Just my luck — I’m the daughter of a stubborn man.
I looked out the window yesterday and this is what I saw.
A baby brontosaurus is sleeping ‘cross the way
That would explain the humpy bump that’s been there all the day
Pshaw, you say, don’t you know that dinosaurs are gone?
But how else can I justify the lump outside the barn?
It’s smoothly gently rounded like a brontosaurus spine
Long neck and tail wrapped near its feet in a curving line
Sleeping, hibernating — beneath that mound of snow
The thing I really wonder is where did its mother go?
Underneath the massive pile of snow is our minivan. Thank goodness, I don’t need it for the next few days.
“Aw, phooey,” he said, as he handed me the shovel and turned to go back inside.
“Aw, hell,” he said, as he hung up his coat and turned toward his walker.
We are in the midst of a major snowstorm. The Weather Channel said something about 48″ around Cooperstown. I believe it.
Last night and this morning Laurel and I shoveled for a while and barely got past one car. Then my brother, Peter, came down to borrow the car because he needed to go into town. His driveway is much longer than ours, and the plow guy hadn’t come yet.
So Peter walked over and together we shoveled.
We finally had a path wide enough to back the car out. I ran into the house to get Peter some money so he could pick up a prescription for my father. Just inside the door stood my father, coat on, gloves on, ready to head outside.
“Where are you going, Dad?” I asked.
“Well, I’m going outside to help,” he said.
“I think we’re all set,” I told him.
“Do you know how much work it took to get all this stuff on?” he asked, and headed for the door.
I sighed, and ran to find my wallet. It wasn’t worth arguing about, and he might like to see all the snow.
When I came back out, Peter was talking to my father on the ramp leading to the house. Laurel and I had barely shoveled a path wide enough for the walker to fit. I gave Peter the money and he left.
“I want to go get that shovel,” he said, pointing to the shovel I had shoved into the snowbank.
“I can get it,” I told him, but he pretended not to hear me and headed down the ramp.
When he reached the shovel, I was right behind him. “Let me take that back to the house for you,” I said, reaching for the shovel.
“I’d like to shovel,” he said.
“Dad,” I said, trying to sound calm and reasonable, “you may have reached the time in your life when you need to let others do things for you — like shoveling.”
He stopped and looked at me. “I’m not helpless,” he said.
I walked back to the house and stood there. Why can’t he just stop? I muttered in my heart.
I touched Tuga was in my pocket. Go help him, Tuga seemed to whisper.
I grabbed another shovel and went back down to where my father was shuffling snow. He leaned on his shovel when I got there. “Maybe you’re right,” he said, and handed his shovel to me.
“Aw, phooey,” he said, and I felt a little sad.
“Aw, hell,” he said when we got inside, and my heart broke a little more.
His instinct was to help, and I had just told him that he couldn’t.
…The finite is annihilated in the presence of the infinite, and becomes a pure nothing. So our spirit before God, so our justice before divine justice….
Blaise Pascal, Pensées
When the perishable puts on the imperishable, and the mortal puts on immortality, then shall come to pass the saying that is written:
“Death is swallowed up in victory.”
1 Corinthians 15:54 (ESV)
When I read the Daily Prompt: Immerse, Pascal’s words and the scripture from She Reads Truth’s Lenten devotional were fresh in my mind.
I could picture my tiny finite being totally lost in the Infinite God.
Immersed like my swimmer in a great ocean of Love.
Whenever I go to a pool, my eyes are drawn to the record board.
It’s kind of funny, because I haven’t always been a fan of the record board. Helen still holds over 20 age-group records at the pool in Cooperstown — the earliest from when she was 8 years old, and the latest from when she was 13. Then we moved, and she started racking up high school records in Greene.
A couple of years ago, I caught one of the swimmers in my group staring at the record board in Cooperstown.
“Do you know Helen Zaengle?” she asked.
“I do,” I told her. “She’s my daughter, and she’s Laurel’s sister.”
“Wow,” Margaret said. “She has a lot of records. I’m going to break some of them.”
That was the moment my feelings about the record board changed.
Helen was very good at swimming from a young age. She loved winning races — although there was one time when she asked me why she couldn’t get a rainbow ribbon (the ribbon handed out for participation); all her ribbons were blue.
The record board wasn’t posted at the time, and, quite frankly, I think Helen and I were both unaware of all the records. When the record board went up, part of me felt a little embarrassed because I never sensed that Helen was swimming for the glory of the record board or all the accolades. She swam with the truest sense of the amateur — a love of the sport.
But I worked in the pool these last few years with all those records at my back, and I tried not to look at them. Don’t misunderstand — I am very proud of Helen, but not because she rules the record board. I just think she’s wonderful.
Margaret helped me to see that the records are goals for other swimmers, not to induce pride, but to produce hard work.
Michael Phelps said, “Goals should never be easy,” and Margaret took that to heart. She’s 10 years old now and continues to push herself harder than her peers. She still hasn’t made it to the record board, but I have no doubt that she will.
Last year, Laurel made it to the record board, by breaking a record that had been up there since before Helen was even born. 11-12 100 Breaststroke.
This year Laurel was studying the records to see if there were any she was close to.
“How about that one,” I said, pointing to 13-14 200 Breaststroke. “I think that one is do-able, maybe not this year, but next.”
The name next to the record: Helen Zaengle.
Helen called me right up. “I heard you told Laurel to break my record,” she said.
“Heck, yes, I did,” I replied.
“I think that would be great,” she said.
She holds her records with open hands, bidding other swimmers to take them, and I think that makes me even prouder than all the records combined.
One early morning a few weeks ago, I was sitting in my usual spot at 5:30 AM, snuggled up on the chair in the corner surrounded by my books. Just as I was settling in, I heard the sound of running water.
I left my little sanctuary and went to the kitchen. We filter our drinking water in a Brita pitcher and I often put it under the tap but then forget about it. But I hadn’t forgotten to turn the water off. This time.
I returned to my chair and looked out the window at a wet driveway. The weather had been a few unseasonably warm the past few days with some rain mixed in. It had undoubtedly rained again last night.
Once again, as I looked for the silence to surround me, I could hear the low murmuration of running water. Once again I left my comfy chair in search of running water. This time I went into the basement.
but that morning, it had been a steady stream pouring out of the pipe and into the gravel.
It bothered me.
I went upstairs to try to finish my morning reading and that laughing water was like Poe’s Tell Tale Heart. It seemed to get louder and louder until it was the only thing I could hear.
I could picture all sorts of water-related disasters. As soon as it was a reasonable time I called the contractor we use for work on the house.
When he came over, I showed him the basement stream. He shone his flashlight all around the basement, at the walls, at the stream, on the dirt floor, and back again at the corner where the water was pouring in. “This really isn’t in my wheelhouse,” he said. “I’ll send my plumber over.”
When the plumber came, he looked all around the basement too. “This is an old house,” he said, “and the water is going somewhere. You could do this, or this, or this,” and he laid out a few options that may or may not fix the problem, “but to be honest with you, I’d just leave it.”
“But I can hear it,” I insisted.
“It’s okay. The water is going somewhere. It’s not filling your basement,” he said. He mentioned again the other options, emphasizing their pros and cons, adding, “If it was my house, I wouldn’t do anything.”
I opted to do nothing.
And I sat there for the next several mornings, listening to the gurgle one floor beneath me.
Morning after morning, I murmured my prayers while the water murmured below.
It became part of the background music of early morning.
Then, it just disappeared. I can’t even tell you when.
But I’m sure it will be back, with the next thaw and/or heavy rain.
When it returns, I won’t panic. I’ll just listen.
The patterns for our personalities are set early on.
“I want to be the kind of person who does that,” Susan said to me thirty-some years ago.
Years later, when Susan was poked, she bled praise. She suffered a stroke in her 40s and I have never heard her utter a bitter word about it. After seeing Susan last June, I asked another friend, Jennifer Trafton Peterson, to make this custom artwork for her. The words are ones I have heard Susan say many times.
The other day I was wearing a new-to-me shirt and my father noticed.
“That’s a nice shirt,” he said.
“I got it at the thrift store,” I told him.
He grinned, fist-bumped the air, and said, “Hurrah!”
My father has always liked a bargain. It’s the Scotsman in him, I think. My mother had to live with it and work against it.
She was also very frugal, but, at the same time, she wished she could do some of the things that the other doctors’ wives got to do. After he retired, he yielded to her and they went on a trip to Hawaii.
It was life-changing. He still talks about it.
“I’m so glad that I listened to Mom and we made that trip to Hawaii,” he often says.
“Everyone should go to Hawaii. When are you going?” he asks me, when he’s thinking about that trip.
But my father bleeds frugality. As dementia takes hold little by little, I see a deeper austerity emerging. He sometimes wears corduroy pants that are nearly threadbare. “There’s still some wear in these,” he says when I suggest he change.
“How much is that going to cost?” he asks, when I suggest a necessary home repair or appliance replacement, in a can-we-possibly-do-without-that sort of way.
The pattern, I think, was set early on.
My sister’s mother-in-law was a fairly passive woman. In her elderly dementia, she became more and more withdrawn into a unresisting submissiveness. When she was poked, that was what she bled — utter compliance.
My mother — I had to think about her for a while to come up with what she bled — I think she bled marmalade, both sweet and sour, involving food, and serving others. She wanted to help, but she got frustrated with the muddle in her mind.
And I can’t help thinking, What are the patterns being laid in my life? When I am poked, what will I bleed?