Gravy * Happy Birthday, Jazz * Multiple Sclerosis * 9/11 * Where is Warren Buffet? * Holding It Together * Focus * George Clooney * The Milkman
To read "A Mother's Diary" from the beginning, click on the June 2017 archives in the right hand column and read "Before: Scenes from the Trenches."*
SEPTEMBER 8, 2013: GRAVY
Linda Ronstadt's no longer singing because she has Parkinson's Disease. She says, "People with Parkinson's can't sing."
Linda is of my generation. I remember her top hits — "Blue Bayou," "Desperado," "When Will I Be Loved," and "You're No Good."
In a New York Times interview, she's philosophical. "By the time you reach your late sixties," she says, "it's all gravy from here on out, you know?"
I haven't thought about my late sixties like this before. Passing can happen anytime — the cyclist in Utah was a young father. Just because you're old doesn't mean you'll die tomorrow. Just because you're young doesn't mean you won't die tomorrow. There's probably a German word for this that I don't know. Like bildungsroman or schadenfreude. A word that means the perception of one's inevitable demise can be variable. It can be meaningful. It can be sobering. It can be ignored. Or it can be denied until the last minute.
My perception is colored by the fact that I have a ninety-five-year-old mother. She's the old one. I'm still her young daughter. I'm not going to die yet. Parents die first. This rationale seems to work in reverse for my mother. "I'm not old. I still have a young daughter. I'm not going to die yet."
Thanks to both my mother and father, I have good longevity genes. These genes may or may not get their chance to show off. I could slip on the proverbial banana peel this evening. Linda Ronstadt's statement is a timely reminder. As I approach seventy, tomorrow can't be taken for granted. Every tomorrow, from here on out, is "all gravy, you know?"
PATRICK'S FACEBOOK POST: Poetry is essentially not even the printed page anymore. It's the everyday conversations we have as we go through our days, at the grocery store, at the dinner table. It's the social media tweets and updates, the threads on Facebook. It's the glimpses of beauty and synchronicity in our everyday lives, the recognition and utterance of this beauty and so it is more fleeting than ever, like dreams we struggle to remember, and rarely capture in verbal description.
SEPTEMBER 9, 2013: HAPPY BIRTHDAY, JAZZ
Today is Jazzy's birthday. She's nine years old. I'm a little sad. A cat's average life span is 12 to 15 years. Of course, some cats live much longer. Mom's outdoor/indoor cat lived to be 23. I hope Jazzy is primed for the longer end of the age spectrum.
When I adopted her from the SPCA, Jazzy was two. Her biography said she was there because the older woman who'd owned her had fallen and broken her hip. The bio said, "The woman fell because Jazzy tripped her."
What a fluke, I thought. Poor lady.
As I read Jazzy's history, she stuck a paw out of her cage and waved it in the air. "Notice me," she said. I took it as a sign.
My previous kitty, Kitty, was also a black cat. I'd put her to sleep three weeks prior to my visit to the SPCA and I wasn't doing too well. I was observing a mourning period. I decided I'd simply look at the shelter and not make any decisions. I asked to take Jazzy - then known as Katie - into an observation room. She was curious. She was purring. She was in my arms. I took her home.
One year later, while getting ready to go to a business meeting in Los Angeles, I walked into my bedroom to get my suitcase. Jazzy came charging into the room at 30 miles an hour. She ran headlong, with the force of a 12-pound bowling ball, into the back of my right leg. I heard a sound like a tree branch splitting. I looked down to see my right foot pointing to the right and my right leg pointing to the left.
At the end of the day, I'd had surgery and a steel plate and six screws implanted in my right ankle. I'd be out of work for three months. Another elderly lady felled by her black kitty. Some people said, "Get rid of that cat."
Jazzy didn't break my ankle on purpose. I know she didn't. Anyway, it was too late to get rid of her. We'd already bonded. She was and is a steady companion. In the morning, when I wash my face, she washes her face in the second sink. I let the water drip from the faucet for her. When I'm at the computer, Jazzy rests in front of the screen or rides on the back of my swivel chair. When I eat breakfast, she eats breakfast. When I watch TV, she sprawls on my glass coffee table and watches TV with me. When I come home, after 10 minutes or 10 hours, she greets me at the door.
Most afternoons we take a 45 minute break in the backyard. Jazzy swats at butterflies, glares at hummingbirds, and basks in being an outside cat. When it's time to come in, she comes in because there's an agreement. "We'll go back outside again tomorrow. I promise."
I used to be a dog person. At different times, I've owned a Boston Terrier (Cinderella), a Winchester Terrier (Wimpy), a Cocker Spaniel (Buster), a Bassett Hound (Joy), a Norwegian Husky (Yoda), a Lhasa Apso (Snickers), a Rottweiler (Schatze), and a stray mutt (Scraps).
For some reason, I seem to love the most recent animal best. Of course, Jazzy's the most recent animal. As all my pets have done, she increases my awareness of a different kind of consciousness, a different kind of soul. Some people scoff. My darling brother, when he's visiting, brushes Jazzy out of his way. Should she come between him and whatever he's doing, he says, "Get that damned cat out of here."
My brother's an engineer. What can I say?
I can say, "According to an article in Scientific American, a cat's brain has 1000 times more data storage than an iPad and works a million times faster. Please show some respect."
Please stay well, little black cat. You're a special kind of friend. Happy Birthday, Jazz. And many, many more.
PATRICK'S FACEBOOK POST: I just made chicken stir-fry with a chicken that said use or freeze by 9/7. Wish me luck tonight.
SEPTEMBER 10, 2013: MULTIPLE SCLEROSIS
This morning I'm at the public library for an author presentation and book signing. The SCLH Multiple Sclerosis (MS) Support Group is sponsoring it. A Santa Rosa resident, Ronda Giangreco has MS. In 2008, back from a cooking school in Italy, Ronda's life was good. She was healthy, had a solid marriage, four grown sons, a comfortable home, and lots of friends. Then she woke up one morning numb on her left side. She was diagnosed with MS and was told she might not walk much longer. She asked herself, "Then where should I walk now?" Her answer was, "To the place I feel most grounded — to the kitchen."
Her book, The Gathering Table, recounts the challenge she laid out for herself. She would prepare dinners every Sunday for eight people throughout 2010. The caveat was that everything — bread, pasta, dessert — had to be homemade. Ronda would defy MS one week and one meal at a time.
Thinking about my friend, Irene, who has MS, I'm here to learn more about this illness. National MS Society brochures are on the front table next to copies of Ronda's book. I flip through the brochure before the program begins. There are different categories of MS. Irene has secondary progressive. People with this type of MS experience a slow but nearly continuous worsening of the disease. There can be variations in rates of progression and temporary minor improvements.
Ronda is a relaxed speaker. She shares a few, well-chosen slides. Her husband's mother died of MS when he was a teenager. Ronda's diagnosis was devastating for him. Ronda asks, "How many of you have MS?"
The majority of people in the audience raise their hands. They all shake their heads in recognition of the travails that Ronda shares. She says it's important for people with MS to have friends who are knowledgeable and understand what they're going through. I buy copy of The Gathering Table for Irene and ask Ronda to sign it. She writes, "Irene, stay strong."
I'll read the book to learn more about MS. I'll be careful not to bend the pages. Then I'll send it to Irene. Maybe something in the book will resonate. At the least, she'll know I'm thinking of her.
PATRICK'S FACEBOOK POST: Sometimes I feel like I'm living in a Far Side comic strip, like when I go to Walmart and see morbidly obese people puking in trash cans in the meat department. Problem is, nothing about it is even remotely funny.
Lara: Really? This happened?
Patrick: Yep, a woman was coughing and hacking her way up the meat aisle when she hunched over a garbage can and vomited.
Lara: Wow! I guess this is why my mom refuses to shop there.
Patrick: There are a lot of good reasons to refuse to shop at Walmart and every time I have to go there I swear I'm never going back, but I get lured in by some of their prices.
Greg: Doesn't sound like a Far Side to me, just sounds like Walmart.
SEPTEMBER 11, 2013: 9/11
This is the 12th anniversary of 9/11. I'm flying the flag in front of my house. I'm pausing to remember. I'm saying a prayer for those who were lost and for those who remain. That includes all of us.
Meanwhile, I haven't talked to Pat in a week. I don't know what's happening with his teeth. I'm trying not to call him. Waiting, always waiting, for the other shoe to drop.
PATRICK'S FACEBOOK POST: Getting mail is pretty much the highlight of my day so every time I open my mailbox and there's nothing in it my heart sinks a little.
Meredith: I say nothing is better than bills.
Patrick: That's true Meredith. I'm usually hoping to get a check.
Angie: What's your address? I'll mail you something so you have something to look forward to.
Lara: Hey Pat, message me your address and I'll send you something. Don't worry I won't stalk you...LOL
Angie: Unlike Lara, I might stalk you though. J/K
SEPTEMBER 12, 2013: WHERE IS WARREN BUFFET?
Mom calls. "Now that you're finished with all the cremation stuff, I have another project for you. That CD I cashed is sitting in my checking account earning no interest. I want you to find a better place for it."
I don't remember at what point I became Mom's financial adviser. She's a tough client. She's never participated in the stock market. She's adamant, "I lived through the Depression and I don't trust Wall Street."
At ninety-five, Mom doesn't like complicated investments. Her current stash is mostly the result of doing nothing. She and Pop bought a modest tract home in San Jose in 1959 for $16,000. In 2004, she put the house on the market and sold it in three days for $600,000.
Mom says, "I want another deal like that one."
Mom owns the house she rents to Pat but times have changed. This house is underwater. More and more, she's dipping into principal to cover her expenses and, like many of us, she's worried about outliving her resources. My mission, should I choose to accept it, is to go out there and find a risk-free, no-fail, get-rich-quick scheme Mom can put to work immediately.
Cremation planning was a cinch compared to this. I'll go online and do some research but I'm not holding my breath. I need help big time. Where-oh-where is Warren Buffet?
PATRICK'S FACEBOOK POST: I love sleeping when I'm not having nightmares and I love eating good food, but dammit wouldn't it be great if we didn't have to eat and rest so much? No more endless worrying about the next meal, no dirty dishes, just go, go, go.
SEPTEMBER 13, 2013: HOLDING IT TOGETHER
This afternoon, a new woman joins our Family Mental Illness support group. She's in tears telling us about her son and daughter. They both have schizophrenia.
When she was 47 - she's now 73 - this lady left her native country and came to the US "to escape communist oppression and to escape my husband, who also has schizophrenia."
Her daughter has returned to Europe. Her son lives in the Bay Area in low-income h housing. "My son's been with me for the last week," she says, "and sometimes I'm afraid of him. He's struck me in the past."
The woman refuses to call the police because, "In my old country, police make irrational arrests of innocent people."
She's sad. "I love my son and there's no help in this country for people with illnesses like his. I'm angry and frustrated. I've been trying to hold it together for a long time. I can't do it anymore."
As the woman leaves the meeting, I tell her, "I'll call you Monday and we'll meet for coffee or lunch."
God bless my mother. She adds some lightness to the day. She sends Jazzy a birthday card: "Dear Jazzy, I wish you a very Happy Birthday with an extra sardine for dessert. I also wish you a Happy Year ahead with Dede. She needs a lot of furry hugs and a lot of TLC. With love, GG (Great Grandma)."
PATRICK'S FACEBOOK POST: It occurs to me that for each and every one of you on my friends list, I catch myself looking at your pictures, sharing jokes and news, as well as support during good and bad times. I am also happy to have you among my friends. We will see who will take the time to read this message until the end. If you appreciate your friends from all over the world, go ahead and copy this into your stats too, even if it's just for a minute. I'm going to be watching to see who takes care of the friendship, just like me. Thank you all for being a part of my life. Copy and paste please, don't share. If no reads my wall, this should be a short experiment. This is a Facebook game to see who reads and who just scrolls. If you read this, leave one word on how we met. Only one word, then copy this to your wall so I can leave a word for you.
Emma: SF Christmas Eves
Danielle: Your sister
SEPTEMBER 13, 2013: FOCUS
Headlines on my cellphone this morning:
- "Four men sentenced to death in gruesome India gang rape."
- "Man kills wife behind Texas school, shoots self."
- "Wrongly convicted man released after 12 years."
- "Bride who says she pushed husband off cliff released."
- "Boston bomb suspect's friends plead not guilty."
- "Man accused of planning to kidnap, eat children."
- "6.6 million children under 5 died last year."
- "Report will show chemical weapons use."
- "Suicide bomber kills 21 at a funeral in northern Iraq."
- "Catholic priest sentenced to 50 years for child porn."
- "Man who burned woman's corpse charged with rape."
I have no way to process this information. Nor do I want to. I wonder, with a daily news diet like this, what are we doing to our collective psyches? We need to focus on what's uplifting in our world and in our lives. Some days, with horror and trauma coming at us from all directions, it feels like keeping that focus is almost impossible.
PATRICK'S FACEBOOK POST: Shhh... don't tell anyone. I love my life.
SEPTEMBER 15, 2013: GEORGE CLOONEY
Oh, my gosh. This is kind of embarrassing. For some reason - I've no idea where this came from — last night I dreamt I was out with George Clooney, the George Clooney.
We were at a fancy cocktail party with hundreds of movie stars. I didn't know a soul, other than George. Sounds exciting but he kept disappearing. The last time he left me stranded on a grand, sweeping staircase. In the disjointed way that dreams make perfect sense, I found George crouched in a coat closet. He was gnawing on chicken wings.
I said, "You were rude to leave me like that."
He said, "I needed to hide from all the gawking guests."
I said, "I want you to take me home."
I see heads shaking. You cannot believe I told George Clooney, the George Clooney, to take me home.
Somehow we ended up in a bedroom. We ended up in a bed. Me and George Clooney. And, in this unbelievable dream, we did the deed. Then darn. I woke up in the middle of our private, little orgy.
I told a friend about my dream. She said, "All women dream they're in bed with George Clooney. No big deal."
Well, no big deal for her. I, for one, am getting in bed early tonight to dream again. George might be waiting for me and, with luck, we'll pick up where we left off.
SEPTEMBER 16, 2013: THE MILKMAN
Marisa posts a photo of her house on Instagram and writes, "Sometimes Keith and I joke that it feels like we've time traveled with this Seattle move, but I'm not sure what year to say it is. We have one shower for the four of us, little doorways, creaky floors, random light switches downstairs that turn lights on upstairs, high speed internet, and now, a milkman."
kikishivers: Thumbs down on one shower. Thumbs up on the milkman.
chiamy: Love that you have milkman! That's hilarious! Wish he delivered to Encinitas!
suzyj6: I'm so jealous of that milkman!
I remember the milkman, the Fuller-Brush man, the knife-sharpening man, and the Encyclopedia Britannica man. Memories are tumbling all over my page. Each one cries, "Pick me! Pick Me!"
I remember competing at hopscotch. For a long time it was my favorite game.
I remember climbing to the highest branch in our big, old fig tree and singing, so the neighbors could hear, "On top of old Smokey all covered with snow, I lost my true lover for courtin' too slow." I thought Smokey was a train engine and I had no idea what courtin' was.
I remember making up skits and dances and putting folding chairs on the patio for my one-woman talent shows. I was the talent. The show stopper was my rendition of a Patti Page song:
How much is that doggie in the window?
The one with the waggly tail,
How much is that doggie in the window?
I do hope that doggie's for sale.
In addition to being producer and star, I was also the concessionaire. I sold home-popped popcorn, with butter, for five cents. The price of admission was ten cents.
I remember running up and down mounds of dirt in the torn up lot in our backyard, building forts with rocks and cardboard boxes, and yelling, "Davy Crockett, King of the Wild Frontier."
I remember how good it felt to lie, spread-eagled, on warm cement with sunshine burning on my back.
I remember the first one-act play I wrote, "The End for All." One by one, each of the characters (portrayed by my neighborhood friends) ended up dead in the middle of my living room floor.
I remember listening to conversations on our telephone party line. It was fun because we weren't supposed to eavesdrop.
I remember walking home from school at lunchtime for mom's homemade vegetable-beef soup and her homemade apricot pie.
I remember racing outside at recess to get in line for handball and tetherball.
I remember Moon Fairies, a game I made up. My friends and I played it in my front yard after sundown. We sat on the porch steps and took turns doing cartwheel wheels on the grass. When someone spotted the headlights of an oncoming car, we had to run and hide behind a bush or a tree or a telephone pole. Mortals weren't allowed to see Moon Fairies. When the car and its passengers, unaware of the night's hidden creatures, drove out of sight, it was safe for us to come out again.
Yes, I remember the era of the milkman. Just yesterday, really, yet it seems like a long time ago.
Please share my blog/book with "other wayfarers who might catch a resonating echo while wandering in my woods." Thanks.
COMING UP THURSDAY, SEPTEMBER 21, 2017: FALL 2013
Fall is an earnest season. In fall, nature reflects on itself
and summons acceptance. Dede Ranahan
"FROM CALIFORNIA" by GARY THOMPSON
ON JOHN MUIR'S TRAIL
Bear Star Press 1999
FOR PATRICK RANAHAN
SEPTEMBER 18, 2013 - OCTOBER 1, 2013: Aging Can Wait * Real Change in the Air * Who's on First? * Silence * Old and Cranky * Off * Helena * A Pleasant Day * Today's News & Tomorrow's Rewrite * Before and After * Odds and Ends * Worth a Try * Too Much Fun
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