The Farmer’s Almanac
My father was a calm and gentle man. He was an intelligent and successful attorney, as well as a good husband and father. I hardly ever saw my father get REALLY mad. My mother was a yeller, and we often argued, but my father was slow to anger. I remember once he chased me brandishing a hairbrush, a memory that has carved itself on my mind as the angriest I ever saw him get. What I did to deserve his wrath has been completely forgotten! (By the time he caught me, however, he had calmed down enough not to use the hairbrush!)
As I said, my mother and I often argued. Both of us are possessed of a opinionated and passionate nature and a fiery temper, so we argued about anything that we felt strongly about. My father didn’t understand the need for these frequent arguments, since his temperament was the opposite of ours, and when we started in on one of our shouting matches, he would first try to mediate and get us to stop. Usually that didn’t work, however, since we were both so into our argument that nothing could stop it from accelerating. Exasperated, he would give up and leave the room. Upon returning, he would shake his head uncomprehendingly as he witnessed us, near tears, hugging each other, apologizing, or having a calm and pleasant conversation.
It didn’t always end that way, however. Often, my mother and I would simply go our separate ways. After one particularly loud argument about politics or some point about world affairs, (this being the cause of a great many of our arguments once I became more aware of such things during high school), my dad once again was forced to leave the room. These arguments really distressed him and he could not stand to see us fighting, the harmony of our household so disrupted.
When he returned still holding a section of the newspaper – no doubt he had gone upstairs to read it, and once the noise had died down decided to return to his more comfortable chair – he found me sitting alone in the living room, quiet but still agitated and irritable. I thought he was going to say something about the argument, tell me not to fight with my mother or to control my temper or something like that, which he sometimes did. Instead, after a few minutes silence, he said, “Have you ever read the Farmer’s Almanac?”
I looked up at him. He was standing in front of a small bookcase on which were stored an odd assortment of reference-type books – the National Geographic world atlas, U.S. road atlases, a dictionary and a thesaurus, Field Guides to birds and other animals, booklets about the lakes and fishing of northern Wisconsin, and a Farmer’s Almanac.
“No, not really,” I replied.
“It’s really quite interesting,” he said, taking it off the shelf. He got a new Farmer’s Almanac every year, or every time a new one was issued. He brought it over and sat down next to me.
My dad enjoyed facts and statistics – sometimes he would quiz us by asking if we knew what the largest lake in the world was, the longest river, the largest city, etc. The Farmer’s Almanac had this type of information, and a lot more. We started looking through it together, and I found myself quite engrossed. There were a lot of weather statistics – temperature, climate fluctuations, tornado data; and many population statistics and short articles about hog farming, wheat futures, etc. Eventually, while I was examining a table of statistics that were especially interesting to me, my father got up and left. I stayed there reading the Farmer’s Almanac for quite a while, and found that it had a calming effect on me. I forgot my anger, my political passions, and my mother’s old-fashioned opinions as I thumbed through the atlas and stopped to read more closely whatever caught my interest.
Later I reflected on what had happened and realized that perhaps my father had done this on purpose, although it had seemed quite spontaneous. Perhaps he had been looking for something on that bookshelf that would calm me down, or perhaps he was looking for a statistic he had become curious about while reading the newspaper. He found something that he thought might distract me and cool my temper, and it worked! After that, I often looked for the Farmer’s Almanac when I visited my parents’ home. There was always something interesting to read, some fact to learn, when I had a few moments and nothing in particular to do.
My father enjoyed playing with his five children, and had no preference in terms of gender. He had four daughters and one son, and enjoyed us all equally.
What I remember most about my dad was playing games with him. He loved to play board games, games that were competitive but also stimulated the mind. We had a lot of board games and often played Parcheesi, checkers, Scrabble, Anagrams, The Flag Game (put out by the United Nations, it had all the flags of the member nations), Game of the States, and others. Because of these games, I increased my vocabulary, learned a lot of countries’ flags and where they were located in the world, and all the state capitals – when I took a test on this in elementary school, I got all 50 correct!
Dad thought the competition and good sportsmanship promoted by these games was important, but it was also important to have fun and be fair. Because I was the youngest, my siblings often had an unfair advantage over me, especially in word games. When we played Anagrams, I had a hard time guessing other people’s scrambled words, but they could always guess mine. Once I got really mad about this, and asked my dad if I could find a word in the dictionary. He thought about this and decided it would be fair, since my vocabulary was not as advanced as the others’.
I found an unusual letter – X – and looked for a good, long word. I found one – xanthochroid. No one knew this word or what it meant, but I did, and I remember it to this day! Xanthochroid = a person of fair hair and complexion. This in fact described several people in my family, including myself.
My dad loved the challenge and kinetic aspect of Charades. He was so funny to watch as he acted out various words or parts of words. Somewhat klutzy and not an improvisational actor by nature, he was however, quite a ham! Once he was acting out the word “Christmas” and no one could get it! He divided the word in two and for the first syllable, Christ, he walked slowly and pensively up and down and made a pulling motion under his chin with his fingers, coming together in a V – it was supposed to be Jesus’s beard! For “mas” he tried to imitate a Catholic mass, which he did by waving his arms – I think he was supposed to be the priest holding up his hands or the communion elements, or maybe swinging a cup of incense, I’m not sure! Anyway, no one could figure out what he was doing!
Bad jokes were another hallmark of my father’s personality, and we got used to the groaners he would often tell. We knew when Dad had a new joke to tell because he would get this big grin on his face – he couldn’t wait to tell us! After a particularly bad joke or one my mother considered bad taste, I remember the look on her face – a half-grimace as she tried to suppress a smile or chuckle.
After I married my second husband, also a punster (and far worse taste than my dad’s), his coworkers made a dollar bet that our marriage wouldn’t last for more than six months due to his bad jokes! After six months, they extended it to a year, then they gave up. They didn’t realize that I had grown up with a man who told bad jokes!
There were certain things in life that my dad considered necessary life skills. One of these was learning to swim. Another was driving. It fell primarily to my dad to take each of his kids practice driving. Mom couldn’t do it – she was too nervous. The cars we had to learn on were stick shift because, Dad reasoned, even if we had cars with automatic transmissions, you never knew when you would be in an emergency situation in which the only car available would be a stick shift. Dad had a pragmatic way of thinking.
I remember going to the high school parking lot to practice driving. He would make me practice parallel and lateral parking, every type of turn, parking on hills, and driving up and down hills using a stick shift. He found out how many four-letter words I knew during those sessions, but always remained calm and didn’t scold me for using them. He was very understanding in that way.
When it came time to go for my driving test, my dad’s car had a little problem: it would sometimes stall after slowing down or stopping, but my dad knew what to do – there was a loose connection and it was easily dealt with by opening the hood and wiggling a couple of wires. He showed me how to do this, which I learned to do with some trepidation. Well, of course, it happened during the driving test! I had been parked on a hill, and was pleased with myself because I had not only parked well, but had remembered to turn the wheels toward the curb before stopping. Coming out of the space, the car stalled. I told the examiner I knew what to do – it was just a matter of wiggling a couple of wires, but he wouldn’t let me get out of the car to do this. He told me I needed to take my test in a car that worked properly and flunked me!
Six months later, when I was home from school, I took the test again on a different car (my grandmother’s this time – automatic transmission!) and passed. Having been the passenger for the first 16 years of my life, I was already somewhat adept at being a navigator, reading maps and telling the driver – especially my mother – where to turn. When I was 18, I got full use of my grandmother’s car because she couldn’t drive anymore and I had a summer job that I had to drive to. In my car were an assortment of maps, and it was imperative that I learn another necessary life skill – the art of map folding.
Of course, I had been learning this already, having spent a few car trips with maps spread out on my lap. Dad took it upon himself to show each of us how to get the most use out of a map by folding it carefully, either to display the portion of the map that represented where we were currently traveling to, or to store it neatly in the glove compartment. There were efficient and inefficient ways to do this, and the better you were at it, the longer your map would last before completely falling apart, and the easier it would be to navigate without having to have the map completely open on your lap.
The maps in my father’s glove compartment certainly had had many years of extensive use, and had to be dealt with very carefully to avoid increasing the length of rips along the worn folds. Since his philosophy was, why buy a new one when the old one was still useful, the maps were generally a decade or so old. Even though highways were being expanded, the routes were still the same, and he would sometimes draw in corrections on the maps himself. However, his philosophy would be hard to follow today with new maps being issued every year to keep pace with suburban sprawl and completely new routes being created. Still, I have to say I did successfully pass my father’s course in map folding, even as I now periodically purge old maps from my glove compartment when they become so tightly packed that new ones can no longer fit.
My father died at age 71 when attempts to control his heart fibrillations failed – soon afterwards, new medications and treatments were discovered that allow people to live longer with congestive heart problems. That was in 1988, and I still miss him!
I have been wanting to blog about last week’s mass shootings in Tucson, Arizona, where a 22-year old “mentally unstable” young man had legally purchased magazines that held 30 rounds of ammunition for his (I assume legally purchased) semi-automatic Glock pistol, and very soon afterwards used it to open fire on an Arizona Congresswoman and then spray the people around her. Although the Congresswoman, Gabrielle Giffords, has survived (so far – she’s still in critical condition, but currently the prognosis is good), 6 other people were killed, including 2 grandmothers in their 70s, a Federal judge, and a 9-year old girl. The girl, poignantly, was born on Sept. 11, 2001 and was there in her eagerness to see our “democracy” in action.
But last weekend I was incredibly busy and never got a chance to do it. Actually, it is perhaps better that I have waited a week. On the day of the shootings, my emotions were strong and I spent hours watching the coverage over and over on CNN.
I heard the sheriff of Pima County (where Tucson is located) give a moving press interview, in which he placed at least some blame on the political pundit talking heads on TV who irresponsibly whip up hatred for our government because they get paid a lot of money to do it, while mentally unstable people are watching them and believing everything they say. Others referred to Sara Palin’s web site during the 2010 campaign, in which she placed gun sight crosshair symbols on various Congressional districts her fellow “Tea Partiers” wanted to “target” for defeat, including Giffords’. Giffords herself had spoken out only a few months before the shooting to protest this, saying she felt threatened by it (she had received death threats also). Prophetically, she said that someone could take this too literally. Although apparently there is “no evidence” to point to uncivil discourse by political pundits as a motive for Jared Loughner to target the Congresswoman, his Internet rants do seem to suggest that he had been influenced by anti-government sentiment even though much of what he wrote was basically rambling psychobabble with little coherence at all. But influenced by it, yes, I believe he was.
But after listening to the reports by mainstream news sources, MSNBC and NPR, I have begun to focus my feelings about this tragedy on the need, once again, to question the right of just anyone to legally buy and carry a weapon that is clearly not meant to be used in “self-defense” or for hunting wild game. The only use for the Glock that Loughner had was to kill large numbers of people quickly. I can think of no other use for such a weapon, and the fact that it and the ammunition was purchased by a young man with a history of mental illness and petty crime is absolutely unconscionable.
Lately there have been a slew of “strict Constitutionalists” elected to positions of power. These people supposedly believe in following the “original intent” of the Founding Fathers when they wrote the Constitution, disregarding the fact that our society has changed in ways that the FF’s could never have even imagined or that these same wise men recognized that the Constitution should be fluid enough to undergo other interpretations and a means to change it through the process of amendment. And of course, it has been amended, 27 times. Recently Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia claimed that the 14th amendment, which gave civil rights to all citizens did NOT extend to women, because at the time of the amendment’s ratification, women did not have the right to vote, own property, etc. – they were not seen as equal and therefore were not “meant” to be included in the 14th amendment. The absurdity of this comment could be the topic of another blog.
But I also see that these so-called strict Constitutionalists are in fact, hypocrites. They never seriously examine the “original intent” of our famous 2nd amendment, which states:
A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.
This one-sentence amendment, admittedly rather convoluted in its structure, should be examined more carefully in our gun-obsessed society. Rachel Maddow read a list of multiple murders that have occurred in the last two decades, and there have been many – some I never had even heard of, (perhaps because they didn’t kill “enough” people to warrant being plastered on the media for more than a week). This madness has to stop, especially in the climate of hatred, intolerance and incivility that is so pervasive in our society today.
The amendment begins with four words that are largely ignored today: A well regulated Militia. I believe these four words were placed at the beginning of the sentence for a reason. At the time of the writing of the Constitution, the Founding Fathers were attempting to unify a disparate group of newly-independent states, which often operated quite independently of each other. Not only that, but the threat of further war with Britain was still very much on their minds. There was no unifying standing national army, nor organized police forces. People pretty much had to fend for themselves. During the revolution, militias formed by groups of citizens to fight the British troops were organized informally and brought together through communication by messengers on horseback (e.g. the famous Paul Revere and the famous line “The British are coming! The British are coming!”). If it were not for these militias, who had hidden caches of weapons to be used for the purpose, who fought bravely for our country’s freedom, perhaps the war would not have turned as quickly in our favor, or at least there would have been a greater loss of life if the British had been able to subdue the rural citizenry.
It was in the aftermath of the Revolution that the Constitution was written, and this amendment was important so that those who might be called upon to defend the country would be able to “bear arms”. Many of these militiamen lived in the countryside and it was the norm to own rifles for hunting or for defense against possibly hostile native tribes, as well as invading British forces.
This clearly is NOT the case today. We already have a “well regulated Militia” – our armed forces, including the National Guard, which are charged with the defense of our country, and our police forces, who are responsible for defending defend the local population. These “militias” are well regulated by laws passed by Congress – they are well organized institutions of our society, have gone through extensive training on the use of weapons and when and how to use them, and are paid for with our tax dollars.
The second part of the sentence, being necessary to the security of a free State, clearly states the intent of the writers of the Constitution. The security of a free State is contradictory to what happened in Tucson last weekend, or happened at Virginia Tech, or at Northern Illinois University, or at Columbine high school, to name only a few. It is contradictory to the security of a free State to allow common citizens to carry semi-automatic weapons openly, wherever they go, including to rallies at which the President himself is speaking!
I believe the confusion begins with the next part of the sentence (at least it did for me, and it probably is the justification for those who take this part out of context): the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed. What is meant here by “the people”? It referred to the “well regulated Militia” as indicated in Article 1 Section 8, which addresses the powers of Congress:
To raise and support Armies…to provide for calling forth the Militia to execute the Laws of the Union, suppress Insurrections and repel Invasions; (what Law of the Union, pray tell, was being executed by Jared Loughner?)
To provide for organizing, arming, and disciplining, the Militia, and for governing such Part of them as may be employed in the Service of the United States, reserving to the States respectively, the Appointment of the Officers, and the Authority of training the Militia according to the discipline prescribed by Congress[.]
So it is CONGRESS that is charged with organizing, arming and disciplining the Militia. It is not the job of “average citizens” who get it into their head that the government is “out to get them” and are incited and encouraged in their beliefs by the trash talk of Rush Limbaugh, Glenn Beck, Sara Palin and others of their ilk. It is NOT appropriate for anyone to carry weapons to political rallies or to be able to purchase them on the open market. The laws which govern who may obtain weapons are ineffectual in many instances – the states of Arizona and Virginia, at least, were slow in obtaining background information on two mentally unstable young men who were able to obtain semi-automatic weapons and tragically use them to kill innocent civilians. How does this fall into the category of defending “the security of a free State”??
And, of course, whether people like him or not, it is the PRESIDENT who is commander in chief of the armed forces – not the ad hoc militias in rural Wyoming or Montana, not the head of the gangs who terrorize poor neighborhoods in cities across this country, and not the talking heads on Fox. It is not a “right” for gun sellers to run an “honest business” selling semi-automatic weapons to practically anyone who wants to purchase one or for gun shows to sell them openly.
What is a gun for anyway? Some people say they need them for “self-defense”. How often is a gun really used for self-defense? From what I can tell, whoever points a gun first has the advantage, at least until TRAINED militias (the police) arrive on the scene with the knowledge and equipment to disarm the offender. One of the people who helped disarm Jared Loughner in fact had a gun, but he did not use it to subdue the shooter. Loughner was downed when he had stopped shooting to reload another round of ammunition. In other words, he no longer had the advantage of pointing a lethal weapon at someone. Even if other people at the scene had guns on them, when Loughner started spraying bullets, they were forced to get down onto the ground to defend themselves from his bullets just like everyone else.
No, saying that guns are used for self-defense is just an excuse. It’s bravado. Is an armed civilian at a political rally “defending” himself from the politician’s speech? Is a mentally ill person with a deranged sense of reality defending anyone?
The only time a gun can really be used for self-defense is when the offender does not have a gun or is not prepared to use it. If a burglar invades your home and is busy searching through your drawers or disconnecting your TV, you could sneak up on him with your gun and have the advantage over him; if someone threatens you with a knife, as long as they aren’t too close you could possibly have time to get out your gun and defend yourself. However, these situations are not as common as people delude themselves into thinking they are. They feel more “secure” having a gun in the house, “just in case”. If they have children, then a responsible gun owner would not leave it loaded, and probably wouldn’t have time to load it if an intruder arrived.
But the real danger is not from responsible gun owners who may have a handgun hidden away in the house or a hunter with a rifle used to cull the exploding deer population. The real danger is from irresponsible gun SELLERS who want to make a sale and don’t do a background check on time, and those who sell semi-automatic weapons to those who could not possibly have any real defensive purpose for owning one. The real danger is from these guns circulating throughout society that fall into the hands of criminals or gangbangers, or that are sold at gun shows to wannabe killers.
So getting back to these “strict Constitutionalists” who read the Constitution the way fundamentalist Christians read the Bible. Why haven’t they re-examined the “original” meaning of the 2nd amendment? There have been several Supreme Court cases on 2nd amendment-related issues. Nearly all were decided in support of the individual’s right to own a gun (not specifying which type of gun or for what purpose). I suspect it has something to do with powerful and rich lobbyists such as the NRA. There is also a web site I came across called “GunCite” in which a thorough and intelligent synthesis of sources and cases argue in favor of gun ownership by any citizen.
Even so, nowhere in the Constitution does it give the right to own guns for offensive or terrorist purposes, which is what our gun-obsessed society has effectively done. In fact, the First Amendment gives the people the right to “peaceably assemble”. But what should have been a peaceable assembly of citizens to talk to their Congresswoman about their concerns, instead turned into a massacre. Therefore, our basic freedom to go where we wish to go without fear has been infringed. The life of a nine-year-old girl who was enthusiastic about how the government works, who was born on a day of violence, has ended in violence.
As usual, the events of last weekend have already started to die down in the news. Soon it will just be another incident in Rachel Maddow’s list of multiple shootings. Nothing will change.
This is wrong. We need to address this issue in a reasonable way. Sincere politicians should reconsider strong gun control laws, but they are in fear of the gun lobby, which has enough power to determine the outcome of future elections. Where is our security? Even more important, where is our democracy?
We’re sitting here, Dale and I, in the empty Room 5 of Mercy Hospital’s emergency department. We’re waiting for Mother to return from having a CT scan. She’d never had one before and was a little nervous. I assured her that it was fine – just lie still in a tube and they take pictures of your head.
When we arrived, Mother had a blanket folded over, covering her hair. She must have been cold. After all, they had brought her here wearing only a holey nightgown and a short-sleeved yellow bathrobe, which had been her attire for the last two days. She was sure they were going to take her to a “ward” because her nightgown had holes in it! “No, Mother, they don’t do that anymore,” I’d told her.
The blanket on her head had made her face appear even older and more pale, without the added dimension of the side of her face dotted with freckles and creased with wrinkles. The blanket cast a shadow which obscured that side of her face. As she spoke, I noticed her eyebrows – pure white and wispy, sticking up and brushing against the blanket on her head as she talked.
Much of her talk was reminiscing, as usual – somewhat rambling, but coherent. I was relieved. She’d been so confused on the phone, insisting she was not in Janesville and thinking she was going to Lutheran General Hospital. In the hospital, she told me that she had thought she was in Wausau. Lutheran General was where Mary had been last week for her knee replacement surgery and Wausau was one of the places where she grew up, the source of much of her reminiscing. The events had gotten mixed up in Mother’s head, as they do in dreams.
She had been talking about Uncle Jack and Aunt Mary. Uncle Jack had a “square” build, she said; he was very muscular. She asked if I remembered him. I said that yes, I vaguely remembered him but didn’t remember him as being muscular. I remembered Aunt Mary a lot better. Aunt Mary had raised Mother and her sisters, so she was more like an eccentric grandmother to me. Mother was talking about her funeral. Did I remember it? Oh yes, I did – I even remember what I was wearing that day. It had been the first funeral I had ever been to. I was 13 or 14 (Mother said it was in 1966, so I had to have been 14) at the time. I remembered sitting with my cousin Kabee, nearly my age. I thought it was so strange: At the cemetery, where it was cool and dark and drizzly on that spring day, the mood was somber and Aunt Mary’s nieces snuffled and blew their noses, but now that we were back at someone’s house, everyone was talking gaily and laughing. They shrieked with laughter while talking about eccentric Uncle Charlie who had lived in a tree. And the stories about Aunt Mary’s shenanigans flew around the room, cheering everyone up. By the end of the day, most of the adults were drunk on wine and reminiscing and laughter.
Mother’s reminiscing ended when the nursing assistants came in to take her to her CT scan. First she had to go to the bathroom, so we left and the curtain was pulled so she could sit on the commode. I looked at that commode now, the cover securely on it. Had they emptied it yet? Were we going to smell it while sitting here? But it must have been airtight, or else it had been emptied, because there was no smell. The CT scan was presumably to find out if she had indeed had a stroke. The nurse had told us that disorientation and weakness are typical of people who’ve had a stroke. But Mother also said she hadn’t slept well due to stomach pain and that the only thing she’d eaten that day was a half a piece of toast and orange juice.
I pulled my jacket over my shoulders – it was kind of cold in here. No wonder Mother’s head had been cold. Besides not eating, she’d had little sleep and was worried about Mary and her own decision to move to Assisted Living.
They’ve brought her back, wheeling her bed into the empty space in Room 5 once more. She said the scan wasn’t as scary as she thought it would be. The orderly that wheeled her in tells her how to use her call button, then leaves. He impresses me as being very young, as if he is in junior high. He even acts that way, but he must be in at least high school to have a job like this.
We wait for the results and Mother talks more animatedly now. Her eyes are bright behind her glasses, but her eyelids are red, I notice. Her bony hands are very cold. The IV she always fears when she is brought to the hospital must be providing her with some needed nutrition, I think, looking at the half-filled bag of clear liquid.
A young, attractive male doctor comes in. Since everyone wears similar blue scrubs with an ID hanging on them somewhere, too small to read from any distance, I’m not sure at first if he is a doctor or another nurse. He tells us that there were no signs of a stroke on the CT scan. In fact, there are no signs of anything they can treat, so she is free to go.
After he leaves, we wait a little more until a nurse comes to prepare Mother to leave. The clock reads 7:05. A new shift has come on, so the nurse that comes is different than the one before. She pulls out the IV and Mother winces. I wince too, because of the blood. However, the nurse efficiently wraps Mother’s wrist with blue gauze which she says can be easily removed later.
Mother is very tired. I want to take her somewhere to eat immediately but she has to go home and get dressed. She’s so cold, so we give her a blanket to put over her in the car. She has great difficulty getting from the wheel chair onto the pavement and into the car. Dale’s van is too high for her to get into without a stool.
Back at her apartment, I help her get dressed. She is so tired that she can barely stand. Every time she stands without the support of a walker or cane, she begins to topple over. It’s difficult for me to watch her deterioration. When she’s feeling OK, she can putz around her apartment without too much help. But when she has health issues and worries, she doesn’t eat or drink much, and she gets dehydrated. On days like today, she is totally helpless on her own.
Since there isn’t much food that I can cobble together for the three of us to eat dinner, we decide to go out. She wants to go to Culver’s but can’t remember what street it’s on or how to get there. She thinks it’s by the Pick n Save. We drive by but there’s no Culver’s. She says it’s on Court Street but can’t remember how to get to Court Street so we drive around some side streets, until Dale gets out his GPS and programs it in. The female voice immediately tells us to “turn right, then turn right again.” We go around in a circle until we’re back on the right track. Instead of being entertained by the GPS voice, as she usually is, Mother is embarrassed that she can’t remember where to go.
She was on the right track – Culver’s is next to a Sentry, another supermarket in town. By this time it is nearly 9 o’clock. Culver’s and other fast food joints are the only restaurants still open. Obligingly, Mother orders potato au gratin soup AND a roasted chicken sandwich. She eats about a third of the soup and a few bites of sandwich. I ask for a box and we take it back to her apartment for her to eat as a leftover – combined with the leftover salad and the leftover baked potato, she’s got a decent meal, not that she’ll eat all that at once.
“I don’t eat much,” she explains, “because I don’t get any exercise, so I’m not hungry.” She asks me what I think of Obama’s educational policies.
As we discuss our hopes for the new president, I see my real mother emerge – the one who talks about literature and debates the political issues of the day. Not the helpless woman who, by the time we return to the retirement home, is slurring her speech rendering her nearly incomprehensible, the one that I have to help undress and hold her up while she washes her hands and face at the bathroom sink. She needs to go to Assisted Living, as soon as possible, I now realize. I had been in denial up until now, thinking she could continue in independent living. Thinking that Donna – the woman she pays to take care of her and a good friend – is enough. Thinking that making the decision to go to Assisted Living will mean a downhill slide, until she dies. But she is already on a downhill slide. And none of us live in Janesville, where she insists on continuing to live.
On the way home in the car, Dale and I are too exhausted to even converse. I try to read, but soon put my seat back and fall asleep. The next thing I know, we are turning off the expressway and the clock reads 11:45. We get home at midnight exactly. Dale goes to bed immediately while I make coffee, a depressed mood settling in and making my movements mechanical, my walking slow. I’m suffering with pain from sciatica, a nerve being pressed down upon by one of my twisted vertebrae. The car ride aggravated it.
As I hobble around the kitchen, I think of myself and my mother, getting older, daily life getting more difficult. The pain I feel reminds me of my own mortality. Someday will I be like my mother, depending on others for every little chore? Will I cease to motivate myself to walk because my failing eyesight causes me confusion and depression? Will my primary entertainment be endless news shows on TV at full volume, even when I’m sitting no more than 12 inches from the screen? Will my memory, already poor, cause me to become so disoriented that I get rushed to the hospital because someone thinks I had a stroke? I worry most about my memory: at least Mother has incredible long term memory, the details still vivid in her mind. She remembers places, people’s names and faces and events with utmost clarity. She can reminisce for hours and entertain herself with stories of her past. What will be left to me when (and if) I reach 92? Not even memory.
I’m suddenly overwhelmed with exhaustion. I try to read in bed but soon put the book down. At least it got my mind off my depressing train of thought. I’m asleep in no time.
In April of this year, I wrote the following which I posted on my blog at OurStory.com. I wrote an addition to it in October, after the rescue of 33 miners in Chile.
Put Blackenship in jail! · 4/17/2010
The recent mining accident that killed 29 miners underscores what can happen when a company flagrantly ignores safety regulations, preferring to pay fines for lawsuits than to fix a problem that would benefit the health and safety of their workers.
The Supreme Court recently affirmed the equation of a corporation with a person. If a corporation has the same rights as a person, then it has the same responsibilities. And when you voluntarily or involuntarily murder someone, you go to jail. That’s why I believe the CEO of Massey Mining ought to be put into jail for murder. He may have not made every decision that led to the accident, but he was in charge of whoever did. And Massey’s safety record is not pretty. This company has for a long time put profits ahead of the needs of their workers. Not only did miners die from the recent explosion of methane gas, but others are breathing in toxic gases and coal dust every day. Many that are not reported in the media are suffering, and will eventually die, from black lung disease.
Yes, black lung disease is on the rise again. It is easy to understand why. Companies facing expensive safety upgrades would rather pay the hefty fines than do what is necessary to protect their workers. In other words, profits before people.
This kind of irresponsible behavior is rampant among corporate execs today. Look at Wall Street!
I say, treat the CEO of Massey and the other execs like the criminals they are: Put Blackenship in jail as a common criminal (yes, among all the other unsavory prison types, not some “cushy” jail for the rich and powerful). Then seize the company and put it into a holding company’s hands until new, more responsible ownership can be found – ownership that will obey the law and put safety of the workers first. The U.S. government CAN and SHOULD do this!!!!!
This is effectively putting a corporation in jail, but without jeopardizing the jobs of the other miners – why should they suffer for Massey’s mistakes? By putting a virtual “fence” (comparable to a jail cell) around the company with temporary owners beholden to strict governmental regulation, the miners can continue to go to work but without having to worry as much about safety. Of course, mining is by its nature a dangerous job, but safety regulations can do a lot to ease the minds and heal the bodies battered by unsafe working conditions.
Meanwhile, let’s get serious about finding cleaner sources of energy than coal. I heard on the radio that a lot of the huge reservoirs of coal have already been tapped out, and they are now mining very thin threads of coal, which are more dangerous to extract. Pres. Obama, there is NO SUCH THING as clean coal! We need to put serious effort into finding alternate sources of energy for our insatiable appetites.
And of course, perhaps find a way to reduce our appetites!
Now it is October and this past week we have all rejoiced at the spectacular rescue of 33 miners in Chile after they had been trapped underground in a mining accident 69 days ago.
I think a comparison of the accident at the Massey mine in West Virginia last April and this more recent one in Chile is useful. The outcome, for one thing, is completely the opposite. Yes, being trapped underground for 2 months was harrowing and probably psychologically terrifying. However, they are now all out, alive, safe and home with their families. The 29 miners at Massey are dead.
I read in the newspaper that the company in Chile did not have the means to rescue the miners, so they turned to the GOVERNMENT-OWNED mining agency to combine resources and technology to find a solution. Part of the difference, I am sure, was just luck. Another part was the ability for the Chilean miners to organize themselves around a leader who kept control and kept them alive.
But there is more to this as well: The mine in Copiapo, Chile, whatever its safety record (the miners are now speaking out about the insufficient safety standards in the mine), had underground “safe” pockets stocked with food in different parts of the mine. This was an essential factor in allowing the miners to stay alive. Dale informed me that UNION mines in the U.S. also require these safe pockets as part of the miners’ contract. The Massey mine was not unionized and in fact had kept the union out.
Could the Massey mine accident have had a different outcome if safety standards and union standards had been employed? I confess that I don’t know enough details about the Massey accident to know whether it would have been possible to rescue the 25 miners. However, I cannot help but compare and contrast these two accidents. I see that some essential facts are:
- The Copiapo mine was had required safety pockets underground for disasters such as this, even though other aspects of their safety standards were substandard.
- UNIONIZED American mines have this same safety standard in place in their mines.
- The Copiapo mine turned to the GOVERNMENT which was able to rally the expertise required to save the miners, including the recruitment of drilling experts from the United States.
The Tea Party/Republican right wing wants to turn back the clock on regulations and the “influence” of unions. Such policies have not worked in the past and they will be equally disastrous now. Yet, money talks – due to their lies and attack ads, and the influx of unprecedented amounts of money from who-knows-where (since they are not required to reveal where it comes from), as well as the rising influence of Fox “News” people are now believing this crap and want to throw out the incumbents and elect these people to Congress.
What is the future? I am beginning to believe that a new civil war – a cultural civil war – may be brewing in this country. With the threat of such regressive policies being put into place again, and the rich being even richer and more powerful than before, the anger that we see now will seem like a minor temper tantrum when people finally wise up and realize the officials they voted for do not – and never intended to – represent their interests. But by that time it will be too late – the stranglehold the oligarchy will have on our democracy may lead to more drastic, and perhaps violent, means.
Our democracy has become a travesty – whoever has the most money gets heard; those without do not. Is this really what the Founding Fathers wanted??
Green is the best color because it is the color of nature: plants and trees are green. When it rains, everything looks greener than ever. In fact, “green” is the new code word for environmentally conscious. If you are green, you are committed to recycling and conserving the natural resources of our Earth.
Green is a combination of two primary colors, blue and yellow, so it has the coolness of blue and the brightness of yellow. There are many hues of green, created by adding more blue for a deeper, darker green or more yellow for a lighter or brighter green.
Green is everywhere. It’s the color of land on a map of the world. It’s the color of leaves in the summer and the pine trees in winter. It’s one of the colors of Christmas! When I see a stand of evergreens, I smell the aroma associated with them – the sharp smell of pine. Pine candles are green and I love to smell them!
Green is the color of many good things to eat: lettuce, spinach, broccoli, peas, beans, sweet peppers. These foods are healthy too, so it’s important to eat them every day. Green represents how plants eat: chlorophyll makes leaves green and it is chlorophyll that captures energy from sunlight and converts it into food for the plant. We humans get some of this energy when we eat green foods.
Humans can learn a lesson from the plants and capture sunlight for our own energy needs. In a greenhouse, sunlight comes in and keeps plants warm as well as provides energy for them to stay healthy. We too can be “green” by eating healthy foods, consuming renewable energy from the sun, and enjoying the beauties of nature: the brown earth, the green grass and plants, and the multitude of colors of flowers, birds, butterflies and other creatures.
Note: I wrote this short essay about myself as a sample writing exercise for my students. The assignment was to read about the animal in whose year you were born according to the Chinese 12-year zodiac. Then compare yourself to the description of the animal representing the people born under that sign.
I was born in a Year of the Dragon. Dragon people are generous, proud, confident, healthy, energetic, short-tempered, and stubborn. They are also excitable, honest, sensitive, brave, trustworthy, and eccentric. They have “big mouths” and say things before thinking about them first.
In some ways, I fit the Dragon profile. For example, I am a generous person. I give whenever I can. Sometimes people call me at home and ask for money for their cause or candidate. I have trouble saying no to them, because I know how important the cause is to them! At school, I often give my students gifts or certificates for books. I give generously by volunteering my time at my church.
I definitely have a “big mouth” which has gotten me into trouble lots of times! I say what I think or blurt out a statement without thinking about how it is going to sound to others! I speak from the heart, and often don’t use my head to think logically.
Some other ways I am like other Dragons is that I am reasonably healthy – that is, I don’t get sick a lot, although I do have some health problems, which are under control. I can be short-tempered, and so I try to avoid getting into arguments, especially at work. I definitely am also stubborn, but I am also honest, sensitive and eccentric.
Some characteristics of the Dragon do not fit me at all! For example, I am not particularly brave or confident. I often doubt myself and have low self-esteem. I am not a risk taker and prefer the “safe” route whenever possible! I would like to say I am energetic, but I don’t think I am a lot of the time. I wish I had more energy, because then I would get more done! I am not sure that I always inspire trust, partly because of my big mouth!
As with any Zodiac sign, be it Eastern or Western, it is always possible to identify with some of the characteristics of one’s “Sign”. But who we are is more than an accident of birth. Therefore, although I like being under the sign of the Dragon and feel I have a lot of dragon characteristics, in many ways the Dragon is a lot more formidable and fierce animal than I would ever be!