Falling

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From Jane’s World

Mom is slumped in a hospital bed that seems all wrong for her tender body. The bed curves forward in a cruel smile. I try pulling her up so her head rests on the pillow. Her body is weak from disuse and she’s unable to help me. After the third attempt she is too tired to try again, nor does she care. I pull her wheelchair closer to the bed and sit in it to hold her thin, warm hand.

The room is stifling hot. No sunlight penetrates the curtain that separates my mom from her roommate, whose bed is near the window. My mom lies on her back, her eyes closed, her hands tucked into the waistband of her sweatpants, her mouth constantly moving as she drifts off to sleep. Next to the bed is an end table with a lamp I can’t turn on. The dark is pressing in on us.

I find an aide in the hall who tells me she needs to help someone else but comes into my mom's room to have a look anyway. She finds the lamp unplugged but no outlet to plug it into. My stomach sinks further till I fear it will fall out between my legs.

Mom broke her arm in a fall and now she’s in a care center. She wants to be anywhere but here. I and the rest of the family want her to be anywhere but here. But it’s a done deal. The place we'd like Mom to be has refused to admit her, saying they can’t do anything more for her than the care center she is currently at.

It’s a nice way of saying that the last time my mom fell and went there, she refused to do the physical therapy. When they tried to make her do it, she told anyone and everyone where to go. Now she is blacklisted there, and she is busy telling everyone at the current rehab place where they can go. She’s not suggesting anywhere pleasant.

Mom, age 92, lived independently in her own apartment with her own furnishings. But she caught her walker on a throw rug, fell, and broke her dominant arm. If she can’t use that arm, she can’t push her walker. She doesn’t have the strength (or balance) for a cane, and lying in bed telling everyone where they can go has made her lose the strength she once had.

Getting old isn’t easy. I’m also learning it’s not kind. The rehab center is full of overworked and underpaid help. If my mom wants assistance to the bathroom, she needs clairvoyance to predict her situation at least thirty minutes in advance. Therefore Mom, who until this incident lived alone and managed all her calls of nature perfectly well, is now in diapers.

I try to stay positive to encourage Mom to do her physical therapy, but it isn’t working. Lying in bed, pretty much helpless, she can still wear me down. One minute, she claims she does everything they tell her to do; the next, the social worker or the therapist is pulling me aside to say, “She refuses to do anything we ask.”

Part of me wants to scream, “She’s 92! Let her do whatever she damn pleases.” The other part of me yells back, “Darn it, Mom, please, do your therapy so we can get you home.”

But there’s the problem. At the age of 92, after lying in a bed for over 5 weeks and not doing the therapy they prescribe, will she ever be able to live independently again?

Probably not. And I can feel my heart break in a thousand pieces as I return her to the care center after her one-month check-up after the fall.

“Don’t take me back there, Janie. I hate it there. Take me home. I’ll kill myself if you take me back there.”

There’s no way to pacify her, but I try. “Mom, the doctor said you can go ahead and put weight on your arm. If you work with the physical therapist to get stronger, you’ll be able to go home,” I lie.

I don’t think all the therapy in the world will make up for the days of being sedentary. The stress of her fall and hospitalization, followed by the trauma of being in the care center, has played havoc with her razor-sharp mind. Or maybe she hit her head when she fell. The initial examination revealed no head trauma, but who really knows? She was alone when she fell and pushed the help button on her wrist.

Getting old isn’t easy. I wish it was at least humane.


Originally Published March 28th, 2019 in the Crawford County Independent & Kickapoo Scout

MIA: Socks & Earrings

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From Jane’s World

I often wonder if all the single earrings I’ve lost are somewhere having a wild party with all the lost single socks.

When my daughter was little I started a cold-weather family tradition. On a Friday evening I’d yell, “Let’s have a sock party!” Jessica would come running with all her socks cradled in her arms. I’d pull out my whole sock drawer and we’d meet on the living room floor. There we sat, surrounded by a sea of socks; pairs of short, thin, patterned socks, thick cable-knit solid-color knee-highs, SmartWool-knockoff hiking crews, and holiday, dog-and-cat-themed novelty socks. Occasionally a pair of underwear or tights showed up and was immediately cast aside.

Sock parties were as entertaining as playing Go Fish but not as brutal as our games of Old Maid. Jessica would start by picking out a sock and holding it as high as her young arm could reach. Both of us would scramble to be the first to find its mate. If we did, we’d lay one sock down, cover it with the matching one, and roll them both up in a tight cocoon with a feeling of satisfaction. If there wasn’t a match, the poor thing was tossed into the singles pile. Then it would be my turn to pick a sock and hold it up.

We’d squeal with delight when we were running out of socks and found a match, not in the sock pile but in that pile of singles. “Yay!” we’d rejoice, thinking now that sock would never be lonely again.

Somehow, every few weeks another sock, or two, or three, lost its mate. One of us would again declare a sock party, and we’d start all over again.

We discussed the question of how we managed to lose socks, but had no answer. After all, we weren’t taking off our socks at a friend’s home, in the car, on a walk, or while shopping for groceries. Ninety-nine percent of the time, our socks were taken off either before a shower or before bedtime. Nancy Drew wannabe that I was, I detected that the missing socks had to be inside the house. Where became the question.

We’d search under our beds, couch, and dressers. We didn’t have a washer or dryer, so all our clothes traveled via car to the laundromat. But we were careful to always double-check the machines before heading for home with baskets of freshly washed clothes, possibly already minus a few socks.

Then one frigid Friday night in December, I couldn’t find one of my favorite earrings. They were my dress-up earrings that I only wore for special occasions. I turned the house upside down. It wasn’t the first earring to go MIA but I was hopeful it was only AWOL. It may have been Jessica, too young for pierced ears at the time, who suggested the earring might be with one of my wandering socks. Aha!

Sorting through my earring box, I discovered I was missing more than the one special earring I desperately wanted to wear to the holiday party. Jessica helped me pair up the matches, a real-life puzzle. I was shocked at the resulting pile of singles. Were they hanging out with the single socks? Is there a place in heaven for single earrings and socks? How could I lose so many earrings? And where the heck were all those socks?

Practical person that I am, I decided, on the next nice day, to walk with Jessica to the dime store and buy tons of tiny clear plastic earring backs. But I had no clue how to prevent socks from going missing.

The earring backs also ended up disappearing at an alarming rate. Now, years later, I have a drawer full of single earrings. I’ve considered getting more holes in my ears to accommodate them all, but looking like a Christmas tree is not the best look for me.

Just this week, I came home from a meeting to discover that one of my favorite silver hoop earrings with turquoise beads was no longer in my ear. I immediately started a thorough search but came up empty-handed. Gone!

That night as I settled down, I expected to dream of single sock and earring parties, but before I could drift off to sleep, my neighbor called, asking, “Did you lose a silver hoop earring with turquoise beads? We found one in our driveway today.” Case closed! Now about those socks...


Originally Published March 21st, 2019 in the Crawford County Independent & Kickapoo Scout

Lady Jane

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From Jane’s World

Recently, while hiking with fourteen women and four dogs, I noticed that only the dogs and I stopped to pee. Twice for me, every tree for the dogs. Normally, I’d never give peeing outside a second thought, but since I was the only one, I worried that maybe my fellow hikers considered it unladylike.

On the drive home and all that evening, my mind stuck on the word “feminine.”

In the morning, still sleepy and in my PJs, I stepped into my oversized Sorrel boots, slipped on my Carhartt knock-off barn jacket, and shoved my filthy Kinco gloves into my pocket. I mixed a container of warm water, bananas, plain yogurt and olive oil for Louisa, my pig, and headed out the door.

My valley was so thick with fog that my headlamp was useless. I walked with my head down, trying to avoid the slick patches of ice. Cold rain seeped down my neck, making me shiver. I wondered if, when dawn came, we’d have any more light. I also wondered if maybe I’d lost my feminine side from living like this, alone in a rural area with my critters, where I couldn’t care less how I look or act.

I wedged the toe of my boot under the goat pen gate and pushed up while wiggling the latch. I dumped Louisa’s mash into her bowl and slip-slided over to the Goat Palace to let Louisa and my two goats out. The latch was frozen and I wasn’t able to get it open, even after removing my heavy gloves.

Working my tongue around the inside of my mouth, I brought up saliva from deep in my throat and, with perfect aim, gobbed on the latch—instantly effective at thawing the mechanism, but not very ladylike.

An old tape started playing in my head:

“Sit up straight, Jane Ann. Don’t slouch. Ladies don’t slouch.”

“Lower your voice, Janie. Act like a girl.”

“She’s a tomboy.”

When I was younger, my siblings and I belonged to the Good Medicine Dancers, led by Ben Hunt, an outdoor educator who wrote books on Native American arts. For years, I took the part of a boy in Ben’s group because I wanted to. When I asked my dad if I could be a boy, he said, “Fine by me. Go ask your mother.” I was a boy for our club meetings, outings, and performances. I wore boy’s clothes—red breechcloth, a breastplate, and soft, beaded deerskin moccasins—all made as authentically as possible under Ben’s guidance.

Even though my mother approved of me being a boy in the dance troupe, I suspect she had concerns about unladylike behaviors. When I was barely a teen, she enrolled me in Rosemary Bischoff’s Modeling School. I loved going to the “finishing” school in downtown Milwaukee, where I flourished. My posture improved. I learned how to walk down a runway. I discovered where the fork went on a table and how to stick my pinky out when drinking tea.

But clearly, Mrs. Bischoff’s lessons didn’t stick. Last winter when Raime, my faithful border collie, was still alive, Dane and I hiked to an ice cave with my three pups. The hike was treacherous, with steep snow-covered gullies and ridges. Every breath added more frost to the scarf wrapped around my mouth and nose. Raime kept stopping to try to pick out the ice balls that were forming between his paw pads. After his third meticulous attempt to nibble the ice out from his paw, I handed Dane my gloves and knelt down by his side, my knees sinking into the new snow. I picked up his front paw, whispered to him to trust me, pulled apart his pad and took a huge bite of the ice that was causing him grief. Snap! It came off clean in my mouth. I leaned over and spit it out and we continued on our way.

I’m also proud to say I’ve perfected my farmer’s blow, after eighteen years of living in the country. Well, perfect 85% of the time. Fifteen percent of the time you wouldn’t want to be downwind of me.

Am I still a lady?

My dress-up days, except for special occasions, are long gone. A touch of mascara means a very special occasion. And although I’m currently trying to grow my hair long, short hair is more practical for my lifestyle.

I enjoy being self-sufficient and not overtaxing my bladder trying to hold it. I love all kinds of weather and being surrounded by nature—and knowing that when nature calls, there is no need to wait.

I’ve been known to say that the art of being a woman is knowing when not to be a lady. It’s not about short hair versus long, makeup or natural, fancy clothes or barn boots. It’s about how we feel about ourselves. And I feel like a lady: Lady Jane!

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Originally Published March 14th, 2019 in the Crawford County Independent & Kickapoo Scout

Whiteout

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From Jane’s World

Holding tightly to a rope tied to my front door, I make my way into the whiteout. My mittened hands are quickly covered with chunks of ice and snow, my cheeks red from the stinging wind. I keep my eyes half shut to protect them from the blowing snow.

One red-mittened hand after the other, hanging on to the rope for dear life, I make my way to the barn that is half buried in snow. I have to get to the animals—and be able to find my way back.

But I don’t have a barn, or a rope tied to my door! My mind replays stories I heard during childhood, of people lost in blizzards and never found until spring. I do have outbuildings: the Snake Shed, the Duck Hall, the Goat Palace, and the donkeys’ three-sided shelter that somehow has remained nameless. This bleak image of winter survival came from my dad’s farming side of the family and has stayed with me.

Farmers and animal lovers have had their hands full this winter with blizzard-like conditions, ice storms, and temperatures reaching 40 below zero. Such weather can be life-threatening for the animals as well as the people who care for them.

I began making outdoor checks at three-hour intervals when the temperature dropped to –20. Each time, I’d refresh the animals’ drinking water, which meant smashing my boot into the heated water bowls to crack the ice that had formed on top; for the donkeys, it meant chopping a hole in the creek ice. I’d give the animals plenty of hay, too many treats, and a visual check before heading back indoors.

The night before our record-breaking coldest day here in the valley, chores became intense with the start of the blizzard.

I geared up and went out to put everyone to bed about 5:30 p.m., hoping to complete chores before the last of the daylight was gone.

I called Louisa, Luna, and Peepers and got them settled inside the Palace with bananas as a treat, but then I couldn’t shut the door to keep them in. While I scraped, shoveled, and kicked at the snow and ice, the pig and goats finished their bananas and came back out. Soon it was fully dark. I trudged back up to the house to find my headlamp, then out to the Snake Shed to fetch a piece of baler twine.

After luring Louisa and the goats back into the Palace with another banana, I held the door closed with one Sorel boot and removed my filthy Kinco gloves, tucking them between my legs so as not to lose them in the snow. My fingers quickly became numb and clumsy as I struggled to pull the twine through the door’s latch.

Louisa polished off the second banana and began pushing on the door. I leaned on it hard to keep her inside as I wove the twine back and forth, cursing softly, and stopping to blow on my fingers to warm them into functioning. I needed to get this door closed to keep the animals safe. I needed to get my cold, tired body back up to the house to keep myself safe, thaw my fingers and get under the covers.

I couldn’t get the twine to function properly, but it looked like it would hold. I whispered “Good night” through partially frozen lips and retreated to the safety of my house.

Crack! Pop! Snap! In the morning the porch deck groaned with every step I took into the deadly cold. I glanced at the thermometer. It read –40. My heart raced as I headed out to the donkeys, who are the most vulnerable in their open shelter.

Diego and Carlos tried to bray but their voices were hoarse and choppy. Icicles hung from the sides of their bodies, chins, and noses. I brought them warm, fresh water, more hay, and apples.

The ducks and geese wouldn’t budge when I opened their little door. Smart birds.

Before I reached the Goat Palace, I could see that my handiwork of the night before had held. But now I couldn’t get it untied, and my fingers burned within seconds of taking off my gloves. Louisa began squealing from inside as though someone was trying to kill her, and rammed her body into the door as I struggled to get it open. I stopped to warm my hands between my legs, envisioning a loss of my digits.

Hurrying back to the house, I grabbed my only serrated knife and a pair of scissors and headed out again. With sheer force, the scissors cut through the twine just enough to allow the two goats to squeeze out.

This infuriated Louisa and transformed her from a sweet pig into a raging, deranged hog, butting, slamming, and screeching without pause. In the commotion, I dropped the serrated knife and had to run to the house to look for my pocket knife.

Racing back as quickly as I could, I lowered my head against the wind, took off my gloves, and focused on slicing through the knotted twine. It gave way just as Louisa thrust her 250-pound body against the door, which slammed into my forehead.

While I felt brain-dead and fingerless, Louisa rushed past me to her mash. As I stumbled to the gate, I saw the missing knife hanging out of Luna’s mouth. My hands were barely capable of any movement but I managed to pry the handle out of her stubborn jaw. Fortunately there was no blood.

Heading back up the incline to the house, I marveled at my dad’s family and all the generations of farmers now and before my time. My head was bruised and sore to the touch, but I still had all my fingers. And I couldn’t help imagining, somewhere, someone frozen solid, one red-mittened hand still clutching a rope.

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Originally Published March 7th, 2019 in the Crawford County Independent & Kickapoo Scout

Stigma

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From Jane’s World

Bipolar. ADHD. Depression. Addiction. Asperger's syndrome. Schizophrenia. Eating disorders. Autism spectrum. Post-traumatic stress. Personality disorder. Social anxiety. Obsessive-compulsive disorder.

Did you flinch or nod as you read those words? Perhaps you nodded in recognition. According to the American Psychiatric Association (APA), In any given year, one in five adults in the United States has a diagnosable mental disorder. One in twenty-four has a serious mental illness. One in twelve has a substance use disorder.

These statistics are staggering, suggesting that many of us will either have a mental health challenge or have a family member or friend who does. Yet many of us flinch at the very mention of those words.

People who struggle with mental illness often experience the additional burden of feeling judged or shunned by others. I wonder what we can do to prevent such discrimination and provide encouragement instead.

Part of the problem is that mental illness isn’t always visible. When someone is walking with a white cane we rush to offer assistance. When someone who appears “normal” is standing in line at the post office talking nonsense to themselves, we hurry to get away. We fear what we don’t understand—and we often mock what we fear.

At an early age, my friend Chuck (not his real name) was depressed and had an eating disorder. At thirteen he attempted suicide. (The APA points out: Half of all chronic mental illness begins before the age of 14.) When Chuck returned to school his classmates avoided him and wouldn’t be friends. Chuck tells me the other children were sensitive enough, but scared of him. Without any knowledge or understanding of mental health, who could blame them?

In 1996 Chuck had his first manic episode. He was 21. Four years later, after a second manic period, he was diagnosed with manic depression, now termed bipolar disorder. It took him a while to accept and finally understand his illness, and even longer to realize he needed to adhere to the schedule of medication that helped stabilize his brain chemistry.

Chuck’s delusional behavior, subsequent hospitalizations, and treatment were hard on him and his family. Physical and mental health challenges are similar in that way—but we understand better, and are more comfortable, when we can see the physical cause and effect.

If you’re throwing up, I can place my hand on your back to let you know I’m there and that I care. I can comfort you by placing a warm washcloth on your forehead. If you’re having a manic episode that may include rage or thinking you are Jesus, it gets scary. And yet, says the APA, People with mental illnesses are no more likely to be violent than those without a mental health disorder. In fact, those with mental illnesses are ten times more likely to be the victims of violent crime.

The stigma around mental illness has gained press lately because of celebrities who have died by suicide. Famous people who appeared happy and healthy shocked the world by ending their lives. Later we discovered they had battled depression and other mental illness all their lives. The APA informs us: Suicide is the tenth leading cause of death for all ages. It is more common than homicide.

The definition of stigma is “a mark of disgrace associated with a particular circumstance, quality, or person.” We all have images and thoughts triggered by words that relate to mental illness, which can cause us to be prejudiced toward someone diagnosed with these conditions. No wonder no one knew those celebrities were sick—they were afraid to talk openly about their mental health.

So what can we do? How can we help create a more supportive environment for people struggling with mental health challenges?

We can start by educating ourselves and others about mental illness and not treat it like a dirty word. As the APA says, Mental illness is nothing to be ashamed of. It is a medical problem, just like heart disease or diabetes.

We can also choose our words carefully when talking about mental health. Saying that Chuck is bipolar doesn't do justice to the many other characteristics that define him—his zany sense of humor, his love for dogs, or his compassion for others. Being bipolar is only one aspect of Chuck’s life. It is manageable with medications, regular exercise, healthy eating, volunteering, and journaling.

We can also be honest about treatments. Some people will benefit greatly from medications, others from talk and holistic therapies. Not everyone responds the same, regardless of their diagnosis.

We can speak up when we feel that the media, a school principal, or even a neighbor is stigmatizing or discriminating by their actions or words. We can advocate for equal regard and treatment for people suffering from mental or physical ailments; there shouldn’t be a difference.

We can also show compassion for people who have mental illnesses. As Chuck recently shared with me, “It's hard enough being diagnosed with a mental illness, but worse is the worry about possibly losing my dearest friends if I become manic again.”

Next time we read or hear about mental health issues, or someone we know (perhaps even ourselves) is diagnosed with mental illness, let’s refrain from flinching and nod in compassion and understanding. It would be a good start.

Originally Published February 28th, 2019 in the Crawford County Independent & Kickapoo Scout

Heaven

From Jane’s World

As soon as I managed to push my way through my brothers and sisters for mama’s warm milk, she’d stand up. For a nanosecond, I’d swing from her long, worn-out nipple and then drop. There was never enough milk for me.

I’d lie in a heap with my siblings, wondering when or if our mom would come back. We were wet and cold, our eyes still shut. My swollen belly ached.

One day when my head felt too heavy to lift, I stirred at the sound of a soft voice. Someone with warm, gentle hands was listening to my insides, her ear on my chest. She wrapped us in a fuzzy blanket that reminded me of my mom.

I was lifted, prodded, and poked. Eventually, there was sweet milk! Not from my mom’s large, doughy belly, but from an inflexible nipple. I could hear my brothers and sisters slurping and sucking, too.

A few days later, we were all moved again. We bumped around in that same blanket until we stopped in a place that smelled salty. It was quieter, with fewer people, and there was a new gentle voice.

In the new place, I was drinking as much as my tiny belly could hold but my stomach writhed in agony. The milk would come burning out of my other end. My sisters and brothers had the same problem. We were miserable. The pain was too big for our little bodies.

Three of my brothers and one of my sisters died. I overheard the words “parvo,” and “poor babies,” and “sleep.” My eyes were beginning to open.

I thought of the lady that would feed my sister and me as Mama Voice. She’d hold us, feed us, and wipe our mouths and butts. She was always there for us. My sister squawked and squirmed. It hurt to be held and we no longer wanted to drink. We just wanted to be left alone. We wanted to join our other siblings, but Mama Voice wouldn’t let us. She’d stick syringes in our throats and squirt water down.

I wanted to help my sister, but I could hardly take care of myself. The same people who took my brothers and sisters were back. They had my sister in a box and when they picked me up I used all the energy I had to thump my tail just once.

Mama Voice noticed my tail thump and asked to keep me with her. Now Mama Voice and I were alone. She became my whole world. I would drink and take long naps. Then I’d hear her voice, sometimes other voices, and we’d do it all over again. Mama Voice kept whispering to me, “Hang on. Keep fighting. Be strong.”

I hung on. I fought. And I became stronger. One day, Mama Voice offered me wet food on her finger and I licked it. Mama Voice wept. I didn’t think she’d ever stop crying.

Every day my stomach hurt less. Every day I loved Mama Voice more. Before long I was running around Mama Voice’s yard, playing with her cats, and stealing her flip-flops.

Mama Voice has a big heart and home. There were three cats and eight dogs for me to play with. But she said it was time for me to find my forever home. Mama Voice sounded sad as she explained it would be best for me.

On a clear Tuesday morning, Mama Voice said goodbye to me and slipped me into a soft, red crate. She introduced me to Kristin and Tony and told me they would help me find my new mom. I had to travel over 2,947 miles.

I rode in taxis, on a ferry, in a van, on an airplane, and finally ended up in Milwaukee at General Mitchell Field. Kristin and Tony were taking me for a walk in the airport when we heard, “There he is!” and a lady came running towards us.

Kristin said, “We found her, Ruben. That’s your forever mom!” My goodness, it was a lot of excitement for a puppy who had traveled all day.

It turned out I wasn’t home yet. But Mom and Papa knew I’d be tired and we stayed together in a big room with a giant bed for all of us. The next day, we traveled from Milwaukee to rural Viola.

I have a brother and a sister again, and all sorts of cats and barnyard animals. My house is warm and Mom loves to go for walks and spoil me. I wish you could see me right now—I haven’t stopped thumping my tail.

Sometimes I wonder if I’ve died and gone to heaven.  

Thank you to Isla Animals, Mama Voice; Michelle, Anna, Kristin, Tony, Erica, and John, Lea, and all the others who gave of their time and heart. At Isla Animals Dog Rescue they like to say, “Caring Is Global.” It sure is!

Love, Ruben (I was named after the owner of Mom’s favorite restaurant in Isla Mujeres to get a burrito!)

Originally Published February 21st, 2019 in the Crawford County Independent & Kickapoo Scout

Storytelling

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From Jane’s World

I used to tell people that Roger, my old neighbor, had better stories than I did. Roger moved to Illinois a few years ago, but I check in with him often.

Yesterday, as I was driving to work, I called to see how he was faring farther south, in light of the cold spell we’re having here. Within minutes we were talking over each other about the weather, cars, and a planned visit that had been postponed due to both weather and cars.

I began telling Roger about my morning. My new neighbor, Tom, who bought both Roger’s home here and his snowplow, had come over earlier to plow out my driveway. Later I discovered my car wouldn’t start. I called Tom and explained I had an appointment in town and asked if he’d be willing to come jump my car.

Before Tom made it to my house, my car miraculously started. Roger laughed as I explained how I had driven toward Tom’s house while trying to call him back to save him a needless trip.

When I was about a mile down the road, Tom finally answered. “Where are you?” I asked.

“Coming to your house. I just got to the bottom of my driveway.”

"Turn around. It started! I’m glad I caught you before you went too far.”

“What was wrong with it?”

“Oh, I don’t know. I just got lucky and it started!”

“Maybe it wasn’t in park.”

“Maybe,” I answered, but I knew that Tom had solved the mystery. I’d had the car in reverse.

Roger had a good chuckle and said he had also done this. Once, he even had a tow truck on the way before he noticed the car wasn’t in park.

Roger and I have a lot in common.

Roger’s wife, Pat, was a good friend to me. She died unexpectedly and left a huge hole in my life. Pat was Roger’s everything. But Roger got lucky and has recently made friends with a wonderful lady who lives near him. He has been blessed twice, once with Pat, and now with Joanne.

“Well, I have a good one for you,” Roger said.

He told me about going to Joanne’s house the week before to pick her up for dinner. He went to the door to get her and as they came back out Joanne said, “Roger, where’s your car?”

Roger said, “In the driveway.”

Joanne exclaimed, “No, it’s not.”

Roger looked all around. The car was across the street, cockeyed in someone else’s driveway. Roger had left it in neutral and Joanne’s driveway has enough of a hill that it rolled. Thankfully, no one, nor the car, was injured!

I laughed until tears were rolling down my cheeks and my hound dog, Tete, began barking from the back seat.

I countered with the story of the time I had a neighbor, a sheriff’s deputy, and Ronnie, my favorite tow truck man, all trying to start my car, which had stalled a hundred yards from my driveway one frigid, snowy night.

After many attempts to start the car, and much work in the blinding snow to secure it to the back of Ronnie’s truck with an assortment of chains, they discovered the tailpipe was packed with snow. I had backed into a snowbank!

Roger and I both cackled at the memory and how mad I made Ronnie, who is usually as sweet as cherry pie.

But Roger had one more: He prefaced the story by explaining that he’s now driving the car that used to be Pat’s, and he’s not familiar with it.

Roger had taken Joanne out to eat. While they were in the restaurant, it started snowing. After their meal, Roger helped Joanne into the car and proceeded to clear off the front and back windows. When he got to Joanne’s house, he reached up to turn on the dome light, but accidentally opened the skylight instead, dumping about four inches of snow on Joanne.

I was howling so hard I couldn’t drive. I had to say good-bye and hang up for fear I’d drive off the road and have to call Ronnie.

I sure miss Roger. Hands down, he always has the best stories!

Originally Published February 14th, 2019 in the Crawford County Independent & Kickapoo Scout

My Older Sister

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From Jane’s World

We grew up hearing the slogan “A mind is a terrible thing to waste.” But what if your mind begins to waste on its own accord?

My big sister, Jill, was the smart one in our family. Labeling children isn't healthy, but there it is: Jill was the smart one. She was also pretty, and had blue eyes and long, thick, wavy blond hair.

Jill has always joked about being my older sister. And for years I’ve signed my cards to her “Love, your younger sister, Jane.”

Jill’s hair turned silver years ago. It’s still thick and wavy.

But this story isn’t about her hair color or her clear blue eyes.

Jill stopped driving at the age of 62. She voluntarily gave up her right to drive after getting lost and frightened too many times. This was the same year Jill was diagnosed with early-onset Alzheimer’s disease.

Jill lives alone not far from the home where we grew up. She has a friend who stays with her when he can to help her out. She’s incredibly smart but her mind trips her up, more now than when she was diagnosed four years ago. These mistakes terrify me, even though I understand how Alzheimer’s slowly crushes one’s mind and, ultimately, one’s life.

When I called Jill today her voice lifted; there was joy. But then I had to strain to hear her speak.

She shared with me her fear about falling. She falls because her depth perception is out of whack. She counts steps to try to prevent herself from falling. She said she doesn’t get lost, but our brother Jack told me that Jill got lost last week coming out of the bathroom in my mom’s tiny apartment.

When I asked Jill what I could do for her, she said, “Tell me about your day; what have you been doing?” I struggled to come up with anything worthwhile to mention and ended up telling her a funny story about Louisa, my pig. She laughed and I said, “What do you want to do next weekend when I come to see you?”

“Anything with you, anything,” she answered softly.

“Okay, I’ll pick you up and we can be like Thelma and Louise. We’ll drive all over town and do whatever we want to do!”

“What did we used to do?”

“Remember the Fourth of July that Jack came pulling up to Mom and Dad’s house with those three-wheelers in the back of his pickup?” Jill laughs and I swear I can see her head nodding.

“Jack took those bikes off the back, a big one and a smaller one, and told us not to touch them. He went to town for gas or something. I looked at you and hopped on the big one, smiled, and said, ‘Dirt sisters, start your engines!’”

I hear Jill chuckling. “Dirt, sisters, start,” she repeats after me.

“You got on the little bike and away we raced down the driveway and straight across the street to Hales Corners Park,” I continue. “I ended up going down the hill too fast, couldn’t turn, and tipped right over into the creek. I had to wait for you to find me.”

“You were wearing an all-white outfit for Fourth of July,” Jill says. “I saw you lying under that bike and said, ‘You're going to get it!’ And left you there to go get Jack.” Her clarity startles me. She has it down pat. This is a story we have often retold.

We both laugh at how ridiculous it was for her to leave me there, how furious Jack was with me, and how lucky I was I didn’t get crushed.

Then we are quiet. Too quiet.

I tell my sister that I’ll see her Saturday morning. I also tell her that if the weather forecast suggests the drive to Milwaukee will be unmanageable, I’ll call her right away. She asks me to relay this information to her friend and calls out for him, twice. “Oh, I’m alone. He’s not here.”

My heart plummets with the pain and fear I can hear in her faint, almost childish voice. “Maybe he is outside shoveling the walk,” I say.

Later, her friend calls me to confirm my phone call with Jill and that I’ll be there next Saturday.

My niece messaged me that they set up an appointment to have Jill assessed for moving into a memory care home in February. My sister is not only falling but slipping away. Her friend is not able to be with her around the clock.

Jill’s silver hair is still thick and wavy. She’s still the smart one. She would never willingly let her mind waste. If she could outsmart this disease, she would. But no one can. It’s merciless.

 Before I hang up the phone I say, “I'll see you Saturday.” And in my mind I add, I'll be your big sister now.

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Originally Published February 7th, 2019 in the Crawford County Independent & Kickapoo Scout

Snow Dad

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From Jane’s World

I have my dad to thank for loving snow. He never did grow tired of playing with me outside in winter.

When I was still small enough not to hurt him, my dad taught me how to belly flop. He’d lie down on the red sled—the one with metal runners—and I’d lie on his back. While he held the steering bars, he encouraged me to hang on, but my legs were too short to wrap around him, so I’d end up with my wet-mittened hands snug around his neck. We were wild then, and those sled runners sharp and slick.

My cheeks would grow red, my nose would drip, but my stomach was toasty. Snow from the runners would fly up into our faces, making our eyes water and lips freeze to our teeth. Our frozen mouths made us look like those caroling angels carved out of wood. Down the hill we’d fly, soaring over a bump and landing hard. I’d topple off into the snow as our sled skidded to a stop inches from the creek, my dad still on it.

One Christmas morning I awoke to find a long piece of dark, polished wood with red cushions and a red rope attached―a toboggan! My mom had declared our sled too dangerous; she was certain my dad wouldn’t be able to control the red wooden sled and that those runners would slice me in half.

The thrill of lying on my dad’s back on our new toboggan, screaming as we flew down the sledding hill at Hales Corners Park, still warms me. Up and down the toboggan slide we’d go. My dad wore an old green winter army jacket that was too short, leaving his lower back and half of his butt exposed! Did his butt ever feel like a block of ice, or was his belly ever sore the next day?

Building a snowman took all afternoon. Dad would help roll the second ball of snow on top of the first and lift the third on top of the second. I’d raid our box of winter accessories for old scarves, stocking hats, and sometimes even mismatched mittens. Stopping to grab a carrot from the refrigerator, I’d head back outside. Dad would already have the coal in place for the snowman’s eyes.

We didn’t have a snowblower. Before my dad would start playing with me, he would shovel our long driveway—long enough to park eight cars bumper to bumper. How did he not get tired?

As I grew older, my dad would take me skating. He would pull out his beat-up brown hockey skates, sling my white figure skates over my neck, and walk with me on the path to the skating rink. I’d be all bundled up and he’d be wearing that old, too-short jacket. We held hands as we wound our way through the park to the basketball courts that, every winter, the parks department would freeze over to form a rink.

Inside the building, we would cross the linoleum laid down to protect the floors from our sharp skates, and plop down on a hard, wooden bench. Dad would help me get my skates on before putting on his own, then off we’d go. Dad skated so fast that my legs had to pump three times as hard as his just to hold on to his hand. Around and around the rink we flew! What I remember most is his boundless energy. He loved winter and loved being with me.

When I became a teen, I felt I was getting too old to go to the rink with Dad. I’d head to the rink every chance I got to play with my friends. We played endless games of pom-pom pull away, chasing each other across the rink and back again. My skates had huge, handmade pom-poms that Dad helped me make by wrapping yarn around cardboard circles.

On weekends I’d leave the house early, walk the path alone to the rink and stay there until I had to be home for lunch.

By the time I’d come home, my dad would have meticulously shoveled the driveway and the sidewalks. One time there was even a snowman in the front yard to greet me!

Dad would take my wet hat, scarf, and mittens and lay them on the fireplace mantel to dry. He always asked if I was having fun at the rink, but he never asked to come along. When lunch was over, I’d get dressed and race back to the rink until dinner.

As an adult, I love winter and snow.

Often, when hiking in the quiet, snow-filled trails of the Kickapoo Valley Reserve, I think of Dad. I’m glad his love for winter was contagious, seeing as I still live in Wisconsin.

I wish he was still alive so we could fill my yard with snowmen and go sledding afterward. I wish I had never started thinking I was too old to go skating with him. He never once got too old—or too cold—to play with me.

Originally Published January 31st, 2019 in the Crawford County Independent & Kickapoo Scout

Pigs and People

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From Jane’s World

I can’t help but smile when I think of the number of times a reader has sidled up to me at the co-op or the post office to ask about Louisa. Louisa, my pet pig, was diagnosed with congestive heart failure last February. It’s good to know people care. She even received a get-well card in the mail.

Yesterday morning when I went out to feed the critters, I began to worry about her.

Louisa, who can’t contain her eagerness to get out of the Goat Palace in the morning and bury her face in her warm mash, didn’t come out. The goats both sauntered down the ramp and over to the hay I set out for them, but Louisa only grunted when she saw me. When I walked up to her, she lay back down with a thud. As I petted her and asked her what was wrong, my mind barreled ahead—Louisa is dying.

I surrounded her with as much straw as I could carry and then ran inside to call Dr. Solverson. I knew I’d need to leave a message; it was only 5:45 a.m. and I had to leave for work by 6.

As I drove to work, I replayed Louisa’s behavior and the message I had left for the doctor. If Louisa didn’t want to eat and was lethargic, I could assume she had a fever and was ill. Even so, my message to the doc may have been a bit dramatic: “I pray that you can come soon. I think she is dying. Having to work when your animal is sick should be illegal. Please call me as soon as you know what is wrong.”

I shared the news of Louisa’s illness with the first person I saw that morning. They responded by reminding me that Louisa was just a pig. For the rest of my work day, I kept my troubles to myself.

I’ve learned that there are animal people and non-animal people. I’ve observed for years the impact I have on some as I’ve recounted my woes about a duck with bumble-foot, a donkey with a hoof fungus, or Louisa’s congestive heart failure. I’ve watched eyes roll up inside foreheads and not come down until I’ve finished telling my sad tales. But I’ve also noticed that sharing my grief over the sudden death of a dear neighbor could elicit the same reaction. Some people have enormous reserves of empathy for all humans. Other people seem to have a better understanding of how it feels to lose a beloved dog. And then there are some people who only care about themselves and no one else, whether four-legged, feathered, or two-legged.

Worrying about a pig when friends are fighting cancer might seem trivial. I assure you I also spend time worrying about friends and family members who are struggling with health, financial, or personal cares. And it feels like I spend every minute worrying about the state of affairs our country is in.

Dr. Solverson’s call came in around 2:30 p.m. I pulled over to the side of the road to listen to what he had to say. Louisa was indeed sick and had a fever. But he also had good news: “Her heart, although not great, sounds better than last year. I can tell she’s lost weight.” He had to treat her with an injectable antibiotic and assured me she wasn’t so sick that she didn’t try to run away from him when he pulled out the syringe. He had to coax Louisa back into the Palace and lie flat out on top of her to give her that shot!

By the time I got home, Louisa was acting more like herself: She was looking for food. While feeding her a few bananas, I thought about the similarities between pigs and people. Pigs and humans have mostly hairless skin, a layer of subcutaneous fat, protruding noses, and thick eyelashes. Current research suggests that pigs and primates may be closer in evolutionary terms than we once thought.

I know my animals have empathy for each other. Over the years I’ve watched my dog Tete mourn the death of her best buddy, Raime. I’ve watched my cats search for days when their fellow cat, Farley, came up missing. And I remember how Benny, my parakeet, would not sing or talk after Joon fell from her perch and never got up.

When I return home from a vacation, I can barely step in the door without both dogs jumping up on me and crying their welcome, the donkeys braying their hearts out and Louisa grunting so loudly I fear she’ll have heart failure before I can get down to her pen and say hello. I doubt I’m just a human to them.

Loving both people and animals seems normal. They go together like the pieces in a jigsaw puzzle. And, by the concern I’ve been shown by the people who read this column, I know I’m not alone.

As I settled into my bed, I said a thank-you prayer for Louisa’s health, and a prayer for healing for anyone struggling with health issues. I thought about the person who tried to comfort me by reminding me that Louisa is just a pig. But she’s not just a pig, she’s my pig!

Originally Published January 24th, 2019 in the Crawford County Independent & Kickapoo Scout