SUNSHINE, SPRING TRAINING AND SURVIVAL

The missing Harold mystery, Rich Paschall

George and his ever talkative wife Martha had just about enough of the Midwest winter. They were tired of snow,  tired of cold. At close-to-retirement age, they were just plain tired. When another cold night forced them to stay at home rather than visit a favorite neighborhood stop, they realized there was only one thing which could pull them through to warmer weather. Baseball! Right then and there, they began to talk about a trip to sunny Florida for a round of spring training games.

A year before, they had traveled to Florida on a rare road trip to see the Chicago Cubs play. The Cubs lost, of course, but they deemed the trip a success. They had visited a ball park other than Wrigley Field, spent a day at the beach, and wandered through town to do some typical tourist shopping. They had some very hot days, but did not suffer the kind of stifling humidity Lake Michigan can serve up in July. Now, in March, they were ready to go south again.

Always sunny Florida?
Always sunny Florida?

George sat down with spring schedules to see what teams would be playing, so that he could  find the best matches for the days they could go to Florida. Martha researched the ball parks themselves and the surrounding night spots on the internet. When they had chosen a few games they might like to see, they looked at hotels, air fares and rental cars. After a full night of debate and delay, they made their choices.

They would return to the familiar spots of St. Petersburg. From there they could go to Tampa to see the Yankees, then down to Bradenton to catch the Pirates and from there to Sarasota to see the Orioles.

Unlike the famous George and Martha of Broadway play and movie fame, this couple rarely had arguments. In fact, they were in agreement on just about anything that meant parties and good times. When almost all of their arrangements were in place, and they were congratulating themselves on another “road trip extraordinaire”, Martha had one more good idea. Of course, the good idea may have been fueled by the German beer she had been drinking all night, but it was an interesting idea, nonetheless.

“Why don’t we call old Harold for the game in Bradenton or Sarasota?” Martha blurted out as if her head had been hit by a rock and she was stunned silly.

“Harold!” George shouted with glee. “That’s a wonderful idea. The old boy probably needs a road trip anyway. Let’s give lucky old Harold a call.”

While Martha dutifully looked for Harold’s phone number, George wondered why the little tapper of Dortmunder beer had run dry. “I am headed to the basement, ” George called out. “I have to find another one of these big cans of beer. You killed the last one.”

“I did no such thing, George,” Martha lied.

When the twosome finally met back at the kitchen table, each was carrying the object of their search. “Well dial the phone and hand it over, old woman,” George said with a laugh.

“I am not as old as you, wise guy,” Martha said as she handed over the phone. Both began to giggle and laugh like school kids up to no good. The phone rang away as the couple talked on until George finally realized there must have been at least 20 rings. He hung up.

“I can not imagine that Harold is not home at this hour. He was never out late.” It was true, of course. In all his life Harold was rarely out at night, and since he retired and moved to Florida, he was always home by dark.

“He’s probably sleeping, you nit wit,” Martha declared. “Let’s give him another try tomorrow.” And so they did. In fact, they called for several days in a row and at different times of day, but Harold never answered. When the day of the trip arrived, Harold was not part of the plan.

Undeterred by their lack of success at lining up Harold for a game, they resolved to try him again once they landed at the Florida airport. They departed from Chicago’s Midway airport. Unbelievably, it was once the busiest airport in the country, but that was before the jet age. Now the crowded airport just seemed like the busiest airport. St. Petersburg airport, on the other hand, was in stark contrast, even for spring training. The crowd was small and the rental car line was short. The couple got their car, got to their hotel, and got on the phone. Still, there was no Harold.

“I hope the old guy is OK,” Martha said, finally voicing more than a bit of concern.

“Sure, Harold is just fine,” George insisted. “He is probably at some nice restaurant right now being fussed over by some cute waitresses. Don’t worry.”

At that very moment Harold was being fussed over by some weary nurses at the Intensive Care Unit of the county hospital. This trip, the retired planner from the Midwest was going to miss the endlessly talkative George and Martha.

Note:  The next Harold story appears in 3 short weeks.

MISSING MONDAY – RICH PASCHALL

In Need of a Plan, Rich Paschall, Sunday Night Blog

Bill rolled over to take a look at the alarm clock. It was almost 8:30 so he decided to spring into action. He never set the alarm clock. He saw no need. He was retired and had always longed for the time when the alarm clock was not to be used to alarm him out of his sleep. Some days he got up by 7:30 am, other days it was 10. It depended largely on how late he stayed up reading or watching television.

Since he needed to make a call at 9 am, the affable retiree rushed about the house in a rather disorderly fashion, leaving a bit of a mess in his wake. That did not bother him as there would be plenty of time later to clean up the place. Now he was making coffee and giving just the slightest thought as to what he would buy today at the supermarket.

The only thing Bill tried to be punctual at all week was the Monday call to his neighbor, Harold, who lived just a few doors down. The way Bill saw it, old Harold probably relied on the weekly call.

The Midwest planner from down the block seemed to know no one and had little contact with the world. Bill was convinced he was doing Harold a big favor. He did not know exactly how Harold felt about the weekly sojourn to the giant Publix supermarket, however. It must have been a Monday highlight for the newly retired neighbor and new friend.

A very quiet neighborhood
The quiet neighborhood

A quick glance out the window revealed a perfect Florida morning. Bill loved this area of Florida. In honesty, he settled there because the property values were quite depressed in Sarasota County after the big recession, and he got a good deal in a good neighborhood of old timers, like himself.

Now it was time to help out an old guy who needed a friend, so he called Harold on his AARP phone and waited for his tentative voice to respond. Bill was quite amused as he thought of the same surprised tone Harold had each Monday morning when he answered the phone.

Much to the amazement of Bill, there was no response. He let the phone ring a long time before giving up. “I wonder what the old guy is up to this morning,” Bill thought. So he decided to wander down the street and ring Harold’s doorbell.

As he went up the steps to the front door, a voice called out. “You ain’t gonna find no body at home, young man,” Harold’s next door neighbor called out as Bill chuckled to himself. Not too many people referred to him as “young man.” In fact, no one did. He turned around and walked in the direction of a woman who did seem to be a lot older than Bill or Harold.

Mabel Crockett was well into her eighties but still rather spry. She kept up on the neighbors by frequently finding an excuse to do things around the outside of the house. It was unnecessary as there was an Association to deal with maintenance and yard work, but she liked checking up on things.

“So where is old Harold this morning?” Bill asked in a cheery tone.

“They carted him off pretty early, I reckon,” Mabel said in a deep southern drawl.

“What?” an astounded Bill exclaimed.
“Well I ain’t one to meddle in other folks’ affairs,” she lied, “but I seen that Sunday paper still settin’ there on that landing he calls a porch, so I just took a walk over there. In the back I could see he was, uh, just layin’ there on the ground in that screened in patio. So I went on home, dialed 911, and it’s a good thing.”

“Good thing?” Bill questioned.

“Why, he was still breathin’ when they loaded him into that big ol’ ambulance. Leastwise, I think he was still breathing. The young feller drivin’ that big vehicle said he still seemed kinda fresh.”

“Fresh?  That seems a strange way to put it,” Bill said with a rather incredulous tone.

“Well, I guess it was because he couldn’t a been layin’ there too long. Anyways, they said they was taking him over to the general hospital. Right over here a piece,” she said pointing to the south.

“Oh my,” Bill responded with a great deal of concern. He said good-bye to the old woman and rushed to his car.

72-StPete-Pelican_2When he arrived at the general hospital, he went right to the emergency room and inquired about Harold. His questions only got questions in return. “What time did he arrive? What was the problem? Did he come by ambulance or did someone bring him?” Finally, the lady without the answers invited him to take a seat and someone would come out shortly. By “shortly” she must have meant an hour.

After the long wait, a nurse with a clipboard in hand appeared. “Are you here about the elderly gentlemen who had a stroke?”

“Stroke!” Bill exclaimed as he got all choked up about someone he barely knew.

“Yes,” she said calmly. “Are you the next of kin?”

“No.”

“A relative perhaps?”

“No.”

“Do you know who is next of kin or related somehow?”

“No.”

“Do you know who his doctor is?”

The series of questions went on until Bill finally explained that he was just a neighbor. In fact, Bill did not even know Harold’s last name.  The nurse looked disappointed but thanked Bill anyway and went back to her station. Bill followed.

“Excuse me, nurse, will I be able to see him?” Bill inquired.

“No, only immediate family,” she explained.

“But we don’t know if he has immediate family,” Bill said with a sense of urgency.

“I’m sorry,” she said as if she has had to say that a thousand times before.

As he left the hospital Bill realized that the master planner from the Midwest had no plan for this. Although Bill rarely planned anything, he decided he better go home and make one.

Note:  The next “Harold story” appears in two weeks.

RETIREMENT IS SERIOUS BUSINESS

I stopped working more than five years ago. I was too sick to keep going and I was old enough so the market for my services was drying up.

I started getting disability almost 2 years after I was physically unable to work. It turned out my monthly disability check was less than a week’s pay as a working person. I tried intermittently for several years to find part-time work that might bring in a bit of money. So life wouldn’t be so difficult.

Nothing lasted long. More to the point, I didn’t last long. I hurt. I was exhausted. I worked more slowly than I did in the past. Finally, I gave up. I was 61.

96-Rockers-NK

Garry had stopped working too. There were a lots of adjustments to make. On the psychological side, we had to learn to be retired. The world is different when you don’t have a job to define your weeks and days. I had worked at home a lot over the years, so it was not as abrupt a shift for me as it was for Garry. Eventually we slipped comfortably into not-working.

The financial part was — continues to be — challenging. The mortgage had to be lowered or we’d lose the house. Somehow, we got it done. Both of us had no health insurance for more than a year. Me for more than two, during which interval, I nearly died. Because no one would repair me without insurance. Eventually, I lucked into a doctor and a hospital who cared more for my life than my lack of insurance. I’m alive to write this only because of them.

We kept cutting back and cutting back. Last spring, our outgo and income became equal. Exactly. Assuming nothing outside programmed expenses ever occurs, we have the same amount of money as month. Which is absurd. Life is full of expensive surprises. Cars break. Pipes leak. Wells go dry. Appliances wear out. Dogs get sick. Meanwhile, fixed incomes have less and less buying power as inflation eats away at them.

I got sick. A lot. Big time. One nearly dying event was apparently not enough for me. I had to repeat it a couple more times, to make sure I got it right. Then there was breast cancer. Two cancers, one for each breast. I thought, having got through that, I’d earned a reprieve. Sadly, life doesn’t work that way. Life doesn’t let you “pay it forward.”

This year, it was my heart. Five surgeries later, I’m back. Blogging my remodeled, rebuilt heart out.

The other day, I received an invitation from a well-known, quite prestigious website to become a contributing editor. This would require I write two posts a month, minimum. Really, they’d like at least one a week or more.

Serendipity is a personal blog. I write about my life, memories, experiences, thoughts. Occasionally, I put up an issue-oriented piece. The other site is more about issues and news. More impersonal, less anecdotal. A lot of politics. Government. Current events.

The point — for me — of taking on this other writing role would be to have a forum where I could post about different stuff, the stuff I avoid on Serendipity. The thing is, I’m not sure I want another forum. Or need one. Even though I’m flattered. It’s so hard to say “no” when the compliments are flying thick and fast.

Nonetheless, I take retirement seriously. I don’t work, don’t search for work. If I get a nibble (because my résumé is out there and headhunters find it), I have (finally) learned to say “no thank you.” My survival is predicated on not working. Not having deadlines. Keeping my anxiety level low. If I take it easy — low-key, low stress — I can have a pretty pleasant life. No money to spend, but otherwise nice enough. Do I want more responsibility? Can I handle it? I thought I had decided “yes,” but I find myself wavering.

These days, I take retirement seriously. As seriously as I ever took any job at which I worked for pay. It takes dedication to do retirement properly.

ALL GROWN UP? A FIXED INCOME AND WHITE HAIR OFFERS A CLUE

I knew I wasn’t a kid anymore when my hair turned white. I am officially as grown up as grown up can be. When you are getting pensions and social security checks and living on them, that’s probably a pretty sure sign maturity has arrived. You think, probie?

Marilyn and Garry by Bette Stevens
Marilyn and Garry by Bette Stevens

Personal mistakes, unfortunate turns in the road, bumps that are painful, even frightening? Normal stuff. Regrettable, but since no one can go back and fix what already happened, let it be. It is what it is, was, and will be.

Planning is a fool’s game. We planned to be young and healthy forever. Look how well that worked out. Well, maybe it did work out … finally. Not the way we planned it, but not so terrible, either.

Now we are in our retirement years and there are rewards. Freedom is the big one. No one can order you around. No one holds you to a deadline. You go to bed and get up on your own schedule. You do everything on your own schedule. If you don’t have a job, one day is like another. Weekends take me by surprise.

If you are in a good marriage, you finally have time to enjoy each other. You get to know your grandchildren. You read, watch movies, pursue hobbies, pet your dogs.

We worked hard, played hard, so our memories are a treasure trove. We did just about everything we seriously wanted to do. Hopefully, we have a few surprises yet to come. Good surprises, please.

I wish we’d been smarter about money. We thought we were being smart. We did what we thought we were supposed to do. It just didn’t work out as planned. What made perfect sense 20 years ago doesn’t make sense today. We didn’t fully grasp that pension amounts stay the same, though the cost of living continues to rise. The meaning of “fixed income” hadn’t really grabbed hold. It surely has now.

Looking backward … we had a great deal of fun. Individually and together. We still have fun. We just need to fit the fun into a tight budget, taking into account arthritic bodies and limited energy.

Few regrets and great memories. We didn’t do everything, but we did a lot. More than most. We made our share of unfortunate — even stupid — choices, but we didn’t chicken out. If life were a movie, we would be on schedule for a previously unknown but fabulously rich relative to pass away leaving us gazillions of dollars and a mansion on a cliff in Ireland. Pity a Hollywood scriptwriter isn’t writing our lives. A Hollywood ending would be a nice touch.

So, about that growing up thing? We grew up. And survived the experience.

In the deathless words and music of Edith Piaf, I would like to say this about that: Non, je ne regrette rien ... or at least, not much.

DAILY PROMPT: ALL GROWN UP

HARK! THE HAROLD CHRISTMAS RINGS

A SUNNY FLORIDA HOLIDAY, By RICH PASCHALL

It was the Sunday before Christmas and all through the house the only creature that was stirring was Harold, the well-organized man from the Midwest. Harold had retired and moved to the beautiful and somewhat peaceful community on the gulf coast side of Florida. There he carried out his days according to the perfect retirement schedule. Everyday had a purpose, and Harold executed the day as if he was the sole architect of the universe. Sometimes the universe cooperated.

72-St Pete_4

On this beautiful Sunday morning the Oracle of Organization marched to the front door to collect his newspaper as always. As he stepped out onto the small cement landing he called a porch, Harold discovered that the weather was already warm and delightful. The 7 am temperature already hit the mid 70s. Harold just knew the day would be everything he planned when he reached retirement and moved from a snowbound city to a place where he would never shovel snow again.

He took in the pleasant atmosphere for a moment before seeking the paper. “He missed the porch again,” Harold said to himself referring to the “paper boy,” who was actually a hard-working college student. He then went to the walkway to retrieve the local news and sports.  He did not mind this time as the weather was better than can be expected in late December, even for Florida.

When Harold finished his breakfast, his coffee and his local news, he was preparing himself for a thorough cleaning of the apartment that was already cleaner than anything you have ever seen. It was the Sultan of Sanitation’s normal Sunday routine and even a sunny day with a deep blue sky would not deter Harold from his appointed rounds about the apartment.

As he gathered up his cleaning supplies and retrieved the vacuum from it storage room, the phone began to ring. Harold was quite surprised as few people had his phone number and the device rarely rang. He could not imagine that marketers would disrupt a Sunday with their meaningless calls. “Perhaps it is Bill,” he thought. Bill only called on Mondays to make a joint venture to the supermarket, so the ringing was totally out of character for a Sunday. Reluctantly, Harold went to the phone.

“Hello?” Harold said as if asking a question.

“Hello, Harold, it’s George.”

“George?” Harold said, unsure of the voice at the other end.

“Yes, George. You know, your former colleague.”

With that clarification Harold could place the voice. When he was the chief mechanical engineer at a Midwest manufacturing plant, Harold worked with George. He had even run into him in St. Petersburg when he went to a baseball game. He could not imagine ever hearing from George again.

“Well, George, what can I do for you?” Harold replied in a rather business like way.

“Do for me?  Why, nothing Harold. Martha and I just thought we should call and wish you a Merry Christmas.”

“Really?” Harold said rather incredulously.

“Of course,” George said with a laugh. “We just wanted you to know we were thinking about you and want to wish you a Merry Christmas.”

“Well, uh, that’s so nice, George. Merry Christmas to you too.”

“Perhaps we will run into you again on our next trip to Florida. Take care, you lucky retired guy.”

“Thanks, I will” and at that George hung up. There had been no phone calls on Harold’s Sunday itinerary but he was glad for this one.

As the week wore on, Harold wished a very Merry Christmas to the few people he encountered. On Monday, he wished his neighbor, Bill, and all the folks working at the supermarket a Merry Christmas.  The same happened Tuesday when he went into town.

On Wednesday, it was Christmas Eve. Harold saw no reason to vary his schedule and at the appointed hour, he headed out to the Wild West Restaurant and Sports Bar. He greeted everyone with a “Merry Christmas” or “Happy Holidays.” As usual, the crowd shouted out to Harold, but they were surprised when the normally reserved retiree from the North answered with robust greetings.

To add to the Christmas joy, Harold’s favorite waitress, Tiffany, was on hand to serve up the soup and sandwich special. “Harold, you are in a festive mood,” she told him when she came to take his order. Harold beamed as he had never done before.

When Harold was ready to leave, Tiffany rushed over and gave Harold a big hug. “Merry Christmas, Harold, it is so good to see you in such a joyous spirit.”

Harold did not know how to respond. He was unaccustomed to such a show of affection. He stood there with a rather embarrassed look as he tried to collect himself.

“Thanks,” Harold said sheepishly. “I am glad to be here on Christmas Eve.” At that he waved to the staff and they all shouted holiday greetings in return. Harold marched out of the restaurant and into the warm Christmas Eve afternoon with the biggest smile Harold had in many years.

For Harold, a short phone call from a former colleague just days before Christmas brightened his mood for the entire week and was the best gift he had received in many years.

WITH GRATITUDE – AND ABOUT THE WELL

Feeling Fancy — You’re given unlimited funds to plan one day full of any and all luxuries you normally can’t afford. Tell us about your extravagant day with as much detail as possible.


Raining
Raining

It’s such a dreary, drippy day. I think it will be teeming soon enough. That’s what the forecast calls for. Almost 3 inches of rain today and flash flood warnings throughout the Valley.

At least it isn’t as cold as yesterday, or all the stuff falling out of the sky would be snow and sleet. It’s dark, too. I keep turning lights on, but it doesn’t feel bright enough. And my head hurts. I blame it on the weather.

I blame everything on the weather. The weather can’t argue back.

It is hard for me to imagine spending unlimited funds on myself for any reason. It has been a long time since I saw money and didn’t think “bills need to be paid.” That’s life in the slow lane, life since retirement, since the paychecks were replaced by pensions and Social Security.

So many things which were yearned-for luxuries have no place in today’s world. Not that long ago, a “spa day” sounded great. Now, it sounds like a long drive through heavy traffic, somebody poking at me, followed by a long ride home. I haven’t had my hair professionally cut in more than a year. Not because there are no hairdressers to whom I could go. It’s that I don’t trust anyone near my head with a pair of shears.

I wouldn’t mind a pedicure, though. That would be nice. I can do that locally. Get my eyebrows waxed. How about dinner at our favorite Japanese restaurant? Get the car detailed so it looks good and smells fresh?

72-Heron_137

If we are going to go all out, how about a chair lift so we can stop hauling our reluctant bodies up the stairs? And a pair of senior scooters plus a car-carrier so we can take them with us? That would make life a lot more fun!

Maybe a contractor to fix the stuff that needs updating, replacing, repairing, restoring. Not an overhaul. A coat of paint. New vinyl in kitchens and bath, carpeting in bedrooms. Give the old place a face lift. Since you asked.

I don’t brood on this stuff. We manage. We’re not suffering, though we aren’t getting younger or more spry. But who is?

december bouquet

We have a lot more than many others, so rather than yearning for what we lack, I’d rather dwell on how lucky we are.

It has been an amazing year. I’m alive! That’s a good starting point!

ABOUT THE WELL

With your help, we have a well. Water flowing from the taps. The project is not quite completed. We still lack the well’s top. Probably not going to get that done until spring. But everything else is finished.

The well is working. We have water pressure. Water from the taps is icy cold and crystal clear. It means we can continue living in this beautiful valley of rivers and dams, beavers, ducks, and herons.

So this is a good time to be glad. Christmas is rolling around and I’m here to celebrate. Grateful to have friends who care. Family. And so happy we have each other.

That’s huge. Come to think of it, I’ve got plenty!

NEVER BEEN BIG ON BINGO

So, the Great Minds of WordPress asked: “What’s the longest stretch you’ve ever pulled off of posting daily to your blog? What did you learn about blogging through that achievement, and what made you break the streak?”

Well, now that’s a fine question. I was reading CHRONICLES OF AN ANGLO SWISS and realized while I was answering her, I was writing the whole answer (more or less), so really, she was my morning’s inspiration. That and discovering the new little Shark rechargeable vacuum cleaner I bought really picks up the dog hair. I was dubious about their claims, but by golly, this little machine has balls!

Shark Bagless Navigator

I digress and apologize. It’s hard to keep on point this early in the day. Well, maybe it isn’t all that early. Never mind. I need more caffeine before I can properly focus on being witty.

First of all, blogging is my current profession.

Otherwise, life as a senior citizen is 24/7 tech support to family, friends, and sometimes random strangers. I admit, I get a buzz when the young whippersnappers ask for my help because they don’t know anything about their computers except how to turn them on and off. Oh, they also know how to plug them in. They grasp the finer points of supplying electricity and charging batteries, but that’s as far as they can go.

I don’t know exactly when I started daily posting. More than two years ago. It’s not a statistic WordPress provides. My streak was rudely interrupted by a vacation at a Cape Cod dump where WiFi didn’t work. While I was in the hospital, I had to send in substitute authors while I did a little pas de deux with death. I was very lucky that Garry and Rich were there for me or this blog would probably have died, even if I didn’t.

It turned out, Garry got better stats than me, which is embarrassing. What a guy. He didn’t let popularity go to his head , which might have something to do with other prizes he won over the years. I think he only counts success if it comes with a statuette or plaque.

There I go, digressing again.

In any case, the moment I could write, Garry retired. My husband is a noble man.

And so, with all the flaws in the system, I forge (forage?) on ahead (a head?).

72-MorningCabin-10-6_22

The more interesting question is why? I don’t know why I started posting daily. I know I’m as addicted to writing as I am to the coffee I drink while I do it. It keeps my brain ticking along, keeps my writing skills from fading into something I “used to do”. Writing stimulates all those electrical impulses in the cranium. Because I blog, I have a use for the strange thoughts that pop out.

In retirement, blogging is a healthful activity. The alternative would be sitting around the local senior center waiting for the next bingo game. I’ve never been big on bingo.

What did I learn from daily blogging aside from the satisfaction it gives me? Here it goes:

  1. Write often.
  2. Write well.
  3. Post good photographs.
  4. Be nice to the people you meet online.

That’s it. That’s all of it in a nutshell. And beware of enraged squirrels.