Mar 032021
 

March 3, 2021 — Earlier this week, Herman and I got our second COVID-19 vaccines. Anticipating a rough time, we made a big pot of chicken noodle soup for our recovery.  Both of us had sore arms, and yesterday felt a tiny chill all day. When I checked the thermostat about 9 p.m. last night, I realized we hadn’t turned it up that morning.  So, the chill was self-imposed. More proof that we have lost all sense during the pandemic.

NASA photo

Now we talk about what we will do post-shot-recovery.  I want to go to Cracker Barrel for breakfast sometime. Do I know how to live or what? And maybe take in the new Frances McDormand movie in an actual theater, not in pajamas five feet from our TV. But my social skills and discernment seem to have disappeared under the weight of isolation. It’s like all the muscle memory I had for a normal life has dissipated. I’m terrified of re-entry. Will the fire from my capsule burn me up as I return to earth?

This week marks the first anniversary of Herman coming home for good.  He was scheduled to retire at the end of May when the school year was over. But the university sent everybody home on March 6th. I wasn’t quite ready to relinquish the remote.  I had not processed what it would mean to have both of us in this house. Nor was he quite ready for the fact that the only time he would return to a workplace of more than 32 years was to clean out his office months later.

In some ways, it feels like a century.  In other ways, it feels like a weekend.  All sense of time is lost.  I joke with my brother that the only way we can measure time is by Garbage Day.  It’s the only fixed point in our lives.  Andy’s day is Tuesday, and ours is Wednesday.  The church is still at 10 a.m. Sunday, but it’s on Zoom and YouTube, so I can watch whenever I want. There are no regular coffee days with friends, no lunches out, no Gal Pal days. We have doctor’s appointments, but they aren’t regular.

We’ve been fortunate, as my Grandmother McVay used to say, “If you have a warm house and food to eat, you better enjoy it.”  For years, we’ve talked about downsizing when Herman retired. But I’m glad we had not made that move.  Having a big house was a godsend during this time.  My space. His space. My bathroom. His bathroom.

He has a small ETSY business, and I’m always writing a book, so we’ve kept busy for a year. The plague has only whisked by us—a two-year-old relative got it and had no symptoms. It was discovered on a well-baby checkup. The in-laws of my cousin died days apart. They had been masking and social distancing.  One masked visit from their adult son sickened them. My small church has had four deaths from this awful disease. The plague is everywhere in wider and wider concentric circles around us, touching and destroying so many lives that it is almost impossible to grasp the enormity of the loss.

We are beginning to think about downsizing. We hired a home inspector to tell us what surprises were in store.  Whew!  The roof and the foundation are good. But something was going on, under our noses, that we didn’t know. We have a potentially exploding toilet. Yes, that’s what I said. It turns out the Gerber FlushMate has been known to be a porcelain projectile, a sh##ty shooter, a rear-end rifle. Okay, I’ll stop, but I don’t want to. A butt bullet?

You live in a house for 26 years, and you think you know it.  And right in front of your face is danger. Or rather, behind you is danger.

Anyone who has known us for longer than five minutes knows that our most significant problem with this house hasn’t been an exploding toilet.  No, it has been an overabundance of critters. We weren’t even  that impressed at the San Diego Zoo.  They didn’t have that many animals, compared to what lives under our yard barn and deck.  Well, the yard barn is history, having suffered an enormous hole in the roof from a storm earlier in the year.  Add a Skyride to our yard and its practically the same property as the big zoo in San Diego!.

Under the deck is a magical world of its own.  And before I go on, I have to say a word about decks.  Fire.  That’s the word.  The best thing for a deck is a lighted match, according to my brother.  I will never again own a home with a deck, a basement, or trees.  Decks are a huge pain, and this deck is the biggest pain of all.  It is the entire length of the house, and L-shaped so there’s another large portion that juts out into the yard.  The deck is made of wood and requires enormous effort to keep it up.

I’m late getting to the punchline, but it has been home to more critters than seen on “Wild Kingdom.”  (Dated reference for Baby Boomers.)

We’ve paid Greg the Ground Hog Guy to trap and relocate whatever monstrous beings have settled in for several years now. These include opossums, raccoons, groundhogs, and now skunks. We’ve seen plenty of deer, fox, lions, tigers, and bears, and we hear there are bobcats out there. This year, we decided enough is enough.  Eventually, we want to downsize, and we don’t want to have to declare this as a national

Fat Bastard, baby groundhog on deck, 2019. Now in Gopher Relocation Program, whereabouts unknown.

wildlife refuge when we sell.

Greg will be constructing a barrier under the deck to keep the critters out. To make sure he isn’t closing anyone or anything in, he has posted two web-cams under the deck.  I like to call them Gopher Cams.  Herman keeps saying, “Au revoir, Go-pher,” imitating Bill Murray in “Caddyshack.”  I have to think like a gopher.  Superior intelligence and firepower.

You have Hulu or Netflix or Sling.  So what?  Every morning, I can watch monsters frolicking in living color on my big computer screen.  Last night we had an appearance by Pepe Le Pew and Meester Ground Hog.  Both of them appeared to be significant.  Both showed up, looked around, and left.  There’s a hole under the deck, likely a former groundhog residence, that Greg put something in to discourage settlers.  The night before last, which was Gopher-Cam’s premiere, Pepe Le Pew made his grand entrance.

The hole is directly below my office window.  I wonder if the camera goes the other way and the critters can see me?  We live in their world, you know.  Do they wonder why I’m wearing a Sandra & Ruth & Elena & Sonia T-shirt?  And pink fuzzy house slippers?

Their fate is knowable. They will be leaving soon.  I know this as much as I know my lilacs will bloom in late April. And it’s not like the Roach Motel where roaches check-in, but they don’t check out. They can visit, but they cannot stay. In the words of Jean Paul Sartre, Au revoir, Go-Phers!

 

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Jan 312021
 

January 31, 2021—If you talked to me recently, you know I’m completely obsessed with living in the past. This work is the book I’ve wanted to write since I was a child. In 2019, I compiled letters my now 92-year-old aunt gave me; letters my grandfather wrote to my grandmother before they married  “Always Carl” had a narrative arc, but it was determined by the letters.

Something about the “Always Carl” project set off some internal alarm.  If I was going to write my magnum opus, it should be now.  I started on the new book “Centennial Farm Family” about 18 months ago.

Cover by Diana Ani Stokely, http://grafixtogo.com/

I know I should get to the point and tell you what it is about, but I’m not ready yet, so you are getting more context.  My maternal grandmother was wicked crazy about her ancestors and their stories.  She liked to dress up like a pioneer in a bonnet, black dress, and a petticoat.  (She was on the Bicentennial committee for our county and wore this heavy, black outfit on the July 4, 1976 parade float.  Seriously, she was 68, so I guess she was long past menopause, but I don’t know how she did it. She was big into the DAR, which wasn’t something I wanted to join.  I’m still mad about Marian Anderson.

“Grammy,” that’s my grandmother, told me stories from the time I was a baby until she died in 1994.  She took me to history meetings.  She shared pictures with me.  One of the things she liked to do was interview people on her fancy-schmancy new cassette recorder.  The librarians had transcribed one of the recordings. Grammy interviewed a man, born in 1880, who knew her parents and talked about farming from 1880 to the then-present, which was about 1970. He was a good storyteller, and she asked good questions, which I so appreciate fifty years later.

I always thought I would write a book about her family and the farm.  The stories were compelling, and that the farm continued was pretty impressive considering some of the events that happened. I started looking through the boxes she gave me.

Grammy also wrote a lot of handwritten notes.  I found two that made me cry and fully accelerated my brain into go mode.  I found two notes on which was written “For Amy LeNore,” dated 1958, and tagged to items she thought I might find interesting. I was a year old.  I realize now that I have been brainwashed. However, it is so sweet that she thought someday I would be interested in these old stories.

“Centennial Farm Family”  tells the stories of four generations of the Long family, who kept the same farm for a century and received recognition from the Indiana Historical Society.  There are hundreds of other families who have received this recognition. (The farm stayed in the family for 173 years, but the book stops in 1937.)

Reuben Long came to Indiana in 1835 to stake his claim for 160 acres.  Through wild gyrations like two Great Depressions, a cholera epidemic, and a Civil War soldier’s death, the family ownership was sometimes in  jeopardy. Still, the land came to my great-great-grandfather Washington Long, Reuben’s seventh of eight children.

Two of Washington’s three sons died, and the other had tuberculosis.  But the farm passed to another generation, split between his remaining son and daughter.  Washington’s daughter and husband had three daughters, one of whom died, and the other two left the area.

A colorized picture from a reunion in which three of the four generations in my book are represented

When my great -grandfather died an unexpected and horrific death, my great-grandmother doesn’t know what to do with the acreage, half of the legacy farm, and the land she and her husband have purchased. Two men come along to help her–unlikely suspects really–one of them is in a wheelchair, and the other has a wealthy and kind father.

The farm that was in the family in Indiana for 173 years was sold 11 years ago.  While Reuben’s great-great-great-grandchildren (I would be one of them) still live in Indiana, his great-great-great-great grandchildren have flown the coop.

It’s ironic, for me, that I am the one keeping the farm’s memory alive. I was not interested in agriculture, though I was interested in the stories and pictures.  I wished my family owned the local newspaper.  Not a farm.  As a child, I loved going to the farm, seeing the wildflowers, watching the stars from the large, flat lawn beside the farmhouse, and being with my grandparents.  I wasn’t the type to show animals at the 4-H Fair or make my clothes or grab eggs from under a chicken.

Writing a historical narrative about one’s family is a challenge.  It isn’t quite journalism, and it isn’t quite history.  And it is not fiction. One can speculate, but one cannot make things up.  I am fortunate that I have items from my grandmother as well as a rich oral history. She told me the same stories so many times that I have them memorized.  And along the way, I guess I always knew that I would write this book because I interviewed both my aunt and my father multiple times over the years.  What has also been helpful is the encouragement of many writer friends.  I also took both the beginning and the advanced “Creative Non-Fiction Magazine” classes on Historical Narrative.  For anyone interested in writing a family book, I highly recommend the classes.

From the collection of my grandmother and her two sisters. Abt. 1919

Earlier this week, I had the good fortune of hearing David Maraniss speak about his new book, “A Good American Family: The Red Scare and My Father,” through my membership in the National Society of Newspaper Columnists. Maraniss discussed the tightrope walk between journalism and history and discussed the challenges of working in one’s voice.  He mentioned that he takes about four years to do a book and is currently working on a new book about Jim Thorpe, the great Native American athlete who started the National Football League.  He affirmed some things for me, one, that I wasn’t taking too long, and two, I need to chase some rabbits into holes for accuracy and completeness of the story.

Talking about research, he said, “Turn the page.”  Three little words that are the key to writing an excellent historical narrative. I’m afraid I’ll never stop writing this book.  The manuscript is 98% finished, but as I edit, I find things.  And when you find things, you dig another rabbit hole.  That’s how I found out today that Washington’s wife’s brother married  Reuben’s brother’s daughter.  In English, this means that my second great-granduncle married my first cousin, four times removed.  That explains a lot.  Stay tuned.

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Jan 262021
 

By elizaIO – https://www.flickr.com/photos/elizaio/5412345718/, CC BY-SA 2.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=91578153

Updated from 2010–January 26, 2021–(This was written when I was a spry 52-year-old, having hot flashes. My sales job required that I visit senior centers.  The senior centers required that sales people “do something for them,” thus, I called Bingo once a month.)

I  have math dyslexia. Numbers just do me in. When God formed the two sides of my brain, He decreed that one side be 95% poetry, words, talking, Joni Mitchell, more poetry, more words, and more talking.

The five percent of my brain representing spatial reasoning allows me to dial a telephone and add one-digit numbers. I call it car-hop math after my high school job at the root beer stand.

I struggle with using a calculator, and I did not fare so well in freshmen Algebra class.

Despite my lopsided hemispheres, today I called my first Bingo game at a senior citizens center. This requires that I read and use numbers.

I arrived early with my prizes and already 60 people sat waiting for me. The game room temperature was a balmy 108 degrees. Most of the guests wore sweaters.  In June. This environment is incompatible with hot flashes and sweaty nervousness about reading and remembering numbers in public.

On the prize table, I put out the prizes I purchased at the neighborhood dollar store. I refer to the prizes as WPC—worthless plastic crap. These delightful parting gifts included hand lotion, sugarless candy, nail clippers, dishtowels, storage bins, a flashlight, a Groucho mask, a toothbrush, combs, a screwdriver, bunion pads, a birdfeeder, bunny ears, gum, and other eclectic WPC. This batch of prizes was of the absolute highest quality, all for less than one dollar. Imagine!  Seriously, did they expect little blue boxes from Tiffanys?

Did I mention the Groucho mask and bunny ears? My theory was these festive items might add a laugh and some fun. I was wrong.

At promptly two p.m., the facility manager was still talking with me, and the serious eyes of the players shot daggers at both of us. These folks were ready to go. B I N G O!!!!

The little white numbered balls rest in a gold apparatus, resembling a wire birdcage. The caller spins the gizmo, and six or seven white balls drop down into an open chute. The caller reads the number and fits the correct ball on a huge white grid with all the numbers and letters on it. This is an easy task for those folks who are not numerically challenged. I swear at employee orientation, they said there would be no math.

Think of it like this: some of us are good at math and science. People with those attributes are called “doctors” or “engineers.” When these individuals view a group of numbers on a page, they see the theory of relativity, a chemical chain, or perhaps nuclear fission.

Others possess excellent skills in talking and writing. These individuals are called “sales reps” or “unemployed.”

Those of us in the second group are fond of saying, “Which of Leonardo da Vinci’s skills would you eliminate, the math/science or the arts?”This philosophical paradox makes for an interesting and provocative cocktail party discussion, or something to ask the person ahead of you in the unemployment line.

Image result for the moonWhen I see numbers on a page, I think of a Jackson Pollock painting. They look like scattered drips of paint that collectively have no meaning to me.  Imagine how much fun I have with an Excel spreadsheet.  Love me some pivot tables.

I blame this whole thing on President John F. Kennedy. I struggle with calling Bingo well because of “new math.” President Kennedy wanted young people to study math and science “so we can put a man on the moon by the end of this decade.”

That darn American “Sputnik moment” really messed me up. I started first grade with old math, and by the middle of second grade, “new math” burned past me to a galaxy, far, far away.

Forty-something years later, add to that the problem of poor vision corrected with bifocals. Did I mention my two cataract surgeries?  And glaucoma?

I spun the machine and looked through the top of my glasses to read the number.

“B, 14. B, 14.”

I liked how my voice sounded through the sound system. A little like Joni Mitchell and a lot like Broderick Crawford.

Next ball.

“N, 41. That’s N, forty-one.

“N, 38. N, three-eight.”

“You’re saying them too fast, honey,” shouted Alma from the front table. “Slow down.”

I felt I was crawling along, but Alma straightened me out. I used my bifocals to read the number and switched to regular lenses to see the cutout grid for the ball. The back and forth made me nervous and somewhat dizzy. And, I have to sound out the numbers phonetically in my head. “Zero, sixty-eight.”

Madeline, in the back row, quickly corrected me. “It’s Ohhhh, not zero.”

I felt that she wanted to add, “you ding-a-ling, what rock did you crawl out from under?”  I had a few choice words for her in my mind, along the same theme.

Seven balls filled the chute. Then, I spun again. If I did not have the right touch on the wire cage, too many balls came out. I spun the cage too fast and four balls fell and bounced on the floor. I chased after them. And the horse she rode in on.

Everyone laughed as I bent over to pick up the rogue balls.  Even in my work suit, I’m sure I looked like one of those  wooden garden cutouts of a farm wife leaning over, that some of the Leisure Land residents had in their tiny front yards.

“I’m winning them over,” I thought, assuming their laughter was friendly. Of course, they were  laughing at the sight of my behind. Then, I said, “Sorry, folks, I have the first-time jitters.”

“Move on with it,” said a man in the back wearing a WWII hat.

“What branch of service were you in?” I asked. “God bless you for your service to our country.”

He said, “Battle of the Bulge.”

“Let’s give him a hand,” I asked the group to applaud this old soldier. No one applauded. The old soldier said, “Now can you just move on?”

As the games progressed, my calling skills improved. I did not drop any more balls, but I did have trouble remembering if it was game one or game two.  This is easily explained. As a post-menopausal woman, I have less estrogen in my body than the old soldier from the Battle of the Bulge. This causes inability to remember which part of the game we’re in. Was it time to clear the board? Did we just clear it? Did I unplug the toaster this morning?

I made a joke out of it. “I’m having trouble remembering which game we are on. This is why no one in my family wants to play cards with me; I’m easily distracted.”

“Cut out the jokes, and move on, girlie-girl,” said the man in the WWII hat.

He was my favorite.

Each winner stepped up to the prize table after I verified the win and took a prize. The Groucho mask and the bunny ears may as well haveImage result for free picture of grocho mask been covered with bubonic plague germs. They did not move off the prize table.

“How about some bunny ears for the grandchildren?” I said, as two winners “Bingo-ed” at the same time. Lurlene, who used a walker and sported shiny pink hair, said, “My grandchildren have their own grandchildren,” and took some dental floss.

This has not been the greatest day of my life for a number of reasons. All day it’s been raining.  I  want to finish this endless nightmare of a game day and go home.

Unfortunately, we’ve only completed four games, but it feels like I’ve been here since seven o’clock this morning. I know we were at game eight because I counted the prizes. I bought twenty-five. I can leave when five remain.

Wait—there is the Grand Prize, a ten-dollar card to Wally World.

Almost finished. I am spinning the birdcage apparatus and I hear Alma and her friends talking about me. They think they are whispering, but they are less than ten feet away from me and I can hear every word.

“She isn’t funny. Why does she keep telling those jokes?”

I want to scream, Ladies, I can hear every word you are saying, but instead I say, “I, nineteen, I, nineteen.”

 

 

 

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