Treasuring the Salvage

Mom at the 2013 Hamilton County Fair. She thinks she looks horrible in this photo. I think she's a monument to endurance and triumph.

Mom at the 2013 Hamilton County Fair. She thinks she looks horrible in this photo. I think she’s a monument to endurance and triumph.

I didn’t do nearly the blogging I’d intended this summer. On the good side, I got really busy with paid judging that lasted through August 1. Can’t beat those income-producing gigs.

A less happy reason is my mother has been having so many health problems this year (which she doesn’t even reference on her blog). Winter and spring were filled with severe bouts of pain thanks to a condition diagnosed as spinal stenosis. In the early episodes, she barely could get out of bed. Later in the spring, she started having a course of chiropractic treatments from a practitioner she liked and trusted. Although still enduring bouts of intense pain, she learned to cope and forced herself to push through the pain. The bouts got shorter and less intense, thanks in part to Mom taking up a daily regimen of riding an exercise bicycle in sessions adding up to 20 minutes or more per day.

Then, in early July, she suddenly developed a pain in her abdomen with nausea and vomiting. Some spidey sense told me this wasn’t just a bug of some kind or even food poisoning; I actually wondered about another incidence of bowel blockage such as she suffered in 2008, but Mom vehemently refused a call for an ambulance. By Saturday morning, though, I knew we needed to get her to the hospital. She acquiesced, to my surprise, although I didn’t learn until the EMTs arrived that Mom recognized a certain symptom she’d had with the bowel obstruction and accepted she’d better get medical attention.

She was in the hospital for two nights for tests and observation. The bowel obstruction was confirmed, and it was due to a new ventral hernia. That meant surgery to insert more mesh, although the surgeon opted to let her get some of her general health back first. In late July she had the surgery and was even able to come home the same day, something that hadn’t happened previously because she’d always had severe nausea caused by the anesthesia.

It’s not that Mom’s ordeal was so demanding of me that I didn’t have time to blog. The time suck was the judging. For me it was more of an emotional distraction. I wasn’t in the mood to blog or do any kind of writing that was going to lead me to dwell on things.

By “things” I mean aging and its consequences, how much Mom was missing because of her various conditions, that thug Death always in my peripheral vision, smirking and tossing a coin like some ’30s movie gangster, except each flip of the coin marked a chunk of time disappearing.

Mom is the one who’s coping with all this with astounding grace. I’d be depressed out of my head to be unable to do things I love. She has trouble walking much, often uses a cane for both moral and physical support. She’s afraid to travel very long in the car because of the specter of a horrid assault of pain and having to endure an agonizing journey home. She’s had to pass on going to antique malls, outings with Diamondqueen and the Hooligans, and a range of activities that are typical of summer.

However, because Mom is a master of diminished expectations and still game for reduced adventures, I’ve managed to get her out for some very enjoyable escapades. To start the summer, we took a long ride across the local countryside the Friday of Memorial Day weekend, an evening of stunning beauty we both treasured. She’s been able to eat out almost every week. Sometimes it hurts to make her way from the car to her seat in the restaurant, but the one blessing of her back condition is she’s often comfortable once she’s seated.

One Saturday Diamondqueen and the Hooligans were otherwise occupied. Mom felt up to having lunch at Grand Finale, one of our favorites which the Hooligan group does not appreciate, and then I cautiously suggested an adventure: Driving up to Dayton to find the grave of her grandmother, Lillian Illie Roberts. (Mom had attended her funeral in 1968 but not her burial; Great-Grandma had been living in Oklahoma for decades before her death. I just recently discovered which cemetery held Grandma-Up-Dayton’s grave thanks to Mom made the drive comfortably, then shocked me by climbing a steep hill (cane in hand) to see the grave I’d located. I’d nearly fallen a couple of times myself while climbing a slightly rougher face of the same hill.

We both were mourning the prospect of not getting Mom to any county fairs this summer. The Warren County Fair arrived and Mom shook her head. I didn’t feel like going alone, not this particular year (two decades ago I did often go the fairs alone). The next week was the Butler County Fair. Weather forecasts called for sunshine and comfortable temperatures, and the fairgrounds in Hamilton are totally flat. We conspired that we’d find benches for Mom to rest on while I took quick tours through the various barns and exhibits, and it worked out fine. We had a lovely drive, were able to park fairly close to the entrance gate, Mom took a turn around the arts building to see the quilting, and she snapped pictures from her benches while I was off petting sheep and goats. On the way home, we stopped for dinner at Mimi’s Cafe and had a delightful meal. In fact, after the surgery when Mom was ready to eat out for the first time, I told her to pick the spot. She looked up at me almost wistfully and said, “I was wondering if we could go back to Mimi’s.”

The triumph that made us particularly proud was the Hamilton County Fair. We’d convinced ourselves that neither Mom nor I had missed a single fair in our lifetimes. As fair season approached, Mom began to rationalize that she probably had missed a fair; prospects of attending this year were dwindling. It’s usually hot as Hades during that fair, plus the Carthage fairgrounds have a hill that normally isn’t too daunting, but it was beyond Mom’s physical abilities. Everything worth seeing is on top of that hill (at least as far as we’re concerned).

The fair this year fell just a little more than a week after Mom’s surgery. However, Mom had been out to eat, and we’d come up with a routine where Mom and Addie would ride along to a destination and wait in the car (windows down) while I ran in to the grocery store or bought things at the produce stand. Our new discovery was the farmer’s market in Loveland on Tuesday evenings. On our first visit, Mom and Addie sat in the car while I rounded up foccaccia bread and chocolate croissants for dinner. Mom enjoyed this so much she decided we’d adopt this routine each Tuesday for the rest of the summer.

The following week, as the Hamilton County Fair opened, it dawned on me: Since the weather was supposed to be moderate again, why couldn’t Mom sit in the car while I hiked up the hill for a quick tour of the fair. Mom did one better: She walked as far as the barn area (thanks to a handicapped spot on the macadam where the fun houses used to be), which used to buzz with cattle judging and other contests, and we found a shaded spot by the demonstration barn where we could set out the chair we’d brought along. While Mom gazed at the passersby and the nearby petting barn, I looked for dinner on the midway.

Nothing was that appealing, so I bought two containers of baked beans from a barbecue food truck plus some sodas and toted them back to the barn area. We spread our dinner on a bench and had a perfectly fine time. Mom even said it reminded her of the old days when she’d pack food for everyone to enjoy in Grandpa’s barn on race days.

As far as we were concerned, Mom had “attended” the fair; if she did have a life-long streak of going, it had extended one more year. We were discussing this and our other activities (including our most recent–a meal at Eli’s Barbecue in our old East End neighborhood after Mom’s appointment at the surgeon, who gave her a clean bill of health). Mom commented how much she enjoyed little things like the farmer’s market outing. Then she looked at me and said something like, “It’s okay for me at my age, but I hate to see you so limited at your age.”

I pointed out, with emphasis that I hoped she believed, that I was grateful for every second she was able to enjoy anything; that most of these improvised outings were highlights of the summer; and if I was still working full time, my life would consist of long hours at work, then going home alone to my apartment. In no way am I feeling “limited” except in income.

In my previous post, I talked about how much visiting Gettysburg has meant to me over the years. What I didn’t describe was the near-disaster of my first visit there with Mom. En route, the car suddenly started stalling out on us, beginning in Chambersburg. I struggled with that car the entire time. A side trip to Hershey was especially frazzling to my nerves, but it was also harrowing to have the car die in spots on the battlefield roads where cars from behind might not see me or where our position blocked the way for everyone else. That I always got the car started wasn’t a comfort. It picked the worst places to stall.

We managed, though. We discovered we were a comfortably long walk from town and Cemetery Hill, so we hoofed it when we could. Our last evening, somewhat disgruntled at the strain of the week and the feeling I hadn’t seen everything I’d wanted to see, I asked Mom if she wanted to take a bus tour. The tour would pick us up just a little down the road. It had been rainy all week, but that evening the sun broke through and we had our prettiest visit to the battlefield of the trip.

What ran through my head all week was: Someday I’d give anything to experience Gettysburg that way again, car trouble and all; someday when Mom was gone or too old to travel, I’d remember the pleasure of walking past the old brick buildings, visiting the shops, standing among the monuments on Cemetery Hill. I probably would even wish I could experience those moments again, flawed as they were by other circumstances.

That’s how I feel about the salvaged experiences Mom and I have been able to enjoy this summer. They’re gleaming platinum and I treasure them dearly. Limited? Listen, there’s salvage and there’s salvage: rusty metal gathered along a littered road or an old silver fork or knife transformed into an easel for a photograph or a bud vase. The latter is the kind of salvage we’ve been enjoying this season.

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