Sittin On A Porch

Sittin On A Porch
Our little back porch

Monday, December 27, 2010

Plumbing, Presents and Christmas Plays

My dear friends worry over me and nurture and advise me, bless their hearts they are so kind and really do love and take such good care of me.  But I am a hardheaded person and while I am still strong and healthy, I am not good at asking for help for things that I still feel like I can do.  My friends are patient, and honestly I do listen to them. They tried so hard to help me get to my Dad's, even if it meant changing their own Christmas plans.  I am so blessed.

In my previous life before I moved up to Tallahassee to Manage the Pesticide Certification Section I spent 20 years in the field, the greatest majority of it as a Field Supervisor driving a minimum of 2500 miles a month for work.  I loved those days travelling around the state working with growers and worker associations, Extension Agents and the Field Inspectors.  I spent lots of time on back roads, some roads that were mere dirt paths cutting through cow pastures; long stretches of interstate and more small towns then I can remember.  So surely I could drive the 4 1/2 hours to Palmetto to my Dad's house.  There really was no choice.  Everyone tried so hard to come up with a better way, but there wasn't a better way.  The only logical choice was for me to drive myself down.  

Christmas Eve eve came and Judy came over to have breakfast with me.  I had the car packed and with excitement and trepidation I got in the car, filled with bright packages, the family gift, bags of food for dinner that night, Christmas Eve, and my contributions to Christmas Day.  The car smelled of clementines and chocolate.  I had pimento cheese sandwiches, grapes, nuts and waters packed in the cooler for my lunch.  I hate having to stop and get food when I am driving.  Nothing looks good, so I usually tend to stop at a grocery store and get food that way, but I was not sure if leaving on Thursday if the traffic would be better or not.  I pulled out of Farm Boy and left would take me down Hwy 19 and the back roads, avoiding the Interstates and the possible accidents and delays.  I turned right.  I have no idea why.  Habit?  Maybe, but there I was on I-10. Well, I thought let's see how it goes. 

And it went fine.  I drove for about 3 hours and then pulled into a rest stop.  I went into a rest room and as I was washing my hands a beautiful family of Mennonites were fixing their hair and looking into the mirrors. They saw me and my almost baldhead and they assumed I had shaved my hair.  You could tell they had made this decision by the side-glances and pursed unapproving  lips.  I was going to tell them I had cancer, but they left abruptly trying to walk as far away from me as possible.  Their long hair contained liked their emotions, held closely within their beliefs.  I smiled and tried to look harmless, it did not help.  As I walked out the bathroom they were talking about the odd sinner in the bathroom who had cut off her glory.  They shut up quickly and turned and walked away, still glancing back at me to make sure that the devil did not follow them to their car.  I wanted to call out and explain, but they frightened me as much as I apparently did them.  How silly.  Everyone else at the crowed rest area all looked at me and did their little knowing smile given to us with cancer and our badge of honor of no hair.  I thought long and hard about whether I should have just butted in and said something, but I decided that it was their problem, not mine, and they had not given me the opportunity to speak.  So instead I ate my packed lunch and then took a walk around the rest area seeking out the sunshine where it was much warmer.  It was a beautiful day, and I felt strong and capable.  I was out on my own and driving.  I was heading away from my beloved friends and moving ever closer to my Dad and brothers and our traditional celebration.   

Back in the car and in less then 5 hours I was "home".  Back in my family home, the home my parents bought almost 60 years ago.  The home that they raised four kids of their own and countless of others and a gaggle of pets.  The house that over the years expanded to hold the growing the family.  Where on the doorway into the kitchen the  markings with dates and lines show the growth of so many children.  I know where the Christmas tree will be set up and how it will blink and sparkle with colored lights and ornaments collected and made over life times.  

I unpacked my presents and carefully placed them under the tree leaving a space to be able to add water in the base of the tree and to turn the switch to bring the tree to life.  I went to put my suitcase and other belongings into my room.  Yes, I am the only "child" that still has a bedroom at our parent’s house.  In all fairness I am the only child who moved away and needs a room.  As I stepped into my room to put my things and instead I found present wrapping central.  It looked like most of the presents were wrapped, but none of the big ones or heavy ones.  Dad took a fall a couple of weeks ago.  He was "hurt" but not bad.  Which of course is relative.  He has been unable to use both of his arms having bruised them pretty bad.  I also noticed that there were things that needed to be cleaned up, specifically the kitchen and the two bathrooms.  It was obvious Dad was moving slower and was not able to take care of himself since the fall as is needed.  I quietly starting cleaning the microwave, the front of the dishwasher the handle on the frig.  Tom and Pat my youngest brother and his wife had just cleaned the oven, and it looked great.  They had also scrubbed the stove, so we would be able to roast the meat without a fire, and I was grateful they had taken care of that.  Dad came into the kitchen and said that the front bathroom was flooded. 

Flooded is an understatement and the water was out into the hallway which has a parquet floor.  I grabbed towels and on my hands and knees I soaked up water, I searched for leaks, I did everything I could to get the water out from under the parquet tiles.  While I was there I scrubbed the toilet, sink and tub and did my best to get the floor dry and clean.  Then I washed the towels.

I had brought turkey Italian sausage, sauce and pasta with bread.  I fixed supper for dad and I and we sat and looked at the tree as we planned our schedule for the next couple of days.  I went to go to bed that night and as I went into the back bathroom.........oh no!  It was flooded and the water was in the back bedroom.  Back on my knees, pulling up wet floor mats and soaking up water with towels.  More laundry.   I finally dropped into bed, exhausted, I took two antihistamines to try to keep my nose from running and bleeding.  That is one of the unpleasant side effects of chemo, bloody noses.  I had been asleep about an hour when in my dreams I could hear my name being called.  I jumped out of bed and ran to the front of the house.  I was so groggy from the meds, and there is my Father on the floor in the entryway of the house.  He had tripped over the step and fallen again.  He was able to turn over and was trying to push himself up, but after the last fall he does not have the strength in his arms or legs to get up.  I have no idea how to lift him. I know not to pull on his arms, but I don't know how to place the leverage to lift him.  Dad tells me to call Tom, Rob is at work.  Tom is also at work, but fortunately Pat, Tom's wife is home, and says  she will be right over.  Bless her sweet nurse’s heart, she will know what to do.  She showed up a few minutes later in her jammies, and yep, just a smart as can be she squatted down close to dad put her arms under his armpits and lifted a man who outweighs her from a cold sit to a standing position and then held him there as he got his feet under him.  I was so grateful to her.  After she left, I went and soaked up more water, I mean I was up, I might as well.  Dad went to bed.

Christmas Eve morning I was up at 4 and out of bed at 5.  I mean I wasn't sleeping, I might as well get up and do the laundry and soak up the water.  The back bathroom was dry, and the front bath was not in bad shape.  I washed more laundry.  And finished scrubbing the back bath.  Put water in the Christmas tree and tried to find any little things that needed to be done that I could get accomplished before Dad got up.  He got up around 9 and he took me out to breakfast.  It was nice to have a little time with Dad where we could just talk and not worry about present wrapping or flooding bathrooms.  We picked up the last needs for dinner that night and for Christmas day dinner and headed home.  

I had slept in the back bedroom instead of my room because of all the presents on my bed, but I wanted to spend the night in my room for Christmas, so I lifted the heavy presents and helped Dad wrap them and all the big ones.  We finished up his wrapping in no time at all.  I made him lunch, cooked the jumbo shrimp for Christmas dinner, soaked up water, did laundry, helped my older brother when he came over to fix a drawer that had come off of its hinges.  Dad finally got down for a nap and I started working on dinner.  We were having ham, scalloped potatoes and asparagus.  Dad had bought Christmas cookies for desert.  

When Dad got up he drove over to pick up Marie, Dad's girlfriend and her daughter Rita.  They would be spending the holiday at Dad's house.  Marie has been under the weather so she did not want to drive over.  It is only about 20 minutes away.

The dinner was wonderful, Jong Ae, my older brother's wife had made a gorgeous salad and yeast rolls.  We ate heartily.  There were more then enough choices from me even though I have no interest in ham.  It was a lovely night.  The beginning of the holiday for me.  Everything else leading up to this night is wonderful, but as a child my earliest memories are of Christmas Eve as the beginning of the festivities.  When I was a child we would go to church and do the Christmas pageant.  I always wanted to be a shepherd but always ended up being an angel.  I think they thought I would behave more like my character is why they always forced me into the white sheet with the gold tinsel and wings.  Or maybe it was because I had one of the few mothers who could actually make wings and so because of her talent is why I was always one of the heavenly hosts.  After the pageant we would go down to the basement and Santa would give out small presents and candy canes, there would be punch and cookies and then we would take a drive to look at the Christmas lights.  We would always go to the planetarium and see how much the podacarpus had grown and see the strings of lights wrapped around the trees higher and higher as they grew.  Then we would go home and mom would sit us on the maple couch.  The one that has maple leaves carved in the arms of the couch, and she would read us a Christmas story.  Sometimes it would be the Night Before Christmas, other times Bible stories, or maybe her favorite story.  We would drink hot cocoa and snuggle up close as the Christmas tree sparkled and glowed with presents all around, carols playing in the background, dad was sometimes there, other times he was madly putting together bikes and benches and other presents.  Then to bed to dream of sugarplums and presents that I had already opened, played with and rewrapped.  I always knew what everyone was getting each year, and instead of it taking the pleasure away, I knew when to pay attention to someone else opening a present because I knew what would be their favorite gift.  I also knew the order to unwrap mine, building from minor presents to the big one.  I knew how to please my parents, how my eyes sparkled and I sounded so excited and surprised.  They were never disappointed, my parents, I was always appropriately surprised and when I asked them years later and told them about what I did every year, they had no idea.  Really they were amazed to find out I had always unwrapped everyone's presents.  Now I was wrapping my presents for my dad, still looking surprised and pleased when I opened my gifts.

This Christmas eve Rob, my oldest brother sat down in mother's chair and read the Florida version of The Night Before Christmas.  We sat gathered together and watched the same magic and sparkle in his daughter's eyes.  It was the best Christmas Eve.

Christmas morning found me mopping up water in bathrooms and doing laundry.  I had made 3 loaves of nut bread the day before.  I got it out with butter and brie and jars of ambrosia and I had Christmas breakfast set up, just like my Mother did for most of my life.  I turned on the lights on the tree and sat down for a quiet few moments before the rest of the family would start showing up and the noise and joy and chaos and insanity of Christmas morning would begin.  I had decorated part of the Christmas table the night before for our Eve dinner, but I still had to add the chocolates and clementines and the little wrapped wind up toys.  I placed the activity books with crayons at each place and then placed the Christmas crackers on top.   The table looked like a giant gift with the flowers and presents, chocolates wrapped in foil to look like presents and the sweetness of the clementines on the bright cloth covering the table.  

Dad, Marie, Rita and I opened our stockings overflowing with candy, fruit, and small presents.  We laughed and talked and had a lovely morning.  Then Rob, JongAe and Jessica showed up and we started opening presents.  Wonderful gifts, laughter, smiles and wrapping paper filled the room.  Then Tom, Pat and the boys came over and we did it all over again.  When all but one present was unwrapped I got up and passed out the scripts for the first ever Miller Family Christmas pageant.  I asked them to emote and that I would call the few bits of blocking needed.   It only took about 5 minutes to complete the play and by the end a beautiful new telescope was presented to my brothers as a family present.  I have to say everyone joined in with enthusiasm for our little play and at the end where it said that the family gathers together in a big group hug and spontaneously breaks out in We Wish You A Merry Christmas, they each reached for the closest person near them and sang out with vigor.  I was so proud, we all laughed and everyone said it was a great addition to our Christmas traditions.  They said they can't wait until next year for the next play.   Pat was the kitchen coordinator this year, and did a wonderful job.  Normally I cook the roast, make the gravy, set the table, plate my dishes, act as the coordiantaor and then announce dinner.  This year, I put the roast in the oven and then asked for help.  Tom decided when the roast was done, made the gravy and cut the roast.  Everything worked out much smoother, but Tom cut the roast without asking Dad if he wanted to, and it really hurt Dad’s feelings.  I understand they did the same for Thanksgiving with the turkey.   I know that Tom was trying to help Dad and save him from the struggle of standing and cutting the meat when he is still re cooperating from his fall, but next year, we have to make sure to keep dad involved.  We often times think that by doing something for another person we are doing good.  But sometimes we just make them feel useless.  Life is a hard balance.  

I received so many wonderful presents, a beautiful new comforter set for my bed in burgundy, clothes, a giant book on mythologies of the world, teapot, mugs and tea, a peace sign bag and so much more.  But my favorite present is a cobalt blue ceramic compost bucket that sort of looks like a fire hydrant.  It will replace the ugly plastic one that I used to use.  Don't get me wrong, the plastic bucket was a gift and if I had left it under the sink instead of putting it on the counter, who cares what it looked like, but it is so convenient to just leave the compost bucket on the counter near the sink so I can put my organic waste in it as I cook. I used the plastic one for many years, and now I have this lovely blue one, and I can retire the other.  

Yesterday I got up, soaked up the water in the front bath.  I had found the leak Christmas eve around 11 that night and had put a bucket under it so no more water in the back.  Unfortunately the leak in the front appears to be the drain in the wall between the kitchen and the front bath.  So that means whenever you use water in either room it floods the bathroom.  sigh.

After I had gotten all the water soaked up, did my last loads of laundry, I made breakfast, vacuumed the living room, emptied all the trashes, packed my car and then had time to sit down and do a little knitting while I waited the rest of the house to wake up.  We had a nice breakfast and then I got in the car waved goodbye and headed back home to my "kids".

Just north of Tampa I ran into a traffic accident that stopped traffic for about 20 minutes and miles and miles of cars impatiently sitting in 2 straight lines for as far as you could see.  I got off at the next exit and took the back roads and made it home in about 5 and a half hours.  not bad for a holiday.

It was one of the nicest Christmas's I can remember.  I got to talk to dear friends, and even managed to spend a couple hours with my friend Maggie and her aunt and brother.  Ms Emily was my Sunday school teacher and was also a second grade teacher and taught many of my friends.  She is an amazing woman who is a breast and colon cancer survivor.  Bless her heart.  I spent quiet time with my dad, drank champagne and eat delicious food lovingly made.  I got to play with my family and do a play with them.  Nathaniel got his restricted license 19 days earlier and he took me and his mother for a drive.  Christopher and I looked at his Dr., Who book and I counted as he jumped up and down on his pogo stick.  I got to hug on Jessica and help her watch a Tink DVD.  I gave, I received, I worked hard to help my dad and I laughed and hugged and felt a part of a family that keeps traditions tight in our heart and act it out each year.  We add new traditions and revive ones long abandoned, but not forgotten.  I was in the heart of my family and was loved and I loved. 

And then I came home to the heart of my family here.  I hugged my "kids" and shared presents with them and then called friends.  I am tired, and still tired today, so I am here at home taking it easy and planning on a lovely nap later today.  One of my favorite parts of Christmas is that there are so many fun things to do leading up to Christmas, parties, crafts, cooking, present buying and wrapping, but on December 25 it is done.  It doesn't matter what you didn't get done, it is over.  The whistle has been blown, the clock has run out.  The finish line is crossed.

This morning when I finally got out of bed at 8 I looked outside and everything glowed with a white frost.  By 10 the frost was starting to melt and the water dripped and sparkled like a million rainbows falling to the earth.  Next week is New Years.  It is cold.  I am tired.  Christmas is a happy memory and back to work tomorrow.  life is so good. 


  1. Do Mennonites not get cancer or do they not seek medical treatment (chemo, radiation) if they do get cancer? It's hard to believe that you were the first woman with a shaved head that they ever saw, even though some of them do live pretty isolated lives. That was pretty darned rude of them. It was nice to see that you took the high road and didn't lecture them.

  2. Kathleen- this is an entire book. This is a Story of Christmas. This is your spirit right here, giving and receiving (you do know how to receive, even if you do not know how to take) and I would fuss, fuss, fuss at you for all the work you did but it's too late and what does it matter now? You did what you did for your father and your family and that is how you are and I adore you. So fussing at you is not an option.
    But I will say I am glad you are home, the work done, the memories tucked into your heart, your blue cobalt compost bowl beside your sink.
    I hope I get to see you very soon.
    All love...Mary

  3. I hope that your dad will get a plumber. That was all I could think of as I was reading your continuing efforts to clean up the water. If I cannot fix something I get someone who can. I am glad that you did have a good time. It seems that you work so much to make every one happy. I hope that you are happy too. Take care.

  4. I have to admit the Mennonites made me mad, too. But oh how much else was going on in this post. So wonderful that you were able to do for your dad, and to enjoy the closeness of family. You're pretty darn amazing with all that flooding and laundry, and I hope your siblings will be able to fix the leak you kept in such good check while you were there. and i hope your nap this afternoon was delicious. you certainly earned it!

  5. My word that was a lot of mopping and laundry and cleaning. But it sounds like all the rest was as wonderful as can be!

    I find that when I am around a lot of people, I sort of dissociate a bit. I am there, but part of me is not and it goes by so quickly. It sounds like you were able to really savor the good parts and spend some good times with people as a group and individually.

    Good job on making the trip by yourself. It's good to do something like that every once in a while by one's self. At least I think so.
    Merry Christmas Kathleen, and Happy New Year!
    Love you,

  6. Sounds like you had a wonderful visit! I could picture the house and Aunt Edna with her long hair reading in her chair as I was reading your words. I could picture all of you when we were younger and it made me smile. How I loved visiting you, especially when I stayed for 2 weeks that summer and you all loved me like I belonged. Love you my cousin.

  7. I got tired just reading this!

    I do hope you rest now. In the end you came home with your heart and soul filled I think? I hope so .