Thursday, April 18, 2019

April 18, 2014 - In Remembrance

Five years ago on this date, Good Friday that year, he left me without saying goodbye.

I had just been out to visit him.  My Big Brother had moved in with Dad some months ago.  The doctors told him he was in remission last fall, he said, for how long, we did not know. But he had no job to return to with Defense cuts and couldn't afford to keep his home.  It was a good move though, for Dad, relieving us of the expense of a full-time home health provider, as Dad couldn't live on his own, even as he still refuses to live with a family that would welcome him.  He's outlived two children and two wives and said he would only leave his home when he ceases to breathe.

I visited as often as I could, using both vacation and sick time, there to provide for their care. There was always lots to do, meals to prepare and freeze, cleaning, flowerbeds and gutters and the stocking of supplies. We made no trips but for short drives, his planning such overnight outings with the whole family for when I was away, but it was OK, those dinners with just he and my brother and I. Big Bro and I could do things he needed to be done, and he seemed to like just having the time with just the two of us, sharing the memories of that home when Mom was still there. Between us we got Dad's bills paid, the budget drawn up, taxes completed, even if we ended up finishing it over the phone.

But my brother had concealed a secret.  Not being able to get insurance under the Affordable Care Act as the State's Exchange was having issues, too young for Tri-Care, and not being able to get into the V.A. he stopped treatment when cancer returned. It was a death sentence he didn't wish to burden us with as there was no cure, just perhaps, a delay of the inevitable for a few weeks or months, at great cost.

I understand now, in retrospect, knowing him as I do, yet, I so wish he'd been able to share his burden with me.

But had I been able to talk to him one last time, I wouldn't have asked him about doctors or insurance care, where Dad's insurance info was or what Dad did with the phone and cable bills or even where the spare keys were. I would have simply told him I loved him, and how much he meant to me, one more time.  But we never knew our last words would be just that. Our last words are often not said, our lives always coming up short for those measured statements which through all of our brief utterances were our lone and enduring hope. There is never enough time for those last words, of love, of faith, of fear or regret.
The words not said hung in the air the days after he left. They were days that seemed like a lifetime, and yet seemed like only moments, perhaps because I don't know if I ever really slept in that time, or if, for a moment, time itself shifted, holding me down at the moment, as G-forces did long ago in a jet aircraft in a steeply banked turn.  Time held still for me, but for my brother, it had overtaken him and moved ahead. All of his things, placed into Dad's house, now to be moved again, to charity, to our homes, to our hearts, medals and coins, and books and I probably don't want to know why he had a loaded flare gun hidden alongside his concealed carry piece. There were laughter and tears, there in so many pictures, of early days, and the freckled face of fatigue, memories of a strong, reliable man, the simple kind of man that is the cornerstone of great reputation, even if the world at large would not observe his passing with tears or trumpets.

There was such much to do, to organize, to communicate. So many people stopping at the house or church, to pay their respects.  There were church friends, Bro's best friend, who came to the service even though he lost his own mother the day prior, high school friends, Submariner friends, and Don and several of the guys from Electric Boat. Then, before I knew it, a service, a eulogy I remember writing, but could not utter, the minister reading it instead of his own message, there as the Easter Lilies on the alter drooped towards him, as if listening.  There were words, of Easter, of remembrance, works that will give us a sense of what meaning can be gained from pain and suffering, death and eternal life. Things some of us ignored for years, then, in moments self-awareness, truly hit home.
It hit home for me when I looked out the window of the little memorial structure where he would receive his military honors before interment and saw the uniforms outside, just prior to raising their guns to the skies.  I heard the guns before they were ever fired, not as sound, but as a tremor that passed over my body the way you will see a flag unfurl, before even the wind that moves it is felt.

We often go through life with our eyes half shut, brain functioning well at idle, senses dormant, getting through our days on autopilot.  For many, this sort of life is comforting, welcoming.  Then for some, not the incalculable majority, but many of us, there is a moment, a flash, when in a moment we truly know all that we've had, held there in the moment of its loss.

All that week long it had rained, never really ceasing, only diminishing to a gentle mist now and again.  Yet as we arrived at that place, where guns would be raised, and taps would be played, the clouds moved aside as if paying their own respects.  The rain stopped as we pulled into the gates, and when we gathered, the sun came out.  As the officers stood at salute, all was silent, no rain, no wind, only stillness, the sunlight on the pooled water, now sleeping,

The guns fired their salute, taps were played, and the Lord's Prayer was uttered.  Then one by one, hands were placed on a stone urn, one final goodbye that we could not bear to end, a moment of immobility that accentuated the utter isolation of this hilltop in which valor is laid to rest.
The moment I drew away, warm hand from cold stone, walking outside, the skies opened up again with heavy rain.  It was as if the heavens themselves wept, the rain enfolding us all the way home, mingling with our own tears. My hands clutched the three empty rounds that had been placed there, holding them so tight my nails dug into my flesh, not wanting to ever let them go.

Since that day, I have returned many a time to that hill, to the comfort of his ground, where the final stone is placed, to remember, the memorial being but the echo to his sound.

All around, I see the dead; in the small memorial at the spot in my hometown where two trains once collided,  in a sign erected in the memory of a local killed in a long-ago war. There's the little cross by the side of the road on my way home from work where another young soul left us. How important these undistinguished little memorials. Every death is a memory that ends here, yet continues on, life flowing on, sustained by love and faith. Such is the lesson

How thankful we are for these memorials, for the spirits smoke that stays with us after the candle has been blown out.  As I heard the taps, I realized that they signified distance, heard there in that first echo. The dead were not sleeping, they were gone. When the final taps were played, I no longer heard the echo, but I will always remember it, for the memory helps us hold on. After a while, an echo is enough.

His was a death that arrived on Good Friday, and it was a life celebrated there and remembered here now, in the week of Easter. For that is what Easter was, and is, to our family.  It's remembrance. It's the remembrance of a death that brings us life. Of sacrifice, of knowing that we will not be forgotten. Of the hope that after darkness there is light, inky comfort in the unknown.
 - Brigid

Tuesday, April 16, 2019

The Color of Memory

What color brings to mind your past?

When I was really little, I shared a bedroom with my grandmother who lived with us until her death. The room was painted what I think they called rose, but was really more of vivid salmon pink. She loved that color, that of the roses her Norwegian logger husband gave to her before an accident in the woods, the weight of the world falling down. Doctors could do nothing for such internal injuries so they brought him home to quietly bleed out, there beneath her tears. She was just 36 years old and had three children. She never remarried.

As a kid I hated that color.  It certainly didn't match my G.I. Joe action fort I'd built in the corner of the room. I swore if I ever had my own place it would NEVER have a pink room.
A couple short years after Grandma passed away Dad stated that my room needed repainting, (Yay!)  I asked if I could paint it and maybe paint a rainbow on it (hey, I was in 6th grade). He said yes, but he was only going to buy the base color. Anything else I did to it, I'd have to use what was in the garage of the leftover paint.

I chose yellow. Let's just say there wasn't much to pick from for the rainbow which is why there remains to this day (though the yellow has been painted over), two rainbows, a half one behind the bed, and a full one on the other side made out of 70's yellow, gold and aqua and yes, the remainder of the horrid salmon pink. Dad refuses to paint over them and surprisingly when he had his kitchen fire, my room was the only one closed off to the point it had no smoke damage.
There is no accounting for taste in color. When my daughter and her husband bought their first home, the price was a steal given the area, which was quite upscale, but for a good reason. Some of the walls were painted black (the rest seemed to be covered in those press on mirrors). Bits of the back yard looked like it had been torched, and the carpet inside was damp enough with spilled beer that you could probably grow wild rice in the living room. It had been some young hipster's bachelor pad (or Darth Vader's, we're still not sure). Now it is painted white and varying shades of blue, with three stories of glass that look out onto the Rockies, the walls seemingly joining the sky.

I'd say that if I had a favorite color, it would still be yellow, the color of butter, of daisies, and the sun that makes you weep as you look into it. Yet, there are other colors that bring back memories. The Range living room is this antique looking sage green.  It could stand with a redo, but the color will remain the same, I think, as I go to the paint store to look at samples.
It's the color of my parents living room, not the green of the apples in the tree in the backyard, that hung low over the limbs we'd hang from like monkeys.  It's not the deep grey green  swirl of a river full of steelhead.  It was more of the aromatic sage of something wonderful coming from the oven; the laughter of Mom and Grandma in the kitchen; the recipe born of white paper and cursive script.  It's those smells that make you weep for the lost colors of childhood.

In looking through all the little squares of paint at the store, I think to myself that we always seem to associate scent with certain periods of our lives, but how about color?

There, in one display, are the rich vivid hues of sunrise. That takes me back to my last time camping out in the woods, watching the sunrise from my spot underneath a tree.  At first, there is only darkness, the colors of the starless night, of a deep ocean crossing, the sky then gathering a bit of light in the depths, like the eyes of Jesus that look down on us from a cross on the wall, eyes that show no age as they show no forgetting.
The first hint of day is red, the royal blue-red, that in centuries past would have been forbidden to be worn by the masses, on the threat of death, then oranges and yellows, dripping like forgotten fruit into the horizon, their taste and texture, fragrant and lush against the plate of the earth. Pink and white, the color of saltwater snails found in the submerged sands of paradise, washed clean of their prison. Then finally blue, just a hint of blue, paler even than the bluest sky I remember from my last time aloft, just a hint of blue, fading, for into the sky comes the weather, thick clouds pulled up by the still slumbering earth to cover it and keep it warm.

Before the sun could even warm the earth, warm me, blue-grey gave way to gray, like the whole of Lee's army taking on the battle between dusk and dawn.  The blood red of the sunrise leaches into the earth until the world goes suddenly and softly grey again.  The clouds mourn and the birds sound an echo of taps up in the trees, as I sit and remember a battle of my own, tracing invisible scars of it upon soft skin.

Then, there in another section of the paint store are the blues and greys.
In the Spring of my childhood, after the winter cold and snow retreated, Mom and I would head outdoors, just the two of us, along the shores of local bodies of water looking for stones, stones that may have not been unearthed for years, abundant embedded in earth and sand. They're quiet treasures on the shores of the West, windswept lands riddled with unclaimed treasures that people simply pass and forget, not knowing what they have underneath their feet. Beneath this great land lies jeweled richness of stone, and prehistoric bones, telling tales as they surface, dotting the future with pieces of the past.

Some stones are so tiny as to be little bearings of smoothness, the size of a small birds egg. Others take both hands to hold. My Mom as well, was fascinated by stones, and we'd search through the grey and dark and cold surfaces looking for the one that will break open into glorious color of a gemstone. Rich colors forged in heat and fire and fate. We'd hunt down an agate, and knowing what we will find inside of it, we'd smile.

In native Indian culture agates were believed to cure the stings of scorpions and the bites of snakes, soothe the mind, prevent contagion, still thunder and lightning, promote eloquence, secure the favor of the powerful, and bring victory over enemies. In this agate, Mom might not find a cure for the stinging bite of what she has within her that was too soon to take her life, but in it she found strength and beauty, swirling colors of joy in that moment, something to sooth the thunder that rolled through her in dark frightening moments.

She handpicked them, and cataloged them by color and origin. I happily worked with her, capturing the deep energy of the earth, that grounded her to us.

Then, there are the reds, the color that is the crowning head of birth, the liquid grace in a gold chalice. It is color, that like blood, has as many variances as does the way it can be spilled, there in a flash of light, a burning, a blow, one instant of sublimation, then darkness again. It is the color of the senses, the depth of rose, the scent of meat, the taste of a lovers whisper, a torrent of red wine, of desire and loss.

For red is also the color of warning, the flash of light at the approach end of the runway that tells you if you are too high or too low. Such lights glare with luminous boding of the nearness of earth, the red and white lights that slide across the night itself, speaking aloud with silent sound to eyes that sometimes see what the soul cannot.
You took in those colors and process them with a quick movement of hands, as your aircraft bears down upon the earth, holding in check, the vast mass of weight and gravity as long as you can, until the engines pant as if breathless, the power brought back in the last second as the wheels kiss the pavement.  Sometimes at that point, you are breathless yourself, as the white centerline lights lead you gently in.

I think of that bright white as I look through the second of white paint. The section of samples of white is bigger than one expects, ranging from Casper the Friendly Ghost pale to rich cream, from the crystal purity of light that sparks off of a diamond ring to the wood-scented smoke that is Fall. White brings to mind snow; not the snow of the ground, but the snow aloft, where thick water droplets the size of guppies give way to a thick white spray that parts as we fly through it in waves of frigid courtesy.
On such a flight we fly in silence, but for the occasional chirp of a radio, our movements in sync. Today, they'd call that CRM.  Back then we sort of worked in some sort of unspoken telepathy that was both trust and history aloft,  like two birds that leave a guy wire at exactly the same time. Our hands move in a silent prayer of ritual without words, a communion of motion and metal.

Flying on a clear night, one gets the sense that movement stops as if your ship is hung suspended from the stars with no forward progress. But when the snow hits, if the moon is bright enough, you have a sense of speed that is the wild leap of a toboggan off a hill.  As the miles trail behind us like wake, we look out into the snow much as we did as children, mentally sticking our tongues out to catch a flake and let it melt, looking through the windshield with a sort of hushed searching for something so far beyond us, we can't as yet grasp it. It's a look that's both the wonder of the unknown and knowledge that is profoundly intent, time slowing down even at .82 Mach.

We had command of millions of dollars worth of steel, and a mission. But in that moment, we were simply children, our craft not burdened with time's dragging weight which the old garb themselves with each day, but with the unfettered fast movement that are those lost moments of play out in a snow covered field.
Color is memory, and memory vivid color.  One may bring back the other yet neither will ever be exactly what they were. It's like an ancient recipe scribbled on frail paper, the letters faded, even if the intent is clear, familiar in form and sense, the name and presence of elusive and sentient forces of grain and yeast, water and love, a taste and smell that you can recreate, yet it will never be exactly the same. Yet, even if it is not the same, the shape, the faint taste, brings you back.

It comes back to you at odd times, sometimes when going full tilt into your day; sometimes as you sit in quiet reflection, a resonant distant hum of the dog sleeping beside you.  The colors around you have a spent quality, like the rise of dissipating smoke, of the steam of an ancient engine, even as they softly gleam with light, pushing from their solitude into yours, nudging that memory of the past.  It's a past that can be cold and vacant or warm with color.  It's all how your soul sees what your eyes sometimes cannot.
I think of my Dad now, moving across his bedroom floor in bare, cold feet, the room nearly empty, but thunderous with the presence of my Mom.  I remember the day he first opened her closet after she was gone, to see the remnants of her existence in colorful pieces of cloth, in those favorite colors of agates, blues, and black obsidian and ivory, blues and golds, discovered like gemstone when that door was broken open. How vivid the look on his face as he found them. Not a look of grief, or incomprehension, but a look of fierce affirmation that she had been here, that she had loved him. A look of recognition, of the subtle, complex beauty that she left us - her spouse, her children.

That house is now sold, to pay for his continuing nursing care.  All the things within it are gone, only a few pieces of Mom's glassware transported the thousand plus miles to my home to sit upon a shelf, the rest of my childhood only a memory.

As the sun comes up early this morning, I sit with my bread and coffee. Down the hall is a salmon pink bathroom that was the favorite color of a young Swedish woman who was the love of someone's life before she was my Grandma.  It could be redone right now, but it won't be.

It sits as proudly in the morning light as my Grandmother did, in the bright glare of grief where shadows not only defined and became personal but formed and shaped her unexpected destiny. I'd like to paint it yellow, and someday I will.  But for now, it remains.  She loved that color and so, for that moment in the past, that memory, I let it lay upon the walls in peace.

-LBJ

Monday, April 15, 2019

Sulking - What We Canines Do Best

I'll just lay on Yoda Matt until my walker is here.

I work from home full time unless I have to testify at a trial or hearing. My team is all over the place and we're usually just electronically connected most of the time so it works well.  Plus it saves me a 30 mile round trip commute that takes an hour each way on a good day, and up to two hours each way on days where there is snow, construction (the state bird of Illinois IS the orange cone) or traffic accidents as it's city streets, with lots of trains, rather than freeway.

My husband takes Abby for a long walk (or a run) before he showers and goes to work and a short walk when he gets home from work while I get the dinner dishes done (with the size of our kitchen, I opted for space during the remodel, not a  dishwasher).  If I'm working from home she gets to go out into the fenced yard for some play time throughout the day, weather permitting, and if I'm gone or my husband is out of town on business, she has a dog walker come by during the day for an extra walk.
We use a professional service, run by a local man and woman who live in a Village not far from where we live. Abby has one main walker and another lady as a back up in case of emergency or illness.  Abby just LOVES her main walker Jan. She reacts fondly to all of them, and they are so careful and diligent about giving her a safe walk, but when Jan's car pulls into the driveway she goes bonkers.
No, that's a truck, I want Jan's car!

Jan is a retired mail carrier, and in addition to loving a brisk walk, she talks to Abby the whole time in this always chippy and cheery voice and Abby just loves that, responding to the voice with great joy.

One recent week my husband was home so no dog walker.  Each and every day Abby would look longingly at the back door around lunch time and I would have to say "not today Abby, no Jan today" and she'd sigh and go back to her bed.

Since I knew how much she had missed her walker -  I scheduled one walk on that week, on Friday.  I said, "Jan's coming!" (she knows what that means).  I repeated it over the course of the morning, and she got more excited and happy, looking out the window from the couch any time she heard a car,, then going back to her favorite spot in the sun on the dining room rug to wait for the sound of a key in the lock.

Then I hear someone opening the back door at our scheduled time. Abby's tail is doing warp 10 and she about lifts off the rug like a helicopter!
 Ack!  It's not Jan!

Oh uh, apparently Jan took a scheduled day off. It was the backup walker, a lovely young woman who is quiet and very kind to Abby. Abby went promptly out but you could tell she wasn't too cranked about the turn of events and didn't bark at all like she normally does when Jan arrives.

Stone silence today as they made their way down the back steps.

Thirty minutes later, when she got home, the walker gave her a treat and left and Abby returned to her favorite spot on the rug - and the sulking began.
 You LIED to me, you said Jan would be here today!
 Maybe she's still coming  I'll stare at the back door for a while
 She's NOT coming.  Let the stink eye begin.
 Mom's a meanie!  She promised Jan and she never came.
 Sigh - I'll just sulk here all day and not even get up for a treat.
I haven't seen Jan for 87 years. Mom is SOOO mean.

When my husband got home from work that night, Abby didn't even greet him at the back door with a wagging tail but just lay on the couch where she retreated when her sun spot was gone. He looked at her moping and said

"What happened?"

I said, "I told her Jan would be here and it was the other walker.!"

He looked at Abby, laughing, and said, "So Mom LIED to you."  (thanks, hon, for supporting my case :-)

Finally, after some Dad pets, dog food, a walk with Dad and a treat, she perked up, but I have to say, NO ONE can sulk like a Labrador Retriever.

Sunday, April 14, 2019

Spring Greetings from Chiberia!


Looking for the Easter Polar Bear on the way home from church!
This was at 10:20.   It's been snowing heavily since that time.
You could see by the footprints and the missing peanuts on the cleared spot the squirrels had their breakfast while we were gone.

Abby wasted no time in rolling in it.





By noon, we had a couple more inches on the ground.  And a guest for lunch.
Do I smell peanuts?
 A quick look each way to make sure all is clear. . . .

Score!!!
Can you see me?


Friday, April 12, 2019

News Flash!


My 5th book has officially gone to print today.  It should be available on Amazon in 2-3 weeks. It's written under the name I write for magazines with (what the "B" in LB Johnson stands for) so if you share it, do it with that name because that is how it will be marketed and linked.  I worked 8 months on this one, (compared to about 4 months on the other books) and I hope the effort shows.  Enjoy it - I'm going to wait until I retire in 4 years to write another one (5 in 5 years, with a full-time job, restoring a 100-year-old house, multiple blogs, and Dad's care, I'm officially tired and going to put my feet up and read for a while.). L.B.

Thursday, April 11, 2019

Abby's Breakfast Patrol

What's that you're serving for breakfast Mom?

I know you had to give up the wheat thing so I figured we'd be having packing pellets and oat gruel.

It's GF-Pancakes?

I bet those look like bricks.  You made them from scratch too huh?  Yup, bricks.
In one bowl mix:

1 cup King Arthur Gluten-Free Flour
1/2 teaspoon Xanthan Gum
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 Tablespoons sugar

In a small bowl mix

1 cup room temperature Kefir (Kefir is a drinkable yogurt found with or near the yogurt in the store in a quart sized bottle.  It is normally lactose-free and full of probiotics.)
Splash of pure vanilla extract (about 1/8 to 1/4 teaspoon)
1 egg (at room temperature) or equivalent egg substitute.

Whisk wet ingredients together, and then SLOWLY stream in while whisking -

1/4 cup melted butter

Mix wet and dry ONLY until mixed (do not overmix) and cook on a griddle on which a drop of water sizzles.  The batter should be fairly thick.  If it is not (this should NOT be a pourable batter) add 1 Tablespoon of flour.

Don't make them too big to make them easier to flip as these are thick fluffy pancakes. Mom uses a 1/4 or a 1/3 cup measure to make the pancake.  Makes about 10 medium sized pancakes.

MMMMM. Those are all light and fluffy Mom!

You know what GF - Pancakes really stands for, don't you Mom?

GIVE FIDO PANCAKES!