Saturday, October 17, 2020

Hey, Mom...

 I wrote this in 2010. I'm posting it here because it's October and Breast Cancer Awareness is important. Thanks for reading

My mother died in September of 1982. She raised five children to adulthood and buried a little girl at three, something she never got over. It took having children of my own to realize that no one ever does. She was a good housekeeper, made the best cookies and homemade bread imaginable, and had a way with potato soup. Although she worked at the instrument factory in Elkhart until she married Dad, she didn’t work outside the home again until we were grown and gone, and then she was in demand as a caregiver.

Ours was not the kind of mother-daughter relationship you normally read about. We disappointed each other often. We argued a lot. I never seemed to please her, so after while, I stopped trying. I was in the midst of being a wife and a mother and working a job and in the process of doing that, I was a terrible daughter. Even all these many years later, it’s hard to type that. Hard to admit it.

It wasn’t that we never had peace. We did. We laughed together sometimes. When she was ill, I took her for treatments once in a while, though not often enough, and stopped for lunch at places she liked. The last words I ever said to her that I was sure she heard were that I loved her and would see her later. She said, “Don’t go. It’s going to be so long,” and those words haunt me still. Because even though she asked me to stay, I didn’t.

My first book was published in 1999 and I was so excited I could hardly stand it, but I sat and held the book and cried because she hadn’t lived to see it. “I wish she knew,” I said to my husband, and Duane said, “She does.” I hope he was right. My faith says he was, but my inner voice just reminds me that I wasn’t a good daughter.

I was in my early 30s when Mom died. When my kids approached that age, I went into a private panic because what if history repeated itself? I wasn’t nearly ready to leave them. I still had things to tell them, things to show them, advice to offer that they might not want but would listen to cheerfully before disregarding.

You don’t stop missing your mother with the passage of time. The gap in your life that was left by her leaving doesn’t fill up with other things. It loses its sharp edges, but it’s still there.

Why do I suddenly feel compelled to write about my mom, something I’ve never done a lot of? Her birthday was in April, Mother’s Day in May, the anniversary of her passing a month ago yesterday, so why now?

Because October is Breast Cancer Awareness month.

It’s time to make an appointment for your mammogram if you haven’t already had one. If you can’t afford it, call your doctor’s office. Yes, I know. A federal medical panel determined you don’t really need a mammogram yet, and even if you’re already getting them, they said you don’t need to do it as often.

I don’t care. I don’t care what they say. Get one anyway. I was still in my 30s when I had a biopsy. Thankfully, it was benign, but the lump showed up in the mammogram I had, not because I found it on my own.

The U. S. Postal Service sells Breast Cancer Research stamps. They’re pretty stamps, they’re a reminder to everyone who notices one on an envelope, and they help a slew of people. At least in October, you might buy a sheet. You could stop in at the post office on the way to your mammogram.

If you know someone who’s doing a Breast Cancer Walk, support them. Pledge money, pledge time, make the walk yourself if you have the time, health, and resources.

Breast cancer isn’t just the disease of the month. Even though research and improved drugs have made its statistics somewhat less terrifying, it still manages to reach every family you know.

Yes, October is Breast Cancer Awareness month, but once it’s touched your family, you’re aware of it forever. Mom may have died in 1982, but she was ill for a long time before that. Although there were good times in the last seven years of her life, there were horrific ones, too. Even if you were a bad daughter, even if you’re an incurable optimist, when you remember those horrific times and how someone you loved suffered, it twists you up with a grief you can’t get enough mammograms or buy enough stamps or walk far enough to diminish.

So that’s why I wrote about my mom. To help keep you aware. Maybe to talk you into making that appointment or that donation. And to tell her I’m sorry I wasn’t a better daughter. If I had it to do over again, I would be.

But sometimes there aren’t any do-overs. I guess I wanted to remind you of that, too.

Have a good week. Make that appointment.

Till next time.

Saturday, October 10, 2020

An Autumn Afternoon by Liz Flaherty #WindowOvertheSink

I have a story to tell. It's about a teacher, a barber, and a little kid. I'm not using names because in reality, it's not my story to tell and because I'd never want anyone to be hurt because I told it. So, for the sake of privacy, we'll say the teacher's name is Bill, the barber is Mike, and the kid is Jake.

Like most teachers, Bill's concerned about "his kids." He worries that they get enough to eat, that they have clothes without holes in them, that they're able to be clean. He makes sure they have Christmas gifts if not having them is a possibility. Sometimes he takes them to the dentist, the doctor, or even...yeah, the barber. 

So, one day recently, Bill took Jake out--with his mother's permission--for pizza and to pick up a few outfits for school. And to get a haircut. Bill made an appointment with Mike on-line for that. While they were in the shop getting Jake's haircut, Bill explained what he and Jake were doing that day, and Mike mentioned a place to find some shoes. 

Bill and Jake had never met Mike, but later that night, Bill had a message on his phone from Mike, sharing the phone number of the place with the shoes. Because he was concerned about the kid whose hair he'd cut. 

I suppose, looking up at the paragraphs above, this isn't much of a story. No one got shot, no one died, no one lied (except me, about the names), and it didn't even hit Facebook.

We all know stories like that, don't we? I don't think we tell them often enough, but we know them. We've played all the roles. We've helped those we care about, we've helped ones we don't even know, and we've been the ones who needed the help. 

I don't know that Jake will remember that day of lunch and new clothes and a haircut. Bill does it often enough I don't know that he'll remember this particular story. Mike might remember, but maybe not. 

But they will all remember that their lives were all changed for the better by what transpired on that autumn afternoon somewhere in central Indiana. I heard the story, and it changed mine, too. Thanks to Bill and Mike, and good luck, Jake. 

Have a good week. Be nice to somebody. Change a life. 

Saturday, October 3, 2020

Tiny Threads by Liz Flaherty #WindowOvertheSink

“Chains do not hold a marriage together. It is threads, hundreds of tiny threads, which sew people together through the years.” - Simone Signeret

One of the best parts of being married a long time is that you always have someone to laugh at. The reason I'm bringing this up now is that this week, I was the one who got to do the laughing. There have been other weeks in the past 49 years when the Other Half of this relationship was the one doing the laughing. One or two, anyway. I probably won't write about them. 

Duane had cataracts removed from both eyes. His left eye was last week, his right eye this week. For both surgeries, he had to ride all the way to Warsaw with me driving--twice each time! He had to do this without complaining. Much. He did some gasping and grabbing of the armrest on the passenger door. 

I said, very quietly and gently, "What's the matter now?"

He said, "Nothing." He spoke stiffly. His hand may have been trembling where it was fisted around the shoulder strap of his seatbelt. I'm not sure if he was considering escape or thinking about hitting me with it, but he did neither. 

For his surgery, he received the kind of anesthetic that was (1) in the long term, responsible for Michael Jackson's death and (2) the same thing that is used when a person gets a colonoscopy. Usually this medication inspires Duane to spend money. He complained for years that the colonoscopy that was fully covered by insurance  cost $1000 out-of-pocket because we went home by way of Gilbert's and Breakaway. We went to Dairy Queen, too, but he doesn't even mention that.

But, anyway, the dosage was less this time, I guess, so he wasn't in shopping mode. He also had a little trouble getting into the car. His foot couldn't seem to find where it needed to go. I hope that the nurse who escorted him out thought I was being concerned when I bent over him to help. You know, because I would have looked mean if she'd seen me laughing so hard I couldn't talk.

On the way home, he told me about another patient at the eye clinic. Three times. Now, we're both at the age where we repeat things a lot, but not usually three times in fifteen minutes. I kept saying, "Uh-huh," and he kept looking at me with one normal eye and one that looked...not normal at all. It was kind of like when people have gauges in their ears (sorry--your business if you do); I don't want to keep looking at them, but I can't help myself. 

When he had his other eye done, and I drove him again, we were in my new car. Which I didn't know very well. My steering wheel was in the wrong place, as was my seat, and my lights kept dimming and brightening themselves. Also, my old car--which I drove for nine or ten years; I don't remember which--didn't have much get-up-and-get. As in, it was tempting to open the door and push with my foot on the pavement when I needed to take off or when I needed to get out of the way of some big monster of a car with six cylinders in it. The new one has the same number of cylinders as the old one, but it also has a turbo charger in it, so when I put my foot on the gas, it takes off without me pushing, pedaling, or swearing. I like this a lot, but that day I was still in the mode of giving both the passenger and myself whiplash.

Sometimes he's just so unappreciative of the things I give him. 

We stopped for breakfast on the way home on all four trips we made to Warsaw--often enough that the waiter knew what we wanted to drink and that we use Splenda in our coffee. It is well known among everyone who knows us that I might be just the slightest bit messy. I don't think I own a single top without a food stain on it. In all fairness, other than the occasional snicker, Duane very seldom even mentions it.

Unlike me, when--still anesthesia-impaired--he took a bite of hash-browns that ended up tumbling gracefully down the front of his shirt and onto his plate...and maybe the table. I don't know. Once again, I was laughing at the person I love more than my life. What kind of terrible person am I?

Oh, before I feel too guilty...we took the new car to our daughter's house, where I was talking about...where I was bragging about not having to have a key to drive or unlock the car. Just this fob thing, you know, in my pocket. (I haven't lost it yet, but it'll happen.) I said all you had to do was open the door. 

Except that Duane couldn't. He tried, then held up his hands in defeat. "It doesn't work." And, I gotta tell you, it was so cool. I just walked around the car, pushed the little button, and that door opened right up. The first try! 

I've spent 49 years hearing noises in cars that would go mysteriously silent when Duane listened for them. Not that he ever told me it was all my imagination, but...yeah, the noise would never be heard again. It was so empowering that he couldn't open that door! And so funny. I laughed, our daughter and son-in-law laughed. Best and loudest of all, Duane laughed. I'm not sure he meant it, but he laughed. 

In case you'd wondered why I used that quote up there, this is why. Because being able to laugh not just with each other but at each other--those are some of the strongest and best of of those hundreds of tiny threads. They are the minutes that make the years easier to attain. 

Have a great week. Laugh at someone you love. Be nice to somebody. 


Saturday, September 26, 2020

Make memories... by Liz Flaherty


A re-visit this week. I ended up with more things to do than I had week to do them in. Sound familiar? Apologies for the wonky setup--Blogger isn't too friendly these days. Thanks for reading!

          I keep saying, “The hardest thing about being old is…” There’s nothing wrong with saying that, except that I finish it differently almost every time. Here’s my list for this week.

·         Your body betrays you. If you get down, you can’t get up. When you leave a doctor’s appointment, you may as well make another one, because by the end of the week, you’ll need to go back. Gravity, that wicked witch, has attacked you and taken away certain…assets you thought you had. Well, she didn’t take them away, but she certainly did put them in a different place.

·         Losing your memory. Because you don’t have it anymore and oh, boy, do you miss it. You can, of course, remember what you wore to school on the first day of seventh grade (blue skirt, white blouse, red T-strap shoes), the boy you had a crush on when you were eight (Randy), and a mean thing you said to someone in Mrs. Kotterman’s class that still makes you squirm (sorry, Suzanne). However, you can’t remember what you went into the next room for, why you had to go to Kroger’s, and the name of your firstborn if he’s the one you’re talking to. You can’t remember that you told that same story just yesterday to the—cringe—same person you’re telling it to today.

·         Losing people you love. Nothing makes this any easier. It happens more and more as you age. I remember being surprised because my aunt’s funeral wasn’t crowded because, after all, Aunt Gladys had always gone to everyone’s funeral. Oh, yes, exactly. Everyone’s. All of her immediate family and most of her friends had passed before her. Only her nieces, nephews, and younger friends were left to mourn and to share the wonderful stories she told. There’s nothing you can do about the losses; they are just a bitter fact of life.

·         Things that make you say “when I was your age…” In the first place, it’s probably not accurate. I grew up in the 1960s. No one thought any of us would amount to a hill of beans. Everyone over the age of 30 hated our music, our clothes, our politics, our protesting ways, our language, our ethics, our mores and morals, our work ethic, our hair, our movies, our books, the way we sat on the border wall around the courthouse, our sunglasses, our regular glasses, our language, our attitudes, our…oh, good heavens, I’m out of breath. Does any of this sound familiar to you? What that means, I think, is that every older generation thinks every younger generation is a waste of human flesh. And we’re all wrong.

·         They don’t make cars like they used to. I must admit, I still think there are no new cars as pretty as a 1957 Chevy, a 1965 Mustang, or a 1968 Camaro. That being said, I expect to get at least 200,000 miles out of a car now, and that wasn’t the case in “when I was your age.”

·         And that’s just the list for this week. Goodness knows what will be the hardest thing about aging the next time I talk about it.

And now, oh, yes, now comes the good part. The part where I say, “The coolest thing about getting old is…”

·         Your body still has parts that work. If you look around, you know way too many people whose do not. Often, though, they will still have eyes that sparkle, a laugh that draws you right into a warm place, or conversation that gives you knowledge you didn’t have and ideas that need to be considered.

·         Finding your memories. This does include the old ones, but there are new ones, too. Like when Duane, my husband, had a total knee replacement. Our grandson Eamon, who was six at the time, told his mother that Papaw was going to get a new leg. Eamon observed that he thought Papaw should get a new head instead. (Nana may or may not have agreed with this—I don’t remember.) The next time they came to the house, Duane was still in his recliner with his knee stretched out and when they came up the driveway, I ran and got a 22-inch zipper and wrapped it around Duane’s neck. He tilted his head to one side and we waited for Eamon to come in. The truth is, we probably marked the kid for life—he was horrified—but it also gave the family a memory we will laugh about forever.

·         The people you love. No, nothing makes losing them a cool thing, but loving them in the first place can never be taken away. Even when memories do swirl around in your mind, the love stays there.

We’ve all heard the story of the man who visited his wife in an Alzheimer’s unit every single day. “Why do you do that?” someone asked him. “She doesn’t even know who you are anymore.”

“You don’t understand,” said the man, “I still know her.”

·         Things that make you think (not say) “When I was your age…” You may not know this, but the music in the 1960s was the best music there’s ever been. I saw on Facebook the other day when some millennials were chortling about senior chords and talking about how silly they were (as opposed to parachute pants, I assume) and I just remembered how much fun they were. Fifty years after the fact, I still regret that I didn’t have any.

·         Cars. I like remembering when those coolest-cars-of-all were new and even my own Camaro—an '86 not a '68. But mostly I like my SUV that’s easy to get in and out of, the GPS that finds me every time I get lost, and the fact that my seven-year-old car with its 135,000 miles is still on its second set of tires and its second set of brakes.

So, yeah, right the second time. There really are parts of aging—of being aged—that are crummy. And lots more parts that are just the coolest thing.  

     Have a good week. Stay safe. Make memories. Be nice to somebody. 

Saturday, September 19, 2020

Golden Days and Layers

There's been a lot grief in 2020--we all know that. A lot of loss. But it's September now, with cool nights and breezes that sift into your hair and make you smell apples and leaves and bonfires.

It is, I know, a dying, decaying time as the earth prepares for winter, but the bean fields are golden, as are the corn tassels and some of the trees and the quick shimmer of the sun on the river. The colors that begin to emerge in September are bright and burnished and hopeful. 

There are golden sounds, too. Performers sharing their music both digitally and--where there's space--in person. The bleachers at junior high and high school football games. 

I should have finished writing this when I started it on Friday morning, but I didn't. I had other things I needed to do...and now Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg has died. For many of us, the colors have dimmed. Rest in power, Your Honor, and thank you. 

But this time of year is also about layers. On Tuesday I went to a meeting at ten in the morning, wearing my third shirt of the day. I started hopefully (and foolishly) in a tank top, changed to a sweatshirt, and by the time I went to the meeting, was in short sleeves--with a hoodie in the car because you just never know. Last night when we went to dinner, Duane wore shorts--and a golf sweater. 

School's back in session. Football's being played. But the layers are uneven these days, because caution changes things. Disagreement, almost the only constant in these change-of-season layers, makes the edges of the tiers rough-edged and sharp. 

I can't seem to come to a good place this morning, and I'm sorry. If you have good news, I hope you'll share it. 

Have a good week. I hope you see bright colors and find kindness in the layers. Stay safe. Be nice to somebody.