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.

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Pink Adobe

Grandma's pink adobe

Grandma’s pink adobe

We found the old house in Moriarty, New Mexico where Grandma Jones and Aunt Winnie and several of her small children lived in the 1950’s and 60’s.  I remember thinking all those years ago, as we crowded through the door into the small, pink, adobe on one of our infrequent trips from Southern California, where Daddy and Mother had moved us in late 1951, that I was so glad I didn’t live there.  The house was small and jammed packed with people.  I was a little appalled that my Mother and Daddy had once lived in this town.  That could have been me living in that tiny, two room, adobe house.  Thank God we had escaped.

I don’t remember any landscaping around the house in this desolate, dry, desert town forty-five minutes or so from Albuquerque, other than the tumbleweeds, cactus and scrub brush that were spread as far as the eye could see.  The wind always seemed to blow and the dry dirt clouded up around our feet, covered our shoes and crept up our legs towards our summer shorts or dresses.

My mind’s eye can still see Grandma and Aunt Winnie in their simple house dresses, dirty aprons, their hair flying in the breeze, surrounded by stair-step little boys and girls, the smallest only wearing diapers, the older boys in dirty shorts and shirts and the girls in dirty dresses from the dirt that surrounded their life.

I hated the strange smell of that house.

“Sulfer.”  Mother said.  “It’s the smell of the water.”

I was just happy that we didn’t stay long.  We couldn’t sleep there overnight.  There was no room.  Not that we were any better off financially.  We lived in rental houses and barely had the money for gas to make the trip and mostly took sandwich food and fruit in an ice chest rather than eating in restaurants, but we didn’t live in that dirt, jammed into two rooms, in a town with a few businesses lining the highway and scattered, forlorn houses.

On this trip, Mother, my sister, my brothers and I had been to the cemetery, then followed the road west to drive by the Dean Ranch, sold years ago when Aunt Bertha could no longer maintain the property by herself, but the new owners had added fencing and gates and we couldn’t get close enough to even get a glimpse of the old place.  We had stayed there a time or two all those years ago.  It had barns and pastures surrounding it, and the house had a great room with a fireplace and windows that overlooked Aunt Bertha’s garden.  There were at least three bedrooms and a bathroom in that house.  The kitchen, with its open bar to the great room, had cabinets made just for Aunt Bertha by her brother-in-law, my Uncle Bud.  Both Aunt Bertha and Uncle Bruce were just over five feet tall, so the cabinets of solid wood were set low down at the perfect height for them.

Their son, Allen, told us when his wife Cheryl made us a dinner of Enchiladas on our visit to their lovely home in Albuquerque last week that the new owners had appreciated the wood cabinets and had kept them but set them on a raised base so that they were now standard height.

Our drive out the dirt roads of Moriarty looking for memories had covered the rental car with red dirt and left all of us, in our sealed, air conditioned comfort, thirsty and tired by the time we headed back towards the highway.  We all saw the little pink adobe house and I threw on the brakes the same time Winzona said, “Stop!  I need pictures.”

Trevie and Melissa, in his truck, saw that we had stopped and they backed up and joined us and Winzona, Larry, Melissa and I walked around the property, while Mother and Trevie stayed in the air conditioning.  I asked Larry as we stood outside and took photos, if he remembered whether there was an outhouse or a bathroom.  He couldn’t remember.  Neither can Mother remember.

The structure is now deserted and mostly gutted, with flooring remaining in just one spot of the main room, the rest a dirt floor that somehow looked appropriate for the adobe’s current state.  There are open spaces in the ten inch thick adobe where doors and windows once hung.  The house was even smaller than my memory recalls, the main room with a kitchen on one end maybe twenty by ten with a small five by five room in the back right corner.Donna Camera 720

The family story is that the city or county bought the property when there were plans to widen the highway.  Mother said that her Mother died shortly thereafter with a broken heart because she had to leave her house.  At least that’s how I remember hearing the story.  Now in her elderly years, Mother says she never told that story.

However, Grandma’s heart did stop beating at some point after they left the little house and it seems typical of the same non-life that keeps the dry and dusty town struggling that the highway was never widened and the little house still stands.   To me, it’s another reminder of how grateful I am that my childhood was spent in the watered desert of Southern California with its milder weather and fertile sole and where plants and flowers of every description, high rises, freeways and an often frantic pace of life continue to spring to life.

To be fair, if I’d grown up in that dusty New Mexico town, I’d probably feel differently and to my cousins who did, perhaps I have a biased view of that life, but I was just thirteen months old when Daddy and Mother brought us to metropolitan Los Angeles and I’ve been a city girl ever since.

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.

Salt

image:google

image:google

The headline of the article caught my eye, “Do you lie to your elderly parent?”  The choices were yes, or no.  Does “sometimes” count?  Is it really a lie if it’s for their own good?

Ok, not that I really want to admit to it publicly, but yes, I have lied to my mother.

Like right after she’d collapsed with heart failure, spent a week in CCU not expected to recover, another week on a regular hospital floor and then four weeks in a care facility getting physical therapy to get her back on her feet.  They sent her home with pages of information on how she should eat and things she should do after heart failure, but the biggie was: No Salt.

I was determined to be there for Daddy and Mother.  To do whatever they couldn’t do.  And if that meant following the new diet restrictions closely, then that’s what we’d do.  I would pick up the slack and somehow I’d make their lives normal again.  I’d fight against Mother’s heart failure and against Daddy’s cancer.  I’d set aside my life to be there for them; which wasn’t as hard or as selfless as it might seem because the bottom had dropped out of the Real Estate market and my business had just about dried up, and anyway, I suddenly had more important things to do.  So, I flew in from Nashville with one suitcase, moved into the spare bedroom/storage room and cleaned house and ran errands and did the shopping and got them both back and forth to their doctors and made sure Mother had everything she needed.  Except Salt.

I wasn’t sure of the routine with their food, so Daddy had taken over the cooking.  He’d finished his six month round of Chemo and was doing well and as if nothing had happened, went on doing whatever was needed in the house, just like he’d always done.  I’d get the food Daddy cooked on the table and call to Mother to tell her we were ready to eat.

She was still living in her pajamas and her pale purple brushed cotton robe, sitting sideways on the sofa in the living room, her feet up, her legs covered with a pale green and lavender lap blanket that one of her hospital roommates had given her.  Her insulated cup filled with ice water and a box of Kleenex sat on the coffee table where she could reach them.  The classical station on the radio played softly and she was more content than I’d ever seen her.  She’d used a safety pin to hold back the window sheers right at her eye level and she sat for hours staring out the front window, her eyes taking it all in as if the grass and trees, the birds and flowers, the lizard that followed the sun around the porch, the cars passing and people walking on the sidewalk were brand new images to her.

The only times she left the sofa were to make her way slowly to the bathroom or the bedroom at night or to the dining room table.

When I called, she roused herself from the sofa and used her rolling walker to finally get to the dining room table and got herself settled in her regular spot on one side where her placemat sat next to a Kleenex box, the stack of crossword puzzles, pens and pencils in a coffee mug, cut out articles she was going to read one day, her bottles of prescription pills and the latest volume of Reader’s Digest Condensed Books.

image:google

image:google

“Where’s the salt.  I need salt.”

“There’s no salt.”  I lied.

“Yes, there is.  I know there is.”

“This is your new salt, Lite Salt.”

She glared at me and fussed under her breath as she sprinkled the Lite Salt on her food.

“This is terrible.  I can’t eat this.”

“Sure you can.”  I sat on the other side of the table and passed the regular salt to Daddy.  “Remember what the doctor said?  No salt.”

Daddy salted his food and said nothing.  Mother grumbled and tried more of the Lite Salt and took a few bites and grumbled some more.  Daddy passed the regular salt back to me and I salted my food.  This went on for months.  Same routine.  She used the Lite Salt but she wasn’t happy and she let me know it.

It was more than six months before she was back in the kitchen helping to get meals together.  By that time, I’d hidden the Morton Salt carton in a bottom cabinet behind the pots and pans.

“Where’s the salt?  I can’t cook without salt.  You have to salt the soup while you’re making it.”

“Here you go.”  I handed her the Lite Salt.

“Where is the salt?”  Her voice rose, color flooded her cheeks, she glared at me, arms on her hips.

image:google images

image:google images

I moved around the kitchen, emptying the dishwasher, gathering dishes and silverware to put on the table.  She’d finally give up and pour in some Lite Salt, grumbling under her breath as she stirred the soup, or mashed the potatoes, or browned the roast, whatever the meal.  I acted as if her complaints went in one ear and out the other, saying nothing, appearing calm, staying strong, while I bit my tongue to keep from yelling back at her.

She was so stubborn!  Her ankles and feet stayed swollen and for the life of me, I couldn’t understand how she could not see the connection.  How could she miss that connection, God?  She hated the swelling and complained about the pain so how could she think taste was more important than being healthy?  I just didn’t get it.

Besides, I ate the things she cooked with Lite Salt and they weren’t that bad; even if I Daddy and I did sometimes add regular salt, from the salt shaker on my side of the table, where she couldn’t reach it.

I look back on that time now and think about all those months of agony she put herself and us through and I’m just glad she finally adapted.  It took somewhere around a year, but her taste adjusted and she quit fussing over the Lite Salt and she stopped asking for regular salt.  Now when we eat out, she complains about how salty everything is.  And, the regular salt shaker now sits on her side of the table with her Lite Salt and she passes it to me when we eat, never even tempted to use it herself.  So, yes, I lied about salt with regularity and read labels and bought only reduced salt items and sometimes told her that was all the store carried and we made it through.

She learned to live without salt and I learned that I could not stop Daddy’s cancer or make their lives like they used to be.  By the time she adjusted, Daddy was worse and I was in the middle of learning what it meant to give Daddy twenty-four hour care and then I learned to live through missing him so much my heart hurt.

And meanwhile, life with Mother continued.  Her heart rebounded to 98% function, which the doctors didn’t understand and couldn’t explain.  We called it a miracle and I’m sure it was because after all, Daddy prayed for it and his faith was huge, so it had to be a miracle.  But it wasn’t the miracle I wanted.  I wanted the miracle where Daddy no longer had cancer.

Instead, I had to learn to accept that I was left with the difficult parent and the strong, loving, supportive one was no longer here.  I had to learn to be honest with Mother even though I know it means I’ll have to repeat what I tell her, because she won’t remember the details and I’ve had to learn to accept that for some reason, her ability to reason logically is gone.  Possibly it’s because she’s eighty-five, but I think it has more to do with that time when she collapsed and the oxygen to her brain was diminished.

She’s grateful I’m here because it means she can stay in her home; and it does feel nice to be appreciated, but, I don’t need the appreciation as much as I need the miracle of your strength, God, because she may have lost some mental ability and her memories can often be spotty but she hasn’t lost her stubbornness and her strong will to do what she wants to do, regardless of the consequences to her well-being.

So, help me, God, to keep on learning to respect and love her, even when she makes me so crazy I want to scream.  Remind me she is who she is and my job is not to change her, my job is to be here so that her last days are comfortable, so that she feels safe surrounded by the sameness of her home, the sameness of her routine.  Help me God, to not just spend my time counting the days until there’s life after Mother.  Help me to know, God, with your help I can do my job; I can love her.

Ah, there it is: that message that brings peace, that brings rest, that brings relaxation; that says, it’s ok, Victoria, I’ve got your back.  Love, God.

 

Epilogue:  I told Mother I had written about her trial with salt today.  Her response?

“Oh, you weren’t here when I had to go through the torture of giving up salt were you?”

“Yes, Mother, I was.  It was right after you came out of the hospital.”

“Oh, that’s right.”

And there you have it.  I struggled over that time and had to hang on to my belief that she would be better off without salt even as I worried that it might cause lingering tension between us; but when all is said and done, in her memory, it was a difficult time, but a memory into which I didn’t figure.  That gives me freedom to go ahead and do what needs to be done; it makes me glad it didn’t cause a rift between us, but most of all it makes me smile as it reminds me that the time of salt really wasn’t about me at all.  It was all for her.  I love you, Mother.

Trailing Clouds of Glory

image:google:fineartamerica-semmick

image:google:fineartamerica-semmick

Health, smealth.  There’s always something, right?  You’d think I was getting older, know what I mean?  The simple things, like bending over just aren’t so simple any more, if you catch my drift.  Oh wait, that’s me drifting over to one side trying to get my foot inside my jeans.  And what’s with that third toe?  That little jolt, like an electric shock when my feet hit the floor in the morning?  Seriously, that toenail that always wants to be in-grown, it’s gone its wayward route and will need rescuing, again.

Rescuing billows of stamina and strength are what’s needed for my friends who wear the badge of diabetes and must be vigilant warriors against the onslaught of their own body’s attack.  They fight the battle against sugar as it masquerades, innocent looking; its luscious aromas wafting; its delirium inducing sugar hiding in bread and vegetables, not to mention candies, cakes, pies and donuts.  It’s a choice you have to make, if you have any ailment.

Do you want to feel look or do you want to eat that thing you think you can’t live without?  Green it’s worse that than.  It’s do you want to live by eating the right things bracelets or do you want to lose your toes to gangrene or your eyesight or…?  You pick the worst case, because when the body fails F it gets ugly.

image:google:btccgl

image:google:btccgl

Those years you felt invincible, those years you felt unstoppable, those years you craved excitement, those years have flown and left in their wake: reality.  The reality of lowered expectations; reality of acceptance of limitations; reality of gratefulness for any movement, any progress, any staunching of the drag of gravity that pulls, moment by moment, towards that dust to dust, towards that ashes to ashes.

On the other hand, if the media is to be believed, you don’t have to grow old, you can wave away those wrinkles, those brown spots, that double chin, those sagging jowls.  It only costs money.  And what’s money after all?  Can’t take it with you, right?  While that may make sense for the beautiful people, those stars and celebrities whose persona requires only the best and who have the money it takes to stay beautiful, what about the rest of us?  The common folk, the regular people, the average of us who aren’t living on the street by any means, but who have to budget and conserve for the future and can only splurge once in a while?  What about us?

image:google:makebeautysimple

image:google:make
beautysimple

Shouldn’t there be a beauty to the art of growing old gracefully?  I’ve seen that grace.  Think about Mother Theresa.  She gave her time, her energy, her life to help the less fortunate and the lines on her face were like a map of her devotion.  They grew heavier and deeper and spread until the whole surface was covered.

I saw that grace in my own father, who loved God first and that love spilled out into how he treated my Mother and his kids and grand kids and great and great-great-grand kids – all his progeny.  He wasn’t afraid to love us unconditionally and he kept on doing the right thing as he grew old and knew there would be a limit to what he could do and how long he would be here, yet, even as he accepted that old dried age and dying were a part of life, he never gave in either.  He counted calories and had a goal runner of where he wanted his weight to stay and up until late dark in his eighty-eighth year, he walked three miles a day, lugged the edger and lawn mower around the yard, climbed ladders and hefted power tools and saw weeded the garden.

image:google:nytimes

image:google:nytimes

What about me?  Will I choose to see the value of acceptance balanced against the task of staying fit and on the move?  I tell Mother that if she only sits and never moves, her bones will calcify, she’ll be stuck in one position.  Easy for me to say, but when I’m in pain as she is, will I keep moving?  How long will I buy the best wrinkle creams and do what it takes to keep my hair looking its best?

How can it be that my worth, my value, my importance are tied up in this world when it’s the soul that longs to soar and fly the heights of eternity, free of the shell of wrinkles and pain and limitations?  How can I not see that it is life, it is breath that is important and it is the real interior me that is destined for never dying?  Not this shell, not my hands with spots here and there and veins that stand up where once they were smooth; not the widows peaks under the hair I pull forward on my face to hide my receding hairline, and the spot above my right ear where the hair is not only turning white, it’s so thin I have to cut it just right to camouflage that increasingly bald spot; and not my funky endocrine system with its thyroid disease, its fatigued adrenals and malfunctioning hormones.  These don’t define who I am.  They will all fall away and my eyes will for once and ever clearly see the truth.

image:google-flickr

image:google-flickr

Then I will sing out in chorus with William Wordsworth:      “Our birth is but a sleep and a forgetting: the soul that rises with us, our life’s star, hath had elsewhere its setting and cometh from afar.  Not in entire forgetfulness, and not in utter nakedness, but trailing clouds of glory do we come from God, who is our home.”

Siren Call

I’m transfixed by the sight.  They loom over me.  I want to reach out to them but I’m tiny and insignificant with arms too short to traverse the space between us.  They rise over the horizon tall and majestic, varied in hue and shape and size.  There’s an imperiousness to their grandeur and their heft.  They are immobile yet changeable with the shifting cloud’s caress.  Some reflect the dawn’s pale pallet and the end of day’s bright glare while others remain dense and stark, unfazed by any movement of light.

I envision hope and determination and purpose swirling around them not unlike multiple lanes of traffic crisscrossing over and under and around on elevated highway exchanges.  And I’m drawn to them, my spirit and soul pulled closer and closer, wanting to join in, to let the swirling wash over me until I am one with the flow.

My spirit rises with anticipation of their mystery and I feel alive just to be in their shadow.  They call to me with some indefinable promise of unknown adventures; unknown paths to take and challenges to be conquered.

When I see them at night, they confuse the senses.  Their shapes are both intensified and vaguely indefinite against the night’s backdrop.  A backdrop punctuated by neon, taillights, headlights, lamps on tall streetlight poles and the erratic checkerboard of interior lights left burning after the five p.m. exodus has left those tall structures empty.

My memory takes me back to the days I did touch them; the days I stood in their halls and breathed their air; the days I braved the frantic pace that engulfed them in life each morning and the weary escape that left them behind each evening.

I had been drawn in by their promise and it was a full life that took strength and verve if I wanted to scale their heights.  Eventually, though, it all became not much more than office politics.  I felt no further promise there and tired of the heights, I merely wanted to emerge whole.  I left those highrises behind and set out to discover the me I would be apart from them; apart from the siren call of big city living.

image:discoverlosangeles

image:discoverlosangeles

These days my life’s tasks generally take me speeding past those behemoths, those skyscrapers that appear to me to be like sentinels guarding the way.  But I never pass without thinking, I know how you feel, those of you who enter their domain daily; I know what you’re going through. I’ve been there, I’ve lived that life.  I know what it’s like.

The intervening years between then and now have taken me other places and on a different journey and while I wasn’t looking, time ebbed away and now there’s a part of me that feels incapable of scaling their heights once more.  That is, until I see them again and then the old flame ignites.  There’s life here, it signals to me.  There’s excitement and purpose here, it whispers in the rush of air flowing past my speeding car.

But I don’t detour.  I continue along the concrete path that winds past downtown and the business centers, past the shopping centers and the factories and industrial areas and off the freeway’s paved canyon into suburbia’s land of houses and gas stations, churches, schools and grocers on the corner.  Into the land that was my Father and Mother’s life; into the alley behind their house and into their garage and on into their house I go, closing the door behind me.  This is my life now and I determine to continue here, to engage in this journey, this challenge.  But down inside, the flame is still lit and its warmth reminds me that I can be in both worlds.  The choice is mine.  There will be time once this task with Mother ends.  There’s a journey still ahead.

“You made it safe?”  Mother calls from her island of sameness at the dining room table, surrounded by familiar things, some treasured and some worthless yet hoarded rather than tossed out.

“Yes, Mother.  I’m here.”

Sight Calling

dandelion sky

image:wallpapersforest

Mortar and pestle soothe in their tempo
Peace

leave angst for rest            call
the
tap
tap
tap

of the jiggle
Rough smoothed
scattered            Collected              fractured           Reduced
what’s left is revealed but dressed.         Wait – But naked?                Old             new
comes the realization and the breath
Flows
Until up ratchet the old man on old trails of old pains
Wait! I’ll not stay
t he spell is broken yet choices remain
A journey = continual spiral   up   DOWN   UP   down
Ring around the rosie, a pocket full of posies
the music floats
The spirit joins
DOWN up down UP and on and on and on in what seems
Re dundant
For the sight is short
Ah, how sweet is that?
The needed sight is beyond this sight.
The huge sight reaching, drawing, calling Yes, we can. Together

Together

Mortar and pestle soothe in their tempo

image:selahchurch.blogspot

image:selahchurch.blogspot

Peace           leave angst for rest                 call
the
tap
tap
tap                                of the jiggle

Rough smoothed
scattered   Collected           fractured          Reduced
what’s left is revealed       but dressed.                 Wait – But naked?                                                                                      Old       new
comes the realization and the breath
Flows
Until up ratchet the old man on old trails of old pains
Wait!          I’ll not stay
t he spell is broken                         yet                                                                                      choices remain
A journey = continual spiral        up            DOWN UP                   down
Ring around the rosie, a pocket full of posies
the music floats
The spirit joins
DOWN up down UP and on and on and on in what seems
Re dundant
For the sight is short
Ah, how sweet is that?
The needed sight is beyond this sight.
The huge sight reaching,       drawing,           calling                 Yes, we can.                   Together

free in the full void

Discordant beauty stems swiftly buying trails Feathers brush hard knocks inside                                                                           lulling tiny feet closer to their sort of original disarray re minding lost hearts                                    lost souls                             lost grips Swinging once ethereal sank      drank    stank Oh, to be free Oh, to be me No, to be thee       […]

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