It came to an end for Justice Ginsberg after 87 years. It will come to an end soon for my father too. He is in hospice care at 88 years and eleven months. Her turns 89 in October. But he is deteriorating every day now. The final destination can’t be too much farther down the road for me either.
Life is not a Disney movie with Bambi in it. My mother made it out of the meadow alive when I was small.
But, when you think about it, after a cute and funny childhood, there was that moment behind the car tires when trauma struck, at age ten, and after that I had to grow up faster than should have been necessary. And in my youth and in my prime, I had to struggle to prove myself. Against other bucks, and hunters with guns, and… at the end of the movie, it seems like the whole world is on fire.
So, maybe life is like a Disney movie with Bambi in it. And maybe I have to make my own happy ending.
Perhaps Bambi is my spirit-animal. The one who protects my family. My patronus. My guardian angel.
No matter how I take it on, it has been a long and wearying road to follow. And the journey now is nearly complete. But the last few miles are always the hardest to bear. Still, I know the journey has been worth it. And there will be rest to be had in that last meadow. RGB already knows it. Soon my father will too. Peace be upon us, for we have earned it.
My number two son is coronavirus positive. All four of us who live in the house are now under quarantine for fourteen days (at a minimum). I have six incurable diseases, three of which; diabetes, hypertension, and COPD, the virus uses as the window to climb in and assassinate you.
We are not supposed to share a bathroom with the ill person, which is hard to do with only one bathroom. Nobody is seriously considering peeing outdoors.
We are all now wearing masks in the house. Well, except for my wife who insists she can’t breathe with a mask on all day (though she does it for her job as a Texas school teacher.) And she is a diabetic too.
What are the chances that I will still be alive in two weeks? Well, I am proceeding with the idea that I have a zero percent chance myself. I will do what I can to swim with the current. Like a good Taoist, I will not try to change the natural order of things. I have been retired now for six years, not by choice, but because of health problems. I am actuarily supposed to be dead five years ago. Heck, I had the H1N1 virus twice (both strains). The fact that I am still alive now means that I am very hard to kill.
So, I am expecting to die soon, but doing everything in my power to paddle the boat to safety in the raging river of Doom, Gloom, and rumors of Boom.
But my regrets are few. It has been a very good run. I have had a lotta laughs over 64 years. I taught for 31 years. I have written 16 novels and one book of essays. I am about halfway finished with my next novel.
My next novel is called The Wizard in his Keep. It is about three kids who are orphaned by a car wreck, then rescued by a family friend. Their weird “Uncle” Milt Morgan has been helping to create a virtual-reality computer game called The Legend of Hoodwink. He takes them to live inside the game world. And there they discover that things have gone terribly wrong for the computer game and the company that designed it. And it’s possible that the game has been contaminated with real magic somehow. And there may no longer be any way out of the game ever again.
This book may well be my own Mystery of Edwin Drood (the last, unfinished book by Charles Dickens.) It is somehow perfect, then, that this novel was inspired by The Old Curiosity Shop, and has many Dickens references in it.
I like to think of myself as a good person. In fact, having been a successful public school teacher, I basically feel that calling myself a hero is not the same sort of toxic narcissism that Prexydental Trumpalump displays when he thinks of himself that way.
I need to get it through my thick head that everyone sees themselves that way, and that it is universally untrue. We let too much badness go unopposed. We are hard-hearted too often towards our fellow men and women… and children… and animals… and the planet as a whole.
We see others who are different than ourselves as “others” and exclude them from our groups, some of us going so far as to villainize others just because their skin is green, or because they know what “Blogwopping” means and we don’t. And what we villainize, or demonize, or verminize, we feel righteous in harming, even exterminating.
So, what’s the point I am making? Am I such a loathsome creature that the only way I can make the world a better place is to curl up and die? Of course not. That’s the darkness talking me back into grave ideas and depressed thinking. I need to spread a little of that old Norman Vincent Peale peanut-butter on the slice of toast that is my world. Yes, a little bit of positive thinking can re-butter your toast for the better in order to prepare you to battle the battles that must be fought and won.
A true warrior is not the guy doing the most killing on the battlefield. And he is not the one who dies for his country either. Both may have their place in a war, but neither is the one who wins it. A true warrior is the one who endures to the end. The last man standing. The one who rules the battlefield at the end of the day.
So, what do I mean with all this warrior nonsense? I mean, my Great Grandma Hinckley was a true warrior, because she steadfastly led her family through five generations of it, and made more generations possible.
You say the world is dying of climate change? My Grandma was a relentless garden-keeper, helping us to survive with garden-fresh sweet corn, sweet peas, pumpkins, squash, and carrots from her garden. And she planted a multitude of flowers every year to keep the bees happy and a everything they pollinated growing.
You say we may succumb to pandemics and plagues? Grandma Hinckley was a maker of chicken soup, a mender of wills and willpower in the downhearted… church-goer, psalm-singer, user of Vick’s Vapo-Rub, Dr. Scholl’s inserts, Werther’s Original Butterscotch and Hard Candies, and if worse came to worse… Castor Oil!
And for political problems… government corruption and such? Well, maybe you can’t still vote for FDR or Eisenhower… but you damn sure better vote.
Yes, my Great Grandma Hinckley was a true warrior.
And so, I am ready for the fights to come. I will be a warrior like her. I will be a problem-solver, and I will endure. Because that’s just what you do, no matter the odds against you. I learned it from her. And I’m pretty sure I’m not the only one with a warrior for a grandma, or mother, or father, or sister, brother, wife, or son… even daughter. We stand a chance if we will only stand together. And we do it for love.
My father is in hospice care as I write this. He is in the late stages of Parkinson’s Disease and probably has experienced multiple strokes in the last two months of Summer 2020. He is ninety years old. And in many ways, he is already gone. I mean he is living in his past now. He is recalling his time in the Navy during the Korean War. At times he doesn’t know my mother, and he doesn’t remember that he ever had a family. Of course, this essay will not be a happy-go-lucky, full-of-jokes-and-humor essay. We can’t even visit him because of positive tests for COVID in his current care facility. And I am stuck here in Texas while he’s still in Iowa because the pandemic precludes travel between hot-spot States. But neither is this going to be a tear-fest. My father’s life was not a sad thing to reflect upon. My father was a domestic hero.
My father was born into an Iowan farm family in Nora Springs, Iowa. There my Grandfather, Arthur Beyer, worked the land for raising corn and beans, and together with my Grandma, Mary Beyer, raised a family of three, Raymond Beyer, who is my father, Aunt Jean Beyer, and Uncle Roger, better known as Skip Beyer.
Being the oldest, Dad was the most responsible for helping on the farm with chores and odd jobs during the depression in the 1930’s, and during wartime in the 1940’s. He learned a work ethic that involved doing the next thing right away so that you can get a head start on the thing after that. Never put off until tomorrow what you could’ve done yesterday. Stay ahead of the weeds and bad weather. Prepare for the worst and be happy when you don’t get it. But also grit your teeth and pitch in when you do get it. As his oldest son, he taught all of this to me. I hope I never disappointed him as his student.
He came from difficult times. He was still a boy during World War II, but when he came of an age to serve, he enlisted in the Navy, a family tradition, and served aboard Aircraft Carriers during the Korean conflict. Of course, he never saw actual combat. But aboard the USS Bennington, there was a terrible war-time accident. A boiler-room explosion killed the young sailor who had relieved Dad from a duty station in the blast area only a couple of hours before. But for a matter of luck, I might never have been born. Or, more properly, for the Grace of God…
And though it was a difficult time, in many ways it was also a simpler and more innocent time.
My father not only forgave me for the skinny-dipping incident at Randy’s birthday party, he laughed about it when I told him. And I had wisely not finished getting naked for it even before we knew the girls were spying on us. So, I didn’t have to be totally embarrassed by it when he laughed. My father didn’t laugh at everything, but when he laughed, he laughed well.
During the tornado in Belmond in 1966, he was something of a hero… to my way of thinking at least. He was the last one down into the cellar as the fertilizer company’s office building blew apart. Being at the top of the stairs, a shard of something clipped the scalp on the top of his head as the storm leveled the place where he worked as an accountant. So, he was bleeding when he helped everyone emerge from the wreckage. And he continued to let it bleed as he assisted storm victims all the way down Main Street, working his way towards the hospital where Mom worked as an R.N. He found her in the miraculously untouched hospital, and she quickly got him patched up and un-bloodied. We four children had a miserable night at Uncle Larry’s place, knowing that both of our parents had been in the tornado, but not knowing if they survived. It was Dad who was able to pick us up and take us home the next day. If nothing else makes you a hero in life, surviving because your children need you to certainly does.
I would not be who I am if not for my father. I owe to him everything in life I don’t owe to my mother. I wish love could be enough to cure him. He’s still alive at this point, but his mind is lost in the past… reliving the events on the Bennington, reliving the tornado, and somehow not able to remember the good things in life… and remember us, his children and grandchildren. If love were enough, I could cure him so well, he would be young again, and able to live it all over again. But I guess, that is really God’s job now. And who am I to argue with my father’s father’s father?
My wife is an immigrant from the Philippines, come to this country in 1993 to be a Texas public school teacher. Like the other members of the Filipino colonization of the United States, she came here with family. And more are coming every year. You go to a family gathering and meet cousins by the dozens, friends from this country, and friends from that country, and their relatives, and lots and lots of kids… that must belong to somebody somewhere.
They get together and talk, tell jokes, eat, talk some more, sing karaoke, mostly off key, tell stories about the Philippines in English, and stories about the Philippines in Tagalog, and stories about the Philippines in Kapampangan, and even stories about the Philippines in Ilocano (but nobody listens to him anyway… He’s from the North) and sing more karaoke, and definitely take a group photo while eating and talking.
And one time at one of these family gatherings, while others were singing karaoke, somebody put a baby girl in my lap. She was Renfatootie Paffenboingey. (Obviously not her real name… even in Kapampangan.) She was the daughter of my wife’s cousin and her Greek husband. She was only about a month old then. My own daughter had not yet been born. She was, in fact, not even certain to be a daughter at that point in the pregnancy.
“You need to get used to holding one of those,” Renfatootie’s mother told me.
And then the sweet little thing looked at me and smiled (though she was not old enough to focus her eyes and what she did was probably more gas bubble than smile.) I am told that you are not supposed to fall in love with other people’s children, so I didn’t. Or I did and just lied about it afterwords.
There were several other times that baby Ren was put in my lap. I rocked her to sleep and sang softly to her more than once at family gatherings and picnics and barbecues and… they do a lot of eating in Filipino families.
As Ren got older they began to call her “Tweety” because of the big forehead and big eyes and the Tweety-bird grin she always wore. I didn’t see her often, and talked to her even less. I really thought she didn’t know who I was. She was not my kid. She smiled at me a lot, but she smiled at everybody.
Then one day we were at a picnic in New Braunfels where the families were all taking advantage of the cold spring water in the creek in the park on hot South Texas day. I was talked into putting on swim trunks and getting in the water with my kids and all the other kids. Renfatootie had a squirt gun. She was about ten then. And as malevolent as a ten-year-old is made by God to be. Every opportunity she found she used to squirt me directly in the face. And then she giggled and ducked the splashes of my weakly attempted revenge. It almost got to the point of being more irritating than cute.
Later I had put clothes back on and most everyone was settled into eating and talking and taking group photos while eating for the rest of the afternoon. Renfatootie “Tweety” Paffenboingey came after me soaking wet from her most recent dip in the cold water.
“Michael! Give me a hug!” she commanded, throwing her arms out wide for me. I took hold. And the wet little thing soaked my clothes in chilled water as she gave me such a squeeze that my eyes nearly popped out of my head.
“You did that just to get me wet again,” I said, with a smile rather than anger.
“Nah. You gotta love ’em while you got ’em. I don’t get to love you near enough.”
I was not the only one she pulled the wet-hug trick on that day. But she left me admiring her philosophy of life in a big way. I may not seize the opportunity as much as she does. But I have resolved to try.
It’s been a few years since I saw her last. She’s a big girl now. Graduated from high school and everything. But remembering her brings a smile to my face even now.
The pandemic has been wearing on us all. It keeps us home-bound. It prevented me from making the annual trip to Iowa to visit my octogenarian parents, even though my father is now in hospice care because Parkinson’s is winning the five-year battle he has been fighting against it. My mother got me to stay in Texas by telling me that my father no longer recognizes even her, and it would do him no good to see me through a glass window if he didn’t know me anyway. I may not even get to attend his funeral because of COVID.
My daughter too has been dealt a difficult hand of hearts to try to win a card-game of life with. She missed having a regular high school graduation. This is already her second time losing a grandfather. And she has been desperately worried about me with my six incurable pre-existing conditions catching my death of coronavirus flu just because I go to the grocery store to buy food.
But I am not suggesting that my family is the Flintstones, even though Fred, Wilma, and Pebbles have been a part of my life since the 1960’s. Instead I am showing you how we have been coping with it all. My daughter has taken to doing oil-paintings in her room, and today she registered online with the local Junior College. She has also developed an addiction to Fruity Pebbles cereal. They are putting these blank frames on the backs of her cereal boxes, and I have been addicted to cutting them out and drawing Flintstones characters on them. We have developed happy little artistical quirks to carry on the work of the Church of Bob Ross where we create whatever little worlds with our art that we feel like making today. And it is entirely up to us to make our world however we want it to be, just like Bob always says.
Yesterday my 89-year-old father went into the hospital. He suffers from Parkinson’s Disease and a heart no longer strong enough to keep his blood pressure up. Apparently yesterday he lost the ability, possibly only temporarily, to recognize my mother.
This is not a good time to lose my father. There is never a good time, but now my health is failing. I had to make deals with relatives to get someone to drive me up to Iowa for the annual visit to the family farm during the pandemic which is now spiraling out of control in Texas. My wife and I are both diabetics and at risk. If we accidentally take COVID 19 up to Iowa, I could wipe out all four of us. And I developed a cough and chest pain overnight. At least now I can make a case for getting a COVID test.
I know a post like this goes against the rules for a good blog post. It is entirely too personal and self-focused. But it is necessary sometimes to confess your fears before you confront them. I have had my father and mother in my life for the entirety of my 64 years. They have both lived good, long, and fruitful lives. And a time for passing comes to us all. I have been far luckier in holding back the night than the vast majority of people. But the only immortality we can ever hope to have is through passing on the small part of the universal story that belongs only to each of us individually. “I am a child of the universe. No less than the trees and the stars, I have a right to be here. And whether or not it is clear to me (And at this moment… it is not) the universe is unfolding… as it should” – a paraphrase from Desiderata.
Don’t panic. I’m okay. Or if you don’t like me at all, don’t get overly happy in anticipation. I actually know why my ears keep bleeding. It is the skin on the top and sides of my ears peeling off and bleeding because of moderate-plaque psoriasis. I just like the way that title sounds. All dripping with ill omens and horror-movie anxiety. I am not becoming a zombie or anything. I just look and feel like one.
I am feeling a little bit old and pointless, what with the pandemic worsening in Texas, my father’s health deteriorating in darkly concerning ways, and the upcoming decision about whether or not I get to return to Iowa this summer. It’s definitely in doubt this year. My parents are both octogenarians and there is the risk of carrying virus anywhere near them. Not to mention the risk of death the virus presents to me. And I am feeling ill. Not with Covid 19. I have no symptoms of that. But I have a stomach virus. My psoriasis is fierce. And I do not have the physical energy to drive myself all the way to Iowa. The prospect of not being able to go home again for another year is weighing heavily on my soul. That is why I have been busy with maudlin posts about dead movie stars like yesterday’s post.
There’s a certain minimum amount of time needed for re-connection with my roots, my childhood, the people and places that gave rise to me. The picture above is one of my Great Grandmother, Nellie Hinckley. She is one of the founders of my world. A Goddess responsible for giving life to my mother’s side of the family. She passed into the World of the Remembered in 1980, when I painted this picture. Soon my parents will be joining her and my grandparents from both sides of the family in that world where everything is summed up in old photographs. And I shall surely follow soon… if not proceed them. I wonder if anyone will lift a brush to Remember me?
And yet, no matter how it turns out, I have much to get on with. I am not done telling stories. I have had little success in selling my books so far. I can barely give them away. But the work of it gives my life just enough purpose and meaning to keep me alive longer than the insurance industry, my Texas teacher retirement plan, and the mortuary companies of the world would like me to. But, I promise to continue frustrating them further.
I did some house-cleaning today. The ceiling fan in the kitchen was filthy. It had grease from cooking on the nearby stove top all over the blades. And embedded in the grease was dirt and grime. So, it had to be scrubbed with Clorox. And I am allergic to Clorox. So, now I am done for the day. My lungs hurt. And it is hard to think. But I am not dying today from that. I am pretty sure the virus that has us shut up in the house has other plans for me.
But not everything is bad. Dust is bad. I am allergic to that too. Yet, I have now gotten 1,800 followers on WordPress. And somebody is using Amazon Prime to read more than one of my books. The pennies are rolling in on my Amazon author’s dashboard. Number one son has a serious girlfriend. Number two son has a work-at-home job that he is doing right now. And my daughter, the Princess, is helping her mother to finish cleaning the fan.
As part of my quest to rewrite AeroQuest as a comedy-science-fiction series, I am rereading the first book in the series.
Rereading your own work can be surprisingly rewarding in unusual ways. When I was working on that novel and reading and re-reading each section and Canto, I really began to hate the writing. It is my worst work so far. And yet, after plenty of time to forget how awful it seemed at the time, I find myself laughing at the jokes again. I know I am a notoriously un-critical critic. But I also am convinced I am a good writer, and even my bad books are better than I usually think. Now, if only somebody else would read them.
Work continues on AeroQuest 3.
So, even if I am a little bit down and blue, I am not out yet. The Dust wlll not win.
Last night I reached the climax of the novel, A Field Guide to Fauns. I pulled the scene off in a way that made me cry and feel like a part of my soul had been pulled out through my nose. But a critical question remains to be answered. Does it matter to the reader as much as it does to me?
The climax occurs after a group of four characters participate in a Chicken Dance, and the critical conflict is resolved by talking about the past.
Probably not the most cinematic approach I could have used.
But this is not a cinematic story. It is introspective. It grapples with chronic child abuse and suicidal depression. It deals with recovery from a seriously traumatic event. And it is set in a nudist park featuring characters who are trying to rebuild families after divorce.
Can I leave it like it currently is? Knowing me, I probably will. It is an essential sort of story that I need to write because of who I am, who I was before, and where I am trying to be. I don’t write for anybody else but me. But I do hope others will read it. I will, in fact, continue to coerce family members and friends who are not sick of my story-telling (if such rare creatures still exist) to read it and make faces afterwards. And I firmly believe it is well-written, but it is a well-written, introspective and highly metaphorical novel. How many people do I know, after all, that read and enjoy Marcel Proust or William Faulkner or Saul Bellow? (I myself have only read multiple books from two of those three, and that because I can’t read French to get the book in its original language),
Last night I watched what I thought was a marvelous movie on Disney Plus. And the truth is, the gut-punching climax of that movie happens when the main character is reviewing his to-do list while sitting on a rock. So, it is not only me who sometimes soft-peddles the critical steps in a story plot.
In truth, then, the next critical step for me will be to finish the falling action of the novel, carefully re-read and edit the manuscript, and then publish it. The novel will be done soon.