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Not to give a false impression: it’s not really a farm and I’m not really a farm girl. But just give me a little time…
I grew up on some land. We had pigs and rabbits and chickens to supplement our only meat supply each winter: deer, elk, and if we were lucky, bear. We chopped wood to heat the house and to cook on the wood stove. In the early days, Mom cooked all our meals on the beautiful cast iron stove. I learned how to make toast on the surface by sprinkling a little salt, to keep the bread from burning. We used the stove to heat a flat iron to iron clothes because we had no electricity. We took our baths in an big aluminum tub in the yard, beside the pump, because we had no indoor plumbing. And yes…we woke up sleepy in the middle of the night and shoved our feet into boots to trudge through the snow to the outhouse. I am a rare remnant of American history, in that my childhood was from an earlier century.
I’ve been nostalgic for decades, daydreaming of the someday when I could have a farm of my own, and now I’ve got it. But see, here’s the thing: in the meantime, I became a city girl. Not in my soul, but in my experience. Because of my job, I’ve had to live in cities. I’ve only known electric heat and natural gas water heaters for those luxurious hot showers inside my home. When I was lucky, I had a little patch of grass to mow and some dirt in which to bury some bulbs for next season.
Managing a big piece of land is going to be a big job, and I am confident I can figure it all out. I’m also wise enough to know there will be a sharp learning curve. But off I go! Look out world. 😉
I grew impatient with the idea that perfectly good eggs were being stashed in the forest, as a result of my wandering Hussies. I began a campaign to diligently collect the hens each day and return them to their pen. With a four-foot fence they were contained most of the time, and typically only one or two hens would fly to freedom per day. After one week I had a carton full of eggs and the Hussies were less inclined to escape. Then I contacted a local man I know to come and build me a respectable chicken fence.
My boyfriend and I (yes!) pulled out the old fence to make way for the fence guy to build a new one. After two weeks of being returned to the old pen, the hens got into the habit of using their lovely henhouse with perfect little boxes filled with dry straw. So, while they have returned to their wandering habits, they still come home to lay. I am so pleased to be getting daily brown eggs, with thick shells and dark yolks you get from country hens.
Fence-building is currently underway, but we had a tragedy nonetheless. Miss Lacey, whom you met not too long ago in my post about finding a stash of eggs, wandered into the country road and was hit by a car. I researched and decided not to try to eat her. First because she died by blunt force, which likely ruptured her organs, and second, because those organs likely had a chance to contaminate the meat as she laid beside the road all day long before I came home from work and found her. I am sad to lose my Lacey, as you can imagine. I’ve grown to love the bold & sassy Hussies.
The rain let up for a week and the ground dried out enough to begin using big equipment. I backed the riding lawnmower out of the shed and got it running. I had not personally cut the grass since buying the used machine, because I had friends and neighbors who took turns on it last year. It took me awhile to figure out how to get the blades going. I chose a knob that looked promising and gave it a tug. The serpentine belt went flying and the engine cut out.
I went online and discovered that I had done the right thing, it just hadn’t gone well. I checked local repair shops and found they were closed for the weekend. And then I looked up schematics for a Husqvarna blade deck and got some tools and pulled it apart and put the belt back in it’s place. I put it all back together and tried again. Viola!
Add small tractor repair to my list of talents.
There is a lot of grass to cut here. The property is 4.3 acres and I imagine the house and pond take up the 0.3, leaving approximately 4 acres to mow. Whew. It took me 5 days of mowing to get it all done. About 14 hours total. The tractor wasn’t running well and I ended up taking it to the shop when I got done. It should be done in a week and I’ll have sharpened blades and I’ll be able to tackle all that grass once more.
I’m continuing with adding a bit of landscaping here and there: rhododendrons and azealas, honeysuckle and camelias, a bunch of hydrangeas from my Uncle who lives a couple towns over, and a few plants my mother gave me years ago: a peony, some irises, and lavender. Each day the place becomes a little bit more my own personal heaven.
Before the year is out, I want to lament the loss of my mother once again. Maybe I can find a way to process my grief in 2012 and stop spinning around like a leaf in a pool.
Today, after working 5 hours of overtime on a Saturday – New Year’s Eve no less – I returned to my house and realized with astonishment that I can see it! Yes, and I can see the back yard too! What does this mean? Quick calculations revealed that I have not seen my property in daylight since December 21st, which is entirely too long ago for this Earth sign girl. I work long days, and spent Christmas weekend away from home, so that explains it. And, drat these long dark winter days.
In any case, I recharge sometimes by catching up on my virtual world. Today it means uploading photos. I haven’t posted to flickr for two months and now I am reminded of all the things that happened in life while I fell apart. I guess even when there is dark on every side, I can still see the light. I still find the beauty. Maybe, just maybe, this quality of mine means I’ll be able to die as beautifully as my mother did.
There was Occupy Portland! And three trips to North Idaho, and Canada with the boys, my knight, stunning Lake Pend Oreille, my brothers, my cousin Debbie, my Uncle Mike, my step-dad Jim. And look how long my hair is now!
Anyway, it strikes me that our world is stunning, and I have been supremely honored by being able to live where I can walk freely and gasp in wonder at it all. So go out there, and surround yourself with beauty.
My mother’s health failed rapidly, once we finally heard the diagnosis of cancer. And I have had multiple stages of not dealing with any of it gracefully. This is probably because it has come on so fast. Just when I make peace with a stage, we move on to another shocking phase.
In a meeting with her doctor on Monday, he reminded me of the date we first suspected cancer. Not too long ago, Mom had abdominal pain and went for care. A subsequent x-ray included the bottom of one lung. Something abnormal appeared on the lung, so she returned for another x-ray, just of the lungs. This showed masses on both. It was October 19th, 2011.
My sister-in-law is a nurse for a skilled pulmonologist in Boise, so Mom went down there to get some first rate attention. They ran her through a battery of tests, and importantly, a high-contrast CT scan. This showed not only masses of concern in the lungs, but also in the liver. Mom told me that she knew it was cancer, and that it confirmed what she had suspected for years. (She has been having a complex combination of undiagnosed health problems for two years.) A biopsy of the liver confirmed cancer, additional results confirmed cancer of the lungs, and both kidneys. Compared to the x-ray from north Idaho, the lung masses had already doubled in size in about 10 days.
Before Mom had a chance to speak with an oncologist, she reached the limit of her tolerance for the city. She lives in a cabin on the top of a mountain in a very remote part of north Idaho. After two weeks in Boise she could no longer bear it, and begged for her husband to take her home. The day after they arrived home, Tara and I were able to visit for Veteran’s Day weekend. Mom seemed herself, she had decided to fight the disease, even though previously she told us she would refuse treatment. I really wasn’t too upset at that point, because I planned to be by her side till we kicked this thing.
November 14th (exactly one month ago), she talked with an oncologist (cancer specialist) for the first time. She said the doctor wheeled her chair right up so they were knee to knee, the doctor took Mom’s hands and said to her, “You have stage IV cancer. It is very advanced and very aggressive. We do not recommend treatment, but rather, to focus on maintaining a good quality of life for the time you have left.”
Mom called me at work, crying. But she was resolved again to accept her fate and refuse all treatment. And that’s when I became angry. My whole life I have been extremely adept at making things happen. I can fix stuff, I can take care of stuff, I can prevent stuff, and prepare for stuff. I help others, help myself, smooth the way, and tie up loose ends. And here was something I could not help. Not one damn thing I could do. I asked Mom, “Is this the point where I step in and give you a pep talk? Should we get a second opinion, or talk to your herbal health care advisor?” She told me, “No, Sis. I know I am going to die. I am ready to go. I have fought so hard just to live, and now I finally get to relax. This news is a relief to me.”
Angry at life, at disease, at the unfairness of it all. Mom is the healthiest person I know. Never smoked anything her entire life, would have been aghast to consider drug use, and in fact avoided all pills and doctors as much as possible. She grew her gardens, canned food and prepared all meals for all us kids growing up, and for her husbands and herself. She lives on a mountaintop with no smog, no noise or light pollution, breathing fresh air and working hard every day. Mom saved up her money last winter to buy a new chainsaw this summer, and was so thrilled to tell me how great it was to use. She did everything right. She got body slammed by fate anyway.
I am living with her and her husband now. Her husband has been traumatized and – a very traditional man – is learning how to do things for himself for the first time since he was in his twenties. He is not up to assisting with caregiving, but is proud about having learned to make coffee and wash the dishes. He can keep the fire going. I leave him to that, but I can’t help but get irritated that he requires as much time and attention from me as Mom does. He is completely out of his element, in pain, lost, and scared. His helplessness bothers me. It’s another example of my failure to do this gracefully.
My mother requires constant attention now, all night long. I am so tired. My back is killing me from all the lifting. And I’m still not dealing with it as I suppose I should. Mom’s twin brother is here to help, thank the gods. My cousin is coming to help. Another strong woman – hallelujah! Despite the offers of help, I hate having so many people around me. I am not a social person. I particularly despise having witnesses to my shortcomings. I am not a nurse, and it’s not even something I’m good at. It’s the one area of life I’ve always been quick to admit I am not cut out for. But, here I am: full time nurse. Feeding Mom water with an eye dropper, applying chapstick, wiping her mouth, changing her when she wets herself, listening to her gasping breaths and trying to guess what it means. Pain? Constricted windpipes? More awake than a little while ago? Need something? Hungry? Roll over? She can’t talk, so it’s all guessing. And again, I get frustrated and angry at my own incompetence. Me. The woman who can do anything. But I feel like I can’t do this.
Yeah, yeah, yeah. You, and Hospice too, everyone says, “Oh, you can do this. You know her better than we do. You’ll do just fine. Everything you’re feeling is OK!” I just want to smack them. I know I have PERMISSION to be frustrated and angry. Well, DUH. My mom is dying. But I am not good at being incompetent. That’s what it is: a control freak who is in a non-controllable situation. I’ll get through it and soar again, even if the journey is not pretty. I always get through catastrophes. I am, after all, my mother’s daughter.
Well, the good news is: I no longer own property in Massachusetts.
Other good news is: I have some pretty awesome friends…
And on top of that: My man is my very best friend, and the best guy I could ever imagine being with (and he’s hot)…
And: somehow, even though I was very recently arguing with a bankruptcy attorney about why I *should* file bankruptcy, and even though I did not make my September mortgage payment on the Mass house because I finally came to terms with the fact that in order to buy groceries I would have to cut something out, and the house was my first choice of the place to default – even with that, somehow in the end my credit is still excellent…
And: in an America where so many, many people are suffering with unfortunate real estate decisions, and the inability to unload their burdens – I sold my home…
And: Even though it sold for a gigantic loss, it only took 4 thousand to close and make it a done deal…
And: Even though that 4 thousand was almost the very last penny we had – we had it…
Yes, when all is said and done, there is a lot of good news to think about. My friend Deb-B said I should fill my cup. “Think of all the good things,” she said “and fill your cup with them.”
There is a lot of powerful good in my life right at the moment. The most amazing of all is that I have been recently welcomed into the arms of a family I didn’t know I had.
My friend Romain is a priest from Rwanda. When we first met a few years ago, I told him my knowledge of Africa was poor, and could he please help me understand where Rwanda is. “It’s right next to Burundi!” he answered.
We met because we were both in the International Mediation program at Brandeis. This is rapidly becoming a well-known international place to study peace negotiations, considering that the program is brand new. My class mates were from around the world, and helped me immensely in understanding different ways to understand a situation and different ways to negotiate. Further, they helped me understand some universals – that music and art can often be a way to speak to those who can’t communicate in any other way. My hard core conservative side is still in doubt of this concept, but sharing this idea with friends whom I trust has made it a little easier for me to believe, while I still don’t get how painting pictures can bring about peace in the world. It reinforces what April has been demonstrating for me for a decade.
Anyway, Romain is Tutsi. In 1994 sixteen of his family members were killed on one day by supporters of the new regime and the Hutu majority. He is the only one left. His dedication to, and love for, humanity inspired him to love even more, when that amount of violence could have inspired others to hate. He told me that his tragedy led him to the mediation program at Brandeis. While I have known him, he has not spoken often of his pain. He has a quick smile and an eager mind hoping for new information and new friends at every opportunity. I had known him for a year before I found out the story of his family, when I was an audience member at an international peace conference he was speaking at.
The day it happened was April 21st. He sent me an email on that day this month, telling me of his tradition. He said that on that day, rather than mourn, he thinks about whom he considers to be his current family, and thinks of what he loves about his family today. Then he told me that he thinks of me as his family now.
You must understand how deeply that touched me. I do not feel as though I am worthy of such a great love, and such great symbolism. I feel a huge responsibility and a huge connection. I hadn’t noticed before how powerful family is when you choose them. I have chosen family members already – those who are “Uncle” or “cousin” or even “Mom” – because of our mutual affection for each other, but for some reason it was Romain who showed me clearly that chosen family is an intense bond with someone.
I am grateful for this honor, and I am grateful for all of you who are my real family and my chosen family, and my dear friends who are as loved as any family member.
Comments from the old blog:
Thank you for sharing this lovely aspect of your life. I’m glad I took the time tonight to come see if you’ve shared anything recently. I haven’t been at Gaia in weeks so I hoped there might be something from you.
You know I am having a similar experience with chosen family as I grow into the tribe that has suddenly sprung up to hold me. My real family is about to descend for Isaiah’s graduation and I know it will be my tribe who will get me through the discomfort of everyone being together for the first time since my wedding and our first time with mom since her last melt down. Anyway, I am experiencing a belongingness like I’ve never known before with this family of friends. It’s positively wonderful.
while I still don’t get how painting pictures can bring about peace in the world. It reinforces what April has been demonstrating for me for a decade.
It’s my pleasure to be of service. : )
Back atcha’, Kevin, I’m really glad to have met you.
I didn’t know you that well. Only spent one day with you, to be honest. You were my boyfriend’s friend – he met you at a meeting – and since that’s his private battle that I can’t begin to understand, I try to let him have a place that is his own, which includes his own friends, those friends who can understand the SHIT of the battle that you were facing, friends who don’t need him to spell out all the details like he has to do with me because I just don’t get it.
Friends like you, Kevin. Who got it.
You got that the disease is hell. You got the twisted humor of genetics that came together to both create us and destroy us. You got the insanity of screaming “no, no, no” and MEANING it, while reaching for more.
You were young, handsome, intelligent, and beautiful like so many of your peers. Yet, all the good in your life was not enough to stop the path of destruction carved by your sickness.
Sometimes there is no wall high enough, or thick enough, or tough enough, with enough endurance, with enough of an army standing by – to fight this ugly, ugly, deathly disease.
And I am really sorry we can’t hang out ever again.
Because I liked you. And you were a big doofus who made me laugh. And that is a good thing.
I send my love to your fiance, who found you. I send my love to your parents, who just lost a 30 year old son to an invisible demon foe. I send my love to my boyfriend who got your text that night, “Hey, when you get a chance, call me tomorrow.” I send my love to your other brother-in-arms, who called to let us know what happened and who is still reeling.
I send my love to ALL of you with this stupid Effing disease!!! This frustrating, maddening, pull my hair out, effed up journey through hell with a promise of – not even bliss – just a promise of “less hell” if you can manage to stay clean. It sucks. It makes me pissed off to even try to put it into words because there aren’t words to paint an accurate picture.
So hey, Kevin. I hope you are feeling no more pain. While you were here, you reached out and placed a little more beauty and laughter in the world. There was a time when you were the only friend my boyfriend had, and he needed you like you had no idea. Thanks for laughing at his f’d up stories of his own freakish journey, and for helping him find calm on some days when nothing, and no one, not even me, could do it. I owe you. I am grateful to you. I am glad there was you.
Comments from the old blog:
There’s not much I can say, so here are some e-hugs.
And I think this was a very well-written, evocative tribute to a lost friend. 🙂
THanks for the hugs. Need them today. It’s good to have a friend “nearby” so that I feel more surrounded by love.
I just found out a couple hours ago that my grandmother died. Grandma Freda Haley of the big Haley clan, and the reigning Matriarch of that family, as well as the Truloves. She was 82, and had been ill for months, but not so ill that this quick passing was expected.
Gramma was the second of 8 children, but Great Uncle Bill died in 1946 when mortar fire hit his tank in WWII. So Gramma was the oldest and all her brothers and sisters loved her so.
She married Rex Trulove and had six children – my Pa is not quite the youngest. I’ve done a bit of genealogy this summer, and by my rudimentary calculations, Freda’s children, grand-children, great-grandchildren – and one great, great-grandchild!!! – and their partners make up about 53 people.
I saw her this August at a family reunion. She was a smaller version of her vivacious self; not as loud, not as brazen, not as big. Her face was less physically beautiful – someone else had applied her makeup for her. Gramma was there despite the deception age placed on her skin, and it didn’t take any effort to see the amazing woman inside. Her devious eyes watching me like a hawk when she made up crazy stuff and told me with a straight face to see if I would catch it. Her bawdy jokes about sex and booze that she made up on the spot. Her willingness to use age as an excuse to cut in line and get the only brownie left, and to get wheeled into the shade when the sun got too warm. She would turn in her chair and look at me and laugh. I got the sense that she was still sort of surprised to be getting away with it.
The memories I have of her are primarily times when I was busting at the seams laughing. She could – and did – drink as much or more than anyone at the table. She always knew the best jokes and it didn’t matter if I was 12: I could hear them with everyone else. I remember when my Pa brought her to Pine Ridge Inn, in Tamarack, Idaho for the Friday night jam session. She explained that the piano wasn’t tuned to the way she knew her songs, but with a little encouragement, she played and sang all night with the rest of us. (Yep, me and my little guitar and a mic in a redneck bar when I was only 10 years old)
When she lived in Klamath Falls she had this teeny, white and curly haired, wiggly mess of Teacup Poodle named Sheba. One of the only dogs I’ve ever loved. Now, whenever I hear the name Sheba, I think it’s a poodle name. I was with her when her cat had babies, and I watched each one be born in a cardboard box. When the mother cat neglected the kittens, Sheba obliged. I was so impressed.
Her great love in recent years was her trusty companion, Spike. He was an indoor cat and gave her love back to her. When Gramma wrote a newsletter for her senior community, she included “Spike’s Corner” for news about pets. Spike died this year too.
Gramma was the only person I remember who washed my mouth out with soap. I don’t even remember what I said. I knew I deserved trouble, and there was no one else there to appeal to. I just accepted it. She opened a brand new bar of soap and made me put the whole thing in my mouth and move it around. Egad! That was horrible. The punishment was so effective that it wasn’t until I joined the Air Force before I was brave enough to learn how to cuss properly.
I have memories of her at huntin’ camp. Back in the days where it was a grown-up’s world and the kids were only invited along because they couldn’t be left home alone. There was coffee or beer to drink at huntin’ camp. I couldn’t bear coffee at that age, so I had beer for breakfast, and then I’d go find a creek to drink, or melt snow in my mouth if we were lucky to get an early fall storm. Gramma seemed at home camping. She was there at the famous Easter camp at some pond. Was it Otter Pond? Beaver Pond? The Easter Bunny found us out there and hid eggs in the Oregon Grape and amongst the pine and fir trees. Somebody imbibed too much and fell into the fire. That was the year I learned how to get over my squeamishness and bait my hook with a live grasshopper and I caught my first fish. It was only about 4 inches long, but my Pa was so proud he filleted it for me and fried it up anyway.
We’ve got this picture of Gramma in her chair right in a river. She’s got her pant legs wet, with her bare feet in the moving water, and a coffee cup (probably filled of whiskey and ice). I can’t remember where that was taken. Maybe it was one of the times she camped with us at Brownlee Dam on the Snake River.
She always laughed and laughed. She made everyone else laugh. She had had a hard life, sometimes things were bountiful, but often in poverty and want. All her kids and her siblings say to me about it is how she made life fun no matter what the circumstances were.
We are all so proud of her.
She was proud of her Cherokee heritage. Our Haley family came from Talequah, OK to Oregon. Gramma told me she was called Ho Ho Nay, meaning Calf-Woman. There was a great little story about why, but sadly I’ve forgotten it.
I complained once about being so fair skinned and blonde, saying I don’t look even remotely Cherokee. She told me to shush because she had a framed photo of a Cherokee Chief on her wall and the man had green eyes. I have green eyes. It made me feel better. I have big Indian eyes, especially when I was younger. I’m so white I’m translucent, but when I tan, I get golden dark, dark. I have a lighter streak of hair that naturally grows on my right temple and didn’t think much of until I saw a photo of Gramma with her hair parted in the same place, and a white-blonde streak in the same spot.
Send me some love. I’m so sad I couldn’t be at work today. I need to be strong for the services tomorrow in Eugene.
Comment from the old blog:
I’m sending love! I am sorry for your loss, and thankful for the rush of memories you provoked for my own grandmothers that have passed on. Thank you for sharing your grief and your memories with us, my dear friend. And for holding space for your grief by taking the day off and really allowing yourself to experience it.
Oooooh, so timely, go read Joy and Sorrow. The depth of your grief is a reflection of the joy your Gramma brought you.
Thank you, Ophelia, that’s a beautiful poem.