Monday, October 31, 2011

On The Other Hand

Two months ago my left hand was overhauled. Last week I had another surgery – this one to prevent tendon damage in my right hand. It went well and healing is underway.

My left hand has healed completely; it now works better than in my wildest dreams. Soon I'll be able to use the keyboard with two hands and will write more.

Friday, October 21, 2011

Talking Coffee

Here in Colorado Springs I've been reading a book Nancy left by my bedside, The Rural Life by Verlyn Klinkenborg.* In the chapter "May" he writes about sweet memories of the vernacular expressions that his family members used as he was growing up in Iowa. In particular he misses the sound of his mother's voice. If he could go back in anywhere in time, he says, it would be to the scene of a family gathering where all the adults are preparing for Sunday services at a Congregational church.

     The oldest child pretends to be coloring, but he's really waiting until the mowing
     and the music stop and his mother and grandparents start to talk together among
     themselves. He can hardly wait to hear what they'll say.

Reading this, I was swept in a flood of my own childhood memories of listening to the grown-ups talk. I listened as a tiny girl sitting between the back rungs of my grandfather's rocking chair as he sat with two or three other old men in a semi-circle around the wood stove. They talked of events and people from their past. Oddly, the only words I remember are the name of a man – Did Hamilton – but I remember well the ambiance, my being there without being part of the scene, hearing these old men's voices, their timbre and tempo. They also occasionally spit tobacco juice into a tin can sitting by the stove.

As I grew up after-supper talk around the kitchen table kept me fascinated. This was the hour when chores were finished – just the supper dishes left to wash – and relaxation was possible for the first time all day. Dishes were stacked and second cups of coffee were poured. Then the talk began. My brother and I loved this time. He called it "Talking coffee."

Uncle Earl, who died nearly sixty years ago, loved talking coffee, too. Once, when he was a little boy and the after-supper talk was winding down, he said, "Come on, Dad, tell another one, even if it is a lie." My mother sometimes told this story during coffee talk.

Only through this medium is family and community lore passed along. The lore isn't just in the words, which can be written down to pass along. The tone of voice, the facial expressions and the various viewpoints and reactions of the participants are equally as important as the words. It's being a part of the group experience that makes talking coffee so memorable.

* Published by Little, Brown and Company, 2003

Thursday, October 20, 2011

I've Seen The Light

I'm visiting in Colorado Springs again and every day I marvel at the beauty of this huge tree against the blue, blue sky.

Although I love being here I've been feeling bum -- very tired, headachy, and dizzy. My stomach hurts and I don't have much appetite for Nancy's excellent cooking. Worst of all, my hearing has become so bad I can hardly understand what anyone says.

Yesterday it occurred to me to check the side effects of sulfasalazine, an arthritis medicine I've been taking for the past few months. Much to my surprise I learned that it can cause every one of the symptoms that are troubling me, including hearing loss!

Are the symptoms reversible? I don't know. I do know this: now that I've seen the light, never again will I take medicine without carefully reading about its possible side effects and being watchful for them.

Thursday, October 13, 2011


Yes, I'm puzzled by our goofy, misguided, vacuous society, and I hope to join the Occupy Lawrence gatherings as soon as I can, but that's not what this is about. This is about jigsaw puzzles.

I've always loved doing them, studying shapes, finding groups of colors, and puzzling out how they fit together. Early memories are vague, but somewhere along the line our family acquired a holiday tradition of having a jigsaw puzzle going in my sewing room. Then I developed rheumatoid arthritis and needed surgeries to repair wrecked joints. Nothing held my interest during recuperation better than a jigsaw puzzle.  When I began to spend winters on the Gulf of Mexico -- in Galveston and Biloxi -- jigsaw puzzles helped entertain me on chilly days or evenings alone.

For this surgery I chose a puzzle made from a John Singer Sargent painting. I learned a lot about Sargent's style and technique -- his layering of color and feathery strokes. Sorry I didn't take a picture of the assembled puzzle. I passed it on to Linda, who, in turn has loaned me a Monet.

When Leslie visited, she brought on loan two antique puzzles, one of which is these colorful parrots.

Here's the thing about jigsaw puzzles: putting them together gives us a sense of accomplishment, of having solved a problem, of bringing order out of chaos. If only it were that easy to put our fractured society back together!

For the history of jigsaw puzzles, go to

Monday, October 3, 2011

The Strange Land of Convalescence

The experience seems unreal, as if I have been cut off from the world in ordinary ways. My consciousness has centered on healing and strengthening my hand. I've made almost no useful contributions to my home or community.

All my normal activities have been suspended out of necessity -- they can't be done with one hand. Even personal hygiene is impacted. Do you realize that a hand cannot wash itself or its own armpit? That's just one example. One hand can't wring water out of a cloth either. When I used a washcloth on my face, water flew everywhere. Then Linda came and made little washcloths from a bath towel. They're perfect.

I did manage to wash my Dr. Strangelove glove. Here it is, taking the sun on our back deck.

Dennis, bless his heart, has done all the cooking.

He even made biscuits.

We've enjoyed simple meals. A home-grown tomato made this one special. (Unfortunately for Dennis, having a meal with me is like dining with a toddler; when I finished this meal the placemat was a mess. Poor old right hand is still in training.)

I've put together two jigsaw puzzles, read several books, watched movies, and stared out the window observing wildlife.

Now I'm three days away from the six-week anniversary of surgery, which means I'll be able to ditch the splint. (see From "The Mummy" To "Dr. Strangelove.") My hand is stronger every day, thanks to great physical therapy. Today I took off the splint and drove myself to town for therapy, which is a major milestone.

If I can just prevent the tendons in my right hand from breaking before I have it repaired on October 25, I'll be home free. I'm trying to be very careful using that hand and keeping my fingers crossed (figuratively, of course).