Friday, November 1, 2019

TODAY IS THE 121ST BIRTHDAY OF MY FATHER

Today is the 121st birthday of my father, John Murdock Henderson. He has been gone for nearly half that time. He died in the “dark ages” of prostate cancer research. Subsequently I was diagnosed with prostate cancer and a series of radiation treatments were prescribed. We check the PSA every six months. The number gets smaller and smaller. To say it’s a cure is a bit gutsy but it’ll do for the time being.

My mother named me Gerald. When she took me to register for the first grade Jeanie Watson, the principle who also taught my mother asked her, “Ruby, what’s your son’s name?” My mother said it was Gerald. I spoke up and loudly said, “No Mama, my name is Jerry!” - the only name I had ever been called. It was spelled with a “J” to match a favorite uncle’s name. Big Jerry - little jerry. I asked my father why he didn’t give me his name which I loved and still do to this day. I mean, John Murdock! What’s not to like? I know - I may be just a tad biased. It seemed that my mother had read a story in which the protagonist was named Gerald. She liked it. What could a kid do?

My father had six sisters and five brothers. His mother was a McQueen, a woman of Scottish descent. She had an uncle John Gunter who lived to 104 with a Yankee mini-ball in his chest. I don’t know what that’s got to do with anything except that it would have been nice if my father had inherited uncle John Gunter’s longevity gene.

He taught me to fly fish, hunt and drive. He believed I mastered the first two but he never believed I could drive a car. He was mostly concerned with my failure to leave enough room on the right side. When I was driving his body was in a constant cringe - trying to move the car away from the edge. He never said a word to me about sex. I dearly loved him.

Once somewhere in Kansas he was constantly complaining so much that I slammed on the break and got out of the car told him to go on. I vowed I would never get into a car with him again. I’ll walk, I cried. I began walking - in 1940’s Kansas! There was nothing in Kansas. Well, obviously mother prevailed and we drove on to Colorado and enjoyed a nice family vacation.

As a young man he was a telegraph operator on the Union Pacific Rail Road in Kansas. He met a man who taught him to cut hair and subsequently he spent the rest of his life as a barber with a thriving business in Baton Rouge. He was an honorable man. Honest and loyal to his beliefs and friends. He was an actual Christian. More importantly than all the above he was a committed family man, a loving father and husband. Whatever I tried he supported and encouraged me. I had permission and freedom as a child then that would be virtually impossible today. I was lucky and probably blessed.

John Murdock Henderson is seldom far from my thoughts.

TODAY IS THE 121ST BIRTHDAY OF MY FATHER

Today is the 121st birthday of my father, John Murdock Henderson. He has been gone for nearly half that time. He died in the “dark ages” of prostate cancer research. Subsequently I was diagnosed with prostate cancer and a series of radiation treatments were prescribed. We check the PSA every six months. The number gets smaller and smaller. To say it’s a cure is a bit gutsy but it’ll do for the time being.

My mother named me Gerald. When she took me to register for the first grade Jeanie Watson, the principle who also taught my mother asked her, “Ruby, what’s your son’s name?” My mother said it was Gerald. I spoke up and loudly said, “No Mama, my name is Jerry!” - the only name I had ever been called. It was spelled with a “J” to match a favorite uncle’s name. Big Jerry - little jerry. I asked my father why he didn’t give me his name which I loved and still do to this day. I mean, John Murdock! What’s not to like? I know - I may be just a tad biased. It seemed that my mother had read a story in which the protagonist was named Gerald. She liked it. What could a kid do?

My father had six sisters and five brothers. His mother was a McQueen, a woman of Scottish descent. She had an uncle John Gunter who lived to 104 with a Yankee mini-ball in his chest. I don’t know what that’s got to do with anything except that it would have been nice if my father had inherited uncle John Gunter’s longevity gene.

He taught me to fly fish, hunt and drive. He believed I mastered the first two but he never believed I could drive a car. He was mostly concerned with my failure to leave enough room on the right side. When I was driving his body was in a constant cringe - trying to move the car away from the edge. He never said a word to me about sex. I dearly loved him.

Once somewhere in Kansas he was constantly complaining so much that I slammed on the break and got out of the car told him to go on. I vowed I would never get into a car with him again. I’ll walk, I cried. I began walking - in 1940’s Kansas! There was nothing in Kansas. Well, obviously mother prevailed and we drove on to Colorado and enjoyed a nice family vacation.

As a young man he was a telegraph operator on the Union Pacific Rail Road in Kansas. He met a man who taught him to cut hair and subsequently he spent the rest of his life as a barber with a thriving business in Baton Rouge. He was an honorable man. Honest and loyal to his beliefs and friends. He was an actual Christian. More importantly than all the above he was a committed family man, a loving father and husband. Whatever I tried he supported and encouraged me. I had permission and freedom as a child then that would be virtually impossible today. I was lucky and probably blessed.

John Murdock Henderson is seldom far from my thoughts.

Saturday, August 31, 2019

A YEAR AGO MY BROTHER DIED

A year ago Ken, my brother, died.  He was preceded by his wife, Audrey, who died shortly after falling from her high-lift wheel chair, having forgotten to fasten her seat belt.  Ken busied himself in his church but loneliness soon overtook him.  He slipped into dementia and soon died.  It seems that their lives were so intertwined that for him, at least, there was little life apart from Audrey.

Ken came along about four years after me.  I can remember him lying in his crib.  I had a small rubber hatchet and I tried to chop him with it before mother intervened.  I'm sure there are many more happier episodes to remember but that's the one that sticks.  I never learned how to be a nurturing older brother.  It wasn't a conscious decision.  Our lives from the beginning seemed to run in different directions.  We loved each other.  That was clear, but we were never close.  Four years.

Through the years we visited, mostly around holidays.  Audrey was a hugely successful cook and  brought her South Louisiana Cajun specialties to the Thanksgiving table often.  When distance prevented more frequent visits we talked on the phone.  After our parents died there was little to share but we talked a few times throughout the year.  My life took me away and he remained in place.

I wish I could remember where I read it that as long as your name is remembered you are still alive.  Sounds like magical thinking to me but I wish that talking about Ken would bring him back.  Then all those names of all those loved ones, many gone before they should have, come to mind and my eyes cloud with tears.  Ken - I miss you.

Tuesday, July 16, 2019

TO SEE OURSELVES . . .

A current popular pithy piece of high minded wisdom goes like this: What other people think of me is none of my business. Of course, you say, that's obvious. Really? Well, sort of.

Most of us grew up with something like school yard rules of behavior, ethics, protocols and politics. Before any important undertaking it was wise to check out what the "troops" thought about it. By important undertaking I mean something like - Hey I wonder if Sadie would go to the movies with me. Peer feedback was critical. I can remember getting ready for school and making sure my dungarees were rolled up just the right amount, showing just the right amount of sock and my swoop daddy pompadour - (Yes wiseass, I had one.) - was just right and pasted down with a dollop of WILDROOT CREAM-OIL CHARLIE.

What I'm saying is this: It's next to impossible not to be concerned about what others think of you. We all know how futile it is to worry about what someone else thinks but we do it. We want to be loved, even admired. We want to be an early pick for someone's team. I'm not sure that those feelings don't follow us from the school yard to the social institutions of adulthood.

Over the years various of my friends and family have gifted me with rather uniquely generous gifts for birthdays, Christmases and Father's Days which give me pause to reflect on what they think of me and how fortunate I am to have them in my life. Still I am always mildly surprised to hear that someone had been thinking of me. It feels good.

Thoughtful generosity is not usually a physical gift. More often it's something else. Evidences of connection - remembrances - inclusion - acts of love. It's what makes life on this planet worthwhile.

Wednesday, June 5, 2019

IT'S CLEANLINESS THAT'S GODLY - NOT NEATNESS

I've always been a sucker for a compulsive life style.  I know, I know - if you only know me a little you know that the most liberal description of my life style would not even come close to the word, "compulsive" or any of its synonyms like neat, orderly, organized and alas, even dust free!

When I was in graduate school this guy came to the campus selling a filing system that was guaranteed to produce success in anything one would try to do.  Rule No. 1:  Young aspirants to professional success should never buy anything that guarantees success.  I bought it.  It was nothing but a cascading labeling system that someone else thought up and wanted me to adopt.  Of course it didn't work for me or for most of the other people who purchased it.  The guy who sold us on this system probably went directly to the airport and flew to Bermuda for a month.

I admire neat people.  Now and then I clean my large old oak teacher's desk, stupidly thinking this will make me a neat person.  I end up with acres of clean polished surface with nothing but a computer, keyboard and a note pad.  When I look at all that clear space all I can think of is all the "neat" stuff I can stack there.   Then the dust arrives and the spiderwebs descend.  Oh well, I think, c'est la vie.  Well . . . c'est la my vie, for sure.




Wednesday, April 10, 2019

BEING PRESENT WITH HEARING LOSS

Isolation is the dark angel of hearing loss. Yet there are times when I welcome her as the lesser of two evils. Silence versus noise. Pease versus the struggle for understanding. But it goes deeper than that. I've only been treating my hearing loss since 1997. I have, for as long as I can remember, always felt on the fringes of group conversations. There is, of course, no way to check this out but I might have always had a hearing disconnect of some kind. And this could have been more behavioral or developmental than organic. The part that I remember is the feeling that I was being "talked over" as though I were between two people who knew what the subject was and I didn't. My contributions often seemed to be irrelevant or at best, slightly off point. It may not mean a thing but my favorite place as a child was in the crown of an oak tree or in my secret loft. Liking to be alone may be the innocent truth of it, but there it is for consideration. Perhaps I am looking for things that are not there.

When real time profound deafness was added to this history there were the makings of some serious, perhaps unconscious ground-in expectations when experiencing group discussions. I have found that confirming a statement is often the solution as in - "Are you saying the price was wrong or the purchase itself?". What I heard was not definitive, but asking such a question could get to the point easily. It can make conversation kind of clunky but it also can clear up a lot of misunderstanding and keep one in the center of things. It's more to the point that just asking, "What?".

I often wonder what it was like when I could hear it all. I think I remember when I could understand conversations in the "other" room or across the room. I think I can remember the sweet passages of Beethoven's sixth. But can I be sure? It's been so long. Those are childhood memories. Memories of other times.

The thing is, hearing loss is a constant struggle. It's a major feature of one's life and there is something to learn from it every day and it's not often about the past, but about now.

Saturday, April 6, 2019

WE NEED A NOSTALGIA VACCINATION

There's a huge effort going on at our house lately; the effort to get rid of the trash and treasures of decades of collecting.  This is all in preparation for the big migration south - eventually.

I have been delaying dealing with my bookshelves so I decided to tackle them, one section at a time.  Let me say here at the outset, I could empty this room of all the books, magazines and notebooks in twenty minutes with one of those trash chutes hooked to a window and a dumpster at the end.  That being said, the truth is that regardless of my good intentions, I seem to be possessed by some magnetic force that compels me to open every one of those dusty old books to see if perhaps an errant $100 bill was stuck in there to mark a significant passage.  I mean, I haven't touched that section in over fifteen years.  Dust?  You don't know dust.  I know dust.  AaaaaaChooo!

After all the books were in a pile I noticed in the dark far corner of the lowest shelf, mostly hidden by my treadmill (that's another whole discussion) was the corner of a box of some sort.  With some tugging I managed to free it and drag it out.  Old negatives and photographs.  Apparently hundreds of them.  Fifty years worth, if my memory serves me well.  Actually the long term stuff is usually spot on.  It's the short term, "Where did I put that coffee cup?" stuff that's a problem.

I couldn't help myself.  That magnet thing I mentioned kicked in with a nuclear force and the next two hours were spent moaning, "Oh my god" over and over, which, if you listen carefully seems to rhyme with Armageddon.  So the original (and most important) task was sidetracked while I wallowed in the muck and mire of terminal nostalgia.

Meanwhile CA, my partner in life, walked in and I said, "Come here and sit down and look at this!"  Bless her heart, she did just that.  We laughed and, yes, shed a tear as we looked in wonderment at those beautiful young people.  What she should have done was to dump a bucket of ice water on my head to shock me back into the present tense.  By the time this project is over, that will be likely to have happened several times.

So, the first slug of books are all bagged and will be on their way the library, Goodwill or to you, if your resistance is lower than usual.  Just give me a call.  However, I can't promise a dust free transaction.



Saturday, March 30, 2019

REMEMBER FOUNTAIN PENS?

I can't explain it. Decades ago - yea even a lifetime ago I used to write letters and notes with an actual fountain pen. Then I stopped. The ballpoint pen never did work for me. I couldn't read it after it got cold, whereas I could read what I wrote with a fountain pen. And, oddly, I could revisit my scribbling done with a lead pencil. I figured it was the friction that did it. The tactile connection. There was a sensual sensation between the writing instrument and the paper that made for a more contemplative experience. Whatever: it made for a result that was more legible.

Meanwhile, I taught myself to type. It was a long and frustrating experience. Then way back in the early 80s I entered the computer age. Spellchecking. Instant correction. No more erasable bond. White out and overtyping became a thing of the past. I could just write and write and let some digital editor correct my work. It was liberating.

Yet, I missed my fountain pen. I bought one five or six years ago in a weak moment in the dead of winter and the thing didn't work all that well so I laid it by. About a month ago I dug it out and decided to see if I could resurrect it. So I flushed out the pen until it seemed to be working and loaded it with ink. Behold! The thing performed perfectly. Subsequently I have discovered that flushing out a fountain pen is standard procedure. I didn't know that.

I decided to see if I could find a source for fountain pens and associated paraphernalia. I quickly discovered this marvelous fountain pen store down in Virginia that is the most amazing place. It's online only and they only do pens, ink and paper and other accessories to the writing life. Their inventory is huge. The difference between writing instruments now and back when I used one in the fifties is staggering.

You guessed it: I now own a couple more fountain pens. It's fun - that is, for me. My penmanship is pretty much what is has always been - messy. But, and this is the test, I can read it cold and the few letters and notes I have sent out have seemingly been read successfully. I don' know how long this will last but I am having fun. I have some nice quality writing paper and envelopes. And good ink.

Suddenly I discover that I have email addresses for dozens of friends while missing quite a few actual mailing addresses. Don't worry, I don't expect everyone who gets one of my "original" hand written epistles to respond in kind. This is something I enjoy. Whether you do or not is none of my business.

Sometimes I use green ink.

Sunday, March 24, 2019

SPEAK TO ME

Our three way phone call the other evening was a good idea. It was like a visit - almost. However, as usual - I always come away from three way calls and multi person conversations feeling like I missed something. This is the reason I usually depend so heavily on the written word.

Without fail, every time we leave from a visit with friends I always ask CA for a brief summary of the visit. It never fails that I missed something essential. I have all this nice equipment hanging on my head but all that technology does not re-create normal speech. It creates a facsimile - not the same but similar. I do not hear what every body else hears. That's why music no longer works for me.

This is also why it is so important to face me when talking to me. The visual queues really make a huge difference. The environment is also important. Noisy places are sometimes impossible for me. I have lost the ability to filter out unwanted sound and focus on what someone is saying as most normally hearing people can do. That's a disability. I don't like that term, but it wasn't until I accepted the fact that I was indeed disabled that I felt truly empowered to speak up and ask for what I need to enable me to hear and understand.

Of course, it doesn't always work. At times all the best intentions just don't get it done and I must retreat and re-group. In difficult situations the effort to understand and participate is tiring and frustrating. Escape is sometimes the only healthy thing to do.

Meanwhile, I, and millions of other Americans hobble along on our aural crutches: hearing aids, cochlear implants, other assistive listening devices. On level ground I can get along at a fairly good clip. On irregular terrain, however, I might need a little help from my friends.

Saturday, February 9, 2019

LETTING SLEEPING DOGS LIE

If you're one of those short sighted uncaring people who are tired of reading about old guys talking about being an old guy, then you can unplug now and save yourself a ton of grief.  

OK, if you are still here I was wondering what is it about being an old guy (I know I should be saying 'person' but that seems so clunky.  I know there are old women - don't worry about it.) that sooner or later you think, "Wouldn't it be great to go looking for an old childhood pal you have not seen or heard from for fifty or sixty years"?

There is a clue built into the very thought of searching for an old pal and it is this: how often do old pals look you up?  Get it?

Anyway, I went looking for this guy who I was good friends with back in the fifties.  Are you with me now?  That's several wars ago. I actually found him on FaceBook in the search field and so I contacted him.  He was surprised and said he thought I was dead.  But he sounded excited to re-connect.  So I sent him a catchup email and he acknowledged it promptly saying he was glad to hear that I was still alive and  would soon send a note catching me up to his life for he past sixty years.  Nothing.  Not a peep.  It's been months.

At first I was disappointed but then I came to my senses - which is not always the case, in my case.  I thought: Well, it seems that he ended up at an ivy type school so he must have been brainy and probably had so much in his life to report that he was still writing his catchup note to me.  The sad truth is that he's probably suffering from dementia.  It's pretty common among my contemporaries.  Probably doesn't even realize we exchanged emails.  Sad.  I'll send him a get well card.

I have this other high school friend who sends out notices of the passing (read death) of members of our HS class.  He and I reconnected through our shared experiences dealing with prostate cancer and the treatment thereof.  It seems that there is a greeting, growing in popularity among older men - "How's your prostate"? It's a clubby sort  of thing.  If you are not an old guy with an enlarged or cancerous prostate this won't mean much to you.

Here's the thing - why try to resurrect relationships that died of natural causes a lifetime ago when there are dozens of people in my own generation who are practically within walking distance?

The answer, of course, is curiosity.  Raw, unadorned curiosity.  Nothing wrong with it but consider the excessive time and energy it would take to fill in all the gaps between then and now when within arm's length are many who can share life as it is now with all the liver spots, stiff joints, wrinkles, flabby bellies and scary diagnoses.  I mean - how good can it get?



Sunday, January 20, 2019

I'M GONNA LIVE UNTIL I DIE

Every year at this time my bank sends out a form letter - I have long ago stopped expecting" any kind of personal communication from a bank - notifying me of the status of a very small IRA account I have had for a number of years.

By law, as you know, when you reach the age of 70 and  ½ years you must  begin taking what is called a minimum distribution from your IRA.  The wording of  this announcement is catchy, "Based on the IRS life expectancy table and your plan balance as of 12/31/18 your minimum distribution is $ - - - - "

Having a quick mind, as I am sure you all know, I did a little calculating dividing the amount of the IRA by the projected distribution and .came up with a number that was what the IRS figures is how long I will live.  Well, you know the IRS, they are precise.

Not to put too fine a point on it, but I'll be 88 this year - the year of the IRS calculation about my life expectancy.  And according to the IRS I am scheduled to live 12.7 more years.  The last guy I knew who boasted that he was going to live until 100 died when he was in his late 80s.  If you've been paying attention, you know that's about where I am.
Well . . . . The bank is careful not to say something like, "Hey Jerry - you got 12.7 more years to go!  Ye Ha!"  But if you read between the lines, well, the handwriting is on the wall and that's enough about the wall.

Some years ago there was a popular song sung by Frank Sinatra, Sarah Vaughan and Frankie Laine and probably a few others and the last verse went like this:
Gonna dance, gonna fly,
I'll take a chance riding high,
Before my number's up,
I'm gonna fill my cup,
I'm gonna live, live, live, until I die!

. . . and so shall we all.