Somethin’ to smile about…

31 10 2011

The house is silent save for the sounds of the dog as she re-positions her weary old bones on her bed.  There is nothing I have to do today – at least until sundown.  A bowl of candy perched by the front door, not as full as it once was, stands ready.  I know what day it is -it’s Halloween.  AKA : my Dad’s birthday and the birthday of a few other friends of mine.

My very evangelical, protestant upbringing doesn’t bode well for what I’m feeling today but I’m not about to entertain any kind of discussion about the matter so kindly keep dissenting comments to yourself – thank you very much.  The day in August (3 years ago) that Billy’s soul passed through the roof of that hospice facility doesn’t do much for me.  I have to stop and think about what date that actually happened.  In contrast, on the day he was ushered into the world some 89 years ago today– I am surrounded by his presence.

Maybe since the house is so quiet and I have no one to attend to – nothing pressing to do except clean up a half dozen shows stored on my dvr – maybe that is why I’ve been surprised by tears today.  Then I stood at the kitchen sink rinsing out my coffee cup and looked up, only to be met again by his gaze as it stared back at me via that silly cat.

There was no such thing as “take your daughter to work” back in the 50’s and early ’60s but I know of at least a time or two that I was inside theNipsco building in downtown Gary.  I remember a central staircase that was very ornate that stretched up through the center, floor after floor , like the spine keeping the building erect.  Somewhere on the first floor, toward the back of the building was an open space where it seemed to me that our basement was replicated.  Work benches piled with tools – the space smelling of grease and hot metal.  Over his “bench” was hung this little photo of “Smile! Kitty.”  There was great irony in that since I remember him to be distinctly vocal about his dislike of cats.  Nonetheless, it seemed that his whole life long was driven by that juxtaposition – something he disliked reminding him of something that he should do – and eventually something that would become a hallmark of his life.

Joy.  Laughter.  Joker.  An avid whistler.  Friendly.  Outgoing to strangers.  Generally a very pleasant guy to be around regardless of the circumstances.  Cool under pressure.  Not prone to lose his temper except when watching a Cubs game.

It is fitting that Jack-o-lanterns sport silly grins as he did most of his life.  Happy Birthday, Billy!  We miss you more than words can express but we know what to do to really honor you – we’ll smile instead.

p.s.  Picked the King of Pop to honor our ‘hood.  Here’s to Gary / Westside!!

zombie walk

31 10 2009


“Did you take your antibiotic this morning?”

-“What antibiotic?”

“Those ones that the pharmacy delivered yesterday?  You took two right when they came, then you have to take one a day for the next few days?  It’s called a Z-Pack?”

-“Well that doesn’t make any sense…there is only one left in the box. I can’t find them anywhere around here.  Is it the Tussin DM stuff?”

That phone conversation was yesterday morning.

Cue flashback…

We talked on Tuesday and all sounded well.  I forgot to call on Wednesday and by the time I remembered, she would have been in bed.  When she called me on Thursday to say she was back from the nail salon (something I won’t be doing when I’m almost 83 but then again you knew that…) she sounded absolutely awful.

At least twice a year for the last – oh say, twenty years or so – she gets a nasty bout of bronchitis spring and fall – about the time we have to change our clocks.  I called her doctor to see how we could handle this with me still here in the North on Donny Diva watch and the Mrs. 150 miles away hacking up a storm.

They decided to start her on a round of Zithromax and Tussin DM for the cough.  Standard procedure.  I’ve done the same cocktail myself many times.  I thought I was being soooo clever and had them call the Rx into a pharmacy down the road that delivers.  I get on the phone, talk to the tech, give her my credit card…no hassle…it will be delivered in an hour or so to the Mrs.’ house.  I am feeling oh-so-smug and smarty-pants to boot taking care of business from afar.

Another phone call after a couple of hours to confirm the delivery and all is well.  The nurse from her Dr.’s office had called and explained the dosage to the Mrs. who wrote it all down.  “Take two tablets on the first day and then one a day for tablets 2 through 5…then 1 teaspoon of Tussin every 6 hours.”  What’s not to love about that system?

Cue B-roll footage of elderly woman doing the zombie walk …

So where could those pills have disappeared to?  There was only one way to do this.  It was only fitting that I had a two hour drive in pouring rain and gale force winds again.  At least it wasn’t 2 feet of snow.  There was alot to be thankful for really.

Sure enough when I got there I found the box empty – save the one last blister packed pill marked “DAY 5”.  I checked her regular pill stash to see if she had changed her mind about putting that daily dose in with her regular pills so she didn’t have to worry about it.  “No – that’s not necessary,” she had responded when we were doing this over the phone, “I have it all written out.”  I’m kicking myself for not having insisted she do it MY way.

I checked the garbage and sure enough there were FIVE empty blister packs to prove that she had taken what was intended to be FOUR DAYS WORTH OF DOSAGE IN LESS THAN 24 HOURS!  “Oh that cough medicine really makes me loosey goosey if you know what I mean,” she giggled and disappeared into the bathroom as I grabbed my phone to speed dial the doctor’s office.  That explained it.  She had been taking the pills thinking they were the Tussin which barely had a teaspoon gone out of the bottle.

“Oh MY!…Can I put you on hold while I check with the Dr.?,” the nurse whispered.   When she came back on line, she explained that I was to start some Kaopectate and if it didn’t work, try Imodium.  No more antibiotics till Sunday. (There is only one pill left anyway!)  Since they were only 250mg and time released at that – we were barely at a megadose like the kind you can get in the hospital.  But the trots could certainly be a side effect.  I went for broke at this point and did the dose of Imodium.  How much could that hurt after all the “candy” she’d had?

I grabbed the fattest marker I could and started making signs…BIG PRINTING EXPLAINING THAT SHE HAD TO TAKE ONE TEASPOON OF COUGH MEDICINE AT 8 a.m. / 2 p.m. / 8 p.m., etc. etc.

Adding insult to injury – I remember that Saturday night we set the clocks back.  I didn’t want her up on step ladders changing her kitchen clock so I decided to do it early.  I’m so screwed at this point – what difference can it make that she’ll think it is an hour earlier than it really is all day Saturday?

What really has her concerned is how to pass out candy on Billy’s birthday without contaminating all the kids – then I remember…this day was a highlight of their year.  He always made it so fun.  He could have been selfish about his birthday but it was always about everyone else. It was as if he had invited the whole world to his party.   He never pouted that his day was “eclipsed” with so much hubbub.

“I don’t suppose Billy has much sense of what day it is in heaven, do you?”

“No I don’t suppose.”

That quiet little exchange before I took off like a bat out of hell headed back North, haunted me the rest of the way home.  It’s all a little sad to be alone and sick on such a special day. If I had to pick a costume for today, it would a floppy, straw-stuffed scarecrow…the kind that I could leave little bits of myself in each space I’m trying to fill.

happy “boo”thday Billy…

31 10 2008

Eva had her last child on the day before All Saints’ Day.  Months later she would be gone.  The birth certificate says that the attending physician’s name was E.E. Evans so I’m still left with the question of the ‘E’ (only) as Billy’s middle name…after Eva?  Did she know he was her last?  After the Dr. with such an original set of initials?  

Halloween was extra special in our house given it was Billy’s “boo”thday.  I don’t remember cakes or special menus…I just remember feeling like we were extraordinary because he got to share his birthday with lots of kids who would come to our house.  Maybe he just learned early on that it wasn’t worth causing a selfish fuss to want a private celebration – but instead to embrace the day and be the giver instead.  That would be in line with his character.

There was one year that stands out from the rest in my memory.  It might have been the year of Huckleberry Hound and the horrible condensation behind the rigid, blinding, suffocating plastic mask with strings of elastic cutting into my scalp above my ears.  Before we could don our costumes, dinner MUST be eaten.  And if dinner was to be eaten, then the Family Altar or Devotions were also to be read.  I peered out the window at the darkening skies – I knew we were going to miss it all sitting here listening to some thoughts on who-knows-what.  It was a special kind of torture.

Finally we were released.  I was still too young to be out on my own so with my mother’s hand in mine, we set out.  I don’t imagine we went to more than the houses on our block but it seemed like we’d been gone forever.  Finally crossing the street to approach my own house once again, I let out a scream.

Santa stood in our doorway handing out candy.  I was devistated.  So confused.  How had I missed the preparations?  I suppose the only way to calm me down was to get close enough (I was terrified) to have my dad pull down the beard to reveal the magic. No wonder I’m so psycho.

I’d say that it had only been in the last two seasons that his love of dressing up to scare kids had been won over by the heaviness of his life.  But not too long ago – he could still be seen sitting in his favorite lawn chair, right inside their breezeway with a mop head wig, crazy hat and some other foolishness, scary sound effects blaring from the stereo – handing out candy.

Halloween will never be the same.  Some of the fun is gone.  Maybe, just maybe, what I need to do is to honor him by taking up his mantel.  It would also be selfish of me to think we are the only ones who miss him.

He has left good friends behind that shared the same birthday.  Justin’s mom, as only a life-long-school teacher can do, is the Queen of the Seasons.  She was the one who did elaborate Christmas cookies, decorate for each holiday and has sweaters to match.  (Maybe not so much now…but certainly in the 90’s).  Her busy household with a husband and two very active boys was never too much for her to find time to make a special cake that Billy and Justin would share.

It broke my heart to hear that this twenty-five year old wanted to come say good-bye to my dad when he was in hospice.  I don’t care how old you are, it was not easy way to see someone who had been very vital,  withered away.  I am sad for J that he doesn’t have a birthday buddy left.  It was a celebration that my dad talked about every year- even when he could no longer remember Justin’s name…he became “their older one”. 

Another very important family tradition must be carried out.  Who knows when it started, who started it or why…but as soon as the last note to “Happy Birthday” fades, we begin to recite:

We wish you many happy returns, 

On this the day of your birth, 

May sunshine and gladness be given, 

For God in his mercy prepared you on earth, 

For a beautiful birthday in heaven.

The changes are mine to make it fit.  I leave you with what I believe to be the earliest picture of Billy.  The writing on the back dates it to 1923 – so I imagine it to be before he celebrated his first birthday.  We miss him dearly but could never have given him a party like he’s celebrating today.