Archives for category: Aging

Just Past Peak.

A.V. Walters–

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With color so late this year, everyone was trying to pinpoint exactly when we’d experience “peak color.” Folks want to snap a picture at the exact epitome of the season, as if you could really capture the experience in a photo. I’m guilty of that, too. I think peak was last Saturday. I missed it. Saturday was a little grey, so I decided to wait a day to capture some sunshine in the photo. That night, the wind picked up—stripping vulnerable leaves from their moorings and removing swaths of color from the landscape. The next morning, sun came out, briefly, revealing an entirely different palette from the day before.

I snapped a few pics, even knowing that I’d called it wrong. Later in the day, the winds howled, and the rain kicked in–the double-whammy of color loss. Yesterday’s magnificent landscape was skittering across the road in the wind and rain. Now, near a week later, frosts have hit and we’re talking about the start of winter instead of the peak of fall.

It’s not as easy to call the color as it was when I was a kid. I think that climate change is delivering us mild autumn temperatures, slowing the turn of the season. Instead of one blast of outrageous display, the trees start their transition, and lose leaves along the way, through an extended autumn. A local headline read, “Color Season Takes its Own Sweet Time.” Not that it’s not beautiful—it’s just not as intense.

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Rick and I take a moment, everyday, to observe the changes. That may be the best anyway. Too often in our busy lives, we forget to take a moment to appreciate the beauty around us. It’s a shame, because “everyday beauty” is considerable salve to the challenges of everyday life. So what if it’s a little past peak? Come to think of it, so am I.

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The Myth of Snow Removal

A.V. Walters

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For the traditionalist…

There is no such thing. When it is time for it to go, snow will go on its own. Until then, all we can do is push it around—out of our way. We should really call it snow relocation. “Snow Removal” is a big ticket item on many northern, rural budgets. For many, the face of government is one’s local township clerk, and the guy who drives the snow plow. For public road maintenance, the standard snow plow is the way to go.

Snow management for the homeowner, or small business, poses important questions. First and foremost is the basic question of egress and access—unless you manage snowfall, you simply cannot get from here, to there. Immediately behind egress and access is the question of safety. At what point does the danger of a slip-and-fall land on the shoulders of the pedestrian? What is the responsibility of a business for access safety? When in doubt, wear spikes. It’s an inexpensive measure of safety. (Just remember to remove them at the door.)

The farther north you go, the higher the level of social tolerance for snow inconvenience. We know how to drive and schlep in snow. Snow management falls into one of three categories—pushing it aside (plowing and shoveling), scattering (snow blowers) or compaction—the old fashioned method of just traveling on top of the damn stuff—making for layers and layers of slippery, which are the seasonal measure of geologic sedimentation. Snow-blowers and their ability to disperse the mess make modern snow management easier. You never have to have a place to store the season’s bounty. The biggest issues in determining your snow management method are amount, effort and space. How much are you willing to sweat for access, and where the hell will you put the stuff?

When I was a kid, snow was shoveled by hand. That’s what kids were for. Driveways were relatively short. (I’m sure you’ve driven by a lovely old farmhouse and sighed at how close it was to traffic. Roads have widened over the years, and old houses were built sensibly closer to the thoroughfare.) Mechanization has freed us from those old, utilitarian limitations. Now, it is not unusual to see the McMansion on the hill, with its thousand-foot driveway. Woe to them, should petroleum become scarce.

We have our own range of snow equipment. The snow-blower on the tractor can clear a five-foot swath in a heartbeat. We have a hand-push blower, which we almost never use, favoring the flexibility of the traditional snow scoop or the northern version (the yooper-scooper), which makes it easier to move the snow some distance. In the North, snow removal is the aging test of whether it’s time to move into town. At that point, either you move, family helps out, you pay for snow removal, or you rely on the kindness of strangers. Since my father passed, my brother-in-law has dutifully kept my mum’s driveway clear. Rick and I are young yet, and are nowhere near those kinds of considerations. But…

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The Yooper-scooper–available only in the far north, wherever premium snow implements are sold.

I never had children. I wonder if Rick’s California kids understand the mores of familial obligations in the North.

 

Getting Mike: Part One–

A.V. Walters–

It was inevitable that sooner or later we’d have to step up to the plate to resolve this. The only real resolution was to bring Mike home.

Mike is my uncle. He is congenitally disabled–starting with a birth condition that caused brain damage, which (very common in the day) was left untreated. He did not get the kind of early intervention and treatment mandated now, that would likely have left him far more capable. My grandmother shielded him–to protect him from the bullies that taunted and repeatedly injured him. He clearly has deficits–but sometimes it’s hard to tell what’s damage, what’s training and–well, when Mike is manipulating for his own ends. The very fact that he knows when he can gain advantage, hedging with the truth, means there’s more capacity there than is generally acknowledged.

Mike’s childhood in Michigan was pretty harsh. Bullying is widely recognized today as an insidious and twisted problem–one that damages both the victim and the perpetrator. Schools have special programs. Teacher and students alike are encouraged to step forward to set things to rights. Not so in Mike’s day. School was a veritable gauntlet of hazards. My grandmother would rail, and the administration would shrug. They made it very clear that they would have preferred that he be institutionalized early on. They made it Mike’s fault.

My grandmother refused to give up. She researched high and low and found a special program to maximize the potential for kids like Mike. She wanted him to have the satisfaction and autonomy that comes with work. Like most parents on mentally challenged children, she didn’t want him to be a burden–and worried what would happen when she and my grandfather died. She found a great program in New Mexico–run by a dynamic and wonderful young man–who saw potential in all “his kids.” And the program was wonderful. First and foremost they were the ones to identify Mike’s speech impediment. (When I was little I could never understand him–most couldn’t, and soon, Mike talked less and less.) As a late teen, Mike received intensive speech therapy. It worked. Mike could suddenly communicate–and he was funny–even theatrical. My grandparents were vindicated. Not that Mike doesn’t have deficits, but, in the absence of communication, everyone assumed that he was far less functional than he really was. Shame on the rest of us.

The relocation was a big step, but my grandparents uprooted themselves from generations of family and history in Michigan, to give Mike a chance. It was a tough move, loaded with sacrifices. Being from Michigan gives one a love of season and lakes and snow. New Mexico, especially the high Eastern Desert, takes a special kind of appreciation. Mike bloomed. The employment training offered wasn’t wonderful–hospital orderly, bus boy, laundry worker–but they were jobs, steady jobs, for kids who were never expected to have any prospects.

After a while, the program, and its continuing support fizzled. State administrations changed, budgets were cut. Finally there were really no special programs for Mike, just a handful of advocates–family and friends who’d come to know him. Still, he lived with his parents and had a regular job. My grandparents missed Michigan. Some people have only one great leap of faith in them–that leap brought them to New Mexico. There was no going back.

Mike’s biggest problem is his inability to discern the motivations of others. He’s a genial guy. Not many people will take the time to befriend a mentally disabled person. When they do, they are either saints, or, unfortunately, predators. It’s been a problem all of his life. The “friend” who got him into stereo equipment–soaked up his savings and, after he’d cashed his commission check, vanished from Mike’s life. There was a similar scenario with camera equipment. It’s a recurring theme, and so we’re leery.

When my grandparents passed, nobody knew what to do about Mike. Mike made it abundantly clear that he wanted to stay where he was. It was his community and he had a job. My parents would have taken him to Michigan, but Mike’s memories of Michigan are full of abuse and bullies. I would have taken him to Two Rock, but California was an unknown. Mike wanted to stay. We cut a deal. If Mike could stay and take care of business–work, pay bills, take care of himself, he could stay. Long distance monitoring isn’t great. My grandmother’s friend, Mary-Jo has helped. She would call and drop in on him. Mike calls my mother every week, on Sundays. There have been slips, but mostly Mike has kept up his end of the deal. Or so we thought.

A couple of years ago, Mike had a friend who suggested that they share an apartment, to save money. We were immediately suspicious. The “friend” wasn’t interested in communicating with us–more suspicions. But, Mike jumped the gun and moved anyway. We had no evidence of trouble, so we opted for a wait and watch plan. Things seemed to be fine. Mike continued to report to work. My grandmother’s friend watched like a hawk (the woman is a blessing). At one point, when Mike didn’t call, we called the local cops–for a “welfare” visit. He was fine. He was angry with us–he’d just missed a couple of calls because of problems with his phone. Still, we worried.

Last spring Mike was going in for cataract surgery. His roommate didn’t pick him up, so Mike gave the medicos Mary-Jo’s name and number. She retrieved him from the clinic. While he was there, the doctor noted a nasty infection in his leg. These have plagued him, off and on, all his life. He started up with regular treatments at a wound clinic. His legs were too bad to continue working. My mother offered to pick him up and take him to Michigan where he could have better care. Mary-Jo reported that Mike was unshaven and disheveled. We were alarmed that the roommate hadn’t followed through, and that he wasn’t taking care of himself.

Then, our mail was returned as “not at this address.” Again, we requested that the police visit. Too late. Mike was gone. For a while we lost contact, but still, we had no evidence of actual trouble. We had nothing to report and nowhere to report it to. We’d dropped the ball.

After a bit, Mike’s calls to my mother resumed. Yes, he’d been out of communication, but there were reasons. He’d moved to a place in the country–and there wasn’t great cell reception. He was clearing part of the property and planting trees. He had a kitten. He was so excited, it was hard to be angry. But, he had no address. The trailer where he was living was new, and there was no address yet. We’d have to be patient, there was so much to do. No address meant that we couldn’t send him cards and treats and care packages. These goodies had long sustained him–the occasional box of cookies, a needed winter coat, cards–with a little cash tucked in. These outreaches meant the world to Mike. How could he not give us an address? Well, the post office had to put it on the route and they’d have to install a mailbox, out on the highway. He confided that his friend was still angry that we’d called the police previously. Soon, soon, he’d have an address.

He sounded great. He sounded happier than he’d been in years. He was working outdoors, enjoying it and proud of the results of his labors. He was so thrilled that he had a kitten–all his own. We worried. He was also keeping in telephone contact with Mary-Jo, she didn’t like the situation, one bit, and she told him so. We talked about it and we decided to let the tenor of Mike’s voice be our guide. His voice was strong and he was happy.

His birthday rolled around. My mum called for his birthday. He was missing the goodies. What could she say? Well, Mike, when you give us your address and we’ll resume the packages and cards. Tough love. Over Christmas, Mike called my mother, elated that they’d put up the mail box. He gave her his new address! Before she’d send him any goodies my mother told Mike she would send him something and he’d have to send it back, a test of the new postal address. She did, and he did. So, she sent him belated birthday and Christmas packages.

Then, after Christmas, New Mexico had a storm. We read about it but we’re from Michigan. What’s the big deal about a little snow? It was a big deal. Mary-Jo called, frantic. Was Mike going to be okay? My mother gave her the address–explained that things were fine now according to Mike. Things weren’t fine. Mike likes it there, but we’ve learned that he lives in a trailer with no heat, no water, no sanitation. There’s power, but only when there’s fuel for a generator. Winter is a big deal under these conditions. Mary-Jo, determined detective that she is, advocate for this vulnerable son of her best friend–she found out just how grim. He told her he keeps warm under a thermal blanket, he and his kitty. The “roommate” doesn’t live there, she drops off groceries. He visits at her place every couple of weeks–to do laundry and have a shower. She cashes and keeps his Social Security checks.

I am on a mission. I have contacted and coordinated with Adult Protective Services. Mike’s going to have a visit.The police will escort us. If conditions are as Mary-Jo reports, Mike and his kitty are coming home to Michigan. He’s not going to like it, but he’s not getting a choice this time. I won’t post this until he is safe with me–I don’t want to jinx it this time. I just finished a two day, 1,600 mile drive to New Mexico. I thank all those who have coordinated to make Mike’s rescue possible, especially Mary-Jo. Tomorrow is the big day.

Remembrance

A.V. Walters

Growing up in Canada, we called it Remembrance Day. It was the day you bought pin-on poppies from brittle old men, and wore them to recite In Flanders Fields, which all school children memorized for the occasion. It’s a Canadian thing. We got the day off school, of course, but it was a guilty pleasure. Some of our friends spent the day in cemeteries or at war memorials honoring those lost in “The Big Wars.”

It honored the peace brought on the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month and, at least initially, it honored the losses and hopes specific to the Great War. That was before the wars had sequels and we started to number them. I say hopes, because with the conclusion of the Great War, the hope was that this treaty would create a truly great and lasting peace. What were they thinking?

This day was once remembered in the United States as Armistice Day. That, being too war-specific, was later changed to Veteran’s Day. No poppies, though. In America we’ve bifurcated the war-remembering business into two main days, Veteran’s Day and Memorial Day—separating the flag-waving into a day for the living and a day for the dead. The dead are low-maintenance. Their day is always a Monday, for the convenience of the three-day-weekend. I wish it had retained its solemnity, but all too often it’s just considered the kick-off weekend for the summer season. (Much as the venerable Labor Day has become the summer finale.) Little offends me more than retail sales associated with these important days of reflection. That’s faux patriotism; go ahead, wrap your dollars in the Stars and Stripes, but you cannot hide poor tastes and judgment. My deepest apologies to the war-dead. In reality, this is a culture that turns the page all too quickly. Only the immediate families hang on to the sacrifices and losses of those who gave to their country in full measure.

Veteran’s Day is a tougher question, these days. That’s because it’s difficult to muster the appropriate level of honor to those we currently shortchange in terms of medical care and benefits. Veterans are not low maintenance. Our politicians, though, want to have their cake and keep it, too. They speak in glowing and patriotic terms of sacrifice, lay wreathes on graves, even as they fail to fund their empty promises for veteran’s benefits. Tell the veterans of our current, under-the-rug wars, that we honor them.

I think we should honor the soldiers, living and dead, for their service. Honor the sacrifice, not the war. “War,” we’ve learned, is declared by old men with layered intentions. Economic, political, profiteering or just plain immature—most wars could and should have been avoided. We can’t afford them, financially, environmentally, economically and morally. We’ve had more than our fair share of stupid wars. We shouldn’t be honoring them. But nothing in the stupidity of leaders subtracts from the legitimate sacrifices of soldiers. While we’re at it, I include in those deserving of honor, those who didn’t serve on moral grounds–thinking men whose thoughtful pact with the living didn’t include killing. They pay, too, either in prison terms, public service, or exile.

Usually on days of reflection I fly the flag. Yes, me, the liberal, I fly our flag. I’m tired of the extreme right commandeering Old Glory for their sole use. It’s everyone’s flag, to fly (sometimes to fly upside down in extreme protest of this country’s direction or even to burn, if necessary.) I call it taking back the flag. On Earth Day, Memorial Day, Independence Day, Flag Day, Labor Day and Veteran’s Day, I fly our flag. It came as a shock to Elmer, my old landlord. We didn’t share politics, but when he saw my flag and queried me about it, he put up his own (much bigger) flag. The guy is a veteran, but until our conversation, he hadn’t given the concept of patriotism much thought. I fly our flag as a reminder of our responsibilities and to spur our duty to make the future better.

This day, no flag. I gave my flag away to a neighbor girl when I left Two Rock. She asked me why I fly the flag and I told her. I hoped that, like the words of Flanders Fields which meant little to me as a kid, those good reasons for flying the flag would resonate for her as she grew older and was better able to reflect on their meaning. Next year, I’ll get myself a new flag. Maybe even bigger than my old one!

I now recognize that Imperialism rings, even in the innocent enough words of Flanders Fields, and it’s why I urge all to take these as days of reflection, with honor. Question, always question!

 

 

 In Flanders Fields

by John McCrae

 

In Flanders fields the poppies grow
Between the crosses, row on row,
That mark our place; and in the sky
The larks, still bravely singing, fly
Scarce heard amid the guns below.

We are the Dead. Short days ago
We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,
Loved and were loved, and now we lie
In Flanders fields.

Take up our quarrel with the foe:
To you from failing hands we throw
The torch; be yours to hold it high.
If ye break faith with us who die
We shall not sleep, though poppies grow
In Flanders fields.

Boomerang Advice

A.V. Walters
Once I had a very long conversation with a census worker. He confessed that he loved to scuba dive, but that he’d gained some weight and his wet suit no longer fit. As soon as he lost the weight, he was going to get back to it. I looked him squarely in the face and said, “Buy a new suit.”

No, that wasn’t necessary–he was using the new suit as an incentive for the diet. So I asked him how long it had been since he’d been diving. Ten years.
Clearly, the new suit wasn’t enough of an incentive and actually, instead of being a carrot, had turned into the stick. He felt guilty about the weight and used that guilt to self-flagellate and deny himself the pleasure of an activity that would enrich his life and would probably help him to lose weight. I told him so. He looked liked I’d slapped him.

About a month later he was back on my doorstep. He’d come to thank me. With the new wet suit, he’d been diving and was feeling more alive than he had in years. Of course, then he asked me out–and I declined. Why it is that I get into these conversations with perfect strangers is another thing entirely, but the message is to get to the business of enjoying life and accepting the challenges presented. Every time we put off being who we are, we lose time–the most precious commodity of all.

It’s advice that, once given, should always be taken right back. Look in the mirror. What aren’t you enjoying today? Get to it.

The Anxiety of Young’Uns (And, what thanks do we get?)

A.V. Walters

We’ve been in a tumult lately. My sweetie’s teenage daughter has been in a downward spiral. You know, the you-can’t-tell-me-what-to-do phase, only in a big way. From strictly a developmental point of view, this is entirely normal. (Well, to a point.) Parents need to learn that they have limited control, and the best that they can do, is their best. Beyond that you cross your fingers and fasten your seatbelt. I believe that psychology has failed to fully plumb the depths of all the various, developmental periods in our lives.  Oh, they have the early years pretty well mapped; it’s easy to check out this tortured teen. But they’re missing the point, these life stages continue to unroll, dependent upon our own circumstances. Once we hit adulthood, the shrinks roll their eyes and say, “That’s just life.” (“So, how does that make you feel?”)

Many of these developmental plateaus are linked with common-life events, a marriage, the birth of a child, divorces, the death of a parent. They all resonate at deep levels that challenge our interior balance and make us question how to move forward, from here. My dad passed away almost two years ago. I still miss him terribly, but we did the best we could and that’s all anyone can ask. It changed me. I feel protective towards my mom, and I find myself planning my life for a different kind of future—planning for the fruitful and productive end-game. Now, I’m next in line, as the older generation. Not a geezer yet, but it’s on the horizon. Another stage, waiting to be explored.

My landlord is retrofitting one of his barns. Around here, a lot older farmers just let their barns decay and collapse. It seems wasteful, but it turns out there are ordinances about being able to tear down a derelict barn. Sometimes it’s about preserving historical structures or, to hold the ‘country-estate’ developers at bay, rural counties have legislated protection for aging agricultural buildings. Elmer is a hold-out. Despite his advancing years, he’s still fixing and building. There’s always some construction project going on around here, usually several at once. They seem to drag on forever that way, but time ticks by differently if you’re busy. By remaining in a constant mode of renewal, I think Elmer is cheating time. His knees are trouble and he says he’s ‘semi-retired,’ but he may well be the busiest man I know. And I think there’s something to that. If you think retirement is your golden time to sit back and relax, I think you may be planning on checking out. The secret seems to be staying in the thick of it—being busy and engaged. (I know, this ain’t a news flash, but a lot of folks seem to forget it.) I can’t imagine anything better than being too busy to notice the passing of the years.

But, there’s a downside to this meditation, and well, nobody’s perfect. As part of the ongoing barn work, Elmer had an electrician come to test and redo some of the wiring. No one remembers how long the power was down (or at least they’re not owning up to it) but when Rick went to check on the emu eggs, the incubator they’re in was now fifteen degrees lower than it should be. How long that had been going on, or how low it had gone before that, who knows. There we were, all set with strategies for enduring a storm induced power outage and, without notice, inadvertence steps in. With any luck, these eggs should start hatching as early as next week, but now, we don’t know if they’ll make it. There’s nothing we can do now except wait, and see. I guess it’s no different than teenagers — we just do what we can, keep an eye out for ‘power outages,’ and hope for the best.

Frozen Shoulder

A.V. Walters

I’m struggling with a frozen shoulder. (No, it’s got nothing to do with this cold weather that’s keeping the tomatoes from ripening! Our usual September heat is late.) It’s the second time this has happened, so it’s not a big surprise. I’m thinking back, a couple of decades, and remember that both my parents had trouble with frozen shoulders in their fifties. It happened to my mom twice, my dad, just the once. So, I figure I’m both due, and genetically doomed.

What is it? It’s an excruciating condition causing pain in the shoulder. Initially, it’s just a twinge when you reach, slowly escalating, until your arm hangs uselessly and the pain keeps you awake at night. It will often resolve on it’s own, eventually reversing its painful course after a mere 18 to 30 months! With therapy it can reverse faster—and, with less loss of range of motion that characterizes this dread condition. A friend of mine informed me that, in Japan, the common name for this condition is ‘Fifties Shoulder.’ Thanks! Just what I needed—another reminder, beyond my presbyopia, letting me know I’m over the hill.

I live too far out of town to bother with formal therapy. Between the time, the drive (gas and all) and the copay, I’ll pass on that. It’s not my style, anyway. I’m enormously stubborn when it comes to this kind of medical event, and the inevitable call for “professional” intervention. My sister says I’m so stubborn, that I’d perform my own brain surgery! I’m not quite that bad. (But, it does make me wonder if she thinks there’s something wrong with my brain, and that I should operate.) Okay, I’m the first to admit, I am medically “difficult.” Just show me what I need to do and I’ll take care of it on my own. You can learn a lot from the internet. (And, if you think a little knowledge is a dangerous thing…)

I wouldn’t be so cocky if I hadn’t just beaten it, with my right shoulder. After months of pain, I finally decided to research the therapy. I checked the net and asked my mother about her therapy sessions. Over a decade ago I had a long recuperative period after an auto accident. During that time, I got a survey course in the various and sundry methods of physical treatments. So now, I have a pretty good idea of the objectives and the techniques available. In January, I earnestly set to fixing my bad shoulder. It was painful but, in a couple of weeks, I had substantially increased my range of motion, and decreased the pain. In three months, I had it whipped. This time, (now, the left shoulder) I’m not going to let it get as far advanced as it had, before. I’m getting on it, right away.

It makes you wonder though—what does this ailment mean in the bigger picture? It’s usually self-correcting, albeit, after a painful run. So, it’s not just the inevitable, relentless decline of age. What bodily mechanism decides to throw the shoe into the works, only to fix itself, all without explanation? Of course, I have a theory. (See previous post, Presbyopia.) I believe that it is a natural part of the human cycle of interaction. Only by temporarily immobilizing the independent, but nearly-geriatric, can you get them to ask for help. That may be the only way to get the stubborn among us to slow down enough to show the next generation what needs to be done. So, if you haven’t already shared your knowledge of gardening, sewing, weaving, cooking or building—now’s the time. If it has to, your body will force you to ask, because these things must be done. The seasons wait for no one.

Well, that’s my theory and I’m sticking to it. I’m also using heat, massage and stretching. I get up from the computer frequently to vary my activities. I’m increasing my water intake. I’m determined to get back to normal as soon as possible. As I’ve said before, I’m a far shot from being ready for the ice floe. Really, I’m not dead yet—feeling better all the time—think I’ll go for a walk

And now, back to the garden.