Posted in Friendship

Grandmothering  

Grandma and me

When I was young, my Grandma was already old.  She was sixty-something when I was born, and I thought she was the oldest grandma I ever knew.  She had gray hair, walked with a cane, and had veiny, arthritic hands that had worked hard all of her life.

Our youngest grandchild was born in 2017 when I was sixty-four years old.  The irony of thinking about my ‘old’ grandma is not lost on me because I obviously color my hair, and during my knee replacements, I used Grandma’s cane to get around.  I often look down at my hands and wonder who they belong to, but I recognize these faithful ten.  They are my grandma’s hands.

Sundays after church at the First United Methodist Church in downtown Amarillo, my dad, brother, and I would go to Grandma’s for lunch.  She would cook a pork roast or fried chicken, mashed potatoes, two vegetables, and have a plate with white and wheat bread on it, with a mound of margarine, not butter.  For dessert,  there was always a pie.  Apple, peach, pecan, coconut cream, or lemon meringue, she could make them all, and each one was delicious.  Grandma would perk a fresh pot of coffee for her and my dad to enjoy with their meal and pie.  The coffee was perked on the stove and would last her a good two days or more.

“Pass the cream and sugar, please,” she’d say once we sat down at the table, and then she would pour a little splash of Pet Evaporated Milk, and a heaping spoonful of sugar into the dark, rich coffee to lighten it up.

 After our meal, we would each pass our plates to Grandma, who would scrape our scraps into a pile to be thrown into the compost.  Then my dad would take a nap and we would entertain ourselves until he woke up.  Woe to the one who caused him to wake up before he was ready.

While Daddy was napping after our Sunday lunch, Grandma would make us play Canasta.  Grandma was serious about her Canasta and used little round, plastic cardholders that eased her arthritic hands while she held her cards so no one could see.  She could play for hours, while my brother and I often lost interest after the first round or two.  But, at Grandma’s, we did what Grandma said.  We could sit out on the front porch and watch the cars drive by and see the coming and going of neighbors, or we could water her zinnia’s out back or pick up pecans from under the tree. And that was the long list of activities at Grandma’s.

Martha, my grandma, was also a wonderful seamstress.  She taught me to sew, and we spent hours in her bedroom with the black, push-pedal Singer sewing machine making dresses for me and my dolls.   Her quilts were all made by hand, so we sat by the window and with needle in hand, took small, tight, methodical stitches which one by one created a beautiful scene. Grandma only allowed me to stitch on my own small squares of fabric, while she tended to the quilt. My favorite quilt that Grandma made was out of scraps of corduroy.  The corduroy had been used to make me winter pants, and a house coat for herself, and one for my doll.

“You have to take your time, darling,” she would say to me when I got in a hurry.  “Let’s rip it out and do it again.” And because it was Grandma, I did.

When my girls were young and I was teaching school,  I made them special dresses and even corduroy pants with my new and improved electric sewing machine.  I sewed my wardrobe each summer for the teaching year ahead, but I’ve never made a quilt.  I don’t have the patience Grandma did for quilting and other things like her perfect pies.

Anyone who really knows me, knows I’m not a dessert person.  I can bake the perfect Grandma pie for Thanksgiving and Christmas, but as Boo always likes to say, “You’re a good cook, but you just don’t cook with love.” 

And that is true.

My grandkids have grown up with my slice-and-bake chocolate chip cookies, while my brother and I had homemade oatmeal raisin and sugar cookies with half of a pecan baked on top.   My grandchildren have Sister Schubert cinnamon rolls for breakfast, while Jimmy and I had Grandma’s famous homemade cinnamon rolls, the size of a salad plate, slathered with homemade icing.

When our grandkids come for a visit we say things like, “What would you like to do?  We’ll do whatever you want.”  I guarantee that sentence never came out of Grandma’s mouth.

We know what movies are on at the theaters.  We have cards for Dave and Buster’s, and we have fish sticks, tater tots, pizza, and chicken nuggets in the freezer.

            “I’ll take care of the desserts,” Boo will volunteer because he knows I’m not good at sweets and also I’m likely to suggest fruit.

We have car seats, booster seats and toys galore.  We record all the movies and shows they like so they don’t have to watch commercials.  We take them on trips and support their scout cookie sales, and we plan our holiday decorations around what we think they would like.

My grandma had neither the means nor inclination to do any of those things, but she did what she could and quite possibly, that was more than enough.  Grandma gave herself, her time, and her experience.  She wasn’t gushy or overly lovey dovey, but she was dependable and kind.  She was affectionate and Godly.  She was simple in her ways but extravagant in her love. And I hope my grandchildren feel the kind of steady love from me as I felt from my grandma because that means more than any toy or trip.

Two weeks ago, our little granddaughter was spending the night and as I lay in bed with her, having read a unicorn storybook, she asked, “Will you scratch my back?”

            “Of course,” I said, “But just until you fall asleep.”

She turned her little back to me and snuggled her soft blanket to her face, and my heart melted a little bit more.  I felt her relax, and I realized the trust she has in me.  I immediately thought of Grandma and how I would snuggle on her lap and ask that very same thing. “Will you scratch my back?”   She always said yes, which means she has another star in her crown, for the selfless time and comfort she gave to my brother and me.

As grandmothers go, I’d like to think of myself as a good one.  Nannie, they call me, and when they do, it’s like a blessing to my heart.  Someday they might reflect on how ‘old’ Nannie was and the way her knees creaked when she got down on the floor, but hopefully, they’ll remember the back scratches and hours of crafting or nature walks and the abundance of love.

Posted in #Confessions

I’m Not Afraid To Be A Scaredy Cat

            Recently I called my brother to ask, “Did we go trick-or-treating when we were little?”

            “Surely we did.  Didn’t we?”

            “The only thing I remember is one time Daddy drove us to the ‘rich’ neighborhood so we could get good candy.”

            “Oh yeah, but our paper sacks were a dead giveaway that we weren’t from their hood.”

            I’ve never been one for spooky stories or movies.  I don’t like spiders, ghosts, or demons.  I don’t listen to scary sounds or scary music, and I like the lights on.  No pitch black for me. 

I’m not afraid to be a scaredy cat.

            Right before the sixth grade, we moved across town, in Amarillo, to a newer neighborhood and a new school.  That year I was eleven years old, and sixth grade was a conundrum of emotions and hormones.  I was already 5’6” and filling out, shall we say, so there was no hiding the fact that I was the ‘new girl.’  I was the tallest kid in my class and had just gotten braces on my teeth.

            In spite of my newness, I was invited to a Halloween party at Tim Parker’s house, one of the cutest boys in 6th grade.  I may not have known everyone invited, but I knew they were the IN crowd and that I should be happy I was included.  The invitation was a little loose on details:  Meet at Tim’s house at 7:00 p.m. to play games and go Trick or Treating!   Conveniently, Tim Parker lived right down the street, so I planned to walk over at 7:00 p.m. and join the fun.  There was just one catch.  I knew my daddy, J.C. Claughton, Jr., would not let me go to a boy/girl party IF he knew about it.  So, I told him I was going trick or treating with my best friend and her brothers.  He would never understand that this party was a matter of life and death as far as my popularity was concerned. 

            For some unknown reason, my daddy didn’t check out my story, and at 7:00 p.m. that Halloween night, I walked over to Tim’s house ready to bob for apples, eat candy and laugh with my new friends.  I pushed down the guilt over not telling the truth and promised myself that next time I would do better. 

            I rang the doorbell and could already hear laughter coming from inside Tim Parker’s house, then everything got quiet.  The front door opened slowly but no one was there, and after waiting a couple of minutes, I took two steps inside calling, “Hello?  Hello?  Tim?”

            “BOO!” screamed voices from inside, and I jumped three feet off the floor.

            Everyone was laughing and after I gathered myself, I pretended to laugh, too.

            “Come on, we’re all in the basement,” Tim said.

            In Amarillo, as other West Texas towns, a lot of homes have basements in case of tornadoes or excessive hail.  Most basements are finished out with carpet, ping pong tables, and other activities for the kids, as well as blankets, flashlights, and safety equipment.  As I followed the others back down the stairs to the basement, I was already starting to feel that I might have made a poor decision.  The room was dark, except for a candle lit in the middle of a circle of kids, and the stereo was playing House of the Rising Sun, by the Animals.

            Two couples were slow dancing in the corner and everyone else was sitting in a circle with a candle and an empty bottle of Coke.

            I walked over to the circle and Lisa Claythorn patted the floor, “Sit by me,” she said, and just as I did, the music switched to The Beatles, She Loves You. Yeah, Yeah, Yeah!

            “Let’s start the game,” I heard one boy say.  “Spin it!”

            As unworldly and immature as I was, I still knew what Spin the Bottle meant.  A bottle is placed on the floor in the center of the circle.  A player spins the bottle and must kiss the person to whom the bottle points when it stops spinning. The problem was I had never kissed anyone before.

            A girl with long, red hair took the bottle and twirled it so hard, the bottle literally slid across the floor.  It landed pointing at a boy named Steve, who was in my class.  They both laughed and the circle of kids howled.  “Oooooo! Kiss!  Kiss!  Kiss!”  This red-headed girl, whose name I did not know, shook her head, flicking her red, glistening hair away from her face, and rose up on her knees.  She leaned forward and as she did, Steve leaned in for the kiss.  Oh, my goodness, how I wished I was dressed in a silly costume yelling “trick or treat!”

After the first spin, I was relieved yet nervous that I might be next.  I started to sweat and tried to calculate the odds of not having to spin versus who I would have to kiss. 

            “If you don’t kiss, you have to go through the spider webs in the closet and stick your hand in a bowl full of brains,” Tim said.

            As I sat calm on the outside, heart pounding on the inside, I thought about the whole kissing thing.  Lick my lips or stay dry?  Did the red-headed girl lick her lips?  Mouth open or closed?  Quick or slow?  Eyes closed or open?  What about my braces?

            “Where’s the restroom?”  I whispered to Lisa.

            “Upstairs,” she said, and I jumped up saying, “I’ll be right back.”

            I lingered as long as I could without seeming strange and made my way back to the circle.  In a haze of slow motion and fearful dread, I sat down in the first empty place.  Pat Fite, the absolutely cutest boy in the world, spun the bottle looking right at me.  As soon as my eyes locked with his, I diverted my gaze to the bottle which was beginning to slow down. What am I going to do if it lands on me?  Why did I even come here?  My throat is dry and probably my lips.  What if the bottle doesn’t land on me?

            My mind was racing, my heart was pounding, and my stomach felt as if it was ready to regurgitate everything I had ever eaten. The bottle was creeping to a standstill. I could see it pointing directly at the girl next to me, yet it continued to move in half-inch increments. It stopped right in front of me and when it did, the lights started to flicker, and we heard loud steps bounding down the stairway.

Tim’s big brother and two of his friends landed in the basement yelling, “Come on you guys!  It’s time to do some tricks!”  Everyone jumped up and our kiss was quickly forgotten.

            “Let’s go, come on!”  Tim’s brother said.  “Everyone has to steal a pumpkin and smash it!”

            Still sweating, but trying to play it cool, I said I had to be home by 8:15, and started moving toward the door.  Pat Fite touched my hand and said, “Maybe next time,” and the turntable played Don’t Let The Sun Catch You Crying by Gerry and The Pacemakers.

Once outside, the group went one way, and I went the other. Pat Fite called, “See you in Homeroom!” And I waved goodbye.  Waiting until the group was at the corner,  I ran the rest of the way home and as I breathlessly closed the front door, I heard Daddy call, “Did you get any good candy?”

Posted in Boo, Contemplations

Boo #27

            We were standing in the kitchen, deciding which chips to have with lunch, when I noticed Boo was looking in his pill organizer.  You know, the Monday through Sunday plastic medicine container that has A.M. and P.M.?

            “Dang, I took my day pills at night again,” he said.

            “You’re kidding, right?”

            “No, I’ve done it before.”

            “I don’t know how it could get any clearer, Boo.  Monday A.M.”

            “I wondered why I couldn’t get to sleep last night, and besides, I’m worried about the car battery. I think it’s on the blitz.”

            Sometimes when it rains, it pours.  Sometimes the car battery lasts four-and-one-half years and other times, twelve months.  Sometimes the air conditioner unit goes out, and sometimes the day pills get taken at night.  No matter what happens in life, there is always something out there to steal your peace.

            Exactly two months ago I was recuperating from knee surgery, going to physical therapy, and trying to stay positive.  Day after day, by mid-afternoon, our house would be a balmy 78- 85 degrees and then it would partially cool off at night.  Until it didn’t. 

            “Babe, I think something is wrong with the air-conditioner.” ( spoken in a stage whisper, because to say it aloud would make it true.)

            “Can’t be.  It’s not that old,” he said.

            “Let’s just call anyway.  Maybe it’s something easy.”

At first, it had taken Boo a few days of constant cussing and fuming, sweating, and pacing until he gave in and accepted the fact that we had to get a new AC unit. But, one week and ten thousand dollars later we were shocked at how quietly the air-conditioner purred, as the positively artic air filled the house.   We also got a new thermostat to replace the old one Boo had just recently learned to adjust.  Sometimes I wonder how Boo was able to graduate college and receive a master’s degree, but maybe that’s the way it is with the highly intelligent.

            A few days ago, I woke up and the house was 85 degrees again.  I went in to start the coffee and there was a note from Boo: “This house is sooo hot.  Something is wrong with new AC;  I pushed a bunch of buttons, but nothing helped.”

            I padded into the hallway and moved the thermostat to 74 degrees.  Then pushed the hold button.  ‘Permanent hold’ not ‘temporary hold.’  The house was all cooled down by the time he got up.

            “Why do you insist on pushing buttons willy-nilly and then complain something doesn’t work?”  I said.

            “There’s a 50% chance it might help.”

            “Speaking of 50%, what makes you think your car battery is going out?”

            As we all know, car batteries have a life expectancy.  The likelihood of having to replace the car battery is extremely high during the time you’re in possession of a car.

            The battery issue will sometimes begin subtly with a slow, gurgly engine start.  Or perhaps the little battery sign lights up with the sputtery start, but generally, there is a small window of warning before your battery just conks out. 

             “It took a while to start, but the battery light didn’t come on.  It’s been happening for a few days now,  but the battery light should come on,” said Boo.

            “Battery light or not, I think you should take it in any way and ask someone about it.”

            “Maybe tomorrow.”

            Tomorrow came.  The car would not start, and Boo had to jump off his car using the cables on our old truck.  Boo made it to an auto parts store that advertised free installation and was home by 1:00 with his lunch, Jersey Mike’s #2, Mike’s Way.

            “How did it go?”  I asked.

            “Ok, I guess.”

            “I’m glad.  How much was the battery?”

            “I got the best battery they had, that’s what Darryl said.  It was $212, not like the old days when you could get a new battery for $50.  The world is really changing.  That’s what Darryl always says.”

            “Who’s Darryl?”

            “Darryl works at the auto parts store.  He worked for twenty-five years at the local newspaper and then when he retired he went to the auto parts store.  He’s worked there for three years now. He lives close to us in a four-bedroom house off Brodie Lane, but I think he’s divorced.  He never mentioned a wife.  Darryl loves to cook and grills out three nights a week.  He’s quite a guy.”

            If I know Boo, and I do, he loves to ask people about their lives.  He can ask twenty-one questions in ten minutes flat, and people love to tell him their stories.  Boo should have stopped asking questions much sooner than he did because he proceeded to tell me more about Darryl.

            “Get this.. Darryl is Mexican American, but he said he might not stay at the auto store because they’re hiring too many Mexicans.  And they even hired two lesbians.  Darryl said he was just a regular guy and that he’d never met a lesbian before.”

            “Babe, what did you say?” 

            “I didn’t know what to say.  I mean part of me wanted to say, ‘I like lesbians, Darryl.’

But I wasn’t sure how that would sound either.  What could I say?  I couldn’t leave until he finished the battery.”

            “So?” I asked.

            “So, I just mumbled uh huh, and hmmmm.”

            “Oh my.”

            “Why do people tell me these things?”

            “Maybe you ask too many questions?”

“Maybe, but you have to admit, Darryl is a complex individual.”

“Darryl is some kind of guy, that’s for sure.”

In life, and especially with Boo, there are always people, places, and things that disrupt the steady, peaceful flow of living.  We try to stay Zen, yet there is a car battery, air-conditioner, or pill box just waiting to take us out.  There are many people in this world who have differing opinions and values and as long as Boo is on the planet, he’ll continue to ask questions and love hearing the answers.

Zen
Posted in #Confessions, Fears and Worries

Vulnerable

           

Story and Photography by Nancy Malcolm

Walking to the car, I was afraid I would not make it safely locked inside before the tears came.  The car was stifling, and as the engine came alive, I sat with my face in my hands crying big, hot tears of shame, and then something else. 

            I had just come from one of my last sessions of physical therapy.  Last November I had my first total knee replacement and this July I had the second knee done.  It has been an arduous year of pain, healing, and regaining strength and balance.  And after all of that, here I am reduced to tears in the parking lot of my physical therapist, right next to a Bed Bath and Beyond and a Party Pig. 

            If I am to tell the truth, which, by the way is a very vulnerable place to be, this is my first bout of tears since I started this transformational journey.  I have not cried since I made my resolve to complete the surgeries.  I could not waiver,  I had to stay the course and commit to the nineteen-month-long process.  There would be no turning back.

            In my mid-thirties I began to feel pain in my knees that was unexplained.  I was told to do strengthening exercises, and possibly have arthroscopic knee surgery to remove cartilage fragments.  But, as my thirties gave way to my fifties and sixties the x-rays showed osteoarthritis in the kneecap.  One doctor said, “You have the knees of a thirty-year-old and the kneecaps of an eighty-year-old.  Someday you’ll have to get your knees totally replaced.”  I have taken Rooster Comb (Hyaluronic acid) shots in my knees, cortisone shots, Celebrex and Aleve in large doses, and I’ve rubbed on every kind of ointment, even purchasing ‘Blue Emu’ cream, heralded as a miracle cure by my little Auntie Sue. 

            But, finally what made me ready for surgery was the excruciating pain and the even more excruciating embarrassment of not being able to walk down a flight of stairs, or go on hikes, or play on the floor with my grandkids. I felt like an imposter as I waited in line for the elevator with those who obviously needed it more than me.  I was ashamed of my disability.

            I want to be able to climb the bleachers of my grandson’s ballgames and dance with Boo at our 50th wedding anniversary.  I want to play chase with my grandkids and ride bikes until our heart’s content.  I want to enjoy what’s left of my time here on earth and if possible, if I am granted the blessings I may not deserve,  to do all of that without pain.  So, when my orthopedic doctor said, “I think you’re ready.”  I mentally prepared myself for the road ahead.

            Arthritis is a cruel disease that affects your joints causing inflammation or degeneration of your joints, creating great pain.  Sometimes, Osteoarthritis of the fingers, knees, or hips follows an injury.  I badly injured my knee while in college, by falling down a flight of stairs, but who can know for sure if that was the beginning culprit, only that it happened. 

            All of these things were not in my thoughts as I sat in my car after physical therapy.  Only minutes before I had been standing on a 3-inch-high wooden block, shaking like a leaf.  It had been two and a half months since my surgery, but it was time to tackle the stairs.  “I’m scared to bend my knee, I’m afraid it won’t hold me,”  I said.

            The fresh-faced, twenty-something-year-old physical therapist stood in front of me saying, “I’m right here, I won’t let you fall.”  And as silly as this might sound to you, I knew I had a choice.  I could try and keep trying or I could cower away in fear and settle for less. After all, I am a grown woman and if I say I’m not ready, I’m not ready.  If I don’t want to put myself through the pain and soreness, I don’t have to.

            My choice, though, was not to waste my pain.  I’d come this far and the thing I wanted most was right in front of me.  But, I was afraid, and I was ashamed that this young girl was having to help me when I should have been able to do it myself. I felt like a whiney baby, a scaredy-cat afraid of a 3-inch step when there are so many people who would be happy to be in my place.  My journey of pain and rehabilitation was finally coming towards a pivotal point, and I knew I had to find a way to push through.

            Sitting in my car, I was feeling months of hard work, pain, and the shame I have carried for a long time.  The shame surrounding what I should be able to do, shame at something that was not even my fault.  I am not a crier by nature, but I am tenderhearted, and sometimes that can serve me well. At that exact moment, I needed a little compassion.  I wanted to say, “It’s ok to be afraid, you can do it.  Give yourself some time.”  But all I heard in my head was negative. “You’ll never be able to do this.  Just give up.”

            The walk to the car was like a walk of shame until I sat down, and the tears fell. My tears cleansed a part of my heart that had been overgrown with fear and anxiety.  My tears were a release of the gratitude I feel towards my God and my surgeon, my family, and my friends.  My heart overflows with thankfulness that I am healing well, getting stronger, and relearning to climb stairs.  I am grateful to have less pain.  I am grateful for insurance and Medicare.  I am grateful for all of the kind, compassionate people who have been put in my path during this medical odyssey.

            It is not easy to let yourself be vulnerable.  You must first accept your truth, without judgment, and without comparing yourself to how you think others would behave.  Brene’ Brown, a famous professor, lecturer, and author actually wrote a book about vulnerability, Daring Greatly.  In that book, she says that “Vulnerability sounds like truth but feels like courage.”  And that is exactly how I felt.

            After the tears slowed, I drove home debating whether to tell Boo about my ‘meltdown.’  I was already trying to make light of my feelings by using that derogatory term.  But, right before bed, I told him everything and to my surprise, I cried all over again.  He listened, almost like he has never done before, and held me tight like a little child.  It seems Brene’ Brown was absolutely right.  My vulnerability to share my truth felt so courageous and Boo could feel the truth and openness as it went from my heart to his.  My willingness to be open transformed everything. The gratitude I feel for health and healing allows me to be afraid and do it anyway. The willingness to be vulnerable gave way to gratitude and that has made all of the difference.

“What makes you vulnerable makes you beautiful.”  Brene’ Brown

Posted in Friendship, Reality, Sittin Ugly

Sittin’ Ugly

 

     In the early morning hours, before anyone else is up, while the cat is still stretching languidly in her chair, I begin my day.  In this quiet early hour, I can hear the thud of the newspaper being thrown on the sidewalks, the coffeemaker finishing the last few drops and I hear the solid, steady tick of our clock on the mantle. This is my selfish hour.  This is my cherished solitude. I must have it!!  This is my time to drink coffee and absolutely, unequivocally “sit ugly.”

     Sittin’ Ugly is a family tradition passed on by my 88-year-old Auntie Sue.  Her mother did it, she does it and now I do it.  I’m sure lots of other people on earth are doing it, but to do it correctly is an art.  The skill of sittin’ ugly is learned and perfected through years of practice. There are rules of course, and above all, one must respect another’s right to sit ugly.  There should be no judgment, the fact is, one just simply does…..sit ugly.

     Everyone has their own way to sit ugly. But there are guidelines that I find very comforting and helpful to follow. Anyone that is new to the art will surely want to comply. The rules are as follows:

1. There must be coffee. Preferably freshly brewed with everything extra that you need, (cream, sugar, etc.) and of course the favorite mug.  I’ve never known a tea drinker to sit ugly, but I suppose it could be done.

2. No talking!! No one speaks to you-you speak to no one. Sometimes it may be necessary to point or grunt especially if you have small children and they absolutely must encroach on your time. But, the only talking truly allowed is to yourself.

3. You must sit. My favorite spot is an oversized chair by the window. Above all else, you must pick a comfortable, familiar place to sit. It is always good to be able to put up your feet and have a little table nearby. Your sittin’ area should be away from anyone else who might be awake.

4. You may be asking yourself, now what?  I have the coffee.  I’m sitting quietly. Now what? The “what” to do part is really up to you.  Sometimes I just sit and stare while sipping my coffee. Staring is perfectly allowable and even encouraged.  I also read my daily devotionals and have long conversations with God.  I contemplate my day and my life.  I think.  I don’t think and then I may stare some more, all the while continuing to drink my coffee.  This part may go on for as long as necessary.  One hour is perfect for me.

5. Lastly, about this “ugly” part.  Sittin ugly simply means that you come as you are, straight from bed.  No primping allowed!  One must be ones’ self.  Tattered nighty? That’s ok!  Acne medicine dotted on your face?  Beautiful!  Scruffy old favorite robe and slippers?  The older the better!  Sittin’ ugly is actually a super-natural phenomenon that makes you more good-looking.  The longer you have time to sit, the better you will look and feel. Try it and see!

     Sittin’ ugly is my personal time.  It is my favorite time of the day.  Sometimes I can hardly wait to get up in the morning just to sit ugly.  I am always at my best while sittin’ ugly, mainly because no one is speaking to me or me to them.  What a joyous, peaceful time!  What a perfect way to start your day, in fact for me, it is a necessity.

     Some mornings my little Auntie will call me and ask, “Honey, are you sittin’ ugly or can you talk?”  It is always good manners to ask first, in case one is not ready for conversation.  Attempting dialogue before ready may result in hurt feelings, premature agreements, or regret, so approach your morning chitchats with caution.

     My friend, here’s to “Sittin’ Ugly”, to having this special time each and every day and to the millions of us who find it necessary for the sustainment of sanity.  And, here’s to my precious Auntie Sue and all the beautiful ones who “sit ugly”.

My little Auntie Sue passed away after her 90th birthday.  She always had a kind word to say about everyone; she always looked for humor in every situation; she was always grateful and she always sat ugly…every morning and claimed it was the reason for her good health and good fortune.  I miss her every day.  RIP Auntie Sue!

Posted in Reality, Truth

It’s Not Always the Way It Looks

            She sat slumped over on the red-flowered couch in my office.  Her hair, a dingy blonde with dark roots, was greasy and her face was stained with old make-up and fresh tears. 

            The police officer stood between us, his rough hands resting on his thick belt which held handcuffs, a radio, and the ever-present tazer.

            “I found her behind the school, near the apartments.  She had an illegal knife on her,” he said and laid it on my desk.  “We can press charges.”

            “I wasn’t doing anything wrong.  I missed the bus,” she said.

            As an Assistant Principal in a large high school, I could tell by looking that the knife was over the five- and one-half inch legal limit.  The knife was an older-looking switchblade with dirt and a little rust on the handle.  It had obviously been used before and needed a good sharpening.

            “What’s your name?” I asked and turned my chair to face her.

            “Pepper.”

            “Pepper, is that your real name?”

            “No. My friends call me Pepper; everyone else calls me Charlene Davis,” she said and sucked in a jagged breath before tears started to fall.  “Please.  Please.  I had it in my purse.  I wasn’t going to hurt anyone unless they tried to hurt me.”

            “Thanks, Officer,” I said.  “Let Charlene and I talk for a few minutes.”

            “I’ll be right outside your door if you need me,”  he said.

            I brought up her student information on my computer and turned toward her,  “So, Charlene, tell me your story.  I see you don’t live at home.”

            Charlene took another deep breath and straightened her tank top, which didn’t quite cover her voluptuous body.  I asked her if she had a coat since it was cold outside.  She shook her head no. Handing her the sweater draped behind my chair I said, “Start from the beginning.”

            Forty minutes later I knew a lot about Charlene and a little about the knife.  I have spent thirty-six years of my life in education, and I’ve heard stories from students that made me cry.  Stories that haunted me and shook me to my core.  But Charlene’s story broke my heart.

 Charlene did not know her daddy, but her mother had known a lot of men who wanted to be called that.  It seems her mom had run off three years ago and left her and her three siblings alone.  CPS stepped in and separated the four sending the younger ones to one foster home, the brother to another, and Charlene to another.  Charlene had run away from four foster homes since then and was now living in a state-owned, group home for teenage girls in Austin, several hours away from her brother and sisters.  Not ideal by any means.

 “It’s ok,” she said.  “I’m leaving as soon as I graduate, and I’ll get my brother and sisters back.  I’ll take care of them myself.”

“No more running away though, or the next stop will be juvie.”

“I know. This is my last chance,” she said.

            “Graduation will be your ticket for a better life, Charlene.  I’m proud of you for staying on track with your grades in spite of everything that has happened,” I said.

            “I’ll be the first one in my family to graduate, Miss.  I’m really smart, and I have a job at Mcdonald’s on the weekends.  That’s where I met my boyfriend.”

            “Do you mind if I call you Pepper?”  I asked.  And she smiled for the first time.

            “Tell me about this boyfriend, Pepper.”

            “His name is Ryder and I love him.  He lives in those apartments by the McDonalds,  and after work, I go over to see him.  He gave me the knife.”

            “No flowers or candy?  But he gave you a knife?  And what do you do when you go over to see him so late at night?”

            “We do stuff.  You know, we love each other.”

            Before I could stop myself, I said, “Charlene, you know what causes babies, don’t you?  I hope you’re using some form of protection.”

            “Yea, mostly.  We try, Miss.  Anyway, usually, the bus is not running when I see him after work, so I have to walk home. He gave me the knife so I would be safe walking home from his apartment.  He’s sweet that way.  That’s why I need the knife back.  He gave it to me.”

            “Pepper, let me get this straight.  You work the night shift at McDonalds, then you walk over to his apartment.  You stay there for a few hours and then you walk yourself back to the home?  Why doesn’t he take you home or walk with you?”

            “He doesn’t have a car, Miss.  That’s why he gave me the knife, so I can be safe walking home.  He’ll be mad if I don’t have it.”

            “Oh Pepper, you are worthy of being safe and being walked home by your boyfriend.  This knife may cause you more trouble than you’re ready for.  Like today.  You know I have to take the knife.”

            “I know, Miss.  But I need it and I promise to hide it better when I come to school. It’s only four more months till graduation.  Please?  It’s scary walking home late at night.”

            We talked a few more minutes and then I sent her to class, while I kept the knife.

            Charlene flew way under the radar for the remainder of the semester.  I would see her walking through the halls occasionally, and she would give me a half-smile or a shy wave, not wanting anyone to know we knew each other.  But I wanted to hug her.  Feed her a healthy meal.  Keep her safe.  Ask about that damn boyfriend.

            Instead, one week before graduation, I called her into my office.  I knew she only had one more final exam to take, and I would never see her again.

            “Hi Miss,” she said as she knocked softly on my door.

            “Pepper, you look gorgeous today!” I said as I noticed her fresh hair and new outfit.  She was wearing a short, blue, flouncy skirt made out of layers of thin material.  Her top was buttoned up the front and covered the waistband of the skirt, with room to spare. Then I saw what I thought was a slight bump beneath her blouse.

            “The house mother gave me some money to buy a few new things before I graduate and have to move.  I’m having a baby, Miss.  See?”  And she cupped her small round belly to show me.

“Ryder wants a boy.”

“Wow,”  I said.

 “I have something for you.”  And I handed her a pink gift bag with ribbons and a small ‘Congratulations’ balloon.  She smiled the biggest smile I’d ever seen and asked, “Can I open it?”

            “You sure can!!”  I said.

            She sat on my red-flowered couch and put the bag on her knees.  She took the fluffed tissue paper out of the bag one by one and pressed them flat.

“I’m going to save this paper.  It’s just like new.”  She said.

I had individually wrapped each gift: a set of lip glosses, JLO body wash and spray, a new hairbrush, and a precious stuffed teddy bear with I Love You embroidered on the stomach. And at the very bottom of the bag was one last gift.  “Don’t open that one until you get home, ok?  I think you’ll remember it.”  I said.

“Thank you, Miss.  This is my only graduation gift.  I love all of it and the baby will love the teddy bear!”  She hugged me and I hugged her right back, neither one of us wanting to let go.

“I’m so proud of you, Charlene Davis.  I knew you could do it.”  I said, as she blushed and smiled a soft, beautiful smile.  Wide-eyed, and a little teary she responded quietly, “That means a lot, Miss.”

We had a quick hug the night of graduation and I have not heard anything from her since. 

As with Charlene and the knife, it’s not always the way it looks.  Everyone has a story to tell if we will only take time to listen.  It is an honor to hear someone’s truth and hold space for their thoughts and feelings, whether we agree or not.  Our stories matter, we matter.  And for Charlene, I wanted her to know she matters in this world. 

Charlene ‘Pepper’ Davis matters.

Posted in Confessions, Contemplations, Growing up

It Is What It Is

Fourth Grade

Fourth grade was not a flattering year for me.  I had just survived 3rd grade and having my teeth be bigger than my body when this happened.  I swear, no one bothered to tell me that those tight, plastic headbands were not complimentary to my face shape.  Sometimes my grandma and I would ride the bus downtown to Woolworth’s Five and Dime, and she would let me pick out something for twenty-five cents.  Perhaps that is why I had such a classic selection of headbands.

The Five and Dime Stores----ours was the Woolworth at NE shopping center… |  Childhood memories, Memories, The good old days

Grandma and I would walk up and down every aisle in Woolworths and after we made our purchases we would sit at the counter and eat lunch.  Grandma always got a tuna fish sandwich with the ‘best cup of coffee in the world.’  I would get a grilled cheese sandwich and a root beer.  Simple fare for simple folks.  After we ate, I would spin myself around and around seated on that bar stool at the lunch counter, while Grandma enjoyed her last sip of coffee.

The red, button-up sweater from Sears that I loved was all kinds of wrong, yet I have the pictures as proof that I was determined to look my best. Glancing back, I clearly see my stylistic mistakes, but at the time I felt well put together.

Still, I had a delightful smile, don’t you think?  

My 4th grade teacher was Mrs. Batson.   Mrs. Batson was no-nonsense all day every day.  She was a small but sturdy force, short in statue and long on obedience, and wore dark-colored, perfectly fitted suits with structured shoes.  She was tough and I was afraid of her, except that I kind of knew she liked me.  I was always the only one in my class who didn’t have a mother and because bad news travels fast, I must have been pegged as someone who needed a little more encouragement.

I knew this because even in her strictness, she would look at me and almost smile. Her eyes would tilt ever so slightly, and the corners of her frown would swing upward for only a second.  I always wondered if anyone else saw it, but I think it was just for me.  I mean, come on…. looking at this picture, Mrs. Batson was probably thinking, “Bless her heart!”

I learned during 4th grade that I had something called ‘buck teeth.’  And when I told my dad that Stanley Steinkruger called me that, he said, “Nancy Lynn, you just have an overbite.  And someday you will have braces that will help you have the most beautiful teeth in the world.  Don’t listen to the likes of Stanley Steinkruger.” 

Bless my heart.

This 4th grade photo was not to be my last ‘less than stellar’ school picture.  I had an overbite with a large space between the front two teeth, and a few more years of the plastic headbands. I even had another year of a red sweater in which I discovered turtlenecks are really not for me either. 

When I arrived at Wolflin Elementary School in Amarillo, Texas, for my first day of 5th grade, I found out I had Mrs. Batson for my teacher again.  How could this be true?  But it was.  Mrs. Batson moved up to teach 5th grade and I was in her class.  5th grade turned out to be a doozy of a grade for me.  Somewhere between the first day of school and Thanksgiving, I woke up one day needing a B-cup bra and I was 5’5” tall.  I tried all year to practice the art of slumping down, so as not to look so much taller than the boys.

Top row, second from right

One more sad little piece of information was that as a baby I had had ankles that turned in toward themselves and because of that, I wore orthopedic shoes, even into the 5th grade,  like these black velveteen saddle oxfords.

Those shoes were heavy on my feet and so sturdy/clunky that as much as I tried to scuff or wear them out, they wouldn’t.  Nothing could penetrate those toes of steal.

 Just when I thought it could never get worse, the 5th grade girls had to see “the film” and as my luck would have it, this was also my year to become a ‘woman.’

Culminating my 5th grade school year, I was a full 5’6” tall.  I also found out I needed glasses. My dad let me pick out my glasses which were brown sparkly glitter, cat-eye frames.  I adored them and took special care to keep them in their case when they weren’t on my face.

 Next, came the years with braces and tight-lipped smiles to hide them.  It is what it is, y’all, and I have the pictures to prove it!  The day we got out for Christmas break my 6th grade year, Stanley Steinkruger was deep in his throws of flirting with me.  But bless his heart, he teased me by grabbing my glasses and using them to play catch with another boy.  You can guess the end of the story.  Broken glasses and hurt feelings. My father admonished my carelessness, and I was never friends with Stanley Steinkruger again.  The good news was I finally got a pair of slip-on flats and was allowed to give up my orthopedic saddle oxfords.

My later elementary grade years left me with a few scars, as much of growing up usually does.  Often, the ‘awkward’ years last longer than one would wish, and in the throes of adolescence, we do not see our own light.  We let other people tell us who we are and hush the swan’s song inside of our ugly duckling.

But Hans Christian Andersen knew what was true for all of us when he wrote:

It is only with the heart that one can see clearly, for the most

essential things are invisible to the eye.

The Ugly Duckling

Ugly Duckling
Posted in #Confessions, Aging

The Bee’s Knees: Continued

The first Monday meeting with Mitchell, my young, handsome physical therapist, started off with a bang.  “Have you been to the restroom yet?  You know, pooped?”  he asked.

“Not yet,” I said quietly.

“It’s really important, so let’s keep taking what you’re taking and drink lots of water.  The more you walk the better it will be.” 

Ya’ll, I have a friend who swears her mother used to ask her, “Have you do-do’d today?” Every time she feigned she was too sick to go to school, her mother would point her finger right at her face and ask the dreaded question, “When is the last time you do-do’d?”

Mitchell and I walked a loop through my house, with me on my walker and Mitchell right behind me, holding a white, thick belt tied to my waist so he could keep me from falling.  He evaluated my uneven gait and chanted, “Heel-toe, heel-toe.”  We then went through a ‘lofty’ set of exercises, to be done three times a day.  Next, he checked my incision and reminded me, “When the pain ball runs out, probably Friday, you’ll feel a slight surge in pain levels.  Just want you to keep that in mind.”

I was starting to get really scared.  Scared about the pain ball (how much will it hurt to take it out?) and what will happen to me if I don’t, you know?  Pain and poo, two very big topics that dominated my thoughts day and night.   But, because I am a doctor on Google, I read everything I could about both topics and I must say I found out it could go either way…good or bad. Good, like an easy-peasy potty time and absolutely no pain in removing the wire inside my leg.  Or bad, like missing the toilet and landing on my butt and twisting my new knee, causing me to have corrective surgery.

Friday morning Mitchell arrived with a smile. “Let’s check your pain ball.”

“No need,” I said.  “It’s empty.”

“Ok then.  Let’s take it out.”

“Should I take a shot of whiskey? Or bite a bullet?” I joked.

He laughed and said, “I know, right?”

I laid on the edge of my bed, closed my eyes, and he peeled the surgical tape off my thigh to reveal the wire, which had been threaded down the front nerve of my leg.  I was trying to mentally prepare for the pain, when he said, “It’s over.”  And just like that I was freed from the pain ball and looking forward to a new surge of discomfort.

“Remember,” Mitchell said, “Stay ahead of the pain and go to the restroom.  See you Monday.”

After Mitchell left, I drank one more glass of Metamucil on top of all the other laxatives, just for good measure.  Sadly, I realized too late, that it had not been necessary.  At five o’clock, my stomach started to rumble, tumble, roll, and grumble.  For some reason, I felt the need to tell Boo, “Something’s happening.”

“Let the games begin!!” he laughed.

Five o’clock also marked the onset of the dreaded ‘surge of pain.’  I will spare you the gory details, but when I felt I’d better head toward the restroom, I immediately knew my speed on the walker, was not as it should be.  Never in my life could I have planned that the pain and the poo would happen on the same day and same time and stay all weekend long.  Boo, hollered from the den, “Do you need some help?”

Banging my walker into the door frame, I screamed back, “Leave Me Alone!”

Truthfully, I have only screamed once during this whole ordeal, and this was it. 

“No problem,” he answered.

The infamous ‘surge in pain’ was like my knee was waking up a week later from the surgery.  Shooting pain, dull aching pain, and stabbing pain settled in on my incision and the very back behind my knee.  I took every pain pill allowed me and still prayed to fall asleep.  The pain came in waves, like a rolling storm off the coast, battering and ramming my body until I thought I would break.  The only rest from the pain was from the sudden urge to run to the restroom because I needed a level head to maneuver my way through the bathroom door with the awkward walker.  I was a very hot mess!

 Things could only get better after this extremely low point because, after all, this was just the first week of my recovery.

Monday morning, Mitchell said I looked a little pale, but applauded my efforts and we set up a new pain med plan.

“Let’s get rid of the walker and go to a cane,” he said.

“How about tomorrow?  I need a few more hours,” I said.

“Deal.”

That night I went to my closet and found the cane my grandpa actually carved for himself.  It was the same cane my grandma used as well, and now I was the proud recipient. Who would have guessed it?  The cane was a perfect simple shape and sanded smooth as silk.  Grandpa had painted it a dark brown and shellacked it to a beautiful sheen.  The grip was worn in places and as I stood to try it out, tears rolled down my face, imagining my grandparents’ touching this very same cane.  I felt their spirit with me. This cane fit me just right and I felt safe and secure knowing my grandparents had in some way, been sent to take care of me.

I practiced that night and the next day it was trial by fire as I learned to walk with the cane.  Does anyone remember Festus from Gunsmoke? 

At the end of week two, I saw the physician’s assistant and she took off my bandage.  I was predicting a Frankenstein scar, but it wasn’t quite that bad.  Turns out my surgeon was a brilliant seamstress.  One surprising thing about my knee now is that it feels hot at times from the swelling and has a slight pinkish color.  They promised it will go away.  But, part of my knee is numb, and that will not go away.  As I was leaving, the P. A. said I could begin practicing driving.  It was music to my ears, and I felt the breeze of freedom floating in my near future. Although it was another two weeks away, I had hope that I could recover and finally go somewhere by myself.  No offense, Boo.

Soon Mitchell and I began to go for walks outside.  On my 2nd walk, we ran straight into my neighborhood friend, which you may remember as my Walker Stalker.  John wanted to know what had happened to me, where had I been, and “Who’s this?”

“This is Mitchell,” I said. “My physical therapist.”

 But John never really registered what I said, until finally, he asked, “Now, who is this? Is this your grandson?” 

We just smiled and said, “Well, I’ve gotta keep walking, John.  See you soon.”

As time went on, I begged Boo to ride with me a half-mile down the road to our community mailboxes.  “I don’t need to practice anymore,” I said, as I slightly hobbled to the car.  But once to the car, I had to pick up my leg to actually get in.  Bending my knee was torturous, in the beginning.  I really didn’t realize how strenuous getting in and out of a car and driving one mile could be.

“I don’t think you’re quite ready,”  Boo said as I came to a stop.

I knew he was right, but I also knew I was very close to my independence.  “I’m on my way back, baby!  Just wait and see!”

I finally graduated from Mitchell to outpatient physical therapy.  My weeks of exercising, icing, resting, and walking have now turned into two months.  My out-patient physical therapist is a seemingly sweet-looking, young woman named, Thea.   Don’t let her smiling, girl-next-door exterior fool you, she’s no-nonsense and hell-on-wheels.  But, thanks to her and Mitchell, I’m making great progress.  At my 8-week check-up, my doctor was very pleased.  “You’re one-third of the way healed.  Keep up the good work.”  He also told me it will take one full year to feel normal and strong, and I’m starting to believe him.

Everyday, there is a little less pain and stiffness, and everyday there is hope for better sleep. I’m walking, driving, sitting, standing.  I’m off my addiction to Cheetos.  I’ve gone on a trip, grocery shopped, and been to Costco twice.  I’m still telling Boo, I may not be able to cook for another month or so, but he’s fine with that because it means fewer vegetables.

I’m grateful to have insurance and Medicare.  I’m grateful to all my friends who loaned me the walker, icing machines, and tall potty chair.  The friends who brought me food and visited when I was still in my wrinkled pajama pants and greasy hair, and I’m grateful to Boo who never left my side, even when he wanted to!  Who has put up with my groaning and moaning and talking about myself until we are both sick of it. 

Sometimes Boo is a saint.

Originally, I planned to have my other knee done in March, but as time goes on, I think it best to wait until July. We have a trip planned for the end of March and one in June. Feeling stronger and having a little fun will put me in the right frame of mind to do this all again. (I hope).  And Boo will have a chance to rest up before his next nursing duty.

People continue to ask me, “Aren’t you so glad you had the surgery?” 

“Not yet,” I answer, “But, I know I will be.”  And that really is the truth.  I know I will be, especially after the next surgery.  As my grandma used to say, “If the good Lord’s willing and the creek don’t rise.”  I will be so, so glad I’ve had the opportunity to get my new pair of knees!”

My girls, my grandma, and my cane.
Ready for an outing with Grandma and her walker!

Posted in #Confessions, Aging

The Bees Knees

The Bees Knees: Part I

I come from sturdy stock. I’ve survived a lot from my childhood and growing up years.  My threshold for pain is high, like natural childbirth high, but the last thirty-eight days have brought me to my knees.

Grandma

My arthritic knees, a gift from my grandma, have been a source of pain and embarrassment since my thirties.  I have repeatedly rubbed Aspercream, Voltaren cream, and Icy Hot on these bony knees  I’ve had cortisone shots, rooster cone shots, and rotated ice with heat.  I would slowly rise from chairs and avoid all stairs in favor of an elevator.  Worrying about my knees has consumed a lot of my life for thirty-plus years.

On a vacation to Washington D.C. a few years ago, I clung to Boo’s arm as we made our way up the eighty-seven steps from the Reflection Pool to the Lincoln Memorial.  Rubbing my knees and reverently limping around while snapping photos, I told Boo, “There’s got to be an elevator somewhere.  I don’t think I can make it back down.” 

I looked all around and found a small sign that said Elevator.  It was in the back, back corner of the monument.  One lone person in a wheelchair was parked right in front of the elevator doors. “I’ve been waiting for the elevator to come back up for quite a while,” she said.

            “I’m going to get my husband and grandson; will you hold the door?”  I asked.  And she gave me the thumbs up.

            Rushing to find Boo and Sam, I called, “Come on guys, I located the elevator!”

            Turning the corner, I saw the back of the lady in the wheelchair rolling into the elevator.  With her was an assortment of people on crutches, walkers, and canes.  I grabbed Boo and my grandson Sam, urging them to get in.  All of a sudden Boo says, “Uhh, we’ll meet you at the bottom,” and they walked away. “Chicken!!!”  I called after them.

 I squeezed myself into the tiny steel trap, making the other riders move closer together.  It took a good 5 minutes for the trembling, creaky doors to finally close and I pushed the dirty-looking number ‘one’ on the wall of the elevator.  Casually, I glanced to see if there was a number to call if we were to get stuck, but it was too faded to read.

  Another long minute later, the elevator jolted and then shuddered as it began to move.   S l o w l y, the airless box moved downward, while the wafting July body heat and odor settled heavy on my skin. The smell of old, tarnished metal and flattened carpet that may never have been vacuumed, made me feel claustrophobic.  My fellow riders exuded smells from Bengay cream, onions from lunch, and cigarette smoke.  I felt a little throw-up in my mouth but managed to hold my breath for the remainder of the ride.

 It felt like an eternity as we bumped and gyrated to a stop, waiting another eternity for the doors to open.  Luckily I was the first one-off, cursing under my breath at Boo for leaving me and my knees for causing me this stress.

“What took you so long, Nannie?” my grandson asked when I jumped out.

“I’ll tell you later,” I said and took a gasp of fresh air.

            So, when my doctor told me this October, “You can take shots and rub creams until you are one hundred years old, but nothing will ever heal your knees.  You need knee replacement surgery if you want your life back.” 

I cheerfully said, “Let’s do it!”  I felt certain this would be my answer as I halfway listened to his explanation about the surgery.  I must have blocked out the warnings about throbbing discomfort afterward and tortuous rehab exercises.  I zeroed in on the statements, “You’ll be so glad you had the surgery.  You’ll be better than brand new.”

On November 8th I arrived at the hospital at 4:45 a.m. and went directly into Pre-Op, where things started to move way too fast. When the anesthesiologist came in to do a nerve block, I started asking, “When do I get the happy juice?”  

Wire threaded down the front of my leg.

The nerve block is started at thigh level and a wire is threaded down a major nerve on the front of the leg. Then pain medicine is released through a ball of meds that completely blocks pain in the leg for one week. The nurses and doctors were so kind and thorough and when they told me to sit up in the operating room to get my spinal block, I remember asking, “I hope my doctor had a good breakfast.”  That was the last I remember.

Two- and one-half hours later, I was in the recovery room asking when I could eat. I felt drowsy but happy. I told my surgeon, “This was a breeze. Thank you. I’m going to be your best patient ever! You’ll see.”

He smiled and patted my foot, “Keep the good attitude!  You’ll need it.”

When I got to my room, I noticed something was attached to me.  “What’s this?”  I asked the nurse.

‘It’s your nerve block pain medicine.  It’s stopping all of the pain right now.  You’ll have it for one week and then it comes out.  You’ll be so glad you have it.  By the way, you have to take a stool softener and a laxative starting today.  Pain medicine stops you up.”  Still on my ‘happy juice’ high, I didn’t really soak in the reality of what she had just said.

Approximately ninety minutes later, the physical therapist came in and suggested we go for a walk.  “Sure,”  I said.

As I sat up the nurse helped me with my IV and the nerve block pain ball that I had to wear around my neck because it was attached to my leg. The pain ball was in its own little black bag, like a purse.  I tried to move myself to the edge of the bed and discovered I had to use my hands to lift up my own leg to place it in position.  The therapist put that stylish white cotton belt around my waist so I wouldn’t fall, and off we went down the hall for a 10-foot walk.

The whole twenty-four hours I spent in the hospital was full of walks and threats.  “Be sure to drink your Miralax and take your stool softener.”  “If you don’t pee, you’ll get a catheter.”  “You have to eat.”  There were pages of information given to me and more “Be sure to..” reminders and then poof, I was discharged and going home.  Still a little loopy from pain medicine, I asked Boo, “Please stop and buy a bag of Cheetos.  I need them.”

Boo gave me a sideways glance, knowing I forbid Cheetos in the house due to my addiction to those orange, crunchy sticks of deliciousness. 

“Right now?” he asked.

“YES.”

The next day, the at-home physical therapist came by to begin my three times a week sessions.  I wanted to make a good impression, but sadly my greasy hair, old sweatshirt, and baggy pajama bottoms were all I could muster.  Oh, and did I say I was wearing a thigh-high pair of white compression hose?  When I answered the door using the walker a friend had loaned me, I saw a handsome, thirty-something, young man with a beautiful smile. 

“ Hi, I’m your physical therapist, Mitchell.  Ready to get started?

To be continued….

Posted in Family, Relationships

Great Aunt Lena

            My great-aunt Lena, born Karolina Katharina in 1890, was one of nine children born to hard-working dirt farmers in Kansas.  In her youth and early adulthood, she was demurely beautiful, with large brown eyes and long brown hair that went nearly to her waist .  She was a humble soul and quiet by nature. She had the sweetest heart of anyone I have ever known.

            The story goes that in her twenties she married a good-looking man from Chicago.  They lived there, and Lena soon got a job as a seamstress at the Conrad Hilton Hotel.  She made draperies, napkins, and tablecloths for the hotel when she began her life as a city girl.  She was extremely talented and made all of her own clothes, coats, slips, robes, and nightgowns too.  In fact, I only knew her to have two store bought dresses in her lifetime- one for my brother’s wedding and one for mine.

Grandma, me and Aunt Lena

            Aunt Lena had only been married a year or two when that handsome husband went out late one night for the proverbial ‘pack of cigarettes’ and never came back.  Heartbroken and afraid of living in the city by herself, she packed up and moved to Amarillo, Texas to be near her sister, my grandma Martha Margaretha.  It would be years before she would divorce that wayward husband, and somewhere inside, Aunt Lena made a vow to never fall in love again.  She never did.

 She rode the train from Chicago to Amarillo bringing with her a large, black steamer trunk packed full of her belongings.  She also had a small, light brown suitcase with a darker brown stripe woven into the fabric that held her clothes.  Everything she owned came with her on the train, except her faithful, black, push-peddle Singer sewing machine, which would arrive at a later date.

            I remember well the small efficiency apartment she first lived in after arriving in Amarillo.   Lena made do with her tiny apartment complete with a hot plate, and Murphy pull down bed.  Complaining was not in her vocabulary, so Lena settled in, got a job, found the bus route, and waited patiently to move closer to her sister.

            My daddy, J.C. Claughton, Jr., was a lot of things, but one of his best qualities was being faithful to visit his parents and Aunt Lena once or twice a week.  He would drink coffee with them before work or stop by with some groceries on his way home from work.  He was loving and faithful for all of their days.

            My Grandma and Grandpa lived in a small duplex, apartment A.  Side B finally became available, and Aunt Lena was given first choice.   When she moved into apartment B, life truly began for Aunt Lena.  Most of her eighty-eight years on this earth were spent in that little, stucco duplex on Hayden Street, twenty-five steps away from her bossy, older sister.  Grandma and Grandpa had only one child, my dad, and Aunt Lena, never having children of her own, loved my dad something fierce.  She adored him, and when my brother and I came along, she adored us as well.

            Aunt Lena never said no to us, but she and grandma would go round and round when Lena would get tired of her bossiness and rules.  If Grandma prepared a Sunday lunch, she would tell Lena what side dish to bring.  If Grandma invited her friends over for Canasta, she would sometimes accuse Aunt Lena of cheating.

            “I see you looking at my cards, Lena!” Grandma would announce.

            “I don’t need to see your cards to win the game.”  Lena returned.

            “Well then, keep your eyes on your own cards.”

            “Same goes for you.”

            And this would go on until one of them either quit the game or Grandma would say lunch was ready.  I’ve been witness to Aunt Lena throwing her cards on the table and stomping off.

            “I’m going home.  I don’t have to put up with your nonsense.”  And she would walk the twenty-five steps home to duplex B.

Aunt Lena bought a television and Grandma had a phone line with an old black rotary phone, so they shared both the TV and the phone for the entirety of their duplex days.  If Aunt Lena needed to use the phone she would have to ask Grandma, and if Grandma wanted to watch one of her ‘programs’, like Lawrence Welk, she would have to ask Aunt Lena.  And I do recall Grandma paid for the newspaper, which Lena could read the next day when Grandma was finished.  The two sisters negotiated their daily life decisions as sisters are prone to do.

            Aunt Lena always let my brother and me have a Coca Cola at her house.  (Those small 6 oz. Coke’s that came in a bottle.)  Jimmy and I would be in her tiny little kitchen shaking up our coke bottles and spraying them into our mouths.  Once, I recall a rather messy incident when one of us, probably my brother, shook his Coke but missed his mouth.

            “Watch this,” he said.  And he stuck his thumb in the coke bottle and began to shake it.

            “I bet you can’t do this,” he taunted me.

            And all of a sudden he missed his mouth spewing the sticky, brown liquid all over Aunt Lena’s kitchen-walls, curtains, ceiling, and floor.  We stood frozen in time with our shoes stuck to the floor when Lena walked into the room. She never told on us, just helped us clean up and  made us promise not to do it again. 

Aunt Lena would patiently let me sit at her treadle sewing machine and sew straight lines on fabric until she taught me how to make skirts and aprons.  I would have to sit up close so my feet could touch the foot pedal giving me the control.  I would watch Aunt Lena take down her hair in the evenings and brush it, then braid it into one long plait down her back.  In the mornings, she would unbraid, brush, then put her hair into a bun at the base of her neck.  Always.  No variations.

            When my brother and I came by for a visit, we were supposed to go to Grandma’s house first.  Grandma would get terribly jealous if we saw Aunt Lena before her.  Aunt Lena would wave at us through her front window curtains as we bounded up the steps to the duplex and wait patiently until Grandma had her fill of us.  This was another of Grandma’s rules:  she wanted her grandkids all to herself at least for a little while.  Aunt Lena never complained, but we knew it seemed unfair.

            Aunt Lena was a sweet and pure soul.  I never knew her to say an unkind word about anyone, not even when she was mad at Grandma.  Her life was small in a lot of ways.  She never drove a car, always depending on the bus, my dad or walking.  On grocery day, she and Grandma would pull a little cart up the sidewalk, three blocks away to the Furr’s Grocery Store.  And after their shopping, they would take turns pulling the loaded cart all the way home.

            My Dad, till the day Aunt Lena died, would slip money into her checking account to supplement her small Social Security stipend.  He wanted her to feel independent.  She and grandma both, as they got older, would hand a blank, signed check to the grocery cashier and let her fill out the check and then they would show Daddy the receipt so he could balance their accounts.

1961 Lake Williams Colorado National Forrest Park

            Daddy was insistent that Grandma and Aunt Lena travel with us on our summer vacations-camping in Colorado.  Although anxious about heights, Lena was a trooper and participated in everything.  Once, we all rode the train from Silverton to Durango Colorado, and Aunt Lena refused to look out over the mountains, praying loudly and repeating, “Oh, the heights, the depths and the altitude!  God help us all.”

            Though Aunt Lena never spent money on herself, she was always generous to my dad, brother, and me.  On our birthdays, she would choose a card from her box of all-occasion cards from Woolworths, and sign it: Love, Aunt Lena, slipping a crisp five-dollar bill inside.

            As Aunt Lena got older, her fear and anxiety took over in ways my father could not understand.  She refused to wear her dentures after going through the painful process of teeth removal.  She refused to get hearing aids although she couldn’t hear what anyone was saying.   And eventually, she refused to eat anything besides what she wanted:  Coca Colas, peppermint candies and Tapioca pudding.  And at eighty-eight, won’t we all have earned the right to eat, live and love exactly as we wish?

            Dear, sweet, great Aunt Lena passed from this earth forty-four years ago.  I have her black, steamer trunk still packed with her sewing shears and threads, lots of old photo albums from my dad and assorted miscellaneous items from my youth.  When I pass by that old trunk, I think about a shy, young woman  riding the train from Chicago to Amarillo.  I think about her bravery to live life when many things seemed so scary.  And I think about the way she loved us with unconditional love and devotion.

Even if our worlds are small, and the ones we love turn out not to love us back; even if we have bossy siblings and no children to care for us in our old age, we can still have kindness and choose to love those close to us.  We can dare to be brave even when it hurts.  We can be generous of spirit and share our worldly belongings, knowing there is always enough for everyone.  Aunt Lena seemed to know all of this intuitively and perhaps that is why she was loved so dearly. 

Deer Hunting in Llano, Texas
Aunt Lena in the front seat