I AM THE APPLE – Marilyn Armstrong

It occurred to me I needed to see my spine specialist. When you deal with chronic pain, you learn to ignore it most of the time. Unless you want to wind up addicted to pain killers, it’s your only option. It’s a practical decision. Do I want to keep participating in life? Then I have to deal with what I have to deal with. That’s the way it goes.

Mom-May1944

Long-time ago, I was doing my mother’s hair. I liked fixing her hair. Hers was easy to style. Thick, silver and just a bit wavy. I asked her to turn her head to the right, and she did. When I asked her to turn her head the other way, she said: “I can’t.”

“You can’t? Why not?”

“Because my head won’t turn that way.”

“What do you mean by that?”

“My neck is stiff.”

“Um, mom? How long has it been like this?”

She thought for a while. “Fifteen years? Something like that.”

That stopped me. Fifteen years? “Have you seen anyone about it?”

“No,” she said. “I figured I was just getting old.”

At the time, I thought her statement was bizarre. It turned out she had treatable but advanced tendonitis and it got better. She hated doctors and hospitals.

Time marched on. I’m much older now than my mother was then. I fully understand her response. When I called the doctor for an appointment, I discovered the last time I’d seen him was more than six years ago.

To be fair, I’ve had a few medical crises since then and I got distracted. Besides, I know what’s wrong with my back. It isn’t going to kill me. I’ve lived with it most of my life. I’m used to it and do my best to ignore it.

Right to left: Aunt Pearl, my Mother (Dorothy), Aunt Ehtel (Uncle Herman’s wife), and Aunt Kate.

Recently, though I’m having trouble walking, even on flat surfaces and going up and downstairs is especially difficult. It crossed my mind there might be something he could do — some medical magic — to improve me without major surgery. I already know surgery isn’t an option.

My doctor is wonderful. The best. The only doctor who can look at my spine, not gasp with horror and immediately decide I need to be rebuilt with screws, pins, and bolts. He’s a minimalist, medically speaking. I appreciate that.

I made an appointment and got lucky because there was a cancellation. It usually takes five or six months to get to see him, but I only had to wait a few weeks. He’s the king of spines in Boston, maybe in the country. I would have willingly waited six months if I had to. Of course, as soon as I made the appointment, I had to make another appointment because I need new films for my spine. I also haven’t had a CT scan (I can’t have an MRI because of the magnetic pacemaker in my chest) in six years and he isn’t can’t see much without fresh films.

I wondered how come I hadn’t processed the fact I can’t walk normally? I suppose I wasn’t paying attention. I was busy ignoring pain.

I was being my mother.

She taught me to be a soldier. She didn’t use Novocaine when she got her teeth worked on. I asked her why. She said, “Pain is good for your character.”

Tree Silhouette in B & W

She meant it. I grew up believing that giving in to pain was a weakness. To a degree, it serves me well, but sometimes it can be dangerous. If you ignore the wrong stuff, it can kill you. One needs to find balance, but that’s not easy.

Watching a documentary on Ethel Kennedy reminded me of my mother, except without the millions of dollars.

Mom was an athlete and I know she was baffled at how she wound up with such a klutzy daughter. She played tennis. She rode horses, played ice hockey. She went bob sledding. She painted, sculpted, designed and made her own clothing. She also never got past seventh grade, so she made up for it by reading everything. She had a truly voracious appetite for life and knowledge.

After a radical mastectomy, she couldn’t play tennis anymore, so she played a ferocious game of ping-pong. She played savagely. She served so hard it was more like a bullet than a ping-pong ball.

As a family, we vacationed in dinky little resorts in the Catskills where there was no entertainment. The one thing they always had was a ping-pong table. So I played against my mother.

She didn’t believe in any of that “let the kid win” stuff. She was a competitor. You won or lost. Trying hard was irrelevant because she expected nothing less. She slaughtered me.

As I got older, I played better but she still always beat me. She told me she was giving me an advantage by playing with her left hand. I knew she wrote with her right hand, so I assumed she was a rightie. Until the day my aunt told me she had always played tennis with her left hand. My mother was psyching me out. Her own daughter.

I never beat her, but I beat everyone else.

She passed me her determination to never give up, to do everything I could as well as I could. Later in life, I realized I didn’t always have to be the best. Playing a game for fun is worth something too. Another lesson learned a bit late.

The older I get, the more I remind me of my mother.

So I went to my doctor and he told me there was nothing he could do. I needed to see a pain specialist. No fix. Progressive. Irreversible. I sighed and accepted it. I hoped there was something he could do. Nope.

We all miss stuff. Some of it intentionally, more accidentally. Sometimes, I miss something important because I’m busy ignoring something else.

I am an apple. Mom was my tree. I fell, but not very far.

MORE OF GARRY’S WORLD IN WHITE – Garry Armstrong

I took a lot of pictures and each day Marilyn processes a few. Then I post them. This is mostly Aldrich Street, down the road from the house — and then, our house. With bushels of snow.

Down by the bar at the end of the road

As Aldrich breaks off from Route 146A

A bench on the Common with snow

Our 1928 Fordson tractor

Looking for work?

Home sweet home with our mailbox and our across the street neighbor’s mailbox

Oh, look! Mail!

Home. With snow.

We’re expected warm weather, rain, very cold weather, a bit of snow, a bit of sleet, more warm weather. These days, a forecast is everything you can think of that isn’t summer in one ten minute narration on television.

And if you wait until the end of the news, they will have revised it. Completely. Isn’t it great that there’s no such thing as climate change?

A TINY CHURCH – Marilyn Armstrong

It’s a tiny church hidden behind houses in Amherst. If you don’t know to look, you would never find it. About the size of my living room and dining room combined, the cross on top is a bit crooked. Such a small church, such a long history.

The Goodwin Memorial African Methodist Episcopal Zion Church is a historic church on Woodside Avenue in Amherst, Massachusetts.

The church, built in 1910, is located down a narrow lane in the otherwise residential neighborhood. It is about 25 feet by 50 feet, styled in the Craftsman style popular at the time of its construction. It remains essentially the same since being built.

The church is named for Moses Goodwin, a local resident and parishioner. It was the second building for the African-American congregation that occupies it. The first — built in 1869 on a nearby lot — was demolished in 1917. It continues to be a social and religious center for Amherst’s African-American community.

Zion Church was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 2000.

A TREE GROWS IN UXBRIDGE – Marilyn Armstrong

THE CHRISTMAS TREE FOR 2019

A small tree with tiny lights is the flower of MY day! I have to do a little rearranging of the lights, but it’s such a pretty little tree. I keep it – intact – in my spare “office” room, covered in plastic from year to year.

When the season comes around, I unwrap it — carefully — and carry it into the living room. This year, we have a CD player where the tree usually goes, so I had to do a little planning. I didn’t realize how heavy that player was, so when I picked it up to move it, me and it headed for the floor and I was trying to not drop it. I can’t afford to replace it.

I finally got it onto the semi-circular brick front of the fireplace.

Phew. After I nudged it into place, I realized I can’t use the remote because now it’s below the level of the coffee table. I have to stand and walk over and point the remote down. But it works.

Harry Belefonte’s Greatest Hits was in the machine, so the moment I plugged it in, he began to sing.  I love his voice. It’s like velvet.

I grabbed the kitchen scissors and went into my office. Very carefully, I cut the bag off the tree. I looked it over. Pretty good. The lights had sagged a little, but otherwise, it looked as good as it ever did.

I had already put down a Christmas cover and it was perfect. It’s a hand-made patchwork quilt I bought years ago in Pennsylvania. It’s long and narrow and I never really knew what to do with it. Now, for Christmas, it has a home under our tree.  I’ll take better pictures of it later.

Ever since I gave Garry my Leica, I’m having trouble using the new small camera. It has a much slower lens. I’m trying to get used to it. It’s fine in brighter light, but an f3.3 lens is slow indoors. A bit disappointing so far, but it’ll be good outside which is mostly where I take pictures.