Posted in Relationships

We Need To Talk

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written by Nancy Malcolm

 

He was reclining in the usual spot on the couch, CNN news looping the same stories they reported yesterday when I apparently ghosted in and sat down.

“Oh!  You scared me!”  he said.

“We need to talk,”  I said.

“Okaaaaaaaay,” he replied, and his face went ashen.

I’m sure he did a quick inventory to see if he had done anything wrong or blatantly irresponsible.  “I’ll put my lunch dishes in the dishwasher, he said, ” Don’t worry.”

“Would you please at least pause the T.V. so we can talk?”  I asked.

And that’s when it happened.  He rolled his eyes, not at me directly, but because they were facing the T.V., I saw it from the side.  My sixty-two-year-old husband is really a twelve-year-old in disguise.

He paused the T.V. but his body stayed reclined.   Facing forward, he glanced in my direction, hoping that would be enough.

“Could you at least turn this way so we can see each other?”

He shifted my way but I could tell he was not in the mood for a serious discussion.  We’ve known each other long enough for us both to know the signs, and there are always signs.

Oh sure, I knew better than to lead off with “We need to talk.”  I knew other tools to use, ways to incorporate less threatening phrases, but it jumped out of my mouth, flew out into the air and landed in his space.  Ooops there it is.

And this is where my story takes a surprising turn.  I felt a tap on my shoulder.  I heard a clap of thunder, metaphorically speaking.  Suddenly, in a blinding light of clarity, I had an epiphany or as a friend of mine says; a talk with Tiffany

I realized we had been in this exact place many times before.  I say ‘we need to talk.’ He rolls his eyes. I get upset and he gets defensive.  It was about to be a lose-lose situation. What I needed to talk about had been talked about before and so it would probably be filed in his ‘nagging’ folder, never to be seen again.  I knew I had a choice to make: same old-same old or something new,

I had wanted to have Talk #32:  You never say anything sweet to me anymore.  You never compliment me or say words of affirmation.  I would quote from Gary Chapman’s book, The Five Love Languages and end with guilt.  “I always try to say sweet things to YOU….” No wonder the man’s eyes glaze over right before he rolls them.  I had too many ‘always’ and ‘nevers,’ and I heard myself plain as day, the voice from Charlie Brown: “WaaaWaaaaaaWaaaa”

As if on cue, I saw his baby blues lock in on me.  I remembered that earlier that day he had watered all the outside plants and vacuumed out my car.  He was home, not out gambling.  And, I had no doubt that he would put his lunch dishes in the dishwasher.

Sometimes God does for you what you cannot seem to do for yourself, and as I looked at my husband my mouth opened and out came, “I just wanted to tell you thank you for vacuuming out my car.  That was so sweet of you.”

I felt my eyes widen and I couldn’t believe my ears, but I tried to act cool and nonchalant. 

For a few seconds, he stared at me, then said, “Is that it?”

“Yes.  Thank you, honey.  It means a lot.”

“Okaaaaaay.  You’re welcome.”

And with that, I patted his leg and said, “Carry-on, Boo.”  I turned to leave the room and I heard Wolf Blitzer’s voice starting up and the recliner go back a little farther.  I know his eyes never left the screen, but as I walked away he called, “Love you” 

“Love you too,” I answered, and I meant it.

Posted in Aging

The Pandemic Made Me Do It

 

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Written by Nancy Malcolm

 

As I turned off the alarm, my mind went through this checklist:  What day is it? Why did I set my alarm? What am I supposed to do?”  And then it hit me….Senior hours at Costco!!!!    I sprang from the bed like a shot of caffeine.

 

Since all of the craziness began, the essential stores are trying to work with the public by providing safety rules and procedures.  There are wipes for your grocery cart, hand sanitizer upon entering and exiting, and marking X’s on the sidewalk so we are six feet apart.

 

A few stores like HEB and Costco are offering Senior Hours or even free delivery for those of a certain age, so we don’t have to fight the crowds and risk not getting our necessities.  Boo and I had set our alarms, and talked about our strategy.  

“Let’s hit the Kleenex first.  I heard that runs out fast.”

Armed with a list, bottle of water and hand sanitizer, we drove full speed to Costco.

 

I have to admit it was exhilarating.  The thought that we would get in before the throngs of families and small children was promising.  We envisioned a peaceful, leisurely stroll through the aisles, during our early bird hour of shopping.  (8:00-9:00 a.m.)

 

“I hope they don’t card me,”  Boo popped off. “I look so young and spry.”

“You’re safe,”  I said. “But, just in case, bring your ID.”

We were in a great mood, anticipating the best, when we turned into the drive leading to Costco.

We were thirty minutes early, ready to be the 1st in line when I heard Boo say, 

“Oh, Hell no!”  And I saw the line.

 

Hundreds of senior citizens in various stages of masks, gloves, and sunglasses, were in a line snaking twice around the outside of the store.  What time did these folks get here?

If we were thirty minutes early, they must have camped out the night before, like waiting for concert tickets.

 

The patrons had diligently left six feet space between themselves and most seemed happy and chatted with their neighbors in line.  Instantly, I thought about bathroom emergencies. I bet some of these people had on Depends merely as a precaution for the long wait.  (note to self.)

 

Amazingly there were still a few parking spaces far, far away, which made me wonder if these people had taken a shuttle to Costco or had drivers drop them off.  There was no way we would have made it into the store during the one-hour time slot. Sadly, senior hours did not happen for us.

 

Boo went on a short rant about bogus seniors in line and the possibilities that we may never have Kleenex again, so we drove by two more HEB’s in our neighborhood and after assessing the lines, just went home.  

 

We vowed to make ourselves eat whatever we had left in the house, which meant the things I like and he doesn’t;  quinoa, spinach and roasted red pepper hummus.  We practiced social distancing as we walked in the neighborhood and up to the mailbox. It all worked out.

 

I have a new appreciation, though, for my senior citizen status.  We’re tough. You have to get up pretty early in the day to get past us and I can see that Boo and I have a lot to learn as we compete with the other seniors.  Stay prepared! Be flexible in a crisis and plan ahead! We’ll be ready next time!!

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Posted in Family

Daddy Was A Saver

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written by Nancy Malcolm

Happy Birthday in Heaven to my daddy, J.C. Claughton, Jr.

My Daddy was a “saver”.  A procurer of particulars…a frugal forager.  It was probably because he was a product of the Depression, but for whatever reason, if you needed ‘it’, he had it, at least one and an alternate.

 When Daddy passed away we found boxes full of souvenirs, balls of twine, ink pens, jars of nails and business cards.  We found his report cards, measuring tapes, hundreds of bank statements and thousands of photographs labeled neatly into chronological albums.  There were boxes, bags and myriad other containers full of his mementos.   

 My brother and I waded through his things sometimes laughing …sometimes crying.  Towards the end of our sorting, we bantered across to each other, “You take it!”  “No, YOU take it!”  Still, we filled large, black Hefty bags with things to give away or dispose of.  His obsessive ‘saving’ wore us out. Sometimes, as we discarded, I whispered a prayer, “I’m sorry Daddy, we just have to let this go,” hoping he understood.

Last year I was going through a box of Daddy’s things that I had ‘saved’ from ten years ago.  When I brought it home, I thought I would go through it right away. But, ten years had passed and I had just found the strength to open the box.

 Inside were our report cards, Baptism announcements, college essays, school pictures and more.  I found an old, faded manila envelope, sealed with a piece of tape and enclosed were letters and cards my brother and I had sent Daddy through the years; Father’s Day cards, poems, and notes we had written him.  Behind those cards were letters tied with a string….our letters to Santa Claus.

I unfolded one pristine piece of notebook paper and I was transported, as I read my brother’s childish handwriting. 

Dear Santa,  I hope that I have been good enough to deserve these things I want.  I would like a bulldog tank, an electric football game and a boy scout nap sack.  My sister would like a jewelry box, a ballarena doll, a girl cowboy suit and play doe, please.   From: Jimmy and Nancy. December 16, 1958

This letter was written the Christmas after our mother died.   My brother was nine and I was five years old.  Not all of our letters to Santa were saved, just this one and one other.

My Dad wasn’t always good at professing his love.  He wasn’t the sentimental, mushy type. But, after he was gone, I saw his tender side amongst the 14 retractable measuring tapes and boxes of Navy war memorabilia.  The cards and notes his children had sent and letters to Santa obviously touched his heart, although we never knew it.

His heart was inside this box that took me ten years to open. And, suddenly, all of this stuff he had ‘saved’, became a piece of him…a bridge to the other side, where he was standing, arms open wide, saying, “See?  I have always loved you.” And finally, my heart whispered back, “I know, Daddy. I love you, too.”

Posted in Aging

Crepe Season

 

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written by Nancy Malcolm

My eye doctor is twelve.  She’s smart, thorough…downright delightful, and yet, I have clothes older than she is.  At this mature time in my life, all of my doctors are getting younger while I am heading in the opposite direction.

My orthopedic doctor was talking to me about shots for my knees and said, “If you were my mother, I would definitely recommend this.”  

“That’s sweet?” I thought.

Are the regular doctors in the forty, fifty, and sixty age-range giving up too soon?  Are they retiring, traveling and taking it easy, just like me?

It seems wherever I go someone is calling me “Ma’am.”  I respect the respect but I still feel thirty-seven inside, so it’s hard to compute.

If you are my age and visiting a dermatologist lately, heaven help you!

“What is this?”  I asked him. “And what is this little red spot?”

“It just happens,” he said.  “To people your age.”

Oh, that’s exactly what I wanted to hear.  And the force be with you if during your annual mole check, he burns, cuts or freezes something off of a sensitive area.  “It just happens,” he says. “It could be worse.”

I also wondered if it really is true that our noses and ears continue to grow as we age?    Well, I looked it up and apparently the cartilage in our ears and noses does continue to grow and then it droops.  Gravity takes over and makes the cartilage in the nose and ears look bigger because it is sagging, just like everything else.

I don’t believe I’ve ever been able to bounce a quarter off of my butt.  Maybe the ‘firm’ gene skipped a generation. I remember once, years ago, I thought I was firm, but I see now it was an illusion.  Crepey skin is my new normal.

Recently, my grandson was sitting next to me on the couch.  “Nannie,” he said in astonishment, “Look at your arm! Why is it doing that?”

“Doing what?” I asked, trying to play it off, as I pushed the skin back up toward my shoulder.

He lightly pinched a piece of skin above my elbow.  “This,” he said, and I knew what he meant.

You see, years ago, I remember asking my Grandma the same thing.  “Grandma, look! Your skin stays up if I pull it. Why does it do that?”SCAN0004 (2)

Be aware, children, be very aware!  This could happen to you.

I will never again buy crepe paper to decorate for parties.  It’s just too real.

Two years ago, I went on a crusade to fight the crepey skin situation.  I had watched all the infomercials and ads on TV, and I truly believed I had found the answer.  I asked for Crepe Erase for Christmas and my birthday. It was expensive, but I knew it was pure magic.  It smelled wonderful and the best part was that Jane Seymour was their spokesperson. Jane Seymour is my age and she looks fantastic.  Her skin is youthful and firm.

I was faithful to use it for one whole year.  I exfoliated. I lotioned, rubbing in an upward direction.  I prayed and yet….. I fear I was fifteen years too late to change the course of my crepe.  I’m doomed to have grandchildren gasp in horror at my sleeveless arms.

I’ve had a good run.  I really have, and it’s nice to know I’m not alone.  Jane Seymour is with me as I march into the losing battle of aging.   I have to believe sooner or later she will experience the devastation of the ‘ crepe.’  One thing is for sure, I won’t go down without a fight armed with hair dye, what’s left of my Crepe Erase and Aspercreme.  The trifecta of aging!

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Posted in Friendship

Vive la France


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Written by Nancy Malcolm

“Babe,”  I hollered from the bedroom while folding laundry.  “You really need new underwear. I can almost read the newspaper through these!”

I heard his footsteps and felt him lean against the door frame as he sighed,  “They’re O.K. But, I guess you could get me another pair whenever you’re out.  You know what I like. The usuals.”

And that, my friends, is how a simple conversation prompted an international experience.

Full coverage?  Mid-rise? Boxers, briefs or compression?  Silk? Cotton or polyester? These were the choices as I stood in the men’s department at Kohl’s among the stacks of underwear.  I knew my husband had said ‘the usuals,’ but I was thinking this was a perfect time to spice things up. When I returned home with an assortment of new silky, multicolored, longer length undies, I really thought he would embrace the change.  Instead, with a deer in the headlights look, he asked,   “Didn’t they have mine?” 

I dumped out the new packages and said, “Please? Try it, you might like it .”                471909-070818

I have to give him credit, seeing that he tried to envision himself as the model on the front of the package:  slim, flat stomach and handsome. He stood in front of the mirror holding his stomach in and flexing his biceps.  “O.K.,” he said, and agreed to give it a go. Truthfully, what else could I ask for?     “Hubba-hubba,” I crooned and then gave a little whistle just to seal the deal.

As the days went on, he would incorporate a new pair here and there, but I could tell he missed his tighty whities.  “These are a little too slick (aka silky) and too long. And, aren’t they too tight?”  

“They might feel tight to someone who has been wearing underwear with questionable elastic,” I countered.

Finally, one morning he sauntered into the kitchen, where I was pouring my coffee.  “Hey now,” he sang. “These are very snazzy!”

“Those?”  I asked.

“Yea, these sexy French ones,”  he said.

“French ones?  Did I buy those?” I asked.

“Yea, see the tag?  Sen~ah’ I like these.  They’re perfect.”

“Babe,”  I said. “You’ve got them on inside out.  It’s HANES.    Sen~ah’ is Hanes backward.”

And with a sheepish grin he said, “You know I’ve never been good with too many choices, and besides, I hate change.”

Suddenly, I realized I may have pushed him out of his comfort zone, away from the security of his tighty-whities, but it was worth it.  My little puffed pastry was trying something new, even if it was inside out.

Viva la Hanes!! Baby, Viva la Hanes!!

Posted in Death and Dying

The Face of God

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written by Nancy Malcolm

 

As I walked silently from the room, I could tell even the air was different.  Every molecule in that room had shifted from dark to light; tense to tranquil.  I am a volunteer for hospice and this is the story of the day I saw the face of God.

Christopher House, in Austin, Texas, is a fifteen room care facility for hospice patients whose symptoms temporarily cannot be managed at home.  Patients are stabilized and then allowed to return home if they are able, as per their wishes. It is a more comfortable alternative to going to the hospital.  Each room has a bed, a private bath, and conveniences for family members who accompany their loved one. As a volunteer, I never knew who would be there from week to week, and when a patient was gone they either went home or on to heaven.  It was the goal to allow our patients the dignity to die at home, just as they wanted, surrounded by friends and family, in the comfort of a familiar setting. But, the beauty and serenity of Christopher House is the next best thing to home.

On Tuesday as I started my two-hour shift, one of the nurses called me to room number nine.  “She’s been in so much pain and I think she’s finally getting comfortable. Would you sit with her for a while?  Her family wasn’t here today.” 

“Of course,”  I said and as I entered the room I saw my little patient lying in bed, positioned on her side, facing the window.

“Hello,” I said.  “I’m Nancy and I’m a volunteer.  Would you mind if I sat with you for a while?”

She didn’t answer, but I wondered if she could still hear me.  Room number nine was painted in pale blue and had serene pictures on the wall.  Her bed was next to a large window looking out to a covered patio with plants and flowers.  The lights were off, but outside it was sunny and bright.  

My patient was a tiny, older woman with caramel skin.  She was in her twin size hospital bed, and beside her on the table was a large photograph of her and her husband on their wedding day, many years ago.  She also had not one, but three Bibles in her room. One on the bedside table, one on the coffee table and one laying near the foot of her bed. All three were well worn with love and devotion.

I walked around the bed so we could see each other, but her eyes were fixed on the window and she didn’t acknowledge my presence.  I continued to talk quietly, “Would you like me to read to you from the Bible? Let me get a chair.”

I couldn’t move her, so I wedged a folding chair between her and the wall.  Taking the Bible from the bed, I sat down and tried to get calm.

“Do you have a favorite verse?”  I asked.

I sat still and tried to match my breath with hers, but it was shallow and ragged, possibly from the pain.   In and out I breathed, trying to slow down her pace, until I opened the Bible and said, “Let’s start with the Psalms.”

Her face was tight and her brows knitted, and I could see that her body was stiff.  She looked uncomfortable, but the nurses had used pillows in all the right places to help her be supported and relaxed.  I started to read and to my surprise, my voice was shaking.  

Again I breathed in and out, slowly, and I started over.

“The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want.”

Softly, I read Psalm after Psalm, stopping occasionally to let the powerful words sink in.  It seemed that every verse I read was speaking to love, peace and trust and was just what I imagined she might want to hear.  

“Let Thy mercy, O Lord, be upon us according as we hope in thee.”

 I continued until I felt the shift in her breathing.  I felt it change from the shallow uneasiness to the slow and deep inhale and exhale.  I was unaware of the time as I talked quietly to her in between the verses. Finally, I heard just the faintest whiffle of a snore and I closed her Bible and looked up.

 That is when I saw the face of God.

Her body was totally relaxed and her face was smooth and youthful not a wrinkle to be seen.  Even though her eyes were closed now, one lone tear was left to roll down her cheek and her lips were in a slight, pale smile.  There was a light that surrounded her, nestling her like hands cradling a baby.  You might think, “Oh, it must have been the light from the window.”  But, I know it was not.  

“Trust in the Lord with all thine heart, and lean not unto thy own understanding.”

I knew her pain was gone.  I knew her body was resting and I knew her face was God’s face.  The power of those ancient words had changed her.

Quietly, I climbed out of my wedged space by the window, but I left the chair and her Bible open on it.  Room number nine was different somehow. The air had changed, and there was a light and a feeling of peace so beautiful that I didn’t want to leave, but it was my time to go.

The next week when I returned to volunteer, my little patient was gone.  “She went home,” the nurses said, and I knew that was true.  She was home.

Posted in Friendship

Money Money Money

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Written by Nancy Malcolm

 

Boo and I have been married for fifteen years and while we rarely disagree, the main times we do are when he tries to tell me something I already know.

Because this isn’t our first marriage, we decided from the beginning to have separate checking accounts.  I feel very strongly about my money management skills and my ability to handle my affairs. But, so does he.

He is so old school that he still wants to receive his paycheck in the mail so he can deposit it himself. 

 “Direct deposit feels risky,” he says.  “So many things could go wrong, and besides, I like to see and feel my money.” 

 The man doesn’t even use an ATM machine.  He withdraws his cash from the drive-through bank cashier or he goes inside the bank to speak with a real person.

Once, I tried to show him how to deposit a check using his phone and I thought he was having a heart attack.  When I explained how easy it was and that he could just check his account at any time, he begged me to stop. “That’s crazy!  Someone could just hack in and take all of our money.”

“Yes, but that’s why you have passwords and safety features.  I’m telling you this will save you time and the stress of driving to the bank,” I said.

Boo just shook his head, “I don’t know you anymore.  You’re just willy-nilly with this online banking shenanigans.  I like real people, not machines and phones,” he said and added, “You charlatan!”

Needless to say, our household bills are divided between the two of us.  Boo pays his bills the same day they arrive in the mail, and although I have never been withdrawn or had a late fee, he worries that I will forget or miss a payment.  

“Don’t forget to pay the mortgage,” says the worrywart.

“I won’t.”

“I see the mortgage payment is here,” says Mr. Passive aggressive.

“Yup.”

“You know there’s only a five day grace period for the mortgage,” he scolds.

“I know.”

Seriously, the mortgage just arrived in the mail and he says all of this during the first twenty-four hours.

  I have NEVER forgotten to pay the mortgage or any bill, but he cannot trust my process.

I have to admit, sometimes I let it sit out just to make him ask questions and sweat a little.  If he gives me cash for something or just slips me a twenty, he will worry and watch until that twenty-dollar bill is safely in my wallet.  “All of my bills face the same direction,” he proudly proclaims. “That way I can tell at a glance how much money I have.”

“I’m happy for you, Wells Fargo.”  I egg him on, while secretly mine are too.

He saves all of his change and is keeping it in one of those old, large water cooler bottles.   Once I put some extra coins into the jug, thinking he would be happy and he completely freaked out because I had included pennies.  He only likes silver.    

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The man has money hidden in all kinds of places.  I’m quite sure that the garage alone has a couple hundred and his desk is probably packed with wads of cash hidden in the bottom of drawers or folded in stashed envelopes. I haven’t checked between the mattresses yet, but I wouldn’t rule it out.   His cash hoarding is endearing and yet perplexing.  But one thing is absolutely true; he is generous and loves giving gifts, especially to his grandkids.  His heart is pure gold. (or should I say silver.)

It must be hard to be Boo and have so many rules about money.  He stresses a lot because he wants to be in total control and secretly, I guess I do too.  But, my Boo is a fabulous money manager and even if his practices are antiquated; even if he causes me angst, and questions my techniques; he is thrifty, loyal, helpful, kind and brave just like a Boy Scout.  He’s my JPMorgan and Citi Bank all rolled into one.

Posted in Friendship

Smokin’ Hot

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Once when my girls were over for dinner, one of them asked, “Where’s the big salad bowl?”  I replied, “Look up on the top shelf in the cabinet.”

“Oh”, they laughed. “Where you used to hide your cigarettes?”

How did you know that?”  I knew it was too late to deny.

“Mom”, they said, “Everybody knew that!”

I’m not proud of it, in fact, I hate to rat myself out, #IwishIneverhad, but I used to smoke cigarettes. Of course, not in public.  Never in public, but I was definitely a full-blown closet smoker.  I would go hours out of my way just to have 10 minutes with a Kent 100 Golden Lite.  I had guidelines, mind you. I wasn’t just a ‘willy-nilly’ smoker, I had rules for my closet smoking,  that were strictly enforced.

Rule #1

I never smoked during the school day.  I didn’t want my students to smell it on me and think I condoned smoking.  Self-righteous and hypocritical? Of course.

 

Rule #2

I never smoked around my parents.  Once, I was in Amarillo visiting my dad and it was cold, windy and slated to snow.  I had been cooped up in their small Assisted Living apartment all day, when at bedtime, I abruptly said, “Oops, I left something in the car, I’ll be back.”  Of course, I had been planning my ciggy break for hours, so I had one cigarette, (no room for error) a lighter, car keys and a breath mint stuffed into my bra.

Next, I debated on whether to put on a coat and draw more attention to my outing, or just sprint to the car.  I decided to sprint. Once outside, I realized it was sleeting. I got into my car, turned it on and cracked the window.  I don’t know why, but I decided to lay down in the front seat so no one would see me. (what? A snitch in the Assisted Living?)  I lay there in the freezing cold, shivering, waiting for the car to warm up and puffing away.

Pretty soon I hear a car drive up and park next to me.  I hear two men get out and begin discussing the fact that a car (mine) was running and no one was in it and then they peeked in the window.  Can I tell you that cigarettes make you do some crazy stuff? One of the men asked through the cracked window, “You OK?” I sheepishly said, “Oh yes, just taking a break.”  ugh…..

So, I put out the cig, stood outside to get the smoke smell off and popped my breath mint before heading in.  When I got back to my parents’ apartment, I just casually kept walking to the bathroom to wash my hands, when my step-mother said, “We were worried about you, we can see your car from the front window.”  Ugh…..my walk of shame was now complete and to make matters worse, I did not enjoy one puff of my stolen moment.

You would think a grown woman could just tell the truth, but I could not.  Cigarettes made me lie, cheat, steal and hide. I began to smoke thinking it was cool and here I was slithering around in the snow and lying to my folks.

Oh, the tangled webs we weave…

 

Rule #3

Never drive and smoke.  It wasn’t so much a rule as a safety feature.  For some reason, I could never drive, puff and flick the ash at the same time.  I learned that the hard way when I flicked an ash and it flew back into the back seat.  This happened to me while crossing the big bridge going to Corpus Christi. Everything turned out fine except for that little burn mark on the floorboard.

Rule #4

Last but not least was “Thou shalt deny.”  I never admitted that I smoked, never carried cigarettes in my purse and always acted sanctimonious when catching a student with tobacco. My picture is next to hypocrite in the dictionary.

 

The good news is that closet smoking does cut down on your habit.  It was too hard to sneak around to ever smoke more than 5 in one day.  The best news is that I truly am now a non-smoker. The birth of my grandson was the catalyst.  I never wanted to be a little old granny hiding out behind buildings or standing in alleyways, puffing a ciggy.  My cold turkey quit was perilous at best but so worth the pain.

I want to be an active granny even in the nursing home.  Not pulling my oxygen tank trying to sneak a smoke without blowing up the building.  I’m not a hater, you’all. I truly understand the pull toward that green-eyed monster called tobacco.  And if you really want to know the secret to break that habit, I’ll be happy to share.

Posted in Friendship

Labor Day by Nancy Malcolm

 

According to Merriam and Webster, one definition of labor is: an expenditure of physical or mental effort especially when difficult or compulsory. Once a year our nation pays homage and celebrates the holiday called Labor Day, however, I have found that in my life, Labor day, rolls around more often.

College exams, grad school projects and commencement celebrations all follow a predictable set of trials that reek of labor and culminate in satisfaction. Never the less, in life, there are unpredictable days of labor that propel you to either sink or swim, fight or be knocked to your knees in fear.

Unpredictable labor days take you by surprise. You wake up one day, excited about a plan, looking forward to a completion and then it happens…your ordinary day turns into labor day.

On July 7, 1977, I was pregnant and excited about an early September due date and another addition to our family. My time had passed in a rather unremarkable way. I looked good, felt good and actually enjoyed being pregnant. As a teacher, I had made it through the school year and even managed to take a graduate course during the month of June. Day after day, that June, I carpooled with two other teachers and we laughed, studied and improved our minds. My already large belly seemed to grow more each day.
Our 11 year old daughter was such a trooper, being watched by babysitters and Aunts (it takes a village). I would come home, exhausted from Grad school and she would let me take a nap. Then we would eat popsicles and watch The Match Game together…our little ritual.

But, on the morning of July 7th, I had woken up a with a backache. Feeling achy was no excuse to lounge about, I thought, so I proceeded to clean house. After all, today was the day the crib would be delivered. My precious daughter checked in with me often but went about her job of playing outside and summer fun book reading.

The bed was delivered and I felt finally ready for this new baby. As the day progressed, though, I knew this was not a simple backache and finally in the afternoon, I summoned my daughter to call her Daddy and tell him to come home.

What happened next is a blur. A slow motion, fast-paced, jumping off a cliff Labor Day. We must have dropped our daughter off w/ neighbors or her Aunt. I can only imagine now, how frightening it must have been for her because I was so afraid myself. Afraid of the severe pain, afraid of what would happen next and knowing in my soul, it was too early for this little one to appear.

The last thing I remember, on this unexpected Labor Day, was lying on a gurney and the nurse and Dr. telling me they would have to break my water. They did so, and water flooded the bed and the floor. The look on their faces was not matching their words of “let’s go have this baby” The cheerful words did not hide the concern of their eyes.

They quickly put the mask over my face and the next thing I knew, it was two days later. Our small town hospital had a maternity ward and then a wing for everyone else. They put me in a room with another woman away from the maternity wing and crying babies. I remember waking up on and off and hearing the woman in my room sobbing. I laid perfectly still in that dark room and wondered what had happened to her. Looking back, now, I wonder if the sobs were mine.

When I finally came to, the Doctor on call approached my husband and I. His military manner was straightforward and blunt. In essence, our little baby girl never breathed a breath of life in this world, her malformation prevented it and he encouraged us to seek genetic counseling. Period, end of story. Still trying to understand what the Doctor had just said, my husband then announced that “they” had already done the autopsy and buried the baby…there was nothing for me to do except feel better and get stronger. My bleeding heart sunk into a pit, a pit so deep, I wasn’t sure there was a way out. I felt silent. I became silent.

I told my husband how sorry I was. I knew he had weathered much pain in his life, but he assured me it would all be ok. We’ll move on with our lives.

I think we drove home in silence. When we pulled up to the house, I saw my parents’ were there. I went to bed and stayed there for what seemed like a long time. I could hear hushed conversations, doorbell and telephone ringing and silently, I lay in bed trying to get the courage to go into the nursery.

I finally walked gingerly around the house into the baby’s room. The new bed, the rocking chair, changing table, it was all gone. In its stead were a desk, chair, and table, all items in an office not my baby’s’ room. I was silently reeling. Well-meaning friends had thought it best to get rid of it all so I wouldn’t be reminded.

My reminder wasn’t furniture. It was my swollen breasts, my empty womb, my sore inner thighs. My broken heart.

Suddenly among the deep sadness, I felt shame. Shame that I had produced this imperfectly formed child, shame that I wasn’t grateful that friends and family had taken apart the nursery. Shame that I didn’t agree with well-meaning phrases..”It’s for the best”, “You can have another baby”, “its time to get on with your life.” Shame that I couldn’t bounce back so everyone else could feel ok.

My unpredicted labor day lasted longer than 24 hours, as often they do. If I could know then what I know now, I would do so many things differently. I just didn’t know, and no one else near to me knew either.

I would hold myself and rock and cry. I would mourn the loss of this precious baby girl. I would hold her clothes, her tiny shoes and drink in their sweetness. I would take time to grieve, be unashamed of my sorrow, my tears. I would not worry about disappointing others on how long it takes me “to get over it”.

I never got over it, I just went on. She is always with me. My little Autumn, my champion for all the wee souls who got a fast track to heaven. I want her to know that I loved her, and wanted her. Even though I was young and unsure of my right to grieve, I mourn her loss yet celebrate her sweet heavenly soul.

Today, I honor two tender souls, hers and mine. Our tenderness gave us strength and gratitude. I will always remember, probably always be sad and always celebrate Autumn. For in doing so I realize, that my Labor Day was her Independence Day.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Posted in Friendship

Ptomaine-Schmomaine

dishwasher-449158_1280Ptomaine-Schmomaine!!!!

 

“That’s too much,”  he said. “You’re overloading.”  

“But, I think I can get one more in,”  I challenged.

Just then, with a sigh, he wiped his hands on the dish towel and walked off mumbling, “I won’t be responsible for such irresponsibility!”

The man who never sees a sink full of dirty dishes and can leave a used tea glass parked by his chair for three days has strict guidelines for loading the dishwasher.  Each glass, plate, and utensil is rinsed thoroughly and placed in its own ergodynamic location.

 

This guy who leaves his coffee mug in the garage until the remnants are glued stiff to the cup bottom is a stickler for perfection in the dishwasher.  Overlapping dishes is a sin!

 

“Aren’t you afraid the dishes won’t get clean and we’ll get ptomaine from a piece of baked-on egg in-between a fork tine?  “Aren’t you the least concerned that the dishes are unorderly and just willy-nilly?”

 

“NO, I barked, “ as I closed the dishwasher door and pushed start.  “I’m more concerned with missing the last episode of “Sister Wives”!  I’ve heard it’s a cliffhanger!”

I admit I did for one moment consider he was right, but as I reached for a paper towel to put my cookie on….and clicked the remote, I knew there was no going back.