Monthly Archives: May 2012

An Empty House

I am sitting in the living room in Egan, or what’s left of it.  Without a couch, with Dad’s bureau and chest of drawers, and with two recliners, it is instead some half-way house, which I guess is rather appropriate right now.

I’ve driven over for the day, ready to go through some boxes to put in my Mini to take back to Lake Charles, to put back where they started.  While I’m sitting here taking a break, Mr. Trahan is outside repairing the ancient garage doors.  With all of the renovations we had done, there are a few repairs left, those suggested by the appraiser who came a few weeks ago.  The curb appeal will be enhanced by these repairs.  Some were more decorative.  Others were substantive, like those garage doors, and a few rotten boards on the facing around them.  When Mr. Trahan is done, then I’ll have raw boards and a new fascia trim board around the bottom shingles of the house — ready to be primed and painted.   Of course, after the house is power-washed and bleached (yes, bleached.  It’s necessary in humid sub-tropical climates like ours.), the house will need re-painting too.

My sister was here for a couple of days over the weekend.  While she was here, she and our neighbors smelled gas.  On Saturday night, the gas company sent out someone to investigate.  The upshot of that:  the gas has been turned off and the meter has been removed.  A plumber must repair the leak and sign a certificate, and only then will we get our meter back and the gas turned on.  Until then, it’s cold water showers.  The irony is that the same plumbers who will show up to repair the leak were responsible for doing the work on the gas line two months ago.  Maybe the plumber will just do the repairs since the work is clearly defective somehow?  I can hope that, but don’t expect it.  I’m sure I’ll be writing the plumber another check.

Checks seem to disappear — for an appraiser, for the plumber two weeks ago for a water leak, for the new repairs going on now, for clerk of court paperwork getting affidavits of heirship on Dad’s vehicles.  Soon, I suspect, the rest of the forest I’ve already devastated by the checks I’ve written in the last four months will also disappear.

The house is empty now and silent.  I can hear the few vehicles passing nearby.  I can hear Mr. Trahan working outside.  Other than that, I hear only the tapping of the laptop keys and the air-conditioner in the back room.  No one lives here now, and that evidence is everywhere.

There is food in the refrigerator, true, but elsewhere is the detritus of someone living here full-time.  Now Kay and I visit the house, staying a few nights at the most, or even just visiting for the day as I am today.  Soon we’ll have the telephone and the television service terminated.  The television won’t be a loss.  Not really.  We can bring DVDs if we want to watch anything.  The telephone, though, is a bit harder.  It’s the telephone that has been our family number for decades, and when it’s gone, there’s no dialing it anymore.  Even though I know Dad won’t pick the phone up if I call it, I can still dial it if I choose to do so.  There’s a finality, however, about having that number turned off and knowing that someone else might be assigned that phone number.

We don’t need it, I know.  Cell phones make it redundant.  Yet it’s been part of our lives for so long that my fingers can dial it without thinking.  Soon, though, it will go the way of my grandmother’s phone number in Beaumont.  That’s been gone since the 1980s, yet I still recall her number , with the prefix TE from the 1950s.  I couldn’t remember any telephone numbers I’ve had along the way — not in Baton Rouge, or Beaumont, or College Station.  But these are burned into my memory.

Yesterday Kay brought over 8 boxes of books that we unloaded into storage.  There’s another bookcase of Dad’s books left to box, and some of mine as well.  I will probably tackle those in a bit, labeling the boxes so we know what’s in them.  Some will stay with us; others will be designated for the big garage sale I’ll have this fall.  The 10×15 storage unit I rented for Egan stuff is filling.  And there’s no furniture in it yet, not really.  I brought back some chairs from the farm last week — the chairs I remember using when I was 5, the chrome and red chairs that matched a formica-topped red and chrome kitchen table long gone.  I can’t use them, but couldn’t see them thrown away either.  I can see them go to the garage sale, however, since the retro/mid-century modern look is so popular.  These, I can reassure buyers, are not reproductions.  They are authentic.  I have evidence in a photograph of 5 or 6-year-old Cheryl sitting in one, grinning at the camera held by her mother.

Tools of all sorts are in that storage unit as well.  Some have already gone to friends.  I don’t even know what’s there, so later, when there’s time, I’ll ask knowledgeable friends to help me identify tools and decide what to keep and what to sell and what prices to ask for things.  There will be donations to Goodwill and to CARC as well.  Yet the more I bag and box, the more I find left.  And I know there are still cabinets in the garage to open and sort through.  Oh, and the four barrels up in the garage rafters. And the other assorted mysterious items stashed up there as well.  I don’t think anything is in the attic.  I’ll have to ask Tim, who rewired the house.  God, I hope there’s nothing more up there than the new wiring.

Then there’s still the little room that was Phil’s — after it was the room for our pool table.  Later Dad referred to it as “my little room.”  Charles labeled it “the downstairs room” because it’s actually on a slab, and there’s a set of three steps leading up to the main house.  It’s filled with stuff too. Dad’s hunting gear — the compound bows, the arrows.  Phil’s equipment for making bullets.  The who-knows-how-many sets of small antlers lining the walls.  My grandmother’s stereo cabinet, with her 78s and 45s and LPs still in it. A big desk from Dad’s office.  A work area for Phil’s bullet-packing equipment.  A bookcase jammed with books.  A few boxes of things that I moved here and have never used.  A closet yet to be emptied.  And off of this room, the laundry room holds more than the washer and dryer.  It has a trunk from my undergraduate days.  There are boxes storing all sorts of things.

There is a huge closet filled with Dad’s clothes.  My closet has some clothes I haven’t moved back yet.  Kay’s closet, now a storage area with shelves, is filled with random items moved there during the renovation.  The kitchen has been cleaned and lots of unnecessary pots and pans and dishes have gone to Goodwill.  Yet it is filled with what is still useful and what we will keep.

I anticipate it will take weeks to finish the task of emptying the house of the many things that still remain.

Yet as I sit here among those things, the truth of it all strikes me clearly:  the house is already empty in the only way that counts.

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Tonight I find myself thinking about anniversaries.  Tomorrow will be one month since Dad died.  From past experience, I know that there will be a year of firsts — the first Father’s Day without him, the first birthday (his) without him, the first Thanksgiving, the first Christmas, etc.  I’ve been so busy that it only occurred to me today that almost a month has passed.

That month has been so filled with things to do — the funeral, most obviously, but so many other things as well.  Tracking down papers for legal matters — the living trust, the insurance papers, truck title, Blazer title, boat title.  So far, I’ve found insurance policies and am still tracking one down, the one from the company he retired from in 1982.  Of course, that company sold off the Exploration and Production division, which Dad was part of.  That meant he is no longer in the original company’s database.  I’ve contacted the one I think his retirement check has been coming from, but haven’t heard back since Monday, when I left a voice message.  I suppose I have to call again tomorrow. We’re waiting for the insurance money left over after funeral costs — I have no idea how long that takes, but I guess I will email the funeral director to see if they’ve been paid.  I’ve tracked down a tiny policy he had taken out decades ago, and discovered that I’m the beneficiary of it; I guess that’s because I’m trustee of the living trust.  That paperwork has come in, but I haven’t had the time to sit down and fill it out; that will happen tomorrow as well.

Despite searching through boxes and files, Kay and I have yet to find the title to the 2009 truck Dad bought.  We found the title for the 1977 Blazer, though not the boat.  We also found the title to the 2000 truck he traded in for the 2009 truck; that’s a puzzle.  Most surprising, we found the title to the 1956 truck that Grandad bought.

Since none of the vehicles were listed in the living trust, and since both the truck and the Blazer are registered in Texas, Kay and I had to go to San Augustine to the County Clerk’s office and get Applications for Affadavits of Heirship for the vehicles.  What still astonishes me is that at no time did anyone ask to see the death certificate.  Only the notary asked for our driver’s licenses.  Hmm.  Oh well.  Now we can sell the vehicles.  I figure we’ll use the truck for one more week and then sell it. It’s handy, but the money will go into our joint account for our new project:  rebuilding the beach house I lost to Hurricane Ike.

Insurance, titles, registration papers, and deeds.  These are the words that run through my head at the oddest moments, probably because I am obsessed by them.  Now I am worrying about my own paper trail, and am determined that next week I will gather all my own papers together and put them in one place where they can be found. I’ve done this before, for Hurricane Rita, but have been slack about maintaining the stash.

And of course my notebook has filled with “to-do” lists.  Some items have been crossed off.  Others have been added.  These are for Dad’s house, for my house, for asking questions about something, for tracking something down.  Random jottings, in no particular order.

Because despite the month of detective work on Dad’s stuff, I am trying to get my own house in order.  Literally.  I am moving things back here from Egan, setting up a workspace and office again; that’s taking shape.  I’m trying to find someone to repair the cracking/separating brickwork skirting the front of my front porch, as well as the middle brick column that has just separated from the base.  Another follow-up call tomorrow.

Lawyer calls.  Financial adviser calls.  Insurance calls.  Hunting for the safety deposit box key — finally located in a bag filled with other keys, but labeled quite clearly.  Then a trip to the bank to examine the box, only to discover another insurance policy.

Trips to Crowley, to the farm, to Crystal Beach, to Galveston, to Egan, to Lake Charles, to the farm again.  Friday we head to Crystal Beach and Galveston again, for the day, and then I head to Egan for a few days, coming back to Lake Charles on Monday.  Some days I am just confused about where exactly I am.

Last weekend, Kay and I loaded a truckload of tools and put them in storage here in Lake Charles.  On Sunday, I took a load of seasoned rough-cut black walnut lumber and some tools to a friend’s house; he’s a woodworker and will use the lumber to make desks for Kay and me.  I’d planned a new bed for Dad, but that didn’t happen.  The lumber came from trees on the farm — and was cut in the 1950s, I think.  After I dropped it off, I headed to Texas to the farm and met family.  My dad’s sister, her son Mike and his wife, and her son Charlie and his son from California were all there.  It was a planned work visit, with new furniture replacing old.  I cleared out Dad’s room of clothes and hunting camoflage.  I think I ended up with 6 bags of clothes, one of boots, and four of magazines.  I left with a full truckbed, drove to Lake Charles, and unloaded things to storage.

Dad’s attitude about being upset was to work through it — physically.  To find some physical project to keep busy with.  I’m finding that truer and truer this last month.  I certainly have moments where I put my head down and think that there’s simply no way I can do anything more.  That I’m just bone-tired of working, of trying.  It’s not that I’m sad, or depressed.  It’s that I’m beyond weary and cannot imagine completing all of the tasks that await me.

But I will.  I just take a deep breath and maybe a break.  Then I finish one thing and let others wait for later.

And that’s what I will do tomorrow.  On the first anniversary of Dad’s death, I will see friends.  I will make phone calls and follow up on business things.  I will accomplish at least three items on my list.  And maybe,  just maybe, I will spend a couple of hours sorting through my own clothes, putting some in bags to donate; I’ll put some more boxes of supplies and things on the shelves in the workspace here in the office.  I’ll unroll the new chair mat for the office.  Maybe I’ll even start putting the clothes together for the trip to Greece.

I’ll know what day it is.  But I’ll remember Dad by following his advice — his example.  I’ll work through my pain.

But tomorrow, anniversary number one.  I’ll keep busy.

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Sense and Sensibility

In Jane Austen’s Sense and Sensibility, the Dashwood sisters embody two opposing world views.  Elinor, the level-headed older daughter, is the reserved sister whose sense marks her as the responsible sibling who puts others ahead of herself.  Marianne, her younger sister, is all passion and feeling, all sensibility.  Elinor’s reserved demeanor is deceptive, for her repression of her true, deep and deeply felt emotions burst out of her, surprising others who have failed to see the depths beneath her surface control.  Even Marianne fails to recognize her sister’s emotional turmoil.

Though I prefer Pride and Prejudice (it’s one of the novels that I reread yearly), Sense and Sensibility reminds me of myself and Kay.  I’ve always felt close to Elinor.  I am the eldest and have had a similar sense of responsibility for others — for most of my life, indeed, I have had responsibilities that many people my age didn’t have to cope with.  As a teenager, I was wildly emotional — over Viet Nam, over imagined ills, over the kind of mother-daughter clashes common to adolescent girls.  My temper usually got the better of me.  I had to learn to control it, to subdue it.  By the time I was in my 30s, I think I was, for the most part, more like Elinor Dashwood.  Calm, thoughtful, sensible and practical.  I could be counted upon to plan and follow through.  I was, quite simply, an almost overly responsible member of the family.  Actually, I had been abnormally responsible as a kid — I mean even at 4 and 5.  Circumstances sort of demanded it.  And that continued.

Kay has always been the more fragile of us, more easily hurt and prone to hide in her room.  She’s the youngest, and inherently shy.  I think she came into the world with an inferiority complex.  She’s much more confident now, and continues to work on that.  But she’s still outwardly more Marianne Dashwood.  Her feelings are paramount — they are all on the surface.  They control her at times.

My feelings are there too — but my Elinor side seems to balance them.  At times, perhaps, to suppress them until I am alone and can deal with them alone.

Perhaps this difference has been most evident since Dad died.  I had been with Dad a lot more than Kay had, not because she didn’t want to be there, but because she is still working.  Weekends were her time.  And he was in the nursing home for a couple of months, too, so we visited him rather than lived with him.  During the weeks he was there, I supervised the house renovations.  I handled other issues.  I also got the irritated Dad more, I think.

But after we brought him home, it was intense, 24/7.  Kay had the first weekend by herself.  I had the two weeks.  I had the minute-by-minute nursing and caregiving.  I made phone calls to arrange ambulance transportation to dialysis.  She came for the second weekend and didn’t leave because Dad’s condition rapidly declined; I was supposed to go to Lake Charles, but didn’t because I was exhausted.  That was fortunate, since we took him to the ER on Friday night and ended up getting hospice on Sunday.  On Monday, hospice was there all morning, and he was in great pain.  Kay and Billie went to Lake Charles, doing some shopping and dropping a check from me off at my house for the repairman who was going to be there on Tuesday to fix my air conditioner; my friend Patty was to be there for the work.

Kay came back to a Dad who was basically asleep — after hours of my conferring with the hospice nurse and administering more and more morphine.  I still dream about those hours before she came back.

But when he died,  I did what I do best — crisis mode.  I do that by long experience.  Kay did well too, but there were moments for her when she broke down, when she said she wasn’t ready to let him go yet.  And that was after the funeral, too.  The many details of arranging a funeral kept us occupied.  But afterwards?

Reality had set in for her.  He was gone, but as she said, she wasn’t ready to let him go yet.  t think it had hit me much earlier.  My predominant feeling after his death:  one of relief, relief that he was now no longer in pain.

She is grieving now — emotions much more on the surface, much more in control of her.  Marianne, again.

Me?  I think I have been grieving for a year.  I saw Dad slip away in pieces.  Right now, there are times where I can feel the tears are there, and beneath the tears a gaping hole that is ready to suck me through.  It will hit me, I know, but right now there are other things I must do, business issues to take care of, and family problems to help with.  My emotions are private things, and I try not to let them out in public, which is another part of why I feel more like Elinor.  Her emotions are deep and when they are unleashed/released, they threaten to overwhelm her, and they surprise her as much as anyone.

Unlike Elinor, I know only too well how deep my emotions run.  I also know that I will let them loose sometime.  Just not now, when the practical Cheryl has her list of what must be done.   There will be times, in my house or my apartment — or my car — when I let them out and bawl like a baby, sobbing with my loss.  But that’s not for public display.

Even at the funeral, when I felt that void start to open and the sob caught my throat, I gulped, grabbed some TicTacs and started munching.  At times, I was afraid that the sound of pouring out TicTacs was audible and might disturb the service, but I kept chomping away so that I didn’t just lose it and really distract everyone.  That would be unacceptable.  I kept remembering what Dad told me at his brother’s funeral, years before, as I started to sob — “Wares don’t lose control in public”.  There’s the key:  in public.  Emotions are private, and to be released when appropriate.  So I channeled Dad’s voice telling me that even while I was at his service, looking at his casket.  Closed, might I add.  Funerals are difficult enough, and an open casket makes them even more difficult.

At the funeral, I kept worrying about my sister, about my Aunt Mildred (Dad’s sister), and my Aunt Jean (his sister-in-law).  Dad would be proud, I hope, that we all were teary-eyed but not out of control.  That would be horrible.

And now, almost three weeks afterwards, I work my way through the lists of to-dos.  I’ve seen a lawyer.  I’m getting repairs on the house before we put it on the market; I’m waiting for the appraiser’s report.  Kay and I are working this coming weekend on the hundreds of tools that are neatly housed in the double-garage.  They will get boxed and moved into storage.  I hope to go to the bank to the safety deposit box.

There’s so much to do.

Kay is working through this, trying to find her way through the changes that include Dad’s death and how we shape our lives without him.   We talk daily, often several times a day.  We talk about our own plans to rebuild at my beach lot in Crystal Beach — and I think it’s important for us. This is our family house that we’re building, our future.  We’ll create our own memories there, but we’ll carry others with us.  The new house will be furnished in part with things from Egan.  We probably won’t need anything at all for the kitchen.  We’ve got chests of drawers.  We need to buy new chairs for the table that Phil found and refurbishes.  We’ll need a new sofa (one that is a sleeper).  I want a new rocker for the living room.  We’ve got televisions and a stereo.  Our grandmother’s stereo cabinet from the 1940s will become the DVD storage, placed beneath the living room television.  It may also be the bar, something Kay and I find appropriate. We’ll have 3 bedrooms, one for me, one for Kay, one for Rachel, my niece.  One bathroom.

Channeling my Elinor, I keep going as I work through the list.  I help Kay as she occasionally breaks into her Marianne side.  At home, I let my own emotions out at times, but so far, nothing of epic magnitude has emerged. At times, though, I admit to feeling overwhelmed — not by Dad’s loss as much as by the sheer number of chores that await me.  Panic attacks threaten, but I’ve avoided them with deep breathing and grounding techniques.

Emily Dickinson speaks to me at this time as much as Jane Austen does:  in one poem, Emily D says

I CAN wade grief,
Whole pools of it,—
I ’m used to that.
But the least push of joy
Breaks up my feet,         5
And I tip—drunken.
Let no pebble smile,
’T was the new liquor,—
That was all!
Power is only pain,         10
Stranded, through discipline,
Till weights will hang.
Give balm to giants,
And they ’ll wilt, like men.
Give Himmaleh,—         15
They ’ll carry him!

I taught that poem for years, and it speaks to me constantly of how I myself feel.  I’m so used to grief that I can wade it easily.  But comfort — “balm” — that and joy are less well-known to me and threaten to make me slip.  Yes, Emily, yes.  I agree.

Sense — me — and Sensibility — Kay:  We manage.  And that’s positive, good, desirable.  We work together.  Day by day, step by step.  I count our successes.  They make the troubles– the griefs that threaten, the new crises that crop up– survivable.

Not that we don’t bicker.  We do.  Don’t get me wrong — our essential sibling relationship remains.  But both of us are conscious that Dad, our mediator, is gone, and it’s up to us to find our way together.

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What’s in a Name?

Shakespeare nailed it:  “That which we call a rose /By any other name would smell as sweet.”

Yet perhaps Shakespeare failed to consider the consequences of some name choices.

Names are words, words to which we attach meaning from some (often shifting) external context.

And so it was when my siblings and cousins Barbara and Jim were born into a family named Ware.

Yes, we grew up with all of those jokes that seem to follow the name Ware:  Do you have anyone in the family named Stone (Ware)? Corning (Ware)?  You get the picture.  You probably can come up with any number of other humorous quips to hurl our way.

When I was maybe 2 or 3, when we lived in Humble, Texas, outside of Houston, my dad’s working partner, Buddy, had me convinced that my name was other than Cheryl Lynn Ware.  Like another father to me until the day he died, Buddy loved to tell the story of how he had me responding to anyone who asked what my name was:  Cheryl Lynn Stinkpot Ware.  I was working at university when Buddy died, but that story still makes me smile.

Perhaps my most embarrassing moment, though,  came in high school, when my Chemistry teacher had me go to his Physics class to make up an exam (I think those were the classes, anyway).  Mr. Miller — he of the wonderfully wide and welcoming smile– waited until I was through with the test.  There I was, surrounded by august seniors.  Especially the guys.  And then Mr. Miller aimed the smile at me, announcing that if my middle name were Sunder, and then if you said my name really fast altogether, I would be CherylSunderWare.  Everyone laughed, of course. I blushed.  I wanted to sink through the floor.   I still get variations of this one, even now.

And any time we were on a bus for a class trip, the jokes continued:  Cheryl?  Ware?  Where?  Here, I’d pipe up.  Ware/where?  they’d respond.  Cue laughter again.

The last name seemed obvious for its possibilities.  But what other possibilities were there?  Consider our first names — some of us, anyway.

Barbara Ware:  B Ware.  Hmmm.  Got it?

Cheryl Ware:  C Ware.  I don’t need to explain any more.

But my poor brother Philip had the worst time:  P Ware.  Yes, Pee Ware.  Really embarrassing to him when he was a shy little boy.  I was most often the guilty party in taunting him with this, of course.

My own name, C Ware, has continued to be a source of humor over the years.  It’s handy, even a shorthand of sorts for a way of viewing things.  Hence the name of this new blog:  C Ware in the World.  Not a single meaning, but ambiguity results with that combination, and as a literary sort, I like the ambiguity.  It opens up rather than heading in one direction.

Names are so strange.  We attach meanings to them.  Even at Dad’s funeral (actually, afterwards at the farm), my Aunt Jean was recounting to a friend how I got my name.  When Mother was pregnant, she had a baby shower — and a naming shower.  Everyone had to contribute a name.  My mother’s first choice (Cheryl Ann, I think) was something she shared with a co-worker who was also pregnant.  That woman gave birth first.  And guess what her girl was named?  Yep.  My mother was not happy.  Her “friend” had “stolen her name.”

So Cheryl Lynn I became:  Lynn from the name of one of my dad’s first cousins.

Of course, there’s another twist to my name.  Since Dad belonged to the Church of Christ and Mother was Roman Catholic, when it came time to have me baptized, the Holy Roman Church wouldn’t recognize my name as acceptable.  There were no Saint Cheryls, no Saint Lynns.  Hence I was baptized Cheryl Lynn Maria.  That satisfied the requirements for a saint’s name somewhere in a child’s name.  When it came time for Confirmation, I had to choose yet another name.  I chose Theresa.  So as far as the Church is concerned, I am not Cheryl Lynn Ware.  I am Cheryl Lynn Maria Theresa Ware.  Or if you’d believe the 3-year-old me, Cheryl Lynn Stinkpot Maria Theresa Ware.

My brother and sister had acceptable names:  Philip Franklin Ware (St. Philip, of course); Kay Darlene Ware (Kay from St. Katherine). They didn’t have to have names trailing.  And since neither of them chose to be confirmed, they didn’t have to pick another name.  OH well.

Over the years, I simply learned to play the jokes too.  Why fight it?  After all, words are only weapons if you let them be.

Indeed, when I came to adopt Greece as a second home, I wondered whether in fact names had destined me for a Mediterranean self.

First, my own religious names, especially Maria — a very common name in Greece (and Italy and Spain).  But if you look at my parents’ names, and even my maternal grandmother’s name, other ties emerge.

My mother’s name:  Irene. In Greece, Irini is a common name, derived from the word for peace, Eirene.

My father’s name — or at least his middle name, usually simply designated by the initial for reasons soon to be obvious:  Theophilus.  Theos (God) + philos (friend).  Friend of God.

And my maternal grandmother?  Ella.  In Greek, ela : Appropriately, her name is a command form of the verb come, indicating come here!

Cheryl?  Derives from the French, Cherie, and has the meaning of darling. Lynn?  Depending on the source you look in, it derives from Irish, Gaelic, English or even Spanish, with meanings ranging from ruddy complexion to lake or water or pretty.

A mishmash of cultural heritages are thus blended in the name Cheryl Lynn.  Appropriate for someone who is herself a blend of many cultures, including French, Cajun, Irish, Scots, German, and English.

I figure it could have been worse.  If I’d been male, guess what one of the name choices was?  Henry Theophilus, after my dad.

I’m so glad I’m female.  Even Dad only used T rather than his actual name.

So much for names.  But here you are, in my first post for a new blog.  Join me to cwareintheworld I end up.  To cwareintheworld, see Ware in the world.

Whatever.  I’m on my way.  Ela!

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One of the radio talk shows I came to love was “Car Talk” — every Friday in October, November, and December 1995 when I’d drive to Houston to MD Anderson while Phil was there, I turned the show on and laughed.

Oh that I could call those guys up now!  One of the many details I’m handling now — what to do with the two vehicles.  I’m visiting my cousin in Houston now, and her husband helped me this morning to find values for the two vehicles.

The newer vehicle is the 2009 Silverado that Dad bought.  I remember when he did that — rather apologetically, he told me that he’d paid cash for it.  He didn’t want to leave us with a car note.  I laughed and asked him who he thought would give an 87-year-old a car note?  It’s a solid, well-taken-care-of truck, a 4-door crew cab with a towing packing.  I’ve come to enjoy driving that truck.  In fact, I’ve probably driven it much more than I’ve driven my own Mini Cooper in the last year.  But keeping it?  I don’t think so. It’s handy, certainly, and I can use it.  Yet I can’t justify the cost of keeping it — not for the few times I’d actually need it.  Right now, it is very useful for hauling things back to my own house.  But I’ll be selling it soon.

The other vehicle is one Dad cherished.  It’s a 1977 Blazer that Phil bought.  It was their hunting vehicle.  That he didn’t really use it wasn’t the point; it had been Phil’s, and thus it was kept.  Right now, Kay and I have had 3 people inquire about it, two of them young men who have ridden in it most of their lives.  Their grandfathers were friends of Dad’s, and thus they both have memories of riding in it with the two older men.  They both expressed their interest years ago to Dad, and I’ll take their interests in chronological order.  I don’t want any bad feelings about this.  I kind of like the idea of one of them owning the Blazer.  It will have a history for them too, and I can sort of feel satisfied about that for some reason.  Maybe it’s that Dad’s memory will continue along with the Blazer itself while one of them drives it.

The Silverado doesn’t have that kind of emotional history.  I’ll figure how to get the most money for it, frankly.  I may drive it to Houston to a Carmax and just let that place offer what it will, perhaps even sell it to them on the spot.

Trucks are fun, and for country kids, they’re almost always a vehicle of choice.  Certainly I live in town, and love my Mini Cooper convertible.  I must confess, though, to a certain feeling of comfort, of rightness, when I slide into the seat behind the wheel of a truck.  It’s a known, a staple of my life.  Dad always had trucks — work trucks, mostly.  But after we were older, he started buying trucks.  Mother didn’t drive anymore, so trucks were his vehicle of choice.

When I was a kid in the Egan oil field camp, most of us there had dads with work trucks.  They became part of our playground at times, too.  I remember Dad’s always had huge tool chests welded on.  And a water cooler was always attached somewhere in the bed or on the sides.

Though I learned to drive in a car (an automatic), the second vehicle I learned to drive was a truck — my granddad’s 1956 Chevy.  It was a manual shift, on the steering wheel itself.  My hands can still go through the shifts in memory.  That truck sits at the farm even now.  Many times I remember riding in the back of it as we helped throw out bales of hay for the cows, or just riding in the back as Granddad and Dad and maybe Uncle James rode in the fields to look at things.

There’s certainly a bittersweet element involved with this part of clearing up loose ends after a death.  In America we somehow often attach great personal meaning to vehicles, and so even after the owner’s death, there’s some tie to him (or her) for the family left to deal with everything.

Practical person that I am, I know they’re just hunks of metal that have particular monetary values.  I can sell them with no problems.  I’m only selling the physical items.  The memories are still mine.  Those have no price, and are not up for sale, ever.

So today’s Car Talk session has ended.  I didn’t talk to Click and Clack, but I’ve acquired the information I needed.  Those wheels are in motion.

The house itself is another matter.  Last week I met with an appraiser, paid him, and am waiting for his report.  I do have a list of repairs he suggested were necessary.  I’ve already talked to Tim, the guy who did all the renovations, about what we need, and I’ll meet him Wednesday for a quote.  I’ve paid the phone bill, and will cancel phone and Direct TV soon.  I’ve got a storage room rented already in Lake Charles waiting for stuff.

Over the weekend, I decided that the next mountain to tackle will be the double garage full of tools.  I’ll just load those up and store them, actually leaving the inventory for later.  Kay and I have already decided on furniture to store.

So the bustle in the house continues, as we disassemble the life that it held for our family since 1966.  Someone else will enjoy the house soon, I hope.  It’s been a nice little house, a friendly one.  Egan is a good little town, and people are choosing to move there.

Our family will move on.   It’s time for a new family to fill it.  A new family will move in, change it to suit their needs. I like the idea that someone will choose to live in our house.

It’ll be a home again.  I hope our family’s love lingers to welcome the new family.

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Details Unlimited

No, you read it right:  not Ducks Unlimited.  Details Unlimited.

No one really prepares you for these details after a death.  You think you know — and even with some experience, I thought I was prepared.  But the details just keep cropping up and surprising me.

And keep me making notes about calls to make, things to follow up on.

Juggling the details following Dad’s death with my own struggles to get my life in Lake Charles going again (especially getting work done on the house that I’ve put off) just leaves me/keeps me exhausted.

I guess that a large portion of the exhaustion is my body reacting to the fact that Dad is dead and that I don’t have to be “on duty” all the time.  Yet I still am waking up during the night, just as I did before.  When I (finally) had my annual sleep center appointment (only 1 year and 5 months after the last one), and I was asked how I rated my sleepiness on a 1-10 scale.  I told her a 12.  I yawned while I talked to her.  I could have fallen asleep at any given moment.  When the nurse asked me about my sleep patterns, I just started laughing.  I used to have one, as I told her, but that pretty much disappeared over a year ago.  Sleep through the night?  Not in a long time.  After I explained my situation, she totally understood.  We talked about how it would take a while for me to re-establish a sleeping-through-the-night pattern again.  Even with the lovely CPAP machine (I call it my Franken-mask), I wake up probably every two hours now, checking on Dad.  Only I don’t need to check, not now, but my body doesn’t really know that yet.  I have hopes that it will re-learn.  Soon.

But the other details . . . . Finding out how to get the house appraised, how to find an appraiser to come, how to get it ready for the market.  At first I had this crazy notion that I could get it cleared out and sold by June 12, when I head to Greece for nearly 3 months.  Reality hit me on Monday this week, though when I realized that while there isn’t much furniture to deal with, I have books to pack and move and clothes to deal with.  Not to mention the double garage that is filled with tools.  Dad’s tools.  My late brother Phil’s tools.  My Grampa Charlie’s tools (he’s been dead since 1962).  My Poppa’s tools (he died in 1972).  I don’t really know what is waiting for me there.  And the repairs to make that the appraiser suggested.  Now I just have to wait for the appraiser’s report.  I don’t know how long that will take.

Once I figured out it wasn’t possible to get it all sorted and cleared by June 12, I could feel myself relax.  That was one burden eased.  I can take more time, and Kay can do some work while I’m gone.

Other details are just on hold — until the certified death certificates are ready.  While the bank returned Dad’s Social Security and pension checks and notified those two entities that Dad had died, nothing else can be done without those certificates.  I hope I can turn off the telephone and the dish television services.  I’ll find out soon, when I try to manage those two things next week.

Then there’s insurance, or the annuity – I can fill out paperwork, but can’t submit anything without the certificates.

The bank account?  That was easier.  I was already on it.  Kay and I opened a joint account in the same bank.  I transferred money into it so that she can write checks if needed while I’m gone this summer.  Most of the bills are drafted out of Dad’s account, so there probably won’t be any other items to pay.  I’m already working on more repair work and should get that done in the next couple of weeks and paid for before I leave.

Plus there’s the safety deposit box.  My signature is on the card, so I can get into the box.  But somehow I’ve misplaced the key, on the keyring I can’t find.  I can get it drilled, for $180, if I need to.  I may well do that.  Just because I can, and I won’t be crazy trying to find the keyring.  If I find it, great.  If not, it’s only $180.

At this point, I feel as though I’m stuck on “wait” and the Musak music for some game show is playing in my head.

In the meantime, I go through Dad’s mail.  I have a couple of bills to pay.  But I can’t use the checks from our joint account now — that’s over.  I have to use the joint account that Kay and I opened.  I moved boxes of paperwork to my house yesterday.

Oh — that’s the other factor.  My own house, which I’ve really not lived in much for a year.  I’ve visited it periodically.  I’ve put repairs on hold for too long.  In January I managed to get rewiring done.  But now I’m waiting to hear from a carpenter to get some brickwork taken down and replaced with decorative fencing.  I hate waiting.  I want to see things happen.  I want ACTION.

But that’s not realistic.  I just have to adjust my expectations.  I can’t get it all done at once, even though I want to.  Not reasonable.

So today I went to look for three ceiling fans for three rooms in my house.  I have to go back for those, to be sure I get the right ones.  But while I was shopping, I managed to pick up some things for my garden — I want to have an inviting garden area.  I got started on that, but it stopped too, along with other house projects.

I bought two lights for inside — a floor lamp for my workspace and a table lamp for the living room.  I bought some solar things for the garden, including a sitting Buddha with a solar-powered tea light.  Buddha will join the St. Francis statue I put in the garden last summer.

For too long my own house was just a place to sleep, and I neglected it.  A couple of years ago, I started working on clearing things out, on organizing and clearing.  That’s still an on-going process, and I’m back on it with more steam now.  My house is once more a joy for me, and I appreciate it more than I have in years.  I want it to be a place of light and color, cleared of clutter (well, mostly), but filled with my books and art.  I have my mother’s dining room set — and am making a real dining room area in my living room.  I want to have dinner parties.  I want to have friends over.

So the details keep me spinning now.  I’m learning that I can’t make the details clear up faster, or disappear.  I just have to be patient.

Who knew that a veteran was entitled to a marker from the military?  I ordered a granite foot marker for Dad’s grave.  I knew about the flag, which I still have to buy a case for.  And there are the thank-you cards to write.  I’ve got that bag waiting for me (and for Kay).

It’s time for lunch now.  In Lake Charles, with my friend Martha.  I just had coffee with my friend Brenda.  Remnants of the life I had are knitting back together to help me create my new life.

Details await me.  From the past.  But also from the future I’m now creating.

Details unlimited indeed.

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Details, details

Two sayings come to mind:  “God is in the details”  and “The Devil’s in the details.”  Why am I not surprised that such polar opposites describe the reality of details?

Right now it’s the details that keep me heading for the notebook that goes with me everywhere — notes about things to follow up on, to call about, to find out about.  I knew something about what I’d be facing once Dad died, in terms of the business of an executor or trustee.  But I’m still discovering some.

For example, sometime in the last three weeks I’ve managed to misplace a keyring — and it’s the one with the key to Dad’s safety deposit box.  My signature is on the box, so that’s not a problem.  But if I can’t find the key, I have to pay $180 to get it drilled.  But I can manage it.

I’ve found the insurance papers that I know of, but suspect there’s another one.  I’ve contacted one company that turns out to have gone into receivership, but managed to get the right people to help.  Now I’m waiting for those papers to come in.  The big insurance/annuity policy has been taken to the funeral director, who has taken care of that and once the bill there is paid, Kay and I will get what’s left.  I’ve called the larger annuity that was about to have to be rolled out because Dad was turning 90.  Kay and I have been to the bank.  The officer there has set in motion to have his social security check returned.  I still have to contact Dad’s former employer to stop pension checks.  Of course, now I have to wait for the certified death certificates so that I can complete paperwork.

Kay and I will sell the house, and Dad knew that.  I’ve contacted an appraiser and we’re going to meet soon.

In preparation for that, I’ve rented a 10×15 storage unit for furniture and anything else we’re keeping.  I’ve got most of the books boxed, but more to work on.

But lord, the garage!  I don’t think my dad ever threw anything out — just the opposite.  He collected things.  “Oh, I can fix that.”  “That engine is still good; I can use it for. . . .”  You get the picture.  Dad and his siblings were products of the Great Depression and lived accordingly.  He had his own tools.  He had the tools from my mother’s stepfather.  He had tools he’d acquired for all of us.  Some of it is neatly tucked away in cabinets.  Some of it.  But the rest?  Let’s put it this way:  there’s a double garage with no room for any cars.  Come to think of it, I don’t think there was ever room for cars.  We’ve never actually used the garage for that purpose.  That’s why there is a carport.  There is a shed in the back of the yard.  In that is the 1977 or 1978 Blazer that Dad and Phil used for hunting and fishing.  There’s a boat and trailer.  And the riding lawnmower.  And probably more tools.

Once the house itself is empty of the life that it held for decades, of the family that no longer lives there, it’s really just a shell.  I have fond memories of the house in Egan– but it’s not something I’ll pine for.  I was 16 when we moved into this house, and it was the 7th house I lived in, so it isn’t the only home I’ve ever known.  In fact, I’ve lived in this house in Lake Charles longer than I have lived anywhere else.  The constant home in my life?  That would be the farm, I guess.  And oddly enough, the house that I dream about most is the house in Beaumont where my maternal grandmother lived.  And at times, I dream about the oilfield camp in Egan, that I’m moving back there into one of the houses, but the house is different.  And there’s a swimming pool.  Of course, someone else owns the land and has built a large home there.  But dreams don’t rely on reality.  For me, houses have purpose and life, but they’re only things.  It’s the memories I cherish, though the house may have some sentimental connection.

Having grown up on the Gulf Coast, I’ve seen houses destroyed by hurricanes.  I’ve lost a house — my beach house in Crystal Beach, Texas — to Hurricane Ike.  Other than the cracked slab and a few stray, random items, nothing was left after Ike hit Ground Zero not far from my house there.  What survived?  A few blue glass things I’d tiled a cabinet top with.  A Christmas ornament that I left out on a cabinet — a blue angel, now with a chipped wing.  I call her the Beach Angel.  Everything else washed away, piled up on Oak Island or Goat Island or dragged back to to sink beneath the gray-green waters of the Gulf.  It wasn’t my primary home, but I loved it.  And I have survived that loss.  I once left this house, though, for a Category 5 hurricane that was supposed to rip through Lake Charles, Hurricane Lily, I think.  I drove off with my car packed full with pets and computer and photograph albums and music, knowing I might never see the house again.  That’s when I realized I could live without the house itself.  And when I drove off with the car packed similarly for Hurricane Rita, I didn’t look back.  Everything I needed was with me.  If I had pets and cameras and computer and photos and music, and I knew family and friends were safe, that’s all I really needed.  Clothes?  I just needed enough to get by with.  After all, there’s always a Walmart somewhere.

So the house in Egan?  We’ll sell.  I’m not as attached to it as Kay is — she was only 8 or so when we moved in, and she is more sentimental about it than I am.

After all, we’ll still go back to Egan — we have friends who are family now, and I’ve told Billie she has to have room for us when we visit. It’s the house we’re selling, not our connection to Egan.

My notebook sits beside me here on the table now, and I see a few phone calls I can make today.  And I’m sure I’ll think of other things I need to make notes about — things to check on, people to call, things to get when I go to Egan next time.

So whether it’s God or the devil in the details, it doesn’t really matter.  Perhaps one choice indicates a more positive spin and the other a negative one. Regardless, it’s  the details come to drive us, I think, in the aftermath of a death.  They keep us going. Grief and mourning take so many different forms and differ from person to person.  I know from experience that years after, when you’re calm and think you’re beyond it, something will trigger grief so sharp and fresh that it’s a gut-kick back to the past, to the rawness of loss.

Right now, I’m pacing myself through the details.  And daily trying to gather the threads of my life back together, to find my way back to living by myself, in my house, in the town I’ve been in this time since 1981 (and add the 3 1/2 years of college for a total of 34 1/2 years I’ve lived in Lake Charles).

I’m weary, even bone-tired.  And weary with the weight of the last months, where  I’ve been too busy to let myself go too much.  I’ve cried at times, but had to pull myself back together and keep going.  I don’t know if I’ll ever feel as though I’ve gotten enough sleep again.  I’m sure at some point I’ll actually sleep through the night without waking up to check on Dad.  Crying jags will surprise me at some point, I’m sure.

I find myself reading at night, and in the daytime I start a project, a box to fill, or a shelf to clear.  Work, as Dad always showed me, was a way to deal with stress.  If your hands were busy, he’d say, your mind couldn’t be too.  If you tired the body out, you could get rest, and you’d feel productive.

It’s true.  So today I’m clearing out the front room with my friend Patty, and putting some things into my storage unit, making that room for a work area for my jewelry and for my office for writing.

My house is taking on life again, shaping itself around my needs now in retirement, and that’s a wonderful thing.  I’m finding my way back, even while I make lists of details about closing the past.

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Sweet Bluebonnet Spring

Well, it’s still spring, though the bluebonnets are gone now.

Despite that, as I drove up to San Augustine on Friday I kept hearing Nanci Griffith’s “Gulf Coast Highway” in my head, especially the lines “And when he dies he says he’ll catch some blackbird’s wing/Then he will fly away to Heaven come some sweet bluebonnet spring.”  That beautifully simple song of hers has been one of my favorites for a long time.

Music was in my mind a lot this week.  One of the things Kay and I had to do was select music — for the memorial photo DVD that the funeral home created and for the funeral service itself.  There were actually a few clear choices — hymns we grew up hearing Dad and Mother sing together around the house, harmonizing.  Songs we sang when we went to church with Dad, the shape-notes of the Church of Christ hymnal.

We grew up hearing Mother and Dad sing a lot — they sang to us, with us, sacred music, popular music, country music.  She had a lovely alto voice and he had a beautiful baritone.  Many nights he sang me to sleep — with Jimmy Rodgers songs, songs like Gene Autry’s “Silver Haired Daddy of Mine,” “Red River Valley” . . . more songs than I can list.  We sang in the car when we traveled to Beaumont to my maternal grandmother’s house or to San Augustine to the farm. That’s what most people don’t know, that we sang together so much.

Music was an important part of our lives together and thus of planning Dad’s service.  Selecting music wasn’t hard.  On the DVD:  “Precious Memories,” “I’ll Fly Away.”  During the service:  “I’ll Fly Away,” “Shall We Gather At the River,” “Trust and Obey,” “Blessed Assurance,” “In the Garden.”  Each of those songs had some connection with Dad.  He enjoyed listening to Alan Jackson’s “Precious Memories” album.  The others are songs I have many memories of — of listening to Dad sing them in church, of his baritone in harmony, especially if he was singing with Mother, which he often did.  “Shall We Gather at the River” was important to him; it was sung at his mother’s funeral.  But while “In the Garden” was playing, my cousin Carolyn leaned over and whispered to me that she remembered that song.  At our great-grandmother’s house in Beaumont, she remembered our grandmother playing the piano while Mother and Dad sang “In The Garden.”‘ And at the end of it, my mother immediately segued into “Tampico Bay” — that was Mother.  Playful, humorous — and Dad loved that about her.

Music was just something we always shared.

All of us kids loved music.  I’m the only one who took piano lessons — for 6 years.  I still play at times.  I have the piano that Mother and Dad bought when I was in fourth grade.  My Aunt Jean, who taught piano, actually picked it out.  I remember my mother’s mother sitting down and playing it every time she and Poppa came to visit us, though she didn’t read music.  Mother had lots of albums, everything from pop music of the 1950s to sacred music.  Dad had albums we bought him– Emmylou Harris, Dolly Parton, Willie Nelson.  He had lots of country music.

If you look at my house, you’ll find what I refer to as the “wall of vinyl.”  My first music purchase was “Elvis’s Golden Hits.”  The second:  “Rick Is 21” — Ricky Nelson.  You’ll find the Beatles, the Stones, Joan Baez, Judy Collins, Steppenwolf, Willie Nelson. You’ll also find classical music.  Then there are the CDs.

My grandmother Ella, Mother’s mother, taught me to dance to Cajun music the way most kids learn here:  she put me on her feet and that’s how I learned.  She’d put music on and dance around the house as she cleaned house.  She loved to dance — indeed, when I lived in Beaumont in 1975, I was out one night with friends at a local honky-tonk in the boonies of the Golden Triangle area.  Club 88.  I was out on the dance floor and when I got back to our table, one of them asked who the old lady I’d bumped into and hugged was.  “Be careful how you talk about my grandmother,” I answered.  “No, seriously.  Who was it?” he popped back.  “My grandmother.  Really.”  And over she came, meeting everyone.  She was 67 at the time, widowed, and out with friends.  We still have her records too, from 78s to 45s, and her stereo cabinet.

Even a couple of days ago, a friend sent me a message of condolence, telling me he’d thought of a Lucinda Williams song, “Lake Charles” (appropriately enough) —

“Did an angel whisper in your ear
And hold you close and take away your fear
In those long last moments.”

Oddly enough, I replied, that very song had been rolling around in my head too.  I found it very sweet that he thought of it, and very comforting.

That’s what music is for me, many times, as it is for many people, I think:  comforting.  I use music to calm me, to express my frustration or anger, to energize me for driving, to contemplate.  I used it to grade for decades.  Like literature, it serves a multitude of purposes in my life.  I cannot imagine life without it.

I’ve been in Lake Charles for a couple of days now, with my pets and my house, sleeping in my bed and feeling both at home and at odds.  Readjusting will take time, I know, and I’ll be back and forth to Egan.  I’ll stay there at times too.  There’s still business to take care of, a house to pack up and things to put into storage.

But tomorrow I’ll be on the road to San Augustine, to the farm, to pick up the plants we could’t fit into the car on Sunday.  Then I’ll head to Kay’s to spend the night, because on Friday I’ll be there to watch her get her master’s degree.  Dad knew she was getting it and was very proud of her.  I want to applaud her and celebrate with her.  So I’ll be packing some CDs and the iPod.

But today I’m here in my house, sitting at the dining room table that was Mother’s.  Today, a bit over a week after Dad died, I am playing Nanci Griffith and Lucinda Williams songs, gently soothing me into my newest life, a journey without Dad’s physical presence, but not really without Dad.

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