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Three score and ten or more

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

  • I am leaving tomorrow for Utah, where I have been asked to preach the sermon at my brother's funeral, and apparently I will also sing How Great Thou Art as a duet with my cousin (who has a wonderful voice). I say this as a man whose daughter refused (about ten or so years ago) to sing any more duets with her father because he always get so caught up in the emotion of the song that he sobs in all the wrong places.
  • This will be an emotional moment, and I look forward to it. (I may stick in a couple of stories like the ones I have posted here (and I will stick one more on the end of this post). If they bore you, go to the NEXT BLOG feature at the top of the page and double click. I am pretty nervous about this sermon.. It is not that I haven't done things like this before. I have referred to my service as a missionary, and , since I was married I have served as a Branch President (The pastor of a small congregation) in four different states, and have served as a counselor (assistant pastor) eight different times. It has been a sort of unpaid avocation for me. Since I came here I was on what is called the High Council (the group who spends time trying to help the individual congregations in a Stake (our word for a synod or group of churches linked together geographically -- my seventy plus year old mind won't come up with the protestant term.) and as such was called upon to preach almost every month, in a different congretation. I did this for eleven years. I have even conducted funerals in other faiths, which requires a lot of tolerance from the congregation.
  • This is more difficult. I hope I can prove worthy of the task. My brother was a serious person (when he reached serious age) and had a great influence on my life. When he went away to be a missionary I was a competitive high school debater, frequently championing the "great issues" of the times which were usually liberal in context. By the time he came home, I hosted a college political program that was broadcast on several stations, and I was using it to prepare the ground for Adlai Stephenson to be president.
  • Doug took me aside and reasoned with me, evidentially and carefully and unlocked all my latent conservative thoughts. I have been and am still a conservative to the core. MY program shifted gears in the middle of he election (though I did manage to get the Idaho Republican Candidate, a guy named Bob Smiley thoroughly ticked off at me. He was elected and was Governor almost forever) and was almost unhealthily conservative. The strange thing was that Doug then went off to graduate school and eventually became a social worker by profession. His political gears shifted radically ( I think it is a job requirement for social workers) and for twenty or more years he and I argued from opposite sides. I frequently kidded him that he was the one who convinced my "yellow dog democrat" father to vote for Eisenhower. He began a blog a couple of years ago and I smiled at his self description "Repented Conservative and Repented Liberal , Truth sayer and Truth seeker." . I wish I had convinced him to stay with it, but he became convinced that he was wasting his time. (the URl ; http://johnsooni.blogspot.com ) is still good for awhile.

My last story is not much of a complement to either him or to myself, but it typifies the time in small town Idaho. We lived in a small town called Alameda. It has since been absorbed into the slightly larger town Pocatello, but then, it was a neighborhood of shady streets with enormous poplar trees on both sides of the road, and where gardens were irrigated by water from irrigation ditches paralleling the road sides. Our town had no sewage disposal and most of the houses had "cess pools" (enormous deep holes covered with almost a foot of concrete) in the back yards. (Some of the newer houses had these new fangled septic tanks). One day the city fathers decided to install a sewage disposal plant and all the homes would have to be connected. They plowed and alley down the middle of every block and planted sewage mains deep into the soil. Each home owner was responsible for arranging a sewer hookup by a certain deadline. Some homeowners paid the town to dig sewer trenches and arrange the hookups. My father saw no need to hire a trench to be dug when he had two (barely) teen age sons.That began a summer of serious digging (Dad dug too) for the trench had to be about eight feet deep and about thirty feet long. After it was dug it had to be graded, that is, measured with a long two by four with a block on one end and a spirt level on top. One day Doug and I were finishing the grade work, and I was still down in the trench when he got out. Not noticing I continued to run the grade until suddenly I became aware of water down my neck (and other parts.) Looking up I saw Doug spraying me with the hose. I ran to get out of the trench and he went to the edge and sprayed the water directly in front of me so that I was not only all wet, I was covered with mud. There was no way I could scale the sheer eight foot sides of the trench so I ran from end to end under a constant water and mud barrage till finally I looked up and screamed "Doug, let me out you Son of A Bitch." The next sound heard by both of us was a roar of my father's voice from the back porch. "What did you call your Mother". It is surprising that after many attempts to climb out of the trench I think I levitated to the top, turning to see my father running in my direction, fire shooting from eyes and with his hand clutching a little hand garden cultivator that must have been in his way. Doug was nowhere to be seen. I ran, and in my innocence thought that perhaps some football training would have given me an edge over his age, but he tripped me up with the garden cultivator and proceeded to administer corporal punishment effectively. When it was over, he was in tears and I was in tears and he asked how I could show such disrespect to my mother, and I promised not to do it again, stating that I really had never thought that comment through to its literal meaning. He told me that it was something that anyone with honor should learn, that all words have real meanings. Although it was not a pleasant experience it was a teaching experience and I learned some important lessons. I couldn't help but which that Doug had stuck around to learn the lessons as well.

Monday, December 29, 2008

I wrote few words about my brother when I, more or less, announced his demise. He was an interesting guy, and I wanted to tell you about a few of the things he/we did. When my sister was born we moved to the basement if the house. It wasn't fancy, just a basement with a coal room in one corner and a large furnace with a hand fired stoker (which meant that we didn't have to put coal directly in the furnace, the stoker would keep the coal coming as long as we shoveled it into the furnace. We slept in an old fashioned wrought iron double bed that, if I had it now would sell for enough to pay my house payment.

A few years later, my dad would build us a beautiful knotty pine walled bedroom beside the coal room (actually we called it the coal bin). At the time of this incident we were still out in the open, so to speak.

My mother had baked lemon meringue pies early in the day and the left for her job in the beauty parlor. She came home only a couple of hours later and quickly noticed that one of the pies had lost its meringue. Recognizing the fact that no "mystic meringue eating monsters" were free in the neighborhood she quickly determined that one or more of her two sons was the likely culprit. She called and Doug, who was busily puttering with something on the workbench answered, and quick as a wink she was down the stairs with the denuded pie in her hand and fire in her eye.

"Which one of you is responsible for this?"

Doug, always ready to fire things up a bit said "responsible for what?"

"This pie!!" countered my mother.

"I dunno, I didn't make any pie"

"I dont mean make the pie, I mean stole the meringue from it/"

"Oh, then, not me"

I don't know what blinded my mother's almost unerring eye for being scammed, but she took the "not me" from my brother as if he hadn't been baiting her before and she turned to me. "Richard, did you take the meringue off this pie?" I knew I was in trouble as I had only recently graduated from Dickie to Dick, and I only ever heard Richard if I were in trouble.

"I didn't touch the pie." I exclaimed, raising my arm to the square in the Boy Scout sign, as if that might help.

"Am I to believe that with no one home except you two boys, this meringue walked off the pie on its own"

"Well" began Doug, then catching Mom's eye quickly understood that he had pushed the mockery bit further than was healthy, "Well, I only know that I didn't do it."


"Not me!!!"

Mom then spotted, on the other side of the bed, a shelf with a stack of comic books sitting placidly upon it. She marched to the edge of the furnace, placed the pie upon the stoker and picked up the entire stack of comics. I began to quiver, I had just spent several hours sorting my comics, picking out the best ones on top and throwing away the ones which had been read to death.

"One of you had better admit to this, or I am going to throw this entire stack of comics in the stove." With this she threw open the furnace door, behind which the fire roared appropriately.

I broke instantly. "I confess, I confess, please don't burn my comics".

"You admit that you took the meringue off the pie?"

"Well, not exactly, I didn't really , but I confess and will take the punishment because I don't want you to burn my comics."

This confession was significant because Doug and I both knew the regular punishment for "serious" crimes was to be given a pocket knife and ordered to go out to the hedge at the side of the house, cut an appropriate sized switch, bring it in to mom, hand it over and bend over and get, what mom deemed, an appropriate number of swats (not usually more than two, but two were enough.)

"We are not going to play games, did you do it or not?'

Tone of voice meaning clearly that unless I said yes my comics were ashes, I meekly replied "I did it".

"Well, I'm not going to punish you any more. Put your books away. I want you boys to be honest with me. If you aren't honest with me, and with each other, no one will trust you." With that, she took the nude pie and went up the stairs.

"You RAT", I exclaimed to Doug. "You did it, and I saw you and told you you would get into trouble. Why didn't you own up to it?"

Across his face came what would later be called an Eddie Haskel smile, and he replied "They weren't MY comic books"

I spent the next month plotting ways to get even, but finally just gave up when it seemed like anything I did would make it worse for me.

In a contrasting story, but one just as frustrating to me, Doug went on a Mission to Northwest Canada near Dawson Creek and all the frontier towns of legend. ( I wish I were energetic enough tonight to tell you some of his missionary stories) When he came home, he was seriously "righteous". I don't mean he was self righteous or anything like that but he was trying very hard to be the best person he could be.

I don't remember what I had done that was obviously not a good thing, but as he drove me to school one day he was seriously getting to me, and my consciounce was raw, and I began to shout at him and threaten him. He pulled the car to the side of the road, turned to me and said, "Would you like to hit me? If hitting me will make you feel better, go ahead." There was a pause, and he turned to face me, dropping his hands, "Go ahead, hit me if you need to. I won't tell anyone, or do anything to embarrass you." I sat back, shook my head and acknowledged to myself, that, even though I was as big as him, he had won again, and there wasn't a thing I could do or say about it.

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

One more dang thing after another, and I'm not sure I'm up to any more dang things

I had a nice experience yesterday.  My sister and brother in law, who were on their way to serve as missionaries in Ecuador, were hung up for more than a day in the Atlanta airport.  They rented a car and came down to Savannah to see Janet in the Rehabilitation Center at Memorial Hospital.  I met them there, and we visited for several hours, then went out to dinner (without Janet of course) then they came and stayed the night with me in Statesboro.  Early this morning they went back to Atlanta to take their plane.

An hour or so later I received a call from my other sister (whose voice I mistook for the sister who had just left our house) who informed me that early this morning my older brother died.  From a really nice experience directly to great pain.  My brother has been ill for some time, and I had hoped to get to Utah to visit with him for a week or so this summer.  It wasn't to be.

My brother is three years older than I, and we had, as children, the kind of relationship that older brothers and younger brothers have had for centuries.  We were sometimes close friends, sometimes collaborators in "dark" deeds.  I frequently felt "picked on" and he frequently felt pestered.

One day, with our babysitter sitting in the living room reading, we two brothers, who has just been sent to bed with threats of mayhem to follow if we didn't remain there, sneaked out the bedroom window, bars of soap in hand, and, in our pajamas, dashed across the street to his house (male babysitter) and soaped the windows of his bedroom with signs describing his posture, his love life and anything else that came to mind.  We were. of course apprehended as we returned to the bedroom, but though admitting to "fooling around in the yard we never copped to the signs on Glen's windows. 

On another day, when I was just trying to hang out with Doug and his friends, they tired of me and locked me in the neighbor's dirt cellar, being careful to warn me as they left me in the dark hole not to  pick up any spiders because the cellar was full of Black Widow Spiders.

Of course I was rescued a couple of hours later by the self same individuals who  put me in the dank hole.  They made a big issue of their heroic rescue and they diligently searched (by stripping me to my skivvies) to make sure I hadn't been attacked by the evil spiders.  They  then handed me my clothing and allowed me (nay, even urged me under threat of physical pain) to run home though the back yards of the homes between mine and the dirt cellar.

I was usually jealous of Doug, partially because he was older but also because he could do things I couldn't do.  If he made a crystal radio, he would get KNX in Los Angeles on it.  If I made a crystal radio I was luck to pick up the local NBC affiliate.  H had a knack of taking things apart and getting them back together with no parts left over.  The thing of which I was most jealous, and stayed that way most of my life was the way he made friends that continued to be his friends in spite of distance or anything else.   I have had friends that remained my friends as long as I was around, but very few of my friendship were sustained through distance and time.  That is something special.

When I was in high school he went on a mission to Canada.  It was like manna showering all over me.  He had been away at college and had very stylish clothes.  I had  worked at piddling jobs and went to high school without stylish clothes.   Suddenly I has a real COOl wardrobe>  My social status elevated sharply.  I am not sure he would have approved, but thats the was it goes.  I will write more about him in the next few days but I have to pick up Janet at the rehab center tomorrow morning early and right now I am almost a basket case.  I have written on this for two days and done half a days writing 

I especially want to write about our shared politics (He though Obama was the cat's pajamas.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

I have written of my son's dog. She has been staying at my house during the days while my son is at work. This evening, just before he arrived home I went out in the yard to call her to eat. She just lay there looking tired. I actually went and got her food and fed it to her with a big spoon. She ate, licked my hand, but still refused to come in the house. She has been so weak, since her surgery that I hated to force her. My temptation was to bribe her with ice cream, but she had already eaten and that was a task, so I left her lying on the lawn.

I went up to my office and was making a phone call when my son came in. He looked like he was seeking the dog, so I told him that she was lying on the lawn in front of my workshop.

"No," he muttered, "she's gone".

For a brief moment, I thought that I had left the gate open and she had wandered, but then I realized that he meant that she had died. I just just fed her a few minutes ag and it was hard to believe, but he led me outside, and she had crawled up to the gate, stretched out, and died. She was not pitiful, but stretched out in a dignified way that was typical of her. We took her home and laid her to rest under a gardenia bush. My cheeks were wet when we finished, and my son and I hugged each other because we both loved her deeply.

I have been sitting here trying in futility to get some work done, but my heart isn't in it. For two or three of her 10 or 12 years she was MY dog while my son was training and deploying and things like that. We ran together (well, jogged) for twenty or thirty minutes every evening, and almost every morning. She won't jog again, and I am not up to that very much either. It was while jogging with her I got a pain in my right arm that came back three days in a row and led to my quadruple bypass. In a sense she saved my life. I wish I could have returned the favor.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Just One Dang Thing After Another

I have written in here about Janet's Aortic dissection (an aneurysm reaching from the heart to the kidneys ) and the difficulty we have had finding a surgeon who felt competent to do the surgery necessary to heal this.  We have canceled a cruise, meant to celebrate our golden wedding anniversary as well as other things which we prepaid.  In a very real sense we have cancelled many of our life activities trying to get this taken care of.  Right now, our wonderful cardiologist (not sarcastic, he IS wonderful) is just keeping Janet's blood pressure low and we are watching whatever is going on.

What I haven't written about  is that one of the vascular surgeons, in looking at Janet's CT scans noticed some lesions on the liver, so we went to a gastroenterologist to find out about this.  She arranged an MRI of the liver in which they discovered some kind of mass in the liver.  She was concerned about the fact that Jan has lost over 90 pounds since we started this stuff and wanted to check all items, so last week, she ordered a colonoscopy  as well as a similar exam for the upper GI, (I can't remember the long name) and Janet suffered through the preparation for these (which need not be discussed in polite society) and she made us an appointment at the Mayo Clinic in Jacksonville, Florida to have and examination and biopsy of the liver.  In between those examinations we scheduled a trip to Camas, Washington to have Christmas with our son and daughter in law and our four grandchildren.  We have been out there several times but never for Christmas.

Last Sunday, the choir of which I am a member (I have already discussed my frustration at losing the skill I once had as a choral singer) joined with the local children's choir, the Youth Choir (Vox Novem by name) The University Choir and another University  choir for a Christmas Concert (all told, about 180 some singers and a brass section).  It was to be a last local activity, since our plane would leave for Portland Oregon the following afternoon at 3:30 P.M.

We finished our first number and were standing on the stage with two other choirs waiting for one of the groups to finish the second number in front of the curtain when the house manager came up behind me and touched my leg.  She indicated that I should come back stage, which I did, and she whispered something to me which as a deaf old coot in good standing couldn't understand at all.  After she followed me into another room she informed me that Janet had fallen in the aisle of the theatre and wanted me to come.  It seems that Janet, my son, and two friends were coming down the aisle stairs in the auditorium and she had been bumped by a student hurrying in the opposite direction,  She had fallen down some stairs and broken her knee.  By the time I got to the lobby the EMT's had already rushed her to the emergency room.

The knee on which she had fallen was the prosthesis from when she had knee replacement, so she had not actually broken her knee, but had shattered her femur above the prosthesis (titanium knee).  They did emergency surgery that evening and installed something called (I am not kidding) a fixator.  It is a bar that they attach above and below the knee, and with it they can move the bone fragments into their proper positions.  Monday I canceled our flight to Washington and spent the day with Janet watching her as she took pain killers and counted the minutes until our plane left without us.  Tuesday they operated again to fasten all the parts together with plates and screws.  Then tomorrow she will go to another hospital in Savannah for ten days of therapy.  I did manage to make arrangements for the suitcase full of presents that we had planned to take on the plane, and we are beginning to wonder if we should ever plan to do anything again. 

Because of her heart and her aorta and her liver they had so many doctors in her room prior to the surgery that it looked like they were planning surgery by committee, but they tested and x rayed and  did heart tests and agreed she could stand the surgery, and she did well. 

I just don't want any more excitement for awhile.  As I said in the title it is getting to be just one dang thing after another.  The only compensation is that, with my diminishing skills as a singer, the director could probably smile that no-one made a late or early entrance (though he was pretty short on bass voices.)  We still have to make our appointment on January 13 at the Mayo Clinic, and till then I will be holding my breath a little.