The Universe Laughing

If you ever want to know what it sounds like when the universe goes “Ha! Ha!,” just put a tidy plan on your calendar.”  Barbara Kingsolver

 I was foolish. I did just that—not that I was curious—I simply wanted a neat and tidy month. I needed to have foot surgery—nothing major—just enough to lay me up for a little while. Originally, I scheduled the surgery for October. Then I realized that with upcoming travels, it would be better to wait until I had an open stretch of time ahead. Why not do it in January, I reasoned, when it is likely to be cold and unpleasant outside? That way I will be able to sit inside with a good book on unpleasant winter days and not have to brave the cold or snow or ice for a daily walk. Good plan, Kathie!

We returned from our Thanksgiving in Brooklyn, our Christmas in San Diego, and New Years in Pennsylvania, and I was as ready as I would likely get for surgery. I ran into several complications that almost caused the surgery to be rescheduled, but I experienced a health-care-system miracle of lab work and several last minute appointments that I was able to schedule on successive days. I was cleared for surgery less than twenty-four hours before it was to take place. Clear sailing!

Bump number one—I had neglected to write in my 2024 calendar the deadlines for the bi-monthly Valley Village newsletter that I edit, and I was dismayed to discover that the day after my surgery was the deadline for articles to be turned in to me. That meant that my first post-operative week, rather than sitting in my reclining chair reading a fun book or watching movies, I would need to sit at my computer with my foot (sort of) propped up, trying to concentrate on reshaping sentences and pondering punctuation.

That was minor, compared to the next bump.

Saturday morning after my Thursday surgery, I opened my email to find this message from my ninety-six-year-old Uncle Bob Yoder: “It is with great sadness that I have to tell you that Bobby died around midnight. . .

Bobby was my oldest cousin on my mother’s side of the family. I remember clearly the first time I saw him—big blue eyes, soft blond hair, chubby cheeks. I thought he was the dearest, cutest baby I had ever seen, and now he was gone.

I found it hard to concentrate on anything. I was concerned about my aging aunt and uncle. I called each of Bobby’s siblings and spoke with them. I emailed his wife. It was snowing and blowing in Goshen, Indiana where they lived so no immediate plans were being made. Emails from cousins came and went, and brief snippets of stories were recounted.

Bobby with his wife Margaret

By Sunday we knew that a memorial service would take place a week and a half later, and I knew that regardless of my foot, I would go. I made the appointment for my stitches to come out the day before we planned to leave.

In the meantime, I sat down to edit the newsletter, but my heart was not in it. I had to force myself to read through articles that had been submitted. I’d get to the end of one and realize that I hadn’t really comprehended anything I’d read. I slogged on, struggling to focus. I felt restless, sad, totally preoccupied.

I wanted to be writing and thinking about my cousin, not the newsletter. Finally, when I had gotten through the articles and sent them off to my assistant editor, I could focus on Bobby and begin to write about my memories and look through old family letters for stories from childhood. I proposed to my cousins that they send me memories and stories to collate into a booklet. I also enlisted help in finding old pictures. Slowly a booklet took shape, and through all of this, my foot was propped up on whatever was handy at the moment. I also helped in small ways with the planning for Bobby’s memorial service. My dreams of long afternoons of reading were gone, and my stack of books stood undiminished.

The picture on the booklet is one of my favorites of Bobby whose teasing smile shows that he was well aware of his farmer pose.

One evening, in a rare recliner moment, I heard a loud sound in the kitchen where Wayne was baking. I assumed it was the garbage disposal, but while we ate supper, Wayne told me about the strange noise the oven had made. It hadn’t been the garbage disposal. We wondered what caused the sound but went on to talk about making a motel reservation for Goshen.

The next evening, I turned on the oven to bake butternut squash, but when I opened the oven, ready to put in the pan of squash, the oven was cold and the oven lights didn’t come on. Wayne checked the breaker. Fine. The gas stove top, also fine. It was the oven, so Wayne made an appointment for a repair person to come and I cooked the squash in a kettle.

We drove to Indiana, my foot on an improvised rest. Time with family was rich. All the cousins were present except for one who is overseas. We stayed an extra day so that we could spend time with my aunt and uncle. I hobbled around and put my foot up on the same stool as Aunt Dot—I told her that we could sit and be old together.

Part of grieving is remembering the past and that often calls for looking at old pictures. This was was taken at Christmas probably the year I was a high school senior–Bobby is standing between me and my sister Carol would have been eleven years old.
Since we were all together except for Doug (front left in the red shirt in previous picture) we decided to replicate the order of the earlier picture, minus our grandparents, Bobby, and Doug. A few of us have gained significant height since then!

Home again—now my “vacation” could begin. I needed to keep my foot up more than had been possible while traveling. The repairman came to look at the oven. The heating coil was broken into three pieces. The exhaust fan wasn’t working. And something else needed repair—I can’t remember what. The cost of it all came within hailing distance of four digits, and that didn’t take into account the burner that has not worked properly for the past year.

My borrowed knee scooter, in case you don’t know what one looks like. Some of my grandchildren had visions of adding a motor and speeding about.

After computer research, we set off, knee scooter in the trunk, to Lowes, to look at new stoves. We chose an induction stove (environmentally responsible) which then necessitated testing all my current pans with a magnet to determine which ones contained either iron or stainless steel required for the induction process to work. I spent hours researching kettles that would work, trying to figure out what I really needed and looking for the best deals. I felt caught in the trap of trying to do the most ecologically responsible thing but then needing to buy more manufactured things as a result. I (sort of) salved my conscience by buying used pots.

My foot is improving, the swelling down. I am grateful, but I also feel the loss of the “vacation” I had planned for myself, the books I wanted to read that are still on my stack, the lazy afternoons with a cup of coffee. I’m thinking I won’t plan another vacation. I’ll just take whatever time I can and give myself permission to sit without an excuse and, above all, hope the universe is finished with this particular joke.

P.S. Not quite—I went to upload my post onto my blog website only to discover that it wasn’t properly connected to Jetpack. My tech person worked it out, but that slowed down my process by a day.

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  1. Donna on February 6, 2024 at 4:10 pm

    Wonderful, Kathie! I’m thinking I must be one of the first to read this as I just sat down to check out mail before heading out to do a pick-up at the pharmacy. I’m mostly recovered and we must talk soon! Connection up-coming!

    • kathiekurtz on February 6, 2024 at 4:16 pm

      Yes, you must be one of the first because I just posted it minutes ago. Lets do talk soon. Let me know what would work for you.

      • Heather Dores on February 6, 2024 at 5:49 pm

        Hello Kathie,
        I love reading your posts, thank you!
        I hope your burdens will be lighter and that your foot will be completely healed soon.
        George and I love living here in Florida.

        • kathiekurtz on February 6, 2024 at 9:05 pm

          Heather, wonderful to hear from you! Thanks for your good wishes–my foot is healing well, just more slowly than I’d like. Do you ever make it to Virginia? If you do I’d love to see you.

  2. Mary Swartz on February 6, 2024 at 4:23 pm

    So sorry to hear of the loss of your cousin. I don’t think he was one I knew. You definitely had some bumps in January, but I’m amazed at how much you accomplished as well as all the travel you did between Thanksgiving and your surgery!

    • kathiekurtz on February 6, 2024 at 9:04 pm

      Thanks, Mary. You probably didn’t know Bobby because he grew up in Indiana. It does seem like the late fall and early winter were a whirl of activity. Hence the need for some down time. I will see if I can manage some now, even without the excuse of a foot.

  3. Saloma Furlong on February 6, 2024 at 7:28 pm

    Wow Kathie, this is quite the story. You drew me right in and held my interest (and sympathies) right to the end. I hope you continue to recover, and that all goes well. I hope you get to read those books soon!

    • kathiekurtz on February 6, 2024 at 9:08 pm

      Thanks, Saloma! The books are here and I’ll make a good attempt. Esther is coming next Tuesday and I wish you would be coming too. Maybe we three can meet by Zoom sometime. That would be good once I start writing some other things again.

  4. Eunice Wenger on February 8, 2024 at 3:31 pm

    Kathie, it was good to hear details although I knew a bit of your news already. Jan. wasn’t a month for easy living. Hope your foot is usable now.

    • kathiekurtz on February 8, 2024 at 5:25 pm

      Yes, your January was even less neat and orderly than mine. I hope things are improving for you and your family. I have another week in my boot and then should be back to normal shoes again, although walking will still have its challenges for a while.

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