Coffee heat rising

Routine, Crisis, and Grief in the Age of Covid

Up at 3:30 sharp. Hate this…especially in the Age of Covid. In the middle of the night, your neuroses and your hypochondria are unleashed. But it has become a custom, a habit, some kind of physiological necessity. The internal alarm clock goes off every morning between 3 and 4.

M’hijito is bringing his dog over here around 8, on the way over to pick up his dad and New Wife. Word came down that his grandmother — DXH’s mother — is breathing her last in the Grand Junction, Colorado, nursing home where she’s spent the last 20 years or so of her life.

She is 106 years old, God help her.

They were told that they would all have to take and pass covid tests if they are to go in to her room to say good-bye. Not that this would make much difference, as she’s been blind and deaf for upwards of a decade.

My son used to go over there several times a year to visit with her. But finally he announced he was not going back, because he didn’t believe she even knew he was there. That decision came down several years ago.

At any rate, from here he will run over to his dad’s house, pick them up, and drive them to Grand Junction, a 10- or 12-hour junket.

I am not pleased.

DXH is 80 years old, for God’s sake! He’s had a heart attack and bypass surgery. If he catches this thing, he is not going to get to be 81. NW is significantly younger…but you can be a whole lot younger than 80 and still not be a spring chicken. So both of them are put at risk by this junket, as indeed is my son. Unless they brought food with them, they’ll have to stop to eat either at Flagstaff or at Kayenta. They might make it to Four Corners without fainting from hunger…but I wouldn’t put money on it.

Kayenta, where we always used to stop to grab a bite to eat partway through this journey, is in the middle of the Navajo. The plague is holding forth there, as it has from the outset, with a vengeance. On the Rez, 8,243 people have fallen sick…they’re not even saying how many have died, but other sources report that it is a LOT. These are rural, almost nomadic people. There are no large towns on the Rez. By comparison, Yavapai County, which comprises the town of Prescott (once the state capital) has counted 1,167 cases so far. The population of the Navajo Nation is 273,667. The population of Yavapai County is 235,099. So…uhm…think of it this way: 273,667 is NOT to 8,243 as 235,099 is to 1,167.

Not by one helluva long shot.

So. I do not want my son or his father or his father’s wife driving through that area!

Of course, I have no choice in the matter. They decided not to fly, apparently figuring that was riskier for the old folks than driving. And that no doubt is true.

§§§

At 4:20 sharp, the hound and I are out the door!

Took her out to pee about 4:15 to find it was JUST GORGEOUS outside, Venus in the morning sky, the air highly tolerable.

I had decided to opt the morning walks until it cools off a little: by 5 or 5:30 a.m. it’s just gawdawful out there. (To give you an idea: it was 113 yesterday, down from 116 a couple days ago.) But in the predawn gloaming a thought occurred: y’know…we could shoot out, make our dash through Upper Richistan, and get back before the heat comes up.

What a brilliant idea! It was just lovely out. We encountered only one(!!!) dog, and that was on the way back into the ’Hood. Normally I have to wrestle Ruby past a dozen or more dogs. A coyote lives on the road that leads through Lower Richistan, but if she was in the shrubbery over there, she didn’t make herself known. Forgot to bring my shilelagh, so felt a little antsy about that…but mercifully, nothing happened.

Back in the house by 5:20. Dog fed. Human dropped into the pool. Plants watered. Bird dish refilled with water. Hot dang!

§§§

I never got along very well with my mother-in-law. She’s way too much like me: highly opinionated, and not very polite about it.

My mother, who struggled all too visibly to reserve judgment, was nevertheless unmistakably abhorred. And over time MiL did not wear well with me. I do not care whether your political and social and moral beliefs fail to come up to my elevated standards. Seriously. You can be as wacksh!t crazy as you like, you can even be a damned Trumpeter, and as long as you stay out of my face, you’re welcome to it. But that one…could not stay out of your face. If you did not think just the way she did, well then…obviously you were none too bright. And she was happy to tell you about it.

You know the type. Facebook is littered with them.

So that marriage entailed a 20-year struggle to stay polite around the woman. Thank God she lived in another state.

Yet at this point…well, I feel sorry for her but do not feel sorry she is passing.

To live to be 106 years old is to outlive life.

That horror is not something you would wish on anyone. Imagine being confined to a bed in a nursing home, unable to so much as get yourself to the toilet or into a shower stall, unable to see, unable to hear. Not even a mindless daytime TV show to while away the endless hours. There must be a better way to get off this mortal coil.

Her other son lives in Texas. I assume he’s flying over to Grand Junction. Whether they intend to linger at her side until she passes (if she passes…), I do not know. Whether funeral arrangements have been made, I do not know — although given that New Wife is a woman of sterling common sense and considerable prescience, I would assume so. And if so, are they going to stay in Colorado until a funeral and wake and whatever hoohah take place? Or what?

MiL made herself a minor celebrity there on the Western Slope, during her heyday. She wrote a newspaper column for the Grand Junction paper, worked for awhile as an announcer for the local NPR station, and carried a bright red banner of feminism over the heights of Grand Mesa and right into the precincts of Denver, where she got herself appointed to various political jobs, whenever a Democratic governor was in office. So active was she that at one point she was anointed Colorado’s Woman of the Year.

She did a lot, for a small-town librarian who had ill-advisedly married a bright but mentally questionable young man, struggled through 20 years of marriage, finally unloaded the clown (after he took up with his old college girlfriend), and ended up stuck in a small city in the middle of nowhere. Overall, she seemed fairly happy. She had friends. She adored her sons. She achieved a degree of recognition for her public work.

Not a bad life. All things considered.

Texas Soap, Continued…

After the last post went up, the one carrying on about my father’s branch of the genealogical tree, I thought maybe I was a little sharp about those people, the ones whose offspring seem to keep the Tarrant County Jail in business. Soo…to revisit, a little more reflectively.

It’s my opinion — and strictly my opinion, one I cannot prove — that my father suffered various kinds of abuse as a child and possibly as a young man. It would explain his own approach to child-rearing, which was seasoned with bullying and beating. How would he know any better, if that was the way he was raised himself?

In the first place, I know he resented his brother Tom, the senior of the two elder brothers — the younger of these men was 18 years older than my father. Family lore has it that my father was a change-of-life baby, an unpleasant surprise to his father, who so much did not want to start all over with a third child that he ran off, abandoning his wife with the infant. He later was found by the side of a west Texas road, a bullet in his head — presumed a suicide.

However…

So much time passed between these events that it’s unlikely my father’s birth was the immediate cause of his father’s troubles. My father was born in 1908; the errant sire died in 1927: that’s a 19-year hiatus. If the man’s suicide had anything to do with his abandoning my grandmother, the connection would seem to be distant, indeed. If he committed suicide at all: he’d spent some time as a prison guard, which would have earned him some enemies. Out in the middle of nowhere, you could put a bullet in a man’s head and the gun in his hand, then walk, ride, or drive off unnoticed.

Well…what was going on during those 19 years?

In the absence of her honored husband, my grandmother allowed herself to be drawn into the sticky webs of a variety of con artists:

A nascent church of Pentecostal nut cases. Today this is more or less a mainstream church, but at the time it was decidedly a fringe element.

A coven of spiritualists who persuaded her that they could talk with the dead, and who would gather at her home to conduct séances.

Crooked building contractors who scammed her of that part of her inheritance that she hadn’t forked over to the church and to the ghost-hunters, by talking her into endless, expensive additions and improvements to her home.

My grandmother had inherited a lot of money. Her father had freighted buffalo hides out of Oklahoma into Texas during the 19th century. The amount she would have had around the time my father was born would be worth around $2.8 million today. In addition, she owned a gas station in Fort Worth and a large family home. The older brothers had figured they would split this inheritance when she died, and they would then be set; even if the kid brother got an even cut, each one would have come out with the equivalent of almost a million dollars.

After she died, however, they learned to their horror that she had given every cent that had not been scammed away by the spiritualists and the “contractors” to the church. The two older brothers were alienated over this — Tom, who by then was living out on the range in West Texas or Oklahoma, blamed Ed for not having ridden herd on their mother. My father was deemed too young to know any better, although if I’m right about his age, he must have been in the Navy by then.

At any rate, by the time I was old enough to know any of the characters in this road show, a permanent schism had developed, and it was clear even to my childish eyes that my father did not care for his oldest brother. I must have been about eight or ten years old when we came back to the states from Arabia for one of my father’s biennial three-month leaves. We would drive from New York City to Texas, hang out with the second brother, Ed, and his wife Audie for a while, then push on to California for another few weeks with my mother’s relatives, and then fly low across the roads back to New York, where we’d catch a plane and cross the Atlantic, Europe, and the Middle East to return to Saudi Arabia.

So this one time, I’m eight or ten and we’re in Texas. For reasons altogether unclear to me (I knew nothing in those days, but just tagged along), my parents decided to visit Tom, somewhere in the boondocks. He met us in his pickup and proposed to drive us out to the ranch. I was to be privileged to ride in the truck with Uncle Tom, and my father and mother were to follow in the car that they’d purchased in New York for the cross-country trip.

This would have been a pretty nice car. My father made good money working for Aramco, and when we came back to the States for these “long leaves,” he would buy a large, comfortable sedan in New York, drive us across the country to California, stopping in Texas to visit his brother Ed, and proceed straight back to New York, where he would sell the car. You also should know that when my father was sober (which was most of the time), he was a fairly conservative and cautious man.

So the kid — that would be me — is put into the pickup and we take off across the West Texas hinterlands.

It is raining. We’re driving on a rutted, potholed dirt road across a remote prairie with NOTHING around us. (See the banner image above…only the place didn’t have that much grass, as I recall).) Tom lays on the gas and takes off across the prairie like a spooked longhorn. I’m a little kid and even I know this is kinda crazy.

Following behind us, my father can’t keep up. My mother is frantic. So, presumably, is he, although “frantic” was never one of his affects.

Out in the middle of effin’ nowhere, my father finally manages to catch up, honk Tom down, get him to pull over. He is in a flying rage. He grabs me back and throws me in the car, tells Tom how the cow ate the cabbage, jumps into his car, and drives us all back into Ft. Worth.

That, to my knowledge, was the last time my father saw or spoke to his oldest brother until Tom died in 1973.

So there’s that lovely family. My sense is that Tom probably did that to prove some kind of point, or maybe just for the fun of goading my father. It appears that he indeed was a bit of a sh!thead.

I’m pretty certain that my father experienced a fair amount of what we would consider physical abuse as he was growing up. It’s possible he also was sexually abused, but I have no proof of that, except that he was homophobic to the point of being neurotic about it. Simple violence is more credible: he was a believer in spanking and beating, and no quarter was given to small children. It was what he took to be the proper way to bring up a child. That was current in his generation — he and my mother were no believers in progressive child-rearing methods.

It also appears possible that both of my fathers’ parents came from broken homes — which is saying something in the 1800s. The various genealogical websites contain hints that my grandfather’s parents and my grandmother’s parents were living in separate states. This, too, would seem not to bode well for the offspring.

So…do I feel a little tart about these folks? Oh, yes. I was never close to them, because my father was not close to them. And a signal characteristic of my father’s personality was a kind of restrained abuse (restrained, I suspect, by my mother) layered with habitual distance.

Genealogy Part II: The Texas Soap Opera

Having mined the Web for information about the forebears on my mother’s side, I decided to Google my father’s family name.

Heh…

Y’know…a few years after my father married his endlessly annoying third wife, whom he took up with at the old-folkerie where he moved after my mother died, he took her with him to visit his brother in Texas. While there, they drove around to meet other surviving members of the clan.

You have to know this: Mrs. Third was not the brightest rhinestone on the cowboy vest. But she was convinced that she was a 24-carat diamond. 😀 Godlmighty, that woman was stupid.

At any rate, so away she goes with my father. They charge off through the dust of West Texas, and they spend three weeks or a month driving around the Lone Star State.

You understand…my father used to say the best thing about being from Texas was being from Texas: as far from it as you can get. As a teenager, he dropped out of high school, lied about his age, and enlisted in the Navy, thereby launching himself into that ideal state of being from. He went back only briefly, during the Depression, a sojourn that didn’t last long. Of that you may be very sure.

His brother Ed was a good man, kindly and quiet, married lovingly to a harridan my mother loathed right up until her (the sister-in-law’s) demise: a Southern belle who slathered over her meanness with honey and maple syrup. Strangely like my father’s Wife Number Three…. Edwin worked all his life for Metzger’s Dairy in Ft. Worth, where he provided a solid, comfortable middle-class life for his family.

Their brother Tom, on the other hand, was…well…somewhat rough. Far as I could tell, Tom was a ranch hand who eventually rose to the elevated status of ranch manager, way to hell and gone out in West Texas. My mother said their forebears migrated to Texas from the deep south: Alabama or Arkansas. However, it appears that in 1860 the family was in Illinois; by 1894, when the second brother was born, they were in Texas.

We’re told that my father was a change-of-life baby, a little surprise to his mother born in 1908. The sire, who evidently did not want to support and raise another child, ran away and some time later was found by the side of a Texas country road, dead of a gunshot wound to the head: presumed a suicide. They were not, shall we say, members of an elevated social class.

The reason my father ran away from Texas was that he learned to deeply hate cattle ranching from his brother Tom, who took him on the last cattle drive from Texas to Dodge city. From this and similar adventures, he learned that he did not wish to spend his life watching the rear ends of cows from the back of a horse. Or a pick-up, either.

So anyway, some time after my father and the dear wife get back into town, DXH and I are at my step-sister’s house for some de rigueur holiday get-together. Mrs. Third has me cornered, and in the course of yakking at me brings up the subject of this trip, which was still pretty recent at that point. She mentions it in tones of awed horror.

“You know,” she says, confiding, “they’re not our kind of people!”

No shit, Pocahontas!

I managed not to laugh aloud, but it’s always been one of my most hilarious memories of that woman.

So yesterday I google up the clan name. You would just not believe the number of my tribe who are now or who have been guests of the Tarrant County slam! They’re a bunch of effing petty criminals. Well, assuming you regard murder as a petty crime.

LOL! I knew he was WT made good…but this is ridiculous.

That self-congratulating twit must have been so abhorred when she saw the folks from whom her honored husband sprang. A-n-n-n-d…knowing my father, who had a knack for acting dumb-as-a-post but who was very far from it, he probably did that on purpose.

It’s “poke,” goddammit. “Poke sallet.” From pokeweed, a mildly toxic weed that grows all over the Southeastern U.S.

Waco cattle sculptures: By Dfwcre8tive – Own work, CC BY 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=8917140

 

The Genealogy Jamboree

In an idle moment, I happened to google the name of some long-dead relative, and lo! up came a bunch of interesting stuff, not just dry government documents but newspaper articles and obituaries written by surviving loved ones. Genealogical records tend to suck you in. Like history (of which, I suppose, genealogy is a branch), the stories of the dead can be hypnotic.

Fooling around, I had the idea of creating a table that would compare the family lore about people on my mother’s side with what appear to be the facts, as reflected in public records. And…whoa! This is when you begin to realize how curious are some of the things your relatives have said.

My father never talked about his family, most of whom he was alienated from or just didn’t care about. But my mother’s stories…oh, my!

Gree, presumably in her younger days

One particularly memorable legend has it that my great-grandmother, familiarly known as “Gree,” was brought up by Mary Baker Eddy after her own parents died. This is why Gree was a staunch Christian Scientist right up to her dying day, at the (very active!) age of 94.

Think of that. She and her daughter both lived to 94, and they never saw a doctor in their lives. The evening before she died (of heart failure), she entertained a dozen people for Christmas dinner in her dining room.

Well, anyway: Mary Baker Eddy as stepmother. Right?

Start to look into it, and you find exactly zero evidence that Gree ever came anywhere near Mary Baker Eddy during her childhood. Eddy lived in New England: mostly in Massachusetts. Gree was born in Battle Creek, Michigan, and as far as I can tell, lived most of her younger years in Michigan and Illinois. She married in the Midwest, and she and her husband moved to California after they were well into adulthood.

It is true that Gree’s mother died when Gree was three years old. However, the father lived another ten years. That would have left Gree unparented at the age of 13…but again, there is exactly zero evidence that she was ever sent East. And as far as I can tell, Mary Baker Eddy never inhabited either Michigan or Illinois. 😀

My mother believed that Gree and her widowed, never remarried daughter Gertrude were prominent in the Christian Science movement at the start of the 20th century. She said they used to contribute frequently to the Christian Science Monitor.

Okay. Yes. The Christian Science Monitor was founded in 1908. So…yeah. Could be.

Look into it, though, and you find their sole surviving squib in any CS publication was a testimonial to the miracles of Christian Science in The Christian Science Sentinel, which appears to have been a kind of propaganda bullhorn whose nature was akin to a newsletter.

None of this means they didn’t know Mary Baker Eddy personally. Surely one or both of them could have. But evidently my great-grandmother never spent any time as Eddy’s stepchild. Unless…she was sent east on an orphan train (at the age of 13? In the 1800s, when she would have been considered old enough to earn a living?) and nabbed as a free servant by Eddy. But there’s no word of this either in fact or in family lore. Besides, the orphan trains went in the other direction: from East Coast cities into the hinterlands.

Interestingly, in this testimonial Gertrude remarks that she survived typhoid(!) and appendicitis grâce à the miraculous qualities of Christian Science. She also remarks that her brother went to France during World War I.

Then we have the story of Gertrude’s brother, my uncle Albert, who designed the Morrison Planetarium at the California Academy of Sciences in San Francisco. We’re told that Al wanted to go to college but that his father refused to let that happen, saying no one needed a college diploma to earn a living. This, in the backlit haze of family lore, made Al’s accomplishments as an engineer and designer all the more astonishing.

Well. No. Mucking about on the Internet, what DO I come across but an article in an antique university newsletter indicating that at the age of 23 he was a junior at the University of Illinois, Champaign — majoring in civil engineering.

He was born in 1892. So if he was a junior in 1915, then he would have been a little old for an undergraduate. This could indicate that he didn’t start college until a year or two after he left high school. Or that he was working his own way through and so had to take a lighter than normal course load. Assuming he was able to carry a regular schedule of classes, though, he would have graduated in 1916. The U.S. entered World War II in April, 1917, and so it’s possible that he might have dropped out of college to volunteer for the war. But it’s just as possible that he finished his course of studies before joining up.

Whatever: this bit of intelligence gives the lie to the tale that he was entirely self-educated.

Amusing, isn’t it?

I have a cousin in California who converted to Mormonism shortly after he reached adulthood. He compiled a large genealogical record, we’re told, which in the first place would be lodged here in town at the Temple (and I do have Mormon friends who could get me in there) or which, in the second place, he may have information about. His sister, who lives in Fountain Hills, has completely alienated herself from me, for reasons unknown. Apparently I said something to offend her — what, I can’t imagine. My father had plenty to say about her conversion to Roman Catholicism, some of it extremely nasty — he was a bigot who operated in the highest stratosphere of bigotry, and if he made any of his remarks to her (God help us!), she no doubt thinks I’m just as stupid and vicious as he was. It remains to be seen if she passed this opinion along to her brother.

One would assume she did. But I figure it can’t hurt to try to get in touch with him. He can’t hit me over the Internet.

 

Day Care, Mom’s Vacation, and the Incredible Lightness of America’s Child Rearing Theories

I was over at Grumpy Rumblings this morning, where I came across nicoleandmaggie’s latest Deliberately Controversial Post. They ask if it’s right (or not) to keep on dropping your kids at day care when you’re on vacation, at one point citing the example of a child who realizes what’s up and is unhappy because he doesn’t get a vacation from the institution where he’s being warehoused.

Naturally this elicits a great string of commentary, much of it pretty entertaining and much of it pretty interesting. Several women remarked that since they’re paying for day care five days a week, they’re most certainly going to use it. Others snorted at the idea that the brats will be scarred for life if they’re left in a day care center for a few more days, willy-nilly.

Grumpy Rumblings has that WordPress comment function that forces you to sign in to enter a comment. I don’t wish to comment as English 235 PVCC, but I would like to add a little rant to the conversation. As follows:

Well. You are paying for it. Good reason to make your kid miserable, hm?

Seriously, IMHO it depends on your child and her attitude toward being institutionalized five days a week. Some kids love it. Some don’t. My son was utterly miserable and sick all the time in what was said to be the best day care center in the city. Fortunately for him, I happened to walk in the door just as he was climbing onto a makeshift table cobbled together by balancing an old door across the backs of two plastic kiddie chairs — he and the door tumbled down on top of a little girl before I could reach him. We left and never returned; I took him back to his old sitters in the neighborhood, which cost more but was sure as He!! worth it. He soon threw off the chronic infections he’d had since I enrolled him in the place, and his whole attitude changed. For the better.

And yes, when I was not physically at work, I did leave him with those women, each of whom watched two to four kids in her home — it allowed me to get a lot done and to unwind from the demanding and sometimes unpleasant job of mothering as well as from my paid work.

IMHO we too often fail to put ourselves in our children’s shoes; videlicet the idea [alluded to in nicoleandmaggie’s post] that you should tell kids how they’re feeling. How would you like some patronizing fool to tell you what’s going on in your head? Similarly, how would you like to be locked up in a day-care center, coming home sick with every bug in circulation, so that you’re literally never feeling well? If your child isn’t bothered by this, by all means leave the kid there when you’re on vacation — you work hard and you do deserve a break. But if she is bothered by it, maybe she’s trying to tell you something.

But then…we often fail to put ourselves in anyone else’s shoes, eh? It’s part of the human condition.

What do you think of this conundrum? Go on over to Grumpy Rumblings and add to the fray! 🙂

Kids & Costs: Another point of view

Guest Post by Frugal Scholar

Since I took issue with Funny’s** premise—that having children is intrinsically and unavoidably expensive—and since I promised to write something for her, here is a short version of what I would say to prospective parents.  First of all, I’ve read Elizabeth Warren’s books and articles. She is truly a voice for the American middle-class. I love her. In one of her books, The Two-Income Trap,  she avers that American middle class folks are in a bind: they MUST buy houses in neighborhoods with good school districts. These houses are pricy and come with high property taxes. Hence, both parents must work. Hence if one parent loses his or her job: disaster! This book, by the way, was written before the bursting of the housing bubble, or, as Funny (or I) would put it, the Bush Economy. [uh-oh! Evan, hang onto your hat! 😉)

When I read Warren’s book, a library copy as befits a frugal type like myself, I found myself saying NO. It doesn’t have to be that way. I feel there is always a choice.

Before I moved into the pricey neighborhood, I would check out the schooling in less desirable areas. Often, the schools are better than one would think. Or there are enrichment programs. I am skeptical of school rankings, incidentally, since they seem to correlate with the wealth and education of the parents. So that is what you get in the “better” school districts.

If the schools are really unacceptable, I would consider homeschooling. Why not? The money you save by living in a cheaper house could obviate the need for one parent to work. I would hate to do this myself, but there are many passionate homeschoolers.

If you decide you MUST live in the great neighborhood, why not rent an apartment or buy a too-small house? As anyone with kids in college knows, the years fly by. A little discomfort in the service of a greater good is a fine lesson to be teaching your children.

As a person who is hardwired for frugality, I run through similar processes for almost every decision I make, from the trivial (which tomato sauce?) to the momentous (which college?). As a general rule, I run a value-test on everything: with two choices, test the cheaper one first. That is why my son did soccer locally and didn’t go for the expensive and time-consuming traveling team. Why? He wasn’t that interested or good. That is why my daughter took a very basic ballet class at the local YMCA rather than at the upscale studio. Why? Ditto. Yet when it came to the summer, we opted for an expensive sleep away camp for both. Why? Because as members of a minority religion, we felt it was important for the children to get a sense of their culture.

I hardly need to say that other families will make different decisions, owing to the different talents and interests of the kids. I also happen to believe that most children are over-scheduled these days. That belief fits into my  general laziness.

My happy memories are of trips to the Children’s Museum, Aquarium, and Audubon Zoo—we were members of all and went a lot. Doing art together (I splurged on top-quality materials). Cooking together. Taking walks. Reading. Going to FREE concerts. We spent a lot on trips to faraway grandparents. And, through the years, I kept waiting for my children to get expensive.

**OOPS—just noticed that the post to which I took issue is a GUEST POST. I don’t know what Funny thinks.

(LOL! Funny thinks kids cost even more than pets. And that’s a lot!)

Don’t miss these great posts from Frugal Scholar:

Paula Begoun’s Skincare Recommendations: Anti-aging et al
Kitchen Remodel on a Budget: Beginnings
The Parental Safety Net