Tuesday, April 2, 2013

Mercury fillings takes over you, little by little. Mad hatter disease. Suddenly, it's here, without warning.



Enter Mad-Hatter disease.

The hallucination becomes real. It's frightening. It's skewed logic.

It's 1999 and strange things are happening. To the Sears card, the IRS, and poor ex-husband Dur and the "faggot" incident, something is brewing. But what? 

I was a reporter for The Daily Courier and the Trib in a former life, before the stroke. Five editorial members trekked upstairs to solve the problems...local editoral pieces; school board, low water pressure and ever-present sewage.

I'm making conversation about a gay guy in Mt. Pleasant, a "faggot".

"What a faggot," I exclaimed. Who said that? Me?

 A faggot? It's an pejorative. Where did it come from? In my brain? How in God's name? I like gay guys; they're neat, intellectual and empathic. ("Not that there is anything wrong with that...",I love Seinfeld)  I'm a right-wing liberal; a tree-hugging, save the owls and my philosophy is let and let live. My cohorts are amazed and rolling their eyes. I'm throughly confused. My brain is confused. It's the mercury fillings?

It's a late-spring evening and the tomatoes, zucchini and the peppers are doing quite well. The picnic table's octagon and Dur and I are conversing. The ladybugs, crickets and even the mosquitoes seemed to say it's spring. All of sudden, I blew up. (See? No rhyme or reason.)

I proceeded to tell Dur your daughter and husband were infiltrating the Ku Klux Klan; yes, big hoods, crossings ablaze and chic, polyester, robes. Indeed, I was whacked. Paranoid thoughts? He was dumbfounded. They never heard of KKK, last he heard. Durene was a legal secretary and Bob works in the auto industry, both from Michigan. Nice, nice people. It's the mercury fillings.

The bank called with a courtesy call. I'm underfunded. I wrote a check for Sears to the tune of $250. Somehow, I transposed the two-fifty for Sears for $60 dollars. Sad, but true. I called Dad immediately, explained the situation and Dad loaned the money to the bank. Good ol' Dad. How did I miss that?

The same as the Internal Revenue Service. I transposed the numbers for a $100 dollars, to $200 at tax time. The IRS called me. The IRS, by the way, couldn't be nicer. How did I miss that?

I fixed the checkbook.

Dur was gone June 1999. He fixed a tumbler Chivas Regal, packed his guns (Dur was a hunter) and off he went to wilds of Michigan. He fired up the Ram pick-up-truck and he never looked back. Wise man. Of course he died, clutching his chest, in 2007. 

Meanwhile, I had a catastrophic stroke, December 1999, and that's another story.

Thanks to the dentist in 2006, mercury fillings are gone. No Afib and no panic attacks.
The funky flashes of deja' vous, paranoid behavior and "someone's out to get me" are utterly gone. Again, I'm not a psychologist. I'm sane, (sort of). I'm 68 years old and I can breathe again with no remorse.

It's the mercury fillings...or not? You be the judge.

Fear and loathing in my dentist's office. Not really. The dentist extracted mercury fillings in '05. No more Afib!

Ouch.

I was a weird child.

It's 1947. I slept an a crib in a fetal position, with the left ring-finger and the big digit, two fingers sucking away to oblivion. I'm 68, and my gnarled integer, the big digit, lives even today, crooked. I twisted my brown hair, stick-straight, forming a smooth curlycue with my right hand. I was 6. Hey, I'm no psychiatrist...

My Mom was agoraphobic, just a little. Tucked inside were notes, for the butcher, the fruit market and the electric bill for Allison News. I could read quite well. Off I go, bills in my pocket and bags of stuff  would appear on the table. Out of breath, I lived in a second-floor apartment with stairs yet, I counted the change of Mom. I was a skinny tot.

Mom's affliction with agoraphobia, coincidentally, buried Grandpap, my grandpap, in 1962. She was devastated. She never left the house; dark glasses, the blinds pulled down and quasi-died, essentially. I was a teen-ager. I was an only child of Josephine and Charles Yezek.  Jo died of a whopping aneurysm in 1971 and Charlie died of old age in 2001, respectively, 72 and 87. Charlie's a plumber; he is disheveled and looks like an unmade bed. My dad is amiable drunkard and he never missed a day's work...and he's smart.  An odd family, but I loved my parents.

I wear Mom's wedding band. It's platinum and gold, for the symbol of an psychotic union of unbalanced marriage. Jo and Charley spent 50 years, sometimes wonderful and sometimes, well, not. All because of spite. Mom and Dad were cremated.
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I never owned a toothbrush.  Mom has no teeth to speak of.  I was four. I remember Mom and I walked to the bank building on Main St., where the dentist's office is.  
"Go to the bank building and sit there," she ordered. "I'll be back."
A half and hour later, bloody and toothless and the dentist pulled out the teeth. She threw the teeth away, in the garbage. Never mind the fittings, swollen gums and the pain, eventually subsided with the smooth-fitting dentures. Quite simply, "They hurt," said Mom. Just like a child. Dad caved, of course.  Mom was gumless to this day. 
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"Open wide," the doctor said.
Dr. William Robinson lives across the street from my house College Avenue. I was 12 years old and I have tonsillitis. Mom gives me the note for the doctor for authorization.  Clearly agoraphobic, my Mom is afraid of the doctor's office.
The tonsillitis is inflamed, red and the pus-like abscesses were sore. The plaque and tartar and caries from my teeth were odorous.
"Don't you ever brush?" said the doctor, wincing.  
Blankly, "No."
The doctor prescribes the medication for tonsillitis. He rips the pad of paper and a note.  "Give this to your Mom. You need a dentist."
My Mom looked in the window, she peeked out from the curtains. I explained that the doctor detected a rank odor. "Here," indicating.
She read the note. Mom peered at the caries.  
"It's just baby teeth,''  she said, incredulous. Two incisors, the two front teeth, were in bad repair. The holes were showing in my tongue. 

Mom turned to the Yellow Pages for "Dentist" and scheduled the appointment. I was in the eighth grade and I have soft teeth as a teenager. It's 1960. 

The essential instruments, the whirring of the drill, the copious amounts of Novocain, the canines and molars are decaying and marginal. The drill worked over-time and the dentist studies the cavities. Filling after filling, tooth after tooth, the drill cleaned out the cavities and silver fillings intruded insidiously. Little silver fillings of mercury, amalgam fillings. I didn't know. Nobody knew. Well, the dentists, apparently.

"Here. For you," the assistant said, handing a foreign substance known as a toothbrush.  I had gleaming teeth. The incisors looked fine to me and I have fresh, minty breath.
Conservatively, the fillings in my teeth were 40 to 50 percent. That's a lot of mercury. The silver amalgams are actually half mercury, 50%. Silver fillings contain a mix of zinc, copper and tin. It's deadly. The mercury is second only by plutonium. I called in 2009 for my dental records in 1960, a long time ago, but the old records were gone.  Seven years is the maximum.
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Little silver fillings.

I was about 19 or 20 . My dentist-to-be, Jack, was an acquaintance and familiar friend.  Jack's wife and I became riding buddies at California State College (aka California University in Pennsylvania, Cal U). Kathy and I were commuters. Jack finished dental school. 

Meanwhile, I was married to Frank Yankowski (ex-ex-ex-husband), had a baby, Jeff, and the teeth were rank. I called Jack and the copious root canals, amalgams and bridgework were in order. The new bridgework, eight teeth all told, left and right on my two front teeth.  

Over time, my mouth had a whiff of odor, a metallic taste. I overheard the dentist say to the assistant, "God. She has bad breath."

I chewed gum and Tic Tac for my breath. A funky bad metallic taste was there. Your the dentist. Do something. But they never did. 
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It was a summer day in June on a Sunday in Latrobe, Pa.  I was drinking, slightly; one or two Rolling Rock's.  My cohort, Marie Bodziak from Volkswagen, threw a party.  I was in alone in the car. I careened up a hill and crashed my Volkswagen Rabbit.  It was a major car-crash.  I fractured my teeth at the jaw-line, and split my lip.  Major stitches, inside and out.  I used a stabilizer and the teeth were hanging on a thread. It was not pretty. I was 35.
I was in Latrobe Hospital (Excela) emergency room and Dr. Ted Lazzaro is a plastic surgeon (Aestique Medical Center & Spa in Greensburg, Pa.). Right time, right circumstance.  My chin healed well and left side, my molar, premolar, canine and incisor were loose. Very loose.
I removed the stabilizer from my other dentist, and sent me to a prosthodontist for missing teeth in Greensburg. I remember yelping alot. Twenty-four hours later, my lymph glands were hurting in the throat. A week passed. I could see the nodules.  I called Dr. Lazzaro, not a prosthodontist, and he diagnosed cellulitis.
I blew up with cellulitis.  My throat closed up and my neck exploded.  I was one sick girl. Dr. Lazzaro ordered Keflex, an antibiotic at 2000 mg. and it subsided, finally.
Consequentially, I am afraid to go to a dentist.  A little bit of "Mad Hatter's" from mercury?
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August 14, 1982, Ozzie Schlueter (ex-ex-husband) and I were married. My ever-present teeth were wobbly, at best.  Ozzie and I transferred to Volkswagen Fort Worth, Texas and I searched for a dentist. My next appointment was in Azle, Texas.  Reluctantly, I told the dentist about cellulitis and my neck. I'm terrified to go to a dentist.   Unconcerned, the dentist built a bridge to the left molar on down. Five teeth all told.  The molar had a silver cap on it,  three teeth were silver for stability and the canine and incisor as well.
I still have the bridgework years ago. I saved it. The bridgework came loose. It's heavy and dense and suspicious for mercury or nickel. I emailed four industrial labs, but they only analyze enviromental samples.  I'm still looking. 
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Oz and I split up at 1985 and he is at large in Fort Worth. I traveled to Michigan; Troy,  Romeo, New Haven, Washington and Macomb Township. I moved a lot in Michigan. I worked in Chrysler Motors  building cars, among other things.
I visited the dentist office only once in Romeo, probably 1986. Filling out the questionnaire, "yes", I'm afraid and apprehensive, "yes" I had a funky taste in my mouth. A metallic taste. Yuck. The dentist advised mouthwash. Unconcerned, the dentist filled the tooth.
By this time, I have Afib, heart-stopping, a wish-a-was-dead, pounding, hammering on my chest. Yes, I had myriad physicians; the ER doc, family practice and  cardiologists.  The doctors were stumped; no chest pains, hammering palpitations and then, miraculously, it stopped...and then it started again. Diagnosis: Take a pill. Any pill. I was anxious and fearful and chewed Tic Tac non-stop.
To 1990, I never went to the dentist. The novelist Joseph Heller said it's a Catch-22.  I have the fantasy of choice to the dentist's office, but averting any real choice.  What if I died in the dentist chair from Afib? That will not be good.
I have a new symptom in my mouth. It's a inflamed canine, left lower jaw, deep in the root, from my accident. Three times a year, conservatively, I used Keflex to ease the pain.  The medication worked, 3 times a day for 10 days and the doctor (any old doctor) of choice wrote a script. And, repeat the process for 15 years. I used a lot of Keflex.
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Charley Yezek , my  dad, was in Shady Side Hospital in Pittsburgh for myriad surgeries.  Dur Roller and I were married in '95.  In 1997, I talked to doctors about pacemakers, prostrate cancer and Dilantin levels. Dad was fine, but he had dementia in 2001. He eventually died. 
My husband Dur, "Something's is wrong with your mouth. There's pus coming out of it." he announced. I looked in Charley's mirror in the bathroom.
"Eww," I said.
Sure enough, the canine was festering. I tried peroxide, hot salt water rinses and mouthwash. I used the medication, but the Keflex doesn't work any more.

Exit to Shady Side Hospital. Now what?
Charley wanted to kill me Fourth of July, 1999. Not good. It's the Alzheimer's; demented, confused and paranoid, I called Highlands Hospital Mental Health in Connellsville,  Pa. via ambulance. It was agonizing. Charley went to the personal care home in Mt. Pleasant, Pa.

Dur divorced in June, 1999.
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Charley Yezek

Come September, the mouth was killing me. My teeth are excruciating. Seventeen years at the dentist is a long time. (Remember Jack?) I called the dentist, and scheduled the appointment, but  I'm skittish.  I cancelled, fearful of the Afib. Besides, something is wrong for the insurance. Pesky divorce.  I rinsed and gargled and, finally, after two weeks it waned.

December 20, 1999 had a stroke.  Frick Hospital (Excela) in Mt. Pleasant and Allegheny General in Pittsburgh are murky at best.  I had violent Afib and my teeth were unbearably painful. I couldn't speak or walk. One-word sentences. Weird.

Enter Heathsouth, a rehab facility in Monroeville, Pa. My right arm and leg were dead. The doctor, every blessed morning with out fail, took vital signs. It was extremely early and the dead of winter. He had a congenial smile, fluffy, fuzzy hair, albeit a receding hair line, and thick horn-rimmed glasses.
He flicked the light switch on my bed. The stethoscope was frigid.
"Good morning.  How are you?  Breathe please?"
"Teeth," I indicating the lower jaw.
"Excuse me?"
Teeth? See? The teeth are inflamed, red and infectious.
"Huh," he inspected the teeth, "you need a dentist."
The nurses and nurse's aide brought mouthwash, floss and Plax. I gargled vigorously and often. The metallic taste was stale and reeking.
The doctors scheduled two appointments, consultants for Aetna, for the dentists in Monroeville, one after the other. Two dentists vied over xray's and general well-being.  The van is warm and toasty in the bleak, frigid January. The nurses bundled me up in this snowbound winter's day.  I'm overjoyed from fresh, brisk, clean air. My nose was happy. Needless to say, I'm wheel-chair bound. The dentist accepted, probably for insurance purposes.
Next door to Forbes Regional Health Center, I had rampant Afib. The Healthsouth was custodial care, Forbes Regional had an emergency room.  The ambulance took me. Numerous times, four times in the ER, I had heart-stopping Afib.  I was admitted for the third time for dental surgery and Healthsouth for Afib..
So, a gloomy Saturday morning, six o'clock yet, I had surgery.  I looked at my window, it's sleeting in Monroeville.  Well, that's just wonderful.
The postoperative diagnosis was an mandibular abscess, septic tooth and supraventricular tachycardia and Coumadin/heparin therapy.  I had intravenous sedation and the silver fillings, at least ten, stayed put.
Heathsouth didn't want me back. The fourth time was the charm. The ambulance took me to the ER, yet again, for erratic beats.  The Forbes Regional said  "the patient will not be accepted back to Healthsouth..." forever, I presume. The discharge summary physician suggested Lopresser; it's beta-blocker and slows the heart. Take a pill; any pill.
I rolled my eyes. I was speechless and aphasic, of course. The beta-blocker doesn't work. Trust me.
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Harmon House was a manse in Mt. Pleasant, Pa. a sprawling edifice for geriatrics. It's a nursing home. Me. How did I get here? I'm 52, an indentured by my wheel chair..
Additional to the rest home, there is an Assisted Living Center, 60 suites, for the seniors.  Amber House is top-notch.
The ambulance driver pulled up to the kitchen. The paramedics wheeled me in on a gurney and an ancient soul with vacant eyes, looked at me quizzically. This is not good. She's 90, at least. She and I are roomies.
The nurses' aides and the nurses are wonderful; kind, generous and caring. The housekeepers, with flatus, feces and spewed retching, are constantly on the move, and disinfecting at the ready. The housekeepers are meticulous.
That said, I couldn't wait to get out of here. Five long months.
The array of drugs I have are many; Lopresser, Calan (three times a day), the insidious warfarin, Lanoxin, Zocor, and a stool softener. I'm drugged up, to say the least.
Today, metoprolol (Lopressor), morning and evening, 25 mg., aspirin, krill oil, D-3 (vitamins). Statins were not  for me, terrible joint pains. I look like an little old lady. My cholesterol was 275. Yeah, it's high. I have "benign blood pressure".
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My cardiologist was 12 years old, at least, and neckties with Loony Tunes, specifically, the Tasmanian Devil. Actually, quite competent with my heart muscle. The doctor prescribed the patch. The deliberate heart slows down to a standstill.
In the morning, there's something wrong.  
"Heart? No!" I vehemently indicating the patch from the heart. The slow-paced heart, the halting heart, was crawling.
I ripped the patch off. The nurses understood and cardiologist knew. The heart guy discontinued the patch.
Meanwhile, my teeth hurt.
One month after the septic tooth from Forbes Health, the teeth are painful and hurting. The social worker called, a completely new dentists by now, out of Greensburg and Mt. Pleasant.  In Mt. Pleasant, the dentist was booked solid. They catered to children anyway. The dentist in Greensburg took a full set of x-rays and diagnosed the problem.
"You have an infection, a rampant infection, in your gums and teeth," the dentist concluded. Do you think?
My social worker and I scheduled an appointment for next week. Full of apprehension, I'm worried about Afib. Next week came and went, I fretted about violent throbbing.  My appointment is today in the afternoon. 
Out of the blue, Linda Urban Soltis, Pat DiPadova Hall (now deceased) and Lois Ford came for a visit. They're Volkswagen buddies and company closed it's doors in the eighties.  Jeffrey came as well, and discussed my infected teeth. I nodded and smiled with vigor, and I was an absolute wordless mute. Once a upon a time, I was sarcastic, witty and scathing. Not any more.
"Maybe the stroke caused this," said Linda to Jeff.
Bingo.  Maybe it is. 
The girls left and Jeffrey had to work. It's mid-afternoon. Where's the dentist?  I putted down to the nurses' stations in my wheel chair.
"Dentist? Van? What?" I explained.
There's a mix-up with the insurance paperwork, the nurse said.
I was enormously relieved, sort of. No palpitations with the chair. Of course, I  was hurting. Palpitations versus rampant infections. Hmm. No contest. The drugs stuporous and benign at the same time; the hypertensive medication were groggy and kind to me. I felt calm and irritated. I was a wreck. I'm drugged up and infectious. God is laughing.
No mention of the dentist's office. I moved to Amber House in June and July, custodial care, and Jeff finally got a care-giver for AccessAbilties from Westmoreland County. December till July;  I'm, at long last, going home.
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I missed the psychotic Johann, the German shepherd. Jeff had a coworker who got the dog.  My next-door neighbor, Dorothy Lloyd, fed the cats. She's 80+ and she's the Energizer Bunny. I loved Dorothy. (She died at 93, Feb. 13, 2010) Jeff helped also, with fresh water, Friskies food and cleaning the feline litter box. Seven months is a long time. The cats are overjoyed.
I have a caregiver and no more wheel chair. I'm walking with a quad-cane. It's 2000.
Aunt Mary Ann (she is my Mom's sister) and uncle Knip Knipple saw me many times at Harmon House. My caregiver Carla is stable, smart and 40 years old. I have halting sentences and aphasia. Carla and Mary Ann coordinated the trip to the dentist's office. Carla called the dentist, a new dentist Dr. Thomas Gretz (Senior and Junior), in Scottdale, Pa. and scheduled the next appointment.
Knip is agitator, a kidder and stirs up trouble. He is demented, in a good way.  The early fog mist, over the mountain, was thick.  Mary Ann and Knip turned into the driveway in my house.
"Are you nervous about the dentist? said Mary Ann.
Are you kidding me? I have gulped down Lopressor, Calan and Lanoxin, in the morning and the evening, thank you very much.  I was nonplus, slow-witted and silly.  I'm in the zone. The populous is over-medicated, in my opinion.
"Yes," I lied. The verdict is the same; an infection, the dentist said. Could be mercury fillings?
Carla Ware is my caregiver for five years and she's a good friend and chum. Carla's Dad had leukemia for two years. No family history to speak of and dad was failing.  Dad died, of course. She and I perused the internet for leukemia, toxic waste, polluted arsenic, mercury and onerous bad stuff.  Could it be mercury?
-------

And then the light came on.
Of course. Mercury fillings, silver amalgams in my teeth. I remember, thank God. My Mom used to say, "polluted".  Somewhere, something the recesses of my little brain were humming. Years ago, 60 Minutes had a segment about mercury and the repercussions of mercury. Mercury can interfere with dental and periodontal disease, allergies, GI disorders, palpitations, high and low blood pressure and central nervous system. Mercury is lethal and poisonous to all cells.

Dentist's know this.  I'm not a physician, or a dentist, or a science guy.  I obtained medical records for the hospital. Additionally, the Food and Drug Administration in December 14-15, 2010, discussed mercury fillings in pregnant women, young children and alternative methods for tooth decay. 

My son Jeff is 46 now. Every spring and fall the dreaded eczema appears.  Every so often the obsessive-compulsive disorder rears it's grave head. The actions repetitive, ritualistic and compulsive. Mercury fillings passed to the pregnant women, to the placenta, to the baby. Yes, me and Jeffrey. Jeff never had eczema and OCD.  Ever.  

My granddaughter Jordan is a reed thin sweetie, with angular features and long lines.  She's 14. She eats like a truck driver, craves sugar and she loves fruit.  She inherited eczema;  wisps of eczema from elbows and knees, ever so faint, in the springtime.
Jordan and Jeff

Fayette Transportation carted me, actually a bus, back and forth to the dentist in Scottdale, four long years worth. 
I couldn't speak at all with the stroke. Well, awkward sentences in 2005.  
But I was deep cleaned from the hygienist and had four apicoectomies (an infected tooth).  Yes, palpitations, violent palpitations in the dentist chair, no rhyme or reason.  I had two, numerous teeth from the mandible to the jaw and a dead tooth.

"Pull them," I said, emphatically. "Hurts."
"Pull them out?," said the dentist, disbelieving, "all the way out?  The teeth are fine."
"Pull them.  Mercury?" I said.  "Metallic?"
Of course, I couldn't speak a lick, but in my mind I thought:  Do you know it hurts? The teeth are infected, to be sure, poisonous, toxic, noxious teeth are damaged.  The teeth are the problem. The metallic taste is the problem. Mercury fillings is the problem.  Get them out.
I waited for authorization from the insurance group.
A crazy lady with a stroke. The dentist complied. Gently.
The dentist pulled the teeth '05. The stench in my mouth was unbearable. One by one, the dental forceps extracted the teeth. Forty years is a long time. Cell by cell, organ by organ, took it's toll. The long, slow, process is over and I was overjoyed. The blood coagulated and dentist placed the dentures in my mouth.
Every month for six-months, the swollen dentures were better and better. No swollen gums, hot-spots and tumescent facial features. The metallic taste was gone instantly and the dentures were healing.  No pain to speak of. 

Two years, more or less, the Afib and the panic attacks gone. (Mercury stay's for a long, long time.) After the stroke, I had at least once-a-week for Afib; pounding, heart-stopping, life-or-death Afib for at least 20 years. I took the metoprolol (Lopressor); and it doesn't help. Yeah, it's a beta-blocker. Yeah, it reduces the heart-rate. I get that.
Everybody's looking for a quick-fix. Let the body heal itself.

Thursday, February 28, 2013

About the Author - I had a catastrophic stroke 16 years ago. I couldn't talk. For seven years, I pieced-out words.


That's an old picture.


I'm Michaline Yezek Yankowski Schlueter-Schlueter (it's a long story) Roller, thrice divorced and my son is Jeffrey Yankowski. No alimony, thank you very much.  All three guys are the "black sheep", for what it's worth; all three guys were strong and exceedingly powerful mothers. Chercher la mere, it seems.  Frank Yankowski and Dur Roller died of a heart attack, respectively at 57 and 69. Ozzie Schlueter is at large in Beaver Falls, Pa. 

I dropped out at 19 from Maryland Medical Secretary School at Hagerstown. Md. in 1965. I dropped a lot of things, actually, for California State Teacher's College from Pennsylvania, a stint at University of Pittsburgh of Greensburg, Chrysler Institute from  Mount Pleasant, Michigan, Tarrant Junior College at Volkswagen-Fort Worth, Westmoreland County Community College ---a host of colleges. I never finished.

I worked as a medical secretary for two physicians, respectively, one and the other.  I was fired; too long lunch-breaks and never showing up. Doctors hate that. I was a transcriber for medical records in Frick Hospital and Latrobe Hospital in Pennsylvania.  February 1976, Volkswagen Manufacturing came, in New Stanton, Pa. I worked as secretary in personnel, moved up to personnel services-salaried, benefits analyst, and benefits coordinator.

VW-Ft. Worth, Texas, is a teeny hamlet of the plant.  I worked a secretary of personnel and it  was a colorless job. I graduated to Quality Control as a clerk, but it didn't work out.

I worked Chrysler Motors in Sterling Heights, Michigan, as a secretary, and a production foreman, body-in-white.  I built cars, the Sundance and Shadow; little silver cars in the body shop. I was exhausted and exhilarated at the same time.  I loved the body shop. The plant is a swiss watch, something is always going on, somewhere.

I foundered over job after job, always looking around the next corner.  I had a short attention span.  Scotch and vodka is my libation, the good kind---Chivas and Absolute.  The alcoholism numbed me. And Afib, heart-stopping, hammering-in-my-chest, no rhyme or reason for 20 years. Yes, I had myriad physicians.

My stint of jobs were all over the map; Production Control - Queen of E&O (excess and obsolete), Communications - a half-bad pretty-good speechwriter, (pithy was a good thing), Dealer Liaison for the Plant - Eight people traveled nationwide, concerned about the dealer and the plant. It was a Public Relations job. Chrysler cut back with budget cuts and disbanded the dealer liaison. I was Safety and Security, a trio of people dealing with, well, safety and security. It was a silly job and with nothing to do.

I took a buy-out for Chrysler and never looked back.

I shoveled excrement for a living, specifically, horse manure. Dur owns standard bred racing horses. Florida is muggy, sweltering and white-hot, even in the winter time.  However, I love the ocean. 

Oh, I almost forgot.  I worked as cub reporter, notwithstanding 40 years old.  I was terrible, although what, who, where, how and when came easily. I had good editor.  The Village Voice was the newspaper, a throw-a-way, in Richmond, MI. and The Advisor and Source was a throw-a-way in Shelby Township, MI.  I was a personal column and editorial writer for the Source.

Fast forward in 1997, I worked as a reporter for The Daily Courier, in Pennsylvania.  I won an Associated Press (Penna.) for editorial writing in 1999, six-months before the stroke. On Christmas Eve, Dec. 24, 1999 in Allegheny General Hospital I lay in Afib tachycardia as fast as 220 beats per minute and a stroke to boot. Twenty-twenty insight; I believe it's mercury fillings.

In 1995, I summarized depositions for lawyers from Interim Services in Fort Lauderdale and worked as a transcriptionist for a doctor and hospital for radiology. I worked at home for the doctor and hospital. I continued to Pennsylvania, worked as a depo writer and transcriptionist, completely free-lance.

I love the spoken word; the nuances, the inflection, and the connotations.  It's ironic, God's little joke. I couldn't talk, in 1999.  For seven years, I peaced out words. One word answers; food, haircut, water, Doritos, bed, thanks, please, etc. My mind was totally black, a blank slate.

The dentist extracted the in '05, fifty years of mercury fillings is a god-awful thing. And the Afib is completely gone, nyet, vamoose, nada. Twenty years of Afib. Yikes. Slowly but surely, I'm better.  Mercury fillings is beyond belief. I know.

I can talk again. I can converse again. I have a website. Who knew? Probably, it's fate. 

Spooky, huh?

I'm not a physician, or a dentist, or a science guy.  A stroke survivor? Yes. I know what I know.

Wednesday, January 30, 2013

A Very Scaly Baby - Eczema. Jeff had golf-ball eyes crusted with ooze, profound itching and scaly skin with strips of baby feet peeled away with dermis.

Jordan, Brandy, Jeff

I had a stroke in 1999 and I believe it's mercury fillings.

By now, Frank and I were married, and Jeffrey is in the womb. It was 1969, and I was exceedingly pregnant, with Neil Armstrong orbiting on the moon in July 20 and a gallon of gas was $.35 cents.

I was ten days late, cranky and the feet is a distant  memory protruding over my immense belly.  Jeffrey was 8 lb. 1 oz., he howled all the time, and the nurses said he never closed his eyes. He was an alert baby, born August 12. 

I had a strange taste in my mouth, probably the anesthetic.  No big deal.  That's not good for baby, I reasoned. Bad breath is not good.  I gargled and rinsed and brushed my teeth. But the odor was there; kind of a metallic funky taste.

Mercury was there, lurking. I didn't know it at the time. I was 21 years old and I never heard of mercury. The mercury passes to the fetus and the placenta; hence eczema.  It's toxic, every organ, for example, the brain, kidneys, heart and skin, it stays there. My mouth is a vessel, teeming with mercury and approximately, 60% amalgam fillings.  That's a lot of mercury.

At two weeks, Jeff was a skinny baby. He was a bottle baby and regurgitated half as much milk.  The mouth, eyes and ears were crusted and he cried all the time. I called Dr. Pascal Spino, Greensburg, Pa.  Waiting is a chore, sometimes hours on end in the waiting room. The children were colicky, croupy, cranky and mom's were exhausted.  Dr. Spino is the best pediatrician in southwestern Pennsylvania. He worked tirelessly.
"The baby has eczema," Dr. Spino said, "see the elbow's and knees?," indicating.
Sure enough, the eczema is everywhere.

"But I don't understand. My husband and I never had eczema," I said.

Frank was illegitimate, so he never had a dad. The family history was sketchy, but the oozing, scaling  and weeping of eczema was nil.
Jeffrey had a milk allergy, Dr. Spino said.  Jeff's eyes, ears and mouth were crusted, and the knees and elbows are inflamed.  I mixed some Prosobee, is a soy-base product, and waited.  Nothing.  I called Dr. Spino yet again.
"It's been two weeks. The eczema is worse," I explained to the nurse.

Dr. Spino called Dr. Martin Murcek, an allergist in Greensburg, Pa., and he explained the situation; namely, a very scaly baby.
Jeff had golf-ball eyes crusted with ooze, profound itching and scaly skin with strips of baby feet peeled away with dermis. Not pretty.  He was two.  The itching was so bad, he wore mittens I gave him to ease the pain.  Kenalog cream helped, but it was a corticosteroid. He had a gamete of allergies, from trees, grasses, dust mites and milk.
 
Jeff is 46 now.  He graduated from Penn State University at State College and he is in Operations Management.  He works for McDonald's Corporation for 20 years and every spring and fall the dreaded eczema appears.  Every so often the obsessive-compulsive disorder rears it's grave head. The actions repetitive, ritualistic and compulsive.

Jordan and Jeff

My granddaughter Jordan is a reed thin sweetie, with angular features and long lines.  She's 14. She eats like a truck driver, craves sugar and she loves fruit.  She inherited eczema;  wisps of eczema from elbows and knees, ever so faint, in the springtime.

Jeff's married to Brandy, August 4, 2011.  Brandy's daughter, Tia, is 9 years old, and she's is a nurse for the Veteran's Clinic in Uniontown, Pa.

Frank (recently deceased) and I never had eczema. The family history indicates no eczema. Genetic? I don't know.

A Side Note: On October 3, 2014, Jeff went to the doctors in Morgantown, W.Va. for an allergy shot. It's routine. Jeffrey blew up like balloon. Anaphylactic shock. The nurses were amazing; three EpiPens, Jeff's blood pressure was nonexistent and, finally, was stable. The doctor said "No shots."

It's all connected.

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Moosehead Gingerbread





I had a stroke in 1999 and I worked at Chrysler Motors in Michigan in 1985. I built cars for a living and I was a supervisor in the body shop. Sparks flew, no less. The little silver cars I assembled were the Sundance and Shadow.

At 5 AM, full of coffee and manic from the caffeine, I deposited $.50 cents for The Daily News for Detroit. I fired up the car and flung the newspaper. Romeo, MI to Sterling Heights Assembly Plant is a 1/2 hour trek, and the supervisors walk the plant for innocuous reasons for a half-an-hour, major breakdowns, the almighty gloves and no-shows from assembly workers. It's an unspoken rule from general supervisors. I'm ready to work at 6 AM.

At 5:55 AM, I hurried the newspaper; the horoscope is paramount (I'm a Leo) and the I love food section, specifically, Robin Mather. Two-minutes till six. Female supervisors wore neckties, an insane practice, and knotted the tie. One-minute. I loved the plant. I was exhilarated and exhausted at the same time. I spied Moosehead Gingerbread from the food section. It's 6 o'clock.

Baking is fun on the week-end, and the rigid time schedule for the plant leaves me tuckered. Just breathe. Moosehead gingerbread (as known as Robin Mather, from The Fannie Farmer Baking Book by Marion Cunningham, Knopf, 1984) with molasses, cinnamon and dark brown sugar; the warm feeling of fall, or anytime.


2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1 1/2 teaspoon powdered ginger
1/4 teaspoon cloves
1/2 teaspoon dry mustard
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
8 tablespoons Smart Balance Light Buttery Spread
1/2 dark brown sugar
1/2 cup of Egg Beaters (2 eggs) 
1 cup molasses 
1 cup boiling water

I substituted butter for Smart Balance and Egg Beaters (1/2 cup).

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Land 'o Lakes 50% butter, every nook and cranny, and flour an 8-inch square pan.

Combine the flour, baking soda, salt, cinnamon, ginger, cloves, mustard and ground black pepper, and sift on waxed paper. Set aside.

Put the Smart Balance Light Buttery Spread and dark brown sugar in a mixing bowl and beat until smooth. Add Egg Beaters and beat well, then beat in the molasses.

Add the boiling water and the combined dry ingredients and beat until the batter is smooth.

Pour into the prepared pan and bake for 35 to 45 minutes (use your microwave timer), or until a toothpick (or a knife) inserted in the center comes out clean. Remove from the oven and let cool in the pan for 5 minutes, then onto a rack (or, a clean tea towel).

Serve toasty-warm with applesauce, soy vanilla ice cream and decadent whipped cream.

Yum.

Yummy Paczki-Lite



Yummo.

Fifty years ago, I was a tot, poking around Mom's kitchen. With yeast, sugar and lukewarm milk, the rising dough covered the bowl. It's warm, tasty and delicious and I couldn't wait. Scrawled on the back of the invoice pad (Dad was a plumber), Mom had a paczki recipe.

It was Fat Tuesday, just before Lent and no sweets of any kind, not even Juicy Fruit gum. The sweet dough packed full of fruit filling, powdered sugar glaze and fried lard lipids; I was a happy little kid. Fast-forward fifty years? I learned.

The old-time paczki is a heart-stopping, artery-clogging and begging-for-an-angioplasty. Who knew? Before you count your lipids, consider this.  Paczki-light.

3 packets (x1/4 oz. ) active dry yeast granules
1 cup fat-free milk, lukewarm
1 cup flour
Let it rest for 1/2 hour

1 1/4 cup Egg Beaters
1/2 cup sugar
1 stick margarine, melted
2 teaspoons of vanilla
1 teaspoon of salt
2 1/2 cups of flour
Let it rest for 1 hour

Jelly, (strawberry, apple, apricot)

Peanut or vegetable oil

Step 1:  I use three packets x 1/4 oz. active dry yeast granules,1 cup fat-free milk (Calories: 80), lukewarm.  Mix well and the yeast is frothy.  Use 1 cup of flour.  Mix well. Let it rest for 1/2 an hour.

Step 2:  Punch out the yeast mixture.

Step 3:  Add 1 1/4 cup Egg Beaters. (Note:  Shell eggs, 210 mg. of cholesterol, 75 calories per egg.)  Egg Beaters:  0 mg. cholesterol, 35 calories.

Step 4:  Use a 1/2 cup of sugar.  (Sugar: 385 calories.)

Step 5:  2 teaspoon of vanilla.  1 teaspoon of salt.

Step 6:  1 stick of Blue Bonnet (Calories 720, cholesterol 0%) margarine (any oleomargarine), melted. (Note:  1 stick butter, salted, calories 810, cholesterol 243 mg.). 

Step 7:  2 1/2 cups flour.  Mix well.

Step 8:  Let it rise again, double the size, 45 minutes. 

Step 9:  Punch it down, yet again.

Step 10:  Transfer the mixture to a floured board, use a rolling pin 1/2 inch thick.  Use a biscuit cutter or water glass.  Sprinkle flour.

Step 11:  Place a dollop of jelly: strawberry, black raspberry or apple. Whatever. One spoonful is plenty.  Pinch edges over the filling and be sure it's sealed. Use tennis-ball paczki, please.

Step 12:  Let it rest for 20 minutes.

Step 13:  Use peanut oil or veggie oil, medium-high, (48 fl. oz., about 10 minutes), screaming hot.  It's a rolling boil when a piece of dough rises up and floats.  Use a big slotted spoon and be careful. Two or three minutes, (use your judgement), turn over. Use an absorbent paper towels.

Step 14:  Sprinkle a sugar or confection's sugar.

Step 15:  Yields 15-20 paczki.

Useless fact:  "Plant bud" or "pak";  it comes from a derivative of the Polish language, hence, paczki.

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

It's a mix of sadness, humor, my grieving son, my anxious Dad, black-suited mortician with no sense of humor and the ethereal event on the mirror.

Say Goodbye to Grandma

(Mom (Jo) and me.) 

As I turned away from the mirror, something caught my eye.  

I snapped back to see what it was. There, returning my gaze, was a familiar face.  It was more of an image, actually:  an expression, a tilt of the head, a flash of the eyes.  Not my face, but my mother's face, translucently superimposed, for lack of a better description, over my own.  Like a hologram.  No alarm, no sense of foreboding, no feeling that seeing two faces in the mirror was the slightest bit unusual.

The hour, I would remember later, was shortly after noon. I exited the ladies' room and returned to my desk.  It's 1991.

My telephone rang at about three o'clock, and at first I didn't recognize the voice on the other end, but then I realized it was Jeff.  My college senior son, whom I thought had headed back to Penn State for a week-end of beer, women and general rowdiness, called.  His voice sounded strange until it suddenly occurred to me that he was choking back tears.

His Grandma, my mother, he related through spastic sobs, had suffered either a heart attack or a stroke. He and Dad had been with her.  Death tried its best strike instantaneously, but following a call to 911 the paramedics appeared, dutifully wielding drug-filling syringes, shock paddles, and an artificial air supply.  They quickly transported her to the hospital, only a few minutes away.  Unfortunately, between the time Dad found her and the time help arrived, her brain had been without oxygen for nearly ten minutes.  But even so, in the emergency room, with my father and son pacing about the waiting room, resuscitative measures persisted on this seventy-four-year old woman, an insulin-dependent diabetic with a history of congestive heart failure and aortic aneurysm.

An ER doctor appeared.  Success.  They had a pulse.  Sort of.  She was on her way to Intensive Care.

So, on that sunny midsummer afternoon, my octogenarian father had found his wife sitting before the television in her favorite chair.  Her head was flung backward.  Her mouth and eyes popped wide open, no doubt in astonishment at her own sudden death.  He had witnessed the paramedics' furtive work, and followed her ambulance to to the hospital, where he paced and hoped.  And now,  his mate of fifty years was being rolled to Intensive Care.  She was unresponsive to pain stimulus, her pupils were fixed and non-reactive, and she had little or no blood pressure, but the doctors had done their job, and her heart was pumping, more or less, with the fragile, thready, non-rhythm of an electrically-induced pulse.  She was breathing with the aid of a ventilator, and clinically, they said, alive.  Another miracle of modern medicine.
My Dad, Charlie.

My family lived in the Pittsburgh area, six hours away by car.  I could drive, or I could spend two hours getting to Metro airport on a Friday night, sit on a runaway for an hour, fly for an hour, and have Jeff picked me up the airport for the hours drive to my small home town.  Simple math, coupled with my abject terror of airplanes, convinced me I should drive.  But first, I had to pack.
Mom always said she wanted to be cremated with no viewing.   She insisted she did not want to subject her family to the weeping, wailing. and general circus atmosphere of a three-day post-mortem ritual, but I've always suspected she simply cringed at the prospect of being mourned over by an odd assortment of people for 72 hours, in a situation where a stranger had taken posthumous control of her hair and make-up, possibly using frosted blue eye shadow.  I lean toward cremation for much the same reason.  That, and my paralyzing claustrophobia.

But I wasn't sure how my dad would feel about cremation.  We'd never discussed it as a family.  I hung some suits and dresses in the back of my car, just in case I was called upon to host a wake.

Before I left home, I contacted my mother's treating physician, not to be confused with the miracle-worker in the emergency room.  He confirmed my fears:  oxygen-deprived, unresponsive, not breathing on her own, likely to fail during the night.  He gentle but firm, offering sympathy without false hope.  I appreciated his candor.  He also suggested that should she have another "cardiac episode" the kindest thing to do would be to let her go.  I agreed.  Then I drove east.

My home town hadn't changed much in the years since I'd escaped:  the same old bank high on a hill, presiding over Main Street from its corner lookout, the same  monument standing sentry in the middle of town, wreaking havoc on out-of-town drivers who huddled around it defensively, never sure who had the right-of-way (nobody did), the same guys I'd slapped at the drive-in back in high school, perched on the same bar stools they claimed the year I left for college.  Now though, they had lower bellies and higher hair lines.  But as I turned down Washington Street at one A.M., the peeling paint of my parents' house was barely visible in the darkness.  My mother had always left the porch light burning for me, no matter how late I got it.  So I guess something had changed after all.

The Intensive Care nurses had been alerted that I would be arriving well after midnight, and that I should admitted.  Dad I rang the requisite buzzer well  and then proceeded down the dark, narrow hall to Mom's cubicle.  The monitoring equipment flashed like the cockpit of some futuristic space craft.  The withering bedridden body tethered by plastic tubing, swollen, purple tongue displaced by a hose forcing what were most probably unwanted breaths, was not the mother who drew the blinds and read to me during thunderstorms so that (and she) wouldn't be afraid.  That person was gone.

I spoke in hushed tones with the ICU nurse, about the massively distended abdomen (internal hemorrhage?), about the blood in the urine, about lines on the monitor becoming flatter with each heart beat.  Dad, in the meantime, was balanced on the edge of a chair, hair uncombed, hands folded between his knees, listening to our words and alternating worried glances between his wife and the numbers flashing on the digital gauges.

"So, how's her blood pressure?" he asked, looking up hopefully.

On the blood pressure monitor, where numbers should have been, there was a digital question mark.  He either did not see this, or did not wish to.  It was time to take him home.  I told the nurses I would be back shortly to spend the night.

Dad spoke very softly on the way to the elevator.  He shuffled across the cold tile in a pair of old terry cloth slippers.  He had forgotten to change into his shoes.  "She's gone, isn't she?"  he asked.

I put my arm across his rounded shoulders.  He is barely as tall as I am, which is practically elfin, but his hunched posture and his hung head diminished him even further.  "She wants to be,"  I said.  "And if she isn't by tomorrow," I continued, "I think we have to help her."

When Dad and I returned from the hospital, I settled him onto the couch with a cup of warm milk, which he fortified with a hefty splash of Jack Daniels.  I coaxed him to try and sleep a little.  There was nothing he could do.  Jeff was in the living room, waiting for us.

"So how's Grandma?"

"Not good," I replied.  "I'm going back up to spend the night.  Do you want to come?"

He did, and we returned to Intensive Care.  The blips on monitor were slightly flatter.  There was still a question mark where the blood pressure reading should have been.  Mum was gasping for ragged breaths, as if to say, "Okay, if you want me to try, I'll try."  With each failed attempt, a yellow warning light on the ventilator announced a mechanical breath instead of a natural one.  The yellow flashed were becoming more frequent and closer together.  The nurse offered us chairs.  We accepted.  Jeffrey was in tears and inconsolable.  His Grandma had been like a mother to him.  More like a mother, I had to admit, for most of life, than his own mother.
Jeff

"You should have seen her,"  he said.  "I knew she was dead.  They knew she was dead.  Why didn't they just leave her alone?  Look at her!  She's hate this!"

I agreed that she would.  I also promised my grieving child that if she didn't leave us during the night, all this equipment would be disconnected as soon as we could reach her doctor.

"I just never though Grandma would die,"  he said, sniffling.  "She's always been there."

Everyone handles grief differently, I suppose, and Jeff's way was to blurt.  So he blurted.  Never raising his eyes from the floor, he related how, if it weren't for Grandma, he'd probably be in prison, or at the very least a drug rehab center.  He reminded me how I, when he was 14, left him in the custody of the father and moved to Texas with Husband #2, (recently divorced also).  He pointed out that while he was growing up I spent untold hours pursuing a pointless career which had ultimately resulted in my being laid off from an unrewarding automotive job in Detroit in the dead of winter.  But through it all, there was always Grandma.

I listened and said nothing.  The ventilator whooshed.  The monitors blipped.  He continued.

"You know how I'm always telling you how I want to run a corporation and buy a BMW?  You know how important money is to me, right?"

Unfortunately, I did.

"Well, " he continued, wiping away tears, "I'd give all that up if I could just bring her back.  You know, I never ever told her that I loved her."

"I never did either, Jeff."

"Well, you should have!  I should have!  And now it's too late."

The nurse tiptoed in and related that the patient's "complexes were changing."  That translated to flatter lines on the monitors.  Big surprise.

"Do you want us to push IV meds.?"  she asked.

I shook my head.

"If she goes into arrest, do you want us to try to convert her?"

"No,"  I said.  "Just let her go."

"Please,"  said Jeff.

"Do you want stay with her now?"  the nurse said.  "Some families do, but some would rather not be there when..."  She trailed off.

Nobody would say the word "death."  But nobody had to.  It was all around us and long overdue.

She slipped away when we least expected it.  The conversation had grown lighter, regressing to a discussion of football, a subject of which I know nothing, and wish to know even less.  Jeff was relating how an individual named Bubby Brister had bought him a beer in a local bar.

"Who's he?"

My son shook his head, amazed at my ignorance, and blew his nose.

"It's the Steelers' quarterback, Ma."

"No kidding?"  I retorted.  "Wow.  How long has Bradshaw been gone?"

He groaned.

A figure appeared behind us, hands folded and resting on the front of her white uniform in a very proper and professional manner, waited until we noticed her.

"She's gone." the figure said softly.

Sure enough, she was.  Flat lines were everywhere.  The yellow light flashed in vain.

I had been holding her hand as best I could throughout the night, in spite of the tape and tubing and the needles in her veins.  I stood beside her now and brushed the hair back from her forehead.  Even at 74, Mom had the softest, smoothest skin.  She had always attributed this to daily use of Noxema, which she foisted on me as a teenager.  I think Mom just had good genes.  I gently kissed her cheek, and moved away from the bed.

"Say goodbye to Grandma," I said to my son.

He did, through many tears, and a final peck on the forehead.  We left the hospital.

Jeff said, "I can't believe she's gone. She's really gone." Yes, rice with milk, (Jeff loved that.), soothing lullabies, (Born to Lose, by Ray Charles, weird lullabies) and Mom's favorite chair from morning till night; she slept in that chair, sitcom after sitcom.

"Everybody dies, Jeffrey." Absolutely everybody. News flash.

Let me give you some advice:  Never, under any circumstances, go see anybody lying on a slab in the preparation of a morgue.  Especially if it's someone you wish to remember in a context not associated with the House of Usher.  I speak from experience.

Dad not only agreed with cremation, he was adamant about granting her that last wish.  We were seated in the conference area of the local mortuary, attending to details and reciting information for the endless paper trail required before any departed person is permitted by the bureaucracy to be legally dead.  A somber young woman in a black suit and a Rolex wrote in fluid black lines with a fountain pen.

"A mass?"  No, just a simple memorial service.

"Embalming?"  No, just cremation.

"Flowers?"  No flowers.  Memorial contributions to the Humane Society.

"Excuse me?" said the black suit.

The Humane Society.  You know?  Animals.

My mother had lovingly fed every stray that wandered into town, and her bread-and-seed-strewn backyard was legendary among the local bird population.

"An urn?"  No.  She wanted her ashes scattered.

"Scattered?  Where, exactly?"

We weren't sure.  Somewhere in the mountains.  Actually, she had wanted them scattered from an airplane, a small aircraft.  Her brother, an aircraft mechanic, would be at the funeral.  I planned on asking him to enlist one of his pilot buddies to do this.

"I'm afraid you'll need special permission to do that," said the black suit, temporarily resting its pen.  "You see, it would constitute pollution."

I've always had a talent for laughing hysterically at inappropriate times.  I did not disappoint myself.  When I calmed down, I continued.

"Let me get this straight.  The federal government permits...even encourages...mammoth corporations to spew toxic waste into the water and air on a daily basis, annihilating entire ecosystems in the name of profit, and the remains of one tiny little white-haired lady constitutes pollution?  Give me a break."

The black suit responded with an icy, vacuous glare.  She glanced at her Rolex and finalized the paperwork with minimal comment.  The cremation would take place on the morning of the memorial service.  She would personally deliver the remains in a cardboard box, and that would be the end of her involvement.

There was still one more thing to do.

Since Dad was at home when Mom passed, he hadn't had the opportunity to say goodbye.  He wanted to go down to the prep room and do this now.  I wanted nothing less than to accompany him.  I also didn't want him to go down there alone and pass out.  Or worse.  I went.

As we approached her, I felt only calm, clinical detachment, observing how quickly the human body, lacking prompt infusion of man-made preservatives, begins to deteriorate when the soul leaves it.  She was covered with a sheet up to her chin.  Her head was supported from behind and held upright by some sort of U-shaped brace.  Her mouth had been sealed shut and her hair brushed back from her face.  She appeared to have shrunken considerably in the last several hours.  Her skin had the color and texture of cement beginning to dry:  mottled gray and dirty white.  I didn't want to touch her, but I had to.  The skin felt as it appeared.

Dad leaned over and kissed her, and then, for the first time, broke down and cried.  I took his arm and led him back up the stairs.  That was the only time I had ever seen my father kiss my mother.

The black suit walked us out to the front porch and said goodbye, but not before pointing out the benefits of my father's pre-planning his own cremation, making the arrangements now, and locking in the cost to hedge against inflation.  I wondered how much the price of matches could go up.

The arrangements were made on Saturday, and service wasn't to be held until Monday morning.  We spent Sunday accepting condolences from friends and relatives, looking through old photos and generally cleaning up the house, which had deteriorated badly in the past few years, partly because of Mom's failing health and partly, I think, because of apathy.  So I filled a bucket with hot, soapy water and Murphy's and went to work.  I remembered when I was a tot, our small apartment virtually shone.  I used to follow Mom around with a dust cloth every day to help her clean. and when she thought I wasn't looking, she would go back and re-do what I had done.

Over the years, I've tried to use that early negative experience to justify my being the worst housekeeper who ever hid pizza crumbs and enormous tufts of cat hair behind the couch until some far-off cleaning day.  But I think the truth lies a little closer to the surface.  I concur wholeheartedly with sentiment expressed by my second husband.  Quite possibly the most astute thing he ever said, was spoken as he flung a wet dishtowel into a basket containing my best silk blouses.  "This domestic crud really sucks," he declared.  That was, I think, the only thing we ever agreed on.

From Sunday morning, until Andy Rooney closed Sixty Minutes, I scrubbed and Windexed.  Dad did laundry.  Jeff carried garbage bags out to the fence.  Somehow, we got through the day.

The morning of the service dawned sunny and hot.  I arrived at the mortuary slightly ahead of everyone else, as I wanted to place a small vase of rosebuds; three red ones, one from each of us, and a photograph.  While ferreting through desk drawers on Sunday afternoon, we had found a picture of Mother taken when she was about 19 years old.  She was wearing spike heels and a slim skirt and sweater, dark. curly hair tumbling around her face, leaning against the porch of an old ramshackle house that was home to her family and the previous generation as well.  She looked gorgeous.  I knew at once that was how she would like to be remembered.  I also wished for a moment that I had been born with my mother's looks instead of my father's brainy mind.

Although open to the public, the service was sparsely attended.  Long-lost relatives drifted in.  Mom had very few friends.  She had been agoraphobic before anybody had a name for it, barely leaving the house except for medical reasons, for at least 15 years prior to the death.  She wore dark sunglasses and closed blinds.  Those at the funeral who were not family, were, for the most part, business acquaintances of my Dad, who had been the town plumber for 30 years.

Jeffrey had been dating the same girl for nearly five years.  Becky sprang from an enormous, excruciatingly Catholic family, which had produced eight offspring.  I finally had the opportunity to meet some of her siblings at the funeral, as well as her mother, who had been raising children while I had been raising hell. Becky introduced me to two brothers and two sisters, impeccably groomed, poised and polite.  I extended a welcoming hand to the mother, an ex-cheerleader and homecoming queen who had married her high school sweetheart and then began to reproduce with alarming frequency.  My son was clearly comfortable surrounded by the manner of family of which, he felt, he had been deprived. (Uncle Bill)

As the small crowd milled, I sought out Uncle Bill, my mother's baby brother, wiry, white-haired, bearded and fifty, although he could subtract at least ten years from his age and no one would question him.  I asked him if he would take Mom for a final plane ride over the mountains.  He said nothing would make him happier, and we agreed to confine our plans to no one in the Environmental Protection Agency.  Dad and I would deliver the remains the next evening.

The black suit, true to her word, appeared at our door shortly after noon the following day, carrying a white cardboard box about the size of a half-gallon of milk.  We placed on the dining room table, where she spent the rest of the afternoon while I grocery shopped, wrote thank-you notes and, finally, showered and changed for the trip to see her brother.  Jeff popped in on the way to his summer pizza-delivery job.

"What's in the box?" he asked absently-mindedly.

"Grandma," I said.  "We're taking her to Uncle Bill's.  Do you want to go?"

Jeff rolls his eyes and then he declined.  He had to work, probably grateful that the pizza-delivery with fast-food to rude people with big dogs; this, compared to a deceased grandma packaged in a corrugated container, was probably downright refreshing.

We were ready to leave.  Dad was clearly uncomfortable.

"Where should we put it...her?" he asked.

"Oh for Pete's sake," I groused.  "Put her on your lap."

He did.

Uncle Bill still lived in the house where he was born, in a minuscule town inhabited almost exclusively by Polish Catholics.  It was also the the town where my mother grew up.  We took her for one last ride down Main Street.  We crossed the Everson Bridge, traversing the railroad gorge which still supported the splintered remains of the house where she was born, teetering on a creek bank; the house in the picture I had taken to the funeral.  The family had had moved uptown to Maple Street just a few years before Mom and Dad got married.

We passed the Polish Club, where, every Friday night, my grandpap would send her home from the dance at 10:00 PM sharp. "Go home, Jo" he would order.  "Nice girls are home by now!"  She would obediently hike up the hill to the rhythm of polka-band music in the background.

We passed the market where my grandmother had shopped on the last Saturday morning of her life.  She was only 63; far too young.  After carrying stuffed, paper grocery bags up the steep incline to her home, she had simply sat down in a chair and succumbed to a massive stroke.  The date was April 12, 1958 and she was obese.  The family doctor, some 30 years ago, appeared with his little black bag, and quietly pronounced her dead in the family parlor.  This was decades before anyone in the medical community had discovered the direct relationship between false hopes and huge profits.  Hers, like her daughter's, was an abrupt departure, but my grandma passed quickly, with peace and with dignity.

On the final leg of the trip to Maple Street, we circled the cemetery where Grandma and Grandpap had been laid to rest.  They died of stroke.

Uncle Bill was waiting for us.  We left his sister in his care. He assured us she would spend the night on the dresser beside him, comfortable for one last time in her family home, and that he would telephone us when the ashes had been dispersed.

The call came at about 7:00 AM the following morning, as I was packing for the trip back to Michigan.

"She's gone," he said.

Uncle Bill and pilot friend, both with an apparent wanton disregard for the environment, had honored the last wish of a fine lady.

The sun had just begun to rise over the mountains, he related, the moist mist of dawn still covered the lush, rolling land, and everything was absolutely quiet, save for the invasive whine of their engine.  They flew to a mountain ridge which remained. amazingly, uninhabited by anything but wildlife, without so much as a utility pole to mar the pristine landscape.  Then he slid aside the window of the compact Cessna, opened the box, and let her go.

Dad helped me with my luggage and walked me to my car.  We chattered about superficial things, safe things, but the conversation soon came back to Mother; more practical items this time, like insurance, legalities, and death certificates.  He said he knew that the time of was officially listed at 3:12 AM, July 13, 1991, when she expired in the hospital, but in his mind he knew she had actually left us the previous afternoon, in her living room, when he found her a few minutes after noon.

A few minutes in afternoon?  The time I saw the face in the mirror.  I suddenly realized she had said goodbye to me.

My father and I said our goodbyes, too.  I gave him a hug, and not wanting to make the same mistake with both parents, I said, for the first time in the life, "I love you, Dad."  He considered it, and shuffled off toward the house to spend his first night alone in more than fifty tears.

I started my car.  I glanced in my rear view mirror, and saw that the sun was now high in the sky, radiant over the mountain range to the east.  She was out there, somewhere, free and at peace, and scattered among the birds and animals she had loved so much.

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