Day 69-SIP-Miracles Take Awhile

The day has just about ended and I almost let this post slip away from me. I was already in my movie watching mode when it came to me that I hadn’t written a post yet. So here it is.

I m feeling a bit punk today because I let myself get some sunburn. The first burn of the year always causes me some displeasure. I actually had to put on my fleece jacket to stay warm. Not that the temperature is high, but the burn makes me feel cold.

People are really beginning to come out of their caves to participate in life again. Car traffic is definitely picking up, and there are more people in the stores. Tomorrow, I have to visit the grocery store to pick up essentials. I have worked down my stockpile of food to the point where I am scratching components to cook.

The bike path is now crowded during the week. With everyone home from work they get out to walk and ride often. Before COVID-19 it was only on Saturday and Sunday that the path was crowded. I waited until after supper to take a walk, and there were still many people doing the same. I reminded myself that it is Tuesday and that my bike club always took rides together on Tuesdays. The jocks rode in one group and the easy riders in another. I was always with the easy riders. We called ourselves the Turtles. Some riders can maintain 18-20 mph at a steady pace, but my average was and is still in the 12-14 mph range. It is no fun riding with people that leave you in the dust. So I rode with people who I could leave in the dust. Except, I adjusted my speed down to stay with the fun group. The fast group took a route on regular roads and completed twenty miles in an hour and twenty minutes. The Turtles stayed on the bike path and completed the same miles but it took a lot longer, plus we stopped for ice cream while the jocks didn’t stop for anything.

After spending two hours in the garden this morning transplanting and splitting Stella Dora Lilly’s I was consumed and could not do much the remainder of the afternoon. I took a shower and watched videos on Youtube, mostly comedy. Some of the better ones were of the Johnny Carson Show when he had Richard Prior, and George Carlin on at the same time. Their monologues were okay, but the banter between them on the couch was hilarious.

Tuesday is also the day my friends meet for a couple of hours to have a drink and friendly conversation. Normally, we met at the Stray Bar but it is closed, so we’ve been meeting virtually on Zoom. It is not the same as being with someone in person. We are unanimous in our anticipation of the state reopening next Friday. It won’t be a normal opening, but it will be better than the SIP.

I just read a piece about the various epidemics we have been through and how several of them had death tolls of 100,000 with a hundred million fewer people in the country. Yet, the country was never shut down. Now that COVID-19 is being defined and examined for what its is, the Monday Morning Quarterbacks are all jumping on the pile to cry “we didn’t need to shut down.” That is easy to say now that the facts are known. Where were these same people in February when it all began and nothing was known? I’ll tell you where they were. They were panicking because they didn’t have enough ventilators, or hospital beds, or personal protective gear. It is all we heard for six weeks. Democrats in particular complained heavily, no I must rephrase that from complained to sobbed dramatically. They didn’t know how to take action until the President showed them things could get done quickly, and he put their fears at ease. After the equipment shortages were taken care of the same people cried about not having testing. That too, was solved in a relative short time, but not by Democrats. after the testing was no longer a crying matter they switched to “we need a vaccine.” That one will take a while. I remember while I was working and I came to my toolmakers with a dicey problem with a ridiculously short timetable they would shake their heads and tell me, “look, the impossible we can do in a short time, but miracles take awhile.” Ninety percent of the time we figured out how to get the job done.

There is no question that COVID-19 will go down in history as a game changer for the world. We will all have to change the way we do things and the way we do business, and the way we treat people. It’ll be fun.

Day 68-SIP-Another Sign?

Yesterday, I received a text asking me to join a small group of Lions for a drink on a patio. I had just come home from a three mile walk and needed a rest, but the sound of a drink and a rest was too tempting to turn down. Day sixty-seven be damned I’m going, I’ll be masked and we will social distance.

I filled a twenty ounce tumbler with ice, topped it off with some vodka, and a capful of dry vermouth and headed back toward town, this time in my car. We met at the home of Lion Gene the friendly undertaker. The group is one that frequents the German restaurant. All of us go there for drinks after meetings or to watch a football game on TV at the bar. Since SIP, this place like all others has been closed except for carry out food.

The evening was delightful. Blue sky, warm, and good conversation. What more could I need? I learned something new as I sat six feet away in a circle of friends, my hearing aids have a range of five feet. I turned them up as high as I could but still could not hear everything being said. One of the group, the only non-Lion had his phone turned on radio, and was playing some noisy music. I kept thinking I should ask him to turn it off. The music interfered with my hearing aids which were straining to sort out what it should amplify into my ears. Human conversation lost.

As we sat, drinking and me nodding my head to words spoken toward me, but not hearing them a sudden gust of wind blew through the yard. A moment later we were showered in maple helicopters. I looked up and saw the sky fifty feet above filled with thousands of the rotating little seed pods blowing in the breeze. It was magical. Could this be a sign from Peg? I already got a sign from her when the picture of the horses fell off the wall. Perhaps this is a sign from Barb, yes, Barb was more into nature than Peg was, it has to be from Barb. So many signs all at the same time how will I deal with them?

I felt another gust of wind hit my face and another shower of helicopter seeds twirled down upon us landing in our hair, our drinks, and everywhere.

The helicopter seeds were a sign that I should leave the party and go home. As I got into my car it began to rain, and the party was over for everyone.

DAY 67b-SIP- Give Me A Sign

During my bereavement support group meetings where I met Peg, one of the grieving widows suggested that we should ask our dead partners to send a sign. The sign can be anything a soft wind across your cheek, a butterfly landing near you. It was this lady’s way of dealing with her grief. I liked the idea and often asked Barb for a sign. Anything I’d say, just to let me know you are doing well. Days would pass, or even weeks and months without a single thing I could interpret as a sign. One day, I was walking on the bike path. It was the middle of the day, and sunny. I felt a presence next to me. It was the strangest thing to feel something so close to you yet not hear it. I turned my head ever so slowly to see a full grown deer walking alongside me just behind my head. I walk this path almost daily, I ride my bike on the path almost daily yet I have never seen a deer near the path. That day, not only did was there a deer on the path it was walking side by side with me. I couldn’t take it any longer even though we had only been together for a few seconds, I had to talk to it. As soon as I did, the deer startled and ran on ahead of me for about twenty yards then skittered off into the woods.

What I haven’t said yet is that my wife Barbara loved deer. She collected statues of deer. Her collection consisted of three hundred porcelain, paper mâché, made in Japan, made in China, made in USA collectible deer statues, most about the size of a salt shaker, and some were salt shakers. There is no question in my mind that this was a sign from Barb, I made a connection.

Last month I started asking Peggy to send me a sign. What the heck maybe it’ll work again. Since then there hasn’t been a single event that I would place in the class of being a sign.

Last evening I had just settled down to watch a movie, and found one titled “Brad’s Status” starring Ben Stiller. The story has him thinking that out of all his college clique he is the only one that is not famous, rich, or successful. The story is more than that, however and I liked it.

I clicked on the start button when a sudden every loud noise happened within a few feet from me. Startled I nearly jumped out of my skin with freight when a second loud bang happened within a microsecond of the first. I jumped up to learn the source of this mini explosion. There in front of me just behind the loveseat lay a framed picture with broken glass all over the floor. Th picture is one of Peg’s and my favorites by Ted DiGrazia of running wild horses. I hung it above the bar separating our dining room from the sun room. It was set high and had fallen seven feet, first bouncing off the marble counter immediately below and then to the floor. It took out my orchid plant on the way down. The first thing that popped into my mind was what happened, then the SIGN came to mind. Was this a sign from Peg?

A Sign From Peg, The Horses Galloped Off the Wall
Mustangs Free To Run At Last

I started to think of all the horse possibilities within our family. She has a son, whose wife and daughter are horse owners and horse lovers. I have a daughter-in-law who also has horses. Did something happen to one of these families? I wanted to call them on the spot to learn if all was well with them, but fought off the urge. If they had something happen they will let me know, in the meantime I’ll just categorize this as a sign from Peg, I connected once more.

Day 67-SIP-Best Day Yet

Clearly this is by far the best day of 2020 from a weather standpoint. The sun is shining, the temperature is approaching 80 degrees F, and there is a slight breeze. Because of all the rain last week the high humidity is the only downside. Because of the RH indoors I had to actuate the AC.

My day has been quite normal, only broken by a phone call I made to my step-daughter. She and I have not spoken for several weeks and it was my turn to spend the dime. We had a nice chat, and since then I have not had any human contact other than that which I encountered along the bike path. There was a time, back in the nineteen nineties when I owned the bike path. I couldn’t be out there for more than a few minutes when I met someone I knew or someone who became an acquaintance from our daily passings. Very often they were people from Folks On Spokes bike club. If so, the chat would turn into an ice cream or a pop followed by a side-by-side ride.

After Barb died, I spent hours along the path riding to forget my grief. There was one one lady, a member of FOS whom I have known for many years who became a regular rider by my side. Even though she worked a full time job, she managed to meet and ride with me several times a week. She and I took longer rides along Lake Michigan and she also showed me haunts in her part of town. We began dating off the bikes. She introduced me to Second City an impromptu comedy club known for spawning many famous comedians,  including Bill MurrayGilda RadnerJohn CandyJohn BelushiDan AykroydDel CloseEugene LevyCatherine O’HaraNia VardalosRyan StilesMike MyersSteve CarellTina FeyAmy PoehlerStephen Colbert, and many others. The performance we saw that night included a skit about the Chicago Cubs and their failed attempt to win the World Series because of a questionable foul ball, and a fan interference The cast blamed it on the infamous goat from the Billy Goat tavern.

Second City Comedy Theater

Bike Riding Friends

It wasn’t long before we became more than friends. An evening in front of the TV watching movies turned into what most would euphemistically refer to as an affair. For me, an older man, it was a great time to be hooked up with a woman fifteen years my junior. It all ended when I left town to spend the winter in Arizona. We have not seen nor spoken to each other since that time seventeen years ago. It wasn’t long after I returned from the three month hiatus in Arizona that I met and began courting Peggy.

Peggy and I hit it off because we had a common denominator, we were both widows, she for four years, and me for two. We were both Catholic. She lost her husband just a few weeks short of their fiftieth wedding anniversary, and I lost Barb just shy of our forty-second anniversary. Our politics were the same, she loved to talk, and I loved to listen. I loved going to parties and shows, and she loved being with me even when she didn’t like the program. We both had kids who we learned to love as our own. We spent two years courting before we married and began a new life together. Our marriage ended just three months away from our fourteenth anniversary on June 29, 2019 when she died from Alzheimer’s disease. I call it dying ugly.

Maybe these recollections are part of my grief process and writing about them is cathartic. Hopefully it is. I need the world to reopen to be able to live the life I want to lead. Although I enjoy being an SIP hermit, I can only take it for a short time before I need to associate with people. Actually, the only thing different about my life during SIP and before SIP is the complete isolation without the knowledge that I can go out if I want when I want. Under SIP, I have felt it my responsibility to avoid being a carrier.

I anxiously await next week when Illinois officially goes into Phase Three of reopening. Another side of me keeps whispering into my ear not to rush into society so quickly. The virus is still out there waiting for people my age to pounce on and take out. My experience with polio tells me that I should be very wary of contact. Yes, I will social distance, and I will wear a mask and I will not go near sick people. I did the same thing in 1957, the year I got the polio virus. I stayed away from crowds, I didn’t swim at the beach, I didn’t do swimming pools, but I got the virus anyway. Looking back on it not a single friend or relative that I associated with got the virus, but I did. I am special, and COVID-19 might see me that way too.

Day 65-SIP-Decoration Day

For the past few weeks I ‘ve had a compelling desire to visit my wive’s graves. I said it before and I will say it again today, I don’t see any point in visiting graves, but I did today. At least I can say I did something useful at Barb’s grave. I cleaned her gravestone from the grass that is trying to cover it. While I was there I cleaned my stone as well. At the time, I thought there would never be a reason not to be buried next to her, so I bought my gravestone to match hers. I also thought of it as saving the responsibility from my kids. It took me forty five minutes to complete the job. I stuck an American flag between the stones in honor of Memorial Day, said a final prayer and went to the next grave.

The next graves were that of John T, and Minnie Riley, the parents of my second wife Peggy. They are but a stones throw from Barbara in Holy Sepulcher cemetery while Peggy is nearly thirty miles further southwest. When Peg and I discussed our lives together after we decided to marry, we made special requests to be buried with our first spouses. Looking at things pragmatically, we both knew we would never be married to each other as long as we were to our first spouses, therefore, our forever-life on earth belonged to our first.

I did my thing, first saying a prayer for Peg and then speaking to her directly. When finished I encircled her stone to the other side and did the same for her first husband. I told him to look for me at the gate soon.

Memorial Day always evokes memories from my childhood. It was only a few years after WWII had ended and before Korea started. The country was mourning its losses of husbands, sons, lovers, friends killed in the war. My parents referred to the day as decoration day. It was the time when families went to cemeteries to spend time with their loved ones and to decorate their graves with flowers, wreaths, bouquets. My mother insisted we all go. I don’t think Dad could resist, although I never got the idea that he would. Mom always made him stop at the nursery across the road from the entrance to St. Mary’s Cemetery. She selected a floral pattern for my brother Joe’s grave and then bought the plants to make it.

At Abraham Lincoln National Cemetery, where Peggy is buried with her veteran husband, American flags adorn the drive on both sides of the drive leading in. It is very picturesque indeed. I was mildly surprised at the number of people that were there. Most days when I visit her grave I am among only handful of people there. A funeral waited for escort to the burial chapel, and many vets on motorcycles sat on their bikes chatting. All throughout the cemetery between the rows of endless white grave stones were wives, daughters, and grandchildren placing floral bouquets and flags to their loved ones.

Getting into the cemetery on Memorial Day was not easy. Al the cemetery roads were parked with cars and the traffic within was bumper to bumper. Veterans in uniform carrying rifles marched throughout from grave to grave of their comrades lost in war. At the gravesite they would have a ceremony with the color-guard and the rifles giving a salute with volleys of smoky, noisy shots aimed into the sky. Saint Mary’s is a Catholic cemetery so there is a mass for the souls of the departed at 10:00 a.m. in the outdoor grotto. It was always well attended and crowded with standing room only. Not a safe COVID-19 assembly.

Normally, we left home about nine o’clock and we didn’t’t return until after three o’clock, all of us exhausted. Mom and Dad felt better that they had a chance to decorate their firstborn’s grave. Dad had a chance to visit a sister, and all of her kids, and they both visited graves of Hungarian friends from the neighborhood. It was a family oriented day, and I learned to despise it.

My wife Barbare was brought up to revere her dead relatives, She was just as paranoid about visiting graves as my mother. Maybe that is why they got along so well. Barb went to the cemetery often to clean graves and visit with her grandparents, aunts and uncles. She knew I disliked the process, so normally she did graves during the week with the kids. She had her own car, so transportation was never an issue. On the other hand, Peggy’s family was the opposite. Once a person was buried that was the end of the road for visitation except for major events. She and I only visited her husband’s grave a few times, and I only took her to see Barb’s gave once or twice. Each time we wound up looking her parent’s graves which she hadn’t visited for years.

I wonder what will happen to my grave once I am gone. Who will revere my grave enough to visit, and to clean, and to place flowers upon the stone?

On the drive home, I thought it is time for me to visit my parent’s, brother, grandfather, aunts, and graves and clean them up. The last time I did that it was because my young grandson Joey asked me to help him with his genealogy by visiting graves. He was about seven when that happened he is twenty-two now, and working. I’ll ask him if he is interested, if not, I’ll ask my brother if he can break out of his long-term-care house to go with me.

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