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Dr. Amenta, The Family Doctor

22894523_1337213129741227_2031388151702215172_nHe was a pathologist by training but a family doctor by practice—at least with us, the Wolfe Family. In that case, he was our trusted advisor, the one we went to first with all our questions, concerns, and mysteries.

Dr. Amenta the male, my father called him.
Joe, my mother said, simply.
She, who trusted no one, trusted him, and we followed suit.

When I developed a mysterious rash on the soft, white underside of my arms, I took this mystery to him. Other doctors had looked at the cracked bleeding fingers, the vivid red bumps, the spreading despair, with no good answers. Dr. Amenta calmly assessed the situation, as always, holding my arms outstretched to him, gently tuning them to and fro. Then, in his calm, easy, explaining voice, he proclaimed a bit of hydrocortisone cream would fix it, and promised to get some from work for me.

How did he do that?

The solution came in a white, screw top plastic jar with white cream inside, and I smoothed it on immediately, relieved at once. And though it couldn’t wipe away the nervous energy and anxious thoughts mixed with farm dirt and family pain, the clean white mixture soothed my child’s soul and stopped the pain.

We spent each weekend at the Amentas after Mom and Dad were divorced, their kitchen providing a safe harbor, a happy landing place for three girls and a single father.  We came bearing gifts: Corned beef from Iz Cohen’s (1/4 pound, thinly sliced, well-trimmed), and bagels from Bageland on Murray Avenue. We gathered with Dr. Amenta the male and Dr. Amenta the female and their three kids: Nina, Tom, and Davi. The older two were not around a lot but Davi, who was my age, was still at home. We ate lunch at the kitchen table under the Italian poster they brought home after their year in Italy on his sabbatical. Dr. Amenta the female would occasionally read it to us in Italian, her voice and fist raised, her wide smile, white teeth, and red lipstick drawing us in. She was the heartbeat of every lunch hour.

But Dr. Amenta the male held forth in his way, quieter, but still laughing, teasing, calling me Little Aunt Edith. He sometimes listened to me practice the piano on the baby grand in the music room, sitting next to me on the bench. “I don’t see what he thinks is so great,” Davi mumbled to me later. I didn’t either, but I felt complimented.

When Ruth Anne started throwing up violently as we left the Squirrel Hill Library one weekend, we took our concerns to him; he was just a few blocks away. He listened carefully, calm as always, then diagnosed it: “Appendicitis. Get her to the emergency room, right away.”

The surgery was done before Mom even knew about it. Dad called her from the hospital. She was upset we had not called sooner, but the family doctor, Dr. Amenta, had been Dad’s first thought.

When Mom was diagnosed with cancer later, she called Dr. Amenta the male to explain this disease to her. He spoke in terms she could understand and she believed: She, who trusted no one, trusted him.

When she died, he sent us a note. It was a plain white card, addressed to “The Luminiello Girls,” closing a chapter in our lives with sincere words of comfort and mutual loss that only a doctor who was also an intimate friend could provide.

Then it was Dad who got sick. Again, the phone rang; it was Dr. Amenta, calling to check on him sooner after we got to the hospital. He asked about the symptoms, then explained patiently in words we could understand, reassuring us:

Yes, it’s excruciating pain.
Yes, it takes time for the pancreas to repair.
Yes, he’s in good hands and they are doing what they need to do.

We were in the very hospital system that Dr. Amenta once worked in, in the research labs. This was his territory, and he was confident in their services. We, who trusted no one just then, trusted him.

The last time I saw him he came to visit Dad in the rehabilitation facility, with Gisela, his second wife.  We’d been talking to him over the past two weeks, and Dad was out of danger now, but we still had questions: How long? What next? He gently answered: Awhile. Wait. It will get better.

At 86, Dr. Amenta was more fragile now: a meaty man but a damaged heart and a bout with prostate cancer that weakened him, making it difficult for him to walk, to stand. He used a walker, but when I greeted heard Gisela just outside Dad’s rehab door, I saw him throw back his shoulders, push the walker away, and practically march into the room. He wanted to be a picture of health so encourage Dad, who sat in an easy chair, covered in blankets and in pain, but glad to see him.

Dad, who trusted no one in that moment, trusted him.

The last time Dr. Amenta and I spoke on the phone, I was standing on Dad’s deck, watching the green leaves of deep summer moving around me. We’d planned to visit him and Gisela later in the day for dinner. But he was calling to say he didn’t think he could do it. By then his prostate cancer had returned, and he was much weaker, spending most of his time in bed. I was aware of time slowing down for a moment, feeling the phone in my hand, hearing his voice explaining calmly, as always, the right thing to do. I accepted his answer.

Me, who trusted no one, trusted him.

“You should call him in the mornings,” Davi said a few weeks later.  “He’s pretty alert then.” She’d just been by for a visit to Pittsburgh all the way from Wisconsin. I put that on my list but when I did call, perhaps a week or two later, I spoke to Gisela instead. He could not come to the phone. “You know how it is,” she said.

I was shocked when he died the next day.

He, the trusted one, trusted himself with his own final answers, and so must we.

Thank you, Dr. Amenta, for your good care all these years. I know I am not the only one who is grateful for it.

Here.
In the grief garden.

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Interruption

IMG_5339About a month ago, I left my journal at a friend’s house, so I had to start a new one.  When I got the old one back, I started writing again where I’d left off.  I noticed a lot had happened in a month’s time.  So I wrote about it.  (Note: Journal technique: time capsule)

IMG_6135May 29, 2016

A lot has happened since I lost my journal.

  • I planned my first street protest.
  • I went to Santa Rosa, Florida, for a reunion with three dear friends, where I photographed purple flowers.
  • Despite our protest, the Zoning Committee of City Council voted to approve the zoning change to my neighborhood
  • I took the Journal to the Self series for the fourth time, this time facilitated by my friend and newly certified JTTS facilitator, Meg Rohal, so we can work together to expand the expressive writing community here in Jacksonville.IMG_5745.jpg
  • City Council also voted to approve the zoning change, with the exception of five key votes.
  • We began filing an appeal.
  • I went to Kanuga, North Carolina, for the 2016 Journal Conference and heard Pulitzer-Prize-winning poet laureate Natasha Trethewey.
  • My kids came home from college for the summer.
  • Camille got a job and is writing an article for Edible Northeast Florida!
  • Matt survived his freshman year at LSU!
  • I joined City Beautiful Jax as a board member.
  • I held a writing circle in the woods for a Write + Hike + Eat at Down to Earth Farm.
  • I wrote a table of contents for my new book idea.
  • I learned three new bird calls:  yellow-throated warbler, Eastern phoebe, song sparrow.
  • IMG_5836The downy woodpeckers in the back yard fledged the nest.
  • I decided I’m ready to finish setting up my bedroom, the last room in the house to get my attention since my move.
  • I’m helping to start a non-profit to help give citizens a stronger voice is our City’s zoning decisions.
  • I got closer on the redesign of my business brands (I’ve got four of them).
  • I planned my trip to Belgium (and Luxembourg, and Ireland, and Paris), for this summer, kicked off by Camille’s study abroad program in Paris.
  • Camille’s passport finally arrived in the mail!
  • I began planning ANOTHER street protest.

Now I’m headed to brunch at Community Loaves with Camille, where we will eat homemade bread and walk in the garden.

Life is good.
Here.
In the Riverside Garden.

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Death Comes Quickly

He was a tall man; somewhat morose, it seemed to me. His smile did not break out easily, but when it did, it changed his face from dark to light, like the snow crystals suddenly bathed in morning sunlight on Sheep’s Pasture at the Cataloochie Ranch.

View of the Horse Barn and Sheep's Pasture from the Cataloochie Ranch living room.I remember glancing out the window of the Bluebird one summer and seeing him at the picnic tables with the ranch hands, a sardonic, wide grin on his face, at ease, enjoying himself.  His sunglasses wrapped around his head, and I thought, here is the man that his wife fell in love with, his daughter admires, his Cataloochie co-workers appreciate, for his quiet, unassuming way.

He was the ranch historian, running through the slide show dutifully every Monday night.  Not a showman, but, telling it truthfully, animating now and then over a salacious detail, like the gun just visible in the photo, or the moonshine hidden in the background.

His passion seemed to be the Chestnut orchard. He explained how they had found a mature, disease-free tree on the ranch not long ago, then developed a mini-forest of cross-bred saplings, combining an Asian species with the original tree, an ongoing experiment of regeneration, restoration, and rebirth.

And he was the caller every year at the square dance.  I wish I’d have been there for one of those.

Was he lonely, I wondered? I knew he was recently divorced. One time, the ranch ladies sat him next to me and my friend Melissa, single at the time.  Were they hoping for a match, we wondered?  We giggled a bit about it, later.

But that trip, he gave me a big hug before I left, his arms opened as wide as the fireplace mantle behind him, as broad as his  frame was tall. Still bruised by my own loss, I only watched us from a distance.

“He’s terminally ill,” his mother told me this morning, when I asked where he’d been. “He’s not expected to last ’til Christmas.” Her eyes filled as my face registered the shock, and my eyes filled, also. “That’s where I’m going right now, to see him.  Mary’s been with him all night.”

“I’m so sorry,” I said.

“You have to deal with what you’re dealt,” she said, matter-of-factly.

Sunset at the Ranch.We both looked away, at the bare Christmas tree, standing in the place where he normally projects his slide show, in the large, comfortable ranch living room, a former barn.

“I wish they hadn’t put the Christmas tree up yet,” she said.  “Let Thanksgiving weekend be Thanksgiving weekend, and then let it be Christmas.”

I saw her driving away later, into the cold morning, and my eyes and heart filled again, for a mother’s love, for a lost son.

Here.
In the garden.

 

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Divine Order

I must admit, growing up in the somewhat chaotic world of the farm, I crave order.  I require it.  It’s definitely necessary for my inner peace.

As Gretchen Rubin quotes in her book, Happier At Home, “outer order creates inner order.” Or, as a friend’s father used to say, “The state of your room is the state of your mind.” Or, as Oprah has pointed out, “The state of your wallet reflects the state of your finances.”

Therefore, it is a real discipline for me to allow my son’s clothes to lie where they are dropped, all over his room, day after day. I cannot let myself IMG_2488pick them up, even if I think that would be “good for him.”

As my brother-in-law once tongue-in-cheek pointed out, after I’d spent a week with my family, “Why should I put the glass away if Jennifer will just come along later and put it away for me?”

Now, like all things, it’s a matter of balance for me.  Can I handle a little disorder and still be OK?

I was annoyed this morning when I realized my son had not taken out the trash cans last night, nor removed the recyclables from the kitchen. Therefore, I’d have to do it myself, in the rain.

Hmmm.  Do you see a pattern here?  (“Why should I take it out if Mom’s going to take it out for me?”)

The truth for me is actually yet another paradox: inner peace creates outer calm.  As I have learned to cultivate inner calm, I’m better able to stay serene in the face of disorder.

But it does feel good to have that “outer clean” boost, as Gretchen points out.  This week, my painter buddy, Anthony, is back in town.  He has patiently and painstakingly painted this house, inside and out, for the past eight years: the garage, my daughter’s room (3 times), furniture, air vents, the laundry room. And the white fence that surrounds my garden.

After he moved away a couple years ago, mildew took over, so this week I asked him to power wash and touch up everything.  Including the place on the pergola where my son scratched his initials (a brief knife-ownership phase).

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Ahhh.  Lovely. “Looks just as good as when I first painted it,” Anthony said, grinning and surveying his work.

Yes.  It is good to restore order, to create order, to maintain order — in a garden and in life. Just not to the edge of military precision.  I’ve got to let my son (and daughter, for that matter) grow a little wild — to move outside the edges and then back in.  I’ve got to have  a little tolerance for disorder in his world, so that he can feel, on his own, the difference between the two states, and decide what feels comfortable for HIM.  Not me.

After all, he hung up his towel four days in a row last week! It’s a miracle!

Oh, these wildflowers.  They will grow and bloom, just not in a straight line.  Free. Tumbling. Wild. Finding their own particular and lovely beauty, in the divine order of all things.

Here.
In the garden.

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Digging In The Dirt

Just for fun, here’s an interview with me that my colleague and friend, Jean Rowe, wrote for The Center for Journal Therapy last fall.  Some good dirt on me!  (Jean is the Program Manager and Oncology Certified Social Worker at Young Survival Coalition in Atlanta, and leads journaling workshops for young survivors.)

What is your relationship between actual gardening and journaling?

My garden is both a metaphor for my life and a literal experience, where I can connect with myself and the earth. In my journal, I write about both experiences. In the process, I learn a lot, about myself and about the world. Plus, I often write IN the garden. I have a bench in my front yard, tucked under a tree and near my bluebird nest box, and it is a delightful spot to journal in the early morning, among the birds and flowers.

What have your harvested from the garden that is your journal?

Stability. It’s an anchor, a root system, one that keeps me grounded. I write in my journal every morning, without fail, and often throughout the day. It’s how I find out what’s going on with me, how I process the events of my life, and connect with my spiritual self. These are all activities I did not do very well until recently.

Here’s the link for the rest of the article: http://twinstitute.net/wp-content/uploads/2011/01/C4JT-E-Zine-Autumn-2012-smaller.pdf

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