Posts by Sally

Premature

That little pat on the back that I was giving myself was premature. Way premature.

I had gone to the gym this morning to work out. I love working out. Love it, love it, love it. I wish I could get there every day.

For me, exercise is such a key part of my well-being. I feel more optimistic after I exercise. Big ideas come to me while I exercise. My body craves healthy food on the days I exercise. It’s an all-around win-win-win.

So this morning I exercised.

In the course of elevating my heart rate, oscillating ropes, swinging the kettlebell, and dripping with sweat, I started thinking about caregiving and how far I’ve come on this journey. I used to get so frustrated with my mother — but she had a bitter sharpness that my father doesn’t have. She would harp at me, insisting on something that wasn’t, or lash out at one of my children for something they didn’t do. She could be a challenge.

My father, on the other hand, laughs at the darnedest things. He’s happy and content. He works on his puzzles, reads his books, and listens to his music. People stop to visit him. He gets a bowl of vanilla ice cream every day. He watches the Red Sox play nearly every night. It’s a good life, I think.

So I was working out and thinking about all this. I was thinking, I’ve got a good handle on this caregiving thing. I think I’m doing all right.

I patted myself on the back and began mentally writing a blog post of encouragement for other caregivers. I wanted to tell them that they’ll have good days, maybe even a bunch of them in a row.

When I got to the house, Dad was coming out the door with the dandelion-stabbing tool (surely, there’s a better name for it) because he wanted to start getting after the dandelions. I asked him to stay on level ground and checked to make sure he was wearing his LifeLine in case he fell.

As I headed inside, almost as an after-thought, he said, “It was the strangest thing, but I found all this money today. I left it on the table for you.”

“Where did you find it?” I asked.

“Here and there,” he said, waving vaguely with hands to indicate that it was in a variety of places like the dandelions in the yard.

Puzzled, I went to investigate.

My wallet was sitting out on the kitchen table. I looked inside and it was mostly empty. My heart sank.

I found all that money he had been talking about, stuffed like a bookmark into a book. It was a twenty and three fives — $35 that had been in my wallet.

I looked in the garbage and found gift cards, receipts, coupons, a note from Mary, and other papers that only an hour before had been in my wallet.

I grabbed the crumpled papers and marched out to my father who was still standing on the deck holding the dandelion-stabber and looking at the dandelions.

“Did you find the money?” he asked innocently.

I exploded. “That was the money in my wallet,” I said. “And these –” I held out the papers I had pulled from the garbage — “these are mine.”

“They aren’t anything important,” he said.

“Not to you, but to me they are,” I said, far more loudly than I should.

And the argument went on far longer than it should have.

I knew in my head that he couldn’t understand, but I was frustrated.

Gone were back-pats. Gone were my words of encouragement. Gone was any goodwill left over from my workout.

I went in the house and fixed my green smoothie. From inside the house, I watched as he sat in the grass and stabbed at dandelions. I stabbed at writing words of encouragement and this is what came out.

Fellow caregivers, some days are like that.

But it’s still all so good.

The sun is shining.

The dandelions are smiling (unaware of their fate).

The smoothie was delicious.

And I have $35 safe in my wallet — upstairs now.

Small

One day
I found myself
Staring at the clear blue water
Of the pool
And marveling at the fact
That I could not see
A single drop

All that liquid
In front of me
And my eyes could not distinguish
One single drop —
Just water
En masse

So I did some calculations
Using my phone
And my head (only a little) —

I thought,
This pool is 25 yards long.
There are 3 feet in every yard.
Therefore, the pool is 75 feet long.

I figured,
I don’t know the width of each lane
But I know from swimming rules that
Each lane must be at least 7 feet across.
We have 8 lanes
So this pool is approximately 56 feet wide.

And I further reasoned,
The depth of the pool varies.
In the shallow end, it’s 4 feet deep,
And in the deep end it’s 8 feet,
But I’ll use 4 feet —
Just to be conservative.

So, I multiplied 75 x 56 x 4
To arrive at the number that
Minimally expresses the volume,
The number of cubic feet in the pool.

That’s 36,000 cubic feet of water —
Although I know there’s really more
Because of the way the depth changes.

Then, I looked up
How many drops of water
Make up one cubic foot:
566,336.93

So a conservative guess
At the number of drops of water
In that one swimming pool
Is

36,000 x 566,336.93 =
20,388,129,480

Let’s just call it 20 billion drops

And I still can’t see a single one.

Out of curiosity,
I looked up the population
Of the world

According to
The most recent United Nations estimates
In May 2018
There are 7.6 billion people in the world

If people were drops of water
My pool would be little more than 1/3 full

The pool at 5:15 AM

It made me feel small
And large
All at the same time
And I’m not sure why

Rabid Chickens

My memory of the wall is tinged with blue-green. A very pale blue-green, mind you.

I honestly don’t know if it’s real, or hopelessly colored and skewed by more than half a century.

I scoured old photographs this morning looking for it. Surely this white-washed cinderblock wall, with a hint of aqua, so prominent in my memories of Kagnew Station would show up in some pictures.

Stewart, Peter, Donabeth, Sally — Kagnew Station Christmas

When I was 2 years old until I was just barely 5, my father was stationed at an army base in Ethiopia. My earliest memories are from there, but have been reduced largely to color.

Kagnew Station was blue-green.

Fort Devens was red-brown, like the color of bricks. Our address there was drilled into me, 84D Walnut Street.

84D Walnut St, Fort Devens Christmas

Similarly, the distance between the earth and the sun was drilled into my youngest brother after we moved to Cooperstown.Why he needed to know that distance was beyond me, but my parents and older siblings made sure he could recite it, asking him often, “How many miles to the sun?” My tow-headed little brother would answer, “93 million miles,” and we would cheer.

That’s a memory draped in the lush green of Cooperstown and farm land and maples in summer.

My youngest brother and me — Cooperstown summer

But the wall around Kagnew Station — I remember my mother warning me about it. “Don’t go beyond it,” she said, “because there are rabid chickens on the other side.”

In my head, now, I know that’s ridiculous. I’m sure she never said a word about rabid chickens.

For one thing, rabies only affects mammals. I learned that as an adult when a veterinarian friend gave a presentation on rabies to our homeschool group. When he made that statement – rabies only affects mammals — I blurted out, “But what about chickens?” He looked at me long and hard, waiting to see if I was serious. Unfortunately, I was. The seed had been planted decades before.

For another, I don’t think the wall around the base was very high. A chicken could have flown over it.

My working theory is this: my mother warned me to stay away from the wall. I had heard my father talking about the dangers of rabies.  At some point I saw a chicken fly over the wall. It all mashed together, like when bits and pieces of life swirl together into the implausible reality of a bizarre dream.

I probably inserted the chicken into my mother’s words. I’ve always liked chickens.

A rabid chicken sounds so dramatic, too. Picture an innocuous chicken. Add some drool and a deadly virus. Like Chanticleer meets Old Yeller. Maybe that was the scariest image 4-year-old me could conjure up.

The memory is covered in a pale blue-green haze.

In the meantime, I have an assignment to write about a place (#sorryLaura) and this is what came out.

Strange.

Almost scary.

Like a rabid chicken.

Communion Bread

A few months ago, one of the ladies asked me if I could help with communion, setting it up three or four times a year. I would be replacing a woman  who had been showing signs of dementia.

I had my first turn this last week. One of the ladies showed me where the supplies were kept — the chalices and plates, the pretty linens, and a six-pack of bottles of grape juice.

It seemed pretty straight-forward.

Until I asked about the bread.

“You can get any bread,” the woman told me.

“Any bread?” I asked.

“Sure,” she said. “It doesn’t really matter.”

It mattered to me.

I angsted over communion bread all week. I couldn’t get just any old bread. This was the body of Christ, for crying out loud.

Our church offers communion by intinction. The pastor tears a chunk off the loaf of bread (yeast bread) and offers it to the communicant, who then dips it in the chalice.

I know that some churches use matzoh, or unleavened bread, because that’s what Jesus would have used during His last Passover supper. Others use leavened bread, a reminder of new life and a new covenant. Some churches use wafers and believe in transsubstantiation.

Some churches use individual cups. Others use chalices. Some churches use wine. Others use juice.

Some celebrate the Eucharist weekly, others monthly, and still others yearly.

However it’s done, all Christians unite in this mystery that goes beyond time and space and a morsel and a taste of juice.

The body of Christ broken for you.

The blood of Christ shed for you.

I struggled with what to bring for the communion bread. I prayed about it. I wrestled with in my heart. I looked at bread at the grocery store and at the local bakery. Then I prayed some more.

Finally, I decided to try to make the bread. I pictured myself kneading the dough and praying for the people in our congregation.

I got a recipe from another church, but it didn’t call for kneading. I messaged the woman who sent me the recipe — “Do I really not knead it? Just punch it down?”

She answered, “I think the mixing is enough. I never kneaded it. Yes, just punch it down. No worries.”

“This is an act of faith for me,” I told her, “in more ways than one.”

Before I removed the baked bread from the pan, I laid my hands on the loaf and prayed, “O Lord, please be honored with this bread. Bless the people who partake of it.”

I brought the bread to church in a brown paper bag. I didn’t want anyone to know that I had made it. Bud helped me set everything up on the altar.

The moment in the service came when Pastor Tom lifted the bread for all to see.

“This is Christ’s body, broken for you,” he said, as he broke the loaf in half.

As luckfateGodcoincidencechance would have it, Pastor Tom asked me to stand beside him for communion and hold the chalice.

I watched him tear off chunk after chunk of bread. I tried to focus on my words — “The blood of Christ shed for you” but the bread was so distracting. The pieces got larger and larger.

One woman laughed as she received a piece so large that she had to tear it in half to dip in the chalice.

I laughed, too. It was comical.

After the service, she came up front to talk with the pastor.

“You got your whole lunch there,” I said to her, nodding towards the communion trays.

Tom said, “I was trying to pull off small pieces but I couldn’t!”

She said, “You were very generous, pastor.”

Tom said, “No, God is very generous.”

We all agreed.

Isn’t that the crux of communion — a God so generous that He gave His son.

The woman said, “I didn’t mind. That bread was so good!”

The bread wasn’t perfect — but then, neither am I.

And God honored the bread.

Generously.

 

 

 

 

Z is for Zaengle

Recently I found this photograph from 1982 of three of my sisters-in-law standing in front of my parents’ house.

Judging by their attire, the girls must have stopped by the house after a soccer game. Bud and I were in Syracuse, so they stopped by to see my family. My family and the Zaengle family are intertwined in so many ways.

A few years later, Mary, the one in the middle, lived with my parents for a while. I can remember my father telling me how much he liked to see the wild outfits that Mary wore. She was (and is) much more fashion-forward than I will ever be.

I asked Mary if she had any stories to tell about my father from when she lived there. She said,

The picture of a gentleman. Steady and calm.

I always appreciated being able to live with your family. I loved that DP was always still awake when I got home from work, even if I worked later than normal. He said that he liked to see what crazy outfit I was wearing but it felt to me like he wanted to be sure I was safe and sound. I never felt like an inconvenience but more an instant part of the family.

Whenever we were just talking, about nothing in particular, he was always attentive. He had time to talk and never made you feel like he had to get going. Little things like that stuck out to me.

Classy, cool dude.

My parents were role-models for hospitality. They welcomed so many people into their home.

Monti, my brother Peter’s friend, also stayed with my parents for a few years. He sent this to us before my father’s birthday party.

When I  was attending graduate school at SUNY Oneonta, Don and Elinor invited me to live at their home. They provided me with a welcoming home, and a second family while I went to school. I  feel like I became their fourth son. I attended family events, church, art show openings, Hall of Fame dinners, ran in two triathlons, and paddled the General Clinton  canoe regatta with Jimmy. I took Natalie (the sheep dog) for walks, and watched her chase chickens and steal corn off our roadside stand. …

Monti’s wife Jennie added this:

I remember how much I loved coming to visit, and how welcome Dr. and Mrs. P always made me feel. There were so many fun things to do, like taking Natalie for walks, helping in the kitchen, listening to the Kingston Trio on the reel-to-reel, and double dating with Dr. & Mrs. P to get ice cream at the brand-new Stewart’s…

When we had our first baby, we stopped to visit on the way home from the hospital, so they were the first to see Alyson. Monti and Alyson stayed with Dr. and Mrs. P when Justin was born, as well.

As I’ve worked this month to write stories about my father, I’ve been struck again and again by how very blessed I’ve been by my parents. My father was a mentor to many, generous with his time, kind, and compassionate. He served his country and his community well.

He is very loved by so many people.

Plus, he’s a cool dude.

from 2012