Adding new space

112      With plans for the electrician and plumber and the house is empty of worldly possessions we found redecorating the interior fairly simple. The crew performed most of the physical work of pulling up the carpet, cleaning the floors, and adding a fresh layer of varnish to refinished them. Painting the walls was routine after we repaired a few holes made by the electricians. The electricians spent several days installing three prong outlets throughout the house and especially in the kitchen and bathroom. The biggest job with tearing out the fixtures in the bathroom and getting the walls because the plaster had been laid down the old-fashioned way by plastering over a wire mesh which had to be chopped out piece by piece.

113      The laundry room was the other big job because we decided to put in new flooring there and in the kitchen. We also added some shelving and dealt with numerous minor issues. We rented the ditching machine and laid the electric wire 30 inches deep in a conduit behind the house which also contained the wires for the other utilities such as telephone and cable TV. Toward the end of the summer we rented more and more storage space as we moved our household goods from Flippin into Mountain Home in preparation for relocating here. At about that time we decided to check into the house across the street which had been up for sale all summer.

114      The owners agreed to rent it to us with a rent-with-option-to-buy agreement. But before that was in place we had temporarily closed in the carport with stud walls and plastic which would last us for almost a year. Eventually, we would move everything into one of the two houses.

Grandma's House and Little Red Riding Hood

115      "What should we call the houses?" I asked Sheila. I had quickly tired of calling them Christine's house and “the house we bought across the street." The old family home had also been called "Grandma's house" and Sheila came up with the idea of calling the rented house "Little Red Riding Hood’s” because it was across the street from Grandma's house and was painted white with red trim. The names have stuck with the latter often shortened to Little Red’s.

116      Both of us were quite pleased with the setup. By the start of winter we were ready to bring Christine home. Little Red’s was still packed to the gills but from the first we intended to care for Christine in the old family home and not use it for storage. We still had a problem of "too much stuff" but we correctly assumed that we could deal with that over time. It was time to bring Christine home and see how she reacted with the new surroundings. Sheila had made one major change in addition to that previously described. We bought new shades for the entire house, which are fairly inexpensive, and had an interior designer come in to help Sheila choose the colors for the living room and matching draperies.

117      Sheila tried hard to please everyone. She wanted her mother to be happy with the new house and colors and yet still knew that she was the one who would have to live with the house in the long term and wanted me to enjoy the color scheme as well. I wasn't too worried about the colors. I was just glad to get the work done and have the house looking good and the 30-year-old carpets removed. In the fall of 2007, my doctor had retested me for allergies and decided to give me allergy shots. My primary allergy is the people.

Allergic to people?

118      In reality, if doctors were really truthful, they would call it an allergy to people much like an allergy to dogs and cats which I also have. The doctors want to be polite so they don't call it an allergy to people. They call it an allergy to dust. In reality, allergies to dogs, cats, and people are really allergies to excrement, that is, the poop of dust mites that live on dogs, cats, and people. But, being a bit eccentric, I like to call it an allergy to people.

119      Allergies have plagued me all my life. As a teenager, my father used to ask me why I was sniffling and my brothers and sisters would bug me about picking my nose. I was different and I didn't know why. "Do you have a cold?" my father would frequently ask. My answer would always be no and I could almost guarantee I would be given handkerchiefs for Christmas every year. That wasn't the only present I received but it was a very consistent one.

120      It would take missing more than a week of work in Louisiana in the late 1990s with what I thought was a cold but was really extreme allergy symptoms before my doctor there would send me to a specialist for allergy testing. For the next 10 years, I would be prescribed almost every type of allergy medicine possible, most of which had little effect on my allergies but kept me awake and had other undesirable side effects.

121      It would take a doctor in Mountain Home in 2007 to finally set me up with weekly allergy shots. These turned out to be a godsend, although no one ever asked God for her opinion about it. "I can lay down on my back in bed and breathe," I told Sheila. For the first time in my life my head started to clear up within weeks of starting allergy shots. While we lived in Georgia, I had taken various extreme measures trying to deal with allergies such as installing wood floors in the house and at one point, trying to see if washing the sheets on the bed every few days would have an effect. Allergy shots did not cure my allergies, but they made a world of difference.

122      One of my young Chinese friends often complains of similar symptoms. She doesn't have a cold but her nose is always trying to get away from her, her eyes burn and itch, and she complains of various allergy-related symptoms. I've tried to tell her what the problem is and I hope she understands. In this case, the connection is to the wood floors we have in the house. Controlling dust is probably as ineffective as the medicines I once took. But I really enjoy the positive effects of allergy shots.

Bringing Christine home

123      In about November, Sheila wheeled Christine into the house coming up the wheelchair ramp we had installed out front. We had ripped out some hedges, temporarily closed in the carport, built the wheelchair ramp, redecorated the inside of the house, and renovated the bathroom. Sheila had been very concerned that Christine would be upset by all the changes. Fortunately, Christine's condition and attitude were such that she ignored most of the changes and simply seemed pleased to be home. Her distance vision had deteriorated so she may not have even noticed some of the changes. The wheelchair ramp is hard to ignore and the new curtains inside seemed to please her.

124      When a person gets old they often lose control of their own thoughts and feelings. So out of respect for the deceased I won't go into a lot of details. I will simply say that the next few months were difficult, but not unbearable. Sheila was pleased, and I was too, that we could live on my retirement income and Christine had money to support her own expenses. I had saved us much as $107,000 which became available to me upon retirement. We were spending through $3,400 of that every month and much of it had gone for other expenses, paying down debts upon retirement, and paying about $20,000 in income taxes. Both of us were happy to get a taste of our own retirement even though both of us expected to return to work again. For the moment, we could concentrate on our own lives and care for an elderly parent at home.

Becoming our parents

125      I had seen this day coming in the 1990s and the transition, which began with the death of my father in 1999, would be complete when Christine died in late 2009. As a nurse, Sheila had always hoped to be available to help elderly family members. My father had died suddenly of a heart attack, gracefully sparing him from a lingering illness at the age of 84. Sheila's father had died, although not so quickly, in 2003. His health had deteriorated quickly in his mid-70s from pancreatic cancer. My point is that both of them had not needed in home care. My mother's cardiac arrest in 2003 had left her in need of care, but at that time Sheila and I were both still working and generally unable to provide the 24-hour care my mother needed. Had I been able to retire and both of us stay at home things might've been different, but home care was not possible at that time.

126     As things turned out, we were only able to deal with Christine for about four months. As I said, I will provide details but the situation was just too complex for us to deal with. Christine could communicate enough to let her displeasure be known and she only wanted Sheila has a caregiver. The 24-hour care simply was just too complex for one person to handle without a break. By spring, we made the difficult decision to readmit Christine into a nursing home.

127      In the 1980s, our parents had enjoyed their retirement years. I'd seen the transition coming in by the 2010s the transition was complete. Our parents were gone and Sheila and I had become the older grandma and grandpa in the family. Even for our five children we fit that mold. My daughter, Elicia, had no grandparents living on her husband side of the family for her children. Simon and Elicia's mother had died in 1994. So for their children, we were grandparents. Sonya, Donya, and Shane’s father remains in poor health and is not expected to live long. Sheila and I are the surviving parents and grandparents for them and their children as well. I don't want to ignore a few other grandparents out there for some of the grandchildren but as I told Sheila in the late 1990s, "We are becoming our grandparents." By 2010, that had become reality.

Getting back to work

128      The next blog.