Monthly Archives: July 2010

Assembly Required

At the rehearsal dinner Griffith Lloyd stood and put spoon to a water-glass.

Griff then raised his glass and said, “I have a word of advice for the bride”.

The loud laughter quieted those gathered at the table looked up at the man standing at the head of the table,  and fell silent waiting for him to begin to speak.

“I have a word of advice for the Bride”,   he began again, “it was advice I was given myself many years ago upon the occasion of my marriage,”  He looks toward Hilda, his wife. 

Hilda doesn’t smile, a quiet woman, not prone to toasts or jokes, she is serious and she would have made a perfect poker player  if she approved of poker that is.

“Here we are all gathered to celebrate the upcoming event,  the night before my son marries,” he clears his throat.

All within ear shot have stopped what they are doing at the down town Chicago pub, waitresses pause, bartenders stop tending, other diners and drinkers watch waiting. It’s the accent I think,  a standing man with glass raised is a spectacle, but a standing working class man from Liverpool with a rather Beetles like accent tends to draw a crowd. He likes this, and with chest puffed, starts again, even louder this time.

“So this being the night before my son marries, I would like to give a piece of advice to the bride”

“There is something you must do,” he says looking right at me.

“I want you to get a jar,  a big jar, the bigger the better, something like a pickle jar.”

The entire pub is on the edge of their seats, thinking that a worldly  man of wisdom is speaking, and something learned will no doubt follow. I think a few people even put pen to paper.

” SO you have a jar, a big jar,”  He can’t fully  gesture as his Guinness would spill. 

 ” what you do next is very important, are you listening?”

I nod.

“I want you to put a penny in the jar every time you have sex for the first year of your marriage. One penny now, no more. But a single penny goes in the jar every time until your first anniversary.”

“And then after the first anniversary, every time you have sex, I want you to take a penny out….YOU’LL NEVER EMPTY THE JAR!” 

The pub exploded with loud back slapping beer spilling  laughter. 

Laughter and Griffith Lloyd reined that night.

Although I never officially had a jar, or placed pennies in it,  he was absolutely right.

There are no toasts anymore, and Hilda left us first.

He sits now, almost always sits. His breakfast, lunch and dinner are carried to the couch.

Through it all he remains seated, but always says, “Oh this looks tasty!”

He rises only when he has too, bathroom breaks, and when he shuffles off to bed.

The couch back and seat remain in his shape, a placeholder, empty until morning when his physical form fills the space and we begin again.

He is melting before my eyes, each smaller pair of pants eventually begin to gather and sag his limbs lost in the folds of fabric. 

His  undies, are the same. I have not seen undies this small since my son,  long now grown,  was in grade school.

It’s the Multiple System Atrophy, arguably part of Parkinson’s, arguably not.

I really don’t give a shit what you call it. I see what ever you call this,  in action. He is smaller and smaller each and every day, with less movement, shuffling steps, curved hunched over shoulders, and such dizziness upon standing and movement that he passes out.

Autonomic Dysfunction. Things that are supposed to work, breathing bladder, bowels, walking and blood pressure just don’t work anymore.

Friday night he stood in the kitchen drinking a glass of water, and his eyes rolled back into his head, and passed out. He was caught, and the glass taken away, and placed upon the floor, choking.

Yes, one can not swallow in the middle of being passed out.

 He regained consciousness and always embarrassed, never seeks an audience now, always says,  “I’m ok… I’m ok..”  he says.

But He isn’t, and he wont ever be again.

A while ago I noticed his small form  is no longer comfortable on the big downy couch, he folds pillows sticks them behind him, under legs and across his neck.

The box came before Fathers Day. Huge sitting on the front stoop, he sees it and says, “There is a box here for you  Mrs.”

“No…that box is for you.”

“Me!”

I open the double doors, slide the box inside, a picture is on the side, a chair is inside, a leather recliner in a european style that spins on a cherry wood base and has a separate foot rest,  all in wonderful toasted brown butter soft leather.

Assembly required.

“Its your Fathers day.”

I know he wants to put it together, I also know he really doesn’t have the energy anymore, nor the eye sight, or strength.

“Why don’t we wait for Gary?” I suggest.

“No, this is easy I’ve done this kinda chair before,” he replies.

Shit. I worry about his frustration, like giving a child a toy way beyond their ability, but he is not a child, he is a man I remind myself.

I know then my days plans have just been put on the back burner, he will not wait for Gary.

6 hours later the chair is together, we had to stop for breaks, lunch and snacks, and I tried to read the instructions in my best  non bitchy manner, but after the first three hours I took the instructions out of the clear wrapper and read them aloud to him.

“Oh I get it now!” he said.

It was done before Gary came home, and he was happily sitting and spinning, in the soft leather chair that fit him like a glove.

No longer does he need the pillows placed, no longer does he have the hanger pain across his shoulders from muscles worn out holding up his head, no longer, for now.

Like Captain Kirk, he sits front and center, his remote and tools at his right, newspaper crossword, eye glasses; spinning and traveling in his chair that fits like a glove.

For how much longer I can not say.

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Filed under care giving, Caregiver, Elder Care, Griff, Humor, Multiple System Atrophy, My Husband's Parents, Sandwich generation, Shy Drager Syndrome, Stories, Story Telling, True Life, Writing

Twilight

Twilight is ghost in the graveyard, red-light green-light, hide and seek  mother may I; twilight is magic after dinner time, when the darkness is not yet fallen, and parents sometimes say yes, but  “stay in the yard”. 

Twilight is almost dark, twilight is when childhood fear and play walk together for a little while. 

Laughter chases the scary away, hiding and jumping out, giggles give your hiding place away the always running, hot, fall onto the grass, drinking cool water from the hose,  come in before full dark time. 

Later in the dark,  alone, scary returns and the cool sheet pulled over your head will sometimes keep it away.

Sunlight is alley archeology; the pieces of  glass, crushed metal, empty paint cans, wooden planks and bottles our bounty,  our work for the day, scouring the rocky roads between the houses, behind the gates, behind the backyards were treasures abound.

Everything can be found here, everything is thrown out in the alley.

The alley is an  in-between place.  

Our bounty is large and important finds, each has a place, a usefulness and our mission is to get each treasure home, over the fence, and into the yard before anyone sees. The mission is everything. We can not fail.

 We have to check and see if she is watching.

She won’t let us bring our finds into the yard, she calls it junk and trash, and points, hands on hips, raises her brow, and orders our treasure left behind.

It can’t happen, if she sees all is lost.

 The youngest with her brown curls is usually sent in. Small, adorable and quick she darts to the door and peers inside.

She turns, gives the signal. The coast is clear.

She waves us in, and stands watch.

Mom is no where in sight.

We race to the hedge of giant oleander,  each slim branch is filled with poison flowers of pink and white, they are brushed aside, a dangerous petal curtain, hides what lays inside.

The oleander hedge towered at the back of the yard, the boughs reached high to the sky and then bend back, creating a  crawl space deep inside, invisible to anyone, it is the perfect fort.

We run like scampering insects, back and forth dragging the big wooden plank, the empty cans two at a time, we drag our fort furniture and set it all inside. We set the plank atop the cans and create a bench, we place the other cans around for more seats, we sweep the dry hasn’t seen rain in nine months dirt, sweep it clear of leaves and roly poly bugs, earwigs and twigs.

I tag the others for another mission, supplies from the kitchen.

It will be dangerous. She is in there, almost dinner time, chances are she is watching now.

Bravely they leave the fort, I watch from the bench.

I didn’t see them enter my yard.

The two boys from school.

I stood up and parted the petals.

“What do you want?” I ask, a little voice tells me to be brave, and a strange different feeling not scary is growing.

“Hey what’s in there Gardner?”

The enter the fort, the once big space now shrinks, I lean against the branches, they sit.

I feel better somehow they sitting, they are smaller now.

The tall one speaks, “He lost a bet” He shrugs his head toward the other shorter one.

I look at one then the other, not understanding.

“He lost a bet, and he has to kiss you”.

The noise from my heart flooded my ears, as he stood and made his move.

I was looking  at him,  his face, first while he was sitting, then as he was above me.

The tips of his eye lashes were lighter brown than the rest, and curled so much that when he laughed his  deep brown eyes disappeared into them.

 His breath was warm and he smiled as his face grew closer and closer, I noticed he didn’t show his teeth when he smiled, it was more like a grin…

I stood up then, seemed like the thing to do, a girl should have her first kiss with both feet on the ground.

I looked up and then with his head slightly turned his lips met mine.

Soft and warm, and salty. I opened my eyes and his were closed.

Whoops! Oh!  I guess you close your eyes. I closed mine again.

 Soft warm salty- then minty warm softness, and the rushing of my heart gave way to a feeling much more,  more inside, way way  deep inside.

Then just as thought I liked this, it was over.

He backed away, smiled, and they backed out of the fort,  hopped over the fence and were gone.

The two youngest called from their now abandoned mission to the kitchen,”Mom says come in for supper!”

I leave the fort, fingers on my lips, wondering if yoanyone could see it, if  the warmth was showing, wondering if it will stay forever.

Later at the dinner table I look around, my mother busy with serving the chicken, only she knows who gets what part of the chicken.

I watch as my father reads the paper, and wonder if they see my lips and face red and warm, will they notice anything different?

I sit at the table, fingers still feeling the warmth on my lips, milk is spilled, dinner is served eaten and dishes cleared.

No one sees, no one but me.

Its full on twilight outside, street lights starting to shine, ghost in the grave yard time,

 “Mom can we go outside?”

“stay in the yard please”

I place the kiss and the curl of his lashes inside where now I knew my parents didn’t see; an  inside,  in-between place, and I locked it away for a while and ran out to play.

I knew I can get it out again later. I knew it will be there forever. 

I knew there is time enough for kisses after the twilight fades.

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The Good Dishes, Road Runner and Wile E. Coyote, and Mom was Always Right

Gilded, hand painted, embossed with a pattern or plain, weightless in the hand, delicate to hold and durable despite their fragile looking nature,  fine bone English china cups were my mothers good dishes.

Hold them up to a light and see through them. Look  straight through the inside down to the bottom,  straight through the inside  hold it close to the light, and the shadow markings are seen. In the light the bottom of the fine bone china glows and it tells all it’s secrets. 

Move away from the light , and the  magic markings fade, the bottom looses its translucent  glowing nature, and the china cup becomes again, just a  smooth dainty vessel. 

My mother had different favorite cups, one for the morning  and one for the afternoon and the morning cup was never ever used for the afternoon coffee and vice versa.  Tea cups with saucers were for tea, and coffee cups were for coffee. Tea cups were wide-brimmed open flower like, and not very tall. Coffee cups were mugs, taller cylindrical shapes with larger handles for fingers to wrap inside and around thumb on top. Tea cup handles were more for show,  on a tea-cup handle one pinches between thumb and the first two fingers, never ever do you wrap your little fingers through a tea-cup handle, at least not after age 5,  it just isn’t done.

She was particular about her china, not just the make, only English Bone China, but the shape and the way the cup felt in her hand was of the utmost importance. “Too heavy” she would say as she held the possible purchase shifting it from hand to hand with a sigh. Too heavy was the most common complaint when it came to cups. There were others especially for coffee cups,  too wide a brim, too bowl like and the contents cooled to quickly. Like  a Scottish Goldy Locks and the porridge, chairs and beds, my mothers cup had to be just right.

The contents of the cup, even more so.

“Bill!  When in the creation of Christ have I ever had coffee this color?” a frequent complaint mother used to chastise my father for not being generous enough with the half and half.  He would dutifully retreat and add more cream, laughing usually, and returned only when it was the predetermined proper Helen Gardner  approved color.

This everyday occurence  we kids called “The Helen and Bill Show”.

The Helen and Bill Show,  like the Road Runner and Wile. E. Coyote really didn’t have a strict antagonist/protagonist roles.

Like the cartoon, all of my parents shows followed the same predictable pattern.

Dad was sent out for product A, and no matter how specific the instructions, no matter how complete the list, no matter how accurate the map of Smitty’s Big Town, or even Fry’s Grocery, Dad always returned without product A. Whether it was the wrong brand, size or heaven forbid he came back empty-handed, Dad like Wile E. Coyote and his Acme products, could never win.

Wile E. had cliffs, and looks of doom as he waved goodbye in mid-air before the drop.

Dad didn’t have cliffs,  just waves of  angry words he would have to wade through, and  he always did,  and the show always ended with a

“Ah come on Ellie,” and then laughter,  a cuddle, an embrace and it was all forgotten, they never kept score. Never held a grudge.

If they had a cell phone in 1975, The Helen and Bill Show would never have aired in my house, I used to wish Dad had one, thinking  that it could have saved my dad a lot of trouble. Now I know it would have been a terrible loss, not witnessing all that loud loving conflict resolution The Helen and Bill Show Style. By resolution I mean of course…my mother was always right.

I have proof.

My first piece of evidence is this.

The day my sister Elaine moved out, (she who gave me my love from all things Tolkien) she unloaded a priceless pearl of wisdom so powerful so profound I am still in her debt.  As my sister packed her bag, I watched from the doorway. She turned to me and said, 

“Mom is always right”

“But Elaine, she isn’t! Just yesterday…”

“Mom is always right” she repeated slowly.

It only took about three more exchanges of similar content for the meaning of her words to finally sink in.

Ah… Mom is always right.

Even when she isn’t. Elaine was trying to save me years of knocking my head against the  solid ever standing stubborn wall that was my mother….. I so wish I would have listened…

My real proof came years later, after my mother died, and it came straight from my father.

Dad was up early the morning after mom died. I awoke to the sound of my childhood, the sound of a tinkling teaspoon spoon stirring round and round  in a coffee cup. Which was strange because five years earlier Dad had a series of strokes, and he lost the taste for coffee.

I rounded the corner, and sure enough, there was Dad, stirring his spoonful of sugar round and round in the Tasters Choice Instant brew.

“Dad what are you doing?  I thought you didn’t like the taste of coffee anymore?” I stuttered.

He took a long pause, and then put down the spoon, lifted the bone china cup and took a quick sip, before he answered,

 “No, your mother didn’t want me drinking it, she didn’t think it was good for me,”

For five years after his stroke, my father faithfully made my mother her coffee, twice a day,  in her cup of choice, stirring adding two sugars and the correct amount of half and half, and never made himself one. Not once.

That’s how I know it for sure, cause Dad didn’t have coffee for five years…Mom was always right.

Dad said so.

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