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Sitting on the dock of the bay

Mother was having a bit of stressed-out day, so Liz surprised her pre-birthday party by sprucing up her deck table – and, as you can see from the smile, her mood. Ben gave her a certificate to power wash her deck, so it'll soon be even sprucier.

Mother was having a bit of stressed-out day, so Liz surprised her pre-birthday party by sprucing up her deck table – and, as you can see from the smile, her mood. Ben gave her a birthday certificate to power wash her deck, so it’ll soon be even sprucier.

And then there’s my mother, also known as Grandma, Grammy and Willette. She may not quite be sitting on the dock of the bay, but she is spending lots of time on her deck by the lake these days, for which her family is ever so grateful. She turned 79 Monday (we had a party at her house Saturday). We’re grateful for that, too.

The move from the outback to the house on the lake in town (which was all her decision, for the record) was harder on her than we can ever imagine – not only did she downsize and leave the house she built for her and Bill to grow old in, but she did it on her own. Made her own decisions, got utilities in her own name. Of course we helped her a lot, but Mother, who married Daddy at 17 and married Bill 13 months after Daddy died, has been on her own now longer than she ever has.

She looks like a million bucks and a much younger woman, but, truth be told, her health is much less than stellar. She gets flustered and frustrated, but when her blood counts are acceptable, she’s usually pretty chipper. And still very funny.

Resilience is the word that comes to mind. But with age you lose some of your fearlessness and confidence – it’s a pretty natural progression but still hard to watch for the family. Mother has always been a fireball.

Anyway, back to the party.

Annabelle, Sylvia and Grammy, three beautiful girls.

Annabelle, Sylvia and Grammy, three beautiful girls.

Shortly after we got there, Mother called everyone to attention and said she’d made a frozen drink called “Red Rooster” (cranberry juice cocktail, orange juice and Tito’s Handmade Vodka – she’d heard the recipe at one of her doctor’s appointments) and commanded all the adults to get a serving because she had something to say.

We happily obliged, and, Mother being Mother, were ready for anything, but I secretly hoped it wasn’t bad health news.

“I made this,” she told us, “because I want to thank you all for all your help during my move – for all you’ve done. And to apologize for the times I’ve been heinous ….”

I said she had never been heinous, but it was hard for all of us not to laugh at her use of the word. Out of the mouths of great-grandmothers!

I did almost choke later that evening, when John, who of course hadn’t been wearing his hearing aid at the party, told me that at first he’d thought Mother was being awfully hard on herself when she apologized for “the times she’d been an anus.”

Pop and Silas – two guys who crack me up.

Pop and Silas – two guys who crack me up.

Mother blows out her candles, with long-distance assistance from Annabelle. Jude saw the cake that said, "Happy birthday, Mother," and asked Cathy, "Who's Mother?" He thought it was Grammy's birthday.

Mother blows out her candles, with long-distance assistance from Annabelle. Jude saw the cake that said, “Happy birthday, Mother,” and asked Aunt Cathy, “Who’s Mother?” He thought it was Grammy’s birthday.

Monday, on her real birthday, July 7, Mother and I went to buy her an iPad. She also got an “iPad for Seniors” book (with slightly larger text and lots of photos) and a turquoise iPad cover.

We’d tossed Bill’s clunky Dell computer, which Mother hated and feared, when we moved her out of the old house. She already had wifi, though, and an email address set up, so in no time her new toy was up and running. She’s been wanting to text for a long time, but with her rheumatoid arthritis, texting on a phone is out of the question, so the iPad is perfect for that. And she can check her email, look at photos of the kids, use her Google app to look things up and play solitaire on the app we downloaded.

Mother learns to text on her 79th birthday.

Mother learns to text on her 79th birthday.

She sent texts to Cathy, John, Liz and Elizabeth, and my stepsister Lisa. I got her fairly comfortable with very basic things before I went home. Or so we thought. From 9:30 until just after 10 that night we had a phone tutorial that reminded me of a cross between an Abbott and Costello routine and one of Bob Newhart’s phone sketches (they used to make Daddy laugh until he cried).

I was determined to get her situated – and keep her from getting scared of her iPad – even if I had to drive across the river, but we finally got things straight on the phone.

Yesterday morning she left me a message that when she got up, all her icons were there and things were under control. But yesterday evening, things had run amok. I finally determined, via phone, that she’d accidentally opened the Game Center trying to get to solitaire – thank heavens she didn’t stumble into online gaming! – and we had another phone tutorial. Haven’t checked yet today – I’m writing this while watching the World Cup semifinal– but I have faith that she’ll catch on.

And the patience to keep at it until she does. Heck, she may be on Facebook before we know it.

Now I’m thinking of next year. For Mother’s 80th, should we be so lucky, we’re going to Italy – we’re thinking Rome, Pompeii and Florence. We’ll consult with her doctors in August on the feasibility, and if they give us the go-ahead, we’ll shoot for April or May.

In the meantime, she can enjoy life with her little dog Polly, her iPad and her deck on the lake.

All things must pass

John, Sweetie and Doris on a very good day during our visit.

John, Sweetie and Doris on a very good day during our visit.

Life can be so sweet and so bittersweet; all things must pass, which is hard to abide when those things are a parent – or a parent’s memory.

We baby boomers are all in it together; we’ve lost a parent, are losing a parent or know it’s coming. That’s the cycle of life.

Some situations are harder than others, and watching dementia or Alzheimer’s take a loved one someplace else is high on the list of horrible.

But you make the best of it and love the moments you get.

John and I just made a trip to his home town in Washington for what may be our last visit with his mother, sweet little Doris, who has a nonspecific dementia and failure to thrive syndrome. At this point, she’s just fading, no matter how much she eats. She can remember a few things from the 1940s, but you have to go way back to her childhood for her to really remember anything of substance.

Little Doris and her daddy await the boat to Catalina in the late 1920s. Those are the years Doris remembers these days.

Little Doris and her daddy await the boat to Catalina in the late 1920s. Those are the years Doris remembers these days.

Otherwise, she’s on a loop about the weather, the wind, her beloved cat, Sweetie, and the time. But occasionally she’ll throw something in that gets your attention, makes you laugh.

The long-suffering good girl, Sweetie, who was the chosen cat of three who moved from the orchard to the tiny apartment.

The long-suffering good girl, Sweetie, who was the chosen cat of three who moved from the orchard to the tiny apartment.

Doris now. You can still see a bruise from a fall a few weeks ago – but you can also see the woman behind the curtain of confusion.

Doris now. You can still see a bruise from a fall a few weeks ago – but you can also see the woman behind the curtain of confusion.

My first day back in Little Rock, I saw a friend I haven’t seen in years – she popped into Esse Purse Museum & Store, where I hang out – and told me her mother-in-law died last year from nonspecific dementia and failure to thrive syndrome. She just faded away physically and mentally over about two years.

Doris has been fading longer than that – looking back, it’s hard to say when the confusion really set in, but it’s been a good long while.

As of a few weeks ago, she’s in hospice care at home, which is an assisted living facility now. Many days she thinks she’s traveling and is ready to come home; the really bad spells are when she’s frightened, doesn’t know where she is and is frantic to get home.

John’s sister, Kitty, deals with the bad spells on a sometimes several-times-a-day basis. For our trip, though, Doris rallied. She dressed most days – something she rarely does now – and even went to the dining room for a few meals, with or without John, much to everyone’s surprise.

John texted a mother and son selfie to Kitty and me, much to our delight.

John texted a mother and son selfie to Kitty and me, much to our delight.

Kitty and I slipped away to give Kitty some respite time and fun, while John soaked up every moment he could with his mother. We did get to visit with our niece and nephew – which is always a treat – but this was a Mom-centered visit. She doesn’t leave the facility now and most conversations are on an Abbott and Costello-style loop, but we still loved basking in her gentle and sweet presence.

The Yakima Valley is wine country, and we made the most of it this night – in the Inaba's kitchen. That's me, Kitty (in her Eiffel Tower apron that commemorates our trip to Paris together) and Norm.

The Yakima Valley is wine country, and we made the most of it this night – in the Inaba’s kitchen. That’s me, Kitty (in her Eiffel Tower apron that commemorates our trip to Paris together) and Norm.

In some ways Alzheimer’s is easier to deal with – at least that horrid disease has an anticipated trajectory. With garden-variety dementia, anything goes; somedays are horrible with short-term memory that holds for 10 seconds or so, but occasionally you get the person you miss back for a bit. Then she’s gone again. All you can do is cherish those moments.

And remember that everyone, no matter how lost, has something to say. You just have to listen for the message in the mania, the explanation in the inertia. Or meet them where they are, even if that’s in 1928.

John spent hours showing Doris photos on our phones – the same ones entertain her over and over. But here she's explaining to us every detail of photos from her childhood. The mind is a peculiarly fascinating organ.

John spent hours showing Doris photos on our phones – the same ones entertain her over and over. But here she’s explaining to us every detail of photos from her childhood. The mind is a peculiarly fascinating organ.

When it came time to say goodbye, Doris was back with the wisdom of her almost 93 years. She told us what a long and wonderful life she’s had – yet how time flies. She talked about how lucky she’s been to have such wonderful children and how pleased she is to have me as a member of the family – that John found me, as she puts it. I thanked her again for raising such a wonderful man for me to marry.

“Take care of each other,” she told us. She was 100-percent lucid in those moments.

We assured her we would. And we didn’t cry. The goodbyes were sweet and tender and strong.

All things must pass. Acceptance is hard but resistance is harder. If The Beatles are right, and in the end the love you take is equal to the love you make, Doris will be a wealthy woman when she gets home from her travels.

And we’ll be poorer for her absence, even though in many ways she’s already gone.

 

Good old days

Mama, Verna Jewel Tackett, and Papa, William Doyle Tackett, with their first-born grandchild, fall of 1955. She was 39, he 44.

Mama, Verna Jewel Tackett, and Papa, William Doyle Tackett, with their first-born grandchild, fall of 1955. She was 39, he 44, upon my arrival.

With the spate of recent craziness in the world and U.S. – and my concerns for my grandchildren’s futures – I find my thoughts turning frequently to lessons learned from my grandparents in the good old days.

Though time and circumstances are very different a half-century later, I hope someday my grandkids will remember love and lessons from me.

Since we didn’t live in the same town, every summer from the time I was 2, I – and later Cathy and I – spent two weeks in Russellville with Mother’s parents, Mama and Papa. Daddy’s parents, Nana and Daddy Lou, also lived in Russellville until I was 9, so it was a bit of a twofer, but the Tacketts were the custodials, and the Cartwrights the day-visits.

Mother pretty unashamedly did the happy dance upon dropping us off, but she has told me it stung a bit that we were so happy to go. The last year I made the pilgrimage  was the summer after the eighth grade, 1969. By that point, friends, the pool – and mainly the lack of a rock ’n’ roll radio station – plus my many babysitting jobs made it a no-go.

I vividly remember reading Farenheit 451 for the first time that last summer in Russellville. I remember also meeting some young teen neighbors to hang out with, but, oddly, I thought, considering they were a small town crew, they were too wild for me, the sophisticated city girl. Working mom, brothers hanging from the rafters – I’ll just go back across the street and hang out with my creative grandmother and little sister, thank you very much.

I learned many lessons during the years I did go.

One was that I was a little ray of sunshine who would always be the center of someone’s universe, at least as long as my grandparents and great aunt and uncle were alive. John seems to take that position now, which would make Papa very, very happy. After he died, Mama told me Papa would’ve never thought any man worthy of me, but I think he’d approve.

Uncle Johnny Blaiotta, whose family emigrated from Italy to San Francisco when he was 10, and my Aunt Opal, Papa's older (by two years) sister. She called him "Cookie," and they were childless lovebirds. They doted on Mother and Uncle Bill then doted on us. Just have to include them because they were so stinking cute.

Uncle Johnny Blaiotta, whose family immigrated from Italy to San Francisco when he was 10, and my Aunt Opal, Papa’s older (by two years) sister. Aunt Opal called Uncle Johnny “Cookie,” and they were childless lovebirds. They doted on Mother and Uncle Bill then doted on all their children. Just have to include this picture because they were so stinking cute when they came back to visit from California in 1957.

Having such crazy-young grandparents meant that we got to have them for a very long time – and that my children got to know them, love them and even go spend the weekend with them a time or two.

This has got to be their 70th and 75th birthdays, judging by the hats and the ages of Liz, Ben and Robert. Look how tickled Papa is -he loved a good time and a big laugh.

This has got to be their 70th and 75th birthdays, judging by the hats and the ages of Liz, Ben and Robert. Look how tickled Papa is – he loved a good time and a big laugh. April 15, 1916, and April 24, 1911, were their birthrates.

OK, I’m short on time, so let me focus:

From my grandfather I learned how to vegetable garden. I didn’t realize that I was learning at the time – I thought we were just hanging out. But later, after becoming a gardener myself, I realized just how much he’d taught me, and he was a ready reference for any question I might have.

I learned that a good sense of humor can take you a long way. And that a little mischief never hurt anything, especially if you don’t get caught. But if you do, if you’re crafty, you can finagle your way out of too much trouble.

Example from one of his favorite stories about when I was 2:

Papa: “Laura, am I going to have to spank you?”

Laura: “Now, Papa, you wouldn’t spank your sweet little granddaughter, would you?”

Turns out, no, he wouldn’t. He laughed hard instead. 

But he would give Cathy a quick firm swat on the rear when she stood up in the fishing boat on Lake Dardenelle after being repeatedly cautioned against standing in the boat.

Turns out our grandfather who could do anything couldn’t do one critical thing, and that was swim. Cathy nearly gave him the heart attack he had in his front  yard years later – one from which he did recover and live another decade.

I don’t even know if we were wearing lifejackets. It was the early ’60s and times were lax. Oh, yeah, he taught us to fish.

Papa took us to see Von Ryan’s Express at the drive-in movie, something we thought was ubercool. He taught us that even though you hung the moon and stars, you still go play in the yard and get out of the adults’ hair. You do get homemade chocolate chip cookies for breakfast, but you don’t sass or interrupt adults.

He taught me that sitting on a limb of the mulberry tree in my great-grandmother’s backyard next to the train track – that I wasn’t allowed to climb – to wave at him as he passed by driving the train was our little secret and didn’t hurt anybody, as long as I didn’t fall.

Never fell. I did sport lots of blue lips, though. And denied to high heaven having eaten unwashed mulberries.

The berry doesn’t fall very far from the grandfather, from stories I’ve heard about him.

We had him until he was 80. Wasn’t long enough.

From my grandmother I learned to sew. I learned to cook. I learned that I could do anything, make anything, be anything, if I just studied it enough to figure it out.

She had no education beyond high school but was very smart, creative and talented. She exuded love and taught us that, ultimately, it is indeed all you need to have a successful life.

She had an innate wisdom and an old soul. She was zen and Papa was zest. They were a perfect balance.

Mama used to counsel me on being married to a slightly older man and told me that in some time spans the difference wouldn’t be noticeable but at other times, it would and you just had to have patience.

Oh, yeah, my grandmother taught me about patience. And acceptance. And second chances. And hope.

She used to pull Cathy and me aside when we were pulling our hair out over our wild little sons and tell us, “Your mother means well, but she doesn’t understand – she never raised a boy.”

She taught me that politics count and voting is a duty, no matter how small the election. She and Papa worked the polls every election that came around after he retired.  She respected the president, whoever occupied the office, but she she was a proud, self-proclaimed yellow-dog Democrat who believed people needed to take care of each other.

Though we were sick to lose her, we were all glad she was spared living through Sept. 11 and the invasion of Iraq. Her heart full of love would’ve shattered over those events.

She died at 85 in the summer of 2001. Still lived at home. Never drove a car. Never raised her voice.

She never needed to – we could hear her loud and clear. Still can.

This is one of my favorite pictures in the world. Liz and Papa hanging out in the kitchen on South Laredo in Russellville.

This is one of my favorite pictures in the world. Liz and Papa hanging out in the kitchen on South Laredo in Russellville. They’d been playing some kind of wooden game that Liz is holding, I think.

 

 

 

 

 

 

A song for you

Enjoying our anniversary outside Kensington Palace, after tea and scones. The day was windy but warm and beautiful.

Enjoying our anniversary outside Kensington Palace, after tea and scones. The day was windy but warm and beautiful.

John and I recently celebrated our 10th wedding anniversary – in London, after which we chunnelled to Paris. The trip was quick but pretty perfect. (More on that to come – photos are scattered across two iPhones and a camera.)

Ten years have gone in a blink but it’s hard to remember a time when we weren’t together. That’s the dichotomy of love, I suppose.

In addition to the trip, my anniversary present is my fabulous red Anya Sushko London handbag – and John’s is, I guess, the privilege of putting up with me. So, John dear, a bit belatedly, this is my song for you.

My handsome, handsome husband on the stoop of the building on Kilbourne Road in London that he lived in for a few months in 1971.

My handsome, handsome husband on the stoop of the building on Kilbourne Road in London in which he lived for a few months as a college student in 1971.

Thank you for loving me. Thank you for loving my family as much as you love me. (And isn’t it nice that I love your family, too?) Thank you for your patience and gentle spirit.

And thank you for wanting me to have the nicest handbag an old girl could ever have.

So this is me with my bag; Anya Sushko, who hand made it just for me (!); and my step-step-daughter Laura Fischer – Marie-Noelle's little sister with different dad. The Store at ESSE Purse Museum, where I spend much of my time, is the only place in the U.S. that sells Anya's bags. Since we were headed over and planned to meet, I picked mine up at her studio instead of having it shipped over.

So this is my bag; designer/artist Anya Sushko, who handmade it just for me (!); and my step-step-daughter Laura Fischer – Marie-Noelle’s little sister with a different dad.

The Store at ESSE Purse Museum, where I spend much of my time, is the only place in the U.S. that sells Anya Sushko’s bags. I’d been flirting with the fabulous pink purse in our store, but for long-term commitment, I always go red and placed a special order with Anya. Since we were headed to London and had planned to meet her anyway, I picked up my bag at Anya’s studio instead of having it shipped over to the store.

Anya’s a wonder and a delight. My bag is a future family heirloom.

Marie-Noelle’s little sister Laura (same mom, different dad)  attends Central St. Martins College of Art and Design in London (where Anya did her foundation year), so we got to spend time with little Laura, which was another delight of the trip. People thought we were her parents – funny how we all look alike.

In the week we were gone, Silas went from toddling to flat-out walking and talking a little bit. Time marches on.

And John and I keep marching together. Here’s to our next 10. I love you.

Smiling at the hubby in Montmartre.

Smiling at the hubby in Montmartre.

Time of the season

So, first let me clear something up – it’s the time of the season to catch up in a hurry because John was right and I was wrong. We are a season behind on The Walking Dead, we think because I’d overdosed on gore (even fake barbecue-guts gore) and refused to watch for a while, though, frankly, we’re too old to remember for sure.

We may be in an older demographic, but we definitely fall into the new TV-watching model of watching nothing for a while then bingeing our brains out, so now we’re in heavy zombie-binge mode.

(And this gave me a good excuse to refer to one of my favorite Zombies’ songs.)

I think we watched one episode earlier this week, but I know we stayed up way too late the last two nights watching (“Just one more?”) three episodes in a row. Without commercials, they’re 43 minutes each, so it could be worse. But still.

We started our binge and purge cycles of watching with Weeds (caught up for the last season), followed that with Mad Men (we’re caught up and waiting on the next season), then Arrested Development in record time. We’re halfway through the new shows, which aren’t as compellingly funny as the originals, though we do have to finish. We’ve invested time and, well, they’re still addictive and dopey.

John also binged on Breaking Bad, but I refused to join him. I can only give so much of my reading and doing time to television. I recognize that it was great – and I was thrilled to see that an episode was titled “Ozymandias.” Clever, clever writers. I knew in a flash what was going down just by knowing the poem by Shelley.

So I probably would have liked the show. I watched the last episode with John, though, so I won’t go back. Too many books are stacked in too many piles around my house (and now on my iPad, as well). They whisper “Laura! Laura!” to remind me how behind I am.

Such is life.

Put a little love in your heart

Again, those of you who know me personally know how hard it is to stay away from politics, especially at times like these. But this is not that forum, it’s The Lolly Diaries – so let me just say, “Wake up, people! Budget impasse over giving people access to health care? Self-immolation on the National Mall?”

Haven’t we learned anything from the past?

Put a little love in your hearts, please. Actually, just let it beat stronger, because surely it’s already there. We’re way past the wonder years, but surely we haven’t passed the river of no return.

Pass the damn budget, love your Mother and save the world for our darling grandchildren.

Last night, despite the insomnia, a few highly unpleasant dreams invaded what sleep I did get. When watching or reading the news gives you nightmares, you know things are bad.

So this evening I rant. Doesn’t happen often. But look at these faces and tell me we don’t have cause for concern at the stupidity that passes for our House of Representatives – and millions of little reasons like them to make the world a better, safer place, not one that keeps grandmothers awake at night.

I’ll lend you some love – we’ve got it in abundance.

If kids don’t do it for you, how about meditating on this?

From our table at Lemongrass Bistro, a Thai restaurant par excellence.

From our table at Lemongrass Asian Bistro, a Thai restaurant par excellence.

That’s just a little photo from our table at Lemongrass Asian Bistro in North LIttle Rock. Fabulous food, friendly service – an oasis of peace and beauty.

They’re everywhere. Just open your eyes and your hearts.

Rant over. Concern – nah, still there. But maybe I’ll sleep tonight.

My carnival

At first this post was going to be titled “another day,” because when you turn 58, it is just another birthday of many and not that big a deal.

But for my family and friends, that’s just not true. It turned instead into an extended celebration, as usual – my carnival started Friday and lasted through Sunday evening. Actually, it started a few days earlier when the dogs called me to the front door to catch John dragging a large smart TV for the bedroom into the foyer.

“Uh, happy birthday, ” he said. Oops. Great gift, even if Tess, Zuz and I spoiled the surprise.

Friday morning, Mother and I lit out for Springdale to pick up her darling little dog, called “Lollipop” by the rescue folks, but transitioned to “Polly” by Mother to spare confusion, since John and I are Lolly and Pop. Seeing her joy over the little white ball of love was the best gift I could have gotten.

John puts together little Lollipop/Polly's crate while she looks on approvingly. She loves it.

John puts together little Lollipop/Polly’s crate while she looks on approvingly. She loves it.

That evening our friends Julia and Rich came over with gifts and we had an old-fashioned cocktail in Waterford hi-ball glasses (Julia and me) and one beer each for the guys, while we watched the 2-hour Dateline episode featuring the freaky FDLS compound and Warren Jeffs’ arrest. Julia and I are somewhat obsessed with those folks. (So is my daughter-in-law, whom I got addicted with John Krakauer’s Under the Banner of Heaven.) The guys made fun of us for our exciting evening, but they ended up watching it too.

Like a train wreck they are. I dare you to look away.

Saturday Jude decreed that Lolly must have cupcakes on her birthday, so Liz got up early and made six heavenly vegan cupcakes, which she and the kids brought over before the Razorback game started. Liz and I also shopped at the South Main Vintage Market, scoring big on two chairs for $10 each and a set of 1950’s painted aluminum small tumblers and a pitcher.

Could’ve been from the year I was born. Close, anyway. And we got a vintage wooden Playskool school bus puzzle thrown in to boot. Sylvia’s obsessed with school busses. (I guess obsessiveness is a family trait.)

Bill Maher ever so kindly came to Arkansas on my birthday (Sept. 14, a day I share with my friends Allison Langston, Ron Wolfe and Paula Putt – and Joey Heatherton, one of John’s and my dad’s dream girls in the ’60’s), so my sister, Cathy, way-back-from-high-school friend, Anita, and I got tickets as soon as they went on sale.

After dinner at Vino’s with John and Paul, we went to Robinson Auditorium, where we were seated in front of my friends Dauphne and Cassandra, so the five of us enjoyed the show together. (Dauphne and I have been bemoaning our busy schedules keeping us from getting together. Coolness.)

Then today was the big family hoorah at Mother’s. Six children (my five grands and Cathy’s one), a new doggie, Rhonda and Mike, and all the family adults made for a big noisy bunch. Mother had a heavenly carrot cake and a whiskey bundt cake with whipped cream. I had too much of each and thought I’d never eat again, but oddly, I find myself getting almost hungry at almost 8 p.m.

So now it’s winding down. I have fabulous and funny cards, nice gifts, fantastic and loving family and friends and good health. Growing old is a breeze, sort of. It’s definitely worth doing, even if in my mind I still look like this:

My

My “official” 18th birthday portrait.

Instead of this:

I guess this is my official 58th birthday portrait. John took it.

I guess this is my official 58th birthday portrait. John took it.

Whatever. I just hope the birthdays keep coming.

I’m now 10 years older than Daddy was when he died of cancer. He’d be so proud of us all.