Sunday, November 28, 2010


The voice on the voicemail informed me that Daddy had been discharged, and was reminding me he needed a ride home.


I had already told him to expect me after lunch, meaning 1:00, and that's when I showed up, with Richard in tow carrying the home portable can of O2. I brought the bag of shirts, a diaper, and his winter jacket. For some strange reason they'd sent Paul home with those items when he was admitted a week earlier, but had kept his pants, socks and shoes. I still don't get that. But anyway, here we were with what he'd need.

As we passed by the nurses' station on our way to the room, I announced we were here to spring him, and suddenly we were the center of attention. "Oh dear, oh no, we're not sure he can go home yet."

OK, he's been discharged but can't go home? Seems he started feeling less well, and the doctor wanted to see him again before he left.

Fine, let's talk to her.

Well, she's gone to lunch, but she'll be back "soon."

Define "soon."

After she eats lunch.

We file into his room, set stuff down, find chairs. He's sitting in the large stuffed chair where they can lock the wheels so he doesn't fall when it rolls away from under him as he sits or stands. That seems to be its only good point. It's too deep to sit in comfortably, so it needs a pillow between chair back and patient back. It's too wide, so his elbows fall off the arm rests, particularly when he falls asleep, like he's doing now. It wakes him up, long enough to say "Hi," and get out about a sentence before he falls right back asleep again, mid-word. We get to watch that cycle through over and over for about an hour before he really wakes up. He's so sleep-deprived from being in the hospital that he can't stay awake, going in and out of REM sleep so fast one can hardly keep up. Needless to say, when he is "awake" he's unable to sort reality from dreams and says some pretty bizarre things.

I'm hoping it won't last when he gets home. It will be a humungous challenge to care for him when he's mostly not grounded in reality. I'm hoping a "real bed" and some real sleep will induce a better grip on reality.

Meanwhile staff come and go. We hear his nurse will come in and explain what's going on to us. We hear we're waiting for the doctor. We hear she's back from lunch and they'll flag her down as soon as feasible. We hear she's not back on the floor yet. The physical therapist comes in and puts him through some exercises. A nurse removes his catheter, and another later tries to assist him in self-cathing, with little luck. These are curved catheters and not the straight ones he uses at home, so I wonder if that's making a difference. Standing doesn't do it, so they have him lie down. There's a bit of success, but he's feeling like he still needs to go. He also feels the need for a bowel movement, even through there are new fresh brown spots on his bedding and his pressure-leggings and nobody has gotten around to changing anything yet. Obviously he's already had a rather sudden movement.

We call home to let them know what we don't know, especially when we might be home. The turkey has been put in the oven, since I promised him turkey dinner this evening after he missed the big family Thanksgiving. The clock rolls around, he wakes completely, finally, and asks to be put back in his bed so he can rest. The clock keeps rolling around.

Finally, a doctor shows up, the husband of the doctor we've been waiting for to finish what must be a very long lunch. He asks Daddy a few questions about going home, and he's given all the "right" answers. Daddy is right now determined to leave. He insists that his not feeling well earlier was all in his head, being afraid of leaving his vast support system of the hospital. Now he's fine.

OK, then, he can go home.

Now it's another parade through the room. One nurse gives us a stack of papers to read, and tells us to ask any questions. Let's start with one page saying give him no aspirin, and another says continue the baby aspirin daily. He's due a last antibiotic today, 2:00 PM, which had now passed, and why can't he get that at the hospital before he leaves? After a check of his chart, it's decided that somebody got the date wrong, the pill is due tomorrow, so we still have to run over to his pharmacy, 26 miles in the other direction, and pick that up. But it won't be a wasted trip, because now he need iron supplements, and.... But, hey, tomorrow's fine.

Yeah, well, tomorrow's busy, because the dog has to go to the vet, so we'll be shuffling schedules around so somebody's there while I'm gone, and he gets lunch at the right time, and....

Then there's the IV needle that needs to get removed from his arm before he can go, and getting him dressed, and getting out the door for real, into the now icy-cold car, and home, and into the house and down in his favorite chair, all just in time to be served turkey dinner, dressing, cranberry salad, au gratins, and juice.


He's so tired he goes to bed just after 7:00. Normal bedtime has been between 8:00 and 10:00, usually hitting 9:00. Of course, he makes up for it by getting up before 5:00, so guess who gets very little sleep, since I'm not ready to go to sleep before my usual time. And now he's very uncomfortable, since the plumbing isn't working. Add to that, he can't remember after a week away where everything is the house is. At 5:00 he's already been trying to figure out where in his O2 tubing is the button to push for the nurse. He finally yells, and the baby monitor, finally plugged in again after disconnecting for my brother's visit, wakes me up. (Yes, Steve, I did disconnect it. I don't need to know if you snore. Really!)

But his plumbing is the big worry. According to him, the first self-cath produces 4 drops. This is after asking me where they are when he's standing next to them in their usual space. The next yields 6. Two more produce a bit of very temporary relief, but not really emptying the bladder. His belly is taut, usually sign of constipation and/or gas. We wonder if he needs to go back to urgent care and get a foley and bag put back in, if that part was discontinued too soon.

But I have to take the dog to the vet. His distemper shot is due, and being a cocker spaniel, he has another ear infection. During his exam, I spy a brown mouse scurrying under the door into the next room and mention it to the vet. She freaks out, which I find a tad odd. After all, it's just a mouse. Sure, they eat food and might carry diseases, and probably aren't good for the business's PR, but it's still just a mouse.

They know there's a mouse problem. She hates those sticky traps, won't use poisons in case the clients get into them, or the mice do and stink in the walls while they decompose, and have been using a little tunnel kind of trap that electrocutes the mice as they walk through. It's an interesting diversion, but I need to get this visit over and get back to Daddy and see what can/must be done. The dog goes home with an antibiotic that gets squirted deep in his ear canals after they get cleaned, twice a day. It's mixed with something that makes it get sucked right through the skin, so whoever's treating him needs to wear gloves. Luckily, with Daddy, we have a nearly full box of them at the moment.

As I walk in the house, Daddy informs me the nurse has called, knows about his "peeing problem", and is coming right over.

Huh? What nurse? Who called her? Why is somebody sending her over? Hospitals don't do that. It's Saturday. Is this just another of those unreality post-dream confusions? I must confess to sounding a little skeptical and patronizing at the same time as I tried to make sense of what he was saying. He insisted it wasn't a dream, and, much as he needed to pee, was waiting for her to show up first. After a half hour, I insisted he go try now since he was so uncomfortable.

While he was in the bathroom, sure enough, a car pulls in the driveway and a woman gets out, toting a large multi-chambered black case up the driveway. Oh Halleluia, it's Randy!

Randy is the county health nurse, in charge of his home health aids. I had left her a message that he was to be discharged, so that the aids would know to start in again on Monday. Now here she was, checking out his health, his new meds, his capabilities and needs, and setting up Medicare to take over payments for whatever they would cover post-hospitalization so for a bit he doesn't have to pay himself. Again. Randy is the one who visits when we get anxious about his care, who has tips for getting done what needs to be accomplished, and helps me to keep thinking I can keep doing this.

In all the visit lasted well over an hour, and ended with her supervising him self-cathing to see what was really going on. Her conclusion was that he was peeing a lot more than he thought, not being able to see or hear the stream. She also added a bunch of stuff to the shopping list - since I hadn't gotten out of the house yet to do it. Mostly it was stuff to keep his bowels moving, to relieve that pressure. She also reassured him that his feeling sick after leaving the hospital was typical, since these days they release patients earlier and expect them to recover at home, decreasing health care costs to the insurance companies. He should expect a slow recovery, but he should expect recovery.

I think we both felt better after her visit. Last night and most of today he's perked up a bit, although the slow improvement in breathing has him discouraged. Tonight, after a pretty good day including watching the Vikings win against Washington, he insisted on going to bed for the night at 4:00. He could not be persuaded that he could take a nap, have supper, and then go to bed. He finally let me talk him into having his medications and some juice first. But absolutely no supper!

After all, he might not live that long!

Alllllrighty then. I just finished putting him to bed, telling him if he didn't last the night, we'd deal with it in the morning. I'm just afraid for him it means morning is going to come about 3:30 AM! That means for me too. He'll want to get up and dressed, have coffee, and sit in his chair in the living room and listen to his radio.

I get to go back to work tomorrow. I'd just like some sleep first.

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Finally, Good News!

I'm beginning to think that IV antibiotics can beat the bug even when the immune system is barely functioning. Levaquin must be pretty powerful stuff. Let's just hope it doesn't get overused like all the other antibiotics so it quits working when the critters adapt to it. I've grown up with antibiotics. I like the thought of them continuing to be a presence I can count on when needed.

But enough about that. Daddy's coming home tomorrow!!!!

I got a call from his doctor Tuesday, just after my brother and his wife left to go back to Bemidji and try to cope with 12 inches of new snow they'd just gotten, with the plow driver on vacation and no backup driver for their township road, and with another anticipated 6-8" on the way starting yesterday. They traveled between storms.

His hospital doctor said he was getting well enough to come home Friday, and she was starting physical therapy for him that day, ordering more for after he got home. The Foley had already been removed, and the IV pole was not visible when I'd stopped by that morning before work. (Later in the day I saw it tucked behind the curtain, so they were still giving antibiotics.) When the nurse had been in to check lung noises, she commented she was hearing them on one side but the other side was quiet. I think that meant he was rattling only on one side now, rather than he was breathing on only one side now. Anyway, she made it sound like good news.

He's quit talking about dying, and started talking about the pleasures of coming home. Like having bacon. It's been part of his breakfast for years, but the hospital has him on a cardiac diet and won't permit it. I told him to think of it as a reason to get up and walking when he didn't really feel like it so he could get strong enough to have his bacon again. After all, at 96 and 1/2, his home diet is whatever he wants to eat. Meals on Wheels has him on low salt, but that's as restrictive as it gets. I figure he's not eating to try to live another 50 years, so he may as well enjoy what time he has. Food is one of his few remaining pleasures. He's already had his tripple bypass in the 70's and his pacemaker is good for another year before they will want to replace it. So we introduce him to foreign cuisines which Mom never did, leave cookies out to munch on, and generally try to make food interesting.

He's also talking about listening to his radio again. We discussed finding out whether the Vikings are playing this weekend, so he can sit in his chair a foot from the TV screen to make out what he can of the game until he gets so disgusted with their bad playing that he has us turn it off. Since he can't read, and hasn't the attention span/memory to listen to books on tape anymore, WCCO is what keeps him company through the day while we're at work. Or even while we're home.

Speaking of, we've arranged to have somebody in the house with him 24/7 for the next ten days, partly keeping him company, partly making sure he's walking on his own, and safely.

It's time now to bake a couple pies, clean up, give my fiancee a haircut, rearrange the car for passengers, head to the hospital for a visit, then come back and get ready for the big family Thanksgiving this afternoon/evening. I even get to pick up my granddaughter on the way for a change. Apparently her mom's extended family won't be celebrating on the day itself. Not that she's said that exactly, but it's what I take it she means when she say's she's available to join us this year. (Considering some things that get said in that family, and the fact that she's not living at home, perhaps she's just more comfortable not joining them?) I have to remember to pack my son-in-law's boots which he left at my brother's when he went up deer hunting ( at least he remembered to pack back his deer), my granddaughter's earrings she left on her last visit, pie, turkey stuffing, bread and jelly, the curried broccoli, and the catawba juice, which are our family's contributions to the pot luck feast and general merriment.

Let's see, there's got to be a post-it for a list somewhere....

Oh, and for those who've been paying attention to such things, Rich will be joining us. The judge didn't want to keep him over the holiday. He got picked up and transported all the way to the Dakota County jail for non-payment of child support on Tuesday morning, and I got to add picking him up to my to-do list for yesterday during the snowstorm. Luckily a job popped that took me to the same building, so it wasn't cutting into my work schedule. But he has to go back before the judge in a couple weeks, and that will.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

No Fever

I was brought up to think that was a good thing. It meant you weren't sick. Turns out it can mean you simply aren't fighting what's making you sick. If you live long enough, your body can quit making white cells, the ones that fight infections. That is definitely not a good thing. And this is what they think is happening with my dad.

His doctor for the day called from the hospital. His pneumonia is worse. His nurse says he is getting weaker, but they're going to get him walking, provided he can suck in enough O2 to make it work. Taken together it means they haven't given up hope. Or they're going through the motions. The outlook is not good, but the doctor was unwilling to commit to pessimism. Everything I was hearing said it's time for the family to make those last visits, but she specifically wouldn't say that.

I asked.

Perhaps she's young and that's hard for her. Perhaps she knows something she's not saying. Perhaps she's scared - of death? of our reactions? of her own failure to cure every time? Who knows?

But tomorrow my brother and his wife are driving down, and staying overnight. They'll head back home before the next expected winter storm blows through on Wednesday.

They'll get to see his cool room with a couch (bed?), microwave, and 'fridge in it. It seems made for family to stay with a patient. The staff even offer free supper for family along with the patient's meal. The nurses are all very attentive, helpful, and make frequent visits to his room. I asked if he could have a radio brought in so he could listen to WCCO, since the TV is not useful. She found two. The first had no antenna and emitted only a hum. The second had an antenna but still emitted only a hum. Today there was no radio sitting by his bed even pretending to be of use. It freed up table-top space for all the other things that could be of use.

They have special coverings on his calves that alternately blow up and deflate to improve circulation, but his feet are still cold, even with all the extra blankets. There's a dry-erase board by his bed with the day, date, and names of his nurse and his other assigned assistant, whatever the jargon is that they use. Not that he can read it, but family can, so we know whom to ask questions of. Once I brought it to their attention this afternoon, the date got corrected for the first time since he was admitted. Not that he noticed, but they were consistently a day behind. How do you keep changing it and getting it wrong? Are they just so programmed to add one that they don't stop to think?

Tomorrow I'll be back at work, but unless it's icy again like this morning, I'll stop in to visit him first, and then again after work. The ice didn't melt until after two, so I delayed my visit this afternoon. Going down an icy steep hill into Taylors Falls and back up into St. Croix Falls is not my ideal way to arrive at the hospital, but likely as effective. Going home again might easily be delayed, however. They might put us in adjoining rooms, though.

For now, it's just one day at a time, seeing how things go. Planning for his return. Planning for not. And just hanging in there.

Saturday, November 20, 2010

But, But, Pineapple Juice?

Randy is great, and our conversations are always fun, despite the serious reasons for them. She's the county public health nurse, supervisor to the home health aids that come in and take care of my dad. When there's a change, or a problem, we talk. Whatever needs to, gets done.

My dad's cold had long since appeared to disappear. No runny nose, very little coughing, the "I'm sick" feeling long gone. Only problem is, he got out-of-breath just in the process of sitting up in bed in the morning. Even with the help of a pulling hand. And on oxygen. So I called Randy and asked her if she could come out and help me assess his condition, see if he needed medical intervention. She has lots of little tools that can do things like measure his blood oxygen saturation, listen to his lungs. Add to that the experience to know what she's dealing with, and the willingness to make house calls, and we're set.

She checked her schedule and made room to come out the next morning, but first, she gave me a shopping list. We needed my dad to be able to cough up whatever was clogging his lungs. She figured the stuff was just sticking to the sides. Then she could diagnose from color - icky yellow or green - whether there was an infection that needed medicating. Problem was, he coughed little and usually came up dry. She had a solution for that. Three, actually.

First, Robitussin. No fancy add-ons, just plain Guaifenesin, the expectorant. Generic would be fine. And watch the dosage because they've been diluting it these days so you need to take more than you used to have to: read the label. Why? I envisioned some kid getting into it, and saying, "Gee, Daddy, I didn't kill myself on all the medicine because I got full on all the water first!"

Then Vicks Vapo-Rub. Now that's a name from the past. My last memory of that is Mom using it on my chest and me fighting with her because it tickled so. Needless to say, I had no idea what it looked like or where to find it in the store, but lucked into finding a stocking person in the department when I needed one. Randy added that I needed to not only rub it on his chest, but into the bottoms of his feet as well, especially the ball of each foot.

Huh? Really?

She explained it worked like reflexology, and the ball of the foot was connected to the lungs. Treat it, treat them.

OK, yeah, whatever. No biggie to rub it in a couple extra spots, and he seemed to enjoy it. The idea tickled me, the reality didn't literally tickle him. So we're good. Oh, and she said to also use it to cure toenail fungus. Talk about off-label medications! But hey, maybe I'll try that some day. When I've got some time.

Now there was just one last thing I needed to pick up: pineapple! Either the fruit bits or the juice. Or both. Apparently one of its actions is to loosen up the crap in the lungs so it can be coughed out. Mother Nature's own special little cure was how Randy put it. For me, this would be extreme. I am not a pineapple fan. My dad, however, likes it. So I got both. Juice for bedtime and breakfast drink, and fruit for breakfast fruit cup.

With all the cures and nostrums liberally applied, he was coughing up crap as I left for work Friday. I told him to save it so Randy could see it, cough into a handkerchief rather than a tissue. Around 10:30 I got a call from her: he definitely had a respiratory tract infection. It was a nasty green. Moreover, his blood oxygen levels, at 97% resting, bottomed out when he walked to the bathroom even though he remained connected to his O2. And by the way, who turned the concentrator machine up to 3? It was set at 2.

Nobody claimed responsibility, though it seems to have been a good idea. Maybe a lucky bump when it got moved across the room.

But anyway, he needed to be seen. Oh, and by the way, he also seemed to have a galloping UTI at the same time.

Since it was Friday, I told her to walk down the hall and knock on Paul's door, wake him up, and explain what was needed. She did, and he did.

Around 3 I got another call, this time from Paul. The hospital, site of the urgent care clinic, had decided to admit him "overnight for observation." Plus, they were administering IV antibiotics. Yes, he had a UTI. He also had pneumonia, according to the X-rays.

By the time I stopped in after work, the nurses were trying to figure out how to keep his foot warm. This is the one that has nerve damage from the first hip replacement surgery, where they let the leg stretch and severed the nerve that allows him to lift the foot. Malpractice settlement, foot brace, handicap status officially. This last year or so, it's been getting cold to his senses, during cooler weather. We've been putting on double socks at night, then tripple on that foot, and adding blankets on the bed. Occasionally a very-warm foot-bath helps. We're thinking about trying an electric blanket. The problem is, the foot often isn't really cold, but the nerve damage tells him that it is. It keeps him from sleeping well. So his nurses were piling on the blankets, and I was offering advice. Finally he asked for a heavy-duty sleeping pill at bedtime in hopes that that would keep him asleep enough to stop noticing it.

His attitude is good, his breathing seems fine - at least while he's just lying in bed with his head elevated and getting hospital O2. Same little 2-prong tube in the nose, hooked around the ears. The IV treatment was done, though the ports were still taped on the back of his hand, and he was ignoring the fruit cup on the table by his bed. The Foley keeps him from needing to get up and about, and after a minor irrigation, the abdominal pain disappeared. Apparently he was a wee bit clogged.

I'm to call in after 10 this morning and find out how he's doing, whether he's staying longer or coming home. I could have even slept in this morning, with nobody to get out of bed, dressed, dosed, and fed. Unfortunately, my body knows its wakin' up time. I'll catch a nap later.

But, hey, really: pineapple juice?

Sunday, November 14, 2010

About Those Frat Brothers

I alluded to Paul's fraternity brothers having bigger egos than accomplishments in bed. Here's the rest of that story, as I know it.

I think his name was Rick. Since I've been annoyed with him for over 40 years, you'd think I could remember it better, the way I remember Tom Moorshare's name. Anyway, at the time, I knew three things about him. He was an ATO, he was engaged to a girl back east somewhere, and, as he was asking me out on an evening private swim date in the campus pool, I found out he was a lifeguard with keys. He assured me we wouldn't get into any trouble.

I loved to swim. Really loved it. And a lifeguard? Instant rescue if needed, which it never was, and I didn't have to worry about safety. And since I knew he was engaged, it should be safe enough that way too, right? Yeah, right! You guessed it: this was still my naive stage. The pool was great, but I found him swimming uncomfortably close to me wherever I moved about in the pool. I was a good enough swimmer that I always managed to maneuver away. But it really spoiled the fun. Eventually it was time to go, and I found myself almost fearful he'd follow me into the girl's locker room. Perhaps he'd taken the hint by then, since the rest of the evening ended on a nicely casual level. At least I thought it was nice.

However, he apparently had quite a collection of girls he "took swimming", and word seemed to get around that I was "one of those." How do you go back to your frat brothers and say, "Oh, that Heather, do you believe she thought the date was really just for swimming?" And they'd all have a good chuckle, right?

Ignorance is bliss, and my new reputation was kept from me. For a while, anyway. One day a girl down the hall named Geri, a year older than I was, asked me into her room for a "friendly warning". It may have been a warning, however useless, but it certainly wasn't friendly. It was smugly self-righteous, and I never wanted anything to do with her again after that. Ever. I was told flat out to stay away from two of the frat brothers. Rick was named, because he was engaged. Of course I knew that, and that's why nothing had happened. She dismissed that, having heard different.

The other was a puzzler. I was to stay away from Tom Moorshare. Sure. No Problem. Uh, who is he, exactly?

She couldn't believe I didn't know. After all, Tom was the one who thought I was pursuing him. After much discussion and resorting to a picture, I finally figured out where I'd seen him. He sat down in the front row of my astronomy class. I had noticed him, because he was quite a distraction. From where I sat up in back, he was in my direct line-of-sight to the professor, and since I was getting an "A" in that class, I had been paying quite a bit of attention to the professor. Tom sat with another guy, and they were always turning around and looking back in my direction. I had no clue why, or even that they might be looking at me specifically. There were other students around, and the exit door was back behind me a few more rows. I'm sure most times they turned around they caught me looking back at them, or so their egos assumed, since I was watching the professor and taking notes. I just wished they'd settle down so I could enjoy the class more.

So that was Tom Moorshare, eh? Well, just tell him to stay out of my life and I guess we can both be happy. I have to wonder, however, after all these years, where such an ego has taken him.

Saturday, November 13, 2010

The First Wedding

Guilt can produce strange results, sometimes. I often wonder If I would have married Paul had the times not been what they were, had the mores been what they changed into several years later. But done is done. It was just done... uniquely.

It was 1967, April Fool's Day, when we met at Hamline University. I was sitting on the front steps of my dorm, Manor, across the street from ATO - actually Alpha Tau Omega, his fraternity house - enjoying a little silly toy a former boyfriend from high school had sent in the mail. Paul, living off campus because he'd dropped out (flunked) and was working, frequently stopped by for the company of his fraternity brother friends. He walked across the street and introduced himself, asking me for a date. I was informed later that he'd gotten an earful from his brothers who had bigger egos than bedroom accomplishments and wanted to see if I was anything like what they said I was. I had casually dated several of them, since this was the brainy fraternity and they mostly seemed nice, but nothing clicked. They, however, bragged that they had scored.

I wonder in retrospect how many of them were actually virgins like I was.

Paul and I chatted a while. It was a mild sunny day, not bad for April in Minnesota. Eventually I agreed to a date, and before long I was lavaliered. This meant Paul gave me a necklace with the fraternity symbol on a tiny pendant. It was a discreet way for those in the know to be informed that we were going steady. It was considered quite a status symbol for the girl in those days, and I got feedback that some thought I had dated Paul just in order to get it. I'd never heard of it before he gave it to me, so that's kinda hard to figure, unless it was a case of projection on their parts.

We both lived within a few blocks of campus, so when summer came, we continued dating. My folks met him and took in intense dislike to him. Since they never explained it, I did the typical teenaged rebellion thing and just got closer to Paul. I saw years later what they saw, but it was way too late then, of course.

Paul and I had the normal hormonal thing going, and those days that caused problems. The whole society insisted on virginity until the wedding night. The pill would shortly be developed and that would change rapidly, but for now birth control consisted of using rubbers, a diaphram which required a doctor and a prescription, and the only Catholic Church approved method, rhythm. (What do you call couples who use rhythm? Parents!) At any rate, our "petting" became rather schizophrenic, having the simultaneous goals of wanting it all and wanting to stop just in time. I, of course, was the one charged with saying, "No." He was the one who promised to stop. It worked well until it didn't. Eventually I said "yes," and he never forgave me.

That sounds weird, right? But somehow, if I never gave in to him, then his fraternity brothers were lying and I was a virgin. If I eventually gave in to him, it was because I already had to anybody else, and then what did he have that was worth anything? Even the old-fashioned "proof" of virginity didn't persuade him, since he'd tried to be so gentle the first night that there was still a little bleeding the second time. So for him, this lack of trust would always be a part of our relationship. I guess he never believed that he could be special enough that he could be somebody's first, and while he was right on the first part of that, he was wrong on the second part.

This must sound absolutely insane to anybody under, say, 35. They'd be right, of course, but it's how it was.

On my part, I was being eaten up by guilt. I wasn't supposed to have given in. It didn't matter that we'd been engaged for several weeks at the time. We weren't married! That was about to change.

That fall, I was a sophomore living on the ground floor in a tripple room with two other roommates. We had windows that opened up at ground level, and with ours facing back, it was simple enough to sneak out after hours. A "good" roommate was one who'd say the missing person was down the hall somewhere if someone came asking. That someone would be the dorm mother, at a time when in loco parentis was the rule and there was a dorm curfew and a sign-in/sign-out book at the front door.

The night of October 13th, a Friday, I left to spend the night at Paul's, so we could both leave early. We had a long drive the next morning. I had what was to become my wedding dress, in an ivory double-knit fabric, actually bonded-knit,the newest thing on the market, long sleeved, above-the knee, form fitted with flared skirt, wide mandarin-style collar, and double row of brass buttons down the front. In the morning, we got up early and drove to Watertown, SD. You didn't need a three-day waiting period there, and they had a regular industry set up in across-the-border elopements. Show up, fill out the forms, pay, get a quick VD test, pay, stand before the justice of the peace, use their witnesses, say your "I dos", pay, and the deed was done.

Best yet, the paper it was published in was never read by anybody you knew. We wanted it kept secret, especially from my parents. Even knowing how much they disliked Paul, we figured we could eventually change their minds and have them come around to throwing a "real" wedding. We just needed the sex to be legal.

The honeymoon was a night at the Thunderbird, a large hotel in Bloomington that no longer stands next to the then Met Stadium, now Mall of America because something more lucrative is taking advantage of that expensive location. We couldn't do a regular honeymoon because I had to be back at classes Monday and he had to be back at work. After the second wedding, we spend a night at a dumpy motel in St. Paul. We didn't go anywhere then because, hey, this was nothing special: we were already married for months.

Sunday afternoon I walked back into the dorm as if nothing had changed.

Our secret added spice to the relationship. It also added pressure from Paul who now wanted his wife to live with him and be accessible to him whenever he wanted, in all ways. That helped push the official wedding up to the following spring break. When my parents balked, I threatened to just move in with Paul. This was such a scandalous idea that they thought it was better to be married to him. I, of course, was perfectly complacent about it because I knew we were already married and I wasn't threatening anything remotely resembling a scandal. They were never informed of the first wedding, not to this day.

Paul's parents were, however. We went down to visit them at the farm that fall, and were put up in separate bedrooms. That lasted a few minutes. In the morning we were awakened to pots banging loudly in the kitchen. They were obviously very angry, and we overheard enough to figure out it was about our sleeping arrangements. Paul and I agreed that we should tell them the full story, and ask them to keep our secret as well. Things settled down pretty well after that, though they were miffed at not being informed right away. Now they could spend more energy wondering why my parents couldn't accept their Precious.

The engagement ring actually helped us keep our secret. It was a slim gold band with a solitaire diamond. At the base of the diamond a gold leaf curled off in each direction, to "lock" over the wedding band. Since there were two leaves, we got a 2nd wedding band, and explained to anybody curious enough to ask - like Mother - that the first band was merely a guard ring and the set wouldn't be complete without the "real" wedding band at the "real" wedding. A bit after the set was complete, it got re-sized and the three bands joined into one solid ring on the bottom. After the divorce, I had the diamond reset into a dinner ring.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

What's In Your Woo... uh, Family Tree?

My daughter wanted this information from me last time we got together, and I think I'm the last one who has it. Or some of it. What I got came in bits and pieces, some from a liar, some from drunks I was trying not to pay attention to at the time, and some from someone who later denied it all.

There used to be a really obnoxious saying about having a (N-word) in the woodpile. I don't know if it's still in use in places. It was from back when "everybody" still cared about being "pure" white, and referred to the idea that when the master was away, some black man snuck into the mistresses bed. Even to suggest that was literally a deadly insult. Or perhaps it meant that enough masters had forced themselves over the generations into their slaves' beds that the African blood became so diluted that the offspring could "pass" for white and had successfully slipped into white society, though perhaps with some question about skin tone or features that there might be some suspicion that the blood wasn't quite "pure". When society follows the "one drop rule", any such suspicion became important. And the expression expanded to include Asians, American Indians, anyone not of northern European descent.

Fast forward to the mid 1960s. It was the dawning of the Age of Aquarius, as the song went. The civil rights struggle was finally bearing major publicity, and some fruit. Liberalism was just becoming cool, and a little extra something in the ancestry mostly went from being a scandal to a delicious semi-scandal. It was becoming - in some circles - "Hey, guess what I've got in my family tree?" It was said conspiratorially, gleefully, fearlessly. Times really had changed, at least for many, especially if that little something extra was the family rumors passed along of some mysterious Native American blood.

This was how I heard it from Paul, during the courting period. There was no suggestion of which ancestor it might have been, or how many generations back, or which one of the many nations had contributed to the gene pool. It was further removed by suggesting it had happened back when the family had lived up in Canada before coming into the United States, possibly around the same time the family name had changed from Rouseau to Rosa.

Paul's brother John chimed into the discussion once, when we were all gathered at the family farm in Fairmont for some holiday of other, likely Xmas. He referred to the old family Bible, the traditional record of births, deaths, marriages. In it was a listing that so-and-so had taken himself a wife, along with a date. The theory he proposed was that no one deemed "heathen" could ever have their name placed in the family Bible back then, and this was the way to record the event, as well as a way to provide legitimacy to the offspring of that marriage.

There was no other record of who this woman might have been that the family knew about. Even the Bible is no longer available to the family for research. Many years back, a distant family relative asked to borrow it for some genealogy research. Permission was given, the Bible used and returned, and when the family next went to look at it - possibly years later - they found that a similar one had been substituted with no family history recorded inside. John has since denied ever knowing of her, believing in her, or telling the tale of the stolen Bible and what it contained though at the time he spoke as a witness to the entry.

Bob and Lylah, my parents-in-law, are no longer here for corroboration. During those long ago family discussions, I don't remember that they contributed much. Then again, after five boilermakers each, or some similar amount, I'd long since tried to quit listening. The stories just got repeated more often and louder, the drunker they got. Being the only sober person in the room has its social drawbacks. I probably missed a lot that could have been interesting. However, there is one thing that stands out: every time that particular story came around, they never denied any part of it except that there was proof. Which, of course, there wasn't. Not by then, anyway.

Once Lylah died, a number of years after Bob succumbed to the effects of the treatments for mouth cancer, John inherited the farm house. His plan was to offer the contents at auction, then have the house demolished, building a new one on the site to live in with his wife Pam. Nobody knew then how little time she had left. Before the auction, they offered to my family the chance to go through their library and take away whatever we wanted to of their books. Were they sure? Really, really sure? Any? We gratefully hauled off a carful. In the process we noted a very old picture, in a modern frame with matting, on the wall over one of the bookcases where it had been ignored for years. In it was a couple, in very outdated dress and stiffly posed, and on the paper backing were a whole series of names. It started with Matthew Rosa, and from the number following there were either the couple's many children - whose names have coincidentally been passed down through the family - or the actual names of the descendants over the generations in order, oldest to most recent. There was nobody left to ask. However, as I recall the last three names were Harry, George (in some order), and Robert. Those were the recent generations.

But one thing stood out plainly to us: the woman in the picture was very obviously an elderly Native American (or Canadian?), dark, wizzened face poking out above the European-style dress. I like to think it was his defiant way of proclaiming to the world that wouldn't accept his wife according to its conventions that here, indeed, was his life-mate, and the rest of you be damned!

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Uff Da!

I used to think I was a cynic. I have had my moments. I've dealt with them many ways, including poetry, such as it was. But I heard something on MPR this morning, on Morning Edition, that hit me like a slug in the stomach. I've tried researching it for facts and names, but this idiotic search engine is more interested in sending me to Wikipedia than to anything actually useful. So this comes with all kinds of disclaimers.

The topic - at least as much as I paid attention to - was about Islamic poets, time in prisons, changes in society. I'm thinking it was Iran they were talking about, but I started paying attention late. There was a long poem quoted about somebody after 10 years in prison. Then they switched to modern poets, young poets, now writing with criticism towards the mullahs and their control on society. A name was given, but I'm handicapped by not "hearing" properly foreign names, so no retention. I will try to reproduce the poem from hearing it once, and having to drive another mile before I could pull over and write it down. There will be mistakes. Consider it my best effort to paraphrase the translation as read on the air. I apologize for its imperfections, and hope you can still feel the impact. If anybody is a better researcher than I and wants to offer corrections, they will be gratefully accepted.

I live
Like the child who knows not why it grows
Like the bird that knows not why it flies
Like the wind that knows not why it blows
Like the fish that knows not why every stream
Ends in a frying pan.

The 96 and 1/2 Birthday

It started for him two days ago, when he announced he was now 96 and 1/2. I informed him it was a couple days yet. He's keeping track. Some days he's keeping track better.

Tonight on my way home I stopped and picked up some chocolate cupcakes with chocolate frosting and sprinkles. They come in a plastic container that holds way more than the four needed to celebrate. Not a problem. Really. The "boys" have offered to help.

Paul dug out a birthday candle and lit it, then brought it over to his grandpa in his chair. We suggested he make a wish, and he said he thought if he did that, he wouldn't have enough air left to blow out the candle. Considering how oxygen-rich his air is, I wondered if he could anyway, or if the flame would flare up as he blew. It did go out, just before the end of his first long breath out, trying.

Then we got to remind him that the paper on the cupcake needed to be removed. That was after his first bite. We all had our cupcakes, and then went on to other things. No presents, no singing, just a "We remember."

There might not be another.

He Is Not Either a "Good Man"

One of the things that bugs me is the idea put out there that the hatemongers of the media world, once you take the mikes and cameras away and meet them on just a personal level, are in reality good people, just entertaining us with lies, hate, and fear in a way that draws them bigger salaries. It's not really who they are.


The part that really galls me is hearing this line of crap from liberals. People I otherwise respect can be so stupid this way. Sure, the Hannitys and Becks of the world have the capability to be charming and sound rational, on occasion. This does not make them "good people" who just occasionally behave badly. This is like saying, "Oh that Joe, nevermind him, he's only a pedophile on Tuesdays!" These people have power to (mis)inform and persuade millions of people, and they use it at best recklessly and at worst willfully for evil.

Yes, evil.

Remember that little inconvenient commandment about not bearing false witness?

So to say these people are really OK off the job is like saying that the man who travels and solicits whores but stays faithful and attentive to his wife when at home is really a "good husband."

Just because you only sell your soul to the devil on a part-time basis, it doesn't make you any kind of a good person. Period.

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Bison, Tumbled

Since the annexation, Eichtens sits in the very western edge of Shafer now. They still carry the Center City address, though, and the planned conversion of fields into commercial/light industrial area is waiting on the recession to end in all ways and jobs production to start up again. Meanwhile, it's still the restaurant/ store and field of bison that you see as you drive past on Hwy. 8.

On a commercial note, I love shopping there for bison, elk, and other meats, and some of the varieties of Gouda made in their own cheese house. I can also recommend their breakfast, since Steve and I had a lovely one there sitting at a table for two right next to the fireplace a while back.

Since before I moved into the area, they've had a bison statue sitting out by the road to help advertise the place. Some days it's the only one you see, since the live ones are way back and on the other side of the rise. Most of the time, however, it's the real ones that are worth watching, especially as the babies arrive and start to grow. They're easy to spot, light reddish brown instead of the adult black-brown coat. But the statue occasionally provides its own entertainment.

First, I figure he's a Scandinavian bison. He's got startlingly light blue eyes. This alone provides cause for reflection.

Nearly every winter there'll be a light snow, leaving white across his back for a few days. Then you'll get a day or two of just-above-freezing temperatures, giving a brief thaw and a solid refreeze. During that time, the snow, and all the dirt collected in it, will form a yellow icicle hanging from the lowest spot under his belly - yes, his - to the ground. It never happens when I'm able to stop for a picture, but my inner child delights in it. Every time.

A couple weeks ago we had a day of heavy winds and super low pressure. The meteorologists tried to come up with all sorts of names for the low pressure area, since it was likened to a land hurricane. Never mind them. I was amused by the results of the wind. It was strong enough to tumble this several-hundred-pound bison statue from standing to laying down about 25 feet away from its original site. It lay there several days, until finally it was stood up again. I noted that they didn't bother to move it back to its original spot but left it standing over where it had lain. Luckily, it had not been visibly damaged.

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Not a Concussion?

There's been so much talk of concussion and TBIs in the news lately, between sports and war injuries. Most times they list symptoms, and sometimes I say, "But that was me!" Yet they said it wasn't at the time.

It was second grade. I was attending Nevis school, nearly an hour bus ride each way since we lived on a resort down at the far end of the route. The school then - I haven't gone past for easily 50 years - boasted a sidewalk all along its front, with a small rise of ground and several steps into the front door. (This was so long ago that postcards cost two cents, and letters 3 cents to mail. I recall tagging along to pick up stamps in the Nevis post office.)

Winters were truly cold then, that far north in Minnesota. There was no global warming, and -30 was fairly common. We dressed for it better than kids do today, and were in better position to take what advantage of the cold that we could. The huge hollow in back for the athletic field made great winter sledding. You couldn't bring sleds on the school bus however, so somebody left large pieces of cardboard for us to cling to however we could while sliding down the hill and then trudging up again for the next one to ride. In fact, the cardboard was so popular that it was used on plain grass as well, though it wasn't as slick.

But during lunch breaks, there wasn't enough time to go all the way back behind the school to enjoy sledding. Kids adapt. Somebody turned the slight rise in front of school into a short ramp by piling snow to shape, then pouring water over it. On the frequent sub-zero days - or more likely nights, since I never saw such activity during school hours - the water would freeze nearly as soon as it was poured, reinforcing the snow shape rather than melting through it. Behold: we had an ice ramp! Instant slide, which all but the "babies" stood in their boots to slide on. Only about two feet long, it seemed safe enough, and all those using it were certainly having fun. In fact, it was such fun that using it conveyed status, and/or only those with status got to use it. Some of us just stood around and stared, enviously. So when I was offered the chance to use it, of course I stepped up.

Now, I need to explain something. I was pretty naive for a whole lot of years. My parents were busy people, running a resort, and finding winter jobs to keep the family going. I was a good kid by staying out of their way and staying out of trouble. Assumptions were made about how I was growing up. One of them was that their common sense was also my common sense. Even when there was no background experience or conversation to warrant such assumptions. So I got myself into trouble. A lot. I was into exploring my world, and if I couldn't see a good reason not to do something, especially with a bunch of my peers egging me on, I went ahead and tried it. It had the expected consequences.

One early bus ride, some of the older kids - boys of course - challenged me, declaring me to be too stupid to know the difference between boys and girls. Well, I did so, and told them so. They demanded proof: what is it that boys have that girls don't? I have no clue where, but I had learned that word, even though I doubt it was ever spoken in our house. We, and the culture, were pretty repressed back then. Since I couldn't allow those boys to think I was stupid, I answered their question: "a penis." Of course my folks heard about it almost as soon as I was off the school bus (How could that be, eh, big brother Steve?) and I was in trouble. I learned not to say that word ever again. Well, until much later anyway.

Remember the movie "A Christmas Story"? The one where the kid gets dared to stick his tongue to the flagpole in sub-zero weather and it sticks? Well, I was that kid too. It didn't stick long, because I jerked it off right away, but I did accept the dare. It really, really does happen. Both the tongue sticking part and the naive kid trying to fit in accepting the dare.

Along the side of the school and going way back the width of the athletic field, there was a grove of pines, planted no doubt for privacy, conservation, and windbreak purposes. During recess, however, it was our playground. It was also a good walk back to the school if you had to go potty, thus spoiling recess time. Not only would you miss whatever was going on now, you might not get back at all before recess ended. I had a dilemma: I needed to go but didn't want to leave.

Well, my classmates had a solution for me: go right there. I kinda thought I shouldn't, but they insisted it was all right. After all, they wouldn't tell. Well, why not? After all, on the resort, both my brother and my dad did it, turning their backs to us and using trees to go on. Mom had shown me how to squat down out in the woods when the occasion arose. And these were woods, right? So I did.

And of course the kids told - barely waiting until I was finished. The whole school knew and never let me forget it. My teacher knew and had a private chat with me. My parents knew and had something more than a chat with me. I was totally disgraced. Moving to a new town late in third grade was something of a relief.

Any wonder I still have some trust issues with the herd of fellow humans?

But that naive kid is still who I was when faced with the ice slide. Everybody else was doing it and having a great time, and now I could too. I never gave a thought to balancing or center of gravity or anything else, like whether standing on a slippery ice ramp was actually a good idea. So I put both feet on the top...

And next thing I know I'm lying on the concrete sidewalk, face up, kids gathered around me. I have no idea whether I lost consciousness or just memory. But, hey, I had to get up and get out of there so they could have their ramp back, and hey, just how stupid and clumsy was I, anyway?

Enough, apparently.

I wandered back into the classroom and put my head down on my desk. I felt terrible, and closing my eyes helped. Mrs. Christianson had written the afternoon's lesson on the board, and I tried to read it, but the letters made absolutely no sense. I wasn't even alarmed by suddenly being rendered unable to read. It just made me feel sicker trying, so I stopped trying. Nobody was around, so the peace and quiet was exactly what I thought I needed.

When an adult did wander in, asking if I was OK, I tried to explain that I couldn't read. It couldn't have made much sense, because she left again with no impulse to do something about what I'd just said. Eventually the class returned, and the combination of my head still on my desk and my renewed statement that I couldn't read, got me an escort to the nurse's office to lay down.

I recall hearing later that I'd been one of those kids who use show-and-tell time to spin the most outrageous tales to get attention, so when this seemed a little weird, it was at first ignored. Why hadn't anybody said something? As soon as I heard that comment, I quit spinning tales grounded in my need for attention and started looking for real things to talk about. Being branded a liar was a horrible thing, and not getting attention when it was really needed was nearly as bad. (Such were my priorities at the time.)

Next thing I remember was being in the hospital, nurses bending over me, waking me up and telling me not to fall asleep. Of course, that was exactly what I did the second they left. Mom was there, having had to take time off work for me, so I knew I was really in trouble this time! She kept waking me up too, with the same results the nurses were having. I heard the word "concussion" repeated, with finally the verdict that I didn't have one. At that point I was finally allowed to go home, to sleep without interruptions.

Oh, and the class got a new art project for the afternoon: writing me Get Well cards. They were brought to the hospital before I was released, and I managed to stay awake long enough to read some of them. I finally could, again. I actually remember one of them, or rather its sender, a boy named Gary Plumley. He made it sound like he actually cared, not just completed an assignment as quickly as possible. I still remembered the name when we met again as parents of kids on opposing teams in a swim meet many years and many miles later. And he remembered mine.


I was vaguely disappointed by the verdict that I didn't have a concussion. The symptoms seemed important enough to me to warrant some kind of label, especially since they were enough to send me to the hospital. And today, with our increased sensitivity to TBIs, I think it might finally earn the name.

Now if I could just manage to quit falling on the dang ice!

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Election Wrap

It's been over for a day now. I'm trying to keep some kind of hope now that the crazies have convinced the disgruntled low-information voters to vote for them and the rest of us to stay home.

Republicans threaten to turn over every stone to try to overthrow the governor's race during the recount that's almost guaranteed, talking about it as if it's somehow their "right" to "have their turn" after the Coleman-Franken race. They forget that's not what it's about. It's about counting all votes which have been properly cast. And it''s about $4 Billion in federal dollars that Pawlenty refused but Dayton will have the chance to accept for our state if he's sworn in by January 15th. Of course there will be all attempts made to drag it out, justified or not.

My granddaughter turned 18 the day before the election, and had the chance to cast her first vote. Congratulations! I can't think of a better symbol of coming-of-age. I know of one of her choices - possible the only one she was fully decided upon - and it wasn't on the winning side. I can only hope this does not discourage her but instead inspires her to keep on trying, studying the issues and candidates, and above all, voting.

As for my contest... As I put it to Steve when I called him with the results, this means that I can now win the lottery and we can head to Arizona to enjoy balmy ice-free winters right away, instead of sticking around here for another 4 years, or the 8 before normal finances allow for the move. (Well, of course, this is after discharging my duties to my father. His cold has him so miserable that several times a day he expresses the likelihood, if not the wish, that he won't last the day. I just do the next thing on the list to take care of him, tell him I hope he feels better soon, and ignore the doom and gloom.)

And I hope the city decides it likes its choice. I'm not about to go hanging out in the local bars chatting up everybody for their support for another go-round. It wasn't worth it this time either, which is why I didn't bother.

There is one positive: as soon as I'm actually home during daylight, I can look at the newly shingled roof. It got finished today. I anticipate an improvement.