All posts by Wildtrumpetvine

With Mama, After the Fall

One of my favorite photos of Mama and me, in St. Augustine, Florida, 1968.

My first post of 2024 was about how I started the year off on a walk wearing mismatched shoes, or one wrong shoe. Just two days later, my mother started the year off with one wrong step. A seriously wrong step. As she was preparing to head upstairs for the night on January 5th, she fell. In recent years, she’s been quite the frequent faller, and her attitude toward falling is best described as cavalier. She rarely complains about the bruises and occasional cuts she acquires with each tumble. But this fall was different. She was unable to get up, or to contact us, and the pain in her leg was intense. Her little red Jitterbug phone lay just out of reach. Her emergency call pendant was by her bed. She spent twelve hours on her family room floor. I had checked on her around 6 PM, as I usually do, and she’d been fine. My husband or I should have noticed that her bedroom light never switched on. But we didn’t. We didn’t find her until the next morning.

Every time we hear the urgent wails of approaching ambulances and firetrucks (and we hear them often) we know that at some point, they’ll be coming for someone in our family. January 6th was one of those days. That morning, my mother was carried out on a stretcher, and I sat in the front seat of the ambulance. The paramedics couldn’t have been kinder or more thoughtful. We’re grateful to live within easy reach of excellent medical care.

Mama and me, 1970, in Atlanta. We’re wearing our of-the-moment midi and maxi fashions, sewn by Mama, of course.

Surgery to repair a badly broken femur was followed by four days in the hospital. On Day 3, Mama remarked that she was rather enjoying the stay; it felt like a rest in a nice hotel. Anesthesia and pain meds were masking the discomfort, no one was bugging her to try to stand up, and I was a constant presence in her pleasant private room. The staff was attentive and capable. Over the years, she has spent time in three Northern Virginia hospitals, and she found this stint to be by far the least miserable.

It was a different story altogether when she was moved to a nearby rehab facility. I could no longer be with her every minute, day and night. She had a roommate, whose demeanor vacillated precipitously between angelic and menacing. There was an ongoing, simmering dispute over the ideal room temperature. Mama could neither see nor hear the TV on her side of the room, yet her roomie’s TV was always on, too loudly, tuned to a station Mama would certainly not have chosen. There was considerable difficulty in ensuring that she received her prescribed medications, especially those for her asthma, and wasn’t dosed arbitrarily with unnecessary ones. As in any such facility, the staff are too few, and they’re doing difficult, often disagreeable work for low pay. It’s a place where no one wants to be. Mama described it simply as a house of horrors.

Atlanta, 1975

Not quite three weeks later, insurance abruptly decreed that her time in rehab was up. Thanks to a wheelchair-accessible transport van, Mama was summarily deposited back in her own home. For her, it was not a moment too soon, although my husband and I were not sure how we’d care for her effectively when her mobility remained so limited. There’s a good reason that babies are smaller than their parents.

We’ve all managed, somehow. Mama has learned to walk again. She’s progressed through a series of walkers, from wheel-less, to partially wheeled, to a rollator (a word I’d never heard until recently), the kind with four wheels and a little seat that can be used for carrying things. Several times a week, we do the exercises together that I watched her learn in physical therapy at rehab. She is getting somewhat stronger. She can do a few things for herself, including preparing simple meals.

Her falls, though, continue. Since her return from rehab, she’s fallen about twice a month, typically while making a transition from sitting to standing. Her legs simply “give out,” she says. With each episode, we make some changes and many suggestions. I remind her that I sleep in her guest room and can hear her summons on the baby monitor if she needs me in the night. She never expects to fall. So far, she’s suffered no further major damage. But we know that may not always be the case. The next broken leg, or arm, or worse–awaits.

Wales, 1988

Throughout her life, Mama was exceptionally active, involved in multiple projects–sewing clothes for everyone in the family, upholstering and refinishing furniture, decorating, gold-leafing, crafting–all while working part time at various jobs, reading voraciously, teaching Sunday School or Bible study, doing the housework, cooking, and being a devoted, compassionate wife, mother and daughter. (She and Daddy gave up their bedroom to move my grandmother into their home and care for her at the end of her life. ) Mama was generally too busy to consider physical exercise for its own sake.

Or for her own sake. And mine. If I could turn back the clock and change anything, it would be to encourage Mama to start weight training around the time I discovered it, in college. Why didn’t I try harder to get her to join me in regular work-outs, at home or at the Colony Square Athletic Club when I worked at the High Museum? Because she had too much else to do, of course. She would remind me that there was a time, when I was in grad school, that she and my father walked for exercise in the early mornings. At least they did that. Every little bit helps.

The frightening truth is that we’re all one small misstep away from catastrophe. That’s life. Our circumstances can change, for better or worse, in an instant.

So we keep on, doing what we can. I’ll continue the PT sessions with Mama. I’ll keep to my weight routine in our basement gym. My husband will, too. I’ll walk the neighborhood with my dog-mom friends, and he’ll use our treadmill. We’ll do our best to maintain our strength and balance. We’ll think of it as a gift to ourselves, to our daughter, and to anyone who may need to care for us one day.

Spring, in Full Swing

We’re in the midst of a gorgeous, lush spring here in Northern Virginia. Despite the perhaps more than unusually erratic temperature fluctuations, the season’s progress has been moving along at a consistent, stately pace. A fair number of rainy days have no doubt contributed to the luxuriance of flowers and foliage, and in contrast, the periods of sunshine have been all the more glorious.

Our Appalachian Red redbuds, marked by their brilliant fuchsia buds, were in peak bloom toward the end of April.

The lilac in our courtyard generously shares its delightful fragrance, so that we sense its presence even when it’s out of sight.

I love these mayapples, a gift from a garden-wise neighbor. Soon after sprouting, the plants resemble closed umbrellas. The leaves then unfurl, forming a flat canopy. A single white blossom grows beneath the foliage. After blooming, a small apple-like fruit forms, and its weight causes the plant to bow down toward the ground. Box turtles are attracted by the scent, and they spread the seeds (in their poop) along the forest floor. Like other native spring ephemerals, the mayapple is a humble beauty that may be easily overlooked.

Our azaleas, on the other hand, have been boldly emphatic in color and bloom.

Local Kwanzan cherry trees, past their peak, shower the ground below with their pink petals.

This towering jacaranda tree is an unusual one for our neighborhood. A native of South America, it bursts forth in late April with big clusters of fragrant lavender flowers, trumpet-shaped. Its seed pods break into neat halves, each resembling a small boat.

The edges of our courtyard and walkway abound with purple and white violets, bunched together like small, perfect bouquets.

So many of nature’s spring treasures, high above and on the ground below, are there for the seeking. I try to let each one remind me that even when so much of the world is caught up in conflict, animosity and division for its own sake, there is goodness, all around.

Let’s remember to search for, and to savor that goodness. And, when we can’t find it, maybe we need to embody it, to be and share that goodness. It abides with us, no matter what.

It All Comes Down to This: Love one Another

Today is Maundy Thursday, the day that commemorates Jesus’s Last Supper. At the beginning of that final Passover meal, Jesus did something totally unexpected: he washed the feet of his disciples. Teachers, rabbis and important men absolutely did not wash the feet of others in first-century Palestine. This was a lowly, degrading task allocated to a servant or slave. The disciples were confused. But Jesus persisted. He tried to explain that his actions were to be taken as an example:

And since I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you ought to wash each other’s feet. I have given you an example to follow. Do as I have done to you. (John 13:14)

After the meal, Jesus continued his final words of instruction to his devoted followers:

So now I am giving you a new commandment: Love each other. Just as I have loved you, you should love each other. (John, 13: 34)

The word “maundy” comes from mandatum, the Latin for command. It refers to this new commandment.

The foot washing, together with the new commandment, send a clear message. On Jesus’s last night with his disciples before his arrest and death, his goal was to emphasize that the very essence of his ministry comes down to this: Love each other. Take care of each other. Serve each other.

Here are a few things he did not say:

Be judgmental and critical. Make sure people are practicing correct theology before showing kindness or compassion.

A good way to spread my message is through government control.

Some people are not worthy of your love, your care, or your service.

Friends, love is the answer. Our brother Jesus has told us, through his words, and through his actions. Let’s give it a try.

For a previous post discussing the foot-washing of Maundy Thursday, see here.

Palm Sunday 2024

Palm Sunday begs to be called out, to be distinguished from just any other first day of the week. It launches the period known by Christians the world over as Holy Week. Palm Sunday sets an expectant, celebratory tone, one that contrasts, shockingly and painfully, with the shattering disappointment of the terrible day we call Good Friday. In between falls the oddness of Maundy Thursday. So much is packed into the events of these seven days, which lead up to the triumphant culmination of Easter. Indeed, without Easter, the story of new life, hope and possibility would have been one of failure, death and despair. I’ve written about the days of Holy Week several times before. Below is my Palm Sunday post from April 1, 2012. 


On the day that we’ve come to think of as Palm Sunday, Jesus was hailed as a celebrity, a military and political hero-to-be.  As he and his disciples entered  the city of Jerusalem, cheering crowds greeted him with cries of “Hosanna,” which means “Save us.” The news was out: at long last, the King of Israel was here.  He was the chosen one sent by God to restore power to the Jewish nation.  He rode on a donkey to fulfill the prophecy in Zechariah 9:9:  See, your king comes to you, righteous and having salvation, gentle and riding on a donkey.


It was a time of great rejoicing for the people of Israel.  A new day of freedom and empowerment was dawning, thanks to the advent of the conquering Messiah.  The palm branches they waved were emblems of Israeli nationalism.

In just a few days, though, the tide would turn. The admiring throngs would scatter when it became clear that Jesus was not the kind of king they had desired and expected.  Even his dearest friends would desert him.  He would be betrayed by one of his own, turned over to the Roman authorities and crucified. On Good Friday, it would appear that this man was no winner.


Good Friday, however, is not the end of the story.

Once Again, Ash Valentine’s Day

This year, Ash Wednesday and Valentine’s Day both fall on February 14.  The last time this happened was in 2018.  I know, because I wrote about it back then.  What follows is my post from six years ago, with a few minor changes. 

These two holidays are unlikely bedfellows, so to speak.  Ash Wednesday is a day when Christians are urged to face mortality head-on and clear-eyed, to gaze into the bleakness of what would have been, had it not been for God’s saving grace.  It marks the start of Lent, the forty-day period leading up to Easter, during which prayer, repentance and self-denial are encouraged.  Lent’s Biblical basis is Christ’s retreat to the wilderness to commune with the Father in preparation for his ministry. 

Valentine’s Day, on the other hand, needs no explanation.  It’s a day for celebrating love in all its forms. It typically involves the giving and getting of various treats.  It’s a day for indulgence, not denial. 

To Lenten sticklers for self-abnegation, the concurrence of Ash Wednesday and Valentine’s Day will likely pose a conundrum.  To deny or not to deny?  Chocolate or no chocolate?  Dessert or no dessert?  Wine or no wine with that special Valentine dinner?  Perhaps a compromise:  to begin the denial process on February 15? 

I’ve written several times about Ash Wednesday.  See: Looking into the Ashes (March 1, 2017), and Saved from the Ashes (February 10, 2016).  I’ve tried Lenten self-denial in the past, but I’ve been known to lose track of the larger purpose.  The season’s truly spiritual pursuits–prayer, Bible reading, penitential introspection–they sometimes were left in the dust (or the ashes) of Ash Wednesday.  A couple of times, when I renounced all things sweet, my Lenten journey became little more than a period of dieting.  I wince when I recall certain instances of self-righteous forbearance that must have made me a most disagreeable companion.  See Mindful Eating, and a Mindful Lent (March 24, 2012). 

The purpose of Lent is to try to become more like Christ.  Instead, in our singular focus on denial, we become more like the Pharisees, those elite Jewish leaders who prided themselves on following every iota of the Mosaic Law.  They were probably among those Jesus denounced for ostentatious fasting:  “And when you fast, don’t make it obvious, as the hypocrites do, for they try to look miserable and disheveled so people will admire them for their fasting.  I tell you the truth, that is the only reward they will ever get.” (Matthew 6: 16, New Living Translation)  Jesus called out the Pharisees for their empty, showy arrogance and for the stumbling blocks they set up for others:  “You shut the door of the Kingdom of Heaven in people’s faces.  You won’t go in yourselves, and you don’t let others enter either” (Matthew 23: 13).  Overly zealous regarding trivial details, they tended to miss the big picture:  “You are careful to tithe even the tiniest income from your herb gardens, but you ignore the more important aspects of the law–justice, mercy and faith.  You should tithe, yes, but do not neglect the more important things. Blind guides!  You strain your water so you won’t accidentally swallow a gnat, but you swallow a camel!” (Matthew 23: 23-24).   

On Ash Wednesday, I look into the dark ashes and contemplate Jesus’s supreme sacrifice.  I give thanks that his unimaginable love lifts me from the depths of destruction and despair. 

On Valentine’s Day, I’ve usually painted cards for family members, sometimes also for friends. There will be candy for my mother and daughter. I try to cook one of my husband’s favorite meals. If I’m really on top of things, I’ll make the caramel-topped sponge cake, or the sugar cookies he likes. (I apologize in advance this year, when there will be no homemade desserts.) H may come home with a box of Russell Stover’s candy–maybe the Assorted Cremes? He knows that’s my favorite. He’s also learned over the years that I’m not a fan of that traditional over-priced Valentine staple–the bouquet of dark red roses.

During Lent, I’ll try to take Jesus as my role model. I’ll keep my Bible close at hand.  I’ll eat some chocolates.  I may also swallow a few gnats. 

But I hope to avoid the camels.  

Happy Ash Valentine’s Day!

On a Snowy Morning, Pleasantly Dog-less

This morning started off snowy, just as the Capital Weather Gang had predicted.  It wasn’t the kind of peacefully falling snow that gently whispers “Winter Wonderland.”  It was the heavy, wet, swirling kind, powered by gusting winds.  The kind against which no hat, scarf, hood or umbrella offers any buffer.  It’s everywhere at once, especially in eyes, boot tops and inside jacket cuffs.  

And so it was a good morning to appreciate being without a dog requiring an extensive walk, no matter the weather.  I’m still up and out most mornings, but by necessity only briefly, to replenish the seed smorgasbord I offer the birds and squirrels.  And then, from the warm comfort of our playroom, I can watch the ongoing parade of wildlife, both feathered and furry, that flourishes just beyond our windows. 

Every once in a while I glance out and think I see Kiko. Occasionally there’s the briefest moment of panic, as I mistake one of the bold neighborhood foxes for our dear departed dog. There’s that lush red fur, those eternally pointy ears, the fixed, focused stare, the poised stance.

It’s as though he never left, but simply moved outside.

A welcome thought on this cold, blustery morning, when I can happily remain indoors.