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Friday, July 21, 2017

(5a) HOW MANY HUSBANDS WOULD WELCOME SUCH A TRIBE?

             To celebrate the homesteading and give Aliceann a break from cooking, we make six reservations for dinner at Finian’s: Kathie, Frank, Sarah (Kathie’s stepdaughter from her first marriage), Ed, Aliceann, and I.  While Frank and Kathie collect Sarah in Frank’s truck prior to meeting at the restaurant, I pick up Ed and Aliceann.  Sounds simple, and once upon a time it would have been.  Tonight, Aliceann wheels Ed out to the car and helps him grapple with the intricacies of climbing into the passenger seat.  Making myself useful, I put the footrests in the trunk. 
“Oh dear, I forgot my purse,” Aliceann says, heading back to the house.  There sits the wheelchair and there stand I.   Putting one and one together, I see a chance to perform a service for Wife #2.  I have dealt with Kathie’s wheelchair many times—not easily, as I became older, but willingly.  Wheeling Ed’s chair behind the trunk, I fold it, tilt it sideways, and get a good grip on the wheels and handles.  Puffing a little, I manage to raise it as far as my knees, my face becoming purple, my eyes bugging out in disbelief.  It’s like lifting a concrete block.  If I drop it, the way my body is begging me to, I will fracture both legs. We’d need a third wheelchair.
With a superhuman effort, I manage to thrust the concrete block over the edge of the trunk.  One last push—this is like having a baby, for crying out loud—and the delivery is finally accomplished. 
Thank God Aliceann is a strong woman because lifting the wheelchair is arduous, even for her.  And yet this is what she has been doing for months now, when she takes Ed to doctors’ appointments or on other errands.  He keeps expressing his appreciation, saying, “She is very good.  She nags me a lot, but she’s very good.”
We order drinks at Finian’s.  Ed’s is a Margarita, as thick as melted lime sherbet.  He has trouble holding the glass and further difficulty sipping the mixture through a straw.  Aliceann thins it out with his side order of Tequila and adds another straw, but still he makes little progress. 
She cuts Ed’s steak for him.  I surreptitiously monitor his progress, or lack of it, as his fork directs each piece toward his eye, his nose, and finally his mouth, opened wide like a baby bird’s.  He has ordered another Margarita, although he never finished the first one. 
I remember times when I never finished the third, fourth, and fifth martinis that kept popping magically up in front of my plate like crocuses.  Ed, on the other hand, had no difficulty in keeping up with his genial co-carousers.  One Sunday afternoon I couldn’t resist one teensy needle after a bacchanalian Night Before.  I happened to walk into the golf club bar on my way to the ladies lounge when I saw Ed ordering something special from Leo—not a very, very dry martini with two olives, but two aspirin, straight up.  I asked him solicitously if he had a headache.
He looked at me impassively for a moment, then said, “No, I don’t have a headache.  I just like aspirin.”
At dinner, Aliceann wipes Ed’s face from time to time and has to ask the waitress for more napkins.  She wants to put one around his neck, but this is going too far; he won’t allow it.  Wearing a bib at home is one thing, but in a public restaurant, who wouldn’t prefer a stained shirt to looking like a child whose parents think he can’t feed himself properly?
Aliceann says to me when we’re leaving Finian’s, “I told my therapist how resentful I feel at times, and she said that was normal.”  Frank has gone on ahead with Ed, and Sarah is wheeling Kathie.  I say of course it’s normal and human, and I think she is wonderful.
“Barbara, I’m not wonderful.  I’m mean to him, he gets me so upset, I keep losing it.  Then I feel horribly guilty and hate myself and wish I could be different. "
She pauses, then says, “Mother said I had to stick by him, there was no other choice.”  Living with Ed’s illness is clearly not a choice Aliceann ever thought she would have to make.  She had long declared that she couldn’t and wouldn’t ever assume the role of caregiver.  She witnessed Blake in his 70s tenderly nurturing Jayne for three years after her stroke until he woke up one morning and found her lying cold beside him.  Then she saw Grace Porta, also in her 70s, give the same devoted care to Gene year after year, when he, too, became wheelchair-bound.  “I could never do that,” she often said vehemently, not only to me but also to Ed.
While Aliceann is coping better than even she could have dreamed possible, the strain is showing.  She is of the grin and bear it while you count your blessings school.  “I tell him to stop being sorry for himself, he’s alive.  
So that’s the way things stand emotionally.  As far as the apartment is concerned, there have been numerous new achievements.  The shower is installed, the new telephone line and separate heating system are functional, and the walls are covered—literally covered—with Aliceann’s enormous paintings of cats and tigers, a faun huddling in the woods, galloping horses, flagrant nudes, the most flagrant hanging over Ed’s desk, and numerous other subjects that make every room resemble an art gallery.  Every inch of wall space that is not bedecked with paintings boasts shelves displaying Aliceann’s craft projects, including an exquisite little doll house, fascinating to look at and peer into from every angle and graced with a minuscule squirrel climbing the lamppost outside.  Other shelves have glass cases displaying Edward’s collection of antique toy soldiers, lined up for battle and surrounded by artillery.
It consoles Aliceann, I am sure, to be surrounded by so many of the things she has created, but if she unpacks much more of the stuff crammed into the basement, there won’t be room for Ed and his wheelchair.  Worried that her words will seep through the double-dealing fireplace into the new apartment on the other side, Kathie whispers to me, “Mom, can you talk to Aliceann about her furniture?  She keeps bringing things up from the basement and squeezing them into the apartment, and I’m afraid Dad will never be able to maneuver in his wheelchair.”  Right.  So how am I going to convince Aliceann that 10 rooms of furniture into 4 won’t go?
Kathie figures she has already contributed $70,000 to the local economy, and is thankful Frank’s labor is free or the expenditures would have been higher.  Given his own over-extended finances, Ed has not been able to give her more than $5,000 toward the unanticipated costs that have plagued not just the Big Dig in Boston but the Little Project in Westwood.  I hope and pray Ed lives long enough to enjoy the results of her generosity.  And Frank’s generosity.  How many husbands would not only welcome such a tribe, but also labor for months to provide a comfortable refuge?                                                                              
* * *
            I’m not a big fan of cats, especially in large, intrusive numbers. I’m visiting the newcomers in Westwood; Ed’s in the bathroom, and I tell Aliceann to go on with her unpacking; I’ll sit and read the newspaper in the living room.  This room is sort of kiddy-corner (kitty-corner?) from the remodeled garage.  You get to it by going through the entryway that serves both Malley couples.  I settle myself on the sofa at the far end of the living room, and one by one those creatures pussy-foot in and prowl around me. They jump from the coffee table to the sofa, stick their heads firmly between me and the newspaper, and make every effort to convince me they deserve more attention than the op ed page.  Peeking into the kitchen to make sure Aliceann can’t see me, I swat at each visitor with the Help Wanted section.  Not one of them budges during our rendezvous; indeed each smiles at me enigmatically.  I don’t know whether they are saying, “You don’t bother me one bit—I enjoy being fanned on such a hot day!” or, “Wait till later when I tell my mom on you.”
Ed finally wheels out of the bathroom and manages a brave smile of greeting.  That’s what he is, brave, and I’ve told him so.  After leading such an active, exciting life, the highlight of his day is usually when he and Kathie work on the Boston Globe crossword puzzle. 
November 1999                                                                                          
Kathie and Frank drive the Malleys to the B.U. Medical Center for Edward’s first visit with his new neurologist.   He is pleased with Dr. Elias, who attends fully to everything Ed has to say and shows little interest in the elaborations provided by the other family members.  The visit is traumatic, nevertheless, because of the difficulty Ed has with various tests the doctor administers.  Mentally, he does reasonably well—providing his own vital statistics, repeating numbers forward and backward, and recalling major points of a story narrated to him.  Then there’s the balance test.  He staggers a little when Dr. Elias pushes him gently to the right, stumbles a bit when pushed gently to the left, and then nearly falls over backwards, unable to catch himself, when Dr. Elias applies slight pressure to the front of his shoulders.  His difficulty standing and walking is also dramatic, and Aliceann, Kathie, and Frank are all nearly in tears as they watch.  The doctor puts him on a new medication schedule, which may help.
Another trauma for all of us is how fearful Edward has become.  In his heyday, he ran a small manufacturing plant where he was known to employ everybody, including ex-convicts off the streets who couldn’t get a job anywhere else (and who became loyal employees) and men and women of all races who hadn’t been able to break the color barriers elsewhere. 
Now, he is nervous whenever a stranger comes to the house, which is at the end of a fairly long driveway, and somewhat isolated.  Recently a truck clearly marked “Direct TV” pulled into the driveway and a man came to the front door.  Frank can hear Ed and Aliceann wondering aloud who it is and what they should do, so he braves the hallway past the barking dogs and answers the door.  It turns out that the man is looking for the next door neighbors, further up the driveway, but wonders if he can come in and clean off his shoes because he has stepped in a dog mess in front of the house.  Seeing Ed and Aliceann’s anxious expressions, Frank says, “I’m sorry, but you better not come in.”  After the fellow heads down the driveway, Frank follows with some newspapers so he can wipe off his shoes.       
It’s difficult for us to see Edward so apprehensive about everyday events.  This is the man who decided at the age of 47 that he was going to take flying lessons . . .
Cohasset
April 22, 1962
When Ed got home from his flying lesson, I asked him how he’d done on his cross-country.
“I was terrible!  I was supposed to go due west to Southbridge, and I figured the course out all right, 282 degrees, but then I put my flight plan away and as we started out I said to Bruce, `Let’s see, 182 degrees, right?  He just grunted, so off we went in the wrong direction.  You’re supposed to use lakes and super-highways and things like that for landmarks but up there everything looks the same.  After about 20 minutes Bruce gave me a poke and said, `What’s that over there?’  I looked and I said, `If it’s a lake, it’s the biggest one I ever saw.’  He said he would guess it was probably either the Atlantic or the Pacific Ocean.  He let me fly all the way to Fall River without saying a word, the stinker.  I said, `Bruce, you remind me of the fellow who kept letting his son fall on his head and ended up saying, don’t trust nobody.’  I was mad at him for allowing me to waste all that time.”
“He probably figures you’ll do better if you learn these things the hard way.  He’s not always going to be up there holding your hand and saying, `Er, Ed, I hate to mention this but you’re a hundred degrees off course.’”
“I know, I know.  I suppose that’s his theory.  But you have no idea how much harder it is figuring out a course on a plane than on a boat, where you can spread the charts all over the floor.  You’re squidged up in that cramped little space with the charts up around your neck somewhere, and at the same time as you’re jotting down figures, you’re trying to control the plane which is going upwards and downwards and sideways.”
I must have looked pained, because he grinned and said, “Am I making you feel any more enthusiastic about going up with me this summer?”
“I can hardly wait,” I said.  “Why don’t you invite that nice Bruce to come along, too?”

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