Wednesday, January 21, 2009

The Old Dairy Diner

I walked into the flower shop in my hometown this week and stopped just inside the entry. For a moment, time flashed back 30 years. In my mind's eye, I saw the place when it had housed the old Dairy diner. I saw the lunch counter before me, lined with familiar faces that I had watched eat lunch and dinner hundreds of times.
During my childhood, my grandmother worked late in her home beauty shop each Thursday, so for several years,my grandpa and I had a standing dinner date once a week. We always went to The Dairy. We sat at the far right edge of the counter that ran the length of half the building and along the far wall. It was a comforting routine to take our same place along that line of stools. The seat I always wanted has a close view of the many photographs of the young waitresses that had worked there over the years. Their pictures lined an entire wall and examining them kept me entertained until my standing order of plain cheeseburger and fries would arrive. They were all very pretty girls with elaborate hair . They seemed exotic and glamorous to a little girl in a dowdy bowl cut. I remember thinking that it was very kind of the Millers, who owned the Diary, to care about their waitresses enough to display their pictures.
My grandpa was a frequent customer and everyone knew him. He often talked his construction business with other men and many a house renovation or addition was planned at that counter. My job was to sit quietly and listen. Any nonsense like running around, whining or being obnoxious and demanding while out to dinner-such prevalent behavior today, was pleasantly absent from most restaurants in my childhood. It would have never occurred to me to misbehave, first because I enjoyed being there, and I certainly would not have wanted to risk my grandfather's displeasure or jeopardize future dinners together. An added behavior shaping incentive were the many customers who were also weekly visitors to my grandmother's beauty shop (back when ladies had time to get their hair fixed once a week). They would have informed my grandmother if I had misbehaved.
I passed the extra time after finishing my favorite dinner by covertly watching other diners, eavesdropping on conversations and surreptitiously spinning on my stool. If I drank too much pop at The Dairy, I might have to brave the long trip to the upstairs bathroom. I dreaded using the bathroom because I had to make my way up a long flight of stairs to an upper storage area full of boxes and old machinery that always seemed gloomy and dark. The little bathroom was all the way in the back; a tiny light glowed from the cracked bathroom door on the other side of the long room. I was convinced it was haunted up there and my over-active imagination made my heart race with visions of unseen eyes that seemed to be watching me walk through the gloom. The trip back down was a heart pounding, feet- flying sprint back to the warmth and safety of the lunch counter and my grandfather.
If I ate all of my cheeseburger ( never an issue), I might be offered a piece of lemon, chocolate, or coconut pie made by Ms. Peck while my grandpa finished talking contracting, or hunting, or fishing to a wide, jovial audience. Each Thursday night was an event.
After coming out of my reverie,I finished up my shopping and as I paid my bill, I noticed they have on display an old ice cream container from The Dairy. It was so nice to still be able to walk through one of the warm places in my memory.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Sitting Vigil

After my brother Nick died, I had the same recurring nightmare: Nick was near death and we were unsuccessfully trying to get him medical help. In the nightmare, phones wouldn't dial, doctors were unavailable, ER departments were distant and I had no way to get him there. Desperation borne of grief, the dream reflected the sense of total helplessness in the face of loss.
Last week my 13 year old, Sam, became suddenly and terribly ill; he developed a high fever with stiff neck, vomiting and left-side paralysis. We raced to Kirby ER and were met with Wayne Matthews who is someone you certainly want to see in a crisis. Before I could pull Sam from the car Wayne had him out and was racing- running with Sam in the wheelchair. Competence, matched by compassion- that is Mr. Matthews. The medical field has been increasingly pressured to form to a business model, yet Wayne is a beacon of what works for patient care- of how we should take care of our sick. Within an hour we were whisked by ambulance to Carle where Sam was admitted into the isolation ward.
The big fear was bacterial meningitis- which can be deadly within hours. In those hours before the antibiotics were started, while we waited for doctors to results testing, I was plunged once again into that old nightmare, “Please help now!”
Medicine doesn't work the way it does on television with everyone scrambling and immediacy of treatment. Often, it is a wait of hours, and of methodical tests, analyzing results. Walking with a barely conscious child while an youthful orderly slowly pushed the bed through the labyrinth inner hallways of Cale towards to MRI department was slow torture. I repeatedly resisted the urge to scream at the hapless Carle employee, “Move it! Push faster! This is an emergency” Elevators took eternities to arrive.
Waiting in the darkened room, with Sam sedated, waves of fear, near panic,would occasionally wash over me, dropping my core temperature like a plunge into polar water.
I have heard people say that after living through grief or surviving the death of a child that they now have nothing to fear. They knew they could survive the worst. Strange how I came through it feeling the opposite. I survived grief the first time, this doesn't mean I could stay afloat again. In fact, I have serious doubts. It's like being asked to repeatedly survive being adrift in the ocean for years on end. Life grants no immunity to those who have managed to once swim to the other side of grief.
Sadly, I didn't learn the one thing that grief should have permanently taught me; that I am not in control. Instead of realizing the futility of hyper vigilance, I try harder to keep everyone safe. Sometimes I wish, like a friend once said, “that we could all just sit in the living room and hold hands.” The worry is exhausting. Grief counselors might say my worry is related to post traumatic stress syndrome. I say life is as it has ever been- wondrously perilous; none of us gets through unscathed. The knowledge of what we can loose in a heartbeat is a heavy burden, yet that same knowledge has given me the gift of constant gratitude. Painful knowledge that perhaps shouldn't be medicated away.
As I sat in the silent, darkened hospital room, Sammy quite after a morphine injection, I glanced out of our 8th floor window and saw the Life Flight helicopter arriving with an unknown families' tragedy. It was a stark reminder that things could be much worse.
In the dark quiet, I began to think about the hundreds of thousands of parents who were doing just what I was at that moment; sitting vigil over a sick child. I felt a quiet yet strong pulse of connection with all those watching mothers. It gave me strength. To be a parent is to allow your heart to be exposed to all the elements of life- a supremely dangerous and exhilarating endeavor. As it is, as it ever shall be.
We were lucky . Within hours of falling ill, my child was in a clean hospital bed being attended to by a host of nurses and doctors all intent on healing him. As the life flight helicopter took off yet again to attend to someone desperately hurt or ill- someone whose mother was no doubt praying, I whispered again, “we are so lucky.”
Thank you to my friends and family who helped us so much while Sam was in the hospital especially to the Van Tines for their ever present support and care and to the Richardson's' who showed Sam that he has some awesome friends. Thanks you to the pastor at the First Christian Church who visited with us and offered warm, supportive words and prayer.