Monthly Archives: September 2011

Bridger Wilderness vs. Bob Marshall Wilderness…


Cook Lake in the Bridger Wilderness, Bridger-T...

The Bridger. Great views, moderate hiking, lots of fish. Some bears.

The memory of pain is fleeting.  (Of course as soon as I say that, I readily acknowledge no man can possibly relate to the agony of childbirth.)  My version of excruciating pain, back in the day, was repeated self-subjection to marathons (2:24 PR).  Invariably no sooner did I stumble across the finish line when I swore, literally and figuratively, that I’d never ever ever – ever – subject myself to such torture again.

But within a few days, I’d hit the bricks as usual with my running buddies, chatting up other runners about “where to, next?”  I implored the Gods of running to allow me, one more time, to recant my sin of even considering ‘never again’.

Same with backpacking.  Last July’s burden of lugging an accursed  60 lb. pack along a forever uphill trail in the heat amid a futile effort to swat gazillions of bloodthirsty mosquitoes while eating 1 star rated (if that) camp food has faded to warm, treasured memories.  I’m ready to do it all over again.

So, Saturday, July 21, 2012 is shove off day for five nights of back country enjoyment.  Only this time, the group has to weigh two options: a return to the Bridger Wilderness or head a tad further north to the truly wild country of the Bob Marshall Wilderness in Montana.  I’ve not been to the Bob Marshall, but it seems nasty enough country.  It is reported to have more grizzlies, more moose, more everything worth seeing or worrying about.  The other option is to return to the Bridger to take on what’s called “The Loop”, a circuitous trek of about 25 miles that would would push us well beyond where my group bivouacked this past summer.  It is known country, full of fish, mostly gentle trails, and incredible sights.  That said, wherever we enter the high country it will still be a pleasure cruise of backpacking.  As for bears, perish the thought: there is strength in our numbers.

I’m going.  Pain be damned.  RSVP here if you want to push your limitations.

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Bad things in the shadows…


When 2010, a truly crummy year,  came to pass, the calendar and every single one of the 365 crummy pages – save a few – couldn’t be dumped fast enough.  2011 seems to be stacking up much the same way.  When the stroke of midnight comes on December 31, whatever bubbly is in my glass will be hoisted to the year ahead, not the year just past.

Enough with the whine.  The kids know, and without any prompting from me, that life simply moves on without consideration for our views and the literal calendar pages are not at fault.  Jobs, politics, daily living, it’s all there.   Ellen copes with a teaching system that wrestles with the same pressures every other school district struggles to overcome.  Reid has an agency job that makes break-neck pace seem like a Studebaker in the slow lane.

So they see the sunny side while their dad sees bad things the shadows.  I feel badly they read the constant griping and moping.  There damn well better be better days ahead.  Time seems to conspire against us, however, like wave after wave on a shoreline.  But when you talk to each of them, there is a sense of youthful optimism.   At their insistence we will deal with what comes when it comes.  That doesn’t mean I won’t kick 2011 in the rump as it heads out the door.

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September 19, 2011

Ellen/Reid: I’m getting a lot of questions about whether I am about to get caught in the bank’s web of 30,000 job cuts.  The honest answer is I don’t know.  My ratings have been good but beyond that how things will play out is anyone’s guess.  The bank has done an admirable job of softening the blow by near-continual stories in the press as well as alluding to the situation in the bank’s own communication mechanism.  As you say, Ellen, retirement isn’t that far off.  One would just move on to something else, wouldn’t he?  Numb’s the word.  There is no other way to accept what might, or might not, be coming this way.

Reid, I feel sorry about your travel situation to NYC.  I’d just make sure to let your boss know that you are sorry about the situation.  What she said to you and what she thinks could be entirely two different things.  Make sure she knows.  Everyone misses flights; I’ve missed my share, too.  It’s just the vagaries of travel.  It has happened to everyone, especially when you live in a big metropolis where getting to the airport can be dicey in the mornings, what with cabs and trains and clogged traffic and people honking.  You’ll be all right.  It’s just the way it is for the working traveler.

Our all-knowing legislature has seen fit to table discussions on the incredibly dire education, jobs and economic situations (North Carolina unemployment is nearing 11%) down here while it opts to take on far more important matters: a constitutional amendment to define a marriage as between a man and a woman.  What this ultimately will do is ban same-sex couples from legal unions along with other rights afforded heterosexual couples.  It is total and complete lunacy.  Of course, they cite biblical passages as a way to punish the minority citizenry.  Hey, I’m as far from a Biblical scholar as one can get but fire-and-brimstone zealots seem to be equally as far away on the forgiving spectrum (which is my loose interpretation of a forgiving God).  They even twist the discussion as something of an employment thing (man-wife unions create jobs) which I totally don’t get.  Even the business community has come down on the side of same-sex neutrality because bias is bad for business.  Thankfully, Presbyterians don’t share such religious heavy-handedness either.  Tolerance seems to be pretty old school these days.  It’s up to you but I’d hope you two have at least a small dose of it.  There seem to be bigger things on God’s plate these days.  We just don’t seem to get it down this way.  As you would guess, the zealot way is to tell those in disagreement to take their views elsewhere.  Some people are.

There is nothing new in your grandmother’s situation although the planning is already afoot.  Ralph and Gayle have picked out mom’s clothes and jewelry for her service.  I’m okay with that.  I’ll handle the obituary.  On one hand it does make sense to deal with the inevitable although it makes me a little uncomfortable, maybe sad is a better term, since the event has not come to pass.  Perhaps it is just the way things are.  I’ve been trying to get my emotional arms around the whole darn situation but nothing has mentally jelled for me just yet.  I keep going back to this idea that we should remember your grandmother as she was, not as she is.  When push comes to shove for me whenever the inevitable occurs, that wouldn’t be such a bad mindset or approach for the two of you, either.  Not to be morbid about it but it is just pre-planning in a manner of speaking.

Okay, gotta run.  Ellen, sorry to see poor old Henry’s face the other day.  Poor guy.  What a sweetie.  Since I work at home now, perhaps there’s no excuse for not having a dog.  But if I got one, that would make two in the household.  Get it?

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A period of relative calm…


Henry the Conehead is a picture of absolute despair. Ellen says he'd otherwise nibble at a wound on his paw. Poor guy.

Not a whole lot has changed in any of our situations; mom is the same (good), Ellen and Reid are getting on with things (more good) and the bank continues a drip-drip-drip process to condition employees for the inevitable before it lowers the job-cutting boom (not so good).  All in all, it is a period of relative calm.  Still, we three have our own brand of hurricane season.  Hanging over our heads is the omnipresent threat of heavy weather blowing in.  You know it will happen, you just don’t know when and with what force.

Caught in the calm was last week’s letter.  It reverted to the letters of old (before what is known as the “Betsy Admonition” to make the letters more meaty with less fluff so as to keep her – and anyone else’s – attention).  Fluff was apparently in vogue last week.

Of note was the decision by my boys in Des Moines – Bob, Dave 1 and Dave 2 (I am Dave 3) – to make a courtesy trip to CLT.  As with Coeur d’ Alene last September, we will reconvene for golf and wine although not necessarily in that order.  Last year was something of a sympathy tour for them in terms of me (I will give them their due credit: they ponied up for virtually all the expenses) but this time is more of a guy’s trip where we’re all on more-or-less equal footing.  As Dave 3 has told chief organizer Dave 1, the caveat is how and when events will unfold in the Midwest.  That could derail the best laid plans.

As for next week’s letter, hopefully it will be de-fluffed sufficiently to meet the “Betsy” standard.

—————

September 12, 2011

Ellen/Reid: Now, the last few days of weather here are what North Carolina is all about.  Sunny and warm, but not too hot, beautiful evenings with low humidity.  If the state Chamber of Commerce wants to tout nice weather as an enticement to those wanting to relocate to the South, they can start with this past weekend.

Haven’t heard from your uncle in the past couple of days which I take for a sign that nothing much has changed for your grandmother.  It’s good if she appears to be holding her own.  She’s always been a fighter.  My friend John at Caldwell has asked me about her situation regularly.  He’s very good about that.  Several others there have commented, too.  I suppose that just shows the relatively small size of the church community.

Apparently there will be reprise of the trip to Coeur d’Alene from last fall.  Bob Furstenau, Dave Hemminger and Dave Dahlquist will come down to visit Bradley Acres here in Charlotte in early November for a four day weekend, and we will drink wine, tell stories, and venture over to Pinehurst to play course #2, the track where the U.S. Open has been held and will be held again in a couple of years.  We will use caddies, which is always fun.  Pat D. still does a land-office photo business with Pinehurst so it will be fun to walk in the Pro Shop and see the work on display.  We’ll play another course over that way on Friday, drink more wine on an overnight stay in Pinehurst, get up to a hearty breakfast and Advil and then play #2 on Saturday morning before resurfacing in Charlotte.  This time Jane is relieved of any planning duties.  It’s on the broad shoulders of the rest of us.  It’s nice of those guys to want to come down for a long weekend, given the hectic pace of their working lives.  That doesn’t apply so much to Dave H. as he spends lots of time down on his farm in southern Iowa.  I think Bob is gearing up for retirement.  He uses all his vacation time to good advantage; motorcycle rides through the Rockies and just this week, a golf escapade in Scotland.  I think Gordie is on that trip but I’m not altogether sure about that.  Lucky stiffs.

Looks like my next college teaching gig on writing for newspapers may fall through.  Doesn’t look like we will reach the minimum number of attendees (which is only seven or eight or something like that).  For some reason I thought the attendance would be very good but that’s not the case.  I was actually pretty excited about teaching this course.  Given that newspapers are falling through the floor, maybe budding writers can read the tea leafs and see there aren’t many newspaper jobs.  Perhaps, too, it should be renamed “News Writing.”  That way, we can cover print, online and broadcast.  As Felicia says, “We’ll see.”  Hopefully the college will give me another crack at it.

Felicia is out on the Outer Banks this week with some of her past cronies from Shelby and other North Carolina cities.  After the summer she’s had, she deserves the R&R.  As far as can be told, they are riding bikes, walking, and drinking wine.

Reid, I’m sorry to err in not booking our Thanksgiving flight arrivals closer together.  That was totally boneheaded on my part.  I had the chance to make things uber convenient and blew it.  Since you get in earlier than me, and Ellen, if you’ll indulge him, you could get picked first at noon and then come back to pick up your old man at 4:33 on U.S. Airways.  I’m really excited for the T-Day trip and to have something to look forward to.  As much as I grouse about not wanting to travel anymore, it’s one trip I’m looking forward to.

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“It’s reality”…


As noted a few posts ago, Reid reminded me not to stew too much that the letters to he and his sis are far from high art.  “It’s reality,” he said.

Last week was more of the same.  If it is reality, then they are getting a super steady dose of it.  It is remarkable how the letters have changed in the past decade to keep pace with their maturity and ability to accept the good news along with news which isn’t so cheery.  That’s testament to them getting on with leading their own lives.  What once was designed to keep them occupied for a few moments in college with homey witticisms has become a running dialogue of one family’s life and times.  As with any family, a hell of a lot happens in the space of 10 years.

Actually, we have just passed the 11 year mark – Ellen, correct me if that’s wrong – in the drip-drip-drip dad-to-children process.  When you look at what has occurred even in the short span of the past half-year, it continues to be evident (at least to me) that the letters are as much for the dad as the pages are for the kids.  It is cathartic to record what’s gone on in Nebraska, my health, and whatever else weighs even a little heavily on me. A few weeks back while in Grand Island, I had a Saturday night alone to pour over boxes of old family photos, some from the late 1800’s and the early part of the last century.  Who were these people and where do they fit into extended Bradley-Andersen-Allington-Benson history?  There were few pieces of correspondence to shed light or hold clues.  Many of my ancestors shown in sepia or black and white prints will pass by without so much of a hint as to who they were, where they lived, what they did.  Right then it came to me one more time that for better or worse, Ellen and Reid have at least my side of the story in the stack of paper that at least Ellen throws into a box.  It’s better than no side of our story at all.

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September 6, 2011

Ellen/Reid: There hasn’t been much in the way of light-hearted news as of late.  Your grandmother’s predicament, hurricanes dumping on North Carolina, job losses/high unemployment in Charlotte.  You’ll just have to bear with me while I pick my chin up off the floor.  One of these days that sour worm will turn and it will be rosy and sun-shiny.  Uh huh.

Actually, I don’t how one can keep moving ahead if they remain dour all the time.  Sure, we’ve been thrown a few curve balls but we just have to keep walking forward because there’s nothing to be gained if you stop or inch backward.  That’s how I’m trying to look at things even though that’s not necessarily the direction I feel like looking at right about now.  It’s just hell on wheels.  Your uncle calls me most every day to give me the latest update.  It’s just not good and the news probably won’t get any better.  Your grandmother continues to lose weight and energy.  That’s not a very good recipe for health.  I’ve been hearing from friends, including my cousin in Oregon, Tom Andersen, to keep our collective chins up, so I’d expect both of you to do that and to keep her in your thoughts and prayers.  Maybe that’s a way to connect to her.  I don’t know.  There is a strong chance she will be moved to the Veteran’s Administration home in Grand Island but that’s not wholly decided yet.  Even Tom’s dad (Henry), your grandmother’s brother in Portland, has his own hands full with declining health, too.  It’s just so sad to see.  He was such a vibrant, charismatic man.

Your uncle and I were talking about post-service plans for your grandmother just this day.  The service will be in Omaha at Dundee Presbyterian with internment next to your grandfather.  There seems to have been some small snafu with the literal grave site, as there is potential that the site next to your grandfather has been sold (as opposed to being in use).  Your uncle is looking into it.

It was a good diversion to know you both jetted out of town for the Labor Day weekend.  I never traveled that much when I was your age unless it was by car.  Maybe this is just a different time, but you guys fly so much you know all the airport protocols by heart and probably have hefty frequent flyer mile accounts.  Reid, NYC is the one town I miss but as you found you’ve got to have a bank account to make a go of it there.  But there’s no better spot for food or fun or anything else for that matter.  I really do miss it.  You can keep LA and Miami and Cleveland.  Nice spots, but there’s only one Big Apple.  Ellen, I literally laughed out loud when you said you were going to yet another wedding.  How much of your disposable income has gone to going to weddings?  You are the wedding queen of the central U.S.  I swear, your next job could be a gig at a wedding shop.  You’ve just had a lot of friends walk down the aisle.  Reid, I can’t recall a single friend of yours who has gotten hitched.  That’s okay, there’s time.

The Observer had headlines the other day about 30,000 layoffs at the bank.  We have an efficiency movement underway and apparently it will be very efficient.  I try not to think about what might happen and try to keep what’s left of my nose to the grindstone.  Whatever will be, will be.  Que sera, sera.  You can only get pounded over the head so much, and besides, I’ve already been down that road.  I think it shakes John’s cage a little since he’s got to try to help me piece a retirement situation together.  But at risk of jumping ahead too far too fast, let’s just take one step at a time.

Well, I’ll sign off for this time.  Keep the text messages coming, and I’ll keep the paper flowing your way.  Wish more of it could be green for you guys.

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Very far very fast…


Mom has lost her mobility and eyesight, but she has her moments of lucidness. This is a tough image for me to see, but our choice is to remember her as she was, not as she is.

For the second time in the space of 15 months, my brother and I are  renewing acquaintance with hospice.  Our mother went under hospice care late last week in a small facility in Wood River.  I can’t imagine mom ever envisioned that things would come to this in a declining small town of 1,204 hidden away in central Nebraska.

The question we ask ourselves is ‘when?’ but there is no certain answer.  I don’t want there to be.  All we know for sure is that she has slipped very far very fast.

If the situation is looked at only from quality of life standpoint then what will eventually happen will be merciful.  Mom is thankfully in no real pain, there is no known disease present beyond the numerous small strokes that have accumulated to bring her to this sorry stage of life.  She has simply no more gas in her tank.  Even so, I told Ellen and Reid on the phone and by letter that we don’t know what she is thinking but we know that she is thinking.  Her facial expressions – a nice smile or a knowing roll of her eyes – is evidence enough that she still processes a sizable portion of what she hears. My time with her last weekend was devoted to stroking her hair, talking to her about the old times when we were growing up as kids, and watching her green eyes.  There’s still some life there.  It’s just that we don’t know how much.

My brother and I have had pretty much the same muted reaction to the long goodbye.  It is some mixture of stoicism and relief (for her).  If mom has taught us yet another lesson, it is to get the most out of what we have left, too, but that when our own end stage of life arrives, neither of us wants anything dragged out.  If there is a plug to be pulled, the kids can kiss me on the forehead then yank the cord.

—————

August 30, 2011

Ellen/Reid: It was a pretty melancholy trip to Nebraska these last four days.  As you can imagine, it’s tough to watch your grandmother deteriorate over such a short span of time.  Everyone, and I got caught up in it too, tries the guessing game of how much longer she will be among us, but it’s not up to anyone beyond the higher source who will make that determination in due time.

Mom in late April of this year. I wasn't prepared for how quickly her condition had changed. This is the image I will keep.

I really wasn’t prepared for the difference between last spring and now.  She has just gone downhill so rapidly.  She’s not ambulatory in any way.  There is no more walking let alone sitting up without significant assistance.  But you know, she can look up at you with those green eyes and you can tell that she is absorbing information to the degree that she can.  I spent a lot of timing just looking into her eyes, stroking her hair, and watching for her reactions.  If you say something funny she’ll roll her eyes and maybe nod her head approvingly.  Sentences or a short string of words are tough to come by for her and at most she can get out a couple of labored ideas but you have to be listening attentively.  What warmed my heart was she distinctly asked “how are the little ones”, and when I gave her the updates about you two knuckleheads she would roll her eyes approvingly or smile.  That was incredible.  If I hear no other words from her, at least I have her final ones: “I love you” (along with “Drive safely”).  She can also give you a little kiss on the cheek, and before I left her room I made sure to get a couple of those.

She spends almost all her time by herself.  When the staff puts her in her wheelchair, they roll her out into the common room where the TV is attuned to whatever it is the staff wants to watch.  She can’t see far enough, let alone hear the TV, to make much of a difference.  But at least she’s out among ‘em and whatever that is worth is okay.  None of us really knows what is going through her mind, and perhaps she’s taking more away from “As The World Turns” or whatever soap or news program they have on, than we know.  I hope she is.

Your uncle and I have decided that when the time comes, hospice will come to her instead of her to it.  That’s how we did it with your grandfather last summer and that worked out just fine (given the circumstances).  She’s not in any particular pain or discomfort, other than the same prone position in bed or sitting in her wheelchair, so there’s not much necessary in terms of pain meds or anything of that order.  In some very major ways, that’s a blessing.  She does wince a bit when she wants to roll over or move, but that’s to be expected.  You’d do the same if you were in the same position 24/7.  Our layman’s view is that we seem to think she’s just running out of gas, pure and simple.  Like your grandfather, her appetite is mostly gone and they keep her going with a few sips of protein drink since she cannot feed herself or really chew solid food.  But she still has those green eyes and you can see something going on behind them.  She’s trying to hold her own and keep on keeping on as best she can.

When I left her Sunday afternoon, I wondered if this was the final goodbye.  I’m relatively at peace with things; her husband is gone, she’s incapacitated and she’s largely in no pain, she knows her kin have largely done okay and that her job as a parent is fulfilled in a good way.  I suppose what we should do is remember her as she was, not as she is.  There is no other way to approach it.  Life has taken its turn with her.  She’s had a good one and now is the time for it to end.  It was great that you both had a chance to say something in her ear on the phone.  She would respond and smile as you both took turns.   That’s when I knew I could leave her on good terms for the both of us.

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