Saturday, February 28, 2009

Automotive Mechanics

I looked at the little tag in the windshield of my mother's car the other day, the one that says when the next service is due. I had been paying lots of attention to the mileage, noting we were still several hundred miles from the "next service due at ..." number. This time I also paid attention to the recommended service date: April, 2008. Oh-oh! That meant it's been a year since the Passat had its oil changed. It's been making funny noises, too. Squeeky doors. Brake rubbing noises. Unexpected creaking in the steering. I guess I've been spoiled by years of Saturn service. I expected that when you take a car in for a safety check or routine service they would look at things like brakes and tell you if it was time to deal with them before you destroyed something significant. Nobody ever mentioned the turn signals that only work on manual ....

When the Passat went in for service this week I specifically asked the mechanic to change the windshield wiper blades, check the brakes, and estimate the repair cost of those leaking oil seals. The news was not good. $1000 in repairs to replace the leaky seals and the rear brakes. Mother almost cried when I told her.

Yesterday morning at breakfast she announced that she wanted to go "to the Ford place". She wanted to look at cars. She has always enjoyed driving Fords. Her first car, she told the salesman, was a Model T. She didn't add that it was practically new at the time. So we looked. She was enchanted with the little green 2008 Focus with its manual everything (except transmission) and its $4000 rebate. "It's a beautiful color!" she said. I could just hear Ray. "Bonnie P, you don't buy a car because of its color!"

"What do you have in used cars?" she asked. The salesman drove her around to look at a sage green 2006 Fusion, Ford's current mid-sized offering. It had lots more bells and whistles, lots more room, similar gas mileage, and would save her $2000. It was a lease return and had relatively low mileage, even for Hawaii.

"Will you take a trade-in?" They would take the Passat. "How much do I have to give you to hold the car for me?" For $100 she could take the car of her choice home today. Several hours later, and well within her original budget, we left the Ford dealership in the Fusion. It's taking time getting used to turn signals that really work, to brakes that stop without rubbing, to a trunk where things are out of sight, and to the different size and shape of this vehicle. It's not too big, about the same as the Passat, but feels like it sits higher. She is happy. I am thankful.

The new picture at the top of this page? That's Sarah's Quilt, the one I made for her to take to art school last summer. It's hanging on the railing of my deck in Groveland. There's still some basting in place, but the bright colors reminding me of Budhist dancers in Bhutan are all there. It reminds me of Sarah and her youthful outlook. Keep happy, Sarah.

Look for the positives -- even in the message that your vehicle needs $$$$$ repairs. Give thanks. Don't forget to pray.

Sunday, February 15, 2009

Without a Valentine

Some days -- notably, American holidays -- are intended for pairs, partners or families. Without a partner, without close family links, it is no wonder that holidays bring on depression in lonely souls. It's easy to lock yourself up (literally or figuratively) and feel sorry for yourself.

It takes more effort to think of those holidays as times for reaching out to others, known and unknown. By reaching out, the overwhelming awareness of what you don't have -- no longer have -- perhaps never had -- is lessened by the joy in the faces and voices of those to whom you reach out. The shadows disappear for awhile in the light that fills your life, at least momentarily.

So Valentine's Day was a solitary day. My mother commented at breakfast that she used to have heart-shaped cake pans (they are now in my pantry in California), used to put heart-shaped candies on the table set with red-and-white linens. But not any more. It was not clear whether it is too much effort, or if she has lost the spirit with the loss of affection for my father.

But I made my weekly telephone call to a solitary friend in California, and heard her voice brighten. I visited my father, and saw the joy in his eyes that I -- someone he recognized as belonging -- had arrived. I talked to a cousin in Colorado, a daily event that goes a long way to keeping me sane. We help each other grope through the shadows of widowhood. I am making friends at the nursing home where my father is resident. Mr. Ally, who has the bed next to my father, spends all day in front of the elevator where his daughters have assigned him as greeter. He beams when I greet him by name. Charlotte is another long term care patient who sits most days in her wheelchair near the nursing station. She seldom speaks, only sometimes acknowledges, but when she smiles and waves it is another reward. I can make a difference.

Reach out. Look for positives. Give thanks. Pray.

Monday, February 9, 2009

Mother, May I?

We have different styles, my mother and I. The biggest differences I recognize as coming from Ray. Surprisingly to me, they often involve tolerance for and respecting the needs of others. Ray said we are afraid of the things we don't know. Getting to know someone very different from yourself breaks down barriers and fear. Some differences have to do with country living. I love it. She lived in the country as a child and hates it. I like quite outside, but the sound of a human voice inside -- radio, TV, something to counter the solitariness of living alone. She doesn't hear the outside noise. Deafness brings its own isolation.

Ray said that when you have disposable income, it's OK to pamper yourself occasionally. Mother says, "Don't buy it unless you absolutely need it. When you do buy it, get the lowest price available." That's why we have 11 lbs of margerine in the freezer -- it was on sale, 5# for $5. Consider that "It's Not Butter" is selling here for just under $3/lb and butter is $4.50 - $7/lb. That's also why she loves thrift shops and garage sales. It's a left-over from Depression Era economics, followed closely by WWII in Hawaii when not much was available.

Mother is just 3 months short of her 95th birthday. She moves remarkably well for a 95-year-old, but her pace is slowing and her endurance level is getting lower. Bringing a loaf of bread from the car to the house after a trip to the market is an effort. There are things she would like to do, but doesn't because they take too much effort. Traveling, for example. Anything that requires stairs. Walking up or down a slope, even 15' of sloped driveway or parking lot. Crossing the street is a long walk. Will she do some of those special things in a wheelchair? Not on your life! She doesn't say it, but I'm sure she is thinking it makes her look old.

Mother wants to be in control. It's not "I'm going to ..., would you care for....?" It's "Here's what I'm doing (or having), and here's what you will do." I am, after all, still her daughter. Apparently daughters are not adults. My daughters, biological and hanai, are adults. Even the teen-age granddaughters have likes, dislikes and interests that are unique and important. Sometimes there are things they can learn from me. At least as often, there are things I can learn from them.

Mother doesn't want to spend time with my dad -- her husband. To say that he has treated her badly for most of the 70 years they have been together is an understatement. Emotionally and verbally abusive is probably a better description. She is resentful of the time I spend at the care facility and meeting some of his physical needs. Like doing his laundry. Or taking care of the boat. Or packing up his possessions. "Why should we bother to store those?" she asks. "We should dispose of them." Some of those things she wants to dispose of are things that Ian and/or I find interesting.

So the dance goes on, balancing her needs, both physical and emotional, with his -- and with my own. Mother, may I go out dancing? The answer depends on the mood.

Look for positives. Give thanks. Keep praying.