Thursday, February 28, 2008

Frank's Rant

Today I came across a copy of a letter that my Frank wrote to his younger brother. It was in response to a question his brother had asked regarding increasing pain as we aged. I would like to share an excerpt from that letter, but, first let me set the stage so you understand the situation that prompted his little rant.

Frank retired from 30 years in the navy and at age 52 started a second career as a deputy sheriff in San Diego county California. He worked in the county jails for the next ten years. Frank had been a runner since high school so he was able to keep up with classmates half his age during a very physical Sheriffs academy.

Now for Frank’s little rant on aging which was written some 8 years after he became a deputy sheriff.

Pain? Every day in ways large and small. Pain is just the punctuation. The narrative is dropping things, or missing altogether. It's not whipping around the guy driving at exactly the speed limit in the middle lane, head up, hands at 10 and 2, wearing a sanctimonious expression worthy of the Church Lady, because you no longer trust your once quick reflexes to always be there. It's using a small hand-held light to read the newspaper in ambient light the younger deputies could use to thread a needle. It's applying Bag Balm to both heels under a large band-aid and expensive paper tape so your dried out heels will last through 12 hours of walking, with some running thrown in just to keep you sweaty. It's running to a cover call knowing that every bruise you get will take three times longer to heal than any the younger deputies acquire. It's responding to a radio call of, "11-45" and hoping you don't look like a fool for showing up with a shroud cutter because you keep getting "11-45" (attempt suicide) mixed up with "11-47" (Injured person). It's carrying a laminated list of phone numbers because, after five years in the same jail, you still haven't memorized a lot of them. It's writing a crime report that gets read by the Sergeant during his brief as an example of a good one, then getting your next one back with twenty corrections. It's reaching for a letter and not finding it when you know exactly where you last put it down. You find it two days later on the back of the kitchen counter and realize that you are the only person on the planet who could have put it there. It's reading the obits and noting that a fair number of that day's harvest were younger than you.

A lifetime ago, I worked for J&J Construction on a pipeline crew in Oklahoma. The lead peon always made sure we had a working radio in the company truck so we could listen to Paul Harvey during our lunch break. One day Paul was talking about his summer home near a large lake. By eight AM, the lake was overrun with water craft equipped with loud smelly engines. His group always went to the water very early so they would be gone when the noise and exhaust fumes arrived. Because, he said, “One should enjoy the pain free years." I recall wondering what he was talking about. Now, sadly, I know

As someone who has suffered with fibromyalgia since my thirties, this really hit home with me. I am just amazed that someone as fit as Frank would be able to express my feelings so clearly. We do truly think alike.

Monday, February 18, 2008

Just Noise

It is a cold overcast Sunday afternoon here in Missouri. There is a pair of cardinals pecking at the feeder outside my window and the walls are vibrating from the sound of Eric Clapton, Ringo Starr, Paul McCartney and dozens of musicians performing a tribute to George Harrison at the Royal Albert Hall that is blasting (or so it seems to me) from our television set.

This is one of my husband’s favorite videos and he occasionally will play parts of it. Today, I believe, he has decided to play the entire 2 ½ hour concert. I will admit that the program is beautifully done, filled with music legends and does a great job of entertaining the audience and paying tribute to George with eastern and western music. But frankly, the eastern part of the CD is not only rattling our windows it digs at my nerves and is as far removed from my liking as any music except rap can be. The western music has sections I will pop into the living room to watch while the rest I enjoy listening to from the distance of our computer room. Is it possible that my dear Frank, has chosen today and this particular music presentation to play as repayment to our neighbor for all of the bass thumping, woofer banging, floor vibrations his sound system has been adding to the enjoyment of our new house of late. No, never. Not my Frank. He is definitely not the get even type.

I do come from a musical family. Most have excellent voices, are great dancers, a few play some sort of instrument, and all enjoy listening to good music. Unfortunately for me and sadly (I’m sure) for Frank I am not one of them. I have been known to say it is all noise as far as I am concerned. Good noise, bad noise, horrible noise, even relaxing or soothing noise, but noise none the less. I am certain when God was handing out musical genes I must have misunderstood and gotten in the clothing line. I certainly don’t have even a hint of musical talent or appreciation.

In fact, in high school, two music credits were required to graduate and chorus was the only music class our school offered. About a month into the first semester I was asked to stay after class by Sister Thaddeus, the music teacher. She said my voice and lack of pitch was ruining her choir, and she could not let me continue. She offered me a deal. In exchange for showing up for class, doing the written work and lip syncing all the vocals, she would give me a B+ for the course each year.

I will admit to owning a sound system and many CD’s and tapes. I rarely play music, but choose songs with very clear lyrics or that fall into the mood music classification when I do. Mostly tunes from the 30’s, through the 60’s, and with a few modern county, soft rock or pop mixed in. I still have my 8 track player and a collection of Readers Digest Classics that serves me just fine. I only upgraded to a CD player, so I would be prepared to entertain, once I decided to start dating again after my first husband’s death. During my teen years there were only two records I purchased for myself. One was “Little White Dove” by Johnny Preston and the other was “Henry the 8th, I am” by Herman’s Hermits. I played Little White Dove repeatedly for hours every day until finally one of my brothers removed it from the record player and broke it over his knee, out of frustration. Henry the 8th disappeared one day never to be seen again. I assumed the same brother was the culprit hoping to prevent his having to withstand repeatedly listening to what he called trash music.

One of my brothers has a sound system in his home that would outshine anything found in the best concert halls. He is so particular about the quality of the sound of his music he has invested more in sound equipment then most folks would invest into a house and car combined. The decibel levels he prefers forced him to move to a very sparsely populated area to prevent complaints from the neighbors. Dave started his career as a DJ for a local radio station then started his own DJ and sound company so he could have more control over the quality of the sound he played for his customers. Now retired, he spends his days fiddling with his equipment in search of the perfect sound system. Frank and I were recently invited to his home for dinner so that Dave could show off his sound system to Frank. I am not lying when I say that during one recording by a symphony orchestra you could actually hear the musicians turning the pages of their sheet music. If Frank’s opinion matters then Dave’s system has surpassed the hearing ability of mere mortals and gives us a glimpse into what the heavenly orchestra must sound like.

Frank can’t wait for our next invitation to spend a evening with my brother’s unbelievable sound system. As for me, I just hope that Dave never learns that it is all just pleasant noise to me.

Sunday, February 10, 2008

I Have Never

Recently, I read a review of the movie “27 Dresses”, about a girl who had 27 bridesmaid’s dresses but had never been a bride herself. The bridesmaid’s dresses reflected the often unique taste of the brides and were not something she could wear for anything other than the wedding they were intended for. The review reminded me of the dozens of dollar store diaries with wild covers I once had. They were hidden away from prying eyes as if they contained the juiciest gossip or most heart wrenching secrets. All they contained were my lists. Serious lists, silly lists, planning lists, to do lists, you name it. Truthfully, they may as well have been gossip or secrets because, even as a forty or fifty something woman, I would have been devastated if anyone had read them. There were dozens of lists containing such items as things I had never done, things I never wanted to do, places I hoped to visit and places I hoped not to visit. I had lists of movies to see, books to read, records I hoped to buy, and even names of people I found interesting. Real people like Ima Hog, Marsha Mellow and Ella Funt. I was always scribbling things on scraps of paper, register receipts or napkins and taking them home to add to one of my lists.

I have always been a list maker. I suppose decades of accounting work only increased my propensity to keep tally sheets or see my thoughts outlined on paper. Reading the review of “27 Dresses” reminded me of one of the items in my “I Have Never Journal.” I have not seen the movie and I have never paid a small fortune for a dress I would only wear once (wedding gown excluded) because I have never been a bridesmaid. What you say? How could that be? Despite having 12 siblings and more cousins than you could pack into a fleet of Greyhound buses I have never been asked to be in someone’s wedding, and that is what prompted this post. I don’t want to write about weddings, being a bridesmaid or even about ugly dresses. The subject of this narrative is the phrase “I Have Never.”

Someone reading my “I Have Never Journal” would surely question what kind of life I lived to reach my advanced age with so many basic activities not done. But, most of them were simply because the opportunity never presented itself, and truthfully, I never expected that would change; at least not until I met my Frank. It is amazing how many items have been crossed off my list since we met a short year ago without his even knowing they had been on a list. Thanks to Frank I have drawn a line through “I Have Never”: been on an airplane, seen the Pacific Ocean, traveled west of Kansas City Missouri, seven states, the Grand Canyon, visiting a naval base, going aboard an aircraft carrier, seeing a cruise ship, seeing a real pirate ship, and meeting a published poet to name only a few.

If you sat down right now and listed all the things you have never done in your life what would your list have in it? Would it be full of missed opportunities, trips not taken or simple things like never having eaten lobster or made mud pies?

Frank will occasionally tell me a story where some movie illustrates his point, and be shocked to learn I have never seen the movie. Recently, when Frank’s mental list of movies I have not seen started to get rather lengthy, he decided to take matters into his own hands. He opened a Netflix’s account and placed an order for a sizeable list of movie he wanted me to see. Every few days now a movie from his list will show up in our mailbox and we will drop everything and sit down to watch it together.

Frank is a man who has been almost everywhere and done or seen way more than most folks and I believe he has a hard time comprehending that I could have missed so many ordinary things. I’m sure if he could read my old journals, he would set about seeing to it that every item listed would eventually be crossed off the list. Fortunately, that will never happen, because a while back I took the time to copy everything to a password protected computer file and destroyed all those tattered journals.

Now, before Frank reads this, I better go transfer all that information to a memory stick and seek out a perfect hiding place

Tuesday, February 05, 2008

Dear Abby

Last October someone wrote to “Dear Abby” asking her what she perceived to be the main problem in society today. Abby turned the table and put the question out for her readers to answer. Among the enormous volumes of mail received were answers that covered the entire spectrum from the serious to the silly. Once the tally was taken the top four answers that were published in her February 5th column were: Lack of personal responsibility,Greed,Intolerance and Apathy.

This is a subject I have been giving a lot of thought to lately. Not a day goes by that something happens to make me question what it will take to return the world to the idyllic and harmonious days of my childhood.

While the above are all good answers, each alone is not enough. In fact all of them combined are not the correct answer. So what is? Here is my thinking on the subject based on my observations of my tiny corner of the world.

I believe that the first item on the list would actually be a tie between “Lack of Respect” and “fear”. These two go hand in hand. One causes the other. Every day I see parents who allow their children to get away with being disrespectful out of fear. Fear that if they correct the child with the same forms of punishment that their parents used on them, they will find themselves being visited by the Department of Family Services. On the other side of the same coin is the child who has “no fear” of punishment and gets progressively worse at disrespecting the people in their life. It is disrespect for people and property that leads to many of the other ills of our society.

Mark Twain said profanity sometimes provides relief denied even by prayer. Sometimes a good swat on the backside is likewise the only good answer. But, more often, the best answer is nothing more than time; the amount of time it takes a child to walk from the house to the barn by way of a tree where he cuts his own switch. That short amount of time can lead to a whole lot of thinking and a remarkable change in attitude. When I was in high school, I baby-sat for a family with eight boys that lived down the road from us. Mr. Kilihan would often send one of his sons out to the woods behind his house to cut a hickory limb. To my knowledge he never once used the retrieved limb but they were tagged with the name of the child and the offence and stood in a large crock in the corner of the kitchen awaiting the next time that child repeated that same offence. Just knowing that the switch was readily available and could be used was all it took to keep all those boys in line.

My dear Frank has recently been copying all of his old slides into the computer and with each new batch he has shown to me he had a whole new bunch of stories. I was most impressed by the photos and stories from Hong Kong. So many people confined into such small spaces and yet everything was very clean, orderly and almost crime free. I believe it was all due to the respect that each person gave to each other and what was theirs.

The next time I hear my grandson say “NO” to his mother I think I will take him out to the woods and teach him the art of choosing the perfect hickory switch.