Posts Tagged ‘snow’

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.”

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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.

Yesterday, Today

January 31, 2010

     Yesterday wrapped itself in a soft, whispering snowfall. The gift came in shades of gray, graduating to white. Red and blue wings of bright color splashed here and there at the bird feeder. A day like that, when parents and kids, wearing flannel, can hole up together in a warm house, sipping hot chocolate, and snuggling together on the bed watching movies is rare. The cat, curled and asleep, owned a corner of the quilt. The phone didn’t even ring.

     This morning, the sun is back and the sky is cloudless blue. Ice sickles drip from the eaves of the house, and the plow makes scraping sounds on the gravel driveway. Boots scuff and stamp on the porch. The cat tip toes out, walking gingerly around the edges of sparkling powder, hoping to keep his feet dry. He jumps at the sound of the shovel on the walk. Stretching out long, he glides silver around the corner of the house. Birds flutter and chirp.

Life returns to normal.

26″ Snowfall

December 26, 2009

 

     I usually spend too much money at Christmas.  By December 24th I realize that I’ve overdone it and start focusing on my bank balance to see how I can eek out the bills. All of my impulse buying happens the weekend before Christmas.  My self control freezes and I spend my savings trying to buy love.  This year we had a 26” snowfall the weekend before Christmas. The storm started at rush hour on Friday evening and the last flake fell pre-dawn Sunday. Snowflakes are tiny crystal miracles.  I wondered how many were in our 26” on the ground.  Traffic stopped, people walked in hip waders to the mailbox, only to find that the postman couldn’t keep his promise.  This year, instead of throwing myself into the shopping frenzy,  I sat at home, writing Christmas cards the old fashioned way because the electricity went out.  I read a book by the woodstove. I watched my children play in the snow. I drank hot chocolate with little marshmallows. I fed the birds.

     I wrapped the three presents I had for my husband and the boys, a hand-tooled belt with a hammered silver buckle, an 1865 volume of Virginia History, and a telescope for universe gazing. Presents were few, but special because they reached out to me from artisan booths, an antique book store and the pages of the Buck Saver earlier in the year. These gifts spoke to my heart in May, August and September and it listened, compelling me to shop for Christmas when the sun was warm.

     I spent eight months creating a photo book for my mother.  My camera and I chased sunsets west on Rt. 250, rested on our elbows, eye level with dandelion blooms, waited for raindrops to hang like tiny crystal balls from pine needles, and made old, abandoned houses feel like Home and Garden cover girls.  These treasures, along with my best words were bound in leather. The book was under the tree.  If I was stuck in the snow, my family would understand that at least I loved them a little bit.

     I had to work all week, early mornings and late evenings.  The holiday season in the nursing home is busy.  People in our community want to do nice things for old people at Christmas.  Citizens come in flocks to sing carols.  They buy boxes of fruit and sugar free candy to distribute.  Each elder receives a new pair of socks and a bottle of generic lotion in a plastic fishnet Santa stocking from the Salvation Army. If the resident has no feet, the toe ends of the socks are cut off and they are slipped over the arms as “geri sleeves” to protect fragile paper-thin skin.  Staff members gather, sort, box and label gifts so each resident receives at least one item on December 25th. A special menu of ground ham with glaze, instant mashed potatoes and mixed vegetables is planned for mid-day Christmas. It will be served to a lady at the dining table with the sparkly silk centerpiece.  She will sit with a woman who takes her teeth out and licks them between courses.  Christmas is not what anyone remembers.

     Work was especially difficult this week. Extra hours because of the snowstorm, and the holidays are sad for many of our elders.  Their pain extends to enfold us in its intensity.  We find ourselves offering more hugs and tissues than at any other time of year.  For some, we are the only family they have and most often, we don’t measure up. Some residents are related of our staff. It’s hard when your job and caring for your dying mother are the same.   A nurse, cook and CNA lost their mothers this week.  Three of our residents died and left three of our staff members orphaned at Christmas. So, we prepared for the usual Christmas sadness wrapped in glittery paper and curling ribbon, and we planned to attend three funerals.   

     It rained today. I got in the car at 7:00 this morning and drove on isolated roads to the nursing home.  I delivered gifts and stockings room to room, offering a “Merry Christmas” and a hug.  Some voices welcomed me.  My Santa hat received smiles.  Several residents said, “put it over there,” while others dug into the stocking, like it was their last breakfast. Some didn’t understand it was Christmas. That was a blessing.

     My boys met me at the door when I got home.  They were ready for Christmas to begin. They waited for me.  We gathered at the tree and the youngest played Santa. Packages were meager, and I worried about disappointment.  I shouldn’t have. It seems that my heart picks out good presents, and my impulse buying is unwarranted.

     The skies cleared tonight and the universe spread out, over, and around us.  We set up the telescope and pointed it at the Pleiades star cluster. Ryan calls it his “night diamonds.”  We took turns gazing at a gift eight light years away, not a video game, i-touch screen, or text message on a cell phone, but a miracle of nature, just like the snow the weekend before Christmas.