Monday, November 11, 2019

Jean on Dictionaries & Silver Sneakers

For several months now, Jean has been obsessed with dictionaries.

It is an obsession I share.  I grieved when my two volumes of the Compact Oxford English Dictionary fell apart.

We still have a lot of books that define words.  An American Sign Language Dictionary, an American Heritage Dictionary, a Roget II Thesaurus, a Webster’s Thesaurus.

And a Funk & Wagnall’s Collegiate Dictionary belonging to my father Jack.  The inscription reads:

Jacky R. Ettinger Xmas ‘44

The binding is worn, the pages are yellow.  But the words remain.

When Jean first asked me the meaning of a word, I went to & printed out the definition.

That worked for years.  Until the requests for a dictionary of her own grew recently became more vocal, more insistent.

My research was no longer acceptable.  Jean wanted a hardcover copy of a dictionary.

I understand that tactile need - to hold a book, to touch a text, absorb it.  To engage in the play, the exchange between reader & text.

The fonts in all our books that define words were too small for Jean to read.  The size of a text’s font is always a challenge for her.

Last week, Jean made it clear:

I need to talk to you.  I need a dictionary when I read a book. 

Naturally, I went to Amazon.  Large print dictionaries for adults are rare.  I scrolled through large print editions, almost all designed for children. 

Finally, I found a hardcover, large print volume for high school students.  The Webster’s New Explorer Large Print Dictionary.

It arrived via the magic of Amazon Prime over the weekend.  I gave it to Jean the next morning after church as a surprise.

When Jean reads, the Dictionary is on her tray along with whatever book she has chosen.  Often when I check on her, it is open.

In addition to a dictionary of her own, Jean has been lobbying for silver sneakers. 

At first, I suggested that sneakers would be uncomfortable in bed.  She has a supply of sequined slippers, in a variety of colors, that slip gently onto her feet.

She countered:

I bet if I had silver sneakers, I could get up & walk.

At first, I thought her request was inspired by my glittery silver Toms.  But silver sneakers entered the conversation no matter what shoes I was wearing.

If I had silver sneakers, I bet I could fly.

Recently, the desire for silver sneakers has escalated.  Tonight, we watched a news story about Queen Elizabeth giving up fur in favor of fake fur.

Jean joked:
My goodness, what is the world coming to?

I commented that we would never seen Liz in furs again.

Then Jean said:
Now I really wish I had my silver sneakers.

I asked her what she would do in her silver sneakers.

I would get up & run.  Or better yet, I would get up & walk.

When I asked if silver sneakers were magic, she assured me that they were.

Next, I asked her how she knew about magic silver sneakers.

Well, they talk about them all the time on TV.

I replied:
No doubt we both need magic sneakers.

It hit me then (I am often slow on the uptake) that the magic silver sneakers Jean heard about all the time on TV referred to “Silver Sneakers,” the gym memberships available with many Medicare plans.

Somehow Jean pulled out that thread – silver sneakers - & wove into a narrative of her own.  A magic, life altering tool that would return the mobility taken from her by her Parkinson’s.

I ordered the silver sneakers a few days ago – they arrived this evening.  They are quite fine & exude glittery magic.

Now I am faced with a dilemma. 

Do I save the magic silver sneakers for Christmas, or do I give them to Jean now so that she can begin to get up & soar?

Thursday, October 17, 2019

Jaki Jean on the Battle for the BIrd Feeder - J.J. vs. the Furry Tailed Invaders

Sometime in the early 1970s, one of the builders in what is now Meadows Place grew irritated with the number of squirrels occupying the majestic trees in his upscale Memorial area home.  He had his crew set traps, capture as many squirrels as possible & transport the furry tailed rodents to the unincorporated area formerly known as The Meadows.

Or so the local legend goes.

As the trees Jack & Jean planted in the back yard grew, so did the yard’s squirrel population. 

Growing up, I never thought about the squirrels much. Had I known then that Rocky the Flying Squirrel was a rodent, I might have paid more attention.

And stopped watching the cartoon.

In the interest of transparency, I have to disclose that I despise squirrels.  I would despise squirrels even if I had never discovered that they were rodents with a furry tail.

For the past thirty odd years, I have waged open war on the squirrels in our backyard. 

I understand that squirrels are part of our ecosystem.  I just want them to behave or be part of that system anywhere but my back yard.

Squirrels are not cute & fluffy.  Like all rodents, they possess continuously growing incisors on both their upper & lower jaws.

Continuously growing. Ever ready to chomp down, to destroy, to infect.  As fellow mammals, negotiation would appear to be advisable.

Over the years, I have tried to coexist peacefully – but squirrels do not play well with others.

I have fed them, filling a squirrel feeder with squirrel food.  I have given them gobs of yummy corn cobs to feast upon.  I have respected their presence in our shared space.

And still the squirrels constantly attempt a coup to conquer the bird feeder.

No amount of redirecting has resulted in a truce, in a lessening of attacks, in the establishment of a neutral zone.

Recently, I tried oiling the feeder pole.  The squirrels laughed. 

I tried placing a cactus with enormous prickly spine needles at the base of the feeder pole.  The squirrels laughed.

I read that while birds like red pepper flakes mixed in their food, squirrels hate it.

But because my squirrels have lived for generations in Texas, their taste buds are unfazed by hot & spicy. 

So they laughed.

In desperation, I went to where we all go for answers sooner or later – first, Google & then, Amazon.

There I discovered the Audubon Wrap Around Squirrel Baffle.  Available for next day delivery with Prime.

When the Baffle arrived, I was hesitant.  But it was a gamble I was willing to take. 

If the squirrels were unable to penetrate the Baffle, there was hope for tolerable coexistence.

If the Baffle was unable to deter the squirrels, it could be returned, with disappointment.

Initial installation was a challenge, but after attempts, the Baffle remained in place.

And then the squirrels descended from their lairs in the trees.
I watched.

I watched as those furry tailed rodents tried to climb the feeder pole – only to crash into the Baffle’s barrier.

I watched as squirrels circled the area under the Baffle barrier, contemplating their ascent.  I watched as they attempted a flying leap, only to slide down its edge under their own weight.

I watched all of this devoid of sympathy or compassion.  Indeed, I watched with a sadistic satisfaction.

After several days devoid of avian feeding, I told my brother that I thought the birds were intimated by the Baffle.  

He replied:  They will get over it.

One morning, after days of doubting the wisdom of my weapon of choice, the first birds reappeared.

A pair of cardinals.

Not a pair of doves, but still a sign of peace.  Or at least, a sign of peaceful co-existence.

After many weeks, the furry tailed rodents began to reappear.  Especially after the rain.

But still Baffled.

However, unknown to me, the furry tailed rodents had spent their time away plotting – devising a strategy to outwit the Baffle.

Although I have yet to discern the details of their strategy, I have witnessed them hanging from the tray of the bird feeder.  Baffle in place.

The furry tailed rodents have underestimated my commitment to protect the bird feeder from invasion.

Recently, I replaced Chris Stapleton in the CD of my car with Springsteen’s Born in the USA.  Springsteen has a way of renewing my resolve, my confidence.

So I wait & I watch, the same refrain playing in my soul:

No retreat, baby, no surrender.

This battle is not over.

Friday, July 19, 2019

Where were you that July afternoon?

River's getting dirty
The wind in getting bad
War and hate are killing off
The only earth we have
But the whole world stopped to watch it
On that July afternoon
Watched a man named Armstrong
Walk upon the moon

And I wonder if a long time ago
Somewhere in the universe
They watched a man named Adam
Walk upon the earth
“Armstrong” by Lobo

Where were you that July afternoon fifty years ago?

I was in El  Paso with my family, watching & listening as Walter Cronkite chronicled the Apollo 11 mission to put a man on Moon.

Along with 600 million people around the world, we heard Cronkite announce:

“Armstrong is on the moon! Neil Armstrong, a 38-year-old American, is standing on the surface of the moon! On this July twentieth, nineteen hundred and sixty-nine.”

I remember my family & I going into our backyard that evening, the open desert & hills behind us.  It is one those memories that never leaves you.  Gazing up at the moon, the world filled with wonder, joy & possibility. 

Never before have we needed another moment, a light, to remind us of our potential for hope, triumph & marvel.

A moment, a light like the one we experienced that afternoon fifty years ago.

Sunday, June 2, 2019

Jaki Jean on Jean & Alternative Realities

It began gradually.  It wasn’t an unfamiliar occurrence but I was still unprepared.  It had been many years & the episodes were always in a hospital setting.  I should have been prepared.  I should have Googled it.  I admit I did not want to face it.

At first it was fleeting & quickly redirected.  Always at night. 
There is someone in the bathroom.  There is someone in the room who should not be here.  I see a strange man.  There is a child standing in the corner.  Who is standing next to my bed?

Reassurances were readily accepted in the beginning.

I would get out of my futon bed, turn on the lights, search & announce there was no intruder, no extra person in the house.  No strangers.  No lost child.  No one next to her bed but me.

But Jean’s visits to alternative realities & dimensions have increased & intensified. 

At times, I awaken to her screaming my name.

Call you sister.  She needs to know what is going on. 
I ask her what is going on.
Can’t you see ?!!?!!?!!

I tell her that I don’t see.  I ask her to please tell me what is going on.

They are trying to take away our phone.

I ask why anyone would want our phone.  It is a land line, I tell her.  No one wants a thirty-year-old land line phone.  No one calls us on it – we use it for your pacemaker monitor. 

They don’t want us to have it.  They think we shouldn’t have it.  Call your sister.

For a moment, I try to imagine calling my sister, waking her & her husband up to tell them that someone is trying to take away Jean’s phone.  I try to envision asking my sister to reassure Jean that no one is trying to take the phone away.  No one will take the phone away.

The moment passes & I tell Jean again that the phone on the nightstand next to her bed is safe and sound.

Jean doesn’t believe me & she is angry and frustrated with my ignorance & lack of action.

Sometimes there are things crawling on the wall.  I have tried turning on the lights & asking her where on the wall.  Jean points & I walk over & look.  

But looking is not enough.  She wants me to see it, to validate what she sees.

One morning, just after midnight, Jean wakes up to tell me that it is 12:00.  I ask her why she is waking me up to tell me that it is 12:00 in the morning.

It is 12:00 in the afternoon.  You have been sleeping all day.

I protest that I have not been sleeping all day.  That we watched “Murder She Wrote” & went to bed at 11 pm.  Look out the patio door – it is dark outside.

But one of our neighbors behind us, the one with the Women for Trump sign still displayed in an upstairs window, has turned on their floodlight & there is light out the patio window when I am claiming darkness.

My credibility that early morning took an enormous hit.

Sometimes there are nightmares.  Jean screaming, crying out things like Why are you doing that?  When I awaken her, telling her it was just a dream, she firmly tells me the same thing - that she was NOT dreaming.

There is also the matter of the dancing objects & objects Jean is sure are going to fall.  Doors dance, furniture dances. Sometimes walls dance.  The clock is going to fall – it is too close to the edge.   Books, DVDs, pictures are falling.

Two nights ago, it was the candy bowl in danger of falling. The inexpensive covered bowl, which Jean calls My Candy Bowl in spite of the fact that I bought the candy dish at Walgreen’s for my desk at work to hold Dove chocolates - is going to fall.

I showed Jean that the bowl was nowhere near the edge of the dresser & in no danger of falling.

I wanted her to believe me.  

But the next day, she called for me with her whistle & said:

My candy bowl is in danger of falling.  You need to move it.

A kinder & gentler Jaki Jean would have just moved the bowl. 

Instead, I removed the bowl entirely. 

I wanted to smash it.  I wanted to smash the moment & take it away.  But the moments when Jean’s world is in another reality are not going to go away.

When I asked Jean why she does not believe me when I assure her that no one is there, that nothing is dancing, that there is no danger of falling, why she doesn't trust me, she replied: 

Jaki, I don’t know.  But the candy bowl was dancing around everywhere.

And my heart broke a little more as I left the room. 

Hallucinations are a side affect of Parkinson’s Disease. It is something I should have known from the beginning, something I should have prepared for.  I have yet to find a doctor or nurse that thinks the medicine advertising on TV is effective.

The hallucinations are not going to go away & I cannot smash them. I cannot remove them from the room & make them stop falling or dancing.

So I pray. 

Not that the journeys to other realities will cease.  

I pray I will develop the wisdom & patience to handle them without seeing the look of disbelief & frustration on my mother’s face.

Last night, Jean woke me up at 2:00 am to ask for her book.  I pointed out the time, that it was time to sleep, not time to read.  

Everyone else has a book.

Still believing in my powers of persuasion,  I assure her that no one else is reading their books.  Everyone else is sleeping.  

Unconvinced & displeased, she said O'kay.  

Next time I will give her the book.

Tuesday, January 22, 2019

Jaki Jean on Jean & Martin Luther King, Jr.

Over this past weekend, as cable news relentlessly discussed the president’s lack of participation in or recognition of a federal holiday dedicated to Martin Luther King, Jr., Jean asked why no one was broadcasting King’s “I Have a Dream” speech.
She also began to advocate to hear it again.

While I assured her that if no one broadcast it, I would find it on the Internet & plug my computer into her television, Jean was dubious.

Monday morning, she firmly demanded to hear King’s speech in a voice I recognized from my childhood: 

I want to hear the speech.

It was the same voice that would say Some one needs to feed the dogs.

I remembered the time Jean said Some one needs to feed the dogs one too many times without the expected response to her call for action. 

I protested that it was not my turn to feed the dogs.

 Jean threw a shoe across the room at me & said:

 I don't care whose turn it is, go feed the damned dogs.

Jean's voice yesterday morning, & the possibility of a flying object in my direction, inspired an instant response to  her call for action.

I began to scour the web.

Jean’s admiration of Martin Luther King, Jr. began in the 1960’s, during the Civil Rights movement.

I can remember watching a broadcast of the 1963 March on Washington with Jean, hearing King's  I Have a Dream speech for the first time.

When it was over, she said:

I would follow that man anywhere.

That day, hearing King & Jean, my nine-year-old self began to awaken to the realization that difference in skin color resulted in something unfair & inequitable.

(Although I am quite sure I did not use the word inequitable.)

That day laid the groundwork for the person I grew into; the groundwork for the mantra that would define the person I continuously try to be:

Integration without assimilation, union without loss of self, 
difference without dominance.

I found a documentary on MLK, but when Jean watched it, it did not contain his I have a Dream speech.

But, through the wonders of You Tube, I had a backup plan -  a video of The Speech.

We watched it together.

As we watched, Jean's focus never wavered, her eyes never left the screen.

LIsening, I was reminded that Martin Luther King was about inclusion – for all of God’s children.  For all of God’s children to be judged by the content of their character, not the color of their skin.

Martin Luther King’s work was not about building walls designed to exclude & divide.
King's legacy is the antithesis of the current administration’s need to inflame identity politics & promote racial, ethnic & socio-economic division across the country.

For the Vice-President to usurp King’s words to compare the efforts of an inept President to promote an ineffective Wall along the southern border was not merely audacious & unconscionable. 

It was obscene.

Jean was not amused.

My father Jack instilled a fervent interest in politics in my inquiring mind.  My mother Jean opened a different exploration.

An intense need to understand inequity & injustice.  A need to reconcile division & subjection with what I knew in my soul could be a very different, a finer, world.

I have shared almost 65 years of Jean’s 83 years in this realm.  I have marveled that this loving & intelligent & witty woman guided by a deeply rooted faith & convictions is my mother.

As we watched & listened to King today, I thought about this journey I am sharing with Jean.  A journey I am honored & privileged to share with the remarkable woman who is my mother.

When the You Tube video was over, I said I wish we had a thousand more of him.  Jean responded So do I.

One day, a day that will be all too soon for me, Jean will join her parents, her siblings & their spouses, her husband & the son they brought into the world, in a new realm.

And she will join the man she would follow anywhere.

I have a dream that one day, down in Alabama, with its vicious racists, with its governor having his lips dripping with the words of interposition and nullification; one day right there in Alabama, little black boys and black girls will be able to join hands with little white boys and white girls as sisters and brothers.
I have a dream today.

Tuesday, January 1, 2019

Dick & Jane & a Sixth Grade Reader from Helen

This past October, my BFF from the second grade, Sue Ann McLauchlan Faulkner, forwarded this Do You Remember ?  post on Facebook:

Of course, I do remember Dick & Jane.  Dick went up the hill.  See Dick go up the hill.  Dick came down the hill.  See Dick go down the hill.  Jane went up the hill . . Dick & Jane went up the hill . . .see Dick & Jane go down the hill.

Dick & Jane (Dick first, Jane second) are firmly etched in shared memories of the elementary school education Sue & I experienced.

In my fifties, I became obsessed with Dick & Jane when I first became aware of how elementary & young adult fiction has changed since those days I shared with Sue at Cabell Elementary.

For a long time, my perception was that I went from Dick & Jane to Jane Eyre.  Of course, that perception is a memory morphed into myth.

But none of texts I read between Dick & Jane & Jane Eyre imprinted themselves into my text.

There is, of course, a certain sweet serendipity in a mythic move from one Jane to another.

Sue & I were in the smart class at Cabell Elementary.  In those days, it was not called accelerated or advanced or gifted & talented or AP.  Just the same group of advanced, gifted & talented kids promoted together each year.

Our fourth-grade teacher deemed us incorrigible. 

Our reading comprehensive skills were taught via the SRA (Science Research Associates) reading program.  

Our reading was tracked by how many levels we successfully mastered.  It was not necessarily about how fast we read, but by how well we comprehended the material.

So we went from Dick & Jane to a competitive program that took our reading scores levels beyond our grade level.

We were the smart kids.

My grandmother Helen gave me copies of Jane Eyre & Wuthering Heights when I was still in elementary school.  They were exquisite volumes, illustrated with detailed etchings.  The volumes had been Helen’s when she was a young girl.

Helen & I had a complicated relationship.  But she was amazing.  

As a child, Helen lost her hearing.  I no longer remember the entire circumstances, but from the moment I first knew her, she wore a hearing aid.  When I was very young, the hearing aid was attached by wire to a box she tucked inside her bra.  Eventually, hearing aid technology advanced & the box & wire disappeared.
When Helen was young, the hearing aid boxes were larger, too large to fit inside a bra.  They were worn on the side, like a large, ugly hanging purse.

After she finished teacher’s college, Helen taught school.  Wearing that enormous box strapped to her when she stood before her sixth-grade students.

I think about that young teacher, so much of her life defined by what she could & could not hear.  About how brave it was to go to college; how brave it was to stand before her students with her hearing challenges.

Helen gave me a book I still possess.  Copyright:  1919  Still available on Amazon.

The Boys and Girls Readers, Sixth Reader
By Emma Miller Bolenius

In our childhood, I used to recruit my younger sister & brother to play School.  I was, of course, the teacher & they were the class.  If they declined my invitation, I simply taught imaginary children.

Although I was too young to understand the To the Teacher section or the book’s six parts & subsections, possessing the book gave me confidence.

Exploring its contents now, I am amazed at what sixth graders were expected to read. 

Because I remember sixth grade well – & I do not remember reading Sir Walter Scott, Emerson, Walt Whitman, Ben Johnson, Cervantes, Ovid, or Tolstoy.

I marvel now at the current wealth of young adult fiction available.  The Higher Power of Lucky – which I read because it was banned from school libraries – it used the word scrotum about a dog.

The Girl Who Could Fly, Rules, A Series of Unfortunate Events, Chasing Vermeer, Wonderstruck, The Book Thief, The Giver, The Invention of Hugo Cabret, Gaby Lost & Found, Allie First at Last, Me Frida & the Secret of the Peacock Ring - & wedged between the very adult Foucault & Eagleton’s Literary Theory, my seven volumes of Harry Potter on my shelves

And always, always, A Wrinkle in Time.

When I turned sixty, Sue Ann McLauchlan Faulkner, the same BFF from second grade who inspired this missive, created a Raggedy Ann Jaki Jean.  Sue is famous among those lucky enough to wander into her orbit & receive one of her Raggedy Anns or Andys.

Raggedy Jaki Jean has red hair & freckles, sparkly blue shoes, lady bugs, a calming jar, a pocket of Smurfs & a book bag with three books.

Jane Eyre, To the Lighthouse, A Wrinkle in Time

Memory, as I have mentioned, often morphs into myth.

My sweet friend Sue’s post about Dick & Jane initiated a time travel.  Not by tessering, but by rethinking & reexamining.

Rethinking my complicated relationship with my grandmother Helen.  Who gave me books.  Who gave her only son’s family Reader’s Digest Condensed Books & Reader Digest Condensed Children’s Books.

Condensed books that always sent me to the library to read the full version.

I read, not because of a program from my childhood, but because my parents read, both sets of my grandparents read.  I read because of libraries.  

In a time when book stores were rare & out of reach, my mother took her children to the library.  I read because library time was important in the public schools of my childhood. 

I read because I cannot imagine not reading.

And because I am still waiting for Jane to go up & down the hill without any thoughts about Dick, all on her own.