Thursday, September 30, 2010

Remembering Edna

June, over at Aging Gratefully wrote a beautiful post about pets and how they enrich our lives and the heartbreak of their loss.  Like good writing often does, it got me to thinking about the animals who shared our family life.  Thanks June for the memories!

My daughter was in elementary school when we bought her the Siamese cat she named Edna. Edna tolerated the rest of the family, but she was Sarah’s cat.  She was Sarah’s playmate. Dressed in baby clothes and wrapped in a blanket, Sarah would push her around the house in a toy stroller. Her furry head covered in a white lace bonnet, Edna was content to be babied.  Edna sat in Sarah’s lap when watching TV and slept on Sarah’s bed. When Sarah was upset, Edna listened to the litany of complaints about how unfair life was. Edna’s fur absorbed Sarah’s childhood tears. Edna showed her love to Sarah by leaving her gifts of dead mice in her shoes. Sarah learned to never put her feet into her shoes without first checking for surprises.

The years went by and Sarah spent her junior year of high school as an exchange student in Spain. This was before internet access was widely available. We communicated the old fashioned way, writing letters and an occasional expensive trans-Atlantic phone call.  Edna started sleeping at the foot of my bed. I worried about a lot of things that year that my 15 year old daughter studied in Spain, and a big worry was that Edna, who was showing signs of age, would die and I would have to tell my daughter that her pet was dead. I couldn’t imagine telling her in a letter or over the phone and not be able to hold her while she sobbed.

Edna lived on. Sarah returned home for her senior year and Edna moved back to spending the night in Sarah’s room. A year later Sarah left again, this time to attend college. Once again I worried that Edna would die and Sarah wouldn’t have an opportunity to say goodbye. When Sarah came home for vacations, Edna immediately shifted her loyalties to her. For her four years in college, every time Sarah left home, she said goodbye to Edna as if she would never see her again.

But Edna lived on. She was a little slower and her days of mice catching were behind her. On her infrequent trips outside she usually went only as far as the first patch of sunlight on the deck. She wasn’t as active, but she was still a loving family member.

After college graduation Sarah lived at home for a year and Edna settled once again into Sarah’s room. Edna could no longer make the leap from the floor to the bed so Sarah arranged furniture so Edna could climb up on the bed.

And then Sarah went off to work on a small atoll in the Pacific. Her time off from work she spent traveling. She’d been to Hermiston; she wanted to see the rest of the world. She got engaged and we started long distance planning for a June wedding in Hawaii.

One morning we noticed that Edna was having trouble walking and then she couldn’t walk at all. The vet told us she had had a stroke. He treated her with steroids and we nursed her back from the edge…holding her upright so she could use the litter box and feeding her fancy canned food that she could easily eat. She regained the use of her legs and no longer needed our help with the litter box, but she never gave up the fancy cat food. I emailed Sarah daily with medical updates. Edna pulled through and went back to her routine of sleeping in the sunlight.

Sarah came home in the spring for a visit so we could shop for the wedding dress. She came in the door and immediately called for Edna. A week later Sarah was flying back to Johnston Island. Once again she said goodbye as if it was the last time she would see Edna. It was.

Two months later it was obvious that Edna’s health was failing. She was thin and moved awkwardly. It was painful for her when we picked her up. She started having trouble getting to the litter box. Her systems were failing. She had been a member of our family for more than 15 years. It was hard to let her go, but it was the right thing for her. My husband took her on her final journey to the vet and brought the cat carrier home empty. That weekend we flew to Hawaii for the wedding.

Before we left home I struggled with what we would tell Sarah. A friend advised me not to say anything. “What will it matter” he said “if in her mind the cat lives happily on another few weeks?”  We didn't want to cast a shadow over the joy of the wedding.

We didn’t tell Sarah that her cat was dead and during the two weeks of wedding events and family vacation activities we managed to avoid all conversations about pets.

There just never seemed to be a good time to tell Sarah that Edna was gone and the weeks went by. Sarah and her new husband were still living and working on that island in the Pacific. Not long after the wedding their jobs ended and they were moving back to the mainland. We were driving to the airport to pick them up and we still hadn’t told Sarah.

There’s an old joke about a Dumb Guy telling a child about a death. The advice given to Dumb Guy is to break the news gradually. The first day the child is told that the cat is stuck in a tree. The next day the child is told that the firemen are trying to get the cat out of the tree but aren’t being successful. The third day the child is told that the cat is dead. Dumb Guy thinks this is pretty good advice and decides to use this strategy. Dumb Guy tells his child “Grandma’s stuck in a tree.”

It was too late to break the news gradually. We told her in the car driving home from the airport that Edna wasn’t there to greet her when she got home. We all agreed that Edna had a good life. We loved her and she loved us back. Although there is that ache of missing her, there are the memories of that special time in our lives when my children were small and Santa, the tooth fairy, and Edna all left surprises.

Monday, September 27, 2010

Tales of the Traveling Teapot

I found the teapot above shoved in the bottom drawer of the dresser in my spare bedroom. My brother stayed with me last week when he passed through this area while riding in Cycle Oregon. Before we drove him back to the Cycle Oregon encampment in Pendleton, I had scanned the back bedroom to make sure he wasn’t leaving me any surprises. I didn’t mount a full-scale search…I underestimated his deviousness.

The teapot belonged to my mother. After her death my brothers and I cleaned out her house. I had heard horror stories from friends about families that were torn apart as siblings fought over dividing their inheritances. My brothers and I were fortunate that my mother had a will and we had a clear understanding of how her “estate” was to be divided. Together we worked to clean out her house. Most of the contents of her home were donated to a local charity. Any items that any of us wanted to keep were placed in a pile and we took turns choosing what we wanted. There wasn’t any bickering or fighting…we mostly chose things that had emotional significance to us not intrinsic value. One by one we chose the things that were most important to us. The copper pot that sat on the hearth of my childhood home now sits in front of my fireplace and a small painting that my mother bought at an art fair hangs on the wall next to the one I bought on the same day.

The grandchildren were given the opportunity to choose a keepsake. My daughter saved items from the china hutch that she had given her grandmother. When I last visited her house I saw that the paper flowers she had made when she visited her grandmother when she was 8 or 9 are now enthroned in her own china hutch. My son salvaged his grandmother’s college papers from the recycle pile and a tie-dyed T-shirt from one of her college events. The writings, that include a story about my brothers and me, now live in a suitcase under the bed in the spare bedroom.  I don’t know that we will ever do anything with them, but I’m glad he saved them.  He still wears the T-shirt. I don’t know what the other grandchildren chose, but the process gave them some closure.

Somehow the teapot got in my pile of stuff. My brother agreed to store a few items for me because I couldn’t carry everything in my suitcase when I flew home. We packed up several boxes to ship to my home in Oregon. I didn’t pack the teapot. I don’t remember it from my childhood. The running joke when we ran across something that we didn't want was to give it to the other sibling and say "Mom wanted you to have this."   I told my brother that Mom definitely wanted him to have the teapot.

We scattered my mother’s ashes at the pier in Oceanside. We didn’t have a memorial service, but we did all go to her favorite restaurant. The grandchildren wore their grandmother’s huge sunglasses and everyone wore an assortment of buttons from her collection of lost causes.

I flew home and several weeks later the boxes arrived. I opened a box that I didn’t remember packing and found the teapot, several pairs of those huge sun glasses, a “Merry Christmas” button and numerous other items that I had tried to abandon at my brother’s house. My nephew had pounded in the side of the teapot to make it fit in the box.

Several months later I visited my brother and took the teapot with me. He found it before I left and hid it back in my luggage. Foiled again! It came home with me. The teapot has now made four trips back and forth from Oregon to California. We’re going there for Christmas this year and I’ll take it with me…and I won’t leave my luggage unattended.

My husband suggested that we don’t take it…and just drive my brother nuts thinking that he can’t find it. He’ll probably read this blog. I haven’t decided on my game plan yet. I’ve got a couple of months to work out the perfect hiding place. 

As challenging as my relationship with my mother was, it is comforting that a silly tradition and good family memories have come out of her death. I'm sure she wanted Leigh to have the teapot.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Nana Approaches a Milestone With Oprah

I've never worried about my age.  At 40 I celebrated by skydiving...and I have a video to prove it.  If anyone has a VHS player I'd be happy to show it to you.  For my 50th I purchased a diamond ring with one stone for each decade...that I managed to lose at the Little Rock airport when it went flying off my hand because I was too cheap to resize it after I lost 100 pounds.  So I have slender, more attractive fingers, but no birthday diamonds.  Next month I will reach another benchmark...60!  Although I've been anticipating this major milestone for a year, I have yet to settle on the appropriate way to celebrate.

How do I celebrate 60?  I can't afford that many diamonds.  Jumping out of a plane once was enough for me.  How do I make the big six oh memorable?  In retirement I do whatever I want everyday, so making one day special is a challenge.  The past few weeks I've traveled to Austin to see the grandchildren, to San Diego to see my family, and to Alaska to see the glaciers.

When I first started to blog, I had a list of things that I thought about accomplishing in retirement, including maintaining a blog for several months.  That one I can check off my list because I have regularly posted to my two blogs.  I wanted to take a trip with the grandchildren and we have scheduled a trip to San Diego with all of my family for December. 

The accomplishment that eludes me is seeing Oprah. I have been an Oprah groupie for almost 25 years.  Readers of my blogs know that I'm fond of quoting what I've learned from faithfully watching her show.  I read the books she recommends, well, most of them.  I just couldn't get through A New Earth.  If Costco carries a book she recommends, I'll probably buy it and at least try to get through it.  

Now Oprah is in her final season and the clock is ticking to complete this goal.  I check her website daily for the opportunity to apply for a ticket.  Now that I am no longer working, I have the flexibility to get to Chicago whenever an opportunity presents itself, but so far the ticket window has not been open.  Oprah frequently assures her viewers that the Universe is responsive.  After watching the season opener, I can see that I'm not going to win a ticket by being her biggest fan.  I like Oprah, but I haven't built a school in Africa after being moved by a segment on her show.  I haven't fed the hungry or paid off any one's mortgage.  But I did lose 100 pounds and I am a teacher, both reoccurring themes on Oprah's show.  Well, I had lost 100 pounds but I just went on a cruise and I'm a little heavier now and I've retired...but I do substitute occasionally.

I'm waiting for the Universe and Oprah to respond, but I probably need a back-up plan.  Got any good ideas for celebrating my 60th?  It is a time to celebrate.  I have much to be grateful for in my first 60 years.  I have almost made it to three score and Oprah won't be on the air when I celebrate four score.

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Nana Notices the Passage of Time

I just returned home from California where I attended my cousin’s wedding.  Actually, the groom, Chris, is my second cousin, the son of my cousin Martin.  I hadn’t seen the groom since he was a little boy, or my cousin Martin for probably 25 years.   I used to babysit Martin.   When I first saw Chris, I thought he was my cousin. He looks so much like his father as I remembered him.   So it was a surprise to see Martin with gray hair and a gray, neatly trimmed beard. He looked dapper in his tuxedo.   In the words of another family member, “he fought his demons.” He found religion and changed his life around.

I also saw my Auntie Pam and Uncle Colin. When we immigrated to the US in 1955, my dad and Uncle Colin made the journey a month before my mother, brother, Auntie Pam and I did. We crossed the Atlantic on the lle de France and cleared customs in New York.  Until we grew up and had families of our own, Auntie Pam and Uncle Colin were our only relatives.  Everyone else was back in England and fifty plus years ago travel was not as accessible as it is today.  Auntie Pam was much as I remembered her, but Uncle Colin is fighting medical problems and is stick thin and wobbly.  I thought that this was perhaps the last time I would see him.

I had carried my memories of my family for so many years without seeing them that I was shocked to see how everyone had aged.  Everyone was so old…still attractive, but so much older than I remembered them.  I see my immediate family on a more regular basis and somehow the march of time escaped my notice.

We are an immigrant family success story.  We came to the U.S. with very little but a willingness to work and contribute to our new homeland.  We have thrived.  The next generation was born in the U.S. and went on to college and careers.  There have been individual challenges, and even some demons to slay, but all in all our family has had opportunities that would not have been available to us in England.

There is much to be grateful for, and seeing everyone at the wedding reminded me of our history and how much I take for granted.  Time marches on and I haven’t made the time to celebrate with my family. They won’t always be there; I’m so grateful that I got the opportunity to see them again and touch my past.
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