Saturday, August 13, 2022

STILL WORKING HER MAGIC


 





Over the years I grew comfortable viewing life, at least the part of it that came our way, through “our” eyes…..the two of us. That worked pretty well. But sadly, that no longer applies. I have been left with only my own failing eyesight to interpret and cope with an ever-shrinking world.



Truth to tell, I depended on her in so many ways, often without realizing or acknowledging my dependence. Now it seems that each day reveals some new hint of the impact she had on so many of us…..the ways she made our world whole and more satisfying.


As for me, it feels that I have been left without a compass. Where is my true north? Which way do I turn? For so long she was the one who gave me permission to be “me.” The “me” I became was the “me” she had set free.


Even today, weeks after the fact, there are moments when it seems as though there is no wind beneath my wings. And why wouldn’t I feel the way? After all, she was the one who kept our family, and me, on an even keel.


The world around us may look the same to unknowing eyes. But for some of us everything has changed……our children have lost their mother and I have lost my wife. Did anyone ever tell me about this descent into lethal loneliness? It may be altogether natural, and more common that we might expect. But it still hurts.


For years I have used these blog pages to proclaim the message of thriving in late-life. At the moment, however, it doesn’t feel like I am in a “thriving” mode. I tell myself this melancholy funk will pass with time…..but I am not sure I want it to. I don’t want to forget why I feel this way.



Yet, what I am dealing with is not a matter of grieving…..not as I understand it, not the way some folks suffer. The two of us knew what was coming. The whole family did. She spoke openly of her readiness to “move on.” After weeks of hurtful, but necessary conversations we had come to accept that sad reality…..as much as anyone can.


What I deal with today is not so much the fact of her leaving. If ever anyone deserved to be free of unrelenting pain it was her. I accept that release as a blessing. But what I am left to cope with is the yawning void her absence has created.


I know, of course, that she expects me to carry on. She made that very clear. But how does an eighty-five year old guy “carry on” in face of such loss?  Why did she not warn me about the moments when I wonder why I should make the effort, when the reason for my “carrying on” has left the scene, leaving me adrift?


Fortunately, however, her legacy is not altogether sad and dark....not even close. She has left me with multiple reasons to stay the course. We call them our “kids,” “grandkids,” and “great-grandkids.” They are “reasons” that we ourselves created…..she and I…..the ones she nurtured so lovingly…..the ones she expects me to carry on for.


Of course there will be the harsh times when the reality of her leaving weighs heavily. But at the same time she has left me with work to do…. obligations to fulfill. At first glance it feels a bit like starting over…..returning to a time I can scarcely remember. But I know I must honor her expectations.


When I step back a bit I realize that it is just like her…..setting my table with a new menu of possibilities and responsibilities. And why wouldn’t she? She spent a lifetime expecting more of me, even as she let me decide what that meant.


In a very real way it feels like she is still on the job……doing her thing, working her magic.

Saturday, August 6, 2022

I LOVE PARIS IN THE SPRING......BUT BELIZE IN OCTOBER?

 






I love Paris in the spring

                                    ....but Belize in October?


(From August, 2016)

I’ve mentioned before how, as a spoiled and self-indulgent boss’s son, I sometimes took advantage of my dad and his willingness to let me “find myself.”.

From time to time, however, I am reminded that he too was capable of his own sneaky tricks. For instance….in spite of the many good things he did for my mother, brother, and me, the old guy managed to bequeath to me a particularly troublesome bit of himself….an itch that I have never completely overcome. You see, I was the one who inherited the Old Man’s lifelong curse….a pesky and persistent infection he called “wanderlust.”

In my case the symptoms apparently surfaced at an early age. By seven or eight I was spending hours leafing through the big Rand McNally World Atlas the folks kept under the coffee table. From map to map to map….one colorful country after another….I toured the world. At each stop on my imaginary travels I paused, trying my best to sound out the strange-looking names, imagining the people who called those far-away places home, all the while wondering what it would be like to live there. I distinctly remember thinking that Nogales, Arizona, on the Mexican border, would be the most wonderful place of all.

Those youthful mind-travels continued to become more and more obsessive until, at age thirteen I ran away from home, determined to see the world for myself. In the end what I saw was a bit of Eastern Oregon and the inside of the Umatilla County Jail. That was a letdown for sure, but not enough to dull that travel itch. Truth is, it’s something I’ve never outgrown. Later, Roma and I would be fortunate enough to visit and even live in some of those places….as many as our resources and family situation would allow. Those were wonderful experiences, but not enough to cure an advanced case of wanderlust.

Then in my mid-sixties, I retired and we moved on to our own October Years. And surprise….it was still there, that undiminished urge to see the world. And now we had the time to indulge those fantasies. 

We began as tourists….twelve weeks revisiting old haunts and old friends in England and Europe. By then I was mulling new possibilities. What if we made our retirement home in one of those far-away places? How cool would that be?


At that point the question became….what sort of retirement move could we afford if we were so inclined? Certainly, those with a hefty pension and fat IRA had more choices than we did. They could decide that “home” ought to be in Arizona or Florida or Europe….any place they wanted. Our choices were more limited?

Fortunately, for those of us who fancy ourselves as bold, even at our age, today’s internet world offers new, sometimes intriguing ways to scratch our retirement travel itch. One of my favorite “wanderlust” fixes is a thick promotional newsletter that arrives in the mail every few months. Apparently I have been on their mailing list for years. As near as I can tell the message has never changed in all that time. I have only to open the envelop and recite the first sentence or two to have Roma heading for another room.


“The hibiscus are in bloom,” the message begins. “As they are every month of the year. The gardener watches over them and the rest of the grounds, while the maid/cook maintains order in your bright and airy home. Just months before you would never have dreamed that the two of you could retire in such luxury for less than $1,800 a month. But now you know what so many others do not….that the good life and affordable health care are well within your reach.


Chances are you have seen that enticing pitch, telling how you can afford the retirement you dream of....somewhere. And perhaps you are one of those who find a certain satisfaction in dreaming about the possibilities it seems to offer. I know I do.

After all, the idea itself is not so far-fetched. For decades our fellow Americans have been taking advantage of low-cost foreign retirement, especially in Mexico and Central America. Lately, in the face of an increasingly harsh economic environment, that trend seems to have taken on new and novel forms.

In this brave new world of ours an up-to-date list of well-publicized retirement havens might be enough to send us back to the atlas….asking retirement questions most of us had never considered. 

For instance, take a moment to ask yourself what it would take to make Colombia a viable place to live out your Golden Years? Or Peru, or Thailand, or Uruguay, or Belize? I see e-mail ads for $300 seminars that will provide all the information you need to establish a home and live the good life in any of those countries….creating a lifestyle that costs a fraction of what you’ll pay here in the U.S. The sponsors claim they can make the case for that. Could they convince you?

Of late, I have come across articles online touting two particular retirement destinations…. Panama and Belize. Certainly Panama has a long history of dealing with and providing for US citizens. Belize, on the other hand, was formerly a British colony. It is the only Central American nation where English is the official language. Each of those countries already hosts a sizable ex-patriot population. Is that enough to make them interesting to you?

I suppose in the end each of us must decide what “retirement”….the label we assign to life-after-work….means to us. For a wanderlust junky like me the lure of  an inexpensive lifestyle lived in some exotic, out-of-the-way locale is a bit seductive and hard to ignore. 

But then, about the time those exciting possibilities have me thinking like a kid again, another of those pesky, hard-to-avoid October realities kicks in. “Is it practical?” I ask myself. 

Perhaps like yours, we are a family-oriented family. How would it work to have Grandma and Grandpa living on the seashore of sunny Belize, thousands of miles from the clan, following our grandkids on Facebook or Zoom, perhaps visiting them every year or two? And even if we could manage that, we are kind of set in our ways. How would we adapt to a very different culture and lifestyle, no matter how inexpensive it was or how adventurous the challenge?

So when it’s all said and done we have decided to settle for the wilds of the exotic Willamette Valley, and the lifestyle we’ve lived for all these years. But don’t think for a moment that I’ll stop day-dreaming about the sunny beaches of Belize or Panama.

How about you? Do the possibilities of tropical splendor on a shoestring resonate with you? Or does “Is it practical?” win out?

Friday, August 5, 2022

FAMILY MATTERS - Chapter 41

 





             Chapter 41


The drive from Burns to Tanner was only five hours....across the central Oregon high desert and over the Cascades to the Willamette Valley. It should have been a piece of cake. But after a restless night spent battling dire premonitions of Nell’s condition, I was dead tired. 

To make matters worse, sometime towards dawn my thoughts had been hijacked by an even more distressing possibility. Perhaps my absence, and the way it had upset her, was responsible for her stroke. No wonder I was struggling to concentrate on the long straight stretches of desert highway. Damn it, I should have been there when she needed me.

I pushed on, forgoing needed rest breaks, focused on a single goal....to get to Nell as quickly as possible. By the time I pulled up in the driveway in front of our Tanner home I was bushed, but still in no mood for the sleep that wanted to have its way with me. 

Kathy must have seen my arrival from the front room. By the time I reached the porch steps she and Delaney were waiting in the doorway. I could tell they were glad, and perhaps even relieved, to see me. “Thank you,” she whispered as she stepped forward to embrace me.

“For what?”

“For coming.”

“You didn’t think I would? I told you I was on my way.”

My daughter rolled her eyes, registering her transparent doubt. “I know what you told me,” she said, pushing herself away to arm’s length. “But after all the saber rattling that you two have gone through, I wasn’t so sure. That’s why I haven’t told her. I wanted to see the whites of your eyes before I got her hopes up.”

“She doesn’t know?” I had not considered that possibility. Was Nell up to that kind of surprise, I wondered. “How’s she doing? Will the shock seeing me be too much?”

We had worked our way to the living room before Kathy turned to explain. “Of course not. It’s exactly what she wants. She’s feeling kind of puny, but the symptoms are pretty well gone. Actually, she was very lucky. As strokes go, it was a mild event.”

“Do they know what caused it?” I asked. “Could they tell what brought it on.?”

“I don’t think so. We’ll probably never know for sure. It could have been something specific, or maybe it had been building up for a while. I’m not sure they can tell.” She had turned serious when she looked back at me. “But we all know she’d been under a lot of stress lately”

I shivered a bit at the intensity of my daughter’s pointed observation, knowing it was meant for me. A part of me wanted to debate the point, but it was not the time for that. Instead, I asked, “Can I see her?”

“Of course. She’s in the bedroom. She may be dozing, but all it takes is a touch to wake her up.” Finally, I was reading hints of encouragement in Kathy’s grin. She squeezed my hand and nodded toward the hallway.

The bedroom door was ajar. I pushed it open and peeked inside to find Nell resting quietly, apparently asleep. I tip-toed inside and sat down on the edge of the bed. A moment later the touch of my hand on her arm was enough to gain her attention. She rolled her head to face me and her eyes flickered open, blinking to focus on my face.

I watched as the fact of my presence registered. Then, through a weak little smile she asked softly. “What are you doing here?”

“I live here. Remember? It’s my home. Besides, I heard you were a bit under the weather.”

“You didn’t have to come back. There was no reason to change your plans on my account.”

“I didn’t change my plans. I was already on my way home. I was in Burns when the kids finally caught up with me, to tell me what was going on.”

Her eyes closed and again she drifted off. I pulled a straight-back chair closer to the bed and sat down, offering a silent thanks that she was doing so well. Obviously she needed her rest. Anything I had to say could wait until later. Then, a second later I realized that her quiet withdrawal was not a matter of sleep, but a retreat into her own thoughts.

“Why did you do that?” she asked without opening her eyes.

Her unexpected question startled me. By the time I glanced up she was staring at me. “Why did I do what?”

“Why did you come home so soon?  You can see that I’m fine. You didn’t have to hurry back. You always said there were so many places to see.”

I took her hand, reminding myself to take it slow. No matter what she claimed, she was not one-hundred percent. It would probably take some repeating and reemphasizing to make my point.

“I told you, honey. I was already on my way home. You may have been ‘fine’ here in Tanner, but I wasn’t ‘fine’ out there. 

"No matter how much I liked seeing all those places it wasn’t enough....not without you there too. Besides, by the time I got to Burns I’d already decided that I belonged here. Actually, by then I realized that I belong wherever you are. That’s probably the most important things I learned out there.”

Tucking a second pillow under her head, Nell was by then fully engaged in our conversation, ready to offer her questions. “That’s nice to hear,” she said. I sensed at once that her apparent approval would be including a “but,” or “except.” I had that right. 

“But what about your blue highways,” she asked. “That’s what you went to see. Weren’t they as interesting as you thought they’d be? It’s hard to imagine that you’ve cured your wanderlust so soon.”

It felt like we were close to what Taylor Caine had called ‘compromise time'....that moment when our disparate dreams might finally find a common ground. After bumping heads for so long, was there a way to make that happen?

“Of course they were interesting." I patted her hand, trying for a convincing smile. "I’d like to see more of them. And I would never claim that my wanderlust is cured. Maybe I’m just getting more realistic in my old age.”

“I’m not sure what that means. Has anything really changed?”

Back to the drawing board, I was telling myself. A better explanation was in order. “Just about everything has changed,” I explained. “At least for me. I met some good people. Saw some very nice places. 

"There were things I know you’d enjoy seeing. And that’s what I’m hoping we can do together....see some of those places and visit some of those people. But I’m thinking we could do that in small doses, a few weeks at a time.”

“And Tanner could still be home?” came her timid question. “We could still live here, in our own house?”

“Yep. Right here. This would be home, like it’s always been. In fact, from what I hear I’m first in line for a brand new job, at least for a while. The girls tell me you’re supposed to take it easy. With Kathy working and Delaney in school I suppose that means I’ve been promoted to chief nurse.”

“I don’t need a nurse. I need a husband, a stay-at-home husband.”

“You’re right,” I agreed. “You need a stay-at-home husband and a helper. As for me, I need a full-time wife and a sometimes traveling companion. So we both need something. I’m hoping we can fit all that together in one package and be a team again.”

“A ‘helper’? Is that what you said? That you’d be a helper?”

Nell’s dramatic doubt had me laughing. “I can do that,” I insisted. “I can help. I may hire someone to deal with the yard and garden, at least until you’re ready to tackle all that again. But when it comes to the house, and especially helping you get back on your feet, I can do that. It will be my new job. And when you’re ready to go traveling, I’ll be the tour director.”

Of course Nell was full of questions. But at least she was listening, hopefully willing to consider the possibilities. In fact, if I was reading her right, she was willing to give it a try. 

“You’d have lots of help,” she reminded me. “Delaney will be here after school, and Kathy comes back on weekends. They’ve been such troupers, even before this last craziness.”

Throwing back the covers, Nell draped her legs over the edge of the bed and sat up directly in front of me. Tugging her house coat modestly around herself, she was ready to offer the rest of the family news. “But I can’t promise how long all that good help will be available.”

“Where’s it going?” I asked.

“Didn’t Kathy tell you? Gary called. His boss is going to let him work from here in Tanner. He’ll be here in a few days. That was enough to get our daughter all excited. They’re already making plans to go apartment hunting next weekend.”

“How about her transfer to Tanner? Is that still a possibility?”

“Oh yes. One of the nurses at the Tanner home is leaving next month. Kathy is sure she’s first in line to replace her. Hopefully that means we’ll have the three of them together, here in town. 

“And wait ‘til you have a chance to visit with Delaney," Nell continued. "I’m not sure you’ll even recognize her. It’s like she’s a new person. Remember how grouchy she was? Well, no more. I think she’s finally feeling at home here in Tanner. And believe it or not, I swear she’s looking forward to school. Who would have guessed?”

“What in the world brought that on?

Nell’s knowing nod seemed to frame her reply. “”I think it has something to do with your young friend Antonio. Near as I can tell he’s become her friend too.”

“Oh, my God. Not again.” 

I was grinning as I reached for her hand. “You know what all that means? If the girls move into their own place, the two of us will be here all alone again. Are you sure you’re up to that?”

“Why wouldn’t I be?” she asked. “We’ve had years and years of practice, haven’t we? Besides, if Gary’s coming back that means we’ll have the whole family here in town for holidays and such. That sounds pretty good to me.”

“Me too.” 

About then I had a new sense of how my friend Taylor Caine must have felt as he watched his own broken family coming together again right before his eyes. 

“We’ll all be in one place,” I nodded. “That’s the important part. It’s another one of those things I learned out there on the road.”

“How did you learn that?”

“Well, I met this cowboy, a fellow I hope you’ll get to meet someday.” 

I paused, wondering where that notion had come from. A second later I realized it was a very good idea. I owed that lady of mine....the one who had allowed me to go off and be me....an opportunity to meet the fellow who had pointed me back toward a truth I had been reluctant to accept.

“He helped me understand that there are all sorts of dreams for us to be chasing. There’s more than enough to go around. And there are lots of ways to make them come true. My problem was I got hung up on just one of those ways. Once that got hold of me I wouldn’t let myself look at anything else. 

"My cowboy friend helped me see the truth of it. There are lots of things that matter. But in the end, family matters most of all.”

 

  THE END

Wednesday, August 3, 2022

FAMILY MATTERS - Chapter 40






              Chapter 40


It was late Wednesday morning when Kathy and Delaney helped Nell Padgett into her family-room recliner. With her mother home from the hospital and comfortably settled, Kathy turned to offer the first of several new house rules. 

“You’re out of the meal making business for a while,” she told Nell. “The doctor said you have to take it easy.”

Draping an arm over Delaney’s shoulder, Kathy pulled her closer as she continued. “You were very lucky, Mom. As strokes go, it was apparently rather mild. And you got the medications you needed right away, which helped avoid any complications.”

“You’re right.” Nell’s wink was aimed at Delaney. “That’s because my guardian angel was looking after me. She and Antonio showed up at just the right time.”

“For sure,” Kathy nodded. “That was very important. But for now, you heard what Dr. Ryan said. Until you see him next week you have to rest and take your meds.”

Closing her eyes, Nell settled back, soaking up the warm, medication-induced weariness that had her wanting to doze off. Before that could happen the ‘practical’ Nell returned, picking up on Kathy’s instructions.

“I heard what he said,” Nell said. “And that may be okay for a few days. But then you’ll be going back to work, and Delaney will be starting school. That means I’ll be here to take care of the house.”

“And you can do that. But you have to take it slow. I’m sure Dr. Ryan will let you do more over time. But not right now. Not all at once.” 

Nell leaned forward with a stern, scolding grin on her lips. “Well, I’m not about to have some hired housekeeper taking care of my home and cooking my meals. I don’t need someone playing nursemaid while I sit on my hands.”

“There you go again,” Kathy said. “You haven’t even come to that bridge and you’re already getting worked up about crossing it. Who knows, maybe you’re worrying about nothing. You never know what might turn up.”

Standing, Kathy left her vague encouragement hanging there, with no further explanation. She had not mentioned her father’s Tuesday night phone call, telling herself that he ought to be the one to spring that surprise. Besides, what if he was sidetracked by one of his silly adventures? In that case his overnight trip might turn into days. There was no need to set her mother up for another disappointment.

The jangle of the ringing telephone pulled Kathy from those thoughts. “Could you get that, Del?” she asked.

Stepping to her grandfather’s desk Delaney answered the call. A moment later she covered the phone with her hand to tell Kathy, “It’s for you. It’s Gary.”

“I’ll take it in the kitchen.” Kathy was already in the hallway, on her way to the back of the house. She had talked to him earlier that morning, when she called from the hospital to explain her mother’s medical situation. Why would he be calling again?

“Did you forget something?” she asked, taking the kitchen phone to the breakfast bar to sit on a high stool. “I didn’t expect to hear from you so soon.”

“Me neither.” For a few seconds there was only silence. When Gary returned to the conversation there was a new and stumbling hesitancy in his words. “But before I go there, how’s Nell doing? Have you brought her home?”

“Yeah. She’s here and she’s doing fine,” Kathy answered, pleased that he was asking. “Now, will you tell me why your calling again so soon?”

Gary’s idea, he preferred to call it an inspiration, was not entirely new. It had crossed his mind more than once in the last few weeks. The difference this time was Kathy’s early-morning call from the hospital. By the time he hung up the truth of their altered situation had finally registered.

No matter how vigorously Kathy had resisted his earlier requests, his dream of her and Delaney joining him had never died. From the day he returned to California that had been his notion of closure....the three of them in Los Angeles. 

But now his lady’s mother was dealing with serious health issues, while her father traipsed all over the western United States. In the face of that reality the odds of luring her back to California were even slimmer than before. Clearly his dream of a happy California ending was in need of revision. 

“Look, our talk this morning got me thinking,” he began. “I’ve known for a while that once I got up to speed on this new job, I could do most of the work from home. In fact, I’ve been doing some of that already. After all, it’s all done on my computer over the internet. ”

“So? What does that mean?”

“It means a couple things.” His unexpected laugh must have had her wondering. “Beginning with the obvious. It’s plain to see I’m not going to talk you into coming back to L.A..”

“I’ve told you that a hundred times. There’s nothing new about that.”

“I know. But all the same I was hoping. You can’t blame me for that.” 

After one deep breath, then another, he was as ready as he would ever be. “The thing is, from now on if you’re going to a soccer game or anywhere else, I’d like to be the guy you’re going with. If, that is, I’m not too late for that.”

“Too late?”

“I don’t want to be taking anything for granted. Maybe you’ve already decided you have a new soccer guy.”

“Don’t be silly. It’s just that......”

“Kathy,” he interrupted. “Please let me finish. Then you can say what you need to say. Okay?

“I talked this over with Stan, he’s my supervisor, just an hour or so ago. He likes my work. He especially likes that our clients are happy with what I’m doing for them. 

"Bottom line, he doesn’t want to lose me. And he agrees that with some good online-meeting software I could do ninety-nine percent of that work from anywhere. I would probably need to spend a couple days a month down here, just to stay in the loop, but the rest of the time I could do it just as well from Tanner.”

“You could? You could live here, in Tanner?”

“That’s what I’m saying. I spend most of my time writing and testing software, and getting feedback from the client. Those people are all over the country, sometimes all over the world. It’s all done online. They don’t have any idea where I am, and they don’t care. There’s nothing magic about being in L.A., except to stay in touch with Stan and the rest of the staff.”

He paused, waiting for a reply, but heard only her muffled sobs. ”What is it, honey?” he asked. “Are you okay?”

Reaching to the end of the counter for a tissue, she daubed at her tear-stained cheeks. “Of course I’m okay? Actually, I’m better than okay. Why wouldn’t I be?” 

Indeed, her rapid-fire mental inventory was hitting nothing but high points as she explained, “Mom’s home and doing well. That’s a blessing, especially when you consider how bad it could have been. And on top of that, though she doesn’t know it yet, Dad’s coming home today. He says he’s here to stay. At least he won’t be leaving again without her.”

Looking up, Kathy was grinning at the sight of Delaney peeking from around the hallway corner. “And then there’s Del.” She waved her daughter closer. “Near as I can tell she seems to be  okay with Tanner. I think that may have something to do with the folks’ lawn mowing guy

“Not only that, I think she’s actually looking forward to school. I’m not sure what put her in that mood, but after a few weeks spent hiding downstairs I think she’s ready to venture back into the real world.”

Reaching an arm around Delaney’s waist, she pulled her against her shoulder, ready to let her daughter hear the latest news in an already eventful ‘good news’ day. “And now I’m hearing that my favorite computer guy wants us to be together again, in Tanner of all places.

“I can’t remember a day when everything went so right. All of a sudden Tanner feels like exactly the right place for us, all of us, to be.” 

 

Monday, August 1, 2022

FAMILY MATTERS - Chapter 39


 





                        Chapter 39


BURNS, OR --- In one sense my Monday night in a cheesy Ely motel had been the most fruitful hours of my entire retirement adventure. There, instead of continuing my search for the meditative quiet that had eluded me for two weeks, I replayed my brief conversation with a no-nonsense outback cowboy, allowing his sparse words to nudge me down a more productive path.

Just twenty-four hours earlier Taylor Caine had been awash in his own angry resentment. A wet-behind-the-ears youngster, a ranch hand from his own bunkhouse, had captured his daughter’s affections and spirited her away from the family home. 

Before the dust had settled on that distressing turn of events Taylor’s expectations for his daughter’s future, not to mention that of the Caine Ranch, had been turned upside down. By the time I left the ranch that afternoon he was, much to his own surprise, casting his young son-in-law as the possible answer to a prayer he had long ago stopped praying.

His discarded dreams of another generation carrying on the family legacy had been revived. The future he now considered would be different than his original vision....of a son to carry on the Caine name. The outcome, however, would be the same....even better in one way, since it meant that daughter Evie would remain a part of their everyday lives. 

That evening, as I lay in my Ely motel room, revisiting that crusty cowboy’s sudden change of course, I was hoping it would translate into good things for the young couple who had shared a few hours of their life-altering day with me. At the same time I was bumping into fleeting hints of how those hours had impacted my own seeking, how Taylor Caine’s evolving life view might apply to me.

By Tuesday afternoon, when I checked into a motel in the high-desert cowtown of Burns, the fuzzy outlines of my own future had become sharper, more in focus. I was back in Oregon, in the process of completing my own circular journey, both literally and figuratively. 

Two weeks and a couple thousand miles, through eight states and a bit of Canada, had brought me within a day’s drive of Tanner. In a less literal way I was closer to home than I had been in a very long time.

In the beginning I had set out to prove that my Blue Highway dream was a practical way for Nell and me to spend our retirement. Later, in the face of her determined opposition, I was forced to go it alone. 

Yet, by the time I left Ely that morning I had begun to accept a newly revealed truth. As Taylor Caine’s outback epiphany had so plainly confirmed, family mattered more than my impulsive wanderlust. After my last conversation with Nell, brief as it was, I had not needed much convincing. But now I was sure. It was time to return, to complete my own family circle.

I would make that stop in Burns my last night on the road. It was time to share that news with Nell. I wanted her to know I was coming home, that I would be needing her help to fashion a new retirement....one that included both of us. I will admit to a tinge of anxiety when I repeated that intention to myself. Still, though it would take some getting used to, it was the right thing for us. 


                             ~~~


Back in my room, after an impressively tasty Basque dinner at a rather unimpressive-looking side-street restaurant, I fished my cell phone from the duffle bag and stretched out on the bed to call Nell. That was a good idea. Except no one answered at home. Fortunately, I could count on her her cell phone. So I called up her speed-dial line and punched “Call.”

“Where are you, Grandpa?” 

There was an unexpected urgency in Delaney’s greeting when she realized it was me. By then I had questions of my own. Why was she answering Nell’s phone? 

“We’ve been trying to call you all afternoon,” she said, hurrying on. “But your phone was never turned on.”

“I’m sorry, dear. I was on the road. I forget to do that sometimes. Anyway, why were you calling me?”

“It’s about Grandma. She’s here in the hospital. That’s where Mom and I are now, with her.”

With that she had my full attention. I was sitting on the edge of the bed, wanting to know more.... half afraid to ask. 

“What happened? Why is she there?”

“When Antonio and I got home this afternoon Grandma was on the couch.” Delaney’s soft tears threatened to drown out her words. “She had a terrible headache. And she was all mixed up, really confused. 

"It was like she couldn’t understand what we were saying. And when she sat up she got real dizzy, like she was going to be sick. Anyway, we called 911 right then. They brought her straight to the hospital.”

“My God. Do they know what happened? Why was she like that?”

Finally Delaney paused to catch her breath.Then, in a more subdued tone she continued. “When the doctor talked to us a couple hours ago, he said she’d probably had a stroke. I’m not sure what that means, but that’s what they think it was. All I know is it was really scary.” Before she could elaborate, her words were lost in the returning tears.

“Dad. Is that you?” 

Suddenly, it was Kathy on the line, with her own urgent questions. “Where are you? Why couldn’t we get you on the phone?”

“I didn’t have it turned on,” I explained. “I’m in Burns right now. Actually, I’m on my way home.”

“Really?”

“Yeah, really. It seemed like it was time. I just wish I’d figured that out a day sooner. I’d be there by now.”

“You’re coming home? For sure? I know Mom would really like that.”

“Is she awake? Can you talk to her?”

“Of course we can. I’m out in the hall right now, but I can see her and Del talking. She’s hooked up to a monitor, to track her vitals. And they have her sedated a bit. But she feels pretty good. In fact, she wanted to go home tonight. The doctor had said her stroke was a small one, not too bad. But he’s insisting that she stay overnight, to be sure things have stabilized.”

“Could I talk to her?”

That seemed to set Kathy thinking. At least she was slow to answer. “The doctor wants her to stay quiet, with no stress or excitement," she explained. "Mom’s kind of dopey from the sedation. I’m pretty sure that hearing from you, especially that you might be coming home, would qualify as excitement. I think we ought to let her rest for now.”

I wanted to argue the point. But at that moment it sounded as though I was hearing ‘nurse Kathy,’ not ‘daughter Kathy.’ In that case I had to respect her advice. There was, however, another point to be cleared up.

“Honey. I said 'I am' coming home. It’s not a matter of ‘might be.’ I’ll get to Tanner by noon tomorrow. You can count on that.”

“If you are, I know that will perk her up. Hopefully she’ll be home by then.” 

At that pint Kathy paused a moment before offering her own editorial observation. “And I’ll bet her first question will be the same as mine. How long will you be staying?”

My initial panic had subsided as I sank back against the headboard, offering my silent thanks that Nell was apparently okay, and wishing I was there with her. About then I knew for sure that Taylor Caine’s cowboy insight had been spot on, exactly right.

“I can’t guarantee that I’ll be staying forever,” I said, returning to Kathy’s question. “But you can be sure I won’t be going off again by myself. Whenever and wherever we go, it will be the two of us, your mother and me.”

Sunday, July 31, 2022

THE OLD GUY WRITES WHAT?


         

  So you want to tell a story…….be a writer. Lots of us have dreamed that dream at one time or another.

     And hand in hand with that seductive possibility comes an all-important first question. What sort of story should you tell?

Today, as I continue my weekly visitation of earlier blog posts, I find myself wondering once more why and how my late-life storytelling efforts turned out the way they did. 

After all, the path I chose, what they call ‘the genre,’ was miles out of the mainstream……so commercially limiting. Yet those were the stories that came so naturally. Why was that?

Not only did that question arise from time to time……as the following post from several years ago illustrates, it literally became part of the story I was telling.


                                 *************************


THE OLD GUY WRITES WHAT?


Over the years you and I have learned a thing or two about stereotypes, haven’t we? I can remember a time or two when I was troubled or embarrassed because I had misread or ignored stereotypical clues.…..reading something into a person or situation that was simply not there.


So it seems to me that here, in what I claim is a “writer’s blog,” is a fitting place to address my own stereotyping dilemma. Take a moment to consider the possibilities. What kind of stereotypes might be applied to someone like me? How about ‘old,’ or maybe ‘grouchy.’ I suppose I could relate to those.

             

But there are other stereotypical labels I am unwilling to accept for myself. For instance, perhaps you can imagine how I cringed when my first e-book publisher told me he had cataloged my story as “senior romance.” 


 “My God,” I grumbled. “What was he thinking?” There I was, seventy-some years old. Do they still call such tales “romance” at our age? And even if they did, what self-respecting old geezer would admit to writing “romance” novels? 


 I can assure you, these stories of mine do not resemble the paperbacks you see on the supermarket shelves….the ones picturing muscular Alpha Males cavorting across the book cover in a torn shirt, swooping up a swooning and seductive maiden in one arm. I guarantee, the tired old Beta Males whose stories I tell are not into “swooping up” anything or anyone.


 Instead, they and the appropriately mature ladies they pursue are stumbling toward the hopeful promise of a late-life connection, a way to share whatever it is their uncertain future holds. True, in the process they are apt to resurrect adolescent memories….ones they had filed away decades earlier and never expected to revisit. It was that new and altered reality of October/November life that long ago had me setting aside the “romance” label as descriptive of the tales I tell, and settling instead on  “relationship” stories.


 After all, in the course of our lifetime most of us have learned that relationships….whether casual or deeply personal….are the stuff of life. No matter what our age or intent, when relationships work we thrive. Beyond that, for my purposes relationships also make for a good story. 


 Having said that, I find myself face to face with another basic question….why should I be embarrassed about writing about something that everyone can relate to, whether they admit it or not? Would I be more authentic if instead I wrote vampire and zombie tales, spy thrillers or fantasy, or sinister who-dun-its….none of which have ever been part of my life?


 Each of us, based on our own experience, knows how complicated and intimidating the “relationship seeking” process can be. For the October/November friends I depict it is all that and more. 


  They and their world have changed dramatically since their youthful, first-time excursions into that exhilarating territory. Yet, though everything looks different through October eyes, some things remain the same. The world around them may have changed, but my seekers are still looking for the affirmation and hope they craved as teenagers.


Yet, even with a new, more acceptable label, it took a while for me to move beyond the self-induced embarrassment of writing relationship stories….to convince myself that relationship episodes are an elemental part of life….something that everyone understands. 


Granted, not all of our October/November friends who are alone are seeking a new relationship. For many, perhaps even most of those ‘loners,’ the continuing satisfaction of an earlier relationship is enough for them. And who would argue with that?


I, however, choose to focus on those who are still seeking. If I tell it well the resulting story about good people who find themselves alone and hoping for a relationship should be a good read. 


I understand, of course, that fiction is a favored form of escapism. We read a vivid fantasy, a murder mystery, or time-travel adventure to escape the ordinary….a perfectly valid reason. And truth to tell, the real-life relationship stories I tell, may sometimes take the escapist to the very space he or she is hoping to escape. 


In that case, I can probably write off that portion of a potential audience. As for the rest of fiction readers….how many are looking to curl up with an October Years relationship tale that is not on anyone’s best-seller list….especially one that addresses the kind of challenges that may clutter their own late-life space?


Pretty clever of me, eh? Staking my claim in the tiniest sliver of the whole darn market, telling stories that few have ever heard of or considered reading. Thankfully, I’ve learned to live with that, taking my satisfaction from the dozen or so paperbacks on my bookshelf. Still, not everyone agrees with that form of capitulation….as the following scene from the story I called ‘Becoming’ illustrates.



As Jack and I got to know each other better we naturally cultivated a curiosity about each other’s work. One of our earliest conversations about a story of mine took place on a Saturday afternoon at the Terrace, a busy pub not far from the local university. Jack had just finished reading the draft of my first novel-length story and was ready to register his opinion. As I recall it was a three-beer lunch, which may have accounted for his socially incorrect bluntness.

“I’ve read about people who claim they were called to be a writer,” he explained. “But what you’re doing with that calling of yours doesn’t make any sense at all. Of all the things there are to write about, why settle for a love story about old folks? Why not something more ……”

“Something more masculine.” I interjected, completing his thought. “More macho….with lots of action and bad guys, maybe a homicide or two. Stuff like that, eh?”

“Yeah. That’s it. Make your guys younger, with a thing for loose women. Something to hold the reader’s interest. I mean, reading about an old guy and an old gal trying to get it going again, that’s not exactly mainstream is it?”

“You’ve got that right.” I tried to make light of his observation, though it didn’t feel light at all. “The couple publishers who read that story seem to agree on that. They were absolutely unanimous in their disinterest. So what can I say? I'm telling the story I want to tell. That’s all.”

“But why? People read stories to get away from ordinary stuff.” Jack was serious now, wanting me to hear his logic. “Just think about what sells. It’s mysteries and whodunits. It’s tracking down a killer or a cheating husband. It’s about terrorists, and undercover agents who have to find the bad guy before he destroys the world. At the very least there’s a good chase scene. And, of course, some really steamy sex. Then at the end, on the last page, the guy and the lady get together. 

“That’s what real stories are about,” he continued. “About suspense, and action, and mystery. They’re sure as hell not about some seventy-year-old guy deciding that a seventy-year-old lady is his soulmate.”

To be sure, Jack’s objections were not new. My dad had registered those same complaints, although his exact language was a bit more colorful. 

In any case there I was, obsessed with the liberating freedom of telling my stories, even when those same questions intruded from time to time….should I spend my time exploring the low-key relationship tales that flowed so naturally, or should I write the suspenseful action stories that Jack and the Old Man advocated? Of course, there was no evidence to suggest that I could do either one well enough to succeed. But that aside, should I focus on the stories I wanted to tell, or turn to something more commercially viable? 

“Tell me Jack,” I finally asked. “How many homicides and spies have you come across in your lifetime? How many times have you been forced to save the world from destruction?” I did not wait for his answer. “Why would I tell a story like that? It has nothing to do with me.”

“But this stuff of yours is so damn ordinary.” Jack was struggling to understand. For a moment I wondered if he was about to suggest a four-beer lunch. “Why would I want to read about something that’s going on around me every day?”

“Come on," I replied. "This isn’t literature, you know. I’m just telling stories about ordinary people and some of their special times. They don’t always end happily-ever-after, but it feels like they’re real. And most of all, they’re the stories I want to tell.” 

“But can’t you see? They’re 'love' stories for God sakes.” Jack was ready to play his trump card. 

“Women write love stories. Everyone knows that. Besides, real love stories are about young folks. That’s what all those little old ladies want to read about….young love. It’s what they want to remember and dream about. The people in your stories are too damn old.”

About then we fell quiet. All around us the busy pub crowd carried on. The overhead television screens were showing their ball games. Blustery college guys were trying their best to impress anxious college girls. The place was absolutely alive, yet I had managed to bore Jack into silent submission.

“You know,” I finally said, hoping to resurrect our conversation, “I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about this. When that relational stuff happens again at our age some of it must be like the first time around. You do remember that, don’t you….when we were kids and it was all about hormones?”

“Just barely.”

“But the second time around, or maybe the third, is bound to be different. Sure, parts of it may feel like coming-of-age all over again. That’s the ‘geriatric adolescence’ I sometimes mention. But at our age each of those folks brings along all sorts of baggage. They’ve spent a lifetime creating their own experiences, making their own memories. There are probably some highs they’d like to feel again….and some lows they’re hoping to avoid.”

“You mean they’re hoping to get it right this time?” Jack was shaking his head again, certain that he knew better than that. “Do you know the odds of that happening?”

“Come on, those folks aren’t thinking about the odds. They’re looking for something they want.” 

I decided not to ask Jack what qualified him as an expert on “getting things right.” I knew something of his history, enough to render his judgments suspect. “Near as I can tell,” I added. “Lots of folks do have those feelings. If I tell my stories in a believable way, maybe some readers will see something of themselves in what I’m writing.”

“And you know how to do that?” 

“I keep trying. Look, I used to apologize for telling stories no one wanted to read. I’m pretty well over that. I just keep doing what feels right and try to do it better.” 

With that I drained the last of my beer and stalled a bit while Jack, my wage-earning buddy, dug in his wallet for the tip.