Wednesday, 16 April 2014

Another Way

By Maureen Browning

It was very cold in North Dakota in late October of 1956, the day my aunt Angie died. My uncle Harold was at work and my cousin Frankie was at school. Angie, who was in her early forties and home alone, suffered a severe asthma attack and within minutes. Died on the living room floor.

The saddest part, other than her death itself, was that when she collapsed, she fell face down over the open grated furnace vent. I was told that when she was found, her face was badly burned from the heat coming up through the grate from the coal burning furnace in the basement.

Angie was my dad's sister. Her funeral was scheduled for a few days later and burial would be in the spring after the ground thawed.

I was almost 15 then, about to attend a funeral for the very first time in my life. In the hour ride from our home to the church, I had a lot of time to think but I had no idea what to expect.

I had never seen the body of a dead person. I knew that Angie would be prepared with make-up and dressed in her finest clothing before she was placed in her casket.

When we arrived for Angie's funeral and entered the church, I immediately noticed her open casket at the front near the altar. I distinctly remember how much I dreaded the idea of seeing Angie that day, especially since I knew her face had been so badly burned. I wanted to remember her as she was the last time I had seen her.

Angie was a remarkably good-natured person with an especially bubbly personality. She and my uncle must have loved each other a lot because I can remember them holding hands almost every time they sat beside each other.

Angie and I shared our maiden name of McGuire and we also shared the asthmatic condition. Knowing how she died, I could not stop thinking about how she must have struggled for air and how frightening it must have been.

As we made our way to the front of the church, I anxiously whispered to my mother my sudden feeling of not wanting to walk by Angie's casket. She told me that I had to follow her but that I didn't have to look at Angie.

As we approached the casket, I made a split second decision to look at her anyway. Her eyes were closed and other than that, I could barely see any details of her face because a very light pink gauze fabric had been placed over the open area of her casket. Heavy makeup and the pink fabric had been used to disguise her badly burned face.

I felt a wave of relief after moving past her but was consumed with a deep sense of sadness for my uncle and cousin who would miss her terribly.

On the ride home, I wondered about Angie's burial in the spring. I knew that I didn't want to go. A few days later, I talked to my mother about it. She told me the decision whether to go or stay home would be up to me.

I stayed home that spring day but by late that afternoon, I realized that I might as well have gone along with my parents because my vivid imagination of Angie's casket being lowered into the ground had played over and over in my mind all day.

By evening I knew that after my death, I did not want by body to be placed in a casket, viewed by family and then buried underground. Even though I was not aware of exactly why I felt so strongly about this at that particular time and had no idea of how and where I wanted my body to end up after my death, I just knew there had to be another way.

By 2010, I had found another way. In July of that year, I made legal arrangements to donate my body to a University Medical School for anatomical use, to be followed by cremation.

Upon my death, it will be my gift to science and to the education of the doctors of tomorrow.

[INVITATION: All elders, 50 and older, are welcome to submit stories for this blog. They can be fiction, non-fiction, poetry, memoir, etc. Please read instructions for submitting.]

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Tuesday, 15 April 2014

No Blue Hair, Please

By Janet Thompson

After my second divorce, as a newbie I brazenly answered an irresistible ad in a weekly, alternative Denver newspaper noted for its unusually clever singles ads.

John’s was so imaginative I was immediately hooked. He described himself as a distinguished, mature man, a writer who liked movies and intelligent conversation.

His surprising criteria for a prospective lady friend were a mature woman who enjoyed the same, had no entanglements and he specified, “no blue hair, please” (the hook for me). He requested a handwritten response.

My handwritten response on high-rag-count, discreetly proper, buff notepaper stated, “I, too, enjoy movies; delight in intelligent conversation and my previous entanglements are now disentangled.”

Specifying the “hook,” I also declared, “Miss Clairol and I are dear friends.”

Phoning, he invited me for conversation, wine and cheese. (In the late 80s in Denver, it was unlikely to meet undesirables through a singles ad).

John appeared comfortably relaxed, of average height and indeed was distinguished-looking. I observed a shock of snow-white hair, a silk cravat at the throat of an open-collar, preppy-patterned shirt under an academic style blazer above khaki trousers and boat shoes.

With his white mustache, deep vertical forehead wrinkles and lively blue eyes under bushy eyebrows, I saw a combination of Hollywood bon vivant and eastern, financially secure, leisure-loving academic. He was at least 15 to 20 years older than I, maybe the age of my parents. I would describe John as the most “worldly-wise" person I've ever known.

We visited senior matinees and art house movies twice a week. At either home, we enjoyed wine, cheese, avocados and conversation. He loved avocados, a certain brand of jug wine, water crackers and triple crème brie.

John said I should first critique the movies we had seen. I would and only after I did, would he tell me his impressions. It was daunting for me to disclose mine. (My reviews were usually lame). I now watch movies more knowledgeably than before meeting him.

I finally learned from John the correct use of “lie” and “lay.” His being a writer, it vexed him sorely when I would misuse them. Every time I want to use either word, I stop and think first, reminded of John in the doing.

Many times after our sojourns, he wrote and mailed me a little note. One I saved described me as having been “a remarkable companion, intellectual foil, conversational nourishment provider and hand holder in the dark recesses of Denver’s cinema slums.”

John told many engrossing tales about his Hollywood screen-writing life between the 30s to 50s. He authored during the McCarthy hearings but disclosed little about that sorry period. He wrote poems, stories and plays all his life. I was captivated by some he shared.

A native easterner, he subscribed to the New Yorker magazine so I gleefully thumbed through the most interesting articles and fun cartoons.

We watched TV in horror as the Tiananmen Square massacre unfolded live. We discussed movies as varied as Sex, Lies and Videotape, White Men Can't Jump, Pretty Woman and When Harry Met Sally. He knew Nora Ephron well and the movie became a constant theme between us: whether men and women could be "just friends" or would eventually have to become lovers.

I felt tongue-tied at comments like, “until they have been lovers, a man and a woman are strangers.” This, and then he would expand on it by penning a note to me. Some of his greetings were: “Dear Person.” If he sent the note the next day after we saw each other, it might be “P.S.” A paragraph might end with, “Seque to - ” followed by “But will we?” Or it might be prefaced with “(Stage direction: He takes a deep breath – Then -)”

Having just disentangled myself from the entanglement I had assured him of, I wanted to be just friends but glanularly, he needed a lover.

John continued putting ads in the singles columns. One reply finally produced a JoAnn and he started seeing her. In writing, I became “The Other Woman” or “Dearest Other.”

January, 2003, in answer to my Christmas card, JoAnn sent me a note with no return address saying John had died around Thanksgiving. I never knew her last name so I couldn't share my innocent memories with her, making me feel empty.

* * *

He always made this college drop-out feel his intellectual equal.

In heaven, is he still collecting singles ad replies? If not suitable compositionally, do they still go into his round file?

[INVITATION: All elders, 50 and older, are welcome to submit stories for this blog. They can be fiction, non-fiction, poetry, memoir, etc. Please read instructions for submitting.]

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Monday, 14 April 2014

The Panhandler

By Norm Jenson of Mostly Anecdotal

Our dog’s a panhandler. I didn’t realize it for a while, but then one day it was clear.

She occupies the prime real estate in front of my chair. She gazes straight into my eyes trying to make eye contact. Her eyes are sorrowful. I'm not sure how she accomplishes it, but she does.

She tilts her head to the side. I can see the sign, "Hungry, Little Ones at Home, Please Help, God Bless.” She should remember that I know she's been spayed. Perhaps she's forgotten.

She leaves for a spell but then returns with a determined look and a new sign. "Will Work for Food," it reads. And then as if to prove the point she trots over to the back door showing her willingness to do something in return.

Probably she thinks doing her business outside counts as work. I can see her point. She goes out and down the stairs — sometimes she pretends to get business done but it's a ruse — not this time though, this time she does her job and I reward her with a treat.

She's back again with the "Will Work for Food" sign but I'm not buying it so she changes signs to "Single Mom, Help Me Feed The Little Ones," and then does the head tilt bit.

I toughen up and ignore her but then she starts whining and snorting and then whining again. I lose my place in the book I'm reading and I’ve had it. "Out of here," I say, but she screws her little rear into the floor, and growls. I need a new plan.

I get a treat and throw it into the hallway, she bounds out of the room but before I can get up and shut the door she’s back with the treat in her mouth. She has this half-open mouth grin she does sometimes, she's doing it now, bits of dog treat drop to the floor.

I try again. I get another treat and throw it into the hall; I'm on my feet now and confident I'll get to the door before she does. But she's pretending she's not hungry.

She stares at me. She lies down and pretends to sleep so I sit down and start to read. I look over at her, there she is lying on her side like a giant pork sausage.

I'm back to my book. Detective Wallander is working on a case that's taken him to Latvia. He’s just discovered a bug hidden in the clock in his room, it's then I notice the dog has done it again.

While I was sleuthing with Kurt she was stealing the bait I left in the hall and was back again with her half-smile.

I don't have an answer. I'm certainly no match for this devious pooch. We should have trained her better. We should have stuck to our guns and not let her outwait us. We shouldn't have fallen for her well thought out plans and now we'll just have to live with it.

[INVITATION: All elders, 50 and older, are welcome to submit stories for this blog. They can be fiction, non-fiction, poetry, memoir, etc. Please read instructions for submitting.]

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Friday, 11 April 2014

The Giving of a Tallis

By Sondra Terry

When I was in my early fifties, I found my way to a synagogue that had a woman rabbi which intrigued me and lured me into ultimately becoming a member of the congregation.

I wanted to learn, to study and to participate in prayer with others. And, after a time, I wanted to wear a prayer shawl, a tallis which was worn by not only the men of the congregation but also some of the women.

Speaking on the phone one day, I told my father about my desire for a tallis and I asked him to buy one for me. There was a hesitant silence and then he said, “My dear child, I can’t do that.”

I pressed him, “Why not? I want to wear one. Why would you say you can’t do that?”

He explained that the way he was raised, the tallis was a ritual item worn only by men. To go and buy a tallis, knowing it was for a woman - well, he just could not do that.

I remember quickly ending the conversation, putting the phone down and sobbing. The hurt was too much to hold in. I knew my father would have given his life to save mine yet he would not do this simple thing. To have a tallis from him would have meant so much to me and it was not to be.

The next few days, the thought of his response kept coming to me: “My dear child, I can’t do that.”

I wondered if he understood how that answer hurt me. I wanted to call him but I stubbornly determined that I wouldn’t and I would never raise the question or talk about it with him again. It was too painful.

Then he called. I know I must have sounded cool to him at first, but he soon said he wanted to talk about the tallis.

“What about the tallis?” I asked.

“You must remember that I gave your husband the gift of a tallis before you married. That is traditional. I don’t know and it’s not my business whether he ever wore it. But I want you to ask him to give you that tallis and I will buy him a new one.”

I heard his words and I blurted out, “No, I want my own from you.”

He slowly and firmly repeated what I was to do. “Listen to me. You take the tallis I gave your husband. Let that be yours and I will give him another.”

I heard his words, I thought for a moment and I understood his intent. This was how he resolved his dilemma. I will have a tallis from my father, bought by my father, but it will have resided in my husband’s possession for a time. How clever.

And so it came to be that I have a beautiful woolen tallis, given by my father.

[INVITATION: All elders, 50 and older, are welcome to submit stories for this blog. They can be fiction, non-fiction, poetry, memoir, etc. Please read instructions for submitting.]

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Thursday, 10 April 2014

Personality Split?

I have come to the conclusion
that my New Year's resolution
to leave grouchiness behind
and be courteous and kind
has been causing some confusion.

[INVITATION: All elders, 50 and older, are welcome to submit stories for this blog. They can be fiction, non-fiction, poetry, memoir, etc. Please read instructions for submitting.]

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Wednesday, 09 April 2014

Too Old To Be Self-Conscious

By Arlene Corwin

There is no subject that cannot
Be kicked around
Or talked about;
No theme so ‘sacred’ it must be avoided.
No age when you cannot have passion,
No age when you're not allowed
To be yourself:
The same in every
When you can’t become a newcomer
To themes that make you joyful,
Things that make you tingle;
There is certainly no age
When you may not be entertaining:
Giggly, extroverted, corny, plainly silly – and a fool.
No age when you must discontinue demonstrating, sharing
What you’ve learned and known;
No age too late to come into your own,
Be known for what you’ve done and do.
If it is not your birthday,
Happy anyday* to you.

[INVITATION: All elders, 50 and older, are welcome to submit stories for this blog. They can be fiction, non-fiction, poetry, memoir, etc. Please read instructions for submitting.]

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Tuesday, 08 April 2014

The Great White Hunter

By Old Bill Weatherstone who blogs at The Diesel Gypsy

Lately my cousin and I have been discussing about how far back our memories can retrieve. In my case it was/is at three years old. These discussions (over drinks of course), triggered another memory, but at the age of seven, 1942.

As usual in my case, it was again another Great Lakes shipping season where I was boarded out to a different family in a different location - a small farm just outside the town of Petrolia, Ontario, Canada.

The old house had an outhouse inside with the same function as if it were still outdoors. There was a small barn housing some pigs and a cow. There was also a dog (breed unknown). He and I became inseparable.

One day it was time to replenish the meat supply. A neighbour from the next farm came over and with Alex, my guardian, went into the barn. I was curious so I followed them.

They had a large pig separated in a smaller pen. The neighbour proceeded to chase the pig and jumped on his back and wielding a large bayonet, quickly dispatched the animal.

Between the squealing and action I was sort of paralyzed and could not take my eyes off the event. I can still visualize the incident as clearly today. I learned quickly that you have to do unpleasant things to survive this life.

A few days later, I decided that it was time to learn how to hunt and live off the land. I picked up my trusty Red Ryder 1,000 shot BB gun, called Jake (the dog) and headed out into the pasture. Being very careful not to step on a land mine (cow pie), I carried on to a very heavily wooded ravine where I envisioned all the huge animals lived. You know; the bears, moose as well as unknown monsters.

Jake was on the move and I tried to keep up. He was barking up a storm having cornered a large skunk whose tail stood straight up and was ready for combat.

He was about 25 to 30 feet away, part way down the ravine.

I pulled my trusty rifle into action, took aim and missed. I could see the copper BB in flight and then compensated for range. Three fast shots hit the animal and I guessed he was sort of pissed off because he shot back, first hitting Jake as he was only about two feet away.

Jake retreated, whelping like crazy and digging his nose into the ground trying to get relief from the skunk’s barrage.

I took one more shot trying to finish him off and save my dog when the skunk charged at me and got me with a full blast of his secret gas weapon.

Both Jake and I retreated in great haste and never looked back. Once across the open field, I climbed over the back yard fence.

Violet (my guardian also) was at the time hanging the wash on the line in the back yard. She suddenly stopped and got a good whiff of what was returning from the hunt.

Letting out an ear piercing scream, she yelled, “Stop right there, you little buggar.” That included Jake as well who by this time was cowering at her voice, which he knew better than me.

Boy did the crap hit the fan then. Back at the fence was a giant round (like a wooded barrel) water tank about 40 inches deep and ten feet wide, filled by a windmill pump.

She told me to take off all my cloths and get in. I immediately responded in high gear. I brought the dog in with me while he swam around and then wanted out.

Violet then called Alex to get over to the general store and get as much tomato juice as he could. He responded quickly to the voice of authority and was back in a flash.

The dog was first to receive the antidote, a thorough scrubbing in and out of the tank, a rinse and then locked into the barn. I guess that was the dog jail.

Expecting the same treatment, I was next. While Alex set fire to all my cloths and burned them in the field, Violet doused me with tomato juice and scrubbed me down and threw me back into the water tank for a rinse.

When the attack was over, I was expecting to be locked in the barn with Jake but was escorted back to the house. It was a quiet next couple days until the trauma cooled off.

Jake and I were set free from our prisons and allowed to venture out to explore the universe again, but without our trusted (confiscated) Red Ryder BB gun.

Another lesson learned by little Billy Weatherstone.

[INVITATION: All elders, 50 and older, are welcome to submit stories for this blog. They can be fiction, non-fiction, poetry, memoir, etc. Please read instructions for submitting.]

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Monday, 07 April 2014

Death’s Plan is Always Fair

By Marc Leavitt of Marc Leavitt's Blog

Death’s plan is always fair,
An Equal Opportunity Employer,
He shows up everywhere,
And really doesn’t care
If you dance like Fred Astaire,
Or win in court; he’s unimpressed by lawyers.

[INVITATION: All elders, 50 and older, are welcome to submit stories for this blog. They can be fiction, non-fiction, poetry, memoir, etc. Please read instructions for submitting.]

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Friday, 04 April 2014

Happy Cows, Happy Cheese

By Dan Gogerty who blogs at Cast

Milking Cow -- Flickr-Cushing Memorial Library

According to a new report, stress can inhibit the release of oxytocin — a hormone key to the milk-releasing process. So the happiness of cows is very much on the minds of farmers. The California dairy industry even declared “Happy cheese comes from happy cows.”

Some groups recommend music as a method of getting milk cows “in the mood.” Classical music is high on the list although I suspect the 1812 Overture might curdle a few gallons of the white stuff before it leaves the milking parlor.

The report recommended songs from such diverse performers as Mozart, Aretha Franklin, REM and Lou Reed.

I hand milked our cow years ago when The Beatles were rolling across America so I was probably humming Please Please Me when I stumbled into the barn. Old Bossy was hip to the British invasion so a few times she swatted her tail to the beat of Herman and the Hermits’ No Milk Today.

Modern tunes like Daft Punk’s Get Lucky could work on good milking days, and Taylor Swift’s Trouble on the bad ones. But my farming soundtrack comes from the oldies so here is a list I included in a blog a few months ago.

On good days, my music-to-work-by may have included Simon and Garfunkel’s Feelin’ Groovy and the Young Rascals It’s a Beautiful Morning but there were other moments on the farm when more discordant songs stuck like earworms in my head:

#1 ACDC’s Dirty Deeds Done Dirt Cheap - when the spreader chain broke in the field and we pitched manure back out after having pitched it in.

#2 Sam Cooke’s Chain Gang - while picking up rocks from a barren cornfield in the back 40.

#3 The Animals’ We Gotta Get Outta This Place - while cleaning manure out of a neighbor’s dusty and claustrophobic chicken coop.

#4 B.B. King’s The Thrill is Gone - while grabbing the last bale on the ninth hayrack load in a field of never-ending hay windrows.

#5 The Beatles’ Hard Day’s Night - when driving in the final load of corn from the field, after dark on a cold October night.

#6 The Kinks’ All Day and All of the Night - during farrowing time when the sows might decide any hour of the day was a good time for baby pigs.

#7 The Monkees’ Daydream Believer - experienced in a trance after four hours of going back and forth on a four-row cultivator in a field with foot-high corn.

#8 Bob Dylan’s Don’t Wanna Work on Maggie’s Farm No More - toward the end of a session where we held and vaccinated a hundred or more baby pigs.

#9 The Easybeats Friday on My Mind - especially during the later teen/car years, but it was usually Saturday on My Mind when the pitchforks, tractors and feed buckets were set aside for a spell.

Note: I never did hum along with Johnny Paycheck’s Take This Job and Shove It. As I said above, even in my dazed and confused teen years, I knew how lucky I was to be raised on a farm.

[INVITATION: All elders, 50 and older, are welcome to submit stories for this blog. They can be fiction, non-fiction, poetry, memoir, etc. Please read instructions for submitting.]

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Thursday, 03 April 2014

The Miracle Dog

By Vicki E. Jones

Fianna, our large black Lab-cattle dog mix, was given to us by our daughter Amity back when Fianna was 18 months old and Amity was moving to an apartment complex that did not allow pets.

We had a large, fenced, back yard to offer and a wooded walking trail right next to our house. Next to the walking trail was a creek that a black Lab mix would want to dunk herself in and she did. She was young, agile, happy, active and healthy.

Fianna was seven years old when she began to develop a troubling cough and began to wheeze. Our veterinarian took a chest x-ray and told us that Fianna had emphysema. Our home had always been smoke-free so her diagnosis was quite a shock.

We were told that her health would deteriorate quickly and she would die within a year. She would have to take the same medications that humans take for emphysema for as long as she lived.

Over the next several months, Fianna’s emphysema progressed at a slower rate than predicted and while her cough got worse, she wasn’t that bad off.

At about that time, we noticed that the cheap, foreign-made, vinyl floor tile that my husband, Terry, had installed in the entry way,  itchen and breakfast room areas was starting to yellow in patches and looked just awful. He had installed it just a few months before Fianna was diagnosed.

Disgusted with the time he had spent installing it and the money we had paid for the tile - a close-out lot with no warranty - Terry tore out the vinyl tile, purchased ceramic floor tile and spent ten days installing it himself.

Within a few weeks we noticed something strange: Fianna’s emphysema was getting better instead of worse. Her symptoms were starting to subside.

Over the next several months, we noticed that Fianna continued to improve. Her coughing subsided almost completely and when she did cough it was very mild and brief. Her wheezing disappeared.

When she returned to the veterinarian for an annual checkup, he said she was so much better that she no longer needed a chest x-ray.

Astonished, I told him about the floor tile and how it appeared that the vinyl tile had triggered the emphysema. He agreed, and told us that Fianna was a miracle dog.

The years rolled by. Fianna’s emphysema did not get worse; it remained mild. We knew that each year was a gift, an unexpected gift, and were amazed as she got older and older.

Of course, she eventually developed problems of old age. By 13 she was deaf and I had to communicate with her by clapping loudly at close range, whistling loudly and using a dog-training clicker at close range.

She became very arthritic and had to go on several more medicines. A few months ago we had to add monthly shots for her arthritis.

Fianna is old and arthritic and can’t do what she used to do. Sometimes she collapses in the hindquarters where she is weak and arthritic. She follows us around the house since she needs to see us because she can’t hear us. She can’t get up on the bed and has to sleep on cushions on the floor.

But each day is a gift. She still enjoys life, goes for walks, loves treats and still slurps my arms endlessly as I scratch and pet her at bedtime every night.

Our veterinarian was right: Fianna really is a miracle dog. And today is her birthday.

Miracle Dog

So Happy Birthday, Fianna. And it is indeed a very Happy Birthday because today you are FIFTEEN. You are a 15-year-old miracle dog and we give thanks for each day. And for all the years we have had your love and companionship All the years we were told, so long ago, that we would never have.

[INVITATION: All elders, 50 and older, are welcome to submit stories for this blog. They can be fiction, non-fiction, poetry, memoir, etc. Please read instructions for submitting.]

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