I was in the hospital gift shop looking for a stuffed chicken. Barbara, my wife, loves chickens. The clerk said, “sorry, no chickens.” So I headed back to the emergency room with Pooh bear under my arm. Barbara smiled and affirmed my love for her. Pooh’s station at home was our bed during the day and Emmy’s, our six year old, at bedtime. So this honey colored bear began a duel attachment. How well we know the importance of attachment in this house of adoption.
My mother recently found herself at the same hospital, so before I went for a visit I asked Barbara and Emily if grandma could have some company until she was released. Barbara said, “Of course!” Emily said nothing with her voice but a few things with her face…questions with her pursed lips and eyebrow movement. I told her Pooh would only be gone for a few days and grandma would love to have something to cuddle while at the hospital. She finally said O.K. and asked to come with me. I said she is next in line to visit grandma when she is out and then we could see if Pooh behaved himself while grandma was babysitting.
So off I went with Pooh to Bronson Hospital on a Sunday eve. I was heading east and took in a spectacular moon rise, pale orange on the horizon and as big as a get well balloon. Ah, but for a string long enough to tie it to my mom’s third floor window. But there was Pooh.
My sister Ellen told me she was at the north building but for some reason I went to the usual place to find the nurse telling me the room number indicated that my mother was in the north building. The nurse said I had two options. One was go back to my car and drive over to the lot closest to the north building, or take the tunnel by foot. The tunnel sounded adventurous so Pooh and I headed for the basement. I could have sworn I heard Pooh say “Oh bother” under his breath.
It was a tunnel indeed. Oh, it started out nice with drop ceilings and pictures of local landmarks on the walls and occasional donation tiles with names. Then we turned a corner and the ceiling lifted so all the veins were exposed. Bundles and bundles of wires representing fiber-optic, electrical, phone lines and who knows what all hung from the ceiling. It reminded me of going through Chicago via business I-94. Then I saw the heating ducts along the side of the walls. They were two feet in diameter. At one point we walked past the boiler room with its baritone hum. The sign on the door said hearing protection required. This stretch also contained stretchers on wheels, empty and lining one side of the tunnel…ambulances in waiting.
We walked at least a quarter of a mile without seeing any other human. It was a solitary place. No Muzac dribbling from above. Just the sound of humming and my shoes stepping on a bazillion layers of wax. I remembered visiting my dad at the old Burdick Hotel downtown when I was a kid. He was in maintenance and I got to see the bowels of the old hotel. It held a lot of dark edges and dust and mold, but also mystery and intrigue for a child my age. It too was a solitary place and looking back I can see how my dad could settle into such ambiance. My dad often was a solitary man…Just ask my mom.
I switched Pooh to the other arm and kept walking and thinking under thoughts. Not underwear, under thoughts. Walking beneath the structures above the ground like trees, I negotiated its roots. Instead of walking on pavement I was walking under it. Deep huh?. I really think it is, and not just virtually. So many life things maintain vitality because of unseen forces, not unlike the boiler room hidden in the catacombs of Bronson Hospital. Our spiritual life, though hidden, is what keeps us humans on the move. I know science has it’s take on evolution and such. All the chance stuff flowing from fins to feet to opposable thumbs. Honestly, I don’t have the mental strength to try to embrace such ideas or debate them either. Some of the human race thinks the leap of faith involved in believing in intelligent design is too broad of a span. They fear of falling in a great crevasse. I, contrary wise, believe the gap is just as wide in Darwin’s theory and with a leap of faith in what pray tell? I look at Pooh with eyebrows lifted as if he can read my mind and might be able to rub a couple of brain cells together himself. Nothing.
The hallway started to ascend and huge photos of Michigan wonder took the place of wires and ducts. It was as if God said “lookie here, see how beautiful this earth on which I placed you?” There was the Grand Haven lighthouse with waves jumping and spreading around to a fine white mist. There were tulips of many vibrant colors framing the windmills of Holland. There was the Frankenmuth covered bridge nestled in a landscape which Currier and Ives could never replicate. There was a river carving out a path through an autumn forest yawning with color before a winter’s nap. I thought, why would “chance” offer such beauty to fill the senses our bodies hold?
3842. 3842. I pushed the button to call the Bronson North elevators. It lit up like a glow-in-the-dark lozenge. I put my finger near the hole at the top of the elevators as it came for me and I could feel the air push through with greater force as it got closer. It sighed right before the bell rang and the doors slid open just like on Star Trek when someone entered the “Bridge”. Jer-bear and Pooh-bear stepped in and I pushed yet another button with a 3 on it. Numbers. 3842. 342.
3428. 342-8127. FI-2-8127. Fireside 2-8127. ET…phone home!? No, no, no, dyslexia or memory recall weirdly.
It was forEVER the home phone, first as a rotary hanging from the kitchen wall and then button laden. We rode the circuit in the beginning and then started pushing buttons. Recently, my sister Ellen had her phone set up so if we dialed fireside 2-8127 it would ring at her place where mom was. Call me sentimental. Call me sappy. Call me a softy. That’s ok. But the number represented the longest relationship in my life. The line was a lifeline between child and mother. What tighter line is that besides an umbilical cord?
The door slid open and we slid out into the third floor. 3842. 3842. Ah, there she was, sitting hunched over like a question mark reading the large print Reader’s Digest. I nudge Pooh with my elbow. We sat down at the foot end of her bed after a hello. She asked me what was that I brought. I was tempted to take the opportunity to razz her with a formal introduction.
“Mom, I would like you to meet a friend of mine…this is Pooh. Pooh? This is my mom.”
What I told her was that Pooh was released from Barbara and Emily to keep her company until she gets out. She told me it wasn’t necessary. I looked around her private empty room and insisted she babysit Pooh for a few days. I knew I couldn’t get the moon to sit still outside her window so a honey loving bear seemed appropriate. He would sit still, and he did for the whole visit, except when I knocked him over when I went to ask a nurse for a toothpick. When I came back my mom pointed and said Pooh needed straightening up. Funny, when I was a child, that was a phrase that often left my mother’s lips to a crooked child. I can hear it as clearly today as I did forty years ago.
“Oh, straighten up!”
Our visit was pleasant and often etched with silent moments. We both kept looking out the window between sentences. The lights in the evening were warm and inviting. She occasionally would refer back to Pooh and remind me to thank Laura and Lissie for lending him out. I would smile and disregard the mental error. She reassured me that she would take good care of him.
At one point the discussion led to “why Pooh?” Why not Piglet or Eeyore? Pooh was the most appropriate for a hospital visitor I thought.
Owl…all night “whoooing”.
Christopher Robin…a nice chap, but too real.
But Pooh, sure he gets bothered on occasion, and sometimes a rumbly in his tumbly, and once got caught in a great tightness over honey, yet he always rebounds to a friend indeed. He was humble, loveable, and one bear that would be ok to meet in a hundred acre wood. Not to mention a wonderful presence in a room with IVs and a Stryker bed and an eighty two year old woman.
“Please tell the girls I will take good care of him.”
“For sure mom…I really need to go…can I pray with you?”
I held her hand and prayed that peace and joy would rest on her and that healing would come and that Jesus would visit her in her dreams. She thanked me with a scrunched-up-about-to-cry-face. I once again told her I loved her and goodnight. I think I saw Pooh wink at me with an I-got-this nod as I left the room.
I walked back through the tunnel alone but absolutely not lonely. Love, love walked beside me and in me and Pooh negotiated between a six year old and a grandma.
Note: Jesus has got it too. He is one who told the disciples to let the children come to him. In these final days my mother has become so childlike. Despite the discomfort, she engages with her visitors with simplicity and grace. Her imagination comes alive when talking about her grandchildren. Oh, Jesus has got it. He is pulling her close and setting her on his lap and making eye contact with the child he loves so much.
© Gerald Allen Barrett and parentheticallyspeakingin3d, 2012.