In Sickness and In Health: September 2020

I wish I had some good news on Ruth Ann’s condition, but no. It’s been six months since the last update and as we all feared, she continues to slowly slip away. Her cognitive abilities are declining, seemingly every other day. The simplest of tasks have become almost impossible for her to carry out. I continue to keep trying to keep her involved in everyday life, to give her a feeling of self-worth, but it usually backfires. Unloading the dishwasher for instance. Utensils and silverware can go missing for weeks. About the time I think an item was thrown in the trash and gone forever, it pops up in a brand new space such as the ice cream scoop now living with the hot pads. I finally had to banish her from putting up new groceries. Things I thought I had forgotten to buy were merely misplaced. Finding bananas in the freezer is not unusual.

Her personal hygiene is now problematic. I have to supervise her showers (when I can get her to take them). Washing her hair also has to be monitored. Let me state right here in front of everybody, that my hair styling skills are totally non-existent. The poor old gal comes away from the brush and hair dryer looking like she’s wearing a fright wig and ready to go Trick or Treating. One blessing and it’s a big one: the catheter’s, once the single most antagonizing part of this whole horrid experience, are no longer needed. What changed? No idea. I stopped the anti-anxiety meds long ago. Big knock on wood, but she hasn’t required a catheter for over two months.

I don’t have to feed her, but I do have to handle the most basic of preparations, even a bowl of cereal. Sometimes it’s almost funny. Consider:

“Do want a bagel this morning?”

“Yes.”

“Would you like cream cheese on it?”

“Okay.”

I point to the fridge right behind her. “Could you hand it me?”

She points at the ice dispenser. “From here?”

“No. Open the door. It’s in a little gray colored tub. It says Philadelphia Cream Cheese.”

She opens the door. I see it. “Right there, right in front of you.”

She touches everything but the cheese.

“It’s boobs high, straight across.”

No joy.

“Where are your boobs?”

She touches herself.

“My bad. I forgot to factor in the age. One shelf up.”

Success. Finally!

Unfortunately, her temper has quickened along with the progression of the disease. Most days aren’t bad, not yet, but all it takes to set her off is a slight disagreement on anything. She has a standard response for such times.

“I’ll just find me a new place to live.”

If I’m completely honest here, I have to admit that there have been a few occasions when I replied, ” I can help you with that” or Don’t let the door hit you in the ass on the way out.” I immediately regret it, apologize, and retreat to a quiet place such as the nature trail out back while I get my emotions in check.

I’ll close with the latest incident that happened yesterday. I’m mowing the yard when Ruth Ann comes out and tells me she is going to visit “the girls” and points down the street. “That’s what I want to do and I’m doing it.”

Experience tells me that she probably means she wants to visit a lady around the corner with two cute little dogs. It’s maybe a block away and in the neighborhood. Dilemma: Should I stop mowing and drive her? She’s been to that house many times and in fact, has taken care of those same dogs while the lady was on vacation. I watched as she got to the corner and decided I should at least call the lady and tell her R.A. is on the way to see her. She says fine and she’ll watch for her. About five minutes later, the lady is at my door. “Is Ruth Ann still here? She never showed up.”

Oh, shit!

Thinking R.A. might have made a wrong turn, I jump in the car and go east toward Highway 97, a danger zone. No Ruth. I spot an old friend working in her yard and she agrees to join the search. Back tracking, I head to another of Ruth Ann’s friends, also with dogs. Nope. Not there. Now, I have no clue. I start down Shell Creek Road, also dangerous, two-lane, narrow, and no shoulder. About a block or two away, I spot a figure standing on the side of the road. Found! I hate to think how it would have ended had I not made that call or the lady had not followed up on Ruth’s whereabouts. 

Ruth offers no explanation. Nothing about not finding the right house. It was like, thanks for the ride. That was it.

I know there are products out there for locating dementia patients and I guess that’s where I’m going next. If it’s in the form of a bracelet or necklace the question is, will she keep it on? Do they have a locking mechanism? I hate this.

Dark days. 

Published in: on September 30, 2020 at 11:35 am  Comments (1)  

Neighbors

For a blessed, tranquil, and serene twelve months or so, the house to the south of me remained vacant. It was on the market, but no buyers. Thomas, the former resident, seemed nice enough although he was quick to point out that his name was Thomas and not Tom. Thomas (or as I called him, Thomas the Train) formerly worked for Haliburton, a company that I thought of as profiteers, stealing millions from the U.S. with over-inflated prices during the Gulf War. So, when Thomas the Train was laid off, he went into business for himself building shipping pallets. If you’ve never lived next door to a pallet building company, just imagine a constant din of saws, hammers, bangs, and thuds at all hour’s day and night, the cacophony being less than 50 yards away.

In addition to the budding industry just outside my bedroom window, Thomas the Train also owned three dogs, one of whom (and I’m not making this up) literally barked at the moon so long that the moon eventually admitted to being scared and dropped below the horizon. Of course, it wasn’t only the moon that set this dog, as well as he two buddies, off on a barking spree, most anything that moved, leaves, squirrels, a blade of grass, etc. would do it.

I have what I call my “nature trail” behind the house. It’s a path around the perimeter of the back yard (actually, not a yard but a little patch of woods). I have spent a lot of time, money, and sweat on my trail including spreading several tons of gravel, one shovelful at a time. The nature trail is my private retreat, my cooling-off trail, my place to go when the stress of being a caregiver gets to me. I can stroll at a leisurely pace, observe the birds, the sky, and with enough laps, get in a little exercise. The serenity ended whenever I approached the south end of the loop and the moon-barker spotted me through a knot hole in the fence. His buddies alerted, all the dogs set about their business of keeping this potential axe-murderer from climbing the fence and attacking The Train. When the For Sale sign went up, I fell to my knees thanking whatever real estate gods are responsible for such things.

I knew it wouldn’t last, but I could always hope the next occupants were old, feeble, and kept parakeets for pets. But no. Dogs. Three more dogs. And yes, one of them has mental problems. He/she is an Australian Sheep Dog which have the reputation as being one of the smartest breeds on the planet. This one must have dropped on his head as a puppy. He too uses the knot-hole and the cracks in the fence to watch for me. Except now, it’s not just the nature trail walk that sets him off, the mere sight of me on the back deck with a book and a spooker lights his fire. Sometimes, if I hold very, very still and stay very, very quiet, this psychopathic canine can be lulled into a state of temporary apathy where his state or readiness drops to DEFCON 1.  A quiet loop around the nature trail? Fagetaboutit.

But this time it’s not only the dog, but the new owner, John. Like Thomas, John seems to be the friendly sort. We’ve talked. In fact, I mentioned his hyper-dog and John told me that he would bring the dogs in on the occasions when they became too boisterous. Like I said, nice guy. One thing. John owns every internal combustion engine known to man. When the dogs aren’t barking, there’s the mower, the weed eater, the chain saw, the edger, and several motors that I have yet to identify. John is a busy guy, often using his arsenal of noise makers long after the sun goes down. Recently, I spotted John trimming trees by way of a headband with a flashlight. A roar of some kind is making its way through the wall of my house as I write this on what began as a peaceful Sunday morning.

In truth, there is only one way to isolate one’s self from the din or the ordinary world. Move. Move where there’s a buffer zone of at least one-half to one mile, preferably ten. Or…or there’s always that little resort in the mountains of Ecuador with the open-air bar and beautiful birds everywhere. No internet, no TV, no Trump. Paradise.

Published in: on September 27, 2020 at 1:40 pm  Leave a Comment  

James is Found!

The years long search for the final resting place of my Great-grandfather James Williams is over at last…well, almost. I’ve written of the frustration and the many dead-ends before but if you’re interested, here’s an update.

To recap, the quest began when I was going through the things of my dearly departed mother and found an old Kansas newspaper issued in 1936. A lengthy article described life at an Indian mission in the mid 1800’s  located near what is now Highland, Kansas. One sentence was underlined.

James Williams helped to teach the young Indian boys how to farm.

A note in the margin in my mother’s handwriting said, Warren, This was your great grandfather.

And so it began.

Curious, I went online to research the mission and hopefully find out how in the world Grandpa James wound up in the middle of Kansas surrounded by what was then still quite savage Indians. Indians that were still warring with other tribes and taking  scalps as well as other mutilations, women and children included. Luckily, there were quite a few references to the mission and the Rev. Irvin who founded the place and how he had travelled from Pennsylvania with a few others with nothing more than a few tools to begin construction. The building would house the missionaries as well as provide a schoolhouse to teach the English language to the Sac and Fox tribe.

Now hooked on the history, I found that the Rev. Irvin had written a diary about his time at the mission and that it was available to read only on microfilm, but loanable to public libraries. Thinking I might find more information about James, I contacted the Tulsa Library and arranged to view the diary. The cursive was quite faded and quite a strain on the eyes to read. I took several photos of the most interesting pages for further reference. I found nothing more than a line or two about James, but did learn how the plan to civilize the Indians and teach them about Christianity did not go well. Alcohol was a big problem. Irvin wrote of providing the tribe with a few cattle to milk along with a fence to keep them corralled. Except the Indians ate the cows and used the fence posts for firewood. The children however, were eager to learn and quite sharp, easily picking up the new words.

The records were clear when the Rev. Irvin and his wife died as well as where they were buried, but nothing, absolutely nothing about the final resting place of Grandpa James. Where was he? I found that James married a woman (Lettice) who was either the sister of the Rev. or his wife (there was some confusion on that) and when Lettice died, he married yet another missionary named Cora. So was James buried alongside one of his wives?

I began looking for help among the relatives, some of which dabbled in genealogy. Between the two wives, James had five children,  my Grandfather Edmond being one of them. I knew of at least four cousins who might know something. Three were of no help, but one cousin still living in Kansas took an interest. She had some old letters that briefly mentioned James and passed them on to me. From those, I found that James, after doing some survey work on the Nebraska-Kansas line, returned to farming and was living with his son Edmond in Brown County. One of the genealogy relatives sent me the results of the Kansas 1900 census. It confirmed that James and Edmond were sharing a residence, both being listed as farmers. However, the 1910 census showed Edmond but no James. Now, I had a time span to start searching the graveyards.

I guess every town in Kansas has a cemetery. Some have more than one. Most are searchable. As you might imagine, James Williams is a very common name. Dozens of times, my hopes were dashed as the dates didn’t fit with what I knew. I concentrated on northeast Kansas, the site of the mission, and where the kids were mostly likely to have located, but nothing. He wasn’t with his first wife, Lettice, and I could not find Cora’s grave. Edmond, the son with whom James apparently had good relations with, is buried in Brown County so one would think that perhaps Edmond had make arrangement for more than one plot. Didn’t happen.

I even placed an ad in one of the Kansas newspapers asking for help. None received.

I had all but given up when my son Mark took another look at the family photo of the Rev. Irvin that included his wife and two younger people, a young lad and a woman who might have been in her late twenties, maybe older. Hard to tell with people of that era who led such tough lives and suffered so many hardships.

“I wonder if that young boy might be James? he asked. “If the woman is Irvin’s sister, the one James married, it stands to reason he would be in the family photo.” I had previously seen the photo on the website of the Kansas Historical Society. They had an email address. Do you have a record of the other people in that photo? The reply was yet another disappointment. There is nothing on the back of the photo. We don’t know who they are other than Rev. Irvin and family and about when it was taken. I thanked the lady, Sarah, and briefly told her of my long and arduous search for Grandpa James. She replied and seemed sympathetic. “Let me dig around a little.”

Days later, another email. Did he come here from England?

Yes, he most certainly did. A lead?

Later that day, I’m attaching an obituary. What do you think?

James Williams was born in London and came to this country at the age of 25 years. He was a missionary at the mission Doniphan County…He was a good Christian, a kind and loving father, has been a faithful member of the Presbyterian church since he was 25 years old. He died in Horton, Aug. 21 1904 and remains interred in the Horton cemetery. 

JAMES IS FOUND! Not only did I now have the cemetery but it answered the question of how James and the Rev. Irvin might have hooked up, both were members of the Presbyterian church. I’m grinning like a possum. I quickly jump on a grave search for the Horton, Kansas Community Cemetery. No James. What? What? What do you mean Not Found? How can that be? A note at the bottom informs that all cemetery records are kept at the Horton court house. I found a phone number.

A very nice lady explains that the City of Horton wasn’t always the caretaker and record keeper for the cemetery and when the transfer was made, some records were lost. I learned I was not the first who couldn’t find a loved one there.

“What if I drove up there and walked the entire cemetery? Isn’t there a chance James was overlooked?”

“Not really. The Kansas Historical Society did a very thorough sweep of the grounds and recorded every headstone. Now that doesn’t mean your great grandfather isn’t there, he just doesn’t have a headstone.”

What’s up with that? Was Edmond so poor he couldn’t afford a stone for his father?

We talked awhile longer. She asked if I had noticed any names I recognized on the list, the thinking being that James might be located somewhere near them. I told her that I had recognized two names, Homer and Catherine Willis. They were farm neighbors to us when I was a kid. I told her how I had often played with their twin sons, Jack and Jerry Willis. The line went quiet. Hello?

“A shiver just ran down my spine”, she said. “Jack Willis is my father.”

And with that,  the saga of James and the long search will end.

R.I.P. Grandpa James. I wish I knew more about you.

The mission restored.

Published in: on August 29, 2020 at 5:20 pm  Comments (1)  

Sleeping With a Cow

With all the recent headlines of states cancelling their fairs, I was reminded of a time in 1951 when I slept with a cow. No, it wasn’t bestiality, not even close. In fact, I didn’t even like the cow all that much. The cow, more properly known as an Angus heifer, was my entry in the livestock show at the Horton Fair. It wasn’t a grand state fair like the big one in Topeka that ran for several days and was attended by thousands. The Horton Fair was quite small,  not unlike the fairs held in  many of the small towns of northeast Kansas every Fall.

The midway typically featured a Ferris Wheel, a Tilt-A-Whirl, a Merry-Go-Round with faded horses where you waved at your kid on every revolution and they always waved back. The junk food was nothing as exotic as deep fried milk and cookies or donut burgers or other such artery-cloggers as  found at the present day extravaganzas. No, cotton candy, hot dogs, flavored ices, and maybe a turkey leg was about as imaginative as it got. There were the games of course; spin for a prize, dart the balloons, and the basketball that never ever  dropped through the hoop.

So how did a farm kid get involved with all this jaw-dropping pageantry? The 4H club, that’s how. What the heck is a 4H club  you ask? Here’s an explanation from the official 4H website:

4-H is a U.S.-based network of youth organizations whose mission is “engaging youth to reach their fullest potential while advancing the field of youth development”. Its name is a reference to the occurrence of the initial letter H four times in the organization’s original motto “head, heart, hands, and health”.  The organization is administered by the National Institute of Food and Agriculture of the United States Department of Agriculture. (That would include cows.)

It must have been pressure from the club or maybe my dad thought it would build character, but somehow I was coerced into entering this black, four-legged behemoth of an animal into the competition. I was just a kid, a very skinny kid. This brutish thing out-weighed me by, oh, around twelve-thousand pounds. At least that much. Or so it seemed. It was not trained. Far from it. This cow did what it wanted, whenever it wanted. To this day my daughter will tell you that, “Cows are dumb”. She’s right now and she would have been right then. 

Listening to the 4H people, it sounded simple enough. Lead your animal around the arena one time and then stand there while a judge checks it for quality characteristics such as muscling, structural correctness, movement, and frame size. And oh by the way, you’ll be sleeping with the cow.

What? You’re talking to a boy who’s never spent a night away from mama and you want me to spend the night with a cow? In a huge barn? With more cows and other strangers? I don’t think so. Whose crazy rule was that? If hadn’t had such a genteel upbringing I would have said, f… the 4H, I want to go home. “You’ll be fine,” my mother said. “Your cousin, Dale, will spend the night with you.” I didn’t know cousin Dale much better than I knew the cow. His presence was of little comfort to the Kansas Kid.

Let me just stop right here and say, if  you’ve never slept on cement with bales of straw for a mattress, an old blanket, and mere feet from a black monster that could crush your spine in a hiccup, it’s an experience you never want to have but can tell your kids about. It was noisy. Groups whooping and hollering. Cowboys laughing and playing cards. Bovines of every breed imaginable passing gas and leaving cow flops wherever you walked and all the bathrooms about a quarter-mile away.  (insert sarcasm here) What fun! Cousin Dale? Nowhere to be found. At the bar I learned later although he eventually made it back to my place of rest. To say I did not sleep well doesn’t begin to describe it.

The big event was nigh. To add further insult to the day, I had to bathe the damn cow and brush it down. Cleaning a cow’s rear end after a night in the stall is something best forgotten…if possible.

The speakers boomed. ANGUS ENTRIES. PREPARE FOR JUDGING.

Oh, no, no, no. What if the cow wont’ go? What if it bolts and drags me through the cow flops?. I was more than scared. Petrified actually. I felt the tears well up. Cousin Dale leaned in, “You want me to lead it?”

“Dear, dear Cuz, would you?”

I glanced at my father in the stands. He was not smiling, but he didn’t look angry either. I handed the halter reins to Dale and went to the sidelines. All went well. My cow paraded with the rest of the herd and never missed a beat, perhaps as scared as I was. The judge approached for a closer look at the lineup. He held a white ribbon in the air, then handed it to some girl. At least she was a 4H’r. The red ribbon to somebody I didn’t know. Without another moment’s hesitation, that old judge walked right up to my cow and handed Dale the blue ribbon. First Place! My dad smiled…a little.

The following ad ran in the Horton Headlight on July 15, 1953

CLOSING OUT SALE

13 head of cattle. 3 registered angus (one of which won a blue ribbon at the Horton Fair), 2 Guernsey milk cows, 3 Hereford cows, 5 white-faced calves (weight around 500 lbs).

J.O. Williams owner.

Sixty-seven years later, I still have that newspaper article AND a faded blue ribbon. The cow? Don’t want to think about it.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Published in: on July 12, 2020 at 5:04 pm  Leave a Comment  

The Kansas Kid and the Fourth of July

In a way, I was lucky. As a farm kid in Kansas with a weekly allowance of a whopping twenty-five cents, I had enough jingle in my pockets to buy a comic book (ten-cents) and a movie ticket (15 cents) every Saturday afternoon. I leaned toward Superman and Tom & Jerry for my literary pursuits while my loyalty to the matinee heroes was split between Roy and Gene with Hopalong Cassidy coming in a weak third. For you youngsters, that’s Roy Rogers and Gene Autry.

With that sort of a budget, the Fourth of July wasn’t a particularly festive day for me as far as fireworks were concerned. If by some miracle I ended up with a couple of smoke bomb or a few Lady Fingers to shoot off, I was celebratin’.

And that’s the way it was until we met the Hoar’s. No, not whores. H-O-A-R. Kenneth Hoar was about ten or so, close to my age. Later in life, I often wondered how poor old Kenneth made it through childhood and beyond with a name like Hoar. Not without a few black eyes and some skinned knuckles I bet. Kenneth’s daddy owned and operated the grain elevator in the mighty metropolis of Willis, Kansas, population, maybe a couple hundred or so. Willis was where Kenneth and I went to school and where I met my first girlfriend, Mary Lou. The poor little thing had suffered from polio, so she was easy to catch.

Northeast Kansas is farm country, mostly wheat and corn, thousands of acres spanning the countryside sometimes as far as the eye could see which was why Mr. Hoar’s’ elevator did a thriving business there. Nice house, nice car. In my eye’s Raymond Hoar was rich.

But it wasn’t through the farm community that my folks met the Hoars. It was via the game of Canasta. What? I can hear you now. Canasta? What’s that? I’ve forgotten all the rules, but Canasta was a card game where teams of two people would play against other teams, usually two teams to a table. You made melds of seven cards of the same rank and “go out” by playing all cards in your hand. Then that team would play the winners of another table and on it went until there was a champion! WOO HOO!. Exciting? You betcha. In Willis, Kansas that was about as exciting as things got. Unless it happened to be the Fourth of July.

You see, Mr. Hoar, along with running a grain elevator, also sold fireworks. He had it all, bottle rockets, fountains, Roman candles, and all sorts of things that went pop, bang, sizzle, and BOOM. And being the generous soul that he was, Mr. Hoar committed to clearing the shelves of those fireworks, everything he hadn’t sold, and blowing them up in one grand finale to end the holiday. Guess who got invited. Yes, the Kansas farm kid. If that’s not a WOO HOO, I don’t know what is.

The big night arrived. Attending were just my folks, me, Kenneth and his snotty-nosed little brother, and of course, the Hoar’s. With lawn chairs in a row, tall glasses of iced tea, the adults laughing and joking, we opened the first pack of Black Cats. Poppity, pop, pop. Yes. Yes. Such fun. Never had I had such a Fourth. Being cautioned to save the roman candles and the fountains till last when it was darker, we worked our way through the box. At last, the ooh’s and aah’s were over. The big stuff gone with only the odor of burned gunpowder and a few traces of gray smoke wafting over the streetlight, the folks began folding the chairs and saying their goodbye’s.

Raymond: “Hang on there, boys” he said. I got one more little box here.”

Did he ever. Cherry Bombs! The ultimate destroyer. The wrecking ball of fireworks. The most fearsome little round red orb of explosives on the shelf. Even as an isolated farm kid, I’d heard stories of the destruction and havoc of what a Cherry Bomb can do. Dropping one in a porcelain toilet and flushing it came to mind.

Since Kenneth and I had no private property or toilets to blow up, we simply divided the little depth charges between us and just lit ‘em up and tossed ‘em. Think about that for a moment. Give an under-developed brain, not a lick-of-sense kid, the most dangerous thing of the night, a mini hand grenade no less, let him pull the pin, then rear back and throw it as far as his skinny arm could manage. What could possibly go wrong?

Were my parents watching? Any kind of adult supervision of this disaster in the making? Apparently not or they would have warned me about standing spread-eagled over a pile of Cherry Bombs directly below my crotch as I fired them off, yelling and whooping not unlike John Wayne charging Japanese fox holes.

I guess it was the sparks from the fuse, or maybe I just dropped one, whatever the reason, all the remaining Cherry Bombs of the day suddenly exploded with one giant KA-WHAM. I had become the toilet bowl!

Well, that got everybody’s attention. John Wayne was down!

I was scared and shaken but felt no pain. A quick count of my fingers and finding all present and accounted for was a big relief. I remember checking the still developing family jewels and the little fella in the event Mary Lou and I might have a future, but all was well in that department. My dad knelt beside me for a better exam.

“Your legs are still hot,” he said, patting me down. “I think you’re okay. Let’s get you home for a better look and check for burns.”

As I lay in bed that night, thinking about the day, I realized how lucky I’d been. I had dodged the bullet, or in this case, the bomb. All in all, it had been the greatest Fourth of July ever, one I would always remember.

But it was a long time before I ever went to the Hoar house again.

 

 

Published in: on July 1, 2020 at 8:40 pm  Comments (2)  

The Tower Incident

While out looking for a sunset photo op last night I found a spot that had possibilities, but there was one little problem. A large radio tower was smack dab in the middle of the composition. Yeah, I could clone it out with Photoshop, but still… I took a few shots anyway, nothing to be proud of, and on the way home I started thinking about radio towers; one in particular.

It was years ago, back in my hunting days, when my pal, Arnold, suggested we take his camper to the Camp Gruber area where there was a public hunting ground. The plan was to stay a few days, look for a deer, and try not to get shot by the multitudes of other hunters that were sure to be there. It was black powder season. I had a rifle I’d won in a card game and never used. Why not? Let’s go.

“Arnold”, I say,  “I’ve got an idea. You’re gonna like this one. What if we park your camper back in the woods where Southwestern Bell has a radio tower and an equipment hut? It’s  close to where we want to hunt. We can run an extension cord into the hut and use the AC for anything we want: microwave, TV, heater, air conditioner, whatever we need.”

We had a plan. But first, this story needs a little backfill. The tower, known among the phone company guys that maintained it, was called the Muskogee Tower. Appropriate name as it served the mobile phone service for the city of Muskogee back when car telephones were high technology. I had been to the Muskogee Tower many times. Some when my supervisor would call me in the wee hours of the morning. “Muskogee Tower is out. Go fix it.” “Yes, boss.”

The tower was not all that easy to find for the new visitor. You went from highway, to gravel road, to dirt road, to a path through several pastures. I believe there was a total of three gates to go through. Each of which meant you had to get out of the vehicle open the gate, get in the vehicle, drive through, get out of the vehicle, close the gate, get back in the vehicle and proceed to the next gate. Repeat. There were multiple paths through these pastures going every which way making any directional instruction almost impossible to follow. I believe it was just beyond the second gate where you saw the old man.

He sat in a lawn chair directly at the fork where one of the paths split. Bearded, always in overalls and a baseball hat, he was there more often than not. There were no  houses around, no cars or pickups, no other signs of human presence. Just one old man…sitting there. Sometimes he waved. Sometimes he didn’t. We joked that we could tell anyone how to find the Muskogee Tower by telling them to just turn right at the old man and you can’t miss it 

I don’t think the the old man was there when Arnold and I drove the pastures on our way to the tower, but I looked for him. Once there, we ran our power cord and readied the camper for the night. Poured a couple of spookers, made plans for the following morning, and turned out the lights.

Long about dark thirty there came the most gawd-awful thunderstorm you ever saw or heard. Lightning and thunder were near constant with a ka-pow powerful enough to shake the pickup every few seconds. Keep in mind, we are parked next to a tower. Besides being on high ground where towers usually are, the structure itself rose a couple more hundred feet in the air. Basically, we were parked at the base of a lightning rod. Arnold was cussing my great idea. The consensus was that we were relatively safe from the wicked elements as long as we stayed in the truck and peed out the back door.

Then came the biggest flash and ka-boom of the night. Everything went dark. The truck and the tower. Hmm. No power. As with every storm, it finally began to abate and we got a little sleep before first light. I went in the equipment hut to look for the damage. Ah ha! Thrown breaker switch. I flipped it and everything fired up as it should. A new idea! I called my boss.

“Boss, I just fixed the Muskogee Tower. It had an electrical problem.”

“Huh, but…”

“Now you realize that’s the same as if you got me out of bed to come fix it. That will cost Ma Bell the minimum two hours of overtime, right?”

“Uh, okay.”

I smiled. It was gonna be a good day.

 

 

 

 

Published in: on June 28, 2020 at 12:52 pm  Leave a Comment  

The Snoop

Last night, I watched a movie about a young boy who, while snooping in his grandfather’s workshop, discovers an old, dusty chest. In it, he finds multiple souvenirs and mementos from his grandfather’s military service in World War II. It reminded me of the time when I found a similar chest.

We had just moved off the farm to the town of Horton, Kansas, population (at the time) around 20,000 where my parents ran a little hole-in-the-wall diner called The Hamburger Inn.  I was probably 12 or 13 years old. We were living in a rental house that we shared with the owner, a widow lady of some years. We seldom saw her. She lived in the front half  of the house while my parents occupied the back half. I seem to remember that we shared the kitchen, but with my folks having a diner we seldom used it.

I was lucky enough to have my own room. It was on the second floor and to me, was a very cool room. It had wall-to-wall windows on two sides, all with a view of the street. Every window was screened and on even the hottest nights, there was usually just enough breeze for pleasant sleeping. There was no air conditioning which was no big deal because I was not used to such luxuries anyway.

At the top of the stairway leading to my room was a small landing and a door, a locked door. I knew it was locked because being a kid, a curious kid, I tried that lock just about every night as I went up the stairs to bed. What the heck was on the other side? Even though I didn’t expect much of anything; shoes, clothes, magazines, maybe some old photos, I still checked that lock…and often. It was the simplest of locks, just a keyhole actually, and I probably could have found something to jimmy it if I’d put my mind to it, but the fear of getting caught or damaging the door was too much to chance.

Then it happened! Dark, tired, up the stairs I went, my folks already in bed getting ready for another long day at the grill, when out of habit, I jiggled the knob and pushed. It was unlocked! Oh boy, oh boy. Finally! I listened carefully for any signs of life in the house, anybody up and moving. Hearing nothing, I eased the door open. I’d like to relate that it creaked, and loudly, just like in the movies, but I’m not sure if it creaked or not. I found the light switch and flipped it. 

How disappointing. It was almost exactly as I’d expected. Cardboard boxes stuffed with old kitchenware, glasses, pots and pans. Clothes of course, mostly dresses and winter coats from what I could see without disturbing the piles. But off to one side and nearly to the back of the room sat an old chest. I remember it being dark with metal trim, perhaps covered with cracked leather, and old, definitely old. I went back to the stairs for one more sound check. All clear.

There were no locked clasps, nothing to prevent a goofy kid from satisfying his curiosity, so open it I did. Whoa! The first thing I saw took my breath away. OMG. It was a German helmet, a WWII helmet. Having seen many a movie with our G.I.’s storming the beaches and kicking Nazi butt, I was sure of the origin. Do I dare take it out and try it on? Of course. What are you waiting on you little scaredy cat? You’ll never get another chance like this. Pick it up. Do it. I did.

And a human skull rolled out.

AAHHHHEEEEE. Couldn’t help it. I screamed. I hear a voice from below…my mom.

“Everything okay up there.”

Shakily. “Yes, mom. Everything’s fine. Stubbed my toe is all. I’m good.”

I took a deep breath and replaced the helmet over the skull, eased the door closed, and hopped into bed. Dreams? Probably, but I don’t remember them. I never mentioned that skull to anyone. How could I? Tell and let word get back to my parents or the old lady and who knows who else. The cops?

I do remember how I continued to check that door every night, not to see if it was open, but to make damned sure it was locked.

 

Published in: on June 23, 2020 at 11:37 am  Leave a Comment  

In Sickness and in Health. April 2020

It’s been three months since I’ve written about Ruth Ann’s condition. Fact is, not all that much has changed, but some of the changes have been downright scary.

It was one of those times when she threatened to get in her car and go find somewhere else to live. Not all that unusual anymore. Now, I just take it in stride. Jokingly, I said if that’s your car, I wish you would start making the insurance payments on it.

I thought no more about it and went back to the computer. Shortly thereafter I get a call from a neighbor.

“Is Ruth home?”
“Uh, yeah, as far as I know. She was here a few minutes ago.”
“You better check because there’s woman walking down Shell Creek Road that looks a lot like your wife.” Shell Creek Road is a narrow two-lane with no shoulders at all and a 55 mph speed limit. I catch up with her as she enters the yard of a friend, about a block and a half away.

The next week, there’s a similar incident, but this time I happened to glance at the security camera and got her stopped before she’d gone far. I had a talk with her, a long, serious come-to-Jesus kind of talk. How much she retained is unknown. My guess is zero. That was two weeks ago. No more runaways…yet.

With that in mind, I installed some inside video cameras that I can access with my phone. Now, I can check in if I’m at the store or get delayed on some errand. I try to keep my absences to an hour or less. Any more incidents like Shell Creek Road and I’ll have to shorten that. I have yet to check on the Tulsa Day Care Center for the Elderly. Must do that.

What else? She still cannot distinguish between Kleenex, toilet paper, paper towels, and paper napkins. There’s that.

Half the time, she pours her coffee in a bowl and her breakfast cereal in a cup. Whatever works, I guess.

Up until recent months, she has managed to feed and care for the cats quite well. The standard procedure to clean the litter box was to place a plastic grocery sack inside a small waste paper container, lean the edge over the litter box, and scoop. No longer. Now she insists on holding the grocery bag with one hand and scooping cat waste with the other foregoing the handy waste bucket to hold the sack open. The result is a fair amount of litter and mess all over the floor. No matter what I say or how many times I demonstrate, she will not use the waste basket. She gets angry. “This is the way I’ve always done it. I know what I’m doing.” Angry is bad. I gave up.

She takes one pill a day at bedtime for anxiety. It seems to help. I set up the Alexa device to remind her at nine p.m. “Ruth Ann, take your pill.” And every time, Ruth responds. “I will, damn it.” Alexa repeats, “Ruth Ann, take your pill.”

“Okay, okay, I said I would.” Now she’s pissed and here we go again. I try to shut Alexa up after the first reminder, but I’m usually not fast enough.

There are times when she doesn’t seem to grasp the simple concept of taking a pill. One evening was like that so I poured the water in a glass and put the pill beside it. It’s a tiny little pill, 10 mg if that much. Ruth stares at it and then begins to take  her clothes off. What! No, no. Just take the pill. Next she asks if she should drop the pill in the water. Sigh.

The days now are somewhat like Forest Gump’s box of chocolates, you never know what you’re gonna get. On most mornings, I get a preview by just looking at her face. A scowl? Look out. Be prepared for anything, mostly weird. A blank look? Who knows? But some days, I get a good morning smile. Ahhh. A sigh of relief.

Confusion is rampant. Squirrels have become “cats”. Cats are now “kids”. In her view, we have only two kinds of birds out back. Blue (Blue Jays) and “Pretty” (Cardinals). Understanding her wants and needs is becoming a lot like Charades: gestures, pointing, tapping. If she needs a catheter, I get hands on the abdomen, the scowl, and the words, “I can’t do anything.” I’ve made signs where all she has to is point, such as, DRAIN THE SWAMP! Nothing works.

She sleeps or is in bed 12-15 hours a day.

Personal hygiene is slipping as well. She tells me she brushes her teeth every day, but the toothbrush is always dry. She stopped using deodorant long ago. I now do her hair after a shower and shampoo and it looks like it. I know nothing about styling women’s hair. Poor Ruth.

There are two long term care facilities near our home. I hope to find a place fairly close, when the time comes, so that I can make the drive easy and frequently. One is in Sand Springs and the other about 10 miles away. I’ve visited both. The SS one is not so great. As with many homes for the elderly, the smell of urine wafted through the halls as I toured the place. The other is much nicer looking and quite clean from what I could tell. The one in SS runs about $6000 a month while the other is $7000 a month. Needless to say, I would like to keep Ruth Ann at home for as long as possible. The day she goes to the nursing facility starts me down the road to poverty where I’ll eventually be living in a van down by the river. It sucks, but it is what it is.

As I’ve previously said, my tipping point is when she no longer knows me and/or her needs become more than I than I can physically handle. With my back, lifting much of anything is an operation waiting to happen. I dread that day. Now, with this rampaging coronavirus going on, long term care in a closed facility is about like a death sentence so that’s not gonna happen.

Again, I write this not seeking sympathy. It is simply a way for Ruth Ann’s family and friends to stay abreast of the situation.

Thanks for reading.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Published in: on April 16, 2020 at 8:45 am  Comments (3)  

Curbside with Walmart

For days, I’d been trying to do the the curbside service with the local Walmart, but every time I clicked CHECKOUT, I got an error message. Overwhelmed system, I reasoned, so I kept trying and as the days went by, kept adding to the list hoping that someday I would finally get through. I’d had one previous experience at the curb and all had gone well. What a great way to shop in these scary times! Not now. ERROR. RETURN TO YOUR CART.

The list grew. I was now up to $170 and change. But there was a new problem. As I reviewed the list, I found that several older listed items were now NOT AVAILABLE. It was a little like Whack-A-Mole. It was there…and then it wasn’t. It was amazing the number of items NOT AVAILABLE. Toilet paper, well sure, no surprise there, but cat litter? We’re hoarding cat litter now? Same for some cat food brands. Saucy Seafood Bake, Minnie LeMew’s favorite? NOT AVAILABLE. Not sure how I’m going to explain this to her. That could get ugly.

Bread? Simple, common, everyday bread? Nope. What about trash bags, the big ones for the outside can? Sorry. Frozen meals? Yeah, if you wanted to sample Wi Getchu’s Chinese Surprise. Beans? Canned beans, okay, some are there for the asking, but not something like the beans for 13-bean soup. But I digress.

And then, on one fine magical morning, I clicked CHECKOUT, and lo, CHOOSE YOUR CURBSIDE TIME. Woo Hoo! Next day would be fine, thank you very much. How about 3:00 p.m. to 4:00 p.m. ? Sure. c’mon down.  The following day I get a confirming email, click the I’m on the way button, and head to town.

Now my store has about 10-12 curbside spots. All had cars in them, all with hungry trunks with open lids ready for feeding, and all with impatient drivers tapping on their steering wheels. I had to circle the lot to find a temporary spot where I could watch for a vacancy. I check the iPhone. A scrolling message across the top of the screen tells me that a store is tracking my location. Really? If you know I’m here, where’s my damn parking space? What if I miss my one-hour time slot? ERROR. RETURN TO YOUR CART?

Finally, a customer backs out. I do my Indy car move and squeal around the corners, dodging overloaded carts and old ladies in wheelchairs until I slide into a space labeled C. I tell the app where I’m at although I suspect they already know. I tap my steering wheel. I tap it for 35 minutes.

A young man wearing what looks like a custom-made mask raps on the window and asks me my name. With the confirmation, he loads me up, then asks (from a distance) if it’s okay for him to sign off for me. But with his mask and the traffic noise and my horrible hearing disability, I’m going, “What? What was that?” He takes one baby step closer and repeats. I’m shaking my head. He says it one more time. Pretty sure I detected a change in tone. “Yes, thank you  young man. Thank you very much.”

Yes, there were substitutions and omissions, but all in all it went fairly well. Just one thing. There, on top of the pile, was a toy. Some kind of toy gun that shoots spinning disks it looked like. The price tag said twenty-bucks! WHAT? I check my list and the total price. No toy gun. Hmm.

Under normal circumstances I might take the toy back to the counter, but knowing my great-granddaughter would probably enjoy that toy,  and well…the virus and all.

 

 

 

 

Published in: on April 6, 2020 at 11:46 am  Comments (1)  

Stop!

Stop and smell the roses. Never has that old adage been more true. Or this one, if you get a lemon, make lemonade. My lemonade is, and has been for many years, a long walk in the woods. When life gets a little overwhelming, a casual stroll down a woodland path is like a trip to the therapist. If you can let yourself open up to the sounds, smells, and sights of nature in all its glory, it will mend you in ways that no doctor ever could.

The trick here is to slow down. Look up. Check out the branches overhead. You just might see a Barred Owl looking back at you. Stop. Keep looking. Stay still. In a minute or two, the smaller birds will adjust to your presence, sense no danger, and resume their daily routines. Take your binoculars. Focus and watch. See the details in those feathers? The endless variation of stripes, spots, and solids? Take a mental photo. A silent click. That’s the camera of your mind.

Look down. Right at your feet! A spider web covered in early morning dew. The drops glistening in the sunshine. And over there, on the fallen log. Mushrooms, some rough-edged, some smooth-capped. Check out the colors; tan, white, red. Insects? Sure. There goes a fearsome black beetle with his menacing pincers leading the way, looking for all the world like a prehistoric creatures from the days of the dinosaur. Ants too. Hundreds of them. Where are they going? Stop and think about that. Bend over, look closer. Some are carrying food. Click, goes the camera of your mind.

You might come across a bog with it’s stagnant green water where all seems dead. It’s not. Stop. Look. Listen. Hear it? The low breeep of the bullfrog? Make a sudden move and you’ll hear the splash of the Red-eared Slider turtle hitting the water. How can such a small creature see (and hear?) you from that distance? And dragonflies. Dozens of them. Some blue, some yellow, others bright green. All colors of the rainbow, dancing from twig to twig. Click, goes the camera of your mind.

A trap I often fall into is becoming completely absorbed into getting the photo with my digital camera and missing the moment with my mental one. Instead of soaking it in, seeking out the details, and going with the flow of the outdoor experience, I’m frantically checking shutter speeds and apertures, all the while trying to keep the subject in focus, saying silent prayers to the photo gods that I nail this shot, and letting loose with a string of profanities when I don’t. That, my friends, is not conducive to good mental health. The antidote is for another bird to come along and smile at the camera and once again, all is well.

And yet, there are times, like these, that every once in a while, I choose to leave that big old black camera at home and find solitude and peace beneath the sky and the trees, where all I have to do is find just one interesting example of the beauty, simplicity, and complexity of the natural world and go…click, with the camera of my mind.

 

 

Published in: on March 31, 2020 at 11:18 am  Comments (1)