Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Goodbye Maxwell

You may recall a song from the Beatles Abbey Road album called "Maxwell's Silver Hammer." McCartney said in 1994 that the song merely epitomises the downfalls of life:

Maxwell's Silver Hammer is my analogy for when something goes wrong out of the blue, as it so often does, as I was beginning to find out at that time in my life. I wanted something symbolic of that, so to me it was some fictitious character called Maxwell with a silver hammer. I don't know why it was silver, it just sounded better than Maxwell's hammer. It was needed for scanning. We still use that expression now when something unexpected happens.

Most of us living in those days didn't need an explanation. We got it. And for the past 40 some years, when things would get weird or crazy or awful or all three, I would blame Maxwell and his silver hammer. Today was one of those days.

It started out well enough, another beautiful Colorado day. Barely a cloud in the sky and the promise of a warm spring day. I drove to Castle Rock to do my twice weekly gig at the Veterans Service Office helping vets and their families negotiate the VA system of applications for benefits. My plan was to get caught up on assistance letters: letters to vets who have applied for benefits offering continued assistance. My colleague was busy finishing up the paperwork from his first client of the morning when another vet came in and he asked me to handle it. "Of course," I replied, not realizing that Maxwell was hiding behind the door giggling.

The very tall, very good looking gentleman sat down and I began the interview and that's when the hammer struck. My vet was applying for disability compensation because he had been recently diagnosed with terminal lung cancer probably induced by exposure to Agent Orange in Viet Nam. I'm already working through the stuff around this being one year from the time my husband Bill began showing the signs of his fatal exposure to Agent Orange, and "bang, bang, Maxwell's silver hammer came down on her head."

Professionalism won out over the temptation to make it all about me, but for the hour or so that we sat together completing his application, I fought back tears and the desire to go screaming off into the Tulgey Wood.  I put together the strongest application I have ever worked on. I must have used the word EXPEDITE a dozen times, at least once on each form and on the outside of the envelope I put it in. By the time we shook  hands, and my vet left the office, I was toast. Drained.

It gets better. Maxwell wasn't done with me. I went to my Tuesday night poker game at the Celtic House Pub, and no sooner did I walk in when one of the regulars, whom I hadn't seen in a few months, gets in front of me and demands to know where Bill is. I swear this creature was at his wake! Before I could stop myself, I said "He's dead. He's been dead for nearly a year. How could you not know this?"  I could hear the distant cackling of insane laughter.

The day ended on a good note. A long intimate conversation via Skype with my sister-friend in Hawaii. It seems Maxwell has been busy there as well; however, what he doesn't know is that we're too old and too wily for him to be very effective anymore.  As the two of us laughed together thousands of miles apart, Max left by the back door. Good riddance!

Friday, May 27, 2011

Happy Feet and Aching Heart

I got a pedicure today. There's no denying that it is an especially hedonistic delight having someone clean, massage, and pamper your feet with decoration. Mine were in critical need, having not been attended to since my trip to Hawaii in March. Now they are beautiful and happy feet again.

The pure pleasure of the experience had a tender side as well. It was not quite a year ago that I sat in this same shop, having learned that my husband was probably terminal, and wept through my pedicure. It was quite alarming to the technician, who thought she had injured me and became even more gentle with her ministrations. Of course, the more gently she touched me, the harder I wept. I could not/would not cry in front of Bill, and the healing touch of another person had opened the floodgates.

One of the things Bill and I had enjoyed as a couple was going for pedicures together, particularly in the summer. He was that comfortable with his masculinity. Additionally, he had some of the nastiest toenails on any human being, and I really didn't like messing with them. We would sit and soak our feet together and chat while one of a dozen or so southeast Asian women trimmed, and filed, and buffed our toes. We worked out more than one or two family problems while our feet were groomed. It was an activity that ended when his left leg was amputated in December 2006. I didn't get pedicures as often after that. I still don't go as often as I should to keep sandal-ready feet. Today was the beginning of Memorial Day weekend, however, and pool-opening is tomorrow. It was a matter of public safety that my feet be tended to.

Besides, I had a gift certificate that I needed to use: Bill's last Christmas gift to me. I'd held on to it since Christmas 2009. Bill was a Scot. He would have hated it if I didn't use it and the money was wasted. And that is why, once again, I found myself weeping while my toes were dancing.

Saturday, May 14, 2011

Heading West

I've been on the road or camping for 16 days now and it is beginning to show on me. Last evening when we pulled into the All Seasons RV Park in Goddard KS, I was down to my last pair of shorts and I was wearing them. My wild white hair hadn't been washed since Port Aransas and the inside of the camper is beginning to resemble the inside of a hermit's shack. My guess is that the first impression people must get when they see us coming is that maybe they want to avoid contact because something just isn't quite right. But there are a group of carny workers camped here also, so I fit right in. As Josh says, "the smell of cotton candy and fear."

It was very cool traveling yesterday -- as in cold! The temps were in the high 40s when we arrived in the Wichita area and, with the wind, it felt like 41. After I got the camper unhitched and set up, we huddled inside with the heater going and I nearly wept when the dogs would indicate they needed to go outside in the cold and wind.

And talk about tight quarters! These camper spaces are the closest I've ever seen. I share the hookups on one side in the six foot space that separates me from the neighbor and the two picnic tables in the six feet that separate me from the neighbor on the other side. I was afraid I might even be heard talking in my sleep last night!

It's gray and cool again today, but we're staying one more night here. There is a promise of some sunshine later today and I want to do some exploring in Andale and St. Joe (just north of here about 3 miles). Andale was where my grandmother and her twin, my great Aunt Mathilde, were born over a hundred years ago. We lost my grandmother in 2007, and Mathilde passed away only a few months ago, so it is a pilgrimage of sorts to honor my ancestors.

On the day I left on this trip, I found a note from my son attached to a Ford ball cap as a going away gift (it will be the one memento I keep from the Bronco). The note read, in part, "Have a great time and find out something new about you or the world around you." I have followed his instructions. Every day that has passed has brought new things to see, from birds I've never seen outside of an Audubon book, to new insights and understandings about my environment, to a new awareness of who I am in this early autumn of my life. These things happen without leaving home, but travel accelerates the process and the solitude of this trip has increased my sensitivities.

So, now I will be turning west and heading for home. By the time I arrive I will have driven close to 3000 miles in the days I have been gone. At 9.5 miles to the gallon (pulling the camper) and an average cost of $3.89 a gallon, it has not been an inexpensive way to travel, except for the lodging and food costs. I'll have hitched and unhitched a total of 18 times, at least 15 of those times totally unassisted (I take some pride in that as a woman of a certain age). I had only one minor accident, if you could call it that. I clipped one corner of the camper with a tree branch in San Antonio, and it left a boo boo that will have to be looked at when I get home. Oh, and there is the 5" bruise on my right knee from where I walked into the hitch in the middle of the night. But, as Josh says, it hasn't really been fun unless somebody ends up bleeding.

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Camping in Port Aransas, Texas

We are camped in a typical southern beach resort RV park, with RV spaces that are too close together, but it is early May and the snowbirds are on their way home to Wisconsin to enjoy spring and their one month of summer before fall when they pack up and head south again, visiting the Grandkids in St. Louis or LA on the way. As a result, we have only one close neighbor to our east (I know this because the sun rises on one side of the camper and sets on the other), and lots of space on our western side to enjoy the sunset, but most especially to enjoy the bird lagoon out our window.

What a beautiful gazing point. Perfect for a sometime bird watcher with a fondness for waterbirds. I watched two herons do the dick dance over the fishing hole for about a half hour before the real owner got totally fed up and chased the interloper away. Here is what we have seen from our window so far: Great Blue Heron, Great Egret, Reddish Egret, Cattle Egret, Roseate Spoonbill, Brown Pelican, Kildeer, Laughing Gull, Grackle, several types of Sandpiper (I'll have to get the bird book out to begin to distinguish between them), Plover, and Black-Bellied Whistling Duck (no kidding?).

We are also right next to a very nice bathhouse that is delightfully handicapped equipped. It definitely makes life easier with Berinda!  For those who don't know, my oldest daughter probably suffered some kind of brain damage at her birth in Song-tan Si Korea in 1974. She was left with right side weakness (known as hemiparesis), a seizure disorder, and mental disabilities which places her in the lower age groups intellectually on standardized tests. However, I am always surprised at how much she observes around her. She doesn't miss much, and keeps me straight with reminders about where I have put things.

We are eating simply and getting lots of walks, at least the dogs and I are getting lots of walks. I have to coax Berinda out for a walk a couple of times a day. It is uncomfortable with her leg-brace and she resists it. I probably would too. But the beach is so close and with its packed sand makes for a long lovely walk along the gulf.

The internet for the trip has been generally unreliable, and at times impossible for getting an evening email or two out. My thoughts of posting to this blog every day of the trip were dashed with an attempt at poetry that was lost in the cyberspace above Lake Nasworthy. The connection at Lackland allowed us a Skype call with Josh and another quick one with my friend Vali before we lost the signal completely. This wouldn't have been so bad, but it seems there was no T-Mobile service anywhere on Lackland, either. I felt like I was getting a clear message to put the cell phone and the computer away for a while!

We might have to go out and go shopping today just so we have some kind of activity for Berinda. It isn't yet warm enough for a swim in the pool -- perhaps tomorrow if the winds let up a bit and the temperature actually breaks 80. I would be happy just sitting and watching the birds come to the pond and the clouds float by. I'm beginning to remind myself of my grandfather! I guess I could fit right in here with the folks who've built decks up to the door of their travel trailers -- nah, not so much.