Category Archives: Journal – Vol. I

XLIV. How Do I Get Home from Here?

Tuesday, January 3, 2012. The season has changed from red and green to deep blue. The wind carries the smell of snow. My life these days is sometimes cold, sometimes warm to the touch, like the boards and furniture on my front porch before dawn and then after the sun rises and I sit there warming late morning nursing a cup of latte.

Early this morning, before the sun rises, it is dark; I am awakened. I hear Emma: “How do I get to the subway?” she wants to know. I go downstairs to her. She, dressed in black “satin” long johns/pajamas, is uncovered, sitting up in her hospital bed. The room is dark but for the weak glow of the night light at the surbase in the adjoining hall.

She comes from Philadelphia, lived in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, all her life until she was around 40, when our family moved to Wilmington, Delaware. She and Nana, her mother, would dress in hat and gloves and take the el and subway into town to shop. In later years, Emma would take my brother and me. He couldn’t keep still. He’d disappear in the department stores. Emma, agitated, thought he was lost. Then she’d find him behind some clothes rack somewhere. She said if he had been born first she never would have had me. We spent many hours walking the streets of Philadelphia in town from Strawbridge’s to Gimbels to Lit’s, up to Peck & Peck and Bonwit’s, over to Wanamaker’s, and finally we’d descend the long flight of steps and navigate the labyrinth of half lit, urine reeking corridors and high wooden or iron revolving gates onto the subway platform smelling of breaded, fried chicken, dank concrete, electricity and wheel bearing grease. We’d lean over the white stripe along the edge of the platform, look down the track and see the light far down the tunnel, slowly growing bigger and bigger. Then here: it pulls into the station, the big headlight, the red and green lights on the car’s shoulders, the conductor in greenish light through the windshield in his booth. The many lighted windows of the front cars flash past us like decades, the brakes on the wheels screech to a halt, the doors slide open; here is the train come to take us home.

I pull Emma down in bed, for she sits leaning her back against the wall. I cover her up. I climb the stairs and crawl back into bed. Quiet. Then, “Where is the subway? How do I get home from here? How do I get home from here?” I descend the stairs. She is sitting up, uncovered. “Here: Take a drug” is not my normal way out. What should I do? Emma has become agitated again. The Atavan waits on the sill between the living room and hallway, waits for me to transport it to her. I have already measured the proper dose into the dropper. All I need to do is administer it. Our health care aides have told me that in nursing facilities they tie down agitated patients with duct tape or bungee cords. Scenes from movies of confined, supposedly insane people – mostly women – flash through my mind – Raintree County foremost; old scenes captured in documentaries of patients being given lobotomies suddenly light up, black and white, like a sudden gargoyle on a subway wall when the headlight of the fleeting train flashes on it.

What does Emma see? Where does she think she is? Lost in Philadelphia this time, trying to find her way home. It is sad; maybe it is scary. What triggers her images? What makes her brain run these thoughts? They must run like a movie trailer.

Emma is agitated. The symptoms had begun at dinnertime. She chattered away to our aide while she fed Emma. Emma asked her where her son is. The aide’s 11-year-old son has accompanied her here on occasion and even dressed up as a clown with orange hair and big spectacles to stimulate Emma for her photo shoot before Christmas when our aide took poignant photos of Emma and put them into an album for us.

I pick up the bottle. I unscrew the top holding the dropper. I approach my mother in her bed. I remove the dropper and aim it at her, moving closer. “No,” she says. “No!” She tries to push me away. I gather her wrists in my free hand so she won’t pummel me. She breaks free. “No,” she says. “I don’t want anything to eat.” She compresses her lips. “All you have to do is stick the dropper inside her cheek,” our medical team has said. “The medication is designed to be absorbed into the gums.” O.K., I’ll try again. I collect her wrists. She breaks free. I stand back. I look at her mouth. Only recently, I had to open our teacup poodle Jetta’s mouth to administer her medication from a dropper. I realize I can’t pry open Emma’s mouth as I would a dog’s. I’ve administered medicine from a dropper to cats. Surely, administering it to Emma should be easier. I am so bumbling at this. I do not think I would make a good member of the medical profession, even if I considered such a messy and often morbid occupation. I touch her cheek, her mouth, trying to open it. I aim the loaded dropper at it. I get it open. Quick. I get the dropper in and squeeze the bulb. Click! Emma clamps down her teeth on the dropper. I pull out the dropper. I hope it’s made of reinforced material. She does not break it. I place the dropper back into the bottle. Mission accomplished.

Emma continues talking for a while, about an hour. Born in 1914, do you think she would have believed it if someone had told her she would live into 2012? “Can you tell me where the subway is? How do I get home from here? How do I get home?” Now she is quiet.

–Samantha Mozart, January 3, 2012

XLIII. Ya Gotta Have a Drop Cloth

Saturday, December 31: A Gaggle of Strangers. No, it wasn’t the incessant chatter of a flock of starlings in my friend R’s lighted woods outside his tree house apartment, it was the cacophony of strangers downstairs from 7 a.m. until 8:30 – chattering in stage whispers, agitatedly, like a flock of starlings before the storm. I don’t even know who they were. I think I overheard that one of them was a nurse sneaking in early, before I arose, to make her daily visit. For me, she was the rooster crowing from the top of the chicken house at dawn. I am awakened now. I am irritable. Two nights ago I didn’t sleep; during the last two, sleep has come hardscrabble. But, then, it’s not about me; it’s about however the chicken chatterers can manipulate my life to serve themselves.

Ron, our Hospice continuous care day nurse, a licensed practical nurse (LPN), whom our Hospice team nurse, Tess, specifically requested to care for Emma, lives up to his reputation as wonderful. He is the best. He says he loves his work. That is obvious. He hovers over Emma tending to her smallest need, checks her vital signs every two hours and sees that she is clean and dry. She sleeps peacefully since she wore herself out at 2 a.m. Ron sings and talks to her and kisses her goodnight when he leaves.

Conversely, as the day wears on, I become increasingly anxious. I do no want Madam Queen, the bully nurse from last night, to return. Often I think better that I deal with these such situations as I have experienced in the past, than endure the disrespect of a rude health care agent. I hesitate to phone the patient care administrator, though, the superior with whom I spoke the day after Christmas to seek guidance on managing Emma’s agitation and to complain about the on-call nurse who simply told me over the phone that Emma had experienced a decline, this superior who refused to listen, talking over me. What should I do? I wind up calling her, anyway.

“That nurse doesn’t want to return,” she tells me. Good. That’s a relief. Then, “We’re going to discontinue the continuous care,” she informs me.

“But Tess told me Thursday that the continuous care would run through Monday until Tess returns to evaluate Emma and decide whether to end the continuous care,” I say. Tess has the weekend off and in her absence another registered nurse is to come check on Emma daily. After a period of the administrator’s talking over me, she says that she will talk to the on-call doctor for a decision. I say, “But, Dr. Patel is Emma’s doctor.” She tells me she will notify Dr. Patel.

I need to get out of the house. Ron is here, so is our state attendant services aide, who comes in the morning and again in the evening to help feed and bathe Emma. I walk to the post office to mail my daughter’s birthday card. It is about a 10-minute walk round trip.

On my walk, I recall that our compassionate, concerned chaplain has told me that she is on call this weekend, to call her if I need anything. This is an administrative dilemma, I think, the kind that everybody dumps on our Hospice social worker/bereavement counselor, Geri: “We can’t deal with Samantha. She’s hard to take. Let’s dump it on Geri.” But Geri has the weekend off. The second string is on duty; a fact becoming garishly obvious as the day wears on. It seems a losing game. I resist the urge to join the lemmings on their rush to the edge.

As I enter the front door on my return, the phone is ringing. “What timing,” I say. “It’s been ringing,” says our aide. I run to answer it. I have to talk over myself because the answering machine has picked it up; cacophonous. “Hi, this is Dr. Patel,” I hear the voice say.

He is calling to see how everything is going and what’s happening. I say, “Oh, you don’t want to hear it all.” “What don’t I want to hear?” he asks. It seems every time I have one foot lifted, about to step over the edge, he catches me. I gloss over the petty stuff and tell him briefly about the bully nurse, then review Emma’s recent events, including her heart rate initially rising to 146, of which Tess and the petty tyrant nurses had already apprised him. He listens. He tells me that Emma should stay on continuous care until Monday when Tess will come evaluate her state. I feel 300 percent better. What a relief.

Sunday, January 1: Strangling Gaggles. Emma became responsive this morning. She took her medications, drank fluids and ate her breakfast. A nurse was scheduled to come early in the morning. She got called to an emergency. Emma remained calm most of the day. Ron gave her a glass of warmed apple cider early in the afternoon. She is calm, resting. A substitute nurse arrives. Many substitute Tesses have come through this house over the past many months on Tess’s days off. The nurse does not introduce herself. “Who are you?” I ask. She tells me her name and says she has been here before. “Oh, I’m sorry,” I say. “So many nurses have been through here I don’t remember all their names. “Well, you have your team and you have me visiting,” she replies. “I’m not that stupid,” I counter. That left her spluttering to herself. She wants to cancel the continuous care for Monday. “I was told by Tess and again yesterday that Ron would be here through Monday,” I tell her.

“Well, I’m discontinuing it,” she says.

Having been told that Ron would be here I had made plans, I tell her. I was going to visit a friend who lives a half hour from here to get some mustard greens, spinach and radishes from their garden – where else could I find fresh local greens in winter here? I was so excited to be having a day out – my attendant care services chauffeur would drive me, we’d have lunch at my friend’s, and maybe with another friend, network about new business marketing ideas, and in the end I’d eat fresh, crisp greens that didn’t taste like they’d resided in the back of a refrigerator for a month.

Nevertheless, this nurse, this substitute Tess, arbitrarily decided to cancel the continuous care.  Here, I’ll call the patient care administrator and you talk to her, she told me.  I talked to her yesterday I told her and Dr. Patel (whose name this nurse couldn’t get straight and pronounced as some sort of exotic herb or spice) called me afterwards and said Tess would make the final evaluation Monday morning.

The two of them, the nurse and the administrator, overrode Tess and Dr. Patel and shredded the whole plan. When Tess comes tomorrow, if she decides Ron needs to be here, they will call him, says the nurse from hell.

“Who will watch my mother tomorrow morning?” I ask her.

“Get someone to sit with her,” she says flatly. I, the sole caregiver, with no family in the area, have no one to call upon. “We’re not a babysitting service,” she adds.

“Will you do it?” I ask her.

“I? Why should I do it?” she replies.

“Well, who would you suggest?” I ask.

“Pay a private nursing agency.”

“Are you buying?” I ask.

“Me? Why should I buy?”

I am ushering her out the door so the fact that I am scraping together money to buy heating oil since the temperatures are predicted to be down in the teens and twenties the next few days plus a wind chill never gets fully addressed.

I call my friends and driver and cancel our plans for Monday.

I grab the phone and sit outside on my front porch. Tears well up in my eyes. Now what? I ask myself. Now what?

The phone rings. The voice is my best friend, my friend of 40 years, the one who knows me best, from Southern California. “I sensed that all was not well with you and you needed support,” she said. She is caregiver for her mother who also has dementia. Our experiences match on the poor service and lack of compassion at these agencies, although I must say Californians have a bigger well to draw from. My friend’s timing was impeccable. Again, I was about to step over the edge and she caught me.

I have another friend, who lives locally, who called me the other day when Emma began being agitated. Her timing, too, was impeccable. How do I get so lucky? I just want to stay tuned in to whatever vibrational frequency it is; so I am very conscious of keeping my thoughts focused, thinking with the higher thought to the best of my ability.

Although, this thought did flit through my mind:

I say to my California friend, “It’s a good thing I don’t have a shotgun, because had I blown that nurse’s head off, it would have made an awful mess all over the rug.”

“Yes, and you would have had to clean it up,” she said.


Then I call my friend with the garden of greens to tell her I will not make it down to see her Monday. I tell her why and relate the shotgun story about having the mess to clean up.

“Ya gotta have a drop cloth,” she said.

–Samantha Mozart, January 3, 2012





XLII. She’s Back

Thursday, December 29, 2011. Emma began talking a blue streak last night, Wednesday, around two in the morning. I got out of bed and went downstairs to the living room where she sleeps to see what was going on. She was half sitting up in bed. “Get me out of here,” she said. “I’m trying, but I can’t get out of here,” she went on, as she gripped the side rail of her hospital bed. “I’ll be here all night,” she said then. So she was aware it was night. She hasn’t seemed to notice differences between day and night since she settled onto her docile plateau in July.

I felt sorry for her, being trapped there. I can relate. Would I want to be trapped in a hospital bed? No. I was trapped in a hospital bed in the hospital for five days when I was 3 for a cyst and hernia operation. I had been given a really neat diesel train set which I had brought with me. I wanted my trains in bed with me, and the nurses didn’t know what I was saying. What I said was perfectly clear to me. “Does she want a drink?” they asked each other. I was so frustrated, and I see Emma reacting that way: “Get me out of here.” (Likely, “Get me out of this life.”)

My aunt, Emma’s sister-in-law, who will be 98 on New Year’s Eve and is in a nursing facility an hour from our home, is cognizant but confined to a wheelchair unable to walk without falling, says essentially the same thing – “When I get out of here: When I came in here I gave my cat Maggie to the vet because I knew there she would get good care. When I get out, I’ll get her back and take her home.” She told me this over the phone Christmas day.

“Oh,” I said. When Emma, Jetta (our teacup poodle) and I would visit my aunt in her home, Maggie, a big orange tabby, would lie in wait for me in the dark hallway just outside the bathroom door. When I’d emerge, she’d spring and pummel me: “How dare you bring that dog into my house.” Maggie chased Jetta around and around an easy chair until Jetta was chasing Maggie. It’s a wonder they didn’t melt into a pool of butter. (–“Little Black Sambo,” one of many stories Emma read to me when I was a child.) Maggie got old and infirm and my aunt had her put to sleep before she entered the nursing facility.

The day after Christmas, Monday, Emma’s blood pressure began to fluctuate, from dangerously low in the afternoon to above her normal rate that evening. She refused to open her mouth when our aide tried to feed her dinner (the aide feeds her dinner in bed from a tray table). That’s when I called our Hospice agency. Of course it was after hours, and a holiday, anyway, for many people. I got the answering service who notified the on-call nurse. When the nurse phoned me and I told her what was occurring, she said, “She’s had a decline.” Wow. A decline. I never would have known, in these seven years since Emma’s dementia was diagnosed.

“I’m going to end this call and call back and speak with your superior,” I told the nurse. I did that and got almost the same response. Clearly, no on-call employee wanted to be interrupted from the end of their holiday by phone or to visit. And the superior talked over me, so she didn’t hear me when I said I wanted the nurse to come out and check Emma’s blood pressure. “I don’t want to play doctor here,” I said. I don’t know whether to administer her blood pressure medication or not, in case her blood pressure is too low.” By the time the superior got around to hearing me say that I wanted a nurse here – this process took five phone calls – I had given Emma her blood pressure medication; I recalled that Emma’s regular nurse, Tess, had told me that this medication regulates her system as well as balances her blood pressure. It was good I did give it to her because when the nurse got to our house and checked the pressure, it was elevated, not dangerously so, but the fluctuation is a concern. Ultimately, Tuesday morning and evening we were able to get Emma to eat.

Wednesday afternoon our Hospice chaplain came and she explained the way the declines work: in this final stage of dementia, especially, the patient will experience a downturn, then come up a little, but not as high as before, level off briefly, then down again, and the downslopes become steeper. The chaplain’s enlightening words and guidance supported and comforted me.

Wednesday night, when Emma began talking full sentences and became agitated, I didn’t sleep. I stayed with her most of the time. When I left the room she called for me and then called for my brother, “Bob! Where’s Bob?” Bob lives eight hours from here. I hesitated for hours, not calling for a nurse. I didn’t want to deal with someone who was going to argue with me and blow it off as simply a decline. Of course it’s a decline; but what do I do? I’m not the doctor here. Ultimately I realized that I needed to stop being stubborn and just call. A very compassionate nurse came out, took care of Emma, checked her blood pressure – up, but within a normal range for most patients.

This morning, Thursday, our regular Hospice aide came, then, later, our regular, team Hospice nurse, Tess, came. Tess requested Hospice put us on “continuous care,” meaning that I will have someone here 24 hours; that is, strangers creeping around in my house, coming and going during the changing of the guard, in the middle of the night. But that is better than my having to get up and find Emma thinking she can creep around and then falling. She had gotten her legs through the rails on the bed sidebars a couple of times and she came very close to figuring out how to lower the rail, this the woman who has been weak and mostly unresponsive for five months.

Tess stayed with us for two and a half hours until the continuous care person arrived. Emma is still talking, and when she is not trying to sit up, staring and reaching for some phantom above and in front of her. We don’t know what she sees. Emma’s doctor prescribed Atavan, a medication to calm her, to be taken as needed. As I write this tonight, she is still talking, but the continuous care nurse is sitting by her side, holding her hand, and that settles Emma.

She’s back in the sense that she is forming complete sentences – “I forgot to tell Marie why I was late coming back from lunch. I didn’t get back until three” – yet she is unable to recall the subject moment of which she speaks. She has experienced these “she’s back” events before and each time they indicate a downturn from which she will not recover.

Friday, December 30. Emma’s agitation grew wilder during last night. The night nurse reported that she was lying on her bed with her feet up on the wall and would not settle down. The cause may be due partly to the nurse’s not being able to add four hours to the hour Emma took her first Ativan to arrive at the next prescribed hour to take the medication. Her sum amounted to five hours rather than four, so she gave Emma the second dose an hour after she should have.

Finally, around 2 a.m., Emma apparently wore herself out – I was not nearly so active, merely missing a night’s sleep, yet I was exhausted – and fell asleep. Now, at 9:30 p.m., Emma still sleeps. We tried to wake her to give her medication and to feed her, at least to administer liquids, but she just pushed everything away and turned her head.

Madam Queen, the night nurse, arrived at 7:30 this evening and refused to listen to where things are and to my instructions. She told me she knew it all even though she had arrived in the middle of the night last night, was gone early in the morning and I had not met her. Rather, she ensconced herself in a chair in the living room and when I didn’t place her crown upon her head, turned her back to me, truncating our audience. She uses the microwave while the dishwasher is running, liable to throw a breaker switch in this old house even though I asked her to wait. Wait till I instruct her to go down into the cellar in the dark and find which breaker switch has been thrown in which breaker box. Wait till she gets a bill to pay the mortgage, since she thinks she owns the place.

Emma and I are, otherwise, so very fortunate to have such a compassionate team of Hospice supporters – Tess, our nurse; Geri, our social worker/bereavement counselor; our chaplain; and our music therapist – all who extend themselves to listen and to help us, constantly here for us.  Emma has no idea, I believe, how fortunate she is. I do; and to these and to my consistently concerned and supportive friends, I am humbly grateful.

–Samantha Mozart, December 29-30, 2011

XLI. Offerings of the Wise

Once I had a neighbor in Southern California who grew up in England in a rambling, old, drafty house that even the many fireplaces failed to warm, and with servants attending to every need. Consequently, here in America she was lost in the kitchen. One day she rang me up to ask how to boil water, or maybe it was eggs; I don’t recall, but it was something that simple. We both had school age daughters who were friends. She was married; I was single.

“Tell me, dear,” she asked over the phone one day in her clipped British accent, “Are you getting any?”

“Um … {{{     }}} … what?”

“Are you getting any?”

“Uh, any? Like, any what?”

It turns out she meant spousal support, alimony. (No, I wasn’t getting any of that.)

When I ran my own businesses – hair design, catering – I assiduously supported my customers. In turn, they supported me; in fact, they’d go out of their way: for, on my bad days, they’d lift me up. It really was heartwarming. I did quite well operating in that thought; my customers were happy, we laughed a lot, and some of them remain my friends today. It works magic.

For five years Netflix and I maintained a good relationship; they’ve been supportive. But lately they’ve adopted the role of an ex-spouse wielding a number of smart-mouthed, disrespectful evil stepkids. Last night I had a disc that wouldn’t play, so I went online to report it and request a replacement. But I couldn’t sign in – even though my email address and password (in stars) were right there on the screen, Netflix told me they didn’t match. Probably you’ve been there.  I phoned them. This female, whom shall be named Rachel, asked me for the last four digits of the credit card I used for the site. I couldn’t remember which card I’d used, I told her. “Then, I’ll wait,” she said, “while you go get your wallet and rifle through it.” I’m not kidding: these were her exact words. “You must have other means of identifying me,” I told her. She said, “I’m just going to put you on hold until you calm down.” She gave me a time out. I hung up and called back. After an hour on the phone with various stepkids – including discussions suggesting pulling four-digit numbers out of a hat, I got Rachel again. I probably sounded like Jerry Seinfeld, from his TV show, opening the door of his apartment and findng, “Newman”: “Rachel.” By then I was asking for a month’s free service: eight dollars and sixteen cents – mere pennies; it was the principle of the thing. Supervisors told me it is not their policy to offer free service – “unless for special circumstances,” said supervisor Molly: “It’s our policy.” I asked when they had changed their policy; she said it has always been their policy, that’s how she was trained. “Then you were not thoroughly trained,” I pointed out, “because a month’s free service has been offered me before for poor customer service.” Anyway, it could have gone on. During years I have had Netflix I have found the day crew to be much more accommodating than the evil stepkids of night. I’ll have to explore alternatives. Those may be limited because my computer doesn’t meet the requirements to watch most video online. Ultimately, I clicked on the button to set a new password, set the same password and cracked open the safe. But before it was done, I vented my frustration on someone else’s blog (where we’ve discussed Netflix and United States postal carriers getting our New Yorker magazines wet, ripping them, and then cramming them into our mailboxes). Those turkeys. I was steamed. I thought I’d better come home and vent on my own blog.

Apparently Netflix doesn’t need my business, eight dollars and sixteen cents a month. (In the end, they have given me two bonus discs, however.) Conversely, Amazon offers excellent customer service – Amazon is simply an excellent company in no matter which of their varied venues you work with them. Oh, occasionally I’ll get a rep on the phone who sounds like she’s sitting in her living room in the Philippines eating peanut butter – I encountered two such yesterday – one named Clarence (yes, I spelled it back to her) and another young woman named Al Pacino (although, to my incredulousness, she did repeat her name as Albertina, I think), and a guy named Safari (I spelled it back to him. “Are you sure it’s not Peggy?” I asked him.  “What? Peggy?” You have to have seen the TV commercial.

The best service comes from Apple, though. As with all of their products, their service comes impeccably packaged. “I have the good fortune of being selected to help you,” emailed one rep.  Not only do they help you promptly, they check back with you – like stroking your back and your arm to make sure you’re O.K. – and then they follow through until the problem is resolved and you are blissfully soothed.

And, of course, Emma and I are fortunate to have the unfaltering support of our health care aides and our Hospice team.

Yesterday Jetta’s veterinarian had the florist deliver a pink carnation to us in her memory. Our sweet little teacup poodle has become a beautiful flower.

Then there are the irreplaceable offerings of my friends, those who came bearing food, drink and honey for my annual Christmas party the other night.

Support is important. In supporting each other, each of us makes an offering, gives of oneself; thus, we are exchanging gifts and we end up smiling.

Support – giving and receiving – is a place that feels like home inside one’s heart, that safe, secure place beside the hearth. In this spirit, therefore, I offer you, first, Keith Olbermann’s poignant reading of James Thurber’s “There’s No Place Like Home,” and in parting, my favorite Christmas story, O. Henry’s “The Gift of the Magi.”

May your holiday stockings overflow with light and love, keeping you happy, safe and warm.

–Samantha Mozart, December 21, 2011


Keith Olbermann Reading James Thurber’s “There’s No Place Like Home”




by O. Henry

One dollar and eighty-seven cents. That was all. And sixty cents of it was in pennies. Pennies saved one and two at a time by bulldozing the grocer and the vegetable man and the butcher until one’s cheeks burned with the silent parsimony that such close dealing implied. Three times Della counted it. One dollar and eighty- seven cents. And the next day would be Christmas.

There was clearly nothing to do but flop down on the shabby little couch and howl. So Della did it. Which instigates the moral reflection that life is made up of sobs, sniffles, and smiles, with sniffles predominating.

While the mistress of the home is gradually subsiding from the first stage to the second, take a look at the home. A furnished flat at $8 per week. It did not exactly beggar description, but it certainly had that word on the lookout for the mendicancy squad.

In the vestibule below was a letter-box into which no letter would go, and an electric button from which no mortal finger could coax a ring. Also appertaining thereunto was a card bearing the name “Mr. James Dillingham Young.”

The “Dillingham” had been flung to the breeze during a former period of prosperity when its possessor was being paid $30 per week. Now, when the income was shrunk to $20, though, they were thinking seriously of contracting to a modest and unassuming D. But whenever Mr. James Dillingham Young came home and reached his flat above he was called “Jim” and greatly hugged by Mrs. James Dillingham Young, already introduced to you as Della. Which is all very good.

Della finished her cry and attended to her cheeks with the powder rag. She stood by the window and looked out dully at a gray cat walking a gray fence in a gray backyard. Tomorrow would be Christmas Day, and she had only $1.87 with which to buy Jim a present. She had been saving every penny she could for months, with this result. Twenty dollars a week doesn’t go far. Expenses had been greater than she had calculated. They always are. Only $1.87 to buy a present for Jim. Her Jim. Many a happy hour she had spent planning for something nice for him. Something fine and rare and sterling–something just a little bit near to being worthy of the honor of being owned by Jim.

There was a pier-glass between the windows of the room. Perhaps you have seen a pier-glass in an $8 flat. A very thin and very agile person may, by observing his reflection in a rapid sequence of longitudinal strips, obtain a fairly accurate conception of his looks. Della, being slender, had mastered the art.

Suddenly she whirled from the window and stood before the glass. her eyes were shining brilliantly, but her face had lost its color within twenty seconds. Rapidly she pulled down her hair and let it fall to its full length.

Now, there were two possessions of the James Dillingham Youngs in which they both took a mighty pride. One was Jim’s gold watch that had been his father’s and his grandfather’s. The other was Della’s hair. Had the queen of Sheba lived in the flat across the airshaft, Della would have let her hair hang out the window some day to dry just to depreciate Her Majesty’s jewels and gifts. Had King Solomon been the janitor, with all his treasures piled up in the basement, Jim would have pulled out his watch every time he passed, just to see him pluck at his beard from envy.

So now Della’s beautiful hair fell about her rippling and shining like a cascade of brown waters. It reached below her knee and made itself almost a garment for her. And then she did it up again nervously and quickly. Once she faltered for a minute and stood still while a tear or two splashed on the worn red carpet.

On went her old brown jacket; on went her old brown hat. With a whirl of skirts and with the brilliant sparkle still in her eyes, she fluttered out the door and down the stairs to the street.

Where she stopped the sign read: “Mne. Sofronie. Hair Goods of All Kinds.” One flight up Della ran, and collected herself, panting. Madame, large, too white, chilly, hardly looked the “Sofronie.”

“Will you buy my hair?” asked Della.

“I buy hair,” said Madame. “Take yer hat off and let’s have a sight at the looks of it.”

Down rippled the brown cascade.

“Twenty dollars,” said Madame, lifting the mass with a practised hand.

“Give it to me quick,” said Della.

Oh, and the next two hours tripped by on rosy wings. Forget the hashed metaphor. She was ransacking the stores for Jim’s present.

She found it at last. It surely had been made for Jim and no one else. There was no other like it in any of the stores, and she had turned all of them inside out. It was a platinum fob chain simple and chaste in design, properly proclaiming its value by substance alone and not by meretricious ornamentation–as all good things should do. It was even worthy of The Watch. As soon as she saw it she knew that it must be Jim’s. It was like him. Quietness and value–the description applied to both. Twenty-one dollars they took from her for it, and she hurried home with the 87 cents. With that chain on his watch Jim might be properly anxious about the time in any company. Grand as the watch was, he sometimes looked at it on the sly on account of the old leather strap that he used in place of a chain.

When Della reached home her intoxication gave way a little to prudence and reason. She got out her curling irons and lighted the gas and went to work repairing the ravages made by generosity added to love. Which is always a tremendous task, dear friends–a mammoth task.

Within forty minutes her head was covered with tiny, close-lying curls that made her look wonderfully like a truant schoolboy. She looked at her reflection in the mirror long, carefully, and critically.

“If Jim doesn’t kill me,” she said to herself, “before he takes a second look at me, he’ll say I look like a Coney Island chorus girl. But what could I do–oh! what could I do with a dollar and eighty- seven cents?”

At 7 o’clock the coffee was made and the frying-pan was on the back of the stove hot and ready to cook the chops.

Jim was never late. Della doubled the fob chain in her hand and sat on the corner of the table near the door that he always entered. Then she heard his step on the stair away down on the first flight, and she turned white for just a moment. She had a habit for saying little silent prayer about the simplest everyday things, and now she whispered: “Please God, make him think I am still pretty.”

The door opened and Jim stepped in and closed it. He looked thin and very serious. Poor fellow, he was only twenty-two–and to be burdened with a family! He needed a new overcoat and he was without gloves.

Jim stopped inside the door, as immovable as a setter at the scent of quail. His eyes were fixed upon Della, and there was an expression in them that she could not read, and it terrified her. It was not anger, nor surprise, nor disapproval, nor horror, nor any of the sentiments that she had been prepared for. He simply stared at her fixedly with that peculiar expression on his face.

Della wriggled off the table and went for him.

“Jim, darling,” she cried, “don’t look at me that way. I had my hair cut off and sold because I couldn’t have lived through Christmas without giving you a present. It’ll grow out again–you won’t mind, will you? I just had to do it. My hair grows awfully fast. Say `Merry Christmas!’ Jim, and let’s be happy. You don’t know what a nice– what a beautiful, nice gift I’ve got for you.”

“You’ve cut off your hair?” asked Jim, laboriously, as if he had not arrived at that patent fact yet even after the hardest mental labor.

“Cut it off and sold it,” said Della. “Don’t you like me just as well, anyhow? I’m me without my hair, ain’t I?”

Jim looked about the room curiously.

“You say your hair is gone?” he said, with an air almost of idiocy.

“You needn’t look for it,” said Della. “It’s sold, I tell you–sold and gone, too. It’s Christmas Eve, boy. Be good to me, for it went for you. Maybe the hairs of my head were numbered,” she went on with sudden serious sweetness, “but nobody could ever count my love for you. Shall I put the chops on, Jim?”

Out of his trance Jim seemed quickly to wake. He enfolded his Della. For ten seconds let us regard with discreet scrutiny some inconsequential object in the other direction. Eight dollars a week or a million a year–what is the difference? A mathematician or a wit would give you the wrong answer. The magi brought valuable gifts, but that was not among them. This dark assertion will be illuminated later on.

Jim drew a package from his overcoat pocket and threw it upon the table.

“Don’t make any mistake, Dell,” he said, “about me. I don’t think there’s anything in the way of a haircut or a shave or a shampoo that could make me like my girl any less. But if you’ll unwrap that package you may see why you had me going a while at first.”

White fingers and nimble tore at the string and paper. And then an ecstatic scream of joy; and then, alas! a quick feminine change to hysterical tears and wails, necessitating the immediate employment of all the comforting powers of the lord of the flat.

For there lay The Combs–the set of combs, side and back, that Della had worshipped long in a Broadway window. Beautiful combs, pure tortoise shell, with jewelled rims–just the shade to wear in the beautiful vanished hair. They were expensive combs, she knew, and her heart had simply craved and yearned over them without the least hope of possession. And now, they were hers, but the tresses that should have adorned the coveted adornments were gone.

But she hugged them to her bosom, and at length she was able to look up with dim eyes and a smile and say: “My hair grows so fast, Jim!”

And them Della leaped up like a little singed cat and cried, “Oh, oh!”

Jim had not yet seen his beautiful present. She held it out to him eagerly upon her open palm. The dull precious metal seemed to flash with a reflection of her bright and ardent spirit.

“Isn’t it a dandy, Jim? I hunted all over town to find it. You’ll have to look at the time a hundred times a day now. Give me your watch. I want to see how it looks on it.”

Instead of obeying, Jim tumbled down on the couch and put his hands under the back of his head and smiled.

“Dell,” said he, “let’s put our Christmas presents away and keep ’em a while. They’re too nice to use just at present. I sold the watch to get the money to buy your combs. And now suppose you put the chops on.”

The magi, as you know, were wise men–wonderfully wise men–who brought gifts to the Babe in the manger. They invented the art of giving Christmas presents. Being wise, their gifts were no doubt wise ones, possibly bearing the privilege of exchange in case of duplication. And here I have lamely related to you the uneventful chronicle of two foolish children in a flat who most unwisely sacrificed for each other the greatest treasures of their house. But in a last word to the wise of these days let it be said that of all who give gifts these two were the wisest. O all who give and receive gifts, such as they are wisest. Everywhere they are wisest. They are the magi.

This copy of The Gift of the Magi comes from Project Gutenberg, at

XL. Jetta

Jetta, June 2009

Jetta is gone. We put her to sleep at 2:30 Monday afternoon, December 5. Our little blue teacup poodle apparently had a brain tumor and in her last days could no longer stand. Her legs were weak and she’d just flop over on her left side and lie there. Sometimes she’d do a little somersault coming to rest on left side. She always slept with Emma. She’d get stuck in a place on Emma’s hospital bed, had not the strength in her limp legs to get out; so she’d bark for me and I’d come readjust her. In her last month she lost weight. In her last four days, I had to hold her in my arms, feed her from my hand or her bowl, and offer her water from a small, flat measuring cup. She had pain. She would shake her head as if to get the cobwebs out. Sometimes she’d yelp or cry. Her vet prescribed prednisone which alleviated the pain. Even so, she hadn’t lost her feistiness – she still barked at the mailman, at a passerby on the sidewalk, when a familiar car – usually belonging to one of our aides – pulled up out front, and at the word “cat.”

She made friends, though, with Bootsie, the tuxedo cat who lived next door and towered over her. She tried to chase him, but he would just roll over, curl slightly and smile up at her with his big, pale green eyes and flowing white whiskers.

A kind, sympathetic veterinarian came Monday afternoon with her assistant. We laid Jetta on her side on some pads in the middle of the kitchen floor; I stroked her and told her it was all right, while the vet released her from her suffering. She will be cremated; her ashes will travel across the universe. She was 11.

My brother buried his chocolate point Siamese cat that lived to be 18, in the back of his property. That night he dreamed he had buried the Pink Panther.

I timed the vet’s visit to just before our Hospice nurse, Tess, was to arrive, knowing Tess is so compassionate and I would have support in my loss.

Later, our Hospice chaplain called me and our Hospice bereavement counselor, Geri, to say how sorry they were to hear the sad news. Friends and my daughter and granddaughters expressed their condolences, too. So, I’ve had lots of support, thankfully.

Jetta was Emma’s dog. Emma had just gotten her when I arrived in Delaware seeing that Emma needed help and realized I had to stay. Jetta was a puppy. One night, at 11 p.m., something happened: her gums and tongue turned white and she became limp. We got in the car and I rushed her to an emergency veterinary clinic across town, with Emma holding her on her lap. The vet didn’t know what caused the reaction, but prescribed medication and Jetta pulled through. We saved her life.

While Emma’s dementia gradually has taken its toll over the years, I have kept her surroundings much the same, so that she would know she was in a familiar place, home, and with all her belongings around her. That nothing has changed has made the past 11 years seem like a day. It’s hard to believe that so much time has passed and Jetta was born, was a puppy, got old, got ill, and is gone.

Our Victorian house is very quiet without her. There’s an emptiness. When I go to check on Emma sleeping in her bed, there is a stillness. Jetta always came alert, moved, made sounds, greeted me. Jetta watched over her master, Emma; she protected her always, and indicated to me when there was a change in Emma’s condition or about to be, such as the times she would bark, I’d come and she’d say, “Umm … Samantha? Ya gotta see this….” Even in her last days, she was ever watchful of Emma.

“She even became a CNA,” said our certified nursing assistant, tears welling in her eyes.

Jetta not only took care of Emma, but she took care of the house when we were out and had to stay home alone.

Jetta wrote an email to our friend R one time. R said it looked like Turkish. I had to translate. (I moved my fingers over one key from home position on the keyboard to enable Jetta to type her message.)

All the while I had been considering what I would do when Emma left us: Would Jetta sleep with me? How could I make her understand that Emma would not be coming home? How would I fill that void in Jetta’s life? It is a blessing, therefore, that Jetta went first. None of us expected that. Often Emma would reach over and stroke Jetta. I haven’t noticed her looking for Jetta; I don’t know if she misses her presence. I have asked our aides to watch for that.

Jetta was a sweet, loving, loyal little girl, smart and feisty. “She’s a sensible little dog,” said Emma. Well, maybe too sensible: “Fetch the socks,” I would tell her when I was dressing Emma. She’d look at them, and then look at me as if to say, “Why should I get them? They’re right there. You can reach them.” Always receiving morsels of people food with her dinner, she thought the meals I cooked were exquisite, as I understand it. She’d eat, then come to my chair at the dinner table and thank me effusively – or was she asking for more? And now I have to vacuum the kitchen floor after meals myself.

On her last day, I gave her chicken and vegetables to eat (chicken and fish were her favorites). I laid her on Emma’s bed and moved Emma’s hand from under the covers to stroke her. Then I took her outside where we sat on the front porch in the sun. She sniffed at all the things in her surroundings. I said, “Maybe there’s a kitty cat.” She barked, just on general principles, I think.

My friend who is a Tibetan Buddhist Rinpoche, told me he would place Jetta in his daily practice. He said may she find human form in her next life. She was pretty close to it in this life, it seemed to me. My friend R said that if she does find human form, she will certainly wish to be taller.

–Samantha Mozart, December 8, 2011


XXXIX. The Far Shore

My friend drove me up the long, winding mountainside road through the golden aspens, all the way to the top, nearly 10,000 feet. She stopped her little tan pickup truck and we got out. She kept two beach chairs in the back and we carried them to the sand. On the shore of Rock Creek Lake we sat and talked while the four o’clock sun lingered, warming our bodies and articulating raylets of colored light from the shimmering ripples, like fragments of rainbows refracted from a crystal hanging in a sun-filled window. Little rounded polished pebbles lay in soft pastels close to shore, washed by the crystal clear wavelets. From the waterline on the far shore surged the sheer granite mountain wall rising to meet the sun yet seeming so close I could lay my hand on it in the rarified atmosphere. The sky was the bluest of blues, touched by no cloud. Was I in heaven? Was I alive? Had I been incorporated into a postcard picture? Someone pinch me. Yes, this is real.

Today, though, this picture is a dream, a fragment of a vast spectrum of memories I collected during my many visits to Mammoth Lakes, California. I’ve long dreamed of having a home in Mammoth. One day maybe I will. Mammoth Lakes, Mammoth Mountain: In the heart of the Eastern High Sierra, it is among the most beautiful places on earth––or it is simply heaven?

I lived in Redondo Beach, near Los Angeles, when I visited Mammoth and my friend took me to Rock Creek Lake. Four years later, I had a choice of moving to Mammoth or taking a winter working vacation in Naples, Florida. As autumn approached, I let the cards fall, and Naples floated down on top. “You’re not gonna like that humidity,” my friends said. Granted. It was a choice of opposites: Opposite coasts, opposite ends of the country; Mammoth had single-digit humidity while Naples had––I found out later––quadruple-digit humidity. Mammoth sits at nearly 9,000 feet altitude in the heart of the Long Valley Caldera, where swarms of earthquakes are caused not only by movement along faults, as you might expect, but also by pressure of magma rising beneath the earth’s surface. Naples, on the other hand, lounging in the lightning capital of the world, basks single-digit feet above sea level, where swarms of snakes and turtles slither and crawl up from the swamps ahead of the next flood.

Regardless, in October 1994, I packed up my belongings and moved to Naples. My daughter, 27, helped me pack. If you ever want somebody who is an energetic, organized, efficient packer, with a keen sense of spatial relations and a get-it-done attitude, call her.

Ten years earlier, when I moved from a house to an apartment, my daughter helped me. Our two-car garage was filled with boxes containing the history of my life so far––humorous (well, hilarious, I thought) parodies on commercials I had written as a child and an excellent version of “The Night Before Christmas”, yearbooks, scrapbooks, old photos, personal household objects I wasn’t currently using, and I don’t know what else. I stood there in the garage, exhausted before I began, almost in tears, and said to my daughter, “I don’t know where to start.” “Start at the front,” she said. That seemed logical.

So this time when I moved I engaged my daughter’s help posthaste. “Mom … you have a lot of stuff,” she said, packing up the 9,000th box. As a writer, naturally I need to own a library with every book in print, save all newspaper and magazine clippings––or the whole publication––that might be of research value to me someday, and save every draft (pre-computer) and every note of every story or essay I’ve ever written; and, of course, my journals. Yes, there are a lot of boxes.

Nevertheless, I stuffed my pen, notebooks and flyswatter into my little Hyundai and rode off into the sunrise. I saw my quarter century of life in Redondo Beach roll out behind me in the rear-view mirror. I also saw my daughter standing on the curb alone, waving goodbye. I would be back in a few months.

I lived in Naples seven years. When I lived in Redondo Beach, most of the time I actually lived in the Hollywood Riviera, created as a summer place of distinction for movie stars. It was that part of Redondo on a hillside of the Palos Verdes Peninsula overlooking the Santa Monica Bay, which, just before I moved there, was annexed to neighboring Torrance, but retained it’s Redondo Beach postal status. So I drew the benefits of both cities at once. I frequented Torrance Beach (for my friends who had grown up there and my daughter and her friends it was the local beach hangout). I always said I was from Redondo, though (we all did), unless I was using the superb Torrance library or civic center. I kept a post office box in Redondo for a while after I drove away that final time and I have worn my Redondo Beach Public Library 1892 centennial sweatshirt, sapphire blue with white lettering around the seal, into the millennium.

Naples was sculpted from the mosquito-infested swamp and billed as paradise at about the time the chimneyed, red-turreted Hotel Redondo was razed from the moonstone-invested Redondo seaside in 1926. Built on a bluff overlooking the Santa Monica Bay in 1889, with views of the Santa Monica Mountains along the Malibu coastline to the north, the 1,000-foot altitude Palos Verdes Peninsula to the south, and the vermillion sunsets to the west, the hotel was done in by Prohibition and sold for firewood. Its near twin, the historic Hotel del Coronado, built on Coronado Island off San Diego in 1888, continues to host guests in grand style. The streets above Moonstone Beach where the Hotel Redondo stood bear the names of gemstones––Ruby, Diamond, Sapphire, Emerald, Beryl, Garnet, Topaz, Carnelian…. In the stead of the Hotel Redondo, today jutting out over the harbor, high over the waves in water as green and clear as an emerald, stands the bustling Redondo Pier with its restaurants and shops; the present pier has lasted longer than its predecessors lost in El Niño storms every few years. Naples, at the time I lived there, growing faster than L.A., rang of cachet, and cash, a classy resort town on the Gulf of Mexico, great for golf and raising kids; but in the comfortable corners of my mind I continued to reside in Redondo.

I almost got toasted in Naples when lightning struck the ground, fried my TV, VCR, my electric stove, and shot glowing cinders through my jalousied door across the kitchen to the far wall, mere inches from my right arm as I stood at the stove. It was then that I determined to go home to California. (Well, and there was the palmetto bug that was just too big to squeeze between the slots when I was trying to wash it down the drain because I had heard they smell awful if you squash them.)

I bought a pre-owned white Mercedes, loaded it down and headed north to Delaware to visit family before jogging west to California. All I needed was a strip of tassels hanging from the windshield. In Fort Myers flakes of dried rubber started flying off the tires; I had to stop and buy new ones. The dealer hadn’t mentioned that the car had been sitting a long time. “You can trust me,” he said. I should have known. But, I really wanted that car––sun roof, long wheelbase, red leather upholstery, CD player…. Heading east on Interstate10 from I-75 to Jacksonville, I began hearing a helicopter rotor noise. I turned up the music. By Fayetteville, even the music didn’t drown out the squeaking whirring. I spent five days in a motel having the broken rear axle fixed; that and the gasoline leak in the trunk. The cost and length of the repair drove me to believe I was to become Fayetteville’s newest resident.

I might have been more practical had I leased a galleon and sailed up the Atlantic coast into Delaware Bay. I’m always wishing for my ship to come in. As the captain, I could personally sail it in. Ah, but here I veer off course.

When I finally cruised into Delaware ten years ago (on I-95), I realized that my mother, whose life has spanned nearly a century, needed help. I’m still here. John Updike, in his novel “In the Beauty of the Lilies”, describes Delaware as a low, boggy place where everybody always has a runny nose. Be right back. I need a hanky.

Ah, before you, dear Delawarean reader, start pelting me with chicken beaks, let me point out that I have lived in Delaware off and on since I was a kid––involving crossing a lot a bridges, some of them covered, some of them over the Delaware River to New Jersey, burning as few as possible––over the course of my life and have enjoyed the place. I’ve written and published stories about its history, lore and mysterious stirrings. Is Blackbird Forest really named after Blackbeard, the pirate, thriving so near the Delaware Bay he sailed up, and is his treasure really buried somewhere beneath those tall old trees rising out of the bogs? (Carolina bays, they call them.)

Best of all, I like stopping on a fine November day at a red-brick corner of Sixteenth and something in Wilmington where F. Scott Fitzgerald and his daughter, Scottie, waiting in their car for Zelda, sat and talked and watched the faint movements behind the curtains of a house over the way with the loose, banging shutter where, Scott told Scottie, a Fairy Princess in a yellow dress was kept concealed by an Ogre. The Prince has to find the three stones that will release the Princess, he told her. Fitzgerald published his story “Outside the Cabinet-Maker’s” in 1928. He could remember that world but he knew he would never again see it or touch it for himself.

Yet lingering in the corners of my mind memories come up in ripples shimmering there for a moment on the far shore, magically carrying me to one fine day in autumn where golden leaves, like doubloons, shine with a soft tremulous light in a rarified atmosphere. For me now, California remains a state of mind. The shutter slams shut on the winds of change, but it swings open again.

 –Samantha Mozart




XXXVIII. The Green Light Across the —-

I do not want to be the one left standing on the shore gazing out to the green light across the bay, like Jay Gatsby. I stated this in an earlier chapter (XXXVI: Farther Away).

Rather, I would go on with my life. Immediately, therefore, and I might add, wisely, I step forward – and trip over something, falling flat on my face in the water. Crawling on hands and knees through the muck to shore, I pull myself together, stand on my own two feet and peel the seaweed out of my hair and off my clothes. I exhale deeply and smile.

I encountered a friend. “You have mud on your face,” the friend said. “I fell in ––,” I replied. I have many good friends, for whom I am thankful, who know me all too well and care about me, special people, selfless, spiritually evolved, who have performed altruistic deeds for the good of humanity and the environment. And I have my writing, plenty to do.

“Why don’t you run for mayor,” suggested the doctor on his visit the other day. “Sometimes I think, ‘Well, if I were mayor…,’” I told him. “But, no.” “Then why not serve on the town council?” he pursued. He is being thoughtful and supportive; but the person he’s talking to is not me. I’m not a controller. I’m interested in culture, the arts, the humanities. I’m a supporter. I am of the We generation, not the Me generation. I forget to think of myself. What do you need? Oh, I can do that.

My point here and reason for repeating in my opening statement that which I have written before, is because – the bottom will drop out; I will fall into a black hole. When Jetta, our teacup poodle, goes and Emma goes, my Hospice friends, with whom I relate to on an intimate basis, will go, like they died, too. Like Indiana Jones, I will have fallen into a pit of snakes.

Life is a battle. Arjuna had an awful mess on his hands, Lord knows.

The doctor and I had a conversation that feels to me like sketches of an unfinished symphony. Who actually answered any question but with the superficial? Oh, of course, he answered thoroughly and knowledgeably all my medical questions. He is a doctor, he told me, because he likes what he does. That is obvious. I would not want any doctor here but him. And I have said so, many times. He is perfectly suited for our situation.

But I want to ask, “Why are you here conversing with me? Are you patronizing me?” I believe he is sincere, genuinely sincere. He is just being him. Yet this is what he contemplates to be his correct action. He will be very wise when he grows older.

Just be straightforward and forthcoming, say what you feel and think, and he most often is. I feel that when so many of these healthcare givers and others I deal with professionally – you know, the customer “care” people – care about whom? – are not straightforward and forthcoming, that either they do not know what they are doing or they are devious. They try to control me by making me feel that they know more about the matter than I, because in fumbling through their scripts they can’t find the right page, and that therefore I am stupid. I’m not that stupid. It’s so unsatisfying and frustrating when having asked a question not to receive a truthful answer. I asked the question to find the truth. I asked a question three times the other day of our car insurance agency office administrator and when she realized she couldn’t answer, she said, “O.K. What’s the bottom line question?” The bottom line question? The one I have been asking.

What’s the bottom line discussion I should be having with Emma’s doctor or any of our healthcare professionals? They act like if I can’t wipe a butt then I lack intelligence. Well, let me tell you, I have wiped a butt or two. That’s how I know where and what the bottom line is. The doctor is being very gentle, compassionate, patient and intently interested, I know. He is doing his best to help. He is sincere. I try to do my best, too; and had I the quick wit, I would have asked him more direct, appropriate questions. Sometimes I just get blown away by it all. I want to stand and gaze at the green light across the bay. It is seductive. It appears so close. I want to reach out and touch. But you see how it works out for me. No matter what I do, I fall flat on my face in the water.

How was your Thanksgiving, by the way? Ours was very nice. I have a good friend, a registered nurse, around my age, who 12 years ago started the Middletown, Delaware, free Thanksgiving dinner. Her children were grown, she was going to be alone and she figured others would be, too, so why not cook dinner for about 25. That number has grown exponentially. She insisted Emma and I have a free Thanksgiving dinner delivered. It was delicious, beautifully presented, gourmet food. The other day, before Thanksgiving, she said she was up to her feathers in preparations and loving every minute of it.

–Samantha Mozart, November 26, 2011


XXXVII. The Wind Whispered Stories Through the Trees

I remember driving on blustery, gray November days with Emma the hour and a half across New Jersey from Delaware to see Aunt Mary. Aunt Mary was Emma’s mother’s sister, my great aunt. She had a little farm in Absecon Heights, just across Absecon Bay from Atlantic City. Walking a half mile down the dirt roads through the reedy marshes, to stand on the little wooden dock at water’s edge, a mix of clams, salt and sulfur permeating our senses, and looking due east across the water, we could see the skyline and lights of Brigantine, on the barrier island above Absecon Inlet, north of Atlantic City. As a child, Emma spent all her summers with Aunt Mary, coming down from West Philadelphia.

Aunt Mary kept cats. She needed good mousers. Emma used to dress them up in doll clothes. Kittens, when they first begin to eat solid food, will stand in the middle of their plate, in their food. We had a health care aide who stands in the middle of her food. About to head downstairs, I spotted the bathroom scale in the middle of the staircase. “Not a good place for the scale,” I said. She immediately stopped looking me in the eye, stopped talking to me, and when she informed me on her way out the door that she was changing her schedule for the next morning, even though I had told her twice that I had plans for that morning and that evening and needed her to come as scheduled, she argued with me: “You’re the boss. You’re the boss!” she repeated. Yes, well, of course. “Will you be here tomorrow night?” I asked her. “Do you want me to be here?” she asked. This two-line refrain got monotonous in its repetition without resolution. I cannot hold a reasonable dialog with her. I did not allow her to change her schedule. So, rather than switching morning for evening with our other aide, I had our other aide cover both. This was a pattern with that aide. Otherwise, she was excellent with Emma. Nevertheless, I could not have this attitude in this house. Fortunately, these negative vibrations bounce right off our Victorian-era house. It’s a happy house that has witnessed the vicissitudes of many seasons. I’m in the market for someone who hasn’t got an evil twin. Yesterday, I hired someone who lives nearby and is highly qualified, to start work today. Today she didn’t show up. I can’t reach her on the phone. Our regular Hospice aide came this morning. Happily, an on-call Hospice nurse, a most kind person, with a kind, trainee nurse in tow, drove through the rain, wind and dark tonight to help.

Driving across New Jersey those gray November days, we were on our way to Thanksgiving dinner. Aunt Mary made the best stuffing, moist and sagey. Even though Emma, my brother and I have the recipe, we have never been able to duplicate Aunt Mary’s; and, no matter where we go or whose we eat, never have we tasted any as good. Aunt Mary always got a live turkey for Thanksgiving. We’d visit her earlier in the season, see the turkey in the pen, and then eat it on Thanksgiving. Aunt Mary raised chickens, too. In the spring, she’d have a new little pen of fuzzy, yellow baby chicks. When they grew up, they laid brown eggs. The rooster’s crowing woke us at dawn. My brother stuck his finger through the chicken wire surrounding the chicken yard. When the chicken pecked his finger, it hurt, and everybody said, “We told you.” He never did that again. Occasionally, Aunt Mary would go out into the yard, grab a chicken, break off its neck and we’d eat the chicken for dinner. I remember her standing at the sink in the back kitchen of her bungalow boiling the chicken and plucking the feathers. Once, Emma got chased by a chicken with its head cut off. She ran up the steps to the back door and the chicken came right up after her.

Aunt Mary had a framed poem hanging on her bedroom wall opposite her brass bed – Alfred Lord Tennyson’s “Crossing the Bar”:

Sunset and evening star,
 And one clear call for me!
And may there be no moaning of the bar,
When I put out to sea, …

I would lie in her bed and read it, wheezing, nearly unable to breathe from asthma from the cats, when I stayed with Aunt Mary for an occasional week during the summers.

In November 1974, my daughter, my dog, Kolia, a friend and I drove from Wilmington, Delaware, to a suburb of Towson, Maryland, near Baltimore, in search of F. Scott Fitzgerald. Fitzgerald is my favorite author and kindred spirit, as I mention incessantly in this journal. We set out on a typical November day – chilly; gray; misting rain; a counterpane of wet, golden leaves spread over the damp ground. I was on my way to find the house at La Paix, the estate of architect Bayard Turnbull, where Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald and their daughter Scottie had stayed briefly, a quiet place where Scott could write and Zelda receive treatment at nearby prominent psychiatric institutions. I had embarked on a journey to touch Scott’s spirit. We did find a big, empty pillared pale-yellow, stucco house there, but it wasn’t the La Paix house where Scott had stayed. That house had been torn down, I learned later. Maybe I did encounter Scott’s spirit; the place certainly evoked the sense of something. The serenity there, the aroma of the fallen leaves underfoot, the mist in our faces, everything listening as the wind whispered stories through the trees: soft, tranquil, compelling me to write.

As a writer, I must capture thoughts as fleeting as twigs fallen into layers of wet golden leaves on old brick sidewalks before the wind stirs them into unsettled interludes.

Fitzgerald rendered much guidance on writing and I gobbled up every bit, copied reams of lines from his notebooks and memorized them. He fed me well.

He found it difficult, as I do, to discipline oneself to sit in a room and focus on writing; we believe the world to be going by without us.

When I lived in Redondo Beach, California, I became friends with the son of author and nutritionist Adelle Davis. She had died a few years earlier. “It’s hard to live with a writer,” her son told me during a visit to her modern, environmentally harmonious home in Palos Verdes Estates with its ideal U-shaped kitchen and the glass-enclosed bridge over the swimming pool, that connected the main house with the bedroom section. “Writers don’t have much time for you because they’re busy writing all the time,” he said.

My favorite living writer, Orhan Pamuk, says he becomes irritable when he is deprived of his daily writing time in his room. I do, too. As I age I find it easier to focus on my writing; indeed I crave my time to write. Like an actor who stays in character while making a movie, when away from my writing room, thoughts of what I would write eddy in the corners of my mind, leaves of many colors. It becomes difficult for me to focus fully on anything else until I can sweep them out of my head and onto the page.

My friend R – R-well, I will call him here – emailed me a copy of George Orwell’s 1947 essay, “Why I Write.” You can find this essay readily online.

What a windowpane into my reasons for writing and my writing style Orwell’s essay is. I am grateful to Orwell for his incisive look at varicolored writing forms and why writers write. Orwell writes: All writers are vain, selfish, and lazy, and at the very bottom of their motives there lies a mystery. Writing a book is a horrible, exhausting struggle, like a long bout of some painful illness. One would never undertake such a thing if one were not driven on by some demon whom one can neither resist nor understand.

As a writer, I am vain, I suppose, in that often I think you are riveted to my storytelling; selfish of my time—irritable because I am kept from my little writing room; and lazy, certainly, in that it’s fun to sit and daydream, listen to the sounds of the words and phrases playing against each other and to see where your characters are running off to with your story. Really, of the latter, I often use my writing as my tree house, a place to escape into, as I do my music – like when I have to deal with an aide who arrives at my door apparently slogging through knee deep mud after a night in the deep forest chopping down trees, in a prelude to abandoning her job altogether. Yes, some irresistible and mysterious demon drives me to write.

I stood outside Sunday, two days ago, with Jetta, our 11-year-old teacup poodle. She can no longer stand much of the time nor walk straight. Her equilibrium is off and she is weak. She falls over and lies on her side. If she can get up again without my lifting her, I praise her: “Oh! See? You rolled over!” This I do because when she was healthy and I would command her to roll over, she’d stand there and look at me as if to say, “Why? That’s a silly trick; pointless, don’t you think? I mean, really, think about it. It’s like when you tell me I have to wait for the turkey until you cook it and then when it’s cooked you say I have to wait until it cools off. Why bother to cook it? Just eat it. That’s far more efficient.” But, now, when she falls over and just has to lie there, she accepts it. She just lies there and I reach down and pick her up and try to stand her on her rubbery legs.

Life involves allowing oneself to release control, to accept and to enter the void. There is not nothing; there is something: see what happens when you come out the other side.

When Jetta and I stood outside that windy Sunday, our wind chimes and the neighbors’ all up and down the block, all different sizes, from the tiniest to the very long tubes, were ringing wildly, an unharmonious tone poem. The sound gave the mystical quality of a hundred Russian church bells.


Bells hand rung in Suzdal, Russia, part of the Golden Ring of Russia. Suzdal dates back to 1024.


It is impossible not to be uplifted into the vibrational frequency of those Russian bells. Bells, you know, have a huge void in the center. The tone of the ringing of the wind chimes lifted me into a kind of acceptance: What ancient mystical stories and truths is the wind telling us through those bells? Recalled for me the sounds of Russian church bells, I have to say that they are the sounds of my soul. I therefore feel compelled to quote from Jane Fonda’s book, Prime Time, “Sooner or later we will come to the edge of all that we cannot control and find life, waiting there for us,” at the door. Fonda continues, “The psychologist Marion Woodman says that with ‘vulnerability lives the humility that allows flesh to soften into the sounds of the soul.’”

Later that day, Tess, our Hospice nurse, unexpectedly brought us a warm, free Thanksgiving dinner prepared by neighbors at our town’s free Thanksgiving dinner at the firehouse. Sweet.

–Samantha Mozart, November 22, 2011

Ringing of Ivan the Great Bell Tower, Moscow (completed 1508)

Kremlin Bells, Moscow, 16 July 2003, 12:00 —
Moscow Kremlin Cathedral Square, Noon-time bells

Russian Orthodox Bell Ringing 7:45 minutes – This one shows beautiful Russian scenery.

XXXVI. Farther Away

Daylight has come. I look out my window to find the cinnabar-colored leaves of the dogwood embossed against silver tinged loblolly pine needles half hidden in a yellow-silver drape of fog. Strange, now in November bereft of half its leaves, the dogwood appears farther away from the house. In summer when the tree is dense with green leaves or in spring voluptuous with white blossoms, it lightly kisses the face of our house.

Our house is cold and damp this morning, wrapped in its shroud of fog. The fire siren at the hose company one block over has gone off twice in a half hour. The fog is dense on the highway. I hope the people are all right.

A separation from a loved one is anguishing. Marcel Proust writes in In Search of Lost Time about a young boy who has to go up to his room to bed early without kissing his mother goodnight because she is hosting a dinner party for an important guest. He agonizes over the separation and its coming duration spanning across the long, deep night until morning. She will not come up to his room to kiss him later. He gazes out at her and the dinner party guests from his window. How can he reach her? He contrives to write her a note and send it to her at table through a servant. For that forbidden and unfriendly dining-room, where but a moment ago the ice itself – with burned nuts in it – and the finger-bowls seemed to me to be concealing pleasures that were mischievous and of a mortal sadness because Mamma was tasting of them and I was far away, had opened its doors to me and, like a ripe fruit which bursts through its skin, was going to pour out into my intoxicated heart the gushing sweetness of Mamma’s attention while she was reading what I had written. Now I was no longer separated from her; the barriers were down; an exquisite thread was binding us. Besides, that was not all, for surely Mamma would come.

Mamma did not come. The servant delivered the letter. The mother read it. She did not respond. Later in life, as adults, we may employ such emissary to meet someone. I tried that once, many years ago, and it worked. But once was enough. For, I might imagine, as Proust goes on to write, they’re all at a party, the infernal scene of gaiety in the thick of which we had been imagining swarms of enemies perverse and seductive, beguiling away from us, even making laugh at us, the woman [or man] whom we love. –As out of reach as Jay Gatsby’s green light across the bay. I choose not to be the one gazing out from the shore. From the shore of birth to the shore of death is not so vast a distance, even though I have outlived Scott Fitzgerald by a decade, or two, or so. From the young boy despairing of not having contact with his Mamma over the long night to remembrances of things past that occurred seemingly yesterday, our perspective of time changes as we age.

Changing the current chronology of events vis-à-vis my composing this particular journal chapter, today is November 15; I began writing this on November 7. A train of events has run through this week decoupling my thoughts and making this post late on arrival; I alighted upon some of these events in my previous chapter – to which I yielded midway through writing this one –; others I’ll sidetrack for now, but this: Again yesterday, without notifying us of our appointment change, they sent our regular Hospice team nurse, Tess, elsewhere. Again, I must rationalize (I am good at is making excuses for others) that she was needed more urgently for another patient because she is an outstanding nurse; but this punctures a hole in our team and severs the thread of communication. By the time I see Tess again, next week or the week after or whenever, I may have forgotten where we left off, meaning that in their team meetings they may be discussing scenarios concocted in their heads – as often happens everywhere these days – rather than facts; this concerns me because Emma is up for recertification any day now. If she is not recertified, then her Medicare Hospice support will discontinue. Meantime, our Hospice sent a substitute Tess, if such a one exists, whom I asked to check the bandaged laceration on Emma’s arm. She did. As with all people Emma’s age, Emma’s skin is like delicate tissue paper and tears easily, leaving exposed raw tissue. I am concerned about infection. The wound is healing well. But when the nurse rewrapped the bandage, she wrapped it so loosely that when our aide arrived three hours later, the bandage had slipped down Emma’s arm. The aide wrapped it anew. This aide had wrapped it previously, and the bandage stayed. The carelessness of one nurse makes me wonder about other nurses; and do I really want this nurse to attend me in a hospital?

This afternoon, just as I was going to post this chapter, I encountered Emma sitting up in bed, having thrown off her covers. Her pattern the past two months has been to sleep all afternoon. When I asked her if she was all right, she began talking. Twice in the past two weeks, when our music therapist has visited, Emma has begun talking a blue streak, apparently wanting to get up. This afternoon, she told me, “I think I had a spell.” This sent up flares in my mind. She has said that to me in years past – once when she had her mini stroke and on occasion more recently when she first exhibited signs of dementia, and she would fall or not remember how to do something. I thought her blood pressure was up. I called Hospice for a nurse and Tess came hastily. While we were waiting for her, Emma told me to tell my brother, who lives in North Carolina, said she was cold (I pulled her covers up snugly), and asked me if I had made up with the cat. “We don’t have a cat,” I said, “but here’s Jetta,” and I laid her hand on her little poodle. She said things that didn’t make sense, as if she were hallucinating or had been dreaming. She said she sat down and then she didn’t know what happened after that. She seemed to think she was in the doctor’s office but said she couldn’t remember the doctor’s name. She said she was sorry to cause us so much trouble. I said it was no trouble, that’s what we’re here for, to take care of her. When Tess arrived, she took Emma’s blood pressure and it was 155/100, high for her. Tess contacted the doctor and he said to double her blood pressure medication for today. Emma seems to be resting comfortably now, two hours since the event, but she is not sleeping. I am monitoring her until the aide arrives in an hour to feed her dinner and prepare her for the night.

I suppose I sound whiny – or just plain wintry. It’s not meant to be, though it sounds so; I report these occurrences, for you might have experienced similar or may yet, in the capacity of a caregiver, health care professional, patient, or friend of a patient, and my words are meant to be supportive and compassionate: I know, I know, it’s all right. I once worked with the sweetest Mexican coworker, who owned a rancho in Mexico, was illiterate and spoke little English: “It’s O.K. It’s O.K.,” he would say, no matter what happened to cause me great frustration. “It’s O.K.” Then I’d smile. He was so comforting.

As a writer, I am the bridge; I am the messenger. Human life is all about an exchange of information and ideas.

I write these pages here on my blog for the sheer joy of writing. I observe, learn what’s going on, process it in my mind and tell you the story. Thus, I hand you the note, an exquisite thread … binding us. You may unfold it and read it at will; you do not have to respond. I must admit, though, I love receiving your comments. I revel in a good dialog. So, here we are, human beings, navigating our ways through the Brussels sprouts and liver slathered in onions to get to the ice with the burned nuts in it.

I wrote a lot of notes and letters to Emma over the years, and she responded. When I was 9 and my brother 6, she went to the door with her suitcase. She was leaving home. I clutched her arm, begged her not to leave. My brother sat at the foot of the staircase and observed. She was displeased with Daddy. She left. I cried despairingly. The thought of separation yawned into eternity. She spent the night at the YWCA. She came home the next day. One day soon we will be separated for good. I was separated for good from Daddy on September 16, 2004. I still turn to him every now and then to ask him something; then I realize I can’t (I don’t think). Emma is still here, the mechanisms of her body continuing to function, albeit slowly shutting down, yet neither can I turn to her for discussion – mostly she just lies in bed and stares at the ceiling. I must confess I do not contact my friends and family as often as I might; many are gone and more will go.

I will forever be able to contact you, though, telepathically through my writing. Even after I am gone, these words will be here. (Unless you fling them into a flaming hearth or press delete.) One of our health aides says she observes Emma’s eyes following something around the room, and then up the stairs. Maybe it’s the Woman in White, our neighborhood specter caregiver. Up the street, next door to the large yard where the Woman in White commonly walks, lives a Hospice nurse who works with dementia and Alzheimer’s patients. The nurse says she believes these patients do receive visits from these specters. Maybe they do and it is we who need to visit our intuition, so that we will see them, too, when they manifest in our presence.

The days are short this time of year. The heavy drape of night has fallen; the branches of the dogwood outside my window appear as the compassionate, multi-armed Hindu Goddess Kali. If we gaze from a different window, you know, change our mental presets, we could teleport ourselves to the presence of a loved one rather than sending notes through a messenger. Or we could just text them.

–Samantha Mozart, November 7-15, 2011




XXXV. Why I Think the Lemmings Get Pushed

Concern of our Hospice organization for Emma has fallen through the fissures, because Emma is on a plateau, albeit one running down a slope towards a precipice, where we could slide off headlong, like lemmings, unnoticed. This Hospice outfit treks no tundra, Think of the money. They are lush with new patients. They have reaped the harvest of another Hospice organization that recently shut down. Consequently, our Hospice members phone us to reschedule appointments. I confirm with the caller the new dates I have just recorded on my calendar. Nonetheless, the scheduler neglects thoroughness; therefore, I find myself waiting and wondering for the hour I have set aside while no one shows, only to find that same person showing up unexpectedly another day. “Is there anything wrong?” the person asks, as I’ve just returned from the store unpacking bags of groceries littering the table, countertops and chairs in my kitchen; I lost in a beige sea of emptied recyclable plastic bags floating across the floor, reorganizing the refrigerator and freezer trying to find space for it all. (I have to buy a lot at a time against the event I do not get out again for a couple of weeks, since I do not have a car, therefore have not only to rely on a driver but also on an aide’s being here to attend to Emma.) As soon as I put away the groceries, I have to launder a load of Emma’s clothes and bed linens, and return an important phone call.

“Is there anything wrong?”

“No, it’s just that I can’t seem to get this cakey chocolate off my remote from the bonbons I’ve been eating while warming the couch watching Oprah reruns.”

Yesterday, I tried calling my aunt. She is nearly 98, in a nursing facility an hour from here. I have been trying to reach her for weeks; her phone rings 10, 11, 12 times and no answer. Maybe she cannot get to the phone, as sometimes happens, maybe it is mealtime, maybe she is in the hospital, maybe she has gone over the edge. This time the phone is answered on the second ring. Thank goodness. Oh. It’s another, much younger, woman with a strong voice. She has been there two days. I am so sorry, I say. “It’s all right,” she tells me.

I call the main number of the center. They have moved my aunt at her request. She didn’t like her roommate who kept telling her what to eat. They give me her new phone number. Since my aunt sometimes gets confused, I call the nursing station first and speak with her nurse to find out how she is. “What is your name?” asks the nurse. I tell her. “You are not on her contact list. I can’t give you any information.”

“But, I’m her niece, she is my godmother, she has been a second parent to me.”

“I am sorry; I’ll lose my license; I can’t tell you anything. There are a number of names on her contact list; yours is not one.”

Yet this is the same nurse who was forthcoming with information last winter; and I have been to visit my aunt several times since then, thanks to a kind Hospice volunteer who drove me two hours round trip to see her.

“She could die and the family wouldn’t know!”

“Let me transfer you to her room,” says the nurse. I am too upset. I cannot talk to my aunt in my present state. I hang up. I email my stepmom  and she assures me that I am on the list. She calls my aunt and emails me that she is fine, loves her new room and roommates and is looking forward to my call.

Back in my kitchen preparing dinner, let me get this straight: The doctor conscientiously prescribes medication for Emma. How many times do I have to say to the one responsible for ordering our delivery, “We are running low; we are going to run out; let’s hope there’s no hurricane or snowstorm.” Yet, it runs out. I have to phone after hours, because, remember, I’ve just returned from the store, we’ve had a guest in the house, I am doing laundry and returning an important phone call, then getting dinner ready in time for the aide to arrive to feed Emma; I pour the last pill from the bottle; it drops into the dish for her evening medications, leaving none for the morning.

The answering service says they’ll have to find the triage nurse and she will call me. Finally, a nurse calls. “It’s on the truck,” she says.

“What does that mean?” I ask. It seems a sensible question. Coming by truck from the Yukon or from the pharmacy down the street? The check is in the mail.

“On the truck, to be delivered tomorrow.”

“Well, she needs it in the morning.”

“When does the truck usually come?” asks the nurse.

“In the afternoon.”

The nurse goes on to tell me that if Emma were in sudden pain and she needed medication for that, it would be delivered right away. This is solely a maintenance medication, so it’s not important. –Only that she could get constipated and her intestines back up and she get an infection with her already compromised immune system. I attended an event last week about the evolving legacy of the Coastal Zone Act, hosted by Delaware Wild Lands, whose former executive director and son of the founder I had interviewed a few years ago. He was my age. He died suddenly last year of septicemia.

“Emma is on a plateau,” they told me about a month ago. “We have to ask you: Do you want our visits to be less frequent?”

What are they getting at?  What do they want me to say? Is this an ultimatum? I don’t know how to address this question other than to be straightforward: “I appreciate and can use the support you are giving us now; I can see that Emma benefits by it; but if you are too busy and have more urgent patients to see, I do not want to be a drag on the works; then by all means, decrease the frequency of your visits.”

“Well, we’ll play it by ear,” they say. The next time they visit, arises the same question. Hmmm. I thought I already answered this. I repeat my earlier statements. “And by the way, Emma’s almost out of two of her medications, as I’ve said. Are they on their way?”

“Whatever the computer says,” I am told. “If the computer says you need another shipment, they will come.”

“Um, but what about the human who tells the computer what to do?”

“You’ll get them when the computer indicates. Don’t worry. You won’t run out.” Playing it by ear.

When the nurse calls 20 minutes before her scheduled visit and says she can’t make it because they’ve sent her to the other end of the state, I ask if she wants to decrease the frequency of her visits. She tells me we had decided to play it by ear. I say I need to plan, so I can get things done without interruption, like writing this blog. She says O.K., we’ll decrease the frequency of our visits.

Why did it take three conversations to arrive at that? I have stipulated on each occasion that I do not wish to be needy, tugging on their sleeves when another, distressed, patient needs attention.

This series of events makes me think I am being punished for something I did but I don’t know what. These people didn’t used to be so offhanded.

While I am rehearsing this symphony, let me play this passage: My stepmom’s mother suffered for many years with Alzheimer’s. My stepmom’s sister was their mom’s caregiver, and she experienced many of the same occurrences with agencies as I do now. They place little value on your time, dignity and intelligence. One would be inclined to think they are not smart enough to think we are not smart enough to see through them.

Caregivers from health care agencies, I have been told, are not permitted to tell patients and family caregivers the complete status of the patient or what she might face. How can you prepare for the eventualities without the knowledge to do so? Only Emma’s doctor is straightforward and to the point; his knowledge and advice have supported me through many events and kept me from being blindsided by the changes. This brings to mind Leo Tolstoy’s “The Death of Ivan Ilyich.” Ivan Ilyich, on his deathbed, reviews his own life while he observes the comings and goings and conversations around him: his wife and family avoid the subject of his death, pretending he is only sick and not dying. Only one person sees the reality, does not fear death and can relieve his pain: the unprepossessing servant. Through his servant, Ivan Ilyich realizes that compassion and sympathy mark the authentic life while self-interest marks the artificial.

Frankly, I think the lemmings get pushed.

This manner of handling Emma’s case seems to me they’re saying, “Oh, Emma’s not important, any more. She’s been with us too long. It’s Christmas. We have new toys.” It makes me feel that we are unworthy. Yes, I am angry. Just say what you mean the first time. Don’t be stringing an artificial tree.

I feel so tired. I hate turning on the TV; I can’t tolerate the noise – the commercials every six minutes and the empty-calorie conversations. This attitude towards us – it is all about money, not humanity – makes me want to crawl into my music, turn up the volume and blast the mystic “Prometheus” chord Russian mystic composer Alexander Scriabin (who died in 1915 at 43 of septicemia) used in his work “Prometheus: The Poem of Fire,” Op. 60 (Valery Gergiev conducting), especially the concluding chord of the piece, and not have to listen to my neighbors, the circus people, or this incessant foggy dribble. This mystic chord, it is said, Scriabin favored, often making use of it, and, to me, this is the chord of chords. Many years ago I went in search of the lost chord. Now I believe I have found it. It blasts to smithereens whatever I have been thinking, and fresh thoughts arise from the ashes. I’ll just pull out all the stops and reemerge as an astral soul.

This is my getting an iTude – my friend R’s term for a fresh attitude. He should know, after falling through the cellar door in the alley sidewalk and tearing the pad of his big toe. (He should have been wearing shoes….) Anyway, there’s always more, so here’s this: Alexander Scriabin’s “Mysterium,” or “Preparation for the Final Mystery.”

–Samantha Mozart, November 11, 2011


XXXIV. Spindles

My web site crashed last week, corrupting my files and disappointingly losing your recent comments. It’s the phantom of my blog, you might suspect, creeping along the catwalks inside my site and nudging something to cause the crash. No, the phantom here is my web host, a guy with a server set on spindles in the middle of his living room. Often when I try to reach him by email or phone, he is out to – well, lunch. There’s a phone number on his email signature, which he doesn’t answer; so I email him to call me. Then he emails me back – probably from his smart phone over a quick burger with leggy streams of lettuce and strings of onion slathered in secret sauce dripping over his wrist and says it’s not his policy to phone clients, at least not when he’s at lunch, which as I mentioned, he always is.

Finally, I did make contact with my web host who admitted he had what he referred to as a “network problem;” that is to say more accurately, his spindles rotted causing his server to drop and roll over on its side, a neurological disorder, one might say. My site was down for 24 hours. You may have noticed. When you navigated to this site all you got was 48-point typeface blaring “Error…”. A few weeks ago, when I went to view my site, I got the message “This site has been suspended,” black small print on a large white page. Uh-oh. Now what did I do? “We had a permission issue,” my web host emailed me. “What kind of a permission issue?” I asked. He responded: “A permission issue is a permission issue.” Of course. “A permission issue over what specific item?” I tried again. I had developed a persistence issue. “A problem with one of our servers,” he acquiesced.

Between restoring my site and dealing with family matters, I have been busy sweeping up and reorganizing my splintered time; every time I sit down to add a paragraph to this chapter, a new pressing urgency falls to my attention.

Following a barrage of my email queries and the web host’s fragmented responses clogging my mailbox, the web host said, “We can restore your site as of our latest backup on October 16,” a week prior to the crash. I said that if that was the best he could do, then, please, go ahead. I had to gather my work from the past week and reconstitute it. The web host added, “Usually the backup will cost $10 and this time I have given it for free. You have to purchase the backup feature next time onwards.” “Why should I have to pay for your mistake?” I emailed back. No reply. I’m in the market for a new web host.

In any case, I have now downloaded Rbrowser, a mystifying backup program for my Mac. As soon as I decipher the code and unravel the operational idiosyncrasies of how to get Rbrowser to crack into my web site file manager and locate the right file folder, I will back up my work. It’s easy, claim the software engineers, just drag it over – um, over? Over to where? Does this application come with a flashlight?

Nora Ephron wrote a New York Times Sunday Review Opinion Pages piece published on October 15, titled “iToo … Could Have Known Steve Jobs. Or Did I?” Sadly, he looked so spindly towards the end of his life. She writes that she often thought of him when he was alive, although never met him in person – she doesn’t think she did – when she was writing at her “wonderful iMac computer.” I often think of him, too, when I write at my wonderful Mac; so I suppose I could say “iToo 2.” Up until my Mac, I used PCs. The last PC I had was fabulous; it had a long life – 10 years – but it became outdated, and all my PCs crashed and got viruses and Trojans. However, there’s nothing spindly about my Mac operating system. It is so stable; it is always here for me, unlike my website server. Well, O.K., sometimes it forgets it has stuff, as in “What iTunes?” But I restart it and then it says, “Oh, THAT iTunes.”

When I was growing up, my father and family called staircase banister supports “spindles” rather than balustrades. Here at our house, Emma held onto those spindles with a grip normally reserved for grabbing wayward kids by the nape of the neck – that would be my brother and me – in preparation for our flogging. Well, O.K., it was a slim, red patent leather belt. But our grandparents used a cat-o’-nine-tails to flog our parents. That’s what our parents told us. One time when Emma was about 8, Nana was chasing Emma round and round the dining room table with this instrument. Look, at least it wasn’t a Catherine wheel. Emma stopped dead and started laughing. “What are you laughing at?!” demanded Nana. “Ha-ha-ha!” said Emma. “You look like an old witch.”

Amazingly, Emma has lived to be 97.

Late this summer, when Emma could no longer climb the stairs, we put her in the hospital bed, already set up in the living room, where she stays most of the time now. Since then, I have observed a notable decrease of muscle mass in her arms and legs. Emma’s legs, in particular, look like very old people’s legs: they look like spindles. Up until this point, she always had amazing muscle definition in her calves and arms for someone her age, I thought.

Now the legs of our teacup poodle, Jetta, have become weak as spindles. She has been in pain for some months. She is 11. I took her to see the veterinarian last summer and the only thing the vet could find was a loose tooth, which she pulled. But, Jetta continued to be in pain much of the time, often as if she had a headache. Then about two weeks ago, she started to skid on the vinyl floors, stumbled up and down the steps and now staggers or walks on a diagonal, like she’s drugged, walking sideways, like a crab. Sometimes she staggers and rolls over, especially if she spots a nice kitty cat and tries to chase it. Yesterday, during our nor’easter, Jetta walked out onto the grass, rolled onto her side and just laid there on the wet grass. I had to stand her up. Today she moves better. Sometimes she just stands there as if someone conked her on the head and she is stunned. I took her back to the vet’s this week, and the vet told me what I suspected, that she’s probably got a neurological disorder likely caused by a brain tumor. There’s no way to know for sure without a $5,000 MRI. So, Jetta is on an antibiotic and prednisone to reduce inflammation. “It’s a Band-Aid,” said the vet. This illness could progress slowly or quickly, paralyzing her in a matter of months. I am watching her closely. The question is who is going to go first, Emma or Jetta? Emma would miss Jetta – she remains aware of the presence of her little dog; and Jetta would be lost without Emma. Jetta is Emma’s dog; Emma got her when she was a puppy, and having bred and raised toy poodles – one a champion –, personally trained and groomed Jetta. For now, therefore, I believe the “Band-Aid” treatment is the best solution. If Jetta seems to be suffering much, then we will have to put her to sleep. Sweet dog, she is – patient and sensible, feisty, with a sense of humor. Jetta watches everything our health aides do and I tell them she writes up notes after they leave. When the aides aren’t here and I bumblingly do something for Emma, Jetta watches closely and it would appear slaps her paw to her forehead and goes, “Oh, no, no. Oh, you’re making an awful mess.” Despite her malady, yet she watches.

I have to watch myself, too. Since our family doctor retired this spring, I have no personal doctor. Finding a good one could take weeks, months, years, if I have time. Emma has had some real doozies – the Princess Doctor who came from Hospice dressed to the teeth and unwilling to do anything but sit neatly in our living room chair – I think she expected me to serve her tea and cakes; and another doctor, prior to Hospice, who couldn’t remember anything – at every office visit I had to correct the inaccuracies in her records. Scary. That’s why I like dogs: they keep accurate records – their noses remember everything.

There was Kolia, my Siberian husky/wolf/German shepherd mix, black with blue eyes and white trim. Let me just point out, it’s disconcerting to have a dog who is smarter than you. How did he know that when I pulled the pink towel from the stack in the linen closet that he must run and hide under the bed so he wouldn’t get a bath? Is it certain that dogs don’t perceive color? If so, then that’s quite a nose. Kolia has been gone since 1984, yet I miss him still. I could write a book about him and his antics. When he was a puppy we lived in an apartment with a little hill in front of it that rose up to the street. We were playing outside and he started to run down the hill to me. He stumbled and rolled over – and over and over all the way down the hill. He thought it was fun and went up and did it again. I could swear he was laughing. Or, at least snickering out the side of his mouth. Often he did that.

I left a roast on the stove after slicing and serving it and we sat down in the other room to eat. “Oh-h-h, for me?” said Kolia. He lifted the whole roast out of the pan and set it on the kitchen floor where I found him eating it. Yes, The Kitchen: dog’s favorite place and mine. As I stated in Chapter IV, “Why Salmon Salad and Mozart,” I like to eat.

Here, then, is a recipe that will put meat on your spindles – Butternut Squash Soup. I created this the other night and it is so-o-o good, French chefs, step aside:

Note: I don’t measure, usually; so these measurements are approximate. It’s more like a little bit of this and a lot of that; whatever I have on hand that works.

1 butternut squash, baked whole, for about an hour at 400 degrees, until the meat is very soft, then cut in half lengthwise, seeds discarded
1 small, thin sweet potato, about 5 inches long, baked, and then skin discarded
1/3 large sweet onion, chopped
2 large, red “A” potatoes, skin on, chopped
Generous splash of extra virgin olive oil into a large soup pot
Pinch of sea salt
Pinch of dried chili pepper flakes
Generous amount of granulated garlic or 3-4 cloves of fresh garlic, minced
1 12-inch sprig of fresh rosemary, cut in two to fit in the pot
1 tablespoon of fresh thyme leaves
1/2 pound of butter, unsalted
24 ounces of chicken broth (I use Imagine brand)
Vegetable broth – here I used about 1/3 cup of artichoke broth left from an artichoke I steamed and then saved the broth in a Mason jar in the fridge
3 cups of low-fat buttermilk (make sure the kind you buy has no additives)
2 tablespoons dark brown sugar
2 tablespoons cinnamon
1 teaspoon nutmeg
sour cream
bacon bits (I buy my bacon bits from the supermarket salad bar)

Splash olive oil into the pot, add onion, red potatoes, salt, pepper flakes, garlic and rosemary. As onion and potatoes soften and the oil cooks down, add the butter.

When the butter melts, add the vegetable broth, chicken broth and most of the thyme.

Bring to a boil and then simmer until the vegetables are tender – about 15 minutes. Remove the rosemary and discard.

Let cool a bit. Then add soup mixture to a blender together with spoonfuls of cooked squash and sweet potato, and brown sugar; puree. When you run out of enough liquid to operate the blender, add buttermilk, until when you’ve pureed all the soup ingredients, you’ve added about 3 cups of buttermilk. (If you have a hand blender that you can just stick into the pot, all the easier.) These amounts of liquid will vary according to the amount of solid ingredients. The desired end is for the soup to be thick and rich.

Place the pureed soup back into the pot, heat, and add cinnamon and nutmeg to taste.

Serve in soup bowls topped with a generous dollop of sour cream and a sprinkling of fresh thyme leaves and bacon bits. Serves 4-6.

One of the many benefits of having a dog is that they vacuum the kitchen floor when you’re done cooking. They also take sandwiches out of little kids’ hands. ~

Music comes to us on spindles, too – in the form of compact and vinyl discs.  Rock musician Daryl Hall has a country house kitchen where he and fellow musicians play music that they perform for the Internet. He started this website a few years ago, “Live from Daryl’s House.” Now he has syndicated this music camaraderie for TV. He and his fellow musicians play songs, tell stories about their musical adventures and musician friends and they invite a chef in, prepare food and eat it, sharing the recipes with us viewers. It’s like he’s created a musical blog from his house. He’s such a regular guy, it’s like you’ve gone over to your neighbor’s house and sat in. This is so cool, especially if you like the Philadelphia sound, as I do. In this episode for which I’ve provided the link is a fresh garden salad that you can eat with your butternut squash soup. I always wondered what to do with that old, hard loaf of bread. This chef shows us.


–Samantha, October 30, 2011






XXXIII. Nights at the Round Table

I sat at a big oak round table – the kind with the claw feet – the other evening with a group of writer and musician friends. We engaged in a candlelight discourse and passed around the bottles of wine. “Life is short,” I remarked. Jane Austen snickered up her sleeve, the three Brontë sisters giggled so uncontrollably they had to leave the table early. I think I even heard Mr. Rochester chortle from his back room. Wolfgang sniggered into his lace cuffs and slapped himself on the frontal lobe sending a cloud of apricot powder from his wig sailing above the table. Franz Schubert stopped picking at his fish, pulled out his handkerchief, slid off his spectacles and wiped the tears of mirth from his lenses. Ludwig said, “Sorry. Could you repeat that?” Anton Chekhov coughed into his handkerchief and said that before the Black Monk carried him off he was glad for his serendipitous encounter with Leo Tolstoy, where he got a chance to skinny dip with Tolstoy in Tolstoy’s Yasnaya Polyana pond. Alexander Scriabin reflected, “Before I nicked myself shaving, I was just about to create that exquisite polychromatic sound and light show that Mick and Keith would have loved: we were going to record the performance on moving pictures.” Jacqueline du Pré plucked a ditty on her 1712 Davidov Stradivarius cello before handing the instrument over to Yo-Yo Ma. “Davidov was the czar of cellists,” rhapsodized Pyotr Tchaikovsky. “But over my first piano concerto, that Anton Rubinstein behaved liked such a girl.”

Thomas Jefferson laid his violin and bow on the table, stared at us blankly and said, “Like – what? Oh-h-h, I’ve got cheese from the macaroni and cheese stuck on my lapel again,” taking the nib of his pen and scraping it off. He waved his free hand as if batting away flies: “Well, those Parisians. You know – they create those rich creamy sauces necessitating one’s quaffing extra bottles of red wine to cut the fat. In the course of events, down in Virginia you may find us gone with the wine.” Janis Joplin, Jim Morrison and Jimi Hendrix chorused, “Show me the way to your wine cellar.” My friend blamed her cats for depleting her wine stash. Adam Gopnik and Bernard-Henri Lévy engaged in an animated philosophical side conversation hypothesizing that if the French government elected to set the Paris arrondissements in motion spinning around the hub, would they better rotate clockwise or counterclockwise? And, how, then, would one locate the good restaurants? Would that mess up one’s GPS, for instance?

JFK accidentally hit the red button on his iPhone. Vaslav Nijinsky leaped from his chair while Anna Pavlova fished around in her bag for extra ball bearings to insert into the toes of her pointe shoes to facilitate her gliding bourrées. Edgar Allan Poe emptied the bowl of popcorn on the table, feeding it to the raven perched on his shoulder until the bird got stuffed and croaked flatly, “Nevermore.” There was a draft. The candle flame flickered, casting a protracted, quivering raven’s shadow across the floor. Michael Cunningham glanced across at Virginia Woolf and muttered, “The hours, the hours.” E. M. Forster postulated, “No matter when you die, the outcome will be the same.” Ernest Hemingway interjected, “I hope the sun never rises.” F. Scott Fitzgerald noted, “We can’t just let our worlds crash around us like a lot of dropped trays.”

Dante Alighieri joined the discussion via satellite from the banks of the River Arno in Florence, speaking divine Italian but through a female translator voiceover. The effect was disconcerting. John Keats dipped his pen into his glass of red wine and began composing an ode on a vintner’s urn. Lord Byron would have elaborated, but he was on assignment in Greece. Oscar Wilde smiled enigmatically. While Martin Luther King, Jr., said, “I’m having a bad dream.” Orhan Pamuk, in New York City from Istanbul to teach his autumn writing class at Columbia, and seated to my left, gently laid his hand on mine and observed, “Innocent child, come live in my museum.”

Charlie Rose beat the table three times with the palm of his hand in a vain attempt to moderate. “Get Doris Kearns Goodwin and David McCullough in here to sift through these gobbets.” And George Clooney said, “I know. Let’s make a movie. It’ll star Helen Mirren.” Keith Olbermann crumpled his notes, tossed them into the empty popcorn bowl, pushed back his chair and stood up. “Good night. And good luck,” he said.

–Samantha, October 19, 2011

XXXII. The Phantom of the Blog

I follow a blog written by a woman whose friend scored tickets to the New York Film Festival this year. So, naturally, she has been writing posts about all these fabulous films she has seen over the past days – the new HBO two-part documentary George Harrison: Living in the Material World, directed by Martin Scorsese; Béla Tarr’s The Turin Horse; Lars von Trier’s Melancholia; and others.* I mention this because my recent film viewing experience has been quite dissimilar. To wit, just the other night, I finally got around to watching The Phantom of the Opera for the first time, the movie musical, on DVD. It is the first time I have witnessed the story of The Phantom of the Opera in any form. I have not read the book. When I lived in Los Angeles, I had wanted to see the performance at the Shubert Theatre in Century City. I heard that the phenomenon of the chandelier coming out over the audience was quite, well, striking. But I never got there. An L.A. friend took me to lunch around that time. As soon as we sealed ourselves into his sleek, black sports car, he said, “Listen to this.” He reached forward and pressed a button on the dash. He maxed out the volume: The Overture to The Phantom of the Opera. I fastened my seatbelt. Wow! Some catharsis.

The phantom of the opera made me think that here you are. You may be padding around in the alcoves, chambers, catwalks and labyrinths – in the latter, among whom Stephen King calls the boys in the basement – of my blog and I do not know you are here. You are here watching me. You are here learning and knowing all about me while I know nothing about you. You are The Phantom of My Blog. You may be teaching me, even, and I receive your teachings mystically. While I may experience a presentiment of your presence, I do not know for sure that you are here. You? I listen. The power of the music of the night.

Emma may experience something similar when our chaplain and our music therapist visit by her bedside. She will, as they come near her, stretch a leg, open an eye, and then turn her head away and close her eye. The chaplain observes that she is probably entering into a beginning new phase, the cocoon phase. We watch over her, watch her spirit, know who she was, where she came from, the songs she sang, the music she played, the pictures she painted, the parties she hosted in her lifetime, and try to discern where she is now, where she is going. She won’t verbalize it for us, She just turns away, but it appears she experiences a heightened sensation of our presence.

Here at home I’m dealing once again with the phantom Hospice aide. Granted, she requested time off; but no one told me – until late afternoon yesterday when our Hospice social worker/bereavement counselor, Geri, emailed me to see if I had been notified that this aide would not be showing up today nor for her following two scheduled visits. No one is coming to replace her. Fortunately, I have the state Attendant Services health care aide coming. She and I have to cover for the work the Hospice aide does. Some things won’t get done. But, at least I will have someone to bathe Emma and turn her in bed, requiring more physical strength than I have. In any event, I am not paid. I could be editing and publishing my book so that I can market it and you can buy it, but I am attending to health care instead. This could be worse. Up until two and a half months ago, we had no Attendant Care Services. If such circumstance yet existed, I would have no one. This is stressful. I make plans: I made plans a week ago for someone to take me to the store on one of the days the Hospice aide will be absent. I have to rearrange my schedule and that of the person driving me; this is why, when I go to the store, I must ensure that our provisions are well-stocked, just in case. If I had a car, I could be more flexible; but since I don’t get paid…. Maybe they’ll change the rules so one can buy a car on air rather than with money – or given our weather conditions since August, buy it with raindrops.

Well, I’m getting a bit jaded presently. Sometimes I just tire of it all. I think the Phantom of the Opera was jaded, too, after the abuse he’d endured in his lifetime. I liked him. I thought it sad that in the movie Christine went off with her noodly childhood boyfriend. I thought the Phantom had more character substance. He could be a bit nasty at times, though. Maybe it’s because he got impatient.

The ghost existed, wrote Gaston Leroux, whose characters recount the story. Workmen, when digging in the substructure of the Opera, found his corpse. I know this, as you may, because I just downloaded the story to my Kindle, free from Amazon.

I’ve tended to enter into my own cocoon phase recently. The dumbing down of America gets to me. My Attendant Care Services aides, who have to document their hours on a time sheet, mix the forms of hours and minutes (i.e., 21:15, twenty-one hours and fifteen minutes) with hours and fractions of an hour (i.e., 21.25, twenty-one and one-quarter hours), and then try to total the columns. I correct the figures and then fax the sheets in to our fiscal management organization accountant (?) who gets the figures wrong and misspells our names. Then, too, faxing is not that streamlined for me, given that my fax machine was unearthed from an archeological dig. Our circus people neighbors running rings around us, back and forth, back and forth diagonally across the street between their two houses and proclaiming empty calorie conversations at stage voice decibels to the person seated next to them on the porch across the street make it a good thing Emma is hard of hearing and her ears are impacted with wax.

I shut my windows and go to my studio in the room upstairs at the back of the house, sit at my keyboard, and look out at the dogwood tree with the vermillion leaves, absent of the berries the birds took, and the squirrel bouncing up and down on the branch in the wind. I look in at my blog and contemplate your presence. I listen for the music.

–Samantha, October 14, 2011

*Lame Adventures,



XXXI. The Last of the Crickets

This day the air smells like drying leaves. As Jetta, our teacup poodle, and I walk along Mustard Lane, the day is crisp and dry under a cerulean sky, incandescent within the embrace of a bone-warming sun. The last of the summer crickets chirp their final songs, sluggish from the effects of our cooler nights of October. The leaves on the dogwood outside my upstairs studio window have turned cochineal red. A flock of speckled birds came by last week and swallowed every bright red berry on the tree in a half hour, their recapitulation of years past.

I lie awake in bed upstairs at 3:30 a.m. and I hear Emma coughing downstairs in her hospital bed in the living room. I go down to check on her. She has turned on her side and taken the covers with her. Her back is bare but for her nightshirt. I readjust the blankets so she is snug and warm once again. I go out and sit on our front porch behind the 10-foot walnut tree a squirrel planted in our flower bed two years ago when she exchanged it for a tulip bulb. There is little breeze, yet I hear the leaves drop in slow succession – thack … thack … thack … thack-thack. Some are still green – dry with black edges and brown and yellow speckles. A crimson leaf, and then another and another drop from ornamental plum trees lining the brick sidewalk. I feel centered and peaceful at this hour. The circus people, my neighbors two doors up and also across the street, who run rings around us and whose voices could be heard in the back row of the fourth balcony, without a microphone, are asleep, rejuvenating for the next show.

This is my favorite time of year. It could be autumn year round, as far as I’m concerned. But, then, we’d run out of leaves.

Now I sit at my computer to write this. I glance at my surge protector down in a dark corner on the floor, accommodating a tangle of electronics cords. It tells me it’s working, lit up with red and green lights. It reminds me of the city at night in the rain in the winter. That will come. In the rain, the streamlined trolley cars, green and cream with the orange stripe, like a girth holding together the other two colors, slished past Aunt Mary and Uncle Will’s house in West Philadelphia, where they lived when they were my age and for many years before. Our family sat in the formal parlor behind the lace curtains and fringed shades with the tassel pull cords – like Eeyore’s tail – that shielded us from the view of the trolleys and the slick, cobblestone street. And their cuckoo clock: when our great aunt and uncle signaled, my brother and I would rush between the heavy crimson velvet curtains into the dark dining room to watch the wooden bird emerge and proclaim the hour.

Emma’s music therapist, a recent Temple University graduate, where she studied opera, told me that the city of Philadelphia is refurbishing old trolley cars for use. “Really!” I said, my eyes lighting up. “You mean those big, old, heavy, boxy cars that trundled along?” No, the streamlined trolleys, she informed me. Well, when I was a kid, they were the new trolleys. They were built in the 1930s. When my father was a boy in West Philadelphia, he knew the number, schedule and route of every trolley car that passed beneath his family’s upstairs sitting room window. After he retired, he built model trolley cars. When he died at 90 in 2004, we family said he went to trolley car heaven. My sister-in-law carried a keychain with a trolley car on it, a gold color with red and green lights. In the cemetery at Daddy’s funeral, the trolley car fell off, and she had to look around for it in the grass on that hill overlooking the Schuylkill River.

We never ate at Aunt Mary and Uncle Will’s house. I used to wonder what they ate. We ate at other family members’ houses, but not theirs. I knew they had a kitchen, through the swinging door, behind the dining room, and that they had an ice box in there and a stove, but I don’t know what they ate. There was never any sign of food or dirty plates. They spent most of their time upstairs in the front room, the sitting room, watching quiz shows on TV, when they didn’t have company.

At Aunt Mary and Uncle Will’s, the cuckoo clock was the main entertainment for my brother and me; that and the owl on the parlor mantelpiece whose eyes lit up red.

My eyes lit up red when yesterday morning the new aide, who’s been with us two weeks, snapped, “I’m not here to feed the dog, too!” All she had to do was take Jetta off the couch and place her on the floor, and then place her bowl of dog food, I had already set out, on the floor next to Emma when she sat at the table to eat. I explain all duties to the candidate before she is hired, and ask her if they are agreeable to her. I have invested six years in caring for Emma, picking her up off the floor when she fell, bathing her, dressing her, assisting her with eating, wiping her nose, wiping her butt – it is at moments like this latter that the gentle, patient Dr. Patel seems to have a knack for phoning to set up an appointment for a visit.

Watching the leaves drop, listening to the sluggish chirp of the last summer crickets, observing the little things, the subtleties: I am thankful that, in addition to our Hospice nurse, I have two aides, our Hospice aide and another aide who has been with us a year and a half, who notice the small changes in Emma’s condition, or conditions that occur in old people that tend to be brushed aside by the medical profession; for example, Emma’s ears are nearly completely closed and impacted with wax. While I am aware that wax builds up in her ears, as in those of most elderly people, I must confess, I don’t go looking in Emma’s ears regularly, but these two aides do and pointed out the buildup to me today. At this stage, I don’t know what can be done to clean them out, but I will ask. In the past, I have thought of ear candling, because that seems the most effective method of clearing out the ear and sinus passages; and I bought an ear candling kit a few years ago. But, then, I was afraid that if I attempted the procedure myself, that Emma would haul off and whack me and then I’d drop the candle and burn down the house.

Yesterday morning my new aide – I’ll call her Sally Slacker – didn’t put Emma’s undershirt on, but left it folded in the chair by her bed. How could one not notice this? It’s like getting yourself dressed, leaving the house and getting in your car and driving somewhere without putting on your pants. No undershirt is just what we need with the weather changing and Emma’s lying in bed most of the day and being at risk for a pulmonary infection. And since Emma has been coughing lately – I think because her sinuses are draining due to the change in weather – I am watchful. She has prescription cough medication I give her that dries that up instantly. I have been engaged in a surge of interviews to replace Sally Slacker. Would that there were some magic potion to instantly remedy that. But there is none.

Emma is still a human being and deserves to be cared for like any other human being. She is the sluggish cricket, the trolley car that cannot be refurbished, the tree whose leaves will not bud again next spring.

–Samantha, October 10, 2011



XXX. Pulling the Rug Out and Other Amusing Stories

When I awoke this morning, down the hall bright sunlight streamed into Emma’s bedroom, splashing elongated diagonal yellow windows across her rose-colored carpet. Of course, Emma no longer sleeps in that room. She sleeps downstairs in the hospital bed in the living room, the proximity of the Victorian houses on either side of ours blocking much of the sunlight there. But, I remembered this morning how Emma loved the sunlight and how she would arise on a morning, greeting the bright sunny day, cheerful, feeling renewed. She’d greet me with a bright smile and a singing voice “Good morning, Mary Sunshine!” And then, when she had overnight guests at her house on the beach in Avalon, New Jersey, plug in the percolator and rustle up the pots, pans, egg beater and spatula, and whip up scrambled eggs, scrapple, sausage, toast, fruit and orange juice for everybody before they headed for the beach.

This morning, the sunshine was there for Emma, but she was not.

I am always amazed at how bright, cheerful and energetic Emma – and some of my odder friends – could be at the ungodly hour of 9 a.m. I have never been one of those morning people.

Maybe this is because I was born in the afternoon. Even that day, I wasn’t into getting up and out too early. I was supposed to have been born on Emma’s birthday, but I showed up two days later. I’ve been pretty much late for everything since. Better late than rushed, my philosophy.

Emma died when I was born. She forever held her doctor in the highest esteem because he brought her back. She nearly bled to death. My father, my uncle, my aunt – the whole family were there in the Fitzgerald Mercy hospital outside Philadelphia giving blood. I came out blue with the umbilical cord wrapped around my neck. So, you could accurately describe me as a claustrophobic late person. I might point out here that Emma was late for most occasions, too. The family called her “The Late Mrs. S—–.” And she’s still here, on this planet 97 years, sans sea breezes and morning sunshine, but with me, Mary Sunshine.

Today would be my dog Butch’s birthday. We got him when I was 2. I remember the ride home with him in the back seat of the black Packard with my grandfather.

Me. my brother and Butch, 1950

My uncle drove. My father, his brother, sat next to him in the passenger seat. Butch was a collie/shepherd mix, with black long hair, tan lower legs and a white “shirt.” The family retold the story over those early years of this puppy sticking his paw in my grandfather’s coat pocket. Well, Granddaddy got sick when I was 6 and was confined to bed. I asked if it was because he hadn’t eaten his lunch. They said no, it wasn’t that. He died in October that year. I was just 7.

Granddaddy didn’t drive; until my uncle was old enough to drive, Granddaddy had a chauffeur, who, they said, polished only the side of the car when it was parked in the driveway that faced the house. Granddaddy worked at a bank and had true banker’s hours. When I was about 3 or 4 and visiting my grandparents, he’d ride the bus home from work. He’d get me up from my nap and announce that he was taking me out with him, leaving my grandmother and aunt appalled that they hadn’t had time to brush my hair. He took me for rides on buses, trolleys, trains and the passenger ferry across the Delaware River. I remember standing beside him, looking up at him, talking to him, probably asking questions, at the bus stop. When I was 2 and we were staying in the family Sea Isle, New Jersey, summer home, he walked me to the corner store to buy the Sunday paper. He gave me the rings from his cigar wrappers and I put them on my fingers. He took me everywhere with him. To this day, I don’t know what he died of. As much as I asked, the family always passed it off. He had a drain in his back. That’s all I remember.

In later years, my job was to walk Butch. Butch was my buddy. I took him everywhere with me. When I was 11, I came home from school one day, looked for him, said to Emma, “Where’s Butch?” “Oh, we gave him to the SPCA,” she replied. “He was too much trouble, cleaning up his dog hairs all the time. He’ll go to a good farm.” I cried for three days.

My Nana, Emma’s mother, as I’ve told in a previous chapter frequently took her rugs out and hung them over the clothesline in the back yard and beat them with a big club, a rug beater – it always made me think of the ace of clubs on a deck of cards. These were big, 9-by-12 living room and dining room, gray-patterned wool rugs. She’d roll them up and somehow carry them outside. (In between these occasions, she vacuumed them with the Hoover upright with the headlight, when she wasn’t washing her long Victorian windows inside and out, upstairs and down.) Emma would have pulled the rug out from under me a year or two after we moved into our house here, before I had saved the money to return to Southern California. She was looking into assisted living quarters. But, then, she got dementia and forgot.

It was October 1967 when I stepped out onto my patio in Redondo Beach, California, where my husband, baby daughter and I had moved in June when the U.S. Navy deployed him to the South China Sea, and saw the mountains across the Santa Monica Bay above Malibu for the first time. The perpetual sea mist had lifted and there they were: the Santa Monica Mountains, as if they had been

Redondo Beach Pier and Harbor with Malibu and the Santa Monica Mountains in the Background

mothballed and someone had set them out for the first time in months. I hadn’t known I had a view of them.

Today, so many people don’t look beyond the patio of their smart phones to see the sea mist lift. Too busy walking, heads down, texting, they never notice the cardinal in the dogwood tree laden with snow, never see the chattering squirrel running along the wire, never hear the robins chirp to one another on a summer evening, never see me sitting on my green and white front porch behind the walnut tree the squirrels planted in my flower bed there, watching them. They lead gray, superficial lives filled with pages of ticked off boxes on a form; their days covered in a layer of high, thin clouds through which the sun struggles to shine in a hazy glare.

Butch would be 68 today, old even in non-dog years. E. M. Forster, notably in two of his novels, A Passage to India and Where Angels Fear to Tread, gets his characters into a crisis; they debate which way to turn to resolve their dilemma. Then a wise one says, “What does it matter which you do? The outcome will be the same.” That outcome is not one the reader – nor characters living real lives – might expect. The point is not to get so stressed about it, to just flow with the events in your life. I think should I heed this advice, I would learn patience. My friend, a spiritual teacher, who just married the love of his life, said to me today, not particularly speaking of his own situation, that regarding the one you are in love with … “what’s age got to do with it?” Oh. True. His supportive comment and incisive truth extracts a huge obstacle to a union.

My dilemma is this, though: Once this Hospice thing is over, this team of aide, nurse, social worker, music therapist, chaplain, volunteers and doctor will no longer have contact with me; the circle of light closes and they just fade out. The title reads, “The End.” I’ve told them I don’t want to never see them again; I have made friends with them, as I have with many of my business associates over the years. It seems natural: if you really like someone and you share common interests, oneness of mind, that you’d want to become friends. So, when I lose Emma, I lose everything and everyone. I am trying to give myself a spiritual upgrade here, about this. How can I watch them walk away and, myself, go with the flow? Somehow, this potential situation, to me, flies in the face of the human condition.

Our planet rolls from the golden sun of morning to the bronze light and long shadows of late afternoon, and as it continues its turning, pulls out the rug of the earth from under the sun, and then it is night, dark, pitch black; and out of those dark energies, slowly appears the moon. “Go to it,” a voice says from somewhere over my shoulder. And I go to enter within the embrace of its tender, silver and blue arms. In that place is a time for reflection. Maybe this is a mystical experience. As the sun sets, the sun also rises.

–Samantha, October 6, 2011