Bittersweet

21 06 2009

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It started all quite innocently…Shop Girl had come to Indiana with me for a visit with the Mrs.  On our way out of town she wanted to find a little “something something” to celebrate School Boy’s first unofficial Father’s Day.

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Since we are all about shopping local – we headed to the downtown’s quaint re-purposed storefronts.  Funny, this one sits just a door or two away from where the 1893 City Directory lists LeClair & McNiece had their grocery store at 8 South Washington.  Obviously, Shop Girl has it coursing through her veins.

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Peering down the street to where the Premier Theater used to stand and over my shoulder into the recesses of my memory,  I was transported to a Saturday matinee  in 1971 – having imbibed some magical candy – friends and I entered the fantastical world of Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory.  Now on this unseasonably hot day, almost 4 decades later I step inside this virtual Turkish Delight.

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Much wiser now, I realize that eye-candy is just as rich if not richer than the stuff I could be melting on my tongue.  We tried to take it all in…perusing and pressing close to the glass cases in search of that special something.

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It was the kind of place that had every kind of penny candy – reminding me that I used to tight-fist some of the change Billy would give me for the Sunday School offering…surreptitiously stealing down the alley to a corner store, I could be licking my lips and standing at the car looking innocent enough by the time the rest of the family got there.

Protestant Guilt would have me wondering why I never choked to death on that candy purchased with monies intended for the hand of  missionary Edith Witherspoon somewhere deep in the Congo.  I stole from the Lord’s work.  Karma came ’round as I dug my way through missionary closets and spent countless Sunday mornings with the Children’s Church set.

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Shop Girl carefully examined each nook and cranny in search of the perfect token.  None was to be found that would express what she was trying to convey.  But, alas, she realized that “we” (she and baby? she and I?? all three of us perhaps???) needed a “little goodie” for ourselves.

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Nothing but the warmed lava cake would do.  Taken back to the fact that I wasn’t shopping for Father’s Day…I missed Billy something awful.

He never was much of a cake or cookie eater.  When he DID eat chocolate cake – it was first sprinkled with salt.  Apple pie wasn’t complete without cheese.  He liked his vanilla ice cream plain and simple – like spoonful by spoonful right out of the freezer.  One of the biggest surprises in hospice was when he asked for chocolate ice cream – a sure sign there was a major shift in the universe happening.

If I had been looking to buy him something in this sweet shoppe – I would have had to ask for the jar of anise candies.  On their first visit to Spain back in 1986 or ’87, he found a hard candy that tickled his fancy.  I remember him taking all the black jelly beans when we were kids.  He loved liquorice.  Did he really  – or was it just that he learned to take what everyone else turned their noses up at?  Liquorice and anise aren’t the same thing – but they fall in that family of distinctive tastes.

In tiny corner stores all over Spain, anise candies come in a variety of sizes and shapes.  He found one he really got enthusiastic about and for the dozen or so years that followed, I would never head Stateside for a visit without a kilo or more in tow – just for him.  He kept a secret stash all these years and every time my kids would walk into his house – they would be presented with a few pieces to put in their pockets before we left.

A few weeks ago, before Shop Girl and I left for LA, some friends were over for a tapas feast.  As I reached my hand in the antique Spanish alacena (breakfront / hutch) to retreive a half a dozen espresso cups, I found where I had been stashing away some of the candies Billy would give me on my weekly visits in the last few years.  I had entirely forgotten that they were there – and it was if an invisible arm extended from behind the glass door had grabbed me by my throat and started strangling me.  I quickly recovered so as not to ruin the evening with my personal drama and set the cup aside.  I decided to leave the candy out where I could see it during the following days – and to eat one every time I felt like it.  I ate the last one the other day.

Life goes on…even when I momentarily choke on the memories.  Billy never made a big deal about days like Father’s Day.  He was hard, in my opinion, to buy for.  So there were more Father’s Days than NOT, that a card was all he got from me.  I want to wallow a bit today.  I don’t want to move on.  There have been lots of days in the last month – with my voice strong and clear – I’ve chirped out, “My Dad passed away last August and I…” without missing a beat.

The sweet side of yesterday’s bitterness was being able to hug my best friend’s dad and to wish him a Happy Father’s Day.  Seeing her – visiting for an hour with her folks and her husband – made Father’s Day for me.  I miss my Daddy.

p.s. Thanks Designer Desserts…it was a trip!dd8

BTW check this place out if you are looking for a place that does the kind of thing you see on Ace of Cakes but for a fraction of the price.

Go Valpo!





marking time

29 04 2009

IMG_3988.JPGFirst time visitors to Billy’s breezeway are always taken back by the sight of two headstones – both from 1863 marking two deaths in one family less than 10 days apart – a father and a daughter.  I don’t know their stories but I have this sneaking suspicion that I will soon enough – either real or imagined…the stuff of stories and novels.

IMG_3989.JPGRight now we are working on another marker of someone who’s story we did know well.  The walkways that lead to the main doors of the hospice center where Billy spent his last two weeks are paved with inscribed bricks that serve as mini-markers to the pain and loss of hundreds of families.  It was one of the things the Mrs. wanted to be sure to do before time moves on.

Now that we are facing Spring and the formal headstone at the cemetery is set – she wants to get this one done too.  As I went over to hospice last week to review the kinds of words people had used to honor their loved ones – I needed something more.  Something that was more Billy – “2good2B4gotten” just doesn’t cut it.

I’m not planning a public vote on this – but I would appreciate your feedback.  I’m not even sure we can get it all to fit but I wondered about a quote by one of the Mrs.’ favorite authors – George MacDonald.   

Love is the opener as well as the closer of eyes.

Something that speaks to how he lived and died and an intrinsic value he held all those days he walked here between those two markers.  What think thee?

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Doctor My Eyes

17 04 2009

dsc_00061Yesterday was another one of those bittersweet days.  There is something about going so deeply into someone’s personal belongings that is a little disconcerting.  An empty white plastic container of personal hygiene wipes now filled with about eight different sizes and kinds of plastic bottle caps, an empty (thank GOD) 1 oz. portion cup of maple syrup stolen from his favorite restaurant, and four beautiful shells he probably got from a trip to Florida a dozen years ago.  Once it was all sorted (the shells saved – the rest tossed) it got to me again that here I was erasing the very quirkiness of who he was.

In a dresser drawer I found all of the copies of Stars & Stripes (the military newpaper) he’d saved from when he was visiting us in Spain back in the early 90’s.  There was nothing special about them – we’d get them from friends in the military just for fun…but to him it must have been reminders of coming to see us.

He was a lover of gadgets – every kind of AM/FM transistor radio, gazillions of pocket calculators and multiple pairs binoculars.  Lots and lots of sizes and shapes of binoculars.  Packing up for a Cubs game was never without a pair per person.  In later years they were readily available all over the house for birdwatching.  Today they are all on one place, still in his room – those don’t get tossed into the contractor’s grade black bags I’ve come to love. Yesterday the count was three for the garbage and three for Goodwill.  Woo-Hoo!!

dsc_0044During the search and rescue effort, I stumbled on this set of very unique binocular glasses.  You don’t even have to trouble yourself to hold them up to your eyes…that was Billy – finding a way to make taking the long view just a little easier.

Taking the long view isn’t easy when I spend time each week disassembling his life.  Last weekend when the “grounds crew” from the church were doing their thing – they took care of a biggie.  The Mrs. had been after Billy for YEARS to trim back the horribly overgrown bush from the side of the house.  He wouldn’t hear of it.  To him – it was no eye sore, or wretched inconvenience to mow around…it was his bird sanctuary.  In it hung his hand made (fashioned from things discarded for other uses) bird feeder.

In the last half dozen years the dementia made it harder and harder to address things that at one point in his life we would have been able to reason with him about.  So we let things go – knowing there would come a day that we could take care of things and not upset the apple cart at the same time.

So when she knew people armed with chain saws and safety glasses were at her beck and call, it was one of the things on the Mrs.’ wish list. When all the gear was packed up and all the brush hauled away (the very sight of half ton trucks driving on the lawn would have put him in the ground anyway), I stood at the window and looked at the raw scar on the ground.  I felt so guilty.  I felt like such a traitor.  I had a knot in my throat and I whispered, “I’m sorry Billy”.

During the course of the days I was back in the North I spent a number of nights battling the demons of insomnia as my mind was racing around all the things yet to be done in the battle of the basement.  Not so much the things that can be done with a little bit of elbow grease but the things that are beyond that and may mean some big fixes – again, something that Billy would never let us tackle.  When I get to that point of seeing a mountain – I remember that it helps to just Baby Step…what things can I do that will make me feel better right now…

I had to come up with a solution for the flocks that had just been made homeless.  Poor things – for years they fed there outside that window in that ugly bush – and in a matter of minutes they were left high and dry.  I told the Mrs. I’d get her a shepherd’s hook and we’d put the feeder there.  Then when I was there yesterday – I see in two different spots around the yard are two hooks – I could easily relocate one and not even have to spend the money for a new one.

She had a better idea.  Why not just use the weeping japanese cherry tree outside the kitchen and dining room windows?  She’d see it more often as she stands at the kitchen sink or sits out back.  So before I came home yesterday, I found a little branch where the feeder rested secure.

Just a while ago my cell phone rang and as is the instant reaction of my soul when I see her number on my caller ID and I’m a mere two hours north- my heart turns over once in my chest while I un-tense the muscles constricting my vocal chords – I try to answer like I haven’t a care in the world…

“They’re here!!!  They found it!!!  I was cleaning some windows (groan…how does an 82 year old have the energy for that when I might be lucky to get ours cleaned once a year!!!) and I heard a big fluttering commotion!  They’re all at the feeder!”

What a relief!  I’ll probably sleep like a baby tonight (hopefully not like my kids slept…3 hour stretches).  I’m glad in the long run that we didn’t have to cause Billy any more mental anguish than he was already in – to push for a different view on some things.  I’m also glad to see that the Mrs. isn’t afraid of change.  There really are things that need attention and at least she’s not sitting in a puddle of tears not letting go of things. So I’m gonna keep these binocular glasses close at hand for when I need a long view.





for the birds

31 03 2009

dsc_0001You can move from one world to the other in a matter of hours but it often takes longer for the soul to catch up.  I am still incapable of getting to that writing place in my head.  There is too much noise.  I must need to be really really bored to write anything at all.

I went to the funeral for a friend’s mom today.  I didn’t really know her personally but I know her son. My barely seven month old scar of Billy’s funeral was surprisingly tender. The tears flowed easily – the music was familiar.  While I sat there thinking about death, I knew friends were at a doctor’s office hearing the heartbeat of their first baby. Life doesn’t quit.  

I’m pretty much toast for the rest of the day. I wouldn’t mind being back in that park, sitting on that bench just watching the pigeons do their pigeon thing all afternoon long – just like I was doing a week and a day ago.  Another eight days and I’ll be in a different place emotionally…maybe better, maybe worse.  I won’t know till I get there.

I’m trying to remember how it felt watching the traffic zip by while I had nowhere better to be and no greater dilemma than deciding in which café to have our afternoon coffee.  That brain space was very much appreciated.  Right now, I will go downstairs to get my coffee but I might hurt my cat first.  She’s laying at my head and thinks it is bath time.  That incessant licking is going to get her locked in the basement. I’m not very zen right now.





i know what day it is…

25 02 2009

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I miss him like crazy.  I see him when I see hawks, cardinals, nuthatches and woodpeckers.  There are moments that I feel his presence so strongly that it takes my breath away…and times that the tears well up like I’m tapping into a great gusher.  We talk about him almost everyday we are together.  He was quite a guy and lucky me being his kid.

I’m not sure how you want to do the next part.  I can’t embed the video so I’ve chosen to open another browser window so as I write the music is playing in the background.  If you’re at work – you need to push your chair back, stand up and push play.  We are celebrating Billy’s promotion exactly six months ago today.  And we’re gonna dance to a song that reminds us of him.

If you missed the original post it’s here.





this again?

17 02 2009

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I’ll be the first to admit that I am often stuck in a rut when in comes to creative meals but seriously?  I know…one is the flavor of the day…and the other is an entrée but just seeing them together this way made me laugh.

Billy was a MickeyD’s kinda guy but she’s stepped it up to Culver’s.  Yes, you can tell me how bad it is for her and how she shouldn’t eat one a week – but at 82…if she wants a single deluxe…I get her a single deluxe basket with onion rings, by the way!

It was another daytrip for me – squeezing in my job as a pharmacist, supervisor of water softener salt, garbage man, accountant and grocery shopper- into just a few hours. Another task came my way unexpectedly which delayed my return trip north by a number of hours.

A week ago she had a call from a friend asking about the experience with hospice. Ruth Ann’s husband’s time at the hospital had come to an end and hospice had been suggested. The Mrs. felt good about being able to just share her perspectives on the subject.  

A couple of different times during the past week, she got in her car and drove over to the hospice center see her friend but missed her each time.  I was proud – the courage it must take to re-enter the space where she’d just said good-bye to her life partner of 60 years-to walk beside another facing the same situation. Ruth Ann’s time there with her husband only lasted a week and he died on Valentine’s Day.

So, when I walked into the house yesterday at around 11 a.m. the Mrs. was all dressed and ready to go to the viewing.  She’d mixed up the times and it wasn’t until late afternoon in a neighboring city about 15 miles away.  Anytime I think about her driving more than the 3 miles, in town-to church, I get nervous.  I just have to deep breathe and remember that I’ve lived through this before with young teen drivers a dozen years ago and can do it again. But if I can save myself one ounce of worry by taking the trip with her, I will.

The hours until the viewing were passed with lunch and my buzzing through my list of things to check on.  We got in the car and I was at her mercy to direct me to the funeral home.  She had no doubt how to get there. One of the good things is that Billy taught her to back road.  If there is a county road that goes in the same direction…it is always the preferred route.  That was some comfort knowing that she was going to be driving this route again in a few days for another outing on her busy social calendar.

She’s still sharp enough to know her way around and her directions were impeccable. I let her off at the front door, helped her inside then sat out in a parking lot watching couples in their 70’s and 80’s tetter in – along with lots of single elderly women.  I waited almost an hour before sneaking in to make sure she’d not passed out somewhere.  There she was – sitting with her famous “Lunch Bunch”…all high school friends that try to get together once a month for a gathering.  She was saddened to learn that since Billy’s death, two or three of her friends have also lost their husbands.  It’s a new club…they may all be widowed…or soon to be.  Ruth Ann – the latest inductee.

In the twenty minute ride back to her house, she told me about six different times that two or three of her friends had been widowed since Billy’s death.  I just listened and acknowledged each declaration as if it had been the first.  I knew her brain was on overload.  Then she launched into memories of Billy’s funeral – she doesn’t remember much save staring into the stoic yet tear-stained faces of her grandsons as they stood behind the flag draped coffin. And she remembers being “tickled pink” that her grandkids dragged her outside for a group picture that she cherishes with all her heart.

Our little adventure was over.  I got her back inside and settled for the night before my own return trip north as the sun was hanging low in the sky.  It had been great little detour.  More time to process.  More time to talk.  One less outing that I’ll fret over her taking the car out alone.

This week she’ll be taking those keys in her hand alot.  Today is the funeral, then she’ll skip the burial to head off to a luncheon for the seniors at church. On Thursday, she’ll drive the route we did over the country road another 15 miles to where she’ll meet one of her Lunch Bunch ladies.  They’ll carpool (with the other one driving) to a restaurant where they’ll meet up with the others. 

I’ll try and not stare at the clock all day…waiting for her call late in the afternoon and breathe a sigh of relief that she’s home safe and sound.  She’ll tell me that two or three of the ladies have lost their husbands since Billy died and I’ll act as if it is the first time I’m hearing the news.





optics

26 01 2009

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My maternal grandfather was a watchmaker.  Half of the “livingroom” of his itty bitty tiny trailer was taken up by his wooden workbench.  Half-blinded by cataracts, he was no longer working when he lived there that I know of…but the workbench was still the center piece of his life.  Staying overnight was an adventure, amusing myself by going through all those little drawers and tinkering with all the tools and half assembled watches.  

Of all the gadgets, springs and gears living in those drawers but by far, my favorite were the magnifying glasses. All kinds of them – eye pieces, hand-helds, big, little, the whole gamut.  Making the tiny look huge was just as much fun as looking through the opposite end of binoculars to make things look like they were a million miles away.  OK – so I’m easily amused.  But I’ve often wondered if all those early experiments with lenses imprinted on me my love of looking through a camera’s viewfinder and manipulating the optics to bring things into sharp focus. If I had my druthers, I’d always choose portrait work over landscapes…coming up closer on things – magnifying life, not broad sweeping vistas.  

Keeping my focus on the task at hand isn’t always as entertaining as playing with those lenses when I was six.  It had been exactly seven days since I’d been here. The weather had been horrid and gray and freezing.  I was reveling in being all alone in my space – all alone. But her voice cracked over the phone when I asked a question. She was being brave but it was getting to her.  

I changed my plans but didn’t tell her.  There is no reason to have her worrying about whether or not the roads are snowy.  And they weren’t anyway.  But when we quietly share this space – she speaks her mind.  Things come to the surface and she tells me why last week was so hard.  Post-non-61st anniversary she was surprised at church when the year-in-review flashed up a photo of the two of them from a few years back – followed by a long, too quiet, winter week.  Grieving is in focus.

I will leave in the morning because there is a very special package being delivered to my northern door step the day after tomorrow…and I’ll have new lenses – ones free of the Sahara sands gritting in their guts – to play with. Trusty little point-and-shoot is on an exotic vacation and has been pried from my grip.  There are those who want me to get serious again about getting behind the viewfinder.

So here’s to new focus – be it magnified hours of loneliness or sweeping new vistas I record on a memory card.





Cold hands – Warm heart at -16º

16 01 2009

img_38082Seven years earlier her mother had died and it forced a move to a new life in a new state, new school, new city.  The day after she turned 21 her daddy walked her down the aisle.  Those were the days when the entire congregation would show up to see two of their own wed and there was no shame in hanging over the balcony to see the bride in her gray outfit made by a seamstress. 

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Her brother, his brother – her two friends; one in burgundy and the other in teal, both cut from the same pattern as the bride’s.  A simple reception in the church basement – post-war, no one expected more.

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The woman next to her dad is a stand-in to balance the photo…I think she was the wife of the Pastor.  

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Off to Chicago for a night in the Stevens (now the Chicago Hilton and Towers).  Sixty years that love lasted. They weren’t perfect people…but  it was a choice they made day after day – moment after moment.  And together they were – right up till the end of Billy’s days.  

Why love if losing hurts so much?

We love to know that we are not alone.  

                                                                     C.S. Lewis


I think we dream so we don’t have to be apart so long.

If we’re in each others dreams, we can be together all the time.

                                                        Hobbes of Calvin and Hobbes





we wish you many happy returns…

15 01 2009

img_3814Right now it is -11º.   Add to that 11 mph winds and it feels like -31º.  That is the kind of cold where they tell you not to go out unless absolutely necessary. I hesitated to even attempt to make the trek today. Every county along the Lake (and that makes up about 75% of the trip) had lake effect snows slated to receive about seven inches.  I decided to just take it very easy on those snow covered slick roads and the normal two hour trip took an extra hour. I never even told her I was coming because that would just be stupid.   An important lesson – don’t tell toddlers or old people what you MIGHT be doing…

But I’m here and it’s her 82nd birthday and tomorrow would have been their 61st wedding anniversary.  These aren’t dates that she should be alone.  At least not for the first time around.  And after tomorrow…we will have passed all the important dates just five months after Billy left us.  

Billy’s birthday, Thanksgiving, Christmas, New Year’s, her birthday followed the next day by their anniversary…the first ones “alone” are now history. Mile markers on the path whether it is a path we would have chosen or not.  Sort of like the candles on a cake – whether we like how many are there or not – each stands for a year’s worth of life lessons that are there for us to celebrate.

So after I sang to her – I launched right into:

We wish you many happy returns on this the day of your birth,

 may sunshine and gladness be given, 

may God in his mercy prepare you on earth

for a beautiful birthday in heaven. 

“and I’ll be with Bill!”, she added through a teary smile.





On the good ship lollipop

9 01 2009

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On the good ship lollipop 
Its a night trip into bed you hop 
And dream away 
On the good ship lollipop

 

Yesterday was another visit to the doctor’s office.  It’ll probably take another two dozen times before I will NOT be overwhelmed with memories of the three of us going…now that we are just two.

Because he takes such good notes, the doctor remembered that she was “due” for another round of the MMSE (mini-mental state exam).  Now that a few more months post-funeral are under the belt, we needed to see where we were at.

The question round began.  The year came off without a hitch.  The month…skipped to February.  Day of the week was answered with a question in the voice then affirmed.  The date went, “the 8th!”, “no, maybe the 9th…no wait…”, “8th?”, “well…maybe, no…”, “yes, the 8th I think”  

“So is 8th your answer?”  “Ummm, yes…no…8th?..yes…8th!”

Some things that were wrong last time – were on the money this time around. Following the verbal directions wasn’t a problem.  Then the kicker…”Remember these three words: pencil, cat and truck.”  She repeated them.

On to the next thing – write out a sentence.  He asked politely that she not tell him where to go as someone last week had followed instructions and in fact had written a sentence reading, “Dr. D, go to hell!”  She wrote her sentence and he asked for those three words.

“What three words?”  “Those three words that you repeated.”  “I don’t know what three words you’re talking about…can you give me a hint?”   “No.” “Hummm, I don’t know.”  He said them aloud and she just shook her head like he was speaking Urdu.

On with the other tasks – spelling world backwards (skipped a letter, self-corrected, repeated with affirmation), copying a drawing, following written instructions to close her eyes, naming objects he pointed out (“well, that’s a telephone – that’s a pen,” chirped out with a hint of “you fool” in her voice).

All told – we are right where we were a few months ago.  Six shy of where I wish we could be.  We need to change up some blood pressure meds next week. What she’s been on since October isn’t really doing the trick.  Her pulse is low.  She cried a bit talking about their anniversary coming up next week (even tho in trying to remember what month we were in – she’d forgotten that she’d not yet celebrated her birthday/anniversary).

On the way out, I stopped to make her next appointment for early spring when we will start on what we call “memory meds”.  I can’t let the dreaded words out of my mouth yet…we still have Billy war-wounds that are a tad raw.

I laughed as I helped myself to a big huge cherry sucker in Billy’s honor…he would have grabbed a handful and the nurses would have just snickered. There is still a stash at the house in case any “little ones” come by.

On the gray two hour drive home, with that taste reminiscent of Luden’s Cherry Cough drops in my mouth…I tried NOT to feel like I was headed into a storm though the clouds were low and pregnant.  After all, we ended up on the “easy” scale with Billy.  He never wandered, never had to be fed, never forgot to call me “the Boss”…his ticker just quit first.

So just like Shirley’s sweet little voice reminding us that a good dose of dreaming can help us out…I took my time with that lollipop and never bit down on it.  I need to just take it for what it is ‘coz I don’t know what’s next.

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