Saturday, October 31, 2020

Carrying the Joy by Liz Flaherty #WindowOvertheSink

It's 4:50 AM. I'm in my office with my coffee. I've already emptied the dishwasher, made coffee, taken the morning's ration of pills, and done the requisite teeth-brushing. I'm wearing jeans and a sweatshirt and fuzzy footies that I will change later, when I'm warmer and likely to stay that way. It's one of the things I've learned with growing old...older. My body thermometer is out of whack. What feels good at 4:50 will be way too hot at 10:15, and I'll change. I used to toss clothes into the laundry after a single wearing. Not so anymore; even in the age of Covid, they won't get dirty in four or so hours unless I've gone somewhere that leaves me feeling uncomfortable..

Most of the time, I like being older. I wouldn't give up the experiences I've had, the places I've been, the people I've loved and still do. I've had my heart broken often enough to know it still works even if all the pieces don't go back together the way I'd like them to. I'm able to enjoy and appreciate art, music, ice cream, and the daily beauty fix of sunrise and sunset. While my joints tend to hurt, they all still move. They probably creak, but my hearing is compromised enough I can't hear them. 

Some of the joys in being a septuagenarian are unexpected. Google is one--how did you think I knew how to spell septuagenarian? Dressing however you want is another. It's especially fun to wear what a blonde 20-something on Facebook assures you is completely wrong for you. 

But I wasn't going to write about the joys today, because as important as they are, there are other things, too, that aren't so joyful. 

Sleep is...odd. The night before last I slept nine hours, while last night it was around five. I like five better, but sometimes nine is necessary and I don't get to choose. At 3:15 this morning, I was awake and worrying about my sister and brother and my niece. About the farm where we grew up. About my friend in Kansas and my friend in Georgia and my sister-in-law whose immune system...isn't. 

I repeat things. Incessantly. Or maybe it's not incessant--I don't really remember. If I remembered, I wouldn't repeat them. So, if I'm telling you the same story for the seventh or tenth time, do us both a favor and stop me. 

There is a constant feeling of time running out, made more prevalent by the pandemic and the vitriolic politics of these painful days. I want, for the I-don't-know-how-manyeth time, truth and respect. I will give it to you, too--it shouldn't be a one-way street. 

While I'm not afraid of dying, I want living to be healthy and productive and a good time. I want dates with my husband, lunches with girlfriends, and oh-so-much time with my kids and grandkids. 

This is what happens when you sit down in front of the computer screen at 4:50 AM. It finds you pensive and reflective and wishful. The coffee is especially good then and it's surprising to find how much of it you can drink in the first couple of hours of the day. Before daylight, I've had more cups than I usually have by noon.

Have I mentioned yet that I hate Daylight Savings Time? No? Well, I do. 

It's 9:50 AM now. I'm on my...not sure which cup. The autumn colors are still vibrant out the west window. Birds are squabbling over the suet in the feeders. The cats sit at the door of the office, checking on me. Duane texts from the house. Doing okay? 


It is the next day now. I've done what people my age do--I've gone to the hospital for a mammogram and a bone density exam. And I've sat here and wondered why I can't make this particular column work. know, it's not. 

I think it's because, although I'm no stranger to complaining, that's really not what you come here to see, is it? All those not-so-joyful things are just incidental in the long run. They're there, they have to be addressed, but then we can go on to bigger, better, and happier things. If we think we're running out of time, we just need to make better use of what's there. By laughing, say, or making cookies, or volunteering. Or by telling good stories, even if you're repeating yourself. 

There are always joys.

Have a great week. Be nice to somebody. 


Saturday, October 24, 2020

The Most Beautiful Things by Debby Myers


If you’ve read my writing before, you know I don’t usually begin with something like this.

When I was a little girl of three, my baby brother was born. Daddy woke me and told me it was time for Mommy to go to the hospital and for me to go stay with Grandma Gigi. They had gone over the plan with me. When the time came, Gigi would wait with me, and we would make my favorite pancakes while we waited for the baby. My whole body filled with excitement. I put my coat over my pajamas and ran to the car. I’ve treasured that feeling, as it is my first real memory. It is often how we are feeling at a specific time that triggers our memories.

That memory came from a feeling of loss. I had just learned that a dear friend’s father passed unexpectedly from a massive heart attack. It was the same way my own father died 30 years ago. I began to think of him…and of Grandma Gigi…and of my brother…and of that first memory. Memories of these three parts of me are bittersweet now that they have all gone, but I won’t let them be forgotten.

For the last several months, most of us have spent a lot of time complaining,
blaming, and worrying about the problems this virus has caused. A lot of negativity seems to have taken over our TVs, radios, newspapers, social media, and conversations just when we are all being forced to stay home with not much to do except see and hear it all. I want to give you a look at how, during this time, I’ve done my best to stay positive.

With being quarantined, we’ve all felt fear, confusion, and a disconnect. I feel like we can take this time to share our memories and communicate with loved ones, whether it be by phone, text, video chat, or while wearing a mask in a positive
way. Being mandated to stay at home has had its perks that no one really talks about. Instead most seem to focus on being quarantined. Don’t get me wrong, there are many reasons we don’t like it. The way I’ve managed to get through it is through spending my time remembering.

When I begin to feel loneliness, it’s a feeling I fight off (and so do many others) almost daily. I’ve coaxed myself to remember good memories of friends and times we spent together. So many are with childhood friends. I made my first real friend at birth, growing up together, staying close for 57 years now. Other memories with work friends or theater friends. This gives me a feeling of joy. I’m being forced to be alone, but even before the pandemic there were many times I chose to be.
Knowing I have friends who would come in an instant if I asked keeps that feeling of loneliness at bay and brings me that joy feeling instead. 

One night during the quarantine, I had all five of my grandchildren spend the night here. No matter what the risk of a virus, they were the humans I refused to give up. Being with them brings feelings of deja vu, unconditional love, and amazement. When I get those feelings, I try to share memories with them that I hope one day they will all remember…well not Joelle since she’s only two.

I told them that night about how I walked to and from school 12 blocks every day, no matter what the weather (no exaggeration). As a kid, I was decked out in
clothes for all seasons – sunglasses and a floppy hat for summer; a windbreaker jacket and sock hat for fall; boots, mittens, scarf, snow pants and a hooded heavy coat for winter; and a rain coat, umbrella, and galoshes for spring. Two of the kids
smiled and secretly rolled their eyes, two of them were attentive and giggled…and Joelle, well, like I said, she’s only two.

I’ve already told them about both of my grandmas and grandpas, even the ones they had never met. I’ve shared memories of being in the circus, different jobs I’ve had, and about their own parents when they were their age. These topics keep them intrigued, asking questions, and giggling…and giggling. I have pictures of family all around my house and I feel pride when I show them and share memories of when they were taken.

Probably more important, I’ve talked with my older grandchildren about hard lessons I’ve learned – the time I tried to walk across the top of my swing set when I was nine, the time I got caught shoplifting when I was 15, the time I hit the overhang of a hotel with a U-Haul truck when I was 22, the time I bungee jumped when I was 30 – just to name a few. I’ve touched on serious topics too – religion, education, safety, dating, and about my disease, in language they could understand.

The next time they are here, I plan to share more. I hope they will remember Nana, and one day they will tell my stories to their own children after I’m gone. When I have the feeling of being needed, I make some of my best new memories.

If we end up being quarantined again, take the time to stop trying to complete your second “to do” list and find a comfortable place to sit down or lie down. Let your memories take over. You may cry and laugh, but it will make you feel and
remember life at a different time.

Being quarantined will be a story to tell for the rest of our lives. For our children and grandchildren, we can’t let this be a bad memory they carry with them and leave them with feelings of hate. Let’s all try to keep those feelings of love that pull on our heartstrings when we hear stories of doctors and nurses saving lives, neighbors helping neighbors, and peaceful protests for unity. Remember those good feelings so you can trigger those good memories.

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.