Saturday, May 28, 2011

Sad Stories

I think it's interesting that I started this blog off telling some of the sad stories in my history. Maybe I just like my sad stories more.

Anyway, I started talking about mothers. But parents aren't the only persons in my life who have fulfilled a parental role. One person who was more of a grandmother to me than my own grandparents was Mrs. Drinkwalter. Bernice, I believe her name was, but she will always be "Mrs. Drinkwalter" to me.

She was always old.

Granted, she was forty years my senior but she was always a slight, white-haired woman to me. She took care of a set of fishermen cottages in northern Ontario, set on the South River near where it pours into Lake Nipissing. Her cottage was as rustic as the others. I remember visiting, having a cup of tea, talking softly while birds bounced themselves off the windows.

We would go there every year. Oh, growing up there were one or two years where vacation meant someplace else - but with those rare exceptions vacation was the Drinkwalter cottages.

Certainly it is sad that she is no longer alive, but Mrs. Drinkwalter did live to ninety-six. I visited with my family when she was a couple years from the pneumonia that would, finally, win the contest she had played with it all her life. Even then, she would take her daily walk. She would smile at our dog futilely chasing the chipmunks (she loved her chipmunks, so I quietly disposed of those critters that my dog had outwitted).

Like any woman in her nineties, Mrs. Drinkwalter would speak her mind. There was no time for subtle phrases or pointless tact. She gave my wife a huge compliment: Mrs. Drinkwalter approved of her motherhood skills and toughness.

The motherhood skills I understood readily. We have a disabled son. However, he is not coddled, nor do we excuse his bad behavior. He, like the rest of us, will be polite. Mrs. Drinkwalter approved.

To understand the toughness, one must realize something about my wife. She was raised in a suburb of New York City. She is not a nature girl. She is not comfortable around bugs, mud, or the like. Camping is not her idea of a good time. So when the carpenter ant swarm decided to exit our cottage rafters through the interior, she wasn't happy.

I had never seen anything quite like it. Hundreds, maybe a thousand inch-long, winged carpenter ants poured through a small crack near our bedroom ceiling and were crawling over and through everything. This happy event occurred while we were enjoying lunch.

As part of the decontamination routine, I had my wife take our luggage outside, remove each article of clothing, shake it to free the ants, then repack it. Mrs. Drinkwalter and her daughter-in-law, Michelle, were convinced that my wife would simply pack those cleared bags in our truck and demand to return home.

My wife proved her toughness by not doing that.

Sure, she was grossed out by the bugs. So was I. But once we had rid the cottage of the ants, who just wanted out to make new colonies, my wife settled back in. I am proud of my wife - she had impressed an important, grandmotherly figure in my life who was always honest with her appraisals.

Thursday, May 26, 2011

The Drive (part two)

Are you okay? I'm fine.

The weekly ritual I had, speaking to my mother over the phone. She was sick, but not that sick. And she really did sound fine. Of course, she wasn't fine. She was dying, quickly, of cancer. At the time, though, I didn't know. I couldn't know.

Eventually, she knew it, though. At that point, she wanted to come home. So I conspired with a friend of hers to bring her home and set her up with home medical care. We drove down to Florida and, my God, my mother looked like a corpse. Her appearance did not match her telephone voice.

The next day we took one last trip to her local physician. After the exam, he pulled me aside. My mother had a day, maybe two, to live. "But she wants to come home, " I argued. I was told that she'd never survive the trip. Getting back to my mother was the inevitable question, "what did the doctor say, dear?"

I try to be direct and honest. When I look away, it is to put the words together so they say what I mean - not to mask my true thoughts. Now was not the time to try deceitfulness. So I told her what the doctor had told me. It was a shock, because I don't think she had really understood her situation. She may have thought she had months, or even years of slow life ahead.

"I want to go home." My task was clear - I was to bring my mother home, whether she survived the ordeal or not. I arranged oxygen deliveries along our route, a room with an oxygen generator at the halfway point, and a place to stay at home. A handful of pain pills, a tankful of gas, and I was making The Drive again.

Mom made it home alive. The next day, she toured her home town by car - and died that night in her sleep.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

The Drive (part one)

I was scrubbing human excrement from the carpet (another story) when the phone rang. It was a doctor in North Bay, Ontario. My father was about to die.

I packed my bags and got on a plane - one hop to Toronto, another to North Bay. By the time I arrived, my dad had taken a life flight to Sudbury, because the hospital in North Bay didn't have the expertise and equipment to keep him alive. My mother was waiting for me with their car. I drove her to Sudbury, where we spent the next week making two trips per day to the hospital, to look at my unconscious father in the ICU.

Eventually, my father was released from the hospital. He had stabilized and could go home. The next day, we took The Drive.

Home, for my parents, was central Florida. God's waiting room. That wasn't our destination. Our destination was my home, outside of Cleveland. On the trip, my dad started to undergo congestive heart failure. Should I take him to the Niagara Falls hospital? Buffalo General?

No. My father had enough of that. Either get me to the Cleveland Clinic or let me die, was essentially what he said. He either wanted the world's best cardiologists to "fix" him, or not. What he didn't want is to be strung along.

Well, I got him there. The Clinic doctor told us we came within a half hour of having a corpse in the back seat, but we got him there. My dad lived another nine months. Long enough for everyone in his family to say, "goodbye." Still, after that experience I said that I will never make The Drive again. Never again will I drive hundreds of miles with a dying parent.

I was wrong.

Sunday, May 22, 2011

Dolls on a Swing

Little girls play at motherhood. My daughter's Webkinz have become her children. She sets up school rooms and teaches them. She takes them outside and plays with them. At eleven, she's not quite ready to put them away. Were she a bit older, and cooing to a baby instead of a stuffed fetish, we would say that she's a good mother. Mothers, too, play a motherhood. We are all dolls on the swing.