ALL IN

“Nothing in life is to be feared, it is only to be understood. Now is the time to understand more so that we may fear less.” Marie Curie (1867-1934)

sky n football

10 years ago, I was so terrified of dogs that I rarely visited friends who had them. Then this little one came home. Skylar weighed less than a pound. She’d been taken from her mother too soon so I had to feed her with a dropper around the clock. We had high hopes that she would be a companion for our children who begged us to get her. Within a few weeks, however, she became my sole responsibility.

Having never owned a dog, I didn’t relish the task. My ignorance was boundless but she was patient with me. The first time I took her for a walk, I put an old cat leash around her neck and almost strangled her. When I dropped a sock out of the laundry basket and she brought it back to me, I thought she had super powers. “Look what my puppy did!” I bragged on Facebook. “It’s called fetch,” my friends replied. Apparently every dog could do it.

Skylar watched my hair turn from brown to gray. She transformed from a rascal who chewed up shoes into an obedient pup who thought sunflower sprouts were a treat. She was there through high school then college graduations, followed us into three, different homes in three, different states and hovered at my side through two, major surgeries. She made me laugh over little things like the face she always made when I brushed her teeth. When I played the piano, she howled along as if we were in it together and we were. At night, if I tossed and turned then sighed, astonishingly, she did the same. Yes, she barked at most everything from falling leaves to FedEx trucks. However, after she alerted me to a midnight prowler, I came to respect her every growl.

I often marvel how I ever managed to live so long before finding such a grand companion. Few humans are as unabashed in both their affections and distresses. Skylar was ALL IN for everything and everyone was a potential friend. For several thousand days, I have held her close against my heart and then, last week, as she took her final breath. The house is pin drop quiet now. Our long running conversation has ended but I will never forget how wonderful it was to have.

 

 

 

FINDING JOY

 

FINDING JOY

I ran into this fabulous, 94 year-old at the Vegas airport last week. Her 10 year-old, great-granddaughter, Gianna, who clearly adored her, was pushing her in a wheelchair.

“Whatcha readin’?” I asked her.

 She grinned and said, “Finding Joy.” Then she thumbed through a few pages, turned the book upside down, shook it and added, “But I can’t find her in here anywhere!” We both cracked up.

Ironically, on the same flight was another woman, also in a wheelchair, who appeared to be at least 10 years younger. She met my attempts to chat with both indifference and a nasty scowl on her face. When it was time to board, she had to wait for an attendant to take her in, so the gate attendant motioned me forward ahead of her. A few moments later as the woman was wheeled towards me in the gangway, she suddenly yelled, “I’m going in there first, you know!”

 “No worries,” I said a bit taken aback. “You’re welcome to go first but believe it or not, we’re all going to get there at the same time.” Others laughed but she didn’t find that funny at all.

 Just then, my new friend, Elaine came rolling up with Gianna.

 “Let’s all sit together!” she said with a big grin.

 “I’d love that,” I replied. “Now are we gonna sit in the cabin or do you want a seat on the wing? It does get a bit windy out there but the view’s much better.”

 “Oh, Let’s sit on the wing!” she said with glee, playing along with my silliness.

 And in a sense, we did sit there.  For isn’t it the wings that lift you soaring into the clouds? Without them, a plane would never leave the ground. Likewise, without joy, we are inexorably left with the heaviness of our own sorrows like that bitter woman. Some folks can find joy under a dusty rock. Others wouldn’t know it if you dumped it in their lap but my new friend, Elaine?  She carries it with her wherever she goes. 

 

 

 

 

WHY I WOULD NOT WANT TO BE ’20 SOMETHING’ NOW

silent crowd at starbucks

Take a good look at this picture of a group of 20 somethings at Starbucks this morning.  I watched and photographed them for several minutes, during which time not one of them looked up or even acknowledged one another.  Welcome to 2015.  I would not want to be their age for anything right now.  Why?

1. I wouldn’t be able to talk to my friends as conversation now is done primarily via thumbs. (The last time I actually used mine was to hitchhike).

2.  I would never feel the heart-palpitating anticipation of waiting days for handwritten letters from someone I love.  (Instead, I could ‘hook-up’ or ‘break-up’ instantly via Facebook.)

3. I wouldn’t be able to get the 6 o’clock News in one, nicely, digestible, half hour. (It would bombard me 24/7 on Twitter.)

4. I couldn’t say the bill ‘got lost in the mail, ‘ as it would be sent directly to my Inbox.

5. I couldn’t have a wild time at that private party knowing it would stay private. (By morning, my hat dance routine would be viral on Instagram.)

6. My boredom tolerance would be zero, my curiosity likely non-existent and my sense of allegiance to country, place and home not even a memory.  (Now, thanks to politicians and lawyers, I can’t say the Pledge of Allegiance but can read Lolita– just not the Bible– in class.)

7. Most anything I say would be politically incorrect. (Now I would either have to pretend to like everybody– no matter how wacky– or simply remain mute.)

8. I would neither be able to remember nor mourn my innocence. (Thanks to the Internet it would never exist.)

9. My moral compass would be all screwed up. (Instead of making a bowl of popcorn for the movie, I might well, ‘smoke a bowl’ instead.)

10. I would likely still be living with my parents! (My college degree wouldn’t get me a job and even if it did I still couldn’t afford to live on my own.)

It seems that a sense of gratitude has now been replaced with a sense of entitlement.  Many of my friends say they wouldn’t want to be younger simply because they have, “Been there.  Done that.”  Truth is I haven’t been ‘there’ or ‘done that’ at all.  And I sure wouldn’t want to be there doing it NOW. 

FILL-IN-THE-BLANKS THIS CHRISTMAS

Right now, this page is as blank as my cupboards are bare of gifts this year. I just read, “Breaking News” from the New York Times, which says that “Spending is down for November which indicates a gloomy forecast for 2012.” Part of me feels guilty for this downturn, for I have not spent a single penny on this Christmas. No, not one.

Well, I did spend $6 on some holly cuttings for a wreath which I fashioned and hung on the front door. Around the edges, I tied five, old, pine cones from a long ago walk with the dog. When a friend assumed that I had purchased it, I was pleased.  But the usual fuss I make shopping, buying, wrapping, hanging lights and decorating the house has not happened.  In fact, I even forgot to pre-order our usual 12-lb turkey.

Months ago, I reminded my teenage daughters that this would be our, “handmade Christmas.” It is a tradition we started some years back which has yielded some of our most treasured possessions: a hand stitched quilt our oldest made for her sister; a hand-sewn bag our youngest made for us; a photo collage which hangs on the mantle from a happy, family time.

But this year feels different and not because it has been a difficult one but because I want it to hold meaning. Granny taught me long ago that you can’t buy that. It is always wrapping itself effortlessly into your heart and head.  So, I have decided that my gift to my family this year will be my happiest memories of time with them. I began writing them some weeks back. The task was harder than I thought it would be, because as you remember the happy times, the sad ones have a way of creeping in, too.

So, as you fill-in-the-blanks of your own Christmas this year, I wish you moments of meaning.  They will fill the pages of your heart with more laughter and tears than you can imagine.  One day, you may just be lucky enough to have the time to write them down . . . or even read them.

P. S.  Just before posting this, I heard the sweetest sound coming from my husband’s office.  He was whistling, “The Christmas Song,” in its’ entirety.  Those lovely notes are filling my heart line by line this very second!  Merry Christmas!

Helen Hudson is the author of, “Kissing Tomatoes,” a memoir of her grandmother’s years of Alzheimer’s.

 

GET A LIFE!!!

When my oldest first said these three words to me I really was speechless.  Then I laughed.  After I wiped the incredulous look off my face I just stared into her then 16 year-old eyes and said:  “I have one but unfortunately for you, you’re a BIG part of it.”  Now if you have teenagers and haven’t heard this yet—trust me—you will.  And, if you are a parent of ANY sort you know one thing for sure:  Your life hasn’t been YOURS since that first cry.

Some parents simply cannot handle the reality of that.  It’s just too all-consuming.  Casey Anthony comes to mind.  But most of us adapted piece by piece, year by year as our offspring grew.  Then one day we realized that even our simplest thoughts almost always include our children.

Teenagers aren’t cool with that.  They so desperately want to be free and on their own that sometimes just looking at them sends them into a frenzy.  This afternoon, while driving my youngest, I was warned, “Don’t talk to me!”  So, I didn’t point out the cool clouds that were stretching across the purple sky ahead of the oncoming storm or the funny, looking dog being walked by the funnier looking woman.  Just drove in silence.

 I remember being her age.  When my grandmother drove me places I even hunkered down in the seat if I saw anyone I knew.  Just couldn’t wait to be ON MY OWN.  It didn’t help that hers was always the slowest car on the road.  The worst thing, of course, was running into a friend when she was with me.  If it were a boy, I fairly died inside.

Somewhere along the line, though, I grew up and thanked her for all those rides.  Had lots of adventures.  Saw some of the world.   Graduated from college.  Had a career—then another career.  Fell in love.  Married.  You know the rest.

I have 40 years of memories BEFORE my kids were born.  Way I figure it, they have a LOT of catching up to do to REALLY get ‘A LIFE.’  Yup, (and it makes me smile just thinkin’ about it) I had a life.  Still do.  Only it isn’t just MINE anymore.

 http://www.helen-hudson.com 

SHHH!! DON’T TELL!!

 While rinsing the chlorine off this morning in the YMCA shower, a gaggle of giggling little girls squeezed altogether in the open stall next to me.  Although several others were open, they chose to rinse off together.  Like spies on a secret mission, they peeked out from behind their vinyl curtain as if to be sure the coast was clear.  Then the giggling stopped and the whispering began. 

“My aunt is visiting us,” confided the first.  “She’s the one with the gray hair.  She is very, very old.. . .but don’t tell anyone!”

“Why not?” asked the smallest in a whisper.

“It’s a secret.”

“Oh,” they all seemed to understand at once.

Then one broke the silence:  “How old is she?”

“Oh, pretty old, I think,” the first replied.  “Like my dad’s age.”

“That’s not old,” piped the third.  “My dad isn’t old but his mother is REALLY, REALLY old.  She’s my grandmother.”

“All grandmothers are old,” added the fourth. 

“How come?” asked another.

“They have to be cuz if they weren’t we wouldn’t be here.”

At that moment, I turned off the water and pulled back my shower curtain.  As I stepped out, four pairs of very wide eyes looked up at me.

“You’re so right,” I told them.  “Without grandmothers we wouldn’t be here—and don’t worry I won’t tell anyone how very, very old your aunt is.”

“Okay,” said the girl, “Cause she would really kill me.”

“No worries,” I said, “Considering there are about 400 people out there today, I will never even know who she is.”

“Phew,” said her friend as I left.  “That was close.”

 

 

 

 

WALK LIKE A MAN!

My husband ruptured a disc in his back several weeks ago.  Despite the many pain medications his doctor has proffered, he is still in agony and barely able to navigate from bedroom to kitchen.  So, on the eve of our 31st anniversary, I drove to purchase him a cane.   

As I parked at Walgreens, a very, tall man was getting into the car next to me.  Suntanned and well-groomed, I noticed that he still had some dark hair in his sideburns that refused to go white.  Figured he was an ex-athlete, likely basketball.  When I noticed he had a crutch under each arm, I assumed he injured himself playing sports.

“You look about 6’ 7”,” I said as we came face to face.

“I used to be,” he replied, “until I shrunk.”

It was only then I realized he was missing an entire leg.  At 17, while driving a tractor on his dad’s farm, he was thrown off into the oncoming scythe of the thresher.  Said he has a prosthesis but it’s “a lot more comfortable without it.”  No wonder.  Even without his leg, he moves like a WHOLE man.

As we part, I imagine what my own 17 would have been like with only one leg.  I was crazy for dancing and twirled and twisted across too many floors to remember.  While I can no longer do the limbo, I can still dance.  Made me walk taller just thinking about it.

Driving home with a new, blue cane for my husband, I am grateful he has both legs though he can’t use them well now.  I think of the woman I met with Alzheimer’s who cannot walk, not because she lacks legs, but has forgotten how.  I remember the boy I met in college who was born with no legs. 

At the corner, a young man with pants so low that I can see the heart tattoo on his right buttock, waits for the light to change.  When it does, he shuffles slowly across in the slouched-style of an old man.  I want to roll down the window and yell, “Walk Like A Man!”  So I do.  He straightens to attention as if shot by a rifle.  As his eyes meet mine, I smile and add, “While you still can.”  (Hudson is the author of, “Kissing Tomatoes,”a memoir of the years she and her husband cared for her grandmother with Alzheimer’s). 

http://www.helen-hudson.com  


 

 

 

 

ONE IN TEN

How dare TIME magazine announce:  “Alzheimer’s:  At last, some progress against the most stubborn disease.”  Imagine my disappointment to read merely the same old stuff:  It’s hereditary.  No drug cures it.  Some have side effects worse than the disease itself.  We still spend 5 billion a year on cancer research and only 500 million a year on Alzheimer’s.  So where’s the progress?  Slow in coming.  “Ironically, it is the one disease that most of us are likely to get,” says Dr. Peterson, head of Alzheimer’s research at the Mayo Clinic.  One in ten of us if you want the exact statistic.

Now I don’t need statistics to tell me my own prognosis is not looking so hot.  My grandmother lingered for 13 years in its stranglehold.  My mother may well have had it but other ills took her sooner.  This week, though, brings another blow:  my aunt, the one with the doctorate, who edited my college papers and never let me get away with ‘shallow thinking,’ has just been diagnosed with it, too.

The signs were there:  Last year, she sent me a copy of her Will along with a partial recipe for shortcake with the last paragraph inexplicably cut off.  The year before, after her recent visit to China, I invited her to visit.  She was always independent, so I rented her a car.  However, after watching her turn the ignition two more times while it was already running I returned it and kept her with me for the rest of our visit.

I am still keeping her with me though ‘she’ is vanishing fast.  The authors that she insisted I read in college: Whitman, Frost, Voltaire, and Shakespeare, still stand tall in my bookshelf.  Believe it or not, I can still do a perfect cart-wheel just the way she taught me when I was 12.  ‘Now hold your arms and legs into a perfect ‘X,’ she commanded, ‘then roll straight over like a wheel.’   My aunt didn’t just outsmart me at Bridge and Scrabble when I was a kid, but always showed me how she did it.  She questioned my answers until my answers became questions themselves and I loved her for it.  Still do.  Always will.  The important thing is that when she was here she was HERE.  May the rest of us be so fortunate.  (Helen Hudson is the author of, “Kissing Tomatoes,” an Alzheimer’s memoir.   http://www.helen-hudson.com).

STARLIGHT, STAR BRIGHT

      The noted astronomer began harmlessly enough.  Proudly, he held up a steaming, baked potato in front of us.  It symbolized a white, dwarf star, gazillions of miles away from our uncomfortable, folding chairs.  By calculating the rate at which the potato, and thus the star, cooled, science could assess the age of our galaxy.  When he excitedly announced that our good, old, planet earth has been around for at least 13 ½ billion years, ‘Yippee’ did not come to mind.  Black holes did. 

     As the others lined up to gaze at M-13 through the telescope, I lost my zeal.  I kept imagining all the billions of people who weren’t here anymore.  They were now like those faraway stars:  infinitely, irrevocably untouchable.  With all the eons of TIME out there, we’re stuck in ridiculously short ‘time shares,’ one breath away from being obsolete.  ‘Is it possible to feel any smaller?’ I wondered.

     Yup.  “Stars don’t die all at once.  The larger, densely packed, intense ones die the fastest.”  (I’m thinking James Dean).  “The smaller, less dense, more demure ones last longest.” ( Betty White?)  Uh Oh.  According to my family, I’m as high-strung as a key on a kite in lightning.  My oldest said just last week, “Mom.  Why don’t you return to Disney and ask them to remove your animation chip?”  My time may be shorter than I thought.

     Now I’ve had stars in my eyes.  I’ve stepped on the stars in front of Grauman’s Chinese.  I’ve dated stars.  I‘ve stuck the glow-in-the-dark ones above my children’s cribs. But never have the stars seemed less appealing.  So, when the astronomer finished, I asked:  “Okay.  Now that we know how old the galaxy is, and that one day, billions of years from now, the universe will go dark and there will be no stars—what does this mean personally, for you, right now?’  “Um. . .Well. . .I guess. . . I. . . just don’t know the answer to that,” he said sadly. 

     But I do.  Tonight the Perseid meteor shower will be in full view and I will watch all those falling stars fall.  It will remind me that dying is pretty from a distance.  But mostly it will remind me of the nights Granny and I used to look up at those same stars and say:  “Starlight, star bright.  First star I see tonight.  Wish I may.  Wish I might have the wish I wish tonight.”  (Hudson’s memoir, “Kissing Tomatoes,” recounts the 13 years she lived with her grandmother who had Alzheimer’s).  http://www.helen-hudson.com.

JUST DRIVE

     I just handed my oldest the keys to the car and sent her out to the market.  For a brief moment, she just stood there and looked at me as if uncertain what I meant.  “Here’s the key,” I repeated.  “Just drive.”  I figure she’s had enough of me sitting in the passenger seat making her nervous.  She now has her license and it’s time for me to let go.  Ha!  Do we parents ever really let go?

        Okay.  So she’s been gone over an hour.  I’ve replayed the entire drive to and from back and forth in my mind several times.  But no amount of my worry will amount to a hill of beans when it comes to, ‘the other guy.’  If I add up all of the worrying I’ve done about everything over the last 40 years, it is quite clear that I have wasted months, maybe years, of precious time.  They should have been spent laughing, creating and exploring instead. 

        The really good decisions I’ve made in my life were mostly done on the spot out of a sense of responsibility, joy or love; like the day we moved Granny in with us.*  We didn’t work out a budget or decide how much time we would have to devote to her.  We just moved her in, Alzheimer’s and all.  In hindsight, it’s better that we didn’t know we’d have to add Depends to the shopping list, or that just bathing her might take an entire hour.  Love far outweighs anything on a balance sheet or a shopping list.

        And it was love that propelled me to send my daughter off an hour ago.  She will never spread her wings if I keep her tethered and I want her to fly.  She needs to feel that sense of full accountability when she is behind the wheel, to know there is nothing between her and the other guy but her own good judgment.  As a driver, she will have to make many ‘on the spot’ decisions.  If they’re done with responsibility, love and joy she will be okay.

        Oops.  Gotta run.  I hear the garage door opening.  My bird is returning to the nest; the same one I used to buckle into her pink, fluffy, car seat with her stuffed elephant.  My heart leaps with both joy and gratitude.  (*From, “Kissing Tomatoes,” by Helen Hudson.  http://www.helen-hudson.com).

P. S.  An hour after I posted this blog, I discovered that Wisconsin has launched a, “Just Drive,” campaign for teens.  It comes with its own yellow road sign and points out that while teens only account for 7% of all drivers, they cause 14% of all accidents.  How comforting.