Tag Archives: Memoir

Courage at Twilight: Grocery Shopping, A Sequel

I feel so anxious in the grocery store with Mom and Dad.  In the produce section, I assess the fruits and vegetables with one eye even as I monitor Dad’s quickly waning strength with the other, tense and ready to catch him if he slumps.  While Dad waits exhausted and uncomfortable at a deli table, I rush from aisle to aisle scratching items off the shopping list.  I cannot suggest he stay home, and should not.  This is his life, and he enjoys grocery shopping.  If he wants to come with me, he should come.  It is healthy for him to get out of the house, to see the abundant beautiful produce, to get excited about beer-battered cod and grilled bratwurst and baking salmon on Sunday.  But he pays a steep price over and above the grocery bill.  “I’m done, Rog,” he whispered as we stood in the check-out lane.  “I hope I can make it to the car.”  Back at home, I carry eight plastic shopping bags in each hand, thanks to the handles Connor made on his 3D printer.  Mom and I put the groceries away, and stuff the plastic grocery sacks into a larger bag to be recycled.  Wiped out and grateful, they sink into their recliners with their books and newspapers—or the TV remote—and their snacks and drinks.  This is a perfect time for me again to urge Dad, captive to fatigue and comfort, to hydrate.

 

(Grocery bag carriers printed by my son-in-law, Connor.)

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: Overpriced Electrician

After having a new roof put on the house, and the old attic fan removed, Mom called an electrician to pull the absent fan’s switch and wiring.  The job took three hours, for some reason, and involved no electrical parts.  But the bill seemed exorbitant, and I believed the electrician had taken advantage of my aged parents.  And so, contrary to my peacemaking avoidant nature, I called the company to complain, or rather, to “inquire.”  The intransigent manager rebuffed my suggestion we had been overbilled, offering an incoherent rambling justification—and I gave up the fight.  I reported the conversation to Dad who, to my surprise, grew cross.  Pointing to himself, he proclaimed, “I will decide which battles I want to fight and which battles I do not want to fight.”  The implication was perfectly clear: I was not to intervene uninvited in his affairs.  Fair enough, I thought.  I do not mean to fight his battles, and I do not want to fight his battles.  In fact, I abhor contention, and have a hard enough time fighting my own battles.  I appease and apologize to my adversary even as I timidly brandish the sword.  I did explain to Dad, however, and trying not to sound defensive, that I am here to help him and Mom—that is my purpose—and that I intend to say something when I see people taking advantage of them.  Loath to fight, yet I will defend my family.  Neither of us said another word about the subject.  But I sensed the boundaries had shifted and resettled, appropriately.

 

(Image by Clker-Free-Vector-Images from Pixabay)

Courage at Twilight: Aged Independence

Burger King to sell meat-free 'Impossible Whopper' nationwide - New York  Daily News

In the last several weeks, Mom and Dad have gone several places without me: to the dentist, to the audiologist, to the dermatologist to have a bothersome cyst removed, to the grocery store, to the post office.  I felt a bit glum being deprived of the opportunity to be useful and helpful, so show how needed I am, and to earn my keep.  But I arrested myself with a self-deprecating, How silly of you!  If Mom and Dad want to go places by themselves, and can do so safely, why shouldn’t they?  They do not need a third wheel on every outing.  In fact, any opportunity for them to be independent is healthy.  They do want to be unnecessarily dependent upon me, and do not want that either.  I should not try to soothe my sense of self-importance by inserting myself where I am not necessary.  Despite some lingering worries about their safety on the road, I am happy to see them go off on their own to do this or that.  I am not jealous.  If I am available, I can offer to go along, just to make the outing a bit easier.  In the meantime, it is fun to see them drive off to Burger King for Impossible Whoppers, fries, and diet Cokes.

 

(Image from NY Daily News.  Used pursuant to the Fair Use doctrine.)

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: Christmas Orchestra

To prepare for the musical program at our church’s Christmas services, Mom’s friend Tamara organized a church orchestra from neighborhood musicians.  Mom has played the violin since elementary school, and plays still.  She played in the Murray Symphony, a community orchestra, until age 80, when Covid-19 ended all rehearsals and performances for a year and a half.  The family loved supporting her at concerts, cheering and taking photographs.  At age 82, Mom has decided the rehearsal schedule, the walking, the sitting, and the ornery conductor are just too hard, and she resigned from the symphony.  But she is thrilled to be part of the church Christmas orchestra.  Tamara and her husband Mike pick her up for rehearsal every Sunday afternoon at 3:30.  “They are just so nice,” Mom reported.  Tamara delivers Mom the music she needs, and looks carefully after her.  Mike helps her walk to and from the car, and carries her violin.  I am so happy for Mom to be playing her violin again in an orchestra, and to exchange greetings and rub shoulders with people she loves.  And I am so grateful for kind people in the world who make all the difference, as Mike and Tamara are doing for my cute, sweet, 82-year-old musician mother.

(Photo features Mom in her red coat, at the last concert performance of her career, in December 2019, with Dad and admiring family and friends.)

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 Dentist

Mom and Dad drove themselves to the dentist office for their annual checkups and cleanings. They came home happy to report that they had no cavities or other problems.  Dad’s first visit to the dentist was at age 15, circa 1951, by which time several teeth were in bad shape.  His mother sent him to the dentist with a $5 bill, which the dentist took, along with four teeth.  “Going to the dentist was a luxury,” he explained, a luxury his single mother, emptying waste baskets at night in the Kearns Building downtown Salt Lake City, could not afford.  More than a decade later, when he had a job and dental insurance, “Doc” Nicholas made bridges to fill the gaps—implants weren’t a thing.  Mom took her first trip to the dentist at age seven, by which time she had several large cavities to be filled.  She remembers the agony of the dentist grinding for what seemed forever with a slow rotary tool, and no Novocain.  She had to just sit there, a prisoner in the chair, and suffer through it—what was the alternative?  Thereafter, Mom was taken to dear Uncle Harvey, a new dentist who always smiled and laughed and made you feel good about life.  Today, Mom and Dad came home cavity-free and in good spirits.  Mom reported how kind the hygienist staff were on this visit.  “Sometimes they just jab you, and it hurts, but my hygienist today was so nice and gentle.”  Next month it is my turn to see the dreaded dentist.  I wish “Doc” were still around.

 

(Image from Pinterest.  Used pursuant to the Fair Use doctrine.)

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: Neighborhood Birthdays

The neighborhood women of the Church Relief Society, whom we call Sisters, invited all the women with October and November birthdays to a birthday luncheon, in true Relief Society fashion.  Mom drove herself up the street to join 20 other birthday girls.  She was so happy to associate with her friends, neighbors, and fellow Sisters.  And she enjoyed the soups—creamy chicken noodle and spicy chicken taco—not to mention the desserts.  Several Sisters stopped by with birthday gifts for Mom, including Barbara R., who brought a small loaf of banana bread (adding walnuts because Mom is “extra special”), Barbara N., who delivered a potted plant, because we all need to be near green living things, and Judy, with a fresh baguette and raspberry freezer jam, which went perfectly with our dinner of pork loin topped with a sweet deglaze of boiled dark stout Guinness and raspberry dressing.  Such events and interactions greatly enrich Mom’s life.

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: Waking to Light

When I lived alone in my apartment, I kept the blinds twisted shut, not wanting the hundreds of complex residents to peer into my private space.  But the apartment stayed very dark.  And cold, because I turned down the heat to save energy and money.  Wrapped in blankets, I could not wake up in the morning without the end table lamp on a timer.  My phone alarm could not wake me, but the lightbulb in my face could, and did.  In my new second-story bedroom, I kept the blinds open, and awoke easily to the early summer-morning light.  With the approach of winter, the morning skies are dark.  But my Aerogarden lights snap on at 6:30, as does my end-table lamp.  (Confession: I have a different weekend setting for my lamps.)  Sleeping late simply is not possible with those lights blaring.  I can detect the difference in my mood between the cavernous apartment and my new quarters, bright with natural and artificial light.  I not only see the light with my eyes, but feel lighter inside.  Mom and Dad, too, have noticed the early-morning light from my room.  On separate evenings, they both mentioned with chuckles how my lights woke them up and they shuffled over to shut my door.  They love light, and open their plantation blinds wide to fill the house with sunshine.  Light remains largely a mystery to scientists, even though Newton and Einstein and others revealed much about light’s nature and properties.  And light is the subject of wonder and power to prophets and poets, who liken light to intellectual enlightenment and spiritual awakening.  The scripture of my Church equates light and truth, and explains: That which is of God is light.  Light proceeds forth from the presence of God to fill the immensity of space.  They that receive light, and continue in God, receive more light, and that light grows brighter and brighter in them until the perfect day.  I think it is a beautiful notion that we can allow light and truth into our souls, and can grow in light until we become creatures of light and truth, with no darkness or malice or guile.  I want to fill my life with light—except in the middle of the night.

Courage at Twilight: NCIS for Lunch

NCIS: Naval Criminal Investigative Service: The Eighteenth Season (DVD)

Mom’s lunch go-to television program is NCIS: Naval Criminal Investigation Service.  She owns many years of the 19-year series on DVD.  I, on the other hand, cannot watch.  By the nature of the show, it always boasts a dead body, and often a horrific one.  Perhaps I am naturally squeamish, and I abhor horror.  As a young man of 19, I served a two-year proselyting mission for my church in Portugal, as is the custom for young people in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.  Toward the end of my service, working in Lisbon, a young man completed his own mission and was touring Lisbon with his parents.  While sightseeing together, his father had a heart attack and died.  As my mission president consoled and counseled with the grieving mother and son, I drove to the airport with a wallet-sized photo of the father.  My mission that day was not to preach the Good News of Christ but to identify the dead.  The dead man lay in a lead box, in a state of imperfect preservation that required close scrutiny to match him with his photograph.  I half expected his eyes to pop open like in a horror movie, and shivered as I peered.  Ridiculous, I know, but real.  So, I simply cannot get cozy with the dead, and scamper to my room at the opening music of NCIS.  But Mom enjoys the mystery, suspense, and jostling tough characters, and I’m glad she has a show she enjoys.

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.

Courage at Twilight: Holland Mints (Not)

I wanted to make a nice dessert for Dad, and settled on a cream cheese tart.  I added fresh guava puree to exotify the pie, and sweetened the filling with Splenda.  I have become proficient at making French tart shells (pie crusts) from Julia Child’s cookbook Mastering the Art of French Cooking.   Dad sat at the island watching me prepare the dough.  “Don’t mix it too much,” he interjected.  I think you mixed it too much.  It needs to be ice cold and barely blended.”  I paid no heed, and placed the wax-paper-wrapped balls of dough in the fridge to chill.  After a few hours, I rolled the dough out and shaped the shell in the spring-form pan.  When I first starting baking, I pressed into the shell a sheet of aluminum foil and poured in a pound of dry black beans, to keep the bottom from bubbling up.  The beans are a cheap but effective substitute for ceramic baking beads, which I only recently bought.  Sitting in a yogurt container, they looked just like Holland mints, round and white.  Dad suddenly picked up a ceramic bead and plopped it into his mouth, thinking it was a mint.  Before I could articulate gentle words, I blurted, “Uh uh uh!” like one would chide a child with its hand in the cookie jar.  I did not mean to treat him like an errant child, but out of instinctual fear I did what I needed to do to stop him before he crunched on the glass bead and broke a took, or swallowed the bead.  He quickly spit it out, and neither of us looked at the other or said a word.  I did not want to shame him anymore than I already had with my tut-tut, and he did not want to acknowledge his gaffe.  We pretended nothing happened.  But later, when the pie came out of the oven looking beautiful, he confessed, as if I hadn’t known, “I almost ate one of those white glass beads.  I thought it was a mint!”  The beads removed, and the guava cream cheese filling poured in to bake, the tart tasted wonderfully delicious.

Courage at Twilight: Cold Cereal for Breakfast

Typically, I turn to cold cereals for breakfast during the work week.  It is fast and easy and delicious, and I am often running late.  But I avoid the high-sugar refined-flour cereals and opt for granolas and whole-grain varieties.  On the weekends, I enjoy cream of wheat or rolled oats or multi-grain hot cereals, sweetened with stevia extract and enriched with cream, raisins, diced apples, or spices (such as, cardamom, fennel, lavender flowers, or ginger).  For Dad, all the grocery-store-shelf cereals are high-sugar, anathema to his diabetes.  Understandably, he sometimes cannot resist, and eats them anyway, aching for something delightful and sweet.  Dad makes sure I shop the cereal aisle at the grocery store, so I have breakfast options.  I have attempted to find lower-sugar cereals for him that still are tasty and interesting.  After I bring the week’s groceries into the house, I carefully open all the box-top flaps, without tearing them, and cut off a corner of all the cereal bags, all this to avoid later finding the box tops destroyed and the bags torn vertically askew.  Wanting to find something Dad could enjoy that would not kill him, I shopped online for sugar-free high-protein cereals, and found some promising candidates, sweetened with stevia and monk fruit.  Of course, most of them exceeded $11 a box—heavy sigh.  I ordered some I found on sale for $7 a box, which seemed a bargain next to $11.  My brother’s cereal of choice is the Ezekiel brand: high in protein and fiber, with zero sugar, which he enhances with frozen blueberries and sweetens with organic stevia extract.  I tried Ezekiel once and liked it well enough when sweetened and soaked in milk for 20 minutes to tenderize the whole rolled grains and flakes.  But Dad thought it akin to shredded cardboard.  We’ll give the HighKey keto protein cereals a chance, and go from there.

Courage at Twilight: Cooking to Music

Having recovered from my last exhausting cooking experience, I resolved to cook a nice Sunday dinner for Mom and Dad.  Mom sat in her recliner, reading the Sunday New York Times, listening to music in the family room: a home-made CD of Mom’s church choir performances.  Dad decided to rest in the living room, reading Michelle Obama’s excellent memoir Becoming, playing his daily Johnny Mathis.  The kitchen is situated in between.  I attempted to review Julia Child’s cooking instructions, with “Count Your Many Blessings” in one ear and “99 Miles from L.A.” in the other.  Unable to read, I put the book away and attacked the recipes from memory.  Cooking Julia’s French recipes has become easier with practice, I guess, because I had dinner ready in good time: sauced fish poached in white wine; creamy garlic onion mashed potatoes, steamed broccoli, and sliced cucumbers.  Practice is also helping me refine the textures and flavors for a more pleasurable outcome.  Mom and Dad agreed the meal was a triumph.  But now I am tired and do not want to cook for another week, knowing I will be hungry tomorrow.

Courage at Twilight: Emptying the Grass

The cut grass and Fall leaves from the riding mower shoots into two rear-mounted canvas bags, which Dad empties into a large plastic can lined with a plastic garbage bag.  He thumbs two holes into the sides of the plastic to vent the vacuum and allow the grass to sink and settle.  Mom ties the handles.  Together they lift the can, heavy and with wet grass clippings, and dump the bag into the large trash container, which goes to the curb on Sunday night for Monday morning pickup.  Several times, I lifted the heavy bag out of the can by myself, not to show off, but just to get it done—and I was strong enough to do it.  In the following weeks, I found Dad bagging the grass himself and wrestling the can up to dump the bag into the trash container.  I felt bad I had done it by myself and made him feel he needed to be able to do it by himself.  When I ask if I can help him, he says, “I got it.”  So, now I ask him to help me hoist the can up so we can share the effort of dumping the bag.  No matter one’s relative personal strength, collaboration is often the best solution for all involved, young and old, and middle-aged.

Courage at Twilight: The Shelter of the Garage

Since that October morning when I found my car engulfed in ice, Dad has been insisting that I park my car in the garage to avoid scraping ice and snow from the windows.  Despite the thoughtfulness and kindness of his gesture, I resisted, not wanting the faithful Suburban exiled to the driveway and exposed to winter weather.  He prevailed upon me to begin parking in the garage.  “Alright,” I relented.  I hopped into my car and turned the ignition, only to hear the starter wind to a quick death with dimming dome lights.  The battery had died.  “We can’t switch spots tonight, Dad,” I informed him.  “My battery is dead.”  I put on a good face, but anxiety started to sabotage my calm as I ordered sequentially in my mind everything I would need to do to replace the battery and get to work.  The night was very dark, and we resolved to have the faithful Suburban jump my battery the next morning.  I hoped Dad would forget to wake up after reading late into the night—I could manage the job alone, and I wanted my 85-year-old father to get a good rest.  But he shuffled into the kitchen as the sky began to gray, ready to get to work.  With my battery cabled to his, my car started right up, and I drove off with a grateful honk and wave.  At O’Reilly, I removed the old battery and presented it to the store clerk.  He scanned the purchase receipt I had saved, and gave me the good news that it still had one month left on the two-year warranty.  Without any fuss, he handed me a new battery, which I installed.  I celebrated the savings with the purchase of two new badly-needed wiper blades and a happy “thank you” text to Dad.  Tonight, ahead of the coming storm, my car is parked in the garage.  But I still feel bad for the burb.

The Faithful Suburban

Courage at Twilight: Municipal Elections

This November 2 was my first opportunity to vote in a Sandy City election, for Mayor (eight candidates) and one City Councilperson (six candidates). Mom and I each studied the voter information pamphlet and candidate election ads.  You can tell a lot about candidates from how they describe themselves.  Like this educated experienced professional who bills himself as “pro-liberty, anti-tyranny, anti-socialism, anti-BLM, patriot.”  Or a current Councilperson who serves on no less than nine community boards and councils.  I was impressed by two incumbent Councilwomen, one who received both the Volunteer of the Year and Elected Official of the Year awards, and another who advocates for organizational partnerships and watershed protection.  And this year I get to vote for every single candidate—all 14!—due to the ranked choice voting experiment in which I vote for each candidate in priority order, one to eight for Mayor, and one to six for Council.  Being so new to the city, I do not know a single candidate and could only rely on their perspectives of themselves.  I voted for two women, one seeking a third four-year term who has business and city planning experience, and one with business and finance degrees and experience who regularly attends public meetings, trainings, and focus groups.  But who’s to know who the best candidates are.  Personally, I have worked for five Mayors and 28 City Councilmembers in my 28-year municipal government career.  Each is different, and being required to work together six at a time for four years each tends to knock off the rough edges and lead to slow positive improvement in the community—that is the hope.  One maverick can either endanger or uplift a community, but the peaks and troughs of year-to-year politics even out over the decades into a long and steady incline in the quality of life.  That is the hope.  Mom and Dad and I will see who wins and whether we notice any difference in city policy and management.  At least Sandy has an excellent City Attorney, Lynn, who I have known for nearly three decades.

(Image by Jackie Ramirez from Pixabay)

Courage at Twilight: The Most Successful Failure Ever

Our food storage inventory revealed an abundance of beans and a dearth of spices to make the beans palatable.  Mom wrote on her calendar for us to trek to a little kitchen supply store she likes—a mother-son outing in search of bulk spices like ground cinnamon, whole bay leaves, and garlic powder.  I arrived home from work at 4:30 p.m. (with work still to do at night), and asked, “Should we go?” Continue reading

Courage at Twilight: Jury Duty

Mom showed me her summons to jury duty, and asked me what she should do about it.  Having been a prosecuting attorney who tried many cases to a jury, I knew Mom would not be able to endure the experience, even the preliminary stage of jury selection.  So, I helped her fill out the questionnaire, which asked, “Is there any reason you cannot serve on a jury?”  I wrote in my best cursive, “I am too old to be on a jury.  I cannot walk but a short distance because of arthritis in my knees.  I cannot sit for a long time, and need frequent restroom breaks.  I am getting hard of hearing.  And my memory is not what it used to be.  I am just too old and feeble even to show up for jury duty, let alone actually hear the whole case.  And I am a caretaker for my husband, who is even older than me.  I simply cannot report for duty.  Please excuse me.”  She signed the questionnaire after assuring me that my words conveyed her true sentiment.  I felt confident that no judge would hold this feisty great-grandmother in contempt of court for not reporting for jury duty, especially after so articulate an explanation.  Mom had served before on a jury in a criminal case.  She had listened intently to the evidence, applied the relevant law, and found the accused guilty beyond a reasonable doubt.  She was proud to have fulfilled her constitutional obligation.  She would be happy even now to serve again, were she able.  But she is not able, and she knows it.  And now the judge knows it.  Nothing but the truth.

(Image by Gordon Johnson from Pixabay)

Courage at Twilight: Big White Shirt

Dad has complained to me often about his extra big white Sunday dress shirt.  In the larger sizes, retailers skip from neck size 20 to neck size 22.  There is no size 21.  But he is neither a 20 nor a 22—he is a size 21.  The 20 strangles him, and the big and tall 22 hangs on him like a clown suit (his words).  Add to this indignity that his shoulders no longer work, and he can neither affix his tie nor fold down his collar.  Thus, the bow tie, relentlessly crooked, which he grumbles only accentuates the suit.  I turned to JCPenney for a solution, knowing that Stafford makes the Men’s Wrinkle Free Stain Resistant Big & Tall Stretch Super Shirt, which builds an elastic into the collar button, effectively expanding a size 20 neck to a size 21.  I knew the shirt might not work, but decided it was worth a $40 try to diminish Dad’s distress.  When the shirt arrived, Dad reported it fit perfectly, though due to Covid-19 we were not able to attend worship services for the next two months.

Courage at Twilight: Waiting at the Door

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.

 

Courage at Twilight: Nap Time

I never take naps.  Not because I don’t become sleepy on a lazy Sunday afternoon or a sultry weekday evening, but because upon waking from my naps I feel awful and ornery and not particularly happy about being alive.  And then there is the problem of sleeping at night after napping during the day.  I know people who take daily 20-minute “power naps” and wake up happy and refreshed, full of vim.  Not me.  But for Mom and Dad, naps have become necessary and pleasurable parts of the daily routine.  At their age, the mere act of living is fatiguing, requiring rejuvenating naps.  And after Dad mows the lawn or Mom finishes the laundry, they are ready to settle drowsily into their recliners, where sleep overtakes them.  They awake cheerful and ready for the next round of life.

 

(Image by Jill Wellington from Pixabay.)

Courage at Twilight: Vehicle Burglary

Entering the garage from the house on my way to work, the sky still dark, I saw the garage door open, and the doors of the cars closed but not latched shut.  I knew instantly what had happened, and my heart sank into my stomach.  Inside the cars, the center console lids were open and the console contents scattered on the seats.  After the chili chocolate party at church, mom had led the way into the house, carrying the leftover chocolate cake, followed by me and Dad; I had carried the crock pot.  Dad and I turned off the garage light, but we forgot to lower the garage door.  And our cars had been burglarized in the night.  The burglar left the car doors unlatched to avoid the noise of shutting them.  They knew what they were doing—not their first burglary.  As a city attorney, I am well aware of how many hundreds of cars are burglarized in my town every year, always by drug addicts looking to finance their next fix—they care about little else.  As a rule, I always lower the garage door, and I always lock my car, even in the garage.  But this time I was lazy and neglectful, and paid the price.  I checked both cars, and nothing of importance was missing, because we kept nothing of importance in our cars.  And the contents of the garage were all accounted for.  But I felt so angry at this person who tried to take from us something that was not theirs, that entered our personal space, the interior of our cars, uninvited.  I felt violated and vulnerable.  I felt sick at my simple but stupid mistake, which had allowed a neighborhood troller to skulk into the sanctity of our home.  We will never make that mistake again.  Fortunately, we had locked the door into the house.  Fortunately, we kept nothing valuable in the cars.  Fortunately, the burglar did no damage to the cars and stole nothing from the garage.  The only important item missing was my library card.  But I still feel angry.

(Image above by TheDigitalWay from Pixabay.)

Courage at Twilight: Handicapped Parking

What a blessing is the handicapped placard hanging from the rearview mirror of the faithful Suburban.  I tend to quick judgment when I see someone my age and looking just as healthy occupying a handicapped parking stall.  But I try to turn that emotion into gratitude that I can park close to the store for Mom and Dad.  With me driving, they scan the parking lot for the nearest best blue-signed pole.  On our first grocery store outing, I pulled neatly into the stall, the passenger tires perfectly parallel and close to the cart-return curb.  But the car was so close to the curb that Dad couldn’t get out and nearly fell.  So now I look for the van accessible stall and turn wide into it, the driver tires in the hatched lines, with plenty of room for Dad and his shopping cart to maneuver.  The three of us form a slow-moving line crossing the drive lane into the store, me in the front waving thanks to the patient cars, and Mom and Dad following—a kind of gaggle in reverse, with the gosling in the lead.

 

Image by Clker-Free-Vector-Images from Pixabay

Courage at Twilight: Mom’s Rag Rugs

When Dorothy Lucille (aka Mom, b. 1939) was a child, perhaps age 6 or 7, she accompanied her mother Dorothy Erma (b. 1915) and her grandmother Dorothy Ellen (b. 1895) to visit her great-grandmother Elizabeth Esther (b. 1875).  Grandma Elizabeth was crocheting an oval rug from strips of cloth cut from old clothing.  Mom liked that Grandma was making something so beautiful from practically nothing: rags.  Mom’s matriarchs encouraged her interest with strips of cloth rolled into balls.  Grandpa James Edmond carved for her a large oak crochet hook.  Mom’s mother taught her the crochet stitch.  After marrying Dad, Mom began her serious crocheting of rag rugs—they had no carpet or rugs in their first home.  For her first project, in 1962, she sat on the floor and crocheted an enormous round area rug, one small stitch at a time.  After Dad retired and the family moved back to Utah, Mom began crocheting again in earnest.  She finds her sheets at the Deseret Industries thrift store.  She washes and irons them, cuts them into strips with a cutting wheel, and rolls the strips into balls, which she crochets while sitting in her recliner.  Her rugs can be found throughout her home and the homes of her children and grandchildren.  When I come home from work, or when we watch movies or crime shows (she loves N.C.I.S.), Mom quickly and deftly winds the crochet stitch into a growing oval with multi-colored and patterned sheets.  Each rug is unique, some understated and plain, others blaring and fun.  Mom taught my daughter Hannah and me the rug crochet stitch, and we have made several rugs.  Hannah’s rugs represent a humble work of art six generations in the making.

Here is a sampling of Mom’s rag rugs:

Courage at Twilight: Lasagna for Dinner

Dad told me he would cook dinner tonight.  We would have lasagna with meat sauce, plus steamed vegetables.  I told him that sounded wonderful.  When I arrived home from work, he took the lasagna out of the box and slid it frozen into the hot oven.  An hour later he emptied a bag of frozen lima beans into a pan, and shucked fresh sweet corn on the cob.  Stouffer’s makes such yummy lasagna—thank goodness for the occasional frozen dinner.  Stuffed and satisfied, I thanked Dad for making dinner.

Courage at Twilight: Sunday Afternoon Drive

Mom asked me almost sheepishly after church, “Do you think, perhaps, we could take a drive today? I would so like to see the old Bawden home my grandparents built.”  “Of course!” I answered.  “I’m sorry the thought did not occur to me before.”  Dad’s faithful Suburban lead us by the back roads across the Salt Lake valley to historic Granger, my mother’s hometown.  We noted fondly the orange-dotted pumpkin farms and horse corrals and vegetable gardens, and commented on the architectural eras of the homes—1930s bungalow was our favorite.  Mom suggested we drive by the house where Dad lived from 15 to 26, from junior high school to his 1962 marriage to Mom.  “I moved here 70 years ago,” he observed flatly.  Many of those years were unhappy and traumatic for Dad and his siblings due to trouble at home.  But Dad was blessed by the influences of Isabelle Bangerter, Grant Bangerter, and Ella Bennion, all of whom built him up, treated him kindly and with respect, nudged him toward a path of personal fulfillment, and influenced his concepts of self-worth and the life worth living.  The tension and sadness I felt in the car evaporated as I drove away.  A few miles away, there sat the old Bawden house, strong and modest and pretty, built by the family in the late 1800s.  I met my great-grandparents there when I was a little boy as the family gathered for Thanksgiving dinner.  In the 1930s, Mom’s father Wallace built a bungalow nearby, for his new wife’s wedding gift, and there Mom grew up, in the new Bawden bungalow near the old Bawden homestead.  Granger was all farmland then, with homes separated by miles of farms.  Now it is deteriorating strip mall suburbia.  I spent many days in Mom’s childhood home, roaming the empty dusty old chicken coops, breathing the soothing old smell of the oil-and-dust garage, pumping the hand well, hunting giant night-crawler earthworms for trout fishing, and roasting hot dogs on the outdoor cinderblock grill at family parties.  When my grandma lived in a nursing home in her mid-90s, the family sold the house to the car dealer next door, who razed the prime half-acre and put in a parking lot.  I can’t help thinking of Joni Mitchell’s famous Big Yellow Taxi from 1970: “They paved paradise, Put up a parking lot.”  I feel grateful I have memories and photographs of that old paradise.

My great-grandparents’ home in Granger, Utah.

Courage at Twilight: Mother’s Orders

Unlike Dad, Mom seems pleased with a little pampering. She does not feel threatened by being helped.  During her recent illness, she was not reluctant to tell me what she wanted and needed.  And I enjoyed doing it.  “Would you get the mail from the mailbox?”  “Will you dish up my dinner? Do you mind bringing it to me in my chair?”  “I’ll have mango juice, please.”  “Thank you, sweetie—I’m just bossing you around, aren’t I?”  I felt happy to be of good utility.  And she was sweet and grateful.  But now that she is recovering, she treks to the mailbox for the mail and dumps the recyclables into the green container, with no need of assistance from me.

Courage at Twilight: The Doorbell

From my home office window, I saw the USPS mail truck drive by.  A few minutes later the doorbell rang.  I ran down the stairs and opened the front door to find no one there and no packages on the porch and no mail on the javelina snout.  Huh, I wondered and literally scratched my bald head.  Mom was sitting calmly at the kitchen table.  “Mom, I heard the doorbell ring, but nobody’s there.”  She allowed a sheepish grin and told me it was she that had rung the bell.  At my quizzical look, she confided that the doorbell is a kind of intercom message from her to help Dad get up and get moving into the day.

Courage at Twilight: Grilling Bratwurst

I had taken Avery’s chili dinner to Sarah and Tracy, and read picture books with Gabe.  Dealing with cancer treatments, they appreciated the meal.  Arriving home, I could smell that Dad had gotten dinner ready: grilled bratwurst, baked squash, boiled cauliflower, sautéed onions—a feast!  Forking a brat off the grill, I noticed a foreign electrical cord connected to the grill.  Looking under the grill surface into the drip pan, I saw the correct cord, where I had stored it, covered in hot grease.  I commented my relief that the foreign cord had worked, and lifted the grill surface to retrieve the hot, greasy cord.  When Dad saw he had grilled not only the brats but the power cord, he let out a dismayed “Oh shit.”  Not in anger, but in chagrined exasperation that he likely had ruined my cord.  “I feel so bad I cooked your cord,” he lamented later.  I told him not to worry, that now we knew other cords would work, and anyway the cooked cord looked no worse for the grilling.  Nothing had melted or burned.  I suspected when cooled and washed up, the cord would work just fine.  And now Mom and Dad know I store the power cord inside the grill unit when not in use, where understandably one would not think to look for it.  And the bratwurst were grilled to plump juicy perfection.

Courage at Twilight: Stopping the Spread

Living now with my parents, I cannot fathom the reality that we had no family gatherings with Mom and Dad for 18 months due to Covid-19. My sister Sarah grocery shopped for them every Saturday during those months.  I cooked for them on occasion.  We always wore masks and washed and sanitized our hands and kept our distance—no hugs (except for “air hugs”).  My siblings called Mom and Dad frequently, sometimes daily.  Sarah, as a speech pathologist, works at a critical care facility with people who suffer from conditions affecting their communication and swallowing.  While donning head-to-toe personal protective equipment, she watched Covid rage through her patients, ending the lives of too many.  My siblings and I all understood and respected that if Mom and Dad contracted Covid in their aged and weakened conditions, we likely would lose them, as so many thousands lost members of their families.  To keep them safe, we did our little part to stop the spread, following all the recommended precautions, putting philosophy and politics aside in the interest of safety.  Mom and Dad received their first Pfizer vaccine at a huge convention center.  Hundreds of old and infirm people stood for hours in long lines, walking from station to station around the entire perimeter of the hall—fully a mile.  Dad thought his cane would do, but shortly into the ordeal he confided to me, “I don’t think I’m going to make it.”  I had him sit down while I ran for a wheelchair.  They received their third shot this week at a local health department facility, walking 20 feet past the front door to their seats, with no wait.  What a difference between the two experiences!  But in all three cases, the nursing staff were so kind and pleasant and helpful.  After all the family members were fully vaccinated, we began to visit again.  My sister Jeanette recently came to visit from Arizona for a week.  We cooked together and played Scattergories and drove to see the fall leaves in the mountain forests.  And we broke out the fall crafts: wood pumpkins, a harvest-themed wreath, and a tall scarecrow.  My niece Amy joined in, painting the eyes black and the nose orange.  How grateful we are to be safe, healthy, and together again.

My first ever attempt at a wreath.

Courage at Twilight: The Spanish Word for Pain

“I wish I could do more for you,” Mom lamented one recent afternoon.  “I am so sorry for all the mistakes I made as a mother.”  For a moment I stood stunned at the revelation of my 82-year-old mother’s insecurity, especially as incongruous as it was with my memory of reality.  Mom gave her whole soul to being a mother.  Hot whole-wheat gruel steamed on the table before school, and she served a delicious dinner at precisely 6:00 p.m., every day.  She washed by basketball socks and took me to buy my first pair of Levi’s.  She gathered us every Sunday afternoon to play games—PIT was a favorite, with six kids clamoring cacophonously for “wheat!” and “rye!” and “barley!”  The family car ran night and morning with rides to and from marching band practice, piano lessons, and early morning Bible class.  I sat at the kitchen table one evening struggling with my homework, trying to remember the Spanish word for pain—dolor.  She surprised me by bursting out protectively, “You know: dolor, just like Delores!” referring to my painfully unrequited infatuation for a girl at church.  I never again forgot that word!  She nursed me through dozens of ear infections and serious injuries followed by surgeries and staff.  She organized a family vacation to the magical woods of Maine, and I have loved loons since.  She even gave me an enema (my most embarrassing life memory) when I writhed from what the doctor arrogantly insisted was constipation but was in truth an appendix about to burst.  And at 82 she says good-bye with “I can’t wait to see you when you come home!” and greets me after work with “There’s my boy!”  Once again she is providing a safe and comfortable home for me, and listens without upbraid to her children in all their multitudinous troubles.  “What mistakes?” I asked her sincerely.  “I cannot remember any.”  Even were they present, and I presume they were, they are long forgotten.  We six siblings, and our numerous offspring, all cherish her.  It is our turn now to wish we could do more for her.

Courage at Twilight: Riding in Corner Canyon

I have said good-bye to Settlement Canyon and my seven-mile mountain bike ride. I knew every rock and root of the Dark Trail, every low tree limb and snagging wild rose. How I loved that trail. I rode that trail with Hannah and my sons Brian, John, Caleb, and Hyrum during the exile years. I have ridden in snow and mud and scorching heat. I have ridden past meadows of sego lily, taper tip onion, and glacier lily. I have ridden with pronking deer and flustered turkey and migrating tarantulas. And there was that day I startled a merlin with its taloned prey still dripping blood. The Dell in Sandy is close to my new home, but its deep sand sucks at my tires and the river cobbles buck me off. Dad used to run in the Dell, a nature area with deep sandy ravines and a small stream. He knew well a family of red fox, which he adored and once fed with rotisserie chickens from Smith’s. He also rode for miles and years on the 50-mile Jordan River Parkway, as have I, catching frequent glimpses of the slow river with its great blue herons and its beavers. But today I gathered my courage to explore, and ventured into Corner Canyon, an area of steep gambel oak gullies in the Wasatch foothills. The Draper Cycle Park proved an excellent place to warm up, with its short training flow trails and pump trails. Then I rode three miles up the Corner Canyon trail. Having thus relished two delightful hours, I flew down a blue-level flow trail named “Limelight,” the last 2.5 miles of the Rush trail—very fast, moguled, banked, and flowing (all the more fun for the names of the song and the band). I felt very happy as I drove home, hosed off and stowed the bike, and greeted Mom and Dad. “Tell me all about it,” Mom enthused, having worried the whole morning that I would crash (again) and hurt myself (again). “I’m done going crazy fast and drifting and jumping,” I reassured her. But it was impossible not to enjoy the speed.

Courage at Twilight: Stair Lift

I spent the morning researching stair lifts, also known as chair lifts, the makes and models, the Acorns and Brunos, leasing verses purchasing, wondering if it were time to make that move. I hear Dad grunting on every step, and Mom wheezing at reaching the top.  Sitting with them in their bedroom, I shared my research, and asked them what they thought about the idea, and the timing.  Dad acknowledged that climbing the stairs is hard for him to do, but he can do it.  He worries that once he stops doing a hard thing, he will lose the ability ever to do that hard thing again.  He thinks it best to keep on exerting, fighting even, doing everything he can to be strong and capable.  Mom and Dad had been going to the rec center six days a week before Covid shut down the nation’s gyms.  They would make a circuit through the many machines, strengthening back and arms and legs and heart.  He wants to go back, because his muscles have become soft.  He knows he will be starting over again.  I, too, seem to be always starting over after some injury or event (like moving) has knocked me out of my exercise routine.  I used to become discouraged about always starting over, but now try to be grateful I have the opportunity to start over, building on yesterday’s strength, and to keep working at life’s challenges, believing that every effort at living ultimately is strengthening and redeeming.  So, Mom and Dad said no to the stair lift, for now.  Dad wants to keep working as hard as he can.  He is not being stubborn about the stair lift, or walking, or working in his yard to the point of collapse (literally, like today, when he sank to the grass on shaking legs that just would not hold him up anymore, and crawled to the brick mailbox to claw his way back to his feet, while I stood inside obliviously baking a guava cream cheese tart, and how did no one driving by see him lying on the grass?).  No, not stubbornness.  Instead, he is fighting for his independence and his dignity and his strength, fighting for his life.  That example I can absolutely respect and emulate.

Courage at Twilight: Leg Squeezers

When I awoke from foot surgery—removing neuromas in both feet, again—I heard a pump and felt a squeeze, first on one calf and then the other.  Unbeknownst to me, the surgical center staff had strapped me in leg squeezers (aka air compression leg massagers), to assist blood circulation and minimize the risk of blood clots.  I was surprised at the need for leg massagers, because the operation lasted only 45 minutes, and people sleep much longer every day without anything squeezing their legs.  When Dad’s feet started to swell, I thought maybe my leg squeezers might help his circulation as he sits reading in his chair until 3:00 or so in the morning.  But having one more thing to strap on to one’s hard-to-reach extremities and to keep track of and to not trip over is a hassle.  When he permits, I strap on the compressors and push the blue start buttons, setting the devices to inflating and squeezing and deflating and starting again.  He often straps them on without my aid, and says the leg squeezers help.

Courage at Twilight: Sacramental Emblems

Sunday church services focus on what we call “the sacrament” in my Church.  The sacrament consists of small pieces of bread and small cups of water, one of which we each eat and drink in remembrance of Jesus.  After Covid-19 forced churches to close, Church leaders authorized the men of the Church to use their priesthood authority to provide the sacrament at home to their families and others.  While the church buildings are again open for in-person attendance, Mom and Dad have been too weak to go.  How pleased and privileged I felt to use priesthood authority to prepare the bread and water, to kneel and offer the prescribed prayers, and to distribute the sacramental emblems to Mom and Dad.  After we partook, Mom looked up at me from her chair and said sweetly, “Thank you so much.  That was very special.”  As a threesome, we discussed how the sacrament serves several purposes.  We remember Jesus, his infinite loving sacrifice for us, and his ongoing atonement.  We covenant anew to obey God’s commandments, and to love and serve our neighbor.  We recommit to repent and to strive to be our best selves.  And we express our gratitude for our life and blessings.  After our intimate church service, we broke our fast and enjoyed leftover creamy vegetable soup and toasted ciabatta.

Courage at Twilight: Getting to Know the Neighborhood

After more than a month, I finally managed a bike ride, not on a pretty mountain trail, but on the neighborhood streets.  What lay beyond the mechanized gate was a mystery to me, though hundreds of noisily cars and trucks come and go daily, each stopping to provide identification.  The guard raised the gate with a friendly wave, and I passed into Pepperwood.  I rode on quiet winding streets with quiet expansive yards and quiet splendorous houses, pushing up steep hills and careening down—the radar speed limit sign clocked me at 29 mph in a 25-mph zone.  I pondered on the Pepperwood privilege even as I admired the expensive yards and houses.  Lincolns and Cadillacs in the driveways.  Tennis courts and pools in the back yards.  Turrets and wrought iron fences.  I am uncomfortable with money, perhaps because I don’t have much.  I do not begrudge these people—I know many of them, and they are law-abiding, religious, and kind—but I cannot help comparing their power and privilege with humans of equal worth who have none of this wealth.  But then, am not I also privileged, riding my mountain bike on a paid holiday with a salary and insurance and a 401(k)?  Yes, I am.  Privilege is no single condition, but a spectrum, a sliding scale, a degreed thermometer, and we are all both blessed and cursed with it to some degree.  This is what we must beware: privilege turning into pride.  Pride is humanity’s downfall.  Such were some of my thoughts as I sweated uphill and thrilled downhill and watched for cars zipping out of driveways and watched for mule deer pronking across the narrow streets far inside the gates.

Courage at Twilight: Such a Faithful Car

The Suburban key would not come out of the ignition.  It was soundly stuck.  And the gear shift handle flopped around incongruously, like an odd-angled broken arm.  The accident in 2018 had totaled Dad’s beloved Suburban, 20 years old, and had just about totaled him.  The force of the collision snapped his scapula clean in half—an excruciating injury with a long and painful recovery.  Once he began to heal, he joked with his grandchildren that he had broken his “spatula.”  Dad could not bear to say good-bye to “my faithful Suburban,” which had crossed the country and pulled trailers and carried the family and the kayaks and the spring-bar tents to extended family reunions.  So, he kept and fixed his car, which is as good as new.  Almost.  With the key now stuck in the ignition, the battery drained and died.  We tried the lawn mower battery charger, to avoid a tow to the dealer.  Eight hours later the large car battery still had zero charge.  Our neighbor, Terry, hooked up his 15-amp charger, which zapped the Suburban battery to 100% in 30 minutes.  Dad’s first Lyft took him home from the dealer while the car was being fixed.  The repairs accomplished, his faithful Suburban once again sits in the garage, ready for grocery shopping, hauling bags of bark chips, and taking a Sunday drive to see the reddening leaves of Fall.

Courage at Twilight: Good-bye Gym

After unfairly losing a big case in court in 2009, I knew that my stress would be the death of me and that I needed to change my lifestyle. So, I signed a gym contract and resumed my strength training and cardio workouts after a several-years hiatus.  But with my new two-hour commute and duties at home, going to the gym has become impractical.  “Unrealistic” is a better word, since 5:00 a.m. might be practical, but not realistic—it simply is not going to happen.  I paid VASA’s unfair exit fees and said good-bye to the gym.  Mom and Dad regularly ride their stationary bicycle, and I have resolved to ride it also, and to maintain my core-strengthening regimen: all praise the plank.  I also strain at elastic bands to strengthen the shoulder I injured in a mountain biking accident.  The floating clavicle of that separated shoulder will not let me do push-ups.  But Dad showed me how he kneels on one carpeted stair and pushes off against a higher stair in an angled push-up, and I found I could do the same with small discomfort.  I still ride my bike in the local canyons, but have slowed down and never take the jumps—my nearly 60-year-old body no longer bounces without breaking.  After one wreck with four broken ribs (2017) and another with a level 3 shoulder separation (2019), I simply cannot take another fall.

Courage at Twilight: Walking to the Mailbox

“Mom,” I whispered to the cute lady napping in the plush recliner.  Would you like to come get the mail with me?”  “Sure,” she nodded groggily, such a good sport.  We small-stepped arm-in-arm out the front door, past the pumpkins and mums, and toward the brick mailbox.  Almost there, I suggested, “What do you say we first walk to the corner?”  She would rather have not, but came along without protest.  At the corner, I ventured, “Should we walk to the next corner, or turn around?”  We had done what we both knew was helpful and enough, so we turned around, my arm crooked to fit hers, and tottered together to get the Church News, the bills, and the junk mail.  Having exercised, we were ready for a French soup of pureed potatoes, carrots, and onions, mixed with chopped spinach and mushrooms sautéed in butter and salt, enriched with heavy cream, rosemary, salt, pepper, and a bit more butter.  Très délicieux!

Courage at Twilight: Nothing of Interest

Nothing interesting happened today.  Nothing exciting.  Nothing fun.  Nothing new.  Nothing much.  I have told my children that much of life is uninteresting and unexciting.  If they live their lives in search of constant excitement, they will live lives of frequent disappointment.  Life is mostly maintenance, not meant to be consistently euphoric.  But life can be consistently satisfying and fulfilling.  When the big exciting events of life are few and far between, we can turn our attention to the little things, where we will find the happiness of a smile, the pleasure of a delicious flavor, the kindness of a Hello, how are you?, the insight of a book passage, the deepening release of forgiveness.  From this vantage point, the mundane can become miraculous.  Not that the event has changed, but rather the way we see it.  My daughter Erin introduced me to the daily discipline of finding the miraculous in the quotidian.  During a challenging period in her life, she began to search for her life’s miracles, and wrote them down in a daily Miracle Journal.  As I entered into a prolonged arduous period in my own life, I took her example to heart and began a similar search, recording daily the little miracles.  And I discovered a previously unperceived abundance.  Any particular day can leave you or me not wanting much to live, but upon a sincere search, we can find real miracles, or events of goodness and light.  And, of course, there are no little miracles, for the very nature of a miracle is to be divine and life-blessing.  While not loud or blaring glaring, all miracles are grand.  After a particularly grueling day of work and stress and drama, I arrived at home and found Dad sitting in the back yard patio, contemplating the grass, shrubs, flowers, trees, and mountains.  “Hi Dad,” I said simply.  “Rog!” he called out.  “I’m so happy to see you!”

Courage at Twilight: Time for a New Roof

After the big rains, a prodigious paint bulge in the vaulted ceiling plus rain gutters filled with shingle grit prompted a roof inspection, and revealed the need for a new roof. A herd of elephants, it seemed, started tromping overhead at 6:00 a.m., shoveling the 25-year-old shingles to the ground and driveway dumpster below.  Somehow Dad managed to sleep through the racket—not Mom and me.  The crew covered the curtilage with tarps, protecting the bushes and shrubs, and catching shingles and nails.  The sun heated the tarps to such a degree that they burnt to brown the tops of every bush—Dad cut off the dead tops with his electric hedge trimmer.  Mom and Dad instructed the roofers remove the old, ineffectual attic vents and fan, which they replaced with a ridgeline vent that looks like thicker shingles.  The job was done in a single long day.  The vent requires cutting an inch or two in the ridgeline plywood—the vent would not work without it.  I poked my head into the attic to verify the cut was there—it was.  Not thinking to wear a mask, my throat scratched for hours with insulation dust.  Years before, Dad had installed a heat cable to prevent ice buildup on the eves.  The roofers tore off and threw away the heat cable with the old shingles, except for two downspout heating elements left dangling from their outlets.  The roofing company manager said he would have a new cable installed before Dad paid the bill.  I was worried about the company taking advantage of my elderly parents, but the cost was in line with what the neighbors paid for their new roof.  Now we can get the paint bubble repaired.  Mom and Dad are proud of their home and have worked hard to keep it in excellent condition.  They have faced life together in this home, and overcome.  Here they have gathered their posterity to celebrate and mourn and strengthen.  Sometimes, in the evening, we dawdle around to admire the beautiful yard.  Sometimes we sit in the driveway watching the sun set and waving at the neighbors walking by with their dogs.  Sometimes we sit on the back patio and stare at the imposing Wasatch mountains, where the mountain maple and gambel oak leaves are turning red.  And we listen to the crimson-headed finches sing.

Courage at Twilight: Thoughts about Marriage

I have been thinking about marriage, that it is perhaps the most challenging of all human relationships.  There is so much at stake, from our personal happiness, our financial security, our sense of place and purpose in the world, to our having a posterity to love and be loved by.  Marriage is at once difficult and instructional.  Marriage requires consecration and sacrifice, a constant negotiation toward a healthy and fluid balance of power, a vigilance for the welfare of another over the self, and a give-all commitment by both partners to the covenantal promise.  I have been thinking that no relationship will teach us more about how to be human, and how to be divine.  In marriage is the likelihood of experiencing life’s greatest pains of spirit and mind, and the possibility of life’s greatest joys, and very probably both.  I think marriage generally works either to wonderful or to catastrophic effect.  I have observed many successful and failed marriages, but none so carefully as Mom’s and Dad’s marriage, now in its 60th year.  They shoulder every burden together.  They discuss every problem and plan and posterity.  They cry and plan and laugh and laugh.  They are not two identical halves, by any means, but two congruent complementary components forming an entity complete.  Dad does most of the talking, and Mom all the needlepoint.  Dad calls “Lucille” throughout the day, telling her his every thought and impression.  Mom at times snaps in exasperation, then rebounds with affectionate pats on his hand.  Though my own marriage experience cannot emulate theirs, still I feel proud of my parents for sticking with it, for keeping the covenant, for showing the way.  For my own part, the continuing opportunity is to keep my covenant with God, with my children, and with the broader family, and to lead a purposeful, contributing life.  That is sufficient.

Courage at Twilight: On Edge

I live my days on the edge of anxiety, tense, waiting for the next unexplained bump or clang, in fear of the next fall, tense, nodding with sleep at my desk but ready to jump into action at the slightest premonition.  The garage door opens, and I start at the sound, knowing Dad has ventured into the yard to clip or rake or hoe or mow or fertilize, and the temperature is 95 degrees, the sky cloudless, tool handles too hot to touch, the grass rotting and pungent in the can.  My personal spiritual pursuit is to cultivate trust, a trust that life is beautiful and good, a trust that I can improve my character and mind, a trust that truth and goodness will prevail as often as possible, a trust that God is real and loves infinitely and actively, that he redeems and pays personal attention and dispenses mercy abundantly to all who want it.  That is my labor.  I feel tired.  I’m going to go check on Dad.

Courage at Twilight: Waiting to See the Urologist

Mom received a letter that Dad’s urologist had retired, and to call for an appointment with the new urologist.  She called in July for an appointment in September.  Arriving home late from work, I saw immediately how exhausted Mom and Dad both were after their appointment.  They told me they had waited for over an hour to be seen by the doctor.  I felt immediately furious that people who were old and feeble and sick were made to wait an hour past their scheduled time.  The exertion of waiting, compounding the exertion of getting to and from the office, left them spent and sick.  I sent a complaint to the practice, telling them it is negligent to make such patients wait so long to be seen, the wait itself worsening their conditions.  I have prevailed upon Mom to make future appointments for a day and time when I can take them.  I am going to have to demand they be seen promptly and not made to wait.  Being fragile, the last thing they need is the irony of their care providers jeopardizing their patients by leaving them waiting in exhaustion for their care.  I am curious to see if the practice will be defensive or will acknowledge they could have and should have done better, and will do better next time.  Fortunately, the care they finally received was acceptable.  And a next time may not be necessary.  The doctor said to Dad, “Look, you’re 86.  If you don’t have prostate cancer by now, you never will.  You don’t need to see me again unless something changes.”  He renewed Dad’s prescription in perpetuity.  True to their character, Mom and Dad did not complain but graciously accepted the blessing of that being Dad’s last visit to the urologist.