Monday, June 23, 2008


Trip back to Maryland.

Mom and I left a bit after noon on Wednesday. The plan was to drive to Illinois and stop to have dinner with my Dad's family there. My cousin had arrived there a few days ago, and both my mom and I wanted to see him.

Yes, we made it across the Mississippi. The water hadn't reached 1993 flood levels (and yes, I was back there. I saw it. I have pictures to prove it.) and we had no problems crossing from Missouri into Illinois. Dinner was fine--we went to Applebees. Then Mom and I hopped back into the Prius and started East.

We made it as far as Terre Haute, Indiana, before we had to stop. The next day Mom was tired, so I drove most of the way. I managed to average 56.6 miles per gallon, a new personal record. We stayed that evening with Rowan, Cecilia, and Matt, in Pennsylvania. The next day Mom and I lingered a bit, then set off for Salisbury, stopping at Wegman's Grocery Store.

About fifteen minutes after we arrived in Salisbury, Mom's cell rang. We were both occupied, so neither of us answered. I went outside to tell her that she had missed a call and found her talking to someone. It was one of David's friends (remember David, our neighbor, who Mom had spent a Saturday with at the Emergency room). Well, his friend told us that David was dying. So, back in the car, this time to the nursing home where David was. We stopped in to say hello, but he wanted to be alone, so we went into the hallway to speak with his niece, who was there from California. She was feeling a bit lost, so we invited her over for tea (always tea. Tea is a good thing. I had a friend once tell me that she had been diagnosed with a disease. I offered her tea. She accepted.).

Anyway... well, David died this morning. And things are finally winding down from our trip. I had planned on going camping before heading up to Jersey, but I'm still too exhausted to even contemplate crawling back into that car. Maybe tomorrow.

Missouri Weather

Someone, I believe it was a former schoolmate of Mom's who stumbled upon a family picnic, said that he loved everything about Missouri--except for the humidity and the chiggars. He pronounced this statement a mere hour before a giant cloud formed in the distance, looking like it was heading straight for us. We all nervously watched the cloud as it moved closer and closer. Finally someone suggested that we move the food indoors and check the radio and television for weather information, specifially Tornado Warnings/Watches. We were all downnaholler (In a dip between two hills for those of you who don't speak Ozark), miles from anything, with only two trailers, several trucks, and a Prius for potential shelter. Thus, a Tornado was not on the list of things we wanted to encounter at that particular moment.

The storm clouds never did hit us, staying just South of us as they moved toward the East. We did hear on the radio, though, that Ozark, Missouri, was experiencing golf ball sized hail. Ozark happened to be where my grandparents' house was, so when my grandparents, my mom, and I packed up to leave the family picnic, we drove back to Ozark not knowing what to expect.

Thankfully, there wasn't too much damage. A lot of leaves gone from trees, of course, and some branches down. But the house was fine and both of my grandparents' cars were in the garage. We did get a call later from Gene, a friend of the family who also lives in Ozark. Turns out the hail had completely distroyed his garden and he would have to start over.

And welcome to Missouri. But that wasn't our first weather experience this trip. The day after we arrived, fresh from Illinois and all the trauma there, I woke up early to drive down to the park and go for a run. Even though it was humid, the sky was light, and I made a few laps around the park, all the while blaming my wheezing on the altitude (I figure I live at sea level, so when I run at any altitude above, say, 10 feet, I can blame shoddy performance on the altitude. It's a convenient excuse and one that I invoke frequently.) After my run, though, as I was driving back to my grandparents' house, the sky darkened almost instantly. Some of the fastest moving clouds I had ever seen were moving across the sky. In the house, my grandfather and mother were nervously checking the television and the NOAA transmitter that my mother had recently bought for my grandparents. This was, my grandparents and my mother announced, tornado weather.

Tornados concern me. Well, it might be a slightly stronger emotion than that. Let's just say that my feeling for tornados is somewhere between "they concern me" and "they scare the sh*t right out of me." And tornados are a reality of life in the midwest. Just this year, my cousin's house was destroyed by a tornado. And yes, he was in it when it happened. When I was younger, I was staying with some other cousins. We were home alone, drinking a concoction of Tang and Marshmallows, when the sky turned green. My cousins (one from Missouri, the other from Oklahoma) took it in stride. I tried to act cool, but in my mind I saw the rescue team finding my broken, limp body under a pile of rubble. We didn't get hit, but I carry a mental image of that sky in my mind, and I pull it out occasionally to compare it with any sky that had darkened just a bit too much, too quickly.

Fortunately, my grandparents, my mom, and I were not struck by a tornado (I might have been a bit more nervous than usual, given the trip so far). Later that day, Mom, my grandfather, and I decided to go into town, to the Best Buy, to buy a new computer for my grandfather. It was raining outside, and my grandfather, who was driving, let my mom and me off at the store's door. Once we were all in the store, my grandfather and mother left to go look at computers while I looked at MP3 players. I had perused all the players and was on my way to meet up with my family when the lights went out. Outside it was dark and pouring. Like, Noah's flood pouring. Like, end of the world pouring. The lights did eventually go back on, but not until after several minutes--and after I insisted that we call my grandmother, to make sure she was all right.

We made it back okay (after taking my grandfather purse shopping for my grandmother. But that's another story for another day). But the entire time my Mom and I were in the Ozarks, I swear it rained every other day. Or maybe every day. Or maybe every third day.

Monday, June 16, 2008


Every year, when Mom comes back to visit her parents, one of her jobs is to remove all the dead people from the speed dial.

Mom: So, who do you want on your speed dial?

Granny (looking at the phone): Well, we want Andy, and Andy's cell, and you, of course, and, well, Deirdre doesn't have a phone, not really, and...

Mom: Why don't you just make a list of all the people you want removed?

Granny: Well, okay. Good idear.

Granny (to Grandpa): So, who do we want to take off, now? Here, let me get this paper and write down the names. Now, we want Andy's phone. That's his cell, and that's... do we have his home phone?--yeah, there it is. Now, Pat, we have you on here, but the number doesn't work, I guess it's your old number.

Mom: I can change that for you.

Granny: Do you reckon we ought to add Gus?

Grandpa: Yeah, we should add him, if we can get a hold of his cell number.

Granny: Okay, I'll add that to the list. I'll just put another list on here, so, let's see, that's Andy, and Gus...

Mom: Mom, why don't you just have one list of the names you want off and another list of names you want me to add.

Granny: Well, okay, that's a good idear. I'll do that.

Granny: Well, here's Rowan's number.

Grandpa: Yeah, we want that.

Mom: Is it her house phone or her cell phone?

Granny: I don't know. We try this number and no one answers, then we try her cell number and there's an answer.

Mom: So you have her house number there.

Granny: Well, I guess. Yeah, that's her house number.

Mom: So I should probably change that to her cell number.

Granny: We have Mabel's number here.

Grandpa: She don't use that number--she has a new number now.

Granny: So we can take her off. Now, who do we want to replace her... let's see...

Granny (looking back at the phone): Oh, we have GJ's number--want to keep her on there, of course. Guess we should give her a call here, see how the Arizona bunch is doing.

Grandpa: Yeah, haven't talked to her in a while.

Granny: And Gene, we want to keep his number. He was so happy to see you the other night, Pat. He kept asking about you and Deirdre. He says it DEER-dra, you know like real hard on the DEER. And Matt is like Dee-Dru, real fast, it just sounds almost like Dee-Dee. I didn't know who he was talking about, and he said, "your granddaughter."

Granny: So, who else, Brownie. We need to take Brownie off. Brownie died.

Grandpa: Died of cancer.

Granny: Yeah, she fought that for years. She was scared to death about it, so she fought it hard. I talked to Belinda about Marge and they haven't got the final results yet. But they have this area in the lung, you see, it spread to the lung, but I don't think it's in the liver yet, so she's got a fighting chance.

Granny: We have Mark and Melinda here too...

Mom: Melinda?

Granny: Yeah.

Mom: Is it Melinda or Belinda?

Granny: Belinda.

Mom: Well, I never can tell when you say it. You slur it.

Mom: Guess we have to get that changed on your phone too.

Granny: Yeah, I reckon so.

Granny: Now, who do we want on here. Should we add our dentist? We could add your friend Margaret, Pat.

Mom: Do you cal her that often?

Granny: Well, no, not really.

And so on. You all get the picture.


After we left Indiana, Mom and I continued our swath of destruction. We arrived at my Aunt's house Monday evening. The next morning, we decided to take her and my Grandfather out to breakfast. After we picked up my Grandfather, whom I call Paw, I noticed that my Aunt R.'s speech was very slurred. She had had three strokes, so her left side was still a bit weak. Her speech had been a little slurred the night before and she had not slept well, so I just assumed that she was having problems speaking because she was tired.

When we arrived at Denny's, I helped Paw in, then looked back to check on Mom and my Aunt's progress. They were still struggling to get out of the car, so I went back to help them. With Mom and me on either side of my Aunt, we all managed to get into Denny's. The hostess at Denny's took one look at the group of us and decided to seat us in the very back of the restaurant. When we finally reached the table (after having passed several empty tables that would have held the four of us quite comfortably). At this point, Mom decided to run back to my Aunt's house and get her walker. She took off, and my Aunt, Paw, and I perused the menu.

After the waitress took our order, my Aunt looked like she was fading a bit--kinda shutting down. She is diabetic and hadn't had much to eat after she took her insulin, so she added some sugar to her orange juice. That didn't help and she looked like she was falling asleep, so I decided to dial 911.

Just as soon as I dialed, the waitress came out with our food.

"I'm gonna need those in boxes," I said, trying to keep an eye on my Aunt and hold a conversation with the 911 dispatcher.

"Okay," she smiled simply, "I'll bring out some boxes for you."

"No," I said slowly and clearly, "You're gonna need to put them in boxes for us."

A few seconds after that, my Aunt threw up. During this whole thing, no one in Denny's came over to see how we were or offer assistance. My Aunt was in obvious distress, and I was having what I'm sure was a rather loud conversation on a cell phone. But I'll tell you all, that waitress made sure she brought out the bill to the only person who wasn't occupied: my Paw.

When the ambulance finally arrived, about five EMTs crowded into Denny's. I backed off and let them do their job. I was pretty impressed with them--they zeroed in on the two things that might have happened, and focused on her blood sugar and her history of strokes. (But heck, after the folks at Denny's completely ignored us, anyone would have impressed me if they had shown the slightest bit of concern for my Aunt's welfare).

As they were wheeling my Aunt out in the stretcher, my Mom came back.

"I knew, just as soon as I saw the ambulance, something had happened to your Aunt," she said.

We just had a few seconds, so Mom and I decided that she would spend the day with Paw (who was understandably quite worried about his daughter), and that I would go in the ambulance with my Aunt (because she had spent all day Saturday in the ER with our neighbor, we figured I was up on the roster).

So I hopped into the ambulance (and was told by the EMT driving that while they were in Denny's, someone had hit the ambulance), and started making phone calls.

Anyway, I spent the day in the ER with my Aunt. The doctors finally decided that she had had a minor stroke, and that they were going to keep her for a few days, then send her to rehabilitation for a few weeks.

Wednesday Mom spent the entire day cleaning my Aunt's house. I helped during the morning, then visited my Aunt and Paw during the afternoon.

Thursday, Mom and I left for Missouri, to spread our traveling curse to a whole new area.

Friday, June 13, 2008

Honest to God Real Exchange

This was just too funny--and completely unplanned. Mr. G, who is practically family, stopped by to visit with my Grandparents, my Mom, and me. During the course of the conversation he mentioned that a friend of his, E. Yurik, had had triple bypass surgery:

Grandpa: Wow, that's a shame. She's D. Yurik's daughter, right? They all lived over yonder in --.

Mr. G: Yeah, that's right. She married and moved to --. Had a couple of kids.

Granny: Yeah, D. Yurik, I remember him. I knew him well. He--

And, of course, I burst into hysterical laughter at this point. Mom was the first to catch on and she explained it to everyone else present, but they still looked at me like I was a complete loon. Which I am.

(The details of the conversation have been imaginatively recreated, but the main lines are recorded exactly as they were said. I swear, I can't make this stuff up.)


Me: I better call Rachel and tell her we're gonna be late.

Mom: Here, you can use my phone.

Me: Thanks.

Me: Rachel? Hi there. How are you? Well, the reason I'm calling is to let you know that we're going to be late. Really late. We're sitting on 70 right now and we've gone about a half a mile in the last hour. Yeah, right. Right. Well, they have 70 completely closed due to flooding, so I think they are routing us off. Uh huh. Yeah, we're just sitting here. Yeah, watching the snails do laps around us. Swimming laps, that is. There's water everywhere. Yup. Well, I think we have about six miles to go before they kick us off 70, then we head north to 40. I don't know how long we're going to be on 40, but we're not moving quickly at all. Right, right. Yeah. Well, I'll give you a call later when we know what time we're going to make it in. Heck, we might have to stay in Indiana tonight. We might not make it out. Okay. Okay. Yeah, I'll talk to you later. Love ya too.

(Three hours later)

Mom: Finally! There's the exit.

Me: Yeah, now we just need to sit in more traffic to go three miles north to 40, and then who knows how many miles west to get back on 70.

Mom: Well, is there any other way to go?

Me: Well, we could try going south. We might be able to cut west and north and pick up 70.

Mom: Now, there's a lake down there, isn't there?

Me: Yup. And we would have to cross a river.

Mom: Do we cross the lake?

Me: No, we don't. We can cut across just north of the lake.

Mom: Hmm. Well, let's try that. Beats sitting in traffic with these trucks.

(ten minutes later, as the roads are getting progressively narrower)

Mom: Well, it must go somewhere, or else where would all these cars and trucks be coming from?

Me: Yeah, but they can't be avoiding 70 because the east-bound side was open to traffic.

Mom: Well, they're coming from somewhere.

(ten minutes later)

Mom: Hmm, there's a barrier here. But there's a car, so obviously people can get through.

Me: Watch out!

(Mom stops the car and we sit there, staring at the several feet of water running over the road).

Me: Guess that car came down here and had to turn around... like we're gonna have to.

Mom: Can we go further south?

Me (looking at the map): Well, we can try to go further south and catch 64.

Mom: How far are we from that?

Me: Hmm, maybe an hour and a half, two hours.

Mom: But then it's quicker.

Me: Well, it only cuts about 30 miles off our trip across Illinois.

Mom: Still, it beats sitting in traffic.

Me: No argument there. So, we gonna try it?

Mom: What do you think?

Me: Uhhh... Might as well. I mean, it's not like there's massive flooding in the state of Indiana or anything.

Ten minutes later, heading south. I'm still glancing at the map, but we're both eying the water around us nervously. Most of the fields we pass are completely under water. The water hasn't made it on to the road yet, but it is really close in places. We've crossed over a couple of creeks that have breached their banks. The water is muddy and rushing. It is also raining pretty hard, and every time we go over a slight rise, I'm expecting to find the road covered in water. I'm also watching all the water around us, just in case it rises to cover the road. But Mom and I have just spent three hours to go four miles, so we're both more than a little punchy. We're cracking jokes about being swept away.

Me: Mom?

Mom: Yeah?

Me: Remember that county that the radio said had been declared a national disaster area?

Mom: ?

Me: Greene county.

Mom: Yeah.

Me: Well, I feel I ought to mention that this road that we're taking...

Mom: Yeah?

Me: Well, not only does it go through Greene county...

Mom: Uh huh.

Me: But it cuts a diagonal across it.

Mom: Uh huh.

Me: Yeah, and I also feel that I ought to mention that this road that we're gonna take...

Mom: Yeah?

Me: Well, it goes along a river.

Mom: Oh great.

Me: Yeah. I think we're f*cked.

Mom: Probably.

Me: Oh well.

Mom: But there are trucks coming from the other direction. Of course, we all know that that is not the most reliable source of information....

Me: Yeah, they've probably all turned around.

Mom: Yeah.

Me: You know what's going to happen, right? We gonna hit some water, and we gonna turn around and head back north, and the road will be covered. We'll be stuck in Indiana. We're never going to make it out of Indiana.

Mom: Aren't we Miss Suzie Sunshine.

Me: Just trying to keep our spirits up.

At this point we decided that we were both a little bit hungry. We agreed to stop at the first food place we saw, which just happened to be a McDonald's. When we went inside, there were a couple of old-timers talking about the current weather situation. Mom went over to talk to them to ask them about the roads.

Mom: So, can I go south along this road to get to 64?

Old timers: Nope, can't do that. Whole road is closed. Runs along a river, burst it's banks. Everthings closed up down there.

Me: What about heading west then north to pick up 70?

Old timers: Nope, that won't work. Everthing over in the direction's closed too. Roads are under water.

Mom: Well, what would you recommend?

Old timers: Go north to 70, take that west.

Mom: But 70 is closed.

Old timers: Well, go a bit north of that and you can take 40 west.

We wound up taking the Old Timers' advice and heading back north. As we got to 70, a road worker was in the process of moving the cones from the entrance ramp, so we were able to get on 70 west-bound. I couldn't really tell what part of it had been under water because everything was so wet. Just beyond the highway, water stretched out over fields. I might have thought they were just all lakes, were it not for the telephone poles and trees sticking up. There were houses on slight rises, looking like little islands. There were roads that disappeared under muddy, fast-moving water. The water was too close for comfort, and I half expected to see a giant wall of water rushing towards us.

It all sounds pretty tame, and I guess it was. But for awhile there I think both of us doubted that we would be able to make it out of Indiana. And let's face it--Indiana is not really a place you want to get stuck.

More later. I went sailing today and came back with a couple of ticks and some chiggers. I'd say I was doing something wrong had the trees not been in the water. : )

Visiting family

Granny: I hate to tell ya sweetie, you're gonna be so mad at me, but I bleached one of your pink tops.

Me: one of my pink tops...?

Granny: yeah, you said they were nasty and that I ought to disinfect them. So I bleached your pink top and now it's tie-died.

Me: My pink top? What did it look like?

Granny: Well, it was pink.

Me: Was it a tank top?

Granny: Well, I don't quite remember. You can go in the dryer and check.

Mom: Well, kiddo, it is your fault. You told her that the clothes were nasty.

Granny: Yeah, you told me I should wear gloves to handle them.

Me: Uh, you do know that I was exaggerating, right?

Mom: And she takes everything literally.

Me: Well, I was obviously exaggerating.

Granny: Well, I didn't know that.

Me (checking the dryer): I don't see any pink tops.

Granny: Here, it's this one.

Me: That's not mine. That's Mom's.

Mom: You bleached my shirt?

Granny: Oh, I'm sorry, honey.

Me: Uh, Granny? Why did you decide to bleach a pink top?

Granny: You said it was nasty. I wanted to disinfect it. You said I should wear gloves to handle it.

Mom: And she took you literally. It's all your fault.

Me: It's not my fault! I'm not the one with bleach on my hands!

Mom: But you know she takes everything literally.

Me: Yes, but why would she bleach a pink top?

Mom: Mom, you can't bleach anything other than white cotton.

Granny: I know that...

Mom: So why'd you bleach a pink top?

Granny: Because she said it was disgusting.

Mom: And you took her literally. So it's her fault.

Me: So you picked up a big bottle of bleach that had--

Mom: --whites only--

Me: --whites only written in big letters on the front, and decided that it would be a good idea to use it on Mom's pink top.

Granny: Well, I thought it might be a bad idea when I picked up the bottle...

Me: So why'd you do it?

Mom: It's all your fault.

Me: It is so not my fault! She's almost eighty! She should know better!

Mom: And you're almost thirty. You should know by now that your Grandmother takes everything literally.

Me: Yes. but...

Mom: So you owe me a tank top.

Me: !

Me: Granny, I'm going to say something and I want you to take me absolutely literally.

Granny: Ok.

Me: Don't take anything I say after this sentence literally.

Granny: Well, okay.

Me (to Mom): See?

Mom: I'm gonna go stay in a hotel.

Me: Well, you can probably get a good rate in that burnt out hotel down the street.

Granny: This is the durndest family...

Mom: You ever grew up in?

Granny: Yeah. No.

Me: Mom, next time we visit family, can we pick a different family?

Granny: You guys...

Mom: You have no idea what we've been through this past week.

Me: Mom, can I stay with you in the hotel?

I had started to write a different 'blog when this exchange happened between my Mom, my Grandmother, and me. It so perfectly fit the mood of the past week that I decided to use it instead of what I had written. You know, like "this is your brain, this is your brain visiting family." Mom and I only just arrived yesterday afternoon, so we have about another week of exchanges like this one.
To fully illustrate the levels of punchiness that my mother and I have reached. I really need to explain everything that has happened in the past week. It's so traumatic, though, that I'm not sure I'm ready to write about it all yet. I may have to write about it all in a series of installments. That would give me plenty of time to write a bit, consume some brownies as therapy, and then write a bit more. (The brownies are running a bit low, though, so I might need to take a longer break at some point to make up a new batch).

Mom and I, at least one a year, generally make a trip to visit family, either together or separately. Last year we traveled separately, but the year before that we drove out together. The first leg of the trip is a drive from Maryland to Dayton, Ohio. The second leg is a drive to Belleville, IL, to visit my paternal relatives. After that, we continue to the Ozarks, where we visit everyone who lives out here in the space of a few days. Finally, we load produce, cookies, and wood-worked projects in the car and drive back to Maryland. Every trip generally produces some stories (the red bridge story, Granny's diabetic coma, crazy relatives), but some trips are a bit more eventful that others. This trip has left them all behind.
Here are some of the lessons I've learned in the past week: First, never travel through an area that has been declared a major disaster area by FEMA. Second, never, ever have a stroke in Denny's. Third, tornadoes are scary things. Finally--and the most important on the list--is never let the disaster twins (previously known as Deirdre and Pat but currently being referred to as "Typhoid Marys" and "Pox-Spreaders") come and visit you.

It all began last Saturday, when the phone rang at 5am. Our neighbor David had fallen out of bed and was unable to get up. He had hit his medic alert bracelet for assistance. Mom and I went over to pick him up and put him back in bed, and Mom was worried about him so she stayed with him to keep an eye on him. I returned to the house to make tea and prepare for the day.
My day wasn't too bad. I had a picnic to go to and then a presentation to give. The presentation went fine (although there are several things I would have done differently had I known more about the attendees). After the presentation I went to Mom's office and, instead of seeing her, I saw my Auntie Em. Auntie Em explained that she had gotten a frantic call from my Mom, who was now in the ER with David. Auntie Em had been watching Hillary's concession speech on two tvs, and had barely heard the phone ringing. When she finally picked it up, Mom asked her to come and meet me because she was going to go in the ambulance with David. So, I headed home, grabbed some food for mom, and headed in to the ER.
I found Mom and David, passed the food to Mom, visited a while, then left to head home. I probably ought to have stayed at the hospital. It was over 100 degrees and the house had no AC. I spent the afternoon on the couch, sucking down ice cream and trying to keep the cats from touching me. When Mom arrived home, Auntie Em and one of our neighbors came over and we tried to piece together the events of the day. (Which I may or may not post later). Then, I packed for the trip to the mid-west and went to sleep.