Archive for January, 2016

Walking and Rocking

The last few days have been torture.  Not because it was too cold (not that -31 F with wind chill factored in is fun, but you can always dress for cold), but because the unceasing, extremely high winds meant that there were lots of flying debris outside, making it unsafe to walk through the woods.  My very strong, fortress-built home actually shook and rattled for three days nonstop; the wind howled and often woke me up at night.  Lots of trees down (nothing major on our property, thankfully). Fortunately we were unaffected by any power outages since our house is run on batteries and we do have a back-up generator if necessary.

While “housebound,” I used the time to cook, bake and clean.  I did a little strength training with dumbbells but really my body just did not get the necessary amount of exercise and boy, did I feel blah.  My old bones and muscles were stiff; I  needed to move.  Fortunately today the sun came out, the wind died down, and I was able to go for a 4-mile walk (it was a pleasant, sunny 20 degrees F).  Unusual for me, since I prefer listening to the sounds of nature,  I walked with headphones plugged into Adele.   And suddenly, I don’t know, the music just took over.  I started jogging, then skipping, which segued into dancing.  There I was, this grey-haired grandmother, bundled up in Polartec and looking like a penguin, and I’m jumping, twirling, turning, high-stepping, and rocking out on my country road, just me and Adele.  And here is what is great:  I felt totally free. No one was around.  The trees didn’t think I was weird.  Oh, my kids would have thought me ready for the asylum had they seen me.  But it felt great.

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2015 Maine Moose Factoids

The tallies are in.  According to the Maine Department of Transportation, as of September 2015 (the end of the fiscal year as far as moose statistics go) there were 327 car-moose collisions.  Fifty-five of those accidents resulted in human injuries, including one fatality.  Here is a photo supplied by the Portland Press Herald of one such collision, in which the body of the moose sheared off the roof of the car upon collision.  Incredibly, the driver of the car walked away without a scratch; but the front-seat passenger suffered severe brain injury.  Despite a gruesome prognosis, she is making a slow but miraculous recovery.  The crash did not occur along a deserted rural Maine road; it happened on the I-95 Maine Turnpike. The moose was killed upon impact.

moosecollision

The picture shows precisely why car-moose collisions are often fatal for humans.  Unlike deer, which hit the car’s grill, a moose is dramatically taller, bigger, and exponentially heavier.  The impact is usually at a vehicle’s windshield or roof level.  Basically the bulkiest part of the moose’s  1000 – 1500 lb body ends up in the driver’s lap, often crushing the riders to death.

Remembering the Good

My father died when I was 14, a year after he was diagnosed with terminal cancer.  In that year he became completely physically unrecognizable to me from the father I had known.  Although he suffered terribly and without complaint, his formerly robust physique was skeletal and he looked like he was in his eighties instead of 59.

Yes, I had photographs from happier times, but his haunting image while sick is what stayed with me, and I couldn’t shake it for decades.

Now I’m finding the same thing happening with my mother, who died 5+ years ago and had Alzheimer’s.  Towards the end, she was extremely physically and verbally abusive and it was profoundly traumatizing to see a formerly loving and caring person, with whom I was very close, turn into a stranger that I feared – – and do I have the courage to say it? – – even loathed. (It was not my mother I found repellent; it was the alien being she had become, and the guilt and remorse I felt, knowing I could have done better as her caretaker.)  Once she passed, I tried, I really tried, to remember the 50 wonderful years I was privileged to have with her before she got sick, but I simply could not.  I wanted to get those good years back, and I didn’t know how.

Even worse was that my adult children, who had been so close to their grandmother, were similarly traumatized.  Only my youngest daughter could reminisce fondly, but that’s because she lived abroad and never really saw my mom in her worst moments those last couple of years.

It’s been 5 ½ years now and I realized I simply cannot go on like this.  So I’ve sought therapy with a counselor for my grief, and it’s been extremely helpful.  I am sharing something so intimately personal with readers of my blog not because I want to vent.  I am hoping that the tools the therapist gave me can help someone else before they experience this.

The therapist asked me to write down the worst of my experiences with my mom, and my biggest fears.  Then she asked me to write down my best memories with my mom, from my childhood thru adulthood.  Like I said, I had completely repressed the good things to an unnatural degree.  I was unable to recall good times with any feeling of sincerity — so numb and black was my spirit.

So my first advice to you is:  if you are fortunate to have an elderly parent who is well, NOW is the time to write down good things about them:  wonderful memories from your childhood; examples of their wonderful character; when they soothed your physical and emotional pains; how they found joy in their grandchildren; your gratitude.  How I wish I could have relied on something like this when my heart turned black and was plugged with pain, and the good was blocked from my brain!  Depositing these recollections will serve as a wonderful “bank” when, G-d forbid, things get hard; a bank of goodness from which you can “withdraw” cherished moments that will perhaps keep you from despair.

So what was my breakthrough moment?  (Still a work in progress…)

In the process of decluttering not only my own stuff but boxes from my mom’s estate, I found several cartons full of hundreds of letters, pages and pages long, that my mother and I had written to one another.  These were not the typical mundane “hope you are well” and “how is the weather” kind of letters that are written when one writes strictly out of obligation.  These were chatty, deep, philosophical, intelligent, caring, and loving letters, pages and pages long, typed and single spaced, that reflected our closeness and love and respect for one another.  I was a good daughter after all, at least then!  And she was a truly great mother and grandmother.  It rekindled the depth and dimension that defined our relationship.  And suddenly the childhood pictures at the bottoms of the cartons also brought forth many positive memories I had repressed.  I will scan and archive these letters for my children:  when they are emotionally ready, they can read them and perhaps they, too, will once again be able to recall my mother with fondness and love.

Looking at these letters, something else occurs to me:  future generations will not have this.  Few people today have (or make) the time to sit down and write a letter. Instead we have email, which is hugely convenient, but they are mere thought “jots” rather than epic accounts.  Once read, they are deleted: The End.  Our grandchildren will not miss what they never had, but those of us who are older understand the depth of this loss.

I never fathomed why parents and in-laws make such a big deal out of naming a baby after a dead relative.  Shouldn’t the choice of a name ultimately be up to the parents of the child, rather than pressure from family members?  While I do think the decision of what to name a baby should be up to its parents, as I grow older I think I finally “get” it.  Perhaps it is just human ego; but I think our biggest fear of dying is that we will be forgotten.  As we age, our need to be remembered takes on a burning importance.  We need to feel we contributed; and that one’s life had meaning in a positive and eternal way for our descendants.

May we strive to conduct ourselves in such a way, that we will always be remembered for the good!

(I’m working on this.)

 

 

 

 

 

 

Purging

I’m continuing to spend days with dreary slate skies going through old boxes of stuff, tossing and scanning and reducing.  Much to my surprise, going through tens of thousands of photos wasn’t quite the walk down memory lane I expected.  I loved revisiting my children as toddlers; photos of my parents then younger than I am now; fancy birthday parties when I was four and decked out in numerous layers of petticoats and lacy white gloves.  Yet it was bittersweet too:  wistfulness about so many people gone, so many wonderful experiences and travels now in the past, unlikely to be repeated.  I am grateful for it all yet it was simply an archeologist’s documentation of a life spent, and the knowledge that realistically, there are more years behind me than there will ever be ahead of me.  It was terribly disconcerting to find pictures and even names of people who must have meant something to me once upon a time, but that I could no longer  remember or place, nor recall just why they were relevant to my life in the first place.

I wasn’t expecting to find a box that my mother must have saved: correspondence from 1972 – 1973 when I spent a gloriously adventurous year in Israel as an 11th grade high school exchange student, far far away from the comforts of home in America.

I made many wonderful Israeli friends that year.  It was also the first time (I thought I) fell in love.  Reading the letters my boyfriend wrote me all throughout the first year after I returned to the US to finish high school was quite a revelation, although not the rose-colored one I’d imagined.

Anyone who knows me would say that I am a strong person:  strong-willed, opinionated, focused, independent.  They would be shocked to know what a doormat I became when I fell under the spell of this young man.  I won’t get into the sordid details here, but reading the letters with a distance of time and space (42 years and 7,000 miles!) provided me with an emotional and physical objectivity that wasn’t possible back then, and suddenly I was gobsmacked by how I not only did not recognize his controlling and abusive nature because I was so blindsided by my infatuation, but worse, the realization that if something like this could happen to good ol’ strong me, it could happen to anyone.  No, he did not abuse me physically; but consistently, using poisonous words, attitude, and control he rendered me a person insignificant and inferior, and into a sad state of decline and self-destruction, doubting my own sense of worth and trying so hard to become the fantasy person he demanded.  (Of course, any therapist will tell you that he didn’t do this to me – – the sickness was that I allowed it to happen.)

When this young man dumped me, I was completely devastated.  Little did I realize at the time that by rejecting me so cruelly, what a huge favor he did for me.  Reading letters from one of my girlfriends from that time, I was amazed by how many polite hints which evolved to direct warnings about him she wrote to me – – all ignored because I refused to see.  I became someone so changed that my friends no longer knew me – – but I no longer recognized myself, either.

Every teenage girl has a fantasy checklist of “requirements” that she’s looking for in a boyfriend/soulmate.  Unfortunately in my case, “kindness” and “mentsch” somehow got smothered and lost behind “brilliance” and “looks.”  The good news is that when I finally felt like I could once again make myself vulnerable to another person, “kindness” and “mentsch” were at the very top of my checklist and I never again repeated that first, very horrible mistake. (Disclosure:  the man I’ve been married to for 38+ years is indeed a kind mentsch, but he’s not ugly or dumb, either.)

For so many women, abuse and cruelty from the hands and words of another becomes an unrelenting, escalating cycle.  I am so thankful that I never again allowed myself to be demeaned in this way, and that with time, I was able to learn to love myself enough to allow myself to experience what it is to be truly loved.

The letters went into our woodstove.

Tossing them into a container labeled “recycling” just seemed way too ironic.

 

 

Hitting the Jackpot

With my husband off work on New Year’s Eve, we did something we’ve never done before:  we went to a casino.  I have never had a desire to gamble, but I was curious as to what goes on.  Oxford Casino in western Maine is less than an hour from my home, so my husband and I decided to take a look.

This is not a casino for high rollers, based on the publicity shots.  “Betty from Orono won $3000!  George from Portland won $1500!”  Photos and these types of testimonials littered every corner of the casino, although frankly they didn’t sound like particularly big numbers to me, based on tales of fantastic winnings I’ve been told about in Las Vegas.  I was soon to find out why:  even though there were a few $25 slot machines, you could play a huge number of slot machines for as little as one penny – – but the payout was correspondingly poor.  We decided instead to visit the tables where various card games such as black jack were in full swing.  There was also roulette.  Everyone moved very fast and the games were paced too quick for novices such as ourselves, so we merely watched.  Yes, we saw people winning – –  the amounts were $60 or less – – but we saw much more losing.  We decided to return to the slot machines.

Originally we agreed to waste – I mean spend –  no more than $20, which is what one might spend on a cheap date elsewhere, like the movies, and look at it purely as entertainment rather than as a means to get rich or even come out ahead.

But it seemed incredibly foolish to drop $5 into a single play of a slot machine for only 4 attempts at winning.  So I ventured to the $1 machines, but even this seemed outrageous (yep: I’m cheap) given the likelihood of loss.  So I settled in at the penny slots, and put in $2.

Now in the old days (from movies I’ve seen), you pulled a lever.  There must have been something satisfying in the physicality involved in pulling a lever, making you an active part of the process and feeling like you were actually doing something to get those 3 cherries to align.  Today, however, it seems that most slot machines are like giant computer video games.  The commercialization of these machines is incredible.  At Oxford Casino there are themed machines based on Disney characters, on Star Wars, and even the Ellen Show (who knew she gets royalties from gamblers?!).  You simply press a button – again and again and again.  The machines emit a hideous amount of noise and flashing lights.  Multiply this by a casino-ful of 850+ machines, and you get a deafening cacophony of lights and sound and over-stimulation.  Perhaps it’s because I’m used to my quiet Maine woods, but the commotion repelled rather than excited me and my head began to throb.

I started hitting the slot machine button.  Once, twice, three times.  By the twentieth time, I was not only bored, I was frustrated by the utter mindlessness of it all.  I cashed out my remaining $1.80 from the $2 and decided to call it a night (I’m probably the only person in the history of mankind that went to a casino to spend twenty cents!).  The machine said that it could only refund my money if I went to the cashier, so I stood in line for 20 minutes waiting for my money.  It was there in line that I saw all the hopes and dreams of desperation.  There were some people who had won a few hundred dollars.  There were people who, like me, had gone purely for entertainment.  But there were also people who were clearly addicted to gambling, who lived for the next win to pay bills long overdue, and were deeper and deeper in trouble, but they were sure next time would be different.  I spoke to many people that night.  I truly wanted to fathom the lure, because I simply couldn’t tolerate the mindlessness of it.  I couldn’t understand how it could be fun, even as I watched the show.  My husband felt as I did.

That is not to say I don’t gamble.  Every so often I throw away $1 on the lottery.  Yeah, I know – – I am unlikely to ever hit it big.  My “rationale” is as follows:

  • If I play, I have an extremely minute chance of winning.  If I don’t play, I have no chance of winning.
  • I limit myself to one ticket.  Two or more tickets won’t increase my odds; if G-d wants me to win, one will suffice.

A week after my visit to Oxford Casino, I spent a few hours at the University of Southern Maine in Portland, where I was doing volunteer research on behalf of a non-profit organization in search of grant money.  The Maine Philanthropy Center maintains an office there. Its purpose is to direct grant-seekers to public and private foundations through a national database where they can apply to procure funding for just about every cause and purpose known to mankind – – religious, secular, social, environmental, educational, animal welfare, etc.

That’s where I came across the Narragansett Number One Foundation.

According to an AP news article written in 2006, way back in 2001,

Ed Wales, 70 years old,  was living a simple life in Buxton, Maine.  He worked odd jobs and loved tinkering under the hoods of old cars.  He and his wife Pat bought a Powerball lottery ticket, and to their astonishment, won $41 million (after taxes).  The Wales vowed that their lifestyle would remain unchanged, and they were true to their word.  Two weeks later, after donating $100,000 to their local fire department, the Wales committed $5 million in seed money to their newly-formed Narragansett Number One Foundation.  They disburse 5% of the foundation’s assets each year and invest the rest to preserve capital and provide for its continuation.

The foundation has awarded hundreds of grants to churches, schools, children’s charities, and other nonprofit organizations in southern Maine, with most awards going to groups in the Buxton area.

I thought about how this contrasted to the scene at the Oxford Casino.

I don’t think anyone is immune from fantasizing about what they’d do if they won the lotto.  I used to joke, “Please, Lord, test me!”  But how inspiring to think that someone actually did something good with money that was, after all, not earned, but won.

Mr. Wales died five years after winning the lottery.

Perhaps he did not change his lifestyle with the winnings, but he and his wife changed the quality of countless other lives in Southern Maine.

I guess you could say they hit the jackpot.

 

 

 

 

 

Liars Club

From our local rural library’s January newsletter:

New Monthly Program:

The Liar’s Club

Friday January 15 at 12 pm

Do you like to tell or listen to stories?  Do you want to remember more stories from your own life?  Pack a lunch and come to the Liar’s Club!

(Why do I think most of the stories will be about hunting or fishing and the one that got away . . .)

Catching Up

It’s been many months since I’ve posted in this blog.  So much has happened.  In the summer, our grandchildren came for their annual Camp Savta visit, reveling in all that Maine’s White Mountains have to offer and forming memories that will be part of our legacy to them long after we’re gone from this earth.

Sadly, in September our dog Spencer died.  He was 12, and had cancer.  It’s always tough to know when to let a dog go.  On three occasions I made an appointment for euthanization after his having had a bad day, only to cancel because the next day he woke up cheery and improved.  Only days before he died he enjoyed a hike (albeit shorter in distance and less strenuous than his usual) and several visits to the lake for wading and ball-chasing.  Although he had slowed down somewhat and tired more easily, he definitely continued to live joyfully, with dignity, and without complaint.   Then one day, it was grossly apparent that there would be no more “good” days, and I called the vet, who graciously came to our home where he died in my arms.  I’m still not over it, and realize that I simply cannot be dog-less.  I’ve actively been looking for the right Standard Poodle to fill the empty place in my heart, but after a dog like Spencer, not just any dog will do, so I’m proceeding cautiously (I am looking for a rescue or rehome, not a fancy puppy).

I’ve also been spending a good deal of time in my home town, far from Maine.  Although I do enjoy spending time with my grandchildren there, it’s always very stressful for me to return.  So many negative things happen to me whenever I’m in my hometown, it’s surreal; it’s as if G-d Himself is telling me to get the heck out of Dodge (perhaps in a future blog I will write about some of my more harrowing experiences there).  But there are positive things, too:  Jewish holidays shared with family and friends; time spent celebrating a very special wedding under unusual and very emotional circumstances (I’m not ready to write about this in detail); working out at a gym for seniors where every day is filled with personal stories of optimism, positivity, strength, and recovery from major illness or age-related setbacks (so unlike the typical gym which instead concentrates on competition, envy, body image and jockhood); and most important, making the decision to sell our house.

I realized that even if our plans to live elsewhere wouldn’t work out, I do not wish to return to our home town.  Living in Maine has taught me that one has choices when one feels “stuck,” although change is not easy and requires a dose of courage.  I do not regret settling in our hometown for our children’s sake twenty-six years ago; their childhood was basically happy and they’ve gone on as married adults with children of their own to establish deep ties to their friends, workplaces, and community.  But for me it never felt like home socially, culturally nor spiritually.  Enough is enough.

I’ve spent many weeks cleaning, de-cluttering, donating, selling, or throwing out “stuff.”  One of the biggest surprises is my reaction to sorting through thousands of photos of family, and photos of dozens of past excursions and camping trips around the United States.  I thought it would be a fun trip down memory lane, but instead I’m finding it’s an emotional exploration of the past and I can only handle an hour a day or else I am overwhelmed and mentally overloaded. I’ve been divvying the relevant photos out to my kids from when they were babies, but throwing away scenic pictures of Mt. Rushmore, the Rockies, Yellowstone, and California et al. What I can’t bear to part with, I scan, and then toss the originals.

I’ve been painting and freshening interior rooms; I hired someone to install new carpet, and am only awaiting rain-less, warmer days to hire a painter to paint the exterior, so we can put our hometown house on the market.  Despite the rising crime rates, it seems that people are clamoring to buy houses in our neighborhood.  It’s also kind of nice, now that I’ve decluttered so dramatically, to realize that we literally have nothing of value left to steal.

It seems ironic and pointless to own jewelry that makes me a target for mugging and therefore cannot be enjoyed because it sits in a safety deposit box. Our few heirlooms were recently bestowed to my children (most of my jewelry was stolen long ago, so there is little to impart), a process my son felt must be “bittersweet” for us.  In fact, it was liberating, and it felt good to know that there would be no resultant bickering about who gets what after we’re gone from this world.  And this realization:  I no longer need the things that seemed so important to me in my younger days.  I actually had fun buying costume jewelry to wear with a dressy outfit at the wedding mentioned above, knowing that it cost only $10 and I didn’t have to be on high alert.  (Another realization:  unlike my life in my hometown, the only dressy outfit a rural Mainer owns will be worn on two occasions: to his/her wedding, and his/her funeral).

While this is hardly a full account of how I’ve spent the past several months, it does signal my return to more frequent blogging.  I hope that someday (until 120 in good health, as we Jews say), this blog will mean more to my descendants than a piece of jewelry and will be a reflection of my true legacy to them.