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

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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.

Salt

image:google

image:google

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

image:google

image:google

“Where’s the salt.  I need salt.”

“There’s no salt.”  I lied.

“Yes, there is.  I know there is.”

“This is your new salt, Lite Salt.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

image:google images

image:google images

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

“Oh, that’s right.”

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

free in the full void

Discordant beauty stems swiftly buying trails Feathers brush hard knocks inside                                                                           lulling tiny feet closer to their sort of original disarray re minding lost hearts                                    lost souls                             lost grips Swinging once ethereal sank      drank    stank Oh, to be free Oh, to be me No, to be thee       […]

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Vacation! Pack the headstone and burial plots

image:practicalmoneymastery

image:practicalmoney mastery

We’re planning a vacation!  Exciting, even if it does involves headstones and burial plots.  And, arrangements to make for travel to New Mexico to the cemetery.

It all takes me back to that night three years and eleven months ago.

Did I hear Daddy’s last breath?  I’d walked into the living room to close the front door against the evening air that had cooled down the stuffiness of the day’s warmth inside the house and realized that for the first time in nearly three days, Daddy’s loud, raspy breathing had calmed.

Was he breathing?  I concentrated to tune out the sounds of Mother clattering dishes in the kitchen as well as the sound of the TV in the dining room and tried to focus on the sounds right where I stood.

The lamps on the sofa end table and on the old sewing machine cabinet next to Daddy’s recliner usually cast a soft, warm glow across the red carpeting and made the brown of the room’s wood trim, the brown of the recliner and the gold, beige and brown of the sofa look comfortable and cozy.  Tonight the room they lit was changed as Daddy’s hospital bed, squeezed into the space between the recliner and the sofa, sucked all normality from the room.  He lay there just as he had for the last four days.  He looked unchanged, his withered, translucent skin pulled tight against shrunken bones, covered by a sheet, he was mostly unmoving, either sleeping or out of it due to the morphine and Ativan that hospice provided for comfort in his last days.  The nose plugs of the oxygen tubing were still in place, his mouth open slightly, his eyes closed, his skin color still the slightly yellow pallor it had been for weeks.  One thin, stick of an arm was outside the sheet, propped up on one of the pillows that had been placed along his side to keep him from wounding himself on the bed rails.  His skin was so fragile, it didn’t take much pressure to cause bruising and bleeding.

It had been four days since he’d wanted any water or food.  The last time he tried, it just wouldn’t go down.  The only thing that had been easy about his care since then was using the medicine dropper to put the drugs in his mouth to keep him comfortable.

In the few weeks that he was failing and able to do less and less for himself, we’d talked about the future and how he’d always planned to be there for Mother to the very end and how he would have to leave her now, when he didn’t want to leave her alone.  We talked about the things I would need to do to keep the house running and Mother able to stay in her home.  We talked about when he needed medication, what I could do to help him get from the bed to the wheelchair to the recliner to the wheelchair to the table.  He was responsive and mostly clear headed.  One of the effects of liver cancer is its effect on the brain and every now and then he would seem confused but for the most part he was lucid and knew who he was and who we were and what the daily issues were.

He was six weeks away from his eighty-ninth birthday and I would be surprised if there was a time in all those years that he was unmotivated.  Even as he got weaker, he got up every morning with a purpose.  That habit was hard to break.  It had just been five days earlier that he woke and sat up in the hospital bed in the morning and tried to get up.  I helped him dress and then said,

“Daddy, this is all further you have to get up.  Why don’t you just lie back down?”

“Oh.”  He said.  “All right.”

That was the last morning he spoke clearly and the last time he tried to follow his normal morning routine.  There was no fear on his part that he was leaving, no anxious grasping on to life.  There was never any regret on his part for the life he’d lived, because he lived it honestly and fully, every day.  He had nothing to confess, nothing to make right.  He’d done that along the way.  He’d invested himself fully in serving the God that he knew loved him and there was no doubt that God was waiting for him, as soon as his last breath in this life was expended.

image: google images

image: google images

Was this his last breath?  His chest seemed to contract and there was a slight hissing sound from him mouth, then he was still.  I moved closer to the bed and laid my hand on his skin.  Warm.  His chest did not move again.  There was no sound of air moving.

In the couple of hours that followed, Mother and I sat down to eat the dinner she’d been preparing.  We knew we had to have food to get us through.  Then I called all the family and Hospice.  Hospice sent a nurse who verified he had died and she called Loma Linda University where he had donated his body to science.

It was a hard night and the next day was torture.  Mother and I were exhausted and emotionally spent, yet the phone didn’t stop ringing, one niece came over and people from the church came.  Mother and I have said since, that if we could have, we would have taken that day away from everyone and everything.  The next day, we were back to normal and able to go on with plans.

image:digginitinc

image:digginitinc

Plans were fairly simple because it would be about two years before Daddy’s cremated remains would be released from the teaching hospital.  It was Daddy’s idea to donate their bodies to science, both because it was such an inexpensive way to take care of remains and because he liked the idea that even after his soul was bounding across heaven in a new heavenly body, his old body here just might do someone, somewhere, some good.

His remains were released last year and they wait patiently on a shelf at the funeral home.  We know he is not there.  He has begun eternity with Jesus in heaven and is unbothered that a few ashes are yet to be buried.  Mother has not felt physically able to make the eight hundred mile trip, but now she says it’s time, so we will choose headstones and go to see his remains interred in the plot in the small country cemetery where so many other Deans and Jones remains lay.

Daddy’s children, my brothers and my sister, will come from Texas and Tennessee and northern California to join us there and we’ll reminisce and laugh and play together and have a vacation away from our daily lives and Mother will bask in the attention of being surrounded by her children.  And I’ll have a vacation from being her sole caregiver.

image: the3dstudio

image:the3dstudio

We’ll need each other as we stand by that cemetery plot and see the headstone set and are reminded again of our loss and finality of what life comes to in this world.  Ashes.  Buried in a plot of ground.  And we’ll joy at the thought that one day we will all be together again, our souls unfettered by any loss or pain.  We’ll go on from there to continue life, living out the legacy our loving, faithful, funny, intelligent, caring Daddy gave us:  love God, love each other and live life fully.

Chocolate Gravy and Legacies

Mother is sleeping in her padded chair in the dining room while on the TV in front of her, a cooking show goes on and on about how to whip potatoes.  Funny, all those years I thought we were having mashed potatoes they were really whipped potatoes because Mother always did them just like the TV show says to do them if you want them whipped.  The test cook chef is amazed at this new recipe she has found and how good they are.  They should have been at Mother’s house for the last seven decades and they could have already had them.image source:cookscountry

I suppose that means we never really had mashed potatoes.  One thing we had that I bet most people didn’t, was chocolate gravy.  Over fresh, hot biscuits.  Wow.  I wanted to get my face down close to the plate and just shovel it in while savoring every bite and lick of the spoon.  It’s the consistency of gravy, but it’s chocolate.  Milk chocolate.  Not a glace, not a mousse, it’s gravy; chocolate gravy that runs down the side of the hot Bisquick biscuits straight out of the oven.  Man, it’s good.  Melts in your mouth.  Hits that chocolate itch perfectly.

I’ve only met two other people outside the family who knew what chocolate gravy was.  And they were clients I had in Nashville, a young woman who moved to town from a little country town in Oklahoma or Arkansas.  Her mother was in town to help her find a condo to buy and we had a good time visiting as we rode around looking at condos.  Turns out the mom made chocolate gravy!  I couldn’t believe someone else knew what that was.  And, of, course, they put it over hot biscuits.  Although, I think she made her biscuits from scratch.  Mother could too, but usually was too busy.

Mother always made yeast rolls for Thanksgiving and Christmas dinner.  They were made from scratch and were fabulous.  Yum.  One of those things that brings back memories the moment you smell that yeast in the oven.  Mother hasn’t made them in years because it’s a big job but my sister used the same recipe to make them all the years her girls were growing up.  Now my sister’s girls and grandchildren always ask for them at the holidays so she’s built the same memories in her family that we had growing up.

Lemon meringue and chocolate cream pies.  Mother made those from scratch too.  And in the summer, Daddy would buy a lug of peaches and Mother would make peach ice cream or sometimes, banana or fresh strawberry.  Once in a while, chocolate, but usually a fresh fruit ice cream.  Daddy would sit out on the back stoop, cranking the ice maker, filling the sides of the ice cream maker with rock salt and ice and talking to whoever would sit out there with him.

Someone was usually playing the piano, one of us kids running in and out the back door.  Or sitting on the couch, noses buried in a book.  My sister used to say that if I was reading she could never get my attention.  But what I remember are all the sounds of the house swirling around like background music to whatever I was reading.

About the time I moved to Nashville to sell houses, I gave my sister a big bag of books that I wasn’t taking with me and her husband said,image source:shereads.org

“We’ve lost her now.  She’d be buried in books for weeks.”

It runs in the family, this immersion in books.

When Daddy died, we donated over 1100 of his books to his favorite university.  I can now go online and search their library catalog and see his name there.  Such a nice feeling.  He left a quite a legacy.

Speaking of legacies, I remember being concerned when I was a girl that since I only had two brothers, the Dean name might not carry on.  I’ve since learned that there are millions of Deans, but most of them are in the Eastern United States or in Great Britain and European countries.  In my life, I have only personally met two, maybe three other families named Dean.

Turns out, I needn’t have worried.  My oldest brother has three sons to carry on the name and two grandsons, so far.  My other brother has four sons carrying on the name and they are all at marrying age and beginning their families.

Legacies are interesting.  It started with two, Mom and Dad.  Sixty four years later there are forty-six of us now, plus three deceased and another seven that left the family through divorce.  We stretch from the youngest who is about five months to Mother, the oldest at 85 with every age in between.

One year, there were four or five great-grand kids graduating high school the same year.  In the last year, four of the great-grand kids brought spouses or significant others into the family and started having babies.  Two more got engaged this year.

image source:mcmnetworkIt’s good being here so that Mother can stay in her home but it feels different from what I thought these years of my life would feel.  I miss being free to travel to my sister’s or my brothers’ houses.  Laughing with the kids and their kids.  I always thought I’d be there to support my nieces and nephews and their children.  I didn’t imagine that I would not be able to travel to their graduations or weddings.  But here I am, so that Mother can stay in her house.  That’s a good thing.  I’m happy to be here for her.  I just didn’t expect the limitations it would mean for me.

But then, I’m not sure you can really understand what your legacy will be.  A warm, safe home, with lights shining out the windows in the twilight and the smell of Mother’s cooking are what I remember.  That and Daddy’s peace and calm.  I guess I have to just trust that I built some legacy with my nieces and nephews and their children and that this part, this being stuck in one place, that’s part of the legacy as well.

To value or not to value….

image source:google images

     image source:google images

Monday night TV at our house is PBS and Antiques Roadshow.  First, the      original show that is recorded in Great Britain, which is especially fun because those antiques are really old.  Next is the American version with relatively newer antiques, followed by a new show this season, Market Warriors, which is about four buyers who hit flea markets and sale houses to find treasures that are then auctioned off, hopefully for a greater price than what the buyers spent to purchase the items.

The fun in watching these shows is to see if that stuff around the house that you thought was junk is just junk, or if that loved item that some ancestor was sure was valuable, really is valuable.  I like to test my knowledge and see if I can recognize the item before the expert tells us what it is.  I know what I like, but I also know that most of the ‘tells’ that indicate value or worthlessness are mostly Greek to me.  If I can learn by watching and guess the designer or manufacturer then maybe I can move beyond my ignorance. That isn’t the real reason though, because ignorance isn’t that big a deal; everyone is ignorant about something.  To change that, you just have to learn.

But can I move beyond an upbringing that was filled with cast-offs, cheap, mass-produced functionally adequate furniture, clothing, housewares – all devoid of any real beauty or value?  Can I move out of the cookie-cutter suburbs and into something that actually has some class?  We had no money, no class and no fine culture.  Can I cover up that basic beginning with a coat of sophistication like you’d cover over a cheap, pressed cardboard backed dresser with a new finish?  Will I then feel valuable?  Will I then BE valuable?

And what is real value?  Mother grew up with even less that we had when I was a child and she loves these shows as well.  Is that because she sees the beauty in things, whether of value or not?  Like the three-quarters finished paint by number canvases we found when going through stored boxes looking for the oil paintings she did years ago.  We hung her oil paintings in the house and I sat the paint by number canvases in the box for Goodwill.  Mother took them out of the box and keeps saying she is going to get some double stick tape and put them, unframed, up on the walls of her bedroom; walls that already have hanging on them the original oil paintings that she did as well as oils done by friends; walls that also have outdated calendars with pretty pictures but which can’t be thrown away because they’re pretty.

Why would she even care about the old paint by number paintings?  Is she able to see some beauty that I can’t?  Doesn’t she know how tacky they will look on the walls?  Actually, I can see the beauty of the scene, if you stand far enough back that you don’t key in on the paint by number aspect, but there’s no monetary or resell value to it.  So, why keep it?  Why clutter up the full walls with one more thing that is cheap and mass-produced?

The clutter that covers every space in the house drowns out all beauty for me.  It’s too much.  It threatens to close in on me, so my mind’s eye tries to shut it out and it becomes some dark, busy background that drives out the air and leaves me feeling stifled and I find myself breathing shallowly, barely existing.

And then, some person on Antiques Roadshow brings out their treasured tchotchke and the appraiser tells them it’s worth hundreds or maybe thousands and as I look at it my childhood memory is jogged.  Mother turns me and says that the one she has, that is just like the one on TV is in the cedar chest, and “don’t forget to keep it, don’t send it to Goodwill.”

image source: google images

image source: google images

My breathing expands, I take in more air.  There is value, right here in all the clutter.  Right here in my classless childhood.  Not really because there’s something here that’s worth some monetary amount, but because Mother, whose family survived the Dust Bowl, the depression and years as itinerant workers, recognized value and held on to it.  And I see that she has a classiness that I had missed before.  A classiness that has nothing to do with things and everything to do with the intrinsic value we each have.  We’re God’s creation.  We are the thing of value.  All the stuff that fills up life, whether it’s sophisticated and expensive or classless and cheap is just that, stuff.  Once again I see that I do have value, and with that reminder, I have hope that I can look beyond the things and recognize the true beauty around me and the real value within.

Fudge Roller Coaster

Mother had been saying for weeks that she and Winzona had made easy and wonderful fudge one year and she wanted some fudge.

“If no one sends us some fudge for Christmas, then I’ll make some.”  She kept saying.source:DeanFamilyPhotos

“Ok.”  She probably shouldn’t push herself that hard and besides, it had dairy in it which meant I shouldn’t eat it, so I’d just as soon she didn’t make it.  I love fudge and having it in the house would be torture.  When she put the extra needed ingredients on the grocery list and I got them, hoping she’d forget.

As I concentrated at the computer, I slowly became aware that through the door behind me Mother was moving around in the kitchen.  And it was more than just putting her dirty breakfast dishes in the sink.  She was getting pans, pulling things out of the cupboards and the refrigerator.

“What’cha doing?”  I asked, without turning around or moving from the computer.

“Making fudge.”  There was no talking her out of it now.  I should have ordered that gluten and dairy free fudge I found online last week but I kept hoping we’d get the box of homemade goodies that Holly, my nephew Andrew’s wife, said she was sending.

It was probably at least thirty-five minutes later that I left the computer to see how Mother was doing with this “easy” recipe.  It was true there weren’t many steps or many ingredients but her sighs of fatigue over expended energy had finally penetrated my concentration.

“It’s the stirring over low heat that takes the longest time.”  She was standing at the stove stirring and looked like she could fold at any moment.  It may have been leaning on the spoon as she stirred that kept her upright.

The fudge looked thick and rich and wonderful.  “Do you want me to stir for you?”

“No.  I think it’s ready.”  She turned off the burner, reached for the greased Pyrex dish and began to pour the hot fudge into the dish.

She was at the sink running water into the mixing bowl and pan when I came back through the kitchen on my way out the back door.  The fudge looked luscious as it cooled in the Pyrex dish.

“I have to go sit down before I fall down.”  She turned off the water and reached for her cane.

“Good idea.”

I got back from the post office and headed to the dining room with the stack of mail.  The house had a wonderful chocolate aroma.  Mother was in her normal spot at the table, wrapped in a gray sweater with her new brown and teal electric heated lap robe over her lap and legs.  She was sound asleep, ink pen in hand, the crossword puzzle she had been working on the table before her, the TV turned to a cooking show with the sound muted, the radio on the sideboard behind her playing classical music.  She looked all of eighty-five, half folded over like that, her hair graying more all the time.

She woke with the sound and movement of the mail being dumped on the table.

“That stirring was hard work.  It wore me out.”  She said as she straightened some in her chair.  “Oh, that kills my neck when I fall asleep like that.”

“Look what Holly sent us.  Fudge!  And some gluten free goodies!”

Mother sorted the mail into piles and started opening Christmas cards.  “I wanted to make fudge.  So I did.”

“Good for you.”  There was no point in telling her now that it was too hard on her.  “I’m sure it will be delicious.”  My resolve had been slipping since the very first aroma of the cooking fudge and with this box of Christmas goodies the last of any resolve faded away.  Christmas goodie binge, here I come.  I would pay for it, I knew, but at the moment, I didn’t care.

Ten days later, we had consumed all of her fudge, and I had consumed most of Holly’s chocolate and peanut butter fudge, the gluten free chocolate covered pretzels and some of the cookies she’d sent.  The last remaining pieces we boxed up and sent along with a Christmas food basket to a needy family.  My body fared better than expected at first on all those goodies but the sugar and chocolate stimulant withdrawal had begun and I was beginning to feel its effects.

Mother, meanwhile, had spent ten days exhausted and house bound, her arm aching from all the stirring.  She missed church and spent some of everyday sleeping in the recliner with her feet elevated until she finally began to feel like herself once again.

“Making that fudge did me in.”  She said

“Me too, Mother, me too.”