Pages From The Past: Moving to Newtown

Moving to Newtown, Newfoundland in 2010

These are a few excerpts from my private journal in September 2010, shortly before I started this blog.  We were living in Mike Perry’s summer house here in Newtown, while our future home’s interior was being renovated on Perry’s Point by Paul’s two handy cousins and by Paul himself.  

Of note, this excerpt was written during Hurricane Igor and its aftermath.  Also of note is my poem at the end.

Very slowly, the old house on the point is undergoing its planned metamorphosis. My emotions are mixed. To see the rot exposed, the peeling paint and wallpaper, the ancient cobwebs hanging from the now-bare and blackened rafters, the unbelievable mess in the yard created by demolition, and now reconstruction – all of this plays havoc with my need for cleanliness and order. Are we really going to live here, in this two-storey house on a piece of rock jutting out into the cold North Atlantic? And are we ever going to find carpenters to install the new windows and clapboard while the rest of the work is done?

But then on one occasion when I visited the point last week, I saw something. I caught an encouraging glimpse of what could be. Of what that old house could become. My eye is drawn to the sun shining in through the multi-coloured glass of the windows we are not replacing. I see promise in their dazzling jewel tones of green, pink and yellow.

I get a mental picture of the rooms, devoid of junk and sawdust. Instead, they are neatly decorated, warm and comfortable, the kitchen filled with welcoming smells, music playing, Paul laughing at our cat Vivian as she skitters across the floor after a pop bottle stopper. I see Paul in his home office working on design plans, and I see me typing another page in my new novel. I welcome a visitor, put the kettle on…

I pretty much wish we were already there, playing house. Patience has never been my strongest virtue, so time drags on.

Sept. 21

So the house in Paradise didn’t close yesterday as planned. The buyers require a survey of the land…why did they wait until the last minute??

And now we are back in Newtown, enduring the wrath of Hurricane Igor as he sweeps over the province, the likes of which we have never witnessed. There’s a leak in the living-room here at Mike’s that started since Paul left to go out on the point. The wind is howling, the rain is hitting the windows in sheets. Mother Nature is showing her teeth today and she means business! The radio assures me that this storm is a record breaker, and I feel like I have three houses to worry about: this one, the one on the point, and our biggest investment up to now, the one in Paradise that is almost sold.

Even Maisie and Vivian look worried.

Sept. 23

Everyone I love now has their power back. My sister Lynn got hers at 1 yesterday, my mother-in-law last evening, and daughter Denise at 4 this morning (no other family lost theirs). We had it gone for about seven minutes on the night of the storm. So I breathe a great sigh of relief that all is well once again. I smile to realize that many have no cable TV or internet access right now – just like us!

Of course, we still wait for a phone call from our real estate agent or our lawyer as to when the house will close. I pray the walk-thru goes well. We wait to see if the Trans Canada Highway will open later today. And we wait for our new windows to be delivered. Sometimes life feels like a long drawn-out waiting game.

I love cooking and baking. Sometimes it feels downright therapeutic. As I made cod au gratin and a strawberry-apple crumble yesterday, a feeling of such peace and contentment enveloped me, it made me think of the book Simple Abundance and how much truth is in it. Whenever I cook and there is lots of time to do it right, I adore it. Thinking of living on the point and cooking and baking in my brand new kitchen fills me with happiness. I taped some loose recipes into my personal cookbook just this morning, in anticipation of using them soon.

The only thing that hurts is to read the recipes that Mom dictated to me over the phone not that long ago.

And I wait for a call from Lynn to see if they have a new placement for Mom. I don’t think I will get over the hurt of her Alzheimer’s disease for a very long time, and the worst is yet to come. Right on the heels of Dad’s ALS and death in 2003, the dreaded condition swooped in on my precious mother and changed her forever. Why has this double whammy hit our family, I wonder. I fear that the knowledge of it and the pain of its aftermath have changed me forever too.

As a way of dealing with these feelings, I wrote a poem this morning.

God, give me back my mom, I beg you and I plead

we’ve lost her much too early, the pain will not recede

First we lose our father to a death no one should know

too young he was to leave us–my God! I miss him so..

The grief it proved a burden our mother couldn’t bear

her sadness turned to illness with a name I’ve always feared

I know not how her soul survives as her mind and body waste

she lives and yet she doesn’t;  a stranger took her place

Where is my mother’s heart?  Where is her winsome smile?

I miss the wisdom of her words, her gentle, caring style

God, give me back my mom, if it’s only in a dream

let her put her arms around me;  let her hold me as she sings

Then please take her up to heaven, let her suffering be gone

reunite my precious parents–maybe then I can go on.

***

“Life Means All That It Ever Meant”

 The past few years have taken our mother on a difficult journey, and our family right along with her.
Mercifully, she finally succumbed to her illness last week, and

we were able to say our goodbyes as she entered into her eternal rest.

I found this poem that speaks of my sweet mother’s lifelong attitude of pragmatism and hope. Somehow it gives me strength and reassurance, reminding me how lucky I was to have known and loved this woman who was my mother.

 All Is Well
Death is nothing at all.
I have only slipped away to the next room
I am I and you are you
Whatever we were to each other,
That we are still.
Call me by my old familiar name,
Speak to me in the easy way
which you always used.
Put no difference in your tone,

Wear no forced air of solemnity or sorrow.

 Laugh as we always laughed
at the little jokes we enjoyed together.
Play, smile, think of me, pray for me.
Let my name be ever the household word that it always was,

Let it be spoken without effect, without the trace of a shadow on it.

 Life means all that it ever meant.
It is the same as it ever was,
There is absolute, unbroken continuity.
Why should I be out of mind
because I am out of sight?
I am but waiting for you,
for an interval.
Somewhere very near.
Just around the corner.

All is well.

 Henry Scott Holland
1847-1918

For My Mother

Last month was my mother’s birthday.  She turned 75.

For the first time in her seventy-five years, our dear mother wasn’t able to eat any birthday cake.  She is bedridden, in and out of consciousness on morphine, and dying.  There is every reason to expect – and actually, dare I say, hope – that this is the year of her last birthday, and that her painful battle with Alzheimer’s disease will finally be over.

Mom has taken a turn this past week, a turn that plants her squarely in the final stage of this heartbreaking disease. She can no longer swallow even liquid food, so we know the end is near.

I can hardly think of anything or anyone else right now. I dread what lies ahead, even though I said above that I hope this, her last trial, will soon be at its end.

Here is a poem I wrote over twenty five years ago, when my mom and I were much younger women. I made some changes, updating it to reflect the present, but the essential message remains the same. I love you, Mom!

Mother

When I needed someone to hug
You were there
Your arms outstretched and waiting, your gentle, warm embrace
Absorbing all my love.

When I felt the pain of problems
You were close by
Your soft, smooth cheek was soothing, your warm familiar bosom
Blotting out the fears.

When we begged a little comfort
From each other, over the years
With a love so unconditional, as one woman to another,
We shared our tears.

And now,
When you have reached completion
Of this, your final trial,
I will treasure precious moments, tender memories, my sweet haven
Because, Mom,

When I needed someone to love,
You were there.

The TV Commercial I Wish I Didn’t Love

In today’s age of high-definition PVR’s and the luxury of watching television on demand to fit into my schedule, I rarely watch commercials anymore, and that suits me fine.  But there is one ad I have seen recently that I think I could watch every day.

I won’t reveal whose advertisement it is;  let’s just say it is for a financial company sharing the benefits of a home renovation loan.  In this particular case, the son in the ad has just renovated part of his home to make a self-contained apartment.  We see the son showing his aging father around the apartment, who appears very impressed with what his son has done.  The father touches the new kitchen cabinets and remarks that the apartment should fetch good rent.

It is then that the son reaches in a box bearing the financial company’s logo, and comes out with a set of keys.  He then gives the keys to his dad, telling him for the first time, “The apartment is yours, Dad.”

Then follows his father’s reaction of surprise, and he reaches out and hugs his son.

I swear, my heart gives a little leap and a flop each time I see this ad.  Of course, I know why;  I lost my dad nine years ago to ALS, when he was 69.  I never got to see my father anywhere near as elderly, and yet healthy, as the gentleman in the ad.  My mother didn’t fare much better, being diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease in her sixties, and now in the latter stages in a nursing home.

I didn’t write this post out of self-pity.  I just wanted to impart to those of you who read this, the fortunate ones who still have a parent or parents who are loving, healthy and of sound mind, to treasure them.  Please don’t take them for granted. You have something, and an opportunity that I will never know:  the ability and the joy of giving back to those who brought you up and gave you their all.

For me, watching that commercial reminds me, and lets me dream – just for a few minutes – of what could have been.

The Little Things…

You always hear people say that we shouldn’t love the material things in life, and usually I am inclined to agree.  However, in one particular area of my life I must beg to differ.  Sometimes we have certain items that are so very precious to us because they keep our memories bright.

My mother is now in the late stages of Alzheimer’s disease.  She has changed so very much in the past few years, from a vibrant, independent and beautiful woman, into a person who needs constant care.  She can still smile in recognition at me, but can no longer carry on a conversation of any sort.  We are losing her, bit by bit, with every visit and every passing day.  This is probably why I hold on so tightly to a few items that came from her.

As I write this, I am wearing a pair of wool slippers that my mother knit for me.  They are teal blue and white with little bows sewn on the top. I found them a couple of months ago when I was sorting out some storage items, and even though they were a little tight, which was the reason I had put them away in the first place, I have worn them ever since, stretching them so they would fit.  Just knowing that she had made them for me gives me comfort. 

While I was looking for some Christmas baking inspiration a few weeks ago, I came across a recipe for cherry cake in my collection, that was written in Mom’s handwriting.  I remembered her making that recipe many times over the years.  My heart ached with loss as I read it, but I knew I had to use it.  Now that Christmas is behind us for another year, I still have some of that cake left, and I savour every bite. 

And on my right hand, I am wearing my mother’s wedding band.  It had been sitting in a little box in my dresser drawer for months, waiting until the time that would come for it to go on her finger for the last time.  So for now I am wearing it, because it makes me feel closer to her, and to Dad as well.

So please don’t try to tell me that things aren’t important.  Sometimes it is the little things that we need to hold onto, the touchstones for our priceless memories.  Sometimes it is all we have.