Friday, 11 July 2014

Carless in America

By Bettijane Eisenpreis

I was standing at the reception desk in the Red Lion Inn in Stockbridge, Massachusetts, the lovely old resort hotel in the Berkshire Mountains, when the woman behind the desk handed my completed registration form back to me. “You didn’t fill out this section giving us the information on your car,” she said.

“I don’t have a car,” I replied.

Had I told her I had two heads, she could not have looked more confused.

Unlike most citizens of the United States, people who live in New York City – or, at least, in Manhattan – do not regard a car as one of the necessities of life. Public transportation, complain about it though we may, takes us nearly everywhere we need to go.

When it rains or you’re in a hurry, taxis usually fill the bill. True, taxis seem to dissolve at the first drop of rain and they are expensive. Still, you don’t have to park them or pay the gas and insurance. The monthly rental fee for a garage in Manhattan is more than many Americans pay for a two-bedroom apartment.

For years after my marriage, I was the family driver. I was always a nervous driver and, with accumulating age and infirmities, finally decided I was dangerous and should stop driving. I was ahead of the State of New York in making the decision – but not by much. I had already had one fender-bender which would have been worse if I had been going more than 20 miles per hour.

Not driving in Manhattan means being like almost everyone else. Not driving in the Berkshires is equivalent to being an invader from outer space.

There is excellent bus service to Stockbridge, Lenox and points north from New York City but once you are there, it’s another story.

I did find a local taxi service on the internet and made reservations with them for the two Tanglewood concerts for which we had reserved seats. But how would we get around the other five days that we planned to be in Stockbridge?

While still in New York, I had surfed the web for a local transit system. Sure enough, there was one. I carefully printed out the schedules of some of its routes, finding that we could reach several sites of interest with great speed and efficiency.

Other destinations required a quick change of buses at a shopping center in nearby Lee. And several destinations were an example of “You can’t get there from here.”

But wait! Maybe I was going about this the wrong way. I had booked the hotel in Stockbridge for a week. Why not assume that meant I should stay in Stockbridge for a week – not use it as a base for forays into all of New England?

And as that old New Englander Robert Frost would say, “That has made all the difference.”

Suddenly, I was having a wonderful time. Going to Tanglewood by taxi meant sweeping by lines of concertgoers trudging in from distant parking lots burdened by lawn chairs, picnic baskets and thermoses. Going home meant sweeping by the same people we had seen at 5:30PM, now dragging their paraphernalia and looking desperately for their cars in a sea of similar vehicles.

In the daytime, I took a bus to the Norman Rockwell Museum just “up the road a piece” on Route 183. There was a local museum in the basement of the Stockbridge library with exhibits about the area’s history (and scandals).

I found a general store that carried maple sugar and horehound drops. There were real ice cream cones, the kind I haven’t eaten since I was 10. And I had an opportunity to sit, to write, to read, to use the pool (or not), to stroll the streets (or not) and just to do nothing.

People said hello to me even if they didn’t know me. And since I was not thinking of the next place I needed to drive to, I said hello back. I wasn’t going anywhere – I was there already!

[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.]

Posted by Ronni Bennett at 05:30 AM | Comments (9) | Permalink | Email this post

Thursday, 10 July 2014

Our Mothers

By Maureen Browning

Esther was my husband's mother. She was 95 years old when she died in the early morning hours of September 10th, 2012.

Gladys was my mother. She was 92 when she died in the early morning hours of September 15th, 2012 – just five days later – the day Esther was laid to rest.

Because I had made a decision to postpone telling my mother of Esther's death until we returned to Arizona from Esther's funeral in Colorado, my mother never knew of Esther's passing and I never had to tell Esther of my mother's death. It would have been heartbreaking for either of them to have known, and I am thankful that never happened.

Gary and I had received word of my mother's death via cell phone in the mortuary parking lot just minutes before the scheduled start of his mother's graveside service in Colorado.

After several minutes of trying to compose ourselves while on our way from the parking lot to the cemetery close by, Gary and I took our places in the front row of seating for his mother's service.

It seemed unimaginable to me that Esther's closed casket was just inches in front of us, reflecting the beautiful morning sun in Colorado and – at that very moment in time – my mother's lifeless body lay in her bed nearly a thousand miles away in Arizona.

Caregivers were patiently waiting for a physician to arrive to complete her death certificate so they could notify the designated funeral home to come and claim her body.

One comforting thought for me that sad day came on reflection of the friendship between Esther and my mother. They had been friends for many years but closer in the years after they were both widowed in the early 90s. During that time, and until their deaths, Esther had remained a resident of Colorado and my mother had moved on two occasions to be near Gary and me.

When Esther came from Colorado to visit us, she would spend some time with my mother. They were grateful to have the opportunity to see and visit with each other twice a year.

Throughout their lives, Esther and Gladys planned ahead. Each was a believer in making lists of all sorts plus maintaining a calendar of appointments and upcoming events. They had also planned and paid for their funerals in advance.

Each had purchased a burial plot, chosen a funeral home, prepaid expenses and had signed legal documents for these plans more than 20 years before her death.

At the time of their planning, the donation of organs, tissue or a whole body was not a common consideration nor was such an option offered by a funeral director when planning in advance. A traditional funeral was the norm then and that was what they had chosen.

In life, Esther and Gladys were always fashionably dressed. Classic was their style and black-and-white with touches of the dramatic were their favorites – leopard and animal prints for Gladys and brightly colored scarves and jewelry for Esther.

In death, our mothers were buried in black attire which each had worn in life on special occasions. My mother's choice was a long-sleeved, black, lacy, sequined gown that she had worn on January 1st, 1995, at the inaugural ball of her nephew, my cousin, Governor Gary E. Johnson of New Mexico. She was so very proud of him.

The choice for Esther was a beautiful black two-piece ensemble. The sweater-like top was trimmed with small beaded jewels around the neckline and down each side of the zippered front. She had worn it on her 95th birthday, June 1st, 2012, as family gather to celebrate with her.

One of the most thoughtful and generous gifts ever given to Gary and me from our mothers was the gift of their planned prepaid funerals. We perceived this to have been an expression of their love and consideration for us.

Gary and I have, in turn, donated our bodies to the University of Arizona College of Medicine. In addition, we have purchased a prepaid insurance policy that guarantees cremation and return of cremains to a family member if either of our bodies is not acceptable for donation at the time of death.

We have done this for each other, our children and in loving memory of our mothers.

[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 July 2014

Mexico Adventure

By Marcy Belson

My husband used to tell me, when I complained about something "not right,” that any trip in the RV or to Mexico should be considered an adventure.

This is my story of one of those adventures.

We had a group of friends in our hometown, and several more from Balboa on the coast, who traveled together. Over time Gordon, my husband, became known as The Queso Grande or for those of you who don't speak Spanish, The Big Cheese.

Mr. Big Cheese liked to be in charge of these trips. He made all the reservations at hotels, the travel accomodations, the daily plans for those who wanted to go marlin fishing or have transportation into the nearby towns to shop - whatever, he could and would handle all of it, including problems.

The trips became known as Krumi Tours. Over the years, we traveled together to Paris, Mexico, Hawaii and various sites in the USA. All planned and directed by Mr. Krumi himself, The Queso Grande.

One of the trips was to Cabo San Lucas, the full name, as it was known, back in the day. We were a group of ten and we flew out of Tijuana, Mexico.

Four of us traveled across the border to the airport and as we rushed to get the luggage out and check the car for our belongings, a young Mexican boy talked to Gordon asking if he could watch our car while we were away.

Gordon brushed him off, shut the doors, the doors locked, the keys were in the ignition. The Mexican boy pulled a wire out of his pocket, worked it through the top of the window and unlocked the door in record time.

Gordon then gave him $10 and told him to watch the car. Our ten adventurers met in the airport terminal and checked luggage for the trip.

The plane flew to Las Paz and we had a connecting flight on from there in a smaller plane, a prop job. It landed at a small airport outside of Cabo - no one and no buildings other than an abandoned shack without a roof. But, the cabs were lined up and we quickly joined the others for a ride to our hotel.

Never gave it another thought until it was time to come home.

We ordered three cabs to return us to the same airport and with our paper tickets to fly, we were ready. But no plane. No people, no plane.

Finally, El Queso walked back to the paved road and flagged down a car asking them to contact the hotel and send someone to help us figure out what was wrong.

Several hours later, with much whining from me, we discovered we were at the wrong airport and our plane had left without us. Now it was time for El Queso to do his magic.

He hired a private plane and pilot and the plan was for five of us to fly to Las Paz. The plane would return to Cabo, pick up the other five passengers and return whereupon we would have new tickets on the next plane to Tijuana.

Good plan.

We were in the first group to leave. As we trudged out to the tarmac, our pilot joined us. He had a long white scarf and a leather jacket. In one hand, he carried a full margarita glass and with the other hand, unlocked a two engined plane.

The plane had two other passengers not part of Krumi Tours. They were fishermen and they had the long ocean fishing rods and reels which, due to their Size, would fit only in the walkway between the seats.

We climbed aboard, with one of our group sitting on the floor in the doorway to the pilots area. The fishing equipment was then placed in the tiny area between the seats.

Off we went, with our fun-loving pilot dipping and circling to give his passengers a better view of the area. I was a happy woman to get off that plane, go to the terminal and order my own margarita.

Another hour or so and the other passengers arrived. An uneventful trip back to Tijuana and a long car trip home but memories to last the rest of our lives.

[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 July 2014

Worst Things About Growing Older?

[EDITORIAL NOTE: Please visit this blog's companion blog, Time Goes By, today for a story about Elder Storytelling Place contributor, Dan Gogerty, and his book of short stories that has just been published.]

By Carl Hansen

A few years ago, two friends shared opinions of what they considered the worst things about growing older. One told me that the worst thing about aging is that “the wrong things get stiff.” (You might need to think about that one.)

Another said that the worst thing about getting old enough to share ideas on the Elder Storytelling Place is that you begin to have a different doctor for each part of your body.

Whether or not I’ve experienced the first “worst thing” is none of your business but the second observation is, as we Lutherans like to say, “most certainly true.”

Over the past few years I have added to my Rolodex names of an optometrist, a urologist, a cardiologist, an audiologist and a dermatologist — in fact two of these folks concerned about my skin after years of being in the sun without much concern about wearing a hat and not at all aware of a thing called sun screen.

Under the care of dermatologist #1, I have had three surgeries for basal cell carcinomas, an ongoing procedure for the rosacea I have had since my teen-age acne years and periodic applications of liquid nitrogen to freeze off those little bumps diagnosed as pre-cancerous.

Recently, I was referred to dermatologist #2 for a new treatment I had never heard of but which is supposed to provide more permanence to keep the pre-cancers at bay. (However, with absolutely no guarantee as was the case with my earlier skin cancer surgeries, that I would emerge looking like George Clooney or Brad Pitt.)

Dermatologist #2, whom I now refer to as Dr. Frankenstein, looked my face over for less than five minutes before he prescribed three treatments under his “marvelous frying machine.” He then departed, never to be seen again, while his nurse meticulously explained what the treatment would entail, complete with a glossy brochure and what to expect during and after the procedure.

Three days later I returned and was taken into into seclusion where the nurse I had met earlier carefully washed my face, swabbed it with acetone (shades of the acne treatment I had received decades ago) and then applied the “magic potion” (which does have a long, involved scientific name) and sent me back to the waiting room.

Her exact departing words were that I was “to marinate” for an hour and then she would come fetch me for the next step.

Marinate was not exactly the comforting medical term I had expected for it conjured up what I do with a piece of beef before I slap it a heated grill. But as I was to find out, it was not that far off base for my preparation for what came next.

After the marination time had ended, I was led back to the treatment room, seated on a reclining chair, given goggles to protect my eyes and handed a small electric fan to prop on my ample tummy pointed upward toward my face to use in the next several moments.

The marvelous frying machine was then wheeled into position and turned on and she left the room. She promised to return at some point to check on me (and no doubt to hear if I might be screaming) and I was left with the happy sound of my little fan half expecting to also hear the sizzle of my marinated face moving from rare go well-done.

Sixteen minutes later the procedure was over. My now tender face was cleansed, sun-screen was applied and with a list of do’s and don’ts for the next few days placed in my hands, I was set free.

If I thought the skin on my face felt hot in the treatment room, that was nothing to compare with the next 48 hours. Quickly my skin turned bright red and I sought relief with chilled aloe gel and ice-packs from the freezer along with occasional acetaminophen “cocktails” when the discomfort demanded.

Gradually the redness and the pain diminished (as my sheet of instructions said they would) followed by several days of peeling, peeling and more peeling as my tortured skin gradually returned to its normal state.

A week has now passed since my visit to Dr. Frankenstein’s domain (who, by the way, I wonder if I’ll see again until the bill is due.)

At this point, still not at all looking like George or Brad, I’m feeling pretty good, thank you very much, until I realize that two weeks from tomorrow, I’m scheduled for round two of being marinated and fried one more 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.]

Posted by Ronni Bennett at 05:30 AM | Comments (3) | Permalink | Email this post

Monday, 07 July 2014

Now That I’m Old

By Marc Leavitt of Marc Leavitt's Blog

Now that I’m old, I can do what I wish,
Eat steak for breakfast, or leftover fish;
Get rid of my duds, I don’t need a lot,
Just sweats, when it’s cold, and shorts, when it’s hot;

Stop shaving my face; clean-shaving’s a pain,
Leave my umbrella, and stroll in the rain;
Stay in the house, if the roads are a mess,
And drive when I choose, no more, and no less;

Sleep in when I like, or stay up all night,
Watch TV all day, or go fly a kite;
Answer the phone, if I’m willing to talk,
Or just let it ring, and go for a walk;

Read a new book, if it meets with my taste,
Or toss it out, if I think it’s a waste;
Watch Casablanca, a film that is fun,
Eat gobs of ice cream, or groan at a pun;

Make doctors’ visits, but refuse to wait,
And give him “what for!” if he shows up late;
Tell off the waiters and clerks who are rude,
Give them a rant on their bad attitude.

Old age ain’t easy; I won’t deny it,
But parts can still make life a laugh-riot.
I followed the rules, and I toed the line;
That was before; now this time is all mine.

[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.]

Posted by Ronni Bennett at 05:30 AM | Comments (9) | Permalink | Email this post

Friday, 04 July 2014

Independence Day 2014

In honor of the holiday and my need to catch up with life after my trip to New York last week, there is no story here today. I think you will like these amazing fireworks and there will be a fresh story here next Monday.

Enjoy the long weekend.

Last year when I posted a video of spectacular fireworks on the Fourth of July, I told you that they were the best I had ever seen. That's no longer so. These, sent by Darlene Costner and Joan McMullen several weeks ago, are the most beautiful ever.

They were designed and executed by someone who calls himself mediabyjj. He writes:

”We all made it, safe and sound, to the year 2013, and I wanted to continue the party by sharing this fireworks display I created & actualized. It took me a little over a week to complete, and I am very happy with the outcome.

“All of the shells are custom-made by me, and I take huge pride in the handiwork that went into bringing them to life.”

The lovely music accompanying the display is by Norwegian composer, Thomas Bergersen, titled Heart of Courage.

Posted by Ronni Bennett at 05:30 AM | Comments (1) | Permalink | Email this post

Thursday, 03 July 2014

Countless Words

By Mary Mack

The foyer of the stately, Pennsylvania mansion has 12-foot ceilings and a blistering chandelier that glares down at me like a vulture circling its prey. Hard marble floors, white with veins of gold, black and grey are cold against my feet.

The walls are painted an unrecognizable shade of orange, like pumpkin pie with too much cream, and the heavy stench of disinfectant assaults my nose and stings my eyes.

A grey-haired woman wearing thick, red-rimmed glasses looks up from her magazine, if only for a second, to meet my gaze with her own, honey brown eyes. She has learned not to stare.

The first room I am taken to has a large, wooden table with seven black leather chairs assembled around it. A four-foot, oscillating fan stands in the corner beating out a familiar rhythm, keeping perfect time with my frightened heart.

My good friend, Jillian, who brought me here today, tries to smile as I sit down beside her. I look down at my lap, wishing I had died. But this is why I am here; they are going to help me find a reason to live.

I am told that the dress I have on, the one I found lying on the floor at home, is inappropriate. Not because it is wrinkled or dirty, which it is, and not because it is cut too short, which it is not. No, this dress is inappropriate because it has a belt.

The Eagles tee shirt from 2004 with red paint splattered across the front of it and the pair of ugly, black sweat pants two sizes too large are better, are in my bag so I am asked to change. But I do not care. No one cares what they wear in a mental hospital. No one.

Later, I am escorted to my room. Another patient, Teresa, is already there and like me, she has no choice; we have to share.

There is a hard, single bed for each of us. One pillow. One blanket. A common bathroom has no mirror. There are no pictures on the walls. No phones, no pencils, no pens.

There is one small window covered by a grate on the far side of the room but Teresa has already claimed the bed beneath it. We are told that no one besides the nurses and doctors are allowed in this room.

When I go to the bathroom, I am thankful there is no mirror. I know I look terrible. My long hair, once brown, is now heavily peppered with gray and it is disheveled, loosely secured with an ugly clip and some random bobby pins. My face is thin, too thin for my 50 years, and my complexion is pale.

I haven’t been able to eat in four days but I do not feel hungry. I find a small washcloth and wash my face. I find a new toothbrush and a sample-size toothpaste tube on the counter so I brush my teeth as well. That’s enough.

Teresa falls asleep well before my eyes become acclimated to the dim light streaking in across the floor. The noises on the unit are constant: meds being counted at the nurses’ station, towels tumbling in the dryer, an aide mopping the floor, but it’s not the familiar sounds that are keeping me awake tonight.

Tomorrow I will learn that her name is Amanda, the one who greets me with a sweet smile and has arms bandaged from wrist to elbow. However, Amanda does not scream tonight; it is her other personality, the one they have to tie down to the bed so she can no longer hurt Amanda who screams.

I close my eyes and search my memories for a reason to live, outside of this room. “Tá tú ina scríbhneoir,” my grandfather whispers softly to me in Gaelic. “You are a writer.” Something he has told me since I was a little girl. My reason to live.

I carry it gently on my mind until I fall asleep dreaming about the countless words I have yet to write. After all, I am only 50.

[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.]

Posted by Ronni Bennett at 05:30 AM | Comments (6) | Permalink | Email this post

Wednesday, 02 July 2014

Full of Mind

By Arlene Corwin

Pay attention to the moment.
What else can mind fullness mean
To the moment?

Full of mind is mindfulness.
To pay: what does it mean to pay?
It there a fee?
What type of coin,
What does it cost? Attention - naturally.
The simplest of simplicity.

Full of mind you’re focusing,
You’re noticing;
Fully present, giving service
To the instant,
To the moment,
To the most minute-full now.

[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, 01 July 2014

Girth Control and The Pizza Lobby

By Henry Lowenstern

Girth Control
Because too many kids are turning obese,
schools are curtailing french fries and cheese
in favor of veggies and fruit
and other healthful food,
and limiting stuff bathed in grease.

The Pizza Lobby
School lunches that are nutritious
are NOT a bit delicious,
the children say,
as they toss them away,
in favor of fat-filled dishes

[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.]

Posted by Ronni Bennett at 05:30 AM | Comments (3) | Permalink | Email this post

Monday, 30 June 2014

I'd Rather Be a Bear in a Hammock Than a Bear in a Cage

By Dan Gogerty who blogs at Cast

When it comes to the humane treatment of farm animals, I never thought much about bears. They seemed to be busy catching salmon in streams, scaring hikers on paths or preventing forest fires.

Recently, a Florida bear strolled into a homeowner’s backyard and flopped out on the hammock. Why not — frightening tourists and retirees can be tiring.

Bear in hammock,

So when I saw the term “milking bears,” it seemed humorous until I discovered it actually refers to the process involved with extracting bile from live bears —sometimes as often as three times a day.

For centuries, bile from their livers has been used as a traditional medicine, especially in China. Some believe it shrinks gallstones, reduces fevers and possibly cures hangovers.

Thousands of bears are caged on farms in Asia with permanently inserted tubes used to extract their bile. I’ve seen bears free in national parks and not so free in open zoo areas but I have a feeling cages would be at the bottom of their habitat preference list. I doubt they are much worried about curing someone’s fever or hangover.

I had a close encounter with a bear in a cage many years ago when I lived in west Tokyo. While jogging one summer evening, I crossed the Nogawa River, turned onto a narrow dark street and passed a restaurant that clung to the side of a steep hill.

Its large black and white sign stood high and glowing in the night air. I could read the kanji for Hokkaido, the northern most island of Japan, and I picked out a few other symbols that convinced me it was an eating place even though the wooden façade at street level did not advertise or display the usual plastic food samples in a glass window to entice customers.

Bear in cage, rendezvous.blogs.nytimessm I was 50 feet past the restaurant when I heard a movement in the shadows on my right. I flinched a bit, stopped and listened to chains clinking and big feet shuffling.

As my eyes adjusted, I saw that the rocks of the hillside — reinforced with concrete — framed an opening that held a small cage. Inside, with the dim street lights casting striped shadows, a bear swayed nervously — not loud or violent, just pathetic.

I looked at small desperate eyes in the cage, then back up to the restaurant sign that portrayed several animal silhouettes, including a bear. I knew bear meat was available in Hokkaido and assumed they trucked bears to this tiny cage where they would then be butchered for the patrons.

The breeze shifted a bit, and I caught a whiff of fear and feces. I continued my run.

I saw a bear two or three more times during that year. I’d jog by in the night, see a shadow and sense the fear. The following year I stopped there in daylight and saw only a concrete slab — the bears had been removed and the blood hosed out. The entire structure was dismantled soon after.

I imagine folks have their reasons why bears make good medicine or meat but it seems degrading for such a wild spirited beast.

Maybe we humans could compromise with them. We won’t cage them up for their meat if they don’t rip apart our campsites looking for our food caches. And we won’t pen them up to milk them for bile if they don’t raid our backyards.

But if they do saunter in to lie on our hammock, we’ll assume they’re willing to donate a pint of bile for the good of the cause.

[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.]

Posted by Ronni Bennett at 05:30 AM | Comments (6) | Permalink | Email this post