Sunday, May 26, 2013

My Constant Companion

On my 70th birthday my son took me to the animal shelter in Albuquerque to adopt a cat.  I thought I should settle down and stop traveling.  I wanted a warm little individual to keep me company. 

David warned me not to get a kitten.  “They are too frisky for an old woman like you.”  This big white cat stood up in his cage with his paws clinging to the bars.  His face said, “Please, please take me.”  Charlie adopted me. 

I can only guess what happened to him before he was picked up by Animal Control.  He was a beautiful cat, pure white with an abundance of long hair.  He had been someone’s pet.  He had been neutered. 

He also had been a stray in the desert of Albuquerque’s West Mesa until he was in bad shape, dehydrated, half-starved, his hair all matted and clumped.  At my house he refused to eat canned cat food; he only ate dry cat food.  He only drank water from a running faucet.  I was amazed at how he jumped from the bathroom floor up onto the counter beside the sink, like me trying to jump from the flower bed onto the porch roof. 

The shelter gave him to me for $5.  I took him to the vet.  It cost $100 to get him examined and cleaned up.
He wore a tag which said he was six years old.  The vet said, “If he is six years old, he certainly has taken good care of his teeth.  I think he is one or two years old.”

I called my white cat Charlie after my friend Charles White.  He proved to be the perfect companion, although I was alarmed at how active he was, like a teenager, jumping up on the 5-foot block wall around the backyard, chasing other cats as if he did not know he was no longer a tomcat.  Independent, like me.  He would not take orders, but in many ways he showed his affection.

As I rested in my recliner, Charlie climbed on top of me.  First he stood on my chest and looked in my face as if asking, “How are you feeling today?”  Then he would settle down on my lap, legs hanging off on both sides.  Sometimes we watched tv together, but if he was bored with the program, he would put his head down and stare at my chair as if lost in thought.   

Charlie was terrified of men.  My next door neighbor in Albuquerque was LeRoy Martinez, a big, burly man who was like a son to me.  He came every week to carry out my garbage.  As soon as Charlie saw him at the door, the cat ran and hid under the bed.  It took ten years before Charlie trusted the big man and let LeRoy pet him. 

My grandchildren came to visit.  The whole time they were here, Charlie lay on the floor near them and watched them play.  Any time my housekeeper brought her children, Charlie went right to them.

The doctor said my kidneys were failing.  Having no family in New Mexico, I moved to Texas to be near my brother.   

I now live in a retirement home.  In the early morning, while I am getting dressed, Charlie goes out on the walkway to check on the weather.  Then he stands at the door looking up at the door knob until James McMullen comes by and lets him in.  This week we all laughed when Charlie did not wait but went down to the door of James and Marilyn’s apartment and meowed until they opened the door.  Then the cat ran back to our apartment and insisted it was time for James to open our door for him.

I am now 84 years old.  Charlie has been my companion for 14 years.  We are both old.  He drinks water out of a bowl, although insisting I fill it with fresh water each time he asks for a drink.  He gets shots for arthritis in his hips.  I go to dialysis three times a week. .

Last week Charlie was lying in the sun on the walkway when James walked by with his great-grandson.  Charlie did not get up to say “Hello” to the child.  We knew that the cat was sick. 
My brother Don came, and we took Charlie to the vet.

Charlie has kidney failure.  When I told the techs at dialysis, they laughed.  “Maybe he caught it from you.”   We can’t give Charlie dialysis. 

There is no cure for kidney disease.  I creep around like an old woman; Charlie creeps around like an old man.  We both keep moving, if ever so slowly.  That’s all we can do – and laugh about the old woman and her cat, both with failing kidneys.  Life is ridiculous.   It is good to find something to laugh about.

Saturday, May 18, 2013

Shopping Trip

The weather has been – uh – dramatic.  Tornadoes swept across Texas last night, wiping out the little town of Granbury.  This afternoon the sky over Dallas was gray but not threatening.  I went shopping. 

First stop was the post office.  My friends include old people who do not use computers.  I still write letters.  At the sub-station where in the past I’ve stood in line for half an hour, this time in mid-afternoon a single Hispanic man stood behind the counter, no other customers in sight.  The congenial clerk helped me with “forever” stamps.  I chose the set showing Washington monuments framed with cherry blossoms.  With additional stamps for overseas mail, I spent $29.40. 

From the post office I drove onto the freeway – my heart in my throat as I merged between two enormous trucks – and climbed on the high bridge over the interchange between I-30 and 635 to exit at the Town East shopping center.  My goal: the SAS shoe store. 

I always wear SAS loafers.  They are comfortable; I wear them all day and my feet don’t hurt. At the back of my closet I have a shelf with a dozen shoe boxes.  Inside are all types of shoes:  sandals, my old hiking boots, and some low-heeled pumps, both black and navy blue.   I have not taken them out of the boxes since I moved to Montclair four years ago. 

On the floor at the other end of the closet are the three pairs of shoes I wear every day: black loafers, tan loafers, and an ancient pair of black ones that I use as house slippers.  SAS shoes never wear out.  Today I wore the tan pair that I’ve had for about ten years.

With summer coming I decided to buy white shoes to go with my new pastel blue, mint green, and mauve tee shirts and pants.  I do not follow fashions, but I try to look presentable so my grandchildren will not be ashamed to be seen with me.

At the shop, a gray-haired saleslady bustled around and brought out “pearl bone” loafers, exactly as I ordered, in size 5 ½ extra wide.  The price was $110.   I am a child of the Depression.  I am reluctant to spend money.   SAS shoes are handcrafted in real leather.  I took out my credit card.

As the saleswoman put my new shoes in the box, she said, “We had a handbag which will go perfectly with these.  May I show it to you?”

She went to a nearby shelf and handed me a bulky purse which exactly matched the pearl color of the shoes.  She stroked the leather and said, “Feel how soft this is.”

My children always tell me I am rich.  They urge me to buy whatever I want.  I took the purse and looked at the $150 price tag.  I have money in the bank to pay for it – and the shoes – and the stamps – when the credit card bill comes due.  I guess I am rich. 

The saleswoman was not finished.  As she rang up the sale, she said, “All our bags are named for wives of presidents.  Your bag is the Barbara.”
She went back to the shelf of handbags.  “This is the Lady Bird.”  She brought me a bulky black bag with a wide side strap fastened with a shiny brass buckle.  Then she showed me a little side zipper, which she opened and slipped her entire hand inside the purse.  “This is where you can carry your handgun.”

I laughed out loud.  How typically Texan!  SAS stands for San Antonio Shoes, and they are made in San Antonio, Texas.  I should not be surprised that  SAS provides a handbag where Texas women can conceal their guns.  I did not buy the Lady Bird, but . . .

Look at me, a confirmed Democrat!  All summer I will carry a handbag named for Barbara Bush.

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

My Grandmother

We called her “Nonna.”  She was my mother’s mother, and she dominated our lives. 

She was only 42 when I was born, a  little, black-haired woman, round as a barrel, who brusheled about that big, brick house, telling everyone what to do. 

I knew why I called her “Nonna” instead of “Grandma.”  I was a baby, just beginning to talk.  One day I stood up in my crib and began to cry.  When my mother came to pick me up, I pushed her away, saying, “I don’t want Mamie.  I want my Nonna.” 

My grandmother told that story many, many times.

My grandfather died in the 1918 flu epidemic.  My grandmother was left a young, penniless widow with two young children: my mother, 12, and her brother, 10.   Her sister, Lena, was married to a prosperous Fort Worth lawyer.  Aunt Lena had tuberculosis.  Uncle George asked my grandmother to move in with them and help care for their three little girls.  Uncle George and Aunt Lena both died, and my grandmother, although not the legal guardian, stayed on as housekeeper and caregiver of the three little orphans. 

To justify her position my grandmother made herself indispensable.  My mother was relegated to fifth place in her affections, after the three girls and her son.  Of course, I did not understand the family dynamics when I was young.  As a child I accepted all the family relationships as normal and natural. 

I was an adult before I realized why the baby called her grandmother “Nonna.”  My parents lived with my grandmother.  The baby heard the names they called each other.  I could not speak clearly.  I said, “Mamie” instead of “Mary”; that was what everyone called my young mother.  I said “Nonna”, trying to say “Mama”, because that was what Mary called her mother.   I never heard the words “Grandma” or “Granny.”    

Now I see how cruel it was.  My grandmother puffed up her own ego by repeatedly telling how the baby preferred her to its own mother.  I heard it time after time.  No one ever mentioned how hurt my young mother must have been by this rejection by her baby. 

How did my mother react to this situation?  She spent her life trying to please her mother.  When I was born, my parents continued to live with Nonna because my mother was considered “too delicate” to care for a baby. My brother Lyle was born a year later, and suddenly Mother was able to care for two babies. We moved into our own home, half a mile away. 

My mother continued to spend every day at Nonna’s house.  When Lyle and I started to school, Mother transferred us from our neighborhood school to one near my grandmother so that we could go directly Nonna’s house every day after school. 

“The girls” grew up, married, and moved away.  They sold Nonna’s house to my parents.  My grandmother stayed with the house.  She continued to live with my parents, dominating the household, until she died at age 89. 

I was in Chicago when the call came that my grandmother had died.  I flew to Texas to be with Mother.  She and I were in the kitchen washing the cups and saucers used by people who came to the house after the funeral.  Her hands deep in soapy water, this 70-year-old woman turned to me and said, “I wish Mama loved me as much as she did the girls, but she never did.”

Sunday, May 5, 2013

My Accomplishments

I spent yesterday working on the book about the trip I made to Europe with David when he was 13.  I hope it will be funny/serious and readable.  There is still a lot of work to be done before it will be ready for publication.  Will I get the job done?  If published, will anyone want to read it? .

Maybe it is all a lot of wasted effort.

So what have I accomplished in my life? 

Maybe it is time to reevaluate what I am doing.  I decided to clear off my desk and take care of correspondence and other business that I neglected while in Lala Land re-imaging that trip to Germany.  I found the stack of birthday cards I received in March and re-read all of them. 

When other people have birthdays, I go into the stash I keep in a drawer in my bedroom and try to find one that is appropriate.  I feel both ashamed and thrilled when I receive cards that are very personal.  Lois, Barbara, Martha, and Marjorie, knowing I like cats, all sent me cards with pictures of kitties.  Jean Johnson, who lives here at Montclair, gave me one that said “Happy Shamrock Day.” 

A special card, which said, “Warm with love. . .  on your St. Patrick’s Day birthday,” came from John’s sisters in Pittsburgh.  John and I were only married for four years.  He has been gone for 21 years, yet they still remember my birthday.  What wonderful, caring people!

But the card that touched me the most came from my friend Emma.  We were roommates in college more than 60 years ago.  We have never lived in the same town since, yet we kept in touch, treasuring each time we were able to get together.  It was a sad day last year when we said goodbye at the Kimball Museum in Fort Worth.  She moved to Austin to be near her son Lee.  Emma is deaf.  We can not talk on the telephone.  For the rest of our lives we will “talk” through e.mail.  

Emma sent me a birthday card which said, “There are some special people who make a difference in the lives of others, make the best of whatever life hands them, and make everyone else smile in the process.  I feel so blessed to have you in my life.  You have an openness that invites others in and a warmth that makes them comfortable.” 

Wow!  Is that me?

I hope so.  I try.  Every morning I go into the dining room and say “hello” to each of the old people sitting over their oatmeal and coffee.  Some of them have forced themselves to come down to breakfast after bad nights struggling with pain.  If I can lift their spirits a little bit, then I feel better, too.  I do not care if my books are never published.  If I can bring a little joy into the lives of a few other people, then I have done all I want to accomplish in life.