Thursday, February 28, 2019

Half a Finger



I remember her hands.
I remember they looked a bit clawlike.
I remember her fingers curled in, the joints knobby,
the age spots sprinkled from wrist to nail on the wrinkly,
folded skin that draped her frail, petite hands.
She was suffering from arthritis,
I would imagine.


I remember her half finger.
I always tell people the stand mixer chopped off her finger.
I remember her telling me that story, once, when we made cookies.
Probably, because I was staring.
Today, I always tell people that if you aren't
a mindful baker you too,
could end up with
half a
finger

in the

batter.



As a young child my eye was always drawn to that missing finger, the half finger. I always wondered what really happened to the other half.  Perhaps, it's not the mixer's fault. The aunts who know more than me speculate that my memories of the stand mixer mishap might be flawed. I've been told it may have been a Stokely Cannery injury, from when she worked there (on the line?).  I know memories can be crazy and unreliable.

Have I made that story up in my head?

What about the rest of my memories?



Grandma and me-1975
My great grandma Gertrude died on Christmas morning in 1981 at the age of 90. I remember the smell of her house, the curve of her velvet-ish sofa, and how I was fascinated with her treasure filled home. I remember, clearly, how she exemplified the elderly shuffle-march. I remember how quickly she moved from the living room, through the dining room and into the kitchen. I remember passing the dining room table covered in lace and filtered light from the sheer curtains that hung in the large bay window (was it a bay window?) beside it.  I remember, vividly, the shape of the filtered, diffuse shadow the outside bush made that day on the table.  I remember playing "Silent Night" and "Away in a Manger" on the piano in the living room.  The sheet music was thick ivory paper embellished with gold and brightly colored calligraphy. Her crooked, yet nimble fingers showed me how to play.

And I remember playing cribbage with her.  I was very young then and  I don't remember winning.   I knew how to play because she played with me. I remember being fascinated at how she could hold the cards, and shuffle and deal, with half a missing finger.  She always let me lose, gently.  But the aunts who know more than me have told me she usually played cutthroat cribbage.  She took her fifteen-two's quite seriously.

Gracie
5 year old Gracie never knew her great, great grandma. But here she is, learning cribbage from her relatives, just like I did. I see her hands, smooth and untouched, fresh and graceful, plump and full. She holds the cards cautiously, awkwardly. They are too big for her hands. She turns to her father and asks out loud, "Daddy, does 8 plus 7 equal 15?" The aunts and uncles and cousins and of course, her father, nod and approve.


I wonder if my great-grandma Gertrude ever looked at my hands the way I look at Gracie's hands. I wonder if she ever compared my hands to hers.  I wonder if she ever imagined her great, great granddaughter would be playing cribbage like we used to.  I wonder if Gertrude told me the stand mixer, finger chopping story just to scare me and ensure I'd always respect the power of a stand mixer.

Or maybe, she really just wanted me to stop staring at her finger.

Thursday, February 14, 2019

Nancy Calhoun



It was a chilly Canadian day in the middle of December.
I was sitting on a red double decker tourist bus
rolling down a scenic road in Victoria, British Columbia.

I wanted the best view of the Straight of Juan de Fuca.
I climbed to the open air top level and wiped my seat dry with a towel.
The snow capped Olympic mountains stared at me from the south.



I loved the cool breeze.
The view was stunning.
My family was with me.
We were all healthy
It was a good day.


This is how I celebrated my 30th wedding anniversary.




The big mall across the river wasn't even built when I filled out the obligatory wedding registry.
I still have the dishes I registered for, however, from the old downtown store in 1988.
They were simple, an every day kind of  dish. (Nancy Calhoun, White)
I still like them and I still use them.
Those dishes were there,
from the beginning.


I was married in the middle of December.  It was the perfect time because-- the husband could be there.  He was a submarine officer in the US Navy and mid December was a convenient time for a junior officer, such that he was, to take a bit of time off.  We married and then we left our hometown.  We drove across the country to our new home in Florida.

We settled in Winter Park and eventually moved on to Idaho Falls, Groton Long Point, Bremerton, Idaho Falls again, Greenland, Angola, West Seattle, and then finally, Maple Valley.

And then, you know, we suddenly had two kids and a bunch of diapers and soggy handfuls of goldfish crackers and something that somehow spilled on the couch that nobody knows anything about and preschool tuition and Urgent Care bills and fundraisers and a lot of broccoli that ended up down the disposal and more than a couple of shockingly short lived pets.  Occasionally, the husband and I would pause for a conversation..... a moment...... a memory.  But soon it was back to band concerts that were a little too long and all of the towels on the bathroom floor and and far, far away soccer games and rainy cross country meets and debates about proper bedtimes and too many video games and SAT tests and are you sure you did your homework questions and so, so much laundry and.....

finally,

somehow,


college
move in
day.


I was on top of that bus in the middle of winter with those sticky, little, goldfish squishing, soccer kids who somehow qualified for the adult price on this chilly tourist bus ride. The husband sat next to them.  The husband who has patiently put up with the yin and yang of 30 years of marriage.  The husband who has embraced all that can possibly
encompass
and encircle
and enrage
and envelop
two people
and all of
the aftermath
that follows

when
in 1985
one person says hello,

and the other person finds that to be quite a clever
pick up
line.


Today that mall across the river is kind of old. Today my wedding registry dishes sell online with the "vintage" label  attached to them.  Today the preschool tuition is college tuition.  Today that broccoli that no one would eat is roasted in a 425 degree oven with a bit of oil and garlic and salt and pepper and is eaten like candy. There are no leftovers.  Today the debates are about politics.  Today they pick up their own towels.  Mostly.  Today my couch is only covered in cat hair.  Today I see the family that's with me on this bus ride shivering in their winter coats.  Today I see them cold ...possibly miserable, watching me be happy, up on the upper deck, pelted by the ocean spray on this little tour of Victoria.

Today I see them letting me be me.

Today I see 30 years of all
that has
always
been
good.


Tomorrow we go home and warm up.

Tomorrow I remember those stunning
Olympic Mountains staring back at me
and the frozen kids and husband.

Tomorrow we eat pizza off of those dishes
(Nancy Calhoun, White)
from the old
downtown
store.

Tomorrow we eat off those dishes that were there from the very beginning.

Tomorrow I remember 30 years.

Tuesday, November 27, 2018

Mr. Naked




I first laid eyes on him a year and a half ago.

I couldn't look away, despite the shock and trauma that had just bombarded me.

Finally,  I managed to turn my head away....and then, inexplicably....

I had to look back. 

My brain said, "How can you even stand here?  Close your eyes! You know this makes no sense."
My heart said, "Oh my goodness, honey, he is NOT the one for you. You need to walk away now."
My anxiety said, "Oh thanks a lot...this is gonna be real fun at 3AM.....and this worry has a visual!"
My mouth said, out loud, 

"OH. NO. NO. 

NO! 

For God's sakes, buddy...



......put some clothes on!"



I live in a suburban neighborhood within the "urban growth boundary". This means the houses are very close together.  I can see in backyards. I can hear TV shows.  I know when you are fighting.  I know when you .....are......not.

Mr. Naked takes a more unique approach to the way most people would choose to live in such close quarters.  Frequently, I've seen him at his bedroom window, naked as far down as I could see.  The window ledge stops right at the very, very.....very,  bottom of what would make my accidental window viewing episodes super, super icky.   I've seen Mr. Naked and his backside cook his breakfast with a towel around his shoulders, and nothing else.  I've seen Mr. Naked come out of the shower upstairs realizing he forgot his towel downstairs.  I'm ashamed to say that in the process of me frantically trying to shut the curtains I saw him running downstairs to grab his towel from the basket on the sofa.....and thankfully, eventually wrap it around himself.

But, the running part was...It was...
NOT. 
GOOD

I know what you are thinking....that's a lot of seconds to be staring. Lest you think I am a creeper, lest you think I am staring too long, lest you think this is surely an avoidable situation,  I assure you this is not a pleasure trip I am on.  This is not an instance of "accidental" (in quotes) observations of Mr. Naked.  All viewings of Mr. Naked are completely random and most, most unwelcome.  I have unintentionally seen things I did not ever want to see. I have inadvertently been witness to the most unpleasant parts of Mr. Naked's personal life.   

But every time we have crossed paths, I have been the one to frantically close the curtain.  I have been the one to run away.  I have been the one to live with the shame of visually invading Mr. Naked's naked, naked space......sigh.


I've always said Mr. Naked is the guilty one in our relationship.  I am the victim.


Until the other day.
Perhaps, I fear, I became the aggressor.




The adult daughter was feeling lonely.  She asked what her childhood cats were doing.  

She said, "Send me a picture."



Like I good mother, I rushed to get the good camera, not my terrible phone camera.

I took a photo of the cat that slept on the stove, soaking up the warmth of my morning teapot.  I walked upstairs and took a photo of the other cat asleep on the bed.  I checked the photo and saw that it was too dark.   I walked over to the window and pushed the curtains back, to get a bit more light. To my surprise, there was a Stellar's Jay at the bird feeder in the backyard.  I raised my camera out the back bedroom window and adjusted my fancy long lens to take a photo of the elusive Jay.  And, right as I did that, Mr. Naked opened his bedroom curtains, completely naked, as far as I could see.  I snapped the photo of the Jay.  Mr. Naked put his hands on his hips, leaned realllllly far back and smiled.  

I'm not sure when the flash went off.  I'm not sure if he thought I was taking a picture of him. I'm not sure if he saw that spectacular Stellar's Jay.  I'm not sure if I was very much in the wrong, somehow. I'm not sure if he was as appalled at me as I was.   I'm not sure if he was happy that I was there.  The window ledge, you know, was right at that level.....

No matter what...it was....

AWK

WARD.






I could have sworn I saw Mr. Naked in the grocery store the other day.  
I wasn't sure it was him.  
This guy had a shirt on........


I looked back at his Stellar's Jay photo, but as you can imagine, it was very, very blurry.







Tuesday, November 13, 2018

Pollyanna




Pol·ly·an·na
/ˌpälēˈanə/
noun
an excessively cheerful or optimistic person.






It just slipped out.




I didn't think about it ahead of time.
It wasn't over analyzed at
3 am in the morning.
It was out of
character,

for me.




When she spoke, I felt my heart beat faster.

I inhaled, deeply.

When she said that, I grabbed her wrist.

I held on, tightly.

When she stared down at me, I surprised myself.

I needed to tell her, now, apparently.






And that is the exact moment Pollyanna showed up.




On December 1st it will be 3 years since I finished treatment for my little spat with breast cancer.
(aggressive, rare, likes to return within 5 years, little known on causes, treatment..... blah, blah, blah)
One only has to search the word "cancer" on the right side of the blog to read past posts and know that at times I've been a bit angry about the drastic turn my life took a few years ago.  I'll never be a part of the "pink warrior" campaign. I've not seen this diagnosis as a time to repent and make a life changing U-Turn.  I've not been grateful for one single second of the experience.  It sucks and has taken a big toll on me both physically and mentally.

I've been a bit obstinate,
and reluctant you
might say, to
see the
good.



If I were forced to admit, however, to any positives that resulted from cancer and if you really, really pushed me, I would tell you that I've met some amazing people.  People like me.  People not like me.  People I'd never associate with in a million years.  Yet, we had this little spat with cancer in common. We often whine about our lingering side effects and ailments when we are together. We complain about our sore hips and our dead toenails and our lingering anxiety knowing full well, that perhaps, we are the lucky ones.

Because, many of our friends are dead.

Yet, still, I remain stubbornly reluctant to be grateful for my cancer diagnosis.




Pollyanna had different plans.



My poor non cancer friend said to me the other day, "Getting old sucks.  We're gonna be 50 years old soon!"  She listed the usual complaints.  I commiserated and said I too had the same issues.  She added,  "Seriously!  I hate getting old!  I wish I never had to get old!!"

I inhaled.  I grabbed her wrist.
And Pollyanna erupted.


"NOOOOOOO!!!!!!"   I breathed, out loud, slow and low and a bit ferociously out of my mouth.

 "No!  

We are

SO 
LUCKY

to be getting old!  It is such a privilege to get old!

Never, never,
ever wish for
anything
else!"


It just slipped out.
I'm not sure where it came from.
I felt silly when I said it.


Was it possible cancer had finally made something good out of my diagnosis?
Was it possible cancer had finally made me grateful for my life?
Was it possible I was finally a better person because of my cancer experience?


I've been a bit obstinate, you know.
I've been a bit ungrateful, you know.
I've been a a tad bit angry...for sure.

But Pollyanna has made an appearance.



Stay tuned.








Thursday, September 20, 2018

We Left the Boy




We left the boy.
It was time,
I suppose.

The husband and I got back into our car full of flattened boxes and
microwave shaped Styrofoam
and the empty seat he sat in
and we just
drove
south.

The two burritos we ate on the way home were cheaper than three, we noticed.
We paused a minute before we started to eat them.
It seemed, we were waiting for the boy.
But, of course, he was
where we left
him.

We drove home listening to the legendary music of our past.
We knew all the words and never once had to sing swear.
We drove home lamenting out loud, between songs,
"I hope he makes nice friends."
We muttered things like that.


The house was quiet and still when we arrived home.
 His room was bare and tidy;  the posters were gone.
There were dust outlines of things he had packed.
The leftover soccer trophies stared back at me.



I felt mommy empty when I climbed into bed.
I logged on, real quick, just to check
things online.



The local social media was jarring.

She died.
A week after him.
A year after the other boy.


So young.


Suicides.






They were from the boy's high school and he knew their names and faces.

I took my boy to college and posted photos of his new beginning.
I scrolled down the page and saw photos of their past.
I posted my proud moments and my hopes for his future.

I scrolled down and was immersed in their utter despair.




I've sent my son to college.
The husband and I awake each morning to an empty nest.
People seem to think we are in the midst of adversity.
People seem to think this is a hardship.
People seem worried.


They have no idea.




Thank God I get to miss my son.
Thank God he gets to have this future.
Thank God I get to wonder if his roommate is someone I would approve of.
Thank God I get to hope he'll study a bit more than he plays video games.
Thank God I get to not so gently remind him to eat a vegetable or two.
Thank God he will be annoyed with me reminding him to do that.
Thank God I get to worry if he found someone to eat lunch with.
Thank God I get to bug him to join an intramural sports team
Thank God I get to post pictures of his

dorm room

and not his



obituary.







We left the boy. We did.
I'm sure I'll be plenty sad about it.
I'm sure it will be an adjustment.
I'm sure I'll miss him, quite a lot.




And I thank God for that.






Thursday, May 31, 2018

Thoughts and Prayers




3 years ago I sat on my front porch and cried.
I had been diagnosed with cancer at the age of 45.

Forty.
Five.

I was terrified of my future.
The husband sat next to me in shock, witness to my panic.

"I can't die.
Not yet."

I declared it to him.

"I am NOT done (with the teenage boy)!
I have to at least get him through high school.
I need to see him graduate.


He still needs a mom."





3 weeks ago that teenage boy (man?) made me laugh.
We reminisced about the last few years.
We talked about his upcoming graduation.

I told him how proud I was of him and how hard he had worked.
He told me of his plans, his dreams, his future.
We remembered his high school experiences.
We remembered his accomplishments.
I teared up a bit, thankful I was still here.
I appreciated that moment.

He said, casually,  "But mom, don't forget about the best thing about me graduating.
Don't forget about my most important high school accomplishment."

I chuckled and said, "Oh, what is that?"




"I never got shot."






My son said that to me.

My baby boy, born 3 weeks early said that to me.
My toddler boy,  my little boy, my teenage boy, my adult son....


...he said that to me.





"I never got shot."


















It was one of those moments that,
perhaps literally,
broke my spirit.

My soul cracked.



He was joking about it.
But he wasn't.

We tried to laugh about it.
But we couldn't.


"Come on mom, in this day and age, that has to count for something."' he said,
trying to lessen the impact
that was obvious
on my face.


I'm very much aware that danger is everywhere and bad things can happen anywhere at any time.
But this is about what is forefront in your brain. This is about being afraid.

This is about walking out the door, backpack slung over your back, homemade sandwich tucked in the third pocket. Pencils sharpened.  Homework done, organized in the first pocket. This about saying goodbye to your mom.


This is about your mom fighting cancer, hoping to see you graduate from high school.
This is about walking out of your home, 17 days before you graduate from high school,
grateful that you haven't been shot there.


This is about wondering which one was the bigger threat.






There's a lot of life left,
for the boy and I, we hope.

He has a few days left of high school.
We both have a lifetime of needing to
walk out the door, without fear.

We would appreciate your
thoughts and prayers.

We've heard that's the solution.

Tuesday, May 15, 2018

Waking. Middle Aged. With Pet.






It was dark outside 
when the husband leaned in close
and whispered 
in my ear.



I was laying in the preferred position.
I was on my stomach, which I knew, made it as flat as a supermodel's stomach.
My right arm was stretched out above my head and my hand
was numb, dead, completely asleep.

One leg was outside the covers, just a little bit too cold.
One leg was inside the covers, just a little bit too hot.
And then, suddenly, it was 2000 degrees in the bedroom.
I threw all of the covers off of me.
5 minutes later I would pull them back.
Because the room would be freezing.

I turned my head and my cheek landed in
the wet drool spot on the pillow.
I turned my leg and soon
regretted that extra set of
lunges from the day before.

It had been a good sleep, relatively speaking, of course.
I only woke up once to pee.
I then only worried about
three things that I had
absolutely no control over
before
I

finally

fell back asleep

....27 minutes before the alarm went off.

It was a solid 5 hours of restless tossing.




The husband had to go to work.
The alarm went off at 4:40.
He showered, went downstairs and ate the Cheerios.
He surveyed the living room as he
made his way back upstairs.

He saw the things that he saw.
And he kept on walking.


He innocently brushed his teeth.
He casually turned off the bathroom light.
He approached the bed, with hesitation.
He approached the content and peaceful

(anxious, hellishly hot, restless, sore, numb, wet-cheeked) 

sleeping woman.

He wanted to say goodbye.



The kind, well-intentioned husband leaned in close and whispered in my ear.
He rubbed my shoulder gently and kissed me softly, apologetically.
I did not respond with enthusiasm in a futile attempt to avoid
the inevitable full wake up that was coming.

But he felt obligated to give a proper farewell.


'I'm leaving.  Do you want me to reset the alarm?" he generously purred.

"No, I'm getting up," I grumbled.

"Ok.

Well.

Um.


............just to let you know,



The cat has thrown up
all over the couch.

It's pretty nasty."


I swear he screamed it in my ear.
He remembers whispering those words, somehow, in the most romantic way possible.

I remember my paralyzed, resigned silence.

He quivered in fear, awaiting my response.
Or maybe, he just finished putting his shoes on.

I swear I heard his sigh of relief as he ran out the door.







The husband went to work.
I cleaned up the nasty.
He pretended to feel bad.
I pretended to feel put out.

We laughed about it at dinner.
Well, he mostly laughed about it at dinner.
It took me another day.
Because it was super nasty.
I wasn't done gagging, yet.

But eventually, I managed a chuckle.

Because that's what you do
when you've been married 29.43 years
and you are not young anymore
and you have a pet that likes to ralph all over the place.



You just have to laugh.

Every day.