St. Joseph and Caring for the Aged

This story falls under the “truth is stranger than fiction category.” It is a re-write of a short non-fiction story I recounted about a decade ago. It seems worth repeating.

Some years ago, we found ourselves grappling with the dilemma of how to handle care for older parents. The solution in our case, was to purchase a house, large enough to comfortably house everyone under one roof and move the in-laws two states south to be with us in Virginia.

The search for a house was to begin, but mother-in-law, a fun, lively eighty-something at the time, (she is ninety-four now) said we should purchase two St. Joseph statues (as in Mary and Joseph) and plant one at the house we wanted to sell – their house – and one at the house we hoped to purchase – a very cool, out of our price range, massive Victorian.

Image by moingay84 from Pixabay

I feel I have to post this in the interest of full disclosure; I have rather, areligious proclivities. Never went to church. I think it put me in a minority growing up. I have the greatest respect for those who are of religious faith. I just… don’t. I believe in the sun and the moon and the interconnectedness of all things crunchy granola. Just putting that out there, for whatever it’s worth. Some might be tempted to stop reading right there… but maybe you shouldn’t.

Out of respect for my mother-in-law and her beliefs, we stopped at the little mission store in the snowy mountains of Western Pennsylvania, purchased two of the St. Joseph statues, about six inches each, made of white plastic, rather like two giant chess pieces, and wrapped in crunchy, plastic cellophane. We planted one in the planter at the corner of my in-law’s house – the house we wanted to sell – and drove back to Virginia to plant the second Joseph at the “out of our price range massive Victorian,” or the  OOOPRMV.

It was dark by the time we made it back to Virginia. My husband had stayed behind to care for one of his parents who really should have been receiving round-the-clock care already, so I was traveling alone with our two tweens. They were both pretty excited by the prospect of doing something proactive toward convincing the sellers to accept our ridiculously low offer for the OOOPRMV, so we drove straight to the OOOPRMV under the cover of darkness, and stealthily snuck around the back of the house where we knew there was a dirt patch under the back porch of the house. It was all very cloak and dagger-like. The kids were in high-gear excited mode, and I was full of adrenaline, imagining how I would talk myself out of being arrested if one of the neighbors called the police about the trespassers. All this, plus, I was trying to be respectful of my mother-in-law’s beliefs.

I had to keep shushing my giggling kids, while I tried to dig a hole in dirt that was VERY hard, using a stick that kept breaking in my hand. I thought, there must be some ceremony that should accompany the burial of our little plastic St. Joseph, so I took him out of his plastic bag shroud, roughly calculated which direction was east, and buried him like a corpse, his feet toward the rising sun. Is that correct? Should his head have been pointing east? Maybe he’s supposed to sit up facing the sun? Ours was feet toward the rising sun… hopefully. It was difficult to gauge cardinal directions at midnight in some stranger’s backyard.

Our task complete, we piled back into the mommy minivan and headed to our small, cozy home.

For the next couple of weeks, we drove past the OOOPRMV every day… until one day, the “for sale” sign disappeared.

It was kind of like buying a million dollar lottery ticket. For weeks, we imagined our lives living in the OOOPRMV. We thought about how we would restore it, one-room-at-a-time, all our budget would allow for, how we could squeeze in a rental apartment in the basement to bank-roll the restoration, renovate the in-law suite in the back yard, connect the garage for a handicapped accessible addition, clean the stain-glass window on the middle landing, re-glaze all of the original windows, revive the outdoor model train!!! Yes, it had tracks for a large, outdoor model train, complete with a trestle bridge.

Sadness swept our home. All the while, my husband was commuting… from Pennsylvania, to work half-weeks in Virginia, the other half remotely so he could care for his father.

No one really had much heart for house hunting after that, but perhaps it was for the best. I was more practically minded. I looked at 1) location, 2) square footage, and 3) resale potential, no longer interested in stained glass or fireplaces. And of course, we found our new home in short-order. It was a brick ranch house, in a nice neighborhood. It had a sufficient number of bedrooms, all under one-roof instead of an in-law suite, but with a ramp inside the garage, it would serve the need.

We bought it, we rented out our old house, and we moved in, readying the house for the in-laws.

My husband was away from us for half of every week for months and finally, the Pennsylvania house was sold, the in-laws’ furniture arrived and was integrated into the ground-floor and the in-laws themselves were being driven down, four-and-a-half hours, to their new home.

I wanted everything to look familiar to them. Most of their furniture had arrived ahead of them, and I decided, their first view of the house would be their approach, facing the garage. There were two wooden half-cask planters on either side of the garage door, too heavy for the previous owners to move, so they were sold with the house. I purchased the largest chrysanthemums I could find, and I placed one in each planter.

About an hour before in-law arrival, I drove my hand down into the dirt that already filled the old wine-cask planters… and I felt something kind of creepy. It was hard, but covered in something damp and slick. I grabbed an old stick from the edge of the woods, and dug down, into the center of the planter and pulled out…

…a St. Joseph statue. It was white plastic, about six inches tall, in a clear plastic shroud. I guess everything is interconnected… or maybe I should go to church.

True story.

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