Tuesday, March 27, 2007

Kathy made me do it.

That's my story and I'm sticking to it. She and I went to lunch one day at "The Saddle Ranch" chop house. They have a mechanical bull in an arena. For some reason everyone was super nice to us that day. They let us ride the bull for free. Kathy was all excited about riding this thing and sort of guilted me into it. If she was going to do it, I knew I had to do it too and yes I would jump off the cliff if everyone else was doing that. Kathy went first; she looked terrified the entire time the bull was moving. She went up and down once than began to holler for them to stop and let her off. They take pictures of you as you ride and her's are super funny cause she clearly is scared to death.
I found getting on the bull as big of a challenge as riding it. You walk across this puffy air mattress to the bull in the center. I thought it would be easier to walk if I took giant steps. I think it took me 3 of them to get there. At this time I looked to Kathy for support and noticed she was doubled over and having trouble breathing. She didn't look the least bit concerned. Now these mechanical bulls are a lot taller in person than they look on the movies. My cowboy kneeled down in the classic "will you marry me pose". He told me to step on his leg then throw my leg over the bull. I asked him if there was a weight limit on that thing. He said no, it will take some really big guys. In hindsight, I think he was talking about the bull. I was talking about his leg. So I stepped on his proffered knee and tried to sling my other leg over the bull. His knee sank into the air mattress right at the critical moment. I didn't get my leg all the way over. I now know how Spiderman does it. I found myself clinging to the side of that thing and praying for a boost. The cowboy jumped up and gave me a shove so I ended up on top of it. Unfortunately, I was also about 1/2 inch from sliding off the rear. They're a bit like a teeter totter so when I sat on the back, the front popped up.
Kathy shouted encouragement from the sidelines. Something to the effect of "oh my God, your killing me". The cowboy shouted at me to scoot up. Scoot up? I was clutching this thing with my legs so I wouldn't fall off. Scooting up meant performing a miracle of levitation. I had to scoot forward and quite literally, up.
I thought I'd use my arm muscles to pull myself forward. Since the front end of the bull was close to smacking me in the nose I just leaned into it and wrapped my arms around the part where his neck shoulda been. As I struggled to pull myself up, my cowboy had managed to stop laughing long enough to get behind me and push. With one hand on each buttock he gave a mighty heave and I was in the saddle.
I didn't even look at Kathy at this point as she was making these funny queeping noises. I was pretty sure those weren't sympathy sounds. She told me later she laughed so hard she thought she was going to hurt herself.
The cowboy returns to his post at the controls. I grab the handle, throw my arm in the air in the professional bull riders pose and hope for the best. I'm sure I made the 8 seconds, I think it was closer to 2 hours before I was finally unseated. They take a series of photo's of you as you ride. Mine shows a great picture of my smiling face and even has my arm thrown back. But I was minus the top of my head. Really from the middle of my nose up was missing by the automatic border. The next one has me from the side, then there is the pose I put on this blog, (bummer that it's blurry) and the final shot is an empty bull with my shoe oddly stuck in the air off to the side.
That's right, I got thrown. Nothing hurts! I think that's nothing short of miraculous. You know how cats always land on their feet? Well I always end up on my back. As I struggled to my feet on the air mattress the sounds of applause, hoots and cat calls filled the air. I had drawn a crowd. I guess they aren't used to seeing someone ride with such penache. I can hardly wait to do it again. I'm hooked now.
Yippie Ki Yo Ki Yeah. Get along little doggies.

Sunday, March 25, 2007

We interrupt this program

My Grand-Mother gave my Mother a start off her lilac bush 40+ years ago. Today I looked at all the fat buds ready to burst forth and it made me realize Spring really is here. Forsythia bushes in full bloom, spiraea, jonquils, tulips, daffodils and hyacinth's herald the rebirth of our planet. Spring is beautiful in the Mid-West. The warm breezes dance across my cheek and the pull is strong within me. It will be good to travel to DC. That wind blows and I want to go with it. My Mother sit's beside me playing free cell on the computer. 40 years in one place is an eternity to me. What I see as a death of spirit she see's as security. Hard to believe I came from that body.

Friday, March 23, 2007

I like the java jive and it likes me.

Popi-Da had his first brain tumor removed when he was 47 years old. It's hard to comprehend the devastating ripples from that one drop of information into the pool of our life. He was my Father, he was also one of my best friends. 35 years ago a diagnosis of brain tumor was pretty much a death sentence. You don't have a lot of choices left to you when you hear those words. It reduces you to a secret, primal place where you grasp at anything to hold onto. Anything solid will do, even if it's the floor after you've sat down hard.
We all turned to him to lead us through this maze. Somehow an upspoken decision was made to use one of his greatest strengths to our advantage. His sense of humor kept him alive years beyond what the doctor's anticipated. In fact, he outlived several of them! More surgeries were to follow along with cobalt (radiation) treatments. It was like his entire body was in revolt against itself. He grew weird things on his skin. His gall bladder died and turned gangrenous. I think I butchered the spelling on that one. He lost a saliva gland and another one behind his knee. I wish we had kept a journal or something to guide us down memory lane.
Tumors, skin growths, weird changes internally aside what finally felled him was a surprise. He had a hole in his heart that had gone undetected his whole life. It announced itself by throwing clots into his brain and finally into his lungs. The journey down was slow and uneasy for everyone. But this isn't about the sorrow, it's about the joy.
After one fairly spectacular stroke he was placed in a rehabilitation center for recovery and retraining. Alice would stay with him during the day then leave in the evening to go to work. I would work days then drive 45 minutes to spend the evenings with him. Rehab centers end up being an extended family for those who stay more than a month. Most people who find themselves in one, do stay much more than a month. So I got to know everyone's name and followed their progress with their families. Success is hard fought here, milimeters at a time. There is rarely any kind of huge breakthrough with brain injury. Learning to raise a spoon to your mouth is cause for celebration.
Because I was there every evening I quickly became a part of the normal meal time routine. I helped seat patients, tied on bibs, cut up meat, told rotten jokes, wiped up spills, I fed the ones who couldn't feed themselves and gently helped those who were trying to eat by themselves. Often times putting the same green bean on the fork over and over until it actually got into a mouth.
One evening I was met by an exhausted staff who had 2 new patients, one of which hooted the words "help me" every ten seconds. Dinner was late and the volunteer's didn't show up and would I mind making the coffee?
I told them I don't drink coffee and have no idea how to make it. The nurse said the instructions are inside the lid of the coffee can and to use the biggest coffee pot they have. Well I can follow instructions so off I went to the dining room to make the coffee. The note inside the lid said to add 8 cups of coffee to the largest pot, filling it to the top line. Plug it in and wait for it to do it's thing.
It seemed a bit extreme to me and I had trouble fitting 8 cups of coffee into that little tray and filter but once it got wet it tamped down and I could get more in. Coffee made I went about setting the table's, Popi-Da helping me pull chairs around for those who could still walk. With the two of us working as a team, the place was looking good by the time the other patients started arriving.
I got them seated, collected their trays, opened butter packets, and what idiot sends milk in a cardboard carton to a brain damaged person who can't make his hands work? I poured the coffee and we all started eating. I noticed a few startled looks from the folks, but thought it might be in response to my new Hawaiian shirt with the hula dancers I had worn for fun. Mrs Bass, a lovely lovely woman started foaming at the mouth a bit. That alarmed me as she is normally so serene and beautiful. looking around I saw all the coffee drinkers acting odd. Then it hit me, 8 cups couldn't be right. I went back to the coffee pot and checked under the lid and sure enough, it said 8 small cups of coffee.
Popi-Da tasted the evil brew and almost gagged on it. He fished around in the coffee can and brought out a perfect little scoop and pantomined scooping coffee with it. Lord help us all, I had dug through the cabinets until I found a one cup measure. I thought 8 small cups meant level, not heaping.
An injured brain can't always tell you what's wrong, nor can it accurately taste. A good deal of the 20 or so patients had faithfully drank enough to create havoc with their systems. I got a nurse and showed her what the problem is and she wasn't especially comforting about it. You'd have thought I did it on purpose by her reaction.
I was told the next day that the night shift was ready to hang, draw, and quarter me. The normally placid patients were up all night out in the halls, talking when possible, getting into stuff and creating chaos in their wake. The new patient had stopped hooting "help me" after drinking his cup so there was at least some salvation at hand. Needless to say it was the last time anyone asked me to make coffee. Can't say as I blame them.
Popi-Da slept through it. His roomie's wife was called in though as her hubby was hollering for her. I'm just like my Dad, I can sleep through just about anything. Sometimes that's a blessing.

Wednesday, March 14, 2007

I used to hate talking on the phone

I've always thought talking on a telephone was akin to getting a root canal. A necessary evil. Even as a teenager when my peers would call and want to "just talk" for hours at a time I was disgusted and ready to end the call a few minutes into it. I've gotten better over the years, mainly because I keep moving around and the phone turned into a life line home. My Mother was house bound for over ten years caring for my invalid Father. She used to love to travel and would have happily spent her retirement on the road. But with Popi-Da confined to a bed, she sat in a chair by his side for many years. So I would call her from all the different places and let her listen to the surrounding sounds. Hey Mom, I'm on Fremont Street in Las Vegas! Hey Mom, listen to the ocean waves here in Florida! Hey Mom, I'm on top of the Empire State building! Hey Mom, I'm on top of the Eiffel Tower! (note to other cell phone users.... there is no signal this high off the ground. I called her, but it wouldn't connect until I was at a much lower level) I've called her from the Louvre, the cathedral of the Black Madonna in Spain, the ruins of Pompeii. I've called her from Arizona to listen to the mockingbirds singing. I called from the Grand Canyon. It was my way of taking her with me and she always loved hearing it.
I have a couple of people I can talk to on the phone for a bit. I do get antsy and nervous though and tend to prattle on about nothing. I can't stand the empty air sound on a phone. I always feel like I'm paying to talk on this thing so I'd best get to talking. I'm afraid my phone mates don't get much talking done as I tend to, well, dominate the conversation.
But yesterday I talked to Gwyndolyn on the phone! I didn't see the lightening, I didn't hear the thunder, the ground didn't move, but she talked to me! Oh happy day. Many have tried and all have failed. She holds the phone to the side of her head totally mute. She'll pick up a toy cell phone and walk around babbling into it, waving her hands for emphasis. She'll pick up a stuffed mouse and hold it to her ear imitating a telephone. Put the real thing in her hands though and she is not interested. It's an interesting phenomenon that parents everywhere have commented on. I told her I love her, I asked if she was playing at Ahnnie's house. (Onny? Nonny? We have to invent spelling but it's her name for me) The next thing I know she is babbling away. Gobble de gook house Gobble de gook school. Bye. I wonder if a person can die of happiness. My heart was full unto bursting. What a wonderful way to die, I was so happy my heart burst. Gwyndolyn talked to ME. Me me me me, she loves me. I knew that even before the phone call and I'm sure not making it a prerequisite to conversation, but oh how delightful. I don't think my feet have touched ground in 2 days. This is better than winning the lottery. Or maybe it is exactly like it. For the rest of my life, no matter how terrible things might go, she talked to me on the phone first.
I have another epiphany moment I use as a sort of mantra. It happened years ago when I sat in the doorway of an airplane watching the checkerboard countryside glide by below. I knew in that moment that I was going to jump and that no matter how tough things got for me, and it was bound to be tough, I could overcome anything. I faced down that fear and jumped out of the plane. Many times over the years I had to revisit that moment in my head when I needed a little extra boost of courage.
My new epiphany has nothing to do with overcoming fear, or courage or really action on my part. It's being deserving of love from such a magnificient creature God put in our lives. I did nothing to earn it, I'm without a doubt undeserving of it. I am also eternally grateful to have it. When she would lean her body against my leg and gaze solemnly at my face with love and security I wished everyone in the world could feel that moment at some time in their lives. How can anyone be the recipient of a child's love then turn around and do evil? It's a quandary I admit.
I'm rambling here so I shall quit. Just know this. One of the happiest things in my life is that I love Gwyndolyn and she loves me. It don't get any better than this folks.

Wednesday, March 7, 2007

Murry, Joe and MyJohn

There is a Christian Mission in Elim Poland that is supported by a women's group in Heidelberg Germany. I've seen pictures of the mission and the nearby orphanage they serve. It makes me wish I could do more for them. It makes me wish I had followed this path when I was younger instead of the more traditional American way of life in which I failed so miserably. But, I digress.
I was amazed to find European people suffering and starving. I thought South America, India and Africa had sort of cornered the market. I don't believe I'm being elietst, I've never seen or heard of any mission work in Europe other than Russia. Just shows to go ya I've led a sheltered life. One of the women in Heidelberg had a sewing pattern for the entire Nativity scene. From baby Jesus right through to Camel's and donkeys. They're done in wool which looks perfect on them. I suspect it's all they have and not something done by design. When the Elim women got started making the figures none of them had ever operated a sewing machine. No one had money for them. They lived in concrete block house's no bigger than my living room. But they learned, and have been able to better their lot in life through these stuffed dolls. One woman proudly displays a small cook stove sitting under an electric light bulb. All items bought with her earning. Each woman learns one figure. They have created a little co-operative where they put together the finished ones.
Karen, my friend and Gwyndolyn's Mom, purchased one of the Nativity sets last year at a Bazaar in Heidelberg. We set it up in the living room on the coffee table (the one that looks like a coffin) Gary's StepDad made. Karen put out Mary, Joseph and the donkey first. Gwyndolyn liked them, but wasn't much interested in playing with them. We told her the dolls were named Mary & Joseph. Her 2 year old interpretation of that was Murry & Josie. I told her if she was going to call Mary "Murry" she might as well call Joseph "Joe" and for once she listened to me and that's what she did. Karen was concerned some of her more righteous friends would object to the Holy Family going by Murry and Joe, but I told her just tell them it's my fault. They'll accept that.
The big surprise came when one of the shepards came out of the box to join the set. Gwyndolyn snatched it up immediately pronouncing it was "myJohn". She flipped the shepard upside down so his staff or crook was pointed to the ground. She chewed on the end of it a bit, she even sang some garbled baby talk into it. Then she tucked "myJohn" under her arm and went out of the room chattering happily. She did eventually allow him to join Murry & Joe in the coffee table tableau. What made this so interesting to me was that she hadn't seen John for 3 months!
The first time she met John she was younger and more skittish. In an attempt to win her over he rolled the tip of his cane towards her thinking she would want to play. Instead, she cried and wouldn't even look in his direction. She didn't warm up to him until near the end of the trip, much to his dismay. The next time she saw him, she greeted him like an old friend. Practically jumped in his arms at the door. The two of them were inseparable the entire two weeks he was there. The same goes for his last trip, in which she happily snuggled down in his arms to nap, talked to him for hours, played games with him (Aztec sacrifice being a favorite) and in general staked her territory on him. But 3 months is a long time in a childs life. I didn't expect her to remember him as well as she did. Murry, Joe and My John. He use's a white cane to navigate around things. Gwyndolyn hated the cane the first visit, but by the 3rd visit she would often pick it up and walk with it. The shepard she picked had a raised staff he held towards the front of his body. I'm sure that is what connected for her. I sure got a smile when it happened. I related the story to John later and he too enjoyed it. I find that I think of him a lot as My John. It flows from the lips as smooth as silk. Thanks Gwyndolyn.
MyJohn loves babies and for the most part they love him. Gwyndolyn and he grew to be "thick as theives". In Florida he laid on the floor so the twin babies could crawl all over him. He wagged his tongue at them. He tickled their tummies, he steadied them as they crawled over the top of him on their way to a toy or food. It's official, MyJohn loves babies. I think that's cool cause I love them too.

Friday, March 2, 2007

Toto I think we are back in Kansas

I have itchy feet. I've also been fickled but that's a whole 'nother story. My Grandpa had it and it seems to skip a generation as both my parents were dug in solid. I can't seem to sit still despite an aching feeling of loss each time I "move on". I love my family very much. I love being home where everything is familiar. As I age, and my brain decays I find familiarity comforting. I walk through my Mothers home I touch everything as I go by. My fingers have brushed that same thing a thousand times over the years and it is known to me. Since my itchy feet demand I am constantly being confronted with new places and new stuff it's nice to feel at peace with these things.
It finally warmed up some recently. The whole day was so nice we drove with the window's down in the car. But then came the night and it rained "buckets" it rained "cats and dogs" it rained enough that creeks rose up and turned streets into lakes. Flash flooding filled with the incredible sight of lightening. Our front yard was covered with pea sized hail. I always liked that comparison. Pea sized hail. Sounds like a benediction. Just an hours drive south of us they had a tornado that was on the ground for most of 3 hours. Bopping up and down in the clouds in a nightmarish game of hop-scotch where the winner gets to keep his house. We just had high winds that blew trash cans down the street and into the neighbors garden. By morning, we had snow. Yep, I'm home. Kansas has once again reminded me of it's spectacular beauty; it's dramatic displays of climate. That sounds like a quote from Robert Heinlein. Climate is what you expect, weather is what you get.
Davina had to let her horse Clyde go recently. It was a horribly tough decision and hurt her terribly. Clyde was an old fellow that she loved dearly. He loved her too despite his mule-ish wasy. Is that a word? mulish? I don't know. Some of my favorite memories of her and Clyde are in the winter. He was a big bay gelding. Fancy way of saying he was brown and had been "fixed". The snow always seemed to compliment his coloring and make him look sort of warm and fuzzy. I thought about that as she led him down towards the woods to his final resting place. Clyde in the snow. The woods and the woods in the snow. It was just so darned appropriate since her fave poem is by Robert Frost, it's called
"In the Clearing".
I memorized it for her and would often quote it to her as a gift. She would lean her head forward and I would whisper the words into her ear while her hair would tickle my lips. In hindsight, it should be a requirement that you whisper this poem to someone. It's not written for a normal tone of voice. I would do this usually while we were outside someplace looking at woods and freezing. But it never failed to give her happy goose bumps so I was happy to be able to do it. The best kind of gifts cost nothing and make the giver as happy as the receiver. Now whenever I look at those woods in the winter I'll think of that horse and the last time I rode him. I should say the last time he threw me as he was getting good at it. Without further ado here's the poem as I recall it.

Whose woods these are I think I know
His house is in the village though
He will not mind me stopping here
To watch his woods fill up with snow.

My little horse must think it queer
To stop without a farmhouse near
Between the woods and frozen lake
The coldest night of the year.

He gives his harness bells a shake
To ask if there is some mistake
The only other sounds the sweep
Of frozen wind and downy flake.

The woods are lovely, dark and deep
But I have promises to keep
And miles to go before I sleep
yes miles to go before I sleep.

The last three lines have been a catch phrase for me most of my life. I say it often, I think it more often. I have promises to keep. Hmmm... not one of my strong points. Although I used to be a lot better at it before my memory went south for the winter.

My John says I write with a Joycean flair. Sort of a stream of consciousness thing. This post is certainly indicative of that. I rambled with what ever came to mind. I think it comes from being a fast typist. The thoughts run through my head and fly out my fingers.
I learned today I have a fan base. It's now grown to 3 people. This is very exciting. I might get motivated to write more often.