After 50

Cold Corn

This winter reminded me of another a few years ago during another contentious campaign season.  I'm watching loved ones age, dealing with my own aging body, and witnessing mothers and fathers passing away. I'm losing people I love at an alarming rate and this new year kicked off a slew of new losses. It reminds me of the January a few years ago that we found ourselves in Iowa for the coldest winter of my life.  And it turned out to be the last time I saw my Father-in-Law.

So, on this rainy day I decided to share a letter I wrote to a friend during that long cold winter when I found myself far away from home.

Dear Jack,

I'm writing you from "sunny" Iowa (that's a joke because it ain't!).  Christmas Day brought some troubling news.  My Music Man's dad was admitted to the hospital on Christmas Eve and we hightailed it out of town before the New Year got started.  We arrived on New Year's Day to a toasty 5 Below Zero (who lives here?!).  Luckily, we were able to find some decent flights at the last minute.  We planned to be here a week, but with his release from the hospital, we realized he needs serious Home Care and he's not set up for that.  This illness appears to be long term, his recovery is slow with many details to ensure his safety and ongoing basic care before we leave.  We changed our plans to stay until February, if we don't freeze first.

DSC_4507My Father-in-Law just came home a couple of days ago.  We're still trying to sort things out, help with the transition and continued care.  It's a challenge, I'll tell ya.  The good news is that he is doing better, griping about any money we spend (he doesn't like that we are buying groceries).  He gripes when we do anything for him to help ("OH, just sit down and stop working so hard!").  So, every day I see improvement.

My Father-in-Law treats me very well.  But, it's hard to hear him bellyache.  I resolve to stay out of the middle of father and son.  My Music Man tries to help, to assist, and his father gets annoyed.  I know why -- he's mad at his own body for not working the way it used to.  And, my Music Man says he's okay with that.  He is amazingly calm, patient, sweet, etc. in the face of his father's grumbling, so I need to keep my mouth shut.  This is an interesting lesson for me.  Learning to keep quiet.  I watched him this morning sit and listen to his dad complain about everything from oatmeal to milk to shoveling snow to keeping everything the way it is (even though his home is riddled with hazards for an elder who is not quite steady on his feet).

And there are hazards everywhere.  He has fallen before but won't listen to reasonable ideas or suggestions (such as replacing a slippery rug near the kitchen sink with one that has a rubber bottom).  No hand rails in the bathroom... well, you get the idea.  The house is simply not set up for an elder who has obvious limitations.  Heck, if the doctor prescribed it, he'd jump right on the bandwagon.  If there's a pill for it, he'll take it.  But, by god, anything we suggest to make improvements, especially if it requires any effort or money, is met with stubborn resistance.

I know it's hard to hear this from your kids.  I had the same problem with my grandma.  Funny thing -- their stubbornness is what keeps them going to a ripe old age, so you can't make that go away.  I just don't want the same thing to happen to him that happened to my grandma, like the time she fell in her home and no one knew for a whole day she couldn't get up.  Anyway, it's the challenge we face.

As for me, I am feeling a bit isolated.  My Father-in-Law doesn't have cable, relying only on what these old-fashioned "rabbit ears" pick up for the TVs in the house.  Old TVs, no VCRs or DVDs, the internet is at a snail's pace (I can't look at any videos on the computer because they only show 5 seconds at a time with a 10 second pause in between, and downloads take forever).  I never thought of myself as an internet addict, perhaps I'm just dependent and maybe just a little bored.

It's crazy cold here (it barely gets above 32 degrees) and there's about 2 feet of snow on the ground.  It's getting black and dirty now, since it hasn't snowed in a couple of days...they say it's supposed to snow tonight.

There are no vegetables in Iowa (okay, so that's a bit of an exaggeration).

There are no Whole Foods, either (that's true).

"Organic" is a foreign term.

Houses the size of ours are going for about $120,000.  No wonder housing prices are higher in California -- right now, I'd pay triple!

And, to make matters worse, the day after we arrived, I promptly got sick with a really bad cold which meant I had to call my doctor and get some antibiotics because things were going downhill fast.  I feel like a mucus factory.

I've decided to focus all my energy on being supportive of my Music Man in the face of his father's apparent anger (which I think stems from the fact that he can't do anything for himself and feels bad when people try to help him).

We (briefly) talked about even moving here for a little while to help with any transition we might need to facilitate.  The truth is, I don't think I could stand it.  It's very "white bread" out here.  My Music Man went to the grocery store yesterday and came home with some hilarious stories.  They just live differently than we do.  Which is fine, but, when you're used to having what we have at our fingertips, being away feels a bit stifling.

Believe me, it would be a huge fight to get my Father-in-Law to move to California.  I think he'd rather die.  It's more likely that we will find him an assisted living situation and plan to return here often.

Life sure is interesting, isn't it?  Never thought I'd find myself here in the dead of winter doing this.  It was very interesting, though, to be here for the Iowa Caucus.  I'm able to follow the campaigns very closely (too much time on my hands, perhaps).  Scouring the internet the most entertainment I can find.  Luckily, my Father-in-Law has some great old books here, so the reading is like a gourmet meal.

What a rich full life we live.  It gives new meaning to the saying, "There's no place like home."


Flat Chest and Big Feet

Angel ‎"Don't be dismayed at goodbyes. A farewell is necessary before you can meet again. And meeting again, after moments or lifetime, is certain for those who are friends."   ~Richard Bach

It was a small thing, really.  I'm not sure she ever knew what it meant to me.  It was a note passed to me secretly in class that I held onto over the years.  My elementary school years were not happy ones.  Trouble at home cascaded into trouble at school.  While I made good grades, the other kids teased me incessantly, often resulting in a beating at the end of the day or on the playground during recess.  My flat chest, big feet, and buck teeth were the stuff that bullying was made of.  I was the fodder for their fun.  Memories of the daily taunts still bring a gripping feeling in my gut, even these many years later.  Most of the girls in my school were cruel and dishonest, promising friendship but instead bestowed betrayal, duplicity, and deceit.  I had come to believe that friendship had conditions, that I had to be someone else in order to fit in.

So it was when I was 12 that I decided life wasn't worth it.  I couldn't make it another day.  I didn't have the strength, the courage or understanding to know how to stop the daily abuse, so I figured that God would let me start over.  Obviously, I failed in my attempt to end this life because I'm here now to write about it.  Which brings me to the note.

Before text messages and email, there was the plain ol' note written on lined paper, folded in triangular shapes and tucked, ever so neatly in the palm of your hand.  They were passed clandestinely, sometimes intercepted by the teacher.  To our extreme embarrassment, they were often read aloud.  But, this one made it to me safely.  This one simply said, "You are so smart and special.  Thank you for being my friend," signed "Debbie."

As I left childhood behind, I became a connoisseur of many things.  One of those things is friendship.  Looking back, I've had the extreme privilege of redefining friendship and have gathered a treasure-trove of friends along the way.  Now, 5 decades into this life, I've worked hard to leave those childhood bullies behind.  I'll bet that they've grown up themselves and left their own "stuff" behind, most likely forgetting all the vicious tormenting and threats.  People like Debbie taught me how friends should behave and offered the promise of how they give our lives such meaning and joy.  I wouldn't know how to live on this earth without them.

Debbie was one of those optimistic people.  I can still hear her voice, bright with encouragement.  I looked up to her, admired her.  She was an inspiration in so many ways. A loyal friend from the beginning, she never let me down.

Together, we tried out for the school drill team together.  Night after night, we practiced hard.  She spent many nights at my house helping me to learn the routine for try-outs.  I made the team, and she did not.  But, this only made her proud for me.  Yes, I knew she was disappointed, but she never took away my delight with her own feelings.  She only supported me.

Years later, our friendship still blossoming, I watched her become a successful business woman.  She kept her body healthy with dedicated exercise and watching what she ate, always keeping an eye on her weight.  I don't think I ever told her how much I admired her, that the note she sent me years before stayed with me.  Debbie's encouragement throughout these decades were part of my own success.  She was a role model, a bright star in my sky.  As I write this, I realize that she was more than just a friend, she was a beacon.

What I didn't know was that she spent her whole life battling an eating disorder that eventually killed her.  Truthfully, I felt I had let her down.  Her death was a shock I never saw coming.

Debbie is now one of the loveliest angels in heaven with a smile that would light up a village.  I only wish I could have told her how she lit up my life.