Sixty-Five Per Cent, or I Like Cows
April 5, 2013 | My Jottings
For the first time ever, Michael and I went away for Easter. We would have liked to go someplace for two nights, but even though we were only able to work things out so one night was possible, we were still very much looking forward to getting away. When I asked Michael where he wanted to go, I was expecting him to name an old favorite place like “Up the north shore” or “Grand Marais,” or even “The Twin Cities,” but instead he surprised me by promptly answering, “Brainerd.”
Brainerd? It seemed like an unlikely choice to me, since the Brainerd Lakes area of Minnesota has so many lakes and in my mind is regarded more as a summer destination. But what do I know, since I’ve only been to Brainerd once in my life? Michael was firm on this destination so I set about trying to find the kind of place we like, that is, not a hotel with one room, and not a high-end cabin that costs more than a week’s worth of groceries. It took a while, but because we were booking on such short notice and we’d be staying on Easter weekend, I found a resort who gave us a nice cottage on Roy Lake for half price.
Roy Lake is one of the unlabeled lakes you see below in the little town of Nisswa, which is very close to Brainerd. And even though the Brainerd Lakes region of our state is stunningly beautiful and draws visitors from all over, I have a tiny problem with the name. I think it sounds like a merging of the word brain (you think?) and innard. So in my mind it becomes a dubious destination before I even strap on my seatbelt. BRAY-nerd? It’s even a stretch to say with an excited lilt in the voice, “Hey, we’re going to BRAY-nerd for our weekend away! Doesn’t that sound lovely?”
This weirdness about certain words runs in our family. Someday scientists will still be mapping human genes, and after all the important ones are identified, they’ll move on to the lesser ones, and the gene that causes the female members of some families to have a negative visceral reaction to certain words will be isolated and named. We already know our family has this gene. Sharon had a very difficult time early in her marriage when she learned that their first apartment (a very nice place in Northern California) was situated on a street called Guardino (gwar-DEE-no). Her Icky Word Gene waved a red flag and hissed to every fiber of her being, “No! No! You can’t possibly live on a street called Guardino! Icky!” Needless to say, Sharon’s husband Chris was at a loss to understand all of this. But I understood. They did move into the nice place but I’m pretty sure Sharon said the word Guardino as infrequently as possible.
And Carolyn hates the word moist. She sort of wrinkles her nose when she says it. Sara doesn’t like the word cubic. And there are a few other words the females in our family can’t abide, but they’re escaping me now. And this post is about sixty-five per cent and I like cows, so I must move on.
Michael and I like an unhurried road trip, and the weather was beautiful for this time of year. You would never know it’s spring by all the bare trees and the snow still on the ground, but the longer days and temperatures in the high thirties and low forties make such a difference in our outlooks after such a long winter. As we headed toward the center of our state, we passed by many small farms with cows standing placidly around in their pens.
I thought about how much I’ve always liked cows and never really talked about it to anyone. It’s not like I was keeping this big cow secret or anything. I think I would have made a good owner of one or two cows. I would have been like the farm wife of yesteryear who named her milk cows and talked to them and found milking a therapeutic routine. I would have made cheese and yogurt and butter, and worn a matronly, flowered house dress and wound my gray hair up in bobby pins each morning. Have any of you ever milked a cow? I haven’t, but I’ve milked a goat, and thought it was something I could get used to. Alas, cow ownership is something I don’t think is in my future, but I have been considering cow art lately. Take a look at this painting and tell me it wouldn’t look good some place in our house. 🙂
When we arrived at our cabin we were so pleased with it. Here’s the living room, which is just a few feet from the lake. Our view through these windows was wintry of course, and the lake was white and completely frozen over.
We rested. We ate Twizzlers, which I’m pretty sure cause cancer, but hey it’s once a year. We enjoyed the fireplace. We drove in to Brainerd and saw a movie (Olympus Has Fallen) which was terribly stressful and a nail biter and full of seven hundred forty-six uses of a word I hate (there’s that Icky Word Gene making my flesh crawl again), and once back in our cabin we soaked in the restorative quiet and the beauty.
On Easter morning we read, did not go to church for the first Easter I can remember in my life, played some Easter music and talked about all that Jesus has done for us, and then we napped. I could feel myself winding down and it was wonderful. We had to leave, though, because it was just this one night, so we went to the main lodge to check out, which was built in 1919 and looks like this inside. We had reservations for their very popular Easter brunch, and our meals were delicious. It was the first time I’ve ever had Walleye Chowder and of course that was heaven for Michael the fisherman. We lingered over our brunch and once we left Nisswa and Brainerd we decided to take a slow way home. We drove back roads that passed through little bergs like Ossipee, Crosslake, Fifty Lakes, Emily (the home town of my dear friend Pat), MacGregor and Cloquet (rhymes with okay). We saw dozens of lakes and several more farms with lovely cows.
Since conversation is such a challenge for Michael because Parkinson’s has affected his voice, we mostly listened to CDs and the radio as we went, and at one point this song came on. I love this song because it reminds me of Michael, and whenever I hear it I sing it and point at him while smiling and acting goofy. He loves it. Of course I couldn’t take my eyes from the road for very long, but I did sing all the words that I knew by heart, lovingly elbowed him at certain phrases, and he grinned and we made a memory. As I sang out the line that says, “We’re still havin’ fun and you’re still the one” I thought to myself, well I don’t know how much fun we’re having these days, but he’s definitely still the one. Because Parkinson’s Disease is not fun, in case anyone was wondering. Not for the patient, not for the caregiver.
A few minutes later (is anyone still here? hello?), this song came on the radio, and I was tickled when Michael decided it was his turn to sing (sort of) to me. At the part of the song that says, “You are the woman that I’ve always dreamed of, I knew it from the start” — and you really should click on these links to get the full effect of the songs — Michael reached over and put his hand on my leg to show me that I was the woman he had always dreamed of and he knew it from the start. It was a moment, people. I felt so happy and grateful inside and I knew we were making another memory I would cherish forever.
But then I had to throw the teeniest little monkey wrench into the whole deal by saying, “Oh, I know I haven’t turned out to be the woman you have always dreamed of, Michael. I know I’ve been a high maintenance wife at times.” Wasn’t that a meek and humble thing for me to say? Ha.
Michael answered with a nice smile, “Yes, you’ve been wonderful most of the time.” I should have left it at that, don’t you think? But nooooo. I said, “Most of the time?” and I was thinking well, maybe about 90 per cent of the time, and by the end of that thought Michael replied, “I’d say about sixty-five per cent of the time.”
Now we were really making a memory that would be carved into my mind forever. Some of you know Michael well. There isn’t a mean bone in his body. We’re studying Ephesians in CBS right now and today’s lesson was on the gifts that God gives to His people. As I wrote down many of them, Michael came to mind. The ones that best describe my husband’s giftings are acts of service, giving generously and acts of mercy. He is a man without guile and I knew he had no idea that my hearing the words sixty-five per cent come out of his mouth would be painful to me. But I sort of felt like I’d been sucker-punched. The tears instantly welled up but the music was still on and we were looking at the road and I tried hard to not cry. I was thinking: sixty-five per cent is a failing grade. We have been married almost thirty-two years and I should be improving by now. He has a terrible illness and my heart’s desire is to help him forget he has it as much as possible because I love and serve him so well. My heart seemed to say to me, Ahem.
But here’s how I know I’m growing. After a minute or two, I put it out of my mind and we enjoyed the rest of our drive home. And I prayed about it. That is progress.
The next day Michael and I were in our bedroom and I was sitting on the side of the bed putting on my socks. He came over and sat next to me to show me his fingernails needed cutting and I opened the drawer in my nightstand where I keep the clippers, to do that for him. I sensed an opportune time, and I asked him, “Michael, I would like to be a good wife more than sixty-five per cent of the time. Will you tell me what I can do to improve?” Even typing that out makes me aware that this conversation might seem (in print) like I was groveling — I wasn’t. It might appear like Michael keeps tabs on my wife-ing and lords it over me in some way — he does not. I must be honest and admit that his gentle answer went straight to my heart and I knew it was needed truth. He put his arm around me and whispered, “A little more humility.”
*Long inward sigh.*
My kind of pride isn’t necessarily the kind that’s all puffed up about how grand and accomplished I am. That would be a joke. My kind of pride isn’t the vain kind that primps and puckers in the mirror and cares more about my appearance than anything else. That would be an even bigger joke. My kind of pride is a self-pitying, martyr-like pride. The kind of pride that whispers thoughts about how I’m giving up things that are meaningful to me in order to care for others, that my own life is fading and getting smaller, more silent and lonely, and isn’t it a shame I have to say no to so much in order to cook and clean and fold laundry and administer meds and ask Michael to repeat himself forty-three times a day and hope that his festinating (rapid shuffling) doesn’t get so bad he starts falling and absolutely no one is leaping about trying to serve me and meet my needs?
And while I don’t speak these things out loud, the attitude behind them escapes out into the open now and then in the form of impatient or martyr-like sighs, raised eyebrows that say you’re kidding me, right? and an attempt to control things because so much is happening that I can’t control.
When Michael gave me that answer, I put my head on his shoulder and he put his arms around me. I cried a little and asked him to forgive me. I asked him to pray for me and he did, which made me cry harder because there’s no one on the earth I’d rather have pray for me than Michael.
He said kindly, “I didn’t really mean sixty-five per cent. I meant about eighty per cent,” and I laughed through my tears, because this could have been true. He often tries to say one thing and ends up saying another these days. It’s part of the damage Parkinson’s is doing to his brain.
But sixty-five per cent or eighty per cent…it doesn’t matter.
We went away to Brainerd, the icky sounding beautiful place. We sang songs to each other in the car on the way home. The Lord spoke a needed word to my heart through the most gracious mouthpiece in the world.
And I came home with the very settled and satisfying realization that I really like cows.