In Sickness and in Health: June 2021

“How’s Ruth Ann doing?

It’s a question I often hear. I’m never sure how to answer that one. Somedays she is doing fine, well, fine as measured by the previous weeks. Other days, I’m going, OMG! Is this it? Is this the time when I have to admit that I can no longer handle this? I had that feeling recently. I was on the computer. Ruth Ann was taking one of her many frequent naps when I get a call from a guy who lives at the end of the block.

“Your wife was just here. Said she was looking for someone. I turned her back your way.”

I didn’t know she had left the house. I went to the street so she could see me. As she approached, I had the feeling she had no idea who I was. Was this it? No way can I keep an eye on her 24/7. What now? Commit to professional care? Let it pass and hope?

That weighed on my mind throughout the night. As I awoke, several times, my thoughts jumped right to that scene in the street. But the next morning, it was the same old Ruth Ann in what I now consider as her new normal; almost zero cognitive ability, unable to follow the simplest of instructions, can’t distinguish between a dog, a cat, or a squirrel. The folks in Kansas would say she don’t know c’mere from sic’ em. But she still has her mostly pleasant personality provided I can always keep my cool and remember what to say and when to keep my mouth shut.

I’ve been corresponding with a particular long term care facility that is only about a 30 minute drive from my house. Those folks have bent over backward to provide me with every detail about what Ruth Ann would be dealing with there. They have only sixteen spots in their Memory Care unit with a staffer for (I think) every four residents. To me, that is excellent. They have called me numerous times to see how we are doing and if I have an additional questions. They have brought samples of their food to the house (yummy). They gave us a tour and let RA meet a few of the people. The living spaces were small, but clean. No urine smell at all.

Someone suggested an alternative spot. Much larger. Cheaper, but not significantly so. They have a swimming pool (Ruth Ann always loved to swim) and a therapy dog of all things, another amenity that Ruth Ann would love. I called the place and was promised an email with links to answer my questions. Didn’t happen. I go to their web site and fill out the form asking for someone to contact me. Again, no response. I did find out that their Memory Care unit has fifty patients and they have no vacancies at the present time.

I’m beginning to lean back to facility #1, despite the pool and the dog, because I don’t how big a staff they have for fifty Memory Care patients. If they can’t find time to answer my inquiries, how much time do they have for their patients?

It’s the same old question. When do I say enough is enough? Some days it gets to me. Old Man Depression settles in and I don’t want to talk to anybody about anything. The phone is ignored. But it passes, usually in a couple of days. If I were a rich man, the decision might be easier, but the moment I sign the papers, I begin going down the road to poverty and start preparing to live in my car. So there’s that. Yes, I’ve looked at all the options.

In the meantime, I’m dealing with it. One day at a time. Savoring the good days, and struggling through the bad. Once again I must praise Ruth’s sister, Judy, whom I call Saint Jude. I’d had a trying day, dealing with the outside world, but when I got home after Judy had been there and opened the door, the house smelled fresh and new. Everything was sparkling clean and if I might be just a tad crude here, that place was shining like a diamond in a goat’s ass. The cats were asleep. All was quiet. The rain had stopped. A golden ray of light peeked through the darkness. An omen?

A book and a spooker came next.

It was enough.

Published in: on May 30, 2021 at 5:52 pm  Comments (2)  

“You can’t go home again.” Thomas Wolfe

Mr. Wolfe was right, but that doesn’t mean you can’t try. Recently, my son, Mark, and I made the five-hour drive back to my roots, not only to reminisce, but in the roll of gravediggers. Grave searchers would be more accurate, but that’s another story.

I call Horton, Kansas my hometown although I didn’t live there until the ripe old age of thirteen. Before that, my humble abode was a farmhouse just outside the town of Willis, Kansas five miles north. Humble might be a little too glamorous for the two-story, rundown, paint-peeled structure that had no running water and no electricity when I came into the world. That harsh situation would change when the electric company finally came around, but we never did have water service that far out in the sticks.

The adage, a farmer works from sun to sun, but the woman’s work is never done, was never truer on that farm. Dad was always in the field or repairing whatever broke the day before while my mom struggled to keep us fed and clean and clothed. Eventually, the hardships of dealing with such primitive surroundings and the bone- weary labor that came with it became too much. My dad seemed happy enough sitting on a tractor or feeding the livestock, but I’m betting it was my mom that demanded the change of lifestyle. I still have a photo of her manning the handle of the old water pump just outside our front door, wearing a dress and leaning into it, One can only tote so many five-gallon buckets of water before saying “ENOUGH!” 

From a notice in the Horton Headlight newspaper:

Having purchased the Hamburger Inn, in Horton, Kansas, I am quitting the farm and having a CLOSING OUT SALE. January 13, 1953.

 (That clipping is mounted on a piece of board from the farmhouse and hangs on my office wall to this day.)

Listed were 13 head of cattle, 22 head of hogs, 500 bales of hay, farm machinery and implements. There was no mention of acreage or of the house. I’m guessing there was some sort of lease or share-crop agreement with the actual landowner.

Naturally, my folks were familiar with the city of Horton, making the drive every Saturday afternoon, weather permitting. We always arrived in plenty of time to allow my mom time to window shop and buy what few groceries we needed as we had our own meat at the Horton Cold Storage Locker and a garden full of vegetables and more in the root cellar at home.

I was given my weekly allowance of twenty-five cents, one quarter, and turned loose on the town. My routine at that time was a Saturday afternoon matinee at the movie theater, usually a western, and then off to the magazine and comic-book store where I had to make the agonizing decision of buying just one and only one comic book. Superman and Batman were the usual picks with the Green Hornet a close third. And yes, twenty-five cents covered both the movie and the comic, fifteen-cents and ten-cents respectively.

The best part of the Saturday was the return trip from Horton to the farm. I would stretch out in the back seat of the old Ford, listening to my parents talk about the day while I fell into a delicious, contented sleep. Yes, it was only five miles, but it was the most blissful five miles of my little world and I cherish that memory to this day.

The Hamburger Inn was a hole in the wall restaurant on the business street of Horton. A counter with six or seven stools with three booths in the rear, that was it. Ten customers meant a full house. My mom cooked the burgers while dad took orders and wiped the tables and counter. I reflect now and then on how a man who had worked outdoors all his life, liked being a dishwasher and server. I believe that question was answered when dad hired an employee for the restaurant while he got on as a policeman for the City of Horton.

Yours’s truly found an after-school job working at the same newsstand I had perused at a younger age. Now able to read all the comics and magazines I wanted; it was the job of my dreams. One day, while snooping around as young boys do, I opened a drawer in the backroom and found a stack of… nudist magazines! Whoa! Nudists? In Horton? I never looked at my hometown quite the same again.

Google Earth is an amazing app. With it, you can take a virtual tour of Paris or San Francisco or even Horton, Kansas. Click on the historical imagery box and you see back in time as far as, in Horton’s case, 20 years ago. It wasn’t far enough back to see the old railroad yard in its heyday, but the huge buildings where locomotives were overhauled are still there. As to the Hamburger Inn, there is no visual record, other than a single photo, of it existing.

Our house, only a half-block from the restaurant, is also missing from view. That was the house where I found the human skull in a German war helmet (see previous blogs).

The old farm house? A 1991 Google view shows the lane leading to it but no home, no barn, no sheds, nor the outhouse. A later image has no entrance lane at all.

Mark and I had to confirm it of course. We found the turnoff and the approximate location of the farm, but not a trace of the homestead remained.

It’s all gone. Nothing but memories now. And even those have faded.

My one regret from that trip is that I didn’t ask Mark to let me curl up in the backseat of the Honda while he drove from Horton to the farmhouse and let me doze, to drift off to sleep for those five glorious miles…just one more time.

The Hamburger Inn. Dad is in the white shirt.

That’s me running up the “sidewalk”.

Published in: on May 8, 2021 at 3:51 pm  Comments (1)  

Air Fryer? The jury is out.

Air fryer. To buy or not to buy? I watched the commercials. I listened to friends who had one. I read the reviews. It sounded good. Cooks fast they said. Less grease they said. Healthier. Hello, Amazon.

Pork chops were first. Took longer than advertised, but it worked. Juicier. Not as dry as when cooked on a grill. This might actually be a winner.

French fries. Shake the container halfway through the process is what the book said. Also said be careful not to press the release button while shaking. ( I read that part later after the bottom part fell on the floor). Result? The old standby oven did better.

Onion rings. Just one of the many recipes for the air fryer. I loves my onion rings. Needed three bowls. One for flour. One for a mix of bread crumbs, salt, and paprika. One for eggs and milk. Sliced up a medium size white onion. Broke it into rings. Cried like a baby. Spray liberally with cooking oil it said. Let us pause right here and cover a few of the problems with this.

It called for buttermilk. I didn’t have any buttermilk. Who has buttermilk sitting around? Buttermilk, plain milk. Close enough. I actually had breadcrumbs on hand. Okay, so they were a little old, but not more than a couple months. Hey, they were in the fridge.

Spray liberally? Was that before the dipping process or after? I did it both ways. I’m covered.

Dipped a ring in the flour. If the flour was supposed to stick, it did a damn poor job of it. Moving on. Bowl #2. Egg and milk. So far, so good. Bread crumbs. Did they stick? Ummm, somewhat. Here and there.

Per instructions, I preheat the fryer. That took 8 minutes. I spray the container liberally with more cooking oil. Again, per instructions, I arrange the coated rings in the bottom, but only one layer. Yes, one layer. That’s what it said. I check the remaining rings. I got at least two more layers left. I push the buttons, 370 degrees, 10 minutes. Remove when golden brown it said.

It cooks, the fan roaring away against the heating element while allegedly circulating the hot air around the onion rings. I wait, anxiously watching the timer count down. Done. Golden brown? Not exactly. Brown from the bread crumbs maybe. A little black around some of the edges maybe. There’s that. Undaunted, I continue.

All done! Golden or not, I take a bite. They were uh…okay. let’s just say I’ve had better, a lot better, a hell of a lot better.

Now, let’s do the math. Twenty minutes prep time. Eight minutes preheat. Three layers times ten minutes: thirty minutes. Fifty-eight minutes. Oh, let’s call it an hour. And and don’t forget the cleanup. There’s another fifteen or so.

So where am I going with all this? Let me point out that there’s a Sonic Drive In just 12 minutes from my house. Sonic, home of maybe the best onion rings of any fast food joint in the country. Twelve minutes getting there, five to get the order. Seventeen minutes. No bread crumbs, no milk and eggs, no flour, no mess, no cleanup, no prep time. The taste comparison? Not even going there.

The air fryer? If I still had the take back sack, that’s where it would go. Or in the trash, same place as my onion rings.

Published in: on March 27, 2021 at 9:07 am  Leave a Comment  

The Pigeon and the Chickens

On a leisurely stroll along my backyard nature trail, I noticed several spots where the fallen leaves were disturbed. Mostly circular with bare spots, there were at least a dozen of them, maybe more. The first thought was an armadillo. Having seen them in action in the wild and digging for grubs, the pattern was similar. In all the years I’ve lived here, I had yet to see an armadillo in the yard, but having witnessed coyotes, bobcats, deer, opossum, and raccoons passing through, a dilla was not out of the question.

I didn’t have to wait long for the answer to the mysterious bare spots. The next morning, I had a flock of chickens in my yard, scratching, pecking, and flinging leaves in all directions. I counted a dozen of them. Most were black, a couple tan ones, and a rooster that was not only beautiful, but boisterous. Every so often, he let out with the trademark cock-a-doodle-doo, flapping his wings and reminding the flock just who and where the alpha male in this town was.

I knew their place of origin. My backyard neighbor had a horrendous house fire a couple of days previous and having heard a rooster crow on many a morning, I realized it was his chickens that had flown the coop. The house is empty, probably a total loss. The question now is the family still feeding the chickens? Under the circumstances, I told the chickens they were free to dig and scratch as they pleased until other arrangements could be made.

Then the pigeon arrived.

I didn’t recognize it as a pigeon at first. In fact, due to the all white feathers, I thought it might be an albino dove. Wow! I was thinking about getting on the birder’s network and posting a rare bird alert, but thought it best to check with a few folks more knowledgeable than I and sent them a photo.

“Uh, Warren, what you have there is a common Rock Pigeon.”

In my best Gilda Radner/Emily Latella voice; Well, that’s entirely different. Never mind.

Common or not, it was my first backyard pigeon and I shot several frames of it as it picked up what the squirrels, the songbirds, and the chickens missed. The pigeon and squirrels have no problem sharing. The chickens? Not so much. Outnumbered, the pigeon reluctantly gives ground to the hens each and every time a dispute at the dinner table arises.

On this foggy morning and just a few minutes ago, the pigeon was out back and striking a nice pose on a limb. With the fog in the background, I saw a photo op. As I was getting set up, I saw a flash of wings, dark wings. Big bird! HAWK! I hurried to the window, expecting to see blood and white feathers floating in the air, but no. Nothing. I stepped out. All was quiet. No hawk. No pigeon. Not one bird in sight. What happened? A movement from the corner of my eye. The pigeon was not three feet from my head, huddled under a corner of the roof, perched on a flowerpot bracket. I could read his eyes.

“DID YOU SEE THAT? DAMN HAWK BOUT GOT ME!”

Stay tuned. The saga continues.

Published in: on February 27, 2021 at 10:17 am  Leave a Comment  

Lost in the Loss

 

It’s one of those days when one cannot be blamed for feeling a bit melancholy. It’s a Monday, chilly and gray with a trace of fog, and an overnight rain having left so much humidity you can swim in it. In other words, a typical January morning in Oklahoma. But this morning seems heavier than usual. The feeling is not a mystery. I’m familiar with it. It’s the thoughts and memories of the friends and family having passed away, no longer with us. Many of them before their time, way before.

As I sit here, I expect the phone to ring at any time. It will be a call from my old friend and fellow Bell employee, Ron B. more commonly known as R. Bubba. R. Bubba and I have shared so many borderline insane experiences that were they known, would be legendary. He’s the kind of friend that would be the first to bail you out of jail if he wasn’t already in there with you. But the Bubba is hurting. His dear wife and my good friend, D.J., left us a few short months ago. Cancer. The Bubba was quite good at riding motorcycles and drinking beer. Household duties? Not so much. He struggles with a computer, bank accounts, and cooking of any kind. If he can’t nuke it, forget it. And like the rest of us, R. Bubba is aging. I can hear it in his voice. The old stories get repeated, often in the same breath. His grief for his wife is palpable. Seldom do our talks not end with his voice cracking and tears I can’t see but sense. His diabetes isn’t helping. A few weeks ago, he called me asking what day it was and if it was morning or night? He had collapsed sometime during the night on a trip to the bathroom and awakened on the floor. It was not the first time it had happened. On previous episodes, D.J. had called 911 but R. Bubba no longer has that guardian angel to look over him. I urged him to go the doctor which he did, but the results were unclear to me. I fear for my friend R. Bubba.

Then we lost Bill S. I’d met Bill through the photography community. He had a jaw dropping photo of a Belted Kingfisher in the Outdoor Oklahoma magazine. I’d chased that bird all over Oklahoma and never got the shot. I was envious and contacted Bill to see if he would reveal the location. He did. It was the first of many examples of Bill’s generosity. Not long after that meet, Bill invited me to stay at his lake house. He barely knew me and he was giving me the key?

With Bill being a retired physician, I was a little shocked that a man of his status would befriend a poor old Kansas farm kid with barely a high school education, but hit if off we did. I would never cease to be amazed with the man. He exceled at every thing he took on, not only medicine, but photography, woodworking, and becoming a Master Gardner. He developed web sites for the Internet. He learned another language, not Spanish or French, but Russian…Russian of all things! He did all that healthy crap. He went to the gym several times a week. He ate right. Didn’t smoke. Didn’t drink. Despite his insistence on sobriety, we remained friends and corresponded by email several times a week, the highlight being the signoffs. I once asked his advice on starting ryegrass from seed. He patiently explained and signed, Keeper of the Rye. Or the time he was getting nowhere on some kind of project despite repeated attempts and signed off as Sisyphus with the instructions, look it up. Bill always kept me on my toes.

And then he died. So fast. Complications from Parkinson’s they said. It’s still hard to believe he’s gone.

Phil Z., the best man at my wedding, had the audacity to check out and leave me behind. We were not in constant contact during these past sixty years, but I knew he was there.

I could go back a few years and name many more, but that’s enough for now.

Hoping for sunshine, bluebirds, and rainbows tomorrow. A new day and a new outlook on life is but a few hours away. Note to self: Hang in there.

 

Published in: on January 25, 2021 at 3:29 pm  Comments (2)  

Christmas Past

Another Ho Ho Ho is in the books, but this one like no other. The Pandemic, sure, that changed everything, but time passed as well. Another year older. Mortality comes to mind. How many visits from the Jolly Fat Guy are left?

Changes. Lots of changes this year. My wife changed and sadly, not for the better. Not unexpected, but so tough to watch as she can no longer pour her own coffee in the morning. Christmas, for her, no longer has meaning. It’s just another day of fog. That will bring a tear to the eye. You can believe that.

I changed too. Not sure if it was for the better either. Physical changes for sure. More aches. More pains.

I think I got a little grumpier, more Grinch-like this time around. Christmas barely got a nod. I didn’t so much as stick a Red-cedar twig in a beer can this year. Nor did I hang a tangled mess of blinking lights on a Shepard’s Hook and stab it in the ground as I’ve done in times past. Ruth Ann rummaged through the attic and found a little manger scene for the end-table, but no white cloth for snow or a single glowing light for a star. Baby Jesus had to lay there in the dark with the rest of the crowd.

Shopping on the Internet is the way to go these days, so easy. Click Here. There tomorrow. But no Santa. No sled. No family struggling through the door with armloads of presents and enough food to feed a small town. Now we get an Amazon truck, not even a red one, but blue. Doesn’t seem right.

This year was a far cry from one of my most memorable Christmas’s as a Kansas farm kid. I was probably around six or seven. Still believing in magic, but with some doubt creeping in. Christmas Eve, that’s when Santa came to our house. I sat up my sentry post with one eye on the Christmas tree and the other on the fireplace. He would NOT get past me this time. The dinner was over, the kitchen cleaned. Prime time. Any minute now. I was determined to stay on duty as long as it took, all night if need be, never blinking.

The next thing I remember is my dad at the front door. “There he is!” he shouted, pointing up. I dashed to the yard, scanning the sky for any sign of the Old Elf. “I don’t see anything! Where is he?”

“Keep looking. More to the north I think.”

I looked north. I looked south, east, and west. I circled the house. Nothing but stars. I’d missed him…again. “Cold out here,” said my dad, ushering me and my disappointment back inside. And there they were, my presents, under the tree, just like every year, just like magic. I remember being suspicious of how such a thing had happened…and so fast. But I didn’t really question it all that much. It was, after all, Christmas Eve.

Other Christmas’s, and not all that long ago, were memorable as well. Only now do I appreciate what a trooper my wife was and all that she did to make it a special time. She fought the crowds and bought the presents. She would prepare a dinner with all the fixings and somehow, somehow make all those dishes come together at the same time, hot and steaming and smelling like heaven should. And she did this year after year while tending to two small children, a dog, and two cats. What did I do? Drank beer and watched football as God intended. Oh, my. Little did I realize.

In Christmas Present, I now have only a tiny inkling of what it takes to do what she did. With no kitchen coaching from Ruth Ann, I struggle figuring out what pot to use or what spoon to stir it with. Two dishes arriving at the table at the same time is quite the accomplishment for yours’s truly. Never mind that one of them has gone cold and tastes a little odd. Christmas dinner? Ha. Hello, Domino’s.

Published in: on December 27, 2020 at 6:11 pm  Comments (1)  

Oh, Poor Me

This is a little feeling-sorry-for-myself post. Yesterday was a rough day. All week I had planned to go to Grand Lake and try for some eagle photos. Local photographers were filling their Facebook pages with amazing shots of eagles with fish, eagles fighting in midair, beautiful stuff. I had the camera cleaned, batteries charged, and ready to go. I had several family members lined up, willing and able to stay with Ruth Ann, but the recent headlines with the horrifying numbers of new COVID cases made rethink the plan. Why take such a chance, even a slim one, with this raging pandemic? Did I really need another hundred eagle photos when my files were already bulging with birds? No.

So what did I do? I sat around and stewed about it all day, feeling more and more sorry for myself. Smart, right? Being a caregiver and watching Ruth’s condition slowly sliding down hill and dealing with the virus knowing both of us are high risk, kind of got to me. Then, an aha moment. Ruth’s sister, who has already had the virus and about as safe a person as one can get these days, was coming in Monday to relieve me. Hello, Grand Lake.

And what is my failsafe method for dealing with the blues? The camera! Get in the car and go, boy, even if it’s only Lake Keystone and take Ruth Ann with you. As it turned out, it wasn’t such a great heal-all-wounds plan after all. The blinding, low winter sun was not good for shooting from the east side of the Keystone dam, impossible really. The west side was blocked off for repairs. My still dirty windshield from the last trip to the Tallgrass Prairie made even driving hazardous.

All that was left was to watch the many pelicans, little white dots too far away for my lens, float the waters. occasionally making a frantic short flight for a stunned fish emerging from the dam’s turbines. It was then that I remembered the closing words of a TV show I liked, a wildlife photography show where the host said, “Remember, it’s not the photograph, it’s the outdoor experience.” And more often that not, he’s right. Today, it would be enough.

Published in: on December 5, 2020 at 9:19 am  Leave a Comment  

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)