The Mob vs Gangs

This morning after mass I stepped into our parish hall for hospitality. I sat and had coffee with another “old guy” who is just a year younger than me. Bill lives in a community outside of Frankfort named Gateway. It is an over 55 community. He started discussing how he loves it there, and how he has suddenly become allergic to mowing the lawn. Age triggers many allergies you know. He took to hiring a sixteen year old grandson of a resident. The kid cuts a hundred lawns a month at $20 a cut. That is amazing money for a teen ager 20 x 100 = $2000. Our conversation drifted to where we grew up. Bill in the Bridgeport neighborhood, and me in Burnside. We both attended Catholic high schools, Gordon Tech and Mendel. Our sports teams competed against each other.

Our conversation drifted to how the mafia dominated his neighborhood. He told of being in a neighborhood restaurant with his parents when two men dressed in long black overcoats and black fedoras came in. One stood at the door to prevent anyone from coming or going. The other walked through into the kitchen looked at everyone there then moved into the lady’s room to do the same. Finally the guy went into the men’s room to search it. Evidently he didn’t find who he was looking for so the two of them left. “There is no doubt in my mind that the guy they were looking for would have died on the spot,” said Bill. I couldn’t top that story, but it brought to mind that even though we don’t hear about mob killings anymore like when we were kids, we hear about gang killings daily. They are so common we don’t even get upset about them anymore. Then the idea that killing people on the streets is a long time Chicago tradition came to mind. Shooting people on the street has been part of our culture, and has been for almost a hundred years.

The next time I read the shooting count, like this morning, six wounded, one dead, it will just pass like the mob killings of my youth. It isn’t about gun control it is about eliminating bad people within the community. I have to admit, however, that the mob limited killing to their enemies while the gangs will kill anyone in the way. Therefore, they are not the same and I shouldn’t compare the mob to gangs. Gang killing is not just the result of rivalries, it is often a rite of passage. In some cases killing is necessary to prove you are man enough to join a gang.

I also remember that if I had any ideas of joining a street gang to cause trouble, the trouble would have been mine. My Dad would have punished me in a way that hurt long and hard, killing would have been too easy on me.  I truly believe that the current gang problem is the result of kids being raised in fatherless families. There is one thing fathers are good at like dispensing punishment, deprivation, banishment, or some other form of misery to their kids who err. The problem is that mother’s never wait for the father to come home, and they dispense justice immediately. If the job was too big for Mom she relied on the famous standby  “wait until your father gets home.” That wait was enough to make me change my ways.

“Ah, the good old days!”

Remembering

Natural Wonders

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     ” All of nature was never dependent on anything humans ever created.”>Do all the good you can, with all the means you can, in all the ways you can, to all the people you can, as long as you can.

Damn Toyota Let Me Down

It is the last day of 2017 and what am I doing? Nothing. I’m writing an angry blog piece about a car that let me down. Lately I’ve been bragging about how good my Avalon has been to me, but today that has changed. I’ve written about the lousy experience I had with my 1969 Corolla, and how it kept me from buying another Toyota, or any other piece of Jap-Crap for thirty-six years. Once I calm down I’ll be able to explain rationally how I really feel about my Avalon. Right now the bitter sting of having to fix a car in -5 degree weather still has my shorts in a bunch.

Yesterday, I left the house on my way to my stepdaughter’s sixty-second birthday party. I gingerly placed her gift on the back seat along with a walnut roll wrapped in aluminum foil along with a fresh bottle of Champaign to help with the celebration. The temperature in the garage was low at thirty degrees. Outside it was six below. We haven’t had a winter like this since the nineteen eighties. You know, the Liberals ordered the world to go into warming mode so they could impose exorbitant taxes on us to feed the tyrants of the world, and to enrich themselves by trading carbon credits. I’m here to say the warming trend is over. By next winter the pundits will be crying ice-age once again. I like global warming cycles they keep me comfortable in the winter time. I hate ice-age like winters when I freeze me ass off. Anyway, I pushed the magic button and the Toyota chattered at me. It is that bone chilling noise one gets when a battery dies and the solenoid clicks away.

This morning I mentioned to a friend that since I have owned cars I have had a streak of bad luck with break downs when it is cold. Below zero cold makes stuff break, it makes weak stuff fail, it makes tires split, and it makes car owners very upset. What can I do? I am so dependent on a car to get around that I don’t even think about walking two miles in below zero temps to get to Starbucks. I could spew another thousand words talking about my winter break down experiences but I won’t, I’ll speak of something good instead, like improved battery life. During my life with VWs, Fords, Oldsmobiles, and Mercurys It was not uncommon to have to replace a battery every two years. Since I bought the Avalon batteries have improved, and now last for six years.  My car is  thirteen years old, has 143000 miles on it, and the second battery failed. So even though I blame the Toyota for letting me down it is the battery that is the root-cause. Since the battery is not what I sit in to drive me places I have to blame the car.

I wish all who read this a very Happy New Year without any cold weather trouble.

 

 

The Gift, (A Story)

I published this story several years ago in a serial version. This year I have decided to republish as a complete story in one post. I wrote this for my young  grand children. It is suitable for ages six through twelve. Feel free to print this and use it as a reader for your kids, or read it to them. The cartoons tell the story as well as the words so just looking at the pictures gives a kid the story.

The Gift
Chapter One

Tree Farm

“There is the farm,” said Morty to himself. “Look at all those trees.”

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He came to the sign: Covert Tree Farm, Christmas Trees for Sale. Morty slowed Sky-scooter, and made a sharp right turn into the opening between the trees. The gravel drive wound through a grove of spruce trees. The tall trees shaded the forest floor, and kept it dark. Occasionally, a bird flitted from tree to tree and sang a sweet song. A beam of sunshine peeked through. God is shining a spotlight on me he thought. The ferns under the spotlight were lime green surrounded by dark green in the shade.
“These twists and turns are fun,” he said to Sky. He talked to his scooter whenever he was alone. Morty steered through forest leaning one way, then the other. His curl swayed from side to side. He was anxious to find the perfect present for his Boss. An opening of bright light led into the meadow where the farmer lived.
He spotted the sign for parking, and another sign on the barn stated rules for cutting Christmas trees.

Arrival

Cut the tree at the ground.
Do not cut in the middle.
2. Use only the saw provided.
3. Bring your tree to the barn for wrapping.
Trees are $8.00 per foot.

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Morty grabbed a saw and jumped onto the hay wagon behind the tractor. A cow mooed, and the horse whinnied in the barn. Chickens wandered all around the barnyard pecking for seed. He sat and looked around while he waited for the farmer.

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Gosh, look at all those trees. They surround the entire pasture as far as I can see. He daydreamed as he sat waiting.

Farmer Jim raises trees. He sells some at Christmas, and takes the large ones to the lumber mill in the town. He plants replacement trees to keep the forest alive. It takes fifty years to grow a tree big enough to sell for lumber, and twelve years to grow a tree tall enough for Christmas.
Morty sat staring at the trees and talked to himself. I love coming to the tree farm. It is fun to explore the woods. The forest is beautiful, peaceful, quiet, and majestic. I talk to them and they talk to me. When we are alone I hug them.

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Farmer Jim had a secret grove of old trees. He never cut these trees nor did his father, grandfather, or great-grandfather. His great-grandfather told him that they were there when he came to the farm in 1875. Some of them were two hundred feet tall. Morty discovered the grove last year, and fell in love with the old trees. His favorite was over two hundred years old. It lived through much of the history of our country. The big tree was a teenager when the very first settlers moved to the valley from the east.

I have to find a tree to give to baby Jesus on his birthday. I will invite my friends to help decorate, and make it special. The hay wagon jerked forward, and broke his thoughts. He was on his way to find the perfect tree.

Chapter 2

Morty Pops the Question

Farmer Jim stopped in the field he was harvesting. Morty hopped off with the saw in his hand, and began to search.
My tree has to be perfect, he thought. It has to be shapely, and full with branches all around. It cannot be too big because my room is small. Morty wandered through the rows of trees. Most of them were already five to six feet tall. Many had bare spots, and deformed branches. With so many trees, picking the right one was not easy.
“They all looked perfect from the air,” he said out loud. “They looked beautiful, but at ground level, they all have defects.”
He stopped in front of a Blue Spruce to ask for help.

“Please help me find the tree I need,” he said to a tree. “I want one that is as tall as I am, but it can’t be too wide. My tree has to be shaped like a cone without bare spots. “
“I was exactly like that three years ago.”
“So was I,” answered another spruce.
Morty kept walking up and down row after row of trees. He finally stopped in front of a very tall Balsam tree.
“Can you help me?”

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“What do you want?
“I’m looking for the perfect tree to give Jesus for Christmas.”
“I can see the tree you want from here. Follow this road next to me. Count off twenty rows, turn left, and count another five trees. There, in the center of a small clearing you will find the tree you want.”

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“Thanks,” said Morty. He took the Balsam’s directions, and counted as he walked. When he reached number twenty, he turned left and counted five more. There, in the center of a small clearing stood a beautiful blue-green spruce tree. It was perfect.

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I can’t believe it, he thought. Morty was speechless. He walked around the tree, looking for bare spots; there were none.
“It is as tall as I am, and it is shaped like a perfect cone.” He circled the tree over, and over, looking, and thinking, this tree will make a perfect present for Jesus. He examined the tree from all angles. He couldn’t find a single flaw.
He finally broke his silence, and spoke.
“Hi, I’m Morty Angel, would you like to be my gift to Baby Jesus?

Chapter 3

The Deal

“I’m glad to meet you,” said the little tree. “My name is Connie, short for Coniferous. How can I help you?
“I want you to be my gift to Jesus.”
“I can’t do that, my work is to provide a home for the birds, and to shelter the rabbit that sleeps under my boughs. This summer, I had three families living in my branches. What will they do without me to shelter them?”

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“The Boss will take care of them,” said Morty, “besides, there are many trees in the forest to help them. It is a great honor to do something special for Jesus’ birthday.”
“What do I have to do?”
“Let me take you home and decorate you for Christmas.”
Connie hesitated a bit, “If I choose to accept, then I am giving myself totally to the Baby Jesus. I can only stay alive as long as the sap in my branches will hold my needles.”

“I know that,” said Morty. “I picked you because you are magnificent, and I want to please God’s Son. After we finish dressing you, I know you will make Jesus smile.”
“How will you decorate me?”
“I will lay strings of colorful lights on your boughs, and hang ornaments to reflect the light onto your needles My friends will string popcorn beads, painted pine cones, icicles, and snowflakes on your branches. We will put a crystal star on your top stem. You will look stunning. I’ll play Christmas carols to get into the spirit of Christmas. Then, after Christmas is over, I will use your branches to warm my house. Please do it.”
Connie agreed that pleasing Jesus on his day was important. He knew that Christmas was special. This was his chance to do something he could not do if he remained in the forest. If he stayed, he would grow big and tall and head for the sawmill.
After a long pause, Connie said, “It will be my honor to be your gift to Jesus.

Chapter 4

Getting Home

“This won’t hurt a bit,” said Morty. He pushed and pulled the saw back and forth through Connie’s sap filled trunk in rapid motions. Seconds later, Connie fell onto the spot where the rabbit huddled at night to stay warm. The empty birds’ nest clung to his branches.
Morty saw the rabbit hiding under a nearby tree, “Well, Mr. Rabbit, come home with me. I’ll keep you warm.”
The rabbit jumped out. “Will you take care of me the way Connie did?”
“Yes,” said Morty, “come with me.” Morty hadn’t finished talking to the rabbit when the cardinal, the sparrow, and the chickadee appeared from nowhere and circled around his head.
“Will you take care of us too?”
“Sure,” he said. “Come with me. We will have a great time.”
“Hold on tight, Connie, I have to drag you to the wagon.” They left a track through the snow as Morty pulled Connie behind him. They stopped in front of the tall Balsam for a rest. 
 “I can see that you found the perfect tree,” said the Balsam.
“Yes,” said Morty, “thank you very much. I couldn’t have done it without your expert directions.”
“Have a very Merry Christmas,” replied Balsam, “I wish I could be going with you.”
Farmer Jim came and found them. He helped Morty lift Connie onto the hay wagon.

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“I never thought about how I would bring a tree home on my scooter,” he said.
“Don’t worry,” said Farmer Jim, “I will help you get the tree onto your scooter. I have to help everyone who comes here. I have lots of experience with that.”
The tractor stopped in front of the shed next to the barn. Farmer Jim slid Connie into the wrapping machine, and pushed the button. A big wheel started circling around Connie. The noisy machine pulled cord around the branches, and squeezed them tightly into Connie’s trunk. When the noise stopped, Connie was much thinner than before.

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Morty carried Connie to his scooter, and just stared. He could not see how to load him. The compartment was only big enough to hold a picnic lunch and some tools. The scooter was smooth all over. It didn’t have anything sticking out to tie a rope around.

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“What am I going to do?” Morty placed the tree against the side of the scooter. “Nope, that won’t work,” he said. Next, he laid Connie onto the seat. He fit nicely along the top and hanging over the end, but Morty would have to sit on top of him to drive.

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“I don’t like that either. I know, I’ll sit and hold him between my legs.” He held Connie upright between his arms. “That is worse because I can not see to drive with Connie in my face.”

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Farmer Jim finally came out and tied Connie to the seat.
“You will have to sit on him,” he told Morty.”
“Okay, but I don’t like it, come on kids hop on.”

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The bunny jumped on and huddled by his feet, and the birds found secret openings in the branches to hide in.
“I’ll go slow,” said Morty.
“Good, I don’t want you to lose me after all that fuss.”
Morty drove Sky-scooter slowly and silently. The only sound came from Connie. He was singing Happy Birthday.

Chapter 5

Reminiscing

The scoot home took a long time, and Morty deliberately kept Skye out of hyper-drive. He drove slowly to keep the little tree from tearing off. They talked as he drove.
“The farmer planted me as a seed eight years ago. I became a sapling quickly, and was transplanted into a new field.”
Connie jabbered away as Morty drove.
“Farmer Jim re-planted me again when I reached sapling stage. He put me into the field where his great, great, great, great-grandfather grew up. I went thirsty during the drought, and the hot summer nearly fried my needles. I liked winter best. I loved when the snow covered my boughs and they drooped to the ground.”
“I’ve been a Guardian Angel since the beginning of time,” said Morty. “My duty is to watch over Brad. I love watching kids the best.”
“My favorite job is to take care of birds. The cardinals and chickadees picked me this year. They built their nests deep in my boughs to hide it from predators. I couldn’t believe how many trips they made with string, and twigs from all over the farm. Red and Rosy Cardinal brought the pieces one by one, and Rosy wove them into place. She pasted it all together with mud from the pond.”

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“I loved to watch the Cardinals fly back and forth to feed their babies. They slept between meals, but made a lot of noise when they woke up. The kids chirped loudly until a parent came with food. One day, a cat came into my field. Rosy covered the nest with her body, and spread her wings to hide them. Red buzzed the cats’ ears to get his attention away from the babies. I dropped my boughs over the nest to give them more protection. Everything became very still while the cat was there. All the trees around me watched him stalk; his head was low, and his shoulders in a crouch. After what seemed like an eternity of stillness, the cat finally wandered off.”

Morty arrived home after dark. He untied Connie’s branches and set him upright into a bucket of water.
“Tomorrow,” he said, “I will place you into a tree stand, and dress you for the birthday party. Now it is time for all of us to rest.”

Chapter 6

Decoration

Early the next morning, Morty got up, brushed his teeth, combed his curl, and ate breakfast. It was time. He found the tree stand and placed it in the corner of his tiny room. Next, he placed Connie into the stand, and filled it with sugar water to give him strength while he was on duty for the party.

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“I have to play Christmas carols while we decorate.” He tuned in to the Choir of Heavenly Angels over his boom box to play carols just as he promised Connie.
Morty sang with the music. He joyfully strung the lights onto each branch, making sure that the spacing was even. The rabbit and the birds helped decorate by hanging the popcorn garland. The sparrow held one end of the garland while the cardinal held it farther down the string. The Chickadee held a third spot. They flew up in unison carrying the garland. Gently, they lowered the popcorn garland onto the branches. The beads came next. “I wish Brad were here to help,” said Morty. “His muscles would be a great with the heavy beads. They are too heavy for the birds. I must drape the beads carefully to make them look pretty.”

As he worked, he hummed Silent Night, his favorite Christmas carol.
“Sing with me Connie.”
“Si – lent night, Ho – ly night,
All is calm. All is bright.
Round yon Vir – gin Moth – er and child!
Ho – ly in – fant so ten – der and mild,
Sleep in heav – en – ly peace,
Sleep in heav – en – ly peace.”
They sang together as they worked.
“We have to finish decorating Connie so we can prepare for the party tonight.”
What a happy group they were. The Cardinals, Chickadee, Rabbit and Morty were all decorating the tree for Jesus.
“One last trick,” said Morty. “Birds, please carry the crystal star and place it on Connie’s top stem.”
He had one final ornament to place on Connie.
“You can be proud Connie. You are beautiful and will make Jesus happy on his birthday.

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Chapter  7

Final Touches

“Be careful with the tinsel, said Morty. “Hang each strand carefully. I don’t want Connie to look like the nest in the top branches.”
Morty placed a shiny gold ornament into the nest. As Red, Chick, and Spare hung the tinsel they chirped Silent Night. When the last strand was in place, they landed on Morty’s curl and admired their creation. Connie was an outstanding gift to the Baby Jesus on His birthday. Morty turned on the lights, and Connie came to life.
“I feel so wonderful,” said Connie, “you made me look beautiful. I hope Baby Jesus likes me.”
Morty handed the rabbit a bright red cloth, “put this around the tree stand to add the final touch.” Rabbit dragged the red cloth under Connie’s boughs where he had spent so many nights out of harms way, and worked the cover around the base.
“We have to put up the nativity next.” Morty pulled a small table to the tree. He wanted the nativity to be next to Connie where all of his friends would see it. Rabbit wiped the table clean, and covered it with Morty’s best tablecloth. The birds waited nearby. Each had a figure, ready to place. Morty set the stable in place.
“Okay, now you can finish by putting the figures down.”
Each bird hovered gently with a figure in its beak, and lowered it to the table. They handled each Mary, Joseph, and Jesus and all of the characters of the scene with special care and gentleness.
Morty put the last tiny white lamb down, “here you are little Shepard.” The nativity was complete.

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Chapter 8

Birthday Party

Morty’s tiny house glowed with the tree and the nativity. The birds sang in anticipation of the party. Morty and Rabbit danced a circle around the room.
“My friends Max, and Gracie are coming to celebrate,” he said. “They will be late. Gracie is with Ben, and Max is with Jenna. They must stay until the kids say their prayers, and are asleep.
When the guardian angels knew their kids were dreaming of sugarplums and fairies, they slipped away to Morty’s house.
Max and Gracie arrived with their halos turned on, and shining brightly. Their angel wings glowed and fluttered when they saw Connie for the first time.
“Wow, what a beautiful tree,” they said. “Jesus will love you Connie.” “I have a new tradition to share with you,” said Morty.
“What is it?”
“It is called breaking bread.” Morty gave Max and Gracie each a slice of unleavened bread He held his own piece up and stood in front of Gracie. “Hold your bread up like I am doing.”
“Like this?”
“Yes.” Morty pinched a piece of Gracie’s bread and said, “I wish you peace.” He tore another piece and wished her love.
“Now you do the same and make your own wishes for me.”
Gracie followed his example. “What a beautiful tradition. Where did you learn this?”
“On my last visit to heaven, Brad, Ben, and Jenna’s Grandma showed me. She asked me to keep the tradition going in her family.”
The three angels shared wishes for each other. Each of them broke bread from the other and made a wish with each piece.
When the bread was all gone, they made one final wish.
“Merry Christmas.”

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Without another word, Morty, Gracie, and Max, knelt quietly before the crèche, the birds, and the rabbit at their sides.
They said prayers for their children, for peace in the world, and for goodwill toward all men!

The End The Gift (A Story)

PSA-171204-Just Thinking

 

Lying around, pondering the problems of the world, I realized that, at my age, I don’t really give a rat’s ass anymore. If walking is good for your health, the postman would be immortal. A whale swims all day, only eats fish, and drinks water, but is still fat. A rabbit runs, and hops, and only lives 15 years, while a tortoise doesn’t run, and does mostly nothing, yet it lives for 150 years. And they tell us to exercise? I don’t think so.
Now that I’m older, here’s what I’ve discovered:
1.  I started out with nothing, and I still have most of it.
2. My wild oats are mostly enjoyed with prunes and all-bran.
3. Funny, I don’t remember being absent-minded.
4. Funny, I don’t remember being absent-minded.
5. If all is not lost, then where the heck is it?
6. It was a whole lot easier to get older, than it was to get wiser.
7. Some days, you’re the top dog, some days you’re the hydrant.
8. I wish the buck really did stop here; I sure could use a few of them.
9. Kids in the back seat cause accidents.
10. Accidents in the back seat cause kids.
11. It is hard to make a comeback when you haven’t been anywhere.
12. The world only beats a path to your door when you’re in the bathroom.
13. If God wanted me to touch my toes, he’d have put them on my knees.
14. When I’m finally holding all the right cards, everyone wants to play chess.
15. It is not hard to meet expenses . . . They’re everywhere.
16. The only difference between a rut and a grave is the depth..
17. These days, I spend a lot of time thinking about the hereafter . .
I go somewhere to get something,
and then wonder what I’m “here after”.
18. Funny, I don’t remember being absent-minded.
19. It is a lot better to be seen than viewed.
20. Have I sent this message to you before…or did I get it from you?
Always do right.  This will gratify some people and astonish the rest
– Mark Twain

For Better Or For Worse

The old anniversary odometer just clicked off another whole number, we made it!  Today Peg and I celebrate our twelfth wedding anniversary. I can’t say the ride has been smooth because we have had our differences, but we learned to deal with them, and always made up. My God father once gave me this advice: never go to bed angry at each other , always kiss and tell each other “I  you love.”  God father’s advice works because Peg and I have made that ritual a standard practice. In twelve years I can say that we missed it once. I should say I missed it once because she was already asleep when I got home from a late meeting. Even though she slept, I followed through but she was so fast asleep she didn’t know I did.

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The first nine years I have to admit we enjoyed the “for better” aspect of our marriage vows We partied, we traveled, we went to the theater, we enjoyed the country club dinners with friends, all the things healthy people in love do. In the ninth year there was a dramatic slowdown in the better and an increase in the “for worse.” There were signs of memory deterioration. Peg suddenly needed help operating a washing machine. At first, I thought she was playing me, but she couldn’t remember which knobs to turn and buttons to push. When we traveled she always insisted I wait for her right outside the ladies room, she was afraid of getting lost. When in a restaurant she told me to order for her because she couldn’t see the items on the menu. This was a lady whose practice it was to read the entire menu, even the fine print, so she could decide upon a meal. During the last two years it has been mostly “for worse”  with an occasional better.

Joe & Peggy Wedding Party-November 5, 2005

Peggy’s Family

Before we agreed to marry, we discussed the inevitability of one of us dying or getting sick and how we expected the other to act. We agreed that even if we only had one year together it was worth the try at happiness. Both of us had long marriages before, and we both lost our spouses to a disease. Her husband died of heart related issues in combination with lung cancer at age sixty-nine. My wife beat breast cancer only to die at age sixty-five from issues related to a debilitating heart attack at age sixty-three.

Between the two of us we had ninety-one years of marriage under our belts, how hard could a second marriage be? It should be a snap, after all we have seen almost everything couples experience during our first marriages. How wrong I was. It was hard, but not so hard that we weren’t able to figure things out and smooth the conflicts over.

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Right now, Peg is in some state of deterioration resulting from Alzheimer’s disease. I tell people she is relatively stable but declining very slowly.  This is why we are in the “for worse” period of our vows. Her communication skill is gone. Imagine a typical woman not being able to talk, she must be in hell. Imagine a woman who was a fashionista suddenly not giving a crap about clothes, make-up, or hair. Imagine a woman who was so fastidiously clean that she changed every piece of clothing every day because it was dirty from having worn it once, not wanting to bathe. Imagine a lady who could out walk me on a shopping trip not being able to walk again because she can’t remember how. I could go on and on, but I think you get the drift. Our lives have changed from that of newly weds to that of care-taker and patient. Luckily we had discussed these possibilities early on and put things in writing to be very clear about how we would treat each other.

It has been a good run but it is not over yet. It may last another day, or another ten years but it won’t matter because we still love each other now, and will continue to love each other to the very end which is the “till death do us part” of our vows. I write that like I expect to outlive her, but the fact is I can drop dead before her. In that case her life gets a little bit more complicated, but again, we have left instructions for our children on how to deal with that situation.

Happy anniversary my darling!

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