Category Archives: family

Imperatives for Today

Sometimes Life just happens. But sometimes Life is what you do about it. Sometimes you must make it happen.

I have done some of that today.

I have a year and four months left on my bankruptcy. So, I paid my monthly payment.

Take that, Bank-o Merricka! I shall sink your cursed pirate ship of usury with cannonballs of cash fired steadily every month for almost four years now.

I ran the washing machine with my son’s police uniform in it. He has completed the Academy. got his certification, and is now on a delayed weekend break.

Take that, criminals of Dallas. Officer Beyer is now officially combatting you!

But Mom is in the hospital today, scheduled for an angiogram this afternoon.

If they find any blockages, as they suspect they will, they will attempt to fix them by placing in a stint as soon as the problem is revealed.

How wonderful it is that medicine is so advanced now that they can do this remotely as if it were a videogame. The doctor says she is too weak to withstand the older methods of heart surgery.

Mickey, once upon a time…

We are no longer who we once were.

We face different imperatives than we did fifty years ago.

And we still look to the future (through nerdy glasses) hopefully to face future imperatives.

But only if we can accomplish what we must do today.

My sister Nancy, once upon a time…

My two sisters are both now up in Iowa, staying near the hospital to be with her constantly.

Nancy takes the lead in that, the practical, no-nonsense member of the formidable foursome.

My sister Mary, once upon a time…

Nancy is retiring from her career as a public health inspector for the State of Missouri. She will move into the farmhouse in Iowa to take care of Mom.

Mary’s family, is like mine, grown and independent. But she still has a job she’s not ready to retire from.

Both I and my brother David are retired, but both live in Texas. We will go to Iowa when we can, but at our respective ages. a thousand miles of travel is hard.

My brother David, once upon a time.

But for all of us, we do the things that must be done. And one day we will all be together again to say our goodbyes, because no one lasts forever.

But that day has not yet come. Today we still must do that which is imperative to do… for today.

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Imperatives for Today

Sometimes Life just happens. But sometimes Life is what you do about it. Sometimes you must make it happen.

I have done some of that today.

I have a year and four months left on my bankruptcy. So, I paid my monthly payment.

Take that, Bank-o Merricka! I shall sink your cursed pirate ship of usury with cannonballs of cash fired steadily every month for almost four years now.

I ran the washing machine with my son’s police uniform in it. He has completed the Academy. got his certification, and is now on a delayed weekend break.

Take that, criminals of Dallas. Officer Beyer is now officially combatting you!

But Mom is in the hospital today, scheduled for an angiogram this afternoon.

If they find any blockages, as they suspect they will, they will attempt to fix them by placing in a stint as soon as the problem is revealed.

How wonderful it is that medicine is so advanced now that they can do this remotely as if it were a videogame. The doctor says she is too weak to withstand the older methods of heart surgery.

Mickey, once upon a time…

We are no longer who we once were.

We face different imperatives than we did fifty years ago.

And we still look to the future (through nerdy glasses) hopefully to face future imperatives.

But only if we can accomplish what we must do today.

My sister Nancy, once upon a time…

My two sisters are both now up in Iowa, staying near the hospital to be with her constantly.

Nancy takes the lead in that, the practical, no-nonsense member of the formidable foursome.

My sister Mary, once upon a time…

Nancy is retiring from her career as a public health inspector for the State of Missouri. She will move into the farmhouse in Iowa to take care of Mom.

Mary’s family, is like mine, grown and independent. But she still has a job she’s not ready to retire from.

Both I and my brother David are retired, but both live in Texas. We will go to Iowa when we can, but at our respective ages. a thousand miles of travel is hard.

My brother David, once upon a time.

But for all of us, we do the things that must be done. And one day we will all be together again to say our goodbyes, because no one lasts forever.

But that day has not yet come. Today we still must do that which is imperative to do… for today.

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Opening Windows on the Past

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This particular Iowa trip has me thinking hard about mortality and the cold harsh wind that blows toward us from the future.  My cousin’s only son lost his battle with depression, and his family finally came to terms with the loss.  But the sadness is past.   The responsibilities of the living is what remains.

I was born while Eisenhower was President.  I was alive and aware when Kennedy was assassinated and when men first walked on the moon.  I was teaching in a classroom when the first teacher in space was killed on the exploding space shuttle.  And I was also in the classroom when the twin towers fell on 9-11.  It is an important part of the responsibilities I have for being alive to keep that past alive too.

 

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My mother’s knickknack shelf.

The reason we collect and care about little extraneous things like porcelain eggs, angels, fine blue china plates, and the California Raisins singing I Heard It Through the Grapevine is because those little, otherwise unimportant things connect us to memories of important times and places and people.   We keep old photographs around, many of them black and white, for the same reasons.

 

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The fiction I write is not contemporary.  It is mostly historical fiction.  It is set in a recent past where the Beatles and the Eagles provided the sound track to our lives.  It does not cross the border into the 21st Century.  The part of my writing that is not about the past is science fiction set in the far future, entirely in the universe of my imagination.  It is my duty to connect the past to the future.

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And I share that duty with everyone who is alive.  My great grandparents and grandparents are now gone from this world.  But their horse-and-buggy memories about life on the farm before electric lights and cars… with humorous outhouse stories thrown in for comic relief… are in me too.  I am steeped in the past in so many ways…  And I must not fail to pass that finely brewed essence on to my children and anyone young who will listen.  It is a grave responsibility.  And it is possible to reach the grave without having fulfilled that important purpose.

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In times of great sadness and loss we must think about how life goes on.  There has to be a will to carry on and deliver the past to the future.  Every story-teller carries that burden, whether in large or small packages.  And there is no guarantee that tomorrow will even arrive.  So here is my duty for the day.  One more window has been opened.

 

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Filed under autobiography, battling depression, blog posting, family, healing, humor, insight, inspiration

Wrangling Winter Woes

I know there is no surprising news here if you are in one of the 44 States hit by this weather, but we are snow-covered and frozen still, even in the sunny aftermath of the storm.

My number two son, the jailor for the Dallas County Sheriff’s Office, works the night shift. Saturday night’s storm caused him to cover a Sunday morning shift for someone who couldn’t make it in. He worked for 16 straight hours. Then drove home in dangerous conditions, a 36-minute drive, got 3 hours of sleep, then had to go back to work for another night shift. He was so tired that my wife drove him to work through severe storm-warning weather, and then spent the night in the parking garage waiting for him. Of course, the Sheriff’s Office asked him to work a second straight double shift because of employees who couldn’t make it in.

The thing is… there are no medals for either of them.

And the city was hit with rolling power-outages all day. The Texas power grid is a mess. Someone ran over the connector-box in our area removing internet connections in the neighborhood until noon. Bummer for me and the Princess who has a college paper to write. But nowhere near the trouble number one wife and number two son had to deal with.

There is lots to complain about in this weather event. My mother in Iowa endured super-cold temperatures like 20-below-zero, but fortunately she got her second vaccination before the weather set in.

Even the birds are disgusted. They fly South for the Winter. But for a lot of them, Texas IS South. The snowbirds are grumbling today.

It did give me a few lessons, though, on how to take pictures of snow in sunshine while the glare is threatening to overexpose the image. You gotta add them danged shadows in the picture..

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Will Normal Ever Come Back?

Captain Action Spiderman and Captain America beside Han Solo from Hoth

We are now entering the most deadly time in the pandemic. We are expecting a hundred thousand more deaths in January 2021.

The question of whether or not I will even survive this month has not been settled.

I am still isolated at home with three members of my immediate family. Contact with the outside world is as limited as it is possible to be. Of the four of us, only my wife and son have to leave the house for work. My son has had Covid once already, so he probably still has antibody protection, but there are no guarantees he won’t get it again, and worse the second time. He works as a jailor and so he is exposed to Covid-positive inmates daily. My wife will go back to her teaching job this coming week. They are taking precautions as much as possible, but it is still in-person instruction. And my wife is at-risk with diabetes and high blood pressure. And there is no question in the minds of the Texas Board of Education that she needs to risk her life five days week to keep kids in school.

Star Wars and Star Trek Action Figures do not get along well on the shelf.

I am deteriorating from my many health problems. But I am only a little over a year away from being done with my bankruptcy and the paying off of my medical bills. So, barring another hospitalization, I can actually see light at the end of that tunnel.

But getting back to normal?

It will never happen. I will never again be well enough to make money as a teacher in a classroom, even as a limited-time substitution. If staying in my room and writing all day is my new normal, well, I am already doing that. But the things I have done as a normal thing will not be coming back.

Traveling is going to be a thing of the past. I cannot weather long car trips anymore. No more visits to Six Flags or Disney World, and maybe not even trips home to Iowa.

Doll collecting is also a thing of the past. I have no more money or time to pursue those little plastic people anymore, even at five dollars a month. In many ways I gave it up for good months ago already. And I probably have too many of them already.

“Child, child, have patience and belief, for life is many days, and each present hour will pass away. Son, son, you have been mad and drunken, furious and wild, filled with hatred and despair, and all the dark confusions of the soul – but so have we. You found the earth too great for your one life, you found your brain and sinew smaller than the hunger and desire that fed on them – but it has been this way with all men. You have stumbled on in darkness, you have been pulled in opposite directions, you have faltered, you have missed the way, but, child, this is the chronicle of the earth. And now, because you have known madness and despair, and because you will grow desperate again before you come to evening, we who have stormed the ramparts of the furious earth and been hurled back, we who have been maddened by the unknowable and bitter mystery of love, we who have hungered after fame and savored all of life, the tumult, pain, and frenzy, and now sit quietly by our windows watching all that henceforth never more shall touch us – we call upon you to take heart, for we can swear to you that these things pass.”
― Thomas Wolfe, You Can’t Go Home Again

Thomas Wolfe is correct. Without being able to physically travel to the past, you simply can’t go home again. We can travel through time, but only forward. But he is also right that the present time will pass too. And we all will eventually reach a time where we become timeless. So, we hunker down, live in the moment, and the world will become normal even if it is unrecognizable as what was normal in the past.

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Filed under commentary, family, health, humor, medical issues, photo paffoonies

Kitchen Table Talking

Some of the best things that go through my stupid old head come from breakfast and dinner conversations that take place around the family table during family meals. I get ideas for topics, scenes, jokes, and notions for use in my fiction writing or in my nonfiction blog by chewing the mental fat with my kids. My daughter likes to talk about artwork, how to paint, how to compose a picture, and how to put it into the form of a picture book for children that she intends to write about mushrooms growing under the kid’s bed when the kid puts off the cleaning under the bed for too long.

This morning they made the mistake of asking me about my connections to literary nudists on Twitter. I added details about the first nudists I ever met in Austin, Texas in the 1980s. I told them about visiting an old girl friend in the Clothing-optional Apartments in Austin where she often stayed with her sister and her sister’s husband who lived there. I told them about how, being a visitor, I was given the option of being there with all my clothes on. I told them about making friends with nudists there that I stayed in contact with by mail. And this was an opportunity to talk about such things without totally mortifying them like I did the last time I talked about that particular subject at a Mexican restaurant where people we didn’t know could hear.

My number two son, the jailor for Dallas County, gets the chance to tell us his stories about being in jail (being a guard of course, not an inmate.) When his mother is not present he gets to share some of the profoundly blue-colored vocabulary he is learning from work at his new institution for the incarceration of serious criminals and mentally ill people. We get to discuss guns and gun culture, as long as we are careful to never criticize my son’s newfound conservative values, deeply held and violently defended in the manner of most conservatives.

And, of course, the dog is always there to look at the table with beg-eyes, because she can smell the meat that was cooked and usually consumed before she’s allowed to get near enough to snoop and see the tabletop. She has to settle for head scratching, tummy pats, and and smacks on the ear when she tries to jump into laps where she is not actually wanted.

Table talk is critical time for connecting with family, something that is far too rare in today’s world. And we make a conscious effort to keep it going because we are awake to its basic value.

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So Little Time

This picture of my two sons was drawn in 1981, almost fifteen years before the oldest boy was born. How did I know that I would have two boys before I ever met or even heard of my wife? How did I get it right that the older boy would be almost exactly four years older than the younger one? Pure coincidence, if your cherished religious beliefs allow you to believe in that. Personally I think that the dream that inspired this picture was proof of the ability of a dreamer to dream outside the boundaries of physical time. After all, time is merely a measure of matter traveling through space, is it not? If you nullify the effects of distance, all time becomes one time. You know, timey-wimey stuff.

Amazingly, this photo was taken fifteen years ago. From left to right, ages 3, 6, and 10. The Princess, Henry, and Dorin (though not their real names, their fictional names.)

Hard to believe it is now 18, 21, and 25.

Where does time go?

When did I get so old?

In 1965, the year I recently rewrote my Christmas list for, I was nine.

The world was all black and white back then. At least, that’s what all the photos taken with the old Browning box camera showed.

My mother and father were married in January of 1956. My parents were both children during World War II.

My maternal grandfather, Grandpa Aldrich, was born in 1911. The farm he lived his whole life on was established in Wright County Iowa in the 1880s.

A lot of good water has flowed under the metaphorical bridge in my 64 years of life. But where has it gone? To shores far away? Or is it still there even if the river has dried up?

Time, by its very nature, is a mystery and quite unknowable. And who is to say that all time is not one time? And all things are therefore one thing. Would my Great-Great Grandpa recognize me, and know me by name? I’ll have to ask him when I see him.

(WordPress should not have given me all these new features to wear out if they really didn’t want me to play with them. Aren’t you doing the same thing with yours?)

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Requiem for 2020

The year in which I lost my father has been a truly ghastly ghoul of a year. I could spend time listing all the things that went wrong for me personally, but that would be a very long list for no real gain in wisdom. I need to take some time just now to reflect on some very hard lessons we have been given by this year to deal with in a way that we might potentially learn from.

There is a chance I may live out the rest of this year and reach 2021. But it is not guaranteed. The pandemic virus, Covid 19, is an insidious destroyer of organs, attacking lungs, heart, and brain, causing blood clots and complications long after the initial infection has passed. The way it strikes people, randomly cruel to one, and presenting no symptoms to the next, has guaranteed it would be almost impossible to control, if we were even trying to control it. And we are dually blessed with an incompetent and corrupt presidential administration that couldn’t care any less if I lived even if they stood to make money off my demise. Like the Bubonic Plague, the Black Death of the Middle Ages, this virus is restructuring our economy and changing our world in ways no one has as yet accurately foreseen.

Firing the salute at the graveside memorial for my father, a Korean Conflict Navy Veteran.

I have not, as yet, survived this pandemic. I have multiple risk factors that make it dangerously likely that at some point I will have to discover the hard way whether I can survive an infection or not. My middle child of the three came home infected in August from his job as a jailor for the Dallas County Sheriff’s Office. I managed to avoid infection then until he tested negative again, unless I had it as a symptomless carrier during our summer quarantine. Only time will tell. I have not had an antibody test. I haven’t suffered any Covid aftereffects either.

My father did not die of Covid. Parkinson’s Disease like Michael J. Fox and Mohammed Ali had was ultimately what robbed him of memories, the ability to talk, and eventually the abilities to eat and breathe. The “good news” is, I have Parkinson’s symptoms myself, and am merely waiting for a safer time to see the doctor to get it diagnosed. There is more than merely one way that my life could end before 2021 arrives.

But my father led a good life. And he passed a good life on to me. He taught me self-reliance and a respect for hard work in a way only a former farm boy and Navy Seaman could. He taught me to lay shingles as we re-roofed both our house in Rowan and our stable-turned-car-garage also in our little Iowan farm town. He taught me love classical music, especially Beethoven and Mozart, as well as Ravel, Chopin, Vivaldi, and… he always argued… John Philip Sousa. And he started his own Great American Novel. I had to sneak into his closet when I was eleven to read it. It was only about the first third of a novel written all in pencil and kept in a gray binder under the winter clothes in the box on the floor at the back of his walk-in closet. It was called Prairie Moon. It was about a very stubborn and self-reliant pioneer named Ed Adems who built himself a sod hut in the Iowa grasslands of the 1870s. So, I guess, he also taught me to be a self-published novelist. I have at this point published eighteen novels and books, with numbers nineteen and twenty already at least halfway finished.

My three kids when they were small and had goblin grins for the camera.

I hope you listened to the Mozart Requiem while you read this post. I listened to it while I wrote it. A requiem is a Mass for the repose of the dead. We honor them and remember their goodness and light while we commit them to their eternal sleep, even if we are atheists. Because there is a next life for them, no matter what you believe. They live it through us. My father lives in me. And as my hold on life gets weaker and more tenuous, I will live in my children. I have tried to teach them as my father taught me.

And as we put to rest the terrible year of 2020, hopefully there was some good in it too to carry on into 2021 and beyond. And, Dad, you kept all your promises. If you ever failed me, I do not remember it. And I pray that, having kept most of my promises to my children too… at least so far… I will pass on the light for generations yet to be born. You are a part of that too. God bless you, I love you, Amen.

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Strawberry Fields

This foolish essay about berries that mean love to me is only partly inspired by the Beatles song, “Strawberry Fields Forever.” That’s because, of course, their song was only about meditating. In the lyrics they take you to the “Strawberry Fields where nothing is real… but it’s nothing to get hung up about…” They are talking about a blissful place of no worries where we all need to go. And then staying there forever.

This, of course, I could never do. Worrying about the future is tattooed on my behavioral imperatives in the dark part of my stupid old brain. And while I often found that place of no worries, and lingered there for a bit, I found you could never really get anything done if you stayed in that state of strawberry fields forever.

But don’t get me wrong, strawberries are a critical part of every healthy mental diet.

You see, my meditations on strawberries when I was a child of eight, nine, and ten centered on the strawberry patch at Great Grandma Hinckley’s place.

She was, as I incorrectly recall, slightly older than Jesus when I was that age. By that I mean, though she seemed museum-quality ancient to me, I had derived wisdom about life, love, and laughter from her before Sunday School taught me any of those things said in Jesus’s words.

And I was given the task of mowing her lawn in the little plot of land surrounding her little, tiny house in the Northern part of Rowan where I also lived and grew and celebrated Christmas and Halloween and Easter and the 4th of July. And though I was doing it because she was so old, I never even once thought she was too old and frail to do it herself. Grandma Hinckley’s willpower was a force of nature that could even quell tornados… well, I thought so anyway when I was eight. And she gave me a dollar every time I did the lawnmowing.

But there were other things she wanted done, and other things she wanted to teach me. There was the garden out back with the strawberry patch next to it. She wanted me to help with keeping the weeds and the saw grass and the creeping Charlie from overrunning the strawberries and choking them to death. (Creeping Charlie wasn’t an evil neighbor, by the way. He was a little round-leafed weed that grew so profusely that it prevented other plants from getting any sunlight on their own leaves, causing a withering, yellowing death by sunlight deprivation. I took my trowel to them and treated them like murderers. I showed them no mercy.)

And Grandma always reminded me not to be selfish and eat the very berries I was tending in the garden. She taught me that eating green strawberries (which are actually more yellow than green, but you know what I mean) was bad because they could give you a belly ache, a fact that that I proved to myself more than once (because eight-year-olds are stupid and learn slowly.) She also taught me that it is better to wait until you have enough strawberries to make a pie, or better yet, strawberry shortcake with whipped cream. She taught me that delayed gratification was more rewarding in the long run than being greedy in the short run and spoiling everything for everybody.

She always gave me a few of the ripe strawberries every time I helped her with them, even if I had eaten a few in the garden without permission. Strawberries were the fruit of true love. I know this because it says so in the strawberry picture. Even though I probably never figured out what true love really means.

My Great Grandma Nellie Hinckley was the foundation stone that my mother’s side of the family was built on. She was the rock that held us steadily in place during the thunderstorms, and the matriarch of the entire clan of Hinckleys and Aldriches and Beyers and other cousins by the dozens and grandchildren and great grandchildren and even great great grandchildren. I painted the picture of her in 1980 when she passed away. I gave it to my Grandma Aldrich, her second-eldest daughter. It spent three decades in Grandma’s upstairs closet because looking at it made Grandma too sad to be so long without her. The great grandchild in the picture with her is now a grandmother herself (though no one who has seen this picture knows who it is supposed to be because I painted her solely from memory and got it all wrong.) But Grandma Hinckley taught me what true love means. And true love has everything to do with how you go about taking care of the strawberry patch.

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The Devil is in the Details

2020

has been one of the worst years of my life. I say one of… because in 1966 I was sexually assaulted, and a tornado attacked Belmond, Iowa with both of my parents there for work… and me not knowing if they were alive or dead for about eighteen hours.

This has been another dragon of a year. The pandemic took away my substitute teaching job, removing permanently the last chance I had to do a thing I loved.

And, of course, my father has had a series of strokes that took away his memories of his wife and family and has left him dying in hospice care

He had another incident yesterday. They called my mother on her one day she was allowed to visit him (due to the pandemic) and told her not to come in. He hadn’t awakened that day, and they didn’t expect him to make it. So, she started calling all of us to let us know the end had come. Except it hadn’t. He did wake up after all. And Mom had to undo the final notices she had already done.

But he lost some ground. Before he could talk, even though his memory was mostly gone. He would talk about crazy things, like working in a Hardware store in Lubbock and needing to retire because his 89th birthday is this month and he was exhausted from working. (He did somehow remember his birthday accurately, though he has never worked in Lubbock, Texas.) Now he can only mumble incoherently. He is emaciated and loses ground daily.

And it is wearing on my mother who is 87 and has not been so alone since they married in 1956. I fear once he is gone, we will lose her too. I have spent long hours on the phone with mother and sisters for most of three months now. There has been tears and heartache over long-distance phone lines. The Trump Pandemic has kept us hundreds of miles apart.

I am reminded that my life has been pretty good compared to that of Jews and Gypsies and political dissenters in Germany and Poland in the 1930s and 40s. And the plague now is probably better than the Black Death in the Middle Ages. But, in the space of a year, we have reached a point where those comparisons are no longer merely exaggerations.

But bankruptcy, illness, and misfortune have not changed who I am. There is still more in life to be lived. At least until there isn’t. And on that day when I play that final game of chess with the Grim Reaper… Who knows? There’s still a chance I might win the game.

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Filed under battling depression, family, feeling sorry for myself, Paffooney