Sunday, January 29, 2012

Goodbye, Friend

Sunset came on January 20, 2012 for my dear friend Charles Gentry. His obituary is here. On facebook there are scores of pictures and he's hugging someone in almost every one.

My thoughts on my friend:

Charles came into our lives as an exuberant participant in charity events, but I really got to know him when he needed a little help from his friends. After his brain injury he went through therapy and he lived in Tarrytown where only a few things were within walking distance for him. Somehow we fell into a habit of having lunch every month or so. He would bring along a notebook and write down things we talked about. He said his cognitive therapist recommended it as a way to work on memory and such. I know a lot of people were picking him up and taking him to appointments and exercise classes. My contribution to helping him through that time was small. But one thing that struck me is how he didn’t mind asking for help and he made you glad to give it, but he never felt sorry for himself or doubted that he would be able to return the favors one day.

One day we were going to lunch and he told me that he’d had all this time on his hands so he’d decided to clean out his closet and he had a lot of stuff to take to Top Drawer. (A thrift store supporting Project Transitions, a charity we both supported.) I volunteered to borrow my dad’s van and take his stuff to the store on our excursion and told him I thought I’d just bring my dad along for lunch, too. I remember how appreciative he was and how he made my dad feel his gratitude. (Dad also purloined a couple of things, including a large sack of bird seed.) I’m guessing Charles was planning a downsizing and a move to downtown even then. When we all moved to the 360, Charles and other friends and Forrest and I reveled in our ‘neighborhood’ and he never failed to exalt the glories of the downtown lifestyle when we’d go to lunch or we’d be at a party or even when we just randomly bumped into each other. He was living his dream and he always reminded me that we were, too.

We promised to take care of each other. When I found out what had happened to Charles, I initially felt I hadn't done my job. Then I realized that we really had taken care of each other. It’s sad that Charles’ journey went no further but I believe we all contributed to his life after his recovery -- because he let us in to do it. And he contributed to our community and took care of us, too; not least by making us see some true things about life and death.

I have been struck at how many people felt so close to Charles. We invited Charles to events, he and I had lunch dates and he threw parties and invited us. We weren’t the kind of friends who saw each other almost daily (and he had those). But everyone in his orbit has expressed how much they felt he cared for them. Because when we got together he gushed with enthusiasm that we’d met up and that he got to see us and that we were on this earth at the same time and the same place. Which is really what friendship is all about.

Saturday, January 28, 2012

In My Head

[Thanks to Off the Wall, a cool SoCo shop for this reflection shot.]

I find things to worry about. From the ridiculous to the sublime. What is happening here? What just happened there? What if this happens? Or that? When will I die? What if I run out of money? What if the world ends, more or less?

Meanwhile though I sometimes find a way to enjoy reading (and typing if not writing). I whack a tennis ball for a winner and am thrilled. I take a walk, looking at houses and lawns, dogs and other walkers as well as litter and blades of grass. I think: it's great to be alive, observing this moving this way. And really: who cares what's next.

Still...I'm going to get that air bag recall in my car looked at this week, I swear.

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Who Are You Again? And I?

[Photo at a Shop called Howl on South Lamar.]

When you reach the ripe old age of (insert mumbling dissembling here) you have met a lot of people. They have crossed your path in classes, at work, at play, at events, in your neighborhood, at clubs and bars. Some are family or close enough. Some are family of friends or people you met on trips or through random connections (e.g. social media). They are friends of friends or people you met a degree or two or more away from the initial friend.

If you are like me, you keep up with this crew in various ways. In your head, of course, in that compartment labeled 'people I know.' This mental database contains a lot of people who might actually know you and also the 'famous' (locally or otherwise) who have little chance of recalling who you might be. This jumbled mess is the reason that when I'm trying to remember a friend whose first name is, say, Robert, that a chef's last name or a movie star's might appear in what is my slow-moving train of thought.

My husband has two large Rolodex wheels crammed full of cards, many with business cards attached, others scribbled on. Many times he retrieves precious info from this gadget. Of course, I'm betting there are names and info for people he has completely forgotten, too.

My major contact list is in the form of a computer data base. Currently in a Microsoft Access file, it's been in at least two other computer data base forms (one was, I believe, managed by a data base program called, strangely, Paradox). This data base has been converted, updated and columns added over a long and tangled life. When I first designed the columns...I didn't include 'email' as a heading but resorted to typing them into 'comments' for a long while and I've never added a cell phone column, just putting the cell phone into comments when people had both and now, of course, just putting cell phone into the phone column now that many don't have a land line. When arranging big events, I added columns for 'adult count' and 'kid count' and 'hotel/air.' I added some columns along the way to aid selection for mail/merge like 'XMAS' and 'TEMP.' The thing is a hot mess but a very important data base to me and because I'm too lazy to convert it again, I've had to buy new versions of Access (or Office Professional) along the way.

Of course I have contact information collected in phones and e-mail programs, too. I had the same cell phone for a decade from Sprint. I once typed all the contacts in it into a word document. I saved this in an Evernote (a program that allows you to have notes to yourself in browsers and on gadgets). The iPhone conveniently offers to call the things that look like phone numbers. Gradually some of these are added to my iPhone contact list which is, however, pretty short because really who phones people any longer? And I'm not really into texting either.

Then there are people (and groups) that I 'follow' or have listed as 'friends' or 'professional contacts' or have placed in 'circles' on social media.

There is overlap in all these databases from the mental to the modern social media. I also confess to having found a few printed phone lists the other day from jobs I had which I've never thrown away because they help me remember who these co-workers actually were. Or their names anyway.

There are people in that mental data base who've never made it to any real contact list and who aren't on social media (or not connected with me there). I might say 'hi' to these folks, I might have even had dinner with them, worked closely with them on something or sat through meetings for some charity. But I couldn't come up with an address or phone number on a bet. (Although phone books and Internet searches might do it. And private clubs we belong to have directories.)

I added three columns to the computer data base the other day. One to try to summarize how I came to know the person at first point of contact and one to rate the likelihood of ever communicating with them again. Then a third to describe what the current relationship is. There were a number of people in there who, honestly, I don't have any idea who they are. I should have put a comment in when I added them. I know that a few were friends of my dad's mostly and that I added them to this database to invite people to his 90th birthday party a few years ago. I should probably just delete the names but couldn't bring myself to do it. Some I knew pretty well myself through him and I've had to weed out the ones who died. Every year during holidays or while selecting names for a party list, I delete the dead people. Sometimes you just wipe out the line. Sometimes you have to remove the name of one half of a couple. Just a few days ago I had word that someone died. I found that I didn't have a snail mail address for a sympathy card. This couple had moved around and even though I'd been to an event at one house they had I had zero points of contact in my head or elsewhere. Only the dead person in the couple was on social media. There has been lots of press about what happens to people's social media feeds when they die. I don't really find it morbid or weird or anything myself. What's the difference between that and a hand-written Christmas card list? We got a Christmas card in my in-laws mail for both of them during the holidays. He died in January and she died in November. Someone didn't get the word. Anyway, we found the address for our sympathy card (where this digression started) by e-mailing a friend who we knew was close to the surviving partner.

That's one reason I like being on people's Christmas card lists: you keep up with their addresses. When I receive holiday cards, thank-you notes or invitations, I always pull up my data base and double check the address, spelling of names, zip codes etc. goes on. People enter and exit. And they don't always exit by dying. Sometimes we just never see them again. Sometimes that's how we'd wish it, sometimes not. You just sort of never know, especially about casual friends and acquaintances.

I began this digression several weeks ago. Since then a friend who lived here in the high rise died. The enormous number of connections he had and we had with him came into sharp relief. And there's his record in my database, his number on my phone. Eliminating them is too fraught today. Another time. And when I attend a memorial for him that's coming up I'll look around and realize how his connections overlap with mine in unexpected ways and also wonder more than once "what's that person's name?" and "are they in my database?"

When I started writing this it wasn't about death. And really, it's still not. But as with everything else, death has a way of sneaking into every conversation and changing all the parameters.

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Travel Looms

As soon as we get a piece of info about scheduling some medical tests we are going to assume that we can book some trips. Getaways. Fun. See new things. Revisit places we love. "New York and Portland [OR] are givens," said himself who is now a partner in pretty much all my travels.We'd considered taking a cruise some time, too. We'd even casually talked about doing one with another retired couple. We knew someone who was on the Costa Concordia (he and his companion got off unhurt). Gives you pause. I am a big believer in travel insurance and giving yourself a lot of options (taking spare glasses and your prescription; putting money, passports, credit cards in different places and one on your person if possible). But I don't think sinking ships or news of natural disasters or terrorists will keep us from traveling. We won't be going to the world's more dangerous places, of course.

We have even started blocking out some times and refusing to make plans for local events during those times.

I've always been a big fan of travel myself. When I traveled for business, I almost always found some time to do some sightseeing. When himself still worked his small business and wouldn't be gone for too long, we'd do long weekends and I'd go for longer trips with friends or meeting up with them and more or less going on my own. When I was a mere twenty-four years old I quit a perfectly good job and went to Europe armed with a Eurail Pass and a desire to see places that seemed impossibly far away during my impecunious childhood and college years. I've never regretted it.

So Bon Voyage to me. Multiple good trips. I hope. And even if something bad happens...well, if you don't survive...what a way to go. And if you do...what a story.

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Is there a Draft? Do I Measure Up?

I can't seem to post here. There are a half dozen or more drafts sitting around unposted. They include pictures, edited and re-edited thoughts, tags. But I do not hit publish.

I tweet. Which is all I can do, it seems with my head full of my reaction to current allergens in Central Texas. (The pollen of the mountain juniper aka 'cedar' and mold.)

Maybe I'll edit some of that junk and publish it. Or maybe I'll just keep tweeting and having the tweets fire off to facebook. It's come to that.

I do like this picture, though. Good old Uncommon Objects.

Friday, January 06, 2012

Where To Begin

After a long pause, I finally got around to writing a blog entry on Monday, November 14. I felt a bit adrift then. We were planning a little celebration (of our first date) with some friends. We had a trip to New York scheduled. (Which we took December 5-12. The above picture is our multiple reflections in one of the Bloomingdale Christmas windows.) I couldn't decide what, if anything to do about Christmas and the holidays. Whether to send cards, buy presents for anyone.

On November 16 my mother-in-law died. (The events of that day are somewhat interesting. See Forrest's description here.) That capped off a year and a half during which Forrest had a cancer scare and two surgeries; my dad died; his dad died; I disposed of my Dad's estate; he handled his dad's; and his mother died, leaving us parent-less. Then we begin disposing of his mother's estate.

There were three services, burials and such to arrange during what seemed like such a short time. There were fiduciary duties. There were (mercifully short) trips to MD Anderson, times in hospitals here. Three ambulance rides at the end for parents. Through it all we were very 'lucky.' Lucky FFP's cancer has apparently not spread. Lucky our parents didn't suffer too long. (My mother died in 2002 and, sadly, she did suffer a lot longer than I would have liked. My dad, of course, had his share of problems in the last few years.). But still. We were lucky. We had the money to handle things, for me to retire and take care of things for Dad after mother died. For Forrest to retire. We had time to see my dad through some trouble, to look after some things for his parents. We have the money now to not worry about money but just do what needs to be done with houses and stuff and all that.

Lucky or not, things are different. I realized after my dad died that I'd stayed young (in my own mind) and exuded confidence that I could take care of things trying to help him through his old age. Forrest did most of the things for his mom but her presence made me feel younger. Because she needed us, didn't she? Because we were young and strong and capable, right?

Now we can arrange to travel and not worry about what parental difficulties may arise at home. But, of course, we may find ourselves in difficulties. Can't really escape that.

We have kind of sleep-walked through the last six weeks. We went on with our schedule after a few days of handling my mother-in-law's services. We cleaned the valuables and mementos out of the house. We drifted through Christmas. I finally printed a few cards and sent them post-Christmas. We had a fancy dinner with friends on Christmas Eve and we were invited to a family gathering with someone else's family for Christmas Day. I didn't buy any presents except hostess gifts. FFP and I bought whatever we wanted and I sent money to my nieces and sister.

Now I wake up and it is 2012 and I'm vacillating between wanting to make some changes (blog, write my novel, exercise more, socialize with people, travel here, travel there, get rid of stuff, get new stuff) and wanting to roll down the shutters and be a recluse, changing as little as possible and buying nothing.

Where will I go with it? Will the blog record the journey or will I go back inside my head? Too early to tell. Going through old blog entries for the links in this entry make me realize that sometimes it does help just to write it down.