There You Are- There You Go...

In my dream I am lying on my bed. It's Saturday morning and the Youngest Unnamed One has come in to beg for a chicken bisquit breakfast. We are lying there laughing when suddenly my Sister Flea pokes her head around the corner of the bedroom door.

"What are you doing here?" I ask, surprised.

She explains she and her friend are going to another psychotherapy conference and stopped by to say hello. "Hey, did you see Dad yet?" she asks.


"Dad," she explains patiently. "He's in there." She gestures to the Youngest's room.

I get up, round the corner, and there stands my father. He's wearing his plaid pajama bottoms and a maroon t-shirt. He's just standing there, grinning and opening his arms to hug me. He is very happy, like we're sharing a delightful reunion or a secret surprise. But he's also very, very pale I think.

"Dad, it's you!" I fly into his embrace but as I do I suddenly realize this can't be happening. Dad is dead. The pain this realization brings twines around the joy at seeing my father, at having him back. I am losing him, I think. I have lost him. I am sobbing as he strokes my hair. "Oh," he soothes. "Ohhh."

He knows I know. He is only here to let me know he's fine and really, really happy. He's here to let me know he is always with me. He doesn't say this. Somehow this is already in my head. But it's too late. I am waking myself up with my crying and he is fading, fading, fading away again.


Moonshine Madness at the Rest Home

It's Nursing Home Week. In one of the three facilities I visit, the staff has decided to celebrate this with five days of of festivities that center around a "Mayberry Days" theme.

What is it with North Carolinians and Andy of Mayberry?

I walked in this morning to find the social worker dressed as Goober, right down to the high-wader pants, white socks, black shoes and wacky black felt cap. Her face was smudged with gray and green grease stains and when she smiled, well, I hate to say this but she "favored" old Goober right well.

But when the maintainence man walked by with a still on a cart, I had to stop.

It was copper. It even worked, dispensing apple juice through copper tubing.

"Any residents wanting a little moonshine report to the day room," a cheery announcer called over the loudspeaker.

The Director of Nursing was Barney Fife.

It was all just a little too real for one of my old guys.

Laura was sitting in her room when I found her, slowly nibbling on her lunch and shaking her head back and forth, clucking and frowning her disapproval at the day's festivities.

"You know," she said. "This is the heart of Baptist country." She looked at me, making sure she had my attention before she clarified her statement. "Now, I'm not one of them. I'm Methodist. But I'm just sayin' there's lots of Baptists here and they don't approve of drinking."

Laura takes another nibble of her chicken casserole and looks out into the hallway carefully, like she's being careful not to be overheard.

"You know," she says. "I don't think they gave this very careful consideration before they decided to do this. What if word of that still thing gets out into the community? I think there'd be big trouble then. And Sheriff Andy and Barney and the whole lot of them were there, standing right alongside that still, handing out the cups to everybody."

I try to explain the reality of the situation. "Oh, but they were just the staff members dressed up as..."

"Oh, no," Laura says, shaking her head. "It was them alright. I was right up there next to them when they started pouring the juice into those cups. I asked the man where did he get that machine and he said he made it! Well, I said those tubes are copper. How do you know what's coming out hasn't been poisoned from the tubing?"

Laura is now raising questions I hadn't even considered.

"Andy Griffin isn't going to be very happy about this," she says, absolutely certain. "I bet they didn't even call him about it. If they had, he would've told them it wasn't a very good idea. Not in Baptist country."

I try again. "I'm sure they didn't mean any harm," I demur. I try to explain the moonshine is apple juice and it's all make believe but Laura seems to feel this is irrelevant.

"Tell that to the Baptists!" Laura says. She pushes the bedside table away so she can lean closer to me. Suddenly she barks, "Where are we?"

"What?" I stammer, momentarily confused.

"Where are we? What is the name of this place?"

Boy, I think, Laura's really losing it.

I carefully ennunciate the answer, as if I might be breaking bad news to her, in case she thought perhaps we were at her old home or Mars or somewhere else. But when I name our location, it's Laura who beams at me like I'm the prize pupil.

"That's right!" she crows. "And where is Mayberry?"

"In Mt. Airey?" I answer uncertainly.

"Co-rect! This is not Mt. Airey! So how do you think they'll feel up in Mt.Airey if it gets out Andy, Barney and the rest of 'em are all down here drinking out of a moonshine still?!"

I am speechless.

Laura leans in close again, checks the hallway and whispers, "Do you know, one of them standing up there handing out the cups is a minister's daughter?"

I give up.

"No!" I gasp. And here I thought I was the only minister's daughter in the building.

Laura nods. "Yep. A minister's daughter." She shakes her head again. "Poor man! I just hope he's not Baptist!"


Let Them Eat Strawberry Cake...You Too!

Like I told you, the old guys love their strawberries. I promised them a strawberry cake this week, made from berries handpicked by me and my friend, Ellen. We picked the berries from a field the old guys declared grows some of the best strawberries in the county...although this nearly drew blood as the old ones debated with a newcomer resident about the relative merits of Rudd's Farm over The Berry Patch.

I brought in the cake because Benny, the assistant activity director, said they weren't doing anything special on Thursday. "Bring us something sweet," Benny begged.

But the activity room was dressed for a party when I arrived.

No one was there in the room, so I set down the cake on the table next to the other platters and went in search of the old guys and their fearless leaders.

I found them in the dining room playing Nursery Rhyme Trivial Pursuit.

"This old man, he played..." Benny paused, waiting as the others called out "One!"

I sat down at a table with Ruby and Geneva. We rolled our eyes at the questions and made faces when we couldn't remember the answers. I got into a debate with Benny over the fate of Peter, Peter Pumpkin Eater's wife. Benny said she ate pumpkin and I said I thought she was a victim of domestic violence.

"Didn't Peter beat her?" I asked Ruby.

"Well, I suppose if she ate all his pumpkin, he had every right," she answered. "I would've. Hey, did you bring us something to eat?"

"Yeah," said Benny, losing interest in the game we'd all lost interest in a long while back. "Is it sweet?"

I tell them I left it in the activity room with the other party food and Benny's eyes widen. "Oh, no! You shouldn't have done that! That's for the nurses' party. They'll get it!"

I had been gone 10 minutes, tops. But when I ran into the activity room, half the pan was empty.

"You made that? Girl," one nurse says, turning to the others. "You got to get you some of that strawberry cake. It taste like my grandma makes."

Oh, this is high praise indeed. I almost hate that I have to take it away from them.

The look on their faces is priceless when I say, "That's not for you. It's for the old guys." They look like I've caught them stealing from the church collection plate. In fact, they are so appalled that they've eaten so much of the cake, I have to spend a couple of minutes reassuring them that I made too much anyway and everything will be fine.

Sure enough. Like the loaves and the fishes, everyone eats cake, even Benny, even the nurses who didn't get a piece the first go round. Even I get a piece.

It's a miracle, especially when you consider that they keep coming from everywhere to eat some "granny" cake.

So, here's the recipe, sanctioned and approved by the old guys...


1 pkg. white cake mix (Okay, so I was in a hurry...but a cake mix is a good jumping off point)

1 package Dream Whip

1 stick melted butter

1/2 package strawberry jello

4 eggs

1 c. mushed up strawberries and their juice.

1/2c water

Combine cake mix, Dream Whip, jello in mixer bowl; add everything else and beat on low until blended, then on high for 4 mins. Bake at 350 in well greased pans for @ 30 min. or until the toothpick comes out clean. Remove to cool. Ice and chill until serving time.

Frosting for Strawberry Cake

1 stick softened butter
1/2 package strawberry jello
@ 1/3 c. mushed up strawberries
1-1 1/2 lb. confectioner's sugar.

Cream sugar and butter, add the other stuff and mix until it's spreadable.

I am not a scrupulous measurer, so if you need more sugar or strawberries, play with it.

Eulogizing Life

My old guys love homemade food...any homemade food. But it's Strawberry season and the old guys love strawberries it seems, more than anything else.

They were making quilt squares when I saw them Tuesday, sitting around the table, some sleeping, others just hanging on to their fabric pieces and staring past them at something or some time none of us were privvy to.

The assistant director and I have bonded in one of those soul deep ways that transcends who we are on the outside. We love our old guys. She likes to tell me that on her worst day, coming to work always makes her feel better- that they give more to her than she does to them...but I don't know about that.

Once she and the director drove Pearl all the way to the beach...five hours away, and stayed in a hotel, just because blind Pearl had never "seen" the ocean. That picture is taped to the side of the assistant A.D's file cabinet.

Last month, when we lost so many, the Assistant A.D had to give their eulogies at the memorial service. The hospice chaplain was late and as it so often does, the job fell to Benny.

I had slipped into the room, filled with residents and family...but oddly enough, not staff. Benny's eyes met mine. In front of everyone she said, "I don't know if I can do this y'all, but I'm gonna try."

I have never heard anyone so eloquently capture the essential spirit of a human being like Benny does.

Last week Benny sat in her office, crying with me. She was mad at the staff for overlooking her partner, the Activity Director. "She's done so much for them, and now, when she needs them, they can't even get up off their asses to sign a damned card!"

And then she cried for "Papa Franks." "I don't know if I can let myself get that close to anyone again. He was like my father, Nancy. He was!"

But we are too alike, me and Benny. We will look into a resident's eyes and take them into our hearts without a second thought about the cost later- when we lose them. I tell her this. I tell her we have been given such a gift to have these old guys in our lives and that there is never a guarantee, with anyone we love, that they will be around tomorrow. "We will all die," I tell her.

But I don't tell her that when I go, I hope she does the eulogy.


Good Morning From the Garden...

Good Morning from the garden...

It's off to work and then strawberry picking with my friend, Ellen...It's a tradition. We try to go every year.

Last year was the first in my convertible...so when I drove us through the sprinklers and only put up the top when we stopped, the man running the place came out and said, "Hey, ain't that a little like closing the barn door after the cows are out?"

I get out, trying to act casual. "Oh, no- I meant to do that," I say.

Not this year! It's right nippy out...too nippy for sprinklers.


Life in Miniature at the K & W Cafeteria

The Eldest Unnamed One is drunk on being 18, in love and his impending high school graduation. He is brash and goofy, a know-it-all and a kid again...and it is only Tuesday.

We are in line at the K & W Cafeteria, trying to pretend we don't know each other. I ignore his silliness. He ignores Mertis's silent disapproval. I talk to the Youngest Unnamed One and wish the line wasn't so long.

It has been a hard day in Old People Land. The social worker at one place, one of the young, good ones, may not quit after all, but only because her heart's been broken by the new boyfriend. I am selfishly glad.

I am thinking about this when I hear a voice say, "You know, you keep chewin' on that pen and you'll wind up swallowing it. You don't want to write your name that way, now do you?"

I turn and catch my breath. Hell. A frail old man in an orange ball cap, his jeans loose and cinched tight around his waist with a canvas belt, a frayed hole in the back of his pants exposes his shirt tail. His smile is disarming, his eyes gray-blue and too happy for what I am sure is about to come.

He has taken on the Eldest, the one who is never wrong, facing off against the kid with a happy smile and the clear expectation that this is going to be a wonderful conversation.

The Eldest chuckles, sticks the pen in his pocket and says something I don't hear...but the Beloved smiles, so I know he can't have insulted the old man.

"She your sister?" the man asks.

The Eldest smiles indulgently while the Beloved explains, "Girlfriend."

"Girlfriend, eh?" He gives the Eldest a collegegial smile. "Well, you favor, that's why I asked."

"I graduated high school in 1947," I hear the old man say. Two women I take for his wife and daughter try to pretend they're not with him, turning their attention toward the cafeteria line and murmuring to themselves about what they'll have and what will disagree with their tricky stomachs.

The Old Guy is oblivious. "1947," he says. "That was probably before your time, huh?"

The Eldest chuckles. When the Old Guy asks where The Eldest will be going to school, he feigns mock indignation. He's a State grad.

"What was your major?" I hear the Eldest ask. He seems truly interested.

I decide maybe I won't disown him after all.

The Old Guy tells the Eldest every parable and bit of advice he can think of and fit into the ten minute trip down the food line...And all the while my son listens, nodding and commenting, smiling and agreeing...even when I'm fairly certain he doesn't truly agree.

I look at the Old Guy and do the math. He is my father's age...were he here. I think of the Eldest and my Dad, of the way my father loved that boy and of how the boy loved his grandfather.

I remember the dream I had the night before. I am in my father's parents' living room. Both my grandparents are there, sitting enjoying the cocktail hour just as they did every afternoon. Only, I know they are dead. I know they are dead and I know my father is dying. He is with me, following me into the room. In my dream, dad is much younger. He is the same age he was when I was five.

He walks into his parents' house, sees his father sitting in his favorite arm chair and Dad's knees buckle and give out as he sags against me. I am trying to hold my father up and he is crying. He knows his father is dead. He knows he is dying. But I think he cries because he is so glad to have him back.

I am standing in the line at the K & W, watching my son and the new friend who needs to pack every bit of his life into the Eldest's awareness before they come to the end of the line and there is no more time.

I am following the two of them, half-attending to Mertis and the Youngest Unnamed One, pretending I care what we eat when all I want is my dad.

The Eldest Unnamed One realizes none of this, surely doesn't know what a microcosm this cafeteria has become for our lives and probably would care less if he did know.

Some days I wonder how the world can keep spinning without Dad. Missing him takes my breath away.

And then I see him in the Eldest or in the Youngest and I realize he is here after all...Dad would've listened to the Old Guy. He would've smiled indulgently at the Eldest, found his way into the heart and soul of the Youngest and made Mertis laugh.

He would've understood life in miniature at the K & W on a Tuesday evening.