Christmas Tree

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Some people get their trees the weekend after Thanksgiving, but I don’t remember our family being quite that eager. Usually sometime during the first week of December, we piled into the car and drove to a Christmas tree lot, no trudging through the woods with a chain saw for us. Despite my limited vision, I loved seeing beautiful Christmas trees lined up in neat rows. While my younger brother Andy ran around and got into mischief, I wandered among pines, touching branches and inhaling the sweet aroma.

After Mother and Dad found the perfect tree, we somehow managed to get it home, despite the fact we didn’t have a pick-up truck most of the time. Once home, I watched and Andy played while Dad got out the tree stand, and he and Mother erected the tree. Then, they attached the lights, first testing them on the floor to be sure they worked before stringing them on the tree. Dad sometimes had to run to the store to buy bulbs to replace ones that were burned out.

Once the lights were on the tree, the fun began, at least for me. I loved touching and looking at our wide selection of ornaments from balls to snowmen to the baby Jesus, some handed down from my mother’s mother’s mother. Mother showed me how to attach the hook on each ornament to a particular branch. She didn’t care where ornaments were placed as long as two of them weren’t on one branch and fragile ones were on more secure branches. Andy sometimes helped, but most of the time, he did his own thing while Dad sat nearby with his nose in a book or newspaper.

When all the ornaments were in place, Mother flipped the switch, and I watched in awe, as the tree lit up. I gazed at our wonderful tree and wondered what gifts would be underneath it Christmas morning.

On New Year’s Day like clockwork, Mother was ready to take the tree down. Since Dad and Andy always had better things to do, I helped her disassemble everything. I loved our ornaments and didn’t mind taking them off the tree, putting them in their respective boxes, and helping Mother put the boxes away until the following year. Then she managed to haul the tree out to the alley to be picked up with the next trash collection.

When I grew up and moved into my own apartment, I didn’t bother with a tree or other decorations since I could still enjoy these in my family home. After my parents separated, and Mother moved to Story, about twenty miles north of my home town of Sheridan, Wyoming, I didn’t do much with decorating, but Dad and I spent Christmas Eve and Day with her. By this time, Andy was living in Colorado, and he and his family often spent the holiday with us.

After Bill and I were married, we didn’t bother with decorating. I’m not sure why. When I first met Bill, he was living in Fowler, Colorado, and when Dad and I visited him at Christmas time before he proposed to me, his house was decorated, and he said, “Let’s kiss under the mistletoe.” I thought he was joking. You can read more about this in my new memoir.

Now that Bill and my parents are gone, I don’t bother decorating the house. Besides, I don’t have room for a tree. I have a few ornaments I’ve collected over the years that I put out if I think of it and can find them, but that doesn’t happen often.

What do you remember about tree trimming in your house during the holiday season when you were growing up? Have your decorating habits changed now that you’re an adult?

I leave you now with a song to get you thinking about that Christmas tree. Happy decorating.

***

Author Abbie Johnson Taylor

We Shall Overcome

How to Build a Better Mousetrap: Recollections and Reflections of a Family Caregiver

That’s Life: New and Selected Poems

My Ideal Partner: How I Met, Married, and Cared for the Man I Loved Despite Debilitating Odds

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A Thanksgiving Day Memory

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When I was growing up, the holiday usually began early at our house. Mother was up at the crack of dawn to put the turkey in the oven. It roasted all day until mid-afternoon when we sat down to eat. One year while we were living in Tucson, Arizona, my uncle, aunt, cousins, and grandparents from Denver, Colorado, were expected. Uncle Jack, Aunt Sharon, and their daughter Kelly drove down from Denver because Aunt Sharon was afraid of flying. Granddad had his own plane, and he and Grammy flew down with Kelly’s brother Bill, who was about two, the same age as my younger brother Andy.

Kelly and I were both eight years old. Uncle Jack, Aunt Sharon, and Kelly arrived first thing Thanksgiving morning, before Mother had even gotten out of bed to fix the turkey. Grammy, Granddad, and Bill were due to arrive later that day. Meanwhile, Kelly and I did the Hokey Pokey umpteen million times and swung in the front porch swing while anticipating their arrival.

Because of mechanical difficulty with Granddad’s plane, they were forced to land in Phoenix and drive the rest of the way in a rented car. Thus they arrived later than expected. When they did, Mother and Aunt Sharon made us change into nicer clothes, and we all sat down to the Thanksgiving meal. Grace was said, and Dad carved the turkey.

After eating, Kelly and I played in my room while the men collapsed in front of a football game on television, the women cleaned up, and Andy and Bill ran around the house screaming and occasionally crying. It was a mad house until about eight o’clock when the little ones were put down for the night. All too soon, it was time for us to go to bed as well, and we were soon asleep.

Our family had many other happy Thanksgivings in Arizona and Wyoming with many other relatives. Now, here in Sheridan, with my parents and grandparents gone, my brother in Florida, and uncles, aunts, and cousins scattered across the country, I partake of my Thanksgiving meal at the local senior center, then come home and collapse in my recliner with a good book, sometimes doze, and often reflect on holidays when I was younger.

What do you remember about Thanksgiving Day when you were growing up? I now leave you with a song synonymous with the holiday. Have a great one.

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 Author Abbie Johnson Taylor

We Shall Overcome

How to Build a Better Mousetrap: Recollections and Reflections of a Family Caregiver

That’s Life: New and Selected Poems

My Ideal Partner: How I Met, Married, and Cared for the Man I Loved Despite Debilitating Odds

Click to hear an audio trailer.

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Review: The 10 Cent Chocolate Tub

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The 10-Cent Chocolate Tub

by Mike Mcgann

Copyright 2006.

 

In this collection of essays, the author talks about his life growing up in Pitsburgh, Pennsylvania, and in the suburbs as well as his experiences in the military and in musical theater and his broadcasting career. He explores such topics as parenting, radio, bullies, and disco. In one piece, he explains how he met Gene Kelly while collecting money on his paper route. A 10-cent chocolate tub is a huge ice cream cone made by Bard’s Dairy in Pittsburgh during the 1950’s when children were given only a nickel for vanilla ice cream.

Although Mike Mcgann grew up a little before my time, I enjoyed reading his stories. I almost wish I’d been alive back then. I laughed at some of his anecdotes of life in the city and in the suburbs. Having perfect pitch, I can appreciate one thing he says when talking about his musical theater experiences. “There should be a rule that if you can’t sing in tune and on key (or close to it), you can’t sing in public.” I love the title. I wouldn’t mind having one of those 10-cent chocolate tubs right now, but I guess I’ll settle for chocolate frozen yogurt from Schwann. It’s more healthful.

***

Author Abbie Johnson Taylor

We Shall Overcome

How to Build a Better Mousetrap: Recollections and Reflections of a Family Caregiver

That’s Life: New and Selected Poems

My Ideal Partner: How I Met, Married, and Cared for the Man I Loved Despite Debilitating Odds

Click to hear an audio trailer.

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The Man on the Flying Trapeze

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Have you ever been to a circus, watched an aerialist, and wondered how they did it or thought, oh boy, I’m glad I’m not doing that. Well, believe it or not, my late husband Bill, after suffering two strokes that paralyzed his left side, flew through the air three days a week during the six years I cared for him at home. The following excerpt and poem from my new memoir explains how.

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At first, Bill didn’t like the lift, because it suspended him in mid–air while he was transferred from the bed to the commode and vice versa. I almost laughed when I saw the process for the first time, because it reminded me of the song about the man on the flying trapeze. Because Bill had no vision, I could imagine how insecure he felt during the process. We kept reassuring him that he was securely fastened into the sling and wouldn’t fall, but after his first shower, he said, “I’m not using that damn lift again.”

I was flabbergasted. It had taken one month to get the lift, and another for the carpet in the bedroom to be replaced so it could be used. For two months, Bill traipsed back and forth to Eventide for his showers. I had to dress him every day, not just on the days when his showers at home weren’t scheduled. My own back was starting to bother me. I was ready for a break. “Please, honey, just try it for another week,” I said. “It takes some getting used to.”

“It’s not a problem,” said Bonnie, our case worker. “Jean said you can keep getting your showers at Eventide if you don’t want to use the lift.”

I wasn’t about to settle for that. Because Bill joked about girls seeing him naked, I got an idea. “Okay, honey, just imagine you’re naked on a flying trapeze in a big circus tent, and fifty women are in that tent who paid $50 each to see you naked on that flying trapeze, and you’re going to get all that money.”

It sounded outrageous, but it worked. After another week, he seemed happy as a clam, being propelled across the room, hanging in mid air.

UNDER THE BIG TOP

 

Like the daring young man on the flying trapeze,

he glides through the air, smiles down on me.

I wink, say, “Bravo!”

 

We’re not in a circus but in our bedroom.

His left arm and leg useless,

a mechanical lift raises him off the bed,

propels him across the room,

lowers him to the commode, ready for the shower.

***

Author Abbie Johnson Taylor

We Shall Overcome

How to Build a Better Mousetrap: Recollections and Reflections of a Family Caregiver

That’s Life: New and Selected Poems

My Ideal Partner: How I Met, Married, and Cared for the Man I Loved Despite Debilitating Odds

Click to hear an audio trailer.

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Review: The Rain in Portugal

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The Rain in Portugal: Poems

by Billy Collins

Copyright 2016.

 

In the author’s usual humorous style, poems in this collection reflect on jazz, nature, writing poetry, and other subjects. In “Lucky Cat,” Collins suggests betting with other humans on the actions of felines. In “Only Child,” he longs for a sister to help care for his aging parents. In “The Bard in Flight,” he imagines what Shakespeare would do on an airplane. The collection’s title comes from the poem “On Rhyme,” in which he reflects on such common sayings as “The rain in Spain falls mainly on the plain.”

Billy Collins is one of my favorite poets. I heard about his latest collection when he appeared live yesterday on A Prairie Home Companion. Of course he read a few of his poems, and I was hooked. Needless to say, I downloaded the book and spent last night reading the poems aloud to myself.

According to an author’s note at the beginning, the electronic version of this book is designed so that formatting isn’t affected when the font size of the type is changed. Words at the ends of lines that are moved down when text is enlarged are indented to indicate they’re part of the same line. This didn’t make any difference to me, since I read the book in Braille, but I’m glad those with low vision who read with their eyes can enjoy the poems the way they were written. These poems are meant to be recited, preferably by Billy Collins, but I enjoyed reading them aloud and hope you will too.

***

Author Abbie Johnson Taylor

We Shall Overcome

How to Build a Better Mousetrap: Recollections and Reflections of a Family Caregiver

That’s Life: New and Selected Poems

My Ideal Partner: How I Met, Married, and Cared for the Man I Loved Despite Debilitating Odds

Click to hear an audio trailer.

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How I Cared for the Man I Loved Despite Debilitating Odds

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As Han Solo in Star Wars once said, “Sometimes I even amaze myself.” This is true of me as well, although I’m not a spaceship pilot who rescued a princess from an ominous Death Star.

For six years, I cared for my late husband Bill, who was totally blind and partially paralyzed. He was nineteen years older than me. When we met, I was in my forties, and he was in his sixties. When we married in September of 2005, he was walking, albeit with a cane. Three months later, he suffered the first of two strokes that confined him to a wheelchair for the rest of his life. I’m visually impaired, so how did I bathe, dress, and feed him and transfer him from bed, to wheelchair, to recliner, to commode?

I doubt it would have been possible without the help and support of Laura Andrews, the occupational therapist at Sheridan Manor, where Bill spent nine months after his first stroke and another couple of months after his second. She didn’t say, “I don’t know how you can do this if you can’t see.” Instead, her mantra was “Let’s see if we can figure it out.”

For two months before Bill came home in September of 2006, she worked with us every day on dressing and transferring him from the bed to the wheelchair. Because of my limited vision, figuring out how to do these things was a challenge, but she was patient. We tried one technique after another until we finally found ways that worked.

She suggested to a local carpenter ways he could modify our house for wheelchair accessibility. When that was done, she came home with us to work on transferring Bill from the wheelchair to the recliner and commode and vise versa as well as between the bed and wheelchair. She also gave advice on toileting and other personal care issues. When Bill suffered his second stroke in 2007, we did it all again, but this time, Bill was only in the nursing home for a couple of months. I must admit there were times when Bill landed on the floor, but fortunately, he was never seriously hurt, and no one questioned my ability.

My caregiving feat would also not have been possible without the services provided by the Sheridan Senior Center’s Help at Home program. An aide came to the house three days a week to give Bill showers because this would have been too difficult for me. Not only was I grateful for the extra hands, I also appreciated having another set of good eyes around to notice lesions, bruises, or other medical issues with Bill about which I might not have known due to my lack of vision.

Day Break, the senior center’s adult day care facility, was also helpful. While I attended water exercise classes and a weekly poetry class, I didn’t have to worry about him being home alone. However, two weeks after Bill started attending the program, he said to me one morning, “I don’t want to go there anymore. It’s a baby-sitting service.”

I was flabbergasted. Yes, Day Break is a place where caregivers can leave their loved ones in a safe, friendly environment. They can watch television, play cards, and do just about anything else they can do at home, or they can participate in group activities. Having been a social butterfly, at least before the strokes, Bill enjoyed visiting with others and playing cards, so I thought he would have a great time there.

However, he assured me he could manage at home alone for at least a couple of hours, although he couldn’t get to the bathroom by himself, not to mention get out of the house in case of fire. He wore a LifeLink necklace which allowed him to call for help in an emergency. Although I was nervous about leaving him home alone, he turned out to be right. When I came home, I often found him with wet pants, but that was the only casualty. I eventually got a cell phone so he could call me when I was away from home. This gave me even more peace of mind.

Big Goose Transit was also a big help. Their friendly drivers came to our house and drove Bill and me to Day Break, physical therapy, doctor’s appointments, and anywhere else we needed to go. Because of my limited vision, I had difficulty attaching pedals to Bill’s wheelchair so he, in it, could be loaded into their vehicles more easily. Drivers were only too happy to accomplish this task, since it only took someone with good eyes about a minute. We eventually bought a wheelchair accessible van so my father and others could drive us on weekends, evenings, and holidays when Big Goose Transit wasn’t operating. You can read more about how I amazed myself in my new memoir.

Being a caregiver can be a challenge, even with good eyes. If not for the support of others, Bill would probably have spent the last years of his life at Sheridan Manor. He might not have lived as long. Despite his paralysis and the difficulty I had caring for him, we spent six happy years together. That’s amazing.

***

Note: a portion of the above article appears in the November 5th issue of The Sheridan Press, my hometown newspaper.

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Author Abbie Johnson Taylor

We Shall Overcome

How to Build a Better Mousetrap: Recollections and Reflections of a Family Caregiver

That’s Life: New and Selected Poems

My Ideal Partner: How I Met, Married, and Cared for the Man I Loved Despite Debilitating Odds

Click to hear an audio trailer.

Like me on Facebook.

 

News from Abbie’s Corner November 2016

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Wow, can you believe it? Halloween is over, and Thanksgiving is just a few short weeks away. Time flies when you’re having fun, doesn’t it? Well, October was a pretty busy month.

On the 8th, I participated in a national event for independent authors at the Sheridan County Fulmer Public Library. Many libraries across the country hosted this program which was open to the public. After a light lunch of sandwiches, vegetables with dip, and soft drinks, we watched a digital presentation featuring leaders in the publishing industry giving advice to authors wanting to self-publish. After that, several authors, myself included, participated in a panel discussion where we shared our experiences. We then sat at a table and tried to sell books for about half an hour. Although I didn’t make any sales that day, I enjoyed networking with other writers.

On October 20th, my Third Thursday Poets gave a reading at the Sheridan Senior Center. We do this twice a year, once in October and once in April, to commemorate National Poetry Day and Month respectively. October’s National Poetry Day is actually on the 15th, the same as White Cane Safety Day. You can read more about that here, but I digress.

At our reading, several poets, myself included, shared work. Some read poems by other authors. I performed a poem I featured in an earlier blog post, much to everyone’s delight. The poem involved stomping my feet, and afterward, someone complimented me on its percussiveness.

You’ve probably heard the song “Sing for Your Supper.” Well, I played my guitar and sang for the monthly birthday party at Westview on the 25th and got free cake. On the 23rd, I played the piano and sang at a friend’s party in the dining room of a senior apartment complex and got a free meal, a potluck affair to which I contributed homemade pasta salad, so it wasn’t exactly free. I also performed at Green House on the 4th and Day Break on the 28th but no free food there. This month, I’ll be at Sugarland Ridge and Westview. My appearance at Sugarland Ridge will feature a reading as well as music.

This past month, I had a rare opportunity to hear the Glenn Miller Orchestra live in concert, here in Sheridan, Wyoming, of all places. Although their music was way before my time, my father loved jazz, and hearing the big band brought back pleasant memories of the two of us enjoying this music together when he was alive. I also reflected on the lives of my late parents and husband growing up during World War II with songs like “White Cliffs of Dover” and “American Patrol.” This inspired an earlier blog post.

Well, that’s the news for now. I wish I could come up with something witty like what Garrison Keillor says at the end of his Lake Woebegone monologues, but oh well… Such is life. I hope you all have a great Thanksgiving and will be back in December with more news.

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 Author Abbie Johnson Taylor

We Shall Overcome

How to Build a Better Mousetrap: Recollections and Reflections of a Family Caregiver

That’s Life: New and Selected Poems

My Ideal Partner: How I Met, Married, and Cared for the Man I Loved Despite Debilitating Odds

Click to hear an audio trailer.

Like me on Facebook.