Thursday, May 22, 2008

Poison ivy and karma

It's a beautiful sunny day and children are arriving at the school across the street. They sound excited and they should be; this is the last day of school. Children's voices at play, the scrape and thunk of boys skateboarding in the parking lot outside, laughter and voices rising in contention, these are the sounds of my mornings and early afternoons here.

Yesterday, I sat outside on the deck with a book breathing in the smells of summer and basking in the sun and the sounds. Warmth on my arms and legs and a cool breeze filled with bird song was just what I needed after a double shift of typing operative reports while I waited for the postman. I didn't realize he had come and gone since the mailbox is down at the street and I was engrossed in my book of essays. I did happen to notice what looks like poison ivy surreptitiously extending a long stem out from the profusion of budding plants that have sent runners up the side of the window at the front of the house, purple buds that looked like clover but are beginning to look more like unfurling sea anemones waving in the breezy currents. I looked closer at the extended fingers of the buds and I think they are petals tightly curled and soon to burst forth when the rest of the stubby purple budlets grow. The plants could be clematis after all, but I don't think so. They don't look like the deep purple jackmanii that used to twine around the post below the lantern at my house in Columbus that opened to show the ringed gold at its heart. I'll know soon enough what they are and I can wait. I'm used to waiting.

It's cool and the sun is hidden behind a cloud, casting the view out the window in shadow and it's nearly time for me to get to work. I'll have another hour or so outside on the deck when I finish and the afternoon is barely begun but I realize I cannot sit out there on the deck much longer without a chair or lounger or some kind of comfortable cushion. It's beginning to dawn that I have a deck where I can sit and read or eat or just enjoy the rain, the cooling breezes and the warm, radiant gaze of the sun whenever I like. It's a whole new way of thinking, of feeling, of being and I'm not quite used to it, but I will get used to it just the way I get used to all the changes in my life -- like losing another member of my family.

Last year, Dad died at the beginning of spring and his brother's wife, Peggy, followed in the autumn. Uncle Don, Dad's brother, was devastated. He had been with Peggy longer than any other women he had married or lived with, and there were many of both. Uncle Don was put in ICU a few days ago with congestive heart failure. The doctors wanted to do another heart cath on him and were sending him to Cincinnati but changed their minds yesterday, releasing him from the hospital. The doctors said he has maybe three months. Mom said, "He's 83. He has had a good run," with that tone that says she's ready for him to leave her home. There's also her unspoken question, "Why is he still alive when my husband is dead?" I have no answers for her, except that it was time for Dad to leave. He always knew when to leave before the host and hostess announced loudly and pointedly, "It's getting late." Dad didn't need such overt signals or reminders. He was a very classy man. Uncle Don? Not so much. Uncle Don is as hardy as poison ivy and as tenacious as a weed and I do not doubt he will last longer than three months. Mom would not like to hear that, especially since he's staying with her and Carol.

Carol says she's running an old folks home and sometimes it seems that way with Mom carping at Uncle Don, raising her voice to near shrew and fish wife levels because he's deaf, while Uncle Don blithely continues making beautiful placemats and watching television. He occasionally tells Mom she's too loud. He's not afraid of her and he is not dependent on her good moods, not that Mom actually has many good moods, but Uncle Don is definitely cramping her style. Mom doesn't like being out of the limelight or even slightly to the left or right of center stage. So Mom mutters and walks out of Uncle Don's hearing range to carp and complain, reminding everyone that he doesn't understand the meaning of pain and he's not so bad off as he makes everyone think. Uncle Don does tend to whine a bit and make a little more of his aches and pains than Dad did, but my father was a stoic. Uncle Don is not. And he is not a martyr, unlike Mom who has martyrdom down to a fine art she has honed over decades of constant and consistent practice. Mom is a poor substitute for Peggy but I think Uncle Don is the Universe's way of visiting a little karma on Mom. There's no doubt in my mind the Universe has a sense of humor, like hiding poison ivy among the profusion of purple buds and greenery in the railroad tie planter at the front of the house next to the deck where it can reach out its sticky poisonous fronds and tap me on the leg to leave a trail of blistering fire on anyone but me.

Life is a wonderful mix of excitement and sadness but at least there is excitement to temper the sadness and sadness to remind me of the excitement I've known and will know again.

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