Saturday, July 31, 2010

My Mother, but Younger - Part One

Marie was born in Lamotte, Iowa and she lived on a rented farm with her seven older siblings and one younger. When her father was 39 years old and she was three he died. Pulled his own tooth and blood poisoning followed. Grandma Liz moved to Cascade to be near her family and her brothers paid $600 for a house on a corner lot not too far from the center of town. Church was down a couple of blocks and then over one and Grandma Liz was a stickler on regular attendance. When that church bell rang those kids better be sitting in the pews.

Back row: Joe, neighbor girl, Irene, Howard (deceased)
Front row: Marie (deceased), Elmer (deceased), Rita, Leona, Walter

Leo, not pictured

This was the Depression in the middle of a small Iowa farming town. There just was not enough to eat. Mom said they ate an egg in the morning and that was all until supper. Maybe a slight exaggeration but nonetheless, they were hungry. The yard had a big garden and they put up 500 pints a season. Mom had small wrists and she was the one who washed the insides of those jars every year. She made herself a promise that she would never can produce when she was an adult. And she married a city boy and she never did. Her gardens only had flowers, lots of flowers.

Occasionally, her brothers would give her meat but cheap cuts like cows' lungs that she would use for flavoring soup. Mom did say they had turkey soup for Thanksgiving. I can remember my grandmother's stove. It dominated the kitchen and there was a soup pot that sat below the surface of the stove and it was always simmering. Grandma had a glass bowl on top of the stove filled with salt and I remember her taking handfuls of salt and dropping them into various pots. I have that same glass bowl next to my stove and it holds utensils. Mom said that after she married Dad they would go out to Cascade for Sunday dinner and they always had a beef roast. Sonny had said at the time that it was the best meat he ever tasted (only salt and pepper were used for seasonings) and the honest truth was that Nana, Dad's mother, was not greatest of cooks. Dad joked that when he met little Marie Knockel he went out to Liz's house and all the girls lined up. He said, which of you is the best cook? Marie stepped forward and that was the girl he married. Har, har, Dad.

The children all had poor teeth. There was no money for dental care. In Mom's belongings after her death I found a card regarding a dental exam that had been done at school when she was five years old. They were recommending that Mom get further treatment. I'm sure she never did. One of her diary entries talks about a dentist visit when she was 15. Three teeth pulled and eleven teeth filled. She had dental problems all her life. At the time of her death she had three separate contraptions that she put in her mouth. My aunt Rita, the youngest, lost all her teeth at age 15. Not enough milk.
Mom always wanted a bicycle. There was no money for that and she talks in her diary about borrowing other kids' bikes. One time she rode to Monticello and back - a round trip of twenty miles. I can see her pedaling down the road her little legs churning and her black curls whipping back from her face. I always thought about getting her a little charm of a bicycle that she could wear around her neck. Well, I guess I forgot about that.

I remember my grandmother as a quiet woman sitting in a chair while the activity of children and grandchildren played out around her. I don't remember that she smiled much. She was very large at first but then a diagnosis of diabetes resulted in her losing weight. She always wore dresses with a belt around the waist and black, old lady shoes. All her children did well and they built her a brick ranch house on the edge of town and she lived there with my uncle Leo, an unmarried WWII hero. I can remember visiting her on Sundays and there was a stack of comic books inside the closet. There was a little room between the garage and the house and a few months ago I took some clothing to be altered (haven't figured out how to use my new sewing machine - haven't actually tried) and this older German lady had the same set-up in her house on Kane Street. I was immediately transferred back to that Cascade house, the wooden paneling, cold in the winter and we would line our boots up against the wall. There were so many cousins. It was always noisy.

I remember a newspaper article that Mom had showed me. Grandma had five sons and they all served in the war. My youngest uncle, Elmer, was the last to go. Now Elmer was a funny guy - not like my other uncles, serious natures and all. Elmer would tease and kid and I found him different from the rest of the family. I used to say to him, are you sure you are from this family? When Elmer was being raised situations probably lightened up for Grandma. The older children were out of the house and earning money and supplementing Grandma's laundry income. She took in laundry plus her widow's pension as her only income. Perhaps she used a lighter touch with Elmer and he had room to develop a sense of humor. Anyway, in this article it shows Grandma facing Elmer in his full uniform. And she is shaking his hand. The article explained that this was Mrs. Knockel saying goodbye to her youngest son. Now if that were me and my youngest son, I would have my arms clamped around him so tightly Uncle Sam would need to ship both of us out together. Now I am not a hugger by nature but desperation would propel me to a different level. Grandma was reserved, somewhat emotionally distant, and always strict with herself. She could not afford to lose control. She had a family to feed.

Did I say she took in laundry? The local dentist was one of her customers. Mom can remember how his white shirts would freeze on the clothes lines during winter and their hands became chafed and raw from the water and the cold. There are entries in Mom's diary talking about Mom ironing - the entire day. Interestingly, Mom enjoyed ironing all her life. She always set up her board in a scenic part of the house. At 1302 she chose the downstairs back porch and on Stone Ridge Place the basement level where she could look out at her lilac bushes and birdhouse. When Grandma Liz became sick for the last time all the Knockel siblings came back to Cascade and stayed with Grandma until she died. I remember Mom being gone about two weeks. I had just turned 18. I wanted Mom's homecoming to be pleasant and that she would walk into the house and not have to worry about housework that had gone undone for too long. Her numerous plants I wanted to be healthy and thriving and not really having any plant experience at that point of my life I watered the poor things every day and well, they were yellow and rather lifeless when she returned, but my intentions were good. And then there was the ironing. I had not realized at that time in my young life that ironing was therapeutic for my mother. I saw it as a chore. I had never ironed because there were certain tasks that Mom performed solely herself and Amy and I were never trained to do. One of these tasks were cooking for Dad ( I was taught to bake but only my mother alone would cook for my finicky father.) When I married I called my mother and said, what do I do? I don't know how to cook. She sent me a Betty Crocker cookbook. And another was ironing. So, I prepared to attack the piles of wrinkled clothing on the back porch and it was a slow and laborious project. It took me many hours, but damn, I got that ironing done. When my mother returned, I followed her out to the back porch and she looked around at the empty room and seemed shocked and forlorn. I believe she was looking forward to doing that ironing - for her it was peace and calmness, a return to the routine that she badly needed. Once again, I was wrong about my mother and once again, I learned.

Knockel Reunion

Yep, it's that time again. The old Cascade family with the funny name is putting out the call.

The beer is cold, the fly paper is hanging and as usual, the Giegerich cousins don't really know too many people.

Adam says to label this one, Too Much Sugar.
The brownies plate was just too available for little fingers.

Food, Glorious Food. This is the best feed I've ever had at a picnic. Irene has her homegrown green beans (she's already canned 22 quarts and she's planting a new crop every two weeks! These women are incredible!) Cantaloupe, watermelon, tomatoes, macaroni salad, broccoli salad, cherry marshmallowy salad, three kinds of beans, chicken wings, other chicken parts, too, and eight pounds of sloppy joes. Actually, ten pounds. Someone else brought them, too. And cheesy potatoes - it is official - I am in heaven. And pies, the true test of a farmer's wife's baking ability and these ladies wrote the book.

Sonny fills his plate and still has room for three pieces of pie.

Mmmpf, shrmf, mjmfll.

Children fishing. No bites although there was a sign that said 15 inch minimum on any bass caught.

I think the owners of the park posted it to entice more customers.

The euchre game in progress. That's Rita and Helen. You all know the old guy on the right and those three youngsters are here to do a photo shoot for a Hollywood modeling agency.

There really was fly paper. I can remember eating supper at Elmer's farm years ago. There would be several roasters filled with the best-smelling chicken I had ever eaten. They were fresh and just butchered that morning. Elmer would tell how the slaughtering went as I sunk my teeth into a juicy chicken part. And there was always those rolls of fly paper hanging above the tables.
I believe Dad had a good day. He seemed light-hearted and glad to be with everyone. His pants were hanging on him. We need to monitor more closely.

Anybody know what to do with seven pounds of sloppy joes, anybody?

Friday, July 30, 2010

Eight Pounds of Sloppy Joes

Jacques Cousteau (Adam) educating the masses
A walk on the flood wall this morning before the rain starts. The day clears in early afternoon but the pools remain closed. Thinking about calling the mayor on this one . . . Guess I will need to start cleaning this house although I am loathe to do so. The bathroom on this floor needs immediate attention. This is the bathroom the grandsons use and I have witnessed eight-year-old Adam doing some creative peeing. Hand on hips as he swivels in a circular pattern all the time trying to keep the urine in the bowl and always with limited success. As Adam has been known to say, the bathroom? That's where the magic happens. I don't know what that means but a BM keeps him in there for thirty minutes sometimes. The man cannot be rushed. Several times toys have needed to be run through the dishwasher due to an accidental dunking while Adam is sitting on the pot. Living with Adam means always having bleach in the house.
Hah! The wusses have finally opened the pool. I am in for a pleasant surprise as there are only four women at the pool. The laps lane is smooth and I glide along the surface with barely a wave behind me. I didn't realize the water plant next to the pool makes whoosing and whirring sounds. The screaming hordes always block it out. I can see the bluffs of Wisconsin on one side of the pool and the woods of Eagle Point on the other. Small batches of yellow leaves dot the trees here and there. Autumn.
I cooked eight pounds of sloppy joes for Mom's family reunion tomorrow. Enough for an army and that is what will be there. Groan. Whose idea was this? I will not stay long - I am not the reunion type. I smell like an onion.
Taught Dad how to sew a button on a shirt today. Everybody should know how to sew a button, make a pot roast, and do his own laundry. Love his questions: why shouldn't you wash towels with clothing? Why are there two different water temperatures with each wash cycle? How often do you wash a toilet? How often do you water plants? Dad's turning into a housewife.
I'm getting too brown. And I get brown. It's that Slavic, Mediterranean skin tone I inherited from my middle European relatives. I'm in too much of a hurry to get into the pool. While working at the nursing home a woman with dementia - she came from one of the wealthier families of Dubuque - and I became fast friends and had many conversations - not all of them with a specific point. Last year at summer's end she did not recognize me but told me with a slightly patronizing look, it's good that they give you people a job. When I was 15 I was crossing a street in Chicago to meet my father on the other side. Two black men whistled at me and Dad laughed saying, that's what you get for getting so brown. Years later I think, this was about the time that black men were whistling at white women and not having to pay a terrible price. I need to get the sun screen.

Thursday, July 29, 2010

Five Things I Love About the County Fair

Y's Men Lemonade!

Grandson on Ferris Wheel

Cows! Ya gotta love'em!

The merry-go-round!

Captain Jack Rolling and his story about the last birthday card Mom sent him and how she told him how sick she was but that was no excuse for the card being late. He'll keep it forever.

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Five Things I Hate About the County Fair

Carnies with or without teeth

Rides of mass destruction that mess with your digestive tract.

Poop - it's everywhere. Everywhere.

Really, really crappy food

Captain Jack Rolling telling "dumb" blonde jokes

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Petunia Wars

Guess: which petunia is mine and which is the neighbor's?
Yes, the sad, lonely thing in the top photo belongs to me. However, neighbor lady is outside every morning very early popping off all those deadheads and then she fertilizes to the point ot pain.

Monday, July 26, 2010

My Blue Heaven and Rhubarb Pie

See this? This is perfection. This is an empty laps lane and why am I taking this picture when I could be in that cool lagoon . . .

I did get some laps in this morning. Only had to share with two messy swimmers. Messy swimmers flop and splash a lot. They attack the water instead of going with the water. They did 30 minutes of intensive swimming and I loped along for the full 60 minutes. I suppose the same energy gets expelled with the two different methods. I just want the pain to last longer.

And how did I get in morning laps on a Monday morning when I am usually cooking up scrambled eggs for the grandchildren? The grandchildren are somewhere else today! Well, I do need to pick up the little beast at 4:00 from the "other babysitter." Gretchen also sits for three baby boys, two are nine-month-old twins. I fear that these boys will grow up with an innate fear for the opposite gender. Cameron can be a terror if they mess with her stuff. Stay out of my tea set and I'll let you keep your hair!

I now plan to attack the bottomless rhubarb bag. Dave has a friend at work who had the nerve to purchase an acreage with fruit trees. rhubarb and other naturals that require a lot of preparation before consumption. And she doesn't cook. I wish I had made that clear at the beginning of Dave and I that I do not cook. I have known other women who have said this and their families thrive just fine. But I did not. I cooked lasagna for him one Tuesday night fourteen years ago and he never left. This woman gives me rhubarb in a bag heavy enough to choke a Clydesdale and I can never get rid of it. I push it to the back of my fridge and put a watermelon in front of it but sooner or later we eat the watermelon and then there it is. Calling me: wash me, chop me, cover me with sugar, stuff me in a pie crust and then spend an hour cleaning up your sticky kitchen. Every time I go to look in it the rhubarb it has magically multiplied and it is still crisp and red and juicy. It is rhubarb from another dimension and I accidentally invited my father to supper so rhubarb will be in my life today. My mother was a chef of excellent qualifications - one who can taste the stew and tell you exactly what five herbs will make the meat sing from the pot. I keep adding and adding: garlic, bouillon, onion, beer, tomato paste, pepper, red wine, Italian seasoning until the stew doesn't resemble what its original ingredients set it out to be. No one ever wants a second helping and a lot of bread gets consumed at my meals. Mom's pies were delicate and fruity and smelled like home on a wintry afternoon. My pie will not be in that category but Dad will not complain. He is happy he does not need to eat the leftover TV dinner chicken he had planned on.

Sunday, July 25, 2010

Sunday at the pool and other places . . .

My escorts to the Mud Lake BlueGrass festival: Cowboy Dave and Crazy Tom. Lookin' good, fellas, lookin' good . . .
My house has become my enemy. It is hopelessly messy. Before Mom's death I had to admit that this condition was directly related to laziness on my part. After Mom's death I can comfortably say my grief is interfering with my ability to do simple chores but I know that it is actually laziness once again.
We are going to Mud Lake (couldn't they have come up with a prettier name?) with a friend to hear the bluegrass festival. I have already informed Dave that Tom cannot enter the house due to its sloppy condition. He thinks I'm kidding, but I'm not . . .
My mother always said that I was happiest in the water. As a young person I rode my bike daily to the pool. After swimming I would buy a nickel bag of popcorn and a nickel vanilla cone and dip said cone in the popcorn. On weekends I and my cousins and siblings splashed delightedly in the lake where my grandmother had her sons build a cottage for all the grandchildren. I lived on fried baloney sandwiches and peanut butter rice krispie bars and my uncle's burnt popcorn around the campfire at night. We would explore the banks of Catfish Creek rambling through the countryside, its mouth the Mississippi and collect crawdads, Indian beads and rocks of various color and texture. We dutifully glued them onto to poster board and wrote their names below as we scoured our rock books. Unequivocally, the best times of my life.
To this day I look forward to long hot showers with water streaming down me and the privacy of the shower stall like my little cocoon. If I am bathing I refill the tub several times with hot water when I begin to chill. I am a water person. I do not sit sunning myself next to any body of water. I am in the water.
Yesterday was dark and dangerous following storms that resulted in severe flooding to all the little towns in Iowa situated along its mighty rivers, the Mississippi and the Maquoketa. I love all the Indian names but they sometimes leave my tongue twisted.
I decided to give the pool a chance banking on that most people would be afraid to be around any form of water even a contained pool. Only 31 of us dared to dip on this cloudy and dreary day. There were ribbons of light running through the gray clouds and only a few splatters of water on the surface. Heavenly with just myself in the laps lane and only a few screaming children.
Today has blue skies and billowing cloud banks. I enter the chilly water and swim towards the laps lane only to find a bag of unusual equipment perched on the side. Hm-m-m, doesn't look like lifeguard stuff. And then he is there. A muscled young man in his early 30's with a pleasant face and smile. He is strapping some of this equipment on himself. Whoa, I say,what are those? They are yellow pieces of plastic with holes drilled through them - kind of like Freddy Kruger's mask. "Hand paddles," he says, "doubles the resistance of the water." I'm impressed. There is also a strange-looking scuba device that wraps around his head and a piece of styrofoam that nestles against his crotch and is held in place by his thighs. I did not ask about that. And he has colorful flippers to propel him. In the water he resembles a machine with plastic parts churning and foaming towards me. At the end of the lane he somersaults - a word on the bottom of his purple shorts. I don't know what it is and I do not want to stare. I enter the water unencumbered as even my earrings are left at home. Flipper churns and foams for about ten minutes. During this time Silver Surfer has come onto the scene and she - hah! - doesn't come in the laps lane but stays on the other side of the rope where she has to dodge the walkers. And there are quite a few walkers looming on the horizon like buffalo crossing and recrossing the watery plain. Shortly after her appearance, Flipper tries to get her attention as he is leaving. She's kind of hard of hearing, I tell him. "Tell her I am done," he says. Now what do I do. I guess I can be neighborly even to an elitist. I try to keep up with her my finger poised above her moving body. I touch her. I tell her Flipper is done and she thanks me. We speak no more as we are not sociable swimmers and we are comfortable with that. She stays 30 minutes. Blue Bomber comes on the scene with her blue suit and blue Speedo cap. She is always friendly and we chat briefly and then she is off for her laps. She is another somersaulter at the end of her lane. I cannot tolerate water in my nose anymore. Too many years of smoking and antihistamine medication has left my sinus cavities in a delicate condition. Any small amount of water in that area turns me into a gasping, choking fool. If I need to go under water my fingers pinch my nose shut like any respectable five-year-old must do. Bomber is a heavily, padded woman but I can see where her swimming has left tone and muscle here and there. Her movements are precise and rhythmical. She is beautiful to watch.
The day is lovely and I watch the eagles and turkey vultures floating high above me. Gulls are screeching and the Harleys are roaring as everyone wants to be near the river. I see the cyclists on the floodwall and I think of my brother out on his bike inspecting the swollen creek and river beds. His exercise obsession is actually more intense than my own and he has an enlarged heart muscle to prove it.
I time myself: one Mississippi, two Mississippi, three etc; and I'm doing 28 - 28.5 seconds per one way lap. Sixty-five minutes of swimming - you do the math. Okay, I touch briefly with my feet at the end of the lane but I am a swim goddess amongst buffalo and screaming children.

Saturday, July 24, 2010

Yeah, I Did Richard Simmons

As my mother's body weakened and atrophied I felt a need to up my present exercise routine. I have always been an exerciser. When I was 16 years old I fell in love with gym class. I had no interest in competitive sports. But I loved the organized exercises: the jumping jacks, the sit-ups, the arm twirls so much that I would duplicate them on the cold black marble floor of our family bathroom. Of course, I locked the door. As a college student I cherished my small pamphlet from the U.S. Air Force Academy showing the necessary repetitions to keep all muscle groups strong and limber. I checked myself out of all my gym classes before I flunked unbeknownst to my parents. On the first day of tennis class I remarked to another student as I entered the court and saw the back of our tennis teacher, "Oh, I thought this class was being taught by a woman." The teacher turned and looked me straight in the eye and yes, she was a woman. I swear I didn't have a chance after that. As a young mother and married to a stereo salesman we were the first on our block to own the latest state-of-the-art equipment and this included a huge bulky box that could record television shows. Ah yes, exercise had found itself to the little screen. Aerobic shows in the early 70's were quite different than the present ones. The girls wore no shoes and a great deal of the exercise routine was performed on the floor to music that was similar to a ballet sequence. Their leotards were cut low in front and high at the thighs and their faces held expressions found in soft porno films. I always thought they were just entertainment for old men who were sitting around the house and had nothing to do at 2:00 in the afternoon. I dutifully recorded the hour-long shows and faithfully followed the girls. And then suddenly, exercise was everywhere. Everybody who was anybody had a VHS tape with their special formula for movement and weight loss. Say what you will about Richard Simmons he did get the obese and near-obese off the couch and into the exercise class. Up until then exercise shows featured only super models and guys with scary looking abs doing the reps. Now overweight people could wear leotards and sweat to the oldies. And Richard was encouraging. So, yes, I recorded Richard. The music was better than the schmaltzy ballet stuff. And since that time I always have CDs close at hand that include weight lifting and using a toning band. Upper body strength for women has been undervalued for a long time. If you're a woman: GET SOME. I recommend it.
Sigh. So yes, I get carried away on the exercise topic. Poor little Mom was curling into herself as she sat in her chair and watched the birds on the deck. There were days when her muscles would spasm and she could barely walk. A year ago she was still walking the river walk with her little bottle of water. There were several benches along the way so she could rest. She and Dad were great walkers. They scaled mountains in Colorado and the hills and valleys of Mines of Spain and Swiss Valley here in town.
I'm not sure why I am making my body work so hard these days. The exercise clears my mind somewhat and keeps the bad thoughts at bay. As the eldest daughter I identify closely with my mother. I would help her dress and realize how parts of her body resembled my own. And that is a fearful thing seeing your body in your mother and seeing what disease and inactivity was doing to it. After she died it was good to touch her body, hold her in my arms and not have her flinch or cry out in pain.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Davie Gie: you da man

Brother/ Blogger guru Davie Gie teaching me to upload photos to my story.

A Former Catholic struggles

My father says that it seems like a long time since mom died and it will only be two weeks tomorrow. I agree and I wonder if it's because we had become so accustomed to talking to her everyday, seeing her and wondering about the situation when we were not with her. She's dead now and there is no new information to be experienced. The status reports, the stories about her complaints and humorous remarks, the results of doctor appointments and medication changes have all stopped. Caput, story over.

Dad came to dinner a couple of nights ago. He talked about our second memorial service held for Mom. We had accidentally forgotten to invite Mom's side of the family to the first memorial service (truth! I couldn't make anything up this weird.) So, thus the second memorial service. One of my cousins, an unusual woman (graduated from medical school as a doctor but never practiced,) talked to my dad for about fifteen minutes. She had told Dad that we would see Mom again - after our own deaths we will be reunited and our bodies will be restored to us. Dad cannot resist to set things straight. (He once encountered an old nun who was hunched over and walking near him. He said to her, either you have back problems or you have something really interesting to look at. She answered that she had suffered from spinal problems since she was a young child. The discomfort did not bother her as Jesus Christ had suffered and died for her on the cross. Hm-m-m, Dad continues, doesn't seem fair, you suffered your whole life and Christ for only three hours. Oh no, said the little nun. Christ began suffering at 9:00 the morning of his death and it was especially difficult at the end because the temperature dropped severely and the Roman soldiers had to light a fire near his cross to stay warm but Christ had only a loin cloth on and he was cold. Dad decided to cut his losses at that point and he excused himself.) Dad told my non-doctor doctor cousin that this was not his belief. When we die, he said, that is it. No afterlife, no heaven or hell, no reincarnation. He reported that she had found this strange that he had no religious connections. I know my dad. He is logical and thinks in a very organized, orderly pattern. He knows that truth must be verified by sight, sound, touch, smell, taste. Facts are based on observable events. Faith is an invention of the human mind and has no foundation in fact.

There are so many different belief systems in the world over the ages, he had told her. What if you are in the wrong one? The Indians, for example, believe that the earth was carried on the back of a massive turtle emerging from the sea. I always liked Indian beliefs, myself. Some tribes worship the sun which makes more sense than the adoration of an invisible being. The awful power of the sun is observable and penetrates all areas of life. And this is just the beginning, he reminded her. Think of the Asian philosophies - thousands of years older than Christianity and based on the individual person - the growth, the circular patterns of life and death, the constant struggle to gain knowledge and the inner calm. I say that I have studied many of the great religions of the world thanks to a college advisor that was never in his office to help me plan a real class schedule which might have resulted in an actual graduation. Yeh, right, it was his fault. And Christianity is one of the finest: an entire philosophy based on love: love your God, your neighbor, yourself. Nice. But the the bloodiest wars have been fought for religious reasons and continue to be, we remind each other. Your brother believes that those who do not subscribe to his particular fellowship's liturgy will be destroyed at the end. You know, the end? How can that be, ponders Dad, if I am God's creation why would he destroy me? It doesn't make sense! Neither does what you just said, Dad, if you do not believe in an eternal being. Suddenly, he is shouting. I want to see these miracles! I just don't want to hear about them or read about them. I want to see them! Yes, I shout back. I want to see televised reports by 60 Minutes of 20/20 to air on this very subject. No, no, he says. I want to see it right here! Right in front of me! Yes, I agree, I want to see lepers get healed! I want to see the sores disappearing from their bodies. No blind man seeing again, no paralyzed man walking! It could be a set-up! I want the lepers! And then as if exhausted, the conservation stops and we sigh. Nothing to be gained from all this. Are we angry because it won't happen that way? Mom's not coming back and why should they have the comfort of their faith and not us? Some sects believe that faith is a gift and I have not been given that. That's all right by me. Lack of faith frees up brain space and my personal schedule as I do not need to send time on prayers or liturgy.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Depressed tonight

Depressed tonight. Couldn't even listen to music, always a sign. Did an hour of laps at the north end pool after supper. Had to share the laps lane with Silver Surfer, the worst of the elite laps swimmers. Two rotten little kids probably in the ten-year-old category kept splashing water at me. One of them said if I gave him a dollar he would stop splashing me. I gave him my best Clint Eastwood squint and said, "I don't make deals with punks." They continued to splash me but at a greater distance. Why do I always attract the dregs of society?

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Vegetarian chili

I am eating vegetarian chili I had frozen from the hospital cafeteria while Mom was still a patient. I'm eating something that feels like a hair and I think it may a fiber from one of the many vegetables, or, a hair. I have come back from the north end pool with more water in my ears irritating my already irritated sinuses. This swimming project has a couple of drawbacks.
I am a silent and sullen swimmer. I walk into the shallow end and plow through the increasing deeper waters until I reach the laps lane. It is sectioned off from the diving area and the swimming area and it is approximately six feet wide which is inadequate but at least it exists. There is a foot-wide dark ribbon painted on the floor in the middle of the lane and if there is a solitary swimmer she may use the ribbon as a guide as she swims across the pool. If there are two swimmers they can easily stay on one side of the ribbon or the other and maintain an easy separation that promotes good swimming. This works well if one or both swimmers like to do the crawl and when the pool side is reached they dive under the water performing a somersault and surfacing in the same lane as before. If there are more than two swimmers the oval orbit pattern is the best choice. The swimmers continue in an endless loop traveling down one side of the ribbon to the opposite end and returning on the other side of the ribbon and so on and so on. Sounds easy? Well, it's not. Why? Because every swimmer who enters the laps lane believes that she should be the ONLY lap swimmer in the lane. Like so many other situations in life a class system exists here. I do not totally understand as my experience is slight but I will report on what I know at this time. There are many kinds of swimmers. At any given pool the two most respected classes are the fancy divers - the high dive, of course - and the lap swimmers. We will concentrate on the lap swimmers at this time. The most basic ability level consists of half-swimmer/ half water walker. She swims 10-20 feet and then touches bottom and walks for the rest of the lap. She rarely goes under water preferring to remain on the surface to better watch the numerous social combinations occurring around the pool. She doesn't have the strength to swim an entire lap and she may remain in the lap lane for a small amount of time - rarely more than 10-15 minutes. There are exceptions, of course. These people usually have come to the pool with a group of others and they have excused themselves from that group to do laps. Occasionally, one of their group will travel along with them on the other side of the rope so she will not lose the social connection. The middle level consists of lap swimmers who are able to complete several laps at a time without stopping. The number can range from five to twenty on the average. They are not speedy swimmers but they believe in consistency and duration and like the tortoise, are capable of winning the race. They may prefer more than one swimming form. I am in this group and I prefer breast stroke with occasional back stroke and side stroke to rest my neck muscles as I do not like to put my head underwater. It tastes bad, people do pee in it, the smell is strong and my throat, eyes and nose object. Not to mention the great number of people walking around with the most God-awful open sores. Just go ahead and count how many band-aids are floating around. The last and most formidable group are the true swimmers. They usually wear goggles and caps. They may use timing devices and they have large water bottles at the edge of the pool for immediate hydration. Amazingly, they come in all shapes and sizes. You would think that these strong, long-distance swimmers would develop sleek, muscled bodies but this is often not the case. They swim long stretches of laps usually with faces under the water for the majority of the time. This limits their ability to see other swimmers in the laps lane whether they be in front of them or on opposite sides. This does not seem to bother them as they are like large semi-trucks on the highway. As the trucks know they are the biggest dudes on the road this class of swimmers know they are the swiftest and strongest of the lot and woe be to anyone who gets in their way. They swim without rules, without morals and without consequences. They believe their superior ability has promoted them to a god-like status and no one can question their behavior in the water. Needless to say, I hate these people, but like the other small frogs in the pond I must quickly get out of their way and learn to swim around them and not with them. A pox on all of them, I say. May the next mouthful of pool water you accidentally swallow contain a strain of serious diarrhea parasites who drain your system of everything necessary and healthful.

Saturday, July 17, 2010

Wearing Sadness Like a Soft, Old Sweater

I am wearing my sadness like a soft old sweater. Grief is not what I thought it would be. It is like slowly walking through deep water. The world presses around me like the layers of water and I feel as if soft bunting is wrapped around me, like a cocoon. It is between me and the world and it acts like a filter. Inconsiderate motorists no longer annoy me. My messy house is not longer a concern. Whether I eat or not seems of secondary importance. I continue to exercise as it provides some relief for my sluggish brain. I realize I have a long journey ahead of me with many sharp stones in the road. At the drug store picking out cards for showers and looking for Purell hand sanitizer with aloe. I used the last of it in my car before consuming my burrito. It smelled so clean and fresh - a smell that I associated with my mother and I knew I had to buy more. Now. I find the shower cards after a long time searching. I instinctively reach for a birthday card that has purple pansies on it. Mom likes those little flowers and many things I have bought for her have those damn pansies on them and I now can't buy them along with so many other things and I know I will still keep reaching for them in stores and boutiques because that is what I do. I buy cute little stupid things for my mother and now I can't. So as if this blanket of grief is not enough I will need to retrain myself to not let objects and smells and cards remind me of my mother. I need to start thinking differently and reacting differently and I don't know how to do this.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

You don't look as old as you think you are

A pudgy boy about nine or ten years old splashes over to me at the pool and flashes a grin. He says, "You don't look as old as you think you are." Another grin. Whoa! What is this? Now I am a woman like so many others who was never in love with her body. Oh, there were a few brief instances in the life where the top of my body matched the bottom and there were no extra jiggles and creases. But now I have let my hair go to its intended mostly salt and pepper look and I stopped with the make-up a long time ago - it just settles into the wrinkles. I do hold onto my one European custom - red, red lipstick. Picture Sophia Loren leaning over a balcony in Greece: her white peasant blouse falling off one of her perfect brown shoulders, her black hair cascading down her back, and her mouth, half-open, inviting and red, red, red. Sounds like the cover of one of my mother's romance novels. As they say, the more flesh exposed on the cover, the racier the novel. Mom would read these books supplied by her sister but she rarely got through one. She read an eclectic assortment of literature: the local sports page, Garrison Keillor columns, a variety of women's magazines and cooking journals and Vanity Fair. She loved articles about the rich tycoons who were embezzling and then discovered and then fallen from their lofty, wealthy perches. She liked gossip, but mostly the sophisticated kind.
Anyway, I may need to frequent this north end pool more often. I usually visit the west end pool so I need not worry about somebody lifting my Curious George change purse from my rolled-up towel.

My Mother's Death

My mother died six days ago. As I left the hospital at 2 a.m. I felt a lightness in my bones that I had not had for a long time. I snitched one of my nephew's Marlboro's - like dirt in my mouth, but I didn't care, my mother was no longer suffering. A couple of us had placed two flowers on her chest: a rose from the last bouquet I would ever buy her and the other a cone flower my sister had snitched from hospital property. Everyone else left and I carefully monitored her shrunken, bruised body being lifted from the bed to the gurney. I placed my hand on top of the red velvet blanket that was placed on her and we headed for the elevator. And then she was gone. As of this time I have felt only small stabs of grief as the waves of relief that are washing over me silence even the heaviest of thoughts. As the days go by the recent memories of her suffering will begin to fade and I will remember the vibrant and colorful woman that she was. I lay on my back in the city pool and hear my own breathing strong and steady rising beside me. Where is she? Filmy clouds slide back and forth above me and the sky looks very far away. I see a small silver jet the size of my thumbnail silently skimming through the cloud bank.
Today my son from Colorado left. I laid my forehead on his chest and sighed. I could feel a catching of breath in his chest. I need to go swimming again.