My brother called early last week. He advised the time was now – right now – to visit mom, perhaps for the final time, and make plans for what will possibly occur in the next few months. It made for a rough four day weekend in central Nebraska. What a hell of a 14 months since our dad passed away.
Barb’s health and mobility have undergone a notable and steady decline; a non-reversable process that had greatly accelerated since my visit in the spring. I was saddened beyond words at how fast her health had tumbled in the space of a few months. Professionals in a better spot than us to estimate such things place the end-of-life time frame before year’s end.
The whole situation was covered in this week”s letter to Ellen and Reid; that note and some photos won’t be posted, however, until next week.
But even in the face of my mother’s predicament, this week is about my twin and his town.
My brother does taxi duty from the airport. He's a good guy - for a lawyer.
My brother, Ralph, has been attorney-like throughout much of our mother’s decline. He’s has managed her finances, paid the bills, talked to the doctors, and kept her company. It was at his insistence that mom was moved from Omaha to be near him. That he lives in Grand Island (mom is in a care facility about 15 miles west in Wood River) doesn’t hurt.
Grand Island (GI) is a nice enough place. A good spot to raise his family (wife Gayle and two sons – also lawyers – Andy and Joe). He’s been an incredibly successful member of the bar, and don’t buy his ‘aw-shucks-I’m-just-a-country-lawyer” song and dance. His clients apparently know where to send their checks.
A 102 car Union Pacific train breezes through Grand Island. I counted one train with 129 cars - literally one mile long. Most trains shuttle Wyoming coal to eastern power stations.
I took several long walks for the alone-time and just to see what drives the engine in my bro’s prosperous little burg of 70,000. This chunk of Nebraska, and most of the environs around Grand Island, are table top flat. If there was any elevation gain during my 3-4 mile jaunts, it was measured in the few feet of rise and fall as my path along the road momentarily elevated as it crossed twin sets of tracks that are Union Pacific’s major East-West rail artery. The tracks run plum through the middle of Grand Island. Incessant whistles warn motorists of the coming tonnage, but there is no stopping, and no slowing down. Every 15 minutes, another unimaginably long train – the car count of one zephyr headed West: 129 – rumbles through town at just over 50 mph.
Ralph makes his money as you would expect in a small town. Everyone knows everyone else’s business, and they bring their business to him. Much of it is from Latinos, most of whom were drawn to town to work in the packing plants but they’ve spread their wings with all sorts of small businesses. About one-third of GI‘s population is Latino or Hispanic and they’ve turned the
Dual signage on most buildings signals Grand Island's acceptance of its Latino population.
economic tide upward in central Nebraska and the town has had to adapt to a bilingual culture. The Latino community is a portion of Ralph’s client base in part because he’s a Democrat in a very Red State and in part because he treats them fairly and with respect. I don’t know what he does for fun when he’s not pushing paper since he doesn’t golf. He played softball for decades but injury-riddled guys like him became an annuity program for orthopedic surgeons; he’s active in his church so that’s where a lot of his time goes.
The town chafes at its second-class status even in a small state like Nebraska. But as I’ve told Ralph many times, locals still have high speed Internet, first-run movies, jets to whisk them out of town, a Best Buy and the same satellite/cable channels as anyone else, plus a Starbucks where the staff is incredibly friendly and polite.
All roads don't lead to Grand Island. They just sort of skirt it. But Hwy. 2 into the Sand Hills is the real deal.
GI sort of embraces its pioneer past, and real cowboys are seen throughout the city, mostly in the stores where they can buy goods they can’t get as cheaply in hamlets such as Loup City, Ord or Broken Bow (just northwest of GI along Hwy. 2 in Nebraska’s wonderful Sand Hills. It’s a paradise for bikers and a shortcut to Sturgis).
The town formally celebrates its Western past at the Stuhr Museum of the Prairie Pioneer. It is situated along Hwy. 281 across from Ralph’s house. The high point is a resident bison (buffalo to the rest of us) and old period buildings that look the pioneer part. I walked from Ralph’s house across 281, hopped a short fence,
A dust bath isn't such a bad gig for a bison on a hot day in Nebraska. My presence was a non-event for the beast.
and in a few minutes was next to the bison empoundment. The big guy (or girl, since I couldn’t know for sure because it never stood) was rolling in a dust hole to rid itself of annoying bugs. He/she saw parasites as more of a threat than my nearby presence.
Grand Island has been a good enough spot for my brother. It has fulfilled all his needs, and then some. As for me, I’m not sure I could live there. It’s a nice place to visit but if he wasn’t there and if mom wasn’t close by, then Hwy. 2 would be the best, and fastest, route through town to points West.
August 22, 2011
Ellen/Reid: The paper said this morning that we have to keep an eye on a developing hurricane that could be headed this way toward the end of the week. What that would mean here is plenty of rain and some gnarly winds, maybe. They tend to publish the hurricane forecasts but in my time here there’s only been one that pushed its way this far into the Piedmont, and it dumped a lot of moisture on us for a couple of days. It’ll be worse over by the coast; that we’re inland about three hours doesn’t hurt us too much.
Your mom said there’s an apparent buyer for the house on South Shore. That’s been a while coming. That was a good spot for you guys vis a vis that point in your lives. Plenty of room, nice yard, good location. I told her I miss poking around in the yard (there’s a difference between poking around in the yard and heavy duty yard work) and I suppose where I am now is a direct anti-yard reaction to maintaining that big spread. What I liked most about it was the garden and the deck and I recall you (mostly you, Reid) grilling with buddies and just hanging out. We all just kind of dissolved away from that place so its sale isn’t that wrenching. But I do miss elements of it.
It looks as if we can unfortunately begin to see the final miles of the long downhill road for your grandmother. When I got up Saturday morning there was a voicemail from your uncle that came in just after midnight local time. I knew that could mean no good. He and I talked a fair amount that morning and the consensus among the doctors is that the event is not imminent but that it isn’t that far off, either. The predictions range from three to six months although there’s no certainty to any of that. It’s the None of us can really know what’s going through her mind right now. I wonder how she’s handling all of it or if she can piece together the events of the past three or four years. Mom and dad only came down here once and that was enough to know to enjoy them while they are still here and have all or most of their abilities. Your aunt and uncle have borne the lion’s share of the duties and for that I am grateful. It would be great to be out there much more often, and right now I’m figuring out a way to visit Grand Island in the pretty near future. The whole situation brings up a lot of emotions held over from last year with your grandfather. It’s a mixture of sadness, and to some degree, hopefulness that she won’t suffer like he did. I just wish we knew with any degree of certainty that she wasn’t in any major discomfort or mental anguish. That’s all I want to be assured of. It does make one fast forward to their own end-of-days and I need to get off the snide and get my legal stuff in order so you two don’t have to worry about that aspect of things when the inevitable time arrives. I’m trying to stave off the early grieving process. It’s hard for anyone to truly know how to react in these circumstances. We’ll just have to do the best we can and remember her as she was, not as she is. As news develops you will know pretty quickly.
My friend in Des Moines, Brian the Harley rider, and his girlfriend Nancy were injured on the way to Sturgis when their Ultra blew a tire at highway speeds on I-90 in South Dakota and flipped several times. The highway patrol said their injuries weren’t life threatening but he doesn’t remember her and he’s still in the hospital. She has some facial injuries. Lucky they were wearing helmets. In that respect they were fortunate because a lot of riders don’t make it through those crashes. Many folks ditch their helmets once they get in South Dakota since it’s not a helmet state. We wear ours all the time, even when we ride in South Carolina. Felicia has taken a sudden aversion to riding on the Interstate although I think its way safer than the twisty two lane roads down here. You can never say never, but I’ve always been a defensive sort for the most part.
Okay, over and out. Talk to you soon, be good, work but have fun. Reid, I will make T-Day plane plans this week.