Surgery

Each member of the surgical team looped through the room.  An introduction. Name and date of birth requested. The why-are-you-here question.

My mother didn’t know the answers when I had sat in the same spot with her some years before. I helped.

My father knew — for the most part.

“Did you have anything to eat this morning?” the anesthesiologist asked.

“Not too much,” he answered.

“He had nothing,” I said.

“Has the surgeon marked on you yet?” a nurse asked.

“No, I don’t think so,” he answered.

“Yes, he did,” I replied.

“Can you tell me about your other surgeries?” the surgeon asked.

“It’s been years and years,” my father answered.

“Last August he had a VP shunt put in, and a few years before that he got a pacemaker,” I answered.

He knew his name. He knew his birthday. He knew what the surgery was.

All in all, I’d say he did pretty well.

A few weeks ago, he had had an episode of chest pain that landed him in the Emergency Room. They ask a different set of questions.

“Are you still a full-code?” the nurse had asked, but then she looked to me for the answer. It’s an uncomfortable question.

“Well, I’m not ready to cash in yet!” my father answered.

“Would you like to be placed on life support?” she asked.

“I’m not going to live forever, you know,” he replied.

His mixed responses were confusing, but he and my mother had both very clearly written out their wishes many years ago. I told his doctor and she asked that I bring in a copy to put in his chart. Just so it’s there.

Last night, I went for a walk. The fields were fifty shades of green. The timothy alone was a full palette of color — spring green, grass green, grey green, a whispery pale green at the very edges of the flower-head.

The fields whispered with the breeze, carrying along its little breaths like a melody passed around an orchestra. The meadow swayed and danced, and the only audience for this performance was the deer, the red-wing blackbirds, and me.

When the Bible talks about grass, it’s usually in reference to transience.

“The grass withers, the flower fades…” (Isaiah 40:8)

The comparison isn’t that man will last forever. We are just as transient.

A surgery day is a time to remember that.

It’s a time to pause. Even if we’re not ready to cash in, it’s okay to remember that we aren’t going to live forever either.

*****

The surgery went well. He’s already home. He’s not ready to cash in yet — and neither am I.

Red-Winged Blackbird

The red-winged blackbirds begin check-check-check-ing at me as I walk down the road.

With dog, without the dog — it doesn’t matter. I’m a threat and they need to let the world, or, at the very least, their fellow blackbirds know that danger approaches.

They sit on fenceposts, telephone wires, tree branches, cattails, and other tall weeds.

Red-winged blackbird speck

I have stopped on multiple occasions to try to snap pictures of them. I either end up with a tiny speck of a bird or empty wires, branches, etc.

They flee from the fenceposts when I stop walking. I can’t focus on taking a picture while walking. My phone is my camera, nothing fancy for zooming in. Walking pictures are a mess.

Frankly, I’ve given up on photographing them.

For me, the red-winged blackbirds must be enjoyed from a distance or in my periphery. As abundant as they are, they are also too elusive for me to photograph well.

Sometimes life is like that, don’t you think? It simply can’t be tackled head-on. We can’t stop and savor each little thing, but we can enjoy the brief moments as they pass.

Now the birds that have taken up residence in our birdhouse tease me in the same way. One tiny nondescript bird sits on the chimney of birdhouse, singing merrily, until I get out my phone/camera. I look to find the camera icon on my screen, look back up, and she’s gone. Either both birds in the pair are blasé brown, or I haven’t seen the mister.

Elusive

I need to improve my mental camera when I see them or my memory of their song or create some other method if I ever hope to identify these occupants.

Or, maybe I need to stop worrying about it and enjoy the moment.

Does everything have to have a name? Does everything have to be captured and held?

In our instant electronic gadgety techno age, we’ve lost the looking-out-of-windows and being-in-the-moment.

Sometimes I wonder if children riding in the car down the east coast of the United States even see the Pedro billboards. Or, in rural Nebraska or Iowa, if they see the monotony of corn fields. Or is that when they’re busy watching Frozen for the umpteenth time?

Because if they miss Pedro and the corn, they’ll most certainly miss the many red-winged blackbirds check-check-check-ing from the fencepost.

The Angels Were Angry

And the angels were angry
At the crispness of the cake
“HOW DARE YOU,” they bellowed,
“MAKE SUCH A MISTAKE?!”

They brandished flaming swords
To bar me from my kitchen —
I felt like such a failure;
I knew they were itchin’

To use their blazing rapiers
Against the likes of me
Because I multitasked disaster
Where disaster oughtn’t be

Oh, the angels were furious
While smoke rose from the range
So I pondered how to soothe them
Then I spotted something strange —

A hero in a paper bag!
He boldly stood between
Me and my catastrophe
Better sight ne’er seen

“Begone!” I think he shouted —
Or maybe it was “Gwam!”
giggle-giggle “Wook! Wook!
Here I am!”

So the knight-in-paper-bag
Took my mind off of burnt cake
And I played with little Henry
Before I cleaned up my mistake.

My Mother’s Closet

My mother’s  closet has only been hers.

When my parents bought this old farmhouse 50 years ago, it had one closet — a tiny one, at that.

While we kids put up a rope swing, my father put in closets.

Putting up the rope swing

Swinging

putting in closets

Bi-fold doors must have been in then, because that’s what he installed — in his closet, my mother’s closet, my sister’s closet, and my oldest brother’s closet. The rest of us didn’t get closets; we had cardboard wardrobes.

I stood outside my mother’s closet the other day, hesitating to open the door. It has to be done — the cleaning of it, I mean. She’s been gone over a year and a half. My son is staying in that room. And he sure could use a closet.

But I stood there, not wanting to look again at what’s inside.

The brown wool plaid skirt. The green skirt with Greek meander border. The dress she wore at my wedding.

The ruffled blouses that she wore to dress up.

The sweaters.

The housecoats, even.

They’re housecoats, for crying out loud.

But I can picture her standing in the kitchen wearing them, making our lunches for school.

A woman I know lost her house in a fire recently.

Is that how you want to deal with your mother’s things? a voice whispered in my heart. I knew it wasn’t God, because He didn’t burn my friend’s house down. He doesn’t threaten to burn houses down. I saw, however, in my mind’s eye, my fingers being forcibly pried off the things I’m holding onto.

Is that how I want to deal with my mother’s things? No. Absolutely not.

But they must be dealt with.

Garbage? No. That’s wasteful. My mother was never wasteful.

A yard sale? No — I don’t think I could bear watching people paw through her things.

Donate to the church’s rummage sale? No — same reason.

I think I need to box it all up and take it to a donation point in another city. She would want some good to come of it all.

Then, I’ll have to look at an empty closet.

And mourn a little, allowing the closet’s history to move just a wee bit distant into the past.

Before my son moves his stuff in and the closet has its second occupant.

 

The Gift of Giving

About a month ago, I received a curious piece of mail.

When I opened the envelope, I found a folded-up piece of yellow construction paper. In red marker, the sender, Juliette, a little girl from our church in Greene, had drawn a heart, an elephant, a waterfall, and some flowers covered in dirt. (Her grandmother wrote explanations for me.) 

It also included a dandelion. I actually love dandelions. I loved when my own children were of the age of bringing me dandelion bouquets.

That letter made my day. It was so fun to receive something so unexpected. I knew I needed to respond, but, in the craziness of getting ready for France, I didn’t do it until the other day.

I made a card for Juliette. 

The rabbits were just a little too big to fit neatly on my card, so one rabbit’s ear and tail fold around onto the back. I guess you could say its back side is on the back side.

I asked her grandmother for Juliette’s address. She texted the address back and added, “She is fascinated right now with giving everyone the pictures she makes.”

 

Juliette is learning at a young age that giving is its own gift.

***

Last night at the dinner table, as my father repeatedly repeated himself, I found myself wondering at the wisdom of bringing my children here to live with him.

It can be frustrating and even, sometimes, a little irritating to listen to the same comments about the blueness of the skies and the greenness of the plants.

I’ve heard Mary patiently explain how to operate the remote control to the television and sometimes resort the explanation of “magic” when asked how she found the right channel. The other night I heard Karl trying to explain the remote control. Again.

My youngest children have to live in a house with rooms still full of items from previous occupants. My parents’ house became a repository for so many things from other family members that it’s hard to find space for its current residents.

I wonder repeatedly, is this good for them? Is it good for our family to be a little fractured for the sake of the eldest member? Is it good to stretch between two homes, and in so doing, to almost have no home? Is it good to see their grandfather needy and weak and forgetful?

But I remember my mother caring for her mother and mother-in-law. With patience, sacrifice, and great love, she did for them what they could no longer do for themselves.

I suppose I’m following in her footsteps.

It’s a different kind of giving from sending a sweet greeting in the mail.

Sometimes this kind of giving seems like a terrible gift, but I need to remember that it is a gift nonetheless.

I need to lean in. Embrace each moment. These gifts are good.

The Canoe Race

Memorial Day threatened thunderstorms all day.

When the rain started at 6 AM, I knew that the weatherman had been at least partially correct.

In Cooperstown, a 70 mile canoe race begins early on the lake on Memorial Day. When I was little, I remember running down to the river from our house, crunching through skunk cabbage and violets, to stand on a tree that extended over the river. My family cheered the canoeists on from that secluded spot.

My oldest son at our tree spot — 1989?

When my children were little, we would get up early and go to the bridge down the street that was the site of the first portage. For many people this was the first place to cheer for the racers once they left the lake. Afterwards, my parents would join us for a big family breakfast at our house — eggs, cinnamon rolls, fresh fruit, orange juice, and coffee.

Always a thrill to see the line of canoes coming down the river.

Portage — 2005

Now, since I’m staying with my father, I suppose we could go crunching through overgrown pasture and hope to find our tree over the river, but I doubt it’s still there. Plus the idea of getting wet trekking through the tall grass doesn’t appeal to me. We usually drive in to the bridge and follow-up with the pancake breakfast at the Baptist Church.

Except this year.

Oh, the rain! It wasn’t drip-dropping. It was out-and-out pouring.

I pitied the canoeists.

My father and my brother once participated in the race on a rainy Memorial Day. My father told me that in the middle of that miserable race, my brother said, “Dad, if you finish this, I’ll never ask you for anything again.”

They finished. Not sure about the rest.

The things we say in the midst of trials! Another time when they entered, he had accused my father of having no rhythm, but, then, I may have said something similar when my husband and I attempted a different canoe race. In fact, I think I threatened to throw my husband overboard.

We also finished.

Paddling together is a learning experience.

This year, however, with the rain, and with my father having had a small scare (ER visit, one night hospitalization) a few days before, I didn’t ask him if he wanted to watch the regatta. I hoped he wouldn’t remember it.

But, of course, he did. The next day. When the results were on the front page of the newspaper.

“We missed the canoe race,” he said to me, a little accusingly.

“It was pouring, Dad,” I told him, and he acquiesced.

But he brought it up again.

And again.

The last time he said it was when we ran into a lady from his church.

“Did you watch the regatta?” she asked.

He looked at me. “No. We missed it,” he said.

“It was raining,” I offered as explanation.

“Pouring,” she said. “Plus, if you’ve seen one canoe race, you’ve seen ’em all.”

That may be true, but not for the racers. It was their day, their race — and we missed a chance to cheer them on. I still feel a trace of guilt.

Next year.