Saturday, July 3, 2010

Elephant Salve

Thursday the nightmare began in earnest.

We sat in my mom's room at CDH awaiting the arrival of a representative from a hospice care company. She was officially charged with explaining to us how, from this point forward, non-curative care would be given to my mom and also with ensuring Ken signed the phlegmatic paperwork in all of the appropriate places. From my perspective, the function of this meeting was to announce the beginning of the end. We all heard that message clearly.

Prior to the hospice nurse's arrival and anticipating the meeting, the mood in the room was somber. Sensing this, my mom started to petition my Uncle Mike to tell us stories. Now, my opinion may be biased because I esteem him so, but my Uncle Mike can tell a story like no one I've ever met. I imagine Twain, Hemingway and Fitzgerald enthralled and laughing right along with us as my Uncle tells his stories. I have told him that he should write a book.

After entertaining us with stories of drag races that ended with his rival's car firmly planted on the steps of some poor woman's house, my mom requested that he tell us about "Elephant Salve." At first he didn't seem sure as to what my mom was talking about. But then his face brightened and his story began.

He told us how my Grandfather, Bill Chapin, trusted wholeheartedly in the remedying power of Petro-Carbo Salve. A precursor to Neosporin, my Grandfather apparently spread the greasy cure-all on whatever ailments presented themselves, big or small. When asked why it was referred to a "Elephant Salve," my Uncle Mike giggled and said, "I don't know. Maybe there was a picture of an elephant on the tin. Or, maybe in the Chapin household, it was believed that the stuff could fix anything, even something as terrible as being stepped on by an elephant."

Uncle Mike has always been great at communicating the truly extraordinary points of his stories. He finished the story about "Elephant Salve" by telling us that, when my Grandfather passed away, Mike found a his trusty tin of Petro-Carbo Salve in a drawer next to his bed. Mike took the tin and has it to this day, admiring fondly the traces of my Grandfather's fingers that still remain in the residual salve.

This story could not have come at a more appropriate time for me. I have found it nearly impossible to grasp the reality of what is happening. Life is not delivering an outcome for me that I believe I am capable of handling. In many ways, I feel like a giant elephant is crushing me beneath his heel.

When circumstances in my life had threatened to leave me shattered and hopeless, I have persevered by relying heavily on my mom. She has been my "Elephant Salve."

My sincere desire is to become the type of person who is clever enough to utilize the lessons that I've learned from my mom and become "Elephant Salve" to my wife and my son's. I can think of no better way to honor her.

And as I see the joy with which Connor hits the ice and learns hockey or the creativity displayed by Aidan as he works on his latest drawing or Lego project, I see the traces of my mom's fingers in the residual lives of this family tree. And I am so thankful. I am so proud.

Thank you, Mom.

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