Basic Training

It is a sleepy sort of frosty morning two days before Thanksgiving and one day before the welcome chaos of my nieces sweeps through our house. I could be erging on the porch, rolling rum balls, or at the very least tucking into the hamper that is full, yet here I sit. Seeking some way to allow you access into this sweet new miraculous layer of warmth.

For the two plus years that I have been here with mom, she has been telling me she is cold.  I have tried over and over to ‘make it better’, offering base layers, high tech fabrics, cashmere, hot soup, small heaters, insulation in the attic, and a vast array of throws, all to no avail. The truth is, there are ever shifting variables that are difficult to control – poor circulation, a damp slab house, and lack of activity, to name but a few. At times I have wondered if being cold just a reality of 90.

Occasionally, one of these combinations works briefly, while I hold my breath in anticipation of the inevitable – “I’m freezing”. In my more despairing moments I have questioned my ability and competence as a caregiver. After all, if I can’t get this one simple issue resolved….

Having heated with wood off and on for a quarter of a century, I often found myself dreaming of red hot tree bones glowing in cast iron stoves of futures past. AND I am still smiling at the more recent memory of my fire-making prowess, which occurred this past spring, when my beloved dared to voice his doubt at my ability to handle a wood stove. The resulting inferno led to a sweat filled sleepless night in our tiny cabin, despite the frigid temperatures outside. It was a good lesson to both of us about the lengths I will overcompensate to when my ability (ego) is challenged. Fortunately, attributed to his wonderful sense of humor, the incident merely resulted in my latest nickname – Fire Marshall Bill.

The irony is, that for the more than 55 years that my mother has lived in this house, it has had a fully functional fireplace. Lit a few brief times without any real commitment, she was never encouraged to assume her rightful place as the hearth of our home. She always looked a tad forlorn, a perpetual bride awaiting a someday, maybe, groom to ignite her passion. Although slightly embarrassed by her showroom clean bricks, remaining ever resilient, she continued to live up to her potential by offering a healthy, safe, and protected environment for a lush green plant.

The reason for this is simple. When mom was a little girl a neighborhood family with several kids simply vanished in a single night when a gas leak in their house resulted in a tragic explosion. She is terrified of both natural gas, and fire. And truth be told, I knew in my heart that a fireplace fire would offer some illusion of warmth but not really generate the kind of BTU’s needed to get the job done.

Since moving here, I have tried to reassure both the fireplace, and myself that warmer brighter days lay ahead. After each fall and spring yard clean-up I have stubbornly clung, despite mom’s protests, to a pile of old wood in the backyard, plus four bags of collected twigs, sticks, and small branches in the garage. There have been moments when I hesitated, questioning the amount of space allocated to kindling. At other times, the sight of those bags or the wood on the hill, were counted in the mounting list of everyday evidence that dreams, dampened or soggy with sorrow, can remain combustible in the proper environment.

As most of you know my mom is a veteran, and until recently she maintained that she was not worthy of Verteran’s Administration aid, due to the simple fact that she did not serve overseas. Fortunately for us both, when our economic situation demanded assistance, she was able to let go of that notion and we called upon them to help. It has taken 18 long months but she is now receiving Aid and Attendance, designed to maintain veteran’s when they can no longer care for themselves. It is not a huge amount of money on a month to month basis, yet has enhanced our lives tenfold.

To date, she has received hearing aids, medical support, and soon will be assessed for new glasses, and a wheelchair. Quite frankly though, the most profound and lasting impact was that they approved an expenditure of a withheld amount of money for – wait for it – an Alderlea T5 wood-stove insert!!!!!!

The stove was installed yesterday, thanks to all the neighbors and friends that have been reassuring my mom about the safety and warmth that would result. All afternoon and into the evening, I stoked the fire as mom looked on, while maintaining she could not feel much of a difference. I smiled and continued in my work, slowly, steadily fiddling with the damper and fan settings. By dinner time, an entire room away from the wood stove my heart heard what it had needed all along. “You know I wouldn’t have believed it, but I am actually warm everywhere. I can’t remember the last time I wasn’t cold.”

Last night, instead of watching nothing in particular, we sat in front of our now regal hearth, watching the fire burn. Mom shared stories about her family when she was growing up, and the special laughter that joined my aunt Evelyn, grandmother, and father when they spoke Yiddish, a language she never understood but enjoyed hearing. Having heard these stories many times, but never accompanied by such a strong sense of serenity, I had not a single comment to offer, except for the self satisfied smiled that nothing could remove from my face. I slept through the entire night!

When I came out this morning at 4:30, there were plenty of coals amidst the ashes and it took very few logs to get things toasty again. Mom came out, and the first words I heard, were spoken to Molly. “Isn’t it nice to be warm?”

And while none of this changes the fact that she had a very bad week, which was scary and sad for us both, I can’t help but savor this one moment, when we got it right.

Happy Thanksgiving to you all! May our bodies, minds, hearts, and spirits be filled with the infinite bounty of our blessings.



"Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen." Hebrews 11:1 bakka2thesource a collaboration of musicians and artists.
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13 Responses to Basic Training

  1. Amy Lapetina says:

    This one brought me to tears, Beth. I know how hard that you work to make your mom feel good and you should NEVER question or doubt how much you have done and continue to do to make your mom’s life better. To hear your mom say that she was warm after all these years must have been like hearing the ‘Halleluia Chorus!’ Good work, Beth.. good work! xxxxxx

  2. Robert Vanderwaall says:

    Beth, I sure do like the way you write. I feel like I’m right there in the room beside you. You really know how to pull the reader into your world for just this one brief moment. Great job.

  3. shawna says:

    just incredible, beth…it’s wonderful news to hear that your mom was able to let go of coldness as an ongoing identity (“I’m always cold” = scarcity thinking) and try something different. and the firemarshallbill comment made me laugh out loud, and marvel at the secret language of couples – you guys have a fantastic dialect!

    can’t wait to see your little piece of canada in the heart of Mass.!

  4. Beth, this warmed my heart and made me smile. Great story; tender thoughtful and heartfelt as always. Thanks for sharing – I may not always comment, but I always enjoy reading along with your blogging. You are truly a friend that enriches my life and I am so glad your mother set us up (haha!). In seriousness though, I cherish our friendship. Hope we get the opportunity to get together soon, I miss you! xoxo

  5. smacken2008 says:

    Ahhh wood burning on a winter hearth. So where’d the plant end up. It was adding needed moisture to the air. Don’t forget it’s long service too. XOXO

  6. Ann Russell says:

    😉 love you.

  7. Marge says:

    Am just now reading this….What glory to have true warmth inside and out! Can picture that self-satisfied smile on your face! Wonderful to hold that moment. Thank you for sharing a powerful message. Happy holidays to you special friend.

  8. Pingback: You May Have Noticed | middlescapes

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