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

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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.

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.

Together Again in Albuquerque

image source: Winzona Rothchild

image source: Winzona Rothchild

Albuquerque, New Mexico was hot last week.  They broke heat records the day it was 105°F which was also the day we rode the tram up to the peak of the Sandias.  Mother said that when Larry, my brother thirteen months older than me, was a baby, Daddy drove them up the winding highway to the rim.  The old photo albums have pictures taken around then of Mother sitting on the ground, on a blanket, next to the 1940’s car that Daddy had pulled to the side of the highway.  She was young and beautiful, in her short sleeved sweater and slacks, eating a pickle and smiling at Daddy as he took the photo.  Infant Larry lay sleeping beside her on the blanket and toddler Trevie followed Daddy around.

She said that she and Daddy had always wanted to ride the tram but never had the time or the money or the combination of the two on their various trips from California to see family in New Mexico and in later to years to head on east to visit more family in Texas and Tennessee, so this trip to Albuquerque, as we went to view Daddy’s and her headstone and to put Daddy’s ashes in the grave, this trip, we would ride the Sandia Peak Tramway.

image source: Winzona Rothchild

Winzona and Mother

She was tired when we got up that morning at the motel, but determined.  She had come this far and she was not going to give up now, so she and my younger sister, Winzona, and I braved the heat, turned the A/C on high in the rental car and drove to the base of the mountains.  The guides were solicitous of Mother’s age, her cane and her slowness in walking.

“Right this way, Sweetie, let’s find you a seat.”  The woman said as she took Mother’s arm, helped her over the threshold of the cable car and guided her to a corner, where other passengers moved out of the way so that the flip down seat could be Mother’s.  There was only one other corner seat so the other fifteen or so of us passengers, stood and held on to the poles or leaned against the windows.

The views headed up the mountainside were amazing and we could feel the air cooling off as we rose.  They’d had two years of drought and this year has yet to tell whether or not it will bring enough rain or be a third year of drought.  Mother was amazed at how dry everything looked.

image source: Winzona Rothchild

image source: Winzona Rothchild

“I’ve never seen Prickly Pear Cactus dying from the heat!”  She said, hanging on to the pole next to her seat and peering out the window.  The 78°F on top of the mountain would be a welcome relief.

Just beyond the half-way point of our fifteen minute ride, the guide, who was standing on the west side of the tram, pointed far below us and said,

“There’s the Mama Bear and her cub.”

And the people on the east side of the tram rushed to the windows on the west side.   Except me.  Wait a minute, I thought, are we sure we should all be rushing to the other side of the tram?  Is this a good idea?  I gripped the pole next to me, but the cable car didn’t even sway as people pressed against the windows to look and in a few minutes they moved back around the car reclaiming their spots near the poles or the east windows.  The car can handle 10,000 pounds, we were told, so evidently some rushing around by fifteen people of various sizes was no big deal.

image source: Winzona Rothchild

image source: Winzona Rothchild

The landing at the top of the rim was gentle, the car swayed a time or two, then settled and the guide helped Mother over the threshold once more.  The redwood decking around the tram station and down to the restaurant were the only places people were allowed.  The hiking trails, ski lift, mountain biking and at the far point of the granite mountain, the rock cabin that was built in the 1930’s by the Civilian Conservation Corps, were all off limits.  The fire danger was too high.

“Oh, I’m dizzy.”  Mother said.

“It’s the altitude.”  The guide said.  “Just take it slow.”

image source: Winzona Rothchild

image source: Winzona Rothchild

We made our way carefully around the redwood decking that was sloped downward for people who didn’t want to use the redwood decking stairs; stopping frequently in the shade of oak, aspen, pine and locust trees to enjoy the view, point out squirrels, chipmunks, birds and butterflies, and eventually ended up at the High Finance Restaurant, where they seated us against a window that looked out over Albuquerque in the valley far below.  The food was unique and delicious.  Try it when you get that direction!

image source: Winzona Rothchild

image source: Winzona Rothchild

We talked about how much Daddy would have loved it, the heights, the majesty of the mountains, the history of the tram, the display of the various cables used, the size of the huge pulley wheels that work the cables; all of it would have fascinated him.  We missed him, but that’s what this trip was about, celebrating Daddy, so it felt good to do something he would have loved.

I spotted a wheelchair as we left the restaurant and assured it was there for whoever needed it, worked off my lunch pushing Mother up slight inclines and gratefully paused to catch my breath at each landing.  We were reluctant to leave the cooler mountain air, but down below in the valley, Larry’s plane would land and soon after, Trevie and his wife, Melissa, were driving in from Tennessee, so we again boarded the tram and slowly dipped our way back into the intense heat.

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

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

Hope Lives

image:divinevoice

image:divinevoice

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

image:all-that-is-interesting

image:all-that-is-interesting

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

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

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

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

“It’s time for bed.”

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

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

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

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

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

image:google images

image:google images

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Thank you for helping me pack.”

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

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

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

“Hush!  You’ll wake the kids.”

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

image: google images

image source: google images

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

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

Respect in Purple and Gray

image:communitycaringcouncil

image:communitycaringcouncil

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“I can’t, they’re all attached.”

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

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

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

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

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

“You’re welcome.”  She said.

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

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

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

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

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

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

image:voice.yahoo

image:voice.yahoo

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

image:teavana

image:teavana

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

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

“Take it back.” Julienne said.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

image:dreamstime

image:dreamstime

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Hardwoods and Hard Heads

image:depositphotos

image:depositphotos

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

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

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

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

image:expodirect

image:expodirect

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

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

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

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

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

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

Raining Apricots

image:google images

image:google images

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

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

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

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

image:google images

image:google images

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

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

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

“You’re going to help me.”

“I am?”

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

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

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

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

“Thank you.”

“You’re welcome.”

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

“All done.”  She says.

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

image:Mother's garden

image:Mother’s garden

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

“Good idea, Mother.”

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

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

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

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.