Monthly Archives: May 2010

A 44 cent security device…

More bad news on the local personal security front last week.  Seems a CD chock full of Social Security Numbers and other personal data was swiped and no one knows for sure how or where the information will surface or if it ultimately fell into the wrong hands to be used for criminal purposes.  For all we know someone could be downloading the hot data right now onto some nefarious website or applying for bogus loans or arranging for ersatz credit cards.

This instance, while far from isolated, is another reminder that our dependence on all things electronic and interconnected has rough, jagged edges.  Admittedly it is a stretch to equate written correspondence as somehow safer than the brittle security of the Internet.  But one thing we know to be true; whatever goes on the web can be fair game for someone who doesn’t play fair.

Maybe I am nutty – that is a rhetorical question that does not demand an answer – but I keep falling back on the idea that there is not always a need to go electronic in our communications.  That’s why much of the time my best security device is a 44 cent stamp.


Here is the May 24 letter to Ellen and Reid

May 24, 2010

Ellen/Reid: We’ve had better days than these but somehow we will manage to get through it all.  It is just the way of the world.  Your grandfather’s most recent setback would have been a death knell had the intestinal blockage not been removed.  As it turns out, the blockage was caused by a hernia which was constricting his intestine.  Not quite sure how that occurred but it did.  It is of a mild relief that it was not related to his cancer but still, it won’t further his cause.  He is exhausted and in need of rest.

This happens just when we thought we’d found the ideal place for the pair of them.  To stay together was their wish but we could not of known the emergency surgery lay ahead.  That has thrown a wrench in the works.  How the place works is that you sign up for a specified level of care; i.e. your grandfather stipulated he would handle your grandmother’s medications and most of the other duties.  But with him out of commission, there is no one to give your grandmother her pills, no one to take her to the dining area, and no one to literally watch over her.  They would have ridden things out in their little apartment and that would have been great.  Hospice would have come in to assist your grandfather when that time arrived.  Honestly, I’m not sure what we would have done if they were still at home.

But they found your grandmother roaming outside the building yesterday, and what that means is that she can likely not stay there anymore.  The cost to provide what is essentially 24 hour babysitting is exorbitant and well beyond their budget.  So now we’re up in the air and all of this is upsetting, particularly to your uncle who is incensed that planning for such eventualities didn’t occur long ago.  We didn’t have benefit of a crystal ball to foresee events.  Who knew your grandpa would go into surgery and turn this latest plan upside down?

The move itself went okay.  Your grandfather was upset at the rapidity of things but your uncle really pushed the envelope very, very hard.  A bull in a china shop.  But fortunately he did or we’d be in worse straits than we are now.  Watching your grandparents go up and down stairs in a dimly lit house was agonizing; you saw that for yourselves a few weeks ago.  I’m thinking of taking a leave of absence to go up there to attend to things, in part because your grandmother needs it and to ease the burden on your uncle who is closest to the action.  Not certain how all of that will plan out but I’m looking into it today.  I am still scheduled to be there June 4 – 10.  The family room and kitchen and their bedroom has all been moved.  As a practical matter, what remains is to simply start organizing the remaining items; tools, kitchenware, clothing, furniture, and other odds and ends.  We haven’t even talked about readying the property for sale.

Before all of this came down I began to ask your grandfather again about our family past.  I’ve included a recent newspaper clipping recounting his story from November 21, 1944 when his B-17 made a forced landing in Belgium.  He was glad to talk about it.  We also talked about his forebears; looks like his side of the family had its roots in North Carolina and we fought on the losing side of the Civil War.  That’s why they ended up in Clark, Missouri as they pushed Westward after the great conflict.  Reid, your grandfather thinks Gen. Omar Bradley is a first cousin of your great grandfather, Ed Bradley because they were both from the same neck of the rural woods in Missouri.  We talked too, about how grandpa worked for a little paper in Ida Grove, Iowa before jumping to the Sundance Times and Crook County News in Wyoming.  His pay in Ida Grove: $30 a month.

I’ll go for now, but keep your phones on for the latest updates.  If you have any questions, let me know and I’ll answer them as best I can.  We’ll get through this even if it’s not easy.


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The avalanche of events…

Rather than taper off, the avalanche of bad news has picked up speed.  My father in particular has been dealt setback after serious setback.  Doctors earn their money the hard way as the bearers of all the news you don’t want to hear.  Few would argue the most important med school class for up-and-coming MDs and DOs may be “Bedside Manner 101”.

The slow-mo arrival of inevitability cannot be stopped or derailed.  That sledgehammer is coming and each of us knows it.  We feel its warm breath over our shoulder.  The time for denial is over.  This is all surreal in many ways; the planning for what lies ahead, packing of the old homestead, the quiet conversations tinted by fate, the upheaval and other realisms that must be handled now.

This past Monday’s letter to Ellen and Reid relayed as much information as matter-of-factly as possible.  But it was by no means or in any way adequate.  No page can do that justice.   Other details were passed along through more conventional means.  The kids are eager to know how their grandparents fare in no uncertain terms and they are old enough to digest the details.  Perhaps in this ado they see a preview of what lies down the road for them and me when our own avalanche of events gains a head of steam.  None of which is lost on me.

On my parent’s part, they literally demand to spend as much time together as they have left.  “How”s your mother?” asks my dad.  “Where’s Ralph?” pleads my mother.  They are separated now in different institutions to accommodate their different needs.  In strict health terms, that is the prudent move.  But as I tell my brother, who has persistently advocated such care, they have earned the right to be obstinate.  I take the other tact; let them live out their days holding hands.


My parents have a new address.  Their third in less than two weeks.  Here is today’s letter to them.

May 28, 2010

Mom and Dad: To say these past couple of weeks have been a whirlwind for both of you is an understatement.  When it rains, it pours.  The four of us will have to get our hands around it as best we can.

Ellen and Reid are up to speed on things, and both have remarked how glad they were to see you just a month ago.  Dad, I’ve hesitated to give them your room phone lest they ring it off the wall.  Both of them feel you’re doing the right thing.

All things considered the people out at ___________ have been pretty good.  They seem to be genuinely concerned about the two of you, and have tried to find the best living situation that will keep the two of you together.  That’s as it should be.  I hope by the time you get this, dad, you’ll be out of there and back at _________ and on the mend.  How the heck did this blockage thing escape lots of sets of eyes?  But at least they caught it in time and got it removed.  Thank God none of this happened while you were still in the house.  That would have been total chaos for everyone.

A week from today I’ll be back there to tend to the house.  To be honest about it, this is the right move at the right time.  I’m not completely sold on how the real estate agent is approaching things – I don’t have a ton of faith in them – because their approach is always fairly formulaic; i.e. paint everything neutral and put in new carpet.  Please.  The beauty of that house is it is well built and well maintained, in a great neighborhood on a large, wooded lot and it is close to downtown to cut down on someone’s commute.  The agent should sell to the strength rather than make excuses.  I’ll have my hands full trying to corral your other son who is giving more orders than an Army general.  But he’s doing the right thing at a tough time.

I’m working from home today since they have shut down much of the Uptown area for something they call Speed Street.  NASCAR is in town and they shut off the main drag in our downtown for food tents, music and stuff like that.  My parking lot has become a temporary concert venue.  I’d rather be in the office than lazing around here in a tee shirt and shorts.  I don’t like that very much.  The Big Race is Saturday night but I won’t be there.  Not much planned for the long weekend beyond golf and riding my bike a little bit.

All of this is hard to see from afar.  I feel guilty in not being there and for foisting most of the work on my brother.  I guess that’s just the lay of the land.  But in a week I’ll be at your bedside trying to help.  I love you guys very much, and if that helps with your recoveries, so be it.  See you very soon.

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What if…

The swirl of sorrowful news in recent weeks pushed ‘what if…’ questions to the top of the pile.  What if we didn’t have a protracted way to allow emotions to pour out?  What if we only had texts, emails and phone calls to rely on?  What if we had no means to archive events as they unfolded?  What if, what if, what if.  I’ve wondered about ‘what if…’ for a few years now but hardly in the context of what we face now.

We’d be the lesser for it, that’s for sure.  The letters are a touchpoint, a home base if you will.  As mundane and hum-drum as many pages are (and no doubt will continue to be), it is better than a jab in the eye with a sharp stick as my parents might have said.  I’ve preached before that there is no single letter that carries extraordinary weight, it is the body of work.  My long-lost high school friend Nancy laments that “I do so wish I had thought to do something like this for my children years ago so someday they would understand where I came from and who I really am.”

How right she is.  Who we are is manifest in how we relate to each other and explain the relationships and the evolution of relationships.  Ellen and Reid should be able to decipher the chain of events not just for these last few weeks but for most of the past decade.  Each letter is single spaced, but there’s plenty of room to read between the lines.  The ‘what if’ train of thought is one I’m glad to have not dealt with.


As always on Wednesday, here is a letter sent not long after my move to Charlotte in 2006.

Nov. 27, 2006

‘Cakes/Reid: Well, the one thing about bathroom scales is they don’t lie and they have no way to break the bad news gently.  They call ‘em like they see ‘em.  So as soon as I stepped in the door yesterday after returning from Omaha, I sucked it up and stepped on to see how much poundage was added with mo’ turkey, mo’ dessert, still mo’ turkey and mo’ taters.  Oh, and that pan gravy slathered over everything.  To my surprise, I hadn’t gained much of anything and I would’ve been willing to bet a modest sum that I was up 3 – 5 pounds.  This is after not being shy around the table.  One thing you can say about your grandmother, that lady knows how to cook, not only in quality but sheer volume.  She can really bring it in the kitchen.  She asked about you guys repeatedly.  I told her all was good.

For the most part, the Christmas shopping is over and done with.  Maybe a few small things now and then, but your bigger gifts were shipped to _________ Drive last week for arrival tomorrow (Tuesday).  I stopped at the house on Saturday before playing golf with Kenyon, Oleson and Allen.  Things looked good, Henry could be saddled and ridden like a bronco, and I dug up some chive to take back to Charlotte for my new copper window planter from Smith & Hawken.  Your mother and I went over to the mall to buy a couple of things, and it was good to be around her.  Weird, but good.  For the most part she appears to be happy, and it’s good for her to have her mom and sister and the gaggle of friends to help her.  Wish I had that in Charlotte.  But we had a pleasant enough time and it was good to see her.

The Colo. – Nebr. game was closer than the score indicated.  EB, my good friend going all the way back to 3rd grade, Bill _______, was able to use the ticket so things worked out just fine.  The Big Red has clearly slipped a few steps but they will play Oklahoma in the Big 12 title game this weekend.  Your Uncle Ralph wants to go to the game in Kansas City, but he can’t find anyone to go with him.  He wanted me to buzz up for the weekend, but one game every 10 years is plenty enough for me.  Reid, did you know Butler won the Preseason NIT in NY?  Yeah, they rolled over Indiana, Tennessee, Gonzaga and some other flunky.  It was quite the show.  So you’ll have something to look forward to when you get back.

The weather sure is a hell of a lot different.  40s and 50s in Nebraska, 72F when I returned home yesterday afternoon.  Now, that is a bit over the norm, but people say that’s how it can be almost all the time.  It was in the upper 30s this morning, but no wind.  So it was nice.  But it will be 70F this afternoon.

Sort of settling into some routine around the house.  Leave work, hit the gym, go home and cook something.  One of these days, I have to get organized.  EB, I ain’t moving the office downstairs until I can assure myself that the mountains of paper littering the family room and current office are under control.   I’m paying most of my bills online, but I need filing space for stuff.  Got out on the Harley yesterday for about 50 miles.  It was good to ride if only for a while.

You guys do not need to worry about any sort of gift for me.  I’ll get you both down here soon enough and that’s enough of a present as far as I’m concerned.  So really, don’t send anything down this way.  I’ve got enough stuff on my plate – and on the couch and on the floors – to keep me occupied.  People are already out selecting Christmas trees.  I’m not there quite yet.  If the mall ever has a Scrooge exhibit, I hope they call me to serve as Old Ebenezer.  I’d fit in pretty well.  Well, gotta go and serve the corporate master.  Be good, be safe, be healthy.

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A streak ends…

An unbroken streak of letters to Ellen and Reid – 180-plus weeks by my rough count – was snapped last Monday.  There is no letter from last week to share with you today (although another has been plucked from the archives).  There just wasn’t enough time to get it all done.  I’m sure current events will allow me to more than make up for it.  The three of us have a lot to talk about.

You know what will be at the heart of the matter.  Already we reminisce about their grandparents.  Before the most recent downturn, I asked my dad to again refresh my memory about our relatives, his WWII forced landing in a B-17, and other historical points worth archiving.

This episode could be something of a teaching moment for us.  Our trio would be well served to agree to some sort of plan as push comes to shove when our own brand of inevitability happens at some point down the road.  As my brother and I have noted over and over again in recent days, the worst time to make a decision is when you have to.

There may well be other lasting conversational (and emotional) residue when a natural conclusion comes to pass at some point in the relatively near future.  Ellen and Reid have experienced familial death before – some years ago when their other grandfather suddenly passed away – but this will be an opportunity for us to grapple with the slow decline of health on several different levels.  As the kids are older now, our grief-focused conversations can be more expressive and matter-of-fact.  We will move through all of this in due time.


Here is a old-ish letter to Ellen.

July 14, 2004


Sort of an up and down week here.  The one constant has been the heat, and there’s been plenty of it.  Around 90˚ most days.  Good for corn and tomatoes, they say.  Well, I ain’t got any corn planted and my neighbor has plenty of tomatoes, so the heat can skedaddle on out of here’n.

Too bad about Bill _______.  Glad we weren’t up there, in a way.  I think he was pretty down about what his kids were up to, and maybe that contributed to it.  We’ll never know.  He was an okay guy.

Reid continues to amaze with his ability to get out of bed on his own in the morning.  He had to be at work – at work – at 6:00 this morning and when I popped in at 5:30 to rouse him, his light was already on (the light was on but nobody was home – he was still dozing).  He’s making some good cash this summer.  He’ll deserve a few weeks off in Wyoming or Colorado or wherever he and his posse are headed.

Well now, it sounds like you’re off on the right foot in your teaching career.  Always dicey to meet with the parents.  All they want to know is if you’re going to be nice to their child and know what you’re doing.  Parents are the key.  By the time you’ll get this, you’ll have several days of classroom work under your belt.  Hopefully, you won’t be changing diapers.

Man, we’ll be on the way soon with a boatload of stuff.  There’s quite a lot of nice stuff around the garage for you.  We got rid of the trundle bed this morning.  Kind of surprised the trash folks took both mattresses and the metal springs away.  Really, I thought there was some family that could’ve used it.  It’ll be nice to have the garage back.  We look like a bunch of Okies with the stuff jammed in there.

The Scooter moments have lapsed away entirely.  Poor guy.

How’s this for idiocy: every day I’ve been laying my Harley jacket in the hot sun to help it fade.  Sometimes I sprinkle a little water on it from the sprinkler can to speed the aging process, but the neighbors that see me do it must think the guy is wacko.

Both your mom and I are in a mad dash to get physically fit for Wyoming.  The weight isn’t too bad and I’ve been walking the golf course and toting my clubs, so that’s a start.  Your mother is never out of shape so she’s almost ready to go.  She may head up to the lake one more time when Reid and his posse stop up there in the next couple of weeks.

This is pretty much the last call for items you want us to haul over.  If there’s anything you think of at the 11th hour, call us.  We’ve got most of the kitchen stuff you need.  Maybe as a surprise, you and Afton should cook us a special dinner in your new kitchen.  Wouldn’t that be a real culinary surprise.

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Final pages…

I’m back in Charlotte this morning to wade through a few hundred emails that cascaded in during my four day absence.  That faucet never turns off, let alone slows to a trickle.  It looks, however, as if my return home was premature.  Events in the Midwest have turned for the worse.  The timeframe continues to shrink.

Still, out of sheer habit a letter went out this morning to my parent’s new address.  I wrote it here at my desk, put a stamp on the envelope and got a strong cup of coffee on the way to the postbox.  There was plenty of time yesterday to fire up my laptop on the flights home but it stayed in the overhead bin.  I was literally at a loss for words. 

Instincts and intuition both point to today’s note as probably one of the final pages to my parents as a twosome.  I’d love to be wrong.  This note was a tortuous half hour in the making, and that is far beyond the typical whip-it-out pace of this Friday morning ritual.  My best hope is to do this again next Friday and a few more Fridays after that.  A half hour of very labored prose is a price I would be all too willing to pay.

May 21, 2010

Mom and Dad: The first thing that comes to mind is how proud I am of how you both handled the abrupt move to your new situation.  Looking back with the benefit of two days of hindsight, it is fortuitous that we did so.  Honestly, I’m not sure where we’d be or what we would have done if the forced move was not made.  Mom, you asked me a few times if it was the right thing, and my answer each time was ‘yes.’  I still believe that right now.  There is never a perfect time to move but this was the right time.

Dad, this will be the best setting for mom and for you.  There are people there who care for her and will care for her.  And they will care for you, too.  It’s easy for me to say this because it’s not me in your shoes, but I could not have coped if this did not come to pass.  It is our duty to see to your guy’s well being as best we can; Lord knows you had enough years doing the same for us.  I don’t always agree with the tactics of your other son but I do agree with his aims.  I agree too that it is just a change of address.  I wasn’t for such a quick jolt but it clearly was the best decision all of us could have made.  So he did the right thing in pushing.  The best we can do as a family is keep moving ahead even if it’s not the ideal situation we would all hope for.  Your other son and I would not be able to rest without knowing we’d done all we could to make you comfortable – and to keep you together.  And together you are.

The setting at ______________ is incredible.  The people seem good, and they seem to be genuine and they seem to care for the residents.  I agree that your new room isn’t exactly the same as what you left behind but it’s pretty close.  You spent most of your days in the bedroom and kitchen and family room.  And that’s what you have now.  It’s just that the dimensions are a bit different. 

Ellen and Reid have both called and asked to be kept up to speed on things.  They send their best to the both of you.  It was an act of providence that they were with the two of you just two weeks ago.  They’ve both mentioned how thankful they are that they made the trip.

All of us are in a familial state of shock.  The head person there said it is the norm for new residents to feel anxious and displaced.  Ralph and I are there with you on that score.  But you made the best decision possible given the circumstances you face.  The timing may have felt out of kilter at the time, but thank goodness you are in a spot where you’ll be cared for and loved – and you’ll be together, too.

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Room 105…

Wednesday, May 19

My father did not read this week’s letter to my mother.  I did.

I flew to Omaha to help my parents cope with unfortunate but not unexpected health-related circumstances.   They can no longer live in their home of nearly 40 years.  Steps to and from a second floor, non-senior friendly bathrooms, and a kitchen ill-equipped for older users are untenable for them.  Rapidly failing health mandates that a change be made, and my brother and I are here to see that change through, however much our parents stubbornly protest.  It is just the way things are.  Now, it’s on to assisted living in what will surely be a final chapter.  Their new mailing address is room 105.  This is nothing that every other family has not wrestled with.  It just happens to be our turn.

Early Thursday morning I head for home and work.  My brother and I will have already had the sorrowful duty to fill boxes with the momentos and belongings that might bring some familiarity to my parents new two room ‘suite’.  Already I have in mind what the Friday letter might say and will likely write it on the flight home.  I rarely stew and fret over what to say and how to say it.  This looks to be one of those times.


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A door is opened…

My friend and faithful reader, Ann, lashed me with the velvet whip last week  on several counts about my cookie-cutter letters .  Here is her direct quote: “…I have been unable to find the right moment to say to you, “Get real with your writing”. Life isn’t planting tomatoes, riding a bike and watching winter turn to spring! ALL of us have our moments in life that kick the slats out of our “cribs”. Life is like a hot air balloon: You want it floating up and over the terrain but every once in a while there is a hard landing and maybe tragedy, too.”

I don’t know quite how to respond.  She is spot on about too much repetition about lettuce and the bike and the weather and golf, ad nauseum.  Point well made.  One side might say life is inordinately about mundane daily events; others would argue correspondence is a chance to instruct or take positions on varying topics or let Ellen and Reid in on the inner workings of their dad.  I think Ann is right that the pendulum has swung too far in one direction.  She really caught my attention.

Change is hard.  But I am rethinking the notion of how much information is enough about the uncertainties of work, my personal life, or finances.  They know I am a Democrat and cast a wary eye on single agenda zealots.  I have strong opinions – and my share of insecurities and weaknesses – about many things.  As the kids mature, perhaps the letters should follow suit.  Once an exercise to merely keep them occupied during their time in college, my letters ought to adapt to the times to be far more than a rehash of lettuce, bikes, weather and golf.

Ann nudged me to open a door that I have only dared to peek through in the past.  It may be time to walk through it.


As it is Wednesday, it is time to reach into the archives with an old letter to Ellen.

July 28, 2004


So now you’re in your new digs and all is hunky-dory.  I can’t believe we unloaded everything in one evening and – more or less – got it all situated before we left.  That’s so cool.  But I was sweating like a sailor at a free dance (to quote your Uncle Ralph) by the time we had everything inside.  I hope to ride the bike to Indy sometime in September, so keep a laundry list of smallish stuff I can tote in my saddlebags.  I’m still uncomfortable with the lighting at the rear of the place.  As the landlord if I can install a motion detector.  I’ll pay for it.

It was so nice of the Timster to make the trip down.  He’s a pretty good guy and his idea of an iPod was a great idea.  But I saw in the paper this morning that all sorts of people have experienced hearing losses because they use their iPods too much.  Heck, I lost my hearing the old fashioned way by jacking the car stereo up too loud.

Reid is on his way back from his concert extravaganza and his trip to the lake.  He’ll be exhausted.  We don’t want to know about everything that went on up there.  The less we know the better.  As long as it didn’t include drugs, we’re okay with it.  If his weiner of a car makes it back, it will be a small victory.  We paid through the nose to have that thing prepped for the trip.  Heck, we probably shelled out more than the car is worth, easily.  Next on the selling block: the van.  It’s served its purpose (to move you and your bro’ and all your stuff) and now is the time to get rid of it.  Yo’ momma wants something sportier but she’ll have to fight through me to get an SUV.  I’ll have none of it.

That sure was a nice surprise party Tim and Afton hosted for you.  Hope you were suitably surprised by it.  Man, what a scorcher.  Good thing the pool was part of it because you guys would’ve wilted like flowers without a way to cool off.  There were a fair number of tenants who seemed to be using the pool, too.

Going to take the bike out tonight to Porky’s while your mom goes out to dinner with the girls.  All they’ll do is bash men.  Same as you and Afton do.  I like to see all the other Harleys.  The reason lots of people go there is bike envy.  They think theirs is the best, although I don’t think there are a ton of other Heritage Softails that are better’n mine.  Once the front forks are chromed, watch out baby!  It will be the best Hog around.

Tom and Michelle ______ called us at the last minute last night to go to the ValAire for The Little River Band.  We couldn’t place their music, but once we heard it, we knew who they were.  It was an older crowd and people were really bopping and a-rolling.  At $10 a throw, that’s pretty good entertainment.  You know when the band is bald that they’ve been around a while.  30 years, to be exact.

Well, back to the salt mines.  I like your classroom newsletter, but I’d shift it a bit away from “…I had the kids…” to more of a “…this week the kids really liked…”  See you sooner than later!

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