Nature-full Weekend


It was a nature-full weekend up at the old log cabin. 



A tribe of bald-faced hornets has moved into a huge nest over the shed door.



Having a new well meant the return of the humans and not all of the locals were happy to see us return.  Across the field, a family of deer munched apples and eyed the remains of my garden longingly.


I figure they're just waiting for the gourd to ripen- it's about the only thing in the yard they haven't nibbled to a nub.


Oh well. There's always the view from the back porch...





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Tuesdays in the Nursing Home- The New Guy

I saw a new man today, Eddie.  A tall, graying man stuck in the paralyzing grip of his advancing Parkinson's disease.  Every move is made with laborious slowness, each word must wend it's way like a marble in a pinball game, searching for a way out of Eddie's mouth. And those words once delivered, are so soft, feathery whispers of a former strong man.


Eddie was a principal with four children of his own, he has his Master's degree in Education, is a Hall of Famer in Ohio for his prowess on the basketball and baseball arenas.  To find himself stuck inside a body that is slowly turning to hard concrete, unable to speak the thoughts that are in his head with any strength or authority- it is all unthinkably horrible.

"Eddie, are you depressed?" I ask.

"No," he says quickly.  "I'm not that kind.  I'm a cheerful sort."

"Are you angry?" I ask him.

He shakes his head but then thinks about something for a long moment.  "I get...frustrated," he says at last.  "It's been a rough week.  This morning I wanted to brush my teeth, then use the Scope in that bottle," Eddie says softly.  "But I couldn't get the bottle open. That frustrates me."

I wait, sensing more to come.

"I'm so tired,"Eddie says.  "They talk to me like I am a dog. They say sit and they point to a place I'm supposed to sit or they say "Eat!" or "Go back to your room!"

Eddie looks at me with sad gray eyes and I search for the the remnants of a high school principal behind his shell shocked eyes.

"I get firm with them," he tells me.  "I tell them I wouldn't talk to a dog like they talk to us patients."

I agree with him. I share his sense of outrage.  And I feel the sapping of his courage and strength for dealing with these situations.  His thoughts are working inside his head but they sometimes fail to find his mouth in time to say what needs to be said.  His body holds him back and the retirement he and his wife dreamt of was stolen by a diagnosis that arrived the month before he retired.

I want to run out into the hall and scream "Do you know who you're dealing with in here?" But it would be inappropriate as everyone is facing this same denigration of pride.  We have not come any farther today than we were last year or even in the last century.  Nursing homes are way stations along the road to death.  They rarely pretend to be anything more.

I go to see a much maligned aide, a woman I initially overlooked as possibly inept and maybe uncaring because she seemed to move so slowly through her rounds.  But over the month I've watched her, I've seen prayers offered for patients, love and forgiveness in the face of abuse, and humor given and taken between Linda and her hall of patients.

Linda is all right, I think.  And then today I learn she is cutting back on working so many double shifts because she is going to nursing school- after 29 years away, Linda is finally looking for something to better herself and her situation, all while working full time at the nursing home.

We can't lump all aides into one category any more than we can categorize all patients as addle-pated aging children.

Lots and lots of resources and love are needed to fold these factions into a loving, respectful family but on days like this, I can almost see the way through to it. 

A nursing home is a village, a family, in desperate need of support for making our seniors a precious resource again while also mentoring our next generation of aides and future nurses to have the emotional and monetary means to change their world.

There is nothing that love and energy can't change for the better. I do believe this.



Go Figure



The Youngest Unnamed One stared at the logo on the well digger's Ditch Witch for a long moment, then asked  "Why's the guy wearing boots?" 

At the time I assumed the Youngest was commenting on the stick figure's choice of footwear as a safety issue as in..."Obviously, the Stick Figure's too stupid to know wearing cowboy boots are too slick to wear when you're operating dangerous heavy equipment!"  So, I just chuckled and nodded. 

Then today I wondered again what the Youngest meant when he asked about the boots. 

Maybe, I thought, he meant "Well, as the Stick Figure's obviously losing a leg, who cares what's on his foot?" Or "If the Stick Figure's that stupid, maybe there should have been a footwear warning."  Or conversely, maybe there should've been a depiction of  the Stick Figure bare-footed with the warning, "Not wearing shoes will result in a loss of toes, legs or arms."

Finally, it drove me crazy and I had to walk down the hall to the inner sanctum of the Youngest Unnamed One. 

He was sitting on his bed, propped up by pillows and wrapped in an old India-print bedspread, cramming in his last minute, summer reading.

"So, listen, last night when you said 'Why is the Stick Figure wearing boots?'" I said, not bothering with a preamble.  "What did you mean?"

The Youngest tapped his upper lip with the top of his neon green hi-lighter and stared at me with a perplexed frown.

"What? I don't know.  I was thinking why is he wearing boots?"

I went over the possibilities as I'd thought of them, to which the Youngest only frowned harder and shook my head.

"No," he said. "I mean, I was only thinking why is a stick figure, with no other detail, no hands, no face, nothing...why did they give him boots?"

I stared back at him, startled.  "Oh. Yeah. Huh. Okay, well, wow. I never even thought of that."

Which is why, I suppose, he's such a creative genius.  It's all in the details.  Or not.





As Dawn Breaks...

So begins another day at the cabin...


Today marked the last water-less day up at the cabin.  I was up in time to drink my coffee out on the back porch swing as I watched the sun rise over the neighbor's pond.


Across the lane, in the middle of the field, the new well sat waiting for The Pump Man.



We were all waiting...



Maggie the Schnauzer and I strolled along the edge of the drying creek and watched as the sun slowly warmed the world around us.






And then, there they were, ready to rumble...




The Resurrection of Nancy Pies


Recently this somewhat cryptic message arrived in my email box, forwarded from my buddy, Betsy...


On Sunday, August 31, 208 (day before Labor Day)

To remember and celebrate Dave Yarnall and...

To avoid all of us only seeing each other at funerals –

There will be a gathering of the Turks Head/Cabaret clan 

On the banks of the Brandywine

Anytime after 1pm

Bring booze and a side dish – I think we’re roasting pig!!

Please contact me with any other email addresses or phone numbers

You all know who should come


I particularly liked the line "You all know who should come," because, strangely enough, I did know who should come.

Back in the day...a long, long time ago, I used to play music in a little hole in the wall bar called The Turk's Head Cabaret.  Sometimes I played with my band, sometimes I was one of the chick back-up singers and sometimes I was just a patron, watching other musicians like The Melton Brothers or George Thorogood and the Destroyers.


The Turk's Head was no wider or longer than a row house and attracted a diverse audience that included college students and bikers who somehow all managed to get along.

It was my college home away from home, thanks in large part to a guy named Kenny, who took over the management of the tiny club and made it into "the" local venue for new and emerging bands. 

The details are sketchy now, thirty years later, but I do remember eating my first authentic Vietnamese food at the Turk's Head, courtesy of a tiny, immigrant woman Kenny wisely hired.

And I will never forget that my dad came almost every time I played. He'd sit at the big front row table, surrounded by my girlfriends, wearing his Episcopal cleric's collar and beaming up at me as I sang, like he was the proudest father on Earth.

Hanging out at the Turk's Head was like playing dress-up with my soul. I was always trying on various incarnations of my growing-up self and yet, no one ever made me feel foolish. 

Acceptance like that is hard to come by- Which probably explains why I've never been tempted to attend a high school or college reunion...but this one...well, it's mighty tempting.

Tonight I dug the old guitar out from under the Eldest Unnamed One's bed, pulled down the dust-covered notebook full of lyrics and played until my voice got hoarse and my fingers felt raw.

It was not pretty.  Apparently, playing and singing are not at all like riding a bike.  While some things do manage to come flooding right back, it's not the good stuff. 

But unlike trying to fit into a size 6 for the high school reunion, I don't feel at all discouraged by my lack of musical ability.  Hell, it didn't seem to bother anyone back in the day, so why should it matter now?

It's a hell of a long way to drive for a party, but for the girl who still lives somewhere inside me, it feels very necessary.


Raindrops Were Fallin' on my Head


Up at the cabin, a gentle rain begins to fall.

But I arrived prepared for drought, accustomed to not flushing the toilet unless absolutely necessary and accepting of the fact that my garden is a lost cause.



I am prepared to spend a waterless day amusing myself with a cheap, toy metal detector and a camera. So when the first few drops fall, I am in denial.

“Where are you going?” Mert asks as I plow on across the field, headed for the old soil road.

“Out to look for treasure,” I tell her.

“In the rain?”

Mert is the practical sort. She is sitting on the tractor, sheltered by a stand of pine trees as I clomp past her in my too-new Timberland boots. Mert sees no point in blindly carrying on with a plan when the elements dictate otherwise.


“It’s just a little shower,” I tell her. “It’ll blow over in a second and besides, I’ll be up in the woods on the soil road. The rain won’t even hit the ground.”

As I say this, thunder rumbles in the distance and the sky unleashes a deluge. Seconds later my hair clings to the sides of my head, everything electronic has gone dead and I am still marching across the soggy saw grass.

Mert stays behind for the first ten minutes but then she does finally follow me. As we move deeper into the woods and the rain intensifies, Mert asks if I don’t think the buried coins and memorabilia wouldn’t have washed down the hill and be lying closer to the entrance of the road. This is her way of saying, “You idiot, can’t you see it’s pouring out here and we’re only getting drenched?”

“No,” I tell her. “Wagon wheels and Civil War belt buckles don’t wash away like that.”

She takes the trowel and for the next ten minutes patiently digs at the sight of each blip on the detector’s screen. But when the rain begins to blow sideways and the claps of thunder intensify, Mert flees back toward the cabin, abandoning me to my foolish errand.

A minute later, as I slowly admit defeat and turn to follow her, the metal detector releases a scream unlike any of the other shrill beeps and blasts, with the exception of the test screech it made when I tossed my silver watch on the ground and held the detector’s head directly over top of it.


“Mert, wait! Come back! I’ve got something!” I yell, but she is out of sight and wouldn’t have listened anyway.

I kneel down in the leaves, brush them aside and reach for the trowel, but it’s gone too, secure and dry in Mert’s back pocket.

There is no point in running for shelter. I trudge slowly down the hill, the camera stuck beneath my shirt, and stand on the porch of the abandoned cabin studying the leftovers from previous tenants.


When there is still no let up, I take out the camera and try to photograph raindrops, then snap my reflection in the old, porch mirror.


I picture Mert warm and dry. She’ll be wearing clean, dry clothes and eating the fried chicken I brought up for our picnic, I think, feeling sorry for myself. I picture the cabin’s cheery kitchen and Mert munching away at the old farm table.


I study the cobwebs draping the doorway into the old abandoned cabin and begin to feel sorry for myself.

If I’d really wanted treasure, I think, studying the shelves that rim the porch, I could’ve just come here and grabbed one of these. A rusted canning rack, an old biscuit cutter, a length of hand-forged chain.

jan2708 014

All the things I’ve seen on relic hunting sites are right here on the porch, or better yet, lying open out on the ground atop the Big Ugly garden patch.

Nearby the bushes shake. Something is coming. I remember Mert saying the neighbor had warned her about bears on the hillside. I grab the metal detector, prepared to defend myself, when I hear her.

“Hey, I got an umbrella and a towel,” Mert says, appearing on the overgrown path. “Figured you might want to keep the camera dry.”

There is not one ounce of “I told you so” in her voice.

“Let’s go back to the cabin and eat some chicken,” she says.


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Sounds of Summers Past and Passing

Once upon a time I lived in Atlanta.  On warm summer nights I would wrap the boys in an old quilt and take them out to the big white swing on the patio.  Fireflies danced across the back yard as we rocked.  Japanese lanterns glowed and Skip Caray, his voice as familiar and comforting as family, called the Braves game.

It is a memory as clear and close as yesterday. 

He will be greatly missed.


The Well Digger Returns


About six weeks ago, the spring box ran dry up at the cabin.  A few days later, the local dowser arrived to search for water with his brass divining rods.


After some consideration, he stuck a small red flag in the ground and sent me off to get a permit to dig from the Franklin County Health Department.

And then all the spring boxes in the county seemed to run dry. 

Finally, today, our number came up and Skeeter and his son arrived to drill for water.


I had to work, so Mertis volunteered to run up and document the big event.

Back in town I anxiously awaited word, praying they wouldn't have to go too far down- after all, well diggers charge by the foot.

After 40' they hit water but it wasn't below the bedrock, so they kept on.  "The soil's too sandy," Mert said, calling from the front yard of the cabin.

"Does he think he can make it work over there?" I asked.

"What? I can't hear you.  It's loud as hell out here!" she said. "I'll call you back when they stop."

I didn't hear from her for the rest of the day.



They dug 300' before they hit water again and there are still problems.  "It was so loud," Mert said, "And I didn't know what they were talking about.  Something about packing or screening the well, then digging a trench across the road and hooking it up to the house."

"300 feet down?" I echoed, my mental calculator racing into overdrive. "They had to dig 300 feet and they don't even know if it's going to work?"

Mert looked worn out. Dark circles rimmed her eyes and her shoulders slumped beneath her oversized tee-shirt.

"That's what he told me. And even then, you won't be able to use it until you call one of the companies on this list the health department gave me.  Somebody has to come test the water before you can use it," she said.



I stood in the middle of my brick walkway, staring down at a long list of names and numbers, remembering the cartoon Dad used to quote whenever someone questioned his love of sailing.  "A boat is just a hole in the water you pour money into."

I swore I'd never take up sailing- it made me seasick. 

But there I was this evening- staring at pictures of water running out of a hole in the ground and thinking the apple hadn't fallen very far from the tree after all.



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Tuesday's at the Nursing Home- Hearing Voices

I am sitting in the dining room of the nursing home, listening to a woman who hears God's voice.

"When I lived on the steps, He healed me without the drugs. I try to tell them here but they are bad people. They don't believe me," she says. "God fixed me, two times. You tell them- if I am bad they can give me pills again and I will take them."

Anna rocks back and forth in her seat, a tiny Vietnamese refugee committed by the courts to live in the nursing home after repeated involuntary hospitalizations in the state hospital. She is only a few years older than me, a lone dark-hair amidst a sea of gray heads.

Behind us, a few feet away, an elderly woman with Alzheimer's sits in her wheelchair, parked at an empty table. She stares blankly out the huge, plate-glass window, her mouth frozen into an astonished "O" that makes me wonder what, if anything, she sees.

"There are bad people here," Anna says. "They are Muslim. Muslim bad. God wants me to go to Canada." She wrings her thin, bony fingers. Her eyes well up with tears. "He has work for me there, maybe, but I don't know."

At a nearby table, a fat aide in fuchsia-colored scrubs glances up at us and I realize a lock of her hair has been dyed to match her uniform.

"Very bad people here," my patient says, frowning. "Muslim. They put heroin in my shots."

A few more attendants wander in. Some off-duty friends arrive, one toting a toddler, and the noise in the room swells.

"I can't hear God's voice in this place," my patient cries.

Her agitation increases with the volume. The thick scent of ham and over-cooked, frozen vegetables coats us in a thick, left-over fog. Sound echoes off the beige cinder-block walls.

"This place is bad for my religion. I hear about people losing their faith. I didn't think it could happen to me but it is. I need to hear God's will for me. You have to do something!"

Anna's soft voice is swamped by a child's delighted shrieks. Acoss the room, the little girl's mother flings her daughter high and spins in a careening circle in the middle of the dining room. I catch my breath, certain the reckless woman will lose her grip and send the little girl crashing down onto the shiny tile floor.

I brace myself for the sickening crunch of bone hitting linoleum.

"At the hospital they offer me job, on the mental unit," Anna says, unaffected by the potential drama about to play out behind her. "It pay one hundred, fifteen hundred, I don't remember," she says in broken English.

I marvel at the woman's ability to block out the noise of the rowdy crowd behind us. And then it occurs to me-

Of course Anna doesn't notice a room full of distracting voices- In Anna's world, someone is always talking.


How I Spent My Summer Vacation



With summer burning to a close, I took The Unnamed Ones and Lovey on a what was supposed to be a 5 day vacation to New Bern, NC.  

It was a mini-family reunion of sorts, the first all-inclusive re-gathering of the siblings and their families since Dad died two years ago. A time to visit with Mom, play in the pool, eat too much, tell stories and just enjoy each other's company.

We lasted 3 days.

Out by the pool, it was a thousand-and-one degrees.  By the time everyone got up and danced around being polite about what we really wanted to do- it was dinner time.

Then Mom broke her collarbone pulling up her pants.

Pulling. Up. Her. Pants! How do you do that?

"I don't know either," she said, looking pitiful and small in the hospital bed. "I tugged them up and there was this loud pop."

Her doctor is talking nursing home but Mom is adamantly against this idea. 

"The doctor said he was thinking of my long-term interests and what's best for my survival," she said.  "I told him so was I and I'm not going!"

Meanwhile- the cousins, faced with the heat and stuck in a retirement/timeshare community, managed to make the best of a bad situation.

They showed up for bingo...


Pooled their "bingo-bucks" winnings and bought themselves week-long putt-putt passes.

While the adults sat around sighing about the heat or bemoaning the state of our aging bodies, the cousins made excellent use of the condo Jacuzzi...


Outside they lit up the night with ferocious, water-balloon battles.



"Mom, really," they said later. "We did too have a good time!"


Tuesdays in the Nursing Home



Instead of consulting in a nursing home this Tuesday, I found myself on the other end of the spectrum- as a family member visiting.  We were all gathered at the assisted living facility, visiting my mother, and eating dinner with her in the private dining room.

I was among the last to get up and go into the main dining room to get my salad from the salad bar.  I walked through the familiar swell of elderly folks, picked up a plate and took my position at the end of the short line.  My sister was at the head of the line, filling her plate and chatting amicably with a slightly younger resident when the man standing next to me gives a deep sigh.

I look up, into the face of a man who can't be much over 70, dapper with a neatly trimmed goatee and the sad, world-wise eyes of a man who's come to the facility a few years too early.

He inclines his head toward the woman talking to my sister and shrugs apologetically.  "We old people, we're so slow," he says, with a self-deprecating chuckle.

I am thrown off by his unexpected remark, momentarily unable to answer him because he is alert and aware, a former college professor type whose sadness cuts through my heart.

I meet his eye and smile.  "And yet," I say "I am still unable to keep up."