Monday, April 14, 2014

May you have an interesting…. flight

Urban legend has it that there is a Chinese curse that goes something like

 “May you live in interesting times…

I suppose one can look at this from several angles, but what strikes me is that “interesting” can often be very complicated and fraught with adventures that perhaps one would rather not have.

As it happens, one of the three books I took with me to read during a glorious week of no work was Terry Pratchett’s novel...
...which is a delightful tale of the bumbling wizard Rincewind who does indeed find himself in “interesting times” and having all sorts of adventures, as does his Luggage, which has hundreds of little feet and seems to be alive and always seems to be able to find Rincewind no matter where he ends up.

I had an interesting time on the journey home. Of course I was not alone on this adventure, many travelers were also having an adventure right along with me.

Many times we are not bailed out of difficult situations, but instead are given the grace to go through it. In this case, the grace was a lovely woman, Ann, who also happened to be waiting at the gate for the same flight to Dallas-Ft Worth and who was also expecting to board the same plane to Springfield as I was after we got there. Having that little blessing of someone to be with made all the difference in the world as the hours crawled by and the adventure unfolded. 

Enough time has passed now that I can look rather calmly at the first Thursday and Friday in the month of April and be very grateful that everything actually did come out all right in the end, although perhaps being awake for most of 36 hours is a bit harder to do when one is on the far side of 60 than when one is oh, say 20…

All airplanes that take off from Los Angeles International fly out over the ocean and then, depending on their ultimate destination, make a sweeping turn or go straight. Airplanes heading to Dallas-Ft Worth turn left and follow the coast for a while as they gain altitude before completing the U-turn and heading inland over the California desert and then across Arizona, New Mexico, and on into Texas.

The arrival of the plane that was to take us to DFW was delayed about 2 hours because of mechanical problems, and when it finally did arrive and we were all on board the plane, our take off was further delayed because they couldn’t get the door to shut properly. But, once we were in the air, and everyone breathing a sigh of relief, I had an opportunity to watch the coastline pass by and remember with lovely nostalgia the Saturdays my father took us and our friends to the beach during the summer. 
 And then the plane was passing the harbor complex at San Pedro, where Dad loved to take us to watch boats being unloaded and sometimes to tour ships that were docked, and where I had just taken him a few days before. 
Ann and I calculated the plane should arrive in D-FW in time for us to make the new connection to the later flight to Springfield that we had rebooked at LAX. But the weather conspired against us. Severe storms over D-FW meant we had to turn around and land in Lubbock and spend 2 hours on the ground. By the time we got to D-FW, all of the connecting flights had been cancelled. The airline had rebooked both of us on flights to Springfield later the next day, but we put ourselves on the standby list for the first flight to Springfield Friday morning.

We ate, got some blankets that the airport provided (the cots were all gone by this time), and found some lounge chairs and put them together and made beds for ourselves and pretended to doze through the night, but of course neither of us slept much at all.

The following morning, we were high enough up on the standby list that we both got on the first flight to Springfield. I was not very hopeful that my luggage would arrive with me. My luggage does not have hundreds of little legs and cannot follow me, but much to my amazement, the airline had indeed managed to get it on the same plane as I was, and there it was. I had to wait a while for Richard to arrive -- it takes longer to drive from our house to the airport in Springfield than it does for the plane to fly from D-FW to Springfield, but that was OK. I was safe, my luggage was safe, and my honey was coming.

My sister will probably plan a party for my dad’s 90th birthday in the fall. There is no question but that I will go So, I’ll have a few months to become very philosophical about what might or might not happen when I hop on the airplane for that event.

Wednesday, April 09, 2014

Goin’ to the chapel… The earth moved under our feet… I can see clearly now…

Funny how it seems too easy to use song lyrics to summarize events, but sometimes it just works…

The initial reason I went to Los Angeles for a week was to attend her wedding at the end of March.

She is my brother’s daughter, and the last grandchild to get married. This will very likely be the last wedding in my immediate family for quite a long time. It was indeed a very special and very happy occasion.

Often parents sit horrified as they watch their child go through a ceremony that will officially begin a relationship with someone they view as the worst possible choice in a partner.

No one was worried that the girl would make a bad choice. She had very high standards. In fact, when my mother was alive, she worried the girl would not be able to find the right man to be her husband, but my mother was wrong. She has found a wonderful man.

Her mother and father are delighted.

We are all delighted

It was an evening wedding, and they had a simple dessert reception rather than a meal. It was quite fun…

...especially a few minutes after 9 p.m., when an earthquake hit on a fault not that far from the venue. It was one of those rolling type of quakes that seemed to last for quite a while, and almost immediately people were heard singing the opening lyrics to the Carole King song. The earth did indeed move under our feet.

The only noticeable change at my Dad’s house was that the quake had stopped the pendulum in the grandfather clock in the living room, so we knew exactly when the quake occurred.

And then unplanned, but coinciding providentially with my trip, the ophthalmologist who takes care of my father decided that the cataract in the eye in which he still has some vision (he is blind in one eye) would be removed a few days after the wedding. The eye drops (two different kinds, four times a day) needed to be started 3 days before the operation, so I was there to supervise that and to help take care of him after the operation, when he then had to put in three different eye drops four times a day.

My younger brother drove us to the hospital, and when we saw the other patients who were having cataracts removed that day (the doctor schedules all of these operations on the same day) coming out of the surgery with gauze pads over their eye, we were a bit concerned. It would not do at all for our father to have his good eye covered, which would basically leave him blind. But we needn’t have worried. The doctor put a clear cup over the eye.

That evening my sister and my other brother, the father of the bride (who brought his dog Rosie), came to see how Dad was doing, and we hung out in the den watching Jeopardy and Wheel of Fortune. We always guess what color dress will Vanna White will be wearing. We all guessed wrong.

My sister worked on my Dad’s toenails, which were in dire need of being trimmed (I didn’t realize how hard it is for elderly folk to trim their toenails), and he got to love-on Rosie a little bit.

The next morning when my dad got up and sat down to watch the morning news, the first words out of his mouth were “Wow, this is great. It is really clear!”

I started to get a little angry. Why did they wait until the man was 89 years old to do this? Why didn’t they do this much earlier, before the cataract got so big? Well, no point in getting worked up about it. The fact that he can see clearly now after who knows how many years in the fog is indeed a blessing.

Monday, April 07, 2014

I'll do it myself...

Years ago, when his sisters came with their children to visit Pater (which is what they called their father), my dad had a knack for entertaining his nieces and nephews by making funny faces.

I was very happy, when I saw him at the end of March, that he was feeling lively enough to give me an encore performance when I began taking his picture.

 It brought back many wonderful memories of boisterous gatherings in the living room with aunts and cousins laughing at his antics.

And on this particular morning, as he does on most mornings, he begins by eating a bowl of homemade yogurt, which he makes himself and has done for probably 30 years or more,  topped with a variety of fresh (bananas), canned (pineapple), and stewed (prunes) fruit. Nearly every day he also eats eggs and bacon, which he has cooked himself and has done since my earliest memories of him. He has no sign of cardiovascular disease. Go figure.

On this particular morning, I watch as he struggles to open a can of pineapple with a hand-operated can opener – the sort that you clamp down on the can and then turn the knob. He will be having cataract surgery in a few days, and I expect his difficulty is partly because he can’t see too well.

Would you like me to help?
Nah. I can get this, he says.

I restrain myself from grabbing the can and the can opener and leave the kitchen to do some cleanup in the bathroom.

When I return, he has indeed opened the can the old-fashioned way, the way they used to do it, before the second-generation of can openers was invented. He has used a “church key” to punch holes around the edge and has grabbed pliers from the junk drawer to pull up the lid enough to shake out the pineapple. He has managed to do this without cutting himself. Whew!

I understand how important it is not to try to take over doing the few things that he is still able to do for himself. My sister suggested that I not leap up to do the dishes after breakfast. Let him take care of it, she says. So I don't. I also leave the drainer full of air-dried dishes so that he can put them away himself. In the first few days of cleaning up after myself, I put a few things away where they did not belong. He has come behind me and rearranged the knives in the knife holder, and I have put the containers that are used for leftovers in the wrong spot.

We made some major mistakes in trying to control what Richard’s father did when he came to live with us. I don’t see my father very often, but I am determined not to make similar mistakes when I do.

Monday, March 10, 2014

Little cat feet....

The dog’s sharp claws make a staccato tattoo on the asphalt as she trots briskly ahead of me. The Flexi Leash is almost fully extended. She is able to sense how much tension is on the thin cable that connects her to me, and if I walk faster to catch up with her, she just speeds up even faster. On the few occasions when I have launched myself into a jog to see if I can draw up even to her, she has shifted into a gallop to make sure I don’t.

She often needs to be persuaded that she is not the leader of the pack.

I have given up trying to count the number of steps she makes to one of my steps. I can’t manage two counts at the same time, which I suppose is a good thing, otherwise I’d focus on counting steps instead of thinking about more important things, like rehearsing what I am going to say the next time I teach Sunday School... writing lead sentences for blog posts that never seem to get written...  

This morning a heavy fog has settled like shroud over the hills and hollars of the route we walk. I am reminded of the Carl Sandburg poem
The fog comes   
on little cat feet.   
It sits looking   
over harbor and city   
on silent haunches
and then moves on
The sun appears briefly as a pale, white disk. I can look directly at it, and then the mist swirls and it is gone again.

We walk around the pond just about every day. And today, for the first time, I notice a Red-winged blackbird...

arrived back from wherever he has spent the winter, flying into the large tree near the water’s edge. Its bright red epaulets flash briefly, and then it begins to sing.

It is supposed to be 70 degrees today, so although it is a bit chilly right now, there is no need for the knit cap, the ski mask, heavy winter coat, or the gloves.

The crocus have appeared...

their sweet lavender and yellow flowers pushing up through the leaf litter.

Spring is arriving, much like the fog on its cat feet… not quite as silently though, the birds make sure of that, but no one is quite ready to believe the winter is truly over.

Thursday, February 13, 2014

In the footsteps of giants

Two days ago, when the dog and I walked the loop that circles the large pond near our house, the only footprints in the snow were those that we had left several days earlier.

In the meantime, the sun has come out, the temperature has warmed a little, and the snow is starting melt.

I noted with some interest that my footprints in the thinning show had increased in size. My footprint now extended beyond my toes by at least 4 inches and was also considerably wider. And the footprints of the 15-pound dog trotting ahead of me had turned into those of a 150-pound St Bernard.

Someone attempting to analyze who had been walking around the loop might think I was a giant of a person with a very large dog. And of course, they’d be right.

Monday, January 20, 2014

Where'd you say you were from?

The character Henry Higgins in the movie My Fair Lady had the ability, or so he said, to tell where a person had come from by the way they talked (There even are places where English completely disappears; in America they haven't used it for years). And of course his ability to change the way Eliza Doolittle spoke, so that she was able to fool another expert, was a key point in the plot of the movie.

In a general sense, our language is very fluid. Words pass out of common use, new words are added, and the meanings of old words change and become something very different. And for me at least, the way I talk and express myself has most definitely changed over the years.

When we arrived here in south central Missouri in 1981, both of us California natives who had spent all of our lives to that point in California (except for 2 years in Oregon), I made a conscious decision to change the way I spoke and chose words, and even pronounced words, so that I felt like I fit in more with the local people, after someone told me “you ain’t from around here are ya…”

As I began to meet more and more people and get to know them better, I discovered that almost everyone "wasn’t from around here" either, and even more interesting I thought, were that many of those who I became friends with, who were born and raised right here in this town and who never left, didn’t have a noticeable accent and sounded just like me. Or at least I thought they did.

I was given a link to a Web site with 25 questions about vocabulary and dialect, and depending on your answers, it provides a map with three cities that are likely candidates of your place of origin.

So, where did it decide I was from? Denver, Colorado, and Louisville or Lexington, Kentucky. Huh? What?

Denver makes sense because my mother was born in Colorado Springs and raised in Elbert, which is near Denver, and she certainly influenced the way I learned to pronounce words as a young child. Not sure about Kentucky though, except that makes sense in a way too, because Missouri and Kentucky share a bit of border in common.

Even as mathematically challenged as I am, I have figured out that I have now lived more than half my life here, in a place far from my linguistic roots. My vocabulary has, obviously, changed. But I found myself shocked to the core at what came out of my mouth during a conversation with a man I saw recently.

He and his wife own a trailer house (that would have written mobile home in a past life) on a lot that I walk by every day. For a while a young couple were living there. They had two small dogs that were loose in the yard, and every time we walked by, they would bark as us; it was all bluster, no actual threat implied, but Miss Molly became nervous about passing.

Then, suddenly, the trailer was empty, but it took Molly a while to realize the dogs were gone, so I still had a bit of a struggle with her.

One day not too long after they had left, when I was coaxing her to pass by, the man pulled up in his truck to pick up mail from the route box, so I asked what had happened to them. He said they (his son and daughter-in-law) decided they wanted to live in town. I said, “Well, when they were living here, my dog was ascairt to pass by…’

Ascairt? Where did that come from?

Perhaps I need to go back to Los Angeles so I can learn to talk again.


Update several hours later: Took the test again because I just couldn't believe the first results. This time some of the questions were different and my answers map showed Stockton, Fresno, and Modesto, all cities in central/northern California. That's a bit closer to home...

Monday, January 13, 2014

I Imagine Happy Ever After

I grew up watching Walt Disney animated feature-length films. Very sad and scary things almost always happened in these films, but by the end, one could be fairly confident that the “good guys” in the story would live happily ever after.

We tend to want our novels and movies to resolve so that the characters with whom we have become emotionally involved will live happily ever after, even if we know in the real world that they probably won’t.

Even so, it upsets us when they don’t. Take, for example, what happened at the end of season 3 of Downton Abbey. The actor who played Matthew Crawley in the series decided to leave because he wanted to work on other projects. Instead of simply replacing him with another actor to carry on the Matthew character, the “powers that be” decided to kill him off. Fans of the dramatic series were furious. I admit I was too. Although I threatened to boycott Season 4, we started watching last week when the new season began.

Unfortunately, real life does have away of coming up and biting us on the butt,  just like what happened to the fictional characters on Downton Abbey, and we often face situations that do not lend themselves to “happy ever after” but must simply be “got past” and dealt with.

None of has a guarantee that there is going to be a “happy ever after” here on earth, and this was especially true of our son, Nathaniel. I have a good imagination, but as years passed in his life, it became harder and harder for me to imagine a “happy ever after” for him. Nathaniel had such a difficult time negotiating life. One of our greatest concerns was what was going to happen to him after we died and weren't around to be a safety net for him.

Now, however, I have no trouble at all imagining him living happily ever after. I have no trouble imagining the scene that took place when Nathaniel stepped out of his body on the morning of January 13, 2011, sometime between 11:30 and 11:45, and walked into eternity and into the arms of the Savior in Heaven.

Knowing that he is now living happily forever after, knowing where he is, gives me great comfort.

The crushing grief of his death is passing away, but I still miss him and always will.

In loving memory of our son...

Nathaniel (Feb 12, 1977--Jan 13, 2011)