Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Rosalind Risser Yasui

Well, it finally happened. We knew this was coming for a long time but I just couldn't grasp it so I tried not to think about it. My most wonderful, funny, smart sister died April 17, 2010 from breast cancer. Now, no one dies from breast cancer in their breast. It's when it travels to more important parts that it kills you. In Roz's case it went to her lungs and slowly drowned her. It took a year.

I can't write a story that makes sense right now so I am going to just write about things I remember as they come to me. My memories of Pinky.

When we were kids there was a TV show for children. Sort of a precursor of Mr. Rogers. It was called Romper Room. The host would sing a song...
Pinky winky baby,
Pinky winky woo,
Pinky winky baby,
I love you.

She loved that song and want to be Pinky, so she was for 50 years. She would answer the phone, "This is Roz." and I would say, "No, it's not, it's Pinky." And she would agree, "This is Pinky."

When we were kids we shared a room and back before we got carpeting, it had a blue linoleum floor. On rainy days when we couldn't go outside, we would play games on our beds. In one of them, the floor was the ocean and we had to stay on our beds, which were boats and wriggle on the ground as if swimming, if we had to go to the bathroom. We also would fight like cats and dogs and I had scars from scratches on my forearms well into my 20's. If I dared to hit her back, I would get into trouble as I was older. Also, Roz was always sort of frail. Not really sick, just not as hale and hearty as the rest of us. As the baby, she was picked on and defended in about equal measure.

When we were 11 and 13 our father took a sabbatical leave and took all but our brother, Randy who was in college, to live in the Kingdom Of Tonga. We were all teenagers. Roland was going to be a senior in high school and Robin had just graduated. We lived in some of the most primitive situations. Places where water was what was collected off a tin roof and we had to strain the mosquito larvae out and boil it to even use it to brush our teeth. Practically a full time job with our little camp stove. We also had places with actual beds and running water, even though it was only from a hose bib in a large area with a real concrete floor.

Dad enrolled us in school. Rosalind went to what I remember as Tonga College..what they called high school. She had to wear a uniform of a blue skirt and white blouse. Roland and I opted to go to Atenisi Kolisi, or Athens College. Their uniform was black skirts for girls and black slacks for boys with a white shirt. We chose Atenisi because it was the Tongan version of continuation high school for unruly kids and started later and ended sooner than the other schools. I remember they asked Paula to come sew the skirts. There were no ready made. He just looked at you and started cutting fabric and made the skirts. They called him Paula Faka Leiti or Faka Fefini. Paul was gay and Faka means like and Fefini means woman. Paula is the Tongan version of Paul, I don't know of any words that end with a consonant.

Because we lived together and knew almost no one else, we became very close. Dad bought a bicycle (pisikileta is how I remember it) to get around on. I would ride Roz to school every morning on the flat framework on the back of the bike. She would sit side saddle and I would drop her off, then ride home and walk the few blocks to my school in case Dad needed the bike. Roland ended up opting out of school when they tried to get him to teach as he was already better educated than most of their teachers. He ended up going out fishing on ocean-going fishing boats most days. After school I would go back and pick her up. One day I rode a horse to pick her up. I always loved stories of kids that got to ride back and forth to school and thought she would be thrilled. She was not. She had to climb up on a big horse with a skirt and ride home in front of all her friends. In Tonga girls did not ride horses, other than me, and they tolerated me because I was an American and we all know they are different.

After Roland went back to finish high school, Robin, Roz and I became even closer. I remember walking down some road in the soft, warm rain while we worked out 3 part harmonies from songs where we tried to remember the words. We tried not to sing around Dad, because he would then make us get up in front of any group of Tongans that had invited us for a feast and have us perform. We were not the Osmonds and I resented every minute of it. I think we sounded OK, but I'm sure our faces let people know our opinions! So we banded together throughout the South Pacific and then on to an 8 week tour of Europe crammed into a camping van. More bonding against parental units!

After Roz had her breast surgery, she came to stay with me in Laguna Niguel to recuperate. She was horribly bruised from her armpit to her waist. The incision was small and I think they went up to the lymph nodes from the breast incision and I think they should have done two incisions and they wouldn't have hurt her so much. She was told from the beginning that her kind of cancer HER2- was the worst kind and it always came back. From then on she accepted that she had less than 10 years and lived her life that way. I kept thinking they were wrong and that she would be lucky and not get it back. She did everything they told her...chemo and radiation and even some experimental drugs from UCLA to prevent the occurrence even though she had to stop early as it was affecting her heart. But she always knew it would come back.

After a year of treatment, Roz came back to Laguna Niguel because she wanted to get her SCUBA certification. She always loved Hawaii and we had spent a lot of our time in Tonga snorkeling, but she wanted to do the "real" thing. So we both went to a sports shop and then to local pools and finally two ocean dives. Once off the coast of Laguna Beach and once off Catalina. We promised each other that we would go to Hawaii or the Caribbean and do some diving where big heavy wet suits and correspondingly heavy weight belts to counteract the buoyancy of the suits, were not an issue. We were together for a whole month and loved every bit of it.

I remember her going out to our small garden. I had recently replanted some mint in a place where I had previously taken it out as it was so invasive. But nothing else would grow there in the shade of 3 palm trees, so I had replanted quite a few mint plants. Roz went out to do some gardening and proudly told me later that she had removed all the mint that had "come back." I never told her I had planted them.

Later she told me that the SCUBA experience and a long trip to Germany with her husband Arnold, combined with a visit with her friend from Finland, Kirsi Heiskala, were all part of her "bucket list". I'm glad I could help her mark off a few things.

When we moved all the way across the country to Virginia, she came and stayed for another month. Arnold stayed for the first week and then he had to go back to work. She stayed and we built corrals and a loft in the barn. I can also picture her weeding my garden here, thankfully I did not have any mint. I have learned my lesson and keep mint in a pot. So now as I drive down to the barn every morning I see the corral she helped build where I put the horses. I see the loft where we store the hay. I see the garden that she spent so much time helping me weed and keep the bushes nicely trimmed. I see her everywhere in my house, yet I can't see her here ever again. I still can't grasp that notion. My much beloved sister will never come see me or go for a dive in clear blue waters. I just SPOKE to her.

Arnold called and said she was failing. I knew she had asked that Arnold be the one with her at the end, but on my last visit I told her I would be back. I didn't want to upset her by talking about this being our last visit ever in the whole expanse of time. I knew she hated it when I cried or talked about how much I would miss her. She didn't want to have to comfort ME. She got mad at me for crying when she was first diagnosed, so I tried not to do it in front of her.

So, when Arnie called me, I asked her if she wanted me to come and she said, "Yes, I'd like that." So I got online looking for a flight. This was Thursday. I ended up booking a flight for Sunday, for a no damned good reason. I did have a vet coming to inoculate the horses and I did need to do some wash to go on a long visit, so I booked for a week-long trip and wondered if I would have to re-book and stay longer, because this time I wasn't going to leave her. I even thought about how I had been a nursing student at one time and had worked in a nursing home taking care of bedridden patients. This was back when nursing staff didn't wear gloves when cleaning up people and I figured I could do anything after that. Maybe that was why I had taken those courses all those years ago. Maybe I had been a nursing student so that one day I could help my sister through the last days of her life. I even looked forward to being there for her in this or any other way. It was to be my final gift to her.

Then Arnold called me late Saturday night and I knew. Even when he was unable to say the words, or even any words, I knew that I had missed the most important thing I was ever supposed to do. I had missed being there with my sister. I had let Roz and Arnold down and I will never forgive myself. I will miss Pinky forever and I don't know if I will ever stop crying when I think of her or talk about her. And I don't know if I will ever stop wondering if maybe she knew how hard this would be for me and she chose to go early to spare me the ordeal. What she didn't know was that I looked forward in a scared sort of way to being there for her. And I was too late and now I'll never know if I could have been strong for her and Arnold and if I would have been a comfort to her. I'll never know and I'll always be sorry I let her down. I'll miss you Pinky.

Saturday, April 10, 2010

In the past year we have seen Merle Haggard, Lady Antebellum,, Tim McGraw, The Roanoke Symphony Orchestra and Aaron Neville. We listened to the RSO and Aaron Neville last night. They were both wonderful, but Mr. Neville should have warmed up his voice before the concert. It took him until 20 minutes into the first set before he could hit the high notes with any power. It was a great show, though...and the man is 66 for crying out loud!

Yes, we live in the country in a small town with no stop lights, although they are discussing painting a crosswalk in the near future. But within a 30 minute drive, we can see a play, shop in a mall, go to a big hospital, visit a vineyard, hike the Appalachian Trail or the Blueridge Parkway.

On our property we have seen groundhogs, deer, fox, raccoon, rabbits, squirrels, turkeys, hawks and any number of birds, including very large and ugly buzzards. I saw a bear crossing the road on the way to work one morning. Totally cool, because I was in my car...not so cool had I been walking. Plus he turned and ran away, so I guess I scared him!

So, with all the wildlife and being so far out in the country, you might not expect to see such wonderful programs at the 2 Civic Centers nearby, the ones in Salem and Roanoke. Perhaps the entertainers were on their way to D.C. and they got lost out here in the boonies! But for whatever reason, Lee and I have been taking advantage of the opportunity. OK, so most of the HUGE acts stop in Virginia Beach or Charlottesville or some other big city, but I hate crowds, so that doesn't bother me so much. Sure, I'd like to see Brad Paisley. Maybe I'll catch him on his way to a bigger venue. Although I hate to admit it, the Lady/Mcgraw concert was way too loud for me. I don't think it is because I am so old these days. The sound became distorted it was so loud and my ears rang all night. So an outdoor venue would probably suit these old ears better.

We are 8 hours from New York. We have yet to make the drive. Maybe someday we'll go and see some Broadway shows. For now we are happy with the shows that stop here on their way elsewhere.

From the sublime to the mundane...shedding.

AHHH! The hot, itchy, sweaty winter coats of the horses is starting to come out. After a few hot days and a bit of running around and the hair is starting to loosen.

A shedding blade is a long flexible blade with tiny teeth on one side. When used properly it pulls the hair off in a neat semi-circle. First I use a curry comb in circles to get the hair and dirt loose. Then I pull everything I freed off the horse in long slow strokes of the shedding blade. Libby is ticklish and when I scratch along her back she dips away from the brushing. Afterwards the barn is littered with hair and dirt.

The birds will probably like it. I can imagine that the hair would probably make for a nice nest. In fact we have a few that keep trying to nest in our barn. If nor for the horrid piles of bird droppings under the nest, I would let them, but it is unsightly and unsanitary so we knock their nest down as soon as we see them starting up again. We have acres of trees..go there!

While I had Libby and Claire in their crossties, I gave them their bi-monthly worming, a never ending quest to keep them parasite free. Then I put on Libby's fly mask. She gets horribly bothered by flies and her eyes swell up something terrible. I left Claire's mask off again. Her mask has made a raw spot on her chin. I have to wash it in case a build up of hair is the culprit. Then I will try again. It worked great all last season, but if it continues to irritate her, then I will have to buy another one. She isn't as susceptible as Libby, but the flies get bad in the summer and I want her as comfortable as possible.

Sunday, April 4, 2010

Easter Egg Hunt at the Fincastle Library

Every week during the school year, we have story hour in the library. On holidays they usually have a small party hosted by Miss Jackie and "catered" by the parents of the kids. This week we had the annual Easter Eggs hunt.

Last year it was cold and rainy for our hunt, so we hid eggs in the children's section of the library. When Jackie brought out the eggs that the moms had brought, I assumed we would hide them again inside. Not so fast, grasshopper. It was a beautiful warm day, no inside hiding for us. Cathy, Doris and I took them outside and started hiding them. It was a large turnout, however, so hiding soon gave way to dropping them any old place. I thought it would be fun to hide them on the cars that were in the parking lot, but the others wouldn't let me and insisted the eggs stay on the library side of the sidewalk. Safety shmafety, there were way more hiding places under and around cars!

We have a great group of kids and they all had fun gathering the eggs...finding is too strong of a word. So enjoy the pictures of the Fincastle story hour group going about the serious business of egg gathering!

Possum Pee

When I went out to the barn the other morning, I noticed that there were pawprints in the sediment at the bottom of the watering trough. Around here they call it a tank, but it is only 40 gallons, so tank seems a bit presumptuous. We have a 100 gallon tank in the other pasture, but I am giving that one a rest and allowing the grass to grow in there. I have quit feeding morning hay, so I need to manage the grass consumption. At any rate, I saw prints in the tank.

Here is where it gets tricky. The prints looked to me like raccoon paws. They looked about 3 inches long and about 2 inches wide. I know that raccoons like water, but there is a stream about 50 yards away...as the crow flies or the raccoon waddles. If it is a raccoon, I don't have a problem sharing water. On the other hand, if it is a possum, I have a big problem.

There is a disease called Equine Protozoal Myeloencephalitis or EPM. It is a neurological disorder that a horse gets from eating or drinking something that is contaminated by the urine or feces of an infected possum. It can be fatal even with treatment. So I don't want possums anywhere near the horses. As I get my hay from our property, I don't want possums any where on the place. I don't like shooting animals, but I think I would have to do so if I saw possums setting up housekeeping anywhere near the horses.

Now, possums are generally nocturnal, so they could be around and I wouldn't even know it. This is just one more reason why Rebecca thinks we should get a dog. Lee, on the other hand doesn't want the responsibility of training and dealing with a puppy. Rhett and Ashley are not dog friendly kitties. So we are at an impass.

I would put in a picture of a possum (yech) or a raccoon or even the pawprints in the tank. Unfortunately, I forgot my camera that morning and promptly washed out the tank just in case it was a possum print. So I am including a picture of the beautiful blooming tree off our back porch. It has nothing to do with the subject, but it is darn pretty and I didn't have any more things to say about spring!