If it were not for Honey

If it were not for Honey insisting we go for a walk every evening, I might get sucked into a vortex of earthly concerns. I might not be out here now at sunset, leaning against a warm boulder, and watching the gold light descend on the landscape. But here I am, writing in my new journal on top of a boulder desk.

There’s no room here for Honey, so she sits alone on a nearby rock, scanning the riverbed below like the wild animal she is. I keep one eye on little Chico, wandering nearby, sniffing the brush. I must remember to put some kind of deterrent around his neck, so I don’t have this constant background worry that a coyote will eat him. When he strays too far, I put him on a leash.

Day after day, the current of life sucks me in. These are the days of elder care for my parents, squeezed in between animal care, teaching yoga, and all the daily life chores one does to keep one’s ship afloat.

At the end of the day Honey lets me know that she’s had enough of waiting. There’s no escaping her begging and pleading. It’s no use resisting her psychic pull. I can hear her telepathically, saying, “Come on, Suza. The sun is setting. Let’s go!”

Honey’s life force is a thousand times stronger than mine. She’s the ultimate unrelenting personal trainer. She carries the exuberance of youth, and she demands her dose of freedom. Yet every day I resist. Sometimes I wish I didn’t have her. I just want to write, do yoga, clean house, or socialize, uninterrupted. But with rare exceptions, she always wears my resistance down. Thanks to Honey, I abandon everything . . . And that’s why it says in my journal: “There’s nothing you have to do that is so earth shaking that you should miss the last rays of sunlight . . .”

After we wander the riverbed, I bring Honey and Chico back to the house and leave, guilt-free, to check on my parents.

IMG_2635My mom is alone in the front yard without her walker. She’s making her way by hanging on to the front porch railing and then bracing herself against an outdoor chair. I can see that she’s wondering why part of the yard is dug up and why there’s a new stack of bricks near by.

“Where’s your walker?” I ask.

“It walked away,” she says, laughing. And then she orders me to move the rake and other tools because, “someone might trip and fall.”

I escort her up the steps and into the house. As usual, my dad is dozing in his easy chair. He’s not hungry, but he wants to make sure my mom has her dinner. My mom insists she has no appetite either, but I know that if I get her to sit down with me she’ll eat if I’m eating.

I warm up the dinner my youngest sister made earlier in the day. Potatoes, carrots, peas, sauteed onions, all mixed together with a pat of organic butter, the Dutch way. Sure enough, Mom eats a hearty bowl full.

During every visit, and usually while we eat, my mom asks me the same thing as if for the first time. “How much do you weigh?”

“Too much,” I always reply. And each time we find this terribly funny!

Tonight, looking across the room at my dad, she asks, “Who is that man over there?”

“I don’t know,” I joke, “Who do you think it is?”

“Oh, that’s my husband,” she replies, catching this momentary lapse in memory.

While we eat, my mom and I dig deep into our memory banks. I can remember every detail of childhood happiness—mostly centered around food. She likes it when I describe how well I remember the delicious things she fed me in Holland. I would be in my soft flannel nightgown or pajamas, and she would bring my middle sister and me, each a bowl containing a “Holland Rusk,” a unique round, crunchy toast-like biscuit. The Holland Rusk would be submerged in hot milk, to which would be added a pat of butter, melting in the hot milk, and a sprinkling of brown sugar. The hot milk would soften the crisp biscuit so that you could slowly savor the warm buttery sweetness and then slurp it all down.

This was our special Dutch childhood treat, usually served after supper, before we went to bed.

My mom and I find it hilarious to speak only in Dutch, exaggerating all the unique Dutch pronunciations. Tonight I asked her to tell me again the story of when I was born. At first she looked at me, very amused. “Oh, that was so long ago, I can’t remember. How old are you now?” But then somehow it all comes back and she remembers being in labor, making her way down a flight of stairs, catching a taxi, spreading her raincoat on the seat of the taxi so it wouldn’t get it wet, and arriving at the hospital, where she was told to wait to push, to hold me back till they could get her into the delivery room . . . It’s uncanny how she remembers almost everything from long ago.

But she can’t remember things from moment to moment. Yesterday I noticed her partial was missing again. We looked everywhere, and she couldn’t remember what we were looking for, let alone where she’d left her top teeth. I swear we went through every purse, pocket, dresser drawer, medicine cabinet, windowsill, under the bed, in the fridge, trash, cereal boxes. . . Later in the day, after I gave up, my youngest sister told me that she prayed and then found them safe inside a small purse.

After dinner it’s time for a foot bath. This takes place in the kitchen, where it’s easy to fill the plastic tub with warm water. I take off my mom’s shoes, and for the thousandth time tell her she must go barefoot–she must air out her feet and expose them to the sunlight. My barefoot Indonesian dad agrees and echoes my sentiments. While Mom soaks her feet, I wash her shoes.

While I dry her feet, she reminds me for the thousandth time not to waste water. “Pour the water in a bucket, and save it to flush the toilet.” Whenever she goes on about not wasting water, I remember how, as a teenager, if I was in the shower too long she would simply turn the hot water heater dial to “Off” so that a blast of cold water would flush me out of the bathroom. . .

And now I’m back in my writing hut, happy to be in my own sweet home.

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