We Are Family


Feeling a bit like I’ve been shot through a wind tunnel or perhaps lived through an episode of the old Twilight Zone series, I am here in my office today. Hoping to catch up, but knowing better. My mind is spent. The last few days have been a rollercoaster ride.

Last Friday, I flew from my St. Louis home to attend my father’s wedding celebration in Phoenix. He was married on March 11, discovering 16 days later in a sterile Emergency Room that his bride’s body was riddled with cancer. Only a few hours earlier that day, I had called them both to wish them, “Happy Easter.”

My father and his wife, Eileen planned a wedding celebration before her diagnosis of cancer. Close family and friends had been invited. The room was reserved. Their favorite one-man-band was all set to play and sing, and the food was carefully chosen and ordered. Together, they decided the party was going to take place, regardless. It gave them hope, something to look forward to.  A goal in the future. Eileen had started treatment and was feeling pretty good. Things seemed optimistic going into the weekend of the party.

My father’s only living sibling flew in from Michigan to surprise him. My husband and I picked her up from the airport and arranged for her to stay with us at the same hotel. Upon landing in Phoenix there was a voicemail telling me that my father was on his way to ER with Eileen. And so, the rollercoaster ride began. Emotions ran high for everyone.

The next day, we were able to see my father and Eileen’s new little house for the very first time. She was resting in a chair near the patio. A card table and two chairs were placed near the open screen door. Sun was shining, cactuses were blooming and grasses were green in between desert coral sands. Their dog, a miniature collie never left Eileen side.

In the end, Eileen was too weak to attend her much-anticipated wedding celebration. My father came for a few minutes, just long enough to make a brief speech, thanking everyone for coming. He spoke for a minute or two before breaking down. This father of mine, the strongest man I’ve ever known.

And, so under the twinkling stars of an Arizona desert sky, a one-man-band played like an orchestra last Saturday night. Chicken and vegetables were served with pink, prime rib of beef. A beautiful rolling dessert cart passed, overflowing with white wedding cake, Bride and Groom decorated cake pops, together with pastel powdered sugar cookies placed in fluted paper tin cups.

For several hours, drinks colored of the desert filled fancy glasses and flowed freely while people danced under a golden moon before the last song of the evening was sung. Suddenly, every paver cemented on the patio dance floor was filled. People put their hands together high in the dark blue sky, clapping them in unison to, “We Are Family.”

*The next day, Eileen did feel rested enough to join everyone for a BBQ hosted by her daughter. Truly, a nice family gathering.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Tangible Time


Hourglass handQuiet in my office space today except for the sound of clothes tumbling in a dryer a few rooms away. Things to get done before I’m on my way. Off to visit my father in Arizona tomorrow. Yes, leaving on an old familiar jet plane to soar above into a golden setting sun off the tips of shiny silver wings.

So much to do with extra excitement too. Lots of relatives to visit during my brief stay among the tall green saguaros within a painted desert land. My precious father of course, together with my father-in-law and my dearest great-aunt. In addition, I look forward to seeing three of my siblings and other relatives who live nearby. My husband and I will be very busy!

My great-aunt, who I love so very much is not doing well. She hasn’t been for quite some time. Now blind from her own Chronic Condition of Glaucoma, she’s not able to telephone me anymore. How I miss our giggling chats! I’ve written about her before, once on New Year’s Eve http://wp.me/p41md8-Uo , and it wasn’t long ago that I scooped her up for a visit to St. Louis. But, even then, I knew she would probably never be coming back.

I will treasure my Arizona memories perhaps like never before. Besides squeezing a frail hand of my precious great-aunt, the touch of my father and father-in-law will feel differently this time. The warmth of their skin will be soaked like a sponge, their hugs imprinted for only me to see. Time has become tangible as I feel my loved ones aging closer toward Heaven.

 

The Gift of An Unexpected Day

Oh to cluster sands of coral within an hourglass of time

Seconds trickle silently

Speck by speck, grain by grain

Falling through clear 

Dropping one by one

Ever s-l-o-w-l-y not to hear

Reaching bottom

Single seconds drifting into precious minutes

Until the gift of another day may come my way

Lost and Found


The last weekend of long was filled with anticipation for me.  I was off to visit my elderly father in Phoenix, Arizona.  I use the term elderly in a loose manner as he doesn’t look elderly to me, nor does he behave as such.  A boy’s brain in an aging body it seems.  I thank God for that.

I met my sisters at the airport and immediately our togetherness could have become a pilot for an unscripted reality show.  Even at the airport, we got lost before finding each other.  From there it went downhill whenever our sub-compact rental car opened it’s doors to us.  Contorted in every-which-way, we felt caged in small can of tin on wheels of four.  Minus an opener.

My youngest sister was the designated driver.  It was only after we made a wrong turn coming out of the airport that I realized she needed glasses for distance.  She couldn’t read a single sign.  “Kim,” she playfully squawked at me, “I’m a great driver when I know where I’m going!”  “Kellie, you don’t know where you’re going because we’re in Phoenix, not Dallas!”  “Yes, but I’m really good when I use your eyes!”  Seriously?  Seriously??!  “That’s fine,” I responded, “but my eyes are not behind the wheel!”

What should have been a 45 minute drive to my father’s house ended up taking two and a half hours.  My GPS helped to re-route us while my younger sister’s did the same from the back of our seats.  Every few seconds or minutes voices were heard guiding us.  “Make a U-turn, proceed to ramp,” or “Merge on to I-10.”  Again and again and again.  Have you ever tried listening to two voices at the same time?  It was very confusing.  Even more so because one of them had a British accent.  No luck in turning it off.  I tried.  Several times.  The British accent was along for the ride!

Finally we called my father.  Five or six times….At least.  I can’t imagine what he was thinking.  It was nearly 11:30 pm.  He had been waiting for our arrival since 9:00.  Like any father, he was worried and scared, wondering what could have happened to his three daughters.

Guiding us into a parking lot of a nearby restaurant, San Tan Flats, his voice crackled in disbelief through the speaker of an I-phone.  “Oh you girls, do you see the stuffed bear to the left?  Turn right.  Drive until you see a For Sale sign at the end of the parking lot.”  We did before somehow ending up at the restaurant’s hulking emerald-green dumpster.  Our bright lights caught a raccoon scampering off in the distance of the desert darkness.

“Dad, what do we do now?” my sister asked, in panic.  I could tell my dad couldn’t believe his ears.  “Back up, back up, turn around and follow the smoke from the campfire.  Go out the nearest drive to the first road.  I’ll stay on the line.”

Bless my father’s heart.  He did stay on the line, hearing a big thud as we drove over a Saguaro that had fallen during a recent storm.  Car lights, bright from our rental car soon shined on the best of him.  Standing in the middle of the dusty desert road he stood wearing baggy jeans and a loose yellow shirt.  On his feet were tennis shoes, glowing in fluorescent white.  His legs were balanced straight, even and wide apart.   His arms of two lifted high towards a clear endless sky with hands swaying back and forth in a frenzy as if to yell, “STOP!  Turn off the engine now, before it’s too late!”

In spite of our trials of lost and found my father together with all of his children had the very best time.  Rare because the five of us were all together with him.  During the weekend we went to the American Legion where he sang Karaoke and danced the night away with his girlfriend.  Yes, she is so kind and they are happy!

My sisters and I woke in early mornings to share coffee under quiet, peaceful canopies of leftover stars.  We walked at dawn to discover horses who neighed, mongrels who barked and flowers that bloomed “Hello” from nothing more than dry cinnamon dust of a desert crust.

Then the inevitable happened.  Such sweet sorrow to say, “Good-by.”  A whisper in my ear from my father. Choking up he said, “Your mother would love to see all of you kids together like this.”  Hugging him tight, I whispered back, “She does, Dad.”

That’s what life is all about.  Love and bonding.  Togetherness.  No matter how far apart, get together again.  Create new memories.  Laughter.  Even the mini-trips of lost and found with my sisters will forever be with me.  I dare say one of my ribs might be broken from laughing so hard.  No matter.  All was worth it.

From every second in the desert dark to each minute of my father’s mark…..All above is in my heart forever.

“. . . listen like saguaros listening to cactus wrens”


Beautiful poem making me long for my father”s desert Arizona home.   I love and miss you, Dad!  🙂

Becoming is Superior to Being

7 Falls (1 of 1) sepia blogSonoran Desert Moonscape — Image by kenne

. . . listen like a mountain

listen like saguaros listening

to cactus wrens, coyotes, night

owl: listen like the owl

listen like the owl’s prey

jittery in rocks beneath bighorn’s

clocking feet: listen to the clock

listen to time, listen

to rattler’s warning maracas

listen, like the culebra, with

your tongues . . .

listen

carnales listen

to the hymn of it, the lie of it, the

prayer of it, the voices

singing our names: listen

it’s our story, it’s our song,

you’ve got to hear it — 

listen.

— from Listen, by Luis Alberto Urrea

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Elderly Lessons


It seems like forever since I’ve written a post.  There’s been a deep longing within my mind.  Something missing inside of me.  Ten fingers on two hands tapping air above cool, cotton sheets.  In a silent dream, a horizontal black keyboard appears.  Letters printed in white.  No sound.  Motion only.  Subconsciously, a realization that fingertips, my own are moving now.  During sleep!  First up then down.  Body tossing back and forth.  Fitful.  Later, words appear during REM.  What was written in my head?  What was said?  Gone forever now.  A writer’s mind….

It’s only been a couple of days since I left my office space.  My burgundy swivel chair near the turret window here.  My oh-so-comforting half-moon desk across the well-worn computer to travel to the desert land of Arizona in order to meet my elderly great-aunt.  Still, it truly seems like a month or more since words have been written.

Travel is not as fun as it used to be when I was young.  Gone are the days when I use to dress in a nice nubby suit, breeze through the airport to grab a skinny cappuccino and read the newspaper before catching my plane.

Today, it’s comfortable clothing most people wear to travel in.  Two hours early is the recommended time to breeze through security.  Remove my shoes from my feet and belt from my jeans or the buzzer will go off.  Lift my hands above my head while someone wearing blue rubber gloves will pat my body down from head to toe.

When all is done, fight the crowds to W.A.I.T.  Hopefully, my plane will be on time.  Wait more seconds, more minutes…maybe more hours.  Get in line.  Squish in-between others before it’s time to board the shiny silver bird.  Sit down.  Hopefully, I didn’t forget to bring some food in case hunger pangs begin.  Whew….how much longer before this landing gear goes down?

Regardless, my trip to Arizona was well worth any travel discomfort I may have endured.  Shortly thereafter, I walked into the front door of a little stucco ranch house behind a tall Saguaro cactus.  Sitting at a white, Formica table was a dear, silver-haired 88-year-old lady whose suitcase had been packed and re-packed several times in anticipation of my arrival.  A borrowed black handbag sewn with many outside pockets to carry all of her medication including precious eye drops to treat glaucoma sat safely on her lap.

The next day, I promised her a smooth and easy non-stop flight back to St. Louis.  Although my great-aunt was comfortable in a wheel chair, she was still a bit anxious being out of her normal surroundings.  I was eager to board the plane and ready to be on our way.  Soon a pleasant voice announced over the loud-speaker our expectations were not to be.  Our magical jet plane had, “Mechanical Problems.”

I won’t go into detail, but most of yesterday was spent inside rather than outside the Phoenix airport.  It could have been a personal disaster, especially for my elderly great-aunt, but we turned it into something as close to wonderful as it could be.

Together, we reminisced.  We talked and laughed.  We strolled down streets to shop for what we didn’t need.  We languished over a two-hour lunch, pretending to be in an outdoor Paris café.  Afterward, we bit into luscious chocolates neither one of us had ever eaten before.

Today, the two of us are very tired.  My precious aunt is napping this afternoon after nibbling on a lunch while sitting outside in the coolness of my patio garden.  Who knows what tomorrow will bring?

How very thankful I am.  My great-aunt teaches me without speaking a word….    

The Magic Glass


Before I left Arizona last week, I saw my Great-Aunt one last time to say, “Good-By.”  I picked her up from my relative’s house where she lived and slept.  She had combed her short blonde hair pretty and straight, scrubbing her face shiny to glow in the sun.  “Are you ready, Aunt Shirley?”  “Oh, heaven’s yes,” she answered,  her sparkling blue eyes twinkling.

As we drove to one of her favorite restaurants in town, we passed familiar cactus in the wide open desert together with several stray dogs roaming on the street.  Aunt Shirley’s frail hands were folded in her lap.  She fidgeted, knowing it was our last visit, for this trip at least.  When would I be coming back?  That’s what she was thinking, as I read her silent senior mind. My visits were one of the things that she most looked forward to.

It’s hard for me to leave, harder still for her to see me go.  At 88 years old, she gets lonely. She is loved where she lives it is true, but for her, it is nearly the same every day.  She can no longer see well enough to read her dear books or to be independent. She is unable to drive her fanciful convertible car, or even to simply walk her beloved dog, Bunky.  Yet she is not one to ever complain.  She’s lived a good life.  She lives it still.

We stopped at a restaurant she most frequents named, J.B’s.  It has a Senior menu that offers a little of everything. Aunt Shirley is very frail, and as usual, wasn’t very hungry.  I mulled over the menu for a minute.  Ordering for her was a challenge as I was forever trying to fatten her up.  A nice waitress came by with a smile on her face and a pony tail in her hair with a big blue bow.  She brought us water and coffee with cream.  “Ahhhh!” There on the menu was the perfect picture of an item for someone not hungry, yet one that needed calories.  A malted milkshake!  “We’ll share it, please,” I said to the nice girl, the one with the big blue bow in her hair.  “I’d like it extra thick, made with hot fudge and malted milk powder if you have it.”  She smiled at me, glancing at Aunt Shirley while writing on her green tablet with a red colored pen.

Soon the waitress came back with a tall clear fountain glass. It was spilling over the brim, dripping with scoops of chocolate ice cream, chocolate-colored milk, and hot fudge.  She brought an extra matching glass, two striped straws wrapped in paper, and extra long silver spoons that clinked against the glasses.  I started to pour half of the drink into Aunt Shirley’s glass before beginning to laugh.  One clear glass was nearly full with the delicious confection while the other was still rising to the top!  How could it be? It seemed to be never ending!!!

I examined my fountain glass like a science experiment, stirring it up with an extra long spoon.  Was I missing something?  Was it a bottomless glass?  I peered at my Aunt to see her expression.  She pondered me, her eyes wide with wonder, her pink lips parting in a smile.  We laughed. Was this a joke or something?  Then we gave up.  We drank our milkshakes, held hands, lived and loved.  Our perfect ending to the perfect visit.

It was The Magic Glass.

Arizona Memories


Last night we looked for a Mexican restaurant nearby for dinner.  I hardly had an appetite.  Most of yesterday, I spent packing for today, when I get on that great big jet plane to fly home to my St. Louis town.  I had already said “Good-Bye,” to friends and a brother by phone.

Earlier in the day, I left my guest house to amble down a familiar path around the desert in the afternoon.  Jumping dogs on chain-link fences howled as I passed by.  Along the dusty, gravelled road, I waved to them for one last time.  Ahead, a tall saguaro looked down quietly from the rose and slate blue sky.  It didn’t say a word to me.  The crisp, dry air was silent.  Still, a message was whispered to me…..

Today I’ll call my Great-Aunt who lives about an hour away.  One last hug and kiss over the phone from my father’s home.  Later, I’ll squeeze my second brother tighter, thanking him for playing board games with me.  When it comes to my father, how do I say the words I feel?  I’m not sure they’ll be there when we must part.  He’ll drive me to the airport pulling to the curb.  I won’t let him park.  He’ll help me with my bags, our eyes will well with tears.  We’ll hug, I’ll kiss him on his rosy cheek before skipping away without looking back.  It’s too hard in fact.

So last night we headed off to the Mexican restaurant to have “our last supper.”  My spirits were low, how could they be not?  We pulled into the parking lot.  Like a western movie reel, there it was.  We pointed and did a double-take!  I laughed out loud, jumping from the car.  A saddled horse with a bridle and spurs was next to cars in the parking lot!  A beautiful horse with his reigns tied to a tree!  It was a sight no one would see in any other state.

That was my last Arizona evening sight.  It was perfect you know.  It’s in my pocket now, next to my boarding pass.

And the memories I shall never let go……………

The One Who Knows


I’m still in Arizona soaking up the sun, visiting my father, my brothers and my maternal great-aunt.  My Aunt Shirley is a tiny treasure, no more than 90 pounds who my mother left to me (and others) when she passed on.

My aunt is the youngest of eleven children who recently turned eighty-eight years old.  One would never know.  She’s truly an anomaly in every sense of the word.  Not because of the number of years she’s lived on this earth of ours.  Rather, because of the way she’s lived those number of years on this earth of ours.  She is one of the few people I’ve ever met who can honestly and with conviction say, “I have no regrets, I’ve done everything I’ve ever wanted to do in my life.”  Is she sick?  No.  Is she on her death-bed?  Hardly.  Ha, this ‘young’ woman in my life is sassy and sharp, quick-witted and strong in spirit.  The best friend and ‘therapist’ I could ever hope to have in life.  I have told her so……..even the ‘therapist’ part.   She laughs it off, but it is true.  She is so wise and she’s seen so much in life.  She knows just what to say when to say it, and how to put her thoughts into words.  I’m not the only one who thinks this way.

On New Year’s Eve, I had dinner with her in a small restaurant where we split a white ceramic plate of rare, pink prime rib.  She ordered an “Absolute” martini, straight up with twist of yellow lemon floating on the side.  I joined her with a Lemon-Drop.  A “Kool-Aid,” drink she said with a twinkle in her eye as we clinked our glasses to the next day, the next year of hopeful, 2014.

She told me stories I thought could only be read in books.  Things I might write about myself one day, or at least, I wish I could!  As she smiled and reminisced, she got that far off look. It was obvious even without words the joy she lived all those years ago.  How she loved that smashing time in her life!  The music she listened to, the movies stars she saw in the flesh or the places she visited and the people she met.

By the end of the evening, Aunt Shirley was drinking a cup of coffee.  I was on my second and last martini (the one I never finished), asking silly questions.  “Aunt Shirley, will you go to church with me tomorrow?”  “On New Year’s Day?” she asked.  “There is no church tomorrow.”

She always has the right answer, she always knows…….

carer-holding-hands-with--007

 

“It’s a…….”


On this last day of the year I’m far from my St. Louis home still in the dry desert here.  It’s black as Santa’s coal out my guest bedroom window here.  When I open it to breathe in the fresh air “SWOOSH” it feels as cold as his North Pole.

Stretching my neck to free nightly pillow kinks, I cock my head this way or that.  If I slip out the window a tall Saguaro cactus will surely catch me, OUCH!  I see a prickly tumbleweed ball blowing down the dark dusty street, and hear the haunting howl of a lone coyote near the rocky mountain base. God’s country.

What a year we’ve all had.  Children have grown, others have wed, babies were born, some became sick, and a few have left the nest.  Back in St. Louis…… my heart melted when a wee hand clasped mine to say a simple seven letter word in her sweet voice aloud, “Grandma.”

While I’ve been here a “present” arrived.   It was a surprise.  A square white box with a pink printed sticker from a bakery, no less!  My cell phone rang.   It was my son.  “Face-Time” it said.  The small colored screen suddenly came “alive.”  There he was with my daughter-in-law, too.  Something was “different” this time.  Something in their eyes, in their secret, silly smiles.

My son told me to, “Grab a kitchen knife, to open the box.”  I did what he said.  Inside was a beautiful cream-colored frosted cake with pink and blue polka dots.  On the top it read, “It’s a …………..”

With much anticipation I sliced into the lovely decorated cake to see what “color” the cooked batter might be.  While my son and his dear wife looked on from states far away (thanks to technology), they saw my reaction in “real” time.  There it was.  Inside the frosting, a moist cake of baby blue!  I was overwhelmed.  I cried a tear or two.  I’m “expecting” my first grand-son sometime next May.  What a “New Year” for me to look forward to!!

Happy New Year to You, Be Healthy the Whole Year Through, and May All Your Dreams Come True.