Sunday, July 31, 2011

What Was That?

I've noticed lately that my hearing is not as sharp as it once was. For instance, when the whole second grade classroom is abuzz and some cherub whose voice doesn't ever raise above a lisping whisper says something to me, I have to bend to her level and say, "What was that?" repeatedly. If a train is hustling by I often can't hear my idling car engine. Likewise, when the phone is not pressed directly against my left ear (my "good" side), I often miss parts of the conversation from the other party and have to uh-huh and mmm-hmmm my way along until I pick up the gist of what I missed. I've gotten along just fine with what hearing I have left until last Sunday. Now I have cause to pause.

J and I were on our way home from a Transfer Station run when she suggested swinging by a fast food place and indulging in one of their inexpensive hot fudge sundaes. Any time the world fudge is mentioned I am all for whatever it is I need to do to get it. Besides, it was a beastly hot day and ice cream sounded like a bowl of heaven so off we went. We pulled up to the talking order board and when the scratchy voice asked us what we wanted, J leaned out the window and said, "Two hot fudge sundaes, please."

"Do you want double fudge for an extra dollar?" inquired the board.

J looked at me. "Double fudge?" I asked. J nodded. "Sure!" we both said at the same time, I to J and J to the talking board.

"Pull around," said the board so we did.

At the window, a young fellow handed J a small paper bag. She passed it to me and I looked inside. Surely our sundaes could not be in there. Just as I suspected, they weren't. What was in there were two apple pies.

"These are apple pies!" I exclaimed. J looked at me with raised eyebrows. She whisked the bag from my hand and gave them back to the fellow saying, "We ordered hot fudge sundaes, not apple pies."

"Oh, the sundaes are coming," he said with a smile. "You agreed to the pies for an extra dollar. They're our special this week."

J's eyebrows crept up another notch. "We did?" she asked me. "Did you hear anything about apple pies?"

"Double fudge," I said enunciating each syllable, then "Apple pie." No way did double fudge sound like apple pie, even if I dragged the syllables out. I shook my head at J. "Nope," I said. "We agreed to double fudge. Who eats apple pies with hot fudge sundaes?"

"We don't want the pies, thanks," she told the window guy, but he handed them back to her saying that since they couldn't put them back we might as well take them and he'd deduct the dollar from our bill.

"Stranger things have happened," he intoned, his own eyebrows rising for emphasis.

All the way home we puzzled over the misunderstanding. Who could mistake double fudge for apple pie? Apparently two hot, tired, more-than-middle-aged, on-the-twenty-year-plan old bats like us because between them, those sundaes didn't have enough fudge to qualify as a single serving, never mind double. It was all very disconcerting.

I've been practicing the two phrases. If I speak through a paper towel tube with a piece of saran wrap held tightly over one end and I mumble, you might mistake one for the other, but you'd have to be hard of hearing in the first place.

Friday, July 1, 2011

Parker the cat who knows the value of an afternoon nap.
The sun rises awfully early on summer mornings and though I don't have to rise with it, I often do. Sleep has become an evasive commodity lately (lately being the past ten years or so). At first I blamed my semi-insomnia on worries - you know, the ones about money and children and things you wish you hadn't said or done that loom like monsters in the deep, dark night. But, I have a job, my grown children all have jobs, we all have places to live and food to eat. And worrying about those things no matter what time of day or night never did present a solution. Now I blame my ever increasing age. I am older now than I've ever been and I can see signs of deterioration. It's the ones I can't see that seem to be causing the trouble.

Books and magazines offer solutions to what seems to be a global affliction. One can go the drug route complete with little flapping butterflies hovering over one's prostrate body, the health conscious route that advises a light evening meal and a brisk walk afterwards, or the natural route which involves chamomile baths and spraying one's bed linens with lavender. I avoid drugs whenever possible and prefer my butterflies out of doors so I tried first the healthy route. Summer evenings are fine for an after dinner stroll around the neighborhood but winter nights fall fast and early. A brisk walk to the end of the driveway involved hat and coat and boots and mittens. Just dressing and undressing made me tired and I'd tumble into bed earlier and earlier each night. My ability to stay asleep did not increase, however, and I would find myself awake and semi-alert well before dawn. By mid-morning I was desperate for a nap!

Lavender on my bed linens smells heavenly but does not put me to sleep. Chamomile baths are out of the question as my tiny cottage has no room for a tub, but chamomile tea does not put me to sleep either. Nor does warm milk, a small glass of wine, or gentle yoga just before bedtime. I've tried reading in bed, counting sheep (and blessings), and meditation, none of which make me fall asleep more readily or stay asleep once I've nodded off. I'm beginning to suspect that the folks who come up with these remedies stay up all night thinking about them.

My latest tactic is to enjoy the pre-dawn hours, to rise slowly, make a cup of steaming tea, sit where I can watch the sun rise or the rain fall, and breathe in the new day as it unfolds. When I wind down around three in the afternoon, I take a nap. So far, that's working just fine.

Sunday, May 1, 2011

Grief

photo by Jean Couleurs
My friend J, who is my co-inspiration for this blog, has suffered a staggering loss. Her husband of 45 years died suddenly today after surgery. Friday night he was doing well and on Saturday all his major organs began shutting down. Though when we began this blog we titled it Laughing On The Way Out (for all the foolish things we were encountering as we traveled toward old age), J is unable to muster even a smile right now. Sometimes the things life deals us are not funny at all. This post, written several years ago for much the same reason, is for her...


Life on earth is at best a chancy thing. You cannot know the exact moment when you will leave the land of the living or if your dreams will die before they've been fully lived. One thing is certain—if a loved one leaves before you, whether by accident or design, you will travel to the strange land of grief and you will go alone. The winds of change will swirl about you, pick you up, transform you forever, and set you down in another place.

It is not only the departing who are changed by leaving. The living, the survivors, the ones left behind must become someone else in order to cope, to grow and finally emerge into a different life—the life without. It is a lonely walk through an unfamiliar land, this land without. Things that two did together one does now. There is nothing so empty as the other person's chair pushed up to the table, unless it's the stairwell that no longer echoes end of day greetings and eager footsteps, or the bed that suddenly seems vast and cold and too lonely on either side of the middle. There is nothing so quiet as a room with one person in it, the silence absolute after the death of conversation and shared confidences. There is nothing so solitary as a single plate on an empty table, a single towel hanging folded and desolate on its too wide bar, or a lone toothbrush standing solitary guard in its cup. There is nothing harder than being one when you have loved being two.

J was so happy, so loved, so alive while her loved one was with her. Now she looks and feels as though she's been struck down and in a sense, she has. Grief has her by the heart and for a time she must wrestle with it, pushing her way through the pain to unlock the reservoirs of strength and faith she accrued in happier days. I watch her struggle to come to terms with her loss, to find a place where she can lay her sorrow down long enough to eat, to sleep, to think of something other than what has befallen her.

She tells her story over and over, trying to make sense of it, to fit it in with her own picture of what her life is all about. Perhaps her peace will lie in the creation of a new picture, a new story, a tale that embraces this grief as a gift that, when opened, reveals all the words and colors she will need.

Sunday, March 13, 2011

Thoughts Before Sleep

(Photo from http://thuthienpezhai.org)
I will soon be, officially, a senior citizen. I've received my medicare card in the mail, I've been looking over retirement plans, and as my friend J often jokes, I am now on the 20 year life plan. (Actually I'm opting for the 30 year plan with a rider as 95 seems a respectable age to shoot for.)

I have the obligatory bucket list with entries like traveling to as many places as possible, seeing my grandchildren marry, walking across America, etc. But last night as I lay in bed trying to fall asleep, another list altogether entered my mind. I laughingly dubbed it my "Just Once" list as it grew to include some rather bizarre desires. Nevertheless, here it is.

I would like just once to:

1. Be taken care of completely without my having to lift a finger. I don't want to be sick to have this happen but remain in complete control of my senses so I can enjoy to the fullest one entire day of having someone a) wash my hair, b) give me a full body massage, c) cater to my every dietary whim, d) turn down the sheets on my freshly made bed, e) hover over me solicitously and f) read me to sleep. I realize that one can attend a day spa and hire a maid to accomplish all this but I have the money for neither, which leads me to...

2. Have enough money so that I can go to bed without puzzling out how I am to pay the bills and still eat. I am not so much interested in spending the money lavishly (or frivolously) as I am in knowing that it's there as I need it.

3. Have a chauffeur. I used to live with a fellow who liked to drive. Now if I want someone else to do the driving I must first drive to them. For example, none of my children live closer than an hour and a half away. Before they can drive me about their neighborhoods, I must get myself to their neighborhoods. I used to love driving but now the merest hint of bad weather, any dire news of highway accidents or strange sounds in my car put me into an apoplectic fit. I go, but I'm not happy about it.

4. Win big. I know one must buy a lottery ticket to stand a chance (some blonde jokes are funny) but those times that I invested a treasured dollar have resulted in disappointment. Just once, I'd like to be the one crying on TV because I've just been given a million dollars (tax free) or the one who opens her mailbox to find a check for an outrageous amount of money from an undisclosed but compassionate source. The only thing I've ever won in my life was a chintzy pillow at the county fair when I was 12. (And I was shooting for the giant teddy bear!)

5. Be slim again, twenty again, and in the position to make an entirely different decision about the life I was about to give up in order to embark on the life I did. I have few regrets, even more blessings and a life now that is quite satisfactory in every way but monetary. Still, I'd like to see what my parallel lives would have been like.

6. Spend a day completely pain free. My feet ache, my knees hurt, my knuckles throb, my back seizes up.  While I'm at it, I'd like my hearing and vision restored to their hitherto perfection. (After I thought about this one, I realized that having experienced that, I'd be more than reluctant to return to my current state. Still...)

7. I would like to know what follows once my 20 year life plan expires and I along with it. I might forget it once I've been shown, or I might assign it to a mere dream, but some part of me would then be able to relax enough so that I can enjoy the next bit of my life story with all the abandonment and delight I felt as a child. (Which, come to think of it, list or no list, is just what I intend to do!)

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Adding Insult to Injury



It's bad enough to be growing older at what seems an accelerated rate but it's awful to be ill at the same time. I'm not talking about terminal illness or progressive illness. I'm about to whine about the ordinary, common cold.

It started with a sneeze, which I attributed to the appearance of the sun, which hasn't shown up here for day after cold, gray day. I usually sneeze in the sunlight so I didn't give it a thought until I felt that suspect little tingling that means, "This is not a sunlight sneeze. This is your nose on a COLD. And it's going to be a doozy."

Sure enough, not an hour later, I felt the familiar ache and malaise that accompanies congestion. My eyes began to water. I sneezed at increasingly frequent intervals and went through half a box of tissue in twenty minutes. I sucked down a glass of Emergen-C, popped a couple of aspirin, and lay down on the sofa, thinking a short nap might make matters better. I sat up almost immediately, unable to breathe in a prone position. I gathered pillows, a quilt, the cat (as a foot warmer) and propped myself up on the sofa. An ungodly rattling noise woke me and spooked the cat. It was just me, snoring. I had toppled over and was constricting my own airway.

Soup was what I needed but making soup requires energy. I had none. Tea, that's what I'd have. I sat while the kettle came to a boil, disproving that old adage about the pot never boiling, etc. Measuring the leaves, pouring the water, ladling in the honey took every ounce of oomph I had left. I was almost too tired to sip.

Bed was the place to be. I hauled the pillows and the quilt back to the bedroom, arranged everything just so and climbed in. My back ached so I climbed back out and hunted up the heating pad. In bed once more, I realized I'd left my tea on the kitchen table. Out I climbed and back in, shivering now. Two pillows didn't seem enough. There were two more stored in the trunk at the foot of the bed but the thought of that hundred mile journey was enough to make me settle back, grumbling, against the two I had. I sipped my cooling tea, took note of every ache and sniffle, and let tears of self pity and moroseness ooze down my cheeks. I wanted my mother, and my tissue box was still on the sofa.

Feverish dreams pursued me in the dark of night. When I'm sick I dream of numbers that repeat themselves over and over. I dreamed of tally sticks that wouldn't tally and numbers that floated in soup like alphabet letters, never adding up to the correct amount. I woke exhausted.

I remember having head colds as a child. I remember the sore red nose, the scratchy raw throat, the head and body aches, but I also remember functioning despite all that. A mere cold never sent me to bed. Now the very thought of heaving this sad sack of skin and bones out of bed and into the work day was too much to bear. I reached for the phone and called in sick. We're only allowed three sick days in a row before a doctor's note is required. On Wednesday, I'm calling in dead.