Posts Tagged ‘daughter’

Jade East

July 22, 2012

There is nothing romantic about cleaning a bathroom. Rusted razor blades hide in the medicine cabinet. Strands of hair stick to porcelain surfaces. The wrappers on band aids in a hinged-top metal box are so old they fall apart with only slight pressure of thumb and index finger. I’m on my knees, cardboard box to my left, trashcan to my right, sorting my father’s medicinal, toiletry, and cleaning supplies. It’s hot in here and the humidity of a June day in Chesapeake is almost unbearable. My limp hair won’t stay put in its rubber band and falls into my face as I reach way back into the cabinet for the last bottle of hydrogen peroxide and a half empty can of shaving cream. I’m trying to salvage what’s left. My dad doesn’t need this stuff anymore. He died on Mother’s Day.

I always hated cleaning the bathroom, my least favorite chore, and I always got stuck with it. I lean back against the tub, close my eyes, and wipe the back of my hand across my sweaty forehead. My Dad’s radio in the dining room croons an old, sad country song. None of us likes hillbilly music, but no one has the courage to change his station. I hear my step-sister in the kitchen, rattling glassware, arranging it for the auction house to pick up. In another room, one of the girls exclaims over an old photograph. “I haven’t seen this in years.”

We’re all here, minus our parents, my father, their mother, both dead within a year of each other. It’s their house and we feel like interlopers and thieves, deciding which items to take home with us, which to sell, which to donate, which to throw away. Every piece we touch goes into a box, even the objects that have held a place of honor for years. Rooms empty one memento at a time.

“I’d like this little pewter clown,” my step-sister calls from the other room.

“Put it in your box,” I call. My step-mother collected clowns, had hundreds of them. My father collected frogs. I’d most likely find a small one to place in my box to remember him.

The cabinet under the sink is bare. I rise and look at my reflection in the bathroom mirror. Evidently, I am an adult now. I think it happened May 13th.

Shaking my head, and looking away, I open the wooden cabinet on the wall above the toilet. My father’s salves, liniments, after shave lotions and razors display themselves in neat colorful order from tallest to shortest. Some are still new in the package and others are waiting for him to return to finish their contents. I open each container, judge its usefulness, its age. I toss his Carmex lip balm and the ever-present tin of Cuticura ointment, underarm deodorant, and a 1960’s safety razor.

The last item is a clear bottle with green liquid. I’ve never seen it before. The label is black with a green and gold border. Asian characters above the words JADE EAST are written in a bamboo shaped font. I unscrew the black cap and inhale. I close my eyes and swear my father is standing right there in front of me. It is his scent. I thought I had lost that forever, but here it is in this square glass bottle.

I run into the other room and call my step-sisters to me. We pass the bottle around and I watch my own reaction repeat itself with each girl. We take turns dabbing a drop behind our ears, enjoying my dad’s spicy scent. Leslie hands the bottle to me. “You should keep this,” she says.

I hold the bottle to my chest. I’d offer it to them, but can’t bring myself to. I want this treasure. I want to be able to open the top and find my dad when I need his presence. I never knew my father wore cologne, never thought about it. I did know his scent though. No other man in my life carried it.

I walk back into the bathroom and place the bottle of Jade East carefully into my cardboard box of keepsakes.

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Ups and Downs

May 2, 2012

I enter the Hampton Roads Tunnel and the rain suddenly stops. Usually I don’t like the tunnel. Going from bright sunshine into darkness illuminated only by artificial lights and knowing I’m underwater frightens me. Today, the tunnel is a relief, it feels like a refuge from the storm. The serenity only lasts a minute or two before I’m spit back out onto the bridge spanning choppy water. My windshield is pelted by rain. I look to the horizon and spot one lonely sailboat, its triangles of white canvas, stark against an all gray waterscape. I think the boat a brave little vessel to be bobbing there.

The tunnel separates my home from the land of my father. He is a retired Navy man. He still wears his USS America Cap with its pins attached when he ventures out for appointments and to run errands. Hampton Roads is home to military families, active and retired. There’s a sense of urgency here that I have not felt in other places.  I only lived here for the first two years of my life, and I don’t remember those. My mother and I moved three hours west in 1963. I’ve only come to visit since then.

Last Thursday and Friday when I was here, I had such hope. My father was better. He was still weak and he tired easily, but he was less pale. His hug felt tighter around my shoulders. He was able to drive us to the commissary for groceries, and to the Mexican Restaurant for dinner. He collected the chicken eggs in the morning and washed a few dishes in the sink. His biting sense of humor seemed to be returning and he had regained ten of the twenty-three pounds he’d lost after the first round of chemo. The suspenders he wore to keep his pants up looked endearing.

Bev called this morning to tell me he was being taken to the Emergency room. We knew this new round of chemo would be difficult, make him weaker, more susceptible to infection, possibly take away his wavy white hair. He took the treatments all day Thursday, half a day Friday and then went for a blood booster shot on Saturday. Bev and I kept in close contact over the phone each day.  We strategized my visit to coincide with our projection of the worst. By our estimation, Sunday would be the day the effects of chemo would begin to hit my father. Our projections were twelve hours off. By Sunday morning, he’d fallen twice from the side of the bed and the pain in his back was so severe he couldn’t move without screaming.

I had spent all day Saturday and early Sunday morning cooking in preparation to leave Sunday afternoon. I wanted to take enough food to carry us through the difficult part of the chemo. No one has the energy to cook after care-giving. I gathered all my things, packed the food in a cooler and picked up the interstate three miles west of our house. I tried to concentrate on the book being read to me on CD as I drove. Twenty minutes into the trip, I gave up, ejected the CD, and listened to my thoughts for the rest of the drive.

The hospital is only four blocks from my father’s house. It’s easy to find. The parking is atrocious though. I circle and circle the emergency lot, hoping for someone to get well enough to leave so I can claim their space. I pull out my cell phone and call Bev.

“We’re still in the emergency room,” she says. “Room thirty-four.”

“As soon as I find a parking space, I’ll be right there,” I say.

I wind my way through the emergency department until I come to the last row of doors on the last hallway. The door is shut, the blinds closed. All I can see is darkness. As I raise my hand to knock, a nurse comes up behind me.

“Can you wait here just a moment?” she asks, not waiting for me to answer. She shuts the door behind her, leaving me to wonder.

Panic sets in. Am I too late? Has he died while I was searching for a place to park? If I had known I would have parked in one of those ‘Employee of the Month’, or ‘Doctor Only’ spaces. I’d have double parked and not worried about the towing bill.  I’d have left the car running with its driver door open, not worrying about it being stolen.

The nurse comes back out and ushers me into the room. My dad is laying flat on a stretcher, his face so pale and drawn, he doesn’t look alive. His eyes are closed. He grimaces; and I let out the breath I’ve been holding.  “We’ve given him morphine,” the nurse says from the door. “It should kick in pretty soon.”

I hug Bev, lean to kiss my dad on his forehead, wheel the rolling stool in the corner of the room closer to his bedside. I take his limp hand in mine, and wait.

Ingenuity and Elbow Grease

October 17, 2010

“I’m in trouble,” my mother said on the phone a couple weeks ago.

Immediately, my heart rate kicked up.  I didn’t remember ever hearing her say that.  She’s always been the strong one, the one who figures out the answers and is there to help me through my troubles.  She enjoys solving problems and taking care of those around her. She never needs help.

“What’s wrong?” I asked.

“I’ve over-booked my festivals,” she said with such a serious tone that I tried to stifle my laugh.

“Why are you laughing?” she asked.  “That’s our beach money on the line.  If I lose this show, we might not be able to go to the Outer Banks.”

OK, this was serious.  I didn’t want to risk our beach trip. “What do you need me to do?” I asked.

“Do you or the boys have plans for October 16th?  Can one of you go to Palmyra and handle the St. Peter and Paul Church bazaar?”

“Don’t worry, one of us will take care of it,” I said.

I could feel her blood pressure go down over the phone.  She sighed deeply. “Thank you baby, I know how hard you work and you have so little time to yourself. I hate to impose on you.”

This statement stopped me. I wondered how many times she has needed me and not asked. She’s older now. I forget that.

The church allowed her to come set up her display on Friday afternoon, so all I had to do was show up at eight o’clock Saturday morning, sit behind the table, sell her preserved fare, bag the jars and collect a five dollar bill for each one, easy work.

Person after person came through the door, stopped by Mama’s table and asked where she was. “Oh please tell her I missed seeing her. She’s such a sweet lady.  She works so hard on all this stuff she sells.”

“I don’t see how she possibly makes a dime when you consider the cost of sugar and jars these days, not to mention her time.”

“What does she put in her Chow-Chow?”

“Oh my goodness, I haven’t seen End of the Garden Pickle since my Grandma made it.”

“Can you double bag. I want six jars.  I’ll probably send my husband back for more.  I have to go home and see exactly what I need for Thanksgiving.”

“How’s your step-father? I know your Mother’s been so worried about his health. She carries a big load on her shoulders.”

For six hours I not only sold items, but gained a new perspective on the impact my mother has on the lives of other people, people I don’t even know. 

“How did you do?” she asked me late last night on the phone.

“Pretty good I think,” I said.  “I sold one hundred and one jars.”

“You did do well for St. Peter and Paul’s,” she said.  “Let’s see, that’s five hundred and five dollars added to the nine hundred and sixty I made at Flippin Seaman’s Orchard for a grand total of, hold on let me get my calculator.  We did good baby, fourteen hundred and sixty-five dollars.”

“You did the work, Mama.  All I did was wrap, sell and smile like you taught me,” I said laughing.

“We’d have five hundred and five dollars less if you hadn’t come through for me though,” she said

“Outer Banks, here we come.” I said.

“Amazing what a few vegetables, strawberries, peaches, plums, sugar and elbow grease will get you,” she said.

“Ingenuity and elbow grease,” I said. “That should be your motto.”

“It’s helped us get to the beach every year,” she said.

It’s also taught me how to make my way in the world, I thought, as I told her I loved her and hung up the phone.

Some of Mama’s preserves

Gold

April 8, 2010

My mother called me two weeks ago. She was out of breath with excitement.  “I took a handful of old broken gold chains, rings, earrings without mates, that kind of stuff to the coin shop in Woodbook Center.  You just wouldn’t believe,” she said.

“What Mama?”  I asked, not quite understanding what she was talking about. She was always the one to wear jewelry.  She loved those gold chains when it was fashionable to wear six or seven with a different charm on each one, or those add a bead necklaces in the 70’s.  She had a ring on every other finger and I never saw her without earrings.  She liked to sparkle.

I have never been much for jewelry or fashion.  Mama wanted me to be. She had the girly-girl thing going on.  She enjoyed dressing up, wearing makeup, lipstick and perfume.  Her shoes matched her purse and if she thought she could get away with wearing gloves, she did that too. 

I prefer jeans to dresses, ball caps to hairstyles, purple and green striped knee socks to silk stockings.  My mother has spent her life shaking her head at me.  She tried to help, buying  me all kinds of baubles. I thanked her and  wore them enough to let her see, then put them away in boxes.  I had hopes that my daughter would take after her and enjoy them.  I had sons.

So she called me two weeks ago,  excited that she had visited the coin shop with her handfull of gold. 

 “Did they repair them for you?” I asked.

“Heavens no, TW,” she said.  “They weighed it and gave me over a thousand dollars for the piddling little amount I had.  Can you believe that? One thousand dollars!”

“You sold your jewelry?” I asked, not believing.

“Of course I did.  At that price, I’m looking for more to take.”

“Wow,” I said.

“I wanted to call so that you could go through your things and find all that gold you don’t wear.  You could get a fortune for what you keep in boxes.  I know the man at the coin shop, so I can get you a better deal.  Let me know when you have it all together,” she said.  We finished talking and I hung up the  phone.

I opened the hinged velvet containers, and laid all the pieces out on the bed in front of me.  I remembered birthdays and Christmases, High School Graduation and the birth of my first son, a trip to Reno and another to St. Augustine. My mother’s smile and excitement sparkled in each gold gift before me.  I’ve never worn them, any of them, but I could never sell them.

I boxed them back up and put them away, for my granddaughter I think.