Jun 032017
 

Cross-posted 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, particularly 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. This was something elderly people 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 play, we folded the pieces and put into a wicker basket.

Line-dried objects smelled fresh and wonderful, 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 really 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. In the pool’s later years, the morning brought a skiff of a brown substance on the surface of the water. Once that was 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 hostage in my air-conditioned house and car, and now to a 24 lb. tether I’ve named Mr. 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 own 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.

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.

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