Monday, November 8, 2010

Some Anniversaries Suck

None - This image is in the public domain and ...Image via Wikipedia
Fifty-one years ago today, on a Sunday morning, I got up for breakfast with the rest of my family. The steps I took from my bed to the kitchen table were the last unassisted steps I would ever take.

By dinner time, I would be in the hospital on an isolation unit. I would not see home, my baby sister, or my new puppy for another six weeks. I would not ride my pony again for more than six months. I would not see the inside of a school room again until the following September.

I had polio.

Every fall, my body remembers, even if I do not seem to myself. I get a case of the blues that lasts until after the holidays. Which is weird, because I seem (at least to myself) pretty well-adjusted otherwise.

I was thinking about this a little bit to myself this morning as I was getting ready to go to work, and I think for the first time it really dawned on me how traumatic that must have been to a seven-year-old kid. I'm pretty sure, for example, that I had never spent the night away from home except at my grandparents', which hardly counts. I certainly had never spent six weeks away from home. And then there's all the constant little daily traumas that go with being in the hospital: Shots, pills, strangers poking at you at all hours of the day and night. High fevers, drug-induced nightmares, loneliness, boredom, and in my case also a spinal tap or two and daily hot packs.

Not to mention, it changed my life--and to some degree, my whole family's--forever. And these changes would make childhood and adolescence damned difficult. My parents were both accomplished equestrians, and I would never be a good rider with one paralyzed hip and leg. I would not be able to participate in phys ed with the rest of the kids, or dance in high school.

I certainly was not marriageable, as it was then defined. All my clothes--especially my shoes--would forever after look weird. Skirts hung crookedly because I was crooked. Slacks that fit on one side did not on the other. The toes of my left shoes sometimes stuck up in the air. And I could never wear nice shoes because they couldn't hold up to the bracing. I fell constantly. 

Most of this is so irrelevant to my life as an adult as to actually be hard to dredge up from the deep cellars of memory for the writing of this list. I am married. We don't have phys ed at the office. I don't have the time or the money to ride any more anyway. And yet all these things, I think, swirl around in my subconscious come November every year. 

There is also much to be grateful for, in the It Could Have Been So Much Worse department: My family could afford my medical care. Some kids died. I'm only a monoplegic, whereas many kids emerged as paras. I came to my post-polio symptoms decades after many of my peers, and despite them I am still working. Some of my peers cannot. I did ride again--and swim, and hike. I even went backpacking once. I probably never would have chosen the career I did had I been able-bodied, and I do love my work. Trust me when I say, I'm grateful for it all.

And yet, every fall, the body remembers.

Enhanced by Zemanta

Monday, June 7, 2010

chopping down the cherry tree

Our old cherry tree finally bit the dust--literally--this afternoon.

Mr. Simply had bartered for some serious yard work, and the landscape experts came out today and said it was time to put it out of its misery. I arrived home from work to find it already gone, along with a lot of the weeds and crap that have grown wild out there since Mr. Simply got sick.

There's nothing left of that beautiful old tree except a stump about two feet tall.

Reblog this post [with Zemanta]

Monday, May 24, 2010

I laughed until I cried

"Big Guns" SusanImage by ttstam via Flickr
Sometimes I really worry about Mr. Simply's stability.

Totally seriously, he asks at dinner tonight if I think it would be ok for him to inquire of our insurance agent whether we might be covered in case a burglar breaks in while we're here. Well sure, I say, we're covered, thinking of course that he's referring to replacement value for anything that might get stolen.

However, this is not what he is asking. What if they damage the house? he asks. Well sure, I say, thinking he means what if they trash the place? But no. What Mr. Simply wants to know, it develops, is whether, should he shoot a burglar, would the insurance company pay for the cleanup? And if it turns into OK Corral, Part Deux, will they pay for damages to the neighbors' houses? If no, he wants to get a rider.

The reason he wants to know if I think it's ok to ask this question is that he worries that our agent (who we've been with since 1984) might think he's crazy and cancel our policy just on general principle.

And he can't figure out why I just laughed until I cried.
Reblog this post [with Zemanta]

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Still blushing

Mr. Simply, my husband of 30+ years, and I stopped off at the drugstore on the way home this evening. He needs to pick up an Rx. I, preferring to wait in the truck, ask him to get some Pears soap for me.

Cute Young Thing at the register asks him if I like the Pears, or if it really works, or something like that, and he replies, "Well, I might not be the one to ask because my wife always looks beautiful to me!" She thinks Mr. Simply is just the bee's knees, and jogs out to the parking lot to tell me all about it.

Aww, isn't he sweet? Her, too.

Reblog this post [with Zemanta]

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Old age isn't all bad

For one thing, you might get to be a great aunt.

Yes, my niece is pregnant. Unmarried, (relatively) uneducated, completely unemployed, and uninsured. Whatev. It'll work out somehow.

When she told me, first I hollered and whooped. And then I cried. It doesn't seem that long ago that her mother was teaching her to write her name with soap on the bathtub tiles. "P is for Penny. . ." Only the way she said it, being still too young to have much grasp on syntax or facility with her Rs, it came out "P fo' Penny!"

Time goes by so fast.

The other thing you get when you get old enough, and lucky enough? You get to give your baby sister a ration of shit about being a grandmother.


Sunday, April 18, 2010

What lies behind us and what lies before us are tiny matters compared to what lies within us.
-Oliver Wendell Holmes

Friday, April 16, 2010

Back to the Future

Sponsored by The Five Stairsteps
Ooh-oo child
Things are gonna get easier
Ooh-oo child
Things'll get brighter. . .
Some day, yeah
We'll get it together and we'll get it undone
Some day
When your head is much lighter
Some day, yeah
We'll walk in the rays of a beautiful sun
Some day
When the world is much brighter. . .
Right now, right now
(you just wait and see how things are gonna be)

Heard this song on a '70s station the other day, and flashed back to a sunny Spring day mid-decade wherein Mr. Simply and I were playing ball on the front lawn with our little dog Chester. It was our senior year, and within months we would be embarking on the great adventure of our lives--or so it seemed.

 Mr. Simply with Chester
in the Spring of 1975

I was momentarily overwhelmed with sadness: In the intervening 35 years, the future we so looked forward to has come and gone. In that long-ago Spring we dreamed the dreams of the young and innocent--of the careers we would have, and of family, and home. We joked about what we would do with our first million dollars. We envisioned vacations and cars, and college friendships ripening over the years. We thought we would always be healthy and strong, and that we would always be in love like we were then. We thought we would be happy. We thought, in short, that we would go on forever.

But things never got easier, or brighter, not really. Our heads never got lighter, nor did we get it all together and get it undone. Life is not like that. An older and much wiser friend of my mom's tried to tell us back then that "These are the good old days" but we didn't get it. The young never do.

Sure, we've had plenty more good times since that long-ago sunny Spring afternoon. We've had good laughs, good loving, and long periods of contentment. We kept to our ideals, with both of us having public service careers and adopting a child. But we've also had what we never envisioned then: all the losses of people and pets, deteriorating health, mounting debt, and friendships that fell by the wayside.

Mom's friend was right: We already walked in the rays of a beautiful sun. You can see it right there in the photograph. Sure, we lived in a rented shack on a dirt road back then, with a tin roof and an oil-burning furnace in the front room which provided our only heat. We were still in school, and only one of us was working. But God, we were so young, and healthy, and in love, and we were already a family with our little dog Chester.

I was flooded with tears for a moment, right there in the dentists' office (where else do you hear all '70s all of the time?) and I followed that with a few melancholy hours wherein I would have given anything to be back in that sunny yard with my skinny college boy and Chester, still barely out of puppy-hood, all our naïveté and optimism intact.

But eventually it dawned on me that I was making the same mistake now that I made then, and not just by wishing to have back a past that's over and gone. We still tell each other that things will be better this year, or next quarter, or after Mr. Simply's treatment is through, or whenever we [fill in the blank]. We joke about what we will do with our lottery winnings, now that it's pretty obvious we will never earn a million of our own. I realized that we are still longing for a future that's over and gone--hell, it's coming and going even as I write this. We're missing the great adventure of our lives that's happening right now.

Which thought jerks me right back to the present, wherein it's Spring again, except 2010 instead of 1975. We may spend more time in bed or crashed on the couch than we ever thought we would, but I still have work, with people I care about. We may have bills coming out of our ears, but we also have managed to put something aside for a rainy day. We get by. The sun is shining bright and birds are singing. We have our "snug little home", as Mr. Simply calls it, instead of the shack, and it's Diana and the parrots now instead of Chester. And perhaps most importantly of all, we still love each other deeply.

Thirty-five years from now, if I'm lucky enough to still be alive, what will I be mooning around missing that I have today? The world doesn't get much brighter than this, and I would do well to be mindful of it. Right now, right now. That's what counts, and right now is good.

Right now, we walk in the rays of a beautiful sun.


Saturday, April 10, 2010


ALTON, UNITED KINGDOM - SEPTEMBER 06:  Wheelch...Image by Getty Images via Daylife
Finally, I seem to have gotten a foot in the door at a nearby specialty clinic. I don't have an appointment yet, but at least I've finally finagled a referral and got my records over there, so an actual appointment for the initial consult should be in the pipeline.

The first thing I want from them is a light-weight, fold-up wheelchair that I can heave in and out of the trunk by myself, so I can start going back to bird fairs and bird walks and outdoor markets and PetSmart. So many places and activities require lots and lots of standing and walking but don't provide wheelchairs for patrons with disabilities, and I don't want to have to always rely on taking someone with me to help--or not be able to go at all, which is how it's been lately.

I have no need to pull a Boeing 757 anywhere with it, and have no idea why anyone would. But there you go. At least now I know I could if I wanted to.

Last night I dreamed I had just received my new, first wheelchair and was out for a trial run with some friends.

When one is disabled, one dreams about it in various ways--sometimes I dream I'm no longer disabled, or at least I dream I'm doing things that I can't do in my waking life, like dance or jog. Other times I dream it's gotten worse, sometimes I just dream about it as it is, and sometimes it doesn't figure in my dreams one way or the other.

This was my first "wheelchair dream" ever, which I think is significant. That I was focused on my renewed mobility and was getting a kick out of my new toy I think is a good omen. Increasing reliance on my cane was hard at first. I suspect this transition is going to be different, attitude-wise.

This chair was the luxury sport model, upholstered in butter-soft leather and a little faster than I was comfortable with at first. In my dream, I ricocheted off a wall making a turn, and it tipped me back a bit which was also taking some getting used to. And being a sport model, there was no trunk space: I had no place to put anything other than in my lap: When I get mine, I want saddle-bags or something.

When I was a kid you would still see in long-term inpatient units those old wooden wheelchairs which really were like chairs on wheels--sort of the forerunners of the powerchair, I guess (which is what I want next, for work, but that is another post for another day). Those old chairs had adjustable recliner backs: Funny what you "remember" in your dreams after 50 years!

Anyway, in this dream, my friends kept wanting to do things for me that I needed to learn how to do myself, like getting through doors, and there were obstacles like the decorative vanity, placed too close to the handicap-stall door in a public waiting room, that my friends wanted to shove over for me. But all in all, it was cool. My friends meant well, backed off when I asked them to, and didn't laugh when I hit the wall.

Just push the joystick, and whoosh--away I go!

Reblog this post [with Zemanta]

Monday, March 29, 2010

Lessons from Genealogy, #2-#4

Union Cavalry capture Confederate artilleryImage via Wikipedia

#2. Family myths are often just that.

My grandparents on my mother's side always bragged about their Confederate war heroes. I never found any. I found one guy who started his own cavalry unit, then fell off his horse and died during a parade--before they ever left home. Lots of slave owners--nothing to brag about there--but no heroes.

For the longest time, the most interesting people I'd found on her side were these wonderful old lesbians who ran a farm together deep in the Virginia countryside in the 1800s. Sometimes truth is better than fiction.

My dad's dad always bragged about his Revolutionary war ancestors and how they got all these gobs of land for their service. The only one I found was a supplier, never a troop. And he did get land, but it was land confiscated from his Royalist neighbors.

#3. Sometimes family myths are truer than you might think.
Mom's mom always told us grandkids we were descended from French kings. We used to joke that, more likely, we were related through palace concubinage.

Once when I was a kid my Dad drove me through some little eye-blink of a town in Appalachia in the wee hours of the morning and pointed to this crumbling, dark, old house and said, "That is where your Grandmother is from!" And sure enough, initially all I found was some runaway Huguenots. French? Sure. Royalty? Not hardly. And over on the fringes, I found a couple of poor Portuguese who came here because there was nothing for them in Portugal. So I thought, well, that is that. No French kings. She made it all up.

In the South, back in the 1800s, "tracing"--and they used that word loosely--your lineage was a Big Thing. Most families, outside of Virginia, were dirt poor and always had been. Most people saw Southerners as backward and indolent. So it was nice to be able to say, 'Oh, our family descends from Charlemagne'. This had a little extra punch when everybody was all into chivalry and reading too many Waverly novels. It was such a big thing that there are books still in print on family lines that are "guaranteed" to trace back to Charlemagne. I had pretty much written my grandmother's fairy tales off to that sort of thing.

But to my amazement, I eventually found that one line of her family indeed does lead straight back not to French royalty, per se, but through a bunch of English royalty back to a pretty impressive line of Normans and Poitevins. . . all the way to Charlemagne himself.

I wish she were alive to see it.

#4. Sometimes there are complete and total surprises.

Dad's mom never talked about her ancestry. Her dad was illegitimate, a matter of considerable shame at the time, and she grew up poor. Yet that's where the Confederate heroes were--her paternal grandfather and her great uncles fought in that war from its start to its finish.

Reblog this post [with Zemanta]

Saturday, March 27, 2010

Lessons from Genealogy

#1. European royalty used to (inter)breed like mink. Once you link up to one royal person, you discover that you are related to everybody who was anybody. Sometimes twice.

Saturday, March 13, 2010

The Alibi

D-day assault routes into NormandyImage via Wikipedia

So my son tells his room-mate George that he needs to borrow George's car so he can meet me for breakfast this morning.

This is a patent lie, as Simply, Jr. and I had no plans for any such thing.

Nor were we likely to: In the first place, I rarely eat breakfast out. The nature of my disability is such that I need to eat first thing--meaning before I do anything else, including shower, dress, and drive somewhere.

In the second place, Simply, Jr. left the house at approximately 7:00 a.m. for this supposed breakfast, and the nature of my disability is such that I am not bloody likely to be up and about at that hour on a Saturday. I reach the weekend pretty well wore out, and don't set my alarm on a Saturday (or Sunday either, for that matter) for anything of less likely historical significance than the second invasion of Normandy. I would, if I were doing this breakfast out thing at all, tell Simply, Jr. that I would call him when I awoke, and we'd make plans then.

So I am sitting in the bird room minding my own business when I get a text from George, looking for his car, which has by this point been gone three hours and some change. He is not happy to learn that I have not seen my son all morning. He is angry that he has been lied to. I, on the other hand, while disappointed, am not surprised that I have been used as an alibi. It is probably not the first time, and won't be the last: My son has been an accomplished liar almost as long as he has been able to speak. Even as a young sprat, he could look Mr. Simply and me in the eye and tell us a whopper so convincing that he would have us questioning our own grip on reality.

I figured that, assuming he hadn't either wrecked the car or got arrested (again), that he would turn up eventually with a perfectly reasonable explanation. Which he did, seven hours after he'd left home.

Wonder what he's been up to?
Reblog this post [with Zemanta]

Monday, March 8, 2010

To Spring

My first--and probably last--crocus popped up this weekend, which got me to thinking about Spring and about the passage of time. I planted dozens of them in the woods out back of the house over a quarter of a century ago, and every Spring, like clockwork, they'd bloom among the leaves and the pinestraw and the little wild strawberries. But over the years they've been trampled by dogs and a kid, or eaten by squirrels and chipmunks, until I really didn't think there were any left. This little fella was a pleasant surprise Saturday morning.

I have photos from one Easter in the late '80s that shows we used to have a green lawn out back, too (but see kid, dogs, above), and a half a dozen flowering dogwood. Then Simply, Jr. grew up, four of the dogs went over the Rainbow Bridge, and anthracnose got the dogwoods.

Out front, we had this spectacular cherry tree that every Spring was a mass of pink blooms that seemed almost bigger than our little house. I once looked out my window to see it filled with Cedar Waxwings passing the petals to each other to eat like so much pink cotton candy. I remember when that tree arrived, so young and small it fit in the backseat of a car. We barely got it in the ground before a thunderstorm rolled in, and because we forgot to stake it, the wind tilted it a bit, and it has remained just a little off center ever since.

The person who gave us the tree and the person who helped us plant it that day are both dead, one of cancer and one of a heart attack. And after nearly 30 years the tree, too, has begun to die. The state extension people came out and said it was a fungus in the soil and that there was nothing we could do. Each Spring its blooms have gotten more sparse until this year it probably won't flower at all, for the first time in our life together at this house. Although it will break my heart to do it, we'll most likely have to cut it down this summer.

So much changes in 25 years. For one thing, Mr. Simply has gone bald. The daffodils my grandmother gave us to plant in the garden of our new home have gotten too old to bloom any more. And since those crocuses went in the ground, two dear friends and neighbors have gone in the ground, too, as have Dad's parents, Mr. Simply's parents, and my sister-in-law.

And we're getting older as well. This morning I noticed for the first time that I was shuffling--shuffling!--down the hall to the kitchen.

I eventually got my joints unlocked, though, and headed off to work. I had to stop the car halfway down the block to wait for a pair of cardinals having sex in the middle of the road.

So here's to Spring. . . and to the passage of time. As the old joke goes, beats hell out of the alternative.

Saturday, January 30, 2010


SunriseImage by albyper via Flickr
I have been in a deep brown funk for months.

And then, all of a sudden, in the course of just 24 hours, it lifted.


Friday, January 1, 2010

I got dem cosmic opera blues (hosted by Gioachino Rossini)

Gioachino RossiniImage via Wikipedia
I was depressed this afternoon. Or maybe not depressed, more like sad/mad/grieving. All I wanted to do was listen to opera and cry. So I did. Listen to opera that is. Never did cry, except when I read a sad story in Crip Zen. Didn't cry, but did have a panic attack when I was reading about how "they" have destroyed Warm Springs. I was afraid I was having a heart attack. Then I was afraid it was some awful new PPS.

Whatever. The opera thing worked. I feel human again.

Here's what I think was the matter: I'm tired. Tired of being alone in this. Guilty for being a burden. Angry that my husband won't take better care of me/us.  Scared, because the truth is, he can't do any better than he is. He's sick, too. Hell, while we're on this, I feel guilty and sad and frustrated that I can't take better care of him.

Depressed that I can't afford to hire somebody to clean and shop and cook. Angry that this ever happened to me in the first place. Angry that it's suddenly getting dramatically worse. Sad. Missing the things I can't do any more, even just since last summer. Missing my dog. Missing my best friend. Missing Paul Newman. Missing Luciano Pavarotti, for God's sake. 

I finished up with the overture from The Barber of Seville and I feel fine now.


Reblog this post [with Zemanta]