Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Refuge




"I hear lake water lapping with low sounds by the shore ...
I hear it in the deep heart's core."
William Butler Yeats

Dictionary.com defines refuge as "anything to which one has recourse for aid, relief, or escape," and lists asylum, retreat, sanctuary, haven, and stronghold as synonyms.

Other bloggers I follow have recently written about places of refuge - a porch, a garden, a woodsy path. Firebryd calls the porch she's been visiting "this sanctuary for my soul." Sorrow says of her labyrinth, it is "my grounding point. My deep connection with self and with my faith in something greater than myself." And Swallowtail wrote of wildflowers, "how tenacious their grip in the dry soil, how these beautiful beings support me." All topped off by a photo on The Bedlam Farm Journal of a wooded path somewhere in eastern New York state.

I think I am missing such a place in my life. I look around for a place to go to unwind and renew my spirit yet, like Goldilocks, nothing feels quite right. My sister goes to the beach whenever she can. I know the ocean can be a spiritually satisfying place but I make excuses to stick closer to home. To paraphrase Proust, perhaps my refuge lies not in a new place but in seeing with new eyes.

For today, however, I'm stuck in memory mode.

My grandparents used to have a "camp" on the edge of Lake Carmi, in northern Vermont, not far from the Canadian border. It was comprised of one main cabin and two smaller sleeping cabins, all surrounded by and nestled in lots of trees and bushes. Grammy spent summers there for as long as I can remember. I only visited a few times but for some reason, still unknown to me, the lake has been calling name. I long to sit on the dock that jutted out into the water and dip my toes into the cool clear water. (The water I remember from my youth was clear - not sure it is anymore.) I feel like my soul needs to be calmed by the rhythmic sound of water hitting smooth stones where chipmunks scurry and play. Perhaps my Picesan (is that a word?) water sign calls out for a skinny dip in the lake where moonbeams dance on the water and tree frogs sing their evening songs.

Even though Grammy's camp was never home to me, I feel like it is bubbling up from my memory calling me back to my New England roots.

The woodsy photo on yesterday's Bedlam Farm Journal took my breath away. As if I had been plucked from my living room and dropped into the center of Grammy's camp by some kind of Star Trek transporter, I felt the years slip away to when I was a kid. Take away Maria and the dogs and you have a path very similar to one I used to walk and pick wild berries (raspberries and blackberries). Go off the path a little and you might find a place to dig great fishing worms. My grandfather said he'd take me fishing but I'd have to bait my own hook. I think digging up the worms was way more fun than impaling them on a sharp hook. I don't recall ever catching a fish, which in the long run was probably a good thing. For some fishing might be all about the catch; for others it might be sitting in a small boat with the smell of oil and gasoline and worms wafting on the breeze across the lake.

The main cabin from Grammy's camp is no longer there. It's been torn down and an A-frame put up in its place. I've never been there so my memories are still in tact.


Today I remember:
  • The screened porch where Grammy spent most of her time. A card table sat up against the window. That's where she communed with the lake, filled-in crossword puzzles, read books and held Scrabble competitions. Everybody played for a penny a point with the loser(s) feeding the Lobster Pot. When enough money was saved up, there would be a lobster fest. Behind Grammy's chair there were two twin beds that could be blocked off from the room by a makeshift curtain. Little kids could go to sleep listening to the adults talk and night creatures sing somnolent lullabies. We slept under flannel sheets even in the summertime.
  • The summer I was 13 I went to camp by myself. Had I been a little less chicken and a lot more worldly it might have been my coming of age summer. I wore a two-piece bathing suit but didn't have much with which to fill it out. There was a boy who took me for a ride around the lake in a motorboat that scared me more than turned me on. He tried to kiss me behind a tree next to the old wringer washer. As I was to learn later in life, that particular kiss wasn't all that great. The boy might have had a better experience kissing the tree. I started my period that summer. Since camp was mainly a place for older people the liquor cabinet was better stocked than the bathroom cupboard. Feminine hygiene products were non-existent. Grammy improvised and gave a whole new meaning to the term being "on the rag". Or maybe that is the original meaning!
  • Tangerine, turquoise, orange and yellow Fiesta dinnerware. I was just a kid but there was something special about eating on such festive plates. No one worried about lead in the paint or imagined the day when every day china might be sold on E-bay.
  • Oz books by LL Baum.
  • Purple pansies
  • Lying in a hammock wearing a long sleeved striped shirt and plaid pants.
  • My sister chasing me around with daddy long legged spiders.
  • Swimming in the chilly lake. Standing on slippery rocks and muscle shells. Floating in an inner tube. Aunt Letty suggesting a skinny dip. From that day on I always thought of my aunt as risque, daring and "wild."
  • A miniature model of the USS Pollack, a submarine my Grandfather was somehow associated with. The top screwed onto the base. I used to screw and unscrew that thing with childlike glee.
  • Eating a whole jar of martini olives and catching hell for my inconsiderate actions when the cocktail hour chimed.
  • Sitting on the cabin steps with a one-armed man and a lady who walked with a bit of a limp. They both wore those old man's ribbed t-shirts and smelled a little of tobacco, bourbon and body odor. It wasn't an unpleasant odor, but different.

Camp was a place where adults gathered. Kids were left to their own devices and tolerated as long as they were seen and not heard. I didn't know it then but camp must have been a place of refuge for work weary parents. I'm guessing all the moms and dads that made the Vermont pilgrimage in an un-airconditioned car stuffed with suitcases and whiny children felt the way I long to feel again. As the car pulled onto the rocky path that led to the lake everyone in the car hushed a bit as if entering a holy place. Once the engine stopped and the doors flew open and the "good Vermont air" filled their nostrils old and young alike listened for the sound of the lake saying "welcome home."

There is a lot of talk of dying around here. I spend a lot of time wondering when and how my dad will pass from this place to the next. Like a long and winding road that leads to nowhere in particular I wonder what I'll do and where I'll go after he's gone. I'm pretty clear I don't want to stay in this house. I need to move on. Is that why the lake is calling me? Does my inner sonar know something I don't? Is home a place or state of mind?

Think I'll go watch On Golden Pond - the next best thing to being there!

Merry ME

Friday, June 26, 2009

He's Baaaaack!


"If the sight of the blue skies fills you with joy,
if a blade of grass springing up in the fields has power to move you,
if the simple things of nature have a message that you understand,
rejoice, for your soul is alive."
Eleonora Duse
I was looking out the window this morning at my upside down, Topsy Turvy tomato plant. It's got lots of leaves on it but only a couple yellow flowers, which is about as many fruits as I ever get from my gardening efforts.

I watched as jays and a woodpecker shared seed at the bird feeder. The woodpecker perched gently on the feeder, picking through the seed with his long pointy beak. Most of the seed flew over his shoulder and landed in the chair where 2 jays sat waiting for the goods to fall right at their feet!
Then I noticed the Brown Thrasher at the bird bath. Every year what looks to be the same bird comes to our back yard to bathe - usually once a day. I haven't seen him lately and I have had choice words for the neighbor's menagerie of cats. They skulk around and snooze lazily wherever they feel like it, whether invited or not. That is the way of cats. It is also the way of cats to eat birds. Therefore I don't like to see the little felines in the backyard where our feeders provide meals for the woodpecker, a pair of cardinals, some jays, some doves, a few other kinds of birds and, of course, squirrels too many to count. I've worried about the fate of the thrasher.
But there he was today, sitting on the edge of the birdbath, dipping his toe in the water as if to check the temperature. I stood at the door and watched with delight as the spotted bird splashed in the water as if it was a medicinal spa. Once thoroughly soaked, he hopped up on the barbecue grill and shook himself dry and flew away.
What a way to start the day.
Wishing you a summer day kissed by the sun,
Merry ME

Cynthia Eugenia (Franklin/Dobson/Henry)

"Memories, light the corners of my mind
Misty watercolor memories of the way we were ...."
Barbra Streisand

Preamble: Everyone in this family has heard stories about "Genie," the girl my father almost married. Yet none have ever met her until this week. On Tuesday we shared a reunion that was close to 36 years in coming. In 1973 my Dad went to Tennessee to bring my sister back from her first year at college. While there (with my mother's knowledge) he and Genie had dinner together. Other than that they had not been together since attending the Rose Bowl game in 1939.

After he graduated from the Naval Academy Dad's ship, the U.S.S. Richmond, was sent to Honolulu for overhaul and that is where he met and married my mom. When he wrote Genie to tell her that he'd found another girl, she sent his Naval Academy miniature back so quickly he's thought all these years that she was relieved to be set free. Mom wore that ring for several years before "accidentally" dropping it down the sink. The new one Dad gave her was worn thin before I took it off her hand on the morning she died.

The romance writer in me thinks perhaps if the reunited couple were several years younger and one of them was not diagnosed with terminal cancer maybe the love between them could be re-ignited into a flame that would carry them to the end of their lives. The movie version of their lives could make a three hankie Hallmark TV movie.

Yet the reality is that two very good friends met again after each had lived a full, happy and productive lives. Neither it seemed had regrets for having traveled different roads. For two days they traded stories, caught each other gazing at one another, laughed and remembered. The love that they once shared was there, but softened by the years gone by to a "misty colored memory" (now I know what that song actually means!). A deep friendship remains. Those of us who watched the reunion unfold were blessed to sit on the sidelines and take notes (and pictures)!


Genie Franklin was a country girl from Chattanooga, TN. Her daddy died when she was still a toddler so she was raised, like my dad, by a strong and determined woman who devoted her life to caring for her only child. It was during the depression and times were hard. According to Genie, they were often down to "May's last dollar" but somehow always got by.

Genie's mom had a cottage built in Carson Springs, TN, which if I'm correct was close to the town of Newport where my Dad grew up. Their paths crossed one summer when L.S. was on leave from the Naval Academy. A mutual acquaintance set them up on a blind date. Genie was only 15!

That first date was memorable because the couple stopped at some kind of road side joint where L.S. bought cigars for everyone. The young girl who was trying hard to impress her older date not only recited poetry but lit up a cigar just like the others. No wonder it was a date to be remembered.

The Genie we met has been married and widowed twice, raised two sons, graduated from college, earned a Master's degree, taught special education, sat on the board of several civic organizations, sung in her church choir for years and had quite an interesting life. She burned the collection of letters my dad had written her when they were dating, but still holds dear the engraved locket he gave her for her 16th birthday.

With the memory of her visit still fresh in my mind, I think Genie might embody the term so often used to describe women of the south- steel magnolia. Though she is a tiny lady I have no doubt that she is a force to be reckoned with if a situation called for either charm or grit. What was hard to miss when this lady spoke was her positive attitude. I don't think she was just be gracious - though she was that to the nth degree. She seemed to see the world through a chimera of pearly adjectives. After spending a few hours with Genie (and her step daughter Susan who actually made this trip happen) you couldn't help but feel uplifted. Their speech was peppered with words like lovely, delightful, charming, and sweet.

At one point Genie looked at my dad and said, "L.S. you are so sweet. And that's what I always remembered about you, how sweet your were."

And his reply, in typical fashion of the L.S. I know and love - "then your rememberer isn't so good."

While Susan, Jean, Jack and I sat around and listened the two old friends discussed people and places and good times they had shared way back then. They talked of Janie May Stokely and her brothers who owned the cannery where my Dad worked his first job. As they turned the pages of my dad's Naval Academy year book, the two reminisced about Lee Gooslby, Maurice "Mickey" Weisner, June week dances and time spent on the Richmond.

They talked about his mother and her mother and my mother. They shared stories about Dobbie and Jack and all the children and grandchildren.

They spoke of places they both remembered - Carson Springs, Newport and Annapolis - and other southern places like Signal Mountain, Weaverville, Morristown and Chattanooga. Dad told of building Fena Dam, the NASA SLUT and Capitol building in Tallahassee. Genie talked of Florida vacation homes, mountain retreats and boarding houses. They both laughed at the memory of Dad bathing in an icy cold river.

As we sat around the lunch table Genie commented that it was kind of funny to imagine that dad's girls could have been half hers. Of course that's not the case for if she and Dad had gotten married life for all of us would have been quite different. Hell I wouldn't even be here. Sweetie hates it when I play "what if" but I think all of us must have had the thought at one time or another this week what if Dad had married Genie.

Would the young girl with love in her eyes have been brought to her knees by the engineer's logic and negativity? Or would her positive outlook on life have tipped his scales in a different direction? What might it have been like to have a mother who was as adept in a board room as the kitchen? Not better or worse, just different.

And then, like Cinderella's clock running out the reunion was over. Genie and Susan stopped by this morning for one more hello and goodbye. It was bittersweet. These two sweethearts got a chance to share old memories.

The lesson was not lost on me. It's important to open the door when opportunity knocks. No one knows what tomorrow will bring, but for today, Genie and L.S. were young again. On the outside they both had white hair and tired bodies, but in that place that they both remembered she was probably wearing a homemade formal and he was in a dress uniform. The music played and they glided across the dance floor arm in arm. Perhaps he whispered something in her ear and she replied, "L.S. that's just the sweetest thing anyone could ever say!"

Besides the Barbra Streisand song playing in my brain, this visit has made me think of the verse from Ecclesiastes 3 .... to every thing there is a season, and a time to every purpose under the heaven.

Wishing you happy memories and pleasant tomorrows,

Merry ME

Post Script: About 3am Dad called to me. I didn't realize it at the time but I think he was having a TIA. He got up early to be dressed and ready when Genie came to say goodbye. He was visibly weak and his speech was slurred. We didn't say anything to Genie, but she must have guessed how tired he was. We got him to pose for one last picture and though I can see a bit of a sag on the left side of his face, I still think it's a great picture.

After a morning nap, Dad showed little sign of discomfort or slurred speech. Whatever happened had come and gone, much to my great relief. The nurse came and checked him out. He passed all his assessments. I moved out of panic mode to a place of gratitude for the time we got to spend with Genie and for a nurse I can call day or night. Both these ladies remind me of the father I want to get to know better; the man who is funny, smart, strong, and thoughtful. I don't need rose-colored glasses to see that, I just need to see past the gruff exterior and look into his heart.

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Great Expectations ????

“Expecting is the greatest impediment to living.
In anticipation of tomorrow, it loses today."
Seneca


A lot has happened around here since I last posted about cleaning and fussing. To say I'm a whiner would be an understatement. To say if I would just keep things picked up on a regular basis I wouldn't have to go through the trauma of a major pickup would be a "Duh!"

I'm reminded of a program Robert and I used to watch when he was about 2 - The Big Comfy Couch. If Loonette the Clown didn't make a mess in the course of the show then her doll Molly did. At the end of every show the camera would pan out as Loonette viewed her surroundings. She always had the same reaction. "Who made this big mess?" she'd ask, knowing that it had to have been her. Then she call for a "10 second tidy" where everything got stuffed under, into or behind the couch. I think if I had more 10 second tidies, I wouldn't be faced with 24 hour cleaning marathons.

For the record I give myself an A+ for my purification efforts. The couch's smelled more like Febreeze than cat pee. Except for the hard water spots that seem to have become lodged inside the double pain glass and look like science experiments, the windows glistened when the sun shone through. The fruit and cheese and crackers luncheon was colorful and just enough. And, to top it all off, when dad asked, "Mary, did you put guest towels in the bathroom?" I was able to answer proudly, "yes!" incredulous that he'd even ask the question. Who could forget the monogrammed guest towels? Not ME! Chalk one up for this hostess! I felt proud of my efforts, happy to present a warm and welcoming home for my father, and blessed that the company felt comfortable. I think that must mean that the old homestead was clean enough to be inviting but dirty enough to be enjoyable.

+++


In between visits and eating I've had a little time to ponder some of the emotions that popped up during the cleaning jag. I think a good deal of my angst came from having expectations that far exceeded the reality of the situation. As usual, I placed myself in a position where everything that was going to happen had to be top notch and anything less than that wasn't going to be good enough (for ME). I also appointed myself judge and jury of how everyone else was going to perceive things. In my head it became my job to make this visit between Dad and Eugenia nothing but the best. The best of what is anybody's guess. All parties had to be happy or my efforts would be deemed a failure. A lot of pressure on me and no regard for others' thoughts of feelings.

That my friends, is a pretty good description of co-dependence, with a little narcissism throw in for good measure.

Upon reflection I had a vision of Christmases past when when my kids were small and Texas Jimmy's (TJ for short) approach to the holidays was altogether different from mine. I, of course, was all about expectations and preparations for the perfect Norman Rockwell Christmas morning scene that could be captured through the lens of a camera and live on in everyone's memory. TJ, on the other hand, looked towards Christmas morning and everything that led up to it with as much delightful anticipation as any kid under the age of 5.

I would shop and wrap and try to form perfect bows on each package. TJ would shake and manhandle each neatly wrapped gift til he could guess what was inside and spoil any kind of surprise.

I would bake and clean and decorate. TJ would eat and drink and be merry.

I dreaded the month of December. TJ and the kids began counting the days til Christmas as soon as the Thanksgiving turkey carcass was in the soup pot.

By Christmas Eve I was exhausted and cranky. TJ was filled with anticipation and excitement. We were a holiday train headed for a major collision. It rarely failed to happen around 10:30 pm on the night we were either supposed to be feeling a sigh of relief or the holiness of the season. When all I wanted to do was go to bed, TJ, aka Santa Claus, sat in the living room next to a tree with twinkling lights and a cardboard box filled with bits and pieces and nuts and bolts. Most of his toolbox lay beside him, screwdrivers and wrenches strewn across the floor. When I asked in a voice that no longer even attempted to sound cheerful, if he needed to read the instructions to figure out how to connect part A to part B, etc. TJ replied, "Ellington's don't read instructions," and threw intricately drawn Chinese diagram over his shoulder. Indubitably, year after year, tempers would flare; our Christmas spirit sagged.

By 5am when all I wanted to do before the festivities started was to grab a few more precious moments under the covers with a pillow over my head the alarm clock would blast away the last vestiges of sleep. TJ would jump out of bed as if called for emergency flight ops. He would busy himself in the kitchen making orange juice and Sara Lee coffee cake, then set the stage for our version of A Christmas Carol. Every year I asked myself the same question. Could the holiday named for the child of love turn my Scrooge persona back into a mom that the kids would want to hug? With the lights on the tree softly twinkling and carols playing on a 24-hour holiday loop, TJ would open the front door, slam it shut, shout hohoho and wake up the kids so they could catch a glimpse of Santa and his sleigh leaving the neighborhood. (The fact that we'd just spent a month trying to convince the kids that Santa would not get burned or stuck when he came down a chimney and the reindeer would be fine on the roof never had much impact on the door slammer. And now, years later, I have to agree with his logic - it must have been a whole lot easier for Santa to leave via the front door than trying to cram everything he toted back UP the chimney.) Whether I was ready or not the household would be awake and the holiday would begin.


I thought of all of this as I waited that last hour before Eugenia arrived. I began to realize that, as with Christmases past, my desire to make everything "perfect" and the subsequent feelings of anger, resentment and exhaustion, were the results of my own anticipation of something over which I had no control of the outcome.


And like some of my best holiday memories the last two days have been beautiful examples of how life moves ahead on a path of its own making and usually turns out way better than my uptight projections.


Hopefully this lesson is beginning to sink in. Maybe next time we have company I'll be the one sitting at the kitchen table doing crosswords and just waiting for the good times to roll!


Patting myself on the back,
Merry ME

P.S. Stay tuned for a recap of Miss Eugenia's visit.

Monday, June 22, 2009

All in a day's work

"My theory on housework is, if the item doesn't multiply, smell, catch fire,
or block the refrigerator door, let it be.
No one else cares. Why should you?
Erma Bombeck



A little before 9 am ...

I'm up and just folded the clothes I washed last night. Got that chore done ahead of time. I'm on a roll. Well, sort of.

A little before 10 am ...

I feel angry. Or maybe I feel scared.
So far today I've broken lamp and the dog stepped on Sweetie's sore toe.

He growled. The dog ran for cover. I glared. If it had been the other way around and my sore toe had been trampled, I would have been on the floor blubbering. Sweetie, I think, would have tried to soothe me. I doubt he would have glared. Being in this cleaning/angry/scared/frustrated, confused state is not my best side.


I'm on a cleaning frenzy. I've vacuumed floor boards and headed for the front door. I don't remember when the threshold to our home was last cleaned. Obviously not recently. We live in Florida, mold creeps in where cleaners fear to tread.


I bleached the door. It's white. A white house with a white door. Does that tell you something about the people who live in the house? I wondered about feng shui. Is a dirty entrance keeping bad spirits away or just plain uninviting?


As I swept away cobwebs I wondered why I was feeling so out of sorts. Because Eugenia is coming? Because I'm not much of a house cleaner and I don't like facing the truth? Because Mom isn't here?


If mom was here I wouldn't be faced with entertaining Dad's first love - 70 years removed. If mom was here, the house would never have gotten in this state. If mom was here maybe Dad would not be dying. If mom was here, maybe I wouldn't feel so afraid.


To be continued ...


Around noon ...
I just finished hanging drapes. Drapes that have to be 25 years old if they are a day. I'm torn about feeling glad they didn't fall apart in the washing machine and grateful. Buying new curtains would turn into a "what's wrong with them they've worked this long they'll work til I'm gone" debate with my father. And since the house is to come to me, any updates such as replacing drapes that probably celebrated the country's bicentennial would fall to my checkbook. I'm just not in the mood for that one this morning.


To rehang the drapes I had to stand on a step step, arms akimbo over my head, trying to see under the valence (which I did not want to clean) by crooking my upper body upside down, attempting to get the drapery hook into the tiny hole in the pulley thingy. I suspect Helen Keller would have done a better job. I realized my dad was sitting in the dinette, casually doing a crossword puzzle and drinking coffee. Obviously he is not concerned about how the house looks to Miss Eugenia.


I think to myself, isn't that just like a man. I think he doesn't have a clue. And I think how my mom always did these things and I wonder if she ever got a compliment or if it was just understood that this was her job. Dad referred to me last week as the "hostess." One more of mom's roles I've been assigned. Is that just another way of saying you clean and cook and I'll relax? I feel like I am working for an A+ on my report card. Who, I wonder, will give me the grade. Dad? Miss Eugenia? or ME?

Am I a nut case?

To be continued ....

Around 4 pm.
I had an appointment to go to so I had to turn my cleaning attention to myself rather than the kitchen floor. The CD's that had been playing all morning were wearing thin. One can only listen to so much Tennessee Ernie Ford. The gospel music changed to country classic duets; still twangy but less religious.


My Sweetie and I passed in the hallway. He was still giving me a wide berth. But the music spoke to me and I asked, "wanna dance?" And, bless his heart, he said yes. He grabbed me by the waist. I put my hand in his and we danced. Mickey Gilley crooned ".... no I won't be afraid just as long as you stand by me" while Sweetie led me down the hall and around the vacuum. I closed my eyes, ignored my hurting hip and let him hold me. I think if a movie is ever made of my life with Meryl Streep as ME and Sean Connery (+ a few pounds) as Sweetie, this will be the theme song - the one you hum as you walk out of the theater holding hands with your own sweetheart.


Later ....

Going to the doctor can really slow down a girl's momentum. Getting another lecture on the need to stretch if I want my hip/thigh/thumb to stop hurting was not really what I wanted to hear today. But the message is beginning to sink in. I've told myself I don't have the luxury of a gym membership, or the time to exercise, blah, blah, blah. Clearly all my excuses fell on deaf ears today. Looks like I'll have to get as serious about me as I seem to be about everyone else. What a concept.

It's almost 5 pm. I think I have time to vacuum up kitty litter before dinner!

To be continued...

After 11 pm.
If I hustle I can get the kitchen floor mopped before midnight. It's been a long day. Tomorrow I'll finish what I didn't get done, plus go to the store to stock up on the hard core liquor old people drink.

I'm no longer feeling so angry; a by-product of physical labor?

Good night,
Merry ME aka Cinderella

P.S. Did I forget to mention the check engine came on in my car just before I headed over the bridge in the beginning traffic hour and I realized I'd left my cell phone at home so I needed to call for help I would have been shit out of luck? (What the hell did we do before we had cell phones that we left on the kitchen counter?) I could have panicked, but instead I did what Sweetie did the other day when the light came on - kept driving. But in an attempt to pacify the check engine gods, I turned off the air conditioner which meant that it took only minutes before my fear of stalling on the top of the bridge comingled with a weather-induced-hormonal flash of heat that sent my anger tolerance level which was already at a low point plummeting.

P.S.S. When I got home I took Sweetie right back to the conference room and laid it on the line. I'm pretty fed up with that car and could he please do something to see that it's fixed once and for all. Do you know what he did? Calmly and rationally he looked me in the eye and said, "okay."
God you've got to love a guy who can diffuse a crazy woman in distressed damsel mode.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Who knew????

"Speaking comes by nature, silence by understanding."
German Proverb

Someone I love has been having a rough time lately. Its so hard to know what to do or say and even harder to know when the time is right for either.

On top of that I've been having some really weird dreams. Such as having to sweep up piles and piles and piles of dirty kitty litter; and everyone else in the dream but me seeming just a bit daft.

I don't really understand the dream, but it became clear to me after a bruhaha with my Dad that anger might be the connecting thread.

It's hard to guess why a teenager who lives like a princess would be so angry. Then I started looking at my own life instead of pointing fingers at someone else's. I remembered the girl I was at 14 and remembered how angry I felt. Then I remembered being 15 and being tied to my bed and locked in a psychiatric ward. Then I remembered more, and more and more.

I wrote it all down in the form of a letter. Turns out I needed to write it for me, though I'm still not sure why.

After 24 hours and few revisions, I realized I was talking to my inner teenager. The one who was so mad and hurt, and yes, scared, back then. As I ask the question today, why are you so angry, I find my answers are found somewhere back around 1968. The first time I was angry - no. But the first time I was diagnosed with clinical depression ... anger turned inward.

Bring it back around to the present day and trying to communicate with my father. I'm 57 yet often feel as belittled, confused and unheard as the young girl who struggled so with feeling less than.

So what does it all have to do with kitty litter? In the dream, when I was sweeping and shoveling these mountains of cat poo my dad, who thought he was being helpful, started to hose the litter-filled rooms down. Got any idea what happens to clay-encrusted turds that are soaked with water? Right, they turn into concrete turds - an even bigger mess.

Is that what happens when I try to talk about my "feelings" with a man who only knows how to talk about "thoughts"? When I attempt to express my anger does my dad's logic hose down the emotion and turn it into something I don't recognize, making me question ME not him?

Is this how dreams work?

I won't send the letter, even though I'm pretty sure it could win a Pulitzer Prize. It's way too long and wordy and rational for a girl who wants to be "heard" not preached to. But I'm glad I wrote it, because I think the teen it was really meant for got the message. A few years late, but better late than never.

Isn't life weird?
Merry ME

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Storms Brewing


"Chaos is something that interrupts the flow of life,
that breaks into the expected rhythm,
that forces us to stop and deal with its difficulty.
The seriousness of the chaos depends on the gravity
of the threat to what we value in our life. "
Patricia Livingston

I feel like I've been living in an emotional cyclone for the past few weeks. Maybe it would be more descriptive to say that I'm standing in the center of the storm, and many of the people I love are in the spin cycle. Since they are at their wits' ends this co-dependent caregiver is too. As I listen to tales of lost love, too much stress, and a teen gone berserk I long for the days when a freshly baked chocolate chip cookie, a glass of milk or a back rub could miraculously make things all better. Where is a good fairy godmother when I need one?
All this chaos got me thinking about one of my favorite books. This Blessed Mess. I think I've written about it before. The author's premise is that creation is born of chaos. She gives examples from the beginning of the universe to things that happened in her own life. You'd laugh if you could see the number of dog-eared pages. On almost any of these pages I could quote you a highlighted passage that feels like it was written with me in mind.

I'm reminded of one of my very favorite chaos stories. It is a true one that happened about 11 years ago when I was a nanny. My charge and I were making cookies. Robert was young enough to sit on the counter and watch, but not exactly help, as I measured and mixed the dry ingredients. I turned my back and in the split second that I lost my focus I heard a tiny little voice say, "Look, Mer Mer, it's snowing."

Snowing? We live in Florida.

I turned back around and was engulfed in a cloud of flour. Robert, who was wearing navy blue pajamas was a blur of white. Indeed it was snowing, right there in the middle of the 90 degree kitchen. Snowing flour. Unlike a blinding snow storm that could have sent me into a -less-than-Mary-Poppins-like conniption (I have snow issues, I admit it!), all I could do was smile and head for cover.

I learned that day, that sometimes, in the middle of a what looks like a great big mess, one can find humor, make lasting memories and not fall to pieces. A life lesson for sure. One I wish I had been aware of when my own kids were little.

Knowing about the chaos theory and remembering it when I need to are often two different things. After several phone calls from KW Johnny, my heart was aching for him and for the girl who seemingly overnight turned into the devil character of Exorcist fame. I am pretty sure some of the words she spewed out were coated with green vomit and felt like a punch in the gut to anyone they hit. I don't doubt that the head of the girl we still think of as an innocent child was spinning around as she shouted obscenities. Even if it is true that the apple doesn't fall too far from the family tree it is sad to discover that paybacks can be painful.

Bottom line, when your child is acting out everybody hurts. Moms, dads, grandmoms, granddads and aunties wring their hands and want to make things better fast. While the creation of a responsible adult may be taking place in the middle of this chaotic adolescent storm, all we can do is set boundaries and hold battan down the hatches.

When I picked This Blessed Mess of my bookshelf, I also happened upon its companion book - Let the Light In. (A Godwink?) I haven't read it yet, but it is next on my list. I think there will be much wisdom for this Grammy to ingest. An online review of the book talks about reframing; Looking at life's negatives in a different, more positive way. Kind of like that whole lemonade thing but without the sarcasm. My friend, Terri St. Cloud, talked about reframing at her blog recently. (Hmmm .... God sure seems to be doing a lot of winking in my direction.)

Here's a reframing example from a Let the Light In book review: "Father Demetrius Dumm, a Benedictine scripture scholar who speaks of David in the Bible as a man of hope. When the young man spots the giant Goliath on the battlefield, instead of saying, 'He's so big, how can I possibly defeat him?' David says, 'He's so big, how can I possibly miss him? What a target!' Instead of giving in to negativity, we can reframe what is happening and face it with positive energy." *

Now the question(s) for me would be, how can I re-frame some of the negatives I've heard lately into positives?

1. A heart that is broken could be instead a heart that is growing. Once the hurt is gone there will be lots more room for love to fill in the space.

2. An angry teen could be a new source of energy instead of someone you are afraid you'll see on America's Most Wanted. Just think what you'd have if you could harness the anger of teens all over the country. The air around the car might be blue with profanity, but the car would use less gasoline, thus diminishing the country's dependence on foreign oil. Hell, there are enough angry teens to make enough profane-fuel to warrant a resurgence of GM cars. And if you are worried about global warming imagine how many icebergs could be refrozen if the cold, icy stare that teens flash at their parents could be trapped and utilized for good rather than evil. I may be on to something, what do you think?

3. I think it is much easier to re-frame someone else's chaos than my own. So far when my Dad says mean things to me, they still feel like mean things. I've got to work on this. In the mean time (no pun intended) I'll keep looking for that fairy godmother or more Florida snow.

May all your storms be wrapped in a rainbow,

Merry ME

This Blessed Mess, pg. 20

*Frederic and Mary Ann Brussat http://www.spiritualityandpractice.com/books/books.php?id=15523

Thursday, June 11, 2009

"I believe that there is a subtle magnetism in Nature, which, if we unconsciously yield to it, will direct us aright."
Henry David Thoreau

My writing group is going in a different direction over the summer. Instead of writing something new every two weeks, we're going to work on editing what we've already written. It has also been suggested that we spend time outside of our normal surroundings to gather new ideas and inspiration, to take notes and pictures, to let our creativity soak up what is going on around us so that when we come back together in the fall we'll be excited about writing again. Like a little kid being given too many choices, I'm not sure if that is expecting too much of my muse. Does she work better in a controlled environment (maybe not since I still have not produced April's essay on "Home") or one in which she gets to let her hair down and play? I guess we'll see at the end of the summer just how much oversight I need to keep me on track.


Today the group met at Tree Hill Nature Center. It is a hidden sanctuary of peaceful serenity located less than 10 minutes away from my home. It could be a hundred miles for the number of times I've been there in my life. Sitting in what must be a vortex of solitude for our city, the park is located right across the street from a big cemetery. Rows upon rows of tombstones mark the sod covered places where people have been laid to their eternal rest. Tree Hill's expanse, on the other hand, has been set aside to give school kids a taste of the natural world they inhabit. Not the world of shopping malls whose black topped parking lots are devoid of anything green. Tree Hill is not a zoo environment where cages separate wild animals from hyperactive students. At Tree Hill kids learn about native Floridian flora and fauna. They can stroll through fern lined paths and imagine what it might have been like for the natives that once called the woods home. They learn how to turn trash into compost.


Our writing group began today's meeting in an indoor. i.e. cool, environment. Thankfully we were not asked to sit on the cut timbers out in the park. The women, who each admitted to being over a certain age in order to save a dollar on the entrance price, might have been able to get down to ground level but our "senior" knees would have protested standing back up! We discussed each other's health, what we've been writing, and an amazing connection between two members of the group. SQire Rushnell would have nodded knowingly at the story and called it a "God Wink" telling us that there are no coincidences in this life. Mostly we just murmured "Oh my God's" in unison as each dot was connected to another in the lives of two women who were brought together by the love of words.

As the other women talked I became keenly aware of listening (see post below). I leaned in, made eye contact and smiled as the story took amazing turns. Carol is a first rate story-teller anyway, but we all decided this one is good enough for the Oprah Show! Funny how Oprah has kind of become a standard of excellence for today's writers. You know you've made it when you get a call from Harpo Studios. Even if you write nothing more than "Random Thoughts" in a black and white Composition book (or on the Internet) there is always that secret desire to have your words acknowledged. While Oprah is the queen of acknowledgement, I for one am blessed to have this small group of wordy women to turn to for help and support. (That said, I wouldn't say no to Oprah!)


After an hour of friendly fare we headed out into the summer heat to wander the nature trails and connect with our individual muses. First stop for me was the small butterfly garden. There I stood, trying to be still, a visitor in a veritable butterfly smorgasbord. As I watched, camera poised for a photo op the likes of National Geographic, the butterflies did what they do. From flower to bush and back again, they fluttered and flitted and filled themselves with life sustaining nectar.


I've visited butterfly gardens before and never had one come close to me. Today was different. A small but friendly butterfly landed on my head, then, crawled up on my finger and stayed there. We communed eye to eye and nose to proboscis for awhile. It was a spiritual moment. One that defined for me what Carol meant when she said being out of our regular writing environment would refill our idea banks.


From butterflies to goats. I'm not quite sure why there are goats in a nature park except that they are cute and undoubtedly entertain grade school kids. As one writer took notes on one side of the fence a goat tried to eat her paper. As usual my photography reflexes were two seconds too slow.

Next I mosied on over to the barred owl as the other ladies went in different directions. The owl watched my movements with eyes that reminded me of those giant portraits in a scary movie library. The picture looks old, the paint cracked and peeling, but the eyes are alive moving two and fro. In the movie there is usually a bad guy on the other side of the paneled wall which leads to a secret hideaway. At Tree Hill, the barred owl sat on his perch, watching me watching him but didn't look too threatening.


I tried to take a picture of a spider that was barely a half inch in size. I couldn't get my point and shoot camera to focus any better than my own eyes. The spider was nothing more than a black blob in every picture. I got as close as I could without falling head first into the magnificently formed web that glistened in the slight breeze. While I enjoyed looking at the critter, I had no desire to disturb its handiwork. However as I zoomed in, I realized the little guy was hanging upside down. Small as the spider was, I couldn't help but notice that God had placed a teeny tiny but bright orange smiley face on its stomach.


Spiders don't always get a good rap. They can be so big and hairy only a mother spider would think they hold any appeal. They can be deadly. They can be used as instruments of torture by one sibling to another. But who knew something with so many legs could also make this arachnophobic writer smile?


According to http://www.starstuffs.com/ "there are hidden qualities of nature that we can access if we are attuned to the natural forces around us." Animals are "psychological and spiritual symbols that convey to us qualities we are needing or lacking our daily lives." Feeling particularly tuned in when I got home I googled animal totems to see what I might be able to learn about myself from today's encounters with a butterfly that didn't seem to want to fly away and a cheery little spider.


Everyone knows that the caterpillar to cocoon to butterfly journey symbolizes transformation. Duh! I had a butterfly tattooed on my ankle years ago after awakening from a life-altering depression. However, another lesson to be gained by one's butterfly totem is to "be joyful and thankful for your blessings." A spider totem, on the other hand, helps in "creativity and inspiration" and reminds on to "stay focused on the center of things."


I have to admit, I got a little bit of a shiver when I read the following: "spider will aid in communications and the written word."

It could been something as simple as opening myself up to the moment and different surroundings. It could have been my muse coming out to play. But I'm thinking in the beauty of a sunny day, just when I needed some reassurance that I'm on the right path a butterfly hovered, a spider smiled and God winked.

What a day!
Merry ME

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Being Heard

"Deep listening is miraculous for both listener and speaker.
When someone receives us with open-hearted,
non-judging, intensely interested listening,
our spirits expand."
Sue Patton Thoele


Words have power to heal or hurt. I'm learning the act of listening is also powerful. I must try it more often.

Merry ME

Monday, June 8, 2009

Sometimes the truth hurts

"I feel like I am diagonally parked in a parallel universe."
Author Unknown


I feel a little bit like Winnie the Pooh when he stuck his paw in the honey tree and disrupted the bees inside. Although my last post did cause my Sweetie to LOL, in spite of himself, it also pushed a few sensitive buttons. Son of Sweetie let me know that their need to pay close attention to detail is not something they do because the are "clean freaks." Instead he told me earnestly "it's that we have ticks that make us do certain things."

Ahhh, I said to myself. I know about ticks! I have a tick or two myself. Like the one that causes me to eat Kettle Cooked potato chips with wanton abandon. I guess we all have ticks. Which sounds really gross because I can't help thinking of tick as in a blood sucking insect instead of a quirk of compulsive nature. Let's face it ticks are just nasty. From here on out I'm going to refer to Sweetie's desire to have things just so as a "quirk," not a tick. And, really, the bottom line is this .... he is who he is and that's what I love about him. So if I wake up in the morning and grab a bath towel out of the linen closet and happen to notice that everything has been repositioned into straighter, neater rows, who am I to complain? It's like getting an unexpected note that says, "Sweetie was here!" It's a great way to start my day off with a smile.


Having written so much about my guy, I think it's only fair to comment on a rather distressing realization I had about myself over the weekend. In fact, if I'm going to be totally honest, writing about Sweetie's quirks helped take the focus off my own.


Last week we took one of our really old vehicles to the junk yard. I say we, but the only real reason I tagged along was to drive Sweetie home after he turned the keys over to the car smasher. He was not as emotionally attached to this van as he had been with "Nellie" but it was still a little sad to let go of what had become a family friend ... or a stripped down version of the friend. The hand-made storage cubby, the seat and steering wheel covers, the GPS, 3-in-1 clock, tools and blanket had already been assigned a place in my van per Sweetie's fastidious layout.


For the record, I have to say it was kind of a toss up as to which van should be trashed. My van is no longer a youngster. It has spent more time in the shop in the last month than it has in our driveway. Still, it is the car with the least number of miles and most potential. Potential for what, I'm not quite sure.


Once the decision was made to do the deed, Sweetie took his van for one more ride. He drove the lead car and I followed. I had no idea where we were going which made me a little nervous. Actually, a lot nervous; but it never occurred to me to test out the newly installed navigation system. It wasn't exactly rush hour but there were plenty of cars on the road. I turned the music on as I always do when I'm in the car alone. Sometimes silence is golden; sometimes the quiet is hard to take. Like Goldilocks trying to find a bed that was just right, I flipped through all the programmed stations to find some tunes that fit my mood. Apparently my mood was leaning towards Lawrence Welk.

Okay, slight exaggeration there. But every station I turned to, including my fallback favorite the one that plays Christian music, was blaring loud noise that did not fall into any music category other than noise. There was heavy base thumping in the background of every song. There were unending drum solos. What was supposed to be "yesterday's favorites" i.e. Barry Manilow, Neil Diamond, John Denver, or even the BeeGees, turned out to be a cacophony of sounds that made my ears hurt. I know I date myself when I say that the country singers of today know nothing of how to sing a tearful ballad about dogs and trucks and broken hearts. All they know is how to make a guitar scream. A talent to be sure, but not really music to soothe the soul.


In disgust I turned the radio off. Blessed silence filled the van. That's when I noticed that the speedometer hadn't gone over 50MPH. My hands were clenching the steering wheel at exactly 10 and 2 o'clock with such intensity that my knuckles were white and my fingers were beginning to tingle. OH MY GOD! I said to no one in particular because I was the only one in the car. Look at me. I have crossed over an unseen line between normal driver and "old lady driver."


The scary thing is that I don't know when it happened. I've never been what one might call a speed demon, or reckless or adventuresome behind the wheel. A few years ago after a day trip to Ft. Lauderdale, one of my sisters commented that we would have gotten there a lot sooner if "Granny" hadn't been driving. But she's the sister who used to call me "Toothpick" and chased me around with long-legged spiders so I didn't pay her comment a lot of attention.


All right, I admit I have some driving "quirks" - little to no depth perception, speeding up at yellow lights instead of slowing down, yielding the right of way, and giving a friendly wave with my whole hand not just one finger when someone lets me pull in front of them - but who knew they would one day all add up to make me look like one of those little old ladies who still uses her left arm as a turn signal?

My inability to measure depth and distance sometimes makes driving Dad's Lincoln problematic. I think it's far better to blame the shape of my eyeball than my intelligence when I have trouble judging how much car is in front of me and how much is in back of me. I have suggested to my father on more than one occasion that the boxwood that falls just outside my line of vision when backing up would have a better chance of survival if it was moved a car's length away from the driveway. All he can do is growl about the status of his sprinkle heads. (Sprinkler heads? What sprinkler heads?)

To the great dismay of the men in my life, I have never learned how to use fisheye bubbles on the side mirrors. I still put my arm around across the back of the seat and turn my head to look over my shoulder when backing up, exactly the way I was taught in driver's ed 40+ years ago. I see quite well over my right shoulder - it's the cars on the left that are in jeopardy.


I'm not ashamed to say I'm a timid driver. I'm just not prepared to be an OLD driver. I realize that I am no spring chicken; that being on the far end of my fiftieth decade puts me squarely in the middle aged category. Don't you agree, however, that it is a little ironic that I can, on one hand be a doddering danger on the road, and on the other I'm still trying to tame my inner child?

Almost every day my father reminds me how hard it is to be old. To him old is painful. Old is lonely. Old is hard of hearing and having to pee too much. I guess when I look at it like that I've still got some good years ahead of me. I just wonder when I'll have to give up my car keys.

Knowing that anything I say can be used against me in a court of law, I hereby plead the 5th.
Merry ME

Saturday, June 6, 2009

My true love gave to me ....

“I don't think he's anal retentive, per se.
But he is very, very detail-oriented and very, very bright.”
Gio Valiante


The man I love, aka Sweetie, has been described by people who have known him longer than I as being anal retentive - think the TV character Monk. Although I agree he does like to have the pens on his desk neatly aligned, and his fork equally centered on his napkin, does that make him anal? I'm not sure.

According to Google (what did I ever do before Google?) Freud first introduced the term anal retentive in 1908. Apparently the need to pay close attention to detail and being neat almost to a fault goes back to one's childhood. It has something to do with toilet training and the stinky delights your body can create. Personally I do not see the connection between feces and hanging all your lightly starched shirts in a straight and orderly fashion, with exactly 1.75 inches between hangars. That said, Freud opined that"people with 'anal character' were meticulous, parsimonious, and obstinate.*

I agree, Sweetie is meticulous, in everything from his personal grooming to his tool chest and just about every thing in between. And it is true that Sweetie uses a little more hair spray than the average cave man.. However, in the event of a freak weather pattern every glistening hair on his head stays neatly in place. Exactitude is important to the man I love.

But this man is neither parsimonious nor obstinate. Well, it could be said that on a rare occasion he has been known to be obstinate - like when he's attempting to turn left in front of oncoming traffic because he's sure he's got the right of way whether the other drivers are aware of this fine detail or not. It might also be said that Sweetie has an innate ability to stretch a dollar. He could without question be considered thrifty, but never parsimonious.


Upon getting up in the morning and wandering into the kitchen with eyes not quite open I began to see evidence that someone had been organizing things. The dish cupboard, and the refrigerator and the pantry had been neatly aligned. [Photo: Dishes as they are taken out of the dishwasher before they are put on the shelf. No helter-skelter here.] Plates, spoons, and cans of peas and carrots stood in precise rows resembling new recruits on a military drill field. Normally I might consider calling 911 to report a strange kind of intruder but all evidence pointed towards Sweetie. He gets out of bed way before the sun comes up and appears to have too much time on his hands. Considering all the facts I expect it is only a matter of time before the items under the sink are lined up in alphabetical order.

I'm not a girl to look a clean-cupboard gift horse in the mouth - cabinets in apple-pie order are a treat I'm careful not to complain too loud about. On the other hand, I'm still mulling over the follow-on gift my love gave me. A few days ago Sweetie presented me with this Food Inventory List. He was quite proud of his efforts. I was a little stupefied. I know that in his organized way of thinking Sweetie thinks he has done me a favor. Still I've got to wonder if he really thinks this little piece of paper will do the trick. If so I've got to wonder what he's been smokin'!

The rationale for this inventory was sound. Several times a week I complain about what to fix for dinner. I don't mind buying it, cooking it, or cleaning up the messy kitchen, but deciding day in and day out what to make that is going to satisfy the appetites of 3 disparate eaters drives me over the proverbial brink.

Dinner time in our house is 7:00 pm. Always has been; always will be. I think it was written on a stone tablet and handed down from generation to generation. Around 5:30 every evening Sweetie's stomach begins churning and leads to the question that is just as programmed as the dinner hour - "what are you fixing for dinner?" I know the question is coming as soon as he lies back in his recliner to snooze through the evening news. That's when I have to walk into the kitchen and face the chore of deciding. And that's when I walk back into the den and whine at Sweetie to help me. It's easy for him. Any repast that contains hot dogs, jalapeno peppers, anchovies or a combination of the three is a meal fit for a king. Dad and I prefer something a little less zesty. [Photo: Notice how the anchovies are lined up straight as little fishy arrows atop symmetrical rows of sliced jalapenos on this Sweetie-made Calzone.]

In an effort to help me with this dining dilemma I now have a Food Stuff Inventory. And not just an inventory - an inventory that serves a dual purpose (I kid you not). With no hint of humor in his voice at all, Sweetie proudly explains that the inventory can also be used as a shopping list. As something on the list is used, I am supposed to check it off. This way, at any given moment, I know exactly what's available to cook and what we're out of. My guy is a veritable genius. A little meticulous, and maybe a little obstinate, but always helpful!

The problem as I see it is that I am neither anal nor meticulous . I graduated from the spur-of-the-moment school of doing things. My desk is so cluttered I can't even see the top. My hair has an untamable cowlick that flips out over my ear; not even Sweetie's perma-freeze spray can keep it place. Can you hear Dr. Phil in the background asking, "how is that working for you?" Okay, so it doesn't work so well but I'm as set in my messy ways as Sweetie is in his neat ones.

Remembering the old adage "it's the thought that counts" I have to look at this inventory and smile. I give the man an A for anal ... oops! I meant effort!

Gotta love that man of mine,
Merry ME

*http://www.straightdope.com/columns/read/876/how-to-tell-if-youre-anal-retentive

Thursday, June 4, 2009

Anniversary Celebration - A Day Late

"To live in hearts we leave behind,
Is not to die."
Thomas Campbell

[Note: I didn't get this post written last night because I was completely stuffed and could barely think. I tried but ended up falling into bed with in a Scampi-induced stupor. me]

68 years ago a man and a woman were married in Honolulu, HA. He was a Naval officer, she was an island cutie with good military lineage. They were young and naive but like most couples who get married nothing else mattered because they were in love. If you look at the pictures of the bride in her champagne colored satin gown holding a bouquet of sweet smelling pikake blooms you can see the promise of dreams come true sparkling in her brown eyes. The groom all decked out in his starched dress uniform, stood tall and straight beside his regal beauty. Holding the crook of her elbow, he supported his bride in a way that eerily foretold the future.

New duty stations mean new homes. The couple lived together and raised five daughters on tropical islands and snow covered training bases. Typical of their generation, the husband went to work and the wife stayed put turning every place they lived - from a Guamanian Quonset hut to their final Floridian residence - a comfort filled home. They melded their stoic New England and hardscrabble Southern upbringings into a union that stood the test of time. Each partner knew what was expected of them and neither dropped the ball. Over the years their marriage, like the food they liked to eat, became a well-managed combination of his and hers. The girl from Vermont learned to prepare cornbread and grits and the Tennessee mountain boy developed a taste for lobster drenched in butter and lemon. Together they shared a love for ice cold martinis and rare roast beef.


In years past to mark this anniversary we've gone to church, said prayers of thanksgiving and shared Holy Communion. Last night in remembrance of his Hawaiian bride Dad agreed to go to Red Lobster for dinner. After toasting the girl in the pink bathing suit and marriages that last a lifetime, each of us ordered our fishy favorites. Sweetie a fisherman's platter with a nice variety of seafood delights. I settled on Shrimp Scampi (no surprise there). Dad went all out and ordered the Ultimate Feast - a combo of crab legs, lobster tail and shrimp. It was more food than I've seen him eat in a long time. But the size of the portion didn't phase him; he took his time eating, savoring the taste and his memories. As he ate, my normally taciturn father, freely shared tales about times gone by. Sweetie and I delighted in watching as the act of remembering turned a grumpy old man into someone who who was once again young and naively happy. As much as I enjoyed the scampi I have to say the real treat of the evening was watching my dad dive head first into a meal that spelled L-O-V-E. The meal wasn't sanctified, but I believe it was holy. Love, gratitude and remembrance, after all, are the main ingredients of the Eucharist.
Wishing you all your favorite foods swimming in butter and drenched in love,
Merry ME

Monday, June 1, 2009

Mary, I need you ...

“I know that you believe you understand what you think I said,
but I'm not sure you realize that what you heard is not what I meant."
Robert McCloskey

Sometimes I fantasize about writing a book. When I am in that land of make believe I'm assured that my book will be a bestseller and I will end upon the Oprah show and we'll sit next to each other in those big comfy chairs and laugh about life and Oprah will reach over and touch my hand and say, "that was an 'ah ha' moment for me." In this fantasy I won't be stumped for words or crying. My hair will look great and the camera will show me at my ideal weight.

I don't really believe I've got the "write" stuff to produce a book. I doubt my life is the fertile ground from which books blossom, certainly not an Oprah class book. But I've learned in my writing group that I'm far better at writing what I know than fiction.

I think I have decided to call my [fantasized] book Mary, I Need You. The words don't have a lot of pizazz in them when you see it written on the page, but believe me when you hear the them come from across the hall in the wee hours of the morning by the one who's named you his health care surrogate sounding old or sick or scared or a combination of all three they can make even a sound sleeper like me come alive. Moms and caregivers should be able to relate to the book.

Normally I don't move very fast. Yet, I continue amaze myself at how quickly I can go from a deep sleep on one side of the hallway to standing by my father's bedside before he gets the second "Marrrrry" out. Adrenaline is an amazing thing. Adrenaline is my friend.

We practiced the drill twice last week. One mid-week morning, about 2:30 am, I got the call. I zoomed into Dad's room to find him sitting in his reclining chair, not his bed. His pajama shirt was tucked into his diaper-like underwear. He looked more like a child than the father who still has me jumping through hoops.
"What's going on?" I ask while trying to adjust my eyesight to the semi-dark room.

"I feel funny," said Dad. Even in my only half awake state I am aware that this funny feeling is anything but humorous and I'm going to have to apply my deep powers of observation to determine exactly what is bothering him.

"Do you hurt anywhere?" I ask as I tenderly put my hand on his forehead and determine that he is a bit sweaty, but not feverish.

"Nope, no pain. But my hands feel, funny .... tight." He flexes his fingers as if to jump start the circulation the to the tips. "Do you think we should go to the ER?"
The words emergency room shoot through my brain like an electric shock. Followed closely by, is this the end and oh god, please don't let it be the end, I'm not ready for it to be the end.

Dad asks this question in a matter of fact way but I hear it as a direct order. At times like this Dad flip flops between being the patient and the man in charge. In fact every time we've had one of these middle-of-the-night drills, he has never NOT been in charge. Despite pain, fever, or heart arrhythmia Dad's military training kicks in and he gives orders.

I imagine Dad's arrival at the Pearly Gates something like this: He stands at attention with his hand to his forehead in a crisp salute. "Reporting for duty, Sir, " Dad says using his Captain's voice no longer weakened from age and illness. St. Peter chuckles to himself about having another sailor aboard who must be taught in heaven he no longer needs to be in charge.

I think we should call the hospice triage team. After all, one of the reasons we opted for hospice (in my understanding) was to eliminate visits to the emergency room. Because there was a lack of any sign that would definitely point to a heart attack or imminent death we both agreed to go back to bed to await what would happen next. First I called hospice and, thankfully, was assured by the nurse on duty that they could - and would - send someone out to check on dad, give him some anxiety medication from the "special" box and notify his nurse in the morning. It was my call. I decided to wing it.

"I'm not anxious about anything," said Dad. "I just feel funny. Where's my pee pill?"
I gave him the diuretic he asked for and crawled back under the covers. I tried to slow my breathing back to a normal rhythm in an effort to go back to sleep. After about an hour of listening and praying, I succumbed to the coma-like sleep state that occurs when the adrenaline wears off.

The next morning when I checked on Dad he was sleeping like a baby. The hospice nurse called to say she'd come see us later in the day. While Dad slept I had time on my hands to think.

Are these little blips on the cardiac seismological graph of a 92 year old man with congestive heart failure and cancer precursors to the "big" one that Dad is sure is coming any day now? Does dying happen like an earthquake? Little tremors, here and there, then boom an 8 pointer happens and you're gone? What are the warning signs that an "aggressive" cancer has eaten its way through my father's body? Are there warning signs? And what about Dad's tough, I'm-ready-to-go talk? Does it fly out the proverbial window when he has to actually face the end? What about the caregiver? Does she go to "GQ" (navy lingo for General Quarters - all men to their battle stations) at every odd feeling the patient experiences? Or does she hold the DNR (Do Not Resuscitate) order in her hand and let things happen?
Once I had myself worked up into another frenzy brought about by my own fears the hospice nurse cameThe three of us sat around the kitchen table talked. Sweetie hovered in the background wondering if he was a part of the it all or just a silent bystander. In the light of day, and in the face of someone other than his daughter Dad's demeanor was light and bordered on witty. It almost seemed as if he was questioning MY concern; that I'd made a mountain out of his feeling "funny"molehill. (ME????????) He could remember the early morning problem but it was fuzzy. Fuzzy or not, he was sure of one thing - he had not be afraid. (Who was that scared guy sitting in the chair taking his blood pressure, not once but thrice, I wondered to myself before I refocused on the conversation.)

We covered a lot of the same ground we've covered before. Most of it was rote. Some of it was new. Dad gave his "I don't have a death wish ..." speech and I tried to listen more carefully. Or maybe I just heard it with new ears.

It took awhile for it all to sink in, but here's what I finally realized. My father is old. He's got cancer. His mate of 60+ years is gone. Most of his friends are gone. He has aches and pains that keep him from being active. He does not look forward to many more days/weeks/years of this kind of life. He is a bit of a grumpus. He is an engineer. He is very practical. It makes sense to him that a life, which has been a good one, should be over sooner rather than later. He's ready to go.

BUT ..... he does not want to hurt. He's chicken, to use his word.

Apparently what I see in the middle of the night is not a man who is afraid to die. It's a man who is afraid to hurt. A man who doesn't want to be alone in the dark wondering how bad the pain that kills him is going to be. Two sides of the same coin? He calls out to me, not so much for help but for companionship. It kind of makes sense that if I'm there to boss around, then he can feel in control.

AH HA!

There is a part of me that doesn't really believe everything he says. I don't think he's as ready to give up the ghost and cross over as he says he is. He's there in his head, but I don't buy that his heart has followed suit. However, my job is to listen, be patient, be compassionate and be supportive. If that means staying calm in the middle of the night and making his boogie men go away, then I've still got some learning ahead of me. Dying must be a narcissist's dream. It is, after all, all about him. We'll each have our turn and none of us knows how we'll do until our time is near.

I believe there is a reason I'm learning these lessons. I'm just not sure yet what that reason is.
Merry ME