Monday, January 30, 2006


"Honey, come here." I called from the kitchen.

Bill walked into the room and followed my gaze to the skylight in our ceiling.

"Do you see that?" I asked.

"Yeah...did that just start?" Bill asked.

"I think so." I responded.

It had been overcast in the morning then the rain started to fall, first in sprinkles then increasing to sheets of wind-driven rain. I had watched as the transparent waves landed on the pavement like a colossal irrigation system had been turned on. Now it was dark and the relentless splatters were only heard on our rooftop.

Bill found a pen and marked the parameter of what was a wet spot on our ceiling. Time passed and when we saw that the spot was growing too quickly to leave alone I cringed as Bill announced that he would have to put a tarpaulin over the flashing above the skylight.

"Will you need my help?" I offered.

"Yes, I will." Bill affirmed.

Bill brought out the ladder while I dressed in grunge-gear anticipating plenty of yuck. The yuck was definitely there as I watched Bill cross our yard that was now a bog and dig the tarp and some fence posts that we hoped would hold the tarp down. I waited for him to climb up the ladder and then I started handing him the posts.

"Should I come up there?" I asked with faltering bravery.

"No." was Bill's firm reply.

He's so protective, I thought.

The wind was racing at 7 miles per hour, leaving us to feel as though we were working amid 37 degrees F. The raindrops hit our faces at gravity defying angles.

"I need more posts." Bill yelled from the rooftop.

I made the short journey across our lawn thinking about how many times I have braved storms with this man. More than I would have expected to in the four years we have been married. Of course, in Washington, there are storms a plenty, both figurative and literal.

"This tarp won't stay down, I need my weights." Bill decided.

I went into the garage and brought his 10 lb weights, two of them, exactly the same as our son's weight. But even that wasn't enough as he sent me back to retrieve his 25 lb weights. They were heavy but, again, I considered how often I lugged my schoolbooks across campus or toted our kids around in my arms. I held the weights against my chest as I brought them to Bill.

Just as I handed him the first 25 lb weight the lights in our house and on the homes around us went off. Bill described a blue light that flashed to the south of the community then also went dark. Our kids were inside our house but my husband was on the roof in this storm and he needed to get finished quickly before anything worse happened.

"Do you want me to help you?" I asked again, taking his hand.

"No!" he yelled, "Get me the other weight, I have to get down fast."

I can trust this man, I thought as I handed him the other weight and the lights came on again. I helped him down the ladder by holding his foot and placing it on the steps. Then we hurried inside where our kids were visibly shaken but otherwise fine.

Later on the power went out, again. We were all inside, we had plenty of candles, yet I still worried about the kids and our home.

I am on the roof, I am in the house, and I am taking care of you.

God, you are so protective.

Yes, and I won't ask you to do anything that is impossible without Me.

I can trust You.


Friday, January 20, 2006

Planes, trains, and, well, you get the idea

The problem with taking the plane most anywhere is that it's largely uneventful. Why is that a problem? Because it doesn't give us the chance to experience hair-raising adventures or miss connections that offer opportunities of character building.

Let me stress the character building part.

I took the plane to visit my grandpa. For the first time in my air traveling life I got the middle seat. Nothing unusual there, really, except the lady sitting to my left was praying the rosary for about 20 minutes before we finally got to crusing altitude. She talked to Mary longer than she did me. The guy on the other side of me had nothing to say at all, my comments to him answered only with a smile and a nod. I got a lot of puzzles done.

After five days in Colorado, I took Amtrak to California. The train leaving Colorado was an hour late, and by the time I pulled in to Sacramento I was more than eight hours late, thanks to a freight train derailment near the California-Nevada state line. A curator from a train museum in Sacramento who got on board in Reno started telling us about the history of Donner Pass and the railway, and promised that he would narrate the trip all the way to Sacramento. But after we sat on the mountain for several hours, he stopped talking. Funny, I never heard another story. He either fell asleep or got off the train somewhere.

When we pulled into Sacramento at about 11 p.m., an uncle I hadn't seen in more than 20 years and my grandma were waiting for me. Grandma had planned on having a nice dinner and a family reunion of sorts. Alas, all that became of that was 45 minutes of catching up and a paper bag care package of barbequed pork, pasta salad, bread and brownies courtesy of Grandma and cousins Susan and Cindy. Grandma was tired and had to go home to sleep. She said she normally went to bed at 9 p.m.

True to form, Amtrak was more than an hour late pulling out of Sacramento to take me north and to home. The train died somewhere in the Sierras. The conductor didn't bother to tell us what was going on. We just guessed something was wrong when the train stopped and, later, the power went out.

Mudslides prevented us from going past Portland, which was fine because by that time we were more than six hours late. More than one passenger threatened to never ride Amtrak again, and felt the need to make the threat over and over and over again.

Buses took us to Seattle. A cab took me to the Greyhound station. While there, the security guard told a rabbi to stop spitting on the floor, and showed the nearest exit to a stalker of a young Oriental woman. I then caught a bus for my last hour home, and pulled in at about 2:30 a.m.

Lessons learned:
1. Flying is faster.
2. Ignore Amtrak's schedule. It doesn't matter, anyway.
3. When in coach, don't expect the conductor to tell you anything.
4. If you want rail history, read a book.
5. When at the bus depot in Seattle, watch where you step and carry mace.


Friday, January 13, 2006

Perchance to Dream...

My grandfather died this day at 4:30 a.m. He was 93 years old. He wanted to die. In fact, he couldn't wait to get it over with.

I flew in to Colorado on Tuesday. My cousin picked me up and took me to the hospital. When I got to the room, one of my uncles was watching as the doctor told Grandpa that they could put a tube down his throat to keep him fed. Grandpa, mustering strength and defiantly stating as loudly as he could through the oxygen mask, "Absolutely not!"

Grandpa has spent every day since Dec. 9 on his back in that hospital. He spent a great deal of time in the hospital in November, then in a rehab facility to help heal his pneumonia-scarred lungs, home for a day or two, but then back to where his earthly existence would come to an end.

My uncle called me last Sunday to tell me that Grandpa was going. I spent the next few hours trying to find a way to get here. Glory finally found a flight that was affordable, but only if I went one way. So Tuesday morning I flew over here, hoping, praying, that I would get to talk with (not to) Grandpa one last time.

Resigned to the fact that his ancient patient was ready to go, the doctor nodded, patted Grandpa on the chest and left. I then went to Grandpa's side. He turned his eyes to mine and lifted his right hand to take mine. "How ya doin', Bill?" Grandpa asked me in a strained whisper through his mask, the "s-s-s-s-t" of the oxygen drowning out the clarity of his voice. I gave him a hug and told him I was glad to see him. We talked as long as he was able, him asking me how life was going my way. I told him Glory and the kids were doing well. I told him I loved him. He didn't say anything but looked at me. The night before I heard him say on the phone muffled through the mask, "I love you, too," so I didn't need to hear it again.

After a little pause, Grandpa turned to me, looked at me and asked, "How much you weigh now?"

"A lot less than the last time you saw me, Grandpa," I replied.

He chuckled and turned back to the TV that was on playing some mindless show that I know he could care less about.

We sat in silence for a while. Just being by his side was all I needed.

I am one of the younger grandkids, the 11th of 18. Then there are more great and great-great grandkids. But my grandparents have told me that I was like another one of their kids. There are a few of us grandkids that have a claim to that status. For me, in '94, after getting out of the Air Force, Grandma and Grandpa asked me to live with them as I went back to college on the GI Bill. For four years I stayed with them, mowing their lawn and doing other things, trying to earn my keep in exchange for free room and board. In my third year, I told them I would look for my own place. They would have none of that and asked I stay, even though I was hardly there, what with my job, working at the college newspaper, going to classes and getting involved in campus and church activities. But the fact that I was there anyway was enough for them.

They saw me graduate with honors, saw me leave to work at a paper 90 miles away, and saw me gain a little weight as I entered a sedentary lifestyle for a bit while writing. (Grandpa started then quizzing me about my weight when I would see him.) They saw me on New Year's morning 2001 at about 1 a.m., when, after having the traditional dinner of corned beef and cabbage, toasting in the new year with sparkling cider, I left them for what I thought then was the last time. I left three days later to work at a paper on the east coast. They couldn't be at Glory's and my wedding but they wanted to, Grandpa said to me the following year. He just couldn't travel that far anymore, Grandpa told me. He was carrying around an oxygen tank then. Although he quit smoking in 1980, and although he seared his lungs in a fire in the early '70s, the damage still remained in him. It was catching up with him, finally.

My family and I saw him last in on Thanksgiving 2003. He looked so old and frail then. We played Rook, the traditional family card game. We learned that year that for probably 20 years we have been playing the game wrong. I believe one of my uncles finally read the rules. Well, we weren't going to change. And we haven't. The other night in the hospital we were playing Rook the same way we've always played it.

Grandpa and I shared an interest in coins. We used to spend hours on his bed, inspecting his coins from around the South Pacific and even ration tokens from the '30s. On Tuesday I showed him a silver proof set I bought in '99 I brought with me in case I had to cash it in to finance my train trip back to Washington. He took the coin holder in his frail shaking hands and looked closely at the shiny state quarters now more than 10 times their value when I first bought them. "I have a bunch of quarters," Grandpa said raspily. He handed them back and we sat in silence for a little bit longer. Then he uttered his last verbal communication with me.

"How much did you say you weighed again?"

"2-1-5, Grandpa," I nearly yelled in his almost deaf ears.

"2 - 2, 215?"

"Yep," I replied. He chuckled again and fell silent, our time together over. Over the next couple of days I would watch him drift further and further into himself, but then brighten, if just briefly, when others, like my sister, a few cousins and others who had raced to his side to have their final conversation with him. In between times, he would raise his arm to glance at his gold Timex as if he were wondering when he was checking out. He would do that a few more times even with his eyes closed. Then he stopped moving altogether, his breathing becoming shallower and shallower. Then, he was gone.

I planned to take the family to Colorado this spring. We still might. Grandpa won't be there but Grandma remains, so the link to my elders still is taut. I'm selfish, but I want it to be that way for a while longer.


Tuesday, January 10, 2006

Sleeping Babes: epilogue

Bill got a ride to the airport early this morning so it was Elizabeth's turn to snuggle with me and Ulie. She's all of 12 years old but, goodness, can she squirm and wiggle!

More on Bill's airplane ride and air travel, later...


Thursday, January 05, 2006

Sleeping Babes

Our world was still blanketed in a quiet shade of dark when I awoke with Bill who was taking his brother to the airport. It is an uncommon thing for me to rise before the sun so, while I wanted to stay up to keep time with my husband, I was eager to return to the warmth and comfort of our bed. After all, we had busy days from Christmas until now and I had yet to reclaim my right to sleep in. It was my time, or so I thought.

Elizabeth wanted to take advantage of a ride into Seattle with her dad and uncle so she was also awake. Murron, however, was still rubbing sleepy eyes and clumsily draping her well loved fleece blankie around her little frame. When everyone had departed I scooped her into my arms and toted her into our bed.

Ulie was waiting for us, sleeping swaddled in his own blanket, puffing little breaths into the air. I didn't want to disturb his infant dreams but I needed to make room for Murron. As I eased us both under the covers I felt Murron's little body squirm and wiggle into a comfortable position before she relented to another round of slumber. I heard Ulie's deep sigh before he resumed his former pattern of breathing.

Just before I also fell asleep I found myself surrounded by a gentle and sweet sense of calm. My littlest ones were asleep beside me, their warm bodies drawing heat from my own, their breaths shallow and restful, and their tiny heartbeats pitter-pattering just barely above the sound of silence. It was a moment of awe and understanding.

How we must bless our Father above when we draw close to Him, curl into His arms, and rest.