Jul 232020
 

Birthday dinner at maternal grandparents, 1962

I celebrate another trip around the sun today.  Either I’m 36 (what my head says), or I’m 163 (what my body says). Since my mother died, the week before my special day is always filled with weeping and grief.  Though this mini depression happens every year, it still surprises me.  This year was no exception, and mixed in the salad was a sadness about not being able to see my father, who will be 90 in December.  Stir in his deteriorating short-term memory, and I felt like crying.

Today I woke up grateful, happy to be alive, thankful we’ve had my Dad for so long. I’m ready to start a new year. God willing, Herman and I will celebrate another anniversary this fall, and our son is happy in his life out east.  We have shelter and plenty of food and exciting hobbies. I’ve already been showered with Facebook messages, texts, cards I will open this afternoon, and profoundly touching email messages from the Mazda dealership and the Ball State University Foundation. Oh, and I must not forget the email from Pat and Vanna and the Wheel Watchers Club.

I will grill sirloins, followed by several Zooms with dear ones, culminating in one with our son.

We miss our son every day, but are thankful he has a wonderful life, even so far away from us. Losing our annual June baseball trip was hard.  While I didn’t attend the games, I enjoyed our meals together and late-night bull sessions about everything under the sun. A never-to-be-spoken-of-again unfortunate incident with a Tall Boy and the Hot Sun ended my baseball career 23 years ago today at Riverfront Stadium.

One of the many losses of this pandemic has been the Great American Pastime, Major League Baseball.   I could not have predicted how much I would miss baseball, how it is the rhythm of my life, and the background noise of every summer. It’s the thread that weaves my father to my husband and our son. When I became engaged to a Reds fan, my Cubs-fan-to-the-death Dad said, “Well, at least it isn’t the American League.” I used to say that the perfect moment of death would be sitting about halfway up between home and third base at Wrigley, below Harry throwing out his mic to lead the singing crowd, and drinking a cold beer. In marriage, I had to accept the horror that was Riverfront Stadium.

Today, on my birthday, is the official start of the 2020 baseball season.  The Cubs played last night, and the Reds don’t play until tomorrow, but the World Champion Nationals (my third team after the Reds and Cubs) play today.

Backyard party, 1963, L-R, Gail Germann Murphy, Mom, Carla Sheeler Mitchell, Shelby Schoeff, me, Paula Bok, Lorie Bollinger, Melonie Kreider Sroufe

A summer birthday offers both disadvantages and advantages.  As a child, I couldn’t have a party at school.  Back then, before the Peloponnesian War, children brought homemade cupcakes to school to share with the entire class.  My mother, who was the queen of birthdays, gave the best parties, the iconic little girl party with pink party dresses. She wasn’t the most excellent cook, so she had a friend, Blanche Hathaway, make an angel food cake with boiled icing. Never heard of boiled icing.  It’s the best, sort of colorless and turns hard like fondant, but not as sweet.  We played games with Life Savers and string, and whatever my mother, who was a teacher, could make from home.

Even as we age, we like for the world to stop and give us recognition for our special day.  Of course, that doesn’t always happen.  My 21st birthday was spent at Lutheran Hospital, where my grandfather was being treated for a heart attack.  On my 45th birthday, we had to short-circuit a vacation because our water heater broke and flooded our basement.  Several years ago, on my birthday, my father gave my husband and I our 164th tour of Purdue University. We were glad to be with him, though neither of us attended Purdue.

The good ones have been outstanding.  On my 35th birthday, I saw an all-Gershwin musical “Crazy for You” at the Schubert Theatre in New York City.  On my 52nd birthday, I saw a revival of “West Side Story” again in New York.  This was the Tony-winning production, using Spanish for the first time.  Back at the Schubert for my 60th birthday, we saw Bette Midler in a stunning revival of “Hello, Dolly.”

On my 18th birthday, shortly before we all left for college, my friend Gail and her mom surprised me with a birthday luncheon at their home.  On my 50th birthday, I hosted a fundraiser/celebration for friends, and we raised more than 4K for playground equipment at the Easter Seals Rehabilitation Center, where our son attended pre-school.  I have a beautiful picture from that day, hanging on my office wall.  That day was filled with much love.

While I hope to live many more years, one never knows.  If a bus hits me tomorrow (highly unlikely since I rarely leave home.) Let’s start over; if a meteor smashes through my office window, I have lived the best life because I’ve never doubted that I’m loved.  Everything else is a bonus. And, honestly, I would accept another tour of Purdue, if only if we could be with Dad today, (“That’s where the Dairy Barn was 70 years ago!”) Thank you, my dear ones, for all the wishes today, and especially, for love.

 

 

Jul 062020
 

August 2019 at the gym

July 6, 2020 — Today was my third session back at the hospital’s cardiopulmonary gym since the pandemic started. I’ve been going to this remarkable place since late spring 2019 when I began the cardiopulmonary rehab program. After my “graduation,” I started in the after-program. I’ve had asthma for 29 years, which had morphed to chronic asthma, which had morphed to severe asthma and several other related problems of my lung. I initially lost 25 pounds over the first six months and need to lose at least another 25. Honestly, weight loss isn’t my primary reason for being there; the exercise is to strengthen my lungs and my mental agility.

I’ve learned so much from the staff and the other patients there, strategies for dealing with life on oxygen. For example, I used to struggle with taking a shower.  I learned that I could do several things, take my oxygen into the shower with me (as long as it doesn’t get wet), get a shower chair (which I’m not ready to do), or sit down on the commode to towel off.  Now, why didn’t I think of that?

Aspects of my disease that I struggled with or caused me shame were everyday talk in rehab.  I used to arrive 15 minutes before class for the bull session.

Who had the best portable concentrator?  Where did you get that backpack?  Who is your doctor?  How do you like Dr. X? How do you handle the hot, humid weather?  How are you doing today?

I missed the gym and especially the people for the past four months. I had stopped going last November when the flu was rampant.  I returned in February, and the gym was shuttered in early March. Since it is a physician-referred rehab program, everyone who exercises there has a heart or lung problem. There are also several pre- and many post-transplant patients. (The pre-transplant patients wore masks before the pandemic.) I have some eye problems, so I feel uncomfortable walking in our hilly neighborhood, so I didn’t exercise. From May through the beginning of October, the air quality here is also terrible.

So, as soon as I received the information that the rehab program was opening, I was psyched. My first day back was last Monday. I stood in a socially-distanced line to get into the hospital.. Masks are required; if you don’t have one, the hospital gives you one. I signed-in, had my temperature taken, answered questions, and got my daily “hall pass.”  One of the regular questions is, have you had a bad cough today?

I said no, though I’ve had a bad cough all day, every day for the past quarter-of-a-century.  I wanted to quote Inigo Montoya from “The Princess Bride” to my questioner, “I do not think it means what you think it means” about my cough.

I punched the elevator button with my elbow and went to the gym’s floor.

I thought I had prepared well. We are required to wear our oxygen into the gym and then switch to a green hospital canister. The canister is continuous oxygen, instead of the pulse oxygen of my portable oxygen concentrator. Continuous oxygen is better for breathing, especially when exercising. (At home, I have a super-sized concentrator that pumps out continuous oxygen into tubing that goes all over our upstairs and even down the stairs to the family room. The big tank is known as Big Tanko, and weighs 41 lbs.)

But, I hadn’t quite figured out the logistics, with the new pandemic rules. There aren’t enough hands to change from one oxygen to the other while dealing with a mask. I had made a mistake. Usually, I would unplug the six-foot tubing from my portable concentrator and plug directly onto the hospital’s tank. In the age of COVID, that was a bad idea, so I brought a clean tube from home in my bag. I brought an easily cleaned plastic bag. But to take my old tubing off and put the new tubing on, I HAD TO TAKE OFF MY MASK. That’s a no-no (so I did it quickly). I wasn’t near anyone, but I still felt terrible about it.

I did do something correctly. I brought the bag, needing a clean place for my concentrator (I call him ‘Lil Tanko.) ‘Lil Tanko, who weighs six pounds, might get contaminated. He has a fabric cover that can’t be washed. I usually put him on a chair, but that seemed risky. I put ‘Lil Tanko inside the bag and hung the bag on the coat rack.

Exercising in a mask is a challenge, and the first two times, I struggled. I knew my strength and stamina diminished, but I was hoping to make progress rapidly. Today, I figured a way to improve my stamina. The oxygen in the green tank is cool, while the room air is warm, sometimes even a little stuffy on humid days. I could use the “One crocodile, two crocodile” breathing technique I learned on my first day at the gym.

Breathe in through your nose and say to yourself, “One crocodile, two crocodile.” Breathe out and repeat.

Please don’t do it too fast or you’ll hyperventilate, especially in a mask. I made a conscious effort to breathe regularly (always a good plan), and today was a better day. (My concentrators give off a nasty beep if I’m not breathing often enough, but the inert hospital canisters do not.)

Only half the typical class was allowed in, so it wasn’t crowded, and yellow signs noted the machines we couldn’t use.

Today, a man next to me nearly passed out on his treadmill because of his mask. He didn’t have it over his nose, which isn’t allowed. I told him about the one crocodile, two crocodile thing (which also works with alli-ga-tor), but he wasn’t doing well. The nurse came over to talk to him and remind him about the mask.

He wasn’t someone I met before so that he may have been a new person, first time at cardiopulmonary rehab. I hope he is okay. (Because of the HiPPA laws, you don’t know why people are at this gym unless they tell you. Nor can the staff discuss patients. Several of my classmates have disappeared, and later I’ve discovered their obituary in the newspaper.)

I finished my work-out and reversed my procedure from before, cleaning all my equipment with the wipes provided, and cleaning my hands and everything I touched.  I took an extra wipe to use to open the gym door and hit the elevator button.  I used it for the inside elevator button, hit “1”, and went to one of the four markers in each corner.  An older man came running in, and the door almost caught him.  I quickly moved to the front of the elevator, and held the door for him with my leg and stepped back to the rear of the elevator.

Immediately he took off his mask.

“I can’t breathe in this thing,” he said.

I didn’t know what to say.  We are in a hospital.  He is there as a patient (patients must be unaccompanied) or an employee.  I didn’t see a nametag. The floor he was on has only physician’s offices and the rehab program.

He put the mask back on.

I don’t live in a hot spot (today), but it made me mad.  I want to go back to the gym, and I’m taking care of myself and others.  But, I think I’ll start using the stairs.

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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

 

 

Jun 282020
 

She was not my mother.  Jean Germann had three smart and beautiful daughters, one five months older than me, the other two bookending my younger brother.  Still, Jean was a huge influence during my childhood.  To borrow a cliche, she was from “the village” who raised me.

Earlier this week, Jean left this world for the proverbial better place.  After family greeted her, I think my mom may have been among Jean’s friends at the head of the receiving line.  Our families were intertwined for several generations, and Mom and Jean had a beautiful friendship.  Jean was one year, less four days. older than Mom. They often celebrated their spring birthdays with a special meal or party.

Our two families have a history, unlike any other in my life. We went to church together, as did her paternal grandparents and my maternal grandparents. We attended the same school, K-12.  Our fathers participated in Purdue alumni events, Lions Club, and men’s activities at church.  Our mothers were in the same book club and women’s activities at church.  We spent time together as families when we were younger. (Going to church together didn’t mean we waved at each other once or twice a month on Sunday mornings. It meant Sunday School, Saturday School (confirmation class), Vacation Bible School, St. John’s Players (theatre troupe), Mother-Daughter banquets, Fish Frys, Rally Day, church camp, Walther League, singing with the Reformation 450 choir.  Church was the center of everything.)

Both families moved back to my mother’s and Jean’s husband’s hometown months apart in 1957.  My lifelong friend, Gail, was born early in that year.  My parents moved back to mom’s hometown in June 1957, weeks before I was born.  My father tells of an evening he and mom visited the Germann’s South Whitley apartment, probably for visiting or a game of cards.  The baby, Gail, was fussing and fidgety.  I wouldn’t arrive until late July, so Dad had no experience with babies.

Dad smarted off, “Doesn’t that child have a bedtime?”

He would soon get his comeuppance when his baby was colicky. There are a thousand funny stories like that. And while I have no record of what was said, I can just hear Jean, throwing her head back in a hearty laugh and commenting to Dad when his firstborn behaved, well, like a baby!

A significant memory for me that no one else may remember is going to see “Mary Poppins” in Fort Wayne on Palm Sunday 1965.  For those who aren’t from the Midwest, Palm Sunday 1965 featured hundreds of tornados and many deaths, particularly in north-central Indiana.  From my childish perspective, I remember meeting the Germanns in front of the theatre (probably the Jefferson), and the girls had new matching plaid tennis shoes.  (My mom only let me have plain colored shoes.  I was envious and mad.  I was seven.)  The movie, of course, was memorable and remained a favorite (don’t much like the sequel.)  But the ride home was also significant, and I wonder if it was for the Germann family,  traveling west in their green station wagon on Indiana highway 14.  The sky was the color of mustard with a streak of purple.  South Whitley was spared, but many Indiana towns had terrible damage.

We were always welcome in the Germann’s home, a comfortable two-story brick house from the early 20th century.  The house features a wide and spacious screened front porch, a place to talk or read.  Mom and Jean would trade off on watching each other’s children, so my brother and I spent much time there. The Germann family was more athletic than my family, so there was usually an outdoor activity involved.  Jean was the cornerstone of most activities, and what I respected so much about her was her ability to include everyone.  Compared to her thin, athletic daughters, I was uncoordinated and asthmatic.  But that didn’t matter.  She always encouraged me.  I spent hours with the family, sometimes going camping with them.  Often on weekends, we would go to one of the lakes in Warsaw for an afternoon, or later to the Germann’s A-Frame on Loon Lake.

Gail, Amy 1962 What were we reading?

Gail and I remained friends, though, as we arrived at high school, our interests diverged, and we made different friends.  She went to Valpo, traveled around the world on a once-in-a-lifetime trip with her aunt, uncle, and cousins, and married a Purdue grad who farms in Whitley County.  Gail and Pat have two wonderful children. I went to Ball State, moved to Florida, married another Ball State grad and moved back to Indiana where we raised our son. She studied biology.  I studied journalism and history.

Remarkably, we’ve written letters, and in old-fashioned parlance, have been pen-pals, since our twenties. Today, when we speak or write, I feel like we haven’t communicated for ten minutes.  There’s that much history, that much love, lovely ties that bind us together.

There’s something that Gail didn’t know about my relationship with her mother, that I only told her last week when we spoke about her mother passing.  Jean had been a teacher like my own mother and had an interest in the arts.  I started writing poetry and little stories about age ten, typed on my mom’s manual Royal typewriter.  Not very much of it was any good.  Maybe there were threads of promise in the hundreds of typewritten pages I produced.  Who knows?  At some point, I was too embarrassed to share with my mother.

Jean, who always asked me about myself and made me feel special, inquired about my interests.  While she may have regretted putting a toe in that deep water, I never knew that. Until I was probably fourteen or fifteen, I shared — er, deluged her with — my poems and stories in notebooks.  And she commented on them, critiqued me, giving encouragement and instruction.  Can you imagine what this meant to me?  Can you imagine what this still means to me?  I wish I still had the notebooks.  I destroyed them when I went to college.   (The same people who screamed when I threw all my newspaper clips away last year are likely apoplectic by now.  In both cases, there were hundreds and hundreds.)

Every child needs people outside their home who believe they are special, or who make them feel that way.  Jean was not the only one for me, but she was the most special one to me. I’ve tried to encourage others in my life, based on the wonderful example I saw in Jean and so many others.

In a different world, we might call her a social influencer.  A person of faith, Jean was a woman who made a massive difference in the world.  She sustained a long-term marriage to her husband, Al. Together, they raised three children who are lovely human beings who also contribute to the world. Jean enjoyed a litany of abilities, which she shared.  She taught in parochial and public schools and worked at a public-school library for two decades. She coached tennis and encouraged many other players. Jean had a great sense of humor, which could occasionally be wry. She was a  friend of many, including my mother, and I know she was warmly welcomed by those who preceded her. Jean was a precious person who, despite the overwhelming tasks of her own busy life, reached out to an awkward child who wasn’t quite sure of her gifts.

 

IF YOU ENJOYED THIS, PLEASE SHARE
 ON YOUR SOCIAL MEDIA.

 

 

 

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

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