Mother in Laws

Yes, that is plural.

Flowers on the table

Posted by on Jan 30, 2011 in Death and renewal, Mother in Laws | 5 comments

Such is the marvel of modern marketing and shipping I was able to carry a bundle of beautiful blooms to my mother in law Friday, even though I drove through the snow to visit. She is in her end days now, in hospice care and happy to see even me when I come to visit. After a hug and several minutes of friendly conversation she looks at me and says, “Now you are of the family, right?” She then introduces me to the nurses and aides around her, all of whom know me already. We smile indulgently, like one would do for a child with an altered view of reality. Secretly all of us breath a silent prayer that we will die with our mental functioning intact.

She rolls her wheelchair into her room expecting us to sit and talk, but this is not the plan for the day. She tried to hold on to us, because even through a fog of dementia she still has some comprehension that her world is getting ready to shrink again. Armed with a few extra sets of hands and a 12 foot rental truck we are following the blunt instructions of the extended care facility where she has made her home for the last 20 years. “Mrs. Haley can now be best served by the health care unit. You need to remove the contents of her room and two storage lockers within the next two weeks.” Perhaps those are not the exact words. I’m not sure, because unlike my in laws my relationship to material objects is tentative. I have already discarded the letter.

A few weeks ago we cleaned out the first storage locker and in doing so disposed of what seemed to be a lifetime’s accumulation of magazines, cards, rubber bands, plastic bags, free calenders, used envelopes, and rusted paper clips. Now as I open drawers and boxes I discover that I have underestimated how many useless objects one can actually acquire and save during a lifetime. It is a grim and tiring day, as we first attempt to sort and discard as we work, but as afternoon approaches we begin to spend more time loading and less time discriminating. Our cousin Keith comes back from one trip to the truck with the news that Margaret (the MIL) has escaped the medical unit and is determinedly wheeling her way down the long corridor to what she calls her “home”, the room we are ransacking like viking raiders. He bravely throws his body into the lurch, gently intercepting and diverting her. He returns later with her demand that she knows we are somewhere in the building and we better not leave without seeing her. My husband distracts her by carrying her TV to her, a plausible reason for his absence. We go back to stuffing teddy bears, home recorded music tapes, silver coins, and old shoes into boxes and bags.

This morning I started unloading my car and the truck my husband “white-knuckled” over Afton Mountain long after dark last night. I cannot move the monstrous box that staggered him as he loaded it into the truck. I’m afraid to tell him this last indignity, but it is filled to the brim with color slides. I flash back through all the years we spent trapped in the living room of various parsonages with Pop running the slide projector and my step mother in law narrating. “Wait Carl!” she jumps from her seat and touches a wavering image on the screen. “See that flower box in the window? That was filled with the most beautiful petunias I have ever seen. I tried to find out the variety so I could get some seed and plant them here. It’s a little blurry in this picture Carl. Don’t we have a few more that are better?” …and he did. So it went, ad infinitum. I laugh in spite of myself at the memory and start carrying them into the already cluttered basement.

Over the next weeks and months I will be sorting through these along with thousands of pictures, letters, ledgers, and household object, the vain attempt we humans make to leave some monument, some legacy. After I am finished I will reconnoiter my own life’s accumulation of object as to not burden my children with this vanity of material goods. As the children of the depression leave this earth, it is my generation, the boom time children, who are sorting and clearing in amazement. We indeed cannot know the fears they lived by as they could not understand our cavalier outlook on the world. Cousin Keith takes this all in stride, but he keeps saying to me, “This was not in the marriage contract, now was it?” He tells me of his wife’s father who never forgave or forgot the $2.00 he lost when his bank shut down during the great depression. He went through the rest of his life hiding money in books and drawers without regaining his trust in financial institutions. The laughter we share is not without a certain forbearance and endearment for one who took life lesson too literally.

Sitting at home tonight nursing sore muscles and a lingering cold I sort through all the tiny boxes tied up with string and the omnipresent rubber bands. There are treasures and trash in abundance. Here is a note from Lord Bottomly, an uncle, with a commemorative coin from King George’s coronation enclosed. This tiny leather box is stuffed with presidential campaign buttons that vary from the plain pewter “Hoover” tie clip to the patriotic colored and hysterically innocent “I like Ike and Dick” buttonhole pin. Here is a cardboard necklace box chocked full of arrowheads, side by side with a collection of keys from long ago forgotten doors. As I handle each object, look at each picture, glance over each birth, death, divorce and adoption decree, some part of who they were seeps into me. While a portion of the knowledge I gain is burdensome, some is liberating. The balance between the two shifts constantly.

Burdened with this new knowledge I find some strange yearning in me to know how the young girl in the pictures became the wrinkled bedridden stranger I see. Not having been blessed with the patience of Job I found it impossible to talk to her when her mind still retained some clarity. The new revelations about her I am unearthing tell a story of a very different person than the one I thought I knew all these years. The fault of her not revealing herself to me rests ultimately on my carelessness. We were natural antagonist from the minute we met. I used to pride myself on being deceptive enough to let her think that was not true. Now I wonder if she believed she was behaving in the same way. This much I know however. She and I were both born innocent. She has come full circle to the point where she will likely die with a mind just as innocence. She gave me her best crinkled smile as I put the blooms on the table beside her. Then she looked at me earnestly and asked, “Who sent those beautiful flowers?” I smile back but don’t try to tell her. It is enough that she delights in them.

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Excelsior!

Posted by on Dec 31, 2010 in Death and renewal, Holidays, Mother in Laws | 1 comment

I sit with a blank page on my laptop watching my reflection in the large black monitor on my son in law’s desk. The picture I see looks like a ghost of either Christmas past or Christmas future, perhaps both. It seems a line has been drawn across my life this year with bittersweet endings on one side and uncertain beginnings on the other…

The long and arduous relationship with my mother in law appears to be coming to an end as she lies in a hospital in Roanoke gravely ill. I have never been able to feign any words of endearment toward her, although I recognize that she has accidently taught me many lessons. It still makes my stomach churn to think of her lying there alone, even though it is doubtful that she is aware of much around her. I cannot count the times I have wished her out of my life, but now I find there is no triumph for me in her passing. I believe that in this I have followed my children’s example of forgiveness and acceptance. My husband’s mother passed before he and I married and my mother lived far away and died when they were young. So with all her faults she has been the only grandmother that has had a relationship with them.

My mother would have been proud of my daughter for taking on the duties of Christmas this year. Although my children do not remember much about my my mother, the ceaseless work and attention to detail Eva showed preparing a wonderful meal for friends and family reminded me so much of her. In contrast, I did not so much as put up a tree this year. I admit that the passing of the reins is not without some trepidation. After so many decades of sitting in the driver’s seat it was strange hearing the words I used to tell everyone else directed at me. “Just sit back and relax”. I have no practice at this indolence and I find it bewildering, like being a child told to stay out from underfoot.

I empathize with my newly mobile grandson who clammers at the baby gate, wishing to be in the thick of things. Looking at him I know I should not waste a second bemoaning times past. Both of us just need to acquire the necessary tools and understanding to function in this new order. It’s nice to have so much in common with him actually, although I doubt he would see it that way. I am bursting with optimism about the future and it is obvious he feels the same. He is unaware of how much I am learning from him about persistence and ignoring barriers.

My favorite inspirational phrase this year is on a card at my work desk, “Life rewards those who let their actions rise above their excuses”. This quote is reportedly by Lee Colan, an organizational guru, and it was passed to me in an email from my director. The same email also quoted Jedi Master Yoda “Do or do not, there is no try”. I am ashamed to admit that although I have read an reread them, I have not taken the words to heart like I should. Instead of doing I have been trying. As I have watched my grandson Logan progress from being stuck where ever he was placed by an adult to a fearless independent locomotion I recognize his total grasp and application of the attitude I am striving to learn. The fact that he would walk straight off the edge of a cliff with his newfound skills is not lost on me and neither is the inordinately strong and ultimately ineffectual will to live exhibited by my step mother in law. I however have no excuses not to succeed at anything I want. I have the common sense not to walk to the edge of the Grand Canyon and jump, but the health and fortitude to strap on a parachute and leap out of an airplane. I’m not saying skydiving is in my immediate future but perhaps something equivalent, only slightly less terrifying. I’ve never quite overcome my fear of heights you see, but like the young Jedi I am not trying. Let me just say welcome to the fresh new year and give you one more homily, this one from tinybuddah.com.

“Death is more universal than life. Everyone dies but not everyone lives.” ~Alan Sachs

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Overlooking all but the Obvious

Posted by on Oct 7, 2008 in Mother in Laws, Reckless youth | 0 comments

At eighteen, alone and armed only with the innocence and audacity of youth, I took the train from Louisville Kentucky to a place through the looking glass, Washington DC. My mother had driven me from Beaver Dam to Louisville with dire warnings and instructions that I completely ignored. In my pocket book I had the hundred dollars she had given me, along with an envelope that had a boy’s address and an invitation from his mother to visit. Since I had met him in September we had bandied about terms like forever and love and marriage like we knew what they meant. Now this cold January day I looked out the train window into the back yards and industrial wasteland of America, believing only a tiny portion of the things I told myself and my family about him. The steel rail rocked me finally to a fitful sleep as it carried me safely to my doom.

I was wide awake long before the conductor announce Union Station around 10 the next morning. I pulled my round blue American Tourister suitcase down from the overhead rack and clutched it firmly by the loop handle and stepped off the train into the cold bright January day. I walked briskly along with the stream of people who obviously knew where they were going and pretended I did too. I was giddy with excitement because I knew that the boy who wanted to marry me would be eagerly awaiting as soon as I went through the iron gate into the station.

I did not see him immediately, so I slowed down and scanned my surroundings with an anticipatory smile frozen on my face. Seconds turn into minutes as I milled about the station staring at the rushing press of strangers, hands wrapped tightly about my oh so chic hatbox suitcase, my navy blue suit now rumpled, my new leather pumps feeling a bit tight . Nothing in my previous life had prepared me for being stranded alone in a large city. I grew up in a town of 2000 people all of whom would have taken me in if I had knocked on their door and told them my plight. I had been in a Baptist college for one semester in a town of 7000. The only two people I knew that lived in DC were my boyfriend John and the president , and I didn’t know how to get in touch with either of them. The prototype edition of a cellular phone was still 15 years in the future, so I looked about for a phone booth. I was stunned when I saw there were five phone books, each of them the size of the giant bible my mother kept on the coffee table in our formal living room. I picked one at random and turned to the F’s. My heart sank where a cursory scan revealed there were more than a dozen pages of John Freeman listings.

At this point it might have occurred to any sensible girl to use her return ticket immediately, but I was a month and a week past 17, not an age especially given to sensibility. I stepped through the tall outside doors into the frigid air with a ghost of hope that he was waiting in his father’s car. Instead I found rows of yellow cabs lined up at the curb. I had never ridden in one before in my life, but it looked like I was going to have to chance it. I told the driver the address from the envelope without giving him the quadrant, and fought back tears as he became impatient with me for not knowing. He softened a bit when I told him my problem in an accent that made my lack of local connections obvious. By the time he got me safely to what was then the Italian middle class neighborhood of Anacostia, he told me he was going to wait until I was sure I wanted to stay before he left.

We pulled up in front of the row house around noon and while I puzzled over the tip and the fee for my rescuer the front door opened and the face of my consort appeared in the glass screen door. His neck was wrapped in a plaid muffler and he had an ernest and contrite expression, but he did not open the door until I walked up the steps. Greeting me with a quick kiss on the cheek he apologized for not meeting me. I was waiting for an explanation of the catastrophe that must have occurred to keep this boy from me, the one who told me I was more important to him than oxygen. That’s when I met Josie, his mother.

“Well see,” she said, “She made it here safe and sound. Glad to meet you. John wanted to come get you but I couldn’t let him come out in the cold when he had a sore throat.” She launched into a long and detailed medical history of her only child which should have sent me screaming back to the taxi, but at this point I was so relieved to be safe I just smiled, waved the driver on, and embraced my future mother in law.

By the end of the day I was in deep cultural shock. My mother’s home was immaculate and orderly but this house was so clean it set my teeth on edge. The living room sofa had custom made clear plastic slip covers. I could see my reflection in the kitchen floor. Nothing, even a visit from the first girl their son ever brought home, disrupted the family schedule. Saturday morning they cleaned an already spotless house. Saturday afternoon they shopped for the exact same groceries they purchased the week before so they can make the exact same meals they ate the week before, and pay the cook the exact same compliments. The cook is Josie’s mother who came to live with them right after John was born. She does not go anywhere with them except church, not even the grocery, and she retires to her room each evening after she does the dishes. Even on this brief visit I realize that life in the Freeman household is scripted. My mission, if I choose to accept it, is to bring chaos into their otherwise orderly existence. I start my job on the very first night by asking why John has a plate of lettuce when the rest of us are eating a tossed salad.

Josie laughs along with John’s grandmother and they explain that little John, just turned 21, is a bit of a picky eater. I wisely kept my theories on picky eaters to myself, but made a mental note that this is one thing I will have to fix after we’re married. The gods must still be laughing about that ambition because when we split up 7 years later he still picked through canned Campbell’s soup discarding the vegetables he refused to eat. By that time I had also found out that his eating habits were the least of my problems.

The rest of the story is so deeply personal I am loath to share it. Let me just say we were predictably bad for each other and for most everyone around us. It took us so much longer than our family and friends to realize it was over. The day I finally had to go I turned one last time to hold him, something we had not done for months. Even then I was still foolish enough to believe he would be less selfish in divorce than he had been in marriage, just because he told me so. Turning from him, I left my childhood behind in that embrace and walked out the door with my son.

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My Mother In Law, the Musical

Posted by on Jun 3, 2008 in Mother in Laws | 0 comments

We needed a bit of comic relief around here, so when I got the call from my mother in law I was glad that my husband was out of the house, forcing her to talk to me. As always, her message for him was urgent and required immediate action. It’s a bit obscure as to exactly how we were supposed to help, but I listened attentively. I noticed right away that she had a new favorite word, excruciating. She was in excruciating pain from her “groins to her toe”. Although the doctors tell her otherwise, she knows it must be gout because of the excruciating pain. Sometimes the pain jumps from over to her other foot and it is, excruciating. I know that jumping gout is the very worse sort and I felt that if I was a good daughter in law I should offer to supply her with a few more adjectives. How about agonizing, intolerable, unbearable, unendurable, insufferable, or unspeakable? Well, I guess unspeakable might not work for her after all.

Between the news of her imminent death she related that she has a new “wheelbarrow”, which is hopefully nursing home slang for a walker with wheels. Even so, she has not been able to use it for a week because the nurses at the home have told her that she is not to “set her foot on the floor”. “Now how,” she asks me rhetorically, “am I going to go to the toilet if I can’t put my foot on the floor?” Well, I allowed as to how that would be difficult and asked if they could bring her a bedpan. “Bedpan!” she shrikes, “Bedpans have gone out of style!” While I sat gobsmacked by this revelation she continues, “Anyway, they put one under me and the pain was (wait for it) excruciating!” She continues to talk in explanation points about the woes of her life, and indeed, the burdens of Job do not compare to all she must deal with.

Margaret is the sort of person who, upon hearing that your arm had been bitten off by a shark, would look at you in disgust and say, “Well at least your arm is gone. Mine is causing me such excruciating pain I can’t even use a fork. I don’t know why you don’t come up here and help me eat. You don’t even care if I starve to death, do you?” It wouldn’t end there either. She would go on for a bit, trying to lay down as much guilt as possible while I sat there with my bloody nub. In other words, empathy is not her strong suit.

She muttered a few words about her husband, perhaps the source of her ire, as he has pretty much checked out mentally leaving her with all the responsibility for everything in the universe, which of course, contains only Margaret. It seems like he has been relegated to the “special” dining room because he is unable to eat without turning over glasses of juice and milk and dropping food. It has fallen on her shoulders to tell him the terrible news since no one else, his son for example, has any concern about him, by which she means concern for her. I told her I would be thinking about her and she ranted for a bit about the fact that I did not write and tell her so, and then she told me she had to go now and call Cousin Keith to let him know all this critical information too.

I got off the phone and started telling my daughter the story of the call. She was a bit depressed about her life when we started, but by the time I got to the wheelbarrow she was roaring with laughter. My husband came in and we continued to discuss the latest gospel according to Margaret and I made up a little song about bedpans. Everyone chimed in with additional verses and we realized we had a hit on our hands. I mean, the boomers are aging and they grew up on musicals, so a light opera set in an old folk’s home should be just the ticket. I think the title should be obvious:

BEDPANS HAVE GONE OUT OF STYLE

I’ll get back to you on casting calls.

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Skype Me

Posted by on Feb 1, 2007 in Mother in Laws | 0 comments

My mother-in-law thinks I’m going to be in big trouble with the phone company when they find out we’re using skype. She has no more grasp of computer technology than a poodle, which is why I’m not worried about her ever reading this. My husband, a patient man, tried to explain the concept to her, and I, not a patient woman, laughed my butt off. She’s nervous the whole time we talk to her, so she evidently holds the phone far away from her mouth. At least this is my conjecture since she is the only person we have difficulty hearing when we call. My consolation is that we’re only paying 1.7 cents per minute to talk to her, or whatever the equivalent is in Euros. Of course it would be free if she would install it on her computer, but don’t get me laughing again.

All in all the use of my “free” Internet phone has been successful, but from time to time I get an unexpected ring. Well, in honesty, I suppose the majority of phone calls are unexpected, unless you have psychic gifts. My scenario goes like this. I’m involved in some messy or complicated job when I hear a ringing. I determine the sound is not my house line because there is a TV like quality to the sound. I finally realize that neither of my TV’s are producing the sound and then it dawns on me that my computer is ringing. The computer is, of course, asleep (I wonder what sort of dreams it has) and I have to frantically click, to bring it to life, then click the duck that marks my side and finally open skype. When I finally pick up the phone I hear an unfamiliar voice say “hello, hello” and I echo, “hello, hello”. Sometimes we do this 4 or 5 times, then I say something else like, “Who are you” or “Where are you calling from?” and then the caller hangs up. When I check the user name it is PSZEMO or NYUBR and they’re from Poland or Brazil and get this, they don’t speak English! Why are they calling to America? Do they really think they’re going to find an America who speaks Polish or Portuguese? Obviously they don’t know enough about America to be calling her.

I sit after the call still slightly annoyed by the interruption, but fascinated by the both the desire and the ability of humans to reach out to each other in a way I did not even dream of when I was in my teens. What does PSZEMO expect to get from a call to America? Knowing in what low esteem the US is held around the world, maybe he’s just calling to bitch. Perhaps he’s looking for a rich America girl to rescue him from poverty. I wish it would stop because each time it happens I wonder if my mother in law has reported me in to the phone company and this is their revenge.

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I’m not making this up

Posted by on Jan 13, 2006 in Just for laughs, Mother in Laws | 0 comments

I’ve had several requests for stories about the further adventures of my stepmother in law, and I must admit, she provides endless amusement. I’ve not always felt that way, because in the early years I made the mistake of taking her seriously. I didn’t actually have an epiphany that moved her into the “annoying but entertaining” category; it came slowly, over many years. One of her most recent zany escapades occurred in late March, and coincides with the equinox ceremony of my first-born. I feel compelled to report the facts now, less they disappear, just like my father in law’s right shoe. It was the Saturday before the big event when Carl and Margaret headed out from the retirement home in Roanoke, on what may be their last trip to Mechanicsville. Margaret described her personal misfortune surrounding the nuptials as “the worse thing that has ever happened to me”, a remarkable statement coming from someone who lived through the death of her infant brother, World War II, divorce from her first husband, and the suicide of her step-son. I’m not sure how her rating system for disaster is calibrated, so I just took it at face value.

Her adventure began innocently enough with a stop at the local Sheets station, to fill up the gas tank before the trip. Pop is very feeble now, so I don’t think he got out of the car, but he evidently did at least open the door. By some strange quirk of fate, while they were filling up, one of the dress shoes he was wearing managed to fall off his foot and onto the pavement. Curiously enough, this loss was not discovered till much later in the day. He sat in the car in diddle-diddle-dumpling mode for many hours, totally oblivious that he had one shoe off, and one shoe on. Now in case you’re wondering, the tragedy Margaret described was not the missing footwear, but the flat tire they had many miles later. Startled and frightened, Margaret guided the damaged car off the road and came to rest on the interstate median, certainly not a pleasant place to spend a Saturday. She sat there helplessly till a man stopped and came up to her car. As Margaret tells it, she rolled down the window and he said, dramatically, “Mrs. Haley, I want to help you.” I hope there was some introduction before this statement, unless everyone on I-81 already knows her from her previous trips, where she barrels along in the left lane at 50 miles an hour. I’m sure the state policeman who pulled over behind them still remembers the incident. Pop and Margaret immediately quizzed him on his entire family history, just like they do with each new acquaintance, trying to find a connection between him and their Methodist church family. This perfectly acceptable habit, that served them so well in greeting parishioners, has become their custom regardless of the gravity, drama, or turmoil of the circumstance. I somehow imagine them walking the plank on a pirate ship while chatting amiably with the captain about his relationship to the Bluebeard family they knew back in Nelson County.

Their new friends, the almost Methodist officer, and the kind, chivalrous stranger, changed the tire post haste. The police car then escorted them to a local merchant, where they could purchase a replacement tire for the temporary donut they had put on the vehicle. It was at the tire store that Pop decided to get out, and finding his steps more unsteady than usual, noticed his missing right shoe. If he had realized it during the roadside incident, I’m confident Margaret would have tried to persuade the officer to go back to the Sheets and retrieve the shoe. Once the car was repaired, they continued on their way to Richmond, landing at my house much later than planned. Everyone in the house was in frenzied preparations for the ceremony, but Margaret insisted on repeating her tale of woe to each and every occupant, and many strangers that entered the house that day. I do want to assure everyone that the delay in starting Ben and Joriel’s ceremony the next day was in no way related to the tire or shoe, but as many of you already know, we were waiting for the notorious grandparents. We did not allow enough time between the three o’clock nuptial meal and the 7 o’clock ceremony for them to return home for their car. Why none of us though to ask them to bring their car to the meal, we’ll never know. I think I can be excused, as I was trying to make sure the hundreds of pounds of food and the three cakes arrived safely at the site, not to mention taking a few minutes to put on my dress. My long suffering husband will not be surprised that I lay the rap on him, since he was responsible for the travel arrangements. I rather wish my wonderfully funny son-in-law had taken the opportunity to tell the shoe story to the assembled crowd while we waited, but of course, without the ending part that came much later, it would not have been nearly as much fun.

I’ll save the tale of the beautiful and amazing ceremony for another day, skipping forward to the departure of the Haley grandparents. Clearly, we are all a marvelous bunch of planners, since no one had anticipated the logistics of their exodus. If their suitcases had been put in their car in the afternoon, they would not have had to return to my house, after dark, to pack up before they left. As they are unaccustomed to climbing stairs, Pop managed to fall backward into the shrubbery while ascending the 5 steps that lead up from the driveway to the sidewalk. Although he was not injured, Margaret later told me that they would not be visiting us again until egress into our home meets the standards she is accustomed to, which I guess means I will not be starting a rest home at my house anytime in the near future. But I digress. They spent the night with a friend along the road home, and arrived at the Sheets station the next afternoon to inquired about the shoe. The harried manager told them that they indeed had found a black shoe, and went to rummage in the back room. He returned, empty handed, and admitted that after several days, someone must have thrown it away. He apologized, but Margaret was not having it. How could anyone throw away a perfectly good right shoe! She informed him that the pair of shoes had cost $120 and unless he compensated her $60 for the one that was lost, she would sue the station for poor customer service.

I can easily imagine the chagrin and amazement that went through the mind of that manager, because I have experienced identical feeling so many times. There was the time when I was carrying my middle son and mentioned I was awakened with leg cramps. Margaret, who has never had a child of her own, explained to me emphatically that pregnant women do not have leg cramps. I also recall being told that it is cheaper to run your dishwasher after 10 at night, even if you do not have an off peak meter for your electricity. The electric company magically knows when you’ve been good or bad and adjusts your bill accordingly. In the interest of brevity, I just won’t get started on her interpretation of all the physician’s instructions she had been given over the years, but suffice it to say that all the “top” doctors in Virginia would be startled to hear her version of their orders. I can almost see the play of emotions that passed across the face of the confounded Sheets manager. If he or she were quick witted, they might have suggested that they would provide matching funds for any amount Margaret was offered for the other shoe. Being polite, and dumbfounded, the manager could only stammer that the station couldn’t take responsibility for items dropped in the parking area.

I haven’t been so bold as to inquire about how the lawsuit is getting on. I let my husband do most of the checking up on his father, which usually involves a lengthy conversation with Margaret, who is now almost deaf. She has obtained a hearing aide, but other than emitting a high-pitched screech throughout our conversations, it doesn’t seem to serve any function. Margaret, being deaf, can only dimly hear the noise that sends the rest of us running from the room. Pop, who has habituated himself to Margaret’s vexing habits, sits smiling and oblivious during the ear splitting noise, just as he does through all her verbal tirades. Like people who live near a jet plane flyover, or in mosquito infested swamps, he no longer hears or feels that which is so trying for the rest of family. In a sense he is the ultimate Zen master, if one can master Zen unconsciously. I suppose a lost shoe now and again is fair compensation for the elimination of all irritation from your life.

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