Caring for a parent, family caregiver, Retrospective

Looking Back—Way Back

Tomorrow, July 7, marks two years since my return to the Pacific Northwest. And it’s been a hard week. I can’t seem to stop trying to make my mother be someone she is not ever going to be. I can’t seem to stop wanting this town to be something it’s probably never going to be. And yes, I know I’m not doing anything to make it more what I want it to be, or anything to learn to love what it is. I’m not a joiner or an activist, and I’m probably not ever going to be. So I should stop whining. When is the pet event when all the kids bring their pet chickens and stuffed animals and turtles and snakes and dogs and cats and ponies to the park by the library? I do love that. I should read the newspaper.

I’ve really been missing my old life this week: my friends who always made me feel like I am a good person. I miss Raleigh, which really is a pretty great mid-sized town. I miss my sweet house that was all mine, and making improvements without having to ask permission or risk wrath. And my life that was all mine.

But I don’t miss having to go to work, and I surely don’t miss the suffocating heat. (There’s another kind of suffocation here.) And Wednesday I’m going to the ocean, which is way better than the other ocean (in my opinion). And I’m still hoping to go camping in the mountains this month, though I don’t have Mama coverage so it may not happen. I try not to forget what I do have. So there is my whine.

IMG_3289Readers may wonder what it’s like to live in the house I grew up in. Mostly I daydream about what it could be someday in the future, when it won’t feel like the place the same person has lived in for 54 years. My daughter-in-law tells me she and my son have made so many changes in the house she grew up in on the side of a hill in western North Carolina (they call them mountains there) that it doesn’t feel like that familiar old place any more. I want that. My Dove chocolate wrapper today said, “Daydreaming is free.” Good thing, or I would be poor.

But here is what I really want to tell you.

I cleaned out the little chalet barn today. It’s full of stuff mostly my dad put there. He’s been IMG_3286gone nineteen years and I miss him. A roll of barbed wire. A bunch of fancy wood—some of it my mom had put there, I guess, when the historic maple tree came down. I rolled one chunk out the door and planted it to sit on when I take my coffee up there to the morning sun. Other wood Daddy apparently thought was special and now I need to deal with. Maybe some of it will be part of a small house for me in the meadow with my garden someday. Lots of tomato cages. The cage Rebecca’s guinea pigs, Piggo and Piggo II, lived in; and another for Daddy’s rescued flying squirrel “Lil’ Guy” that lived in his shirt pocket during the day. Daddy was not a pet person. Except for Lil’ Guy.

I was raking through the debris on the dirt floor—decomposed leaves and mouse-chewed cardboard and one petrified mouse—to throw it out the IMG_3287door and found two fingers of a work glove and I sat down on one of the maple tree chunks and sobbed. I pulled all the driftwood out of one of the mangers and kept the piece of a wooden box with Japanese writing on it. In the bottom of the manger was the lead rope for our horse Scout’s halter. I cried again, then hung it on the coffee can nailed to the wall that Scout’s bridle hung on 45 years ago.

There’s a pile of stuff to take to the metal recycling place; but I put the horseshoes on the garden path. I don’t know what to do with the homemade basketball backboard that’s in the other manger. It has iron pipes on the back that connected it to the roof of the carport before Daddy built his new workshop there, but they are connected to a huge piece of 3/4 inch plywood so I don’t know if the recycler will take it. We used to play horse. I was never an athlete, but I loved the hollow sound of a basketball bouncing on the pavement, and sometimes I got it through the hoop.

The barn we built is falling apart a little bit. I moved the floor boards from the small balcony that some years ago rotted and dropped off outside the front door. I cut the blackberry vines that were growing through them and the ones coming through the windows, too. I want to build a little porch to put a chair on, but I don’t really know how. I’ll figure it out though, because my daddy taught me I can figure anything out. I did build a gate for the deer fence around my garden, after all. It’s working just fine.

IMG_3282Speaking of the garden, I wish Daddy were here to shoot the damn moles. But he’s not. My high school classmate Carol showed me how to set a trap. We’ll see how that goes. Some things I would just as soon not have to figure out myself. But I’m proud of my garden, and my fence. And I’m pretty pleased with my barn clearing.

That’s what it’s like today living in the house I grew up in, when it was brand new. Nostalgic for times long gone, when life was easy and my whole life was ahead of me and I didn’t even think about it and I wasn’t staring my mother’s death in the face and my own old age and missing those who are gone. Last night Mama dreamed she was at the Staebler farm in Michigan with her sisters-in-law Lena and Helen and her mother-in-law and brothers-in-law Donald and Melvyn, and her husband. And no one seemed concerned about preparing a meal except her, and there was nothing in the house to eat and she didn’t understand that. I hope I dream about them tonight. But probably I’ll just dream about what to have for dinner tomorrow.

And now it’s dinner time tonight. Ciao.


4 thoughts on “Looking Back—Way Back”

  1. I just love the way you write. You describe everything so well, that I am right there with you. Can I say how proud I am of you for your honesty and your willingness to share the good, the bad, and the difficult.


  2. Your motivation is over the top! Was it also you who cut the acreage in front of the chalet barn? Methinks you are perfect for this job…all of it! I’m wondering if your mother knows of your writing and if you might read your stories (in part) aloud to her, and what that might do for her. In a very few short years, the grandkids will love them, if they don’t already! What is our personal history, if it is not written down?


  3. Beautiful. Today, the house is yours, right? Or is it next week?
    I knew there had to be pieces of the old maple around somewhere. Please save some for Peter. Then he’ll have a project that’s his the next time he’s there.


  4. Yes, I am going through a phase like that myself, Gretchen. Missing a love lost. Wishing I could have back what’s never coming back. Memories of the past all around me. Dealing with moles – lol! Not nearly the severity as the rest, but still, every little thing adds to the load of emotion weighing you down. But! Then you add caring for your mother day in and day out, and the emotional energy devoted to making that work. You deserve a good cry. And you deserve a hug and pat on the back for performing this difficult job so well, even when there are times when there’s so much emotion swirling around, you can’t recall just how well you do it.


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