Lookout Mountain, Chattanooga

Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Maybe this explains things.

There's no place like home

We all have our stories to tell about growing up. When I compare my memories with those of others, mine seem so much more colorful.

Judge for yourself: My recollections include awakening to snow piling up as it drifted in through ill-fitted windows, running away from home at age 5 to be discovered eating fried rabbit at the neighbor’s place a quarter mile away, biking by a neighbor’s front yard with the kid yelling “Sic her!” to what can only be called his free-range sow, gawking at a chicken running around like its head was cut off—well, because it was.  

Really, can yours compare?

When you’re raised on a farm and educated under the protective umbrella of a village school, one of three things most likely occurs. 1) You hate it. 2) You love it. 3) You grow up and consciously decide which parts to hate and love.

Behind door number one, you’ll find the fact that everyone knows your business appalling. You’ll become terrified of werewolves in the darkness. You’ll long for indoor plumbing so there’s no chance of encountering one of those werewolves. More than anything, you’ll want friends nearby and enough money to join band.

Behind door number two, you’ll find the fact that everyone knows your business comforting. You’ll love it that street lights don’t exist, yet you can sleep under a brightly lit sky. You’ll enjoy playing with your siblings and getting in the car every Sunday to visit cousins. You’ll fall in love with books.

I choose door number three. Concerning my school life, I went through phases. For the most part, I loved my teachers in elementary school, as well as my classmates. I don’t remember ever not wanting to go to school despite my fourth grade teacher, Mrs. Loader, being a hundred years old and a little on the mean side. But then things got harder—not academic-wise but social-wise—all part of growing up, but not welcomed. As time went on, my feelings vacillated between love and hate. After having a particularly rough senior year, I graduated, yet bawled my eyes out at the graduation and halfway to adulthood. I think I was already aware of what I had missed by carrying grudges and what I would miss by leaving. 

People often hate their class reunions. I’m not one of them. While I’d never live on a farm again, I do think that small town living has its place and that nothing can quite compare.

Recently, I’ve gotten sucked into a Facebook group involving my hometown. I know very few of the 350 members but delight in their stories. Like me, they have some pretty colorful memories. And, to quote a famous farm girl, "There's no place like home."

Saturday, August 27, 2011

Earthquakes and tornadoes and hurricanes . . . oh, my!

Felt as far south as Charleston, as far north as Toronto, and as far west as Columbus, the recent earthquake, with its epicenter in Mineral, VA, took everyone by surprise. Earthquakes usually do. So do tornadoes. Mother Nature has a way of whipping up wind-crazed fury at the last minute.

Some floods don't have the same effect. Neither do hurricanes. Sure, you have to be flood-wary when it's raining hard, but there are other floods that can be foreseen. And, thanks to the nature of the hurricane beast, there’s an increased amount of predictability there as well. Atmospheric scientists can tell us the time it's expected to hit; generally the course it's on; and, allowing wiggle room, how intense it'll be. Yet, there are people who choose to stay in the paths of both the flood and the hurricane.

During much of our lives, we’re slammed with the unpredictable. We don’t see what's coming, and we can’t get out of the way. On the other hand, there are certain actions we take that will quite possibly result in diaster, yet we choose to take the paths anyway.

This was brought home to me in the pharmacy. While standing in line, I studied the shelf. One of the products was a DNA paternity test. Enough said. Another was a home drug-testing kit. Would this be for the parents who distrust their kids, or the soon-to-be-tested possible employee? Either way, it’s a sorry state of affairs and one that can be avoided.

Why live your life tempting disaster? Get out of Dodge while you can. Life’s crazy enough with its unpredictability.

Monday, August 22, 2011

To clean or not to clean, that is the question

Big surprise here: I don’t like to do housework. I do everything to avoid it—exercise, read, write, watch TV, eat, nap, wash clothes. Yes, you heard me. For me, washing clothes is therapy, not housework.

This unusual philosophy stems from the fact that my family had a wringer washer when I was growing up. Laundry day was a HUGE deal, and I dreaded it. Heaps of dirty clothes literally covered the bath/laundry room floor. And, believe me, farmers deal in dirt. When I was old enough to help, I didn’t mind slinging the wet duds on the line; after all, the end result was air-dried clothing touched by the pleasant scent of the outdoors. When there was time and the temps were warm, I'd lie on the ground and idly watch the flapping laundry and identify the fluffy, overhead clouds as animals.
But I seriously objected to using the wringer.

One unfortunate event stands out clearly: as I inserted tab A into slot B—albeit, tab A being a wet shirt and B being the wringer—I panicked when the sleeve of the blouse I was wearing got caught! I started my inexorable move forward. Screaming and planting my feet, I anticipated being flattened like Wile E. Coyote! What ultimately saved me was the sensibility to yank out the plug. Maybe I’m being dramatic, but I felt it was a close call. What fourteen year old wouldn’t?

So now that I own a perfectly dandy washer, I use it . . . often. Even though there are only the two of us now, I find excuses to wash. And, if I could, I’d still hang my clothes outside. Unfortunately, I live in a neighborhood with a really weird covenant: Thou shalt not conserve energy; thou must dry inside.

Anyway, all this is a way to say that it’s time to do some housework. The filing is stacking up, and I have to clear my twelve-foot long workspace in order to see its surface and write in good conscience.

But maybe I’ll take a break in a bit and throw some sheets in the washer.

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Goldilocks: The True Story

Once upon a time, three bears lived in the forest and for a reason I’ll never fathom, they always ate porridge for breakfast. I’m sure Mama Bear thought her husband could handle the porridge, hot or not, but why she didn’t check the temp for the baby is unconscionable. 

At any rate, Baby Cub burned his tongue and flew out of the cottage in a panic—probably in search of a stream—and Mama and Papa took off after him. Quite safety conscious, they’d normally lock their door. Not this time. Big mistake.

Anyway, once Baby quenched his thirst, the family decided to enjoy the beautiful day and forget the porridge.  Who could blame them?

In the meantime, Goldilocks, the yellow-haired imp terrorizing the neighborhood—her wanted poster hung on a nearby tree—walked right into their house just as boldly as you please. She wouldn’t have anything to do with the porridge, but she took out a loaf of bread and popped a couple of pieces into the toaster. Taking the strawberry jam from the fridge, the young lady—if you can call her that—spread it liberally on the toast, dropping some on the table and floor. But the toast hadn’t filled her up, so she reached into the fridge again and pulled out a T-bone to fry and a half-dozen eggs. You can imagine the mess she made—grease splattering everywhere and shells crunching under her feet. Goodness.

So after a very satisfying breakfast—some would say gluttonous—she eyed the chairs but decided to nap instead and went straight for the beds. Once she tried Mama Bear’s, she figured the bears couldn’t afford a new mattress—it must be as old as the hills! Then she plopped face-first into Papa’s and got a bit of a nasty surprise when it didn’t spring back. After leaving jam all over the first two pillows, she dove for Baby’s. Ahhh!  There was just enough give to make it worth her while to go to sleep.

Finally, the Bear family returned. When they realized the door was slightly open, they looked at each other in shock. “Call the cops, Mother,” said Papa. Luckily, her cell phone was tucked into one of the pockets on her apron.

The cops arrived, sirens blaring, and Goldilocks slept through it all. When they swarmed the house and spotted the intruder, they shouted in joy that they’d finally caught the yellow-haired mischief maker. Despite the fact that she still slept soundly, they read her her rights and carted her off.

And Mama, Papa, and Baby Bear never left the house again without locking the door behind them.

Sunday, August 14, 2011

School daze

With all the "remember whens" going around these days and despite my own seriously spotty memory, I’m prompted to write something about my formative years. It can’t be helped. I attended the same small school for twelve years and had the same friends—meaning the entire class of 46 (more or less) kids. Sure, I had best friends and worst friends and even a few enemies along the way; but attending a small school like that has no equal, and some memories just don't fade. 

Don’t get me wrong: for the most part, I loved it.  But I also hated it at times. When a certain tattle-tale incident got the better of me, kids began calling me Bonnie B. (You can guess what the “B” stood for.)  The nickname spread like wildfire.

Okay. You deserve the whole story. From my sixth-grade point of view, Mrs. Woodmency walked on water. She praised us when we did well, she rewarded the perfect spellers—including me—with ice cream every Friday, she provided cows’ eyes to dissect. The best teacher in the world.

Science class began innocently enough. Warning us to be careful, my sweet teacher passed out cows’ eyes and scalpels and provided instructions on how to proceed. She walked around the room to make sure we followed directions. 

Teachers wore dresses back then. Always. Often, the dresses had full skirts. As she swished by my desk, her sudden yelp of pain caught my attention, and I looked down.  A scalpel stuck out of her ankle! The blood gushed from her wound; but I’ll never know who nursed her because, of course, it was all about me, me, me. What stands out, instead, is the memory that I cried and someone told me not to worry because I hadn’t meant to do it. Until that comment, it hadn’t sunk in that the scalpel belonged to me.

I do remember clearly what happened the next day. Mrs. Woodmency, on crutches, asked me to monitor the cafeteria line for the next week because she couldn’t. Dennis Light began acting like his usual ornery self in line, and I tattled as a by-product of my guilt complex. This didn’t go unnoticed.

The day after brought a comment from a friend: “I was taking a survey and everyone says you shouldn’t have told.”  Gee, thanks. Now you tell me.

When the boys started calling me Bonnie B, I had no idea how to respond. For a few days, I remained clueless as to its meaning. When I found out, it was no small deal.  I was crushed . . . even more so when I returned the next year and the name still stuck like discarded gum to the sole of a shoe. 

But don’t worry. This story has a happy ending. Sure, some people still called me Bonnie B at my fortieth reunion, but most others dropped the “B” by graduation.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

The perfect ending

I’m struggling with the ending of a picture book.  I have a respectable beginning and a robust middle.  But what comes next? 

This description reminds me of our station wagons.  They all had a front seat, a back seat, a backward-facing way back, and a rear, drop-down tailgate.  The way back was received with mixed feelings—fun until the time I let my 5 year old drink both chocolate milk and grape juice before we set out for a trip.  Ewwwwww!

My first wagon was a large, gold—my husband scoffs—Chevy.  After buying it used for $550 when the owner brought it to me, I possessed it for seven years.  When it became a burden instead of a joy, we sold it.  We even sealed the deal on the phone.  Before the prospective buyer arrived, my husband started the wagon to make sure it was running.  The new owner kicked a tire, handed us $200, and drove off.  I loved that car, but its time had come.

My next wagon was a little less dramatic in its looks, being baby blue and smaller, and couldn’t live up to the high expectations I set with my first.  Throwing up at the dealership didn’t help matters; at $5000, it was the first time I’d spent more than $1800 for a car.  I didn’t really want it and didn’t trust it either.  When clicking my baby daughter’s seatbelt into place—or so I thought—the belt released and dumped her on the floor!  After happening twice, I knew it was time to shed myself of the baby blue traitor.

My next and last station wagon took us places we’d never been.  With 65,000 miles on it at the time of purchase, we put another 55,000 on it in a few short years.  The monstrosity eventually took us all the way to California. When the need for a transmission arose, we converted to a minivan . . . way back seat and all.  Was that front-facing seat better?  I’m not so sure.  No more picnics on a tailgate because there was no tailgate.  It lacked the perfect ending.

And, as you know, perfect endings are everything.            

Thursday, August 4, 2011

Never say never

There’s an e-mail making the rounds—another joke directed at people over 50 refusing to keep up with the times.  I learned how to pump my own gas when doing so swept the countryside years ago, but I do lag a little behind in all things technology.  I e-mail, text, and even blog; but I’m not too keen on getting my own smart phone, twittering, or even playing computer games on-line.  (I never have.  And since I declared computer games verboten when my kids were growing up, they never even owned a Nintendo.  Gasp!) 

When I say “never” these days, I have to question my veracity.  I’ve learned this about myself through the years.  The “nevers” started way back when.  In seventh grade, I remember that friends and I were discussing a couple of mothers we knew; they dyed their hair.  Shocking!  I swore I would never do such a thing.  A few years later, I expressed my opinion that saddle shoes—remember those sturdy black and white shoes?—were ugly.  I became a cheerleader who wore them and loved them.  Never would I cut my hair; I did.  Never would I pierce my ears; I did.  Never would a touch of alcohol touch my lips; it did.  The list goes on and on.

As married adults, my husband and I moved from Madison to Novato, CA, claiming that we’d never move again.  We moved back.  Five years later, we moved from Madison to Cincinnati, claiming that we’d never move again.  We moved back.  Now my husband claims we’ll never move again.  I’m just not so sure.  At any rate, there’d better be a darn good reason.

You just never know, I may start twittering.  Or is that tweeting?  Anyway, there’s something I need to do first:  remember to take my cloth bags with me into the grocery store.  If I don’t, people may get the wrong impression.  I’m not saying they’ll question my commitment to conservation; everyone knows I’m the biggest recycling nut around.  I’m talking, instead, of a more personal issue.  I may be forced to answer the question “Paper or plastic?” in the same way as the author does in the e-mail joke making its rounds. 

“I’m bi-sackual.” 

Monday, August 1, 2011

Companion piece to following article

Mom or Dad makes three
Author: BONNIE HEROLD For The Times  
Date: May 20, 1995
Publication: Huntsville Times, The (AL)
Page: B 1

An aging America calls for care from its children

Growing old is never easy. Bones become brittle, eyesight fails, and events from 50 years earlier far override yesterday's.

As people age, they must often depend on others to care for them.

Jessie and Carl Poston have provided a home for her mother, Grace Schmidtlein, since July 1994. Then 95, she had previously lived with her granddaughter and her husband. Once they became adoptive parents, though, they wanted to start a home of their own--without grandmother.

Mrs. Poston says, "At that point, we children gave her the options of nursing home placement, hiring a live-in caretaker, or living with one of us." She chose Mrs. Poston's home.

Those first six months were joyful. Her mother remained relatively healthy. Still alert, she continued one of her favorite hobbies, writing. In fact, one of her articles appeared in a recent issue of Good Old Days.

"Mother also liked swimming at the Jim Williams Aquatic Center," says Mrs. Poston. "She had been a swimming instructor in the '20s and still appreciated the sport."

Unfortunately, she suffered a stroke in December which affected her entire left side. She cannot speak nor write but communicates by a type of sign language.

Mrs. Poston says, "Up until her stroke, we had always included her in our decision-making. We still do that to a limited degree. We ask her simple questions requiring yes or no. We hold her hand and receive a response. A sideways movement of her hand means no. Up and down means yes.

“If I hadn't been a registered nurse, though," says Mrs. Poston, "we would have had to put her in a nursing home." Instead, they adjusted their lives accordingly.

They notified the fire department of her condition. A visiting nurse comes three times a week. Friends and a group called Good Neighbors from the Madison United Methodist Church pitch in. Ms. Poston dedicates one afternoon a week to running errands. Friday nights belong to her and her husband.

"We've enjoyed Mother's presence and include her in as many activities as we can. She has recently begun attending church with us again. We also bought an RV and made it handicap accessible so she can travel with us."

Brenda Barnett, whose 72-year-old mother Nelma George lives with her and her husband Bob, agrees that maintaining one's lifestyle is critical.

"I've taken care of Mother since 1985. I had always been active. If I let her illness affect my lifestyle, I'd go crazy."

Mrs. Barnett becomes emotionally charged when speaking of her situation.

“My mother developed a brain aneurysm in 1985," says Mrs. Barnett. "From 1985 to 1991, I divided my attention between my home in Madison and hers in Huntsville. At one point, she had fallen and broken both arms. I stayed with her for weeks at a time while my husband took care of our teenage children." Her mother's personality had changed so much that she saw nothing unusual with this arrangement.

It became especially difficult for the few months prior to selling her house. Not only did Mrs. George require fairly constant care, Mr. Barnett's mother Nettie Barnett became terminally ill.

"I can't stand cigarettes, but my mother had so little left in life. I hated to take that from her. We didn't trust her with matches, though. There was a period of time when I'd drive to my mother's hourly to light her cigarettes, then I'd visit Nettie. My husband would stay with his mother on weekends, and I'd stay with mine."

It finally became too much, of course, to maintain two homes. Mrs. George suffered a series of mini-strokes. Since Mrs. Barnett had power-of-attorney, she felt it necessary to sell her mother's home. She hated to strip her of her independence but saw no other possible course of action.

"It would be a whole lot easier on us if my mother were happy. She's not. She can't communicate, yet still understands. That's difficult. We've stopped going to restaurants because she always cried over her inability to do the basics--cut food, hold a fork in the proper hand. I could tolerate the mess but not the tears."

Mrs. Barnett initially suffered a period of depression when her mother moved in with them. She took stock, however, and decided the only way to manage was to live as normal a life as possible. Her brother initially relieved them for short periods of time. When it became too much for him, they turned to their children for help.

"I wish there were more resources for respite care," says Mrs. Barnett. "I'd especially like to see more overnight services. My husband and I like to camp and canoe, and we need someone dependable for weekend care."

Some elderly, however, require little from their caretakers. Audrey and Bob Gustafson were luckier than most. Her 88-year-old father Marvin Halvorson remained relatively healthy until his death in April 1995.

Hailing from Minnesota, he spent winters with them for the previous ten years. When he visited the winter of 1994, they wouldn't let him return.
"His health was obviously failing, and I insisted he stay on. He agreed.

"He had driven until that point, but we felt it was out of the question for him to continue," she says. He remained independent, however, in other respects. He cooked and cleaned which allowed her to continue her volunteer activities. He never wanted to intrude. She knew he was really ill when he could no longer raise their flag, his daily job.

"He developed pneumonia and was hospitalized. When the hospital could no longer do anything for him, he came home. Eight days later, he died."

Their kitty, his constant companion for the previous year, obviously feels the loss as she contemplates the empty recliner and meows plaintively. His death left a void difficult to fill.

Copyright, 1995, The Huntsville Times. All Rights Reserved.

Some things never change (except the price of a nursing home stay doubles)

Caregivers struggle with nurturing role
Author: BONNIE HEROLD For The Times 
Date: May 20, 1995
Publication: Huntsville Times, The (AL)
Page: B 1

As a person grows older, sometimes roles are reversed. Your mother is no longer able to care for herself. You become the decision-maker, the nurturer.

Would she fare better in a nursing home? Does she need a full-time nurse? Are you able to provide sufficient care in your home? Deciding how best to care for her is just the beginning.

If you choose to welcome her into your home, do so with your eyes open.

"You're in it for the long haul," says Brenda Barnett who has been caring for her mother since 1985.

Mrs. Barnett suggests a sense of humor is paramount in saving one's sanity.

"I'll give you an example. The other night, we had baked potatoes. I asked my mother if she wanted one. She said, 'No.' The trouble is that often she says no when she means yes. I asked her again, and she still said, 'No.' Then my husband questioned her. He saw her aim her fork in its direction so he put the potato on his plate to fix it for her. Because of mini-strokes, she rarely makes sense when she speaks. This time, however, she looked devastated and clearly said, 'He took that. He took it.' She was crushed. We laughed and reassured her that it was hers."

You also have to have a lot of patience, according to Mrs. Barnett. "If she wants to help with dinner, you're going to have to start at noon." If she accompanies you someplace, says Mrs. Barnett, don't hurry her beyond her capabilities. Most important, keep cool. "If you become angry and want to say mean things, don't. Walk away. She may not be able to talk, but she often still understands."

Getting out of the house periodically will help you keep your patience. Take her with you when possible but also make time for yourself. Keep your marriage alive and take regular vacations. Depend on family members, friends, and local health services.

The Trinity United Methodist Church offers a daycare to people diagnosed with Alzheimer's and Parkinson's disease. Ellen White, director of the daycare, states, "Our daycare reinforces positive behavior through routine and repetition. Although the minimum requirement to attend is two times a week, 60 percent come everyday. Doing so helps eliminate behavioral problems.

"The cost is reasonable at $30 a day. Our operating costs are twice that, but we receive grants from local businesses and private donations. We also provide a scholarship program so that anyone can come."

She says a fortunate few have insurance which covers the cost. Since people are living longer, she expects more and more insurance companies will provide that type of insurance in the future.

Mrs. Barnett also suggests changing insurance policies if you anticipate a need and are able to do so. "Even if the premiums are twice as high, it will save money in the long run."

Money, of course, is a critical issue.

"A good nursing home can cost as much as $2500 a month," says Mrs. Barnett. Even with expensive at-home health services, the money will go twice as far in a home environment.

More reasonably priced at-home health care needs to be made available, she says. More people would be willing to take care of their parents if they knew relief was in sight, both during the day and overnight. If just a warm body is needed, she proposes hiring a sympathetic teenager for short periods of time.

Mrs. Barnett also suggests becoming involved in a support group. "Most people in this situation would benefit from a support group. They need to be reassured that they aren't the only ones who've said in exasperation, 'If you do that one more time, Mother, you're going to the home.' They need to know they're not alone."

Copyright, 1995, The Huntsville Times. All Rights Reserved.