A to Z Challenge: Chance

He had ridden his bike for 20 minutes in the sweltering heat so his dark skin was wet with tiny droplets, which he quickly dispatched with the bottom of his T-shirt.

“How ya doin?” he said with an enthusiasm she could hardly imagine him having. She noticed he was sniffing in the direction of the kitchen. “Cookin’ up somethin good tonight?”

He was a pretty good cook himself, an expert actually, at the kind of food he liked best. When he was given free reign in the kitchen there was usually a lot of tasty fried chicken, and a lot of greasy pans to wash.

But he wasn’t there for the kitchen. The piano was where he was headed. He slid to the middle of the bench and started chording and doing small riffs with a rhythm right out of a black church choir. That’s where he had taken a job, at the St. Stephen’s African Methodist Episcopal Church. Too many names to even fit on the sign.

He had started experimenting with the keyboard after coming to a small hymn sing in the park near his home. His name was Chance, and that’s what she had offered him, a chance to learn. He was short for his 13 years of growing, and there was one hand that hadn’t grown normal fingers, not that it kept him from learning the chords he was taught. He loved playing on the black keys – his fingers had no trouble landing on those.

“You going to teach me to read notes today. We got to work on that. They want me to be able to play printed music and I’m fakin’ it now.”

He could listen to a tune and play it accurately after one go. With soul. But he wasn’t familiar with a lot of church music and had to hear it played first. That’s what she did for him. “Wish I could do like that Miss Allie. Let me hear that verse part again.” But no matter what the lesson was, he would end up playing his favorites, quickly tiring of practicing notes on lines and spaces.

He would make it look so easy, going up and down the keyboard with chord progressions that were not the usual, but so compelling. She had told him that the piano was in the percussion family of instruments – hammers hitting strings inside a box – but his brand of percussion was foot on the pedal. It felt like the room was moving, and more than once she had to remind him to go easy. He had broken the inner workings of the sustain pedal once already.

He sang too. Quite well.

It was the beginning of a long acquaintance that branched out into lots more than music. Not all of it was easy or pleasant, but his optimism and bravado rarely failed him. Well, there was that one time…

A to Z Challenge: Bruce

Character sketches that are fictional but based on real characters, like us.

Probably in his 50’s, reasonably fit and with greying hair and beard that would be classified as distinguished, there was something unconventional about him that made him attractive, at least to women and children. It was probably that he didn’t mind talking to them, and didn’t mind topics of conversation that women and children might actually find interesting. He had men friends too, of course, but men were often busy during the day and Bruce, well… I’m not sure that he had a busy time.

I think he envisioned himself as a gentleman farmer, with ambitious ideas of working his little acreage into a productive garden, with fields of hay and grain to support his herd of milk cows, several horses, and a pig or two. But in reality he was not a particularly wise farmer. It was his good luck to have married a woman who doubled as a farmhand. He dreamed, she did.

A gentleman farmer always has other, more important pursuits however, and Bruce’s pursuit was writing. I always attributed his interest in people to his need for characters to put in novels. His writing was also how I came into the picture – that, and living on the adjacent farm. We shared a fence.

Bruce was a friendly neighbor. His daughters were good babysitters too, and his wife was nice enough to let me come over and buy fresh milk. I wasn’t particularly happy when he wanted to keep his angry bull at our farm. It was in the pasture in front of our house where it terrorized me and the children. On the other hand, he did occasionally drive his horse and wagon over and offer us rides, which we thought was pretty cool. The relationship felt reciprocal.

One day Bruce was sitting in my kitchen, in his farmer outfit of bib overalls and flannel shirt, discussing a manuscript he was working on. By the way, he wanted to know, would I mind doing some proofreading for him? I didn’t mind at all, in spite of the fact that I was raising two small children and working shifts at the local hospital. He was a real writer. He had a manuscript, whereas I was only wishing I had one. Being a proofreader for Bruce would be one step closer to the world of writing. At the very least I would be keeping my grammar skills current.

His manuscript was not finished, but more of a work in progress, and Bruce began inviting me over to the farm to help him work on the next chapters. He had his writer’s loft, accessible only by ladder, a place of pride complete with typewriter, his writing library and reference books, and a bed where he evidently got all his best ideas for plots. His description of it had the same flavor of excitement that my younger brothers used when describing their treehouses or forts in the hayloft. It was his hideaway, where he went when his wife was out milking the cows or weeding the garden.

“I’ve got some ideas for this chapter. Come and see what you think.” he would say. Right, I thought. Your kids are in school, your wife has taken a second job to support the farm, and you want me to join you in your hideout… No, just not going to happen, in the interest of maintaining good neighborly relationships. Mind you, Bruce would have been horrified to know I had second thoughts about joining him to work on the next twist in his novel, and I would have been embarrassed telling him. There was just a faint creepiness about the whole thing.

And as it turned out, I never had to tell him. But that’s another story.

These writing exercises are part of the April A to Z Blogging Challenge. Can I write a post for every day of the month except Sundays? I don’t know, but this is my 10th year (kind of a special landmark), so I have to give it a try.

A to Z Challenge: A for Alice

Character sketches that are fictional but based on real characters, like us.

She knew she tended to overthink things. What a contrast now that she had trouble thinking at all. She watched the cat eat leaves off her favorite house plant, again. She wasn’t jumping up and chasing it away anymore. It hadn’t died yet and was possibly getting some nutrient it needed. Have to like a proactive cat.

And then there was her husband, who lay nearly comatose 90% of the time, making no decisions, proactive or otherwise. She had been deciding everything for him for the last four months since he had come home from the hospital and into Hospice care, in their living room. They weren’t all hard decisions. Medication schedules, toileting, when to give tube feedings – all that could be evaluated and changed if it needed to be and she had practice making those decision for previous patients. Sometimes the combined weight of them did make a difference in her energy level or kept her from sleeping well at night. But they were, after all, the easier things to decide.

What she struggled with was the fact that they had decided, after the stroke, to intervene. By “they”, she meant “he”, because it was still his choice. Ever since his earlier diagnosis of Lewy Body dementia, he had been waiting for God to heal him. He didn’t want to take himself out of the game before God got around to it. She was pretty sure he had made the decisions for the ventilator, the feeding tube, and rehab, even though it had already begun to feel like she was making them.

But now, it was pretty clear that decisions were on her. She was deciding to take really good care of him, and thereby prolonging considerable misery. The misery was more hers than his. Watching his decline was not fun, but he seemed unaware of his condition. Just that morning she had been orienting him to where he was, where he had been and how long he had been ill.

“Can I spit on the ground?” he asked.

“You better not because we’re in the house. You don’t want to spit on the floor.”

“But I can open the car door and spit on the ground, can’t I?”

“Yes, if we were ever in the car. But that hasn’t been happening for months. The only way you’ve gone anywhere lately is by ambulance. We stay home all the time now. You haven’t been in the car for nearly a year.”

“What a boring lifestyle”, he said in his weak, barely intelligible voice. He was grinning and looking at her for approval, like he had done all their married life. This time, instead of rolling her eyes, she laughed with him and wondered if it would be the last time he tried to tell her a joke.

She believed there was a kind way to explain to him that he might actually be dying. So far, her attempts had not been successful.

There were times when she felt she wasn’t taking good care of him too. She would get lost in a jigsaw puzzle and forget his feeding time. She would turn down the noise in the monitor in order to get another hour of much needed sleep. All those guilt producing moments. But, she was sensible enough to know that she had to take care of herself in order to take care of him. Everybody told her that, and it helped to hear it from others, even though they didn’t really know how that worked out.

Was she depressed? Not really. Sad, for sure, and tired. Tired enough to pray that it be over soon. And even though she had all kinds of questions about God’s timing, she was, ultimately, content with him calling the shots.

Winter Talks Back

Rage, winter, all you want. The sun is on its way out.

You don’t have to be a person to have a personality. No, you don’t.

Winter saw me buying seeds at Walmart this week and decided to throw a fit. I was awake numerous times last night, listening to the wind howling outside, coming down the fireplace chimney. Sure enough, this morning there was new snow, and drifts everywhere. Window screens were flocked with wind driven whiteness. Hungry birds and squirrels were trying to find the sunflower seeds they knew were there yesterday. It would be another day of shoveling and plowing in our community.

I got this far before the handle on the shovel broke.

I feel sorry for the geese I’ve seen flying around, looking for nesting places in the marsh. I’m a little sorry I had the car washed this week. I’d like to see green out the windows instead of white. But I am not at all dismayed by this fury. I know that the fight often intensifies because someone or something knows it’s going to lose.

Apparently winter also knows its days are numbered and wants to get in as many punches as possible before wandering off to a different hemisphere. I’m hopeful that nature is giving us a metaphor for the craziness in our world – it could be. The natural world is God’s spokesman and his creation. He came up with the plan for seasons and they’ve been happening ever since, in nature and in the history of man.

“Blessed be the name of God, forever and ever.
He knows all, does all:
He changes the seasons and guides history,
He raises up kings and also brings them down, he provides both intelligence and discernment,
He opens up the depths, tells secrets, sees in the dark – light spills out of him.”

Daniel chapter 2, The Holy Bible

So today, I am walking in snow, but also planting some seeds and putting the pots in a south facing window. I intend to wait winter out, and I think I’ll win.

Every step brings us closer to spring.

April 2023 Theme Reveal

I’ve missed the deadline for the official April Blogging Challenge theme reveal but the wonderful thing is, this is my blog and I can write what I want, official or not. Hahaha…

I have about a week to decide if I want to add the stress of a blogging challenge to my caregiving life. For years I’ve used this April A to Z Challenge as a way to inspire and stir up my will to write and share my writing. It’s a lot of work to write something worthwhile for 26 posts in one month. Having a theme sometimes makes it easier and I’ve been hunting for a theme.

How hard would it be to work on my ability to introduce interesting characters to readers? My thought is that I would start with 26 of the interesting people I’ve known, change their names of course, and add a few disguising details. I would end up with a fictional character based on reality. I’m not going to write a book so there will be no plot, yet. These would be character sketches.

The more I read, the more obvious it is to me that developing a believable character that readers like and identify with, or at least find intriguing, is vital to a good story. I don’t know if I’m good at that, but I would like to be. My favorite type of reading material is historical fiction. I want to learn while I’m reading but I need a plot to follow, some excitement, some wonder, problems, questions to be answered. All that requires people. I’ve already chosen my people.

And the reason I’m writing about it in advance is, well… you might think you’re one of the people. You might recognize yourself or someone you know, even though the characteristics don’t exactly match. If that should happen, remember it’s not you. It’s a fictional character and the parts you don’t like about him or her, well, those are the parts I made up. You are perfectly wonderful, as am I, wonderful and probably boring.

And even though I am making a plan, April may come and go without the plan being realized. But I do like the idea, just sayin’…

Reflections on the Death of an Unusual Friend

I was sitting by myself, in a Cracker Barrel restaurant, on Thanksgiving. My favorite family holiday was anything but that in 2011. I was having dinner and writing my first post on this blog. I was in Atlanta, on the job as a private duty nurse for my client who was a quadriplegic. It was the most miserable job I had ever taken, and writing out my misery was comforting.

Scottie was an unforgettable client. She had a diving accident in her early 20’s that ended her career as a flight attendant and changed her life drastically. In fact it changed many lives, because she went through the years having a marked effect upon her family and all her caregivers and friends. Being so vulnerable and helpless was not easy for Mary Scott Stoddard, or Scottie, as we all called her.

I found Scottie’s ad on Craig’s List of all places. I was needing a job to help my daughter Julia through veterinary school and was having trouble finding one. Even though I’d taken a refresher course, the hospital had passed me over and hired new grads instead of older nurses, like me. I was pretty desperate to get something so I went to the interview even though the salary was low, even though she was really wanting an LPN, even though I would have to drive out to Longboat Key to work.

It turned out that she was glad to hire me. She was in the habit of losing nurses, about one a month, and had gone through lots of them. Word was out there about how difficult an employer she was. The nurse who oriented me was an LPN, working on her BSN, and she hardly ever got a day off and even did some nights because there was no one else. It was a pattern I came to expect over the next six years as I became the senior employee who oriented new people.

I could go on at length about what made Scottie a difficult employer, and I did do a lot of venting in my writing. But I have since spent more time being grateful for the unique experience I had in her employ. Where else would my job description have included trapping raccoons, taking carriage driving lessons, and traveling to Nova Scotia? Our many trips to Atlanta and north Georgia were filled with interesting stops and people. We spent time at Bluegrass festivals and the North Georgia fair. We stopped for fresh peaches in the early summer and apples in the fall. She loved music, so we went to concerts. She loved the inter coastal waterway so we went out in her pontoon boat. She shared her Longboat Key cottage with me when I had family come to visit.

Scottie and I had adventures. Getting a quadriplegic with tons of luggage, two wheelchairs and a Hoyer lift on a commercial airline flight was uniquely stressful. Stopping the van on the side of the road to handle a medical emergency with her was uniquely stressful. Spending nights during hurricanes in her home, with water lapping the floorboards beneath my bed was uniquely stressful. The adrenalin rush of unique stress is about the same as the rush during excitement, and the years have blurred the line. I now think of those times as having been exciting.

I think Scottie got used to me praying for her, especially during those times of crisis when we didn’t know what to do. She even began to ask for it, and to do her own praying. And I think she would say that we got a lot of our prayers answered. Scottie died a couple of weeks ago, at her home, on a ventilator, feeding tube and IV’s. I’m sure it wasn’t an easy ending but she was ready to stop suffering.

Today, I know that the difficult years with Scottie provided me with two things. They gave me income to help a daughter through veterinary school, which was the goal at the time. But they also prepared me for the present time with my husband. I would not have had the experience and the confidence to bring him home, had it not been for the things I learned caring for Scottie. His physical care is almost the same as hers was. I could not have foreseen that part, but I believe that God knew and was even then putting things in place to help us through this difficult time.

Thank you God. And thank you Scottie. May you rest in God’s peace.

A Little Confusion

Lately I have had reason to visit some old blog posts and update them. Don’t be confused! I have not just been to Seattle. I haven’t been neglecting my vitamins. Those posts were from 2011.

WordPress has also made a big change and I am not seeing the same posting activity that you are seeing. I didn’t know those posts appeared again as if I had just written them.

I’ll get it figured out in time. I’ve enjoyed reading about my past though, and maybe you will too. I will try to identify the old ones so you know what you’re reading. Just sayin’, don’t be confused.

Thinking Kindly about Winter

Sometimes when you pay attention to something it becomes satisfied and goes away…

The snow blower (and my brother) have had more than enough to do this winter.

I was sitting with Mom this morning in our usual places – looking out the window at our small street. My brother was out blowing away the latest snowfall, even as it continued to fall. Suddenly huge clumps of the stuff came flying through the air and hit the side of the house. But most of it landed in the yard where it has been accumulating all winter. The lilac bush that is only slightly shorter than I am is buried once again.

Yesterday I thought it would be fun to play in the snow for a change. Mom has been pointing out how the snow is so high in the yard that she no longer can see which cars are coming and going. She takes her job of monitoring our neighborhood seriously and the snow was cramping her style. I decided to shave off a foot or two of the bank in front of her window, so she could see better.

The view down the street, with no lilac bush in sight.

I was surprised to be able to walk on top of the huge drifts without sinking in. There have been so many layers of ice in between snowfalls that I was supported wherever I walked. It is so strange to be standing on top of a bush that you know is probably at least four feet tall. I carefully picked chunks of snow from around the tender branches and twigs of the bush until the top of it was exposed.

And then last night’s snowfall…

Our furnace has gone out twice in the last two weeks. Since we have a boiler that heats the cement slab floor, it takes a while for it to cool down (and a while for it to heat up again). It is a beautiful way to have even temperature and nice warm floors. I don’t usually notice something is wrong until it gets down to 67 degrees inside. I pulled out the small space heaters from storage and tried to keep the husband comfortable while my brother called the repair man. After a good cleaning, the boiler was back in operation and a day later all was normal.

A week later it happened again. I couldn’t believe it – so soon after having been fixed. This time I was surprised to hear the repair guy up on the roof, shoveling snow. The exhaust stack, which is about two feet tall, had been buried by a huge drift. Uncovering it fixed the problem. Thank you winter.

So it is still definitely winter in March, as well as January and February, well… and December, and probably November. And possibly April. Yeah.

To live up here in northern Wisconsin, it is best to patiently make peace with winter, and even give it a little attention. As long as we aren’t in danger of freezing, or having to drive on ice, it can be exciting to see how extreme conditions can get.

This has been a very snowy winter, one in which I have been more restricted to being indoors, have skied less, have been less social. On the somewhat brighter side, daylight savings ends next week and we will have longer afternoon light again. I will also have one more full moon this week and one more chance for a moonlight ski. There’s always something to look forward to. (Like winter being over… shhhh, don’t tell it.)

Layers upon layers

The World of “Me Too”

Today I was challenged. What if there is one person who needs to hear my specific story in order to survive? Some stories are harder to tell than others, but that is a really good reason to tell them anyway.

The devil never tires of taking something good and twisting it to bring evil on humanity. Take sex, for instance.

Growing up, from time to time, I would hear stories of abuse, rape, family incest. I didn’t know anyone personally who claimed to be a victim because, well, me and my friends, we were normal kids, with normal families. Stories of sexual trauma were not normal.

To demonstrate what happens in the mind of a child who is abused and molested I will tell you my story.

I grew up as the eldest child of very young parents. Farming was my Dad’s profession, and I loved our farm life. I loved being around animals, having kittens to tame, and being in the barn at milking time. But it was a struggle for my Dad to earn a living on the farm and he sometimes had to hire help.

Danny was our hired man when I was around five years old. He was handsome and personable and paid attention to me. I didn’t know he was a parolee – that was how Dad was able to afford him. He began to pay attention to me, to joke and talk to me while he was working. I enjoyed the attention. I didn’t begin to feel uncomfortable around him until he started setting me on his lap and feeling around under my clothing. I had no knowledge of sex at that age but even to me, that did not seem right. And yet, he was there in the places that I loved to play and hang out.

I remember the day it all came to a head. He had suggested that we play farm and do what animals did. I didn’t know how to say no to a grown up. I also didn’t know what animals did, but it sounded dangerous to me. I kept walking around the granary trying to keep away from him. I knew that animals were usually hard to catch and that was how I intended to play the game.

My anxiety grew until I finally got out the door and ran to my Dad. He was standing at the farm gas pump, gassing up the tractor and I think I recall grabbing his leg and holding on. I don’t remember what I told him but it must have been sufficient for him to get the picture. The only other memory I have of that day is seeing a patrol car with lights flashing in our yard by the barn, from the safety of the house. There was no more Danny to worry about, and my world was safe once more. No words were ever spoken of this in my hearing. It became as though it had never happened. It was an incident.

Many years later while listening to another person’s story, and still feeling that it only happened to other people, the memory flashed into focus. It was a shock to realize that I had indeed been molested as a child. Having never processed it (and at four or five years old I’m not sure I could have processed it) I needed to know more. Who else had any memory of what had happened? Mom and Dad only knew their part of the incident and it was then that I found out about Danny being on parole. He should never have been around children.

I decided that the part of the story that I would make important, was the fact that I was believed and rescued, without hesitation. The rest of my childhood was happy. I was in church regularly with my family, taught about God’s love and made a decision to believe and follow Jesus at camp one year. I eventually went to a church university where I met my husband. We raised our family of two girls and were actively serving the Lord at every opportunity.

But lest you minimize the importance of one sexual incident, especially when it is the first exposure to sexual feelings, I will tell you that there was damage done. From that point on through the rest of my life the feelings of anxiety, confusion and dread have been linked with the feeling of sexual arousal. It was not that it was difficult to have a normal sexual relationship with my husband – I realized there was no need for negative feelings with him. The evil twist was that I had to imagine situations of anxiety, dread, being used, and coercion in order to be aroused. These imaginations were wrong and I knew that, but they were exciting and almost necessary in order to perform.

What had been stolen from me was the goodness and freedom of sex with a loving, committed partner. I see this same sad thing happening in our culture today. Stories of sexual abuse and violence are mainstream entertainment. Many in our culture, men and women, clamour “me too” at the same time as they consume a steady diet of literature and media that wallows in sexual perversion and objectification of individuals. It would be very hard for a young person to escape being influenced by this contamination of what God intended to be a pure and holy relationship. It is sad, and needs to be redeemed. It’s one more example of why we need saving. Yes, we do.

Two Hours of Normalcy (?)

I have heard that normal people often go to coffee shops to sit and connect with the world over unsecured internet and drink expensive coffee. I needed to try this during my two hours of freedom today.

My attempt at a normal outing.

For some reason I have a hard time thinking of things to do when my Hospice volunteer comes for her weekly visit with Dennis. I haven’t yet found the friends who are free during work hours to do things with so end up going to Walmart for groceries and prescriptions and whatever excitement Walmart provides. I need to do better. I would like to make Tuesday free time a treat, a time to do some “normal people” stuff and have fun. Spend money someplace other than Walmart.

There is one stand alone coffee shop in our small town, and I admit I was a little worried when I got to the parking lot. It was parked up pretty good. I knew I was taking a chance to do this on Birkie week, when thousands of skiers show up to do this ridiculously long cross country ski event. But it is early enough in the week and town is still in the preparatory stage. The coffee shop had empty tables and I am sitting at one, drinking my medium Chai and having a scone, and writing, of course.

I’m enjoying watching the activity outside as the street is getting marked with “no parking” signs. The temporary bridge has already been erected over the main highway where the skiers will cross over and head up Main Street for the finish line. It is such a fun winter event – one of several claims to fame that our town enjoys. Winter storm Olive is due to make it even more interesting this year. I would love to be volunteering at the food tent as in other years, but I’m also glad to be staying home. Staying home is what I have to do and being content with what I have to do is my main winter goal.

Being content is a worthy pursuit. It takes a little practice but so do most good things. I will not always be in this season of having my husband to care for. Being content leaves me free to look around, enjoy this moment, really notice people and things around me. I enjoy sitting and not wanting to be anywhere else. I’m looking at the people going in and out of the shop and guessing whether they will be skiing the long race or not. I’m aiming prayers at them, hoping their experience will be safe. I’m praying that as they ski through this beautiful northland they will sense God and wonder at his creation.

The scone is gone. The Chai was good. I found four hundred seventy-five words to express how it feels to be normal today.

I appreciate multi-function pine trees that can morph from Christmas to Valentines and on to St. Patrick’s Day. Kudos to Backroads for not being wasteful.