The skies are grey and heavy with rain on this Saturday a week before Christmas. I’m supposed to be editing my yearly Family Christmas letter. The envelopes are addressed, and stamped, the cards are ready to go into the envelopes, and the letter is mostly finished, but it’s been a difficult task this year.
Certain Man is home today, in the house, working on tomorrow’s sermon for our congregation at Laws Mennonite Church. I’m sitting for the first time since I got up! And I did sleep in this morning. In fact, when I got up and saw that it was after eight o’clock, I rattled around the old nursery rhyme in my head, editing it as I went.
Mary Annie has grown so fine
She won’t get up to feed the swine
But lies in bed till eight or nine
Lazy Mary Annie!
This week has been another week in the journey I continue to make in life. I think the last months I’ve felt more like I was walking in my Mama’s footsteps than I ever have before. One of the things that is evident to me is that the Mama I remember best was far younger than I am now. And often things come up that hit me squarely in the face that were things of the years when I considered her “old.”
One of the things that has been entirely too reminiscent of her has been this thing of getting accustomed to my partial plate. Mama had a bit more vanity than I do, and she went the route of implants and caps for most of the teeth she lost, but as the years passed, she was forced to go with dentures. They were a sore trial to her, and they hurt, and they didn’t fit right, and they wouldn’t chew the things she wanted them to chew. Lots of times she had sores in her mouth from where they rubbed, and she was dependent on me or someone else to take her to her dentist in Dover to get things adjusted or repaired or replaced. I feel so sorry sometimes when I am dealing with even a minor maladjustment to my partial plate and I think of how she must have felt and how miserable she must have been with the constant lack of satisfaction with her teeth. I wish that I had paid better attention and tried harder to help her get that one issue resolved. I felt like I did run her to Dover a lot, but if she felt the despair in proportion to what I feel, I’m certain that she often wished that either she could just do it herself, or that I would have understood better and done more.
And then there is that issue with her feet. In the last months, the feet that I inherited from her have been giving me a fit! Last week I had a few days when I felt like I couldn’t walk! I have been seeing a specialist, and he had told me on my first visit to his office that my feet were not in any kind of good shape.
“The arthritis in your feet, particularly your left one, is very advanced,” Dr. Menendez said that day in September. “You have some bones in there that are ‘lipping’ and there are calcium deposits and just bad arthritis.” He sat at the end of the table, holding my foot so gently in his hands, like he was willing it to be better somehow. I saw a look in his eye that I decided to read as “compassion” instead of “pity” but I knew that he had seen something on the x-ray that told him that I wasn’t lying when I said that my feet sometimes hurt.
“I don’t feel like I’m in any sort of a crisis right now,” I said to him. “Rather, I’m here for sort of a base line consultation at the advice of Dr. Wilson, and because I have a feeling that in the not too near future, I may need some help. I also wanted to know if what I am doing now is the best thing I can do for them, or if there is something more I could be doing.”
He affirmed all of the things that I had been doing, prescribed a different anti-inflammatory, and told me that if I ever felt like I needed some shots in those feet, I shouldn’t hesitate to call him. He did think that “putting them up whenever I could” might be a good practice to pursue.
I went out of his office that day with a heart that wanted to turn away from this aging process. Dr. Wilson has told me (more frequently than I care to remember) that I’m “a young woman trapped in an old woman’s body.” Excepting that over the years since he started to tell me that, the “young woman” has mutated to being a bit more age appropriate for the body, I’m rather forced to admit. I remember hearing Uncle Johnny talking at one of our family reunions some time before he died. He said, “You know, I’ve always been able to count on this body of mine to pretty much do what I want it to do when I want it to do it. But something has started to change, and this old body is letting me down!” Yepper, I’d say that pretty much catches it. This old body is letting me down.
In the months since that first visit to Dr. Menendez’s office, I’ve had a life so full of happenings that I’ve hardly had time to think about feet. There’s been canning to finish, lima beans to freeze, a beloved sister in law living in our yard, a dishwasher that needed replacing, seven family birthdays and a trip to Ohio, parties for my grandsons, Grammy days with my granddaughter, an ordination for Eldest Son, a new foster baby in the family, Thanksgiving, a Christmas Open House for Certain Man’s office friends, Christmas preparations and shopping and then the usual things with Nettie and Cecilia. Life just hasn’t stopped, and that business about putting my feet up just hasn’t been a happening thing. And slowly I became aware that there was something just not quite right with these crazy feet of mine. And last week, when it was rainy for a few days in a row, and I could barely motor, I called Dr. Menendez’s office and asked if I could come in for shots. The thing that really put me over the top was that the foot that hurt the most was my “good” one. That kinda’ scared me because when my “good knee” went bad on me, it had to be replaced before my “bad” one.
They put me on the schedule for Thursday, a week out, and I hobbled about and got ready for the Christmas Open House, and prayed. And the pain diminished and I felt a whole lot better about things. I started toying with the idea of not going. But then I had a regularly scheduled visit with Dr. Wilson, and decided to ask his advice about whether I should have it done. I thought maybe he would advise against it. However, it was my first visit to him since he had read the x-rays, and he had some strong words to say about it. “Go get the shots,” he said forcefully. “By all means, get them. It’s Christmas, you are going to be on your feet a lot, and it just doesn’t make sense to not get them. I really think you should!”
And so, on Thursday afternoon, I tromped off to Dr. Menendez’s office. I thought I had prepared myself quite muchly for this encounter. I had taken My Sweet Mama to her specialist often for this sort of thing, and I knew that it wasn’t pleasant, but as I sat on that table waiting for the doctor to come in, I was overwhelmed by such a feeling of Déjà vu that it almost took my breath away. My feet stuck out the end of the table, and the veins, purple and prominent made their tracks across them in almost the same pattern that I had seen on Mama’s. And when Dr. Menendez brought his spray for numbing, and sprayed it on my foot while putting a needle into almost the exact same spot that Mama often had hers, the pain from the needle wasn’t even a scosche compared to what was crashing through my heart. My Mama! My Sweet Mama! What she must have felt those many times that she went for these shots, hoping to find relief for the pain that dogged her every step. What had she thought? Did she really think it was going to work this time? Did she think she would spring out of there, able to do all the things that she so longed to do? Did she somehow know that she was fighting a losing battle with time and aging and a body that was “letting her down?”
It was another chapter in my Decembered grief. I missed her terribly in that moment, wished for the chance to talk to her again, and ask her more about what was in her heart. Dr. Menendez put bandaids on the the drops of blood that appeared on the tops of my feet. He smoothed some callouses off the bottom of my feet and reassured me that I would feel better. I chatted with him cheerfully over the pain in my heart and took myself out of the office and into my mini-van and headed home. And then, as I motored towards home, I talked to My Sweet Mama and cried some overdue tears. The years slipped away so quickly.
But my feet are feeling so much better. The weeks ahead hold so much promise. The offspringin’s and the grandchildren are coming home for Christmas and I don’t feel nearly as incapacitated as I did a week ago. I’m looking forward to the celebrations of Joy that are ahead. The message of Christmas is that of incredible hope. A Savior is born! He came to us, in our sorrow, our need, our pain. He came to bring Light and Healing and Life. He came to bring Peace and Joy. All the things that are wrong with this old world will someday be put right by this Precious Christmas Gift.
And that includes bodies that let us down. My Sweet Mama’s feet don’t hurt her anymore. She’s dancing in her brand new feet, and they are beautiful. What a glorious expectation! What a thing to look forward to!
My December Heart gives grateful praise.