Time, whose side are you on?

I don’t cry much, but when I do, it’s usually because a truck full of Cub Scouts just drove by in a 4th of July parade. It gets me every time.

I didn’t cry when Dad died. The tears appeared months later heading down the street to my doctor’s appointment at St. Thomas Hospital. I thought of the conversations Dad and I had on the way to visits with his primary care physician, and a hole bored through the middle of me. There’s no way to fill that kind of hole. It’s best to just let it scab over and scar.

Mom dreaded this appointment with the cardiologist. At her last visit six months ago, he’d told her to cut out salt entirely and lose some weight. Mama can’t stand for anybody to be unhappy with her. He was just doing his job when he told her to mend her behavior. She hadn’t seen him in a year, and she had suffered congestive heart failure while vacationing in California. He legitimately wanted to curb any fluid retention. She thought he would surely give her a talking-to this time since she hadn’t lost a pound, nor had she completely cut salt from her diet.

On the way to I-65, I tried to make light of Mom’s worry about her encounter about to happen. I told her, “Don’t let him rattle you, Ma. Just say, ‘uh-huh’ and ‘I’ll do better next time.'”

“Or,” I added, laughing, “when he says you didn’t lose any weight, you tell him, ‘Well, you didn’t, either!'” We’d noticed that last time he’d picked up about twenty pounds. He’s always been a natty dresser, and he still looked good in his yellow plaid jacket and blue pants, but we were sure he’d had to purchase some new ones.

St. Thomas is not known for the easiest parking arrangements. There was no space in the semi-convenient open-lot parking downstairs, where we would normally take an elevator up three floors and walk down a long hallway. We had to park in a multi-level garage across the street, walk down a long skybridge connecting the garage and hospital, then directly into the other end of the Heart Institute. In my mind, the distances are fairly equal. There is a small difference, though. That skybridge is ever-so-slightly uphill.

I offered Mom one of the hospital wheelchairs waiting just outside the skybridge doors.

“No, that was way too much trouble the last time we did that. I can do better with just my walker.”

“Okay,” I said. “We can rest along the way if you need to.”

She needed to rest several times. Fortunately, the hospital designers saw the need for padded benches built into the windows every twenty feet or so. The seats are chair-height, so I tried to get her to sit in her rolling walker. She wanted to sit on the bench. Getting up and off the bench to grip the walker’s handlebars was difficult and required assistance.

When we finally reached the entrance to the Heart Institute, the nurse screening for Covid-19 waved us into the large waiting room.

“Go ahead and get her seated up in the front,” she said. “Then you come back and I’ll check your temperature.”

Mom sat on her walker in a section of chairs near the registration desk. I had pre-registered the night before but was still expecting more paperwork, or tablet work, once we got there. To my surprise, there was nothing more to do.

I sat down beside Mom. She was spent and breathing too heavily to talk. She looked pitiful.

When the nurse called Mom’s name from the doorway to the exam rooms, I quickly stood and met her at the doorway to say, “She can hardly make it. This might take a minute.”

I turned back toward Mom. Deborah called out, “Did y’all just walk across the skybridge? Oh, God love her. Keep her right there. I’ll bring a wheelchair.”

“I’ve never seen her so exhausted.”

And right at that moment, I saw my usually lively little mama grey-faced, eyes drooping, and so short of breath that her mouth was halfway open. Maybe what shook me was some form of pre-grief. The Universe suddenly reminded me that I won’t have her with me always.

I know that in my head, but this knowing, this moment of sorrow, was a gnawing in that hole in my middle, maybe opened just enough to make me break. I could not let my mother see me crying.

Mom was relieved to scoot onto the wheelchair seat. The nurse quickly wheeled her to a room, helped her into a chair, and rolled the wheelchair into the hallway. The room is small. I stood just outside the door.

“If you don’t mind, I’ll take her back to the garage in this chair. I can come back and get her walker.”

She answered, “Honey, you just relax in here with her, and we’ll take care of the rest.”

The doctor arrived in about fifteen minutes. He seemed so happy! He began by cheering Mom’s blood pressure, her stable weight, and her obvious (to him) sparkle in her eyes. He directed a question to me.

“Don’t you think she’s doing well?”

I nodded. “But wait, what’s that on your mask?”

He answered, “I was just about to tell your mom that we have a new addition to the Blair family tree.” (His grandmother was a Blair in Texas, and he has always insisted we’re all related.)

He pulled his pictures up on his iPhone, turning it this way and that to make sure both Mom and I got a good look at this little six-month old in snazzy yellow plaid overalls, blue jacket. and a matching bowtie on his white shirt.

“Oh, what a cutie!”

“Isn’t he a handsome young man?”

He answered, “Oh, that little fellow has us all wrapped up in him. Oh, my.” He closed his eyes and moved his head from side to side. “His name is Walter.”

“Walter!” Mom said. “My husband’s Grandfather Blair was named Walter.”

After the baby talk, the doctor said, “You’re doing well. I think, and let’s see if you agree, that we should see you again next year. Of course, you can always call if you need us.”

“I guess I’m doing well for my age,” she said.

“You’re doing well for any age,” he answered.

Mom and I got the giggles when he left the room, bemused by the way Walter captivated this cardiologist-surgeon, and relieved that no one seemed unhappy today.

“He was just too enthralled with that new grandbaby to fuss at me,” she said.

The nurse appeared. “Diana, I’m going to take her to your car. You just bring the walker.”

I lifted the walker into the back of the van, backed out, and stopped at the elevator doors.

Mom thanked the nurse and closed the van door.

“Next time,” she tol me, “I’ll take that wheelchair at the beginning.”

We pulled out of the garage. “Ahhhhhh, sunshine!” I said.

“And thank God for Walter,” Mom answered.

***

My Proud Story

Charley Pride died today of Covid-19. He was eighty-six, and the country music community claimed him as beloved. They say he was the kindest man in the business.

Charley started out wanting to play baseball and pitched for the Memphis Red Sox of the Negro American League. Baseball eventually led him to a semi-pro team in, of all places, Helena, MT. Charley lived in Helena for several years, and in fact, it was his baseball coach who found out he could sing and put him onstage before every game.

Charley moved his family (three kids by then) to Great Falls when his singing career took off so he could be closer to an airport. He got really good airplay in Great Falls by KMON Radio’s manager Al Donohue. The rest of us in Montana wanted to keep up so we always followed Donohue. KXLO played Charley Pride before his big break, too.

From 1968 to 1973, I did stints as a DJ at a 1000-watt station in Lewistown, Montana. My years at KXLO coincided with Charley’s rise on the charts. At that time, country singers still visited with the DJ’s who played their music, sometimes driving around the country for two or three days to hit as many stations as possible. The Prides were about to move to Texas when Charley graced a bunch of us with a trip around Montana. I believe that was sometime in 1969.

I had signed off my mid-morning shift and was just returning from lunch when he arrived, so the afternoon DJ got to interview him. When I walked into the station, I asked our middle-age receptionist Frieda, “Who’s here in the big car?”

She said, “Charley Pride, the black one.”

I said, “Oh, shoot, Bill gets him on-air. Did he talk to you?”

“He shook my hand,” she said, wrinkling her nose. “It was sort of … clammy.”

Charley came out of the studio in a few minutes. I was still leaning on the front counter.

“Heyyyy,” he said. “You must be Goldee.”

“Yes,” I said, “and I’m so glad to meet you!”

We chatted for a few happy minutes, then he said he had to get back on the road.

He stuck out his hand, but I said, “Can I kiss you on your cheek?”

I got a big bear hug.

Frieda wrinkled her damn nose again.

***

They Work!!!

Wednesday will mark four weeks since I got two new knees. Started thinking about what they’re made of. Titanium? Dave’s are titanium, but his last replacement is ten years old. Maybe the materials have changed. I forgot to ask.

Never mind, what’s important is that these two new knees work! The post-surgery brain fog seemed to lift overnight last week and now the almost-new equipment is stored: the bedside potty that fit over the regular toilet to make a lift, the walker, even the cane! Actually, I’ll keep the cane handy for trips to uneven ground like the garden plot or maybe a cemetery.

I’m exercising caution as I proceed with what I suppose to be daily activities. I’m not quite sure what my new routine will include because we replaced the kitchen and bath countertops on Friday and everything is amuk until the painter comes Wednesday. Anything that was on top of the counters Thursday night is sitting on the dining room table. The under-sink supplies are in the living room floor. Bathroom items are in the guest room.

There’s a little ugly strip at the top of the new quartz backsplash where the old laminate version was torn off, just a little repair but one that will mean re-painting all the walls. Dave was sure to tell me that he likes the present color, a soft jade that seems to pair well with the old oak cabinets. No problem there, I love that color, too.

A few years ago, my daughter-in-law Vicky explained to me that I shouldn’t paint anything blue. “You’re such a green person,” she said, and when I thought about it, yeah, I’ve had some shade of green as a neutral in my home for at least thirty years. I’ve remembered her advice more than once.

If I’m changing something in the home decor, I like lots of research and advice. I know more about kitchen counters than I’ll ever know about artificial joints. I didn’t get much advice on the knee replacements except for one thing: Do your physical therapy. I’m doing my best to heed the good word!

So far, I’m only imagining spring in the garden with this new ability to walk without pain. Dr. Shell says full recovery is a few months away. Pain, in general, has been controlled and not nearly what I’d expected. From Day One, the new knees hurt less than the old ones. When I first get out of bed, I notice minimal stiffness. At the end of the day, I am somewhat sore, but the incapacitating pain of bone-on-bone is gone.

Well! I have lots to do! Maybe I should re-assemble my bathroom since all is finished in there. Maybe I’ll have another cup of coffee. Maybe I’ll visit Mom early today, then go to PT at eleven.

I’ve learned some new patience. Not everything has to be done quickly. I am one grateful, compliant, patient patient.

Good, Bad, Ugly, Good

Friday the 13th, late afternoon, after surgery on Wednesday.

“You’re ready to go to rehab! They’re waiting for you for you over at Southside Rehab! All you have to do is call your ride.” The arrangements were made. I called Neil. The nurse suggested it might be good to get some pain meds in my system for the ride ahead.

I don’t remember much about the trip there, except that I kept backseat driving.

I went inside in a wheelchair. Was it mine? Or theirs? Who wheeled me? I don’t know, but I was taken immediately to my room.

“Where are my things?” I asked. “I really need to go to the bathroom.”

“Look, we have a dinner tray here for you.” I lifted the lid and replaced it immediately. I remember carrots. I was nauseated.

A young woman in wrinkled grey scrubs and a greasy long ponytail introduced herself as the admitting nurse and said she would have a few questions for me in a few minutes.

“I’ll be right back,” she said.

“Can I have my nightgown?”

“Your stuff is all out front. We have to go through it all. We’re going to wash everything.”

“What? Go through it? But my laptop is there and, and, my Kindle and, and…”

It was hard to tell who was talking because there were five or six people gathered in the room. In the halls, other workers giggled and talked too loud.

“You don’t need anything right now.”

“I need to go to the bathroom. I need my phone. I haven’t seen anyone yet.”

“Seen anyone?” the admitting nurse asked. Ah, she was back. “You’ve seen all kinds of people.”

“I need to see a nurse.”

“You’ve seen ME,” she said. “I’m a nurse. I told you I’d be right back.”

“I want my laptop and stuff. And, listen, there is a little silver box inside a clear plastic makeup bag that has teabags in it. I need that right now. My wedding ring is in there.”

Grey Admitting Nurse put her hand on her hip. “Did you not read the part that says not to bring valuables?”

“It doesn’t matter what I read at this point. I want you to go right now and get me that silver box.”

She sighed, flew out of the room, and came back with the plastic makeup bag, and my laptop. All there, thank goodness. I put two rings on my hands. The toe rings and earrings left in the box could be replaced, but not my wedding ring. No way.

“Did you bring my clothes?”

“No,” someone said. “You don’t need them right now. We need to get you admitted.”

***

Everyone had left. I was alone in the room. I was cold. Was I wet? The spinal block I’d had for surgery had rendered me temporarily unable to control my bladder, well, more than usual.

I was the old woman I’d heard hollering many a time while visiting a nursing facility.

“Somebody please help me.”

***

No one came. The incontinence pad I was wearing didn’t hold. I might have been dripping.

I can’t stay here. I felt my chest for my phone. It was there, tucked in my bra.

I texted Neil. Do you think you could come get me and take me home?

How serious are you? he replied.

I’m serious. We’d have to round up my stuff but I can’t stay here.

Whatever you want.

?

I’m on the way.

I thought about calling Dave. I don’t know if I did. I remember arriving at home. I think Neil wheeled me into the bedroom. I know he sat all my bags in the floor. Dave stood by.

Before Neil left the room, I said, “Neil, you’ll have to assemble that potty chair that’s on the porch. It’s in the box. I’ll need it by the bed. I am so nauseated.”

Dave helped me undress. I did not know where my nightshirts were, or my underwear, or my pads, or anything. I knew they were in the bags but not which bag. Dave would never find them.

“At the end of my closet, there is a long pink thing, like a dress, or nightshirt. Give me that, and find me some panties. There are some pads in my bathroom.”

Dave could not find panties because I’d packed pretty much all of them. I did not know which bag they were in. I wanted to lie down.

“Just give me an old pair of your briefs and I’ll wear those tonight.”

I lay down in bed and Neil brought in the bedside commode and left.

Dave came to lie down in bed with me. I coughed, coughed until I might have broken a rib. I was nauseated. I might have thrashed.

Somewhere around 2:00 AM, I got up to transfer to the bedside toilet. It was in the lowest position. I crouched and held to the side arms. My new knees objected when my backside fell too far toward the floor.

I was wet again. The floor was wet. The bed was wet. Somewhere I got panties and a pad.

About 2:00 o’clock (I think), I told Dave, “Something’s wrong. I need to go to the hospital.”

He tried to discuss, but I couldn’t answer coherently.

“Hand me my phone,” I said. I dialed 911. I’m not sure what I told the woman on the other end of the line, but she stayed with me until some EMT’s walked in and asked me if I could get on the gurney.

I didn’t know, and I don’t know how I got on the gurney. I was cold, with no shoes and wet pants–again. The cold of the night stung and numbed. I had no blanket. Outside, the EMT’s moved me to the cot that lifts into the transport ambulance, strapped me in, and hit the lift button. A short grey-haired woman with a gravelly voice positioned herself beside me and buckled herself in.

“I’m so cold,” I said.

“Yeah, I think we’re finally getting winter,” she answered.

Wind whistled. There was no heat in the ambulance. My feet were numb.

***

I got a blanket at the hospital. When the nurse asked me why I was there, I said, “I just want to go back to the hospital.”

She prepped my arm for a needle stick and inserted the routine IV.

“Where is my phone?” I asked. “I had it. Where is it?”

Dr. Carpenter, a hospitalist, appeared. He didn’t look like the Dr. Carpenter I’d known before.

He asked me why I left the rehab facility. I think I told him something about all my personal belongings in a heap on the floor. Whatever. I wasn’t able to say much more.

“Could somebody get me another blanket?” I asked.

Dr. Carpenter said, “Let’s get her another blanket.”

He patted my leg and left the room.

Somebody said they were going to get a CT scan of my stomach.

“I don’t need that,” I said. “I just need to go upstairs and go to bed.”

***

The night shift was still on duty when I got upstairs to a room just down the hall from where I’d been after surgery. I was safe. Finally.

“I’m Heather,” she said. (Not her real name.) “I’m your nurse. We’re going to take care of you.”

“Can I have some water?”

“Of course you can.”

Drinking water never felt so good. It wasn’t the taste. It was the feel.

“Are you hungry? Want some crackers? We have peanut butter and crackers, applesauce, fruit cups…”

I knew from experience I could get a sandwich. “Sandwich?” I asked.

“You may be in luck. Let me see if I can rustle up a turkey sandwich.”

Heather smeared a whole packet of mayonnaise on each slice of bread. I ate the best turkey sandwich of my life.

Heather stayed with me for what seemed like quite a while. When I woke, she was gone. I was still wearing the long pink knit sleepshirt from home but I was dry. I felt treaded socks against the footboard. I smelled coffee.

I pressed the call button. “Can I have some coffee?”

Heather appeared with coffee, creamer, and sweetener.

“I didn’t know what you wanted in it, so I brought it all,” she said. “When the day shift gets here, we’ll get you all cleaned up, okay?”

I thanked her and drank that cup of kindness in Holy Communion with all the world’s hurting and those who take care of them: caretakers, professional and not, those who walk every hall, enter doors, and sit bedside. I drank it black. Normally, I want cream.

***

Shirley and Tessa washed and dried me and anointed me with unscented lotion. Shirley’s been at St. Thomas for fifty-two years. “

Heather said, “Shirley runs things around here.”

“Here. Do you want to brush your teeth?” Tessa asked.

I was hard on the bristles of the plastic brush. Some of them came off in my mouth.

“Here, spit in this emesis cup,” she said. “We’re gonna throw that old toothbrush away anyhow.”

“I don’t have any panties,” I said. “I’m going to need a disposable brief or something.”

“Alright, honey, we’ll get all that.”

The rest of Saturday passed in a blur of dozing, rejecting food trays, and watching helpers enter and leave the room. I slept in two-hour segments, awakened by Yolanda for vitals and the day nurse for medications.

“I really don’t need pain meds,” I said. “I need to pee.”

***

Sunday morning, I ate pancakes. Dr. Hoffman, “my” hospitalist, stopped by.

“Diana, what happened to you was a _______.” [Now I can’t remember the word. It means overdose– but not.]

“That’s why I was crazy?”

“I wouldn’t say you were crazy, but the medicine was just too strong for you. We overmedicated you. I’ve changed you to something lighter and I think you’ll get by fine on that. We’re going to watch you. PT will come in to work you out.”

“Did what I think happened at Southside not happen?”

“I feel certain it did, but it’s possible things were magnified or enhanced to you, and you were certainly confused.”

“I couldn’t stay there.”

“I know, I know,” he said. “Well, we’re going to let you stay with us another couple of days, and then you can decide what you want to do. Dr. Shell’s nurse practitioner is back now–she’s been on vacation–and she and Dr. Shell will get you all fixed up. You might want to go to another rehab or you may just want to go home. I’m not sure what your home situation is, or…”

“I’m going to Richland House if I can. I need somebody to take care of me.”

“Okay, then we’ll probably get you out of here tomorrow afternoon. I’ll look in on you later on.”

***

Dr. William Shell, one of TOA’s finest, certainly the sweetest, walked in the room with his nurse practitioner Lori on Monday morning. Lori had already stopped by to tell me that Dr. Shell was coming.

“So you didn’t fare too well over at Southside,” he said. “I’m so sorry about that. I was afraid of that when I realized where you were going. If Lori hadn’t been gone last week, we’d never have let you go there.”

I was now the facility’s defender. “It’s okay. It’s not all their fault.”

“No, well, there are other better places. Lori will get you all fixed up with that.”

“How about Richland Place?” I asked.

“That would be one of my three suggestions,” he said. “Let’s get you out of here this afternoon.”

He started toward the door and then turned around. “Unless you’d rather stay with us one more day, get some more PT done, and then go home.”

“Oh, my, I’d rather go home.”

“That’s what I prefer,” Dr. Shell said, “even if we didn’t have this epidemic upon us. But those people are so stretched, and you could do as much for yourself at home as they’d do for you.”

“One of my main concerns is Covid, too,” I said. “Southside assured me of a quarantined ward and room. I wasn’t going to even get out of the room over there.”

“Yeah, home is always best if you can do it. Okay, then, Lori will get you all fixed up for outpatient care. I think you’ll do just fine at home.”

“Will I have home health?” I asked. I was thinking about bathing mainly.

“You won’t need it. They tell me you have a couple stairs at home. Did you have any trouble with stairs in PT?”

“No.”

“Then you’ll be fine. Don’t forget to make your appointment for followup in three weeks.”

***

I left the hospital the second (and last) time on Tuesday about noon.

“Neil, we have to get tacos. I need tacos. Tacos for everyone!”

At home, Neil unloaded my bags and set a casual table.

“Isn’t this a great idea?” I asked.

Mom, Dave, and Neil all agreed!

*****

Sunflowers

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Cindy & Connor

Cindy Louise Santana Guinn died yesterday morning. Around the Compound, we are all numb with shock. She was one of the younger kids in her family, and her brothers and sisters, nieces are devastated as is her twelve-year-old son, Connor.

An ambulance took her to the hospital Wednesday morning and, two days later, she was gone. She left in just about the way she did everything–in a hurry.

On Monday, she mowed and trimmed the lawn, then worked on some soaker hoses and pulled some weeds, bee-bopping around the yard as usual.

Normally, Neil, our permanent houseguest, would cook her breakfast downstairs in The Cellar and she’d chow down bacon or sausage, eggs, and biscuits a little before 9 o’clock, swigging down a huge glass of orange juice. She always wanted mustard on her sausage or bacon biscuit unless there was a tomato involved. Then she wanted mayonnaise. “You gotta have that mayo the minute you say tomato, she told me.

Monday, I was down with aching legs, and Neil was gone to a job in Lawrenceburg, so she didn’t get breakfast. About noon, I texted her.

We didn’t go through our standard ritual for finding each other outside. I’d usually yell “Cindy Lou” and she’d reply “Where are you?” until we saw each other somewhere on the grounds.

I texted, “Hey, I bet you’re hungry. You want a bowl of leftover chicken and dressing?”

“Oh yea,” she answered, “leav on sid porch.”

So I did. A few minutes later, I saw her skip up the ramp and go back down eating. She could put away some food.

Neil cooked her the last breakfast she had here. Neil and Cindy were a funny thing together. They loved each other. Every once in a while Cindy would slap Neil on the butt and then say, “But you’re just not my type.” He’d often help her fix a lawnmower or truck or something else at her sister Cathy’s, where Cindy also lived with Lee, Cathy’s wife, and Brenda, a friend. (It’s a big house.)

The last time Cindy called Neil for help, a big snakes had wound itself into a tree trunk. Lee was mowing the front yard, saw it, and drove on. All these women were scared of snakes. Lee had assembled a scraper on a pole. Neil and Oliver, Neil’s teenage son who was here at the time, used the snake pole to lift it out of the tree and then herd it across the street so it could climb somebody else’s tree. Neil says a large audience of neighbors gathered to witness the event.

Last July, Cindy and I were pulling weeds, as usual, in the lower garden close to the ravine. She was on the side closest to our big ditch where a birdbath has been sinking. She said she thought she’d move the birdbath and attempt to fill in the low place. I said okay and she started toward the spot, turned around, and crossed fifteen feet of yard with three steps, climbed a curly willow tree, and hung onto a branch. I wish I’d snapped a photo, but I was on the ground laughing too hard to get up. I knew she’d just seen a snake.

She was down the tree just about as quickly as she’d gone up, and described a “big black snake, I mean half a foot around and four feet long” stretched out along the base of the birdbath. She shivered a little and went back to her project. The snake had taken a high-speed exit to the ravine and Cindy was happy. I was still laughing.

 

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Dina with Cindy in Florida.

We didn’t hug or get close, hadn’t for months, but she had vacationed in Florida a couple weeks ago and was now extra-distancing. She was a big hugger, as were her brothers and sisters. She always visited Grandma until Covid took over the land. Sometimes she brought presents. We missed the hugs.

Cindy was a fixture around The Compound for at least seven years. She tended our lawn and gardens once a week. Sometimes she helped move stuff. She painted and wallpapered my studio. She’d jump on a ladder and change a lightbulb or clean a fan. She shampooed carpets and upholstery a couple times. One year, she volunteered to clean the windows because, you see, she’d mixed up the “most awesome” cleaner. I don’t know what the mixture was exactly, but the windows sparkled.

A graphics designer in the past, Cindy felt a special calling to run her own lawn and garden business. She might have weighed 100 pounds, but she was tough as nails. She said she owed that to her Puerto Rican DNA.

Family was everything to the Santana kids.

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Dad and Step-Mom visit with Dina, Cindy, Cathy, and David

They’d lost a sister, two brothers, and their mother. Maybe those losses made them cling even tighter. Then Cathy’s son died a year ago. That was really tough. Now this one.

 

I don’t know how we’ll memorialize Cindy, but right now the huge patch of wildflowers, zinnias, marigolds, cosmos, and sunflowers pay homage. Cindy and I decided on planting a “pollinator garden” a couple years ago, so we just let the grasses and whatever grow up in that patch, bloom, and feed birds, bees, and butterflies–and whoever else shows up to eat. She made me buy lots of sunflower seeds.2020-06-22 08.25.06 (1)

 

That patch will go to seed this fall. I’ll collect and sow them next spring. The volunteers and self-seeders will grow again. I’ve got some sunflower seeds and someone in my online gardening group said to go ahead and plant them.

Dave and I wanted to send food to the house last night. I finally settled on Publix fried chicken and all the sides, but when I got to the deli, the clerk said they’d have to fry some more. I didn’t want to wait, so I rounded up a boneless ham, potato salad, baked beans, green salad, rolls, and two pies.

The sun was going down when I pulled into the driveway. The sunflowers–the Alaska Mammoths, American Giants, wild ones, and all the rest–cast long shadows in the cloudy sunset, every head bowed in sorrow.

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Quizzes in the time of Covid-19

Like those quizzes? Isn’t it great to get to know each other better? I think everyone should get to know me better. Don’t worry, I’m not going to ask you to post one word about when/where we met. I don’t want to know your favorite drink or how many states you’ve visited. Here’s a quiz you won’t see on Facebook! This one is so much better than all that.

Here are the instructions for The Ultimate Quiz. Make five columns on a long sheet of paper. (I guess it would be okay to use the back of the sheet instead of acquiring another long sheet.) So, label the columns 1.Yay!, 2. Good, 3. Not So Bad, 4. Downright Ugly, and the last column, just in case you need it, 5. Who Cares? Now, number each line on your paper to match the statements below. (It will be better if you’ve chosen lined paper.) Rate each sentence by an X in the appropriate column.

When I give you my answers, I am sure you will feel that we’ve bonded based on the number of your X’s in columns that match mine.

If you’ve prepared your answer sheet, you are ready to go!

  1. I had my hair cut very short a couple months ago.  
  2. I was thinking I’d like to know what color my hair is, really.
  3. I am seriously close to finding out.
  4. My short hairstyle grew a bit since the last appointment.
  5. My bangs were hiding my eyes like a napping sheepdog’s.
  6. I can cut my own bangs.
  7. I cut my own bangs.
  8. I had to cut the rest of my hair to match my bangs.
  9. I looked in a mirror to cut the back of my hair.
  10. I held a strand up through my fingers, estimated its length (by feel), and cut what was above my fingers with my hair scissors.
  11. I have owned hair scissors for years and years.
  12. I did not cut my fingers.
  13. My hairstyle for a while looks like a goat chewed on it.
  14. After the cut, it looks like a goat chewed on it—or maybe two goats.
  15.  I really do not look that much different.
  16. My mother ran out of blue-haired lady shampoo and conditioner.
  17.  I found her a new brand on Amazon.
  18. She loves it.
  19. I had to buy a quart of each.
  20. I borrowed some for my newly released white patches.
  21. The blue shampoo did not change my white that much.
  22. My mother loves the new shampoo and conditioner.
  23. It will last her for the rest of her life, provided she doesn’t die until she’s at least one hundred and six.
  24. My mother says she plans to live until she’s at least one hundred and six.
  25. She’ll have plenty of shampoo and conditioner but I’ll have to wash her hair.
  26.  I’ve been doing more for Mom.
  27. She calls what we’re doing “fun things.”
  28. Some of them I call “fun things.”
  29. We do laugh a lot.
  30. I told her the [Easter] ham made me gassy.
  31. She asked why a hand would make me sassy.
  32. I said, “Not sassy, gassy.”
  33. She looked at my hands on the kitchen counter.
  34. She said, “Why would a hand make you sassy?”
  35. “Not hand, Ma. Ham…ham…Easter ham!”
  36. We went to haul some rocks for my gardening projects last week.
  37. I put 1129 Gerald St. in my GPS.
  38. The name of the street has been changed to protect the residents.
  39. I pulled into the driveway of the wrong house.
  40. The driveway was downhill and the parking tight.
  41. I found the correct address on the text the woman sent me earlier.
  42. A young Latino came out of the house.
  43. I rolled the window down and said, “I’m sorry, I’m sorry, wrong house.”
  44. He said, “Sokay, Sokay.”
  45. I could tell he didn’t speak much English.
  46. I can’t remember my Spanish when I need to.
  47. I could not back out of his driveway.
  48. He tried to guide me.
  49. He appeared to think I would run off the pavement into a deep ditch.
  50. He came and waved at the truck window.
  51. “I do it, I do it!” he said.
  52.  I got out of the truck.
  53.  He got in and backed the truck and Mom out of his driveway.
  54. He even headed the truck toward 1119 Gerald.
  55. We hope he did not have Covid-19.
  56. We hope we did not give him Covid-19.
  57. I might have salivated when I saw the woman’s rock pile.
  58. I had to load the rocks myself.
  59. Neil and Dave helped me unload.
  60. I had to tell them which rocks to unload where.
  61. Dave lined up all the rocks for the front yard in two straight lines in the ditch beside the driveway.
  62. I’m not going to line the ditch.
  63. I’m going to border the iris beds.
  64. I could only load one pickup bed full of rocks.
  65. Neil went after the last two loads.
  66. I forgot to send the woman the lemon balm and thyme she’d requested from me.
  67. I have to drive back to her house to take her the lemon balm and thyme.
  68. Neil had to leave for work with no rocks unloaded.
  69. Dave unloaded them today.
  70. He lined up some more rocks in the other ditch.
  71. I like to cook.
  72. I’ve been cooking a lot.
  73. Dave is underweight.
  74. I’ve been baking cookies for him.
  75. I’m overweight.
  76. I’ve been eating cookies.
  77. I made vegetable soup today.
  78. There is enough soup for the crew on a good-sized aircraft carrier.
  79. The soup is good.
  80. I don’t know that there is enough room in the freezer for all the soup.
  81. I gave soup to neighbor Don.
  82. I am loading soup into containers for other neighbors.
  83. They are happy when I make too much soup.
  84. I made s’mores brownies today.
  85. I’ve had one brownie.
  86. The neighbors will not get brownies today.
  87. I like ordering groceries online for a scheduled pickup.
  88. I am good at ordering groceries.
  89. I can’t go to the grocery store right now.
  90. I can’t find everything we need to order at one store.
  91. Sometimes I don’t know I can’t find everything at one store until we pick up the order.
  92. Sometimes I order from two stores.
  93. I can’t count on getting everything I need from two stores.
  94. Sometimes an order will go all kerflooey.
  95. I got four large heads of bok choy.
  96. I got six loaves of French bread.
  97. There is room in the freezer for four heads of bok choy and six loaves of French bread.
  98. We have plenty of toilet paper.
  99. I ordered a case of Northern Quilted from Amazon.
  100. I do not like hoarders.
  101. I am not a hoarder.
  102. We have plenty of tissues.
  103. I ordered a case of Puffs from Amazon. 
  104. I am not a hoarder.
  105. We have plenty of paper towels.
  106. I did not order paper towels.
  107. Because I am not a hoarder.
  108. Sometime in the last few months, I ordered a roll of re-usable bamboo paper towels.
  109. I hauled them out of the janitor closet.
  110. I like them.
  111. I broke down and shaved my legs.
  112. The electric shaver couldn’t do the job.
  113. I sat on the side of the tub.
  114. I rubbed some body oil on my legs.
  115. The razor slipped a few times.
  116. I will not bleed to death.
  117. My pants no longer catch on the hairs on my legs.
  118. My mother never shaved her legs.
  119. She never had any hair on her legs.
  120. Mom has lots of ideas of things for me to do.
  121. I looked through her entire dresser for one arthritis glove.
  122. I found her box of campaign buttons.
  123. She has every President’s campaign button starting with JFK.
  124. She does not have a MAGA button.
  125. I fold her sheets.
  126. When I forgot this week, she laid them on her bed where I’d see them every time I came over.
  127. She has jewelry to repair.
  128. I glued earrings.
  129. I cooked sausage
  130. If she wants French toast, she gets French toast.
  131. The motto for Mom is the same as the old Castner Knott department store: Give the lady what she wants.
  132. I love gardening.
  133. I have much to do this year.
  134. The last two years were not so productive.
  135. There are people who owe me some hours for gardening.
  136. They aren’t making a dent in their total hours owed.
  137. I gave away iris and lily-of-the-valley this week.
  138. I met a young woman, social distance kept, who wants to help garden.
  139. She is a writer, mainly for veterinarians, and works from home.
  140. She loves to garden.
  141. She volunteered hours at a State park.
  142. The State parks are closed.
  143. She wants to volunteer those hours here.
  144. She is coming over on Saturday.
  145. She wants to grow some vegetables for the food bank.
  146. We have plenty of room to grow vegetables to give away.
  147. Michael tilled one spot.
  148. Don tilled another.
  149. Cindy and I planted wildflowers in one patch.
  150. Cindy found some more strawberries and moved them to the new patch.
  151. Dixie is happy that I’m home more.
  152. Dixie drives me crazy.
  153. She thinks every time I sit down is an invitation to play.
  154. She thinks every time I get a snack, some is for her.
  155. She licks the top of my coffee mug every time I leave it on the side table.
  156. She can get out of her harness.
  157. She takes it off after every potty break.
  158. She loves raw vegetables and apples.
  159. I gave her lots of carrot tips today.
  160. I put a two-pound bag of carrots in my soup.
  161. Dixie ate lots of carrots.
  162. I’m going to eat another brownie.

Easter in the time of Coronavirus

The March family birthdays came and went. Grandson Evan turned FIVE on March 2, a Monday. Mom and I got our annual physicals from Dr. Linda Bonvissuto that day. Dave had an assortment of doctor visits the rest of the week, so we planned to take Evan a present the next week.

China was overrun by the Coronavirus, more accurately identified as Covid-19. We had a few cases, and one of them had died on February 29.

I called my son John on March 7, his forty-fifth birthday. He seemed more surprised to be forty-five than I was to be the mother of a son that age. For some reason I can’t remember, I talked to my ex-husband the same day. He asked me, “Can you believe we have a forty-five-year-old?”

“No,” I said, “because, in my mind, I’m just forty-five.”

I remembered my fiftieth standing in my kitchen together when I solemnly told my mother, “I cannot be fifty years old.”

She answered, “Of course, you can’t, Darling. I’m only fifty-five.”

Our sons and their wives could not come up with a suitable March date to celebrate birthdays. The first half of the month, The Compound oldsters were taken up by physician visits and procedures. The kids and grandkids were so busy we decided to have birthdays for March and April at the annual Easter Soiree at The Compound. Jerry Wong’s birthday is March 29th and Vicky’s April 5. We’d have a big party!

The Easter gathering is a B.I.G. event. The grandkids show up in their finest, the girls wearing dresses I make. We hunt eggs, play games, and everyone gets a prize. Last year, we whacked the Easter Llama and wondered if that might be considered an inappropriate observance of the death and resurrection of our Lord.

This year, Carly, Savvy, and I shopped for patterns and materials in February, giving Grammy a good two months to get the outfits finished. This year’s color is lavender and the style is Fancy. We settled on a satin dress with a cut-out heart on the back and an overlay of tulle on a big skirt. Savvy’s mom, Anjie, and I really wanted more sparkle on that bottom but the price of sequined or patterned sheers was wild. Savvy and Carly seemed fine with the plain tulle.

By March 10, we suspected our Easter assembly might be iffy. Vicky and I talked about how we were going to handle the fittings. We thought maybe I could hang the dresses outside when I had them ready to alter, Vicky could pick them up, mamas could pin appropriately and hang them back outside for some of us to pick up, drop off, etc.

I decided right then I did not want to sew the expensive material this year. The lavender frock would have to wait until next year, but squirreled away in a bureau downstairs, I knew I could find cotton to sew some casual get-ups which, if they fit or didn’t, things could be fine.

Vicky told me she and her bunch were taking extra-precaution and were severely limiting their exposure to the virus. The President warned to limit group meetings to ten people. Since the virus is especially deadly to seniors, all the residents of The Compound upper section began to take sheltering in place seriously. Neil continued to work since electronics and communications are necessary jobs.

We began to order groceries online, some delivered and some to be picked up. All physician visits for March and April were cancelled, either by the respective offices or me.

We’re pretty well socked in. I’m attentive to everyone’s aches and pains. If it happens, I want to catch it quickly.

Jerry Wong and I talked on his birthday. We all sent greetings and Mom bought him a Walmart gift card. I’m still looking for the perfect piano books! He says he’s doing well but that he has broken his fast of travel for a trip to Walmart. “I didn’t stay long,” he said and assured me that he’s washing his hands and wiping things down with Clorox wipes.

It was no surprise when he asked me about playing Amazing Grace with two hands on his keyboard.

“So do you play G then D?”

I stuttered a little. “I don’t understand what you’re asking.”

The conversation went downhill from there. I’ve taught music but that was not one of my finest explanations. I just didn’t know what he was talking about and not sure that he did, either. I do know where there’s a piano book with an easy version of Amazing Grace.

Vicky wants terra cotta pots for her birthday. I’m going to load up all that I can find here and figure out a way to do some more gardening stuff. Took care of John with a gift card yesterday. Now I have to deliver it. Evan gets another present, and Jerry Wong gets those piano books from Amazon.

We’ve now suffered more deaths from the virus than China. We expect more. Praying for more birthdays.

Happy Valentine’s Day!

I’ve had a pretty good Valentine’s Day this year. I was home all day, something as delicious to me as Moose Tracks ice cream. I delivered my cards to Dave and Mom, having signed and sealed them last week. Such early preparation is so unusual for me.

Dave even got a small heart-shaped box of chocolates decorated with a Peanuts scene on the top. It matched my card.

Dave’s order of my Valentine gift did not arrive. He told me he’d tell me what it was if it didn’t arrive by 7:00. It didn’t. What I missed today was chocolate-covered strawberries, one of my favorite things in all the world.

Mom’s friend Gail surprised her with red roses and chocolates–and Mom told me a few days ago that she didn’t have a Valentine.

“Yes, you do,” I said. “You have friends and family and us.”

“I guess you’re right!” she said. “I do have Valentines!”

I didn’t get red roses. No chocolates. No strawberries. But it was a wonderful Valentine’s Day. I can hardly wait to get in bed!

It’s not what you think. It’s the bed!

About a month ago, Dave decided we should turn our mattress sideways, so as to even out the valleys we’d wallowed into the bed, rendering a big hump of a hill in-between the valleys. We turned the mattress, which did not help the way we thought it would–or, at all. It turns out Dave’s personal big ditch, turned sideways, made a hole that rendered getting out of the bed almost impossible. I tried every possible way to navigate the terrain before announcing, “We have to do something about the bed.”

What we had to do was go shopping for a new bed. When we chose the old bed several years ago, we didn’t buy so well. This time, we determined to do better. After all, as someone said, “This is the last bed we’ll buy.”

Jade and Anjie brought home a Sleep Number Bed a few years ago. We were impressed when they said they were still happy with it. In fact, Anjie said, it is still as good as the day they bought it.

Convinced, we made our first and only stop at the Sleep Number shop. It was the last day of the once-a-year sale, so after the presentation and the lying down, rolling around on the bed, and choosing our sleep number, we handed over a credit card and found out we’d have to wait nine days for them to bring it to our house.

We were pretty stoked on the day the new sleeping arrangement was to arrive. Two sweet and efficient delivery men removed our old mattress and set up the new one in minutes.

“Okay, time to learn the remote,” one guy said.

He reviewed the simple operations with me and then asked me to sign for the delivery.

“Okay,” I said, “but why does it sag in the middle?”

“I think your foundation is not strong enough,” he answered.

“Could I put a piece of plywood under it?”

“You could. I don’t see why it wouldn’t work. Maybe you call the store first.”

Charlie said he thought it would work, too, but he added we could be responsible if a hose got damaged or the air bladder was in some way affected.

“So we need to buy your foundation?”

“That would probably be best.”

We completed the transaction and Charlie advised me that there would be another delivery fee of $225.

“Is this something we could do ourselves?” I asked.

“Oh, yeah, you could pick it up and install it yourselves. It’s pretty simple.”

“Okay, I want to do that instead of the delivery fee.”

“Well-l-l, since we have to order the item anyway…”

“The delivery fee still applies,” I finished for him.

“Yes, I’m afraid so.”

We scheduled a delivery date for ten days later. Meanwhile, we couldn’t sleep on the bed because we might damage…that air bladder.

So the foundation arrived today! The old foundation is gone! The bed is on the new foundation! The new comforter and shams are on the bed! I’m so excited!

But the foundation looks a little funny. It’s a two-piece contraption, and one side’s end is different from the other.

I’ll call Charlie tomorrow. Since I can’t see how it could possible hurt, and since I’m a sleepy old Valentine, I’m going to bed. Seriously. Maybe my strawberries will come tomorrow! I’ll yell, “Yippee-e-e-e-e!”

And the moon…

I was one lonely pre-teen when we arrived at seminary housing in Mill Valley, California. We had taken Route 66, pulling a U-haul trailer behind our big old white Dodge with no air conditioner. Actually, I loved the trip to California. It was the settling in that caused my grief. It was late July, but San Francisco Bay seemed to fog in whatever the season. I lay in my twin bed in the living room of our two-bedroom apartment and soaked in the sadness of foghorn warnings wafting across the water from The City.

A song, “Stranger on the Shore,” was popular on the radio at the time. I identified with it, but if I sang it at all, it was very quiet or only to myself.

Here I stand, watching the tide go out, 
So all alone and blue, just dreaming dreams of you. 
I watched your ship as it sailed out to sea 
Taking all my dreams and taking all of me.

By the time I reached the ending question of the lyrics, I usually wept.

Why, oh why, must I go on like this? 
Shall I just be a lonely 
Stranger on the shore?"

I hear my mother singing a Hank Williams song in her apartment above the study where I write.

Hear that lonesome whippoorwill
He sounds too blue to fly.
That midnight train is whining low.
I'm so lonesome I could cry. 

Mom can sing a sad song and not sound sorrowful. That’s because she never gets lonely, she told me. Mercy. I could cry right now just thinking of the rest of the lyrics.

I've never seen a night so long
When time goes crawling by.
The moon just went behind the clouds
To hide its face and cry.

I’m sure Mom would be surprised if I told her now the depth of my sadness when I walked in to my first seventh-grade classroom. When all the students were seated, the teacher asked some personal questions like, “What elementary school did you attend?,” and “Is your father the ‘Doctor’ Fields?” The one directed to me was, “Where are you from?”

“Lebanon, Tennessee,” I said, “about thirty miles northeast of Nashville.”

She smiled, kids snickered, some even mimicking. I sank. After that moment, my conversation was limited to required responses for the four months I attended Mill Valley Junior High.

I remember talking to only one other student, a girl who ate lunch with me. Everyone brought lunch from home. We sat on benches in a courtyard outside unless it was raining, and then we ate in our classrooms. To this day, I wonder why that particular girl chose me. I don’t remember her name.

Teachers seemed unapproachable. When my math teacher found out I was leaving for another school during the Christmas break, she said, “That’s why I don’t like you seminary kids. You’re always leaving.”

***

Lately the moon has been spectacular. The December moon phases were brighter than usual, placed against that backdrop of a shade slightly deeper and more shimmering than Sherwin Williams’ Moscow Night.

One late December night, Dixie and I took to the front yard for the last potty opportunity before bed. The moon was full and far away. My pup padded around as far as the leash and a few of my steps would take her. I watched the moon.

A few lonesome spells always seem to hit me around the holidays. For some reason, I started humming Stranger on the Shore. I remembered that feeling of being disconnected and unwanted, a totally invalid emotion for all the joy and family around me.

Then I remembered a song the Mill Valley Junior High Chorus sang that December, one day before my last day at Mill Valley Junior High. We walked, in a group, from hall to hall. Our school had no cafeteria and no auditorium of any kind.

I loved chorus. No one talked about my Southern accent there. We just sang. Mr. Stahlmann, our director, asked me to sing one verse of our selection alone–a solo, a capella. My heart beat almost out of my chest as I wondered why he chose me for this part, but I knew I could sing well.

This song, No Candle Was There and No Fire, was old and strange. I researched two of the antique words of the song. Between kine and effulgence, effulgence was my favorite.

We hadn’t practiced in the halls and I was mesmerized by the echo of my own voice filling one long, lonely space.

But the moon gave a radiance divine, 
And the stars an effulgence bright. 
And the only sound to be heard 
Was the lowing of kine in the night 
And the sighing of wind in the trees, and the flapping of angel wings.

The next day, that last day before we moved from Mill Valley, kids in my home room whispered and looked at me. Finally, one boy asked from across several rows of desks, “Was that you, you know, singing real high?”

“Yes,” I said, not daring to meet his eyes for long.

“Well, it was real good,” he said.

One by one, ten or so of the other classmates joined in. “That was so pretty,” “I wish I could sing like that,” and “Man, you sounded like you were far away.”

The last girl to comment said, “But I could still hear your accent.”

I thought, “Yeah, and I was far away, but you can’t take this away from me– I was effulgence bright.”