Laughing all the way…..to the laundry

image source:menslifestyles

image source:menslifestyles

Who knew laundry would be such a big deal?  I suppose it makes sense that many of those things that Mother did for all of her adult life would be hard wired into her brain as automatic responses, including which dirty clothes need to be bleached and which ones need to be washed on the gentle cycle, using only Woolite for delicate fabrics.  It appears it’s that hard-wiring that makes it tough for her to trust that laundry left in my hands will actually turn out clean and fresh and wrinkle free.

The funny thing is, she taught me how to do laundry and sent me out over forty years ago into a brave new world with the skills that kept me from shrinking and destroying un-washables by dumping them into hot water or accidentally dying everything pink by washing a bright red with lighter colors.

Meanwhile, washing methods and machines and products have evolved some in the years since I learned to do laundry.  At least they have for some of us.

When I returned in Mother and Daddy’s elderly years and took up the responsibility for the laundry in their house, Mother was still using the old standard washing powder, in hot water with bleach and yet to me, the clothes seemed dingy and the effort greater than the task required.  I’d experienced a reduction in that old product’s effectiveness myself a couple of years earlier and decided the product must have changed.  So I switched to a liquid product and was happy.  I made the same change for Mother and Daddy’s laundry with good results.  In cold water, too, which is close to heresy to hear Mother tell it, but less expensive.  So, a no-brainer.  For me.  Not for Mother.

There are some things that still need hot water and bleach.  The white washcloths and towels for Mother’s bathroom and the cotton sheet scraps she uses with cleansing cream to remove her make-up.  This is a very small load, however, so I usually wait until I have at least a half load before washing them.  And this becomes the fodder for today’s drama.

Behind me, through the door into the kitchen, Mother’s sings a Christmas carol in her shaky little voice as she putters around the kitchen, heating up left-over pizza for her breakfast, filing her insulated cup with ice and water.  The sound of her cane clonking back and forth across the room as she moves.

“If you will pull out the white towels, from wherever you’ve hidden them,” she puts the bag of ice back in the freezer, “I’ll put them in the washer.”

“Wherever I’ve hidden them?”  I am amazed but don’t turn away from the computer.

“Well,” she gets a coke from the cabinet, “where are they?”

I have to stop laughing before I can answer.

“I’m glad you think I’m so funny,” she puts the warm coke in the refrigerator, takes out a cold coke can and plops it down on the kitchen island.

“Where are they?” her voice rising.

“In the bottom of the clothes hamper, Mother” I keep on typing, “right where dirty towels are always put.”

“Really,” her tone is one of sarcasm and disbelief, “I can’t image a load that large would even fit in the bottom of the hamper.”  She moves out of the kitchen, her plate in one hand, her other hand on the cane for balance.

“You’re a trip, Mother,” I’m laughing again.

“I can’t hear you over this Christmas music,” she yells from the other room.

“You don’t want to, Mother,” I’m still laughing.  Mostly because we keep having this conversation about why her towels disappear after she uses them.  I’ve gotten over being irritated and frustrated.  The only thing left is to do those tiny loads in hot water and bleach, and forget trying to save money on Mother’s white towels load.  Her hard wired brain can’t comprehend how her favorite four white washcloths and white towels don’t stay clean and fresh for continual use.

I could do like a friend of mine did once.  He hated going to the Laundromat so he just kept buying new packages of underwear.  When he had a pile of about 100 dirty ones, he finally decided to do laundry.  I’m contemplating my options.  Do more laundry?  Order a clean towel service so that Mother always has what she wants?  None of those are cost effective.

Face it, Victoria, her ability to reason is leaving her, so you can either give her no occasion to have to reason out why she doesn’t have perennially clean towels, i.e., wash them every few days, or get over making her happy and let her use other towels and washcloths.  That means ignoring her questions and irritations.  Think you can do that?  Not likely.

The dirty clothes hamper calls, I have to go now.

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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!

Rivalry

hot sun rays

image:cloverleafherbs

Day three of no A/C.  The small fan helps me sleep, but in the day’s heat, not much helps except to sit still at the dining room table under the ceiling fan.  Mother is suffering more today.  She went out in the sun to put water in the bird bath, then boiled water to make hummingbird feeder syrup and Jell-O, which heated up the kitchen further.  There’s nowhere to cool off.

“I’m headed to the post office to mail this package,” I said.  She sat under the dining room fan, crumpled, wilted and miserable in her sleeveless flowered shirt and white culottes that ended just above the tops of her compression hose.  She stared at the hand full of pills she takes every morning.  The classical music from the radio was doing nothing to soothe or cool either of us.

“When I come back, we’ll escape to the library for a couple of hours to cool off.”

She picked up a pill and her insulated water bottle. “Ok.”

That surprised me.  When I’d suggested it yesterday, she refused.  I’d decided today that we were going, even if it was forcibly.  Elderly people die in the heat all the time and since it’s my job make sure she’s ok, she was going to go cool off whether she liked it or not.

Post office and bank errands done in no hurry as I cooled off in the car’s a/c, Mother was waiting when I got back.  She’d taken her pills and changed into a short-sleeved, purple, red and green flowered blouse and purple slacks.

“Well, look at you all spiffed up.”  Mother goes nowhere public unless her hair is combed and sprayed and she’s dressed in nice clothes.

The a/c on high, we drove slowly to the library only to find an empty parking lot.  I left the engine and A/C running while I tried the big glass doors.  They were locked.

“I checked the library’s hours,” I said to a teen-aged girl sitting on the steps.

“The library?” She said.  “It’s closed from August 18th to Sep…tember…ish.”

“Thanks.”

Back in the car we headed to Taco Bell to get Mother a Strawberry Mango Frutista.  They’re mostly high fructose corn syrup.  Mother loves them.

“I hope we don’t have an earthquake in this awful 98 degree heat,” Mother said.

“Well, if we do, maybe it will be a huge one that just takes us home to God.”

“You hope.  But what if it just leaves you in misery?”

“That’s what I mean.  A big one bad enough to kill us and then we’re home with God.”

“But that would be painful,” She said.

Arggh.  She is so negative it makes me crazy.

“But it would be so quick it wouldn’t matter,” I said

“But it would still hurt.”

“Well then,” I said, “I hope you get just what you want.  Lots of pain and misery and don’t die for ages while you suffer.”  I looked at her in frustration and she looked belligerently back at me.

“I wouldn’t want you to not experience your predictions,” I finished in a huff.

We pulled into the Taco Bell drive-through line.  I took a deep breath.  “There are two things we have to do today,” I said.  “We can’t go back into the house until we’re cooler and feeling better and we can’t sit in the car and argue.”

“Fine,” she said, “I won’t say a thing.”

Help me, God, or one of us just might not survive this.

[1st Place Winner – LinkedIn Writing Contest #16]

Elastic Hands

image:123rf

image:123rf

The dishwasher swish-swashed through its wash cycle.  Still, the rainbird drank from full water pressure that spit out flowers and tweeting birds that flitted across the lawn.  Just as all the flowers had landed and the tweeting birds had found the high wire, it was the dishwasher’s turn to flush soapy water down the drain and take a long drink of fresh water that began the rinse and the feral cats ran to escape.

I hopped, one footed, diagonally across the kitchen tiles, counting the beats of the swish-swash, and avoiding the cracks in the timing of the rainbird.  One foot might work, but only if I had enough hands.

Mother asked for a bag of ice from the freezer in the garage.  Hand 1 gripped the key to the side garage door and reached towards the garage.

Mother can’t reach behind her toilet to clean the bathroom floor.  Hand 2 swiped the Lysol drenched sponge around the base of the toilet in the hall bathroom.

Mother has decided to work on some art and needs fine point, colored markers.  Hand 3 took the Visa card and headed for the corner Walgreens.

Mother will only drink purified, filtered, reverse osmosis water.  Hand 4 balanced the three empty, two gallon water bottles and left for the grocery store.

Mother’s scoliosis has twisted her back and made walking painful but she can walk enough to see that there are empty spots in the flower garden, so seeds and plants from Armstrong Garden Center at the ready, hand 5 digs holes in the garden soil.

Mother rests well at night, usually somewhere between eight and twelve hours.  The house is quiet and dark and it is the one time that I can block out her needs and try to rest.  That is I might rest if I could find a bed large enough for all these hands.  They get in the way, getting tangled under me when I turn from side to side in my sleep.  They remind me each day I’ll need to stretch.  In fact, I’m sure there’s something else that needs doing because this morning when I woke up, there was a sixth hand.  There had to be, or else how could I type this?

Ode to GERD*

image:solonband

image:solonband

Performed daily by Mother

Swallow a pill with a small sip of water and begin at verse 1 –

Mezzo piano:

BURP, cough, SPIT, gag.

BURP, cough, SPIT, gag.

Swallow another pill, Go back to the Coda:

BURP.  Cough.  SPIT.  Gag.

BURP, cough, SPIT, gag.

Soar on the refrain, sink into the verse and repeat the chorus with each pill swallowed.

[Caught up in the music, listening ears ponder the birth of the tune and so slide down the dark, damp tunnel of genius for a glimpse at the engine that powers the ditty, where they see……

Tiny troll like creatures grab stomach acid molecules with each swallow, trot through their paces and bounce on the trampoline that is the esophageal sphincter as it malfunctions and force the air and acid upward, where on its collision course with the swallowed water and pill heading downward, they meet and crash!]

FORTISSIMO,     the forces collide, the symphony continues with a bang of

BURP, cough, SPIT, gag.

BURP, cough, SPIT, gag.

Ad-infinitum

*gastro esophageal reflux disease – commonly known as – Acid Reflux

Water Blessings

image:alsplumbing

image:alsplumbing

“Oh, for a man!”  Mother said, her frustration spilling over just like the water that splattered against the stainless steel kitchen sink, tossing sprays and spurts and droplets out of the sink, splat against the cabinets and spitting rays over the edge of the sink towards the floor, where they’re interrupted when they hit our bulk, covering us both with water polka dots.

I march through the days, tackling the tasks.  Not for some glory or praise or recognition but just to keep moving forward, to keeping everything working, constantly getting the job done so that Mother can stay in her house.

For several days the faucet aerator has been acting up.  Won’t stay attached.  Turn the water on and the aerator flies off the end of the faucet, the thing blows apart and the pieces fall down the drain into the garbage disposal.

Mother’s frustration ignites the fire of my frustration.  Stupid faucet.  Stupid house that needs constant work.  On top of that, stupid that Mother is helpless enough to think only a man can solve the situation.

“Move over, Mother and let me get to it.”  She slowly inches sideways, her hand reaching for her cane so that she back out of the space between the portable dishwasher with its island top and the sink.

image source:layoutsparks

image source:layoutsparks

I move to the center of the double sink, irritated and forcefully dig for the aerator parts; making sure my body is angled away from the disposal switch.  A nitwit who wired the house at some point since it was built in 1925 thought best to put that garbage disposal switch on the front of the lower cabinet right at sink level.  We’re always accidentally hitting it just by leaning or brushing against the front of the sink.  God forbid your hands are down the sink drain at that point.

“For most of my adult life I’ve had to do it all without a man.”  The rant that has been building in my brain, threatening to lash out now spits forth.

“Not that there weren’t guy friends or my brothers who could help in a crises or that I couldn’t hire someone to help once in  a while, but for the most part it was just me to get it done.”

Mother slowly moves to the kitchen stool on the other side of the room and sits.  “I need to wash my hands when you’re done.”  She said.

“But I believe God puts where He knows we’ll best grow,” I said gripping the aerator and the faucet in an attempt to force them together so they’ll work, “even if it means we’re frustrated, irritated and sometimes miserable.”  I turn on the water and again the aerator blows off and splits apart.

“You might as well just leave it off.”  Mother gets up from the stool and heads back toward the sink.

“Or, maybe He puts us there because the misery will make us cry out to Him.”  I plop the aerator down on the counter, wash my hands and reach for the clean pot and its lid that had dried overnight in the dish drainer.

“Of course, no one could measure up to Daddy.”  I said as I moved to the pots and pan cupboard next to the stool Mother just vacated.  “He could do anything.  Plumbing, electric, H/A, car repairs, he even tested rocket fuels, for pete’s sake.”  The smaller pans clang and bang as they come out of the cupboard, the one in my hand goes in place by size and more clanging and banging until they’re all back in the cupboard.  Clanging and banging pans are hard on Mother’s ears and I generally try to limit the noise but today I don’t care.

“Although why you had to give Daddy constant direction, like you do me, is beyond me.”  Can’t slam the cupboard door shut, it doesn’t fit that tightly.

I’ve gone too far.  What must it be like to be eighty-five and have your adult daughter lecture you on your failings?  To have to push through the pain and disabilities of old age just to make it through the day and on top of that, listen to me rant?

“Maybe that’s just how you communicated with Daddy in your sixty-one years together.”

image source:trialx

image source:trialx

Mother says nothing.  Just keeps on working getting her breakfast together.  Today she’s baking corn muffins.  Then she’ll fry herself an egg.

I head to the bathrooms to collect towels to throw in the washer.

“It’s a good thing you had me learn to do things on my own, God,” towels from my bathroom in hand, I head to the hamper for the rest of the dirty towels, “because if I hadn’t, I couldn’t handle this house and its constant work.  Then what would Mother have done?”

image source:frugalbits.

image source:frugalbits.

No, I don’t do it for the glory and the truth is, if I weren’t here, God would take care of Mother some other way.  I pull my head out of the hamper and straightened up, my arms full of towels, my back creaking back into place.

Be honest, Vicky, the bottom line is that it would be nice to be acknowledged, given some credit for having a brain that works.

“Help me, God, to not take Mother’s reactions personally, and to not be insulted by her constant need to tell me how to get things done.  I know it’s just who she is.  Although it would be ok with me if you change her some while you’re at it, God.”

Back through the kitchen I trek, towards the laundry room just as Mother pulls the muffins from the oven.  “Hmm, those smell good.”  I say as I pass.

image: google images

image source: google images

“Here,” she says, “have one.”

“Thank you, Mother.”

And thank you, God, for who you made us and where you put us.  I will survive and I’ll be better off for it – working faucet aerator or no working faucet aerator.

Albuquerque Treasures

image source:Examiner

image source:Examiner

Albuquerque is an old city with history that dates back to indigenous people (we used to call them American Indians) in the 1100’s, to Spain in the 1500’s, to early American settlers who traveled west from the early American colonies to farm and ranch its valleys, to Statehood in 1912.  Albuquerque’s long and unique history includes historic Highway 66, a high-tech era that began with WWII and included the first computer language BASIC and the start of Microsoft and continues today.  Artists of all types began their love of the startling hues and patterns of the landscape of New Mexico centuries ago and the influence of their art lives on and inspires today’s artists.

As an Albuquerque born native who left the state too early to remember anything, I know nothing about the politics that shape the city and state or about any rivalries that may divide its people, but I can say that as a recent visitor there, that Albuquerque has done a bang-up job of presenting a united front.  Reminders of the cultural mark of authentic Southwestern jewelry, pottery and adobe style architecture are everywhere.

image source:Albuquerque Homes

image source:Albuquerque Homes

Native designed towers around Albuquerque

Native designed towers around Albuquerque

We saw the theme repeated as we drove past small adobe houses, past oversized decorative pottery in the center medians along the freeway, past huge office buildings, past recent apartment complexes designed to look like the clift dweller homes early indigenous people once inhabited, past bronze statues and tall totem pole type structures and past Albuquerque Deco (art deco with a southwestern influence).  Even the highway dividers on the eight lane freeway have designs similar to petroglyphs carved into the stone walls.

image source:Albuquerque Homes

image source:Albuquerque Homes

For out-of-towners, now many decades Californians, it all seemed charming and quaint to my sister and I.  For Mother, she mostly reminisced about how the city used to look and how much it had changed.

Albuquerque High School now the Lofts at Albuquerque High

Albuquerque High School now the Lofts at Albuquerque High

One well done change was the renovation to the old Albuquerque High School on Central Ave., downtown.  Mother talked fondly about her years there and could still name her girlfriends from the classes of 1946 and 47.  The brick complex looks well maintained and is now a condominium project with private, secure access for its dwellers.  The sales woman at Skip Maisel’s Indian Jewelry on Central Avenue told us that her daughter owns one of the condos and they still have the original 1914 wood floors and the common area hallways still have the original tile on the walls.  Not only was I impressed with the way they preserved a historic building, it’s exactly the type of place in which I wouldn’t mind living.

Speaking of Skip Maisel’s, we hadn’t been in Albuquerque long when Winzona said she wanted some turquoise jewelry while we were in town.  Mother’s immediate reply was,

Mother and I at Maisel's

Mother and I at Maisel’s

Maisel's in silver dollars on the sidewalk

  Maisel’s name in silver dollars on the sidewalk

“We have to go downtown to Maisel’s.”

“What’s Maisel’s?”  Winzona and I asked.

The place for Indian jewelry.”

This struck me as humorous.  In one  breath Mother was talking about how  things had changed so much she didn’t know how to tell us to get to the area where our motel was located and she frequently can’t remember the names of her great great grandchildren but she suddenly remembered an authentic Indian jewelry store that I’d never heard her mention before this trip and which she hadn’t been inside of for over sixty years.

We did shop at Maisel’s and all of us found some lovely things.  And we drove the old familiar roads looking for Aunt Ellis and Uncle Bud’s house on Rio Grande and Aunt Birdie’s on Charles Place.  It took some searching and a second trip with addresses in hand, but we eventually found both.

Aunt Bertha and Mother

Aunt Bertha and Mother

One of the must do’s on our list was to see Aunt Bertha who will be 99 in a few weeks.  She’s in an assisted living facility where she has good care and other than a spotty memory, she’s doing well.  She knew Mother and said she remembered knowing about me (even though I had seen her several times in the last fifteen years), but she didn’t remember Winzona or Larry.  She definitely knew Trevie, but then she took care of him much of the first year of his life as Daddy’s first wife died giving birth to him.  He was thirteen months old when Daddy and Mother married, so Aunt Bertha and Mother are the only mothers Trevie knew.

We also saw Aunt Lois, whose dementia allows her to forget that Benard, my mother’s brother, has been dead for many years now.  Lois already had four children when she married Uncle Benard and they visited with Daddy and Mother several times over the years but all of us kids were already gone from home by the time she and Uncle Benard married so I didn’t expect her to know me or Winzona, but she chatted like all of us were old friends.  She’s in a care facility for Alzheimer’s patients and she said to Mother as we were leaving,

Aunt Lois, her daughter Terri and Mother

Aunt Lois, her daughter Terri and Mother

“I’ll stay home and not go fishing tomorrow if you’ll come back to see me again.”

She also forgets that her son is dead as is one of her grandsons, but she appears happy and content.  That seems a blessing to me.  If you’re going to lose who you are, as long as you’re happy and content, what’s the big deal?

Mother was a trouper on this trip.  She just kept pushing through her weariness and the pain of her scoliosis as she was determined to enjoy having her children around her and to do what it took to see extended family in New Mexico.  She’s the last of the eight children in her immediate family.  Aunt Lois is the only surviving spouse of all four of Mother’s brothers and Mother and Aunt Bertha are the surviving wives of the Dean brothers.  Everyone else is gone now.  So it was bittersweet for Mother, but that’s part of what this trip was all about: giving Mother one last chance to see her old home, to visit family and to see the headstone for her and Daddy.

“I think what made this trip so great,” Mother said a day or so after we got home, “is that I had all my children with me.”

And isn’t that what family memories, wherever we’re from, really come down to?  Treasuring each other.

Winzona, me, Mother, Larry and Trevie together in Albuquerque

Winzona, me, Mother, Larry and Trevie together in Albuquerque