Sparked by Words

Archive for September, 2018

A Balcony Scene

The banquet room was set more formally than in past years, with tablecloths and napkins. The staff at Polly’s Restaurant was always gracious to us, maybe sensing our stressful concerns. What should we choose for next year’s insurance? I liked the new arrangement, tables set in a square so everyone would be able to see everyone else. Perhaps this more genteel ambiance would calm our nerves. We always had a thousand questions at the meetings, and hearing other folks’ concerns generated conversations worth listening to.

Each year I had to determine which part D option for my mom’s Medicare plan was the best choice before committing in December for the supplementary insurance I’d sign for her. The yearly formulary was a thick enough tome to boost the youngest child to the Thanksgiving table. None of us had time nor skill to read or figure it out. Think new annual tax codes. The presenters explained the new plans’ pros and cons in understandable bites and comparative columns. I’d make a decision based on determining which health care plan would provide the lowest cost for mom’s medications, wheel chair rental, and ambulance service.

If we could not be persuaded to attend these meetings by dint of their importance to our (mom’s) health care for the next year, Polly’s sent each of us home with a fresh pie of our choice. How can you not show up for pie? Some of us came for information, some came for pie.

I was early but three gentlemen were already seated. It didn’t surprise me that they were fifteen or twenty years older than me. I was often the youngest at these meetings since I came on my mother’s behalf, not my own. By paunch and jowl and sartorial casualness, they were certainly the right demographic for the meeting.

They, however, sat gape mouthed at my entrance, too stunned even to speak. I smiled and said hello. They asked what I was doing there, my youth obviously confounding them.

“I’m here for the meeting,” I said, smug in my certainty of purpose. Only in my early sixties, I didn’t yet qualify for Medicare. They were envious of my tender years, astonished by my presence among their venerable company. I’m way too old (and married) to flirt, but their expressions demanded response. I smiled and tossed my curls. A little feminine confirmation of their masculinity couldn’t hurt.

“But we’re the Romeos,” one said.

Adorable. How can you not fall in love with a grandpa who knows Shakespeare?

“Well then I’m Juliet,” I said and rearranged the place setting so I’d have room for my notebook.

“No, we’re the Romeos,” he said, as if an explanation of their right to vote.

I looked at the three men. What could they be so worried about? I wasn’t the only person to attend these meetings on behalf of someone too frail to attend for themselves.

“Romeos,” he repeated, emphasis on the last word. “Retired Old Men Eating Out.”

The tablecloths and silverware. The square table arrangement. The recognition of circumstances. This Juliet was standing on the wrong balcony, seeking the wrong man.

How many names can we ascribe to red? Magenta, burgundy, cerise, cherry, scarlet, crimson. I didn’t have to see my face to know it blushed every shade in and out of the rainbow.

I’d come on the wrong day. My meeting was the next week.

Thank you, Romeos, for a charming ten minute date. Like many affairs it didn’t last long but I’ll always remember you. Seems I’d been looking for love in all the wrong places.

 

Painting: Romeo and Juliet Farewell by Eleanor Fortescue-Brickdale, courtesy Wikimedia Commons

 

 

 

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Stones

 

Pausing in the garden I search for two perfect stones.

It’s not truly a garden but the space around our house.

I’m not seeking perfect stones so much as the right ones.

 

They’re scattered over the yard, assorted stones and rocks.

Few flowers as they refuse to grow – not the snapdragons

With fragrant cheeks or lantana with miniature bouquets.

 

The flowers boast perfume, organdy petals, ballet stems.

The stones repose modestly, too plain to pirouette.

Withered bouquets will be tossed but stones remain.

 

Others will bring flowers but it’s stones I require, hard and strong.

Which of them will speak of endurance, of devotion? Aha!

The sharp edged one of umber strata, a smooth one with quartz veins.

 

The grass crushes as I kneel and lift my hands to place them,

One on my father’s grave, the other on my mother’s.

I won’t reveal on whose marker I set the sharp one or the smooth.

 

Pausing in the garden I search for quiet sanctuary.

It’s not truly a garden but the space around the graves.

I’m not seeking perfect solace so much as refuge.

 

Just a thought 50

 

 

Image of stones courtesy Pixabay.com

 

The Calm after the Storm

I broke down in the supermarket the other day, in the greeting card aisle, looking at Rosh Hashanah cards. This will be the first year I observe Jewish High Holy Days without either of my parents. Just seeing the cards wishing peace and a healthy year to come tore me apart.

Other things unexpectedly lance my gut – the scent of coffee as both my parents could not face the day without a cup or two. The sight of the ocean as we’d lived near the Atlantic on the New Jersey shore or the Pacific in both Hawaii and California. The chirping, twittering sounds of birds as my dad ushered us through rain forests and woods, identifying avian species. The feel of hot wind against my skin, recalling the clutch of Alabama’s unforgiving broiling weather when I lived there as a kindergartner. Pierced constantly, I bleed all over the place.

I look at a pink blouse in Macy’s, thinking how much my mom would like it, maybe I should… then it comes back to me – no need to buy it for her. The same effect on spotting a new crossword puzzle book at CVS, solving puzzles together a favorite pastime when she was alive. The Alzheimer’s that held her in its long noose for so many years is finally over – she passed in late March. Still my emotional pain is ebbing – mom is no longer in the horrific physical pain that stalked the last year of her life, and that’s a good thing. My blood stanches.

I dreamed of my parents standing next to each other, gazing at the Pacific. Their last home was a condo that overlooked the ocean, nothing in front of their window but train rails along the beach and the swelling turquoise sea. My dad had one arm around my mom, the other around me, united again at last.

I know our dreams are personal manifestations of the world as we experience it, filtered through our sleeping subconscious mind. Still, I felt tranquil in that moment, knowing I had done everything I could to care for my ill mom in a way my dad could accept after he died nearly ten years ago. I believe in the survival of the soul – my dream might be a message from the world to come, from the sacred essence that survived the deaths of their corporeality.

Over the last decade, I’ve had a loving, supportive family holding me up. A son and daughter-in-law moved aside like cars in the way of a fire truck, allowing me respite with their two children. My grandchildren, who loved their great-grandmother, not realizing she was ill. She was their Gigi, and they accepted her quixotic inability to remember their names, always knowing she would shower them with kisses and hugs. My grandchildren softened the shredded edge of my worries with play, stories, and antics that allowed me serenity.

Another son and daughter-in-law, living far from us, knew when I needed a phone call. The cell tower network (we are so very fortunate to live in an era of global communication access) leap frogs hundreds of miles so I could contact our two youngest grandchildren. I listened to their baby talk until their babbling chatter over the years became words, then sentences, and finally full throttled conversations about dinosaurs, gymnastics class, and the funny bugs in the yard. To be immersed in such presence is a holy moment.

My husband put up with my despair and commiserated about the injustice of a disease that dismantled my mother’s social and logic skills. He endured me fuming about the legal, health, and financial worries that woke me in the middle of the night like lions hunting on African grasslands, the threat of attack imminent. A husband who visited his mother-in-law without a prompt from me, always with a fresh bouquet of blooms to remind her that she was someone important to him, even when she no longer had any idea who he was. He soothed me back to sleep.

Friends inflated a flotation jacket around me, keeping me from drowning. Some are people I’ve known forever, living near enough for a hug fest, others only close enough for a sobbing phone call late at night. My friends are a bulwark of ears and shoulders, one limb to turn my verbal outrage into sense, the other a net to catch my emotional free fall. Many are family members of other sufferers of Alzheimer’s. We are an alliance of wisdom and folk stories about how to limit the devastation of the disease, both the physical impact on those who are ill and the emotional toll that forces family into no man’s land. All of it is about loss, confusion, and righting a leaky craft. They remain steadfast for me as I do for them.

Alzheimer’s is a shipwreck foundered on alien shoals. But I am learning to jump ship, skip the waves, and wade in the shallows. To smile. To sleep through the night. To feel the consolation that my parents’ long journeys are over, that mine will be an easier trek each new day. There is laughter again, friendship, love, family, and calm after the storm.

 

Note: I’ve written a novel, Where Did Mama Go? about the devastation Alzheimer’s disease inflicts on families. It’s in the process of being edited, and then I’ll start querying for an agent to represent my work. My credentials for writing this story are eighteen years of assisting my mom through the labyrinth of this illness.

 

Image of California coastline courtesy of Pixabay

Labor Day

When I was a kid living on Parkway Avenue in Trenton, New Jersey, all the capital city’s parades marched by my house. Brass bands played their instruments in flashy uniforms, tiara topped queens perched on festive floats, military regiments marched in stately uniforms, and the top-hatted mayor waved from the back seat of a convertible Cadillac – all of them strutted along the route. Horses too, the magnificent beasts without whose presence a parade is just the leftover straggle of a city garage sale.

I doubt I could tell the difference between the Christmas spectacle and the one for Labor Day, except one showcased Santa in a sleigh pulled by a fire truck (where were the reindeer?) and the other highlighted city workers marching beside their union alliances.

Labor Day is a public, federal holiday established to honor the contributions of the American labor movement. It promotes the prosperity and well-being of our country, supported by those who build, serve, clean, maintain, and defend the many enterprises that comprise the enduring and independent fabric of the United States. Their work is usually grungy, often dangerous, sometimes heroic, and rarely makes the nightly news.

I don’t know if Trenton’s parades still march by the house. The house is still there, Google Images showing it’s barely changed in sixty years. But producing a parade is a task requiring a monumental budget with minimal financial recoupment possible. It’s a traveling billboard, perhaps, advertising the best goods for sale, gambling on future purchase of products, city tax base growing among the ranks.

Maybe the Santa parade still treks along Parkway Avenue through the winter snow, but Labor Day? Most of those for whom the end-of-summer holiday was created will work on Labor Day. Holiday pay (yeah, nice, but still…) and no recognition are more the norm than processional exhibition for those who serve in the lowliest service jobs.

If you’re out and about today, smile big at the folks taking a day ON, not off, and leave an extra tip. It’s Labor Day and they’ve got work to do. Taking care of you and me. Here’s where I put my hand over my heart and give a nod of appreciation.

 

Just a Thought 49

 

Photo of Labor Day Parade, Buffalo, New York, circa 1900, courtesy commons.wikimedia