Microwave Blues (Dedicated to the memory of Lisa Walsh Chesloff)

March 10, 2013

Growing old isn’t easy. Even the simplest of actions can take on an additional dimension of obstacle or burden. That seems like it should be obvious enough, but it has become reinforced for me since I have been helping out my elderly neighbors across the street, Arnold and Lisa. I am thinking about it even more today, for Lisa has just left this life.

Arnold is coping. He is ninety-four. He has survived cancer and the deaths of a young son and his first wife, so he has experience in that area. We just walked over to visit with him, bringing brownies that my wife made (his favorite) and condolences. We asked if he needed anything. He said no, he was fine. As I left, I looked around at all the things that were reminders of Lisa, and I wondered.

There are many reminders for me as well. I had become quite familiar with Lisa since Arnold fell and broke a vertebrae in his neck two Christmases ago. His mobility became severely limited. Lisa, who suffered from several incapacitating conditions herself, became his caretaker. Whenever she needed assistance, I became her “knight in shining armor,” as she put it. Lisa would call and ask me to pick up their many prescriptions at the pharmacy, and since she had a sweet tooth, side stops for Dots or Lifesavers became commonplace. Taking out the garbage and recycling twice a week became part of my routine. Once inside their house, Lisa always had many small chores that needed tending to.

I would often drive them to doctor appointments and medical tests. These undertakings required considerable time. The only  means to get downstairs from their bedroom was a shaky spiral stairway. I would gingerly spot them as they slowly made their way down. We then had to navigate our way through the narrow garage, and getting them both into the car frequently proved to be a harrowing ordeal. After I loaded their walkers into the trunk, there would be a final checking and rechecking of necessary items — garage door opener, cell phone, water bottle, medical identification information — which usually resulted in a trip back inside for a forgotten item. But in spite of all the logistical problems, they enjoyed these trips, for it was basically the only time they got out of the house. Lisa would chat away in the car, Arnold joining in occasionally, his hearing difficulties accounting for some unintentionally humorous exchanges. Once at the doctor’s office or hospital, more tricky maneuvers with the walkers ensued until we situated ourselves in the waiting room, Lisa insisting I sit right by her side.

I have fond memories of Lisa during this time, many of them lighthearted in spite of the duress of her situation. One particular experience still makes me chuckle every time I think of it.

Late one afternoon the phone rang, and it was Lisa sounding a bit desperate.

“Lisa, what’s the matter?”

“Oh, Donald, it’s my microwave. It’s not working. I don’t know what to do. I have to get supper ready for Arnold.”

“Okay, Lisa, I’ll be right over.”

I went over and took a look at the microwave. It was a monstrous old hulk of a thing, a Litton from years ago, and it indeed showed no signs of life. Since Lisa could no longer lift pots and pans to cook on the stove, the microwave had become essential to their existence. She needed to go buy a replacement.

“Okay, Lisa, where would you like to go?”

“Bed Bath and Beyond!” was her immediate response.

“Uh, I’m not so sure they have much in the way of microwaves, Lisa.”

“I’m sure they do,” she replied. “Besides, I like that store.”  So the process began of getting Lisa and her walker into my car and driving off to find a new microwave.

During the ride to Springfield, Lisa told me she wanted the same kind of microwave and that she didn’t want to spend too much. This didn’t look promising. I explained that they probably didn’t even make Littons anymore, and that prices of appliances had gone up.

“Well, all right, but it has to at least be the same size.”

Once at the store, I got the walker and Lisa out, but the ramp that led to the entrance proved to be too steep for her to handle.

“Wait here, Lisa. I’ll run in and check it out.”

I found a sales guy who looked like he would rather be anyplace else on earth rather than working in Bed Bath and Beyond. I asked him where I could find a microwave.

“Microwave?” he asked with a puzzled look. “Do we even carry them?”

I told him I was sure I didn’t know, so he directed me several aisles over to look in the kitchen section. There I found another salesperson. I asked again.

“Yes, but we only carry one model, and we’re out of it.” Wonderful.

I returned to Lisa and relayed this news, subduing any hint of “I told you so” that might in other circumstances have crept into my voice. I suggested we drive to Maplewood to the mall where both Home Depot and Target were located. She agreed, and I got her and the walker back into the car just as the sun began setting.

I pulled into the parking lot in front of Home Depot. Since it was getting late, I had Lisa wait in the car while I did some consumer reconnaissance. The Home Depot had a decent selection, but nothing special. I sprinted over to Target and into the appliance department. There I saw it.  A Panasonic, same capacity as the old Litton, and on sale to boot! Perfect!

I ran back to the car and drove up to the Target entrance, got the walker, and helped Lisa out. I quickly parked and escorted her into the store.

Now, this particular Target is the size of three football fields, so getting Lisa over to see the Perfect Microwave was no small task. Plus she kept stopping to look at other items along the way.

“Oh, these gloves look nice, don’t they?”

“Uh, yeah, Lisa, they do, but we really need to move along here.” It seemed that Lisa had found a new favorite store.

We arrived at the appropriate aisle, and I showed her the Panasonic.

“See? Same capacity as the old one. And it’s on sale.”

“Oh, good! Let’s get it!”

Both of us felt quite relieved as we drove home. Once back at the house, I had to remove the old microwave and take it outside for disposal. I tried to lift it, but it wouldn’t budge. A quick look underneath revealed the reason. Twenty years of caked up grime had fastened the old Litton like cement. A good deal of prying and grunting followed, but I finally freed it. Carrying it out turned out to be another Herculean chore, for the thing weighed a ton. That done and the counter reasonably cleaned, the project seemed about to be finished.

Not so fast. The power cord from the Panasonic was situated on the side farthest from the outlet which was behind the refrigerator. It would not reach. Not to worry, I told Lisa. I had a three-pronged extension at home.

As I rushed in the door, my wife, who by now had prepared supper, asked if I had finally finished.

“Not quite,”  is all I managed as I hustled back out with the extension.

Back across the street, the connection reached successfully, and the last step began: instructing Lisa on the use of the new microwave. I showed her how to set the power and the time and turn it on. I repeated the demonstration several times. She tried it. Nope, not quite.

“Well,” I said, “all you have to do is follow the instruction manual.”

“No,” she replied frowning, “I can never understand those darn things. Just show me again.”

Fifteen minutes later, she thought she had it. I returned home for my now-cold supper. Part way through my pasta, the phone rang. Lisa again.

“Donald, something’s wrong. I tried to heat up the meal, but it isn’t going, and a light keeps flashing.”

“OK, I’ll be right there.” My wife just rolled her eyes.

She showed me what she had done, and I pointed out that she had mistakenly hit the “child lock” button instead of the “on” button. I showed her again how to do it correctly and prepared to leave once their meal was spinning merrily in the now-functioning Panasonic.

“Oh, Donald, what would I do without my knight in shining armor?” Sigh.

Several weeks later when I went to get the garbage, Lisa told me there was a problem with the microwave. I thought perhaps a refresher lesson was in order.

“No, it’s not that. I don’t like the way it opens. The old one you didn’t have to pull open. And besides, I can’t see the buttons. I think we should return it.”

“Lisa, I really don’t think you can return it now. Let’s see what we can do.”

Not seeing the buttons turned out to be the result of poor kitchen lighting because of a small wattage bulb, easy enough to remedy. I slid the microwave closer to the edge of the counter to change the arm angle needed to pull it open. Lisa didn’t seem convinced, but she never brought it up again. I assumed all was well since subsequent dinners reached Arnold sufficiently heated, so that was the end of the microwave blues. It is just one of the many memories that will stay with me.

In Harper Lee’s masterpiece To Kill a Mockingbird, Scout said, “Neighbors bring food with death and flowers with sickness and little things in between.” Lisa always let me know how much she appreciated those “little things in between.” I hope she knew how much I appreciated those things that made her who she was, her undying love for Arnold, her can-do attitude in the face of seemingly insurmountable odds, her indomitable spirit. Although her passing brings us sadness, I choose to remember her with joy. I will continue to go over and help Arnold as much as I can, and I’m sure he will share many of his stories of her with me. People become a part of you, and they stay a part of you even after their departure. Lisa became a part of me as I did of her, and I celebrate her memory because of that.


One comment

  1. Hi Don:

    Lisa was my aunt, and only sister of my mother (Jean Kane). This is a lovely remembrance, and I am very glad I came across it. My mom, my sister Rita, and I will all be there to visit Arnold the last week in March. I hope we meet you and can thank you in person for all those not-so-little things in between.

    Best regards,

    Nora Kane

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