Sunday, February 28, 2016

My Life Blows Up

My life had settled into a routine.  Too busy, but something I was accustomed to: dialysis Monday, Wednesday, and Friday; a variety of activities on Tuesday and Thursday; weekends devoted to writing. 

Then last week my life blew up. 

I caught a cold.  I told myself that it was temporary; I live surrounded by old people who have chronic, constant pain.  Later I learned that my runny nose and persistent cough was “Something that is going around.”.  All I knew was that for the past week I’ve felt miserable.

The real blowup came on Friday (February 19).  When I pushed my walker, carrying oxygen tanks) into the dialysis center, I found the lobby full of people.  A nurse came out and said, “Our water pump is broken.  We cannot dialyze anyone here today.  We are looking for other places to send each of you.  You will have to find your own transportation.”  She added they were contacting dialysis centers all over Dallas.

An hour later she came out again and told me they had found a place for me somewhere on the other side of Dallas.  I called the office of the place where I live.  The director said, “We can not take you there this afternoon.  I’m telling our diver to bring you home.”

I came back to the apartment and collapsed in a panic.  I was so upset that I could not get out of the recliner for the rest of the day.  Then my dialysis center called and told me they were getting the water pump replaced.  I could come to dialysis on Saturday. 

That’s what I did.  It totally ruined my weekend. 

I could not find the glasses I wear to watch television.  After hours spent looking all over the apartment, I found the glasses sitting on my walker.  I never wear them outside the apartment.  I do not know why I set them down there.

I lost my manicure scissors. They have not turned up.  My finger nails are long and ragged.  I feel like the witch in the Wizard of Oz.

I use little pill boxes to keep track of the various medications I take five times a day.  Two of my  boxes disappeared, first a purple one then a blue one.  Now I have only three little pill boxes: yellow, green, and another blue. 

I have not balanced my check book or verified by credit card purchases.

All these things are trivial. My nose still drips – difficult to deal with as the oxygen tubes stick into my nose.  The dry cough continues to chock me.  I feel too weak to walk to the dining room.  But I try to look to better days ahead.  The weather is gorgeous: sunny with a high in the low 70's.  I should enjoy it.  But, meanwhile, my life is a mess.

Sunday, February 14, 2016

Valentine’s Day

To celebrate Valentine’s Day, this afternoon I am inviting five ladies, all of whom are my neighbors on the second floor of this retirement community, to a tea party.  None of them has a sweetheart to give them a Valentine.  Four of them are widowed.  Sharon’s husband has advanced dementia and does not remember which month or year this is, much less that he should give at least a card to his devoted wife, who cares for him – still loves him and takes care of him – on Valentine’s Day.

How will we celebrate?  I will get out my English tea set and serve cucumber sandwiches and Valentine cupcakes.  And I will encourage them to remember happy Valentine’s Days.

I remember being treated on February 14 by a couple of men, neither of whom was my husband at the time..  Manny, the penny-pinching Pueblo Indian, took me to dinner (for once at an expensive hotel dining room) and gave me a small card.  (He never gave me anything expensive).  But above his signature he wrote, “I love you.”  That was as dear as a costly turquoise necklace.  He stood beside me at a special event at the Indian Pueblo Cultural Center when I bought my own squash blossom necklace. 

Manny was devoted to me in his own way.  But I never would have married him, for several reasons, none of which had anything to do with his being an Indian.

He was charming, but in a child-like way.  He could barely read, puzzling over every long word, like a first grader.  At the senior center we enjoyed dancing to the music of the combo who played a variety of tunes.  Manny’s favorite was the rhythm of  “Kansas City” And he took me to feast days at all the pueblos, where I was fascinated by the buffalo and corn dances, ceremonies that the Pueblos have performed for a thousand years.

Manny was tight-fisted.  I had to teach him that a quarter was not enough tip to give to the waitress who served us at Denny’s.  He was also vain.  A tailor working for Albuquerque’s best men’s store, he was always impeccably dressed in handsome, expensive suits. 

Manny called me “sweetheart.”  That thrilled me until I realized he was deaf and could not figure out how to pronounce my name.  He called me every night at 10:00 p.m. and talked about the scores made by the local baseball team and by the University of New Mexico basketball. But when I tried to tell him something, he did not understand.  He refused to admit that he had trouble hearing.  I was not going to marry him.    

I went back to Chicago to sue Wally, another tight-wad, the father of my children and my husband for twenty-seven years.  While waiting for the judge to award me more money for support, I lived with my daughter Martha and her husband Don through postponements time after time for two years.  They resented having me in the house when they were newlyweds.  We were all miserable.

One night, when I had $1.50 in my purse, my friend Nancy urged me to meet her at a Parents Without Partners mid-week break at a bar in Downers Grove.  Nancy did not show up, but a short little man with gray hair asked me to dance.  That’s how I met John Durkalski. 

John and I began dating in the fall of 1987.  I was 58; he was 69.  On February 14 John gave me an enormous heart-shaped box of chocolates. Martha was impressed.  She said, “Don never gave me anything like that.”

I knew John was special.  But it took many months for me to realize that this was the man I wanted to marry.  Wonder of wonders, he also wanted to marry crazy, penniless me!  Every day of our marriage was a delight to both of us.  We traveled all over the U.S. and went to Europe twice in the four years before he tragically died.  A glorious memory to talk about at our tea party.

Now I am alone without a single man (double meaning) in my life.  What do I have instead?  The women I’ve met here at the Churchill care for and support each other.  People smile and make me feel better every time I meet them as I push my walker down the hall to the dining room.

Life is good.  Happy Valentine’s Day!

Sunday, February 7, 2016

Death of a Good Old Boy

Life is uncertain; death is inevitable.

This was a bad week ror me.  I was depressed.  My brother Don is in hospice, living day to day since October.  Then last weekend an old man, of whom I was fond, came to dinner in the dining room of our retirement home, ordered a meal, and, when the waitress brought him his chicken-fried steak, he collapsed in front of his friends..He died in the ambulance on the way to the hospital. It was a shock to all of us.  

We all liked Walter.  I called him, “My good old boy.”  That’s a Texas expression to describe a person who cheerfully accepts whatever life offers. 

Walter grew up on a farm in Rockwall County – the county that my grandmother’s people established when they came to Texas in a covered wagon “in the days of the Republic.”  In case you have forgotten: Texas was an independent republic from 1846 ti 1855, the only state that joined the U.S. by a treaty between sovereign nations. 

The descendants of those early settlers maintain the mind-set of their pioneer ancestors.  They are the ones who walk into banks with guns on their hips.  They voted for Ric Perry -- another good old boy -- as governor four times. They elected Ted Cruz to the Senate, ignoring that he represents big business, not poor farmers like their families.

In his mind-set Walter remained a farm boy, even after he moved to Dallas and worked for 35 years in the machine shop at Texas Instruments.  He was 90 years old. He’d had a good job, been happily married for more than 60 years, and, now widowed, enjoyed loving grandchildren.  All his life he was a Southern Baptist, comforted in the conviction that he was “saved” by his belief in Jesus, sure that when he died, he would go straight to Heaven.

So why were we all devastated by the death of this 90-year-old man? .

One night, while I sat next to him at supper, Walter said, “Obama is the worst President we ever had.  He is stupid.  He is also a secret Muslim, who wants to turn the U.S. into a Muslim caliphate.”  Where did he learn the word “caliphate”?  He must have listened to all the far-right propaganda.  He said, “We must take back our Constitution.”

I could not resist telling him that he was wrong about Obama, who is highly intelligent, a Christian, and an expert on the Constitution.  Obama was a highly successful professor of Constitutional Law at the University of Chicago.  After working as a community organizer, he ran for political office when he realized that was the only way to help poor people was through government action.  As President he accomplished little because he was blocked by the Tea Party in everything he tried to do.

Walter did not believe me.  He said, “I’m going to vote for Donald Trump.  He gets things done.”
He stood up, leaned on his walker, and said, “We’ll still be friends.  We just won’t talk about politics.”

After that, each time we met, Walter gave me a big smile, so sincere that I was convinced he was glad to see me in spite of our disagreement about politics. He greeted everyone the same way.  Everyone liked Walter, including me.  We will all miss his cheerful presence.

After moping about all week, on Saturday I did not get out of bed until 10:00 a.m.  I woke with an urgent need to talk to my brother Don.  Still in my nightgown, I went into the living room, sat on the edge of my recliner, and punched the speed dial on my cell phone which rang Don’s number.  When he answered, I said, “I just got out of bed.”

Don said, “I’m still in bed.”  His voice sounded as if he were gasping for every breath.

“I’ve been depressed all week,” I said to my dying brother.  “I called you to cheer me up.”

We both laughed at that ridiculous idea.  We talked for a while, agreeing that each of us had an incredible life.  We also agreed that neither of us could do anything to change the mess the U.S. is in now.  But that is okay.  We are both content.  After talking to Don, I am no longer depressed.  I cheered up and felt good all weekend. 

Life happens, bad times are followed by good times.  Death comes to everyone.   Soon it will be my turn.  So what!  Have I made life’s journey easier for other people?  I hope some will remember me as the old folks here at this retirement home remember Walter, who brought a little cheer to everyone he met..

Sunday, January 31, 2016

A Perfect Day

This is January.  I remember many bitter cold winters in Chicago.  Now I live in Dallas, where today the sun shines, and the temperature is in the 70's.  A perfect day.  On television the weather man tells me a cold front is coming next week.  Once again I will wear my heavy black, padded jacket to go out into a windy day with the thermometer rising only into the 40's at midday.  But I am determined to enjoy this beautiful weather for as long as it lasts. 

I will do tai chi.  I am still surprised at how a few quiet minutes doing tai chi strengthens my muscles and clears my head of all worries.

I have a set of folding metal lawn chairs that I took from Illinois to New Mexico thirty years ago, and which now sit on my patio in Dallas.  They still hold my overweight body comfortably.  I will sit on my patio, where the view over rows of garages does not compare with the view of the Sandia and Monsano Mountains from my house in Albuquerque.  Instead of looking at those dismal garage roofs, I will focus my eyes on the book in my lap.  I will not read anything serious.  I will choose  a book just for fun.  (Have you read “Mama Goes to Paris”?

Obama failed as President.  Idiots support Trump and Cruz. I will not get upset over politics.  I remember history.  Our country has survived many mediocre and/or incompetent Presidents.  Warren G. Harding.  Benjamin Harrison.  William McKinley.  Franklin Pierce.   

John McKinley, who lives on the fourth floor in this retirement home, frequently tells me how proud he is that he is a direct descendant of President William McKinley  At least he knows his great-great-grandfather President..

Shortly after my son Karl was born, his godmother, Margie Douglas, came to see me and the baby at that tiny, cramped “studio” apartment in Chicago, where I was happy, delighted with my baby son.  When I mentioned to Margie that my husband, studying history as a graduate student at Northwestern University, was writing a paper on Franklin Pierce, Margie, who had a master’s degree from Northwestern, said, “Who was Franklin Pierce”?

Next week when that cold wind comes down from Canada, I will have a lot to say about the current political situation.  But I hope you and I will both keep in mind that the voters, who elected mediocre and/or incompetent Presidents, were the nicest and kindest of people.  Mary Adams, the Albuquerque psychologist who gave me lots of good advice, told me, “Don’t say they are ignorant.  I say, ‘They are mis-informed.’”

The U.S. has survived.

Sunday, January 24, 2016

Closet Democrats and the Tea Party

We are bombarded by all this political stuff.  I want to scream, “Stop!”.  I could be more polite and say something such as, “Radio and television report many political comments.”  Instead, I feel bored and affronted by all of it.  I feel as if tons of meaningless “stuff” was falling out of the sky (Where does tv come from?}and hitting me on the head.

 To add to my annoyance, there is the attitude of some old people who live with me in an “independent living retirement” community in Dallas.  Since I do not go to meals on the days I go to dialysis, on the other days I go to the dining room and sit with anyone who has a chair at their table.  Some people refuse to discuss politics and religion.  They are smart. 

Like the journalist I used to be, I ask questions.  One night I mentioned President Obama.  The woman sitting next to me looked up from her chicken-fried steak and turned her head away, refusing to look at me.  She shuttered, filled with disgust at the mention of our President.  She said, “He is the worst President we ever had.”  She also believes he is a Muslim and probably was born in Kenya. 

By asking about backgrounds and education, I discovered that the better educated people here, such as the charming doctor I sometimes sit with at supper, are Episcopalians, and most are “closet” Democrats.  I call them “closet Democrats” because if they let it be known that they vote for Democrats, they will be verbally attacked by Tea Party loyalists, like the woman who shuttered when I mentioned President Obama

The people who despise our President are usually Southerners, which means they are secret racists, but just as they promote their political opinions, they are all fundamental Christians.  They talk about “taking back the Constitution,” as “Our nation was founded as a Christian nation.”  If I tell them that some of the Founding Fathers were not Christians, they refuse to believe me, just as they refuse to believe that the World was not created in six days in 6,000 B.C.
I usually vote for Democratic candidates.  Not always.  In New Mexico I supported my Republican Congressman.  He voted for what he thought was right, even if it was not the official Party position.  I was surprised to learn he was a Jew who grew up in Chicago and came to New Mexico as a young lawyer to join the staff of the county’s district attorney. A woman, who had worked in that office, told me, “He was the best of all that worked there.”  I grieved with everyone in New Mexico when that honest Republican died in his early 40's of a rare form of skin cancer.

In contrast, since I moved to Dallas, my Congressman is Jeb Hensarling, who lives in North Dallas with the rich folks, neighbors of George W. Bush, while most of his constituents in this gerrymandered district are working class.  Why do they vote for this man who votes for tax breaks for the rich?  He has ridden on the Tea Party band wagon since the beginning of that stubborn, unreasonable group.

I understand these people.  I grew up as one of them.  In college, where I majored in journalism, besides the classes in how to write headlines and “the Law of the Press”, I took courses in political science, economics, and religion.  My father told me, “I wish we had not let you go to college, because you turned away from the way you were brought up.”  If Daddy were alive today, he would be 129 years old and probably have the same attitude as the woman who shuttered at the name “Obama”. 

This is only the beginning.  It will take many blogs to expand why people hate Obama.  Be prepared.  Many rants to come.

Sunday, January 17, 2016

Liza Doolittle Sings to Me

On television I heard Stephen Colbert and his guest sing a song you know.  I whispered the words Audrey Hepburn sang in “My Fair Lady”: “All I want is a room somewhere, with one enormous chair. Lots of coal making lots of heat.  Warm hands, warm feet.”

A cold, arctic wind has swept down over Texas, bringing the first “hard freeze” of the winter.  Do I really need  my luxurious apartment?  Lying back with my feet up in my big, brown electric recliner, I have my enormous chair.  No coal, but gas heat keeps me warm. 

At suppertime I will push my walker, which carries the oxygen tank, down the long hall to the dining room, where the chef will have prepared a gourmet meal of some fancy, marinated steak.  Do I really need all this fancy living?

This “retirement home” where I live in Dallas is expensive.  Most of the people who live here are rich, including retired doctors, Air Force colonels, plant managers, and the like.  Or they have rich children who pay the rent here to avoid having to put up with their parents living with them.  How many of them appreciate this way of spending their “declining years”?

I remember that, after Wally and I were divorced, my alimony was only $500 a month.  My rent for an apartment in Albuquerque was $350 (one-third of what it would be in Illinois).  I borrowed $15,000 from my mother for a down payment on a little house with payments of $350 a month.  A good deal, as it turned out, but I could not survive on the remaining $150.  I left my son Karl in the house in Albuquerque and drove back to Illinois to sue Wally for support.

What followed was three dreadful years.  Thanks to the generosity of friends, I was given places to stay for a couple of years.  Embarrassed to impose of them any longer, I went to a shelter for the homeless.  In DuPage County, Illinois, the program is called PADS; the homeless sleep on mattresses on the floor in various church halls, a different church each night.

One of the most rewarding experiences in my life.  I met people who were forced by circumstances to live this way.  At that time most of them were (like me) mentally ill.  Those poor souls could not work.  Others were young people who had low-paying jobs but could not afford the expensive rents in DuPage County. One was an unmarried pregnant girl who worked all day laying floor tiles, then came to Pads to sleep on the floor.  No one was there because they were “too lazy” to work.  No one wanted to be there. 

I slept on the floor in PADS for only a few nights.  Then my daughter Martha and her husband Don let me stay with them.  They were newlyweds.  It was not a happy situation. I found ways to escape.  Walking in the Morton Arboretum was excellent exorcize, plus being outdoors in the woods cleared my muddled brain.

On Monday nights I went to a writers group at the Downers Grove Public Library.  After meeting with the writers, I would go across the street to the Congregational Church, where PADS provided shelter every Monday night. Months wet by and the same group was still sleeping on the floor, caught by fate in situations which they could not change.  None of them could afford “a room somewhere, with one enormous chair.”  For them a small room of their own would be luxury.

Last night I had supper with a genial man who spoke with an Irish accent to order his supper of chicken-fried steak and black-eyed peas.  Born in Ireland, he came to the U.S. as a young man and achieved success as plant manager for a company which manufactured custom-made hats for a rich clientele.  . He said proudly, “I love America.  Anyone can succeed in this country if they just work hard.” He does not realize that the homeless are people who can not help themselves.

To my shame I did not speak up and tell him my experiences.  What will I do? Not much  I will send a check to the Salvation Army. The Salvation Army takes care of hundreds in Dallas County. No enormous chairs but a warm place to sleep on these cold nights.  My little donation  is very little in the magnitude of the problem.