Archive for the ‘lucky’ Category

Luck? Fate? or Something Else?

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I am a Diet Coke fanatic.  (Before people start telling me that it isn’t healthy for me, I have to admit that it is stress relief to take a long, satisfying sip of an ice cold soda. It might not be healthy, but it has kept me alive and perky!) Being very short on money lately, and exhausted from working a long day, visions of Diet Coke floated in the air. While fishing out a one-dollar bill that desperately clung to life in the bottom of my purse, the van automatically found its way to the convenience store where a humongous drink of Diet Coke awaited me. I put my giant cup under the spigot and filled it to the brim, excited at the prospect of getting such a delight for only 89 cents! Looking up, the large soda sign smacked me in the face; this was not an “all sizes pay same price” kind of store, and a large soda was $1.49! My heart skipped a beat and actual tears of disappointment filled my eyes when I realized I didn’t have enough money to pay. At just that point, the store owner, half my age, struck up a conversation. “That’s a mighty big van out there, must be difficult for you to drive,” he said. “I have five kiddos and it fits our whole family,” I answered with my back to him, still contemplating my payment dilemma. “God bless you!” he said, “The drink is on me!” I turned around and smiled excitedly, thanking him. He could not have understood how much that gesture was such a blessing!

The truth is, our family car situation has been difficult lately.  My Acura ceased to function several weeks ago, and my husband’s work van, 17 years old, also died.  We had to resurrect our old, 12 passenger family van, switching a couple of bald tires off with newer tires from his work van.  Driving the rickety monstrosity was a challenge for me. It wobbled terribly, and I had to grip the steering wheel with 2 hands. I complained to hubby who brushed it off as being “old, what did I expect?” I drove it back and forth to work Monday and Tuesday, still cursing the challenging drive.  Tuesday eve, Steven called me frantically. A friend’s car had broken down near the Providence Place Mall, could I come pick them up? Annoyed about having to drive to Providence after working all day, I climbed into the van to begin the arduous task of maneuvering the eyesore onto the highway.  With the van waving back and forth, I had difficulty keeping it in one lane, but finally reached Steven and pulled to the side of the road near him.  His eyes bugged out as he ran to the back of the van. “Your TIRE is almost off!” he shouted, showing me where one lone lug nut, ready to fall off, had been holding it on. Just as he said that, the lug nut fell to the ground, rolled away and the tire fell sideways onto the ground!  I shrieked in horror and felt like vomiting when I realized what that meant; I had been driving it for 3 days with the tire ready to fall off! (It was Steven and his ADHD that changed the tires…I suspect he got distracted somehow and never finished putting that tire on correctly.) I not only had driven it for 3 days, but I managed to drive it ON THE HIGHWAY at a HIGH RATE OF SPEED to get to Steven. How lucky was I that is didn’t fall off while driving where not only I could have been killed, but I could have killed someone else? I shuddered with realization. It seemed like fate! Or luck? Or something else?

The Diet Coke and loose tire incidents may seem unrelated, but to me, both are an affirmation that luck does not come into play.  I like to think it was Divine intervention, a thought both heartwarming and reassuring.  A thought that always makes me smile…and so far has kept me alive!

 

He Ain’t Heavy, He’s my Brother

I led a very untraditional lifestyle when I was growing up.  My father, whom I later realized was schizophrenic, had the wanderlust to travel, which our family did for about 6 months of the year. He would remove me out of school and we would take off for various areas of the country, living in our Volkswagen van. ( Although I am sure that today’s public education system would not allow it, somehow I think my father would have taken me out anyway.)

It was quite an adventure for a child like me.  I have a vivid memory of cracking eggs in a big, black, iron frying pan over a campfire in the Badlands in South Dakota.  The rocks the pan was on were not sturdy, and the pan fell sideways with the eggs slowly leaking out onto the pine needles on the ground.  (Clumsy then…still clumsy.) I remember traveling in southern Georgia, driving for miles watching red clay cover everything…the houses, the cars, and even the clothes hanging on the lines.  It was at the beginning of the civil rights movement, and I was uneducated in this area, (probably because I didn’t go to school!) The whole concept of a bathroom for “whites only” was a shock to me.  Did that mean that only people wearing white clothes could use it?  (I’m picturing nurses, dentists, pharmacists…)  I couldn’t use it because I had on my only pair of pants, jeans, and a multi-colored t-shirt. But I had to go to the bathroom baaaaad, where would I go?  Behind the bushes? How degrading!  My misunderstanding of this concept is now a slight reminder of what it felt like be African American in the 60’s. I also have the memory of  a bear at Yellowstone Park coming onto our campsite to eat our dinner as we all huddled in the car. My brother, Curtis, was upset because he had left a package of Cracker Jacks on the picnic table.  We had to restrain him from leaping out of the car to get it.  Afterwards, I was not so keen to sit by the campfire…

But most of all, I remember my constant companion; Curtis.  He was four years younger than I was, and he had been born with Rubella Syndrome; developmentally delayed, cleft palate, legally blind, and severely hearing impaired.  He was my buddy.  Because my dad was extremely frugal, (ie obsessive compulsive disorder frugal,) I did not have many toys to play with.  So, in addition to reading a lot, I played in our surroundings with my brother.  I have a memory of  sitting by a stream, sun shining down on the water through the leaves on the trees. Curtis was happily splashing about in the shallow water.  I was looking for rocks that somewhat resembled people.  (They were no Barbie dolls, but some kind of looked like Alfred Hitchcock and Potato Head.) All of a sudden I heard a whoooooosh!  Curtis had ventured too far into the water and the current started to carry him downstream!  Fortunately, I had long, slim legs (in those days,) and with a few strides, I picked him up by the back of his pants. He was laughing heartily.  To him it was a real adventure.  Like the poor person’s substitute for a ride at Disneyland!

We actually had a lovely childhood together. I had to carry him everywhere because he could not walk sturdily.  Carrying him was just a natural way of life for me.  I don’t know why, but I never thought to be embarrassed by him, (although his screeching and attempt at speech WAS pretty scary).  I never ever thought of him as a burden.  He was just my buddy, Curtis.

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My parents rarely took pictures.  (The money thing again…) But I do remember ONE picture.  It was a picture of me and Curtis, standing in front of Mount Rushmore.  I was characteristically giving him a piggy back ride.  The photo shows Curtis, looking over my shoulder, eyes squinted shut by the glare of the sun.  I was wearing a stupid, treasured, red velvet derby hat, (you know, like jockeys wear.) As the dead presidents loomed behind us, I gave my characteristically stupid, toothy grin, (like all children do when their parents ask them to smile.) And on that day, I first heard the song from Neil Diamond which fit my sentiments exactly: “He Ain’t Heavy, He’s My Brother”.  It was a powerful moment to think that someone had put into words what my life was like.

I was so very lucky to have been raised the way I was because it formed my personality, my temperament, and my compassion for others. I personally cannot take credit for the way I live now, fostering and adopting children. I am not selfless, nor amazing, nor wonderful, nor any of the other adjectives readers have used to describe me. I am simply living my life the way I was raised and it is a wonderful life!

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Link to my book  The Apple Tree: Raising 5 Kids With Disabilities and Remaining Sane

 

He Ain’t Heavy, He’s My Brother Lyrics

The road is long

With many a winding turn

That leads us to who knows where

Who knows where

But I’m strong

Strong enough to carry him

He ain’t heavy,he’s my brother

So on we go

His welfare is of my concern

No burden is he to bear

We’ll get there

For I know

He would not encumber me

He ain’t heavy, he’s my brother

If I’m laden at all

I’m laden with sadness

That everyone’s heart

Isn’t filled with the gladness

Of love for one another

It’s a long, long road

From which there is no return

While we’re on the way to there

Why not share

And the load

Doesn’t weigh me down at all

He ain’t heavy he’s my brother

He’s my brother

He ain’t heavy, he’s my brother

He ain’t heavy, he’s my brother

written by Bobby Scott and Bob Russell

performed by Neil Diamond in 1970

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Link to the Readers Digest review of my book:  http://www.rd.com/recommends/what-to-read-after-a-hurricane/

Dead Van Running

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Last week I pulled into a gas station from out of town to, obviously, get gas.  I filled it up, (ie put $20 in as it would have cost $100 to really fill it!)  Because this station had super cheap gas, a line quickly formed behind me. I started the van up and tried to shift into “drive”.  The shifter did not move!  I tried again, and again and again as the line of cars behind me now flowed out onto the street.  IT WOULD NOT SHIFT!  The car was running smoothly, it had plenty of gas, and yet it would not move.  I was highly embarrassed now, as the cars started honking at me.  However, as it my usual good fortune, this particular gas station was associated with an auto repair business.  I ran in and got the mechanic, who took a look at the line of cars, and tried not to smile.  I am sure he thought I was just incompetent, and he cockily climbed into the drivers seat and grabbed hold of the shifter, but it would not budge for him either.  There were only 2 ways to get my van out of the way…have it towed, (which we all know would be another disaster,) or having him climb underneath my running van and by hand shift the gear into drive, crawling out before it started moving.  In other words, a death defying trick.  Being the brave man that he was, he choose the latter option.  As he crawled under the van, he told me that no matter what I do, DO NOT STEP ON THE GAS UNTIL HE TELLS ME TO.  I don’t think I have ever been so scared in my life.  My little old, nervous, shaking foot on that break pedal was the only thing between this man and death!  He shifted it quickly and rolled out, telling me to “Go!  Go!” which I did at a breakneck speed of about 2 miles per hour.  I made a loop around the gas station, coming to stop at an empty parking spot off to the side.  I put my foot on the break…holding down with all my might.  He crawled back under the van and hand shifted it back into park.  My hero!

Come to find out, the shift gears were so old that they were very rusty and would not move.  He took them apart, sanded them and oiled them, thereby fixing the problem.  When it came time to pay, he said, “That will be eight hundred and seventy-two dollars.” But before I could faint, he started laughing and said he was only teasing…it was only forty-two dollars for his labor.  This man risks his life and it costs me less than $50! I was so relieved that not only was my van fixed, but that it was fixed for a very reasonable price.  Such is my luck in life.  Every time something bad happens, it turns out okay.  I truly am lucky!  (And so was that crazy man who climbed under the car while it was still running!)

 

Just a reminder…as I am saving up for more reliable transportation, it would be greatly appreciated if you could consider purchasing my book, The Apple Tree:  Raising 5 Kids with Disabilities and Remaining Sane, which is sold on I-Books, Amazon and Barnes and Noble.  I have since learned that some days it is easier to maintain my sanity than others…

 

Therapy Dog…Miracle?

Nine years ago, when we adopted our daughter who is deaf, a friend who is blind donated to us his newly retired Seeing Eye Dog.  The dog, age 6, was getting to be a little bit too old to guide this gentleman on his hectic daily routine, but was still vibrant enough to be a wonderful family pet.  Thus she began her non-working life with us.

Brandy was a gorgeous German Shepherd with the colorful mixed color coat most German Shepherds have.  The most fascinating this about her as a pet was that she was so well trained.  She had been trained not to bark at cats or other dogs, although she was known to bark to announce the arrival of our son, Steven for some odd reason.  He liked to work with snakes and reptiles, so maybe in the guide school in which she had been trained such species had not been included in her training.  (After all, how many people who are blind run into snakes or tarantulas in their daily walks?)

In addition to having a mellow, friendly, and incredibly devoted personality, Brandy had been trained to run right outside to “do her business” (so to speak,) so there was none of the usual waiting, walking, coaching or exasperation  which could be associated with a normal dog’s method of, well, “doing their business”.  Rain, snow, mud, cement….Brandy voided upon command!  She would walk with Marie down the street with Marie closet to the side of our road. Because Marie was deaf, Brandy would keep her safe for oncoming cars.

Although she had a great relationship with Marie, Brandy tended to gravitate towards our son, Angel, whose dark moods and multiple personalities tended to keep his mind in constant turmoil.  Brandy sensed that in him, and quickly choose Angel’s bed on which to sleep.  Because Angel would frequently take to his bed if the dark demons in his brain became overwhelming, Brandy became the perfect therapy pet.  She calmed him and centered him, allowing him to tame the “World War 3” going on in his head and basically live a “normal” life.  Angel’s ability to continue on and be successful in school amazed me, and he credited Brandy with survival.

Brandy was an exceptional dog!  Not only did she sense Angel’s moods and guide Marie down the street, but her personality set her apart from other dogs.  Her job was devotion to others, and she was like a quiet Saint…always loving, accepting, forgiving and tender.

My mother passed away several years ago, and Brandy was thirteen years old at the time.  Angel took my mother’s passing especially hard, and was unable to attend school for several weeks.  Brandy was there to help him through the devastating time for this a child with such attachment issues.  His grandmother had been the one to give him gum drops when he’d been especially depressed.  And she made him custard pie on a regular basis. In is mind, he lost the only person he felt truly understood him. (She definitely knew that the way to his contentment lay somewhere in his stomach, which is not so different than many of us.)

Angel’s life changed when my mother died, and a lot of his confidence and hard won happiness had waned. He was a freshman in high school, having great difficulties adjusting to his disability in the especially raw world of teens and classes of Algebra and Forensics.  Brandy was there every day when he came home from school, and they would spend time at the end of each day unwinding, in his bed.  I began to fear that Brandy, being thirteen at the time, would not live to see Angel graduate from high school, another three years away. With the loss of his grandmother, I knew that he would not be able to adjust to the lost of his comfort pet and that any potential of a successful high school graduation would be out of the question. I sincerely prayed for a miracle..for Brandy to remain alive long to help Angel through these transitional years.

I am proud to say that Angel graduated in June.  He did so proudly, and, except for the fact that his graduation cap was too small for his very large head, he made it through the rigors of being a senior, completing senior projects and getting good grades so that he could walk across that stage with pride.  It was a wonderful day for all of is, and I said a silent prayer of thanks that Brandy was able stay around long for him to finish so successfully.

Right after graduation, Brand’s physical condition worsened dramatically to the point that she could no longer walk without falling over.  Angel himself made the decision to have Brandy euthanized.  He said he had been so selfish wanting to keep her alive for his own sake, but that he knew she was suffering and that is was her time to “join his beloved grandmother in heaven.”

So, yesterday, I made an appointment with the vet to have  Brandy euthanized.  For breakfast, I searched in the freezer and gave her a whole frozen pot roast to gnaw on, which she seemed to greatly enjoy. She had been to the groomers only a week before, and she still wore the yellow bandana around her neck.  Her coat was shiny and soft, and her cute toenails were short.  Eating that pot roast, she was happy, and Angel and I stayed with her for hours, petting her soft coat and murmuring words of love.

Her euthanization went as well as could be expected for such a traumatic event.  Angel and I were both sad and teary as the vet prepared her, but we tried not to let her know it, talking in loving and soothing tones throughout the process.  To me, she actually seemed happy and content, with no idea what was happening.

The vet was extremely sensitive to her needs, and the process went very smoothly.  The vet indicated Brandy was obviously a well-cared for dog…and did we realize that our Germain Shepherd had lived to be sixteen and a half years old?  This was a statement she repeated at least five times during the whole process.  DID WE REALIZE THAT OUR GERMAN SHEPHERD WAS SIXTEEN AND A HALF YEARS OLD????  She indicated that that was almost a miracle.

MIRACLE?  I have been blessed with several miracles in my life but somehow, in the scheme of every day life, I had forgotten that day, more than 3 years earlier, when I prayed for Brandy to live long enough to allow Angel to graduate from high school.  She had done that for him, for me, for US!  Our home life, and Angel’s future, would have been completely different had she not been there to sensitiviely calm the chaos in his mind..

Angel and I, (and the whole family of course,) have spent our days crying and mourning the loss of our beloved Brandy.  The one thing that keeps me grounded is the fact that her long life and her lovingly therapeutic affect on Angel HAD been a miracle.  We were so blessed to have had her…

An Active Life with Limited Vision

Francis, who is severely visually impaired enough to be considered legally blind, was skilled enough that he was able to attend a mainstream kindergarten.  He needed some modifications, including large print materials.  He adjusted well to the class, but one week came home and told me that they had a guest speaker come to their classroom.  An exterminator came to the classroom to tell them about termites and such.  He was clearly shaken by the presentation, and for the next several nights he had nightmares, couldn’t sleep, and kept the light on in his room.

He was petrified of termites!  Trying to calm him down, I said “Why are you afraid of teeny tiny termites?”  “TINY???” he cried, ‘They’re HUGE!”  Only people who have driven through Providence, Rhode Island and have seen the 30 foot long, 10 foot tall “Big Blue Bug” as an advertisement for an exterminator which sits proudly right next to Route 95 would understand why he thought termites were huge.  After all, he was too visually impaired to see a real termite, and thought that all termites were that big! No wonder he was so frightened!  We’ve had a good laugh over that story for years!

Another interesting story was how he chose his friends.  With limited vision, he could only make out vague details of the other children.   Yet, he had one good friend named Eddie.  He and Eddie always hung out together.  One day I brought him to school late, and as I looked over the sea of Caucasian, blonde haired little five year olds, I heard Francis say “There’s Eddie” as he happily jumped through the crowd to sit next to the only African American boy in the class.  Real easy to spot!

As Francis got older, he wanted to participate in sports.  He took up wrestling through the Police Athletic League where his vision would not impair his performance.  I, however, had never been to a wrestling match before.  At his first match, he was wrestling with another boy his size and he reached over while the other boy supposedly made an “illegal move”.  Francis’ arm cracked the boy in the nose, and soon there was blood everywhere.  I’m screaming.  The kid with an obviously broken nose is screaming.  And Francis was screaming because he had won the match!  That was his one and only wrestling match. Okay, so blame me for being an overprotective mom, but the sight of blood tends to sour me on a sport.

After that, Francis took up swimming, a sport he excelled at, and one in which he could not get hurt or hurt anyone else.  He remained in this sport for many years, and won several honors for his fast swimming.  It gave him a chance to be a member of team and compete with other people where vision was not an issue.

Francis also became an excellent skier, skiing by following closely in the tracks of a lead skier. He went to winter camps in Colorado run by the Christian Braille Foundation from the age of 14 years old, flying alone across the country to join other skiers with vision impairments.  By the time he was a young adult, he was easily skiing black diamond slopes in Maine and New Hampshire. much to my chagrin.  I was petrified he was going to ski into a tree!  (This was around the time one of the Kennedy’s died by running into a tree.) In his early twenties, while Francis was attending college in Cambridge, England, he made several forays skiing in the Alps.  He sent me a gorgeous picture of him at the top of the mountain, the sunshine on his back, his dark glasses gleaming in the sun with a big smile on his face.  He signed the picture “Look, Ma!  No trees!”  because skiing in the Alps is done above the tree line.  I felt much relieved.  What a great place to ski!  Until I learned from someone that there are not TREES on the Alps, but there are plenty of AVALANCHES!

While in Cambridge, Francis joined a punting team. His team was very successful because he was the lead “punter”.  (I don’t know what it is called…) He would stand at the front of the long, flat boat with a long pole.  Because of the fact he was 6 foot 4 inches, his pole would go deeply into the water and propel the boat forward.  He was also very agile and could do this very fast. His team members would direct him on which way to steer, and they became a champion team!

Despite all of my fears and worries as a parent, Francis has successfully made it to adulthood and continues to try new sports, surfing in Hawaii, wind surfing in California,  and, , jogging in marathons.  He even obtained a license to captain his own sailboat crew.  It just demonstrates that being legally blind does not have to hamper your activities, they just are done in different ways!


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