By Jo Lees
My Grandmother not only dyed all her underwear shocking pink, she kept her belongings "in
"My mother told me when I was first married and had an apartment in New York," she recalled, "that I'd never be embarassed by uninvited guests or snoopy in-laws if I learned to keep my things 'in dying order'."
So when my grandmother died at 86, here dresser drawers and closets were as neat as when I was a little girl playing in her room and I helped her arrange neat little piles of folded handkerchiefs.
This year, after an operation to remove a part of my lung that was NOT diseased from cancer, my surgeon explained gently that they had discovered chest cancer.
"And you took it out?" I asked without a worry as I lay in the intensive care bed connected to numerous tubes and electronic devices. Eight years before, I'd had a mastectomy, so I assume anytime you find cancer, you cut it out.
"No, Jo, it's inoperable."
I was mad! Indignant that I'd had all the tests, xrays, been squeezed, and had the works every year since my mastectomy and no one had discovered it.
A few weeks after my operation, I talked to my new "cancer doctor." After I insisted on a a prognosis, so I'd know if I could finish the three books I was working on by myself, or with a full-time secretary, or if I needed a collaborator.....he said, "Well, if you want to believe statistics, you have about five years."
That sounded better than a few months, better than the two years my sister had had after they discovered she had cancer, but driving back to my Pasadena home, I looked over at my husband and I began counting on my fingers. Eighth grade, 9th, 10th, 11th, 12th, maybe I'd live to see our son graduate from high school, maybe not. No college, no grandchildren. My eyes bubbled over with tears.
"It's not fair!" I said aloud, "My things aren't even in dying order." I thought of my grandmother.
My drawers looked like the inside of a clothes dryer. My cupboards were full of bug-filled cracker crumbs and concrete brown sugar.
Even after I got my strength back, I couldn't seem to get to work and sort everything out. I was busy writing thank you's for all the loving cards and letters from my friends and relatives. I was busy enjoying my home, my plants, sitting on my deck in the sunshine, looking at the trees and watching the birds.
I was going to every single Little League game and yelling myself hoarse for the best catcher in the league, my son Steve.
My husband doesn't like to go on vacations, but I figured to heck with it. My boy and I would go on little trips. Last month we visited my grown daughter from a previous marriage and she took us to Sequoia Park, near her home. She's a photographer and was going on a hike to take pictures. For years I've said, "I'm too fat," or "I'm too old," for anything like that, but this time I thought, why not try it. I had a good book with me. If I couldn't keep up, I could always go back to the car and read and wait for them. I had a wonderful time! I made it the entire three miles to the falls and enjoyed every minute of it. I liked the cushion of pine needles under my feet. I climbed down and got a drink of pure stream water in the cup of my hands. I felt the cool of the big trees and the care and love of my children who walked part of the time with me, waited for me, went their own ways then and came back to me.....talked to me and enjoyed being with me. I like it so much I may just join a hiking group here at home and learn more about this sport.
My neighbor and I have season tickets to the Light Opera Series at the Music Center in Los Angeles and always enjoy our few Wednesday afternoons together. Sometimes we lunch at the Pavilion, a restaurant on top of the Music Center, with a nice view of the city and excellent service. Last month we decided to go out to dinner instead. Where to go? Why not Lawrey's Prime Rib, my favoiate LA restaurant. Slightly more expensive than we would usually choose, but why not? I enjoyed every minute of it.
Yesterday I bought a genuine leather purse. Twice as expensive as I usually buy, but I'm sick of vinyl purses that crack and look a mess after two trips to the supermarket. I've always wanted a genuine leather purse. Now, I've also always wanted to be a trapeze artist, but at 49, I'm not likely to try that....but why not try what else I'd like to do?
It's not my grandmother's way of getting things in dying order, but it's mine. I am enjoying. I enjoy the walk to our mailbox down a tree-lined driveway. I enjoy a day watching a Dodger doubleheader on TV and reading a good book. I enjoy a day at the beach with my son and his friends. I enjoy it when a baby grasps my finger in it's tiny hand. I try to enjoy each day to the fullest and if I don't get my three books done for you to read, I'm sorry, but I don't intend to spend what little time I have left doing things I don't want to do. If my family has to clean out my dirty drawers and my filing cabinet is a mess, tough! I'm busy living. I'm getting my life in dying order, my own way.