Ear Buds

google images:earbuds

 google images:earbuds

There’s a whole world that travels

from computer or smart phone up the thin

cords through the rubber ear buds

where it bursts into life and dance and frolic

that careens around the gray matter of my brain.

 

I’m wrapped in the swirling strains of Beethoven

and Adele and Liszt and the Beatles and Shostakovich and 60’s Doo Wap,

my imagination freed from the blare of the cooking show

Mother watches on TV, freed to the music,

alive with moods,

images,

words

and letters afloat.

 

The music pulls me into dank, deep forests of

unrealized goals where I wallow, gasping for air,

until weak armed I reach for lofty peaks

of hope in the strife to survive,

until I’m caught and gathered up

on the wisps of daylight

of tomorrow’s possibles.

 

They press glimmers

against the drag of the schedule of care

for this ancient house,

this fading generation,

this memoir to a way of life

that seems stilted to great-great grandchildren;

or to anyone with energy and stamina enough

to venture out into the frantic rush

of the city traffic that’s still alive

in its bustle of existence

and that continues

without either Mother or me.

 

These ear buds keep me tethered

to the expectancy that life won’t always be this.

Be here. Be staid.  Be constricted by age and frailty.

 

The ear bud wires hum,

my ears tingle,

the floating fragments settle

gel and ooze

down my arms

out my fingers on the keyboard

to live again in words on the page.

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Daddy’s Desk

image source: Bing images

image source: Bing images

In the top drawer is Daddy’s inexpensive silver wristwatch with its flexible, stretch band.  Without his warm flesh and steady heartbeat, it stopped.  I tried wearing it when I noticed, but it was too late.  So it lays here, the date feature, Mon 20, the time, 5:05 p.m. and ten seconds.

image source:Bing images

image source:Bing images

Funny that, since Daddy died on Monday the 20th.  I wonder now, did it stop the day he died, or did it run longer?  I can’t remember, which is strange, because at the time, I thought I’d never forget.

I’ve kept the yellow post-it notes he wrote and stuck on the side of the filing cabinet by the desk.  Doctor’s number, appointment reminders, police and newspaper phone numbers.  I like looking at his handwriting.  Printing, really.  The only time he used cursive was to write his distinctive and legible signature.

image source: Bing images

image source: Bing images

I was an adult before he confessed his handwriting was terrible, so he printed.  I’d always thought his familiar script was his preferred writing; neat, precise letters in a straight line, the “a” like a typewriter “a” with the tail curving across the top.  Not like the round “ɑ” they taught me in grade school.

I want to remember him in his strength; when it was easy to open drawers, when his watch ticked efficiently; when it was nothing for him to write a note to me, or to write in the checkbook.  I don’t want to think about those days he wasted away to a potbelly on a skeleton frame, the minutes and hours and days of caregiving roaring loud in my ears as we inched across the horizon toward his setting sun.

His abdomen filled with fluid as his body failed from liver cancer.  I was clueless.  He hardly ate, yet his pants were too tight to button?  I cringe now to think of things I could have done to make his days easier.

I don’t want to remember the last time he wrote.  The first time we went to the lab to have 2 liters of fluid drawn off his belly, he signed and dated the forms with ease.  The last time we went, his consent signature looked like the illegible scribbles of a two-year old.  His precise, neat printing and his one concession to cursive writing were gone.  It wasn’t long before he was gone.

Crile R. Dean

Crile R. Dean

I come often to this place that was Daddy’s domain.  I sit at the big metal desk that’s marred by years of use and run my hands over the scratched and scarred surface.  I can see how he grasped the handle of each drawer, the black paint worn away to gun-metal gray where his thumb extended to press for leverage to pull them open.  In memory I see him here.  He calls me honey.  He sings, smiles, talks ethics, politics, religion and sports.  He remains in my heart.  Until I join him, I’ll hold on to the simple reminders.  I won’t forget.

Four Part Harmony

image source:Bing images

image source:Bing images

The calendar says Spring. Mild temps and blue skies. It mostly is here but my friends in Nashville have snow flurries today. Snow in March. Winter Vortex has reached its icy fingers south this year. Fingers that crawl along the keys, trilling the notes, filling the ears with the soar, the pound, the Montague and the Capulet of the couplet flowing into sixteenth notes on the sixteenth of November when there could be snow and winter’s blast, but not here. And not now.

Here is where the surf and sand and desert flowers bloom at the foot of tall peaks as the keys lift and fall and music runs up and down the scale. By the way, I saw a scale today. A scale model plan for a cardboard microscope, so inexpensive and versatile it could be used in far-flung places where no funds exist for medical care, and so easy to create that one day every boy and girl could have one in their book bag. Assuming, of course, there will be book bags necessary to carry iPads and tablets and iPhones. Or perhaps, all the technology will be embedded in their skin. No book bags necessary.

Further assuming, of course, technology will continue to amaze and capture our money and time with ever evolving advancements in productivity and touch-friendliness thrills that we just can’t live without.

Like the trill of the falling and rising ivory and ebony, pulled by the taut wires to the soundboard; the same as vocal cords to the human soundboard. I’m enthralled and amazed at four female voices tight harmonies at they pelt out a tilt on traditional Sweet Adelines barbershop harmonies gone modern with jazz riffs and scats.

See, people continue to amaze me at what can be accomplished when someone believes and tries and stretches and achieves. Frankly, I’m more impressed at a Cappella tight jazz harmonies than I am a piano virtuoso. And I do love piano.

No, I can’t do either, although I can sing better than I can play, but the piano keys don’t change. Well, they can go out of tune, but the relative space between a half step or a full step remains, right?

Can’t say the same about the human vocal instrument. Not enough diaphragm support or not enough air coming in or the throat tightens and the riffs and scats don’t go traditional or jazz. They don’t impress at all. That human instrument requires rest and fuel and strength and stamina. Not to mention hard work. And control. Now that is truly amazing. Taming the vibrato, tuning the chords just so and controlling it to go from soft soothing to loud and powerful. When it’s done right? Exquisite. And should the notes be placed out on the tongue or operatically back in the throat? Which style floats your boat?

“Wish I had boat,” she said, as she sat on the edge of the bathtub, trailing her fingers through the water, making waves in the floating fallen hairs and particles of dried hairspray and collected dust. “Maybe then I’d clean this bathtub more often.”

With a groan, she stood stiffly, used the handle of her cane to help pull herself upright, got her feet turned around and started out of the bathroom, “Not that it matters, since I can’t get in the tub anymore.”

“Oh, you could get in,” I said as I push the lever down to empty the tub, “I just have no idea how I’d get you up and out.” I wield the long handled cleaning brush through the water to move the hair and debris toward the drain.

The drain whirlpools, catching the dreams of someday when there’s money I’ll travel, jostled in the swirl of snapshots of youth decayed to frailty and hairs grayed, bouncing against today’s dandelion flowers peppered on green grass and the hummingbird feeder hook on the tree limb that sways empty in the breeze, encircled by the tiny glistening quiver of birds looking in vain for a sip.

The kaleidoscope spins pink light from the window sheers; Febreeze air freshener particles dance, tickle my nose and gag my throat in the dance with Sassoon Ultra Hold hairspray, Baby Wipes moist, Polident denture wash, Fragrance Free Depends Women’s Underwear, Witch Hazel Pore Astringent and Ponds Cold Cleansing Crème.

What I want to know is this. How does she come out of this bathroom without smelling strange? She’s the queen of sponge baths. Can’t get in the tub anymore and making the trek to the shower in the other bathroom, more than once a week, is too wearying a task to even contemplate. So she says and so it appears. Yet, she doesn’t smell bad. Perhaps the magical powers of these conflagrating aromas cancel each other out, or buoy one another up? Their harmony rises and falls at the flick of the aerosol.

Not that I mind. As long as she can sponge bathe, that’s one less task for me. I dread the day when I’m the giver of sponge baths. I don’t want to go there. I don’t want her or me to be compacted to that. I pray for her to go quietly in her sleep after a normal busy day of private bathroom ablutions and unbidden spontaneous naps in her chair at the dining room table in front of the TV, Irish tenors and Doo Wop harmonists her lullaby.

I don’t want to be the caregiver of diaper changes and bed-fast ministrations. I want the song to be easy. I want to sing the song I like. I care about me. I care about my comfort. I am selfish.

Help me, God. Move me beyond self. Be here with me in this, God. I’m helpless, without you. I’m all about me, without you. Take her easy, God. Trill the music of the life dance through the melodies of the lift of her spirit to you in soft soothing tones of rich harmony; the Trinity reaching to welcome her spirit; the glorious finale to her four part harmony.

Carry on……

image source:google images

image source:google images

The cuckoo clock ticks.  The floors creak with the slow movement of the elderly woman traversing the length of the living room and the dining room, cane maneuvered by one hand, the other hand holding the day’s newspaper, just retrieved from the front step.

Great hall height     BUMBLING                  forward                inside all the way              to cake breakfast            before        drop         eyelids               into    the deep.         Being      of course,         is perfectly soluble          fight and fought             fraught?               Bought for naught? While I              DANCE                tripp ingly                        two sides                                              that’s                       understood,
or                                   should be,

if you get my drift.   I read just the other day, somewhere, or maybe I heard it?  Well, I won’t bore you with the how or the why, but you follow what I’m saying.

It was like, the time comes when the young take up the cause left behind by the old.  Something close to that.  Oh, maybe, the time comes when the old give up their cause to the young.  Yeah, I think that’s was it.  The time comes when the old give up their cause to the young.

Souls fly higher daily, skin thinned into translucence; some march straight ahead to the edge of the cliff and step out into air; some slow until inert stasis is the wall paper of their last days; some push against dread and fear; some laugh and joy in the legacy they’ve built; some writhe deep in pain and suffer the sloughing of the dying flesh; some faces light with the promise of more life to come; some pull the trigger in search of false relief.

I hear Mother coming; her cane clunking.  My mind flies to memories treasured.  I hover, chose and settle in to enjoy.

“Decaf?”  The waitress sets a glass of water and a napkin wrapped knife, fork and spoon on the table.

Crile R Dean

Crile R Dean

His solid but not overweight figure sits tall against the back of the booth, his hair white, every hair combed into place;  his eyes bright, a smile on his face, his cream colored, short sleeved, button-up shirt and brown slacks, not new but clean; his walking shoes a little scuffed.

The diner is clean, if well worn.  Much used faded counters nicked and scarred, brown booth seats with a sag here and there, wood chair legs nicked, metal table stands marked where decades of shoes kicked or rested.  Some faint muzac plays overhead.  People chat, waitresses weave in and out of the tables, arms laden; people eat.  It is a little cooler in the middle of the room and warmer in the booths against the east windows, their shades angled to keep the sun out of the eyes of patrons.

He isn’t cold.  His morning three mile walk has warmed him and built his appetite.

“No decaf, high octane,” he hands a menu back to the waitress, “bring me the Grand Slam; eggs fried.  Bacon and sausage.”

“Syrup or jelly for the pancakes?”  She writes on her order pad.

“Both.  And toast.  Add toast.”  He smiles again.

In my mind I walk into that diner and sit across from him.  His eyes light with love and joy at seeing me.  I hand him a wrapped box with a bow and a tag, Happy Eight-Eighth Birthday, Daddy.  His grin is awkward.

“You didn’t need to do this,” he pulls off the bow and peels off the paper.

I smile at the memory of his strength, his stamina, his love for life, his drive to make a difference in his world, his sharp grasp of things political, sociological and spiritual.  His ability to still lift the hedge trimmer and the edger and to navigate the lawn mower.  His confidence that still sent him onto the garage roof to trim a dead plum tree limb and God’s grace that urged him safely back to the ground just minutes before a 4.2 on the Richter scale hit.  He was fearless and bold.  Even at eighty-eight.  Mother called it reckless and foolish.

I hang on to the scenes of his life, vitality and joy.  They weren’t our last scenes.  Those were hospice and changing diapers and giving morphine and a skeleton pushing through translucent, whisper weight skin.  I skim past those and hang on to a truth.  Those last days were just the cocoon breaking open, setting his soul free.

I miss him.  I ache.  I cry.  I smile at his silly sense of humor.  I breathe in the certainly he’s there waiting for me; in eternity with the Creator.

Mother has made it at last to the kitchen.  I turn to her,

“Morning, Mother,” I smile.  Daddy and Mother were like night and day together.  Being here with her and remembering him, I see the differences no longer matter.  Daddy lived his beliefs and then he gave up his cause to the young.  Mother is nearly there.

My journey continues.  I have a choice.  I begrudge the time I no longer have with Daddy.  I get irritated at the task of being with Mother.  I watch any brighter, bigger purpose and meaning shrivel up while I trudge through the mundane.  I feel myself drowning.

image source:blingee

image source:blingee

I reach for a lifeline and I’m pulled up to keep walking, to take the steps onward.  I take heart from Daddy’s life.  I slough off the dread, the weight of unfulfilled expectations.  I let go of the hurts, imagined or real.  I remember the love, I remember the promise of eternity.  I believe.  I carry my cause, forged in the smelt of their influence, with honor.  I’ll keep on, until it’s my turn to leave a cause for the young to carry.

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.

Wrenched

image:theonion

image:theonion

I spent the first part of the day playing plumber.  Or trying to.  Collected tools and gloves in hand, I tried to turn off the water at the hot water heater by the back porch, but that did nothing for the cold water, so in the front yard I lifted the concrete lid off the house water main in the median between the sidewalk and the street.  I always feel like an exhibitionist when in the front of the house.  It’s like the whole street is watching.

Down on my knees, I leaned into the hole and cleaned off all the mud so that I could see the pipe that brings water from the city, the gauge in the middle that measures outflow and the pipe that takes the water on into the house.  The lever on the house pipe side was substantial.  I was in luck, I thought, but pulling then pushing then pulling again did nothing to change the position of the value.  I am not horse enough to turn it off or on.  And the only thing my exhibition did was to put grass and dirt on my pants and make my knee ache.

Ok, then.  On to Plan B.  Off to Home Depot with the bathroom hot water faucet stem that needs replacing.  That’s always a crap shoot.  Either I find a real plumber or I get the kid whose parents are no doubt thrilled he has a job, but he has no real world experience.  At least he can point me to the right aisle for bathroom fixture parts.  Once there I find a real plumber and it didn’t take him long to determine they did not carry the part I needed.

“So who does, do you think?”

The sixty something, fuzzy, white haired guy in his orange apron scratches his head, thinks, then says, “Ferguson’s across the street.”

“There’s a retail store at that large warehouse complex?”

“They do all sorts of plumbing so they should have it.”

Sure enough, I follow directions to drive beyond all the loading docks and turn the corner to find what appears to be a side entrance marked, “Ferguson Express.”

This huge one room shop appears to be the real deal.  Working guys sitting at the counters ordering parts while guys behind the counter look in catalogs and head to the back for parts, then ring up the sale.  I’m the only woman in the place.

Thirty minutes later and help from four guys leaves me where I started.  They don’t carry the part that looks like a Delta but is marked a Price Pfister.

“Four more exits down the 60 is PartsMaster,” says the clean-cut young guy, who readily admitted he had no hands on experience in replacing faucet stems and washers but who tried his best and now gives me printed driving directions, “they do nothing but parts so they should have it.”

Fine.  Except I’m hungry, I need to check on Mother and before I go on another wild goose chase I’ll call first.

I’m getting no satisfaction.  Where is it?  I could take satisfaction is knowing I tried to be frugally responsible, I suppose.  Seems like faking it if the three leaking faucets are still leaking after all this effort that ate up hours of time, when I could have been writing or reading or whatever.

Does satisfaction arrive only if the end results are a repaired bathroom faucet; a back yard lawn spigot that no longer keeps the ground around it well watered, and an ancient u-shaped kitchen sink faucet that no longer drips water from the center where there is no nut or screw to loosen so that a strategic washer could be inserted?

Somewhere out there in plumbing land is a guy who does get satisfaction turning water levers, matching up parts, carries the right tools and is horse enough to get the job done.  I just hope he’s clean and good looking.  If I have to pay for satisfaction, it better be worth it.

And in this corner…….

image:alsplumbing

image:alsplumbing

The hot water faucet in Mother’s bathroom sink has been dripping for weeks.  Other urgent projects have filled my days and pushed this one aside, not that I can ever forget it.  The water bill reminds me as does Mother at least once a day.  But now, house clean, out of town guests come and gone, I can concentrate on this task.

Best to start by looking at an online video of how to repair a leaking faucet that appears simple enough, so I find pliers and head to the bathroom.  Getting it apart is not as simple as the video appears but after several trips back and forth to get additional tools, another look at the video, tries of various washers from a box of assorted items to repair leaky faucets, I finally get the whole thing back together.  It’s no longer dripping; now it runs a constant small stream.  My determination to be fiscally responsible and frugal has been met with failure.  My frustration at being thwarted is at the boiling point.  I will not give up.  I will get satisfaction from overcoming the obstacles of a ninety year old house.

 “Mother, I’ve turned the hot water off under your bathroom sink,” pliers, wrench, screwdrivers and rubber gloves fill my hands.

“How will I wash my face and teeth before I go to bed?”  She stops stirring the pot of Great White Northern Beans and stares at me.

“I’ll go to Home Depot tomorrow but until then, I can turn it back on for you.”  I dump all the tools back in the small catch-all box under the kitchen sink.

One of the art experts on “Antiques Roadshow” is talking about a platinum and diamond bracelet and Mother forgets the turned-off hot water in her bathroom.

I staggered out of bed earlier today to take a pill and remembered Mother’s faucet but when I opened the cabinet to turn the valve off, I realized the faucet wasn’t dripping.  She must have turned it off after I went to bed.  Hours later, I’m engrossed in an online discussion with other writers over pieces we’ve each submitted when I hear a faint sound.  High pitched, like a child.  I listen hard.  Is that my name?

“Vicky.  Vicky.”

I jump up and hurry from the office, through the kitchen, then the dining room and into the hall towards Mother’s closed bathroom door.  The closer I get, I can tell it’s her calling me.  “Vicky. Vicky.”  It sounds almost a wailing, like a small child calling for a parent.

I expect the worst as I throw open the bathroom door.  Mother is half sitting-half lying on the floor, her feet tangled in the pink bathroom rug, the sink cabinet doors open, the hot water faucet running just as it was yesterday.

“Did you fall?”  I reach down to help her steady into a sitting position.

“No.  I was trying to turn off the water.  I tried to bend down, but I couldn’t reach under the sink and now I can’t get up.”  She keeps struggling, trying to get her feet under her.

“Ok.  Breathe deeply.  Sit still until I can get a small stool to put under your bum.”  We’ve been here before.  Once she’s down, she has no strength in her legs and arms to get herself up and I can’t lift her, so she has to come up in stages.

She’s finally up and with a snack and some Royal Jelly nutrient to calm her nerves, she has stopped shaking.

“I can’t believe that wore me out so badly.”

“No more getting down anywhere, Mother.”  I clean out the faucet aerator on her sink, which was going to be her next project, if she had been able to unscrew it from the faucet.

My frustration does battle with my determination.  I will persevere.  I will conquer the tasks that need doing in this old house.  I will emerge triumphant.  I don’t have the skills or the right tools, but I will not be defeated.

“For who knows but what you have come to the kingdom for such a time as this,” (Esther 4:14) comes to mind; a statement from Mordecai to his niece Esther, as he reminded her that she might have to die in order to stand up for doing the right thing.  I doubt it will be that serious, but then, moving beyond frustrations and limitations can be a type of death; the type that leads to freedom and satisfaction at a job achieved and well done.  If only I can hang on that long, which of course I will for it is God who is at work within me, so as to will and to work for His good pleasure  (Ph 2:3).  So take that, frustration.