Tuesday: Time to go

by Lisa on March 11, 2014

Death is one of those Grand Canyon moments in life like marriage or having a baby. No matter how hard you try, once you’ve crossed to the other side of the gorge, you can’t go back.  The path you’ve walked on down into the canyon, and through the canyon, seems to  have disappeared just as fast as your feet have carried you. It becomes painfully clear once you’ve finished your assent up the other side of the steep wall that your trail has been completely swallowed up by the winds of time and the dust of now. Your vision has changed. The sun has moved. Your life has been altered. No going back.

The curtains are open and it’s mid day. I can see fresh buds and leaves beginning to pop out on the plants in the backyard. Spring has sprung. Sun light streams through every window in the house. The dishes are done and I’ve folded up the hand towel and put it in its place on the counter. I turn around. I could go sort through some more things or I could sit down and start working on her obituary.

I do neither. I know I’ve started the arduous climb up the other canyon wall. I feel the wind picking up and see the dust beginning to swirl. I want to savor the moment.

I walk over to the  kitchen table and turn the boxy transistor radio on. Loud—trying to recreate a typical Gordo day.

If you were to open the garage door at the end of the long hallway and you could hear the racket long before you could see her sitting, hunched over, at her chair. The black box on the table might be blaring Rush Limbaugh’s voice or some other talk radio person. It could be screaming out a 30 second how-to-invest-your-money commercial before returning to some rockish or current pop type of music. Or it could have some college football or basketball announcer shouting out play by play action. No matter what you knew it was before 4:00 pm because at 4:00 pm the button was slid to off as she made her way to the chair in the living room before the TV to watch a little Judge Judy followed by the local evening news.

Grabbing the iPad I move into the living room and park my backside in the red chair on the north wall. The one next to the hallway door and to the west of her chair. This will probably be the last time I am alone in the house while it still looks like she is here—or at least off at the store grabbing some last-minute groceries.

I look out the front window listening to Barbara Mandrell crooning away about a troubled marriage. I just sit. Soaking it all in. Next comes Johnny Cash followed by Hank Williams. I don’t remember her ever listening to country music. Strange.

Back in the kitchen, she would probably have her glasses on and pen in hand. All the eye drops would be in their “correct”place waiting for the end of the day’s dose. The metal ashtray would be spilling over with loose change and this month’s bills would be piled up in the old egg basket. The calendar on the wall would be open to the current month with everyone’s birthdays written on it.

I continue to sit like a sponge cake in my red chair in the living room. The colors, the textures, the sounds, the smells, and the sunlight streaming through the windows, the memories. They are  all oozing into my core on last time.

The garage door at the end of the hallway, with its familiar squeak, opens up and Mike & Bob come lumbering down the hallway to join me in the living room. They sit. They make small chit chat, but all of a sudden it’s kinda awkward. I suddenly feel like a stranger. An outsider. We continue talking but I can feel it. It’s time. The climb must continue upward.

I load my things in the car, give hugs to my uncles, and then get in behind the wheel. The engine starts and the familiar hum of the car radio. Definitely not Gord’s station. I back out of the driveway. The tears freely flow. With the car pointed east and my head turned north, I shift the car into drive. At a turtle’s pace it begin to move forward down the small incline to the stop sign less than a block away. The brown house begins to disappear from my sightline. I look in the review mirror trying to keep 1586 Juniper in my view, but the brown house stays stationary while I move on.

This moment is almost as painful as her death. Almost as painful as Warren and Billy and Grandma’s death 15 months ago, Or almost as painful as my mother’s death May 2010. It’s another death. Only a greater one. It is the end of an era. An era as familiar to me as the back of my hand—the era of my childhood and young adult life. It’s the end of my playing at the brown house hitting tennis balls against the west wall in the backyard. The end of my walking or driving back and forth from Juniper to N. 9th. The end of laying in bed hoping to, just for a moment, hear my mother & grandmother chatting away at the kitchen table in the morning. The end of helping white-haired Grandma Landles joining Thanksgiving meals that Gord and mom had prepared. The end of “going down the hill” to visit Grandma L. The end… Memories flood in rapid-fire through my mind.

My last alone jaunt through my second home town leads me first to the mortuary to get her fingerprints. Now I have matching pairs—my mom & my mom’s mom. Why, I wonder, did I not do the same thing when Grandma died 15 months ago? I could have had hard evidence of all the matriarchs of my family. While I ponder the car seems to drive itself directly to the run-down white bell-shaped house Grandma raised her children in. It’s been a while since I’ve been here. I notice some of her trinkets sitting on the window sill as I park the car. I get out to wander around the house. The crooked concrete step at the back door gives me just enough height to peek into the kitchen. The familiar red linoleum and grungy orange cabinets peer back. Like the tchotchkes on the window sill, I can still see evidence of Grandma & Grandpa’s 50+ years in the house. I walk around the side of the house to the front porch. There is stuff piled on the porch and broken windows that have been haphazardly been boarded up. I walk to the end of the porch. The curtains into the living room are open and I can see the butterfly hook-rug still hanging on the wall in the same place—the rug I started at 9 and that Gordo finished for me a few years later so I could give to to Grandma for Christmas. Billy’s shoes appear to be laying on the floor like he just forgot to put them away yesterday. Papers and garbage are also strewn all over the floor. I backtrack to the front door on the porch. From this vantage point I can still see the butterfly in the living room, and I can see down the tiny hallway and through another door that opens into the kitchen. I can also see the staircase I climbed more times than I can count and I notice the Asian inspired wallpaper is peeling away and there is broken pottery on the floor. Tears begin to flow again. Looters and squaters have left the house and it’s remnants in shambles.

I step back. It’s kind of a metaphor for how I am feeling right now. Death has become a looter and a squater for my childhood memories and life in Coos Bay—life visiting my grandmas and grandpa, aunts and uncles and cousins, my great aunts and great uncles & godparents, my parents childhood friends, the brown house & the white house, the pool at Mingus park, the beach…

Time to go.

I get back in the car and start heading out of town. I stop at one of the familiar entry-point-hills for one final look. I am peering down toward North Bend. Can see the road leading to the bridge that takes me over the Bay and out of town. This is it. No going back. I get out of the car, stand in the middle of the road, and take a cheesy selfie.

Back behind the wheel I point the car homeward. My vision has changed. The sun has moved. My life has been permanently altered and time waits to more. The climb up the other side of the gorge has begun. And now it must continue.


Sunday: The Day After

by Lisa on March 9, 2014

Life, I’ve decided, is like chasing rising smoke. You reach out to grasp it and for one moment you think you’ve caught it in your hand and then you watch as it dissipates right through your fingers.

Laying here on the couch there is mostly silence except for the periodic roar of the heater and the dropping of the rain outside the east living room window. No more hum of the green machine. No more struggling for air. No more voices on the phone to hospice. No more background television. No more laughter and rememberences. Only occasional silent tears. Mike and Bob have gone home. My dad is in bed. It’s late. I am tired. I should be in bed too, but I am reluctant to go back to her bed.

Today we started sorting.

“I’ll take the baptism certificate, confirmation photo, crucifix & rosary beads.” “Bill should take the clocks, the table & the matching buffet.” “Jodie wants the wooden rosary, the frogs, and the wooden cats.” Mike dibbed the finger, the skull, and the secretary by her bed. Bob took the decorative bamboo fish that have been hanging in the bathroom FOREVER and the old glass ashtray in the leather holder. The ashtray that has never been used as an ashtray instead was a catch-all for a deck of cards and other various mini things that were taking a temporary rest on the coffee table. Bob’ll be back for the duck prints in the back bedroom. “David would like a Midcoast coffee mug and the print sitting on the dresser in Mike & Bob’s old room. Jonathan asked for the stuffed penguin that has been resting on the top of the tank of the black toilet. Sophia requested Granny’s rosebud pig piggy bank from the blue room and the porcelain St. Bernard that’s on the fireplace hearth.” Isabelle didn’t really know of anything specific, but then ended up asking for the colorful ceramic cat.

Seems really weird to already be “going through” her things. Too early. Too soon. Sorta vulture-like. But Gord was a no nonsense kinda gal. Practical. The getter-done kind of girl. The what-are-we-waiting-for kinda chica. I am sure she wouldn’t mind. In fact, I think she’d probably be helping out doing the same thing.

The clock stikes 5:00 am. Too Late. Way too late. I am going to pay for it in the morning.

Going through her things today I realized it’s one thing to know a person, but it’s quite another to be going through their personal and private artifacts. It was eye-opening to see another side of my Grandma I didn’t even know. A high school graduate. A bathing beauty at the beach. A bridesmaid. A young mother with little babies. Wife of a Airforce pilot.

The battery runs out on the iPad. I give up and make my way to the bedroom. I crawl under the hodgepodge of blankets left on the bed after they took her away. Silence. It’s deafening. I don’t hear a thing.

I breathe in deeply. Exhale. And, repeat. Even though I can’t hear her or touch her I can smell her. She is still here.


Saturday: Her Final Hours

March 8, 2014

This time the sound is not so pleasant. As a matter of fact it’s horrible. Extra torture to the soul. Her breathing has become even more labored. More difficult. She is working hard. So hard. Each breath requires a major effort. And though she is still lucid and able to say what she wants and [...]

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Friday Night

March 7, 2014

A sudden, and unexpected, warm rush of comforting and happy childhood memories fill the house. Over the din of the machine I hear it. I close my eyes and for a moment I forget my present place. I go back to my girlhood days and nights in this house listening to that sound. Loving that [...]

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Thursday Night: Realization

March 6, 2014

The sound of the big, blue machine in the corner is all too familiar. A constant humming coupled with the in and out of a fireplace baffle. It would be pitch black in the room were it not for the light streaming in through open doorway while the hall light has been intentionally left on. [...]

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November 10, 2013

I hear a soft rustle at the front of the store. “Hi. I’d like to adopt a cat,” the cheerful voice says. The clerk behind the counter replies in a monotone voice, “Oh…well…uh…we have to have a manager around to do that.” “Okay. Great. Can you get one?” Cheerful asks. More rustling. “Uhhh…no,” says Monotone [...]

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Anything to Avoid Cleaning the House

July 7, 2013

A tidy house is a beautiful thing for me. The problem with a tidy house, however, is twofold: I don’t enjoy cleaning. I live in a house of five pigs. Now to some of you those two things may be easy enough to overcome. Start a cleaning schedule. Develop a routine. Get everyone to pick [...]

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Happy 4th of July

July 4, 2013

Happy 4th of July!! Today Mom would have celebrated her 66th birthday. In her honor I wanted to just tell you a story or two about birthdays past. So without further adieu… As an adult Cathy loved having her birthday on the 4th of July. Every year it was like national “celebrate Cathy” day—friends & [...]

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May 6, 2013

A new day is dawning. Sunlight is birthing from the eastern skies. I can see it peeking through the curtains in my room. I know. I know what that means. Time to get up. Time to get ready. Time to head to the flower shop for a day of helping out with Mother’s Day prep. [...]

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Five Minute Friday: Focus

September 14, 2012

She holds out her hands, “Dad, can you fix this?” Two tubes of brass come tumbling out. The boy comes striding into the room with his binoculars around his neck. They’re on their way outside to play spy games. I watch as David monkeys with the two broken tubes trying to refit them together. He [...]

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