Tuesday, May 16, 2006

Marines in a Limo and Other Random Reflections

Some have asked me about my Seattle trip, so I will blog a bit about it. It's partly for those who are interested, and it is partly for me. There are a few pictures in the second half.

Marines in a Limo

Traveling with my somewhat frail, somewhat confused 89 year old mother is challenging and stressful in a multitude of ways, but we did all right. Well, till our plane was cancelled. Long story short, after much annoyance and discomfort we ended up traveling from Milwaukee to Chicago in a stretch limo.

Thirteen of us were crammed knee to knee and had nowhere to gaze except at each other. We couldn't even look out the windows because they were darkened. I started to get a bit claustrophobic, so I concentrated on the four young guys across from me. They were on their way to the US Marine Corps Recruit Depot in San Diego, CA. Ah, poor guys. They looked like high schoolers to me. One was a skinny blonde with a short haircut. He actually thought it was so short that he would escape the buzz cut of boot camp. Another was a quiet farm boy from a town not far from my home. For some reason, he kept talking about not wanting to ever get stationed in Okinawa because he did not speak Japanese. He seemed quite relieved when I said that most people there speak English. Another very polite young man had a notebook and a Bible. The last was an African American from Milwaukee. He was smiling and laughing with his fellow recruits, baseball cap on backwards and jeans drooping. He will probably be the most changed by USMC boot camp.

I thought about what might be ahead for them, and I spent the remainder of the ride praying silently for each one. Part of me just kept longing to be finally on the plane to Seattle, drinking a cola with mom safe and sound beside me.

Our connecting flight was also delayed, so we made it. Whew! It was a long flight and we arrived in Seattle much later than originally scheduled. Brother-in-law and nephew picked us up. Two in the a.m. by our time. We went straight to bed and straight to sleep.

Voices in the Kitchen

The next morning, 5 by my internal clock but 7 by Seattle time, I awoke listening to a conversation between my mother and sister. Sleepily, I listened to the familiar sound of their voices rising and falling. I couldn't understand the words, but I was filled with a bittersweet kind of joy. I could keep my eyes closed, snuggle under the blankets and go right back to the bed I shared with my sister in our little room in our little house in Pacoima, California.

I could, for a few moments, be 7 years old with my life ahead of me, with my family intact, with both my sisters (wearing silk scarves, poodle skirts and four or five crackling crinoline petticoats each) there to greet me as I padded into the kitchen. I did not want to get up. I savored the sweet sound of their voices knowing that when I did go to the kitchen I'd find a very changed mother and sister.

I gathered my courage, said a prayer and rose to made toast and coffee for us. We sat in a square of sunshine, sipping coffee and smiling and trying to converse. It was difficult. At one point my sister (who used to do color analysis) looked at me and said, "Your makeup colors are just perfect. You look beautiful." I'm not sure she knew, for that moment, that it was me. It was a sad morning, but I was aware in an indefinable way, of the love and prayers of those who were thinking of me. A little later my nephew's wife came in. She watches my sister a lot. And it was a blessing to see her interact with my sister. She is wonderful with her. Thank you, dear God.

Mom and sis and I went for a walk. The weather was sunny for the entire time we were in Seattle (small miracle) and it is late spring there. The flowers, green grass and trees, warm sunshine, all combined to lift our spirits. Later my grand niece came over and sis's husband took this picture.

On the loveseat is my sister, my mother and me. Behind is my nephew and his daughter. It was so nice to get reaquainted with them both.

In the Mountains

I am a lover of mountains, so I requested a drive into the Cumberlands for a picnic. Five of us piled into the car the next morning. Three hours of driving to get to our destination, but worth it. At the summit was a ski lodge, snow and a beautiful lake. Down the other side it got warm. And here we are, sis, mom, me (on the rock) and neice in law. B-I-L took the picture. The pines filled the air with their pungent aroma, the river gurgled over large granite rocks and the sun sparkled on the water. I am always happiest in the mountains, and it was wonderful. My sister and I have a long tradition of singing songs, some silly, some slightly risque, some hymns. It's kind of our little thing to do, almost a secret language between us. We have a repertoire of a hundred or so, and each has memories attached. As we cleaned up our picnic debris, I tried a couple, and she sang or she hummed and smiled happily and said "sing it" when she forgot the words, which was often. At times she could still harmonize with me. Probably the last time for us to do that. I pushed that thought away quickly.

A Trip to Fantasy Land

Later we drove past this little red house. It was next to a ramshackle but fixable old tavern and we stopped to stretch our legs and inspect the pear trees that were in blossom. Something suddenly happened to my B-I-L and me--we took a little trip to fantasy land.

We ended up touring the house (bigger than it looks, remodeled and quite nice!) and began a little story of how we would all move there and we'd make the old tavern into a church.

My poor mother didn't know whether to believe us or not as we filled in the details of our future life in the mountains. This went on for a long time. We looked out the front door of the "church" to a spectacular view of snow on the mountain peaks.

Eventually we saw a sticker on a dusty window of the old tavern which indicated that the place had most recently been a martial arts studio. B-I-L decided we could run a martial arts business and I could teach on spiritual warfare and make our focus Ephesians 6. Much silliness--which he needed. I did too.

Out front of the church-to-be. I have a Bible and my sister is saying, "Preach it, Sistah!" in a southern accent.

We returned thanking God for a very good day. As we reached the mountain summit on the return trip, the sun was setting over the lake and it's glassy surface mirrored stunning pinks and purples. I went to bed feeling guilty that I wasn't more sad. My sister cannot find her way around in her own home, and much of the time she doesn't make a lot of sense. Shouldn't I have been sad? I asked God about that as I climbed into bed beside my gently snoring mother. I believe that the day in the mountains was a gift from God.

Back at the Seattle Condo

Then reality hit with a wallop. The next day my sister was even more disoriented. I fought tears most of the morning. We had family devotions in the living room and it did not go well. At one point we found sis'missing shoes and she said, "That was providential!" She looked at me, grinned, and said, "I can't find my shoes, but I still have my vocabulary."

B-I-L and I took a break at Starbucks and had a long and serious talk. Returning to our car we saw a license plate with a frame that read, "Martial Arts! Strength-honor-pride!" "Look!" he hollered with glee. "It must be a sign from God." I expect this may become a standing joke.

Nonetheless, it was an extremely difficult day. I spent a lot of time ducking into the bedroom or out the front door--I did not want to upset anyone by crying. My heart was so heavy, and the grief for the sister and friend, the "little mommy" I no longer can talk with was deep. She spent most of the day trying to understand what was happening, changing clothes, wandering aimlessly looking for...no one knew what.

But at one point my sister looked at me with perfect clarity in her eyes. She smiled and said, "This is a very hard thing I am going through." I agreed sadly, and I hugged her. To my great surprise, she went on clearly, "I wake up every morning and I give the day to the Lord. I could be sad and mope around, but what good would that do? I choose to be grateful, to look for the good and for God's purpose in the day. I choose to love people and be a blessing as long as I can."

It was the only completely lucid paragraph she said the entire week. Another gift from God, I believe.

I was dreading the good-bye at the airport, but it was rushed and thus mercifully short with no time to ponder what the next meeting would probably be like. Thankfully, the trip home was uneventful.

Back Home and Thinking Things Over

I miss the pretty teenager who loved Elvis. I miss the big sister who told me about the "facts of life" and also taught me everything else worth knowing. I miss the person who laughed and joked and smiled, the wonderful cook, the brilliant writer and life-long learner, the intimate friend who always believed the best of me, and who always listened and understood my heart like no one else has, the one who was so different--and yet so very like--me. The quiet introvert who could ham it up and fake almost any accent imaginable. I miss the one whose beautiful blue eyes could flash fire at injustice. I miss the books mailed cross country. I miss her voice on the phone. I miss the one who sang silly songs and danced the "bop" and wrote stories, and taught Sunday school and shared the love of Jesus everywhere.

I love her so much. My heart breaks but I thank God for the good moments and memories and--life. And mostly I thank God for the blessed hope of life eternal. No good-byes, no tears, no Alzheimer's disease.


JWD said...

O Singing Owl, thank you for sharing this precious treasure, this painful insight into your time with your sister. I end reading it in tears.

God's presence really seemed to be infused through your time there. Some beautifully gifted moments. Thank you for sharing your experience of them with us.


Questing Parson said...

And now our prayers for you and her are increased. She may not be able to find her shoes, but, through you, she's found her way into our hearts.

net said...


Mary Beth said...

Hugs to you. this is beautiful. you're in my prayers...

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