Livin’ Large

A stranger’s furrowed brow, faltering voice, eyes locked on mine helped to make the message unvarnished. His partner silent, shaking her head in disbelief, a Sharpie style embellishment of clarity.

“Your place is beautiful, so many huge trees, private and beautiful, secluded but easy access, storage buildings… but your house! No dish washer, no garbage disposal, no walk-in closets, one TV and only one bathroom? Sorry, but this is just too primitive for us.”

Primitive? I live in primitive conditions?

Take another look.

My Halloween tree, craggy and huge, is home to an owl…night music for the velvet hours spend in the Sunday Room, a large sun room named by a three-year old just learning the days of the week. Sycamore shade keeps the room cool in summer protected in winter. Red-bud trees announce spring along with oak leaves that hold until those red-buds blossom.

A real barn, red and tin roofed, may now be emptied of lifetime collections but it is safe harbor to memories, to a karma of diverse talents and fierce determination to solve any problem.

We washed dishes together, he meticulous with scalding water and me with quick hands and ragged towels. What mechanical thing could replace that time?

Each room bustles with constant and sustaining memories. Family, children, their spouses, grandchildren, friends and neighbors push back against the walls of this house making a mansion where walk-in closets need not apply. Even that one bathroom proved to be a miracle of scheduling, taking turns, learning to G.I. shower during crowded holiday visits.

Among my Catholic friends, a particular practice involving St. Joseph is about 100% guaranteed success. When a home goes on the market, a statue of St. Joseph is buried in the yard to insure a quick sell. Several friends check weekly to see if I have handled that particular real estate boon, promising that it is more important than half empty rooms, bright lights, stashed family photos and a fresh cookie smell.

And still I resist, making little effort to acquire that stature of the saint, even if I knew where to buy it. The For Sale sign persists in advertising my primitive living conditions while I keep reliving volumes of sharing my life with Bob and our family–most definitely Living Large.


When Anybody Is Working….

When anybody works, everybody works: Mostly unspoken but never ignored rule from a 1940’s/1950’s family life. Probably Mom’s rule as Dad was great with a dedicated elbow on the fireplace, bourbon and ice in hand, and focused on a radio news report. Those ingrained rules of life shadow well into retirement insuring that down-time nags like a pounce of righteous lurking nearby.

Last evening as I shuffled the stack of bills, envelopes and stamps I heard the sound–the sound of approaching work. Everyone knows that desk work is not real work, the physical labor kind of work that fills Mom’s requirement. As ridiculous as it sounds, the rule is alive and nagging so I left the kitchen table to find physical work.

My neighbors are amazing…generous, kind hearts and often pretending that they are charging me the going rate for the help that is always just across the north field. Last night’s call to work was Steve’s uni-loader with clam shell coming to move several years of accumulated storm debris stacked in various wood piles. These piles have morphed into condos for invading wildlife: mice, snakes, ground hogs, raccoons and creatures unnamed. (I just spent close to $400.00 to have a mouse apartment removed from the engine compartment of my six month old car.) Wildlife is not my friend when it comes to renovation of unwelcome living space.

I digress.
Steve was working. It was early evening, long after his scheduled work day. What would have been really great would be to just watch like a pedestrian at a construction site. sigh. When anybody is working, everybody works. Right, Mom? So I did.

Granted Steve worked with finesse and I just smeared the streaks on the patio room windows. Granted he raked and cleaned as he went and I just wrapped the paint brush in a wet cloth rather than do a thorough cleaning. Granted, he amazingly improved the look of the place and I sort of added to this mornings to-do list.

Funny how that all works out. This place is greatly improved by Steve’s work. Mom’s rule obeyed and honored, though a bit on the shoddy side from my end. And not wanting to forget Dad’s contribution, the ice hitting the glass made the closing sound as I locked down for the night.

When The Going Gets Tough

When the going gets tough this stutter-stepper gets more than I deserve, a gentle push, a leg-up to a new awareness, giant steps of help most needed.

On Friday, Mark drove nine hours to get here so he could spend nine more hours driving Miss Daisy (moi) to look at real estate.  He knows the city, my budget, my temperament and my tangent jumping mind.  His notebook was filled with possibilities by zip code.  At 2:00, Saturday, he redid the nine-hour trip back to his home.    He actually helped me find two perfect houses:  the one I now live in and another about 15 minutes from this home.

My current  home is perfect in every way— except for long-term old person independence which will be an issue in the unforeseeable future.  The 15 minute trip takes me to a place where that old person independence would be stretched a bit, give me more years with less upkeep.

One of my major stutters is getting ready for an auction spelled with an ‘o’ as in overwhelming.  With his usual calm, Chris laid out a plan so perfect in simplicity, a reality check for me that  defined doable.

During all my self-imposed drama, I knew I could call neighbors Steve/Lisa and Dave/Laurie.  They would talk me down from uncertainty about 101 property and maintenance issues.

Bob’s voice lingers.  “We don’t need to bother people.  We can handle this together, by ourselves.”    Right–when there was a ‘we’.   I am inching closer to those phone calls.

On Wednesday, Chris gave me Cub Cadet Lesson 101 and I cut half of the 2.34 acres without damaging anything but my hearing.  Duh.  Ear plugs?  Ear muffs?  Next time.

Well, to tell the truth, my mowing might have been less than perfect, better described as ragged.   A very few days after I mowed, I decided on a short escape-from-reality-fake-errand, one of those times when getting away was mandatory.   Returning,  I drove up the long driveway.  A red mower flashed behind one of the sheds.  Wait a minute–my mower is yellow and I’m not on it.

Brian, another neighbor, handled the grass to crisp, clean perfection.  Speechless.  I was speechless.  He just did it.  Brian used his Sunday afternoon to mow this place in addition to his own multi-acres.

Indeed, with my family and my neighbors, this house is close to perfect.

I  want to be independent, to depend on resources that I muster, relying on myself by doing, or by compensating for the labor of others.  It is tough, but after a brief hiatus from reality, I am going again.  And this new chapter of going is definitely not because I am tough.  Rather it is because I am surrounded by walls of strength.

Chicks Flick and Shakin’ The ‘Shine

This isn’t funny but it is OK to laugh, especially if you are a Gentle Reader and you know that, hard as I try, I do lack the ‘make ’em laugh’ gene.

Not that I don’t love to laugh.  I do.  I still laugh at the kids’ Knock-Knock jokes.  I loved this past weekend with son Mark.  His stories are an adventure in listening and he is fearless in the telling.  We laughed so much…we laughed together and the weekend couldn’t have been more than a few hours long, ending much to soon.

I digress.  The Chicks Flick first.

Some time ago, my neighbors planned a short vacation which is now part of their memory.  As they were packing, Steve phoned asking if I needed any help.    How many people have neighbors who phone while packing offering help?  I owe them big-time, so I asked what I might do while they were gone.  The part I heard was “Feed the chickens.”  The part I missed  became my Chicks Flick Nightmare.

No laughing just yet.

First day and I skate the mud and patches of ice intent of doing my job–feed the chickens.  Coop noisy and easily  found by scent, but I couldn’t find the grain or the water source.

Failure.  Stress-o-meter off the charts.  Steve and Lisa will come home to a pen of death to say nothing of the fact that they will now have to buy eggs.

What to do?  Pace.  Wring hands.  Worry.  Pace again.  Still no grain and water.   The magic of cyber space, send an email.  Hours later, no answer.  OK.  I know it is their vacation, but dead chicks are reason enough to hunt them down via cell.

You might think I was imagining it, but I detected a hint of a smile, maybe even a tinge of laughter as in  “You did what?  You went there today?  Couldn’t find the grain and water?”

Totally nice.  Totally clear that I was only back up…that Steve’s  brother would avert poultry disaster, that I could stop replaying the  funeral scene, The Chicks Flick, over and over and over.  Next time I will listen very carefully.

Shaking’ The ‘Shine

Walking encyclopedia, once a toss away phrase, is dictionary-hard when it comes to Mark.  He just knows stuff, all kinds of stuff; heavy and light, history, behavioral awareness, business,  current events stuff, planes, trains and automobiles stuff.   He is also a man of purpose investing in his passions.  His stories reflect those passions  and most stories have laughter and learning.

So just in case you have need-to-know on this one, I will share my latest learning.

When handed the Mason jar, brown sheathed or not, leave the lid, give the jar a mighty shake.  See lots of small bubbles at the bottom of the ‘shine jar?  Take a pass.  See big bubbles rising to the top?  That moonshine is good to go, delicious, stilled to perfection and probably causing  minimal brain damage.

Laughter is the cure for what ails.


Choose To Believe

“This year is not last year….You are wiser in all the ways that times makes us wise…You are braver in all the ways that life compels us to be brave…believing in your own strength makes it real…”

Why, then, am I sobbing like a baby?  Why, then, was it so easy for me to panic?  Why, then, was I overwhelmed with my cowardice in the face of a problem?

The beautiful quote is part of one sent by Mary Morgan to her mom, my friend Patti.  When I first read the entire quote, I renewed my belief that I could do this thing–this new normal life thing that forces compliance.  I believed to the extent that I left the house, met my friend Karol for lunch.   Karol was her usual kind-hearted self and I felt  better, believed a little more.  Reads like a baby step, but it was parasailing without the sail.


A few hours later, the furnace malfunctioned again.  Thermostat stopped working and changing the battery was not the answer.   My son, several hours away and at night shift work, had offered to change the thermostat next week.  My nephew, on 3:00 to 11:00  duty as a police officer has offered to change the thermostat on his next day off, Monday.

So–was I wiser, braver or stronger than the last two times the furnace stopped working?  After changing the battery, did I calmly form a plan to get  through to Monday?  I did not.

I panicked big time.  I cried in the frustration of subzero temperature and visions of frozen pipes.   I found the number of the guy I had already paid twice to find the problem. He had the money and I still had the problem.  I erased that number  from the book and paced a bit longer.

Shall I phone neighbors Steve and Lisa?                                                                         Ask for advice?   Get the number of their furnace guy?  What if they think I want Steve to fix the problem?  What if they are busy?  What if they are eating dinner?  What if I become an old woman pest?  What if I cry over the phone?  What if Bob really is aware of what a mess I am without him?

What if….Another part of the beautiful quote is  “It’s so easy to focus on the ways that you let yourself down.”   I did that.  I focused on the mess that I am.  I let myself down.  Panicked.  Cried–sobbed actually, completely out of proportion to the problem, I gave into this awful sadness that seems to consume my real self, leaving this empty woman.   Or  is this woman who I am now not truly empty, but rather hobbled by false pride–the false pride that says, “I can do this alone”— when I absolutely know that I cannot do it alone.  How far down is that!

Picked up the phone and dialed.

Calm, kind and reassuring, Steve gave me the number of his furnace guy.  No problem.   Steve and Lisa were leaving for the evening so Steve gave me his own cell number in case I could not reach his friend, the furnace guy.

Not once did Steve say that I was being an old woman pest.  Not once did he hint that he was too busy for panic calls.  Not once did he let on that my voice betrayed my lack of wisdom or bravery or strength.  Not once did he remind me that just yesterday he had said I should phone if I needed anything, anything at all.   Not once.

When he asked if he could do anything, he meant it as a question to be answered.  Help sincerely offered.  Maybe, at this moment, I actually am a bit wiser.  I know I am a bit calmer.

Lord, how I wish that part of time that is supposed to be so healing could fast forward just a bit, push me into wiser, braver, stronger.

Disaster Averted

Sam calls it The Sunday Room, a glass enclosed add-on that has morphed into a family room with framed photos too numberous to arrange.  Books and toys everywhere, along with pillows, afghans and sewing projects.  Holiday icicle lights give a beautiful sense of being at peace here.   Nice room.

During the holidays the extended family was drifting into late afternoon when Bob jumped up and ran into the cold.  Smoke was rising from the shed, a combination garage, workshop and storage barn.

We untied a long piece of hose stiff with cold, and attached it to the outside hydrant which proved to be temporarily frozen.  Running to the stall side overhang, I saw the flames covering the big tractor.  Bob called to Kaiya who quickly dialed 9-1-1.  I began ripping away the burning canvas cover and the upholstered tractor seat while Bob worked to free the water flow.  Within a very short time, the icy water extinguished the flames.  Building, vehicles and a 70 year collection of tools and treasures escaped.  Bob and Dan continued to check for sparks and/or hot spots that might flame again.

It was too late to cancel the fire truck and those dedicated fire persons came ready to handle our problem.  The Chief was  assessing the degree of control established.  To my embarrassment, I remember asking this very capable fireman why he was wearing a tee-shirt when I had turned blue with cold.  We laughed and exchanged some words about substitute grandmother taking care of business.

Concerned neighbors and family members quickly gathered to make certain everything was  OK.   Quick hugs, pats on the back and reassurances brought heartbeats and shallow breathing back to normal.

And it was over.  A defective engine heater had malfunctioned.  Had we been gathered in the living room sitting around the tree ….sharing a meal in the dining area…had Bob not been facing the shed…had the winds blown the  smoke westward…who knows the results of those circumstances.  This time,  disaster averted.

Wonder why it is so difficult to move the memory out of front and center?