Saturday, May 30, 2009

Mothers, Daughters, Wives

It's actually the title of a war protest song from the UK, c. 1983, but it applies to my thoughts today. "The first to go were fathers, the last to go were sons, and in between our husbands ...."

Hospital waiting rooms are filled with them. Mothers, daughters, wives. So often we are the ones who wait, chewing our fingernails, praying, fingering a string of beads, knitting, doing something mindless while an important person in our lives -- often a man for whom we care deeply -- fights for life somewhere down a hall, behind a closed door.

I am reminded of this because an old friend just had two heart shunts "updated", quite unexpectedly. He's going to be fine. A trip to ER, some tests, a relatively common surgical procedure, a couple of days in hospital to make sure there are no other problems, and he's home again. But there's no warranty on this repair job. Nothing to assure his wife and family that another part isn't going to fail next year -- or next month, or next week.

I am reminded of this because there are so many more widows than widowers. I am reminded of the times we prayed for another spouse who waited for a diagnosis or change in status. I am reminded of my own time at a hospital bedside, armed with a book and some needlework. Now another friend is taking her turn at a similar post.

The men in our lives usually don't operate that way. On the very rare occasions that I was hospitalized, Ray would come in for a half-hour in the morning, disappear, and return at the other end of the day, just before he headed back to Groveland. My friend the EMT made sure he knew which bed his wife was in, then disappeared to the nursing station. No hand-holding there; he doesn't do "sick people" well.

There are exceptions everywhere. There are men who wait quietly at bedsides and in waiting rooms while their own mothers, daughters, wives lie somewhere down the hall. There are women -- including my own mother -- who refuse to wait. There are some very special men I know who care for their invalid wives.

We all have friends, both men, and women, who are always there when we need a shoulder to cry on or to hear the sound of another human voice.

Give thanks for those in your life who offer their support simply by being available.

"Keep watch, Oh Lord, with those who wait and watch and weep this night. And give your Angels charge over those who Sleep..."

Keep praying.

Thursday, May 28, 2009

A Family Tale

Guns are not part of my daily experience.

Ray had a shotgun for awhile after we had a child-snatcher loose in the neighborhood. The shotgun lived, unloaded, in the back of a closet in one bedroom. Its ammunition lived in a box on the very back of a shelf in a closet in another bedroom. I don't think I ever saw the two together. The only time the shotgun ever came out of the closet was one night when Ray thought someone was trying to steal gas out of one of the cars. He stood with the gun just inside the patio door at the upstairs balcony and pumped it once. The next morning there was a new gas can in our driveway -- empty.

My father had a pistol, left over from his days as a volunteer police officer. It -- and its ammunition -- stayed on the back of the shelf in his closet. Ian came across it one day recently. Everything was returned to the Honolulu Police Department.

I never heard stories about my family members hunting or target shooting or otherwise being interested in the kinds of activities that are so common in Groveland. There I learned to schedule employee training around the various hunting and fishing seasons. I learned to pay attention to the days the seasons opened in our area, when one could fish in streams (as opposed to lakes), and when to expect out-of-area deer hunters in my front yard.

My grandfather grew up in Tombstone, Arizona. Well, he lived there from about age 3 to about age 13 or perhaps 14. His father was a hunter. The Yonges were English country gentlefolk. They probably hunted birds on the family estate, Puslinch. The men went regularly from Devon up to Scotland to hunt. James, my great-grandfather, spent 5 years on a sheep station in rural Australia in the 1860's. He undoubtedly had the opportunity to hone his marksmanship skills there.

I should not have been surprised to hear the following tale this morning. My mother said it was among her mother's favorite stories.

There was a strike on the sugar plantations. My grandfather was station master at the Waipahu depot on the Oahu Railway and Land Co. (OR&L) railroad. The Filipino men from the plantation, with nothing better to do since they couldn't work in the cane fields, used to come down to the depot and sit in the passenger waiting area. It made my grandmother nervous, because the single Filipino men carried a reputation as fighters, and their fights usually involved knives.

There were mongooses around the depot. A mongoose is a weasel-looking critter. He's about 15" long, 2-3" in diameter, with a pointy nose, a pointy tail, and beady little eyes. He is fast, and he is short-tempered. He was imported to Hawaii to control rats in the cane fields, then got out of control himself.

My grandfather took a non-confrontational approach. One day as the men were gathering on the depot's passenger platform, my grandfather brought out his .22 rifle. Spying a mongoose, he lifted the rifle and fired. One shot, and the mongoose was dead. The bullet went right through his eye. The out-of-work Filipino laborers found someplace else to hang out.

Although she pleased her husband by learning to shoot, my grandmother was never comfortable around guns. She was made to take the rifle along when she and the children went camping by themselves for several days at a time. If they were on the beach, the gun went in the bottom of the laundry basket. If they were staying in a house, it got wrapped carefully in a blanket and stowed safely under a bed. If she had needed, the crisis would have passed before she got to the gun.

As we honor our servicemen and -women at home and overseas, let us also give thanks for the peacemakers, those who seek what Hawaiians call pono -- roughly, finding harmony, balance, the moral and upright way. Oh, the ancient Hawaiians were not pacifists. They did battle, too. Fierce battle. And they held grudges, to the point that if you were among the defeated and managed to escape, it was bad luck to tell others about your battle experiences. If you were ever identified by the victors, you could be killed, your bones made into fish hooks and your teeth set into the victor's poi bowls -- the ultimate insult.

Hug a friend. Tell someone how much you care. Don't forget to pray.

Saturday, May 23, 2009

Small Things

In my parents' carport there is a storage area we have always called The Rack. It occupies half the space above the cars, and, like an attic, provides storage space for those things that need a home but that you don't use regularly -- like suitcases and Christmas decorations. It requires a 7' ladder for me to reach anything up there. Or standing on the roof of the car, always frowned-upon behavior.

Today while working in the kitchen I kept hearing the cheep-cheep-cheep of a bird. Over and over again. Or maybe it was a noisy lizard.

Curiosity eventually got the better of me. Was a bird nesting in the garage? No such luck. A fledgling Brazilian Cardinal (the ones with the gray back, which chest and red topknot) was flitting around amongst the boxes, cheeping in panic. Twice he flew out into the garage, but needed to either land on the car or swoop down-and-under to get back out into the open. Neither tactic was one his limited experience had taught him.

Backed the car out, hoping just having more space would solve his problem. When that didn't help, I broke up part of a soda cracker and threw it on the floor of the garage, hoping that would tempt him. It must have. An hour later, the cracker bits and the bird were both absent from the garage.

Give thanks for freedom, and for those who help us find our way out of tough spots. Look for the light! Don't forget to pray.

Saturday, May 16, 2009

Making Music, Mundane Days, Birthdays, and Losses

Yes, the guitar was still there on Monday afternoon. Now it is resident on Kealaolu Avenue. My fingertips are very tender, but the calluses are coming back. The fingers have memory -- for the tunes I favored as lullabies for my children -- those same children who are currently parents of teen-agers. No matter. It's music. It's practice. It works. I can lose myself for as long as my fingertips can tolerate the pain. Hurry, calluses! Now to find a book of favorite hymns in Hawaiian, with music and guitar chords.

The Event of the Week was my mother's 95th birthday, celebration of which extended over 2 days. See my brother's blog for story and photos of Thursday evening. On Friday, the Real Birthday, she did only what she wanted. She had a danish pastry for breakfast, a piece of birthday cake for lunch, and take-out Chinese (her favorite) for dinner. No time spent in the kitchen. No time in the yard, either. Lots of time on genealogy. And you wondered where I caught the bug?!

Otherwise, life is mundane. **Rake leaves. We have two "mechanically emptied" garden waste cans, big guys marked not to be filled with more than 300 lbs of waste. I can easily fill both of them in just a couple of days of leaf raking. The leaves only fit (we're talking quantity here) if they get tamped down regularly in the filling process. Once the cans are filled, all yard word has to stop until the 2-week interval for emptying has passed. I think we really need a 3rd can. **Do laundry. Mostly my father's. Mother doesn't want anyone doing hers. I don't know whether it is stubborn or pride or both. **Wash dishes. Not a task I have adopted with grace, as Ray had no patience with my dishwashing skills. But it needs to be done, and who else will do it? **Chauffeur my mother, mostly to the post office, bank, market, copy center and doctor. I would love to take her to some other activities, but she no longer has the stamina to walk the distances required for craft fairs, rummage sales and general shopping adventures. **Other routine housework, another one of those tasks I never learned to do gracefully. The whole chore is minimized as 2 of the 3 bedrooms in the house are now filled with Her Stuff and should be posted with "Do Not Disturb" signs.

Another co-worker passed away this week. He left too early. Although we did not communicate regularly, I will miss Fred. He was a plumber who loved classical music. He was a cancer survivor and a heart attack survivor. He must have bought his Harley when he turned 60. The last time I saw him was in a pet store in Sonora. In his retirement, he trained a therapy dog and took her to visit patients around Sonora. He was a good, caring friend. We didn't worship in the same style, but Fred's church was just as important to him as mine is to me. Although you never saw it on the job, he was really that kind of a guy. Give thanks for Fred's life. Pray for his widow, children and grandchildren.

Reach out. Hug a friend. Let someone know you care. Don't forget to pray.

Sunday, May 10, 2009

Recognizing Priorities

Priorities are funny things. You have to set them. But first you have to recognize those things that are important to you. Really important. Things that make a difference. Things that help make you whole.

When I left California for Hawaii, I said -- out loud and probably in writing -- that I was leaving behind most of those things by which I define myself. Some of them I couldn't do anything about. I cannot bring Ray back. My children are grown and have lives of their own. There wasn't room to bring a sewing machine or guitar, much less the accumulated genealogical library. So Mr. Purrkins and I came to Hawaii -- and then Mr. Purrkins succumbed to the same horrible disease that took Ray. I still sleep with his favorite quilt.

There's no room for anything else in this house. Really. If it's mine, it needs to fit in that 9x12' bedroom which also houses all my mother's cook books, her accounting documents, and part of her genealogy library. These aren't occasional use items -- she's in them daily, sometimes several times a day. She's stored them in that same space for 30 years. Moving them isn't part of her agenda. I did buy a sewing machine. It found a corner to live in by replacing a non-functional sewing machine. The room is f-u-l-l. Very full.

Those space constraints have kept me away from music. That and "noise". I am continually surprised that deafness and noise are not mutually exclusive. Noise is an irritation. Music is part of who I am. I recognize that "itch" when around a piano, guitar, even a harp or a drum playing "music of the people" -- any people. My fingers reach for chord patterns. My foot taps the cadence. I sit in church an remember the joy of being part of a music team at a Cursillo Retreat or Quiet Day, of making music with friends. Then someone offered me the opportunity to play again -- with new friends. He was even willing to find me an instrument to borrow. For several days my heart lifted, my step lightened. Days began to fill with color. Then it dawned on me. If just the promise of having an instrument in my hands, of making music again, could touch me so deeply, then it wasn't right to depend on a loan or the kindness of a relative stranger. It was important to make the investment myself, both financially and in a space for an instrument.

Yesterday I went shopping. I found a new guitar, not fancy, but adequate, made in China, for $300. OK. Cheaper than the sewing machine, and I managed that. Tried another store. These folks carry both new and used instruments. Their best offer was used, $109, with a soft case for an additional $10. Is this what I am supposed to do? If it is still there tomorrow, it's coming home with me. If it isn't, I will continue looking. The right instrument is out there, waiting for me to find it.

Thank you, Lord, for helping me -- again -- to realize what's important in my life. Thank you for giving me the courage to act on this one thing.

Look up. Give thanks. Don't forget to pray!

Sunday, May 3, 2009

My Dad Wakes Up -- at least for a little while

For several days in a row I arrived at the Care Facility where my father is resident only to find him asleep. Soundly asleep. Or so "somewhere else" that although he could call me by name, it was not clear whether he was talking to his daughter, his wife, or his mother. One day we sat in the Community Room while he watched TV. More correctly, he ooggled the woman riding her English Bull Dog around on a skateboard. The dog was on the skateboard. The woman was on the other end of the leash. My presence seemed pointless.

Then the nurses pointed out that on many afternoons he waits, sometimes impatiently, for my arrival. When I do not get there, they have to make up stories as to why I have not arrived.

Very occasionally there are days like yesterday. It was time for me to leave. I gave him my usual line. "Need to take your laundry home and put it in the washing machine."

"Does anyone help you with that?" he asked. "It's not fair to make you do it all."

Nobody else asked for the job. I volunteered. But it is awkward when you have only a solar dryer (aka clothesline) and the weather is wet and rainy.

Then, out of the clear blue sky, he asked, "Are you OK? Are you content with where you are?"

Not really, but you do what you must. He's confined in that nursing home, and it is unreasonable to think he will ever again live anywhere else. But he's not dead, either. Mother can no longer live safely by herself. Ian and Meda have their own busy lives built around each other. Likewise my children.

I would be happier if my mother were living in MY home. I would be happier if I had some of those security blankets we come to depend on -- my CD and video collection (did I ever think I would hear myself say that????), my guitar (a piano is unreasonable), my entire genealogical library ... half a house all by itself! My own kitchen, complete with microwave, crock pot, and a toaster/oven that is big enough to do more than make toast. Life without cockroaches. Space to sew, to be myself. My own desk

But those things are not happening. There will be a time and place for them once again. Now is not the time. I don't know whether Hawaii is the place.

Thank you, Daddy, for remembering to ask. Thank you for caring. I need to slide that simple question in amongst the memories of all the bastardly things you have done in your lifetime, to add some balance.

Don't forget to pray ....