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 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

Posted in Boo, Confessions

There’s Nothing Wrong With That

            “Try these,” my husband said.  “Try on the Brooks or Saucony shoes; they’re really good brands.”

            “I  like ASICS,” I said.  “They feel great on my feet, and I don’t have to think about trying on something else.  They always fit.”

“Try something new, for Pete’s sake!  It’s good for you,”  Boo preached.

“Mother, you always get Cajun Shrimp on your toes, every time we get pedicures.  There are hundreds of other colors, and you pick the same one,” my daughters chide me.

            “I like Cajun Shrimp,” I said.  “There are too many choices and besides I know I already like it.  It’s my signature color!”

            When I go to the grocery store, I try to park in the same aisle, in approximately the same place so I’ll always remember where my car is.  I’m a creature of habit and maybe a little OCD, but there’s nothing wrong with that.  I don’t want to be that person searching the parking lot, looking for my black Honda Accord among all the others.

            Once, on a trip home from seeing the grandkids, we stopped at Buc-ee’s for a snack and some gasoline.  We’ve stopped there many times before, so I utilized the pristine restroom and then perused the many aisles of snacks, chips, nuts, candy, sandwiches, and jerky.  Boo waltzed by and called, “I’ll meet you at the car.”

            When I finally paid, walked out to the car, and plopped down in the front seat, I heard him say, “Ah ha!  I knew it!  I knew you would get Chex Mix.”

            I felt a little sheepish, but before I could defend myself, Boo started in, “Every time we stop for a snack, it doesn’t matter where we are, you take forever to look around and then you buy a water and Chex Mix.  I don’t understand you.  Why don’t you just go straight to the Chex Mix?”

            “I might miss something good if I don’t look around.”  

            “If you ask me, you did miss something good, EVERYTHING except Chex Mix.”

            “I didn’t ask you,” I lamely injected.  “But not that it’s any of your business, I did shake it up this time.  I got the Bold flavor.”

            “Oh Boo,” he said with a tsk tsk.

            “Oh, Boo yourself,” I snapped.

            I admit only to you and myself that I am set in my ways.  Life is full of so many decisions, do I really need to add more?  I like what I like.  Does that make me mistaken or worse, boring?  Maybe, but there’s nothing wrong with that.

           In my mind, I am spontaneous and adventurous.  I try new things and live on the edge, but the truth is I appear to be stuck in my ways. Don’t get Boo started on asking me where I want to eat out.  For some reason, I always say I don’t care, but if he mentions a place, I usually don’t like it.  Ugh.    I have my favorites for just every day, and I am pretty set on what I eat at certain places.  Chick-fil-A: Market Salad. Panera: Chicken noodle soup or Strawberry Poppyseed salad. and Luby’s: Roasted chicken or fried fish, broccoli, and cornbread.  Just saying this makes me cringe.

Am I just an old, retired schoolteacher too addled to try something new?  Have I become boring and comfortable like melba toast and an old brown sweater?  I prefer to think of it as ‘Don’t fix what ain’t broke,’ but seeing the truth about myself is a hard pill to swallow.

            Not too long ago, we went out to eat at Cheddar’s after church. “What looks good to you, babe?”  I asked. 

 “Oh, I don’t know what I’m hungry for.  What about you?” he asked.

            “You tell me first,” I said.

            “Nope, I want to see if you try something new.”

            “Oh, don’t worry about me, I will!”  I defied him.

I scoured the menu pretending to think about what I might want, but I already knew what I would get.  I ordered a predictable standby: Miso salmon, broccoli, and green beans, while Boo ordered something new.   He made his choice from a separate menu insert labeled “Three NEW Shrimp Feasts.”  And they used words like ‘Ultimate’ and ‘New twist on old favorites.’  His choice was a delicious looking shrimp pasta dish that was absolutely beautiful.

When our lunch came, I was already jealous.  

He looked at my salmon and broccoli and I drooled over his shrimp dish.  

“Can I have a bite?”  I asked.  “I can’t help it.”  

“Oh, Boo,” he tsked.

As of late I have really been trying to shake things up.  I now wear Brooks tennis shoes exclusively and even admitted to Boo that he was right.  I do like them better than ASICS.  I branched out at Panera and got one of their new ‘bowl’ lunches with chicken and quinoa. I’m also thinking about getting something different at Buc-ee’s next time we stop, and I painted my toe nails a Caribbean Blue, even though I felt conspicuous.

 Change is very hard for some of us and although I like the idea of being ‘out there’ to some extent, I am mostly a brown sweater with melba toast kind of girl.  I don’t mind being predictable and safe.  It’s just who I am.  And there’s nothing wrong with that.

Posted in Contemplations, Dreams

A Dream Is A Wish Your Heart Makes

            I was talking to Diana, one of my teaching friends, when the bell rang.  “I’ve got to get to the hallway,” I said, and my feet lifted off of the ground.  The next thing I knew, Diana and I were floating above the students, our arms down by our sides, watching the throng of noisy teenagers below us.  Flying felt effortless and while I seemed to be going so fast, I knew subconsciously, I was right on time.  I didn’t say it, but I was thinking how great it was to be able to fly through the hallways.  It seemed so natural.

            When I woke up that morning I was elated!  Finally, I had had a flying dream.  I’ve always heard people say that they flew in their dreams, and now I was one too.  Through the years I have had several life-changing dreams.  Dreams that taught me a lesson, enlightened a dark place, and even a recurring dream that I had for several years.

            Sleep studies show that our brainwaves are most active during the REM sleep cycle.  Dreams occur when there is stimulation to the brain that brings thoughts to our awareness.  But in just the same way I could fly instead of walk, I have had dreams that I was digging my own grave, but the shovel kept breaking.  On the surface, dreams may seem obscure, even outlandish.  But look a little deeper, and there might be a lesson to learn, or an answer to a question.  Sometimes vivid dreams are a result of eating spicy food or binging on too much TV.  Sometimes they are a direct result of stress or anxiety.

            When my mother died in January of 1958, I was four years old.  One of the only memories I have is of her funeral.  My daddy had picked me up to look at her in her casket and then he leaned over and wanted me to kiss her goodbye.  I distinctly remember kicking and crying, trying not to get that close.  I clung to him like a second suit jacket, turning my head away from hers. 

            I am not here to judge my father, for right or wrong, he was doing the best he knew how.  But the trauma of that incident caused me to have a dream that returned often to me over the course of several years. In fact, I still recall it perfectly.

            It was night-time and I stood perfectly still inside my small, drafty, stucco house on Crockett Street.  I could hear the howling winds and the icicles breaking off of the eaves from the roof.  As a little girl of four, I knew I shouldn’t have been alone, but I was.

In the living room, the big picture window began to rattle, and I heard a scratching, clawing sound of something trying to get in.  The scratching and rattling dared me to peek outside, and when I did, a gust of arctic air blew toward the window and froze everything with a sheet of snowy ice.  I couldn’t tell where the ice came from, but it didn’t matter because soon the knocking and scratching was at another window.  Again, and again, at each window I would peer out to find it frozen shut until that last window when I looked out into the face of a stern, frozen Jack Frost.  His face was contorted and iced over, and he appeared angry and grimacing.  His eyes looked right into mine and challenged me to look away first.

I was petrified and barely able to breathe, when suddenly there came a loud knock at the door.  I stood completely still, heart pulsing in my ears, and my feet glued to the floor.  This time someone or something was pounding on the front door.   As if another force was pushing me toward the door, I felt my hand on the knob turning, turning until it opened and standing there was a coffin …open…empty and icy.  It was standing upright, open all the way and although I didn’t see anyone, I knew Jack Frost was near, and I knew who had been in that coffin.

This was the recurring dream that I had over many years after my mother’s death.  The same sequence of events, and the very same dream, year after year.  I’m sure a psychologist would tell me the icy Jack Frost symbolizes the chill of death.  It doesn’t take much to make that correlation, but what I’ve never understood, is why the dream returned to me year after year.  At some point between the end of grade school and puberty, the dream stopped, as suddenly as it began.  Perhaps it took that long for my mind to make sense of my harsh reality.

I have often dreamed of hosting a party at my home and the party gets out of control.  More and more people start arriving, and the music gets too loud.  I usually run out of food, and everyone is asking me questions all at once.  I’m frantic and trying to make things turn out okay, and then a tall, dark, and handsome stranger appears.

Once, after a particularly stressful day at work, I dreamed that a giant Olive Oyl head was talking to me.  (Olive Oyl, the girlfriend from the Popeye cartoons.)  Her huge head was filling up my dream space and she was yelling at me.  “Get a backbone!  Speak up for yourself!  Don’t let them get away with it!”  When I woke up the next morning, I knew exactly what I needed to do in order to solve a problem with a co-worker.

I count myself blessed and lucky to be able to dream.  I usually try to write them down as soon as I wake up.  I love being able to look back at some of my dreams at certain times of my life.  The more I remember and record my dreams, the more dreams I have.  Silly, scary, frustrating, or fulfilling, my dreams are a window into my mind and soul.  They are an extension of me.

After my father’s death, twelve years ago, I had three very distinct dreams of him.  They were so real that I call them visitations.  In my dreams we would sit very close together and hold hands.  He looked so happy and healthy, a huge difference from his worn and fragile body before he died.  On the first visit/dream, he told me not to worry about him.  “I like it here,” he said.  “I’m doing good.”  That one dream has been a wonderful source of comfort to me. 

I feel such gratitude for the messages, and insights I have received from my dreams, and I wish the same for you.  As Cinderella encouraged her woodland friends, I encourage you to follow your dreams, listen to your dreams and thank yourself for the wisdom that comes from your heart.

A dream is a wish your heart makes, when you’re fast asleep.” — Song written and composed by Mack David, Al Hoffman and Jerry Livingston for the Walt Disney film Cinderella (1950).

Posted in Fathers

Just A Closer Walk With Thee

            As much as my father was a stern, ex-Navy, electrical engineer, rule follower; he had a light, gentle side that was creative and musical.  This lighter side occasionally escaped to participate in artistic activities, but they were short-lived and methodically planned.  Happiness came when he was outdoors, building things with his hands, fishing or traveling.  The rest of his encouragement came from music, specifically jazz.

            When Daddy played his Pete Fountain 33 LP and Just a Closer Walk with Thee came alive, there was a shift in his demeaner.  His feet moved and his face smiled.  He was transported from our little three-bedroom rental, away from the duties of work and caring for two small children without a mother.  He was at peace. 

I am weak, but Thou art strong.  Jesus, keep me from all wrong.

I’ll be satisfied as long, as I walk, let me walk close to Thee.

            He would sing and dance around the house while those smooth clarinet sounds came through the speaker.  We only had a turntable that played one album at a time, but we knew Daddy’s albums were sacred.  He wiped them off before and after each use with a special soft, black cloth and when finished, gently slid them into the correct cover jacket.  “There’s only one way to take care of your records and that’s ‘the right way.’”

Just a closer walk with Thee.  Grant it, Jesus, is my plea.

Daily walking close to Thee.  Let it be, dear Lord, let it be.

When my feeble life is o’er, time for me will be no more.

Guide me gently, safely o’er, to Thy kingdom’s shore, to Thy shore.

            When Daddy passed away in 2009, we opened the white, 3-ring binder that would guide us through his service, burial, insurance, obituary, and anything else we needed to know or do.  We would have expected no less from his take-charge personality, as organization was one of his greatest skills.  He planned for everything from vacations to tornados, so it was only natural that he planned for his death.

            Although most of us considered him tight with his money, he loved to save it, make spread sheets about it, and keep track of every penny.  Thus, his funeral was pre-paid, meticulously planned and organized in that 3-ring binder with homemade dividers.  The dividers were yet another example of his creativity and frugalness.  Why buy something when you could make it yourself?

            Years before his death, he tried to show me his binder every time I came for a visit.

“Everything you need to know will be in here,” he’d say.

            “I know, Daddy.  I just hate to think of you being gone.”

            Still, I would sit beside him and let him go page to page explaining every detail. 

            When Daddy passed, Just A Closer Walk with Thee was played, as he requested, piped in over the mourners.  It was not Pete Fountain, but the good old Methodist hymn played by an organ.  In the end, my father stuck by his rigid, conventional rules for a proper send off.  But I have often wondered if Pete Fountain might have led him with a smile as he reached those kingdom shores.

            I wish Daddy could have stepped out of his fixed way of thinking and had a little piece of himself that might have surprised a few.  Not everyone knew he had a softer side and maybe he liked it that way.  The old hymns were his comfort zone and whether heard from an organ or a smooth clarinet, his funeral was just as he wanted.

            In this fast-paced, all-about-me, live for today world, I fear the pre-planning folks may be few and far between.  Daddy’s propensity to control and prepare gives me pause, as I realize how thoughtful it was in the end, like a gift from beyond.  He saved us from worry, and more stress.  He kept us from having to make decisions on what we ‘thought’ he might want, and mostly he had everything just the way he wanted.

            As for me, I hope to be prepared and pre-paid.  I want an old-fashioned sing-along with hymns and songs that express my sentiment.  I want my girls to know that I’m ok and happily crossing to that kingdom shore, and if Pete Fountain happens to make his way onto the play-list, well, you’ll know I’m dancing on streets of gold.  “This one’s for you, Daddy!”

Just a closer walk with Thee.  Grant it Jesus, is my plea.

Daily walking close to Thee.  Let it be, dear Lord, let it be.

Posted in Relationships

Walker – Stalker

            The first time it happened, I was not prepared.  The sun was shining, and I had a spring in my step as I headed outside for my walk.  Two blocks down I heard, “Oh, howdy neighbor,” as I ran smack dab into John.

            On our first meeting I learned John was a retired college professor, married to a woman whose mother was ill, the mother lived in Poland, and he knew three languages.

            He was going home after his walk but decided to walk with me for a while, just to chat.

            “Won’t you be going the wrong way?” I smiled.

            “Oh, I don’t mind, I’ll walk with you at least to the next street.  What did you say your name was?”

            “Nancy,” I said.  “I live on the corner, there.”

            “I know,” he said, and we walked together to the next street.

            John, bless his heart, is in his late seventies.  He uses a cane to support his stooped frame but is surprisingly agile as he sprints across the street to see me.  Most days he has on a faded baseball cap, PBS t-shirt, and plaid pajama pants with tennis shoes.  He sports a dashing mustache and has twinkling blue eyes that light up when he smiles, and he’s always smiling.

            Because John often needs to stop and catch his breath, I slow down and just wait while he rests and entertains me with his steady stream of stories from the past.

            Lest you think I am sweet for listening, I have been known to look out my front door and scan the streets before starting to walk.  I selfishly want to be alone with my thoughts or Spotify favorites, and walk at a faster pace.  But, on many occasions when I thought the coast was clear, he will come out of nowhere and POOF, I’ll hear him calling my name.

            Once I left the house, calling to Boo, “I’m going to get the mail.  Be right back.”

It takes me fifteen minutes to walk up the street and back to our community mailboxes.  Forty-five minutes later when I returned; Boo was standing in the kitchen,

“John?”

            “John.”

            “He’s a walker stalker!” Boo laughed.

            John will start talking fifty feet before he gets to me, and ever the gentleman he says, “I see you’re going for your walk.  Do you mind if I join you?”

            Another time I lied, “Sorry, John, I’m trying to get a short walk in before I have to go to a doctor’s appointment.”   

But he said, “Me too, which doctor are you going to?  I’ll just walk with you to the next street.”

            John asks me questions about myself, too.  He now knows my husband’s name, how long I worked in education, how many children we have and how long we’ve lived in our house.

            Boo was mowing the front yard one day, when I suddenly heard the mower stop.  I figured he was emptying the clippings, but when the mower never started back up, I opened the door to check.  One foot out the door and I saw John, leaning on his cane, chatting up a storm with Boo.  I quickly and quietly shut the door and hid.  Some time later the mower sputtered back up and soon Boo came in calling, “John says hello.  Did you know he was a college professor?”

            Last year with the Pandemic and all, John would always stay a respectable distance while we walked, asking if I was comfortable about the six-foot rule.  But now I know John is vaccinated, his wife is visiting her mother, he married late in life at fifty-three, he has sciatica and he had lunch with two friends yesterday.  Things are getting back to normal.

When I’m walking with John, he smiles and greets everyone on our path.  He knows most of them by name and can tell me something interesting about each one.  He’s amazing.  His seventy-plus-year-old mind is as sharp as ever.  When I stop to think about it, John has been the highlight of my shelter in place, stay at home days.  He’s upbeat, never feels sorry for himself, and although he has to stop now and again to rest, he’s out there doing his thing. 

As much as I selfishly want to walk faster some days, I know there will come a time when I miss seeing John and hearing about his life.  Perhaps divine providence brought me John to slow me down and refine my patience.  He certainly has brought me company along my walks and a smile on those lonely COVID days.  It’s hard to believe that someday I may be out walking the neighborhood, looking for friendship and a listening ear.  I hope you’ll slow down and walk with me, at least to the next street.

Posted in Grandmother, Relationships

Martha Margaretha

Valentine Queen

Growing up, everything I knew about beauty I learned from Grandma.  She was my source of information on becoming a woman, wife and mother.  Because my mother was deceased, I had no one to teach me the basics except Grandma and sometimes my dad, which as you might expect, was not always on point.

Grandma was raised on a dirt farm in Kansas.  They were so poor that her parents sent the last two siblings to live with another family because they could not feed them all.  She was only able to complete the 3rd grade because everyone was needed on the farm.  Grandma told me once that she did not remember laughing as a child.  “There was nothing to laugh about,” she said.  “We worked from sunup to sun down.”  And so my grandma, Martha Margaretha, was a serious, no nonsense kind of gal most of the time, but there was a little girl inside who longed to have fun and feel carefree.

Grandma was a wonderfully accomplished seamstress and made all of her clothes, even slips, bathrobes and nightgowns.  She also made all of my clothes until I was old enough to sew for myself.  She made my Barbies the most fabulous ensembles!  I distinctly remember Barbie having a dress out of the same fabric as Grandmas, and even a fully lined coat, complete with bound buttonholes.  Barbie never lacked for functional yet stylish outfits and neither did I.  Grandma had an eye for pattern, texture, design and she could easily visualize how our dresses would turn out, while working tirelessly to make it come together.

Martha had two main rules on beauty:  Always wear lipstick and always wear earbobs or ear screws, as she called them.  In Grandma’s bedroom, on her dresser, was a tray that held her cherished personal items.  There was a comb, brush and mirror set that I always remember her using.  She wore Lady Esther loose face powder, and kept the box front and center.  If I close my eyes I can smell the sweet fragrance and remember the way Grandma’s face felt so soft when I hugged and kissed her.  She always smelled of this face powder and I think to this day I would know it, if I were lucky enough to breathe in that precious scent.  The fluffy, round puff sat on top of this all important powder and next to it was her lipstick.

The dresser top was balanced with a simple jewelry box.  The kind that opened up and the top folded back revealing a bottom section.  Grandma had a large collection of earbobs, necklaces and brooches, most of which came from us, for Christmas or birthdays.  She also had a small little cameo that she pinned on for special occasions.  I would always ask to look through her jewelry box and try on these simple, yet glamorous pieces.  Grandma truly believed in accessories, and although coming from humble beginnings, she wanted to look her best.  It was very important to her.

With her beautiful silver gray hair, smart clothing, ear screws and lipstick, Martha always looked ‘put together’.  No matter how poor you are, you can be clean and neat...a Martha mantra for sure.  Everywhere she went, she would be complimented on her neat appearance, even winning Valentine Queen at her nursing home.  Grandma lived well into her 101st year on this earth.  I remember once, while visiting her in ‘the home’,  one of the caregivers gave her a compliment, which made her proud, yet shy.  After the worker left, Grandma turned to me and said, “It’s almost a curse to be so beautiful”, then she laughed and patted my hand.

 My dad made sure she was always taken care of and able to live comfortably, and so the former Valentine Queen was content and loved.  I know even now, as she sits playing Canasta in heaven, she’s looking all done up…lipstick, ear screws and that wonderful face powder.  We would expect nothing less from Martha Margaretha.

As CoCo Chanel once said, “Beauty begins the moment you decide to be yourself.”

I think Grandma knew that too.

Grandma’s 100th Birthday
Posted in Boo, Relationships

Talking Up A Storm

“Hi Babe, how was the fishing?”

“Good.”  (1)

“Did you catch anything?”

“Three bass and a catfish.” (5)

“Did y’all have fun?  What else did you do?”

“Yep.  Just fished.” (3)

Wait time……

“Got a burger coming home.” (5)

Or here’s another scenario:

Me:  “What did the doctor say?

Boo:  “Not much.  I’m good.”  (4)

And another…

“What all did your brother have to say?”  I asked Boo this after a twenty minute animated conversation on his phone.

“They’re good.” (2)

Wait time….

“It rained.”  (2)

I get that in some cases it is my fault for asking questions that could be answered with a yes or no.  Sometimes, I try adding  “what else?”  or “tell me more.”

Me.  “The kids want to know what you want for your birthday.”

Boo.  “Underwear or socks.”  (3)

Me.  “They can’t all get you underwear and socks.  Isn’t there anything else you need or just want?”

Boo. “Gift card?” (2)

Me.  “To where?”

Boo.  “Anywhere is fine.” (3)

Me.  “Really?”

Boo.  “No.” (1)

Wait time….

Boo.  “Home Depot or Academy.” (4)

*(I could have answered that question myself, but I was hoping maybe he would branch out on ideas, although sometimes he does say Red Lobster.)

It’s not always like this.  Sometimes I can ask a simple question and he will go on and on with elaboration, facial expressions and hand jesters.  It just depends on the topic, time of day or whether CNN is on.

Boo is the strong, silent type until he’s ready to share.  He’s really a deep thinker, but he rarely expresses his thoughts unless the spirit moves him, and when it does, I see a whole different side of Boo.  He’ll talk up a storm, and I’ll get a glimpse into that steel-trap mind and heart of gold.   Any newsworthy topic, discussion of grandchildren or sports will have him chatting for minutes at a time.  He’s practically loquacious.

  But until then…we’ll share our peaceful silence.

That’s just Boo. (3)

Posted in Photography

The Hummingbird

DSC_0430

 

In grief as in life, we often say, see or do things that make us feel better or more connected to our loved ones.

“Oh, there’s Dad again,”  someone may say while looking out the kitchen window at a cardinal sitting on a fence post.  While another might notice yellow butterflies on their morning walks, declaring, “I know that’s Mom.  She loved the color yellow.”

DSC_0213

It’s not so much that I believe my loved ones are reincarnated into insects or birds, but it does feel like a gentle embrace from the other side, meant to comfort and bring peace.

My friend, Mary, passed away last year, rather suddenly.  She always loved dragonflies and was drawn to their vivid colors and flighty paths.  She had dragonfly notepads, nightgowns, and tote bags.  She adored all things ‘dragonfly.’

Mary 5

Try as I might, I am not convinced that every dragonfly I photograph is Mary.  “Hold still, little beauty,”  I whisper to them.  “Let me take your picture.”  I know Mary would have loved my photos and might even have asked for a framed one for her walls.  While I do not feel that these dragonflies are Mary, I do believe that it is her spirit that beckons me to seek the beauty in nature, urging me to take time to enjoy God’s creations.

DSC_1115 (2)

We recently put up a new hummingbird feeder in our backyard.  I made the nectar and as we hung it I fully expected hummingbirds by dusk.  Two weeks later my little friend arrived.  Flighty, thirsty, and perfect, although not flashy in color like the butterfly or dragonfly.  Every day she drinks the nectar and then flits to an adjacent branch to hang out for a bit, then over to a flowering plant, then back to the feeder.  Then, without warning, she flies away until another time.DSC_0436

Hummingbirds are the smallest birds, yet they can travel up to 49 mph.  Their heartbeats nearly 1200 beats per minute and they get their name because of the humming sound of their beating wings.

I feel like a hummingbird sometimes.  My attention goes from details to musings.  I flit from rigid routines to spontaneous creations, photography, or writing.  My concentration varies.  My observations bounce.  When I’m dead and gone, will my daughters see a hummingbird and say, “ Oh, there goes Mom.  She never could sit still.”?

DSC_0189 (1)

There are six large blue jays that visit our bird feeder every day.  Occasionally they are raucous and loud, trying to dominate the backyard.  I’d swear one of them is my Dad, just trying to get in the last word.  Trying to control, even from beyond!

DSC_0118 (1)

It behooves me to wonder who would want to be remembered as a squirrel or pesky fly, but every family has one of each.  Maybe our loved ones visit as birds or maybe a Higher Power nudges us to notice the beauty in nature, helping us to slow down and feel a connection.  Whatever is true and whatever is your truth, enjoy the noticings and remember your loved ones from beyond.  And if you receive a hummingbird feeder from me for Christmas, keep it.  Someday, I may come for a visit.

 

Posted in Family

Clothes Make The Man

 

DSC_0276_original

 

It was Saturday night and we were going to a party at a friend’s house.  I had been preoccupied figuring out what I was going to wear, making the appetizer and wrapping the hostess gift, that I didn’t give Boo too much thought.

He came into the bedroom fresh from his shower and started to get dressed.  When I walked out of the bathroom I saw him standing there dressed and ready to go.  “Are you going to wear that?”  I asked.  

Boo stood perfectly still and with a deer in the headlights look said, “I don’t know, am I?”

“Here,” I said.   “Try this shirt and change belts. OK?”

“Sure.”

This scenario has gone on for years.  I thought he was dressing in mix-matched clothes and frayed pants just to mess with me until finally one day after I announced,

 “Boo! You can’t wear that.” 

 He shot back with, “Yes, I can and I will.  Why do you wait until I’m already dressed and then tell me I’m all wrong?”  

He had had enough of my foolishness.

“If you want me to dress a certain way, just set it out for me,”  he said.  I really thought he was just being obstinate or trying to make a point with his clothing choices, but nothing was farther from the truth.  He really doesn’t care what he wears and he can’t tell if it matches.  IMG_3258

I felt terrible.  I had been scolding him like a petulant child and I really didn’t want to do that.

He told me in earnest that if I wanted him to look a certain way all I had to do was just set it out and he’d put it on.

“After all,” he said.  “You buy my clothes, so it’s kind of your fault if I look bad.”  While I appreciate his willingness to dress for success, I’m not responsible for some of his older, funkier shirts and shorts.  Nonetheless, we embarked on a new plan of action.

If I care, I take responsibility.  If I want him to look a certain way, I pick out his clothes.  On vacations where I care, like on a cruise, for example, I iron his shorts and pack for him, like a kid going to camp.  Shorts, shirts, underwear, socks all in neat stacks.  If he’s going to visit his brother or go with guy friends somewhere, I let go and let Boo choose his outfit.  Sometimes he surprises me and looks adorable, but mostly it’s clean but wrinkled shorts, a shirt with stains and tennis shoes.   

I have to let it go because he has agreed to let me have my way.  One by one certain shirts have mysteriously disappeared and been replaced with new ones.  Occasionally he will dress and demand his right to wear what he considers “OK.”   I do feel like he is becoming a snappier dresser and now that he has a few go-to outfits, I give more compliments and fewer critiques.  

I’m trying to keep my mouth closed and not ask the question that has no right answer, “Are you going to wear that?”  Now, what about that underwear…..