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    My daily writing--emails, journal entries, marginalia, more emails, blog posts, and tweets--shapes me as a writer, helping and hindering the big stuff I'm trying to accomplish. Every word counts.

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Left to Our Own Devices

Mom came for our wedding in early October and expected to stay a month. Then she stayed for Thanksgiving, winter holidays, the new year, her birthday, and before we knew it, winter turned to spring. It’s an 1100-mile trip (she drove). Might as well make it worth everyone’s while, right?

Most of our time on this visit was spent without much talking, all of us interacting more with our various electronic devices: Mom on her iPad keeping up with sports scores, Doug on his laptop doing genealogy, I on my laptop working on my novel. We spent hours and hours in the same room, half-watching something on Netflix, the trees outside the picture window turning orange then brown then bare then budding. But we were in our own worlds, looking up occasionally to make sure we were all there.

I didn’t feel the clock ticking (rare for me). I didn’t worry about making good use of our time together. I didn’t feel compelled to force meaningful conversations only the have them fall flat. A stunner might happen while unloading the dishwasher. Or it might not.

We all needed this visit. It’s all been very fun and distracting, putting grief on paused even as we continue to slog through it. And boring. And, occasionally, irritating, the way life can be when you live with people you love and get in one another’s way but don’t want anyone to move out.

Friends asked me how things were going with Mom here so long, some of them giving me concerned looks, their eyes widening over the months of her stay.

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Keep on Truckin’

Mom stomps off from the salesman. I’m already out in the lot looking at cars. She rushes past me with the salesman gaining ground.

“I guess she doesn’t want to talk to me,” he says, chuckling and letting her go on. I wait until she’s out of earshot and apologize. Mom thinks this is effective strategy in the car-buying game, but rudeness won’t get any of us very far.

Mom test drives an SUV. The saleman attempts to make conversation, and she undercuts him. He patiently continues to tell her about the vehicle’s features, and I jump in to keep the conversation going. Back at the dealership, she relents a little as we do a lot of waiting, but her tone sharpens again when he tells us they’re going to offer us $3500 less than we’re expecting for the truck she’s trading in. My father’s truck. It’s an insult, Mom says. The salesman rationalizes that their customers don’t want trucks, that there’s a much smaller profit margin on their new vehicles than at other dealers, blah, blah. My sister and her husband, who know more about these things than either Mom or me, said to hold our ground and not take a penny less.

So we go to a different dealer. The salesman there seems young and like he might be learning on the job. But he’s just the right amount of chatty for Mom. She goes easy on him, laughing with him a little and giving him advice as if he were her grandson. But the trade-in offer is even lower. If anything we’ve expected this offer to be higher because it’s definitely a truck dealer. Getting the minimum amount is crucial so Mom can afford to make the payments. But the truck is also worth it. It’s in good shape. The only reason my sister and I want Mom to trade it in is because it’s for work, with dual rear tires and an enormous tool box. Dad loves his truck, but he won’t be able to use it anymore. And while Mom has no problem driving it, the warranty expired a few years ago. Dad’s not able to work part-time anymore, and now they have his medical bills on top of everything else. If the truck breaks down, she might not be able to afford to repair it, and it’s their only car.

Mom understands, but she’s held off to spare my father’s feelings. It’s taken her many months to get up the nerve to go car shopping. Having little patience for car dealer manipulations, she lets her displeasure rip. The salesman wants to know how much we want and where we’re getting our numbers. I can’t tell if he’s confused, concerned, or both, but he seems to sincerely want to understand our position. Just as we’re getting somewhere, my sister calls, so I rush out and tell her what’s been going on, feeling a little bit bad about leaving the guy with my angry mother. My sister wonders if the estimator doesn’t realize the truck has a diesel engine, which adds to the value. I rush back in to pass along what she’s told me. Continue reading

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