FIRST KISS

The idea had startled me but as we talked about it and I gave it some thought, it seemed the natural thing to do.  My brother, Mark, who had been my defender against teasing at school and who had made sure I went to college after our parents died my senior year of high school, Mark needed me to do this.  He was the one who had stayed by my side and helped me out of despair when my Ron was killed in that train derailment, so how could I refuse him?

His Elaine had been pregnant I don’t know how many times, but never able to carry a baby to term.  She was now desperate and Mark, faithful, strong, loving, rescuing Mark, had asked me to do this for them.

Why not?  Ron and I had no children, I would not marry again, and had no desire for children, but I could do this and give back to Mark some of what he had given me.

The in vitro was an easy outpatient procedure, a mere day away from work. I managed the museum staff by day and at night fed my cat and put my feet up with a book just as I had the last ten years.  The little fertilized seed grew.  I explained the favor for Mark and Elaine to my staff as I began to show and life went on, predictable and uneventful.

Mark and Elaine were thrilled.  Mark pampered and Elaine gushed and giddied and I smiled in indulgence.  Elaine had baby showers and everyone seemed so impressed I would do this, which seemed a little extreme; after all, I wasn’t doing much more than carrying the package for them.  I’d always been strong physically and while I will admit the last two months had been uncomfortable, none of it seemed that difficult or impossible.

Tonight, however, I could not rest or find ease lying, sitting or standing.  I’d been to the bathroom again as my bladder seemed to stay squashed and just as I maneuvered myself carefully back onto the bed, my water broke.  I called the taxi and Mark, and then waddled out the door.

“Don’t push!”  The nurse commanded.  The glare of the delivery room lights bounced off the white walls and bored through my closed eyelids as I huffed and panted and gritted my teeth through the long slog up the hill with each contraction and slid down the other side when they eased.  The sound of monitor beeping mingled with the overhead hospital intercom and the faint noises the nurses and doctor made as they worked.

Mark and Elaine, gowned and masked, on either side of the delivery table, gripped my hands; Mark telling me how great I was doing and Elaine crying.  She had pressed into my hand a small silver cross on a ribbon for her baby’s wrist and every push, every pain, every effort seemed poured into the rounded edges of that cross as it made indentations in my palm.

Then came the great wave of release followed by the sound of the first cry of the baby girl I had carried into the world.  My head was spinning as the nurses and doctor gave more instructions and worked to finish the job.  Mark pried his hand from mine and took the bundle the nurse handed him.

“Thank you,” he said into my eyes as he leaned over and placed the bundle next to me so that I could see what I had done for him.  His eyes brimmed with tears; his face was lit up with a huge grin.

She was beautiful!  I kissed her cheek and a huge rip opened my heart.  Out bloomed a wave of longing, love, desire and beauty.  All those things I hadn’t felt since Ron was killed.

Mark picked up his daughter and handed her to her mother, Elaine, whose face shone with joy even through her tears.  “Thank you, God.  Thank you, God.” she kept saying.

Those months of life pushing and kicking; that little heart beating against mine now pierced my heart and I was back among the living.  That first kiss had set me free. Free to ache, to feel sorrow and pain, free to cry again.  Through my tears I could see Mark with his arms around Elaine as hers held their baby girl, their heads bent together.  I wanted to be in that hug, but from here on out, I would be Aunt.

[2nd Place Award-LinkedIn Writing Contest #13]

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?

From Here to There

Sparkly flits and spurt bugs have run wild,
brandishing a trail of psyche inevitably.
Grapple hooks flat,
impenetrable brain’s surge
drain dense and sluggish,
once jaunty and fresh they swarmed and skirted until
today’s rest, their gray now flogged.

But despair not, the hot-cold soiree may seem wryly random
but does it not whelp a shine,
a flight with no observable track?
Is it not the grunge gate that purges and solidifies?

If there’s no tree identity,
no purpose basket,
no goal spire,
is not all refrain?
What gain where there’s jellies
easy slide?  The track stalls on the gum.

Will beyond the blue
spring and dance those ids?
Prick away the dung towels for fragile?

It hails: squish the eyes,
catch the spring;
beckons that later gateway,
to yearn and hold during
Terra’s slog air
that began tiny, white,
on its tattering to its end,
where wasted away to minuscule,
all the in between fluff and bluster
have erasure swap,
it’s begun its morph.

image: google images

image source: google images

The ether burst is bright,
unvarnished, yet savvy.
The flight arrived,
the exodus completed
at last deemed quit.

But, hark!  It’s not quit,
it’s just begun,
this time without the drag,
the sobriety chip,
the overweening searchlight.

Welkin punches no such tickets.

Ode to GERD*

image:solonband

image:solonband

Performed daily by Mother

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

Mezzo piano:

BURP, cough, SPIT, gag.

BURP, cough, SPIT, gag.

Swallow another pill, Go back to the Coda:

BURP.  Cough.  SPIT.  Gag.

BURP, cough, SPIT, gag.

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

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

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

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

BURP, cough, SPIT, gag.

BURP, cough, SPIT, gag.

Ad-infinitum

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

Water Blessings

image:alsplumbing

image:alsplumbing

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

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

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

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

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

image source:layoutsparks

image source:layoutsparks

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

image source:trialx

image source:trialx

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

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

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

image source:frugalbits.

image source:frugalbits.

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

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

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

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

image: google images

image source: google images

“Here,” she says, “have one.”

“Thank you, Mother.”

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

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.

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.

Security Systems

image:allservicesspecialists

image:allservicesspecialists

The kid that knocked on the front door yesterday afternoon knew his stuff.  The hook to his pitch drew me in immediately.

“If we choose your house as tester for our security system, we won’t charge you for the service.”

I decided to hear him out rather than just give the standard brush off of “no thanks, we’re not interested” used when any door to door or phone salesperson called.

Behind me, mother sat next to the dining room table, her feet soaking in a tub of hot, soapy water, her toes being softened up so that she could cut the nails.  She’d taken off her red twill pants as the pant legs couldn’t be rolled up easily and had draped a dark green bath towel over her bare thighs.  This was her quarterly routine, or maybe bi-annually, if she wasn’t very motivated and the toenails could wait on their trimming.  She’d gotten cold sitting there, watching TV, waiting on the softening process and had just asked me to take her the red sweater she left on her regular chair on the other side of the dining table.  She looked rather festive: red sweater, green towel, bare calves above the blue tub where her feet were covered with bubbles, nail clippers at the ready on the table next to her, her hair freshly washed and curled and styled.

The kid at the door asked if there was somewhere we could sit and talk and I suggested the three foot high wide wall around the porch.  I unlocked the wrought iron security screen door and headed outside.

“What’s going on?”  Mother called, a frown between her eyes.

I waved at her and closed the door behind me and went to sit on the porch wall to listen to a sales pitch.  It was interesting watching and listening to the young guy, early twenties, dark skinned; I would have said black, but his last name was Ramirez, so I guessed he was some combination of Black and Hispanic; he knew his info and did a good job of telling me about it rather than just reciting some script.  He’d break grammar rules every now and then and also threw in some expressions that he was familiar with that definitely placed him in the millennial generation.  It was like watching and interacting with someone who spoke the same language but with a different dialect; after all, I am from a half a century before that generation.

He had several good points and whoever had trained him had a nice grasp of successful sales.  Ask the questions that get the potential buyer to acknowledge their own need and then show them how that need can be fulfilled.  I recognized the technique from my days as a Realtor as one half my brain critiqued his method and ability and the other half thought about what we could get for nothing just for sticking a sign in the yard and the agreement to use our name as a reference.

Mother was elderly; I did need to leave her alone from time to time; she was a worrier over safely as she followed behind me to make sure doors and windows were locked; it was possible that a medical emergency could occur while I was away or even when I was in the house but unaware that she’d fallen in the garden; and yes, we did live just a few houses away from an area that was seeing an increase in crime, so, it was true we would benefit from the security system; and yes, they would cover the monthly monitoring fee, the installation fee and the cost of the wireless equipment.  The only catch was that we would have to pay the monthly fee of $12 a week that the company passed on to the local authorities for ambulance, fire, and police response.  $12 a week.  Didn’t sound like much, $48 a month.  It would be a squeeze to fit it in the budget, but still, it was a great bargain and it should bring Mother some sense of security and alleviate my concern whenever I’m away.  I was sold.  It would be worth the cost.

“I need to discuss this with my Mother before I commit.”  I said.  “This is her house and her money and she needs time to think about this.”  All true, but the reality is I manage the money and the bills and if I felt we could cover something we wanted or needed, Mother generally deferred to my judgment.  Still, I wouldn’t make the decision without talking to her, not to mention I’d learned the cooling off period before signing on the dotted line was generally a wise idea.

We said our goodbyes, he went on to other appointments and agreed to return in a couple of hours and I went back inside.

image:stepbystep

image:stepbystep

“Now tell me what that was all about.”  Mother had just about finished trimming her toenails and was drying her feet and moaning over the pain in her back caused by bending over the tub of water.

I took a deep breath and launched into a detailed description of the system and how we would benefit if anyone broke in or if she had a medical emergency; my mouth moving, words coming out, while my brain was thinking: this thing has to be armed which will confuse Mother and if it goes off and she doesn’t respond to the voice activated intercom call from the monitoring company, they’ll send fire and police out and we’ll be charged if there’s not a real emergency.

“How will we afford it?”  She said, putting her red twill pants and black sandals back on.  “Can’t we get a medical alert for less than that all by itself?”

“Possibly.”  I said as I dumped out the tub of soapy water into the toilet in her bathroom and watched the water slush and gurgle down the drain, a nagging sense of pressure building at adding another bill to the monthly budget.  $12 a week, 52 weeks a year, divided by 12 months and, suddenly that $12 became $52 a month; beyond  our budget; beyond the resources of Mother’s retirement money unless we cut something else out.

Mother’s cane cloncked across the floor as she moved to her regular spot at the dining room table, sat down and unmuted the TV, her attention back on the screen and off any discussion of a security system.

Ok, God.  Do we need this thing?  We’ve lived this long knowing that you’re in control and have got our backs.  Besides, I have no idea how long Mother will live, what her health issues will be.  Do I need to stress over adding another bill to the budget?

image: google images

image source: google images

And just like that, the excitement over the thought of something for not much cost and the building dread over another bill faded away and in its place a peace floated down and reminded me that we’re ok just like we are.  God loves us and watches out for us.  I breathed in and out and smiled and headed to the kitchen to put dinner on the table.  Thank you, God, for cooling off periods.

Juggling

Today my brother got inside one of my rentals in Nashville.  Finally – after weeks of my trying to coordinate schedules between him and the tenant.  He does his best to look after things since I’m not there much these days and I’m grateful for his willingness to help, to be my onsite eyes.  I know it’s a frustration to him to have to work with a constantly moving target and it’s a frustration to the tenant to know that her life will be disrupted for those few minutes.

Two thousand miles to the west, out the curving highway that pushes its way through the verdant, lush, rolling hills of Tennessee, through green valleys and mountains of central Arkansas, across the grass plains of Oklahoma, north and up and over its western mountains, ever gaining height to the magnificent peaks of Colorado; then descending from their heavenly aeries down into the high desert of New Mexico, the summer heat in an impossibly blue sky brewing huge billows of white that erupt in lighting and thunder and water that kisses the sage and pinon pine so that they live another year; the highway rolls on, slowly loosing height in Arizona as it skirts the deep ravine that is the Grand Canyon, moving on to travel south of the lower tip of Nevada to snake below sea level across the California desert until it reaches its destination in the Pomona Valley, once known for its oranges, now a tired city inhabited by ever increasing percentages of Spanish speaking people who work and play and raise their children and survive in a town where the heat of the summer and the decreasing property values hang over the atmosphere.

image:simonsfoundation

image:simonsfoundation

There I live as ringmaster in my little world, playing the juggler, tossing up balls: the rentals, the tenants, my brother, the cost of owning property, the income they bring in; the balls go up and down, each one caught and tossed high again and again, periodically joined by new balls: the washer is on the fritz, up goes a ball; the gate and fence are broken down, up goes a ball; the porch light hangs precariously, its electrical wires exposed to the elements, up goes a ball; the roof is leaking, up goes a ball.  And on and on, the balls go round and round and up and down; my arms tire, my resolve flags, but I summon forth new resolve as the tenants pay the rents and so the circus act continues another month.

Maybe I’ll just chuck the whole thing and let that load slide off my hands to land where it may, affecting what it may, my eyes and mind numbed shut by the daily frustration of managing property; equally difficult whether from a distance or near.  Of course, part of that frustration gag is that the tenant doesn’t tell me when there are problems, which means I can’t stay ahead of the maintenance and cost curve rabbit.  I want her to understand that I don’t want to be a slumlord.  It costs much less to keep it up peeling as we go along than it does to rebuild a portion of the fence.  Is she used to no one caring?  Has she become accustomed to people treating her badly, hitting at her and doing battle with her spears instead of treating her with respect?

And if I just let it all go, there goes any retirement equity right along with it, and then there’s the mortgages to deal with and the resultant cratering of my credit, so no, I don’t drop the balls; I keep on catching them and tossing them heavenward once again, this time with a prayer and a plea: give me strength, God!  I can’t see that my arm muscles are any larger or firmer, but my prayer muscle sure is.

image:confetticouture

image:confetticouture

I’m hit with the thought that recurs with frequency these days: anything worth having takes work.  I’m pretty sure that was one of the first lessons I learned as a kid.  It took work to keep the family fed and the clothes washed and the bathrooms cleaned and the furniture dusted and the beds made and the dishes washed and the car running and the lawns mowed and then there was homework to do and places to be on time because Daddy didn’t like being late and we’d better not hold up the caravan.  All four of us kids had our appointed tasks and we don’t seem to be any the worse for it, now that we’re adults.

What happened to that knowledge?  What changed that there are whole segments of society that believe it’s the job of someone else to meet all their needs?  Did not everyone get the memo that was lived out in our house?

Somewhere along the side of the winding highway that we travel between the cradle and the grave, or perhaps behind the pretty façade of our socially acceptable fashions and haircuts and fast cars and big houses; or possibly lost in the thrill of having the latest technical toy that works at lightning speed so that we’re always entertained; somewhere in all the stuff we find necessary in the 21st Century, that truth was lost: anything worth having takes work.

I admit that I find it just as easy as the next guy or gal to let someone else do the heavy lifting, but a funny thing happens when that becomes my pattern, I get bored.  Dissatisfied.  Unfulfilled.  Depressed.  Lethargic.  Nagged at that this laziness is eating through my soul and will leave me morally and ethically cratered and one day, instead of waking up to a fresh morning, my soul will drift along the ceiling looking down on my wasted form which has turned to dust and is sifting away in the slight movement of the air in my stale bedroom.

So, bring on the balls, let me get juggling.  There are tasks to accomplish; places to go; people to know, cities and towns and countries to see, and life, life is out there for the taking.

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.