LINES IN THE WOODSHED – Garry Armstrong

The Lines in the Old Woodshed

It’s coming down before the winter comes. Its roof is about ready to cave in. One big snow, and it will bring itself down. That would make a terrible mess, so it makes more sense to take it down before it collapses.

Yet today, I got two pictures of it surrounded by Autumn. I think we will miss it. It has been here for 15 or 16 years. It’s part of our landscape.

The front of the shed
The shed from the side

ANOTHER DAY DOWN THE TUBES – Marilyn Armstrong

It wasn’t a bad day. More, it was a day when you don’t stop moving and when it’s over, you wonder if you accomplished anything.  There were so many stops and starts and lots of running up and downstairs.

I never made it to comments. I haven’t opened any emails. I did take quite a few pictures but haven’t had time to process them.  The rain is just starting. It may not hit us as hard here —  not the rain, anyway — but definitely very high winds. With the trees still full of leaves, that means blowing branches and breaking trees.

The animals must know what’s coming. Everything was in a feeding frenzy.

Photo” Garry Armstrong

Our nor’easters are essentially “local hurricanes.” Storms come in from the ocean and start to spin. They don’t move. So if it’s rain, there’s flooding. In the winter, we’ve gotten as much as three or four feet of snow before it finally breaks up.

With the contractor working, there was a strong sense of pressure to get finished before the weather moved in.

Then, there were phone calls. I’m checking out other medical insurance. I should have made the calls earlier in the week, but I had to make them today.

Meanwhile, it’s the world series but I think they are going to cancel the American League Pennant because of the weather. A glitch in Garry’s baseball channel went on for hours and entailed a prolonged wait on hold for tech support. To learn, as I suspected, they were having problems. The baseball channel has a lot of problems, but if you want to watch baseball, gotta have it.

I needed to fix Garry’s broken email too — which wasn’t difficult but took a long time. Warning! Delete old emails! If you don’t, eventually your email server stops serving and goes on strike.

The contractor did a GREAT job on the house. He’s still here. It is a real improvement. No more rot and no more of that sloppy, moldy old door … and the front door is finally insulated and nicely finished. It needs a new painting, but I think maybe it’s too late.


New Surroundings — our contractor — managed to do a good job without bankrupting me in the process. He did a really good job. All neat and sealed against the weather. And we sure have weather incoming. 


Tomorrow, we have to take the car in because somehow, one of the two latches that keep the hood in place broke off. No accident or anything. It’s just gone. It’s not a big deal driving a few miles into town, but a longer trip could cause serious damage.

Meanwhile, since both Garry and I have doctor appointments next week at UMass, their automated equipment calls every day for each appointment. They are such long calls, too. I feel a powerful need to go edit their electronic phone calls.

None of this sounds like a big deal and it wasn’t a big deal, but It was busy and fragmented. This is the only thing I’ve written today and I need to process at least a few pictures. Frozen pizza for dinner because I’m off my meds for a few days to give the rest of me a break. Today is the day I realized what a difference they make.

With the washing of the dishes, the official day is done. I feel like the day never fully started. I knew this month was going to get weird. On my agenda for tomorrow is explaining to the doctor that Garry’s has run out of hydrochlorothiazide because The Duke ate the container. Duke doesn’t (fortunately!) eat the pills. Just the plastic container. And any wood he can wrap his jaws around.

I have a lot of natural antiqued wood furniture. Duke is not the first wood chewer in the household. Only the most enthusiastic.

The Wood-Eating Duke

AN EARLY VISIT – Garry Armstrong

It is the best of times. It is the worst of times.

That lends itself to our professional sports teams and our current financial dilemma. Our Boston Red Sox are almost officially eliminated from postseason play. The lamentations about the Bosox lengthy hangover from last year’s World Championship are filling up bars across Massachusetts. But sorrow is mixed with elation for the Brady Bunch aka the New England Patriots’ who opened THEIR world championship defense with a sound thumping of the Pittsburgh Steelers, always a worthy adversary.

Sports is our Rx as we try to deal with an insurance company that refuses to do the right thing. It’s an insurance company that’s had our very loyal business for 40 plus years and paid nary a cent to us. Our home has been battered by recent storms and two sides of the house could cave with the next storm. A storm due within hours. It’s a major league headache for Marilyn and me who, coincidentally, are battling a bug that leaves us wondering — who did we antagonize?

The house and health problems have prompted us to cancel two planned trips we’ve looked forward to with enthusiasm. It’s a bummer. We’re not feeling very sociable these days.  It reminds me of that old Kingston Trio song, “The Merry Minuet” about international social discord with the refrain “… and, we don’t like anybody very much.”

That’s the cue for today’s happening. The welcome sign outside our home has drawn precious few visitors — family or good friends — in the 19 years we’ve lived in picturesque Uxbridge. We almost feel like Lepers.

I was startled when Marilyn awakened me with news this morning that we had company coming — in FORTY minutes! I felt like yesterday’s garbage as I got my act together. Company?  We NEVER have company. Why TODAY? Gee Whiz!

Turns out that our visitors were one of the two families we had to cancel on because of our problems.

Garry and Karin MacMillan

Karin and her business associate lit up our house with amiable good cheer. Karin actually is a good friend of my “Baby Brother,” the noted Dr. Anton Armstrong, head of the illustrious St. Olaf’s Choir.

We’ve been swapping emails for weeks so Karin was up to speed on our problems. Despite our visit cancellation, Karin was determined to meet us and spread some cheer.

It was like sitting with old friends. We rambled on with cross conversations. I, as usual, held court with stories of my celebrity encounters. Our visitors didn’t seem bored so I kept jabbering with one eye on my watch and finally gave myself the hook — time to shut up and let the others share stories.

We laughed a lot. I was the target of some of the laughter but it was just fine. It was good to laugh, taking my mind off the headache, queasy stomach and other gifts from the stubborn bug. I was surprised about how much family stuff we shared. That’s a good indicator of relaxation with newly made friends. It doesn’t happen often with us.

We emphasized our gratitude for the visit. As mentioned, we don’t receive many social calls. You wonder if you’re a leper after extending invitations and no one shows up.

It’s been a special day. One of the last warm, sunny and perfectly golden days of summer. Our front yard has been manicured. It’ll never look better even with the furry kids staking out their territory. If we had smell-o-vision, you’d really appreciate how nice our yard looks.

It can’t obliterate our concern about the sides of the house which are in danger with the next storm on the horizon. An Insurance investigator recently documented the damage but bluntly told us not to expect much from the insurance company. We’ve reached out for help but everything is in limbo right now.  We feel very, very vulnerable. Senior citizens, surviving on social security and puny retirement funds.

For a few hours, on this day, we could laugh and relax – thanks to the kindness of strangers who now are definitely friends.

HOME SWEET HOME IN BLACK & WHITE – Garry Armstrong

Cee’s Black & White Photo Challenge: Signs

We have a new sign. Well, not new. It’s almost 20 years old, but it has been down for a couple of years after being knocked over by a snowplow. Owen propped it back up this year, so we have our new (old) sign back again.

I took a few pictures.

Home again home again
Forget not the dogs!

Cee's Black-White

FROM DUST WE COME, TO DUST WE RETURN – Marilyn Armstrong

A few nights ago, we watched one of the “Orville” episodes on Hulu. This episode was about finding a lost cell phone from a “time capsule” on earth and how someone recreated that world on the Holodeck. He fell in love with the girl on the phone, but of course, it couldn’t work. Past is past.

I love time-travel stories. In fact, Garry and I are quite addicted to them. The first movie he ever brought over to show me was “Somewhere in Time” which is a time-travel love story. I liked the movie so much I haven’t wanted to read the book. I want the images from the picture.

I understand, as a generation, we will disappear rather faster than previous generations simply because so much of the material we’ve created is electronic. Our things have no physical structure. We can’t store them except on our devices. When we pass, our computers will pass too if not immediately, then eventually. Time will make our computers useless anyway because technology is everchanging.

Dawn in Vineyard Haven.

Our photographs will largely disappear when we die. As we vanish, our memories will vanish unless we wrote them down somewhere in a book that isn’t immediately forgotten. It is a rare family (usually a wealthy one) where the past is saved through centuries. Even those ultimately disappear because time goes on beyond remembering.

Vineyard art

I’ve visited a few castles of great lords of Egypt (there are a few in Israel, including Lachish), plus of course Canaan, England, Ireland, and Wales. The oldest ones are rocks and ruin. What didn’t disintegrate through time was destroyed by earthquakes or other natural events. Many great monuments remain, but no one knows who built them or when. Personal belongings have long turned to dust so we can but imagine what the lives of those people might have been. I’m sure we are more wrong than right in what we want to believe.

Assuming we find a way out of today’s current mess and build a kinder, better world, bits and pieces of us will hang around, no doubt transferred to some new medium. It will be less than previous generations left.

Giant Rose Famille Ginger jar

I thought about all the photographs. Almost all will be lost because they were never printed. They have no physical reality. I even wondered (briefly) if I should print some — even tiny versions — just so there would be a physical record they existed. Then I realized no one would want the pictures anyway.

Let me rephrase that. They might want them, but they have nowhere to put them. That’s why when Garry was cleaning out his parent’s house, I was afraid he’d bring back stuff. It wasn’t that the material was not important. It was that we have no room for it.

Little things

Our walls and cabinets, closets and shelves — everything is full. The attic hasn’t much in it because it’s not really an attic. It’s full of fiberglass to keep heat in the house.

Funny how insulation was a big issue when we moved here. Now, I wish we had better ways to move air around so it wouldn’t be so hot!

More little things

Times change. Hopefully, enough of our world will be saved somehow and somewhere. For all I know, some planet in the great out-there has all our TV shows, music, books, and photographs. Maybe they are building a new world based on what they see in our old stories and pictures.

BRING ON THE ANGRY MOBS! – Marilyn Armstrong

I’m mad at life. This is not what I planned. In fact, it’s not even close to what I had in mind. I was planning to go gently into my elder years, able to do whatever I always did, but perhaps a bit more slowly. Gray hairs which turned out to be white — about the only thing that worked out the way I planned.

But all the other stuff? Poverty and ill-health? The endless crumbling of the house? It’s just not fair!

I do not feel insightful, but I could probably incite a riot. I feel very non-insightful. Mostly, I’m pissed.

I want is to win a ton of money so I can not only fix the house, but improve it so that it’s comfortable for both of us. I want our lives for the first time ever to become easier.

My childhood was rough. Adulthood has been, to say the least, bumpy. Somehow, I thought as I wandered into Older Age, life would get easier. Those things we’ve always needed to do would slow and maybe even give up. We could relax, surrounded by our nurturing family who would take care of our needs and maybe even provide a few small luxuries.

That has not been exactly been how it has worked.

Meanwhile, I’m just pissed about the whole “getting old” thing. Why doesn’t someone else cook dinner? Why are we both still scrubbing and vacuuming and cleaning? Why does the house persist in requiring maintenance and repair even though we’ve already fixed it more than once? Isn’t there an “end” point when you don’t need to fix it anymore? What’s wrong with this picture?

I say let’s round up the angry mob and attack age. Who’s with me? If we can’t evade age, maybe we beat the crap out of it.

A ROAD HOME – Marilyn Armstrong

I grew up in a semi-rural nook in the middle of Queens, New York. The city had surrounded us leaving a tiny enclave walking distance from the subway.

The house was more than a hundred years old. It had been changed by each family who had lived there, so much that I doubt the original builder would have recognized it. From its birth as a 4-room bungalow in the 1800s, by 1951 it had become a warren of hallways, staircases and odd rooms that could be hard to find.

It sat at the top of a hill amidst the last remaining fully-grown white oaks in New York, the rest having fallen to make masts for tall ships. The shadows of the oaks were always over the house. Beautiful, huge and a bit ominous. Some of the branches were bigger than ordinary trees. I remember watching the oaks during storms, how the enormous trees swayed. I wondered if one would crash through the roof and crush me.

I was four when we moved into the house, five by summer. When the weather grew warm, I was told to go out and play. Like an unsocialized puppy, I had no experience with other children, except my baby sister and older brother and that didn’t count. Now, I discovered other little girls. What a shock! I had no idea what to do. It was like greeting aliens … except that I was the alien.

The first contact took place on the sidewalk. We stood, three little girls, staring at each other. First on one foot, then the other, until I broke the silence with a brilliant witticism. “I live up there,” I said. I pointed to my house. “We just moved here. Who are you?” I was sure they had a private club into which I would not be invited. They were pretty — I was lumpy and awkward.

“I’m Liz,” said a pretty girl with green eyes. She looked like a china doll, with long straight hair. I wanted that hair. I hated mine, which was wild, curly and full of knots. She gestured. “I live there,” she pointed. The house was a red Dutch colonial. It had dark shutters and a sharply pitched roof.

A dark-haired, freckle-faced girl with braids was watching solemnly. “I’m Karen,” she said. “That’s my house,” she said, pointing at a tidy brick colonial with bright red geraniums in ornate cement pots on both sides of a long brick staircase. I’d never seen geraniums or masonry flower pots.

“Hello,” I said again, wondering what else I could say to keep them around for a while. I’d never had friends, but something told me I wanted some. We stood in the sunlight for a while, warily eyeing each other. I, a stranger. I shuffled from foot to foot.

1952

Finally, I fired off my best shot. “I’ve got a big brother,” I announced. They were unimpressed. I was at a loss for additional repartee. More silence ensued.

“We’re going to Liz’s house for lemonade,” Karen said, finally. Liz nodded. They turned and went away. I wondered if we would meet again. I hadn’t the experience to know our future as friends were inevitable.

1953 – Three little girls

Summer lasted much longer back then than it does nowadays. By the time spring had metamorphosed into summer, I had become a probationary member of The Kids Who Lived On The Block. I did not know what went on in anyone else’s house. I imagined the lights were bright and cheerful in other houses. No dark shadows. No sadness or pain except in my scary world where the scream of a child in pain was background noise, the sound of life going on as usual. Behind it, you could hear my mother pleading: “Please, the neighbors will hear!” As if that was the issue.

Across the street, Karen’s mother was drinking herself into a stupor every night. The only thing that kept Karen from a nightly beating was her father. He was a kindly older man who seemed to be from another world. As it turned out, he would soon go to another world. Before summer was ended, Karen’s father died of a heart attack and after that, she fought her battles alone.

In the old clapboard house where I thought Liz led a perfect life, a battle raged. Liz’s father never earned enough money and their house was crumbling. It legally belonged to Liz’s grandmother. Nana was senile, incontinent and mean, but she owned the place. In lucid moments, she always reminded Liz’s dad the family lived there on her sufferance. Where I imagined a life full of peace and goodwill, there was neither.

About 6 or 7.

A lovely neighborhood. Fine old homes shaded by tall oaks. Green lawns rolling down to quiet streets where we could play day or night. I’m sure the few travelers who strayed onto our street, envied us.

“How lucky these folks are,” they must have thought, seeing our grand old houses. “These people must be so happy.”

I have a picture in my album. It’s black and white, a bit faded. It shows us sitting in Liz’s back yard. I’m the tiny one in the middle. A little sad. Not quite smiling.

We envied each other. It would be years before we learned each other’s secrets and by then, we’d be adults. Too late to give each other the comfort we’d needed while we grew up, lonely in our big old houses all those years ago.