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Rockin’ The Walker

In the summer of 2013 my mother fell backward into the bathtub and my sister just happened to be there. In the emergency room they did a CT scan because she had fallen a few times and found the meningioma. She went into Orchard Park rehab for a couple weeks waiting for the CyberKnife surgery where she developed pneumonia, returned to the hospital, and had the operation. From there it was back to Tacoma Lutheran for a month or two of rehab.

It was time to go north to visit her and also to look around for a new place for her to live which didn't have steps, as she had fourteen, but part of my fence had been torn down to clear the way for a new concrete septic tank when the cheap plastic one had failed the year before. My handyman Hugh had assured me he could put the fence and gate back up but we soon realized it was too big of a project for him and the fence guys were all scheduled out for months. 

(Earlier that spring he had climbed down into the old yellow one with a jack and a piece of two-by-four to try to push out the massive dent without success. The septic system had failed the winter before just prior to when Allie and I were getting ready to leave for Mexico and we each had to dig a hole at opposite ends of the backyard like the old days. The shit was bubbling up onto the ground but I didn't want to postpone the trip so left it for the caretaker to handle.)

With crops in two counties which needed to be watered it was almost unheard of to go away in the middle of the growing season. I was paralyzed with indecision and wondered if it was time to see my therapist? She quickly gave me an appointment, I laid out the scenario, and she calmly suggested I could find someone to water the plants, somehow get the fence section rebuilt, or wait until I got back.

I hung a blue tarp over the gap by the house for privacy and called the fence guy again, the one who had built it a few years earlier. I left a message with his wife that it was an emergency, my mother was dying, and I had to leave in a few days to visit her. My exaggeration worked and the Gringo boss came down to measure the job, told me how much it would cost, and sent his Mexican crew down to rebuild the gate and the thirty feet of fence.

One of my trimmers agreed to come down from Eureka early to water and I walked her around the gardens. (I should have done it twice with her leading the way the second time as I discovered when I got back that she had missed a hidden patch on the far side of the acre. I found those plants very thirsty but miraculously they had survived with no water in full sun for three weeks.)

A friend recommended her renter and employee for the other watering job as she lived out on the coast where the scene was. I showed her the water system and how much to give each plant. (Eight years later this woman tracks me online, reports me whenever she comes across a word or phrase which doesn't adhere to her standards of political correctness, gets my stories taken down, and must fancy herself a one-woman morality squad. The funny thing about these censorious woke twits is they get to read my story but no one else is allowed to.)

I drove up to Tacoma, visited Sally twice a day in rehab, and in the evenings sat out on her porch, turned on the music in the computer, and smoked a little weed. I wandered around the neighborhood aiming for the nearby views of Puget Sound in the desirable (which must mean no blacks or homeless) North End of Tacoma. 

Each morning waking up groggy and worthless I had to drink so much strong coffee to get straight that it became time to stop smoking in order to focus on finding another place for her to live. In the afternoons my sister and I drove around looking for an apartment for rent in her neighborhood which didn't have any steps or maybe just one or two.

Her primary doctor thought she was ready for assisted living and we ran some scenarios by him pointing out how it could work for her to come home. He called our ideas “contrived” but we decided to take her home anyway.

I rigged a plastic handle onto the stone pedestal at the top of her stairs with bungie cords holding it down. She left her lightweight walker collapsed in the bushes at the bottom of the steps, dragged herself up the stairs to the porch holding onto the railing, and grabbed onto the plastic handle. On the porch there was another walker which she used to get over to the front door and when she got into the house she switched to her inside walker. (She needed the walker because she had bad knees. Five or ten years earlier when a knee replacement was recommended she didn't want to do it because she was afraid of the operation and the rehab process.) 

She was a familiar sight around her neighborhood and I admired her adaptability, doing what she had to in order to keep moving. A coffeeshop opened down the street and nearly every afternoon she went out for a warm beverage. My sister often met her there but the rest of the time she sat by herself while students stared at their devices, small children ran around, and young professionals stopped in front to pick up their coffees-to-go.

Though she rarely talked to anyone at the nearby tables all the baristas knew her, treated her fondly, and knew what her standard order was, like when she used to go to Starbucks at the shopping district a mile away. (Sometimes when she was going to change up her order the barista would arrive with her standard without being asked and what could she do but accept it?) She rode the bus down to the shopping district as well as to church, poetry group, and the supermarket.

At rehab she became friends with her shower woman and we hired her to come by once a week to do some light housekeeping and laundry. Shannon worked for us for years and Sally was lucky to have her as a friendly companion as well.

Soon after she got back home from rehab we did an oral history project over a few days and I recorded her answers to my questions. While talking about her childhood she volunteered that her family had been nudists when she was growing up, not that they called it that, they just didn't see any need for clothes. But then as she entered her teens and wanted to have friends over they began dressing around the house. 

The doctor was wrong and she got to live at home for another five years at her place with the steps and then when she could barely get up them my sister found a nice newly renovated apartment with no steps just a block from the Proctor business district; the farmer's market also set up every Saturday right outside her door.

It kind of amazed me one day when she emailed Noam Chomsky an 85th birthday greeting and he replied a minute or two later. They had been classmates when she was nine at Country Day School in Swarthmore, PA and she had pushed him off a little hill one memorable day when they were playing cowboys and Indians.

Once a year, usually on her birthday, her children and grandchildren came from around the country to visit and celebrate. During one of those gatherings when the music was playing I challenged everyone to go into the middle and bust a dance move. We all did including my mother and I can still see her excited smiling face as she bounded in with her walker to dance a few seconds, happily surrounded by her family.

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