Chartreuse and Blood

image source: Bing images

image source: Bing images

Violins quiver, bows strike, pull, push, strings pulsate to the beat of the harpsichord’s twang.  Shadows dance round and round, through the center, along the perimeter, hoop skirts flounce, tails sail, the light shimmers between the folds of the curtains, around the length of the arms that encircle one another in the proper mating dance.  The pace quickens, the dancers pin ball across the room; my watching mind and eyes driven by the whirling dervish of non-stop violin and harpsichord, all treble clef sixteenth notes.

Ah, the musicians have moved on to flute, violin and harpsichord.  Lovely.  And some eighth notes.

Thank goodness.  The pace on the first piece was non-stop into drivel, pounding away at the ears, pounding away at the brain, pounding away at the muscles, pounding away into foot tapping, pounding away into pulses that fire the fingers into hard pounding, pounding away on all the wrong keys.

Violin answers violin, violin dances in partnership with violin, flute leads violin, violins join to follow, they sway from treble clef to bass clef and the ears are happy to have some deeper sound, if you get my drift.  All those high notes can get to you after a while, right?  Add some bass and basso profondo and give the ears a break, why don’tcha?

The light trilling of the high flute is airy and dainty, skipping across meadows searching for a perch, while the contra-alto flute is sorrow and depth and longing and hunger fed by its miseries, its moves more ponderous; its expressions richer.  Together they plumb the heights and depths of emotions buried yet cascading to the surface in an upward belch of beauty.

My eyes are drawn to the inner door opening.  An overweight woman comes through the doorway, makes her way stiffly to the outside door, opens the door and leaves.

The spell is broken.  I pull out my ear-buds and lose Bach and the orchestra.

image source:Bing images

image source:Bing images

The ballroom with its dancers is replaced with this waiting room, old asbestos twelve-inch, off-white floor tiles polished to a bright shine, plastic molded chairs in chartreuse with a slight dip to the seat and curve to the back, in the same shade of chartreuse as the freshly painted walls contrasting to the white counters and paperwork.  Unusual to be in a waiting room where there are only two décor colors.  No framed pictures of flowers or meadows or mountains.  The only things on the walls are the posters touting the benefits of regular doctor care and employer minimum wage requirements.  They’re white with black print readable only up close.  From a distance, they make their own type wall decoration.  I’ve noticed of late that many doctors’ offices have no magazines, in fact, no reading material at all, in their waiting rooms.  Good thing I brought my iPod for listening.

I put the ear-buds back in and Bach returns.  I close my eyes and instead of ballrooms and dancers, I see the reason people are here, the reason people disappear into the inner door, the reason the nurses go through paperwork and the reason they call people’s names and the reason for all the chartreuse and white.

image source:Bing

image source:Bing

It’s to camouflage the red that flows behind that inner door; the red that’s collected through sharps into small vials with rubber stoppers, the red that will be centrifuged, the red that will be shipped and messengered, the red that could result in bad news, and tears, and fear, and dread; the red that could result in no news because no news is good news, right?

The harpsichord and violin soar and the red flies upward, painting the chartreuse with dots, with streams, with puddles, with cascades, with spurts, with fountains.  It bounces with each note, settles in the rests, spins with the flute, sprays on the crescendo and with the retard of the last bar, coalesces back into the vials and pulls on the rubber stopper hats.

“Ready to go?”

My eyes open.  My friend is standing in front of me, a wad of cotton under a piece of tape on the inside crook of her arm so that no more of her red escapes.  I’m only here as designated driver.  My red is safe.  I’m happy to exit the chartreuse and white, to leave the collected red behind.  I know one day I’ll have to give up my red, but not today.  Today, I escape.

HOMECOMING

pexels-photo-233690.jpeg

I hadn’t meant to stay so long.  Orders were clear: get in, gather the data, get out.  Unobserved, preferably.  No tampering with the timeline; no drawing attention to yourself.   I’d made other trips without incident and didn’t expect any this time, even if it was Paris, 1831.

I dove into the culture and studied the societal and political factors that would lead to the June, 1832 death of 800 insurgents.  Falling in love with Amélie was a surprise, but by June, 1832, we’d been living together for months and our child was nearly due.  Any thought of going back home had long left my mind.

I was confident I could protect her.  We would leave the city for the day.  It was her political student brother, Alain, that drew her to the streets that day to try to save him.  By the time I saw her face-down on the Rue du Bout du Monde, the city was in chaos.  I took a blow to the head and all went black.  I woke in our apartment to find Alain had survived and had dragged me off the streets.  We searched but never found her body.  In my desperation and grief I knew the only way I could save her was to go home.

Transport back to the Twenty-Fifth century was simple.  Activate my Travel Device and I would return, arriving the same day I left, February 15, 2415.  If not for the fact that it was DNA specific, I would have taken Amélie back with me long before.  Somehow I managed to appear coherent and convinced our project manager it was vital I return to Paris, 1832.  I tried two more times but no matter how I tried to alter the events of that week, Amélie died, her body never found.  My project manager was beginning to look at me strangely so when the assignment to study the Anasazi, 1275 A.D., Southwestern U.S. came up, I took it, hoping my nightmares of Amélie dying would fade with in the heat among the Anasazi.

It had been over two years, the memories of Paris getting dimmer, when I met Amy in the company cafeteria.  I’d been many places in time and she was fascinated by my history stories, though she never knew I was relating actual travel.  She was in Genealogical Research and only those of us in History Research time-traveled.  It was so easy to be with her.  It felt like coming home and I was able to finally put Paris, 1832, to rest.

Today’s trip had been tough, a week’s blizzard in 206 B.C. at the first section of the Great Wall of China in the Qin Dynasty had left me chilled to the bone.  I had just sunk down in my easy chair next to a roaring fire when Amy got home.

“Darling, how was your day?”  She called from the kitchen and went on before I could rouse myself. “I’m so excited.” she said.  Mimi meowed as Amy put out fresh food; water ran at the sink, a drawer opened, closed, ice tinkled in a glass.  The welcome sounds of home, especially after a tough travel trip.

“I just wish I had been able to find this before Mama died,” Amy hung her coat in the closet, “the missing link, my 7th great grandmother!  From there it was easy and I got back to 1832, Paris, to my 13th great grandmother, Amélie Gaubert.”

The truth was clear, even through tears; the tilt of her chin, her blond hair, wide smile, twinkling eyes; all so familiar; not identical, but a strong resemblance.  I had descendants generations older than me.

“She had a son, during the Paris insurrection of 1832.  She died giving birth so there’s no clue to the father.”  Amy crossed the room and lowered herself carefully onto my lap.  “Are you crying, darling?”

I wrapped my arms around her and our unborn son, “There’s nothing like coming home, to the ones you love; to family.”  I said, and kissed her.

[2nd Place Award, LinkedIn Writing Contest #15]

Escape

image:scrapbookheavenga

image:scrapbookheavenga

I was in the kitchen when I heard the roar of propellers.  So loud, they must be right overhead.  In my gut I knew it had to be them.  I went outside and looked for the searchlights that would be tracking Buffalo and Bear Cub.  I’d told them it was dangerous to go.  Or maybe I just thought it but never said anything.

High in the sky, an outhouse, a blacksmith’s anvil and a Christmas tree, their propellers making waves in the air above them, were north of where I stood, probably just about at the 10 Freeway.  No circling.  No searchlights.  They just hovered.  Back inside I turned on the TV to see if I could find a news report and there it was.  Breaking news.

The news camera caught the tears that fell upward where they met the flames falling from the car as it careened off Buffalo and hit the trailer of the semi as it barreled east on the 10 Freeway.  Before the spinning and clanging were finished five more cars were tangled in the tears and flames.  No one said whether or not there was anything left of Buffalo.  They wouldn’t give names, until the immediate families were notified.

Was Bear Cub gone as well or had she left Buffalo’s side when she saw the car’s bumper about to reach her nose?

I stood rooted to the spot as the reporter droned on.  I’d wanted Buffalo out of my life.  I’d dreamed up ways to end our relationship.  I’d thought about how to leave without alerting the world outside our four walls what our life really was.  Oh, she cleaned up well and put on a good show, but that wasn’t the real Buffalo.  The party had been over for a long time and I had come to the point where I no longer wanted to dance.

When she brought Bear Cub into the house, I’d stepped aside with a mix of relief and dread.  It was bizarre watching my dance partner cook with someone else, all the while telling me her driving days were over, that she was just being kind to Bear Cub.  Did that innocent know what was ahead?  Was Bear Cub even innocent?

The news report was replaced by the blare of a commercial and I was jolted into action.  At the hall closet I pulled out the golf bag, went into the bedroom and stuffed in all the wallpaper that would fit.  If I hurried, I could be gone before anyone realized that I had been here when Buffalo and Bear left.  I could deny all knowledge of the real Buffalo and Bear Cub.

Years went by when that house and Buffalo were a blurred memory, the details of that time watery and undefined.  Was it even Bear Cub or was it Lamb that was there at the end?  I couldn’t remember.  I was too wrapped up in my new life with its Saran Wrap and I was grateful I’d escaped unscathed by those days.

One day not too long ago I found a picture of Buffalo that had been taken in the old family home one time when I’d taken her with me for a family get together.  That must be why the memories had begun to come back.  I looked on facebook and twitter and LinkedIn every now and then to see how Buffalo was doing these days but I couldn’t find her anywhere.

I don’t even remember the last names of Lamb or Bear Cub and anyway, they’d probably be married by now and have new names, because after all, who would want to stay with Buffalo over a lifetime?  It has never even occurred to me that Buffalo’s name might have been changed as well.

Last night I woke with my heart pounding; the wax paper covers binding one sweaty arm, one leg cold and shivering.  It may be nearly forty years but I feel her hot breath, her sticky paws.  They said she died in that late night crash, but I know she’s out there somewhere.  I know she knows my real name.

Elastic Hands

image:123rf

image:123rf

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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.

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

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.

Salt

image:google

image:google

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

image:google

image:google

“Where’s the salt.  I need salt.”

“There’s no salt.”  I lied.

“Yes, there is.  I know there is.”

“This is your new salt, Lite Salt.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

image:google images

image:google images

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

“Oh, that’s right.”

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

Trailing Clouds of Glory

image:google:fineartamerica-semmick

image:google:fineartamerica-semmick

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

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

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

image:google:btccgl

image:google:btccgl

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

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

image:google:makebeautysimple

image:google:make
beautysimple

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

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

image:google:nytimes

image:google:nytimes

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

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

image:google-flickr

image:google-flickr

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

Siren Call

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

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

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

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

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

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

image:discoverlosangeles

image:discoverlosangeles

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

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

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

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

“Yes, Mother.  I’m here.”