Tag Archives: Family

Courage at Twilight: When Mom met Dad

At a family party, we asked Mom how she and Dad met. She related how she met him at an Institute dance in late 1959.  Institute is the name given by my Church for an organized opportunity for religious instruction and for social interaction, mostly for young single adult members of the Church.  Mom was about 20 years old, a freshman at the University of Utah.  She remembers, “He was standing there, leaning against a door frame, looking very cute in his navy-blue suit.”  It was the suit he wore on his mission to Brazil (1956-1959), and was well used, but “still looked great.”  Mom’s friend, Dolores, whispered to her, “That’s Nelson Baker.”  Dad asked Mom to dance, and before the evening ended, asked for her phone number.  The very next day he called her on the phone, and came to visit her at the bungalow-style house her father built for her mother in 1932.  Mom and Dad went out a lot, to the movies, to dances, to visit with Dad’s mission friends, to the Frost Top for shakes and fries.  Dad drove her every morning to the University of Utah, where they both graduated with bachelor degrees.  “Your mom was very beautiful,” Dad boasted.  Sitting in his music appreciation class one day, on the third floor of the David Gardner building, he looked out the window to see Mom standing on a street corner waiting for a bus, to go to her elevator job.  Seeing her there filled his heart with sweet feelings.  They married on April 5, 1962, in the Salt Lake Temple of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, and will celebrate this year their 60th wedding anniversary.  Of course, they can get on each other’s nerves, but they are eternally devoted and kind to one another.  Now, that’s love.

Salt Lake Temple, in Salt Lake City, Utah

Courage at Twilight: To the Edge

Mayo Clinic

Dad contracted polio in the early 1940s—so we believe—a mild case.  His left leg developed with smaller muscles and no ligament support in the arch of the foot.  Without thick homemade orthotics, he walks with his ankle bone on the floor.  Ouch.  Still, with resolve and grit, he compensated and persevered, taking up jogging as a health-hobby.  He typically ran seven miles during his lunch break at work, and often 20 miles on Saturdays, for two decades.  He clocked 13 marathons, and one 50-mile ultra-marathon (“I never got tired!”).  For years, his resting heart rate was about 35 bpm.  In his eighth decade of life, however, even walking has become nearly impossible.  And not just due to the weak leg and foot, or from age, but from post-polio syndrome.  No matter his exercise level, he cannot seem to strengthen, but continues to deteriorate.  The Mayo Clinic says post-polio syndrome is characterized by progressive muscle and joint weakness and pain (check), general fatigue and exhaustion with minimal activity (check), and muscle atrophy (check).  I have to remember, as we go to the gym, to walk the fine line between strengthening and debilitation, between rejuvenation and exhaustion.  The last time we left the gym, he clung to my arm and worried, “I don’t know if I can make it to the car, Rog.”  But Dad has such determination (“I am a fighter!”), and together we understand his desire to push himself right to the edge, to do all he can do, without tumbling over the cliff.

(This blog, author, and essay have no relationship with, and do not represent the views of, the Mayo Clinic.)

Courage at Twilight: Movie Night

Tonight’s dinner came frozen out of boxes and bags: breaded pollock; cheesy scalloped potatoes; mixed vegetables. And I am not at all embarrassed to announce that we loved it and ate our fill.  Mom, Dad, and I sat at the dinner table—a family—conversing and looking forward to our after-dinner movie.  I have taken pleasure in showing Mom and Dad some of my old favorites, like Nacho Libre (2006) (because it is so absurd and makes me laugh and Jack Black is brilliant) and George of the Jungle (1997) (because it is so absurd and makes me laugh and Brendan and Leslie make such a cute hopeful couple) and Chariots of Fire (1981) (because of integrity and grit and glory and love and the thrill and cheer of victory against the odds).  During the Christmas holidays, we enjoyed Albert Finney’s Scrooge (1970) and George C. Scott’s A Christmas Carol (1984) and The Muppet Christmas Carol (1992), always moved by the miracle of a changed heart.  Tonight, we watched The Scarlet Pimpernel from 1982, chuckling at Percy Blakeney’s foppish façade, sad for the tragedies of the French Revolution, and happy for the happy ending.  Missing Julia Child’s cookbook—I showed them Julie and Julia (2009), too—I baked a French chocolate soufflé during the movie, cutting the sugar with stevia-sweetened chocolate and mixing one part Splenda with one part sugar.  I am always so pleased and relieved when my baking adventures end well.  Pulling the jiggling masterpiece out of the oven, I felt quite over-the-moon giddy that the chocolate soufflé turned out perfectly, not quite a custard, not quite a cake, not quite a pudding—a pleasant satisfying piquing converging in-between of all three.    And I relished the reward of Mom and Dad loving it and asking for more.

Courage at Twilight: Memory Foam

Dad announced his hips hurt when he slept, the mattress was too hard, and he was driving to R.C. Willey that very day to buy a memory foam mattress topper so he could sleep better.  The topper came folded tightly in a box.  We unwrapped and unfolded it, laying it out on the floor.  It looked terrible, all lumpy and crimped and uneven.  “Unfold on flat surface; allow to expand for 48 hours,” the instructions read.  “Forty-eight hours!” Dad exclaimed.  But by evening, the memory foam seemed evenly expanded, and we positioned it on the mattress and made the bed with pretty cotton flannel sheets that Mom liked.  As Dad climbed into bed at 3:30 the next morning, after reading and munching (and napping) since 11:00 the night before, he sank quickly and comfortably into the three-inches of memory foam.  Before long, though, he wanted to roll over, and found himself stuck in the conforming crater.  To make matters worse, the flannel sheets grabbed at his cotton pajamas like Velcro.  He could not move.  Mustering all his strength, he pushed and pulled himself out of the foamy abyss.  Instead of sore hips, that day he complained of intense pain in his chest between his ribs (left side) when he breathed.  Doctors and EKGs and imaging and blood tests ruled out a heart attack or stroke or blood clots in his lungs—he had simply pulled some muscles, though it hurt like hell and felt like death knocking at his door.  Back at home, he and Mom pulled off the “damned” memory foam topper, and it has sat on the floor in a crumpled heap since.  Maybe I will try it on my bed.

 

(Photo from Amazon.com.  Used pursuant to the Fair Use doctrine.)

Courage at Twilight: I Need a Hug

Dad said to me one evening after dinner, as Mom and I bustled around with kitchen cleanup, “Rog, do you know how huggable your mother is?  She is the most huggable person in the whole world.”  He was too tired to stand just at that moment, and told Mom that if she ambled close to him, he would give her a hug.  She rolled her eyes, and she ambled.  “I need a hug,” Dad explained as he put his arms around her waist.  She patted him reassuringly on the arm.  “Rog,” Dad continued, “do you know you have the best mother in the whole world?  Aren’t you just so lucky?”  I do, I thought, and I am.  Indeed.  These occasional sweet expressions and displays of conjugal affection move me.  Mom and Dad get on each other’s nerves on a daily basis, but they love each other and are devoted to one another.  They cherish each other, and the family institution they have created.  I need their example—the world needs their example.  I need to believe marriage can work, and as they approach their 60th wedding anniversary, and as I see them work on their marriage every day, at being kind and patient and understanding, I can believe.  The next time they snip at one another, I may remind them about their mutual huggability, and suggest Mom amble over in Dad’s direction.

 

Pictured above: Dad (86) and huggable Mom (82), with my sister and niece.

Courage at Twilight: Late Lunch or Early Dinner?

I try to leave work at 3:00 p.m. in order to arrive home at 4:00, ready to cook or shop or take Mom or Dad to a doctor appointment or do yardwork, knowing that I will go up to my home office and work remotely at night to catch up on work.  Sometimes I do not get home until 5:00.  Often, when I come through the door, I find Mom and Dad just starting to enjoy their “lunch” while watching NCIS.  Dad has his onion with ham and Swiss sandwich.  Mom enjoys leftovers with a Yoo-Hoo.  Sometimes they bring home Burger King combo meals—Whoppers, French fries, and Diet Cokes.  By the time they finish their lunch, I am ready for my dinner, having lunched at noon.  Some days, I will find a snack and head upstairs to work or blog until it is time to cook and eat dinner, between 8:00 and 9:00.  Other days, I just make a dinner for myself, often steamed vegetables and hard-boiled eggs, either swimming in olive oil and vinegar or mixed with melted butter and salt, or maybe a giant salad tossed with balsamic vinegar and olive oil.  Some days I cook.  Other days Dad cooks.  Sometimes we heat up a can of Campbell’s soup and call it good.  Having cooked for the family for 45 years, Mom is done with cooking.  I don’t blame her.  Now, Dad and I enjoy cooking for her.

Courage at Twilight: At the Gym Again

As part of Dad’s mobility strategy, on Friday I drove him to the county’s Dimple Dell recreation center to begin working out again.  He had not gone to the gym since Covid-19 shut the country’s gyms down.  We are always starting over in life, aren’t we?  He is starting his gym workouts over at age 86!  We both rode the stationary bicycles for 30 minutes—I read a book, while Dad looked at a blank television screen because the County can no longer afford satellite TV.  Then Dad did his usual circuit, working out his biceps, chest, core, back, and legs.  I worked on my core, mostly with planks, and my arms and chest.  I think we will both be sore.  Dad was pleased to see his old friend, Daniel, who struck up an ebullient conversation with Dad before moving on to chat cheerfully with the lady on the treadmill.  Before starting our workout, I locked my wallet, phone, and keys in a keyed locker.  Retrieving my belongings on our way out of the gym, Dad told me he is the reason the county purchased the lockers, because during one workout years ago, he watched a man walk by the open cubicles and swipe Dad’s key ring.  Dad chased him down, called him out, and retrieved his keys with, “These are mine!”  The man just kept on walking and got away.  Walking to the car arm in arm with Dad, he commented weakly, “I feel pretty beat up, Rog.”  But I could tell he also felt happy and satisfied, and was looking forward to next Friday.  Me, too.

Courage at Twilight: Slippery Saturday

I awoke at eight—early or late?—on a Saturday, with no obligation but to live. I cooked Dad’s favorite apple-cinnamon oatmeal, with cream, for our breakfast, sweetened respectively with sugar for Mom, Splenda for Dad, and stevia extract for me.  In the crock pot, I stirred the dry 15-bean soup mix, diced onion, minced garlic, ground chilis, leftover cubed ham, water, and the packet of smoke-and-ham flavored powder, and set it to simmering.  Hyrum turned 20 this week.  He is my sixth child, and dearly-beloved.  So, I started baking a cake for his Saturday evening birthday party.  And this was no hum-drum box-mix cake, but Mary Berry’s chocolate-orange mousse cake, and I hoped I could do the many-stepped recipe justice.  After finishing the cake and washing, it seemed, half the kitchen’s bowls and mixing utensils, I needed to get out of the kitchen, out of the house, and out of my head.  Nearby Bell Canyon beckoned.  The trail’s snow was trampled down and icy, and I had forgotten my aspen-wood staff.  As I slipped and tromped along, I began to ruminate, to puzzle over romance, over the panging hunger for romance, over the long absence from romance—I began to puzzle over love.  A puzzle.  Both uphill and downhill, the mountain trail presented many slippery slopes, and I stepped with care as I thought.  An attractive woman passed me, planting her steel-tipped poles in the ice.  She was smart to navigate the icy trail with poles.  I was not so smart.  I wanted to be there in the mountains, in the snow, in the crisp beauty—I was sincere and empty of guile—but I was un-smart in my own navigations.  Always a puzzle.  Hyrum and company, of course, loved the chocolate-orange mousse cake, and I was proud to have baked it.  I am proud of him, no longer a little boy, but a man, a man of the best sort, a chocolate-orange mousse cake sort of a man.

Bell Canyon Stream

 

Mary Berry’s Chocolate Orange Mousse Cake

Courage at Twilight: A Snake in the Bowl

Water covered the floor of the tiny half-bath, overflowing from the bowl.  Dad had bailed and bailed to fill a five-gallon bucket, and had plunged and plunged until he was spent.  “Don’t go in there,” he commanded Mom and me from his recliner.  “I am going to fix it.”  We acceded, but I drove to Lowe’s for a coiled plumbing snake.  He tried and tried to feed the snake into the fixture, but it kept flopping incorrigibly out.  Finally, he called to me, unable to rise from his knees, with nothing for leverage but the bowl.  I wrapped my arms around his big chest and hoisted until he was vertical.  “Dad, let me try,” I offered.  “This is my home now, too, and I am part of the family.”  He consented reluctantly from his convalescence.  I struggled and struggled with that incorrigible splashing snake.  The coil advanced no more than a few inches during 30 minutes of effort.  I did not do anything Dad had not already done, but the water abruptly drained from the bowl, and I was able to pour in the five gallons of blackwater.  How nice it was to flush and watch the water swirl down, rather than up and over the brim.  We cleaned and disinfected the toilet and the floor, and then the bucket and even the snake.  We both hope to never need that belligerent snake again, but have found a place for it in the garage, just in case.

(Reader, please do NOT bring up this episode with Dad.  My life and happiness depend upon it.)

Courage at Twilight: Elevator Girl

“I got bit by the booster,” I texted my boss the Mayor when I asked to be excused from her staff meeting. I had put off getting my Covid-19 booster vaccination (shot #3) because I missed two days of work each with the first two shots, with fever, aches, and chills.  (My aged parents had no adverse reaction to any of their Covid shots!)  Knowing I might get sick, I needed to plan around Thanksgiving, Christmas, New Year’s Day, Steven’s visit in early December, Laura’s visit in mid-December for Caleb’s wedding, and Jeanette’s post-Christmas visit, not to mention weekly City Council meetings.  I thought I had escaped Continue reading

Courage at Twilight: Mobility Strategy

I sat down with Mom and Dad recently, and asked Dad if we could discuss a plan to preserve his mobility for as long as possible. Far from defensive, he seemed grateful for the discussion: he and Mom know that him losing his mobility will dramatically affect quality of life for them both.  After our discussion, I typed and printed our Mobility Strategy, in big blaring pitch, and stuck it to the refrigerator with a magnet.  A day in the hospital, the Christmas and New Year holidays, and family celebrations interrupted some elements of the new routine, like going to the gym.  Other elements we started immediately.  I do not badger Dad about drinking water, for example, but every time I pass his chair, I hand him a bottle of cold water.  My message is clear.  And, to be fair, I hold my own water bottle even as I hand him his.  (Water intake can reduce edema.)  Here is our Mobility Strategy.  I will let you know how it goes.

  1. Stationary Bike. Ride the bike 6 days a week, for 30 minutes each ride.
  2. Gym. Go to the gym 2 days a week, weather permitting.
  3. Leg Compressors. Use the pumping leg compressors when reading at night.
  4. Walker. Use the blue walker between family room, kitchen, and dining room, as needed.
  5. Cane. Keep the “walking stick” handy for short treks in the house or to the car.
  6. Compression Socks. Order.  Wear.
  7. Elevate. When sitting, keep legs elevated.
  8. WATER. Keep several water bottles cold in the fridge.  Sip all day.

(Image by Willfried Wende from Pixabay)

Courage at Twilight: Life Is Better

Mom, Dad, and I were blessed to have family visiting as we turned the calendar to 2022.  My sister Jeanette and ten-year-old niece Amy.  My oldest son Brian and his wife Avery and my two-year-old granddaughter Lila.  My son John and his wife Alleigh, expecting their first baby next month.  Others stopping by and video calling.  We splurged a bit on our New Year’s Eve dinner: Jeanette and I cooked sautéed bay scallops topped with a reduction of butter, drippings, and white wine, plus linguini alfredo and garlic bread.  And we allowed ourselves bowls of ice cream with crumbled Oreo cookies and M&Ms and brownie bits and caramel syrup and whipped cream, because we could and because it was New Year’s Eve and we were celebrating.  Earlier in the day we took the girls to the park to sled in the new snow.  On our first run, Lila sat with me in the toboggan, and as we crested the little hill she stiffened and grabbed my legs and I put my arms around her to help her feel safe, though I am sure the sled felt like a roller coaster toppling over the cantilevered edge of the ride.  At the bottom of the short hill she announced, “Out!” and spent the rest of the outing tromping happily in the snow and riding the swings and sliding down the slides, wearing her great-grandmother’s stocking cap.  And at home Lila carried around my Olaf and Winnie the Pooh and Little Growler the lion, calling “Papa Roger!” in her little bird voice, the prettiest sound I have ever heard, right up there with the house finches and cardinals and black-capped chickadees singing in the snowy spruce trees.  And after dinner we played Telestrations and Apples to Apples and laughed and told stories and watched a funny movie.  Life is simply better with good food and good friends and fun games.  Life is better with family.

Courage at Twilight: Stuffed Peppers

Dad thought stuffed bell peppers would be a nice dinner for Mom and me. And he did not want me “slaving away” in the kitchen, as he put it.  So, he began to thaw the ground beef, cook the rice, cut and seed the green bell peppers, and mix in the seasonings.  Mom had given him two recipes for stuffed peppers, but they conflicted in critical respects, and caused some confusion in the kitchen.  Short on produce, Mom and I drove to the grocery store with our yellow-legal-pad shopping list, the items organized according to their location in the store and our usual circuit.  Home two hours later, we found Dad slaving away over his peppers, understandably utterly worn out.  But when they emerged from the oven 30 minutes later, the cheese crispy on top, the stuffed green bell peppers were beautiful and wonderfully delicious.  Thanks for dinner, Dad.

Courage at Twilight: Sledding and Gingerbread Houses

My ten-year-old hot-desert-weather Arizona niece Amy came to visit for the New Year holiday week, bringing my sister Jeanette with her. The night their airplane arrived (actually one o’clock in the morning), a dark wall of low purple clouds dumped six inches of new powder on the valley, just in time for Amy to take us sledding.  Jeanette had dug their winter clothing out of her attic and checked a suitcase-full on the flight, so the girls were prepared.  Continue reading

Courage at Twilight: Winter Holiday Crafts

A number of years ago, Tooele City, where I have worked for 28 years, began to host craft workshops for the locals.  A color flyer showed the projects, often holiday themed, and we could order them online.  On the appointed evening, we gathered to collect our crafts, mostly preassembled, to paint and decorate them.  Several times I took one of my children for a crafting date—Hyrum made a small sledge.  I have made snowmen, scare crows, pumpkins, pilgrims, and Easter bunnies.  Often more than 50 people would come—and I was always the only man there!  Covid-19 shut the program down temporarily, but then it resumed, with the public picking up their projects from city hall, and taking them home to finish.  This Christmas season, I ordered a winter village scene (pictured above), which my daughter Laura and I painted during her short trip from Houston.  Mom ordered a wood block nativity set (pictured below).  These crafts have been an important activity for me, for the chance to socialize with nice people, and to exercise what little artistic inclination I have—not to mention having fun holiday decorations to exhibit on the front porch or on the dining room table.  I appreciate my town for providing this enriching quality-of-life activity, and for finding a way around a pandemic to keep the program going.

Courage at Twilight: Toe Surgery

Dad found some of his toes beginning to rise above the others, rubbing painfully against the tops of his shoes.  The podiatrist promised simply, “I can fix that.”  The next week he poked into the sides of Dad’s toes with a tiny scalpel and nicked the toe tendons, to release some of their tension so the toes would drop back into place.  Dad felt great when he came home, and wanted to go to the gym and to the grocery store.  I implored him to sit down and elevate his foot, and placed an ice pack on his foot hoping to prevent and reduce the swelling and pain I knew was coming.  “Dad,” I remonstrated, “if you don’t take it easy today, you are going to pay for it tomorrow.”  And he paid, in the coinage of pain.  And Mom and I paid, too, because it was our job to take care of him.  Our gentle Dad turned into a cantankerous papa bear.  I barked back that I would be very unhappy if he did not take care of his toes and they became infected and had to be amputated.  Perhaps I reacted too harshly, but I needed to get his attention so he would contribute to his own care and healing.  He apologized later, and began following the doctor’s orders (that is, Mom’s and my orders).  Actually, though, he healed quite well, despite diabetes, and I let go my fear of amputation and all it would mean for his mobility.  Now, weeks later, the snow is deep and we are taking granddaughter Amy sledding.

Courage at Twilight: December 23

We moved our Baker extended family Christmas Eve party to December 23 this year. My (former) wife and I began the tradition in 1992 when we lived with my paternal grandmother Dora, in the basement of her little house, after our return from Portugal, where I had been a Fulbright student.  We enjoyed a simple “shepherd’s meal,” with bread and cheese and nuts and fruits and cold meat.  We recounted the birth of the baby Jesus, and we sang Christmas carols.  Dora, a cute 83 years old, dressed up as Mother Mary and held on her lap my two-year old son Brian.  This year Brian brought his two-year-old Lila as we continued the tradition with Mom and Dad and our extended family of Baker siblings and their posterities.  We moved the party from December 24 to December 23 to add Dad’s birthday to the Christ-child celebration.  We had planned the move for last year to celebrate Dad’s 85th birthday, but Covid-19 dictated otherwise.  So, we rescheduled for 86.  But Dad would not allow us to celebrate his birthday at the party.  Though December 23, this party, he insisted, was to celebrate the birth of Jesus, not the birth of Dad.  He grudgingly allowed a few gifts, but focused on his Savior, and on another notable birth, also on December 23, the 1805 birth of Joseph Smith, the founding prophet who established the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, to whom the Father and the Son appeared in 1820.  Those two birthdays counted, Dad said, not his.  We rebuffed him with a respectful, “Yeah, whatever” and added Dad’s birthday to the trifecta celebration.  Card tables and folding chairs accommodated the crowd, which passed by the kitchen island for plates of ham, scalloped potatoes, and my French glazed carrots and parsnips touched with ginger.  And Sarah’s perfect homemade whole-wheat bread.  We sang Christmas carols and rounds and hymns.  We played a matching game with carol names and lyrics.  We played again our indispensable traditional “Left-Right” game in which the group sits in a circle, each person with a wrapped gift, and passes the gifts to the left or to the rights as those words appear in the story Mom narrated about the “Wright” family, with laughter and chaos and flying wrapping paper—one never knew what gift one would receive.  And Brian read the Birth story in Luke 2.  And Dad blessed us again with his Christmas message of love for his Savior and love for his family and how the two inseparably embrace.  The time came for everyone to disperse from whence they came, and Mom, Dad, and I felt content and happy and relieved that the Christmas Eve Birthday party—our 29th annual—had been a success, having celebrated the births of Jesus, Joseph, and Dad: quite our favorite trio.

(Pictured above: a family service project with Mom and Dad.)

Courage at Twilight: Christmas Bittersweet

My thoughts and feelings on Christmas are bittersweet.  Since divorcing seven Christmases ago, the season brings sadness and uncertainty and a nagging sense of failure, along with the traditional excitement and joy and love.  I ruminate on knotty questions: Do I pull my children away from their mother? Will their mother pull our children away from me? How do I plan? What activities do I undertake? How do I think about gifts and meals and parties?  My seven children are mostly grown and gone, but orbit back frequently.  They are my life’s joy.  At Hannah’s holiday choir concert with the Millennial Choirs and Orchestra, six of my seven children were present, with their spouses and granddaughter Lila, even Caleb and Edie on the night before their wedding.  I am grateful for such times—they become joyful memories.  The children’s mother and I are peaceable, both devoted to the success and happiness of our children.  We have found ways to share the Christmas celebration together, to not pull the children apart, but to give them the best broken-family experience we know how.  “Broken family” is the 20th Century’s nomenclature for our family status, but I loathe the label.  We are still a family, and there is nothing broken about us, just different, a bit challenging, like in all families.  We are doing our very best for the family, for the children.  So, I try to set sadness aside, and work to find ways to give and to enrich, to find ways to remember Jesus, our loving Savior and Redeemer, who gave us the example of giving and forgiving.  I look for ways to celebrate Christmas.  So, I watched the children open their gifts, enjoyed the traditional strawberry waffles, talked and plunked the guitar, and played card games and board games and laughed.  And Hannah affirmed in a letter, “I love you so very much Daddy!  I am so blessed to have you as my father.”  Ways to celebrate Christmas.

 

After Hannah’s Christmas concert.

 

My children, with Mom and Dad.

Courage at Twilight: Weddings and Wheelchairs

Some days are unabashedly victorious and joyful. They need make no excuse for their happiness, and deserve their delight.  One recent glorious day was my son Caleb’s wedding day.  He and his wife Edie found each other after years of mutual adventures shared by family and friends: rock climbing, kayaking, canyoneering, hiking, mountain biking, and missionary service.  My heart believes in them individually and as a couple, that they can be happy together for the long haul through life.  Caleb’s mother and I joined peaceably in the celebration of our son’s hope and happiness.  Not long ago he was a chubby grinning toddler—now he is a giant with as big a heart.  Mom and Dad, 86 and 82, were able to attend the wedding ceremony, pushed in wheelchairs by my sister Sarah and her husband Tracy.  The marriage was solemnized in the Jordan River Temple, of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, and we took hurried pictures in a sunny 25-degrees.  The wheelchairs were wonderful tools for access and ability, and at the same time ominous portents of things to come.  My thoughts about marriage are tender and wounded and fearful and hopeful.  I want so badly for the marriages of my children, especially, and my friends and neighbors—everyone—to succeed, to be joyful even, knowing the disruption and agony of that particular failure.  What matters today is that Caleb and Edie are happy together, and they are determined to work with each other and for each other to keep it that way.  I feel so very happy for them.  And how content I am that Caleb’s still-living grandfathers and grandmother could join in the celebration, from the wheelchairs that made that joining possible and even comfortable.  Here’s to good days.

Courage at Twilight: Morning Light

Mom’s and Dad’s open kitchen, dining, and family area has ten windows, facing east, which let in the wonderful morning sunlight as the sun peaks over the 11,000-foot-tall mountain peaks of the Wasatch range.  Sitting at the kitchen table, we watched a doe mule deer with her three yearling fawns stepping through the back yard snow.  When dark descends, Mom shuts out prying eyes by reaching her wooden yardstick over the chairs and sofas to push shut the thick plantation blinds.  In the early morning, preparing my breakfast and lunch for the day, I open the blinds so that Mom and Dad are greeted by sunlight as they begin their day.

(Yep, it’s a birthday–Dad’s 86th!)

Courage at Twilight: Stacks at the Top of the Stairs

The stairs to the basement have become more and more difficult for Mom and Dad to go up and down the stairs to the basement.  Each step is a labor, descending a focused effort not to slip or fall, and ascending a herculean effort to climb.  Their trips to the basement to retrieve canned goods or to put their DVDs back on the bookshelves have dwindled to a minimum.  Mom piles clean folded sheets and cans of fruit and NCIS DVDs and rolls of toilet paper on the top stair, allowing sufficient accumulation to warrant the long trip to the cool dark basement.  I see these stacks as my cue to take the trip myself, putting things in their places.  The routine has become a game Mom and I play, with her piling the items neatly on the stair, and me running them downstairs to their nooks and shelves and cupboards.  I don’t mind—I like putting things away neatly in their places.  And we do not even need to coordinate—the task is simple and understood by us both, with not another word said.  Speaking of which, it is time for the next season of NCIS.

Courage at Twilight: Creamy Potato-Leek Soup

One of the first French meals I cooked for Mom and Dad was Julia Child’s potato-leek soup.  This very simple soup is so hearty and delicious, and the texture thick and creamy.  In one big pot I boiled cubed potatoes, rings of carrots, and sliced leeks, yellow onions, and green onions, with a spot of butter, a shake of pepper, a sifting of salt, and a spray of aromatic herbs: thyme, bay leaf, parsley.  With the vegetables soft, it was time to puree them in their juices with a wand blender, adding cream to the perfectly pureed consistency.  Chopped spinach and sautéed mushrooms were the last to join in, adding color, flavor, and nutrients.  The soup turned out perfectly.  Mom, Dad, and I enjoyed every delectable sip from the spoon, together with bites of crunchy buttered sourdough toast.  Thanks Julia!

Courage at Twilight: Here We Come A-Caroling

“Can we come around 7:00?” she asked.  “That would be lovely,” I answered.  And they came, on a very cold Tuesday night, a small group of church youth with their leaders—two young women and two young men.  “Merry Christmas!” they cheered.  Mom and Dad brought them into the living room, where the group sat visiting on the sofas.  The leaders sparked up a Christmas carol, and the youth sang in shy murmurs.  Until Mom joined, that is.  Though the youth came to serenade her, she jumped right in with her cheerful choral charisma and had the small group singing enthusiastically.  After half-an-hour of caroling, the group called again, “Merry Christmas!” and filed out the door, Mom and Dad waving, everyone happier for the visit.  “We had so much fun,” Mom beamed when I came home late from work.  The youth left a beautiful gift basket with a poinsettia, various fruits, a loaf of Great Harvest cinnamon-raisin bread, Stephen’s mint truffle hot cocoa mix, and two pair of warm winter socks.

Courage at Twilight: Housecleaning

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On Saturday evenings in my childhood New Jersey home, Dad filled a bucket with warm soapy water, sank to his hands and knees, and scrubbed the kitchen’s linoleum floor.  I never felt the compulsion or even inclination to join him (but I worked hard in the yard).  I remember thinking his knees must be awfully sore.  Later, he purchased a carpet cleaner to clean the carpeted rooms himself.  The walls showed roller marks where Dad had patched and painted holes or stains on the walls.  He rubbed Murphy’s oil into the wood furniture, and vacuumed the carpets and rugs.  These helpful habits lasted long into Dad’s retirement.  But the day finally came, brought on by a knee transplant and age, that he could no longer descend to his hands and knees to scrub the tile floors.  The day came when Mom and Dad needed help cleaning the house.  That is when Ely started coming.  She comes every Monday morning with her smile and her cleaning supplies.  Mom and Dad love her, are happy to have her in their home, and are relieved at how clean Ely makes everything for them.  In addition, Dad calls Stanley Steamer to steam clean the carpets.  But Dad still breaks out the carpet cleaner to spot clean the trouble spots and wear paths and food spills from the most recent family party.

Courage at Twilight: Hidden Figures

Hannah came home with me for the evening, and to spend the night. After a dinner of soup and toast, I invited her to pick a movie to watch with Mom and Dad.  She went to their movie archive—three basement bookshelves lined with DVDs and even VHS tapes—and came back with Hidden Figures, the story of the critical contributions made by three Black women to NASA’s nascent space flight program and to launching the first American astronaut into earth orbit in 1962.  That astronaut, John Glen, asked human computer and mathematician Katherine Johnson to recheck the new IBM computer’s go/no-go capsule re-entry calculations.  Mary Jackson broke through glass ceilings to help engineer the orbit capsule.  Dorothy Vaughan, a FORTRAM computer language expert, became NASA’s first Black supervisor.  I have seen the movie several times, and always find it inspiring.  These women, and many others, were both heroines and pioneers.  My favorite movie moment is when NASA Director Al Harrison, in a meeting with the nation’s top brass, transfers from his white hand to Ms. Johnson’s brown hand the stick of chalk, a baton, a metaphor for so many necessary human equity advances, including civil rights and women’s rights.  The book is high on my reading list, and I look forward to reading more about NASA’s remarkable hidden figures.

Courage at Twilight: Cheesy Onion Bread

The Olympic games played on the television all day Saturday.  I was getting ready to bake cheesy onion bread with Gabe.  He wanted to do everything: measure out the flour, dump in the salt, even pour in the Guinness.  We pressed and pounded the dough and set it to proof in the lightbulb-warm oven.  Gabe and I laid on the floor in front of the TV building castles with the wood blocks.  As castle architect, he instructed me on exactly where to place each block, and where not to.  Just then Olympic wrestling came on the TV.  We watched the twisting and grunting, looked at each other, and launched into our own wrestling and tickling free for all.  Needing a break, we wandered outside to find Grandpa (Dad) fertilizing and watering his plants and flowers.  Gabe just had to get in on that action, though he preferred watering the landscaping boulders.  When the rocks were clean, he turned the hose on us.

Courage at Twilight: Decorating the Christmas Tree

Steven and I pulled the black garbage bags off the high closet shelf.  Each bag held a section of the Christmas tree.  Boxes of ornaments and lights followed.  My brother Steven was visiting for the week from North Carolina, visiting his beloved, elderly parents.  We spread and fluffed the wire branches, wound bright tinsel ropes, strung strings of white lights, and hung red baubles and ornaments.  Many of the ornaments were homemade, some decades ago in our New Jersey childhood home.  Ornaments made from the lids of frozen orange juice cans, punched with nails in patterns, and painted by little children.  Steven was two years old when I left home for a university 2,200 miles away.  How does an adult brother have a meaningful relationship with a distant two-year-old in the 1980s when long-distance calls cost as much as mortgage payments?  He doesn’t.  But I am in my late 50s now, and he in his early 40s, and the ages no longer matter.  We are brothers, sons of common parents, and we are friends.  Steve laughed as he hung a particular ancient ornament, a humble thing belonging only on our family tree.  We turned the lights on with pleasure, and stood back and looked at the Christmas tree with pleasure.  And Mom’s and Dad’s faces lit up with love and smiles to see their little boy all grown up into the best kind of man.

 

Courage at Twilight: Pantene 2-in-1

Dad lamented that his scalp hurt, and asked Mom and me to find a better shampoo that would be soothing to his head.  Back in the day, when I had hair, I liked Pantene 2-in-1 shampoo and conditioner.  It softened and smoothed my hair and skin.  So, Mom and I brought home a bottle from the grocery store for Dad to try.  Within a few days, he beamed at how much he liked the new shampoo, remarking that his scalp no longer burned or stung.  (I suspect any shampoo-conditioner combo would have worked.)  The following week, at the grocery store, Mom told me to put five bottles in the shopping cart.  Only two sat on the shelf.  But now we know what works, and will add it routinely to the shopping list.

Courage at Twilight: Mom’s Mint Tea

Mom enjoys her breakfast sitting in her recliner: a bowl of dry Quaker granola, a glass of cold milk, and a tall glass of hot unsweetened mint tea. She asked me once to buy more mint tea at the grocery store.  Along with her standard mint, I brought home a variety of other herbal teas, including berry blends and lemon ginger.  But she did not care for them, and opted loyally for her favorite: mint.  Both spearmint and peppermint sit on her cupboard shelf.  I took the other blends to work, where I enjoy the berry and lemon-ginger flavors, sweetened, of course, while sitting at my desk.  But Mom likes her stimulating mint tea unsweetened.  “Ah, this is so good!” she sighs in satisfaction as she sips.  I am growing mint in my Aerogarden.  After six months of growth, I cut much of the mint off, dried it in a warm oven, ground it in my parsley grinder, wrapped it in cheese cloth, stuffed the cloth into the tea infuser, and steeped it in just-boiled water.  Six months of plant growth made a single tea bag, a weak one at that, and I supplemented with a commercial tea bag from the box.  But I think Mom is right: hot mint tea is simply wonderful.

 

(Image by congerdesign from Pixabay)

Courage at Twilight: Stories of Cockroaches and Fleas

Dad, this morning: “I was sitting here remembering an odd experience.  When I was a missionary in Brazil in 1956, my missionary companion [missionaries work in twos] rented a room in a house, where we lived.  He got up in the night to use the bathroom, and when he turned on the bathroom light, the walls and the floor were covered with skittering cockroaches, and my companion screamed and woke everyone in the house up!”  Dad is a storyteller, and when I hear, “I remember when…” I know a story is coming, and I had better just plant my feet in the floor for a few minutes.  His stories are always touching or funny, even after a dozen tellings.  I have typed up every story I have ever heard Dad tell about his life (and Mom’s stories, too).  “I was allergic to flea bites.  The bites would swell in great red mounds.  The itching was terrible, and I scratched the bites with a wire brush—better the pain than the itch.  I got good at catching fleas.  Once I wrote a letter to my mom out of dead fleas.  I stuck them to scotch tape, forming the shapes of the letters with the fleas, then taped them to the paper.  I don’t know how I survived it—I poured a can of DDT in my bed so I could sleep without being eaten alive by fleas, with the sheet tucked up tight under my chin so I wouldn’t breathe in the power.  The DDT killed the fleas, and I’m surprised it didn’t kill me.”  Thirty years later, as a young church missionary in Portugal, I suffered from bed bug bites—the bugs crept out of their hiding places at night while I slept, and bit the backs of my hands dozens of times.  Every morning I awoke with fresh and painful red bites.  I did not know yet of Dad’s mission pesticide story.  As if reenacting it, I bought a can of Raid and sprayed all the wooden joints and slats of my bed and sprayed under the mattress and on sheets.  Fearing illness, or worse, I did all the spraying in the morning, hoping the bed bugs would be dead, and the poison dissipated, by bedtime.  It seemed to work.  And I have my own cockroach story: as a ten-year-old in Brazil, I reached up to open a high closet cupboard, and out poured dozens of two-inch cockroaches landing all over my head and face and shoulders.  Shiver.  I still cannot stand the sight of a cockroach.  I look forward to Dad’s next stories, which likely will be told today.

 

Pictured above: Dad (far left) and his mission colleagues in Brazil, circa 1958.

Courage at Twilight: Bratwurst and Beans

“Rog?” Dad called eagerly as he stumbled through the door from mowing up the leaves.  “Have you started cooking dinner yet?”  Remembering a prior conversation about the possibility of spaghetti, I had pulled a package of meatballs from the freezer to thaw.  With two minutes left on my stationary bike ride, I panted, “I got the meatballs out, just in case, but I have not started dinner.”  He told me his idea for dinner, emphasizing it was just an idea—he wanted me to know he was not vested in the idea.  “We could grill bratwurst, and warm a can of pork and beans and a can of stewed whole tomatoes,” he offered.  This particular random combination of dishes had never occurred to me, but I consider that it had not only occurred to him, but sounded good to him.  So, I concurred, suggesting we add steamed spinach to the menu, since we had accidentally added a third bag of spinach to the two bought the week prior.  The brats browned up nicely on the indoor electric grill (with a power cord borrowed from an electric skillet, since my cord was thoroughly grilled with the previous brats).  After asking God to bless the food for our nourishment and strength, we dug into to the eclectic gathering of food.  And I enjoyed it.  Remembering childhood dinners of pork and beans mixed with sliced frankfurters, I sliced my bratwurst into the beans, and felt at home.  “Didn’t we have a great dinner, Lucille?” Dad crowed.  Yes, we did.

(Image by Karl Allen Lugmayer from Pixabay)

Courage at Twilight: Church Christmas Party

Our church held a neighborhood Christmas party on Friday.  The poster announced the location: Whoville.  The cultural hall (aka full-court gym) had been transformed into the snowy town from which Mr. Grinch had attempted to steal Christmas from the Whos.  The setting including an ice skating rink for kids in stockinged feet (the rink enthralled my two-year-old granddaughter Lila), a genuine snowless alpine sledding slope, the Whoville Charities booth accepting new winter coats, boots, gloves, and hats for the Boys & Girls Club, the Whoville Post Office where visitors could send cards to young people serving church missions abroad, a Who-house chimney into which little Whos tossed wrapped gifts that tumbled down into the house, the Whoville Hair Salon, a cookie decorating station, the Whoville Photo Studio taking pictures of children with the Grinch, and the Whoville Sweet Shop where children lined up for banana and orange and berry cotton candy faster than I could spin it.  Wisps of sugar gossamer tickled my face and clung to my hair and clothing.  Three-year-old Gabe exercised his insider privilege and stood on a chair spinning his own cotton candy, with a little help from me.  Lila, too, helped herself to the sugary puffs.  Mom and Dad brought a large bag with their donations, happy to have helped children who need warm winter clothing.  Mom and Dad sat smiling with mirth as Whoville teamed with happy little Whos running around in their Who pajamas.  Mom declared it to be “the best Christmas party I’ve ever attended.”  Our Mr. Grinch already possessed a big warm throbbing heart, and made friends with all the children.  In fact, the Grinch is Gabe’s new favorite superhero (so long Spiderman).  A framed 8×10 of the duo sits prominently on Gabe’s nightstand.

Pictured above: Gabe and the Grinch

The Whoville Ice Rink

Granddaughter Lila enjoying the rink with her dad

Alpine sledding slope

Where Gabe met Mr. Grinch

Sending Christmas cards to far-flung missionaries

Decorating sugar cookies

Donations to the Boys & Girls Club

Gabe and I spinning his cotton candy

Courage at Twilight: Jordan River Jaunt

On possibly the last warm day of the quickly-coming winter, the Jordan River tugged at me to bring my kayak and glide.  My solitary jaunts on the Jordan have brought a mystical connection with nature.  On this paddle, my brother Steven joined me, in town for a visit, and we set off with our boats racked on my green Subaru.  Mom and Dad sat in camp chairs in the driveway, wrapped in winter coats, waiving as we pulled away.  Continue reading

Courage at Twilight: Leaky Toilet

Though the float was up in the toilet tank, the water kept jetting into the tank and spilling down the overflow tube.  The flapper was fine.  The float was fine.  So, the problem must be the fill valve.  Until we could fix it, though, we would have to turn the water off to the toilet.  But my brother was coming to visit, and the running toilet was in the guest bathroom.  The time to fix it was now.  Lowe’s had a good selection of fill valve assemblies.  I chose the Fluidmaster 400H-002-P10 Universal Fill Valve because the box boasted of a three-minute YouTube video on exactly how to replace this exact part, and I knew I would need that video.  Dad and I watched the video, twice.  I thought maybe I might possibly succeed in replacing the fill valve, guided by both the written instructions and illustrations, and the video.  Like preparing to cook a new recipe, I gathered all my ingredients, or rather parts and tools, and plunged into the project.  To my utter relief, the repair went flawlessly.  Within minutes, the new fill valve was installed and working perfectly.  Why am I always so surprised when I manage to fix something I have never fixed before?  I did fix my own washing machine switch, after all, thanks again to YouTube.  Mom and Dad were pleased that the repair had been so quick (10 minutes) and inexpensive ($14), did not involve an extended delay or a costly plumber, did not prompt any swearing, and that Steve would not have reach behind the bowl to turn the water on and off with every use.

Courage at Twilight: Dishes in the Dishwasher

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.”

Courage at Twilight: Giving Tuesday

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.

Courage at Twilight: In Which Roger Finds the Courage to Cook Julia Child’s Delectable Boeuf Bourguignon

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.

Courage at Twilight: A Drive Down Memory Lane

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.

 

Grandpa Evans’ little old house.

Courage at Twilight: Stringing Christmas Lights

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.

Courage at Twilight: Moments of Self-Doubt

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.

Courage at Twilight: Mom’s Needlepoint

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.

           

Courage at Twilight: Saturday Morning Mystery Oatmeal

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.

Apple-Cinnamon Oatmeal

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

Instructions
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.

Lavender-Banana Oatmeal

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)

Instructions
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.

Courage at Twilight: Visit to the Audiologist

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.

(Image by Couleur from Pixabay)

Courage at Twilight: Raking Fall Leaves

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.

Courage at Twilight: Baked Birthday Salmon

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.

Courage at Twilight: You Are Most Beloved

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 and Dad with me and three sisters on her 82nd birthday.

Courage at Twilight: Late into the Night

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.

Courage at Twilight: Veterans Day

Dad, seated, second from right.

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.