There’s nothing Amy likes more than a snuggle with Sunshine. I’m thinking he doesn’t mind too much, either. Sunshine is getting so big, and has beautiful color. Maybe that comes from the roaches hee-hee. And look at those cute little toes.
At my apartment, my children always asked me after dinner, “Are the dishes in the dishwasher clean or dirty?” At Mom’s house, that is the wrong question. Either the dishwasher is empty or dirty. Clean dishes are never allowed to remain in the appliance. She empties the dishwasher immediately upon the cycle ending, despite the scalding steamy dishes. So, when my children asked Mom if the dishes in the dishwasher are clean or dirty, she replies, “If there are dishes in the dishwasher, Dear, they are dirty.”
Some people love change. The newness of changed circumstances stimulates and excites them. Others loathe change, which can frighten and overwhelm. I tend toward the latter, though I am reconciled to the truth that change is both inevitable and frequent. One reality on which both groups agree is that change disrupts. Our perspective tells us whether that disruption is good or bad, positive or negative, welcome or to be shunned. I also have learned the truth that change gives us the opportunity to reexamine who we are, what we do, and why we do it. Why do I wash the laundry on Mondays and eat an enormous salad on Thursdays and only vacuum once a month? Why did I eat my solitary dinners in front of the television? Changed circumstances provide an opportunity to revise routines, and to discern and maintain the essential while escaping from old ruts. Living with Mom and Dad, after six years alone, I no longer eat my dinner in front of the television screen—instead, I sit at the kitchen table and talk with Mom and Dad about the day. Two habits I am working to strengthen are prayer to the Divine and time reading holy Writ. Though I recognize the supernal value of both, I have always struggled to follow spiritual habits, maintaining discipline with stubborn irregularity. My recent move disrupted all of my routines, from the side of the bed I curl up on to my practice of prayer. I sense how important it is for me not to lose whatever little discipline I had harnessed before. My success has been spotty. But I will keep working at it. For example, I read today about the Word in John chapter 1.
(Photo: Slickrock country in Moab, Utah.)
An excellent church sermon, on the subject of serving humankind in small and simple ways, prompted me to visit the service clearinghouse JustServe.org. I browsed through hundreds of worthy service opportunities—everything from being pen pals with prison inmates to assembling hygiene kits to indexing gravestone photographs to tutoring young people in English and Math—and settled on a small and simple project I felt I could handle. The project was to make greeting cards with the message You Are Loved decorating the inside. I have made cards from pressed leaves and flower petals since my Grandmother Dorothy taught me decades ago. Against her office walls leaned four-foot-tall stacks of heavy books pressing thousands of slowly drying leaves and petals. The card-making process involves gluing pressed flowers and other decorations, like paper butterflies, to wax paper, gluing colored tissue paper to that, drying, ironing to melt the wax into the tissue, cutting, and folding. Into the card I insert a blank paper bifold, on which I write a personal message for upcoming birthdays and anniversaries. I love making cards because, while far from being an artist, I can make something beautiful to brighten someone’s day. Equally important, making cards connects me to memories of my dear grandmother. (For more photos and detailed instructions, see my essays Cards of Leaves and Petals and Grandma’s Pressed-Leaf Greeting Cards.) My sisters have supplied me with abundant pressed leaves and flowers (from Carolyn) and paper cutouts of birds and butterflies (from Megan). At the extended family Thanksgiving celebration, after our dinner, I enlisted family members to decorate the card inserts with colored markers, including the message You Are Loved. I explained that the cards would be included in kits delivered to refugees around the world. Upon opening the kits, the recipients will be greeted with the generic but safe and loving message: You Are Loved. With those refugees in mind, my family members, from my two-year-old granddaughter Lila to my octogenarian parents, enjoyed personalizing their cards. Only after Mom and I delivered the cards to Lifting Hands International, did I realize that today is Giving Tuesday. That coincidence brought me happiness. Thoughts of refugees being cheered, even if momentarily, by a loving personalized artistic message, brought me happiness. In fact, I find that helping others always brings happiness. Why don’t I do it more often? To be sure, our service was among the smallest and simplest—no grant accomplishment. But every good deed, no matter how miniscule, even when unnoticed, contributes to the world’s goodness, of which there can never be too much. I wonder what small and simple gift of service you may enjoy offering others? After making 60 labor-intensive cards, I need a break from card-making. But I am sure I will make more, maybe for Giving Tuesday 2022. Perhaps sooner.
Roger Baker is a career municipal attorney and hobby writer. He is the author of Rabbit Lane: Memoir of a Country Road and A Time and A Season. Rabbit Lane tells the true life story of an obscure farm road and its power to transform the human spirit. A Time and A Season gathers Roger’s poems from 2015-2020, together with the stories of their births. The books are available in print and for Kindle at Amazon. See Rabbit Lane reviewed in Words and Pictures.
Alone with Mom and Dad on Thanksgiving, I determined to make a nice meal (that was not a turkey), and found my courage to try Julia Child’s recipe for Boeuf Bourguignon (beef stewed in red wine). The recipe had intimidated me for a long time, because of the expensive ingredients (quality cut of beef, bottle of Bordeaux) and the many involved steps that have to come together. Boil and brown the bacon sticks. Brown the beef cubes. Sauté the sliced carrots and onions. Pour in the red wine and broth. Simmer in the oven for three hours while sautéing small whole onions and quartered mushrooms to add later. “Do not crowd the mushrooms,” Julia charged. The last step was to boil the wine and broth down to a thick gravy to pour over the platter of beef, bacon, onions, carrots, and mushrooms. To my wonder and delight, the meal was a smashing succulent success. I felt quite proud of myself as the three of us chewed with delighted mmmms and ahhhhs. How disappointing to get full so fast! I will not prepare this dish often, but the four-hour cook time was worth the happy result as we quietly concluded our Thanksgiving Day with our meal of French Boeuf Bourguignon.
We took two drives in two days, Mom, Dad, and me—I drove the faithful Suburban. The first day we drove into the hills, into the gated neighborhoods with the big houses, which grew bigger and fancier with altitude. Several houses were enormous, of the 20,000 square-foot variety, with turrets and weather vanes and wrought iron fences and security cameras. One resembled an English country mansion estate. We felt distinctly uncomfortable at the thought of all the money poured into these lavish houses. We are not wealthy people, and did not know how to relate to such wealth. The next day we drove across the valley to find Mom’s maternal grandparents’ house. We found it in a rundown part of town, with century-old match-box houses, tiny, unkempt, honest, 20 little houses crammed into a single mansion lot. I remember visiting great-grandpa James Evans—I was four. He scooped Neapolitan ice cream into cones from his top-loaded deep freeze. He walked stooped with age, humble but dignified, showing me his little cherry orchard with the concrete ditches ladling irrigation water to each dwarf tree. More than 50 years after that visit, I snapped a photo of his little old house. Around the corner was the Pleasant Green church where my grandfather Wallace first met my grandmother Dorothy. He was a guest minister, and she played the organ. After church, Wally asked Dorothy if he could drive her home, and she accepted. After he dropped her off, she got a ride back to the church so she could take her car home. I snapped a photo of the church, and we drove away from history and memory back into our comfortable present, far across the valley.
Above: the Church where Wally met Dorothy.
Monument to the Pleasant Green church.
While I cooked dinner, Dad dressed in his gray winter coat and his pom-pommed snow hat and stumbled outside with a bag of rolled up strings of Christmas lights and a hot glue gun, a bag of glue sticks in his pocket. The temperature dipped into the low 30s. I wondered at the hot glue gun, thinking hot glue would not work well in cold temperatures. After near an hour, I thought I had better check on him, to make sure he wasn’t collapsed and freezing. But there he was, painstakingly gluing the light string to the brick every six inches. He was nearly finished, gluing the last six feet to the wall. “I didn’t think the hot glue would work on cold brick,” I commented. “Actually, the glue works better in the cold, because it sets faster, and I can move on to the next spot.” Just then he let out an “Argghh!!” as he pressed a fingertip into a dollop of hot glue. “I seem to be gluing my fingers as much as the lights!” he cursed. I reached in and held down each newly glued spot until the glue hardened, while he moved ahead to the next. I dipped my finger into the hot glue myself, and I rubbed furiously against the cold brick to wipe the burning glue off. “I see what you mean,” I commiserated. With the last section in place, we extricated ourselves from the tangled bushes and stood back to observe. “You did a great job, Dad,” I complimented. The white LED lights climbed one end of the brick wall, ran along its adorned top, and ended at the base of the other end. The next day we wrapped red and green and amber lights around the boxwood bushes. “Let’s get your mom,” Dad enthused as the sun sank and the cold set in. Mom was duly impressed, “You men did a great job with the lights!” Every evening, Dad flips a switch by the front door, contended at the cheery beauty at the corner of the front yard.
I feel so anxious in the grocery store with Mom and Dad. In the produce section, I assess the fruits and vegetables with one eye even as I monitor Dad’s quickly waning strength with the other, tense and ready to catch him if he slumps. While Dad waits exhausted and uncomfortable at a deli table, I rush from aisle to aisle scratching items off the shopping list. I cannot suggest he stay home, and should not. This is his life, and he enjoys grocery shopping. If he wants to come with me, he should come. It is healthy for him to get out of the house, to see the abundant beautiful produce, to get excited about beer-battered cod and grilled bratwurst and baking salmon on Sunday. But he pays a steep price over and above the grocery bill. “I’m done, Rog,” he whispered as we stood in the check-out lane. “I hope I can make it to the car.” Back at home, I carry eight plastic shopping bags in each hand, thanks to the handles Connor made on his 3D printer. Mom and I put the groceries away, and stuff the plastic grocery sacks into a larger bag to be recycled. Wiped out and grateful, they sink into their recliners with their books and newspapers—or the TV remote—and their snacks and drinks. This is a perfect time for me again to urge Dad, captive to fatigue and comfort, to hydrate.
(Grocery bag carriers printed by my son-in-law, Connor.)
In a prolonged moment of self-doubt about my abilities and contributions, I remarked to my brother Steven about my “stupid little blog posts.” He quickly chided me, gently, and urged me to have compassion for myself. He assured me my stories are beautiful and real, and he loves reading them. My four sisters have given me similar encouragement. So, I trek daily ahead. Mom has commented to me, pleased, but humble, “Your blog posts are kind of like my biography.” She is right. In fact, I tag every post with “Memoir.” I am telling a story, painting vignettes, writing a family memoir, slowly, one day at a time. All the stories are true and real, and I hope they approach the kind praise of “beautiful.” Many of the world’s stories are dark and painful—still, they can be instructive and even revelatory. But, except for confessing my mistakes (like, not investigating a bang! in Mom’s bathroom when she lost consciousness in the shower on a Sunday morning before church), I choose to tell stories that are both real and redeeming. Steven is right to encourage me to have compassion for my own story. I wondered today, Why is the First Great Commandment to love God with all our heart? It cannot be that God needs the fickle adulation of seven billion squabbling humans. Rather, I believe that by loving God, we discover the capacity and desire to love others, including ourselves. So, I will try to believe in myself. I certainly believe in Mom and Dad: their lives and characters make telling heartening stories an easy exercise. Mom and Dad are endearing in their quotidian lives, smiling at each other across the distance between recliners, patting the backs of each other’s hands, reminding each other to take their medicine and to put in their hearing aids. They exemplify. They edify. They love and they struggle. They serve with such generosity. They are virtuous. They have value, and their stories deserve to be preserved. I am so grateful for Mom and Dad. I am telling their stories, and learning to love them more deeply day after day.
After having a new roof put on the house, and the old attic fan removed, Mom called an electrician to pull the absent fan’s switch and wiring. The job took three hours, for some reason, and involved no electrical parts. But the bill seemed exorbitant, and I believed the electrician had taken advantage of my aged parents. And so, contrary to my peacemaking avoidant nature, I called the company to complain, or rather, to “inquire.” The intransigent manager rebuffed my suggestion we had been overbilled, offering an incoherent rambling justification—and I gave up the fight. I reported the conversation to Dad who, to my surprise, grew cross. Pointing to himself, he proclaimed, “I will decide which battles I want to fight and which battles I do not want to fight.” The implication was perfectly clear: I was not to intervene uninvited in his affairs. Fair enough, I thought. I do not mean to fight his battles, and I do not want to fight his battles. In fact, I abhor contention, and have a hard enough time fighting my own battles. I appease and apologize to my adversary even as I timidly brandish the sword. I did explain to Dad, however, and trying not to sound defensive, that I am here to help him and Mom—that is my purpose—and that I intend to say something when I see people taking advantage of them. Loath to fight, yet I will defend my family. Neither of us said another word about the subject. But I sensed the boundaries had shifted and resettled, appropriately.
In the last several weeks, Mom and Dad have gone several places without me: to the dentist, to the audiologist, to the dermatologist to have a bothersome cyst removed, to the grocery store, to the post office. I felt a bit glum being deprived of the opportunity to be useful and helpful, so show how needed I am, and to earn my keep. But I arrested myself with a self-deprecating, How silly of you! If Mom and Dad want to go places by themselves, and can do so safely, why shouldn’t they? They do not need a third wheel on every outing. In fact, any opportunity for them to be independent is healthy. They do want to be unnecessarily dependent upon me, and do not want that either. I should not try to soothe my sense of self-importance by inserting myself where I am not necessary. Despite some lingering worries about their safety on the road, I am happy to see them go off on their own to do this or that. I am not jealous. If I am available, I can offer to go along, just to make the outing a bit easier. In the meantime, it is fun to see them drive off to Burger King for Impossible Whoppers, fries, and diet Cokes.
(Image from NY Daily News. Used pursuant to the Fair Use doctrine.)
Ready for the day, Mom sits in her bedroom rocking chair working on her latest needlepoint, waiting for Dad to get up, then listening to him talk and talk when he does get up. His concerns about the family. His memories of his childhood, his ministry, his career as an international corporate lawyer. His worries about each member of the family. She listens and works the needle and listens. Her needle carries the yarn up through the square and diagonally down into the next square, a hundred thousand times. Mom’s completed needlepoints hang framed on many walls in the house, and include large florals, aboriginal geometric designs, fall leaves, rustic Brazilian skylines, and, my favorite, Noah’s ark and the world’s animals gathering two by two. Mom taught me to needlepoint when our family lived in Brazil—I was nine years old. My first (and only) needlepoint stitched a red cat on a yellow background. Two colors. Nothing like the complicated color patterns of a pair of Mallard ducks on a pond, or a sunset over Salvador, or women carrying pots on their heads. Mom needlepoints as she watches NCIS and PBS and Netflix, and as she waits for Dad to wake up from his night reading to tell her everything he has on his mind. Three needlepoints lay finished on the dining room table, and I drove Mom to a rundown wood-paneled dry cleaners to have the needlepoints stretched straight and blocked, ready for framing. “How do you think that young woman learned the skill of stretching and blocking needlepoint?” I asked Mom. She had no idea, but was glad to have found her. In two weeks, we’ll pick them up and deliver them to be framed. I hope she never stops doing needlepoint.
Enjoy these other needlepoints by my mother.
And three more finished, ready to be stretched, straightened, blocked, and framed.
To prepare for the musical program at our church’s Christmas services, Mom’s friend Tamara organized a church orchestra from neighborhood musicians. Mom has played the violin since elementary school, and plays still. She played in the Murray Symphony, a community orchestra, until age 80, when Covid-19 ended all rehearsals and performances for a year and a half. The family loved supporting her at concerts, cheering and taking photographs. At age 82, Mom has decided the rehearsal schedule, the walking, the sitting, and the ornery conductor are just too hard, and she resigned from the symphony. But she is thrilled to be part of the church Christmas orchestra. Tamara and her husband Mike pick her up for rehearsal every Sunday afternoon at 3:30. “They are just so nice,” Mom reported. Tamara delivers Mom the music she needs, and looks carefully after her. Mike helps her walk to and from the car, and carries her violin. I am so happy for Mom to be playing her violin again in an orchestra, and to exchange greetings and rub shoulders with people she loves. And I am so grateful for kind people in the world who make all the difference, as Mike and Tamara are doing for my cute, sweet, 82-year-old musician mother.
(Photo features Mom in her red coat, at the last concert performance of her career, in December 2019, with Dad and admiring family and friends.)
While cold cereal is the work-week’s morning fare, I enjoy cooking breakfast on Saturday mornings. Nothing fancy or heavy—I usually turn to oatmeal. “I love it when you cook breakfast,” Mom reassured me. She normally eats dry Quaker granola with glasses of milk and mint tea on the side. But she loves my mystery oatmeal. Easily bored with the same old, I improvise, wondering what flavor combinations will set well in the oat stew. Classic apple-cinnamon oatmeal is Dad’s favorite. This morning I tried something new: lavender-banana. My goodness, it was delicious. If you want to try them, here are some simple instructions and tips.
Ingredients (4 good servings)
4 cups water
2 cups milk (or 2 more cups water)
3 cups rolled oats (not quick oats—quick oats turn to mush while rolled oats remain soft but pleasantly and chewily textured)
salt to taste (I use ¾-1 tsp)
1-2 diced apples, any variety
1 tsp cinnamon
Add diced apples to water-milk mixture, along with cinnamon and salt, and bring to rolling boil. Because of the milk, the liquid will quickly boil over, so watch it carefully. Allow the apples to soften in the boil for 3-5 minutes. Add oats and stir. Lower heat to low boil/simmer, and stir frequently for 5-10 or so minutes until the oats are soft and thicken to desired consistency. Sweeten to taste with sweetener of choice. Brown sugar and honey are both wonderful. Mom prefers white sugar. Dad employs Splenda. I use Stevia extract. A dollop of heavy cream adds a bit of luxury.
Ingredients (4 good servings)
4 cups water
2 cups milk (or 2 more cups water)
3 cups rolled oats (not quick oats—quick oats turn to mush while rolled oats remain soft but pleasantly and chewily textured)
salt to taste (I use ¾-1 tsp)
1-2 ripe bananas
1 tsp lavender flowers, ground (I found these in our neighborhood Smith’s grocery store spice aisle)
Add lavender and salt to the water-milk mixture, and bring to rolling boil. Remember, it boils over almost without warning, so watch carefully. Add oats and stir. Lower heat to low boil/simmer, and stir frequently for 5-10 or so minutes until the oats are soft and thicken to desired consistency. Add the sliced bananas only at the very end, when the oatmeal is done, and reduce heat. Adding the bananas late releases the wonderful flavor without turning them to mush. Sweeten to taste.
Option Tip: reduce oats by ½ cup and add ¼ cup cream of wheat for extra creamy thickness.
Mom and Dad drove themselves to the dentist office for their annual checkups and cleanings. They came home happy to report that they had no cavities or other problems. Dad’s first visit to the dentist was at age 15, circa 1951, by which time several teeth were in bad shape. His mother sent him to the dentist with a $5 bill, which the dentist took, along with four teeth. “Going to the dentist was a luxury,” he explained, a luxury his single mother, emptying waste baskets at night in the Kearns Building downtown Salt Lake City, could not afford. More than a decade later, when he had a job and dental insurance, “Doc” Nicholas made bridges to fill the gaps—implants weren’t a thing. Mom took her first trip to the dentist at age seven, by which time she had several large cavities to be filled. She remembers the agony of the dentist grinding for what seemed forever with a slow rotary tool, and no Novocain. She had to just sit there, a prisoner in the chair, and suffer through it—what was the alternative? Thereafter, Mom was taken to dear Uncle Harvey, a new dentist who always smiled and laughed and made you feel good about life. Today, Mom and Dad came home cavity-free and in good spirits. Mom reported how kind the hygienist staff were on this visit. “Sometimes they just jab you, and it hurts, but my hygienist today was so nice and gentle.” Next month it is my turn to see the dreaded dentist. I wish “Doc” were still around.
(Image from Pinterest. Used pursuant to the Fair Use doctrine.)
Dad commented to me that he thought he ought to visit the audiologist, to retune his hearing aids and turn up the volume. I asked Mom tentatively if she thought she might like to have her hearing checked. I was relieved with her positive answer, because I had noticed some reduction in her ability to hear. We have been saying “What?” a little too frequently, and sometimes a little too testily. Mom drove them to the doctor’s office in her little Subaru. (I stayed behind, feverish and chilled from the shingles vaccine.) I chuckled to think of Dad folding himself, grunting, into the low passenger seat. He managed, apparently. He generally prefers the faithful Suburban, despite needing to climb up into it, because he can easily slide out. After returning home, Mom came up to my room with a bowl of hot chicken noodle soup, and reported to me about her visit to the audiologist. The hearing test showed that she still hears quite well, but is missing out on “the edges of conversations,” making it hard to follow what is being discussed. Dad got his tune up, and Mom ordered her hearing aids. “I will have to learn something new,” she sighed, resigned but not defeated. Learning from life never stops. I am just glad she will be able to hear better, and in time for the family Thanksgiving gathering. I think she will find life significantly improved. Most important, her hearing aids will have rechargeable batteries. I think Dad might be a little envious.
The best leaf rakers Mom and Dad had for our New Jersey yard were us children—six of us. (Mom and Dad helped, of course.) With half an acre to rake, we got after it, making huge piles of walnut, willow, oak, sumac, and maple leaves to jump and roll around in, before we piled them in the garden for compost. These days, Dad does not bother with rakes, except to pull leaves out of the bushes and tight corners. Instead, he mounts his riding mower and sucks up the maple and sweetgum and beautiful red pear leaves into the two rear-mounted canvas bags. This technique saves Dad from the impossibly fatiguing task of raking, and gives him the pleasure of riding his mower long into the cold season, when the grass has stopped growing. With no vegetable garden to nourish, the bagged leaves find their way to the landfill.
The neighborhood women of the Church Relief Society, whom we call Sisters, invited all the women with October and November birthdays to a birthday luncheon, in true Relief Society fashion. Mom drove herself up the street to join 20 other birthday girls. She was so happy to associate with her friends, neighbors, and fellow Sisters. And she enjoyed the soups—creamy chicken noodle and spicy chicken taco—not to mention the desserts. Several Sisters stopped by with birthday gifts for Mom, including Barbara R., who brought a small loaf of banana bread (adding walnuts because Mom is “extra special”), Barbara N., who delivered a potted plant, because we all need to be near green living things, and Judy, with a fresh baguette and raspberry freezer jam, which went perfectly with our dinner of pork loin topped with a sweet deglaze of boiled dark stout Guinness and raspberry dressing. Such events and interactions greatly enrich Mom’s life.
For Mom’s birthday dinner, Dad baked his specialty: salmon. He lined a baking dish with aluminum foil, sprayed on a little oil, placed the fish, and sprinkled on lemon pepper and salt. I added a generous dollop of butter on top of each piece. Into the oven for 45 minutes, and out it came, moist and flaky. (I’m afraid I tore up one piece checking if it were done.) He added steamed asparagus with butter and salt, and small potatoes sautéed in more butter and salt, with herbs. Such a dinner is a sublime end to a long Sabbath fast, a cheerful gathering of parents and child, a turning of the day’s stresses into a satisfied sigh, a triumph of taste, and a happy birthday feast. As far as I am concerned, Dad can bake salmon any day he likes, birthday or no.
When I lived alone in my apartment, I kept the blinds twisted shut, not wanting the hundreds of complex residents to peer into my private space. But the apartment stayed very dark. And cold, because I turned down the heat to save energy and money. Wrapped in blankets, I could not wake up in the morning without the end table lamp on a timer. My phone alarm could not wake me, but the lightbulb in my face could, and did. In my new second-story bedroom, I kept the blinds open, and awoke easily to the early summer-morning light. With the approach of winter, the morning skies are dark. But my Aerogarden lights snap on at 6:30, as does my end-table lamp. (Confession: I have a different weekend setting for my lamps.) Sleeping late simply is not possible with those lights blaring. I can detect the difference in my mood between the cavernous apartment and my new quarters, bright with natural and artificial light. I not only see the light with my eyes, but feel lighter inside. Mom and Dad, too, have noticed the early-morning light from my room. On separate evenings, they both mentioned with chuckles how my lights woke them up and they shuffled over to shut my door. They love light, and open their plantation blinds wide to fill the house with sunshine. Light remains largely a mystery to scientists, even though Newton and Einstein and others revealed much about light’s nature and properties. And light is the subject of wonder and power to prophets and poets, who liken light to intellectual enlightenment and spiritual awakening. The scripture of my Church equates light and truth, and explains: That which is of God is light. Light proceeds forth from the presence of God to fill the immensity of space. They that receive light, and continue in God, receive more light, and that light grows brighter and brighter in them until the perfect day. I think it is a beautiful notion that we can allow light and truth into our souls, and can grow in light until we become creatures of light and truth, with no darkness or malice or guile. I want to fill my life with light—except in the middle of the night.
The day began with creamy apple cinnamon oatmeal for breakfast, gourmet for Mom’s birthday. She turned 82 today. The extended family in Utah gathered for a celebratory dinner. Cards and gifts piled up on her lap. “I think about you every day as I go about my day.” Later came chocolate mousse birthday cake, and candles to blow out. “I love you with all of my heart.” So many thanked her for their happy memories: camping trips in the mountains; picking blackberries and wild asparagus; surgically pressing the “record” button on a cassette tape player to sensor the song’s profanity; playing badminton in the back yard; watching for bats at twilight; playing owl calls so the owls would come; teaching us to read; directing the church choir in which we all sang; teaching us the family songs. “I really like Grandma’s hugs.” She raised six children and suffered with us and cried and laughed with us. She served dinner promptly at 6:00 every evening, and drove us to our music lessons and sports practices. She called a soprano “Yoo-Hoo!!!” when it was time for us to come home. Her favorite flower is the yellow rose. “My love always.”
Mom’s lunch go-to television program is NCIS: Naval Criminal Investigation Service. She owns many years of the 19-year series on DVD. I, on the other hand, cannot watch. By the nature of the show, it always boasts a dead body, and often a horrific one. Perhaps I am naturally squeamish, and I abhor horror. As a young man of 19, I served a two-year proselyting mission for my church in Portugal, as is the custom for young people in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Toward the end of my service, working in Lisbon, a young man completed his own mission and was touring Lisbon with his parents. While sightseeing together, his father had a heart attack and died. As my mission president consoled and counseled with the grieving mother and son, I drove to the airport with a wallet-sized photo of the father. My mission that day was not to preach the Good News of Christ but to identify the dead. The dead man lay in a lead box, in a state of imperfect preservation that required close scrutiny to match him with his photograph. I half expected his eyes to pop open like in a horror movie, and shivered as I peered. Ridiculous, I know, but real. So, I simply cannot get cozy with the dead, and scamper to my room at the opening music of NCIS. But Mom enjoys the mystery, suspense, and jostling tough characters, and I’m glad she has a show she enjoys.
I awoke at 6:30 a.m. to get ready for work. Noticing the glow from the living room lights, I looked over the railing and saw Dad still in his recliner, covered with a crocheted afghan, still reading his book. “Hi Dad,” I whispered down to him. “Are you going to go to bed soon and get some rest?” He looked at the clock, looked up at me, and nodded a sleepy smile. To be up all night was unusual. It must have been a compelling book. Often, I will awake at 2 or 3 a.m., needing to use the restroom, and Dad will be reading, or sometimes sleeping with the open book on his lap. As much as he loves reading late into the night, the later he reads the less he sleeps and the worse he feels. An all-nighter can ruin his energy for all of the next day. One day when he seemed to feel particularly sick and weary, I asked him, “How do you feel today, Dad?” “I feel awful,” he said. “I was bad last night and read until 3:30 before I went upstairs to bed. Now I’m paying the price.” I remonstrated with him for associating the word “bad” with an activity he loves, which keeps his mind sharp, which enriches his life. “There’s nothing bad about it,” I reassured him, adding that the later he read, the more he would need to rest, perhaps. “What do you think about going to bed before midnight tonight?” I suggested. “I just can’t do it,” he craved. “I have to read, or my day will not be complete, and I won’t be able to sleep.” Read on, Dad.
Looking out the window of my home office on Veterans Day 2021, with the American flag waving, I pondered on Dad’s life and military service. Like many Americans, my ancestors served their country in the major conflicts from the Revolutionary War to World War II. Dad enlisted and served an eight-year obligation between 1953 and 1962. His Utah Air National Guard unit was the 130th AC&W Flight Squadron. His Utah Army National Guard unit was the 142nd Military Intelligence Linguist Company, at Fort Douglas, where he was trained as an Interrogator. He earned an Army Certificate of Training in 1961 for completing a course in Romanian at the U.S. Army Language School at the Presidio, in Monterey, California. During a hiatus between his Air Force and Army service, he served a volunteer proselyting mission for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in Brazil, where he learned Portuguese. His marriage to Mom came in 1962, along with his honorable discharge from the Army, and his law school graduations came in 1963 (University of Utah), 1964 (New York University), and 1965 (University of São Paulo). I came along in 1964, perched upon this legacy of intelligence, service, labor, and dedication. I am so grateful for that legacy, which has provided the foundation for every opportunity of my life. I hope I am worthy of that legacy. I hope I have conveyed virtues and values to my own seven children. My daughter Erin now serves as an officer in the U.S. Army, and I am very proud of her intelligence, service, labor, and dedication to the United States of America.
I wanted to make a nice dessert for Dad, and settled on a cream cheese tart. I added fresh guava puree to exotify the pie, and sweetened the filling with Splenda. I have become proficient at making French tart shells (pie crusts) from Julia Child’s cookbook Mastering the Art of French Cooking. Dad sat at the island watching me prepare the dough. “Don’t mix it too much,” he interjected. I think you mixed it too much. It needs to be ice cold and barely blended.” I paid no heed, and placed the wax-paper-wrapped balls of dough in the fridge to chill. After a few hours, I rolled the dough out and shaped the shell in the spring-form pan. When I first starting baking, I pressed into the shell a sheet of aluminum foil and poured in a pound of dry black beans, to keep the bottom from bubbling up. The beans are a cheap but effective substitute for ceramic baking beads, which I only recently bought. Sitting in a yogurt container, they looked just like Holland mints, round and white. Dad suddenly picked up a ceramic bead and plopped it into his mouth, thinking it was a mint. Before I could articulate gentle words, I blurted, “Uh uh uh!” like one would chide a child with its hand in the cookie jar. I did not mean to treat him like an errant child, but out of instinctual fear I did what I needed to do to stop him before he crunched on the glass bead and broke a took, or swallowed the bead. He quickly spit it out, and neither of us looked at the other or said a word. I did not want to shame him anymore than I already had with my tut-tut, and he did not want to acknowledge his gaffe. We pretended nothing happened. But later, when the pie came out of the oven looking beautiful, he confessed, as if I hadn’t known, “I almost ate one of those white glass beads. I thought it was a mint!” The beads removed, and the guava cream cheese filling poured in to bake, the tart tasted wonderfully delicious.
I left Mom and Dad for two days while I took my two youngest sons to visit their older brother John in Idaho for his 24th birthday. We rode the five-mile Sidewinder mountain bike trail, a fast flow trail aptly named, although Hyrum’s chain broke and he coasted and pumped the whole distance down. We explored a long cavernous lava tube in the sagebrush-covered Idaho wasteland. We ravaged the local pizza buffet. And we climbed at the gym where John works as a much-appreciated route-setter and climbing instructor. I have been watching my children climb in gyms and on real rock, and have belayed them all, for 15 years. But I myself have never climbed. Suddenly excited to conquer my fears, I pushed past the panic and scaled a 5.8 climb—my first climb ever—with my three sons cheering their old man on. We ended the trip with “Happy Birthday” and gifts and games of cards: Golf and SkyJo. On the windy drive back to Utah, a bike rack strap snapped, and the bikes hung precariously by one strap while I pulled off the highway. The getaway with my sons was delightful—I appreciated the break—and I was happy to come back to Mom’s and Dad’s house, which they insist is my house, too. “Welcome home!” Dad cheered when I walked through the door. “Tell us all about your trip!” Back to work today, I attended a law training, complete with a sandwich lunch. After stopping at REI for strong straps to re-strap my bike rack, I arrived home in time to help Dad rake deep red pear leaves out of the bushes and load them into the trash container. “I am so tired,” he lamented, “I need to sit down.” I invited him to come into the house for a lunch surprise. “OK, I am ready for lunch. Today must be Monday, because I always feel so tired after my Sunday ‘day of rest.’” Inside, I served Mom and Dad two beautiful sandwiches, one club and one turkey avocado, which they split and shared. The training organizer had invited me to take the leftover sandwiches for my parents. “We were going to drive to Arby’s,” Dad said. “But this is much better,” Mom chimed in. While they munched sandwiches and chips and sipped Coke (Diet for Dad and Zero for Mom), I re-strapped the bike rack, happy for their lunch enjoyment, and grateful I did not lose the bikes on the Idaho freeway.
The entrance to Civil Defense Caves lava tube.
Typically, I turn to cold cereals for breakfast during the work week. It is fast and easy and delicious, and I am often running late. But I avoid the high-sugar refined-flour cereals and opt for granolas and whole-grain varieties. On the weekends, I enjoy cream of wheat or rolled oats or multi-grain hot cereals, sweetened with stevia extract and enriched with cream, raisins, diced apples, or spices (such as, cardamom, fennel, lavender flowers, or ginger). For Dad, all the grocery-store-shelf cereals are high-sugar, anathema to his diabetes. Understandably, he sometimes cannot resist, and eats them anyway, aching for something delightful and sweet. Dad makes sure I shop the cereal aisle at the grocery store, so I have breakfast options. I have attempted to find lower-sugar cereals for him that still are tasty and interesting. After I bring the week’s groceries into the house, I carefully open all the box-top flaps, without tearing them, and cut off a corner of all the cereal bags, all this to avoid later finding the box tops destroyed and the bags torn vertically askew. Wanting to find something Dad could enjoy that would not kill him, I shopped online for sugar-free high-protein cereals, and found some promising candidates, sweetened with stevia and monk fruit. Of course, most of them exceeded $11 a box—heavy sigh. I ordered some I found on sale for $7 a box, which seemed a bargain next to $11. My brother’s cereal of choice is the Ezekiel brand: high in protein and fiber, with zero sugar, which he enhances with frozen blueberries and sweetens with organic stevia extract. I tried Ezekiel once and liked it well enough when sweetened and soaked in milk for 20 minutes to tenderize the whole rolled grains and flakes. But Dad thought it akin to shredded cardboard. We’ll give the HighKey keto protein cereals a chance, and go from there.
Having recovered from my last exhausting cooking experience, I resolved to cook a nice Sunday dinner for Mom and Dad. Mom sat in her recliner, reading the Sunday New York Times, listening to music in the family room: a home-made CD of Mom’s church choir performances. Dad decided to rest in the living room, reading Michelle Obama’s excellent memoir Becoming, playing his daily Johnny Mathis. The kitchen is situated in between. I attempted to review Julia Child’s cooking instructions, with “Count Your Many Blessings” in one ear and “99 Miles from L.A.” in the other. Unable to read, I put the book away and attacked the recipes from memory. Cooking Julia’s French recipes has become easier with practice, I guess, because I had dinner ready in good time: sauced fish poached in white wine; creamy garlic onion mashed potatoes, steamed broccoli, and sliced cucumbers. Practice is also helping me refine the textures and flavors for a more pleasurable outcome. Mom and Dad agreed the meal was a triumph. But now I am tired and do not want to cook for another week, knowing I will be hungry tomorrow.
The cut grass and Fall leaves from the riding mower shoots into two rear-mounted canvas bags, which Dad empties into a large plastic can lined with a plastic garbage bag. He thumbs two holes into the sides of the plastic to vent the vacuum and allow the grass to sink and settle. Mom ties the handles. Together they lift the can, heavy and with wet grass clippings, and dump the bag into the large trash container, which goes to the curb on Sunday night for Monday morning pickup. Several times, I lifted the heavy bag out of the can by myself, not to show off, but just to get it done—and I was strong enough to do it. In the following weeks, I found Dad bagging the grass himself and wrestling the can up to dump the bag into the trash container. I felt bad I had done it by myself and made him feel he needed to be able to do it by himself. When I ask if I can help him, he says, “I got it.” So, now I ask him to help me hoist the can up so we can share the effort of dumping the bag. No matter one’s relative personal strength, collaboration is often the best solution for all involved, young and old, and middle-aged.
For over a century the leaders of my church have urged members to prepare for times of future trouble by saving a supply of food for at least one year, which we call “food storage.” Not out of a sense of doom so much as of prudence and preparedness and the principle of self-reliance. Frequent earthquakes, forest fires, hurricanes, and a pandemic have proven repeatedly the wisdom in this counsel. Growing up in New Jersey, semi-trucks unloaded whole pallets piled with sacks of wheat and beans and dried milk in my driveway. Us kids helped stack them in the garage, and members of congregation came to pick up what they had ordered. A large room in our basement was filled with hundreds of 50-pound sacks of this and that, which we carried down the narrow stairwell one sack at a time. Mom mixed milk in the blender at least once a day, and I actually liked it. I do not recall having milk from a jug until after I graduated from high school. And most winter mornings Mom ladled hot whole wheat cereal made from the wheat she ground the week before. When Mom and Dad retired 20 years ago, they gave their food storage to fellow church members and moved to Utah, where they began again. In recent Church conferences, leaders have again exhorted members to have a supply of stored food. With these exhortations, Dad indicated we had better heed the prophetic counsel and make sure their food storage was in order, and he asked me to prepare an inventory. The process took me several hours of moving heavy boxes and cans, writing down items and quantities, container sizes and dates, then preparing a spreadsheet. We were all impressed with what they had built up since their retirement, including 20 five-gallon buckets of hard white wheat and numerous #10 cans of powdered milk, potato pearls, rice, macaroni, freeze-dried fruit, split peas, dried beans, rolled oats, sugar, salt, hot cocoa, and many other foodstuffs. This time they had included not just foods that would keep them alive in an extended emergency, but foods they would actually enjoy. The inventory complete, our next task is to counsel about what is missing, and then to fill the gaps.
Since that October morning when I found my car engulfed in ice, Dad has been insisting that I park my car in the garage to avoid scraping ice and snow from the windows. Despite the thoughtfulness and kindness of his gesture, I resisted, not wanting the faithful Suburban exiled to the driveway and exposed to winter weather. He prevailed upon me to begin parking in the garage. “Alright,” I relented. I hopped into my car and turned the ignition, only to hear the starter wind to a quick death with dimming dome lights. The battery had died. “We can’t switch spots tonight, Dad,” I informed him. “My battery is dead.” I put on a good face, but anxiety started to sabotage my calm as I ordered sequentially in my mind everything I would need to do to replace the battery and get to work. The night was very dark, and we resolved to have the faithful Suburban jump my battery the next morning. I hoped Dad would forget to wake up after reading late into the night—I could manage the job alone, and I wanted my 85-year-old father to get a good rest. But he shuffled into the kitchen as the sky began to gray, ready to get to work. With my battery cabled to his, my car started right up, and I drove off with a grateful honk and wave. At O’Reilly, I removed the old battery and presented it to the store clerk. He scanned the purchase receipt I had saved, and gave me the good news that it still had one month left on the two-year warranty. Without any fuss, he handed me a new battery, which I installed. I celebrated the savings with the purchase of two new badly-needed wiper blades and a happy “thank you” text to Dad. Tonight, ahead of the coming storm, my car is parked in the garage. But I still feel bad for the burb.
The Faithful Suburban
This November 2 was my first opportunity to vote in a Sandy City election, for Mayor (eight candidates) and one City Councilperson (six candidates). Mom and I each studied the voter information pamphlet and candidate election ads. You can tell a lot about candidates from how they describe themselves. Like this educated experienced professional who bills himself as “pro-liberty, anti-tyranny, anti-socialism, anti-BLM, patriot.” Or a current Councilperson who serves on no less than nine community boards and councils. I was impressed by two incumbent Councilwomen, one who received both the Volunteer of the Year and Elected Official of the Year awards, and another who advocates for organizational partnerships and watershed protection. And this year I get to vote for every single candidate—all 14!—due to the ranked choice voting experiment in which I vote for each candidate in priority order, one to eight for Mayor, and one to six for Council. Being so new to the city, I do not know a single candidate and could only rely on their perspectives of themselves. I voted for two women, one seeking a third four-year term who has business and city planning experience, and one with business and finance degrees and experience who regularly attends public meetings, trainings, and focus groups. But who’s to know who the best candidates are. Personally, I have worked for five Mayors and 28 City Councilmembers in my 28-year municipal government career. Each is different, and being required to work together six at a time for four years each tends to knock off the rough edges and lead to slow positive improvement in the community—that is the hope. One maverick can either endanger or uplift a community, but the peaks and troughs of year-to-year politics even out over the decades into a long and steady incline in the quality of life. That is the hope. Mom and Dad and I will see who wins and whether we notice any difference in city policy and management. At least Sandy has an excellent City Attorney, Lynn, who I have known for nearly three decades.
Our food storage inventory revealed an abundance of beans and a dearth of spices to make the beans palatable. Mom wrote on her calendar for us to trek to a little kitchen supply store she likes—a mother-son outing in search of bulk spices like ground cinnamon, whole bay leaves, and garlic powder. I arrived home from work at 4:30 p.m. (with work still to do at night), and asked, “Should we go?” Continue reading
Mom showed me her summons to jury duty, and asked me what she should do about it. Having been a prosecuting attorney who tried many cases to a jury, I knew Mom would not be able to endure the experience, even the preliminary stage of jury selection. So, I helped her fill out the questionnaire, which asked, “Is there any reason you cannot serve on a jury?” I wrote in my best cursive, “I am too old to be on a jury. I cannot walk but a short distance because of arthritis in my knees. I cannot sit for a long time, and need frequent restroom breaks. I am getting hard of hearing. And my memory is not what it used to be. I am just too old and feeble even to show up for jury duty, let alone actually hear the whole case. And I am a caretaker for my husband, who is even older than me. I simply cannot report for duty. Please excuse me.” She signed the questionnaire after assuring me that my words conveyed her true sentiment. I felt confident that no judge would hold this feisty great-grandmother in contempt of court for not reporting for jury duty, especially after so articulate an explanation. Mom had served before on a jury in a criminal case. She had listened intently to the evidence, applied the relevant law, and found the accused guilty beyond a reasonable doubt. She was proud to have fulfilled her constitutional obligation. She would be happy even now to serve again, were she able. But she is not able, and she knows it. And now the judge knows it. Nothing but the truth.
Dad has complained to me often about his extra big white Sunday dress shirt. In the larger sizes, retailers skip from neck size 20 to neck size 22. There is no size 21. But he is neither a 20 nor a 22—he is a size 21. The 20 strangles him, and the big and tall 22 hangs on him like a clown suit (his words). Add to this indignity that his shoulders no longer work, and he can neither affix his tie nor fold down his collar. Thus, the bow tie, relentlessly crooked, which he grumbles only accentuates the suit. I turned to JCPenney for a solution, knowing that Stafford makes the Men’s Wrinkle Free Stain Resistant Big & Tall Stretch Super Shirt, which builds an elastic into the collar button, effectively expanding a size 20 neck to a size 21. I knew the shirt might not work, but decided it was worth a $40 try to diminish Dad’s distress. When the shirt arrived, Dad reported it fit perfectly, though due to Covid-19 we were not able to attend worship services for the next two months.
With Halloween falling on a Sunday, the local festivities played out mostly on Saturday. Mom and Dad had bought bags of candy—the good stuff, like Hershey and Nestle and Mars—and brought a card table up from the basement. Dad bivouacked at the card table by the front door, poised to answer the Big Ben doorbell chime. He greeted each costumed trick-or-treater with a hardy “Hello!” laughing with surprise and delight at the little children in costume. “You look so great!” he cheered as he held out the bowl. The children reached into the bowl and offered polite Thank Yous, and the parents waved and said, “Hello Nelson! So good to see you!” Starting at 4:00 p.m., Dad sat waiting by the door, reading his book, yellow highlighter at the ready. Each time he rose to open the door took longer than the time before. Seeing he had reached his limit, I relieved him at 7:30 to enjoy his dinner with Mom. When the doorbell rang, I opened the door and cheered, “You look so great!” as I held out the candy bowl. Each child took one candy, until one older child asked bluntly, “How many?” “One is good,” I answered, “but two is better.” Mom called from her recliner, “Give them each a handful!”
Dad greeting trick-or-treaters.
My daughter and her husband, characters from the movie Up, giving balloons to children at the neighborhood “trunk-or-treat” in Houston, Texas.
I never take naps. Not because I don’t become sleepy on a lazy Sunday afternoon or a sultry weekday evening, but because upon waking from my naps I feel awful and ornery and not particularly happy about being alive. And then there is the problem of sleeping at night after napping during the day. I know people who take daily 20-minute “power naps” and wake up happy and refreshed, full of vim. Not me. But for Mom and Dad, naps have become necessary and pleasurable parts of the daily routine. At their age, the mere act of living is fatiguing, requiring rejuvenating naps. And after Dad mows the lawn or Mom finishes the laundry, they are ready to settle drowsily into their recliners, where sleep overtakes them. They awake cheerful and ready for the next round of life.
Don’t hate me, but for the last six years, my commute was only three miles each way. For the 18 years before that, it was only 12 miles. All of a sudden, my commute is two hours a day, longer in heavy traffic or bad weather. Knowing how quickly I would become frustrated with that fruitless occupation, I began listening to audio books. (I can’t even eat breakfast without a book propped open on the kitchen table.) First I listened to the second volume of Saints, a new history of my church, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, a troubled history haunted by murderous mobs and failed legal systems and unimaginable personal suffering as tens of thousands of the faithful walked a thousand miles beginning in 1847 to find unmolested freedom in Utah. I listened to C.S. Lewis’ harrowing memoir Searching for Joy, which left me scratching my head. I loved David McCullough’s Pioneers, the tale of the 1790s settlement of the Northwest Territory, beginning in Marietta, Ohio. Then came Michelle Obama’s beautifully-written and touching memoir, Becoming. And on my 90th day after the move, I finished today Ron Chernow’s masterful meticulous comprehensive biography Alexander Hamilton—what a remarkable man! Far from being a waste of time, my long commute has proven to be an incredible enriching inspiring educational experience. I munch on raisins to stay focused and awake as the road stretches ahead and the narrator drones on. I have ordered and shared my favorites with Dad, who reads Obama and McCullough and listens to Villa-Lobos and Mathis long into the night while I am sound asleep. Next will be McCullough’s story of the Roeblings and their great Brooklyn Bridge.
Entering the garage from the house on my way to work, the sky still dark, I saw the garage door open, and the doors of the cars closed but not latched shut. I knew instantly what had happened, and my heart sank into my stomach. Inside the cars, the center console lids were open and the console contents scattered on the seats. After the chili chocolate party at church, mom had led the way into the house, carrying the leftover chocolate cake, followed by me and Dad; I had carried the crock pot. Dad and I turned off the garage light, but we forgot to lower the garage door. And our cars had been burglarized in the night. The burglar left the car doors unlatched to avoid the noise of shutting them. They knew what they were doing—not their first burglary. As a city attorney, I am well aware of how many hundreds of cars are burglarized in my town every year, always by drug addicts looking to finance their next fix—they care about little else. As a rule, I always lower the garage door, and I always lock my car, even in the garage. But this time I was lazy and neglectful, and paid the price. I checked both cars, and nothing of importance was missing, because we kept nothing of importance in our cars. And the contents of the garage were all accounted for. But I felt so angry at this person who tried to take from us something that was not theirs, that entered our personal space, the interior of our cars, uninvited. I felt violated and vulnerable. I felt sick at my simple but stupid mistake, which had allowed a neighborhood troller to skulk into the sanctity of our home. We will never make that mistake again. Fortunately, we had locked the door into the house. Fortunately, we kept nothing valuable in the cars. Fortunately, the burglar did no damage to the cars and stole nothing from the garage. The only important item missing was my library card. But I still feel angry.
We drove around the block to the church at 5:30 p.m. for the annual pot luck Chili Chocolate party. I had assumed we would not go, what with the difficulty of walking, etc. But Dad had announced the day before that he was making a crock pot full of chili, and reminded us the party started at 5:30. I placed the chili crock pot and the chocolate pudding cake in the back of the faithful Suburban and drove the short distance. The church cultural hall was already crowded with smiling costumed families. Several long tables boasted two dozen pots of all variety of chilis and chowders, with another table for corn breads and several more for chocolate desserts. I met a few more neighbors, including Kolani, Joshua, Lacey, Heidi, and Zane. I fit six sampler cups on my plate and filled them with six soups. My favorite was the creamy salmon chowder with potatoes and corn. A neighbor did what Dad did not want me to do: she brought him a plate with filled sampler cups. When I thanked her, she quipped with a grin, “I just decided to barge in and bring him a plate.” Carolyn, sitting next to us, asked me to dish up a cup of Dad’s chili for her. I found the crock pot empty and announced that Dad’s chili apparently was very popular—it was all gone. Dad was obviously pleased, both that he had brought the chili and that people liked it. As usual, I ate a bit too much and felt very full. And I was powerless at the chocolate table, although I only nibbled at the six desserts I crammed onto my plate. As I retrieved our empty crock pot, Rick asked me if I had brought the chili in our crock pot. “Nelson did,” I answered. “It was my favorite chili of all,” he enthused, “just like my mom used to make.” I reported that to Dad, too. Mom said gratefully, “Thanks, Nelson, for making the chili and taking us there tonight. I enjoyed myself!”
What a blessing is the handicapped placard hanging from the rearview mirror of the faithful Suburban. I tend to quick judgment when I see someone my age and looking just as healthy occupying a handicapped parking stall. But I try to turn that emotion into gratitude that I can park close to the store for Mom and Dad. With me driving, they scan the parking lot for the nearest best blue-signed pole. On our first grocery store outing, I pulled neatly into the stall, the passenger tires perfectly parallel and close to the cart-return curb. But the car was so close to the curb that Dad couldn’t get out and nearly fell. So now I look for the van accessible stall and turn wide into it, the driver tires in the hatched lines, with plenty of room for Dad and his shopping cart to maneuver. The three of us form a slow-moving line crossing the drive lane into the store, me in the front waving thanks to the patient cars, and Mom and Dad following—a kind of gaggle in reverse, with the gosling in the lead.
On a Sunday afternoon, I took Mom and Dad to see their church leaders to renew their temple recommends. This document allows them admittance to the temples of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. The Church has 265 temples worldwide in operation or at some stage of construction. They are magnificent buildings, and we consider them a House of God on earth. Temples are not for regular weekly worship services, but for ceremonies in which we covenant with God to obey his commandments, to be moral and chaste, to contribute our time and means to the Church, and to love and serve one another. We are instructed on the purpose of existence and the nature of God and his Son. And couples are married and families sealed together not just until death but for eternity. We change into white clothing as an aspirational symbol of purity and cleanliness, and of having left the world outside. Mom and Dad do not visit the temples anymore due to age and infirmity, but visited temples monthly during the previous decades. Even not attending, to them it is important to be worthy to attend. So, they cheerfully waited in the church meetinghouse foyer for their interviews, making pleasant small talk with the other temple-goers. I waited for them as they each had their turn, knowing the questions they would be asked, including: Do you have faith in God the Eternal Father and in his Son Jesus Christ? Do you believe in Jesus and his role as your Savior and Redeemer? Do you strive for moral cleanliness, and are you chaste? Are you a tithe payer? Do you abstain from consuming harmful substances? Do you believe in the truthfulness of the Church, and support its Prophet and Apostles? Are you honest in all that you do? Mom and Dad each emerged from their brief interview with humble smiles, the smiles of peace from living lives of faith and good works.
Pictured above: Temple in Salt Lake City, Utah (where I live), dedicated in 1898.
Some Church temples around the world:
Brazil, Sao Paulo
My siblings and I had begun to notice how ascending the stairs had grown more difficult for Mom and Dad. They huffed and wheezed and groaned. A wear pattern emerged on the wall where hands had sought some added traction and stability. My sister Sarah arranged for a company to install a railing on the wall side of the stairs, at equal height with the wood banister. Now it is much easier for them to push and pull their way up, using all four limbs, and to lean forward as they descend, easing the arthritis pains in their knees. I will not lie: I use the railing, too.
Dad loathes his walker. His walker is a royal blue, heavy-duty model, quite nice looking, I think. I kept it for weeks in the back of the faithful Suburban, then moved it to a corner of the garage, and finally retired it to the basement. Dad simply refuses to use it, and scowls at even a hint of a suggestion that he ought to use it. Hatred is not too strong a word for his feelings for that walker. On the other hand, Dad loves his garden tools, of which he has dozens of all shapes and varieties. I have tried to cast his walker as simply another tool for him to use for specific tasks, when only that tool will do. He was not persuaded. And I have not pressed the point. I think he feels embarrassed that even the simple act of walking is almost too hard for him, when he once ran marathons (yes, the 26.2-mile kind, 13 of them). He did remark to me recently, “I know a wheelchair is in my not-too-distant future, Rog.” I thought admitting that eventuality was remarkably brave of him. I hope before then the dreaded walker will become his fast and long-term friend.
Following our routine after selecting the week’s produce, Dad waited in the deli area while I finished the grocery shopping. My cart heavy-laden, I circled back to gather Dad and his cart and to head together to the register. As we passed slowly by a stack of boxed pastries, Dad picked up the top box and looked longingly at the apple fritters. “I sure would like to have an apple fritter,” he lamented, teetering on temptation’s edge. I understood the angst with which he contemplated the moist deep-fried fritters covered with white sugar icing: I, too, ached for a bite of blissful sweetness. We stood in silent solidarity, Dad with his fear of diabetes and me with my fear of being fat. He put the box down with genuine sadness. We squared our shoulders and walked toward the register, leaving desire behind us. “When we get home,” I offered, “I’ll make us some French crêpes rolled around sliced fresh bananas, peaches, and strawberries, with dollops of stevia-sweetened whipped cream.” “That sounds wonderful,” Dad said. “Let’s do it.”
Dad wants to be buried by his father, Owen. Owen died of heart disease at the age of 59, a sad separation of father and son. Dad harbors a secure faith in the resurrection and afterlife. He is not concerned with the mechanics of how our bodies will be rebuilt and immortalized—God knows how to work all that out. In the next life, each person will receive the divine inheritance they craved and strove for during this mortality. The character we forged here will be our character there. How could it be any different? Did we think we could spend our life injuring others and suddenly, in the next sphere, be transformed into benevolence? No, the universe doesn’t work that way. Dad shared with me that when he awakens in the resurrection, next to his father, who will likewise resurrect, he intends to exclaim, “Father! I am so happy to see you! I love you!” And Owen will rejoin, “Son! I am so pleased to see you! I have missed you! I love you!” Now, that is a hope and faith I can subscribe to.
When Dorothy Lucille (aka Mom, b. 1939) was a child, perhaps age 6 or 7, she accompanied her mother Dorothy Erma (b. 1915) and her grandmother Dorothy Ellen (b. 1895) to visit her great-grandmother Elizabeth Esther (b. 1875). Grandma Elizabeth was crocheting an oval rug from strips of cloth cut from old clothing. Mom liked that Grandma was making something so beautiful from practically nothing: rags. Mom’s matriarchs encouraged her interest with strips of cloth rolled into balls. Grandpa James Edmond carved for her a large oak crochet hook. Mom’s mother taught her the crochet stitch. After marrying Dad, Mom began her serious crocheting of rag rugs—they had no carpet or rugs in their first home. For her first project, in 1962, she sat on the floor and crocheted an enormous round area rug, one small stitch at a time. After Dad retired and the family moved back to Utah, Mom began crocheting again in earnest. She finds her sheets at the Deseret Industries thrift store. She washes and irons them, cuts them into strips with a cutting wheel, and rolls the strips into balls, which she crochets while sitting in her recliner. Her rugs can be found throughout her home and the homes of her children and grandchildren. When I come home from work, or when we watch movies or crime shows (she loves N.C.I.S.), Mom quickly and deftly winds the crochet stitch into a growing oval with multi-colored and patterned sheets. Each rug is unique, some understated and plain, others blaring and fun. Mom taught my daughter Hannah and me the rug crochet stitch, and we have made several rugs. Hannah’s rugs represent a humble work of art six generations in the making.
Here is a sampling of Mom’s rag rugs:
Dad told me he would cook dinner tonight. We would have lasagna with meat sauce, plus steamed vegetables. I told him that sounded wonderful. When I arrived home from work, he took the lasagna out of the box and slid it frozen into the hot oven. An hour later he emptied a bag of frozen lima beans into a pan, and shucked fresh sweet corn on the cob. Stouffer’s makes such yummy lasagna—thank goodness for the occasional frozen dinner. Stuffed and satisfied, I thanked Dad for making dinner.