Vignette: Mimi’s Closet

The fabulous Iris Apfel. Like Iris, Mimi, my grandma, wore large framed glasses and chunky jewelry. Unlike Iris, who shared many of her secrets, my grandma kept hers close to her heart.

 

Mimi’s Closet

by Shannon P. Laws

 

The door at the end of the long hall stands open
The third bathroom is in there
Sent to the room by my mother’s voice
busy behind the door of the second
common bathroom, the guest bathroom
Go use Mimi’s
I obey

The faint gold light
from a bedside lamp whispers
as I step twice into the space
Her closet door is open, just a little
Moving toward the closet my arm reaches out
to feel inside
to find her secrets

These are her uniforms
her suits of clothes and character
Rich hand-me-downs with East Coast labels
—meant to impressed me, even at 13

I am too far, too deep, too close to the truth
my ears give a quick check
All family members are engaged
in after dinner conversation
at the other side of the house
No footsteps in the hall
I can quickly look
touch a few
view the hieroglyphs
decipher the ridges
in her shoes

A shriveled fox head snaps at me
with sunken eyes from the top of a fur wrap
I sense the ghost of a guard
standing attention blocking me from the
colors, textures that hang in the back just out of reach

My bladder and a toilet flush down the way
remind me why
I’m there

Use the bathroom
then leave
don’t touch anything
mind your business

As I turn to capture one last look
I see her desk
a round breakfast table
paired by two chairs
with woven wood backs
Yellow chains of jewelry, keys, papers
laid out with books and pens
There’s a tube TV, two large leather jewelry boxes
on the long low dresser in front of the bed between
two dark lamps
Under the bed, I spy boxes of canned soup

Who gets all this when she’s dead?
My aunts will consume anything of value
Strangers at the Goodwill get the rest

 

 

#

Rant: Judged Conversation Overheard on the Bus in August

 

Judged Conversation Overheard on the Bus in August

by Shannon P. Laws

 

The sidewalk on Magnolia sticks to my shoes
Maple Tree sap bleeds from the high branches
It’s not enough to stop me
I have a bus to catch

It’s early morning-cold. Crisp air flies in from open slit of bus windows in position for the promised afternoon heat. Wednesday morning in August and downtown is quiet.  Half the town seems closed. Most are somewhere enjoying the last days of summer.  Anywhere else but downtown Bellingham. Only the sounds of a traffic light clicking green and a seagull. The gull stands like a superhero on the top southeast corner of Mount Baker Apartments
barking orders
waking us up
sounding reveille
few listen

Two ladies get on the bus.
They don’t live here.
I know it.

They are the only known tourist on the 3

Oh good, they are sitting behind me
She must be a grandmother
“Are you warm enough?”
The other perhaps a daughter
“Yes, I have my LL Bean on”
They don’t know
what’s coming

Then, it starts—

For 25 years I’ve been getting a mammogram every two years because my mother had breast cancer.

She continues to talk about cancer the way old people talk about cancer
the same way middle-aged people talk about the weather
the same way younger people talk about nothing in particular

The list of what’s wrong with grandma’s body rattles off like the description of a 2001 Dodge Durango I am forced to read:

There’s a new growth of cataract in my left eye, arthritis in the knees effecting my suspension, my liver is having problems, might be backed up.  Recent scans show no blockage in the arteries.  Hips replaced.  Doctor recommends a colon flush.  Hypertension makes me jerk to the left from time to time.  Engine still strong. Overall I’m in good shape

“For sale $500 obo”

 

 

 

Time for Ham

Merry Christmas and Happy New Year! 

2013 marks the fifth anniversary of my blog “Madrona Grove”.  In a moment of reflection I found much to be thankful for, and did not need to look far to find faces of many good friends who have blessed my personal timeline.  Life is a journey, always better with company.  So to follow a MG tradition I’m posting my Ham blog.  Posted every holiday for about four years now, this little TRUE story shows up bringing with it a reminder of how important tradition is, but that knowing WHY we do what we do is just as important as the performance.

The boys, oh, I mean the SPLaws office staff, and I are working on our Christmas video card that will post here soon.  Please keep an eye out for it.  Until then keep warm, be happy… and leave the ends ON!  ~SPL

*****

OK, true story:

One holiday four generations of family are all gathered together in the youngest daughter’s new home for a rare time together. This is her first time hosting a family dinner. Her mom is helping her with the ham.

The daughter plops the large ham into its pan and asks the mom, “OK what do we do next?”
“Well,” answered the mom, “first thing we need to do is cut off the ends of the ham, just the sides about 2 inches worth.”
“Why?”, asks the daughter.
“I don’t know, but my mom always did it, and her ham’s turn out great every time.”

They call the girls grandma in, “Grandma, why do you cut the ends of the ham before cooking?”

“Gosh, I don’t know why. Never thought of it. MY mother always cut the ends off, so that’s how I’ve always done it. How funny.”

The three ladies quickly walk out to the living room to find the girl’s great-grandmother sitting and talking with family.
“G.G. I have a question for you. Why do you cut the ends of the ham off?”

“Well, I don’t know why YOU cut the ends of the ham off, but I had to cut the ends off or it wouldn’t fit into my oven!”

Lesson:
It’s good to know WHY you do what you do, 
so that you don’t waste any ham.
Happy Christmas! 
***

Poetry: Refugio’s Hair

 One of my favorite poems…

Refugio’s Hair
In the old days of our family,
My grandmother was a young woman
Whose hair was as long as the river.
She lived with her sisters on the ranch
La Calera– The Land of the Lime–
And her days were happy.
But her uncle Carols lived there too,
Carlos whose soul had the edge of a knife.
One day, to teach her to ride a horse,
He made her climb on the fastest one,
Bareback, and sit there
As he held its long face in his arms.
And then he did the unspeakable deed
For which he would always be remembered:
He called for the handsome baby Pirrin
And he placed the child in her arms.
With that picture of a Madonna on horseback
He slapped the shank of the horse’s rear leg.
The horse did what a horse must,
Racing full toward the bright horizon.
But first he ran under the alamo trees
To rid his back of this unfair weight:
This woman full of tears
And this baby full of love.
When they reached the trees and went under,
Her hair, which had trailed her,
Equal in its magnificence to the tail of the horse,
That hair rose up and flew into the branches
As if it were a thousand arms,
All of them trying to save her.
The horse ran off and left her,
The baby still in her arms,
The two of them hanging from her hair.
The baby looked only at her
And did not cry, so steady was her cradle.
Her sisters came running to save them.
But the hair would not let go.
From its fear it held on and had to be cut,
All of it, from her head.
From that day on, my grandmother
Wore her hair short like a scream,
But it was long like a river in her sleep.

 

by Alberto Rios

Shut Ins

There is a growing concern on my mind about the condition and mentality of our elderly that I must address: Shut-ins.

Sparked by a recent incident, the following rant is an attempt by me to process the barbarian social cycle Americans have created.  A cycle that involves the elements of the high cost of health care, our strong need for independence, and the elderly: our grandparents, aunts, uncles, friends and neighbors.

Shut ins are defined as:
n. A person confined indoors by illness or disability. adj. 1. Confined to a home or hospital, as by illness. or 2. Disposed to avoid social contact; excessively withdrawn or introverted.

Yesterday, early Monday morning, I discovered that a shut-in lived directly below me in my condo complex.  I have lived here for over a year and never laid eyes on the guy until yesterday when the paramedics rolled him off to the hospital.

From about 5 a.m. to 7 a.m. my roommates and I started to hear a knocking or hammering sound reverberating throughout the building.  Monday morning is busy for all of us, people take showers, make breakfast, check e-mail, etc., so none of us gave it much thought.  At first the reoccurring thumps sounded like someone was hammering.  About an hour later I heard what I thought was a woman crying; this is when I called the police asking for them to investigate.  I live in that kind of neighborhood.  Perhaps someone was locked out of their home, building a shelf, hanging pictures, or a guy was trying to get at his ex-girlfriend threw a locked door… never in my mind did I think it was someone who was seriously injured and needed help.
When the police officer checked in with me 20 minutes later, we both tried to locate where the sound was coming from.  Then he asked me, “Are there any elderly people living in your building.”

Oh shit!  Right at that time the knocking was louder and I could hear through the floor the voice of a man yelling, “Help me!”

Sitting on the side of my bed watching the paramedics do their job from my second story window, I started to think about all the elderly family members, and friends I’ve had over the years who are shut-ins.  Many different stories but all the same results: a person who is too weak to even push a vacuum cleaner or bathe themselves is living alone.  What the hell has happen to us?

I remember when my Grandma was getting “needy”.  A common factor, or line in the sand, is almost always one of two things:  a car accident or a fall that results in a broken hip.  These are signals  family and friends should not blow off.

When my grandma broke her hip, my dad and his two sisters thought about putting her in “a home”.  Grandma wanted none of that, AND she wasn’t going to give up her drivers license either.  It drove my dad and aunts crazy.  Grandma lived in a four bedroom, two bath home with a yard.  WHO was going to take care of her, while she screams “I can take care of myself!”  No one had the guts to tell her, “No Grandma, you can’t”

They had to wait until, a year later, my aunt stopped by for a visit unannounced.  Grandma looked awful.  My aunt learned grandma hadn’t had a bath all week because her leg hurt, that she hadn’t eaten because she was too sore to drive to the grocery store, but was too prideful to ask for help.  It wasn’t until   another fall, that grandma learned the hard way to ask for help.  Where does this stubbornness come from and why is it so difficult for the kids to take up the role of parent for their parent?

As a former auto insurance agent I can not tell you how many calls I received from a disoriented elderly person who was confused about why their premium went up or why the policy was cancelled.  “It was just a simple mistake, pressing the gas pedal and not the break”  or, “The guy came out of nowhere!  It was not my fault!”  It is a fact that after the age of 75, the majority of drivers drive with the  reflexes of a drunk driver.  Many older people are unable to turn their head from left to right, or look over their shoulders to check behind them when they are driving.  These are needed physical abilities for the simple actions of merging, or changing lanes.  Personally, I feel all drivers over 75, should have to take a drivers test yearly.

Four Generations
Outside of the physical issue of getting older, my mind also meditated on the social issues.  So many elderly are alone.  They retired with a loved one to a remote area, one of them dies, then they are alone.  Or, another story I hear often involves a family fight.  Some sort of an event breaks up the family, and they stop seeing each other, often many years prior to those “needy” years, say when the kids are in their 30’s and the parents in their 50’s.  Both sides, children and parent, have a “F You” attitude and hold a grudge for decades.  It is so sad.  Often around the holidays I’ll hear friends tell me they haven’t seen their parents for 10, 20 years.
My mom turns 70 this year.  She lives by herself, about two and half hours from me.  I am the only daughter. Perhaps in 4-5 years, I will need to live close to her and help her, EVEN THOUGH that stubborn woman says she will not need it.  She has been saying this since her 40’s.

This really upsets me.  In my mind I want to say, “Alright old lady, die in your own vomit a slow painful death, alone, on the floor in pain. Perhaps, in a week someone will notice you are missing and knock on the door.  Perhaps, another week later someone may notice a smell and call 911.  Perhaps.”   I love my mom, I really do.  Looks like I need to educate myself on what to expect.  Regardless, the more we know, the more we talk, the more we keep calm, the more we love… the happier her golden years will be, for everyone.  The questions remain: How can we fix this system?  It is important to live well, but how important is it to us to die well?
Johnny Appleseed, died a good death.  When he felt the time coming, he moved back to his simple home he built on his land.  He asked his son to move his bed outside under a tree in the backyard.

 What a great way to go.

Kidnapped

This time of year I often think about my Grandma Mimi.

In April 1998, my cousin Susan called late in the evening with the news. Before I could say one word she cried out “Grandma was kidnapped!” My cousin went on to give me an account of events: early in the morning grandma had a break in, was held hostage, pistol whipped, taken from her home, rescued by the police late in the afternoon, has been released from the hospital, and was going to be interviewed by the local news station tomorrow. I was speechless! That’s a call you don’t get every day.

At the time of the kidnapping Grandma Mimi was 86, and lived alone at her home in Anacortes, Washington. A female perpetrator gained access into Mimi’s home by pretending to be a pregnant woman in pain, needing a phone.  The two kidnappers, a boyfriend/girlfriend team, told grandma their plan was to take her to their isolated mountain cabin, issue demands to the family and wait for the money. However, on their way to the cabin the kidnappers got restless, began fighting over the plan, and started driving up and down Interstate 5 indecisively.

From the backseat Grandma could hear the new plan unfolding; they no longer wanted to hold her for ransom instead they just wanted to kill her and throw her body into the woods. They pulled over to a remote road just off I-5, dragged her out of the car, grandma’s back to the woods.

Putting the gun up to her head the kidnapper asked if she was ready to die. Grandma didn’t hesitate, “ I’ve lived a long and wonderful life. I’m ready to go. Go ahead and shoot.” What an incredible statement! Surprisingly, she said it with such conviction, the kidnapper was unable to pull the trigger!

Frustrated, they threw her back into the car and kept driving. The driver was on meth and her erratic driving caught the eye of an attentive road side worker, who called it in to 911 as a possible DUI. Glancing up over the back seat, Grandma could see two cop cars rolling down the on ramp racing towards them,lights on. “They looked like angels coming down from heaven!”, she later shared with us.

Grandma was rescued and the kidnappers were charged with first-degree robbery, first-degree burglary and second-degree kidnapping for allegedly abducting an 86-year-old woman from her home and terrorizing her.

Grandma lived on into her 90’s, and passed away in her home a while ago.  She lived a full life, good and bad times.

Not many of us get an opportunity, like a gun to the head, to say with such conviction, “I am ready to die.” It’s true you can find new life in many places, but some people find new life at the wrong end of a gun.

***

It’s Time for Ham


OK, true story:
One holiday four generations of family are all gathered together in the youngest daughter’s new home for a rare time together. This is her first time hosting a family dinner. Her mom is helping her with the ham.  The daughter plops the large ham into its pan and asks the mom, “OK what do we do next?” 
“Well,” answered the mom, “first thing we need to do is cut off the ends of the ham, just the sides about 2 inches worth.” “Why?”, asks the daughter. “I don’t know, but my mom always did it, and her ham’s turn out great every time.”

They call the girls grandma in, “Grandma, why do you cut the ends of the ham before cooking?”

“Gosh, I don’t know why. Never thought of it. MY mother cut the ends off, so that’s how I’ve always done it. How funny.”

The three ladies quickly walk out to the living room to find the girl’s great-grandmother sitting and talking with family. “G.G., I have a question for you. Why do you cut the ends of the ham off?”

“Well, I don’t know why YOU cut the ends of the ham off, but I had to cut the ends off or it wouldn’t fit into my oven!”

Lesson:
It’s good to know WHY you do what you do, so that you don’t waste any ham.

Note from S.P.:
For four years now I have posted this story on my blog during the holidays. This year my mom is cooking ham and her world famous gravy.  I’m taking the week off to spend time with friends & family.   Whether you are having ham, turkey, or take out, I wish you and yours a Happy Thanksgiving!

Be thankful for what you have; you’ll end up having more. 
If you concentrate on what you don’t have, you will never, ever have enough. 
~Oprah Winfrey 

Kidnapped

Spring always puts me in a sentimental mood. You know, it’s all a part of that inane idea to get rid of the old and bring in the new; spring clean the garage, backyard and the soul. Some projects take up so much time I feel like they’ve kidnapped me! During the tedious task of cleaning out my bookcase, my mind drifted on that thread of thought. I started to relive the day I heard the news of my Grandma’s kidnapping. My grandma was really kidnapped, not by an “organize the closets” project, but by real psychotic people! While I sprayed more wood cleaner onto the dust rag, I pondered the lessons of that story.

In April 1998, forteen years ago this month, my cousin Susan called me late in the evening with the news. Before I could say one word she cried out “Grandma was kidnapped!” My cousin went on to give me an account of events: early in the morning grandma had a break in, was held hostage, pistol whipped, rescued by the police late in the afternoon, has been released from the hospital, and was going to be interviewed by the local news station tomorrow. I was speechless! That’s a call you don’t get every day.

At the time of the kidnapping Grandma Mimi was 86, and lived alone at her home in Anacortes Washington. The two kidnappers told grandma their plan was to take her to their isolated mountain cabin, issue demands to the family and wait for the money. However, on their way to the cabin the kidnappers got restless, began fighting over the plan, and started driving up and down Interstate 5 indecisively.

From the backseat Grandma could hear the new plan unfolding; they no longer wanted to hold her for ransom instead they just wanted to kill her and throw her in the woods. They pulled over to a remote road just off I-5, dragged her out of the car, grandmas back to the woods. Putting the gun up to her head the kidnapper asked if she was ready to die. Grandma didn’t hesitate, “I’ve lived a long and wonderful life. I’m ready to go. Go ahead and shoot.” What an incredible statement! Surprisingly, she said it with such conviction, the kidnapper was unable to pull the trigger!

Frustrated, they threw her back into the car and kept driving. The driver was on meth and her erratic driving caught the eye of an attentive road side worker, who called it in to 911 as a possible DUI. Glancing up over the back seat, Grandma could see two cop cars rolling down the on ramp towards them with lights on. “They looked like angels coming down from heaven!” she said.

Grandma was rescued and the kidnappers were charged with first-degree robbery, first-degree burglary and second-degree kidnapping for allegedly abducting an 86-year-old woman from her home and terrorizing her.

Grandma had a full life, good and bad times. Not many of us get an opportunity, like a gun to the head, to say with such conviction, “I am ready to go.” It’s true you can find new life in many places, but some people find new life at the wrong end of a gun.

This is a story that has become a part of my heritage and will stay polished in my memory, kept high in a safe place, to be displayed and discussed when appropriate times allow, not too unlike the knick knacks on my freshly polished shelf.

Holiday Ham

Happy Thanksgiving all! 

Thanksgiving is all about the traditional turkey dinner, but this year we are serving up ham.  This is the third posting of the “Mom’s Holiday Ham” story.  Hard to believe my “Madrona Grove” blog has been up so long! For that I am thankful.
Whether your ham is smoked, honey glazed, bone-in, and/or spiral cut-  I wish you all a great holiday! 
     …and leave the ends ON!  ~SPL

*****
OK, true story:

One holiday four generations of family are all gathered together in the youngest daughter’s new home for a rare time together. This is her first time hosting a family dinner. Her mom is helping her with the ham. The daughter plops the large ham into its pan and asks the mom, “OK what do we do next?” “Well,” answered the mom, “first thing we need to do is cut off the ends of the ham, just the sides about 2 inches worth.” “Why?”, asks the daughter. “I don’t know, but my mom always did it, and her ham’s turn out great every time.”
They call the girls grandma in, “Grandma, why do you cut the ends of the ham before cooking?” “Gosh, I don’t know why. Never thought of it. MY mother always cut the ends off, so that’s how I’ve always done it. How funny.”
The three ladies quickly walk out to the living room to find the girl’s great-grandmother sitting and talking with family. “G.G. I have a question for you. Why do you cut the ends of the ham off?”

“Well, I don’t know why YOU cut the ends of the ham off, but I had to cut the ends off or it wouldn’t fit into my oven!”

Lesson:
It’s good to know WHY you do what you do, so that you don’t waste any ham. 😉

Kidnapped

Spring always puts me in a sentimental mood. You know, it’s all a part of that inane idea to get rid of the old and bring in the new; spring clean the garage, backyard and the soul. Some projects take up so much time I feel like they’ve kidnapped me! During the tedious task of cleaning out my bookcase, my mind drifted on that thread of thought. I started to relive the day I heard the news of my Grandma’s kidnapping. My grandma was really kidnapped, not by an “organize the closets” project, but by real psychotic people! While I sprayed more wood cleaner onto the dust rag, I pondered the lessons of that story.

In April 1998, thirteen years ago this month, my cousin Susan called me late in the evening with the news. Before I could say one word she cried out “Grandma was kidnapped!” My cousin went on to give me an account of events: early in the morning grandma had a break in, was held hostage, pistol whipped, rescued by the police late in the afternoon, has been released from the hospital, and was going to be interviewed by the local news station tomorrow. I was speechless! That’s a call you don’t get every day.

At the time of the kidnapping Grandma Mimi was 86, and lived alone at her home in Anacortes Washington. The two kidnappers told grandma their plan was to take her to their isolated mountain cabin, issue demands to the family and wait for the money. However, on their way to the cabin the kidnappers got restless, began fighting over the plan, and started driving up and down Interstate 5 indecisively.

From the backseat Grandma could hear the new plan unfolding; they no longer wanted to hold her for ransom instead they just wanted to kill her and throw her in the woods. They pulled over to a remote road just off I-5, dragged her out of the car, grandmas back to the woods. Putting the gun up to her head the kidnapper asked if she was ready to die. Grandma didn’t hesitate, “I’ve lived a long and wonderful life. I’m ready to go. Go ahead and shoot.” What an incredible statement! Surprisingly, she said it with such conviction, the kidnapper was unable to pull the trigger!

Frustrated, they threw her back into the car and kept driving. The driver was on meth and her erratic driving caught the eye of an attentive road side worker, who called it in to 911 as a possible DUI. Glancing up over the back seat, Grandma could see two cop cars rolling down the on ramp towards them with lights on. “They looked like angels coming down from heaven!” she said.

Grandma was rescued and the kidnappers were charged with first-degree robbery, first-degree burglary and second-degree kidnapping for allegedly abducting an 86-year-old woman from her home and terrorizing her.

Grandma had a full life, good and bad times. Not many of us get an opportunity, like a gun to the head, to say with such conviction, “I am ready to go.” It’s true you can find new life in many places, but some people find new life at the wrong end of a gun.

This is a story that has become a part of my heritage and will stay polished in my memory, kept high in a safe place, to be displayed and discussed when appropriate times allow, not too unlike the knick knacks on my freshly polished shelf.