Braking Points

Exploring the Adventure of Aging



Thanksgiving Day Five 2015


In March 2016, our grandson Jonathan will increase our family when he marries his beloved Amanda. So it is with family increase, as those tied to us by blood and birth choose to unite in love with others, family trees intertwine.  We will gain a granddaughter-in-law, who will bring with her, her family, her traditions, and her love.

The chosen ones, our son-in-law Mark, our daughters-in-law, Martha and Jennifer come not as individuals only but with attachments, brothers, sisters, parents, children, aunts, uncles…etc.  These ties bind us together in mutual respect and aspirations for our progeny.

In today’s world not all of these ‘in-law’ relationships last.  As one who has suffered the painful separation of a branch by divorce and another by action of family court when our foster grandchild was returned to her birth mother,  I can testify to pain involved. Circumstances vary, but for us both of these involved grief.  Still God moved us forward and our family has grown in numbers and our grandchildren are all growing up or already grown.

Thanks be to God for our son and daughters by marriage. We are grateful that they love our children, for isn’t that what all parents want. We are grateful for the parents they are to our grandchildren and for the examples they set in home, community, work, and church.

We love you and are grateful to be your mother and father-in-law.  .  .and look forward to being grandmother and father-in-law.

Porch Story–Chapter 16

image“Do not love the world or anything in the world. If anyone loves the world, love for the Father is not in them. For everything in the world—the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life—comes not from the Father but from the world. The world and its desires pass away, but whoever does the will of God lives forever.” (‭1 John‬ ‭2‬:‭15-17‬ NIV)

I opened my Bible to this text this morning. Sitting here before dawn on the patio, the heat already like a living being wrapping its insidious arms around me in a strangle hold. The wind is blowing, imagine that, this is after all Oklahoma, “where the wind comes sweeping down the plains”, but it only reinforces the smothering effect. Of course, it is the tumor, not the wind, sucking life out of me. Still reading this scripture, I know that I have experienced everything in the world offers, “the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life” and not a single one of them filled me up like they so enticingly promised.

I feel it in my bones or maybe in my head a need to pry my fingers from the world and all its fake offerings, the old grudges and even all the good and precious gifts I have here. Turn loose of the world so I can really live these last hours, days, weeks, whatever and then FOREVER! Last entry in Eleanor Brown’s Journal

James Adams slammed the door of the house. Rose who had preceded him through the entry jumped slightly but didn’t turn, instead she bore down on Jessie whose sneakiness had brought on this latest burst of temper from James. Swinging the girl around, mouth agape, scathing words tripped and ready, she froze at the sight of her daughter’s face.

She expected some smart mouthed retort but instead Jessie’s large brown eyes were tear filled, spilling over down her face. Her summer tan appeared like a transparent watercolor over a face drained of color. Rose crumbled the girl into her arms, letting her own anger fade as her tears flowed into her daughter’s hair. She could hear James shouting, stomping about behind her, but she ignored him holding tightly to Jessie for dear life. As her husband retreated still swearing, she lifted her daughter away from her.

“Why don’t we give your daddy some room. Let’s go in the kitchen and talk.”

Jessie nodded, but hesitated. “I need to go check on Megan and Cindy. They get real scared when Daddy’s …when Daddy’s mad.” Without waiting for a response from her mother she scurried down the hall to her sisters. Rose exhaled unaware that she had been holding her breath. When had Jessie become mother to her sisters? Had all this trouble closed her off from her children. James drinking and her own reliance on those pain killers Doc Noble had given her after her back surgery a year ago obviously had impacted their family more than she knew. She thought about the note she had written to herself this morning to call Doc’s office for another prescription as she stood listening to Jessie’s soft voice comforting her sisters.

Clara found herself reluctant to leave the viewing room at the conclusion of the visitation, exhausting as that had been. She had asked for a few moments alone with her mother. Settling into a chair on the front row, eyes fixed on the casket, rubbing her temples in small circles, her thoughts always random ran amuck. She felt like she needed to concentrate, but could not.

Perhaps if the visitation had been an orderly affair, which decidedly it was anything but. What with the tumbling of flowers, the children’s evaluation of her mother’s body, the Colonel’s–what would you call it?–outburst, the endless people sharing story after story about her mother. Clara was way beyond overwhelmed.

The children, Les Burton and Jessie Adams, obviously were there without parental permission. After the flowers were uprighted, Nancy had kept them with her for a few minutes, before whispering to both of them and leaving the room. Clara supposed she had left to call their parents, but while she was gone, both of them approached the open casket. In spite of the setting, her raw emotions, the reality that the wide eyed white faced children gawking at her mother’s body, Clara found herself fighting back a bit of a giggle. It was so obvious that neither of them had ever been to a funeral visitation.

Clara watched even as she greeted the folks who had come to express their sympathy as they leaned cautiously over the edge of the casket. The little girl, Jessie seemed to be waving her hand over Ellie’s body. What on earth was she doing? Les seemed to be looking around, his faced scrunched into a grimace as he tugged at Jessie’s arm, sputtering a whispered warning. Clara several steps away and too far forward to see what Jessie was doing took a half step back to try to get a better look.

Jessie’s hand fluttered near Ellie’s face…it was then Clara saw it..a fly had settled on her mother’s face. Seeing it Clara instinctively brushed at her own face as if the fly had lighted there. The child’s hand did not seem to distract the fly a bit, as it continued to explore the nooks and crannies along the heavily applied make-up of the upper lip. Jessie’s feet lifted off the floor as she strained to reach the insect. Les tugged at her pulling her back toward the floor, but she was determined. Just as her hand almost reached the fly, Les’s tugging, her own precarious positioning and gravity caused her to slip backwards. She landed awkwardly, but managed to keep her balance, just as the fly crawled inside Ellie’s nares. Clara gasped slightly, causing her grandfather to rise a bit too quickly, almost toppling into her.

They caught each other grasping at each others elbows both of them upright. It was the closest Clara had been physically to the Colonel since the stiff, forced hugs of her childhood. For all those children who had close relationships with their grandparents, including her mother, Brian, Mandy, and many others, Clara held a deep seated envy.

As a child she had silently pretended that Ann and Paul Stewart were her grandparents as she considered herself a cousin to Brian and Mandy. Her grief when Paul died had mirrored Brian and Mandy’s. It was something her mother noticed, something they both knew, but never spoke of, Ellie, letting her daughter grieve. Clara realized at that moment that Ellie had seen the Stewarts more as parents than merely a friend’s parents, that her mother’s grief plunged the same waters her own did.

In the awkward grasping for balance, Clara realized her grandfather was shaking and as she stepped back, he tightened his hold on her. The still formidable frame of the Colonel heaved with emotion, first silent, but breaking into loud choking sobs. Clara’s reacted first with an unexpected repulsion, an unexplained desire to distance herself from the grasping weeping hulk, who clawed at her enveloping her into his embrace. Never could Clara have prepared for this, she knew how to be polite and restrained in his presence, she did not have a clue as to how to comfort him. As he clung though she relaxed in his embrace.

It was Delia who stepped forward, putting her arm around the Colonel, her face composed, kindly patting Clara’s arm and steering her grandfather back to his seat, calming him as they moved away. Clara followed them with her damp eyes. His behavior confused her while tripping her own raw grief, threatening her composure.

The children’s parents had arrived but Clara paid little attention to the turmoil over that leaving Nancy to manage. The remainder of the visitation was a blur, so intent was she on restraining her emotions. Now sitting in the semi darkness, she stared straight ahead at the still face and frame of her mother. For a woman who hardly ever was still, death did not become her.

“Who were you, Mom?”

After several minutes she rose. Brian and Amanda waited for her in the entry area, but they stood quietly allowing her the silence she craved.


“You ok?”

“I am. Know what, I really want to go home” a gulp then, “I think it is time I got to know the woman who birthed me.”

Porch Story Chapter 12

“Give me my freedom for as long as I be.
All I ask of living is to have no chains on me.
All I ask of living is to have no chains on me,
and all I ask of dying is to go naturally, only want to go naturally.
Don’t want to go by the devil, don’t want to go by the demon,
don’t want to go by Satan, don’t want to die uneasy,
just let me go naturally.
And when I die and when I’m gone,
there’ll be one child born, there’ll be one child
born in the world to carry on.” Music and Lyrics by Laura Nyro


Nancy’s head replayed the telephone conversation from Delia. Saved from searching through Ellie’s address book, her cell phone destroyed in the accident, by Delia’s initiative. She hadn’t known Ellie’s father and step-mother well, having only visited with them a few times over the years during one of their rare visits or inspections as Ellie referred to them.

She did know Ellie had visited them at least twice a year since her Dad’s retirement from the Air Force. At least she did not have to get the house ready for their arrival, Delia had already made reservations. They were flying into Wichita Falls and a driver would ferry them to and from and about town during their visit.

She remembered them as stiff, aloof people, but Delia had sounded, well, not chatty, but soft, friendly with a warmth in her voice that Nancy did not recall at all. There had even been a moment when the line went silent and Nancy could have sworn Delia was crying.

She pulled into Ellie’s driveway, noticing a strange blue Camry with a Hertz rental sticker on the back window. Clara? But, wasn’t Brian picking her up at the airport in Oklahoma City? She sighed, given the history between the two, maybe Clara had opted at the last minute to drive herself. Climbing out of the car into the afternoon heat sweat immediately poured from her pores.

She dug in her bag to extract her key to Ellie’s house, but reaching the kitchen door she noticed it was ajar. Her heart quickened, even here, that was odd. Ellie locked her doors when she was away. First, a strange rental car in the driveway and now this? She shook her head and murmured to herself, “Clara.”

Pushing it open cautiously, she first noticed take out food wrappers and drink cups littering the table. Odd, Ellie seldom let such debris pile up, but then she had had some awful news. Moving through the kitchen and into the expansive living room she spied a familiar figure sitting in the midst of scattered journals and papers, shoulders heaving with sobs.


Without thinking she lowered herself to the floor and took her weeping daughter, her prodigal into her arms and rocked her, trying to understand what she was saying between her sobs.

“Mom, Mom, did (sob) did (sob) you know?”

“Know what, Cupcake?” Nancy found herself still trying to absorb the fact that she had found her daughter in Ellie’s house.

“Ellie (sob) had a (sob) brain tumor. She only (sob) had a (sob) a few months to live.” Mandy’s voice gained strength, turning accusatory. She shoved several sheets of paper directly into her mother’s chest pushing her away, as she scrambled out of the embrace. Backing up like a frightened animal, Nancy thought with a pang. Words failed her, her emotions too raw. Obviously, Nancy concluded, Mandy had come to Ellie’s bypassing even the courtesy of a call to her mother. The sheet and pillow on the couch, the mess in the kitchen and on the floor before both of them evidence that she had been here at least since yesterday. As a mother it was hard not to be offended by Mandy’s actions, but she pulled the blast of recriminations back from the tip of her tongue, swallowed them and looked down at the papers Mandy had thrust into her lap.

A still small voice in her head reminded her there is a “time to be silent” and so she perused the papers with their diagnosis ( Grade IV, Glioblastoma), prognosis (poor), treatment options (palliative). She looked at the list of medications, Ellie had been taking recognizing only one or two, pain medication, anti-seizure medication. Then as if she could grasp the content better, or maybe to avoid engaging her daughter, she read them again.

Mandy spoke first, her voice tiny, child-like, “We could have said ‘good-by’ if we had just known. But NO she had to go and die first! That is just so mean!” Her voice broke into a sob that convulsed into laughter. Nancy snorted and then laughed with her daughter until they both were crying again.

“Just like her to go and die before we could say good-by. What kind of friend was she?” Nancy remarked through gulps of laughter and sobs, tears streaming down her face.

Then in unison, eyes meeting, “THE BEST.” So true, so true.

Sally Burton produced tuna sandwiches for the group around the table with not a single turned up nose. Since Les preferred peanut butter and jelly, she expected him to complain, but he simply pulled a sandwich from the plate and gobbled it down with his friends. They were intent on a project of their own making, having requested drawing and painting materials, which Sally produced. Macy had run home and returned with poster board. Even Jessie’s two younger sisters were busy coloring in letters, with Jessie’s warning that they had better stay within the lines.

Retreating Sally bumped into her husband as he came out of his office or “man cave” as she had dubbed it. Paul’s face betrayed his frustration and concern. Uprooting his family, laying off men and women, he thought of as friends weighed heavily on him. He tried desperately to hide his raw emotions and laugh as he and Sally collided.

“Oops! Sorry, Sal. Wasn’t watching where I was going.”

Sally caressed his forearm, wishing he’d quit trying to hide his emotions to spare her. Good grief after all the years they had been together did he think his stiff upper lip, fake jollying would fool her. They needed to talk. She knew it. He knew it. Moving to Mexico wasn’t either of them’s choice, but job hunting wasn’t either. They had been so sure when he became Plant Manager that they would be set, not wealthy, but not poor either.

“I just fixed some tuna sandwiches for the kids, Les’s Sunday School class, would you like one?”

“Sure. What are those kids doing over here?” Paul frowned.

“Oh, you know Ellie gave them all saplings on Sunday morning. They were going to plant them together with her on Monday with some sort of ceremony…Of course, that didn’t happen.”

Sally’s voice trailed off and she was silent for a few moments.

“Well, I think Les has his in his room in water, but a couple of the kids threw theirs out. Jessie Adams was the one who wanted to carry on with the whole idea, but with two of the trees gone, and Ellie gone…” again her voice faltered, “They are working on something else together maybe like a memorial to Ellie. I have kinda tried to let them do their own thing.” She stopped then added, “It is the most animated Les has been in the last couple of weeks.”

Paul grimaced, snatched the sandwich from her and started back to his study. “Well, it is not my fault, Sally. I am just doing what I have to do for my own family.”

Sally followed his back with her eyes, but did not respond or hurry after him. She knew he was hurting. She knew he was not responsible for MarVal closing up shop and heading across the border, but at that moment she had exhausted her reserve of comfort giving.

Their hysterical scene calmed, Nancy began clearing take out clutter from the kitchen, with Mandy following behind wiping surfaces clean. Together they folded the sheets on the couch with Nancy putting them in a sack to take home and laundry. They worked silently. The laughing, crying frenzy had pretty much quelled conversation.

Other than the notebooks, journals, and loose paper on the floor, the place was in order. They both sat down on the floor at the same time. Mandy had already begun the task, Ellie’s letter had asked Nancy and Clara to do, so Nancy saw no reason to move the piles. Just as she was thinking Brian and Clara should be there soon, she heard car doors open and close in the driveway. Mandy looked up, startled.

“Brian and Clara,” Nancy reminded Mandy. “He picked her up at the airport.”

Mandy nodded. Mother and daughter rose off the floor just as Clara followed by Brian entered by the kitchen door. Clara immediately ran into Nancy’s arms, struggling not to completely break down. Brian glared at his sister and mimed ‘why don’t you answer your phone?’

Deserving Christmas


Good tidings, Great joy
Wrapped in rags, Baby Boy
Heaven’s offering, God’s plan
Infant Jesus, Son of man

“Listen to me! I deserve to have my family together for Christmas!”
“I deserve a little respect.”
“I deserve to be able to relax a little this Christmas.”
“I deserve to be with my friends.”
“I deserve that diamond ring.”
“I deserve to be able to avoid going to grandma’s house, with the heat turned to 90 degrees and the television at full volume.”
“I deserve time with my grandkids.”
“I deserve not to have everything I ever did to disappoint thrown in my face at Christmas.”
“I deserve not to be hassled by my Dad to come home this Christmas.”
“I deserve being able to establish our own Christmas traditions.”
“I deserve a Mom who bakes cookies, not one who lounges on the sofa with a drink in her hand.”
“I have come a long way and sacrificed a whole lot, I deserve at least one perfect Christmas.”
“I deserve to have things my way….MY WAY at Christmas.”

For several days now as I recuperate from chest congestion, two thoughts have plagued my mind, one is expressed in the concocted statements above, and the other maybe tomorrow. I feel sure anyone reading this could add to the list. Perhaps in my feverish state my focus turned inward, because while whining about NOT deserving to be sick at Christmas, it hit me,


In every role of my life, as a daughter, a sister, a niece, an aunt, a wife, a mother, a co-worker, a friend, I have failed or as scripture says I have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God. I suspect I am not alone although my sins are many. I am not saying all this to be a downer at Christmas, BUT in this season to look outward and upward, Outward to the needs and cares of other and Upward to the ONE whose birth we celebrate. As long as I focus on myself, I will never experience Christmas and will get exactly what I deserve, but God doesn’t want that for any of us.

And so I am thankful to God who knowing



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Whole for Christmas Almost Home

Jonathan Kisler
Jonathan Kisler

Lord, make us whole this Christmas Eve
gather us round your tree
the one from which the manger came
the one carved for the sea of Galilee
the rough one hewn for death’s decree
Make us whole Make us family

This morning dawned clear, bright (sun on the icy grass and paths) and very cold. Everyone in this household seems to be fighting off coughing and hacking or stomach virus. We had planned a trip to Oklahoma next week. Main purpose was to connect with our family there. It has been 6 months since we have been together. But it doesn’t look like it is going to happen. Another icing is predicted and none of us feel healthy enough to brave the weather, the roads and the distance.

Joshua Kisler
Joshua Kisler

I worry that my children and grandchildren will not feel connected at all to us, but I must have faith that God will keep us close, if not in physical presence, then in heart and spirit. Terry and I have nine grandchildren and I want each of them to know how much I love them. So, I am sad that I cannot make this trip. I am delighted that I have three who are in proximity and that we can be involved in their lives, but even that is changing as they grow up with one of them already off to college.

The little bit of verse above came to me this morning in part influenced by The Tale of Three Trees by Angela E. Hunt. As I wrote it some of my sadness dissipated as I realized how wide the arms of God are and that He makes us whole, he makes us one, and he makes us family. So whether near or far apart, this Christmas we will be Whole because of the One who is Holy!

Zoie Engels, Larry Neeley, and Adalyn Kisler
Zoie Engels, Larry Neeley, and Adalyn Kisler

Gabrielle Kisler
Gabrielle Kisler
Abigail, Jordan and Graham Foster
Abigail, Jordan and Graham Foster

The Power of a Grateful Heart–The Marriage Factor


Today I am thankful for my husband Terry. As the old country song goes, “you never gave up on me, when I was giving love up on you.” We could sing that song to each other, if I could carry a tune in a bucket, but the words ring true. There were times when giving up would have been simpler that hanging together, but then we would become just another statistic, planning separate Christmases, and such with our children.


Today I am thankful for marriage and believe it to be a sacrament, a covenant, a union created by God for man and woman to enjoy each other, to share in the joys and sorrows of life. It is the basis of the family unit. It is an earthly manifestation of a heavenly union between Christ and His Church.

At least that is how it is supposed to be. Is that even possible? Yes and No…don’t you love ambiguity. I have been married once and there have been good times and bad. In traditional wedding vows, you have that better and worse, richer and poorer, in sickness and in health exchange. Know what I think?? Most people saying those words are thinking, better, richer and healthy, when they should be preparing to love the other the most when, worse, poorer, and sickly.

Over the years I have attended hundreds of weddings, including my own elopement and vows with my husband of 49 years, Terry. In fact over the past 22 years I have sat and listened to the vows of couples, who looked into each other’s eyes and pledged to love each other forever, while my husband officiated. At none of these weddings did I think “this couple isn’t going to make it.” In fact, like most in attendance I was swept up in the moment, believing nothing could separate them and in the moment renewing my own vows, re-pledging my allegiance, love, and support to my man.

Alas, many have separated and divorced, including our oldest child and his first wife a woman he had known since childhood. No matter what people say about amicable divorces, the process and the outcome are wrenching, even more so when young children are involved. And lest anyone get the idea that only the immediate family, husband, wife, children suffer the agony, as a parent whose child has divorced, no children involved, I beg to differ. The picture offered in of the word “asunder” is of a sledge hammer hitting a watermelon scattering bits and pieces that destroy the whole completely. Even divorces with clear Biblical backing, where non-believer and believer part, or unfaithfulness enters the picture, or one or the other partner is an abuser, even when no one doubts it is unavoidable, even then the shattered union splashes on family, friends, and co-workers.

In the wedding service Terry most often uses couples use vows that come from the book of Ruth. Words Ruth spoke to her mother-in-law, Naomi and not to her husband, but I personally think that sets the perfect tone for marriage vows. A couple unites to become one flesh, but they bring two families together also.

“I will never urge you to leave me or to turn away from following after me. Where you go, I will go. Where you lodge, I will lodge. Your people will be my people and your God, my God.”

imageThese vows are my pledge to my husband. A few years back we purchased each other wedding rings with a portion of that scripture engraved in Hebrew, a visible reminder of the wonder of being One Flesh and a constant renewal of our commitment to each other and to The Lord.


For this reason a man shall leave his father and his mother, and be joined to his wife; and they shall become one flesh. (Genesis 2:24 NASB)

They said, “Moses permitted a man to write a certificate of divorce and send her away.” But Jesus said to them, “Because of your hardness of heart he wrote you this commandment. But from the beginning of creation, God made them male and female.
For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother, and the two shall become one flesh; so they are no longer two, but one flesh. What therefore God has joined together, let no man separate.” (Mark 10:4-9 NASB)

Open Letter to Readers of Braking Points

Dear Readers,

In a few minutes I will post the Epilogue to BRAKING POINTS. I wanted to take this opportunity to thank those who have followed Max, Lily, Amanda, and Sophia’s journey. I wrote the novel in 2004-2005, while Terry and I were living in Pembroke, KY in Christian County. Max and Lily are based in part on my mother and father-in-law, Dorothy and Maurice Kisler. Dorothy had Alzheimer’s disease and Maurice chose, in fact refused all other options, to become her primary caretaker. Dorothy died November 21, 2004 at age 86 in her home with her two sons, her daughter Kaye preceded her in death in August 1987, and her husband Maurice at her side. Maurice lived to the age of 93, dying in his home during a horrible snowstorm February 7, 2011 in Tulsa with his eldest son, Maurice Lee by his side. On December 6th that same year, my mother, Ada Marie Ivy died at St. Francis Hospital in Tulsa after developing pancreatitis and pneumonia. My mom was 89 years old and still mentally sharp right up to slipping into a coma hours before her death.

We often hear of “coming of age” stories, but I prefer to write “coming of OLD age” stories with multi-generational layers of characters, like the Carnes Family. My world owes so much to the generation that raised us and my world would not be complete without my children and grandchildren. I love having friends who are younger and older so much of the material I write about comes from their stories. I love that God allows me to pursue my passion which is writing and that He is my ever present friend, companion and muse. I told Terry when I was writing BRAKING POINTS and reading him segments daily that I could hardly wait to get to the keyboard after a day at work, so I could see what Max and his entourage were up to. I wasn’t even sure when it would end, but then I knew as I wrote Chapter 27.

Again I am grateful to those of you who have read this book in serial form for the past month. I would appreciate comments, questions, and suggestions. And as I promised, as soon as I publish this, I will publish the epilogue. You can comment on the website or on Facebook, but please take just a moment to do so.
Blessings on you all and remember if you get a head full of steam over something, say the Lord’s Prayer before responding, better than counting to ten.

Love to you all,

Braking Points–Chapter Nineteen

combineChapter Nineteen
Asheville, North Carolina

Something is definitely wrong with this combine, Max thought. The noise had been growing steadily louder and less intermittent than when Max had first noticed it. The sun glittered on the golden grain ahead of him. He was having some trouble remembering how many acres remained to be harvested, but the noise in the combine signaled a problem that was going to require stopping. There’s too much to do. I can’t stop now, but the noise only grew louder.

When he looked down at the controls to turn off the combine, he was suddenly baffled. Why on earth was he holding his army rifle and wearing fatigues? Without warning, he found himself flat on his back and realized some sort of animal with rubbery skin had him bound. He heard suction and felt it in his throat. The creature was sucking the life out of him. He fought back yanking at the tentacles that held him. He could hear voices. Andrew’s? Did the creature have him, too? Got to help him! Wrestling against the beast, his eyes flew open and he stared into the face of his attacker.

“Mr. Carnes, relax. The doctor’s going to take some of these tubes out.” The small sandy haired girl in green scrubs motioned to a figure near the end of the bed that moved in closer.
“Dad, it’s Andrew. Relax. Everything’s okay.”

Max stared at his son. He looked up and around the room taking in the scenery. No combine, no rifle and no monsters that he could see, but the noise continued. He tried to say something but a large garden hose in his throat stopped him. He raised his hands and noticed the sandy haired girl ready to snatch them back if he bothered anything. He stuck his fingers in his ears and mouthed, “Too Loud.” Andrew and the young nurse chuckled.

“That’s one of the first things that the doctor will turn off. It won’t be long now.” She scooted out of the tiny cubicle. Max’s eyes fell on the clock and calendar on the wall across from the end of the bed. The furrow between his eyes deepened and he pointed to them, mouthing, “How long?”

‘Four days–we’ll talk about it later—after they get you detached. There are a lot of people here to see you, lots praying for you, too, back home, Greenville, here in the hospital.”

“Lily?” His lips formed the words as the impact of his time apart from the world descended.

“Mom’s doing fine, Dad. Millie and Sophia took her on to Greenville to Sharon and Barry’s house.”

Max nodded. His eyelids began to feel heavy. The mattress curled up around him pulling him farther and farther into its billowy depths. The noise grew more distant, fading as he sank into the cushioned banks. Succumbing to the warmth and softness, he felt Andrew pat his hand.
When Max awoke again, the room was silent and dimly lit, the date on the calendar had not changed but the clock indicated 6 hours had passed. Vaguely he could recall waking slightly two or three times, before sinking again into sleep. The machine responsible for the noise was gone as was the garden hose in his throat. The quietness was seductive. Before he realized what was happening, he slept again.


The intensive care family waiting room represented the current trend in hospital décor—providing an atmosphere unlike a hospital. The muted indirect lighting around the edges of the ceiling matched the barely audible classical music that drifted through the filtered air. A kiosk laden with coffee, tea and condiments, and a basket of candies and snacks from a local church group sat in a corner.

Periodically, a pink-coated lady appeared and tended to it, coming and going so quietly that the families and friends of the ICU residents rarely noticed her. Partitions in the room provided areas of privacy, but while family members did chose one area or another, everyone soon knew who they had in one of the cubicles beyond the double doors and could have easily updated anyone who called on any patient.

Sofas and chairs along with end tables on which sat attractive lamps and art work reminiscent of the work of the Impressionists completed the environment, which resembled a lounge in a five-star hotel. The trick failed, no one thought this was a hotel, but at least the furniture was comfortable and the coffee drinkable.

Ryan folded the newspaper he had been trying to read and placed it on the cherry wood table in front of him. He removed his reading glasses and out of habit rubbed the bridge of his nose. Leaning back into the cushions of the sofa he focused on the room that had been home to the Carnes siblings for days. Pamela would appreciate the use of therapeutic ambiance to help families during a difficult time. He considered calling her but discarded the thought. She had moved on and he needed to acknowledge the severance. He would too if only the phantom pain that had him seeing and hearing her in his head and even like now as his ears tuned to the subdued music hearing her in poignancy of Mozart.

Movement at the double doors caused him to sit up as Andrew returned from his Dad’s cubicle. Pamela or at least the absence of Pamela vaporized leaving behind only the stump. Ryan had no intention of studying the wound now that the blood had dried. The stitches held and he was almost learning to walk alone without leaning on her.

The music receded to inaudibility as a flutter of Carnes’s plus Davis arose to greet a smiling Andrew. The reports since Max had emerged from surgery had all been good, better in fact than any of them had hope given their father’s age but the smile on his youngest brother’s face bordered on more than relief and good news—Andrew’s face fairly burst with amusement.

“He thinks he’s riding a combine that’s been taken over by aliens.” Andrew laughed. Peggy, always the most serious, Ryan thought—not realizing that was the position assigned to him by the younger three—looked aghast.

“You think that’s funny? Daddy’s talking out of his head and you think that’s funny?” Peggy sputtered giving all of them who joined Andrew in laughter a decidedly dirty look. Only Davis attempted to rein in his laughter, which Ryan noted caused him to look like a blow fish.

“Peggy!” Andrew interjected between chuckles, “He was just dreaming. We had a sensible conversation too. He wanted to know about Momma. They are taking the tubes out and will probably move him to a less critical room in a few hours.”

“Oh, when can we see him again?”

“Couple of hours, but he may move by then.”

“That’s great.” A chorus of Carnes’s chimed.

Others in the room waiting for encouragement about their patients came over to bask in the sunshine of Max’s progress. Ryan took hold of Andrew’s arm and drew him aside.

“Andrew, I’d like to have a few minutes alone with Dad next time he can have visitors.”

If that request baffled Andrew, he didn’t let it show. “Sure, Ryan. I know Dad will like that.” Andrew continued to exhibit grace, Ryan thought, not unbraiding him for the neglect of his parents he’d practiced since their mother’s diagnosis and the amputation of Pamela from his life. In a surge of uncharacteristic affection Ryan hugged Andrew patting him the perfunctory three times on the back before releasing him. Andrew did look baffled at that, as did the others. So what, Ryan said to himself and for the first time since he grudgingly decided to join this mini reunion turned into hospital vigil Ryan was glad to be with them all. Other than with Pamela there was no other place he’d rather be.

Braking Points–Chapter Sixteen


Chapter Sixteen

The distance between Greenville, South Carolina and Asheville, North Carolina stretched the way time and miles so often do when you want to compress it. The first half hour, the occupants of the Carnes van passed in relative silence with the exception of Millie and that confounded cell phone. Amanda, the runaway child, had been found alive. Ryan sighed in unison with the others, but resented the child’s interference into his parents’ lives. He still bristled remembering her attitude and lack of truthful communication during their single phone conversation.

He noticed Millie sniffled a few times when she relayed the good news to Sharon. Ryan watched the road from the passenger side next to Barry, who drove. He felt somewhat more connected to Barry simply because neither of them had been responsible for letting their feeble elderly parents take off on a joy ride across the southeast. The guilty parties rode behind their elder siblings.

Ryan hated symbolism—a major point in the demise of his late but not yet buried marriage—but at the present could not help but relish the fact that the sane Carnes offspring were at the helm. Barry was pilot and he was co-pilot though he wished that those roles were reversed since Barry drove like—what was it his mother had always said when they’d get stuck behind a slow driver—like a little old lady out for a Sunday afternoon drive.
Momma had a bit of a lead foot, Ryan remembered. She hated wasting time getting from one point to the next. The thought brought a half smile to his mouth. Barry obviously hadn’t gotten his driving preferences from Momma. An unplanned chortle escaped.

“What’s funny?” Barry asked. Ryan glanced his way. There he sat perfectly erect, hands at ten and two, eyes straight ahead. Ryan’s chuckle swelled to a hoot, which thanks to years of university classrooms he managed to reel in quickly.

“Momma didn’t teach you to drive, did she?”

“No, I was one of the first students in Driver’s Ed classes, why?”

“Because you drive like a little old lady on a Sunday afternoon and Momma never did.”

Barry started to sputter in his defense but Andrew broke in from the far back.

“That’s for sure and she didn’t slow down as she got older either. She about scared me to death one time about 8 or 9 years ago. She insisted on driving herself into town to a doctor’s appointment, but Millie insisted that one of us needed to go with her, because even then she was having some trouble remembering things.”

“I offered to go,” Millie interjected.

“Well, anyway, I went. I got into the car and before I hardly had my foot inside and the door closed, she hit the accelerator. We bounded backwards so fast that I barely had my seatbelt on when she whipped out of the driveway onto the road and I swear to you never checked over her shoulder or in the rearview mirror.

Soon as we hit the road, she dropped it from reverse to drive and hit the gas again. I remember saying something like ‘Momma, slow down, we’ve got plenty of time.’ She gave me one of her ‘Momma looks’ straight from childhood memories. You all know the one—‘be quiet or you’ll be out walking, young man.’”

The van erupted with laughter and “Momma-isms” from the four siblings, Peggy’s husband, Davis and Millie. The convergence of memories from childhood to the present produced the strongest ambiance of family they had experienced in years. With the atmosphere relaxed, even Ryan sensed a change of his own attitude. His years at Princeton served as a buffer between who he had been as a child and the person he pretended to be on a daily basis.

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