A Tale to Remember

As we sat around the breakfast table, Poppy motioned to Hal to come sit in his lap.

“Tell me a story,” he said softly as the liquid Morphine began to kick in.

“I don’t know a story,” Hal attempted to demur.

After his initial attempts to not participate with “Once upon a time, the end” and his father’s admonitions that a story has a beginning, MIDDLE, and end, he offered up the following.

“Once upon a time, there was a booger and his mother died and he was very sad.”

I adopted a sad face while everyone around the table giggled nervously and Jane commented, “Well, that escalated quickly.”

“Ok, Jane. Now it’s your turn,” said Poppy.

“What?” she asked, confused by this break from how breakfast at Poppy’s would usually go. But these are not usual times for us. They are special and sad and stressful and precious end times.

“You take the story from here,” he said.

“Um, ok. So the booger lives in a nose and that’s organic so a new mother was grown out of the walls around it and they lived happily ever after.”

“Did you actually take Biology last year?” asked her dad.

“David,” said Poppy, impervious to the extraneous commentary surrounding the storytelling, “you pick it up now. It’s your turn.”

“Well, so Bob – that’s the booger’s name…”

“No!” cried Hal, now regretting that he hadn’t provided more details in his tale. “His name is Joe!”

“You didn’t name him,” admonished his dad. “You didn’t name him on your turn so David did.”

“Ok, so Bob,” continued David, “went on a journey to find a new nose to live in.”

“Was he a on a ship? Is he a Nasal Officer?” asked my husband.

“His name should be Casileous!” said Daryl.

“So he’s a Roman Nasal Officer?”

Everyone laughed until Poppy told us it wasn’t our turn and to let David continue. Jane’s boyfriend of a year, gamely continued.

“He went looking for the biggest nose he could find…”

“And then he found Mount Rushmore!” said Jane.

“Yes, he got to Mount Rushmore and crawled inside and was so happy.”

“Crazy Horse would be better. I think his nose is bigger,” said my husband. “You know, he came across an Italian booger named Luigi – he was a loogie…”

“Ok, it’s not your turn son. Daryl, take over the story.”

“Well, Bob shot out of the nose on a big sneeze and landed in a trashcan in an alley. And this guy came by and his name was Barry.”

Everyone groaned as Daryl’s obsession with the Flash was woven into the story.

“But he’s a life-size booger!” complained Hal, increasingly agitated yet fascinated at the deviations from his original idea.

“It was a Titan’s nose that he blew out of and it was a really big trashcan,” clarified Daryl. “He began to crawl out of the trashcan…”

My husband began contributing to the point that his dad told him to pick up the story.

“Well, Robert Casileous Luigi the Third, a Roman Nasal Officer did not crawl out of the trash can. He ate it. In one big bite. And he took on all the qualities of the trash and he was big and strong and impervious to Barry’s powers so it didn’t matter how fast the man was.”

“I’m going to make an injection here,” Poppy said. “Tell us about the knife.”

I was confused because I had no recollection of a knife being mentioned at all. But my husband, having spent all week with his sometimes very loopy father, didn’t miss a beat.

“It was large and green with a wide handle…”

“And it was made of porcelain,” I added.

“Yes! So it could pass through security and you could take it wherever you wanted. He used the knife to begin peeling an apple.”

He tried to pass the story off but was reprimanded by his dad who sternly informed him that he didn’t get to choose the transitions and he should continue.

“Well, he peeled the apple and shared it with all the creatures in the alley. The Daryls and the Hals and everyone else were happy.”

“Ok, your turn,” my ailing father-in-law said to me.

“Bob left the dark shade of the alley and entered the bright sunshine. His gelatinous skin began to sparkle.”

“Because he’s a vampire?” everyone asked.

“Yes, Bob is a vampire booger. And as he traveled along in the sunshine, it was very, very hot and he began to melt.”

Suddenly, I was hit by spraying liquid. My father-in-law, sitting next to me and listening intently to the story, had found a melting booger vampire extremely funny. Caught off-guard, he had just sprayed his coffee across the table – just like you see in the movies. Everyone began laughing as we cleaned up the mess.

“I’m sorry,” he said. “It’s just in all the different ways I’ve heard of vampires dying, melting has never been one of them. I wasn’t expecting that. Go on.”

“As Bob melted, he began to run down the street.”

“You mean run? Like with legs?” asked my husband.

“Ok, he oozed. As Bob melted, he oozed down the street and as streets curve down toward the curbs, he oozed to the curb and…”

“Not all streets do that,” he said.

“Well this one does. He oozed to the curb and then dripped down into the sewer where…”

“He met Donatello!” said Daryl.

“Or Splinter and he began to learn,” someone added.

“He dripped down into the sewer,” I repeated. “and plopped onto a wise rat. And as the effects of the sun wore off. Bob solidified on the rat and became a rat-shaped booger…”

“Who knew Kung Fu,” finished my husband.

“But what happened to Splinter?” asked Jane.

“He became part of Bob the super booger,” I said.

“He was assimilated,” added my husband.

The story ended as my father-in-law stood and thanked us. Later, he told my husband how much he loves “your family” before telling me he needed his oxygen and we worked to get him into his hospital bed.

He’s sleeping now. I can see him from where I sit. The rest of the family is outside, sanding and painting the handrails for the ramp we built last week, while I try to capture the details of our morning before I lose them in my tired, stressed-out, only half-functioning brain. Then I’ll fold his laundry and dispose of the rice grits he prepared but then decided not to eat.

You see, Poppy is dying. His cancer has won the battle on how long he gets to live. Now we are fighting instead to spend as much time with him as we can. We are fighting the cancer and the pain it causes him. We are fighting the pain medications and the mental confusion they cause. We are fighting against our physical and emotional limitations. We are fighting to make what time we have left matter.

Life has become simple. Yet harder than any period we’ve gone through so far. What is important and what is not is obvious. New pastor at church? There will be time enough to get to know him later. The tiles falling apart in our hall bathroom? Everyone can shower in the master bath. A fence for the dog? She’ll just have to spend time in the crate when we aren’t home, which is increasingly often. Our flailing budget? My responsibilities at church? Bell choir? Destination Imagination? Even work?

Those things are all important. But they can all wait. We are dealing with bigger and harder things. Can Poppy be by himself or does my husband need to stay again – like he did last week? Can we keep him safe and comfortable if we are in the next state over? How long will we spend in this state of being? How long can we hold up?

{Note: I wrote this on Sunday, October 30th but didn’t get to finish it and was always too tired to revisit it until now. The kind of tired that sleep doesn’t seem to erase. Of course, much has happened since then. Two weeks is a long time in the situation we find ourselves. Some of the questions I posed at the end of this post have been answered. Some still hang in the air. Maybe I’ll write more soon. Or maybe I’ll keep floating in an exhausted, tense haze.}

 

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Remembering Grandma’s Grandpa’s House

We joined hands in a large circle around the island in my mother’s kitchen. There were 18 of us in all. My uncle said grace and we prepared to eat our Thanksgiving meal.

“Kids! Come over here and go through the line,” someone said shortly after the amen.

I grumbled to the person next to me, as I do every year, “Kids didn’t get to go through the line first when I was a kid. We always had to go through last.”

The person to whom I grumbled happened to be my 89 year-old grandmother. She laughed and attempted to remember how things had been handled when she was a child. She began to describe her grandparents’ house.

“Grandpa had a chair in the corner of the room,” she said. “His radio stand was right next to it. The dining table was over there.” She motioned with her hand. Her hands and words painted the picture of a cozy Thanksgiving gathering.

“The kids would run around playing,” she continued. “And eventually we’d get too loud and Grandpa couldn’t hear the radio anymore. So he’d start yelling in German.”

At this point, she startled me by uttering some words in German. I knew her parents had both been first generation American-born citizens of German descent. I had never considered that that likely meant German had been spoken around her as she grew up. I had never considered that she might know any German herself.

She cut off the German abruptly and chuckled at the memory.

“They didn’t have screens in their windows,” she said. “And I remember some of my cousins diving headfirst out the windows. They weren’t very far off the ground. But when he started yelling, you got out of the way!”

She smiled as we walked over to pick up our plates. “I don’t remember though whether we got our food first or last. I don’t remember what we ate or how we did it.”

I don’t know about you, but if she couldn’t remember it all, I’m glad she retained the radio, the German, and the cousins flying out the windows rather than who went through the line first and what they piled on their plate.

Throw Back Thursday: Facebook Flashback

I mentioned recently how much I was enjoying the look-back feature on Facebook that shows all your posts from that day in years past. It’s interesting to see how much I used to post compared to now. And how much of it I now consider drivel. Yet how much of it makes me laugh all over again.

Take August 21st, 2012. We were visiting my mother-in-law in Colorado. I hadn’t started blogging yet so Facebook was my only outlet. My husband must have been teasing our daughter about her appearance because early in the evening I posted a quote from her to him:

“I didn’t choose this face. You chose it for me.”

Then, almost two hours later, this:

Standing in the bathroom, I notice that Jane’s toothbrush is missing. “Hal, where is Sissy’s toothbrush?” He silently runs out of the room, straight to the futon, where he drops to his knees and crawls under. He emerges with the missing toothbrush and says very matter-of-factly, “Mommy, I found it under the bed. Somebody put it there. It wasn’t me.”

Not only had I forgotten that wonderfully amusing story, I had started to forget how often he said things like that. “Somebody did this thing that no one else could have done or even known about, but trust me, it wasn’t me.”

And then an hour after that:

Watching the PBS fundraiser Celtic Women concert with Jane and my husband. One of the women comments on being in America, which prompts Jane to ask, “Wait. Where are they from?”

 

Her daddy replies, “Um. Ireland. Hence all the green and the use of the word ‘Celtic’ in their name.”

 

“And the accents,” I add.

 

Then Jane explains her confusion: “But they look American.”

 

My husband: “Why, yes. They are human, just like us.”

That day, three years ago, would prove to be a formative day in my crawl toward blogging. I didn’t know it then – I was freakin’ on vacation! But my blog would come to life just eight days later. It’s grown to include other things. Whether that’s good or bad, I don’t know. But it was originally intended to be a vehicle for this – funny stories about me and my kids.

 

On This Day Five Years Ago

I recently enabled the “On This Day” feature in Facebook. This feature sends you a notification and then shows you all your previous posts from years past that you posted on this particular day of that year. I’m in love. And I’ve got all this fodder for looking-back blog posts!

Of course, we haven’t had internet service since the big thunderstorm a week ago. Our ISP has promised to come on Tuesday. They weren’t real good at returning calls when they promised that though, so I’m not holding my breath.

Anyway, it’s hard to write blog posts without an internet connection. I refuse to use the WordPress Android app to compose blogs. And it wasn’t until a couple of days ago that we bought a wireless adapter for our (approaching ancient) desktop computer so we could hotspot one of our phones and connect to the net from the computer.

Still – it was a long and emotionally draining weekend so I wasn’t interested in writing anything even though I now had the ability. Until I got the “On This Day” notification, that is. My husband and I had just finished watching Grace and Frankie on Netflix. As we sat on the couch trying to decide whether to retire to bed, I read my posts from years past.

Eventually, I got to the “5 years ago” section and saw this:

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The next memory was from an hour and a half earlier and went something like this:

So I sit down to write my first ever blog post. After a brief pause, I find a good starting point. Just as I’m getting into the groove…

“Mom? Where are those capri pants we bought at the mall?”

“I don’t know. Everything I found in the shopping bags, I ran through the washer and dryer and they were in the green hamper. Don’t you have some other dress code to wear tomorrow?”

“No. Just those pants from Claire that are too tight and then those others that are too short.”

 

With a sigh, I get up from the computer and head down the hall. As I’m digging through the laundry, the boys’ door opens and out walks the youngest…

“I need to go poop.”

“Ok. But make it quick. I’ll be in to wipe you soon.”

 

I gather up all the khaki laundry and head to the laundry room. As I’m loading it, I hear crying from the bathroom. It gets louder and more intense. I see Jane so I ask her, “what’s going on?”

“He asked me to hug him so I did and then he asked for it again so I did and then…”

The rest of it is drowned out by the crying. I open the bathroom door. He’s screaming incoherently about wanting something more from sister. I recognize the cry. It’s the impossible-to-satisfy-I’m-too-tired cry. Nothing his sister does will satisfy him.

 

After some threats and cajoling and sweet talking and a trip back to the washing machine, I finally get him shuffled off to bed. All is quiet. Only a 20 minute interruption. I suspect I better get used to them.

The friends who had been encouraging me to start a blog had asked for the web address. I smiled when I read my response to them:

Not handing out the address until I’ve replaced the picture of the chess board and figured out how to remove the tagline that says “4 out of 5 dentists like this blog” and a few other important housekeeping tasks! 🙂 But the first post is done and I hope to get the address out very soon.

I was outright laughing when I saw the response from a high school friend… who actually happens to be a dentist:

I want to be one of the four out of five!

Two hours before that post (about 7:15 in the evening), I had posted that I’d done the research, picked a site, decided on a name, and figured out aliases for my children’s names. I declared that I would be creating my blog and was posting that intent so I could be accountable.

I expressed concern that my name was likely already taken. It was. This was originally just going to be “Bright Spots.” The name wasn’t available. I panicked. But that was the perfect name! Then I thought to add “my” to the front and “mybrightspots” was born.

I looked over at my husband tonight and said, “Wow. Today is the 5th anniversary of my blog. Guess I should have written a post or something. Oh, well.”

“You still can. There’s time.”

It may seem melodramatic but I felt in that moment, that I was at a fork in the road. To shrug “nah!” and head to bed with Two Dots and Words With Friends would be the first nail in my blogging coffin. Was this thing important or not? It was. I had been too tired just moments before, but now I wanted nothing more than to write.

So here I am. Perhaps boring you with long-winded Facebook posts from five years ago. But still writing. And BrightSpots? Well, I went to see what they were up to. This is what I saw:

brightspots

Heh. So I outlasted them – whoever they were. That’s ok. I think I like expressing clear ownership of the bright spots after all.

Five years ago, I was attending a different church. I was working in a different building for a different supervisor. I hadn’t learned to enjoy wine. I hadn’t invested in a regular and vigorous workout routine. My husband hadn’t either and was growing a massively long beard. My children were about to turn 10, 7, and 2. My oldest child was still in elementary school.

Now I have a child marching in the High School band. And another starting bassoon in sixth grade. In fact, our three children are at three different campuses. Our first grader has learned to sass and employ sarcasm – even if he uses it at odd times. Our sixth grader is growing armpit hair and might have the faint shadow of a mustache if you hold him under the light just right. Our high schooler thinks she might want to go away to a special academy in two years. I enjoy a glass of wine after work some nights and work out with my cleanly shaved husband almost every morning.

Our life has changed so much. But the spots are still bright. And still mine.

Cold Days, Warm Memories

I have very strong (and oddly fond) memories of sitting in a chilled but warming car as my mother scraped the ice off the windows of a morning. I remember watching through the ice, seeing her first only as a blur and then clearly as the ice was removed. I recall wondering whether she’d get that last little bit in the corner or if it’d be a quick job. I remember noticing that sometimes the ice came away more easily than other times.

These memories evoke a warm, comfortable feeling not unlike the memories of a grilled cheese sandwich and chicken noodle soup brought to me  when I was sick. Or of laying my head on her chest as I cuddled in her lap and listening to her talk to other people in the room, marveling at how different her voice sounded when heard through her chest. Listening to her heart beat. Relaxing in her strong and sure presence.

This morning, the weather had turned unexpectedly cold. Because of a shortage of pants brought on by rips in knees, holes in crotches, and massive stains on seats, I had mistakenly encouraged one of my children to wear shorts, thus saving me from the daily washing of the one pair of pants remaining (which itself was missing a button). We all rushed out to the cold car – no prewarming from this mother.

What appeared to be just water on the windshield and the windows on one side of the car turned out to be thick sheets of ice. As I scraped the windows, I saw my children’s faces silently watching me through the disappearing ice. Warm memories flooded my cold body. And can I just say this?

It sucks being the grown-up outside doing the scraping.

Underwear Memories

This past weekend, Daryl, the eleven year old, announced that he had no clean underwear.  We had recently removed the much-too-small oldest underwear from his supply and he was running short.  I had purchased some more but was saving them for that oh-so-favorite Christmas gift.  But now he was out.  I offered him the much-too-small pairs that he had been wearing just a week or two ago but apparently they were no longer acceptable.  And asking him to wear dirty underwear when I had ten clean pairs tucked away in my closet seemed petty and gross.

So I announced with as much enthusiasm as I could muster that he was going to get part of a Christmas present early!  Yay!  And then I opened the package of new underwear and extracted a pair.  Gosh, it looked so big!  I took it into him and he frowned at me.  “That’s going to be too big,” he said.

“Just try them,” I responded.

He did and they fit just fine.  As I folded laundry later that weekend, I thought about how hard it had been getting to tell Hal’s underwear apart from Daryl’s.  Now, as I folded my husband’s, I thought about how it was going to get harder to tell Daryl’s from Daddy’s.

And that reminded me of a major source of contention between my brother and our step-dad.  My brother had a really bad habit of stealing our step-dad’s underwear.  I can’t recall now whether he extracted them from the laundry before it got sorted or if he actually ventured into his room to steal them out of the drawers.  At any rate, he was always walking around in Bill’s underwear and Bill was always irritated.

So one Christmas, or maybe it was for Bill’s birthday, I hatched a plan.  I bought a package of underwear and stitched colorful “B”s on the fly of them.  Some were small, some were quite large.  All were brightly colored.  When he opened them, I triumphantly announced that now my brother could not claim that he didn’t know the underwear he was wearing was not his.  Problem solved.

It wasn’t too long before my brother was seen walking the house in underwear with bright “B”s stitched on the fly.

Today would have been Bill’s 66th birthday.  He left us nearly nine years ago when his cancer returned with a vengeance.  I’m pleased that memories like this one still return periodically and still make me smile.

TBT: Great Grandma’s House

Two weeks ago, in honor of Halloween, my Throwback Thursday post was about the spooky bedroom at the end of the hall at my Great Grandmother’s house. I spent a lot of time at her house. This week’s throwback looks at some of the brighter – or at least, not frightening – times.

Great Grandma was very adept at pinching pennies. Conservation was the name of the game. According to her, an inch and a half of water in the bottom of the tub was more than adequate for me to take a bath in. Can’t wash my hair in that little water? No problem. She’d just bend me backwards over the edge of the bathroom sink and wash it there.

She had a whole bunch of cheap costume jewelry. Never having pierced her ears, all the earrings were clip-on. This was perfect for our jewelry store that my brother and I would setup in the living room. We’d pull a dining room chair in as our display space. Hang the necklaces on the corners. Clip the earrings on the center portion of the chair back. We’d push the two facing couches away from the walls and each would claim one space as his or her home. The shop would be outside one of the homes. Business couldn’t have been swift. What, with only two people in the town.

My favorite activity, by far, was eating Saltine crackers. Now that I think about it, that was pretty much my favorite activity wherever I was. And I always had to be sneaky about it because crazy grown-ups seemed to have a problem with a kid eating an entire sleeve of crackers in one sitting.

Grandma kept her crackers in the little vertical storage space in her range (cooktop and oven – not built into any cabinetry). I’m sure the space was intended for baking sheets or something, but at her house, that’s where the crackers were. When she wasn’t looking, I’d swipe them and run to hide under the table in the living room.

For a smart kid, I wasn’t very bright though. I almost always forgot to close the door in my haste. So in would walk Grandma to the kitchen. She’d see the open compartment, and she’d start calling me. Problem was, she was 80-some years old and had quite a few grandchildren and great-grandchildren.

It took her awhile to get to my name.

“Mary Lee? Marsha? Susan? Jennifer? Lucy?” I never felt compelled to respond until she got to mine. I mean, how was I supposed to know she was calling me? In the meantime, I’d pick up the pace on stuffing crackers in my mouth.

Eventually, sometimes after cycling through some men’s names too, she’d hit mine. And I’d dutifully call out, “Yes?” The response was always muffled since it’s hard to speak with your mouth full of crackers. She’d enter the living room and snag the remaining crackers. I don’t recall getting into much trouble for it.

She had a pecan orchard too. As she got older, she became less and less able to pick the pecans on her own. In fact, sometimes she’d call my mom or my grandma yelling, “The crows are getting my pecans! The crows are getting my pecans!!” That was the siren call that would get all family members living in the area loaded up and hurried out to her house to pick pecans.

When I was in eighth grade, I remember going out there and picking pecans. That’s when I learned that there’s some sort of dye in the soft outer green shells that protect the brown speckled shells we are all accustomed to. I was trying to be helpful and peeled them all off. And all my fingers were stained orange!

Such an event is absolutely devastating to a middle schooler. How could I go to school with my hands looking like that?! I simply couldn’t. There was obviously only one thing to do… I carefully covered all my fingers with band-aids. Yep. That’s what I did.

And being an honest child, when the unforeseen question came up, “What did you do to your fingers?!”, I told the truth. Which made me look incredibly stupid since I wasn’t actually injured.

On Great Grandma’s wall, hung a poem. I thought this was one of the most insightful things I’d ever seen. And when we emptied her house, so many years later, I learned I wasn’t alone. Everyone wanted the poem. And so we all got color copies of the original. Mine is matted and hanging on my dining room wall:

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