Home away from home is far enough.

Fittingly, dogwood trees were at their peak Easter weekend.

Tucked away in the hazy folds of the Blue Ridge Mountains is my peaceful place. Daughter Leslie and husband Martin’s weekend getaway spot is scenic, comfortable, perfect.

We were there Easter weekend, and for almost the first time in our three year’s worth of every-now-and-then visits, Peter seemed to feel comfortable. “Comfortable” isn’t easy for him these days, with dementia exerting more and more force, but at last the mountain gentleness had an effect. The river was low, so the water’s rippling was distinct, yet nap-inducing. We remarked on it when we sat down on the porch for our afternoon cuppa .

While there, we seldom do anything more energetic than walk down the hill to the river, play cards or dominos, maybe watch a movie. Sometimes there are chores to be done, but while the same work at home would cause grumbling, it’s fun there.

I love to swing on the front porch, or nestled in the cushiony chair swings on the screened porch, or on my new rope swing that appeared since our previous visit, thanks to Martin.

And, thanks to the coloring phenomenon that has swept ’round the world, I feel vindicated sitting for hours with pencils, markers, crayons and books. Such a soothing, idle pastime. At home I fret that I should be doing something else.

Being there, just 50 miles from home, is enough, just enough.

Woodland sampler.

Right in my own backyard.

The adventures husband Peter and I used to have are part of my memories and photo albums. His increasingly confused state — dementia has gained on him — keeps us home now. He has no memories of our trips, nor do my pictures help him remember. Last fall, for the first three days of an eight day visit to daughter Carolynn and husband Bill, Peter didn’t know where he was. We’d lived in that same little village for seventeen years.
* * *

Daffodil in snow.

The first week of this month, Carolynn and her friend Robin traveled to us with inflexible determination to give me a special week “in my own backyard.” The bumper sticker on Carolynn’s new car said “Rescue Mom.”

Before the two left upstate New York early on a snowy Saturday morning, they’d issued orders for me to list anything they could do to help with during their week. Not wanting to look a gift-horse in the mouth, I did start a list, but lost it amongst the clutter in my office. I really wanted to just enjoy them, not put them to work on the pesky tasks that had piled up. That idea didn’t fly.

They arrived  Saturday evening. Sunday was family brunch, cards, and dinner out, but Monday they were all about the chores. Granddaughter Samantha was in town, so they appointed her secretary to their two-woman crew. And then they set to work.

Coincidentally, Leslie provided work shirts for the family crew. From left, Carolynn, Sam, me, Leslie.

They fixed nearly all the meals, grocery shopped, baked bread, cookies, muffins; organized files, cookbooks, kitchen cupboards, and my office; surprised me with muffins at breakfast on my birthday, and planned a birthday feast. (Leslie, around as much as she was able during her busiest time of the year, reminded them about my requirement for tin roof sundaes instead of cake.) Since Sam likes a clean car, I suggested she clean mine. She did,

Twice they shoved me out of the house, once to get a pedicure, once, a massage. I didn’t protest too much.

They gardened and washed windows, we shopped and played cards, watched movies and read, they made multiples of sock bunnies and we fit in “Beauty and the Beast” their final evening.

All in all, that week was a “trip” anyway I look at it. And I’ve got the pictures to prove it.

Over the week the list expanded to two pages. By the end, everything was crossed off, even ‘bake chocolate chip cookies’ that Sam added for herself.

Fluffle of sock bunnies.

 

Dark shadows brilliant weekend.

Gorgeous day. Bluest sky framed by towering trees. Piercing shafts of sunshine spotlight the mountain road. Inky shadows, breeze-tossed.

We swooped down the kinky hairpin curves. One black shadow moved from left to right. I goosed the gas, just enough I hoped, to get out of the way, yet not lose control. That big black bear surely would have sent us tailpipe over steering wheel. There are no guard rails there.

Heart attack-making few seconds, survived! The shadow bear swift-stepped behind our car, and dodged another.

Whose heart thumped loudest?

Otherwise the weekend was lovely. Autumn hinted at as leaves drifted onto the river like paint dripped from a brush. A lazy few days floating and swimming in water barely warm enough.

Five adults and four dogs spelled m-a-y-h-e-m at times. Our Nobby, usually a kindly soul, yaps incessantly in the river.  We think he doesn’t want anyone to get too far away, though goodness knows, he can’t, won’t, swim to the rescue.

A flotilla of inner tubed children giggled past, captained by two dads. “Is this the parking lot?” the oldest asked. “Another mile or so,” we say. Do we look like a parking lot, we think.

Then kayaks and canoe, young boys, a dad, and three unwilling dog-passengers paddled by. Tillie, the oldest of our canines, defended her right to that patch of river and followed them, yipping. She splashed through rocky shallows, swam where she could, and at last turned back, her job done.

A stunning butterfly shimmered and flitted around us. It landed on bare belly and arm, dog’s back and chair — Blue Morpho Menelaus. Its final fling at summer’s end?

In this getaway place I sleep deeper, longer, better. I sit and read and, in renewal of a favorite childhood pastime, color.

Our granddaughter blended her culinary skills with her mother’s and they produced a meal that mingled tastes perfect for a new September. And me? Gram’s heralded pie-making skill hit bottom. The. Worst. Pie. Ever. Gray puffs of smoke curled from the oven before we realized that, instead of turning the oven down to 350 degrees, I’d turned it up to 530 degrees! Apple pie, its sugary milk glaze burned, was unrecognizable. We ate it anyway.

There are no photos of the bear.

 

 

Color July happy.

The peacefulness, the quiet, the river running through all make “The River,” as we call it, one of my very favorite places. Our very small family all gathered there July Fourth weekend — Leslie and Martin, their Samantha and Jeremiah, Sam’s friend Hannah, Carolynn and Bill, Peter and me. Oh, and the dogs Tillie, Huckleberry, Gooseberry, and Nobby.

Such a special time for so many reasons. The holiday weekend was extended because Carolynn and Bill stayed through Friday, and that gave us extra time to do what we do best — eat, shop, talk, play cards, wade, swim, laugh, color, and, did I say, eat?

Color July watermelon red, homemade vanilla ice cream white, and blueberry pie blue. Then add peach pie gold, summer green salad, strawberry ice cream pink, and fresh corn yellow. Add in the grilled shades of beef tenderloin, Polish sausage, and beer butt chicken to picture our feasts.

Coloring July Fourth.

 

The week that hummed.

Baja Judy

Eight years ago and 3100 miles from home, I petted a baby gray whale. We were on a NatGeo photographers’ whale-watching trip off Baja California, Mexico. Of eight people in our Zodiac I was the only one who hadn’t  touched a whale, but just as we were about to return to ship, a mama whale nudged her baby up to me and held him there. It remains one of the biggest thrills of my life.

Last week I snuggled with a young alpaca — Trenton — sweet, gentle, soft, sweet-smelling Trenton.  He ranks right next to that little whale.

Trenton lives with sixty-some other alpacas about seven miles from our door. The visit to Poplar Hill Alpacas was just one event in Carolynn’s and friend Robin’s springtime visit to us. My eldest has loved alpacas for years. She has a folder bulging with information about them and a dream as high as the Peruvian Andes where they come from.

Owner Pat Fuller gave the five of us — Carolynn, Robin, Leslie, Peter, me — a tour that lasted nearly two hours. We went into the barn and paddocks with the animals, and she urged us to pet them. Cuddles were encouraged too as long as we held them firmly around their necks. The day was sunny and too warm for the fleece-coated ‘pacas, but they submitted to our clinging hugs willingly.

And they hummed, as alpacas do.

Another day we visited a stunning exhibit, Jennifer Carpenter’s “Colored Pencil in Bloom,” at the Peggy Hahn Pavilion in the VT Hort Gardens. Then we had an alfresco picnic under some pines.

Sunday, Leslie set a beautiful table and fixed a traditional English dinner — roast beef, Yorkshire pudding, roast potatoes and veg, trifle — to commemorate the “Downton Abbey” series finale.

Screen Shot 2016-03-13 at 1.19.56 PM

Screen Shot 2016-03-13 at 1.18.47 PM

Robin bakes.

We had several meals out, plus Carolynn made creamy chicken soup one evening, and Robin’s favorite birthday meal another — colcannon, sausages, carrots in horseradish sauce, and lemon curd with cream for dessert). I was permitted to prepare lunches, and Robin demanded baking time to add to the supply of delights she brought to us — Irish soda bread, cheddar crisps, raspberry chocolate bars, mincemeat cookies, ginger snaps, marshmallows.

Every day was feast day all day long!

In addition to card games, our evening entertainment included the hilarious “Meet the Patels” on Netflix, and “Whiskey, Tango, Foxtrot” at the cinema. We also went to “Lady in a Van” to see Maggie Smith as a homeless, wheelchair bound character. Instead we saw “45 Years” because I had the dates mixed up!  A grim movie, but I liked it. Carolynn, Robin and especially Peter glared when the credits rolled.

All in all, everything about the week was lovely. It proved you don’t have to leave home to have a good time. Well, except for Carolynn and Robin. They traveled 1192 miles round trip.

Now back in her routine, I know Carolynn is having alpaca dreams that will come true one day.

Pies are round like my hometown’s square.

Every time I travel this way, driving north from Columbus…I feel that I’m entering another country…”

I’m an Ohioan, a buckeye, rooted in Mount Vernon just a few miles north of the geographical center of the state. My father never lived anyplace other than Knox County, nor any town other than Mount Vernon, except for the first four months of his life. He was born seven miles northwest in tiny Fredericktown.

Now we come into Mount Vernon … With its cobbled brick streets, Civil War monument town [round] square, block after block of handsome turn-of-the-century housing… And yet, there is something congenial about the place: stately houses, modest bungalows, backyard gardens, quiet streets…” 

That my dad lived such a long life — ninety — is attributable in part to pie. That’s what he would say anyway. In Ohio, pie is a meal, a food group!

The man never met a pie he didn’t like, with the possible exception of coconut crème and butterscotch. Fruit was his filling of choice: apple, cherry, peach, rhubarb, strawberry, blackberry, raspberry, blueberry, elderberry, grape, plum, banana, and even raisin. Now he didn’t bake the pies — women’s work, he said — but he did pick, clean, sort and chop the fruit.

My mother rolled out a pie every few days: flakey, crusty, aromatic, lip-smackingly good. After mom died, dad remarried and Martha rolled out a pie every few days: flakey, crusty, aromatic, lip-smackingly good. I never asked, but I’ll bet in addition to “Love, honor, and obey” there was a clause in their marriage vows that promised, “pies to last you the rest of your days.”

It is difficult to say no to a home baked pie warm from the oven. Dad never even tried to resist as his waistline proved.

When my daughters were small and visited during the summer, their gramps let them have pie and homemade vanilla ice cream for breakfast. “You got your fruit, you got your dairy, perfect breakfast,” he’d say.

I wondered at him letting them eat pie every morning. When I was their ages I had to eat Shredded Wheat, Cheerios or Cornflakes. Sometimes I got a sliced banana.

Last Thanksgiving, our granddaughter Samantha wanted me to show her how to make a pie from scratch. She was a quick learner, and her first pies — apple and pumpkin — were excellent. I’m sorry to say that she’s as messy a baker as I am. Her great-grandmas would be horrified to see the mess she made. But her great-gramps would have loved the results.

 

Quotes from Alma Mater, A College Homecoming, P.F. Kluge, Addison-Wesley Publishing, 1993.

596 miles before we sleep.

From Tennessee to the Canadian border, Interstate 81 lays down most of its 854.9 miles in Virginia, 324.9 to be precise. Paralleling the Appalachian Mountains, I-81 follows along Indian and early settler trails. A pretty ride if you’re in the passenger seat, but if you’re the driver zooming along at five or ten or fifteen miles over the limit, you can’t take your eyes off the road .

In Pennsylvania, heavy truck traffic labors up the hills while cars play hopscotch at terrifying speeds. Accidents that tie up traffic for hours are a given, and the drive is bum-numbing for passenger and driver. Until last week, I was always the passenger; now I’m the driver. Peter helped me brake, gasped occasionally, and pointed out interesting sights that I didn’t dare glance at.

Frackville, in Pennsylvania’s Wyoming Valley, was our destination, 379 miles from home, an overnight on the way to daughter Carolynn and husband Bill. It’s 596 miles door-to-door. Our stop was planned, but the relentless rain that jammed traffic into bumper-hugs wasn’t on our itinerary. What should have taken five hours, took more than six.

Driving is the best way to get there. Air travel doesn’t take long if you pay for a direct flight, but add in the drive to an airport, hours-early check-in, another hour to their home, and car travel proves quicker and cheaper. Then, when we return in a car stuffed with a huge pumpkin, three mums, gallons of fresh cider, jars of home-canned delights, boxes of cookies, as well as shopping finds and our bags, there are no added fees to pay.

When we neared Frackville, the GPS insisted on “hard right turns.” Wrong. After two loops on and off I-81, I turned hard left and there we were. Cold rain and wind hurried us inside. The motel was terrific — Holiday Inn Express — and there was a super breakfast bar the next morning.

Three more hours on the road and Carolynn, Bill and the dogs were waiting with big smiles, enveloping hugs, and doggy kisses.

The week was packed tighter than our car on the return — gourmet meals, cards, dominoes, dog walks, laughter, talking…lots of talking…especially when Carolynn’s friend Robin was around.

Maple walnut.

My maple walnut yum!

I’d already decided to drive home with no overnight. It is all downhill. We did stop for lunch at Frackville’s Dutch Pantry, noteworthy for its diner history, and treated ourselves to homemade ice cream.

No more non-stop drives in my future, though. Unh uh. I was reeling when we arrived. After 596 miles, my pillow called and visions of the week danced through my dreams.

Plastic nightmares.

Guess what these dimensions define? Cardboard: 21-5/8″ x 6-7/8″ Clear plastic cover: 9-7/8″ x 7″ x 1-1/8″ Zipper: 9-7/8″

Give up?

It’s the packaging that encapsulated the two standard-size, 20″ x 30″ pillow cases I bought this week.

Don’t ask me why pillow cases, and indeed sheets, blankets and any number of other items need to be zipped up in plastic. True, the ones blankets come in can be re-used to store out of season clothes, for instance, and I’ve used the smaller sizes to keep things sorted when I travel. But really, why can’t we just purchase such things “unwrapped,” so to speak?

Screen shot 2014-10-03 at 4.45.59 PM

Still on my shelf.

My mother made sheets and pillowcases from muslin. Sometimes she prettified the pillow “sheets,” as she called them, with embroidery. The thought of buying something she could make for “half the price” was scandalous to her. To be truthful, I thought I’d died and gone to heaven the first time I slept on store-bought sheets. There’s a world of difference between unbleached muslin sheets and soft, combed-cotton ones.

Five decades ago I remember buying sheet sets that were wrapped only with a pretty satin ribbon tied in a bow. Back then, “off-the-shelf” meant a sales clerk took the items off the shelf behind the counter and showed the items to you gently, almost reverently.  Today, sadly, the term means the customer takes it off a shelf herself, handles it, makes her decision, and often, if she decides against the purchase, she shoves it back any ol’ where.

Today’s self-serve mentality has redefined both shopping and packaging.

 

Screen shot 2014-10-03 at 1.39.11 PM

Plastic Bag Gallery Exhibition, London, 2012

 

This week, [9/30/14] California became the first state in the nation to outlaw plastic-film bags. Stores will no longer be able to provide disposable bags to shoppers and they must charge for paper bags. The hope is that people will rely on reusable bags instead. Eliminating disposables will reduce the amount of plastic film that winds up in waterways, on roadsides, in trees and landfills. Of course manufacturers are already planning protests, but couldn’t they retool their factories to make reusable totes instead? Of course they could, they just don’t want to.

These thoughts were tumbling around in my head the day I found the most perfect pillowcases ever! Smothered though they were in zippered  plastic, they promised bedtime solace and no nightmares.

 

DSC00580_2

Dreams are today’s answers to tomorrow’s questions. Edgar Cayce

 

Perfect piece of pie.

Superior pie-baking runs in my family though I didn’t inherit the skills my dad’s cousin had, nor those of my mother, her sister, or their mother.

My loyal daughers say they love my pies, and my granddaughter says mine are the world’s best! They’re OK, sometimes they even border on good, but they’re never as good as those made by my female ancestors — Cousin Pauline, Mother Neva, Aunt Dorothy, Grandma Agie.

My pies look like rabbits nibble the edges, then hop across the top.

The recipe on the Crisco label is my guide, although I add a dash of baking powder to the flour. Dad married another excellent pie-maker after my mother died — the baking powder was Martha’s hint.

Though I roll the crust firmly, gently, it never ends up a soft smoothed circle like my mom’s did. No matter how carefully I place the crust in the pan, I have to patch it with scraps of dough pasted in place with ice water. Every November, in spite of threatening to buy our Thanksgiving pies at the local bakery, or to use store-bought crusts, I always return to “from scratch.”

Last weekend, I decided to make the annual July Fourth blueberry pie to honor what would have been my dad’s 105th birthday. I used my little tin pie pan, halved the pastry recipe, but almost doubled the berries. I made my usual botched mess of the crust. But into the oven it went with foil wrapped lightly around the edges until the final few minutes.

I set the timer and headed to my desk. Two hours later, I returned to the kitchen. Why was the oven light on? OMG! MY PIE!

Yes, I’d set the timer, but I can’t hear it unless I’m in the kitchen! I expected to see a charred mess when I yanked the door open. It was slightly browner than usual, but not burned. I let it cool, stuck a little American flag in it, and we had it for dessert after our hamburgers/potato salad/corn-on-the-cob feast.

Best darned pie I’ve ever made! Martha Stewart would pooh-pooh me, but I think I’ve found the secret to a good pie: stick it in the oven and fuhgeddabodit.

Screen shot 2014-07-06 at 4.49.16 PM

xxxx’Art by Mrs. Steitz’ web grab.

 

 

Won’t be long ’til frost.

Never does a June 21 roll around that I don’t think of my dad intoning, deep-voiced and ponderous, “Longest day of the year…won’t be long until frost.”

This year his prediction, if he were here to make it, would be even more true than usual. Our long winter, shortened spring, and confused bloom times have made it seem as if it should be autumn already.  Local schools closed for summer vacation just yesterday! They’ll reopen August 18, a mere eight weeks away. School buses will be rumbling past our house again before long.

Dad would agree with Al Gore (even if he is a Democrat) that we have caused global warming. He knew for certain-sure that sending men to the moon would cause the oceans to rise, hurricanes to increase, tornadoes to rip across the land.  Good thing women didn’t go on those moon missions because he’d have had a whole lot more to say about that!

Come the winter solstice, he always announced, “Won’t be long until time to cut the grass.” And he was right.  No sooner did the snow fall than the mower came out of the garage. Time zipped by faster’n’ a speeding bullet.

Nowadays time goes faster still!  All my friends of similar age — past “middle” but not yet “elderly” — agree that time has a mind of its own and it ain’t gonna hang around long enough for us to catch up.  Recently I’ve been shocked to hear young people say they think time flies too.  When I was young, time didn’t even move.

This phenomenon must be related to the many ways people “stay connected.” Cell phones weren’t enough, no-o, now we have twitter, tweets, instant infamy on YouTube, and SnapChats. No wonder time zooms! Everyone is so busy communicating there aren’t enough hours leftover to sit on the porch and swing while the days wrap around us like molasses in January, slowly, sweetly.

We may or may not remember.

Once upon a time — a velvety soft May night in 1974 — I met an Englishman named Peter at a party atop a mountain on the Blue Ridge Parkway of Virginia.  “How do you do?” he said politely while shaking hands with we three ladies who arrived together. He spent the rest of the evening with me. We danced, me barefoot, on the stone terrace that overlooked the twinkling valley below.

It was a fairy tale beginning.

At evening’s end he asked when he could see me again. We planned a hike for Memorial Day, two days hence.  He arrived carrying an armload of yellow roses for me, a bagful of candy for my daughters who were in school that day.  (Later I learned the roses grew carelessly over his carport and the candy came from a stash in his refrigerator, but never mind.)

“Oh! You’re not who I thought you were!” he said when I opened my door.

What a fine way to start a romance!  Though we’d danced cheek-to-cheek all Saturday evening, he remembered the woman who’d come to the party with me!  (That’s OK, I remembered him as a redhead and much taller.)

Seven years later — 1981 — I worked a magic spell and we married, not in May, but December.

The fairy tale continued. images-3 Three years ago this week, our family — Carolynn and husband  Bill, Leslie and husband Martin, and their offspring, Samantha and Miah, Peter and me — began a week’s vacation together on North Carolina’s Outer Banks.  It was the only week that year when all of us could be in the same place, same time.

Seven glorious, bright sunny family days at the beach, though that early in May the Atlantic was bloody freezing. But we made sand castles, fished, basked, shopped, played games, braved the wild north beach to look for ponies, took to the air, and ate…a lot and often!

At the end of our stay I asked everyone to write down three favorite things, plus one least favorite, about the week.  “Family time” was tops, with “fish and fishing” and “pool playing, frisbee and flying kites” tied for second.  Parasailing was third, but hang gliding didn’t get a single vote, pro or con. Least liked was the three miles from our house to the shore.

The fisherman among us, Bill, liked catching his big striper, Carolynn liked watching him smile as he reeled it in, Samantha liked seeing it, but she didn’t like that she hadn’t caught a big one. Bill, though he did all the gory, gloppy gutting, didn’t like eating that or any fish.

Most of us were poetic about our likes and dislikes. Two of Leslie’s faves were napping on the beach and cuddling Sam, while Miah, then sixteen, liked ” having tea with the ‘fam’.” But Peter, typically, answered tersely: “House. Meals. Weather.” He didn’t like that there wasn’t anyplace to walk.

My parasailing adventure wasn’t planned. What I really wanted to do was hang glide at Jockey Ridge, as did Martin, Sam and Miah. Leslie called to make arrangements, and I reminded her to make sure someone my age would even be allowed to do it, much less with a bad knee. She was assured that women 20 years older than my 72 went hang gliding, but my bad knee would make it a no-go.

Parasailing was an option. The pilot did the work and the landing would be on wheels instead of on my legs. “Sign me up!” I said.

Carolynn immediately objected. “At your age, Mom? No-o-o!

“If not now, when?” I asked.

Early the next morning all of us headed to the local airport. Carolynn was beside herself with anxiety, and Peter, who never loses sleep, tossed and turned all night. I was giddy.

DSC09720

Knee bend.

The flight was all I’d imagined, except long enough. Martin enjoyed watching me buckle in, probably because I’m a klutz and needed extra help to stuff my knee into the harness, and Carolynn liked seeing my smile when we landed. Hang gliding got no votes, pro or con, because the afternoon was extremely windy. Flyers had to be tethered to their instructors who ran down the dunes as if they had winged puppies on long leashes.

We left on Mother’s Day.  It was the first time in years both of my daughters and I were together, if only for a short time, on the second Sunday in May.

The next year, the Roanoke Times had a contest asking readers to submit a photo with a few words representing “freedom or escape.” I sent this photo from my flight, and won two tickets to Cirque du Soleil.

DCIM100MEDIA

Jim said I could steer, but I was hands-off.

 

When Peter saw the newspaper feature he said, “Isn’t that the same guy?”

“What same guy?”

“The one you ‘flew’ with?”

“Yes, that’s Jim.”

“Is that you?

“Of course it’s me, you goof,” I laughed. “I won the tickets with that.”

“How did the picture get in the paper?”

“I emailed it to them as my contest entry.”

“Oh.”

Nearly thirty-eight years after our first date — remember, he thought he was going hiking with a different woman — Peter recognized Jim in a picture, but he still wasn’t sure about me!

My husband’s dementia isn’t funny, but it’s better to laugh than to cry.

DSC09990_2_2

 

 

 

Toot toot tootsies, don’t cry.

The childhood ditty “Head, shoulders, knees, and toes” looped annoyingly through my brain as daughter Leslie and I headed north to visit her big sister Carolynn who’d had surgery on eight toes.

Yup, eight little piggies “went to market,” so to speak, while her big piggies “stayed home.”

This-little-piggy-4e3652ed35108

Carolynn had been suffering with horrible foot pain for months because her tiny tootsies had curled under like little piggy tails. One look at her feet and her doctor pronounced them deformed.

“Well, they’re just like my mother’s,” she said huffily.  I wasn’t there, but I heard the huff from 596 miles away.

“Then your mother has deformed feet, too,” he said. I huffed when I heard that. Butt-ugly feet, yes, but deformed? I don’t think so.

She had the surgery to straighten what she’d started calling her “Cheetos.”  The doctor chiseled bone and replaced joints — wee wee wee wee! — and because she insisted, he did all eight at the same time in a three-hour, same-day surgery!  She received the “bravest patient award” from recovery room nurses.

Two days post-surgery she went shopping in a wheelchair with her best friend. Now, Carolynn is a nurse, so you’d think she’d know better, but no-o.  Another day, she and Bill went to the grocery! He manned the wheelchair, she hooked her feet over the bottom rack of the grocery cart to elevate them, and held on to the cart to steer it through the store. Then, in the early hours of Saturday morning, she was so sick Bill took her to urgent care.

A strep infection! She had strep throat.

Leslie and I arrived around 5:00 that evening. Carolynn was enthroned on the sofa, feet propped, icy bags of peas chilling her throbbing toes. She had a mask across her nose and mouth and she was feverish and bleary-eyed.  She asked me to fix baked custard, then dozed off the rest of the evening.

Next morning she looked at her sister and me and croaked, “When did you guys get here?” Her infected glands were so painful she couldn’t swallow, barely talk.  I suggested we use some of the frozen peas to help reduce the swelling. Les snugged the bags around Carolynn’s neck and anchored them with a bright pink scarf.  I was going to insert a picture here, but I doubt she’d thank me.

After the fact we learned about the well-meant shopping jaunts where strep germs probably lurked, waiting to attack someone with lowered resistence. We learned, but were not surprised, that Carolynn wanted to cut back on pain meds, and that she hoped to go back to work in four weeks.

When we got a good look at those poor little sewn-up toes — almost fifty stitches — Leslie and I looked at each other and shook our heads.  From our own experiences with three knee replacements between us, we knew eight toes would require a long recuperation. Except for doctor visits, those tootsies wouldn’t be going bye-bye anytime soon.

Among other things during her convalescence, Carolynn had “crunchy toes.”  Rice Krispie’s “snap, crackle, and pop” came to mind. The doctor fixed that with ghastly-sounding techniques (debridement, for one) that made my toes curl. Plus, the T-shaped incisions on her second toes had opened a bit and were infected. Special antibiotic ointment and hot and cold soaks, with her piggies encased like sausages in baggies, were prescribed.

She’ll go back to work almost exactly eight weeks post-surgery. In a few months, her feet will look perfect and best of all, they’ll be painfree.  A pedicure will soothe away any lingering doubts.

If my surgeon were to suggest that my feet are deformed, I’d let him replace my other knee before I’d let him touch my toes.

Screen shot 2014-04-16 at 8.18.43 AM

xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxelevationkidz web grab