Thanksgiving

Gail and I have so much to be thankful for this year.  Here are a few thoughts.

Gail had her spinal fusion surgery and has successfully recovered.  She’s mobile and out of continual pain. The eight hour surgery was scary for both of us, but all is well now.

I knew what to do when I had chest pains and, with particular thanks to a good friend, I had surgery (quadruple artery bypass on my heart) within three weeks. Since then I’ve recovered well and am back to normal.

We’re thankful that we’re currently in Pleasanton, California, about to have Thanksgiving Dinner with Gail’s niece and nephew and other extended family. We’re sad that we’re here instead of home in St. George because of Gail’s sister Karen passing away this past Sunday, but are thankful that she didn’t suffer long and passed easily to the next life. Gail is particularly thankful that she was able to spend a week with Karen just before she went into the hospital, and they enjoyed wonderful times together.

We’re thankful for all the rest of our family all over the country and glad that they are well and happy, and particularly that Cinda Lester is recovering from her night in the ER with pleurisy.

We’re thankful that we’ll be able to leave tomorrow to take two days to drive back to St. George to see our dogs and fish and get back to all of our normal holiday activities at home and in our wonderful church.

We’re thankful for all of our other friends and pray that all who may read this will have a healthy and happy holiday.

Love to all

 

 

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50 Years Ago Today

Well, since “What were you doing 50 years ago today?” is one of the leading news stories, on this anniversary of the assassination  of President Kennedy, I thought I’d answer it.

In May 1963 I started working for 73 Magazine in Peterborough, New Hampshire, as an editor, writer, photographer, and general gopher. 73 was small, but the leading amateur radio magazine at the time. We all lived together in a 37 room house that was built in the 1790s. In early November I bought tickets to fly from Boston Logan Airport to Chicago O’Hare for a week’s visit with family in Dolton, Illinois, where my mother and 5 younger siblings were living.

Early on the morning of Friday, November 22, I took a Greyhound bus from Peterborough to Boston, arriving mid morning. I had several hours before I had to head to the airport, so I spent the time walking around Boston. I had lunch in a little bar on Boston Common and was just walking around taking in the sights and window shopping when I realized that people were starting to gather in small groups, around a few who were walking with small transistor radios.  I edged in and realized that the broadcasts were saying that Kennedy had been shot and was going to the hospital. We were all shocked, and many were crying.  I kept walking around somewhat dazed and realized that another group was peering in the a large glass window. The window was for a TV station that always had a couple of teletype machines printing out stories from AP and UPI for anyone to read.  Every once in a while a staff member came by and tore off some of the printout (which was typed pretty slowly) to take back to a newsroom or somewhere else.  The feed was nothing but latest reports, incomplete and partial, of the news from Dallas. People moved in, and away, but I stayed, transfixed. I knew I had to get a cab to Logan but couldn’t leave. Just then the news came in that JFK was indeed dead.

I turned away with tears in my eyes and went down a block to a cabstand and got a cab to the airport. I got to the airport just in time to get on my flight to Chicago. By the time the 707 got me there, and Mom picked me up at the airport, LBJ had been sworn in on the plane and he and the presidential party were back in Washington as well. We went straight home and the whole family sat in front of the 21 inch black and white TV for most of the next week. We watched Oswald killed by Ruby live on TV, as did millions of others. We watched the funeral cortege, and everything else that was shown. We watched and cried, we talked and discussed. And we just couldn’t believe it. We’d learned in history of the assassination of other presidents, but they were all more than fifty years earlier, so were ancient history. This was real and this was now, and quite possibly the first national media event. The funeral was on Tuesday, November 25, 1963, which was also Mom’s 44th birthday. Needless to say the birthday wasn’t really celebrated that day, but was on Thanksgiving in a fairly low key way.

A week later I was on my way back to work and life resumed.

Getting Old Is Not For Wimps

It isn’t easy getting old.  

When we were young, we thought the old folks had it easy. They were retired, could do what they wanted, go where they wanted, had unlimited time and money. And for many of us “old folks” we do have some freedom and a few dollars to do a few things we like to do. But it isn’t really unlimited in money, at least for us, and there is no question our time isn’t unlimited.  The older we get the more we realize our time is limited.

For me at least, it isn’t thinking about my own mortality, though I’m particularly aware of it after a quadruple bypass less than three months ago.  More recently I’ve been thinking about it because we live in an aging community. Almost every week at least one resident of SunRiver St. George passes away, as noted in the weekly email from the community center. A couple of weeks ago I served as an usher for the funeral service for a friend from bridge. Now another friend has a husband who has just been diagnosed with liver cancer, and they’re now waiting for biopsy results to tell them what kind it is and what, if anything, can be done about it. 

We’ve really been hit in the last 24 hours by a call from Gail’s nephew, Steve Black, who called to tell us his mother, her only sibling, Karen Dixon, who just celebrated her 69th birthday three days ago, is in the hospital in ICU with pneumonia and on oxygen, failing kidneys, and other problems. She’s also diabetic and has had a triple bypass. It looks like she’s failing, but we naturally pray for healing for her. And if healing isn’t possible, peace and comfort for her, for her children and grandchildren, and for us and her friends. 

I’ve also been reminded of how important time is by a post from Doris Markland, a friend who is 88, and has written about it recently.  She said: 

“Many people have put forth scientific theories regarding how our brain records our experiences and gives us our concept of time.  One simple explanation is that  a day in the life of a small child is long in proportion to the time he has spent on earth..  So that can explain why a day in my life now is  so short.”

and also

“Not to be discouraged.  It’s like money.  When we have a lot of it and a source of income, we may be tempted to spend without thought, without plan, because there will be more.  When money is scarce we begin to realize our part in the scheme of things.

Nothing is more precious than time.  It is all we have.  Perhaps realizing it is one of the major lessons in life.  And there’s no such thing as a lesson failed.  It is always a lesson learned.  As we say, everything comes in time.”

I heartily recommend you read the entire piece from which I quoted: “A Timely Post” and the rest of her blog as well.  She has a great perspective on the world and is an excellent writer.  

Meanwhile, all you “young kids” out there (meaning those under 60) think about how you’re using your time. Regardless of our age, none of us is promised tomorrow. 

Exercise

Since the quadruple bypass on my heart in August, I’ve been getting back to being more active with my cardiac rehab that is required, and will soon be back to regular trips to our SunRiver gym or pool, as well as walking outside when the weather is decent.

I posted about my thoughts on half marathons on my other blog, Dan’s Journey Through Heart Bypass Surgery, and have taken the liberty of copying much of it here as a part of family history.

I did six half marathons in 2007 and 2008 when I lived in Idaho. I needed to do more walking and a bit of jogging and joined a group called Boise Run Walk.  They offered training for events or just for generally improving health. I got into it pretty quickly and really trained. The first event I did was The Race to Robie Creek, which is known as the toughest race in the Northwest.  And it is.  But I did it in under 4 hours, including the 2050 climb and 1730 foot descent to the finish. The summit is just under a mile high. It is indeed brutal, but I did it.  I was probably in the last ten percent to finish, but at age 64 I felt pretty darn good about it.

Later in 07 and in 08 I did five more events, including Robie again in 08, a few minutes faster. As for training, you spend a lot of time running and walking.  If you’re not willing to commit ten or more hours a week to it, forget it. Also, for something like Robie, you have to spend a great deal of time going up and down, and most of my training was on the Robie course itself. I think I could still recreate it all from memory. I dream of doing it again, but we’ll just have to see.

I have thought about doing more half marathons, but first I need to lose some weight and get back into better shape. Right now I’m about 30 pounds heavier than I was in 07-08 and that is a big difference. But now as I finish my regime of Cardiac Rehabilitation, I plan to work out more in the gym here in SunRiver, and to spend time outside walking, and maybe ultimately jogging.  I do have a couple of physical issues to deal with (NOT cardiac related), and will be working on them, too.  If all goes well, there could be a half marathon in my future.  If it happens, great; if not, that’s OK too.

For a half marathon, my goal has always been to finish. One time I was last, but that was only because a friend and I got lost on a poorly marked network of dirt trails in the mountains.  And if we hadn’t been lost, it still would have been all right. Because I finished.

Death in the Family

Today’s blog is a guest posting by one of my sisters, Sue Bryson (Susan Lynn Lester Bryson).

When we lived in Des Moines, Iowa, we had a small dog. I’m not sure if it was Corky, that Dan wrote about. But I vividly remember this dog being hit by a car in front of our house on Witmer Street. I can still see his little body lying, lifeless, in the street by the curb. Daddy got a small box to put him in, closed up the four flaps of the box, and left it on the grass parking strip in front of the house. Some animal control service was to come pick it up. We never spoke about this. Nobody talked about him or discussed what happened later or what happened after death. We knew not to ask questions. Daddy put us all back to work. It was over – the dog was gone.

Many years later, Mom and I discussed Daddy’s death. She apologized to me for never having talked about his death, or even talking about him. She said that she was raised to be very closed about personal feelings, and that when our dog had died Daddy just said to ignore it and get the kids back to work. So she remembered that and tried to do the same thing after our father’s death. She tried to keep us busy and directed. I know she cried in her bed alone at night. She must have felt terrified, alone, abandoned and in shock. How she found the power and energy to go on is a mystery to many. (I now know that it came through faith and powerful prayer, which she also never talked about.) Mom had huge regrets about how she handled her children’s feelings after Daddy’s death. But she did the best she could at the time.

This is what we all do. We do the best we can under our present circumstances, and then deal with the consequences. I am so grateful for my Mother and the great example she has always been to me. I am thankful she could admit when she made mistakes and always took responsibility for every part of her life. She has always been an inspiration to me and the hero of my life.

Dogs in Our Lives

I wrote about other pets a few days ago, but have been thinking about dogs today. When I was a child we rarely had dogs, as a dog would be just one more thing for Mom to take care of in addition to six children. However, when we lived in Phoenix in the early 1950s we had a small terrier for a while. I am not sure how or why we got it, but I think it was because Mom was told the poor little thing would be put to sleep if she didn’t take it on. Unfortunately, the dog was incorrigible, and barked and snapped all the time. We kids of course loved it, but once Mom was informed that no mail would be delivered to mailbox until the dog that snapped at the mailman was eliminated. Mom told us that the dog “ran away”, but we as teenagers understood that the dog went to the pound.  When the other kids were in high school they held “trials” of Mom for “the murder of the dog”. They had a prosecutor, a defense attorney, and a judge. Mom was interrogated about the “murder” and of course was convicted.  This game was replayed a number of times, always with the same result.

Later, in 1954 when we lived in Des Moines, we got another puppy.  The little terrier puppy was named Corky. At the same time Mom was trying to housebreak a puppy and potty train the twins, Gary and Gayle. In those days there were no Pampers or fancy diapers like there are now. The twins wore cloth diapers with plastic pants over them that leaked regularly. From time to time Mom would find puddles on the floor but couldn’t tell who left them. The twins quickly learned to say “Corky did it”, whether the poor little dog did or not. Later some crayon coloring was found on the walls, and of course the twins said “Corky did it”.  Mom knew that wasn’t true.

Maybe Sue will write about “Tad” and her experiences with him when she was in high school, or Glenn or Steve will write about “Pansy Mae Wonder Woman Brown”.  They can send the stories to me.  Please?

Welcome Home, Col. Joseph Christiano

In 1970 people who didn’t want us to forget those men who were POW/MIA (Prisoners of War or Missing in Action)  in Vietnam started selling metal bracelets containing the names of servicemen who were in one of those categories and the date they went missing. In each case, the family of the missing man gave permission to have a bracelet made with his name on it. The idea was to wear the bracelet until the man came home, one way or another. After the war ended most people gradually quit wearing them and they disappeared into waste baskets or sock drawers, often to be forgotten and never seen again. A small number of people kept wearing them in honor and respect of those men, and the many others who served.

I never bought a bracelet because where I worked at the time they were seen as a “political statement against the war”, which never made sense to me. State employees were not permitted to wear anything that would do so at work. One of my brothers, Irv Lester, purchased two bracelets in 1970 and always wore them. The man on one of the bracelets, Capt. Michael Chwan, who was shot down near Hanoi on 9-30-65, had his remains identified in 1985, and he was buried in Arlington. The original idea was to return the bracelets to the man or his family when they were returned. However, his family didn’t want them back, so Irv kept wearing his.

The other bracelet bore the name of Lt. Col. Joseph Christiano (promoted while MIA to Colonel), who was shot down on 12-24-65, Christmas Eve, while flying on a mission over Laos. Since we were never officially at war with Laos, and there was no treaty to allow us to look for remains, it was many years before any crash sites were investigated in Laos. Earlier investigation of the site where “Spooky”, their AC47D gunship, went down were unsuccessful, but finally remains were found in 2011 and definitely identified in 2012. The remains of Col. Joseph Christiano and his 5 crew members were buried together in a single casket in Arlington. However, I didn’t learn of the identification and burial until about a month ago.

This is especially important to me because of the bracelets that my brother Irv wore. In 2005 Irv had surgery for bladder cancer and I was with him in California at that time. The surgical team said that the bracelets needed to be removed for surgery, but I finally convinced them how important they were to him and that they really had to stay on. They wrapped them in gauze and tape so there would be no danger of shock or infection and he went to the operating room with them on. They were still there when he came back out. In 2006 Irv was in Chicago and dying of the cancer, which had metastasized to his lungs and brain. I knew the two bracelets were going to his two adult children. I copied the information from the bracelets and got a tattoo of them on my right wrist. I came back to his apartment and told him that when he couldn’t wear the bracelets any more I’d wear them. He let me know in very colorful language that I wasn’t getting his bracelets, but that Eric and Danielle were. I pulled up my sleeve and showed him the new ink. We laughed together and cried together, and hugged for a long time, talking about friends who we’d lost there, friends who came home whole, and those who came home damaged in mental and physical ways.

bracelet

The bracelets will obviously be on my body until they throw my ass in the fire and place my ashes in the sacred ground of the Memorial Rose Garden at Grace Episcopal Church here in St. George. I’m often asked about them, and, sadly, few people remember when many people wore them. Of course to younger people the Vietnam War is ancient history, something they read about in a text book, as I learned about the War to End All Wars that I wrote about yesterday.

I wear the bracelets to honor my brother’s faithfulness and to honor all who have served in the military in peace and in war.

God Bless all who have served, and do serve our country.

In Flanders Fields

In the USA we celebrate Veterans Day on November 11, a legal holiday in honor of all of our veterans who have served in the military, living or dead, current or past. Some restaurants offer a free meal for anyone in uniform or anyone who can show the ID that they were in the service. Of course there are also parades, speeches, prayers for the departed, and other patriotic events.

I remember when I was young that people wore red poppies that were given out by members of the Veterans of Foreign Wars on what was then called Armistice Day, in honor of the original reason for the holiday, the Armistice between the US, Britain, and France with Germany at 1100 AM on 11/11/18, the 11th of November of 1918, the end of “The Great War” or “The War To End All Wars”. The red poppies were worn because of a poem written by John McCrae in 1915 after a battle in The Great War. He had noted that poppies grew quickly around the graves of the fallen. For those who don’t know it, here is the classic poem.

In Flanders fields the poppies blow
Between the crosses, row on row,
That mark our place; and in the sky
The larks, still bravely singing, fly
Scarce heard amid the guns below.

We are the Dead. Short days ago
We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,
Loved and were loved, and now we lie
In Flanders fields.

Take up our quarrel with the foe:
To you from failing hands we throw
The torch; be yours to hold it high.
If ye break faith with us who die
We shall not sleep, though poppies grow
In Flanders fields.

Whether you call the holiday Armistice Day, Veterans Day, or Remembrance Day, be sure to honor those who have served their countries, not only on the holiday, but every day of the year.

Communication in Changing Times

As one who has developed new technologies in education for some fifty years, I’m pretty aware of how communications have changed and have changed our expectations and behaviors. Well, they’ve changed for some of us more than others, and in different ways for different individuals.

When I was a kid in Phoenix, 1946-54, we would go outside to play for hours at a time. Our mothers didn’t know where we were, and had no way to get in touch with us, nor we with our mothers. For example, my friend John Lucking and I would, when were 9 to 11 years old, ride our bikes out into the desert to explore, to go to Camelback Mountain, to just see what we could see. We could also ride our bikes a couple miles to the swimming pool and spend several hours there. No one took us, no one worried about us, we’d get home when we were tired or hungry. We also dug tunnels to China in an undeveloped square block that was overgrown with brush, painted ourselves with mulberry juice, and did other “kid things”. No cell phones. Usually no money to use a pay phone if one were available, which they weren’t in most of the places we went.

In junior high in Des Moines (54-58) my friend Rick and I would go to all night movies downtown. We’d get the last bus downtown, after walking a mile to the bus stop from one of our houses. We’d see the Saturday midnight triple movie feature of monster/horror/science fiction flicks, and at 430 or 500 when they were over we’d walk a couple blocks to the all night drugstore to get some breakfast before catching the first bus home, that left downtown at 530. We’d get to his house, grab a wagon, get his Sunday papers and deliver them on his route. After that we might crash at his house, or I’d get a bus home. No contact, no worry.

When I was in high school it was the same thing. Although I didn’t have a car, many friends did, and we’d go to the drive-in movie, go cruising, go to the drive-in restaurant, go hang out at various houses, and so forth. No cell phones. Generally we could have made a phone call if necessary from where we were. But for many hours Mom didn’t know exactly where I was or when I’d be back. When we went on dates if there was a curfew it was set by the girls’ parents, not by us. After we took girls home we might go out to eat or hang out at someone’s house or an all night restaurant.

When I was in college I was always away from home and Mom would hear from me on the expensive long distance phone once a month or so, and might get a letter in the US Mail about as often. I lived a pretty independent life. Even when I got married, my wives and I always were, and are, pretty independent. Both of us worked. Both of us had outside hobbies and interests. We would generally know who was going to be picking up a child, or some rough idea of when someone might be home, but again we had no cell phones or internet to communicate. There might be a message on an answering machine or there might not.

Gail and I still live that way today, despite having had no wired phones in this century. We keep in touch, but only as necessary, when we’re apart. We’re secure and we don’t worry, just as Mom didn’t worry about me when I was younger.

Despite having all of the latest internet toys (MacBook Air, iPad4, iPhone5), my phone is silenced at least half of the time. I’m not a slave to it.  I don’t do much multitasking, other than having TV on while I’m on the computer, and always have the computer and iPad silenced. I don’t need or want a beep every time a new email, Facebook posting, or tweet arrives. I rarely tweet, but generally use 4square for fun, mainly to find out about new and interesting places to go, and also for friendly competition among some friends. We don’t have a chat plan on our phones, and only use it on rare occasions, especially because we pay for all messages sent and received. When I’m out and can do so I do surf the web on the iPhone.

Maybe it is because my tired old brain can only handle so much at once, but I think it is more because distractions keep me from thinking clearly or getting anything done. I learned how distracting those things could be when I was still working and we experimented with some of the first “news notification services”, which amounted to a twitter feed of news, with a new story every minute or so.

Maybe I’m really getting to be a crusty old curmudgeon who can’t deal with the modern world. I like to think that I’m an old guy who’s smart enough to control the technology instead of letting it control my life.  That’s my story and I’m sticking to it.

Grief and Loss

Yesterday I wrote about my father, including my grief at his absences and death. Today I was reminded again of grief while watching the film Rush:Beyond the Lighted Stage on my DVR. That documentary film includes information on drummer Neil Peart’s loss of his only child and his wife within a ten month period. After those losses he resigned from the band and left on his motorcycle alone for a 55,000 mile (88,000 km) trip all over North and Central America. He ultimately wrote a book, Ghost Rider: Travels on the Healing Road, about his experiences and rejoined Rush, with whom he still drums today. I’ve downloaded the book and will be reading it soon. I completely understand the road as a place of healing, but we all need our own methods.

My mother suffered a multitude of losses, starting with the death of her parents when she was in her twenties. That was followed by my father’s passing in 1960 when they were both 40. She ultimately remarried ten years later, and in 1996 suffered the death of her oldest daughter, my sister Diana, within two days of the passing of my stepfather, Ted.

Then ten years later, in 2006, one of my brothers, Irv, also died of cancer. His funeral was the last time Mom was out of the house.  Her health was failing and she was in constant pain, so after several months of hospice care she decided that she would quit eating and drinking. Since we were bound by her health care advanced directives we followed her orders, as painful as that was to do. She reminded us that at age 86 she had outlived two husbands and two of her six children, and that it was time for her to join them in the next life.

So she did.

If I were in a situation like Mom’s or Neil’s, and could do so, I’d go on a road trip alone. I’d do it in a car instead of on a bike, probably a C7 Corvette.  But I’d take the time to drive, see more of the country, and listen to lots of tunes, including those of Rush. And with the road, the tunes, and God, I’d heal.