Archive for February, 2010

The Parking Lot

February 13, 2010

The woman is running across the parking lot toward me.  I am standing there with the Administrator of the nursing home discussing some spring landscaping possibilities with a month’s worth of snow piled around us. The woman looks harried, her gray hair blowing back from her face. She is past middle age—and she’s at full sprint.

“You work here don’t you?” she asks as she runs to within inches of my face.

“Yes I do,” I respond. “Are you alright?”

“This parking lot is atrocious, simply awful. I am going to call your company. There’s just no excuse for it,” she says, her breath rasping from her. I look at her with confusion.

“They called me,” she says. “They called me to tell me that my father is dying. There’s not one damned parking spot in this lot. Who the hell plows here? It’s a travesty. I’m calling your company to report this. I had to park out on the street in front of that white house.  Do you think they’ll tow my car?”

“No,” I answer, “it’ll be OK there. It’s not a problem. They won’t tow it. If you’d like to leave me your keys, though, I can move it for you and find a space in the parking lot.”

“No, that’s alright, but if you can put a note on it for me, I would appreciate it,” she says as she turns and runs into the building.

“Who is that?” asks the Administrator.

“Mr. Johnson’s daughter,” I reply, my heart kicking up a beat, thinking of her pain.


It has snowed every weekend since December 19th.  We haven’t had snow like this ever. We broke the record on Tuesday, fifty-nine inches in one winter.  It has snowed so much that the plows can’t keep up with scraping. The city and county have run out of salt and chemicals. Snow shovels can’t be found in stores, and the roads get narrower as the latest white stuff gets pushed up against the last roadside mound. Our community comes together when crisis hits, but it seems we can only take so much.

Robert is our maintenance assistant. He is a farmer first, a maintenance man second. On snowy mornings, the cows get their breakfast before Robert comes to work to help feed old people. He is forty years old, has never married, and has worked at the nursing home since he was sixteen. The care facility is as much a part of him as the farm, but in his life, priorities have four legs and hooves.

“They can’t talk,” he says, “someone has to make sure they are alright. Daddy’s gone and so is Uncle Harold.  That someone is me now.  I’ll be in after I feed.”

Robert scrapes the nursing home driveway.  He uses a 1957 John Deere Tricycle Tractor with a yellow blade attached to the three point hitch. It was his Granddaddy’s tractor and he calls it “Putt-Putt.”  It used to live on the farm, but has traded in hay fields for city life. When he plows, staff and residents come outside just to watch Robert on the tractor. Old men remember.

When snow falls, Robert gets up early, feeds the cows and comes to town to plow the parking lot. It doesn’t matter if it’s a weekday or weekend, if it’s Robert’s day off, or if it’s the fourteenth day in a row that he’s worked. He gets in his truck and comes to the nursing home to plow the parking lot. He has been to work almost every day since December 19. He and Putt Putt have plowed snow and piled it out of the way the best way they can. With that, parking is at a premium.

I go in the nursing home and collect a piece of paper from  the front desk. In bold letters, I write on it:

Owner needed to park car here in an emergency.  If there is a problem, please come to the nursing home and inquire at front desk before towing. Thank you.

After placing the note on the car windshield, I go back inside, and walk downstairs to Mr. Johnson’s room. His daughter is sitting next to the bed with her father’s hand in hers. Her head was bowed. I knock quietly. She looks up, tears running.

“Can I get you something, a cup of coffee?” I offer.

“No, thank you,” she says. “This is so hard.”

“I know,” I offer, but can’t give her any other comfort. I feel helpless.

Turning away, I walk down the hall and see Robert coming toward me.

“Can you believe they’re calling for snow on Monday?” he asks me, smiling,  “like we haven’t had enough.  Where am I gonna put it?”

“I don’t know, Robert,” I say, “we’re running out of room. The parking lot’s full.”

El Nino

February 5, 2010

El Nino has arrived just like a boy, slamming into a place, not wiping his feet, blustering about, throwing hats and scarves before crashing onto the closest soft surface.  We have had our share of snow this winter.  A 26″ snowfall in late December, another 12″ last weekend and now, another 30″ expected tomorrow and Saturday.  We don’t know how to act around here.  The local stores are completely sold out of snow shovels, ice-melt and milk.  Roads home tonight were more like ribbons or red light as far as I could see. The goal for most is to find a safe, warm place and hibernate the weather away.

Everything is closed tomorrow, all schools, courthouses, doctor’s offices, stores, landmarks, everything, except the nursing homes and hospitals.  I requested the day off weeks ago for Bruce’s birthday weekend and Ben’s first homecoming since he went back to school.  I may be called in to work depending on the availability of the workforce.  I live with Grizzly Adams, so I can get there, even if it is by four-wheel drive tractor. (I told him we didn’t need it. He didn’t listen.)

Grizz is prepared.  The generator on the back of the Ford is gassed up and covered with a tarp, the tractor likewise.  We have filled every available clean container with fresh water.  The wood pile is stacked, covered and waiting. The woodstove in the garage is cleaned out and filled with dry locust, ready to light.  A crock pot is simmering in the kitchen with a ham hock and pinto beans. Grandma’s cornbread recipe is on the table and the ingredients are within reach.  The birdfeeders are filled with black oil sunflower seeds, and suet.  Ben left college twenty minutes ago and will arrive just like El Nino, in two hours and ten minutes. I finally found a pair of rubber boots big enough for his size 15 feet at Southern States today on my lunch break.

Heavy snow with feet of accumulation, high winds, drifts and power outages are all expected.  If you don’t hear from me for awhile, just imagine me holed up in the garage, sitting next to the woodstove, reading a book and drinking a mug of hot chocolate…or scurrying the halls of the nursing home, sitting at a bedside, singing the praises of a bowl of oatmeal to get one more bite into a tiny little woman with an even tinier appetite. Either way, I will be happy.