Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Twenty & Four

Sometimes my sister, Ann, and I will sit around and talk about how long Dad's been gone.  It usually starts with the same question.  Was Dad there when.......?

Then we start ticking off the the things that have happened that he wasn't around to see.  Weddings, weddings and more weddings.  Babies being born, babies growing up, babies graduating from college.  Funerals for dear friends and relatives - his little brother last year.  The Hawks winning the Stanley Cup and the White Sox the World Series, but no such luck for his hapless Cubs.

At some point the conversation will trail off to nothingness because there's only so much you can scoop from the well of absence.

Now we're past the two decade mark.  Decades?  Really?

I remember watching t.v. with him the year before he died.  The Berlin Wall was coming down and there was live coverage of it with Peter Jennings.  "Well I'll be, Kate," he said.  "In a million years I never thought I'd live to see that."  The dashing network correspondent would die as well, and do kids these days even know what the Berlin Wall was for?

The day after he died Ann and I drove to the mall.  Since Mark and I had only planned a four day trip home that would stretch to two weeks, I had nothing to wear to the funeral.  We took note of the clouds along the way.  Fat, huge, fluffy clouds and we both wondered if Dad was "there."

I ponder the there a lot.

Mark and I were lucky to have Mom and Dad be our first visitors a few months after we moved to Maryland.  They were going to a convention with friends and stopped to spend a few days with us.  While Mark stayed behind to work at his new job, Maggie and I went with them to Mt. Vernon, Annapolis, Williamsburg and Monticello.  Being #4 of six, it was the first time I had my parents to myself and I loved it.

A few weeks later I got one of Dad's long hand-written letters thanking Mark and I for our hospitality.  He wrote, "A good home can surely be an elusive thing.  It should have an air of calmness and tranquility about it.  It should convey a spirit that projects an understanding of what is most important and worthy in our lives.  It is our observation, Kath, that you understand those ingredients very well and are weaving them into your home life."

For a guy with only one good eye he noticed a lot.

When I look at my own kids, two of whom weren't even born when he died, I see pieces of him.  The smile, the eyes, the gentle touch with strangers.  They are inordinately kind and their dad and I can't take all the credit for that.  It was their grandfather that walked the walk.

The Mister and I have a rather spotty record in that regard.

After decades of pondering as if I had a say in the matter, I would like my soul to resemble a sparkler on its exit.  I hope "there" is where Dad landed - in everybody he loved and who seek to understand that which is worthy.  That the pieces of light fall far and wide and are scooped up and saved for the babies of the next generation.  That what is no longer needed finds a calm and tranquil home.  That a tiny flame stays lit to guide the way.......

And that life goes on.

And life goes on.

And life goes on



Sunday, September 7, 2014

Shouldering On

There is a drugstore near our house that has been in business for over fifty years.  It is in the old school category.  Women who worked there were required to wear skirts or dresses up until a few years ago.  There is a free delivery service if you're too sick to pick up your prescriptions.  If you live in town (and produce a driver's license verifying your address) you can get a bottle of cough syrup with codeine without a prescription.

When I worked at one of the shops in the center, a customer told me about a face cream they carried that was like "a facelift in a jar."  I became a loyal purchaser of that cream until the company closed due to retirement, and though I searched every internet cranny I never found it again.

The face cream was the beginning of my loyalty to that drugstore with its selection of obscure lines and products that I had never seen anywhere else.  The mainstay at the register in makeup was 87 years old.  She had been full-time there for years until she broke her pelvis and had to cut back on her hours.  She still worked the night shift, though, preferring to start at 1:00, work until nine a few days a week and then stop at the Quiktrip on the way home for a coffee.

She loved to talk and would tell you about her deceased husband, the accident that caused her to break her pelvis and why she likes gas station coffee.

It was like paying a visit to your grandma if you stopped in to pick something up.  Her coworker was a good decade younger than her and at some point must have had a mild stroke.   She is the sweetest thing in the land, calls everybody "honey" and always says to me, "Now how did you get so lucky with all those curls?"

Those gals are my geriatric posse of love.

This past week I have taken some big action on my ridiculous hurting shoulder.  It's either going to be my cure or my undoing.  I've got my fingers crossed for the cure but since I have only gone once it's too soon to make any predictions.

On Friday night, though, it was making me crazy.  I never got around to ordering the heating pad I pined for on Amazon and I was in a world of ache.  I went to my favorite drugstore to get another one.  They had a good selection with some intense heat ranges and when I checked out a new-to-me woman was at the register.  She was on the young side of seventy.

"Oh dear," she asked, "are you hurting?'

"Yes.  My shoulder is making my life miserable," I answered.

We talked about her hip, my shoulder.  It was a mini AARP convention at the back of the store.

"It always bothers me," I said.  "But tonight it is worse than ever."

"Well, that's because it's raining.  Didn't you have a grandma whose bursitis acted up whenever rain was close by?  I did.  She knew when it was going to rain better than the weatherman just because of her aches and pains."

Ah yes.........the barometric pressure decided to take me for a ride.

It didn't seem that long ago that I was a hip forty-year-old.  When I turned fifty that was no big deal because actually that was the new forty and not really fifty.  But what do they say when sixty is hot on your tail?

They say you can predict the weather, that you'll frequently need a heating pad with an ibuprofen and Salon Pas chaser, and one day you'll be just the right age to work the makeup counter at the local drug store.

Sunday, August 31, 2014

Whiskey & The Devil

When my Grandma lived with us I would take her to church at 7:00 every Saturday night.  I liked to sleep in on Sundays and she couldn't get her ninety-plus-year-old body up and moving very fast first thing in the morning when Mom and Dad went.  Even at her age with her crippled back and other ailments, she wouldn't dream of missing church.

If you passed by Grandma's room at night she'd invite you in to talk while she poured herself a shot of Rock N' Rye.  Then she'd ready herself for bed, rosary in hand with the intent of praying herself to sleep.

During the week she liked to turn the t.v. on and watch the Reverend Ernst Ainsley.  Long before Jimmy and Tammy Fae Baker slicked up the production of religion, The Reverend operated a church where tuning in to him and his relationship with The Lord and Savior Jesus Christ was the answer to life's weekly woes.  Pacing the sanctuary and clutching his Bible, he'd deliver his fire and brimstone preaching and the congregation was spellbound.

So was Grandma.  He was the Liberace of televangelists.

If Dad was passing by when this was on he'd mutter under his breath, "She better not be sending money to that horse's ass."

If Grandma heard she never let on.

For all of The Reverend's oratory skills, the show didn't really get started until it was time to heal and/or cast the devil out of the afflicted.

The sickly would line up with their walkers and wheelchairs.  Dewy-eyed with the possibility of being healed, they would tremble when it was their turn.  Reverend Ainsley would ask them if they renounced the devil.  "I do," they'd say.  "Louder," he'd bellow.  "I DO.  I DO.  I DO RENOUNCE THE DEVIL."  Then the Reverend would smack them in the forehead and say, "HEEEEEEEEEEAL IN THE NAME OF JESUS CHRIST."  The smacking was a forceful kind of remedy as some fell back into their wheelchair or needed help steadying themselves, loopy in the head from the healing powers of The Spirit.  Then they were quickly shooed away by the church bouncers for the next sufferer.  Holy healing powers were on a tight televised time schedule.

Not all that needed Reverend Ainsley's healing powers were physically impaired.  There were some that had their problems between the ears and they, too, would line up for some of that miracle that flowed from The Reverend's hand.  He would smack them in the forehead and yell, "DEVIL BE OUUUUUUUUUUT," and pull his hand away really fast.....as if in fear that the devil just might jump from them to him and then this healing gig he'd secured would be over and he'd be back selling Amway door-to-door.

Getting the devil out took a little more doing than healing the infirmed.  Sometimes the devilish would start to fall and their kin would surround them and help them to the ground.  Other times they would land right on the floor and shake and roll their feisty devils out.

Spent from all that healing at the end of the show, Reverend Ainsley would soften his voice, look into the camera and say, "I need your help to keep this good Christian ministry going.  Even the smallest amount will allow me to continue the healing power of the Lord.  You saw what happened here.  You saw it, didn't you?  Jeeeeeeeeeesus did that."

The crowd would nod "Amen" and fan their sweaty faces with their hankies.  At home on the couch Grandma would say, "He sure did."  Then she'd get up off the couch, grab her cane, hobble back to her room and close the door.  Whether it was to get an early start on a shot of whiskey and clicking her rosary beads, or to write the Reverend Ernst Ainsley Ministries a check, her family would never know.  

That was between her and God.




Monday, August 25, 2014

Hi*Med*Lo

Before we got married, our families threw us a bridal shower in the basement of my brother's house.  Nothing catered or extravagant, but rather a simple party for family and friends to celebrate our impending vows and outfit our new home - a basement apartment near the University of Illinois campus that was empty save the roaches.

But we didn't know that just yet.

We got the practical things of the early eighties that everyone needed.  Mr. Coffee.  Bath and dish towels.  T.V. trays.  Pots, pans and gadgets.  Folding lawn chairs.

We got a heating pad. 

The t.v. trays and lawn chairs would be our dining room set for months.

The heating pad would be the third person in this marriage. 

Through cramps, pregnancy, surgeries, root canals, bad days and good, I have used that heating pad.  Sinus headache?  Fold it in half and put it on your face.  Hangover?  Don't fold.  Lay it right on your face, put a pillow on top and go back to bed.  Backache?  Lay the heating pad on the floor.  Lay your bad back on top.  Really bad back from hauling chubby toddlers?  Take the cover off the heating pad and grill those tense muscles.  Neck ache?  Wrap around a rolled towel and lay your head down.  Bum knee?  Roll around and secure with a rubber band.  Cold feet?  Put at the end of the bed, bend your knees, place on top and read a book.  Wonky atmospheric changes that are making you feel out of sorts?  Heating pad and power nap. Toothache?  Ibuprofen, call the dentist and put the heating pad under jaw.  Bum shoulder?  High every night for years.

There was a lull in the dating life of me and my heating pad during The Menopausal Years except for the coldest of nights, but we got back together cuz I just can't quit that thing.

One night when it was on Mark's side of the bed he took a good long at it and said, "I can't believe you're still using this thing.  It could burn the house down."

I knew that my 20+ year old heating pad might be a fire hazard but I couldn't give it up without a fight.  "I think it'll probably just smoke," I answered.

And then that beautiful thing just stopped working and I was brought me to my creaky knees.

Since then I have replaced it twice.  Drug store Sunbeams that the lawsuit industry prevents from getting anywhere near the sizzle temperature of my old one.  It's better than nothing but not by much.

I went shopping on Amazon for an industrial-sized heating pad.  A model that sells for $60.00 had plenty of admirers in the reviews.  "It's heavy but a good heavy.  The heaviness pushes the heat straight into your muscles."

The caveat?  It reaches a high temperature between 145-155 degrees.

A mere five degrees away from the optimal temperature for pork tenderloin.

I think I have found the one for whom my heart loves.




Sunday, August 17, 2014

Seizing The Day

I work Monday through Thursday, and though it's only a part-time gig, my brain is pretty spent when I get home.  Any intentions I have of getting much done other than making dinner go by the wayside.

Ahhhhh........but Friday.  I always have a three day weekend and I live for Fridays.

If I don't have a frequent dentist or hair appointment, a car repair or lunch date I am in heaven.  The whole day to get caught up on everything.  Everything!

That's where I found myself this past week.  I talked myself out of getting routine blood work first thing in the morning from a physical that was done in April, and ignored a change oil and low tire pressure light on the dash of the car.  This Friday was going to be about me doing what I wanted to do.  Me!

Oh the thoughts swirling all week on the possibilities.  No grand projects this time.  No sirree.  I would clean the house, get some bills paid and enjoy not being committed to anything all day.  While the laundry was going maybe I'd maybe make some zucchini bread with all those veggies coming from the garden and finish a sewing project.  Or make some calls for estimates on painting the house that we've been talking about.

Maybe I would write.  Ack!  Not that! 

I started with the sewing project - valances for Maggie's kindergarten classroom.  I'd already cut the fabric.  I just needed to pin it and sew it up.  First, though, I needed to read the paper and check out Facebook, Pinterest and Huffington Post.  And eat.  Yes, I needed food to keep me energized for the tasks at hand.  This took longer than expected.  Finally, I sat on the floor with the box of pins and turned on the Young and the Restless while I worked.  Who are these people?  Jack has a fiance?  But Jack's married to Phyllis In The Coma For The Last Year.  The deceased daughter of Sharon and Nick has come back as a barmaid who seems to be in love with Nick?  What a tramp that one is!  Paul has a son that looks to be five years younger than him?

When was the last time I watched this show?

I put my project down.  This required my full attention.

And a snack.

When that was over I plugged in the sewing machine and got busy.  Piece-o-cake.  I'd be done with this project in no time.  I finished the first two and then took a little break.  I checked out Facebook, Pinterest, Huffington Post and Craigslist.

I had a snack.

The seam ripper I needed to open up where the rod needed to be inserted was nowhere to be found and so I used teeny scissors that were bent at the tip from being smashed in the drawer.  This was making the job much more time consuming.  How frustrating!

I needed a break and a snack.

By this time it was early afternoon.  Had I even brushed my teeth?  I couldn't remember.  Maybe some personal hygiene and makeup would help this Friday Attention Deficit I seemed to have.  I got out my makeup bag, sat on the bed and turned the t.v. on while I beautified myself.

It was The Talk.  Sherry explained that she had bladder leakage and that one in four people have this.  One in four!!!  What's the answer to chronic bladder leakage?  Why, Depends, silly girl.  After an explanation on the leakage holding ability of Depends there was a fashion show.  Four men would walk the Depend Fashion Runway and the women of The Talk had to guess which one was wearing the man diaper.

After the second guy I turned the t.v. off.  Bored out of my Friday gourd, even I couldn't watch this humiliation and call it entertainment.

So I checked out Facebook, Pinterest, Huffington Post and a few blogs.

Maybe I needed to get out of the house?  Of course I did.  I decided to go to the shopping center.  After all, I needed navy pants for work.  Yes.  That's what I need.  I already felt more energized just driving there.  I had a plan.

The store I often find pants that fit my shortyness was having 50% off the entire store.  50%?  The whole store???

I bought two pair of colored jeans that I cannot wear to work and a black cardigan because I only have twenty of those and I needed twenty-one.  I went into another store and after they promotion-assaulted me with a dozen deals that I couldn't keep track of they called me "sweetheart" more times than I have cardigans.  I had to leave.  I cannot be the sweetheart of a high schooler.  There are laws against that.

The last store I went into was having 40% off the entire store.  40% off?  Even sale stuff?  I took some things into the dressing room and tried them on.  I would get completely dressed and undressed three more times.  I was getting confused on what I didn't need but had to get anyway because it was on sale.

I had a talking to myself on the way home about my behavior so far that day.  There was still time to finish something I started and to make some healthy choices when it came to my Friday Frequent Eating.

"Okie dokie", I said back to me.  "When I get home I'll have an apple with my cup of tea and kick it into gear."  I walked in the door, dropped my bags down and went into the kitchen to make my healthy snack.

Mal had made cookies.

I ate four and checked out Facebook, Pinterest, Huffington Post and Ann Taylor Loft (where, in fact, I had just come from).

Then I put a fork in my productive Friday.

It might not have been done but I was.

Sunday, August 10, 2014

Suffer The Children

I was not raised in a military family.  My dad was in the Navy, but with the exception of a few uncles nobody else followed suit.  Dad kept detailed photo albums of those years with every buddy named in each picture.  They are in a box in Mom's basement along with his uniform and Navy manual.  I like to sneak down there when we're home, sit on a plastic tub and look at the remnants of an era gone by and the only evidence of a part of my dad's life that I know little about.

I'm not sure if what I know about combat and the military has come from movies or the nostalgia that sweeps over me when I open those boxes and pull out the brown photo albums with each snapshot secured by a black triangle in every corner.  Newly made friends at basic training smiling in front of tents with their arms wrapped around each other.  A stray dog adopted by men who were just boys a few months earlier.  Living at home with a mama who woke them up for school with the smell of bacon and eggs and now learning how to use a scope and rifle.

This is what I know about getting ready for duty.  Young men in black and white photos.

Is it that nostalgia that makes me think children were off limits in the rules of war?  Does the musty smell of another time make me believe that honorable men did everything they could to leave the future out of the carnage of the present?  Was just the opposite true and I didn't know?

Today's conflicts and wars show no signs of rules.  Bombs hitting elementary schools in Gaza, shelling and poisonous gas in Syria, a passenger plane scattered in pieces in the Ukraine, thousands of people forced into the mountains with no way out in Iraq. 

The eyes of traumatized children staring into the camera.   

A reporter asked some six year old boys in Syria what they wanted most.  "Peace," they said and collectively wept for none of them had a father still alive.  A little girl in Gaza picked through the remnants of her home, crouched down and clutched a rock.  "All my grandparents died today," she cried with her head in her tiny hands.  "All of them."

In the newest conflict in Iraq we are air lifting water and food to a mountaintop where thousands are stranded.  Are we the good guys?  Weren't we the bad guys for a decade?  Bombing a country day in and day out where civilians surely bore the brunt of the modern weapons of war in the name of democracy.

In our own country where thousands of immigrant children made a harrowing journey to escape the violence of a drug culture fueled by Americans, we scream at the desperate with their backpacks of worldly belongings to get the hell out of here.

A daily onslaught of despair fills the news and my stomach twists in knots at the brutality of these times.   

PleaseGodpleaseGodpleaseGod.  My constant prayer over and over and over.......

.....because if I stop for one minute I think my soul will be crushed by the burden of bearing witness to what we are doing to the most innocent among us.



Tuesday, August 5, 2014

Anger Management

The Big Daddy and I are working on controlling our moods.  Angery moods like yelling at the newspaper when we read the letters to the editor.  Or hissy fits when a screw falls out of the bathtub faucet for no apparent reason and the replacement doesn't fit.

"Look, Kath," The Big Daddy said, "it's too big even though it's exactly the size the original paperwork says will fit."

And I lean over his shoulder and look at the faucet while in my head I'm saying, "Well, isn't that just the greatest?  What are we supposed to do?  Buy a new $300 faucet because the seventeen cent screw won't work?  Well why the heck not?"

Out loud, though, I say, "Perhaps we got the wrong size screw from the hardware store."  Because getting mad is counter-productive to a happy life.

Or so they say.

All of this would be so much easier if there weren't faucet conspiracies, we didn't have to work with, you know, people, or there weren't so many Republicans in Kansas.

Since exercise is a good mood stabilizer we try to go after dinner for our twoish mile walk.  On this day it was hot and humid.  So humid it felt like we were doing laps in a swamp.  Mark chatted with some bike buddies and we ran into an old classmate of Will's and her mom.  We saw an owl on the ground near the golf course and tippy-toed closer for a look.  Near the end we saw our friends and told them where to look for the owl.

All in all a good way to end the day.

We walked our drenched selves home and just spitting distance from our own yard a pickup truck drove by.  The kid hung out the window and screamed WOOT.  It scared The Big Daddy and I so that we jumped a foot.  The kid laughed and slapped his steering wheel as he drove off.

And I yelled back "F*** YOU."

The Big Daddy turned around.  "I can't believe you said that.  No, wait, let me take that back.  I can't believe you screamed that.  In broad daylight."

Technically it was pre-dusk and not broad daylight, and upon reflection it did seem to be one of those things that might fit into an angerish column.

But why did that little hooligan have to go and ruin my zen mood?  Why take the call of the mighty owl we had just seen and use it to scare us?

Our long-time Republican senator who hasn't even lived in this state in years is beating the tea partier in the Kansas primary tonight and I'm sorta okay with that.  It's like having a deadbeat boyfriend.  You know he'll never do a single thing to make your life easier but at least he won't burn the house down while you're off working to pay the bills.

Lookie there.

I just managed some anger.

Woot.  Woot.