Snow or Summer Which Shall It Be?

The Lord gave me a huge gift this week-end, He routed the predicted snow storm away from Frankfort. We did have snow, cold, and wind but the inches of snow and ice did not get here. I”m sure somewhere north of us the situation is different. As a kid I loved snow, I couldn’t get enough of it. Snow  meant building snow men or snow forts, snowballs, and snowball wars. It meant sledding down hills and rolling off at the bottom. It meant getting so covered in the white stuff that our pants would be frozen stiff from the knees down. It also meant getting sick with sore throats, and fevers. If we were lucky we’d have some frozen ponds and then we could add ice skating to the fun.

As an old man, I love to look at snow, but despise having to go out into it. It means being cold, or getting the car stuck, and of course it means shoveling walks and driveways clear. It means parking a car is harder, and walking through piles of it from the car is a chore. I would much rather be in a warm sunny climate where snow is something that makes the mountain look pretty. One of my not favorite pastimes is shoveling the drive clear after the Village plow comes by cleaning the street and deposits the street snow onto my newly cleared driveway.

I love sitting in my nice warm house looking out at the bird feeder watching the birds as they feed in a frenzy. I also love seeing tracks made by the squirrels, raccoons, and deer. It is rare to see the actual animals but they are there because after a week the back yard looks like a children’s playground with all the tracks they leave.

Photography in the snow is another favorite passion for an old guy. Winter scenes are among the most beautiful on planet Earth, they project peacefulness and purity.

I guess there is a balance between what I like about snow, and what I don’t like about snow, and I am neutral to it, and if I get really tired of it, I’ll pile onto an airplane to fly to a southern climate. The problem with moving to a warmer climate is that my ass is too firmly rooted in Illinois with family and friends. I recall when I spent the winter months in Arizona with Peg experiencing a strange emotion that something was not right in the Valley of the Sun, I missed snow. Now that is crazy isn’t it? I found having endless days of sunshine without dark cloudy, rainy days boring. I did enjoy not having to bundle up to take a walk. I also enjoyed the greenery and the colorful flowers, but deep inside me there was this nagging feeling that I was out of place there.

Then the days began to get warm, I mean hot. By the end of April ninety degree days were the norm and we had an occasional hundred degree day. The greenery began to turn brown, and It was time to come home. In my mind I envisioned greenery, and colorful flowers and warm, not hot, sunny days. We loaded up and drove home, only to find it still cold, still freezing at night, and mountains of snow piled in parking lots. It would be another eight weeks before we hit the hot humid days of an Illinois summer.

All I can say at this point is that living in midwestern USA prepares one for every type of weather experienced on the planet.

Taco Tuesdays With Tracy

This story begins five years ago when my friends Donna and Al began having dates every Tuesday. Their routinely went to a movie, ate, and then to a local bar for a drink. The bar is different from normal saloons. This one has couches and easy chairs in addition to the standard bar with bar stools. It smacked of a living room setting and it was lady friendly. Al is a super friendly guy with a dynamic personality and often invites walk-ins whom he doesn’t know to join Donna and him for a drink and conversation. It started slow, but then people he knew came in and he corralled them to join too. That is how I got involved, he asked me to join them at the Stray for a drink on Tuesdays. I joined. My wife Peggy and I both came. By then the group was regularly up to six, most were established friends. I watched Al as he looked for people coming in.. He has magic when it comes to getting people to like him.

One Tuesday he spotted a young lady with long jet-black hair sitting at the bar alone and called her over. That was the beginning of a lasting friendship until two weeks ago.  Tracy was young fortiesh with jet black hair that she rolled into a chignon. Her eyes were dark, almost black and she accented them with make-up. Her skin an olive white, she looked very Italian or Greek, She was a beautiful lady. Both Al and I have children that are older. Tracy’s personality was bubbly and upbeat. Occasionally, Tracy showed up with her hair long and straight and looking glamorous. On the days she did we called her Stacy because her person was so different. She easily fit into the group and was able to withstand the teasing she got.

To speed up the story I fast forward to where I am now going to the Stray Tuesdays by myself. Peg’s dementia progressed to the point of her not enjoying the outings any more. I hired a caretaker to be with her full time, but I also stayed home to be with her. For a few weeks the three of us came to the Stray, Peg, me and Irene. All of us got a respite from the house. Eventually, It became too hard on Peg and ergo I took advantage of the time off.

Tracy didn’t have a car, and often walked to the Stray from her apartment a few blocks away. I always gave myself a curfew and when it was time for me to leave I asked her if she wanted a ride because I drove right past her apartment on my way home. She took me up on it. Many times, it was winter, dark and cold, and riding was much safer than walking.

I developed a habit of leaving the Stray at six-thirty to give me enough time to grab a taco or nachos bowl, and I could still be home by seven. I felt I could leave Peg’s company for two hours without me feeling guilty.

Time moves on, and so did Tracy. She moved to a more affordable space. Actually it was a room in a condo owned by a lady who needed some extra cash. Tracy rented a room from her. Tracy loved it. On one evening on our way home I asked her if she wanted to stop for a Taco. She jumped at the proposal, but didn’t like the place I suggested. She instead liked My Taco also on the way home. That is when I started going for Tacos every Tuesday with Tracy. It was a regular thing for us until she got sick and nearly died with liver failure.

Miraculously, Tracy slowly came back. She had to apply for disability which she received from the state. But as soon as she started getting income the state took its piece of the action. She was defunct on a student loan and State said ye shall pay up. Her meager disability-income diminished by a whole lot. To offset the difference she took a job as a part-time property manager with her former boyfriend. He loaned her an old car to allow her to do this. She still struggled with survival. In addition to the rent collections she became a hostess for Capri, a four star restaurant. Because she no longer needed a ride home and because her time was crunched we could no-longer go for a taco together.

About six weeks ago, Tracy was not her usual bubbly self. She sat quietly and watched but didn’t participate. We all suspected she was having a problem, Then she stopped coming. Donna texted her and asked why. She received no answer. Donna called her sister to learn that Tracy was back in the hospital. Then two weeks ago we got a text from a friend that Tracy died that morning. She was fifty years old, a mother of two, and a grandmother of three.

Today, the Stray group attended a memorial service for Tracy. We sat sullenly before a vase with her ashes surrounded by flowers. Several of her friends came forward and told stories about their relationship with Tracy. I was just about to do the same except the reverend stepped in and began the homily/eulogy.

No more Peg and no more taco Tuesdays with Tracy, I thought to myself. How wild is that? It got me to thinking and asking, just where does a person’s soul go after the body craps out? I believe we all have a soul but I can’t fathom where it goes. Are we just a whisp of ethereal light or gaseous matter floating about the universe? What? That is something I will not discern until I too crap out.

Saints Barbara of Prestwick, Peggy of Brown, and Tracy of the Stray I miss you, I need you, I love you, and will be with you soon.

LUV, Grumpa Joe

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