain/Mr. Keen christened himself a “tracer of lost persons” during the most bewildering period of his dementia. The word trace is from an Old French word, tracier, which means to make one’s way by searching. One of the first signs of dementia is losing the ability to navigate. The person can no longer trace his mental maps. He gets lost. Much of the world around him becomes perilous uncharted territory.

            Dick had been a man who knew his way in the world. That world grew more circumscribed as his dementia progressed. At first, he still knew his way to the small town south of our log house. He found his way back home when riding his bike, confined by the script of a half-mile gravel road. Eventually, a small, secure center–our neighborhood, our home, me–demarcated Dick’s world.

            Dick Cain was both the tracer of lost persons and the person who was lost.

Anne-Marie Erickson

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