Monday, April 30, 2007

Inexorable Things, and Poppies

The late afternoon sun was perfect for illuminating these poppies and giving them a glowing color that needed no touch-ups in Photoshop.

In a month, it will be ten years since we moved into this house. I can't forget the first morning we woke here, to a quiet neighborhood and the sweet sound of birdsong. At that time there were maybe two or three spindly poppy plants on the back bank, which, along with the lawn, were dying for lack of water. We collected their seeds and sprinkled them on the dry ground, and were rewarded the following spring by a humble crowd of wildflowers.

Every winter since then, we've looked for the first poppy sprouts on the bank, a promise of spring to come soon.

I tried and failed to get hold of my mother's doctor today; but the caseworker from the Area Agency on Aging called me and we compared notes. Apparently my mother has been turning off the ringer on her phone. Now, does she know she's doing this? Is she doing it so that the phone doesn't ring while she's eating lunch, and then forget that she has? Is it her way of avoiding the caseworkers who try to call to schedule appointments? Connie the caseworker said she's turned the ringer on Mom's phone to the "On" setting twice now, after calling and calling and getting no answer.

Yesterday my mother-in-law tried to call, and getting no answer for the second day in a row, drove to Mom's house to see her. They had a nice visit, but Mother-in-law was appalled to see how thin and desiccated my mother looked. Forgetting to eat, perhaps?

Connie told me that last Monday, when she arrived to take my mother to her doctor's appointment, that (of course) my mother had forgotten about the appointment and tried to get out of it by saying she wasn't ready. Connie told her to go ahead and get ready, they had plenty of time, and while Ma was out of the room, Connie spoke to my sister, just chitchat. Amazingly, Jan answered her, and spoke to her ... until Mom scuttled back into the room and told Jan to stop showing off. Jan clammed up and spoke not another word. Still, I was elated to hear that Jan is still responsive -- she's been so quiet for so long that I worried that she had lost the ability to interact.

The consensus seems to be that Jan should be removed from my mother's home as soon as possible for not only her well-being, but her safety. If Mom can't remember to feed herself, is she actually remembering to take care of Jan? I know that it is going to cause upheaval in their lives, but I think that even in the short term, getting Jan out of that house could only be the best for her.

The other thing is the issue of my mother driving. She's already admitted to getting herself "lost" on her way to church once, and a friend called me to tell me he saved her ass when she hit a cloud of confusion at the local gas station and suddenly could not remember how to put gas in her little truck or how to pay for it; I've been instructed to tell her physician about the incidents, and in light of his evaluation of her condition, he will probably send paperwork to the Pennsylvania DMV to require her to go in for a driving test -- which I cannot imagine she would be able to pass.

She has good days sometimes, when her laugh sounds relaxed and easy, and she understands the things I tell her. I like to let those conversations hearken me back to the days 20 plus years ago when I lived in Pennsylvania, too, and we would meet in the earliest hours of the day to fish in the river while our respective households slept in. She was there to see me cast from 15 feet away into a tiny creek that emptied into the river -- and come up with a 17-inch trout, much to our surprise. Or the time we were surf-fishing on Hatteras Island, and I caught a little shark -- and Mom had to come to the rescue and take the hook from its mouth. The beast was still twitching and switching when we took it back to the cleaning station, and in shame for my earlier cowardice, I grasped it by the tail and whammed it hard on the wooden gutting table. I don't know that I ever remember my mother laughing that hard at anything else I ever did. (And she did appreciate the way I cooked the shark that day.)

There was a time when she was a good, good friend. Maybe in the next life we'll be able to recapture that friendship.

Thursday, April 26, 2007

Puppies and Flowers -- Yeah, Beats the Alternatives

I've been trying to get decent pictures of our bottlebrush bush for years.

I love how the filaments are all the same length. What in nature would produce such a remarkable form, and color and function? The color is easy: red is attractive.

Function is also obvious: the plant is a source of nectar. Bees and hummingbirds and orioles love it. (I was entranced to find, the other evening, a beautiful Bullock's oriole sipping there, brilliantly yellow-orange amongst the red brushes.)

But why on earth in the shape of a bottle-brush? To inspire the first maker of a bottle-brush? To fulfill a mathematical truism of some sort?

As I say, I've been trying to get a good picture of the blossoms for years. My film camera (which now molders, unused, in a dresser drawer, with film of God knows what in it) took nice pictures, but not the details of intricacy that I hungered for.
The morning I took these pictures I knew that the light was just right for a good red. The sun had just come up, and I captured some beauty.

That's important right now. There is beauty in the world, and it should be savored.

Monday my mother was diagnosed as having Alzheimers.

She's very angry about her body failing her, and in her grief over that sad death sentence, she's lashing out against sympathy and support.

No one can help her, as she insists she needs no help. No one can help her cope, as she insists she needs no help. No one can help her get food, get to church, shovel snow, mow the grass ... everyone who offers to help the 82-year-old woman is just trying to weaken her and make her feel like an invalid.

Today she decided that I was trying to make her feel bad: when she told me that her doctor could find nothing wrong with her, I called her on it. "Mom, yesterday you told me the doctor said you had Alzheimers."

Now -- and I don't know how long that "now" will last, as this woman holds grudges basically forever -- I'm part of her "problem," that is, all the people who are trying to destroy her.

The wonder of flowers, and the amazing sweetness of a lanky 50 pound puppy snoozing in my studio are important reminders that not all is a wreck in the universe. There is still joy.

Alzheimers cannot be cured. I told Mom, "It's largely a case of learning to live with it." And although she pretty much told me to go to hell, I do believe that. My mother is pretty much gone. I just have to learn to live with the disease that manifests itself through her.

Thank God for puppies and blossoms.

Thursday, April 12, 2007

A Find in the Closet: Gordon Grant

I was rearranging bookshelves, wanting to get all the artsy-fartsy instruction books all in one place where both Alex and I could gorge on them at will.

There was a shelf of them in a bookcase in my closet in the studio, and I was disgusted to find how dusty they were. Then I pulled out a folder that had an old print in it.

I've loved this picture of a ship since I was a little kid, and had it on the bulletin board of my bedroom desk for as long as I can remember having a desk. (LONG TIME.) When I did a painting of a ship for my friend Deb's birthday (her husband commissioned me to do it) I relied on the colors of this painting when I was doing the ocean, and the colors of the sails of the ship in the distance was formative, also.

So, seeing the brown and crumbling edges of the print, I was inspired to scan it, so that I can have it at my fingertips.

This was the signature on the print: "Gordon Grant."

I googled him, hoping to find a copy of the print, or at least its name. I found neither. There were a number of entries under his name, but most of the work that was presented were black and white sketches. Gordon Grant was fond of maritime artwork, and died in 1962, about the time I first discovered this old print --- I don't even remember where I came across it, I was so young.

Suddenly I realized that a piece of paper I've dragged around the country for the past 30-odd years is irreplaceable. I put it in a safe paper press, and will probably have it formally framed in the not too distant future.

Thank you, Mr. Grant.