GETTING READY FOR WORK

If my Dad were still alive, today would be birthday.

While I no longer imagine that I can pick up the phone and call him, I still see him clearly in my mind’s eye. But it is the face of his waning years that I see.

And I can hear his voice. But it is his weakened voice that I hear.

I want to remember the face and voice of my young father—the father who was only about 30 when I first recall watching his early morning ritual.

I was about three when I began watching Dad get ready for work.

I followed him from room to room during this process. I watched him lather his face with a shaving brush and shear paths in the snowy field on his face.

Next I’d look on in awe as he put on his shirt and tie—as he took a necktie from his closet, folded it in loops and turns until it was just right.

After a leisurely start, Dad generally realized he was running late and might miss the train to work

He and Mom had set the clock 15 minutes fast to see if that would hasten things along, but that didn’t help.

On days when Dad was running later than usual, Mom poured his coffee into a saucer, stood by the door—and Dad sipped a bit of coffee as he ran to catch the train.

When I was able to read the comic strips, I remember Dagwood Bumstead memorializing this coffee in a saucer routine.

A child’s sense of pride came over me. I was proud to have a dad who had something in common with a beloved comic strip character.

As ordinary as these rituals seemed, they gave me a grounding, a sense of security—a good way to start the day.

Watching my Dad prepare for work—the same simple ritual five days a week—gave me a grounding in a world in which I—as a small child—had very little control.

Dad’s ritual was a security blanket I could carry in my head.

What rituals do you remember from your childhood? I’d like to hear from you.

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THE MOTHER’S DAY NECKLACE

I’ve been wearing my Mother’s Day necklace for a couple of months.

My white plastic pendant is more of a device than a dazzling bit of bling bought at Zales.

But if I should trip over my own two feet and fall unconscious, this device will bring help—even without my pushing a button. Diamonds can’t do that!

Yup, I’m wearing the “HELP, I’VE FALLEN AND CAN’T GET UP” MEDICAL ALERT DEVICE.

I’ve spent a good part of my life tripping over sidewalks and walking into walls so it make sense for me to wear the device.

But even surefooted folks can fall.

I became painfully aware of this sad truth when my hubby fell in the garage this past Jan 31st. Bill lost his balance while giving his chainsaw a vigorous yank to get it started. This momentum landed him flat on his back on a cold garage floor.

With one leg totally immobile, he was unable to move. He shouted and called to no avail. From his prone position, he finally grabbed a shovel and began banging.

Happily settled in the house, with all the doors and windows shut to keep out the cold, I was oblivious to Bill’s travail.

At about noon, I peeked into the garage, to see what Bill wanted for lunch. I found him lying on the floor.

“Didn’t you hear me yelling? Call 911,” he said.

Bill had already been on the floor for 30 minutes before I found him.

What if I hadn’t been home?

What if I’d hadn’t found him for another couple of hours?

Would he still be alive—given the cold temperatures and the dehydration that can occur cold weather?

The next few hours featured an ambulance ride, surgery, a hospitalization. Next came 16 days in Northern Colorado Rehab Center.

“I can’t let this happen again,” I said to myself.
While Bill was hospitalized at McKee, I picked up a pamphlet about Banner’s LifeLine medical alert system.

Within days, the system was installed in our home—with one pendant for me and one for Bill.

And I will enjoy a Mother’s Day with peace of mind—for me and Bill.

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UNEXPECTED DETOUR

THIS IS PART THREE IN SERIES “OFF ON ELDER ADVENTURE.” PART ONE APPEARED IN THE PRINT EDITION OF THE REPORTER HERALD ON FEBRUARY 7, 2014. PART THREE APPEARED IN IN MY BLOG ON FEBRUARY 8, 2014.

My reporting on the Elder Adventure came to a screeching halt a few weeks ago when one of our tourists—my husband Bill–took a detour into Medicare Land.

This spur of the moment venture—so captured my mind and heart—that the Napa Trip—took a back seat on my reporting agenda.

The trip to Medicare Land was simplicity itself.

No travel plans needed for this journey.

No on-line search for best departure times. No worrying about what to pack. No Disneyland serpentine lines before boarding.

Once on board our travel vehicle, we were spared mobs of passengers trying to cram oversized luggage into overhead bins.

No elbow-to-elbow seating. The interior of the transport vehicle was spacious and clean.

As for oxygen? We didn’t have to listen to a canned speech about how to put on an oxygen mask. The attendant kindly put the mask on Bill.

The travel industry—especially the airlines–could pick up a few tips from Medicare Land officials.

And off we sped—Bill in the back of the ambulance—me alongside the driver—to McKee Medical Center to have Bill’s shattered femur bone repaired.

Not the trip we’d planned. But life has a way of detouring the best made plans and sending us on further ventures.

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COMPLAINT DEPARTMENT

THIS IS PART TWO IN SERIES “OFF ON ELDER ADVENTURE.” PART ONE APPEARED IN THE PRINT EDITION OF THE REPORTER HERALD ON FEBRUARY 7, 2014

DAY ONE: 4:45 p.m. Lobby of hotel in Napa.
Claire: “One of our tourists has a complaint.”
Bill: “I’d like to throw in my two cents about why the other Elders got lost in the rental car lot.”
Claire: “What’s your concern?”
Bill: “First off, they went to the National Car Rental Counter. Our rental was with Alamo.”
Claire: “It’s an easy mistake. The rental counters are right next to one another. I think they were trying to be helpful by getting some maps.”
Bill: “Well they got everyone confused.”
Claire: “Hold on a minute, Bill. One of the other elders has something he wants to say.”

Stay posted for the next episode of the Elder Odyssey

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SYMPATHY, TOWELS AND HUMOR

My nephew, Tim, called just as I was going out the door.

“Can’t talk right now,” I said. “Am going to the get my hair colored. I’m going to be young and beautiful again.”

“Good luck with that,” Tim said.

After he took his foot out of his mouth, Tim tried to make amends.

“Let me rephrase that. I hope you have a good trip to the beauty parlor.”

And quite a trip it was!

I love getting my worked on–nothing to do for a totally relaxing hour, while gray magically turns to brown.

Then a little blow drying, a touch of the curling iron, a gallon of hair spray and I’m set to go.

My Helmet Hair, as Bill calls it, will stand up to the strongest Colorado wind, without moving a single strand.

I paid my bill, tipped the hair stylist and walked out the door into the late afternoon sunshine—Helmet Hair in place—ready to face the word.

What I wasn’t ready for was the panel of snow that slid off the metal roof of the beauty shop onto my new hairdo.

Stunned, squished, and snow clad, I went back into the beauty parlor and just stood there—hopeless and helpless—like a small child who fallen in a snow bank.

I wasn’t sure whether to laugh or cry.

A lot of life rests on thas decision—do we laugh or cry?

I decided to laugh. After the staff and I figured out that I was OK—other than being stunned—we all decided to laugh.

What made the whole venture meaningful and gratifying was the attentiveness of the staff who rushed at me with towels, sympathy and humor.

My stylist, Sherri, had been on her feet for at least 6 hours, yet she didn’t hesitate to repair the damage to my Helmet Hair.

Our hair stylists and others to tend to us are blessings in our lives. My thanks and gratitude go to Sherri.

She’s one of the people who brighten our days.

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BEST WISHES FOR A ‘ALE AND HEARTY NEW YEAR

Happy New Year to All,

It’s been said that the eyes of the world are on Colorado today
as the new marijuana laws take effect.

The spotlight on marijuana allowed another substance to slip under the radar. It was delivered by the U.S. Postal Service to our home yesterday.

The package came from our daughter Claire, who recently sent us an already assembled bee hive.

When Claire sends a gift it’s not generally something you can find at your local Target.

If this latest item hadn’t been clearly labeled, it would have taken me half the day to identify it.

Here’s some hints.

1. You can purchase than an ounce at a time.

2. It’s said to have some medicinal value—so far just taking a whiff of it has cleared out my sinuses. O.K., I admit I inhaled.

3. Apparently driving with this substance in your car is OK, though it would be tough to drive while using it—unless you want to distract other drivers—and would get you arrested as faster than you can say “pot.”

4. It’s relatively cheap to purchase—about a dollar an ounce.

5. You can make this stuff at home, and there’s no limit to how much you can manufactured.

6. It’s filled with B Vitamins and other nutrients.

7. One look on the internet suggested this concoction is trendy in some circles.

Now here’s the clincher. This product comes in the following scents: Pabst Blue Ribbon, Corona, Sam Adams and Guinness.

Yup, you guessed it. It’s beer soap!

In a world plagued with problems, beer soap is a reminder that good things still exist.

May all my readers be ‘ALE AND HEARTY during the New Year.

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TEARS FROM THE WATERS OF THE BIG THOMPSON

This is the last in the series of reflections on the 1976 Big Thompson Flood—but not the last in memories.

Unlike the 24/7 coverage of Colorado’s recent flood, news of the 1976 flood trickled in slowly.

In 1976, TV stations generally signed off around midnight, or at least after the Johnny Carson show. No weather channel. No Jim Cantore.

Just a buzz of black and white “snow” after midnight.

Often the first information about the flood came from radio or telephone conversations.

One friend of mine—a mother with an infant and two toddlers—first learned of the flood when a neighbor knocked on her door at 4 a.m. Sunday August 1st to let her know that the water supply for county residents was unsafe.

As a mental health worker, the magnitude of the disaster hit me when I began working at the intake desk at the temporary morgue set up at the old Loveland Memorial Hospital.

At 5 p.m. that evening, one of the workers in the morgue emerged with a hand written note.

He asked me to call a woman in another state to let he know that her sister’s body had been found.

Cemented in a strange numbness after four hours at the intake desk, I placed the call to convey the bad news.

I hate to say it but it seemed a little easier to deliver terrible news by phone than to look into the searching uncertainty in the eyes of those who still held hope of a loved one’s survival.

I still think about that woman and hope she had someone to turn to after hearing the news I delivered.

Much of what happened in the days and weeks after the flood are less vivid than the events of the first two days.

Once in a while, when I run into a friend who worked at the clinic with me we talk about our experiences. We each carry with us some tears from the waters of the Big Thompson.

And we were the lucky ones. I hope we were at last a little useful to those who came our way.

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SATURDAY BEFORE THE 1976 FLOOD

This is the third in a series of articles reflecting on the Big Thompson Flood of 1976.

Saturday July 31, 1976 started out like any other summer evening.

Our family of six had no inkling that the events of next few hours would be engraved in heartbreak and history as the Big Thompson Flood of 1976.

We finished dinner early that night.

Two of our daughters—Claire almost 18—and Sharon—age 16—asked if they could go out with friends that evening.

Claire and a girlfriend were headed up The Buckhorn—a nearby canyon northwest of town. Sharon and a group of friends were also “going out.”

Back then, “going out” meant anything from hanging out at a friend’s house to cruising in cars, going to keggers or—they tell me—jumping on the air pumps at local gas stations.
Parents raising children in today’s world of scheduled activities, cell phones and instant messaging must view our style of parenting as neglectful, if not downright criminal.

Bill and I plead guilty on all charges. Looking back, we’re surprised we weren’t arrested.

But I plead our case by saying “This was 1976. Loveland was a small town. Things were different then.”

You might ask, “Didn’t you have any sense of responsibility? Didn’t you worry about your children?”

I’m afraid we were light on the Saturday Night Social Responsibility Scale, but we were heavy into the worrying part—especially about auto accidents.

Drunk driving and driving without seat belts were prevalent in 1976.

Bill and I breathed a sigh of relief on weekend nights when our daughters arrived home safely, came into our bedroom and kissed us goodnight—chatting briefly about their adventures.

To sum it up, parenting in our house in our house—for good or for ill—was one of benign neglect.

So Claire and her friend headed up The Buckhorn. And Sharon and her friends set out for an undetermined destination.

A trip up Thompson Canyon to Estes Park was a popular destination on Saturday night, but fortunately that was not in the cards for either group that evening.

By a stroke of luck—a thing as simple as the destination of a party or two—they escaped one of the deadly Big Thompson Flood which took almost 150 lives.

Back home, Bill, Eileen and I stayed up late and watched a Doris Day movie, and nibbled on deviled ham sandwiches that evening, while Kathy, age 8, slept.

We had no inkling of what was happening up the Canyon.

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THE CALM BEFORE THE FLOOD

The whirl of the helicopters overhead this past month brings back memories of the Big Thompson Flood of 1976.

The hours before the 1976 flood seem like yesterday.

The day broke muggy and overcast. At the time I didn’t think too much about the sultry weather because I would work indoors that day.

I saw clients at the Larimer County Mental Health Clinic on Saturdays in exchange for a day off during the week.

The County occupied a small office on the second floor of a building on Cleveland and 4th Street—two blocks south of the present County building.

That Saturday, Bill attended the HP picnic near Estes Park along with several of our daughters. All were home when I returned from work.

I remember fixing spaghetti—now we call it pasta—for dinner that night. I multitasked past al dente and ended up with al gooey. But the kitchen blunder was to be the least of anyone’s problems that night.

Right after dinner one of the ER docs at the new McKee Medical Center called about a mental health client he had seen earlier that evening.

Just as we were ending our conversation, he said “Sounds like there a flood up the canyon. I’d better go. We’ve probably got a few scrapes and bruises coming in.”

None of us could conceive of the magnitude of the flood.

Readers, what do you remember about the day of the flood?

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MEMORIES OF THE BIG THOMPSON FLOOD 1976

The following column appeared in the print edition of the Loveland Reporter Herald several years ago. I am posting it again–during this second devastating flood–as a reminder of how well our communities come together in times of crisis.

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The phone call came at noon that day—the Sunday after the Big Thompson Flood in 1976.

I was a mental health worker at the Larimer County Mental Health Clinic.

Fellow therapist, Ed Callahan called. All mental health workers were called to assist with the aftermath of the flood.

Ed and I were assigned to set up an intake station at the temporary morgue located in the old Loveland Memorial Hospital near Douglas and Sixth Street in Loveland.

Our job was to get basic information from family and friends of those missing in the flood: name, age, gender, clothing, physical appearance, rings, tattoos, scars, etc.

We didn’t know that the force of the water left bodies stripped of identifying markers.

That Sunday the National Guard rescued over 800 people from canyon walls, trees and rooftops, but hundreds remained missing or separated from their families.

I was humbled and inspired by the patience and courage of those who brought terrifying experiences to my intake desk. One moment a loved one was within arm’s reach, and the next moment swept away in horrific darkness and noise.

Over the next days and months the community pulled together to rescue, mourn, rebuild and remember.

This summer’s fires brought communities together once again to rescue, mourn, rebuild and remember.

Here in the Front Range—as in other parts of the country—we do a great job of coming together in times of crisis.

In flood and fire men and women risk their lives to save people and property. Others work tirelessly and generously to help rebuild lives.

Yet, once a crisis has past, we often return to becoming a people divided by ideologies. We come together in times of concrete crises but are often poles apart in the realm of ideas.

Our county faces challenges in almost every arena. I wonder if we could begin to heed the words of Henry Ford: “Coming together is a beginning. Keeping together is progress. Working together is success.”

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