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

It’s Over

My attitude is still positive in spite of the fact that in 2019 I lost my beautiful wife to Alzheimer’s, and just this week learned of two very close friends who passed also. Death is a bummer when taken from the earthly perspective, but it can be the greatest gift one gets when viewed from the heavenly side. Whenever I first learn of a death, I am saddened but within a few days I begin to recover and move forward. There is nothing one can do to change the outcome. I had both of these friends on my daily prayer list for more than two years, It was all I could do.

This year ended my two year term term as President of the Frankfort Lions Club. I took the position seriously and gave it my all, but I was glad it ended. The position gave me a lot of respect from the community, and I enjoyed that, but it also meant I was more available to the community than I was to peg. My term ended the day after Peg died. Needless to say, my regret was not spending more time with her because of my responsibility to the club. Could it have been different? I don’t think so. I needed to get away for a few hours regularly to keep me from going insane watching Peg fall apart.

In 2019 I reached a new milestone. I passed 157,000 miles on my car and I have owned it for fourteen years. That is huge. I never owned a car that provided reliable transport for more than ten years and 110,000 miles. By that time these autos were too tired to be reliable anymore. With my present car I would not hesitate to get in and embark on my Great Last Time Around Tour of ten thousand miles. In my previous jalopies I would never have considered it.

My bucket list is one item shorter because I entered and displayed my Intarsia art in a public show and sale. I didn’t sell anything, but I did enjoy receiving many compliments on my work. It was a joy getting the display ready and borrowing some of the pieces from their owners to display them.

I started a new art project in March only to set it aside in April because Peg needed my attention more than the new piece. A week ago, I returned to the work and this morning I had a long talk with myself about starting another work as ambitious as this one. I find myself sitting and staring at the assemblage to study the contours of the model and then to envision the same lines in the flat pieces of wood before me. What was I thinking runs through my mind. To date, I have recut six pieces, broken four during shaping, and have added more cuts to split large pieces into smaller more manageable ones.

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Although I have not decided to put my house up for sale yet, I spent three months clearing the clutter of too many souvenirs, un-needed gadgets, and clothing, it is show ready.

For the very first time since I retired from work I bounced a check. In fact, I bounced several for three months in a row. I am still trying to determine what I spent so much money on to run my checking account dry.

Twenty nineteen is over, but I look forward with relish and intend to spend as much energy as possible to not waste the precious seconds God is granting me to make humanity better.

Have a very, very happy, and prosperous New Year!

 

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Grief Made Me Do It

The Great Last Time Around Tour

One of the things I have done recently that I consider to be productive is to come up with an idea that would take my mind away from grief. This one is fabulous in my mind and my friends get excited for me when I talk about it. I sat at my desk one day and began to think about all my friends and relatives that live outside of the Socialist-Democrat bastion of the mid-west. I started a list. I finally ran out of gas at twenty-four. I’m sure there are more, but I would have to change the rules to include a wider span of friendship and relations. What if I were to visit all of these people on one big trip around the United States? I am also hankering to see some of my favorite sites again, like Yellowstone, the Grand Tetons, Glacier NP, Redwoods, Grand Canyon, Mount Rushmore, and of course Crazy Horse Mountain. The last time I saw Crazy Horse it was just a scratch on the side of a mountain in the Black Hills. If I remember right, the original sculptor Korczak Ziolkowski was still alive in the seventies when I was there, blasting this mountain-sculpt by himself. As I continued to envision the trip it expanded more and more, and the miles began to add up. Hell, I might even have an excuse to buy a new car for this idea.

The next step I took involved Google Maps. I could plan the trip from person to person and city to city in a way that didn’t waste too many miles. I lost faith in Google Maps when I ran out of space to enter more cities at about Phoenix. Hell, so much for all this wonderful technology that can only go so far. I’m sure if I were still eighteen, I would have figured out how to make it all work. As it was I just started a new map and charted the second half of the trip on a second map. After looking at the route on the two maps I realized I missed a huge part of the country by skipping the northwest and northern states. That’s when I decided I wanted to see the Tetons, Yellowstone and Glacier again. Another idea came back to me. As long as I’m driving all around the USA why not visit the four corners. I been to two of them(Key West and Washington) but I missed the point in Maine and the one south of San Diego. The problem with the four points route is that I would miss the entire center of the country. Missing so much started me to thinking of revising the whole idea to one where I visit every state, including Alaska and Hawaii. I don’t have friends in every state but I could fix that by making some.

As I write this I am reminded that Peggy and I traveled extensively in Canada. We took several driving trips. She wouldn’t fly nor take a boat so I said okay we’ll drive. It took three separate trips but we made it from Quebec city to Vancouver. I loved those trips and I wouldn’t mind exploring all the Provinces by car. One of my work acquaintances, Myles Murphy, migrated to the USA from Labrador which is still somewhat primitive compared to New York or Chicago. He often told me some funny stories about his relatives whom he visited yearly. He drove and then boarded a ferry. One of his stories involved his mother. It seems she got into his suitcase out of curiosity and found a grooming mirror. She picked it up and held it to her face. She saw the image of a woman, and said to herself,  “look at the ugly old woman he is carrying on with.”

The bottom line here is that the trip I routed on Google maps involves driving for 130 hours over 8500 miles. Since I am only physically able to drive five hundred miles a day or eight hours which ever comes first that amounts to seventeen days. If I spend a minimum of three days at each location that would add another 75 days. The whole trip would last three months provided I live through it.

Least of all I had to name this venture. I call it “The Great Last Time Around Tour.”

. . . and I still haven’t touched Alaska or Hawaii.

Dreary, Dark, and Windy

Closeup of wild turkey in newly fallen snow

Today I postponed my daily walk a bit to catch a few extra degrees of warmth. The temperature didn’t matter though, the wind was blowing hard with gusts of fifty miles per hour. If it was at may back I was literally being pushed along faster than my legs would move. On the return, I got my workout. Several times the breeze stopped me dead in my tracks. Combine that with an uphill climb and the workout was intense. In either direction the breeze carried away any heat that the workout was providing and I was under dressed for it.

This after noon I added some more decoration to the house for Christmas. I am stopped at this point having broken my promise never to decorate again. As sorrowful as I want to be I force myself to see only the joy that Christmas brings. The tree, the lights, the colorful ornaments all add brightness to the dreary November days. Historically, in Illinois, November and December have the least amount of life sustaining sunshine in the year. So, why not brighten it up a bit?

I will post photos of my decorations once I figure out how to do it using a smart phone. (A smart phone operated by a  dumb operator who is beyond the tech-savy required to survive the conveniences.)

Have a very blessed and happy Thanksgiving holiday with family, friends, or with yourself, what ever the situation presents.

Raging Hormones and Crying Eyes

I finished my KETO lunch and am spending too much time clicking aimlessly from page to page on the internet allowing my God given minutes to be wasted. The last page I stopped on was a blog “Behind the White Coat.” The blogger, a doctor, wrote a heart tearing piece about his father who had Alzheimer’s dementia. Reading it opened a new door to my own grief of losing my sweetheart Peggy. In three days she will have passed five months, but I still think about her daily as I do my first wife Barbara who is now gone sixteen years. Grief is a strange emotion that strikes when you least expect it, and can turn a great sunny day into a dreary grey one.

Reading the Doc’s blog post got me to thinking about how grief affected me after Barb died. At her wake a widowed cousin whispered into my ear “don’t be foolish like I was and seek out a grief support group asap, I waited three years.” Grief made me do strange things, and to forstall the emotion I loaded myself with as much activity as was possible. I found a grief support group right in my own church and went to the September meeting. It was one month after Barb died. The group leader led each attendee in discussion. “Tell us about your loss,” she would ask?  The grieving widow would spend as much time as she needed to tell her story. I was the only man in the group of about ten ladies. Their ages ranged from fifty to eighty, I was sixty-five. We sat in a circle on couches and lounge chairs in a pleasant setting. Immediately opposite me sat a beautiful black haired beauty with penetrating blue eyes that met my own and clicked a button in my head that said, this girl is going to be my wife. Maybe it was because my hormones were raging during that time that I would immediately think of marriage when my wife of forty-two years was barely cool in her grave, but that is exactly what happened.

When it was my turn to talk, I could not utter a single word, I was so overcome by emotion. My eyes welled up in tears and my voice choked. I just waved to the moderator and with a crackly voice said “I can’t.”

Later, I told the story of my breakdown to a friend. What really impressed me was that some of these widows lost their husbands five years earlier. I expressed my concern about the efficacy of a support group that kept people coming back with grief for five years. That’s not what I had in mind, and she asked me why I would continue to return to such a group. I never told her about how my eyes zeroed in on the azure blue eyes of an amazing woman who had a huge effect on me. Of course I attended every month if only to continue to see the raven haired beauty with the penetrating eyes. By December, I was able to speak to people, but I still could not tell my story about Barb. That night as we cleared the tables of the cookies and refreshments I hung around until everyone was gone except Peggy. I knew her story because she was able to relate it to the group. She met her husband when she was fourteen. They married when she was seventeen, just before he left for basic training. She moved with him to his base near Columbia, South Carolina and stayed in a rooming house until he was transferred to the Okeefenokee Swamp for bivouac training. She came home and lived with her parents untill he was discharged. After basic, his orders were to go to Korea. A serious mistake during a dental check caused him to miss the boat. His chart was switched with someone else’s and the dentist never checked before he began to pull Ron’s teeth. The man whose teeth were supposed to be pulled caught the boat to Korea, Peggy’s husband got new dentures and spent the rest of his tour in Germany. I helped Peggy carry a heavy bag of books and goodies out to her car. We talked in the parking lot until both of us were frozen. I asked her If I could write to her from Arizona because I was leaving within a couple of weeks to spend the winter. She said yes it would be alright.

I went to Arizona to leave my tears there. During Barb’s wake and funeral I could not shed a single tear. In Arizona one of my daily routines was to walk to the library and write in my journal. I wrote the story of Barb’s heart attack and the following two year ordeal. It turned into a tale about our life together. There were days when the pages were soaked and the ink ran the page, but I got it out. I never reread the story until about a month ago. I found the journal while cleaning and trashing stuff from my house.

I was about a month  from returning, when I finally wrote a letter to Peg. Letter writing became an after lunch routine. I cooked lunch by recipes three times a week and on those days I also wrote letters to friends. The letter was properly headed with my address and the date, but I also included my Arizona phone number. A week later I received a call from Peg.

Two years went by when I finally asked her to marry me. She responded yes without hesitation, and that sealed our deal. Now, I find myself recalling the many great times we had together. I want those memories burned into my brain to wash out the memories of her final four years of regression. She finally reached the point where she forgot how to breath. I missed her very last breath by only a few minutes. I wanted to be holding her hand when it happened, but that wasn’t to be.

Another New Adventure

As part of my new single life I am declaring myself an artist. I have always shirked from calling myself one because I am an engineer. The two careers are polar opposite of each other. I tend to like mechanical things, and so pursued training into that arena. At the same time I always had a liking for art. Ever since the fourth grade when the good Nun started me  drawing with crayons. That evolved into cursive writing, then printing. The printing evolved into engineering, and dominated my life.

When ever I had the opportunity I went to art galleries and shows to see what people who use their right brain lobes come up with. I am still fascinated by artists and it doesn’t matter the medium. If it is good, I like it. No, I love it. Throughout my travels during both of my marriages we visited art fairs and loaded our home with affordable artifacts. During my recent purge of things that don’t matter to me anymore the paintings. prints, and pottery survived.

This coming Saturday I am signed up for the Winter Art Market at our public library. I rented a space and will be there with the first public showing of my Intarsia art. My walls are a little bare right now, because many of the items I made found there way to places of prominence within the house.

Why did I decide to join this event at this stage of life? It is something to do, and also because I want some validation either negative or positive on the quality of my work. If my pieces sell for the price I have marked on them, it will be very positive. Right now my entire energy is in creating a display that is easily portable and artful as well. I could have spent a mini-fortune to buy art panels made for shows, but being the cheap bastard that I am I decided to repurpose some available materials. Thankfully, I made a plan and I’m sticking to it. I will be at the venue in time for the Friday afternoon set-up, and I have solicited help for the Saturday afternoon teardown. Of course my expectation is the load will be lighter since all of the pieces will be sold and gone to new homes. The minimum is to sell one piece to break even on the registration fee.

If you are anywhere near Frankfort, Illinois this Saturday, 9 November drop by the library at 21119 S Pfeiffer Rd. between 9:00 a.m. and 4:00 p.m. to visit my display and those of all the other artists. Enter the raffle and have a chance to win “Happy Hour Begins With a Single Drop,” a contemporary intarsia art piece donated by GrumpaJoesPlace.

Happy Hour Begins With a Single Drop

 

Kodak Memories, What To Do?

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When I first married my wife and I decided to capture our life together on film. With a little help from Kodak the number one producer of film encouraging us to do so. We bit hard. I was always engrossed in finding a camera that would take the ultimate pictures. When Super 8 movies arrived on the scene I went bonkers. I loved cinema photography. I took cartridge after cartridge of film with my trusty Bell & Howell Super Eight camera. That lasted until the camera slid from my lap onto the steel deck of a ferry boat taking us to Mackinac Island. When the camera hit the deck it made a loud noise and scared the heck out of the passengers. More than one thought the noise came from a ship sinking collision at sea.

I bought a 35 mm Argus camera for taking slides. It was completely manual and could take beautiful pictures. Note, it isn’t the camera that is responsible for taking beautiful photos, it is the operator of the device. I quickly learned after processing roll after roll of film that my operative ability amounted to nil. I chose a simple box camera instead and began to get some surprisingly great shots. There were no adjustments to make on such a device, I merely pointed the camera and clicked. My picture taking improved and it was the beginning of our life’s chronicle.

I replaced a totally broken Bell and Howell movie camera with a Bolex. The Bolex camera was the industry leader in moving pictures. Barb and I joined a movie club to learn the basics of making Hollywood style movies on a very strained budget. It was fun for me, but a drag for the family. I was the producer, director, camera man, editor, and author of all our family films. My movies would not be the ordinary ones of kids waving at the camera and smiling, they would be action films with the kids in motion. I quickly learned that the kids would cooperate provided I got my pictures in one take. Retakes became a drag for them. I prevailed most times and got some really great stuff. I entered my very first film into the cinema club annual contest and won the grand prize. I was stunned. All that honor did for me was to inspire me to out do the winner. That didn’t seem to happen, although I tried. You can view one of my films on You Tube at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=c2OkQtp8wSA 

In the meantime, the cassettes began to pile up with our life on film, both still and movie chronicled, but not properly edited, spliced, arranged, timed, and turned into award winning movies.

Fast forward sixty years, to today. My first wife left me for heaven sixteen years ago, my second wife left just three months ago, and I am avoiding grief by clearing my home of all things unessential to my remaining years. I’ve thinned the wardrobe, decluttered the knick knacks, shredded the documents, and now I am left with ten boxes of photos.

Every time I attack a box and handle photos of my wives I get emotional, grief sneaks it’s way in and takes over. I stop dead in my tracks and begin to recall the actual events in my mind. All of them are there in the brain waiting for a stimulus to recall them. The question is do I want to recall them? Yes of course I do, but not while I am in a quandary about what to do with the hard evidence of fuzzy photos. Each time I find a duplicate of a favorite photo or even the not so favorite ones and I make an instantaneous decision to trash it, my guardian angel blows his whistle and shouts “STOP.”

Yesterday, I opened a drawer on Peg’s desk and put my hand on an envelope I hadn’t seen before. My Angel told me to look inside, and there is a set of pictures Peg made of her house, room by room so she wouldn’t forget. Guess what, she forgot, at the end she couldn’t remember how to swallow, or breathe much less care about her house loaded with her beloved knick knacks. For me this group of photos was an easy decision, trash. The same picture finding scene has repeated itself over and over through out the past eleven weeks.

When I first began sorting the albums I devised a strategy that would cut the job down. I would take the albums of my bicycle trips which meant nothing to anyone but me and trash them without looking at them. That worked for four albums. The ten boxes of family photos remain. What to do?

My new strategy is to group photos and send them to my grandkids. For instance, all of my wife Barbara’s nursing school memorabilia and photos will be boxed and sent to the grand daughter that followed in her footsteps and beaome a nurse. All of my love letters and courtship photos will go to my oldest grand daughter who is a pharmacist/writer. Perhaps she will use the information to develop characters for a best selling novel. I can continue to sort pictures into blocks of memories and send them to each of my seven natural grand kids. My pictures with Peg are another matter. Her grand children were adults when we married and our photos together do not include them. Also, our photos are 99% digital and are on my computer. It will be easier to delete these files or send them to electronic heaven when the computer dies.

Another strategy is to do nothing. I can do what 99.9% of the population does and leave the job to my heirs be they direct desendants or grandchildren.

My final thought on this topic is about Kodak, the company that created this nightmare for all people who were sucked into memory saving images. You were so involved in selling the concept of memories on film that you failed to heed the signs of a changing world. You allowed the Japanese to out wit you with digital cameras, and now they are selling the virtues of making memories on digital media which has already evolved from VHS tape, to cassette tape, to compact disks, to MP3 flash cards to the Cloud. What next? Kodak is dead now, but the world is stuck with their product and a proper way to dispose of them.

How about if we just convince ourselves to save memories in our head and recall them when needed?

 

 

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