My Best Friend Is Denial

Denial is such a wonderful thing.

Dad's been doing so well the past few weeks...Even better since we'd discovered the allure of the fragrant crockpot. He was eating. He was alert. We could even leave for an hour or so without worrying that he'd have a crisis.

And then came August 24th.

Back in March, Dad told Mom he thought Aug. 24th would be a good day to die as it was St. Bartholomew's Day. But, he added, he didn't think he'd last that long.

As the day grew closer, none of us could quite forget what he'd said...But he was doing so well.

I told him the boys went back to school on the 25th and for some unknown reason, he penciled that in his appointment book. That scared me.

But on the evening of the 22nd he was doing so well. I didn't feel bad about leaving him to return to Greensboro for three days. After all, my sister would be with him.

Becky called me the next afternoon...Ironically, just as I was about to see a new patient whose mother was dying.

"His heartrate's up to 105. He's very, very weak. The hospice nurse doesn't think he'll pull out," she said. I could hear the slight crack in her voice and feel the fear radiating through the phone line.

He got on the phone. "I'm fine, really, I'm getting better. There's no need for you to come."

That cinched it. I was going.

Becky said, "Wait til we get the 4:30 report from the nurse. You know, he's done this before and we've been wrong. Besides," she added. "It's only the 23rd."

So I finished out the day. I went to the nursing home and saw my people. Cookie said "This is a different day. It's not like any other. I don't know what's going on."

As I held her hand and reassured her, I thought, me either.

I stopped at the house, threw some clothes into a suitcase and made an early dinner for the guys. Part of me feels guilty at not being able to be in two places at once. I miss them...But I miss him too.

When I reached New Bern, there he was, sitting up in bed watching a CNN special. But he was different, weaker, his voice almost a whisper, his skin a blanched white against the beige sheets.

I stopped by in the morning and he was even better. So I drove back to Greensboro to prepare a Last Night Before School Starts dinner. We all laughed and carried on. The boys were hilarious. It seems Adam had noticed a new ice cream sandwich, a huge thing called "Fat Boys."
He and his brother spent dinner coming up with new, politically and tastefully incorrect ad slogans, pitching them to Adam's girl, Amanda, competing unconsciously for the best laugh.

I called to check on Dad. "I decided the 24th wasn't such a good day to die after all," he said. "I'm gonna wait for Santa Claus."

"I'm trying to convince him to wait until March," Becky added. "So he'd be 80."

"Hell, I'm pulling for the Easter Bunny...Or maybe the Second Coming," I said.

I hopped in the car this morning, drove the long trip back to New Bern and arrived to find him so soundly asleep I had to check to see if he was still breathing.

He was...But he's weaker now. He's lost a little ground.

He tells me now he was having terrible dreams about needing to divide his house into thirds and having poor help from the carpenters...All while bad bugs swarmed around them. "We were trying to get it done so we could go swimming," he said.

There are three of us kids. Jesus was a carpenter. Illnesses are sometimes called bugs, and swimming symbolizes rebirth or transformation. Was he having another pre-death dream?

Nah, I'm just over-analyzing things again, huh?

A "Matronly" Rant...

Okay, I am not jetlagged, more like car-lagged. I have made the trip between Greensboro and New Bern 4 times in the past 48 hours, so maybe I'm just dazed and confused...But here goes anyway...

I am 51 and I am not dead.

Neither am I "matronly."

Or immune to trendy fashion and low-cut jeans.

I like my hair wild and my music alternative.
I don't delude myself- I have put away some things as juvenile or "too young," but on the whole, I do consider myself somewhat hip...

Which brings me to another thorn in my side...

While I live south of the Mason-Dixon Line, I am not walking down dirt roads in my bare feet. I don't live in a trailer or shop at the Piggly Wiggly. I don't "lunch" at the club and feign shock at the goings-on of my scandalous neighbors.

So why then are so many of the books I've read lately stereotyping 50-ish, Southern women as practically ancient, over the hill, dummies who long for a good man to take care of them or to take care of?

I would name names, but that's really not the point...

The point is...Whose delusion is this? Whose reality?

Are the editors in New York all 20-something? Are they too Yankee to realize we in the South have attended school and have the same level of education and sophistication?

I just sick of finding myself stuck on the long drive through the middle of nowhere listening to books about women who are round, dowdy, boring and completely asexual.

Am I stuck in adolescence, unable to move forward and fall in step with the march of time?

I would think so were it not for my friends...They're not dead either! We listen to Led Zeppelin, sure, but we're just as ready to switch our i-Pods over to Patty Griffin or Lucinda Williams. We work our asses off, but we play every bit as hard.

Don't get me wrong...I do not want to go back in time and become a teenager again. I've come too far for that foolishness. I love the wisdom and depth age has given me. But damn, if I read one more book in which ladies of my age wear elasticized pants and red hats, I'll just...Well, I will really just...

I'll just write my own damn book and fill it with ripe, juicy, bawdy, savvy, smart,sexy women who may not wear four-inch Manolo Blahnik pumps but who can still take charge and kick ass, on the job or in the bedroom! Even in the middle of damned Walmart...

Yeah, that's the ticket...

I'll just go write my own damned book!

You just hide and watch!


Recipes for Happiness

You know, it's true...We really are about as happy as we make up our minds to be...

I'm settling into a routine here in New Bern with Dad. Four or five days a week I spend 12 to 14 hours with him in the assisted living facility. Basically, we live in one room. But oh, the triumphs and victories we have here!

Last night I made apricot-glazed pork tenderloin and carrots, peas, brown rice and homemade cornbread. The cornbread was baked in the traditional cast iron skillet and was probably the best batch I've ever made! Tonight it'll be chicken thighs in a mushroom-cheddar sauce with rice, peas, and crescent rolls. I made beef stew and fricassed chicken last week. And all I have to work with is a toaster oven, a crockpot, a microwave, an iron skillet and two corningware bowls! The sink is a tiny bar sink. The refrigerator is an under-the-counter dorm room fridge. And I bake on the bathroom sink.

And this makes me very, very happy.

Dad hasn't had an appetite. He's wasting away and the food in this place is criminally bad...Okay, maybe not criminally...But mystery meat is no stranger here. Anyway, the smell of food slowly simmering for hours has had the effect of making him almost ravenous. He eats everything on his plate and is happy to have had it. It's a tiny miracle.

It's one little victory I can have in this war against Dad's Pulmonary Fibrosis. I can give him a good meal. I can see the color return to his ashen cheeks. I can joke and kid and laugh because he's strong enough to be able to take a good dose of his full-strength, wide-open daughter...Although like his meals, the portion of hijinks and carrying on is kept fairly small. Dad doesn't have a lot of energy, even with a good meal in him.

Living such a scaled down existence has reminded me again of how resourceful we humans must be in creating our own happiness...And how very little it takes to create and maintain that happiness.

Dad's been a little restless lately. My thought on the matter is that it's taking longer than he'd planned to die and this is giving him more time to worry about it. We've talked about it any number of times, but you can't out-talk or out-think a big experience you've never had. Dad's just a little anxious, so finding entertainment, other than movies or crossword puzzles, has been a bit of a challenge. But when my boys came down with Adam's girlfriend, Amanda in tow, she brought out a deck of cards and suddenly we had an instant party!

Dad trounced them! Even when Adam inadvertently sat on his oxygen tube and cut off Dad's airflow- he still managed to beat all of them in a landslide Hearts victory that we will all treasure as one of the "good time" memories.

The Hearts game reminded me of my old college card playing days and how we all loved Pinochle. Pinochle is Bridge-lite and probably just about the level of distraction Dad could handle without having to concentrate too hard. (After all, he is taking huge amounts of morphine and ativan...And yes, he still runs circles around the rest of us intellectually and emotionally) So I think we'll try Pinochle this week, ( that is, if I can re-learn it through the miracle of the internet and a good website.)

My sister has the night shift. She arrives around 8pm and the three of us watch movies, or old episodes of Upstairs, Downstairs. Around 10 or 11pm, I walk out to the parking lot, lower the top on my convertible and decompress on the 12 mile drive out to my "place in the country."

My route takes me over the long bridge that spans the Trent and Neuse rivers. At night you can see the lights of the marina and the distant lit-up houses along the shoreline. I drive with the wind in my hair, singing "The Tracks of My Tears, " along with Patti Griffin.

Across the bridge, I turn down a six mile-long road that is largely unpopulated except for deer and other nighttime critters. Broadcreek Road has no streetlights, all the better for star-gazing. JoDee Messina and I sing "Bring On the Rain," as I pass the golf course and turn into the retirement community where I've rented a room.

That's when I miss my boys the very most.

I crawl up in my lumpy bed and turn on The Daily Show and wish like hell I was home, laughing with Ben and Adam. This has been a special summer, one that will never be repeated and they are good about knowing that. Oddly enough, my absence seems to make their adolescent hearts grow fonder. On Wednesday night I will make them an elaborate dinner, dirtying every pot in the kitchen, preparing every vegetable I can think of, and concocting fruit salads and desserts.

Afterward, I plan on teaching them how to play Pinochle. There will be much shouting and laughing, as there always is when we play games.

That night before we fall asleep, there will be hugs. Confidences will be whispered, friendly insults exchanged and life will continue to be good.

Very, very good.

Here's the recipe for the Pork and Carrots:

Line your crockpot with one of those new disposable liners. Throw in some carrots cut up in chunks (Don't use the little ones, they're flavorless! Bite the bullet and peel the big guys.) Add a pork loin roast and a jar of apricot preserves. Turn the pot on and come back 8 or 10 hours later.

I bought the heat and serve brown rice, and don't give me a hard time about it...Desperate times call for already prepared rice at times!

The Cornbread was from a mix too, on account of I can con the facility kitchen out of a carton of milk but not a raw egg...I use the Martha Lily mix that says "Just add milk." I actually use 2 bags of the mix, add chipped up pieces of butter right before I pour it into the prepared iron skillet (melt about a tablespoon of butter in the pan while it preheats in the toaster oven to 400.) and add a little honey to the mix. When you pour the batter into the skillet, drizzle a little honey across the top.

Yep, life's about as good as you make it, alright!


Be All That You Can Be

Marti and I are not ones to let grass grow under our feet. We are tuned in, plugged in, wired up, linked and text-paged to every new idea and trend that comes out...at least, as up as you can be while living in a moderately small southern town.

So when the new Pan-Asian restaurant opened in the not-even-finished-park-amongst-the-construction-vehicles Friendly Shopping Center, we decided it was time to hop on down and see what all the fuss was about.

While we are ever the trendsetters, Marti and I are not followers. We waited a discrete two months before venturing forth. I mean, one doesn't like to appear anxious.

Anyway, the revolving front door is flanked by two huge concrete stallions. I don't want to be the one to say anything, but I think it takes away some from the appetizing appeal of a place to have horse butts positioned in such a way as to make one think of what would happen to them if said concrete steeds had been the genuine article.

But I digress.

We step inside, out of the bright sunlight, into a dark cavern of a room where all the waitstaff is wearing black and the tables have lit candles on them. We are led to one of those tables out in the middle...You know, the ones that make you think you must not count for much because all the other people are sitting in booths? What do they think we are, stupid?

I said, "We'd like a booth please."

The little girl in black blinked, then led us to a horseshoe-shaped booth that would've seated eight of us.

We took our poster-sized menus and perused them long enough for me to realize there were no lunch menu prices and Dear God, we're going to pay $15 for lunch in a chain restaurant! Our waitress must've thought she had to make up for ripping us off by yapping on and on about the items on the menu. She continued even after we'd ordered and were deep into catching up on what had been going on for the past week.

Couldn't she see we were in the middle of an important discussion?

Apparently not. At one point she started futzing around with the condiment tray, making up some concoction that looked more like a biology class experiment gone wrong than a hand-mixed seasoning for our lunches. Looking back on it, I realize now she was only trying to join in. I mean, who in their right mind wouldn't? There we were in all our glory- two hot, passionate, vibrant, interesting women with real damn lives! Puh-leeze, if you don't want to be one of us, what else could you be? That's right, your other choices are Nuts or Boring.

I know, I get carried away. It's just sometimes I forget how wonderful it is to eat lunch with my best friend. It's like going on vacation without having to pack or pay for it.

So, our food arrives and it's a good thing the waitress had blended the special seasoning for us because that high dollar food was just regular Chinese food dressed up and called Pan Asian Cuisine. I guess that's how they justified charging big money and printing their names on matchbooks.

But you can plop old Marti and me down anywhere and the results will always be the same...We will solve the problems of our own universe no matter what environmental obstacles we have to overcome.

Sometimes Marti and I get bogged down in the day-to-day frustrations of being the two hottest living mothers in the universe and forget to channel our inner wonderfulness. In short, we get cranky. We take it out on other, perhaps not-so-innocent bystanders. We completely forget the only destinies we really control are our own.

So, in light of all our renewed determination to be the best women we can be- without causing a nuclear holocaust at home or elsewhere- we have adopted a new motto and will be having appropriate T-shirts made up so we can clue the rest of the world in...

"Be the Woman You Are, Not the Bitch You've Become!"

I think it has a certain ring to it, don't you?


Further Proof of My Father's Brilliance

You do know I live in a nursing home, right?

I mean, I spend 5 days a week with my dad in the assisted living facility and 1 or 2 days a week working in three nursing homes.

I am one with the old people.

I am even more forgetful than usual.

Last week I arrived at Dad's without the power cord to my laptop. This week, when I reminded him to write down the meds he'd just taken, he looked up at me and said, "At least I didn't forget the cord to my laptop!"


Of course, as I've said before, he is the smartest man in the universe. Want further proof?
My birthday was this week and we were talking about the different decades and how it felt to be in our 20s, 30s and 40s. So I asked him, "Dad, what did you do in your fifties?"

"Quit shaking," he said, and smiled.