Amy Abbott

May 262020

After a perm. 1964.  Lucky Chatty Kathy had curly hair and didn’t need one. 

May 26, 2020 — I wear my hair short, in the same Pixie cut I wore as a toddler.  My hair is unreasonably thick and unruly, and five cowlicks means it goes where it wants to go.  My hair doesn’t grow longer, just wider.  My mother — God rest her soul — tried taming it by sending me to her beautician frequently in my childhood, only for hilarious results after a permanent (which thankfully did not live it to its word.)  For me, the key is getting my hair cut every three to four weeks. And keeping it in that darned Pixie cut.  Hey, it worked out for Julie Andrews.

The last time I had my hair cut was the end of February.  I’ve looked like a Chia Pet for about two months.

Having read about all the safety features in place at my walk-in salon, I decided today would be the day.  In discussing my intentions with a friend yesterday, she suggested it’s a good time before the state moves into less restrictive requirements for salons.  At that point, other customers might not be masked and the salon might be full again.

I arrived 30 minutes before the doors opened.  Although the shop has an app for scheduling, the app wasn’t live yet.  But, I staked my place as first in line.  Three women with obviously gnarly toes (I’m just making that up) waited in line for the nail salon next door.  The door featured signs outlining the rules of the salon, mainly, without a mask no one would be served.  There was discussion and grumbling from the other people waiting at the door. One man, who said his wife was a nurse, got into an argument about gloves with another person in line.  “They don’t do any good at all,” the man said.  “Ask my wife.”  He wasn’t wearing a mask, but to get inside the salon he had no choice.  And there was no requirement for gloves, but I was wearing them.  (I realize I am not a surgeon, but what I do is wear them, try very hard not to touch my face, and douse the gloves liberally with hand sanitizer when I get back in the car. Having been unable to purchase hand sanitizer, I made my own with rubbing alcohol and aloe gel.  It smells like hell, so now my car smells antiseptic and funky.)

At precisely 9 a.m., the door opened and out came a masked woman carrying an I-pad.  She registered me and the four people behind me by our phone number.  I was immediately taken inside past a table with hand sanitizer and masks.  She told me that no one was allowed in the salon without a mask, and the salon was happy to give one to clients.  The room had been transformed since my last visit.  The check-out area had plastic barriers between the multiple registers and where clients stand.  Half the chairs had been removed.

As I started to walk to the back when the shampoo bowls are, the stylist told me, “We can’t wash any hair.  It’s gets us too close to the face.”

This face was directed to her chair.  I asked her if I needed to take my mask off, and hold it on with my hands.  She said, “No, I’ve been trained to work around the ears.”  She was all business.  There was no conversation.  As soon as I sat down, the started cutting.  I’ve gone there for four years, so almost everyone there knows me and how I like my hair (the simple Pixie cut).

In less than five minutes she was finished.  She handed me the mirror to check it it, and it was fine.  Yes, it was a little shorter than usual.  Okay, I looked like I had just been buzzed by an irritated corporal at Fort Benning before deploying to World War I.  I tipped her well and

View from the back side, 1964.

returned home. It didn’t help that when I arrived, Herman began singing “Over There.”

My hair is not a huge problem.  The longer version of it didn’t make me hungry, or in poverty, or losing my house because I missed a mortgage payment.  It was a minor irritant, and thanks to the magic of quarantine, I won’t be seeing another human except for Herman.

I wish you all peace and comfort. And if you aren’t a frontline worker, you can support them or others. Send a note, send an email, call an old friend, and donate to your local food bank.

Feeding America link

May 232020


For many, a small silver lining in these months of unprecedented global disease is  time for reading.

I’m usually not a fan of fiction, and I prefer non-fiction and primarily narrative history. But since I was in junior high school, I’ve enjoyed the secret pleasure of apocalyptic novels.  Do you remember reading “On the Beach?” in high school?  Or maybe you saw the movie.  There’s been a nuclear war, and Australia and New Zealand are the remaining outposts of civilization, except for a reoccurring radio signal from the State of Washington.  The red sports car crashing, the cyanide pills, the radio signal from the Northwest United States, all of it sticks in my mind fifty years later.

In the era of “Duck and Cover,” there were so many others, “Alas, Babylon,” the almost iconic look at post-nuclear central Florida written by Pat Frank in the fifties. I loved this book because I was remarkably familiar with Florida and could relate to their surroundings.  (An aside, I got to know his son, Patrick Frank, who was also an Open Salon writer 2009-2013 and loved talking with him about the book, written when he was a child.)  I remember my horror when reading that MacDill Air Force Base blew up.  “Failsafe” is another that was immortalized in a movie with Henry Fonda. And the book Dr. Strangelove made into the movie “How I Learned to Love the Bomb.”

Later came the entire “Mad Max” genre, the “Planet of the Apes” quintet (I watched all five of them at a drive-in one night in college), “War Games,” “The Matrix,” and “Cloud Atlas.”

These books led me  to tomes about bioterrorism, or how Mother Nature has gone awry.

As COVID climbed out of its hidey-hole and encircled the world,  I thought about all the books I’ve read during my lifetime.  Plagues have been with us forever, and people have been written about them for as long as there have been viruses.  Daniel Defoe wrote a classic book on pandemics in the 18th century, and Albert Camus wrote one in the 20th century.  In my lifetime, I started at age 12 with “The Andromeda Strain,” which was made into a scary movie.  There’s “Love in the Time of Cholera,” “Station 11,” “The Vermillion Strain,” “Oryx and Crake,”   There are also legions of books that deal with a combination of civilization-ending maladies, such as “The Leftovers,” “The Disappearance,” “Lights Out Cyber Attack” (by Ted Koppel), and “2030” (a strange book by Albert Brooks, of all people.)  I also recommend “The Hot Zone,” which is a non-fiction book about Marburg, a former of Ebola.

If you want to dig deeply into the subject, read Laurie Garrett’s endless book, “The Coming Plague.”  While it was written a quarter-of-a-century ago, it is still valuable reading.  I’m not quite through it yet.  I “read” on Audible because of eye problems (save my tired eyes for writing) and the book is 41 hours.  I can’t say I am even halfway through the large book.

For me reading a book about the pandemic during a pandemic is not scary.  I’ve had nightmares about real life, but reading these books is just fascinating.  I’ve learned strange details that probably only matter in a game of trivia, like Russians don’t get flu shots, they use a nasal spray.  I’ve also learned that I wouldn’t want to be on a submarine, during a pandemic, or during any normal time, for that matter.  Tight quarters.

I just finished a book called “The End of October” by Lawrence Wright.  Wright is a journalist, has written for many  national papers plus “The New Yorker.”  He is probably best known for the 9/11 work, “The Looming Tower,” about the rise of Al Qaeda.  Wright’s new book was likely written when the COVID virus was still sitting in nature waiting to jump to human beings.  But, the book is scary in its prescience.  Humanity gets a hemorrhagic flu, one that like Ebola, can cause death within 24 hours.  The virus is spread to the millions of Muslims at the annual Haj in Mecca, the once-in-a-lifetime pilgrimage that many in the Islamic faith attend.  Because the virus is spread through those of the Islamic faith, this adds another twist to the book, making it also a geopolitical thriller.  The hero is a CDC scientist, who was also a veteran of the Ft. Dietrich, Maryland, lab where the U.S. once worked on the most horrendous killer strains of viruses.

This book is a page-turner, but if pandemic novels bring forth your fear, don’t go there.  We all have enough IRL to keep us up at night.  For me, however, I don’t  have the same reaction to fiction as I do to the NBC “Nightly News.”


I wish you all peace and comfort. And if you aren’t a frontline worker, you can support them or others. Send a note, send an email, call an old friend, and donate to your local food bank.

Feeding America link

May 192020

All Creatures Great and Small–We moved to our present home in the mid- nineties, and, it is May 2020. And what happens in May besides Mother’s Day and usually Kentucky Derby and the Indianapolis 500? It’s the annual return of Fat Bastard, 25th anniversary season.

Baby Fat Bastard, Spring 2019, Current Residence, Inner Mongolia

As my husband gazed out the kitchen window this morning, there was the re-incarnation of Fat Bastard, the wretched varmint that has tormented us since we moved here. Because we attract so many varmints here, Herman has named the place Squirrel Vista. Greg The Ground Hog Guy has been summoned and will commence the Varmint Relocation program tomorrow.

Meanwhile, Fat Bastard arrogantly stood on his hind legs glowering back at us. I’m praying to all that is holy that it is NOT a mama and that we do not repeat the Great Ground Hog Migration of 2019 in which a mama, a papa, and four little Fat Bastards bothered us for weeks. Greg ultimately helped the critters enter the secret relocation program, which he said was thirty miles away. (Or up the street in the woods, who knows?) Strange times, indeed.

Not Another Tequila Sunrise–I am not much of a drinker, though I may have the occasional margarita or champagne drink. By occasional, I mean about three times a year, at weddings, or a random Thursday. Last night we ordered from a local establishment and I ordered a cocktail. Because of state law, the mix part is sent iced, in a plastic cup and an airline-sized bottle of Jose Cuervo accompanies it. (I am not dangling, I mean the bottle of tequila is the size of an airline drink, not the actual airplane, though it has been done. See below.)

When I got home, I took the lid off the Styrofoam cup with the mix and ice inside, opened the tequila and poured it in. It poured out over the top, so I picked it up and drank from the cup. This was not a good idea. Turns out they had given me a frozen margarita, not the rocks one I ordered. It was so cold that the tequila just sat on top of it. So for the first time in my life, I drank a tequila shooter by accident. Needless to say it was a surprise! I can’t say I enjoyed it straight. There was a little bit of tequila left in the bottle, so I stirred up the frozen concoction and sipped the rest. Lesson learned.

I know there are people reading this who will remember a certain party on October 22, 1980 where Jose Cuervo was present all evening in the form of many, many tequila shooters. A person, who will remain nameless, flew across the room at one point, later falling into the bathtub after failing to pull up pants after sitting on the throne. This person received a gash to the head and was rescued by another member of the party (who later described it in great detail). This injured person was unable to attend classes the next day, and has a tiny scar too near the eye, to remember the event. For the record, I was already graduated and living 90 miles away. My record of No Tequila Shooters stood until yesterday. Strange times, indeed.

Who the Hell are you?–Even though of us lucky enough to have first world problems have lost our minds a little bit. My brother, now retired, was sitting in his living room one day last week when a knock came to the door. He answered and saw a masked woman, a tall, slender woman with long hair. Her eyes twinkled as she handed him a box and said, “I brought you some candy.”

Brother, whom I called “Bother” as a child until I knew it was the wrong word and still sometimes call him that, said to the woman, “Who the hell are you?,” a greeting that would have made our late mother cringe. Mom swore exactly one time in her entire life. Once. (I was there, I heard her say it.)

The woman at the door turned out to be Bother’s daughter-in-law, his only son’s wife. In my mind, this brings up a lot of unanswered questions. Is my brother used to attractive, masked women knocking at his door? Why was he unable to recognize his DIL? Had he been day drinking tequila shooters? I admit, she lives two hours away and she was certainly out of context.

She revealed herself. She was traveling with a co-worker back from a business trip to Cincinnati and had stopped to buy candy at a candy store in Lebanon, Indiana, a family favorite. Strange times, indeed.

Nearer My God to Thee–Meanwhile, my nearly 90-year-old father managed to lock himself inside of his Luxury Liner of a Car, a late model beige Buick Park Avenue. (If you want to see what this car looks like, visit any senior facility. Three-quarters of the resident’s cars will be late model beige Buick Park Avenues. Trust me on this. These low riders are incredibly uncomfortable and move like a Sherman tank through the city.) Dad has been on lockdown, and shouldn’t be driving because of poor vision. But, he is concerned his battery will go dead.

Every three or four days, he ventures outside the facility. While he can see his car outside his first floor window, facility rules mean that he has to walk up to the front of the very large campus and go out the front door. All residents are tracked, and to date, there are no COVID cases in the facility which houses multiple units including memory care, rehab, skilled beds, assisted living, patio homes, and independent apartments, where Dad lives.

Last Sunday he went out to start his car. He didn’t tell anyone he was going out, but the front desk knew. The car sits in an unlighted carport, and it is difficult to see if anyone is inside the car without being right on top of it. Dad got inside the car, started it up. The battery was dead. Dad started to get out of the car, but the electronics in this old car kept him inside. The door locks stayed locked. The horn didn’t work. Dad was stuck inside the car. When he told us this story later, he didn’t tell us whether he was inside the car for five minutes or five hours. We are quite thankful it was not a hot day. Rescue came at an unidentified time from an unidentified person.

When things happen, Dad will “test” his story on me, probably because I live 200 miles away. He tested the story the same day on our adult son, who lives 1,100 miles away. Our son gave it to him good, and Dad promised to tell a friend when he was going out again. My brother and I talked about totally removing the car to my brother’s house two miles away as he has an extra bay in his garage. Dad didn’t want that. My father has been large and in charge all of his life; he doesn’t see that changing. I get that. I don’t like changing things in my own life, either.

So, for now, his great ship stays at his dock, awaiting the day this pandemic is over. Strange times, indeed.

Stepping Off the Moving Sidewalk–At the end of this month, my husband will be officially retired from the university where he’s been a research librarian and faculty member for 32 years. When I retired in 2017, it was a dramatic change. It felt like one day I was riding or running on one of those moving sidewalks at the airport. I jumped over the side, and do you know what? The sidewalk kept right on moving, as if I had never been there. My husband’s retirement is completely different. On March 6, the world just stopped for him. While he consulted with students and faculty online for the balance of the semester, it wasn’t the same.

Since he can’t hear very well, he wasn’t able to hear my screaming ,”Get the hell out of my house,” which only lasted a few weeks. (Think Munch’s “The Scream.”) We’ve spent our lives together since college, so we are used to each other idiosyncrasies (not that I have any.)

Life at this stage is more interesting. I can’t see well, and he can’t hear well. He opens jars; I find the spoon for him that’s been in the same drawer for 25 years. He kills the spiders; I clean the kitchen. We both clean the toilets and do the laundry. We laugh almost all the time, at each other, at the world, at our ridiculous selves that seem much dumber than when we first met in 1977, sure of our place in the world.

George Lindsey as Goober Pyle from “The Andy Griffith Show”

Typical conversation from the last five minutes,

Me: “Was there any mail?”, noticing he was coming into the kitchen from a door that leads outside.

Him: “No mail today.”

Me, “Hmmm. Must be a national holiday. Maybe it’s National Goober Pyle Day.”

Him: “What?”

Me: “You are deaf.”

Him, “No, I just don’t know what the heck you are talking about.”

Happy National Goober Pyle Day. Judy. Judy. Judy. Strange times, indeed.

I wish you all peace and comfort. And if you aren’t a frontline worker, you can support them or others. Send a note, send an email, call an old friend, and donate to your local food bank.

Feeding America link

May 152020

I wasn’t really clear on how dirty our old world was, until we entered this new normal. Now, everywhere I look, advertisements try to convince consumers that their service or product is the cleanest. What does this say about our former life?

The car dealership where I bought my last car is running a commercial that touts the cleanliness of their showroom. I remember buying my car, just like it was yesterday. I entered the showroom, and was approached by a salesman. He asked me what I was looking for, and I responded, “I’m interested in that red sedan over there behind the pile of rancid buffalo dung.”

And who doesn’t remember ordering pizza. Now one of the national chains advertises that no one touches the pizza after it comes out of the oven. Don’t you remember the good old days when you stood in line to pick up your pizza at a counter that was covered with dirt, rotten eggs, and half-empty bottles of motor oil? You watched as your pizza came out of the oven and every employee in the place stuck an ungloved hand, palm down, in the middle of your pepperoncini and sausage. After each employee fondled your pizza, it was handed to the greasy man in front of you in line, and each of his six snot-nosed children touched the box. Ah, those were the good old days!

Many local organizations advertise that they use spray cleaning products which are safe for humans. Why it is, then, that workers shown spraying mist into the air of a particular space, are suited up as if ready for a moon walk? As someone who has lung disease, I was once harmed by a co-worker who sprayed a chemical on herself in my office that keeps clothing from sticking to your body, While she was wrinkle free, I was writhing on the floor in a bad asthma attack, unable to breathe.

Now I realize we have a virus to kill. But the uber-emphasis on cleaning makes me wonder just what we were exposed to before. Did people not wash their hands before? During cold and flu season, were we not mindful of shaking hands, touching doorknobs in public places, or pressing elevator doors?

That is, of course, a rhetorical question. But maybe some unexpected good will come out of it. Because we are all so fearful of COVID, perhaps next year’s influenza season will have fewer casualties as we’re all reminded of the rules of good hygiene.

Meanwhile, I’ve got a nice toxic mess brewing in my kitchen sink, so I had better don the space suit and get after it.

 wish you all peace and comfort. And if you aren’t a frontline worker, you can support them or others. Send a note, send an email, call an old friend, and donate to your local food bank.

May 142020

Cooking is not my strong suit. I’m very good, however, at eating. As we wait for the locusts and the rest of the plagues to arrive, we have to have something to eat. I’m the cook; my husband is the shopper. In these strange times, this means he’s the one who goes to get the pickup at the grocery store. We are fortunate that we are both retired (well, husband May 31), and don’t have to go anywhere.

My mother was many wonderful things, but she was not a good cook. She didn’t believe in butter, only whitish-oleo-margarine (which I have not eaten since I moved away at 18). Both of my grandmothers were good cooks, my grandmother McVay far better. She made homemade yeast rolls, pies, and sometimes cut up potatoes for homemade French fries for my brother and me. My husband can work his way around the kitchen, but he doesn’t really want to cook.

Since we are blessed to have food and many aren’t, and since I hate to waste food, I try to use up what we have. This is why yesterday husband Herman made homemade buttermilk biscuits. The buttermilk was going to celebrate its birthday (what we call expiration date) so we needed to use it. This also meant that today I made two loaves of Amish cinnamon bread (recipe from Vanessa Seijo, thanks V).

(And just so you know, we DO sing Happy Birthday is milk gets a little stinky in the carton and we have to pour it down the sink.)

The biscuits Herman made were, without a doubt, the best biscuits I’ve ever eaten in my life. So fluffy, so light, yet plump, but with a crispy bottom. And no baking soda taste like at breakfast joints. I am ashamed to tell you that yesterday I ate five in two settings. Now I am fluffy and plump (but no crispy bottom.)

Since I made the bread today to use up the buttermilk, Herman came barreling into the kitchen, picked up the bag of leftover biscuits, and noticed that no one has eaten another one. He counts his damn biscuits!

Then he says, “What? You don’t like my biscuits?”

This made me laugh out loud. He was his mother, made over as a sixty-ish, long-haired man.

My late mother-in-law made the most delicious pot roast. No one has ever accused me of eating too little. Once at her home early in our marriage, I had a nice helping and a hearty second helping, and she said, “What? You don’t like my pot roast?”

That apple didn’t fall too far from the tree.

I wish you all peace and comfort. And if you aren’t a frontline worker, you can support them or others. Send a note, send an email, call an old friend, and donate to your local food bank.

May 062020

Not opening business will cost more lives due to suicide and drug overdose — POTUS May 2020.

Is it any wonder we stay up late at night and watch hours of “Fraser” on the channel with the disgusting lovey-dovey romance movies? The news is bleaker with each passing cycle.

Flipping channels this morning, I heard Governor Cuomo (D-NY) report more than 200 deaths overnight. The number has been much larger in New York, but 200 deaths is an astonishing number. The arc of the influence and lives of 200 lost souls is nearly incomprehensible for me. Another stat that jumped out at me this morning—more than 600 deaths overnight in the U.K., a county so much smaller than the U.S.A.

The arc of the influence and lives of 200 lost souls is nearly incomprehensible for me.

I’ve repeatedly heard that we are in a “Sophie’s Choice” moment. Do we want a full economy or no deaths? There is no choice. Whether we all hunker down for months in underground bomb shelters or attend stadium rallies, the virus is still in control. Scientists are learning more every day, but the virus is still new, or “novel” as implied the name, novel coronavirus. We have no idea how long it will last, if it will go away, if immunity exists for those who have been ill or exposed.

And realistically, we have to open society. It’s not possible for everyone to stay hunkered down forever. Most people don’t have that first world privilege.

But isn’t it HOW we open up?

The government released federal guidelines, yet only a few of the 40 states opening up met/meet the initial recommendations. Are you ready to attend a college graduation with thousands of other people? Or even go to your local theater? What about your religious services?

There’s really only one way to accomplish a reopening. And that’s with testing. We (hopefully) have years to figure out what happened; now we need a national moon shot to develop enough tests for 330 million Americans, and perhaps, a chance to save the world. I agree that vaccines are important and I applaud those working on them, but I believe testing and the supplies that go with them, should be at the forefront of our efforts. And yes, we’re going to have to multi-task.

My husband and I are retired, so we have the privilege of hunkering down as we wish. Not so much for our adult son or working-age nieces and nephews. With testing, we can open up and have a chance against this new virus. History will first record the number of deaths, not the Dow average.

I wish you all peace and comfort. And if you aren’t a frontline worker, you can support them or others. Send a note, send an email, call an old friend, and donate to your local food bank.

May 022020

Week Seven or is it Nine of Quarantine here in beautiful Paradise, Indiana. Who knows what day it is? Those of us privileged to be retired live in a haze of “no time.” But getting a prescription involved contact with the Real World Out There.

I have various problems with my lungs, so I am hunkered down for the duration. My husband is an insulin-dependent diabetic, so he is also careful. We’ve picked up or had groceries delivered. Occasionally we pick up food at a drive-up, donning masks and gloves. We also visit our local CVS for prescriptions, and that’s about it.

I get bronchitis at this time almost every year. My doctor has a protocol for my management which involves nebs 4x daily, diligence on regular inhalers, an antibiotic, and Prednisone. Sometimes I get a shot of both, but not this time as my physician is primarily doing Telemedicine. She told me that her main goal is to keep her patients out of the Emergency Room.

I support her goal, though for me it means taking oral steroids instead of the shot. I’ve been taking Prednisone for the 28 years I’ve had asthma, and in the last year or so, the oral tablets have caused my heart to palpitate so much I feel it is coming out of my chest. The doctor dosed the pills in a different taper to see if that would help. But first I had to get the pills.

Normally I send Herman out to CVS, but my insurance changed April 1st and this would be the first prescription on the new insurance. I called the pharmacy and they were so busy they preferred not to take it on the phone. So off to CVS I went.

The traffic was not different from any other Friday in our little corner of the universe. At CVS’ neighboring Starbucks, at least 20 cars lined up for the drive-up.

My car was about ten back from the window when I arrived at CVS. The parking lot was full. I observed that most people were wearing masks, and some wore vinyl gloves. When I got to the window, the pharm tech was also wearing a mask and gloves. Maybe my anecdote is irrelevant because I visited a pharmacy, but it made me feel like we’re looking out for each other.

My home is in southwestern Indiana, in a primarily rural county of 70,000 people. We’ve had 15 deaths, all of them but two in the same nursing home. We have less than 100 cases.

Indiana, however, currently has a hot spot in Cass County, north central Indiana. About half of my cousin’s on my father’s side and my one remaining aunt live in this county, where nearly a 1,000 people have tested positive for COVID. Many work in a meat-packing plant that employs 2,000 people. In a county of less than 40,000 people, I suspect that many employees drive from adjacent counties.

The hospital in Cass County is small and has only nine ventilators. As a child, I visited my paternal grandmother there in her later years. People with more serious illnesses are generally sent to hospitals in Lafayette (where my nearly 90-year-old father lives a mile from my 60-year-old brother) or the web of tertiary hospitals in the Indianapolis metro area.

I worry about my cousins and their families. Dad is the youngest of his parent’s children and the only one of the siblings left, so many of my first cousins are older than I am. My aunt (who is the widow of my blood uncle) was basically homebound with health problems prior to the COVID outbreak, and her adult daughters and their spouses provide what she needs. Except a hug.

This was written mostly for myself, so that I can remember what things were like on May 1, 2020. My family is nomadic and most of the younger generation are still working from home or going into shuttered offices with few people who can socially distance.

Like many others, our family includes people abroad, including China, Sweden, England, and Turkey.

  • A relative who is an engineer is trailing an epidemiologist through meat-packing plants all over the country and doing statistical analysis for him. They work closely with the CDC.
  • A relative who was getting his master’s degree in Beijing, China, happened to leave China for the Chinese New Year and can’t get back. He is living with his parents in Virginia, working online.
  • A deceased in-law’s brother spent three weeks in a hospital, mostly intubated, and finally rallied after very difficult times. He is now in a rehab hospital. His partner was also hospitalized and is now at home.
  • My nearly 90-year-old father, who has some minor age-related dementia, is struggling with nearly every aspect of his solitary confinement. Yet, his senior center in north central Indiana has reported no cases of COVID among the 300-plus residents and staff. This is a miracle when so many facilities are struggling. Stay in your apartment, Dad. Keep up the good work.
  • Friends from California have lost two very close friends a few days apart from the virus in the Los Angeles area.
  • Another friend’s cousin went to New York to help. She’s a nurse, and among many who have willingly put themselves in danger.
  • My cousin from east London was visiting family in Florida and is “stuck there” away from her family in England.
  • Our nephew is a physician, and his county is adjacent to the Indianapolis area, where there have been numerous outbreaks in nursing home. We pray for him daily.

Everyone could write this column. COVID has affected all of us in various ways. Families struggle to home school their children. I would be a very bad teacher. I once substituted for my son’s confirmation class, and thought it would be cool to have Springsteen’s Post 9/11 CD playing as the students entered. One of them said, “Quit playing that music by that old man.” (This was in 2001.) Not great teaching vibes here.

I worry about the women who are pregnant and will deliver in this madness. While many will choose an at-home birth with a midwife, some women have no choice but to deliver in a hospital. The reasons vary from finances to a planned C-section. Most hospitals have the maternity section in a different area of the hospital. But new moms worry. They worry when pregnant and they worry big time after the baby is born. It’s a natural part of the process, that I, as someone who had severe post-partum depression, can see easily going off the scale in these perilous times.

As I said, I wrote this mostly for myself to remember in a year or five, what this was like. But I also wrote it because friends on Facebook ask in general, “Tell me what your situation is like” and I’ve read a number of those posts.

Here in Paradise (that’s the name that shows up on a Facebook map, the spot about three miles from here) we are hunkered down, well fed, well rested, well read, and clean. Our time together reminds us very much of when we were first married, and mostly we get along well (except when he asked me where something is and it’s been in the same place for the 24 years we’ve lived in this house.)

I wish you all peace and comfort. And if you can’t get out and help, send a note, send an email, call an old friend, and donate to your local food bank.


Apr 222020

When this Whole Nasty Bidness started, I did what any other red-blooded American would do, I ordered a boatload of coffee. We can do without a lot; but we cannot do without coffee.

Perhaps I should have studied more chemistry, because I failed to consider the properties of matter in my decision to buy only coffee. Matter has three properties. Correct? Coffee is a liquid, and carried to its logical consequence, it can produce gas or a solid.

But I did not consider that in my quest to find coffee; I did not order extra toilet paper.

For six weeks now, we’ve ordered groceries successfully via Instacart from our local grocery. It’s gone very well, in spite of a few substitutions. But there hasn’t been a week when there’s been any toilet paper. None. Nada.

I’ve read all the articles about why the supply change isn’t working, but shouldn’t it have caught up by now? On a regular basis, I check about six web sites. As a back-up, I’ve purchased baby wipes (and learned the hard way hat they should not be flushed. Imagine the delight my husband felt when I woke him up at 3 a.m. to finish the job I could not complete, plunger in hand?

Friends have not been helpful, except for those two gracious souls who have volunteered to give us some of their stash. They both know that when I’m down to one roll, I’ll be sending out an All Points Bulletin. But other friends will say things like, “Schnucks had it last Thursday at 2 p.m.” “Aldi’s had it last weekend.” I have failed the time travel test to go back in time to WalMart at 3 a.m. last Sunday when apparently truckloads of White Cloud arrived.

I’ve been ordering the blasted stuff online and currently have three orders pending. One order is (and I swear this is true) from Afghanistan and is made from bamboo. My husband doubted me, saying there was no bamboo in Afghanistan. I guess that’s why it is taking so long. The other two orders are from Amazon, one has an arrival date of May 5 to 26. Just this morning I found a company that will have it to me by April 29. We’ll see.

We had a secret stash — a 12 package megaroll CVS premium. Then we heard the pleas of our only child who lives in an urban area with one CVS and one grocery store in walking distance. He doesn’t have a car, and lives in a “hot spot” area where taking the train or a bus to find toilet paper is probably not a good idea. Like his mother, he has orders placed online.

Parents out there: what would you do? Would you risk your own life to go to the Post Office and spend $12 to send your secret stash to your only child? Of course not, but you would send your husband to do it.

We gave our kid money for a big birthday so he could have a trip to New York with his girlfriend and see “Hamilton.” That didn’t happen because of the virus, but I swear he was more ecstatic about the arrival of the toilet paper than the chance be “in the room where it happened.”

I can relate. We have been talking about going to NYC this fall to see Hugh Jackman and Sutton Foster in the 35th revival of Meredith Willson’s “The Music Man.” Honestly, I’ve seen “The Music Man” on Broadway and would trade it all in a heartbeat for Hugh Jackman to come to my door, bearing a 24-pack mega roll of Cottonelle or Charmin. As Jackman walks up the steps to deliver my treasure, Sutton Foster will sing, Til There was You, though The Shipoopi, might be more appropriate. Would it be too much to ask for the Charmin bears to dance on the driveway?

Yes, there IS trouble right here in River City. It starts with T and continues with P, and that stands for Toilet Paper.

Apr 132020

If my brother or I complained that we were bored as children, my mother went off on a tear.  “You aren’t bored. You are boring. Look around you. You have every possible way to entertain yourselves from dozens of toys to the great outdoors.”  (Or something like that.)  Her point was that being bored is a choice and a luxury. 

So, I put Barbie in a Keds shoebox with GI Joe (my brother’s toy) and sometimes Johnny West (but never the three of them together) and watched what happened.  Amazingly, Barbie gave birth to a giant baby who was four years old, a Chatty Cathy with black hair who looked like me.

Chatty and me 1964

Mom, I sure wish I could talk to you today about real boredom.  I think you may have met your match with this Solitary Confinement. I suspect if you were alive today, I would find you asleep in your recliner with a copy of Ideals magazine across your lap.

Today when I was reading the directions on how to make twice-baked potatoes, I rejoiced at the end.  Why?  Because the recipe said, “use a meat thermometer to check the temperature.”  In my head, I heard myself saying, “Wow! I get to use my meat thermometer.”  Now, doesn’t that just most pathetically scream “BORED?”

All last week I made lists of possible skits for Saturday Night Live.  (Yes, I live in this little fantasy world where I write for SNL.)  Saturday night the show was on semi-live.  I’d be danged if they didn’t do a skit on Zoom meetings, which was one of my ideas. (Likely one of those ideas that floats out in the ether.)

I never used Zoom until about two weeks ago, and now it’s a daily thing. I organized a group (and we’ll meet again) of writers I know.  That meeting could have been a skit.  I was worried about my hair. #Iamsosuperficial

Six other screens popped up. Two of the women, around my age, were wearing headbands.  Headbands, another icon of my childhood.  As an adult, I believe the only good reason to wear a headband is to hold your hair back when vomiting. Several women had “in-between” hair, meaning they are in between The Salon and Looking Like Me (totally white-headed). (Honestly, it didn’t matter.  Hearing their voices and seeing their smiles mattered.)

Lorne Michaels still has not called me, though I had two other ideas for SNL. Kate McKinnon plays Dr. Debbie Birx of the Co-vid 19 Task Force and does strange things with scarves.  Let your mind wander.  Debbie Birx?  Dressed entirely in a flag scarf?  How about Debbie Birx up a flagpole flapping in the breeze?  Debbie Birx as semaphore?  I picture her on the HMS Britannia, which we visited. (I’ve been spending much of my fantasy life on past vacations.)

Semaphore flags, HMS Britannia

The final concept for SNL was just stupid and a product of too much time on my hands.  A friend mentioned she was making masks out of those airplane sleep things you get in business class (or so I’ve heard since I’m always in the cheap seats.)  In this sketch, people make masks out of the sleep masks, except they are wearing them in a grocery store over their eyes as they would on a plane.  They knock over stacks of giant boxes of Post Bran Flakes or Kellogg’s Special K.  Okay, so it wasn’t that funny. I guess you had to be there. Would it be funnier if it were stacks of Mega-Roll Toilet Paper made from Afghani Bamboo (which is something I ordered on Amazon and will be here in six weeks)?

I am bored.  My mind wanders.  I am supposed to be writing a book about the history of my family farm.  About two-thirds of it is written. Curiously, I stopped at 1918 when researching the Great Influenza pandemic wasn’t that fun anymore. 

But I find ways to fill my time, often riddled with bad judgment.  Is it a good idea to cut one’s hair with fingernail scissors at 1:30 a.m. in a semi-dark bathroom, when not wearing your glasses or oxygen?  Probably not.  At least I can blame the hypoxia. And it will give my friends something to look at during our next Zoom call. (Which may not happen since I insulted most of them earlier in this piece.)

I will likely be fine because I’m able to shelter in place.  Here comes the serious part. Not everybody will be fine. There are two Americas, the America, my family and I live, in which we are retired or can work at home and don’t want for much (except toilet paper.)

Even adrift in my sea of privilege, I recognize and support the other America. The one in which people who often don’t have paid sick leave care for our family members in senior facilities, deliver our packages without protective equipment, work in American food production from growing and selling to delivery.  Even when I can’t go out, I can tip well, support organizations and people who need my help, reach out to friends, and help society by staying at home.

I hear my mom’s voice. “Those essential workers are not bored. They have to work, and they also have worries you do not have.”

Except for the idea that I would become a morning person, Mom was almost always right.

Apr 052020

In the small town where I grew up, many people had access to multiple generations, aunts and uncles, grandparents, second cousins once removed.  My maternal grandparents lived six miles away on a farm, but were away a few winter months, as snowbirds in Florida.  It certainly wasn’t Walton’s Mountain, at least for us, but there was family around.

My family has become nomads. My 89-year-old father lives in a retirement home 200 miles away, while our only child, our 30-year-old son, lives in the Washington D.C. metro area 1,100 miles away.  My brother (who is a widower) lives two miles from my Dad, but his son and son’s wife live two hours away from him in Chicago.

I call my Dad every day.  He is frustrated on a variety of levels.  The facility won’t let him visit his girlfriend, age 85, and she can’t visit him. They break the rules almost every day. My father is an extreme extrovert, and withers up without other people, especially his girlfriend. Dad is also worried about his car, a boat of a Buick from the last century. He parks it in a carport that he can see from his apartment window. 

However, the only unlocked door to the massive facility is the front door, and residents can come and go but are interrogated upon return.  Then, the Powers That Be take a temperature.

Dad just had to check on his car earlier this week and walked his Frankenstein walk (refuses to use his cane) out the B wing, up the main hall, out the front door, around the B wing to the back where his car miraculously started.  He came back around, growled as they took his temperature, and returned to his apartment.  He called me immediately because he was so proud of what he had done.

Did I mention my Dad can’t see out of one eye at all, and my brother and I are doing everything in our power to get him to stop driving?

Dad told me what he had done and was not at all pleased when I said, “I hoped you were going to tell me that the car had been stolen.”

He was not amused.

Meanwhile, back at the ranch, my husband of 35 years, and I are doing fine.  We met in 1977 and were first friends, and later entered this long and happy relationship.  As friends, we used to live on the “college schedule.”  Our college routine involved taking as many night classes as possible, sleeping in until at least 10 a.m., drinking a lot of cheap beer (Wisconsin Club, five dollars a case).  His apartment never ran out of toilet paper, because one of his roommates regularly stole it from the nearby college Student Center.  I won’t name names, but you know who you are.

A few things have changed.  We purchase our toilet paper now.  We don’t drink, and if we did, it wouldn’t be cheap beer.  My husband is an insulin-dependent diabetic, and never takes a drink.  I have one occasionally, but it’s no fun to drink alone, so I save it for special occasions like Christmas Eve or Thursdays or National Potato Day (a nod to fans of Otis Campbell from “The Andy Griffith Show.”)

My husband’s retirement date is May 31, but he’s been working online since spring break.  His employer, a local university, moved everything online.  I guess at some point he’ll go back and clean out his office in these strange times.

So we’ve been staying up until about 2 a.m. either watching old movies or listening to audiobooks.  We have plenty of food now, though the first few weeks were like getting food from the former state store in Soviet Russia, the GUM store, where customers stood in line to get whatever they had.  No bread?  No toilet paper.  No milk?  Sure, we’ll take frozen okra.

In addition to my husband being diabetic, I have chronic lung disease, so both of us need to stay in our hidey-hole.  We’ve both been out a couple of times, masked and gloved to the gills.  I picked up a Walmart order and didn’t open a window.  The clerk put the order in my trunk.  I have a sedan, so I felt safe doing that. The husband had to go to the University Clinic to pick up meds.  They opened the door and handed him a bag.  Easy-peasy.

We’ve had one little blip, that for many of our friends and neighbors was a huge blip.  Two F-2 tornados whipped through Henderson, Kentucky, across the Ohio River, and then into several neighborhoods in Newburgh on the evening of March 28.  Mother Nature can be a bitch, and this time she tagged for the third time, a dear friend who is going through chemo and has been fighting cancer for more than two years.  This same friend has also been involved in several other Newburgh tornados.  Thankfully, people have contributed money for her repairs, and she immediately had a crew of construction folks cleaning up her area and tarping her roof.

The storm hit a number of Newburgh neighborhoods, including Ridgewood, the neighborhood immediately across from us, about half a mile away.  My husband was watching TV and said, “It’s time to go to the basement.”  I did turn my computer off and then went quickly to the basement.  We heard nothing.  Then the power went off.  We each had a tiny flashlight with us.

The power didn’t come back on for thirty hours.  Since I am on oxygen, that was a little bit scary.  I was able to call my provider, Deaconess DME, and they had a big 12-hour emergency tank out to me first thing Saturday morning.  (I don’t wear it all the time, plus I had a charged portable tank for the daytime. But I must have it on for sleep, dangerous to go without it.)  Our power came back on early Sunday morning.

Both of our phones went dead sometime Saturday, and the husband found a full charger somewhere in the basement.  Lesson learned here: always keep a charger or two plugged in.   

Those were thirty very long hours.  We were so lucky that our house did not get hit (although I will say, we’ve lived here 25 years, and every tree that could have fallen in a storm has already fallen, or we’ve taken it down after storm damage.)  We feel exceedingly lucky.  Our dentist had part of a tree blown through their second-floor bedroom window.

We were worried about my oxygen, the stability of the husband’s insulin in the refrigerator, and whether our basement would flood since the pump wasn’t working. We have a history there.  Knock on wood.

It is incredible what sitting in the dark for thirty hours can do for one’s perspective.  We are almost giddy to have power back, even if we cannot go anywhere  Thank heaven for small favors.

And technology can make us like the Walton’s.  In a few minutes, we will celebrate our son’s thirtieth birthday with a Zoom party with family. Not as I would have planned, but fantastically better than sitting in a dark room, playing board games with flashlights.

Dec 042019

Today is my father’s 89th birthday. He’s outlived his mother’s death age by three years; his father died 84 years ago when Dad was five. He’s outlived all five of his siblings, even a nephew and niece and several grand nieces and nephews. Dad is a person who is bound and determined to squeeze the last juice out of life’s lemon. As Dylan Thomas tells us, Dad will never go gently into that good night.

Last Friday (the day after our entire clan had spent a wonderful Thanksgiving together), my Dad had an early morning heart attack while using the NuStepper in his gym. An ambulance arrived within minutes and off we went.

Dad was scheduled to have a stress test (chemical) on Monday but chest pains over the weekend suggested to the cardiologist that Dad go directly to the Cath Lab for an angiogram. Boom! Three blockages at 100%, 85%, and 85%. Of course, he is feeling much better getting the newly oxygenated blood through three new stents.

Happy Birthday, Billy Gene.

Fort Wayne Botanical Gardens 1963

Twelve years ago, Dad had a heart attack and was taken to the same hospital and had the same cardiologist. The doctor put in six stents in 2007, and we knew that stents generally last about a decade if one is lucky. And everything under the sun can go wrong. And for many individuals, it does.

A new clinical trial summary was released just last week called ISCHEMIA from the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute, which looks at the effectiveness of stents in a stable heart (which Dad doesn’t have, and of course, he is elderly.) It appears everything happened correctly and luck was again on Dad’s side. The doctor told us Dad could have died during the stress test.

Now he is the Bionic Man with nine stents. I do not take one day of the last 12 years for granted, even his crabbiest stubborn days (a prelude for my son). Dad gained a new granddaughter when his grandson married, witnessed another become an Eagle Scout. He attended both grandsons’ graduations from high school and college. He cared for his ailing wife and honored her in death. And he kept right on living, gardening, reading, socializing, active in church and community activities, and attending more reunions that you can imagine.

Eleanor Roosevelt said Yesterday is history, tomorrow a mystery, today is a gift. Today, Dad’s 89th birthday, is indeed a gift. Every new day he gets is a gift. And knowing Dad he will use them fully, though this week he will miss the Purdue concert, the retired ag teachers luncheon a six-hour round trip), and teaching a class at Purdue (yes, I said teaching a class at Purdue.) They still asked him and he still goes. He’s been “retired since 1988.

Jan 312019

We are on the south end of the Polar Vortex, and our lowest temperature yesterday was just above zero, with the “real feel” wind chill temperature around minus sixteen. To ice that cake, we got a few inches of snow early Wednesday morning.

My husband works as a research librarian at a small liberal arts university, which closed yesterday because of the extreme cold. The last time the campus closed, I’m fairly certain, was for the 1937 Flood of the Ohio River. The general modus operandi is to cancel classes and expect everyone else to report. (On a snow day, you could throw a rock from one end of the library to the other and not hit a student. During your college years if you learned of a snow day, was your first thought, “Great! I can go to the library!”)

Kids with Dad, 1963.

On a normal day, the happiest time of my day is when my husband comes home from work at 6 p.m. The second happiest time of day is when he leaves for his part-time gig at noon. I love him, I love drinking coffee with him in the morning, but then I want him to leave.

We both like our alone time, like boxers to their corner, in the afternoons. He went to the basement where his antiques business is based, and I move to my office to read, write, talk on the phone, and watch the birds on our deck.

I also caught up with family and friends in Chicago and Rockford, Illinois, our son on the East Coast, and a cousin in Virginia. I enjoyed reading tales on social media of dog owners taking their furry friends outside. In the morning I noted great enthusiasm, friends covered from stem to stern in warm clothing. By afternoon, most were opening the door and tossing the dog out for his potty. My doggie great-nephew Kai didn’t want to set his paws down in front of his Lincoln Park home, so my nephew carried the above 70-lb. Golden. (One reason why I am a cat person.)

We had no mail delivery but UPS drove up to our door with two large packages about 4 p.m. One contained a cooler with our Super Bowl pizzas for Super Bowl Sunday. (We never eat pizza, except for Super Bowl Sunday, and you might as well go big or stay home.) Two frozen Lou Malnati deep dish pizzas came in a cooler, on dry ice. Our family loves Chicago-style deep dish pizza, or what my son’s East Coast friends call “casseroles.” (Not sure what to call that greasy cracker they eat in NYC.)

I opened the cooler and took out the two pizzas and put them in our freezer. Then, I pulled out the dry ice bag under the pizza. It was open and I accidentally touched the dry ice with my wedding ring finger, which immediately began to tingle and turn blue. My husband advised me to put it under hot water, and while it still tingles a little, all is fine. I cannot imagine having to go to the ER, where dozens of people have real frostbite emergencies, and asked for treatment. This could have been possibly the dumbest way in history to contract frostbite, if it had been worse.

Today all is back to a normal January day, with a heat wave of 27 degrees above zero expected.

Jan 242019

My son works for a non-profit in Washington, D.C. Thankfully, his employment is not threatened by the now month-long government shutdown. I innocently asked him (rural dweller that I am) if he enjoyed a more leisurely Metro trip into work from his Silver Spring home. He reminded me that Metro depends on rider revenue. He said that trains have fewer cars, which makes the riders just as crowded during rush hour. On off-peak times, he said, trains are hit and miss.

I use this anecdote as a silly example, an example of my naivete about the shutdown. There may be a lot of naivete around, and I’m not just talking about the tone-deaf Wilbur Ross who told CNBC he is puzzled by reports of federal workers turning to food banks and other forms of relief, suggesting they should be able to obtain bridge loans to tide them over until the government reopens.

No, the naivete I’m talking about is how we fail to realize the larger impact of the shutdown on our country. The press keeps reporting on the 800,000 federal workers without a paycheck. What about federal contractors? Vox reported there are about half a million federal contractors who work for multiple federal government agencies, many in low-wage jobs. Workers furloughed, regardless of federal or contract status, may be the heads of household and responsible for other people. They may have child support or help aging relatives. Student loans? Daycare? Medications?

Each worker’s family has an economic impact within their community, affecting businesses, large and small. If they aren’t working, they aren’t buying gas or getting the oil changed in their car. They likely aren’t paying child care, and in the competitive daycare world, their child may lose his spot. If they rent, missing a payment may cause their landlord problems with finances on his end. Like skipping a stone across a still pond, this problem ripples across our communities affecting everyone.

The media reports the larger problems. The reports are more dire with each passing day. As I write this, the crawl (photo below) on CNN says Bank of America CEO Warns of Long-Term Damage to U.S. Economy Due to Trade & Shutdown Uncertainty.

And if are horrified by the one, take a gander at any of these.

Tax funds may be delayed as Hundreds of IRS workers skip work over shutdown. But you get to keep paying your taxes!

Impact of shutdown on research funding. Government-funded research from healthcare to energy and weather impacts all American citizens. And heads up, wash the sheets in the guest room, your daughter who is a researcher in graduate school may need your basement.

Maybe we don’t need the PandaCam but the Violence Against Woman Act, which expired in December, provides needed services for women and children at risk. And federal highways aren’t being repaired; federal parks are overrun with litter. Did I mention the Coast Guard and border agents? And the court system? What federal agencies are responsible for the migrant children we are holding?

In our nomadic society, people fly for work and pleasure, about 1.73 million people per day (this is not new data, because the Department of Transportation is shutdown.) I have at least three family members, that I know of, flying this week. This headline from Time yesterday will make your head snap: ‘We Cannot Even Calculate the Level of Risk.’ Air Traffic Controllers Issue Dire Warnings About Air Safety During the Shutdown.”

Time noted, “Air traffic controllers, Transportation Security Administration (TSA) agents, transportation security and law enforcement officers, safety inspectors, air marshals and FBI agents have all been caught up in the shutdown, leaving airports understaffed and raising questions about the current safety of the nation’s aviation system, according to the joint statement from National Air Traffic Controllers Association President Paul Rinaldi, Air Line Pilots Association President Joe DePete and Association of Flight Attendants-CWA President Sara Nelson. UPDATE January 25, 2019. As of this morning, three airports are on ground stops due to inadequate staffing, Newark, Philadelphia, and LaGuardia (New York).

Do I have your attention yet? If you have a bomb shelter in your backyard leftover from the Cold War, perhaps now is the time to head out. All of this is unsettling and scary, regardless of where we sit in life. What can we mere mortals do?

Yesterday I read an excellent commentary in Sojourners by Adam Taylor, who is the editor. I know American Christianity hasn’t won any popularity contests recently, but before you run screaming from the room, I challenge you to read his article here. Whether you regard Jesus as your Savior or a prophet, let’s think about his example. The most obvious call to action for people of faith is prayer. That not your bag? The article suggests you call, write, visit those folks who represent you in Congress. Here’s the link to find your person in the House. And yes, here’s the handy-dandy link to find your Senators.

Many non-faith organizations have stepped up from retail chains to famous chefs. Most communities have non-profits dedicated to food and housing security.

The real crux of Taylor’s article is that we as Americans have a long history of rising to a challenge. Remembering the Serenity Prayer, what we can control is helping our neighbors in need. This is and has always been, the crux of the American story. I’m not ready to give up on us yet.

Disclaimer: This article is not about the politics that got us here. I have an immense anger about what I see as the problem. This essay is not about that. Please let your comments reflect what I have written.

Jan 212019

I did not start drinking coffee until I went into direct sales. I had no idea what I was missing. Both my husband’s family and my family were religious about their coffee. I was embarrassed once when my brother-in-law came to our house after visiting my husband in the hospital, and We. Had. No. Coffee. Nothing, not even a Sanka envelope. But, as I mentioned, in our forties, The Husband and I both got religion.

Now, we both depend on java in the morning, and sometimes even a second. Before I retired, I ran through a drive-thru (location depending on traffic but could be FourBux, Donut Bank, or McD’s.) Now, the joy of having a cuppa at home, slowly, while watching the CBS Morning News is sublime.

I am inflexible on the subject of mugs. I drink coffee in a mug. Cups are for tea. I discern a difference. I also want a substantial handle on my mug. I also prefer to drink from a mug that is younger than my adult child, who will be 29 this spring. My husband, on the other hand, treasures mugs with which he has an emotional relationship, like the free Cameron Springs Water mug he adores. I got the mug free at a health fair in the 1990s. I think the company has long been out of business or was purchased.

I recently bought four new mugs (two of which are pictured above) which led to my insistence that we rid ourselves of four. Our cupboard space is limited. We have enough mugs for the von Trapp children and most of the Osmonds and their children and grandchildren to join us for morning coffee, with everyone having a mug.

Out went the free radio station mug with the logo worn off that I got in 1980. Out went three matching mugs with tiny handles. (By out, I mean given to Goodwill for any tiny-handed politicians who need them.) I’m expecting a mug with El Greco’s Toledo on it as well as another with Snoopy, the literary ace, typing on his doghouse. Incremental change, that’s my motto.

Jan 182019

Ninety-seven-year-old Prince Philip, the husband of Queen Elizabeth II, flipped his Land Rover on one of the family estates earlier this week. Reports say he was uninjured, but two women in a Kia sustained minor injuries. While no fault was cited in reports, MSN notes “Witnesses told the BBC Philip appeared’very shocked’ and shaken after the collision, which caused the Land Rover he was driving to overturn.”

While certainly not the top story on any media outlet in these days of Rasputin, several pundits weighed in on the question that challenges Baby Boomers. Should my aging parent continue to drive? I guarantee you my 88-year-old father and I will have a discussion about this in the next few days, and he will cite Prince Philip’s driving and his age. Never mind the Prince was likely driving with an aide in the wide-open spaces of Sandringham Estate. Never mind he was in a Land Rover. Never mind he was likely at low speed.

My father is a very active man. He lives in the town where he went to college and still participates in college activities. He is very busy in his fraternity which is about three miles from the senior center where he lives in an apartment. Last weekend his area received about seven inches of snow. His 8 a.m. Saturday morning alumni fraternity meeting was not canceled. Dad insisted on going and finangled a younger fraternity brother to pick him up.

While you may think I’m being overly critical, the whole driving thing is something I can fully understand. I have not driven at night for probably 15 years (unless there is a dire emergency, which hasn’t happened yet.) Winter is challenging because where we live on the eastern side of the Central Standard Time Zone, its pretty dark after 4 p.m. This is one of the reasons I retired early.

Dad had a stroke in his eye about two months ago. He recovered, and his eye doctor was amazed at how well he did. My brother and I didn’t want him driving as he recovered. And it wasn’t only his vision — it was his car, a 2000 Park Avenue Buick. If you are unfamiliar with the model, visit any senior center in your area and go to where the residents park their cars. I’ll buy you a cherry Coke if you don’t find at least six of the Park Avenue sedans, in beige, the color of the year. The good thing about this vehicle is that is it the size of the semi-trailers Ringling Bros formerly used to haul elephants to the circus. You can see him coming, as well as keep six sides of beef in the trunk for transport if that tickles your fancy.

Dad’s girlfriend who has a much newer Nissan small SUV (which sits up higher and make it easier to see from the wheel) was the primary driver during his incarceration from driving. He was not a happy camper.

It will be interesting to see if Prince Philip stops driving. While he has people who can drive him around, so does my father. My brother lives a mile away and takes him many places. His senior center has a bus that will take him to and from his doctor’s appointments. (Dad is not a fan because of the six dollar fee and the inconvenience of waiting.) And of course Dad’s girlfriend is happy and willing to be the driver.

Of course, I worry about Dad. But I also worry about the other guy. I don’t drive at night anymore because my night vision is terrible and I’m afraid. Fear is not the right mind-set for driving, but neither is unfounded confidence.

hen I was a child and grew up in snowy NE Indiana, we rarely missed church or a high school basketball game because of weather. My dad always drove a big Chevy sedan. No 4-wheel drive. No SUV. No special traction control. If you went into the ditch, someone pulled you out. It was a small county, and everyone knew everyone. It’s a different world now, and Dad lives in a small city where he doesn’t know everyone.

One must respect the independence driving gives my father and countless other seniors like him. AARP has outlined excellent talking points for the difficult conversation. I guess I’ll forward this along to Prince Charles and Princess Anne.

Jan 172019

For the past year more than half of our calls have been spam — telemarketing calls, health insurance, the service desk for a computer I don’t own, and the like. Most of the time I don’t answer the ringing phone, something as a child I could not fathom.

We are contemplating getting rid of our house phone. It’s not accurate to call it a landline; we’ve been hooked to our digital lines for at least a decade. But since I was a child, I’ve always had access to a phone, either on the wall, a countertop, and eventually, something I could stick in my pocket and carry around the house.

The first phone I remember was in my parent’s home, where we lived from 1959 to 1966. It was a black, dial telephone that hung on the wall in the kitchen. Our number was 4790. The exchange where we lived was so small that everyone had four digit numbers. My grandparents were on a party line out in the country (we lived in town, about 1,200 people). Their number was 4200. My grandfather sold farms, and I cannot imagine that his neighbors on the party line rejoiced over his constant business calls. My grandparents also had an outside ringer which you could hear from the barns, chicken house, garden, and fields nearest the house.

A study in the British Telegraph this month noted that Brits spend only half as much time using landlines as they did six years ago. The article reported that, “The demand for landline calls has dropped from 103 billion minutes in 2012 to 54 billion in 2017, while mobile call minutes increased from 132.1 billion to 148.6 billion.”

People demand instant messaging, instant answers, instant communication in the Internet age. Apparently, old style dialing of a telephone takes too long. Earlier this week, I watched a very funny video on Facebook. Two teenage boys were given a black desktop style telephone (typical to what you would see on any office desk in my early career). They were asked to demonstrate how to use it. They looked for push buttons and didn’t consider dialing the wheel. A failure of imagination, one might say. But I imagine ii someone handed me an iPhone in 1980, I would use it as a back scratcher.

Not having a landline means I will have to keep my cell phone with me wherever I go in our home. Until the batteries started dying in our home phones, we had them all over the house. Rather than replace the batteries or phone, we’ve just gotten rid of them, one by one.

When I was a child, talking on the phone (hiding in my parent’s bedroom, gabbing with high school friends on a one-piece plastic phone that looked like a Space Age hairdryer, was fabulous. Despite my mom’s constant interruptions to “get off the phone,” I enjoyed talking with my friends. A cell phone is not the same level of enjoyment because the coverage varies, depending on your location and the weather. This morning a friend called while driving from the west into Louisville. Having driven that route many times, I knew I would lose her as she made the big wide curve into the New Albany area. Sustaining a conversation is difficult on a cell phone. Maybe that’s why we text? I’m not sure. I’m not a fan of texting, mostly because I can’t really see the type very well.

Autosave-File vom d-lab2/3 der AgfaPhoto GmbH

Talking to high school friends had limitations; in my consolidated high school there were five long distance exchanges. While a close friend lived only five miles away, calling her was long distance. We may no long distance calls in our home, except for emergency or before 7 a.m. when the rates were lower. My mom often called her sister in Massachusetts for a chat at the early hour, and my dad’s sisters called him with family updates that early. Making a long distance call during the day was something reserved for holidays, when one called far-off relatives and the phone was passed around. My mom was the queen of that practice — my brother and I absolutely hated talking to people we didn’t know once a year. We felt like we were being held at gunpoint.

I am newly retired, a little more than a year now. Because my mobile phone was attached nearly 24/7 as a job requirement, I am reticent to keep it with me at all times. I figure people can catch up with me later, via phone, text, Facebook, smoke signals, and worst case scenario, they hunt me down like a dog. Our communications have become so ubiquitous that some of the joy and wonder are gone, no call is special anymore. Most are not even wanted.

So, we will dump our landline in our continued quest to streamline a retiree budget, and I’m not sure that what we’ve lost we didn’t lose a long time ago.

Sep 102018

The hummingbird feeder hangs empty next to feeders full of safflower seeds. In summer, the tiny birds fed for their long trek south. Now, the hummingbirds are gone.

Wiry finches bounce back and forth between three feeders. Birds coast from the outstretched arms of the trees, gliding smoothly for their respite. Bluebirds attend to mealtime as a pack, multiple plain females, and males resplendent in blue wings and orange breast-coats.

The September air holds a tiny hint of what is to come, a reminder that the seasons change whether we want them to or not.

How I will miss the hummingbirds, delicate yet ambitious, fluttering around the bright red feeder.

A male bluebird stands on the deck rail between feeders, enjoying the bounty of seeds I purposely put out. A cardinal joins him, also focused on repast, unaware the hummingbirds are gone.

The world spins, days grow shorter and colder, light disappears. The hummingbirds will return, as sure as I know my lilac bushes will bloom in April.

Walt Whitman mourned in spring,
“When lilacs last in the dooryard bloom’d,
And the great star early droop’d in the western sky in the night,
I mourn’d, and yet shall mourn with ever-returning spring.”

In autumn, we celebrate harvest, and release nature in a blaze of glorious color. Does letting go ever feel just, in a world full of injustice? It does not, and the September chill will forever remind me of what we lost, just as Whitman mourned in spring.

Jul 222018

Image may contain: 2 people, people sitting, people eating, child and indoor

July 22, 2018 — Several years ago my father paid to have all of his color slides put on disk for us.  He had taken more than 500 slides between 1955 and 1969.  I’m not sure why he stopped, except that my brother and I both had Brownie cameras by then and I suspect he thought our pictures were sufficient.  I wish he had kept taking them, though my teenage years are best left undocumented.

My mom, who passed in 2012, gave us the best birthday parties.  With a July birthday, mine were probably better than my brother’s parties, whose birthday is a few weeks after Christmas.

Since my birthday is tomorrow, I looked through the pictures to find birthday pictures.  I came across this treasure that I don’t think I’ve ever noticed before.  It’s my first birthday.  My parents lived in a small, hot, upstairs apartment in a family home.  Can you imagine my petite mom carrying this 30-lb. baby up and down what has been described to me as steep and dark stairs?  My parents left the stroller at the bottom of the stairs.

Things I noticed in this picture:

  1.  My mom is wearing an apron.
  2. I am laser-focused on the cake.
  3. My fingernails, hair, and eyebrows (except for the hair color) are identical to this morning.
  4. The body is fairly matching, also.
  5. It appears there is a wallet lying on my tray table.  Did they give a one-year old money?  Bad idea, especially that one year old who didn’t learn to handle money until she was in her mid-forties.
  6. For her, my mother is tan.  My grandparents had a cottage at Lake Wawasee then, and we spent much time there in the summer.  In later years, Mom would get skin cancer and not enjoy the sun.
  7. My favorite part of the picture is that my mom’s typewriter is sitting on a table behind me.  My mom typed for my dad for his entire career, tests, reports, hand-outs, whatever.  Mom typed them from Dad’s horrendous handwriting.  I’ve inherited that handwriting because Mom taught me to type before I learned cursive writing.  I was in the first grade.  Learning to type early was fantastic because I could type my “stories.”  (Okay, the voices in my head.)

Fantastic to reflect on this picture sixty years later.  I am grateful for many things, for a mother who loved me, for a father who still loves me, for being born into this home where I was never hungry or cold (I won’t say I was never hot, because my parents didn’t get air conditioning until I was fifty).

Jun 262018

Published in the Sunday Evansville Courier & Press – Father’s Day 2010

On the day I was born my father bought a new ’57 pink Chevy. I want to believe the color was in honor of his first girl-baby; frankly, it probably wasn’t. My father—now almost 80—is a pragmatist and most likely bought what he found available on the Chevy lot on the hot July afternoon.

My storybook ideas of life and his stoic realism stand at the heart of our complicated father-daughter relationship. As I’ve grown older, I more fully understand what makes my father tick, and how these lessons of nature and nurture shaped me.

Our childhoods were polar opposites. Neither of his parents graduated from high school—I suspect they didn’t make it through elementary school. My father was born with a disability and spent the first few years of his life in and out of Riley Hospital in Indianapolis.

His family lost their farm in the Great Depression. His father died when Dad was four. Until after World War II, his family worked the fields with a team of horses, and lived off the land without electricity and indoor plumbing.

My dad went to college with funding from Indiana Vocational Rehabilitation, the first person in his family to go. Using his farm experience, he further honed his education and became a high school science and agriculture teacher.

Both of my parents graduated from college, (though I admit suffering through their continual Boilers vs. Hoosiers debates). I was the Baby Boomer, born in the baby bumper crop year of 1957, growing up in a small Indiana town duplicated in numerous television sitcoms. With annual vacations, our family “saw the USA in our Chevrolet.” My younger brother and I enjoyed what the Greatest Generation never had but gave—freedom from want and worry.

No early morning chores in our little yellow prefabricated house—we picked up our toys after the snap, crackle, pop of Rice Krispies and watched Captain Kangaroo on our black-and-white Dumont television set. We played; my father went to work every day.

Dad had the same job for thirty-seven years. In the summer, he helped adult farmers with their financial records. He volunteered as a 4-H leader, church officer and Lions Club Tail-Twister. He carried a “little black book” in which he scribbled in his illegible handwriting all of his commitments, which he then kept.

And he still had the time to take us on walks in the woods, where he knew the color and texture of every leaf mentioned in Fifty Trees of Indiana.

Sunday mornings were for church. No questions. No arguing. As Dad drove our family to the little country church six miles from our house, he commented on the rural scenery, regardless of the season. Winter offered the contrast of bright red barns against snowdrifts. Spring showcased early wildflowers blanketing hillsides with purple, yellow, and pink blooms. In the summer, he drew encouragement when the rains came, then the planting of corn, then cornstalks rising from the rich, black Indiana soil.

And autumn, the season of harvest, is his favorite. He often quoted James Whitcomb Riley, “Ain’t God good to Indiana?” in celebrating the economic and spiritual victories of harvest. He enjoyed the autumn palette painted across golden fields against an orange and red stand of oaks and maples.

I never appreciated this side of my father until I was long past the age of playing chicken with my brother in the backseat on the way to Sunday school.

In my forties, I realized exactly what my father had given me.

When he was a small child, Dad saw a photograph of a painting in a book. The painting featured a group of horses parading through a wide boulevard of the city. On Thanksgiving Day 2000, Dad asked me to help him find a copy of this painting.

While he could not remember the title or the artist, Dad described the painting to me in such vivid detail I could visualize it. He remembered details: the flowing white manes of large draft horses at the center of the painting, the burst of motion as the great beasts moved through the city, the intensity of the handlers. We searched the Internet for hours and finally gave up.

Two weeks later I was visiting the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City, wandering through an exhibit on French mid-19th century paintings. After several hours, I experienced “museum fatigue” and nearly left the building.

One more gallery, I thought. I rounded a corner and came into a gallery containing one painting. A work in oil dominated the room, almost eight feet high and sixteen feet wide. A shiver slid down my spine, as this huge painting was exactly as my father had described.

The Horse Fair by Rosa Bonheur featured a dozen muscular horses on a Paris boulevard. In the center, a white horse reared up and shook his handsome mane. This was Dad’s painting.

I bought a small poster which I gave him several weeks later at Christmas. This was indeed the painting he remembered from his childhood. What long-forgotten book was it from? He did not know.

Standing alone in a New York City gallery that December day, I never felt closer to my father. I’ve never been interested in agriculture. A life on the land never held any appeal for me. But born of my father’s rural childhood was his tremendous eye for beauty, something he has continued to teach me all of my life.

May 062018

May 5, 2018  An original piece published on Humor Outcasts
by Amy Abbott

People often ask me how I spend my time now that I no longer fly on the corporate trapeze. As a dinosaur with a landline, I gab with Rachel from Card Services and “Brian” who wants to help me with my Microsoft computer problems. I chat with many helpful people who have my sole interests front and center. (I have this bridge for sale in Brooklyn, if you are interested.) I see these calls as a form of entertainment, as in…
“Hello,” I answer the landline when I can find a charged phone.

“This is Brian from Microsoft. We’re calling about your computer. Is First Name of Husband, Last Name of Husband Home,” says Brian, who mispronounces our very common last name.
“I’m sorry, I don’t have a computer, and no, Mr. Last Name of Husband Isn’t Here.”
“Does anyone else in your household have computer, laptop or tablet,” he persists, neglecting the common article “a”.
“No, you’ve reached a mental hospital. There are no computers here, too dangerous for the patients,” I say, hang up, and then dial the number to block Brian’s number. The company will call back on another number, probably within a day.

My current most annoying recurring call is from a charity that solicits for breast cancer research, a worthy cause among other worthy causes. My sister-in-law has MBC, and I’m a supporter of anything that will help her and lengthen her life, and those of the many others who suffer from this horrible disease. This group uses a digital recording, engineered to laugh, pause, show digital empathy, etc. And they ask for my adult son, who hasn’t lived here in ten years. I don’t know why I bother to be nice – it’s a recording after all, but I tell the disembodied voice I support the cause of breast cancer research but not this agency. No matter what I say, the voice – as pleasant as my kindergarten teacher Mrs. Reed – keeps coming at me with another lower offer of what I can give today. Whoever records this should be our representative in North Korea.

I have a new strategy now. I don’t hang up, but I say random words like “pineapple” and “effluvium” and “ramshackle” to see if the responses will change. They don’t, and then I hang up. “Effluvium” is particularly fun to say. The cause is good, so it’s sad that this group exploits fundraising for real breast cancer research. I’m sure they are chasing people away with these digital tactics. (My responses are an adaptation of what I learned from my mother who rid herself of persistent Jehovah Witness missionaries by inviting them in for coffee and then reviewing “The Lutheran Witness” while they waited to push “Watch Tower Magazine.” Mom was not unkind, but somewhat devious.)

Yesterday I received a call from my online pharmacy. This is a sore subject with me because my former company, from whom I’m buying COBRA insurance, changed plans in January and didn’t tell me. I spent months sorting through providers and insurers.

The call was recorded and spit out, “This is XXXX, and your case number is XXXXX666XXXXXXXX. Call us back immediately at 800-XXX-XXXX.”
I scrambled to find a pen and paper and scribbled the numbers down, and I called back. The 666 embedded in the middle of the code did not seem to be a good sign. Was this a scam? The person answered with the name of my online pharmacy, and I gave the 15-digit code and was told I owe them $XX. Weird, because when I order, I immediately pay. When I told my husband, he thought I might have been scammed, but I checked with the bank, and it was the appropriate vendor. Whew!

Technology can be a wonderful enhancement for we mere humans. I cannot imagine travel without Lyft. I can push a magic button, and voila a car appears to take me wherever. But I’m so over “Rachel from Card Services” who is insistent that she can get me a lower card rate, on a card I don’t have.

I guess I’m a Luddite, but I don’t want a washer and dryer so difficult to use that I consult the owner’s manual each time I do a load. (Don’t get me started on the K-cup coffeemaker or my new vacuum cleaner.) If this technology is supposed to make my life easier, then why don’t I have “Rosie, the Robot” from “The Jetsons?” A Roomba just doesn’t have that same warm feeling that Rosie gave her family. You have to wonder how Rosie would respond to the robo-calls. Maybe she would relate; they are her own kind. Did I just say something racist about robots?
I could elaborate more on my daily battle with technology, but it’s time to change the ink cartridge in my printer. Now, where’s that owner’s manual?


Amy Abbott is syndicated on Senior Wire News Service and writes for newspapers and magazines. She’s the author of multiple books, and is currently featured in “Laugh Out Loud,” the first anthology of the Erma Bombeck Writer’s Workshop.