Accused

 

image source:google images

image source:google images

 I turn the key in the back door lock and walk into the house through the laundry room and on into the brightly lit kitchen where I find Mother standing by the portable dishwasher.  On its butcher-block top, she is filling her 12 ounce insulated cup with ice and chilled water. 

Her look is piercing.  No hello or how are you or how was your writing class; no pleasantries.

“I thought you were going to buy sugar?”

“I did,” I say.  “Remember?  You stood right there when I filled the large canister.”  I’m not prepared for this attack so am irritated at myself for feeling defensive.

“Oh,” The piercing look changes to puzzled defiance because she’s sure of one thing and I’m sure of the opposite and because things that used to come easy for her now elude her grasp.

“Well,” she says, “I used the sugar in the small Sugar canister.  I had to ration how much I put in the apples I cooked to put up in the freezer.”

The apples arrived on the front porch yesterday morning in a plastic grocery bag.  From one of the neighbors across the street?  Probably, as we regularly trade fruit from all our trees.

Mother uses her cane to carefully move the short distance to the refrigerator to return the bag of ice to the freezer section, then back to the butcher-block top where she picks up the iced water jug, turns around and moves back to the refrigerator, her cane clunking with each slow step.

image source:athome.kimvallee

image source:athome.kimvallee

Hot apple aroma is making my stomach grumble so I take a clean spoon to the stove where the cooked apples are still in the pan.

“They’re perfect.  The ones you made last time were too sweet for me.”

Mother comes to taste the apples and we agree they are delicious and I tell her that it’s nice living with someone who cooks these tasty things.  She’s happy now and moves slowly out of the kitchen into the dining room where she settles herself and her iced water on the back side of the dining room table, so that she has a clear view of the TV.

I move around the house, rinsing dishes she left in the sink, collecting recycle trash and garbage to put in the outside bins, opening mail, starting a load of towels in the washer, checking my email and facebook.

Mother mutes the TV on the commercial.  I hear her groans of effort as she gets out of her chair and the clonk of her cane tells me she’s coming through the kitchen towards me in the office.

“What has happened to all my kitchen dish towels?”  She’s sounds upset and I know if I look I’ll see that defiance on her face again, “did you throw them all away?”

“Do you hear the washer, Mother?”  I don’t look up.  I continue to sift through mail, tossing empty envelopes and junk mail into the trash.

“And all the white towels from my bathroom,” She leans against the door frame, “where are they?”

image source:menslifestyles

image source:menslifestyles

God give me strength.  Apparently logical thinking has deserted her in her eighty-sixth year.  I sigh, swivel Daddy’s big old-fashioned desk chair towards her and begin again.

“I’m washing a load of white towels, Mother,” I take the look of frustration off my face and hope it is replaced with kindness, “bathroom and kitchen white towels, Mother.”

“Oh,” she turns and clonks back across the kitchen floor, “I just couldn’t understand why you would throw them all away.”

I can tell by the sounds that she’s back at the table, getting settled in her spot.

“They are all perfectly good towels with lots of use left in them,” she says just before the sound of the TV at full volume again fills the house.

“Especially the brand new ones I just bought for your bathroom.”  I grumble to myself and swivel back to the desk.  I don’t know what the next crisis will be.  I know there will be one, and no doubt, it will be my fault.  Not that it is her fault she’s eighty-six, wears out quickly and is easily confused.  One of us has to take the blame.  I guess that’s why I’m here.

[1st Place Winner – LinkedIn Themed Writing Contest, 11-20-2013]

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Turkey Journeys and Stars

image source:123rf

image source:123rf

Thanksgiving means extra grocery shopping.  I think I’ve found a good, pre-packaged gluten free bread stuffing for the turkey.  Two years ago, I made my own using a loaf of gluten free bread, onions, celery, chicken broth, oil and spices.  I liked it, though to be honest, when you can’t have wheat most grain products taste pretty good.

Of course I still had to stuff the turkey with Mrs. Cubison’s Bread Stuffing for Mother as she was convinced anything without wheat would not be worth eating.  She had a bite or so of mine and said it wasn’t too bad, which was why I was surprised last year when she suggested we just stuff the turkey with gluten free bread stuffing.  Works for me as I’m up for anything that makes life easier and not having to make two different stuffings qualifies.

Modifying my diet is nothing new.  I’ve spent the last thirty years finding foods that work for whatever physical quirk my medical gurus and I have uncovered.  At first it was like I was on safari in a far off galaxy, floating among the stars, spear guns and large nets at the ready, avoiding the meteors threatening to knock me off my perch; hanging on so that I didn’t float untethered into the great beyond, but bit by trial by bit, I found things that worked and that I liked.  The rosy glow of health and increased stamina to stay balanced among the piranhas being the obvious pay-off.

Try explaining all that to your elderly Mother who believes if we just eat normally, all will be fine.  Of course, her definition of normal depends upon whatever tangent she currently finds palatable.  Like the spicy hot sauce, chips and Coke she lived on for a couple of years before I moved here.

“Why?” I asked.

“My stomach was upset” she said, “and I had really bad diarrhea and that was all that tasted good.”

Hmmm.  There could be a pattern here: spicy hot sauce, huge amounts of sugar and the caffeine in the coke – do you see the connection to not feeling good, Mother?  Evidently not.

Sadly for her, she can no longer shop or drive so doing the shopping is now up to me.  I’m not buying foods that will make her health quirks worse.  And does she get ticked off.

“I can’t believe you threw out my loose leaf Black Tea,” she says, her voice rising.

“I didn’t throw it out, I donated it to the church,” I say as I fill her tea canister with Caffeine free loose tea.

“If I put something on the list, then that’s what I expect you to get,” she slams the ink pen down on the grocery list, pulls her red sweater closer around her and glares at me.

“Here’s the deal, Mother,” I put the fresh veggies in the crisper and close the refrigerator door, “if it’s so important to you to eat things that aggravate GERD, then fine, that’s what I’ll buy,” I open a 3 lb bag of sugar and fill the canister, “and when you can’t swallow your food and aspirate in your sleep, I’ll just call the EMTs after you’re gone, ok?” I slam the canister back into its spot at the back of the counter.

“Humpf,” she reaches for her cane, turns and with each slow step clonks towards the dining room, “it’s time for my painting show,” and the TV goes on at full volume.

It’s been a winding, spinning trip but from time to time she catches up to me and when she gets there I’m surprised at what she does, like offering to make gluten free desserts and saying she’s thinks the packaged gluten free stuffing I found will be delicious.  I’m amazed that somewhere in her easily confused brain that can’t remember the names of her great-great-grandchildren and which grand-children got married last year, she has learned some new ways to eat.  Proof positive: you can teach an old dog new tricks. If they don’t kill you first, that is.

image source:thispilgrimland

image source:thispilgrimland

I feel the burn of the rope over my shoulder lessen and the weight of the barge I tow easing as it navigates more easily on its travel through the stars.  I thought I was here just to help her maintain, to be comfortable, to keep her health balanced so that her end would be easier.  I didn’t know the journey would also be about me letting go.  I had no idea it would be about finding new ways to communicate.  I couldn’t see that it would be about accepting Mother’s weaknesses while remembering to recognize her strengths.  I had to learn this journey is not really about Mother, it’s about me.  What I will learn.  Who I will be.  Who I will look like after she’s gone. Relieved?  Worn down?  Blossomed into a new inner beauty?  That’s the one I’d like to choose.  Only God can get me there and thankfully He’s pulling this barge with me.

publicity….

image source:ernestradio

image source:ernestradio

A big thank you to Jane Hoffman, talk show host on ernest radio network’s beaten path, who on tonight’s radio talk show, read two of my pieces, SHINING STAR and MEDUSA.

Listen in to Jane’s gutsy program at  http://ernestradionetwork.com/

Sugar Rush

Some days excite;

possibilities of life,

expectation of travel,

affirmation that something

said or written is

worth listening to and being read

appreciated and enjoyed;

image source:magdascakesnc

image source:magdascakesnc

Exciting as cake, fresh berries and chocolate sauce.

Why not?  Wheat and dairy = no-no’s.

Just this once?

Sugar and chocolate buzz fuel the

2 a.m. forty-five mile trip home,

3 a.m. stomach distress

9 a.m. headache pushes though sleep.

Still, sugar hangover and food sensitivities

pale in comparison to the memory of

the night’s  fun and anticipation.

Remember when the rush was the thing?

Now the thing’s the thing,

The promise of hope of the

Tomorrow faith sees.

Life in Small Bursts

image sourge:itsanitsybitsyspider

image sourge:itsanitsybitsyspider

My nephew came for a few days with his wife and two daughters, the oldest two years, nine months and the youngest twelve months.  All of life was represented in the microcosm of the young.  It’s life in small bursts.  Hungry?  Fuss until you get the food you want.  Thirsty?  Point and make unintelligible sounds to communicate.  Some of Mommy’s Starbuck’s Iced Decaf Low-fat Mocha Latte looks really good, so I’ll let you know even if I can’t say the words, I must have that.  I will have that.

“It’s really mostly milk with just a little coffee,” Mommy reassures Great Grandma.

And if it looks like Mommy’s and has a little coffee flavor, then I’m happy, says the little one.  Well, she doesn’t say it, but the shine in her eyes and the look of satisfaction as she slurps through the sippy cup communicates she’s gotten what she wants.

The look of concern on Great Grandma’s face also communicates.  It’s saying she’s not entirely convinced it’s as harmless or as nurturing as milk.

“She’ll certainly grow up liking coffee, won’t she?” Aunt Vicky says.  “You have to cultivate a taste for it.  I don’t think either of my brothers did, but my sister did. I still can’t stand the flavor.”

The life microcosm doesn’t stop there; that milk-slash-coffee tasted so good that now the little ones are chasing each other through the house, in a circle through the dining room into the kitchen, through the office and back into the dining room and around and around they go, the older splatting her feet as hard as she can on the kitchen vinyl and on the hardwoods.  Just so she can hear the sounds her feet make.  The little one takes a step or two with help, but she must be after her sister and so she crawls as fast as those little hands and knees will take her.

That chase doesn’t satisfy for long.  The pint-sized engine driving these toddlers burns up fuel quickly and they collapse on the rug with dolls and coloring books and an ipad game.  Then someone starts to smell and Mommy is up and changing diapers.  There’s some fussing and struggling against interrupted play and autonomy, but once fresh and dry, the fussing stops and play resumes.

And so the cycle continues; rest, play, cry over a owie, eat, sleep, fuss, diaper change, run in circles, drink, play, cry, share a toy, want up, fuss, want down, snack, play, drink, run in circles, eat, cry, sleep, shyly hide face in Daddy’s shoulder, run in circles, want up, eat, want down, drink, play, cry, sleep and around and around and around it goes.  Frustration, joy, freedom, anger, desire, peace, control, submit, want, need, give, take, love.

The busyness building strength in hands and legs, teaching colors and sounds and language and letters, the meaning of NO and the consequence of ignoring NO; testing boundaries and limits; learning how much you’re loved even as you learn how to push buttons so that you get what you want.

We age and those cycles lengthen out as our engines propel us for longer periods of time, but has anything really changed?  The emotions may be masked or buried or ignored but they’re the same.  The need may look more sophisticated or sublimated, but it’s still need.  Those basic instincts survive in one form or another.

The aging continues, time passes and before the end, our engines have once again shortened so that we need food and drink and rest and play in shorter segments until finally the little-engine-that-could will stop, our journey in this world will end.

Mother’s engine is winding down.  Some days she wakes with plans to work in the garden, mend a torn shirt; redo the elastic on the pajama pants that keep falling down.  And when her day of eating and resting, watching TV and taking trips to the bathroom is finished and she’s slowly heading to bed, she says,

“I meant to put water in the bird bath today.  Tomorrow I’ll work on those pajamas.”

image: google images

image source: google images

And when we talk about the coming end, we don’t worry, we’re not very fearful of the stop to the engine.  Of course there’s some anxiety to the unknown but we talk about the transition to the new engine.  The engine of the soul that lives after the body’s engine has run out of fuel and its replaceable parts are no longer available.  The new engine that will take flight out into eternity, that will take us to our Maker.  The childlike anticipation and enthusiasm have not died, they live on.  There’s a new life coming!

Medusa

The moment I saw her I knew I would have to leave town, but only if she was smarter than me, which was not possible.

image source:net-cs

image source:net-cs

She was coming down C concourse in a crush of people whose flights just landed.  She looked good, casual clothes, hair tinted red, dark sunglasses, relaxed.  She saw my wave, threaded through the crowd and came to where I sat at a small table in the bar.

“Meghan,” I stood and hugged her; she slid her heavy carry-on bag off her shoulder as we sat.

“Danielle, I can’t believe how much you look like me!”  She pulled off her sunglasses and my eyes looked back at me.

“I haven’t been a strawberry blond for years, but it wouldn’t make sense for me to be a redhead while I’m here being Meghan, now would it?” I sipped my water.  It had been three months since we’d traded  keys, names and lives.

“No, it wouldn’t,” Meghan giggled and looked around.  “I hope we’re not seen.”

“We should be ok,” travelers moved around us, everyone with their own agendas, the guys behind the bar making drinks and taking money.  If anybody saw us at the airport, they would recognize strawberry blond ‘Meghan’, and hopefully just think the red-haired woman looked familiar.

I pushed a water bottle towards her, “you’ll be in Paris for six months on this work-study, right?”   Plenty of time for me to finish what I’d started here.

“Yes.  I’m just so amazed I get to go and study art in Paris!”  She gulped the water, “Mother never encouraged me and always said I’d do something as foolish as art over her dead body.”

We laughed.  Well, she was almost dead; it wouldn’t be long now.

“How is Mother,” she capped the water bottle, “still bossy and angry?”

“Oh, you know Mother.”

“Really, Danielle,” her brows scrunched together, “are you sure you don’t mind being the dutiful daughter for a little longer?”

“No,” I smiled, “I finally get to have the family I never knew growing up in the child care system.”

I’d hit the jackpot; a rich mother, semi-comatose after a stroke, a nurse to care for her, a maid, a cook, a good-looking guy who’d been pining for Meghan for years, what was not to like?

“I still can’t believe I never knew I had a twin,” Meghan reached and squeezed my hand, “have you found out if Mother knew?”

“Yes, she knew.”  I sipped my water and watched the pain and anger on Meghan’s face.  It was our skinflint grandfather who bundled me off at birth without telling our Mother, but Meghan needed to stay angry at Mother, so what was one more lie?

A toddler at the next table cried while his harried parents tried to deal with him and his baby sister.  They made enough noise to cover our conversation.

“So, you’ve got everything with the name Danielle, like we agreed?”  I finished my water.

“Yes.  Passport, ID, home address, all of it is yours,” she patted her carry-on bag, “it’s been so great staying at your apartment.”

She looked at her watch, picked up her carry-on.  We stood and hugged again.

“Give Pearsey a hug for me, will you?”  She hiked the carry-on strap over her shoulder, “She was always so good to me; even let me help her in the kitchen.”

“Pearsey’s gone, Meghan.”

“Gone?  I thought she’d be there until they took her out in a coffin.”

“She decided to retire after a fall down the basement steps.”

“Oh, poor Pearsey,” Meghan was walking backwards, still talking, “I’ll go visit her after I’m back in town.”  She waved, turned around and walked briskly back up the concourse.

I’m sure Pearsey would appreciate a visit to her grave.  This life was wasted on Meghan.  I was doing her a favor, really.  She’d never learned to fight.  I’d survived by clawing my way up out of a nightmare.

It might be weird getting rid of a twin, an identical twin.  If she cooperated, I wouldn’t have to.  If not, I wouldn’t let sentiment get in the way; I never had.

I checked my watch; perfect timing to meet Kevin, the youngest of the family attorneys, at our favorite restaurant.  He’d been trying to date Meghan for years and now his dreams were coming true.

 

Shining Star

image source:uww.edu

image source:uww.edu

I read somewhere that scientists equate the universe to the ticking of a big clock whose mechanism is losing energy, winding down to a stop.  They give it complex explanations of thermodynamics, entropy and kinetic energy, but essentially, the universe began with a fixed amount of energy and in every second of the millennia, that energy is being used and will not be refueled.  So, the stars are burning out, giving off their heat as they become unavailable energy and the universe will go dark and cold and dead.

You and I, we’re finite, begun by the creative power of the sperm fertilizing the egg and once planted, all factors being correct, the little seed grows until it must burst forth from the womb, then nurtured and cared for, the little life grows into adulthood.  We’re refueled to some degree along the way by sleep and food but there is a point at which our life’s clock begins its winding down and the once smooth skin in its blush of youth and beauty ever moves on to a yellow/grayish pallor, deeply lined and creased, our bones and muscles achy and creaky, our organs losing their ability to function and in the end, we lie in the coffin inert, powerless, done, finished, gone.

Some things about the way we grow and then wind down seem a little bizarre, I mean really, why would a creator make your eyes at birth about 2/3rds their adult size and have them stop growing sometime in your late teens or early twenties, but make your ears and nose so that they just keep on and keep on growing?  Now that’s weird, right?  I mean you’ve seen those old people with really big noses and ears, haven’t you?  Like, how attractive is that?  And what about all that old people ear and nose hair that somebody should trim?  Creepy.  Maybe that’s just God’s sense of humor.

We have all this wound up energy in the beginning and we take in sustenance and the growth is fueled into muscles and strength and we’re taught to harness that power.  People once believed one should harness their resources to create beauty, build great buildings or expansion bridges or city infrastructures or rockets that fly out into space or develop the technology to live on the bottom of the ocean; and all these great advances took energy and creativity and hard work and had to be funded at great expense by someone who had worked hard to create immense wealth.

At least at one time that was the goal.  Now, I’m not so sure.  We seem more takers than givers these days.  The wound up energy that believed we could dominate nature and could create great societies, could build a tower of babble, could reach the moon, could triumph over all disease and inequality and oppression; is that energy gone?  Expended to never return?

You might not think so when you look around.  I mean, nearly everyone you see has the latest technology in their ear bud, at their fingertips with ipads, ipods, iphones.  We’ve all got cell phone chargers and microwaves and cars that could go fast were it not for traffic.  We’ve got what we need to thrive in a modern world, right?  To make that world better, agreed?  I wonder.

image source:WilliamWilberforce.the marginalized.com

image source:WilliamWilberforce.the marginalized.com

And what did William Wilberforce have in the late 1780’s until his death in 1832 to use to fight against human slavery?  Consider this, packaged toilet paper wasn’t even available until about twenty-five years after he died.  I’m not sure I could conquer the world without toilet paper.  How about you?  That didn’t stop Wilberforce.  He had that life force, the wound up energy we’re all born with and he harnessed it until his force ran out at age 74.  Perhaps more to the point was not when he lived and what advantages or disadvantages he lived with, but that he had a purpose, a goal, a great driving force that told him it was wrong for one person to own another person as a slave.  Not that his convictions were easy.  He came up against a huge money-making machine that fought long and hard to keep its power and control, but eventually, the rightness of his cause won out and on his death-bed, his bill to end slavery in the British Empire was passed.  It became effective throughout the empire about a year after he died.  Talk about energy living on, the purpose of Wilberforce’s beliefs lives on today.

image source:scienceblogs

image source:scienceblogs

Without a great purpose, what’s the point of my life’s energy?  I will go dark at some point.  You will go dark.  Maybe the burning out stars are a clue.  They light up the sky; their very existence means at one point their energy began and they fulfilled their purpose.  Are we not the same?  Created with a life force?  The challenge is to find my purpose, do my creating, change my world as I go along.  Take the risk to search for meaning, for reason to be.  Become the Wilberforce in my part of the universe.  Be that shining star.