When We Come to It

So many  bridges.

Bridges of concrete…

…iron…

…and steel.

Ancient ones of stone…

…brick…

…mortar….

…and wood.

 

Some are famous…

…celebrated in story…

…and song.

Some draw pilgrims from all over the world.

So different…


…yet they serve the same purpose.

To span distance…

…to connect…

 

…to deliver us from troubled waters.

There’s an old saying…it is better to build bridges than walls.

Click here for more interpretations of Nancy Merrill’s Photo a Week: Bridges.

Click here for more interpretations of Jake’s Sunday Post: Bridges.

Click here for more interpretations of Cee’s Fun Foto Challenge: Bridges.

Click here for more interpretations of Ailsa’s Weekly Travel Theme: Bridges.

All images and words c2013 Naomi Baltuck

As You Like It: Reflections (on Life and the Art of Aging)

“All I ask is a tall ship and a star to steer her by…”


My mother and her sister Loena were best friends.  Wherever Loena went, she would sing or hum quietly to herself.  My mother used to introduce her to friends saying, “This is my sister Loena.  Don’t mind her; she hums.”

Mom was the one who used to bust Aunt Loena out of Detroit for road trips.  Sometimes to Washington, D.C. to visit my sister Miriam, to Maine to see my sister Constance, or to see me and my siblings in Seattle, especially if the Tigers were scheduled to play the Mariners.

Driving cross country to attend my wedding, they made a late-night stop at a hamburger joint in Iowa. They were laughing so hard the young man behind the counter came to their table and said, “Ladies, I don’t know where you’re going, but I want to come with you.”

Less than a year after Mom died, my first baby was born.  It was a wonder-full time, if bittersweet.  Aunt Loena’s visit was the next best thing to seeing my mom holding my baby in her arms.  I felt my mother’s presence, watching, smiling, loving.

But it was hard for Aunt Loena to get away.  She spent two decades housebound while caring for her mother-in-law, and then her husband.  No one blamed him for his frustration, but he yelled at everyone who came to visit or offer aid, and fired everyone my aunt hired to help with housework and eldercare.  It was emotionally isolating and physically exhausting.  She never complained, and joked that at least her medical appointments for heart trouble, cataract surgery, and blood transfusions got her out of the house.  Like my mother, she knew how to look for the bright spots.

The 911 response team knew her by name, as she had to call whenever her husband fell out of the recliner where he slept.  It was time for a nursing home.  She visited him twice a day, until she caught meningitis.  Her doctors didn’t think she’d survive.  I flew to Detroit to say goodbye, but Aunt Loena is a two-time cancer survivor, who has come back from the brink so many times she makes Rasputin look like a weenie.  It was a wake-up call, however.  She checked out of the hospital with a bucket list.  My aunt is 86, anemic, subject to dizzy spells and shortness of breath.  Oh, yes, and always up for an adventure, so long as it is wheelchair accessible.

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Aunt Loena with my sister Lee and my son Elijah

Our first adventure was a trip to Seattle.  We knew she had a great time, because wherever we went, she hummed to herself like a purring kitten.  That trip was just a warm-up for her dream trip to New York City.

Aunt Loena in Central Park with Bea and me.

When it was time to leave New York and go our separate ways, it was too sad to say goodbye, so instead we said, “Where to next?”  She’d always wanted to go the Shakespeare Festival in Stratford, Ontario.  So that’s what we did.  My son Eli flew in from college in Maine, I flew from Seattle, and my sister Lee joined us from the Upper Peninsula of Michigan.

 We went in October, to take in the fall colors as well as the plays.

I chose our motel for its name.

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In Stratford I discovered the secret to longevity–a nightly dose of Miss Vicky’s Salt and Vinegar Potato Chips!  Aunt Loena is a teetotaler, but she’s not afraid of a little salt and grease.  Got sugar?   Bring it on!

Each time we part, I fear another long drive or a cross country flight will prove too much.  We make a date and look forward to it, but  I always check before I make plane reservations.  “You’re sure?”  And she always says, “Oh, yes.  As long as I’m sitting down, it’s almost just the same as sitting at home.”

We promised to bring her to Seattle for fish and chips this summer, but Lee couldn’t make it.  I asked my friend Monica, also a Detroiter, if she’d consider escorting Aunt Loena.  The next morning I got her reply– she would be delighted!  What a gift to us all!  We couldn’t have pulled it off without her.  Monica and Aunt Loena had been hearing about each other for years, and felt like they already knew each other.  We kicked off a week-long PJ party by attending a performance of Cole Porter’s “Anything Goes.”   We also enjoyed Teatro Zinzanni’s very silly but impressive dinner theater show, “Gangsters of Love.”

Aunt Loena made her famous egg salad sandwiches.  Years ago, when we all drove to D.C. to visit our sister Miriam, we weren’t out of Detroit yet when Mom said, “Who’s ready for an egg salad sandwich?”  It was 10am, but so what?  We were ready for another one by lunchtime.

We picnicked at Green Lake–egg salad sandwiches, my brother Lew’s homemade cookies, and Salt and Vinegar Potato Chips.  We couldn’t get to a picnic table, because we didn’t have an all-terrain wheelchair, but from our park bench we had a gorgeous view of the lake.

I would love to take Aunt Loena to Hawaii or Europe; even she feels it might be too far.  But her eyes lit up when she said church friends had gone to a casino, and she thought it might be fun to try her luck just once–if there was a smoke-free one with wheelchair access.  I don’t know anything about casinos, but an internet search and a few phone calls was all it took to locate a smoke-free casino in Toledo, not far from their wonderful zoo.  I sent Aunt Loena home with a roll of quarters and a promise.  Guess where we’re going next spring!

Saying goodbye is hard.  Aunt Loena said Mom always told her, “Whatever happens, we won’t cry.  We’ll smile, kiss the kids goodbye, and stop the car around the corner to do our crying.”  And that’s what they always did, she said.  But this time we all had to cry, just a little.

Most people in my aunt’s situation prefer the security of a recliner, the proximity of their own doctors, and to be in control, even if that just means the remote to the television.  Who can blame them?  With advanced age, circumstances often change, especially where health, finances, and family support are concerned.  Aunt Loena lives her life as an adventure, and adjusts the size of her dreams as necessary.  But for her, everything is icing on the cake.  New York is as good as Hawaii, and Ohio is as good as New York.  But she would be just as happy humming quietly and playing cards with a friend while snacking on a bag of Miss VIcky’s Salt and Vinegar Potato Chips.

I want to grow old like Aunt Loena, to go out swinging or at least singing.  When I told her she was brave for coming all the way to Seattle, she laughed and said, “All I need is a wheelchair, and someone to push it.

You got it, Aunt Loena.  And you don’t even need to ask.

All words and images copyright 2012 Naomi Baltuck

Unique New York!


Open mouth.  Insert foot.  Things happen.  At least that’s what happens to me.  At 85, my mother’s sister Loena suffers from heart trouble and Quilter’s Thumb, but she never complains.  She uses a cane on good days, a walker or wheelchair the rest of the time.  Aunt Loena lives in Detroit, but was always too busy taking care of everyone else to travel.  A couple years ago, with my Michigan sister Lee, my aunt flew to Seattle to come see us.

She was frail and tired easily.  Once, when we couldn’t hear her snoring, I tiptoed in to see if she was still breathing.  But we laughed often and loudly; I felt my mother’s presence so strongly I wanted to pour Mom a cup of coffee too.  The visit went so well I asked my aunt where she’d like to go next.  I figured Holland, Michigan, perhaps, to see the tulips.  But no.  Aunt Loena said, “Your mother and I were planning a trip to New York, to see the Statue of Liberty and lots of Broadway musicals.  That was before she got sick.”

I’ll take you!” I blurted.  Then I felt sick.  I’ve always suffered from Foot in Mouth disease.  My other chronic illness was Newyorkaphobia.  In my mind NYC was big, bad, dangerous.  AND expensive.  I had the money, but it was tucked away for a trip to England, a place I really did want to see. But a promise is a promise.

I researched airfare, hotels, even how to hail a cab.  We picked up travel companions right and left, like Dorothy on her way to Emerald City.  I ordered show tickets, mailed maps and instructions to them all.  My daughter Bea and I flew into JFK.  My sister Con flew from Alaska to her daughter Jane’s, and they trained in from Boston.  Lee and Aunt Loena flew into Newark from Detroit.  We all arrived within twenty minutes of each other at the Casablanca Hotel, half a block from Times Square!

I chose the hotel for its proximity to theaters and its uniqueness–the breakfast room is called Rick’s, after Humphrey Bogart’s character in Casablanca.  Six women crammed themselves into a suite meant for four, but the staff didn’t seem to mind.  Everyone was helpful; they even provided a wheelchair.  At  Casablanca’s Happy Hour, we had fruit, cookies, wine and cheese.

Jane, Constance, Bea, Lee, and Aunt Loena at a Very Happy Hour.

Then it was time to go to our first Broadway musical, Billy Elliot.  Jane had made other plans, so five of us stood outside the hotel while I hailed a cab.  It pulled over to the curb and we all crowded in.

“Only four, please.”  The driver had an accent, and was clearly from somewhere in Africa.

“The theater is just a few blocks,” I said, “but my auntie can’t walk.”

“I cannot take more than four passengers.”

“We don’t mind Cozy.”

“No, no, no.  I mean I get into big trouble for carrying more than four passengers.”

“Oh, we don’t want to get you in trouble.  It’s not far.  My sisters can walk, and we’ll meet them there.”

Lee and Con got out and started walking. He put his hand to his forehead and sighed.  “Call them back.”

“Really?”  I hollered for my sisters, and soon we were all back in the cab, with Bea ducked down out of sight.

Our driver was Daniel, a doctor from Togo, who was making better money driving a cab in NYC than in the medical profession in Togo.  We asked about his family, and whether he missed his home.  “It’s best for the children,” he said. He was curious about our lives too.  As we talked, my fears dropped away.

Fool’s luck must have sent Mr. Adenje to us on our first evening in New York.  I knew we were in good hands, even before he refused any money for the ride, even the twenty dollar tip I tried to give him.  Where does THAT ever happen?  Certainly not in Seattle!  This couldn’t be the ugly city that so terrified me!  At first I thought Mr Adenje was an angel in disguise; I have come to think of him as the spirit of New York.

The whole time we were there we never met an unkind person.  Everyone had a story to tell, like Fergus, the driver who gave Aunt Loena her first buggy ride.  He told us he gained fifteen pounds in one week when his mother came from Ireland to visit and meet her first grandchild.

Fergus, Bea, and Aunt Loena.

At a hot dog stand in Central Park, the elderly gent ahead of us insisted on treating.  Aunt Loena was convinced he was Scottish, despite his yarmulke and Yiddish accent.  “In any case,” I told her, “you’ve still got what it takes!”   My aunt laughed and pshawed, but still she blushed like a young girl.

Central Park is an oasis in a concrete jungle.

The next night, by the time Aunt Loena could shuffle out of the theater, where we saw Phantom of the Opera, the cabs were all gone.  But a man in a rickshaw pedaled up; another ‘first’ for my aunt.  She and I sat with Bea on my lap, as Rene from El Salvador wove through late-night traffic, cutting off stretch limousines, jumping potholes like a Latin Evil Knievel, and cutting through dark alleys.  He hadn’t been home for six years, and had a daughter he had never seen.  He said he liked working the late night shift, because the days could be so very hot.  While we talked with Rene, Aunt Loena smiled and waved to strangers on the street, and they all smiled and waved back.

Bea and Auntie Lee on our city bus tour.

Ghosts of New York’s past can still be seen.

And then there is the Natural History Museum.  Very Educational.

 Since then I have returned to the Big Apple of my own free will.   I brought my husband, my kids, and an open heart.


I am learning to let go of my fears.  There are so many places I still want to see, too many stories out in that wide world I have yet to hear.  I hope I never get too old to enjoy them, or too afraid to try.  After all, I’ve already seen how high an old lady can kick up her heels while keeping a sturdy grip on her walker.

All images and words copyright 2012 Naomi Baltuck

For more great photos of New York, check out “I Love New York” in writer Kourteny Heintz’s Journal!