The Old Roue

As promised, here’s yet another essay written by my late grandmother. I recently found a stack of her essays, written when she was in her 80′s.

The Old Roue

By Jeanne Menconi

Reviewing the Medicare eligibility of elderly patients in nursing homes took me into all those facilities in our five local counties every week. I came to know the patients who regularly sat near the desks where I took my notes in each facility. My favorite among these was Jock, a dapper youngster of 94, at Walnut Whitney Convalescent Hospital.

No wheelchair for him. He sat on a straight chair, always in a fresh white long-sleeved shirt, his black eyes snapping as he swiveled about, hailing each person who approached. His vigorous white hair, neatly barbered, gleamed under the neon lights; he had a jolly quip for everyone. I had often thought it was a pity he was confined to a facility, but apparently he’d outlived all his family and had no choice.

One day, however, arriving there late in the day, I saw Jock had a visitor: a large shambling man stood dejectedly in front of him, holding two bags: a gallon just of wine showed at the top of one; the other was stuffed with several freshly laundered white shirts. Jock gestured impatiently for him to set the bags down and began haranguing him.

“When are you going to get me out of this place?” he demanded. “I’m tired of being cooped up. Take me home!” He was strident and impatient.

Yes, I thought, why are you leaving your poor father isolated all these debilitated people? He’s bored to death! But I kept still and pretended to be immersed in my note-taking. When I finished I started down the long hall to the front door, almost in step with the dejected visitor. I couldn’t resist:

“Is that your dad?” I asked.

Turning his anguished face to me, he said, “Yes, and he’s really mad at me because I won’t take him home.”

And well he might, you ungrateful son! I thought to myself. Aloud, I said only, “A good question. Why don’t you take him out of here?”

He turned a tortured face to me.

“Lady,” he groaned, “He’s been married eight times! If I let him out, he’ll just get married again. I’m seventy-six years old. I’m too old to go through all that again!”

Backpacks, a History

This is surly teen Lilia, trying to act like she doesn’t give a f*ck about how her backpack is styled.

When I was in early elementary school (late 1980s), it was cool to have a backpack. Because then you were all grown up like the big kids.

In late elementary school (early 1990s), it was fashionable to wear your backpack using only one shoulder strap. Only serious nerds used both.

In middle school (mid1990s), wearing both straps was back in. But only if you wore your backpack very low. And, sometimes, the straps would slip through the little plastic thingies and suddenly your backpack would drop right off. Very embarrassing.

In high school (late 1990s), I can’t remember because I was too busy getting high.

In college (early 2000s), everything switched to the messenger bag. This was the worst. The large strap between my boobs was degrading.

Today, I wear a CamelBak. I use both shoulder straps and regularly clip the cross-strap over my chest for extra support. There’s nothing fashionable about this.

This concludes the history of backpacks.

In Shape

This bitchy trail didn’t hurt me. Because I’m in shape.

I did it. I’m in shape.

At least, I think I am.

Last night, we hiked Black Mountain in Cave Creek. I’d never hiked Black Mountain before and I’ll admit I wasn’t looking forward to it. My research showed that the hike was very similar to the Piestewa Peak summit trail which is about 1,200 feet in elevation gain in a mere 1.2-mile climb.

In other words, this is what I usually refer to as a “bitchy” trail.

There are times when I love a quick butt-kicking hike. But, last night, I wasn’t in the mood. At all.

To my surprise, however, I buzzed right up the craggy, jagged trail of rock. There was hardly a reprieve from the constant incline and even though I got all sweaty and breathy, the effort didn’t cause that deep, burning, cardio pain I used to get on similar trails.

So, today, I’m using my breezy stroll up Black Mountain as permission to officially declare myself in shape.

I like this feeling.

Especially because I know damn well that AZ mountains will soon put me back in my place…I know I’m just one difficult hike away from feeling like a flabby couch potato again.

Turkish Evil Eye

Turkish Evil Eyes offer protection.

If you know me, you may recognize the trinkets pictured above.

The Turkish Evil Eye is a protective amulet that diverts evil intentions away from the carrier.

I first discovered them 17 years ago, during a trip to Turkey.

This was my very first experience with international travel. It took over 24 hours  for my mother and I to get to our final destination in Tarsus, where my aunt, a high school math teacher, had taken residence as a part of a year-long international teaching program.

I’d love to say that I took full advantage of this adventure by relishing in the exotic flavors of Turkish cooking, boldly exploring the Bazaars to purchase fine textiles, or gaining new knowledge about an Islamic country caught between tradition and Westernization.

All roads lead to Rome. Including this one. Me, in Turkey, standing on a Roman road and not properly appreciating its historic significance.

That’s totally not how I experienced the trip. I was annoyed by the funky-tasting food, too shy to interact with locals, and I didn’t really get what it meant to be a Muslim. I didn’t care, either. Because I was 14.

For whatever reason, however, I specifically remembered all the Turkish Evil Eyes. These things were everywhere. Walk into a market, it’s on the front door. Talk to a woman, she’s wearing tiny blue eyes on a necklace. Get into a taxi, you’ll see a giant glass eye on the front dash.

When I was 16 and back in the states, a dear friend of mine gave me a large Turkish Evil Eye. He was a protective dude by nature and he said the gift was meant to keep me safe when he wasn’t around. I carried it in my purse until I was 22, when it finally broke.

After I replaced my own amulet, I started handing these things out like candy. I gave one to my oldest brother before he left for his tour in Afghanistan. I insisted Lou hang one from the rear view mirror when he went on tour with his band. Each person in my family has one, I’ve given an eye to most of my friends, and one is hanging on our front door right now.

I guess this makes me out to be ultra-paranoid and superstitious. I prefer to consider myself “hyper-vigilant”.

But, really, I’m just sentimental. In the last ten years, both my aunt and my aforementioned friend tragically passed away.

A Turkish Evil Eye offers more than protection. It’s my connection.

Saved in the Desert

As promised, here’s yet another essay written by my late grandmother. I recently found a stack of her essays, written when she was in her 80′s. Here’s one about my grandfather, Leslie, and how he saved his wife in the desert.

Jeanne Menconi…many years before the incident in the desert occurred.

SAVED IN THE DESERT

By Jeanne Menconi

Returning from our daughter’s outdoor wedding near Salt Lake City, Les and I were traversing that huge part of Utah which has no redeeming features at all. The divided highway ribbons into the distance; an occasional bit of scrub growth relieves the uninspired terrain; the light is dull, but we know that outside our cool Oldsmobile capsule it’s a hot, hot day.

I was at the wheel — more an indication of Les’s utter boredom with the landscape than a testimonial to my driving skills. We were alone in the universe and I was making good time. Suddenly, looming out of the heat waves, a car rocketed toward us. As it passed, I groaned to Les, “A Highway Patrolman!” In my rear view mirror I saw him execute a neat, swift u-turn across the divider. No longer alone in the universe, I slowed onto the shoulder preparing to face my fate.

Citation book in hand, he recorded my information. Courteously, he asked me to step out of the car; Les unfolded himself on the passenger side. Still the gentleman, the officer invited me into his air conditioned cruiser. As I slid across the smooth vinyl seat, it came to me in a flash what all this courtesy was about: mounted on his dashboard was a little electronic screen with flashing numerals; in discreet green flickered: “54 – 54 – 54″. Above these cool numbers, in fiery red, were the damning digits: “72 – 72 – 72″. I’d never seen a radar screen before, but I caught the significance at once: I was cooked. The speed limit at the time was 55.

My nemesis slid silently behind the wheel. Les-the-quick-witted, head bent in the doorway and one foot still on the pavement, said conversationally, “Oh, you have radar. We can’t use it in California.”

I could almost see the antennae rising next to the patrolman’s ears as he said, “You traffic?”

My hero replied, laconically, “Nope. Narcotics.”

Women’s lib went out the window and I began a stealthy slide under the dashboard. From my invisible perch, I listened to the two professionals establish rapport.

The officer explained that the 55 limit was dangerous in this barren landscape, as drivers tended to fall asleep at the wheel. The trouble was, he continued, that the slower speed was mandated by the federal government to conserve energy, and federal funds for the state depend on cooperation in maintaining this limit. The two colleagues bonded in their feelings about bureaucracy and stupid laws. I held my breath; my name was already on a ticket. Was it too late? My heart sank as he filled out the ticket and gave it, not to me, but to his pal Les.

As Les swung the car out onto the highway to resume our journey, he handed me the ticket: a $5 fine for wasting energy.

Hiking Consequences

For the sake of public safety, photographs of subject should only be taken from a distance.

I did the math today. So far, I’ve hiked 51.3 miles for my hiking book…and that accounts for only 1/4 of the hikes on my list.

So, to celebrate the first 50+ miles, here’s a nice little list of all the consequences involved:

Consequence #1: Hooves for Feet

Pedicures are on hold for the rest of 2012. It’s a battle already lost. After week #1, my soft, girly, summer feet were quickly replaced by scaly, harsh hooves. I accept this.

Consequence #2: Breakin’ Out

I’m constantly slathering my face with sunblock. On the trail, I sweat, dribble water all over my face, and my skin is infiltrated with this desert city’s filthy air. This all makes for some seriously clogged pores. It’s bad, people.

Consequence #3: Ouch

I’m sore all the time. Sure, I stretch. But with five hikes per week, there’s no escape from the general stiffness that comes with the accrued mileage.

Consequence #4: I’m Hungry

The good news is, I’m burning calories so I get to eat, eat, eat. The bad news is, if I haven’t gone to the grocery store and there’s no proper food in the house, I get to starve, starve, starve. Very inconvenient.

Consequence #5: General Lack of Cuteness

In the past three weeks, I have attended a scant four occasions for which I styled my hair and makeup. I’m not talking about nice occasions like weddings or dinners at fancy restaurants. I’m strictly referring to occasions in which I find it necessary to employ the minimal preparations to increase my physical attractiveness (e.g. I blow dry my bangs, cover my pimples with makeup, put on mascara, and find an outfit that doesn’t include elastic waist-banded pants).

A Cat’s Story

Whiskers liked this box. Look at her paw…so cute.

Lately, my family and I have been talking a lot about Whiskers for some reason.

Whiskers joined the Menconi family when I was three years old. She and her sister, Fritzie, came from the same litter. Fritzie was tragically hit by a car a number of years later. Whiskers, however, lived on.

I was 20 years old when she passed away.

Over the 17 years in which she roamed my mother’s house and neighborhood, she became a constant figure in our family life.

As a youngster, she gracefully accepted rough prodding from our uncoordinated hands. We involved Whiskers in countless imagination games, constantly trapped her under clothes hampers, and relentlessly cuddled her. One summer, my older brothers created an event dubbed the Cat Olympics. We still have a photo of her wearing the gold medal necklace.

Once, she disappeared for an entire week. While we were visiting my dad in San Diego, my mother called to tell us that she had returned. The family rejoiced.

A short while later, Whiskers had three kittens. We convinced our mother to keep all of them. Whiskers was an incredible mother. The three kittens followed close behind her in a row…just like little ducklings. She ended up outliving all of her children.

This family photo never gets old. Whiskers put up with this tomfoolery. She’s the cat on the left.

As years passed, her meow turned into a crackling cry. She lost most of her teeth. Her too-long claws got stuck in the carpet. And once, when my mother gingerly dropped her from two feet above the floor, she landed smack on her back.

“Oh,” my mom sheepishly remarked, “I guess we can’t drop Whiskers anymore.”

She also drooled. One time she fell asleep on top of the television and the screen was soon smeared with the dribbling lines of her stinking saliva.

But she was a class act all the way. She purred when we brushed her. She allowed my mother to clip her toenails. And when my niece arrived, our geriatric cat generously allowed little baby hands to grab at her arthritic body.

Finally, Whiskers stopped eating and drinking. The vet said her organs were shutting down.

The day of her scheduled passing, I drove to my mother’s house on my lunch break to say goodbye. I found her next to the couch, curled up and peacefully sleeping. She looked satisfied as I stroked her back, scratched her chin, and kissed her little cat face.

My oldest brother was with her during her final moments at the vet’s office. We buried her in my mother’s back yard, next to her sister and children.

The other day, I found the photo of Whiskers in her favorite box. When I showed it to my mom and brother, both their faces lit up.

17 years with a family. That’s a cat’s story.