Monthly Archives: January 2013

The Year I Became a Black Sheep and Stayed that Way.

imagesOne glorious morning after my high school graduation, I totaled my car while my parents were vacationing near remote Corolla, NC.  They were unreachable because cell phones had yet to be invented, and Corolla Beach was off the grid.

I had stayed home alone because of my job at a bank where I spent my days checking the accuracy of computer print-outs for credit card merchant fees.  Even then, I thought the job, aside from being tedious, was silly.  Who was I, who maintained a steady C in high school math, to correct a computer?

But I did, and that’s where I was headed on a bright June morning as the eight-track played the Moody Blues when I, the only driver on the road, hit a parked car.  An Oldsmobile that was big, shiny cherry red, and, later I learned, bought new only one week prior.

Terrified, I knocked on doors until I found the owner.  But Jerry, even after taking a look at his car, seemed more worried about me.  He let me use his phone to call my neighbor and my boss.  He called the police because he needed a report to file an insurance claim.  As we waited for our guests, he gave me a Pepsi Cola and a Valium to calm my nerves.

When the policeman showed, Jerry begged him not to give me a ticket, but I left with a citation for reckless driving.

That Friday evening, my neighbor drove me to a pick-up spot north of Corolla to meet my father as planned the week before. Because I’d already spent a good portion of my life on restriction or writing “I must not . . .” sentences hundreds, perhaps thousands of times, I was scared to tell him about the ruin of Jerry’s car, the damage to my fifth-handed 1964 Impala and the ticket.  But I had to since my car was nowhere in sight.

As I recounted my morning and all that had gone wrong, his nostrils flared.  Moments later, he informed me that I would have to pay for the damage to my car and for a lawyer, whom I’d not planned on hiring.

Then he said, “Tell me exactly how this happened.   What were you doing?”

I told him that my shoulder bag leaning against the diver’s side floor hump flopped toward the gas pedal as I made a left turn and that as I’d reached down to remove it, I swerved into Jerry’s car.  An innocent mistake.  That was all.

“Hmph,” my father said.  “I think you were smoking a cigarette and dropped it.  You swerved trying to pick it up.”

It was scary how close he was to the truth, but I stuck to my story and told it to the judge who said, “What about centrifugal force?”

I left that courtroom with a reduced charge of improper driving, a fine and a crush on that white-haired man.  Even as a teenager I had a thing for brainy guys like Leonardo Da Vinci, Albert Einstein and Judge Lamb.

I told my father about court, the wisdom of the judge, and I let my dad think that he had gotten the story right since his theory was so close.

I would have left it at that if not for one thing.  The story became part of family lore —  the-daughter-as-a-black-sheep tale, and it was brought up at family dinners for the next 15 or so years.  I had moved on, done a lot of amazing things no one every mentioned or asked about.  In some ways I had the least blemished record of anyone in the family, except my mother.  Yet the story persisted.

Then, one Thanksgiving, long after my parents had split up and married others, someone, without a doubt my father, brought up the story that had so entertained my family, my family which had grown to include two teenage brothers, in addition to my older one, and a sister young enough to be my daughter.

This time when he came to the “she was smoking a cigarette,” I said, “Dad.”  I put down my fork.  “It wasn’t a cigarette.”  For a long few seconds, no one spoke.  Everyone stared at me. Having nothing to add, I picked up my knife and fork and returned to eating my dinner.  So did the others.

Several years passed before anyone brought up that story again, and the next time it was told, it was told right.

But not by my father.  He didn’t say a word.

Writer’s Note: I’ve an old notebook in which I keep weird facts, websites and off-the–wall news items.  Today I scanned through it, hoping for a blog idea.  Then I came across one line that read — The International Society of Black Sheep. This blog almost wrote itself.

Papa John’s Guide To Happiness: A Primer For Lindsay Lohan And The Rest Of Us.

pngpong        cousins         IMG_6705

When my soon to be 92-year-old father-in-law moved to a Mennonite assisted-living center in Goshen, IN three years ago, he called in his 80-something brother-in-law and a much younger son-in-law to help build an oversized desk and lots of shelving for his laptop, books, a printer and the vase with my mother-in-law’s ashes.

Papa John wasted little time in setting up an office in his modest one-room apartment.  He had much to do — track trends of the futures market for his own investment strategies and draw a house plan for a family in Africa.

He quickly made friends with other residents, but when they began dying off he turned to the center’s employees for conversation.  Now he especially enjoys talking with the beautiful young Eastern European women who work as servers in the dining hall because they tell him about things not discussed on the evening news.  Conversations about their customs, mores, ambitions and dreams. Conversation that help to keep him connected to the larger world.

In the Virginia home where Papa John lived most of his life, his dining room wall was plastered with a National Geographic world map.  It was there that he and my mother-in-law hosted lively Sunday dinners for family members, church friends and newly arrived emigrants from Albania and Laos.  And it was at that table that he learned to speak conversational Laotian.

At his 90th birthday party, my father-in-law announced to his children that he was starting life anew.  He went so far as to say, “It saddens me to think of all the funerals I’ll have to attend.”  He looked from one adult child to the next.  All nine of them.

Less than an hour later, his children had created a death pool and drawn names to see in what order they would all predecease their father.  Most of them share his sense of humor, especially Chris, one of the sassy and delightfully twisted instigators, who takes her dad to Walmart and a local diner every week where they discuss, in addition to his shopping list, the insanity of American politics at home and abroad..

At that 90th birthday celebration, one of the center’s employees gave Papa John, whose only taste of liquor occurred 71 year earlier, a bottle of Sangria.  Because he had read the benefits of red wine, he tried it.  And liked it.  In the days that followed, he drank a half-cup each morning with his breakfast until it was gone, then resumed doing so again when his stock was replenished at age 91.

These days he takes no prescription medication but believes dark chocolate is a daily “vitamin.” Every so often he calls me and says he has run out, knowing that I will send his favorite brands — Dove Bliss and Reese’s Dark Chocolate Peanut Butter Cups — which he shares with his visitors, always sending extras home with little kids.

Sometimes he mails me copies of his blood work.  On the desk in front of me is a recent one that shows his cholesterol is in range.  On that same sheet, scribbled in large print, is his blood pressure — 120/70.

Fifteen years ago a doctor told him he had the heart of a 25-year-old, and he reminds us of that often. But even though he spends 25 minutes, twice a day on a stationary bike, his legs are not so young.  He walks with a cane, one of his own design.  It’s made of PVC pipe.  At one end is an ell-shaped handle so he can hang it on the edge of a table.  The other end is four-pronged so it can stand upright.  Other features include a magnet for picking up dropped paper clips and a tine for stabbing paper debris.  His cane fascinates the center’s residents, some who want their own, and strangers at fast food restaurants to whom he gladly demonstrates its features as his sausage biscuit and free senior coffee cool.

Among his other creations are a pencil extender to increase the life of a nub; a specialty paper tray  for home/small business printers; methods for more efficient construction estimates; and a steel leg for a friend who damaged his own in a accident.  The last was a prototype that needed further tweaking.  No matter.  His buddy was too scared to strap it on.

A compulsive problem solver who wakes up thinking, “What if. . .,” Papa John is now working on a design for affordable, prefabricated living space that would allow persons on the low-end of the economic spectrum to afford their own 700 sq. ft. homes.  Floors could be added as families flourished.

The reason I’m writing about my father-in-law, other than the fact that I’m crazy about him, is that I recently watched the documentary, Happy, which features interviews with academics at U.S. universities and regular people in Denmark, Okinawa, Japan and elsewhere.

According to the film, the unhappiest people fall into three groups:

1.  People who work so much they have no time for leisure, family or friends. As an example, the film cites Japanese businessmen.

2.  Those on a hedonic treadmill who always WANT/NEED to have the next, big thing.  Look around.  We all know someone like this.  Or perhaps we are like this.  (But I’m not.  Really.)

3. Members of fringe groups who fear or dislike outsiders.  Think White Supremists.  Evangelicals, such as snakes handlers.  Or mountain-bound conspiracy theorists.

And what makes for a happy life?  According to experts, four conditions:

1. Regular physical activity that raises feel-good dopamine levels,

2. An appreciation for what one has (which is easier when one’s basic needs are met),

3. Close friends, family members and an involvement with community, and

4. Compassion and service to others.

When I finished streaming Happy on Netflix, I thought of my father-in-law who gave up his home and car at age 89 and moved from a Virginia community he’d known for most of his life to a final one in Indiana. Those changes alone, especially the last, are enough to send most people into a downward spiral.

Yet he continues to thrive. He wakes up every morning, looking forward to his day, happy.

How To Start A Day

How to Start a Day

Begin by letting go of the hem
of your dream.  Let it slip
backwards into a black lake
as you greet the dawn.  Be thankful
for small aches.  You have survived

night’s heavy arms to wash yesterday
from your face. Begin to create
the opus of a new day.  Look out
from a kitchen window as you savor
a first cup of coffee.  House wrens

flap at the feeder.  A squirrel
dances osiers so that the willow
shakes with laughter.  Be thankful
for the small favors of sunlight
walking across the lawn, a cabbage
butterfly teasing the azaleas,

the pink rain of cherry blossoms.
Even the neighbor’s dog barking
ducks from his yard is sacred.
Open to morning’s hymns:

the big mouth of the garbage truck,
the mockingbird’s purloined songs,
chatter on the corner waiting
for the yellow school bus.  The engine
of the day purrs in your throat

as you dress.  Sweep your calendar
clean of doctor appointments,
chores.  The vacuum and the duster
can wait.  Let the day surprise you.
Be thankful to be who you are.

Jane Ellen Glasser      DSCN0894

This is a poem I long ago tacked to a wall in my office where I would be sure to see it when I needed to — which has been often.  It appears in Jane Ellen’s prize-winning chapbook, The Long Life, and in her latest, The Red Coat, which is now available from Amazon.com.

Since day one of this blog, I wanted to share this poem and its creator’s name.  So, with her permission and photo, here it is for you to read, enjoy, perhaps reread and share while I try to pare the rambling post I’ve written about my elderly father-in-law and happiness.

Happy Tuesday, all!

Sometimes I Just Need a Break from the Lyme Regimen.

During the holidays I gave up drinking my morning cup of cistus icannus tea, an aid to breaking up biofilms caused by Lyme Disease, because I couldn’t take another day of feeling nauseous.  I also cut back on my Noni Microbial Defense but continued with reishi extract for extra autoimmune support during the day and added black cumin oil capsules at night.

My nausea and fatigue eased.  My sleep improved, and the purple striations and nodes on my fingers caused by the bartonella bacteria began to disappear.  I attribute the last two changes to black cumin oil.

After New Year’s I started up my Noni again without any herxing, and three days ago I returned to drinking cistus icannus.  I haven’t experience any nausea at all. Again, I suspect that the black cumin oil is working wonders in conjunction with the low-dose naltrexone (LDN) I started last May when my doctor steered me toward building up my autoimmune system.  Within four months of taking LDN, many of my symptoms associated with MS had disappeared.

Although all of us who have Lyme Disease have much in common, we also differ in how the disease expresses itself in our bodies, and many of us, with our health care professionals, are feeling our way through this process, the ever-changing treaments.

Because I grew tired of reading about the disease often rebounding in patients who’d taken antibiotics, I chose a LLD physician who’s a functional medicine advocate and honors my desire to take a homeopathic and bio-energetic approach.  We work as a team, and when I come up with ancillary treatments, such as the tea, the Reiki and the black cumin oil, he goes along with me and tracks my progress.  Or lack thereof.  When he thinks I will benefit from various other treatments, I read about them and most often take his advice.  For example, I hope to undergo electroaudiagnosis by Voll (EAV) in the next few months.  When the time comes, I’ll write about that.

Also, in an earlier post, I mentioned a blog by a courageous young woman who has taken the opposite approach to what I have chosen.  A couple of days ago, a friend told me that blog was no longer at the address I had listed. ( To tell the truth, I probably misremembered, which happens often with a Lyme mind.)  To read about her day-to-day struggle, go to fightlymes.com.  (Yes, it’s really there.  I wrote down the address this time.)

For those of you who do not suffer from Lyme’s Disease and came here expecting a story, thank you for staying with me.  Despite what you read in the media, many people believe that Lyme Disease is seldom cured with a month or two of antibiotics, except in cases of those freshly bitten.  In fact, the jury is still out on whether it can be cured at all.  But you do need to know that this is a disease with a stealth bacteria and a neurological component.  Everyday people who were originally diagnosed as having MS, ALS, and Parkinson’s are learning that, instead, they actually have Lyme’s.

Elizabeth Taylor Was Not My Mother.

DSCN0108When I was a kid, one of my favorite rainy day activities was to dig through the hall closet and haul out family albums and other mementos and spend an afternoon studying them.  Among these items were a small carving of Buddha, a picture of my father’s Japanese girlfriend, Mit-su, and a magical wooden cigarette box that he brought home with him from the Korean War;  photographs of my mother and her seven siblings taken at Ocean View Beach, the streets of Berkeley and my great-grandmother’s house in South Norfolk;  and a bronzed pair of baby shoes that had belonged to my older brother, a baby book that detailed his first year and every inch of him, his birth certificate riddled with errors, and an album fat with photos of him as a newborn.

I was eight before I realized that according to our closet, my own history with my family started when I was old enough to push my naked self up from my belly to stare into the camera. When I asked my mother why there were no pictures of me as a newborn and no baby book, she said, “I didn’t have time.  You were a baby.  Your brother was one.”  And my babies shoes and birth certificate?  “I don’t know.  They’re packed away somewhere.”

For a long while, I pondered her indifference, and it wasn’t until a girl in the neighborhood told me that she was adopted that I suspected that I was, too.  When I asked my mother, she snorted, “Adopted?  You look just like your father.”  And when I went to my father, he told me I looked just like my mother.  To me, their answers were fishy.  They looked nothing alike.

I turned to my grandmother for the truth as she was rolling out dough for dumplings on the kitchen table.  She stopped long enough to roll here eyes to heaven, shake her head and sigh before continuing on with her work.  From her actions and lack of words, I understood she had been sworn to silence.

Evidence mounted.  I spent a good portion of my life on restriction for various infractions, from storing my dirty socks under my bed and refusing to eat eggs, gagging at the sight and smell of them to failing a math quiz and forging my mother’s name on it.  That signature passed muster with my teacher but not with my parents.

It seemed as though years passed without my being allowed to see friends, talk on the telephone or watch TV.  If these people were my real parents, why weren’t they  nicer to me?

Then, when I was 12 or so, I read a newspaper article that said most children at some point in their lives believed they were adopted. Still, I had no evidence that I wasn’t.

And more to the point, I had nothing in common with my parents.  My mother, a Southern Baptist, loved church and True Romance magazines.  I did not.  My father enjoyed any dinner that included wild game riddled with buckshot, which I did not.  Both of them liked car trips that involved lots of scenery, especially long drives in mountains.  With my behind petrifying in the back seat of the Ford, there was only so much scenery i could take, 10 minutes at the most.

After college, I decided to take my savings and travel solo in Europe for three months.  This, of course, required a passport which, in turn, required a birth certificate that I ordered from the Virginia Department of Vital Statistics.  When it came, I saw for the first time that my parents were who they said they were, although our last names, typed incorrectly, were scratched through and written by hand.  Perhaps I should have been relieved to have my roots confirmed.  Instead, I felt a bit let down.  Elizabeth Taylor would not be coming to claim me.  Ever.

But this story doesn’t end there.  In time I started looking more like both of my parents who divorced after 21 years of marriage.  I kept my father’s coloring and my face began to resemble my mother’s.  As the three of us aged, I found much in common with both of them, too much and some things too embarrassing to list here.

Then, towards the last half of 2012, my parents each gave me what I consider as gifts.

My father told me about his cousin’s daughter, a woman close to my age whom I’d never met nor heard mentioned.  He thought we would like each other. because — get this — we both shared common medical histories. While that might be something to discuss, I didn’t see this common denominator as reason to embrace another relative.  (As those of you who read this blog know, I have a billion of them, not including my in-laws.)

My father sent me her email address, and I wrote her.  Becky wrote me back.  We continued to do so, getting to know each other as though we’d been set up by Match.com.  It was crazy how much alike we were in our interests.  Then, on Facebook, I saw her headshot, and there, I saw parts of myself — the shape of her face, the mouth, the teeth, and I knew her to be, without doubt, not just distant family but as a sister who “got” me and vice versa, even though we’d never met.

In November, during a visit to my 80 year-old mother, I told her of Becky and how much we shared in terms of genes, education, interests and so on, and when I finally stopped talking, she stood and said,  “Wait here.  I have something for you.”  She disappeared down the hall toward her bedroom, where I assumed she had a piece of clothing to pass on to me, but instead she returned and held out a set of bronzed booties.  “Take them,” she said.  They’re yours.”