Posts Tagged ‘passages’

The day audibly begins at seven am, nearly every day. I hear a greeting, or a bump on the floor above my downstairs apartment, and know that one or both of the dear people upstairs are ready for the routine that puts them above and beyond any married people I have ever known personally.

The sounds morph into a stair creaks, and two sets of footsteps that stop for the next half hour. I know where they stop. It is at the double recliner love-seat that is well named. My daughter and her husband are sitting there in bathrobes with their bare feet up and the morning paper out. If the TV is on, I don’t hear it.

What I do hear is two voices. TALKING TO ONE ANOTHER! Often there is just a comfortable burble of sound, intermittent, and reciprocal. Sometimes, like this morning, there is an outburst– I don’t hear the words. It sounds heartfelt, but I can’t really tell the nature of the passion… excitement, assertiveness, or consternation? Can’t tell.

What I do know is that these people spend the first half hour of each morning at a regular meeting with coffee, newspaper, and each other. They share the news. They offer their opinions. They don’t always agree. But they always talk.

My daughter and her husband have been married for 33 years. They are dynamic, opinionated people with an inbuilt portion of “feist” that is not boring, and is sometimes volatile. They have powered through serious differences of opinion, and some big weather-changes. My own marriage did not survive such stresses, but theirs has.

These two are evidence that love is an action verb.

Living with relatives is a dicey matter sometimes. And I am mindful of the stresses to my own marriage caused by the in-house residency of my own mother in years past. No doubt my former husband suffered somewhat silently. We didn’t talk to each other every day at seven. Sometimes we didn’t talk to each other at all…other than in passing. We lasted 20 rather passive-aggressive years.

Neither of us found success in remarriage. We never learned how to “love”, v. trans. Not at least the talking back and forth kind of love.

Today there was an outburst…just about fifteen minutes ago. Footsteps went rather loudly up the stairs at 7:30 am…to the shower. As usual.

Outbursts are not terminal here, with them. They are fearless about communication of nearly any sort. They work the muscles of this marriage. Sometimes they get sore.

But they talk to each other. And answer. Every day.

I am in awe. And not walking on eggshells here. Seems as if their stability will withstand the presence of a mother-in-law. If not, they will say so. I count on it by now.

Old Swimmer


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Seniors have plateaus just as growing children do, only in reverse. They grow smaller, blinder, deafer, more forgetful and then they begin walking not so well.

They have been depending on the Social Security system to keep them through the downward spiral and tuck them in at the end in some sort of respectable way— not a mass grave or dumpster.

That’s pretty blunt, isn’t it?

Well, blunt is the blow, I am telling you from my current viewpoint, being at the flat part of a new lower ledge of the series of plateaus.

When beautiful winter makes you stiff and exhausted and unable to keep your own fire stoked, it IS a blow. Instead of inviting folks to come by and warm themselves, you find yourself hunkering as close as you can to a frail little lightbulb, and if you are lucky, your grown children recognize that you need a REAL fire, since you have nearly totally lost your own.

Senior Solution; Hermes heading home to Hestia

My travels (the other side of the story–did you click the link in the title?) have taken me on journeys rewarding and then other journeys that were clearly designed to be instructional, often with a large discomfort factor.

“Well, it’s how I am,” I explain to the kids. “I just TRY things.”

The counterpart to Hestia , the stay-by- the-fire goddess, was Hermes the traveler-adventurer god, strikingly different from Hestia, but a very close friend and neighbor to her.they were a duo who were the best of friends who did not marry and likely would  never have been compatible mates, so different were they.

I think I’ve got some humanoid  (sub-godly) traits of each of these opposites and I am now traveling from Hermes-mode back into Hestia-mode for the preservation of body and soul.

I am not alone. The economy, you know has yanked the rug out from under many hard-working retirees. And the cruel winter just past, and the inability of this 74 year old body to spring back in the expected way it always has — it’s a rude surprise that happened in one winter’s time.

Mortality is a subject that comes into stunning focus maybe once or twice during most folks’ lives, especially when a “close call” happens or when a dear one dies. Most of the time we let the matter of death simmer quietly on the back burner to be dealt with “later.” It’s not number one on our list of favorite things to plan for.  Once we have the matter of soul settled, we relax.

A winter like the once we just had in 2011-2012 brings the motality matter into sharp focus. When one has no way out of the cabin but to stumble down the moutainside a quarter mile in ice covered snow up to the knee caps, and one has a trick knee that will not operate properly on the downhill slope. It’s cllimbing down a steep slope so you can get to your car parked in a plowed area below. Then you dig out your car, and go to the store and get supplies. Then you park your car where it was before and get to carry the packages of supplies back up the mountain, and you have to stop every five steps to catch your breath.

This is not ordinary outdoor fun, it’s a real test of your physical plant, and my body did not pass it well at all. I really did feel as if I might die. I actually imagined that the local mountain lion might be considering me likely prey (wounded small mammal), and be planning his attack. I tried to make myself look big while bending over to catch my breath. I dragged my groceries rather than carry them, and I said loud things in all kinds of voices, mostly gruff.  I tried to sound as big as God.

“Mom, we have to get you OUTTA there,” the kids said. And they were right.

So my primeval wonderland is standing out there looking in my big windows, looking at me with sad leaves and the birds are gone because I have weaned them away from regular feedings. The intimacy I have enjoyed with the forest spirits– plants and animals– is being stressed now with the reality that I am having to pack up my belongings and journey away from them.

I do remember that comforting hearth, and the groaning board, and the laughter and pranks of my dear ones around the room. And now my young are strong and seem to have endless energy to fix, and do, and make. Yes, I will, as they suggest, come there and stay a while.

The love has changed hands so often between me and my children, and has been so thoroughly tested by fire and has come through stronger because of it, that I am secure in the bond, and content to lay aside my traveling cases and rest at their hearth and learn their new foods and teach their new generation the old stories.

They can afford me, they say, and I can come and rest there until my strength returns so that I can at least do the things I do well. They will do the things that are too much for me now. And it is with honor that they receive me at their table.

“Mom, you did the same for us for such a long time. You taught us how.”

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  <–I wish!
Old Swimmer is Currently in Dry-dock.

(* See below main post for follow-up news.)

Here I am, wanting to get into the water and be toning my muscles after a long time being ill and inactive.  I have this IPool thing (no, it’s not a tech gadget.)   Anyone familiar with a so-called Lap Pool can imagine a smallish one, just large enough for a person to tether themselves to an overhead hanger and swim forward, getting nowhere, as far and as long as they wish.  The pool has a filter and a heater, and even a security cover!  I was told that once one knows how, it only takes thirty minutes to set this thing up!  Then fill it with not very much water (maybe three bathtubs full?), bring the water to an acceptable temp, and get in!

I have never gotten it set up!  Ever!  I’ve carted it from NJ to Shelton, and then to another place in Shelton, and then to Hoodsport, and now I’m headed to Seattle in what I hope will be a more permanent move. Its parts are still encased in the original plastic protective wrap except for the sturdy, powder-coated heavy metal tubing supports, which have already proven their worthiness by enduring five or more winters without rusting. It just  needs a flat place to be set up.

Seems that no one wants my pool set up in their spaces.  I have four professional construction geniuses in my list of kids, but no volunteers for this project.  (..”we have no room,” ”  there’s not a safe place, ” ” there’s not a private place, ” etc.)  Another thing they say is “SELL IT”.

Well, I like it and want to have it in my life.  The way I got to where I am is by swimmming off the effects of childhood polio, and building up a good body that has served me pretty well until recently.  I really need to get in the water again, and I know I will not do it if I have to GO somewhere in the CAR (gas), and be a member (pay), and then get dressed in damp clothes afterward and GO back home in the CAR(gas), and disrobe again and probably not do anything more …just take a nap. The getting there is just a huge chore!  And I’ll opt out…I will certainly opt out.

If I had this little pool convenient, so that I could dump myself in it before breakfast for a half hour or so and wake my body up in warm water with stretching and strokes and exercise that doesn’t jar my joints– I could then just go inside and quickly dress in DRY clothes and get about my day.

That I would do.  And I need to.

I find myself imagining the littler grandkids using it for recreational purposes, and the older grandkids and my own middle aged kids and me using it for a hot tub now and then.  Most of all I imagine myself lying on my back in the water in the middle of next winter with snow coming down…and I’m catching snowflakes in my mouth!  It’s so wonderful.

Won’t anyone put up my pool?  I’m not in a house-buying, or condo-renting mode right now, and likely will not be again unless something dramatically enriching happens.  So I need a space maybe twice the size of a standard full bathroom that can be fitted with some planks lying flat, and some access to electricity.  A hose is fine for the water.

This pool was bought for me during an epoch that ceased for many reasons… and it was clear that I was to have the pool with me wherever I went.  Everything is right about this except getting the thing up.

There will be a sequel to this post sometime.  And pictures, if it is a happy ending!

Wish me luck.    Old Swimmer
Sequel Herewith! *

Addendum:  No pictures.  The lap pool was put on craigslist and in the process of being sold was found to be less than perfect for its bumped around life.  My next option is to use my grandson’s apartment indoor pool, which is much more enticing, but a good car-trip away…therefore it costs me gas to go there.   More coming on this as the exciting saga develops.

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   Judy and I enjoy a swim the summer were putting up 3 Americas! 2001

Judith Wray, a wonderful and amazingly productive art friend, sent me an email today featuring a toolbox that is famous and wonderful.  This set off a series of things including this bit about my father.  Judy said, POST IT.  So here it is.

From my friend Judy Wray I got this email reference..sent just for me to enjoy!

H. O. Studley Masonic Tool Chest      <click on this link to see amazing tool box


The look of tool chests can tell us much about workers and workplaces. While their purpose is to organize, carry, and protect tools, this chest also suggests what a worker thinks of himself and how society measures the value of his work.

Judy asked if I got it, and I replied.  Judy responded by saying I should post the following to my blog.  I hope others enjoy the story of my father and his special love of tools.  And of me!  …


Yes, indeed, I did look at the fabulous tool chest, and then I forwarded it to my son David.  He will love it too.

One does wonder, though, whether someone who works from a tightly packed chest like that puts the tools away each time they are used and then “finds” them again, or whether, maybe, there is an occasional moment of “mess” on the workbench with a lot of chaos and tools here and there while something is being made.

I recognize the special devotion to the tools, and I get it from my father, who spent much more time designing places for all his tools in his basement workshop than he spent using said tools.  It is one of my pungent memories, all those leather pockets for a zillion specific awls, and bits, and gears and calipers and files, (on and on and on) that he kept and showed me how to use.

I was about four when I first learned about nails and hammers, and how not to hit your fingers.  Also about what I called (to his delight) “hole nails.”  These were screws, of course, with the slot in the head for turning…but they were “hole nails” for a time back in those days.

He had an old post office fixture at the end with maybe 150 cubbyholes into which he fitted wood cigar boxes labeled things like WASHERS and FINISH NAILS and POLISHING WHEELS and JUNK.  I loved to go through them all and see what was what.  Always very carefully and with the joyful oversight of my Dad who called me “Shorty” (because we were a duo and I was the short one.)

My Dad was a semi-reclusive guy (and I am like him often, in this way) who loved to tuck himself into his armchair with the foot stool, with his big supply of cigarettes and Scotch and his newspaper and hunker down for hours with TV running sports, or news, or westerns.  The livingroom was always stuffy with the layer of second-hand smoke.  My children later would come make swirls in the smoke layer.  (their poor lungs).

He was one of my best friends, although he and I had philosophical differences, and some pretty touchy issues that we disagreed vehemently about.  We were open-faced with each other, and did a lot of “admitting/confessing” and apologizing between us over the years.

By the time he died on December 14 in the 1970’s I had done my serious grieving…while watching him slowly run down in a local nursing home.  My mother and I visited him, one of us at least, each day to feed him dinner, and to bring him his prescribed dose of Scotch and Soda (Dr. Metz carefully wrote that out as an order so we could bring it in to him each day.)  He was a double amputee (both legs) and blind during those years…and used to say he was “one of the lucky ones” simply because he got a visit each day, and most of the others in that nursing home got no visitors ever at all.

When he closed his eyes the last time, I told him to “go find Jesus, and He’ll show you the way.”  A tear came down, through his coma, and I took that to mean either that he DID IT, or that he was frustrated by my last ditch effort to get him to believe.  I won’t know til I get there.

But I whispered to him…”Dad, this is what you wanted for Christmas…rest and go.”  And he did.

That night we had planned for the whole family (my five and my mother) to go to the Pacific NW Ballet’s Nutcracker.  We asked ourselves what we should do.  We decided we would be missing Dad no matter where we were sitting, and that he would say…go to the ballet!  So we did.  What a night.   I remember, it was Maurice Sendak’s fabulous costumes and sets, and the ballet was wonderful.  One of the children in the ballet was a neighbor of ours.  Dad would have been delighted…but he would have sat out the event and preferred to nestle down in his chair with his smokes and his drink and his paper.  He would have looked up with a smile and a cocked eyebrow as we came back, and asked, “Well, Shorty, how was the ballet?”

I was blessed with some really fine people in my life.  I am so grateful.

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Carolyn Henderson says this in her blog today:

“As your own middle manager, you wrestle with an orderly, recognizable work schedule wrapped like a python around the insurgent screaming soul of your Muse. “

You nailed it again, Carolyn!  I checked with Robert Genn, too, and he thinks this way too.  So if two faves think alike on this one I will forgive myself for being in my yesterday’s jeans and last night’s jammie tops with a fleece vest on and a heater at my back.  And for having at least eight in-process works sitting around in various states of drying- one which I brought in a while ago from a place on the porch where it was out-gassing from a late night session.

The phone already has taken its slice out of today’s morning.  In an hour or so it will be time for my daytime sleep.  Not called a nap anymore, since it can run into the evening hours when I get up and start all over again, but without the long phone call interruptions.  The housemate upstairs knows I clank around in the kitchen at night getting my second breakfast and second lunch while I intermittently work on various things and catch up on the internet news.  (I don’t own a TV.)

Last night I used a dremel tool, sandpaper, watercolors, oil paints, damar varnish (the one that needed to out-gas), carving tools, glue, leather, spot remover, and brushes, gravity, chemical reactions, and a lot of cleaning up tools in the efforts at these various art items.  A good part of painting is the time between strokes.  Waiting until it is just right to add the next part.

With wood items it often has to do with rolling liquid color around on the object, making it drip unimpeded at just the right speed to make the mark I have in mind.  Then waiting until it is sufficiently dry to drop another color or medium into the bowl and work it in a different manner or direction.   Last night I used a tool to scrape the color multiple times to make a directional texture.  And I tried white as an edge, rather than the black or near black edging I like to use on some of the ridges between planes.

There is a painting that sits looking at me and I do some thinking about it while I work on other things.  It’s a watercolor of what I call Elephant Ankles, of trees standing in a flooded lagoon. Last night I took a very sparse brush to it and laid in some defining darks that I am pleased with.  I’ll keep an eye on it today to see what my Muse suggests next.  Might be a week before she speaks.

That python Carolyn speaks of wraps itself in the most insidious ways some days.  Two days ago I was up an old wood tripod  ladder purposefully and conscientiously  reattaching the rain tarp from the eaves over my workshop door. A  huge wind gust had taken apart an elaborate visquine setup to shunt rainwater away from my door and into the driveway.  It was important to replace it before the next rain.

But the ladder failed.  The tired metal struts that held it apart just decided to bend and collapse, dropping me about four feet onto the concrete apron which had “stuff” lying on it:  parts of the ladderthat dropped ahead of me.  I have ” python marks” on my thigh, rear, elbow and arm of my right side to show for this fall.  Happily my bones are intact;  I didn’t fracture my pelvis or get a pulmonary embolism or any of that stuff my brain wanted to worry about  while I was saying a mild oath and regarding  my arms and legs all spread out on the concrete. The bruises ache, but I am able to do the work I mentioned above during last night’s session,  and I was also able to revisit my tarp project with a garden rake and a garden umbrella to good avail.  Not pretty, but not uglier than the original arrangement, and it will work.

The adventure is frustrating,  but it will stitch itself into the tapestry that is my routine, and become, one way or another, part of my output, whether it’s just this blog entry, or maybe even a painting.

A painting in my archives comes to mind.  It’s called His Stuff, and it is a densely busy oil painting of the garage once used and fully occupied by a guy I was married to who collected art supplies and machines.  I am certain that at least 60% of the objects in that garage weighed over 200 pounds each!  Cauldrons of brass keys,  two giant photo enlargers, stacks of metal, precious exotic hardwood chunks, sculpture maquettes large enough to fill a bathroom. Generators and Oxy/Acetylene equipment, car motors and old gears and propellers. A mirror too large to move without a dolly.

I loved that painting.  It’s one of my best, and it was the chosen subject for a lively discussion group at a close-in art show with mensa-type folks.  EVERYONE related to it somehow,  and one of them really related, saying “what’s that dummy there in the middle?”

My Muse and I  had audaciously  decided to add to the garage collection a  blow-up female figure, somewhat deflated and hanging from the ceiling.  The inflatable figure was symbolic of me, part of his collection of useful objects! I thought that the discussion group reviewer really had a point. That object was a dummy!

But there you are!  The big frustrated sigh became art that others could relate to.  An artist’s life is not mainly the paints or chips.  It’s the output.  And when the output reaches well to others, it is successful art.  That’s what keeps me happily up at night.

Old Swimmer

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Together Again

Today I held Brinks (on the right in photo above)  in my arms while he went to join Pimmy wherever doggies go when they leave us.  This was handled as kindly as anyone might wish, and Brinks was not afraid, nor was he uncomfortable.  I whispered things in his ear the whole time at the vets office, and even before, about going to find Pimmy, his litter-mate sister who preceded him to Doggie Heaven, or whatever the dogs call it.

Here is the stand of trees I dug a deep hole at the base of, and where I placed a swaddled Brinks, and covered him with sandy loam, planting Pimmy’s memorial Rosemary plant above and placing a concrete cat sculpture nearby to keep vigil.  Pimmy loved the herb rosemary very much, drawn to it from puppyhood, and even falling asleep under one when she was a tiny puppy, getting “lost” for a while until we found her snoring away there.  So she gets the rosemary and Brinks gets his obsessively valued and close-kept latex ball and there they are together in this outstanding place overlooking Puget Sound’s southern waters, with the Cascade Range stretched across the horizon beyond, to the east.

I did the digging myself.  Alone.  It seems right, and helps the grieving process to work hard to dig a grave.  I never realized until I buried a pet long ago why it’s good to have a physical place where a beloved living creature was put.  You know.  That’s why it is important.  You know where they finished up their living on earth.  And you know they are not here any longer, for sure, if you have put them in that spot yourself.

My housemate is insulted that some people say there are no dogs in heaven.  Mark Twain said,

If dogs don't go to heaven, then I'd rather go where they go

I just am sure of this:  Since God made dogs such fine, noble, forgiving, loyal, brave, cheerful companions for humans, He surely planned a good place for their perfectly wonderful spirits to live when their bodies give out.  That a dog has a spirit is absolutely undebatable.  A dog is the epitome of spirit, with the joy and effervescence and the essence of gladness and thanksgiving expressed as wags and jumps and intense connection with his human.

So I tell my housemate that I am with Mark Twain on this, even though I can’t find a Biblical piece of evidence of dogs in heaven.  I find horses there (as in the Horsemen of the Apocalypse), and so why not dogs?  But the horses had a job in Revelation, and so they were mentioned.  The dogs are busy doing doggie things like jumping for joy, and greeting their people,  and sleeping under rosemary plants.  At least that is the best I can do at imagining what is in store for these beloved creatures.

I will sleep OK tonight, knowing Brinks is not hurting, or afraid, or lonely, or limited by a badly aged body.  He went “nighty night” and was sent with the suggestion in his ear to “go find Pimmy now”.  This is something he could relate to.  He has been looking for her since she left us some months ago.  It gave him a job to do while they were putting him to sleep.  And he did a good job of it too.

I weep.  But that will pass.

old swimmer

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Into the Unknown


Here is one two year old little fellow who is “taking his Dad on a tour” of his new school.  I am not so sure that he is not really intent on taking his Dad away from the new school!

Ivan is my step grandson, and this photo is from images of his introduction to day school.  What a huge event in the life of a person who has only had some 700 or 800 days of history “on the outside.”  Think of what it would be like to suddenly spend a whole long day of the few days of your life being immersed (body, mind, soul)  in a place totally foreign, with strangers in charge and with nothing familiar around you!    Except for the presence of parents, this would be unbearable.  Huge.

All the photos are poignant; the sheer delight at a little playground playhouse — like a birthday party;  the complete misery at the moment of being handed over to some strange smiling (and strange smelling, because they are not Mommy) ladies who seemed perfectly immune to your needs to be back in your safe parental arms.  Mommy and Daddy seeming suddenly lacking in empathy with resolute smiles on their faces.  The various faces of little ivan are  a study of all the expressions in the book, and none of them is manufactured, like the parental smiles — they are genuine expressions of a small person on a huge personal odyssey.

Being “in on” this event through family photos brings to my mind a lot of similar history: my own childrens’ passages; my own passages.  We humans die a little and also learn to live a little more on these complex occasions.  The day after a “big step”, when we have gone back to “normal” life, we will find out that the trauma we experienced yesterday is not over, but is going to happen again today.  This adds a new dimension to our discomfort.  It’s a very present “bogeyman” that looms outside our safe place.  And our parents that we trusted are still smiling that new way and saying the new school is a good thing!  What a lot to undertake when you are two years old and filled with something very like dread!

We grow.  We have learned that falling down makes our knees hurt and then they get better,  that being left in the hands of strangers is not fatal, that Mom and Dad love you even when they are tired and cranky to you,  that getting a D on a test at school is remediable,  that being broke isn’t terminal,  that losing a loved one isn’t either,  and that dying is a fact of life that is universal, and therefore doesn’t single one out.  All these things are learned by hard things happening to us!  Guess that’s what they explained to us about what happened in The Garden of Eden!  Darn that Eve.

Anyway, here is an older woman, writing this,  who keeps stepping out of the comfortable into the unknown.  Nowadays, at 70, it’s not so scarey.  Uncomfortable but not scarey.  I remember nursery school.  I hated it.  But I remember it, and I’m glad I went.

Old Swimmer

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