Lord, help us.

Sometimes, what you fear most is what you get.

Mom, now 85, developed an infection in her artificial right knee a couple months ago. Her orthopedist confirmed and scheduled surgery to clean it out, sort of a “flushing” procedure, in a late Tuesday night emergency surgery. Her orthopedist and her infectious disease doctor told us there is a 10-15% chance the infection would return–or never leave. And when that happens, the artificial joint must be removed, and another installed.

She spent almost three weeks in a rehab facility right after the surgery,  and came home to me playing infusion therapist and several home care specialists visiting during the week.

The pain never stopped. It got worse. I called the orthopedist’s office and we went in last Monday. Dr. Shell drew enough fluid off the knee to send it to the lab. He called today to say that test results showed an elevated white blood cell count, the indication of an infection. That, coupled with the worsening pain, was enough to make a case for removing the knee, inserting a space for a couple months, and making a replacement in a second surgery. He said he felt we should do the surgery sooner rather than later, like Tuesday.

Some doctors know what a great comfort it is when they speak to patients frankly, with compassion, and with the focus on the fellow human they’re talking to. William Shell is such a doctor, such a man. At the end of our conversation, I told him I hated to ask for more of his time, but would he please call Mom and go through the whole thing with her?

“Of course, I’d love to. I’ll do it right now. I like to talk to Ethel.”

I started to give him her cell phone number. I got as far as 615-330. I added an 8. And then I could NOT remember. I stammered.

“Hey, he asked, is it 8442?” he asked. “I see that’s showing as her cell phone number, and your number is her home number.”

“Yes, yes, that’s it.”

“Well, good. Sometimes computers work to our advantage.”

I didn’t cry. I called my brother in Nevada; actually, I talked to his wife. Sometimes, I’d rather let her relay news, especially when I’m afraid I might cry.

Then I sat at my desk, the best place I know, and tried to come up with what I was feeling. Sad, scared, those were the top two. I answered the phone on the first chime. It was Mom. I could tell she was scared, but she was resolved and she was loving on Dr. Shell. And then she asked me if I would tell Dad.

“Where is he?”

“Downstairs, somewhere. He’s probably outside. No, wait, I hear the lift. He’s coming up.”

“Okay, I’ll go catch him.”

I hurried out the door of The Cellar and caught Dad stopped midway up the lift.

“What are you doing?” I asked. “Is the lift not working right?”

“I’m trying to fix something. There was this big hole between the lift and the floor upstairs and I saw one of the women get her heel caught in it, so I put a big board there and now it’s shifted and it’s blocking the lift from getting all the way up.”

“Can you fix it?”

“Yes, I just have to move the board.”

“Well, come back down here, I have to talk to you.”

“What about? What’s wrong?” He pushed the down button before I had time to answer.

I sat in one of the chairs at his round library table. He sat facing me in a rocker.

“Dad, Mom is going to have to have another surgery. She’s going in the hospital Tuesday.”

“I was afraid of that. I just told her this morning that something is wrong and somebody needs to fix it. How did they find out about the surgery?”

“You mean what made Dr. Shell think she needed another surgery?”

He nodded. He moved his tongue back and forth in his mouth. He always does that before he tears up.

“Remember he drew fluid off her knee Monday? Well, when the lab tested it, it had lots of white blood cells in it and that usually means there’s infection.”  I went on. “Here’s what they’ll do. He’ll take her knee out, and then he’ll put what he calls a spacer in there. And while that’s in there, she won’t be able to walk on it, so she’ll be in a wheelchair. And then, when they’re sure the infection is cleared up, he’ll go back in and give her a new knee.”

He wiped his mouth and I hurried on. “Now, listen, you are going to have to behave yourself. You can’t be crying and carrying on around Mom. Every time you get upset and get to crying and get all depressed, it’s not good for her. SHE’s the one having surgery, and she’s the one we have to think about. So you’ve just got to get hold of yourself. You got to buck up and show her encouragement.”

“I will, I will.”

“Now I know you’re upset right now and you probably need to stay down here until you’re sure you can do okay upstairs.” (I did say that very kindly.)

“Yeah. I won’t go up right now. I have to fix this lift.”

“And I have to try to get all this stuff arranged,” I said.

I patted his shoulder before I left his office. I knew if I hugged him, he really WOULD start crying.

By the time I walked across the patio to The Cellar, Mom was calling.

“Yes, I told him,” I said. “He’ll be fine.”

“Well, where is he?” she asked.

“He’s fixing the lift.”

“You know what I keep thinking about? Remember, Faye [her cousin], laid there in that bed at the nursing home with no knees…..”

“Yes, but you’re not Faye. You have a lot going for you. You have the best doctor, the best hospital, the best home environment, and you have us to take care of you.”

“You’re right. I do. All of the above.”

 

 

Goodbye, Wichita Lineman

Glen Campbell died on my birthday.

Driving home after birthday greetings, giggles, jokes, and toasts with my writing tribe, I thought how there was never a time I didn’t like Glen. He wasn’t anything like a heartthrob; he was just the consummate performer and he, or somebody working for him, knew how to pick a song.

When I heard Wichita Lineman for the first time, I had just finished my first year at San Jose State and decided to set out my sophomore year in Lewistown, Montana. The California college system had decided I was an out-of-state student, even though I hadn’t left California when Dad took a church and teaching position in Montana during my senior year at Pittsburg High School. I had to pay out-of-state tuition–in arrears–before they’d give me my grades.

I’d broken an engagement. I was emotionally adrift in a place as foreign to me as the moon. Mom and Dad did their best to take care of me. Dad and I decided to drive to California in his brown Dodge station wagon to move my “things.”

I don’t recall what we moved but I remember the car was full from the rear door to the front seats. We drove straight through Nevada, with only occasional stops for meals and a few naps.

We stopped for breakfast in the little town of Blackfoot, Idaho. We’d been on the road for about twelve hours, just about two-thirds of the way home. I know it was Blackfoot because we started talking about the Blackfoot Native American tribe before we hit the city limits. Mom and Dad had taken three little boys from Great Falls as foster children at Christmas time and they were “half-American Indian and half Chinese.” At that time, there was no information about their tribal heritage; we could only speculate.

“Is it possible the boys might be Blackfoot?” I asked.

“I suppose so,” Dad said. “Your guess is as good as mine. I’ve heard Cree, Creek, Blackfoot, Lakota. I don’t think anybody really knows.”

When Dad pulled in the gravel parking lot a little before 6:00 o’clock, we noted on the sign outside that the place was open from 6:00 a.m. one day until 3:00 a.m. the next. Our waitress, also one of the owners, brought coffee to the table before we sat down. She said their long hours gave them the after-bar business, and it was the only early-morning breakfast spot within a good radius. She and her husband took turns sleeping for more than the three-hour break, allowing for one of them to always be onsite. She seemed happy–and proud.

“Whatcha gonna eat this morning?” she asked.

Dad sighed. “Whatever you want to cook. I’m more interested in this coffee.”

“How about some bacon and eggs–or would you rather have ham–our ham is good–or I’ve got some good kielbasa, and how do you want those eggs?”

I answered this time. “Bacon and eggs, scrambled, and toast.”

“I’ll try some of that kielbasa,” Dad said. He didn’t say how he wanted his eggs and she didn’t ask.

“I’m gonna bring you a pot of coffee,” she said, on her way to the kitchen window.  She didn’t hang her order on the clothes pin line, just handed it through the window to her husband and whispered.

She turned toward the jukebox against the front wall of windows and fished some coins from her apron. “We need some music. I won’t play anything too rowdy.” Then she picked up a pitcher thermos from behind the counter and set it on our table.

“I like him,” she said. “Glen Campbell. By the Time I Get to Phoenix.”

I nodded. “I like him, too.”

“He can sure play that guitar,” Dad said.

When she left, I said, “Funny how he sings traveling songs.”

“All of them?” Dad asked.

“Well, Gentle On My Mind is about a guy jumping trains. And this one is he’s on his way to Phoenix.”

“Hadn’t thought about that.”

By the time the steaming plates arrived, we’d all moved on from Glen Campbell. I don’t remember what else played. The man stepped out of the kitchen, reached behind the jukebox, and turned the volume down.

While we were eating, the place filled up with working men and two more waitresses tied on aprons over white polyester dresses. There were no other women except for me. I felt obligated as the new target of ogling and sat up straight in my chair. A new waitress removed our dishes and we poured the last of the coffee.

“Are we rested enough to get on the road?” I asked. “I’ll drive.”

“Yeah. Let me finish this cup of coffee. We better hit the restrooms before we leave.”

About that time, a burly bald-headed guy at a table yelled, “Hey, Jack, turn that up.”

“Jack” stepped out of the kitchen again, wiping his hands. “I’m busy back here,” he said. But he turned up the music and we heard, “And the Wichita lineman is still on the line.”

“Make it play over,” Mr. Burly said. “That song’s about me.”

Somebody across the room said, “This ain’t Wichita,” but Jack pulled the plug on the machine. “Somebody needs to get over here and feed it some dimes. I’m busy back there.”

Our waitress sat her coffee pot on the top of the jukebox and fished out some more coins. “Alright, I’m paying,” she said, “but somebody needs to get over here and pick out.”

Burly obliged, pulling up his Duckheads as he punched numbers.

Dad reached in his pocket and laid some bills on the table. “We better get going.”

“Shhhh, shhhh,” I said, “that’s Glen Campbell. That’s his new song.”

Go ahead. Play Wichita Lineman.

I got up and headed for the ladies’ room when I heard, “…and I need you more than want you, and I want you for all time.” I didn’t cry until I got in a stall.

I feel the same way about Glen Campbell that I remember feeling when John Denver died. I didn’t know how much I’d miss him until he was gone. Wichita Lineman ranks right up there with the best songs ever written and, without doubt, Jimmy Webb, its penman, in the top ten songwriters, maybe five. He lucked out, or maybe he was just smart, when he chose Glen Campbell to interpret his songs.

Trish Yearwood sings a Hugh Prestwood song called The Song Remembers When. The song testifies to the way that music can instantly–and intensely–give rise a memory that hasn’t shown itself in years. Funny, the woman in the lyrics says she was “standing at the counter, waiting for some change” when it happened:

Still I guess some things we bury
Are just bound to rise again
For even if the whole world has forgotten
The song remembers when
Yeah, and even if the whole world has forgotten
The song remembers when.

I know what she means.

 

 

 

 

Dad Without Mom

Mom knows she’s not allowed to die before Dad.

One Tuesday evening a few weeks back, Mom had some urgent medical care for an infection in her right (artificial) knee. An infection in one of these man-made joints is a serious situation. She went to surgery about 5:00 o’clock. It took about an hour for Dr. Shell to open the knee and clean it out. After a really rough night Tuesday night and changing her pain medications Wednesday morning, she rallied. By Thursday afternoon, her three doctors–orthopedist, hospitalist, and infectious disease specialist–released her to Woodcrest at the Blakeford, her favorite rehab facility.

We told Dad early Thursday that we would be moving her to Woodcrest. He was sitting in his chair.

“I was afraid of that,” he said.

“Why do you say ‘afraid?'”

He shook his head slowly. “How long is she going to stay?” he asked, glancing over to the glider-rocker where Mom sits to watch TV, crochet, color….well, just about everything except to iron. She sits at the kitchen table to iron.

I answered him, “Probably three or four weeks.”

He looked over his glasses. “That’s a long time.”

“Would you like to go to see her tomorrow morning?”

“No, I’ll go to see her on Sunday. You’ll be going on Sunday, won’t you?”

“I’m sure I will. Hey, let’s put your hearing aids in.”

He cupped his hands over his ears. “No, no, I don’t want them.”

“We’ll try again later.”

“Mom always puts them in.”

 

He stayed in all day on Friday, said he just wasn’t feeling as well as he wanted. He had been sick to his stomach during the night. I went over to the apartment to check on him about 4:30.

“What did you eat?” I asked from the door to the den.

“Cookies. And I think I drank too much coffee.” Dad’s early morning pre-breakfast meal is a choice of Little Debbie honey bun or oatmeal cake and a pot of decaffeinated coffee. Or he might opt for two cookies instead of the Little Debbies, either chocolate marshmallow or Nutter Butter.

“How about if I fry you some eggs?” I asked.

“Don’t want any eggs. Don’t want anything.”

Some mornings he eats breakfast after Mom has had her coffee, sometime around 9:00. Sometimes he doesn’t eat until 10:30 or 11. That meal might be bologna or souse and crackers, leftover pork roast if there is any, or turnip greens if Mom gets them on early enough. We try to make sure he has a good mid-day meal.

I walked in front of him to Mom’s chair and sat down. “What else did you have? Did you eat lunch?”

“I don’t eat much, just don’t want it,” he said.

“I know that, but you have to eat. You can’t be working a garden if you don’t have food. That’s your fuel.”

 

Saturday, he worked a little in his garden, a huge plot with rows of cabbage, green beans, peppers, strawberries, and onions, all ready to harvest. I went over to Woodcrest to see Mom mid-day.

When I got home, I checked in. “I pulled up some cabbage,” he told me.

“Why did you do that?” (Mom continually warns him about pulling up plants. If he doesn’t think the yield is as good as it should be, if he sees brown leaves, or if he notices anything else that disturbs him about the way things are growing, he pulls it up. The major problem here is that he doesn’t see well.)

He answered me. “It needed it. It was too big and spread out.”

I have to say I don’t know what that means, but his little red wagon was full of cabbage heads and I started parceling them out to the neighbors.

Dave took him a drink, his typical Evan Williams and Diet Coke, about 4:30. I was in the kitchen when he returned.

“Your dad says he wants to see you.”

“Oh. I wonder what that’s about.”

“He says he wants to have a meeting.”

I headed next door again with pen and paper.

“Hey, Dad, what’s up?”

“Well, I got out my calendar here and I want to make sure I put some dates on it.”

“Okay.” I paused and pointed to the TV. “Dad, I can hardly hear you.  If you would wear your hearing aids, you wouldn’t have to turn the TV up so loud.”

“What?”

I repeated myself.

“It’s too late in the day to put in my hearing aids,” he said.

“Which dates do you need?”

He swiveled his chair toward me. “Is today the 20th?”

“No, it’s the 18th.”

“Oh, well, if Mom stays down there twenty-one days, she should be home on the 6th of July.”

“Okay,” I answered. “How do you know it will be twenty-one days?”

“Because Medicare pays for twenty-one days and I know she won’t stay any longer than that.”

“You and Mom have Blue Cross Advantage Care. It may be different.”

“Huh?”

“Any other dates?”

“If you go to see her tomorrow, I want to go, too.”

“Yes, that would be good,” I said. “She’d like that.”

I put a load of clothes in the washer and sat back down. “I’m going to wash up all the clothes,” I said.

“We wash all our clothes on Monday.”

“I know. But I’m just going to have to do laundry whenever I can.”

He swiveled around to the TV tray where he writes. “Alright. Alright.  May as well change my calendar.”

“Dad, you’re not going to have to do all this stuff yourself.”

“Well, I can fold my clothes.” He paused. “I’m going to need some things from the store.”

“Okay, you just tell me what you need and I’ll go get it.”

He lifted his head. “I’ll make a list.”

“Okay, that’s a great idea. And I’ve been meaning to ask, ‘Were you sick again last night?'”

“Yes, and I threw up.” He sounded pitiful.

“On your bed?”

“Yeah.”

“I’ll change the sheets.” I got up and started down the short hall that joins the den and Dad’s sleeping room. He had already made the bed. He and Mom both make their beds every morning before leaving the room. I stripped the bed and told myself, “There’s no mattress pad on there. I could have sworn I put a mattress pad on this bed.” I made a mental note to add mattress pad to his shopping list.

 

“How are you this morning?” I asked as I sat in Mom’s chair with a cup of coffee.

“Oh, I guess the usual,” was the answer.

“You’re missing Mom,” I said.

He looked over at me and nodded toward the chair. “I’m just so used to seeing her in that chair. She doesn’t have to be doing anything, just as long as she’s there.”

For lack of any better answer, I said, “You’re going to see her today.” I leaned over to tap his leg.

He didn’t buy it. “It’s already too long.”

“Let’s leave here about 10:30, okay?”

“Whatever you say. But you have to fix my medicine. Mom always fixes our medicine on Saturdays. I don’t know what to do with it. I looked at it but I just don’t know. I never do it.”

“Yes, I will put all your pills in your boxes before I leave.”

 

We were finally on our way to Woodcrest.

“Oh, shoot, Dad, I meant to put your hearing aids in,” I said as we headed down Blackman Drive.

“I don’t want them.”

“You’re going to wear those hearing-aids,” I said.

“The truth of the matter is I don’t have to have those hearing aids. I can hear more than you think I can.”

“Oh, really?” I asked. I turned my head toward the window and asked, “Can you hear me?”

He didn’t answer.

“You’re going to wear those hearing aids,” I mumbled.

 

At Woodcrest, he seemed timid and out of sorts.

“Where are your hearing aids?” Mom asked.

“What?”

“I said, ‘Where   are    your    hearing-aids?'”

“Diana doesn’t know how to put them in.”

“Well, she can learn. You’re going to wear those hearing-aids!”

“I need my chair closer to you,” he said.

I dragged one of two really nice visitor chairs across the room and directly in front of Mom.

She looked up at me. “What time are we having lunch? Isn’t it past time?”

Dad leaned forward and looked around me toward Mom. “Are we going out?”

“Are we going out? I thought you were eating here with me,” she asked in my direction.

“Dad, don’t you remember, I told you we were going to eat with Mom today?”

“No.”

The chef (yes, they have a chef) brought in a Sunday dinner. I had ordered prime rib for Dad and, just in case he couldn’t or didn’t want to eat that, crab cakes for myself that I could exchange for his plate. He ate three bites of the meat. I asked, “Can you chew that?” and he said, “No.”

I was quite pleased with myself. “Well, lookee here what I happen to have–crab cakes!”

“Oh, boy,” he said. I put the crab cakes on his plate and took the remaining meat.

He ate two bites of the crab cakes and not much else. My old sweet tooth daddy didn’t even like the dessert.

“I’m ready to go when you are, Sis,” he said.

“Well, okay, let’s get going then.”

On the way out the door, he said, “Let’s not eat here next Sunday.”

And, in the car, “I’m more worried about your mother than ever.”

I jerked my head around. “Why?”

“She looks so old. This is the first time I thought she looked old.”

“Maybe you’re not seeing so well. [He doesn’t.] She doesn’t look old. She might look a little tired.”

“I hope so. Maybe you see better than I do.”

 

On Tuesday morning, after being sick all night, he had a little TIA right in front of Dave and me. We looked at each other and almost at the same time said, “ER.”

They checked him from stem to stern with lots of diagnostics. Dave called to pronounce, “It’s not his head and it’s not his heart.”

“So he’s coming home?” I asked.

“Yes, with some medicine for the upset stomach.”

I gave him Zofran right after he got home. It was 7:00 o’clock, a long day in the ER.

The next morning, he was almost cheerful. Almost.

“I’ve been up for a while,” he said. “Man oh man, I slept last night. Whatever that pill is you gave me, that one that goes under my tongue, it works.” He reached over to his TV tray. “Here’s the list,” he said. “Here’s what I need from the grocery store.”

1 lb. Beef Bolana
Loft of Wheat Bread
Pack of Butterfaner Candy
Cottage Chees
One pack of Milky Ways

He never was a speller despite his multiple post-college degrees. I knew exactly what he wanted. And I knew I wanted to put his list in my file labeled “Keepers – Dad.”

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Things can be going well and, then….”

Two days ago, Mom was scheduled to come home on Monday! Yesterday, when I talked to her on the phone, she had this deep chest cough.

I was going in for a visit this morning, and Dad wanted to go with me. Dave said he had just gone next door and found him sound asleep in his chair. Thinking that he might be awake, I checked on him a few minutes later. He was completely zonked, snoring.

He seemed really tired when I first saw him outside early this morning. I handed him the seeds he had requested, horticultural (October) beans, and told him I had left Mom a message and she hadn’t yet called me back. I wanted to make sure she’d be in her room when we chose to visit, told  him I’d let him know what time we’d go to visit as soon as she called.

I gathered the cherry tomatoes and checked the half-runner green beans, which I will have to pick this afternoon. Then I went back inside and tried to call Mom again. No answer.

I got a voice mail alert on my phone and listened to the message. “This is Henrietta Haygood, the nurse practitioner at Woodcrest at The Blakeford. [I made up that name.] I wanted to let you know that there was a mistake made regarding Mrs. Blair’s PICC line, the IV tube that delivers the antibiotics. Someone looked at the date to pull the line and thought it said June 29 when, in reality, she will need the IV through July 29. So we sent her over to the hospital this morning about 9:30 to have that PICC line re-inserted. She isn’t back yet, but she will be back here before the day is over. And this was our mistake….”  She said more and ended with, “If you have any questions, please give me a call. Or you can speak with Joy, the nurse on her floor today.”

I was quietly seething at my desk when Dave walked in. “Your dad says something’s wrong with the elevator.”

“Well, guess what? They pulled her tube/port thing that delivers her antibiotic for the infection in her knee. They thought it was supposed to stop June 29–instead of July 29, so they took her to the hospital at 9:30 to have that PICC line re-done.”

“And nobody called?”

“No, nobody called. And I’ve called Mom three times and she hasn’t called me back. Either she is feeling bad or she left her phone at the center. I am livid. I mean, I knew the date was July 29. Surely to God somebody there should have realized that.”

“Well, I told your dad to let one of us know when he wants to go back upstairs and we’ll go over to the apartment to make sure he gets back up on the lift. It must be that switch inside the elevator that’s not working right. You know, the switch you hold down.”

“So what good is it going to do for one of us to stand at the door of the lift in the apartment if he gets stuck?”

“Because the switch inside the apartment works. You can bring the lift back up with that switch.”

I nodded but didn’t say anything.

“Well, you better get dressed. You’re going somewhere in the next hour, whether it’s to the hospital or to Woodcrest. Which hospital did they take her to?”

“It better be St. Thomas.”

I called Henrietta [not her real name]. No, she wasn’t at her desk. She called back a few minutes later. We had a calm, if strained, conversation.

I learned that Henrietta had started Mom on a Z-pack for her “cold.” I did not ask if Mom is still coming home on Monday.

 

 

 

Three’s a crowd–and I don’t like crowds.

“The homemade pie has been under siege for a century, and surely its survival is endangered.”
― Janet Clarkson, Pie: A Global History

It is not meant for me to take a pie to a dinner.

The first one to take a dive, so to speak, was chess. I was testing it for doneness. The middle was supposed to lose its wiggle. I reached in the oven with two potholders, pulled one of the two pies out, and dropped it on the oven door. 2016-12-22-13-04-41And down the crack between the door and the rest of the stove. And into the drawer under the oven and on the floor. I wiped it off the hot oven door and tested the second pie by jiggling the rack. The middle didn’t move much. I left it in the oven to firm up, happily congratulating myself for having the forethought to bake two.
2016-12-22-13-04-45
I took the second pie to a writing group meeting, told the sad story of Pie #1, and proudly cut into our favorite. It was almost liquid. So much for the lack of wiggle, but we ate it anyway.

I cleaned the inside of the oven, and a few weeks later, my young friend Maryn, the college daughter of good friends Bob and Linda, took the greater part of an hour to clean the remainder off the oven front and drawer.

Last night, Dave and I were headed to Bob and Linda’s for dinner. Six of us are headed for the Keys this month, so we we met to make plans. I made pies for dessert, one chocolate and one key lime. Bob loves meringue, so I used extra egg whites to build mounds of fluff on top of each. I shaped each a little differently from the other. I’ve seen a sort of plateau-like topping on key lime pies–in the Keys–so I flattened the top smoothly, the meringue still measuring about four inches high. The chocolate one I fashioned in peaks and swirls. I successfully browned both in the oven, cooled both, and made secure traveling spots for each in the back of the van.

When we arrived at Bob and Linda’s house, Dave carried in a bag of dinner items I’d brought, while I carefully lifted the key lime pie and started up the walk behind him. I saw the handrail on the porch steps move just as Dave grabbed it. It seemed his body lifted into the air in slow motion, legs straight out, something like a levitation demonstration. In a second, I reached for him as I balanced the pie on my left hand.

Somehow–SOMEHOW–as he fell backward, his flailing arm knocked the pie from my hand. Actually, it was more like he smacked my hand and the pie took to the sky. It soared–I think I saw it spin–and then gravity pulled it straight down. It made a scraping sound as it landed flat on its aluminum pan bottom. The meringue, however, flew through the breeze, and plopped here, there, and everywhere on the sidewalk and in the front shrub bed. meringue-on-ground

Linda was on the porch and down the steps almost, it seemed, before the pie landed. I believe I’d finished my cursing and ranting about how I would never try to take a damn pie anywhere ever again. With Dave coaching, she helped him onto his feet. He wasn’t hurt, fortunate that he had not braced himself with his bandaged left hand, which was the result of a self-inflicted stabbing with a pair of scissors earlier in the week. When he turned to mount the stairs, I saw a wide swath of white on his derriere.  Linda fetched a wet towel to clean him off. I’ll never know how the meringue got UNDER him.

“I can’t believe that pie is still in one piece. Look at it, it doesn’t look too bad,” Linda said. pieActually, it looked like the meringue had just been sheared off, and now, instead of a four-inch plateau of well-beaten egg whites, it had an inch and a half of lumpy white cloud. Somehow, the very middle of the browned top had fallen back down in its same spot. Not too bad! (Sorry I don’t have a “before” picture for comparison.)

I don’t remember who carried in the chocolate pie, but everybody ate pie of both varieties. And had seconds.

They say that bad things happen in threes, so if we’re talking about scrambled pies, I still have one more to go in the series. But what if my third try at taking a pie might be the time the pie arrives at its destination in perfect form? After the chess crack-up and the key lime calamity, I’m not channeling Pollyanna, but that could happen.

Oimagesn the way home, I told Dave he’d done two doozies in one week: stabbing his hand with the scissors and bathing his butt in pie meringue. Then I reminded him that a few weeks ago, he hit that garbage can when he swerved to miss an oncoming car that was over the center line. I allowed maybe his trio of tribulations was complete, but he said the motoring misfortune happened too long ago to count as one of his three mishaps.

The man is a pessimist.5f14218f-d687-4a34-b4d3-815019b4e866_zps2590f59e

TomTom is gone.

I have grieved but not nearly as much as my dad. He made friends with the little grey and white kitten the first time TomTom crawled up the bank from the ravine. Dad was working outside and talked to his new friend every day until the cat was no longer afraid of him. Tom might have been six months old, or maybe just four. 2016-05-05-18-15-04

While Dad strolled around the Compound on his morning walk, Tom followed. Every chance he got, he rubbed Dad’s legs, sometimes winding between them to almost trip him. Dad learned to shake him loose. Tom didn’t mind.

One day I asked Dad if he had seen the tomcat that morning.

“Is he a tomcat?” he asked.

“Yes, he is.”

“You can tell?”

“Yes, I see some things that indicate to me that he is definitely a male.”

Dad named him TomTom, one of his favorite names for cats. He bought a little sherpa-lined bed and stuffed it into a protected spot on the apartment porch. Mom included Meow Mix on her grocery list.

TomTom chose Dave next. One morning, after he took the recycling cans to the street, Dave announced that Tom had let him pet him. I’ll admit I was a bit jealous.

“Well,” I said to Dad, “if that cat is going to stay around, I guess we better take him in for shots. And we need to have him neutered.”

I found a good community clinic with reasonable prices and told Dad I would give him Tom’s veterinary visit for his birthday. He was pleased. Tom wasn’t.

I borrowed a hard crate from a friend and set it outside–“so Tom can get used to seeing it.” Tom took off and didn’t appear until three days later when I returned the crate to the garage. We decided Tom had seen a cat-carrier, probably up close, at least once in his lifetime–and wasn’t fond of the experience.

My hairdresser told me she favored a soft-sided case, that it was easy to sort of “stuff the cat in and zip it up fast.” I started to purchase one, but my daughter-in-law said she’d loan me theirs. I figured I’d give Tom’s reluctance a couple weeks to subside.

He wouldn’t sleep in his little bed on Mom and Dad’s porch, so we moved it to the main house’s porch beside the den. He still wouldn’t use the bed, but he curled up almost every night on one of the wicker chair cushions. During the day, he’d walk or sit with Dad, stroll in the gardens, and nap in the sunlight on the bank or in the shade of one of the porches. He drank from a birdbath that I always filled with fresh water. He hunted up and down the ravine, the old home place he returned to at some point every day.

I started a morning-treat ritual with Tom, and he grew to like me. I gave him a small piece of meat or fish, and when I had no leftovers, I pulled out a small container of purchased cat food that I always kept on hand. After the appetizer, he climbed the steps to the apartment steps and finished off his bowl of Meow Mix.

Tom loved to aggravate our little Shih-tzu Murphy by meowing at her through the glass door of the den. She was always willing to growl, yap, and fuss at him. When Dave took her out for her bedtime walk, Tom either followed them down the street, Murphy barking and pulling at her leash until Dave had to pick her up and carry her away from the cat. Or if TomTom was already sleepy, he’d maybe open one eye from the middle of his warm, curled-up self and totally ignore that silly dog.

About the third week into our newly-cemented relationship, Tom began to walk into The Cellar when I’d open the door. He’d make one loop around the small kitchen area and then he was ready to get back outside. He also let me pick him up. He wouldn’t stay long, and he wiggled, but he didn’t really fight it, and he never scratched me.

I figured he was ready for the trip to the vet.  Easy-peasy this time.

I never got him there.

The last time we saw TomTom was right before the New Year, a couple of weeks after I’d sent out the Christmas newsletter where I included this photo of Tom sitting on a rock in the rose garden. It was also just about the same time that the neighborhood coyote sightings began. First, a woman posted that she’d seen a three-legged coyote. Next, another neighbor spotted one. One family came upon three in their back yard.

I put a Missing Cat notice on our neighborhood website. Several friends and neighbors told me, “He’s just tom-catting around. He’ll be back, and when you get him fixed, he’ll stop that.” In my heart, I knew he wouldn’t be found, wouldn’t be back. In my heart, I knew if TomTom could make it home, he would. He wouldn’t give up his morning ritual, he wouldn’t want to sleep anywhere else but the wicker chair, and he would never choose some other entertainment over tormenting Murphy.

It took me several days of missing Tom to put the pieces together, maybe because I didn’t want to. Actually, Dad said it first. “The coyotes got my TomTom.”

My post is still up on the NextDoor website. Last week, a sweet neighbor replied with a list of places to post notices for a lost animal. I wrote that I thought the coyotes got Tom. She replied she was sorry, and that she’d still look for him.

This morning, Dave spotted a coyote between two birch trees on the edge of our ravine. He said it wasn’t the three-legged one, so that meant there are at least two. I told him about the three seen together in the back yard a couple streets over. He hadn’t seen that post.

So here’s what I wrote on my Missing Cat thread this morning:  “I’m going to take this post down tomorrow morning. A coyote was in our back yard just now. Everybody, watch your animals.”

 

 

 

 

Do-over! Do-over!

It seems that everyone is happy to be rid of 2016. I’ve seen memes with sledge-hammers taken to those twelve months, some with a boot in the bottom of the 6 in 2016, and several that begin with “Good Riddance!”

I’m wondering if we shouldn’t just ask for a do-over. I just can’t stand this feeling of sweeping dirt under the carpet or the notion that some of that bad air will blow again just when we think it’s gone. But then, they say that hindsight is 20/20, and I suppose that’s true. Maybe the best we can do is to work for the best–the right stuff–in 2017.

So I’m going to tell you my hopes for the New Year. And when I tell you what I’m hoping for you, I hope you know I’m talking to me, too.

I hope that you know that you are not alone in your struggles. There is someone else who thinks they failed, someone else who thinks things aren’t going the way they’d planned, someone else who sometimes thinks we get just what we deserve, someone else who wishes they could get a do-over. I hope we all find each other and that we can all support each other.

I hope you feel worthy in 2017 and that you treat yourself with respect and gentleness. I hope you know that you can do what needs to be done, even if it’s just figuring out what you need most. I hope you find strength. When you want to say no, say no. When bad feelings come to call, invite them in for a visit and then let them go. When the body says to rest, give it a soft spot to land. When the mind says it needs time alone, take it to your quiet place.

I’ve made some plans for 2017, but I let somebody else make resolutions. I want to take the time to be organized, because I know in order to really listen to myself, I need some kind of order. I want to write more, and to write more, I have to listen to myself asking for order. I want to nourish the physical and nurture the soul, and that means I have to be careful how I feed them both, so I’ll have to listen well to my body and my mind.

I believe we all want peace–peace everywhere–so my biggest plan for 2017 is to work for peace. I can’t do that without peace within. Peace doesn’t mean “do nothing.” Peace requires action. For me, it means acting with the best of intentions, from the best place inside of me.

January is almost over, and when it is, 1/12th of 2017 will be gone! It won’t be long until we’ll be saying, “I can’t believe this year is almost over,” and asking, “Are you ready for Christmas?”

I hope we can all say, “I worked for peace this year.”

peace

 

 

 

Cap’n Crunch & Crackers

When I shook my top in the bathroom this morning, a full serving of Cap’n Crunch and olive oil crackers floated to the floor. I crave something crunchy; we only thought of carrots and celery today. I managed to sit on the toilet, sort of spread-eagle, and picked up three cereal pieces and half a cracker. I brought them with me to the den. These days I’m popular with Murphy.

I miss cooking. Tomorrow, Dave is going to put a roast in the slow cooker. I’m going to coach him, step by step. And I miss painting. I have a first coat of chalk paint on some chairs and a dresser, and there’s a full lineup of walls, furniture, and cabinets begging for attention. I suppose it will all wait until I can be on my feet, and that’s going to be a little while.

I sit in the one comfortable, one-sided position. I list to the right, then prop up an elbow with a pillow and stick out my left leg. Sometimes the leg wants to rest laterally on the couch, sometimes it would rather hang over the side pointing toward the door to the porch. It’s a humorous picture.

Lying down is much more unreliable. Sometimes there just is no way to stretch out that works. So I just assume my contortionist persona and sit up. Reminds me of Rosemary Woods, Nixon’s secretary who somehow erased eighteen minutes of the tell-tale tape in the Watergate case.I have a much more honorable intention. It’s not necessary to sit or lie pain-free, only to reduce the hurt to a manageable status.

So Dave says I’m a demanding patient. I suppose I am. I have that man stepping and fetching as never before! He feeds me, cleans up after me, and even helps with a shower. (It’s really amazing how unnecessary it becomes to shower daily. I have found I can go four days without that rigamaroll–and, amazingly, I don’t stink!)

Who takes over my management duties for The Compound? Dave. He’s taking on CEO, CFO, and COO all at once, and all of that is more demanding than I am, personally. The man’s a saint.

But now I want to cook. I have to cook. I don’t know for sure what I’m going to make, but I see there are some spent bananas on the counter just begging to redeem themselves in some banana bread–with nuts. Now, if Dave will retrieve the the flour, and the sugar, I’ll be shaking walnuts out of my clothes by bedtime.

 

 

 

Gabapentin, Crackers, and Cabernet

I’m back. It’s been a while. I see my last post was in January. It’s not that I haven’t written anything. It’s just that most of what I’ve written needs to be saved for a later date. I became reluctant to write about Mom and Dad, and our life here On the Ravine, kept waiting for something big that I could write big about.

So, about my back. I’ve hurt it.  I saw the confirming MRI this morning. It looks like another disc blowout in my back, this one at L-4/5, aggravated and probably caused by arthritis. This isn’t the first time. I ruptured at L-3/4 in April of 2001, just rolled over in bed one Sunday morning and couldn’t walk. However, two nights before, I had taken down tables to clear a room at church–and it caught up with me. It took me a week that time to put any pressure on my leg. Then I followed with pain medication, physical therapy–including daily paddling around in the pool, and multiple visits with a fine neurosurgeon who never operated. Two years of recovery—but no surgery.

Dr. K says next step is cortisone injections. I did this last time, to no avail. After that, the next step is micro-surgery. Yayyyyyy for micro-surgery! I say, “Bring it on!”

This is the fifteenth day that I haven’t walked without help. I don’t get around much, but when I do, I push a little old rolling walker with two baskets that I’ve used all summer as my “garden cart.” I paid $5 on Craigslist because I thought Dad might enjoy it for gardening help. No, he didn’t like it. Yes, I think it’s a lifesaver!

The pain of a spasm is unmanageable, although the gabapentin that Dr. K prescribed seems to help the chronic ache. Today he added a muscle relaxer to try to calm the spasms.

I want to be over this. Now. And I know it’s not going to work that way. So, for now, I’ll just pop a gabapentin, down some of those Italian crackers with olive oil that have become my weakness, and pour a glass of cabarnet.

Cheers, y’all!

 

If you don’t like the weather today…

We’re pressure-washing the porch rails today. Last Sunday we might have used the pressure washer to de-ice the driveways.

January 24. Cabin fever, ah, yes. This sickness will make a girl jump up on the tables at the local Pizza Hut and cut loose a wild frug. I didn’t have cabin fever last week, but I do remember it from my winters in Montana.  We don’t usually get a socked-in amount of snow here in Nashville, but last weekend, oh boy! I loved it–just like I’ve loved the sunshine and warm temperatures this week.

But there are some people on the other side of that opinion. Okay, go ahead, all you weather-haters. “Snowed in!” Yell it–like Edwin Starr singing “War!” back in 1970.

SNOWED IN! Huh, yeah, Good God, y’all, What is it good for? Absolutely nothing.

Now hear my opinion. Here’s what snowed in is good for:

JCSleddingSledding. Christmas gifts for the local grands were four-foot $10 plastic sleds (I’m sure they were made in China). The boys got blue and Carly got hot pink. We put the sleds on the porch instead of under the tree. Our Christmas this year sported 70-degree temperatures. Jaxton ran around yelling, “Come, look! I got a swed! I got a swed!” (He’s three.)196

Jameson and Carly took on the hill above their front yard. Jameson’s blue wonder eventually cracked when he hit a bump.

Reading. I confess I haven’t done much reading during these snow days, but if I could stay awake in the afternoons, I could knock a few off my list. Instead of reading, I’ve been….

Napping. Oh, how cozy it is to bundle up on the sofa. If you have cats, gather them around you. We only have an outside cat and he’s not quite tame enough to cuddle. However, he has enjoyed curling up in the rocker on the porch.

Movies. Or binge-watching a series. I finished the first season of The #1 Ladies Detective Agency at no charge and was disappointed to see that Season 2 was not On Demand. I guess I’ll have to rent or buy. This HBO production is based on Alexander McCall Smith’s books about a female sleuth in Botswana. Don’t expect a lot of violence and kinky sex, just culture, scenery, and sweetness (except for, uh, the mambas.)

Projects. I am famous for having almost as many projects stacked up as I do book titles, but today, I have two less! I painted a picture frame. I’m trying to take a page from one of my daughters-in-law and get all the frames in the house one color.

This is Mom’s grandmother, Ada Shoemake. 2016-01-24 14.54.30She was a hoss of a tiny woman, revered by both sides of my mother and father’s family. She looks so much better in black.

And these are the Pizza Hut chairs I 2016-01-24 14.53.44painted and upholstered for The Cellar. Bought these two years ago for $10 each, or was it $5?

Cleaning. (I was led to this topic by the mention of “projects.”) We are fortunate around the Compound to have bi-weekly housekeeping help for the regular stuff, but there is always something deeper that needs attention. I cleaned off three-quarters of my desk, does that count? Wait, wait, I also dusted the shelves beside the TV in The Cellar. Wow. By the time I make my way around the other book “wall,” the ones I just cleaned will be ready for another swipe.

Eating. Soups, for sure. Chili, beef stew, New England clam chowder, vegetable soup. There’s always something on the stove. And then everybody gathers around one table, sort of like Blue Blood’s Reagan family at Sunday night supper. (Or maybe they spread out on chairs, couches, blankets, and pillows in front of the TV.)

Birdwatching. The cardinals adore the snow. They are all over the branches and at the feeders. 2016-01-24 07.06.45This morning, I trained my eye on a red-headed woodpecker working his way up a tall elm rooted in The Ravine. My peripheral view included chickadees, more redbirds, purple finches, house wrens, and…a robin! I don’t think I’ve ever seen a robin in the snow.

Get outside. Walk in the snow. I recommend you wear boots. We don’t buy a lot of snow boots here in the South, but if you have boots for rain, they’ll work. Or if you have everyday boots that you don’t mind pushing through the powder (hard powder by now), use those. I surveyed the ravine while out with Murphy.2016-01-22 15.51.26

Always have your camera handy–or your phone, and don’t forget to take the dog with you. 2016-01-22 15.33.59Murphy loves the snow. She digs in with her face and plows.

Help a neighbor–or be helped. A post by Heather Corum Powell on our neighborhood Facebook page on Friday reminded me. “If anyone on Hilson has chocolate chips, I’ll make the cookies!” She got the chips, made the cookies, and then started delivery for those too far away to walk to get them. Since Dave and I are, ahem, watching the sugar, we asked her if she could take them to a single mom, or maybe a senior who can’t get out. Frankly, I didn’t feel that good being so altruistic and I’m a bit jealous of some old codger grinning over my cookies, if you know what I mean. <Sigh.> At least I know I did the right thing.

About that soup. If you’re like me, you always have an extra bowl (or pot, in my case) of soup. Since my neighbors have already foundered on my multiple pots of turkey soup this year, I haven’t reached out with the grub. Now I’m reminded that I need to.

The “be-helped” part. I’ve been a single mother in my past, and fortunate enough to know enough willing helpers to write at least fifty different stories. Every once in a while, I think of some of these people, and I write a note, but not nearly as often as I should. (Maybe some note-writing would be good during this in-house episode.)

If I were without Dave, I would not be able to drive the van up the driveway hill. I know that any one of the five closest neighbors would heed my call. First I’d try Saleh because he wants to help the most. Then Don–He’s the most vocal about my soup. Then I’d go for Steve. Maybe I should try Steve first. He’s from Upstate NY. Then Patrick or Chris since they’re younger, and therefore braver, than the rest.

Neighbors have volunteered all kinds of help on our Facebook page, not to mention the most helpful posts about street conditions from those who’ve been out. (See, there is some good in Facebook.) I feel inadequate to help. Dave did shovel all around the house, paths in both driveways, the ramp, and around the back doors, but I wouldn’t allow him to try the same thing for another house.  We have become the older ones. Note I did not say “elderly.”

My dad is always saying, “Let me do what I can, and then help me.” I think we should translate that to “I’ll do what I can, and then, if I need help, I’ll ask for it.” My second goal would be to always think of something we could do for somebody. I think I’m about to put on another pot of soup.

Sure hope Dave gets the porch rails blasted and they dry enough for me to caulk and paint tomorrow. This good weather is only going to last three days, they say. That means on Tuesday or Wednesday, I’ll be looking for things to do inside–and there may not be any snow to play in!

Mary Oliver First SnowSo here’s something to do that requires nothing but attention: Poetry. Yes, I know that is reading, but it’s almost, well, not–at least for me. I am fond of Mary Oliver (who isn’t?) so I’ve taken out all of her books that I have on a shelf and I carry them with me, upstairs and down. Here is just a little bit of a poem that stayed with me from last weekend.

Look it up. Read the whole thing. First Snow. You’ll be ready for it next time you get snowed in.