Friday, November 28, 2008

Joey Survives Thanksgiving

Joey was an unwanted mutt (a beagle-mix, also called a "rabbit dog" by the local Amish ) who belonged to a neighbor of Phil's dad in rural Knox County, Ohio. When Dad learned that Joey had ended up at the pound, he offered to spring him if we would take him. (Dad had several dogs and was feeding about 56 outdoor cats on a limited income.) At first, I said no way. We already had a standard schnauzer, a pug, two teen-agers, and a cat. Ten minutes later, I relented. Phil called Dad, who rushed to the pound for an eleventh-hour rescue. Joey was scheduled to be put down that morning.

Joey never forgot his hard-scrabble puppyhood, when his owner often neglected to feed him. Even after he moved in with us, he seemed forever ravenous. We've always roasted two turkeys: one for our church's community Thanksgiving dinner and one for us. One Thanksgiving morning over twenty years ago, Phil was carving the church turkey while Joey stood under the table, wolfing down anything that fell and begging for more. I had just seen an article in the paper about dogs being rushed to the vet after eating too much Thanksgiving turkey. Some even die. I cautioned Phil to go easy on the handouts.

A little later I found a mound of frothy vomit on the carpet. Joey looked fine, but I thought, "Uh-oh, this dog's in trouble." I was wickedly busy. I knew that a trip to the emergency vet would take up the rest of the day, so I decided to keep an eye on Joey but say nothing to Phil for the time being.

Now where was that bag of mini-marshmallows for the sweet potatoes? I looked high and low. I finally found the ripped-open bag under the desk minus the marshmallows.

Joey survived Thanksgiving and we survived Thanksgiving without marshmallows on the sweet potatoes.

Monday, November 24, 2008

Sled Ride

This is the first poem I've written in a long time. Reader, she married him.


Two tiny girls,
capped and mittened,
snug in a baby's sled,
Mother's boots squeaking
in the crisp, new snow
as she pulled us along,
down the hill
and through the park,
across the creaky wooden bridge.

The stream trickled slowly
as water stood freezing in the pond.
Bare branches rattled in the ice-blue sky,
clutching at winter as if to hold it close.

Spring was stirring in our mother's frozen heart.
Who was this man we didn't know?
Her smile was warm as April,
her laughter, dazzling as crystals.
Who was this man out walking in the snow?

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Requiem for a Gravy Separator

Thanksgiving is coming and the turkey's dripping fat.

We used to have the best gravy separator ever. In addition to a spout, this one featured a trap door on the bottom. You slid the trap door open to drain the broth and shut it when only the grease was left. One day it developed a hairline crack. It is now one of my grandson's favorite bathtub toys.

How I miss it. The ones with just spouts don't do it for me. No matter how deftly you try to pour the broth--(and no one has ever called me deft)--some grease comes along for the ride. I have scoured the internet for a replacement. How many times have I been lured to a site by promises of "the best gravy separator ever" only to be disappointed with the same old, same old. Spouts, spouts, and more spouts. Spouts up high, spouts down low, spouts with stoppers.


Saturday, November 22, 2008

Wonders Unceasing

I would have never thought of requesting hospice care for Mom if a friend hadn't suggested it. At 5 AM on Wednesday morning, I impulsively contacted Capital Hospice on line. Shortly after 9 AM, a hospice rep called and set up a next-day appointment for a nurse to visit and make an assessment. The nurse spent two hours talking with me. She also had a brief chat with Mom. By Thursday evening, the hospice had contacted Mom's doctor, who certified her need for in-home hospice care. From now on, someone will be walking beside us, holding our hands, as we take this last journey together.

We can't afford to have our dryer go all funny on us at a time like this. Two weeks ago, the dryer refused to start. The repairman replaced a couple of cracked knobs for $120:

1) knobs, $10 each;
2) "customer education", $100.

This week, with norovirus raging through the household and all, the dryer quit again. Sometimes it would start, but sometimes it would refuse, emitting an ominous "znnnnnk". Another repairman, same company. No, it wasn't a faulty starter. The motor was cutting off. He took the dryer apart and vacuumed out half a bucketful of lint. Eleven years' worth. He thought we'd probably need a new dryer within a year. (The super-long venting duct, the make-do we had to resort to when we built Mom's addition, has shortened the dryer's life.) He returned our shop-vac to its shelf, reassembled the dryer, and said, "Nah, I'm not going to charge you for this. Now you enjoy your weekend and have a happy Thanksgiving."

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Hotel California

Mom thinks that we are living in California.

Today she asked, "Have you ever considered going east?"

"Oh, yes, " I said. "Many times."

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

An Old Friend Remembers

The other day Mom's friend, Barbara, called. After handing the phone over to Mom, I heard her say, "Well, I'm fine, but everyone else here is crazy!"

It 's been a difficult week. Mom was unable to do much of anything for herself, but she was angry at me for, among other things, getting her breakfast. She tried to make coffee by spooning lots of instant coffee crystals into her electric teakettle. It boiled over, flooding the counter and spattering the wall.

"Why are you treating me like I was 12 years old?"

"Who ARE you? 'My daughter, Cynthia?' I don't have a daughter named Cynthia."

"Don't make me that toast again. (A favorite standby for years.) It was awful."

We spent 8 and 1/2 hours in the Emergency Room on Sunday. I'll probably write more about that later, because it was a horrendous experience. I know that Emergency Rooms everywhere are under fire and that what happened to Mom was probably typical. Still, this was no way to treat sick people, let alone an elderly woman. They got a few things right: they gave her fluids by IV and prescribed an antibiotic for her urinary tract infection and her abcessed tooth.

Another old friend of Mom's called yesterday. Mom has a coterie of younger friends who have kept in touch over the years. Ellen began her teaching career at the elementary school where Mom was principal. Ellen and the other teachers--all women--referred to Mom as "our pretty principal." To call her "pretty" doesn't capture the quiet, dark beauty she had as a young woman. Small, delicate features were set off by a mass of wavy black hair. Ellen told me that Mom broke many hearts. One suitor even offered Mom a diamond engagement ring. After she turned him down, he kept it in a safe deposit box, hoping that someday she'd change her mind.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

The Worst Day of My Life

As a teen-ager, our older daughter used to frequently moan, "This is the worst day of my life!" Today it's my turn. The whole family has come down with norovirus, so we are awash in---never mind. I have chills and a pounding headache.

So far, Mom hasn't caught the bug. Knock on wood. It's a dangerous illness for infants and the elderly, because of dehydration. As if this weren't enough, I took Mom to the dentist yesterday because she was complaining of pain. Looks like she has an abcessed tooth. She's scheduled for a root canal on Monday.

Sunday, November 9, 2008

Fishes of Illinois

The other day a second-hand booksale was held at my husband's workplace. As he browsed the tables, he heard a couple of folks chuckling. One of them said, "Who would ever buy this one--FISHES OF ILLINOIS." The Tree Hugger perked up his ears. The big, fat book was immediately snapped up by the senior-citizen in the worn-out jeans.

Yesterday morning, he told me why he loves his new book. "This book is full of all these wonderful fishes. Each one is unique in its way and there are so many of them. Why should we have to go down to South America to find interesting and beautiful fishes for our aquariums when there are all these wonderful fishes right here in our very own streams. But they belong in the wild, not captured. Who knows what pollution and development are doing to them? It makes me sad."

Saturday, November 8, 2008

Mom Takes a Walk

Mom slipped into 90-proof dementia sometime during the past two weeks. She used to say something wacky just once a week. Then it became twice a week. Then . . . well, you get the picture.

Binta came on Tuesday and Thursday this week. Mom declared her a "lovely woman." Whew!

I thought that Mom would be so tired after four hours of paid companionship that she would nap after Binta left at 2 PM until I arrived with our grandson. Nope!! Fortunately, Phil arrived home early on Thursday, at 5:15. Mom was halfway down the driveway, leaning on her cane and talking with a passerby--a saint out walking her dog--about calling the police. She said she did not know any of "those people" who live in "that house." She had gotten past the deadbolt, propped the storm door open, and sallied forth in search of help. Mom recognized Phil after he mentioned my name and our wedding 46 years ago in Meadville. She returned to the house willingly. He found Georgie, her cat, wedged tightly under Mom's furnace in the garage. Georgie emerged when he called her.

Friday, November 7, 2008

Feast of All Saints (aka "All Hallows") November 2nd

First lesson. Revelation 7: They will hunger no more, and thirst no more; the sun will not strike them, nor any scorching heat; for the Lamb at the center of the throne will be their shepherd, and he will guide them to springs of the water of life, and God will wipe away every tear from their eyes.

Psalm 34: Fear the Lord, you that are his saints, for those who fear him lack nothing. The young lions lack and suffer hunger, but those who seek the Lord lack nothing that is good.

Second lesson. 1 John 3: See what love the Father has given us, that we should be called children of God; and that is what we are.

Gospel. Matthew 5. Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called the children of God.

Sermon: Through Word and Sacrament, God changes us. God’s power changes us—broken and sinful people—into symbols of faith and hope for a broken world. When the eucharist is ended and we go out of the doors of this place, our true ministries begin. Out there, in the world, where we live and work and play—there is where the faith of the saints becomes a visible sign to the world of God’s love.

Do we ever get it right? No. Not on this side of eternity. We stumble along, trying to follow the examples of the saints who have gone before us. As the apostle John writes, “Beloved, we are God’s children now; what we will be has not yet been revealed.” So we are not yet what we are going to be. Yet even now, as God’s beloved children, our faith is a sign to the world. We are the saints of God, and we know we are the saints of God. Not perfect saints. Not finished saints. Not all that we are meant to be. Not all that we are going to be. But saints, made in the Imago Dei—the image of God.

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Morning in America

I listened to McCain's gracious concession speech last night, but I could not stay awake to hear Obama, happy as I am about the outcome of the election. Who will ever forget where they were at 11 PM on November 4, 2008?

Now it's morning in America, literally. I've been up for an hour, because I couldn't sleep. Things are not going well with Mom. Yesterday was Sunday to her. She was ready for breakfast at 7 PM on Election NIght.

On Monday, I took her for a blood test to rule out the possibility that something other than old age is driving her dementia. After her blood was drawn, I said, "Now we can go home." She snarled, "I don't have a home!"

Yesterday Mom finally lost her long-running argument against having a home health aide come in. She can no longer be left alone all day Tuesdays and Thursdays, while I am away taking care of Nathaniel, our eight-month-old grandson. Taking care of him is something I will not, cannot, give up. He makes me laugh.

Last July, I listened to unreason, when Mom proclaimed, "I don't need any help! I won't pay a penny to have some woman come in and just sit around." (BTW, she has a long-term health care insurance policy that will pay for some clearly-defined services in return for the thousands of dollars she's paid in premiums.) When Binta arrived last summer from Family and Nursing Care, Mom regaled her with examples of "how I get along without any help from anyone, including 'that one' there." When I meekly suggested that Binta could help with her laundry and changing her bed, Mom snapped, "I don't WANT or NEED help with that. You know I have my own way of doing things!" I gave up and sent the aide away. Yesterday Binta was back. She will be here from 10 AM to 2 PM two days a week. Rather than telling Mom that a companion has been hired to look after her, I told her that I was having someone come in to help me with "a project." Mom seems OK with that.

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Election Day 2008

Arriving at 6:30 AM, I saw
a lady in MY place,
up smack-dab
against the schoolhouse door,
camped out on a folding chair, no less.
The line stretched round the school to the dumpster.
When the millipede finally lurched forward,
I lost my balance for a moment.
"Steady, there," said a neighbor.
By 7:15, we were halfway to the door.
Helicopters clattered overhead,
while birds on wires
observed our strange, flightless flock.
Inside the schoolhouse gym, long lines
wound back and forth.
Signs in English and Spanish
advised and admonished.
I voted at 8 AM.
I have a sticker to prove it.
"I voted, Yo Vote," it says.

Monday, November 3, 2008

I Want to Go Home!

I thought we had a pleasant afternoon yesterday. I found Mom's misplaced eyeglasses (wrapped in paper towels under a damp towel in a drawer), heated my neck wrap in the microwave to warm her cold fingers, got her vaporizer going for the winter, brought her a doll-sized chicken dinner to enjoy while the Mormon Tabernacle Choir made lovely music on TV. I even gave her the cupcake I'd brought home from church for myself. "Thank you, Honey," she said.

At 7 PM, I found her talking angrily to Phil in the family room. "I want to go home!" she announced.
"Mom, this IS your home," I said.
'This was NEVER my home. I want to be taken home now! If I could drive, I would leave this place tonight." Her coat, gloves, and purse were waiting on a chair in her sitting room.

We talked with her for over half an hour. It's the same-old same-old. She's worried about having to sell her "house," which is really not her house at all, but just a couple of rooms in the house that belongs to Phil and me.

Saturday, November 1, 2008

Sad Old Lady

Poor Mom. I just peeked in at her. It is 2:30 on a lovely autumn afternoon. She's at her dressing table, rolling her hair up in a bun, still in her bathrobe. At least she's up. When I went in around noon, she was still in bed. I said, "Mom, are you going to sleep all day?"

"What reason do I have for getting up?" she replied, listlessly.

"Don't you feel well?"

"I feel fine."

"Then maybe you should get up."

"I'll think about it."

A little later, Phil found her still in bed. She said, "I feel like staying in bed all day."

Phil replied, "I think you'll feel better if you get up."

Lately she's been talking a lot about being all alone, without a home, without a family. Her parents and siblings are all gone. She seems to miss them the most these days. She rarely mentions my dad, to whom she was married for 13 years, until his death in a plane crash in 1962. She feels lost, sad, and lonely. She seems to have forgotten how and why she ended up living with us.

Phil's Aunt Cele lived to be 102. She remained cheerful and upbeat, even after a heart attack and other signs of increasing fragility. During a visit near the end of her life, she remarked, matter of factly, "You know, Philly, sometimes you can live too long."