Grandpa’s Day

I spent the weekend with my family, on behalf of the only father I have known most of my life, my grandpa. My grandparents, especially my Grandpa George, were the bedrock of our family. All of us felt safe just knowing they were there. I remember when, in their 80s, Grandma became really ill for the first time. I had that sinking feeling that I only later identified as feeling that suddenly, we were really the adults. It felt like there was no longer an older generation to count on if disaster struck. I’ve been completely proven wrong about that, by the way. My mom has shown great strength and togetherness in dealing with their situation (not to mention helping me through and after my divorce). I think I didn’t give her enough credit; kids seldom do.

Grandpa has had a terrible time adjusting to this new reality of life. He doesn’t want to be the one taken care of, or have any of his bills paid by anyone else (even with his own money), or driven anywhere (though he admits it’s nice when it happens). As much as we’d like to give back, we really haven’t had a chance until now. Mom and her brother George found them a really nice place to live and have gone through untold amounts of work to get this to happen. My grandparents have been living in their home for over 60 years. You can only imagine how much stuff there was to sort through and downsize to a 2-bedroom apartment.

It was very traumatic for them, and incredible amounts of work for Mom and her husband Terry, who’s been a trouper, hauling stuff to the dump by the truckloads and figuring out how to give things away. The Universe gave us two great real estate agents and a wonderful family who want to move in, who are all so excited about the space and the big yard that they’ve won over our grandparents and made them feel better about moving out.

So, this was the weekend of the big move – only to have my Grandmother come down with one of her periodic asthma attacks and be rushed to the hospital. The movers were moving anyway, stuff needed to be unpacked and made ready for them when they got back, the dog taken care of, the old house cleaned, etc. So off I went to do my small part of unpacking the apartment while my Mom and her brother George dealt with the old house and moving my grandparents when they were ready.

I can’t help thinking what a strange Father’s Day this must be for my Grandpa. On the one hand, his whole family is around him. On the other hand, things are in chaos, he no longer has his own house to come home to, and Grandma is still recovering. And we’re all busy trying to give them all the new instructions for the place they’re living, at a time when it’s hard for them to remember anything.

On the good side, the place is really nice – on that everyone agrees. Their way-too-large-for-the-rules but incredibly nice and well-behaved dog is busy ingratiating himself in the hearts of every staffer in the place, which will help them when the inevitable emergencies happen. And there was a Father’s Day barbecue that we all got to go to, and discovered that the food is really good, and the people who live in this center are very lively and friendly. Many of them came right up and introduced themselves, and lots of people knew they were moving in. There was a good energy there, which I hope they can feel.

We’re all glad they’re so close – 5 minutes from my Mom and an hour from me – far better than the 2-hr drives each way we were dealing with before. And they have so much more support there than just us. I hope they feel a sense of relief mingled with the anxiety and disorder of change. From this point on, the best thing we can do is spend time with them there – something I’m determined to fit into my schedule. It’s the least I can do, and I’ve not been very good about it since I moved to Puyallup. Time to be a better grand-daughter to the grandparents that have been there all their lives for me.

My Dad- a memorial, through a glass darkly

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This Memorial Day, I’d like to honor my Dad. I didn’t know him well – his time in Korea at the DMZ changed him forever, and it was difficult for him to maintain a normal civilian life. It’s likely he became involved in drugs in the Army, and when I was quite young, became an alcoholic and one night, left my Mom with two small children, and attempted suicide. Later in his life he did his best with marriage and family life again, but never succeeded for long.

Eventually, he disappeared, about the time I was 14. We think he was living in the Southwest somewhere, California or Las Vegas, involved in shady deals just to survive. He was a great salesman, very charismatic… but by the time I was a teen, somewhat delusional. At the time, I really didn’t understand it fully, though I dreamed of his return like any young girl.

We never did find out what happened to him. Like others in the family, I went through a period where I wanted to know, intensely. But his parents and sisters before me, and my Mom and Grandfather had already tried, using private investigators and every other means they could think of. It was known that he had various identities, and that made it harder. We can only assume he is no longer living, a victim of alcohol or life on the street.

I understand him better now – in many ways I wish I could sit down and talk with my father of the past, and assure him that I never judged him, that I understand. I hope wherever he is, he knows I love him. I post this today for all those whose lives and families have become irrevocably altered by their time in the services, in ways that no-one ever talks about.

Through the travail of the ages
Midst the pomp and toil of war
Have I fought and strove and perished
Countless times upon this star.

I have sinned and I have suffered
Played the hero and the knave
Fought for belly, shame or country
And for each have found a grave.

So as through a glass and darkly
The age long strife I see
Where I fought in many guises,
Many names — but always me.

So forever in the future
Shall I battle as of yore,
Dying to be born a fighter
But to die again once more.

– General George Patton, spoken by the Eternal Soldier

Fundamental goodness

Now and then I make it my business to try to find the good in things – or people – that I usually don’t agree with or appreciate. Like searching for good news in the doom and gloom media… or noticing the one area in which I can really appreciate President Bush’s ideas (his views on immigration reform).

The world is complex, and the more we objectify “the other”, the more we get ourselves into situations like partisan bickering, or in its ultimate expression, sectarian wars. But people, and even institutions, don’t really fit our rigid views of them, and we forget this at our peril.

So… this week it’s Christian fundamentalists. Not a group I usually have much in common with, being the agnostic liberal that I am. But here are some things I’ve seen in the news lately that I find heartening and truly in line with the Christian values I was taught as a child:

Foster care – Lately, there’s been a movement among fundamentalists to adopt and/or foster more children. All I can say is Hallelujah. There are so many kids in this world that need parents, it has always struck me as odd and even a little selfish to bring more into the world without taking care of the ones we have. Especially for those who don’t believe in birth control, there is a collective responsibility on all of our parts to take care of these children. I worry that the world has too many children to be sustainable (all the more reason to adopt!), which leads directly into the second topic…

Environment – There is an increasingly strong contingent of fundamentalists who believe that protecting and preserving the earth is man’s God-given responsibility. I couldn’t agree more – it doesn’t matter to me if you believe God created the Earth in seven days or if it was formed over millenia after the Big Bang. It IS our responsibility to care for the Earth, as well as the plant, animal, and human populations that live on it, and all that wish to do so are welcome in my heart.

And lastly, a bit of humor, seen on a church sign in my neighborhood:

“What did Noah do with all the woodpeckers??”

Reaching the end of life with grace

More photos from Hawaii… this is my friend Rick and his aunt Dorothy, 99 years old and much of the reason we were in Hawaii. Rick is managing her affairs as she approaches the end of her life, and there is a lot to do just now.

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Aside from all that paperwork and occasional trips to the beach, maybe one of the most interesting parts of the trip was our talks with Dorothy. She’s in assisted living now, a really nice place on the windward side of Oahu, basically a little house with only eight residents, looks brand-new with live-in care. She’s lost much of her short-term memory and really isn’t sure how she got there, though she can reason it out – she hasn’t lost any of her smarts or personality.

She was really glad to see us, Rick especially, as she always seems to remember who he is. Mostly she was just happy to have someone to ask questions of and get straight answers, even if she couldn’t always remember the answers from one conversation to the next – although it may not be through conventional memory, I had the strong feeling that on some level, she was gaining a sense of calm from the discussion. We spent most of the first visit explaining how she got there and why she was there, what was happening to her condo in Honolulu, what her physical and mental health were like, and where she would be living from then on.

On the second visit, she seemed to have progressed from those issues to end-of-life issues. She told us many times that she didn’t expect to be here long, and she was ready to go. When Rick asked her how she felt about that, she said it felt natural, that she didn’t feel any anxiety or fear about it. Her main concern was being buried on the family farm in Oregon, together with the rest of the family and with her family name displayed. She enjoyed being out in nature and in the sun, as one of the few things now that were really worth spending time doing. Both of us were struck by how important this was, as she lives in the moment now, to make sure that as many of her moments that are left are spent outside enjoying nature and beautiful surroundings.

She knows her life is not what it used to be and doesn’t see much purpose in remaining, but it seems she’s taking that in stride – since it is what it is, she’s ready to accept it. There was a grace and naturalness to her thoughts that I appreciated. I hope very much that I can be of that calm and natural state of mind when I approach the end of my life, with grace and acceptance. I hope it comes easily to her, quietly in her sleep, when she chooses to move on. There’s a lot to admire about this woman’s life, not least exemplified by its ending.

In praise of macaroni and cheese

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I felt moved to write about macaroni and cheese today, for no apparent reason :) Maybe I’m just craving it, which as you’ll read, is not unusual. Once upon a time in our childhood, my brother and I loved to play imaginative games (actually, every kind of game – and we still do). I remember the day we were trying to imagine weird things like, if we could only eat one kind of food for the rest of our lives, what would it be? Oddly enough, we both had the same answer – macaroni & cheese!

When my Mom would go out for New Year’s Eve, she would let us stay up and watch movies until she got home, and have as much of one kind of food as we wanted. You’d think we’d pick chocolate, or popcorn, or something like that. Noooo – macaroni & cheese! (I think we did have popcorn one year – but it wasn’t as good). Mac & cheese has a kind of iconic status in my life, as many times in later years I actually did have to live on it.

Later I had moved out and was living with my boyfriend in high school. We were really, really broke, having something like $5 left over after paying rent and utilities for the month. We used to buy macaroni & cheese in bulk and just eat that – back then you could get 5 boxes for a dollar, and I swear there was more in a box – seems like boxes now are pretty skimpy. He would eat one box for dinner at night and I’d eat at school, and that’s the way it was.

Then I got to college and it was pretty much the same deal. I just about lived on mac & cheese and I never got tired of it. The only problem was affording the milk and butter to make it with. We quickly determined you could make it with milk and not butter – but not the other way around (ewww). I also made a very weird version in college which was mac & cheese mixed with a can of corned beef hash, and fried. Strange and looked really, well, never mind – but tasted good and was very filling. Talk about broke college food!

peacepasta.jpg Finally I emerged from poor studenthood, and amazingly enough, I still love it. Now I might make it with chopped fresh tomatoes and basil, with several kinds of freshly grated cheese and a bit of sour cream for the sauce.

Though it’s truly hard to resist the bright orange Kraft variety, childhood memories and all. Still there are other boxed choices for the discriminating diner-in-a-hurry, including new white cheddar and alfredo varieties, Safeway O (organic) versions that look and taste just like Kraft but are cheaper and better for you and the environment, and Annie’s organic varieties, of which there is even a whole grain pasta version now – not to mention the ever-wonderful psychedelic peace pasta :)

Such riches! The ultimate comfort food – I believe I’ll be eating macaroni & cheese ’til the end of my days :)