Monthly Archives: May 2013

Surviving the Night: When Batteries Aren’t Enough

A stormy Kansas night is not a good time to be out of batteries.  I should know this, having lived here most of my life.  The warnings were in with high winds, hail the size of baseballs, indications of possible tornadoes–enough to make you want to find a bomb shelter and as soon as possible.  But I also know that most of the time the storm passes and you’re O.K.  Still, extra batteries are good.   I thought I had everything under control, which actually is a sign to take cover.  But I felt like I was doing good with flashlights that worked, a weather radio, and the TV turned to WIBW live radar.

Then the lights went off.  Not to mention the TV and with it that reassuring picture of those dark red blotches that are just a touch to the north.  But I had my computer and it was set on a weather station.  Except when I turned it on it refused to refresh….ah, no internet.   Never mind, because if a tornado was on the way, the weather radio had a backup battery.  I went to see why it wasn’t going off with its usual irritating frequency and it was dead.  This morning, in the light of day, I found that the batteries were there, just corroded.  My last idea was the radio/cassette/DVD player, but the eight (mind you eight) batteries required were missing—and with the extra large economy pack needed to run its many features, no wonder I had never bought them, let alone put them in.

I lay on the couch with Jack and listened to the wind and rain.   I finally decided a better idea was to go upstairs with the window open—surely I would hear the tornado coming in time to save us all, making sure all people, dogs, and indoor cats (the outdoor ones were one their own) were down in a basement I don’t even like to venture into on a good day.  But really I knew better as tornadoes aren’t like trains (though they do sound like them) that give a clear loud whistle so you can get off the tracks before being run over. 

At three the lights came on and I could once again check the TV radar—no more storms on the way, at least for that night.  I finally fell into a restless sleep to have a dream that was like no other.   My mother was going to the doctor, suspecting breast cancer.  When she returned she said she was only given two years to live—it really wasn’t treatable.  This was terrible news but then something much worse happened, for she turned into Rose, my 11 year old daughter.  My “baby” was lying in front of me, a pleading look on her face, and she said something that broke my heart.  She said, “But I want to live.”  As I write this, I have a memory of exactly what happened in the dream, but thank God the memory of the feeling I had then is almost gone.  For what I felt, the depth of the sadness and agony of knowing my child would die as I watched, was something I had never come close to imagining.  I can only think that perhaps I experienced the horror of this in another life, for otherwise how could I know?   And why was this terrible insight given me, and why now?   As I try to find an answer, a poem I wrote years ago comes to mind:


Walking outside

teacup in hand

my perennials the best ever

from timely spring rains

one small thing to rejoice

in a world gone mad


a robin sitting on her eggs

her nest

built under the eves

supported by phone lines

flies out noisily

as I walk by


two tiny birds

so high I can barely see them

clinging to the top

of a neighbor’s tree

 having survived the night

join in praise

to the morning.


May 14, 2002


This morning, eleven years later, I walked outside, once again with teacup in hand.  There was oddly little damage from the storm.   The cats took up their usual paths in front of me as I made my way around the house.  The potted plants were still intact, though my mother’s glider, the glider where she used to sit and watch the school children come and go across the street from her, needed to be righted.  My recent transplants, the cone flowers and larkspur and something that is like bushy sunflowers, obviously loved  the rain.  The blue flax by the side of the road glistened.  One robin perched at the top of the tallest tree in my front yard.  He looked very proud from where I stood below.  Proud and hopeful, having survived the night.  I had survived the night too, minus radar maps and beeping radios.  And I had come face to face, in my dream and perhaps in another life, with what nobody wants to ever know.  No batteries, of any size or amount, will prepare me for that.

There can be no real safely in the night, only hope that we will somehow make it through.  And when we do, then like the birds, we must find a way to praise the morning. 



Birthday Girls and Pioneer Women: Another Version


It was late afternoon last Monday and Rose and I were sitting in the waiting room of a doctor’s office. No major health issues, just a few concerns of a girl going to turn eleven in four days. The room was filled with parents and children of various ages that were mostly in amazingly good moods. A muted large screen TV hung from the ceiling corner where a perky red headed woman stirred dough in a bowl. I got excited when I realized it was the Food Network, a slightly odd choice for the pediatrician’s office. I love this channel, though the last time I watched it regularly was when I worked out years ago on an elliptical machine at a gym, watching Paula Deen add more butter and cream to her southern dishes. Although certainly ironic, I enjoyed seeing all the rich food while trying to burn up a couple hundred calories. And I can’t help but be reminded of one of my favorite female comedian lines—“Why don’t I just take this stick of butter and add it directly to my thigh.”
But back to the perky red head. She sure was happy about something. Maybe it was her fancy, spotless kitchen where she seemed to be completely alone (aside from the camera person) to peacefully cook. Or maybe it was her pride in the row of obviously homemade jam that lined the top shelf of her gleaming stainless steel refrigerator. Or maybe it was the fun of buzzing along in the dust free white pickup in the countryside a few moments later. Wait a minute….I knew who this was…it was that woman in Texas who married Marlboro Man and moved to his ranch. Who wrote the best seller Pioneer Woman and now has a blog that makes a mint of money, has published cooking books, and has her own cooking show. Huh… wonder she looked so happy. All that success and a Mr. Mcdreamy besides. I’ve never met a Marlboro Man, let alone married one. (Well, actually I met a sort of one—a farrier who liked to wear full leather chaps.) And if that wasn’t enough, she was now smiling down on me from the screen, back home, her sweet teenage daughter with her oh-so-polite teenage friends off to go fishing before lunch. And then, to add insult to injury, she gathered lush herbs from her garden (no signs of the drought in her yard). She seemed to be making all this food for a birthday celebration. I looked it up later on the network’s website:
Ree is hosting a dinner party for Alex and her best friends with personalized New York Style Chopped Salad with an Herby Ranch Dressing, home baked Rosemary Focaccia and the cutest Flower Pot Desserts. Happy birthday, Alex!

All these things only took minutes to make on TV, while Ree stayed perky and pleasant. The girls came back from the fishing trip (not a spot of mud on them and why didn’t at least one of them want to push another in the lakeside sludge—they do have hormone swings at 15) and gushed over the salad in a way I’ve never seen kids that age get excited about anything low in carbs and grease. And it all seemed so different than my life. I was starting to feel like a loser, wondering where I had gone wrong, when I felt a hand on my shoulder.

“Mom, you could have a cooking show,” Rose spoke up.
“Oh, like anyone would want to see my cooking show!” I answered.
“Well, someone would,” came her quick reply.

It didn’t take long before we were giving each other details of what that show would be like:

The rather harried (and let’s not even mention age here) looking mom puts up both hands to block the camera from a shot of the refrigerator, where jars of jam that needed to be thrown out months ago clutter up the shelves on the door. She then lets escape from her mouth a few choice words (bleeped out later) while trying to unwedge the muffin tin from a cupboard very inconveniently closed off behind a trash can, broom and dustpan—whoops, another blocked shot here as the trash lid pops open. She inspects the pan for dog hairs and, finding none, she manages a slight smile, then grimaces as the phone rings. Deciding to ignore it, the audio on the camera captures a message from the older daughter saying her boyfriend’s dog is lonely and she needs to walk him so therefore, obviously, she won’t be able to mow the yard—again—sorry! At this point the show breaks for a commercial (likely something about antacids or antidepressants), then returns to the daughter and mother trying to add dried up food coloring to icing that seems too thin one moment and too thick the next. (All right, I added some of these details later but the gist is the same.)

I started to see Rose’s point. Someone would want to watch this show. In fact, I probably would, as I’d feel better by the end of it, instead of wondering if I should just give up on my attempt at motherhood and the “pioneer” life on my little acreage of land.

The giggles in my ear had gotten louder and more frequent as this description of my cooking show continued.   As the angular maturing body beside me relaxed, I knew that the doctor’s visit would be fine. And then I knew something else. I wasn’t doing so much wrong after all. Rose would have a birthday party. We would have pizza and cupcakes (made from a mix) and the guests would go roller skating. I would not look very perky but I would be kind to all the kids, and oh so grateful to those parents who decided to stick around. There would be moments when it was far less than perfect, but it would be O.K. most of the time. And there would also be a few moments, those rare but lovely moments, when things just came together to make it all seem worthwhile.

Happy Birthday, Rose. I hope you enjoy your party. May you always have someone to laugh with about all those things that make up life—all the many versions of them. And I hope that some of those times I’m around to laugh with you.