Sunday, June 26, 2022

OCTOBER YEARS - can mean Going Poor

October Years - can mean Going Poor

Perhaps it is inborn in us….the way our culture operates. We love to keep score, and often worship our “winners.” Lately, in this challenging period of fiscal uncertainty, it seems that every newspaper, network, and news channel has been analyzing our national spending habits….who is spending how much on what, and which companies are likely to emerge as winners?

Fact is, of course, when you measure any human activity in dollar terms not everyone is going to win….whether at the spending game or anything else. It was that way when we were youngsters. It’s like that today, whether in the world of family or business. In just about every facet of life there are those we identify as winners, and those who seem not to win.

That too is true in the October world of late-life. Many of us have experienced our own age-appropriate forms of “not winning.” Our trials may have arrived in the guise of health, relational, career, or retirement challenges. Whatever the issue, the result was likely to come at a cost….financial or otherwise. It is that potential cost that may prompt our anxiety. Perhaps you have seen the television commercials offering their own dire October question….”Will your nest egg last as long as you?” 

And what place, you might ask, do those gloomy questions have in a blog which claims we can thrive in our 60s and 70s, and even promotes the relational possibilities of October and beyond? More to the point….how does the possibility of financial distress fit into a relational story? 

Without resorting to more complicated reasons, I am willing to settle for the obvious. October poverty, i.e. ‘not winning,’ is the stuff of real life….both the unpromising fact of it and the way it can fuel the urge to have a special someone at our side to help deal with it. With those obstacles in mind I created a story I call Going Poor, and I must admit it is one of my favorites.

I’ve made the point before….our October Years can be an intimidating time. When I started working on Going Poor, with its depiction of poverty’s impact on an October soul, I had already written about relationships impaired by divorce and death, Alzheimer’s and heart disease, stroke and decades of separation. So why not explore yet another all-too-frequent element of October life? Why not take a closer look at poverty? In particular what can happen to an October relationship when it bumps into the harsh realities of Going Poor?

I’m not sure what prompted the story. I suppose it’s a child of our times. We read every day about how many of us are unprepared for retirement, and facing an uncertain, even perilous financial future. Yet, by itself “poverty” is probably more depressing than interesting, not a likely subject for most storytellers. 

But what about the impact of poverty….its effect on the unfortunate October ones who are constrained by the fact of it and forced to live accordingly? Beyond our basic needs for food and shelter perhaps the most crushing impact of financial hardship is on the human psyche….the emotional price we pay for believing that in a culture like ours, where perceived worth is so often a function of dollars, we have not measured up in the ways that we and society expected. What happens to dreams of affirmation and success in the face of late-life poverty? How does it affect self-esteem and willingness to take relational chances? It seemed to me those questions could provide the ingredients for an interesting story. 

Can you imagine, or have you experienced the effects of poverty on a potential relationship? The more I thought about that the more it seemed to me that perhaps no one is more in need of a caring and committed partner than a truly needy person…. someone who seems not to be thriving.

But of course, thriving is a relative term. My “thriving” may strike you as very “unthrivinglike.” (I think I just invented a new word.) True, satisfying relationships can thrive in any home, no matter how modest. Yet poverty and homelessness are bound to threaten permanency, an important element of a safe and secure partnership. Add to that toxic mix doubts of self-worth and one's ability to be a provider, and the promise of a healing relationship moves even further out of reach.

What might that sad state of affairs look like? How must it feel? Of course every situation is different, a unique blend of circumstances. In the following excerpts from Going Poor I depict a nearly broken man’s efforts to deal with the sour hand that life and his own bad choices have dealt him….leaving him poor, with no apparent prospects.

        ~~~ Going Poor - #1 ~~~

Lane Tipton was sixty….tired, and broke….nearly at the end of his rope. Asking for sister Sally’s help was a last resort, but he seemed to have no other choice.

Lane flinched a bit, remembering how much he dreaded those moments when his sister’s questions turned to his unfortunate circumstances. 

“So how are you doing?” Sally asked again. “Have you been working at all? If I remember right the last time you called you were retrieving shopping carts for the Merchants’ Association, and living in someone’s garage.”

“Yeah, I worked myself out of that job.” He was laughing to himself as he switched the phone to his other ear, wondering why she would remember something like that. 

“A place like Medford only has so many shopping carts,” he continued. “It took  me about two weeks to round up the lost and stolen ones, at least the ones I could find. That earned me a few bucks, but then I was out of work again. As for the garage, that worked out pretty well….until I got evicted.”

“You got evicted from a garage? That sounds like a first.”

“I should have seen it coming,” Lane admitted. “Ron had been talking about getting a car for his wife. When he finally did that, there wasn’t room for me and the Honda in the garage. The Honda won out.”

“So where are you staying now? Have you come up with any new answers?”

Lane turned quiet, offering no hint of his normally upbeat banter. It took only seconds for Sally to put her own spin on his silence. For years her brother had endured bad luck and hard times without complaint, relying on his characteristic optimism and an exaggerated bravado to mask the hurt. But now, as his stubborn silence continued, she was inclined to believe there was something different at work this time. 

“Lane. You’ve got to tell me. Does it feel like you’ve run out of options? Is that it?” She paused, wondering how to pry the truth from him. “Come on. I know exactly how that feels. I’ve been there. Remember?”

His reply arrived in a hushed near-whisper, tinged with a hesitant resignation that was unlike him. “Yeah,” he finally admitted. “It kind of feels like I’ve hit the wall. There’s not much work to be had around here. There are a couple dozen guys going after every job that comes up. Truth is, an old fossil like me doesn’t stand much of a chance. 

“The only ones who are hiring are the orchards. They’re pruning this time of year, and looking for young bucks who can run up and down a ladder a hundred miles an hour. I just can’t do that anymore.” He paused, scolding himself for sounding so down in the dumps. Still, he owed her the truth. 

“The thing is,” he continued. “The few shelters in town are turning guys away. They don’t have any more room. There aren’t enough beds to go around. Winter’s coming on and I’m fresh out of ideas.

“So?” Sally voiced her one word question and waited.

“So?” He asked. “What does that mean?”

“It means ‘What are you going to do’? You can’t do nothing, can you?”

Though neither wanted to be the first to put the truth of it into words, each of them understood where their sparse dialogue was leading. Sally understood her brother’s reluctance to admit he was giving up. Yet, if he could not force himself to say what needed saying, she would have to do that herself.

“Listen to me, brother. How many times have I told you that you ought to come back here, back to Tanner. Why not do that now? Stay with me until you get things sorted out. I’ve got room for that. It’s not fancy, but it beats the heck out of staying in some homeless camp out on the Bluffs.”

“Sal, don’t you kid me. You don’t have room for that. You’re still in the same single wide, aren’t you….the one you had at the other park?”

“That’s right.” 

“Which means you don’t have room for another body bouncing around in your trailer. I can’t be imposing on you like that.”

Brother Lane was raising his predictable objections. That was not so surprising. Sally's challenge was to make him listen to reason. “Don’t be silly. You wouldn’t be imposing at all. In fact, I think I’d appreciate some company for a change. I’d probably feel more comfortable having a man around the place. Who knows what kind of guys are poking around here at night?”

“And you expect me to scare them off?” The thought of that had him laughing. “That’s not too likely. Besides, how are you ever going to get acquainted with any of those guys with little brother hanging around.? I might end up scaring off the wrong one.”

“Don’t you fret about that. You won’t find any fellows buzzing around this old girl….at least none that I’d be interested in meeting. That doesn’t bother me at all. Don’t forget. I know very well what the real thing is like. I’ve been there. Why would I ever settle for second best?”

                          ~~~ Going Poor - #2 ~~~

Lane had finally returned to Tanner, moving in with Sally. There, on a cold, drizzly morning he made his way to the downtown Job Market, where eager, strong-backed young men from the neighboring homeless shelters and hillside camps gathered….waiting for the trucks and buses that came from the region's farms and nurseries, looking to hire day-workers. 

“So tell me,” Lane said, turning to the only other fellow waiting in what appeared to be the senior section of the Job Market waiting area. “What are the odds of making a connection here? Is there any work out there for us mature types? I’m standing here in the rain, hoping to make a few bucks before the day is over. I need to do that. It’s been way too long between paychecks.”

“You can see how it works,” the ill-dressed man replied, rubbing his gray-stubbled face and tugging his cap over his ears. “Most of the outfits that come in here are looking for young guys, like that bunch down on the corner.

“Those farms have crops to get in, or plants to tend. They need help and they’re not fussy about age discrimination issues and stuff like that. Those young kids, especially the Mexicans, are hard workers. That’s who they’re looking for. Hell, I’d hire them in a minute if I had work to get done.”

The rain was picking up again, sending the two of them down the wall to the wider overhead awning in front of the fitness center. 

“During the summer,” the fellow continued. “There’s plenty of work for everyone, even us old farts. But now, in the fall, it gets harder. The work has slowed down. The only thing in our favor is a lot of the Hispanics have headed south to California, where there’s more work. Another month or so there won’t be much call for extra help up here. Except for the Christmas tree farms, everyone will be going with a skeleton crew.”

“Does that mean you’ll be going south, like the others?,” Lane asked.

“I don’t know,” his new friend answered. “I’ve done that the last couple years. Mostly because it’s warmer. But the truth is, I’m at the point where my body can’t take that kind of beating year round. I turned sixty-one this summer. Been dealing with bad knees for years. And they’re sure as hell not getting any better.”

“You got a place to stay?” Lane asked. “If you decide to winter here?”

“Yeah, sort of. Another old-timer and I have what we call our Penthouse. We’ve set up a tent, using plastic sheets, against the end of one of the warehouses on the bluff. It’s not pretty, and sure as hell doesn’t meet code. But we stay dry, even half-warm most of the time. That, along with the Mission House shelter, keeps us going when there’s no work.”

~~~~ Going Poor - #3 ~~~

It would have been hard to overestimate Lane’s relief when he found the day job he was hoping for. Perhaps his luck was changing. But what might that newly-minted ‘good luck’ look and feel like?

Climbing the front steps of Sally’s trailer, Lane was home from his first day of Job Market employment. His clothes were soaked, he could not stop shivering, and his back felt like it was on fire. If he actually believed he could hide his distress as he came through the front door, it took about two seconds for his sister to shatter that illusion.

“Are you out of your mind?” she was asking even before he closed the door behind him. “You’ll catch your death of cold. More likely pneumonia. What were you thinking, working out in the rain on a day like this?” 

In no time at all Lane’s jacket, shirt, and tee shirt were deposited in a soggy pile just inside the door. When Sally turned on the stove-top burner to warm some water for instant coffee, he was there beside her, holding his hands over the propane flame. 

Then, from deep in his pants pocket he produced four twenty-dollar bills, a bit damp, but none the worse for wear. “This is what I was doing, Sis,” he said as he carefully spread the bills across the counter top. “I’m getting back in the game. Paying my own way for a change. At least part of it.”

“And for that you’re willing to ruin your health? What kind of deal is that? Where is your good sense?”

“I’m not ‘ruining’ anything. I’m just fine. After a hot, soaky shower I’ll be good as new.” 

Sally had gathered his wet clothes and carried them down the hallway, where the stacked washer and dryer units were wedged into a narrow cubicle.

“Now get your shoes and pants off.” She was resorting to her command mode. “And get in the shower before I use all the hot water washing your things.”

She looked up to find Lane still standing beside the stove, making no effort to remove his shoes. Before she could prod him into action, he was asking for a favor.

“Do you suppose you could pull my shoes off?” he asked timidly. “I don’t think I can reach them. Even if I got down there, I probably couldn’t straighten up again.”

Why had she not noticed sooner? Seconds later, on her knees, Sally was still in a scolding mood as she untied his shoes and pulled off his wet socks. “You are out of your mind. When will you realize that you’re not a kid any more? It makes no sense at all, wrecking yourself like this for a few dollars.”

Taking her arm, Lane helped her to her feet. “Sis, I told you before….I need to do my part. That means bringing home some dollars. It’s not that much, but at least it’s something.”

“But, you don’t have to.......” Before she could finish her complaint Lane’s hand was clamped firmly over her mouth.

“Don’t you give me that,” he growled. “I got wet and cold today, because I wasn’t dressed for the weather. That’s what made my back tighten up on me. And it’s still messed up. But once I get a hot shower and a little rest I’ll be fine. Then I need to round up some rain gear for tomorrow. I’ll do that after.......”

Tomorrow?” It was Sally’s turn to interrupt. “Are you crazy? I’ll bet you won’t be able to get out of bed in the morning.”

“Yes I will. I have to.” He unbuckled his belt and lifted his foot to let her pull off his pants. “By then I’ll be good as new.”

I must admit, it was an interesting process, creating a relational story, actually two of them, from such unpromising fabric. Fact is, stories like that….sad reflections of the times we live in….are being played out all around us every day. The challenge was to focus on the inconspicuous possibilities hidden among the makings of a potential tragedy. I hope you’ll take time to check it out.


Saturday, June 18, 2022

Beware, IT is lurking in the shadows, waiting to impose it's will


   I have made the point before. Our October Years are a time of change. Just think how crazy it gets sometimes. Is this what we imagined when we first looked forward to the expected calm and quiet     our so-called Golden Years? 

For years, even decades, you and I looked ahead, thinking a little or a lot about these late-life retirement years. I hope the reality you are now living matches the dreams you dreamed….though of course, we know it’s not that way for everyone. And too, even if so far you are among the fortunate ones, there is always the chance of being blindsided by some innocent-appearing event you had never considered a threat to your peace or sanity. 

A few years ago I would have been willing to count Roma and myself among the lucky ones. At that point we were as healthy as seventy-eight year olds had a right to expect. Our offspring were doing well and our modest retirement seemed both satisfying and secure. By all accounts life had been good to us. At least that’s the way it looked, until IT raised it’s ugly head.

Perhaps like you, we had spent a lifetime accumulating “stuff”….all matter of “stuff.” We had boxes of things that at some time in the past we just couldn’t do without. There were reminders of family times and growing children, mementos of special events and places. Year by year we had wrapped ourselves in bits and pieces of our own history, filling our closets and corners with evidence of whom we had been, where we had gone, and what we had done. There were times when our home groaned under the weight of stuff. On a couple occasions it even spilled out into a rented storage space. 

But so what? Did it really matter? Truth to tell, it was all well and good until IT happened. By then there was no avoiding what came next. The signs were everywhere. It was time for us to slow down a bit, to shift to a lower gear. 

That happens, you know. It’s like that for lots of October folks….that time of life when the big house and all that goes with it is too much to deal with any longer. Some folks will decide to relocate, perhaps finding retirement more appealing in a Sun Belt location. For others it may be the reality of health issues or October economics that dictates a change. Whatever the reason that time for IT will come for most folks….the time to DOWNSIZE

At first blush we may actually look forward to the process, with its promise of blessed freedom…. liberation from so much stuff. The reality, however, can be something very different. As always, it is about choices. We had made the first of our choices at some earlier time, when we decided to keep those mementos and reminders, the things that seemed worth saving. As we downsize we face a new round of choices….what to keep, what to let go. 

The gist of it is simple enough. For whatever reason you have decided to make-do with less, to part with some portion of your carefully accumulated treasures. But which of those are you willing to do without? There are so many of them….each one with its own special meaning to one or both of you. Which of your memories are disposable? What are you willing to give away?  And who gets to make those choices? Finally, what if the two of you don’t agree on the fate of some special thing?

Though Roma and I are veterans, perhaps “survivors” is a better word, of that trying process, rather than bore you with our own mundane experience I’d like to offer a couple story excerpts that depict my take on two very different sorts of downsizing.

First, in Breathing Underwater, the Camdens are contemplating the need to move to a smaller, less expensive home….which will necessarily mean getting by with less space.

At that moment Jim and Anita Camden were sitting on folding chairs in the middle of their two-car garage. The car had been moved outside to make room for their work. Around them, on both sides of the open room, long shelves held an eclectic assortment of cardboard boxes, each one a repository of some bit of their personal histories, the remnants of forty-nine years together….of the two of them as newly-weds, the satisfying family years, raising Larry and Ann in their comfortable Tanner home, and finally the empty-nest years that had led to their present quandary. 

They were effectively surrounded by their own past. As always it would be about choices, Jim reminded himself….suddenly captured by that insight. The persons they had become and the lives they had created were the results of choices made along the way. Now, awash in the unexpected anxiety that accompanies a financially necessary change, they were about to come face to face with stark reminders of that past.

Each of those boxes contained the evidence of earlier choices….reminders of once-special times that he or she had thought important enough to transport into their future. As they prepared to revisit decisions made for reasons they perhaps did not remember, they sensed the ghostly presence of times past.

The task itself, as Jim had explained, was simple enough. It would involve a new round of choices….deciding what to keep, what the children wanted, what to give away, and what to consign to the trash barrel. It would take a while, but it was time to begin….at least until Jim watched his wife’s head sink into her cradling hands.

“How can we do this?” Anita whimpered. “We ought to keep it all. Every bit of it is important. It was then, and it still is.”

It was not a time to be debating the logic of what must be done. He knew better than that. Instead, it was time for kid gloves and going slow, allowing her to proceed at her own naturally-reserved pace.

On the other hand, the story Best Friends and Promises illustrates a very different sort of downsizing. Aaron Peck’s wife has been moved to an Alzheimer’s ward and the big house must be sold to pay for her care. Again, it was about choices….choices he must make for the two of them---choices he wished he could avoid.

In early March the house on Elm Street, their home for forty-eight years, was sold. For Aaron the troublesome process of selling….meetings with the realtor, leaving the house when it was being shown, the final round of paperwork…. triggered a renewed sense of loss. 

For days he sorted and packed, urging their daughters to select the mementos they wanted for themselves. In the end he avoided the weekend garage sale they held to dispose of the remaining items. It was more than Aaron was willing to bear, watching the remnants of a lifetime with Leona being sold off as casual collectibles to unknowing strangers.

Finally the dreaded day came. The home where their life together had been lived belonged to strangers. The girls went back to Portland and Aaron sat alone in the cramped living room of his Samson Street apartment, mourning the loss of what had always been their home, and the reasons that had made it necessary.

Downsizing….some of us will choose to avoid those trials and all that goes with them by doing nothing, leaving family and friends to deal with that after they are gone. For the rest of us the process will be a bitter-sweet visit to earlier times ….a return that is bound to include hard choices and occasional regret.

Finally, if you know someone who is or might be facing their own downsizing challenge you might pass this post on to them. Perhaps they need to know that even though the choices will be hard, and they may not agree about what is worth saving….once they are done the remaining doubts they feel are quite normal. In the end it is a matter of life-balance….one way or another we are destined to part with all that stuff we have saved to remind us of what once was.

Wednesday, June 8, 2022



I will admit it……I have time on my hands these days. Over the past couple weeks I have invested a few hours rereading my October Years Blog Compilation - Volume 1 …….visiting earlier posts to this blog site.

What follows is a post from several years back that I still find rather thought provoking……. something that might make sense to any age group, but seems especially relevant for October Years readers.

I would appreciate your thoughts on this look into the notion of Soulmates. What do you think…..does it ring true to you?

Remember When (LINK)

A Soulmate? Are You Sure?

The rains have returned and a brisk October wind is blowing leaves past my window. I won’t be working outside this afternoon, so why not settle back in the recliner and let the recurring stream of pleasant thoughts have their way with me? You can chalk up today’s post as unadulterated self-indulgence. As I say in the heading, this is a “writer’s blog.”

For some of us it ranks high on our list of October perks---these unstructured, sometimes nostalgic visits to. our personal well-remembered good times, hoping to recapture the ethereal essence that made them so memorable in the first place. 

‘Fess up now, you’ve been there too, haven’t you? When it feels like you are visiting an old friend, or reconnecting to a special time spent with your children and grandchildren, the ones you watched as they grew into the persons they have become. 

In the moments when I return to the “writer” side of me, I must confess to doses of that same “feel-good” comfort when I close my eyes and revisit any one of my Tanner Chronicle stories. 

After all, these tales are the offspring of my imagination, that indefinable something we sometimes wish we could hide from, but never can. From that murky reservoir of dated, but never-outgrown highs and lows I have birthed each of those stories---sending my fictional friends off to live out the path they choose, sometimes pulling me along in ways I never expected, toward outcomes I had not foreseen. The results are almost always different than what I originally had in mind, leaving an unsuspecting October dreamer like me to wonder---where did this twist or that one come from?

For instance, imbedded in Long Way Home, the second half of a two-book story that begins with Second Chances, Clint Harris finds himself taking an unexpected, but intriguing side trip---a long-awaited visit with the woman he thinks might be his “soulmate.” 

Like you, I had read about “soulmates.” Though I suppose the term means different things to different people, the basic idea is probably the same---that there is someone out there with whom you are paired in some mysterious, predestined way

In Clint’s case, the lure of a soulmate is actually a fall-back situation, a way out when there seem to be no other options. He had lost his wife years before. The lady he hoped might fill that void has apparently taken up with his rival---Fat Tom Berry.

From a writer’s standpoint it would have been awkward, so late in the story, to introduce a new female character who’s only purpose for being there was to provide Clint with another round of relational failure. So instead I have him considering a possibility that at least some of us can imagine and perhaps even relate to---meeting again after sixty-some years the person who first stirred those emotional fires---the one who might be his “soulmate.” 

It begins as a mind game---as it would for any of us---an angst-driven return to the memory of a special adolescent moment, one he had carried somewhere in the back of his mind for his entire adult life. 

Though he could not know it at the time the impact of that incident on a young Clint Harris had been indelible---a brief, emotion-packed taste of how the affirmation he longed for ought to feel---providing a relational baseline he had never outgrown.

Now, deep in his October Years, yearning for what he apparently cannot have, he returns to what-might-have-been. In spite of his doubts he wants to believe that long ago “soulmate” could be the answer to his emptiness. With each swallow, his whiskey-propelled remembering of whom “she” had been sixty years before grows more persuasive. Finally, after enough swallows, he finds the courage to plan a much-belated reunion.

So there I was, sitting at the computer as I composed Clint Harris’ story---sifting through bit and pieces of my own youthful history, gathering snippets from which to assemble a rationale for the feelings I wanted him to feel. 

I wanted to imagine how it would feel to be caught up in that disorienting mind-drama so late in life. Before long I was wondering if they are real, those soulmates I was writing about. If so, did that mean the sweet lady who has been at my side for more than sixty-five years was intended from the beginning to be there? Was that the Big Guy’s plan for us from the start---a pairing of soulmates? 

Of course, in the fictional setting I had created I was also dealing with other, more practical questions. Their stories---both Clint’s and his potential soulmate’s---had to provide some explanation of how a chance connection made sixty years earlier could have survived to become a possible “second chance.” 

What had there been about their first encounter, so brief and noncommittal, that now made her soulmate material? If it had been meant to be, if they had really been soulmates, why hadn’t it happened the first time?

Without dwelling on the outcome of Clint’s soulmate adventure, let me take a moment to turn from the ethereal realm of literary construction to a more personal real-life look at how each of us---you, me, and everyone---deals with our own unique set of adolescent lessons. 

How was it for you? Were those “first time” experiences, the ones that felt so real in the moment, simply discarded and erased from your memory? Or did they, in some form---real or imagined---find a permanent home in some far corner of your mind? 

And if so, have they played any role in your becoming the person you are? Were they an important part of that process, or simply a bit of excess baggage you could have just as well unloaded? 

Finally, having imagined the story of Clint Harris’ return to his roots, hoping to find his soulmate, I was left to put those conflicting elements on paper, a paragraph at a time. 

In truth I approached that process with a degree of timidity---proceeding with the certain knowledge that once finished, as I always do I would be asking my own soulmate to read and critique my stumbling description of a time before we met, when perhaps an earlier soulmate candidate had crossed my path. 

Since then I have walked that slightly intimidating path again and again---every time the “Her” in my life reads one of my ten Tanner Chronicle stories---ones that by their very nature have included my personal interpretations of the “mind matter” I have gathered and stored away over the years. 

Truth is, it’s not something we normally talk about. Yet by the time she had finished reading my “soulmate” explanation I was accepting her willingness to be part of the process as the ultimate endorsement of our shared history.

So what is your take on the cache of “mind clutter” you have stored away over the years---be it “soulmate” related or other “becoming” recollections? Does any of that matter at all? Is it simply the stuff of an overactive imagination? (To which I plead guilty.) Or is it an acceptable way of recalling what we are sometimes unable to put into words? I would appreciate hearing your thoughts.