Walking The Poodle this morning I was deep in thought over the events of the last couple of weeks.  Last year we were dealing with issues pertaining to my mother.  And, for inquiring minds, the drama continues, just escalating yet to new levels.  Impossible to comprehend, I know!  But, that’s my mother, God (and family) love her!   Now, it seems we will be tackling issues with Rocket-man’s mother and it isn’t good. Unlike with my mother,  her body is just fine.  It’s her mind that is going.  She is sliding slowly into dementia.

When we went to see her last week to assess the situation we walked into a totally unexpected mess.   She has been living under deplorable conditions.  With a daughter (Rocket-man’s younger sister) living in the same town, not even twenty minutes away,  both Rocket-man and I were outraged, not to mention overwhelmed over what we found.  It seems that his sister has mother “baggage” issues and decided to “check-out” in the help department.  News flash: Who doesn’t have childhood baggage?!   “There is no excuse for your sister’s behavior!”  I cried…literally, as I surveyed the mess before me.  My heart broke for the old woman seated quietly on the sofa, watching Bonanza re-runs on TVLand.  She was happy as a clam…in her own universe.  There was not an angry bone in her body.  I thought of how lucky my mother was to live in her beautiful new place…and I quietly seethed with anger as I cleaned; my mother isn’t grateful for where she is now, nor all the hoops we went through to make it happen for her.  Sigh.

Without hesitation, for two days we were knee-deep in cleaning and hauling what junk we could away, trying to make order out of the chaos in our short amount of time there.  Luckily, we had the help of Rocket-man’s older sister who, like us, doesn’t live in the same state.  There will be a great amount of work ahead, sorting everything out for his mother, and all the related responsibilities of finding the right care for her, not to mention the emotional heaviness of it all.  It begins anew, with barely time to exhale from the trauma–emotional and otherwise–of last year.  And of course, with it all comes another potential financial exhaustion of funds.  We just cannot seem to catch a break!

The only silver lining in this new catastrophe is that Rocket-man’s mother is fairly docile in the face of her crumbling world.  While I was filling garbage bag after garbage bag with years-old receipts, stacks of old catalogs, well- expired food, and (inexplicably) empty plastic milk cartons piled high in many places, she simply smiled and joked as if we were relaxing at a family picnic on a lazy Sunday afternoon.  It was a blessing after what I experienced last year with my combative mother.

So….In an effort to get my mind off of pressing issues as I walked my dog in the quiet of this fog-laced morning I had to think of something enjoyable…like our recent trip to Australia.

Yes.  It seems hard to believe that just three weeks ago I was giggling like a school girl over my first business class flying experience.  Just weeks ago I was petting a Koala one moment, then later excitedly pointing to a Kangaroo on the side of the road.  I’m sure the taxi driver was rolling his eyes while thinking “Another silly American tourist.” What a sight I must have been to him as I was literally jumping up and down in my seat with joy over a kangaroo sighting.

“Roos here are like your deers on the road; we often think of them as a nuisance,” said the very friendly taxi driver with a twinkle in his eye.  Glad you’re enjoying our roos though.”    I still marveled that everyone I had met during my ten-day Aussie adventure was a nice as can be.  I hadn’t met a rude Aussie yet.

And, our two days in Sydney weren’t nearly enough.   It had been cut hours shorter as our flight from Canberra was delayed due to dense fog.   We had to cram as much as possible in the short amount of time we had there before returning home (and we did!).

High on the list of my priorities as soon as our flight landed was a trip to the National Opal Collection on Pitt Street.  I had no idea it would be steps from our hotel (really…wink, wink).  Rocket-man however, had another agenda.  He wanted to tour Sydney’s iconic Opera House first.  But I was a woman on a mission and steadfastly holding my ground I said, “No….not just yet.”

“The opera house isn’t going anywhere,” I said breathlessly as we hurried through our hotel check-in.   “This afternoon is the only opportunity we have to look for an opal. The store is closed tomorrow since its Sunday.”

Between you and me, I’m positive Rocket-man was hoping that I’d forgotten about opal shopping.  I’m sure he thought that once I set eyes on the Opera House I’d beat feet there first.  He was mistaken. I’ve had opal fever for years–as far back to our dating days seventeen years ago—and he knows this.  The cure for this sort of fever is to shop for one I reasoned.  So, being the wonderful kind of guy that he is, he simply said; “Yes… my queen.  Your wish is my desire too!”  We dumped suitcases in our hotel room, freshend-up and within five minutes we were out on the street for the three minute walk to my opal destination.

Once I entered the small, rather non-nondescript store I made straight to one long display case.

“Wow.”

It was definitely sensory overload as I looked over the sea of opals…large, small and tiny even.   A spectrum of colors literally took my breath away–from milky white with glittery pastel tones, to intense greens swimming in fiery reds mixed with mesmerizing blues.  I learned quickly that I was terribly naive about my birthstone.

The opal expert sales associate was an Asian man who appeared to be in his fifties.  He stood quietly while I looked at the opals in the display case.  “I’m only interested in a black opal,”  I told him.  “It’s my birthstone.  The one I select will be for a ring and (throwing my former boss under the bus) my friend Jeff said I must look for one from the Lightning Ridge mine.”  Somehow in the busysiness of our days I had neglected to tell Rocket-man this.  I could tell he was getting nervous.  As I chatted away my eyes locked onto one beautiful stone.

“That one….there,” I said to Rocket-man, pointing with steadfast confidence to a black opal beauty.  “That’s exactly what I’m looking for.”

“Ahh…excellent choice,” said the sales associate as he opened the display case.  “You have a very good eye.”  He took the opal, which was the size of a quarter and placed it in my hands.

“Oh my.  This is stunning,” I breathed.  “How much is this stone?” I asked as I turned it around in my hand, admiring the changing array of blues and greens dancing before me.

“$10,500.00.”

My heart sank. Literally.  Rocket-man turned a dismal shade of ash.

“Well…um…. that’s just a wee bit outside of my price range,” was all I managed to squeak out.

“If it makes you feel any better, this one is well over $15,000,” said the associate pointing to magnificent black opal, nearly the same size but just a bit larger.

I was ready to abandon the mission entirely.  In fact,  I almost walked out of the store then.  I had not foreseen that an loose opal would be so expensive.  Strange as it was to me, Rocket-man was very patient and suggested we keep looking.  Really?   So, together we looked at a number of much smaller stones for a half hour, trying to find one that wouldn’t break the bank.  Finally I settled on one that was smaller than my pinkie fingernail and sincerely, the vibrancy of its colors made my heart sing.

“So, how about this be your birthday and Christmas gift?” said Rocket-man.

Really?”  Oh God yes!”  I replied, planting kisses on both of his cheeks.

My Lightning Ridge black opal. It looks big but it's smaller than my pinkie fingernail. I love it!

My Lightning Ridge black opal. It looks big but it’s smaller than my pinkie fingernail. I love it!

The fever has gone…for now!  And, like me, my little opal gem must remain patient before it can be set into a unique piece.  For now, we mustl navigate through the maze of another aging parent’s storm.   It’s not going to be pretty; hearts are going to be strained to the limit and patience will be tested over and over again.   Once all the financial dust settles  (which could mean another year, perhaps  longer) I’ll need to find a good jewelry designer.  But for now I’m content to gaze at my little gem in its box and when I do, I am instantly transported to the land down under and that beautifully crisp, clear, sunny day in Sydney where I spent the remainder of the afternoon walking hand-in-hand with my Rocket-man, enjoying the sights of downtown Sydney, the glistening waters around Bennelong Point, and the magnificent Sydney Opera House too.

A view of Sydney Opera House

A view of Sydney Opera House