It’s Our Time, Again.

26 11 2010

I apologize for the rambling and disjointed composition of this post but this is the only honest way to write it.

It’s 2 o’clock in the morning and I cannot sleep.  No, I don’t think it was the late night turkey sandwich and piece of pumpkin pie although I still feel like I ate too much food yesterday.  My mind is churning–churning over the events of yesterday and how they impact my future and my view of the future.

Our family has always been big fans of Thanksgiving. Depending on which generation you would survey, the importance of the holiday would be based, to greater or lesser degrees, on religious faith, appreciation of family togetherness along with an appreciation of food as a recognition and celebration acknowledging the good life our family has had over the decades. However, yesterday will surely stand out in my memory as a Thanksgiving day full of drama, gratitude, realization and appreciation.

Considering the current situation with my mother, we decided that this Thanksgiving would be best if it remained relatively small.  Our two oldest kids and their crews had Thanksgiving meals with in-laws.  Our middle daughter and her family decided that they would take the day to finish packing in preparation for their move to a new home this weekend.  Our youngest and her husband (his family is in Canada) decided that they would drive to Princeton for the traditional meal.  That meant a total of five people to prepare a meal for.  This was a piece of cake.  Of course, that is easy for me to say.  Even though I probably do more cooking and scratch food prep than most husbands, I never lose sight of who does the lion’s share of meal preparation day in and day out.

As the culinary concoctions were progressing about an hour before our daughter and son-in-law were to arrive, Linda yelled at me from the dining room; she never raises her voice so I knew something was not right.  When I came into the room she was laying of a couch in the adjacent living room.  One look and I knew we were not in Kansas, Toto.  She was flushed, broken out in a cold sweat, shivering and complaining of chest pains.

Fast forward:  The paramedics have Linda on a gurney with all sorts of monitors attached and headed toward the door.  Once I made sure the stove and oven were turned off and my cousin was on his way to stay with mom until my daughter and her husband arrived we began our trip to the hospital.  I decided to drive behind the ambulance for a multitude of reasons, not the least of which was to give me some “think time.”  Additionally, I knew I wanted to call our daughter to let her know, sans certain details, what was going on and what to expect when she arrived in Princeton.

The EMTs were very reassuring that the EKG did not indicate that Linda was having a heart attack but they could not be sure.  They said that they did not see a need to make the run using the siren and lights since they were beginning to get her stabilized.  As we drove the twenty-five miles to the Evansville hospital through a rain and windstorm that has not been seen since Noah’s day, I tried to keep up with the ambulance as I hydroplaned through stoplights turned yellow.  I kept my focus on the ambulance’s break lights and the emergency lights.  I figured that if Linda’s condition changed, those would be the first indicator I would have.

As we came slipping and sliding into the ambulance entrance to the Emergency Room, I pulled into the first available parking spot and made a dash to the back of the ambulance as they unloaded Linda’s gurney.  I could tell immediately that she was feeling better–not good, just better.  She said the oxygen seemed to lessen the pain.

After multiple tests, x-rays, and constant monitoring by a group of very professional and considerate ER people the doctor concluded, based on a process of elimination, that Linda definitely did not have a heart attack but could not rule out a heart problem altogether.  He indicated, after getting a thorough inventory of our life experiences over the last few months that the problem might well be some sort of muscular-skeletal strain brought on by stress.

Relieved, I said that Linda just needs to drink a little more.  It doesn’t change the situation but at least you don’t give a damn about it for a while.  Everyone in the room laughed and then the doctor delivered the line of the day.  If it is not the lyrics to a country song, it needs to be.

“God is great, beer is good and people are crazy.”

After making the phone calls to all the kids and letting them talk to Linda making sure I wasn’t candy coating the situation, we drove back to Princeton–much slower than the trip three hours earlier.

We arrived back at my mother’s house and, as expected, Cass and Craig had picked up the ball and were running with it.  Thanksgiving dinner was on the table just two beers after we walked in the kitchen.  I love the relationship we have with our kids and their spouses.  Good-hearted kidding and true conversations are always part of the meal ritual and yesterday was no exception.  We laughed and cut up even when a glass of Pinot Noir went all over the deviled eggs, dumplings and gravy–may have even improved the taste, if that is possible.

Everything I have written thus far is just the backstory for what is really on my mind–the thoughts I had on the drive to the hospital and the reason I am unable to sleep.

When Linda and I decided to get married, we both saw the decision as more than a naive, romantic idea.  We both survived bad marriages and were not wearing rose-colored glasses.  I think it is safe to say that we both knew the kind of life we wanted as individuals.  After dating for two years and involving our three children in our activities, our multiple conversations left no doubt that our two visions for life were not just compatible but dove-tailed so well that we could expect synergy to impact our ability for reaching our goals in life.  Damn, were we ever right.

Back in 1994 when Linda was diagnosed with breast cancer, we were just entering the 2nd phase of our married life, the one where you have figured out what works and start to see the material, spiritual, and family rewards of hard work and playing by the rules.  Our three oldest kids were college-aged and our youngest was doing exactly what she was supposed to do–ride the emotional roller coaster of middle school.  At this point in our lives we were confident that the light at the end of the tunnel was not a train.

When the doctor told us that Linda had cancer we first cried.  Next, we did what we have always done.  We held each other, then sat down and talked.  Once we figured out the nuts and bolts of how we would finish raising and educating our kids if she did not survey the cancer we looked at each other, smiled, nodded and without saying a word, decided to kick the cancer in the ass.  We would do whatever we had to do to beat it and we did.

We are now just entering the 4th phase of our married life and yesterday a lot of memories came back from 1994.  The most frequently reoccurring thought was what life would be without Linda.  No longer were there considerations for taking care of our kids.  We are not wealthy but we want for very little.  For us, life is good.  Of course, I wish the stock market would come back a little more so that we could feel comfortable about spending a larger percent of our income on travel.  To be honest, outside of that time back in 1994 and yesterday, I have always assumed that I would die before Linda.  That is not based solely on a feeling but in part on family history and our respective current health conditions.

I suspect that feeling might be rooted in some sort of selfishness on my part. When you are dead, I doubt that there is any feeling of loss other than in those who are left.  In addition, I believe with all my heart that Linda would be able to cope with life without me much better than if the situation was reversed.  Like I said, that is probably just selfishness on my part.

One of my stock comments to doctors when I am having a check up of some sort is, “It would really piss me off to die at this point in my life.  Things are really getting good.”  On the drive back from the hospital it occurred to me that I need to revise that to say, “It would really piss me off if either one of us would die right now.  We are the reason that things are really good and getting better.”

When I mentioned this to Linda she squeezed my hand and said, “Yeah, we’re almost through paying our dues. It’s our time, again.”

I’m going back to bed.  I think I can sleep now. I’ll proof, edit and post later.




19 11 2010

This last weekend I decided that I have to do something to overcome the lethargic psychologic and physical condition that has beset me over the last few weeks here in Princeton.  The situation with my mother and the end of Daylight Saving Time have combined to diminish any ambition I had left to stay active.  Back at Broken Plow I would be cutting firewood, raking and composting leaves, etc at this time of year.  Here in Princeton it is actually more of a waiting game and our lives being on hold.  That, in and of itself, is depressing.

Anyways, I decided to start walking a mile or so each morning with grandiose plans of maybe getting back in shape enough to do a sprint triathlon sometime in the the Fall of 2011; time will tell on that one.  What I do know is that I am fifty pounds over what I would like to be and need to take charge of my health.

With those motivations I decided to find a location where I could begin my literal and figurative trek.  The road that runs beside my Uncle Bill’s house seemed like a likely route to explore.  My mother’s house and my uncle’s house are side-by-side but still in a rural setting.  The road I planned to walk along is approximately fifty yards from my mother’s house.  It runs north and south and rarely has traffic on it; ideal for a safe walking/running route.

About a quarter of a mile into my walk I came across a spot that use to be a dirt lane that ran back off into a field where an oil well stood back in the late 1950s and early 1960s; only the barely noticeable cut in the shoulder of the road remains. The oil well and tanks and lane have long since been replaced by cultivated corn and soybean fields.  Still, I knew that this was the place once referred to as Lovers’ Lane.  It was common knowledge that this little lane going back to the oil well was frequented, especially on weekends, by couples seeking some privacy.

At this point, I should disclose that I have always been a fan of good practical jokes. I define a good practical joke as something that causes no property damage, physical injury or permanent shame.  In addition, to elevate a good practical joke to a great practical joke the instigator must be able to physically see the target of the joke bamboozled and the instigator’s identity must never be confirmed.  Throughout high school and college, I was the victim of several unproven accusations about my participation/involvement in pranks.  Those unfounded accusations were just that–unfounded (remember the definition of a “great” practical joke).  For the purpose of this blog posting I will admit to the following:

My cousin, David, and I came up with the idea of playing practical jokes on the couples who frequented Lovers’ Lane.  During the summers back in the day, David and I would tell our parents that we were going frog gigging at a nearby pond. Occasionally, we would actually gig some frogs to add some credence to our cover story.  However, most of the time we went “bushwhacking.”

Bushwhacking involved sneaking up on a parked car once the windows got steamed up and the car started to rock.  When things were going strong, we would turn on our frog gigging lights and flash them into the car from a safe distance.  We knew not to get too close to the cars since that could result in getting caught by some excited guy (notice the play on words) who intended to beat us to a pulp.  Before the occupants of the car could regain enough composure to realize what was going on, we would turn off our spotlights and fade into the fields and fencerows.  We huddled in the brush trying to restrain our giggles as the car sped away.

Eventually, as with all practical jokers, the urge to up the ante was just too much to resist.  No longer were David and I satisfied with just scaring the hell out of young lovers.  We decided that a little public embarrassment would be a nice touch.  We refined and embellished our bushwhacking technique to include David crawling up to the back of the park car and attaching a cardboard sign with a message that left no doubt what the occupants were doing.

Like in most small towns, Princeton had an established route for doing laps.  You know, that time-honored ritual of driving back and forth between two spots in hopes of seeing and being seen.  In Princeton, the two turnaround points were Dick Clark’s Drive In and Winkler’s Drive In on the north and south ends of town respectively. More than once, a couple who only a few minutes earlier had been on Lover’s Lane were driving their final laps before going home for the evening.

This was great fun for my cousin and me.  Although I never actually saw any of the “marked” cars making laps I did hear stories about them and the reactions of the people who read the signs on the back of the trunk lids.  We must have pulled that prank half a dozen times each summer for a couple of years.  Those were the two years before I got my drivers’ license and a steady girlfriend.  It’s kind of odd how your perspective on what is funny and what is not funny can change so quickly.


Years of Faded Memories

3 11 2010

I recently got a call from our middle daughter, Sam, asking about something from her childhood.  She and her family were driving through Louisville around the Cherokee Park area.  She asked if that was the place where we use to fly kites in spring and sled in the winter.  I get calls like that all the time from our two oldest daughters.

Over 30 years ago, their mother and I divorced and agreed to split custody.  When the girls were with me, we generally did simply things like flying kites, sledding or camping.  I think the primary motivation for those types of activities was monetary in nature; they were fun and yet inexpensive or free.  During the last couple years at the end of my first marriage and until the time that my wife, Linda, and I married there seems to be quite a few faded memories for the two older daughters.  I assume that a lot of it goes back to the fact that no matter how hard I tried, their lives lacked stability (maybe the topic of a blog post some day, just not today).  Still, they have faded memories of simple things that they recall with obvious pleasure.  I gladly do my best to fill in the blanks.

After Linda and I established Broken Plow (the name of our home place) the girls’ memories seem to be just as pleasant but far more clear and concise.  Somehow, stability of location seems, at least in the cases of our children, to create more detailed memories.  I don’t know if they are any more accurate but they are clearer.

The recent phone call reminded me of the experiences I am having as I drive around Princeton.  As I recall my pre-teen years, I have very clear memories such as my dog, Pepper, my first bike, my first ball mitt, and our family’s first car; a 1949 black Plymouth coupe.  I remember our upstairs apartment on Hall Street, our first house or Stormont Street and our next house on Seminary Street.  I remember my dad walking with me from the Hall Street apartment to my maternal grandparents’ house on Race Street as I pedaled my red and white firetruck.  He used an old broomstick to push on the back of the firetruck as I attempted to pedal up the hill from West Street to Hart Street.

The point is that even though we lived in three places during my pre-teen years, I have very clear memories.  There was stability in my life.  A routine that involved parents, grandparents, the same school, the same Little League park, the same public swimming pool and the same sense of security.  I cannot recall ever feeling any sense of insecurity or instability.  I have no way of knowing if my situation was truly as stable as I remember it and nothing in my adult life has ever caused me to come to any other conclusion.

The youngest member of our “hers, mine and ours” group of children came home from the hospital to Broken Plow and lived nowhere else until she moved into her dorm room in Bloomington with her best friend.  Childhood memories for Cass also seem to be very clear.  She alludes to those memories quite often in her conversations with me as well as with her siblings and on her blog, Back To Her Roots.

As I commented in an earlier post, memories are funny in that clear does not necessarily mean accurate.  However, I do suspect that the more stable a person’s life is, the greater the chance that those memories are accurate.

I hope that our children continue to have the opportunity and willingness to afford their children the kind of stability that I remember from my childhood.