Wrestling Day Reverie

Weird day. Pain meds definitely NOT working and my sleep pattern is upside down (laid awake all night then slept today from dawn until mid-afternoon.) I want to grumble at getting my plans up-ended, but as hard as I work at it I can’t get perturbed.

It’s just too nice a day, and definitely the kind of Christmas I’ve come to expect in this stage of my life.

I’m spending time with people I love and we’re all safe, warm and most definitely well-fed. For just a little while the curtains are closed and we’re safely walled away from 2020 with all the magic our favorite quilts and Christmas music can muster.

1969/2020 “Bah, Humbug!”

(This is one of two Christmas-themed stories I re-run every year. This time around it’s a little different in that I’m not nearly the Scrooge I’ve been in years past, I don’t know if it’s my age or a reaction to the insanity that has been 2020 but I’ve found myself really enjoying the tree, the cars, the scriptures and the music.)

Have I already mentioned that I hate Christmas?

My enmity to this time of year has little to do with the actual day but rather the personal history that surrounds it. Name a personal disaster or heartbreak in my life and odds are the event happened either in December or within 2 weeks north or south of that month. I’m not going to produce an itemized list but if you really want to know why I dread the twelfth month of the year, and why I am miserable to live with during that time send a private message. If I get enough a large enough response I’ll elaborate a bit and then you’ll know why my dear sweetheart deserves a six-figure cash bonus, the Victoria Cross and immediate translation for simply enduring my presence during the holidays, much less talk or interact with me in any way.

Christmas wasn’t always miserable for me. There have also been some very happy times associated with the holidays, but they are totally overwhelmed by the number and intensity of the negative stuff. That contrast is no doubt fuel for the fire as well; I’m like the hungry homeless man with his nose pressed against the window of a four-star restaurant tormented by the sights and smells of food he can only imagine.

Even when thinking back as objectively as possible I cannot understand how I survived some of those times.  However those Yule seasons that seemed to be even more Yuseless than usual also happened to be times when I was blessed with an “adjunct angel” an individual whose words and deeds were vitally important to my continued mental health ( at one time to my life)– yet probably had no clue of the service they rendered.

There have been many such individuals ranging from a college instructor whose timely letter of praise and understanding drew the venom out of a heartless betrayal in a rebound relationship following the most crushing break-up of my life to a flight school buddy that refused to shun me when my medical disqualification made me invisible to the rest of my classmates (maybe they though vision problems were contagious). However, one of the most heart-warming may have not been a person at work – but rather circumstances; what we call “tender mercies”

.  It was Christmas Eve 1969; my sister Holly and I were up in my attic bedroom listening to some distinctly un-holiday rock music on my stereo and commiserating about how there was no “joyeux” in the “noel” when you weren’t a little kid. There was a lull in the music as the changer dropped another LP onto the turntable – and that’s when we heard the footsteps. Yes, footsteps on the roof just 10 inches on the other side of the ceiling of my attic bedroom.

We couldn’t tell exactly what kind of footsteps they were – there was a chinook (mid-winter warm front passage) going on which always brought on a chorus of humming, whining and moaning as the wind ran past the T.V. aerials, their supporting masts and guy-wires. It didn’t matter though – we looked at each other in wide-eyed shock, then Holly shot down the ladder to her bedroom while I shut off the light and dove under my covers.

There were no hoof-sprints or skid marks on the roof the next morning – but there was also very little snow after the warm winds of a Chinook.

 Had our cats running around the attic?

Had my dad on the roof adjusting the living room TV antenna?

 Did a sleigh park on our roof that night?

I don’t know the answer to any of those questions, just like I don’t know why selected friends over the years have chosen this time of year to perform life-changing acts of kindness for me.  While footsteps-on-the-rooftop didn’t have the heavy emotional weight of some of the other incidents I’ve shared, the event did have a life-changing, softening effect on my personality at a time when as a sixteen year old I was making important choices about where I wanted to go and what I wanted to do with my life. The timing was perfect.

…and as I was thinking about this post it came to me that timing has also been very effective with this whole holiday curse mindset. It’s cleverly turned my expectations about what should be a happy time into a subtle but non-stop attack on my faith.  I’m just very fortunate that at the same time those little attendant holiday miracles have been just as clever and even more effective in bolstering my faith.

Merry Christmas!

2020: Early Morning Ritual

4:00 AM

It was a whisper so quiet I almost missed it for the hum of the ceiling fan and the wind in the trees outside our bedroom window.

“Papa, I want to be down here with you and Nana” –  followed almost instantly with, “Can I use your tablet?” signaled the arrival of my grandson Jayden. I mumbled the usual assent mixed with admonitions about excess noise then drifted into my never-ending quest for more sleep.

Microseconds later a strident BEEP-BOOP-BEEP-BRRRRRT!! startles me into an (almost) sitting position while simultaneously triggering a semi-intelligible URK!1 The wee little voice with the endearing lisp calls out in the dark, “Torry Papa. I will turn it down,”  and instantly dispels my expected growly response and I roll back over to drift off as well as I can with patterns of light from the aforementioned tablet dancing across our ceiling.

“VROOOOMMMMM”

I stagger-stumble out of bed, visions of out-of-control vehicles heading for our front porch filling my imagination only to find my grandson with my tablet in hand, transfixed and terrified by his grandfather-turned-grizzly-bear careening around the bedroom floor and bouncing off bedroom walls while his grandmother struggles with the polyethylene clasp of her CPAP mask in an effort to sit up as well.

“JAYDEN!”

“Sorry Papa. Sorry Nana”.

At this point the tablet is turned off and put away before I once again embark on my fitful journey to Slumberland, but just as Little Nemo takes my ticket…

BA-THUMP…THUMP! BA-THUMP…THUMP!

“Hey Papa! I can jump reawy high! Watch me!”

My inner Cro-Magnon starts a growl rumbling deep in my chest but chokes it off when I note the time on my phone AND the growing light of dawn through the curtained window. I take comfort in the fact that if nothing else Jayden’s early morning calisthenics do not include PLFs2 off the dresser or a dive, tuck and roll over the bed with the two of us curled up comfortably and still sleeping…but mostly the knowledge that his predawn antics are a small price to pay for sharing this time in his life.

I’ve lived almost ten times as long as Jayden has and in all those years I’ve treasured my steadily evolving caretaking role as elder brother, uncle, father, and grandfather. I was never the type of dad who lived and longed for the day he would become an empty nester and the departure of each child was a little death for me. I suspect it will be the same when Jayden and his parents finally get a place of their own, but for now I will keep my tablet charged up and tuck the covers a little tighter when I turn in at night.

_______________________________________________________________________

Notes

1.  Which in my mind is perfectly understandable as “ See here young man what is this untimely commotion?”

2. Parachute landing fall.

For Miriam

We spent part of the month in a “social distancing times two” situation when my Beautiful Saxon Princess was tested for Covid 19. Our family physician was concerned about symptoms that came to light during a regular check up so our family spent our days lurking in our individual lairs – BSP kept our bedroom while I camped in the studio while Meghan and her family pretty  much had the run of the rest of the place.

As most of my collectible “stuff” is located in the studio I was able to avoid feeling sorry for myself but after 42+ years of marriage its hard to sleep alone. Long ago I found out that doing something for someone else is the best mood elevator EVER so I spent my time putting together some Tinkerbell art for my grand-niece Miriam.

Modified Tinkerbell art that is.

Life had dealt Miriam a pretty flat hand of cards and she spends most of her time immobile. Speech and vision problems isolate her even further so video provides most of her entertainment. She loves the color and motion of “chop-socky” shows like Inframan and has a particular fondness for Tinker-Bell so I came up with posters for her depicting Tink as alternately a Rambo-type adventurer and a crew member from the original Star Trek series.

2020-07-02A TrekBo2020-07-01A TinkerBo

Fireball Junior Re-work

2020-05-01 Fireball Junior Rework

While wading my way though my XL5 reboot it has come to me that with all the attention Fireball Junior gets during the series would need it a separate drawing, especially when the nose area in the main ship rendering didn’t work out as well as wanted. If you’ll check the drawing on my XL5 reboot page you’ll see that I went for NASA-style inset windows much like those on the Space:1999 Eagles but at length I’ve concluded that they would give a claustrophobic feel to  the control cabin,

…so I compromised between the old and the new, using a bug-like look similar to that on the Navy’s A-6 Intruder

Parley LaMoine Howell (1933-2020)

1980

“That’s some book-case you’re making David”

 “Thanks”

 “Are you sure you don’t want to add another support on the front:

 “Yes Dad”

(tap/tap/tap)

“You may want to consider adding that support to the front. Conrad is starting to walk, and he may grab onto it and – “

A reply of ultimate snarkiness was on the tip of my tongue but as luck would have it my Beautiful Saxon Princess chose that moment to step in and inform us the coals were just right for barbecue and took her father by the arm to start grilling. I shot a dark look at my father-in-law’s receding form: It was bad enough that in two days I’d be facing a medical board ruling my flight status without getting a critique on every second nail I drove into MY bookshelf…but then he was a civilian paper shuffler and hadn’t a clue about my situation, or ( I suspected) a care.

1991

David, are you sure you don’t want to go with us?’

“Yes, I’m sure”

(pause)

“ Did I tell you that we got a new engine for the boat and new upholstery for the seats?

 “Yes”          

 “Did you see the forecast? It’s going to be perfect weather”

 “I know”

(pause)

“ David are you sure –“ at which point my Beautiful Saxon Princess (well aware of the signs of an impending eruption of Mount David) stepped in with a Bundt cake to distract her father from his efforts to persuade me to join in a water-skiing expedition that afternoon.

I sat back and reached for an unbroken pencil and fresh sheet of paper. He didn’t have a clue – I was hanging on by my fingertips to an MFA program with an open hostility towards middle-aged professionals who also happened to hold reserve commissions in the military. My young family thought of the trip to my in-laws as a vacation but I definitely needed time to work on a research paper on Tlingit raven rattles, a topic that was both politically correct enough to get me through the semester as well as obscure enough to discourage thorough examination.

1997

“David, are you sure you want to measure out the stud lines from that wall”

 “Yes Dad”

(hammer/hammer/hammer)

“David, don’t you think we should measure out from this end”

 “No Dad. Measuring from this end puts most of them under floor joists”

(hammer/hammer/hammer)

“David are you – “ at which point Fate in the shape of My Beautiful Saxon Princess intervened with a tray of sandwiches and drinks prompting me to drop the hammer that I’d been gripping hard enough to emboss fingerprints.

2020

Parley LaMoine Howell passed away a few days ago, joining his wife and sweetheart Velma who’d made her own exit from the earthly stage a little over a year ago. Despite the Huntsville (AL) venue we were able to participate in the funeral via a Facebook Live broadcast (take that mean old Mister Coronavirus) and as we sat in the studio listening to the services several conclusions came to mind:

  • This guy was the bomb! He started college at Gonzaga University on a basketball scholarship, was a pivotal designer for the Lunar Rover used in Apollo program and in three different states was a major factor in the growth and leadership of our faith.
  • This guy was good. In the forty-two years I’d been married to his eldest daughter I’d never once seen him lose his temper or speak sharply to anyone in general but to me in particular when I was acting like a fourth-point-of-contact. He was sincerely Christ-like, and I had no doubt that if he was handed a glass of buttermilk it would revert back to grade A whole milk just because of his proximity.
  • I had sadly misinterpreted his intent those times he had been so insistent. What he’d really been saying in 1980 was “I know your medical grounding is difficult to deal with but you’re still valuable to me”. In 1991 he was saying the same thing about the challenges for graduate school I was facing, and in 1997 he just wanted to make sure our home was snug and well built.

…and lastly:

  • If I was ever going to be serious about weight loss we had to come up with a different way to defuse interpersonal conflict.

Hollow Days

The other shoe has finally dropped.

After close to a week’s anticipation the first diagnosed case of coronavirus has been reported at the local hospital. I’m not a phone-addict so I don’t have a solid, up-to-the- minute report on Clarksville’s collective reaction to the news, but in here in the Singletree subdivision the reaction is…hollow.

Everyone is still sequestered in their homes and while there are still a few people going to work no one is on the street: no kids playing, no joggers, no shade-tree mechanics -no sixty-six year old geezers hobbling along trying to get some fresh air. The noise level has been noticeably reduced but I wouldn’t say things are quiet. “Quiet” has a happy connotation – as in you become quiet as you’re falling asleep for a nap or silently waiting for the movie to start. Quiet is a voluntary state you enter in preparation for something good.

The lack of noise here is very different. The yells, clatter, rustlings and bustlings that make up the low-level chaotic soundtrack of a regular day has been gutted by a nervous anticipation, leaving us with a hollow quality of life – and sound. There are only two other times in my life that I’ve felt that “hollowness”:

  • The day after the Great Alaskan Earthquake of March 1964 while living in Anchorage
  • The day after the 9/11 attacks

With time there were better, less “hollow” days after both of those events, especially when people pitched in to help each other. Here’s hoping the hollowness goes away after this one in the same way.

“Hello?”

“Anybody there?”

I’m a semi-shut-in (if that’s a thing) so I’m used to my horizons being clipped short and using Amazon for shopping…but from where I stand it’s not just the mall, church of my grandson’s school that seems deserted – it’s feels deserted here as well. I can’t speak for all of my other word-crunching friends but for me personally – I’ve never had such low readership figures, looks, likes whatever you call it. I hope it’s just quirk brought on by the virus and that as time goes on we all get back to reading and commenting.

To better days!

2020: Sleeping Booty

Though it’s a condition notable enough to warrant a proper name (paresthesia) having one’s arm or leg go numb from sitting in one position too long is rarely a precursor for anything medically serious. Having your leg “fall asleep” may be uncomfortable but it is common enough to have inspired its own Benny Hill fart joke:

She: “That meeting was far too long. We were sitting so long my little bottom went to sleep”

He: “I know – I could hear it snoring”

 I didn’t make the connection between the sitting and the numbing until I was midway thorough seventh grade and I finally realized the sensation was not some sort of exotic malady or extra-terrestrial parasite devouring my nervous system. It became a source of entertainment on those days when the slurred speech and red nose our teacher brought back from lunch signaled that the rest of the day would involve educational movies – I would periodically tuck one foreleg under another until numbness set in, then unfold them to trigger pins and needles tickle-y enough to keep me awake through the second reel of “A World without Zinc!”

Like most other aspects of my life the novelty off the condition decreased when other more interesting aspects of puberty began to manifest themselves but since then there have been at least three times when the unexpected onset of Paresthesia had quite an impact on my life:

May 1971: Hidden Lake (Alaska) Graduation was mere days away when I joined with a small mob of young men from our congregation for a weekend of camping at Hidden Lake; a truly epic campground in a land that is the very definition of epic. I faintly recall that there was some sort of spiritual theme to be discussed during the outing but most of the time was spent running up and down the rocky cliffs that surrounded the campground, paddling canoes in Hidden Lake itself, and climbing the gently sloping face of Hideout Hill that faced to the north. It was as physically tiring as two-a-day football practice had been or airborne training would prove to be in the future, and when I dropped on my cot one night I was asleep before my head hit my pillow.

…but vague nightmares about giant snakes scared me awake early the next morning, and as I scrambled to escape my dream serpents I realized with sheer terror that something was holding me firmly to the cot. It wasn’t until I fought my way awake that I realized what was really going on: when I threw myself onto the cot the night before I had absent mindedly draped my right arm over the cot’s header bar and slept so deeply that I had stirred little if any through the night, causing my right arm to not just “go asleep” but to go into suspended animation. A reading list that included way too much Conan and John Carter of Mars generated the serpentine dream images to account for my arm’s immobility.

March 1977: Camp Williams (Utah) Similar to my sojourn at Hidden Lake only by weekend scheduling and an outdoor venue, the tactical exercise in which I was participating was designed to prepare us for advanced training at FT Lewis WA later that summer – and because of my size, strength and generally annoying gung-ho attitude I was assigned to carry the squad’s M60, a Cold War era machine gun based on the WW2 German MG42.

The scenario called for my squad to set up an ambush for another group that collectively lacked any sense of direction, leaving us to stay hunkered down and waiting much longer than expected. Following the old soldier’s tradition of getting sleep whenever possible I rested my head on my arms which were crossed over the cover and feed assembly of the M60 and promptly fell asleep.

…only to be abruptly kicked awake seemingly moments later by my squad leader. Our opponents had finally fumbled their way along the darkened path to the kill-zone in front of us, but when I reached for the trigger my right arm fell to the ground beside the gun, my arm having gone totally numb while folded on top of the M60. Harsh whispers and a second Vibram-soled kick convinced me to try making a left-handed shot but rather than squeeze the trigger for doctrinally correct three-round bursts I loudly pow-pow-powed through an entire belt of blank cartridges. During the post-ambush critique I was “smoked” for lack of fire discipline but then immediately praised for my aggressive attitude as manifested by all my yelling. Little did the lane grader know that it wasn’t an aggressive mindset but rather a reaction to the “pins & needles” sensation caused by restored circulation that was aggravated by the vibration and recoil of the machine gun.

February 2020: Clarksville TN Aging brings on a plethora of ailments both major and minor, but one of the most annoying is the microscopic capacity to which my bladder has shrunk, which means I visit the hallway bathroom several times a night. As a way to pass the time we stock the bathroom with reading material (in this case a Kindle) and it is not uncommon for me to get caught up in a story and continue reading long after the need for diversion is gone.

That was the case early one morning when I realized with a start that judging by the page count I’d spent more than an hour “distracted”. I clicked the Kindle off and started to stand up…and that’s as far as I got because not one but both legs had gone to sleep. I tried to stand a second time but was met with the same results, so I tried to pull myself up by grabbing the vanity, only to abruptly let go and thud back down to the seat when I found that the vanity wasn’t as securely fastened to the wall as I’d thought.

I started to panic, but then in a flash of inspiration I grabbed the fabric of my right pajama leg and started to bounce the leg up and down in an effort to get the circulation going and some strength restored. After what seemed forever the feeling began to return to my leg, so I leaned on my cane and started to stand up when

BANG-BANG-BANG-BANG!

 David, are you OK in there? It’s been a long time. Are you sick?”

Most people revere the inventor of the bathroom fan for providing a convenient white noise to mask otherwise embarrassing noises during routine visits. I praised his name to Heaven for drowning out the high-pitched “EEEPPPP!” scared out of me by my Beautiful Saxon Princess’ abrupt knock on the bathroom door. I murmured some clever retort (URKK!) as I adjusted my T-shirt and sweatpants and then shuffled back to bed, my sweetheart helping me prop myself into my slightly contorted but customary sleeping position.

…but as I was falling asleep I had enough presence of mind to make a short list of corrective measures to be taken in the hallway bathroom first thing the next morning:

  • Securely nail the vanity to the wall.
  • Change the settings on my Kindle to show the time.
  • Get a railing mounted to the wall so when paresthesia strikes again I can still pull myself up.