Down the garden path

This is part of an ongoing series about my father's stroke. In this post, the personal part follows a fairly straightforward gardening entry. Quit at the divider (a row of asterisks) if you're not interested in the memoir portion.

It is, astonishingly, not raining.  That's not to say that it won't be raining by the time I finish this post; nor does it mean that it didn't already rain earlier today, because it did. In fact, it snowed. Welcome to Montana.

When it started raining the day before yesterday, I grabbed a raincoat and kept working. I'd set out to do some serious weed control on the flagstone path that lies between my vegetable plot and the strawberry plot in the garden I tend next door. This meant weed cloth, as the worst offender is well-established bindweed.

At first I planned to lift the stones out of the soil, lay down the cloth, and set the stones back in their original positions. Nah. Since I didn't want the cloth to show, I had to dig out the grass and dandelions between the stones, so the "original positions" were soon a matter of guesswork. The path was so overgrown that some were a matter of guesswork even at the beginning.

I got about two thirds of the stones dug up and more or less re-positioned on the first afternoon, but decided that night that a better, more thorough job was called for. So next day I lifted the flags I'd set, dug up the rest, pulled the weed cloth aside, and dug out weeds until I could rake the pebbly soil smooth. This was the point I'd reached when it started to rain.

It was therefore largely mud that I shoveled back onto the newly laid weed cloth. My garden clogs swiftly accumulated about a pound of caked soil each, which made footing so precarious that I finally ditched them. Even barefoot, I did a fair amount of flailing, both on the flags and off; I'm proud to report that I never did bite the mud. (Dust there was not.)

Settling the flagstones in the stony soup turned out to be a labor-intensive but highly satisfactory job: I was able to line up straight edges, straighten out the whole path, and fit the slabs together in a tight, pleasing pattern.

            *            *            *            *            *            *

I would include a picture, but I left my camera in Toronto, and it's still there, along with about five other things I left behind. One thing my mother doesn't need at this point is extra errands, and I'm still kicking myself for leaving her with one.

I'd probably be more impatient if I hadn't had the rare experience of walking in her shoes last month.

While I was visiting, Connie took the first break she'd had since Dad's stroke in November, and went to see her sister in Massachusetts for several days. It was my job to keep up the rhythm she's established for him since he moved into long-term care sometime in February.

Every morning for years, one of my parents would make coffee and bring it back to bed, so every morning Connie gets up at six to take coffee down to Dad at seven. She leaves him when he goes to breakfast at eight, but is back from about ten-thirty to noon, and from two-thirty to five, spending time reading aloud, or walking, or listening to music together.

Finally, in her nightgown and a glorious, midnight blue silk robe that belonged to her grandfather, she slips downstairs at eight o’clock for a goodnight cuddle before she returns upstairs to sleep.

Connie and I had almost six days for me to learn the routines and for Dad to get used to my being there. She kept doing the early-morning coffee visits, but during the day we'd mix things up, so sometimes she'd go down and I'd join her, sometimes the opposite, and sometimes one or the other of us would leave early. And every night, I tucked them into bed, to the vast amusement of the attendants.

This was Con's idea: after all, I'd be saying goodnight while she was gone, and if I showed up at bedtime with her for a few days, then it might be less startling when I turned up alone. So every evening, I kissed them goodnight and headed upstairs, chuckling. Talk about role reversal.

I was glad for the days before Con's departure. Fortunately, she's very organized: for morning coffee, for instance, there are two metal thermoses and two insulated metal cups, all of which get pre-warmed before going downstairs in the neat pockets built into a small canvas bag.

After five plus days of initiation, I knew most of the routines: after dropping Dad at dinner, I knew to lay out clothes for the next day (underwear, undershirt, pants, turtleneck and matching socks, belt) shroud the lamp in a t-shirt so that night attendants would be able to see without turning on the startling over-head light, and lay a waterproof cover over the little couch, in case Dad resisted night changes and sat down on the couch while wet or soiled.

Yes, I was prepared.

But the first morning that Con was gone, I couldn't find one of the tops to the thermoses that were to hold the early-morning coffee, and I couldn't find a cone with which to make my decaf coffee, and the result was that I didn't get downstairs until, oh my gosh, seven twenty.

As I hustled into Dad's room that first morning, trying to appear relaxed, I met Lenore, one of the marvelous attendants, just coming out. She laughed aloud and shook her finger at me. "You're fired!" she announced jovially. "Twenty minutes late! Your first day on the job and you're fired!"

"Don't tell Connie," I puffed, hurrying past.

The missing cone turned up in the stove drawer (not something I could have predicted), but the thermos cap had been lurking behind an unwashed pot the whole time I hunted for it. Maybe, I thought, this explained why Connie washed dishes after every meal. Note to self for tomorrow: set ALL coffee items out on a CLEAR counter the night before.

In ensuing days, my education continued. I'd been skeptical of Con's reports about how hard it was to get errands done when one had to be back in two hours, but after about twenty-four hours, my skepticism gave way to heartfelt sympathy. I managed to buy a new computer, for instance, only by finding someone who would bring it to me.

So this is why I am not badgering Connie to send me my camera. She has enough to do.


One Response to Down the garden path

  1. feedstoregirl

    I sense you’ll have more to write as the days pass…I especially loved everything AFTER the asterisks.

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