Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Happy Birthday, Dear Family

Dear George,
There were six of us in my immediate family (2 parents, 4 kids), yet, against the odds, we had three family birthdays in a four-day stretch in late February.  My sister Vicki’s birthday came first and is today (Feb. 24).  Vicki was the youngest child in the family, and with three older brothers she learned to tough it out to secure her place in the family hierarchy.  As the only girl, she enjoyed a special status, adored by her parents and her brothers alike.  Vicki and I have always been close, and even moreso in adulthood. She started college at the University of Michigan while I was in my last year there before leaving for Cincinnati.  She and George moved to Toronto after their graduation and then to Santa Cruz where Vicki works as a marriage/family therapist and where they raised their three kids, Jacob, Rhys, and Abra.  I was happy to get a birthday call from my sweet sister.  We had lots of laughs as always, and we’re hopeful of getting together during the summer.

Our mother, Doris, L., was born on Feb. 25, 2010, in Omaha.  She and Vic met while in college and married in 1932 in the midst of the Great Depression.  They had their four kids between 1937 and 1947.  This was an era of traditional, highly differentiated gender roles, and Doris had primary responsibility for household tasks and rearing the children.  Nowadays four kids seem like a lot, and it wasn’t an easy business.  Doris’ frequent maxim was, “Straighten up and fly right.”  The first image that comes to my mind was Doris sitting on the lawn chair, watching her children swim in the river.  We went swimming every day through the summer, and I don’t think there was ever an occasion where our mother wasn’t there, ready to rescue us if needed.  Another image that pops into my mind is watching from the living room window as Doris crawled out on the ice to rescue our Irish Setter Mike who had fallen through into the freezing river.  Mothers are unbelievably essential.  

My younger brother Steven’s birthday was on February 27.  Each year we discussed whether it was better or worse to have the last birthday in the trio.  On the one hand, it could mean that you were of lesser importance.  On the other hand, it could mean that your birthday was the culmination and high point of the week.  Steve, of course, preferred the latter interpretation, and that could well have beenb true.  Steve inherited our mother’s propensity for fun and sociability.  He was an excellent athlete, an excellent dancer, and an all-around good friend.  Steve was in law school in Detroit as we were finishing up grad school in Ann Arbor, and then he and Margie moved to Seattle where they raised their three kids: Jennifer, Greg, and Jason.  We miss him very much.  

Peter and I had summer birthdays – Peter on June 9 and mine on July 21.  We felt a little lonely, being left out of the big February extravaganza, but summer was definitely a preferred time for outdoor birthday parties.  In adulthood Peter was better about remembering birthdays than anyone else in the family.  My dad’s birthday was on Nov. 5, but he never wanted anybody to make a fuss about it.  My family’s often on my mind, but late February is particularly nostalgic.  We’ve lost so many of our immediate and extended family members over the years, but everyone is still vividly present in our memories.  We had more fine times together than even seems fair. 

G-mail Comments
-Gayle C-L (2-24):  David,  Nice to see you're back in action!
Thank you for that!... Love those  memories::))   XX    G
-Linda C (2-24):  What sweet pictures and thoughts, love this.

Thursday, February 19, 2015

Going Stir Crazy

Dear George,
Everybody in our house is losing their minds, including dogs.  We’ve been living in single-digit temperatures (or worse) since last weekend, and the local public schools and the university have been closed the entire week.  It was minus eight last night, and the forecast is for minus thirteen tonight.  Needless to say, we’re pretty cooped up. Dog walks of less than half a block, a couple of forays to the drugstore (one block away), one lunch outing at the Latin American restaurant (also one block away).  I don’t know if our cars will ever start again, and I’m hesitant to try.  The dogs don’t seem to mind being housebound.  At their advanced age, they tend to be couch potatoes anyway.  When the rest of us are upstairs, Mike has taken to standing at the bottom of the stairs barking endlessly.  When I go down to try to help him on the steps, he goes wild and pulls away.  Eventually he makes it up by himself.  Katja reads her French book and takes naps on and off.  She is worried that our furnace is broken, since the upstairs temperature never gets above 62, though I claim that it’s doing the best that it can.  When I mentioned the minus thirteen forecast this morning, Katja wondered if we should go to the shelter.  I didn’t think we should at this point.  However, if we need to in the middle of the night, I have no idea where the shelter is.  Or even if we have a shelter.  We watch a lot of TV in the evenings, but, aside from Downton Abbey and Grantchester, that gets boring and vacuous.  Because I fractured my ribs a month ago, I haven’t been to the fitness center or my line dancing class in a long time, and I worry about becoming a sedentary blob.  Due to a rippled retina, I don’t read a lot of books normally, but I’ve finished Dave Barry and David Sedaris during our cold spell.  They’ve cheered me up a bit.  I’d like to write something amusing, but I can’t find a topic.  I guess writing about going stir crazy is all I can do.  I remind myself that I grew up in the Great White North and that I’m accustomed to extreme weather conditions.  That’s true, though I haven’t been there in midwinter for a long time.  Saturday it’s supposed to go up to the thirties in Cincinnati.  I’m sure it will feel like Jamaica.

G-mail Comments
-Gayle C-L 2-19):  David,  I totally  get it !!  I cant take this cold whether anymore either... We didn't get to -8 but we did get into the very low digits...  Its too cold and too icy!    I've been out with clients in this weather and my body gets so cold, it feels like my limbs are going to break away from my body....  I can't imagine being stuck underneath the snow... :(
Maybe you could write about what its like to go stir crazy  with the cold weather! ... :)    
So    stay warm,,, the warm weather will come !

Saturday, February 14, 2015

A Poem for Valentine's Day

Dear George,
I never wrote a Valentine’s Day poem before.  I hope it’s not too mushy. 

The Ballad of the Dark-Haired Girl

I’ll never forget that September day
When I first saw the dark-haired girl
She stood on the lawn across the way
I started to feel my head swirl

That freshman mixer was held the first week
The huge mob of strangers made me wary
Toward the dark-haired girl I could only peek
Yet I daydreamed that someday we’d marry

I’d see the dark-haired girl every once in a while
In the spring she performed in a play
I was totally smitten by her quick easy smile
But to talk to her, there seemed no way

My second year of college I went on a trip
To Milwaukee to visit some friends
What happened next caused my heart to skip
Fate takes on such sharp turns and bends

The dark-haired girl was staying with my friends
That was amazing and even  more scary
We talked about various odds and ends
Then I told her my dream that we’d marry

The dark-haired girl gave me a dubious look
She said, “That’s the worst line I’ve heard!”
She thought of me as an idiot or a crook
And she took off in flight like a bird

That was over fifty long years ago
A precipitous time in my life
I think all the time of the dark-haired girl
It’s probably because she’s my wife

G-mail Comments

-Terry O-S (2-18): Hi David -  Just had fund belatedly catching up on blog entries. That poetry class has clearly influenced your life! Do you recall the Golden Trashery of Ogden Nashery? I'm pretty sure it was a presence in your household as well as ours. I remember one title, "Ode to a Small Boy Standing on my Shoes While I'm in Them."  Hope your ribs are completely healed!  Best
-Phyllis S-S (2-17):  Dave,  How are you feeling?  This was adorable and well written, I thought.  See you on Sunday, I hope.  Last  year an ice storm interfered with our plans.  Have you seen the movie on Turner?  Your opinion please.  Phyllis
-Donna D (2-15):  David this is your BEST!  Love it.
-Gayle C-L (2-14):  Very Sweet!!   Happy Valentines Day!!

Wednesday, February 11, 2015

Sore Ribs

Dear George,

Tuesday night I went out for a stroll
Chatting on my cell phone and laughing
I didn’t even see the sidewalk hole
Until I was on the ground gasping

The doc checked me out in the morn
She ordered X-rays as they do
She came back in with a face forlorn
“You’ve fractured not one rib but two!”

Sore ribs are like armies of demons with spears
Who stab at your innards with relish
The pain brings to mind your very worst fears
And Day Two is even more hellish

Sore ribs are like bites from a crocodile
Or stings from ten thousand bees
It hurts when you laugh and it hurts when you smile
And it’s worse when your doggies you squeeze

Sore ribs feel like mealtime for killer ants
Or scorpions digging into your torso
No wonder I shift in and out of a trance           
It's like torture on Homeland, only moreso

There are many other things that sore ribs are like
Bullet wounds, poison darts, vampire bites
I haven’t yet taken our dogs for a hike
To say nothing of twelve sleepless nights

But today I am feeling much better
There’s a rule I wish I had known
We all must follow it to the letter
Never stroll while you chat on your phone

G-mail Comments
-Gayle C-L (2-11-15):  David,  I'm sorry to hear you fell and broke your ribs! I hope you're alright !  Yes definitely Dont  Txt a Walk too!  Keep in touch
Lots of love.  G

Friday, February 6, 2015

After-Life Musings (What Comes Next?)

Dear George,
The worst moment of childhood has to be when one first learns about death.  Parents try to protect their kids, but it’s nearly impossible.  The family goldfish dies, or sometimes a next door neighbor.  And it’s not just realizing that we ourselves will inevitably die.  That’s bad enough, but to discover that one’s parents are going to die is ten times worse.  How can anyone survive without parents?  Even though I’ve been motherless and fatherless for decades, I still get depressed about that idea.

My paternal grandmother Olga and my maternal grandfather Guy passed away when I was five.  As far as I can recall, nobody told me at the time.  My first experience of actually seeing a dead body was a few years later when the Ogden Avenue crossing guard at Washington Grade School had a heart attack and died.  The funeral home was a half block away, and several of us fourth-graders stopped in a couple of times to look at his corpse.  We stayed there quite a long while, hoping to detect the slightest movement -- a twitch of an eyelid or the slightest hint of a breath -- but there was nothing.  It was eery, almost supernatural.  One of my classmates claimed he had gone to Heaven, but I had my doubts.      

Our family only went to church a couple of times a year, so I didn’t get much exposure to religious beliefs about the afterlife.  Most of what I learned I got from my friends, and they weren’t that knowledgeable.  After we moved to the country, I was exposed to death on a daily basis.  Dead turtles and skunks lying on the road.  Sometimes a dead chipmunk in the yard or a fish floating in the river.  One time I found a dead five-foot pine snake outside our dining room window.  Steven and I shot a couple of porcupines with the family .22.  And we must have killed a million mosquitoes.  All these corpses struck me as dead as doornails, and I didn’t think there was any possibility that they were living on in some other realm.  If that were true for bugs and animals, I decided, the same thing holds for human beings.

The only time I came close to believing in ghosts was when I was a teenager.  We lived a mile outside of town on Riverside Boulevard, and the local cemetery was halfway between our house and the city limits.  I’d ride my bike into town after supper, then return home in the dark around 9:30 or 10.  Words don’t even exist to describe how scary it is to ride on your bike past the cemetery in the dark.  I’d watch the gravestones out of the corner of my eye, terrified that I was going to see a ghoul or a ghost at any moment.  I pedaled as fast as I could, perhaps thirty miles an hour, and didn’t slow down till I reached our driveway.

My father was very pragmatic, and I don’t think he ever entertained the notion of an afterlife.  When he reached his late seventies though, he got more interested in religious ideas.  I can see how that happens.  It’s easy to dismiss life after death when it’s a distant abstraction, but, as possibilities become more imminent, the idea gains in appeal and plausibility. 
If people do go to Heaven after they die, no one knows for sure what that’s like.  What I learned in my grade school years is that it’s up in the clouds, and St. Peter admits you through the Pearly Gates.  Nowadays I imagine Heaven to be similar to retirement.  You have lots of free time, no onerous duties, and you can do whatever you like.  Maybe you can smoke two packs of cigarettes a day, drink a lot of bourbon (but never have a hangover), and be fawned over by movie starlets who think you are the cat’s meow.  On the other hand, they might have rules against these things.   I hope it isn’t too dull.  Also I’m worried about being someplace for all eternity.  I’d like to play a lot of  one-on-one basketball in Heaven, but how many eons can you do that without losing interest?  Of course, you might run into people like Marco Polo or Adlai Stevenson or Florence Nightingale.  But I’d probably be too uncomfortable to strike up a conversation. 

It’s also true that, even if there is an afterlife, there’s no guarantee that you’ll wind up in Heaven.  There have been times in my life, especially around age twelve, when I was on a fast track in the opposite direction.  I wouldn’t say I’ve been exactly evil, but it’s hard to think of any impressive virtuous things I’ve done either.  If I added up all the behaviors in my life and plotted them on a scale from -10 (thoroughly evil) to +10 (saintly), I think I’d come out about a -1.5.  If zero is the cutoff point, I better start accumulating some morally admirable actions in a hurry.  

Our family is of Swedish ancestry, so I draw from my Viking heritage as much as I can when I think about life and death issues.  The Vikings believed that there were multiple destinations after death, and where you go depends on how you lived your life.*  The number one option was Valhalla, the majestic hall presided over by Odin.  Only warriors who died in battle went there.  Valhalla had 540 doors, rafters made of spears, and a roof made of shields.  The warriors in Valhalla fought all day long and feasted all night.  In addition to Valhalla, the Norse Goddess Freyja chose half of the fallen warriors to join her in a great field named Folkvangr.  Like Odin, Freyja led her dead warriors in battle, and women could go to Folkvangr if they died noble deaths.  Other Vikings who led exemplary lives but failed to die in battle went to Helgafjell, a warm, cozy place where people would sit around and drink beer and talk.  The worst after-life outcome for Vikings was reserved for those who had died dishonorable deaths.  They went to Helheim, a cold dark place ruled by the monster Goddess Hel whose skin was half-blue.  Helheim is encircled by the impassable river Gjoll, and its entrance is guarded by a hideous dog named Garm.  Dishonorable deaths for Vikings included dying in bed from old age rather than in battle.  Since I’ll probably die dishonorably in bed or in the shower, I may well be headed for Helheim.

Because I grew up on the riverbank in the Land of Wild Rice, I also have looked into the afterlife beliefs of the Menominee tribe.  These are surprisingly compatible with Viking thought.  In particular, the Menominees held that there is a huge dog that guards the land of the departed.  To approach the dog, one had to cross over a dangerous river on a slippery log.  Evildoers and those who had mistreated dogs in the past fell in and were swept away by the rushing stream.  If one were able to pass the dog, though, they would join the spirits who had preceded them and would enjoy nightly feasts with plenty to eat for the rest of eternity.**

At this point in my spiritual quest, I'm mainly confused.  According to a Pew Forum survey, 74% of Americans believe in life after death, and 50% are absolutely certain about the matter.***  The groups with strongest beliefs in the afterlife are Mormons and evangelical Protestants, regular churchgoers, Republicans, Southerners, and people with a high school education or less.****   I’m not a member of any of these groups.   Atheists (18%) and agnostics (35%) don’t usually believe in the afterlife.****  Swedes believe less in the afterlife than any other developed nation except the French.******  Among those who are believers, women think they are likely to go to Heaven more than do men.*****  I agree with that as a general rule.  My personal next step is to dig up more facts about Valhalla and Helheim.  If need be, maybe I still have time to gain some points and reduce the odds of eternal damnation.

* www.legendsandchronicles.com, "Viking Funerals Burials and the Afterlife"
** www.mongooseofmystery.blogspot.com, "Dogs in the Afterlife";
***www.religions.pewforum.org, “Chap. 1.  Religious beliefs and practices”
****www.gallup.com, "Eternal Destinations: Americans Believe in Heaven, Hell" 
*****www.christianposst.com, “Global Poll: Most Believe in God, Afterlife”
******www.assets.aarp.org, “Thoughts on the Afterlife Among Adults 50+”

G-mail Comments
-Linda C (2-6):  I need to look into where the Irish go.  The idea of floating around forever just bores me to tears.

Sunday, February 1, 2015

So Long, January, Nobody's Going To Miss You

Dear George,
I don’t think of myself as a complainer by nature, and using a blog for personal whining is disgusting.  Nonetheless, I’m relieved that January has finally come to an end.  It’s been a cold, dark, bleak month.  We knew it was going to be lousy on the day that Ohio State blew out Oregon to win the National College Football championship.  Since we live in Ohio, you might think that we’d be thrilled.  Not true.  Katja and I went to grad school at Michigan, and we learned after only a few weeks in Ann Arbor that Ohio State is our hated mortal enemy.  A half century has gone by, but, if anything, our hostility is more deeply ingrained.  Things got only worse sports-wise when the Bengals lost pitifully to the Indianapolis Colts in the first round of the playoffs.  And we contemplated suicide when our beloved Packers, leading by 9 points with 4 minutes to go, were defeated by the Seattle Seahawks in what some commentators describe as the worst loss in the history of professional football.

It’s not just sports.  January has been very cold in Cincinnati, dipping down to five degrees early in the month.  Though we set our upstairs thermostat at 70, the temperature rarely exceeded 65.  I offered my opinion to Katja that we have an old brick house, and, when temperatures get down to single digits, our furnace can’t keep up with it.  She thought that was ridiculous and called the furnace company to have a repairman come.  He arrived that very day, checked out the system, and explained that we have an old brick house and that our furnace can’t keep up with the very cold temperatures.  I didn’t say anything, though I was glad to get some expert confirmation.  This past week our thermostat got stuck at 65 again, and Katja said she was calling the furnace company.  I explained that we have an old brick house and when the…oh well, you get the idea. 

Two days after the furnace repairman’s visit I went outdoors and the spigot on the south wall of our house was spraying water all over the porch and the side of our SUV.  Sort of like a fire hydrant that had been opened up.  The water was freezing immediately in the ten-degree temperature, resulting in huge, impressive icicles (more like stalactites) on our car and house.  We called the plumber, but it was late Friday and he was quitting for the day.  He told me to close the shut-off valve in the basement.  I couldn’t budge the valve manually, but I finally found a plumber’s wrench and was able to shut off about 90% of the water flow.  Because our driveway and sidewalk had turned into a lake of glassy ice, I bought a bag of salt at the hardware store and sprinkled it around every few hours, hoping to avoid pedestrian fatalities.  The plumber came on Monday morning, installed a new pipe, and will return in May to finish the job for umpteen thousand dollars.

Katja had been in a traffic accident in the autumn, and we were shocked when we received a registered letter indicating that we  were being sued.  The insurance company hired a lawyer for us, and he came to the house in mid-January to get information for our case.  While he didn’t use the exact words, I got the impression that the opposition lawyer bringing the suit against us was a sleazy ambulance-chaser, and he had never had a client with any kind of credibility.  They only wanted fifty thousand dollars from us.  Our lawyer told us not to worry, that worrying for us was his job responsibility.  We have worried nonetheless.  Our lawsuit should be resolved by May.  I just hope there’s some money left to pay the plumbing bill. 

Then I was walking on Ludlow Avenue after dark when I tripped on a sidewalk crack and fractured two ribs.  The nurse-practitioner recommended that I buy an Incentive Spirometer in order to help restore my breathing capacity and fend off pneumonia.  I bought it online, and it arrived after a week.  It’s given me a new lease on life.  I was instructed to try to get my breathing capacity up to 1500 milliliters on the zero to 4000 gauge, but I got it up to 2500 pretty quickly and now am hovering around 3000.  Maybe the novelty will wear off, but my most exciting moments these days occur when I’m breathing into my spirometer.

If we didn’t have enough chaos in our lives already, construction crews are laying huge black sewer pipes on Ludlow Avenue, and they’ve been working right outside the front of our house for the last two days.  They’re digging up Ludlow, covering the long trenches with huge iron plates which make horrendous clanking noises all night long when vehicles drive over them.  Still worse, the bulldozer-like machine which is breaking up the concrete pavement creates vibrations that make our house tremble.   We’re convinced that the ceilings are about to fall in, though I think we’ve now survived the worst of it.

The pinnacle of January weirdness occurred last week when I was driving on Guerley Road on the west side of town.  The traffic came to a complete standstill on my side of the two-lane road.  It was puzzling because there were no driveways or side streets on the long barren stretch.  As it turned out, a driver had stopped his blue pickup truck, gotten out, walked thirty feet up the hillside, and proceeded to relieve himself in the bushes.   The he zipped himself up and walked back to his truck. I can certainly empathize with peeing in the woods when you have to go, but it’s hard to imagine doing it in front of a crowd of irritated fellow motorists.

So now it's finally February.  I think it will be a better month.  The days will be a little longer, the temperatures a few degrees milder.  Today's the Super Bowl; tomorrow's Groundhog Day.  Valentine's Day is Feb. 14, Presidents Day is Feb. 16, Mardi Gras is on the 17th.  Then my sister's birthday is on Feb. 24.  You don’t often find a better lineup than that.  Maybe we've gotten through most of the bad stuff for the entire rest of the year.