punctuating the ordinary

“On the single strand of wire strung to bring our house electricity,
grackles and starlings neatly punctuated an invisible sentence.”

―John Updike


(grackles on the line / Julie Cook / 2014)

I imagine it happens to all of us at some point or other…
and it’s always out of the blue…

It catches us totally off guard— when we least expect it.

Suddenly a lump is forming in our throat as we find the words catching, cracking and breaking as we can barely whisper along.

And just when we frustratingly focus on the fact that no sound seems to be
coming from a voice attempting to speak, stinging tears now form in our
eyes, rendering us both mute and almost blind…

Mute and blind with raw emotion.

We blink hard and swallow hard…as we hear our brain pleading “not here, not now….”

Maybe we’re just sitting on the couch…
Maybe we’re walking down the aisle at the grocery store pushing a cart full of
paper towels and cat food…
Maybe we’re sitting in the middle of traffic, stuck…
Maybe we’re sitting in the doctor’s office, waiting….

It doesn’t matter where we are or what we’re doing…it happens…
and it happens when it wants to…never mind what we want.
And there is always some sort of trigger…
as the ordinariness of life is punctured like an over inflated tire…
our breath begins to release as we are helpless to hold it in….

It comes suddenly out of the blue..
Out of nowhere…and there it is…
A familiar sound, a familiar tune, a familiar voice…more oldie then goldie…

For me this time, it was Wichita Lineman and it wasn’t even Glen Campbell
singing the song but rather someone else…

Yet it mattered not—it was still that same melodious memory drifting in on
the passage of time… swirling down on the currents until settling sweetly, yet
painfully, in the recall of memory.

My mother loved Glen Campbell.

What woman in those heady days of the late 60’s didn’t?

Dashing boyish good looks…dimples, perfect hair, sculpted nose,
laced with a velvety voice.
He wasn’t Country, he wasn’t Gospel, he wasn’t Pop…
he was simply the complete package.

I can remember sitting with mother in 1969 on that old tweed couch
watching the Glen Campbell Goodtime Hour—
This was a time when children could actually watch television without fear of hearing
or seeing things that children shouldn’t really see or hear emanating
from a television….

The line is iconic…
“and I need you more than want you….
and I want you for all time….
for the Wichita lineman is still on the line…”

…as heart tugging violins finish out the notes….

About two years ago, give or take,
Glen Campbell and his current wife (I say current because he had had four marriages
with one in particular making for tabloid drama) gave what was to be Glen’s
last public interview.

Glen Campbell was suffering from Alzheimers.
A disease that actually claimed his life earlier this year.

The selfish disease was robbing his family of the husband and father they loved
while robbing a man of the one person he’d known best his entire life…
that being himself.

He was asked about singing and his songs— what song had he loved the most….

A question I would think somewhat difficult for any musician / singer,
who had had such long careers, to answer—
As songs and melodies ebb and flow with the times—
Because it’s hard to compare what was a career starter with what came about
during one’s peak moment throughout such a lengthy career…

But he answered quickly and at first very effortlessly…
“it’s really the best line of all time in a song you know…. isn’t it???”
as he then turned to his wife with that lost look of one battling with a
memory-robbing illness, when he sadly and poignantly realized he didn’t
remember now what line he was talking about.

His wife offered a small airy couple of notes with the first word, which allowed
Glen’s mind to grab hold as he finished the stanza himself in beautiful A cappella
fashion.

And it is an iconic line.
A beautiful line.
A line that has for me, over time, changed it’s meaning.

Songs, lyrics and melodies all have that effect on us.

So much so that I think I’ve written about this before—and about this very same
song for most likely the very same reason—

It simply caught me off guard.

It reached out through the abyss of time grabbing hold of my arm while pulling
me to a bittersweet place I don’t often like to go.

The hot tears formed as I attempted to utter those familiar words….but I couldn’t.

I couldn’t even speak the words because they had stuck in my throat…
as they achingly cracked coming from my mouth without sound…

And then slowly…the recesses of a memory came into focus,
I was seeing the one who had first loved that song long before I had.
She had her own personal reasons, her own personal recollections…

Things that, at the time, were unbeknownst to me.
Something that caused an overwhelming sense of melancholy…
Something that had left her with words which had no sound,
something that had left her eyes wet with warm tears…

I had no way of knowing then…no way of understanding…
for I had not lived yet what she had lived…

Yet sweetly and even oddly in that bittersweet moment of hearing that single song
with that most iconic simple lyric, I actually understood what she had known
all those many years ago…as warm tears filled my eyes and the words coming
from my mouth had no sound…I was transported one day closer to understanding
the woman I had lost so long ago…

Let this be written for a future generation,
that a people not yet created may praise the Lord:
“The Lord looked down from his sanctuary on high,
from heaven he viewed the earth,
to hear the groans of the prisoners
and release those condemned to death.”
So the name of the Lord will be declared in Zion
and his praise in Jerusalem
when the peoples and the kingdoms
assemble to worship the Lord.

Psalm 102:18-22

A traveling we go….

“I love people who make me laugh. I honestly think it’s the thing I like most, to laugh.
It cures a multitude of ills.
It’s probably the most important thing in a person.”

― Audrey Hepburn

“If we couldn’t laugh we would all go insane.”
― Robert Frost

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(Gloria ready to head over to dad’s)

So today, Gloria the dammit doll and I had to travel over to Dad’s.
I still can’t get over the coincidence of Gloria the dammit doll having the same name as my stepmother—what are those odds?!
Anywhooo, our week is a bit off kilter as we’ve had to deal with life here on the homefront, which in turn has put us off track for our weekly pilgrimage, or two, or three or four…you get the point, to Atlanta.

It was going to be a busy trip…
There were to be groceries to buy, bills to pay, visits to banks, trips to doctors, and a visit with dad’s tax folks…it is that time of year you know…

So…as Gloria was driving us over to Atlanta early this morning, she’s spies something with her wee eye….

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(Gloria behind the wheel on I-20)

A groundhog, running for its life frolicking along the side of the interstate catches Gloria’s eye…

woodchuck-at-house
(Gloria was driving too fast for us to get a picture of the groundhog so we had to borrow one from the internet–the internet is nice that way)

“Well, this must be our lucky day” remarks Gloria.
What are the chances of seeing a groundhog running for its life playing alongside the interstate?? she exclaims….
The sun is shinning popping out here and there from behind the sea of remaining storm clouds, north Georgia is experiencing snow showers while we’re doing good to keep the car between the lines in the gale force winds, but if Gloria thinks today’s our luck day, who am I to rain on her parade?!

When we get to Dad’s we meet the new caregiver…one of these two Gloria’s gathered near me keeps running them off, I’m not naming names but Gloria the dammit doll is off the hook…
and so far things seem ok.

Dad is sitting in his chair, the one I sometimes wonder if he’s not glued in to…but I notice he’s not completely dressed—as in his pants are on, but the shirt isn’t tucked in, the belt isn’t fastened, nor are the pants.
“Hi Dad, what’s up with your pants?”
“Oh, uh, uh, they just won’t stay together.”
“Dad, I just bought you three new pair, where are they?
Oh, uh, uh, they’re back there, uh, uh, I don’t need them.
Suuuuureee you don’t…

Long story short, it seems Dad’s colitis is acting up—which happens every time things in that house become chaotic…
Of which they certainly have over the past month or so….as in all hell has been breaking loose, hence why Gloria the dammit doll has had to work really hard on overtime….and dad isn’t keeping his pants zipped, buttoned or belted as he’s running back and forth to the bathroom. Have you ever seen a very feeble 88 year old, who lists dangerously to the right, attempt to hurry to the bathroom—puts new meaning into scary viewing.

The caregiver fills me in on the latest trauma dramas.

The main bathroom, the one my stepmother uses, has been the crime scene for her last two catastrophic falls. Each time she has managed to wedge herself up against the door, preventing help from getting to her. Subsequently she has been emphatically told by the nurse, the doctor, the care service, her son, the EMT’s, Dad, me… to allow the caregivers to assist her in and out of the bathroom and not to lock nor completely shut the door.

Defiant to the end, the door has remained locked tight despite the cries of those imploring from the other side she open up the door.
So on Sunday her son removed the door.
(Shades of having a teenager…just a really old teenager)
As in he lifted that sucker right off it’s hinges and carted it off to the basement.
Replacing the door with a rather chic little curtain job, giving way to an air of a day spa happening in my stepmother’s bathroom. Easy and breezy in a fab chic sort of way.

My stepmother had become unglued prior to the door’s removal…
As in raging, manic, irate, irrational, hateful, threatening…you name it… as in it might be time to call in reinforcements.
Hence why Dad now has colitis…again.

A visit to the doctor earlier this week, along with some tweaking of dementia meds, and there is actually peace and clam at the day spa house today….odd and frightening at the same time

Gloria the dammit doll looked at me as we both wondered if we were in the right house.

Yet Dad was anything but peaceful..he was troubled…even fretful.
Quiet and agitated at the same time.

When my stepmother had to leave to go get the staples removed from her head…those staples from her latest catastrophic fall in the bathroom…of which shattered the mirror, which she had fallen into…cutting herself to shreds…the result of defiant stubbornness as in I won’t use the walker, I won’t allow help, as in I will lock doors….but I digress…
I stayed behind with dad, at the house, just to figure out what was troubling him…
as if I didn’t already have my suspisions.

He has worked himself back into a full blown sick tizzy of worry… and no matter the reassurance, the emphatic explaining on my part, he was hearing none of it…he was back to being a dog with a bone—a bone that is used up and no good.
He obsesses…to a very dangerous and unhealthy level–welcome to his dementia.
We couldn’t get lucky and have two with the same sort of dementia—nope–we’ve got to do battle on multiple fronts.

So I’m now wondering how best to help–
I’ve lined up a trip to the gastroenterologist.
I’ll be emailing the nurse for suggestions.
We may, God forbid, have to cut out his sweets and chocolate….
and I will keep my fingers crossed that my stepmother will now rest in this period of bizarre calm in order that dad’s guts can also get to a place of calm…

For life at Dad’s is anything but calm…as in, when it rains, it will indeed pour….and I usually won’t be holding an umbrella…

So finally late this afternoon, while Gloria the dammit doll was driving us back home, she poses a question my way…

IMG_1969

She mentions that maybe she should try her luck at a dammit doll dating match site.
She’s been working herself to death as of late, as in working overtime between both dad and my stepmother…
Maybe it’s time I get her a helpmate.
She had actually seen a fellow in a store front window when she was on a recent visit to Savannah..a fellow who she thought was really pretty cute…yet she was afraid to approach him.

IMG_1947

I had seen him as well, sitting there in that window with those big brown eyes, but I told her that he was not her type.
I explained to her that he appeared to be nothing more than a smooth talker and totally full of crap.
I promised her that once we got back home later in the day, I’d go on-line in search of a Mr. Dammit doll…one that she could call her own…

Well, I’ll keep you posted as to who shows up to ask Gloria the dammit doll out on a date…
Kind of reminds me of those long ago mail order brides…I just hope he’s not a Russian…not that I’m opposed to Russians mind you but I would like one who speaks the language.

Until then…it seems Gloria has had a day of it and needs a little rest….

IMG_1970

A joyful heart is good medicine, but a crushed spirit dries up the bones.
Proverbs 17:22

*****It should be noted that my cheeky approach in this situation of life with my dad and stepmother leaves me in tears more oft than not—-so there are times, such as today’s post, in which I’ve got to reach for the humor when there is strength to do so… otherwise my spirit would indeed break and dry up–
Tending to them and their needs, maintaining their world as peacefully as possible.. for both of them… requires finesse, the patience of Job, stamina, sanity and a steady hand—doing it alone is none too easy. It often leaves my own world, home, family upside down and pulling the short straw.
Those of you out there who face similar situations of caring for aging and elderly parents..those with both physical as well as emotional and or mental needs..know how very difficult life can be.
Alzheimers and dementia are not kind.
Hence why Gloria the dammit doll has made these bad days a bit more tolerable
🙂

Growing up

“The mark of the immature man is that he wants to die nobly for a cause, while the mark of the mature man is that he wants to live humbly for one.”
― J.D. Salinger

That’s one of the things we learn as we grow older — how to forgive. It comes easier at forty than it did at twenty.”
― L.M. Montgomery

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(Guinea Wasp among the flowers / Julie Cook / 2015)

When did you know that you were all grown up?
Really grown up. . .
As in no longer childlike but rather the designated, tag you’re it, authority of all things known and those things yet known. As in you are now the expert, the one everyone has decided to turn to for help, advice, strength, guidance, knowledge, direction, responsibility. . . the one who had now been taxed with the hard decisions, the tough choices, the yeses and the nos. . .??

For some of us it was perhaps a catastrophic event early on in life. A harsh reality thrust upon us far too early and much too soon.
For others it seemed to come at the cold uncaring hand of fate, the economics of our world, the poor choices of others.

Some of us mark the milestone in much the same way as certain ethnic tribal groups who have ceremonial rites of passage. The hoopla of a 21st birthday, the last hooray of a bachelor or bachelorette party before one’s impending nuptials. Some of us know the passing of the torch occurs the moment our first child is born. . .

I thought my moment came at age 25 when my mom died and I had to care for a father who was suddenly a lost child, readily foregoing adulthood while wrapped in his utter grief. I was pretty certain it hadn’t come at 23 when I married—as I was still so green and terribly wet behind the ears back then.

I think it also happened again when my son was born. I had to put my wants and needs aside as I was now responsible for the well-being of another. Resposiblilty should equate to growing up, should it not? There was just something about losing a parent and then becoming a parent. . .
Surely that was it, the time. . . the time of losing a parent and becoming a parent that signified life as a grown up.

At 55 I figured I was pretty grown up.
No doubt about it, grown.
I had retired had I not?
One has got to be pretty old to be able to retire right?
One would think.

My son got married last year.
I have a daughter-n-law.
My hair is turning rather silveresque.
My bones are a bit more brittle.
My eyesight is eluding me.
My mind may not be exactly as sharp as it once was.
My husband keeps reminding me I’m not as young as I once was.
I’m not keen upon hearing that.

Yet events of recent weeks have once again reminded me, that I’m still not totally grown up. . .
not by a long shot.

It slowly dawned on me, as I sat splayed legged on the floor of my old bedroom, of which now acts as Dad’s office, sorting through a myriad, or more like a mountain, of unpaid bills, forgotten tax information, past due this and that, a plethora of saved junk mail, folder upon folder of the years past all while spending countless hours on the phone sorting out the disaster he had slowly created when, on the fateful day we can’t seem to recall which was which, that he woke up and his mind decided it no longer wanted to be the grownup mind of a dad, my dad.

It may have come when I began writing countless checks, signing my name where his name should have been. When I called the numerous insurance companies seeking help. When the nurse came from the insurance company to evaluate his needs. When I called a care service. When I had to tell him NO or YES to his insistence that there be no care service, that he indeed needed “help”.

Maybe it was today when we sat filling out the healthcare questionnaire for the new doctor. The personal, oh so personal, questions I had to ask, had to listen to his answers. Questions you never imagined asking your dad or having to have him explain. Maybe it was when I had to explain to him about how he had to work the blood occult test kit as he politely told me, “no thank you, I don’t want to do that.”

As he now looks to me, or rather at me, for reassurance, for direction, for help, for rescuing, with questioning rummy eyes, which now look while pleading and searching for answers. . .answers I don’t readily have. The same eyes that were the ones I looked to when, as a little girl, I would call out each night for the various stuffed animals elected to guard and protect me throughout the night, as he’d throw them to me from across the room from their daily resting spot, thrown to my excited open arms in order for me to catch them, one at a time, as we performed our nightly ritual. . .

We all know parents aren’t exactly human. . .they’re a lot like the teachers I’ve spent a lifetime alongside–superhuman, not like mere mortals. They don’t have the same ills or issues as others. They are invincible and beyond the ordinary.
That’s their role is it not. . .?

Theirs is to provide, to guard, to protect, to lead, to guide, to always be there. . .

. . . as now the child reluctantly finds herself becoming the parent,
the lonely role of grown-up. . .

Train up a child in the way he should go;
even when he is old he will not depart from it.

Proverbs 22:6

No time for chickens. . .

“I wish it need not have happened in my time,” said Frodo.
“So do I,” said Gandalf, “and so do all who live to see such times. But that is not for them to decide. All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given us.”
― J.R.R. Tolkien

“Yesterday is gone. Tomorrow has not yet come. We have only today. Let us begin.”
― Mother Teresa

DSC00909
(portion of a 19th century oil painting by H.A. Bossir which was my grandmothers)

Have you ever heard the expression “if it wasn’t for bad luck, I’d have no luck at all”??
Well oddly enough, for almost the past 32 years, that little expression has pretty much been the mantra of my little family. I say 32 years because that’s almost how long I’ve been married and it was just around that time that this bad luck / good luck ying and yang thing started. I’m rather confident my husband would own up to being the lightening rod but we won’t hold that against him.

And of course there’s that whole “best laid plans” thing which also rears its ugly head in my neck of this world. . .

So I don’t know what possessed me to even begin to think that my happy little bucolic dream of having my beautiful chicken coop complete with a bevy of beautiful layers, hunting and pecking to their hearts content, foraging in the beautiful vegetable garden next to the coop while I, Mrs Farmer Brown, tended to my small piece of idyllic country living would actually come to fruition.
What was I thinking?

What came over me envisioning Country Living wanting to come do a photo shoot of my city girl meets farmer girl world? Why did I picture myself naming the girls. . . Marigold, Clementine, Petunia, Coq au vin, and Lady Poulet? What possessed my husband when he had a coop custom made for me last Christmas?? A coop that now just sits forlornly in the backyard, empty and alone.

And what of the large vegetable garden we have each year? What of my squash, my zucchini, my myriad of heirloom tomato plants, my wax beans, my bush beans, my eggplants, my okra, my 4 varieties of corn, of my peppers. You remember, the garden that was decimated last year by the herd of ravenous deer that nearly ate me out of house and home?? And of my Irish Spring deterrent??
What of that???

Sadly, none of that is to be this year.

Time has come calling and has put the kibosh on all my hopes and dreams. . .
well. . .maybe not all my hopes and dreams, but those of the immediate moment such as chickens and gardens and a peaceful summer.
There just simply isn’t time in the day to be bucolic while spending the majority of the week on the road driving to and from Atlanta to Dads. . .

Sigh. . .

And speaking of Dad. . .

I had not even gotten in the shower this morning when the care service we’ve enlisted, in the daily care of the blind leading the blind, calls.
“Hello”

“Hi Julie, just thought I’d let you know your dad called us this morning canceling tomorrow’s service”

“WHAT?”

“Yes, their regular caregiver has a doctor’s appt. tomorrow–we were going to send a replacement for the day in but they decided they didn’t need anybody.”

“Really. . .”

“Let me call Dad and I’ll call you right back”

ring, ring, as a warbled voice answers. . .

“hello”

“Dad, the care service just called me, they tell me you’ve canceled service for tomorrow–what’s up?”

“Well our regular girl says she won’t be here so we decided we just don’t need anyone.
And anyway do you have any idea how expensive this service is?
(his voice raising to a crescendo of stricken shock and panic)
This is going to break me! I don’t see why we need any of this care business anyway.
Why do we need all day service for seven days a week. . .”

“Well Dad, you know you both do like to eat and since you all aren’t up to really cooking, it’s nice having someone who can prepare your meals,plus someone reminding you, you know, to eat. Someone there helping with the chores, making certain you take your pills, making certain ya’ll don’t fall as walking isn’t what it use to be. . .yada, yada, yada. . .”

(with an odd sense of clarity)
“Well since you’re coming tomorrow (I am??), you can be here and we’ll be fine.
(Great)
But you don’t need to stay long because you’ve got to get on the road before the traffic hits. . .”
(ugh)

“We’ll talk more about this tomorrow Dad while we see how you two do without your “helper” for a day.

Oh and did I mention the CPA called miraculously out of the blue this afternoon asking about dad’s taxes?
You know, the taxes dad seems to think will magically take care of themselves.
The ones he’s suppose to have been taking care of for the past two years but hasn’t.
The ones I’ve threatened him within an inch of his life to take care of ASAP, as in ASAP two years ago.
The ones that are still sitting in a pile on the floor in the office, aka my old bedroom.
(albeit a neat pile since I hit that room hard 5 weeks ago)
The ones I’ve pleaded with him to let me tend to. . .only to have him defiantly dig in his heels fighting me tooth and nail over.
“Ok Dad”, I’d tell him, “they’re going to haul you off to jail.”
He’d hang his head, setting that jaw telling me, “fine, they can just take me to jail”
Great. . .
All because he has refused to let go and give it up. . .

And it dawned on me one low day last week that the reality of him actually having to let go, giving it all up is what so much of this entire ordeal and fight has been all about–the difficulty of relinquishing a role he’s played for my 55 years of life.
He knows he’s not been doing a good job for years now but something deep inside of him won’t let it go. How does the dad, the one whose charged with the care and well being of his family, turn lose of that role. . .
He’s 87
He acts like a kid, a child. . .at times.
He forgets.
He’s confused.
He likes quiet, his cat, his simple little routine.
Yet he’s still my dad.
It’s his house.
He’s been in that house for 53 years.
He lost my mom while living there.
He lost my brother while living there.
He had a grandchild enter his life in that house.
Who are these people now invading his house, his world?
And when did this daughter, this kid who couldn’t balance a check book. . .
Who had champagne taste on a beer budget, who just had to have cotton candy pink shag carpet,
who was defiant, who preferred GI Joes to Barbies,
who went to Georgia to his beloved Georgia Tech. . .
When did she become the person who is now charged with
his care,
his finances,
his life and well being,
who now dares to tell him he cannot go down the basement stairs in his own house. . .

So it is now official. . .
The inmates are running the asylum and I’m charged with picking up the pieces.

The power of Chocolate

“All you need is love. But a little chocolate now and then doesn’t hurt.”
― Charles M. Schulz

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(a decadent slice of chocolate heaven from Sprungli’s cafe Zurich, Switzerland / Julie Cook / 2012)

For Mother, it was an icy cold Coke.
For Dad, it is chocolate, any and all sort.

Yesterday, late morning, I ran into one of my family’s favorite places in Atlanta.
Henri’s Bakery.
Henri’s is one of the oldest existing bakeries in the city, that and Rhodes Bakery. And granted there are better tasting bakeries within the city, Henri’s has long been woven into the fabric of my life starting when my mother was a little girl. I’ve never really thought much about it but I suppose having a very french sounding bakery in the middle of “old Atlanta” is a bit odd, especially to those transplant yankees and / or visitors to the city.

Henri’s is in the exact same location it’s been in since I was a little girl. Tucked away on a small unassuming little side street and now prime real-estate corner lot, lacking adequate parking, almost cowering in the shadows of high-rise office buildings, uber chic condos and the elegant St Regis Hotel. . .in an area that is at the center of what one considers to be the heart of true Atlanta or more commonly known as Buckhead.

Today’s Buckhead area is known for its posh and ultra chic shopping, Michelin Star dinning, eclectic watering holes, and 5 star hotels—a playground and shopping mecca of the famous and not so famous.
I simply just know it as the place where I spent my childhood and my growing up as both my grandmothers lived in Buckhead. It’s where my mom and dad grew up. . . walking to attend school, riding bikes to the movies, eventually meeting on a blind date and lucky for me, marrying.

Buckhead’s humble beginning was a far cry from today’s scene of upscale prestige. There once was an old general store at the crossroads of what is today’s Roswell Rd and Peachtree Rd. A single dirt road diverged into two separate dirt roads exactly at the site of the general store, with the store being the stopping point on one’s journey up either of the two roads. On the front of the old general store, up above the door, was a mounted head of a buck—hence Buckhead. This was a time long before Sherman had even set his sites on Atlanta, burning it to the ground.

Henri’s opened up in Atlanta in 1929, owned and operated by Henri Fiscus–a man who immigrated to Atlanta from France where he had been trained as a classic Chef. The original location was actually in downtown Atlanta–the location where my aunt remembers visiting every Sunday evening, along with my mom and grandmother, as they would go pick up Sunday’s quick and easy, but oh so fresh and good, supper. To this day, when she comes back to Georgia for a visit, I have to take her over to Atlanta to Henri’s for one of their famous Po Boys on the savory house made French Baguettes. I happen to be partial to the shortbread cookies. . .

I had driven over to Atlanta yesterday to run a few errands before going over to see Dad.
I had told Dad that I would pick up lunch.
“Oh no you don’t have to do that, I think we have something here”
“Dad, just ask Gloria if she’d like for me to pick up lunch.”
“GLO”
“Dad, if she’s not close by just ask her later and call me back”
I think he was afraid he’d forget to ask her as he continued hollering her name.
I suppose getting up and going to see where she was would have been too much to ask.
“GLO”
“IT’S JULIE ON THE WIRE”
Wire Dad?
Long story of yelling short, Gloria said yes, she’d like for me to pick up lunch.

After running a few errands in town, I headed over to Henri’s.
The last place my grandmother had lived was across the street from Henri’s.
Her condominiums having long since been torn down, now making room for a sprawling modern upscale living and shopping development. As I fight off the sweeping cloak of melancholy and longing that always finds me when I drive past my memories, I fretted about finding a parking spot.
Henri’s gets very very crowded at lunchtime–so much so that they have an off duty Atlanta policeman directing traffic.

Today I was lucky, a spot at the front door! Woohoo!!
Walking in the door, I immediately grab a shopping basket and head over to the shelf containing the sandwiches. There is only a limited number of the “famous” sandwiches that are made up for the day–if you’re not early, you miss out but there is now a counter where you can have your sandwiches custom made if you prefer. I grab two of the Po boys and a regular turkey on white for dad, a couple of sacks of chips as I make for the most important counter in the store. . . the beautifully displayed pastries, cakes and cookies.

As I ogle the decadent goodies through the glass, a woman behind the counter asks if she can help me.
I ask for 2 dozen of the shortbread cookies, the ones with the little colorful sugar dot in the center, with each dozen going in a separate box. One box to stay with dad, one box to go home with me.
Next I ask for the most important item of all on my list—two chocolate bombs.
A most decadent conglomeration of chocolate cake, cream, chocolate ganache, a chocolate shell covered in chocolate shavings—for I know my father’s weakness. . .Chocolate.

Dad let’s me in the house as I carry in our lunch.
Like a little kid, he can’t wait for me to pull out the magic little white boxes.
“What’s that?”
“What’s in there?”
“What’s in that box?”
“Cookies Dad.”
“Oooo, I love cookies”
“What’s in that thing?”
“That Dad is your chocolate bomb–2 of them” I proudly proclaim knowing that I have just made his day.
“Oooooo”

Dad eats only half his sandwich before he asks for a cookie.
He chooses the cookie with the chocolate dot on top, opting the eat the chocolate center while leaving the shortbread cookie part behind. At 87 I’m thinking he’s acting more like 7 but I don’t say anything.
“Can I have my bomb now” as glee filled expectancy fills the room.
“You’ve got two of them Dad, you can eat them whenever you’d like!”
“I want one now” which is more of a demand than a polite statement.
In less then 10 minutes, the only thing remaining on his plate are a few chocolate crumbs.

Happy, chatty, friendly and the most attentive and focused he’s really been in a long time, Dad has had a good day, which in turn equates to my having had a good day with Dad.
There is often no substitute for the familiar, the tried and the true.
In this case a humble little outdated bakery which is still owned and operated by the founding family, throw in a couple of sandwiches, a box of shortbread cookies, a chocolate bomb or two, and you’ve got the making of a magical moment.
May we never under estimate the power of chocolate.

Rays of Hope

Hope is being able to see that there is light despite all of the darkness.
Desmond Tutu

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(a late afternoon setting October sun casting rays through the trees / Julie Cook / 2014)

As you may recall I ventured over to visit my dad on Friday.
He was so so.
Gloria was her typical ornery self but had made a wonderful Greek salad for lunch.
Dad doesn’t eat any lettuce other than iceberg, so he wasn’t happy. God forbid he should live dangerously by trying a bite of romaine. . .

Just after arriving, I made pleasantries with Gloria who was struggling in the kitchen.
I happily asked if I could help her as it appeared she was going to such trouble.
A sarcastic quip and smart response of “oh, I suppose I don’t ever go to trouble any other time!?” flew back. . .ooookay I thought, fumbling now trying to explain what I meant. . .ugh. . .
“No, that’s not what I meant, it just looks like you’ve really done too much, I didn’t intend for you to go to any trouble. . .”
She told me she didn’t need any help. . . of course. . .so I wandered in to chat with dad.

He was sitting in his chair watching, you guessed it, a black and white movie with this one being a bit newer, as in 1947 new , Cass Timberlane.
Spencer Tracey and Lana Turner.
“So Dad, how are things” I asked trying to sound perky.
“oh, I don’t know” comes the rather dejected reply.
“Well what’s the problem Dad?
“Oh the things I see in my mind’s eye. . .”
“WHAT did you just say?!” as in when did he start talking like Yoda and a mind’s eye??
“Every morning when I wake up the first thing my mind’s eye (really?) sees is Ed laid out on that table.

“Oh dear lord, here we go again” I silently moan.

For those of you who may be new to reading cookiecrumbs, I’ve previously written about my brother and his suicide and of my coming to terms with that crazy time in my small family’s story, shortly after beginning this blog.

( https://cookiecrumbstoliveby.wordpress.com/2013/03/11/forgiveness-one-step-at-a-time/ )

I’ve also written about my rather dysfunctional family, as well as about having been adopted, as well as having lost my mom to cancer when I was much younger, as well as now dealing with a parent in the mental decline of Alzheimer’s disease along with the continued steps of coming to terms with all of the above while maintaining sanity complete with a good dose of humor.

I share my stories in hope that they may bring comfort, a smile, a thought, an idea, the encouragement that none of us are ever truly alone in our various trials. . . a hope that others who may find themselves dealing with or living with and in similar circumstances never feel totally isolated. I also share my stories because I am a strong believer in the power of HOPE!

My hope comes from my faith and the knowledge that I am only the created and NOT the Creator. Meaning I am not the one who is in control. There is One much greater than myself and that I constantly need Him to be very present in my life. I marvel that a loving God, sent a part of himself as a sacrifice for a woefully fallen and dark world in order to offer me, and anyone or everyone who so chooses, salvation from the despair of living in a fallen world. Hope as well as Life in the Resurrection of the One who over came Death. Yes, we may still have to fight the battles, but our Hope rests in the knowledge that the War is truly already won.

It is to that very Hope which I have chosen to cling to because the alternative is most grim.
My dad has always chosen grim.

My dad continues to blame himself for my brother’s death. My brother was, if memory serves, 30 when he took his life, and I in turn was 35 as there was a 5 year difference in our ages.
Before that fateful day there had been years of great trouble.
Years of our family living in a dark place with a member spiraling out of control with metal illness.
Violent outbursts.
Living with genuine fear and misery.
Eventually he was diagnosed with Paranoid Schizophrenia.
Mother had long succumbed to the cancer, as a means of release.
And my brother had gone on a meticulous and manic search for his adopted parents–only to be rejected again by the mother he so desperately sought.

Doctors had told us he was dangerous.
Finally, after years of maintaining a life of codependency and enabling, Dad thankfully took some initiative. He told my brother that he was no longer welcome in the house—unless he sought help and maintained that help.

Dad had to change the locks on the house–even putting a deadbolt on his own bedroom door.
At the time I was married, pregnant with our first child and living off in another town. I was told to be vigilant and to avoid my brother if he attempted any sort of contact.
Our relationship had always been strained at best—I wasn’t expecting contact.

The short of this long story is that he committed suicide up in the Ohio town to where he had tracked his birth mother. After shutting him out for the second time in his life and rebuffing his gesture for a reconnection, he was devastated, choosing the sad alternative of simply taking his life.

After that tragic time in our family’s history, Dad spiraled deep into his own dark place of mental isolation as he took on the full responsibility which was never his to take.
Our family doctor prescribed for him anti depressants, encouraged him to talk with a psychiatrist, but after years of his refusing to work toward some sort of understanding as to why my brother was the way he was, which had nothing to do with my dad or mom or me, and for refusing to let go of constantly blaming himself, our family physicians threw their hands up in frustration.

Dad bit onto the guilt, and everything associated with it, savoring each sad piece and proudly wearing it like a hair shirt—almost relishing the negative place it took him.

My uncle, when he was still living, was the only person who could get my dad to “act right and fly straight” as he was Dad’s older brother. One word from him and Dad would shut up his “oh woe is me” business turning to the forward moving reality of life at hand verses the dark murky business of a past who’s ending was always the same.
I miss my uncle.

So on this particular Friday afternoon as Dad continued babbling on about “his mind’s eye” nightmare, of what he did and didn’t do, I simply reminded him, for the zillionth time, that that was a long time ago.
Ed was sick and we / he had nothing to do with that sickness and it was time to let all of that go, for his own peace of mind.
Then I immediately brought up Spencer Tracey staring at us thankfully from the television.

Thank God for Spencer Tracey!! I don’t think I ever thought I’d be thankful for Spencer Tracey!
And thank God for Gloria arriving at the door to announce that lunch was ready and thank God for romaine lettuce!

But more importantly I truly and sincerely thank God every day for the Hope He has provided and for its place in my very being.
Hope, joined together by Faith is all any of us has—the alternative is a long, deep, dark hole of emptiness and despair.

Now faith is confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see
Hebrews 11:1

May we choose both our enduring faith and the power of hope. . .

A sunny spring day makes most all things bearable

“Faith is what makes life bearable, with all its tragedies and ambiguities and sudden, startling joys.”
Madeleine L’Engle

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(aren’t the quince beautiful in bloom? Julie Cook / 2014)

As you may recall, Dad turned 86 last week.
Last’s week’s visit was nice.
I purposely chose to ignore the office, aka, my old bedroom, with the latest stack of mail containing any and all errant bills–those late, those ignored and those cancelled notices of service.
The lights were on, their heat was working, the water was running so I just decided to go with the flow and ignore any pressing business at hand.

The week before that was not such a happy visit.

Upon my arrival, I made my way down the hall, back to “the office,” with Dad hot on my heels following. He was wailing for me “not to go in there,” assuring me that everything was fine in that high pitched voice that signals everything is not fine.
What I discovered upon entering the room was a couple of huge piles of very official looking papers, scattered in chairs, desks and the floor. . .several IRS payment vouchers, a myriad of file folders overflowing with records, along with some very official looking booklets from a tax firm.
UGH–I didn’t know whether I should sigh or cry.
“NO, STOP, DON’T TOUCH ANY OF THAT, YOU’LL MESS IT ALL UP!” he screams

I begin riffling through the stacks, OFFICIAL NOTICE, LATE PAYMENT, PLEASE RESPOND. . .”
“Oh Dad, this is not good” I lament.
“NO, STOP IT, GET OUT!”
“WHAT THE HELL??”
“Dad, there is no reason to curse”
“GET OUT, GET OUT AND JUST GO BACK TO CARROLLTON” he screams before plopping down in the chair droping his head to his chest bearing a huge frown on his face, much like a pouting child.
Gloria immediately admonishes him, telling him to stop acting like a child and attempts to remind him that “Julie has come a long way to help”

I feel the tears filling my eyes, stinging as I fight blinking them back.
I mustn’t lose it.
No, not here, not now.

Long story short.
I called my cousin who told me not to fret.
Yeah right.
I called the tax man, who has yet to return my call.
I drove home rehashing the entire sad episode.
Thinking to myself how I very much wished, how I very much needed for him to still take care of all of this kind of stuff— this was his area of expertise–the finances, he’s always taken care of all of us in that regard and he’s always prided himself on doing it by himself. This is not my strong suit. I still very much needed for him to do all of this as he had yet to teach me how. . . this as the tears flowed down my face.

As I continued driving home, I simply pondered what to do.

Fast forward a week.
I had not spoken to Dad in about 5 days–I admit I was not only hurt, but I was mad at him. I just couldn’t bring myself to talk to him yet.
The phone rings. . .
“Juuuulie”– the familiar warble
“Hi Dad”– I say in my cheeriest voice.
“Julie, are you mad at me?” asks a very child like voice.
“Mad? Why would I be mad Dad? I’m not mad.
I was going to come up tomorrow but they’re saying it’s suppose to pour down rain in the morning.”
“I know, I hope it clears out by the afternoon because we have an appointment with the tax man.”
“Really Dad? That’s great”
WHEW!!! I silently shout.

Today’s visit was luckily short and sweet.
I had a 1PM appointment there in Atlanta so I quickly stopped in for a hurried bite to eat.
As Gloria was busy in the kitchen, she tells me to go in and visit with Dad.
I go plop down on the couch as dad is simply sitting in his chair with the TV muted. He’s rather silent.
“So Dad, how are things?”
“Okay”
“What do you think of all this Crimean business?” –this as he usually keeps Fox News constantly on the television.
“Oh it’s bad.”
“Do you now what I see every morning when I wake up?” he oddly asks.
No Dad, I don’t–what?” Thinking he’s going to say that pair of lamps in the den, the ones he’s told me, in no uncertain terms, to keep in the family after he is gone, I’m floored by what comes out of his mouth.
“Ed dead on that metal table”
“DAD!!
“Oh my God!”
“Dad, Ed’s been dead almost 30 years.”
“Well you know I drove him to kill himself. . .”
‘Oh dear Lord’ I’m silently screaming in my head as I’m asking myself why in the world did Gloria want me to come in here to visit Dad if this is where he’s going today. . .”

He never talks about this kind of stuff in front of Gloria because she always puts him in his place mighty fast.
And once again I start the litany that Ed, (my bother who I wrote about many moons ago “Forgiveness, one step at a time), was very much mentally ill–his death had nothing to do with Dad. . .funny how he fixates on this when all rational common sense and everyone knows, Ed was mentally unstable—Dad’s obsession with Ed’s suicide goes well beyond the normal grief of a parent. Our family doctor had tried for years to work with him, getting him help, but it’s been as if he relished fixating and twisting the tragedy back to himself. . .

I look at my watch, 1PM can’t come fast enough.
More chatter about Ed. UGH
All as I quickly nip the direction of the conversation in the bud, turning back to Crimea and Malaysia– Suicide verses hostile takeovers and hijackings—what an afternoon!

Realizing that he’s not gaining any ground with me, he switches to the topic of Mother, who has also been gone now for almost 30 years.
Can we please talk about something other than death and how it’s all your fault I silently moan in my head.
My head is now starting to hurt.
I get up, going back to the kitchen, seeing if I can help speed Gloria along as the thought of running out the back door screaming seems most appealing.

Finally, its time for me to leave!
I make for my car, promising to come back next week for a longer stay.
“Good, I need for you to get things out of the basement.” Dad warbles.
This as I’m thinking that only large pieces of furniture remain down in the basement—all of which are not going to fit into my car. . .ugh

Finally and thankfully making my way to my appointment (mother of the groom dress thing you know), I marvel at how pretty all of the trees and shrubbery look as things are now starting to fully bloom.
The sky a brilliant blue, the tulip trees, forsythia bushes, cherry trees, the daffodils, the tulips and hyacinth. . . all in their full colorful regalia. It’s a true sensory overload, so much needed.

Old Atlanta, that part of the oh so shrinking the city which still harkens back to my youth, is so very beautiful. . .there is simply nothing as pretty as Atlanta in the Spring. The beautiful young debutante stepping out for her first debut and dance–that’s Atlanta all gussied up for Spring. An army of ancient oaks, which line the Atlanta streets like soldiers at attention, wait patiently under the growing weight of groaning buds ready to signal a new season with a new beginning.

Trying not to dwell on Dad or of our conversations or of his taxes, preferring rather to bask in the glory of blooms and colors which were now offering me a full palette of visual delight, I silently say a prayer, thanking God for blue skies, blooming flowers and the for hope which is lovingly woven into this single moment, the birth of Spring.