Sunday, January 25, 2015

My Mother's Damned Egg Slicer

My mother hoarded stuff.  Mother and Daddy’s house didn’t look like the houses on the TV show Hoarders.  It looked like a fancy antique store bulging with exotic artifacts from Europe and Asia.  Except for the kitchen.  The kitchen looked like a stage set from the 1970’s: countertops and cabinets crammed with Veg-O-Matics, garlic peelers, avocado slicers, nut choppers, corn holders, pie birds, fondue forks, plastic butter tubs, tin pie-plates, and wax fruit.  I don’t think they even make wax fruit anymore.  If they do, they shouldn’t. 

Mother’s wax fruit was sticky with years of grime.  Several times over the years, I tried to get her to throw it out.  I’d say, “Mother, if you want a hanging basket of fruit in your kitchen, I’ll go to the store and buy fresh fruit.  Eat it and replace it.”

“Leave my wax fruit alone,” she’d say.  “If you don’t like it, don’t look at it.”

Each time I made the long trip home to see my parents, I tried to clean out one drawer or cabinet while they napped in the afternoon.  Once, my MIL had accompanied me on the 700-mile round-rip and was keeping me company when my mother caught me cleaning out the lowliest of her thirteen kitchen drawers.  The drawer was full of yellowed newspaper recipes from 1965, sandwich bags of bread-sack twist-ties, and orphaned plastic lids.  In the back, wrapped in decayed plastic wrap held together by a rotted rubber band, was an egg slicer.  I had tossed everything into a trash bag.

With few exceptions, I don’t own single-purpose kitchen items, yet I’m a competent cook.  I make mouth-watering chicken’n’dumplings, authentic Tex-Mex enchiladas, and savory finkadella, all without specialized kitchen utensils. 

Granted, I do own a knife sharpener, and it’s a single- purpose item.  Likewise my potato peeler (although I managed without one for years), and a toaster (ditto). 

I do not own a waffle iron, a Panini maker, or an apple corer.  I certainly don’t own an egg slicer.  I do own a vegetable knife, a butcher knife, and three handy-dandy paring knives that I use daily; an electric knife that I use weekly; and a serrated knife that I seldom use and have decided to get rid of.  Any of my knives can slice an egg.  I don’t need an egg slicer. 

But apparently my mother thought she did.

She grabbed the trash bag into which I had tossed the egg slicer and started digging through it.

“It’s all trash, Mother,” I said.  “Let it go.”

“No,” she said. “You are always throwing away my good things.” She glared at me.

She found the egg slicer in the trash bag and held it up triumphantly.  “There!” she cried.  “My egg slicer!  You were going to throw it away!”

She waved it around.  “I’ve been looking all over for it!”  She jabbed it toward my MIL.  “Look!” she cried, “She threw it away!”  My MIL covered her mouth to hide her laughter and shook.

I took a deep breath.  “Mother,” I said patiently, “This egg slicer has been in the back of this drawer for so many years that the plastic is yellow and the rubber band around it has rotted.  You don’t use it.”

“Well, I wanted to use it, but I couldn’t find it!”

“Mother, you have 35 knives.  Why do you need an egg slicer?”

“Because I might want to have a party, and I’d need it to slice the eggs on top of the potato salad!”  My MIL bit her lip while tears rolled down her cheeks.

“Mother, you are 85 years old, Daddy is 90 and has Alzheimer’s disease, and you haven’t thrown a party in twenty years.”

“Well, I just might, and if I do, I’ll need this egg slicer.”

So the egg slicer went back into the drawer, and there it sat until Mother died.

The day after the funeral, I called my MIL.  “Is there anything of Mother’s that you’d like to have as a memento of her?” I asked.

Yes, she said, there was.  And so I dug through the bottom drawer again, found the damned egg slicer, tucked it lovingly in my purse, and drove it 350 miles to its new home.

Thursday, January 22, 2015

The Old Man in the Yellow Hat- Epilogue

The Old Man in the Yellow Hat was found dead in the hours after I wrote about him.

Rest in Peace, Old Man in the Yellow Hat.

Sunday, January 11, 2015

A Tribute to Two Musicians

Many years ago, my friend, Harvey McIntyre, wrote:

Some thirty years ago as a high school student, I had worked my way up to first chair clarinet in the band, and as such, I had been asked to perform at some civic function in Big Timber (MT).  My accompanist for that performance was Elnor Overland, a man who’d worked his way through college playing piano in a movie theater during the era of silent movies; he’d later worked his way through Law School giving organ recitals with the world-famous Eddie Dunstetter.  In the jargon of the day, he could make that organ stand up and talk.

About two-thirds of the way through the Clarinet Polka, the easiest piece I played all night, my mind went completely blank.  In stark terror, I looked at Mr. Overland, and he just winked at me.  He then launched into an improvisation of my part until I’d regained my thoughts and composure and could play that wooden licorice stick again.  No one in the audience probably realized that a true professional had rescued a rank amateur that evening.  To this day, I am indebted to Mr. Elnor O. Overland, Attorney-at-Law, composer, organist, and friend for what he later told me that evening: “Anyone can make good under the best conditions; professionals do it under any condition.”

When I read Harvey’s story, I nodded my head in recognition.  That week, virtuoso flutist Dr. Jackie Flowers had agreed to play with me, an amateur clarinet player, at a cocktail-party fund raiser. We had selected several Bach and Mozart duets.  The guests were gabbing, and clinking, and yumming, and making all the noises that people make at cocktail parties.  I wasn’t expecting that.  I don’t know why I wasn’t.  I know people make a lot of noise at cocktail parties.  But I still wasn’t expecting it, so I started out a bubble off plumb. 

When we got ready to play, I sat down to Dr. Flowers’s left, which meant that the sound of her flute was projected away from me.  But I didn’t think about that.  Until we began playing.  Immediately I realized that I couldn’t hear Dr. Flowers’s flute.  Heck, I couldn’t hear my own clarinet over the party-goers’ noise.  On our third number, a particularly complex invention, I lost my place in the music.  I looked at Dr. Flowers in a panic.  She nodded and continued playing while I figured out where we were and joined her again.  Before the next number, she suggested we exchange places so I could hear her flute.  We did.

Afterward, I told her how embarrassed I was.  The consummate professional, she laughed and reassured me, saying, “No problem.  No one else even knew it happened.”  

That night, Dr. Flowers rescued me just like Mr. Overland had rescued Harvey many years before.

So Dr. Jackie Flowers, Connsumate Professional, accept my profound thanks and admiration.

And Mr. Elnor Overland, rest in peace.  You may be gone, but you are not forgotten.


Saturday, January 10, 2015

The Old Man in the Yellow Hat

At this moment, 8:10 at night, 25 degrees outside, an old man in a yellow hat is lost near my house.  I fear he will die.
I came upstairs to my bedroom at 6:00 tonight to read.  When I returned downstairs at 8:00, I saw the headlights of a vehicle drive up the golf cart path beside my house and turn down the path on the fifth green.  First I thought, “Kids!”  Then I thought, “Oooh.  Old people having a secret assignation!” 
Then the vehicle started shining a spotlight around in the trees.  Surely no one would be poaching in the middle of the village, I thought.  Then, Maybe it’s the police. Maybe someone has seen a peeping tom. When I was tiny, we had a peeping tom in our neighborhood.  My mom said a group of our neighborhood men “ran him out of town on a rail.” 
I imagined my dad and a dozen other men running east down Gidding Street all the way across town, and then north up First, and then east again on Prince Street out into the country with torches.  Some of them were carrying a railroad rail, and the peeping tom was riding it like a horse in the moonlight.  I imagined the neighborhood men shouting, “Get out and stay out!” 
I had heard of tarring and feathering, and I imagined some of the men running with buckets of black tar and carrying white geese under their arms.  These they would pluck after they had thrown the tar on the man on the rail.  (I had no idea that the tar would be hot and burn.  It would have just been like my Elmer’s School Glue.) Then they would throw goose feathers at the man, and some of them would stick to the tar.  I thought this would be a helluva strange thing to do.  But I thought that grown-ups were strange, so there was no telling what they might do. 

But back to tonight…
“Don,” I said, “A vehicle is driving down the golf path shining a searchlight!”
“Well,” he said, “While you were upstairs, three men came to the front door and asked if I had seen a man wearing a yellow hat.”
“Had you?”
“Oh, my,” I said.  “Someone who has dementia is lost.  His people are looking for him.  If they don’t find him tonight, he’ll die of exposure.”
Now it’s 8:50.  The vehicle has not returned.
I wonder if the men found The Old Man in the Yellow Hat.  I wonder if he was already dead from exposure when they came to our house.  If he is still alive, I wonder if he’s frightened.  I know he is cold.  I wonder if he was a war veteran and thinks he is a young soldier in enemy territory, if he’s seen the searchlight, but he’s hiding from it.
I wonder if he’s dying as I write this. 

God, have mercy.

Thursday, January 1, 2015

Autism Lesson 1: Disequilibration

My New Year’s resolution is to post monthly essays about autism.  People who love someone on the ASD spectrum need all the knowledge they can get, and post-secondary education for students with autism is one of my areas of expertise.  Ergo, this post on New Year’s Day, 2015.

My friend and I are Harry Potter scholars.  My HP house is Harry’s own Gryffindor; hers, Slythindor.  Leave it to my friend to create Slythindor.  No house fit her exactly, so she created her own.

My friend calls me Professor Dumbledore.  I call her My Young Traveler.  I drove 250 miles round trip to attend the midnight premier of The Half Blood Prince with her.  We also went together to the midnight release of The Tales of Beadle the Bard.

I was a fifty-something college professor.  She was a teenager with Asperger’s syndrome in our university’s Autism Support Program.

My Young Traveler (whom I shall call YT) taught me much about people on the autism spectrum.  One of the most important lessons she taught me was why change in routine distresses them.

Last night I watched an episode of Big Bang Theory in which Sheldon left home because impending changes threatening his life routine terrified him.  Leonard wanted to live with his new fiancĂ©, Penny, instead of Sheldon.  Other life changes also threatened him, so he felt that he had no option but to run away somewhere… anywhere… indefinitely.

My friend, Rosie, told me how her five-year-old son escalated when she varied her route home from his school.  Logan’s after-school routine was to get into Rosie’s car, ride to McDonalds® for a snack, and then ride home while eating his snack.  One day Rosie detoured to the dry cleaners while Logan was eating his snack.  Logan panicked.  “This is not the way we are supposed to go.  We are supposed to go to McDonalds®.  I am supposed to get a snack there.  Then we are supposed to go home while I eat my snack!” He burst into tears.

In The Autistic ABA Therapist, Kelly Londenberg explained how changes in routine affect her.  She plans her movements like a movie.  If she wants a glass of water, she visualizes standing up, crossing the living room, entering the kitchen, selecting the glass, etc.  Once she begins this routine, an interruption causes her to escalate because it disequilibrates her.

When I asked My Young Traveler to explain what made a change in routine so difficult for people with autism, she asked, “Dr. Gore, have you ever been walking along the sidewalk thinking about something and then fallen off a curb?”

“I have.”

“You know how jarring that feels?”


“Well, that’s how it feels when something changes our routine.  You weren’t expecting to fall off the curb.  You were startled and your body filled with adrenaline. It made you feel sick.  That’s how it feels to us when somebody changes something in our routine.”

So if you love someone with ASD, think about how upsetting falling off a curb feels to you.   Then when you must change your loved one’s routine, remember that he’s going to feel that same panicky, sick feeling.  Avoid the change if you can, but if you can’t avoid it, prepare him for it gently.

Make that your New Year’s resolution.  And make me stick to mine.