Rhonda and the Aluminum Cans

It was the same story I hear at least once every single day.

Rhonda stopped taking her blood pressure and diabetes medicine 6 months ago because she couldn't afford them.

She shared her story... which sounded similar to so many others.

Rhonda is...
without education
without skills or training
can't get a job
in poor health
but not poor enough to be on disability

And then her story began to differ from the others.

Rhonda's husband is on disability and collects monthly disability payments. He makes it very clear to Rhonda that because HE is the one suffering from disability, HE is the one that gets all the money. She is not privvy to one cent of it, since she is 'healthy' and all....

The day I saw Rhonda in clinic, she told me her situation in a factual tone, without begging for pity. Then she got to her reason for the visit: she wanted a prescription refill.

"I have been saving aluminum cans for several months. I just turned them in at the recycle place and got $7.00 to pay for my blood pressure medicine this month."

"What will you do next month?" I asked.

"Oh honey, I don't have the luxury of thinking about next month, or even tomorrow. I just take my days one aluminum can at a time."


The Fireman

There were three rock-solid hints right away that this was going to be a tough one.

First of all, there was a vague chief complaint. Whenever a patient tells the medical assistant they came for an appointment to "discuss an issue," it's a guarantee the patient isn't there for a sore throat or to check their blood sugar. This generalization usually means one of three things: either the patient wants to be tested for a STI (sexually transmitted infection), wants a narcotic, or is on probation and split their head open while intoxicated.

But it's mostly just the first two.

The second clue was that the patient, in this case a male, refused to allow the female student nurses to sit in on the visit. "That narrows things down a bit," I thought, pointing to a likely problem somewhere in the vicinity between the thighs and umbilicus.

But I was wrong.

The third and final clue was when the patient, someone I had never seen before, greeted me with "are you sure you want to see this?"

Now for me, especially since I chose a medical profession with all its grisly details, this kind of disclaimer is like dangling a penguin in front of a leopard seal. It's an open invitation to escape the mundane of hypertension and hyperlipidemia and feast on something atypical or cool or bizarre or shocking or grotesque or better yet----maybe even fixable.

So when the patient looked at me with apprehension and asked "are you sure you want to see this" I answered assuredly, hoping not to let the undertones of excitement jump the gun like an anxious girlfriend blurting out "yes I'll marry you" before he even pops the question.

"Yes, I am sure," I replied trying to sound safe and confident, and even though I was intrigued and excited, I was also nervous.

There is always that. Always.

Walking into an exam room, I am accompanied by my sidekicks: Inexperience & Anxiety. An undercurrent of worry weaves in and out of my day, popping up here and there like a silver thread woven among a tapestry of wool. Will I know the right diagnosis or the proper treatment? Will I recognize whether the problem is a danger or a diversion? Will I be able to make the best decision for the patient?

I remembered the last time a patient said those words to me --- "are you sure you want to see this?" A 30 year old man, who was lying (clue: not sitting) down on the exam table, proceeded to pull down his pants, and directed my attention toward "something" in his butt that had been causing him excruciating pain for 2 WEEKS.  This is an important point to remember --- two weeks, fourteen days, three hundred and thirty six hours!

I took one look at his backside, and instantly judged this guy as either a Herculean hero or a doltish Cronus. Perhaps he was a little bit of both. I assessed the situation stared and totally played it cool, swallowed hard, and calmly stated, "you need to go immediately to the hospital... you have about 8 inches of colon hanging out of your rectum..."

But I digress. (Like his colon.....)

So back to my story.....there I was in the exam room, ready to see what the patient wanted to hide from the student nurses. It was just me and him and his secret which filled the room like a hot air balloon. I was keenly aware of his vulnerability, and though I have realized this before, I was suddenly filled with marvel at the trust and privilege that patient's extend to health care providers. It is a curious phenomenon, that mere strangers, who within minutes of meeting one another, are exchanging one-sided, intimate details about a person's life and body. This is a precious right and responsibility that I hold sacred and hope never to take for granted.

Slowly, the patient rolled up his sleeves, revealing several scattered nodules the size of shelled walnuts up and down the front and back of his arms. Some were abscessed, others just nondescriptly sitting there, like a gopher in a hole---only the pest which had burrowed down in his skin was not a varmint, but misplaced heroin instead.

His story carved a deep inroad into my soul.

He had been a fireman for 29 years busting his butt and breaking his back, literally, for society. His aches and pains led him to prescription narcotics, which led him to street drugs, which led him to a stomach eroded and raw from the years and years of pain meds. Now at the age of 71, in a desperate attempt to control his pain, he started shooting the heroin to bypass his gut and give it a rest.

It wasn't for the high. It wasn't for the kicks.

He was a newbie to this brave rough world not usually inhabited by those with a pension and grandchildren, and he was scared and ashamed at what the drugs were doing to his toned and rescuing arms.

He had tried every conceivable way to quit drugs and manage his pain in productive ways. He looked straight into my eyes and pleaded, like a sinner asking God, "what else can I do?"

Oh Mr Firefighter..... I pray this is one rescue you will be able to make.


The Front Porch

my brothers and parents in grafton, utah

Have you ever noticed that the kitchen is a bit of a glory hog?

In magazines like Better Homes & Gardens or real-life living, the kitchen often gets a lot of attention. And rightly so. Often described as the "heart" of the home, the kitchen is the hub of sustenance. It is the place where our senses are fed, and where emotions and pounds are born and bred (and often shed).

I love being in the kitchen: scouring recipes, making (or ruining) a batch of homemade caramels, cooking up a batch of Meyer lemon curd, or kneading rolls.  I love doing dishes and feeling the warm sudsy comfort on my hands, made even better when my daughter sits across the bar from me spilling snippets about her day.

So when it came time to sell our home in Utah, it didn't surprise me that the kitchen was one of the places I would miss the most. What did surprise me is how nostalgic I would get about the porch.

But, then again, this epiphany made perfect sense.

I have always had a passion for front (and back) porches. Maybe it's because our front porch growing up was the place of my first kiss. Or maybe because it was the place where I sat for hours as a teenager pretending to read The Outsiders or Lord of the Flies while hoping to catch a glimpse of the hot boy across the street.

photo by Justin Hackworth

Or maybe it was because of my grandparent's front porch in Idaho. It was enclosed with small windows and lacy curtains. It smelled faintly of lilacs and antiques, had a few plants drinking up the sun, a chair inviting you to also drink up the sun, and a bookshelf of novels to sweeten the pot. It was a like getting a sneak peak into their lives before actually entering their home, and there was always a sense of mystery and excitement crossing through it to get to the real front door.

grandpa in his st. anthony home. photo by Justin Hackworth

As I grew older, I found myself drawn again and again to homes with front porches. It didn't matter whether simple or elaborate, I loved (and still do) the concept of a veranda which speaks the language of slow and simple times.

our front porch in Bountiful, Utah

A porch is to a house what clothing is to people, shedding light (literally, haha) on the style and personality of the people inside. For this reason, I especially love the southern porches that wrap around the house like an extra small apron on a plus-sized girl. I would like to think that only the friendliest of people live in houses with porches so inviting. And if someone is lucky enough to have a porch swing? Well then it seems they have the world by the tail and a downhill pull.

source unknown
source unknown

After I had a family of my own, the front porch became even more meaningful. It became so much more than a spy stoop, a preview, a welcome invitation, or a place to relax and enjoy a lemonade in slow motion.  The front porch took on a life of its own, becoming a stage where so many wonderful and surprising events played out.

photo credit: Nest of Posies

Like the time we got our youngest son. He was dropped off by a stranger on our porch in an old wicker basket. I found him one morning when I left to go to work.

Just kidding.

We didn't ever have a baby delivered  there but we did find a little piece of Mr. Fish's finger (another story for another time).

Which brings me to to the whole point of this writing.

home on Coronado Island, California


On a balmy August Sunday in 2013, our family and friends gathered to say goodbye to my two sons who were leaving for South America.  They would leave in two days for their mission, and six days later we would move out of our home forever. It was a double-decker good-bye that put me on an emotional merry-go-round.

So naturally I wanted a family picture.

This isn't an easy proposition. Unfortunately, or fortunately depending on your point of view, my family has developed an aversion to taking pictures because of my.... say....how do I put this.... previous patterns of neurosis.... which included taking about three million tries to get the perfect pic.

When I got brave enough to share my hopes and plans for a picture, I was met with the expected groans, but I promised that this time it would be quick and simple. All we had to do was walk outside and stand on the front porch. There was beauty all around and joy to the world that we wouldn't have to travel to an exotic red rock locale, or search for the perfect background with the perfect lighting and the perfect colored grass and the perfectly coordinating, but not matching outfits, that looked eclectic but not random or like we tried too hard. On the other hand, my family questioned my choice of location because we definitely didn't have the prettiest porch in the perch.

But this picture wasn't for the aesthetics.

on the front porch for one last photo in our Hurricane, Utah home

It was about freezing a thousand tiny moments.....

....a thousand tiny moments that hit me like a wrecking ball on the night before this photo was taken, jamming together twenty two year's worth of porch memories into one word that I kept thinking about over and over.... GIVING.

Over the previous several weeks, I had been filled with sunshine in my soul thinking about all the things that happened on our front and back porch, with a unifying theme of generous imparting, endowing, supplying. I was amazed at the power of a simple space and overcome with gratitude for all who had ventured onto it. Our final photograph in that house was the chance for our little plain porch to give back one final memory as we parted forever.

Now here I must warn you that if you are bored with minutia or need to go pluck your eyebrows, this would be a good place to stop. Because all that follows is reminiscing about everyday porch miscellanea. Once seemingly inconsequential in their ordinariness, the following stories now feel extraordinarily valuable through the metamorphosis of retrospection.

photo by Justin Hackworth


There was the time my husband was studying and I was (supposedly) getting some sleep before going in to work at the night shift. It was Halloween and by 9:00 pm most of the trick-or-treaters had petered out. I channeled my inner Sherlock Holmes and snuck out of the house to our car where I put on a [previously planted] trench coat and mask. ONLY a trench coat and mask. I tiptoed up to the front door like a bobcat praying noboby else would come by and rang the doorbell. When Mr. Fish answered, I flashed open my trench coat nice and wide, shouted Trick-or-Treat in my best Marilyn Monroe impersonation, then turned and ran away. Well, I use the term 'ran' rather loosely. It was really more like a stiff walk because it was October and about 120 degrees below zero. And my body wasn't used to that kind of exposure cold.


There was the time my husband was out of work, and we heard the doorbell ring a week before Christmas. No one was at the door when I opened it, but instead there was an envelope with $200 cash and a simple unsigned note which read, "Merry Christmas." It was manna dropped from heaven onto our cement wilderness. Our front porch was visited by the neighborly Halloween phantom, and was the depository for delicious homemade bread, casseroles, fresh garden produce, goodies, and packages from UPS. When my children were young, they couldn't wait each night to see what secret Santa had left on the porch, counting down the 12 Days of Christmas. (Thank you so much to whoever you were!!)

There were the times our porch turned into an amphitheater with performances from the Nielsons, or the Beattys or the Wilcock families caroling at Christmas. Or the Wilcock-Johnson quartet serenading us with Stand By Me or The Lion Sleeps Tonight.

There was the time I opened the door to see a skinny pair of 5-year old legs scampering across the yard and looked down to see a small sloppy pile of freshly picked flowers [out of our yard].


There was the time we spent hours making spin art with the home-spun spinning contraption that Mr. Fish built. It became our workshop for painting, drawing with sidewalk chalk, or planting flowers. Our porch saw its fair share of unplanned 'designs' made by melting Creamies or spilled fingernail polish.


There was the time Jennifer and Jack dropped off Valentine heart-shaped sugar cookies at Christmas. Or the time the policeman sat there with Sean to interview him, or the time I tripped off the front porch and broke my toe. There was the time Brent sat completely disguised and lifeless on the front porch at Halloween, roaring to life and scaring little kids to death when they walked up to the front door.


There were the times each fall when our kids stood with bouquets of freshly sharpened pencils and carefully chosen stiff new backpacks for the iconic first-day-of-school picture. My good parents started this tradition.....

and we kept it going, year after year.......

first there were four
then three
and then there were two... (Junior Year)


There was the time when the doorbell rang and we walked out of the house into a porch-turned-cemetery, complete with several headstones and strobe lights and a sidewalk chalk message which read "I'm dying to go with you to Preference." Our porch was a veritable gallery for all kinds of creativity with high school dance "asks" and "answers." It was the beginning and ending place for many a dance date.

sadie hawkin's dance


There were Saturday or Sunday evenings when we would sit out and watch a lightning storm. Or watch the neighborhood kids play basketball or whiz on their bikes up and down the street. Neighbors strolling by would stop for a visit, discussing anything from presidential elections to managing bee hives.

There were the times when my birthday request was to sit on our porch as a family with an ice cream sandwich and (gasp) just visit. Kindly, my teenagers would acquiesce, and these moments are some of my very favorite times. My kids have a way of making me laugh--- that genuine, deep belly laugh that feels as good as a massage. They would impersonate lines from movies or we would solve world problems like how not to cut off your finger (see above). Of course, there was payback for their time. They always managed to devolve the conversation by bringing up the {completely fictional} story about the time I got angry and threw a frozen burrito.

my mom, nieces and I in Virginia


The front porch stories are not all roses and rainbows and soft cuddly bunnies. There were times I would go there to pout or ponder after a fight with my husband or a rough day with my children. There was the time I cried there for hours when I thought our marriage wasn't going to last and hoped that the fresh air would absorb my grief.

There was the incredibly lonely time when my mother drove away after coming to help when our twins were born. I sat on the porch sobbing enough tears to flood irrigate, completely paralyzed and unable (or unwilling) to go back into the house, and face what awaited. For one thing, I missed my mom already so much my teeth ached. And for another, I felt so overwhelmed, scared and anxious at the thought of caring for TWO babies, plus my two-year old AND three-year old......which, if you've been keeping track, was four kids under the age of four. I was tempted to set up a tent right there on the porch. It was far enough away to escape responsibility, yet not so far that I couldn't sneak in for a brownie now and then, and go in at night and watch them sleep, which is the kind of mothering I felt qualified to do. From then on, I would return to the porch many times when I needed some big sky perspective and cloud therapy. Turns out I was the one that usually needed to rock. Not the baby.


The front door was often a billboard to announce exciting events, or give congratulations, or leave a welcome note for company. It was a place to hang decorations and show our holiday spirit (or lack thereof, more often!)

The back porch had some stories too. It was the place of lots and lots of parties, where there was often homemade vanilla-bean ice cream churning, steaks grilling or Hires Big H root beer bubbling. The amount of embarrassing and funny stories, laughter, and confessions spilled here could fill a swimming pool.


There were the school days when I would sit on the porch and watch my kids round the corner and come jaunting down the street from school with their backpacks bobbing. I could always tell what kind of day it was by the height of the bob and speed of the walk. If it was a rough day, there was little energy in the gait and the backpack barely moved. Then I knew an extra hug or snack or mommy time was in order.

my grandmother comes to town
first day of new job at movie theater


If the kitchen represents the heart of the home, the porch is the ante-heart: the place one must traverse to get to the heart. It's like the space between the arms when giving a hug, where love is often wrapped and trapped.

The front porch is a sacred bridge, worthy of its own Pinterest board.

In each of our homes, the porch became the backdrop for old traditions and new surprises, goodwill and goodness, hellos and goodbyes, parties (and party poopers). It was a showcase for seasonal door wreaths and my struggling green thumb.  It was a place where celebrations were shouted and love of holidays were displayed. It was a place where friendships were strengthened, world problems were solved, and teen-age dreams came true. It was a meeting place and a gathering place. It was a place where cares were cast aside and the world passed by. It was a place where friends and families reminisced and sunsets stole away our breath.

oh the stories each of those bricks could tell...

I hope that many of my birthdays will be spent on a front porch somewhere in a rocking chair with a homemade bowl of ice cream in hand and my family gathered around telling stories about the good ole' days of 2014. That is, after we have spent the day river rafting or hiking. I mean, how old do you think I am?

Family and friends...I'll always leave the porch light on for you.

Rock on,
Ms Fish

PS: My front porch experiences are not any more special or unique than yours! If you love the porch as much as I do, please share this with others. Wouldn't it be nice for all of us to do more rocking on the front porch, unhurried, sipping lemonade and taking time to smell the roses. Or in my case, or my garden,...smell the struggling roses.

Disclaimer - This blog post is not promotional or sponsored by anyone. All these views and my love for front porches and rocking chairs is simply acquired from personal life experience and was not written under pressure from the Amish, the people of Tennessee or any rocking chair company. I simply want to remember and renew the laid-back front porch lifestyle. However, in full disclosure, if given a chance, I could totally be bought to sample and promote someone's chair. 

source unknown


Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...