Dorothy Canrinus has lived for 99 years.

I’ll never make it.

Her son, Mike, my husband, didn’t.  He had a rare brain disease catch up with him at age 57 and died when he was 64. We didn’t tell her at the time.

Mike loved his Mom although the relationship was awkward. He didn’t quite know what to do with her paraplegic limits when he was a child and as a teenager listening to her fractured voice and tortured speech was too much. It wasn’t until the last half of his life when humiliation has already taken your looks, your need to impress, your care what others think, that he could embrace her brokenness without thinking it reflected on him. That he might catch it. 

Then, actually, he did. The contagion slipped into his brain and he lost his eyesight and his own 10-year-old daughter turned her head in shame when he walked alongside, holding my hand, being led to the bathroom door with his blind eyes bright blue and unseeing. 

“He’s blind!” I would announce to the ladies’ room at large while I wheeled him into the disabled stall – large, but never quite large enough for an easy transfer or getting the chair turned around to face the right way on the way out. 

On the way out.

Sometimes I would be handing him toilet paper and whisper to him – “Now, if you suddenly regain your eyesight, the last thing you want to do in here is shout, ‘I can see! I can see!'” And we’d laugh as we went to the sink so I could wash his hands under disapproving eyes, lips pursed, silent judgement that there should have been SOME OTHER WAY to handle the situation. 

What way, you nasty, judgmental woman? What way? 

Dorothy and Mike busted through boundaries that would have preferred them be kept hidden, separate, apart. Angry and afraid. Instead Mike ran toward heaven with blessed strides and caught Jesus in a bro-hug with a joyous smile. Dorothy is patient. She accepts life for what it is and the days continue to fascinate her just by the fact that they keep coming. The birthday crown may be silly, but believe me, she will wear a crown covered with diadems reflecting the glory of heaven and shining like stars. 

99 years…and counting. 


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The year Mother didn’t die was an aberration.

It was a year of El Nino, a time when global conditions, cloud cover, tides, and wind currents somehow make a mockery of the Sunny Southern California expectation. Normally bright, clear, blue skies stretch over an endless horizon of rippling saltwater and the sun makes diamonds in the curve of the waves that splash with a latte-froth of foam and sand, then disappear before your very eyes, leaving a heavy, wet slope, exposed.

Before your very eyes.

In the year of El Nino, the sun went into hiding and layer upon layer of fog rested heavily on the scrub brush of the cliffs along the water’s edge. Rain beat against the rag top of my convertible, making a swift riverlet along the top and spraying far behind, but constant and unrelenting against the windshield heading north, where Mother lay not dying day after day after day. Rains came unforgiving and covered the black asphalt with puddles that made the wheels splash. Whooshing cars raced up and down the concrete ribbon that defined the Very End of the United States – the tilted, off-balance strip of highway along the Southern California coast that made the drive from San Diego to Dana Point swift and frightening. Off-kilter. As if a wave of grain in the Midwest could start a rumble that would build westward, gather strength through the Rockies and slap down the Western slope, scattering cars into the Pacific like tub toys.

Others raced past me, too fast, as I plodded faithfully north three nights a week, jumpy from the speed and the headlights and the darkness and the rain and the rain and the rain. Past the yellow traffic-sign silhouette of a desperate immigrant family dragging a child across the eight deadly lanes. Hurry. Hurry. Mother is dying. My Mother is dying. My Mother is dying. I whispered the words in time with the windshield wipers – sometimes shouted them, sometimes added hot wet tears to the huge drops beating outside the car. Hurry.

Instead, El Nino died. The rain was held back and, briefly, winds would take the churning clouds to one corner of the sky and expose a patient blue. There are scientists who can explain the weather. Different scientists than the ones that deal with sagging flesh, bloodclots, brittle bones and faint hearts. Weather scientists who depend on the perspective of satellites far, far above the earth, who can see the whole thing at once, and watch the inevitable collision of forces. These scientists declared that El Nino was dead and in its place was dead calm.

By the end of the year that Mother didn’t die, the forces around us were quiet — a condition called La Nina, or Little Girl.

 The year Mother didn’t die

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