Aging

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.

Read More

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.

Read More

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.

Read More

We Don’t Talk Anymore

img_3178

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.

Read More

Don’t Be a Turkey:  No Politics at Thanksgiving

img_3076

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

RELATED POSTS

When Dinner is Performance Art and Requires a Hat

You found what in the cake?  Homage to an Indifferent Cook, My Mom

Norwegian Dinner:  It Begins With a Saw

Ten Things I’ve Learned as a 64-Year Survivor of Christmas

 

Read More

My Fitbit Impressed My Friends, Cleaned My House, and Saved My Marriage

wrist

My daughter knows my aversion to movement.  Really, I am a pet rock.  Except for brief runs (well, walks, to be honest) to the fridge and john, I could be a wax figure in Madame Tussaud’s Museum.

So it came as some surprise when I received a Fitbit from my daughter who felt compelled, all the way from Oslo, Norway, to send this fancy pants pedometer for her manatee-of-a-mother.

When I got online to set up my Fitbit (“It takes literally three minutes,” my daughter lied) I saw that mine was one of the basic models that costs $150.  I can’t believe my daughter spent $150 on a gift so totally wrong for me.  At least she didn’t buy one of the more deluxe models which checks your heart rate and makes iced tea.IMG_2918

Mine is in a serviceable black vinyl band. It tells the time and the date.   It works like a pedometer, measuring steps, but oh so much more.  In addition to counting steps, it determines how many miles I’ve walked and calories I’ve burned and stairs I’ve climbed–all totally useless features for me–but my Fitbit will also measure and assess the quality of my sleep.  Now those are stats I can get into.

Because my daughter spent so much money on this thingie, I felt obligated to strap it on (like I do my feedbag).  She told me it would change my life, which it has in so many ways.

Read More

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.

MORE:

Subscribe2

Second Helping Subjects