Sunflowers

CindyConnor
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.”

The Fox

I saw a fox yesterday morning! He (or she–I couldn’t tell) sauntered across the back patio, turned his head to look at me, and trotted across the neighbor’s lawn and under his carport. He was a youngster, hadn’t gained all of the red coat he’ll sport in a few months. But the tip of his tail was white.

We haven’t seen foxes on the property in years now. The first year we lived here on the ravine we counted sixteen, eight of those babies born to two mamas. We watched them play from the window in Mom and Dad’s den. Mom would call, “Dad says come over here. The foxes are out.”

He loved the foxes. He was miserable and depressed that first year here from the farm, and what saved him the next spring were the foxes and his garden.

One sunny day, one of the mothers brought all eight kits up from the ravine to the south lawn. These two vixens seemed to babysit for each other. One of the kits aggravated this mother-in-charge so much that she finally smacked him into a somersault. He didn’t seem to be hurt, but he did stop jumping all over her. Dad laughed. “I guess she straightened him out!” Our six-year-old grandson said, “They look like little grey dogs!”

Too soon, the foxes grew into young red dogs who scampered around the back of the property and watched our every move. Very often, we’d see little heads pop up from the ravine to check us out when our own grandkits rolled a ball or staged races in the back yard. They kept Dad company from a short distance while he worked in the garden. Sometimes we’d hear him talking to them and they seemed to listen. At night, when driving in to the garage, shiny eyes appeared in precise formation along the bank.

And then they were gone.

At the time, I wondered if they left because Dad cleaned out too much of their cover from the ravine. Clearing the banks was his favorite thing to do next to growing his huge vegetable garden. I also saw somewhere that if a fox is sick, the others move away from him. Then I read some good wildlife research that said foxes only live communally when raising young. When the kits are ready to hunt alone, the skulk breaks up and each one goes his separate way. That made more sense.

Dad asked about them several times a week. “Have you seen any of the foxes?”

We did see two scraggly yearlings and researched treatment for sarcoptic mange in red foxes. On a trip to the co-op, I purchased injectible Ivermectin and began to lace bait. This is not a simple thing to do as the medication kills the mange mites but does not kill the eggs. So the Ivermectin has to be given consistently over a long period of time.

One of the two seemed to improve and the end of the second year, the only fox we saw was a very sick one not long for this world.

I told Dad, “Maybe they’ll come back and raise another family.”

I’m hoping the one I saw yesterday homesteads somewhere in the ravine.

Tuesday, November 19, was the first-year anniversary of Dad’s passing. I thought about it every day during the prior week, but it did not cross my mind until afternoon of the actual day, while driving to an appointment for cortisone injections in my knees.

I remembered taking Dad to the orthopedist at St. Thomas to look at his knees. I knew there would be no surgery, but Dad wanted to ask for replacements for his deteriorating joints. I even had the nurse put a sticky note reminder on Dad’s chart. “Dr. Shell, please note that Dad (Mr. Blair) has scleroderma.”

Dr. Shell is a loving doctor. He never mentioned the scleroderma but said, “Ernie, we don’t want to do any surgery, because I think it would just be too hard on you.”

Dad answered, “You’re the doctor,” and agreed to the cortisone shots. After a couple days, Dad said they didn’t help at all.

*

I was early for my appointment so I pulled in a shady parking lot off Woodmont Avenue close to the hospital.

“So what do I feel?” I asked myself. If someone had asked, “HOW do you feel?” the answer would have been “Okay” or “Fine, thank you, and you?” But what I really felt was a hard ball of emptiness in my middle, an insistent necessity to remember, and a full-body strangeness I could not identify. Perhaps it was just a self-protective disconnect.

I’ve tried to do what Dad asked. We moved my writing place from The Cellar to Dad’s study, not a small job. My new place is now labeled The Study. I’ve made it through all of the books, sorting boxes into Sell, ThriftSmart, Give-to ____, and Keep. A bookseller carted off 500. I’ve browsed through fifty-plus years of well-filed sermons, pulling out those with special meaning. A dear friend who teaches a men’s group wants the rest. We’re giving him the file cabinets, too. He’ll need to bring his big truck.

*

After a few minutes, I entered traffic to St. Thomas and parked three levels down in the basement. It’s the Heart section. The other parking levels are Star and Clover. I always park in the Heart section so I’m sure to remember where I parked.

I was still early but the nurse came to get me right away, deposited me in a room, and asked if I needed shorts or could I pull my skinny pants legs above my knees. I took the navy blue disposable shorts and laughed out loud when I pulled them on and climbed on the stool to the exam table.

I was overcome with grief so suddenly. In the room alone, I remembered the three weeks of absolutely mania in this hospital. On the third day, Dad turned combative and kicked an ultra-sound technician. He had to be restrained. He disowned me for allowing such treatment. I remembered trying to get him to eat. All he wanted was either a brownie or chocolate cake. Doctors and nurses alike brought him chocolate somethings. He finished none of it except for an entire brownie one day that a nurse brought from home. I remembered how he popped his heart monitor sensors as soon as the nurse who had reconnected them left the room. He took his clothes off and scooted down the bed several times a day. He begged me to give him “a shot to end all this.”

There was so much craziness managed as best they could by the well-trained, caring staff. I was so hopeful that my father would get out of this world soon, but it took a while.

*

Jonathan, the Physician Assistant, is talkative. He always has something topical to relate the moment he walks into the room. He shook my hand and patted my shoulder.

“How are you today? I mean, really.”

I started to cry. “I’m sorry,” I said. “Today is the first anniversary of my dad’s passing.”

He patted my shoulder some more. “Ah, that’s rough. Go ahead and cry. There’s nobody here but me and you.” He handed me a box of tissues.

“This is the same room where Dr. Shell saw Dad.” I explained that just being in the hospital triggered my emotion. He said he could understand, especially, you know, being this same room. Then he told me about his father’s passing. I think he said it was three years ago and that he still remembers. He said he feels something on the anniversary date but he doesn’t weep. His father was wracked with dementia for almost three years.

I said I was grateful that Dad’s three years prior to his death weren’t like that. I said three weeks was plenty. Jonathan said his dad wasn’t mean or combative and that three weeks of that would be plenty for anybody.

I noticed I had stopped crying. Jonathan said, “Well, should we get going on these injections?”

I thanked Jonathan when he left the room. I hope he knew that I was grateful for much more than the medication.

I thought about keeping my paper shorts. That made me laugh and I tossed them into the trash, left for check-out, and scheduled another appointment in February.

For some reason, I got off the elevator at the Clover level, two floors up from where I parked the van. When the elevator door closed, I started crying.

I plopped my purse on a bench in the hallway and sat beside it. A woman came by and asked, “Are you alright?”

“Yes, I’m okay. Thanks for asking.”

Then a woman pushing an old man in a wheelchair stopped beside the bench. “Honey, is there anything I can do for you?”

“No. Is that your dad?”

He grinned and answered for her. “Yes, I am. She has to do so much for me she probably wishes I wasn’t.”

She just shook her head and smiled.

“My father died a year ago today,” I said.

“Oh, dahlin’, you just cry all you want. Do you have a Kleenex in that big old bag?”

“I do.” I pulled out tissues and wiped my eyes.

The woman bent over and hugged me. She smelled of musk and vanilla.

“Okay, you gonna be okay, fine even. Now we got to get on up to the sixth floor.”

I thanked her and she said she knew I’d do the same for her.

When I got to the van, I remembered I needed to pick up prescriptions at the pharmacy. I re-applied mascara, eyebrow pencil, and tinted lip balm. I decided I looked fairly presentable.

*

I still feel the unnameable strangeness. Maybe it’s grief, or stress, or a bit of depression, I don’t know. No need to try to get rid of it but just live into it, as a pastor friend says I must.

I feel grateful for those people who “live into” my grief and comfort me.

My father’s spirit wafts over and through The Compound, this odd old place where we live, the house, grounds, and ravine. His presence permeates The Study. A chickadee hops around on the Rose’o’Sharon bush outside the window. Squirrels bury walnuts in the spot where the foxes played. This room is peace. My mind is quiet.

And yesterday morning, I saw a fox.

***

Things I’ve Kept

It’s a daunting task, this cleaning out of Dad’s books and papers. The job would go faster if I could resist reading everything that looks interesting. A few months ago, I found, on a shelf, a small cardboard box labeled “Things I’ve Kept.”

I opened it to find a used-up air freshener jar, two empty after-shave bottles, a thousand business cards, four wallets, three key cases, assorted key rings, a used battery, a floppy disk, eyeglass lenses, two pair of sunglasses, a tiny New Testament, a silver Western belt buckle, a clothes brush, a hairbrush and more.

Yeah, I chuckle about that box then remember my own  “keeping” habit. My collections include bottles to be transformed into painted vases, corks, tissue and paper towel rolls, medicine bottle and rusted metal parts I might use in a collage or a mobile. Most of the time, some art teacher wants some of this stuff but I don’t part with the rusted pieces.  I’ve loved making the mobiles–just want to be sure to have materials in case my muse visits.

And then there are the bags of seeds in the freezer.

Dad was a gardener. The berries he planted long ago yielded a couple gallons of strawberries and another of blackberries. Dave begged me not to plant vegetables this year, but I couldn’t help myself. A friend and I planted tomatoes, peppers, cucumbers, bush beans (Dad’s favorite Pickin’ and Grinnin’), basil, and butternut squash. The rest of the space where Dad had full rows of everything looked so bare that we threw native plant seeds all over where grass and flowers co-mingle into beautiful gardens looking a bit like the English style.

It’s trouble keeping up with the gardens around this big old place. Dave still waters, but Dad always helped me with tilling, hoeing and harvesting. I look at my prolific plantings every day, but I still miss some cucumbers and they grow too large before I find them. That happened to Dad, too. He didn’t see well for several years, so I helped him find squash, beans, and cucumbers.

One day I found five foot-and-a-half zucchini, yellow squash so overgrown you could use it for a ping-pong paddle (if you could slice it up), and cucumbers I needed two hands to carry. I laid out all of them on the grass and hollered at Dad working in his shop.

“Hey, come look what I just found.”

He moseyed out, grinned when he saw the bounty.

“Well, those are inedible but I kind of hate that you pulled them off the vines.”

“Why?” I asked.

“I was saving them for seeds,” he said.

There’s a jungle in the strawberries now. Dad always kept the grass out. I try to rehab them but I got a late start this spring. I fail miserably at weeding when the humidity rises, but I keep on keeping on. My fingers get stiff and I wear a brace on my left hand. My hands are broad like Dad’s. I remember how those hands grew too stiff to weed when scleroderma attacked, so he hoed rather than pull.

Scleroderma is an ugly disease. Dad progressed to severe stomach problems and legs so unreliable he fell about once a week. His esophagus hardened into a long tube with no muscle action. He lived on protein drinks. He fell several times outside. Somebody always seemed near to help him up–one of us, a neighbor, the garbage truck driver, or the mail lady.

A couple years ago, a rheumatologist diagnosed my sudden inability to walk as an attack of polymyalgia. Usually polymyalgia symptoms disappear with a few days of a low dose of prednisone. I was immobile for only four or five days, but it took the lingering symptoms several weeks to abate and then with increased dosages of the corticosteroid.

Dr. Lyons told me that I had some form of inflammatory arthritis but that I did not screen for the rheumatoid variety. I hadn’t heard of such a condition, but I followed her treatment protocols and I feel okay most of the time. She also told me it was not unusual that I would turn up with these symptoms given that Dad had scleroderma. Dave says I have LupusLight.

***

In my file cabinet, I have several files labeled “Keepsakes.” If I allowed someone to look into those files, they’d find letters, special greeting cards, kids’ report cards and immunization records, college admissions paperwork, my own transcripts, a few torn out magazine articles, and jokes I’ve loved. In my desk, you’d find a gazillion business cards if I hadn’t pulled them out a few weeks ago.

It seems I’ve kept a lot of Dad, some inherited, some channeling I suppose. There’s the gardening thing, small hoarding issues and stiff joints, business cards, things I can’t part with because I might need them sometime, and things I want to always remember.

I pulled everything out of Dad’s “Things I’ve Kept” box and sorted it into giveaways, throwaways, and “Keep.” I kept a card from 2001 labeling Dad Chairman of the Smith County Democratic Party for some meeting at Legislative Plaza and a couple of campaign pins. I also kept an index card printed by Dad’s hand on one side and cursive writing on the other.

Side 1: Living according to God’s law enables us to live as God made us to live, taking our place in the created order with eyes opened to God’s glory.
Side 2: 1-24-2010. Psalm 19 reminds us that we are a part of a big world. The author invites us to look beyond our small selves to discover how God is at work.

Dad always allowed the freedom to translate anything he said in order to apply it to our own lives. I know I’m going to read Psalm 19 to see how it speaks to me.

Most of The Things I’ve Kept won’t fit in a box.

IN the Ravine

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We always knew someone in The Compound would fall in the ravine. Lord knows Dad tried. He decided in 2010 he would cut brush and clean up the vines on the bank; you know, “clear the land.” He devised the perfect way to enter and exit the big ditch. He routinely lowered a tall ladder (a really, really tall one) over the edge of the bank and propped it against a tree on the steep side of the ravine. Before descending, he’d throw all the tools he might need somewhere near the ladder. When he finished with a tool, he reared back and threw the tool onto level ground.

You haven’t really lived–or maybe come so close to dying–as feeling a hatchet whiz by your head while peacefully attending the weeds in the lower garden.

I yelled as soon as I heard the whoosh of the ax. “Dad! You almost got me!”

He shinnied up the ladder, and when he finally saw me, said, “But I didn’t.”

Dad stopped his forays into the ravine a few years ago. I admit I was a bit relieved. He  warned me, “Don’t get too close to that ravine. That ground is soft. You don’t want to fall in.”

The vines returned; Virginia Creeper, Japanese honeysuckle, wintercreeper, and a few muscadines. Brush re-established; same old non-native privet, pokeweed, winterberry, and thistles. We keep them controlled for about two feet off the back yard, what we can easily reach. We’ve also seen a fair assortment of plants whose roots or bulbs Dad tossed over the edge including Rose-of-Sharon, iris, cannas, and a couple berry briars.

This past May, I noticed a bunch of  one- to two-foot Royal Pawlonia sprouts in the area where we’d taken down the tree several years ago. We’ve watched the grounds carefully since the removal of the offender, so I was surprised to see the scary little crop with the pretty purple flowers. Royal Pawlonia, or Princess Tree, is wildly invasive and spews out millions–no, really, I mean millions–of seeds every year. If you want to find out how bad it really is, just look it up in your Wikipedia.

“Dave,” I said, “you’re going to have to spray those little purple trees or we’re going to have hundreds of them full-grown before we know it.”

He chose to fertilize the roses and eradicate the Pawlonia shoots on a Sunday about 1:30. I knew he was tending to roses, but I did not know he’d loaded up a sprayer to kill the tiny trees.

I put on what I call my painting clothes, dug weeds, and had just gone upstairs to Mom and Dad’s apartment to tend to some needs of our old folks when I heard the special tune on the phone.

“Hello, I know it’s you,” I said to Dave.

He answered, “Help, I’ve fallen into the ravine and I can’t get out.”

“What do you want?” I asked my usual first question when he starts with some (lame) humor.

“I want you to come get me out of the ravine.”

“So what are you doing in the ravine?” I chuckled a little.

“I was spraying those purple things.” He blew out hard.

“You’re joking, right?”

His voice gained decibels. “No, I’m not joking. You have to come help me.”

“Well, I’m not…” I started to tell him no way was I going to go in with him. “No, wait, are you hurt?”

“Yes, I’m hurt,” he said.

“I’ll be right there.” I stuck my phone in my pocket and called to Mom in the kitchen, “He’s not kidding. He fell in the ravine.”

I hurried down the steps of the apartment and ran over to the edge of our beloved big ditch. He was lying on the bank in a mostly-vertical position, the spectre enhanced by a bush with little white flowers wreathed around his head. I saw blood.

“Where are you hurt?” I called.

“I don’t know.”

“Do you think you’ve broken anything? A leg? Arm? Shoulder?” I asked.

“I don’t think so, but I can’t get up the bank.”

“Okay, let me just…” I tested three places on the ground above him. All were soft.

“I think we better call 911. I can’t get down there,” I said.

“No, don’t call them. Go get Don.”

I called our next-door neighbor, hoping he’d be home.

When he answered, I asked, “Don, are you at home?”

“Yeah.”

“Dave has fallen in the ravine. We need help.”

All the other times I call him, Dave is headed his way with soup or ham or pie. He could have been disappointed, but he was there in what seemed like two seconds.

“See that stump?” I asked. “He’s just to this side of the stump.”

Don called down to Dave to check his condition. I whispered, “I think he landed on his face. There’s a lot of blood on his face.”

“Have you got a long pole?” he asked.  I don’t know what I gave him, but he told Dave he was lowering the pole. “You grab on and I’ll pull you out.”

Dave struggled to hold to the pole, and when he finally got it in two hands, his feet gave way to the slippery slope.

Don turned to me. “I’m going down.”

“No, don’t do that,” I said. “Then I’d just have two of you down there. Dad used to go up and down on a tall ladder. Maybe we should try that.”

“That’s right. Where’s the ladder?” he asked.

“Propped against the side of the garage over there.” I pointed. “I’ll help you.”

“I don’t need any help. I can get it,” Don said, but I still followed a few steps behind him. He picked up the ladder. We stopped at the edge and looked down. “I don’t see anything to prop it against.”

“What’s wrong with that stump he just face-planted?” I asked.

“Dave, I’m lowering the ladder right next to you. Do you think you can get on it if I prop it on that stump?” Don asked.

“Maybe,” Dave answered.

After two unsuccessful attempts Don said, “He can’t get his feet on the ladder.”

“I’ll go down on the ladder and pull him onto it,” I said.

Don was quick to stop me. “No, then I’d just have the two of YOU down there. I’ll go down.”

“I’m on the ladder,” Dave yelled.

“Did you get on it? Can you climb it?” Don asked.

At the top of the ravine, Don grabbed Dave and pulled him up.

“Thanks, Don.  Dave, honey, come on, get in the van. We’re headed for the ER.”

He staggered after me in the garage. I threw a towel in the passenger seat for him to sit on.

Southern Hills Hospital is a mile and a half from us. We were there bloody, muddy, and generally nasty but triaged and in a bay in no time.

I looked at my watch. 4:30. My friend Peggy and I had a Lyft scheduled at 6:00 to take us to Schermerhorn Symphony Center to see PostModern Jukebox. This was the second time I’d bought tickets to PMJ. The first time I was ill and, even though I tried, no one used the tickets. The current set of tickets was a birthday gift to my friend and I had already reneged on another trip (another story) so I was determined. (I’m trying to pre-explain why I did what I did later.)

I messaged Peggy. Dave is in the ER. Fell in ravine.

Peggy:  Is he hurt?

Me: I don’t think it’s too bad. I mean, he’s bloody and all that, but the doctor ordered x-rays and CT. They just came and took him to x-ray. He’s got a big gash on his face.

She asked more questions about his condition and then finished with No way we can get to the Schermerhorn on time. 

I was quick. We’re going to see PostModern Jukebox.

Peggy:  I’m dressed. I’ll wait until you tell me to leave home. The drive from Readyville to our house is about forty-five minutes.

After the CT scan, I was relieved to know that all Dave needed was a few stitches across one side of his face–the side that hit the stump. (He’d already started planning a story about how he got the scar in a bar, his favorite tale, something about defending my honor.)

I messaged Peggy. We’re going to go to the concert.

Peggy: But you’re not dressed. Didn’t you say you had to get in the shower?

Me: I can make do. I’ll hurry. I’m going to call Darrin (Dave’s son–mine, too). I should have already called him. 

I messaged the whole story to Darrin and Dana, ending with, “So can you come and pick up Dave and take him home? They’re about to sew up his face and I’ve got tickets to PMJ.” I knew Darrin the Drummer would understand.

I turned to Dave.  “Honey, do you think it would be okay for me to go home, get dressed, and go to the concert?”

“Sure,” he said, “but you’ll need to bring me a vehicle so I can drive home. Maybe Peggy could bring me the van while you get dressed.” He really hadn’t thought that she’d need to get back to our house somehow.

Peggy answered my earlier text. I don’t see how.

Me: Come on, we’ll figure it out. 

I received a return message from Dana. Darrin is on a plane. (He travels for work.) Do you think it would be okay for me to bring Evan with me? Evan is their very active three-year-old.

I wouldn’t, I answered. What if you just came and picked him up? He can call you when he’s ready.

“Is that okay, honey?” I asked Dave.

“Sure,” he said.

She called. “I can pick him up. Tell him to call me and Evan and I will come and get him. I’ll stay with him for a while to make sure he’s okay.”

I told her I needed to leave like, right now, and to text me when she got Dave home. She told me to go on and have a good time.

At home, I threw off my filthy pants and shirt, washed my face and reapplied deodorant, sprayed some dry-cleaner on my hair followed by a some fluffing, and found some clothes decent enough to wear. At least I think they were decent enough.

Peggy yelled “I’m here” when she came in the door.

I was still in the bathroom. “You have to take Dave’s wallet to him.” I rushed to the bureau where he kept his wallet.

“To the emergency room?” she asked.

“Yes,” I said, handing it to her.

While she was gone, I had plenty of time to smear some makeup around and grab earrings. It wasn’t my regular routine, but I declared it finished.

In the Lyft vehicle, I looked down to see that my feet looked like they were still in the dirt. I had two wipes in my purse and used both of them. My feet weren’t perfect but they were “better than they were,” one of Dave’s favorite sayings.

***

We arrived at the Schermerhorn just in time.

I checked messages every few minutes. No word from Dana. Finally, I texted her to ask how things went. She thought she had already messaged me. She said things went fine except… Oh my god Diana he looked like an ax murderer.

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What a show, what a show! PMJ was all I thought they should be and more. At one point, I gave thanks for Dad’s ravine trips up and down the ladder, for Dave’s willingness  to allow me to abandon him in his hour of need (he really wasn’t that bad off, okay?), for Dana’s pickup and delivery, but especially for my man’s survival with less-than-could-have-been injuries.

So, maybe the thanksgiving was after the concert when I got home to see him sitting in his recliner watching one of his favorite shows.

“I got all but about two of those little purple things,” he said.

I love that man.

***

 

The Last Best Place on Earth

For Dad, it’s Alive Hospice, Murfreesboro, Tennessee.

The Nashville facility was full and the admissions nurse so determined that Dad needed to be there that she sent him to the Murfreesboro campus at midnight Friday.

Daddy rests in a large room halfway between the nurse’s desk and a family room containing comfortable chairs, recliners, and couches that flip into beds. There are several family rooms here, one with a dining area in front of a wall full of windows. The light streams in as if on cue.

In Dad’s room, we keep the lights dim. The room is quiet and peaceful; so is Dad.

He only stayed at the skilled nursing facility less than two days. We knew it was not the place for him, and when his kidneys began to fail Friday, the attending nurse practitioner recommended an immediate move.

With the help of the SNF’s social workers and nurses, Alive Hospice Nurse Gail ordered an ambulance for 11:00 P.M. They arrived at 11:45, two youngsters in ball caps reading Medic One.

“I’ll be riding in the back with him,” the smaller one said. “I see his diagnosis here is dementia. Has he ever become combative or kicked or punched a nurse or tech?”

I hesitated. “Yes, he did at the hospital, but that was when he was in complete psychosis. He’s not doing that now.”

“Well, I just wanted to let you know that if that happens….”

Big Guy butted in. “No, no,” he told his sidekick. “If something happens, you just let me know and I’ll pull over to the side of the road and come back there to help you get him calmed. We want to be very soft…soft.”

I could actually imagine a scene like that.

I left before the ambulance. The ramp to I-440 was closed, probably because of a fatal accident earlier in the day, but when I turned around to go the opposite direction, there were cars making left turns onto the interstate so I followed them.

I met Shirley, the night charge nurse, the techs, and the front door security guard. Shirley went over the care plan, medications that they’d be using, and ways they operate. She said the doctor would see me on Saturday. I told her it was already Saturday.

A nurse stuck her head in the room. “I am wondering what is taking that transport so long. Did you leave a long time before they did?”

“No, I was right in front of them, but I bet they got to that closed ramp and found another route.”

Turns out, that’s exactly what happened. They were automatically re-routed.

Dad was awake. Shirley explained what was happening.

“Ernie, we’re going to give you some pain medication and then we’ll give you a bath first thing and get you all freshened up.”

Two techs and two nurses busied themselves over him. He talked to them in slurred speech and from an altered state, but they caught about every third sentence.

“You are a handsome man,” one said. Another asked him about his 72-year marriage. “What’s the secret?” she asked.

“Let each other be free to grow and develop” is what we think we heard. I confirmed that he might have said that.

Then came the washing of the private parts.

“Ernie, we are going to have to wash you down there. Normally, we’d just let you do it, but you have some leftover bm there and we want you to be clean, okay?”

“Ah, you girls just want to look at me,” he said. “All the time.”

We all laughed at him.

“No, we don’t, but I’m going to raise your gown and clean you up and then we’ll put a fresh pad and gown on you.”

He picked up a towel a tech had left beside him. “Then I’m just going to put this over my face,” he said, and hid his whole head from the offending eyes.

We laughed some more, but they got him cleaned up and bundled up in his new bed.

***

Dad now gets a pretty stiff cocktail of haldol, morphine, and a valium-like drug. The dosage is small but repeatable. If he is not calm twenty minutes after the last offering, the nurse starts the routine again, or she slightly increases the morphine.

He lies quiet in the bed most of the time but when the meds start to wear off, he twists, grimaces, and mumbles.

The grandsons and families came to visit yesterday, including Jaxton and Savannah, ages 5 and 3. Neither was upset by Grandpa’s condition. Savvy said hi to him several times, anxious to get an answer from him.  Mom was glad to see the little ones.

I stayed last night. I played music to him and sang to him, hoping something might connect. In the middle of the night, I heard him say, “Diana.” I wasn’t sure of that until I sat up and waited for him to call me again. It’s like what happens when you try to say my name without being able to move the tongue.

“Lie-ah-uh,” it sounds like.

“What, Dad? What do you need?”

He grasps my hand. I kiss him on his old bald head.

“You’re in a really good place,” I tell him.

 

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