Jekyll Island Beach 2012

Jekyll Island Beach 2012
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Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Nix On The Doggie Play Dates, Honey!


The Rogue Speaks:
*
Well, you all know we have a new dog, Mulligan. He has been a big hit with the family, especially his two dog cousins, Callie and Nugget. They came over a couple of times for play dates while their parents were on vacation, and Rod and Keil were taking care of them.
*
They were so excited to visit! When they came through the door, they immediately headed for the back yard, with Mulligan right behind them. Precious is not to keen on them coming over. She thinks they are way too loud and boistrous. She stands back and eyes their antics with disdain. If they try to get her to join in, she shows them her teeth. They get the picture.
*
After a couple of trips around the yard, they come in and do several laps around the house, with Mulligan in hot pursuit. Then they each grab a toy and play keep-away for a while. I was hoping eventually they would tire themselves out and collapse on the floor for a while.
*
But NOOOOOO! They devised a new game! A barking match! They stood around barking at each other, trying to see who could be the loudest. This is no joke! They each kept getting louder and louder, until my ears started to ring. I got a phone call, and decided to move to the bedroom so I could hear my BFA. Apparently, that is against the rules. It seems that I had been deemed the judge of this contest. As soon as I got to the bedroom, here they came, barking louder and louder. I moved to the office--no luck--there they were.
*
When my kids were little and I had them all in the back of the van with their friends, and they started yelling at each other or arguing, or whatever, I could take it for a while--just tune them out. This is something completely different. I tried to tune the dogs out, but I think they knew it. Eventually the kids would fall asleep, and I hoped that the dogs' throats would get sore and they would tire themselves out.
*
When I was working as an import broker in Chicago, my boss wanted me to learn German so I could communicate with some of the growers. I had tapes that I would listen to in the car, going to and from work, and when I ran errands. When the kids came along with me, I still played the tapes, even though I couldn't really concentrate. I know I didn't learn very much with yelling kids in the back of the van. The kids, however, learned to count to ten in German with perfect little German accents. Someone was paying attention over all that cacaphony!
*
I don't think I would want the dogs to learn to bark in German--a little too gutteral, I think. But maybe one of the romance languages like French.
*
I stopped trying to learn German with the kids in the car, so I would put on a little Mozart. As the kids grew up,the noise level dropped exponentially, and it was actually pleasant having them with me. One day I was rushing to get my errands done, and I realized that I had forgotten my Mozart. I was very annoyed with myself, until my son, Jeff, told me that he would entertain me while I drove. He proceeded to whistle Eine Kleine Nachtmusik from start to finish. I was astounded, and thrilled!
*
I could put on some music for the dogs, but I would be afraid to play Mozart's classic, because it might come out like this: BARK BARKBARK BARKBARKBARKBARKBARKBARK BARK
BARKBARK BARKBARKBARKBARKBARKBARK
*
Oh, yes, I know. I could just put them all in the back yard and lock the door, but I'm afraid our mean-spirited neighbor, Paula, would call the police on me. It would be just like her to do that!! Shortly after we moved here, we were in bed one night and Precious just couldn't settle down. She heard the coyotes in the arroyo, and she thought they wanted her to come out and play.We were so tired, so we decided to put her in her crate in the laundry room. We closed the door. We closed our bedroom door. She didn't bark or howl--She SCREAMED at the top of her lungs. We decided to give her 15 minutes to calm down, but 5 minutes into her tirade the phone rang. It was Paula, complaining that she couldn't sleep with the racket going on. Poor Rod was exausted and couldn't think of a comeback, and he knew if he gave me the phone that I COULD and WOULD!
*
The only way she could have heard Precious was if she had her ear to the wall and had one of those trumpet things. We ended up having to put Precious back in bed with us. So now you see why I can't let the Doggie Serenaders out in the back yard.
*
I have told Rod that there will be no more play dates at this house!






Sunday, June 27, 2010

Ladies Who Lunch

The Rogue Speaks:

I realize that I am using the term "ladies" loosly. Hmmm--that could be misinterpeted' Anyway, it had been many weeks since I had gotten together with my Best Friend Artist. The last time was just before I left for the trip. We met at Amarsi, if you remember, and quickly became the most fun customers they had.

This time, we went to Chili's, and asked two of our favorite artist girlfriends to join us. I was the last to arrive, and they were already seated and laughing, which is a very good sign. As I sat down, the waiter immediately came over to take my beverage order. He brought it back in record time and then disappeared. We began talking and laughing, and time went by, but no waiter appeared to take our order. My stomach was growling. I finally caught the eye of a young woman who was serving drinks, and I asked her to please get our waiter. After a few minutes, she came back and announced that SHE would be serving us.

We had done it again! I think it may have been the talk about a husband's hernia surgery, or maybe the discussion about colonoscopies and polyps, and doctors who only recognize you by a certain part of your anatomy that is usually not on view. When it started, my best friend put her fingers in her ears and started singing, "Lalalalalalala" because she doesn't like to hear medical stuff, especially while eating a hamburger. Between her lalalaing and the sound of the horns at the soccer game, the restaurant was really rocking. Even though the horns had been sort of muted by the sound man, they still sounded like a swarm of bees (not a good sound in Tucson, since we have killer bees). In any case, I think the first waiter thought we were to much for him to handle.

Then the gossip started. I won't bore you with the details, but it was some pretty juicy stuff, causing my BFA to pull out her post-its. That woman has post-its all over her house and car!

Every holiday, I and a few more friends give her a fresh supply. She probably buys a lot on her own, too. Anyway, she is frantically writing all the juiciest parts of the conversation down so she can tell her sister. Our two artist friends start laughing at the post-it queen, and tell her to make sure she doesn't leave anything out.

My BFA and I are planning a "Girl's Game Night" with lots of good food, wine, and other spirits, and several "brain" games that always make us laugh til we pee. I took some pictures one night, but that didn't go over very well, so I had to delete them.

This is how my life is supposed to be--back in my own nest, with my family and my dogs, having a good laugh with friends who know me all too well. I feel myself beginning to get back into my element.

Thank you, MyDi, Cherrie, and Diane. I am now officially home again.

Saturday, June 26, 2010

I Besiege You, My Friends!!!!!!!!!!!

The Rogue Speaks:

Oooooh! I am so conflicted!!! Should I write about my new baby, Mulligan? Should I write about the great lunch I had today with my artist friends whom I had not seen since I went to hell and back? Or should I write about our pathetic, red-neck, racist governor who thinks that all the illegal immigrants are carrying drugs across the border? Help me out here, my blogger pals, and tell me what to do!!!!!

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

I'm Taking A Mulligan!!


The Rogue Speaks:
All the way home from Green Valley on Monday, we discussed what we should name our "transition" dog, while he sat in my lap and Precious, our 13 year old Yorkie, sat in Rod's lap to help him steer the car.
*
I wanted to name him Payne Stewart, but Rod didn't like that. He suggested Ben Hogan, but I opted for Charles Palmer. " Who's that??" he questioned. Well, it was just a name I liked. He didn't. Then I suggested naming him Par Three, because he was our third dog. He frowned!
*
All this time our new little boy was calmly sitting in my lap, all fourteen pounds of him. I think he knew that he had been rescued and was now going to a new home where he would get two squares a day, a yard to pee in, lots of toys, and a place on our bed in which to sleep every night.
*
Eleven and a half years ago, Precious was our transition dog. Our Maltese, Watson, was getting up there, and if something happened to him, we would be so sad and lonely. Watson lived to be sixteen, and when he was gone, Precious was there to distract us and keep us from being too lonely.
*
It wasn't until today that we finally decided to name our new boy Mulligan. For those of you who don't play golf, a mulligan is a second chance if you don't like your first shot. Golf purists don't approve of mulligans, but I think everyone should have a second chance once in a while!
*
Precious seems very comfortable with the situation. She hasn't bared her teeth, or growled under her breath. She thought she had struck gold when it came to mealtime. His food tasted much better than her senior diet, and when we weren't watching, she cleaned his bowl! She's paying for it now! She is literally waddling around with a belly as tight as a drum. Rod is doing triple duty on the poop patrol, too. Oddly enough, Mulligan likes her food better than his own, so when he saw his was gone, he simply ate hers! Everybody was happy, at least for a while.
*
Mulligan is getting a second chance at having a good family who will take care of him properly, take him for walks, and love him. I think his name is quite appropriate!

Saturday, June 19, 2010

DROP BACK TEN AND PUNT

The Rogue Speaks:

One morning, you wake up and you know that things are just not right. You feel fat! You feel bloated! Your brain feels like a sea sponge! You are suffering from CON-STI-PATION! All that unwise eating and drinking have caught up with you! You know what you have to do now. You have to purge! As you can tell by my last seven posts, I did just that! And I feel better than I have felt in, well, in forever!

Of course, you all suffered along with me, and while I appreciate it more than you will ever know, it is done now. I can go on with my life, and feel really good that the ghosts are forever banished from the place of honor that they held for so long. Now I am honoring myself, and my life with my husband and my children. Yipee!

Keil and I played golf today. Yes, I know this is Tucson and it is bloody hot, and no one in their right mind is going to go out when it is 103 degrees, but that is our life here. We drink at least a gallon of water every day, and we hardly make a pit stop.

The course is very dry, and brown patches of grass are everywhere. That doesn't deter us. It just means that we have to be a little more conservative in our club selection. The sprinkling system is on a timer this time of year, and we never know when it is going to come on. It does know, however, when I am in the middle of the fairway, hitting a crucial shot to the green.

I take my stance, and in the middle of my back swing, the sprinklers come on. O.k., yes, I know I am standing right by a sprinkler head! I SEE it! But I am never prepared for that sudden spray of water that reminds me of when I was giving birth, and found myself standing in a puddle.

The shock of having water shoot up your nose, or your ass, is not something that you are likely to forget any time soon. I cough, I sputter, I hit an errant shot that ends up much farther away than I deserve! I was having such a good round! But if I end up with a double bogey, it will be more than I deserve.

At least I am alive. At least I have people whom I can trust, whom I can fall back on when things get tough, I am lucky! I have survived the worst that life can throw at you.

Friday, June 18, 2010

THE ROAD HOME, Chapter 7

The Rogue Speaks:


I was an adult with three children of my own when I dropped the “startle marble” that shocked my siblings. I had confronted my mother many years before, and even though she knew, had seen it with her own eyes, and I had known that she had seen it, she refused to believe that she had had any part in it. She lied.

I needed help. Robert Frost once wrote that “home is the place that when you go there, they have to take you in.” I went there, and they didn’t take me in. They shunned me, called me a liar, and my mother, the woman who had told many times over of the agony of giving birth to me, the hours she had spent in labor to bring me into the world, denied her own complicity.

“You are alone,” I said to myself. “You have to work this thing out for yourself. You are stronger, smarter, clever enough to do it, so scrape them off! They are weak, sick, unable to help themselves, or even want to.

I separated myself by distance, and began to try to build a normal life. It was anything but easy. They refused to let me escape. They came after me, day after day, month after month, year after year, trying to drag me back into their madness., and at the same time, punishing me for having told the truth.

I had moved to Chicago in 1978, and after the birth of my fourth child in 1979, I took a part-time job with a flower broker in 1981. I did well at that job, and was offered a full-time position with an international import broker. When my soon-to-be ex-husband lost his job, and we found ourselves moving to Birmingham, the president of the brokerage decided to set up an office for me there, with the understanding that I would return one week a month to work in the Chicago office.

I was working at my desk in Chicago, when a call came in from my sister. “What is it now?” I wondered to myself. I found out soon enough, as she raged at me about being there when I should have been at home with my children. At that time, I was making more money than my father had ever dreamed of making in a year—money that we needed.

“I know what you’re doing!” she raged. “You’re probably up there sleeping with some man!” The mere thought of that was so bizarre, that I didn’t know how to respond at first.

Finally I spoke. “You people have absolutely no idea just who I am.” I said quietly.

“You people?? YOU PEOPLE??” she screamed. I quietly replaced the received back in the cradle and went back to work.


The night before my father killed himself, he asked for my forgiveness. He was 50 years old. The abuse had begun when I was only 10 years old. Sometimes I think that it began earlier than that, but I can’t be sure—the memories are hazy. Did she know, my mother? Did she know? Yes, she did. She had always known. But, because her life was all about her, she had thrown me to the wolves.

The night before, he wanted me to go for a ride with him. “She’s tired, “ my mother had told him. “Let her be! The baby is due in only two months!” This was my first pregnancy, and my then husband and I had come from Nashville to Atlanta so he and his father, and my father could go hunting together. It was something that my father rarely did.

She didn’t want him to be alone with me because she knew he wanted to talk—about his life, my wedding, the impending birth of my first child, and HER. Oh, she knew! She knew he was tired and sick. She knew that I had won in my battle to get him into treatment for his mental illness that had ravaged him for so many years. She had fought me tooth and nail for such a long time now.

“Stay out of this!” she had told me. “ I am not going to air our dirty laundry!”

“Don’t you care that he is suffering? Don’t you want him to get better? And what about ME?” I would ask. “Doesn’t my life mean anything to you? You KNEW! And you did nothing to help me! Nothing to help him! HOW COULD YOU?????”

“WHY CAN’T YOU JUST FORGET ABOUT THAT!!!!” she screamed.

As my father and I drove into the city, he began to talk. He asked if I knew about my mother’s first husband, Arthur, who had “mysteriously disappeared in Miami on the eve
of their planned move to the Virgin Islands so he could begin writing the All American Novel.” That was the story that my mother had told me. Told about how he had been an expert on Russia and spoke fluent Russian, told of the FBI searching for him in case he had been kidnapped. It had gone on and on. I knew perfectly well what had happened to him. He had jumped into Biscayne Bay--committed suicide, leaving his glasses perched on the sea wall. And I certainly knew why.

My father talked about his life with my mother, how disappointed he was that she had let herself go, about the spending sprees she went on, about how she had no concept of money or what it took to make it, about how she had made her two boys the center of her world. Then he wanted to talk about me. “I’m sorry,” he said, “for what I did to you. I am so sorry! I hope you can forgive me.”

A little after 5 a.m. the next morning, he came into the room in which I was sleeping. Not my old bedroom that I had slept in as a teenager, but the guest room down the hall. I held my breath as he approached the bed. I pretended to be asleep, hoping he would go away as quickly as he had come. He stood beside the bed, and brushed the hair off my forehead. Then he left.

The “girls” had plans for lunch at noon,, and we arrived back at my parents’ home around 3 in the afternoon. It was a perfect fall day, with a brilliant sun hanging in the sky, and the leaves just beginning to turn. When everyone had left, and I was alone in the den, I was suddenly struck by a sense of foreboding. Something was not right. He had done it. I knew he had, but I didn’t want to believe that the help I had arranged for him had been for naught. Shortly thereafter I heard a car in the driveway, and my mother’s two brothers entered the house.

“Where’s your mother?” Dexter, the older one asked.

My mother met them in the living room. After a few minutes, I opened the door, and saw her sitting on the couch, her hands covering her face, her shoulders hunched. My uncles, sitting on either side of her, looked grim.

“What’s going on?” I asked.

“It’s your dad,” one of them said.

He had been found in his car, a couple of miles off one of the main roads near a television tower. He was dead from a gunshot wound to his head, a note to my two uncles lay on the seat beside him. The help that he had so desperately needed had come too late. His grief and anguish, his tortured life, was just too much for him to bear.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

THE ROAD HOME, Chapter 6

The Rogue Speaks:

Trying to cut Mum’s hair is like trying to hit a moving target, but I do the best I can under the circumstances, and after it is washed, it actually doesn’t look too bad! I had wanted to have it cut by a professional, but the trip to the beauty salon would have taken too much out of her. The hair cut passed Meta’s approval, so that’s good enough for me.

Rod and I took a couple of hours to visit my sister-out-law. Meta stood guard, and we assured her we would be home before she had to leave.. My sister-out-law had called my sister’s husband to ask him to join us, but he was teaching a class at the university.

He called me a couple of days later, and we made plans to meet for lunch. We had emailed back and forth and he wanted to let me know that whatever went on between me and my sister had no adverse effects on our relationship. He just wanted to know both sides of the story, and I was more than happy to comply.

We met him and his girlfriend for lunch at a restaurant not too far from Mum’s home. I think that we were both apprehensive about the meeting, but between Rod and my brother-in-law’s girlfriend, the meeting went exceptionally well. We had already had extensive emails concerning my relationship with my sister, and agreed unequivocally that my break had been the smartest thing I could have done. His life with her had been stressful at best, and now that she was gone, he could finally relax and look forward to the rest of his life. He had loved her, and was committed to their life together, but it had not been easy. My family was never easy.

Rod’s sister had called us one morning eight years ago to tell us that Mum was in the hospital, and the outlook was grim. We literally threw clothes in the car, and drove non-stop to New Orleans, where one of our daughters lived, took a few hours for some much-needed sleep, and then continued on to Atlanta. By the time we arrived, Mum had rallied. We were in her hospital room when my younger brother, Bill, called from Knoxville to say that we had better get up there post-haste because my mother, who was also in the hospital, was dying. Rod drove me to Knoxville, and then turned around and drove back to Atlanta to stay in the hospital with his mom.

My younger brother had called my sister, who was vacationing in NYC, to tell her that Mother was dying. She informed him that she had already said her good-byes. Then he told her that I was on my way to Knoxville. That was all it took to get her on the next plane to Knoxville. I knew nothing of his call to her, and was surprised to learn that she, as well as my other brother, were on their way. God forbid that I should be there without them if she died.

My mother was the expert at little white lies, and she taught my younger brother well. When I got there, he told me that Mother had been asking for me, and had told him that she had dreamed that I had come and stayed with her all night long. It was such a blatant lie, because at that point the woman could not even string two words together. Whatever! I did my duty, and told him to go home and get some sleep, that I would keep watch during the night.

I amaze myself at my lack of emotion during that night. I had come there to fulfill a responsibility, and that was the extent of it. Sometime during the early morning hours, before there was any light in the sky, my sister stormed in, and that was the end of any peace I might have had. She began to rage, and I left, finding an empty hospital bed in which to catch a few hours of sleep.

The following morning we were told that my mother’s kidneys were shutting down. The decision was made to move her back to my brother’s home, where she had been living since selling the house in Atlanta. I rode in the cab of the ambulance, and my sister was furious when the driver told her she could not ride in the back with her dying mother.

A bed had been set up in the living room, facing the picture windows that looked out over hills and woods. Hospice had been contacted, and we were waiting for them to come and go over the process with us. When they arrived, they asked if we could meet in the living room because it was important to not leave Mother out of the conversation, even though she was by this time in a coma. While the hospice nurse was speaking, I glanced occasionally at Mother, checking to be sure that she was still breathing. It had been decided by my siblings that I was to be in charge of the morphine, because they just could not give it to her. I didn’t understand this at the time, but it later came to me, and I was shocked by what they were thinking that I could do. They just didn’t know me at all.

At one point, I glanced at my mother and knew that she was dead. I motioned to the hospice nurse who came to the side of the bed and confirmed her passing. Then the tears began. Not mine, but my sister’s. There were still things to be done, and since they had put me in charge, I had to fulfill my last responsibilities to my mother. The nurse called the mortuary, and collected the unused morphine from me and poured it down the toilet.
Then she left.

I did not cry—could not cry, so I left the tears to my siblings and my three nieces. I called Rod, who had driven me to Knoxville and had immediately turned around to drive back to Atlanta to be with his own mother, who had rallied, but was still quite ill. It would take him four hours to get back to my brother’s house. In the meantime I waited for the mortuary hearse to arrive and take my mother’s body away. They had to be called twice before someone finally arrived almost 3 hours later. I took my mother’s feet and helped the attendant move her body onto the gurney.

Rod arrived just as we were preparing to eat dinner. He was exhausted from all the driving we had done over the past couple of days, and my head was splitting open from lack of sleep, so after we ate, I told my brother that we just had to get some sleep, and asked where we should bed down. He took us to my mother’s room, and we bid him goodnight.

About 45 minutes later there erupted a blood-curdling scream, followed by more screaming. I could tell it belonged to my sister. I pulled an extra pillow over my head, and tried to get back to sleep. I later learned just what she was screaming at the top of her lungs—“I DON’T WANT HER SLEEPING IN MY MOTHER’S BED!” –an unfortunate incident, made even more shocking by the fact that one of my brother’s friends was there, having dropped by to give his condolences. The woman had no boundaries.

The next morning, my siblings and I sat at the dining room table to discuss the plans for the funeral. My sister quickly took charge, ignoring any suggestions I made, so after a short while, I excused myself and left, back to Atlanta with Rod, to the safety of Mum’s house.

The funeral, rather “funerals,” took place over a two day period, my sister having orchestrated both, right down to the video tape she had insisted upon. As usual, it was all drama, drama, drama. After the reception in the dining room of the church, my sister came over to me and said, “We’ll see you back at our house.”

I had decided that this was just not going to happen. I had exposed myself far too long to her hatred for me. “We’re going home,” I said calmly, “back to Arizona.” And then we left, this time for good.

Monday, June 14, 2010

THE ROAD HOME, Chapter 5

The Rogue Speaks:

Mum has decided to spend the entire day on the patio. I get her set up in the lounge chair, with a pillow behind her head, and a lap robe to keep her from becoming chilled. Her lunch is on the table beside her, within easy reach. We settle in with our books.

Reading has become my therapy, and every spare minute I have, I grab a book and bury myself in it. Mum has a book as well—a Carol Higgins Clark book that she has been reading for at least three years. She brought it with her on her last visit with us, and the book mark had moved very little in all that time. I peek at her over my book to see if she is either reading or eating. She is doing neither.

“Mum, please try to eat some of your lunch!” I chide.

She tries to distract me. “How is your sister?” she asks.

“My sister died, Mum, almost three years ago.”

“How did she die?”

“Leukemia, Mum.”

“Oh,” she says. “Then how is Buz (my brother)?” she asks, determined to avoid her lunch.

“I don’t know, Mum.”

“And Bill (my other brother, 15 years my junior), does he live here? Have you seen him?”

“No, Mum, I haven’t. Please try to eat!”

She begins to pick at some apple slices.

The subject of my siblings is sticky. Mum has no concept of the term “dysfunctional family”, and I always try to avoid discussing mine, especially now. There would be endless questions, many of which have been asked and answered in years past. I particularly do not want to answer questions about my sister, who had always left a path of destruction in her wake, and who, over the years, had become more and more hostile toward me, more violent in her verbal attacks. She had gone to a psychiatrist, who gave her anti-psychotic drugs, anti-depressants, and God know what else, to keep her calm. Either they didn’t work, or she wouldn’t take them, I don’t know which.

I had long decided that when Mother died, I would make a run for it. I would break with my sister once and for all, and live a quiet and gentle life with Rod in Tucson. And so I did. This infuriated her even more, to the point that when she learned she was dying, she swore the rest of the family to secrecy. They were all WARNED that no one was to tell me she was dying. So no one did.--until the near end. Four days before she died, my brother Buz, 6 years my junior, call me and said in an over-dramatic tone, “Andrea is dying!” The word “dying’ was stretched out so long that in my head I could actually see each letter with a dash in between. He then went on to explain in a clipped and disdainful tone, everything that had happened, including the fact that HE had been a bone-marrow donor to his beloved sister (the same one to whom he had not spoken for five solid years, but with whom he had “made up” a couple of years before her illness.).

“Hmmm,” I told him, “well, keep me posted.” I was shocked that I was so calm and apathetic, and I was certain that there must be something seriously wrong with me. I had read case studies of abuse victims who, after finding the courage to finally escape for good, eventually had absolutely no empathy for their abuser. This was definitely me.

I never received a call from either of my brothers, and when my sister died, my cousin Sandra, with whom I am particularly close, called to tell me. I sent my brother-in-law a sympathy card.

I did receive an email from my sister-out-law, Buz’s ex-wife (see my post, dated Friday March 12). She likes me, she says, and always has. She says I am smart, and talented and more creative than anyone else in my family. She says that I got all the good genes, and they got all the crazy genes. She’s right about the crazy genes—I lucked out there.

Several months after my sister died, I got a scathing letter from Buz, telling me what a horrible person I was, and how I was the cause of all their problems (I have not lived in Atlanta since 1978), and so from now on, I could consider myself no longer a member of the family. The letter was long and rambling, and sounded as if he was in the manic phase of one of the several mental disorders which he and my sister had inherited from my father’s side of the family. I decided the best way to deal with him and his craziness, was not to deal with him at all. Actually, becoming a non-member was a relief for me. It meant that they had finally decided to stop trying to drag me back into the chaos.

All this is not something I want to get into with Mum, because 1. She would not understand the first thing about it and 2. She has always been a worrier and she would start worrying about me and my family day and night, trying to figure out a way to fix it so everyone was happy. Instead, I get my scissors and a comb and give Mum a badly needed haircut, hoping it would make her feel a little better about herself.

Friday, June 11, 2010

THE ROAD HOME, Chapter 4

The Rogue Speaks:

The days pass slowly, and I am operating on auto-pilot—getting Mum up every morning, moving her to and from the wheel chair, preparing meals that sit, barely touched on the plate, until she asks that they be put in the ‘fridge “for tomorrow.,” taking her to and from the bathroom, cleaning her up. Sometimes, when I am standing by to help her up, she takes my arm in both her hands, and rests her head against me. “I love you , Mum.” I tell her. She needs those words, as we all do, and I am only too glad to provide them. She gives them back in return.

We have a number of hospice workers coming through the house on any given day. They bathe her, take her blood pressure, weigh her, ask her questions about how she feels. She has been extremely modest all of her life, and she always balks when the bather comes, screwing up her face, and frowning like a child.

“Mum,” I tell her, “You will feel so much better after a bath!” I know how extremely modest she is, even to the point of adding a triangle of fabric to her bathing suit many years ago, so that her cleavage won’t show. She still balks, and bending down, I take her face in my hands. “Look at me, Mum. You are a dignified woman, and you will always have your dignity, but you need now to give a little with the modesty. This is for your own comfort!” She knows I am right, and she lets Beatrice roll her down the hall to the shower.

The house is over 50 years old, and when it was built, the plumbing fixtures were put in backwards, so instead of turning counterclockwise to get water, one must turn clockwise. Why this was never fixed over the years is a total mystery to me. It has become an issue with the aides who come to bathe Mum, one that no one has bothered to explain to them until now. Rod explains to each one who comes, just how to turn the water on and set the temperature before turning on the shower. It annoys him that other family members, all whom had lived in the house at some time, had not taken the time to explain just how to operate the shower.

I am way out of my comfort zone. I am two thousand miles away from the safety of my Catalina Mountains, and cannot see the horizon, and the gloom around me brings me down, making me depressed and constantly on edge. I seem to be always angry and sad at the same time. I hate these feelings! And I hate to think that this might be who I really am underneath. There ARE places that bring out the worst in a person.

At home, I am always in the middle of the action, and happy to be there. Even when Mum was with us, and we were getting her healthy after a winter of being cooped up in the dark, dusty house filled with mold spores and cat odors. I was happy to have her to take care of each day. I watched the color come back into her face from days of sitting in the Tucson sun, reading her Bible and talking with us. I took her to have her hair cut and permed, and to have her nails done. She was delighted by the results and the attention she was getting.

I would like to do those things again, but here, something is holding me back—her frail appearance, perhaps the risk of embarrassing other family members by doing what they should have. No, not that. I really don’t care what they think of me. I know I am pushy and opinionated.

Maybe all this stuff would not enrage me so much, had I not had my own personal family demons hanging around in the background, hissing and snapping at me all day long and into the night. They show up every year when I roll into town, and stay until I get on the other side of the Chattahoochee River.. I know that they can’t cross water, so by then I am safe again.

Monday, June 7, 2010

THE ROAD HOME, Chapter 3

The Rogue Speaks:

God love Meta. She is our savior. She began taking care of Mum last year, and we first encountered her during the last two-thirds of our 7000 mile car trip to Hell and back. We clicked, Meta and I. I could see in her eyes that she knew exactly what the family was all about. She knew that I knew, and the bond began. From that day on, we were allies. Our common goal was to pamper and praise and love, so Mum would know that she was not alone. Meta had taken Mum to her heart just as I had done some twenty five years ago when Rod and I married.

When we first arrived, Meta hugged me, laughing. “I knew you were coming! I came in one day last week and this house was turned upside down! They were all cleaning!” she declared.

“I guess they stopped short of shampooing the rugs.” I said. wrinkling my nose.

I learned last year that Meta had been bringing Mum treats every day to encourage her to eat. Rod’s sister was supposed to have been buying groceries, but it didn't take us long to discover that there was very little with which to prepare even a simple sandwich.

We would see little of Rod’s sister this trip. When the doctor told the family just how little time Mum had left, she bailed. She moved out of Mum’s house, where she had established residence almost 30 years ago. She had her own house, but could not afford to live in it, so she had rented it out. Now, miraculously, she could afford to live there, and so she did—living in one room, with a space heater for warmth over the winter because she didn’t want to pay a gas bill. The talk in the family was that she secretly had a boyfriend that she did not want to introduce to them, and that is why she moved.. Meta thinks that she moved out because she didn’t want to be alone with Mum in case she died on her. Mum was heartbroken when she found out, and began asking everyone why she left. Meta told me she would frequently look for her daughter’s car in the driveway, and would ask when she was returning home.

For the first several days, I ventured out no further than the yard. My time was spent tending to Mum’s needs, preparing meals that she hardly touched, talking to Meta, and reading while Mum napped in the lounge chair on the patio. Since Rod was the oldest in the family, and the one with the best memory, he chatted with Mum when she was awake about Canada, and their former life in Edmonton. These talks delighted Mum, whose long-term memory was superb, but whose short-term memory was virtually non-existent. Occasionally she confused one memory with another, however, and several times she told me that she could still see my as a tiny girl, walking to school with a little coat and hat. Even though I lived within walking distance of our school, I was nine by the time they moved to the states, to a house far enough away to require her children to ride the bus. I assume that in her mind I had also lived in Edmonton as a small child.

Rod told me that I needed to get away from the house for a while, so one morning I called my oldest childhood friend from the second grade, and we met for lunch and a local chain restaurant a mile or so from the house. I left the house with some trepidation, my first excursion in my old neighborhood alone. I felt my chest tighten as I drove down familiar streets, but I purposely took the longer route to the restaurant in order to avoid driving by the street on which I had lived as a teenager. There were too many bad memories, just as there had been in the little house that was now torn down.

“Suck it up, you whiner!” I told myself, sitting up a little straighter to go and meet my friend. We would reminisce about the happy times we had together as children and as young adults as well, for this was the friend who had persuaded me to come to our 25th high school reunion. It was at the reunion that Rod and I renewed our friendship, and less than a year later, we married.

After a relaxing and productive lunch with my childhood friend, I headed to the bookstore to buy a copy of Bloodroot, by Amy Greene. During lunch I learned that a photographer had asked my friend’s daughter Cary to pose for him. Some time later, the photographer had a one-man show at a well-known Atlanta gallery. Amy Greene attended the opening, and when she saw the beautiful and ethereal photo of Cary, she immediately announced to the artist that she wanted that photo for the cover of her new book. Knowing full well that you cannot judge a book by its cover, I bought it! It turned out to be a very good book, and I carried a piece of my friend home with me.

For quite a while, we had been getting reports from Rod’s siblings about Mum’s decline. Her fainting spells and the resultant arrival of the paramedics to her home was beginning to seriously stress everyone out. They all feared that she would die before their eyes, and no one was in any way prepared to deal with that.

A couple of days before our scheduled departure, Rod’s brother called to tell us that the rumors of her impending death were greatly exaggerated, because when she learned that we were actually coming, she rallied. This has happened before, so we weren’t in the least surprised.

We weren’t really prepared for what we saw, however. Mum seemed to decline in the late afternoon, but she always tried to put on a great front for our sake. It was getting harder and harder for her to do that, and we saw straightaway through her feeble attempt.

She tried very hard the first few days to maintain a cheerful and animated attitude around us, even to the point of stating that she really must “start getting dinner for you kids.” At first we told her that it was already prepared, and that it took but a couple of minutes to heat it up to serve.

One day I announced that I was making corn chowder for dinner, thinking that if I presented something in soup form she would be more likely to eat more that two tablespoons full. She immediately informed me that SHE would fix dinner tonight because she felt that it was only right. I was frankly tired of making excuses for the meal having already been prepared, so I said, “ Sure, .o.k., Mum. If that’s what you want to do, then go right ahead.” I called what I knew to be her bluff.

“On second thought,” she replied with a smile, “ That corn chowder sounds too good to pass up!”

Saturday, June 5, 2010

THE ROAD HOME, Chapter 2

The Rogue Speaks:

I awake in semi-darkness. Rod’s side of the bed is empty, and I know he has taken off for his morning walk, leaving me here to sleep off a little of the stress he knows I feel. I rise and struggle to open the dusty blinds, only to discover that vines climbing the wall have covered the window, letting in very little light. The trees in the heavily wooded yard are tall and thick. They hang over the house like a shroud.

I feel my tears trying to reach the surface, but I push them back with a promise that when I have completed this mission and am back safely on the road home, I will let them flow, washing over me like a much-needed rain shower, clearing away a little more of the debris still left over from my shattered childhood.

I throw on my sandals and cross the hall to Mum’s room. I peek in and see Mum, lying so very, very still. I wait nervously by the door, and finally I see her chest rise and fall. Satisfied that she is still indeed with us, I creep down the darkened hallway, the wood floor creaking with every step. The hall is as dark as it was the night before, and the light from the windows in Mum’s room seems to stop at her doorway.

Even though he had help designing the layout of the house, Rod’s dad had had the last word, just as he always demanded. I’ve often wondered if he ever regretted his decisions, especially of the paneling in the living room, the hall, and in the bedroom where we were sleeping. That wood seemed to suck up any light that might have trickled in from the outside. Even at midday, the rooms were very dark, the hallway, like a tunnel. The first time we brought the little girls here to see their great-grandmother many years ago, they became frightened of all the darkness and were hesitant to enter the living room where she sat, waiting to greet them.

I cross the living room into the kitchen. The light is a little brighter in here, but not much. The plastic clock on the kitchen wall says 12:40. I take it from the wall and discover that the battery has corroded. Mum has never lived in this house alone. At one time or another, all her children, with the exception of Rod, have found refuge here for some reason after they became adults. Surely someone could have taken the time to change the battery, for God’s sake! Now they are all gone, and Mum is here alone. There is no one here to tell me I have no right to do it, so I ceremoniously dump the clock in the trash. It will never be missed.

I finally find the coffee and put on a pot. The few coffee mugs that are left each have at least one chip, and I find the one with the least damage. I pour myself a cup, and decide to sit on the back patio to clear my head of the odor of the cats that permeates any room in which there are rugs.

I pause at the sliding door, noting that there is the carcass of a headless chipmunk on the other side of the glass. I opt for the front porch instead, grabbing my cell phone in order to check the time. I am shocked to discover that it is already 10:30. I would never sleep as long as I had if we were home. There, the sunlight floods our room almost as soon as it rises over the highest peak of the Catalinas, its warm glow welcoming us into a new day.

Rod trudges up the steep driveway, his shirt soaked in sweat from the humidity and his hilly walk. “Is Mum still sleeping?” he asks.

“Yes,” I reply. “I’ve made coffee, but you’ll have to get some Equal out of the glove box. Oh, and while you’re at it, could you please remove the dead chipmunk at the patio door? And hose off the area? While you are completing that task, I’ll go check on Mum!”

He gives me a rather squeamish look and goes off to find the Equal, and a shovel.


Mum has begun to stir in the hospital bed that hospice has provided. She sees me and smiles. “I thought I had dreamed you were here!”

“We’re really here, Mum, and we are going to stay with you for a while!” I tell her and give her a big smile, and a kiss.

She reaches out her hands for me to take. They are icy cold, despite the fact that she has been sleeping under a mountain of blankets, in a winter gown and heavy socks. I begin to feel a great sorrow, remembering the way she was when we were children, with her beautiful black hair and brilliant blue eyes. Rod’s dad used to say that there was only one beautiful woman in Edmonton, and he married her. He had brought her to Atlanta to live when Rod was nine.

I help her with her robe and into the wheelchair for a trip to the bathroom. After her morning ablutions, I wheel her down the darkened hall and into the kitchen. She wants to have her breakfast on the patio. I check to be sure the chipmunk has been removed, and wheel her out, grateful to be out of doors.

“I just love it out here!” she announces, smiling her “Mum” smile at me. “Could you get me a blanket, dear? The one that you made for me? It’s so soft and warm! I use it every day!” She has mentioned that knitted lap robe every Sunday when we talk to her by phone, along with a litany of every single thing I have ever given her in the last 25 years. How she remembers all of that, I will never know. What she has given me in return, she will probably never know.

I make her favorite breakfast of peanut butter toast, slices of sharp cheddar, coffee with cream and honey, and some fruit. Rod, all showered, and dressed, joins us on the patio. We both begin encouraging Mum to eat. She is painfully thin, a far cry from her strong, sturdy self, a woman who once though nothing of climbing two flights of stairs, carrying a large, old-style portable television set.

Almost thirty minutes later, she has eaten two bites of a quarter piece of toast, and is again asleep, in the patio lounge chair. Rod and I sit looking at each other, the weight of what we are doing here pushing down on us in equal measure.

Continued...

Thursday, June 3, 2010

THE ROAD HOME

The Rogue Speaks:

“…The day sparkled painfully, seeming to shake on some kind of axis, and through this a leaf fell, touched with unusual color at the edges. It was the first time I had realized that autumn was close. I began to climb the last hill….”

from DELIVERANCE, a novel by James Dickey

It was not autumn, but summer that was approaching. The heat on the highway shimmered in the afternoon sun, and the smell of privet, once neatly trimmed and planted by the front steps of a long ago farm house, now growing wild and tall, drifted through the window of the car, and into my head, where it brought back memories of my early life on my grandparents’ farm, surrounded by my grandfather’s roses, shrubs of bridal wreath, snow ball, and wisteria vines dripping from the roof of the porch.

I began to have that uneasy feeling in my stomach, and I could feel the storehouse of my tears filling up behind my eyes. The panic of returning to the city of my former self was building rapidly and painfully in my chest. I closed my eyes and tried to pretend that I was somewhere, anywhere but here.

The traffic began to build, the closer we got to the city, and we soon found ourselves having to edge our way over so we could exit and take long-known short-cuts over surface streets. On the south side of the city, everything looked the same as it always had--dilapidated houses with peeling paint and torn screen doors, old buildings boarded up for decades, and on either side of the streets, hoopties were parked haphazardly. The people who lived in these houses had begun trudging home from work, from jobs that brought in only meager wages for all the hours they worked, and their slow steps and drooping shoulders told of sorrow and desperation in a city that had once promised deliverance.

After we crossed “Ponce,” the cityscape changed dramatically. There were well-kept lawns, and neatly cut shrubs in front of the homes in which many of our childhood friends had lived when we were growing up. Huge trees lined the streets, creating an archway dappled with yellow patches of sunlight. Winding, winding, winding, we finally reached the main street through the university. Here, all was changed. Huge new buildings were every where we looked. The little house in which I had lived in my grammar school and high school days was long gone, torn down, as were all the little houses on my street, to make way for more university buildings—for PROGRESS! “So be it,” I thought. I had no fond memories within those walls. It meant nothing to me that they were no more. The fact that I had no feeling for the place gave me some measure of comfort.

We turned off the main street and headed toward Mum’s house. The canopy of trees and vines began to thicken as we wound our way to her street. In its day, and even as late as 10 years ago, this area was sought-after real estate for its proximity to the C DC and the university. For all I know, it may still be. My own mother’s home, on the other side of the main street, sold only eight years ago for somewhere in the mid six figure range. If we could ever get that for Mum’s house, it could only be due to some serious divine intervention of the kind Lazarus received when he arose from the dead.

We turn into the driveway of a mid-century ranch designed by Rod’s dad with the help of a well-know Atlanta architect of the day, a friend not only of his but of my own father as well. The lawn looks neat and well-kept, but that fa├žade ends when we pull into the carport and emerge from the car. Cautiously, I make my way to the kitchen door, being ever vigilant for something over which I might trip—some thing of the unwanted variety, carelessly thrown out and left for someone else to remove to the open trash cans beside the door.

I push open the door and step into the kitchen. Immediately the odor left by the two cats fills my sinuses. My heart sinks, and my brain screams out for me to take it anywhere but here. It takes all my fortitude to continue on. I close my eyes for a brief second, then regain my strength.

“We’re here!” I call. I try to make my words as cheerful as I possibly can. Rod walks in behind me, and together we make a sharp left turn into the tiny den. Mum is sitting in a corner, in her chair. I have to look twice before I see her.

“Hey, Mum,” I speak loudly, because she is almost deaf. “We’re here!”

She looks up, startled, and I am aware of her shrunken frame, her beautiful snow white hair, now so horribly thin, pulled tightly back with a clip, and her pale, translucent skin hanging loosely on her bones. Her eyes have faded even more in the last year, and now are a pale, watery blue. A glass of her favorite wine sits untouched beside her.

“Hi, darlin’!” she says. “Did you just get here? I’m so glad to see you! Is Rod here?”

“I’m here, Mum!” he says, and he is as dismayed as I by what he sees.

continued...



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