And in this corner…….

image:alsplumbing

image:alsplumbing

The hot water faucet in Mother’s bathroom sink has been dripping for weeks.  Other urgent projects have filled my days and pushed this one aside, not that I can ever forget it.  The water bill reminds me as does Mother at least once a day.  But now, house clean, out of town guests come and gone, I can concentrate on this task.

Best to start by looking at an online video of how to repair a leaking faucet that appears simple enough, so I find pliers and head to the bathroom.  Getting it apart is not as simple as the video appears but after several trips back and forth to get additional tools, another look at the video, tries of various washers from a box of assorted items to repair leaky faucets, I finally get the whole thing back together.  It’s no longer dripping; now it runs a constant small stream.  My determination to be fiscally responsible and frugal has been met with failure.  My frustration at being thwarted is at the boiling point.  I will not give up.  I will get satisfaction from overcoming the obstacles of a ninety year old house.

 “Mother, I’ve turned the hot water off under your bathroom sink,” pliers, wrench, screwdrivers and rubber gloves fill my hands.

“How will I wash my face and teeth before I go to bed?”  She stops stirring the pot of Great White Northern Beans and stares at me.

“I’ll go to Home Depot tomorrow but until then, I can turn it back on for you.”  I dump all the tools back in the small catch-all box under the kitchen sink.

One of the art experts on “Antiques Roadshow” is talking about a platinum and diamond bracelet and Mother forgets the turned-off hot water in her bathroom.

I staggered out of bed earlier today to take a pill and remembered Mother’s faucet but when I opened the cabinet to turn the valve off, I realized the faucet wasn’t dripping.  She must have turned it off after I went to bed.  Hours later, I’m engrossed in an online discussion with other writers over pieces we’ve each submitted when I hear a faint sound.  High pitched, like a child.  I listen hard.  Is that my name?

“Vicky.  Vicky.”

I jump up and hurry from the office, through the kitchen, then the dining room and into the hall towards Mother’s closed bathroom door.  The closer I get, I can tell it’s her calling me.  “Vicky. Vicky.”  It sounds almost a wailing, like a small child calling for a parent.

I expect the worst as I throw open the bathroom door.  Mother is half sitting-half lying on the floor, her feet tangled in the pink bathroom rug, the sink cabinet doors open, the hot water faucet running just as it was yesterday.

“Did you fall?”  I reach down to help her steady into a sitting position.

“No.  I was trying to turn off the water.  I tried to bend down, but I couldn’t reach under the sink and now I can’t get up.”  She keeps struggling, trying to get her feet under her.

“Ok.  Breathe deeply.  Sit still until I can get a small stool to put under your bum.”  We’ve been here before.  Once she’s down, she has no strength in her legs and arms to get herself up and I can’t lift her, so she has to come up in stages.

She’s finally up and with a snack and some Royal Jelly nutrient to calm her nerves, she has stopped shaking.

“I can’t believe that wore me out so badly.”

“No more getting down anywhere, Mother.”  I clean out the faucet aerator on her sink, which was going to be her next project, if she had been able to unscrew it from the faucet.

My frustration does battle with my determination.  I will persevere.  I will conquer the tasks that need doing in this old house.  I will emerge triumphant.  I don’t have the skills or the right tools, but I will not be defeated.

“For who knows but what you have come to the kingdom for such a time as this,” (Esther 4:14) comes to mind; a statement from Mordecai to his niece Esther, as he reminded her that she might have to die in order to stand up for doing the right thing.  I doubt it will be that serious, but then, moving beyond frustrations and limitations can be a type of death; the type that leads to freedom and satisfaction at a job achieved and well done.  If only I can hang on that long, which of course I will for it is God who is at work within me, so as to will and to work for His good pleasure  (Ph 2:3).  So take that, frustration.

NIGHTMARE

dandelion sky

image:wallpapersforest

It felt good to know who I was.  My job paid enough that I lived in Beverly Hills adjacent.  Just a one bedroom apartment but fine for a single, career woman.  Only ten minutes from work and in Southern California’s one to two hour commutes, I was living easy.  My circle of friends from church and I went to movies, ate out and cared for each other.  I was loving it.

When I moved back to California, Mother wanted me to live and work near her and Daddy but my skills meant LA’s financial center and living near them in Pomona meant a two hour commute.  Still, weekend trips were doable.  I had the best of both worlds.

I had lost weight, had a new wardrobe, learned which colors and hairstyles looked good on me, was taking voice lessons and singing regularly at church.  The new pianist had a red sports car.  He was cute.  Life was good.

Mother was working on family genealogy when I got to the house that Friday night.  The dining room table held picture albums and family tree info.  She jumped up, piled things together and fretted over how she meant to have the table cleared for dinner.  At his desk, Daddy gave me a warm smile, a kiss and a hug.

Mother made Daddy’s favorite meal of steak and baked potatoes.  As we ate, I asked Daddy about his work driving around Southern California to meet with churches that needed financing for construction.  The talk turned to the genealogy Mother was compiling.

I was content.  The old, Spanish house with craftsman hardwoods was filled with pictures of my brothers and sister and their kids, Mother’s plants and knick-knacks covered every space, her various projects were stacked around.  The book shelves were overflowing.  Cozy and lived-in.

Daddy pushed his chair back, took off his glasses and cleaned them with his napkin.  Mother was still eating tiny bites.

“I found pictures of the house we lived in when you were born.”  She said.  “I had two babies and a toddler, all in diapers.  Your father was out working all day.  We propped you up in the corner of the couch with your bottle.”  She sipped her iced tea.  “Mama” she went on, “came out for the weekend and said, ‘That baby is failing; if you don’t want her, I’ll take her.’”

A knife-like pain hit my gut. I couldn’t breathe. I flushed hot.

“Well, it scared us to death, of course.  We never did that again.  We held you for every bottle.”  Mother went on cutting and chewing.  Daddy smiled at me and stood and carried his plate to the kitchen sink.

image:google images

image:google images

My head was spinning.  I didn’t remember the rest of the evening, but in the spare room, the twin bed tight against storage boxes, my sleep was flooded with old thoughts and feelings.  I didn’t fit in at school, was afraid to take an art class or join in sports or school clubs.  I could never make Mother happy.  She never approved of my hair, what I wore, what I wanted to do.  I never felt pretty or useful.  I was worthless.  I jerked awake as bile rose and threatened suffocation.  The pain in my gut told me I finally understood.

The next day I limped back to Beverly Hills adjacent, wounded and scarred.  One part of me weighed the facts: she was a young mother, busy, overwhelmed, tired; Daddy was working; they did the best they could.  The other part of me felt pain in my gut; ache in my heart; the need to know I was loved and valuable to Mother.  Life with Mother had always been about her, not me.  I felt weighted, drugged, my nose barely above the surface of heavy water, the swirling mists taking the shape of Mother.

I opened the door to my apartment and knew I had to choose.  I could drown in the nightmare of old memories, old programmed responses or I could embrace the new person I had become.  There was only one way out.  It would take time, but I couldn’t go back.  I would have to forgive.  I pushed through the heavy funk that swirled around me, opened the drapes and let in the light.  The specter of Mother in the murk faded away.

[3rd Place Award, LinkedIn Writing Contest #14]

Mirror Life

image:andrewkavanagh

image:andrewkavanagh

The walls were taller than I could see and the ceiling, if it was a ceiling, seemed to be a far off galaxy.  Both behind and in front of me, the walls stretched on and on.  I walked along trying to make out what was on the walls, squinting, straining, but the view stayed blurry.  Light seemed to bounce off the walls, sometimes showing the path clearly and other times I could only faintly see where to take the next step.  I’d go slowly then, careful to not stumble, which seemed to work out ok as the path felt smooth and easy.

From time to time the wall was lit by bright lights and beautiful colors strong enough to light up the brier ditch between the walls and the path.  Then the light that bounced off would die and I was surrounded again by dusk.  Other times the light seemed garish and harsh and strangely, fell to darkness before that ditch could be seen.

Maybe to really see I’d need to get closer to the wall but that meant I’d have to leave the smooth, easy path and cross through the briers.

I wanted to see detail.  I needed to understand.  I yearned to know more about those walls.  Why did they sometimes glimmer and other times feel dangerous?  Maybe I could jump over the ditch.  I needed to go.  I was afraid to go.  I could get scratched, wounded, harmed in that brier patch.  But staying on the smooth, easy path was making me uneasy, making me feel cheated, lost, unfulfilled, and empty.  I had to go.  I couldn’t go.

Was that Mother’s voice?  Yes, now I could see her.  She was on the other side of the ditch.

“I need……” she said, but her voice trailed off in the breeze.

How could I stay where it was safe and easy when she needed help?  I would go.  As I left the center of the smooth path and got closer to the brier patch it was clear I couldn’t jump it.  I’d have to place my feet carefully.  Slowly, wincing at the sting when a brier would scratch, I made my way through, until Mother reached towards me and pulled on my arm and I forced my way through the edge of the patch.

My legs were scratched, a drop of blood here and there but I’d made it.  Finally, I was close enough to see.  This world was lined with mirrors, not walls.  As Mother stood in front of her mirror, there were brief piercings of light and every now and then flashes of colorful flowers and birds and music, but mostly clouds of sadness and fear and pain blocked the light.

I walked on and at the next mirror found Daddy.  His mirror reflected blue sky, high mountain peaks, beautiful valleys and the sound of heavenly choirs singing.  I could feel the joy and peace flowing from the mirror, swirling around Daddy.  He smiled.

I didn’t want to go on.  I would stay and bask in the light of his mirror.

“This is my mirror.  You have your own journey.”  He said.  “Only you can take it, but don’t forget what I taught you.”

Tears in my eyes, a lump in my throat, yet excited for the adventure, I kept walking.  Each step I took drew me to other mirrors.  Friends, jobs, bosses, co-workers, family that kept multiplying, roommates, lovers; each had a mirror that was unique.  Years went by as I worked different jobs, lived in different places.  Sometimes there were dark clouds of pain and self-doubt in my mirror and from time to time a great light broke through and a celestial peace and joy swirled around me.  I learned I could not fashion my mirror for anyone else, nor could I force another’s mirror to reflect anything except the truth of their own choices.

Eventually my journey led me back to Mother’s mirror.  Hers was now alone, as Daddy was gone.  She needed me, so I stayed.  The reflection of my mirror often clashed with hers.  Her mirror pulled at me, drew me into its gaze, threatened to drown me; its tug strong as it pulled against the force of my resistance.

No, I wouldn’t go.  I would not embrace her dark clouds.  I’d worked hard to rest in the truth of my mirror.  I’d learned the ceiling to this life was that unknown galaxy where the Creator of this world of mirrors waits for each of us.  I would keep my eyes on Him who is author and finisher of our faith.

Resolved, I faced that I could love her but I couldn’t fix her.  All I could do was let the light of my mirror shine and pray she would make the right choice.

FIRST KISS

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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.

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.

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.

Salt

image:google

image:google

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

image:google

image:google

“Where’s the salt.  I need salt.”

“There’s no salt.”  I lied.

“Yes, there is.  I know there is.”

“This is your new salt, Lite Salt.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

image:google images

image:google images

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

“Oh, that’s right.”

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

Trailing Clouds of Glory

image:google:fineartamerica-semmick

image:google:fineartamerica-semmick

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

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

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

image:google:btccgl

image:google:btccgl

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

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

image:google:makebeautysimple

image:google:make
beautysimple

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

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

image:google:nytimes

image:google:nytimes

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

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

image:google-flickr

image:google-flickr

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