the gift (a vignette)

Over the course of our lives, we all must have received gifts that overwhelmed us with their thoughtfulness, suitability, and timeliness.  One I received a couple years ago from Mr. wd qualified in the first two ways, but as to the third, please consider the implications of its irony as you read about what may end up being my favorite present ever.

Over a decade ago I sustained some pretty severe brain damage during knee surgery, although none of the surgical team would ever even admit to anything having gone awry.  When I woke up from the anesthetic, among other horrors, I discovered that I’d lost all sense of time, basic arithmetic skills, boatloads of words, people’s names, and more annoying things like cognitive abilities. I.e.: I’d become the proverbial box of rocks.

Knowing a bit about different strategies and exercises that could help repair/reroute damaged neural circuits, and inventing a few of my own, I did gain back some of my brain over time.  One avenue I chose for some healing was starting to write, first as a contributor to the local free press, then slowly online, which often also required a lot of research.  At some point a few years ago, my healing seemed to have plateaued, which was quite discouraging, given that one upon a time I did have at least a certain amount of mental game.  It was starling to learn how much intellectual ability depends on memory, especially of the short term sort.  One needs to remember several ideas, terms, and concepts all at once in order to weave them into some coherent whole.

But ha!  I did get basic arithmetic skills back eventually, and as a side note, I will say that the IRS officials who graded my forms for our family taxes were kind to me about my many errors.  Every year when they sent my sent my pages back full of red ink, I imagined the look of bemusement on their faces as I looked at them, and read their…suggestions…as to what I’d done wrong.

Math skills?  Whoa, Nellie, no!  Truth is, I am now hooked on calculators and even do some simple math arithmetic with pen and paper, just in case.  (oy)  Oh, but time, time.  Time is not my friend, and even which events in my life came before or after  others requires knitted-eyebrow hard thinking, and I try to create milestone markers that sometimes help sort things out.

I’m laughing as I type because I’m recalling having created and printed birth announcements for our daughter’s first child.  Upon receipt of the first batch, they were forced to nix them due to the fact that…er…I’d gotten the goddam year wrong.  Pfffft.  Okay, I made a second batch, over-nighted them, and got a call.  Wrong year again, goddam.  Thus, one of the standard family jokes in the family was any variation on:  “Hell, y’all must know I’m just about to zero in on it!”  Hmmm; maybe even the IRS agents had that same faith in me, although I did finally begin to include a cover letter to that effect on top of the bundle of tax forms: ‘Demented moron here, not an intentional crook’.

But over the past year it’s become clear that the damage to my noggin has predisposed me to early dementia, whether of the Old Timers kind (as they say around here) or not, who can say?

But back to the gift.  The woman Mr. wendydavis has worked for over the past ten years recently grew very ill, and seemed to be dying.  He’d been remodeling four different houses on her big spread, and as her money supply grew short, began doing a lot of the work of the employees she’d had to let go.  But a new one was nursing her before her son agreed to call in hospice workers to take over once she reached the point she required round-the-clock help.  While she was by no means and easy woman, he was pleased to be able to offer her care and comfort before her death, and often acknowledged how much he’d learned in doing so.  Love is action, of course, even more for those who might be well-meaning, but not easy to actually like.

Once she’d crossed over to the other side, her son had some hard financial decisions to make, and one was how to sort through what myriad of her possessions to keep, sell, give away, and so forth.  Now I will say that she seemed to have some extraordinarily nice stuff, including fine arts, jewelry, furniture, and whatnot.  But still: stuff.  Her son, generous soul that he is, told Mr. wd that anything he spotted that we might like, say so, and in all likelihood, he would gift the items to us.

But as joss would have it, Mr. wd had just recently spent two weeks in Nebraska clearing out a lifetime’s full of stuff from his parents house, and he came back home with a burning mission to clear out this place in advance of the time our kids would need to be faced with the same unenviable task.  So, long story short, we decided to just ask for a few bits and bobs here that wouldn’t clutter up our house much, mainly fabrics from the global south, a few pieces of rock crystal, a few fossils of sadly unknown origin, and such.  He did, by the way, ask to bring home a number of her amazing oil paintings to show me, not that we asked for any of them; he would need to sell them to keep the place afloat.

Time, that devil, whether it be an agreed upon reality or something else, it does make itself known in our lives, and having no sense of it can become a trial.  By now, I’m down to writing myself little notes on the calendar next to the bed, like an ‘H’ for hair-washing day.  Now I try to wash it only every two days lest I go bald, as the hairdressers advise.  But hell, most days I’d have to get to my laptop to discover what the hell day and date it even is, in order for my notations to have any instructional value whatsoever.  Cripes, I felt like an idiot.

That night Mr. wendydavis came in from work, laid down most of his assorted paraphernalia on the dining room table, straightened up, but held one hand behind his back.  Perhaps I’d looked at him quizzically, but he said, “Go ahead and ask.”

“Ask what?” my face must have asked.  “Ask me what I brought you” (another wee family joke on accountta I don’t get out in the world much these days).

Bringing out a rumpled bag, he laid it on the table, and began to open it, possibly with a mite bit of trepidation.  He pulled out a sweet little battery clock…that only marked the days of the week!  I laughed with such mirth that I almost cried; what a lovely gift for a half-demented, crazy crone, old of brain before her time!


When I had a bit of time, I worked to extricate the clock from its rather elaborate, not quite hermetically sealed cardboard and hard plastic packaging.  What ho?  I finally put my Walmart cheaters on, took it to the window’s light, and saw that it was secured by two tiny screws with large plastic washers.  Okay, I went to get my box of assorted jeweler’s screwdrivers: nope, they wouldn’t budge.  I went through several sizes of Phillips head screwdrivers, and finally muscled those little peckerwoods off.  The instructions for setting the clock were on the back of the box, so I gave it the old college try.  “Poke the tip of a pen into one of the two indents in the center of the clock’s works, then rotate clockwise.”

Well, of course I needed to advance it six days’ worth, which meant spinning the sucker about three hundred times, the pen popping out at intervals.  “Christ”, I’m thinking, “what the fuck?  Do they imagine some geezer needing to be reminded of the goddam day is already in a nursing home and some orderly will be doing this shit?”  Okay: sit closer to the window, tip the clock back, jam the pen in ‘one of the two indents’, flip it back, crank the wheel, what.ev.er.  But once I finally found a new battery that actually had some juice in it (the third one from the package, mind you), I finally saw that the hand (singular) had actually noticeably advanced.  Goooaaaaaal!  Ha!  That sucker was finally edging toward Saturday when I decided I’d hang it up in the morning, and reckoned I’d found just the right spot near the bed.

The next day was a long one, and I blessedly slept late.  At 5:10 that morning, I whispered to Mr. wd, “It’s time to get up; do you want to use the bathroom first?”

“No,” he said.  It’s Saturday, and I (ahem) don’t have to go to work.”

I hung the clock before I even ate my toast.  : )  Here it is.  Thank you, Mr. wd, thank you, Dana B.  Maybe, just maybe, I’ll know that tomorrow is Sunday, and not a workday.  If I can see the clock in the day’s first light, of course.  Winter?  No way; sorry, dear… it’ll suck to be you again.

(cross-posted from Café Babylon)

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Something that we love in our household is a clock with temperature- both indoor and outdoor- that shines onto our bedroom ceiling. So if in the middle of the night we awake, we just look up at the ceiling and see the time. Keeps us from wondering if it is the middle of the night, or if we just fell asleep a few minutes ago, or if it is almost time to get up, without having to roll over to see a clock on our nightstand. Of course the action of rolling over to see a clock might get us stirring in a way that we can't back to sleep again.
I just checked, the clock also has the day of the week on it, but that doesn't show up on the ceiling.

One bad downside of this- my DW likes very warm temps and does not like any windows ajar for safety reasons. I can't sleep below about 77. So sometimes I wake in the middle of the night and see that it is 67 outside and 79 inside and I want to open the windows WIDE! Not being able to do that leaves me cranky.

Anyhow. I like your storytelling.

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wendy davis's picture

@wouldsman

and e-clock and e-mometer? i'd jump outta my skin to see anything on the ceiling, though! come to that, we built a 12-sided hogan with post-and-2x6 tongue and groove roof/ceilings so oy & veh, would those numbers wobble. ; )

you must have meant you can't sleep when it's above 77, i hear that. heh:

"...my DW likes very warm temps and does not like any windows ajar for safety reasons.

dunno what a DW is, but we have bears here in the fall. once the last pets died, we screwed the pet door closed, and before that i'd taken a big ol' eye screw and screwed it into the exterior bedroom door trim, and attached some woven nylon boot laces in three different lengthed loops to 'secure the door from bears'. of course you'll have guessed by now that mr. wd howled with laughter at my imbecility, given that when the bears get into the sheds outdoors, one whomp with a massive bear paw breaks the hook and hasp off, and bear claws rip right thru the old barn wood door.

but: hope springs infernal, doesn't it? ; )

thanks, wouldsman, for reading and for your comment.

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@wendy davis DW= dear wife
and yes, I meant "can't sleep when it is warmer than 77".

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wendy davis's picture

@wouldsman

mr. wd and i were kicking around some possibilities or that acronym...all of them were pretty silly.

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Eagles92's picture

You have such a way with words, and I love your good-natured self-deprication in the face of everything you're battling. Something I can learn from you.

Not for nothing, this doesn't seem the work of a demented moron. Smile

Here's my favorite line:

“Christ”, I’m thinking, “what the fuck? Do they imagine some geezer needing to be reminded of the goddam day is already in a nursing home and some orderly will be doing this shit?”

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wendy davis's picture

@Eagles92

amigo/a, and the passage you've clipped made me laugh reading it, lol. it's a funny thing, but even after all that brain damage, i could still see images, remember impressions and smells, and so on, including things that happened in the past. so part of what i can still do is describe the images, even the moving ones with words. 'sketches', i guess.

now translating someone else's writing is a whole different ballgame, at least accurately, as i can manage about three words or numbers in a row, then have to check again. which is why my diaries are largely copy/past now, and the several authors and sites who've give me permission to use all they write, helps a lot. in fact one was paul hader, who'd just stopped by the café to read and drop of a few of his own links.

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Pluto's Republic's picture

I wonder if they will have weekends in space travel. Days will need names to mark time. My father was a watchmaker and my earliest memories were standing by his bench watching him assemble an array of springs and screws and many tiny shapes that would at some point capture time.

It turned out that was very important for people. The first books were always almanacs. The first buildings, observatories. Capturing time is an obsession with all living things. Laying outside in the grass on a summer night I was well aware that we were living inside of the clockwork of a giant.

This is a perfect Sunday story.

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The purpose of a writer is to keep civilization from destroying itself.
– Albert Camus
wendy davis's picture

@Pluto's Republic

and i thank you for sharing your early experiences watching your clock-maker papa, and all that you'd imagined lying out on the grass and realizing we're living inside the clockwork of a giant. how very poetic and imaginative, my friend.

almanacs and observatories; fascinating history to me. but is this so?

Capturing time is an obsession with all living things.

i reckon you already know what this diary's closing song will be tonight... not jim croce's 'time in a bottle', either, although that's a lovely song, isn't it?

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wendy davis's picture

tonight's closing song/lullaby is the last thing the late, great alchemist (he'd turned poison into medicine like no other, as far as i'm concerned) john trudell had recorded before 'his ride' came for him.

time dreams with the legendary quiltman and the pines:

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mjsmeme's picture

thank you for this 'gift', so beautifully written and inspiring

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