Our ballots came this week, in yellow envelopes. Mom spread the campaign mailings over the kitchen table. “Should we do our ballots?” she suggested. “Do you know anything about this candidate?” Dad asked 14 times. I certainly knew one incumbent senator and one judge I would not be voting for, and told them why. “I like this one,” Mom offered as we filled in our circles with blue ink. “I’ve never voted by committee,” I observed. It felt unorthodox, but not unnatural. Why not talk about the candidates and their positions and records and agree amongst ourselves who we think are the better candidates? Mom took the sealed ballots to Help-U-Mail for delivery—though she likes our mail carrier, she does not trust the mailbox because of how easily mail can be stolen. The calzone dough is rising, waiting to be rolled and filled and crimped for baking on the very hot pizza stone. Pepperoni. Mushrooms. Sauce. This year on Halloween, Dad is sitting by the front door in his power wheelchair, a book in his hands, a bowl of candy on the card table—Mom bought four enormous bags of candy bar minis—waiting hopefully for the doorbell to ring. His first customer was a cheerful young woman with a toddler in one arm and a baby in a car seat in the other. She smiled and said “thank you” and I thought how quickly tired she is going to be, but more importantly how she was out with her children making a fun memory of the national candy-grab. Dad is surprisingly nimble and dexterous with his wheelchair—joy stick precision. Cecelia came this morning, as she does every morning, at 9:30 a.m. Dad awakes in his hospital bed earlier, but his day starts when Cecelia comes at 9:30, to help him up the stairs lifting a gate belt, to help him shower and shave and dry off and dress, to help him come back down the stairs, pulling back on the gate belt, for his breakfast, and to coach him through his daily therapy with colored elastic bands. He talks and talks, about the sports section and his childhood and his aches and pains and the subtle changes in how his body feels and about Mexico and her family and his family, and he tells the old stories, and she listens with “mmm-hmmn”s and knowing nods. Perhaps the best two hours of his day. “Ding dong!” “Trick or treat?!” Dad will have to eat his calzone from his post of vigilance at the front door.
My relative mood seems tied directly to Dad’s relative strength, and today has been his weakest in the eight days since his homecoming, too reminiscent of pre-hospital days, days of barely standing and of barely walking and of legs quivering. “Up up up!” I commanded, using physical therapy’s compulsory three-times repetition (is that diacope, palilalia, or anaphora?). Straighten your legs. Pull your butt in. Chest out. Chin up. All this harassment to make standing and walking as safe and easy as possible. Leaning over a walker is never safe, for the walker can run away, leaving its master behind on the floor. My spirits had sunk with his sinking strength. But Jeanette and I pushed Mom in her wheelchair as Dad motored himself very slowly down the street—until I showed him how to switch from “slow” to “moderate” (there is no “fast” in a power wheelchair), allowing us to walk along at a normal pace. The Wasatch mountains looked powerfully but benignly down upon us, boasting a vast patched skirt of oranges and reds from the gambel oaks and mountain maples transitioning toward winter. And Mom and I assembled and painted our witch craft kits—all cute and no scary—I added no warts but mere freckles to her nose—and added them to the decorated front porch, along with a witch’s broom I fortuitously forgot to put away yesterday, and purple mums, and pumpkins newly painted by Jeanette and Amy, next to the wheelchair ramps now stained and sealed as well as sturdy. And we sat on the back patio in the cool evening air, so pleasant on the skin, discussing already our traditional family Christmas Eve gathering, the shadow of the sinking sun climbing up the mountain’s skirt, the vibrancy of red and orange leaves delighting in matching sunset hues, both fading now to the subdued, the sleepy.
With Halloween falling on a Sunday, the local festivities played out mostly on Saturday. Mom and Dad had bought bags of candy—the good stuff, like Hershey and Nestle and Mars—and brought a card table up from the basement. Dad bivouacked at the card table by the front door, poised to answer the Big Ben doorbell chime. He greeted each costumed trick-or-treater with a hardy “Hello!” laughing with surprise and delight at the little children in costume. “You look so great!” he cheered as he held out the bowl. The children reached into the bowl and offered polite Thank Yous, and the parents waved and said, “Hello Nelson! So good to see you!” Starting at 4:00 p.m., Dad sat waiting by the door, reading his book, yellow highlighter at the ready. Each time he rose to open the door took longer than the time before. Seeing he had reached his limit, I relieved him at 7:30 to enjoy his dinner with Mom. When the doorbell rang, I opened the door and cheered, “You look so great!” as I held out the candy bowl. Each child took one candy, until one older child asked bluntly, “How many?” “One is good,” I answered, “but two is better.” Mom called from her recliner, “Give them each a handful!”
Dad greeting trick-or-treaters.
My daughter and her husband, characters from the movie Up, giving balloons to children at the neighborhood “trunk-or-treat” in Houston, Texas.
We drove around the block to the church at 5:30 p.m. for the annual pot luck Chili Chocolate party. I had assumed we would not go, what with the difficulty of walking, etc. But Dad had announced the day before that he was making a crock pot full of chili, and reminded us the party started at 5:30. I placed the chili crock pot and the chocolate pudding cake in the back of the faithful Suburban and drove the short distance. The church cultural hall was already crowded with smiling costumed families. Several long tables boasted two dozen pots of all variety of chilis and chowders, with another table for corn breads and several more for chocolate desserts. I met a few more neighbors, including Kolani, Joshua, Lacey, Heidi, and Zane. I fit six sampler cups on my plate and filled them with six soups. My favorite was the creamy salmon chowder with potatoes and corn. A neighbor did what Dad did not want me to do: she brought him a plate with filled sampler cups. When I thanked her, she quipped with a grin, “I just decided to barge in and bring him a plate.” Carolyn, sitting next to us, asked me to dish up a cup of Dad’s chili for her. I found the crock pot empty and announced that Dad’s chili apparently was very popular—it was all gone. Dad was obviously pleased, both that he had brought the chili and that people liked it. As usual, I ate a bit too much and felt very full. And I was powerless at the chocolate table, although I only nibbled at the six desserts I crammed onto my plate. As I retrieved our empty crock pot, Rick asked me if I had brought the chili in our crock pot. “Nelson did,” I answered. “It was my favorite chili of all,” he enthused, “just like my mom used to make.” I reported that to Dad, too. Mom said gratefully, “Thanks, Nelson, for making the chili and taking us there tonight. I enjoyed myself!”
Amy could not, of course, leave Sunshine out of Halloween, so she made him a costume hat. Cute little Sunshine became the dreaded Dragon Witch. Well, with a pink witch’s hat and a pink spider, Sunshine can’t be too scary. Which is good, because Sunshine, although a thorny dragon lizard, is a gentle pleasant little beast. So I think Amy has struck the perfect scary-cute balance, don’t you!
I have lived alone for 1 year now: 52 weeks: 365 days. The highlight of my life is to see my children. They grew a gorgeous garden this year, and shared with me their harvest: sweet corn; swiss chard; cucumbers. And a pumpkin. Their front porch is adorned with two dozen perfect orange pumpkins. Hyrum and Hannah offered me one, perfectly round, with a spiraling stem. The pumpkin reminded me of them each night when I came home from work. It looked so cute sitting by the front door, until one evening I found it smashed on the rocks.
smashed my pumpkin:
my pumpkin would survive
My little daughter
raised this pumpkin
in her garden.
I love her.
I do not get to see her much.
I miss her.
So, I set by my door
her pumpkin, my pumpkin.
It reminded me of her.
I dared to hope
you would let it be.
But you smashed
my little girl’s
(PS. She gave me another yesterday. One can hope.)