FATE IS IRREFUTABLE – Marilyn Armstrong

FOWC with Fandango — Irrefutable

Bonnie has been changing. The relentless barking. Her unwillingness to sit with us on the sofa. She seeks out dark corners and no longer hears me when I call her. She also can’t see well and the other night, one of he teeth just fell out. But she sure does sleep well.

It was vet time yesterday. There was too much that seemed wrong and so un-Bonnie. We learned immediately that her teeth were awful — and considering we had them done twice in a row two years ago, they shouldn’t be that bad. But the teeth of small dogs go very quickly as they age. We have seen in it other small terriers and even though our vets are the most reasonably priced in the area for this work, she’s going to lose a lot of teeth. And she also needs senior dog bloodwork because, as the vet rather gently pointed out (he’s not always a very gentle guy), dogs change, much like aging people change with their years … and they don’t change back.

She isn’t the dog she was been for all the years we have had her, which is from baby dog — 9 weeks — to now. I trained her in the deep snow of winter and she was always the most charming of our dogs.

The vet delicately pointed out that since she is going deaf, is partially blind and to top it all, she appears to be getting a bit demented. Which is probably what all the barking about. These days, all she seems to know how to do is shout.

We need to consider her quality of life, the vet’s polite way of saying “That time is coming around again.”

We’ve had Bonnie longer than any other dog and while I know  — knew — always knew — this moment would come, I always dreaded it. Especially because we are getting too old to take on a young pet and too poor to manage old ones.

We’ve got a few months to think about it. To square up our elderly hunching shoulders and get it together.

I don’t think we’ll be getting more dogs. We are now at the point where our dogs are likely to outlive us. We don’t really have anywhere to send them, either. There’s no one to care for them if we are gone.

We have both throughout our lives had a morbid tendency to wait until too late to deal with the end game properly. We don’t want to let go. There’s nothing easy about it and even though we have two other dogs in the house — and I know part of the reason we got Duke was that the other two were getting old. We were not talking about it, but we knew. We didn’t want to know.

I’m quite sure Duke will be our last dog. I swear, he knows. Dogs know a lot.

I’m not going to make this a crying and wailing post. I have been through this too many times. It’s the worst when there’s no lethal ailment to make it inevitable but just a general winding down of a life.

I thought she would live longer. She’s small. I had hoped for a good solid 15 or 16 years from her, but she has been aging faster than seemed reasonable for the past couple of years. I could see it in her coat turning so quickly gray and odd changes in her behavior.

Technically, Gibbs is the same age but seems much younger. I’ve always wondered if he was really the age on his papers. He was kenneled and they lie about their dogs. So I think he’s good for a while … but I wonder how Duke and Gibbs will get on without Bonnie. She has always been the sweet spot between the two boys.

Talk about irrefutable. The passage through life always ends the same way. It doesn’t matter how well we feed them or how sweetly we love them or how they care for us. Time does what time does. Why do the best ones always seem to go first?

YEARS OF BRASS, YEARS OF GOLD – Marilyn Armstrong

I’m not one of those people who romanticizes the “old days,” but there are some truths worth remembering and revisiting.

I grew up in a different world. Play meant imagination. Physical activity. Jump rope, hide and seek, tag, Stickball because no one owned a real bat. Stoop ball, jacks. Building a “fort” or climbing a tree. Cowboys.

Toys were simple, not electronic. Getting a new doll was a thrill. She never needed a reboot, unless you count having to find her lost shoe. Almost nothing except flashlights needed batteries.

Photo: Garry Armstrong

If you were having a hard time with the bullies in school, you got up, got dressed and went to school. It didn’t mean you weren’t scared. I was plenty scared. It simply wasn’t a parent problem … it was mine. Yours. Ours.

You didn’t get a lot of pats on the back for “trying hard.” You might get an “attaboy” for doing exceptionally well, but you were expected to do your best. Nothing less was acceptable. Doing your best was your job. You took it seriously.

Photo: Garry Armstrong

You learned your lessons in elementary school so you could go on to junior high school and then high school. You had to do well in high school because if you didn’t, you couldn’t get into college. We all knew — with 100% certainty — if you didn’t go to college, you wouldn’t go to heaven.

Pretty much every family has members who didn’t make it. The ones who never found a decent job or formed a serious relationship. Or accomplished much of anything. If they happen to be our own kids, it makes us wonder what we did wrong. Usually, we have a sneaking suspicion the problem isn’t what we didn’t do. More like what we did do — too much.

I don’t think we should be mean and uncaring to our kids, nor am I an advocate of corporal punishment, but I think it’s important to recognize we didn’t get strong by being protected from every pain, every hurt. We didn’t get everything we wanted the moment we wanted it. Or, at least I didn’t. If I got one really cool present, that was a big deal. Now kids get so much, it’s meaningless. They don’t appreciate anything because there’s always more where that came from.

So, in memory of the good times, the bad times, the hard times, and the great times. For the schoolyard battles we fought and sometimes lost and the subjects we barely passed or actually failed — and had to take again. For the bullies who badgered us until we fought back and discovered bullies are cowards and for the terror of being cornered in the girls’ room by tough chicks with switchblades, wondering how you can talk your way out of this.

Being the only Jew, Black kid, Spanish kid, fat kid, short kid or whatever different kind of kid you were in a school full of people who didn’t like you. Getting through it and coming out the other side. Being the only one who used big words and read books when everyone else was watching American Bandstand. Being the klutz who couldn’t do the dances and never had the right clothing or hair. Then, finally, getting to college and discovering the weirdos and rejects from high school were now cool people.

Magically, suddenly, becoming part of the “in-crowd.” Metamorphoses. No longer outsiders. Whatever made us misfits were the same qualities that made us popular. And eventually, successful.

The fifties and early sixties were not idyllic, especially if you weren’t middle class, white, and Christian. Yet, whoever you were, it was a great time to be a kid. Not because we had more stuff, but because we had more freedom.

We had time. Time to play, time to dream. Whatever we lacked in “things,” we made up for by having many fewer rules. We were encouraged to use our imagination. We didn’t have video games, cable TV, cell phones and computers. We were lucky to have a crappy black and white TV with rabbit ears that barely got a signal.

We learned to survive and cope. Simultaneously, we learned to achieve. By the time we hit adulthood, we weren’t afraid to try even if success seemed unlikely.

We had enough courage to know if it didn’t work out, we’d get up, dust ourselves off and try again — or try something else. We knew we would make it, one way or another. When we got out into the world, for at least a couple of decades, we had a blast.

Here’s to us as we limp past middle age into our not-so-golden years. We really had great lives. We’re still having them, but slowly.

HOW GO YOUR YEARS? – Marilyn Armstrong

When I was in college, two of the women with whom I became friends were suicides. Neither of them was happy, but I would never have guessed either of them was suicidal.

One of them was just 19 when she killed herself. The other was 21.

For this reason, I have never assumed “everything is fine” for anyone. Even when you ask, you will only know what you are told and that is rarely the entire truth. People are secretive about their deepest fears and thoughts.

“How are you?”

“Everything is fine.”

“You don’t sound fine.”

“No, really. I’m fine.”

How many times can you ask before you realize you aren’t going to discover more? When people mention that aging makes them “think about mortality” I realize I began thinking about mortality when Karin died and then again when Anna jumped. Also when a young couple, just married, crashed their car into a truck and died on the highway.

Yet again, when my first husband got kidney cancer at 34 and lived, but still died young of heart disease and medical errors. Then my brother died of pancreatic cancer at 61. One of Garry’s colleagues — in her early 40s — died while waiting for a bus in Cambridge. When my first husband’s father died of his second heart attack at 52, I was pregnant and sorry he never met his grandson. For that matter, Jeff died at 53 and never met his granddaughter.

I knew a young person who died of a heart attack before age 21. Another internet friend, Rosa, died last year of a heart attack. I only found out when her mother called to tell me. She wasn’t yet 35.

And of course, there are all the friends our age who are battling cancer, dementia, heart conditions, not to mention the ones who have “beaten” cancer, but of course, you never really beat cancer. You are remitted and that will have to do.

When people complain about not being as active as they were when they were many years younger, I think they are missing the point. Age or disease can do you in at any point in your life. You don’t have to get old. You can be 21, an athlete, and collapse on the court.

The Dark Lord will have his way. When and how it hits you is partly how you used your body and your DNA. Depending on your constitution, your ability to walk, run, ride, or whatever you do may be compromised. Even eliminated.

Then again, are you breathing on your own? Do you get out of bed in the morning, even if it is a struggle? Do you find joy in your life? Do you laugh? Are there people you love who also love you? Is life interesting? Are you still curious to know what’s going to happen?

If any of these things are true, yay for you. You are alive.

Mortality is always with us, whether we are old or young. We may not be paying attention to it, or we may be under some delusion that we are exempt from “the end” because we exercise and eat right. But there will be an end.

Maybe, as Jeff used it say, it’ll be a runaway beer truck. Or something unexpectedly medical. It may be tomorrow or in 60 years. Whatever time you have, be gracious and grateful. Many people don’t get a life full of years. Others get the years and manage to be miserable anyway.

Enjoy your years, however many you have. And while you are at it, be nice to the people you know and especially those who love you and who you love. Kindness is the least expensive and most valuable gift we have to give.

HOW ARE YOUR YEARS? – Marilyn Armstrong

When I was in college, two of the women with whom I became friends were suicides. Neither of them was happy, but I would never have guessed either of them was suicidal.

One of them was just 19 when she killed herself. The other was 21.

I have never assumed “everything is fine” for anyone. Even when you ask, you will only know what you are told and that is rarely the whole truth. People are secretive about their deepest fears and thoughts.

“How are you?”

“Everything is fine.”

“You don’t sound fine.”

“No, really. I’m fine.”

How many times do you ask before you realize you aren’t going to find out anything more? When people mention that aging makes them “think about mortality” I realize I began thinking about mortality when Karin died and then again when Anna jumped. Also when a young couple, just married, crashed their car into a truck and died on the highway.

Yet again, when my first husband got kidney cancer at 34 and lived, but still died young of heart disease and medical errors. Then my brother died of pancreatic cancer at 61. One of Garry’s colleagues — in her early 40s — died while waiting for a bus in Cambridge. When my first husband’s father died of his second heart attack at 52, I was pregnant and sorry he never met his grandson. For that matter, Jeff died at 53 and never met his granddaughter.

I knew a young person who died of a heart attack before age 21. Another internet friend, Rosa, died a month ago of a heart attack. I only found out yesterday when her mother called. She wasn’t yet 35.

And of course, there are all the friends our age who are battling cancer, dementia, heart conditions, not to mention the ones who have “beaten” cancer, but of course, you never really beat cancer. You are remitted and that will have to do.

When people complain about not being as active as they were when they were many years younger, I think they are missing the point. Age will have its way. How it hits you is partly a matter of how you used your body and your personal DNA. Depending on your constitution, your ability to walk, run, ride, or whatever you do may be compromised. Even eliminated.

But then again … are you breathing on your own? Do you get out of bed in the morning, even if it is a struggle? Do you find joy in your life? Do you laugh? Are there people you love who love you too? Is life interesting? Are you still curious to know what’s going to happen?

If any of these things are true, yay for you. You are alive.

Mortality is always with us, whether we are old or young. We may not be paying attention to it, or we may be under some delusion that we are exempt from “the end” because we exercise and eat right. But there will be an end.

Maybe, as Jeff used it say, it’ll be a runaway beer truck. Or something unexpectedly medical. It may be tomorrow or in 60 years. Whatever time you have, be gracious and grateful. Many people don’t get a life full of years. Others get the years and manage to be miserable through all of it.

Enjoy your years, however many you have.

SOUP AND SANDWICH – RICH PASCHALL

There were many stories about Harold, the great planner from the Midwest who retired to an orderly life in Florida.  This was the first.


Everyone who knew Harold would agree; he was an orderly man.  Everything about his well-ordered existence was, well, “orderly.” That would perhaps be the only word to describe it.  He firmly believed in the adage, “A place for everything and everything in its place.”  That did not just include things, but it also included time.  Harold ran on a strict schedule and parceled out his time for maximum efficiency.  He was dependable, likable and predictable.

72-StPetePostcard-soft

Harold had been chief mechanical engineer at a plant that made small motors for big applications.

This work demanded designing a wide variety of parts for the many specialized applications.  Harold was up to every task.  He drew his special parts the old-fashioned way at his drafting table.

He kept copies of all his special drawings in a filing cabinet, organized by type of part.  His methodical brain could recall all the special requests to modify the little motors to power everything imaginable.  While you would have no idea all the appliances and machines and gadgets that required little motors, Harold could see them all in the depths of the storage places in his mind.

When Harold was approaching retirement, he knew instinctively that it was time to move on.  More work was being done by computer, and while Harold mastered the technique, he could not set aside his love of the drafting table itself.  A desk and computer were okay, but his computer-like mind held all the gigabytes he needed.  As for manufacturing the parts, that was now being farmed out to other places. He could no longer watch his creations made real in the machine shop.

The next phase of life brought retirement on the gulf coast of Florida.  This was not a retirement were you could just be lazy and do nothing.  Harold had imposed an orderly routine on his life.

There probably would have been no other path to happiness.  Harold’s road was clear and free from clutter.  His home was so neat and clean you would swear he had a helper.  There were few items out and on display as everything had a specific place to be put away and that is exactly what Harold did.  As for things that Harold did not think had a practical use, he threw them away, gave them away or recycled them.  He owned nothing that he could not imagine using in the near future.

For his weekly schedule, Harold chose Mondays for a walk on the beach.  A few moments admiring the Gulf was a retirement activity Harold felt worth scheduling.  If the weather was inclement, he drove into Sarasota for a little stroll through a shopping area.  He might look for items he previously recorded on a list.  Monday was the appointed day for picking up requirements, there would be no unplanned or hasty trips to the store.  Time was too valuable to spend wandering to and fro.  The only wandering of the week would be down the beach on the appropriate Monday morning hour for such things.

Tuesdays and Thursdays were spent in town at the local library.  Harold maintained a list of books he felt would be worth reading and set out to read as many as he could find.  If he did not finish the book at the library, he would check it out to make sure he had it on his next visit.  On a rare occasion he might continue reading at home when his schedule for the day was completed.  That only came when something he was reading really caught his fancy.  There certainly were a few good books on mechanical engineering and anything he discovered on the topic was a delightful find.

Fridays were for sports.  He read about the local high school and college sports in the morning.  He watched reports on the cable news channel, Sarasota Now.  In March, Harold carefully planned which Major League Baseball spring training games he should attend.  His love of sports was not quite the same as his love of mechanical engineering, but it came close.

lunch 2

While Harold might declare Sunday to be his day of rest, it was anything but that.  He cleaned the small townhouse on Sundays and checked many of the drawers and boxes to make sure everything was put away properly.  He reviewed the contents of the closets to determine if there was anything that no longer belonged.  Cleaning and inspecting everything could take Harold most of the day, but he did not mind.  It gave him a great deal of satisfaction.

Perhaps most special of all the scheduled activities was Harold’s trip to the Wild West Restaurant and Sports Bar every Wednesday and Saturday for lunch.  When Harold arrived at 1 pm sharp, cane in hand and smile on his face, every one greeted him warmly.  “Hello Harold,” the manager on duty would shout with glee, calling attention to his arrival.  At that the waitresses, would call out his name and people would turn around to see who entered.

“Hello Harold,” the bartender would say loudly so her “hello” was heard with all the others.  The broad smile on Harold’s face got even wider at all the attention.  It seemed the entire crew felt a bit sorry for Harold.  He was always alone.  He moved deliberately, carefully placing his cane down with his left hand every time his right foot took a step forward. While they considered Harold a simple, maybe even dim-witted but likable old-timer, and just wanted him to feel good, Harold was well aware that he got the added attention due to his apparent simple nature.

Once Harold found his table near the window, his usual waitress, Tiffany, came over to give him a hug.  “Would you like the soup and sandwich special?” Tiffany began.  “Yes, please, and I will have the chicken noodle soup.”  There was no need to ask Harold what he wanted.  It was ham and cheese sandwich with chicken noodle soup on Wednesday and vegetable beef on Saturday.

He enjoyed a bit of ESPN, a lot of attention and a good lunch. Then Tiffany brought the bill and wrote her name and put a big smiley face next to it.  So, twice each week Harold purchased attention and friendship for the price of the soup and sandwich special.

LIMPING INTO THE GOLDEN YEARS

I’m not one of those people who romanticizes the “old days,” but there are some truths worth remembering and revisiting.

I grew up in a different world. Play meant imagination. Physical activity. Jump rope, hide and seek, tag, Stick ball because no one owned a real bat. Stoop ball, jacks. Building a “fort” or climbing a tree. Cowboys.

Toys were simple, not electronic. Getting a new doll was a thrill. She never needed a reboot, unless you count having to find her lost shoe. Almost nothing except flashlights needed batteries.

If you were having a hard time with the bullies in school, you got up, got dressed and went to school. It didn’t mean you weren’t scared. I was plenty scared. It simply wasn’t a parent problem … it was mine. Yours. Ours.

You didn’t get a lot of pats on the back for “trying hard.” You might get an “attaboy” for doing exceptionally well, but you were expected to do your best. Nothing less was acceptable. Doing your best was your job. You took it seriously.

You learned your lessons in elementary school so you could go on to junior high school and then high school. You had to do well in high school because if you didn’t, you couldn’t get into college. We all knew — with 100% certainty — if you didn’t go to college, you wouldn’t go to heaven.

Pretty much every family has family members who didn’t make it. The ones who never found real job or formed a serious relationship. Or accomplished much. If they happen to be our own kids, it makes us wonder what we did wrong. Usually, we have a sneaking suspicion the problem isn’t what we didn’t do. More like what we did too much.

I don’t think we should be mean and uncaring to our kids, nor am I an advocate of corporal punishment, but I think it’s important to recognize we didn’t get strong by being protected from every pain, every hurt. We didn’t get everything we wanted the moment we wanted it. Or, at least I didn’t. If I got one really cool present, that was a big deal. Now kids get so much, it’s meaningless. They don’t appreciate anything because there’s always more where that came from.

So, in memory of the good times, the bad times, the hard times, the great times. The schoolyard battles we fought and sometimes lost. The subjects we barely passed or actually failed — and had to take again. The bullies who badgered us until we fought back and discovered bullies are cowards. Getting cornered in the girls’ room by tough chicks with switch blades, wondering if you can talk your way out of this.

Being the only Jew, Black kid, Spanish kid, fat kid, short kid or whatever different kind of kid you were in a school full of people who didn’t like you. Getting through it and coming out the other side. Being the only one who used big words and read books when everyone else was watching American Bandstand. Being the klutz who couldn’t do the dances and never had the right clothing or hair. Then, finally, getting to college and discovering the weirdos and rejects from high school were now cool people.

Magically, suddenly, becoming part of the “in crowd.” Metamorphoses. No longer outsiders. Whatever made us misfits were the same qualities that made us popular. And eventually, successful.

The fifties and early sixties were not idyllic, especially if you weren’t middle class, white, and Christian. Yet, whoever you were, it was a great time to be a kid. Not because we had more stuff, but because we had more freedom.

We had time. Time to play, time to dream. Whatever we lacked in “things,” we made up for by having many fewer rules. We were encouraged to use our imagination. We didn’t have video games, cable TV, cell phones and computers. We were lucky to have a crappy black and white TV with rabbit ears that barely got a signal.

We learned to survive and cope. Simultaneously, we learned to achieve. By the time we hit adulthood, we weren’t afraid to try even if success seemed unlikely. We had enough courage to know if it didn’t work out, we’d get up, dust ourselves off and try again — or try something else. We knew we would make it, one way or the other.

When we got out into the world, for at least a couple of decades, we had a blast.

Here’s to us as we limp past middle age into the so-called golden years. We really had great lives. We’re still having them, but more slowly.

HOW HEMINGWAY FELT – RICH PASCHALL

The Final Sentence, by Rich Paschall, Sunday Night Blog


In a cold and sterile room, Ernie sat on the end of a table. He waited in brutal silence for someone to enter.  He studied the floor intently through his boredom.  The light-colored tile was clean.  He could find no dust in the corners, although he examined the areas closely.  One small window that could not be opened allowed a little sunlight to fall to the floor.  The counter along the wall was clear.  The cabinets were labeled with the contents.  And a small chair awaited an occupant.

Ernie did not feel well.  He had not felt well for months.  Perhaps it was longer.  He had been somewhat in denial until recently.  His body could no longer ignore what his brain had tried hard to conceal.  The persistent aches and acute pains had become a fact of life.  Now there was this, the reason for his waiting.  His vital signs had been taken, and he was made to sit on the end of a rather hard surface, trying not to think of what was to come.

Suddenly, there was a knock on the door.  The person on the other side announced himself and then came in.  He was a man in his mid 50’s according to Ernie’s way of thinking.  He was as official as official could look.  He sat in the small chair, put a file folder on the counter and began.

“Hello Ernie.  How are you doing today?” the businesslike gentleman asked.  He studied Ernie’s face for his response.

“Hello Dr. North.  I am doing OK, I guess,” Ernie lied in a tone that was not at all convincing.

“Really?” The doctor responded.  He had been treating Ernie’s ailments for over 15 years, so he knew all too well what were the complaints and attitudes that went with Ernie’s comments.

“Well, I guess it is not that good,” Ernie confessed.  “My neck and lower back are almost always in pain.  My right leg and arm sometimes get numb.  If I sit too long, it is hard to get up.”

This admission of his problems was a hard thing for Ernie.  He was only 61 and ardently believed that he should still be leading an active life.  He wanted to do everything he had done in his thirties.  As a bit of an adventurer, he wished to be off to foreign lands in search of new and exciting things to do.  He wished to climb mountains and paddle canoes down rivers.  He wanted to fish and to swim.  He wanted to ride a bike through small towns and villages of Europe.  In other words, he did not want life to change.  His hopes for the future could only be achieved with a time machine, however, and he did not have one of those.

The doctor proceeded to make a quick exam of Ernie.  He focused mainly on his coordination, flexibility and strength.  He was not pleased with the result.  He did not have to say that.  It was written all over his face.  Ernie knew it.  He was a good reader. Doctor North sat back down in the little chair and made notes in his folder.  Then he wrote a prescription and wrote down some phone numbers for Ernie.  He began with a voice that could only be described as sad.

“Ernie, I am sorry to say that your strength and flexibility are not what they used to be.  Some of this should be expected as we age.”

Ernie sat motionless and expressionless as Dr. North went on.

“The MRI you had last week revealed acute cervical spine disease.”

His patient did not react, so the good doctor continued.

“You have degenerative discs.  That is to say your spine is in bad shape.  That is why you have these pains and the occasional numbness.  We will treat that with some prescriptions now.  Here is Prednisone.  And you should see a specialist for this.  These are my recommendations.  This is what we can do in the short-term.”  At that, the doctor handed Ernie some papers.

“And in the long-term, doctor.   What about that?”

Dr. North looked down to avert his eyes.  He thought a moment and spoke without looking up.  “It’s not good.  This is something we can not make very much better.  It will get worse in time. I want you to get all of your treatment options from a specialist.  He maybe able to relieve the pain for a while.”

“I see,” Ernie responded.  “I guess I know how Hemingway felt.”

“Huh?”

“Ernest Hemingway.  I understand the end of his life now.”

The doctor was not exactly sure what Ernie meant.  He was not a student of American classics and their authors.  Ernie was and he just understood something he could not grasp from high school until now.

“Fill the prescriptions and make an appointment with the specialist today,” Dr. North advised.  “Call and let us know when you have an appointment and we will send records to the rehab specialist.  Make an appointment to come back here in two months. And Ernie, I think you should stop driving.  Get someone to take you to these appointments.”

The doctor left the room and Ernie got up slowly.  As he stood his right arm and leg began to tingle.  It was as if he had slept on them and cut off circulation.  He carefully left the exam room and walked to the reception desk.  He handed the doctor’s charges and appointment instructions to the receptionist and began to walk away.  She called after him.

“Oh, Ernie.  The doctor has you down for an appointment in two months.  Would you like to schedule that now?”

Ernie responded with an odd grin and a simple reply, “No, thanks.”

At that, Ernie carefully walked to the door, opened it and went out into the quiet hallway.  He was never heard from again.