Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Bah! Humbug! or Joy! Joy!

It happened again: When life seems so frustrating that I drop into Depression, something makes me so happy I feel manic.

This year I can not get into the Christmas spirit. I love getting cards, hearing from old friends near and far. It lifts my spirits to know they think of me, as I think of them. To remember all the good times we shared. I’ve had cards and stamps for over a month but have not addressed any.

My little artificial Christmas tree sits on the round table beside my living room window, but the big cardboard box of ornaments has sat packed and unopened on my coffee table for over a week.
With dialysis three days a week, I can’t travel. I have memories: Paris, Rome, London, St. Petersburg, Bangkok, Beijing, Copenhagen, and many, many other places I will never see again. Even worse is to think of friends I never again will meet face to face. I would love to go to New Mexico, or even to Houston and Galveston. Can’t.

We celebrated joyful Christmases when my children were small: baking cookies, Danish sandwiches on Christmas eve, going to midnight services and all kneeling together to sing “Silent Night” (Wally and Karl tone-deaf and singing monotones), 12 little packages in each stocking to make merry for all 12 days of Christmas. Now my children are far away, Martha’s family in Illinois, David’s in California. I should be accustomed to being without them on holidays, but I’m not.

I will have Christmas at the retirement home with others who also will be alone. Doris, Sylvia, Bob, and I will “make a merry little Christmas” together. They are all good friends and good company. Our cook promises a feast of turkey and ham on Christmas Day.

Then comes a wonderful surprise. Martha called last night. She has a week’s vacation between Christmas and New Year’s. She is going to leave husband Don and their three boys to cope without her for a five days and come to see me! I am filled with joy! I’ll get to work and put those ornaments on the tree!

Here’s hoping the holidays will bring you wonderful surprises, too.

Friday, December 17, 2010

Christmas Gifts

What to give the grandchildren for Christmas? In my case, nothing. Shocked?

As a child during the Great Depression, I was thrilled to get one little doll for Christmas and a $1 bill for my birthday. It shocks me to see the kind of gifts children today expect to receive for Christmas.

These are hard times for lots of people. Yet mothers working for minimum wage cry out how terrible it is not to be able to give their children the most expensive toys.

My children are rich. When I visited my son’s home in California, his children’s rooms were filled with toys, so much so that there was no space for my grandson and granddaughter to play. So they played in the living room, with toys scattered about so thick that it was difficult to avoid stepping on them. If I accidentaly crushed one of those plastic marvels underfoot, it did not matter. Hidden among the stuff on the carpet were three more toys just like it.

Now I send family gifts to both my son and my daughter. David’s family gets cheese. Martha’s family gets grapefruit. Both families get subscriptions to Smithsonian. Things that can be consumed or read and then disposed of, not adding any clutter to their homes.

David brought his little boy to visit me in Albuquerque. I didn’t have any fancy toys for Adam to play with. But, quite by accident, I had something better. My house had dessert landscaping, cactus in the “flower” beds and gravel instead of a lawn. All Adam wanted to do was play with the “rocks” in Grandma’s front yard.

Next year David brought both the children. When the car pulled into the driveway, Adam turned to his sister and said excitedly, “Look, Alli! Grandma has rocks!” You would have thought my yard was covered with diamonds.

Now Adam is eleven. David and Adam leave the toy-strewn house and drive out into the California dessert, where they hunt rocks and fossils for Adam’s collection. I wonder if my grandson may become a geologist.

The best thing we can give children is not fancy gadgets from the store but time spent with them exploring the world around us.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

My Savior

I went with my friend Lois to the annual Christmas concert at the First Baptist Church in Garland. Church members put on quite a production. An 85-voice choir raised their voices for over an hour in a series of rousing choruses to back up soloists and a pageant with Mary and Joseph and a real, live baby who leaned against Mary’s shoulder and quietly looked around without a whimper until the end of his 10 minute appearance on stage.

Someone remarked to me that when she came to Texas, she thought there was only one First Baptist, the one in downtown Dallas, at that time the premier Baptist church in the World. Baptist churches are everywhere, small ones on neighborhood street corners and cathedral-size edifices on every major avenue. Since people moved to the suburbs, every community has a First Baptist Church– First Baptist Church of Mesquite, First Baptist Church of Rockwall, First Baptist Church of Garland – plus others with names like Faith Baptist Church, Gatewood Baptist Church, and Bobtown Road Baptist Church. There are no saints in Baptist churches.

Like all Baptists, the emphasis is on “accepting Jesus as your personal savior.” In the middle of singing Christmas carols, the preacher came to the pulpit and gave a short sermon, which began with asking each of us if we could remember a single event which changed our life.

I couldn’t help it. The big event that I remembered was the night in 1986 when I walked into a bar in Downers Grove, Illinois, and met John Durkalski. He was short, old (68), bald-headed, and pot bellied, and I felt about him the way Thomas Jefferson must have felt when Sally Hemings arrived in Paris, a beautiful, nubile 16-year-old who looked like his deceased wife. (Martha Jefferson and Sally were half-sisters.)

The Baptist preacher was telling us that when Jesus came into our hearts, he would change our lives entirely. John Durkalski changed mine. He became my second husband. Although he died in 1992, he still takes care of me financially. But even more important, at a time when I was depressed and abandoned, he brought joy into my life.

In Junior High we memorized Robert Browning's poem about Abu Ben Adam, who dreamed of an Angel who. making a list of those “whom love of God hath blessed,” asked Abu Ben Adam is he loved God. “Nay, not so,” said Abu Ben Adam, “Write me in as one who loves his fellow men.”

I’m with Abu Ben Adam. When I see the havoc brought by Katrina, earthquakes in Haiti, and floods in Pakistan, I can’t believe a loving Heavenly Father would permit such things. There are also evil men in the World, who preach hatred of all who disagree with them.

But I also believe evil is counter-balanced by good men, Christians, Jews, Muslims, and Buddhists, who seek to help others on both a world-wide and personal level. I was lucky in meeting one of them in 1986 in a bar.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Surprising Friday

Here I am, an old woman living in a retirement home, and life continues to surprise me. When I was young, problems overwhelmed me. I would try to figure out solutions, and that never seemed to work. I would go into deep depressions. It took me a long time to notice that my problems usually were solved unexpectedly – and usually the outcome was better than anything that I imagined.

Friday night, after a busy day, I couldn’t face getting out a pot and cooking my solitary supper. Besides, all I had was one can of mushroom soup and a refrigerator with a jar of mayonnaise and two loafs of frozen bread. I went downstairs and climbed into my Hyundai, planning to drive to McDonald’s for a sandwich.

I turned the key in the ignition. Not a sound. Not even a grinding of the battery trying to turn over. Nothing. My car was dead.

What could I do? I got out of the car and walked back across the parking lot. I had the keys in my hand but no way to start the car.

As I entered the walkway of my building, I met Nell. I told her my plight, and she said, “I’m going to Taco Bell to get a burrito for my husband. If you don’t mind tacos, you’re welcome to come with me.”

How nice it is to live in a retirement home with such good neighbors!

We were in line, waiting to place our order at the drive-through, I was thinking, “How kind of Nell to do this,” when my cell phone rang. My brother Don said, “Would you like to eat Mexican food? Mary and I are going to El Fenix. We’ll pick you up, and you can come with us.”

I told Nell, “Thank you, but I won’t be ordering after all.”

Instead of getting take-out from Taco Bell and taking it home for a solitary supper, I had enchiladas at a fine restaurant in the delightful company of Don and Mary – and they paid for my supper!

After they brought me home, Don used his jumper cables to start my car. Then he drove my car home to his house. The next morning he charged the battery and brought the car back to me.

All of this I could not have imagined as I sat in that cold car with not a murmur from its engine. What more could an old woman want than a good brother and such a happy end to a Friday?

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Muslims in Texas

Our retirement home is a friendly place. During our weekly “Happy Hour”, several of us sat around a little table eating barbecued chicken wings. Some were drinking beer and wine, which made them even more convivial than usual.

After the usual joking and teasing, somehow the talk became serious. Someone mentioned the war in Iraq and Afghanistan. Next to me was a former judge with flowing white hair whose bulky body was wedged in an electric wheel chair. He said something about our men fighting “to protect our freedom.”

I was drinking Dr. Pepper, but I don’t need alcohol to loosen my tongue. I am not one of those shy Texas “ladies” who never voice an opinion. I said, “This war is a tragic mistake. We can never win this war. I wish the President would bring all our boys home before any more are killed or maimed.”

“Better we fight them over there rather than fight them here,” the judge said, setting his beer glass down on the table. .

I’ve heard that nonsense before. I said, “They never planned to invade us.”

“There are seven million Muslims in this country,” the judge insisted. “Everyone of them wants to kill you.”

“That’s not true,” I said.

I don’t know if he believed that. Or was he simply goading me into a good argument? When we left, we agreed that we’d had better conversation than the usual talk about each other’s latest trip to the doctor. Old people go to doctors all the time.

A few days later I went to the vascular clinic to find out why the vein in my upper arm could not be used for dialysis. The last time I was there, a Texas doctor tortured me by probing in my arm without using any pain killer. I vowed never to back But my surgeon told me I had to go for an angiogram or he couldn’t fix my arm.

For months now I’ve been having my blood pulled in and out of the dialysiser through a catheter in my chest. My kidney doctor says if I stopped dialysis for a week I would die. The catheter does not work as well as a graft in my arm. A good reason for getting the arm fixed.

The nurse assured me, “You’ll see a different doctor this time.” I put on the hospital gown and lay down on the gurney. In came a big, burley man with a dark face and a ferocious black beard. Bluntly, I asked him where he came from.

“Bangladesh,” he said.

“Your parents were from Bangladesh?” I said. “Were you born in this country?”
“I was born in Bangladsh,” he said, examining my arm. .
“You must have come very young,” I said. “Your English is perfect.”

(Actually, he spoke better English than most Texans.)

I was wheeled into the operating room, where the big, black doctor apologized for the slight pain he caused when inserting the small catheter into my vein. After taking x-ray pictures and an ultrasound, he determined what the surgeon must do. He was gentle, courteous, and, pointing to various areas on the pictures, carefully explained everything to me.

This Muslim did not try to kill me. Causing as little pain as possible, he did a procedure which will enable me to go on living.