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?

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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.

Genesis

image:bkt-6

image:bkt-6

Rock ward they come, flashes of green and turquoise,
flapping, squawking, on pillowed flight dives
t0 crash with shale splitting and crumbling.

Crabbing up; down; jolting into spars and squabbles,
attacking in nibbles to sharpen, scrape and toughen,
swirling away again in brilliant pinks and purples.

image:galleries.neaq

image:galleries.neaq

Round breath pushes through the watery murk,
iridescent, swift, gliding past, flitting up and down,
smoothly cresting, diving, frenzied
at the red until all is devoured;
again just murk, gliding swift, innocent and smooth.

image;google pics

image;google pics

Buried by multitudinous greens and yellows,
life crawls, hops, flits, scampers yet
some indeed change before the unannounced pounce.

The brilliant tomb rises
a heavenward peon, masking its
scarlet, turquoise, emerald,
gold, silver progeny;
some will emerge and soar,
others hide in its canopy shade.amazon greenpeace org

Creation’s circular splurt feeds
saplings and seedlings that giant
into green and yellow hues
that ever creep onward,
swallowing up the forward path, oozing out moisture, each drop falling
up, up, up, gathering at the top on its way to slide down, down, down;
new life ever buds and bursts and reaches.

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.

Albuquerque Treasures

image source:Examiner

image source:Examiner

Albuquerque is an old city with history that dates back to indigenous people (we used to call them American Indians) in the 1100’s, to Spain in the 1500’s, to early American settlers who traveled west from the early American colonies to farm and ranch its valleys, to Statehood in 1912.  Albuquerque’s long and unique history includes historic Highway 66, a high-tech era that began with WWII and included the first computer language BASIC and the start of Microsoft and continues today.  Artists of all types began their love of the startling hues and patterns of the landscape of New Mexico centuries ago and the influence of their art lives on and inspires today’s artists.

As an Albuquerque born native who left the state too early to remember anything, I know nothing about the politics that shape the city and state or about any rivalries that may divide its people, but I can say that as a recent visitor there, that Albuquerque has done a bang-up job of presenting a united front.  Reminders of the cultural mark of authentic Southwestern jewelry, pottery and adobe style architecture are everywhere.

image source:Albuquerque Homes

image source:Albuquerque Homes

Native designed towers around Albuquerque

Native designed towers around Albuquerque

We saw the theme repeated as we drove past small adobe houses, past oversized decorative pottery in the center medians along the freeway, past huge office buildings, past recent apartment complexes designed to look like the clift dweller homes early indigenous people once inhabited, past bronze statues and tall totem pole type structures and past Albuquerque Deco (art deco with a southwestern influence).  Even the highway dividers on the eight lane freeway have designs similar to petroglyphs carved into the stone walls.

image source:Albuquerque Homes

image source:Albuquerque Homes

For out-of-towners, now many decades Californians, it all seemed charming and quaint to my sister and I.  For Mother, she mostly reminisced about how the city used to look and how much it had changed.

Albuquerque High School now the Lofts at Albuquerque High

Albuquerque High School now the Lofts at Albuquerque High

One well done change was the renovation to the old Albuquerque High School on Central Ave., downtown.  Mother talked fondly about her years there and could still name her girlfriends from the classes of 1946 and 47.  The brick complex looks well maintained and is now a condominium project with private, secure access for its dwellers.  The sales woman at Skip Maisel’s Indian Jewelry on Central Avenue told us that her daughter owns one of the condos and they still have the original 1914 wood floors and the common area hallways still have the original tile on the walls.  Not only was I impressed with the way they preserved a historic building, it’s exactly the type of place in which I wouldn’t mind living.

Speaking of Skip Maisel’s, we hadn’t been in Albuquerque long when Winzona said she wanted some turquoise jewelry while we were in town.  Mother’s immediate reply was,

Mother and I at Maisel's

Mother and I at Maisel’s

Maisel's in silver dollars on the sidewalk

  Maisel’s name in silver dollars on the sidewalk

“We have to go downtown to Maisel’s.”

“What’s Maisel’s?”  Winzona and I asked.

The place for Indian jewelry.”

This struck me as humorous.  In one  breath Mother was talking about how  things had changed so much she didn’t know how to tell us to get to the area where our motel was located and she frequently can’t remember the names of her great great grandchildren but she suddenly remembered an authentic Indian jewelry store that I’d never heard her mention before this trip and which she hadn’t been inside of for over sixty years.

We did shop at Maisel’s and all of us found some lovely things.  And we drove the old familiar roads looking for Aunt Ellis and Uncle Bud’s house on Rio Grande and Aunt Birdie’s on Charles Place.  It took some searching and a second trip with addresses in hand, but we eventually found both.

Aunt Bertha and Mother

Aunt Bertha and Mother

One of the must do’s on our list was to see Aunt Bertha who will be 99 in a few weeks.  She’s in an assisted living facility where she has good care and other than a spotty memory, she’s doing well.  She knew Mother and said she remembered knowing about me (even though I had seen her several times in the last fifteen years), but she didn’t remember Winzona or Larry.  She definitely knew Trevie, but then she took care of him much of the first year of his life as Daddy’s first wife died giving birth to him.  He was thirteen months old when Daddy and Mother married, so Aunt Bertha and Mother are the only mothers Trevie knew.

We also saw Aunt Lois, whose dementia allows her to forget that Benard, my mother’s brother, has been dead for many years now.  Lois already had four children when she married Uncle Benard and they visited with Daddy and Mother several times over the years but all of us kids were already gone from home by the time she and Uncle Benard married so I didn’t expect her to know me or Winzona, but she chatted like all of us were old friends.  She’s in a care facility for Alzheimer’s patients and she said to Mother as we were leaving,

Aunt Lois, her daughter Terri and Mother

Aunt Lois, her daughter Terri and Mother

“I’ll stay home and not go fishing tomorrow if you’ll come back to see me again.”

She also forgets that her son is dead as is one of her grandsons, but she appears happy and content.  That seems a blessing to me.  If you’re going to lose who you are, as long as you’re happy and content, what’s the big deal?

Mother was a trouper on this trip.  She just kept pushing through her weariness and the pain of her scoliosis as she was determined to enjoy having her children around her and to do what it took to see extended family in New Mexico.  She’s the last of the eight children in her immediate family.  Aunt Lois is the only surviving spouse of all four of Mother’s brothers and Mother and Aunt Bertha are the surviving wives of the Dean brothers.  Everyone else is gone now.  So it was bittersweet for Mother, but that’s part of what this trip was all about: giving Mother one last chance to see her old home, to visit family and to see the headstone for her and Daddy.

“I think what made this trip so great,” Mother said a day or so after we got home, “is that I had all my children with me.”

And isn’t that what family memories, wherever we’re from, really come down to?  Treasuring each other.

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

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

Together Again in Albuquerque

image source: Winzona Rothchild

image source: Winzona Rothchild

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

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

image source: Winzona Rothchild

Winzona and Mother

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

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

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

image source: Winzona Rothchild

image source: Winzona Rothchild

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

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

“There’s the Mama Bear and her cub.”

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

image source: Winzona Rothchild

image source: Winzona Rothchild

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

“Oh, I’m dizzy.”  Mother said.

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

image source: Winzona Rothchild

image source: Winzona Rothchild

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

image source: Winzona Rothchild

image source: Winzona Rothchild

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

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

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

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

Hope Lives

image:divinevoice

image:divinevoice

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

image:all-that-is-interesting

image:all-that-is-interesting

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

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

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

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

“It’s time for bed.”

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

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

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

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

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

image:google images

image:google images

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Thank you for helping me pack.”

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

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

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

“Hush!  You’ll wake the kids.”

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

image: google images

image source: google images

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

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

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.

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

image:voice.yahoo

image:voice.yahoo

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

image:teavana

image:teavana

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

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

“Take it back.” Julienne said.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

image:dreamstime

image:dreamstime

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Raining Apricots

image:google images

image:google images

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

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

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

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

image:google images

image:google images

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

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

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

“You’re going to help me.”

“I am?”

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

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

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

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

“Thank you.”

“You’re welcome.”

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

“All done.”  She says.

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

image:Mother's garden

image:Mother’s garden

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

“Good idea, Mother.”

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

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

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