Monthly Archives: May 2010

Undies

Clothes line cotillion, bow, hands to the basket, grab the wet sheets give them a shake, throw it over the line, my little self too short to reach all the way up, wooden pins hang in a flowery bag, always one in each hand, two in the mouth,  spread the cool cloth, stretch it taut, wipe away the wrinkles, straight and even, don’t let it touch the grass.

 The damp cotton sheets stand guard on the outside of the line, towels opposite on the other outside line,  and then and only then, and under the cover of clean cotton can you hang the underwear in the middle line, between them and out of sight. 

I stand in the in-between, the wet sheets cooling the desert breeze, bleach and white and light, stand between the sheets and the towels, hanging the panties where no-one can see. 

Undies are neither to be seen, acknowledged or discussed and never are they hung first, nor are they hung without their protective sheets or towel cotton coverings. One might have to  wash and wear them, but they are not to been seen.

Times haven’t changed much. It’s still true.

Despite all this,  I am thong see my lacy strap above my jeans nonsense,  Victoria Secret Fashion Show bravado, underwear is still tucked away.

It is a fact.

I have proof.

It is a universal truth that woman upon donning a paper gown for any,  please take everything off including the underwear exams,  will fold tuck and somehow tuck and cover, or otherwise hide her undies under her other clothes.  

They are the last thing off, then tucked away out of sight under anything else. 

Once I confess I pondered where to tuck my panties as I changed into the paper gown, I had worn a dress and hung it on a hanger.

 The nickers were just out there on the chair, screaming at me,  it was just wrong. I had nowhere to tuck, nothing with which to cover.

So I stuffed them into my shoe. 

We are a Nation of  Tucker’s.

Go ahead ask a woman.

I dare you.

While I’m telling all, let me fill you in on another universal truth.

If you have seen her in her underwear,  that was a choice she made long ago,  way before the evening came to this possible ending.

Like  Bridget Jones told us,  underwear selection on a gal is the best thermometer for what the end of the date entails.

The spankies that suck everything in, can’t eat, can’t get them back up after peeing undies, the slinky beautiful pair that cover nothing and hide in ones crevasses, the comfortable cotton grannie panty, or the boy short that just makes one sigh with comfort, and begs the question;  Are men really this comfortable in their underwear? 

Bastards! No itchy seams that dig into the waist or hip or leg?  No strangling elastic? Don’t even get me started on bra’s and underwire discomfort. The injustice of it all !

If my boy shorts are to be believed, men have had it made when it comes to their drawers and we woman need to demand equal opportunity in undie comfort.  

So it isn’t dinner, the close conversation, exploring common interests that decide what happens at the end of the date. 

It’s the careful selection of undies, or lack of them that will ultimately decide.

As careful as undies are  selected washed, worn and folded away, they sometimes escape. 

There is nothing nastier than a strange untucked, lost pair of undies out in a public place.

Think about it…ewe…gross… yucky comes to mind.

I try to remember to shake the legs, or turn the pants inside out before taking them to the cleaners.  I try.

Sometimes the pile is large and I miss a pair. Sometimes I’m in a rush and as I wait my turn  there has been a clingy pair of undies that falls out of the pant leg right there in the dry cleaners.  I stoop quickly and grab them up, but bless my heart it has happened.

The last time I shook all the pants while waiting to get to the drive through window, and a pair of grannies fell out onto my lap. In a hurry for work, I stuffed them into the glovebox, went on with my day, and forgot  all about the undies in the glove box.

So when the boy came home from college and borrowed the car I thought nothing of it.

I had forgotten all about the grannies in the box.

He came home late, the mommie mind still cleaning wiping worrying until all children are home, safe and tucked away,  was still up.

“Did you have a good night?” I ask.

“Ah yes…mom,” he looks at the floor. Something is wrong I can sense it.

“Whats wrong?”

“I found this in the glove box,”  he hands me my grannies. “and I don’t even want to know how they got there…”

He walks away to bed accompanied by my cackles.

It never pays to laugh, the undies are listening…

The car was a fancy one, the dealership far away, I pull on my jeans and boots, we have decided to take the plunge and buy a car.

It’s a long way, nervous and uncomfortable like when I enter gated communities, always feeling I feel as if I don’t belong, don’t fit in, I enter the dealership head down, husband follows. He thinks my reluctance ridiculous, laughable even.

No one is in sight. It is quiet, solemn showroom a shrine to perceived success; its gleaming cars fanned out before me most with price tags on par with buying a house, not a depreciating vehicle. I walk around as I hear hushed whispers, a beautiful and probably thong wearing woman  approaches my husband, she smiles and touches his arm, then retreats. Off to get the requested sales rep I suppose.

I continue my slow walk around and look into the windows of the beautiful German machines.

It’s then I spy it. Something white on the floor behind me, and my stomach drops.

Husband and sales guy see it to. They approach.

Heart racing I watch as the salesman bends and picks up the white cotton fabric.

I turn away, can’t watch. Wonder why I am always the Lucy in my life, why these things always follow me around, cheeks are on fire.

“Yours?” he queries as he holds it out.

A white sock.

I shake my head no…like he and the husband  and thong girl all  just didn’t see that fall out of my pant leg. 

“What can I say,”  the husband  laughs, “Your cars just blew her sock off!” 

 A nod my head, mortified,  knowing it could have been oh so much worse.

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George

The bus was long gone, the Griffith Elementary School parking lot was empty, the girl scout leader slowed as she drove away,  waved goodbye and said, “I’m sure your mom will be here any second.”

My little sixth grade self sits on the Samsonite which was deposited on the sidewalk,  on the outside of the fence, not even worried a bit; my parents always showed-up…at least they did … until today.

They had to remember, after all,  I had been away to camp for a week!

The sun was starting to slant, I stared across  the street to Pierce Park, looking at the giant trees lining the west side of the park that I had always wanted to climb. They were already casting large shadows; giant dark fingers grabbing the grass. 

The dark. It was starting to get dark. Time to get home, time to get in, time for supper, time to check in, be home before dark… time.

I was only really afraid of the dark. 

The closet in my room, the string from the light hung down seemed to move all by itself and changed everything into a monster.

Then there was the dark under my bed. 

I jumped a long way from the door to bed each night,  so whatever moved in under the bed while I was gone all day,  couldn’t get me.  If I was very very brave, I would hang my head over the side, and slowly pull the covers up, and peek under. But that didn’t happen very often, and never when it was really really dark…

I was still safe if I had to put one foot down after I jumped for the bed, but not two. Two steps, and then I would have to call out,

 “DAD!” 

He always came, and tucked me in,  tucked arms in couldn’t move tight, tight like a wee sausage roll, tight and safe; he on his knees next to the bed would kiss me, smooth my hair from my face, tuck my hair behind my ears, away from my eyes, and suddenly the dark things weren’t so scary anymore.

 I wondered which way to go, through the park, through the dark fingers to Thomas mall, and then look for the movie sign.

 The movie sign, the billboard was just at the top of my street. If I could find the sign, I could look across 44th street and see Lewis Ave. and I would almost be home,  sweet home. 

But the dark fingers were all the way across now. There was no going that way.

I turned into the sun and made for 44th street. I would follow the sidewalk down, then across Oak St. and then walk until I saw the movie sign.

The Samsonite had two little wheels, and a strap on the opposite side, convenient!   Not.

The little me pulled that giant suit case down the sidewalk, the two-wheel and strappy handle Samsonite down the sidewalk muttering the entire way…In my imagination I was greeted with cheers and tears

“Oh I can’t believe we forgot you, our golden child, oh what terrible parents we are, oh will you ever forgive us?”

I plotted my revenge, what gifts they the parents who forgot would have to bestow upon me,  the golden child,  because of their forgetting….what could I ask for….? The world was mine for the asking…

It was a long while before I reached the house, the suitcase was heavy, I stopped and sat, and started out each time with a new want clear in my mind…candy, shoes, or a new pet? Oh boy they are going to pay for this!

I opened wide the door triumphant, pull the Samsonite its last few yards and slam the door behind me.

NOW they will pay!

My baby sister Michele skips through the living room singing, it takes me a moment to hear her words…

“Papa’s dead, Papa’s dead, Papa’s dead….”, she sings.

She is only  5, one does forgive, eventually.

Papa, my only Papa, my mother’s father, the gentle giant.

 The breath is gone, I go to my room, head hung,  can it be true? Can it be my Papa is dead?

I count my memories of him on a single hand.

One.

Splinters in my feet.

Dad built a deck off the house, i am 4 or 5… i sit then stand, then run,  the tiny pieces of wood enter my feet, painful.

Papa, my mother’s father, takes me in his lap. The pain fades with his soft hands as he takes the splinters from my tiny feet.

Two.

Christmas 1967. Wispy Walker Doll. She is blonde,  taller than I am, and walks, how? I take her to the cellar and take her apart, trying to discover her secrets, then can not put her back together. He finds me there, puts Wispy Blonde Walker back together and never ever tells anyone, never ever, crossed his heart and hoped to die he promised me,  never to tell, and he never did, he kept his promise and told no one, ever.

Three.

George… George … George of the Jungle, watch out for that tree! My Papa is learning to drive. He has moved from Springburn Scotland after retirement, and my sisters and I are in the back of the wagon as my Dad is giving  Papa a driving lesson. Papa’s name is George, George of the Jungle is currently a cartoon high in our cultural vocabulary. So my sisters and I sing  and rock back and forth from the backseat, “George,  George,  George of the Jungle,  watch out for that tree! ”  as he learns to drive.  He is not pleased. 

Four.

Papa now driving has driven across the United States to Arizona, I am up a tree in the  front yard, see him pull in to the driveway.

 “Is it a dream!” I yell as I dive into his arms.

Five.

Pumpkin Pie. Driving from the Worlds Fair in Toronto, he spies a church bake sale, and buys a pie. Approaching the U.S. border, he is compelled to toss said pie out the window, as all immigrants in the car fear they will be jailed for bringing a Canadian pumpkin pie across the border. I think of Papa every time I spy,  a pumpkin pie.

Harris Tweed jacket, stingy brim hat, and always a shirt and tie.

A bookbinder by trade, with the magical ability to gild the edges of a book, create swirled end papers,  and then bind it all in leather. Springburn  Scotland Masonic Lodge member, a moustache  that tickled, proper,  smiling,  finger missing Papa.

He had lost the four fingers  of his left hand mid joint as a lad working at Collins Book Binders.

He would tell us when we asked, “Papa what happened to your fingers?”

“Cut them off and ate them as sausages!”

We would squeal.

Gone.

All gone.

It was the only time I saw my mother cry, standing there ironing, getting ready to travel to her fathers funeral. Well that,  and the time she got bleach in her eye. But that doesn’t really count.

Dad says, “guess you have heard…”

Thats all.

There was no sorry, no excuse, no reason given. even my little sixth grader self understood.

He was gone, my mother was an orphan forever more, my Papa who had crossed oceans, sworn oaths, bound books was gone forever.

I know my wish now, know what I want, and know it will never come true.

I just want him back, for a little while.

And still as I sit and tell the tale almost 40 years later,  George is still missed, as much as that day I walked home alone from camp, and  I still want him back.

There is so much I don’t know about George.

I have another hand to fill with memories.

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This I can Do

“Morning”.  Always, every time,  his first word.

Then the stumble, the squat, the reaching for a chair.  Half dressed he appears now, no belt or socks, there are in hand, shirt untucked, pants open. He sits for a moment, “Boy… I’m dizzy this morning”, always comes next.

The trip to the bathroom when he has recovered, then coffee and meds, and porridge and TV news, and news paper, and crossword,  always in pen.

“Going to look around the estate.”  His walk around the house and yard, wide-brimmed Panama Jack straw hat on. He squats, every few feet,  then looks to see if I am watching.  Like a mother of a toddler, I try not to be alarmed at the stumbling steps. I wave and move on with the morning.

It takes a few seconds for my eyes to adjust when I enter.  

Always the same, drapes and blinds closed. Allow nothing in!  No air,  no light,  no life. 

Sheets and bed covers pulled up straight, over the pillows up, cover it all up, no room for play, he has made the soft white feather down duvet look ridged with his stern bed making.

There is no comfort here. The air is still, and the odor unpalatable, clean-up  a must. 

I take the dirty clothes to the laundry room, strip the bed, open the drapes and blinds,  let in light and air and life; it rushes in and fills the dark places.

Lemon pledge happy spray, wipe and wax clean. Vacuum away the tracks and stillness,  spray and wipe the baseboards, Mrs. Meyer’s lavender  all-purpose meets lemon and light, exhale.  Better.

Sheets fresh bed made, clothes hung, whites away in drawers.

 This I can do.

Melon and berries, half a ham and cheese with tomato and mustard, apple juice and something to crunch,  call him in,  for a simple lunch.

This I can do.

Find the channel, watch him sink into the chair,  feet up, water and medicine down, sometimes he naps, sometimes not. Sometimes  he just sits, waiting.

I know his favorite part of a chicken,  the wings.

He says he doesn’t like sugar in his coffee, but if it is easier he says, “go ahead and put one tiny sugar in mine too,  just like yours.”

He doesn’t like to ask for help.  He will sit and watch nothing rather than ask for help in changing the channel.

He does not want a wheel chair, although he is house bound without one, he will not even talk about it, yet. 

His vision is worse when he awakens in the morning and better as the day goes on. 

He loves history, and the History Channel, and programmes which show men working,  “a good days work”.

He forgets things, sometimes right after I tell him, he loves to putter in the yard, pulling wayward blades and weeds, and I know one other thing. 

I know he is just waiting to die.

This I can not do.

Just waiting and watching,  along with just shutting up,  are not really my strong suits.

Griff  started working at 14 on the British Rail, worked there for 19 years before coming to the United States and becoming a pole climbing,  gaff wearing GTE lineman, then a cable line trench digging crewman, and finally hotel maintainance man; has always been an active guy.  

A mans man, a stick- the- desk- job- up- your -ass,  kinda fella.

He even went as far as turning down promotions that had  even a slight odor of management, he preferred the crew, and camaraderie, the thrill of plain hard work.

While still in Florida, Griff and I were reading the paper on the patio, an article announced the rail system routes for a new proposed electric rail from Tampa to Orlando. Griff reads the article, lowers the paper, looks at me and says,

“I could get a job on this new rail, they will need men with rail experience…”

I nod. Silent.

Multiple System Atrophy, autonomic hypertension, parkinsonism symptoms, dementia, and age 73, but damn it,  he could do it.

Have to admire his work ethic. 

He is nothing if not a man who after working for almost 60 years, is still defined by the hard work he loves.

He is also defined by the things he doesn’t  like, paperwork, writing, and generally doing anything with the finances, or educating himself about his illness and general physical decline. This  other stuff was left to Hilda.

With her loss, he is left  really non-functioning in these areas of his life. He is a man who doesn’t understand anything about what is happening to him on the most basic level, and so he sits, and tells me, 

“This waiting to die,  really sucks.”

He leaves the room.

This I can not do.

I think of the line from The Shawshank Redemption, but leave it alone. 

After a while I knock on his door.

“Are you going to bed or what?”

“I was reading about my disease, my neck was sore and I wondered if it was because of my crouching tiger syndrome.”

He comes back into the living room.

“You shouldn’t look at a medical book that is 25 years old and produced my Readers Digest Griff, we have a computer ….I have a whole bunch of information on your illness printed out, do you want to see it?”

I get it and hand it to him.

The conversation is started, I ask him what he knows about his illness, which turns out is nothing other than the names, and the fact that the Doctors told him,

“There is nothing we can do for you”.

The web sites are few, the support groups sorely lacking in support, but a DVD is available I find on my search for information.

He watched the 30 minute infomercial about MSA, turned to me and said,

“I could relate to a lot of that”.

“Did you know I read that Johnny Cash had MSA?”

Then came the question…

“Did he die of it?”

I know he isn’t really asking me if Johnny Cash died of MSA. I know what he is really asking is Am I going to die of MSA?

I remember while in Florida before Hilda died, Jackie arrived and Griff grabbed my arm and said,

“Don’t tell her that her mother is dying.”

“The hospital bed is in the family room, hospice is in the picture, I have called her to come and you really don’t think she knows her mother is dying?” I asked.

Lets just say this side of the family is a little emotionally constipated at times. Over protective stick your head in the sand when it comes to emotional issues kinda constipated.

“Griff you know you have a debilitating progressive illness that will not stop. We don’t know what tomorrow will bring, but you have to decide what you want to do with today, just today, ok? ”

He nods.

“He died of breathing complications I think,  which can be a leading cause of fatality to those with your illness.”

“Oh” came his reply.

“But it also says most folks have issues with incontinence, and you don’t …”

“True, that’s true…I read that too!”

I look outside, see the wilt on the hydrangea bush.

“So do you think you think those plants in the pots need a drink or what?”

“I”ll get on that.”

“I’ll get the beers.”

I watch him shuffle off , and I get the beers knowing,  at least today,

this I can do.

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Beauty

I am not that  easily rattled. I have no problem relocating spiders, or beetles,  or any manner of bugs, from their unwelcome wander in the house, back outside. 

I love being alone in the dark, and walking solo in foreign lands when I don’t speak a word of the language,  doesn’t scare.

The faster the coaster, the better. 

Public speaking is refreshing, debating a delight, new things?  Bring them on.

There is one thing, however,  that does scare …  the beauty counter at department stores. 

They are there, the beautiful women.   Not a hair out-of-place, skin glowing perfection, lips lined,  hands and nails flawless, standing there in their black smocks. One look  and I actually start to hyperventilate.

I have never understood. I know not what this, forgive me Betty,  what this part of the Feminine Mystique holds.

And more importantly, why I didn’t get any. It’s like a sorority I never got the invitation to rush.

It’s not for want of trying. Mascara once applied draws not the right attention. My daughters look at me and say,

“Mom do you have mascara on? Can I fix it ?”

Or even worse, it is forgotten and an itchy eye or face rub instantly turns me into Alice Cooper. 

I do not own an eye lash curler, eye liner, or  concealer stick.

My pores are noticable as are freckles, moles, and crows feet. I used to exit the shower with a rosy glow, and consider myself lucky. Now I have been informed, at a whisper,  my rosy glow is rosacea, and it should be hidden. 

I just don’t get it. I have watched late night TV infomercials, ordered easy mineral products, Looks so natural!  I have contour maps and application schemes, all for naught. The magic products when applied leave me looking  like something between Penny Wise the sewer strolling clown, and Mimi from The Drew Carey Show.

After all that worry, shame, conformity and expense, one just washes it off. Money down the drain.

I just don’t get it.

Vanity does exist however, only the form is slighty bent to keeping hair off the upper lip and chin, places that until age 45 I didn’t know needed deforestation on a regular basis.

Oh yes,  lets no forget the big  toe. Heaven help me the first ever pedicure at age 45 also left me speechless, the few wisps on my big toe while far from hobbit like, I soon learned were also a cause for more  shame than my poor LSAT score.  Bless my heart.

A new TV habit has also left me rather speechless of late. While watching a show that is obviously not meant for the 48-year-old grannie demographic,  I saw a commercial which I had never seen before. After seeing the commercial three times, on the fourth play I screamed for my youngest girl child, almost 16 to witness it with me. 

“Ok are you seeing this?!” I screamed.

“What mom?”

 “As the long-legged gal walked past that shrub…did you see it?”

“What… that it changed shape?”

“Yes, and then the second time it changed too!  It morphed into a different shape…did you see it?”

“Yes…. mom, the ad is for a personal groomer, the shrub is meant to represent…you know mom,  it’s a shrub get it? …Please mom…you get it right?”

I got it.  I was completely and utterly mute.  

There is so much I don’t know. I just though you should keep the private parts covered with clothing. I had no idea they were offensive in their natural state and needed electric appliances all of their own. I shall not discuss an earlier episode where I attempted a self-waxing product that I neglected to read the entire directions of before hand, and in a state of distraction left it on way to long. Lets just say I found myself praying to any deity that would take pity on my old vain ass. I was weeks in mental recovery, and vowed to forever more always wear a  swim suit that covered…everything.

So bless me father for I have sinned, I have never purchased anything from the beauty counter people, not once. I avoid them at all costs.

Only slightly less dreadful is going to a shopping mall. I can never find pants short enough, tops long enough, or  a reason good enough,  to go. 

My friends frequently laugh and tell me, “you know.. those pants are long on you, but they are really capris,  right?”   shit.

The last time I actually went shopping, as a separate and planned activity was 2003.

Louise,  my lanky English friend, who can never find pants long enough, whatthefuckever,  and I, went to Victoria’s Secret.

Big mistake.

We both bought the same bra, and exited the store with pretty pink shopping bags.

Louise’s petite bag was the size of a lunch sack, mine looked like it could hold a  complete set of bath towels.

We both purchased the same bra, a single bra. Is it any wonder I don’t like shopping?  

With one exception, shopping at the shoe department at Nordstrom’s.

It is a mecca of wonder, and although I have been every size from a 2 to a 18, my feet remain faithful size, which size you ask? noneofyourbusiness.

Can you see my problem? 

One has to both go to the mall, and pass the beauty counter to reach the magical kingdom of designer shoedom.

It takes me weeks to work up the courage to go where the average teenager spends most of her time, the mall. Like… it’s the mall, like its just THE place to go!

Despite careful plotting and planning the beauty counter stands between me and my goal, the shoes…and there are also black smocks with silver trays handing out free samples! Crap.

I take a deep breath, see my route before me and start to walk fast. I leave the gauntlet of beauties behind without making eye contact, my eyes on the prize; just ahead, a pair of black wrapped leather wedges, a  Faryl Robin’s shoe, the Madison…exhale ooh la la fabulous… I leave thoughts of beauty counter behind me…

I spy some Sam Edelman’s soft grey suede, beaded delights with two little buckles on the ankle,  the Quinley..omg I need to sit down.

The Cole Haan’s  Ceci Air Rose is more than I can bare. The soft petal sling backs leave me wanting a cigarette, and I don’t even smoke.

My only thought as I walk the floor wearing more than the rent on my first apartment on my feet is relief.

Thank God I remembered to shave my big toe.

 

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The Chapel of Saint Augustine

Sunday service, adorned with closed toed shoes, wide-brimmed hat, comfortable breezy,  easy wearing cotton and hands graced with gloves.

Out the kitchen, push the button, raise the garage door,  step into sunshine,  breathe deep,  The Chapel of Saint Augustine awaits.

Choke open,  pull the cord, one,  twice, roaring  felt only in my hands, melody of mowing today Simon and Garfunkel,  America to start.

iPod buds in place, all the way up,  exhale.

Grasp the handle, push down the long drive,  spy the uneven course ahead, irregular blades, soon to be mended, soon all will be right, even and orderly.

Where to begin, vary direction but not destination;  up and down, north to south,  or east to west,  side to side.

Step onto the soft green, begin. Over lap my steps, so nothing is missed.

Scold not the blades with the sharp scalpel, a gentle reminder is all that is needed.  Too short and the fire flies will not come to play, too short and the birds have no errands with insects, too short and the blades brown in the sun. Softly tend.

Round the  humble deciduous faithful. The faithful who allow themselves to be stripped bare with each season.  They know the sun will come again, that the seasons are just seasons. The humble  deciduous faithful, take care with the earth around their feet, even the faithful have tender roots.

Once shorn, the edges stand mocking, a fringe that needs to be cut down to size. The bright orange  electric cord trails as I walk the edge, trimmer turned. A dark smooth edge the goal, a groove of dirt, a barrier of earth, a clean border between living green and hard stone, an outline like children do with crayons on a colored page.

The granular molasses is then tossed on,  corn meal too,  feed the earth,  my chapel foundations strong from years of  worship.  I smell the sweet organic food, stuff of strength and safety. Here I stop, turn off the music, sit  in quiet, listen to the birds, and have my malted  liquid communion in full sun.  The winds blow, make the faithful dance and bow in their new dresses of spring.

Mr. Cardinal sings, his chirps are short each a triplet of sound, seeming to shout … look at me… look at me…look at me!

And one does,  finds him high above in the canopy hidden in the green a bold splash of red to accompany his bold song.

Mrs. Cardinal answers, a single… nip.

A single reply, less for show, a serious reply, no time to play.

The lizards crawl along the stone walls, males stop to show their push ups, spread wide to enlarge their width and breadth, and expose their folded chin colored displays, all lonely looking for love, these signs of courtship.

The zipper spider,  she weaves her wonders without rest between house and tree, her yellow bright as she is busy, busy,  ever busy making ready.

The geckos are still hidden, in their space above my door, they will come again tonight, when porch light draws their food close, I watch their chubby fingers wide mouths quick to catch the moths, their buffet filled by the porch light nightly.

The smell of the weed killer turns my attention to the side yard. He is there,  spraying poison onto his weeds, into the air, where it then leeches into my nose, and onto my green carpet,  contaminating my chapel. I take out the silent ear buds, and nod, my face flush as he sees me, waves and crosses to me,  pernicious liquid still in his hand.

I retain my composure as he says, “Boy, I’ve been watching you… you really have some skill with that weed whacker”

my mind purrs ahead…I think I could knock him down and use the electic trimmer on his jugular, the iron from his blood would feed my roses….but alas, the poison in his hands would spill out and contaminate my chapel  further…

I remain silent, looking up at the uninitiated. I have had the conversion conversation before, many times, tried my best to sway him. He compliments, praises and smiles his empty-headed smile, then retreats,  and remains devout to his toxic yard maintainance routine.

“How do you like that electric blower there?  I asked for one this year as a father’s day present…”

I rise and turn the blower on him, literally. I blow his feet, then the woman made air whips his pant legs, his lower legs, and I start to rise with the wind a soft smile grows both inside and out.

He laughs, “That is powerful! ….You sure work hard on this lawn.”

you have no idea…

His laugh stops, and he waves me off. I am kind and turn the blower off,  he knows not how much I wanted to just blow him away.

“It isn’t work, it is worship, and this… is my  sanctuary,”  I hold my arms out wide…

He takes a few steps in retreat, literally taken aback by my words.  He a man of wood and brick churches that house a grey old man-god, one who rules with fear. He looks at me then, and smiles a quick smile, walks away, his poison ready in  his hand, heart, mind and tongue.

He retreats words unspoken, so unworthy.  He turns around once as if to see if I am still watching, and I am.

I am always watching.

I watch as they all cross my yard, walk up my path,  handing me cards for lawn service. I watch as they stop their trucks, shaking their heads, approach me and hand me their lines. I listen, nod and take a card, they offer free first time services, offer to free up my time,

” A lady such as you should not be mowing,” they chant.

I send them all away. They do not understand.

I am not a lady, I am a knight-errant, this is not lawn work, this is my sanctuary, the green fresh Chapel of Saint Augustine, and you are all deemed unworthy of its worship.

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Mothers Day

February 2002

I didn’t see her at first. I turned and stepped down into the room, and couldn’t see her beneath the huge mountain of blankets and pillows on the bed. She was tiny, with size five feet, and fingers, and she hated the way the steroids made her slight frame swell. It was common knowledge that my mother limited and self regulated her own medication to hinder that most undesirable effect, looking fat. It would not be a stretch to say my mother was a slightly vain creature.

My sister had called me and asked if I was ready. She the nurse, the caretaker, the one we all turned to in times of medical crisis called, had called me, of course I was ready. I am coming, I heard myself say.

Yes, full time college student and mother of three, but I heard myself say, I am coming. Now maybe other husbands are more modern, more hands on, but mine, well he is the ” where does the silverware go?” questioning type on his rare empty the dishwasher trek to the kitchen made twice annually on both Mothers Day and my birthday. But I didn’t think, I knew I had to go. He could handle it. The family could handle it. And they did.

But I could not stay away. That is what I have come to realize. My motivation for going really had more to do with me not knowing, not seeing first hand than with anything else.

I drove to school and withdrew, not knowing when I would return. At the registrar’s office I filled out the forms…where it asked for reason I simply scrawled, my mother is dying. And as I write this I remember being worried if I had spelled dying correctly, one very rarely writes that word, and it looks just wrong.

The nurse sister, Dawn had two small children at the time, a newborn, and a two year old and I flew from Texas to Connecticut to help her fly back with the boys. We were numb. She had been there already but needed her children, so I flew to her, and we flew back together. Mostly quiet on the flight, and were searched thoroughly, including dumping of breast milk and taking off of baby diapers, as we had purchased one way tickets to Phoenix, a cardinal sin, we didn’t know how long we would be.  Two,  grieving,  five foot two inch woman terrorists with their extra mini me’s age two and newborn, are after all an obvious threat to national security.

My father was not sitting not next to mom, who was still a mass under the pile of blankets, but on the sofa, in their garage conversion apartment.  They came full circle, was my first thought. When first married, my parents lived in cold water flat in Springburn Scotland, with a shared bath down the hall. All the women who lived on each floor took turns sweeping the floor and stairs my mother told me. And cleaning the bathroom, which was only a toilet and a sink. For a shower or bath they ventured down the street to the Baths. Everyone they know lived like this.  They lived in a tenement, a one room apartment.  Here they are again, living in a one room place with a shared bath down the hall, my brothers converted garage.

Dad clutched a paper in his hand, which had been folded in half length wise. He moved the paper from his hand to his back pocket, but never put it down. Much later he did put it down, and I was able to read it.  

It was the signs of death, a sheet that a hospice worker had given him, and next to each of the signs or stages, were numbers written in his angular slanted print. It took me a moment, but I finally realized that the numbers weren’t numbers.
They were times. Dad had been keeping track of the moments, the times when each stage started and completed. He wrote the time each symptom or stage had appeared neatly in the margin, some were underlined once some twice.   At the bottom of the page was neatly written,

1 egg,
½  a cup of oat meal,
1 pound of ground chuck
Salt
Pepper
350 for 45 minutes

It was Mom’s recipe for meatloaf. 

He was doing what he could do, which was watch and tally, and try to not think or feel, it was all he could do to survive. She died a month shy of their 45th wedding anniversary. Mom may have been dying but Dad was not going to be without her meatloaf. 

Dawn and I went to Moms beside, where my dad not knowing what else to do had heaped and tucked every blanket they ever owned on top of her seemingly sleeping form. She was medicated with liquid morphine, a little dropper vile was bedside, Dawn examined it with a knowledgeable eye and said, “ Jesus Christ Dad,  Moms  sweating to death here…”

And then Dawn put me to work. We were doing what we could do which was to wash and clean, and care, and try not to think or feel, try not to fall apart like a poorly basted dress…that could come later. Now was the time for ushering, for helping her teach us our final lesson.

We took the blankets off, one at a time, pealed them away and with every layer, her form became smaller and smaller, until at last she was there, a slight childlike form, her night gown soaked through. Mom needed to be washed. So we washed her. We filled a basin and got her favorite rain bath and started to wash and dry each part of her as she had done for us.  Our cheeks and chins ran with tears as we acknowledged her body before us, her tiny feet which once danced and wore beautiful shoes, her legs that ran and chased us, her arms, that held us, her breast which fed us, we went slowly and carefully with great care, and when at last she was clean, Dawn schooled me in changing a bed sheet with the patient still in it.  My sister and I moved as one as we stripped the bed, carefully holding mom and rolling her ever so slightly to first move the old sheet, placed on a new one. Each movement was slow care-full, full of thought and purpose.

 We watched and listened to her breath between every motion. We got her new nightgown, and cut it up the back as to more easily dress her and to not disturb her peace. We stopped and looked at each other then, just before redressing her. It was then Dawn left the room and returned with the Jean Nate. We then proceeded to cover our mother in Jean Nate lemon fresh fragrance. We giggled a bit, slipped her arms in her fresh gown, propped her pillows to help with her breathing, covered her with a fresh soft sheet, and then with mom clean and seemingly more at ease, we sat beside her and had a cup of tea.

Our mother’s death bed became our playground then. We lay next to her, sat next to her, and ate our meals next to her. We even had the babies on the bed, right there next to mom. Dawn was braver than I, she was the voice then, I was not. I was the watcher, helper but she was the one who spoke to Mom.

I remembered music then, and ran for the CD I had brought from home. I thought that Mom should have something to listen to.

She had not regained consciousness, not since a few days before our arrival. But I felt on some level she was still here, smelling the Jean Nate. So I put on the Enya CD. It was soothing and Scottish after all.  And those words usually can’t be used in the same sentence.  For the next few hours we watched our mother breathe, and listened to her breath, and listened to Enya sing our mother into death.

Her breathing was labored, and had a strange pitch a whining wheeze that is referred to the death rattle. Each breath was different, no timing or rhythm, no flow. It was awkward and uneven. Time was stopped for us, was it only a matter of hours ago we entered and found her beneath the mountain of blankets? It seemed like days. We watched as her chest rose ever so slightly. It would fall, and we would look, and place our hands on her chest to feel the rise come again, wait, wait to see if it she was going to take a breath.

And then while Enya sang the song, The Wild Child , she took her last breath. We waited for another but it never came.   Gone with the last breath was the strain the tension and the pain from her face. She looked younger after death, she looked better after death, she really did. 

The Harvey’s Bristol Cream Sherry was brought out soon after, and we sat upon our mother’s bed and drank a dram of her favorite drink and touched her and Dawn told me the story of her last uttered word.

For Valentine’s Day, Mom received a box of chocolates. She was a chocolate hound….She loved British Chocolate, like Black Magic, Flakey bars, Mars bars and Cadbury Fruit and Nut. Rose’s chocolates were also a favorite. Soon after receiving candy for Valentines, Mom lost consciousness. The hospice worker was convinced she would never come out of it, and it was then I got the call from my sister. But Mom was not through yet. A few hours later, she regained consciousness, yelled “Chocolate!” and without opening her eyes, reached into the box on her bed and stuffed it into her mouth.

Her last word was CHOCOLATE!

Mom stayed with us for a few hours before we called the number the hospice worker had provided. We were comfortable there, talking and drinking and telling stories. But we had another task before we rested that night. Soon the time came and we had to pick out something for Mom to be cremated in. It didn’t seem fitting after all that she be cremated naked.

Dawn and I thought a while, and then it hit us. The purple dress she had worn for her 25 year anniversary party. It was sparkly and silky and she had loved it.

We placed her favorite animal head slippers on her feet, and gave the attendant her purple dress, and that’s the way she went out into eternity.

I hope she liked what we picked.

Like the forgetfulness we can have after having a child, looking down into that new face, our memories of  the hours of hard labor fade. Soon some of us are even lulled into a false memory… it wasn’t really that bad, wouldn’t it be wonderful to have a baby in the house again?

Nature has a way of protecting us. If we really remembered every agonizing detail the human race would end afterall.

It the same with death.

 The first time I waited for death it was my own mothers, in February 2002.

The second  was my husbands, in February 2010.

Happy Mothers Day,  Helen and Hilda. 

Love,

Sha

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Circle of Life

She teeters with joy and glee, full speed ahead, unbalanced,  side to side almost tipping,  arms out, learning to walk.  The hardest part is changing directions. She falls, resorts to her familiar and quite efficient mode of transport, the Mowgli walk, as in Mowgli from the Jungle Book. She is on all fours, back legs straight, bottom up, she scurries away,  bored with us, her captive audience.

He is almost upright for a moment, then stoops over, holds his thighs with straight arms, becomes a human carpenters square, bending over more, then finally squats to the ground hands steady in front of him, keep him from tipping all the way over and going ass over tea cups.  He neither likes nor appreciates an audience, and one politely asks if he is ok, to which he always replies, “just a little dizzy”. 

She walks and toddles to our clapping smiles and laughs. Looks for cheers to continue.

He stoops to silence make no fuss, he is after all, “just a little dizzy”.  The protocol then is to look away after making sure he isn’t going all the way,  unconscious fall on the ground down better get him to the ER for stitches, down. It hasn’t happened yet, he feels it coming he says, a strange vertigo sensation, floor rising, and falling away, the extra special effect played out in real life,  I wonder if it feels  anything like  Hitchcock made it look like in Vertigo…

She is taking first steps, soon running off  into the world,  ambulatory and free at last,  building up speed,  hard to catch.

He is taking some of his last, refuses assistance, wheel chair or scooter.  He will soon slow and will  maybe cease refusing. His illness is unrelenting, progressive and terminal. I think when he is reduced to doing the duck walk  to the bathroom, he will allow  some assistance.

She is weighed and patted and checked for progress, milestones marked cause for celebration.
 
He is weighed, and patted the progress of his disease is noted and  is always cause for concern. 
 
He suffers from Multiple System Atrophy,  a slow degenerative disease different from Parkinson’s, although it shares some of the same delightful characteristics.  
MSA is also called Shy-Dragers Syndrome, that’s what Griff calls his disease, or rather what he used to call it.

He started by calling it Shy-Dragon, which then morphed into Crouching Dragon since he spends the majority of his days crouched in a squat, a literal squat as in,  this is how a woman pees when camping,  squat.

The squat is his go to position for trying not to pass out. I have decided to count how many times a day he squats it must be at least two or three an hour, I’m betting 30 for the entire day. I am counting them, starting tomorrow for he never reports these almost passes out “spells” to the Dr. because he tells me, “Almost doesn’t count”.

Bullshit. I am counting.

The humor of squatting to remain erect isn’t lost on me.

Shy-Dragers became, Shy Dragon, then Crouching Dragon, and finally can you guess?

He now refers to his illness as Crouching Tiger Syndrome. 

I have long stopped correcting him,  whats the difference, Shy Dragon, Shy Dragers, Crouching Tiger,  MSA,  it is all the same and all terminal.

So yes Mr. Shakespeare a rose by any other name would still suck, totally.

I find myself circling around, returning to the ever vigilant newborn mother days, constant state of worry,  concern and caring because of his illness.
 
The ever listening, did you hear that? What is that noise, check the door, crack it open watch the falling chest, breath breathing, exhale, safe.
 
The ever watchful days of new gains,  the firsts,  breast or bottle, cereal, solid, watch the Cheerios fall in fistfuls to the floor,  days.
 
The exhausting constance of new motherhood that was balanced by the joy of watching them grow, tempered by the nine months of  wait to hold them…
 
How easy my return, how simple it is to slip on like an old pair of slippers our old roles and duties, my return to days exhausting constant caring.
 
Again the constant  listening,  what was that noise? Did you hear that? Is he ok? Did he fall out of bed?  The first open eyes wish of too-early mornings, please just a few more moments of sleep, the bargaining for added moments time to sleep, please please please don’t let him be awake just yet.
 
Again the ever watchful eye notes the water marks, not gains but losses, the confusion, he started to take the wrong pills, forgot the day, the time, the outing. He didn’t wash his hands, he didn’t brush his teeth, he didn’t shower.
 
Constant caretaking that is again unbalanced, full of watching and worrying, these not the first events of life they are instead the last, the burden of knowing it consuming.
 
It could be his last…fill in the blank.

She my granddaughter.

He my father-in-law.

 One is a new arrival, one approaching departure.  

I thought  they were coming and going, passing while going different directions, but now I see it is all giant circle, a giant turning, for everything there is a season turning returning from whence we came turning…a giant circle of life.

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