Saturday, December 26, 2020

“Christmas Pickle” by Marian Dykstra

I was at work on a Saturday in November, making pots of steaming coffee, sweeping up sesame seeds from bagels, and serving a customer with a macchiato when I noticed my husband walk in, concern on his face.  My brother had called him following a frantic conversation with Mom.  Dad had had a seizure at home, had fallen unconscious, and was being taken to the hospital by ambulance. 

My family lived farthest away, an hour from everyone, and my husband suggested I leave work immediately as my coworker offered to finish the shift.   Along the drive, I thought of Dad’s health, his high blood pressure, smoking habit, two shots of whiskey a night, and how his mom, my Oma, died of a stroke.  We braced for the worst. 

My brothers, sisters, an aunt and uncle gathered with Mom and Dad in the emergency department.  While he was being examined, Dad had a second seizure.  We knew it was serious and my siblings and I held hands to pray.

On Sundays we go to church.  We get up, eat breakfast, take showers, and put on clothes that are a bit nicer than the ones we wear the rest of the week.  My Oma’s watch is the last thing I put on and the most important part of the outfit.  

It is laid out on a special shelf, in a protective case, near an angel figurine I bought in the Maritimes last year after hearing of my Oma's death.  The watch lays in front of a framed print that Dad had the graphic artist in our family design for each of his six children.  The sign reads:
Words to live by
Happy Moments
Praise God
Difficult Moments 
Seek God 
Quiet Moments 
Worship God 
Painful Moments 
Trust God 
Every Moment  
Thank God

On the Sunday following the emergency room visit, I got up and went for a long run.  It was dark, cold, and I woke up groggy.  Running is routine on mornings when I wake up feeling crappy.  It’s meditative and lifts spiritual angst.  A natural high occurs when the running is through and stored tension gets released.  

After the run, I called my parent’s home, knowing that Dad had a planned follow up with a neurologist at Hamilton General Hospital.  My twelve-year-old son was going to play guitar in church that morning and I wanted to be there.   I felt Dad would be in good hands and I could help by praying.

My sister, who answered the phone, heard of the church plan and suggested the hospital appointment instead.  My runners high balanced to calm submission.  She told me to meet them on the seventh floor.

I thought of other times I’d been in a hospital with people who were dying or facing devastation.  Being present was the best gift in moments of uncertainty.  I packed several magazines and leftover banana bread, alongside directions to the hospital and a pocketful of change. 

Arriving at Hamilton General, I parked the car and fed eight dollars into the meter, noting later that for a few extra dollars, I would have hit the maximum and had parking for the day.  The elevator was beyond the gift shop, whose Christmas colours, ornaments, and cardinal paraphernalia beckoned.  Later, I thought. 

Dad lay on a hospital bed, Mom on one side, two sisters on the other.  A nurse was at the foot of his bed and all looked up as I entered with the bag of magazines.  I was the only one with coffee. 

“I brought magazines,” I announced.   “And O magazine for you,” I quipped to dad, knowing how much he hated Oprah. 

“Oh no, no, no way!” he responded on cue. 

“Don’t you remember how you used to yell at me to turn her off and get you coffee when I was younger?”  I said.

“Does anyone want coffee?” I asked, looking again at my cup.  I pulled out the Redbook, O, and People magazines, passing them out, waiting for a response about coffee. 

Mom decided it would be helpful, while waiting, to have two of us sit with Dad and two go for a walk so the room was less crowded.  My sister and I took the first shift, opting to get Mom’s coffee and a peanut butter cookie.  She always liked a little treat with coffee.  While waiting to pay, I noticed a cereal called, “Holy Crap Breakfast Cereal.”  Laughing, I took a photo. 

While passing the gift shop again, I saw a group of pickles among more traditional Christmas ornaments.  This strange display became a new focal point and later, when I brought Mom down to see them near the cardinal ornaments, she paused, perhaps trying to see the value. 

“I have to have that pickle,” I said.

“I’ll buy it,” replied my conservative, Dutch mom.  My protests fell on deaf ears.

When we returned to Dad’s room, he was being tested by the female neurologist who looked like she had just finished high school.  Earlier I recalled him asking the nurse whether his doctor would be “a young guy or an old guy.”  Knowing he would have preferred “an old guy,” this young doctor had everyone’s attention and completed a thorough exam. 

“Do you want to see my pickle ornament?” I said to my bewildered sisters and slightly amused dad.

It wasn’t my first round in an emergency room with a loved one in critical condition.  Several weeks later, Dad is still alive, recovering, and everyone is grateful.  I’ve learned that navigating life’s rough patches goes better with common sense, strong faith, and a healthy dose of humour.  The pickle ornament will hang on our tree, serving as a reminder of the time we were in the hospital with Dad and we nearly lost him but then didn’t.  Being present in the moment with some humour is a great gift.    

Marian Dykstra wrote this piece in Brian's, Writing Personal Stories course. Having this piece published is a thrill and an honour.  She is a retired social worker, enthusiastic barista, aspiring writer, and mom of three great kids.

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