Sunday, June 28, 2009

Signs, Omens, and Answers to Prayers

I read some while back that there is no such thing as coincidence, that it's all part of a Greater Plan. This is mostly true, I think, but sometimes we trip simply because we didn't pick up our feet. Sometimes we trip up because we are meant to be delayed.

I'm going to share a story with you that causes me deep embarrassment and one that I have not shared with anyone. I mean, really, it's a tale we hear all the time, shake our heads at in disbelief, and swear to ourselves that it could never happen to us because we would never be that foolish. Oh, really?

I used to date someone named Conrad (Connie); we dated for about 10 years or so before we went our separate ways. In the beginning, I was totally taken by him, his blue eyes, his winning smile, and his absolute adoration of me. Everyone who meant him described him as charming. His companionship was intoxicating and we had fun. As much as I loved my husband, Daniel, he lacked a sense of humor, his intellect being devoted to loftier pursuits, such as art, God, writing, not necessarily in that order. We could discuss world politics and play a serious game of chess. We would not particularly sit and watch a sitcom together and laugh out loud.

Anyway, that's a different story. Connie was fun and attentive and he liked to explore and imagine. He chased rainbows and I chased them with him because I believed he was capable of doing anything he set his mind to. We dreamed together.

He always wanted to be his own boss, he had considerable insurance agency experience and he decided to buy an insurance agency. It seemed like a natural course and one that would be successful. He called and asked he could borrow money from me. I said no. The first time.

His mother and his best friend mortgaged their homes for him and he asked me again. I could see how seriously he believed in himself and his ability, and my faith in him was no less than his in himself. So, I agreed to take a second mortgage out on my house.

There were roadblocks along the way, but isn't there always when one is doing a big financial transaction like this? I dismissed them as each roadblock was overcome.

The night before we were to go to the bank to pass papers, Connie realized he had left the house deed in Connecticut where he lived. I was living in Massachusetts, and now it was a three hour drive to go and retrieve the deed. He called his house and fortunately his nephew was there and agreed to meet us halfway, in Rhode Island.

We get to the lawyer's office. Their fax is down and they don't know when it will be fixed, and there is paperwork that needs to be faxed between their office and a bank in New York. We decide to wait. The fax comes back on line.

My name is misspelled throughout all the documents. It's that "i" before "e" thing that throws people off with my last name. Corrections were made.

The entire conversation was directed towards Connie, even though the mortgage was in my name! The loan officer referred to Connie as Mr. Seafood (his last name had a similar sound, but it's definitely not Seafood. She must've been hungry as it was nearing lunchtime by now.)

Then the percentage rate of the mortgage is incorrect. More corrections, more delays. I am now panicked at this transaction but it is too late to back out. Finally we (I!!) receive the check but we cannot find anyone locally to cash it because I don't have enough money in savings to clear it, and he needed the money in two days to close the sale on the insurance agency.

So off we go to New York where the bank is located. The first bank will not cash their own check. We go to two of their satellite branches until we find one that will cash it.

I'm not going to tell you the rest of this, you can surmise the rest and you'll probably be right.

I share my story only because I want to impress that those roadblocks were there for a reason. I was not supposed to remortgage my house. It was not my responsibility to make Connie's dreams come true regardless of how deeply I cared for him and how much I believed in his ability. What Connie thought were challenges to be overcome were, in fact, detour signs. .

Then again, if Edison quit after his 9999th try at inventing a long-lasting light bulb, and didn't try that 10,000th time, I'd be writing this in the dark today.

Now you understand my dilemma.

On a different note, I posted before about the loss of my Bengal kitty, Longfellow. Even now, I sit here and struggle with tears, causing my other cats to weave in and out between my legs, head butting my forehead, and wiggling under my hands so I can stroke them. Inexplicably, the other day I found a leaf under my chair where I sit at my computer and I had the distinct sensation of a strong silky body rubbing up against the calf of my leg, only no kitty was there. The sadness does not seem to leave me. In my own silent prayer, I have asked for an answer to what happens to animals that we shared love with.

Quite by accident, I happened upon a website that referenced Luke 3:6 and Luke 12:16. The author of the post said the scriptures were in reference to animals. Now I personally think that the "all flesh" referred to in Luke 3:6 means mankind (and there are interpretations that translate it to mean "mankind") but I did find solace in Luke 12:16 where two sparrows are sold for five pennies but God remembers them.

I'm not going to be pig-headed this time and ask for a billboard with my name on it, declaring that this is the divine answer to my question. I believe that God remembers because He said so.

Now if I could just figure out the answers to the other questions I have on my mind. Perhaps the answer is, if it doesn't flow easily, I shouldn't be doing it?

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

The Abundant Pantry

I live in a tiny Victorian, built in the 1870's. It's a sweet little house and I loved it as soon as I saw it. Actually, the proper term is a poor man's Victorian, meaning it has some of the features of those lavish older homes with elaborate scrolled woodwork and porches and brightly painted.

My home is not elaborate at all. There is a front porch, four rooms, a bathroom, a room where I work on my computer, and a pantry. The pantry is larger than my computer room. The pantry is larger than my back deck. I love my pantry. I store all my staples out there, as well as pots and pans and appliances that are too large or too plentiful to fit inside the cabinets of my eat-in kitchen.

Earl, my Ole Sweetie-Pi, was in the pantry, looking for a can of tomato soup. I keep them more or less neatly stacked on one particular shelf, with like flavors stacked together so that I can tell at a glance what I have on hand. "Do you know you're almost out of tomato soup?" he yells to me as I stand at the island, stirring up a batch of cookies.

"No, I'll put it on the grocery list."

"Do you know you have two jars of mayonnaise out here?"

"Yes," I said, continuing to stir.

"We have a case of stewed tomatoes and a case of diced tomatoes. Look at all the different flours you have, and 20 pounds of sugar! Are we expecting a shortage?"

"It could happen," I said, stopping to sample the batter.

"Why do you need four different kinds of fruit juice?" he pressed.

"Why do you need 100 model train engines and a storage unit full of freight cars?"

Silence. "All I'm saying is that you have a lot of duplicates out here." He came out of the pantry with two soups, a minestrone and a tomato garden. He likes to combine soups to create his own recipe. "Who are the cookies for?"

"Work. It's nice to have a little treat."

My orange tabby, Buster, came by and rubbed around my legs, which is his way of softening me up for treats from the table, the counter, or wherever food and I might be.

Earl dourly studies him. "You're always making treats for work. Buster's getting fat."

Buster was a throw-away cat that we picked out for free from our local veterinarian's. "Buster was abandoned and probably forced to garbage picked before he came here; he knows what it's like to be thin and hungry. He much prefers being fat and happy." I look into those pleading green eyes, weaken, and give him a gob of cookie dough. It is gobbled in a nanosecond. "I know how he feels."

Earl took a pot down from the pot rack that is over my head and poured his two-ingredient secret recipe into it and lighted the stove.

"Do you know what cornstarch pudding is?" I asked him. He shook his head no. I am not surprised. Our backgrounds are very different. He grew up with a silver spoon in his mouth, doted upon by a household of women, pampered, indulged. His youth was spent squandering dreams. I am not much better for him, I fear. I indulge him, too; it's part of what I want for myself so I give it to others.

"So what is it?" he says. His back is turned away from he as he twirls the spoon in crazy circles.

"It's an old fashioned pudding, made with cornstarch. Not very flavorful if I recall correctly. I can still remember Mother standing at the wood stove, stirring cornstarch pudding in an old dented aluminum soup pot."

"So it's dessert."

"I think it's intended to be dessert; for us that would be our entire meal. A bowl of it. Three times a day."

He stopped stirring to turn and look at me. "You're kidding. I thought your father worked."

"He worked and then he drank all his money; he earned it and he could spend it however he wanted. He liked to show off to his buddies at the bar just what a great guy he was and spent all his money on them, trying to buy their approval and friendship. Mother would take the loose change from his pants pocket, buy a box of cornstarch and a gallon of milk, and that was what we had to live on." I shook my head at the irony. "He used to be proud, and actually brag, that Mother lived on a dime."

Earl tried to absorb the image and the feelings. "Must have been tough."

"Oh, I don't know. Remember how you told me you didn't know you were rich? Well, I didn't know we were poor. I didn't know I wasn't supposed to be hungry all the time. I don't know when I first discovered that people actually ate whole meals. Probably from going to visit my grandmother. She'd go all out with biscuits, chicken fricassee, mashed potatoes, cake, whatever I wanted. And I promised myself that when I grew up, I would not ever be hungry again, and if I had it in my power, I would not let others be hungry either. I always want to have food to share." Buster yowled plaintively at me. I gave him a small gob of cookie dough (I am concerned about overfeeding him). I'll share my food, even if it's just with a fat orange cat.

Saturday, June 6, 2009

A Ride Uptown

My youngest brother, Grant, is very attached to our mother and he extends great kindnesses, far more than I do. Our relationship with her is individual and distinctly different, resulting in our different views on her as a mother. Irregardless, the one thing he and I agree on is our mother's lack of a social filter, that quality that prohibits you from saying outrageous (even if they are true) observations.

Some of her forthrightness is attributable to having an English-speaking family and a society of friends who were rough in nature and language. There was certainly little elegance or eloquence in manner or speech, and when you mix that someone who elicits only the bare bones of a foreign language, you're up against some pretty stark and startling conversation.

Everyone who knows her has been on the receiving end of one of her truths. We've learned to laugh it off, but when we introduce someone new to her, (say a new boyfriend or girlfriend) we always start with a warning, "Brace yourself, don't be hurt, don't be angry. She's going to say whatever is on her heart, whether you want to hear it or not. She doesn't mean to be hurtful..."

Mother is 81 years old, lives independently in a senior housing community. She's irascible and strong-willed. When she needs something done she will just casually toss out, "I need to have the air conditioner put in and go to the bank." Long silence. "It would be nice to have the air conditioner put in; I suppose I could ask one of the old men here to do it for me but they're not so good anymore. Can't count on them; they don't move too hot. I'll just sit in this hot apartment until one of them can come." Long silence while she waits for the guilt to seep in.

And my dear brother, with his friend, Paula, volunteered to drive the 150 miles to put in her air conditioner and take her to the bank. There are a number of two story brick buildings in her complex and after driving around a bit, my brother was able to find a parking space close to her building; the plan was they'd help her get her outside with her walker, go and get the car, and come back around to get her, take her uptown to do her chores, go back home.

Grant dropped Paula off at my mother's building while he parked the car. As he was walking up the sidewalk, an elderly lady approached him. "Are you the one going uptown?"

"Yes," he said hesitantly. He did not know this woman.

"You're here to see your mother?" He nodded. "She said you'd take me uptown. I need to go to the grocery store."

Grant, irked at being a chauffeur, but not wanting to embarrass Mother by refusing her friend a promised ride, helped the old woman into the front seat of his car, explained he'd be right back. The old woman shuffled in and sat comfortably while he went to escort Mother to the sidewalk and bring the car around. He rolled the windows down so she wouldn't suffocate in the car as she waited.

The old lady was still in the front seat, politely waiting. Paula and Grant helped my mother into the back seat. She is round as a strawberry barrel and weighs about as much. She is stiff with arthritis, but is determined to go. She grunts heavily as she sits, all smiles and gushing with delight at the thought of a car ride. Paula took the seat beside her. My mother, oblivious to the fourth person in the car, said "I want to go to the bank. Do you know how to get there?" Grant assured her that he did and the four of them set off.

It's a short ride made interminable by my mother who focused her entire attention on Paula, filling the silence with chatter about the "old people" known only by her who lived in her complex. As Grant later told the story, Mother continued roughshod over any interjections the old woman offered, not unusual as my mother will be heard, waving away any interruptions to her stories. Mother thought she was conversing with Paula the entire time. As they neared the shopping mall, the old woman said, "I want to go to the grocery store." Grant pulled into the Shaw's parking lot.

Mother in the backseat said, "Why are you here? I told you I wanted to go to the bank!" She was thoroughly miffed at his memory lapse. "The bank is not here!"

"I know, Mom," Grant says patiently. "Your friend wants to go to the grocery store. I thought I'd drop her off here, we'd go to the bank, and swing back and get her."

And that was the first moment Mother saw the old woman. She stared in amazement at the back of the woman's head until the old woman turned around. A staring contest ensured, broken by my mother. "Who the hell are you?" Mother fiercely inquired.

"I live in the same complex as you; I need to go to the grocery store."

Grant, alarmed, "You don't know this woman? She said she was a friend of yours."

"No, I don't know this old woman! She's just some crazy old bat getting in your car. She's an old fool!" (Pronounced Old Foo by my mother, the worst insult imaginable.) "What are you doing letting that Old Foo in your car? Why do you want to take her to the grocery store when I need to get to the bank!"

Quick glances were exchanged between Grant and Paula as their panic deepened. Now what? "We still have plenty of time to get to the bank." Looking at the now so-named Old Foo, "Look, we can't just leave you here. I'll take Mother to the bank and we'll come back and take you home, okay?"

It all worked out, of course. Mother was able to get to the bank on time, the old woman who wandered haplessly into their lives was delivered to her front doorstep. As Grant related the story to me in agonizing detail, I laughed and laughed. I laughed until I cried. It could only happen to him.

Several weeks later, I was uptown, coming out the RiteAid, of one of our little city's drugstores, a scruffy man, smelling of old cigarettes and sweat looked me up and down. He was leaning against the building, leg bent at the knee, foot pressed against the wall. I pretended not to see him. "Hey!" he yelled at me. I stopped, weighed the fight or flight response in me. "You going uptown? I need a ride."

I thought of Grant, smirked on the inside of myself. "No. Sorry. Going in the complete opposite direction."