I walked in a rainstorm on Sunday, enjoying the quiet. A block from home, I found three little kids, lying in the gutter, rainwater washing over them, covering their bellies and reaching their chins.

One of them popped up. “It’s not raining!”

I pointed with the hand that wasn’t holding my umbrella, where raindrops disturbed the turrent heading to the grate. He lie back down, determined to out-last every last drop of the deluge.

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When I was 21 years old, I hiked to the bottom of the Grand Canyon and back, skipping much of the way down, despite the whole cabbage I carried in my backpack, enjoying the lightened load during the next day’s ascent.  I’d spend the previous six months working as a National Park Ranger, hiking trails and fighting forest fires for minimum wage, and sopping up every blessed second of the experience. I was young, and fearless, and fit.

I’m older now, with a prosthetic hip and another that’s so ravaged by arthritis I can sleep in snatches of a few hours at the most. My back aches and I imagine x-rays of my neck resemble those of a camel’s.

When my physical therapist, who’s as young and lithe as I once was, encourages me to walk, “on a level surface,” outside, or on a treadmill, I can’t bring myself to tell her how hard it’s become to imagine walking to Machu Picchu, or even to recall the trails I once ran with my boisterous hounds tugging at their tethers, up slippery wet rocks.

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I’m fortunate to live one short block from a small grocery, so I can easily walk there. Getting myself and my purchases home is less easy. My free-standing garage is in the back corner of my yard, so even if I drive to and from the store, I sometimes have to make more than one trip from the car to the house.

During my decades as a a litigator, I unselfconsciously drug several briefcases bungee-corded to “stewardess wheels” behind me onto trains, planes, elevators, buses, and up several flights of stairs. Setting aside my vanity, I reasoned that a wheeled shopping cart would be no different.

I learned such articles are available from suppliers that sell walkers and other assistive devices. I refused to leave my home following my hip surgery until I graduated from a wheeled walker to a cane, and involuntarily cringed whenever teenaged cashiers asked, “Would you like some help getting to your car, Sweetie?” Post-operative pain makes even those of us with the most pleasant of dispositions a tad cranky, and when you throw inhibition-lowering pain meds into the mix, the combination is a bit dicey. I constantly reminded myself that while my collapsible cane would come in handy as a defensive weapon, my temporary disability was unlikely to be a viable defense to an assault charge.

I decided a lightweight black cart would draw less attention than one that was shiny chrome, but, sigh, a red one was cheaper. Having survived using a long-handled claw to pull up my drawers after my hip surgery, I jettisoned the last remnant of vanity and placed my order, imagining myself in a hat with an enormous brim festooned with plastic fruit, pulling a tomato-red cart, retro-fitted with sled runners, over a six-foot snow drift.

“Some assembly required,” has never intimidated me, but after I unpacked the box and removed and opened the instruction booklet, which was securely attached to the metal frame with a twist-tie by someone who was apparently left-handed, I realized this effort would become both a test of my deteriorating eyesight and mental acuity. While the diagram showed where each of the six washers and two springs were to be threaded onto the axle along with the wheels and hubcaps, it was impossible to determine which of the cotter pins went where. To further complicate (I’m not yet perplexed) the assembly, the packing instructions indicated there were only two pins, while there were two sets of differently configured pins in the plastic bag sinistrally attached to the frame.

In case you’re thinking, she needs a man, please understand that while I’ve been religiously doing my exercises, I haven’t regained my pre-surgical speed, at least not sufficiently to sprint to the walls and windows to intercept flying hardware. Moreover, since I’m not yet deaf, the thought of enduring an ear-splitting diatribe about “Chinese instructions” would make that scenario even more distasteful.

I’m much more resourceful. To thank a friend (who loves shopping and loves the color red, even more) for helping me haul a carload to Goodwill, I’d ordered an identical cart for her. I sent her a message, trying my best to sound nonchalant. “Have you put your cart together, yet?”

She replied, “My husband did. I LOVE IT!”

I’ll admit to wondering, wistfully, how many bottles of wine will fit in my cart once it’s road-worthy, but I banished that thought to the same realm as my obsolete vanity and messaged back, “Can I look at it to see where the pieces go?”

I’m not giving up.

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I visited my daughter last weekend. I hadn’t laid eyes on her in more than two years. I entered the small bookstore where she works, unnoticed.

Once she’d helped another customer, I approached. She smiled, and asked, “May I help you?”

“Do you have Paul Sheldon’s latest novel?’

She stared at me for a full second, then wrapped her eyes around me and turned to her co-worker, who’d seen me point towards her when I came through the door, as I pressed my index finger to my lips.

“This is my mom!”

He laughed.

Her eyes narrowed. “Was that a lame ‘Misery’ joke?”

I nodded. “Sorry.”

An author was reading in the adjoining room, so we descended to the lower level, where she showed me her favorite section of used books and the shelves of advanced reader’s copies they’d received from publishers.

* * *

The last afternoon of my visit, after sharing several memorable meals, including an enormous vegetarian feast for two at an Ethiopian restaurant, brunch in a greenhouse where all the ingredients were grown a few steps from the kitchen, a picnic before an outdoor performance of “Into the Woods,” a roasted vegetable tart we ate on the balcony before a stroll through the Lantern Festival at the Missouri Botanical Garden, we settled down with a kitten and coloring books.

“Adult coloring books are trendy, now,” she said, passing me the sleeve of markers. I chose a deep blue, and began carefully following the thick, black lines.

“Do you remember when I had my wisdom teeth removed and you bought me a bunch of coloring books and an enormous tub of markers?

I nodded, remembering that after my mother died, my friends did the same for me.

I chose a lighter color to fill in a several larger areas of the mandala. It was difficult to judge from the plastic whether it was pink, or orange. “You can test it on the back of the page,” she said.

“If it’s not the right color, I’ll work around it,” I said.

Without looking at my paper, she said, “You can always color over it, if you don’t like it.”

“I can,” I thought, “but I don’t want to.”

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Let’s embrace this day

Three trees were planted on the new tree lawn across from my house, yesterday. This morning, their leaves are wet from the rain, and a sweet breeze enters the house through the screen door.

The lilies are blooming, tall, red, and triumphant. They say, “Let’s replace grief, with hope.”

Let’s embrace this day.

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Conversations with my house

House: We need a fluffy calico cat.

Me: When you get a job, you can have a cat.

House: All you have to do is brush her and feed her and make sure she has clean litter.

Me: What’s in it for you?

House: She’ll look pretty in the window. By the way, you need to wash them.

Me: Tell me something I don’t know.

House: We need a cat.

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On holidays I couldn’t spend with my daughter, I went to big box stores. Once, on my birthday, I went to PetSmart and adopted a cat. On another Christmas, I roamed the aisles at Walmart for a few hours before leaving with bananas.

A few years ago, I went to IKEA on Mother’s Day. It was an adventure as well as a tradition. That Mother’s Day, I bought myself breakfast.

“Are you a Mom?” the cashier asked.

“I am.”

“Your breakfast’s free.”

I ate my free scrambled eggs and bought a mattress pad and sheets for my single bed.

This year, I’m better off.  And I’m grateful.

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Fifty bazillion reasons I need a new dishwasher

I won’t list them.

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When I was in law school at the University of Michigan, many years ago, the Jewish Law Students organization sold t-shirts, emblazoned with “Michigan Law, Class of 1984.” I bought one.

A classmate chastised me. “They’re not a minority. Why would you patronize them?

Rather than analyze the comment, let’s do the math, and then let’s go back to analyzing the comment.

I’m female. The critic had no idea of my heritage.

My father was a Jew. My mother wasn’t.

I bought the t-shirt, because I was proud to be a member of the 1984 class of the University of Michigan Law School. My great-uncle and my dad were graduates, in 1899 and 1950, respectively, and although I hadn’t graduated at the time I bought the t-shirt, I hoped to be the third generation in my family to graduate from the University of Michigan Law School.

I did, in fact, graduate. I still have the t-shirt.

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The Bulbs Know – Part Two

Jane Wilson

I emptied my parka’s pockets today, removing three pair of gloves; the 30 below-zero pair, the fleece pair, and the brightly flowered garden gloves, along with the ubitquitous crumpled (but clean) tissues. At different times during the past week, sometimes in the same day, I’ve worn all three pair.

A half dozen daffodils are blooming along the front walk, amidst the leaves I raked from the bed a few days ago, which have since blown back. As I accept the inevitable, the reprise of my leaf-raking performance with three costume changes, I imagine a conversation between the daffodils and the leaves. “It’s going to be cold, again, tonight. Tuck us in, will ya’?”

“I’ll let you sleep in, until the weekend,” I interrupt, acutely aware I’m talking to myself, rather than to bunches of stems, leaves and blossoms, “then I’ll strip away the covers. Sleep well, my darlings.”

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