highrise city scape

image source: fineartamerica.com

In the dream, I’m in the middle of towering steel and glass highrises in a large, downtown city, the sky’s blue reflected from building to building.  I’m not aware of any particular sounds or smells but street traffic is heavy and sidewalks are crowded with busy, rushing people.

I’m anxious.  I’m to start a new job in one of these highrises.  Will I be able to deal with the new work environment?  Will I succeed?  Where will I live?  What part of town?  Will I be able to support myself?  How much style will I have to sacrifice to find a place that is affordable?  Will I be able to build a retirement income?

I vacillate in the dream from being energized at the prospect of a new challenge to feeling out-of-place and aware that I no longer belong in this busy, downtown world.

The dream never seems to go beyond that point and when I wake, I’m surprised that I dreamed of a new city and a corporate job.  Is it San Francisco, Downtown Los Angeles, Beverly Hills, Nashville, or perhaps, Dallas?  I can’t pinpoint the city.  I’ve worked in highrises in all those places but it’s been thirty-three years since the first day I walked into a job in a highrise and eighteen years since I left the corporate world for self-employment.

Strange that I never had the dream until after I’d retired from selling Real Estate and moved back home to care for my elderly parents.  Perhaps that’s the point.  I left the outside work world of highrises and busy downtown streets and took on a job that is primarily contained within the four walls of this suburban house.

I’d had the dream a time or two before I realized it was a stress dream.  It typically came the night before I had some task to which I had committed myself but about which I was uncertain.  The times of the dream that stand out in my memory are the nights before Daddy’s Memorial Service; before I drove to UCLA the first year I went to the Los Angeles Times Book Fair; the night before singing a solo, also the night before I started my first writing class in West L.A. with the highly regarded writer and teacher, Jack Grapes.

Dream - beach scene

image source: google images

A few nights ago, I had the dream again.  This time, there were people at my new job in the highrise.  They weren’t faceless, but I couldn’t tell you much about them.  Again, the city was unknown, but everything was bright, shiny, modern and exciting.  I asked a thirty-something man where he lived and what the housing options were in town.  He told me about the trendy, beautiful, large and upscale apartment he rented in a building with all the amenities: pool, spa, exercise rooms, doorman, cleaners, restaurant, WiFi, grocery, roof gardens.  He said it was downtown in walking distance to my new job.  Wow.  Sounded wonderful.  And expensive.  Probably far more than I could afford.

“How much do you pay, if you don’t mind me asking?”  I asked.

“Three Hundred and Forty-Eight Dollars.”  He said cheerfully.

“What?”  Surely, I’d heard wrong.  “Three thousand, Three Hundred and Forty-Eight?”

“No.  Three Hundred Forty-Eight.”

I was ecstatic.  I was starting a great new job and I’d have a wonderful place to live.  This was thrilling!

When I woke later, I was amazed at the change of my stress dream to a dream of possibility and excitement of great things to come, things of challenge as well as enjoyment and ease and comfort; things bright and shiny and new, surrounded by blue sky.  But why had it changed?

I’d gone to bed in the wee hours of the night, tired but happy after posting to my blog and getting positive feedback from family and friends and even strangers with blogs of their own.  The dream hadn’t changed because I had learned all I needed to know about writing well; nor because I’d crossed the goal line of maximum impact with my writing footprint on the big, wide, world.

Rather, I had begun.  I had pushed against the fears of not being good enough, of having nothing to say, the fear of saying something offensive or politically incorrect that would end any chance of being considered a successful writer.

Jeremiah 29:11

image source: Photobucket

As I thought about the dream, positive as it was, the unknowns lurking there were clear.  Will there be enough income to take me through retirement?  Enough for some of life’s finer things, like travel or a lovely place to live?  Was there significance to the age of the man who told me about the apartment?  I was successful in the corporate world in my thirties and forties.  Am I now too old to accomplish anything of worth or value?  By the time Mother’s days on earth are finished, will it be too late for me to travel and to embrace once again, the outside world?

Yet, when you boil it all down, is there anything new here?  Don’t we all have the same needs for significance, safety and security?  None of us can see the future and a dream of stress or a dream of promise won’t change what happens, but my dream reminds me that I’m to push forward against the fears, all the while resting firm in what I know to be true:

“I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord.  Plans to prosper you and not to harm you.  Plans to give you a hope and a future.”  Jeremiah 29:11.

God will be there to walk with me into that waiting future.  What else could I need?


To value or not to value….

image source:google images

     image source:google images

Monday night TV at our house is PBS and Antiques Roadshow.  First, the      original show that is recorded in Great Britain, which is especially fun because those antiques are really old.  Next is the American version with relatively newer antiques, followed by a new show this season, Market Warriors, which is about four buyers who hit flea markets and sale houses to find treasures that are then auctioned off, hopefully for a greater price than what the buyers spent to purchase the items.

The fun in watching these shows is to see if that stuff around the house that you thought was junk is just junk, or if that loved item that some ancestor was sure was valuable, really is valuable.  I like to test my knowledge and see if I can recognize the item before the expert tells us what it is.  I know what I like, but I also know that most of the ‘tells’ that indicate value or worthlessness are mostly Greek to me.  If I can learn by watching and guess the designer or manufacturer then maybe I can move beyond my ignorance. That isn’t the real reason though, because ignorance isn’t that big a deal; everyone is ignorant about something.  To change that, you just have to learn.

But can I move beyond an upbringing that was filled with cast-offs, cheap, mass-produced functionally adequate furniture, clothing, housewares – all devoid of any real beauty or value?  Can I move out of the cookie-cutter suburbs and into something that actually has some class?  We had no money, no class and no fine culture.  Can I cover up that basic beginning with a coat of sophistication like you’d cover over a cheap, pressed cardboard backed dresser with a new finish?  Will I then feel valuable?  Will I then BE valuable?

And what is real value?  Mother grew up with even less that we had when I was a child and she loves these shows as well.  Is that because she sees the beauty in things, whether of value or not?  Like the three-quarters finished paint by number canvases we found when going through stored boxes looking for the oil paintings she did years ago.  We hung her oil paintings in the house and I sat the paint by number canvases in the box for Goodwill.  Mother took them out of the box and keeps saying she is going to get some double stick tape and put them, unframed, up on the walls of her bedroom; walls that already have hanging on them the original oil paintings that she did as well as oils done by friends; walls that also have outdated calendars with pretty pictures but which can’t be thrown away because they’re pretty.

Why would she even care about the old paint by number paintings?  Is she able to see some beauty that I can’t?  Doesn’t she know how tacky they will look on the walls?  Actually, I can see the beauty of the scene, if you stand far enough back that you don’t key in on the paint by number aspect, but there’s no monetary or resell value to it.  So, why keep it?  Why clutter up the full walls with one more thing that is cheap and mass-produced?

The clutter that covers every space in the house drowns out all beauty for me.  It’s too much.  It threatens to close in on me, so my mind’s eye tries to shut it out and it becomes some dark, busy background that drives out the air and leaves me feeling stifled and I find myself breathing shallowly, barely existing.

And then, some person on Antiques Roadshow brings out their treasured tchotchke and the appraiser tells them it’s worth hundreds or maybe thousands and as I look at it my childhood memory is jogged.  Mother turns me and says that the one she has, that is just like the one on TV is in the cedar chest, and “don’t forget to keep it, don’t send it to Goodwill.”

image source: google images

image source: google images

My breathing expands, I take in more air.  There is value, right here in all the clutter.  Right here in my classless childhood.  Not really because there’s something here that’s worth some monetary amount, but because Mother, whose family survived the Dust Bowl, the depression and years as itinerant workers, recognized value and held on to it.  And I see that she has a classiness that I had missed before.  A classiness that has nothing to do with things and everything to do with the intrinsic value we each have.  We’re God’s creation.  We are the thing of value.  All the stuff that fills up life, whether it’s sophisticated and expensive or classless and cheap is just that, stuff.  Once again I see that I do have value, and with that reminder, I have hope that I can look beyond the things and recognize the true beauty around me and the real value within.

Some days are like that…

image source: www.mindpluming.com.au

image source: mindpluming.com.au

Some days my ears just can’t take it.  The sound of Mother’s voice hitting them feels like a loud, clanging gong that reverberates through my brain, threatening to blow the top off of my head.  Today is one of those days.

I try to have some time alone at the start of the day.  Time to take the supplements that help balance my endocrine system, time to talk to God and breathe in His rest for my spirit and soul; time to get to the computer to write in my Journal before the sound of the TV or the radio or Mother herself.

If I wake and she isn’t up, I listen for a few minutes to see if she’s stirring and about to head for her bathroom.  If I hear anything, I lie still, eyes closed, playing possum until she’s come down the hall, adjusted the thermostat on the Heat/Air unit and gone into her bathroom.  Once she’s done that, I have anywhere from one to two alone hours before she emerges, fully dressed, hair combed and sprayed, her diary writing done, her Bible readings done.

I mistimed it this morning.  I’d been dozing and thinking about getting out of bed for about forty minutes, the house still totally silent when I decided to get up and get into the home office and on the computer, usually another good way to avoid first thing in the day contact.  I’d done stretches and taken supplements and was turning up the heat when her bedroom door opened.

She emerged in her pale lavender robe, her hair mussed, her insulated cup in one hand, the other hand on her footed cane.

“You’re up?”  She began as she walked down the hall toward me, the sound of the clunk of her cane on the floor in front of her with each step.  “Did you turn the heat up?”  Clunk.  “Is the sun already on that side of the house?”  Clunk.  “Did you sleep cold?”  Clunk.  “That heater blower fan just doesn’t work right.”

“Uh huh.”  I answer to each thing she says, my brain reacting to each of her comments by zooming off in a dozen directions, leaving me irritated, frazzled and angry.  I’d lost a pill under the bed, so I lean over and pull up the bed dust ruffle, but still I know she’s coming closer.  She’s moved into my open bedroom door.  I keep looking for that pill, not talking; anything to discourage interaction; anything to keep me from saying something rude or caustic.

Fortunately, the house is cool enough at 68 degrees that she can’t stand there long and she goes into her bathroom, turns on the ceiling heater and closes the door.

I breathe deeply, my ears and mind immediately less stimulated, I move around the room, making the bed, tidying up.  The easier days when I lived by myself and had all the alone time in the mornings that I wanted are gone.  I used the time in the same way I try to do now, spending time with God, listening to the Bible on tape or to Christian music.  By the time I left the house for work, I had been reminded of who I was: a child of God.  Loved by Him and with His grace and power, I could tackle the day.  I was ready.  Not that my days were simple or easy but by spending time with God first, I went out prepared.  Those days with the luxury of being alone and making choices that suited me best have changed.  Now all decisions are shared and I find myself in the pressure cooker of most of my waking hours in the same space as the person who gave me birth.  Most adult children know what a challenge can be.

Tuning her out nags at me.  I need distance from her but I’m torn by needing time to be myself, time to develop a writing skill to prepare for the future I will have once she is gone versus the need to be available to her as her caregiver along with the need to give her respect.  Help me, God, is my thought as I breathe in and out.

“It is good for me that I have been afflicted, that I might learn your statutes,” pops into my brain.

image source: GodVine

image source: GodVine

Ah, yes, Proverbs 119:71.  Yes, it is good for me to be here with Mother, good for me to have to learn to deal with the differences in our personalities, good for me to learn to react in love, in graciousness.  Good for me to have to throw myself back into God’s arms, to drink in His love and strength, to depend upon Him for this challenge.  Good for me to know that I can’t do this on my own.  Good for me to know that depending upon myself only leads to semi-solutions like tuning her out or playing possum.  Those drain me of energy and vitality.  They do nothing to ease the irritations.

“It is good for me, God, to lean on your strength, to rely on you.”  Good for me to be reminded, Victoria, God knows the journey you need to take before you do.  I breathe deeply and feel the love and peace of God float across my frazzled nerves and fractured thoughts.

As Mother emerges from the bathroom some time later, I turn to her and smile, “How are you today, Mother?”

Blog Dragon slayed! (or at least wounded)

Everyone tells you to do it.  All the experts and seminar teachers and convention speakers and writing gurus.  You must write every day and you should be blogging and driving traffic to your work.

If not simple, it at least sounds doable, right?  Somewhere in between doing the washing, cleaning the house, doing the shopping, putting food on the table, picking up prescriptions, trips to Mother’s doctors, managing my own health needs, calling repair men, praying for Mother, paying the bills, exercising, managing my rental properties, feeding my own soul through prayer and Bible study, keeping up with family and friends on facebook, sending out family birthday and anniversary cards, house rehab projects, trying to fix Mother’s ailments and getting to the church on time; somewhere in there, while tuning out the ever present TV noise of cooking or gardening or painting or travel shows; somewhere in there, is time to write.  And blog and comment on discussion threads and enter contests and read the latest writing magazines and do rewrites on my novel(s) and write a short story for the next contest.  Somewhere, there is time.

At least at this time of year I can blissfully ignore the yard but that extra time won’t last for long.  Another few weeks of cold weather, if I’m lucky, will delay what’s coming but a few days of mild temps and then Mother’s litany of yard projects will start – transplant the strawberries, water the gardens, plant some flowers, chase the feral cats out of the yard so that the birds will come to the birdbath, water the gardens, buy tomato plants, chase the cats away, water the gardens, put out flower seeds, water the gardens, chase the cats away, manage the sprinkler system, put up the hummingbird feeder, water the fruit trees, chase the cats away, pick the fruit and get it canned or frozen or given away, water the gardens, chase the cats away, feed the plants, and on and on until next winter when it gets cold enough to not be outside every day.

But I digress into the swirling morass of all the stuff to do and away from the goal: write, blog, write, enter contests, comment on discussion threads, develop my writing craft and build a following, get my novel(s) out there, find an editor and get published.  It’s a good goal and one that gives me an escape from the Pomona mundane to a glimpse of the world outside these walls and to a possible future where this life and these walls no longer require so much of my attention.

The goal, however, can loom ahead like a towering dragon: somewhat at peace until you even think about disturbing it, at which point it rears its head and growls menacingly.  And overwhelmed, I back off to a lesser goal.  Yet, somehow in the last few weeks, through the grace of God and prayer of my creative encourager, Julienne, I broke through the dragon’s lair and started journaling every day which led to starting my BLOG!  With links to two social media sites, I even had some comments and just getting feedback made it all exciting and inspiring.  I want to write and write and blog and write and figure out all the details of managing my blog and my website and take those initial baby steps towards the future: becoming recognized as a writer.

I’ve seen how all this is beyond me and I’m aware I need more than my human power to get it done.  The best news of all is that I’ve also seen how by God’s grace I can learn and grow and be more than I was before.  That includes the peace of trusting Mother and her needs and personality into God’s care.  It’s not my job to “fix” her, it’s my job to love her and see that the needs she can’t meet, but that I can, are met.

And that frees up my soul and spirit to find the creativity that is God given and that has been hiding somewhere inside.  Find it and set it free.  I will Blog!  I will write!  I will keep pushing forward because the outcome will lead to surprises of joy and probably some pain and disappointment but definitely to a life worth living.

Friend through the Unknown

image by Marlene

image by Marlene

My friend, Marlene, was in town this week for the first time since she moved back to Ohio about six months ago.  We met at the little and funky Peach Café in Monrovia (try it, you’ll like it) and had a happy three and a half hour visit.

I’ve missed her.  She was one of the few friends close enough to Pomona that we could get together once in a while in the five years since I moved back.  Initially, when I was so busy taking care of both Daddy and Mother, she and I met about every six months, but in the last two years before she left, we’d upped our times out to several times a year, which made it hard when she said the job interview in Columbus had worked out and she was headed to Ohio.

For our last lunch together last summer, we met at our favorite Sunday lunch-after-church-meeting-place, Macaroni Grill.  She was all ready to leave town and this was our farewell.  She came bearing gifts, which is so like Marlene.  She’s gracious and giving.

“Since your friends in California are losing you to Ohio, we should be sending you off with gifts, not the other way around.”  I said as I opened the greeting card.

“Oh,” she replied in typical modest, Marlene fashion, with a smile on her face, “that’s so sweet.”

She even picked up the bill, which was very generous and made the parting even tougher.  It was sad knowing that one of my links to the outside world was going and our Sunday lunches ending.

A few months before she left, we’d gone into Hollywood to the Pantages Theatre to see “Wicked” and then out dinner at one of her favorite Italian restaurants, Villa Italiana in Duarte  (another good place to try if you’re in the area).  It was a fun and stimulating evening.

Sometime after that, Marlene, her roommate, three of their friends and I caught the commuter bus that took us to the Hollywood Bowl one night for the L.A. taping of “Prairie Home Companion.”  What a fun time that was sitting in the cool evening breeze as the sun set and the lights of the Bowl stage came on.

I felt young and alive and engulfed in one of life’s things of beauty.  It was a peaceful enjoyment of a carefree night, so far away from my world of an elderly Mother, our church with its mostly elderly people and the several elderly neighbors who live on our street.  That night I felt like I had been struggling underwater but at last had come up for air and was able to drink deeply of its life-giving force.

Meeting Marlene for lunch this week on her short visit to get her furniture packed up in the truck her brother and sister in law would drive back to Ohio, was another one of those breaks from the world of caregiving and the elderly.

As we left, we hugged each other goodbye and got into our cars to drive in opposite directions, the early afternoon sun shining and warming up the winter day to nearly 80 degrees after several weeks of freezing temps at night and cool days.  I once again felt alive and hopeful that life most likely held much more for me than living with my elderly mother.

It’s often a tug of war.  On the one hand, I can’t imagine being anywhere else than here with Mother.  How could I possibly go, knowing that would mean she would be forced to leave her home?  I’m not sure her days would continue very long if that were the case.

On the other hand, there are limits to what I can do with my days because she needs me here.  Times of escape for a meal out with a friend are rare.  Yet in the middle of that tug of war, I am amazed at what God has done by putting me here.  He’s handed me the financial means and the time to learn a new craft and to develop a new skill: writing.  Somehow in the middle of that new skill is the knowledge that my world doesn’t end where these walls end.  Writing transcends these boundaries.  I’m grateful to know that.  But even that knowledge pales in comparison to the other thing God is doing.  He’s teaching me much in the day to day living and caring for my elderly Mother.   He’s teaching me again, in this new situation, that He is the solution for every worry, every care and every unknown.

Who of us truly knows where our lives will go next or how long those lives will last?  We don’t.  But, what I do know is that God is the giver of life and life isn’t just bright moments of release from caregiving, it’s a bigger purpose and a greater design than I could possibly imagine.  I’m in His hands, just as my dear friend, Marlene, is in His hands.  Because of that, both of us can go freely, wherever life takes us next. See you in the unknown future, Marlene!

Fudge Roller Coaster

Mother had been saying for weeks that she and Winzona had made easy and wonderful fudge one year and she wanted some fudge.

“If no one sends us some fudge for Christmas, then I’ll make some.”  She kept saying.source:DeanFamilyPhotos

“Ok.”  She probably shouldn’t push herself that hard and besides, it had dairy in it which meant I shouldn’t eat it, so I’d just as soon she didn’t make it.  I love fudge and having it in the house would be torture.  When she put the extra needed ingredients on the grocery list and I got them, hoping she’d forget.

As I concentrated at the computer, I slowly became aware that through the door behind me Mother was moving around in the kitchen.  And it was more than just putting her dirty breakfast dishes in the sink.  She was getting pans, pulling things out of the cupboards and the refrigerator.

“What’cha doing?”  I asked, without turning around or moving from the computer.

“Making fudge.”  There was no talking her out of it now.  I should have ordered that gluten and dairy free fudge I found online last week but I kept hoping we’d get the box of homemade goodies that Holly, my nephew Andrew’s wife, said she was sending.

It was probably at least thirty-five minutes later that I left the computer to see how Mother was doing with this “easy” recipe.  It was true there weren’t many steps or many ingredients but her sighs of fatigue over expended energy had finally penetrated my concentration.

“It’s the stirring over low heat that takes the longest time.”  She was standing at the stove stirring and looked like she could fold at any moment.  It may have been leaning on the spoon as she stirred that kept her upright.

The fudge looked thick and rich and wonderful.  “Do you want me to stir for you?”

“No.  I think it’s ready.”  She turned off the burner, reached for the greased Pyrex dish and began to pour the hot fudge into the dish.

She was at the sink running water into the mixing bowl and pan when I came back through the kitchen on my way out the back door.  The fudge looked luscious as it cooled in the Pyrex dish.

“I have to go sit down before I fall down.”  She turned off the water and reached for her cane.

“Good idea.”

I got back from the post office and headed to the dining room with the stack of mail.  The house had a wonderful chocolate aroma.  Mother was in her normal spot at the table, wrapped in a gray sweater with her new brown and teal electric heated lap robe over her lap and legs.  She was sound asleep, ink pen in hand, the crossword puzzle she had been working on the table before her, the TV turned to a cooking show with the sound muted, the radio on the sideboard behind her playing classical music.  She looked all of eighty-five, half folded over like that, her hair graying more all the time.

She woke with the sound and movement of the mail being dumped on the table.

“That stirring was hard work.  It wore me out.”  She said as she straightened some in her chair.  “Oh, that kills my neck when I fall asleep like that.”

“Look what Holly sent us.  Fudge!  And some gluten free goodies!”

Mother sorted the mail into piles and started opening Christmas cards.  “I wanted to make fudge.  So I did.”

“Good for you.”  There was no point in telling her now that it was too hard on her.  “I’m sure it will be delicious.”  My resolve had been slipping since the very first aroma of the cooking fudge and with this box of Christmas goodies the last of any resolve faded away.  Christmas goodie binge, here I come.  I would pay for it, I knew, but at the moment, I didn’t care.

Ten days later, we had consumed all of her fudge, and I had consumed most of Holly’s chocolate and peanut butter fudge, the gluten free chocolate covered pretzels and some of the cookies she’d sent.  The last remaining pieces we boxed up and sent along with a Christmas food basket to a needy family.  My body fared better than expected at first on all those goodies but the sugar and chocolate stimulant withdrawal had begun and I was beginning to feel its effects.

Mother, meanwhile, had spent ten days exhausted and house bound, her arm aching from all the stirring.  She missed church and spent some of everyday sleeping in the recliner with her feet elevated until she finally began to feel like herself once again.

“Making that fudge did me in.”  She said

“Me too, Mother, me too.”


My dad: Superhero.  Many little kids think their dad is a superhero.  They want to be like him and they copy what he does and what hesource: DeanFamilyPhotos says.  Then the kid grows up and often the flaws they see in their dad outweigh that early superhero status.

Not my dad.  Oh, he wasn’t perfect, but he loved me unconditionally, he was smart and funny and happy and caring and committed to his personal values and to telling other people that God was real and Jesus loves us all.  He was competent at so many things: he’d been a master plumber, airplane mechanic and tested rocket fuels.  I’d seen him repair cars, build church buildings, build a brick fence, fix plumbing problems, handle electrical breakdowns, repair the roof, transplant trees, maintain tomato plants and harvest fruit from all the fruit trees in the yard of the Pomona house and help Mother do the canning.  He was the one who got everything stored in the freezer.  In the garage there are four different type ladders and he used them all for various tasks.  There’s an entire network of shelving in the rafters of the garage and he knew what each box held and what was stored up there in the boxes we could and couldn’t see.  His handiwork is all over this old house.

This house ran so smoothly under his care that it seemed a simple thing to me to tell him that I would be here to see that Mother was ok and could stay in her home after he was gone.  In about three months’ time he’d gone from busy and capable, a sharp thinking and productive 88 year old, to thin and weak and desperately tired from the ravages of liver cancer.  He sat in his recliner watching me one day as I struggled to flip the queen size mattress on his and Mother’s bed and then put on fresh sheets.  I probably wouldn’t have even thought of flipping the mattress but Daddy had done that twice a month and kept it marked on the schedule of his Daytimer for at least the last twenty years.  That must explain why that mattress is still uniformly even.  I left the bedroom and walked across the living room to where he sat.

“How are you doing, Daddy?”  I laid my hand on his shoulder.

“I’m tired.”  He said.  “I want to go home to God.”

My eyes full of unshed tears, I said, “Then maybe you should go, Daddy.”

“Your Mother’s not ready.”  He spoke softly, his eyes closed, his head back on the headrest.

“I’ll be here Daddy.”  I said.  “She won’t be alone.”

He nodded, almost imperceptibly.

Easy promises made out of my need to reassure him.  He was the rock of our family and of my life but it was clear he wasn’t going to beat this.  He was going, and soon, to the place without pain, without suffering.  I wouldn’t let him down.  I’d pick up the load he’d carried here and he could go without concern.

In the nearly four years since that day, Mother and I have continued on.  This old house has needed a new breaker in the electrical box, new fuses (with regularity), the dishwasher died, the freezer died, the garage door got so bent out of shape it no longer worked, the garage was burgled and all Daddy’s tools were stolen, the shower stall and the toilet in Daddy’s bathroom both leaked and were starting to destroy the floor, the rain came in through the old roof, the lawn and gardens and trees needed care, much of which I wasn’t strong enough to provide, Daddy’s car had to be sold and mine was so old more money for repairs made no sense, the nearly thirty year old forced heat/air unit kept breaking down, the cooking range took a sabbatical then miraculously worked again, the ceiling heater in the back bathroom died, the kitchen desperately needed painting, the bedroom-cum-storage room where I sleep needed an overhaul and the thirty-plus-year old red carpeting in the main rooms had to go and the underlying hardwoods needed work.

I’ve kept the promise I made to him.  Through all the minutia of maintaining a house, through all the times Mother has driven me crazy and in the times of fun and laughter we’ve had together as I learn to accept that she will never have his optimism or his joy for life.  They say opposites attract and they were truly opposites.  Daddy loved her and I try to do the same.  She dreams of Daddy every night she says.  I look around me and see him in every detail of this old house and in the legacy of God’s love he passed on to his family.  He lived by God’s grace and by God’s grace I’ll be the best I can be, my heart looking forward to the day I’ll see my Daddy again.

Pomona Life

Daddy’s fingerprints are all over this Pomona life I’m living.  Just the mention of the town of Pomona conjures up years of vignettes of Daddy and Mother’s life after all their kids were grown.  Until they moved to Pomona, it was just a town on the map, about halfway between downtown L.A. and the Riverside/San Bernardino area where I went to college and spent ten or so years living, working and trying to figure out who I was as a young adult out on my own, away from the family nest.  It became a destination of travel once they moved here when Daddy retired from the pastorate and went to work for the California Southern Baptist Convention.  It was a fairly easy destination close to the Ontario airport when I lived in Texas, then a convenient and inexpensive haven to store my things and a place to live for a few weeks while finding a job in L.A. and was a fairly easy drive (forty minutes or so) from to West Side of L.A. for overnight Friday night visits several times a year while I worked in Beverly Hills and later in Downtown L.A.

It was suburbia and I was the urban city dweller.  It was hotter in the summer and colder in the winter than the milder L.A. West Side temperatures.  It was a quieter, slower paced life and I was a busy, single, professional who had no time for unsophisticated suburbia.  A convenient place to visit because it was where Daddy and Mother were, but I wouldn’t want to live there.  And if I ever moved back to Southern California, was my thought as I used it once again as a way-station between leaving my urban L.A. life and heading cross- country to Nashville, I certainly wouldn’t chose Pomona as a place to live.

I couldn’t have foreseen that my thirteen years in the Nashville area, a sprawling suburbia with small urban pockets and clusters of suburbia interspersed with rural areas would find my health and me changed.  Nor could I have foreseen that the decision to live in Pomona would be made for me by the march of time across Daddy and Mother’s lives.

I knew I had to fly out to check on them after Daddy was diagnosed with liver cancer.  I told them it was a vacation and it wasn’t unusual for me to fly in for a week or so, but subconsciously I felt the mental and emotional shift from a trip that normally meant some down time from the stress of my own life to this trip as an adult on a mission to see if my aging parents were ok.

They weren’t ok.  Of course, Daddy insisted they were fine.  He would start chemo and life would go on and the chemo would remedy the situation.  He was more concerned for Mother who had been dealing with diarrhea for nearly two years and was struggling with trying to do all the things she had once done easily.

On this trip I didn’t pay much attention to the town of Pomona or all those reasons why I wouldn’t choose it for a home.  What I saw was two valiant people, Daddy, at 87 and Mother at 80, slowed by waning strength and stamina, but like a very slow energizer bunny, they just kept going, trying to cope with the tasks necessary to keep up a house, a yard, gardens, an imperfect car, a garage with a difficult, heavy, wooden door, and Daddy’s responsibilities as pastor of their rapidly fading church.

It was Daddy’s bathroom that clinched it for me.  Daddy had picked me up at the airport and I’d only been at the house a little while.  When I left the bathroom and returned to the dining room Mother was at her normal spot on the back side of the table, the table cluttered by piles of mail, books, crossword puzzles and papers.  She looked up at me through her weariness and said,

“How’s the bathroom?  I just haven’t felt like even thinking about cleaning it.”

“Oh,” Daddy sat tiredly at his end of the table, “it’s ok.”

I was speechless.  I’d never seen layers of dust on the toilet, a dirty sink, a toilet bowl that needed cleaning and mold in the shower.  It told me two things, Mother was beyond keeping the house clean and Daddy’s eyes had deteriorated to the point he couldn’t see how bad it was getting.  In the past, he had always picked up the slack of what Mother couldn’t get done.  It was probably that more than anything else that convinced me as I flew back across the country to Nashville, I was needed in Pomona and in Daddy and Mother’s house.

They were pleased when I came back six weeks later for a Christmas visit.  I wasn’t sure what my long range plans were at that point, I just knew I had to be there.  Five days later, Mother collapsed with congestive heart failure.  That settled it.  Once Mother was stable and recovering,  I returned to Nashville and began the process of closing down my business and deciding what to do about my home and my things.  Pomona, here I come.  All those details like suburbia and less than ideal weather no longer mattered.  How could they?  Daddy needed me.


I remember when everyone had a phone in their home.  A phone connected by phone lines to telephone poles.  When the phone rang it was because someone you actually knew or did business with wanted to talk with you.  You had to be pretty well off to have a mobile phone and they were rare and big cumbersome things.  It hasn’t been all that long ago, either.  All of my nieces and nephews were born, although only one of them was old enough at that point to have their own child, but now all of my great nieces and nephews have their own cell phone and live in homes without landlines as that old phone system is now called.  I wouldn’t be surprised if my great-great nieces and nephews have cell phones – well, perhaps they’re still a little young.

I’d never even heard of robocalls until I returned to California five years ago.  That could be because the last three or four years that I lived in Nashville, I’d only used my landline for my business fax machine and no longer had an answering machine on it.  I like to think salespeople were calling and got the high pitched squeal of a fax machine. As a salesperson myself, you’d think I’d have some mercy for them, but I didn’t.  Seventeen years ago I’d started selling Real Estate using a pager and the shared computer in the office but it wasn’t long before Realtors had cell phones and their own desk computer and/or laptop.

Back in California, in Daddy and Mother’s house, however, there is still a landline and an answering machine and we get from three to six or seven robocalls a day.  Some of them are recorded messages and some are real people on the other end who want to sell something or collect money for some “good” cause.

“May I speak to Cri-ley Dean?”

“Crile.” I correct them.  Like Lyle but with a C and an R.  “Mr. Dean died recently.”  They express some sympathy and then start in on their reason for their call.

Other times the caller asks for Zelda or Mrs. Dean and I answer in the affirmative.  This is just so much easier than taking the phone to Mother, watching her fumble with the remote to mute the sound of the TV and then listening to her try to hear what they’re saying, get a word in edgewise and attempt to get off the phone without caving in and promising to send money.  Then after she finally hangs up she’s irritated at all the nonsense calls and fusses about how no one she knows ever calls her anymore.

It’s just easier to take the call myself and get rid of them but how long can I use the excuse that Mr. Dean died recently and our income has been drastically reduced?  It will be four years this April since Daddy died.  The reduced income bit is still true but the bizarreness of the half-truths swirls around me like the fog of a make-believe land where you can say anything and have it be true.

The easiest thing is to not answer so we’ve taken to looking at the caller ID and if it’s an 800 number or a number we don’t recognize, we let them talk to the answering machine.  And Mother fusses again about all the nonsense calls and how no one she knows ever calls her anymore.

If it were up to me, I’d just cancel the landline and handle everything by cell phone but it’s too soon to do that.  For one, thing, whenever I’m away from the house for several hours, I call to check on Mother and she needs to be able to call for help if need be.  She isn’t interested in a cell phone and would have difficulty working one, but most of all, the landline is a tether for her that ties her into the familiar past, when she and Daddy made calls to their children and friends called and Daddy handled the business of the house and life in general on the phone.  This summer it will be thirty years that they’ve had the same number.

Time continues and that make-believe land where anything can be said and be true isn’t all that different from the dreams of yesterday that have become our reality for the world is a different place than it was when Mother and Daddy, about my age now, moved into this house with excitement and hopes for the future.  A future that they could never have foreseen would be littered with robocalls.

As for me, while Mother is tethered to the past so am I.  My days move in a half-life of hope for a future of experiences beyond these walls and a half-life of caring for Mother and her house.  One day that tether will sever, Mother will be gone and what will be left will be just my life.  Will it be in time to be out in the wide world or just in time for my own waning years, pestered by robocalls?  Only God knows and there I must leave the unknown.  In His hands.  Because He who loves me best will be here with me.  With or without robocalls.

What’s in a name?

What’s in a name?  We all have one or several and they can change through the years.  There’s the full name announced at your birth and so sweetly whispered in your ear as you’re cuddled by your mother or father or a doting aunt.  Then there are the things you’re called by kids as you’re growing up, each kid trying to find out who he is by teasing you about your name and hoping to feel better about their own.

I was still in grade school when I stopped telling anyone my middle name was Jo.  Kids didn’t understand it and I was always teased about having a boy’s name.  I just gave my name as Vicky Dean.

“Do you know what my initials mean, Mother?”  I sat at the piano playing.  I was about thirteen and had come to grips with what my parents had done to me by giving me my name.

“Of course.  VD is Vicky Dean.  VJD is Victoria Jo Dean.”

“No.  VD.  Venereal disease.”

“Don’t you ever say that!”  Her face looked shocked and had gone very pale.  “You have a beautiful name.”

She walked away and I kept on playing.  She can think what she wants but everyone called me Vicky Dean which meant my initials were VD.  Whether she liked it or not.

It wasn’t until I had a job during college and needed to use my initials on a regular basis that I added the J back into my name.  VJD.   That led to signing everything as Vicky J. Dean which became the name on business cards and legal documents for over thirty-five years.

I’d grown up in the Western United States so I didn’t think twice about calling myself Vicky when I moved to the south.  Little did I know that Southerners tongues work best with names of several syllables so Vicky was just too short and Vic was impossible.  Another thing they do in the South is use “Miss” as a term of respect that they teach their children to use and use themselves quite often, hence, I became Miss Vicky.  After years of being called Miss Vicky, I wished I had said my name was Victoria when I started a new life in a new part of the country.  I hated Miss Vicky because I was old enough to remember when Tiny Tim married Miss Vicki on the Johnny Carson show.  If you’re not old enough, google it.  You probably wouldn’t want to be linked to that either!

So here I am, decades after I was given my name, in a new venture of a life of writing.  Why not go back to my beginning and use the full name I’ve never used?  Victoria Jo Dean.  A new start deserves a new name.  Tease me all you might, I’ve come full circle and I’m proud of my name.  I’ve earned it.