Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Enduring marriages

 Back in the early 1970s, those of us baby boomers who were coming of age began making life-long commitments to partners in wedding ceremonies.  Over time, some of us found our marriages broken and tried again.  Others divorced and stayed single, while some have lost their partners to death.  Some of us still survive and thrive in that first marriage made with promises in front of friends so many years ago. 

Back in the day when it seemed we had a wedding gift to buy every month and a ceremony and reception to attend, some of us offered various ‘gifts’ to the newlyweds that couldn’t be purchased at Rike’s or Elder-Beerman or Sears.    Old friends will remember a band I used to sing in, Collage, joined by John Lauer, Steve & Marty Doody, and Jeff White.  (We had a few different drummers over the years, including good buddy, Bruce Gunnell, and my brother, Ted, among a few others.)  

Fact is, Collage got organized as a musical gift to a friend who wanted some ‘different’ music at his wedding.  It’s impossible to calculate at this late date how many times our group sang ‘Wedding song,’ ‘First time ever I saw your face,’ and ‘For all we know’ at various and sundry weddings.   

Besides the music, another non-purchasable gift I gave to a few friends was a delightful verse from New Wedding, a 1974 book of fresh ideas from Khorem Arisian.  I remember being so taken by one prose poem included that I typed up my own copy and filed it for posterity.  My copy resurfaced a month or so ago as I went through old files, paring many into the recycle bin.  

But not the New Wedding excerpt. I still find this verse about house and home hopeful and full of beauty.  This time around I ‘re-typed’ it into my computer for further safe keeping. 

At this place in time when old friends are approaching 40+ years of marriage, I offer this fragment from New Wedding one more time to those in love.  I wonder how we feel about the verse now that we’ve had our chance to live out many of our wishes and hopes? 

from New Wedding 

We wish for you a home, not just a place of stone and wood, but an island of sanity and serenity in a frenzied world.
We hope that this home is not just a place of private joy and retreat, but rather serves as a temple wherein the values of your lives are generated and upheld.
We hope that your home stands as a symbol of humans living together in love and peace, seeking truth and demanding social justice. 
We hope that your home encompasses the beauty of Nature — 
that it has within it the elements of simplicity, exuberance, beauty, silence, color, and a concordance with the rhythms of life. 
We wish for you a home with books, and poetry, and music —
a home with all the things which represent the highest striving of women and men. 
Finally, we wish that at the end of your lives together you will be able to say these two things to each other: 
Because you have loved me you have given me faith in myself. 
Because I have seen the good in you, I have received from you a faith in humanity. 
My wish is the same for you all on this day.   ;-)

I wanted to mention here, too, that Cindy Lou and I were able to take my mother a week ago to Louisville to meet with one of her dearest and oldest friend.  

Both Mom and her friend were classmates at St. Anthony’s school here in Dayton until the fifth grade when, in the middle of the Great Depression, Betty’s father took a job in Cincinnati.  Many moves and many children later, both girls have worked hard over decades at staying in touch.  

And here they are at age 93 still caring for each other.  It is hard to imagine any friendship lasting so long.  They’re still cute, too!  

I like to call this image ’80 years on…’

Gertrude Zimmer Schaefer and Betty Perry Beckman  (1934/2014)

Today’s elder idea:  On this Earth Day, I offer a thought from one of America’s foremost Naturalists: 

Heaven is under our feet, as well as over our heads. 
Henry David Thoreau

Monday, April 7, 2014

.93 of a century

A couple weeks ago I achieved my 64th birthday, an event celebrated by playing the Beatles ‘When I’m sixty-four’ countless times.  I have been assured by Cindy Lou, by the way, that she will, indeed, still ‘need and feed’ me at this juncture in my life.  Thank you, my Dear!   ;-)

I’d like to think, too, that as I advance in age some elements of wisdom are working in me.  Currently I am dealing with recurrent issues with my two daughters that make life more difficult.  Both seem unable to hear Cindy and my calls for more words, more loving interaction, more caring.  My newly enhanced wisdom doesn’t seem to be making much impact on the Generation X front. 

Looking in the other direction, though, I must conclude that as local chief care-giver to my nonagenarian Mother, I perform a similar body of services for her I would like to get a glimmer of from my own children.  Spending time with Mother does get me to consider getting really old.  Sixty-four is one thing, but 93 is something completely different.

The other day I had the poetry-starting idea of comparing my Father’s age at his time of passing to where my Mother now finds herself.  Surely lasting into her ninth decade of Life is worth celebrating, at least on most days.  She currently has a rash on her arms that is setting her nuts and doesn’t know what to do next.  We see her doctor tomorrow for a better idea how to treat it.  And to be honest, the rash is just the tip of her ‘need to tend’ iceberg.

In any case, I took that first-line idea and let it grow into a narrative poem the other day.  I’m sure this could be revised and sharpened, but it works pretty well as is.  

And so, my blog entry today is a Tribute to Gertrude

My father died at age 79. 
My mother is still getting along at age 93.

I used to think Dad got the worst end of the Time deal. I figured he had a decade or more subtracted from his era on the planet.  I was disappointed for him and me and all the great-grandkids who would never learn to fish under his knot-tying tutelage.  Lives have been diminished because of this.

My mother, fifteen years now a widow, has learned to move through her Life more slowly
while keeping a close eye on how much milk is in the refrigerator, knowing that when it’s gone, she is out of luck.  She must always be thinking about tomorrow’s breakfast.

She has lost the freedom of movement she shared with Dad and must now await a willing soul deliberately paying attention to her schedule and asking what she needs.  Sometimes it’s a resident where she lives, but most often it is a son or daughter or granddaughter.  

Mom worries about messy morning bowel movements when she least expects them.  They always cause stress for her as well as a required clean-up that she thought she gave up years ago with the last batch of diapers in the pail.  Now it is her own panties soaking in the bathroom sink. 

She fell a week or so ago in her bedroom, thankfully not breaking a hip — that bone juncture, when rent, which seems to be the on/off switch of Life.  She is very aware that when friends go down with a hip a funeral is not too far off in the distance. 

Mother has learned to accept Sparky, her fire-engine red walker, as constant companion on any expedition, whether ferried by car to the dentist, or making the block-long trek on foot over to church in the other building.  She talks of someday going without it, but she must know they are wed ’til the end.  

The woman raised seven children and watched over a large handful more.  She values articulate language and judged children on their ability to express thoughts and ideas verbally.  A fond memory is of her sitting with two year-old grandson Noah on her back deck.  While I dutifully cut & trimmed the grass, the two of them carried on quite the discussion over glasses of lemonade.  

Because of that love of language,
all know to avoid calling her between 7 and 8 in the evening because that’s when Wheel of Fortune and Jeopardy! fill her living room with words and questions that both excite and annoy, but above all occupy her space with intellectual involvement.  

Which must make the many other hours spent in 
her small apartment all the more difficult to bear.  
There is no small child to pick up and cuddle. 
No son to sit with to discuss the news of the hour. 
No daughter to chat with while her hair is being cut.  

Just quiet.  Very quiet.  

A few residents have become friends, 
but most have quirks which makes her uncomfortable.  Like Jean, who questions the sincerity of Mother’s Catholic faith because she can not accept Jean’s retelling of her brief transport into heaven, only to be sent back because they weren’t ready for her yet.  

She used to love to play cards, but she competes for keeps and partners burn out quickly in contact with such serious heat.  She likes to read, but fifty years of eye doctoring has left one orb diminished and the other good only with glasses.  Muscles and brain tire more quickly now, which makes reading less the joy she always knew. 

Everybody says she doesn’t eat enough, though 
her weight stays pretty constant.  Her taste buds aren’t what they used to be, but she often speaks of how tasty a gift dessert was or how much she enjoyed her potato soup and lunch salad at Bob Evans. 

If she had her wish, she would be packed up and moved in with one of her children.  Best if it would be the daughter with two little girls still at home.  Oh, she would love that.  But such is not the case.  We all have lives and Mother has a safe place to be with people watching out for her. 

And so, I wonder if my Dad had the better of it. 
He knew he was sick and rode out his cancer treatments with grace, spending months under Mother’s care, his very last weeks under hospice tending. 

He never had to worry about running out of milk.  
Though his knees were blown-out by kicking in 
carpet for a career, he never had to be 
tethered to a walker.  He drove his Mercury until he couldn’t, which was well into his 79 years.  

Dad’s transition took many years fewer than Mother’s.  She has lost so much more since she lost him — so many personal gifts that made up the nectar of her Life. 

I am not so sure anymore Dad got the bitter part of the deal. 

Sometimes I wonder if Mother is jealous of that, too. 

Today’s elder idea:   Getting old is not for sissies.
A personal thought that comes to me often.

image:  Ted & Gert Schaefer around their 50th wedding anniversary.