Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Mostly Listening

I was in our home office when I got a phone call from Marty’s care giver for the day.  It was unusual because she was with Marty in Marty’s room, just down the hall.  Naturally, my anxiety meter went to red.  I mean really, why would LaShonda call me when she could holler at me from the other room.
My office is on one end of our home, Marty’s room is on the other end.  There’s about 75 feet separating the two areas.
I answered the phone with my what the hell is going on voice, “What’s up?”

“Where are you?” the voice answered, it was Marty.  It took a minute for my brain to cipher through the incongruity of her voice on LaShonda’s phone in the same house just yards from where I sat.  

My brain engaged, “I’m in the office.”

Marty asked, “What office?  Where?”

“In your house, just down the hall” I said as I was standing up to walk the length of the house to Marty’s room.  

“Why are you calling me?”

“I just wanted to talk to you” she said.  I think, “Aww, isn’t that sweet”.  Actually I felt a pang of guilt and chastised myself for being too quick to assume the worst.

I was in Marty’s room when she finished the sentence and said into the phone while looking at her and LaShonda sitting up in her bed, “I’m right here.”

Marty had been watching and listening as LaShonda talked on the phone as they rested in Marty’s room during the afternoon.  She clearly had decided after eavesdropping on LaShonda that she needed to have her own telephone conversation and LaShonda was more than happy to oblige her.

I took my phone and called daughter Erin, she was out of pocket.  I called son Matt and he was in Las Vegas at a convention.  Then I called the person I should have called first anyway, my mother.  My mother is a world class talker.  She can and does chat with anyone about anything for any length of time and she is great with Marty, filling her ears with all kinds of family gossip.  She is the perfect person to scratch Marty’s itch and she luckily she answered my call.

I explained what was going on and handed Marty over to my mother and they talked and talked and talked some more, they chatted for 30 minutes.  This is not a small thing for Marty, she doesn’t really talk like that anymore, she used to, but not anymore.  

You can always make Marty’s day if you come and talk to her, to her, not me.  That’s what my mother does.  Marty likes it when I’m in the background and she is in charge.  She loves it when someone other than me focuses their attention on her.

Marty won’t carry the conversation but she loves listening to others tell her stories.  She is a great listener and never reveals a secret, mostly because she can’t remember the details.

My mother was thrilled with the communication.  In truth, she is always the one who comes and talks and whispers secrets to Marty, not to me, not to the caregivers, but to Marty.  Marty loves it, she craves it, it makes her feel a part, it makes her feel sort of normal.  My mother does that simply by telling Marty stories, simply by talking to Marty and letting Marty listen and absorb the warmth and conversation of someone other than me.  It’s a big deal.

That’s the lesson here.  I’m the one who likes the rhythm in our day.  I’m the one who craves the familiar, the rut, Marty simply puts up with it.  She likes something, someone different, someone who will talk to her, who will fill her head with normal talk and not just ask her how she is doing.  My mother knows this and does it.

The telephone call with my mother did not completely surprise me.  The length did, Marty’s engagement did.  It shouldn’t have, it was another lesson from Marty…….and my mother.  Sometimes I need to get out of the way and let the pros talk and just listen.  

It’s what Marty likes to do, she likes to listen, she likes to listen to an occasional different voice.

Thursday, January 8, 2015


I’m a slow writer.  It takes a few days for me to get an idea to get to the page and a few more days to edit and change and then finally, with some trepidation post.  There are many reasons to think I should take a few more days in the editing process.  Sooner or later I might get the whole quiet quite thing correct.

I started putting this little piece together on January 3, the 39th wedding anniversary of one Marty and Marty’s Husband.  We were married 39 years ago in Dalhart Texas on a clear blue sky day.  I wore a ruffled tuxedo shirt and a tuxedo made out of what looks like velour with a gigantic bow tie.  Marty, she was gorgeous in her wedding dress, white I’ll have you know.  

It was a good day, at least what I remember of it.

We were married in the First Presbyterian Church of Dalhart by Jack Pierce, a Baptist minister who was Marty’s one time minister.  Standing beside us were Debbie Powell, Ellen Beth Jones, Sharon Hillhouse, Skip Maines, Dean Brooks and Wright Allen.  All are still with us today save Wright.  We still keep in some kind of contact with most of these amazing people.  We were surrounded and embraced by friends and family. 

It was a good day.

We took pictures before the wedding which was kind of unheard of in 1976, but it was more convenient.  I suspect there were a couple hundred people there and we all moved to the high tone Dalhart Country Club for a short reception after the early afternoon wedding.  Marty and I drove to Colorado Springs after the shindig in her 1976 cream colored Oldsmobile Cutlass Supreme.  We ate tuna sandwiches on a red and white checkered cloth Marty’s Grandmother made for us for our ride.  It was a nice ride.  

It was a good day.

In the thirty years that followed we finished educations, got different jobs, moved to some different towns, had some children, raised some children and settled in our home in Waco Texas.
It was a good thirty years, mostly.  

Come on, not all years can be great; sometimes it’s the not so great years that make you stronger.
Nine years ago, on January 3, on our 30th anniversary Marty had her second stroke.  We were home, intentionally not celebrating our anniversary because we were tired from a trip to Dalhart and Angel Fire New Mexico. I was worried because Marty, still recovering from the ruptured aneurysm, just seemed off a bit.  

That night, right after eating I looked at Marty and she was slumped to her left, her face slack, saliva running down the left corner of her drooped mouth.  She had a look of real fear and confusion on her face and I must have gone pale as I picked up the phone and dialed 911, again.
It was a bad day.

Nine years ago, that night, on our anniversary night, I called for children once again, I called to say, come now and they came.  I watched as the ICU nurses settled Marty in for her night in intensive care.  She actually seemed to be okay as I backed out of the ICU and drove home, without her, again. 

I was our anniversary, the 30th; it was a bad day.

Over the next days and weeks the things got much worse and then a little better.  Marty walked the edge of life and death too often; we went through months of rehab, years of illness and change. We faced too many things too often too young, but we lived through them and we have found ways to celebrate almost every day.

In the nine years since that last stroke, since those days that shook our core we have learned, we have lived and we have loved.  We have embraced each other and our families and our friends and we have learned to live a new life one that is not perfect but will do for now.

On this 39th anniversary Marty got her gift from Kindler’s and we ate a quiet dinner with each other and our care giver.  We sat comfortably and watched some football and enjoyed each other’s presence, something that didn’t seem possible nine years ago.

It was a good day.

Thursday, January 1, 2015

An Eventful Holiday

The lake at Christmas with family is a good place to be.  

We planned to spend an idyllic few days together enjoying the company of our children and grandchildren, enjoying the quiet of the lake, enjoying the holiday season. 

Alas and alack, idyllic is not really our family way.

Marty and I, with Nykkie our caregiver in tow, went to our lake home on Christmas Eve.  Our kids and their kids came Christmas afternoon.  

Little Lily, daughter Erin’s daughter, had an ear infection so she had to stop and see a Doc in the Box and get some medicine.  The infection didn’t slow her down and she was in perfect form when they made it to the lake. 

We did the kid Christmas thing and the grands were appropriate in behavior and gratitude.  There really is nothing like a child, in particular a grandchild that opens a gift with wide eyes as they say, “Yes, just what I wanted.”  

That same night, Christmas night, I stepped out the back to take Maggie the geriatric dachshund out for her nightly duty I smelled the night air, it didn’t smell good.  At first I gave it no thought, a random stench, it happens.  I went back out later and the smell was stronger so I got my flashlight and looked around and spied a puddle around our septic tank, sure enough that was where the smell originated.

I know next to nothing about septic systems but I knew this was different and clearly not right.  I went to bed a little puzzled, a little anxious at my sewage.  

I went out to check the air the next morning and I couldn’t smell anything.  Okay, the night before was an aberration, or so I thought.  After a morning of clothes washing and dish washing and bathing the smell was back and the puddle was bigger, not a good thing with eight adults, three children and ten more on the way.

I called several folks until I found a kind soul to come out and look at the system.  He proceeded to educate me as he pumped crud out of the tanks and replaced a pump, problem solved…..not so much.  

For the evening of post Christmas day I spent my time going out and lifting the lid to our septic tank and turning the pump on and off to empty the tank to the appropriate level.  Let’s just say I got to know my kids, inside and out, they are kind of gross.

We all made a vow to reduce our water output to support the empty tank program.  About the time of Marty’s shower things began to back up…literally.  Toilets refused to flush, clothes refused to be washed and dishes piled in the sink.  And then the clothes dryer quit heating with a load of wet clothes waiting to be heated.

Somewhere during the great Christmas Septic wars daughter-in-law Sarah announced that little Emma, the youngest of our beautiful and marvelously behaved grandchildren, was running a fever.  Sure enough baby girl had red cheeks, red eyes, snot and a cough.  She was a walking, talking, laughing Petri dish, bless her little heart.

That night, the night after Christmas we, as a group, made the decision to abandon ship early the next morning.  The kids left early the next day.  Marty, Erica and I, like captains of a sinking ship, stayed to organize, clean and discretely flush a toilet from time to time.  We went back to Waco that afternoon.  

The dryer there didn’t work either.

Now this could be the Christmas from hell but no one was harmed and these are all first world problems.  They are terribly inconvenient problems, but none of them, even the illnesses, are life changing problems.  Do they produce anxiety, yes, do they require changing plans for 20 people, yes. 

My sister stepped up and hosted the hoard on Sunday and we completed our family Christmas on time and in good fashion.

I wish we could have stayed in the lake setting.  I wish we could have spent that beautiful calm Christmas with my beautiful calm family.  Ah, who are we kidding, its chaos when everything works.  

Besides, in spite of it all I still got to do this as I lay in bed with the grandkids watching Curious George:

And I got to do this with my bride:

We had a good time….in spite of the first world problems…..that’s a family Christmas.