December 31, 2008

I Need a Man!

The garbage disposal isn’t working. I can’t find a reset button on it. The damned thing is plugged in firmly to the electrical receptacle and the circuit breaker is turned on. What next? What do I do? Who do I call?---a plumber or an electrician? I hate dilemmas like this! They make me feel so much like a---like a caregiver. And I’m saying that last word with a giant sized sneer. I don’t have a ‘go-to’ guy anymore. Cry, sob, sob. Feeling sorry for little old me. I don’t have a ‘honey-do’ list for Don. I don’t have a Mr. Fix-it to call on twenty-four hours a day. I don’t! I DON’T! I don’t want my husband’s stroke in my life anymore!

I get the tires rotated on the Blazer. I get that vehicle serviced faithfully on schedule. I go to the car wash. I pump my own gas. Jeez, I even unplug the toilet and fix its chain when it has PMS. I can think of a hundred ‘honey-do’ things woo-is-me took for granted in the past. Guy things are creeping up on me, boxing me in a corner. I feel them crawling all over my skin. Yuck! Get them off from me! Okay, so I was born in an era where we divided household chores up by the sexes. I can’t help that. There are certain guy things I just don’t like doing, and I don’t want to be the only ‘fix-it’ person in the house. Why do I have to be the mommy AND the daddy?

The really stupid part of this whole thing is that I rarely ever use that garbage disposal---I just run it for the dishwasher once in a while---and I have really fine screen baskets covering my kitchen sink drains. I don’t like smelly drains. I’m old school. I still wrap my garbage and put it in the trash. I’ve never owned a garbage disposal before we built this wheelchair accessible house. Old dogs can’t learn new tricks when they don't wanta get with the program. I’m going to be awake all night long worrying about the slimy little particles of food that the dishwasher is going to vomit into that garbage disposal. I’m going to worry about how that vomit is going to get out of the garbage disposal without those whirling blades to shred the crap out of it.

I found a tool that came with the garbage disposal, but there are no directions for what that tool is suppose to do. I want my daddy! DADDY! I know you’re an angel. Can’t you get a leave of absence and come hold my hand while I figure this out? I’m scared of garbage disposals. Don had one at his house years ago and I never ran that one either. They chew things. They spit up. They make scary noises and mangle forks. I can run a band saw and a circular saw. I can use a sander and I once took a welting class. I can drill holes and I can hammer. I used to owe a miniature lathe and I knew how to use it. I can plow snow and I knew how to run an asphalt compactor. I’ve even run a front-end loader and operated the gutter brushes on a street sweeper. But I DO NOT WANT TO FIX THE GARBAGE DISPOSAL! Is anyone listening? Why does it have to be so hard to live on the planet Aphasia? I want someone to talk to!

God, I’m crying. ©

Jean Riva

Sink Photo: Wikimedia Commons


December 30, 2008

Life is Perfect Even When it's Not

At the dentist office today, I took my wheelchair bound husband, Don, to the restroom. It’s a good one with grab bars situated so that he---with my help---can stand up to pee. But first we had to get him out of his coat. Its nylon and is so slippery it would be like holding on to slime, should I have to catch him in a fall. That task accomplished, I got Don’s pants down and held his shirt out of the way while both of us stood side by side waiting for the flow to start. It didn’t. So, I’m singing game show tunes in my head---the kind they play while a contestant is trying to come up with an answer while the clock ticks away. For some reason the wait seemed longer than usual which made me think of our friend who has a ‘shy bladder.’ He can’t pee if someone else is in the room.

“Ron better hope,” I said to Don, “that he never needs help peeing.” Don got the humor in that statement which gave us both the giggles. We were giggling and laughing so hard by the time the pee stream hit the bowl, it’s a wonder it found its mark and didn’t cover our shoes instead. The restroom is just a few feet from the receptionist’s desk and heaven knows what she was thought we were doing in there. The look on her face when we came out was priceless. She wanted to ask. Oh boy, did she want to ask but her phoo-phoo manners wouldn’t let her.

As I sat in the waiting room while Don got his teeth cleaned, I picked up an old copy of Real Simple magazine. On the first page I turned to was a Ralph Lauren double-page layout for Polo Black, a men’s fragrance that featured a hot model. And I do mean sexy as in take-off-your-clothes-and-let-me-see-the-rest-of-you sexy! I looked at him, and then around the room trying to figure out if the Thought Police was present. I decided that a dentist’s waiting room was not a good place to have a virtual organism, so I quick turned the page. Thanks goodness, the next page was a double-page layout for a Chevy. Cool. Keep those cars a selling, we need their pension money. I flipped through a few more pages and came to an ad for Starbucks coffee liqueur which was exactly what I needed after lusting after the Ralph Lauren guy. I’ve never smoked but that guy had me reaching into my purse for a pack of cigarettes.

By now I was beginning to think that the Real Simple magazine was nothing but advertisements. Duh, aren’t most of them? And sure enough, the next page was a double-page layout for American Express featuring Ellen DeGeneres. She says in the ad that her life is perfect, even when it’s not. Wow, what a nice thing to be able to say about your life! I think I actually know what she means.

Finally, I came across a few articles in the magazine. ‘What’s the Craziest Thing you ever did for Love?’ was the title of one article, and there were some notable answers like: “take skydiving lesson,” “move into a log cabin built in the 1800,” and “eloped 36 days after meeting someone.” Another article was titled, ‘Portrait of a Family.’ “There is humor in this,” I thought about finding these two articles, “because my family portrait and the craziest thing I ever did for love could be one and the same.” Yup, I’m getting out the oils and easel and painting a portrait of Don and myself. We’ll be standing side by side, leaning over a toilet bowl, expectantly looking down and hoping that neither one of us ends up with pee our shoes. Love doesn’t get much crazier than that, does it?

Jean Riva ©

Postcard: Park Kiss, circa 1900

December 29, 2008

A Typical Day on the Planet Aphasia

We got a late start this morning and it was well after noon before I sent my husband, Don, off to get started on his shower. An hour later I went to check on what was taking him so long to get his pre-shower routine out of the way and I found him sitting in his wheelchair in front of the TV in bedroom, absorbed in a soap opera. He hadn’t even begun the process yet!

Being the sweet, understanding wifey poo that I am---a woman who is in full command of the entire English language---I said, “What are you doing? It’s going to be fucking dark by the time we get to the grocery store!”

Don pointed to his favorite shrink from the Bold and the Beautiful soap opera whose beautiful face was filling up the TV screen. Taylor was the Friday cliff hanger. No wonder he couldn’t leave the show, he’s had a crush on her for three years. But I had his attention now and he proved it by wrapping his language disorder, aphasia, around a few of the words from the sentence I had just said. Yes, you can guess which words, but that wicked bitch Aphasia, she was messing with his head and the words came out as “sucking bark” instead of “fucking dark.”

I hung my head in shame. I knew what was coming and twenty lashes couldn't make me queue him to the proper pronunciation of my crude language. Sure enough, for the next hour I was treated to the ‘Sucking Bark Opera,’ sang at the top of Don’s lungs. The man only has a daily vocabulary of twenty-five words but he can sing one and two word “operas” just fine and dandy. When you’re not busy hating Aphasia, you’ve got to love her sense of humor. There’s a certain kind of poetic justice in the fact I should have an hour long reminder that I have to quit swearing. Aphasia, she took Don’s ability to talk factory profanity away from him and gave it to me. Now you know why I call her a wicked bitch.

Before cruising the aisles at the grocery store, I asked Don to watch my purse and our jackets in the shopping cart outside of the restroom door. He agreed. I did my thing and came out to find the cart deserted and Don twenty feet way. His back was to the cart and he was pointing to the label on the back of a woman’s jeans and she was saying, “You like my Levi’s?”

“Yes, yes,” he answered back. Don misses wearing Levi’s. They aren’t wheelchair or independent dressing compatible but he never misses an opportunity to point out a Levi label on the back of a woman’s butt. Guys in wheelchairs can get away with things like that.

“Don,” I teased, coming up behind him with the cart, “thanks for keeping an eye on my purse.”

He didn’t miss a beat. He pointed to the woman and said, “She.”

“She was watching the cart?”

“Yes!” he said with a wide-eyed innocent look of a little boy.

The woman winked at Don and agreed. He makes friends and finds co-conspirators every where.

I left the front area of the grocery store as Don was rolling off to the little bank at the front to collect some free pop corn and to get coffee at the Starbucks concession next door. My mini-vacation from the Planet Aphasia was about to begin. I was off to find the Red Baron.

Jean Riva ©

painting: Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec

December 28, 2008

The 25th Silver Anniversary Corvette

The first time we saw the ’78 Corvette it was two-three years old. A friend owned it and he wanted to borrow my husband, Don’s, pickup truck for the weekend so he offered to let us drive the Vette while he had our truck. The car was up for sale and to this day Don claims he wasn’t in the market to buy a sports car but that’s what happened the following Monday.

That weekend we took the car on a mini vacation up along Lake Michigan. The weather was perfect T-top weather and the tourist towns along the way had their usual laid back ambience. We were used to running around in trucks so it was fun hopping in and out of the little silver car with the red interior. Every where we parked little kids came up to admire the car or they’d yell out things like “nice car” as we drove by. Unbeknownst to us Barbie, the famous doll, had the very same car and they were used to seeing those classy fender lines parked in front of her pink house.

From that first weekend until Don had his stroke in 2000 the Corvette was put in storage in the winter months and it was only driven in the summers when we were on the way to having fun. It was a true fair weather and sunshine car and it holds nothing but good memories of closeness and talking under the stars as we drove home late at night.

Today the car made another trip. It had been in storage all this time since the stroke and I finally was able to get the garage organized enough to get the Vette home. The guy from the towing service was wonderful. He reacted quickly to Don’s one word attempt to tell him about the open windows on the car. Since the car was already on the flat bed ready to go down the highway, I told Don it could wait until we got it home to put the charger on the car to get the windows up. But the towing guy said, “Your husband is worried about the air going through the car.” So he lower the car back down and got the windows up. At the house he worked hard and very careful to get the car placed in a very difficult situation that included an up hill turn to back the car into our smallest bay. The guy was worried about cracking cement, digging up the lawn and breaking sprinkler heads. I wasn’t in the least. Money could fix any damage he could do and this homecoming was long over due.

In the end, there was no damage and we were happy to give him a good tip for his caring attitude and expertise. I asked Don after he left if he thought we’d accidentally played the sympathy card because the man only charge for the actual tow and didn’t write up putting air in the tires or getting power to the windows. The minute the words were out of my mouth I knew the question was anything but moot. Don couldn’t say the words but the look on his face said that no one in their right mind would have sympathy for a guy with a classic Corvette sitting in the garage of his dreams that is attached to the new house of his dreams. Sometimes I think he forgets he’s a stroke survivor sitting in a wheelchair with a severe language disorder. Today, he was just one very happy guy with a piece of his history back.

Jean Riva ©


December 27, 2008

Funeral Crashing, Aphasia Style

My husband, Don, is an obituary clipper. It’s not a hobby that he picked up since becoming a ‘certain age’ like most people would assume of old people who have a box full of newspaper announcements of this sort. He’s been doing this for at least thirty-five years. Don has a memory like an elephant and he also knew a lot of people, so his collection of clippings was huge at the time of his massive stroke when the collection got thrown out with our move to a wheelchair accessible house. When his ability to read returned, several years later, back came the obituary clipper part of his personality.

In Don’s distance past he worked at a funeral home as an after school job while he was in high school. He did various things like take the hearse to the hospital to pick up bodies, put flags on cars on funeral days and wash black vehicles. They liked him so much that they wanted to pay his way into undertaking school but he wasn’t buying that as a career choice. The experience did give my husband a special reverence for the importance of funerals and he never looked for excuses not to go to one. In Don’s book, it’s a duty to honor the dead and comfort the living and he’s not about to close that book now that he uses a wheelchair and can’t talk due to his severe stroke related language disorders, aphasia and apraxia.

In the past, of course, there were many funerals that he went to that I didn’t have to attend because I had no history with the dearly departed. I don’t have that privilege any more and Friday was such an occasion. Don had a clipping and the funeral was to be held at the mortuary where he had once worked. A double header, I presumed on the Planet Aphasia. The name of the dead guy sounded vaguely familiar to me but no matter how hard I tried, I couldn’t get it out Don how he knew the gentlemen. Oh, but he was animate! This was a funeral where just sending a card would not do. He was going---no ifs, ands or buts about it. Don’s aphasic brain couldn’t say the words: “If you won’t drive me, I’m taking my wheelchair all the way into town” but the determined look on his face sure got that message across. So, off we go in our somber clothing. We’re there doing our funeral thing. Greeting people who spoke to us, signing the guest book and still I couldn’t figure out where this dead guy fit into Don’s life. People would ask us how we knew the guy but, of course, neither Don nor I could tell them. I was doing my standard he-can’t-talk-and-I-don’t-know routine and feeling like I’d like to melt into the floor boards when Don finally got out the word, “Four.” So we started doing the aphasic polka.

“Four that---months, years, days, hours, seconds, people, places, or things?” I asked.
“Years!” Don beamed like that’s going to tell me the entire story. He was so proud of himself for getting out that clue to the mystery. Four years. Okay. We started the aphasic polka all over again.

 To make a long story short, just as we were getting seated so the service could begin my aphasia decoder ring finally broke the code. The only person Don knew in the dead dude's family was only four years old the last time he saw him, and that was way back when Don was in high school, working at that funeral home forty-seven years! Don occasionally kept the four year old busy at the funeral home when his parents visited the undertaker. So I’m sitting there in one of those little wooden chairs that are always too close together for comfort, listening to a bad version of “Precious Memories” and trying my best not to laugh up a cow on the spot. It was not easy, let me tell you. Even a few people near-by who had over heard our aphasic polka exchange were cracking up.
After the service, we didn’t stay for cake and coffee although I’m sure Don would have liked to have done so---there are no strangers in his world. And thus ended another wonderful experience on the Planet Aphasia where every day brings something new to laugh about. We have now officially crashed the funeral of an almost total stranger.

Jean Riva ©

December 26, 2008

Old Farts

As many baby boomers do, I’ve needed total knee replacements for several years, but I’m scared to death I’ll have a stroke if I do. The doctor says my best chance for not having one would be to lose some weight. But guess what, folks, I still don’t look like Twiggy. So what, I tell myself, if my bones are grinding bone against bone. And so what if I have this ghastly vision that in a couple of years I’ll be ten inches shorter and the skin on my legs will be bagging in folds at my ankles and I'll look like I’m wearing flesh colored gaiters. My brain will still be intact and my husband, Don, and I won’t have to share a room at the nursing home while the dog goes off to a shelter. Whenever this scary thought passes through my mind, I look around the kitchen wishing the fairy godmother of brownies has left some that I can stuff in the biggest hole in my face.

Seriously, thought, there are days when the pain is about to fry my senses and I want to shove Don---a stroke survivor---out of his wheelchair and scream, “Get up so I can sit down!" But I keep that thought to myself because I’m not Kathy Bates in Steven Spielberg’s movie Misery. No, I’m a good little caregiver-slash-wife and we caregivers-slash-wives know what that means. We bottle it up and button it down and keep our feelings and fears to our selves until the pressure builds up too much. That’s then we yell something like: “Do you have to leave your dirty socks on the floor!?” Why do we women do that, not share with our mates what's really poking pins in our butts and making us grumpy?

I’ll be the first to admit it. One of the reasons I don't want to get my knees replaced is because overweight old people don’t look good naked. We’ve got bulges and things that look better draped in clothing. It’s not just the extra pounds but at a certain age we start growing things: warts and moles and bumps of unknown origin.

So instead of getting my knees over hauled I keep pretending and telling everyone who will listen that I’m older than I really am. If I were eighty, for example, it would be acceptable to spend guilt-free hours sitting at my computer or lusting over the new varieties of sweet peas in the Park’s Seed Catalog. No one ever told me that housewifely things required so much walking around. Vacuuming and dusting and cooking, who cares! If I were eighty, I could eat dill pickles for breakfast.

Growing older and imperfect makes you feel like you’re also growing invisible. I could walk into a bank in broad daylight, rob it and no one but the security camera could describe me. I hate feeling invisible. Even worse is being noticed and treated like my brain is operating on only two of eight its cylinders. “Here’s your change, dear. Can you find your car in the parking lot?” Elvis may have left the building, but I still have all the bats in my belfry. Thank you, very much.

Our concept of age is a curious thing. For many months after Don turned fifty, he had a glorious time telling everyone he was sixty so that he could then hear them say, “You look so young for your age!” It was a joke he played on waitresses, to ask them for their senior citizen discounts only to be turned down while feeding his ego. Then one day we went to a state park and when attendant in the booth told him it would be $10.00 to go to the beach. Don replied, “Does that included the senior’s discount?” thinking he’d get this young girl to pay him a compliment. But she didn’t. She looked him straight in the eye and said, “Sorry. That will be $5.00 then.” Don got an expression on his face like a young cat that just caught his first mouse and he didn’t know quite what to do with it. It was the last time he ever asked for a senior discount.

What is it that William Faulkner said? “The past is not dead. It is not even past.” What did he mean? That we cannot escape our past? It’s true, you know. Our lessons learned and favorite pranks are always with us, tucked away like souvenirs carefully glued down in scrapbooks. I’m telling this to all the young people I know so that one day when they visit me, old and sitting in a wheelchair, they won’t assume that the smile on my face is from passing gas. The smile, I want them to know, could be because I'm playing in my memory garden and dreaming of the days before I started wearing flesh colored gaiters.

Jean Riva ©

Painting: Egon Schiele


December 24, 2008

Building Our Own Violins

Do you know what impresses me? That a guy could apprentice to a long line of violin makers and still be able to take the craft to such new heights of perfectionism that people nearly three hundred years later are willing to pay millions of dollars to own one of his instruments. Antonio Stradivari, in his seventy years of professional work, made 1,100 stringed instruments and 650 are said to still be in existence. Truly amazing! From a little stab of maple, some pine, glue and varnishes, and with a methodical persistence to find perfection the Stradivarius was born, a line of instruments with full woody tones unsurpassed even today.

I wonder what it would feel like to be gifted at something. I wonder if Antonio knew he was a gifted. I doubt it. After all the whole town of Cremona in the northern region of Italy where he lived and worked had a history---three centuries long---of making musical instruments. Did he think of himself as just another guy on an assembly line? Like some guy in Detroit punching out automobiles? Or could he feel that his work was special? Antonio must have had some idea; he kept his vanish recipe a secret even from his wife and children and many people feel that his varnishing process is what gave his violins their magic sound. But then again he was making a living and people protect their livelihood from their competitors, so that doesn’t necessarily mean he knew he was creating masterpieces.

I have a book titled, Wherever You Go There You Are. That title amuses me whenever I see the book on the shelf. The author would not be happy to learn that I’ve never actually read the book cover to cover, but I’ve read enough of it to know that it’s about cultivating our ability to live in the present moment. Mindfulness. I don’t know where I am going with this except that I believe a person like Antonio Stradivari must have understood living in the moment. As he worked, he let the woods and varnishes speak to him and he listened in an analytical way that his predecessors, and those who came afterward, hadn’t done. He was not just another guy on an assembly line punching a time clock, picking up a paycheck. He had the “it factor” that Simon on American Idol talks about.

I have a sister-in-law who is a wonderful cook. Not only does her food taste fantastic, but her presentation, creativity and thoughtfulness in menu planning are something that I have long admired. She has the “it factor” in the kitchen. She’s in the moment when she is in the kitchen. I have a niece who is a mother to two sons. She has the “it factor” when it comes to motherhood. Her sister says she’s not just a mother, “She’s a human development specialist.” She’s in the moment when she interacts with her boys.

You can guess what I’m going to say next. Yup, I’m going to tell you that we don’t have to build Stradivarius violins or paint like Rembrandt to achieve a state of oneness with our surroundings. To find that that one thing that we can be passionate about, that something that regenerates our spirit and soul, we just need to look within. We do so many things on autopilot, thinking of past regrets or worrying about the future, instead of seizing the moment we’re in.

Someone in another blog said words to the affect that we live for the little moments in life that tell us that we’re alive. I couldn’t agree more. I would only add that increasing our happiness tenfold can come from practicing mindfulness—of teaching ourselves to really live in the small moments of life. To do that, we need enjoy and appreciate the process of whatever we are doing at the moment. Antonio Stradivari might have said it this way: “If you live in a town that builds musical instruments, build the best damn one you can build.”

Jean Riva ©

Photo: Violin Shop in Detmold Germany


December 23, 2008

100 Things About Me

I was surfing the net one day, looking at blogs from around the world and I ran into a cool idea. A blogger who calls herself the Tequila Mockingbird said it’s common in blog communities for each blogger to make a list titled, 100 Things About Me. So, me being hooked on blogging, I decided to give this a try. Here’s my results….

  1. My hair is naturally curly.
  2. In my entire life, I’ve only lived a couple of months without a dog in the house.
  3. ‘Hate’ is not a strong enough word for the way I feel about the color orange.
  4. I practically live in sweats and jogging clothes.
  5. I’ve never gone jogging.
  6. My favorite male movie stars are: Brad Pitt, Toby McGuire, Robert Redford and Tom Cruise.
  7. If I could have three wishes come true, one would be to have my dad back again.
  8. I detest watching sports on TV or at sports events.
  9. I love movies about sports and sports figures---Babe Ruth, Tin Cup, etc.
  10. I still have many of my childhood toys.
  11. I'm a recovering pack rat who is very good at organizing.
  12. My favorite hot house flowers are gardenias and roses.
  13. I’ve never had a baby.
  14. I like dark semi-sweet chocolate much better than milk chocolate.
  15. Currently, my favorite flowers grown outside are sweet peas and sunflowers.
  16. I totally don’t understand why people get face lifts.
  17. I’m left handed.
  18. I’ve only changed a tire on a car three times in my life.
  19. I’m fascinated with bungee cords. I say, “Bungee cords are my life” to my husband all the time, but I have no idea what that means.
  20. I over-eat when I’m stressed.
  21. I used to have a lot of contact with published authors.
  22. One of the authors named a fictional character in my honor; another mentioned me in a dedication.
  23. I’m dyslexia.
  24. I detest the smell, sight, taste and texture of liver.
  25. I’ve had pen pals in my life since I was a kid.
  26. I’ve lived alone for 42 years of my life (except for a dog).
  27. It’s a rare day that I enjoy driving.
  28. My favorite flavor of ice cream is mint chocolate.
  29. For 18 years, I did commercial snow plowing in the winters.
  30. My favorite public personality is Oprah.
  31. Phil Donahue used to be my favorite personality before Oprah.
  32. I don’t have a favorite, FAVORITE song---just lots of them I love a lot.
  33. I rarely wear jewelry, not even my wedding rings.
  34. Silver is my favorite of the precious metals.
  35. I collect Cracker Jack plastic toys.
  36. I like to knit and sew, but I don’t do it much anymore.
  37. I have more collections/hobbies than I could name on my fingers.
  38. I follow the rules of life.
  39. If I could have three wishes granted, one of them would be to a famous artist.
  40. My eyes are brown.
  41. I love the oil paintings of John Singer Sargent.
  42. I made all my own clothes in my teens and well into my twenties.
  43. Traveling overseas has never, ever held any appeal to me.
  44. If they could bring Paris over here, I’d be the first one in line to see it.
  45. My computer desk is really messy and unorganized.
  46. I ‘m a very well adjusted person.
  47. I’d rather write a letter than make a phone call.
  48. For over a decade I edited a readers’ forum where I also wrote book reviews.
  49. I love Friends, Frasier and Seinfeld reruns.
  50. I finished college exactly 25 years after I started.
  51. My favorite fruits are peaches, strawberries, and bananas.
  52. I do many things well but few, if any, things really great.
  53. I detest fake fingernails on other women.
  54. On my desk is a Ziggy cartoon that says, “Your past failures will always overtake you if you STOP chasing after your future success!”
  55. I’m a sweetaholic.
  56. I still have contact with my best friend through grade school and high school---she lives far away now.
  57. Sleeping on jersey knit sheets is my preference over other fabric choices in sheets.
  58. I’m pro-choice.
  59. I like the color gray for neutrals in a house and for exteriors.
  60. When I was a kid, I wouldn’t eat orange vegetables and often had to sit at the dinner table for hours until either me or my mom would break.
  61. I was over forty before I would eat squash willingly and now I love it.
  62. I can’t spell very well without my electronic dictionary.
  63. I could happily live in bathrobes all day long if ‘custom’ would let me.
  64. My older brother is my only sibling.
  65. I was a bridal consultant in the floral industry for twenty years.
  66. For ten of those years I had my own business.
  67. For several summers I worked part time filling pot holes in parking lots.
  68. I don’t like tattoos on women.
  69. My husband and I used to have booths in three antique malls.
  70. I like milk.
  71. If I could have three wishes come true, one would be to have new knees without going through the pain of surgery.
  72. I was a ‘take-classes’ junkie for most of my life.
  73. A portrait of one of my ancestor’s is hanging in a national art museum and although thirteen generations separates her from my mom, they looked like sisters. (See photo above.)
  74. My husband knows all my secrets and dreams.
  75. I love anything that smells like peaches---hand creams, shampoos, soaps, etc.
  76. I’m a democrat and a liberal.
  77. I’ve only had one beer in my entire life.
  78. I could eat or drink anything if it had crème de’ mint in it or over it.
  79. My belly button is an ‘inny.’
  80. I’ve made wedding flowers for literally thousands of weddings, but I didn’t have any at my own.
  81. I’ve own one of my house plants for 46 years.
  82. Vanilla bean frappuccionos and carmel macchiatos are my favorite drinks at Starbucks.
  83. I’ve only moved twice in my life and both times were within the last seven years.
  84. Growing up, red was my favorite color to wear.
  85. Now, purple is my favorite color to wear.
  86. I have a lot of allergies and have had chronic hives many times in my life.
  87. I would hate going back to a world without microwave ovens.
  88. I admire and appreciate good cooks, but I have no interest in being one.
  89. I once slept overnight on a cemetery plot.
  90. My tastes in music cover a wide range from Big Band era stuff to World Beat.
  91. On one side of my family my ancestors go back to the Mayflower.
  92. On the other side of my family, my ancestors were part of the great Ellis Island immigration era.
  93. I’m half English descent and half Italian descent.
  94. I’m glad I flew when I was young because I’d be scared to do it today.
  95. I’ve never bleached or dyed my hair or had a permanent.
  96. Before my husband’s stroke I was in a library once or twice a week, now I’m lucky to get there once every six months.
  97. I carry two credit cards in my wallet but I rarely used them.
  98. I hate reptiles.
  99. The best gift I ever got was at thirteen when my dad told my mom I didn’t have to eat orange vegetables anymore.
  100. It took me two days to come up with this list…making one is harder than it looks!

December 19, 2008

Finding Our Authentic Selves

Maybe it’s because my dad was a life-long golfer that I love movies with a golf t
heme. Except for an eight week course I took back in the sixties when I tried to love the game as much as he did, I’ve never played myself. Never-the-less the rich analogies and metaphors used in golf movies can easily apply to life itself, and I guess that’s what makes the ‘underdog’ sports movies like The legend of Bagger Vance so popular with non-athletes like me.

In a nutshell, The legend of Bagger Vance is about a disillusioned World War I veteran---Junah (played by Matt Damon)---who reluctantly agrees to play a game of golf to help a friend save a new golf course in Savannah, circ 1930, playing against the great Bobby Jones and Walter Hagen. Junah was a local golf pro before the war but had spent the last fifteen years being wasted. Trying to practice golf again, he finds the game futile until Bagger Vance---played by Will Smith---comes into his life to be his caddy and to teach him that the secret of golf is the same secret to mastering any life challenge.

“Inside each and every one of us,” says Bagger Vance, “Is one true authentic swing... Somethin' we was born with… Somethin' that's ours and ours alone... Somethin' that can't be taught to ya or learned... Somethin' that got to be remembered... Over time the world can rob us of that swing... It gets buried inside us under all our wouldas and couldas and shouldas... Some folk even forget what their swing was like.”

I went to the library today for the first time since shortly after Don’s stroke in May of 2000. Before the stroke, I was in the library at least twice a week. When I came home today and saw the rerun of The Legend of Bagger Vance on TV it made me think of all the caregivers, like me, whose ‘authentic selves’ got lost in the responsibilities of caring for someone else. Most of us, I think, lost that sense of being able to almost hear our surrounds breathe when we are happily perfecting our swings---wherever that swing might have taken us in our pre-stroke days.

At a critic turning point in the movie, Bagger tells Junah, “Ain't a soul on this entire earth ain't got a burden to carry he don't understand, you ain't alone in that... But you been carryin' this one long enough... Time to go on... lay it down...”

That movie line got me to thinking about why it is that we all tend to carry our burdens around long past the point when we should or could let go of them. For Junah it was the burden of being the only man to have survived a dangerous mission that he couldn’t let go. We caregivers aren’t running away from something filled with that much guilt but, just the same, I’ll bet there are many caregivers and survivors alike who wonder why we survived the trials and tribulations that life handed us, carrying the burden of the stroke event long past the point when we should quit wondering and just start living again. How many of us need to take to heart what Bagger told Junah?---that it was time for him to come out of the shadows and let himself remember HIS swing. I think that may be very good advice for some of us who’ve forgotten who we are.

Can we get our “grace in motion” back? Can we find our authentic selves again? Today I asked myself that question and I answered that I think I’m already am headed in that direction. I’ve been so wrapped up in the stroke support world these past few years that I forgot who I am, what my true swing in life is really all about. Sure, I am still a caregiver and always will be for as Don is a live, but his stroke doesn’t have to consume my life anymore. I can steal an hour here and there to take the advice Bagger gave Junah when he said, “You lost your swing... We got to go find it... Now it's somewhere... in the harmony... of all that is... All that was... All that will be...” I like that thought.

One of the scenes in this movie that I loved the most happened just before the 18th hole when Junah’s ball in the rough moved a few inches. By the rules of golf when that happens the golfer is suppose to call a stroke on himself but no one saw this happen except Junah and a small kid. Thus a moral dilemma is set up when the kid begs him not to do it, not to tell. “No one will ever know, I swear!” the kid says to which Junah replies: “I’ll know.”

This scene is based on a real incident that happened in a tournament between Gene, Sarazen, Bobby Jones and Walter Hagen. When it happened, the marshals left if up to Jones to call it a foul, or not, and when he did call it on him self the marshal declared it to be a “stunning act of sportsmanship.” Jones disagreed. “You don’t commend a bank robber for not robbing a bank,” he said. “This is the way golf should be played.” He eventually lost that U.S Opener by one stroke. The stroke he penalized himself. Seeing the fictionalized version of this incident reminded me of when my dad told me about this golfing, Hallmark moment years ago, inciting a long conversation about morals and ethics. I’ve used that “I’ll know” line on myself every since whenever a moral dilemma might tempt me towards a direction that I shouldn’t go.

Movies about sports, like The Legend of Bagger Vance, are usually pretty inspirational to me and this one was no disappointment. Where else can you hear philosophical thoughts like: “There's a perfect shot out there tryin' to find each and every one of us,” as Bagger put it. “All we got to do is get ourselves out of its way, to let it choose us.”

Jean Riva ©

Painting by August Macke