Vigil Eve

I am no longer with my extended family for the holidays. Our life’s lessons have brought us to different places, literally and metaphorically. But there was an important time that we shared, and I celebrate those times of endearing family gatherings, before our realities diverged and they developed a need to pray for me.

And so I post these, remembering my extended family with nostalgia and also with an appreciation for even the tenuous connections that still exist.

They pray. I write.

Vigil Eve (“Wigilia’ 1950)

There was no mistaking this immigrant clan
for anything but a matriarchy,
bringing from its Polish homeland
the fundamentals of family, earthy foods,
a deference to the will of the grayest female.

The men earned hard money, revered their vodka.
as it was on the farms of the old country.
The rest was woman’s right and work.
So, when the magical time of Vigil Eve drew near
the men disappeared into their smokey enclaves

to share storied fatherland memories,
while the women gathered in her kitchen
a determined lineage of daughters,
by birth and marriage, armed with
the culinary legacies of generations.

Her enameled kitchen table, an assembly line
of dough, tools, bowls of rich concoctions,
filled with reflections of final farm harvests.
For days, they rolled floured, filled and pinched,
boiled, browned and layered.

We children sat at the floor, eye level to legs
in a corner of the steamy kitchen,
playing with scraps of pasty dough,
lulled by the soft humming of female voices,
the steady rumble of snowy urban streets.

The night of Vigil Eve flowed with prayers and feasting,
as full families gathered at the gray lady’s call,
reviving ancient rites of pine and light,
to sing the language and history of their people
carried across oceans of fear and hope.

They sang of homeland yearnings for freedom and faith,
of the tears of mountaineers displaced and despaired,
of the battles of heroes to free the heart’s land,
of mystical mothers and magical births.

Generations of voices in harmony
drifted through the lace-curtained windows
opened to the cold winter night, the night
when animals talked, wishes were granted,
and ancient rituals forged the bonds of blood.

———–

Heart of Rom
(an earlier version published in The Berkshire Review, Volume 4, 1996)

Cyganka! My grandmother scolds,
as I bound off the front stoop
onto the wet city street,
propelled by the promise of stolen kisses
and the musky taste of Tangee
still slick on my lips.

Gypsy. Even the word brings blood
blood rushing to the pit of my stomach.
How I wish for the wild hair,
dark eyes, skin like old copper,
for a power ancient as the land,
the sweep of continents
and countless untamed hearts.

She ruled us with her will,
that Polish grandmother –
a small strong-handed woman
with a voice of faith-forged mettle
and a back turned straight against
truths too bold to hold.

Yet, they tell me once, as I lay young and dying,
she revealed her family secrets:
holy candles, crystal cups, vials of spirits, leeches,
while my mother watched from shadows
fighting demons with her eyes.

They tell me, when the priest arrived,
surprised to find the child alive,
he never commented on the faint red circles
following the tender length of spine,
the scattering of blood marks along the back
like ancient glyphs on altar stone.

what the hell is that on her head?

My mom is sitting down at the table having a cup of her fake coffee. AsI look down at her, I notice a thick smear of something light green stuck in her hair. Huh?
So, I touch it. It’s sticky. I smell it. It smells minty. Aha!

Toothpaste!

I have to admit it. I laughed a lot.

She has a spot on her scalp that always seems to itch her. When she tells me about it, I put Scalpicin on it, and that helps. I guess this time as she combed her hair in the bathroom mirror, she picked up the first thing that looked like an ointment tube and rubbed it on the itch.

The last time she rubbed something strange on her body, it was on her lips and they swelled to the point where I had to take her to the doctor’s. As far as anyone could tell, it was an allergic reaction to something, and I think she had been rubbing her 30-year-old Lancome cream on her lips. I cleaned out her beauty lotion drawer and it hasn’t happened since.

She always seems to be fidgeting. Mostly she takes sheets of Kleenex and folds them into squares and loads her pockets with them. She insists on having tops and pants with pockets. Sometimes I miss emptying a few when I do her laundry. Even if I use those scent-free dryer softener sheets, those little bits that stick to the clothes are a bitch to pick off.

She would love to fold blankets and other larger squares, but she has a torn muscle in her left shoulder. Not only can’t she raise that arm, but the whole shoulder is painful, even though she’s had a cortisone shot. After Thanksgiving, I am going to arrange for a physical therapist to come over and help her with that arm. I think I finally found a place that is certified for Medicare.

Very often, she snaps. No, literally. She snaps and unsnaps those closings on the tops I buy her so that they are easy to get on and off. Last night, she was desperately trying to snap closed the edges of a very old pillow case that she had long ago sewed snaps on to keep closed. (I guess she’s always been obsessed with snaps.) When she went to sleep, I resewed the ones that were coming off and sewed on a few additional snaps so that she could have yet another snap-happy fiddle thing.

Actually, I found a site on the web where you can buy fidget things for people with dementia. Other sites suggest these stress-reduction toys. My mom will not fiddle with toys. She will only fiddle with things that are familiar to her; things that she has used in her role as wife and mother. Safety pins are one of those things. She finds them and pins them to the inside of her slacks. The other day I found her picking her teeth with the point of a large safety pin. She has a drawer full of various dental picks that I bought her. But she uses a safety pin. Sigh.

I spend a lot of time Googling for ideas on how to calm my mother, since her fidgeting is associated with her nervousness and anxieties. As a result, I sent for a really soft furry teddy bear and made a sweater for it with a Polish logo. You’ve heard of Polar Bears? Well, this is a Polish Bear:

bear.jpg

I thought that stroking the bear’s fur might relax her. I thought the Polish theme would attract her. Nope. She knows it’s a toy. Cute, but no cigar.

Well, I tried.

In another day I’m planning to try to leave to go to my daughter’s for Thanksgiving. Actually, I’m going no matter what. I don’t know how my brother is going to manage, but I’m leaving enough food, clean underwear, desserts etc. so that my mom will have whatever she needs. He just has to make sure that she gets it all.
I can’t wait to see my grandson, who has been unofficially adopted by the guys in the local firehouse that his mom takes him to visit periodically. The last time he was there, they gave him a piece of real fire hose (including nozzle) and a door chock (whatever that is). His firefighter suit, of course, is compliments of Grammy.

firelex.jpg

He wants to be a firefighter when he grows up. Also the owner of a tree-cutting service. Or a road construction worker. Or some kind of para-medic/rescue worker.

I think he’s going to spend Thanksgiving rescuing his Grammy.

8 1/2

That’s eight and a half hours in the ER. We left at 5 p.m. It’s now almost 2 a.m. I haven’t eaten since lunch, and I’m sitting here eating baba ghannouj with a spoon and drinking V-8 Fusion because it hurts when I chew because I had a tooth extracted yesterday.

Mom was severely dehydrated and we couldn’t seem to stop the diarrhea. So they took all kinds of her fluids for testing, stuck a hydrating infusion in her arm, X-rayed her and did a CAT scan of her stomach and intestines. They didn’t find anything that we didn’t already know was there — nothing that would be causing her to spend so much time sitting on the commode. So, just in case, they gave her an antibiotic and we loaded up on gatorade on the way home.

And just to make the day complete, as I was rushing around making sure I had her health insurance info and stuffing extra clothes for her in a bag, along with a water bottle, kleenex etc. etc., my flip-flop caught on something sticking out of her wheelchair and I did some damage to my second toe on my left foot. No time to worry about that, right?

At the hospital, my toe started throbbing; turning purple. I had the option of signing myself into the ER too and have my toe X-rayed, but that would have left my sib to deal with my mother all by himself. My toe hurt and looked gross, but I could bend it and move it, so I figured it’s just a bad bruise. I opted to tend to the reason we were there in the first place.

She is supposed to consume nothing but ginger ale and gatorade for the next two days. If she refuses to drink — as she has been doing midst fits of dementia — it’s back to the hospital and back on the IV.
I’m wondering how they ever manage situations like this in nursing homes. It took two of us to manage the care of one of her.

I’m still hungry. But I’m also tired. I don’t know which need I’ll fill after I post this. Either way, it’s been a hell of a day.

a mother’s day reality bite

The Limerick Savant has put out a call for Mother’s Day limericks. I dare the jester to print this one, an original by this burned out, currently bitter caregiver:

Of mothers there are varied kinds.
Some are honored; some are maligned.
There’s no perfect mater
and sooner or later
you learn to accept what you find
To “mother” with grace is not easy.
You’re expected to always be breezy.
And when you mother your mother
‘cause a choice there’s no other
you likely go out of your mind.

Anyone with a Mother’s Day limerick to share, email your creative endeavor to limericksavant@gmail.com.

Obviously, I had a meltdown today. Told my sib I just don’t care anymore. Either he agrees to let me hire someone to come over here and give her some companionship, or I give him whatever money she gave me and I’m out of here. (The reasons why I only have those two choices are too dysfunctionally private to share here.)

I left home when I was 17 because I couldn’t get along with her (I’ve blogged about that before). When I thought she couldn’t live on her own anymore and she was always calling me long distance about various ailments, I decided to take her on, hoping that we both had changed enough to find a way to coexist — if not actually enjoy each other’s company. What an idiot I was.

I find that I don’t mind at all doing all of the chores, both for her personally and just general cooking and cleaning. I just can’t stand her company. I am a terrible daughter. And I don’t feel bad about that at all.

According this site, she’s nearing the end of stage 5 dementia, moving rapidly into stage 6. There’s one more stage after that, and she could live another decade. F**K!.