Friday, March 30, 2007

Burning Down a Saturday Night

The softball game started back up as people returned from their cars, wiping off the benches before sitting down. The acrid smell of burnt ozone from the electrical storm still lingered in the air. But the remaining coolness with the humidity now gone made for perfect spectator weather for the all night softball tournament.

About a half hour later, another nearby spectator coming back with a hotdog said the word fired and pointed towards the southwest. Everyone nearby swiveled in their seats and looked where he had pointed. There was much speculation about where it was and we thought it was near the Smith farm that we farm for the Wells family. We were about done for the evening of softball watching and weren't scheduled to work the food stand until tomorrow morning so we decided to head home, via the Smith farm.

As we pulled down the mile long private driveway to the Smith farm and crested a low hill about a half-mile from the house, it looked as if the aliens had landed. Dozens of cars with headlights blazing were surrounding the house and in front of a huge orange background glow, little forms were seen walking this way and that. Half of the county was here to watch the fire that turned out to be the hay barn out back.

Deep inside, I was glad to see the barn burn because it always had a nest of bumblebees up in the mow which made it challenging to fill it with hay every year. I always seemed to get stung at least once a day and swell up like a balloon in that appendage. The mow floor was in poor condition and falling apart so you had to watch your step lest you fall through. It was just not my favorite place to put up hay and now it was completely engulfed in flames.

We got out of our car and joined the crowd of almost 50 people milling around the farmstead. The Smiths had retired several years ago and no longer lived on the farm so it was currently unoccupied but still, it kind of rubs you the wrong way to see so many people poking through the buildings. It didn't hit us until perhaps a minute later that out of the 50 people, there wasn't anyone here from the fire department yet. As if to punctuate that thought, the sound of an approaching siren filled the air.

The fire truck pulled up and the firemen hopped out and joined the crowd as we watched the barn collapse into a heap. One post with a burning nail tie remained in the shape of a burning cross that made me eerily feel as if I were part of a lynch mob instead of a bystander at a fire. As the fire died down, the bystanders headed back into town to watch the softball games or to go home and the firemen sprayed water around the perimeter of the fire before leaving for the station.

We stayed behind for a bit keeping an eye on things. Around midnight we too decided to go home. Behind us was a 50 by 50 square foot bed of red-hot coals as we got back into the van and turned on the headlights. Before us was the lawn of the farmhouse now trampled and rutted up from all the vehicles and people that had trespassed upon it. Such is the result if there is a fire in a small community on a Saturday night.

Thursday, March 29, 2007

The Hole

Chad wasn't very bright. One of my earlier memories of him was in fifth grade when our teacher promised to throw a popcorn and movie party if everyone got an A on the spelling test. For weeks we tried but after two weeks of everyone getting A's and Chad getting an F, we decided it was time for drastic measures. We all took turns during the day during lunch and recess hounding him on the ten words we were going to have to spell on Friday. We wouldn't let him join us in any playground activities until he had correctly spelled all ten words. By the time Friday came around, he could spell them in his sleep and we ended up getting the popcorn and movie but that isn't what I wanted to blog about.

This particular memory of Chad occurred in junior high school during a study hall hour presided over by our gym teacher. I can't remember the gym teacher's name but she had a rule that we couldn't shoot a basketball past a redline drawn on the gym floor between the free throw line and the three point arc on a basketball court. If we did, we got a detention.

On this particularly slow day in study hall, Chad wadded up a piece of paper and chucked it from his seat towards the wastebasket some thirty feet away. It fell far short and since there were rules against doing so in the gym teacher's study hall, she gave him a detention. I'm not positive but I think if you had five detentions within a certain amount of time, you were given an automatic three-day suspension to be served down in what the student's called "the hole." The hole was little more than a closet with a lock on the outside where the student spent the day in seclusion doing homework that teachers brought down. With the latest detention, Chad now had four and was on the verge of getting a three-day suspension.

The gym teacher reprimanded him, told him he had a detention and told him to pick it up and "throw" it away. So Chad walked up the wadded up paper now only ten feet from the trash can and did another jump shot with it… again missing. The gym teacher gave Chad his fifth detention despite his protests that she had told him to "throw" it away, which is what he had done.

Chad pleaded with her to reconsider because the detention meant he would be spending the next three days down in the hole but she wouldn't. Finally in desperation he told her that if he could shoot from the platform and go for double or nothing. If he made the shot, he would be back to three detentions and if he missed, he would be spending the next three days in the hole plus have two more detentions towards the next suspension.

We were dumbfounded. The platform was where the study hall teacher sat and was at least forty feet from the trashcan. I didn't even think it was possible to throw it that far much less try to make it in a wastebasket eighteen inches across. I was even more dumbfounded when the teacher accepted Chad's terms. Chad picked up the wad of paper, walked clear across the study hall room to the little six by six foot raised platform. Looking back towards us, we could see the determination in his eyes. We knew the stakes were high.

Chad wound up, took a few short shuffle steps and threw the wad of paper with all his might. We all watched in silence as it soared through the air and fell among the desks some twenty feet short of the trashcan. Without a word, Chad walked to the wad of paper, picked it up and after walking over to the trashcan, dropped it in. The next three days, we would only see the light shining through the door cracks as we walked by the hole.

Wednesday, March 28, 2007

Mrs. Deerslayer and Home Economics

In my junior year of high school, I had to take half a year in shop class and the other half of a year in home economics class. In shop class we learned how to weld and to build things out of wood. In home economics we were to learn how to cook and how to sew. The first day of class for home economics began and within minutes I knew the class was going to be a joke.

The teacher we called the Deerslayer since she always seemed to hit another deer with her car immediately after repairing it from the previous onslaught. She came into the class and began to explain her rules of conduct. All my other teachers in high school really never gave any conduct rules, simply preferring to hand out detentions as the situation merited. Mrs. Deerslayer however, had a system in which for every infraction she would mark down a tick mark on a recipe card with our name on it and stick it in a box. When you had five marks, you got a detention. If you were good for X amount of weeks, you got a tick mark erased.

For a bunch of 16 and 17 year old boys, this was manna from heaven. We could create some mayhem or do something destructive and only get one mark written down. We had four chances during the semester to plan some outrageous stunt and know that as long as we didn't commit a fifth offense, we were never getting a detention. We thought this was as good as it gets. We were wrong.

The first offender was a kid by the name of Chad who was always in detention. During a baking test when we were making cookies for a grade, he turned all the girls ovens to broil when they weren't looking. His thought was that if the girls handed in burnt cookies, the boys could hand in sub-par cookies and still get better grades. Instead, he set off the smoke alarms as black smoke filled up the classroom causing us to open all the windows in the middle of January. Fortunately back then; there were no such things as mandatory sprinkler systems.

Mrs. Deerslayer quickly identified the culprit and walked to her desk where she slowly and deliberately searched through the cards. She found Chad's card, picked up a pencil and put a tick mark on it as if to say, we had all better learn a lesson from this incident. She was right, we did. We immediately learned that she wrote down the tick marks in pencil and that anytime she left the room, we could soon have our slates clean again. We would erase all but one tick mark so that it wouldn't be too suspicious. She never caught on, no one ever got a detention, and the semester was general chaos. That was one of the better semesters of my high school career.

Tuesday, March 27, 2007


1. the quality of being mobile.

Mobility is the most noticeable learned skill Little Abbey has learned since my last update. Back then, she could crawl in reverse only and that didn't get her into too much trouble. Shortly thereafter, she began crawling forward and is in all kinds of trouble. At first, she didn't exploit it. Our normal routine was that I would pick her up on the way home from work, sit her down with toys which I went upstairs to get out of my work clothes. One day I was coming back downstairs only to find Little Abbey sitting at the foot of the stairs, twenty feet from where I had left her. This wouldn't be a problem except at that point, she was only about three feet from the start of the stairs going down to the basement and which are unguarded. Now she goes into her playpen while I change cloths.

With her new mobility, Little Abbey started getting into her mom's plants and so we strung up both of our baby gates from garage sales to barricade that area off. She also has taken to following us around but isn't very good at that yet. She can follow us fast enough but generally discovers something like a bag or some interesting dirt along the way and gets sidetracked. I still cringe every time I turn around to see her sitting there with a big grin on her face as she chews on something inside her mouth.

I would like to buy some of those old wooden expandable baby gates that I can fasten together and string up across the large openings we have on the main floor to try and contain Little Abbey. To do this, I need to find some gates made of wood so I can screw together but most seemed made of plastic. Second, I need to find several of the same type of gates but the last three stores I have checked only have one of each model. Third, most stores stock these gates with openings and all sorts of extra features so getting the five or six gates I need to do the job would run me well over a hundred dollars. I found two gates at garage sales for $0.50 each! I'm hoping to hit the spring garage sales soon and get the other gates I need.

A direct result of Little Abbey's mobility, her already great demeanor turned into an even happier one. Now she doesn't have to "ask" us for something that she wants. She merely crawls over to it and gets it whether we want her to have it or not. One of her favorite items right now are the remote controls for the stereo, DVD player, VCR and television.
Baby Rule #2: When the baby is done playing with the remote controls, all electrical items will be in some state of on or playing.

First Corollary: The baby will only turn the volume up and never down.

Second Corollary: The baby will only turn off the item in which you are intently watching or listening too.
Also new to Little Abbey's arsenal of mobility is the ability to pull herself upright into a standing position. She did this once a long time ago and then after she got our hopes up never did it again. That is until last weekend when we had guests and then in a show of baby rivalry, proceeded to pull herself up into a standing position as if she had been doing so for years. This effectively extends her reach by two feet and allows her to get into even more trouble.

The final stage in her mobility with everything in the house will be vulnerable to her inquisitive eyes and hands will be walking. She walks when you hold her hands and is doing so at a faster pace and with more confidence than the day before. Fortunate for me, she hasn't figured out that if she is supporting her hands on the couch that she can also do the same thing. She probably would have figured this out already if we didn't have all hardwood flooring downstairs. This was coupled with winter, which means keeping warm with socks that are like walking on ice when crossing hardwood. Bare feet will be coming back in fashion and winter has just left town. Oh boy!

Monday, March 26, 2007

Assuming Makes An A@$ Out of Me Anyway

When dealing with someone else's baby, I have found that the old rule of never assuming because you might make an ass of you and me is especially important to follow. We forgot that rule on Saturday night and caused a little bit of an embarrassing situation.

Some friends of ours who have a baby boy 6 weeks older than Little Abbey came down for the evening and for supper. The last time we had gotten together four or five months ago, Baby B was significantly ahead of Little Abbey developmentally. We weren't jealous but it did probably play a large part in our assumption on Saturday.

While my wife was entertaining our guests, I was preparing my gradually becoming world famous chicken teriyaki for supper. I had deboned the chicken thighs and instead of wasting the bones, I threw them in a pot with some water to make some broth out of them. We had been planning on just putting the broth in the refrigerator and making some spaghetti for Baby B and Little Abbey but my wife had a better idea. We decided to make arroz caldo, a Filipino dish consisting of rice and chicken in broth. The rice is cooked so that it absorbs much of the liquid and becomes really soft and the chicken really tender. Since the chicken had been used for the teriyaki, we simply just used the scraps off the boiled chicken bones. Here is where the assumption came in. We knew Little Abbey would love the arroz caldo and so we simply made enough for her and Baby B.

Only as we sat down to eat did we learn of our error in assumption. Even though Little Abbey has been eating mostly table food since six months, Baby B had eaten nothing but pureed fruits and vegetables and his parents had been planning on continuing that until he was a year old. He had four teeth but they didn't think he even knew how to chew even though when eating arroz caldo with no large chunks of chicken, chewing isn't even necessary. Back and forth they went in Tagalog, (their native language) debating what to do but when they saw Little Abbey hungrily slurping her arroz caldo down with no teeth and a hungry look in her eye, they decided that they would feed Baby B. the arroz caldo. Baby B. loved it and ate it like it was going out of style.

The rest of the evening went well but I couldn't help but feel sorry for Baby B. Here his parents were eating all kinds of varied foods in front of him and all he was allowed to eat was strained peas. He was probably wondering what kind of world he had been brought into. Fortunately for him, because of our error in assumptions, he is probably eating much better as I speak.

Friday, March 23, 2007

The Pepsi Bottle Mishap

It was a scorcher for a spring day and I had been hauling tanks of anhydrous ammonia fertilizer all day for my father who was doing the field application. The trip was about 15 to 20 miles one way of gravel roads depending on which field we were applying the fertilizer too and the dust was flying. The truck had air conditioning but it was an old truck and leaked like a sieve so the dust inevitably seeped in coating everything, including my throat.

Back then, pop came in 16-oz glass bottles and I happened to have one chilling next to me in a cooler. I would have gladly drunk it earlier in the morning or with my lunch but farming isn't a nine to five kind of job. I had been hauling since six in the morning and would be doing so until well past dark. Sometimes, the only way to break up the day was to delay the gratification of a pop so that you had something to look forward too. Drinking it at noon and knowing that the next eight to nine hours would be nothing but stale warm water was not something that knowledge of would make the time pass faster.

Finally around three in the afternoon after the sun was finally path its zenith, I decided the time was right. I found a nice wide spot on the gravel road and slowed the 2.5 tons of ammonia I was pulling down to a stop, the dust piling up around the truck and obscuring my vision for half a minute. I reached into the cooler and pulled out the 16-oz glass bottle of Pepsi, still very cold to the touch thanks to the ice packs and beaded with condensation. I reached for my pliers in my hip holster and came up with nothing but air. Thinking they had slid around on the belt, I tried again a little bit further back and came up empty again. I looked. I was missing my pliers and must have forgotten to put them on this morning in my haste to get going. I was now at a loss at how to open the bottle of Pepsi.

My throat ached with dryness as I contemplated the situation for a minute before deciding on a plan of action. I had seen so many times in the movie where someone hooked the bottle top on the edge of a table and with a sharp blow to the wrist of the hand holding the bottle by the neck, inertia would pop the top off as neatly as you could please. How hard could it be to do this?

I looked around the cab of the truck but it was full of plastic and vinyl, neither of which I wanted to damage too badly lest I have to face my father's wrath. So I opened up the door and headed around toward the back of the truck. The tow bar was currently in use, the bumper edges were too rounded but the tongue edges of the anhydrous tank were nice and sharp. I hooked the edges of the pop bottle top on the edge, took a firm grip of the bottleneck in my left hand and sharply hit down on my wrist with my right hand.

With an unmistakable sound, the entire glass neck of the bottle exploded into the air sending glistening shards into the gravel below. I was now holding a bottle of ice cold Pepsi about three fourths full and a jagged edge where the neck of the bottle used to be. Worst of all, my mouth seemed dry as sandpaper. So close and yet so far away.

I contemplated drinking it anyway but I just knew that there would be a shard or two of glass inside that would ripe my innards from mouth to exit and that didn't seem like a pleasant way to leave this earth. So after another minute of contemplation, I did the next logical thing. I found a clean spot on my shirt that had been tucked into my pants and I applied it over the sharp opening of the pop bottle. Being careful, I pulled up my shirt and emptied the bottle in one go using my shirt as a filter of sorts, gulping down that delicious caramel colored caffeinated nectar.

After I had finished what remained of the pop, I wrung out my shirt tail, tucked it back into my jeans, scraped the glass shard filled gravel off the side of the road, put the bottle in an empty feed sack in the back of the truck and resumed slowly resumed my journey to the rendezvous point with my father. My thirst had been sated and it was only five more hours until quitting time. With a belly full of cold Pepsi, that was easy time.

Wednesday, March 21, 2007

Not So Peaceful At the Monastery

My stomach nestled firmly high up in my throat near where my tonsils would have been had I not had them taken out as a kid. My testicles crawled up inside my body and had my bladder been full it would have emptied. I was floating in my small yellow kayak about fifty feet upstream of Monastery Falls where a boy had drowned fishing not five days before and I was terrified. The water bunched up from the normally wide expanse of the river and pounded its way through the two large granite rocks at the head of the falls not five feet apart. The river was up and the hole at the base of the upper seven-foot drop was a monster. It was one of those that would swallow me whole and spit me out a couple hours later like a stale burp.

Random blobs of foam flew up from beyond the brink as the roar of the rapids approached. My instructor was standing near the top of the upper drop eyeing my approach and form that right now was desperately feeling like it belonged on a nice couch back in Iowa instead of wedged into a whitewater kayak above the biggest falls on the Red River. The other classmates were scattered all along the right side of the falls all perched at a point where they thought they could see me bite the big one as best as possible. The current sucked harder at my boat pulling me towards the throat of the angry beast and I knew there was no backing out now. There would be no room to paddle until below the first drop because the rocks on either side were too close together. The instructor had informed me that I should paddle like hell to gain enough momentum to make it through the huge sucking hole at the bottom and to be sure and turn the paddle so it wouldn't behead me if it got caught on the rocks. My legs started turning into jelly as I paddled like hell toward what was certain death and drowning number two within a week but damn if I was going without a fight. I gave two final pulls on the paddle, folded it along side the boat and closed my eyes as the water fell away from the boat and it yawed down directly towards the gaping jaws of the monster hole.

The water slammed my chest as I brought my paddle back out and desperately went through the motions trying to find some solid water somewhere in the aerated foam that engulfed me. I couldn't tell if I was going forward or being pulled back but I felt the blade of my paddle sink into some dense water somewhere beneath the foam and I pulled with all my might launching my boat forward and into the bright sunlight on the far side of the standing wave beneath the hole. However, I was slightly askew and my boat surfed right down the backside of the wave and into the shore right at the base of one of my fellow students feet. The nose of the boat slid along the face of the granite boulder with a loud scraping noise before wedging firmly into a crack and stopping me so hard that the momentum of my upper torso kept going slamming my thankfully helmet head against the deck of the kayak. Dazed but still clutching my paddle, I tried for an upper brace as my boat slowly rolled over but it was weak and the boat kept going. Just as my head was about to disappear under the foamy water, the paddle blade hit bottom and pushing up I was able to right the boat.

The boat was upright and I fought to regain my composure as my kayak now hurdled over a couple intermediate drops towards the lower larger drop of ten feet, backwards. This was back when white water kayaking was in its infancy and the short stubby models of today weren't even a thought. The channel was to narrow for me to be able to turn my boat around in time to meet the lower falls head on and so I straightened it up slightly as I went over the lip, backwards. I hit the much shallower and less dangerous hole at the bottom of the lower drop and was immediately flushed downstream. My kayak sickenly tried to roll as the various eddies piled water on the deck but the adrenaline was kicking in and several almost savage braces kept it upright until I finally eddied out in the large eddy along the shore of the manicured lawns of the monastery for which the falls is named after.

My stomach and testicles both assumed their rightful positions within my body and the pounding adrenalin gave way to shaking in my hands and arms as I realized that I had made it through the falls and more importantly, lived to tell about it. I floated there for a couple minutes soaking in the peaceful surrounding below such a violent section of the river and listen to the sounds of my cheering classmates. I regained my composure and with a few strokes, punched out of the eddy right below the lower hole at the base of the falls doing a peel out while surfing the wave to the other side of the river where they were all waiting. The classmate whom legs the bow of my boat almost pinched beneath the upper falls joking told me how large my eyes were as my boat turned backwards and almost upside down. I hid the quivering in my arms, legs and voice and as bravely as I could said, "Oh that's nothing, you should have seen the size of your eyes!"

Thursday, March 8, 2007

John Henry Baker and the Search For His Father

As some of you recall, I am a genealogy buff and have been digging into my past for a few years when time permits. My direct ancestor family tree is 267+ in number with about 100+ of those confirmed by myself with some sort of record. I have all eight of my great grandparents and all 16 of my great great grandparents documented and have been working on my 32 great great great grandparents, two of them who were a mystery to me. Thanks to a fellow blogger and genealogy aficionado, Emma Sometimes, one of those two unknowns could possibly be solved.

My great great grandfather John Henry Baker has always been a known thanks to his granddaughter, my grandmother, still being alive today to tell me about him. However, she didn't know his father and I've tried searching for him off and on. As with most genealogical searches, the first thing to do is start with the known and work back and in this case I started with John Henry. I quickly located him in the U.S. Census records for 1900, 1910, & 1930 after he was already married. Since he died in 1932, I didn't search beyond that. I haven't been able to locate the 1920 record and I have a theory as to why. In 1910, he was married to my great great great grandmother Blanche Jessie McKee. In 1930, he was married to someone by the name of Katie B. My theory is that Blanche died before 1920 and that John went to live with one of his children or a relative and may not have been in Iowa, his location during all the other census recordings, at the time of the census. One of these days, I'll have to track that record down.

But before 1900, I was drawing a blank. Although a census is taken every ten years, there is no census for 1890 as the large majority of it was destroyed in a fire. Because he was born in about 1871, this left me with only the 1880 census record to find him. In 1900 and 1910, John listed his place of birth as Wisconsin and so I searched for him in Wisconsin without avail. His 1930 census listed his place of birth as Iowa and I searched for under the following names: John Baker, John H. Baker, John Henry Baker, J. Baker, and J.H. Baker, all commonly used by census takers. No luck. I gave up for the time being and moved on to other areas.

This is where Emma enters the picture. She volunteered her knowledge to locate anybody that I was having a hard time doing so and I took her up on it. I have her all the information I knew about John Henry including some unverified reports that his father was named Joseph and was buried along side him in Greenwood Cemetery in Cedar Falls, Iowa, which is where John lived most of his life. Emma sent me an image of the 1880 census showing a 10-year-old John living with Joseph Baker halfway across Iowa from the later years.

The reason why I couldn't find this is because the compiler who indexed all the names in the Census so that they can be searched easily read the name as John F. Baker. By inspecting the actual census document with the original handwriting, it is obviously John H. Baker. Case closed? Perhaps.

In the 1880 census that Emma sent me, John Baker has the right name, his parents were both born in England according to other census year notations and he was at the right age. However, Joseph Baker was listed as being 60 years old at the time of the census meaning he was born around 1820. The grave record for the Joseph Baker buried near my great great grandfather John Henry Baker lists his birth date as 1847. A 27-year difference is too large to ignore as error. So who is wrong?

The ages of Joseph's wife and children both suggest a birth date of 1820 is accurate and I have yet to see a mistake by a census taker on that column of information except for once when the census taker confused 8 months old with 8 years old on one relative. I decided to call the Greenwood Cemetery to verify the date but they had no record of a John or Joseph Baker being buried there. What does this mean since volume four of Black Hawk County Cemetery Records lists them both at Greenwood Cemetery?

If 1820 was correct, Joseph was 51 when John was born, certainly not impossible, especially since Joseph had a lot of children over the years. If 1847 was correct, Joseph was 24 when John was born, also certainly possible. To confuse the issue more, I found a granddaughter of John Henry Baker who believes John was born in Illinois and Joseph was born in 1847. I've found no signs that John Henry was ever in Illinois. The same lady also thought that Joseph died in the Civil War but by her own records which also jive with the cemetery records, he died in 1882, 16 years after the war ended.

So to conclude, I probably found my great great great grandfather named Joseph but I certainly haven't confirmed it yet and short of a trip up to Greenwood Cemetery in Cedar Falls, I probably won't for a while. I have tracked Joseph back to 1860 and all records indicate that he is the father along with the 1880 record, which is pretty conclusive. But until I solve the birth year difference of 1820 versus 1847, I'm not going to add it into the confirmed column.

Wednesday, March 7, 2007

Can a Cold Count as One of 'Bad Luck In Threes'?

They say that bad luck comes in threes so if that is the case, I sure hope whoever keeps the tally is counting Little Abbey's cold at three months of age as one of those cases of bad luck. The second instance was the rotavirus that came when she was almost eight months and last Friday, well that is definitely the third instance and hopefully the last.

Little Abbey had a runny nose and a cough for about a week but since I had a bad cold only a week and a half before, we just assumed that she had inherited it. So we weren't concerned when we went to her nine-month checkup on Friday. She had her vitals taken and is still topping the charts in height and at the 50th percentile in weight at 19 lbs 11 ounces. But when the doctor said there was a resperatory virus going around and he wanted to do a nose swab, we started to get a little worried. When he came back and said that she had tested positive for RSV, a respiratory virus, which definitely worried us because the majority of those kids end up in the hospital.

So we loaded Little Abbey up into a contraption that held her immobile with her hands above her head while she got x-rayed to make sure she didn't have pneumonia. Fortunately she didn't have that but she did have bronchitis and would need to go on a nebulizer until the condition cleared up. As a side note, the doctor mentioned that she was probably contagious still and shouldn't be in contact with other babies or young children for another four or five days.

With the time being close to 6:00 pm on a Friday evening, I wasn't too optimistic about getting a nebulizer but after driving around town to several different drugstores, I finally found one that I could rent. Little Abbey absolutely hated the machine in the doctor's office but back home it seemed to comfort her and it certainly cleared up her chest congestion. By Sunday, she was back to her normal self but with an appetite that was slightly off. By Monday evening, the appetite returned and yesterday she was declared normal once again. Today, five days later, she returns to daycare and was a little sad to see me leave her.

On the one hand, I'm glad she didn't need hospitalization which most of her peers would. I can only thank the breast milk for keeping her immune system strong. She has fought two very dangerous illnesses for babies and did it well. I'm hoping that as most literature says, she will be healthier for it in the long run. The only think I dislike is the fact that she keeps bringing home this stuff from daycare. It is not the daycare's fault because Mrs. Z runs a tight ship. The fault lies in the system where parents don't keep their children home when they aren't well and the children pass it on to others who pass it on to others, etc. Children who haven't really understood the nuances of covering their mouths when they sneeze or washing their hands are the perfect breeding grounds.

But in the end, Little Abbey is back to normal and I'm relieved. As with all her illnesses, she bounced back and then some. Just yesterday alone, she pulled herself up to a standing position three times and learned to wave bye-bye. It just melts my heart

Tuesday, March 6, 2007

The Man In the Picture and Green Gumdrops

At the time, I never considered it fun. It was always more of an obligation and at eight years old, I'm not sure I even knew what that was. We would pile in the car on the weekend after the Christmas holiday and drive over to the nursing home where my great grandfather lived. I never remember my great grandfather Victor being anyplace but in his room, mostly in a leather chair next to the bed where he could look out the window. The bed was always crisply made and he usually had a knitted blanket of my great grandmothers thrown over his shoulders. The room always smelled with the odor of what I have come to symbolize as old people in any mass living arrangement. I'm not fond of that smell.

My parents, grandparents, and great grandmother would immediately set into searching the room to make sure Victor has everything he needed like plenty of clothes that weren't stained or torn, lotions, lip balm, glass cleaner, etc. They also replenished his supply of snacks including my great grandfather's favorite snack, green gumdrops. While the adults were talking to Victor, my brother and I would stand quietly in the corner, sucking on a few of the sugary green gumdrops and looking around the room.

On the nightstand, there was a picture of a strapping young man full of life and energy holding up perhaps one of the largest fish I had ever seen at the time next to a beautiful young lady in a boat. The background was full of mountains and trees and seemed like a far off place to the northern plains of Iowa. It was only after seeing this picture that I would ever remember that my great grandparents were once young. Although my great grandmother was in good shape and would go on to live another four years, my great grandfather Victor shared no resemblance to the man in the photograph. Victor was old, muscles withered, stooped and his eyes were vacant and had been since my earliest memory. He had advanced Alzheimer's.

He never knew who I was, couldn't remember my mother, his son or his wife. In fact, he rarely even said anything that I can remember and mostly just stared out the window. They would talk to him about who was here to see him, about how his week must have been going and commenting on how a nurse hadn't combed his hair properly. After about an hour, we would tell him goodbye and leave him behind to munch on the occasional green gumdrop. I can only remember seeing him a few more times before 1985 when on a cold January day, he passed on.

Two decades later, I would get the genealogy bug and started doing some research on my ancestors and like any genealogist, I started with who I knew and worked into the past. One of the items that I borrowed from a relative was a book full of articles about my grandfather and some of my other relatives. The articles were about him or ones that he himself had written while he was in Europe fighting World War I. For the first time, I started really understanding the man in the nightstand photograph at the nursing home and how he eventually turned into the old man with Alzheimer's.

I wish I could go back in time and meet my great-grandfather Victor again, now that I understand. Back then, he was just another old person whom didn't know me from anybody else. Now, he is my great grandfather Victor who fought in a world war, was second generation from his immigrant grandfather who was a saddle maker by trade and was the husband of my great grandmother Grace who taught me how to gamble for nickels playing 'Thirty-One'. Now he is that strapping young man in the old black and white photograph sitting on the nursing home nightstand holding a huge fish next to a beautiful young woman with love for sugary green gumdrops.