Spring Fundraiser 2015, Day Five
Day Five?? How did we get here so quickly? Again. I seem to lose track of a sense of continuity as I float through the octave of each quarter’s effort to tell and re-tell again what this project is about and how it changes us. The content of each effort is different, but the process doesn’t change. We’ve become better at keeping to the themes of each quarter, and I don’t know why. Maybe it’s similar to the way the Baron claims he learned to have artistic talent: do something over and over and by the end, when you have a better sense of what you’re doing on stage — why, the play is over.
This is/has been a good fundraiser. As they say around here, a right good one. Y’all have admonished me before not to call this begging or blegging — an intriguing portmanteau word — but instead to be true to what we’re doing here: asking for your help in remaining up and running without ads. That was the original contract, after all. I’ve been supposed to be “looking into” unobtrusive ads, but my heart’s not in it. If I had better computer skills, we’d no doubt have something or other. But it seems to me the ads I see other places are getting worse and more intrusive, even when one uses those ad blockers. On older machines, there’s not a good defense, and some of our readers are using older computers… so, for the moment, I’m going to let the ad project go. There’s simply too much else going on.
Besides, our readers are providing genuine and stable support. Sure, we’ll have to dig into savings to pay for part of the plumbing disaster but that’s what savings are for: pipes, and roofs, and — ugh — car replacements. But my plan is to keep repairing this one until they quit making the parts. It’s only fifteen years old and has many thousands of miles to go.
As we come around the turn and can see the home stretch, I’m going to call this a generous WIN. Not only new donors but many of our old faithfuls as well. And your gifts have arrived in all sizes from small to the large economy size. The latter amount means a bigger-than-usual donation, which is very good for Schloss Bodissey’s economy.
It was only when my mother aged into Parkinson’s that it was obvious the time was coming when she would need our care. She had “outgrown” the old folks’ home where she had moved a few years previously after selling her home. That “home” didn’t provide assisted living (what euphemisms we employ!), nor could any of us afford that solution even had we wanted it.
The Baron and I had long since promised ourselves that with both our mothers we’d keep them out of institutions if we possibly could. So we used the proceeds from the sale of Mother’s small house (the house of my dreams in the orphanage at Saint Mary’s and her personal proof of victory over difficult odds), and armed with that somehow finagled an equal amount from the bank despite our low income. I kid you not, Bank of America once had a heart — and not that long ago, either. They did refuse us the first time but with nothing left to lose, I wrote the head office a begging letter — and the local manager called me in shock to say they’d agreed to it. She was as awed as we were. But then, we owned our home sans mortgage so they knew they were safe. This couldn’t happen today (and that debt was the first thing we got rid of when the Baron came to the time in his life when he was offered a “real” job, the kind where you put on a coat and tie and sit at a desk. Amazing what they would pay then if you could compute things.
The daughter of one of Mother’s life-long friends was married to a neurosurgeon, and it was he who pronounced the diagnosis and its likely progression. Her friends in Florida began to get Mother prepared to move here and we began to find a builder. After a number of false starts, we ended choosing a contractor from an ashram in a nearby county. Bless her Catholic heart, when we invited this builder in to bless the finished addition (he was also a swami), she tottered off behind him, sprinkling holy water to ward off whatever he was bringing in — which was no more than candles and rose petals and Hindu prayers.
Ah well. We’d gotten her here and that was the most important part. I felt sympathy for her situation: living, as she said, “in the Middle of Beyond” and far from all her friends. Would she have lived longer if we all had been wealthy and able to keep her in her own home? Probably. But you go with what you have, or what you can devise, and all of you smile and leave the sadness mostly unsaid.
Building the addition to the house was one of our great adventures, good and bad. It was a very wet, frozen late winter and early spring that year; the laying of the foundation kept being delayed. There was a period — a fortnight or less — of strange freeze-and-thaw weather that uprooted whole swaths of pine forest. They just fell into and onto one another like drunken sailors, their bare roots whole and obscenely exposed to the air and their topmost branches partly buried in goopy, soupy clay mud. In one of the first of those episodes, we’d been in town, and the drive home in the freezing rain was slow going. I’d wrapped myself and the future Baron in our coats and we dozed a bit as the B drove carefully home. Finally, the turn into our driveway! We’d gone in a short distance only to find our way hopelessly blocked with fallen trees. The headlights bounced off a scene from hell: trees uprooted, lying like giant pick-up sticks. There was nothing for it but to button our coats, cover the boy as best we could and pick our way through the pelting snow/ice toward the house. After a very few minutes I was lost. All sense of direction and even time hung suspended as the cold pierced every fiber. Nothing looked familiar in that frozen wet darkness. I clutched my weeping son’s hand as he stumbled behind me and on the other side, I felt the Baron’s firm grip on my arm as he carefully picked his way through obstacles I couldn’t see in the totality of darkness and cold. Fortunately my husband has an unerring sense of direction and it was he who led us finally through the Valley of Desolation and into the clearing where stood our warm house, solid and untouched.
The weather finally warmed enough for them to begin on the house. The Baron had drawn the plans out for the contractor and they discussed how to come in at or under budget. Me? I still don’t know what an “elevation” is, but I’m glad he was able to envision and design what we needed, including an octagonal window in the wall where the stairs ascended to the second floor.
I had to leave aside things I’d hoped for as extras — like kitchen cabinets — and replace them with items like a handicapped shower so Mother could enjoy the warm water flowing down her back.
The back door on her room let to a small porch where she could sit in the good weather. Poor mother: sitting in the warm weather, not with a drink in a lounge chair, but with a small cup of tea on the table next to her and a view facing the woods. Sometimes she got a look at the “creatures” who came out of the woods to chew on the azaleas. Like mother, like daughter: I’m no fan of Bambi either, unless it’s called venison and is marinating in red wine and herbs.
Beyond food, shelter, warmth (or coolth, depending on the season) and the presence of people who love you — in other words, beyond the basics, “rich” or “poor” is a point of view. Some of us need very little, some of us can never be filled. My mother fell somewhere in the middle of that spectrum. She’d had so many years of being scared about her child’s and her own security — about the roof over our heads — that it was hard for her to let go. In her own childhood she’d grown up being questioned about “the address” of her schoolmates, or queries into what their fathers did — exams to be passed before girls could be invited home after school. In America, when she fell on hard times all that had to be hidden from “home”. What would people say? Oh God and His Blessed Mother, the shame of it would freeze her in place.
Back in Virginia, once the house was finished — or almost so — we flew down to bring my Mother “home”. The pain of leaving behind the place she’d lived so long — since she was twenty-eight! — was gut-wrenching but she put a good face on it. There had been days of mourning before we arrived and her friends were adamant that she wear her game face out the door, carefully coiffed and make-up in place. And she did it!
She and I flew back together while the Baron drove a rented truck from Florida to Virginia packed with her belongings so she could have some of “her things” around her. The fB was staying with one of my other sons who delighted in feeding him every junk food I never let in the house. Sometimes being bad has its own special delight. They had a Calvin and Hobbes time of it, those two.
I’d recently begun a great job, traveling around Virginia to teach the basics of working with “at-risk” families to community groups who wanted to cut down the instances of shocking abuse they were finding in their own towns. I’ll save the particulars for another time, but for now, with Mother coming to live with us, and with the Baron being the house husband, we decided I’d better switch gears: expand my house-cleaning business locally and give up travel. Having tried now for some years to find “help”, I realize what a jewel I was back then. At the time, I had various feelings about the work. For one, I thought of it as a lived-out example of James Whitcomb Riley’s poem “Little Orphant Annie”, which had always made me laugh: