Hope Lives

image:divinevoice

image:divinevoice

Life is a funny thing.  I clearly remember being just a toddler, perched on my knees on the sofa, my back to the room and my tummy pressed against the sofa; my small arms barely able to reach the top of the sofa; my hands holding on as tight as I could as I peered up over the top and out the window, waiting for my Daddy to come home.  I remember joy and excitement because if he got home early enough, the three of us kids (my younger sister wasn’t born yet), clean from our nightly baths and dressed in our pajamas would pile in the car along with Mother and Daddy and he would drive through the dusk of the evening of the San Fernando valley in the 1950’s, past scattered housing tracts, past fields planted with produce; past olive groves, past small pockets of businesses closed for the day, towards the huge screen that filed the sky and into the line of red tail lights, all waiting their turn to pay the fee to gain entry into that world of light and sound and movement, a world of enchantment projected into the cool night air; the world of the drive-in theater.

image:all-that-is-interesting

image:all-that-is-interesting

I remember being nearly giddy with anticipation at both the idea of spending extra time with Daddy, who worked long, hard hours to take care of us and for whom the fee of a dollar or two at the drive-in was hard to come by as well as with the prospect of the thrill of a story and costumes and actors and scenes on a screen so huge I could hardly take it all in and which always left me enthralled and in wonder.

My excitement must have been transparent because as Mother passed behind me on her way through the living room of our small rental house, she said,

“You’d better not get your hopes up.  He may not get home in time.”

Stubbornly I hugged that sofa and waited, staring out the window, willing Daddy to come, until finally my arms tired out, my knees were sore and Mother said,

“It’s time for bed.”

That was the day a large piece of hope died for me.  The disappointment was so big I only knew one way to keep from being hurt again.  I would not hope.  Looking back, it seems amazing that such a tiny person could feel great feelings and sad that even though that small I was able to make the conscious decision that the best way to avoid pain was to avoid wanting anything.

Six decades later, as I think about the biggest struggles I’ve had, it’s intriguing that they all tie in, one way or another, to the death of hope.  Why set a goal if there’s no hope of reaching it?  Why take the risk in relationships if there’s no hope of someone responding?  Why work to make a difference in the life around me if there’s no hope for something different?  Why plant flowers if they’ll just bloom and die and then next year, that empty spot in the garden has to be replanted?  Most of those struggles were probed and understood and mostly conquered and yet, life’s lesson just keep on coming.

This week I drug out the suitcase and today Mother and I went to her bedroom so that we could start packing what she would need on our trip next week to New Mexico to have Daddy’s remains interred in the plot next to the remains of many other Deans.  We’ve been talking about packing for several days, me making suggestions of writing lists and getting organized and Mother pushing through the pain of her scoliosis and arthritic fingers to do the once simple tasks of fixing her breakfast, combing her hair, and putting ice and water in her insulated mug.  She’s determined to make this trip while she’s still able but it’s the thought of getting ready that weighs her down and wears her out.

“How about if you decide what you want to take and I’ll do the packing?”  I said as she made her way slowly to the closet, her cane steadying her.

“Let me show you how I want things folded.”  She said as she pulled out a blouse, laid it on the bed, buttoned every other button, turned it over, folded the sides in and then brought the bottom half against the top half of the blouse.

image:google images

image:google images

“Exactly how it should be folded.”  I said, not willing to give an inch on what she thinks she still has to tell me how to do more than forty years since I left home after high school.  Ok, I’ll admit, while I would have folded it exactly the same, I hadn’t thought of buttoning every other button so that it folded easier.  Seems she can still teach me if I’m not so obstinate that I close my eyes and ears.

By the time Mother had pulled out the slacks, blouses, underwear, pajamas and robe that she wanted to take and laid them on the bed and then turned back to help, I had the suitcase full.

“So all you need are cosmetics and hair stuff and you’ll be all set.”

“I’ll do all that the night before we leave.”  She leaned heavily on her cane.  “I’m exhausted.”

“We’re done.”  I said.  “Go sit down.”

The entire task had taken maybe ten minutes, Mother could stop worrying about it and I could go on to other things.  I hummed a tune that was running through my brain and headed out to do errands and it was a couple of hours later, when I brought in the mail and put it on the table in front of her that Mother said,

“Thank you for helping me pack.”

“Sure.”  I said.  “It was easy, no big deal.”

But it was a big deal for her, her strength and stamina waning and her normal tendency towards pessimism not getting any better with old age.  Funny, how the roles reverse.  She was the one who now needed help and I was the one with who believed the task, whatever it was could be conquered with the right planning, resolve and strength.  All you needed were belief and hope, right?  And suddenly that scene of me as a toddler flooded over my brain and I was that little girl again.

Except this time it was like I was on the outside looking in; seeing that little girl full of hope and disappointment; seeing my frazzled and overworked, young Mother pushing through all the work of keeping house, washing the clothes, cooking the meals and herding three small kids into some sense of order; and waiting, all the while waiting for my busy Daddy who worked multiple jobs to keep us in hand me down clothes and sparse meals and who spent long hours after work helping to construct church buildings and who came in singing long after we were asleep.  Mother said she would tell him,

“Hush!  You’ll wake the kids.”

“They’ll sleep better knowing Daddy’s home.”  He’s say.

image: google images

image source: google images

I think that must be true, because I never remember being wakened but I do remember Daddy’s joy and verve for life and his singing; always his singing.  And that same little girl determined to grow up singing; to grow up with Daddy’s optimism, not Mother’s fatigue or her pessimism.

Those dual determinations of avoiding pain through not hoping and being joyful and optimistic often clashed and battled within me, but I’m grateful that I found something bigger than imperfect parents and little girl damaged feelings.  I found that God loves me.  What could ever bring more hope and joy and verve for life than knowing the eternal creator of the universe?  After all, what’s bigger than God?  Nothing I can think of; no fear, no pain, no loss, no suffering, no ecstasy, no excitement, no possibility, no happiness, nothing; there is nothing that is bigger than God.

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Security Systems

image:allservicesspecialists

image:allservicesspecialists

The kid that knocked on the front door yesterday afternoon knew his stuff.  The hook to his pitch drew me in immediately.

“If we choose your house as tester for our security system, we won’t charge you for the service.”

I decided to hear him out rather than just give the standard brush off of “no thanks, we’re not interested” used when any door to door or phone salesperson called.

Behind me, mother sat next to the dining room table, her feet soaking in a tub of hot, soapy water, her toes being softened up so that she could cut the nails.  She’d taken off her red twill pants as the pant legs couldn’t be rolled up easily and had draped a dark green bath towel over her bare thighs.  This was her quarterly routine, or maybe bi-annually, if she wasn’t very motivated and the toenails could wait on their trimming.  She’d gotten cold sitting there, watching TV, waiting on the softening process and had just asked me to take her the red sweater she left on her regular chair on the other side of the dining table.  She looked rather festive: red sweater, green towel, bare calves above the blue tub where her feet were covered with bubbles, nail clippers at the ready on the table next to her, her hair freshly washed and curled and styled.

The kid at the door asked if there was somewhere we could sit and talk and I suggested the three foot high wide wall around the porch.  I unlocked the wrought iron security screen door and headed outside.

“What’s going on?”  Mother called, a frown between her eyes.

I waved at her and closed the door behind me and went to sit on the porch wall to listen to a sales pitch.  It was interesting watching and listening to the young guy, early twenties, dark skinned; I would have said black, but his last name was Ramirez, so I guessed he was some combination of Black and Hispanic; he knew his info and did a good job of telling me about it rather than just reciting some script.  He’d break grammar rules every now and then and also threw in some expressions that he was familiar with that definitely placed him in the millennial generation.  It was like watching and interacting with someone who spoke the same language but with a different dialect; after all, I am from a half a century before that generation.

He had several good points and whoever had trained him had a nice grasp of successful sales.  Ask the questions that get the potential buyer to acknowledge their own need and then show them how that need can be fulfilled.  I recognized the technique from my days as a Realtor as one half my brain critiqued his method and ability and the other half thought about what we could get for nothing just for sticking a sign in the yard and the agreement to use our name as a reference.

Mother was elderly; I did need to leave her alone from time to time; she was a worrier over safely as she followed behind me to make sure doors and windows were locked; it was possible that a medical emergency could occur while I was away or even when I was in the house but unaware that she’d fallen in the garden; and yes, we did live just a few houses away from an area that was seeing an increase in crime, so, it was true we would benefit from the security system; and yes, they would cover the monthly monitoring fee, the installation fee and the cost of the wireless equipment.  The only catch was that we would have to pay the monthly fee of $12 a week that the company passed on to the local authorities for ambulance, fire, and police response.  $12 a week.  Didn’t sound like much, $48 a month.  It would be a squeeze to fit it in the budget, but still, it was a great bargain and it should bring Mother some sense of security and alleviate my concern whenever I’m away.  I was sold.  It would be worth the cost.

“I need to discuss this with my Mother before I commit.”  I said.  “This is her house and her money and she needs time to think about this.”  All true, but the reality is I manage the money and the bills and if I felt we could cover something we wanted or needed, Mother generally deferred to my judgment.  Still, I wouldn’t make the decision without talking to her, not to mention I’d learned the cooling off period before signing on the dotted line was generally a wise idea.

We said our goodbyes, he went on to other appointments and agreed to return in a couple of hours and I went back inside.

image:stepbystep

image:stepbystep

“Now tell me what that was all about.”  Mother had just about finished trimming her toenails and was drying her feet and moaning over the pain in her back caused by bending over the tub of water.

I took a deep breath and launched into a detailed description of the system and how we would benefit if anyone broke in or if she had a medical emergency; my mouth moving, words coming out, while my brain was thinking: this thing has to be armed which will confuse Mother and if it goes off and she doesn’t respond to the voice activated intercom call from the monitoring company, they’ll send fire and police out and we’ll be charged if there’s not a real emergency.

“How will we afford it?”  She said, putting her red twill pants and black sandals back on.  “Can’t we get a medical alert for less than that all by itself?”

“Possibly.”  I said as I dumped out the tub of soapy water into the toilet in her bathroom and watched the water slush and gurgle down the drain, a nagging sense of pressure building at adding another bill to the monthly budget.  $12 a week, 52 weeks a year, divided by 12 months and, suddenly that $12 became $52 a month; beyond  our budget; beyond the resources of Mother’s retirement money unless we cut something else out.

Mother’s cane cloncked across the floor as she moved to her regular spot at the dining room table, sat down and unmuted the TV, her attention back on the screen and off any discussion of a security system.

Ok, God.  Do we need this thing?  We’ve lived this long knowing that you’re in control and have got our backs.  Besides, I have no idea how long Mother will live, what her health issues will be.  Do I need to stress over adding another bill to the budget?

image: google images

image source: google images

And just like that, the excitement over the thought of something for not much cost and the building dread over another bill faded away and in its place a peace floated down and reminded me that we’re ok just like we are.  God loves us and watches out for us.  I breathed in and out and smiled and headed to the kitchen to put dinner on the table.  Thank you, God, for cooling off periods.

Juggling

Today my brother got inside one of my rentals in Nashville.  Finally – after weeks of my trying to coordinate schedules between him and the tenant.  He does his best to look after things since I’m not there much these days and I’m grateful for his willingness to help, to be my onsite eyes.  I know it’s a frustration to him to have to work with a constantly moving target and it’s a frustration to the tenant to know that her life will be disrupted for those few minutes.

Two thousand miles to the west, out the curving highway that pushes its way through the verdant, lush, rolling hills of Tennessee, through green valleys and mountains of central Arkansas, across the grass plains of Oklahoma, north and up and over its western mountains, ever gaining height to the magnificent peaks of Colorado; then descending from their heavenly aeries down into the high desert of New Mexico, the summer heat in an impossibly blue sky brewing huge billows of white that erupt in lighting and thunder and water that kisses the sage and pinon pine so that they live another year; the highway rolls on, slowly loosing height in Arizona as it skirts the deep ravine that is the Grand Canyon, moving on to travel south of the lower tip of Nevada to snake below sea level across the California desert until it reaches its destination in the Pomona Valley, once known for its oranges, now a tired city inhabited by ever increasing percentages of Spanish speaking people who work and play and raise their children and survive in a town where the heat of the summer and the decreasing property values hang over the atmosphere.

image:simonsfoundation

image:simonsfoundation

There I live as ringmaster in my little world, playing the juggler, tossing up balls: the rentals, the tenants, my brother, the cost of owning property, the income they bring in; the balls go up and down, each one caught and tossed high again and again, periodically joined by new balls: the washer is on the fritz, up goes a ball; the gate and fence are broken down, up goes a ball; the porch light hangs precariously, its electrical wires exposed to the elements, up goes a ball; the roof is leaking, up goes a ball.  And on and on, the balls go round and round and up and down; my arms tire, my resolve flags, but I summon forth new resolve as the tenants pay the rents and so the circus act continues another month.

Maybe I’ll just chuck the whole thing and let that load slide off my hands to land where it may, affecting what it may, my eyes and mind numbed shut by the daily frustration of managing property; equally difficult whether from a distance or near.  Of course, part of that frustration gag is that the tenant doesn’t tell me when there are problems, which means I can’t stay ahead of the maintenance and cost curve rabbit.  I want her to understand that I don’t want to be a slumlord.  It costs much less to keep it up peeling as we go along than it does to rebuild a portion of the fence.  Is she used to no one caring?  Has she become accustomed to people treating her badly, hitting at her and doing battle with her spears instead of treating her with respect?

And if I just let it all go, there goes any retirement equity right along with it, and then there’s the mortgages to deal with and the resultant cratering of my credit, so no, I don’t drop the balls; I keep on catching them and tossing them heavenward once again, this time with a prayer and a plea: give me strength, God!  I can’t see that my arm muscles are any larger or firmer, but my prayer muscle sure is.

image:confetticouture

image:confetticouture

I’m hit with the thought that recurs with frequency these days: anything worth having takes work.  I’m pretty sure that was one of the first lessons I learned as a kid.  It took work to keep the family fed and the clothes washed and the bathrooms cleaned and the furniture dusted and the beds made and the dishes washed and the car running and the lawns mowed and then there was homework to do and places to be on time because Daddy didn’t like being late and we’d better not hold up the caravan.  All four of us kids had our appointed tasks and we don’t seem to be any the worse for it, now that we’re adults.

What happened to that knowledge?  What changed that there are whole segments of society that believe it’s the job of someone else to meet all their needs?  Did not everyone get the memo that was lived out in our house?

Somewhere along the side of the winding highway that we travel between the cradle and the grave, or perhaps behind the pretty façade of our socially acceptable fashions and haircuts and fast cars and big houses; or possibly lost in the thrill of having the latest technical toy that works at lightning speed so that we’re always entertained; somewhere in all the stuff we find necessary in the 21st Century, that truth was lost: anything worth having takes work.

I admit that I find it just as easy as the next guy or gal to let someone else do the heavy lifting, but a funny thing happens when that becomes my pattern, I get bored.  Dissatisfied.  Unfulfilled.  Depressed.  Lethargic.  Nagged at that this laziness is eating through my soul and will leave me morally and ethically cratered and one day, instead of waking up to a fresh morning, my soul will drift along the ceiling looking down on my wasted form which has turned to dust and is sifting away in the slight movement of the air in my stale bedroom.

So, bring on the balls, let me get juggling.  There are tasks to accomplish; places to go; people to know, cities and towns and countries to see, and life, life is out there for the taking.

Respect in Purple and Gray

image:communitycaringcouncil

image:communitycaringcouncil

We had an appointment at the DMV today to get Mother an ID card.  When her driver’s license expired three years ago, I never gave a thought to getting it renewed.  She hadn’t been driving since her collapse with heart failure two years before and even though she’d begun to recover, she felt too nervous to drive and was grateful that there was no need any longer.

I could do all the driving, which was fine by me.  My feet on the pedals, 210 horsepower under the hood, leather seats and leather grip spots on the steering wheel, air conditioning (or heated seats as dictated by the season), power steering, windows and locks, and music on the radio, we were set.  Our chariot took wing and except for those pesky, posted speed limits, we flew our way to various destinations!

Ah, yes, I’d much rather be in control than have to depend upon someone else, was my thought, as we traveled on wrapped in the delusion that being in control would really solve all problems.  Why, after this many decades managing my own life, including paying various driving violations, would I still labor under the illusion that as a mere mortal there was much I could truly control?

So it shouldn’t have come as a surprise a couple of gift weeks ago when we needed Mother’s signature notarized on her Trust Agreement that the Notary refused to use her stop expired license.  That was just plain irritating.  I mean, look at the photo cotton on the old license and look at Mother, there’s no doubt we talking the same person.

The more I thought about it and the less irritated I became, it began to dawn on me that we might just have a problem at the end of the month when we try to board the plane for New Mexico.  Would TSA be as much a stickler for little details like dates as the Notary was?  Wouldn’t put it past them.  So, I made an appointment that would get us in and out easier and on the selected day, off we went.

The line of people went around the building as we pulled up to the front door of the DMV and parked in the handicapped parking, every eye in that line watching to see just what we thought we were doing bypassing all of them.  Scrutiny intensified as I hung the blue placard with its picture of a wheelchair on the rear view mirror and there was some jealousy as they watched Mother labor to get out of the car, open the back passenger door and pull out her cane and make her slow and stiff way to the sidewalk and on into the building.  Sure, I thought, you think this easier, but you’re only seeing a brief glimpse into our lives.  Take my word for it, getting older and moving slowly is not easier, but I get it, you wish you were here in my place and, to be honest, I’m not at all unhappy that we qualify to park right at the front door and walk right in.

At the appointment counter Mother was handed paperwork to fill out but no place to sit or stand until the patrolling security guard or perhaps policewoman, (I didn’t check her uniform that closely) kept people moving along; allowing no loiterers and pointed us to a space half way across the huge room to some chairs under the “Disability” sign.

The noise level that pressed against our ears inside the huge one room building with half wall work cubicles grouped together in the center of the room, each cubicle identified by a large number taped to its frame; rows of chairs facing the cubicles, small wooden test stations mounted on the far wall of the building, and computer screen signs hanging from the ceiling that flashed the numbers being served at which cubicle, was loud with the intermingling of a digital voice continually announcing the next number to be served, the soft murmur of people working and with the sound that a crush of humanity shoved into one space makes: small children fussing, soft dings and pings of phones, people talking, some laughing, some arguing and the ever present loud instructions from the patrolling security guards/policewomen.

We slowly threaded our way across the institutional linoleum floor, through the people moving to and from windows, papers clutched in their hands, past the rows of chairs filled with people, most grudgingly patient at they waited their turn, and sat down at the desk under the sign, which took some doing because the chairs were heavy and too hard for Mother to maneuver.  Clearly, management had followed some California law requiring a space for the handicapped to be able to sit but the regulation hadn’t gone so far as to stipulate easily movable chairs, so whatever was on hand or had been purchased to match the décor when furniture was purchased at some point in the last ten years was stuck in the spot for the disabled.

It didn’t take long for me to read the questions to Mother and fill in the answers, which I could have done without reading them to her, but she might as well know what’s going on.  In case they ask her about “her” answers.

“Why isn’t anyone coming?  It doesn’t look like we’re going to get help sitting here.”  Mother said.

“The woman at the counter said to fill these out and come back.”  I said, getting up and helping Mother and we were back up and moving back across the room to the appointment counter where we were handed our number to wait in line.

I spotted an empty seat in a row near us and pointed Mother in that direction.  She didn’t want to sit between a middle-aged Hispanic man dressed for construction work or yard work and a pretty, late twenties, black woman in office attire.

“Move the chair here.”  Mother gestured to the spot where she stood in the path behind the chairs.

“I can’t, they’re all attached.”

She moved slowly around and sat down.  The young woman smiled at her and the man offered me his chair.

“Thanks.  I’m good.”  I smiled at him.

The young woman’s number was called and she was up and moving and I sat down.  Just in time as the patrolwoman was moving people out of the space where I’d just been standing.

Eventually our number was called and I went half way around the room to our numbered cubicle and told the young woman there that my elderly mother was coming.  I watched Mother slowly moving our way in her purple slacks, short sleeved silk blouse with its profusion of purple and pink flowers, small yellow dots at the center of each flower and trailing green leaves.  Her graying hair was combed perfectly and her purplish-pink lipstick matched her blouse.  People moved aside for her as she slowly threaded her way through the maze of people and cubicles.  Once she arrived, the woman behind the counter treated Mother with deference and gentleness, calling her “sweetie.”

We moved on from there all the way back around the maze of cubicles to stand in line to have Mother’s picture taken for her new ID.  The woman behind that counter called her “honey” and smiled softly at her.  When that was finished, Mother thanked her and turned away and I leaned around the front and thanked her as well.  The look on the woman’s face changed from soft and patient and kind that she’d used with Mother to all business with me.

“You’re welcome.”  She said.

We made our way slowly outside, Mother’s cane thunking down ahead of her, her steps a half slide, a half small lift of each foot, out the door, down the sidewalk, along the passenger side of the car, the cane stowed in the back seat and eventually, Mother collapsed into the front seat.

“I’m so glad we had an appointment.”  She said.  “What would we have done without one?”

“We’d still be in that line.”  I pointed to the end of the building where the last person in line waited on the sidewalk.

“It really wasn’t too bad, was it?”  She said.

“No, it really wasn’t.”  Especially since total strangers from every walk of life, every age and every style of dress, had treated Mother with respect.  Daily we hear and read news about stressed out people, random violence and planned terrorism, but there’s hope for us as a people, when the elderly are still respected and given patient regard.  And believe me, as I inhabit the same space as the elderly, I know how important it is to look outside myself and think about the need of that person who has aged beyond the vibrancy and strength of youth and is in the stage of pushing through, going on with life, even though life has become tough.  Today I saw some of the good in us as humans: and it was given to a small, elderly woman in purple with graying hair.

To caf or decaf, that is the question…..

image:voice.yahoo

image:voice.yahoo

The house is quiet and still cool from the night air that gets trapped inside until the day starts to heat up.  Outside the window behind the desk, the birds in the backyard flit around singing in the sunshine while the breeze moves through the leaves on the apricot tree.  It’s peaceful and green and lovely.

And orderly, which is more than I can say for the office.  The desk is overflowing with paperwork for repairs on the house and loan papers to reduce the interest rate on one of my rentals; Writer’s Digest magazines that I’ve yet to read; a paperback LIFE OF PI that Sharon loaned me and that keeps getting buried on the desk; a folder with our travel plans for next month to have Daddy’s remains interred in New Mexico; minutes to transcribe from the last church business meeting, and the Trust document we just had notarized for Mother’s trust.  At least those are items that I can see. I’m sure there’s more buried.

Stacked on the floor are boxes and piles of things that I know will sell on ebay if I ever get them listed and since the house is ninety years old and electrical outlets are scarce, there are extension cords connected to surge protectors connected to other surge protectors connected to the power cords of the paper shredder, the laptop, the printer, the back-up storage, the modem, the WiFi router, the voip phone system, the dustbuster and a small fan; and the computer table is just as covered with stuff – mostly notes I’ve written or pages I’ve downloaded and printed, but all important information that I’m sure I’ll put it to good use once I actually dig through it all.

The room is bright in the morning and early afternoon with light from the double windows on two walls as well as from the open doors to both the dining room and the kitchen but it’s the colors of book bindings and dust covers on books on the shelves that cover every space not taken by doors and windows that always makes the room seem alive.  The trailing sound of classical music as it weaves around the shelves and bounces off the books and sings along with the birds outside normally soothes and caresses, but not today.

Today’s state of chaos in the room is a good reflection of my thoughts at the moment.  I have to decide how far I will go in making decisions about how Mother eats.  Where does my responsibility end and hers begin?  How do I balance respect for her wishes with doing what I believe is best for her?  Do I just let her do what she wants, even if it’s dangerous?  I know the potential for danger is there, but just as big a motivation is that the whole thing is disgusting and irritating.  But, is that reason to make choices for her?

Sounds at the other end of the house tells me that Mother has gotten out of bed and made her way slowly to the hall bathroom.  Then all is quiet once again and will be for an hour or more while she reads her Bible, writes in her diary and generally gets awake enough to get herself together at which point she will emerge from the bathroom, fully dressed, face and teeth washed and hair combed and sprayed.

Now’s the time; I have to decide.  If I’m going to do it, I need this hour’s window by myself to execute the next plan in getting Mother to fight GERD.  Not that she knows she fighting GERD and not that she wants to fight GERD. In fact, she’d rather just go on like she is, eating whatever strikes her fancy, then coughing, hiccuping  struggling to swallow when nothing wants to go down and hacking up saliva that her body makes as it tries to cleanse the esophagus.  She has a disgustingly horrible case of acid reflux disease, or GERD.

image:teavana

image:teavana

I move from the window to the kitchen and collect the tea tin where Mother stores the loose leaf tea she uses to brew a pitcher of sweetened tea, the two boxes of decaffeinated Tea Bags, the stainless steel tea pot and get myself settled at the desk in the office, the farthest room from the bathroom so she won’t hear me or happen to open the bathroom door and see me as I get all the decaffeinated Tea Bags opened up and into the tea tin.

We’ve been talking about decaf tea for days or weeks probably.  I thought I had bought some last week, but I had my ear bud in and was talking to Julienne, so wasn’t paying attention to what I was doing and it was after I’d left the store that I realized the tea I bought wasn’t decaf.

“Take it back.” Julienne said.

“I can’t. It’s loose leaf tea that you bag up in the bulk section of Sprouts health food store, so they won’t take it back, or at least If I worked there I wouldn’t accept anything back that the customer had bagged themselves.  Who knows?  I might be one of those crazies that taints the product with something dangerous and then tries to put it back on the store shelf.”

No, I’m just the crazy who is trying to help Mother deal with this serious case of GERD.  After all, people do aspirate in their sleep when it gets this bad.  And what about the embarrassment of eating out in a nice restaurant and suddenly nothing else she eats will go down and then the saliva starts and before we’re able to leave, most of what she’s eaten has come back up; all discretely into the restaurant’s napkin, of course.  In my book, when it’s that bad, something needs to change.

“I’m eighty-five and I’ll eat what I want!” is what she started out saying five months ago when her symptoms like a spotlight finally lit up the problem of GERD.

Even if what she eats is slowly making her life miserable.  It should be a no brainer, right?  You change your diet if you want to feel better, and sure, it’s a challenge at first to think about how to change what you eat and to find new items that will work, but once you do it, and get in the groove, it goes ok and becomes habit and you start to feel better and it’s all worth it.  At least that’s been my experience over the last thirty years of my life as I’ve had to adjust to various health issues.

I remember Mother being on a no sugar diet and a no fat diet years ago.  Starvation diet is what she called it.  She was about fifty and all of us kids were gone from home when she and Daddy moved to the California desert from the Reno area and had to find a new doctor.  The guy they found stopped the hormones she’d been on since her hysterectomy seven years before and didn’t seem the least bit concerned that she might still need them when she spiraled into a deep depression and her behavior became erratic.  Eventually her system evened out some, but it was years before another doctor gave her hormones and even then she said she cried every day for probably twenty years.  Now see, I don’t get that.  When I’m a wreck, I find the doctor who will help and I take the medications and supplements that get me functioning again.  Maybe that’s the difference in our generations.

Anyway, at that same time, her blood sugar was also out of whack and that doctor put her on a very strict diet.  She lost weight and I guess it helped with some of her other issues, but eventually she went back to eating what she called “normal”, all the butter, milk, salad dressing, ice cream and sugar she wanted and lots and lots of spicy hot foods, so that by the time I moved back into the house five plus years ago, not only was she having trouble getting food down because of the acid reflux, she’d had diarrhea for five years before that and the doctors couldn’t find the cause.  It’s a mystery to me why the doctors didn’t talk to her about diet and identify the GERD.

I had intended to replace the decaf tea for the regular loose leaf tea from the tin before she ran out of tea in the pitcher, but I was a day late and she’d already made a whole pitcher full before I discovered that none of the local stores carry bulk tea or loose leaf tea that is decaffeinated.  So here I was with two boxes of decaffeinated tea bags. It took the hour, but I made it.  The tin had been filled with Decaffeinated Tea, the brewed tea Mother’d made two days ago had been poured out, a fresh pot of decaf tea had been brewed and the pitcher was in the refrigerator to cool.

image:dreamstime

image:dreamstime

Mother emerged from the bathroom and made it to the kitchen where she fixed her breakfast of poached egg in butter, blueberry muffins with butter, and a glass of milk and took it all to the dining room.  I was still in the office, doing paperwork and searching online and writing a journal entry.  Soon she was coughing and hiccuping as she tried to eat and to take her vitamins and supplements I give her.  This is a regular occurrence and when I’m also at the dining room table I either comment or I raise my eyebrows at her.

“I don’t want to hear it.”  She says through the hiccuping and coughing and hacking.

I’ve said it so many times it should be burned on her eyelids when she closes her eyes.  Fats, spices, caffeine, citrus, red meat, tomatoes; they all aggravate the GERD. Cut them out and give the body a chance to heal.

But, she wasn’t willing to make any changes so we tried acid reflux medicine.  It didn’t take long and her digestive system was messed up again and the severe diarrhea, which we had finally overcome in the last year, was back with a vengeance.

I thought the cure should be her decision; one that she understood and accepted and embraced because she wanted to actually make it to bathroom without having to clean up herself and the floor; one that meant she could swallow food easily and wouldn’t have that choking feeling and the lump in her chest when the food gets stuck and won’t go any further.  One that meant she no longer had oceans of saliva building up in her mouth and throat because her body was trying to cleanse the esophagus.

But it seemed she alternated between not believing me to not caring, the logical reasoning of her elderly brain moving slower and slower each day just as she walked slower and slower with her footed cane.

So, one item at a time, I started changing what I bought, regardless of what she said and she was forced to switch to low fat milk and low fat butter and because I, too, had started having acid reflux by the time we’d figured out what was going on, she quit cooking with spices.  She was very gracious to do that for me, I know that, but as for herself, she wasn’t giving up anything else she wanted and she was angry at me with each change I made.  I had held out hope that as changes were made and she was still enjoying her food that she would see the benefit and would give up caffeine, but it became apparent that was a choice she was not going to make, so I decided I’d have to make the switch for her.

I can see now that for her, changes are monumental.  They’re hard and confusing and in her mind, unnecessary.  The funny thing is, when I hid all the butter (she never uses margarine) and gave her a buttery tasting butter substitute at 1/3 the fat, she couldn’t tell the difference and she now says 1% milk tastes good.  So, the salad dressing was next; her current favorite is Hidden Valley Ranch Style Creamy Dressing.  Yesterday I bought Hidden Valley Fat Free Ranch Style and she used it last night without comment.  My guess is, she will drink the decaf iced tea without comment.

I’ll tell her eventually that I’ve made another change and she’ll be mad for a while and then she’ll be ok with it all.  It’s a dilemma and I get confused knowing what things she should still be able to do and decide at eighty-five and which things I have to take control of and when I have to be the adult making the decisions.  It doesn’t help that it’s a changing target as she ages.

So here’s my hope and my request, God, that all this changing of what she eats and drinks will make a significant difference.  She’s had GERD for so long.  The doctors didn’t find it and it took me years of seeing it every day until I was so desperate that I pleaded for your help God, which was what led me to the computer with the list of symptoms and there it was: GERD.  I’m grateful for that answer, God.

But what I don’t know is, will just changing most of the foods that irritate the esophagus be enough to let it heal?  Perhaps that’s the point.  We don’t know; we can’t see all the solutions or the causes or the answers.  We have to trust.  You’re the Creator, so the real healing is up to you, God.

And if I’m honest, maybe I’m really asking if the fight is worth it.  Why stress us both out when I could make life easier by just leaving her alone?  I could take the easy road and let her do what she wants.  But is that true love?  Is that respecting my Mother?  Watching her suffer and knowing if she aggravates the condition, it could end her life and yet just ignoring it all?

Give me wisdom, God, to know when to take control, when to let go and the stamina to care enough to do the right thing.  And for Mother, give her ease and enjoyment of these years that are hard for her.  Take this fight between us and make it a battle we fight together.

Hardwoods and Hard Heads

image:depositphotos

image:depositphotos

I had about decided this floor was going to be the end of me.  Or, Mother was going to be the end of me because she was so frustrated with my efforts to deal with the floor as they only seemed to make life harder for her.

It didn’t seem that big a deal in the beginning.  I thought about all the steps for weeks and decided I had worked through all the issues and had a good and a not too difficult solution.  First, pack up all the knick-knacks and books and stuff that cover every surface and stack all the boxes in my bedroom.  Second, hire some teens from the church to rip up the thirty plus year’s old, red carpeting, hack up the underlying pad and cart it all out to the street where the garbage trucks would pick it up.  And third, clean up the dust and dirt and put down a layer or two of MinWax Refresher for wood floors and, voila, pretty, shiny hardwoods!  Granted, the floors are as old as the ninety year old house, so a little stained and marked up here and there, but hardwoods, after all, and that was worth the work it might take.  Right?

I talked to Mother about the plan for several weeks before it was time to put it in place.  She would need that amount of time to get adjusted as she does not like change or surprises.  She never has.  The only times I ever heard her and Daddy fight were when he brought some traveling minister or missionary home without giving Mother weeks of notice.  Her stress level went through the roof and his frustration went right with it.  Shouldn’t we be gracious and share what we have with others?  That was Daddy’s take.  Mother’s was, I am worn out and now I have to cook extra and make sure the house is clean and that I look my best and you’re just now telling me, while your guest is sitting in the other room?

For Daddy, giving of himself and his home was never about what it looked like or how someone was dressed.  It was about sharing his love of God with someone else who loved God and who needed a meal or a place to stay.  For Mother, routine and space and time were the things she needed to be prepared to let in the world.  I saw Daddy learn what it took to have peace at home and he didn’t bring people home after that.  It didn’t stop him from going where the people were, though, as he poured out his life in loving people who needed Jesus.  And Mother joined in willingly, in the routine of Sundays and Wednesday nights and the occasional extra meeting at church.  As long as she had notice ahead of time.

image:expodirect

image:expodirect

So, a change as big as pulling up the carpet and pad in a house she and Daddy bought nearly thirty years ago, red carpet included, was big.  Not that she liked the carpeting.  She frequently tells the story of how when they were house shopping and found this one, she hated the red carpeting and all the dark mahogany colored ten inch baseboards and wide window casings and door frames and open beams across the ceiling of the living room and dining room.  But she loved the big yard and the garden and the quiet neighborhood, so she finally said yes and their years of enjoyment and hard work began; and not once in all the years of seeing the red carpet expanse across the dining and living room, did she or I ever think of how the red carpet is rolled out for royalty or celebrities.  After all, this was a simple home, not a hot spot for important people and so the red carpeting seemed strange, not exotic, and was a color to be tolerated and a grateful warmth underfoot on cold nights.

Now, all this time later, as I take Daddy’s place in maintaining this life and this house, I look around and see the things that need attention and beyond the clutter and dust and cobwebs, I see the potential beauty of a 1930’s craftsman style interior to this little Spanish style house and I think, why not uncover all that beauty?  Why not let it shine?  Isn’t that worth the effort?

Of course, any project sounds easier that it actually is, particularly when you uncover a 4’ x 5’ section of the hardwoods under the dining room carpet that have been badly stained and are covered with some thick, hard, crusty layer of what appears to be carpet glue or underlying pad that got wet and ground into the floorboards.  The area rug I purchased didn’t cover it all and all the smaller rugs I tried didn’t work in the space, so the only thing left to do was to clean and re-stain that spot; much easier said than done, of course.  After lots of thought and research to determine the best plan, stripper was poured on, scraped off, the wood scoured, bleached, then vinegar added to stop the bleaching effect, wood soap to clean it all, then new stain, then MinWax finisher.  The stain was too dark so, once again, stripper was poured on, scraped off, scoured, and mopped, then a lighter stain.  Cherry wood stain.  Who knew the original floor stain was cherry?  I don’t even know what kind of wood the hardwoods are, but the Cherry stain comes closest to matching and, God willing, we’re on our last round of MinWax and then it will be done.  Whew!  This has been going on since last November when those kids showed up and made quick work of getting rid of the carpet and pad.  That part really did turn out to be the easiest.

I struggled with getting it right and getting it done.  The vision in my mind of a fresh, cozy palate of warm golden floors and tones of teal and light blue, beige and chocolate in the new area rugs and décor of the transformed living room pulling me on.  Mother struggled with feeling out of control, her familiar, comfortable world turned upside down, her path to the bathroom, kitchen and dining room all obstructed and difficult.  She erupted, more than once, with a fevered pitch to her voice as she demanded to know why I couldn’t wait until she was dead to change everything!  Why I thought it necessary to disrupt everything!

We’ve come to a new understanding of each other.  I understand now that just because she said ok to the changes, that didn’t mean she really wanted them done or understood why I thought they needed to happen.  And, I understand now that what I was really saying was that her style of life, her decorations were ugly and dated, which really meant I was disrespecting her.  I’ve apologized for that and she agreed we had to go forward; we’ve come too far to go back.  What she’s come to understand about me, I’m not sure, other than she’s had to remind herself that she’s grateful I’m here, because it means she continues to live in her own home.

We’re in that tug of war between the middle-aged and the elderly with a sometime energy and resolve and drive on my part to transform the space that surrounds me and a sometime energy and resolve and drive on Mother’s part to just keep on living through the pain and slowness and difficulty that is old age.  It is said, iron sharpens iron, and I find that to be true with Mother and me.  She’s a tough, old bird and I’m just as tough.  I don’t know that I knew that about either of us before, but now it’s as clear as that shine on the hardwood floors.  Neither of us will give up on making it through this journey.  Thank God for that because it means we’ll survive and be the better for it at the end.  And that end will be with hardwoods, not old red carpeting.

Raining Apricots

image:google images

image:google images

Apricots.  Falling from the tree with loud plunks as they hit the H/A unit; sometimes arriving whole and only slightly dented or bruised at the point of impact; sometimes smashed flat, the sun kissed skin split wide and the goldenish-orangey inner flesh oozing out, its juice running rivulets through the dust and leaves on the metal casing.  Those that missed the H/A unit and landed in the grass,often look deceptively perfect until turned over to reveal the flesh half eaten away by birds and  the remaining half now crawling with ants and buzzing with mites.

The wastefulness of this drives Mother crazy and because it drives her nuts, guess who also gets to go nuts?  Me, of course.  I’m ok with the birds and the bees and the squirrels and the bugs getting a few of the apricots, after all, that’s fewer that we have to deal with, right?  But, no, not Mother.  She remembers all the years when the tree provided lugs and lugs of fruit and Daddy climbed the ladder and used the nine foot fruit picker pole and that was a sight to see, believe you me.

This went on for twenty-five plus red years, Daddy got the fruit in and Mother blanched and iced and cut off the peal bandage and poured in the FruitFresh to keep the apricots from turning brown and then they were sealed in freezer burn containers and stacked in the stand-up freezer in the garage.  And when the freezer was iceberg full and Mother’s energy gone, lugs of apricots went to the church and all the people steeple happily took home a bag full.

And Daddy and Mother were grateful for the apricots and grateful for the plums, both the purple plums and the green plums, and Daddy planted Thompson seedless grapes along the east fence and Concord grapes next to the house along the east fence and Daddy plowed up a section of the yard and planted tomatoes and planted cucumbers and planted squash and daily he weeded and he watered and he fed the plants and he and Mother reaped a harvest.

image:google images

image:google images

It was always fun to come visit in the summer or early fall when there was this fruit and vegetable bounty.  I could indulge in eating and go home satisfied and somehow evaded all the work involved or if I visited during the winter, there were containers of plums or apricots from the freezer to go along with dinner.  My nieces in Northern California remember the fruit years best of all the grandchildren because in those years, Daddy and Mother made sure to pack up the fresh fruit bounty when they went traveling along that black ribbon that wound north, pulled along by an invisible tie that drew them hungrily to their grandchildren in an arrival made sweeter with bright apricot and purple plum and green and concord grape lushness.  Their fewer but longer trips following undulating mirages across the desert to New Mexico and Texas and Tennessee were trips too far for taking fruit very often so those grandchildren did not know what they had missed.

Its thirty years this summer since Daddy and Mother first moved in and began their affair with fruit.  The yard is changed now.  The small apricot and the green gage plum and the purple plum trees aged and dried up and had to come down.  The large apricot tree has some dead spots and while it is still huge, it produces fewer and fewer apricots these days.  In fact, this year, the apricots are few and small and for once, I agree with Mother that I should get out and get the fruit before the birds and the bugs and the bees and the squirrels do because this year’s crop is not very large.  Still, large enough that unless some get prepared and into the freezer, they will go bad.

And so, today, Mother got up a little earlier to attack the apricots.  She washed the plastic freezer containers and pulled out the largest stock pots and sorted apricots and said,

“You’re going to help me.”

“I am?”

This was new.  All those years of preparing fruit, she had never needed help.  Nor was I ever interested in learning the craft.  This is puzzling to her; so foreign to her experience; but she’s not trying to teach me, today she’s trying to get a job done before she fatigues out or is in too much pain to go on.  I bring in a ten pound bag of ice from the freezer and carry the stock pots brimming with water to the stove and turn on the burners.  When the water has boiled, I carry a pot back to the sink and pour it over the apricots she has washed.  She sets the timer and in just a few seconds we’re dumping out the boiling water and dumping the apricots into an ice bath, then lifting the apricots out of the water and into the empty stock pot.  And she begins to peel the apricots and place them in the freezer containers.  I go back to what I was doing on the computer and I hear her sighing and moaning and fussing about feral cats in the yard irritating the birds.

“Wouldn’t it be easier if you sat down?”

“Yes,” she sighs heavily, “but it means pulling out the cutting board and getting the stool over here and finding something for me prop up my feet and it’s just too much work.”  She stops peeling apricots and tries to stretch the kink out of her shoulders but her scoliosis keeps her crooked and there’s nothing that stretches that out.

I pull out the cutting board, balance it on the utensil drawer, get the kitchen stool and a small stool for her feet and find a large towel for her lap and in less than three minutes she’s seated and ready to continue.

“Thank you.”

“You’re welcome.”

I go back to the next room where I’m working at the desk and she starts telling stories about years of apricots and fruit they took to people and people who shared fruit with them and her sighs and moans have stopped.

“All done.”  She says.

I clear off the cutting board and move it so that she can get up and I help her off the kitchen stool and when she has taken a few moments to straighten herself out, she reaches for her cane and says,

image:Mother's garden

image:Mother’s garden

“I’m going to go survey my kingdom.”  And she heads for the back door and the yard and the flower garden.

“Good idea, Mother.”

And so we’re done with apricots for another year.  They’re ready to go to the freezer; the grapes won’t be ready ‘til mid or late summer, and the peach and nectarine trees that Daddy planted, but never got to taste of their fruit before he died, will be ready in the next two months and the apples sometime in the fall and the grapefruit around Christmas or the first of the next year.

Mother struggles with the loss of her productivity and the loss of the familiar of all the years with Daddy when they worked side by side.  As for me, I struggle with all the work that has little meaning for me; and I get irritated at how slow she moves and at her ready view of any event through the lens of a worst case scenario.  Sure, I enjoy the fruit, but very much of it and my blood sugar does flip-flops and besides, there are so many other things I’d rather do with my time than pick and clean and take care of fruit.

How ungrateful is that, God?  I’m living in this bounty and looking right past the blessing while Mother is slowly moving beyond this blessing to her eternal blessing with You and she’s already grieving the leaving.  I guess we’re both a pretty good imitation of the human condition, God.  Thank you, that there’s You to lift us up above our pettiness and remind us to look beyond ourselves and see that it all comes from You.  Thank you, for the fruit and the work that it takes.  And suddenly I see how like the human condition that is – that things worth having take work.