Tuesday, October 13, 2015

If I Can’t Put My Own Damn Bra On, Let Me Die

I hope to go out of this life like a Viking. Okay, maybe not the fighting and pillaging part, more like Brünhilde, her chest supported with a form-fitted breastplate, singing at the top of her lungs. I want to go out screaming and kicking, too, not lingering on, a burden to others.

My parents Dave and Ann thought the same way. They were lucky and blessed in that. Ann went quickly. She wasn’t feeling well, had a considerable amount of dizziness and went to the doctor. It was discovered that a small-cell cancer had spread throughout her tiny, elf-like body. She fought the pain bravely with steroids and morphine. Toward the end, she would take a prescribed pain pill, chase it with a couple cigarettes and nod off to sleep. It was only the last week of her life that she was bed-ridden. Ann only had to be bathed two times under hospice care. There was one bed-sore in its beginning stages. One morning, her small frame could not take it anymore. Those of us gathered bedside noticed that her bottle of morphine was low. She let out one last gasp. The attending nurse, my cousin, said Mother had passed. Papa took her remaining pills and flushed them down the commode before they could be counted. Pharma or nature? Either way, Ann was gone. If she suffered at all, it wasn’t long.

Papa had been living by himself in a sleepy little retirement area in the Southwest when he took ill. At the age of sixty-nine it was discovered that he had a blockage near his heart. During a life flight to the hospital, he nearly died. Papa decided then to see the world and toured Asia, enjoying every moment. Years later, he too succumbed to lung cancer. It was quick but not merciful.

I remember Papa’s brother Ed used to say, “Getting old is Hell.” Uncle Ed would kick his walker out of spite. This was before the stroke. After it happened, my uncle held on for a few more years, a shadow of the man he was. After work, about three days a week, my cousin went to the care center to massage my uncle’s legs, yet Ed still got pressure sores. The first evening I went to see him, I learned that when he said, “Nurse, GO!” those words meant he needed a nurse or an aid so he could get assistance in having a bowel movement. On my visits I watched many other seniors and disabled people, lingering, crying for death. This was nothing like the AARP commercials I’d see on television, the ones with elderly couples dancing and hiking. This was HELL.

Another beloved elderly relative died slowly over a matter of weeks, hooked to a respirator, watching family members come and go, argue over what would happen to her house, talk as if she wasn’t in the same hospital room. She saw everything happening and had a desperate look on her face. All the nourishment that went into her was liquid, pumped right through a port in her neck and into her stomach. Everything that exited her body came out of a tube. Yellow, almost orange, urine into a bag; brown sludge into another receptacle that hung bedside, sealed from the air but not from the eyes of visitors, friends and grandchildren. One day she made the motions of writing. My husband handed her a pencil and notebook. I think she wrote that she just wanted us to let go and say our goodbyes, but nobody was certain. A family member brought some of her legal papers to the hospital that week. A day or two later, she was sent home, unhooked from her tethers, dying peacefully that weekend.

I tend to a couple, Jacques and Vera. They’re from Canada and were old friends of my family. They knew my parents Dave and Ann since before I was born. A couple times a year our family would meet up with their family at a lakeside resort outside of the Detroit Metro area. They always had some little dogs that delighted us kids. My papa would just scowl. Dogs were farm animals to him, not family. Jacques, an athletic, old meathead even then, would bench press all the kids, one at a time and then invite us all to roller skate while Papa relaxed and told stories. Jacques’ wife Vera and her in-laws would sit around the campfire with my mother Ann listening to my father’s tales. On rainy nights, they’d opt for the clubhouse. We’d go hiking, swimming, fishing and boating.

I lost track of Jacques and Vera for about ten years. Then one day, I answered an ad to do light housekeeping and driving for an older couple. Imagine my surprise when I saw Jacques and Vera! They were “snowbirding” near my desert community where I live half the year. They’d arrive from Canada in October, cockapoos in tow, and leave at the end of April. A couple years later, Vera’s best friend from high-school, Sharleen, joined them. A widow, Sharleen lives in the casita adjoining Jacques’ winter home.

Since I’d last seen them, Jacques and Vera were also converted to the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (also known as Mormons or LDS). Sharleen, not a Mormon, was always a hell-raiser, as they say, but Vera loves her best friend none-the-less. They were like sisters. Sharleen, having no living family in Canada, opted to live in the desert Southwest year ‘round.

Three days a week, I’d clean Vera’s home until she and Jacques left in April or May. I’d also tend to Sharleen’s casita for another several weeks, then at the end of Spring, I’d shut off all the toilets, pipes and electrical switches at the main house, head back to Michigan for several months until my return in Autumn when I’d freshen the big house. With my husband’s instructions, I turned all their water and electricity on. This became a routine until last year. Jacques and Vera didn’t show up at their usual time. Weeks went by. I didn’t hear from my elderly friends, not a letter nor a post card. My phone calls went unanswered. Sharleen, who now has dementia, was no help. She has in-home care givers, and does quite well for now. If she'd heard from Jacques and Vera, Sharleen didn't remember and didn't tell me.

Finally I got a call one day in January just before Jacques and Vera came rolling in. Their son J. C. was driving this time. He got them settled in. A day or two later, he flew back to Canada. Turns out, Vera had a stroke in early October of 2014 and it spun their lives around. Additionally, Jacques was in a wheelchair with degenerative disc disease. That wonderful, sweet, crazy couple believed that I could assist in their bathing and toileting. Lord knows I tried, but after Vera slipped and landed on me while I was getting her out of the shower, I asked if they could get a nurse. I’d noticed that morning that Vera had sores on her buttocks. Maybe they developed during the drive south? Anyway, the Canadian government is reluctant to pay a nurse outside of their country for long-term care. (Sharleen pays for her own assistant.) Jacques and Vera begged me to keep trying.

Getting Vera dressed is a game of “Please don’t fall while I’m pulling up your pants,” followed by, “I hope your heavy right arm doesn’t land on my head, knocking me out!” As she bends over me, her large breasts usually box my ears, leaving me with ringing in my head. Her feet are swollen, but she insists on wearing the same size five shoes that she danced in as a young woman. I want to get her some Caitlyn Jenner sized slippers for her tender tootsies to wear instead.

Also, some of you readers may know that Mormons wear sacred garments to promote modesty. Putting a bra of any kind on Vera, even a sports bra, one that won’t eventually roll or pop-up, is impossible. Decades ago, I asked the ladies that sell garments at the store outside the temple if I could make a suggestion that bras, or at the very least, cups, could be a part of the garment tops. You would have thought that I’d asked for pink lacy negligées! I got scowls that would have made Don Rickels wither, speechless. Here I was, years later, in the early winter of 2015 wanting to march right over to Beehive Clothing and demand answers! I wanted something that would fit my buxom old friend and I wanted it now! I have heard that I’m not the only care-giver, patient, child or friend with these concerns. (What can we do but pray?)

Transportation is another challenge to put it mildly. Thankfully, Jacques and Vera live down the street from a clinic and have a great relationship with the staff there. They ride their electric wheelchairs to their appointments. (The bills are paid, I assume, out of pocket. They don’t tell me.) The worst experience was driving Vera to the store, at her request. I only did that once. I could barely get her into my compact car from her electric scooter. Also, I had no way to transport the machine. No problem according to Vera. We could use one from the store. Once there, I couldn’t get her into the one provided. We asked for assistance but the employees at the mart cannot legally assist shoppers. Two guys named Alan and Jose who were walking through the parking lot on the way to the store heard Vera’s pleas for help and assisted her into the electric wheelchair. Bless those angels!

Once inside the store, Vera was quickly falling asleep at the wheel. She had just taken her prescribed pills before we left her home. My dear elderly friend would nod off repeatedly, wake up, select a box of treats and ask if I’d like some. I would decline.

“Oh, Honey, as a child you ate sweets! Let me buy you these!” and she’d grab some cheese Danishes with her good hand.

Frequently I tried to persuade her to go to the check out, but she’d motor on, slow down, sleep five minutes, awake with a startled look on her face and then see something else, sugary, shiny or pretty in another aisle.

After three hours I said, “You’re so tired. Let’s get you home and get you fed.”

She’d smile and show me the hot-pockets in her basket. “I’ll heat these up when you take me home!”

“Okay, then. Let’s go!” I’d say, smiling.

“Not yet!” She pulled away, kids staring at her wide-eyed. You’d think ten-year-olds would have the good sense to run out of the way. They didn’t. Neither did their mother. Vera stopped the electric menace mere inches from them. I honked the horn for Vera. It made a cute little squeak. Pitiful!

I said, “I bet Jacques wonders where we are!” She called him on her smart phone. Well, she tried to. She dozed off, I am not joking, FIVE times before she dialed all the numbers. She left a message. I wasn’t even sure she had the right number. I texted him. Jacques said that I was grown-up and needed to tell her to leave. That didn’t work. I wanted to cry.

By now, I was sweating like a hog and it was only the end of January. Noticing that something else was dripping, I said, “Your ice cream is melting, we really should go.” It was oozing out of the carton. She relented and we went to the cashier.

As we left the store, Vera took my hand and said, “This is the best day I’ve had since my stroke! Thank you, THANK YOU for taking me out of the house today!” We got to the handicapped parking space and I helped her from the scooter to my passenger seat which was lower. My back felt like it was going to give out. Then it happened--thank you Mr. Murphy for your dumb laws--an insect flew down my blouse.

I reached into my cleavage to retrieve the errant creature, but then thought to myself, what if it was a killer bee? Then just as quickly, I had visions of its five hundred hive mates attacking me. Stomping my feet and crying, I unbuttoned my shirt, exposing my bra and garments to the bag boys, shoppers and homeless people on the curb. I was finally becoming unglued. All the time, Vera howled with laughter repeating that this was “The best day ever”. By now, she was having brassier issues of her own. Her sports bra that I had labored to get over her body, the one that I had pulled down past her sternum and rested upon her ribs, had noticeably rolled up and was above her breasts. She peeled in laughter some more. I saw her dentures coming loose, the fixative goo clinging to her lips. In desperation, I reached into my bra and pulled out a little, yellow beetle with black spots. Flinging it, I got into the car, sat down and buttoned my shirt. Reaching into her handbag, Vera handed me her pocket blood pressure gauge, giggling that I wasn’t being very lady-like.

Reporting the results, (my pressure was 172 over 149 -- if that’s possible) I started to weep. “I’ve always had good blood pressure, usually 110 over 60!”

She said, “Oh, Honey, it doesn’t work for me either.” (To be on the safe side I went to the clinic down the street after I dropped Vera off. It was 120 over 78.)

Hours after we left, I got Vera to her home. Jacques was seething. I could see it. I’d only seen him mad one other time and that was at the resort in Michigan when the model airplane that he’d labored on since before I was born defied his commands and kept flying, hitting a delivery truck. All those decades ago he kept calm in front of us kids, and then he went behind the clubhouse letting out a stream of foul language that would make a sailor blush!

He met us at the door, wearing the same scathing look while I explained the situation. I carried in three sacks of candy, cupcakes, éclairs and melting ice cream. To Jacques' credit, he calmly said, “Vera has impulse issues now.” (Well, thanks for telling me AFTER the shopping trip.) Their aging cockapoo Peppy was making a yellow puddle in the kitchen corner. I put everything away, cleaned up and made a hasty retreat.

On the bright side, I will never take Vera shopping again. She won’t buy all those treats. On the bright side, I wasn’t stung by a horde of killer bees. On the bright side, my back didn’t give out and we can buy Vera bigger shoes. On the bright side, Jacques never again brought up our lovely trip to the giant-Wally-world-of-food-bargain-store.

My husband said I needed to have a back bone and just leave. Leave? Leave her in the store? He said that I should have forcibly taken her out. She is twice my size and was driving a small but heavy vehicle. What could I do? What would Papa’s favorite columnists advise? Abby, Ann, are you listening?

Despite trying to think positively, I was left with two major issues that still trouble me: The first, is the idea that ladies’ LDS temple garments should be made with brassieres as part of the top. They could be sold in chest and cup sizes like bras are. God, our Father, made breasts. I don’t see why we can’t accommodate them, large or small. At the very least, provide the option of padded, supportive garment tops to disabled women. My second thought is, when I die, I want it to be quick--after a game of cards like my Auntie Lynn Marie. She won everything, fairly. Nobody let her win. She walked away from the table, grasped her walker and without warning, collapsed, a grin on her face.

I want to go out like that, conquering the world, or at least a board game. I don’t want to live a half-life, lingering, harming other peoples’ backs, spoiling their health. I’ve told my kids, “If I die suddenly, throw a party. Cheer that I went out a winner. Be happy that I wasn’t using up money that could be better spent on my grandchildren’s college educations. Be comforted that I didn’t have to suffer with bed sores, cracking lips, bruises from blood draws, tubes hanging from my body. I don’t want to live in a mortal prison."

Sharleen says that I should let my loved ones tend to me in my old age, that I cared for my kids and that they can meet my needs when I am old and worn out. Our mutual friend Yvette says Sharleen is nuts. I say that it is my decision and despite what the Church says, I hope that I can be put to sleep if it comes to that.

Abby and Ann what would you say? What would you do?

Are you listening?

This is part of my series “If Abby and Ann were Listening” which was originally penned for another blog months ago. I’ll be importing stories from it every couple weeks. Please note also: Jacques and Vera have a sense of humor and support my creative efforts. There are no confidences broken here as actual names have been changed.

Monday, September 28, 2015

If Abby and Ann were Listening.

My late father always said, when you have a problem, don’t take it to God. Take it to Dear Abby. If she doesn’t respond, write to her sister Ann Landers. An avowed atheist, my dad didn’t read the Bible, he read the newspaper. Every morning, he faithfully studied the advice columns before work started at the Fisher Body Plant in Delray, Michigan. He retired from that division of General Motors in the late 1980s. That was more than thirty years of sage advice that Papa gathered from Abby and Ann!

Mom was barely a Creaster. She skipped services for entire decades, favoring church social events and mother-daughter parties. Yet, Mommie had some strong convictions. She taught me to pray, believing in the power and comfort of prayer. Never-the-less, for my first seventeen years, Dad’s teachings won out.

I eventually grew up, married and moved to the desert southwest like my dad’s sisters did. Following in their footsteps, I’m having a love-hate relationship with the desert. Like one of my aunties, I also travel between the Great Lakes and the west. I live in the desert during the school year, where I work two part time jobs: one in an office and the other tending elderly folks. Some of the senior citizens in the region are known as "snowbirds" because they move with the equinoxes, following the sun like migrating fowl. My seasonal jobs allow me to travel home to Michigan for months on end. I also get to do a few book signings along the way.

The reason I'm starting this series of posts, entitled, "If Abby and Ann were Listening," is that blogging is a great way for people to get things off of their chests. Additionally, some individuals enjoy my crazy family dramas; a few stories make people chuckle. (I hope they're laughing with me and not at me.) Many folks tell me that I need to get these tales down in writing. Most names and actual places will be changed, since some situations are difficult for me to get through and some of the people I'll be writing about are not very nice.

I will be telling you about the chickens and other critters on my porch. I will tell you about my crazy friends and my second job working with an older couple that comes down from Canada. I mostly want to share the Hell that my family puts me through. I have children and grandchildren. They can be a source of joy, but are frustratingly, maddeningly dependent on me. (A shrink told me not so long ago that I'm a co-dependent.) I will also tell you about my husband, a gentle man whose patience is often at a breaking point because of a few of these situations.

Mostly I would like to write to Abby and Ann, since my life is so stressed out. I could write a letter every week for a year, which is what it would take to get these frustrations out of my my soul. I don’t want to send an endless stream of correspondence; I would come out of this looking like a stalker. Also, my dad told me that, sadly, the Friedman Sisters passed away. The last sister died in 2013. My papa has also left this world. I bet Abby and Ann were up in Heaven standing beside my mother ready to tell my late father, “See, there is an afterlife and we’ve been waiting to tell you!” So, if anyone out there wants to give me advice, you can be my Abby and Ann. If the real sisters are up there listening, please, send advice. Send it right away! I think my dad would approve.

Wednesday, September 16, 2015

We are Hildale

Two large vans loaded with mothers, aunts and little children went on a drive. . .and never came home.

Monday evening September 14, in Hildale, Utah some adults rounded up the little ones to watch the flooding in their neighborhood. The mothers corralled the kids in two vans during an exceptionally heavy thunderstorm. They cautioned the children to stay away from the rushing water and asked them to remain inside the vehicles to watch the weather. They parked at a safe distance, parents standing in the rain, when in an instant, the water rushed from behind them, washing away the road. To the horror of onlookers, their vehicles were swept by the forces of water, down slopes and rocks. Their vans came to rest, twisted in the aftermath.

It could have been you. It could have been me. It could have been my children and grandchildren. Most people who have lived in the west for a fair amount of time know not to hike in canyons and washes (also known as arroyos) during rainstorms. They know to stay out of the swimming holes even if a storm is ten or fifteen miles away. The rain gathers from high plateaus and rushes down the sides of walls, converges to the lowest and narrowest points creating a swift running river where only minutes before sand and lizards baked in the sun.

Decades ago after some storms, my children and I stayed a healthy and safe distance watching water run down dirt roads in Southern Utah. Still, we were in a neighborhood, away from canyons. Thankfully the water from the storms never gained so much momentum to sweep us away.

Sadly, the focus in the media and amongst most people is the fact that the victims were members of the FLDS community, a renegade offshoot of the mainstream Christian “Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints” (LDS). Many people poke fun at the FLDS manner of dress and isolation, joking about how many Polygamists it takes to fill a van before it stops floating. I wonder if people would say the same if this was a van of people from New York visiting from out of state. What if this had been a bus load of European tourists?

In fact, that same evening, hikers from California were swept away while traversing through Keyhole Canyon in nearby Zion National Park. As the crow flies, Zion is only fifteen miles away from little Hildale. Part way into the hike, the rain began. Within less than fifteen minutes, the Virgin River rose from fifty five cubic feet per second to over 2500 cubic feet. The hikers were hit with a wall of water which later slammed Hildale like a tidal wave. I don’t hear jokes about the California hikers.

At press time the total number of dead in both instances is twenty. As of posting this blog entry the search continues for little Tyson Black whose deceased relatives and the mangled van he was riding in were found a half mile away. Some bodies and debris were discovered as far as six miles away.

The mayor of the little polygamist community called this an act of God. I will agree that Heavenly Father created weather, but each of us chooses what course we take in life. The mothers chose to watch the flash floods at what they judged to be a safe distance, but the waters changed course and took them off guard. God did not do this. These communities are already struggling with their faith. They do not need to be angry at their creator.

My heart and prayers are with Hildale, Utah and Colorado City, Arizona. I will stand with you.

Je Suis Hildale

(Photos #1 and #2 -- Vehicles and families minutes before the wall of water hit them, via John Barlow and Channel 13 FOX News, Utah)
(Photo #3 credit Saint George News.)


Thursday, July 16, 2015

One Christian Woman’s View on the Outlander Series

Two years ago a neighbor of mine named Pamela was excited to discover that I was a writer. She knew I was of Scots-Irish descent and that I like strong female lead characters in the books I write as well as those that I read. She asked me if I had time to read just one more book. I flatly told her that I didn’t have time. I had my own novels to complete. She insisted, and handed me a paperback. I sat in her living room and contemplated the thick blue book she’d reverently placed in my hands, an almost worshipful look in her eyes. I handed it back to her and said, “I can’t take your book, it must mean a lot to you.”

“That’s quite all right,” she insisted. “The author signed the entire series for me, in hardback! You can keep this copy.”

Then Pam began to tell me the tale of Claire Randall, an army nurse enjoying her first real vacation just after World War Two. She is on her second honeymoon with her beloved husband Frank, a man she knows very little about because their respective assignments with the British army had separated them shortly after their wedding. She and Frank are attempting to rekindle their love in Scotland, enjoying the countryside when Claire finds herself at a small version of Stonehenge. She is transported back two hundred years, but in her disorientation doesn’t realize the full impact of her journey. At first she thinks she’s found herself in the middle of a historical reenactment.

Claire thinks she sees Frank, but the man before her is actually a distant relative of his, serving in the army of King George. Clad in full redcoated malevolence, “Black Jack” Randall will take advantage of any situation. Usually Randall’s favorite prey is young men, but Claire is alone and he is a cruel, mean opportunist. He seizes Claire, about to have his way with the helpless time traveler, when a Scotsman takes her captive, in essence saving her. She later meets a wounded Scot named Jamie, a chieftain of the Clan MacKenzie. During their Journey to a stark grey castle, Claire tends to Jamie’s bullet wound and resets a dislocated shoulder. She later becomes a healer to the people at Castle Leoch. (Thus begins an adventure that I later discovered contains eight books with more to come.)

Pamela spent at least a half hour telling me what I summed up in the synopsis above. She smiled, showed me her hardback copies signed by author Diana Gabaldon, then handed me the paperback once more. “. . And I hear that casting has begun to make a movie of the first book! Here, give Outlander a chance.” Her dogs were panting. It was a hot, humid July evening. I was literally itching to leave at this point. She looked at me, imploring me to read the story. “It’s historical fiction.”

I, like most Mormons, participate in genealogy and love history, so I acquiesced and told her I would read the novel. I took it home and never opened it. In the winter I returned to the desert and placed the paperback on a shelf, where it remained unopened. The following spring, my daughter and I both began to read Outlander and I even listened to it on a CD borrowed from the library. I was in for a surprise, led into a very sensual, well written story. The plot, subplots and scenes sometimes left me shaken. Many times I felt like I was alongside Claire in her harrowing adventures.

My daughter Marie later found out that a television series was in the works, more than just the movie that Pam had gushed about. I had so much to share with my Outlander-loving friend! I called Pam’s phone, left messages and also texted to tell her how exciting the book was, but never heard from her. I found it strange, but I knew she had a horse and was busy with grooming and riding, so when I returned to Michigan I knocked on Pam’s door. She didn’t answer. I tried a few days later. Still no answer. I found it strange that her dogs weren’t barking like they usually did whenever I knocked. Pam wasn’t one to hang out on Facebook, but when she didn’t even respond to the birthday wishes left on her timeline, I began to worry. I found out from a young lady later that month that Pam had suddenly moved away. She’d had terminal cancer and hadn’t told anyone except those closest to her. My friend was gone; taken from this earth. I was in a momentary state of shock. My mind was floating in a purgatory-like frame-of-mind, I had nobody that I could share the Outlander adventure with.

Later in August, the real adventure began. I was heart-sick that Pam couldn’t share in it. Producer Ron Moore and the STARZ Channel gave Outlander fans what they’d been waiting for, the series “Outlander,” an epic drama combining romance, history, science fiction and very realistic battle scenes. The cinematography and score are beautiful in their own right, braiding and knotting Diana Gabaldon’s stories into a beautiful, gripping saga. . .and there is controversy, at least among Americans.

The show is European in style and most of us are not used to nudity. Let me point out to those of you reading my blog, this is not pornography. It may be classified as erotica, but even then I personally would not call it that. The episodes feature nudity, but the love-making is between a husband and his wife. Without giving all plotlines away and spoiling the stories for potential viewers, the groom is a virgin man, a Catholic, who honors the virtue of womanhood. It is better explained in the novels, but he will not take advantage of a woman’s heart. There are a couple episodes dealing with rape and an honorable young man is tortured and sodomized by Black Jack Randall, the previously mentioned sadistic Redcoat. The poor lad is violated both body and soul. Former military nurse Claire is the only one who has 20th Century knowledge of how to heal his wounds, but how will she mend his soul? She confesses her plight to a robed man of God in a monastery that she and her Scottish rebels have taken shelter in. The monk gently listens to her tale of time travel and calls it a miracle. He urges her to bring the sexually abused Scottish warrior back to the light. I found this refreshing. Many times Christian beliefs are maligned in our modern media.

Bringing her beloved patient back to what is light and good and Holy prove to be a challenge as the lad has pledged his soul and body to the Redcoat devil, Black Jack. The victim’s God-father suggests that Claire may have to step into the darkness herself to bring the scarred and branded man back into the light. The poor youth’s mind is so broken from the cruel psychological games and alcohol that the he partially blames himself for being repeatedly violated by Black Jack. The Redcoat had already attempted to rape both the man’s sister and spouse. Claire must bring the lad back to his senses and make him believe that none of this was his fault.

I will admit, although I am only part way through the book series and I just watched the last episode of the first season, there are times I just have to step away. Due to my own life experience and trauma, the last things I want to witness are violence, battles, blood and psycho-sexual torture; but I want to read the entire series. I’m also considering the companion books in the Lord John Grey Series.

As much as I love “Outlander” on STARZ I will warn you, my readers, this show is not for the faint of heart. It is rated for Mature Audiences. The scenes can be gory and heart wrenching. Seeing a man die after a boar hunt was perhaps the most heartbreaking episode in the first season for me, next to the scenes where Black Jack Randall takes a mallet to his current prisoner’s hand, delivering powerful, repeated blows meant to cripple the victim. There is full frontal nudity, both male and female. The sexual scenes, while not meant to arouse, may do just that. The aforementioned young couple is newly married and very much in love. I personally would have preferred a version that would leave more to the imagination.

The bottom line is author Diana Gabaldon has weaved a tale that, although it begins in Scotland and contains the supernatural, tells the story of why there was an American Revolution. The wild, freedom-loving Scots were denied their culture, their local government and the man they believed was king was replaced by a false king—George the Second. He was later succeeded by his grandson George the Third (the King of England during the American Revolutionary War). The Scots, many of whom were shipped to the American Colonies and then sold into indentured slavery following Culloden, were not about to live under tyranny again.

To me, the Outlander series tells the story of freedom and America. The show is igniting and reigniting people to think about what freedom means. It goes beyond fireworks and a weekend off work. It is the right to think and believe and survive without being compelled by a king or any government. It reminds us that we the people make and keep the laws, not a king or a few people in a central government. It means that the citizens will make their own informed decisions and rule themselves by the laws of God despite power-hungry politicians that believe they know better than free-minded individuals.

If the series encourages viewers to think about where their ancestors came from and what they ultimately fought for then that’s only the beginning. I hope that Ron Moore’s television series based on Diana Gabaldon’s book will never sanitize the horrors of war or become politically correct. History is history, something to learn from, a launching point to discuss political issues, not gloss them over. Romance and a little divine intervention are interwoven into this tale to make it sell, of course. In the meantime, I fully intend to enjoy the scenery. While I’m at it, I’ll have a Scotch on the rocks.

Sunday, March 15, 2015

Welcome to the Highway California

Back in the old days, in the 1960s, there were just maps. There were no MapQuest, Google maps, Google Earth, GPS etc. You took it at face value that the Atlas you held in your hands was correct. If it showed a straight road in an unfamiliar state, you hoped and prayed it was correct. Before that, in the days of pioneers and explorers, men made their own maps. In 1805 the Lewis and Clark Expedition set out to explore a portion of North America to find a route west, hopefully one that could be traversed by water. Of course, they needed an experienced guide to show them the way and ask directions. They found that woman -- Sacagawea a Shoshone. They had no GPS, no maps, just a will to explore the unknown.

"No GPS!" You gasp. Ah, dear young reader of mine, the common citizens did not have GPS technology at their fingertips until a decade ago. I don't even think our government did in the 1960s when the following story takes place. Even with this wonderful technology, I know of people in the desert who were led to the ends of cliffs because their GPS said the road continued. It happened to some tourists from Israel about seven years ago who were visiting the canyon lands of Arizona and Utah. Someone couldn't wait to pee, so a driver stopped one of the rental vehicles part-way through their trek in the middle of the desert. As the boy began to relieve himself he said, "We're at the edge of a cliff!" Had they gone farther in the dark, their caravan would have plummeted, taking the families to their deaths.

Which brings me to my story. My daughter and I spent her recent spring break in Death Valley. (I hate the desert with a passion; still too blazing hot even in March.) Anyway, sometimes we got lost, or at least I thought we were because the maps my daughter and I were using weren't accurate. I'd just go a little farther and sure enough, we'd be where we hoped to go. At some point, I got to thinking about a family story. (Note to readers hoping to visit Death Valley, DON'T. Okay, you still want to go. Take water, about a gallon per person per day, and if a guidebook says you can travel a dirt road and that four wheel drive is not required, you still need four-wheel-drive and a high clearance vehicle, but I digress.)

About 1962, before I was born, my dad drove my mom and sisters to California in his station wagon. Almost to their destination, he and my mother studied a map. My German-born mother, no Sacagawea, said, "This road looks shorter," so my dad agreed to take it because he valued her opinion. I still don't know why; he was Scots-Irish and Cherokee and had a keen sense of direction. My mother on the other hand, bless her heart, got lost in the super-market or on her way to garage sales.

The road, possibly California State Route 130*, started out paved but then, became dirt, then rocks, then boulders. A narrow one-lane path most of the way, it was washed out in spots, and began to ascend, at first gradually. Soon it was no more than a deer-path as my dad called it, with steep drop-offs and serious grades. He had to stop several times, he was sweating so badly. Dad said his sight went all white even, for a brief few seconds. The way zigged and zagged, having several switch-backs and hair-pin turns. He feared that another car, picking up speed with the pull of gravity, might come down one of the curves as he creeped up the path. My oldest sister Jeanette recalls looking out the window, seeing how close the car was to the side of the mountain. She feared falling off the edge on the other side. Jeanette remembers that she and the three other family members in the station wagon were the only people on the road. Would anybody find them if they careened to their deaths? (Even as recently as about fifteen years ago, an elderly couple who went missing were found at the bottom of Arizona's Virgin River Gorge, months after they were last seen. They were still in their van, strapped in their seatbelts, not much more than skeletons and dried sinew.)

The journey continued as the sun got low on the horizon, but there was no place to rest, no place to turn around. Soon, night fell. According to my sister Margie, "Not a peep was heard while we traveled on that road." Finally after tense, bone jarring hours upon hours they found a real highway and proceeded on their way.

Several years later, George Pierrot had a guest, possibly Stan Midgley, on his show "George Pierrot Presents". The guest discussed the worst roads in the country and he said by far the most dangerous was the exact same one that my dad had driven! Mr. Pierrot commented, something like, "Wouldn't it be sad if some poor fool were to get lost on that trail, thinking it was a short-cut, not knowing what he was up against?"

The guest replied, "There isn't anyone that stupid. The man would be a fool! Something like that would never happen!" Well, my dad sure felt pretty low when it happened and then again when the show was broadcast.

So the moral of this story is, even with the best technology or a colorful map, use good judgment and common sense. My Papa had common sense. He was a well-read man. He was an experienced man who served in the Navy and even he was caught in a dangerous situation. Additionally, if you ever survive a similar experience, be sure to tell the story and see the humor in it as my father did, years later, because there is more to life than just survival. There is also laughter around a good campfire. Now, turn off your computer and go make history.

*Note, if I can find or verify the actual route, I will update this blog.

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Responsibility, my take on "Out of the Blue" at ArtPrize

Twenty-three years ago, just before my husband and I purchased a beautiful Rottweiler puppy from a responsible breeder, I read a book penned by an expert who worked with dogs in the military. You see, I did my research. I wanted a wonderful family dog, one that would also defend my family in our Detroit-Metro area home. My husband liked Rottweilers and my best friend raised them. The author discussed each and every breed, its origins, the original work these canines did, and modern day uses for these breeds. He didn't malign Rottweilers or even German Shepherds. The only breeds he DID NOT recommend for families were the pit breeds and Dobermans. Why? Because in the case of pits and associated canines, the meticulous breeding used to refine a killing, fighting machine. For Dobies, it was the fact that they only came into being to be used for guard duty and ONLY guard duty. He went on to explain that despite a few bad apples, most other dogs made great family pets. For instance, Rotties were used to herd cattle; German Shepherds were used to guard sheep, etc. As for aggressive dogs, many can bite. The larger the canine the more likely harm and death may occur. When you put two or more of these dogs, or any dogs, in what they perceive as THEIR territory they will suddenly go into instinct mode and form a pack mentality.

Recently at ArtPrize in Grand Rapids, Michigan, a multi-media piece called "Out of the Blue" was put on exhibit. It was a memorial to the victims of deadly dog maulings. Just the facts were posted. There were many breeds featured. Unfortunately the pitty-lovers, screamed foul and said the memorial was putting their pit-bulls in an unfair spotlight. MANY OF THESE PEOPLE DIDN'T EVEN SEE THE EXHIBIT BEFORE COMPLAINING! About thirty more people picketed the art piece, disrespecting the fact that this was a memorial to the victims of deadly dog attacks perpetrated by several breeds. They went on to say that it's irresponsible owners that should be blamed. I agree. I see way too many irresponsible owners of all breeds. They let their dogs harass children, pets, livestock. . . lawns.

The thing is, too many pit-bull owners are irresponsible. For instance the ones that use the breed as a street-cred symbol, much like other people use lap dogs in purses as a status icon in their life-styles. These are the kinds of individuals that continue to fight pit-bulls and breed the most aggressive canines. This has been going on for decades. These folks use their pits and mixes to defend illegal activities. That kind of irresponsible ownership and poor breeding has done nothing to improve the progeny of the breed and related dogs. Unfortunately I see way too many people arguing about pit-bulls, too many robotic responses on forums and on facebook. It isn't just pits. It’s a fact that any dog can attack out of fear or instinct. Any owner, including me, can be baffled by an escape artist (please, see my previous post “Dog-gonnit!" for more information) but a loose pit-bull is like a loaded cannon careening down the hillside. It is like a satellite falling to the earth. Its ancestors were bred to fight and hold on tight. My father was in awe of these dogs when he hunted boar with his cousin’s husband in Hawaii in the 1950s.

Personally, I'd rather confront one little cocker-spaniel with a bad hair day than a Cane Corso or a couple of Staffordshire Terriers. Pitbull ownership is like gun ownership. Don’t leave your guns lying around for strangers and toddlers to play with. Don’t let your hounds run loose to chase horses, rip cats in half and tear out the throats of children. In a worse-case scenario, if your loving family pet wanders around, it might get picked up by someone who fights dogs and could be used horribly to experience a short, violent life. Be responsible for the sake of your dog and the community.

Saturday, September 6, 2014

Detroit -- Memories and Reality

(Liesa, Marie, Shilo and Greg)

Entrepreneur and ESPN commentator Emily Gail had it right when she coined the phrase, “Say nice things about Detroit”. I recently returned to the city of my birth and was amazed by what I saw: people walking downtown, new homes and gleaming buildings!

I’d planned to spend a weekday afternoon with my cousins enjoying the Detroit Institute of Arts. Afterwards, Greg Owen, who works for Chrysler, offered to show us around the city. I’d mainly wanted to visit Delray, where I’d been born and Palmer Woods where my grandmother had worked as a maid for the family of George W. Mason. Cousin Greg took us all around the city, from east to west, south to north and into the heart of Motown.

What I saw surprised me. Downtown was vibrant. There were people actually walking on the streets enjoying Starbucks. Many of them were dressed in nice clothes and suits, walking to and from their jobs. The new Comerica Park Stadium was busy. The Tigers had just won a game and happy fans were streaming out of the park. This gave us the opportunity to view new condominiums, many of them built in the fashion of the old brownstone-style homes that had been restored. There were actually businesses that, to me at least, appeared to be thriving. Pedestrians were smiling and many were heading to the variety of restaurants in town. I witnessed busses on the streets driving passengers to their destinations. I hadn’t seen the city so alive and cheerful since I was a little kid. Yes, I actually do remember the late 1960s, my father lifting me onto his shoulders as I watched parades pass before my tiny, wonder-filled eyes. Then we’d watch the enormous American flag as it was unfurled down the side of the beautiful Hudson’s building, the banner’s stars and stripes causing many to blink back tears. All the while I would be eyeing the balloon vendors, hoping my daddy would buy me one of those double-filled beauties with the Mickey Mouse balloon inside of the transparent one. (Yes, I do remember it, clear as the day it happened. Ask anyone who knows me well; I remember my childhood and very few details are lost to me.)

Then, there were the riots. There was crime. Coleman Young was elected as Detroit’s mayor and things were supposed to get better, but they didn’t. Contrast that with nearby Dearborn which was run tight-fisted and as some said, fascist style by Mayor Orville Hubbard; but you know what? Decades passed during that era with few gang problems and fewer shootings in Hubbard’s territory. My uncle Raymond Kohl was an auxiliary policeman in Dearborn and nobody questioned any city employee or peace officer. It was known for miles around, that the city of Dearborn ran a tight ship. Contrast that with Detroit in the 1970s. Raymond’s day job was driving a city bus for Detroit. His baritone, authoritative voice kept many young trouble-makers in line when they rode his bus. Not all drivers were as respected as Raymond. Even taxi drivers were beat pretty badly, some murdered, while trying to earn a living for their families.

Meanwhile things just got worse in Motown. Every night before Halloween, affectionately called “Devil's Night” by the locals, homes and businesses would be set on fire and burned to the ground. Many of these structures were abandoned and some were not. People were fleeing Detroit by the thousands every year, taking their businesses and taxes with them. Mayor Coleman Young called this retreat “The White Flight” but residents past and present knew it had nothing to do with race. It was the fact that Detroit police were over-worked and not allowed to do their jobs. Many times the cops themselves would be shot at. It didn’t matter if they were black, white or Hispanic; the uniform made them a target.

Once-beautiful neighborhoods were left to crumble. Incredibly sturdy well-built homes and the surrounding buildings that boasted architecture that was rivaled by few other cities were left to the crack-heads and working girls. The few families that stood their ground were threatened. Despite the fact that some individuals maintained their homes and yards, many times thugs tossed Molotov cocktails through home owners’ windows. We had friends in Delray that put out three fires in 1989. This family held out and remained steadfast until Steve died and his mother Katy was moved to a convalescent home in Allen Park.

Detroit schools were going down in quality every year. The curriculum was hard to follow despite dedicated teachers and administrators. The few students that tried to study were subject to beatings, rapes and the menacing specter of the drug culture that surrounded most neighborhoods. Communities in the Detroit Metro Area were later hit in the solar plexus when many automobile factories and steel mills closed down or moved their operations away to other states and countries. People who were already tightening their belts had to tighten them even further and what happened in Detroit did not stay in Detroit: it rippled into the Downriver region, into the Great Lakes states and affected America, stabbing at the economy, causing wounds and tears.

Yet, just like Nero watched Rome burn, Mayor Coleman Young and the city council, and later Kwame Kilpatrick and his cronies, bled the taxpayers of Detroit to death. Like a swarm of mosquitoes, they set their money sucking sights upon the people of Wayne County, viewing their taxes and community coffers as an endless source of cash. All the while, the city of Detroit and its people were still bleeding. A band-aid wasn’t even available when what was really needed was a tourniquet. City officials wanted more and more financial resources from the county and state. What could have been an easy fix at one time became the worst urban decay in the nation.

Still, the good people of Detroit and the surrounding areas were not going to give up. Individuals and private businesses began to creep back in. Sadly, the old Tiger Stadium was demolished, but the Comerica Park was built. The powers behind Detroit Tigers Baseball could have very easily decided to sell the team or build in another city, but they didn’t. Urban renewal followed, and maybe even Coleman Young’s dream of a “Renaissance” began to take root.

Later in the afternoon, my cousins and I drove to the historic old Train Depot. It‘s fenced off, but the good news is restoration’s in the works. Someday soon, trains will once again deliver passengers to Detroit. Next year’s Cubs versus Tigers game may be enjoyed after a leisurely train ride from Chicago!

Greg drove us into Little Mexico. Businesses were thriving and people were walking around. We drove by the Packard plant. We turned down an ally. That was the only time I was truly scared. A party was in full swing. People were dancing. Children were playing. Then it all stopped as the participants eyed us warily and Greg put the car into reverse. For a moment I recalled the recent beating of Steven Utash who after running-over a small child that had darted out in front of his car, was beaten nearly to death by angry young men who lived up and down that street. You see, it’s incidents like this that make people think really hard about venturing into the heart of Detroit. Many times they will choose to spend their money somewhere else.

We drove to Belle Isle and I was so happy to hear that this once picturesque island had been taken over by the state. Things looked beautiful again as we drove past the picnic areas and aquarium. We got out of the car and headed for the fountain. Water bubbled and sprayed out of the lions’ mouths and many tourists were taking photographs near the great, white statues. Memories flooded back to my mind, of sitting by my father as we posed beside the fountain taking similar pictures during family outings.

Sure as clockwork, the fountain brought another thought to my brain and I had to walk to the restroom. I actually felt safe as I used the island’s facilities. They could have used a good cleaning, but they were modern and in working order.

The tour hadn’t ended. We drove through some communities that had seen better days, maybe close to a century ago. Houses were burnt shells of the happy homes they once were. Trees grew through some structures. The few places that were still standing were boarded up. Some people milled around the porches and glared at us. I truly feared this seedy side of Detroit as anyone with common sense would.

Greg’s car drove past Fort Wayne. It was gratifying to see that there are reenactments and tours offered there occasionally, but this neglected historic site needs some attention. This is the location where Ulysses S. Grant was a young soldier in training. As a distraction from long hours spent in the classroom, near constant drilling and lessons on strategy, the young Grant raced horses up and down the streets of Detroit. This was long before there were motor cars and his horse carried him fast and far. Grant is the only President, so far in history, to have ever lived in Detroit. In fact as of this writing, his one-time Greek Revival-style home still stands, and anywhere else in these United States, it would be considered a historic monument.

Going back even further, although war had not been officially declared, some of the first shots of the War of 1812 were fired in July of that year, from a battlement that stood at one time very near Fort Wayne, in the vicinity called the "Sand Hill at Springwells". There is a street named Springwells that exists today, which Greg traversed despite its potholes, to locate my old hometown of Delray. Today this community’s most famous one-time citizen is retired Brain Surgeon and author, the respected and much loved Dr. Benjamin Carson. Delray was at one time a mostly Hungarian neighborhood.

On the way, near one of the rare businesses that's still in operation, seagulls feasted upon their dead and dying comrades. It takes a lot to kill a seagull. They are affectionately known as “sky-rats” among the people I know. Their busy beaks tore through feathers to get at the stringy, tough flesh of the deceased.

Despite roads that had long since crumbled, walled on all sides by falling abandoned bars and empty grocery stores, we managed to make our way to West End and later Bacon Street. I was amazed and delighted to see that this was one of the few places that still had occupied homes. I looked at a house and read the address. My eyes hadn’t deceived me! My Uncle Elmer’s home was still standing and obviously cared for! I wanted to stay and meet the occupants, but it was getting late and we still hadn’t had dinner, so we drove north to Indian Village. The homes there have always been cared for and as always, the lawns were neat and the streets were hugged by ancient trees, embraced by them almost like a mother’s tender touch.

Next we headed for Palmer Woods to see the home of George Walter Mason and his wife Hazel Bisbee-Mason. More than half a century ago, my grandmother Zona worked as a maid and cook in their home. (George Mason was the head of Kelvinator Corporation when in 1936 he was approached by Charles W. Nash, founder of Nash Motors. Mr. Nash was searching for someone to take the helm of his corporation. The Nash-Kelvinator Corporation which later joined forces with Hudson Motors, became the better-known American Motors Corporation in 1954.) Hazel Bisbee-Mason was so fond of Zona that when my grandmother left the service of the Mason family, Mrs. Mason offered her anything she wanted from the home. At first Zona declined, not wanting to take what she hadn’t actually earned, but Mrs. Mason insisted. Thinking very hard, Zona asked for the wood and glass tea service (a small table), which was handed down to me, and I still have today.

I told this story to my daughter and her third cousin Shilo who sat in the back of Greg’s vehicle. We neared the Palmer Woods home, close to a golf course, turning onto Hamilton and Fairway where the Mason home stands with its neighboring mansions. These regal homes look as if they belong to a different era, one of success and better days – and they did, but these houses also belong to the Detroit of the future.

National chains like Wholefoods Market are moving in. Private businesses like Motor City Candleworks and investors of all kinds are putting business back into Detroit. Recently an emergency manager was appointed. This hasn’t made everyone happy, but a sick patient needs a qualified surgeon, and so far, bankruptcy attorney Kevyn Orr and his team appear to be stitching up Detroit, a city that was bleeding out but still has a lot to give and a lot to live for; a city that, like a Phoenix, is rising from the flames.

Now we can choose to tell that patient, our city of Detroit that it will die a horrible death. On the other hand, we can be a part of the rehabilitation of our old soldier, one who is fighting to stay alive. We as Michigan citizens, past and present can think of creative ways to be a part of Detroit’s life, here and now. There is so much to see and do, places to live downtown and mass transit to get you where you need to go. Give it a try. You may also find yourself saying nice things about Detroit.

[Please Note: I wrote the bulk of this story in July. Before I posted this, my daughter suggested I read “Detroit: An American Autopsy” by Charlie LeDuff. Afterwards, I read “Atlas Shrugged” by Ayn Rand. I did not change my post, but I am not looking at Detroit with the same “Rose-colored” glasses that I peered through back in July. I still believe in Detroit, but realistically I believe that the old-guard politics, politicians and policies that have had a strangle-hold on Detroit and most of eastern Michigan should be replaced by the common sense ideas that Dr. Benjamin Carson writes about. I would like to thank Liam Collins, Ruth Puckett and Daryl Puckett for some of the historical research that contributed to this blog entry.] ***** Photos two, three and four, courtesy of Shilo Jaynes are of Belle Isle and two homes in Palmer Woods***** Last Photo ca 1945 Mason Home -- unknown photographer

A Sideshow Journey by Liesa Swejkoski

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