Hot Tubbing With The Russians

By | April 17, 2024

Little things that pop into one’s head unbidden department: the heavyset Russian guy with the diamond pinky rings who wound up sharing a hot tub with us on our first (Western Caribbean) cruise in 2004. He did not appear to speak any English and we certainly didn’t speak Russian and we didn’t know him from Adam’s off ox, but he pointed at another guy standing attentively nearby (we thought of him as “the minion”) and made a circling motion in the air taking in everyone in the hot tub, and sent the guy off for drinks. I don’t recall what the drinks turned out to be; I mean, classically one would have expected double shots of vodka but it was probably something more Caribbean-y.

Neither Carole nor I had any idea if we were supposed to return the favor and get the next round, so we didn’t, and that appears to have been the correct course of action. Perhaps he would have been insulted if we’d tried to match his largesse. In any event, we raised our glasses to him and smiled appreciatively and he nodded back at us, and that was the extent of it.

Leave a comment!

17 years. I remember.

By | April 16, 2024
Feeling rather somber today. 17 years ago today a severely mentally ill Virginia Tech student murdered 28 students and four instructors, to say nothing of wounding many more. At the time, this captured the nation’s attention and indeed the attention of the world. All the major networks sent their anchors to Blacksburg to report. Universities across the country sent giant condolence cards. The New York Yankees, of all people, came to Blacksburg to play a charity game against the Virginia Tech baseball team. President George W. Bush came to the memorial ceremony which was broadcast live.
And yet today, hardly anyone remembers unless they’re somehow associated with the Virginia Tech community. We’ve become so inured to constant mass murder that nothing fazes us anymore.
Many of us, including me, hoped that the lives of the murdered 32 would not have been in vain, that we would learn from what happened and take steps that it never happen again.
It appears that no one learned a thing… except for the sobering fact that at the end of the day, lives simply don’t matter to a huge percentage of our society.
Leave a comment!

Major depression update, March 2024

By | March 25, 2024

Random thoughts about depression:

I suffer from major depression. I have for most of my life, dating back to middle school at the very least.

Depression causes me to have difficulty doing things I need to do. I procrastinate significantly more and I don’t have the energy to do things I enjoy.

Something a lot of people don’t understand about depression — it’s not necessarily (or at all) linked to “feeling bad about something”, though one hallmark of major depression is that one’s brain goes looking for things to be depressed about and then points to those things as the “cause” du jour. Depression is an expression of biochemistry, life experience, stress, and so on.

I imagine that I would probably have been very depressed even if I had led the absolute perfect life. My father had undiagnosed major depression. My mom’s mom was institutionalized for most of her life due to symptoms that sound an awful lot like major depression. (The state of medical care in rural Florida was not always what one would have liked it to have been.) You can’t ignore the role genetics plays in mental health.

What helps? Talk therapy (working with counselors) does not really help me. Medicine helps somewhat, but is not helping much with my latest bout of black moods. I’ve gone through extensive DBT (dialectial behavior therapy) training and am familiar with skills like radical acceptance, distress tolerance, and emotion regulation. It’s just that sometimes those skills can only do so much.

I would probably feel better if I started getting intense regular exercise. I’ve been pretty sessile for the last year — partly because of my having been chair of my local Selectboard and always had things to do (and had a lot of stress as well), partly because it rained nonstop last summer, and partly because I made a ton of excuses all fall and winter. I have hopes that as the weather continues to warm I’ll find it easier to get outdoors and get going for walks again.

I’m heading to Bermuda on Saturday for a week’s vacation and am, unfortunately, stressing about that. Our flight leaves BTV at 5:20 am — that’s leaves, not boards. Carole is not a morning person to begin with and will probably have been up late Friday night packing (she has depression too and she’s terrible at tasks that require organizational skills like, oh, packing). Once we’re actually on the plane and in the air heading to our connection in Charlotte, I expect I’ll feel better.

Leave a comment!

STOP

By | March 4, 2024

At some point, in a bout of what turned out to be utter foolishness, I gave my cell phone number to ActBlue, which promptly resold it or shared it with every Democratic candidate from the candidate for the Billings, Montana dog-catcher race to the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee. I get at least one text every day asking for donations from various candidates (or, to put it another way, from whichever fundraising firm they’ve hired), and some days it’s more on the order of four or five.

I reflexively type “STOP” and send it off every time, and these do get acknowledged — that particular campaign won’t text me again. But it has no effect on the glut of other texts from other campaigns.

(I looked on the ActBlue site to see if there was an option to turn off the flood and other than deleting my account, there wasn’t — and deleting my account had no effect whatsoever on the volume.)

Until now, the texts have always been from moderate-to-liberal candidates. However, this weekend I got a text from the Nikki Haley campaign, formatted and styled just like all the texts from the Democrats.

I think it’s about to be time to change phone numbers. Imagine the hell I’d wind up in if the number finds its way next to Donald Trump.

Leave a comment!

RIP Mojo Nixon

By | February 8, 2024

From today’s “I Has A Sad” Department: Mojo Nixon has passed away at the age of 66. Mojo, real name Neill Kirby McMillan Jr., died of a cardiac event on February 7 while on an Outlaw Country cruise where he was a featured performer and entertainer. Mojo is survived by his wife Adaire and their two sons, Ruben and Rafe, as well as a granddaughter. My condolences to his family. He will be missed.

When I was in college at the University of Georgia (1985-1988) Mojo got a decent amount of airplay on WUOG 90.5 FM and showed up late at night on MTV in strange commercials with his bandmate Skid Roper. He was known for songs such as “Elvis is Everywhere“, “Don Henley Must Die” and “Debbie Gibson Is Pregnant With My Two-Headed Love Child.” All are worth a listen, and FWIW, the video for “Debbie Gibson” starred the actual Winona Ryder playing Debbie Gibson.

My favorite bit of Mojo trivia: he was performing “Don Henley Must Die” in 1992 in a small club in Austin, Texas called the “Hole In The Wall” when Don Henley himself jumped onstage and sang along with him. Mojo, stunned, said “Is Debbie Gibson here too?” Henley was a very good sport about the whole thing — props to him.

My favorite memory of him is from a time (circa 1994 or 1995) I went to see him perform at a club on Hillsborough St in Raleigh near NCSU. I forget which club it was, but that’s not important. It wasn’t the best show — he played a lot of stuff off his not-so-good later albums and, other than Elvis is Everywhere, didn’t play much from my college years. Also, he and his backup musicians were drinking Jägermeister shots between every song.

By the break, he was three sheets to the wind. When they did take a break, he leapt off the stage and headed toward what I assume he thought was the door to the men’s room, or backstage, or something. What he actually did was run straight into me, started to fall down, grabbed at my jacket and clothing to hold himself up, and scrabbled at my chest gibbering something incoherent. Then he got his balance back and headed off in another equally random direction, ping-ponging his way through the audience. (The second half of the show was blessedly short; I’m not 100% sure he knew which end of a guitar to hold by that point.)

I told people later that I would never wash the clothes I had on again; they were wet with Mojo’s sweat and I considered them a holy relic.

Rolling Stone’s obituary: https://www.rollingstone.com/music/music-news/mojo-nixon-dead-obituary-1234964257/

LA Times: https://www.latimes.com/entertainment-arts/music/story/2024-02-08/mojo-nixon-obit

NPR: https://www.npr.org/2024/02/08/1229964967/one-of-the-wild-men-of-rock-n-roll-has-died-mojo-nixon-was-66

Rest in peace, Mojo. Or give them hell. Whichever suits your fancy. Say “Hi” to Elvis up there in heaven for us all.

Leave a comment!

Glenn Stoops, 1941-2023

By | October 12, 2023

My father, Glenn Stoops, passed away on September 7, 2023. I thought I would share the obituary that ran on the Dayton (Ohio) Daily News website and on sites such as legacy.com. We will be holding a memorial service in Dayton on October 21. All who knew him are welcome to attend.


Glenn Allen Stoops, 82, of Oakwood (Dayton), Ohio, passed away suddenly but peacefully on September 7, 2023, at home.

Glenn was born in Butler, Pennsylvania, the first child of the late Rosmer Glenn Stoops and Ethel Edna (Elder) Stoops (known to their friends and family as R. Glenn and Teddy), on August 21, 1941. Young Glenn A. started school in Kittanning, where he dazzled his teachers, skipping two grades; he graduated from North Allegheny Senior High School (Pittsburgh) and entered MIT at the age of sixteen. He received a BS and MS in Electrical Engineering from MIT, then entered a PhD program in Mathematics at Rice University in Houston. There he met Anne Wilkins Odum, his future wife. They married in 1965 and were married for 52 years until Anne’s death in 2017.

After Glenn received his PhD, the couple moved to Carmel, California, where children Glenn B. and Carole were born. A few years later, Glenn’s career took the family to Dayton, where Glenn and Anne lived for the rest of their lives. They purchased a house in Oakwood, right next to the Oakwood YMCA pool (now the Oakwood Community Center). The pool was a recreational center for the entire family, and Glenn was a daily presence there for the rest of his life.

Glenn was very involved in Christ United Methodist Church (Kettering), where he was a lifelong choir and bell choir member. He was an avid cyclist, riding on every fair day, and rode in the Huffman Hundred, a cycle tour held every May in southern Ohio, many times. Glenn had a major bicycle accident in 1979, requiring surgery, and afterward he was inspired to become a blood donor. He donated at every opportunity for the rest of his life, and gave over 400 units.

In retirement, Glenn and Anne began taking courses at Wright State University in whatever caught their fancy. Glenn continued taking math courses up to the end, and he tutored members of the basketball team. He always enjoyed sharing his love of mathematics.

After Anne’s death, Glenn had a new period of adventure. He took several international trips with Glenn B., to South America, Europe, and Australia. He continued his bicycling, joining Glenn B. for the 4-Borough Century (100-mile ride) in New York City in 2019. He also spent many hours cycling with Theo Hale, a young man who had met him at the pool as a boy, who found Glenn to be a role model in cycling and in blood donation, and who became his “honorary grandson.” Theo led Glenn on a bicycle ride in the Colorado Rockies in 2022.

Glenn was predeceased by his wife Anne in 2017. He is survived by son Glenn Bardwell Stoops of Queens, New York, and daughter Carole Elaine (Stoops) Furr and her husband Jay of Richmond, Vermont. He is survived by his sister Ann Stoops Thomas and husband Ron of Tempe, Arizona; his brother Harry and wife Debbie of Corinth, New York; and was predeceased by his brother Paul, whose widow, Cheryl, survives him, in Hailey, Idaho. He is survived by brother-in-law Charles Odum and wife Gloria of Lewisville, Texas; sister-in-law Margaret Odum Frindell and husband Wayne of San Antonio, Texas; and sister-in-law Jeanne Odum Cain of Coppell, Texas. Survivors also include honorary grandson Theo Hale; many cousins, nieces, nephews, and their children; and many good friends at Christ Church, at the pool, in the neighborhood, at the blood bank, and everywhere else he went.

A memorial service and celebration of life will be held at Christ United Methodist Church, Kettering, Ohio, on October 21, 2023, at 2 PM, followed by a reception in the same place. Glenn would be honored by your donations to the Community Blood Center of Dayton (now Solvita), to Dayton Public Radio, or to your favorite public radio station.

Leave a comment!

Back from Europe

By | October 10, 2023
Carole in the courtyard of the Vatican Museums in Vatican City, at the "Sphere Within a Sphere" sculpture. She is posing with Theodore, aka "Adventure Moose".

Carole in the courtyard of the Vatican Museums in Vatican City, at the “Sphere Within a Sphere” sculpture. She is posing with Theodore, aka “Adventure Moose”.

We just got back from a two and a half week trip to Europe. We flew to Bilbao, Spain (in the Basque country) and hung out there for two days, then boarded the Norwegian Gem for an 11-stop cruise that began in Bilbao and ended in Rome. After three days in Rome we flew home. A kind fellow tourist (identity unknown) managed to give us both Covid-19 toward the end of the trip — our last full day in Rome and our travel day home were both miserable, and we tested positive as soon as we got to our house. (We did wear masks the whole way home, our diagnoses unconfirmed but strongly suspected.)

Other than one “sea day” as we sailed from Bilbao to our first stop in Lisbon, Portugal, we had a different stop in a different city every day, winding up visiting a total of six countries:

  1. Lisbon, Portugal
  2. Portimao, Portugal
  3. Cadiz, Spain
  4. Gibraltar, UK
  5. Motril, Spain (jumping off point for a bus trip north to Granada)
  6. Ibiza, Spain
  7. Palma, Spain
  8. Barcelona, Spain
  9. St. Tropez, France
  10. La Spezia, Italy (jumping off point for a bus trip inland to Florence)
  11. Rome, Italy (we also visited Vatican City)

We are not inveterate cruisers — this is our fifth cruise, ever:

  1. 2004 Western Caribbean — Royal Caribbean
  2. 2007 Alaska — Royal Caribbean
  3. 2017 Hawaii — Norwegian Cruise Line
  4. 2018 Baltic Sea — Norwegian Cruise Line
  5. 2023 Spain/Portugal/Gibraltar/France/Italy — Norwegian Cruise Line

What made this one different, other than the length (the others were not as long) was that I bid for a room upgrade weeks prior to embarkation, not knowing if my bid amount would be enough to beat out others bidding for the same upgrades. Apparently it was, because we were upgraded; it was to a two-bedroom (a master bedroom and a smaller kids’ bedroom) “penthouse” suite that was the size of two regular staterooms and which came with butler service — daily treats and fresh ice deliveries multiple times per day, stuff like that, with our morning scheduled room service delivered *exactly* at the specified time each day, and other little lagniappes of elegance. We were also entitled to priority debarkation each day and we got to have breakfast each day in one of the specialty restaurants rather than fending for ourselves in the main buffet. It was nice. It will be hard to go back to a regular sized stateroom if we cruise again in the future. (Note: it was not a “Haven” suite — NCL has a whole deck at the very top of the ship for the people who really want to lay out some cash; you can’t even get to that floor without a special keycard. We did not spend that much.)

Would we do it again? Yes. It was fun. But as I said, we are not inveterate cruisers; we’re averaging one every 5.2 years.

What was our favorite part? Carole really liked Granada and the forests around the Alhambra. I liked Cadiz a lot — it was a bustling small city with lots of color and life and beautiful views. We both would have enjoyed having much more time in Barcelona, but that stop was annoyingly short. We were allowed off the ship at 9 am or so after arriving from Palma in the Balearic Islands and we had to be back on the ship at 4:30 pm so we could sail on to St. Tropez in France. We saw Park Guell and the Sagrada Familia in a whirlwind of rush-rush-rush… and that was it. Carole says in addition to the above, she really liked Gibraltar — there was an actual zoo with macaques and lemurs and other interesting things down in the city, and then of course there were the views from atop the Rock and all the Barbary apes.

Least favorite? Well, other than the stop where we caught Covid … 🤒 The one stop neither of us had much good to say about was Lisbon, as we found it a somewhat shabby, rundown city with uncollected trash everywhere — everywhere we were taken on our two-hour “Panoramic Drive through Lisbon” tour took us past slums and rundown buildings. I’m sure there are nice areas, but we didn’t see them on what was meant to be a quick trip to the really cool stuff. (Our Baltic trip taught us the folly of booking nine-hour “See Every Damn Thing There Is To See” city tours; they left us exhausted and mentally wiped out.)

We’ll be sharing some photos and anecdotes, but please don’t feel compelled to pay any attention to them whatsoever. Other than being made to look at someone else’s baby photos (and I grant you that there are even people who enjoy doing that) I think having someone else show you endless snaps of fun places they went while you were at home punching a timeclock is at the top of a lot of people’s “No, thanks” lists. 🌍

P.S. Do not touch the apes.

Leave a comment!

Lived Experience

By | December 18, 2022

Two random thoughts that popped into my head today at almost the same time:

1) I have never had to sleep in a bathtub. In movies and sitcoms this sort of thing seems to happen all the time; you have one more person than you have beds and couches and next thing you know the person whose house or apartment it actually IS is bunking down in the bathtub with a throw pillow and an afghan. I feel like I’m missing out.

2) I have had a presumed child molester or serial killer try to lure me into his car. I was walking down Main Street near the Virginia Tech Mall in Blacksburg, Virginia on a sunny afternoon when I was a sophomore in high school. Guy in a sedan pulled up next to me and asked me for directions to something that was literally a mile or two down the street east of us. I informed him of this. He told me he’d gotten lost twice trying to find the place and would I please get into his car and show him? I said “No, I’ve got places to be.” He kept on wheedling, wouldn’t I please get into his car? I said “No” and walked off. To this day, I look back and think — first, I should have gotten his license plate, second, I sort of wonder what he’d have said if I asked “So, quick question — you got a knife in there or a gun?” and third, what if I’d asked “You try this on a lot of kids?” And of course I wonder what did happen subsequently — did he abduct some other kid that day? Had he abducted others, etc.?

Hmm.

I guess, of the two, I’d rather have slept in a bathtub.

Leave a comment!

Farewell and goodbye, sister

By | October 15, 2022

I always feel as though I should start every blog entry with “I know hardly anyone will read this and it’ll probably come across as self-indulgent navel-lint-picking, but I’m posting it ANYWAY.” So, that said, if you’re still reading this, I apologize in advance for what will probably be a real downer of an entry.

My sister Elizabeth passed away on August 16 or 17, 2022. Due to the circumstances of her passing, it’s impossible to say exactly when.

She was my oldest sibling, three and a half years my senior. She and I were not especially close, not by a conscious decision on either of our parts. She lived in Florida and I live in Vermont and we only spoke a few times a year.

See, Elizabeth was on disability, suffering from schizophrenia and related disorders as well as the effects of a lifetime of doctors saying “Let’s take you off THAT drug and try you on THIS one.” She was quiet and calm and never seemed to have anything to say. “Hi, Elizabeth, it’s Jay, how are you?” “Oh, I’m fine.” “You doing anything interesting lately?” “I’m taking some art classes.” “Everything going okay?” “Yes.” Etcetera. There was never any news to report, never any questions from her about how I was doing; her statements were responses to my direct questions, offered without elaboration. Every call was like that, try as I might to draw her out and get her to show something other than just blank, flat affect.

I felt guilty as heck for not calling much more often, but each time I did call, no matter what I said or asked or did, the answers were pretty much the same. I am certain that she was more outgoing in person with people she was taking art classes with, or with my cousins who she had dinner with a couple of times a week, or with people from church. I don’t feel like I really knew her any longer — I only knew what I could deduce or infer or see from my calls and occasional face to face encounters. Perhaps she just didn’t feel like opening up to me. I’ll never know.

Elizabeth was adopted. My parents had been married for several years and had tried without success to have children. They adopted Elizabeth in 1964 and, as so often happens, then things started happening. My sister Julie was born a year after Elizabeth, then I was born two and a half years after that, and then finally my brother Rob was born three years after that. Elizabeth got good grades in school, was a Girl Scout, took piano lessons and dance lessons, had friends — an absolutely typical childhood. Then, at some point in late in her high school years, schizophrenia symptoms set in hard. She became a very different person very quickly, not by choice but because her brain was all of a sudden betraying her. I remember many bad nights when Elizabeth was completely out of control, upset and raging, detached from reality and mired in incredibly dark black depression.

Photo of the first time Elizabeth and I met

It did not help that the state of mental health care and treatment in the early 1980s in the state of Virginia was not at all what one would have liked it to be. I made reference above to doctors changing her medications frequently; that’s not an exaggeration. Each time she was passed on to another psychiatrist for a medication evaluation she would come home with a completely new set of prescriptions having been told “I don’t know why they had you on THAT and THAT”. Six months later, she’d get switched again. Over time, she became quieter and quieter and more just sort of … there.

The medications and care helped somewhat, but all thought of her heading off to college (she did graduate from high school) were pretty much abandoned. She had a few boyfriends who were of the “skeevy, no-count” variety. There were at least two times that Dad and I had to drive up to wherever she was currently living and rescue her from whichever abusive boyfriend she was sharing a mobile home with. One time we got a call from her informing us that she and her current guy were in Melbourne, Florida and she needed our help to come home because he’d wrecked her car. And so forth. It was no kind of life and I would give anything to be able to go back and somehow stop all that from happening, somehow. To bring her previous self back and to set her back on the course to have a happy and full life.

Eventually she wound up just living with my mother and father at the house we all grew up in, then at the house in Florida that they retired to in the mid-1990s. Mom and Dad retired to the town Mom grew up in: Brooksville, Florida, a relatively sleepy little town a couple of counties north of Tampa. Elizabeth qualified for Florida Medicaid and continued to get Social Security disability payments. She did take a lot of art classes — she was very fond of painting plates and bowls. She did watercolors and colored pencil drawings and all manner of other things.

And so things went for sixteen years or so. Then Mom passed in 2011 and it was just her and Dad in the house, with my wonderful cousin Anne living across the street and looking in on them and helping out and doing endless errands and meals. Unfortunately for Elizabeth, Dad was a very short-tempered man and had very little patience, empathy, or tact. He endlessly bullied Elizabeth and hectored her every chance he got. “You didn’t go for a walk? Why not?” “When you go for a walk, you need to do more than just walk halfway down the street and back, Elizabeth!” I’ll spare you the whole litany, but essentially, Elizabeth couldn’t do anything right in Dad’s eyes.

When Dad passed in 2016 the house was sold (thanks to an enormous amount of work by Julie and Anne to get the place emptied out and cleaned and into shape where we could actually sell it) and his estate divided among the four kids with a chunk going to Anne. Elizabeth moved to a subsidized apartment and for the first time in decades, was in a position to really make her own decisions. She could drive, she had a car, she had money inherited from Dad (although, to avoid making her ineligible for Medicaid and disability, it was put into a trust and disbursed by a trustee as needed). She continued to take her art classes, had dinner twice a week with Anne and her sisters Cathy and Mary and our aunt Esther, and as far as I knew was doing more or less okay.

I hate that “as far as I knew”. I never once in the six years between Dad’s passing and Elizabeth’s passing went down to Brooksville just to visit her and see how she was doing. I did make at least one trip down after Dad’s death to do a few things relating to the house. That’s something else I feel very guilty about, by the way. I guess at the time I kind of justified leaving a lot of the grunt work of getting the house cleaned and repaired and sold to my sister Julie and my cousin Anne on the grounds that they were willing and available and I had a busy work travel schedule at that time. (I’m an ass.) I should have done much more.

I do know for a fact that I did not show enough gratitude to Julie and Anne for all that, by the way.

At that point in my life I was traveling for work 40+ weeks a year… and had my own major depression to cope with … and kept thinking “I should go down and visit” but years went by and I never did. Those periodic “How are you?” calls were about the extent of things.

Elizabeth and Sarah

Then I got a call from Anne on Wednesday, August 17, out of the blue. She was the bearer of bad news. Elizabeth had passed away.

Elizabeth hadn’t shown up the previous evening for dinner at Anne’s house and, worried, Anne had gone over to check on her. If I understand it correctly, Anne didn’t have a key to get in, and Elizabeth did not answer the door. The police were called to do a health check and the apartment manager had a key so they could get in — and upon entering, they found her on the floor.

There was no sign of foul play. There had been no prior indications that Elizabeth was at risk; everyone knew that Elizabeth had high cholesterol and high blood pressure and rarely exercised and, as we found out subsequently, seemed to live off ice cream and diet soda, but there had been nothing especially unusual in previous weeks that would have made Anne and Mary and Cathy say “Elizabeth, you should see a doctor”. (No autopsy was performed; I believe the coroner’s verdict was a heart attack.)

I flew down to Tampa first thing the following morning and Julie drove down from North Carolina. My brother Rob lives in western Canada and was not in a position to come down. Julie and I met with a funeral director to arrange Elizabeth’s cremation, and then we went to close out Elizabeth’s apartment, clean it up, figure out what could be donated and what would just be tossed out, etcetera. And that’s when I really wanted to cry. Elizabeth’s apartment was an absolute nightmare. Literal mounds of unwashed clothing. Trash everywhere. The apartment was almost impassable. It was, frankly, like one of the episodes of that TV show about hoarders. Elizabeth had been living in absolutely squalid conditions and even now, sitting here two months later in Vermont, I still want to cry just thinking about it. Her dying was bad; her dying without my having seen her in six years because I was always “too busy” was worse, but worst of all was knowing that she’d been living in that state.

I should have been coming down at least once a year to check in on her and see how she was doing and not just rely on her saying “I’m fine” and figuring that if she wasn’t fine someone would tell me. I don’t know how long things had been like that but I hated the thought of her living like that for even a day — and it could have been and probably was years. My cousins are terrific people but they had respected Elizabeth enough to let her make her own choices — I certainly don’t fault them or think that they should have been inspecting Elizabeth’s apartment on a regular basis. I should have been checking in on her. Not just calling, but being there in person like a decent person would have done. I know I couldn’t have been there to clean her apartment for her once a month or something, but I have to think there would have been some way to keep things from getting to that state.

If only I hadn’t been so good at making excuses. Yes, I’m mentally ill. Yes, I’ve got terrible depression that incapacitates me from time to time. Yes, I have a demanding job. Yes, I’ve got my own life to lead. That’s all a bunch of B.S. She was my sister, and I let her down.

The one comforting thing about that trip to Florida to excavate and clean Elizabeth’s apartment (which took days of Julie and me working together and making trip after trip to the nearby dumpster) was that the memorial service we held at Cathy’s house the following Monday was well attended.

Julie and I had tried to reach out to as many people Elizabeth knew as we could; folks from her church, people she’d been in art classes with, people from a few groups she’d belonged to, hoping that word would get around to the people we didn’t know to invite, and that somehow we’d get a respectable showing. On Sunday morning, we’d gone to the First United Methodist Church of Brooksville; she’d been a member for many years and had sung in their choir. People there were very sad to hear of her passing. We asked the new pastor at the church, who’d never had an opportunity to meet Elizabeth, if he could come and lead prayers at the memorial service and he was happy to agree. Next thing we knew, it seemed the whole choir was making plans to attend, with an electronic keyboard and everything.

Cathy’s house was absolutely packed and person after person shared stories about their time knowing Elizabeth and saying how much she’d meant to them and how much they would miss her. Some of her favorite songs were sung. The minister led prayers and said a few words. There was plenty of food there as well — no one left hungry. All in all, the memorial really was everything we’d hoped it would be, and more. We hoped that somewhere, Elizabeth was watching.

But that’s the other thing that really saddened me: I’d never seen the side of Elizabeth that everyone talked about. I had tried on so many occasions, while my parents were still alive, and via phone after they were both gone, to draw her out, to get her to really open up to me, and I’d never succeeded. Perhaps I was too much like my father in her eyes. I can understand her not wanting to share with me if I reminded her of the man who had hounded her all those years.

But in the end I’ll never know. All I know is that there was far more to Elizabeth than I was aware of… and that I let her down in so many ways.

In closing, I’m reminded of a quote from Bret Harte:

If, of all words of tongue and pen,
The saddest are, “It might have been,”

More sad are these we daily see:
“It is, but hadn’t ought to be.”

Farewell and goodbye, sister. I’m sorry you’re gone.

Leave a comment!

Green Black Walnuts

By | October 5, 2022

When I was a kid growing up in the mountains of Virginia, there was a large black walnut tree directly behind our house, close enough that on windy days you would hear thump! thump! thump! as green walnuts dropped from the tree and onto the flat roof of our house, especially over the room I slept in. Dozens more walnuts could be found on the grass around the tree.

Well, a decade ago I decided that I missed that experience, so I planted some black walnut trees along the edge of our back yard, close enough to the house that in theory they could land on our sloping metal roof or the steps outside the living room and give me that “thunk!” I was longing for.

I’ve never seen any green black walnuts lying around back there, though, and the trees are so tall that it’s not really easy to see if there are lots up there in the branches. I wondered if for some pollination-related reason we just weren’t getting any.

Well, just now I heard that “thunk!” I knew so well. Right on the wooden steps outside the living room, where I happened to be sitting. I looked out the door and sure enough! A green black walnut, right there at the top of the steps. I ran to get my cell phone to snap a photo to commemorate the happy moment and … when I got back that walnut was GONE.

I think I know why we’re not seeing green black walnuts all over our back yard. Our local squirrels don’t get caught napping.

Leave a comment!