Columns

Moving Mom

The For Sale sign swung wildly in the blustery October wind, and though I’d known it was coming, the sign startled me.

I pulled over in front of what used to be my house and let the memories wash over me.

Growing up in a military family, I moved a lot. Nine houses in 16 years, until we finally returned to Spokane to stay.

This house represented permanence to my parents, who’d grown weary of years of moving. It welcomed my best friends and high school sweethearts. My first day of college photo was taken on its front steps.

On my wedding day, I woke in my twin bed, in my blue bedroom with the switch plate that reads “Cindy’s Room.” The switch plate is still there, though it hasn’t been my room for 31 years.

A few years later, a photo taken in the entryway shows my dad proudly holding my firstborn son – his namesake, Ethan Thomas. It was Ethan’s first visit to what was now known as Grandma’s house.

Dad is wearing a sportcoat and tie, so he must be home for lunch. After he retired from the Air Force, he went to work for the Department of Social and Health Services, and his office was within walking distance – a huge selling point when they bought the house.

By the time our sons Alex and Zach were born, Dad had retired, and my husband and I had bought a home nearby. Dad delighted in dropping in to “check on the babies.” I always thought he meant my sons, but chances are he meant me, too.

When he died 22 years ago, my mom remained in their home – happy to know I was close. And when after several years of widowhood, our last son arrived, she was especially glad she’d stayed in the neighborhood.

Grandma’s house became a rite of passage. When boys anxious for independence wanted to venture from my nest, unsupervised – it was to her house they went. Sometime after the magic age of 10, I’d let them walk the six blocks to her house. This was long before every kid had a cellphone, so the kid had to first call Grandma to let her know he was on the way, then immediately call me when he arrived, and then call me again when he left.

Freedom had a laborious cost back in the day.

As Mom aged, the split-level design of the house proved daunting, and one spring she took a tumble down the stairs, breaking her ankle.

Still she wouldn’t move. Wouldn’t hear of it. This was her home – the place she and Dad ceased their wanderings, and besides, I lived just a few blocks away.

We worried that when the time finally came for her to move, she wouldn’t be able to help us choose her new home. And that’s just what happened.

This summer her mental and physical health failed at an alarming rate. Suddenly, my siblings and I had to make major decisions with no input from Mom.

Thankfully, my brother David and his wife, Becky, had retired to Spokane several years ago. They were able to find Mom a nice apartment in an assisted living facility, arrange for movers and an estate sale, and last week they sold the house.

Mom is 86, and doing better than she was this summer, but she’s still confused about what happened to her home, to her things.

Her new residence is just two blocks from her old one, so the landscape of her neighborhood is familiar. Her grandsons visit more frequently, now that she doesn’t have to come down any stairs to open the door. And when they visit they talk about the happiness and love they always found at Grandma’s house. The location may have changed, but the love hasn’t.

I pull away from the house, and I don’t think I’ll drive by again for a while.

It’s someone else’s turn to make memories on Standard Street. My own are locked safely in my heart, and there isn’t a house anywhere big enough to contain them.


Columns

Illness, injury, indignity & inspiration

Sometimes when it rains, it blizzards. At least in Spokane, anyway.

This past month of endless precipitation was echoed by a round of illness and injury for me. It’s worth noting that I only get sick once a year – always in February. I tolerate my yearly cold as a minor disruption and a gentle reminder to slow down a bit.

It’s also worth noting that I routinely ignore gentle reminders.

What became an epic stream of misfortune started with a trickle – from my nose. One Friday morning, I woke up sniffly. My throat was scratchy and my head ached, but I’d just signed up for 30 hours of training to become a court-appointed special advocate – or CASA/guardian ad litem – for Spokane County Juvenile Court, and there was no way I was going to let an inconvenient cold interfere. I slurped down some orange juice, grabbed a packet of Emergen-C and set out.

By Saturday, it seemed like everyone was speaking underwater, and when I croaked out a question, I sounded like Darth Vader.

I tried to take it easier during the week, and when Friday rolled around again I was feeling much better. Perhaps because I’d gifted my cold to my friend Sarah.

Mindful of the need to take it easy, I collapsed in bed when I got home, fully expecting to bounce out of bed after my nap with my vitality and vigor restored. But when I woke and tried to sit up, a shooting pain exploded from somewhere in my midback. There would be no bouncing. Apparently, I pulled a muscle while sleeping. I didn’t even know that was possible.

Having never before experienced a back injury, I did the only sensible thing – I took two ibuprofen and asked for advice on social media. Hey, I said I was generally healthy, not universally smart.

I received a wide range of guidance regarding back pain and promptly followed what I now know to be a piece of spectacularly ill-conceived advice. This is what happens when you seek medical help on Facebook. Despite that setback, the pain gradually subsided over the weekend. This was great, because by Tuesday I was having difficulty seeing out of my right eye.

Last year, I was diagnosed with age-related macular degeneration. It’s bad enough to have poor vision, but to tack “age-related” in front of it is just mean. Anyway, a large floater suddenly appeared in my right eye. I guess having one in my left eye wasn’t enough. Because this can sometimes be a sign of a detached retina, I had to schedule an emergency eye exam.

Thankfully, the new floater was nothing serious, just annoying. Vitamins have been shown to reduce or slow the affects of the disease, so I redoubled my commitment to healthy eyesight and even added a supplement my husband assured me would help.

I should note that my husband is not a doctor. He doesn’t even play one on TV. But he’s well-read and has done a lot of research about the effects of supplements on certain ailments.

Sadly, I woke up violently ill in the middle of the night. Even worse, it just happened to by my birthday. I couldn’t believe after surviving a cold, a back injury and an eye problem, I now had the stomach flu. The health downpour had reached flood stage, so I was hopeful the waters would recede.

They didn’t.

On Valentine’s Day, I prepared a lovely meal for my family. Shortly before Derek came home, I diligently took my vitamin and supplement for the first time since my birthday. Within an hour I was desperately sick.

“Did you take out life insurance on me?” I wailed at my husband. “Those supplements are poisoned!”

Distressed at how ill I was, he Googled the ingredients in the supplement. Turns out one of them, “curcumin,” affects a small percent of the population the way it did me.

Lesson learned – the hard way.

As I write, heavy snow falls once again. I wish I’d taken a picture of the grass I’d spotted peeking out from the edge of our lawn Sunday. However, no matter what it seems like, winter really doesn’t last forever. Cold and flu season passes, too.

Crocuses and daffodils wait patiently beneath the frozen ground, biding their time. They will bloom. They always do. Sunshine and fresh air clears stuffy heads and brightens tired eyes.

And sometimes, it takes a long, bleak winter and a bout of illness to renew our appreciation for beautiful spring bulbs, and to revel in clear nasal passages that can breathe in their fragrance.

 

Contact Cindy Hval at dchval@juno.com. She is the author of “War Bonds: Love Stories From the Greatest Generation.” You can listen to her podcast “Life, Love and Raising Sons” at SpokaneTalksOnline.com. Her previous columns are available online at spokesman.com/columnists. Follow her on Twitter at @CindyHval.

Columns

A visit from the Frown Fairy

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In which I’ve come unglued. Or something. Seriously, aging isn’t for the faint of heart– or weak of ankle.

Squinting at my phone, I rubbed my thumb across the screen, certain there was a smudge on it marring the photo I’d just taken of my friend and me.

After posting it on Facebook, I checked the enlarged photo on my computer and that shadow I’d seen between both of our brows was still there. Only it wasn’t a shadow – it was most definitely a crease. How had we both suddenly developed frown lines right between our eyes? Neither of us is prone to frowning.

And not for the first time, I realized I should have listened to my mother.

Sometime in her late 40s in an effort to combat wrinkles, my mother came up with an innovative solution to prevent pesky frown lines. Before going to bed at night, she affixed a corn plaster right between her eyes. She dubbed them “frownies” and was confident the plaster would prevent wrinkles from creasing her forehead while she slept.

 The only problem was sometimes those frownies migrated during the night. She’d come to the breakfast table with one in her hair or on her cheek. This was the subject of great mirth to me and my siblings. To Mom, not so much.

I’ve noticed other signs of increasing decrepitude. A few months back I started having severe pain in my right elbow that radiated down my forearm.

“How could I have tennis elbow?” I moaned to my husband. “I haven’t played tennis in 25 years!”

I took ibuprofen and soldiered on, unwilling to spend time or money on a doctor visit. A colleague heard my groans and diagnosed the issue. Turns out it wasn’t tennis elbow – it was “mouse elbow,” a common problem for people who work at computers all day.

She sent me a chart about how to sit at my desk to help alleviate the pain. I adjusted my chair and desk, bought an elbow brace and before long, the pain was gone. Who needs a doctor when you’ve got a journalist?

It’s a good thing my elbow felt better, because lately I’ve been limping. The pain radiates from my Achilles tendon, making walking miserable. This is not good news because I walk several miles three to four times a week and need this exercise for both my physical and mental health.

Achilles tendinitis is most common in runners, and I can assure you I only run if something or someone is chasing me. Baffled, I tried ice and heat and ibuprofen. Nothing seemed to work.

I took several weeks off from my walking routine, but it’s not like I can go through life without walking anywhere.

Even my journalist friends were baffled.

Then one day while sitting at my desk, I discovered the source of my strain. While writing, I often cross my legs and push my right foot against the back of my desk, flexing my Achilles. I also often tuck my legs behind me, flexing my right foot against the chair leg.

Bingo! Pain solved. Kind of.

Keeping my feet on the ground while working has fixed the source of the problem, and I’ve been able to resume my walking routine, but hills are still painful and if I walk too much, the limp returns.

According to Google, this type of injury can take up to two years to heal. Google further said this problem is also associated with the aging process.

Sometimes I really hate the internet.

So, there you have it. Apparently, I’ve reached the age where frown fairies sneak into my room and slap a crease between my brows while I’m sleeping. I can hurt my elbow by typing and my Achilles by sitting at my desk.

This morning I woke up, stretched my arms over my head and sighed when I heard my shoulders snap, crackle and pop. I didn’t bound out of bed, I cautiously tested my tendon and groaned when I felt the familiar ache that told me I’d walked too many miles yesterday.

I took the stairs to my office one at a time and carefully adjusted my mouse pad, keyboard and chair before I began writing.

As I type my feet are firmly on the ground. At this rate, they’re going to be the only firm thing about me.

Like Bette Davis famously said, “Old age ain’t no place for sissies.”

Which could be why she also said, “There comes a time in every woman’s life when the only thing that helps is a glass of Champagne.”

Contact Cindy Hval at dchval@juno.com. She is the author of “War Bonds: Love Stories From the Greatest Generation.” You can listen to her podcast “Life, Love and Raising Sons” at SpokaneTalksOnline.com. Her previous columns are available online at spokesman.com/ columnists. Follow her on Twitter at @CindyHval.