Friday, 24 October 2014

Nirvana, As We Define It

By Wendl Kornfeld

Today on public radio, people were asked, “Where were you when you heard Kurt Cobain had died?”

Funny they should ask.

For a very long period of time, I considered myself pretty cool. I usually knew what people were talking about, could contribute usefully and with some sophistication to the conversation.

I knew in my heart I would never become like some of those “fossils” who somehow failed to keep up with a changing world, didn’t dig modern jargon or weren’t hip to current cultural references.

Until April 5, 1994.

I was at the copier machine at work when a fellow employee, Carol, rushed up to me, her face white with shock, very near tears. I was about 45 years old at the time, Carol maybe 20 years my junior. But we got on well and laughed a lot.

(With mock humility she would often claim her lowly “slacker” status and defer to my wisdom and experience.)

“Oh my god, Kurt Cobain is dead,” Carol said softly, tragically. I searched my brain. The name didn’t register.

“Who’s Kurt Cobain?” I finally asked. Carol looked at me with disbelief and possibly a little disdain.

“Nirvana?” she prompted me.

Now, the only Nirvana I knew was an expensive and elegant Indian restaurant on Central Park South and one of my favorite places for special occasions. Good food, great views of Central Park.

“Was he,” I asked slowly and tentatively, “the chef?” Carol now looked at me with increasing disbelief.

“What?” she gasped.

“I love Nirvana, the food is fabulous. Was Kurt Cobain, like, the chef? If he’s dead, wow, I wonder what will happen?” I was babbling.

Now Carol was really upset but this time with me. “What are you talking about?” she cried.

“What are YOU talking about?” I retorted, floundering. A creeping dread was coming upon me. Somewhere, distantly, a bell tolled for my cool status. Maybe even my youth.

And so I learned that there was a hugely popular - nay, iconic - Seattle-based musical group called Nirvana, the existence of which had somehow escaped me entirely. Its lead singer and songwriter, Kurt Cobain, had just been found dead at age 27.

As young people around the world went into instant shock and profound mourning and the media relentlessly tracked his last moments on earth, I just felt relieved that I could continue to dine well at Nirvana, overlooking Central Park.


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Thursday, 23 October 2014

When the Time Comes

By Bettijane Eisenpreis

There is no better way for someone my age to cause a panic than to start a sentence with, “When I die.”

Whether I am talking to my son, a friend or a total stranger doesn’t matter. The face goes pale, the movements get agitated and the voice becomes strained. “Couldn’t we talk about something else?” my hearer pleads.

No, we can’t. It doesn’t seem to occur to my friends and relatives, as well as the general public, that no one lives forever. Even Methusaleh of Biblical fame lived 900 years - and who knows how they counted “years” in those days?

When I was a child in Wilkes-Barre, P, ennsylvania, I don’t remember hearing about anyone we knew who died alone and was not discovered for days and days. If such a case occurred, it was probably written up in the local newspaper because foul play was suspected.

Ordinary people lived among friends and relatives and were quickly missed. If Maggie didn’t appear at church on Sunday, someone called or stopped by that day. If Sam didn’t show up for work, ditto.

Those whom we now call the frail elderly either lived with their children or had a friend or neighbor who checked on them regularly.

But today, you would be surprised how easy it is to sink into oblivion unnoticed. I am lucky: my son calls me every morning at 6:15. If my phone is out of order, I call him on my cell phone. Should he not reach me, I am sure he would call the doorman and ask him to check on me.

But I am more the exception than the rule. Twice in the last few years, men I knew well have died alone in their apartments and not been discovered for at least one day.

One of them had knocked the phone off the hook. Had he succeeded in contacting someone, maybe he could have been saved.

In both cases, it was I who blew the whistle. And it wasn’t easy. I had to contact a relative and that relative had to call someone in authority – the building superintendent in one case, the police in another. And once you call the police, the apartment has to be sealed pending an investigation of the cause of death.

Several years ago, I went out to dinner and a concert with an older friend. She was full of energy and plans, looking forward to a European trip. In the intermission, we went to the ladies’ room but on the way out, she collapsed and fell to the ground. She never regained consciousness, dying the next day.

It was a sad and scary experience for me but I learned something invaluable. In my friend’s purse was a card with every name I needed to contact: her doctor, her lawyer, her daughters, who lived out of town and her grandson who lived in town. I came home and made myself a similar card. I don’t leave home without it.

So do talk about it even when your kids are making alarmed faces and asking you if you feel all right. Make a plan – if your child lives nearby and has a key, maybe he can just stop by and check. If not, work out a system with a friend or neighbor.

I recently asked the young woman in the next apartment to zip up my dress before a party. Not only did she oblige but she volunteered her phone number and told me to contact her if I needed anything. I said I would and I will!

If a person in New York is found dead, the apartment is sealed up, pending an investigation. Food rots, calls go unanswered, bills go unpaid and the persons responsible for the estate are left not only with a loss but with a major headache.

So, when your child says tearfully that she cannot bear to think of you dying (which you will do someday, whether she thinks about it or not), ask her to think instead of the milk you will be in the process of getting out of the fridge, spilling on the floor and rotting in a big smelly mess. Lovely, sentimental picture, no?

The end is going to come sometime. May as well face it.


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Wednesday, 22 October 2014

The Last Hummingbird

By Vicki E. Jones

It is October and nights are much colder
And soon we will have a frost
Few flowers are still blooming
Leaves are falling and trodden and tossed

A chubby young hummer is just outside
Sipping the sugar water
At our feeder -- getting ready to leave
And go south far beyond our borders

We think it is a very young male
No ruby on its ruby-throat yet
And with pollen and insects and nectar more scarce
It will take whatever it can get

He could be here from Michigan
Or from Canada passing through
Flying south and eating all the way
Which is what little hummers must do

Soon our last little hummer will head down south
On a two thousand mile journey they take
All the way to Costa Rica
Where warmer air and food await

And here I stand with a broken heart
Knowing it is time for him to leave
And we won’t see another hummer around
Until spring of next year, I believe

And so little hummer please stay for awhile
Sip all the sugar water you can hold
And have a long, safe journey
And return here after the cold

We don’t know if we’ll see you in our yard again
You could end up elsewhere next year
And hummingbirds only live four years
So we never know what will appear

You are the end of our summer
And you are the start of our fall
And our long, cold winter is yet to come
When we have no hummers at all

So I will stand here for awhile and stare
As you perch and drink your fill
Then you stop and sit and rest awhile
And drink more at your will

Then I’ll say farewell and hope you know
When it is time for you to move on
South on your journey to flowers and warmth
Where in winter you belong

And I’ll hope for an early spring
When it is no longer freezing at night
And fresh sugar water will be waiting for you
At the end of your long spring flight


[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, 21 October 2014

I Am From (take two)

By Karen Zaun Kennedy who blogs at Sweetwater Lane

I am from hand me downs,
wallpapered ceilings, and gallon jars of mice.
I am from secret passages, spiral staircases and bogeymen in the closets.
Invisible, silent, bitter fear.
I am from hydrangeas,
and the majestic maple whose long-gone limbs I remember as if they were my own.

I am from grilled cheese sandwiches and popcorn on Sunday nights,
and tenacity.
From Jean Phyllis and William Knighton.
I am from stony silences, arguments,
and family birthdays.

I am from Stop running in the house! and Say you’re sorry!
and John Jacob Jingleheimer Schmidt, his name is my name, too.
Whenever I go out, the people always shout, "There goes John Jacob Jingleheimer Schmidt!"
na na na na na na!

I am from Thanksgivings at Aunt Norma’s, Brightlook Hospital and Germany,
from baked beans and brown bread.
From a grandmother who called all Chinese Chinks before the need for politically correct,
and never said a bad word about anyone.

In my grandmother’s closet were dresses from another time,
lacy, light and soft,
faded with age and remembrance
to dress in and to dream.
I am from hand me downs from the hands of time.


[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, 20 October 2014

Love by Gefilte Fish

By Trudi Kappel

Gefilte fish and matzo balls are the quintessential Jewish ceremonial foods. I’ve met few people who actually crave them but a Passover seder would be incomplete without them.

Making gefilte fish is a time consuming endeavor and I don’t know anyone who still makes her (always “her”) own.

It involves filleting three different kinds of fish, chopping them finely, chopping onions and carrots, forming patties, wrapping the patties in fish skin and then simmering for hours in a fish broth.

It is easier to buy from Manischewitz. Unfortunately, the commercial product is bland, almost tasteless unlike those made by my grandmother.

My grandmother, Scheina, grew up in a small village in Poland. Since secondary education for Jewish girls was not available in her shtetl, she boarded with relatives in a larger town where it was. Her assigned household chore was to make gefilte fish each week for the Sabbath meal.

After completing high school, she traveled to Berne, Switzerland for additional education. While it was unusual at the turn of the 20th century, her parents provided advanced education not only for their son but also for their four daughters.

Scheina enrolled in medical school at the University of Berne. My charismatic grandfather, Zander, was a student leader and always an event organizer. He was born near Minsk in Belorussia and was enrolled as a PhD candidate in philosophy at the University of Berne.

One spring, he organized a seder for Jewish students. Scheina volunteered to make gefilte fish for the feast.

Zander was enchanted with the cute medical student who knew how to make this traditional food. She was smart and she could cook!

Love blossomed. They eloped. Only then did Zander learn that gefilte fish was the only thing that his bride knew how to cook.


[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, 17 October 2014

Plunging my Poundage (Summer Camp Was Never Like This!)

By Janet Thompson

Having ridden a scooter to the top of the hill with others on crutches and in wheelchairs, surprised, I saw a hospital bed. What was the relation between the zip-line and a hospital bed? Shouldn't the hospital bed be at the end of the ride?

I recently attended a Body Mind and Spirit Retreat sponsored by Colorado Post-Polio at the Easter Seals Rocky Mountain Village in Empire, Colorado.

Since 1999, disabled campers were rigged up for the zip line on a pad laid on the ground. Just this year, the camp received the donated hospital bed, making rigging up easier.

Heavy-duty mesh formed an angular-shaped pad with a round, semi-solid piece at the area of my derriere.

A sturdy strap crossed my chest, two corners wrapping my sides joined with a heavy-duty, o-shaped carabiner clamp. A longer v-shaped side drawn between my legs attached to another clamp and the two were joined.

A rectangular-shaped portion and a u-shaped pillow supported my helmeted head at the top of the rigging. (It seems these days that a helmet is essential for any physical exploits except sex).

Four red ropes hung from the tower top. My package was ready for lift-off. A husky, handsome young fellow tugged on a black rope hoisting me to the top while a chic young woman guided a separate red rope, making sure I didn't hit the tower supports.

Another cute woman (also about my great-granddaughter’s age) met me at the top where she quickly and safely connected me to another line and disconnected me from the first. On her walkie-talkie, she announced, “Brake-check 1.”

I heard the same answer coming from the other end of the line.

After brake-check 2 and its response, I found myself flying. Heading downhill, gravity took me about half the distance up an opposite hill then back to the lowest point between the two. There, I found my package snagged and dragged and deposited into a scooter. (Some more-able others were pulled to a scissor-lift).

WHAT A KICK FOR AN 85TH BIRTHDAY!

One side of the tower is built ladder-like and another is studded with rocks. There’s also a pole. Equally, but differently rigged, some of the other campers climbed the tower to take off on the zip line. A cheerful staff-companion climbed alongside them if they wanted. Seeing these folks’ feats, I realized I had taken the coward’s way out.

Of 53 Campers, 40 percent came from out of state. Nine had been born outside the U.S. Other sessions and events at the retreat gifted me with much vital post-polio knowledge. Being with others and sharing their care and understanding was a rare treat.

I wasn't the only one who cherishes new experiences I thought I'd never be able to have!

Googling “zip lines for the disabled,” I found only a few in this country. Leahy and Associates (a special camp friend) designed and built the tower in 2002. Tom Picton, a talented camp staffer, figured out how to add the angled climbing walls.

ElderzipJThompson


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Thursday, 16 October 2014

I Remember...

By Marcy Sheiner of Dirty Laundry

Many years ago I was in a feminist theater group in which one of our exercises was to riff on the phrase "I remember..." The phrase is highly evocative and is frequently used as a writing prompt these days. This morning I found myself using it.

I remember conversations with a friend about how lucky we were that, unlike our mothers, we each had rich inner resources we'd fall back on in our old age.

I remember thinking I wouldn't be like my older relatives when I was older since I wasn't like they'd been when they were younger.

I remember when my father died and I saw my mother's utter devastation, telling my therapist, "That will never happen to me."

He replied, "How do you know? You might remarry."

In retrospect, what he should've said was, "Are you hell-bent on avoiding that?" Which is what I did.

I remember being a teenager and feeling sorry for my parents - who must've been all of 45 then - because I thought their lives were at a dead-end and going nowhere.

I remember thinking 30, 40, and 50 were old.

I remember saying, "Don't trust anyone over 30."

I remember suicide fantasies.

I remember when my life seemed to be on an upward trajectory.

I remember telling my mother and my aunt, when I was in my fifties, that I understood them better because I understood aging. They laughed and told me I was still young.

I remember my contempt for my elders who saw all these things differently.

Try the exercise no matter what your age.


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Wednesday, 15 October 2014

Who, What, When and Why?

By Clifford Rothband

I saw this vanity tag on a car, YYY ME. It got me thinking, why me? If not me then who?

I've read somewhere that a person's value is not really measured in years but in achievements. Things tried. Like Thomas Edison wrote about invention: "I haven't failed, I just found ten thousand ways that won't work." Or a quote from someone that the biggest sin is never to have tried something, for we forever regret or remember those times.

No not me since I have tried so many times and things, a man has to know his limits and I certainly will not jump out of a helicopter again. Been there, done that, period.

I remember another old saying: "Never end a name with an I, always with a Y." Maybe it means not to be so vain. In my circle of folks growing up, it was a way to end a name with a term of endearment or familiarity like Mommy, Daddy or Harry or Cliffy.

Where did this rule come from? I'd give due credit if I could but since I do not stand to gain anything financially from these words, let's assume that I am not plagiarizing someone.

And oh, that silly word, "assume” - to make an ass of u and me. I have been taught so much by not assuming anything anymore. So a doctor has told me that I wouldn't make it to 40, can you imagine me at 69? Uh oh.

Getting back to why, why not? I read some where that with age comes wisdom. Then why are so many aged people so foolish?

Well, why does wisdom come with age? Is wisdom only an achievement that requires control of one's emotional passions or judgment or common sense so as to predict an outcome? No, that's anxiety!

I truly believe that wisdom is a product of experience, mostly bad experience. So I will try again in a different manner. Why? I have this passion to be happy, for humor, to laugh, to enjoy pleasure.

I certainly am not that wise as to have written this stuff. For who, what, when and why did I write this Babble?


[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, 14 October 2014

Big Spender

By Henry Lowenstern

On mornings when the sky is sunny
I sometimes bundle up my honey
to treat her to a pricey place,
with table clothes of Belgian lace.
Never mind the cost. It's only money.


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Monday, 13 October 2014

Surprise! Surprise!

By Anita McCune

One day when I was about seven years old, my dad called me from work to tell me he had a surprise for me when he came home after work. I was on pins and needles watching for him out the window. Mom asked what was going on, and I said "nothing, just waiting for dad."

Finally she and my prissy little sister went to bed. "All I can say is that you had better be able to get up for school in the morning," she said as she departed.

My brother had died a few years before and I had a hole with nothing to fill it. My little sister screamed at bugs and frogs so we were not close. I definitely needed something furry to love.

Finally dad walking in with something wrapped under his coat. My mind was overflowing with guesses: a puppy or kitten? And then he opened his coat and - there was a baby groundhog!

I was just over the moon looking at that little bundle of fur. I wanted to take him in my arms because it was love at first sight!

Dad put him down and all thoughts of other pets just slipped away. I knew in that minute I had met my best friend. But suddenly things got crazy, with little "Woody" running all over.

It was funny to watch him explore the room, until he took off and ran into my mom's bedroom. Then Dad and I both panicked. In the middle of the night, while she was asleep was not the best time for my mom to meet this new addition.

We sprung after him and watched in absolute horror as he climbed up the bed and under the covers. Even now my heart stops at the memory of my mom screaming and falling out of bed.

She came up to her feet like a track star and pulled back the covers and there laid Woody, finally calmed down and taking a little nap.

Of course no one spoke or dared to laugh at the look that mom had on her face at that moment. Even today I still can't smile or laugh because she was so furious!

She said words that I had not yet heard, in a tone that I was sure could be heard in the next state. Everything from wild beasts, rabies, every disease known to man came to her tongue.

Then my little sister woke up, put in her two cents worth and asked if she too could be killed.

I still do not know what my dad did to get her to let Woody stay because for a long time it was a very shaky subject.


[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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