Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Sonny, Shorty and Murph

It started innocently enough when my aunt Leona called me at 6:55 a.m. "Nonie," we called her when we were younger as "Leona" was too much of a tongue twister for a small child. Leona was my mother's older sister and despite a sore neck she was doing well. Phone conversations do not interest me especially at 6:55 a.m., but that's the one you know you need to answer. Leona awakens at 3 a.m. and reads romance novels until the sun comes up and then she starts her routine of taking care of her brother Joe and visiting nursing homes. She is an interesting, eccentric old lady. She has about forty fake bullet holes pasted to her minivan and she paints her fingernails black with a white stripe, the skunk look. A week after her husband died she was on the back of a Harley-Davidson with Cowboy Dave and I right behind her in the Chevy making certain she would not fall onto the highway. She barely stands over four foot tall, thus her nickname, Shorty, and she rode fourteen hours on a bus to check out Obama's inauguration ceremony in Washington D.C., her only concern being could she keep her moustache shaved? (Need to talk to this woman about waxing . . .)

"How are you?" she asks, and I am not accustomed to so many people asking me how I am but I know why they do. Fine, fine, I say, and how are you? I get an update on the neck condition, another doctor, another procedure. She had stopped in to visit Dad and she said, "you know that was the first time I saw your dad . . ." and I thought she was going to finish by saying laugh or smile or seem happy as I was amazed Dad had granted her an audience in the first place. But instead, "break down," was what she said. "There were tears in his eyes," Leona said, and he talked about how he sits in his chair and thinks about all the nights Mom would sit next to him on the other side of the little table.

Every night they would sit quietly together watching history documentaries, Dr. Zhivago, and country music awards (Mom had a crush on Kenny Rogers.) And they would read. Dad with his non-fiction, and Mom with her magazines, clipping recipes and funny little articles to send to far away grandchildren. She had a odd range of reading choices, from biographies on the Kennedys to the sports page, to the stories in Vanity Fair and Men's Journal.

During Mom's last hospitalization I had stopped at Dad's one evening and was overwhelmed by how strong her presence dominated the home. She was everywhere, dried flower wreaths, recipes on the bulletin board, her letters, her ivies, she was the pulse of this household. With my mother missing it was like a body without a heart.

After her death I can understand Dad's rush to get Mom's presence out of his physical environment. After all, he was always the guy who unwrapped his Christmas presents and stowed them all away five minutes later. But he sometimes moved too hastily with my mother's belongings and I am still dealing with the medical equipment store who want their rented youth folding walker back. The nursing home Dad had donated it to two days after her demise really does not want to go through their entire inventory of walkers. I spent several sweaty afternoons packing up the holiday decorations, numerous knickknacks, and dresser drawers of clothing. The items lay in boxes in the basement for a couple of weeks waiting for Leona to pack into her car and take to the nursing home where she and Mom had played cards. Dad, interestingly, did not mind. Several times I dropped in and sat on the steps looking down on the boxes knowing that Mom was there, still there, in a way. The last time I stopped, Dad was not at home and neither were the boxes. Just an imprint on the carpet where they had been. I had the same feeling as I did in the hospital when she finally, finally died. Relief, and then a vast ache for something I still could not identify.

I know my Dad cries. A few years ago he had a chronic back condition that slowly began to rob him of the ability to walk. He became frail and thin, an uncustomary paleness about him as he was no longer going for long hikes or riding in the convertible with Mom. I feared for his mental state as he did not know how to cope with a situation beyond his control. His strict rearing as a boy (my grandmother was not allowed to hold him as a baby when he cried - this was the current infant care philosophy at the time) and his training as a Marine rendered him absolute and rigid in his definition of endurance. There had never been any education for dealing with relentless, chronic pain. He had always been healthy.

At end of the summer his doctors finally performed surgery and Dad was free of pain and walking again. In the worst of his ordeal he begged the doctor to send him home with morphine but that was not an allowable procedure. I find it unbelievable that my father was capable of begging and even more, the fact that he was gulping pain killers. He had always talked Mom out of every pain relief medication she would be administered over the years.

The injury and pain had made a large transformation in my father that would not be apparent at first. My niece Rachel, an orthopedic nurse from Florida, visited with my father at this time and was a great asset in terms of her medical knowledge and support. My father told me that when she left to return home he later cried. This was a revelation for him and I know it was frightening. He could not explain this or fit it into his indestructible image of himself. "Dad, you're depressed," I told him, "crying is a natural response in your condition." I knew he was not comforted or convinced by my words.

After the pain was gone and he was his usual tanned, handsome self my oldest son, Jason, returned from Colorado for a visit. He likes to hug people now, I warned him, as my father approached. Sonny had started doing this after his recovery . We are not a physically affectionate family and we do not hug. This does not mean we do not feel deep affection we just prefer some distance. And Dad hugged Jason. My son looked at me over Dad's shoulder and we shared a small smile. These days Jason hugs more freely and I can tell he respects my father's gesture.

Dad will be all right. And Leona, too, although she also suffers a sad, sad pain. She lost a funny and generous husband, one whom I would scrabble to sit next to so I could hear the jokes. He smoked cigars, and they eventually killed him, but I still love the smell of cigar smoke. Flash (seriously) wore red one-piece jumpsuits drank 18 beers when he built the cement basement of our cottage and kept a prayerbook on the back of the toilet. They had no children but filled their lives with good deeds and anonymous donations and plenty of euchre games at various taverns about town. My mother once told Leona that her new medication would cost her $100 monthly and how would she afford this? On the first day of every month, Flash would tuck a $100 bill in Mom's pocket. Flash's nickname for Mom was Murph, although she had no explanation for that. Flash was buried in his jumpsuit with a beer and a cigar and Leona wore her black leather biker combo complete with cap and boots to the wake, much to the chagrin of my mother. "Look at what she's wearing," Mom whispered fiercely to me as we waited in line. "She looks great," I said and pushed her along.

Saturday, August 28, 2010

She Always Was a Trashy Kind of Girl . . .

Now I am a classical pianist from my earliest years and I am talking age five. I remember learning the letter notes of the musical scale at the same time I was learning the alphabet in school. I grew up in an era when girls took private piano classes and my high school offered a mandatory course on manners that would teach us when to wear white gloves.

My aunt who held degrees in music wandered in and out of my life as my primary teacher depending when she in town and how busy she was with her new boyfriend. But I had others, too. The infamous Miss Groff, 101 years old and still teaching out of a duplex apartment on the campus of the University of Dubuque. The notorious Dr. Helen Irelan who breathed music and fire and eventually required institutionalization for her obsession with music and perfection. There were many hours of practice and waiting for buses to take me across town for more lessons and I don't remember feeling resentment for the missed hours of jumping rope and playing jacks. I pounded away for hours on the old upright that I still own - my family working and playing around me, just another background noise for an already very noisy family. A cousin who also was taking lessons said to me, "perhaps it is time for you to do something else besides play other people's music. You should write your own music." And he was wrong. I am a craftsman,not an artist, and I may be creative at some things but writing my own tunes would not be one of them.

I crave the music of Beethoven, Mozart and Bach. Their music can take me to a zone of tranquility somewhat like the second wind of the athlete. It is a melding of mind and spirit and soul and music is a strong influence on our emotional state. They say human beings sang before they spoke and working in an Alzheimer's unit I know that once my patient can no longer speak she may still be able to sing lyrics. The ability to sing is more deeply wired in the brain than the ability to converse. My 2 1/2-year-old granddaughter sings nonsense syllables to her own melodies and this is how she calms and entertains herself.

The first record I ever bought was Roy Orbison's Pretty Woman although I abhor that song now. And then Petula Clark's Downtown and then the Beatles landed and there was no other competition. My sister who had much better taste than me listened to B.B.King and the Doors and Creedance Clearwater Revival and the Stones, and I developed a liking of the blues at a much later age, but somewhere in the 80's I discovered heavy metal, hard rock, what have you. And I leaned towards Def Leppard, AC/DC, - throbbing, ear-splitting rhythms and I mean loud. In the upstairs apartments I lived in it was not uncommon to hear a broom stick pounding on the ceiling below.

I actually read an article on why Catholic girls often go towards the heavy metal persuasion and it had something to do with sexual repression and overprotected environmental influences and that's all I remember so evidently I did not find that information worthy of retaining in my brain pan.

And then I heard the local band, Johnny Trash, in the past year. I didn't think anybody was performing this kind of music anymore and when I first heard him I felt like a lost tourist in Harlem discovering my tour group around the corner. I was home. He does his music with a crazy passion that this music requires. John will play tonight and I do not do too many live music visitations these days. I get tired of people standing in front of me with their plastic glasses of beer stacked five and six high and smoking and talking LOUDLY to be heard above the music. If you didn't come to listen, go over there by the porta-potties. I will be one of the mesmerized mosh pit standing as close as I can get so I can feel the pain and the angst. One small grandmother amidst pierced and tattooed Trashhead dudes with spiked hair and studded leather. Cowboy Dave will be back behind the amplifiers shaking his head.

I bet Herr Johann Bach would have appreciated the consistent, heavy rhythms and anguished, bestial lyrics of this particular genre. Well, maybe not.

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Growing up with Sonny

My mother referred to my father as "the golden child" when she talked about his early childhood and adolescence. He was the oldest child - an older brother had died at birth. My grandmother consented to go to a Catholic hospital despite her Lutheran persuasion, because my Catholic grandfather strongly ruled the roost, only temporarily in this unsettled marriage. The doctor was late and the nuns tied her legs together to keep the birth occurring until doctor arrived. Baby suffocated, I believe this story. My father and his younger sister were born at home.

Albert was a spoiled child and he was denied nothing. His grandmother washed dishes all day in a downtown cafe for fifty cents and she would think nothing of giving the boy her full day's pay when the carnival was in town. My mother would lament the package she received on her wedding day - that is, Albert A. Giegerich III and all his eccentricities, notions and his Marine-corp sense of decorum and order. But when she would tell me, "your grandmother spoiled him terribly," I cluck my tongue and say, and you took over where Nana left off. It was a situation we both dealt with over the years, she more than I.

My father was a beautiful child. One of my own children refers to his grandfather and his "movie star" look. Jet black hair and teasing brown eyes, a jaunty smile and a sense of adventure with a nod of naughty thrown in. Never a boring day with Sonny, his family nickname.

The boy could do no wrong. Kids in those days were ignored. They could camp out, walk across the undamned river, burn down empty houses. And Sonny did it all. The neighbors feared him. He possessed an intellect that spurred him on to define all the curiosities in his life. One late night at age 15 he was walking home and passed a wooded area (now Allison-Henderson Park) and at that time it was owned by an eccentric old lady who had witchlike qualities, as defined by the town gossip. It is surrounded by a high stone wall and Sonny and his comrades stole apples and walnuts from the property and would play pranks on the elderly woman. As he walks by the wall he hears an eerie, shrieking sound from behind the enclosure and he starts to run as fast as his teen aged legs will carry him. The horrible sound continues, but young Sonny stops. His logical mind turns over the options he faces in this situation. He can return safely home and always wonder and always fear what he did not know that lurked behind those high walls. Or he could face this mystery demon and be cleansed of it, that is if he survived the encounter. This is what he chose. He climbs over the wall the screams setting off every nerve in his young body. And he finds a young rabbit caught in a trap and some may not aware be of this but a rabbit faced with a terrifying situation can and will emit a sound not unlike a woman's scream. I do not know what my father did after this. Perhaps he let the poor bunny go although the animal did not have a bright future due to his injuries. My grandsons say he probably killed it with a rock, damn video games. All I know is my father returned home that night accompanied with a new and mature wisdom. Always check out the fearful. The unknown is scarier. He carried this knowledge and experience with him and he gifted me with that same message.

There are times in my life when my father's word and example carried me through a difficult time. I was interviewing for my first "real" job (babysitting doesn't count, remember, jeesh) at the local S.S. Kresge five and dime store. Kresge eventually meta morphed into the K-mart empire. Ah, the old five and dime. A circular windowed candy counter where we could sneak a chocolate-covered peanut or bridge mix, my aqua blue plastic smock with ink stains in the pockets and Kresge embroidered in red thread. The lunch counter and fountain that served a mean tuna salad-packed tomato with white crackers and the delicious icy Coca-cola in a paper cone with a metal base. All cash register transactions done in our heads. I was very nervous about the interview. My dad's good friend's wife worked there and it would have been one thing to screw up the interview and than another as Dad would be forever shamed in front of his friend. I must have shared some of this with Dad because he looked at me somewhat disgruntingly and said, "when you walk in that door that will be the best thing that happened to that man all day." Got the job and many more and I always carry that conversation with me.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Gone Baby Gone

The unimaginable happened. I left my computer in a hotel room in Ann Arbor, Michigan. She was eight hours away past cornfields and the craziness of Chicago. I actually slapped my forehead in frustration when I realized what had happened, just like a cartoon character. It was a case of he thought she put it in the car and she thought he put it in the car and well, the responsibility was technically mine and that was good because I am sure the toll I would have exacted on Cowboy Dave would have been steep.
I grabbed the phone and went through the pile of sheets the travel website had spewed at us and bingo, found the hotel number and I was talking to Holly at the front desk. I waited an anxious and fearful 30 seconds while Holly checked to see if they indeed did have it. Oh no, surely everybody at the front desk would be aware a laptop had been left behind. It's not like a half-used bottle of Head & Shoulders. And yes, Baby was there. They would fed-ex it to me and how many days of shipping would I prefer. Well, I wanted it overnight but my emotional mountain was subsiding and I agreed to the more economical three-day plan. Bam, down goes the phone and I begin ranting about the incident and how could it happen and oh my God, this and that. Dave, always a sharp cookie, growls, "call-em back and get the overnight plan. I'll pay for it." He would have had to live with me, laptopless me, for that week.
And now let me tell you about the ordeal.
First, I am an easy addict. It takes very little time for me to become insanely attached to a food, kind of music, TV program, actor, walking trail, pattern of clothing, exercise routine, anything. I go to the same restaurants every week and I order the same thing. The clothing I have in my closet looks the same as the clothing I had there 20 years. Heck, it may be the same clothing. Once I find something that I like it is printed on my head and heart and I never stray. I am not fickle. Addictive personalities run in my family. Ask my brother, Davie. We know our weakness.
I got this laptop last Christmas and within four weeks I could barely move my thumb joint on my left hand due the excessive use of my new toy. The boys had introduced me to Plants vs Zombies and I was hooked playing this game at every available moment. Then I discovered Solitaire (53% win rate) and then facebook and now blogging. The thumb has become so painful that I will need to have medical attention and I am hoping this will not involve a surgery or a cast. Thus, my addiction. I play with the pain.
My husband would comment, "well, you're getting your money's worth out of it." Actually, his money and I was glad this was his take on it and he was not writing letters to Dear Abbey about my obsession or not planning in intervention group.
Day One: at first the relief that Baby had been found was enough to satisfy my lack of laptop on my lap, but that I found to be extremely brief.
My ears heard the beeping of an ATM machine and it reminded me of the sound my laptop makes when I open it up and I was drawn to the machine and I caressed its little keyboard. Kind of like an alcoholic hearing a beer can opening or a smoker the click of a Bic.
I wanted to send out a brief note with a birthday card. Instead, three pages of useless info on a legal pad gets written.
I need to get out of the house. So, after my dear husband has driven me eight hours back home that day I am dragging him out in 87 degree heat to take a walk on the floodwall. And then over to the Yardarm for beer on a Sunday night (oh no!) and a listen to this really crummy musician do Jimmy Buffet imitations. Back home I am thinking about cleaning out the fridge at 10:30 p.m. I didn't have this much adrenaline when I quit smoking.
Next day, no better. Made three trips to the store, one at 9:00 p.m to buy coconut extract and a can of cream of coconut for this recipe I insisted I had to try. I hemmed a shirt, for cryin' out loud, and enjoyed it. All the towels were washed whether they needed it.
Next day. I have called FedEx and the package will be there by 10:30. Cameron and I are waiting outside at 9:30. FedEx guy pulls up and smiles when I identify myself. "Waiting patiently, I see," he says. Not THAT patiently, I reply.

Saturday, August 21, 2010

Out and About in Ann Arbor

Okay, I'll have the pan-seared trout with the tomato and shitake mushroom relish and the chili-corn bread. Oh, wait, I'll have what he's having.

We are staying at the Kensington Court Motel and we think its yet another shoot off the Holiday Inn chain. The place has a touch of the Brits about it and I found this fellow hanging out at the pub. And yes, it's Meester Kensington himself. He's either an earl or a squire or a combination of the two and would that make him a squirrel?

Yes, believe what you see. This is the hotel pool. A swim a day keeps the jiggley triceps away. Does this room rent by the month?

Out to dinner with Dr. Hess, Sara's mentor and lab supervisor. We're at the Grizzley Peak in downtown Ann Arbor.

One of the regulars. Quiet kind of guy.

Friday, August 20, 2010

A Weekend in Ann Arbor Amongst the Academics

And this is where it all happens . . . Sara's lab at the University of Michigan. Anybody see my beaker, anybody?

We arrived in Ann Arbor yesterday afternoon to spend time with my son Jim, Sara and their two kids. A is three and a half years and little O is four months old. A is spunky and hilarious and older than her years and she makes an amazing companion in any adventure. Now O is revealing her nature slowly but we have some indications of the woman she is to become. Her eyes are usually wide and incredulous with the joy she finds in her little life. She is ready to laugh and embrace whoever and whatever comes her way.

Sara presented her PhD defense on her thesis today. We walk down hallways with framed pictures of graduating classes from the 1800's and all the students are men. Now the halls are filled with women in lab coats and talking the academic talk and well, it's about time. Guess they should have let us out of the kitchen sooner . . .

And Jim has always told me that cancer will be cured on the molecular level. Now we cut out tumors and zap them with radiation and chemo but there is always that risk of a rogue cell escaping the process and traveling to another site to grow and destroy again. We must learn how to enter the cell and reprogram the mechanics to cause its self-destruction.

And so he gives me a lay person's synopsis in a nutshell of the work she has done. So bear with me and remember I am just a social worker.

The MLL gene is an important gene in our bodies that is needed for development and growing new blood cells. In order for cancer to happen a mutation must occur in a gene. In some cancers the MLL gene is broken and it attaches to a wrong gene. And this is how proteins are made and in these cases an abnormal protein is formed and this is what causes the cancer.

There are over 50 mutations associated with MLL fusion and all of them cause cancer.
So, it is recognized that some common mechanism is present in all MLL fusion proteins.

Sara found that these MLL fusion proteins recruit a complex of different proteins and this is not a normal process. The eventual conclusion here is that a drug will be developed that can target that complex and stop the cancer.

Still there? I needed to record this for my own benefit to read and remember at a later date. Dr. Hess, Sara's mentor and an MD/PhD himself says that she has made an important contribution to cancer research. He reminds me of the professor in Good Will Hunting - the hoitey-toitey guy with all the scarves who flirts with his young grad female students. Jay is probably nothing like this, my apologies, and we will see more of him at dinner tonight.

Sara comes to the end of her presentation to our group (she will then be grilled by four academics that have read her thesis and will be asking questions.) She thanks all the people responsible for her trip to the podium today, seven years of colleagues and friends, and then comes to my son, Jim. "Jim is my hero. He is the most amazing person . . ." and then she can go no further. The emotion overwhelms her and she cannot speak without tears. Oh, a mother lives for these moments. How can my heart be so full and not explode!

We visit Sara's lab and there is one thing I have always wondered about labs, not that I have been to that many labs. They're dirty, unorganized, boxes overflowing with supplies, things piled up and tumbling over. There is a continence pad used on hospital beds with some strange gook on it lying on the floor and everybody keeps walking around it. The floor is stained and dust is everywhere. Many computers, strange-looking microscopes and mechanisms, everything labeled with masking tape and felt tip pens. Refrigerators holding strange-looking specimens, boxes of plastic gloves and everything looking like it was pitched through the door way and left to land wherever. There is simply not enough room or counter top for everything that is needed in this room. How do they find anything? But there is an air of mystery and possibility here and all things are new and not definite. There are no rules and discovery is the magic that drives them. They could cure cancer here.

Sara does it. She finishes her defense and she has passed. She now has her PhD.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Road Trip

Leaving Dubuque tomorrow and traveling north to Ypsilanti, Michigan named after some Greek guy. We will be seeing my youngest son, Dr. Jim, his lovely lady Sara and their two children. Sara is giving her dissertation for her PhD in molecular biology at the University of Michigan and we are there to see it happen. Never attended this sort of thing and I am looking forward to learning something new. Her family whom I have not met will be there from Tallahassee, Florida where they had emigrated (immigrated? - what's the difference anyway?) from Persia many years ago and now, of course, the country is known as Iran. They foresaw the horrible impact of the impending Taliban and wanted to raise their children in the states. They chose an area with a climate similar to homeland and there they began their family. All ties to family and friends in the old country ceased with this move and no further contact was made. Sara is a lovely, gentle lady who cannot take her eyes from her children and my austere and always proper son is deeply in love with her.

We will be attending receptions and dinners and having chocolate fondue and wine and meeting with the head of the laboratory and basically it means three days in good clothes. I will need to make conversation with people I do not know but I will come away from this with a better knowledge of the young woman my son has chosen to grow old with. Cowboy Dave has promised me a hotel with pool and workout area.

The car ride is eight hours and I will fill it with books. I'm bringing George Sheehan's Running and Being - Davie Gie has inspired me to reread this sacred volume again. Also, Eat Pray Love - currently a movie starring Julia Child (ugh) but I heard the book was better than the flick so I'll avoid the theatre and stick with the book. And Mayflower by Nathan Philbrook - a volume recommended to my father by his boss, the head of the River Museum. I love long car rides and I can lazily do my reading and occasionally look up to see the bountiful cornfields and greenery at my leisure. Packed my booze, books, meds, toothpaste and a few clothes, too, and I am gone.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Disaster #37 in the Kitchen

Sometimes I feel like Lucy Ricardo when I cook - one catastrophe following another, a slapstick comedy unfolding in my little kitchen the size of a walk-in closet. Tuesday night and that means I cook for my father. My mother was a tough act to follow, and she truly shone in the kitchen. She had done more cooking and baking than her sisters back in the old farmhouse in Cascade, Iowa and not only did she have a flair for it, she brought love and passion to her craft. She enjoyed it.

Now my father is a challenge for even the best of chefs and I refused to cook for him when I was growing up. And my mother would not let me cook - I was delegated to the position of family baker and I won blue ribbons every summer for my sour cream chocolate cookies at the county fair. Only Mom was allowed to cook for the Master who could give out criticism with the best of them. One night I remember him taking a forkful of the casserole and commenting, "tastes like you scraped it off the basement floor." Not missing a beat my mother said, "as a matter of fact that's exactly what happened. I dropped the casserole when I took it out of the downstairs freezer." And it did not taste like that at all, but Dad was, well, Dad.

When I was 16 Mom had to be somewhere over the lunch hour and she asked me to prepare a BLT for my father returning from work. The bacon was not crisp enough, the tomatoes sliced too thickly, not enough lettuce and there was something wrong with the toast. I remember muttering something under my breath about, you know where McDonald's is, but I didn't, I was just eager to get out of the kitchen and be with my friends.

When I married the first time I called my mother from my home a hundred miles away and said, I don't know how to cook. She directed me to buy my first cook book, the Betty Crocker edition. And that's how I learned to boil an egg and make cherry sauce for ham slices.

At one time I had wished in my heart that Dad would go first. Mom and I would sell our townhouses and live in a one-floor condo. She would have her own bedroom and sitting room and would only need to be in the kitchen when she wanted to be, which would probably be a lot. I was worried about keeping Dad content tempered by almost sixty years of trying.

I have difficulty cooking since my mother died. It requires organization and consistency and these are qualities that seem impossible right now. I am good at simple, quick chores such as straightening up the books and magazines on my coffee table or ironing a shirt.

Dad likes chicken pot pie and I know there is a big container of chicken gravy dated 6-27 in my freezer. I made this for my parents on that date using homemade chicken stock, rotisserie chicken (such a great invention) and vegetables. Topped with Bisquick dumplings it is a tasty dish. Mom and Dad continue to love pot roast and casseroles and lasagna far into the summer when everybody is grilling. Anyway, I decide to cook this for my father. I thaw the gravy, buy and debone the chicken (I am too tired to recycle the containers and make new stock using the carcasses - I have many shortcuts since Mom has left) and cook the vegetables. The first indication of trouble came from the frozen bread dough.

I thaw the bread on a dish towel, all my loaf pans have mysteriously disappeared, and finally put the doughy lump in a casserole dish. I always forget when I put things in the oven and it's difficult to tell when the bread is done because it's whole wheat and already brown. When I slice it later the innards are soft and doughy and uncooked so I just slice off the edges all the way around and everybody gets the heel.

I come home late in the day and find the gravy separating as frozen products often will do. I throw the whole concoction: meat, gravy, onions, potatoes in a strainer and let all that icky water drain away. 45 minutes until Dad time. I take the gloppy mess and put it in a cake pan and into the oven. I can hear Mom saying, make sure it's hot enough before you put the Bisquick on or it will take forever for the biscuits to bake. Egads, it's not heating up fast enough! I scoop everything out of the pan, into a bowl, and into the microwave. I get out a new cake pan and throw it in the oven to preheat. After about 10 minutes it's boiling and so back in the pan in the stove. I realize I have let too much fluid drain away and the stuff is looking dry and lifeless. Alas, must make do. The final insult comes as I get out my 38-year-old coffee percolator given to me by my great-uncle at my first wedding (I do not drink coffee, thus, the absence of a more contemporary coffee maker. ) Dad MUST have coffee with dessert. I jerk it under the faucet and when I look inside I see its electrical cord curled on the bottom. Don't have time to dry the damn thing. I need to risk electrocution to make certain my father has his coffee with the carrot cake I have purchased from the local mart.

Thank God for Fincel's sweet corn. Something went right. And Dad, God love him, didn't say a word. Mom, are you laughing wherever you are?

Sunday, August 15, 2010

I Wish It Were Sunday

Sparkling Mississippi, lovely lady in my life. Headed out on the flood wall for that early morning walk.

Practicing Jedi warriors at the marina. May the force keep you dry.

A little touch of Greece on University avenue: chicken dill lemon soup, the naked gyro, and paprika in the salad that tickles the back of my throat.

Bikers are everywhere and not the Davie Gie kind. Keep a low profile and don't attract attention.

Rock on , funky guys.

This guy offered me a ride on his Harley. Again, why do I always attract the dregs of society? And then he stalked me for about half an hour . . .

Okay, here's how we do things on the weekend in this household. First, plan when and how to exercise. Second, where and what to eat. And lastly, whatever the community calender has to offer.

Just finished an hour walking on the flood wall. Our first cool morning in a long span of monotonous hot, hot days and the city is out celebrating. Runners, cyclists, babies in biker baskets, an occasional wheelchair and one lone Harley rider. Potato-potato-potato . . . did you know the Harley engine idle sound has a patent? Only in America can these things happen. There are children with numbers on their chests racing cheered on by smiling parents. The children are sweating and do not look happy about their predicament. An enthusiastic red-headed woman whom I have encountered many times on my walk sings out to me "Good Morning!" like the first line of the Hallelujah Chorus. She is sitting on a bench and she says, "It is so beautiful I just had to sit here and LOOK!" Yes, I agree, we must remember this, thinking of the cold grey months ahead of us.

Cowboy Dave is doing his stint at his fitness club. Dave is a joiner, I am not. He likes the social circle, the human contact when he exercises and the club provides this. It also includes a sauna and shower facilities and several TVs so the man will not miss any televised sports events.

I am first in the pool on Sutton's last day. I swim my laps and leave without lingering. Don't want to stir up any sentimental thoughts here. Have a peaceful sleep under the snows, lovely pool, you will be in my winter dreams.

And I dream of my little mother last night, the first time. I was getting into the back seat of a car with my brother Mark. My father was driving and my mother was sitting in the passenger seat next to him. I cannot see her face as she is wearing a hooded sweatshirt. We were going to a restaurant and I thought, how can this be that Mom is here and . . . eating. I want to ask her, how is it where you are, what is it like. But something causes me to pull back and the thought says, don't ask her that, it may frighten her, she is not completely aware of what has happened. Instead, I say, how are you, Mom, but I waken before she can answer . . .

And then we eat. The Athenian Grill and I have my usual: delectable chicken lemon dill soup - and a bowl, not a cup, never a cup! And a naked gyro - just spiced meat and warm pita bread. Leave off the tomato, the lettuce and especially that tzatziki sauce. If I want a salad I'll order one - and I did - a lovely Greek concoction with feta cheese and paprika. The olive needs to go. I have been referred to as the "soup lady" in this little cafe and I take frozen chicken soup home to maintain my reputation.

And we're off and across the river to the state of cheese and a biker party in New Diggings, Wisconsin. For some reason many years ago this little village was designated as official Harley Davidson country and the two small saloons are filled with black- leathered folk and their old ladies. Only beer served here and the customers are as interesting as the music, a rocking blues band from North Carolina. These youngsters can blast out Johnny Cash, Jim Morrison and Stevie Ray like firecrackers. Those boys have old souls. We have roasted corn on the cob on the grill and sit with Crazy Tom and his new woman, Beverly, a Florida transplant who says she will stay the winter . . .

And in a few days I will be eating sushi in Michigan with a pack of transplanted Iranians . . .

Friday, August 13, 2010

A Love Affair with George Sheehan

My cyclist bro Davie Gie and I share a fondness for George Sheehan's book Running and Being. In fact I stole your copy, Dave, and that is why you cannot find yours. An intriguing fellow he exercised first and then lived the rest of his life which included a busy medical practice and a large family. The interesting thing about the man is that he was a dyed-in-the-wool introvert despite having the prestigious career thing going for him. And I quote, "I am a nervous, shy noncombatant who has no feeling for people. I find no happiness in carnival, no joy in community. I am one with the writers on The New Yorker whom Brendan Gill described. They touched each other only by accident, were secretive about everything, and never introduced anyone properly."

I walk into the house dripping from my hour at the pool and the rain begins to pour from the leaden skies. I have been lucky with weather and schedules this summer and have been able to maintain a daily swim. I was loathe to leave today and continued to stay in those cool waters and watch the sky turn colors. Due to the great amount of time I spend outdoors I am fairly talented at reading the sky just like any mailman (mailperson) would be. I knew the creases of light behind the darknesses was not a rain sky.

It is difficult for me to be indoors and I wonder if my current job choice was influenced by the fact that I work on the third floor and there are large windows looking down on trees and gardens. After years of working in cubicles and dealing with the craziness of social work I now plan piano recitals and crafts sessions with my Alzheimer's patients. They are like old children and live long lives because - well, they don't realize they are old. They will pass a mirror and wonder who is that old person looking out. Show them a picture of themselves and their spouses and they will possibly know the "old man," but who is that old lady he is with? They do not know my name and they probably can't acknowledge my existence if I am not in their line of vision, but they smile when they see me and look relieved because I represent sameness and security in their abbreviated lives. They know I belong with them.
Oh, I look out those windows a lot and wait for the bell to ring and I am free again.

I will miss my summer swimming and I will check with the YM/YWCA but their fees are probably astronomical and I heard the "Y" stands for "yuppie" - a horrid group of wannabe LA- ers of whom I could never associate. My mountain-climbing, vegan, world-traveling son abhors tourists from LA in the mountains. "They wear loud, inappropriate colors, they are afraid of big dogs (all dogs are big in Colorado) and they talk and laugh too loudly. They have no mountain etiquette." A term I had never heard until I accidentally walked off a mountain trail and was given a heated lecture on protecting the ecosystems and this means stay on the path.
Sheehan's book is a journal of conflicts as he is a man of talent and knowledge and should be the proverbial pillar of the community - member of clubs and organizations, a man mindful of community progress, encouraging the growth of the intellectual world around him by being a part of that world. But he is none of that. He does his job quietly waiting for the open road ahead for him, choosing not to spend time with his family. He is aware this is not how things are done, but it causes him no pain or conflict. Davie and I kinda like that. ( Well, he should spend time with the family . . .)

But mainly I read the book because it describes exercise as the highest form of meditation a human can do. Fitness leaves the physical world and joins with the mystic spirituality of a higher consciousness.

And I have this copied and laminated and sticking on my refrigerator. George says, "First I ran from instinct. Later I was forced to exercise in phys ed. Even later I came to run and exercise because it was prescribed by authorities. But finally I have come to run because it is the right and true and just thing for me to do. In the process I may be helping my arteries and heart and circulation as well, but that is not my concern.
"My true aim now is a state of fitness prior to and unrelated to sickness or disease. My true task, to live at my authentic level. My true goal to reach my original splendor."

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Death of a Pancake

Did I mention that I am a full-time babysitter during the summer months? It is unpaid work as I want to help my daughter save expenses and I am in a fortunate position that my husband's salary is adequate and he doesn't squawk too much about my not bringing in a larger paycheck. I also work hours at a nursing home in the Alzheimer's unit and my time there will increase when school resumes. I continue to sit two-and-a-half year old Cameron three days weekly throughout the school calendar. Did I mention that it is unpaid work? Oh no, no, no. The hours are filled with the ringing laughter and the innocent hi jinks of my adorable charges and I am infinitely blessed with their precious companionship and beguiling stories .

And that would be a load of fossilized excrement and then some. This is work. Mother may be the name of God on the lips of children, but what about grandmother? Well, I'm not sure but maybe it will come to me at a later date. The roles sometimes blur.

Adam and I had breakfast at the IHOP this morning. He ordered a Funny Face pancake and it was chocolate and the size of a dinner plate with maraschino cherries for eyes, whipping cream facial features and chocolate chips sprinkled all over. And then he proceeded to put syrup on it pretending he was pouring hot coffee on some poor schmuck's face. He made growling and moaning sounds as the pancake came to life in his own mind and he snarled, "your blood is the same color as your eyes (yes, the cherries.)"

He took a picture of his half- eaten breakfast when he went to take a "water whiz" as he wanted to make sure I would not nibble on any of it. Fat chance on that one. He also had me take a picture when he first got the thing and then when the plate was empty. His brother had done the same thing with a trout he had caught and the second shot showed just a skeleton of fish bones. He then proceeded to describe how the fish lungs and heart were still present when Ethan ate the fish and then the yolk of my eggs just wasn't appetizing at that point.

On the way home his water bottle became a ray gun, machine gun and lastly, a gun that sprayed gasoline and then set its victim on fire. There were no pedestrians standing or riding at the end of our trip.

Here is a scenario. Two young boys and two young girls are playing with blocks. The girls are building a house and the boys are doing the same thing. Once the structures are complete the girls begin to decorate and inhabit the place with people, imaginary or not. The boys? That house of blocks is history. It is blown up, pelted with giant hailstones, zapped by an alien ship or stomped flat by a giant tyrannosaurus rex. Testosterone is a fearsome thing.

So what is the name of grandmother on the lips of children? I'm open to suggestions on that one.

The First Death

"With my mother's death all settled happiness, all that was tranquil and reliable, disappeared from my life. There was to be much fun, many pleasures, many stabs of joy; but no more of the old security. It was sea and islands now, the great continent had sunk like Atlantis." C.S. Lewis

I awaken too early once again and feel the emptiness of a world without my mother. These are the difficult hours. I can fill my day with noisey children and strenuous exercise and I can overload my senses with the beauty of this blue/green planet. I push and shove all kinds of diversions into my daylight hours and I can fall asleep exhausted by the overload with muscles still aching from the swim and the tumble of grandchildren. But I cannot escape the early dawn solitude.

Up until now this had been one of my favorite times. I awaken to the sounds of birds and crickets. We live at the end of a road surrounded by property owned by the Franciscan Sisters. There are farmlands to the north of us and the motherhouse and its extensive prairie fields to the east. Here we have quiet and natural sounds and no traffic rumble interrupting our thoughts.

It has always been a sweet and gentle way to enter my conscious world again. I can contemplate the day ahead of me. What chores await me, will there be free time and how should I fill that precious time slot - a walk by the river, a new book to begin, perhaps a pie to be baked.

But now when my eyes open I feel a heaviness settling around me, a buzz in my head that threatens to get louder, a constriction in my chest as if I never will take a full breath again.

"After the first death, there is no other," wrote Dylan Thomas. I am not quite sure what this means, but I think my mother's passing is that first death for me. I am blessed to have had my parents alive and close to me all these years. All my friends lost their parents decades ago and I have always recognized my great fortune in this area of my life. I have had few significant deaths considering I am nearing the 60 year marker and those deaths were long ago. I think Thomas is saying when that first important loss occurs it alters us and marks us. It scoops us up and lays us on the wayside on the journey of life. I feel I have been halted for an undetermined amount of time. I am not growing and learning at this junction of my existence. I am alone and cold sitting outside the window looking in at the fireside.

Larkin Warren writes on grief, "Welcome, fellow human, to a different country than the one you woke up to this morning." And he is right. The air feels different, I am hearing and seeing with muted senses, I place food in my mouth and tell myself to chew.
I know I am going to be all right. I know the waves won't rush over me and pull me under. I know all that. I just don't know the logistics and framework of how this process will happen for me.

Okay, so a couple of hours later while waiting for my charges to show I decide to play some music and I blindly push the button on my Sony machine and what comes to my ears is the beautiful strains of Sometimes I Feel Like a Motherless Child. Hee hee hoo hoo, some cosmic presence is playing my strings today and I laugh. It can be good.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

A Pearl of a Boy

The grandchildren will be returning from Wisconsin this evening. Hopefully, there will be no ill effects suffered by their innocent psyches from spending too much time in the State of Cheese. Eleven-year-old Ethan continues to be a hardcore Green Bay Packer fan despite numerous rehab committals. Why do we have a problems with Wisconsians? Just get behind one in traffic.
This is Adam. Eight years old and developing definite gangster tendencies. Actually, he makes a fairly good traveling companion. Interesting observer and a heck of a burper. Once he ate an entire sheet of paper to impress three girls. Teachers fear him. His older brother Ethan is a star in every capacity. He has a gentle spirit and a generous nature. He wrote a poem for his fifth-grade girlfriend using the letters in her name and spelling out a positive attribute with each one. He will have his heart broken a few times, this sensitive boy. He takes misfit kids under his wing and always does the fair and decent thing. His mother is a psychologist and his grandmother, an old-fashioned social worker so, he is destined to help the world.

Adam knows what the fair and decent thing is but frequently chooses to take the road less traveled. And in his case it may cost him time away from his precious computer. Who would have known that our burgeoning new technology would provide an excellent means of keeping our children in line?

He has a creative flair that is astonishingly sophisticated for his young age. He sees the world with drama and imagination. When he was three years old we were walking on the beach of the Mississippi and I saw what appeared to be the tracks of a big old Lab. What made these prints, I asked. Two toes were smudged out and he said, a three-toed sloth? As we were leaving he pointed at the mountains of road salt partially covered with black tarps waiting for the winter slush and ice. Look, grandma, he said, it looks like penguins melting. Damn, that's good. He can mimic Elvis Presley, a Briton asking for "a cuppa of tea," and those irritating Teletubbies. He does a great bump and grind, can spend an hour devising war strategy between two plastic army men, and sing a medley of several hundred TV commercial jingles.

He loves all four-footed creatures and wants to be a veterinarian. He already grieves the two pets that have passed away in his short life and he speaks of them as trusted friends. He would also like to be an artist and his work can show people jumping out of burning buildings (isn't that how serial killers start?) or the river as a flowing current of layered blues and greens. He has emptied an entire box of food coloring into a sinkful of water. He has created imaginary friends out of potatoes and cereal boxes. I love when he looks at me and says, "hey Grandma, what if . . . ." I know I am to be treated to the inner workings of an interesting and clever wit.

The world is his oyster and he, the pearl.

Monday, August 9, 2010

A Rare Day Unto Myself

Those are brown-eyed Susans and purple Russian sage and further back you can see the Peosta channel and beyond that is the Mississippi and behind the river is Wisconsin and Illinois.

It's all about shrimp scampi, crusty bread, and a large icy Diet Coke. The newspaper, the crossword puzzle, and a new novel to start. Do I need lunch companions at my table? Nope, already have them.

I awaken early and know that there are no binds on my time today. The grandchildren are at a (shudder) water park in Wisconsin and the Alzheimer's unit has clocked me no hours today - hey, now, none of that - you know I work there. My mother is gone and there are no doctor appointments, rides, or chocolate ice cream to share with her.

I grab a diet Coke from the local Hardee's. They took away my cigarettes, and they can take away my whiskey, but they cannot, they will not take away my diet Coke.

I head for the flood wall for an early walk. There is a small patch of blue sky behind my right shoulder and the rest of the horizon is ribbons of grey, heavy clouds. My cyclist bro Davie Gie pulls up behind me and I question why is he on this tame sidewalk instead of out in the wilds of the prairie country. He says he plans to do 40 miles on pavement and 60 miles on the gravel. I am in awe of the man. We know we are alike as we spend a disproportionate time each day involved in physical activity. Bro says it is the introversion, the endorphins that keep us going. We prefer to be alone and we want to be moving. A psychologist I saw during the last days of my first marriage asked me what I liked to do. I ticked off my reply: reading, swimming, walking. But those are all solitary tasks, he commented. Yep, I said. Not the last professional to see me as odd.
Tony Roma's for lunch. And the new waitress, a young woman who does not know me says the same thing all the others have said before her. "You know dear, there is a lot of chiptole in this dish and it's very spicy. " I always smile and say, and don't we just love it. I want to read while I eat. And this is why I eat by myself. And yes, did you see me in this very same restaurant Friday night with Cowboy Dave ordering this very same dish? Yes, you did. I am known as the Shrimp Scampi Lady by the veteran wait staff. Never order anything else. At the Athenian Grill I am the Soup Lady. Another story, another time. Wait staff love me. I know exactly what I want. I require no refills or additional service once the meal is brought and if there is I do it myself. And I tip heavily.
To the pool. The lady water bouncing next to me asks, "Were you at the cathedral this morning?" I can give her a definite no on that one unless I was there to see the architecture. "There was someone there that looks just like you." Odd. Two nights ago at the Rewind Rock Concert this homely little man in a Hawaiian shirt and suspenders comes up to me and says, "I saw you at the reunion." Now I was at a family reunion two weeks ago so I nodded and he sat down next to me. Shortly thereafter, I realized he was talking about a high school reunion that I had not attended and I did not know him from a garden gnome which he strongly resembled. And then I couldn't get rid of him and the people I were with made fun of the situation and he kept looking over at me every time a slow dance started. Don't you just want to go home? I don't really like people that much. They tend to be nosey, rude, and dishonest. Children make much better companions. Thomas Edison, a famous recluse, once said, "Just how many times does someone actually say something interesting?" He had a knack of leaving his wife's soirees by complaining that his poor hearing could not keep up with the conversation and then he would spend the evening fishing on his dock.

I have been exercising to the extreme since my mother became ill earlier this year and I realize that if I overwhelm my senses I can dull the grief that is lying just under the surface and threatening to break through. Exercise fulfills this requirement as does driving too fast in my car with the windows up and loud, loud music. Sitting in a movie theatre with a noisy, complicated film playing does it, too. And yes, I go by myself. Not having to share my nacho cheese and pretzels is reason enough.

While checking out watermelons in the produce aisle an elderly lady comes up to me and says, "Are you all right, dear?" Well, I put the melon down and just left the store.

Sunday, August 8, 2010

Exercise, my Religion

Rain, rain go away, I want to go swimming today. With the skies pouring an ocean of water on my thirsty gardens I had to look to indoor exercise to satisfy the Exercise Monster inside my physique. Decided to do The Exercise CD today. Now I have two exercise CDs. One is 45 minutes long and involves lifting weights and the other is 55 minutes and uses a tone band. They are from the Leslie Sansone CD collection and like most, if not all, exercise DJs, Leslie is as annoying as biting flies before the rain storm. She has an obnoxious, squeaky laugh and she laughs at the slightest thing. You know those people. They are usually sitting behind me at the movies and I want to remind them: everything is not funny. Humor is relative. There needs to be a ratings scale here and if you laugh at everything then nothing is funny.

She also says things like, "Ooooh, sweating feels good!" No, it doesn't. Sweat is greasy and itchy and makes my eyes sting. It's like saying, Ooooh, a runny nose feels good! Just like those endless women's magazines that feature articles on exercise between Can this Marriage Be Saved? and several chicken apricot recipes. They always say the same thing. Exercise is the one thing that we women do for ourselves. If I wanted to to something for myself it would be a scary movie CD, diet Coke and Kessler and a bag of chocolate stars.
In all fairness Leslie needs to be energetic and a non-stop talker. It keeps us huffing and puffing along with her. She is perky and she is peppy. Two of the worse characteristics I can define another human being by. Look at that picture. Her mouth is open like that throughout the entire workout.

Over the years my exercise needs have changed as my body ages and I needed to start thinking of high impact on fragile knees and ankles. And that is what happened with the last CD I had been using. Some guy in Hawaii with black greasy curls and whose mother was one of the exercisers behind him and several blonde nubiles that had trouble counting the reps and moving at the same time. But they would look at Greasy guy with boundless adoration. When you view these CDs hundreds of time you start making up stories about the exercisers to while away the time. Greasy enjoyed his status as Exercise God in the eyes of these too-young-for him girls and he would still have dinner on Sunday with mother. There was a lot of jumping around on that CD and I noticed sharp pains in the joints so moved onto Leslie following a friend's advice.
I like the upper body strength workout. Hauling a jumbo toddler around all week my back muscles had cause to complain. So, I started doing the weights after Adam's birth and I was in prime shape by the time Cameron made her appearance. I started with 3#, and then to 5#, and even 8# for half of the session. Now I hold steady at 5#. Who I am trying to impress anyway? I just want to keep the numbers down (weight, cholesterol, BP.)

Every couple of years Leslie churns out another CD. She's got one that uses spiritual music with the exercise. And the music gets faster as the pace picks up. You have never heard Amazing Grace played at bullet speed? Here's your chance. I see her latest CD has more toys: some sort of wrist weight that attaches with rubber cords to a belt around your waist. I guess the house in the Hamptons must need new carpeting.

Hauled Sonny out to the Mud Lake Bluegrass Festival in the afternoon. The Ditch Lilies were the main band with their big hit, Dead Skunk in the Street. What is it about bluegrass music? Always has to have a little crude in it. And it's a lot like salsa music. After about 45 minutes you're thinking, you got anything else, guys?

Did get a swim in. Silver Surfer shared the lane. She kicked me so I kicked her back. It's a start.

Saturday, August 7, 2010

Rough day

Packed up Mom's stuff. We had everything set out in the little bedroom and in the basement. Rows of little Santas, silk roses, sewing baskets, a jewelry box given to her by Leona. Looked like a little second-hand store and all the grandchildren could wander about choosing what they would like to remember Grandma by. Amazingly, Dad did not insist that we get everything out right away so he could re-establish his Marine corp order throughout the house. This is the guy who ten minutes after he opened Christmas presents everything would be filed aways in dresser drawers and cupboard shelves, tissue paper neatly folded and in the recycle bin. Perhaps he liked having this little bit of Mom tucked away into the corners for just a little while.

It's all about stuff, you know. We all have stuff. Even the homeless guy has his plastic bags and swollen coat pockets full of that all important stuff. It was always said that when Gandhi, a truly non-material world kind of guy, died all of his stuff could be put in a shoebox. But he did have stuff. Just not that much.

Mom loved her stuff. She kept little things around her that made her feel good. A Peruvian bookmark Jason had given her. A lap robe from Rita. A small vase from Leona. The latest card from the granddaughters in Florida. After she died I found a small stuffed bunny in her purse. It had been in an Easter basket I had given her in April. She carried it with her to the various appointments and hospitalizations and I like to think it made her feel safe.

When it comes down to it after we're gone those we love remember the stories, the scents, the touch of a hand, the sound of a laugh, and . . . the stuff.

Another hot afternoon in Sonny's basement. I had not been this hot since I was stupid enough to visit Florida in July. My pores seemed the size of nickels and rivulets ran down my face. My hair was slick and I could taste the salt on my lips. I - am - getting - this - done - today. Dad went somewhere on yet another Dad-related chore. And then I started crying. Hiccuppy-kind of crying, the worse kind, like your soul is trying to escape its mortal confines. Holding Mom's little dolls, her necklaces, all her Halloween pumpkins I felt a presence. I had not felt her since the first couple of days after her death. Then she left me and I felt she was lost in a great void that I could not transcend. Not yet, anyway. I felt like she was navigating it as well. I would think the newly deceased need to learn how to be . . . well, gone. But today Mom's spirit felt fidgety - bouncing against the walls. Yeah, I may be losing it but I spent several hours in that overly-heated house talking to Mom, crying, asking Mom, why did you keep this? and oh, Marie, look at that and all the time realizing that this was a special time. A daughter putting away her mother's last possessions. Items that defined her, made her feel comforted, blazed memories in the minds of her children. All the Christmas trees, the vases filled with summer flowers, the sparkly pins I remember from dinners out. The times I looked in my mother's jewelry box while she was still alive and fingered the gold chains remembering when she wore them last. I wrapped up the last item, a little papermache Halloween witch and felt a heaviness in my chest. In a very large way Mom would now be leaving me. We live in a physical, tangible world. And this may be a primitive level to our spiritual self but it is what we know from the first breath. What we can feel and see. Oh, Mom, with these boxes go some of my best memories. But they need to go. I am my father's daughter and I know that setting my sights on a productive tomorrow will help heal the pain I feel in the present. But oh boy, Mom, all of this, your stuff, I'm gonna miss it.

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Just a Note . . .

I started recording a history of my mother's life. If anyone is interested please check the 7-31-10 blog titled My Mother, Only Younger Part One. Still learning the process of this blog thing. Thanks for reading.
Little Marie is standing in the front row, first kid on the left, with rolled-down anklets just like her sisters.

Monday, August 2, 2010

This House is Clean

Yeah, she took a picture of the bucket . . .
Managed to get to both adult swims on Saturday and Sunday and feeling rather smug about it. I try to avoid the west end pool on weekends as there are a group of middle-aged walkers that insist on singing Jimmy Buffet songs and stuff from the Eagles and God forbid, the Bee Gees, falsettos and all. Sometimes is it embarrassing to be a baby boomer. Well, actually, most of the time. I think my waistline is a little tighter although I have always had a belly. And I always will have a belly as I have too much appreciation for pasta and late night whiskey.

Yes, the house is clean. With Cowboy Dave in Kansas City it seemed like the opportune time to throw a little bleach and Windex around. Now I have not cleaned anything here since Mom left us and that's not a big deal because I am not a big deal cleaner. I do not encourage people to visit me (yes, another Giegerich recluse) and this is one of the benefits of that action. As a young person I was tied into Mom's insane housework rituals and I balked from the time the Housework Nazi first put that dust cloth in my hand. On Fridays I dusted the upststairs bedrooms and swept the dust balls from under my brothers' beds and scrubbed with the blue Chlorox powder the bathroom sink and tub. On Saturday mornings I was responsible for the double living rooms and this meant dusting, vacuuming the area rugs and mopping the hardwood floor around the perimeter. While my younger siblings lazed through Huckleberry Hound and Mighty Mouse cartoons I slowly made my way through the two rooms and I mean slowly. I would leaf through my Dad's Argyle magazines and read the articles in the TV Guide. Occasionally, my mother would glare at me from the kitchen where she was permanently ensconced but I would just continue my unhurried pace. It would sometimes take two hours. Oh, Mom and I had two completely different perspectives on house work. Now don't get me wrong I have as strong a work ethic as do my mother and her sisters and I have passed it on to my own children but re stacking magazines that would be unstacked within minutes and picking up my teen-aged brothers' underwear were unnecessary tasks, a waste of time. Most of my childhood was spent in fantasy. I was Maid Marion to Robin Hood or Little Joe Cartwright's girlfriend or Baba Louey to Quick Draw McGraw in my youngest days so it did not bother me to lounge around the rooms dreaming my own dreams and moving the dust around. Occasionally, Mom would announce at the end of the travail that "it's not clean enough." She would never indicate just what wasn't clean enough and I never asked so I would begin the dance again. Sometimes my friends would help me so we could get outside sooner.

There were dishes to be washed and tables to be set, cookies to be baked and jell-o to be, well, gelled. I can never remember the other kids doing chores. I suppose they did. I know the set-up in this chauvinistic 60's household was girls do the inside chores, boys do the outside stuff. Hello, we're living in the middle of the city and not out on the farm. I still ended up raking leaves and shoveling snow.

As a newly married lady I matched my mother chore by chore and had each day scheduled for one particular job. Monday was laundry day just like all the embroidered towels would say and my sister-in-law Sheri would laugh at the piles and piles of sheets, towels, and toddler clothing that took over my basement by Sunday night.

I can remember during this time my mother calling me up and asking me to take her to the health store so I packed up all the kids. And when I got there she said, "You know what I did while I was waiting for you? (Hint: you took too long.) You know how dirty it gets around the bathroom sink (I didn't.) Well, I cleaned all that." I think I commented something about did she boil all the light bulbs, too? Mom was right, I was "snippy."

As a divorcee and working full-time and living in rented apartments my housework schedule suffered. I couldn't afford a vacuum cleaner or preferred not to use my hard-earned money to purchase one. I became lax in this department and apathy set in.

Years later when my mother was in her 60's I said to her that I needed to get going as I had cleaning to do. She looked at me and said, why would you want to do that? I was shocked and no reply came to my lips. "You know, " she said, "I've learned as I got older that there are more important things in life than my house." Impressive.

But I can hear things growing in Dave's bathroom late at night two floors above. When I thought about remarrying a second time I had to ask myself some soul-searching questions. Could I do this again? I didn't have much fun the first time around. I went to my good friend Susan. We had both been long-time divorcees, worked the same job, partied at the same bars and for the most part, thought alike in all the important arenas in life. Translation: we were both terrified of marriage. But Susan had caved just a few months before. She had met a gentle, intelligent fellow whose worse fault was a penchant for telling really bad puns. But he had an enormous feminine side, enormous. You could actually take him to chick flicks and he enjoyed them. Susan had fallen in love with this guy after a disastrous break-up from a very long-term relationship. Well," she pondered when I asked her this all-important question. "As long as you have your own bathrooms you should be all right."

So, we did have our own bathrooms, and she was right. But whereas I would clean my bathroom, Cowboy Dave did not. I would hold out as long as possible thinking every person should wipe up their own toothpaste goop. But then he leaves and I sit upstairs thinking, thinking and somehow I find myself in that little room with a bucket of bleach trying not to look too closely at anything,

I had a friend whose father owned several commercial buildings in town and the family would save money by doing the cleaning themselves at night when the office people went home. Ivy would clean public restrooms and she would never tell me exactly what horrors she encountered but she would always sum it up by saying, "men are pigs." And they are.

Even though I have given Cowboy Dave a few curt warning on dirtying my house I can hear him downstairs clipping his toe nails on the couch and they are going to be everywhere.


Sunday, August 1, 2010

For Sarah

Epitaph by Merritt Malloy

When I die
Give what's left of me away
To children
And old men that want to die.
And if you need to cry,
Cry for your brother
Walking the street beside you.
Put your arms
Around anyone
And give them
What you need to give to me.

I want to leave you something
Something better
Than words
Or sounds.

Look for me
In the people I've known
Or loved,
And if you cannot give me away,
At least let me live on in your eyes
And not on your mind.

You can love me most
By letting
Hands touch hands,
And by letting go
Of children
That need to be free.

Love doesn't die,
People do.
So, when all that's left of me
Is love,
Give me away.