With the plan in place, and the miracles having come about, the time to get to work had arrived. Boxing. Cleaning. Moving. Adjusting. Saying good-byes. And with that work came the second guessing. What was I thinking to invite this change? I am moving from my home, where I am comfortable and safe. I will be lengthening my commute from 3 miles to 53, from ten minutes to an hour, each way. I will be working day and night, six days a week. I will be living in someone else’s space. I will be giving up my solitary time for reading, writing, and film. Did I do the right thing? And yet, I know with a conviction, as powerful as any I ever received before, that this is the right thing to do. This is missionary work, and I have been called to this mission. I am holding on to that sure knowledge as I enter into a time of transition, a time of belonging neither in the old place nor in the new. I am holding onto that conviction and moving forward with faith, however weak.
I work as a municipal attorney for a small Utah town, advising the elected Mayor and City Council, the Planning Commission, and City department heads. This has been my work for 28 years. I rarely plan my days, which unfold in a never-ending series of problems and challenges, demands and crises. (I disfavor the word “crisis,” which takes a mere situation and elevates it to a crisis, with all the increased stress of a crisis, instead of making the same situation simply something to solve.) Working 50 hours a week in Tooele, plus ten hours of commuting, would hardly be conducive to fulfilling my primary purpose to care for my parents. For the plan to work, I would need permission to work a flexible, non-traditional schedule. Again, I solicited family prayers. I presented my plan and my proposed schedule to my boss, the Mayor. She enthusiastically approved, and even thanked me for choosing to help my parents at this point in their lives. I will work four partial days a week in Tooele, plus remote hours from home on those days, plus working remotely from home on Fridays, and when needed on Saturdays. I will still attend City Council meetings on Wednesday nights—after a career of some 5,000 Wednesday-night meetings, I see my week as Wednesday to Tuesday instead of Sunday to Saturday. Anyway, this schedule, hopefully, will allow me both to work full-time and to be home enough to make a difference for Mom and Dad. To my eye, this is another miracle. If the schedule itself is not, the kindness certainly is.
For me to implement the plan, I would need at least two miracles. I consider a miracle to be a desirable occurrence which is beyond human ability to create, brought about by some benevolent force, providential or universal. In my belief system, miracles have a divine origin, manifesting a loving Divinity. The first miracle I would need involved my apartment lease, which I had just renewed for another year. Should I vacate early, my landlords could accelerate the remaining lease payments and demand the forbidding sum of $12,000. An absolute impossibility. I asked my siblings and children to join me in prayer to soften my landlords’ hearts, to allow me to vacate early. I wrote to my landlords about my situation, and my reasons for moving. They responded quickly, agreeing to let me leave without penalty. Coincidentally, my son Brian and his wife Avery and their darling daughter Lila (my first grandchild) had decided to move from Kentucky back to Utah, to be closer to family. But they had not succeeded in finding a place to live. Utah is experiencing a persistent housing gap, with about 50,000 more families looking for housing than there are houses to buy or rent, and with soaring prices. Not only did my landlords agree to let me terminate my lease early, they agreed to allow Brian and Avery to sign a lease for my apartment. And because I will not need my furnishings at Mom’s and Dad’s house, Brian and Avery will step into a fully-furnished and decorated apartment at no additional cost. As these two critical pieces of the puzzle fell into place, I gave thanks in prayer for the blessings. An elegant, perfect, miraculous turn of events. Only one more major miracle was needed.
#5. My sister Sarah bought Mom and Dad a Facebook Portal, although they struggle with technology and do not want “a Facebook.” The Portal sits like a small TV screen on their kitchen table. Having my siblings’ blessing, I felt an urgency to talk with Mom and Dad immediately about my proposal to move in with them—so many puzzle pieces would need to fall into place in the right order—but I did not want to have such an important conversation on the phone, and right then I could not drive the hour each way to visit them in person. Why not use the Portal? When Mom and Dad answered, I saw them sitting big as life at their kitchen table. They lifted their heads slightly from looking through scalloped bifocals. They could see me at my desk in Tooele with my law certificates, plants, books, family photos, and Van Gogh paintings around me. For me, too, the bifocal tilt. I explained my concerns about their welfare and my proposal to move from my home to theirs, to help them live comfortably and safely in their home for as long as they wished. I mustered my most persuasive presentation, anxious about how they might react. Happily, Mom seemed relieved, and said simply, “Thank you, son. That would be wonderful.” Dad seemed grateful, but concerned—for me. We talked things through—my move, my commute, my work, my parenting with Hannah—and they agreed to the proposal. The plan was now in motion.
#4. Despite my conviction of needing to help Mom and Dad, I had to make sure my siblings agreed with the plan. I wrote to my four sisters and only brother to express my concerns for Mom’s and Dad’s health and safety (concerns they all shared), and to seek their blessing for me to move in. As a career municipal attorney, I have seen too many instances of children and grandchildren moving in with their parents and grandparents, manipulating them, taking advantage of them, and taking their money and property. Though my siblings know I am not such a person, still I felt it necessary to have their consent for me to assume such a trusted position with their parents. All five wrote back to me with love and gratitude and support. Megan wrote, “I support you 110%.” Carolyn wrote, “We are behind you.” Sarah, Jeanette, and Steven also gave their enthusiastic support. I knew that with their love and trust, perhaps I could do this. Their blessing in hand, now it was time to consult with Mom and Dad.
#3. The need is now. I am pondering the circumstances of my availability to leave my own home and to live with my parents in theirs. I find myself divorced and living alone. My seven children are mostly raised, with the youngest learning to drive. Five years have been sufficient to transition out of the trauma of exile and isolation. In those years I focused on healing, and too much, perhaps, on my own life, my little knick knacks, my art on the walls, my books, my mountain bike, my blog, my baking, my time, my my my . . . . It is time, perhaps, to look more outward, more toward the welfare of someone other than myself. And it is time for me to be available to do what I can do. My siblings are dedicated, loving persons, and could do so much better at caregiving than me. They already do so much. But they are not available to do some of what requires doing. I am available. So, the privilege and the responsibility are mine, and I cheerfully accept.
#2. I had planned to move in with Mom and Dad, if need be, in about a year, after my lease expired. But the evil lawn mower incident convinced me to move immediately. Dad loves his lawn: a source of pride and joy and exercise. Monthly fertilizer has yielded a deep emerald green turf, which Dad cuts twice a week on his riding mower. Plus: string trimming, driveway edging, shrub shaping, limb pruning, and dandelion digging—spread throughout the week in manageable increments. The push mower is for the corners the riding mower won’t reach. When Dad was pushing the mower downhill toward the garage one day, it ran away from him and dumped him on the concrete driveway. Providentially, Dad broke no bones. I knew that a broken hip or leg, or a blow to the head, could have been the beginning of the end, with long-term convalescence away from home. When they told me what had happened, I received a sudden conviction: now was the time—immediately—to move in with Mom and Dad and do what I could to keep them in their home for the remainder of their days (may they be long).
Courage at Twilight: An Introduction
Day #1. I knew the day would come. The day when my vibrant marathon-running violin-playing father and mother would grow old, grow feeble, stumble and fall. And I wondered how I could feebly stumble in my filial role to give them care. I am older than I thought parents could get, and certainly not me: a near-60 divorced lawyer writer mountain biker. One day it became clear the solution to the problem was to move in with my parents and provide for them the best care I knew how. And I knew writing would help me understand the experience. Join me as I travel this unfamiliar road, through short daily vignettes, to contribute to the quality of life of my aging parents, and to make sense of my life as they journey toward their life’s end and beyond.
August 1, 2021
Black Ice on the 72nd West Bridge
November 13. A Thursday night in 2014. And John calls.
Dad, I hit some black ice and rolled the truck.
John, who was born in my bed after the big doula yanked behind her knees and pivoted her pelvis to get him out of there, all purple.
Are you okay? Are you hurt? What happened? Is there anyone with you? Are you hurt!!
I’m okay, Dad. I’m with some firemen. Can you come get me, Dad?
We’re leaving right now. If the truck will start, hop back in and keep warm.
Dad, I am not getting back in that truck.
Okay, I understand. Stay warm. Stay with the firemen. Don’t worry about the pick-up.
John, who the nurses wheeled away for the surgeon to dig a tumor out of his arm at Primary Children’s. They filled the void with paste made from crushed cadaver bones, and the arm grew rock-climber strong and tae-kwon-do blackbelt tough.
There he was, by the fire truck, its red-and-white flashers blaring over the dark landscape. After hugs and are-you-sure-you’re-okays, I searched for my white Chevy Cheyenne pick-up truck, and found it, crushed and mangled, at the bottom of an embankment resting against tall reeds and rushes. It glowed in the night in flashes of red.
I don’t know what happened, Dad. I wasn’t speeding, honest. There was no snow or rain or fog. When I started to cross the bridge the truck just slid side-ways and rolled and rolled and I crawled out and the fire truck came and I called you.
I stared hard at the pick-up then turned to John with a choking love and worry, knowing now he should not have walked away from that truck. I side-stepped down the hill for a closer look. The cab was crushed. The windows smashed. The doors twisted shut. How did he even get out? And I am carrying little John in one arm while the other wrestles the 5 hp garden tiller. And we are loading logs on the hydraulic splitter and stacking and stacking that winter’s wood. And we are assembling the bouldering wall he designed. And we are pedaling our mountain bikes seven miles up the canyon’s Dark Trail. And he is guiding his frightened little sister up the rough multi-pitch rock.
How did you get out, son?
I don’t know, Dad.
And I am stupefied and paralyzed with the horror and grief of what might have been and should have been and nearly was, but wasn’t. And I am stunned and speechless with the mystery and miracle of what is.
“How does this work?” I asked at the wrecking yard. “You give me the title, and we waive the tow fee and the storage fee.”
Done. On the drive home I stopped at the scene. There were the tracks of the front and back tires sliding at an angle into the gravel shoulder. There were the launch marks where the truck left the ground. There was the crash point where the cab struck and crushed, and the gouge where the side mirror dug in. And there were the roll marks and roll marks and roll marks. I had turned tracker, reading the scars in the soil and the fractured grass straws. The only mark on his body was the striped seatbelt bruise.
There the truck had sat, after three complete rolls, the crushed and mangled truck, the truck John was not getting back into to stay warm, the truck he does not know how he crawled out of. And tracking back up the hill I picked up the coins from the spare change bin and the rearview mirror and the individually packaged Lifesaver mints for driving with dates and the loose axe head I found at the county dump and thought I might re-handle but never did – all flying around the cab, around his skull – and his Black Diamond beanie which cushioned his head when he broke the driver side window, and lots and lots of pieces of windshield glass. And I gathered it all up and saved it to remember the blessing of my boy crawling out of that crushed and mangled pick-up truck. And now he is married to his sweetheart and they hope to bring babies into this world to love and teach and guide as they grow. And I am stunned and speechless – still – with the mystery and miracle of what is.
John and Alleigh Baker (August 2020)
Prayer was opaque. Holy writ just words. I did not know where God was. We lifted things from the cardboard box, cupping them like fragile hatchling chicks: ukulele – senior yearbook – prom photo – drawings and doodlings – Church worthiness card – Eagle Scout medal – employee-of-the-month certificate – Godzilla action figure – hoodies and pajamas, smelling of him, a good clean smell. We planted a linden tree, tall and straight, ringed with daffodils. He didn’t know who he was. He didn’t have any sharp edges. Not. One. The only thing I hated about him was that he hated himself. I have to wonder if one more text, one more call, one more conversation or smile or hug might have tipped the scales. You slipped a letter in before the casket closed and asked him to remember playing Legos in Grandma’s basement and having play fights with Godzilla. A small thing, you said. I am numb and sick and angry and sick and numb. A man told me once, I am going to walk through that door, and when I do, the darkness will not come through with me. And the man walked through the door, and the darkness had to stay behind. Fight to choose light over darkness. Always. But our boy was not that strong, yet. A finger twitched. A demon slug. In the end, all we can do to make a difference in this world is to love. In your quiet times, you will feel a sweetness in your heart, a soft presence, and you will know it is him. And then, that Church conference on YouTube with the whole world watching during Covid-19 and the audience stayed home to watch and the tabernacle choir stayed home to watch, but recorded choirs sang from conferences past: and there he was, on the back row by the big organ pipes in his black suit, singing and singing and alive! Our angel alive and singing.
This piece is a word collage gathering the expressions and feelings and images of many family members surrounding our beloved Korey following his death by suicide. We love him, and feel him with us still, and always.
They Fell from the Sky
Hundreds of them. Eared Grebes. The birds precipitated from inside crystalline clouds where the sunlight flashed in an infinity of ice atoms swirling and refracting in a frozen explosion of brilliance, as if the sun raged coldly right there inside the clouds. The birds became utterly hopelessly disoriented in the icy intensity, blind, not knowing up from down. Hundreds of grebes dropped from the mists to bounce into buildings, cars, trees, yards, and parking lots. And there she stood, unmoving, in my parking space, her olive-brown feet stuck frozen to the ice. My office key made a crude chisel for chopping around her toes – they bled and flaked skin already. I wrapped her in my coat and sat her in a box by my desk, with cracker crumbs and a bowl of water.
The children begged to open the box and see what was scratching inside, and exhaled exclamations of wonder when they saw. What IS it? She’s an Eared Grebe. Look at her pointy black beak, her long flaring golden feathers that look like ears, and her crimson eyes. Do you know what you call a group of grebes? A Water Dance! Can’t you just picture the family flapping and paddling and splashing their delighted dance on the lake?
What are we going to do with her? Can we fill the bath tub? Our grebe paddled around with obvious enthusiasm. What are we going to feed her? How about fish! Tub-side with a bag of goldfish, the children clamored for the privilege of feeding their bird. Our compromise: eight hands held the bloated bag and poured. She darted after the fish in a flash of black and gold and red, a little paddling package of magnificence. Look at her feet – no webbing. Look at how her toes unhinge with little retractable paddles. Wow! came in whispers.
That needling question of what to do with the bird in the bathtub? We would try a nearby pond, and hope for the best. The children watched her swim away and they looked sad and happy and I sensed how singular a blessing to have welcomed that bit of living feathered grace into our human home, to release her willfully, to be moved by her wildness and beauty. And I hoped a small sliver of that exquisiteness would stay behind in memories of hinged toes and golden ears and red red eyes, and of creatures that dance on the water.
Our, Angel Gabriel
It was an unseasonably warm winter afternoon when Angel Gabriel came to visit. I was baking bread for his great-grandparents who sat thin-jacketed watching him lead my angel sister toward the enormous long-needled Austrian pine – she carried a five-gallon bucket that could have carried him – where he hunted his favorite treasure: Continue reading
Teasing Daddy’s Ear
I have been watching a man at church, sitting in his cushioned pew. His child sits belted in a wheelchair because she cannot use her legs at all and would flop to the floor if unrestrained. She is motion, her arms and hands fluttering around and her head wagging and her tight long ponytail swishing violently as if warding off some invisible and pestering thing. Continue reading
Life was about to begin for me when on a TWA jet I poked tentatively at the soft walls of the tight round room of my mother’s womb. And after quick-passing days she deu à luz (gave the light) to me. Fifty years later life ended. Books describe divorce as a kind of death, for its permanence and its depth of loss and grief, and perhaps Continue reading
Cries of “Marco” and “Polo” skip across the surface of the years and I am right back there in my neighbor’s pool swimming for my existence. He didn’t mind being IT, squeezing his eyes and shouting “Marco” and charging at the splashing sounds of “Polo” we made. The game was fun, somewhat, and frightening, somewhat, especially when he was IT and I knew I’d get caught and dunked if not drowned. “Sharks and Minnows” is the same game but this title more truthfully connotes the terror of being a minnow when he was the shark. Putting fun and anxiety on the scale, I’m afraid anxiety won most times, weighing more heavily on my mind, making the game one I avoided, and when avoidance was socially impossible, sometimes hiding in the corner and whispering “polo.” I liked being Marco not much better, fearing that the moment I closed my eyes the only thing I would catch was the concrete wall with my teeth, which happily never happened. I do not play “Marco Polo” with my children. I much prefer swimming with my eyes open and being neither a shark nor a minnow, but rather a friendly popular whale. We play “Barnacle” where the little ones cling to my whaleness and I try to throw them off. Or “Launch” where I throw the children high over my head (having studied our distance from the concrete wall). When my children grew too old and heavy for me to throw, their younger cousins took their turn, clinging to their old bald waterlogged uncle with shouts and giggles that skip across the surface of the years, and my brother is two again, two to my eighteen, two to my leaving for a university two thousand miles away, before emails, before cell phones, before computers, and how is it even possible to know someone, a family member, your only brother, when he is only two when you’ve grown up and gone.
Now I am 56 and he is 40, my children are mostly grown and gone, and his are still young and joyfully exuberant, and one day he sends me an invitation to join Marco Polo, a video sharing app, and I do, and he starts sending me video messages and I start sending him video messages and soon we are “talking” every week, after a dearth of decades, giving updates about work and children and holidays and moves and home decor and books and thoughts about books and scripture and history and God—the conversation always comes back to God, who is there in our lives, from the beginning of our births to common parents, through our sponging-up childhood and our sluffing-off piecing-together adolescence and our first stumbling attempts at adulthood when stupidity counts but you can still course correct, to our first bumbling efforts at marriage when course correction is more important and more difficult and when the stakes are so dazzlingly high. I ask him, how can this be that we are talking when I left when you were two and you are now forty and we are talking, we are expressing our hesitant thoughts that normally ramble around only in our own brains, hoping that we each understand the other and appreciate the other’s thoughts and respects the other even and is overjoyed to be an unexpected source of intellectual stimulation—that is what I ask him. And he starts by pointing out, we never really know someone, we never really have access to them, really; we can live with someone for many years and they will say something that astonishes us or they will misunderstand us in a fundamental way; and while we may have access to the same sights and sounds we never really have access to their minds and thoughts; and how our most common and frequent correspondent is ourself, in our mind’s ruminations, and how these self-conversations often can merge for people of faith, can coalesce into prayer, where we have a new thought or we express gratitude or we ask “What’s that all about?” And he says, it makes sense to me, for we were born and raised and spent years and decades in the same house with the same parents who struggled to work and provide and teach and mold and prepare us, and the same siblings we loved and lost and now love again, and we share the same DNA, literally the same double-helixed four-lettered molecules in our cells—the same history, the same biology, the same environment—we are brothers, built on a common foundation, and will share a common bond, forever. I realize how smart and how wise and how right he is, and that thought begins to skip and run and somersault around and to make sense to me, not just the 1+1=2 kind of sense but the meaning of life kind of sense, the kind that seeks to know the human soul, the kind that labors to cultivate goodness and compassion within, the kind that distills into that quantum of existence called Truth. And then we noticed that the thoughts we recorded and sent by Marco Polo are in common to the other’s thoughts, and these thoughts grow and dance and evanesce into shared minds, for an instant or two, now and then, even though we have never spoken about them to each other before. And though we will never really know each other or understand each other, and perhaps not even ourselves, and though we will always be in our own worlds, yet we are brothers, and always will be, and share more than we know, more than we thought likely, or possible.
Roger is a municipal attorney, homebody poet and essayist, and amateur naturalist. Roger 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.
I have seven children: 7. They are mine. Or rather, they are my progeny. I do not possess them or control them, and would not if I could. I have 7 children, and they have me, for better or for worse, for they cannot ever claim another father or even another dad. I am what they got and what they get. And mostly they are okay with that. My 7 children each possess a great soul. They care about this world and its life and beauty and stories and its living creatures all. They care about the human family and its poverty and illiteracy and violence and illness and squalor. They study hard and they work hard. They are kind and generous and patient, and long-suffering. They are fun and funny and adventurous and smart. They call me Pops and Papa and Pappy and Dadda and sometimes even Father. Continue reading
Cards of Leaves and Petals
I buy birthday cards at the dollar store: 6 for a dollar. If I’m lucky I find pack of 8 for one dollar. And I buy about ten packs which will last maybe a year. The cards don’t have HAPPY BIRTHDAY!! or anything else printed on them. Which doesn’t bother me because I can write HAPPY BIRTHDAY!! just well, or even better because I am practicing my handwriting. I have got the cursive G down and the S as well, but H has me harrumphing. The fronts of the cards Continue reading
Amy helped decorate the family Christmas tree: with lights, ornaments, and…a lizard. Sunshine’s pretty color fits right in. Sunshine is such a good friend to Amy, and Amy to sunshine. Everyone needs good, loyal, supportive friends. As 2020 winds down, we can find someone to be a friend to, someone who needs our friendship, our kindness, even our love. We can do it. We should do it. Try.