Nearly a month into this experience, this mission, I began to notice rising feelings of distress. I felt irritable and overwhelmed and stretched—that old rubber-band feeling where any more pull will break the band. My emotional energy reserves were gone. And I didn’t really know why. My sisters encouraged me to have compassion for myself, to realize that after living alone for years I am suddenly sharing space with other people all day every day. Continue reading
Mom received an invitation from one of the women of the Church. It was fancy, with vinery winding around the pretty graphics and text. An invitation to a Relief Society Garden Party. The Relief Society, established by the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in 1842, and reestablished in 1868 after the “Mormons” were driven from Missouri and Illinois into the wilds of Utah Territory, created a “temporal and spiritual ministry” by which the frontier pioneer women cared for each other, Church members and not. The Relief Society organization, tradition, and mission thrives today, both with weekly meetings and countless acts of ministering to one another by over seven million women—a great worldwide sisterhood. And here was the Garden Party, 179 years on, with 60 neighborhood women converging on the designated garden. I dropped Mom off at the driveway and watched her gather with the welcoming throng. She beamed as she walked through the front door three hours later, happy, refreshed, built up by camaraderie and love. Dinner had consisted of a huge salad bar spread over several tables, plus one for desserts. She loved visiting with the women, her sisters, and particularly enjoyed those who beamed cheer despite personal hardship. For that is what we do: we take what comes and help each other through with smiles on our faces, sustained by a faith that all will work out in the end.
Dad loves his yard care tools, especially the power tools. The only power tool we owned growing up in East Brunswick, New Jersey was the push mower, with no power drive, for the half-acre corner lot at 2 Schindler Court (named by the developer-friend of Mr. Schindler of Schindler’s List). Now Dad enjoys a set of DeWalt battery-powered tools, including one of his favorites, the hedge trimmer. He often trims the bushes nicely round. But the trimmer cannot grab and cut the shoots along the ground, and bending and kneeling is out of the question. I, on the other hand, can (barely) bend and (barely) kneel, and I like the small hand pruner. So while Dad shapes the bushes, I kneel on a cushioned pad and reach under the bushes to cut their runners and shoots, leaving a collection of uniquely and pleasantly shaped orbs. The hard-to-get-to places are the ones longest neglected, but turning attention and effort to them yields pleasing results. There’s a metaphor there somewhere.
The negotiated terms of my ouster included me rescuing my children’s artwork from the attic storage closet. I wanted these paintings displayed and my children honored. They had made oil, acrylic, and collage paintings on old plywood, cardboard, canvas board, and posterboard. Many pieces were very good. Determined, I took a framing class at the Tooele Army Depot morale, welfare, and recreation (MWR) facility. I learned to measure and cut the mats and the glass, assemble the frames, and apply the backing. I felt joyful and proud to hang these excellent art pieces on the walls of my apartment, which my father came to call my “art gallery.” They included scenes of Lisbon streetcars, Rio de Janeiro’s Cristo Redentor, the romantic streets of Paris, African villages, Korean dancers, and New York City street corners, plus a Panda Bear and a Great Blue Heron. The most venerable painting hanging on my apartment walls was an oil Dad painted in the 1950s of two children, a boy and a girl, walking hand-in-hand down a forest path. To move them safely, I wrapped these jewels in plastic and stacked them carefully in the Mom’s and Dad’s basement. After two weeks, I found myself ready to decorate my two rooms, too small to accommodate all the paintings I had framed. And I suddenly found that my connection to them was touched with old despair. For now, I will gently store them to await a time of greater healing and permanence, when I will take them out and again proudly display them. Now is not the time or the season. They are like so many priceless museum pieces wrapped in protecting plastic and stowed in crates, awaiting their grand retrospective. In the meantime, I have hung in my rooms several of Mom’s beautiful needlepoints, prints I bought on various trips, and the old oil of two children walking through the woods, holding hands.
On the way home from work, I stopped to buy a big bottle of Round-Up herbicide. Those pesky weeds keep popping up in the shrub beds and under the pine trees. Virginia creeper seems impossible to extirpate. As a teen, Dad taught me to mix concentrated pesticides with water in a three-gallon pressurized spray tank. With rubber gloves and a long sleeve shirt, I mixed the poison and sprayed the fruit trees against aphids and borers. Dad strictly instructed me never to get the pesticide—especially the concentrate—on my skin, and if I did to wash immediately with soap and water. He told me how these chemicals had killed people who touched them, or breathed their vapor. I took his word for it and followed his instructions carefully. A decade later I came across a first edition of Rachel Carson’s 1962 masterpiece Silent Spring, and carried it around for another decade before reading it. The book exposed the pesticide and herbicide industries for the dangerous nature of these chemicals to humans, animals (think DDT and Bald Eagle eggs), and ecosystems. Of course, all those chemicals have since been banned for home use because they, in fact, killed people. I am still careful with Round-Up, not spraying on a windy day, and washing with soap after. How glad I am that sensitive, smart, and courageous persons like Rachel took on the industrial complex at great personal sacrifice to share messages of truth larger than themselves. To introduce my book Rabbit Lane: Memory of a Country Road, and in admiration for how Rachel changed the world, I wrote this poem, expressing my sentiments 50 years after she penned hers.
not silent quite.
the growing hum
After I organized my home office, in the former guest bedroom, I received an email from Dad asking if my red office chair held sentimental meaning to me, and, if not, perhaps I should consider getting a new office chair. I bought the cushioned red cloth chair thirty years ago as my writing chair. I sat and rocked in it eight years ago as I typed the first, second, and final manuscripts of my book, Rabbit Lane: Memoir of a Country Road, as well as my volume of recent poetry, A Time and A Season. The red cloth has faded, the spring has stretched into a permanent recline, and the paint has been scratched off the wood arms. For years my son Brian used it in his room at his desk; daughter Erin also enjoyed the chair, and repainted the wood arms and legs. But it is showing its age, and Dad thought it might not represent me professionally on Zoom. Time to let it go. I asked Brian if he might like his childhood chair, and he replied in the enthusiastic affirmative. I will miss my old red chair, but it was starting to hurt my back, and I’m so glad Brian will enjoy sitting and rocking in it as he writes his poems and creative non-fiction essays and reads pictures book to little Lila. The old red chair will fit his MFA nicely.
I had intended to accept an invitation to gather with the men of the neighborhood to help an ill neighbor with yard work he could not do. “Bring your chainsaws,” the organizer goaded, “and show what real men you are.” I chuckled, knowing his heart was pure. As I sat with Dad in the back yard, however, and he talked about all the things he would like to accomplish in his yard, I decided to change course. I chose to stay home and help with his yardwork, which I suppose is my yardwork. An impish niggling voice accused me of being selfish for not helping the neighbor. But I shrugged it off and responded, “Nope. That is not my mission. This is my mission: to be here, to help here, to the end. This is missionary work.” And so I got to work pruning trees and weeding flower beds and yanking out the long Virginia creeper vines. A smile on Dad’s face, and his call of “Looks great!” confirmed what I already knew, and made me happy to be so engaged.
During a visit to Gilbert, Arizona to see my sister Jeanette, she took me to a state park near Sedona, high above the desert, with a little trout stream flowing through the pine forest. On the park lawn grazed a squadron of pig-like creatures called collared peccaries, or javelinas. I asked a uniformed park ranger about them—he told me javelinas are not pigs at all, but a cross between an old-world swine (which is a pig, I thought) and a new-world raccoon. I stared at him stupefied, wondering if were joking. Sadly, he was perfectly serious. Of course, such a cross is genetically impossible, for the same reasons a dog cannot breed with a cat, or a chicken with a rabbit: impossible. (Idaho does boast its jackalope, a cross between a jack rabbit and a pronghorn antelope—Google it.) On another visit, Mom and Dad brought back a life-sized rusted metal javelina that sits quietly on alert, on their front porch. When the Deseret News stopped its daily circulation, opting for online distribution, Mom and Dad subscribed to the New York Times, which is tossed every day out of a car window onto the driveway. Leaving the house for work in the morning, I noticed the newspaper, bagged in blue plastic, sitting on the javelina’s snout. I asked Mom about it, and she whispered simply “newspaper elf.” Another morning, I saw from my home office window a man crossing the driveway. Ah, so he must be the newspaper elf. But on Saturday the newspaper was in the driveway. “The newspaper elf doesn’t work on weekends,” Mom explained cheerfully. “We have to go and get it.”
Mom said to me soon after I moved in, “I’m old, and I can’t do much, but I can do laundry and I like to do laundry. Would you let me do your laundry? I would like to do that for you.” I felt inclined to decline, and demurred. Dirty laundry is a sensitive subject for me. Returning from a five-month separation in 2014, I gently insisted on doing my own laundry. Home from my eviction, I found I could not allow her to handle my dirty laundry, though she wanted to. I could not let myself be vulnerable in that way. Now, with my mother’s request, I am trying be vulnerable enough to allow her to do something for me that she can do and wants to do and likes to do, even though I like doing it, too. For me, separating the colors from the whites and putting in the soap and running the machines is fun. And I like folding the clean clothes and putting them in their organized place. With Mom’s offer to wash my dirty clothes, I have come full circle to my childhood. Mama is taking care of me again. How tender that she wants to. After thinking it through and breathing deeply, I said to her, “Mom, I would be very appreciative of you washing my dirty clothes. Thank you so much for offering.”
In July, just before I moved, Mom told me about how she and Dad sat in picnic chairs in the driveway every evening at 8:45 to watch the sun set, enjoying the colorful clouds. I texted her one night that I would go stand by the apartment complex fence at 8:45 to see the sun set over the Tooele valley, in solidarity with her. While she gazed toward the Oquirrh mountains to her west, I looked toward the Stansbury mountains to my west, each with peaks over 11,000 feet. As July moved into August, our sunset time came earlier and earlier, today already at 7:45. Sitting there in the driveway, the three of us, on our picnic chairs, we waved at neighbors driving or walking by, talked about the day’s work and news, and admired the brilliant colors. With the worst California fires in history, Utah’s sun became an orange-poppy sphere that we could stare at without discomfort for the thick smoke. As the sun dipped behind the mountains one evening, Dad announced, “I can see Venus!” I looked and looked for several minutes, but could not see the “first star.” His cataract removal and lens implants seem to have given him telescopic eyes at age 85, while my 20-20 eyes (thank you Lasik) still searched for the pin point. As the sky darkened, Mom told of when she was six years old and sang at a neighborhood talent show, in the church building, and for the occasion her mother made a dress for her out of rolls of white crepe paper stitched together, with red paper trim and pink paper hearts. Then Dad led us in a round of “Let Me Call You Sweetheart” and told me how wonderful my mother is (which he tells me every day, and she is). Soon the automatic sprinklers popped up, and the quarter moon shone a rich orange through the smoky sky.
The arctic willow bush tends to grow wildly, a thicket of unruly blue hair. And twigs die and turn brown in the midst, marring the uniform soft blue. Dad has always diligently pruned out the deadwood. This weekend he asked me if I would find that one elusive dead twig and cut it out. After a pine branch attacked me (see prior Pruning Pine Trees post), I wrestled my way into the willow tangle in search of brown. Like with the pine tree, once on the inside I found much invisible dead wood to cut out. I threw each brown branch onto the lawn, cut them up in short lengths, and filled an entire garbage can. Stepping back from the bush, there was that elusive brown twig still peeking through. Finally I found it. What a different removing the brown made to the quality of the blue. Nature is full of instructional principles, like how cutting out the dead keeps the living healthy and beautiful.
One of my purposes is to make mealtime easy, healthy, and pleasant for Mom and Dad, by cooking dinner for them. For two years I have enjoyed cooking for them occasionally on a weekend. Now it can be every day, if wanted. It brings me pleasure to bring them pleasure. I have always wanted to learn to speak French and cook French. I study French lessons on Duo Lingo once or twice a week—I may become competent in ten years so. And after watching Julie & Julia in 2020, I bought the 50th anniversary edition of Julia Childs’ Mastering the Art of French Cooking. This week we enjoyed (1) quiche in a buttery shell with green onions, mushrooms, spinach, and ham, (2) salmon soufflé, (3) crêpes with Splenda-sweetened fresh fruit and almond whipping cream (for my son Caleb’s 22nd birthday “cake”), (4) carrots and parsnips glazed in a buttery sweet sauce, and (5) cream of mushroom soup, all from Julia’s book. I have fun cooking delicious, appealing food, and we all enjoy consuming it. The recipes were hard at first, but have become second nature with repetition. Dad sent me an email today, “I will be cooking dinner tonight.” These six words implied so much: (a) I can cook, too; (b) I want to cook, too; (c) I love to cook, too; (d) I can do things; (e) I want to share the load; (f) thank you for your cooking; (g) I want to take a turn; (h) I want to do something nice for you like you do for us; and, (i) isn’t it wonderful how people take raw ingredients and make such creative, delicious dishes? So, tonight he cooked delicious “saucy pork burrito rice bowls” with ingredients and recipe provided by Hello Fresh. When I asked if I could be his sous chef, he said sure. As the three of us sat at the table with our fragrant rice bowls, Dad remarked, “We made this, together, didn’t we Rog!” We did. And it was very tasty.
I ducked under Austrian Pine boughs to step around its trunk to prune the Arctic Willow. The blunt end of a lopped pine bough jabbed me hard and square on the temple. I swore, thanked God it wasn’t my eye, and trudged off for a saw to cut off the offending limb. Dad’s neighbor, Terry, regularly shapes the enormous Blue Spruce that sits just inside his property line. One day he decided the bottom boughs were too low, and cut them all off to a height of about eight feet. A little aggressive, I thought. But Dad chose to admire how the pruning had opened up the view of the neighboring yards, “park-like.” We looked at the Spruce’s companion Austrian pine on our side of the property line, and decided its bottom limbs drooped too low. We had to duck to walk under them, and Dad hit them when riding his lawn mower. He consented to me providing a “slight haircut” to the pine. Underneath their canopy, I discovered a mass of dead limbs invisible from outside. I lopped off all those I could reach. I carefully pruned the lowest hanging limbs, lifting the canopy bottom up a couple of feet. The result looked natural and less cluttered, bringing a better balance to the landscaping. Mom and Dad were really pleased. Following my normal clean-up routine, I snipped the boughs into short lengths that could be compacted into the garbage can, which these days seems to be filling up long before pick-up day.
Preparing for the move, I wondered which room would be best for my bedroom. The basement bedroom is my favorite guest room because it is cooler, darker, more quiet, and more private—cave-like. The west-facing room with its big windows grows hot in summer. The other room has four bunk beds for when the grandchildren were younger. I decided that the basement would not do: if something went wrong in the night, I would not be able to immediately hear and respond. I consulted with Mom and Dad, and we decided to take the bunk beds down and move my bed in. They offered to let me use the larger (hotter) bedroom for my home office. The ceiling fan and window blinds will ease the heat. How gracious Mom and Dad were to volunteer this arrangement—it will work beautifully. The bedroom is simple, with my bed, dresser, and nightstand. The office has the only other furniture I brought: my 30-year-old first-ever kitchen table that my daughter Erin later refinished with black legs, dark wood-stain top, and painted flowers and vines, for my desk—at this desk, I typed the manuscripts of my book Rabbit Lane: Memoir of a Country Road; a wood filing cabinet; a glass-doored book case for my current journals, writing projects, and reading list; and, the tall driftwood specimen Dad carried off Mount Timponogos in the 1950s and transformed into a gorgeous lamp. It sits on my great-grandfather Baker’s low, round, oak table with lathe-turned legs. I feel like I have come home.
When church services ended, Mom led me to choir practice, held in the home of a neighbor. The director was thrilled to have a new bass, and gave me a choir folder with my name on it, filled with favorites like Come Thou Fount of Every Blessing, Consider the Lilies, and John Rutter’s I Will Sing with the Spirit. Mom was the ward choir director when I first started singing at the age of 12 in our New Jersey ward. I learned from her so much about the beauty, complexity, and dynamics of choral singing and conducting. She held this position for nine years. In my forties, I was asked to direct the choir in my Utah ward. I borrowed Mom’s choral music library, cleared the mental cobwebs, and put to work all the knowledge she taught me decades before. At the same time, I sang in a wonderful Salt Lake City community choir, learning even more. I have not sung with the church choir for a long time. While choral singing can be uplifting and therapeutic, too much pain kept me away from people for too long. I am happy to be singing again in the ward choir. And as Mom expressed in choir practice today, “I am so grateful to be singing.” Amen.
We drive 200 yards to church—walking is just not an option. I belong to the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. First, a little context. Our local church units are called wards. The ward one attends depends on where one lives. So, moving from Tooele to Sandy, my church record was transferred from the Westland Ward to the Crescent 18th Ward. A bishop presides over each ward. Every ward member is given the opportunity to contribute to the ward’s functioning (e.g., teaching youth classes) and to minister to the ward’s members. All ward members serve voluntarily, without pay. My first Sunday in the new ward, the bishop stood at the pulpit and invited to stand, telling the congregation of several hundred that I was new to the ward, and that I had moved in with my parents to help take care of them. As I stood up, I resisted the almost irresistible urge to tuck in my shirt and pull up my slacks. I am what I am; let them see me. I felt the unusual nature of my situation: an older single man moving in with his octogenarian parents. And I was sure Dad felt chagrined and being identified publicly as needing to be “taken care of.” But these are all good people, many of whom approached me after the meeting to welcome me enthusiastically into the ward. “I’m Brad.” “I’m Ann.” “I’m Bishop Callister.” “So glad to meet you. Your parents are such wonderful people.”
John Wayne stayed in Tooele, and Hannah went with her mom. But Brian and Avery came and to help me unload the truck. Lila (almost 2) ran around talking and playing and exploring and shyly approaching Mom and Dad, her great-grandparents. I had communicated, I was sure, with Mom and Dad about where I thought it best to store my belongings: in the main basement room against the east wall. In fact, I had not discussed it with them. I had only imagined discussing it, and had fabricated, apparently, a memory both of the conversation and of their assent. But this was not the storage location they preferred: putting my stuff there would turn their family gathering place into a storage room. I was stunned, not at their preference—it is their house and their space, and my obligation and opportunity to respect them. Rather, I was stunned at my having transformed the fantasy of my unuttered thoughts into the reality of a memory of a conversation that never took place. Dad pointed me to a small unfinished area of the basement I was confident would not fit my belongings. But I did some quick organizing, laid down my 2x4s, and got ready to bring in the boxes. I applied a wide strip of amazingly adhesive plastic down the stairs to the basement and up the stairs and down the hall to my room. I did not want the boot traffic and black dolly wheels to ruin the light-colored shag. Clanking down the stairs with boxes of books on the dolly was a chore straining our arms and legs and back. Brian and I were sore the next day! On the moving-in side, Brian and Avery were my heroes. By night’s end, I was, simply, exhausted, took two Aleve, and fell like a boulder into bed. But not without remembering sheepishly my first new-home blunder, committed before even moving in. I will need to be extra careful to clearly communicate so as to navigate my space while not infringing on theirs. Fortunately, Mom and Dad are generous, flexible, and forgiving.
Moving day finally came. I rented a 16-foot Penske truck from Home Depot, with a dolly—I was not going to schlep all those boxes of books one at a time. My son Brian (31) and daughter Hannah (15) volunteered to help me load the truck. I had been so focused on packing and cleaning that I neglected to ask for help loading the truck. Brian brought a friend he met years earlier in Oklahoma during his church missionary service. His Chinese name sounds like John Wayne, and he invited me to just call him that. Brian, Hannah, and John Wayne were heroic! We loaded a thousand boxes (actually 100) and a few pieces of furniture I am keeping. Most of my furniture and household furnishings I am leaving for Brian and Avery to use, since I will not need them (or have room for them) at Mom’s and Dad’s house.
Many poignant thoughts struck me as I drove the big truck away from Tooele to Sandy. (1) I am mourning leaving my apartment—my home. No matter how good the new circumstance, we often grieve the circumstance we leave behind. (2) Living alone in an apartment after 27 years of marriage was not my choice. But making that apartment my home was my choice. And I made it a beautiful, comfortable, safe, peaceful, happy home for myself, and for my children when they came to see me. (3) I struggle with transitions, that place of belonging neither here nor there, neither now nor then, of belonging to no place and no time. I am glad this transition is ending. (4) The last day in one place is as strange as first day in another. (5) I did it! I made it! I lived alone for six years after a traumatic divorce. And I made it through. Intact, even! Stronger! I emerged from a long, dark tunnel of trauma into the light of life and love, and even created my own light along the way.
I have kept a journal since I was a teenager in the late 1970s. My journal isn’t a diary of daily occurrences, but a collection of documents containing my thoughts, insights, struggles, joys, accomplishments, activities, and feelings, and those of others with whom I am closely connected, mostly family. All these documents go into one-inch black three-ring binders, the dates printed on the spines, lined on my bookshelves. Continue reading
My church encourages its members to have on hand one year’s supply of food in case of emergency. The Covid-19 pandemic affirmed that food storage isn’t a fool’s errand. After being counseled my whole life, and after six months of Covid, I finally started acquiring food storage. Not just staples, but things I would enjoy and that would be good for me. Canned: refried beans; sweet potatoes; mackerel; sweet corn; green beans; mandarin oranges; spaghetti sauce; diced tomatoes; black beans. Baking: flour; sugar; brown sugar; baking powder; corn meal; cassava flour; vegetable shortening; a gallon of vegetable oil; a gallon of corn syrup. Spices: garlic; onion; cinnamon. Bouillon cubes for chicken and beef broth. Pasta: angel hair (my favorite). Bottled water. Powdered milk. A stove in a can. Two hundred tea candles and pint-jar lanterns. I hope I don’t have to find out how long these stores, combined with their own, would last Mom, Dad, and me. But I have them just in case, in boxes, on shelves in Mom’s basement cold storage room.
I packed 30 boxes in one night. Packing boxes is such an odd life experience. Into each box I put my books, my genealogical records, my decorations, my journals. I seem to have more books and binders than any other type of possession. I cannot bear to part with the good books I have read, so into the boxes they go, with the label “Books: Read.” My latest favorites: The Plover by Brian Doyle, about a scarred sailor on a small sailboat who takes on several characters and through them heals his wounds; and, The Color of Law by Richard Rothstein, about the pervasive systematic racist policies of U.S. Government agencies that caused African Americans to suffer gross inequities in housing availability and affordability, safe neighborhoods, good jobs, adequate incomes, quality schools, clean environments, loan and mortgage equity, wealth generation, and military benefits. Each book has walked me in the shoes of great men and women, has taken me to new realms of science, has filled me with joy and sadness and that sick feeling that comes from reading about human cruelty. And when my bookshelves are empty and the boxes are full, I feel empty and bereft, as if my compartmentalized personality has been divided into boxes with labels, packed away to be loaded onto a truck and driven to my knew home and stacked in a corner of the basement until this new chapter, of which I have barely turned the first page, has ended (and I hope it is a long chapter). Then, I will carry the boxes again, still unopened, to some other domicile, where they will be unpacked and their contents organized on shelves and tables until my children come to care for me.
I didn’t go to Wal-Mart for boxes. I went there for snacks, including cheddar fish crackers, for a day trip to see Disney’s Beauty and the Beast with Hannah at Tuacahn. But there was the cheerful Pepperidge Farms lady collapsing boxes by the dozen, happy to give them to me when I asked. Packing is always a daunting task, and it starts with building boxes. With Ken Burns’ 20-hour Jazz playing b-bop and avant-garde, I started folding and taping flaps, and tossing the boxes in a heap. I feel so sad for genius Charlie Parker, playing sax music from heaven while drugs dragged him down to a living hell, with death at 34. At DVD’s end, the living room was a heap of empty cracker boxes, about to be filled with books I may never read but yet carry around by the decade. My life feels about to be reduced to a stack of heavy boxes marked “books.” But mine is a good life: I will have a safe, loving place to live with, and care for, my generous parents. Safe places—that is what we should be building. I guess it starts with building boxes. Forty down; so many to go.
With the plan in place, and the miracles having come about, the time to get to work had arrived. Boxing. Cleaning. Moving. Adjusting. Saying good-byes. And with that work came the second guessing. What was I thinking to invite this change? I am moving from my home, where I am comfortable and safe. I will be lengthening my commute from 3 miles to 53, from ten minutes to an hour, each way. I will be working day and night, six days a week. I will be living in someone else’s space. I will be giving up my solitary time for reading, writing, and film. Did I do the right thing? And yet, I know with a conviction, as powerful as any I ever received before, that this is the right thing to do. This is missionary work, and I have been called to this mission. I am holding on to that sure knowledge as I enter into a time of transition, a time of belonging neither in the old place nor in the new. I am holding onto that conviction and moving forward with faith, however weak.
I work as a municipal attorney for a small Utah town, advising the elected Mayor and City Council, the Planning Commission, and City department heads. This has been my work for 28 years. I rarely plan my days, which unfold in a never-ending series of problems and challenges, demands and crises. (I disfavor the word “crisis,” which takes a mere situation and elevates it to a crisis, with all the increased stress of a crisis, instead of making the same situation simply something to solve.) Working 50 hours a week in Tooele, plus ten hours of commuting, would hardly be conducive to fulfilling my primary purpose to care for my parents. For the plan to work, I would need permission to work a flexible, non-traditional schedule. Again, I solicited family prayers. I presented my plan and my proposed schedule to my boss, the Mayor. She enthusiastically approved, and even thanked me for choosing to help my parents at this point in their lives. I will work four partial days a week in Tooele, plus remote hours from home on those days, plus working remotely from home on Fridays, and when needed on Saturdays. I will still attend City Council meetings on Wednesday nights—after a career of some 5,000 Wednesday-night meetings, I see my week as Wednesday to Tuesday instead of Sunday to Saturday. Anyway, this schedule, hopefully, will allow me both to work full-time and to be home enough to make a difference for Mom and Dad. To my eye, this is another miracle. If the schedule itself is not, the kindness certainly is.
For me to implement the plan, I would need at least two miracles. I consider a miracle to be a desirable occurrence which is beyond human ability to create, brought about by some benevolent force, providential or universal. In my belief system, miracles have a divine origin, manifesting a loving Divinity. The first miracle I would need involved my apartment lease, which I had just renewed for another year. Should I vacate early, my landlords could accelerate the remaining lease payments and demand the forbidding sum of $12,000. An absolute impossibility. I asked my siblings and children to join me in prayer to soften my landlords’ hearts, to allow me to vacate early. I wrote to my landlords about my situation, and my reasons for moving. They responded quickly, agreeing to let me leave without penalty. Coincidentally, my son Brian and his wife Avery and their darling daughter Lila (my first grandchild) had decided to move from Kentucky back to Utah, to be closer to family. But they had not succeeded in finding a place to live. Utah is experiencing a persistent housing gap, with about 50,000 more families looking for housing than there are houses to buy or rent, and with soaring prices. Not only did my landlords agree to let me terminate my lease early, they agreed to allow Brian and Avery to sign a lease for my apartment. And because I will not need my furnishings at Mom’s and Dad’s house, Brian and Avery will step into a fully-furnished and decorated apartment at no additional cost. As these two critical pieces of the puzzle fell into place, I gave thanks in prayer for the blessings. An elegant, perfect, miraculous turn of events. Only one more major miracle was needed.
#5. My sister Sarah bought Mom and Dad a Facebook Portal, although they struggle with technology and do not want “a Facebook.” The Portal sits like a small TV screen on their kitchen table. Having my siblings’ blessing, I felt an urgency to talk with Mom and Dad immediately about my proposal to move in with them—so many puzzle pieces would need to fall into place in the right order—but I did not want to have such an important conversation on the phone, and right then I could not drive the hour each way to visit them in person. Why not use the Portal? When Mom and Dad answered, I saw them sitting big as life at their kitchen table. They lifted their heads slightly from looking through scalloped bifocals. They could see me at my desk in Tooele with my law certificates, plants, books, family photos, and Van Gogh paintings around me. For me, too, the bifocal tilt. I explained my concerns about their welfare and my proposal to move from my home to theirs, to help them live comfortably and safely in their home for as long as they wished. I mustered my most persuasive presentation, anxious about how they might react. Happily, Mom seemed relieved, and said simply, “Thank you, son. That would be wonderful.” Dad seemed grateful, but concerned—for me. We talked things through—my move, my commute, my work, my parenting with Hannah—and they agreed to the proposal. The plan was now in motion.
#4. Despite my conviction of needing to help Mom and Dad, I had to make sure my siblings agreed with the plan. I wrote to my four sisters and only brother to express my concerns for Mom’s and Dad’s health and safety (concerns they all shared), and to seek their blessing for me to move in. As a career municipal attorney, I have seen too many instances of children and grandchildren moving in with their parents and grandparents, manipulating them, taking advantage of them, and taking their money and property. Though my siblings know I am not such a person, still I felt it necessary to have their consent for me to assume such a trusted position with their parents. All five wrote back to me with love and gratitude and support. Megan wrote, “I support you 110%.” Carolyn wrote, “We are behind you.” Sarah, Jeanette, and Steven also gave their enthusiastic support. I knew that with their love and trust, perhaps I could do this. Their blessing in hand, now it was time to consult with Mom and Dad.
#3. The need is now. I am pondering the circumstances of my availability to leave my own home and to live with my parents in theirs. I find myself divorced and living alone. My seven children are mostly raised, with the youngest learning to drive. Five years have been sufficient to transition out of the trauma of exile and isolation. In those years I focused on healing, and too much, perhaps, on my own life, my little knick knacks, my art on the walls, my books, my mountain bike, my blog, my baking, my time, my my my . . . . It is time, perhaps, to look more outward, more toward the welfare of someone other than myself. And it is time for me to be available to do what I can do. My siblings are dedicated, loving persons, and could do so much better at caregiving than me. They already do so much. But they are not available to do some of what requires doing. I am available. So, the privilege and the responsibility are mine, and I cheerfully accept.
#2. I had planned to move in with Mom and Dad, if need be, in about a year, after my lease expired. But the evil lawn mower incident convinced me to move immediately. Dad loves his lawn: a source of pride and joy and exercise. Monthly fertilizer has yielded a deep emerald green turf, which Dad cuts twice a week on his riding mower. Plus: string trimming, driveway edging, shrub shaping, limb pruning, and dandelion digging—spread throughout the week in manageable increments. The push mower is for the corners the riding mower won’t reach. When Dad was pushing the mower downhill toward the garage one day, it ran away from him and dumped him on the concrete driveway. Providentially, Dad broke no bones. I knew that a broken hip or leg, or a blow to the head, could have been the beginning of the end, with long-term convalescence away from home. When they told me what had happened, I received a sudden conviction: now was the time—immediately—to move in with Mom and Dad and do what I could to keep them in their home for the remainder of their days (may they be long).
Courage at Twilight: An Introduction
Day #1. I knew the day would come. The day when my vibrant marathon-running violin-playing father and mother would grow old, grow feeble, stumble and fall. And I wondered how I could feebly stumble in my filial role to give them care. I am older than I thought parents could get, and certainly not me: a near-60 divorced lawyer writer mountain biker. One day it became clear the solution to the problem was to move in with my parents and provide for them the best care I knew how. And I knew writing would help me understand the experience. Join me as I travel this unfamiliar road, through short daily vignettes, to contribute to the quality of life of my aging parents, and to make sense of my life as they journey toward their life’s end and beyond.
August 1, 2021