Bedtime Stories with Mom

IMG_3619We are home from the doctor’s appointment, so now it is Mom’s bedtime.  If it’s not mealtime or bathroom time or appointment time, it is bedtime.  I help her change into her comfy pajamas, ones that are soft and stretchy, but not so slippery that she’ll slide out of bed. I roll Biofreeze onto her  shoulder and rub Voltaren liniment on her knees, then a dab of ointment on the pressure sore we’ve been tending for five years.  I lift her right leg (by the foot because her legs hurt), and her left, and then swaddle her in a sheet, a blanket, and a spread because the temperature’s only 78.  “You good, Mom?” I ask her.  “Oh, yes,” she says as if she were settling into a spa day.

She is not really my mom, but I have been calling her “Mom” since I was a teenager.  “You’re the daughter I never had,” she told me 48 years ago, three years before I married her son.  When my own mother died in 2013, she said, “I’ll be your mother now.”  And now it seems natural and absolutely right.

Once Mom is all cozied up, I try to get comfortable for the hour-long storytime.  I kick off my shoes and go lie down on the other side of the full bed.   The bed creaks with my weight, and it sounds just like Mom’s knees and shoulders.  The bed isn’t as old as Mom—97—but I wouldn’t doubt if it’s 50. “Maybe you should buy a new bed, one of those fancy Craftmatic ones, the kind that can incline your head or your feet or your bottom with just a press of a button.

“That would be a waste of money at my age.”

“Well, how about a hospital bed.  I think Medicare would pay for it.”

“Not a hospital bed!”  She is appalled, as if I suggested we install a ramp or convert her bathtub to a walk-in shower, all things you do for really old people.

I try to fluff up her smushy pillows to cushion my back, to no great effect.  I finally just sit up, resting my back on the headboard. More creaking.

I pick up the book I’ve been reading to her for a month, Before Oprah:  Ruth Lyons, the Woman Who book coverCreated Talk TV, and ask, “Now where did we leave off?” because I don’t remember, but I know she will.  Her mind is so sharp, her memory so good, I ask her for phone numbers and recipes and addresses that she knows by heart.

“Ruth just had a stroke and she was in Holmes Hospital.  They told everyone she was suffering from exhaustion.  At a photo shoot, the photographer noticed her smile was crooked,” she says.

“Oh, yes.  Okay.”  And I open the book where it’s marked with a store coupon and begin reading.

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When Your Friends Live on the Street, Your Street

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Do not avert your eyes. It is important that you see this. It is important that you feel this. ― Kamand Kojouri

Last night I was sitting by the front window in the Vine Street Skyline Chili, just me with my four-way, book, and phone.  Rick was at some sporting event, the one where the players wear long pants, I think.

I was feeling empowered, eating unapologetically alone.  I was multitasking, texting with one hand, shoveling food in with the other, when there was a knock on the window.  My heart sank when I saw that it was Brady and his girlfriend Chelsea, my amply pierced and tatted young friends.

Brady came in to see me, and we chatted briefly in that surface way you do when someone stops by your table, and then he left to join his girlfriend.  I watched as the two, hand in hand, crossed the street.

I had been Brady’s eighth grade English teacher in 2000, so he’s in his thirties.  A Millenial. You know, that generation that’s supposedly tech-savvy, civic minded, liberal, and entrepreneurial, or maybe lazy, narcissistic, and selfie-loving?

None of those adjectives apply to Brady and Chelsea.  They are street people. They live the majority of their lives on and near my street in downtown Cincinnati.homelesscoallogo

When Brady was in eighth grade, he was a smart-underachiever. A smart-aleck, too. One of the most frustrating, disappointing kinds of kids to teach.  You can see that success is within their reach, but they won’t take their hands out of their pockets in their drooping pants.

Brady was like so many of the kids in my school:  No father in the picture.  A mom working long hours in a  minimum wage job.  Brady lived in a little brick ranch with a small, untended yard.  These were “the working poor,” people who worked but couldn’t get ahead, or out from under debt, or past the daily demands of life.  A broken car or leg or relationship can land such folks out on the street.  But Brady’s family managed to stay in their house.

The year I taught Brady, I was doing graduate work, too.  As part of my coursework, I designed a research study focusing on aliterate boys—boys who could read but chose not to.  Kids who were a lot smarter than their test scores and grades would lead you to believe.  I asked Brady and some other eighth grade guys if I could talk to them after school about reading.  All of the boys, including Brady, seemed to enjoy the attention and being experts at something, even if that “something” was apathy.  I gave them pop and Skyline dip and gift cards, but I think they would have participated even if I hadn’t.

After Brady left the middle school, he returned and visited me for years.  Once he sported a very impressive Mohawk, one that stood at attention, thanks to glue, he said.  “Really?  Glue?”  He was pulling my leg, right?  Another time he visited, he was cultivating dreadlocks.  I think he liked it when I teased him about his crazy hair.

As I finished my Skyline dinner last night, I thought about Brady and what I wished I would have said to him, so I was pleased when I walked out to see him and Chelsea standing on the corner across the street.  I wondered if they were waiting for me.  “Mrs. Lingo, you would be so proud of me.  I read a whole book.  A ‘course Chelsea had to talk me into it.”

“Yeah, I had to read it first,” said Chelsea, grinning and rolling her eyes.

“It was The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo.  I seen the movie, the American one, but I want to see the Swedish one.”

Mary Magdalene House, where people can get a shower and change of clothes

Mary Magdalene House, where people can get a shower and change of clothes

“That is a really big book, Brady.  Way to go!” I said.   “And the sequels are really good, too.”  (Once a teacher . . .)

“Hey, guys, I wanted to tell you that I think about you a lot.  I worry about you two.  You need to get jobs.  You need to get your little boy.”  We were all quiet for a moment.  Brady shrugged his shoulders and lowered his head, as if he knew he deserved this chastening, but wished he didn’t have to listen to it.

****************

The first time I spotted Brady and Chelsea downtown was about six months ago. Brady called out to me from across the street.  “Mrs. Lingo!” he cried, and he and his girlfriend jogged over to me, even burdened as they were by bulky backpacks.  He was handsome and tall, even if he looked disheveled and dusty. His girlfriend was petite, and I tried to open my tiny mind to the multiple hook-like piercings in her pert nose.

Brady told me they had a child, a boy of about two, and he whipped out his phone to show me a picture.  And he admitted, without being asked, that his son was living with his mother.  Brady said that he was homeless and looking for a job.

He was somber in the telling, but his demeanor lifted as he explained to his girlfriend that I had interviewed him about reading when he was a middle-schooler.  “She wrote a book about me,” he said. I didn’t correct him, and I’m not sure it was because I wanted him to look good to his girlfriend, or because I didn’t want to admit that I hadn’t finished my dissertation, that I was a quitter.  “I picked him to interview because he was so smart,” I told his girlfriend, and that was the truth.

I wished them well, told them I hoped their little family would be together soon, and because he didn’t ask, I pulled a $20 bill out of my purse and pressed it into Brady’s grimy hand.  “Go, eat!” I commanded.

“Oh, you don’t have to do that Mrs. Lingo.  Really.”

A week later: “Hey, Mrs. Lingo!” and there they were at the same place I’d seen them before.  Again, they bounded over, clearly excited to see me.  Brady said they just couldn’t find jobs and said, almost in a whisper, that it was because, “they always pick blacks.  I hate to say it, but it’s true.  While he talked on animatedly, all I could think was How did this happen to you, Brady?

As I was winding up the conversation, Brady looked down.  “I hate to ask,” he said quietly, and I could tell what was coming, “but could you give us a little money?”

“I’m sorry, Brady.  I can’t.  But I wish you luck.”  I wanted so much to empty my wallet into their hands, but I was so afraid how that money would be spent.

They never asked for money again.

**************

When you live downtown, you encounter panhandlers every day.  When we first moved here seven years ago, we would ask them, “Are you hungry?  We will buy you lunch.” We would take the person into the nearest restaurant, and we paid after they ordered a pizza or a sandwich.  Sometimes they would say, “No, I just want money,” and we’d decline.

But after going to our first monthly Downtown Residence Council (DRC) meeting, we stopped even offering food.  ODB2
The police informed us that there were dozens of Cincinnati non-profit organizations that provided breakfast, lunch, and dinner, every day of the week, and encouraged us to donate to the agencies instead of individuals.

Furthemore, most of the panhandlers are not homeless, despite what the signs say.

Most significantly, a large percentage of those begging for money are addicted to drugs, and the kind offerings from “Good Samaritans,” went to feeding their habit.  At one DRC meeting, a police officer and firefighter told us that just that morning they had to revive a man who had overdosed in a restaurant bathroom.  “And next to him was his ‘I am homeless sign.’”

One woman at a meeting said, “There was a man that was so pathetic. I just had to help!   I gave him $5.”

The policeman responded, “Well, I hope he’s alive tomorrow.”

**************

This morning when I was walking to the bank, there they were on that very same street corner.  “Hello,” I said.  “Here you are again!  You are always on this block.  Why are you just walking around this same area all day?”

“We’re looking for you,” Brady said, smiling.

I was touched by his words.  And burdened.

How to Help:

A PRINTABLE GUIDE you can offer people in need. The Visitors Center at Fountain Square has a handy pocket size version they will give to you to hand out.

WHERE TO DONATE   There are so many wonderful agencies, but here are a few I support.

homelesscoallogo       CINCINNATI HOMELESS COALITION

 

 

ODB2

 

 OUR DAILY BREAD

 

Mary Magdalene House, where people can get a shower and change of clothes

                MARY MAGDALENE HOUSE

 

 

tender merciesTENDER MERCIES

 

 

streetvibesWhen someone offers to sell you a copy of Streetvibes, buy one, and ask whether the seller is published in that edition.  Streetvibes  includes creative writing, poetry, articles, photography and interviews written by homeless and formerly homeless individuals. Streetvibes reports the often-invisible story of poverty in our community.

 

 

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Weighing In: My Body of Work

Celery Again

You’ve seen it.  The groom takes a piece of wedding cake and smashes it into the perfectly made up face of his bride.  This is the message:  Ladies will not eat unless they are force fed.

Stop fast-forwarding past the commercials, and you’ll see men scarfing pizza, chicken wings, all manner of delicious cuisine.  Women in commercials are mostly eating yogurt with teeny tiny spoons.  Finger licking, lip smacking, satisfied tummy rubbing?  That is for guys only.

I was recently at a ladies’ luncheon.  You know what was served, right?  Chicken salad on a croissant, with a side of field greens, that salad that tastes like it arrived at your plate directly from the dirt.  And it’s dressed with a squeeze of lemon and angel tears.

I was ladylike in my manner of consumption.  I cut the croissant in 4 bite-size pieces, and took 3 bites out of each piece, blotting my mouth before sipping my saccharine-sweetened iced tea.  I ate my field greens with gusto, because ladies can.  When I threw in my fork, you could have blown the crumbs off my plate and used it, unwashed, for tomorrow’s luncheon.

It was then that I examined the plates of the seven other ladies at my table.  One woman’s plate was, as seen with the naked eye, completely untouched.  A few other women had scraped the filling from their croissants, leaving those buttery, flakey puffs of lusciousness on their plates.  Another woman was eating just the seepage around the croissant, and another consumed the ends, leaving the juicy elbow of the sandwich on her plate.  Most of the women had consumed every leaf of the swamp grass salad.

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The Ghost of Christmas Past

christmas_110006500-012814-intI suppose it’s not fair that I blame my mother for ruining that Christmas.  I must have been eight or nine, old enough not to “believe” anymore, old enough to understand that whatever my mother bought would be hidden somewhere in the house. I was just being a normal kid, curious, with hope in my heart.

But if my mother had been a normal mom, she would have hidden that doll better.  In fairness, it couldn’t have been easy to hide a three-foot baby doll, with the size and proportions of a real child so it could be dressed in toddler clothes.

But really, Mom, in the bathroom cupboard barely covered by the stiff, gray bath towels?  I was sorry right away that I had found it, and I learned what happens to delight when surprise is erased.  About the dread of faking surprise on Christmas Eve  when we opened our gifts.

Maybe that Christmas was also the one when my mother used needles as fine as toothpicks to knit Barbie Doll clothes.  It is only now, remembering those clothes, that it occurs to me that my mother must have waited until I went to bed to knit them so they would be a surprise, buta2162a27c67eb106d2a75a4825ec96ce I remember that I was surprised, and disappointed, that I didn’t get the slutty black strapless sequin dress I saw at Woolworths, the one that came with the microphone.

But, oh, the anticipation of opening those presents on Christmas Eve afternoon when Dad finally got home from his foundry’s Christmas party.  No matter what was in those packages, it was more than what I had.   We weren’t poor, but middle class kids just didn’t have much.

My mother often made me something. The Christmas I was sixteen, Mom  made me a grey fur-trimmed maxi-coat that had a Dr. Zhivago hood going on, and it closed with metal frogs.  It never fit exactly right, because of course Mom had to sew it when I wasn’t around, but I loved it and felt very sexy and sophisticated when I wore it to Rick’s uncle’s Christmas dinner.

After I opened my gifts with my parents and brother, we headed to my grandparents’ two doors down.  First we had our mock turtle soup dinner, and once all of the dishes were washed and the tables were set for Christmas breakfast – this took forever, it seemed – the door to the family room was opened to reveal the bounty of a very generous Santa.  You had christmas-gift-vector-decorative-template-with-bows-gift-boxes-pine-branche_mjfgr1v__lto sidle in to find a seat; the entire center of the room was mounded with packages.

Most gifts you received in those days were surprises, but not too surprising.  You might ask for a sweater, but you never know what color or pattern you’d get.  Or earrings, but you didn’t know if they’d be silver or gold, studs or dangles.

Back then, you rarely returned gifts, unless they were damaged or the wrong size.  You loved the gift because you loved the giver, and you always made an effort to use the gifts in their presence.

My crazy–in-mostly-a-good-way aunt really didn’t care about your wish lists.  She bought what fancied her, like the year she bought all the adult children gingham nightshirts.  My dad and his siblings and their spouses with the ankle-length nightshirts on.  Wish I could find that picture.

My grandmother had an algorithm for determining her budget for each gift—a certain amount for children and their spouses, another for her grandchildren, and the smallest amount for her great-grandchildren. She would always buy a gift from your wish list, but  if the gift did not cost the budgeted amount, you might find a pair of stockings or knee socks or two dollar bills in the box to make up the difference.

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We Don’t Talk Anymore

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So, we’re on a road trip.  We’ve spent five days in the car together.  Fortunately, we have a Bill Bryson audiobook, and there are plenty of weather changes and road construction to lubricate our conversation.

We (that would be I) decide to stop for a nice dinner at Smoke and Porter, a restaurant that’s a half-step above Applebee’s.  After I criticize where he chooses to park, we unfold ourselves and get out of the car and perform our synchronized choreography of stretching frozen joints.

He looks at me and says, “Uh, are we going to …”

“Talk?” I shake my head and wave my paperback novel at him.

Talk?  Whatever could we talk about.  We’ve been together for 47 years.  There is not one damn thing left unsaid.  If it hadn’t been that monsoon that swelled up over the highway that afternoon, we probably wouldn’t have said a thing to each other all day.

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Don’t Be a Turkey:  No Politics at Thanksgiving

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Maybe we should just skip Thanksgiving this year.  Given the political climate, is it prudent to gather a diverse group of people around a dining table where a carving knife plays such a prominent role?

And there are so many soft, creamy foods—pumpkin pie, sweet potatoes, cranberry sauce—that would be perfect vehicles for arsenic.

Corn bread and biscuits can be repurposed as projectiles.

Even the Thanksgiving lingo is fraught with ambiguity.  “Turkey” is poultry to be consumed or an insult to be dished out.  Take “stuffing,” which can be a toothsome, fat-laden side dish or it can be mean an aggressive way of filling a relative’s mouth with a sock.

And the before-meal grace?  What a landmine!

Dear God, we are so grateful that you have delivered to us a man who will make our floundering nation great again!

OR

Heavenly Father, We thank you for this bounty and humbly ask for your guidance in removing the dark stain of Satan from the Oval Office.

Don’t want to foul/fowl up Thanksgiving? Ban politics.funny-turkey-in-hat-vector_myq7xm_l

There are always the usual social lubricants we can fall back on:

  • The weather, how it’s hotter or colder this year than last or the blizzard back in ought two.
  • The tip you learned on FB about how to change your life with Ziploc baggies.
  • The speed trap in Elmwood Place.
  • The merits of white vs. dark meat.
  • The year Junior ate three pieces of pie and threw up in the dog dish.
  • And howsabout those Bengals?

Here are some ideas for spicing up, without burning down, the Thanksgiving table:

  • Pass around baskets of random snapshots from the past and remember the good old days. Laugh about the 70s bell bottoms, the 80s hairstyles. Linger over those of Grandma and the old farm house.
  • Tell the youngsters the stupid things you’ve done. Like the time you spent $14 trying to win a teddy bear at the fair.  Kids love to hear how the old folks messed up, and maybe, just maybe, they’ll learn from our mistakes.
  • Tell stories about loved ones who are no longer at the table. How Great Grandma Seilkop made butter and sugar sandwiches for hobos during the Depression.  How Grandpa Gil financially supported the Cherokee Nation.  How Uncle Lou fought in the Battle of the Bulge.happy-turkey-holding-a-usa-flag_qkdnqz_l

Look people.  You would probably give a kidney to anyone at your Thanksgiving table without a second thought.  You played together when you were kids and sat on your aunties’ laps without any discussion of politics.  This is not the time to lean into difference.

Neither Donald Trump nor Hillary Clinton lead our families.  We are in charge of our own families.  We look to our elders to remind us of our values and priorities; we look to our children for hope; we look to our hosts for their generosity and hospitality.  We are all Americans, lucky us, and there is no room for hate at our table.

Strong families help make America great.  Strong families and pie.  Lots of pie.

happy-turkey-face-expression_xja4qf_l

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Write Me In: 15 Reasons I Should Be Your President

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  1. I will never wear sleeveless outfits, not to the State of the Union Address, not to the Easter Egg Roll, not to the Fourth of July picnic. I will wear pantsuits with long jackets covering my elasticized waist bands.  I will make modest, illusory, and seasonally appropriate clothing fashionable again.
  2. I taught middle schoolers for 30 years, so I know how to make childish people get along. Even deplorable people.
  3. I will not go grey. Even if I serve two terms.  A campaign promise I can keep.
  4. You can see my tax returns. Nothing will surprise you: Two teachers’ pensions.  Deductions for prescriptions and ice bags and Tylenol.   Donations of nightgowns and lamps and sweatshirts to Goodwill.   Checks here and there to St. Jude Hospital, the Cancer Society, and The Food Bank. Yes there were losses and depreciations in our lives this year, but nothing we could claim.  Loopless, we are.
  5. I will commit no sins of the flesh. Just ask my husband.
  6. I think America IS great AND we have important work to do.
  7. I have no blood coming out of my wherever; I’m just ornery all the time.
  8. It will be easy for the Secret Service to keep track of me. I’m slow.
  9. I have no idea how to tweet.
  10. Yes, you can see my medical records. You can see that I am at a healthy weight for my 7’10”    That I have the usual old person ailments:  hypertension, cholesterol, and a little too much candy in my blood stream.  That I take the three medications most women my age take: Lipitor, Lisinopril, and the one that will keep me from losing my shit when Congress won’t play nice.
  11. I am up three times a night peeing anyway, so I will take that 3:00 AM call.
  12. I don’t golf.
  13. You are welcome to read my emails, ones setting up lunches, ones requesting my children’s Christmas lists, ones with meatloaf and cheesecake recipes. And, by all means, look for my lost emails, because there are at least 22,000 I can’t find.   Find the receipt for that doohickie I bought from Etsy that I want to return.  And bring your experts in to crack the code of my passwords, because I’d really like to order something from the Zappos again.
  14. If I lose, it will be because more people liked another candidate better.
  15. I am not nasty. (And neither is “She.”)img_3062

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Degrees of Separation:  The Antidote to Empathy

 

 

 

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Sandy Lingo

Life itself is the proper binge.  - Julia Child

A writing friend said that when she reads my writing, she always wants a second helping.

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