Amy Abbott

Jan 022018

Fala Jo, 1997 – 2016

Written January 2016, published January 2, 2018 — I am buying Metamucil for our cat as instructed by our veterinarian. Fala, our aging Tom, has gastrointestinal distress.

I’m hiding behind the magazines in the drugstore line, like the pimply-faced teenage hero of “Summer of 42.” I’m stacking random items, a greeting card, razors, gum, and toothpaste, like Herbie in the iconic coming-of-age movie. Can I refocus the clerk from my purchase of a constipation cure, like Herbie hid condoms from his clerk?  I don’t want anyone to see me buying Metamucil, even if it is for Fala.

Sometime in the last eight years, our Empty Nest turned into a palace for this rescue cat. Fala and his littermate Sisy joined our home the day before our son’s eighth birthday. When they came to live with us, they behaved as pets.  We were not their servants.

When our only son left for college 1,100 miles away, my husband and I gained a hole in our heart as wide as Texas. A year later, Sisy died. We were two sad people left with a lonely cat.

Now our son works in the city where he graduated from college. He has a fulfilled, happy life. We don’t want him to return to our nest; that’s not what’s best for him. And we support his choices.

But something has seriously changed. Since Sisy’s death, we’ve crossed over an imaginary line to a place where Fala presides.

Was it when Fala’s arthritic legs could no longer jump on our king sized bed, where he sleeps with us? We bought pet stairs, just his size. Now he can quickly come up to the bed and find his uber-comfy, memory foam bed complete with a plush kitty-sized blanket.

Was it when he cried for food, and we moved his bowl up from the basement to the master bath, along with his water jug that looks like a tiny water cooler?

Or was it when he was just too tired to walk the ten feet to get a drink, and I started giving him a drink from his own plastic glass marked by a Sharpie with “Fala.”

Or was it last week when his Daddy took him to the vet, and we learned that Fala was gassy and constipated? Fala is eighteen; in human terms, that’s more than eighty years old. Perhaps the grand old man needs extra tender loving care.

Or maybe we’re just completely over the edge, awash in grief over our Empty Nest, humanizing this ten-pound ball of fur.

Despite his lack of verbal skills or opposable thumbs, Fala clearly makes his wishes known to the management. We oblige and pamper.

Isn’t that what good parents are supposed to do?

Dec 222017

December 23, 2017

Our housekeeper, who is 82 and has been with our family for 25 years, is here today (Friday). We’re both pretty afraid of her (and you would be, too). We love her to pieces, but she has strong opinions that we consider, or she will not be happy. We want her to be happy. When it was time for a new vacuum, I asked her opinion.

My Beloved wanted a Dyson, but I honestly couldn’t see it for a home that has less than 25% carpeting. Our housekeeper wanted a Shark. On Cyber Monday, I ordered the one she wanted which arrived unassembled. Had I purchased at a local store, it still would have come unassembled. Or as my husband pointed out later, I could pay an outrageous fee to have a 17-year-old assemble it. (In retrospect, the idea is growing on me.)

As I am the most organized person on earth, I started assembly at 10 p.m. last night. The directions were pictures entirely too small for me to see. I’m not sure I could have seen the diagrams when I was twenty. Tiny, tiny images.

I retrieved my magnifying glass and was able to see the pictures.

The second problem, I am unable to comprehend the pictures. Ask me to write a ten thousand word essay on vacuum cleaners, and I’m good to go. Insert part A into part B, and a dark cloud befalls the room.

I could not assemble a kitten without written directions (place tail above anus).

Pictures showed a bolt connects the handle to the body of the vacuum. I put the bolt in the hole and attempted to screw it in with a regular screwdriver. After finding resistance in the initial twist, any rational person might think, “This is not the right hole.”

No, it wasn’t the right hole. And it wasn’t even close. And I got it stuck.

How would you like it if your spouse (who is high on steroids) asked for your help at 10:30 p.m. on a work night? (He’s not retired yet.) My Beloved nearly stripped the damn thing before he got it out. He was able to persuade the bolt from the hole with pliers.

Then we couldn’t figure out where the actual hole was located. Five college degrees between us and we are completely clueless. Before I get a lecture on liberal arts degrees, let me state for the record that the only person I know who could assemble this is our nephew who has a degree in mechanical engineering. He’s the one we call when we cannot figure out how to turn the tire pressure light off in the car, and cannot comprehend the helpful 22-minute YouTube video on same.

My Beloved figured out how to attach the handle correctly. Gratefully, I noted that the handle also faced the correct way.

Time for hose assembly. Neither of us could understand the pictures. And what didn’t help at all was that the Easy Start Up Directions and the regular directions had different information. Somewhere in the Ether copywriters at Shark are laughing their rear ends off, pondering ignorant customers like us.

My Beloved was most patient with me. The steroids now entirely kicked in, I was somewhat hysterical and singing “Bring me some figgy pudding” out of nervousness. The steroids are, however, slightly useful because I could reshingle the house if necessary with my colossal surge of energy. My Beloved had many sharp objects in his hands over the course of our time together. He could have quickly (and rightfully, I might add) have stabbed me any number of times.

As the shortest day of the year drained into midnight, we finished. Well, we think we have completed.

As our housekeeper owns the same model, she can tell us if the hoses are in the right place. As Tiny Tim would say, “God Bless Us, Every One.”

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Dec 132017

December 13, 2017,  —

  1. Twice ousted Judge Roy Moore’s Sweet Home Alabama Christmas Special, featuring the Young Girl’s Chorale of Opp, Alabama sings “Carol of the Children.” Also starring the grown-up Cosby Kids, dancing with life-sized, animated Jello pudding pops.
  2. The Holiday Program showcases a family uncovering why cousin Eddie doesn’t look like Grandpa but has a striking resemblance to the late Wilfred Brimley.
  3. Old Timer’s Politically Correct Winter Holiday features Nancy Pelosi, Chuck Schumer, and Bernie Sanders reminiscing about a winter solstice spent with Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt at Hyde Park.
  4. Bill and Hillary Clinton return to the “Double Wide on the Arkansas River,” the Clinton Presidential Library, in Arkansas Holiday Celebration. Bill and Hill are welcomed by surprise guests Juanita Broaddrick, Gennifer Flowers, Paula Jones, and Kathleen Willey. Hostess Monica Lewinski closes with” Deck the Halls,” wearing only boughs of holly.
  5. As the last college fraternity in the USA, the boys of Tau Nu Beta at tiny Central Idaho College ring in the holidays with the Party Until You Puke Christmas Special. The 12- underage brothers of TNB highlight drinking songs of times past, including “All I Want for Christmas is Whiskey” and the classic “One more Christmas Beer.”
  6. In A Slovenian Folk Christmas, First Lady Melania Trump shares her childhood dream to marry a man with a gold toilet. On a snowy day, she strolls of Novo Mesto, her hometown, distributing slices of Christmas cake to the villagers.
  7. Barron Christmas Carol – When his family moves from their gilded New York City tower to a white house built by slaves in Washington, D.C., a young lad learns how the other half lives, without gold toilets.
  8. The Asia for the Holidays travelogue tells the adventures of three college basketball players meandering their way through China on less than ten dollars a day. How the lanky superstars get funds for their travels is revealed.
  9. Attorney General Jeff Sessions recused himself from this remake of Elf on the Shelf after the initial viewing. Producers placed the diminutive Sessions in hilarious poses, in the Situation Room and under the Resolute Desk in the Oval Office.
  10. Vice President Mike Pence plays Ralphie in this made-for-tv adaptation of Jean Shepherds’ 1939 classic, A Christmas Story. The script was rejected when the sponsor, the National Rifle Association, demanded young Ralphie pine for an AR-15 instead of an official Red Ryder, carbine action, two-hundred shot, range model air rifle. Sponsored by Indiana NRA.
  11. You won’t want to miss Harvey Weinstein’s Predators Ball live from the steps of the Kodak Theatre in Los Angeles. Dressed in red sweaters and white pants, a quartet of special guests, Matt Lauer, Dustin Hoffman, Mark Halperin, and Kevin Spacey delight the live audience with acapella versions of “Baby, It’s Cold Outside.” A video tribute to the late Hugh Hefner is narrated by Charlie Rose. — Amy McVay Abbott, December 13, 2017

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Crossposted on Medium.

Dec 122017

There was only one real Santa Claus.  He used the pseudonym Phil Steigerwald, but we all knew he was the only Kris Kringle.  He had the roundest, kindest face you’ve ever seen, and welcomed you to his red-covered chair in the middle of Wolf and Dessauer’s Department Store in Fort Wayne, Indiana. His beard was long and fluffy, and his Santa suit felt like lamb’s wool.

We knew him well because every day after school we rushed home to watch him on WKJG, Channel 33.  With his assistant Wee Willie Wand, Santa greeted children of northeastern Indiana and northwestern Ohio for thirty minutes on live television.  How exciting to spot schoolmates on the television show!

For weeks my brother and I anticipated the visit. Wolf and Dessauer’s was an elegant, old-style department store. In addition to Santa’s North Pole, downtown Fort Wayne became an otherworldly place during the holiday season.  A large, lighted Christmas tree towered above Calhoun Street on a platform near GC Murphy’s.

W and Ds store featured magical, animated Christmas windows around the perimeter.  In 1964, I was still seven years away from seeing Disneyland. The windows were worth the wait in line in Fort Wayne’s usually cold December.  Mom dressed us in our red rubber pull-over boots and plaid coats to stand in the cold.

The centerpiece of the W and D outside decorations was a large, lighted Santa and his reindeer hung on the face of the building.  In December 1982 when my husband and I had our first date, we drove to Fort Wayne to see this holiday icon, which was now displayed at the Fort Wayne National Bank.  We walked around, looking at the holiday lights, as snow fell around us.

Seeing Santa was wonderful, and we always had a list of wanted toys to share. Unlike my brother who was terrified of the Jolly Old Elf, I engaged the fat man in conversation until Wee Willie Wand needed to drag me off his lap.  Santa managed to find his way every year to our home, despite lack of a fireplace.

Several years later on a hot summer day, my neighbor Betty Lou Saffer told me there was no Santa Claus.  She had three older siblings, so apparently, the word got out.  I’m still upset about it.

Nov 182017

November 18, 2017 — As a child, I feared a tornado could pick up our tiny  house and send us into the ether, like in “The Wizard of Oz.” The house had neither a basement or a crawlspace. My fears grew after the 1965  Palm Sunday tornado. Our town wasn’t in the path of the multi-funnel event.  In Indiana, 137 people were killed and more than 1,200 injured by ten tornadoes during the late afternoon and evening hours, according to the National Weather Service.

What do I fear the most today? Shortly after I retired in October, I shopped at our local discount store.  I thought of a recent incident. Several days before, an active shooter ripped through the same store in a western state. Police chased him, and he eventually shot himself. The chase was slow in starting as locals drew weapons in this open carry state, mystifying the police about the shooter. According to a “Los Angeles Times” story, “good guys with guns” may have caused additional chaos.

I laughed at myself about my fears going to the store. I just retired from a psychiatric hospital, where chaos is the norm. Few mental patients become violent, but there’s some agitation when troubled individuals are in defined, locked spaces. In the nearly four years I worked in the crisis stabilization hospital, I can count on one hand the times I was afraid. So, I checked that off my list of fears, and I’ve been thinking about what I do fear.

In the early part of my career, I was fearful that my spouse or I would lose our jobs, and not be able to pay our mortgage. (With interest rates above eight percent on our first mortgage, which was a healthy fear.) After several miscarriages, I was afraid I couldn’t have a child. We had a beautiful son, who was diagnosed with autism at age two. I was afraid he would never talk and always be tethered to us.  He grew, language came, and he went from special education to neurotypical classrooms. Would he be okay at church camp for three days? Or on the high adventure trip to Wyoming with Boy Scouts (and no cell phone service)?  Then off to Europe with his high-school French Club for two weeks? And then moving to the East Coast for college, and staying for his career?

Tornadoes still frighten me.  And I’m again afraid of a nuclear bomb blast, just as I was in early elementary school. We drilled in the classic “Duck and Cover” way as if a second grader’s wooden desk shielded us from nuclear annihilation or radiation or the roof falling in.

As an adult, my greatest fear is losing my spouse and our son. My mother is gone now, as are all my grandparents.  My father will be 87 this year; I know it is a gift that he is still with us. Unlike many of my peers, I am not afraid to fly. I can’t say I don’t think about what can happen, but I don’t dwell on it. Flying from Atlanta, Georgia, to Madrid, Spain, in summer 2014, the pilot came on the overhead speaker about three hours out of Atlanta. The little screen map on the seat ahead of me showed we were smack dab in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean.

“We’re going to have to turn all the power off for about 15 minutes,” he said. “One of our engines has gone out, and we have to reboot the computer to get it started again.” Of course, this massive plane could fly easily on one engine. We were not in any danger. Fifteen minutes in the dark makes one realize how little control we have over everything. The power came back on and we had a wonderful time in Spain.

Of course, anything can happen at any time.  I was a fortunate child that all I had to fear in my childhood was bad weather, not abuse or poverty or any of a hundred horrors many children face. Unlike children today, I did not have to worry about an armed domestic terrorist coming into my classroom. As a teenager, I didn’t worry that a gunman would interrupt my viewing of “The Towering Inferno” in a theatre. When worshipping with my family at Sunday morning services, we didn’t consider that a shooter could step inside and kill half of us. These are all realities we face today.

I am by no means fearless. I have no idea how I would respond to any of the situations in a school, theatre, or church we’ve seen in our country.  But we cannot let fear run our lives.  We can be diligent and use common sense. And that over which we have no control, we must let go.

A former co-worker of mine was terrified when her high school age daughter attended the last Presidential inauguration. Rumors flourished that protestors might disrupt the proceedings, and my friend was worried something would happen to her daughter, a thousand miles away from her Kentucky hometown of 29,000 people. Her daughter was fine. On the night the daughter was to return with her classmates, a man who shot another man was apprehended in my co-workers front yard. He was discovered in this town of 29,000 people, a town described as “sleepy.”

Most worry is for naught.  While we should not abandon caution, we don’t know our future.  We do not know when the bullets will fly or the cancer cells will turn against us. While FDR’s first inaugural speech quote “the only thing we have to fear is fear itself” has become a cliche, the speech bears revisiting.  No one reading this was alive in 1933, but our grandparents and great-grandparents struggled in the depths of The Great Depression.  Roosevelt, who was known as jovial and cheerful in his campaign, gave a stirring speech with many religious overtones. He reminded Americans that they lacked material possessions, not values. He used the forum to remind Americans of how they forefathers struggled to build this country. Rereading that speech tonight gave me additional comfort and insight.



Nov 172017

November 17, 2017,  Three points on the national discussion about sexually inappropriate behavior.

OUR PARTY AT ALL COSTS.  Roy Moore could make love to a sheep on the roof of the Truman Balcony and some Republicans would defend him.  POTUS once said he could shoot people on Fifth Avenue and he would still be loved. Even though some admit that Roy Moore’s behaviors (if you believe his accusers) are vile, they still plan on voting for him.  The one that threw me over the edge was the female governor of Alabama.How can any woman in politics, regardless of stripe, not be moved by the number and similarity of Moore’s accusers?. Better a pedophile than a Democrat?  Seriously?

GASLIGHTING.  When asked why POTUS commented on Senator Al Franken’s bad behavior while not condemning Roy Moore, Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said: “The only difference between President Trump and Sen. Al Franken is that the Minnesota lawmaker admitted he did something wrong.” That is some kind of stinkin’ thinkin’.  Trump has more than a dozen accusers of sexually inappropriate behavior.  We’ve all seen the infamous Access Hollywood tape where 45 admitted he makes advances without permission. (I’m being delicate but I’m talking about the grabbing her by the p@#%* remarks.)  But the difference between the two men is that Senator Franken admitted his errors and apologized, according to the Press Secretary.  How will she explain her comments to her children when they are of age?

  1. POKE THE BEAR. I’m disappointed with Senator Franken’s behavior (but not surprised.)  Anyone who is surprised that a prominent white male behaved/behaves this way hasn’t been paying attention.  Or maybe living on the Planet Mongo for the last century. But for POTUS to go after him with the giant logs in his own eyes (sorry but I couldn’t resist using the Biblical metaphor about the log.) seems as ridiculous as poking a hibernating bear with a large stick.  God only knows what will happen next.

Yes, I would like to see Senator Al Franken resign for his sins, despite his excellent record as an advocate for marginalized groups.  But here are my terms.  Senator Franken should resign when 45 does.  Tit for tat.


Nov 082017

REFLECTIONS November 2017

The Raven Lunatic

 Senior Wire News Service — I rarely, rarely comment on our son’s posts. Okay, I break that rule all the time. Last night our son went to see Apocalyptica in Washington, D.C., so I commented on the picture he posted. Do I know Apocalyptica from a hole in the ground? No, but the venue was beautiful.

When a 19-year-old Harvard sophomore created what would become Facebook in his dorm room, could he have imagined its global reach among all ages? A new study from Visiting Angels ( shared the feelings of some millennials who secretly want to unfriend Mimi and Poppa, who they believe, tend to post embarrassing stuff.

According to the study, here are the top no-nos for Grandma and Grandpa:

  • Posting personal stuff: One in four respondents say grandparents post too much information about their love and social lives. (Got news for you kids, Mee-maw isn’t quite walking to the light yet.) More than one-third said their elders post dirty laundry about family feuds or finances.
  • Rant and rave: One in five believe Gram-Gram goes “emoji crazy” in comments or posts, while 33% of respondents say they don’t like it when their elder relatives get too political or go “holy roller,” posting too much about religion.
  • Tread on personal turf: One in four really hate it when Grandma tries to friend their friends, and 30% really don’t dig Grammy or Grampy posting on their timeline. Half of those surveyed don’t want their grandparents posting on their timeline at all (I get that, and no baby pictures either.) Biggest no-no on personal turf: For pete’s sake, Oma and Opa, don’t comment on appearance, hair, weight, or clothing. (That probably leaves out comments about the Significant Other as well, I’m guessing.)

Surprise, Kiddos, We’re Not Going Anywhere!

In 2017, there are 2.01billion Facebook monthly users worldwide. While much public perception focuses on the social media activity of millennials, don’t sell Nana short. Data from Pew Research tells a different story. Among online adults, the percentage of those who use Facebook in the 50-64 age group is 63% and 56% above age 65 in the most recent statistics available.

Marketers should not ignore us. We baby boomers are here to stay and still make an economic impact.

Like many other people my age, I first went on Facebook to monitor our son. At the time, he was a freshman in college, moving 1,100 miles from home. He’s not the type to call or text daily (or sometimes even weekly), so seeing his posts gave us a sense that he might still be alive.

Over time we developed rules. I rarely, rarely comment on our son’s posts. Okay, I break that rule all the time. Last night our son went to see Apocalyptica in Washington, D.C., so I commented on the picture he posted. Do I know Apocalyptica from a hole in the ground? No, but the venue was beautiful. If he doesn’t like what I post, he just takes it down.

Public Domain,

Since he rarely comments on my posts, if I need to refer to him I use “Junior.” He’s not tagged and generally won’t see it, as in “Junior met Senator Elizabeth Warren yesterday.” This tactic allows the parent or grandparent to brag but keeps millennial eyes off the post. Of course, I’m entitled to this one joy. My cats are all dead; I have no kitty pictures to post anymore. Vacation is but once a year, and I’m not a grandmother.While baby boomers are active users of social media, it is their children and grandchildren who tend to be the early adopters, especially the millennials.

Dr. Tamara Wandel has researched and published on social media topics since its inception in the early 2000s. “Young people are the fastest growing adopters of the newer online platforms, so they’re very interested in trying out what’s trendy. Young people still check in on Facebook, but they’re more apt to post a quick photo on Instagram, keep up with a daily Snapchat streak with friends, or retweet something on Twitter,” said the professor of communication at the University of Evansville (Indiana). “But Facebook remains the most popular social media platform, and its registered users are more broadly representative of the U.S. population as a whole.

She added, “To put in context, nearly 80 percent of online Americans use Facebook, and for Twitter, the amount is closer to 25 percent.”

While the younger folks may lead the way, seniors will likely be bringing up the rear. A British study reported by the Telegraph noted 4 in 10 baby boomers now use a smartphone, up 11 percentage points in a year, while the use of smartphones among the over-75s has nearly doubled from 8 percent to 15.

Some seniors remain resistant. The Telegraph study noted that half of the over-75 group had “no plans to use the Internet.” In my life, my 87-year-old father has no need for Internet as he has AmyNet and AndyNet (that’s us). When he wants to know something, he’ll call one of his children, knowing we have “the box” in our hands.

How did the Cubs do today? What’s happening in the market? Can you find the address of my sophomore year college roommate? Where did the Lincoln funeral train go in Indiana? (Helps that I’m married to a research librarian.)

But, God forbid Grandpa to call either of his grandsons for the same request or express any interest in going on their Facebook pages. That would just be wrong.

Amy McVay Abbott is a newly retired healthcare executive who can be reached @ravensenior on Twitter or amyistheravenlunatic on Instagram. She is not competent at either technology but gives it the old college try.


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Oct 142017

10/14/2017 — Earlier this week, the President of the United States signed an executive order to cut subsidies to insurance companies through the ACA (Obamacare.)  45 said, “[I am instructing the government] to take action to increase competition, increase choice and increase access to lower-priced, high-quality health care options.” 

These payments are subsidies required by law and will affect, according to Slate, more than seven million people in the United States.  Premiums are expected to rise 20 percent by 2018, and 25 percent by 2020, said Slate.

What is so distressing is that many people will buy the snake oil of “lower-priced, high-quality health care options.”

I’m not an economist or an actuarial, but isn’t the point of insurance  to spread risk over a population? If the community is diluted from those without illness or disease, won’t the usage go way up and thus the price?  If the price goes up, won’t people pay the $600 fee penalty for not having insurance, and use the emergency room?

Image result for morton plant hospital clearwater floridaI’ve worked for more than three decades in healthcare.  Whether you agree politically with it or not, the Affordable Care Act has allowed individuals who lacked insurance coverage access to non-emergency health care.  I’ve witnessed many people getting care at my hospital who would not have had the opportunity before this legislation.  I work in a psychiatric and addiction treatment center.  You can hear about the need for these services nationwide by listening to any radio or tv news show for about ten minutes. You’ll hear about the opioid epidemic in our country. If this executive order is allowed to stand, more people will die of drug overdoses, among other things.

In my job, my team and I visit area emergency departments frequently.  Over the past four years, there’s not an emergency room within 100 miles in every direction that I’ve not visited.  We talk with clinical staff about their needs for psychiatric and addiction treatment, as well as educate on and facilitate direct admits.  Most of the time, the emergency rooms are crowded.  Can you imagine the demand for these services when 7 million people find their health insurance unaffordable?  The mother whose child has strep, the Little Leaguer with the broken bone and the asthmatic will jam the emergency rooms because they don’t have access to private practitioners. Those clinics which provide low-income care and struggle for funding with a patchwork quilt of government funding, grants, and philanthropy will also be more overwhelmed.

The premiums for Obamacare have gone up drastically, and in many locations, are non-existent.  In my county, there is only one provider, and the rates are expensive. There are other ways to address this, without throwing the baby out with the bathwater.  The result of the new order is that hundreds of policies that don’t address the real need of insurance, pre-existing conditions, will pull younger, healthier people from the group, thus diluting the risk pool.

And there is no need for this.  Despite all its flaws (which are apparent and have been discussed at length) the ACA provided access to a needed population. Letting the air out of this balloon will only force more people to choose care or food and heat, or sit for hours in overcrowded emergency rooms.

It doesn’t have to be this way. We have an excellent, well-run provider network in Medicare, which is a single-payer using market providers.  Why not lower the eligibility age for Medicare to fifty?  The risk pool for the entire Medicare population will be lessened, with healthier people fifteen years and under the current enrollment age.  The risk pool for people under fifty would also be enhanced with healthier people.

I’m not smart enough to know the answers, but what I do know is that we are the only country in the western world that doesn’t ensure that all citizens are covered.  We think it is a right for every citizen to have unlimited firearms and ammunition, yet we cannot guarantee a flu shot.  And if you don’t think a flu shot is essential, check out our history for one hundred years ago in 1918 when the Spanish flu killed more people than World War I.


Oct 062017

October 6, 2017

This piece is from my first book, “The Luxury of Daydreams,” (2011).

Mature corn, ready for harvest, stands in neat, geometric rows in Indiana fields. The Hoosier sky has gray clouds outlined in an almost black line etched against a blue-green sky. Sometimes the clouds look surreal as if painted with oil tempura on an elegant and forgiving canvas.

I am born again every October. The tenth month of the year is my month. Some find the season of autumn depressing as annual vegetation withers and die.

October’s sights and sounds fill my senses and soul.

In northern Indiana where I grew up, the seasons are more sharply defined than southern Indiana, which is now my home. Harvest is in full force in October if not completed. Beans and corn are picked, winter wheat is planted.

By early October, front porch evenings are waning. As a child, I loved sitting between my grandparents on their front porch swing at Homeland Farm. Our low-tech activity was looking down the country road for headlights appearing at the ridge of the hill toward the state highway.

Late October evenings were too cold for the front porch. Nearing Halloween, we might have a fire in the home’s fireplace, under the mantel of custom-made tiles that depicted family history in Washington Township. My ancestors came to Indiana in 1830. A Hoosier cabinet, a spinning wheel, the old farm bell that now occupies my brother’s backyard, a plow, and an Aberdeen Angus adorned the blue and white tiles on the fireplace.

October was also a glorious month for outdoor activities. Occasionally, the church youth hosted a bonfire in a farm field, with spires of lighter-fluid induced flames lapping at the autumn sky. We seared our Eckrich hot dogs and ate sticky, s’mores made of Hershey bars, marsh mellows, and graham crackers. The best ones were cold in the middle and burned on the edge.
* * *

When I attended college in central Indiana, the old campus was vibrant with color–like a preschooler’s new Crayola eight-pack–throughout October.

I lock my bicycle in front of my dormitory.  Every weekday I pedal through the central campus to the journalism building.  The west campus bloomed with trees and featured old stone buildings from the 1930s.

Riding my bike on a crisp autumn day, I enter the old campus.  I ride into a central green space with paths worn in every direction by generations of students. My bicycle tires crackle through red, maroon, and gold leaves spent from walnut, sycamore, maple, and oak trees, and the breeze gently licks my face.

I ride slowly, hoping the trip never ends.

* * *

Betraying my love of Indiana and October, I move to Florida after college. Every October in the Sunshine State makes me sad. The first autumn away from Indiana my friend Doris sends me an envelope full of dried leaves. The pleasant scent of lovely, crunchy pieces of home is a beautiful gift.

My beloved and I come home to Indiana in October for our wedding. We marry at the same 100-year-old country church I attended as a child. My parents married in this same tiny church more than half a century ago.

An elm tree with limbs that reach prayerfully to the sky in every direction stands in front of the old church. Our wedding afternoon is a perfect Hallmark card cover. The mighty elm shimmers with copper and bronze leaves, still falling.

As the church bell tolls the call for worship, the picture-perfect day fills every sense.

After my husband finished graduate school, we feel the pull of home. We return, with a new life in southern Indiana.  Northern and southern Indiana are almost different states. I do not know anything south of the Old National Road.

While I treasure the symmetry of central and northern Indiana farmland, I love the curves of southern Indiana. My favorite place in southern Indiana is Lincoln State Park in Gentryville, near where Abraham Lincoln lived as a boy. A ribbon of heavily wooded state highway slices through the state park and the Lincoln Boyhood Home National Monument in Spencer County.

Within the park is a pine forest, which as my father told me, is not indigenous to Indiana. Planted in the 1930s by the Civilian Conservation Corps, the trees now rise above the park and offer permanent shade.

We stayed in the cabins many times in October, spending several days in paradise, first when our son was five. The cabins are simple, with furniture like my $100 a month graduate student apartment.

On our visits to Lincoln State Park, we arrive with bags of books, board games, and food for grilling meals outdoors., even breakfast. The beds are uncomfortable, the living room furniture is wooden and stiff, and the kitchen features orange plastic stack chairs. It is not the Ritz Carlton.

Does the Ritz Carlton have a screened-in front porch, and the combined scent of pine trees, dying cottonwood, sycamore, and maple leaves? Can you hike on a quiet October morning around a deep blue-green lake, which reflects the trees and disappearing autumn sun?

Today is October 1st. The month lies before me, rich with unknown experiences. Time to find my favorite sweatshirt.

Updated 2017.

Sep 272017

Maya Lin’s Vietnam Veterans Memorial, photo by Amy McVay Abbott, Washington, D.C. – 2012

September 27, 2017 — I woke up this morning thinking about events at Kent State University in 1970. I was 13 years old, a late Baby Boomer, a child in the sixties. (If you don’t remember, read about it here.)

My father taught high school in northeastern Indiana. Some members of the senior class wore black armbands to school in protest of the deaths of four KSU students at the hand of the National Guard. Several, maybe two or three, of these students belonged to the National Honor Society.  The MHS sponsors decided members who wore the black armbands must relinquish their membership. At graduation a few weeks later, the students were not given the NHS cord, nor were their names in the commencement program as members.

My parents felt the students were wrong and should be denied NHS honors at graduation.

Our family watched the bloody horror of the Vietnam War “in living color,” since 1967 when we received a color television for Christmas. Every night on the Huntley/Brinkley news show, we saw death and destruction.

Now four students lay dead on a campus four hours away. Kent State University was similar to many Indiana universities in size and scope, and the four students who died might have been from my hometown. The KSU students did not die half a world away in combat with an enemy in a steamy jungle; they were shot during the day on an Ohio college campus.

Even at age 13, I understood what was happening.  Supporting the protesters felt like we weren’t supporting our soldiers. In our town, we supported our troops. But all over the country, soldiers returned from Vietnam with no support, no recognition of their sacrifice.  Soldiers who were injured mentally and physically were treated terribly by almost the entire country.  Many people could not understand why we were fighting and protested on college campuses and at the White House.  Remember the chant, “Hey, Hey, LBJ, how many boys did you kill today?”  LBJ’s daughters Lucy and Lynda heard that chant from the White House as their husbands, and the President’s sons-in-law served in Vietnam.

The long arc of history does indeed bend toward justice, as Martin Luther King Jr. said.  Today we understand that the Vietnam era was more complicated than the Allies versus the Axis Powers, good versus evil.  We likely should not have been in Vietnam, and most historians espouse that view. Still, we lost 55,000 young Americans in defense of something few can explain.

The act of protest is at the foundation of our country.  The Boston Tea Party was perhaps the first act of protest even before our Constitution and Bill of Rights spelled out the freedoms most of us enjoy.

Despite enormous national tragedy in Houston, Florida, USVI, and Puerto Rico, despite worries with North Korea, despite American healthcare imploding, our country debates whether members of the National Football League who knelt during the National Anthem should be fired.  In my opinion, our precious flag represents the freedoms outlining in the Constitution and the Bill of Rights. I could understand people being upset if it was a Marine flag, but it is not. Your idea of disrespect may be another’s idea of peaceful protest.

It is the American flag, and it stands for all of us.

It stands for those who fight today in Afghanistan in the new surge, including my second cousin.

It stands for my first cousins who have Turkish names and were called “Dirty Arabs” on a Massachusetts playground as children.

It stands for my second cousin who recently completed a four year tour of duty and now is getting a graduate degree. He wants to serve in USAID. His father told me his son has witnessed evil in the world and now seeks to do good.

It stands for my co-worker who shared she may not have children because she is afraid her children of color may be persecuted.

It stands for my sister-in-law’s father, a Japanese American, who wasn’t recognized for his service in World War II in Italy until President Obama invited him and others from his Japanese-American unit to the White House several years ago.

It stands for the 55,000 men and women killed in the Vietnam war, and the protesters who died at Kent State.

It stands for the ex-soldier and player who stood with his hand across his heart at a game Sunday and for the rest of his team in the locker room.

I believe I will see the arc of history bend toward justice in this situation. I believe that those who feel kneeling opposes the flag don’t fully understand the position started by Colin Kaepernick, a mixed-race NFL player, who also is a Christian.  Justice and equality are what our soldiers fought and fight to preserve; justice and equality are what these players seek for their brothers and sisters of color.  People of color are 2.5 times more likely to be shot by law enforcement than those who are white, reports the Washington Post.

Many, many years after Kent State, my family toured the monuments the weekend of my son’s college graduation in Washington D.C.  My dad wanted to go to the Vietnam Memorial to find the names of three students who died in Vietnam.  For a town of 1400 people, three deaths were three too many. All three of them were in Dad’s classes.

At the wall, a veteran covered with patches representing his service to our country was helpful in finding the three names.  I strolled behind Dad as he touched each name etched in black marble with his left hand and wiped tears with his right hand.  In 2012, he was 82 years old.  He had lived through WWII, Korea, and the Vietnam War.  With the perspective of a lifetime, he had softened his views on the Vietnam War.  Now Dad just felt the loss.

Anyone who visits the Wall immediately feels it.  Maya Lin’s beautiful wall rests in the curve of a hillside, surrounded by beautiful, sturdy hardwood trees. The simplicity of the design overwhelms the viewer with a sense of loss beyond words.

As we think of those who peacefully protest injustice and inequality, let’s open our minds and hearts to the meaning of the American flag, as a symbol of freedom for all Americans.

Independent writers need love also.  Please share on Facebook and Twitter if so inclined.  

Aug 122017

August 12, 2017 — Something terrible happened today in our country, in the university town of Charlottesville, Virginia.  In times like these, we await our leaders for comfort, direction, explanation and possible condemnation.

George W. Bush stood in the middle of “The Pile” after 9/11 and shouted to the world. Ronald Reagan eloquently read the poem “High Flyer” at the memorial for the Challenger astronauts. Both men brought us together at a terrible time.

Today our President needed to comfort, direct, explain, and condemn.  And he equivocated.

I  wondered before our President spoke if he would call out the evil we’ve seen in Charlottesville over the last 24 hours. Before the violence of today, unmasked white men walked the streets of the Virginia town with torches. This is not your grandfather’s KKK.

“Monticello, ” near Charlottesville, Virginia, and home of the third President Thomas Jefferson, a man who owned slaves.

The President of the United States faced a moral test this afternoon.  Would he call out evil?  Would he whitewash is something born of racism and bigotry?

He failed the test.  In his statement, the President of all the people of the United States and territories (including Guam) chose to use the old false equivalency notion, citing an “egregious display of hatred, bigotry, and violence on many sides, on many sides.”

Here’s a portion of what he said (quote from CNN) “We condemn in the strongest possible terms this egregious display of hatred, bigotry, and violence on many sides, on many sides,” Trump said in a short statement from his private golf club in New Jersey. “It has been going on for a long time in our country — not Donald Trump, not Barack Obama. It has been going on for a long, long time. It has no place in America.”

What he says is the worst of false equivalency.  What does our President mean “many sides?”  What is the other side of racism and bigotry?

If you are still reading this, do you know what David Duke said today? Do you know who David Duke is?  Here’s what the former KKK leader said in Charlottesville this morning to open the “Unite the Right” rally.

“This represents a turning point for the people of this country,” said Duke in a video uploaded to Twitter by Indianapolis Star photojournalist Mykal McEldowney. “We are determined to take our country back. We are going to fulfill the promises of Donald Trump. That’s what we believed in, that’s why we voted for Donald Trump. Because he said, he’s going to take our country back. That’s what we gotta do.”

Duke wants to “take our country back.”  Hmmm.  Maybe we should give all of it to the native Americans who were here first.

Our President has to speak out against this.  His silence is complicity.

Our silence is complicity. My silence is complicity. Your silence is complicity.

People tell me all the time, “I’m just not interested in politics.”  The white supremacist movement is not politics.  It is terrorism. This is our shared country, we all get to live here.  He who does not learn from history is condemned to repeat it, and we are watching the repeat of some awful parts of our history.  It is 2017, years and years and years past the time of Jim Crow.  I was seven years old when LBJ signed the civil rights legislation. Today our country seemed as eaten up by racism and bigotry as it did when I was a child. But, perhaps because of my privilege, I’m just noticing it more?  What is your story?

You need to be interested in Charlottesville and racism because it continues to tear our country apart.  If you are a white person, you likely did not experience the horrors of the Jim Crow era.   Of course,  some white people marched with Dr. King and worked on civil rights, but for most of us, it is pictured in a history book.  If you are white, even if you are poor you are a person of privilege because of the color of your skin.  Don’t believe me.  Try to hail a cab in a major city and watch what happens.

It took me awhile to understand what white privilege is about and get it through my thick head that it doesn’t mean owning a nice car.  It is about the color of your skin.  Let me say that again; it is about the color of your skin. If you are not brown, you don’t know.

I’ve told this story before, but my co-worker has been stopped three times in six months on the same rural road I use every day.  Stopped for what, you ask?  I think you know.  Have I not been stopped because I’m such a good driver?  I think not.  We are, however, people of privilege, descended from white Europeans who came to this country as immigrants for the opportunities here.  We did not come in the bottom of slave ships.  We were not First Families, original Americans who day by day, year by year, century by century lost native lands.

We must all condemn racism and bigotry.  John Pavlovitz is one of my heroes, and his words are far more eloquent than mine.  Read his piece today and come back here.

The violence today is horrible, and the intent of the event was even worse.

We must speak out against the bigotry. We must not equivocate the counter-protesters with men who showed up armed, in helmets and carrying shields.  Ask yourself again: what does that say about intent?

This morning on television I saw a line of counter-protestors, all men, and women of the clergy, men, and women representing all faiths are also represented in our country.  What courage these people showed.

We are black and white, Hindu and Muslim, Baptist and Catholic, atheist and deist, and lovely shades of brown and pillars of spirituality. We are Americans, a crazy melting pot that still offers the great opportunity and potential.

  • What can we do? We can stop bigotry when we hear it.  In our homes, in our classrooms, in our work spaces.
  • We can support the brave law enforcement officers who fight these battles every day.
  • We can make sure we stay informed and read all that we can about the facts of a situation.
  • We can teach our children that “love is love is love.”  Early today I posted a song on Facebook from “South Pacific.”  “You’ve Got to Be Carefully Taught” reminds us that we have to learn how to hate, “before we are six, or seven, or eight.”  What have you taught your children, or your nieces or nephews, or other children in your life?
  • We can stand up those who spew hate and call it something else, like an opposing opinion.

I didn’t just fall off the turnip trucks; my parents taught me the difference between good and evil and right and wrong. None of us is perfect, but we can learn from our errors and make improvements.

The KKK, the neo-Nazis, and the white supremacists represent intentions of pure evil.  How can anyone, let alone the President of the United States, not condemn them?

Aug 052017

Image result for Olympia manual typewriterAugust 6, 2017 — My husband and I disagree on the exact date we met. In my enhanced version, it was August 16, 1977, the day Elvis died. Makes for a better tale. My Beloved says it was ten days earlier because I anticipated my bridesmaid role in an August 13 wedding.  I like my version better.

Either way, it’s been forty years this month since our journey began.

We met in a parking lot next to the old journalism building at Ball State University, the West Quadrangle (which was new that year, replacing the decades-old famous “journalism houses” behind the Student Center.) Randy Abbott was my ride to the college journalism workshop at Ohio University in Athens, Ohio.  Col. Charles E. Savedge (see note at the end of the piece) led the workshop for yearbook staffers from all over the country.

The night before I left,  friends and I spent our evening at the Chug (see Webster’s dictionary definition of college dive bar) for Dollar Pitcher Night. It’s possible I might have been a little hung over the morning we left for Athens.

Imagine if Charles Manson channeled the lead character of “Gilligan’s Island.”  That’s how My Beloved looked the first I time I saw him. I remember, however, his Windex-clear blue eyes under the white Gilligan hat, a cap that covered his mop of black, unruly hair.  How I looked that day is his story to tell.

Gilligan stood beside his car, a vintage black Caddy sedan de Ville, with a red leather interior, broken air conditioner, and a carburetor needing occasional air from the barrel of a 19 cent Bic pen.  He asked me directions.  In his words at breakfast this morning, “You gave me directions, and then like a lazy slug, crawled into the backseat of the car and fell asleep until we got there.”

I instructed him to drive through Indianapolis (completely in the wrong direction and adding hours to the trip.)  Athens.   He was trapped in the front seat with another yearbook staffer, who regularly talked in a high-pitched voice throughout the trip while I snored in the backseat.  We arrived in Athens eight hours later, landing on a dirt road on the opposite side of the Hocking River from the campus.  (This became a long-standing pattern. Now we’ve been lost all over the US and Canada and in multiple European countries, and even Iceland.)

We figured our way over the river without a barge.  As the trip took hours longer than planned, I was miffed.  A friend heard me say, “I never want to see that SOB again,” which she lovingly repeated at our wedding rehearsal dinner seven years later.  I’m calmer now; I don’t shout profanity in public anymore.

I won’t say we are blessed because I think that presumes some arrogance, but I believe that we’re lucky.  And we are mindful on any day that luck can run out.  We’ve been married for nearly 33 years. We have a healthy, smart, funny adult son.  We laugh every single day.  Bigly.  Like every family, we’ve had our trials which I won’t bother to list, but we’ve had great joys as well.  I’m so grateful I saw “that SOB” in the parking lot.

Note: Col. Charles E. Savedge is a legend among high school and college journalists.  I first met him at a high school journalism workshop in 1974, and he was the leader of the workshop Randy Abbott and I attended in August 1977.  The link I posted reprints a 1992 “Reader’s Digest” My Most Unforgettable Character tribute to the Colonel.  Though he is long dead, he also has a Facebook page called “Chuck Savedge Yearbook Jedi Master.”

Several months after the Ohio University workshop, Col. Savedge came to Ball State for a private weekend workshop for our yearbook staff.  Mary Dale Walters and I picked him up at the Indianapolis airport, about ninety minutes from campus.  Neither of us had a car, so we borrowed Jim Grim’s 1973 white Gremlin (which featured bench seats and I am not making that up.)  Near the Pyramids on 465, we had a flat tire.  We replaced the tire (honestly, I think someone stopped and helped us, though I don’t remember.)  We kept the flat and took it back with us.  Somewhere in my college stack, I have a black and white picture taken by another workshop presenter, General Motors corporate photographer whose name I think was Herman Duehrer.  The photo shows the Colonel, Mary Dale, and me She was 19; I was 20.  The Colonel, who was always of undefined age, maybe 40 maybe 70, was incredulous.  This trip was the beginning of a close friendship with Mary Dale Walters that continues.  I am, however, grateful that I’m unaware of other pictures from that era, and grateful we didn’t have Smartphones.

The “Readers Digest” article is on page fifteen of the PDF here.

Jun 032017

June 3, 2017, crossposted on Medium

Every morning when I check the bird feeders, I see a plume from the factories on the river. What’s going into the air we breathe? Will our President’s willful rejection of the Paris Climate Accord make our environment worse?

I’ve contemplated this for years, like most people I’m fond of the elements, mainly air. I didn’t have asthma or allergies before I moved to southwestern Indiana. Even six years in humid Florida, with nature in bloom year-round, didn’t bother my breathing.

On the same day that our President announced the United States would leave the Paris Accord, I started on oxygen. I’m 59 years old. When I woke up and fed my birds, I didn’t imagine my day would end with an oxygen technician explaining tanks and regulators to me. Breathing issues are something older adults with congestive heart failure deal with, not me.

And by elderly, I don’t mean 59.

As a child growing up 300 miles from here, high heat and humidity were rarer than a rainy day in June. We didn’t have air conditioning and slept with metal fans in the hallway chugging a breeze into our bedrooms. Every window and door had a screen, and the windows stayed open unless we were on vacation.

My mom rarely used the clothes dryer in the summer. She hung sheets and towels and her children’s clothes on a clothesline, a metal pole stuck into the ground with four increasingly smaller squares of cord. A wooden bucket held wooden clothespins used to keep the items on the line. If she could lure my brother or me away from playing, we folded the pieces and put into a wicker basket.

Line-dried objects smelled fresh and pleasant, a scent no miracle product has yet to capture.

Lady Bird Johnson, our First Lady, reminded us all to “Keep America Beautiful.” In elementary school, we talked conservation and natural resources. Parents warned children “Don’t be a litterbug,” a term from a 1961 Disney short featuring Donald Duck.

President Richard Nixon started the Environmental Protection Agency in 1970; the first Earth Day was celebrated in 1970.

In 1971, the Keep America Beautiful campaign featured a television commercial with a native American man crying over a landscape filled with trash.

Environmental issues came to the forefront, in lockstep with banning the bomb and the Vietnam War.

Somehow, we didn’t get the message, and we bought large homes and more than one car, often gas-guzzling trucks and SUVs.

By the time our son was born, smog was no longer something that happened only in Los Angeles.

We owned an above-ground pool we enjoyed with our son and his cousins and friends. Mornings brought a thin skin of a brown substance on the surface of the water. Once removed, the water below was as clean as we had left it the day before.

When we no longer had a child at home, we took the pool down and put up a lilac bed.

I’m not a researcher. I don’t claim to know what comes out in the skies and earth near where I live. But I know that when I was a child or when I was raising my child, we didn’t have 25 or 30 “ozone days” a year. An “ozone day” is proclaimed by our local weather prognosticators when some magical mixture of temperature, humidity, and particulates makes the air harder to breathe. Heads up for young children, people with compromised immune systems, and those with breathing problems.

Every spring, the air is worsened by the farmers across the river who burn their fields and the smoke heads to my town, often warranting alerts by the weather folk.

For me, summer comes with dread knowing I’m a hostage in my air-conditioned house and car, and now to a 24 lb. tether I’ve named Little Tanko. Not that climbing Yosemite’s El Capitan was on my summer bucket list, but I would enjoy sitting on my deck. That doesn’t happen anymore.

I looked up most polluted rivers and felt sick after learning the waterway two miles from my home is among the most polluted in the United States. I don’t want to live in a cave without power or the wonders of modern life, but I also don’t want us to destroy our planet. Nor do I want to be the personal consequence of our destruction.

I’m likely preaching to the saved as my grandmother used to say, but our President flipped a giant middle finger to our planet last week. The Paris Accord is not a “deal,” it’s an accord. The dictionary definition of accord means “to be in harmony with.”

Trump’s disregard of the Paris Accord screws over the United States; he’s making a statement that we are less responsible for our planet than the other 194 countries. As for me, I’m a person of privilege who still gets clean water and has the option to stay in an air-conditioned home or car. I’ll be okay.

Our President, with his hasty and likely vengeful decision, took America out of the leadership position for clean energy and sentenced our children and grandchildren to far greater worries. —

Amy McVay Abbott, June 3, 2017

May 162017

Remarks from Carl Shepherd’s wake, May 14, 2017– Maureen asked me to share a few words tonight. My name is Amy Abbott, and I’ve known Carl for about ten years and known Maureen for nearly thirty years.

The day that Carl and Maureen married was a happy day. I think everyone can agree they each found a fantastic partner.

Carl was, of course, a farm boy from White County. When I met him, we immediately connected as three of my four grandparents lived in White County. My maternal grandfather was born in Reynolds, and my paternal grandparents “set up housekeeping” in Idyville (or Idaville if you are not a local.)

Carl lived a rich rural childhood that influenced his entire life, and he brought these characteristics into his marriage with Maureen.

As a teenager, Carl was an officer in both 4-H and FFA. For those of you who don’t know, 4-H is a national organization, primarily for rural children ages ten to eighteen, that promotes community service, integrity, and learning.  The four “Hs” in 4-H stand for head, health, hands and heart.

While it pains me praise that University in West Lafayette, Carl obviously had to have the smarts or a brilliant head to get through Purdue University.

He struggled with health challenges, particularly in the last year, but he kept his mind healthy and active.  A good fishing outing, dinner with any of his many special friends, traveling with Maureen (which often including fishing, be it on an Arkansas lake or the Gulf of Mexico), studying the Bible with his men’s group, or enjoying his beautiful yard.

The last two hands and heart fully speak to me about Carl’s life.

To build things is a gift.  Carl was gifted.

In all his business dealings, he enjoyed his work and what he could do for his customers. Not everyone is blessed with hands that work in this way.  I know he was on the roof of Brenna and Jamie’s garage just a couple of weeks ago, giving his gift.

When Carl died, the doctors told us his heart was large.

His heart had to be that big for all he held dear.  His lifelong friends who supported him through Shirley’s illness and other challenges. I don’t know if I’ve ever met anyone who had so many friends and knew so many people.  Several days after he died I was having lunch at Jaya’s with several business associates who didn’t really know each other and represented different organizations that had nothing to do with Carl.  Both of them knew him.

His love of the arts which was evident in his home and in conversation and in community support.

His family, both his family of origin and the new one he fully embraced when he married their mother.  His heart was big enough to become Grandpa Carl to Addie and Michael Dylan, and an excellent stepfather to Michael and Brenna.

Just weeks ago, he stood at the altar of Holy Rosary with the family as Addie made her First Communion.

His heart brought things to Maureen’s life that I could have predicted.  Like chickens and an ornery and loud rooster. He encouraged and supported the grandchildren in 4-H and showed up at their events, coming full circle to his own childhood.

Carl was not perfect.  I sometimes questioned his fashion choice of cargo shorts, and he often told some questionable jokes.

My father and brother, being graduates of that University in West Lafayette, really enjoyed Carl.  I won’t forget one day when my dad called me and said, “You won’t believe who we ran into at the Louisville Sheep Show.”  You guessed it, Farmer Maureen and Carl.  I didn’t see that one coming.

We will miss you, Carl.

Carl’s obituary is here.

May 062017

Published on Medium, May 5, 2017 — A friend and her husband traveled on a cruise ship to celebrate their April birthdays. A week ago my friend’s husband died near the Bahamas.

I do not wish this horror on anyone. Not do I speculate on the whys and wherefores. For the record, I don’t think things happen for a reason.

My friend is home now, surrounded by loved ones. She prepares for her husband’s wake and service, handles his business affairs, gets back into the routine of daily life.

We who love her have no idea how to help. I’ve ordered pies for next weekend when her extended family show up. I’ll make a huge kettle of vegetable soup she can use now or freeze for later.

I stumble over words for her and for her local family members. I listen and send “I love you” texts and ask what I can do.

Writers often tackle grief in all its glory. For me, the best description of this personal sorrow came from a non-writer who wasn’t trying to be introspective. After a nasty divorce, a family member helped me understand that I cannot walk in his shoes.

He asked me, “Do you remember how you felt when your basement flooded?”

I remembered. Until we got a commercial grade pump, we grappled with several basement floods. We spent thousands of dollars on special gutters, a systems dug into the floor, finally buying the Mother of All Pumps.

He asked me how I felt when I received little sympathy about my flooded basement. I told him it made me so angry because people didn’t have any idea what an inch of water can do to a basement, running under drywall, sometimes ruining the carpet and pad, dislocating tile, and even ruining appliances. Just an inch of water can spread out of an entire basement seeping into hidden places.

I got it. Grief is like that.

No one can see where all the water goes. No one but the person with the clean-up job sees the full impact of the event. One can easily overlook the veiled places. If your basement has never flooded, it’s easy to just gloss over the entire event.

By no means am I comparing a household mess to the loss of a loved one.

My friend will likely be okay. She has dealt with other horrendous losses in her life, and remains a strong person.

Over the next months and years, she will explore the hidden places and find the damage. I will listen and not advise. For better or for worse, my partner is alive. I do not walk in her shoes today. I will bring pies and make soup.

May 032017

May 2017
The Raven Lunatic
The Gift of My Mother’s Wedding Rings
By Amy Abbott
From Senior Wire News Service

In the few days I’ve worn the rings, I like pondering what they represent. I recognize that not everyone is blessed; life is fraught with complications that fray the knots we tie.

My mother’s hands intrigued me. While she had long, slender fingers, Mom’s hands were smaller than mine and much smaller than her mother’s. My dad gave her a small diamond engagement ring at Christmas 1954. She wore it until her death in 2012, and I don’t remember her ever removing it. She didn’t take her rings off to wash dishes or do laundry.

Over the years, I photographed Mom’s hands. When my son was born, I snapped a picture of her left hand on the day-old infant.

About ten years ago we went to the symphony, and I photographed her hands holding the program. Dementia stole her reading comprehension. When the music started, she transformed into another world. Mom loved music. When we were children, she used her left hand — the one with the rings — to conduct an unseen orchestra.

I’m not much of a jewelry person. What I own of value is in our lockbox at the bank. My wedding ring is a simple gold band that cost around $50. I do favor dangly earrings. I find earrings on ETSY or in antique shops on little back streets I’ve discovered on vacation.

The day before a recent birthday, my dad gave me Mom’s wedding set. His gift was the result of a phone conversation, “I don’t know what I’m going to do with your mother’s wedding rings.” As the only daughter I was incredulous and said, “Well, Dad, I would like to have them.”

The bands were soldered together 10 or 15 years ago to provide strength. I couldn’t get the set over my knuckle on either hand. Mom’s hands were significantly smaller than mine. I took them to our jeweler who sized them for my ring finger. The cost to have the ring increased was almost the cost of the engagement ring 63 years ago.

The jeweler fixed it beautifully and even retained a few of the initials carved on the inside of the wedding ring. I’m wearing the set with the simple gold wedding band my husband gave me 32 years ago.

In the few days I’ve worn the rings, I like pondering what they represent. I recognize that not everyone is blessed; life is fraught with complications that fray the knots we tie.

While Mom’s wedding set accounts for a union that lasted just shy of 57 years, it also represented a union that weathered storms and hurt. My personal relationship with my mother also unraveled and knit together in life’s tangles. My gold wedding band represents an imperfect and loving union of almost 32 years. Together, these rings are reminders of the power of love, forgiveness, and grace.

Amy McVay Abbott is a Midwestern journalist and the author of three books, compilations of her popular newspaper column “The Raven Lunatic.”

Meet Amy

Apr 012017

April 1, 2017
We’ve known about the three family weddings for a year.  Three of our nephews are getting married this spring, each blessed day six weeks apart.  The first wedding is a week from today. Somehow, it evaded me that I might need to have something to wear to these special family events.  My Beloved bought new Florsheim shoes a month ago, so he’s a bit ahead of me.

As aunt and uncle, we have no visible role.  We buy an acceptable gift. We show up and try to stay low key, looking normal, not like a flamboyant Auntie Mame character or clueless Marvin from “Office Space.”

The bride and groom tell everyone the same thing; we want you to be at our wedding.  Don’t worry about the details.  You being there is the most important thing to us.

But we know the underlying message is that we need to stay in the background. Our day is past. We want to have a Low Profile. Staying out of the spotlight is difficult because we both possess qualities of each character, well, mostly me.  (Ones of my prized possessions is a red stapler I won from Radio WOWO in 1973.  Sad life.)

My Beloved knows how to stay under the radar. He looks respectable every day, because (unless it is Saturday) he won’t go out in jeans and a sweatshirt. He wears nice slacks and neatly pressed collared shirts (by the dry cleaners, not me) every weekday. (We’re not counting that time we ate the 100 Swiss franc lunch in Lugano when he was wearing his Allis-Chalmers orange sweatshirt from Rural King.  I’m telling you, he’s Ralph Lauren business casual most of the time.)

We rarely dress up. The suits I wore when I worked for a Fortune 100 company are long gone. Husband has the requisite weddings and funeral suits.  Wednesday night we canvassed his closet and had a “try-on” session.  He was wearing no shirt and Marvin the Martian fancy pants.  Real sexy stuff.

He found three identical blue sports jackets. Helpful for when we summer in the Hamptons.  Seriously, why does he have these?   My theory is that in the last 21 years (that’s as long as we’ve lived in this house), some occasion arose that he needed a blue sports jacket, so he bought one.  And then another.  And then another.

Then he found five nearly identical suits in dry cleaning bags.  One of the outfits had two red Christmas tapers packed in plastic attached to the bag.  Was it a giveaway from the dry cleaners?  Were they in his pockets when he took the jacket into the cleaners?  We thought we might surprise the bride and groom as we walked up the aisle each carrying a red candle, but realized that would put in the Being Noticed category.

Four of the five suits fit, and I insisted he put the fifth (a leftover from about twenty years ago) in the Goodwill pile.  He didn’t want to, but I reminded him that having four identical suits that fit qualifies him for a new career as a funeral director.  He’s not interested in changing jobs.  We agreed to find a shirt and tie to match whatever I wore.  This is problematic.

I have nothing to wear.  

Nothing.  I purchased a dress for another nephew’s wedding in 2015, and well, the dress was hideous.  There was also a minor incident with a slip.  A slip is a piece of women’s lingerie from Queen Victoria’s era.  The only other dress I have is my “funeral dress.”  I wore it to my mother’s funeral because my father requested I wear a dress. (I will not be wearing one to his funeral, should he proceed me, as he won’t be there to observe.)  There is something acceptable I can wear to Wedding #3 because it’s colors are black and gold, and I happen to own a summery, shimmery black and gold two-piece top with a pair of black summery, shimmery slacks.  This look fits into the vision of being stylish but not overly visible.

I made a trek to the mall today (a place I never visit) and found a helpful clerk and found something acceptable and low key.  Now if I remember not to call the groom by his childhood nickname, not carry lighted tapers down the aisle, pull my red stapler out of my purse, and for God’s sake, not dance at the reception, we will be under the radar.

Mar 252017

March 25, 2017 — Today is Elton John’s 70th birthday.  I’ve been a fan since I was a young teenager and am still a fan.  Randy and I have been fortunate to attend two Elton John concerts, one in Tampa, and the other at the old Roberts Stadium in Evansville.

Early in my career when most of my focus was on public relations, I met many celebrities (hate to tag anyone a celebrity but let’s say these are people with some form of national recognition.)

There is, however, no one who stands out like Elton John.  In September 1986, my Beloved and I saw Elton in concert for the first time at the University of South Florida Sun Dome.  Randy was in his second year of graduate school. The concert was beyond our dreams.  Elton gave 86 concerts all over the world that year.  In September 1986, he played Tampa with Denver a few days later.

A few days after the concert, I traveled on business to Denver and stayed at the Fairmont Hotel.  (Yes, healthcare WAS different then!)  A Denver friend met me for drinks and we decided to go out for dinner.  I needed to retrieve my purse so we went up to my room.  Standing waiting for the elevator was Elton John.  Funky glasses and wearing an orange and pink suit that resembled a domino piece.

Not shy,  I engaged him in conversation by telling him I heard his concert a few days before in Tampa.  He asked me a number of questions about the concert, and seemed genuinely interested in my answers.  He was kind to us, gave me an autograph, and let the elevator go as he was speaking with us.  I was “got.”  We did not ride down with him, but went back to my room and called my friend’s daughter who was sixteen and had tickets for a concert that night.  We giggled like sixteen-year-old groupies for a few minutes!

I had no camera with me.  This was before cell phones,  but he was so nice I suspect he would have allowed us to take his picture.  I framed his autograph, no doubt on some scrap of paper my friend had, and kept it on my desk these thirty-some years.

My friend and I eventually recovered, got back on the elevator, and when the door opened in the lobby, there stood John Madden.  Madden is a huge man, and hard to miss.  Neither of us could have cared less about seeing another famous person.  We saw Elton, enough fame to last a life time.

Take a trip with me and listen to the anthem of my youth, which still gets me rocking.

Dec 212016

This is an old but goodie from my book, “Whitley County Kid,” (available on Amazon).  The time and some descriptions have been changed to protect identity, but the gist of the story from my childhood is true.  And bears retelling every year.

In the 1960s, I was an elementary school student. My primary concern each December was what presents Santa Claus would bring for Christmas. From the moment the Sears Wish Book arrived, I leafed through the slick pages, highlighting the toys I wanted.

Before big box stores, our rural village had a bustling business district. Farmers came from the country to visit the Farmer’s Elevator. Wives bought flour, sugar, and necessities at the G & G Market. People gardened and canned, so few bought vegetables or fruit, except in December when the high school’s Sunshine Society sold Florida oranges to benefit Riley Children’s Hospital in Indianapolis.

Citizens visited the brick post office to see Postmaster Clarence Pook, pick up mail, and catch up on local news. Across the street, a comfortable white house served as the town’s busy library with a real-life Marian the Librarian, Marian Bollinger. Edna Michels, the Story Lady, donned a bonnet and old-fashioned long dress to host weekly story hours for children.

The day after Thanksgiving, the volunteer firefighters hung giant red and white plastic candy canes from the lamps on State Street and displayed a life-sized manger scene near the three-way stop on the south end of town. Snow came early and blanketed the ground until after the IHSAA boys’ basketball tournament at the beginning of spring.

My father bought our real Christmas tree every year from a local tree farm. Our ranch-style home lacked a fireplace, so my brother and I hung our red and white flannel stockings on the windowsills. Mom used Elmer’s glue and green glitter to paint our first names on the white furry part of the red flannel Christmas stockings.

My father taught high school science and agriculture and advised the Future Farmers of America chapter. Each year the FFA chapter raised money, bought the high school a real Christmas tree, and decorated it with blue, green, and red bulbs and fragile, sparkling glass ornaments. The school community enjoyed the tree until the semester ended.

Tradition dictated that the FFA boys and my father take the tree, decorations and all, to a needy family chosen by the other teachers. Our 1965 Chevy Biscayne station wagon was inadequate to cart the nearly nine-foot tree to this family, so Dad borrowed the school’s World War II-era Army truck from Willie Sims, the maintenance man.

School was out for the semester a few days before Christmas. Dad let the chosen family know they would be receiving a large, fully decorated Christmas tree. Dad and several of the FFA boys would bring the tree to their home.

The children ranged in age from an infant to an eighteen-year-old, with ten other children in between. The father was out of work, a rarity in Middle America then, when manufacturing and farming jobs were readily available. There were no subsidized school lunches, free books, or heating assistance.

Dad had his students put the decorated tree in the back of the old truck. The three of them—the thirty-something schoolteacher and the two teenage boys in blue corduroy Future Farmer jackets—were in a festive mood, congratulating themselves on the good deed they were about to do.

They traveled east on the state highway past well-manicured farms, bright, freshly painted red barns and white fences. As the old truck turned onto a county road, pieces of packed ice and gravel spit up from the vehicle’s worn tires.

Nearing the family’s home, Dad turned around and looked in the truck bed to check on the gift.

No tree.

No lights.

No decorations.

No green and red metal tree stand.

Nothing but an empty and scratched truck bed.

Dad turned the truck around. He and the students retraced their steps to town where the shops were closing for the night. The twinkle of holiday bulbs and the lights from the Evangelical United Brethren Church signaled evening.

Nothing could be found. Now past five o’clock, stores were already closing, if not already closed, on State Street. It was two days before Christmas.

Dad thought about it. “What should I do? Should I go home and get our tree?”

He did not believe that was a reasonable choice, with his two small children enjoying the tree, but he steeled himself for that option. If need be, he thought, his children could learn about sharing.

With darkness coming, the gray truck and three not-so-wise men arrived in town. A tree lot at the used car place was closing for the night. Dad reached for his wallet and bought the healthiest tree that remained on the lot. Then, off to Huffman and Deaton’s Hardware for lights and ornaments and a new metal tree stand. Joe Huffman was closing his register for the day but recognized my father and let him in.

With a new tree in the bed of the beat-up gray truck, the group headed east again. As they tentatively approached the family’s large farmhouse, they could spy children watching them from each window. The family’s older children greeted the group and set up the tree in their living room. Dad noticed a stack of presents and bags of candy and fruit donated by the Lions Club and other community groups.

The scent of anticipation and cinnamon apples hung in the air. The teacher and the teenagers left the family with happiness and wonder.

Our family had our usual Christmas celebration. I am confident we went to our German Lutheran church on Christmas Eve, and my brother and I sang in the children’s program.

I am certain nervous children in Sears’ plaid robes re-created the manger scene.

I am certain we sang carols about a needy couple two thousand years ago who had their child in poor surroundings.

I am certain my brother and I ran from our bedrooms early the next morning to see what treasures lay wrapped and waiting under our tree.

I am certain my brother and I balked when our mother made us eat breakfast before unwrapping our numerous gifts and toys.

I am certain Christmas was delightful though I cannot remember one specific gift I received or what we ate at our holiday meal.

I don’t know what happened to the large family. I haven’t lived in my hometown for more than thirty years.

What I do know is this: my father spent much more on the family’s tree and decorations than he did on ours. Dad and those long-forgotten high school students received a huge blessing when they saw the lights in the eyes of those children.

My family receives a blessing in the annual retelling of this tale, with its message of the power in giving.

šSeveral weeks later, Dad went into the brick post office to pick up the mail and chat with Clarence Pook, the postmaster. A man Dad did not know began talking to Clarence in a loud voice.

“Clarence,” the stranger said. “It’s the oddest thing. You know, I was driving out east of town a few nights before Christmas, and you would not believe it, I found a completely decorated, beautiful nine-foot Christmas tree that someone had thrown in a ditch!”

Nov 122016

November 2016
A Healthy Age
By Amy Abbott

The magnitude of opioid use among seniors is astounding …nearly a third of Medicare beneficiaries receive prescriptions for commonly abused opioids, including OxyContin, Percocet, Vicodin, and Fentanyl or generic equivalents.

While the mainstream media reports on the opiates epidemic, another concern about opioid use hide in plain sight. Nearly 12 million Medicare recipients received at least one prescription for an opioid painkiller last year, according to a federal report.

“The magnitude of opioid use among seniors is astounding,” according to Frederic Blow, director of addiction research at the University of Michigan medical school, in “StatNews.” The article also noted that nearly a third of Medicare beneficiaries receive prescriptions for commonly abused opioids, including OxyContin, Percocet, Vicodin, and Fentanyl or generic equivalents.

Why should seniors and caregivers be mindful of opioid usage?

Suzanne Robotti, founder of MedShadow, a New York-based consumer advocacy group, spoke to Senior Wire News Service about why seniors are often prescribed opioids.

“Here’s a common scenario. Seniors may experience back pain, migraines, hip pain, arthritis knees, pulled muscles, or whatever.” She said. “Some people will not take NSAIDs — ibuprofen or naproxen — because stomachs and aging kidneys will not tolerate them.”

Robotti said many seniors do not like to take acetaminophen (Tylenol) because the difference between an effective dose and a toxic dose is just too close. She added that a physician might suggest a patient “take an Aleve and give yourself a couple of days.”

Many seniors will come home with an opioid instead of the other options, and sometimes it may be prescribed by a dentist for a procedure like a root canal.

“In aging bodies, metabolism slows down. Our kidneys and liver are organs through which drugs pass, and the organs now move more slowly. Drugs are in the body much longer, so the half-life is longer,” she said. “A drug that might last six hours in a 50-year-old body could last 50 percent longer in a senior.”

She explained that older people often don’t want to challenge their physicians. “It is typical that if a medication indicates ‘take at breakfast and dinner for ten days or as needed, that patient will take at breakfast and dinner for ten days’ whether necessary or not.”

Why Do These Drugs Act Differently in Aging Bodies?

According to Robotti, “They up your dopamine level and slow down your pain receptors so that you feel less pain.” These benefits explain why opioids are beloved.

But, as she continued, “The medications slow everything down. For some seniors, slowing of systems is a bad idea.” Robotti spoke of new drug for opioid-induced constipation due to slowing of bowel function for older adults. Constipation may lead to yet another medication.

Anyone with breathing problems should be mindful. “Opioids typically depress respiration in all age groups. Of course, older adults are more likely to suffer from COPD and other respiratory diseases from long-term smoking to simply living a long life. Many things like pollution and asthma may cause respiratory problems.”

Many opioids, alone or in conjunction with other prescribed drugs or over the counter medications, may impair cognition. This may lead to a higher risk of falling, and the consequence of a broken bone.

Robotti also worries about herbal remedies and supplements because they are unregulated by the FDA, which only gets involved if there is a problem. If someone needs an herbal remedy or supplement, Robotti recommends consulting a pharmacist about which brand is the best. Not all supplements and herbal remedies are created equal, and Robotti believes pharmacists can help make an informed decision.

What’s the Wise Health Consumer to Do?

Robotti offered suggestions: talk to your medical provider and pharmacist, use the Beers Criteria, and try non-drug options. “And don’t just say ‘should I take this drug’ but ask ‘how does this work in my body. Is there a non-drug alternative for me?’”

  • Medical providers: The Beers Criteria is a great go-to for information on medications. The list is available online at According to Robotti, “The Beers criteria goes through all the scientific documentation and notes which drugs should not be given to seniors. This list is clear, simple, and trustworthy and is the first place I turn to when I need information.”Robotti believes that the fewer drugs taken, the more options open. She says “Delay, delay, delay.” To clarify, Robotti is not recommending seniors abandon all prescription medication, but rather be involved in an active, ongoing dialogue with all medical providers about the drugs’ benefits and concerns.
  • Pharmacists: Robotti cites a resource right under our nose, our local pharmacy. “Pharmacists know which drugs will interact and can suggest alternatives. Go to your neighborhood drug store and just as you do at your doctor’s appointment, hand your pharmacist a list of your prescriptions. You will want to include every supplement and herbal remedy as well, as they can also have multiple side effects.Robotti admits to a fondness for pharmacists because “doctors are healers and diagnosticians, but pharmacists are drug experts.”
  • Non-drug options: Robotti is a champion of non-pharmacologic options. Many seniors turn to opioids for pain, when meditation and physical therapy may do the trick.

“There have been several studies that have shown pain can be effectively managed by non-drug options. Our society has an attitude that nobody should be in pain for any moment of the day. I am not suggesting that people live with chronic pain. If the pain is temporary and you know there is a cause for it, try meditation, ice packs, cognitive behavioral therapy, and putting your feet up. Give yourself the chance to heal before reaching for an opioid.”

Robotti started MedShadow borne of her own experience – she was exposed to the synthetic hormone Diethylstilbestrol (DES) while in her mother’s womb. She formed the group to help consumers understand that many drugs have unintended consequences. DES was prescribed from 1938 to 1971 to women at risk of miscarriage and other problems of pregnancy. It was taken off the market 45 years ago when discovered a relationship with cancer in the children born from women who took the synthetic estrogen.

Final word? Please consult your personal health care provider about what is best for you.