I Have a Story

(I don’t have much to say lately, but my little sister has been telling some of the interesting things that happened in her life.  Here’s the first one she gave me, about our parents before they died.  I lived through this via video chat from across the states.)

The year finally came.  I began sharing my home with my aged parents and a close elderly family friend, whom I called “grandma”, so I could look out for their well-being on a daily basis.

One November, my father proclaimed his idea for the four of us to draw names out of a hat and buy that person a Christmas present.  That way, we’d all receive something nice for Christmas and still stay within our budget.  Grandma and I liked the idea, but my mother made it very clear to us that she wasn’t going to do anything for Christmas, and we shouldn’t, either.  My mother had Alzheimer’s.  In spite of her unreasonable bullying, Dad, Grandma, and I decided the three of us would do it and Mom just wouldn’t participate.

Christmas morning, the three of us gathered around the Christmas tree to open our gifts.  Mom stayed in the other room watching television.  Grandma opened her gift first.  Being in her 90’s, she was slow and my father had to explain what her gift was.  While they were engrossed in this, talking loudly because they were both hard of hearing, my mother suddenly entered the room, walked directly over to the tree, grabbed the present meant for me, and went back to her room.

Dad and Grandma completed their discussion, and Dad announced he wanted me to open my gift next. I told him that Mom had come and taken my gift and I handed him his gift to open.  After my father had opened his gift, he told me to open mine, having forgotten what I’d said.  Again, I told him that Mom had taken my present for herself.

“Well what did you let her go and do that for?” He exclaimed indignantly. “Go get it back!”

I went to my mother’s room, and she had just unwrapped my present and was admiring it, like a happy child.  It was something my father had picked out with my approval to be sure I would enjoy my present.

I said, “Mom, that’s my present. You chose not to participate, remember?”

She said, “Well everyone should get a gift at Christmas time, and this is my gift!”

I returned to Dad empty-handed and angry. At that time, I didn’t understand Alzheimer’s or dementia and just felt that my 88-year old mother was a bully and a mean-spirited prankster.

“Well? Where is your gift?” Dad demanded.

“Mom won’t give me the present. She is determined to keep it,” I replied angrily.

At that moment my mother appeared again in the room and she and my dad began arguing over my present.  By that time, Grandma was alarmed and loudly talked across them, asking me what was happening.  I had to raise my voice so she could hear me over Dad and Mom.  It appeared that all four of us were in a shouting match on Christmas morning in front of the Christmas tree.  This was not what Christmas should be like!  And none of us were giving in.

Finally, Dad took the present away from Mom’s hands and shoved it angrily at me.  I was angry, because my mother stole a Christmas gift that was meant for me.  Dad was angry because I had let her take it in the first place.  Mom was angry because she didn’t get to keep my present.  Grandma was angry because she was hard of hearing and nobody could explain what was going on loud enough.

We all separated silently to our individual rooms and shut the doors behind us.  My mother had made sure that if she didn’t want Christmas, then we weren’t going to have Christmas, either.

All the joy and happiness that should accompany this holiday was successfully snuffed out.  Over the years, Mom continued to fight me over putting Christmas decorations up, but I still did.  We never exchanged gifts again for Christmas as long as Mom lived. Mom and Grandma passed away a few weeks apart a few short years later.

Looking back on it, it was funny.  But at the time, Mom, in her dementia, believed I was an enemy and she had the need to control everyone, even in illogical ways.  It was very sad.


Child Train

(On another drive through Lisbon Ohio, December 18th)

This morning a long child train holds up traffic just east of the town square

Crossing the road, the train boasts about a hundred “cars” (extremely small school kids) chugging along in single file, attached here and there to “large cars” (adults) led by a “large engine” in the front and pushed by one at the end

All cars are painted with colorful coats, scarves, boots, gloves, and stocking caps absolutely no graffiti visible

The train chatters happily and clatters noisily, while winding its way across the road, down the sidewalk, up a ramp, and gradually disappears into a yawning tunnel through a big mountain (a church building)

A sign by the tunnel explains that a Christmas play is showing

This time, the usual irritation that comes while waiting for long freight trains is not felt


Sight Drowning

(I drove through Lisbon, Ohio one morning)

Immerse in a more than 200-year old town and

splash among gorgeous triple-colored Victorians and

dog-paddle around bricks or stone Regencies while

giant waves from an old fashioned town square

wash over me with Christmas music and festive lights including a gazebo then

come up for air and see more Victorian homes all lit with cheery lights then

drown happily in the energetic see of beauty


The Blues Bird

Parakeets are my favorite birds. My first one, a real character, came into my life when I was about twelve-years old. His name became Buzzard Brain II, because my mother had owned a Buzzard Brain when she worked in the Navy.

My Buzzy loved helping me play my guitar. I had played classical and Flamenco music since eight-years old; self-taught. My bird thoroughly enjoyed sitting on, and running up and down, the neck of the guitar, chirping with the music. Every once in a while, he would stick one of his toe nails around the low G-string and laugh when I plucked to produce a dull twang. He also loved rock ‘n’ roll music and danced with the songs on the radio. His dance consisted of bobbing his head deeply and stepping with his feet to the beat of the music. After six-years, I lost him in 1975 when he accidentally went outside the house on my mother’s back and the wind blew him away.

I didn’t have the heart to find another bird-friend until 1993. My husband and I named our new baby, Buzzard Brain III, hoping he would be as musically inclined as Buzzard II. I ached for another pal to enjoy guitar music with me. I still had some of my old music books with parakeet chew marks on the edges of the pages.

Buzzard Brain III had turquoise blue feathers, as opposed to regular blue, and he had a totally different personality than what I intended for him to have. When he had the mind to, he could say pleasant obscenities like: “Buzzard Brain’s a purdy, dirdy, birdy,” “Buzzard Brain’s a big booger,” “Buzzard Brain’s a super, dooper, poddy pooper.” He could also imitate the sound of people brushing their teeth; the caw of a crow; and the sound of the kisses we blew at him, like my first ‘keet had done. But, the similarities ended there.

Buzzard’s favorite pastime, when we let him out, was Seek-and-Find the Butter tray in the kitchen. After much affliction, we learned to cover the butter at all times, or keep it in the refrigerator to get unusable-hard. He also loved to land on my husband’s expensive Stetson hats and mess all over them. We ended up placing Christmas tinsel over everything precious, which scared Buzzy off. In fact, it was Christmas all year round at our place, because we had some nice things that he enjoyed using for perches. Buzzy also enjoyed sitting on the shower rod and dive bombing whoever was in the shower. When I showered, Buzzy liked to land on my head, and I would quickly dunk him under the shower spray to give him a bath. This act wouldn’t mean anything, except that Buzzy hated to take baths of any kind. I had never had that trouble with Buzzy II.

After a few months of living with Buzzard Brain III, I came to the realization that music did not interest him. The few times I played my guitar, he tried to get as far away from me as possible, like escaping. If the radio or CD played, he didn’t take part in dancing with the beat, or singing with the sounds. So, I resigned myself to the fact that music was not on his list of enjoyable things—until one day, we acquired a friend’s old piano, as a loaner. I bought a good beginner’s book and started teaching myself how to play. After two or three weeks, I started noticing that Buzzard Brain literally hung onto my every note, even the bad ones.

His free-standing cage stood next to the piano, and once, while learning to play a blues song, I heard sweet twittering from his direction. If you’ve ever had a parakeet, you’ll know what sweet twittering is. I glanced over and saw Buzz clutching the cage bars, tightly pressing his turquoise body against them, staring at me intently, while he fluffed soft noises through his white beard. So, I played the song again and he twittered and twirped right along with me. I thought, “How cute,” and did not pay any more attention until a few days later, when learning to play Scarborough Fair. My bird-friend again plastered his little body against the cage, “singing” with the piano. Since then, I experimented with different songs. His absolute favorites were the sad songs, blues, and boogie-woogie songs. It felt great to know that I had a musically inclined parakeet after all. Maybe the guitar strings had hurt his little ears in some way, and the songs on the radio just hadn’t interested him. At that time, my husband and I usually listened to country/western music.

In spite of the fact that I was forty-years old, his interest spurred me on to be a great piano player. Age was not a problem in this case, because I would do almost anything to make my bird happy.

I’ve learned three extremely important lessons with this experience. #1: you don’t have to be any bigger than a parakeet to be a good influence on someone. #2: you should keep your mind open for good influences, even if it’s a little bird that weighs less than a pound. #3: you also shouldn’t try to make anyone into someone or something else—each Being should be allowed to be their own individual self.

By the way, Buzzy learned to say, “Buzzard Brain‘s a blues bird!”