Not the Man I Married

This may be the title of a new book of poems I’m planning to put together. When I sent the final proof of How to Build a Better Mousetrap: Recollections and Reflections of a Family Caregiver to the publisher, a fellow writer offered to take a look at it, hoping that a second pair of eyes would give it a fresh perspective. After reading my manuscript, she suggested that the first part containing poems about me and Bill would work as a separate book. This was back in November of 2011. Since then, I’ve been mulling this idea over, and I think it might have some merit.

It’ll be my summer project. Like I did with my other books, I’ll try to find a traditional publisher first. A lot of publishers accept poetry manuscripts with a minimum of forty to fifty pages, and I only have at least thirty-five poems about me and Bill so I may have to write some more. I’ve already written two or three more since the publication of my second book. Eventually, Bill will say, “Honey, why don’t you just go ahead and self-publish it? It’ll be your Christmas present.”

Now, here’s another poem from How to Build a Better Mousetrap: Recollections and Reflections of a Family Caregiver. This one reflects the changes that have come about as a result of Bill’s stroke, which not only affected the left side of his body but also his speech. He can no longer sing, and his speaking voice is different. When he called me on a Saturday night soon after he had the stroke, I almost hung up on him because I thought he was a drunk in a bar calling a wrong number. When he calls someone on the phone he hasn’t talked to in a while, I have to remind him to tell that person who he is because his voice may not be recognized. He is also unable to cook, clean, do laundry, play cards, and engage in other activities as he used to do. Despite the adaptive equipment we have in our home to help me care for him, our lives aren’t the same as they were before the stroke. He’s not the man I married, but I still love him, hence the title of the new book.

Dependent

I know what to do–

I don’t know what to do.

The wheelchair, vertical bars, gait belt

offer assistance but can’t bring him back.

He’s not the man I married–

he’s still the man I love.

Abbie Johnson Taylor, Author of We Shall Overcome and How to Build a Better Mousetrap: Recollections and Reflections of a Family Caregiver

If You Ask Me,

Betty White’s book by that title is pretty good, especially if you get a recording of her reading it. I downloaded such a recording from audible.com and had some good laughs. I also couldn’t help laughing when I saw her on television as the scatter-brained Rose on The Golden Girls. She was also in The Mary Tyler Moore Show, but I was a little young when that was running. My mother watched that as religiously as I watched The Golden Girls.

Betty White was born on January 17th,1922 in Oak Park Illinois. Her mother was a homemaker, and her father was a traveling salesman and engineer. Her family moved to Los Angeles during the Great Depression. She attended Horace Mann and Beverly Hills High School. Hoping to be a writer, she became more interested in acting after writing and playing the lead role in a graduation play at Horace Mann.

Her television career began in 1939 when she and a former high school classmate sang songs from The Merry Widow on an experimental Los Angeles channel. She also worked in radio and movies. Best known for her roles in The Mary Tyler Moore Show and The Golden Girls, she performed in a variety of television shows including Life with Elizabeth, Date with the Angels, The Betty White Show, The Golden Palace, Hot in Cleveland, and Betty White’s Off Their Rockers. Since Rue McClanahan’s death in 2010, she is the only living golden girl. She won seven Emmy awards and received twenty Emmy nominations. She was the first woman to receive an Emmy award for game show hosting for Just Men and is the only person to have an Emmy award in all female comedic performing categories. In May 2010, she was the oldest person to guest host Saturday Night Live and won a Primetime Emmy Award for this. As of 2012 at the age of ninety, she is the oldest Emmy nominee.

In If You Ask Me, Betty combines her ideas on such topics as friendship, technology, and aging with anecdotes from her childhood, career, and work with animals. She talks about developing a friendship with a guerilla, meeting two whales, and adopting a dog rejected by Guide Dogs for the Blind. I can relate when she says how frustrating it is not to recognize a face, especially when the face belongs to a celebrity she meets at a party and thinks she should know. Being visually impaired, I have the same problem but don’t run into any celebrities at parties. Anyway, I recommend this book to anyone needing some good laughs.

Abbie Johnson Taylor, Author of We Shall Overcome and How to Build a Better Mousetrap: Recollections and Reflections of a Family Caregiver

Leaf Disposal

We usually get rid of leaves in the fall, but with Mother’s Day around the corner, I would like to share a poem about something my mother and I did together. In the fall of 1988, I was living with my mother in Sheridan, Wyoming, while looking for work after completing a six-month internship at a nursing home in Fargo,North Dakota, and becoming a registered music therapist. One day, Mother and I were in the front yard raking leaves when she got a sudden urge to relive her childhood memory of burning them. According to the poem from How toBuild a BetterMousetrap: Recollections and Reflections of a Family Caregiver, this could have been a disaster but wasn’t.

Leaf Disposal

We gathered them into bags, placed them curbside. Mother said, “We used to burn the leaves. It was the smell of fall. Let’s burn a few now.”

It had been a dry year. Forest fires raged around us. I couldn’t remember the last time it rained. “I don’t think this is a good idea,” I said.

“Stop being such a chicken. Help me gather leaves into a pile.” With a sick feeling in my stomach, I did as I was told.

She struck a match–nothing happened. The wind came up. Leaves drifted away, as if they knew of their fate. She tried again with no results. After several more tries, she gave up, to my relief. We got rid of the leaves in the usual way.

The End

My mother passed away from cancer on December 15th, 1999, but the memories still remain. What about you? Please feel free to tell me about something you did with your mother by leaving a comment below.

Abbie Johnson Taylor, Author of We Shall Overcome and How to Build a Better Mousetrap: Recollections and Reflections of a Family Caregiver

Coming Home

During the last few years of my mother’s life, she lived in Story, a small town about twenty miles south of Sheridan, Wyoming, nestled at the foot of the Big Horn mountains. She and my father were divorced but still good friends. At the time, I was single, living in an apartment in Sheridan, working as an activities assistant at a nursing home, and volunteering at other facilities in the community that served senior citizens. Dad, Grandma, and I often drove to Story with Maud, Dad’s Irish setter, to visit Mother. Sometimes, she fixed us a meal, and at other times, we ate at a nearby restaurant. At Christmas after my brother’s first child was born, he and his family came from their home in Los Alamos, New Mexico. We spent the night in Story and had a traditional family Christmas complete with Santa’s usual nocturnal visit.

To get to Mother’s house, we drove to Story on a main highway. We then turned onto a dirt road that wound through the woods for about a mile. At the dirt road, Dad stopped and let Maud out so she could run alongside the car for the rest of the trip. This is described in more detail in the following poem from How to Build a Better Mousetrap: Recollections and Reflections of a Family Caregiver.

Coming Home

The car turns onto the dirt road and stops.

The rear left passenger door opens.

Out jumps an Irish setter.

The door slams shut.

The car moves down the road at a moderate pace.

The dog runs alongside the car,

her red, floppy ears and mane blowing in the breeze,

the multi-colored kerchief around her neck visible in the sunlight.

She hesitates, sniffs something along the side of the road.

The car stops–Dad calls, “Come on, Maud.”

Maud turns toward the car–we’re off.

About a mile down the road,

the car turns into the driveway of a log cabin–

Mother hurries out to meet us.

Maud rushes up to her, tail wagging in frantic anticipation.

She strokes the dog’s shaggy neck–

Maud gives her a sloppy kiss.

She runs in joyous circles around the car,

as we alight and items are removed from the trunk.

It’s so good to be home!

Abbie Johnson Taylor, Author of We Shall Overcome and How to Build a Better Mousetrap: Recollections and Reflections of a Family Caregiver

Animals and Therapy

I just finished reading Izzie and Lenore: Two Dogs, an Unexpected Journey, and Me by Jon Katz, an author of novels, memoirs, and children’s books who lives on a farm in Washington County, New York. In this book, he describes how he acquired two dogs and added them to a menagerie of animals on his farm. Izzie, a border collie, was neglected, and Lenore, a Labrador, came from a breeder.

The author also provides anecdotes about other animals on the farm and talks about how they got along with Izzie and Lenore. He describes how he trained first Izzie and then Lenore for hospice work and how the dogs effected terminally ill patients’ behavior. Some suffered from dementia, but after a visit from Izzie, they became more manageable so family caregivers and nursing home staff could more easily bathe and change them and administer medications.

When Izzie was around, patients who were agitated became calm, and those who rarely spoke uttered a few words. As a result of Izzie’s visits, one patient recovered to the point where his doctors determined he no longer needed hospice care. I wonder how this man did once Izzie’s visits were discontinued.

Jon Katz also describes his bout with depression and reflects on the healing power of animals. I feel I can relate to his work with hospice patients. Although I never worked with hospice directly, I spent fifteen years as a registered music therapist in a nursing home and often encountered residents who were terminally ill. I used music for the same purposes that Jon Katz used Izzie and Lenore.

Reading this book, especially the author’s experiences with hospice patients, gave me a whole new perspective on my life as a family caregiver. I’m lucky because my husband Bill isn’t suffering from a terminal illness. He’s partially paralyzed and confined to a wheelchair as a result of two strokes. I must do almost everything for him, but he’s not bedridden, and I don’t have to bathe him or administer pain medication intravenously or handle oxygen tubes. I don’t have to see him in pain or discomfort or deal with agitated behavior. I hope that when the time comes, he’ll go peacefully, and I won’t be forced to endure the agony of watching him die.

Abbie Johnson Taylor, Author of We Shall Overcome and How to Build a Better Mousetrap: Recollections and Reflections of a Family Caregiver

Have a Gouda Day

Gouda cheese (pronounced gow duh) is orange in color, made from cow’s milk, and is named after the town of Gouda in the Netherlands. It has a semi-hard texture and is sweet and sometimes crunchy. It takes from a few months to over seven years before it is aged and ready to eat. This cheese is made and sold all over the world.

Several years ago, a local restaurant advertised omelets, sandwiches, and other items made with Gouda cheese. Every morning during the local newscast, a radio station bombarded us with ads for these mouth watering concoctions. At the time, I was taking a poetry class, and one assignment was to write a poem containing certain items including the name of a hotel or restaurant, a celebrity’s name, articles of clothing, and a board game, to mention a few. Inspired by the radio ads, I wrote the following poem.

A Gouda Day for Jolene

The scene opens at The Country Kitchen in Sheridan.
Dolly Parton sits in a booth.
She barely touches her Gouda cheese omelet.
She’s wearing blue jeans
and a colorful western shirt that accents her bosom.
The sunlight from a nearby window sparkles in her blonde, frizzy hair.

Jolene sits across from her,
a non-descript woman with short dark hair,
wearing navy blue sweat pants and a white t-shirt.
She wolfs down her barbecued chicken sandwich,
also with Gouda cheese.

“I don’t know what my husband sees in you, honey,” says Dolly.
“You’re so plain.”

“Maybe it’s the fact that I’m always there for him,” says Jolene.
“I don’t travel around the country,
giving concerts, signing autographs, smiling at other men.”

“But that’s my work,” says Dolly.
“He knew that when he married me.
And why on Earth would he want to live in Wyoming of all places?
None of these towns are like L.A. or New York.”

“He likes my ranch,” answers Jolene.
“In the evening, we sit on the front porch,
drink coffee, play chess,
watch the sun go down.
It’s more romantic than some pent house in New York.
Did he tell you
we met at your concert in Denver last year?
When he complained of a headache,
told you he was going back to the Brown palace,
he was going there to be with me.”

“You slut!” says Dolly.
She rises, picks up her omelet,
flings it at Jolene, hurries out the door.

The camera zooms in on Jolene,
her face swathed in egg,
smoked bacon, tomato slices, and Gouda cheese.

This was recently published in Magnets and Ladders, an online magazine featuring stories, poems, and essays from such disabled writers as myself. Two other poems from my book were also published in this issue. As the radio ads said, have a Gouda day.

Abbie Johnson Taylor, Author of We Shall Overcome and How to Build a Better Mousetrap: Recollections and Reflections of a Family Caregiver

A Cat’s Idiosyncrasies

When I was growing up, we had a white cat with black spots. She came from a litter born to a stray. My mother called her Wanda. I don’t know where she came up with that name, but it fit. This was a cat with an attitude.

As I got dressed in the mornings, Wanda rubbed against my bare ankles and without warning bit one of them, not hard enough to draw blood but hard enough to hurt. Mother said it was because I wasn’t giving her enough attention, but when I reached down in an attempt to pet her, she tried to bite my finger.

As Wanda grew older, she developed a nasty habit of urinating in places other than the cat box. Once, Dad sat on the love seat in the music room not realizing it was wet from Wanda’s business. Needless to say, there was a suspicious dark stain on the back of his pants. After doing music therapy practicum sessions and an internship with nursing home residents, I told Mother that maybe old cats, like old people, have problems with incontinence, but she scoffed at this.

Another one of Wanda’s favorite pastimes was removing dirty socks from the washing machine and dropping them on the floor in the laundry room. She usually did this in the middle of the night. The laundry room was on the second floor down the hall from our bedrooms. We often woke to hear her meow a few times. We went back to sleep and didn’t think anything of it. The next morning, someone found the dirty socks on the laundry room floor. The following poem from How to Build a Better Mousetrap: Recollections and Reflections of a Family Caregiver illustrates this phenomenon.

Sock Ceremony

Balancing on the edge of the washing machine,

Wanda reaches into its depth,

retrieves a dirty sock,

jumps down, places it on the floor.

“Meow, meow,” she says,

as she circles it once or twice.

She walks away,

leaves it for someone else to find.

Did your pets have any strange behaviors when you were growing up? Please share your memories below.

Abbie Johnson Taylor, Author of We Shall Overcome and How to Build a Better Mousetrap: Recollections and Reflections of a Family Caregiver