Happy 2014…..Whatever

Timothy Egan of The New York Times wrote a piece today about “Words for the Dumpster.”  These are words that have been so overused and misused that they need to be dropped from our vocabularies because they have lost all meaning—if they ever had one.

WHATEVER Long ago, “whatever” was a cover for inexpressive ignorance — Hitler invaded Poland and then, whatever.  Now this word reigns as a facile dismissive:  I know it’s Mother’s Day, but whatever.  For the fifth year in a row, “whatever” was just rated the nation’s most annoying word in a survey done by the Marist Institute for Public Opinion, beating out the hardy perennials “like” and “you know” and “just saying.”

The ever popular “whatever” was a mainstay of my mother’s lexicon.  For a nostalgic look back at that, here’s my post “The Mother Who Didn’t Cry Wolf!”



It’s Not Your Mother’s Oldsmobile…Or Is It?

Recently I wrote about my brother-in-law receiving a “sign” from his wife on the day she passed away, letting him know she was safe and that he could move on with his life.

I’m a big believer in things like this, even though I’m not what you’d call a religious person.  See my post “The Orthodox Agnostic” for the particulars.  Even so, I do believe we are connected to the spirit world.

I used to do Tarot card readings by email years ago and had close to one hundred of them under my belt before I took down my shingle, not because I wasn’t helping people but because too many folks had become dependent on me for advice.

The cards weren’t “powerful” or “magic.”  My view of them is they’re similar to a search engine.  You ask your questions and the answers pop into your head while you look at the cards.  I’d hazard a guess that if folks in biblical times could have seen someone using Google, they would have stoned them for heresy.

It’s the same with signs from the dearly departed.  My late father used to leave feathers for me over at my mother’s house as a way of telling me he appreciated what I was doing for her.

But my mother has been gone these past nine months and I hadn’t really received anything that I could definitively point to and say it was from her.  I chalked it up to the fact she always, always hesitated to try anything new because she had this fear she would somehow make a mistake and screw it up.

So I asked that she and my dad get together on this and let me know they were, indeed, together again.  A joint metaphysical effort, if you will.

And this time I asked for something quite specific.

The “sign” would be an Oldsmobile from the late 1940s or early ’50s like the one my parents had when I was a kid.  It was a light baby blue and the car my mother used when she learned to drive at the advanced age of about 35.  I remember lying in the backseat (no seat belts, of course) getting kind of nauseous from going around and around in an empty parking lot as my mother practiced her driving under my father’s tutelage.

This sign could come in any form—verbal, pictorial or written.  Didn’t matter.  I just knew that if I encountered it in some way, that would be it.

A couple of weeks went by and I gave the sign only occasional thought.  The thing about it is—you really can’t go “looking” for it.  It has to come unexpectedly, which is part of the thrill of having one turn up.

So, I was at our local park having lunch after one of my exercise classes and decided, on a whim, to walk around a bit in town and look at some of the shops.  We don’t do this nearly often enough because I’ve found that living in what is essentially a tourist town tends to make hermits out of us locals.  We go out of our way to avoid driving or parking on the main drag because it’s just that—a drag.  Consequently, we only do the “tourist” thing ourselves sporadically.  And it’s a shame because we have some great shops.

I’d gone up one side of the street and was almost down to the corner of the other side where I would go back across to the park, when I decided to go into a shop that I’d enjoyed in the past but hadn’t visited in a while.  It had an eclectic mix of stuff I like—funny, quirky and artsy-fartsy. I wandered in a counter-clockwise pattern from the door and found myself in front of a display of Christmas ornaments and decorations.  It was now September but I knew this display was kept up all year.

Last year, about a month before my mother passed away on Dec. 22, someone broke into a storage unit where we were keeping a lot of our stuff while we prepared to move from our place out in the country to our new house in town.  Luckily, this unit was the “overflow” one of the two we had and it didn’t have a lot in it of value.

However, the thieves made off with all of my Christmas decorations and ornaments, ones I’d had for fifty years or more.  Irreplaceable things my kids had made, or I had made when they were small, and old ornaments belonging to my late in-laws; also some my mother had when she was young.  Gone, too, were my daughter’s red baby socks with white pom poms on each cuff from her first Christmas when she was just a month old.

Yeah, Mr. Grinch.  I’m lookin’ at you.

I stood wistfully in front of the display.  I couldn’t have a Christmas tree last year because of the pilfered ornaments and my other holiday decorating was somewhat listless and not really in the spirit of things.  Understandable, given the situation with my mother.  So I gazed at the ornaments and gradually discovered that a lot of them looked like the old ones I’d lost.  They were undoubtedly new, but they were “antiqued” to look old and some were reproductions of the old Shiny Brite brand of which I had quite a few, thanks to my in-laws.  There was a wreath made with these “old” ornaments that was remarkably similar to my dear, departed decorations.  Even though I couldn’t take all of them with me, it felt like a reunion of sorts.

As I turned and started to walk back toward the door, I spotted a standing display of knitted Christmas stockings.  Each stocking was nearly two feet long.  My stocking from when I was a kid only came up to mid-calf on me.  It was red and white striped cotton and kind of grubby, but I’d kept it for over 60 years until it also disappeared with the rest of my things.

When I looked at the cuff on these new stockings, I found they had the same Santa figure standing in front of the fireplace saying “Merry Christmas” just like mine did.  Probably a pretty popular design from that era, but it strengthened the feeling of being reunited with my lost belongings.

I sighed and turned back toward the front of the shop.  A few steps away were some revolving racks with greeting cards.  These were all from independent card companies, not Hallmark, and they had vintage black and white photos on the front with funny sayings inside.  I picked up a couple and had to laugh.  Then, I picked up one that had a car with two ladies in ’50s attire standing proudly next to it.  I did a double take.

“Seriously?  An Oldsmobile?”

The car, although a convertible, was shown in three-quarter view with the rear end facing the viewer.   The iconic Rocket 88 insignia on the trunk unmistakably proved it was an Oldsmobile from the era I’d requested.  The photo was in black and white but the car was light colored—perhaps baby blue?

The impact of this encounter didn’t really hit me until the next day when I had an email exchange with my son in California.  He’d sent me a photo of the spot in the Pacific where he’d scattered my mother’s ashes, as per her wishes.  I half-mentioned that I’d received a sign from my folks and in several back and forth emails I finally told him about the Oldsmobile.  He said, “Oh, now I get it…I’m scared…but I get it.”

I’m not sure if he’s scared for my sanity or scared about the general “woo-woo-ness” of the experience.   Probably both.

Anyway, my folks came through for me (thanks to Dad) and maybe now I can feel better about moving on.

It may not have been my mother’s Oldsmobile, but it was good enough for me.



Home Again

Today would have been my mother’s 94th birthday.  As some of you long time readers will remember, she passed away suddenly last December a few days before Christmas.

Her final wish was for her ashes to be returned to California and scattered at sea like my father’s were fifteen years ago.

She and my dad lived in a little 1920s house two blocks up a hill from Pacific Coast Highway in Laguna Beach for about 25 years, the happiest years of their lives.

Mom spent the last fourteen years here in Texas near her family.

Here is a photo my son took from his paddleboard about a half mile out, looking back at the beach at the end of my folks’ street.  He told me it was a calm, beautiful morning when he said a few words in remembrance of Granny (Mom) and then scattered her ashes in the sea, reuniting her with my dad once again.

Happy birthday, Mom.  Welcome home.



Coming Soon—I Tried Being Tasteful…—The Book!

I’m sure there are hordes of people out there (well, maybe three or four) who’ve been wondering what I’ve been doing with myself since my last post a month ago.  And no, I haven’t been doing that, but I have been toiling away at the computer and will be bringing forth the fruits of my labor presently in the form of a compilation of my blog posts from “The Elder Care Underground.”

I got the idea from my good bloggy friend over at Lame Adventures who produced a book of her own with the help of Amazon.com’s Createspace self-publishing website.  I had no clue it was even possible to do this, especially since I was a Word program “virgin.”  (I guess Bristol Palin was right—we can get our virginity back!)  But Amazon makes it relatively easy with templates to download and a book cover creator that’s fun to use.

Virginia at L.A. had hoped to publish her book by the last holiday season but had to shoot for allergy season instead.  I had hoped to publish mine by my birthday this year—which is today, coincidentally—but I’m shooting for one of my birthdays this century.  Actually, I’m waiting for another printed proof to arrive and hope to approve the whole enchilada shortly thereafter.  Then it should go “live” on Amazon’s website for the low, low price of $9.95 plus shipping.  I plan to have it available on Kindle also, for you advanced individuals who know how to run one of those.

I’m kind of a Luddite when it comes to electronics and prefer to have a physical book in hand.  Maybe it goes back to when I was in school in the Dark Ages and we would get mimeographed hand out sheets from the teacher and we all would swoon from the smell of the ink they used.

Anyway, stay tuned for further updates.  I have to say it is a real hoot to see my name on an actual book—even a 6″ x 9″ trade paperback as this one will be.

God bless technology.  (And the folks who make ink.)



Ashes to Ashes…Dust to Calif.

I picked up my mother’s cremated remains at the funeral home yesterday.  Technically, they’re called “cremains” by the funeral home folks.  An odd sounding word, at least to me.  A euphemistic way of stating the facts.

You’re not exactly saying “cremated,” but you’re not saying “remains” either.

It’s like, if we combine the two by saying them reallyfast, we can fool ourselves into thinking what we have in that little cardboard box is neither one.

The funeral home director brought the box out from another room and placed it on the table in front of me.  The gold ring my mother was wearing when she died was taped to the top of the box.  The director wanted me to be aware of that. When we spoke over the phone earlier, he’d made a point of telling me that they’d retrieved it from her when she arrived.

I guess they want to avoid any possible accusations by the family of their not returning valuables.  We do live in a litigious age, so you can’t fault them for that.

The director and his assistant, an older gentleman, were both very nice and accommodating.  Since my mother had pre-paid for her cremation with The Neptune Society, all I owed was $37 for the copies of her death certificate.

When you hear all the horrific tales about people spending huge sums of money on funeral arrangements, it feels a little weird writing a check for only $37.  No bronze casket with satin lining, gold handles or a waterproof concrete vault.

Just a cardboard box with her name on it and a gold ring taped to the top.

Since my mother wanted to be returned to California, we shipped her off to my son today.  He, along with his two cousins (all surfers or paddleboarders), will oversee the scattering of her ashes in the ocean off the beach at the end of the street where she lived with my Dad for 25 years.

Who needs bronze caskets, satin linings and all the rest of it when you’ve got the whole Pacific Ocean?

Have a good trip home, Mom.






The End of the Trail

Notes from the Eldercare Underground:  Final Edition

My mother passed away unexpectedly yesterday at the age of 93.  I suppose at that age death shouldn’t be unexpected, but she had been doing pretty well right up to this week. 

She attended the big Christmas wing-ding at the nursing home on Tuesday last, where they really know how to put out a buffet line.  One that rivals Las Vegas. 

All that was missing was Wayne Newton. 

(Although, they did have their one-man-band of an entertainer, the erstwhile fourth grade music teacher turned comedian, musician and master of ceremonies of these events.)

And on Wednesday my mother got to listen to the Christmas concert performed by her two great-grandkids and their school, so that was a nice touch.

So yesterday it came as a surprise when the night nurse phoned me at 5:30 am to tell me they were transferring her to the hospital ER because her breathing was labored and rapid.  After I got there (and after several tests) the ER doctor, whom we’d seen before on one of her other trips there, told me he thought she was just shutting everything down and all they could offer at that point was a room and comfort care.  She was constantly administered oxygen and was given a small dose of morphine to quell any pain she might be having.

I was asked by a nurse if I wanted what they call “heroic” measures, like a ventilator or CPR to resuscitate her if her heart stopped.  Fortunately I had her advance directive and medical power of attorney and knew that this is not something my mother would have wished.

So I said no.

Not exactly “pulling the plug on grandma.”  More like not putting the plug into the wall in the first place.

My daughter spent the day there in her room with me (a great help) and around 5:00 pm my mother’s labored breathing slowed down and became more shallow.  After about five minutes, it stopped altogether.

Last Tuesday, when we went back to her room after the party, she re-iterated that she really didn’t care for it here and said she was going to go back to California.  I have heard this so many times in the 13 years she’s been in Texas that it didn’t bother me like it used to.

I just said, “Well, if you can swing it, I’m all for it.”

She’s getting her wish. 

Her ashes will be going back to California (as per her request), probably this summer, when we go out there to visit my son and his family.

Before we left her hospital room so the funeral home folks could take her away, I bent over and kissed her on the forehead and told her good-bye.  In my mind I added, “Say hi to Dad for me.”  I know they’re together again after almost 15 years. 

And that’s the one good thing to come out of all of this.


(Many thanks to my faithful “Eldercare Underground” readers.  I really appreciated your comments and all of your encouragements.)


Granny and Omar, the camel.