In February, we visited Bullhead City, AZ to tend to the death of Rich’s step-father, Ted Robertson. At the time, we stayed at the Tropicana in Laughlin, NV. The evening of our last night, a transformer at a local power plant caught fire, creating a city-wide power outage (although, the casinos had back-up generators, keeping the slot machines running and the blackjack tables lit).
After waiting an hour for the power to return, Rich and I headed to the Arizona side of the Colorado River where we ate dinner at a very crowded Carl’s Jr. When we returned, the Tropicana staff were handing out hand-cranked flashlights. We climbed 21 stories to our room by flashlight, attempted to take a shower with a drizzle of water (the water pumps were electric), and then went to bed.
A month later, we received a letter from the Tropicana, offering us three free nights. We took them up on the offer. Two weeks ago, Monday, at 4:30 in the morning, we found ourselves driving from Mount Vernon to the SeaTac airport for a flight to Las Vegas.
A few days before, having read the temperatures were supposed to be in the 100’s, I invested in several pairs of skorts and camisoles from Value Village. Indeed, after stepping outside to take the bus to the Las Vegas car rental facility, I felt like I was standing in front of a kiln or open oven. The heat was oppressive!
We’d arrived at the start of a heat wave with Las Vegas reaching 109 the day we arrived, and Bullhead City, AZ exceeding 120 degrees! Nevertheless, I was upbeat, especially after hearing we were getting a VW Bug to rent. Although, when given the keys, the car had a striking resemblance to a Nissan Versa. At least, it was red!
Our first stop was the Hoover Dam. Rich was hoping to take a tour, but moments before we made it to the ticket counter, they ceased tours due to an issue with the elevators. I suspect the heat was a factor. Nevertheless, we were able to buy tickets to see the tourist center, which had many interest displays, and was thankfully in air conditioned buildings. Plus, the main building had a great view of the dam, and the “Winged Figures of the Republic,” which are my favorite part of the dam.
I won’t go into details about the dam, which is considered an engineering masterpiece, especially considering the tools (in comparison to what we have today) were rudimentary, relying primarily on ingenuity and manpower.
After roasting, I mean walking, outside for half an hour, we shuffled to the car, fighting fatigue as we drove to the Tropicana in Laughlin, NV (across the Colorado River from Bullhead City, AZ). Ten minutes after checking in, we were in the hotel swimming pool, cooling off. Even though the sun was setting, it was over 120 degrees.
After a quick shower, and eating at the casino buffet, we quickly drifted off to sleep around 9:30 pm.
The following day, we grabbed iced coffees and Egg McMuffins before visiting the realtor selling Ted’s house and the lawyer handling his estate. We also went to Ted’s house to determine what repairs needed to be made. Several weeks ago, there was an offer on the house, which unfortunately fell through. The only positive outcome was we learned what needed to be fixed after it “flunked” the inspection, and the buyer’s finances imploded.
Finally, we visited the three mobile homes Ted owned. One home is being taken by the bank due to being extremely “underwater” with extensive repairs needing to be made before it can sold. Another mobile homes went to Rich after Ted’s death. Rich had paid off this home many years ago, and is now collecting $300 a month in rent. The third mobile home is being sold to the current tenant, who has multiple dogs, cats, and birds. When we knocked on the door, we noticed three tiny kittens under the mobile home, who were very leery of humans. She’s purchasing the house for $5,000, which gives you an idea of its age and condition.
With our chores done for the day, we donned our bathing suits, and headed to Katherine’s Landing, on Lake Mohave, where we rented a jet ski for four hours. Slathered with 30 SPF sunblock, we zoomed to Davis Dam, then circled back to visit the many coves Rich and his family had frequented, starting when he was ten years old. He recalled a cove where a houseboat had tied up. Ted, perturbed at their impedance to anchor near his canopy and water toys, got in his boat, and circled in front of the houseboat, making waves until they left.
For every cove, Rich had a story. He also recalled long weekends of lounging on the shore, jet-skiing, waterskiing, and swimming.
With relatively few people on the river to disturb the wildlife, we saw mallard ducks, American coots, common mergansers, Western grebe, and a fabulous blue heron that swooped in front of us as we motored into a cove. One cove was rather odiferous with several bushes submerged in the water. Dotting the bush was a collection of delicate dragonflies with black, gray, and blue wings. Tired from our jet ski adventure, we headed to Carl’s Jr. for a quick meal before heading back to the Tropicana to shower, turn on the TV, and conk-out.
The following day, we returned to Ted’s house to make some quick repairs, including covering up the rust on his gate with white spray paint. Even though, he’s passed away, his home owners’ association is actively looking for issued with his house. A few weeks after he passed away, they sent a letter saying he had too many “lawn ornaments” in front of his house. For the last seven years or so, he’s had an old horse-drawn wagon, mining pans, and other collectibles he’d gathered in the desert in front of the house. None were added after he passed away!
After finishing up what we needed to do, we wandered through the car collection at the Riverside Casino. Don Laughlin, who essentially founded Laughlin by turning a small motel into a blossoming casino and soon destination, was a car collector.
Afterwards, we rented a jet ski on the Colorado River, across from the Laughlin casinos. With the water colder, we did more riding than swimming, and instead of seeing wildlife, we checked out the homes lining the Arizona side of the river. The Nevada side of the river is owned by the Fort Mojave Indian Tribe. There are few buildings along the river, except the Avi Casino. A distance from the river are numerous homes, apartments, and a handful of small businesses. Driving around the area, in search of somewhere to eat, it became clear that Laughlin residents need to travel to the Arizona side of the Colorado River for groceries and most of their shopping needs. Laughlin commerce primarily consists of eight casinos and associated restaurants and shops along a 4 or 5 mile stretch of the river.
The fourth day of our visit, we got up early and headed back to Las Vegas to catch a flight to Seattle. The flight home was a little over two hours, slightly more than the time it took to drive from Seatac Airport through Seattle and Everett up to Mount Vernon. Northwest Washington traffic is horrible!
Death in the Family
[I started writing this in late February]
Last Tuesday, February 21, at 7:45 in the morning, Ted Robertson’s heart stopped. He was my father-in-law, but his death elicited little sadness, only anguish for the amount of work my husband Rich will have to do to settle his estate.
In a sense, his death felt like a wilted bouquet of flowers. What was once appealing and promising was now just frail stems with strewn petals, needing to be cleaned up.
Since September, Ted had been ailing, starting with pneumonia that sent him to a hospital in Las Vegas. The course of antibiotics resulted in his getting c. difficile, a bacterium that causes horrific diarrhea. He spent the next few months isolated in a rehabilitation center in Bullhead City, Arizona (90 miles from Las Vegas). While he was there, two of his toes, which had become necrotic were also being treated.
He was sent home in early January, moving in with Sue, a woman he’d befriended several years earlier, and with whom he gave a “supposed” engagement ring. In December, we’d learned they’re joined checking accounts, except the only funds going in seemed to be from Ted, with Sue making weekly purchases and cash withdrawals, even though Ted was in the hospital or rehabilitation center.
In the three weeks Ted spent at Sue’s house, all of his toes became necrotic, and the local paramedics were called four times. The last time, his blood sugar was over 1,000, and his body had become septic. He was immediately airlifted to Sunrise Hospital in Las Vegas, where he was stabilized, and numerous tests were conducted, revealing he needed a stent, and his lung were filled with fluid.
On President’s Day, Monday, February 20, we received a call from Ted’s son, Chris, who lived in Philadelphia. Ted’s physician wanted the family to make a decision whether to place Ted back in intensive care or hospice. Knowing Ted didn’t want any life-prolonging treatments, Rich and Chris opted for hospice care.
We immediately went home, and made arrangements to fly out the next morning from Bellingham International Airport. The rest of the day, I scrambled to document what needed to be done at work for the rest of the week, then sent emails to my colleagues with instructions. Rich did the same, in-between looking for the legal documents that showed him to be the executor of the estate.
Tuesday morning, while going through security at the airport, Rich received a call from the hospital, indicating Ted was in “bad shape.” Twenty minutes later, he receive another call, saying Ted had passed. We both got on our phones to call and text families before getting on the plane.
Our first stop in Las Vegas was the mortuary, where Sue and her daughter were waiting. We were informed most of the paperwork had been completed by Sue, using Ted’s last name, and pretending to be his wife. Some of the information was wrong, such as his date of birth. Sue ardently argued it was 1936. The mortician used 1935, which was on Ted’s driver’s license. It was an awkward situation, which was tactfully solved by the mortician who insisted he couldn’t complete the paperwork until Ted’s nature son, Chris, arrived from Philadelphia on Wednesday afternoon.
Our next stop was Sunrise Hospital and Medical Center, a 730-bed facility in southwest Las Vegas that looks and feels old. The front doors opened to the crowded main entrance with a guard sitting behind the front desk. He directed us to the security office, located in emergency department to get Ted’s personal effects, which seemed like a bizarre place to keep deceased people’s belongings. We started down a long sterile, non-descript corridor, past an occasional prosaic framed picture, numerous closed doors, and polished linoleum floors with layers of wax, disguising their age.
A few people passed us, darted behind a door or turn down another indistinguishable hallway. We followed the signs, making several turns until we arrived at double-doors indicating we’d arrived at the emergency department. My first thought was apocalyptic.
Nearly every chair was filled. Along the walls were people in wheelchairs or sitting on the floor. Children. Adults. Elderly. Street people with their possessions by their side. People who looked somewhat healthy, and others no doubt regulars to the emergency department, especially the obvious homeless and indigent.
Rich knocked on the door of the security office, and was told they’d get Ted’s possessions shortly. After waiting twenty minutes, I decided to go outside where several ambulance were dropping off or picking up people. A woman approaching me, explaining her husband had been brought to the hospital earlier that morning after having difficulties breathing. She was hoping he’d be admitted. She commented Sunrise regularly turns away ambulance when their emergency room fills up.
Indeed Ted had spent several days in the Sunrise emergency department until they found him a “bed” in the hospital. On Yelp, the hospital barely gets 2.5 stars with most people complaining about the long waits in the emergency room, and subpar care.
After finally getting the handful of items Ted had in his room – including a shaver, phone charger, and stuffed teddy bear – we headed to Bullhead City, AZ.
After checking into the Tropicana Casino, across the Colorado River in Laughlin, NV, we headed to Ted’s house. While we knew it was a disaster from previous visits, we weren’t prepared for the extent of the disarray and filth. And unlike other visits, it was now up to us to clean up the mess, and figure out what to do with his properties, which included a large 4-bedroom house, and three dilapidated mobile homes.
To be continued…
The Saturday before Christmas, Rich and I watched Hector and the Search for Happiness, a movie starring Simon Pegg who plays a psychiatrist stuck in his daily routine for which he experiences little happiness. He sets out on odyssey to unearth what makes people happy.
By the end of the film, he’s experienced fear, elation, wonderment, and many unexpected adventures, which lead him to the path of happiness and contentment. The film is worth watching in that my saccharine description glosses over his journey across several continents, people he meets, and lessons he learns.
For our recent trip to Bullhead City, Arizona, I decided to take notice of the genial people we encounter, and harvest their zeal, optimism, and outward happiness.
Early Sunday morning, we boarded a shuttle at the Bellingham International Airport. The driver was jovial, sharing that he had five daughters (two were twins), nine grandchildren, and two great-grandchildren. He laughed, recalling the many pranks he’d played on them, including insisting a large, gaudy-painted sphere was an alien egg. He commented that one of his daughters still displays the “egg” on her mantel, and eagerly tells visitors how her father tricked her as a kid.
His favorite prank, which he’s been reenacting for his grandchildren, is using wire ties to secure bananas to his cherry tree. He then invites his grandchildren to harvest the bananas, confirming his tall tale that cherry trees can indeed grow bananas!
We wished him a merry Christmas, and the joy of dreaming of new antics to entertain his daughters’ children.
As we went through the security line at the airport, we commented to the TSA agent it’s a pleasure flying out of Bellingham with short lines and easy parking. The agent added the security personnel are also nicer. While they’re certainly nicer, Rich had to go through additional security screening because he left his wallet in his pants pocket when he went through the body scanner.
Our flight to Las Vegas was pleasant. Halfway through, we struck up a conversation with one of the flight attendants, a 26-year old woman who said her job is super fun, and that I should consider becoming a flight attendant. I was sold after she told me the oldest person in her class was 68, training is just 5 weeks in length, the benefits are great, and after a year, you can choose how much you want to fly. The drawback is that I’d need to commute to Seattle, which is one of Alaska Airline’s bases.
Julie the flight attendant? Maybe.
After landing in Las Vegas, we drove to Laughlin and Bullhead City, which are on opposite sides of the Colorado River, straddling the Nevada and Arizona borders. After seeing Rich’s step-father, enjoying Mexican food, and settling into our room at the Tropicana in Laughlin, we walked to a quickie mart for soda and nibbles. Two women were behind the counter. One was an older woman. The other, a younger, heavy-set woman with a man’s haircut.
No doubt, working at a quickie mart isn’t the most enjoyable job, especially if you work the graveyard shift. However, both were affable, and eager to help me overcome my indecisiveness about the best “snack” to purchase. After deliberating, and enjoying the lighthearted banter, I settled on Tic Tac mints.
The exchange was so amusing, the next evening we returned, hoping to find the same clerks. This time, there were two men who were equally pleasant, but lacked the joie de vivre of the women.
One of the reasons for our visiting Bullhead City was to check on several rentals overseen by Rich’s step-father, who’d been hospitalized since September. There’d been several issues with one of the renters – a woman and her two young daughter – so we prepared for a confrontation. Instead, we arrived to find them in the midst of moving out.
The woman overseeing the move was a relative, dressed in a tank top with crude tattoos on her arms and chest, cigarette dangling from her yellowed fingers, and hair in a scraggly ponytail, emphasizing the blemishes and wrinkles on her face. Her looks, however, were deceptive.
She was courteous, conscientious, and cooperative, working with Rich to identify issues with the rental (a double-wide mobile homes that’d seen better days), and discuss what needed to be done to lockup the property to prevent vandalism.
In the property next door – also a rental owned by my father-in-law – lived a woman and her mother. They had six small dogs, four cats, and several cages of birds in their single-wide mobile home. While they obviously had way too many pets, it was hard to overlook their soft heartedness. They no doubt had to stretch their meager welfare and social security payments to provide for their furred and feathered companions.
Difference between Happiness and Meaning
Viktor Frankl, a prominent Jewish psychiatrist and neurologist in Vienna, who wrote the bestselling book, Man’s Search for Meaning, which details his experience in Auschwitz and other concentration camps, champions the difference between those who lived and those who died while imprisoned hinged on whether they had “meaning.”
Research has shown that having purpose and meaning in life increases overall well-being and life satisfaction, improves mental and physical health, enhances resiliency, enhances self-esteem, and decreases the chances of depression. Whereas simply pursuing happiness doesn’t result in consistency of happiness.
Many of the people we met during our trip had challenging lives, but they had meaning. We learned the woman who was helping moved the family from my father-in-law’s rental was an aunt who’d previously been instrumental in raising the mother. For the past eight months, she’d cared for the woman’s children who worked 45 minutes away. She explained how she’d walked the girls to the school bus stop every morning, and ensuring they had what they needed at night. The meaning of her life was to care for others.
Perhaps the meaning for the next-door neighbor with the multitude of pets is to take in unwanted and abused animals. The shuttle bus driver at the Bellingham Airport found meaning in delighting his grandchildren with playful antics.
A study in the upcoming issue of Journal of Positive Psychology associates leading a happy life with being a “taker,” while leading a meaningful life correlates with being a “giver.” Kathleen Vohs, one of the authors of the study explains, “Happy people get a lot of joy from receiving benefits from others while people leading meaningful lives get a lot of joy from giving to others.”
Because a “giver” may have to sacrifice happiness in order to achieve meaning, they tend to experience more stress and anxiety than happy people. On the other hand, happiness without meaning can result in a person being shallow, self-absorbed or even selfish, continuously seeing ways to satisfy their needs and desires, while avoiding unnecessary entanglements.
The Declaration of Independence states the unalienable rights of “Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.” Happiness isn’t guaranteed, just the freedom to pursue it. But like Hector in the Simon Pegg movie, a more satisfying goal might be to find ones meaning, and thereby, lead a more caring life.
When I was six or seven, my aunt and uncle gave me a sterling silver charm bracelet. Over the years, I added charms whenever I visited interesting places. My mother often bought me several charms at once, and had several custom made.
By the time I was an adult, the bracelet was so full of charms it was completely unwearable. A jeweler recommended I place the charms on a silver chain. She sold me the split rings, and gave me a tool, which made it easier to open the rings and attach the charms.
I wore the necklace a handful of times, then stashed it in a ceramic pot in a display cabinet. I recently discovered the necklace, and was surprised at how random charms added in my teens took on meaning later in life.
Some of the charms include:
- The original charm was a delicate horse, which continues to be one of my favorites.
- The charm of a longhorn is a very detailed with majestic horns. I placed is towards the back of the necklace because it lacked meaning. However, when I moved to Texas and saw longhorns, I was instantly captivated with these incredible animals, and subsequently quit eating beef. I also have a charm of an oil derelict, which may have been a prediction to Rich and me moving to Texas.
- I’ve always like rhinoceros so it’s no surprise I have a rhino charm.
- I’m not sure how I ended up with a charm of a six-point elk
- One of the first charms I received was a sailing vessel with multiple masts. It was created by a jeweler in Tarzana, California, and originally cast in gold. My mother asked to have it remade in silver.
- I have no idea how anchor and rope, starfish, swordfish, and boat wheel charms ended up on my bracelet. I don’t recall purchasing or receiving them. Unexpectedly, Rich introduced me to sailing, and I ended up getting bare-boat certified. One day, we look forward to owning a sailboat.
Places I Visited
- Tinkerbell from Disneyland
- Stagecoach from Knott’s Berry Farm
- Thunderbird with inset turquoise from Mammoth Lakes, California
- Dutch shoe from Solvang, California
- Flamingo from San Diego Zoo
- Buddha from San Francisco Chinatown
- Bear and cub from Yosemite, California
- Pineapple given to me by my grandparents who went Hawaii. My stepchildren grew up in Kauai, and Rich lived there for several years.
- Kokopelli from New Mexico
- Four charms that represent my parents’, brother’s and my astrological signs.
- Mortarboard with a pearl, given to me when I graduated from high school.
- Mortarboard inscribed with PSU (Portland State University) and the date I graduated.
- Round charm that represents when I graduated from either elementary or junior high school
- Dragon, which maybe represents future interest in Game of Thrones (kidding)
- Two fairy charms. There’s a third, which I never placed on the necklace, and carry in a cloth bag in my purse. She’s a parking fairy who ensures I can find a parking space even when the possibilities are remote.
- Bird cage with a bird inside. Maybe it meant I’d marry a man with several birds.
- Frog with a crown. Rich turned out to be a prince, but in mortal skin.
- Helicopter. I’ve been in a helicopter twice, both as birthday gifts from Rich.
- Skis. My mother’s lover after my father died (and the person she lived with prior to meeting my father) had a ski school and summer camp in Mammoth Lake, California
- Large filigree bell, three little bells, heart with a key charms
- Cinderella’s coach, woman who lived in a shoe, cuckoo clock, and merry-go-round charms
- Fisherman, and fishing gear charms to represent my brother who fished
- Two airplanes, one a jetliner, and another a prop plane
- Ballerina, bicycle, flip phone, and eagle kachina, which I definitely picked out!
- I can’t sing or play an instrument, but I guess to represent my cousins who are musicians, and my mother’s interest in playing the piano I have a piano, clef note, ornate series of notes, gramophone, and a man on a park bench playing a guitar (my mother thought it represented her lover holding a skis).
Who could have predicted the spectacular racist comment by Donald Trump about Mexico sending criminals and rapist to America would result in enthusiastic cheers from right-wing supporters while much of the country gasped in horror?
Even more astonishing Fox New blatantly validated his remark by trumpeting the murder of Kate Steinle’s in San Francisco by serial felon and illegal alien Juan Francisco Lopez-Sanchez. Fanning the flames, litigator Heather Hansen wrote on Fox News “Looking for justice? Move to Mexico. When it comes to looking to the U.S. courts for protection, you may have a better chance if you’re from south of the border.”
There’s no denying Lopez-Sanchez shouldn’t have been released from custody. However, any repeat miscreant – whether white, black, brown, legal, illegal, male, female, young or old – will likely commit another crime once released.
According to the Bureau of Justice Statistics, 68% of the 405,000 prisoners released in 30 states in 2005 were arrested for a new crime within three years of release from prison. Over three-quarters had been arrested within five years. Prisoners who had previously committed violent, property or drug crimes were more likely than other released inmates to be imprisoned again for similar crimes.
The tragedy of Steinle’s death isn’t minimized by applying the actions of one man to millions of undocumented workers, labeling them as lowlifes, and rallying for their deportation. The hypocrisy of Trump’s hullabaloo is he most likely depends on illegal immigrants to tend his golf courses, build his Taj Mahals, and clean his opulent penthouse and luxury properties. The Trump Tower escalator, he famously descended the day he announced his candidacy, was probably buffed by an illegal alien an hour before.
Perceptions from Early Age
I’ve tried to soothe my ire over the ignorance and intolerance I heard coming from the maw beneath Trump’s comb-over, but it won’t be soothed. My opinion about Hispanics and illegal aliens was formed when I was young, before I became conscious of the differences between people.
My father had a factory on Santee Street in the heart of the Los Angles garment district. He was a subcontractor for the clothing manufacturer, Fred Rothchild of California. He produced high-end dresses and pantsuits. Polyester was the rage at the time, and I recall racks of lime green, powder blue, and pink (along with lots of black, brown, and off-white) dresses being wheeled out of his fourth-floor factory, loaded onto a freight elevator, and pushed through the streets to a wholesaler.
The building his factory occupied is now upscale condos. When I was a child, it was a dusty with lint from the garment factories that occupied nearly every floor. In the winter, it was cold. And in the summer, it was sweltering. There was the constant sound of sewing machines, whoosh of giant pressers (irons), and clicking from machines used to sew-on buttons or vacuum off loose threads. Mixed in with the industrial noises was conversations between women from Latin America, Czechoslovakia, Asia, and the United States.
I remember where they came from because they brought my family gifts, many of which I still have. A fabric doll, embroidered table cloth and napkins from Guatemala. Silver bracelet from Mexico. Cut-crystal ashtray from Czechoslovakia (originally given to my parents). From their kitchens and ethnic stores, they brought tamales, Chicklets, candies wrapped in rice paper, and pastries with sweet mung beans inside. They also sewed me a couple of outfits, including the dress to the right, worn when I was around 20 months old.
Within weeks of my birth, I was brought to my father’s factory. A rag bin became my crib. When I got older, I swung from metal clothing racks, tried on the employees’ work smocks (even though I was told to stay out of the dressing room), wandered among the sewing machines, helped my father sort and bundle dress pieces that had been cut out, but not yet sewn, and delighted in the racks of threads, boxes of buttons, and piles of multi-colored threads and lint that accumulated.
As I learned to talk, my vocabulary included interfacing, double-sticky Pellon, lining, bias tape, dart, gusset, piping, pleat, selvage, overlock, and hem.
Most of my father workers stayed with him for years because he was known for paying a fair wage (including overtime), and being a strict, but reasonable boss. Being mechanically inclined, he repaired the machines that broke and ensured they were always in good working order. He wasn’t opposed to ripping the seams of a garment that had been sewn incorrectly, and then stitching it back together.
I’m sure when my father secured a new line of dresses (after bidding against other subcontractors), he sewed the first dress, which his seamstresses used as reference for sewing others.
Nearly every Saturday, we spent at least part of the day at my father’s factory. My mother helped with sorting, did the bookkeeping and payroll. My brother was paid a quarter to sweep. I was responsible for cleaning the lunchroom, wiping down the tables, and putting the condiments in the center. To this day, I can vividly recall the vinegary smell of the pickled jalapeno peppers and vegetables, some of the Hispanic women used to eat with lunch.
Growing up in this diverse environment, I learned to be accepting and interested in other cultures. It never occurred to me that I should feel differently about a person who came from generations of Americans versus someone who crossed the border a year before.
I’m sure some of my father’s employees were undocumented worker. Whenever he heard immigration inspectors were in the building, he’d notify his employees. Some would quietly leave and return the next day.
Today, hiring illegal immigrants is frowned upon. But being a first generation American, whose parents came from Hungary before World War II, my father wasn’t one to say “My family got in. Now you get out.” He was sympathetic to the burning desire to harness the American Dream. Like his father — who came to America with barely more than the clothes on his back, and also started a garment factory in Los Angeles — he recognized a good-paying job enables a person to provide for themselves and their family, and also give-back to society.
Turning the Tables
While my father’s immediate family was able to relocate to America, others fled to Mexico and Argentina. I was told the ones in Argentina had visited when I was a baby, carrying expensive jewelry, which they could pawn should the economy collapse or they needed to “buy” their way to another country.
I remember the two people who visited from Mexico, Desiderio (David) and his son Esteban (Steve) Kovesy. They brought my brother and me sombreros along with Mexican clothing, a black suit with piping for my brother, and a red, embroidered dress for me.
They owned a silver and jewelry store in Mexico City. Below is a picture of Desiderio Kovesy and possibly his wife or daughter Rosa Kovesy de Erdely.
After my father died when I was nine, my mother didn’t retain ties with the part of my father’s family in Argentina and Mexico. All I have are a few photos, and a business card with Desiderio’s address. I wish I knew more about them, and how they’re related to my father.
Until effluence of hate spew from Donald Trump, I hadn’t given much thought to my “connections” to Latin America. I’m proud my father and grandfather opened businesses*, which hired people based on their skills, and paid decent wages so they could support themselves and their families. And I’m grateful that my father’s relatives found safe haven following World War II. They too found opportunities in their new countries, opening businesses, paying taxes, and providing employments for others.
It’s been over two months since my mother passed away on Monday, October 13. While she had wanted to die for the past few years, and talked nearly daily about slitting her wrist or drinking cyanide, it was startling when the “fait accompli” occurred.
Months earlier, she went on hunger strike, barely eating a few hundred calories a day. When her weight reached 73 pounds, Rich rushed her to the doctor, who prescribed several medications, designed to improve her appetite and attitude. They worked with her gaining a few pounds, and not fighting the staff when they took her down to the dining room for lunch.
Her progress was short-lived, however, with her once again refusing to eat, and becoming so weak, she was mostly bedridden. We bought her a foam mattress to make it more comfortable, and the staff propped her up with multiple pillows.
We visited every weekend, and each week, her ability to keep her head on the pillow, and not slump into her chest declined. The last Saturday we saw her, she was awake, but confused, her head tilted off to one side.
The next evening, we received a call that she had a very high temperature, and possibly pneumonia. After several calls, the retirement home got permission to call an ambulance to take her to the emergency room.
We spoke to the physician who confirmed she had pneumonia, and recommended a round of antibiotics. We then got ready for bed. As we were climbed under the covers, we received a call from the admitted physician who bluntly said my mother’s body was dying, and we should get to the hospital immediately. She comment that prescribing antibiotics was like taking vitamins to fight cancer.
After hurriedly getting dressed, grabbing our computers, and stopping at McDonald’s for coffee, we headed up to Mount Vernon, arriving around midnight. My mother was in great distress, struggling to breathe, confused, and extremely cold and uncomfortable with the nurses having to constantly clean her up, and change her linens. It was frightening to see her.
Around 1 a.m., we meet with the admitting physician who reeled off the list of her ailments, including pneumonia, possible heart attack, failing kidneys, septicemia, and high potassium levels. My mother’s body was shutting down, and she could conceivably not make it through the night.
With nothing to do, but wait, and my mother waving us away when we were in her room, and then drifting off to sleep for a few minutes, we drove to our Mount Vernon house to catch a few hours of sleep.
The next morning, I called my brother, who lives in Portland, before heading back to the hospital.
While still struggling to breath, my mother appeared more comfortable, having had several injections of pain killers. We waited until after 10 a.m. to speak with the palliative care team, which had met earlier to discuss my mother’s and other patients’ treatment plans.
A palliative care nurse, and young physician (who was probably in training), escorted Rich and I to a conference room. A decision was made to administer a morphine drip, and then return my mother to the retirement home the following day for hospice care. I secretly hoped she’d pass away before then since getting her ready to go by ambulance back to the retirement home, and then wheeling her in a gurney up to her room– even though it was less than a mile away – would be very disruptive and cause her more discomfort.
With my mother resting, after the morphine drip was administered, Rich decided we should go to Costco for flu shots (he’s all about efficiency).
When we returned, my brother and his girlfriend Trinka were at my mother’s side. They’d brought their Kindle and were playing soft music, which was a welcome distraction, along with the dimmed lights. We caught up on news while Trinka sat on one side of my mother’s bed, knitting, my brother was on the other side, in a daze, and Rich and I were on a sofa across the room, periodically checking our phones.
Around 3 o’clock, Rich abruptly decided we should retrieve my mother’s cat from the retirement home, since my brother and Trinka agreed to take the cat. We’d taken a few steps down the hall when my brother chased us down, saying he thought my mother had stopped breathing.
Rich rushed back to the room, while I got a nurse. Sure enough, she’d stopped breathing. According to her living will, she wasn’t to be resuscitated. It was very surreal to know she was gone. None of us knew when she’d actually passed. It could have been ten minutes or a few seconds.
We said our “good-byes,” and then walked out into the crisp air. A gust of wind caught us off-guard, and was a precursor to a sudden storm, complete with lightening, thunder, and pelting rain.
While my brother and Trinka headed back to Oregon, with my mother’s cat Mei-Mei and a few needlepoint pictures from her room, Rich and I visited a mortuary to make agreements for the body. It was disconcerting responding to questions about your mother, who was reduced to one of many bodies in the hospital’s morgue.
I was asked whether I wanted my mother cremated, wearing a certain outfit? No. The idea of someone taking her out of the body bag, and trying to pull clothes on her stiff body seemed unimaginable awful. Was there going to be a funeral? No. Did she have a pace-maker? No. What did I want done with the ashes? I didn’t know.
The questions continued.
All I could think about was whether the body could be cremated within a few days, according to Jewish custom. The mortuary director couldn’t give an exact day; it depended on when the death certificate could be signed.
After making the necessary arrangements, and handing the mortician a check, we made a quick stop at our Mount Vernon house and then heading back to Kirkland, less than 24-hours since we’d frantically driven up the night before.
A few days later my mother’s body was cremated, and I sighed in relief. We brought her ashes, along with those of her favorite cat Growltiger, to my brother at Thanksgiving. He’s researching whether the ashes can be placed in the pond at the Portland Japanese Garden. Otherwise, they’ll disperse the ashes at the Oregon coast.
The last few months of my mother’s life, she was fixated on “returning home” to Burbank. I imagine she’s somewhere in Burbank of yesteryear with tidy bungalows, and palm tree-lined streets. She’s riding her bike around the back lots of the movie studios. Maybe she’s at high school, talking with Debbie Reynold’s brother, chatting with Nic Tayback (on the TV series Alice), and other people who ended up in Hollywood. Or perhaps, she’s with her first love, a man named Herbert Ross, who she lived with in the 50’s, and then reconnected with him after my father died.
May 17, 1930 – October 13, 2014
Last week, we had a “soft” launch of Rich’s new website. It’s shaping up nicely with articles about local real estate, glimpses of the Pacific Northwest, home improvement, and of course, a few recipes disguised under “Cheating Gourmet.”
This year, we had two Thanksgivings. One Thanksgiving with my mother in Mount Vernon, and a second the following day with Rich’s father, Ted Robertson, in Bullhead City, Arizona, just over the border from Laughlin, Nevada.
The Thanksgiving preparations began on Wednesday evening with my making stuffing for the turkey. It was late in the evening, and I was rushing. I’d purchased food for the Thanksgiving the weekend before and put it in the refrigerator in Mount Vernon. I brought the rest from Kirkland. Instead of bringing jars of spices and fresh picked herb from my herb barrel, I grabbed a container of Cajun seasoning.
I browned a large onion and several stalks of celery, and then added half a loaf of moistened cubed Greek olive bread, sliced mushrooms, and chopped parsley. I regrettably poured, instead of sprinkled in the Cajun seasoning. Even though I realized I’d added too much, I stared mixing.
The stuffing was way too salty!
So I cubed up the rest of the olive bread… added in more chopping parsley, and started to search around for more stuff to add. Luckily, I’d bought a bell pepper last week for my mother, which her caregiver didn’t use. It got chopped and dumped in the stuffing. Next, I went outside and picked some kale, the only vegetables left in the garden. It too was added to muddle.
Even with the added ingredients, it was way too salty! With nothing left to add, I tossed the stuffing into the refrigerator, and hoped for the best the next day.
The morning began with my making a pumpkin pie. I’d purchased a pie pumpkin weeks earlier, which I cut in half, and tossed in the oven to bake while I made the crust. Pie pumpkins have great seeds, which I washed, and Rich later roasted with salt and pepper.
Next, I made the cranberry sauce, prepped the yam dish (oranges and maple syrup), boiled some deceased carrots, and mashed with butter, eggnog, and sea salt (no one was the wiser), and sliced white potatoes to boil for mashed potatoes. Finally, I prepped some brussels sprouts.
It was time to stuff the turkey…
Because only Rich, and I, and my mother were having Thanksgiving in Mount Vernon, Rich purchased a “hybrid” turkey, which when we opened was missing its legs, wings, and tummy. We examined it for a few minutes, and then concurred we could plop a couple of handfuls of stuffing under the breast plate, and then stretch the skin to cover it up. There was also another small cavity, at the back, for securing stuffing.
The remaining boat-load of stuffing, I put in a large casserole pan.
The result? The stuffing was perfectly seasoned. I knew the turkey would absorb most of the excess salt, but was surprised the stuffing in the casserole was okay.
After cleaning up, and freezing most of the dinner for my mother to eat in the coming weeks, we drove back to Kirkland, packed, and got the cats, birds, and house in order for our trip.
Friday morning, the alarm went off at 3:15 a.m. After a quick shower, we pulled on our clothes, grabbed our bags, counted the cats — to make sure none were locked in a room — and headed to the airport. We had a smooth flight, landing in Las Vegas, getting a rental car, and heading to Bullhead City, Arizona by 10 a.m.
Before visiting Ted, we stopped at a park that borders the Colorado River on the Nevada side. We took a brisk walk because the wind was gusting. We then chatted with a Canadian couple who are traveling around the United States. They were delighted with Bullhead City, which truly is splendid during the winter months.
It occurred to me why so many Canadians find America intriguing. Canada doesn’t have the vast variety of landscapes from snow-capped mountains to warm sandy beaches, vast deserts, swamps, plains, and dramatic places-of-interest like the Grand Canyon, Yellowstone, Mount Rushmore, Niagara Falls, Florida Keys, and Monumental Valley. And nothing matches the places to visit in American cities from Hollywood to Manhattan to Memphis, Houston, Chicago, Las Vegas, Atlanta City, Miami Beach, and points-in-between.
After visiting with Ted for several hours, we followed him across the street to his “special” friend Sue who had spent the day cooking a Thanksgiving meal. Sue takes care of Charlie who is turning 94. In spite of Charlie’s age, hearing loss, and near blindness, he enjoys interacting with people.
After stuffing our tummies, and discussing at length Rich’s beard – to shave or not to shave – we returned to Ted’s house to chat for a while before going to bed.
The next morning, Rich and I got up earlier and returned to the park along the Colorado River. We planned to take a longer walk to the Davis Dam, and dressed according to combat the wind. We had a pleasant, but windy walk, snapping pictures, and stopping to read the sign along the walkway.
Rich then decided we should take an alternate route back to our car. However, instead of taking the marked trail, we climbed to a viewpoint, and then trail blazed across a mesa. Happily, Rich decided to head back down at the precise time we lined up with a sandy trail that headed down the mesa.
We kinda’ took a step, and skid for a foot or until the sand stopped our descent, and then took another step. The only problem was we were both wearing Keen sandals, which quickly filled with sand and tiny sharp rocks. Ouch!
Later, when we viewed the mesa from a distance, we realized we took the ONLY sandy trail down the mesa. The alternative was brush- and rock-covered. Sometimes miracle happen.
We spent the rest of the day looking at picture albums and chatting with Ted until mid-afternoon when we went across to Laughlin, Nevada, and had lunch in one of the casinos at Bubba Gump. Afterwards, I immediately lost a $1 in one of the slot machines. Sue, on the other hand, put $2 into a machine, played 30 numbers at once, and instantly got multiple free plays. When the machine stopped chiming, she won $27!
Sue was nonchalant about winnings; whereas, Rich and I were jumping up-and-down with excitement!
Sunday morning, we had a late breakfast/early lunch at Denny’s with Ted, and then hit the road.
Last Stop: Las Vegas
We’ve been to Las Vegas many times, and were going to skip going during this trip, but I wanted to see the downtown area and the Fremont Street Experience. Months ago, I made reservations to stay at the Golden Nugget, which received high marks.
We we’re disappointed from the automated check-in to our spacious, elegantly appointed room, complete with robes. Plus, the room cost just $53!
I was pleased with the Golden Nugget as soon as we walked in the door. The holiday ornaments and decorations were fabulous with polar bears, white reindeer, elves, a white-bearded Santa, and beautiful ornaments, ribbons, and other flourishes.
In the center of the hotel’s two towers is a large pool deck with a 200,000 gallon aquarium in the center. In the aquarium are several varieties of sharks – sandtiger, brown, nurse, blacktip reef, and zebra – along with large fish like horse-eye and crevalie jack, redfish, blue runner, Queensland and black grouper, golden trevally, cobia, and stingrays.
The best part of the aquarium is the two-story water slide. It took no time for me to convince Rich that we needed to change into our bathing suit, jump into the
pool, and work up the nerve to go down the slide… even though it was breeze and cool outside.
My first decent down the slide was a little scary as I didn’t know what to expect. The next 5 or 6 were a blast! The slide takes several turns before thrusting you through the sharp tank, and then disposing you in a shallow pool.
My supply of adrenaline used us, we spent a few minutes in the hot tub, and then dashed back to your room for a quick shower and night-on-the-town.
Our first stop was the newly opened Downtown Container Park, which is amazing, fabulous, and fun! It’s made out of metal cubes, along with refurbished shipping containers that could have previously be used on cargo ships or placed on trucks for shipping good. The containers are stacked one-on-top of each other to form shops, stairways, sitting areas, restaurants, art galleries, and common areas.
The park is designed to be a business incubator, allowing entrepreneurs to start small in a 250 space foot space, the inside of a shipping container.
There is also a large stage with Astroturf in front, and a boxcar and caboose in the back, the later containing a barber shop called Bolt Barbers.
In the center of the park is a playground and interactive zone with a 30-foot-tall tree house, three different slides, and an electronic game, where children engage by raced around, hitting flashing lights.
It was dusk when we arrived at the park. At the entrance was performers engaging children and adults in a drum circle. Behind the performers was a 40-foot praying mantis sculpture mounted on a truck. As the last bit of sun faded, and the drumming grew louder, the mantis spewed fire from its antennae. It’s very dramatic, and something we hadn’t expected to see.
The park was developed by the Downtown Project, a community revitalization group funded by Zappos.com CEO Tony Hsieh. The site used to be home to a Motel 6. It’s now an amusing place to spend a few hours, wandering through 41 metal cubes and 30 repurposed shipping container. Learn more about the park and vision for the area.
Hungry, our next destination was to find a place to eat. We passed by the Heart Attack Grill, which touts “Taste… Worth Dying For.” The waitresses are dressed as nurses who take prescriptions and customers are considered patients. A tag is wrapped on patients’ wrists showing which foods they ordered, and a “doctor” examines the patients’ health with a stethoscope.
Their menu consists of insanely large hamburgers, including an Octuple Bypass Burger with 8 beef patties, 40 slices of bacon (5 per patty), American cheese, red onion, sliced tomato, and Heart Attack Grill’s unique special sauce. You can also ordered Flatliner fries (cooked in pure lard), and range of beverages, including Mexican-bottled Coca-Cola and “Butter-fat Shakes.”
If you manage to finish a Triple or Quadruple Bypass Burger, a nurse will wheel you out to your vehicle. Not sure where they wheel you if you eat at the Heart Attack Grill on Fremont Street since I didn’t see a parking lot nearby.
We opted for a slightly lower form of gluttony, a buffet at a casino!
I’ve never eaten at a buffet and NOT regretted it later. This trip was no exception. I take a few bites of each of my favorite foods, but put together is was WAY TOO MUCH to eat from blue cheese dressing poured over the yummies at the salad bar to French onion soup, macaroni and cheese, baked salmon, sushi, seafood salad, and cooked vegetables, which I dipped in melted cheese (intended for pouring over tortilla chips). And because we got to the buffet before the crowds, there was a huge selection of desserts, which Rich and I shared.
Oh, you don’t want to know how many slices of different types of cakes and pastries (i.e. napoleon, cannoncini, etc.) we ate.
Our bellies stuffed to capacity, we hit the streets, walking through casinos, looking at signs and buildings from the 50’s, many of which have since fallen into disrepair. There were also signs of hope with the gentrification of several blocks, and developers breathing new life into the original casinos and hotels.
The longest continuously-running casino in Las Vegas, the El Cortez Hotel and Casino feels like a step-back in time with 40’s interior design of dark wood, leather-covered chairs, patterned wallpaper, and low ceilings with amber lights.
Opened in 1941, and purchased by Bugsy Siegel and Meyer Lansky in 1963, the El Cortez has expanded, but the original two-story, Spanish-style buildings remain. The Flame Steakhouse, at the El Cortez, serves food that’s reminiscent of the “Rat Pack,” such as jumbo shrimp cocktails, oysters Rockefeller, and oysters on the half shell for appetizers, french onion soup, iceberg wedge, and traditional Caesar as starters, and pork chop, filet mignon, surf & turf, steak diane, and prime rib of beef as main courses.
The Downtown Grand Casino and Hotel, which was formerly the Lady Luck, has a steampunk feel with exposed brick walls, spectacular chandeliers, and giant gears and other mechanics displayed as art. It’s steps from the Mob Museum, the National Museum of Organized Crime and Law Enforcement, which is located in the former federal courthouse where in 1950 the Kefauver Hearings on Organized Crime were held to expose and control organized crime.
The museum is probably fascinating, but at $20 per ticket, we opted for continue walking through downtown Las Vegas. Plus, it was a beautiful night.
We then came across a large, dramatic office complex, which we later learned is the headquarters for Zappos, online shoe source extraordinaire. Formerly located in Henderson, Nevada, a short drive from Las Vegas, Zappos remodeled the Las Vegas City Hall site, and moved their relocated its 1,200 employees to the new complex in 2013.
The move is designed to boost the local economy and help revitalize the downtown area to the tune of $336.6 million, with the city collecting approximately $395,900 annually in additional property taxes. With up to 2,000 employees at Zappos, there’s an increased need for restaurants, retail stores, health care providers, apartments and condominiums, and other services, which is great news for downtown merchants, hanging on until the economy improves.
The next morning, we drove around and were astonished to see so many new high-rise buildings in the area, and positive signs that downtown Las Vegas will return to its previous appeal before the “strip” became the main attraction and magnet for development funds.
We caught only the tail-end of a Fremont Street Experience. What we saw wasn’t overly impressive, and didn’t overcome the despair on the street. There are many beggars, shysters, and low-life who take up residence on Fremont Street as the night wears on.
It’s a safe area because of the many police, but one won’t want to wander too far from the neon lights. Many of the shops are seedy, and casinos lure in customers with scanty- or bikini-clad female dealers and bartenders, who alternate between working the tables, serving drinks, and dancing on top of bars or raised platforms.
Lining Fremont Street are sidewalk bars, where you can get a tall plastic “vase,” filled with frozen concoctions, spinning in slushy machines. Choose from margaritas, daiquiris, mud slides, mojito, pina colada, and much more.
Around 10 o’clock, we tried of the hubbub, and returned to the Golden Nugget to watch the sharks swim, and sit by the fire pit in the pool area.
The next morning, we woke to loud noises at 6 a.m. Our room was over the conference center and they were replacing some ducts. Rich called the front desk to complain. To make up for the unexpected early-morning wake-up call, we got to go through their breakfast buffet for free. While Rich enjoyed the food, I was nauseated from the buffet gluttony the night before. Nevertheless, I enjoyed a few bites of a tasty omelet and some fruit.
We walked around for a while, then returned to our room so I could dial into a conference call for work. Afterwards, we found parking on the strip, grabbed the camera, and snapped pictures of our favorite building. I keep wanting to see Vegas not for the gambling, food or entertainment, but the buildings. I don’t think I could ever tire of seeing the variety of architecture and interior design.
During the day, you can see the detail on the Paris, Caesars Palace, Bellagio, Monte Carlo, Venetian, and the many other ornate, themed casinos. And ARIA, Vdara, and the other magnificent buildings in the same area.
Dinner was at Jack-in-the-Box before an uneventful flight back to Seattle, and two Thanksgivings spent in three states: Washington, Arizona, and Nevada.
People often describe their life as a whirlwind. For the past month, Rich’s and mine have been a whirlwind on caffeine. It started Thanksgiving weekend after visiting my mother in Sherwood, Oregon, (southwest of Portland). In the past, Rich and I had talked about moving her to our house in Mount Vernon. Seeing her health and outlook on life wasn’t improving and frustrated with our inability to easily gauge her health, and subsequently care, we decided to proceed with moving her to Washington.
A few months earlier, after several concerning calls from my mother’s caregivers, we were going to admit her to skilled nursing center. However, we changed our minds after the root of the issue was determined. While she was left food in the evening to eat, she was feeding it to Cyrano (an increasingly obese rat terrier) or throwing it away. As a result, she was eating only a few hundred calories per day, and growing increasingly weak and disoriented.
The solution was to more closely monitor her eating; although, she continued to slip Cyrano food. For instance, one caregiver related heating up two mini hamburgers for my mother to eat. She then went outside to sweep the porch, but watched my mother feed Cyrano the meat. When she went inside, my mother said the meat was delicious, but couldn’t possibly finish the hamburger buns.
This type of behavior went on for months. By Thanksgiving, Rich and I knew we had to do something. For the rest of the weekend, we discussed what we needed to do. In-between, we enjoyed camping in our motor home (with three cats) at Battleground Lake, and Millersylvania State Park. It was going to be our last weekend for a while when we could focus just on ourselves.
The first weekend of December, we decided to purchase a full-size refrigerator for the Mount Vernon house. Since we’d bought the house, seven years earlier, we’d made-do with an itty-bitty bar refrigerator, which holds a few days of food, some condiments, cans of soda, dried up apple, we’d neglected to eat, and a bag of year-old Christmas cookies.
If my mother was going to live in the house, she’d need a larger refrigerator, in particular, one with a freezer for frozen foods. She’s barely cooked for years. And now typically eats frozen waffles, various TV dinners, canned soups, a few fresh vegetables, and an unimaginable amount of Oreos, chocolate, cakes, and cookies. I suspect most of her calories are in the form of sugar.
Saturday morning, we journeyed to the Sears in Mount Vernon and found a nice stainless steel refrigerator. However, it couldn’t be delivered until mid-January… unless we were willing to purchase the floor model and deliver it ourselves.
We had a trailer so we could move the refrigerator, but it occurred to us that we should bring the new refrigerator to our Kirkland house, and move the older refrigerator to Mount Vernon.
We rushed back to our Mount Vernon house, attached the trailer to Rich’s truck, and zoomed back to Sear’s. An hour later, after Rich draped the refrigerator in three drop cloths, and restrained it from every angle with a dozen or more straps; we were on the road to Kirkland.
As Rich freed the refrigerator in the trailer, I unloaded the one in the house. We then used a dolly to wheel the new refrigerator across the lawn, through the backyard, across the deck, and up a handful of steps, through the French doors, and into the kitchen.
I then helped Rich wheel the old refrigerator out of the house. While he secured it in the trailer, I quickly put our food into the new refrigerator and freezer, and made two sandwiches to eat in the road.
By the time we got back to Mount Vernon, it was rainy so we opted to unload the old refrigerator the next day, and spend the rest of the day getting the house ready for my mother. We removed the furniture from the guest bedroom (except for the bed), cleaning out the drawers in the bathroom, re-arranging the closets to accommodate her clothes, linens, etc. and planned how we could install a small dog run for Cyrano with a magnetic pet door.
Sunday morning, while having breakfast at Denny’s, Rich read the instruction manual for our new refrigerator and panicked when he realized that it may have been plugged in, but could still be in demo mode with the lights on, but nothing running!
Fearful our frozen food was turning to mush, and refrigerated food spoiling, we hopped into the car, and drove to Kirkland. An hour later, we discovered the refrigerator had been turned on. Grumble.
Back in Mount Vernon, we surveyed what it would take to get the old refrigerator up a half flight of stairs to the front door and up another half flight into the kitchen. The only option was to take it apart. Rich removed the shelves and drawers, along with the heavy freezer and refrigerator doors.
I was in charge of cleaning. It’s amazing how much gunk can accumulate even if you regularly scrub and clean!
Even with the refrigerator dismantled, it was challenging to pull it up the stairs. Once in place, and put back together, it was exciting to have a full-sized refrigerator, and know we didn’t have to skimp on purchasing and bringing perishable foods to Mount Vernon. In the past, we supplemented the limited capacity of the bar refrigerator with large ice chests.
Tired, but satisfied with our efforts, we drove back to Kirkland, to do some laundry and get ready for the work week!
The Big Move
The first Saturday in December, we got up hours before the roosters crow, had a quick breakfast at McDonald’s, and then drove to Oregon. Our first stop was to pick up a small U-Haul truck, which we’d reserved the week before. Rich loves to drive trucks so I could sense his excitement!
We’d already scoped out the furniture and “stuff” we planned to take from my mother’s house. While I packed up canned and packaged foods, dishes, pots, and cooking utensils, and surveyed what was in her freezer, Rich worked in the garage.
My brother showed up for two hours, which speed up cleaning out the garage, and moving my mother’s bedroom furniture (sans her bed) into the moving truck. I then transitioned to packing linens, clothes, toiletries, pictures, and collectibles.
We took a break for lunch, and then continued until early evening. My mother’s favorite caregiver from Visiting Angels kept her comfortable during the turmoil of packing up her house.
Having eaten a large lunch at McMenamins Sherwood, where we’d met nearly 12 years ago, we grabbed a cup of coffee at 7Eleven for dinner, and then drove to Target, Costco, and Wal-Mart to find a specific walker (we later purchased it online). Our goal was to “waste” time before heading to Camas, Washington to see Rich’s new grandson, Coen Lavelle Lary.
He was barely two weeks old, and after losing weight, due to jaundice, was back up to his birth weight of 7 pounds. Rich held him for over an hour, while I marveled at his full head of black hair, long delicate fingers, and Norman Rockwell-perfect face.
We slide into bed around after 11 o’clock, waking up early the next morning to finish loading the last few items into the U-Haul, get my mother ready, and then start the long drive to Mount Vernon. Rich drove the truck with Cyrano in the front seat. I drove Rich’s Honda Insight with my mother and her two cats, secured in two kitty carriers.
About ten minutes into Washington, Rich called me on his cell phone, and asked if we could keep Cyrano. Wow! That didn’t take long for his feline addiction to move to the right, to a lesser specie, a canine! Of course, I said “Yes.”
Meanwhile, it never stopped raining. The sky never lightened. The road was never dry. We couldn’t have fathomed a drearier day for a lengthy, thoroughly challenging drive… at least for me!
My mother’s short-term memory is about 30 seconds. She asked the same questions, lamented the same issues, and expressed the same anger and observations over-and-over again. Every hour, it grew worse with her convinced her cats were suffering, and that we were moments from our destination.
It took over 4.5 hours to reach Kirkland, having stopped once at Burger King for a late lunch. Because my mother can barely walk, we had to convince her to use the wheelchair, which created the challenge of getting her out of the car, onto the chair, wheeling her into the restaurant, getting her into the bathroom, getting her back outside, and into the car, etc.
And of course, the entire time, the rain never stopped!
Because we planned to be away for another few days, we stopped for twenty minutes at our Kirkland house to feed our cats, empty their kitty litter boxes, and collect the mail.
By the time, we reached Mount Vernon it was dark, cold, and still raining. We got my mother into the wheelchair, and “pulled” her up the front steps of the house, and then up half a flight to main floor. After locking up her cats, we proceeded to unload the U-Haul and set up her bed, dresser, and night stand.
While I unpacked, Rich frequented KFC. We ate more fast food in December than the prior three months!
As a whim, I decided to sort through my mother’s drawers. For the past few years, she’s been hiding food in the drawers so many were full of crumbs, along with greeting cards, articles snipped from publications and newspapers, and other tasty morsels, appealing to silverfish, spiders, and other varmints. In addition, the clothes in many of the drawers were a jumble of socks, tee shirts, sweaters, etc.
While sorting, organizing, and wiping out the drawers, I found over $2,000 in cash. Almost every drawer contained a neatly folded stake of bills!
The next morning, Monday, December 10th, we finished cleaning out the U-Haul and dropped it off at a furniture store in Mount Vernon. We went grocery shopped so my mother had food for the rest of the week, and then meet with the local coordinator for Visiting Angels.
We continued to unpack, hang pictures, and other miscellaneous tasks to get my mother settled, before returning to Kirkland.
Recuperate and Revelations
Instead of going to Mount Vernon on December 14th, as we customarily do on Friday evenings, we opted to stay in Kirkland. When we arrived in Mount Vernon, early Saturday afternoon, my mother was happy to see Cyrano, but was extremely confused, saying she’d lived in Mount Vernon for months, and prior lived in Tarzana, California. Her memory of Sherwood and life in Oregon seemed non-existent.
The reports we received from the Visiting Angels, from the prior four days, wasn’t good. She was angry, confused, and perpetually asking for poison or a knife to slit her wrist.
Her mood improved after eating, and especially after watching movies that evening. Sunday she seemed better, but was still confused thinking we’d had Cyrano for years (and not days) and that she’d been imprisoned in Mount Vernon for weeks.
Since I had Monday, December 24th off, we decided to go back to Sherwood to start tackling the refurbishing of my mother’s house. Unfortunately, Rich had gotten the flu a few days earlier. While still very sick (he had a 103-degree temperature a day earlier), he was determined to make the trip.
As we were preparing to go to bed on Friday night, December 21st, my mother called, screaming, yelling profanities, and claiming we’d dumped her in Mount Vernon, and destroyed her house. She ended the call by calling Rich and I, “Fuckers. Fuckers!”
Gotta’ love dementia!
We both slept fitfully, Rich being still very sick and me disturbed by my mother’s call. Nevertheless, we got up a little later than usual and drove the 3.5 hours to Oregon. We’d expected to find my mother’s house as we’d left it, full of furniture, kitchen and bathroom drawers packed with “stuff,” cupboards half empty, food still in the refrigerator and freezer, everything disheveled as if “someone” had quickly packed what would fit in a small U-Haul. However, when we turned the key in the door, and walked inside, we saw NOTHING. Everything, except for some cleaning supplies was gone. The floors swept. Closets and drawers cleaned out. All the food was gone. Counters wiped.
We also noticed the dryer was gone, but the washer, which was only a few months old, was still there. I immediately called my brother who said he took the dryer (claiming he thought it was a “free-for-all”), several pieces of furniture, and the food in the refrigerator and freezers.
“What happened to everything else,” I inquired.
Evidentially, Deena, a woman who originally met my mother when she was hired to clean her house, and later did a phenomenal job of overseeing my mother’s care and working with the Visiting Angles, had contacted a dozen or so local agencies, who subsequently came and took my mother’s furnishing. Deena then cleaned the entire house, including tossing out the food my brother hadn’t taken.
Even though, it was startling to see EVERYTHING in my mother’s house gone, it enabled us to immediately dive into fixing it up.
Before we began, however, I called Deena and her husband Bruce. In the past, Bruce had helped around my mother’s house, including taking her to doctor’s appointments.
We zipped over to Deena’s and Bruce’s house to borrow back a ladder, step stool, and other items we’d need to do home repairs and additional cleaning. I was thrilled to see her house. She has an amazing collection of Campbell Kids memorabilia and had been using my mother’s sewing machine to sew quilts and pillows. On her walls were needlepoints my mother had made.
It was gratifying to see some of my mother’s items in her house, and to express our appreciation for the work she’d done, not only monitoring my mother’s care, but ensuring her furnishing went to places where they’d be appreciated.
For the rest of Saturday and all day Sunday, Rich and I rolled up our sleeves, or more accurately, pulled on coveralls, and started cleaning, painting, ripping out (cat run), and assessing what needed to be done.
When we left the house on Monday morning, Rich was pleased with our progress. I felt overwhelmed.
We then stopped by Rich’s son’s house to see Coen, who was much bigger, much happier, and much more of a handful than a few weeks earlier. He’s so CUTE, but teeny at around 8 pounds. It was great to see him and his parents for an hour or two, before heading back up north.
We made good time back to Kirkland, but stayed just long enough to care for our cats, toss our dirty clothes in the laundry, and grab items I’d need for cooking. We got to Mount Vernon late in the afternoon, but before settling down, we made a trip to the grocery store for items we needed.
When we got back, I made a pumpkin/yam pie out of a mini pumpkin I’d had since Thanksgiving. I now realize the inside of a pumpkin dries up even though the outside remains the same. Fortunately, I had enough yams to supplement, along with the all-important Cool-Whip for serving.
Dinner for Rich and I was Taco Bell. Tasty, fast, and satisfying. Rich then collapsed in a heap, still sick with a flu/cold.
Christmas morning, I started a sauce with plenty of onions, garlic, celery, ground turkey pork, and spicy sausage, and cans of tomatoes. I then went outside to work in our garden, weeding and trimming, while migratory trumpeter swans flew overhead, honked as they passed. The swans arrive in late November, and stay through February.
When I went back inside to make my mother breakfast, she started harping on how “everyone” had mistreated her, and my father wasn’t loving enough. He worked 6-days a week overseeing his garment factory in downtown Los Angeles, never smoke, drank or lounged in front of the TV, watching sports, but evidentially he wasn’t affectionate enough for my stay-at-home mother. She was only married for 13 years. When I was nine, and my brother was eleven, my father had a fatal heart attack, leaving her a wealthy widow. She regularly crowed about killing off her husband.
I totally lost it, spewing out how she wasn’t a loving person. She boosted how she’d send her kids to school when they were sick. When in my early twenties, I got mononucleosis and was running a 105-degrees, she refused to drive me to a hematologist across town because of the traffic. I had to find a friend.
On a daily basis, she chastised her kids, expecting them to cater to her needs and do the chores that were beneath her… from cleaning house to cooking, yard work, and going places with her… week-after-week-after-week.
Because she didn’t want to make my brother a “mama’s boy,” he was given significantly more freedom to hang out with friends, do homework, and skirt daily chores. I, on the other hand, was told I was going to get married, have kids, and build a mother-in-law apartment. Therefore, there was no need for me to do well in school. Instead of doing homework, I was expected to cook, clean, and spend every evening keeping her company, doing needlework and sewing.
My long suppressed outburst may have been the first time my mother got a true insight into her shortfalls, selfishness, and extreme narcissism. It rolled off her like water on a duck’s back. She claimed that she was stand-offish at my wedding, and didn’t toast us because my mother-in-law and Rich’s children “took over.” It was beyond her how humiliating it was when only three people toasted us: Rich’s mother, and his two children.
Not my mother. Not my brother. And not my brother’s girlfriend.
Growing up, she claimed that she prevented me from dating and spending time with friends to “protect me.” From what I wondered? Having my own life? As a child, she didn’t want me to leave the house – and I certainly couldn’t have friends over to the house – because she didn’t want to worry about where I was. It was easier for her to keep me busy with chores, lonely and extremely depressed at home.
After releasing years of anger, I stormed outside to continue pulling weeds, and digging up alien plants. Rich, of course, was furious at me for not holding my tongue. He said it would have been okay to scream at her if it had the ability to change a thoroughly dreadful childhood and adulthood. But, it didn’t.
After cooling off, I went inside and finished making two large casseroles of lasagna, using the sauce, which had been cooking for hours. We ate the lasagna later that afternoon. I left some for my mother and took the rest home.
I was happy to get back to Kirkland that evening, in a house filled with the things I love… Rich, bratty cats, artwork, collectibles, etc.
Wednesday and Thursday, I happily worked half-days from home! Thursday afternoon, after sending my last email, we loaded up Rich’s truck, tossed Cyrano in the back seat, and headed back down to Portland for a final “push” to work on my mother’s house.
On Friday morning, while I worked from a Motel 6 in Tualatin, Oregon, Rich met with two cabinet refinishing companies. In-between, he tore up flooring and deposited it in a dumpster he’d ordered earlier in the week. His goal was for us to put everything in the dumpster that needed to be tossed so we wouldn’t have to deal with it later. We ended up barely covered the bottom of the dumpster with flooring, baseboards, scrap wood and fencing, a sofa, wooden cabinet, stove/oven, kitchen countertop, tile, and miscellaneous trash.
In the two and a half days we worked on the house, we accomplished:
- Removing the damaged oak laminate flooring, padding, and staples (will replace with real hardwood and carpeting)
- Removing the kitchen counters and ordering snazzy solid surface counters to be installed in February, along with a built-in, stainless steel sink
- Removing tile backsplashes in kitchen and repairing walls
- Taking down the cat run and placing parts in dumpster, and starting to repair interior and exterior walls where there was a doggie door
- Getting quotes to refinish kitchen and bathroom cabinets, and also sanding some woodwork damaged by cats
- Pulling out the range/oven, and in the process, shattering the oven door (very dramatic and unexpected outcome)
- Purchasing large tiles, which Rich will install by the front door.
- Removing baseboards
- Painting Kilz on floors and walls, which had been“perfumed” by cats
- Painting most of the upstairs, except a bathroom, and two large walls in the master bedroom
- Painting most of the downstairs, except the super high “challenging” wall in the living room, going up the stairs, and one bathroom
Because we were determined to get done as much as possible, we grabbed meals on the run, and on both Saturday and Sunday nights, we found ourselves at a Safeway at 8 o’clock, buying packaged salads, sandwiches, and drinks. After all, we’re a classy couple, eating our dinners with plastic forks, while watching TV at a Motel 6…next door to Stars Cabaret.
Sunday afternoon, we locked up the house, happy with our progress, and headed back to Kirkland. The weather was splendid so it was an enjoyable drive with no rain, and all sunshine.
Memorable Start to New Year
On Monday afternoon, the last day of 2012, we drove up to Mount Vernon. My mother was in good spirits, and pleased to see Cyrano, Rich and Lila.
After shopping for the things my mother needed, I made puttanesca. Even though it was super spicy, my mother kept asking for another helping. Rich and I were aghast at how much she ate!
Afterwards, we watched two movies, and could see fireworks in the distance over Burlington. We went to bed, however, a bit before midnight, marking the start of 2013 with our eyes shut.
New Year’s day was splendid. Cold and clear with trumpeter swans overhead, punctuating panoramas of snow-capped mountains. I made a filling breakfast for everyone and made sure my mother had warm clothing, and sensible shoes. She tends to wear moccasins, which don’t provide the support she needs for walking.
Rich eased her down the stairs in her wheelchair, and helped her into the car. It was the first time my mother had been outside since she’d moved to Mount Vernon, and the second trip of any distance that she’s taken in at least 12 months. The longest trip prior was Thanksgiving 2011.
We initially headed northeast to Sedro-Woolly, a small town steeped in lumbering. We then headed west through Burlington, and then Bay View, a cute town on the Puget Sound with a lovely state park where we camped several years ago. Along the way, we pass through farmlands, saw flocks of trumpeter swans, and enjoyed the gorgeous weather.
Continuing west, we crossed the bridge to Fidalgo Island, stopping in Anacortes for peppermint hot chocolate, before driving through Washington Park, and up the steep road to the summit of Mount Erie, the highest point on the island.
While in Anacortes, we stopped to visit our lot, which we plan to build on in another few years. Yes, I know we keeping say this, but we’ve started working with an architect to draw the plans for a three-story, contemporary house with several decks, and large windows for views of the Puget Sound, Mount Baker, and the refineries on March Point. We’re both excited about the prospect of building and moving into the house!
On the way back to Mount Vernon, we stopped at Burger King for hamburgers (veggie burger for me) and fries. While very particular about what she eats, and steeped in the need to always eat healthy foods, my mother has always loved fast food hamburgers.
It was a great start and unexpected start to the New Year… thanks to the weather and Rich’s patience in working with my mother.
In the coming weeks, Rich and I will be returning to Oregon to finish working on my mother’s house. Last weekend, we ordered a new range, and microwave/fan at Sear’s, and have chosen the wooden floors we’ll have installed. This weekend, we’ll pick-out Formica, which Rich will install in two of the bathrooms.
Last week, Rich hired a company to clean the roof and gutter. In early February, kitchen counters will be installed, and the cabinets refinished. There are also lots of small tasks like installing a new fire alarm, door stops, painting the fireplace another color, installed tile backsplashes in the bathroom and above the range, painting and installing new base boards, and and final cleaning of the blinds, light fixtures, and floors.
We’re feeling somewhat optimistic that we’ll be able to start leasing the house in early March!