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Category: Eulogies (page 1 of 2)

Retirement is not without Hassles: Tax Break #1225

For some reason, we’re getting a tax break this year. I honestly thought that I would break even like last year, but instead there’s a pretty substantial refund. Out of disbelief, I double-checked it several times. It will help with cash flow these next few weeks, without having to withdraw from the 401k funds that once you dip into disappear fast. Extra money always puts me in a good mood, but will it be enough to get me through the nationally televised I.U. at Michigan battle later this morning?

A tax refund only covers some of the sadness I felt this morning regarding the death of a former client and friend, John Bachman. I read his obituary on the Facebook group “I Grew Up In Elkhart, Indiana” just before I left for my morning run. He was instrumental in my life for two reasons. First, he made me look good in my first radio sales job and gave me life-long confidence to preform successfully in my career. His shop was my favorite call every week, sometimes daily because I enjoyed his companionship, as he purchased almost everything I suggested in the way of advertising and sponsorship that our small market station offered. He was my first experience with what we called “Co-Op,” as Panasonic paid for most of his advertising, making him like my personal Budweiser, who sponsors everything nationally! His business, located in a small cluttered garage, taught me to never judge the book by the cover. Most of his revenue came from the Recreational Vehicle industry and audio installations that he performed. He would benefit from all the Panasonic purchases he made on their behalf, which in turn became a massive advertising budget to promote his business that was three letters – maybe ACG (Audio Communications Group)?

The second personal “favor” John did for me was relieve the debt of my first wife’s small flower & plant business by subleasing the mall space that we had contracted for another year. He then opened his own audio store called Car Tunes, while we eventually sold-off Hall of Ivy for a heavy loss. At least, we were out of the retail business, and I was no longer working weekends and holidays in addition to my radio sales job. John was a year older than me in high school, but his future wife was in my graduating class. I had not seen either of them in well over 45 years, but have fond memories. I believe it was John’s advertising investments that helped us win a team sales contest and got me to Las Vegas for the first time. It’s sad and ironic to me that his death came just after we returned home from “The Strip.” I will be forever grateful to have known and worked with him, as I got my start in the media business. Rest in Peace, my friend. 

The I.U. basketball game is about to start, and I’m hoping for a rare away-game conference victory to go along with my tax break. At least, there was a break in the weather with some blue skies this morning. It’s good to be home from Las Vegas and have another day to “relax,” even though my blood pressure will be through the roof as I watch the game. My wife had suggested that I bet against the Hoosiers at the Sports Book, knowing that if we lost there would at least be a pay-out. I think I would bet against them today, despite their hot-shooting performance against Iowa. I’m not sure money can buy happiness when it comes to sports, but I do love a tax-break!

 

 

Old Sport Shorts: Ode to Sherm #1189

Poetry comes to me in streaks, and today was one of those days. As I was organizing my collection of memorabilia around the playing career of Sherm Lollar, I was somehow inspired to write this tribute. As I frequently go to baseball card shows, everyone talks about Mickey Mantle or Honus Wagner and how these players are the investment cornerstones of a great collection. Not everyone can afford to collect these gems, so I’m one to encourage starting with those who bring back personal childhood memories. Sherm Lollar was my first baseball hero and I honor this with cards, photos, and memorabilia that probably mean nothing to anybody but me. You don’t always have to make everything a financial investment, if it brings you a sense of joy:

Ode to Sherm

I never knew him,
But saw him play.
Have never forgotten him,
To this very day.

He was a catcher,
Wore number 10.
A perennial general,
Of the bull-pen.

He played with Nellie,
Luis, and Minnie.
Golden Gloves,
He earned many.

In the World Series,
Nineteen Fifty-Nine.
He hit a home run,
Became a hero of mine.

I watched on TV,
In black and white.
But the Sox fell short,
Of the Dodger might.

I wore his number,
It was lucky for me.
But the Hall of Fame,
unlikely to be.

Defense was his game,
A leader behind the plate.
But overshadowed,
By Yankees’ Number 8.

Not every team player,
Can be in the spotlight.
But some are admired,
For the things they do right.

He played in Chicago,
For eleven years.
And like me,
He had big ears.

I’ve written Cooperstown,
On behalf of him.
But hitting .264,
His chances are slim.

Over seventeen years,
Sherm’s glove was his force.
When it came to fielding,
None better, of course.

I maintain a collection,
Of his photos and cards.
I have his Rawling’s mask,
But no shin guards.

I can’t always afford,
To dabble in Honus.
But with Sherm Lollar,
The memories are bonus.

Copyright 2020 johnstonwrites.com

 

Retirement is not without Hassles: Grant Part 2: Nitro #1162

Somehow, my then shy friend Grant found a girlfriend, even though she lived in the neighboring community and went to rival Concord High School. I don’t remember how they met, but they were constantly together or talking on the phone. I think that our friendship might have suffered if they hadn’t fixed me up with her best friend. We would walk from school downtown to the telephone company and would use their phone booths to check-in with the girls every day. We also each installed lights on our bedroom phone and disconnected the ringer so we could talk to each other at night. He showed me how to set-up a switch on my parents bell box so that no sound from an incoming call would wake them. On several occasions, I forgot to flip the switch in the morning and my mom’s friends wondered why she didn’t answer. “Oh Sorry – my bedroom phone was off the hook.”

My parents were rarely gone, so I did not have the luxury of limited supervision like Grant. I had to do a lot more sneaking around than he did, since Grant Sr. was a widow and constantly on the road. We did a lot of double-dating once we got our driver’s licenses but I had stricter curfews. He had his Pontiac GTO and I drove my dad’s Mustang convertible. I remember that he installed a baffle on his muffler that could be controlled inside the car. This allowed the muscle car to roar when the muffler was bypassed and brought out the red-neck side of Grant. He was constantly working on that car, giving him mechanical skills that were definitely not my forte. When we were both in college, I visited he and Keven at Purdue and was shocked to find his engine parts spread out over their living room floor. This was the infamous Fiat that he always claimed was Italian for “fool.” I had also fallen in the foreign car trap when I bought a new Triumph. I was having similar engine troubles with my car and Grant convinced me that I could fix it myself. “Consider the average IQ of a mechanic,” was his justification. I followed his lead and completely disassembled my engine to the horror of my dad. He got home from work and found me in the garage surrounded by parts, each tagged with a note to remind me where it went. At least, I didn’t do it in the living room like Grant, but this was the kind of influence he had on me. There was nothing that he was afraid to do himself.

Back to high school, we were in a German class together and Grant was really struggling. He was distracted by the language lab equipment and the headsets that we used to learn the language. He hooked his up to listen to music while the rest of us were doing German drills. He also allegedly installed some kind of remote device in the classroom clock that allowed him to change the time so we could get out of class early. He and the young instructor, Frau Anchor, never got along, but she recognized his intelligence and I believe tried to seduce him. I was still pretty naive at the time, but she would sit on the desk in front of Grant and I in her short skirts. She had him stay after class many times and one night he decided to tee-pee her house, crashing the GTO trying to escape after her porch lights came on. In retrospect, it was classic sexual harassment on both of their parts, and I think he failed the course. We never discussed it.

As far as chemistry class, I found a formula for a contact explosive called Nitro-Tri-Iodine in a science magazine and send in $1 for the recipe. It required Iodine crystals that Grant could buy at Johnson’s Drug Store where he had a part-time job. The other ingredient was ammonia that you could also buy over the counter. Combining these two simple ingredients formed a paste that was stable until it dried. However, once it set for awhile, it would mildly explode when you touched it and leave iodine stains on your hands. One day we painted the handle of the pencil sharpener in our homeroom class with this substance and waited for someone to use it. It resulted in a small eruption of purple stain, almost like an electrical shock and we saw great potential for further pranks. Most ammonia that you buy in the store is diluted by water to a small percentage. Grant figured that if we could distill pure ammonia it would create a more violent explosion. We borrowed the equipment and chemicals from the classroom lab and worked all night in my parent’s basement making this very caustic, smelly ammonia. We then mixed it with the iodine crystals and dipped strips of paper in the solution that we formed into little cracker balls that would explode on contact when you threw them on the ground. We tested them outside and then carefully placed them on newspaper sheets on the concrete floor while we got some sleep. When we got up the next morning my parents were gone and there were purple stains everywhere. My first thought was that my dad had accidentally stepped on it on his way to the incinerator, and so I immediately checked his shoes in the bedroom closet with no signs of stain. The only thing that we could determine was that perhaps a bug had landed on one of these paper wads and set off a chain reaction. We used the remaining strong ammonia to clean up the stains and did some quick paint touch-ups of the pristine white walls before my parents got home. It was a mess. It was not our only experiment with dangerous explosives.

On one sleep-over occasion we made Nitroglycerine in his basement, once again using borrowed equipment from the high school lab and taking full advantage of our lab assistant status. We always replaced everything, especially the beaker that exploded in the course of this experiment. “You’ll shoot your eye out” was never our biggest concern, because fortunately guns weren’t on our radar. I did inherit a chemistry set from a friend of my dad’s that included the metal elements used to make fireworks. It also contained a jar of mineral oil that was used to stabilize a chunk of potassium. When potassium is exposed to water it releases explosive hydrogen and spins madly out of control in it’s container. Who knows what else was in that cardboard box under my parents stairway for years. It could have been a disaster, but somehow we survived our crazy experiments. 

I think we both got A’s in chemistry, but he went on to make science his career. On the other hand, I buy cars that don’t require any maintenance skills and rarely take-on a D.I.Y. project. I once visited him in Seattle where I watched him play soccer, ate dim-sum, and then drove together to the base of Mt. Rainier.  In Boston, I ran the historic streets training for my first marathon, while he attended classes on the path to his doctorate. Years later, I also met him for a drink before our travel connection out of the country. That may have been our last get-together. He was the hung-over, best man in my first marriage, but I don’t remember my roles in his. We also dined together as a group at the Diamond Harbor Inn on Diamond Lake before our Senior prom. I managed on my own to somehow get a date, but she was disappointed when Keven showed-up in the exact same dress. I also think he attended one of our high school reunions. I’ll dig through some of the pictures. 

After we were both married, the four of us toasted to the new year with some wine that Grant & I made back in high school, via one of our overnight experiments. It was sugar and Welch’s Grape Juice that was stored in his basement in a giant plastic medicine display bottle that was formerly in the front window of Johnson’s Drug Store. It must have been four feet high, one of his rewards for working there. We forgot that it had been fermenting for all these years, until it sprung a slow leak. We actually had to crudely filter the contents through paper toweling to remove all the sediment before braving its taste. The rest of the batch was dumped once we realized it wouldn’t kill us or be a hazard to any of the nature around us. 

Grant was usually with his steady girlfriend, so he didn’t hang out much with the boys, as I did. Although, there were several wild parties at his house through the years, he wasn’t as outgoing and socially engaged as me. On one occasion, we found Grant’s glasses perfectly intact in the middle of Lexington Blvd. in front of the house. He couldn’t find them when he got up that next morning, but they were sitting safely on the yellow line of the heavily traveled street. We also made road trips to both Purdue University and Mackinaw City, Michigan back in 1969, telling our parents that we were touring potential schools. If I remember correctly, we were actually headed to Purdue the first time when at the last second decided to keep driving, pulling into a rest station in Upper Michigan to catch a couple hours of sleep. I don’t know where we were headed, but I have a history of taking advantage of my freedom and just driving. For example, Grant did not accompany me when I told my parents we were going camping at the Indiana Dunes State Park but ended up in California. As my dad later quipped, “Well, Thank God There’s An Ocean.” Otherwise, there might have been nothing to stop me. What stopped us in Michigan was the fact that while we were sleeping, several feet of snow fell and trapped us in the car. It would take too much effort to explain how we got out of that mess, but it involved both of us pushing with the accelerator held down by a stick. 

One time, I witnessed a big fight between he and his dad. It was as angry as I’ve ever seen him, as fists were flying and words were exchanged. It was one of those rare times when Senior was home, in total contrast to my family upbringing. Grant seemed to be naturally very patient at that time, and I can’t recall a single argument or disagreement between the two of us. I was certainly jealous that he had a steady girl when it required a “committee of support” for me to even call for a date. We never had many deep discussions about girls or family. We were always plotting our next experiment. 

On the other road trip occasion, there was a mutual friend of ours whose brother was in a Purdue fraternity that was hosting a big party over the weekend. Grant was impressed with the ingenuity of a pop machine that held beer. Since beer cost twice as much, an empty can dropped between quarters. Perhaps, that’s what inspired him to attend Purdue. We did run into some heavy drugs on campus, but neither of us were into pills or even pot in high school. That eventually changed for me, and I’m sure he couldn’t resist the similar temptation to experiment. As you can see, it was in our DNA.

I’m pretty sure that Grant met my son, Adam.  I know he was at our Eagle Lake house and helped me build a greenhouse. He was happy as long as he was involved in a project and I had plenty of them. Adam was born in 1974, within the window when he was still living in Indiana. I had to consult his obituary to get a timeline, but he finished his doctorate in 1979. There was so much in there that I didn’t know or forgot about Grant, but it’s been wonderful to think him so much these past few days. It must have been in the late 70’s that I spent time with him in Seattle and Boston. That makes sense because I completed my first marathon in 1979. It’s hard for me to imagine that Grant was so into soccer because sports or any physical activity were not high school priorities. Soccer was certainly not popular in the late 60’s but I’m glad he finally found a game that was challenging to his intellect. He did not even participate in the bicycle endurance racing that our mutual classmates drug me into. I understand that it was another sport that he adopted later in life and used to commute to work.  

I’ve recounted some of the most memorable experiences of our teenage years together. It’s hard to believe that the two of us were really only together for a handful of years. His future wife occupied most of his time, while I did some wrestling, ran track, and got involved with the choir. I had other friends that got me into much more trouble than Grant ever did, and I always knew that he would go on to accomplish great things. It was sad that his life was so short, but he fulfilled his desires. He had the million dollar lab that he always talked and dreamed of as a career goal. He was most comfortable with books, beakers, and gadgets. I’m sure that he spent every waking hour in it, consumed with ambition and knowledge. I heard that he died at his desk on Thanksgiving, and regardless of whether that’s totally accurate or not, he was focused on science more than family or friendship. I think that I got the best years of his life, before he drifted into the world of academics and discovery. Thanks, Grant, for seeing me as the brother we both never had. 

 

 

 

 

Retirement is not without Hassles: My friend Grant: Part 1: #1161

I’m so happy to get the opportunity to write about my friendship with Grant, nearly fifteen years after his death. He was named after the famous American Gothic painting by Grant Wood that I believe was a relative. This all came about because of a recent reunion with a high school friend and the related Facebook pictorial post that generated responses from Grant’s first wife, sister, and son. They asked me to recount some memories, particularly for the benefit of his son Grant who wanted to learn more about his father. I honestly don’t remember if I communicated appropriately with his widow at the time of his passing, since the only time I met her was at their wedding and certainly regret not being able to attend the funeral. I don’t think I’ve ever gotten over my reluctance to attend these uncomfortable things and vividly remember resisting my friend’s call to be a pall bearer at his dad’s, also named Grant, ceremony. I made the excuse that I didn’t have a sport coat, but thankfully he talked me into it. This was while we were both home from college. It might have been the last time that I saw his sister.

I met Grant in our Elkhart High School chemistry class in 1966. We graduated together in 1969. Mr. Joslyn was our teacher and we volunteered to be lab assistants – a couple of suck-ups, after we both realized how tough he was as an instructor and poor scores on the first quiz. I don’t recall if it was a joint decision or that’s how we actually met. Both of us were practical jokers – I do remember hooking up the Bunsen burners in the lab to the water outlet rather than the appropriate gas line and using it to squirt water in the windows of the building across the street. This was the last year that the high school was in its original building downtown.

As lab assistants we got extra credit and got to take equipment home for “mad scientist” experiments that we would conduct at each other’s houses. The beauty of his house was that there was often never any adult supervision, so it also came in handy for overnight parties for nerds like us that liked to play RISK, for example. We’d take home chemicals and glassware from the lab (with some permission) and make explosives. We’re lucky we never blew the place up! His younger sister had to deal with us for the next three or four years. Both of us were shy around girls so I’m not sure that I was ever able to engage in a conversation with her. More on explosives and girls later.

The first time I walked into Grant’s bedroom, I know he was an electrical genius. I’m not sure where he learned it, but I too had a knack for wiring and current. I think we both took the difficult test to be Ham Radio operators – more “nerdity” when nerds we’re necessarily cool. I was absolutely fascinated that he could operate almost anything from his bedside – this was long before the remote control ever existed. The only complaint that he ever had about his sister was that she was constantly on the phone and there was only one line. Eventually he solved this problem with a switchboard that would send calls over to the neighbor’s house, freeing the phone for his own use. I helped him dig the trench to bury the wires and watched him tap-in to the line leading into the old man’s house (probably about my age now). The neighbor apparently rarely used his phone but eventually did, and reported the problem to the phone company – GTE. I remember sleeping-over the morning that several utility trucks pulled into the driveway with lights flashing. Grant had cut the line with a shovel at the border between the two lawns and I thought for sure he was going to get in big trouble. I elected to cower inside. They had a discussion at the property line and to make a long story short, the serviceman recognized Grant’s genius and actually taught him how to hook-up an additional phone directly to the telephone pole. No charges were ever filed. I’m not sure that Grant, Sr. or his sister ever knew that this was why the phone was never tied-up in their house. 

I will continue with these stories over the next few days, as they come to mind. There are memories about cars, Nitro Tri-Iodine, wine-making, bicycles, more phone stuff, double-dating, Johnson’s Drug Store, and German class that are top-of-mind. I’m sure I’ll think of even more stuff to share in his memory. He was only 53 when he died at the desk in his Boston College laboratory, as a published bio-physicist. There were two other children. We all miss you, Dr. Grant. 

Retirement is not without Hassles: Sad Day #1147

It was a normal morning, with the major exception that Tinker is no longer with us. We had an appointment to put her to sleep this morning, but apparently she was in pain last night and could no longer stand. I had gone to watch the I.U. basketball victory with a friend when I got the call to meet my wife and step-daughter at Dove-Lewis Animal Hospital. By 9 p.m. she had become an angel and Tally, our younger schnauzer, an only “child.” My wife did not sleep well last night, while I was still inclined to step-over the spot where Tinker often spent the night. It was in a direct line from my bed to the bathroom, a route that I navigate all too often every night. 

When I got up this morning, Tally and I took the familiar route to the park but without Tinker’s “Air Buggy” stroller. We encountered another dog on the stairway down from our apartment, since there’s no longer a need to use the elevator. There was a lot of barking as the two went nose-to-nose. I actually thought we could avoid the other dogs in the complex by taking the stairs because most of the surprise meetings occur when the elevator doors open. There’s a neighbor’s huge St. Bernard that is of particular concern since Tally is always intent in protecting me with her fiercest voice. I’m sure she’ll miss Tinker, but will take every advantage of no longer having to share. 

My wife will do the ten o’clock dog outing on a solo basis from now on. She got in the habit of taking feisty Tally on longer walks since her retirement a few months ago. I would take Tinker out with them but then bring her back shortly after “business” was complete. This way she never felt left out after “Schnauzerthons” were no longer possible. She could no longer keep her balance in the stroller, so our combination walk-run routine changed once we moved downtown. Today is a sad day, but there’s relief knowing that Tinker is at rest. Despite the loss of hearing & sight, and some open sores, her appetite was never affected. She died with a full stomach.

Retirement is not without Hassles: Farewell my Friend #1139

We rode the streetcar again yesterday, starting to build a habit. It only got us within five blocks of our destination, so we cut through Powell’s Bookstore with pleasant memories of my step-daughter’s recent marriage in their rare book room. We soon arrived at the historic Roseland Theater where a musical tribute and fundraiser for a former radio colleague with cancer was being staged. He was supposed to be there, but instead it turned out to be a funeral and wake. He was an on-air personality at the stations that I worked for here in Portland and is credited with the development of our local Waterfront Blues Festival. I did not know him well since he primarily existed in the studio, but we often crossed paths at the “Red Counter,” where food was the main attraction. Sponsors seeking free exposure would let us taste their wares and birthdays were celebrated with treats for the staff. 

Like me, he was in the late stages of his career, making relatively too much money with lots of accumulated time off. The trend in the business was younger, cheaper, and better yet robotic. He was eventually the target for a not-to-be renewed contract, while I soon retired. He landed at another station and I never saw him again. I was hoping to see him at this concert, but he died at the age of 56 to Solitary Fibrous Sarcoma, a rare and fatal condition. I thought he was older, but when you get to age 68 like me, ten or fifteen years makes little difference in your appearance. He must have had an old soul, with a laid-back spirit that was quite popular in the community. Music was his life, so the event was an appropriate send-off. On the positive side, I was able to get reacquainted with a few other co-workers but didn’t stay long. We were tired after spending the afternoon at Bergstrom Winery for their annual luncheon and tasting. 

I’m glad we stopped by to say farewell to a friend and make a contribution to his costs of care. He leaves behind a family, who auctioned-off his extensive collection of albums, CDs, concert memorabilia, and probably even 8-Tracks. His “Friday Freeway Blues” show is part of his legacy. I’m sad I didn’t get to say goodbye in person, but I’m sure his body had tragically deteriorated. I can clearly picture him stepping up to the Red Counter, listening for the end of a song that was playing in his studio. Hopefully, he’s smoking a cigarette and enjoying the Heavenly Blues. Farewell my Friend!

 

 

Diary of an Adoptee: Another Door Closes #1088

It’s been awhile since anything new has happened regarding my adoption and related searches for DNA relatives. However, I’ve been very actively monitoring a good friend’s experiences in trying to relate to a child she gave birth to 46 years ago. It’s a similar case to mine where the birth child is much more interested in establishing a relationship than the birth mother. My birth mother and her children continue to ignore my efforts to connect. It’s a personal preference that I have to respect. 

Another door apparently closed last week in my search for information. My birth mother’s last remaining sister passed away at age 90. She was one of seven siblings who most likely would have known of my existence. She also could have been the sister that accompanied my birth grandmother in taking teenage Edna to the Suemma Coleman Home for Unwed Mothers. She might even have known the father and some of the circumstances of their relationship. She took those secrets to the grave with her. The services were yesterday. There was nothing posted on Facebook by either of her living children. It was actually my half-sibling on the father’s side that sent me the obituary. She happened to be back in Indiana and saw it in the local paper. She was home for the annual North Vernon Ghost Walk and I was curious if she created a different costume every year? I told her that my costume this year was a skeleton in the closet, referring to my mysterious appearance in her life last year because of a DNA match on Ancestry.com. We’ve stayed in touch since that meeting with her family. I’m glad she contacted me with the information on Edna’s sister. 

Edna Faye Bannister is now 86 years old and living in Seymour, Indiana. Her son lives near her, while her daughter is in Indianapolis. Sister Eva Joyce Ferguson  was born September 19, 1929 in Shelbyville. Her husband of 56 years died 11 years ago. They had three daughters that would all be my cousins, but only two are still alive. Since Edna’s parents and siblings have all now passed on, any evidence of her secret child (me) is now solely in her heart. Every day that goes by, it seems less likely that we will ever get a chance to meet. My friend just sent a stuffed cat to her birth daughter that she made as a pregnant teenager. She held on to it all these years, just as Edna has to have retained some memories of me. I’m sorry for her loss – a sister is special. As for this door closing, maybe a window will open?

 

Creature Features: Farewell Frankie #1060

Frankie, our apricot point, Burmese cat with blue eyes was born on February 8, 2001, just before my wife and I were married. She was our first joint purchase, spotted on our noon news show, and her oldest daughter thought that Frankie was an appropriate name because of the bright, blue eyes that reminded her of Frank Sinatra. She has moved with us from Indiana to Illinois to Texas to Oregon, crying “Mow” persistently every mile of our journey. We soon discovered that “Mow” really meant “Now,” an indication of her demanding personality. She could also hide like no other cat, even in a small motel room, where we once assumed that she had somehow escaped. We finally found her in the hollow behind a dresser drawer after literally tearing the room apart. A single “Mow” would have revealed her whereabouts, but also knew when to be silent. 

I just served Frankie her last meal. She will be laid to rest this afternoon after 18 and 1/2 years of life. I’m shedding a few tears as I write this because she’s been such a significant part of our marriage. Unfortunately, she’s been very disoriented these past few months and the thought is that perhaps she suffered a stroke that caused blindness. I’ve had to clean-up around the litter box, lift her to the food perch, and even sometimes help her down. She eats little but the chicken broth we serve her twice a day, and is down to about 6 pounds on her skeleton frame. There was a time when she would was part of the pet-pack that craved a late night snack of ham. (See Post #699). She stopped grooming herself some time ago, and as a result her hair is full of stubborn mats. Yet, every morning just before the sun comes up, I hear her cry for attention. “NOW.” (See Post #1035). This morning she was quiet. Maybe she knows that today is her last? 

It’s a major transition time for our whole family. The loss of my wife’s mother several months ago was the beginning. Tinker our 15 and 1/2 year old schnauzer pup is struggling with her health. We just sold our house and are about to move into a transitional apartment, as we prepare for retirement together. Soon, only 10-year old Tally will remain from the pet-pack. She’s still full of vim & vigor and will adapt easily to a new home. As pet care becomes less apart of our married life, extensive travel will be the next phase of our future. We will always carry fond memories of Frankie, as we have with her older sisters – Macy, Dimey, and Marilee that we once known as the kitty committee. My wife had many more cats in her life, but these were the critters that she shared with me. She also brought Chowperd Belle into our marriage that eventually led to the adoption of Tinker – hence Tinker-Belle. We also treasured our time with Roxie, Tinker’s other short-time pet companion. Her life ended tragically in a car accident. I wish I could have that sad moment back.  

Frankie will undoubtedly cry “MOW” on her final trip to the vet this afternoon. She’s led a long kitty life and traveled through at least fifteen states. Tinker and Tally will miss her, as we will. Tally will no longer find chewy treats in the litter box and Tinker will not be able to steal pieces of ham (now turkey) from her. Honestly, I won’t miss cleaning her litter box every morning or when she wakes me up with her annoying “MOWS,” though small prices to pay for her beauty and company. Above all, we want to make sure that she’s not in any pain, but her constant disorientation is disturbing and can no longer be ignored. Rest In Peace, dear Frankie. 

Retirement is not without Hassles: R.I.P. #1018

There is not a more helpless feeling than finding out that an old friend died – nine months ago. I got a note from a college fraternity brother that my roommate Jack passed away in October. He saw the notification in our college magazine that apparently I’m not receiving anymore. The sad thing is that I only saw him once since college and didn’t recognize his picture in the obituary. He was a thin, well-endowed, impeccably groomed, fashionable, handsome man with more brains and confidence than brawn, so he was not part of the intramural athletic teams that I participated in regularly. We were like the “Odd Couple” – he was very neat and tidy while I was a slob. He was into debate and writing, while I would barely study. I remember a paper he wrote titled “The Rape of the Virgin Islands.” It was a sign of the creative writing skills that eventually became a gem in his career. I’m surprised that we got along as roommates – or maybe we didn’t?

Before we got involved in the fraternity, we were Freshman neighbors in the dorm. He used an electric toothbrush because it was less disruptive of his morning hangovers. We would have late night talks in the hallway about anything and everything. We went to each other’s homes and double-dated on several occasions. He was much more of a ladies man than shy me, but truth be told he had no interest in women. I was too naive at the time to really understand, and it wasn’t until three years later that I discovered the true meaning of “gay.” I had an awkward encounter with my male boss in a hotel room, but even then it didn’t click. It was when I saw him on the news as part of a gay rights protest that it all came together – this guy and Jack. 

I was only Jack’s roommate for one semester at the frat house, before I left to attend Indiana University. I smoked pot with him for the first time in my life at a professor’s apartment, puffed on a Meerschaum tobacco pipe until I turned green, pledged the Sigma Chi Fraternity together, drank Sloe Gin out of the bottle, and recklessly experimented with some hallucinogenics while listening to The Moody Blues. I will also always associate him with Peter, Paul, and Mary’s Leaving on a Jet Plane that he played repeatedly on his stereo. He spoke fondly of his hometown honey Johanna, who I never met, and his best friend Bill, who was quarterback, Homecoming King, and an obvious idle. In retrospect, these were probably hints of his sexual orientation. I just hope with all my heart he wasn’t lonely. 

Jack and I went our separate ways, but maybe ten years after college I looked him up in Washington, D.C. where he was involved in politics. He seemed very evasive towards getting back together, and it appeared as if he was hiding something. As I look back, I honestly feel that he was trying to protect his secret from interfering with his career. It would not have made a difference to me. At the same time, he was always kind of obnoxious and conceited, raised by a Doctor and part of his hometown Country Club set. He also liked to talk about himself and I apparently was a good listener. His career success dominated our conversation, and I left with a sense of distaste for his attitude. We never got back together again after that evening, as he never initiated any effort to stay in touch. Now, he’s dead and has been for 9 months without any acknowledgement on my part.

I read his obituary, as if he had written it himself. It was very well-crafted, with bits of humor that he was known for in his speech writing days. It had no mention of a personal relationship of any kind, with excessive emphasis on his career success. It was much like our last conversation. I felt sorry for him that he was apparently never able to “come out of the closet,” if I’m indeed correct about my suspicions. For him, there was no room for “flaws” in his appearance, thinking back to his constant preening in the mirror. I still enjoyed his companionship and relish the good times we had, but I have the feeling I never knew the real Jack, and now I never will. Rest in Peace, my friend. In Hoc!

 

Retirement is not without Hassles: Three Weddings and a Funeral #942

I remember the 1994 movie Four Weddings and a Funeral, but needed to look up this brief recap as a refresher:

“Lovable Englishman Charles (Hugh Grant) and his group of friends seem to be unlucky in love. When Charles meets a beautiful American named Carrie (Andie MacDowell) at a wedding, he thinks his luck may have changed. But, after one magical night, Carrie returns to the States, ending what might have been. As Charles and Carrie’s paths continue to cross — over a handful of nuptials and one funeral — he comes to believe they are meant to be together, even if their timing always seems to be off.”

Starting with the funeral of my 97-year old mother-in-law a few days ago, I’m currently involved in my own version of the story, as all three brides-to-be mourned the loss of their grandmother. The fourth sister is already married with a one-year old son. One down -three to go! My son was married ten years ago and has three kids, to complete the first “circle of life.” Only a niece remains intentionally unattached, as she continues to travel the world.

Our time passed quickly between services, trips to Goodwill, and furniture moves. We hired a company to haul the remaining items out of my Mother-In-Law’s small apartment and rented a small truck to distribute them among various relatives. Each unhappy moment was matched with meaningful support from good friends. Dinners and toasts filled the evenings, along with a tour of the Mecum Auction event and a wild ride in a souped-up Dodge Charger on a make-shift Fairgrounds track coated with burnt rubber. As they say in Indy, “life goes on..and moves fast.”

Only two of my MIL’s four children were able to attend the service and burial. The two sisters that were present, including my wife, were involved in her last few years of care. We would travel back to Indiana from Portland, Oregon at least four times every year to visit and help her get to medical appointments.The other sister was much more involved, living in proximity. It was difficult on both of them to be either too close or too far away from her needs. As a result, assisted living and caregivers were hired. As to be expected, disagreements ensued but all issues were resolved.

As the initial pains of loss slowly recede, hopefully a sense of relief prevails. The last few months of life were particularly burdensome as “Mother’s”; quality of life suffered. My wife seeks comfort by trying to go to sleep each night after recalling a pleasant memory of her upbringing. I wrote a poem of some of my favorite memories. It was especially tough for this to happen just before Mother’s Day. Cards and flowers were sent that will never be acknowledged. Both daughters will now have weddings to plan, but will feel the emptiness of not having their beloved mother involved in these three monumental life events.

We all now move on to weddings as we fly back home. There may never be a time when my wife returns to her hometown, and certainly fewer travels to Indiana in general. We’ll be in Egypt next year when her niece ties the knot near French Lick. Beforehand, we’ll
see our Hoosier family for sure when we all gather together in San Francisco for the first ceremony of marriage in September. The November affair will be in Portland with only a close family presence. In both cases, ex-relationships could be awkward, but will not interfere with these special days for my wife’s two daughters. There’s a lot to look forward to yet this year of new beginnings to overshadow a sorrowful ending.

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