My Seeing Eye ® dog, Dora, is panting at about 10 pants per second, not because of the hour long walk we just took, or the hot weather, but we just played a round of ball in the back yard. It goes like this. I sit on a lawn chair, but I don’t get too comfy. Dora drops the ball into my lap. She lets go of reluctantly, but she knows if it’s going to go anywhere, she’s going to have to give it up. “Drop it,” I say, and she finally does. I stand up and throw it as hard as I can, but it doesn’t go very far, because I throw like a girl, and my back acts like an old woman. But Dora doesn’t care. She races after it and often catches it before the first bounce. Unlike any other dog I’ve had, she then rushes back to me, slamming into my knees, as if she’s going too fast to stop, like sliding into home plate. Then I coax her to drop it into my lap again, pick up the slimy thing again, stand up and pitch it into the back yard. Each time, she barrels into me with the fervor of a 9-year-old making his first home run. We do this routine about 50 times before she begins to slow down. It’s amazing to me that this creature who acts like her very life depends on getting that ball back to me in record time is the same creature who guides me safely across the street. But everybody needs a break from the seriousness of life. Even the President of the United States gets wrapped up in a soccer game. What is it about a man and a ball or a dog and a ball? I know, I know, girls like ball games too. But aside from wiffle ball, when I was a kid, I’ve never been very excited about team sports. Skating, skiing, cycling, and hiking have always been more to my liking. But I have to say that playing ball with Dora brings me a whole lot of joy. When I fasten the jingle bell onto her collar, so I can hear where she is in the back yard, and I say, “Want to play outside?” she gets so excited, she can hardly contain herself. It’s not the ball itself. It’s not watching Dora run free. It’s the interaction between us that’s just for fun.
It was the summer of 1957. My mother had just learned to drive and had bought her first car, a brand new yellow convertible with a white top. I had enough vision to play endless hours of 4 square with my girlfriend next door. I was just beginning to study dance with Jack Louiso, a well known and respected teacher. Life was pretty good in 1957, for lots of reasons.
When I read a column in the paper the other day, I was immediately transported to the back yard of our neighbors, in that year. I was thrilled to learn that kids still play wiffle ball. Here’s the pitch that sent me sailing back.
Michael Arace commentary: Wiffle ball tournament held in yards of dreams. By Michael Arace The Columbus Dispatch “Fifty-one lawn chairs and home plate were planted on the Hayden family’s front yard on Sherwood Avenue in Bexley yesterday. The odd chair was for the umpire. The field stretched over the Plank family driveway and expanded across the Planks’ front lawn.”
We didn’t have an umpire, and we didn’t have spectators. Every evening, after supper, we straggled into the back yard of the Wepplers, who lived 2 doors down. We didn’t go to the front door. We just went around the side of the house and waited for Mrs. Weppler to come out and start the game. She was the pitcher, and another mother was the catcher. There were about 6 of us regular players of various ages and abilities. Whenever I came to bat, Mrs. Wepller would give me a verbal heads up, knowing that I couldn’t see the ball very well, so she would say, “Here it comes Mary. Ready, swing.” Sometimes, I actually made contact with the ball, enough that it got into my blood. It helped that dusk was the time of day when my vision was somewhat functional. I liked wiffle ball, because I could see it, especially when the sun went down, and it didn’t hurt if I missed the catch and it hit me. Well, it might sting a little, but not like a real baseball.
One evening, when I walked down to the Wepplers’, the back yard was empty. It was a Friday night, and it was early in the summer, and I had just fallen in love with the game. I was afraid that something was wrong. I went to the front door and rang the doorbell. Mrs. Weppler appeared and kindly told me that she didn’t play on Friday nights. “It’s our night to imbibe,” she explained. I had to run home and ask my mom what “imbibe” meant. It struck me funny that she chose that word to explain why she wasn’t available to play on Friday nights. But every other evening, she was out there for us. Our parents didn’t line up in lawn chairs, and Mrs. Weppler probably made up the rules along the way, according to which kids showed up, but it’s a summertime memory I treasure.
Today’s blind children can play “beep ball,” with a specially designed ball that has an electronic beeper inside. The rules are a little different from regular baseball, but it allows blind children, and adults too, the opportunity to enjoy the Great American pastime. Thank you Mrs. Weppler, wherever you are.
When I met a woman at church last Sunday who is close to my age, we immediately found a common bond. Isn’t it funny how women can get right into a sharing of what is really important to them?
This woman, whom I shall call Phyllis, had just moved to Columbus, after living for 60 years in a smaller town in Ohio. Why? To be close to her grandchildren of course. “Was it hard to leave all your friends and connections?” I asked her, because I have been considering doing that myself.
Of course,” she said. “It was very hard, but you make new friends, and it’s worth it, because your children and your grandchildren are more important than anybody.” Then in typical woman to woman warmth, she went on to say, “It’s like your life is a train. People get on and ride with you, and then they get off, and then new people get on, and so on.” It’s trite, but true. When you’ve lived as long as I have, that train ride has been a very long one, and while some of the passengers are with you for the whole trip, others come and go. I had very close friends when my husband was in the Navy, but my train has long departed that station. I had wonderful neighbors when my children were little, and I often wonder where their life trains have taken them, and then there are friends from parts of my life, like high school, who got off my train many years ago, and now they’ve hopped back on for more of the journey.I like this analogy. I’m having fun with it. I’m also finding that as I cirfculate in my community, I keep encountering friends and acquaintances that I knew in what I fondly call “a previous life.” It’s fun to go to a restaurant and run into someone I haven’t seen in 20 years. They’d gotten off my train, transferred to another line, and now here they are again. Or maybe, I was the one who took the transfer and am returning to wave as they continue on another train.
As I consider moving to another city, to be a more accessible part of my granddaughters’ lives, I have to consider what it will be like to wave goodbye to the many connections I have here. I will have to start all over again, building new relationships, finding new interests, and learning how to enjoy the next phase of my life. It’s rather exciting to think about and a little scary too. But don’t worry. I don’t even have my bags packed yet. I’m sure Phyllis did some hard thinking, just like I’m doing now. But look. She’s already hopped onto my train. It might just be until the next stop, but she’s got her grandchildren with her. She’s not just waving to them now and then. They’re sitting next to her, listening to her stories, learning from her experience, and enjoying the ride.
My granddaughters, Brianna and Mika, recently experienced a huge change in their lives. At ages 10 and 12, respectively, they have both become a big sister to the newest member of their family, Bethany. When the news of her arrival was made a few months ago, neither girl was thrilled with the idea. After all, their routines would be completely turned upside down. All the baby clothes and equipment had been given away or sold at garage sales. The family was able to travel, unencumbered by car seats, diaper bags, pack and play, toys, special food, and fretful toddlers. They were now visiting museums, going on cruises, shopping for fun, and staying up late to watch movies in the media room, uninterrupted, except to refill their bowls of popcorn. Suddenly, all that would change.
No doubt, my brother Dick, now deceased, had those same feelings, at age 10, of resentment when my mother told him that he was getting a baby brother or sister. Back in those days, it was a surprise. He probably wondered what on earth he was going to do with a baby sister, and how was he going to put up with her? Of course I don’t remember the first few years of being a little sister, but from what my mother has told me since, he adored me. The feeling was mutual. There must have been times of torcher and humiliation. What 10-year-old boy could resist? But what I do remember are the times he was a hero to me. I admired how he could do such amazing things as jump up in a doorway and hang from the door frame with his hands, a trick that never failed to annoy my mother. One of my favorite memories is the time he and a buddy of his took me to the skating rink. I might have been 5, because I actually remember it. He and his friend each held my hands and pulled me around the rink. I was the little princess. Most probably what happened was that Dick wanted to go skating, and my mother told him that he had promised to watch me that afternoon, and if he wanted to go, he would have to take me. But they made the best of it. I have fond memories of walking to the corner drug store and sharing a Coke with him, one 7-ounce bottle, with 2 straws. When Dick was in the Air Force, he’d bring me little presents from wherever he was stationed. I treasured the little set of Air force wings he gave me. When he would come home on leave, he’d drive me to school in his beat-up convertible, and I felt like a big shot.
As I grew older, I remember being so proud of him when he’d drive to Indiana to bring us to a family thanksgiving dinner or to my mother’s 25th high school reunion, where Dick danced the waltz with first my mother, and then with me, much to my delight and my mother’s bursting pride.
Tragically, we lost him to a car crash when he was 29, and I was 19. I don’t think of him every single day but often enough to be sad and bitter for my loss, but grateful for the time I did have a big brother.
My message to my precious granddaughters is that you have an opportunity to be this baby’s role model, teacher of jump rope games, rules of jacks, colors that match, how to get your way with Dad, what Mom really likes for Mother’s Day, and what to say to that boy at church who keeps smiling at her. You have the luxury of observing how to be a parent, since you are old enough to understand, so when you are parents someday, you won’t be as bewildered as those of us who weren’t around babies when we were young. There are hundreds of reasons why having a little sister will be alternately a pain and a blessing, but in the end, the number of blessings will come out on top. Enjoy your status of Big Sister. It’s a gift.
You haven’t heard from me in a couple of weeks, because I’ve been dealing with some life-altering events, and therefore not motivated or even able to send up a post. Since I last wrote, my 98-year-old mother has had some horrific trauma over the past 2 weeks.
There are times when I feel more blind than usual, and when my mother was sent to the E.R., this was one of them. First, when I got the call from the assisted living home, I had to recruit someone to take me to meet Mom at the hospital. Fortunately, my son Steve was able to excuse himself from his daughter’s soccer game and sit with me for at least half the 8 hours we spent there. When he had to leave for a while, I thought I could handle everything, because Mom was sleeping off the morphene they gave her, and I was just waiting for the results of the tests they ran. But then the morphene wore off, Mom got cold, she had to go to the bathroom, and she was getting hungry, since she hadn’t eaten all day. Yet, nobody checked on us for over 3 hours. I searched around our little curtained off space for a blanket and found none. I had no idea where to find food, and since Mom couldn’t walk, it was impossible for me to help her with the bathroom. I had left Dora at home, knowing that it would be tight quarters, and I didn’t want to have to deal with a dog’s needs on top of everything else. So, I took my white cane out into the hallway and went searching for some help. When I finally got the attention of the nurse on Mom’s case, and I complained that we hadn’t seen anyone for hours, she said rather defensively that she had been around. But not once did she pop in to say a comforting word or ask if Mom needed anything. If I hadn’t been there to flag somebody down, my mother would have been ignored completely. Hospitals are the worst places to be when you are hurt or sick, and you are blind and hard of hearing. This is proof once again that if you have to go to the hospital, you must have an advocate with you.
Mom was back in the E.R. the next day, and again on Monday, Memorial Day, because of repeated falls. She was finally diagnosed with a fractured hip and a broken rib, and was admitted on Monday night. She spent the next 5 days in the hospital, where her care improved remarkably, especially when she was moved to palliative care for the last 3 of those days. Meanwhile, she was approved for Hospice Care. Most times, when people hear those words, they think of impending death and sorrowful hearts. My reaction was, Thank God for finally sending her the care she needs. While I was not actually the one who administered her meds, lifted her in and out of a wheelchair, cut up her food, changed her sheets, and cleaned up after accidents in the bathroom, I felt a huge burdon lifted from my shoulders. Since the trauma of that Memorial Day weekend, her physical and mental condition deteriorated so drastically that she became virtually helpless. She had to be fed, dressed, bathed, and everything else, as if she were an infant. If I had sight, I might have been able to do it, and I probably would have, because I know my mother did it for her mother, and although I did it for my babies as a blind mother, caring for an infant is not the same as caring for an elderly and frail person.
Although she does not qualify for 24/7 care, there are 4 people on her team, a nurse, an aid, a chaplain, and a social worker, who each check in on her regularly. My worries as the “designated daughter” have been lightened considerably. As her level of care increases, so does my peace of mind. With the onset of Alzheimer’s, her personality has changed. She’s more relaxed and accepting of help. I think she rather enjoys the extra attention. The smile on her face matches mine, as I witness the tender care of this Hospice team. Thanks be to God.