Roses in November

I love November. I love the entire fall season, with the weather changing, the leaves turning, the incredible bright blue skies of October. But I have always loved November, and I especially love Thanksgiving.

I grew up in Western Pennsylvania where the winters are brutal, and can sometimes start as early as October. But, 8 years ago, the weather was a completely different story. I ought to know, because I was there.

Both my parents were ill with leukemia. I know. What are the chances? My 2 older sisters and I spent 2010 taking turns “visiting” them for a week to 10 days at a time. They would never accept help if it was offered and would NEVER ask for it, but they were happy to have us “visit.” If we just happened to take them to their treatments, the hospital, the doctors appointments, etc., that was just a pleasant coincidence. (Sigh).

My mom and dad were playing a bizarre game of End-Stage Leukemia poker during that year. You know–I’ll match you an infection and raise you a reaction. Okay, I’ll match that reaction and raise you and ER visit. On and on it went. You get the picture.

In early October, I came home for a “visit.” My dad came out of the house to greet me and to show me my mother’s rose bush. He was so excited, because the bush had started blooming again. In October! My dad was delighted, and told me that my mom was as well. I looked and sure enough, there were a few buds beginning to open. I was thrilled. And then it hit me.

Somewhere deep inside of me, I realized the truth, and what the roses represented. This was it. The end had come. For both of them. We were in the final stretch. Fighting back tears so my father wouldn’t see (thank God for those Maui Jim sunglasses), and keeping my voice neutral, I ooh’d and ahh’d over the roses. But, in reality felt like I was falling off a cliff.

The incredible weather held up all during October and through the first week of November, and her roses bloomed the entire time. She died on November 8th. Her roses bloomed until the snow came and gently covered them, 19 days later, the day my father died. It was 2  days after Thanksgiving.

You might think that I get sad or depressed during November and around Thanksgiving. Nah, I don’t. My parents wouldn’t want that. Besides, I have a lot to be grateful for, and I don’t want to be sad. I’m especially glad that my mom got one last chance to see her roses, which she loved. And grateful that my dad got to see how happy it made her. And I’m really glad that they are together forever, where every day is a day of wine. And roses.

You’re Only Too Old If You Think You Are

When I was in college I began taking ballet classes. Everyone laughed at me, because I was “too old” to start dancing. Ballet was for children or aspiring professionals, not adults who were stuck with the freshman fifteen. I ignored the naysayers and went to ballet class anyway. Funny, everyone stopped laughing when they saw the results.

After enjoying a rewarding career as a respiratory therapist, I decided to go back to school and pursue a career in physical therapy. Once again the naysayers came out in full force. The application process is too long and arduous. The competition is too fierce. I wasn’t smart enough. And my personal favorite—I was too old.

And yet again, I ignored the naysayers and went through the grueling application process. I graduated from Colorado University with my Master’s Degree in physical therapy just three months shy of my 40th birthday. Apparently I wasn’t too old.

A few years later, at the tender young age of 47, I began studying an ancient Japanese martial art. Guess what my friends told me? Yep, you’re right! I was too old. but by now, they also included the phrase “and too frail.” Oh, really? Ten years later I became my teacher’s first female black belt. In the entire 20 year history of the school, no woman had ever received such a high rank. Hmm. Not only was I not too old, I wasn’t too frail, either.

Then, at the age of 58, I decided to listen to everyone’s sage advice and start engaging in more age-appropriate activities. But, I think I’ll save that juicy little tidbit for another day. The main point I wanted to make is that you’re only too old if you think you are. It doesn’t matter what anyone else thinks. Does it?

Should, Could, Would: Life’s Lessons From a Little Girl

Should, could, would. I was in first grade when I learned those words. My teacher was terrifying, and I believed she became a teacher to torture helpless children. She wore a perpetual scowl on her craggy face, and the only time she smiled was when she was berating one of her hapless students until they cried so hard their teeth rattled or they wet their pants. Many (like myself), were known to do both.

One cold winter afternoon, our teacher handed out sheets of paper with the words “should, could, and would” printed on them. She explained what the words meant. She also told us that they were advanced for us, but she didn’t care. She expected us to keep those papers, look at them every day, and learn how to spell them as well as how to use them in a sentence. With one final scowl, she dismissed us for the day.

Clutching my papers in my mitten-covered hand, I walked through the snow, anxious to get home. Suddenly, a gust of wind yanked the papers out of my hand. I watched in horror as my important papers danced in the wind for a moment before they were carried across a neighbor’s yard. I tried to run after them, but the snow was too deep and my legs were no match for the speed of the wind. Holy crap, my teacher was going to kill me! I began to cry as I slowly continued up the hill to my house.

A truck pulled up beside me. It was my father. He grinned at me and opened the passenger door to give me a lift the rest of the way home. “Oh my God,” I thought to myself, “Things just went from bad to worse.” When he saw my tears he asked what was wrong. I cried harder.

Choking back sobs, I told him what happened. “Well,” he said, “Let’s go look for them.” I couldn’t believe it. My father was going to save me from the wrath and imminent public humiliation of a caliber only my teacher could accomplish. For what seemed like hours my father and I trudged through the deep snow looking for the lost papers. I had stopped crying, because at least now I had help.

Finally, my dad asked me how important these papers really were. I shrugged and wiped my nose with the back of my mitten. Then I told him what Miss You-Know-Who had said. My father said nothing for a long moment as we stood on that hill with the snow and the wind whipping around us, but his face got very red. It must have been the wind. He knelt in the snow and put his face close to mine. “If Miss You-Know-Who says anything to you at all, you tell her to come talk to me.”

I smiled and nodded my head. My father was a large man, and could be quite formidable. He also knew my teacher quite well, since she went to our church. Yep–I even got to see her on the weekend. Lucky me. Then my dad carried me through the snow, put me in the truck, and drove up the hill to our home. Nothing more was ever said.

I learned a lot about those three words since that day in the snow all those years ago. I learned how to change my “shoulds” to “coulds”, my “woulds” to “will,” and my coulds to “of course I can!” I learned that we all could use a little help sometimes. I also learned that anyone can be a bully, as long as they can get away with it. And anyone can be a hero, as long as they have the courage to speak up.

 

Life is Full of Bumps in the Road

Ah, life. It’s not always easy, but it is always wonderful. Even when we hit a few bumps along the way. After all, these bumps in the road of life help us build character. I had my first series of bumps when I was just five years old.

That summer before my fifth birthday, our family attended a church picnic at the local amusement park. It was a beautiful day, we were at White Swan Park, and everyone was having a marvelous time. All of us kids were in Heaven as we ran around from ride to ride. Finally, we came to the roller coaster, “The Mad Mouse.” It was the pride of the park, and was always able to strike fear and excitement in the heart of every child.

The roller coaster had individual cars rather than a chain of them linked together like a train. It also had a series of bumps at the end of the ride, each one a little bigger than the previous one. We all lined up at the entrance of “The Mad Mouse,” ready for the thrill of a lifetime. However, some of us got a lot more than we bargained for.

Each child was placed in their very own car. Since I was the smallest child, I was put in a car with my oldest sister. I sat in front of her with her legs wrapped tightly around me, with both of us holding onto the safety bar. The Mad Mouse slowly started to come to life, taking us around the curves at breath-taking speed. It was great fun until we got to the series of bumps.

When we hit the first bump I flew up in the air between my sister and the safety bar and landed halfway out of the car. My sister grabbed me and tried to pull me back into the car just as we hit the second bump. I flew even higher into the air and landed further out of the car, bent at the waistline, with my fingers dangling just a few inches away from the track.

Even in my panic I could feel my sister frantically grabbing at the only thing she could get a hold of–the waistband of my underpants. I could see the grown ups screaming below me, including my mother, who was seven months pregnant at the time. Bless her heart, she was running beside the tracks with her arms outstretched as if to catch me. I thought to myself, “This can’t be good. I’ve never the woman run, and I’ve never seen her catch anything in my entire life, either” 

Fortunately, my sister’s strength and the elastic waistband of my underpants both held out as the  young man operating the roller coaster brought it to a rolling stop. He was pale and shaking as he plucked me out of the car and handed me over to the grown-ups who rushed in to make sure I was alright. I noticed that my mother wasn’t looking so good. It must have been the pregnancy. Or maybe the heat.

I was embarrassed by all of the attention. I broke away from the crowd and ran off to the next ride. The adults marveled at my resilience.  My Mom still didn’t look so good. As a matter of fact, neither did my sister. But I didn’t let that distract me. After all, it was a beautiful day at White Swan Park, and everyone was having a marvelous time.

Life is a lot like that day at the amusement park. Everything can be going along just fine when life throws a series of unexpected bumps that leave you flying by the seat of your pants. And sometimes you’re just hanging on by a thread. Sometimes you feel like you’re going over the edge, and hope that there is someone to catch you. Even if they don’t have the skills needed to help you, just knowing that they care makes a difference. So, the next time you see someone hitting a series of bumps in their road of life, you might want to give them a hand. It can literally save their life.