Nevermore

A few weeks ago I faced a harsh truth,

River-rides on the tube must be left to the youth.

Lest I suffer a wrenched neck or a displaced shoulder,

Or incur a case of vertigo now that I’m older.

Another nevermore activity of the prohibited kind,

Like cartwheels and somersaults, long left behind.

Not a knee or a hip have I yet to surrender,

But a crash on a skateboard could render a member.

Wheels with ball-bearings entail balance and stability,

So I abandon blades and scooters with grace and humility.

Do I dare try to snow-shoe or ski the local trail,

Pull on spiked boots and poles to hike down for the mail?

I’m satisfied never having climbed the face of a wall,

No regrets I never mastered gymnastics or sports with a ball.

Now a senior, must I stroll, meander, nothing faster than a lope?

One last thing, a 5K marathon, I won’t resign hope.

Before 70 I’m determined to boast, “Yes, I ran.”

Perhaps I should wait for next week’s bone scan.

All in all I’m grateful to be an ager who functions,

Nevermore to bemoan the limits of this life-junction.

 

 

 

Protagonism

I spent the weekend in a novella. Not reading it, not writing it, living it.

The Idea

Six months ago I began the story as the author, my objective to create a magical, bonding weekend for ten lifelong friends in the 1000 Islands. My neighbor, Melissa, would be on an extended tour of Europe for a month. She agreed to rent us her house which has views of the shipping channel, so desirable for tourists. Using my house and Melissa’s, we ten would have plenty of sleeping and bathroom space.

I didn’t act on the idea until New Year’s Day, when the temperature plummeted into single digits and the ice encrusted us, not to retreat for months. I sent the proposal by text to the invitees. Dates were negotiated to accommodate family trips, cruises, European travel, and relocation. Within hours we had a confirmed group of 10, including me, for a long July weekend.

The Outline

For the next six months I plotted the story line.  Early drafts always included the Sunset Dinner Cruise on the Island Star out of Kingston, Ontario, plus a ride in our own Cygnet. By July I was certain I would have mastered docking in order to captain the group by water to Alexandria Bay. Of course, an excursion to Canada would add interest. Plus, friends are always interested in seeing grandchildren, and mine reside in Gananoque, Ontario. Paul planned to move to Reed’s in Canada for the duration. And Reed so generously agreed to that plan.

The Setting

When summer finally arrived Paul and I edited the setting.  We replaced our broken microwave, upgraded wiring, had leaks checked out. We painted the guest room the most uplifting colors I could find, Open Air and Cloudless. I lugged all the bedspreads to the laundromat for a thorough washing. We stained both the front porch and rear decks. Shrubbery was trimmed.  I spent spare minutes weeding all the flower beds. My bottle tree was “planted” and “blossomed” with blue bottles to capture evil spirits. I placed a lucky stone outside our Tourist Entrance for luck. Details count in a good story.

After my April trip to Disney World I observed how Disney creates magic with frequent anticipatory communications. I endeavored to copy that model. Every so often I sent little text messages about the trip. I mailed a complete itinerary of planned events and our menu. Just as Disney did, I included picture postcards of the area.  I searched for my own version of Magic Bands for the guests. Eagerness for the visit infused my days. The significance of the gathering as a restorative interlude became huge for me. Clear, sunny weather was forecast. The setting would be sublime.

The Foreshadow

One week prior to the arrivals, I had the opportunity to practice docking the Cygnet. This year I felt much more comfortable navigating our boat, but had not attempted docking. Paul and I took the boat out for a ride, and then I drove the boat into our little bay. I simply could not get the proper position going into our slip. After several attempts, I angled the boat toward the dock. A slight gust of wind caught us just as I steered between two docks.

The Cygnet veered crossways. “What do I do?!” I cried.

Paul frantically used a pole to grab and pull. I pushed off the other dock, just barely saving the motor from crashing. Somehow we straightened the boat and tied to our side of the slip.

Paul gently said, “You are not ready.” He offered to return on Tuesday, to ferry the group across the American Narrows for our lunch.  In my humiliation and disappointment I totally missed the foreshadowing of this incident.

The Characters

The events of a story unfold from character action and reaction. Characters are plot.  Even before the guests assembled, the first plot twist occurred.  One guest would arrive a day later than the others, departing from a week-long family holiday. Due to work and upcoming travel two other friends had to cut their stay short by two days. Our tenth companion cancelled completely when her doctor ordered urgent tests. Writers know: no problem, no story.

I had not written these circumstances into the story. Now I had to act as protagonist, facing my first challenge.  I used my traits of flexibility and adaptation. I assigned guests to respective lodgings so the comings and goings would least affect sleeping arrangements. I reserved the Sunset Dinner Cruise, which I viewed as the climax of the weekend, for the evening when all nine of the attendees would be present. A few other events were shifted from one day to another. These minor setbacks would not prevent me from hosting the magical girlfriend weekend.

The main character often has a sidekick. Mine came a few days early from Nashville. Her experience at hosting the group several times reinforced my objective. While I tidied the house after a two-day visit from my granddaughters, she made salad and lemon bars and selected unique cheeses I never know to buy.

Torrential rain pelted the travelers for hours as they crawled across all the lake-effect regions. Amazingly, one friend made the trip after having an emergency appendectomy just a week ago. All of them had made extraordinary efforts to travel here. When they arrived at last I met them with a tray of bubbling champagne glasses.

The Plot

A wisp of strain wound around us the first morning. Tension arose as some chose to take a walk, while others remained on the deck.  We wiled away the morning waiting for guest number nine. The cloudless sky contrasted with the prevailing mood. I felt the harmony ebb. A guest was clearly unhappy. I failed to remedy the problem.  Right on schedule, our final visitor pulled in. I greeted her with a chilled glass of Zinfandel.  She had to decline, distraught over a phone call from home. A beloved family member was gravely ill. Clearly, she felt conflicted over being so far away, but elected to stay on for two nights.  We all commiserated with her regarding the situation. Metaphorical storm clouds hovered.

Recommitting to my goal, I led the way to our next event, the Canadian visit and the high point, our sunset cruise. The long wait at customs seemed designed to intensify stress levels. Fortunately, my friends’ reunion with my son uplifted our mood.  My granddaughter entertained us with a daring flagpole climb.  And Paul doled out appetizers and drinks. If only I hadn’t been driving, I would have downed several.

An hour later we boarded the Island Star, a ship I thought of as my fairy godmother.  I noticed that it looked less pristine than it had on my last voyage in 2013. A lot of chaos had happened in my life since then, and obviously my godmother had been through some as well. We were seated at two tables near the aft.  Fuel fumes wafted around us.  Activity at the restrooms and the bar diminished the charm. The stage was at the front, and that became a plus. Drinks and dinner were served without incident. That is unless I don’t count the eccentric woman, who appeared down on her luck, sitting next to us; or the live entertainment, a comedian who impersonated well-known singers using puppets and self-designed props. My friends politely peered out the windows at the scenery when possible.  But the bizarre distractions prevented anyone from appreciating the Bateau Channel, the Admiralty Islands, or the 40-Acre Shoal. I have to admit, all that was promised was a sunset, and it set brilliantly.

By the time the two departing guests left for home after breakfast the next morning, we had some downright hostility seeping into our interactions. Perplexed over the cause of the discontent, I became emotional in the good-byes. We proceeded with the agenda: shopping, winery, watching the boats from Chez Melissa. No matter how cheerful and appreciative the visitors acted, a pall followed us. We all waited for more news on the patient back home, hoping for a positive report, but fearing the opposite. Guest number nine announced she would leave the next morning to be on hand to support her family as needed. We all understood and would have done the same. My initial goal for a girlfriend retreat to relax and rejuvenate seemed trivial.  As protagonist, I simply evaded the setbacks that afternoon with the help of two vodka tonics and a beer.

Our last day and I had not yet achieved my objective: harmony, relaxation, and magical communion of friends. Paul made the trip back across the border from Canada to ferry us past Boldt Castle to Alexandria Bay. He was charming and I loved him for it.  Yet, discord in our group intensified as we prepared for the boat ride. Next, dissention occurred over when to eat ice cream.  Discussion of dinner plans felt like opening a can of nasty worms. How had I failed to remedy the discord? Antagonists wreak havoc throughout a story. Their job is to disorient and shake up the protagonist. The question is not about the intentions of the antagonist, but about their effect.  Will the protagonist accomplish her purpose or abandon it in favor of something else?

Over the past three days I had had opportunities to confront the situation head on. I’m a pleaser who avoids confrontation. Creating a possible rift in our group of friends diametrically opposed my goal. As the host of this retreat I felt an obligation to remain as optimistic as possible and hope the tension tornado would spin itself out. And it did. The final evening brought a kind of serenity as we sat on the deck of Chez Melissa gazing at the St. Lawrence.

The Theme

I had abandoned my goal and replaced it with the intent to preserve our group bond. I thought of Frankie Valle’s song, Let’s Hang On, from last summer’s trip. That theme persisted. Whatever issues caused this fissure could be ironed out with reflection and understanding. The strength of our alliance is the fact that we can release our emotions with one another, whether positive or negative. Maybe we will all be better for this experience and more honest with one another in the future.

The Lesson

Plus, I had placed far too much emphasis on this one weekend as a retreat from my worries.  My friends should not be held responsible for that. Contentment and happiness are in my own hands. I had evolved just as the protagonist does in a satisfactory story.

Let’s hope my next novella is not a murder mystery.

 

 

 

The Variable

Simple math…that’s all we needed to solve our problem.  Employ some subtraction, use addition and hopefully my sister, Tami, and I would solve for the unknown. The unknown represented by D as in Dad. Could my dad continue to live independently in his apartment?

The Problem

When my fit, active 88-year-old father had a fall and a bout with pneumonia we saw him decline physically and mentally. Our eyes opened to a situation we had not recognized. His daily nutrition may have been lacking. Plus, his daily walks to “the club” often cause him to return home in the dark. Factor in his occasional visits to the winery, his coordination is likely compromised before his walk home.  In all actuality, his cognitive functions probably declined before the fall.

“We have grave concerns about your father living alone.” The professionals at Sugarcreek Station warned us before releasing Dad into our care.  He’d had an extended hospital stay followed by ten days in the rehabilitation facility.  We were determined to see for ourselves whether my father could still live independently.

On the day of his release from Sugarcreek Station, Tami drove him to Batavia, New York, a halfway point to my place, where I met them and Dad continued on with me.  Our plan was to have my father continue his rehab at my house for the next ten days. I would get a first-hand view of his strengths and needs.

Dad put 100% effort into his therapy sessions each day. We walked the roads and he used his weights. He was determined to resume his daily routine at home, which consists of the following. He takes a morning walk around town. In the afternoon he walks two blocks to the local Elks Club. “I only have two drinks,” he insists. I’ve been told he is the father-figure of all the younger Elks members.  He walks home to eat. At least four nights of seven he walks back downtown to the local wine bar and if a band plays, he dances. My dad’s picture is on the winery website, he’s such a regular.

The rehab therapist, who admitted he had more stamina than she, expressed dire concerns over signs of dementia. At first, I feared the professionals concluded correctly. However, with each day at my place Dad grew stronger and more aware. Once we established a routine here, he gradually showed signs of his old self. By the end of the week, I decided to return to Franklin with my dad and assist him in returning to his daily schedule.

Applied Algebra

Tami and I applied our equation. We added constants. We sorted his new medication into a daily pill dispenser. We arranged for Meals-on-Wheels three times a week. I set up a white board near his pills to remind him of the day and tasks to be performed. His landlords installed a safety-bar in the bath. We subscribed to an alert button he wears in case he should fall. We fitted him with a cane and taught him how to use it. For the week I stayed with him, we walked to and from the Elks together, taking a longer, but safer route.

Next, we subtracted. Sadly, the activities that motivated him to recover would probably be part of the subtraction algorithm. His physician had already revoked his driver’s license, so we removed the keys. We picked up all the loose rugs around the apartment. This year we skipped all the porch plants except for the Mandeville that had been a gift. His new medication does not mix with alcohol. So Tami contacted Dad’s buddies at the Elks and explained that his alcohol consumption must be limited. The Elks bartenders agreed to water down his drinks with half shots.

When he and I drove by the winery one afternoon I said, “Dad, the winery is out now. It’s not a good idea for you to be walking home after dark.” Plus, I feared he might take a spill on the dance floor.

“I suppose you’re right,” he replied.

He did a solo trip to the Elks and back the final day of my stay. As part of the family check-in schedule, I would call him every morning around 9:00 and every evening around 8:00. During the evening call I would be sure he took his nightly pill and coach him in filling in his white board for the next day.

I returned home. The next evening I dialed his number for my first check-in call.  No answer. I waited and redialed. I waited ten minutes then redialed. Still no answer. In the meantime my cell phone rang. Tami asked, “Have you talked to dad?”

“No answer at his place.” I replied.

She had been trying to call him as well. “I’ll run down to check on him.”

I waited by the phone. My husband, Paul, and I made eye contact, neither of us speaking our similar thoughts aloud. In just about ten minutes my phone rang.

“Well, I’m at the winery having a glass of wine with Dad,” Tami laughed. She knew exactly where to find him. I looked over at Paul and nodded my head to affirm his unspoken suspicions. No matter how we move the constants, simplify the expression, or eliminate the co-efficient, my dad is a huge variable.

After all, my dad’s destinations house people who look after him and care for him. Tami receives frequent texts from Elks members who report when he arrives, when he leaves, whether he’s heading home or to the winery. If it rains, any number of guys will provide a ride. The other night, the winery proprietress fixed him a light supper before he left for the evening.

A Scalene Triangle

Algebra won’t solve this problem but geometry will. My dad’s daily movements create a scalene triangle. The family and everyone in town can monitor his movement from point A, his apartment, to point B, the club, to point C, the winery, returning to point A. Within that triangle he has at least three restaurants, his barber shop, his dentist, and my sister’s place of employment. Plus, the police station, two banks, and a pharmacy.

Just yesterday a Findlan nephew texted me, “I saw your dad at the winery last night. He looks good.”

As long he stays within the triangle, my dad can maintain his independence and we have some peace of mind.

 

 

 

Becoming Clarence

Our family might be facing a crossroad soon. My father was hospitalized a week ago for pneumonia. We discovered this condition after he fell in his apartment.  My sister Tami found him and called the ambulance. She monitored his progress and visited him in the hospital all that week. I live away, but I made plans to arrive in time for Tami to take a weekend trip she had planned. I would assume her role for a few days.

On Saturday, my second full day in Pennsylvania, I arrived at the hospital. I would facilitate exercises left by the therapy department. Plus, I might have a chance to get the doctor’s report. Every day, my dad, who turns 89 in September, seems incrementally better and stronger than the previous day. The heart monitor was removed, his lungs are clearing, and his vital signs improve.

I had carted some gardening tools from home on the chance that I might steal a few hours to purchase and plant flowers on the graves of my mom and Paul’s parents. Although well ahead of Memorial Day, the sunshine encouraged me to pursue the task today.  I left Dad to his hospital lunch. I would grab steamed chili dog and root-beer float at Polly’s, the well-known ice-cream shop which sat conveniently between the greenhouse and the St. Patrick’s cemetery.

A Portentous Encounter

For cemetery plants, I always go to The Wyattville Gardens. At least that is what this thriving garden center and greenhouse has grown into. Linda, another hometown girl, is a third-generation florist. Her grandparents established the premier greenhouse and florist business in Franklin. Her parents continued in the business, and her siblings still own and operate the thriving flower center. Linda returned to town with a degree and branched out on her own. She and her husband took over a rural convenience store and gas station. After decades the place has expanded into a full blown nursery with a country store packed with home décor, gifts, plants, and tasteful accents for the house and garden. I have rarely been to the Gardens when I have not seen Linda. She is a dynamo, always digging, planting, arranging, hauling, and advising. Even with a large staff, Linda is hands-on.

Everyone in the county was there that Saturday. Shoppers pulled wagons filled with arrays of color up and down the aisles of bedding plants. I walked into an impressionist painting. Sprays of yellow and purple blanketed the ground. All shades of red, pink and orange burst at eye-level.  Hundreds of blooming baskets dangled overhead.  Shades of green enveloped everything. The scent of flowers and soil in the warmth of the seasonal building provided a long-awaited balm.  Above the voices, somewhat muffled under the greenhouse canopy, the bubbling of fountains beat a contented rhythm. The pleasure-filled experience was evident on all the faces.

I headed straight to the multi-colored section of dahlias and lifted nine pots onto my wagon.  I selected a flat of white-bloomed begonias. They will serve as fillers and border around the dahlias. Just as I pull my cart over the gravel heading toward my car Linda approaches.

She greets me with a smile, “I have two mandevillas set aside for your dad.”

Every year my dad sets pots of this blooming tropical vine alongside his two wrought iron porch posts. The plants go wild there and climb the poles creating a lush fuchsia welcome on his small porch. He’s followed this ritual ever since my mom died; preserving a custom she started years ago.

“I’m not sure that’s going to happen this year. My dad’s in the hospital with pneumonia,” I explained.

“I heard that. My mom told me,” she replied. Small town news spreads instantly. “Tell him I will have them if and when he is ready.”

“Thanks Linda. This place is incredible, as always. Plus, I used your website to get your hours. What a success,” I said.

Linda put her hands out toward all the vibrancy around us, grinned, and said, “Yes. And just when I’m about ready to retire.”

“That’s how it goes. Just when you reach your peak, it’s time to choose a different path. But it all works out,” I offered.

“You would know,” she replied as she disappeared into a curtain of blooming fruit trees.

Linda’s fortuitous comment set some mystical wheels in motion.

Mystical Encounter One

After my nostalgic stop for lunch, I drove Patchel Run to the first crossroad, took a right and headed up Oak Hill.  I pulled through the open iron gate of the Catholic cemetery and navigated a few lanes to the section where the Findlans rest. I placed my tools and flowers near the stones, Paul’s parents, Paul’s brothers, Jim and Joe, and our own tiny son, Zack.  Other ancestral stones stood nearby.

I noticed that the high grass around the family stones had just been trimmed. I heard the whirr of a gasoline weed trimmer and looked to see a man with ear and eye protectors making his way from stone to stone. I proceeded to pull old roots and debris as I dug the holes for the flowers. In a few minutes the worker approached headstones in the row in front of me. He turned off the motor and stepped toward me in greeting. I smiled and said hello, plus something about how difficult it is to keep the grass under control this spring.

He pulled off his head gear and explained that the regular caretaker can’t keep up, so he was hired to do twenty hours of trimming. He seemed doubtful he could cover the entire cemetery in twenty hours. We both gazed around, especially at the section toward the apartment complex. “You probably remember when that was just grass,” he said.

“I do.” I pondered the vague idea that the rate of cemetery growth never slows.

“You look familiar,” He said. I gave him my maiden name, which seemed to ring a bell. It’s more likely he would remember Tami, who is five years younger. He gave me his name and his father’s. Of course, his father was a teacher in the district where my husband and I taught. Small town connections never cease.

He elaborated on his life, “I lost my job when the Joy plant closed. I’ve been in manufacturing all my life. But I always wanted to work outdoors.” Clearly, he put a positive spin on this career turn.

I saw him look at my car and its New York plate. I explained that we had lived here until just a couple years ago. We moved north to be near our son and granddaughters. He opened up a bit more. He and his wife have talked about relocating, maybe in the Carolinas. He doesn’t have grandchildren yet, but he has children who are not likely to settle in Franklin. Then he walked around to look at the completed flower beds.

“That looks real nice,” he said.

“We loved Franklin,” I told him. Perhaps he needed to hear from a local that leaving our idyllic town might work out just as well.  “Our move has been a terrific adventure. If you are thinking about relocating, you should try it.”

“I just might,” he said. He readjusted his goggles and headset and pulled the crank on the trimmer. I gathered my supplies, loaded them in my car and headed to Bully Hill where my mom’s ashes are buried. I never saw another vehicle belonging to the fellow. As the only two in the cemetery, I suspected our meeting wasn’t by chance.

Mystical Encounter Two

Graham Cemetery is even smaller than St. Patrick’s. I drove up the gravel road to the top of the hill where the lane turns right, the final access to the newest plots. The grass here was just as long. With two weeks until Memorial Day, caretakers had time to wait for a dry spell. Just as before, no one else appeared to be planting this early. I pulled my car off into the grass just slightly and exited. I opened the hatch. A pick-up truck, perhaps a Toyota, pulled up behind me. A tall white-haired man stepped out of the truck and moved toward me. I had heard a rumor that the older caretaker may have been ousted and replaced.  Even when my mom was first buried here, the exchanges with the caretaker had been a bit bizarre. When we chose the plot we peered at an ancient yellowed cemetery map, upon which the caretaker recorded our name. Days later we had a call that the old records were not accurate. We had to reselect a spot because our first choice seemed to already have been occupied.

I expected this man to introduce himself as the new caretaker.

“Hi. I’m John K——-,” he said, politely extending his hand.

I introduced myself as I pointed off toward the perimeter. “I’m here to put in flowers on my mom’s stone.”

“I have my mower here. I’ll be happy to mow the plot for you,” he offered.

I could see that a few stones had mowed rectangles in front. Elsewhere the grass was getting out of control.

“Oh, that’s not necessary,” I said. I felt a veil surround us as if we conversed in a pleasant void.

“I don’t mind at all,” this agreeable man insisted. “I have my mower here and nothing else to do.”

He said my name sounded familiar and with a bit more conversation we established that I was Paul’s wife. Of course, he knew Paul.  He had played on the Elks Little League when Paul played on Dolson and Beith. He elaborated that when Bud Henderson coached Dolson and Beith, he had been recruited to join the team for travel games after the regular season. Well, I had heard legendary stories of Bud Henderson all my life from Paul. So I could even recount some of them with which he identified. We chuckled and shared that kind of bond hometown history creates.

He pointed to a mound of top soil and said it was for anyone’s use. He indicated that he would be tending to his wife’s stone if I needed anything. I walked over to where he gestured. I had an uncanny thought that we were characters in Neil Gaiman’s The Graveyard Book.  I almost expected to see his name, birth and death on the stone. But no, just his wife’s documentation was recorded. On either side of the stone, extensions held large urns at least a foot tall. He had them beautifully planted. I expressed my condolences and he opened up a bit about his wife’s death just one year ago this week. I sympathized, hoping to ease his sadness just by listening. No wonder he had nowhere else to be.

I carried on planting flowers next to my mom’s stone, where my dad’s name and birthdate are already inscribed. Communing with my mom, I felt assured that my dad is not ready to join her yet. I hustled back to the hospital to spend a few more hours with my dad.

That evening I recounted the day’s experiences to Paul, and he remembered John perfectly as a “nice guy.” I admitted to Paul that the day’s events outside the hospital felt a bit Dickensian, as if I had been visited by spirits of the past, present and future. He admitted the encounters were unusual.

Mystical Encounter Three

On weekdays, the hospital outpatient area on the first floor is bustling, all the offices are busy, the information desk is staffed, the coffee bar is operating, and the gift shop is open and well-lit.  Saturday and Sunday the hospital lobby is dim and quiet. The gift shop, coffee bar, and information desk all closed. Patient visitors quietly navigate to the elevators to access the higher floors where the admitted patients reside.

Having grown sluggish with all the sitting in a chair by my dad’s bed, I decided to stretch my legs. It was about three o’clock Sunday afternoon, Mother’s Day. I rode the elevator to the first floor.  I strolled toward the main entrance, intending to step outside for some fresh air, even though light rain fell. Not a soul besides me appeared on the first floor. As I neared the gift shop, I detected a light in the back over the check-out counter. Sure enough, I saw a volunteer with whom I am acquainted. I entered.

“Hi Jeannie,” I greeted. Another life-long Franklin resident, she had retired from elementary teaching. As with the previous hometown acquaintances, we had many connections. Before she even asked I offered that I was here visiting my dad, and gave her a quick rundown of the situation. Next, I asked how she had been.

Jeannie lamented that she had been trying to sell her house. At first, everything transpired as planned. She had a buyer. She found an older home she loved in Erie. Then, the buyer had backed out of the sale, which was supposed to have been closed this week. The Erie house is no longer available. Plus, she is wondering if she should make a few landscape changes to entice buyers. She is now questioning whether to sell or not. I could tell the quandary had taken over her life.

The empty shop and dim corridor beyond, we conversed under the light that shone over the counter, as if following a script. This was the longest conversation I had ever had with Jeannie.  I could feel her readiness to find life’s next adventure. I described to her the almost miraculous way our house sold when we hadn’t even advertised it yet. I guaranteed her that things work out in amazing happenstances. I made a small purchase and reassured her that things will work out as they should.

She admitted, “It helps to vent.” I nodded my head and bid a good-bye. She turned out the light and the curtain closed on that ghostly scene.

I pondered the encounters from Saturday and Sunday. I had misinterpreted.  This wasn’t Dickens, after all. This was It’s a Wonderful Life and I was Clarence. I had my chance to visit three people at a crossroads. I can look back over the course of my life and identify specific people who assisted me at such junctures. Particular phrases even come to mind. “Do you want to sell this place?” “Nothing is impossible.” “You passed.” “We want to buy your house.” Perhaps I provided the phrase these individuals needed to find their path.

Later that evening I returned to my dad’s empty apartment for the night. One mandevilla, already two and a-half feet tall rested on dad’s porch. Linda from Wyattville would have left two. Who other than Tami or me would understand the importance of the spring mandevilla ritual? This was a talisman, a confirmation that I had been operating on a mystic level that weekend.

tombstone

 

 

 

 

 

 

Out-fluffed

My first ever book signing. Denise, a reliable supporter, invites me to hold my signing at an important community event that she coordinates. I purchase a case of books.  I pack extra pens, plenty of change, and throw in my pocket dictionary. Someone might ask me to use a difficult word in the inscription.  Paul comes along for moral support and to handle the sales if I get busy signing covers.

The night before, Wendy, a book club friend, texts me. She would like me to hold four copies for her. Wow. I pack them in a gift bag. I dash to the dollar store for more gift bags in case other customers want multiple copies. Perhaps I’ll need to take orders.  I toss in a yellow legal pad. I lay out the clothes I will wear. No jeans for my coming-out event.

Saturday morning Paul and I arrive twenty minutes early to set up my station for the Egg-Stravaganza, a family event.  The library has a table all ready for me. I brought ceramic chicks and eggs to accessorize. I hang my sign to blend with the theme: The Chicken or and the Egg. I fill a basket with chocolate eggs and arrange sheets of scented stickers. I had Staples print shiny book markers featuring the book’s cover.  I will place one in each edition, page 241, my story. What can be more family-friendly than a book titled Chicken Soup for the Soul: Grandparents?

The doors open. Parents and children stream in. Denise has placed my table along the busiest line of traffic. No one can access the live rabbits without passing my station. Strollers push by me, as do all ages of children making a beeline to the rabbits. A crowd gathers around the cottony creatures.  All sizes of munchkins hug, stroke, and pet the fluffy bunnies. As promised, Wendy walks in the door and approaches my table. She gives me names so I can inscribe the four books. I grin the whole time. What fun to sign my name inside each edition. Wendy exits, but no other adults look my way. More families arrive to adore the six bunny rabbits.

“Would you like a chocolate egg?” I invite as youngsters cruise by heading the other direction for photos with the Easter Bunny.  If parents give a disapproving look, I counter with, “How about a scented sticker?”  A few young ones cover their eyes in fear of the Easter Bunny. At least I don’t scare anyone. Decorating a cupcake and creating a craft rank ahead of me, as well.  Paul consoles, “Consider the demographic. Face it; the rabbits are stealing the show.”  I should have worn ears instead of an invisibility cloak.

Another friend, Melissa, enters and heads directly to my table. She purchases three copies for new-grandma friends and does not give a sideways glance toward the bunnies. That’s loyalty. I sign the books and use a gift bag. I’m thrilled. She salutes me with a cupcake as she departs.

Everyone smiles. Babies scoot on all-fours among the book stacks. One toddler pushes his stroller into my table, toppling the book display.  I give away dozens of aromatic stickers. One middle grader comes back to my table four times for fistfuls of Hershey eggs. Munga, her grandma name, has her hands full with a teething infant and a pre-schooler. I help the little guy open a plastic egg and figure out how to use his ink stamper on a piece of my yellow paper at a near-by table. By now I’ve almost abandoned my station.

A photographer for the local paper snaps plenty of shots at the petting station. She glances my way a couple of times and I try to catch her eye. Perhaps a bit more publicity could help later book sales.

The event nears its close, and the rabbits are still mobbed by doting fans. Munga goes to her car and returns, both of the grandchildren in tow.  She buys a copy of the book. I inscribe it honestly, “For a patient, dedicated grandma.”  The newspaper photographer does not take a photo, but asks me to sign a book for her mother.  As if she hasn’t done enough, Denise buys a book.

I pack up plenty of leftover books. They may come in handy at the Mother’s Day Tea. When I came in the door today, I had a special billing: bunnies, author,  crafts, Easter bunny. Before today I was a mere writer. The Egg-Stravaganza elevated me to author.  I may have been out-fluffed, but I was in good company.

IMG_4591

 

100%

“Some years are questions, and others are answers,” said Marion Lee, an eloquent writer and role-model of mine.  My 65th year turned out to be a year of answers.  Yet I had not explicitly asked any questions. Delving into the routines of my daily life through PowerAgers revealed more than I ever expected. Just for fun I’m going to take the final exam. No sweat…I have all the answers.

True and False

Even without the answers anyone has a 50/50 chance.

  1. I go on more inward journeys than actual ones. True
  2. Everything has deeper meaning. True
  3. Nothing goes awry in my life. False
  4. My hair has no bearing on my self-image. False
  5. The girlfriends root everything. True

Multiple Choice

Designed to confound the test-taker, but I ace it.

If you had to join a club/group, it would be

A. Poets & Writers, INK

B. Macsherry Library Book Club

C. Donna Hammond Painting Classes

D. Coyote Moon Wine Club

E. a and b

F. c and d

G. all of the above

H. none of the above

Matching

Let’s skip matching.  One mismatch and everything gets out of whack. (There’s a life lesson.)

Completion

My completion comes with a word bank at the top. No statements required.

My Word Bank

retire     relocate     the river     the boat     read     write     paint

Essay

Finally, the most relevant essay question ever: “What have you learned?”

  • I’m not as funny as I thought I’d be.
  • The Earth’s natural cycles affect me more than ever.
  • My family’s needs and moods affect me more than the Earth’s cycles.
  • Things keep going wrong, but some things can be righted.
  • I have a reliable and loyal life-partner.
  • Like-minders provide restorative therapy.
  • The granddaughters keep my priorities straight.
  • I’m on a quest and everything is a signpost.
  • A small group of followers apparently travels on my wavelength.
  • Answers reveal themselves without articulated questions.

Thanks to all who followed me on PowerAgers through my 65th year.  I intend to continue posting about once every month. Sixty-six will be a year of questions starting with “What’s next?”

 

Break-downs and Muck-ups

“I’m sorry to say so

But, sadly, it’s true

That Bang-ups

And Hang-ups

                             can happen to you.”  (Dr. Seuss, 1990)

Trouble-shooting

  • Trouble-shooting is often applied to repair failed products or processes on a machine or a system.
  • It is a logical, systematic search for the source of a problem in order to solve it and make the product or process operational again.
  • Frequently the symptom is a failure of the product or process to produce any results.
  • Corrective action can then be taken to prevent further failures of a similar kind.
  • Finally troubleshooting requires confirmation that the solution restores the product or process to its working state.

 A Process Failure

Last week we got the truck stuck in two feet of ice and snow while attempting to drive to the woodpile. Our four-wheel-drive Toyota Tundra fails us just when winter hits its stride up here? Paul shoveled and dug around the tires.  He rocked in forward and reverse.  The tires whirled in place. No results.  We have a process failure.  Time for corrective action: Call AAA.

The tow-truck driver scoffed at this minor incident. He winched the truck out of a solid snow pack in less than five minutes. We confirmed the solution by driving straight to J.K.’s Roadhouse for beer and sandwiches, with a stop by the Big M for bundles of firewood. Aren’t we clever?

 A Product Malfunction

Not so fast. The next morning my Subaru engine refused to turn over. A product malfunction this time. The sub-zero nights had been too much for the eight-year-old battery. Paul pulled out the jumper cables and made the proper connections to the Toyota Tundra, which now proved exceedingly reliable. Corrective action: Drive to Fucillo Subaru for a replacement battery.

Troubleshooters eliminate potential causes of a problem, so I approve replacement spark plugs, new brake pads, flushing of the transmission fluid, plus installation of a new passenger-side airbag so that metal fragments will not pose a “threat of injury or death.” Two problems solved in two days.

A Systematic Search

These successes spur me on to tackle another problem, the loss of our NETFLIX connection. Until last week, NETFLIX worked perfectly.  Streaming I think it is called. One evening a price increase notice popped up on the screen. Now hooked on NETFLIX, we clicked Accept.

The next day…no NETFLIX.  Large white font announces: Connection Failure. Four error codes follow. We select the Try Again option. Nothing. We hit the Cancel message and restart. Nothing. From past glitches we know to turn off all power and reboot the whole system, TV, Internet, cable box. Still no go.

I set up our NETFLIX account a year ago, and have no recollection how I did it or why I used HDMI 2 through our DVD player. My technology skills are scant, so my success was pure accident.  Granted, my method requires bothersome steps. Turn on the TV, then the cable, switch the source, power on the DVD player, at last the NETFLIX box usually appears. Not this time.

Where in the heck is McCandless TV from the old days? One call and the friendly neighborhood man who knows my parents shows up to jiggle the antennae or replace the old tube. For two days we revert to network television.

Today I dedicate the afternoon to troubleshooting. First, I log on to the computer and access my NETFLIX account…everything checks out, password, billing, etc. I find a help line and punch in the numbers on my phone. A melodic voice, Mary, answers the call. I concisely describe the problem. She checks for my account and says I don’t have one.  I succinctly repeat the spelling of my e-mail.

“There it is,” she says.

I volunteer the error-code. She patiently explains that the code indicates a problem at my end. Of course. I detect a bit of patronizing in her tone, as if she thinks I am a senior who forgot to turn on the power button. Okay, so I am a senior.

Her tone turns a bit superior.  “I am going to ask you to switch off the power to your device and restart it.”  There it is.  I told her I had tried that, but I would try again just for her.

I switched all the circuit breakers to off. The screen shut down, so did the cable box, as well as Mary. Oops.  I forgot the house line was part of the TV bundled to Spectrum Internet. I dialed the help line once again from my cell phone. A polite, perky Nate answers. He cannot reconnect me to Mary, but we will start where Mary left off.  Even better.

Nate must have grandparents, because he could not have been more sensitive. In the final analysis, he insisted the problem was at my end with the Internet connection. He so kindly provided the number I should call for a Spectrum expert and clicked off. Well!

Streaming Restored

Using the confidence gained from the truck rescue and the battery jump, I carry on by myself. Our Internet works perfectly fine to power our television, phone, I-Pad, and I-phone. Wikipedia says that “even in simple systems the troubleshooter must always consider the possibility that there is more than one fault.”

I open a drawer and pull out a slim controller that came with our television, one we seldom use. I press the home symbol and a menu magically pops up along the bottom of the television screen. Among other apps, is the familiar NETFLIX icon. I toggle over to it, press enter.

Our emojis pop up. Who’s watching NETFLIX?

Presto! Just like that I fix NETFLIX.

“Despite wisdom or age

You cannot dispute

Break-downs

And Muck-ups

                                     Call for trouble-shoot.”  (Dr. Findlan, 2019)