Neighbor Helping Neighbor

I find the idea of not knowing your neighbors foreign.  Most of my neighbors, I have known since I was a wee lass of 25.  I'm 57.  I have 32 years of solid experience of enjoying the benefits of neighbors who can help out in times of need.

It's far too easy to become isolated from our neighbors, particularly when one lives in a "bedroom community".  Work takes us away during the day.  Once home the demands of the household take over.

During my 32 years, we have had several major weather events, though none that I would label as a disaster.  They were inconveniences that could be mitigated by a generator, a chain saw and most importantly the help of our neighbors.

Hurricane Floyd brought down three 100 year old damns.  No neighbor help involved other than being a witness to the destruction of 2 of those dams when Tim, my immediate neighbor, standing at the front door about 7 a.m. and saying, "You are going to want to see this."  "This" was the water in his pond that was pouring over his damn.  His neighbor's damn had already been breached causing his pond to swell.  Water moves quickly and its power to erode an earthen dam is awe inspiring.  When it broke, a wall of water went crashing through the bottom (behind our property).  The next day, I could see a four foot high mark of the muddy tracks that the overflow left behind.

An ice storm in 1998 caused almost the entire electrical grid in New Kent to be knocked out.  The storm descended down on us in the early morning hours of December 23.  I awoke to a large crash.  It was pitch black as the power had been knocked out.  It was not until morning that I saw a massive oak branch had landed on my car.  No damage to my car as my car had been encapsulated in a massive ice cocoon.  It was very cold, and each of us had a measure of comfort that we shared with our neighbors--beer, liqueur, steak and potatoes cooked on a fire grate.  When you are surrounded by 1 inch ice encrusted oak trees, the dangers were ever-present.

Both Isabel and Irene packed a wallop, the latter making our county the number one FEMA disaster area in VA.  Every single road was rendered impassable.  We had to cut our way out of the neighborhood.  But we did it in concert with our neighbors.  During Isabel, one of my neighbors must have experienced a microblast which had about 10 trees on her home (some poking through) and her driveway impassable.  She was caring for her brother who had MS.  It was vital that the nurse be able to get into administer needful things. She made outreach to my daughter and within the hour we had assembled a team of help with two tractors and 4 chainsaws.  Her worry for her brother's care put to rest.

Our inconveniences were potentially life threatening from wind/tree havoc, but not on the scale of having water invade every aspect of your life:  home and travel.  That the message from FEMA is focusing on the neighbor helping neighbor is a reminder of how important our cohesiveness as a community is when there is a need.  Whether it is checking in on an elderly neighborhood, cutting a pathway in/out of one's homestead, providing water/food/comfort or a daring water rescue, these are the things that bind us as a community.

There is so much second guessing about whether Houston should have been evacuated.  Not sure where 4 million people could go much less how they would get there.  But I am sure that whatever misery a disaster metes out, neighbor helping neighbor will provide both a physical and emotional lifeline and for dealing with such epic and tragic events.

Korean War "Morale Builder" Letter

With the death of my father, I am in possession of his personal things (in addition to everything from my parent's time together to include things from my grandmother and my mother's brother who I never met).  These things predate my stepmom.

There are several things from the Korean War where my father served as a communications specialist, stationed in Austria.  In addition to finding pictures, his wool cap and his United States Football Alliance game bag which has a hand-painted and signed vignette, it appears that each place he played was hand painted--the pencil lines still on the bag.

I also found a folded letter, very tattered which appears to be one of those huckster letters that was passed around for amusement.  I recreate it here.  All 'typos' are from the letter.  I elected to stop putting in 'sic'.  I'm not sure why he kept it once returning.

Morale Builder

Dear Buddy:

Nothing much doing back hear. I sure envy you down there in Korea, in the thick of things, bet you never have a dull moment.

I was over to see your wife last night and read all of your letters, they were a bit mushy, but I don't blame you, Fran is a swell girl. Wonderful figure, looks and personality. Guys still whistle at her when she walks down the street.

Your brother-in-law Smidly dropped in. He was wearing the brown suit you bought just before you left. Fran gave it to him as she thought it would be out of style when you got back. Several other couples came in and we killed two cases of beer. Wanted to chip in for it. But Fran wouldn't let us. She said you send ten or twenty dollars extra for her to spend as she wishes. One of the guys is buying your new golf clubs too. Paid twenty dollars for them and will pick them up tomorrow. That's more than she got for your movie camera and projector.

Fran was the life of the party. I thought she'd be a little shaken after the accident last week with the Chevie, buy you'd never know she'd been in a head-on collision and smashed yur car to bits. The other driver is still in the hospital and threatening to sue. Too bad Fran forgot to pay the insurance, but the funny think is, she isn't a bit worried. We admire her courage and nonchalance and good thing you gave her power of attroney before you left. Smart girl, her willingness to mortgage the house was really wonderful.

To get back to the party, you should have seen Fran do an imitation of Gypsy Rose Lee. She was still going strong when we said goodnight to her and Claude. Guess you know Claude's rooming at your house. It's near his work and he save as lot of gas and lunch. He sas Fran can cook bacon and eggs bes in the world, and really does things to a streak.

Nothing much new with me except my wife got another raise-$100 a week now so we do okay with the $90 I get at the office. It's getting late now so I better stop. I can see through my window accoss the street. Fran and Claude are having a nightcap. He's got on the smoking jacket you wore so often.

Well, Buddy, I sure wish I could be out there with you.  Guy - Give those Commies Hell. .


Our so-called President, DJT, is whining that Nordstrom's is treating his daughter unfairly by making a decision to no longer carry Ivanka's line of whatever she peddles.  The simple, incontrovertible truth:  Nordstrom's is a an entity that is free to make business decisions as it sees fit (within the realm of the law).  The impetus for the decision is immaterial.  If Ivanka is half the businesswoman that she is espoused to be, then she must be bristling at her father's yammerin'. I take nothing away from her accomplishments.

Ironically, spawn of so-called President, DJT, JR stated in response to workplace harrassment:

"If you can't handle some of the basic stuff that's become a problem in the workforce today, you don't belong in the work force. You should go maybe teach kindergarten,"


I suppose that he may be counseling his sister to go teach kindergarten if she is unable to deal with a very basic business event to folks saying no to your wares.  It happens.  No one but DJT in is silly string mind wins 100% of the time.

Stupefying--a word that I seem to be using often.

Purging a Lifetime

With my father's demise, and my mother having passed 28 years prior, I'm going through two lifetime's of stuff with my stepmother who shared 25 years with my father.  At times it is very emotional seeing long-forgotten and in many cases, never-seen items.

As I look around me, I think of the things that my kids might sift through and wonder, "What is this?" or "Why on earth would she keep that?".  Things are just that, "things."  Becoming attached to them is not such a good thing.  And as I look around, I realize that someone many of the 'things' that I have seem to have become part of my shared DNA.

I realize now why parents do not part with this things prior to their death.  So many tangible memories imbued in the the stuff that fills our lives--holds our precious things, supports our life, and reflects who we are.

Pressure Cooking

I was at my local N&W Salvage and stumbled upon a mountain of pressure cookers.  I've seen pressure cookers in there before, but having 3 at home, I've passed them by.

The current stock is Fagor Duo in 6-10qt models, and they had exceptional pricing.  The price for a 10qt was $69.99--about $50 cheaper than Amazon.

My three pressure cookers are large 16 and 20 qt and a  smaller 5 .5 qt model.  I use the latter daily as part of making my dog's food preparation--using it to effortlessly cook their starch (white rice, lentils, beans, brown rice) as well as making food for us.  However, the size of the pan is limiting. 

As I was fixing my dog's food after walking away from the purchase earlier in the day, I decided that the larger size would give me more flexibility.  Plus, it was budget friendly.  I went back the next day, and I'm ever glad that I did for these reasons:
  • quality exceptional
  • size is roomy, and perfect for family meal sized prep 
The only con is that the 'trivet' that comes with it is a joke.  The steamer basked is great, but it would be nice if it were taller. It has 2 pressure settings in addition to a setting that allows you to cook sans pressure (e.g. an open valve).  Yesterday, I used that feature to make a large pot of bean soup.  I was able to keep the top on, heat low, and they cooked to perfection.

No buyer's remorse, and this is a valued cook's tool.

The Hard Work of Dying

My father's terminal illness diagnosis came early June, about 3 weeks after he presented with a broken collar bone--the result of his simply rolling over in bed.  My stepmom was visiting her daughter in Illinois.  My father was not alarmed; he called me to tell me he was driving himself to the emergency room.  "No, Dad.  Call your orthopedic and ask them to see you today."

Our odyssey began with this left collarbone "pathological break."  Both he and I knew that nothing good would unfold from this.  I took him home and immediately hit the internet.  He went either that afternoon or the next day to The Cremation Society and took care of things. 

The prevailing question for all of us is "How long?"  It had less of an urgency at the beginning as my father felt reasonably well, was ambulatory, and could engage in all of the activities that he could enjoy.  The urgency of the ask escalated with the more debilitating effects of the progress of his stage IV liver cancer:  cane, walker,  wheel chair, furniture moving belt to go from bed to bedside pot--the latter being a surprising freedom clung to when all other freedom from the bed is now out of reach.

My father's younger brother at 72 is 12 years my father's junior, came to help us last Tuesday.  While I know many of the stories on my mother's side of the family, largely due to my Nanny telling them in an animated fashion while drinking coffee around the kitchen table, my father's history is somewhat hidden.  My uncle tells my sister, "You daddy is the closest thing to a father that I ever had."  He tells me, "We would have starved if it had not been for your daddy."  He can engage with my father in a way that we cannot given their shared history.  It is an enormous comfort to both my stepmom, sister and I as well as my Dad to have him here.  It is not service to our family that I will ever forget.

Each day is now measured by fluid and food (if any) intake, outflow and pain management.  My uncle is able to use the furniture moving strap I rummaged out of my garage to help lift my dad's torso up, and then helping him pivot to the bedside commode.  This man who has always been independent has reduced his current situation as "A stallion put in a corral."  The last ambulation from the bed to the commode will soon be lost. Who would have thought that such a modest movement would be the one last freedom of a dying man? 

My father's faith accepts that God will take him when He is ready.  When I kiss my father each night, I say to him, "I hope that you die tonight."  My stepmom's visiting  friend heard me say this, and looked shocked.  To a dying man in misery, saying "I hope that you die tonight (or sometimes I say, I hope that you go to perpetual rest)" is the same as saying, "I hope that you have a nice day."  It is something that he prays for.

My stepmom's friend was great to have around.  She is thoughtful and energetic.  However, she has  not had the 2 a.m conversations with my father who asks, "How can I feel so low, and still be alive?" Or, "I don't know how much longer I can take this."  My father is a tough old bird--witnessed by the fact that he is still with us.  His toughness is working against his goal of transitioning quickly.  

Until I wrote this post, I had not considered how much the nearing of death is much like the nearing of birth.  Presuming that one is diagnosed with a terminal illness, as with finding out that one is pregnant, the time horizon steadily truncates from months, to weeks to days to hours to minutes. One ends with a new life being thrust into the world, the other with a life removed from this world. Both are as regular and ordinary as the sun rising and setting, but until we experience it for ourselves, we cannot fully appreciate the process.

We have honored my dad's desire to die at home. Being a participant in the sacred process of leaving this world, and offering comfort to a loved one preparing to depart is truly an honor and a privilege--as it is with welcoming a new life.  He is still concerned that he is a burden to us.  He is not.  But his frailty means that we need to enlist the help of professional care givers to give my dad a sense that others are helping and give us a sense that his needs can be met for hygiene and other comforts.  (One of the caregivers complimented us on how clean he was and how well-conditioned his skin was).  We've done our best, but his ability to participate is impaired.  We need professionals to help position him so that he is not injured.

My father has already made it past the mid-point in the bell curve for his diagnoses.  In the normal course of events, a baby is born on his/her own schedule, and a person will die on his or her own schedule.  All we onlookers can do is be there to smooth the passage into the world or out of it.  Throughout the process, I am reminded that I am my father's daughter:  pragmatic, efficacious, objective. 

Fun with Friends

My other friend, Leisa, who I have known since junior high school and who spells her name just like me invited our group down to her family's river place on the Rappahanock.  It was a short drive (under an hour) from my house, and it was a welcome distraction from regular 'stuff'. 

The weather was glorious.  Beautiful sunrises (blazing, blinding!) and the most stupendous moon rise I have seen in ages.  The moon was a large orange ball coming over the eastern sky.  We didn't catch it on Thursday when it was full (Sturgeon Moon), but it was just as impressive Friday and Saturday nights.

Being with old friends, laughing and crying about events in our life was wonderfully restorative. The great thing about old friends is that no matter how long has passed, one just picks back up from where one left it.  There are few things as resilient and joyful friendship.