Fall is an earnest season.
In fall, nature reflects on itself and summons acceptance.
When Pat was in college on the east coast, his friend, Gary Thompson, was living on the west coast. Gary was homesick for the fall colors of his native Michigan so Pat mailed him a package of New England leaves. After Pat died, sorting through two cardboard boxes that contained the sum of his earthly possessions, I found Gary Thompson's book of poems. Suddenly, perusing Gary's work, I stopped breathing. In 1999, he'd dedicated the poem on page 49 to Pat. Slow-streaming tears tempered the rest of my day.
by GARY THOMPSON
ON JOHN MUIR'S TRAIL
Bear Star Press 1999
FOR PATRICK RANAHAN
Your package of east coast
autumn leaves arrived
just as my life
needed connection to the seasonal
reds of my earliest falls
I confess, young migratory friend,
the western dogwood beside my porch
is a stunning welcome
but I miss the maples more
each November spent
here where mostly oafish yellow bigleaf
and viny imitations
drop their uninspired leaves.
I like to say maple,
my grandpa's eastern kind: mountain, silver,
red, and best of all — the sugar
he coddled as a seedling
and loved until the budless spring
he died. Later, in forbidden Snow
Woods, I gathered red leaves
in my lunch box, afterlives
I spirited home
in the childhood dusk.
Your airmailed leaves spill
from a basket on my desk; my thoughts
blow east. I'll send
along a single heart-
redbud leaf I've kept around
to ignite a day,
a fragile western find I found
might make me cry.
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
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 18, 2013: AGING CAN WAIT
I'm in the Orchard Creek parking lot. I'm looking for the blood bank's mobile van. I have a 9:30 a.m. appointment to give blood, but I see no mobile van anywhere. Do I have the wrong day? I call the 800 number for the blood bank. It's 10:00 a.m. and the message says, "It's after regular office hours."
I call another 800 number. A real person answers. "I'm sorry. I don't know the van schedule."
She puts me on hold to check the calendar. "You have the right day," she says. "The van had a flat tire this morning. That's why it isn't there."
Thank goodness. Glad to know it's the van and not me.
I'd planned to attend a physician's lecture tonight about aging and what to expect. I'm not at that presentation, however. Something's come up. Earlier today I found a copy of Mockingjay in the library. It's the third and final book in the Hunger Games series. I'm already on page 58.
Marisa sent a text this afternoon. "Do you still have the copy of Catching Fire we gave you? Sam's decided he wants it back."
I send a reply text. "You're in luck, Sam. I still have the book and I'll mail it back to you. We Hunger Games fans have to stick together."
Aging can wait.
PATRICK'S FACEBOOK POST: Well, I've been wrestling with my power cord for 45 minutes and it's not charging my computer. About to lose power so if you don't hear from me for a while, you know why.
SEPTEMBER 19, 2013: REAL CHANGE IN THE AIR?
Good news in the paper this morning. Pope Francis is making sense. I've not experienced this much emotion about the Catholic Church since the day I walked out of mass 37 years ago.
During the sermon that day, an 80-something Irish priest — from the old country — ranted on and on about birth control. In a thick brogue he declared, "Birth control is a mortal sin. Women are made to have children. Lots of children. Women cannot deny the will of God."
I glanced down the pew at my four tow-headed offspring -- Patrick Sean, Megan Kathleen, Marisa Elizabeth, and Kerry Colleen. Everyday I felt overwhelmed -- torn between being the mother I aspired to be, and being the mother I had the stamina to be. My husband was no longer attending mass. Finding four matching pairs of shoes and socks, blankies, the prerequisite stuffed animals, and getting four reluctant, little kids to the church on time, was a struggle week after week. The old priest's blathering on about birth control was my tipping point. In that moment, I lost all connection to the church I'd been born into. I was done.
"Come children," I whispered. "We're leaving."
Alas. A quiet exit was not to be. My little kids toddled down the aisle, bobbing like ducklings behind their mother duck. They chattered in chirpy, high-pitched voices.
"Mommy, why are we leaving?"
"Mommy, are we going home?"
"Mommy, can we go get donuts?"
I've not been back to mass since. Today, however, Pope Francis delivers a different kind of sermon. He says, according to the Sacramento Bee, "The Catholic Church cannot focus so much on gay marriage, contraception, and abortion. The moral structure of the church will fall, like a house of cards, if it doesn't find a better balance.
"Religion has the right to express its opinion in the service of the people, but God, in creation, has set us free — it's not possible to interfere spiritually in the life of a person.
"A person once asked me, in a provocative manner, if I approved of homosexuality. I replied with another question. 'Tell me, when God looks at a gay person, does he endorse the existence of this person with love, or reject and condemn this person?' We must always consider the person."
When asked who he is, the Pope says, "I am a sinner."
Whether the Pope's humanity will filter down to the diocesan level, remains to be seen. Whether rigid church doctrines will catch up with the human condition, isn't clear. But, for the first time in years, I feel a God-like presence in the Pope who's leading the Catholic Church.
I'm not returning to the church or to mass, but I'll pray that real change is happening. And I haven't prayed, in the Catholic sense, in a long, long time.
SEPTEMBER 20, 2013: WHO'S ON FIRST?
A woman from the blood bank leaves a message on my answering machine. "We're sorry for the mix up the other day. Thank you for your donation a few months ago. We have a location in Roseville. We're hoping you'll come in there. We won't be in Lincoln again until December. Thank you and have a great day."
My confidence in this organization is not as strong as before. Are they good stewards of blood donations? Are there problems in management? Is our misconnect a random occurrence? I'll give them another chance in December.
Meanwhile, the ladies' bridge group is here. It's my turn to hostess. We're waiting for a member who's always on time. I call her to see if she's coming.
"Is this you, Dede? I went to the wrong house. I had to come back home to find your address. I'll be right there."
Jazzy strolls through the living room. One of the ladies pulls a small, smooth stone out of her pocket. "I don't like cats," she says, "especially black cats." She rubs the rock until Jazzy disappears into my bedroom.
Another woman, whom I've met a half dozen times, is calling me "Betty." I'm embarrassed to correct her. We haven't started playing bridge, yet. When we do, I know we'll forget which suit is trump, whose turn it is to deal, what our partners bid, where we're supposed to sit - Table One or Table Two - and where we left our drinking glasses.
Good thing representatives from the blood bank aren't here. They might begin to question the quality of my blood donation. They might decide to give me one more chance in December.
SEPTEMBER 21, 2013: SILENCE
A quiet, rainy day.
If someone were to walk into my home right now, they'd hear silence. The tv's turned off. The radio's turned off. The washing machine and the dishwasher are idle.
When I left my marriage, I felt uncomfortable with silence. No one in my house, besides me, made noise. No one said, "Let's go to a movie," or asked, "What shall we do tomorrow?" No other voice responded to mine.
At first, I felt lonely, very lonely, even when I was out and about. In the grocery store, for example, I'd hear other people talking to each other.
"Shall we get apples and bananas?"
"Does that recipe need basil or oregano?"
"Let's have soup on Monday and fish on Tuesday."
No one was asking me about menus for the week or about having pork chops versus lamb chops. All I heard were my own thoughts. Shall I have salmon for dinner? It's on sale. Sounds like a good idea.
Over time, however, something unexpected happened. I grew used to silence. I welcomed it. I craved it when I found myself in angry gatherings filled with too many grating voices and too many clashing opinions.
I'm sitting at my desk in my small, quiet haven. I'm watching rain drops slide down the window pane. I'm thinking. I'm reflecting. I'm listening to the inner core that is my soul.
Stillness swaddles me like a warm blanket as I soak in the hush of a soft, rainy day.
SEPTEMBER 22, 2013: OLD AND CRANKY
Wow. I'm getting old and cranky. I turned off the Emmy Awards. One half-hour was all I could take. What other profession, outside entertainment, has so many narcissistic award shows? Shows that are too frenetic, too cheesy, too political, too much run by the "good old boys." I don't watch television often so I don't know most of the actors receiving awards anyway.
This afternoon, I started reading Sally of Monticello by N.M. Ledgin. The author recounts the 38-year love affair between Thomas Jefferson and his slave, Sally Hemings.
A quote on the title page: "In reality, the nation should recognize Sally and Thomas as its founding parents and abandon the idea that the United States was a white nation from its inception." Clarence E. Walker, Mongrel Nation
This will be an interesting read. Sorry Emmys. You've lost out to a low-tech competitor — a 363 page book. No sleazy jokes. No rambling acceptance speeches. No in-your-face commercials.
No way around it. I admit, without any self-judgment, I'm of another time.
SEPTEMBER 23, 2013: OFF
Ugh. Worst day. I've been at this computer for four-and-a-half hours doing — what else? — paperwork. Paying my bills, Pat's bills, and Mom's bills. I forgot some of my online passwords, ID's and pin numbers and had to jump through hoops to get into my own accounts. I needed to get info from my dear brother, Jim, in order to add him to a Power of Attorney document.
He calls. He's not happy. "I don't like giving out my Social Security number, my address, my work address, or any of the rest of it. Why do they need this information, anyway?"
Like I know. I'm simply trying to fill out the damn forms. "It's for our mother," I remind him. "Also, what do you think about an immediate annuity for her? Any thoughts?"
"I want a day or two to think about all this," Jim says. "And I'll research annuities."
This is good. I have a two-day reprieve from filling in the blanks on the POA documents. Maybe Jim will come up with a better idea than annuities.
Pat's here to do his laundry. He needs 10 dollars to buy dog food for Lexi. I ask, "How long will I be paying for dog food?"
Pat shrugs. He's trying to get a restaurant job. His dad is providing the $600 for the dental work he needs.
That's a relief. Do I sound crabby? I do. I am.
I look at all the papers on my desk. I'm shredding some of this stuff. I'll probably shred something I shouldn't. I don't care. Shredding is therapeutic. Shredding is good for my mental health. I'm turning this computer OFF.
PATRICK'S FACEBOOK POST: I used to enjoy a can of pork and beans but when you've been staring down a lonely can for two weeks, as a last resort meal, they really lose their appeal. Thanks to my sister, Marisa, for gifting me a new power cord for my computer so I'm back online. And thanks to all my generous friends who have offered to send food, money, cook me dinner, send uplifting messages, etc. Feeling Grateful! I get by with a little help from my friends.
SEPTEMBER 24, 2013: HELENA
I'm having lunch with Helena, the woman who came in anguish to the last family mental illness support group meeting. She's invited me to her home. Helena's whole house is shades of white — white carpet, white furniture, white pillows, white floral arrangements, white artwork, and mirrors suspended in white frames. Her Himalayan kitty is white and sleeping on a white crocheted throw on a white chair.
I'm feeling underdressed in my jean capris and t-shirt top. Helena is dressed in a white jersey top and white slacks with tasteful jewelry. She's wearing white flats. She's proud of her home and shows me around.
"Everything's beautiful," I tell her.
"Thank you. When I lived in Europe, I decorated all my friends' houses."
We sit down at the dining room table which glitters with white candles and crystal and white floral napkin rings. Helena serves a chicken and rice main dish and a salad artfully arranged on a side plate. She begins her story.
"I'm an orphan. My mother suffered from complications of childbirth and bled to death. My father didn't know how to care for an infant and he placed me in an orphanage. It was 1940 and he left to join partisans in the mountains. Later he was captured and forced to work underground for four years without seeing the light of day. In 1944, he was released but he was frail and didn't survive.
"I hoped one day the door of the orphanage would open and someone would enter and call out my name. But no one ever came for me. I remained in the orphanage until I was fifteen. Then, I was sent away to a dormitory to be schooled as a nurse focusing on sports medicine.
"I didn't own anything but some money from my grandfather allowed me to buy a bicycle. I was so happy. I was rich because I could ride my bicycle and not have to walk everywhere. I was also naive. I couldn't afford to buy a lock and someone stole my only means of transportation."
In her early twenties, Helena met the handsome young man who would become her husband for twenty-four years. "He was an artist. People thought he was eccentric as many artists are. After a while, I realized something was wrong and, as time progressed, his voices became more disquieting. It was clear that he was suffering from schizophrenia.
"When I was forty-seven, I finally got permission to take a vacation to Italy with my teenage son and daughter. It was our secret for six months that we planned to defect. I needed freedom from communism and freedom from my husband. When we crossed the border into Austria, we knelt on the ground and gave thanks. I went immediately to the authorities and asked for political asylum. We lived in a refugee camp, sharing one room with twenty-seven other people. After three years, I was considered legally divorced.
"I went to the American embassy several times to ask for permission to emigrate to the United States. I always wore my one dress and makeup — to look nice. At first, I was denied because I didn't speak English and didn't appear to be employable. But I persisted and, at last, we were allowed to come here. I came with my two children, our few clothes, and not a penny of my own."
In time, Helena learned English and procured employment in an assisted living facility. She pauses. She looks at her surroundings. "I wanted quiet and peace for myself. A place to feel free and to be who I am. I've always known who I am inside — even when I was in the orphanage. I enjoy each day here. Each moment. I never close the shutters because I've had enough darkness in my life. I'm calm today. Not like I am when my son is here."
Helena doesn't understand why, after everything she's lived through, she also bears the sorrow of having two adult children ill with schizophrenia. "It's better in Europe for people like my son and daughter. They give them medicine and allow them to work. Here, a diagnosis of mental illness makes it extremely difficult to be hired and remain employed."
Helena's son lives in low-income housing. He comes to her home for a week once a month. He can be troublesome and abusive, and sometimes she's afraid of him.
"Should you allow your son to come here?"
"I have to. I'm all he has and I know how it feels to have no door open to you. I can't close my door to him."
Helena thinks she may have enough money to stay in her rented home for a couple more years. "I may have to move and find a two-bedroom apartment for my son and me to live in. I may have to look for a job. I could hostess in a restaurant."
At 73, Helena's a beautiful woman proud of maintaining her figure and her appearance. She shows me several photos of herself, spanning 20 years, wearing the same white dress. "I love that dress and that I can still wear it. I made it myself. Maybe I'll ask to buried in it."
Two hours fly by. Helena has an appointment at the bank in half an hour. Her investments aren't doing well and she's not happy. "I'm asking for some changes," she says.
I hug Helena goodby. "You're a strong, brave, wonderful woman."
As I walk down the steps to my car, I blink back my tears.
PATRICKS' FACEBOOK POST: Thanks Dad for helping me out with a dental appointment. This morning, I pulled a piece of tooth from the inside of my lower gum. Guess this is what they mean when they say "getting long in the tooth." A huge thank you to Daniel Pettegrew for a very generous gift in a time of extreme need. Hard to ask for help but blown away when it arrives.
SEPTEMBER 26, 2013: A PLEASANT DAY
Got a haircut and bought a little table at Home Goods for twenty-nine dollars. At Trader Joe's, I purchased two jars of their Lavender Salt Scrub. It's made with apricot kernel oil, almond oil, green tea leaf, avocado oil, Vitamin E, and lavender oil. Love the stuff.
Now, I'm delivering groceries to Mom. I climb over a three-foot patio wall to stack the groceries on her patio and then walk around, through the back gate, to let myself in her front door.
"Some new people moved in," she says. "They're from Lincoln Hills. They play bridge. Do you know them?"
I don't recognize their names.
"He's an interesting fellow. He always sits next to me and pats my hand. If I move my hand, he pats my leg. Yesterday, he stopped me in the hallway to tell me what beautiful white hair I have. He's making me nervous. I don't think he knows how old I am. Next time I see him, I'll tell him I'm ninety-five. That should do it."
I stop at Kerry's to see her newly painted house. Every room is grey except for two special rooms. Regan's room is pink. Ayla's room is lavender. Fresh paint is comforting, clean, and neat. Now Kerry wants to change the carpet and the tile floors. That's the problem with new paint. One thing leads to another.
Home again. The little table works perfectly next to the chaise in my bedroom. It fits under the shutters when I open them with 1/8 inch to spare. I'm settling in to watch a documentary on tv about wild turkeys and enjoying a bowl of my own homemade chili. It's a slow cooker recipe using ground chicken instead of beef.
All in all, a pleasant day.
PATRICK'S FACEBOOK POST: Went to Walmart at 5:30 this morning to avoid the usual demographic and had a fairly pleasant shopping experience. Clerk who rang me up said, as he handed me the receipt, "Survey on the back. Be sure to tell them how badly we treated you today." And he said it perfectly politely with a huge smile but as I walked out to the parking lot and the lights suddenly went off, I thought to myself that there was something sinister about that.
SEPTEMBER 27, 2013: TODAY'S NEWS/TOMORROW'S REWRITE
NASA's Mars Rover, Curiosity, finds no signs of life on Mars because it finds no methane, a gas that is considered the possible calling card of microbes. On the other hand, it's found unlimited supplies of water. The surface soil is two percent water meaning every cubic foot contains around two pints that could be extracted to sustain earthling pioneers.
Voyager I, launched in 1977, is the first spacecraft to exit the solar system and enter interstellar space. It's 11.7 billion miles from Earth and hurtling away at 38,000 mph.
On the ground, in a meeting at the United Nations, there's a motion to oversee the removal of chemical weapons from Syria. The President of the US and the new President of Iran speak to each other for 15 minutes on the phone — the first high level contact for these two countries since 1979.
Knowledge of the universe, like the universe itself, is expanding. Historical events keep unfolding. We may not really know what's happening today until 50 years in the future with a contextual look back. Today's good guy is tomorrow's bad guy. Today's hero is tomorrow's fallen hero. What we deem factual this moment may be upended the next, i.e., eggs were bad for us and then they weren't.
At 69, there's one thing I know. The older I get, the less I know for sure.
Patrick's Facebook Post: Needles in the mouth, power tools in the mouth, $625 out of pocket, whole face completely numb. A day at the dentist.
SEPTEMBER 28, 2013: BEFORE AND AFTER
You never know what a day will bring. I'm at duplicate bridge. There's a commotion on the opposite of the room. I see an elderly man on the floor. People are clustering around him. The club president, a retired doctor, is bending over him.
I don't know this man's name. I'm guessing he's in his late 80s or early 90s. Reports are making their way across the room. He tripped on the back leg of his chair and fell. The paramedics are coming. Everyone seems calm, including the gentleman and his wife. Caution is the order of the day. You have to be cautious at this man's age. You don't know when a little injury might turn into a big deal.*
The paramedics arrive. They're taking their time checking the man out. He has a broken shoulder and a broken hip. They're loading him onto a gurney. We all applaud as they push him out the door. He smiles and waves. His wife follows.
The rest of us resume our bridge game. That's what you do, living each day in a retirement community. You get used to people falling, ambulance sirens, and paramedics. You get used to watching friends and acquaintances, who are fine one minute, being transported to the hospital the next.
One day, you know it will be your turn. Something will happen that alters your projection. There's a major shift and then events will be referenced as "before" or "after." Your life, as it was, versus the way it is now.
I'm trying to get my ducks in a row. I've got my prepaid cremation plan. I really, really need to update my living trust. And mom's living trust. Today is Saturday. Tomorrow, Sunday. Mine might be a whole new story.
*Several months after this incident, the man died from complications due to his injuries.
PATRICK'S FACEBOOK POST: Every once in a while, you meet someone who shakes you to your core with their authenticity and beauty. And the more you get to know them, the deeper your affection grows. And time goes on, and the mystery continues to surprise you and delight you. Hold on to these people. Cultivate these relationships. They are rare and priceless.
SEPTEMBER 29, 2013: ODDS AND ENDS
I'm updating my library list with new additions:
Levels of Life by Julian Barnes
Sister, Mother, Husband, Dog by Delia Ephron
David and Goliath by Malcom Gladwell
This is the Story of a Happy Marriage by Ann Patchett
Zealot by Reza Aslan
Quiet by Susan Cain
The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot
The Casual Vacancy by J.K. Rowling
Still Foolin'em by Billy Crystal
A House in the Sky by Amanda Lindhout
Devotion: A Memoir by Dani Shapiro
I am Malala by Malala Yousafzai
Weather reports say there's a 40 percent chance of light rain this evening. I'm fertilizing the front and back yards with a shake-and-feed granule fertilizer, the third time this year I've fertilized and I think it's making a difference. The trees and shrubs are looking greener and fuller.
This evening, I'm having dinner with Joan and checking in to see how she's doing since Beryl passed. She thinks she's going to be okay financially. She's taking pleasure in her pet-sitting business. " I love being with the animals."
I show Joan how to download the Instagram App onto her cell phone. We hover over our smartphones like two techies. Like two techie who know what they're doing.
PATRICK'S FACEBOOK POST: Got my inner Chicano on at the Latin Food and Music Festival with old friend Carlos Elizalde and Ruckatan, Latin Tribe.
SEPTEMBER 30, 2013: WORTH A TRY
Here we go again. CNN has a clock counting down until the government shutdown tonight. And, in two weeks, we'll be facing another standoff over the debt ceiling.
This is a dangerous routine. When the government cries "wolf" too many times, the public tunes out. Then really irresponsible government actions take place. The media, of course, doesn't help. Everything is reported at high decibels. Viewer crisis-fatigue sets in.
The true bad news is that it didn't rain today. No rain is expected in the next 10 days, either. My fertilizing efforts languish in the warm fall sun.
Meanwhile, i'm making plans for babysitting Regan and Ayla tomorrow evening while Kerry and David go out for an anniversary dinner. I'm thinking up a recipe for gummy worm cookies in honor of October and Halloween, and in honor of the fact that Ayla loves gummy worms. I think we'll put green sprinkles, for grass, on warm sugar cookies. Then we'll add gummy worms inching through the grass, as many per cookie as we want. We don't have to negotiate. We don't have to compromise.
Maybe we should send these cookies to congress and to the president. Then everyone would be happy and would agree to work together. It couldn't hurt.
PATRICK'S FACEBOOK POST: The Latin Food and Music festival yesterday in Sacramento was being patrolled by a cute officer with a ponytail and her partner, Officer J. Walker. I kid you not. His name was J. Walker. Can't make this stuff up.
OCTOBER 1, 2013: TOO MUCH FUN
I'm with Regan and Ayla. First, we eat hamburgers and fries. Then Regan does her addition and subtraction homework and I check. Now, we're into cookie making. Sugar cookies are baking and we're waiting to decorate them with sprinkles and gummy worms.
While the cookies are baking, Regan and Ayla are eating the sprinkles. They have to test all the colors. In between, we talk about whatever comes to mind. There are no filters.
Regan says, "I call my father 'Dad' or 'Daddy.'"
I ask, "What do you call your mother?"
Ayla answers, "Muba."
"No," I protest. "You don't call your mother, 'Muba.'"
"Muba, Muba, Muba." Ayla's laughing. This is very funny.
Regan has a question. "Where are your mommy and daddy, Mim?"
"Well, you know GG. She's my mother."
"Where's your father?"
"My father's passed away. He's in heaven."
Regan pauses. "I wish I'd met him."
"You'd have liked him and he'd have liked you. I called him 'Pop.'"
Regan pauses again. "Some Grandpas are Papa and some are Pop."
Ayla's into it. "Papa Poppy Papa Poppy Mim Mimmy Mim Mimmy." This is very funny.
The first tray of cookies is out of the oven. We let them cool a few minutes but it's hard to wait. Time to put on the sprinkles. Time to pour on the sprinkles. You can't have too many sprinkles on one cookie.
My vision — gummy worms wriggling though green grass — appears to be rather pedestrian. Instead, these gummy worms are cavorting in green, blue, pink, yellow, and orange grass. Some are doing back bends on their cookies. Some are standing on their heads. Some are burrowing through cookies and coming out the other side.
We're making a big mess. We see sprinkles on the floor. Sprinkles in our hair. Sprinkles on the dog. And when we're in our pajamas and reading Duck Duck Goose, we find sprinkles in our bed. This is very funny.
"Good night, Ayla."
Sometimes life is simply too much fun.
Please share my blog/book with "other wayfarers who might catch a resonating echo while wandering in my woods." Thanks.
COMING UP THURSDAY, OCTOBER 5, 2017:
OCTOBER 2, 2013 - October 18, 2013: The Grandma Drawer * Naps * Courage * Paralysis * Good Enough for Guests * Age Calculator * In The Big Scheme of Things * Conversation * Getting It * Mission Accomplished * Always Something * Holy Moley * Under Control * Wild Women
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