The Visiting Nurse
Today my husband got away with family for a well needed respite. It has been no small mountain for him to climb to watch me go through all of this, and maintain the dishes, and help with so many things and try to live with some patience with his masculine instincts that he wants it all fixed now, (yesterday even). There are rough patches. And sweet ones as you will see with today’s story.
With regard to yesterday’s sharing, I spoke of the setting of the seashore as a backdrop for self confrontation at the threshold. I would want to add, for so many of us love the ocean, it is also a setting for the other end of the spectrum. Being at the seashore can be an epitome of healing, a place the soul seeks for reconciliation, perspective of our place in nature and the world, affirmation of reconnection with the big scheme of things. Then the washing of the waves is reassurance, the rhythm of life, The Mother’s heart beat known again. We are ‘entrained’ as the heart math people phrase it. The pungent smells of seaweed and salt water are a balm and we welcome the cry of the gulls.
Throughout my life, the threshold of land and sea has been powerful in dreams, visions, and awakenings. Sometimes fearsome, foreboding, sometimes beautiful with possibility. At the threshold. Perhaps it is not surprising some of my life work would be threshold work, for I was born on the edge of the sea, spent countless childhood hours there and always held the deepest respect for its mighty primal power.
The hospital in La Jolla (near San Diego, California) where I took my first breath in this earth life was a scant thirty yards from the powerful splashing waves of the Pacific dashing up onto brown rocks. I wonder if my mother’s room had a window in that hospital where she could see the sea? She was a strong, vibrant athletic woman, such a pity they drugged women in those days, cheating them out of experience of their birth achievement. The beginnings of ‘The Interference’ in the modern era of women’s empowerment. But so be it, I was here, she and my father were delighted with my arrival and especially since I came into their arms after the poignant tragedy of my older sister’s drowning only a year before. Sweet Mary Phyllis, a chubby toddler, when she passed, was less than two years old. Afterward, my mother always felt her close by, her spiritual angel guide and connection to the other side. I have no doubt this was so.
The Medicare system we are under now has been a Godsend to us. How I wish a sensible, financially fair version of it could be available to all citizens in this country like it is in most other parts of the world where they feel health care for their citizens is important to the welfare of the nation.
When the patient is sent out of the hospital quickly after major surgery, (as they are now, five days for open heart surgery) they follow up with a visiting nurse and physical therapist for help change dressings, watch for infections and keep track of vital signs. It is certainly more cost effective than a nursing home.
And so it was that Jenny came to us. She was a short, trim, dark haired woman in her forties, her no nonsense approach was honed through 30 years of prison work among other things. She ticked off the required list and treated the wounds with cheerful objective efficiency.
She has two children she has raised alone. Her first, an adopted boy, is the son of a meth addict. Raising him, she told us, she persistently pushed through school and societal thresholds where they might label and limit him. She has cheerfully insisted on responsibility and accountability from the children and has gotten it. Her son is successfully working in the Job Corps program. Clearly her devotion her family has been focused and unwavering and they know it, it is clear that they are the most important thing in her life. Her daughter was an in vitro pregnancy. Jenny was so animated in the telling us about it and how she had saved all the receipts of the thousands of dollars that took. She laughed that her daughter could never say her Mom didn’t want her! She proudly told a story that once at an community dinner event, her seven year old son spoke up and stated “Do you know what the code word for adoption is? All were puzzled. With a big grin he answered, “Lucky!” She says he feels that way to this day.
We spoke of instilling responsibility and resiliency in children and Gordon told her the story of our grandson Alex and their grand project of building a boat together.
Gordon and Alex and The Project
What Gordon didn’t tell was that he has never been drawn to young adolescent boys with their sullenness and sass. Grandsons were no exception when that age came around for them. Alex, 13, had been going through a crisis in school, was thoroughly turned off and things were not looking good. He was transferring to live in our area and I urged Gordon we had to do something about this for his sake and our daughter, a single mom with her only son now in rebellion.
Alex like so many young boys do, was always wanting something romantic and unrealistically extravagant , cars, trucks, and in this case a sail boat, too. We focused on that. Perhaps they could build a little one man skiff together? No dice. Alex wanted a sixteen foot sailboat with a cabin and all the trimmings, He had found plans for one called The Weekender. Gordon with much justification, felt it an impossible and totally unrealistic project.
But when I saw the dynamic and trajectory of things, I took Gordon aside and said, “You can do this, he can pay for half, and he’ll sign a contract he must be here enough days to complete it in a year.” And then I added, “It has to happen now, next year will be too late.” Somewhere deep in his good grandpa soul he heard me, and the contract was drawn, the bargain sealed. Doubting grandpa heaved a sigh and wondered how this year ahead would go.
But there is always excitement for such a project and plans came, lumber purchased, tools in our barn shop lined up and the grand boat building began. We held Alex to his contract without excuses. For the most part it went well, for Alex is a bright and capable young man and motivated. He would use the boat for his 8th grade project. That was motivation, too, to finish it on time. But best thing of all as I watched (and sometimes assisted), I saw the relationship grow, in respect, in tolerance, in understanding, a bonding between the two. Alex admiration for his Grandfathers amazing depth of knowledge, and grandpa’s wise tutelage to have him make decisions about how they would work on the boat each time and Gordon’s increasing appreciation of the boy’s potential.
The boat is a beauty and was completed for the 8th grade sharing. Needless to say, no one had another project anything close. Alex burst with warranted pride and announced to his grandfather, “You know now there isn’t any tool in the shop that I cannot use”. And this was true. It was a beautiful rite of passage. He was on his way. Would more young people could apprentice at this critical juncture in their development.
The next year, in ninth grade the students studied about heroes, and Alex was asked to pick a hero in his life. He named his grandfather.
Jenny was impressed with this story... Very impressed.
After a number of visits, she brought her sixteen year old daughter on the visit. She was sitting in the car and Gordon insisted Jenny bring her in. So Christy came in the door with adolescent self consciousness and sat down on the couch at our urging. She wore glasses, was tall and slender, her mouth open in repose, a late bloomer, one felt. We both engaged her, I asked about school and recreation. She liked reading and she and Gordon began to speak of it, (Gordon is a compulsive reader and has been all his life. I don’t know anyone else who read Moby Dick in its entirety at ten and twice more before he was fourteen!) Gordon asked Christy about favorite books and read some things to her. She loved it and asked him What was one of his favorite books? He said he would think about it.
The visit was usual enough for us, but Jenny told us later, Christy had enjoy it so much that she wanted to skip her dentist appointment the following week so she could come back with her to see us again. Not granted, but it was touching to see the young girl’s sense of connection.
She came back with her Mom again this week, stylish in her branded black sweats.
I asked her about Disneyland where they had just vacationed, and we went over all her visits there (for her 10th and 13th birthdays as well, and asked her what was her favorite as a little girl and her favorite now. She came up with Cinderella being her dream of a princess as a ten year old but now it was the Little Mermaid.
Gordon, remembered her request for a favorite book, went and got a children’s book he so enjoys and loves to read. No one can read like Grandpa Gordon, the words so warmly, and wisely well spoken. This book is from the 1920’s, saved from my mother’s treasures.
It is in a hexameter rhythm so it flows in a compelling way. It is called the Honey Bear
and is the story of a woodsman and his family in the deep dark woods and a bear comes and takes away the baby from her little crib, the tense part in the story. But when they are found, the bear is having a ‘funny, honey, party with the baby girl and ‘they are full of honey ... and the ‘story travelled round the world, as stories often can, so when ever someone calls you ‘honey’ you’ll know how it began.”
I was across the room as Jenny was checking my blood pressure and I looked across the room. There was Gordon, his steel gray head, and her small, dark haired head close by on the couch so she could see the pictures. She was commenting at the special parts. She was as engaged as a small child.
I smiled at Jenny and said, “We are professional grandparents.”
“You sure are”, she replied, “when they made you they threw away the mold.” She went on to tell how much it meant for Christy to have this connection had no grandparents in her life.
I looked at my often gruff and tough husband at his best, giving that timeless grandpa energy to a young girl and watching her bask and thrive in his loving attention. What a sweet and tearful moment for me watching. On leaving Gordon gave hugs all around as he always does. As a young man he read a story that so moved him of a young soldier who had no arms and so missed giving hugs. He vowed he would do so whenever he could. He is famous for his warm and reassuring hugs. Grandpa’s hugs for young and old are part of our White Feather hospitality. My new heart welled with gratitude for the beautiful social good will that lives in this man.
(Note: Today Alex is an officer in the Coast Guard, last month in charge of all the security for the Mississippi River section for Obama’s visit. During the event a kayaker wanted to float into the middle of the river where he met an armed Coast guard rig to persuade him to go to the shore where he had been ordered!)