Saturday, June 27, 2015

Afternoon Jaunt to Southern Maine Coast

One of the perks of my job is working only a half day on Fridays during the summer. And there’s no better way to enjoy that perk than with a camera in hand and a destination in mind.

On a recent Friday, my afternoon destination included Old Orchard Beach.

The last time I visited that coastal town was in the dead of winter. By chance, I happened to photograph a surfer walking along the shoreline just beyond a snow-covered beach. What's unique about that scene is how the design of his surfboard resembles the reflection of the pier pilings in the standing water.

My intent on this recent June afternoon was to photograph that same pier from a different vantage point in the summertime.

After snapping the photo above, I took a stroll on the pier and spotted one of the most notorious Caribbean buccaneers from the 1600s. Sir Henry Morgan, a.k.a. "Captain Morgan."

As I scanned the beach from my perch on the pier, a nearby Ferris wheel had me reminiscing about a vacation at the Jersey shore years ago. I can’t recall the name of the town, but I do remember riding a rollercoaster at the boardwalk and eating typical beach fare.

Ferris wheel at Old Orchard Beach, Maine
Talking about food, is there any better way to take in a beach scene than by relaxing on the deck of an oceanfront eatery? A fruity beverage and a tasty lobster roll hit the spot.

After that late lunch, I hopped in my car to head back home. But first, I decided to do a little sightseeing in the town of South Portland. Spring Point Ledge Light, which resembles a spark plug, opened in 1897 at the shoreline of Fort Preble. Both the lighthouse and fort provided a perfect photo opportunity.

Spring Point Ledge Light on Casco Bay - South Portland, Maine

Rampart of Fort Preble - South Portland, Maine.
The fort was a bit player in the War of 1812 
and saw action during the Civil War.

View through a cannon port at Fort Preble - South Portland, Maine
However, a pesky drone had a different idea for a photo op. The antagonist kept hovering overhead. I assumed it was capturing video footage that included me. Using the same method of intimidation, I pointed my camera at the little booger. Immediately, it flew away!

Well, I’ll sign off for now and leave you with an image of a summertime portal.

Saco, Maine

Until next time…

Saturday, June 6, 2015

My Mom's Twin

Last Monday, I spent time with my Aunt Joan. Her white hair stood straight up like the eccentric scientist's in Back to the Future. I knew it would be the last day I would see her alive. She has cancer.
Aunt Joan, my mom's twin
This dear aunt, who is also my godmother, sat in her wheelchair as I pushed it toward the dining room at her Alzheimer's residence in Florida. After parking her at a table, I sat down so we could visit while waiting for her meal to arrive.

As we chatted, another resident walked up and told me I was in her chair. Her demeanor conveyed she wanted me to find another place to sit. The assistant helping that lady chuckled quietly behind her back. So, I got up and moved Aunt Joan to another table, which evidently was her normal seating spot.

The other lady's assistant nodded, thanking me in silence for squelching what could have been a not-so-pretty confrontation.

After awhile, my aunt's regular tablemate joined us. She introduced herself as Jean. I told her that was my mom's name.

Pointing to Aunt Joan, I said, "Her twin sister."

During the 30 minutes we were sitting at the table, Jean told me several times that her husband worked for General Electric and traveled a lot. She spoke about him as if he was still employed by that big corporation, but I sensed he died awhile ago. She also asked me over and over where I worked and lived. At one point during Jean's inquisition, my aunt gave her the evil eye.

It finally dawned on me that all the people in the dining room repeated their same memories to whoever was seated next to them.

Some time had passed when Aunt Joan and I looked at each other and smiled. Her smile was the one I remember from my youth. That look of endearment that always let me know she loved me, unconditionally.

Finally, a server placed my aunt's dinner plate on the table in front of her.

She took one bite of her Philly cheesesteak and said, "That tastes awful!" Pushing aside the sandwich, she tried some salad instead. After a few nibbles, she announced she wanted to go to sleep.

"Now!" she demanded.

So, I wheeled her back to her living space. Upon entering her room, I asked if she wanted to change into pajamas, believing she thought it was bedtime.

Her harsh response surprised me. "I don't have to do anything except die and pay taxes."

I laughed because I knew it was just the dementia making her ornery.

As my aunt dozed, I relaxed in a chair nearby and began typing this story on my smart phone.

A half an hour or so passed when she sat up unexpectedly. "You're still here?"

I knew it was time to say my final farewell and told her I was going back home tomorrow.

"When will I see you again?" she asked.

Sucking in air, I said cautiously, "You won't."

"Why? You think I'm going to die, or you?"

"You." I felt my tears brimming.

As she lay back down, I walked toward her and knelt beside her bed.

"I'm going to miss you." I gulped more air as the tears flowed.

Aunt Joan stroked my hair, comforting me as I cried and leaned into her.

"It's going to be all right," she said. "You're going to be all right. We'll see each other one day soon in heaven. I'm going to see Daddy again. He loved us so much."

In addition to knowing she'd be with her father again, my aunt spoke about Jenny, her daughter who died in a car accident shortly after graduating from high school in 1983.

Her words sounded peaceful, yet expectant at being able to see my mom also. Oh, how she missed her. When Mom died 16 years ago, I remember some words Aunt Joan said as we cried together in our shared grief. She tried to convey her feelings about losing her identical twin.

"No one knows what it's like," she blubbered. "We were an egg together." 

That's my very own Steel Magnolias moment of laughing and crying at the same time. For those unfamiliar with that tearjerker scene, Sally Field's character, M'Lynn, wants to know why her daughter died. In the midst of her wailing, she's mad and wants to hit someone. Of the four friends standing with her, only Clairee offers a logical solution. She grabs the arm of crotchety-old Ouiser, pushes her toward M'Lynn, and says, "Here. Hit this. Go ahead, M'Lynn. Slap her."

Aunt Joan named other loved ones she would see in heaven one day. As she started naming all my sisters, I joined in. And then, just as suddenly as her lucidness came, she shifted her eyes to another place, gone.

As my sobbing waned, I rose and pulled some tissues from the Kleenex box on her nightstand to blow my nose. 

"I'm leaving now." I picked up my purse, walked toward the door, and turned to look at her one last time. "I love you, Aunt Joan."

Back in the here and now, she lifted her hand and waved. "I love you, Mary Ellen." 

She still calls me by my full name. A beautiful name I tossed to the wind during a time of teenage rebellion and embarrassment—an ugly moment between Mom and me.

I opened the door and stepped out into the hall. The gulps started again as tears streaked down my cheeks.

Saying goodbye never gets easier, no matter how many loved ones have passed on.  It's still hard, knowing it's the last time you'll see someone alive who has been very dear to you.