One thin bent line on a grassy green page
Evidence of a golfer’s rage
One thin bent line on a grassy green page
One thin bent line on a grassy green page
Evidence of a golfer’s rage
My memory of the wall is tinged with blue-green. A very pale blue-green, mind you.
I honestly don’t know if it’s real, or hopelessly colored and skewed by more than half a century.
I scoured old photographs this morning looking for it. Surely this white-washed cinderblock wall, with a hint of aqua, so prominent in my memories of Kagnew Station would show up in some pictures.
When I was 2 years old until I was just barely 5, my father was stationed at an army base in Ethiopia. My earliest memories are from there, but have been reduced largely to color.
Kagnew Station was blue-green.
Fort Devens was red-brown, like the color of bricks. Our address there was drilled into me, 84D Walnut Street.
Similarly, the distance between the earth and the sun was drilled into my youngest brother after we moved to Cooperstown.Why he needed to know that distance was beyond me, but my parents and older siblings made sure he could recite it, asking him often, “How many miles to the sun?” My tow-headed little brother would answer, “93 million miles,” and we would cheer.
That’s a memory draped in the lush green of Cooperstown and farm land and maples in summer.
But the wall around Kagnew Station — I remember my mother warning me about it. “Don’t go beyond it,” she said, “because there are rabid chickens on the other side.”
In my head, now, I know that’s ridiculous. I’m sure she never said a word about rabid chickens.
For one thing, rabies only affects mammals. I learned that as an adult when a veterinarian friend gave a presentation on rabies to our homeschool group. When he made that statement – rabies only affects mammals — I blurted out, “But what about chickens?” He looked at me long and hard, waiting to see if I was serious. Unfortunately, I was. The seed had been planted decades before.
For another, I don’t think the wall around the base was very high. A chicken could have flown over it.
My working theory is this: my mother warned me to stay away from the wall. I had heard my father talking about the dangers of rabies. At some point I saw a chicken fly over the wall. It all mashed together, like when bits and pieces of life swirl together into the implausible reality of a bizarre dream.
A rabid chicken sounds so dramatic, too. Picture an innocuous chicken. Add some drool and a deadly virus. Like Chanticleer meets Old Yeller. Maybe that was the scariest image 4-year-old me could conjure up.
The memory is covered in a pale blue-green haze.
In the meantime, I have an assignment to write about a place (#sorryLaura) and this is what came out.
Like a rabid chicken.
Last night at dinner I asked my father to tell me the turtle story again. I had been a little surprised that my sister had never heard the story and wanted to make sure that I hadn’t imagined the whole thing.
“Do you remember the story of the turtle eggs when you were a little boy?” I asked.
“What? Oh… I think my father told me to go check the bag in the pantry and there were turtles in it,” he said. Ah — the detail of the pantry. I had forgotten that.
“But,” I persisted, “didn’t some bigger boys give nuts to you and tell you they were turtle eggs?”
“Maybe,” he said vaguely.
“But when we came down that winding road to the Red Sea, I can still see the man’s face,” he said, as if this was a continuation of the turtle story. “You know that road had so many switchbacks — back and forth,” and he drew a zig-zag in the air to show me, “and when we got there, the man had this big smile on face because he was so happy I had arrived and he could go home.”
This memory crops up quite frequently these days. He remembers vividly the expression on one man’s face at a very specific point in time.
“Where is Mom buried?” he asked, as if something about that memory had reminded him of her. It was the first time he has ever asked me that.
“At the columbarium at the church,” I replied.
Last year for Mother’s Day, I had tried to interest him in bringing flowers to the columbarium. I bought a plant and had Bud drop us off at the cemetery before church so we could pause for a moment with Mom. My father, however, didn’t pause. He just hurried toward the church. I placed the pansies there by myself, feeling a double sadness, and hurried after him.
“I met Elinor when I had that job picking up IV bottles from the nurses’ stations. We got to talking and hit it right off,” he said, continuing last night’s dinner conversation.
I started to ask him to elaborate on it. I wanted to know if he remembered what they talked about (which was hiking).
“But you should have seen that guy’s face,” my father said, changing gears again without notice. “He had the biggest smile because I was there and he could go home.”
I’m never quite sure what I should take from the story.
Is it the switchbacks? My father certainly incorporates switchbacks into many conversation now — not necessarily the story of the switchbacks, but actually switchbacks, where he changes direction so often and so quickly that I can’t always follow.
Or, is it the arrival at a new place and the beginning of a great new adventure?
Or, is it the idea of going home and the great joy that brings?
He shook his head. “No, I don’t think so,” he replied.
“On the back it says, ‘Successful defibrillation and external massage’ — Does that help?” I asked.
He studied the photograph for a few more minutes. “No, I don’t remember any of that,” he finally said.
I imagine that in the life of a physician there are thousands of untold stories. Lives, limbs, trajectories changed in the course of a single decision or moment.
In January 1964, Everett Barrett didn’t die from a heart attack in Ethiopia. CPR and defibrillation saved him. I think my father had something to do with it.
Everett Barrett died two years later stateside. But during 1964-65, he worked for the fire department at the army base in Ethiopia. I can’t help but wonder if he saved any lives, too, during those years.
You know — lives saved because his life was saved.
The gift of life bestowed is a like a pebble thrown in a pond, sometimes with far-reaching ripples.
We never know how far those ripple reach.
When my father was in the Emergency Room the other day, I knew he was missing the Red Sox game so I brought it up on my phone. Through the Red Sox website, we couldn’t watch the game, but we could get details of what was happening.
I read it off as best I could. “Okay, Dad. Machado is batting for Baltimore. Sales threw a slider. It went low and inside for a ball.”
At first, he said, “How do you know all that?” and I would show him the tiny words on the screen.
Later in the game. “Okay, next pitch — a swinging strike for Santander,” I said.
“Who’s Santander?” Dad asked.
“Baltimore’s right fielder,” I said.
“Oh, okay,” he said, and closed his eyes while he laid back on the bed.
Still later. “Sales threw a fastball and –”
My father interrupted me. “You’ve got to make it sound exciting! Put some enthusiasm in your voice!”
I told him I would try, but I was tired and didn’t. A radio announcer I am not.
I’m sure he listened to many baseball games on the radio when he was a boy. I know that he and his brother sometimes took the train into the city to watch the Brooklyn Dodgers play. Once, when they were riding the train, they saw Mel Ott, a well-known NY Giants player. He was wearing a suit and trying to keep a low profile. When my uncle went over to ask for his autograph, Mel Ott carefully looked this way and that to make sure nobody else would notice, then signed as surreptitiously as possible. My father laughs whenever he tells the story, imitating the expression on Mel Ott’s face and the way he looked around him.
When the Dodgers moved to the west coast, my father had to choose another team and opted for the Red Sox.
His two baseball heroes represent those two teams — Jackie Robinson from the Brooklyn Dodgers and Ted Williams from the Red Sox.
“How’s your father doing?” someone asked me the other day. “He must be happy with the way the Red Sox season has started.”
They ARE doing well. From the Red Sox website:
The Red Sox are just the seventh team in the modern era (since 1900) to win at least 16 of their first 18 games. They are the first to do it since the 1987 Brewers. Of the four previous teams, two won the World Series — the 1984 Tigers and the 1955 Brooklyn Dodgers.
“Yes, I think he’s happy,” I replied. “He’s a pretty avid fan.”
“Avid? AVID?” the man said. “I think you mean RABID.”
Avid. Rabid. You get the picture.
He and my mother used to make pilgrimages to Fenway in the summer.
I remember going with them as a child. I don’t remember the baseball game, but I remember waiting afterwards in a long line to eat at a restaurant call Durgin Park. The line went up a flight of steep narrow stairs. At the top I leaned in to see how much longer we would have to wait and a waitress picked me up to move me out of the way.
My mother and father had eaten there years before. From their scrapbook:
One summer my parents took my oldest sons with them to Fenway. The only thing the boys ever told me about that game is how the dugouts emptied for some brawls.
When my father retired in 1999, someone wrote a song for him called “Amazing Don.” One verse, undoubtedly written by a Yankee fan, addressed his love for the Red Sox —
Not to mention bobbleheads, t-shirts, sweatshirts, caps, pins, you name it.
Somewhere upstairs is the 1967 “Red Sox Impossible Dream” vinyl album. Somewhere in my treasures is a Carl Yastrzemski pin from that same year.
The photo challenge word of the week is “prolific.” This is more an abundance.
And abundance that comes from decades of cheering on a team through thick and thin.
He still fist-pumps when they score a run or make a good play.
Even in the emergency room with an unenthusiastic announcer telling him about it.
My father asks questions all the time.
“What does holy mackerel mean?” he frequently asks.
One of his friends explained the origin of the phrase — eating fish during Lent, etc, etc — but the next day he asked the same question. And the next.
“What are heebie-jeebies?” he asks, “and who ever thought of a word like that?”
“If something is ‘pretty good’, does that means it’s both pretty and good? And what about ‘pretty cute’?”
“What do dogs think about?”
To my children who go barefoot in the house — “Why don’t you wear shoes?” “Why don’t you wear socks?” “Aren’t your feet cold?”
To my tattooed son — “Why did you get those tattoos?” “Were you drunk when you got those?”
When we moved from Cheyenne, WY back to NY, our oldest son was just shy of 3. He asked questions ALL THE TIME. We planned to drive through the night to Kansas, and thought Philip would sleep the whole way. However, he talked for hours during that late night care ride.
I remember telling my sister about it when we got to Kansas because I was so tired.
“What did he talk about?” she asked.
“Mostly, he asked questions,” I said.
“Can I touch the moon?” “Can I hold it?” “Can I play with it?” “Where is that car going?” “What’s in that truck?” “Does the moon like me?” “What are you eating?” Where are we going?” “Why are you crying?”
The emotional and physical exhaustion of the preceding days had left me numb, and yet here was this little person I loved asking me questions.
Do you see the parallel?
It’s like deja vu all over again.
If I saw a theme in the birthday cards for my father sent or given to him by other doctors, it was the word “Mentor.”
Over and over his fellow physicians thanked him for being their mentor.
One doctor said that my father was first his “mentor, then a colleague, always a friend.”
Another said, “You have been a remarkable role model to countless young physicians — certainly including me.”
There are many more, but my favorite was this one:
…Happy birthday to my mentor, colleague and friend. I don’t know if I have ever told how I feel about the mentor part — if not, it’s about time!
When I think about what it means to be a good doctor, and a good teacher and leader of doctors, the things that stand out as most important in my mind are the qualities of humanism that you have demonstrated — have lived and breathed — every day of your life — compassion, humility, science, altruism, humor, integrity, and an unwavering moral compass, I can’t think of anyone I have known in my 39 years as a doctor who more completely fills that description. So, though you may or may not have been aware of it, I thank you for being a role model that I cherish — both then and now — as you have faced aging with dignity and grace.
You are loved…
A mentor to many, and very loved. Yes, that’s my father.
No picture today. I scrolled through so many photographs, but nothing stood out to me.
I need to crank out another A-to-Z post, too, to catch up.
Tomorrow the A to Z Blogging Challenge starts. I missed the deadline for the Theme Reveal and I’m pretty sure I signed up twice. It makes me wonder how this year’s challenge will go.
Writing has been such a struggle lately. I can’t seem to find a chunk of time to write. Writing, or, for that matter, doing anything “in dribs and drabs,” as my mother used to say, is a challenge. It takes time to get into the right mindset and find the right words. For me, an interruption comes and I’ve been sent back to Monopoly/Writing Jail without collecting $200 or 200 words or anything.
Recently I had this horrible dream:
I was walking in a field with my family — my husband, my children, my siblings, and my father. The field grew swampy, and we were talking about how it hadn’t always been that way and how we planted corn on it in the past. The path was narrow and my father stepped too close to the swamp. As he fell in, the swamp became a deep hole full of water and I jumped in to save him. He was sinking so I swam beneath him to get his head to the surface so he could breathe. As I pushed him up to the surface, I felt myself running out of air. While underwater, I could see some family members sitting to rest, but they hadn’t noticed him falling in. No one was coming to rescue us. I couldn’t call for help because I was underwater. My father couldn’t call for help because he can’t think clearly. I realized that I needed air and I needed to get help, but to do that, I would have to let go of my father. I used all my strength to heave him up and then pushed myself toward the surface for a breath. He slid past me, like dead weight, and I grabbed his hands. Instead of reaching the surface, I went down, down, down into darkness.
Then I woke up. It was an awful dream. I don’t need a Joseph to interpret it, but it served as a warning.
To misquote an African proverb: It takes a family to care for the elderly.
I’m so thankful that I DO have a strong and supportive family. My brothers, my sister, my children, my husband all pitch in.
The other night, when my father fell around midnight, Karl was right there ready to help. He drove us to the hospital and then stayed with my father so I could go home and get a little sleep before I went to work at 5 AM. (My father ended up with stitches in his forehead and staples in his scalp. Everything else seems to be okay.) I know Karl wouldn’t let me drown.
Helen is taking days off from work to stay with my father so Bud and I can get away for a mini-vacation. She did the same thing back in January. She’s not going to let us drown.
And I need to make sure I ask for help BEFORE I’m underwater. (Lifesaving 101)
But back to the A to Z Challenge. I decided to adopt this theme: About My Dad.
Writing about who he was will help me with who he is.
Plus, he’s one of my favorite people in the whole world. I think you’ll like him, too.
I just have to make sure I carve out those chunks of time for writing.
The paper fluttered out of my Bible one morning.
I had written the following quote on it:
You may choose to look the other way, but you can never say again that you did not know.
William Wilberforce spoke those words to Parliament in 1789 as he told of the horrors of the slave trade.
The quote fit perfectly with the book I was reading, The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas. My friend Shannon had recommended it, and midway through she asked what I thought of it.
“It’s a brutal view into a world that I don’t know,” I told her.
And it is.
I grew up in a white town, attended a white school, had white friends. There’s nothing intentionally racist about that; it’s just a fact. Small upstate New York towns were predominantly white in the 60s and 70s.
At my father’s birthday party, a woman, while looking at one of his old yearbooks, said to me, “This is fascinating.”
“What?” I asked.
“His high school had two choirs — one white, one black,” she said.
The reverse side of the page featured the A Cappella Choir and the Training Choir, both of which were integrated — just barely — with less than a handful of people of color participating in either one.
“We’ve come a long way, haven’t we,” I said to the woman looking at the yearbook. She smiled and nodded.
But we still have a long way to go.
For the breadth of Angie Thomas’s book, I was allowed to stand in the shoes of a 16 year-old African-American girl, who grew up in the projects, who saw two friends gunned down, and who ultimately learned that her voice is her most powerful weapon.
I thought about the book this weekend when I saw the news coverage of students across the country participating in March for Our Lives Rallies against gun violence. They used words — and silence (after reading the names of the 17 students who died at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High, student Emma Gonzalez stood in silence on the stage for 6 minutes and 20 seconds, the amount of time it took the gunman to kill them).
I’ve read solutions to the gun problem that range from arming teachers, to supplying buckets of rocks in classrooms, to having therapy dogs in schools. Some sound disastrous; others seems inefficient and ridiculous; still others might work. I don’t know what the answer is —
But I do know it begins with talking and listening.
It begins with standing in the other person’s shoes, no matter what the issue is, if only for a moment.
After that, I can choose to look the other way.
But I can’t say I didn’t know.
I’m glad I read The Hate U Give.
“This is such a great idea,” any number of people said the other day when we hosted a birthday party for my father at the Otesaga.
Not to be morbid, but the idea came from receiving lines at funerals. When my oldest brother died four years ago, I stood in a funeral receiving line for the first time. It felt like everyone had a story to tell about Stewart. I wished he could have heard them. He would have felt so loved.
When my mother died, the same thing happened. Person after person held my hand and told me a story about my mother and how much she meant to them. It gave me comfort to hear, but I wished my mother could have heard the stories too.
When Mr. Hanson, my 7th grade math teacher, died, his funeral was packed. The receiving line stretched out the door of the Vet’s Club and down the street. I wished I could have grasped his hand one last time, looked him in the face, and told him how much I appreciated him.
That’s why I started thinking about a party for my father.
I bounced the idea off my siblings. Before long, I was on the phone with the Otesaga. It had to be a strange call for their event planner.
Me: I’d like to have a birthday party for my father.
Planner: How many people do you expect?
Me: I have no idea.
Planner: I really need a number.
Me: I have no idea.
She worked with me.
I am so thankful for Brooke. She listened and guided and suggested.
For instance, she suggested that we use several adjoining rooms so it never felt crowded. She suggested we set up one room with comfortable seating, so my father could sit on a couch instead of a dining chair. She and her staff put out the decorations we had brought — books and photographs. She was wonderful.
The real quandary was how to get the word out. Friends of Bassett helped SO much. They blasted the invitation to retired physicians, current physicians, administration, and I forget who else. The local churches also helped to spread the word. As I ran into people at the grocery store or the gym or the post office, I invited them. It’s hard to corral a lifetime of people.
Among the first to arrive were two nurses from Dermatology, his last hold-out in his long and varied medical practice. He was delighted when he saw them.
From the home health aide who takes care of him,
To a former CEO of the hospital,
To one of his secretaries,
The next day, as he started working his way through all the cards, he asked, “How did all those people know it was my birthday?”
I just smiled.