Saturday, August 25, 2012

Nine months worth of musings.....

  It's been a longer, and somehow shorter time since I last posted anything on this poor old thought repository. No real reason for the lapse other than simple human failing. The months have been some of the most hurried, yet excruciatingly slow in passing on their way than hardly any since I was a very young man. That too was a period of disease, uncertainty, sudden death, loss of friends, gaining of experiences best not to ever have. Those days passed eventually, although they've been duplicated in part on many occasions over the years, but none so intently since those early days until the past three quarter year.
   Within days of posting my last, my beloved Shirley was diagnosed with a fast growing aggressive type cancer for the third time in as many years. This time was worse than the previous two and after much testing an intrusive and intense form of treatment was decided upon that would require nearly two months of daily trips down out of the hills and mountains to the city. As I can no longer drive and she would be unable, we finally settled on using rides from a group set aside by the state to provide drivers for such things and, as I'm not up to the daily trips, our tenant and sometimes personal assistant agreed to accompany her to wheel her from the Radiation Treatment Labs to the Chemotherapy Center. He's in his fifties and somewhat learning disabled. He's become our extra hands and eyes and we've become almost an older brother and sister to him and we ensure he lives comfortably and safely here in our building.
  The trips finally drew to a close after some extra unscheduled extra tests, treatments, and evaluations made necessary by Shirley's reaction to both treatments. Here it is all these months later and now there's a difference of medical professionals on how to proceed. One wants to hold fast at this point and monitor the now very tiny growth; the others want surgery to remove the remainder. The big difference being positioning and whether additional surgeries will do more harm than possible good. It looks now as if we may be resorting to going to the next nearest specialist in this type cancer in Boston, which is about 4 hours drive away. We'll know next week what happens.
   Around the same time as Shirley was diagnosed in December, we lost our sweet little Sooty cat who was only five. She and Slippers contracted an unknown problem about the same time, Slippy is much bigger and I managed to give him antibiotics and he eventually recovered. Sooty was a secretive and quiet little girl and by the time I realized she was ill as well she was very weak and, after three months of nursing, she passed in Shirley's arms. She lay by my feet all night and when Shirley held her to feed her she just purred a tiny sound, then rattled breathing, and was gone. I honestly think she knew the end was near and waited for Shirley, who was so shocked she came rushing to me with Sooty and said something was wrong.
  For any with pets, I think I've finally figured out what it might have been that sickened one and killed the other, even my friend the Veterinarian supports the theory. I was suddenly taken ill the day we were to leave for our son's wedding in Southern Maine and stayed home. The second day I noticed someone had tracked moth repellent chips into our hallway. I confined them to a small area, but I think some may have been tracked in by tenants paying their rent. That may have resulted in some getting into their food or maybe just on them and them licking it off. Our other cat tends to stay up off the floor more and may have avoided the stuff. That would explain the sudden onset and unfamiliar symptoms. The Dr thought perhaps poisoning, but couldn't identify a treatment. He later said that she was likely too sick when I discovered her to help.
   So, she joined the rest of the beloved furry family members in the little cemetery out by the woods. On a brighter note, an old tenant returned and her cat had kittens from an unexpected encounter with her daughter-in-law's cat. She was unable to keep them all, so we took two and she kept one and the other found a home. They're cute, clever, innocent looking, and total little furry demons. We love them to death. Another pair spared a trip to the shelter. Got a big soft spot for furry people.
   Didn't mean this to be a year in review, just happened I guess. Maybe a grandchild will read this one day. we just had a visit in July from Calgary daughter, grandson, and brand new baby girl. Then, this October we have a little boy due here in Maine. Didn't realize the scope of it all until writing to a friend how one granddaughter is soon off to college, another soon to complete high school, two actually. Then ranging all the way to the currently pregnant daughter-in-law. Amazing how all the little pieces eventually make a whole tapestry of our lives before we realize it's happened. Another big change may or may not happen in that we may let go of this old apartment building and move ourselves, cats, and our helper tenant into a different place that would more easily facilitate my getting out and about. Getting to the point of being nearly home-bound now. Still a good life, but a little restricted. Finding the right place and leaving our little pet cemetery are stumbling blocks right now. Time will tell, maybe later on, maybe not. Hard to leave after nearly twenty years, it being the longest I've ever lived in one place in my 66+ years. Ah well, mayhaps change is good.  

  So, all in all, I guess I should move my year-end review up a few months from autumn to now, as I don't really see how much more can fit in, other than grandson, changing seasons, changing life, and all constant as it has been forever. Life is still sweet. Take care.

Friday, November 25, 2011


.....arrived one winter day in March of my 11th year. It was a Saturday and my Uncle 'F' and his wife had gone to the small city on an 'errand'. Rather an unusual occurrence in winter, especially on the sketchy backwoods roads of Maine in the 1950s. Around two in the afternoon I heard his old Studebaker straining and spinning its way up into Uncle 'Rs' barnyard. Going out to see why he'd come here rather than his farm across the road, I saw a tall (to me) willowy slip of a young lady climb from the back seat.
   Being of the tender prepubescent age of eleven, I was immediately fascinated by this slender, but well shaped young woman. Breaking my through hypnotic reverie, F's wife was introducing this vision of wonder to me, me! I managed to awake from my stupor in time to hear that her name was Elise Cote and she was F's wife's cousin from France. The reason for her coming wasn't revealed then and I actually learned the details later from my aunt E. In those times you were thought, and rightly so, to be rude to inquire after such personal information. In many ways I miss things being that way, but in many other ways I relish the openness that has forced 'family problems' into the open. If you read the first few posts of this blog you'll find my reason for feeling so strongly about this issue.
    As the winter morphed into a gorgeous spring, I learned a deal more about our quiet guest. She spoke English with a smooth and lilting French accent, made all the more sensuous to my young self by the mellow, soft tones of her voice. She was nineteen and would be twenty in mid-summer, she read every chance she got. Aunt 'E' placed her in the room at the top of the rear stairs beside the 'dry' bathroom with the lime toilet. She decorated her room strangely in my opinion, simply a collection of mismatched dolls, stuffed animals, crinkled photos of groups of children, and other odd mementos of things from her past.
   As summer burst forth she and my, quite smitten, young self started to venture for walks in late afternoon before supper and evening chores. Our steps seemed to always draw us to a spot beside where the small brook emptied into our farm pond. There was a large flat rock and we'd just lie there in mutual silence watching clouds or sit observing the fish in the clear pond water. I didn't dare ask many questions, like why she always wore a headscarf that covered her face starting just behind her beautiful blue eyes. The scarves invariably were worn in the same manner and she never was seen (by me) without one on. Her features were near perfection and her hair was very dark brown and slightly wavy. She helped around the house and taking care of the elderly folks in residence at the time during the day and evening. Then she'd retreat to her room where I'd have been dispatched several times carrying buckets of hot water. I wondered if she bathed herself with the scarf on. One of life's mysteries.
    Another mystery was why a doctor from Canada came to visit her once a month and always entrusted my aunt E with a package when he departed. As a former nurse she kept a locked medicine cabinet where the packages invariably were deposited. Elise also seemed to shy away from fireplaces, stoves, direct sunlight, etc. At our rock she'd always remark how nice it was that somebody planted a huge oak tree so it allowed a great view of the sky while shading us from the sun's rays. Some days she'd even wade into the pond in pants and blouse, but never allowing her head to get wet. Another thing that worried me was that she'd often awaken screaming at night, but only my aunt had the key to her room. Sometimes she'd go down to her sewing room and come back with little packets, sometimes I could hear only E's voice calming her back to sleep. I knew something wasn't quite right, but also knew enough to refrain from watching and prying.
   Elise stayed through the next winter and into the summer. That summer she was noticeably paler and distracted. Toward the end of the summer she started to go to our rock earlier and I'd find here there after my chores were done. One afternoon was so different that it turned my world upside down for months and still remains in my memory as though it were yesterday.
    Elise had gone off earlier than usual according to aunt E, and she noticed she'd seemed especially troubled. That was also the only time she'd ever told me to leave my chores for others and go to check on our young guest. I hurried down to the rock and was relieved to see Elise laying in her usual manner, but when I drew closer I noticed something was amiss. It was too quiet, no happy greeting. I climbed to her side and my world shattered. She was cold to the touch and her eyes were staring into the skies unseeing. I don't recall running back to the house, but I do remember not being able to tell my aunt what was wrong, just took her hand and half-dragged her to the rock and Elise. As she got closer, she bent over and scooped up a tin that I recognized as medicine for the horses, especially the oldest workhorse who was lame.
    In the next few days my aunt paid special attention to me as I did little but grieve for my friend. Finally, she took me into the parlor where Elise lay and pulled back the colorful scarf for me to see. After I settled back down, I could understand the scarves. Her left ear was gone, as was much of the hair on that side of her head. In their place were terrible scars from deep burns. Her upper arms and back were badly scarred as well. My aunt explained that the Dr that came each month was a burn specialist and the packets were morphine vials and syringes so E could administer the drug when needed. Elise also suffered from horrible nightmares, what today would be known as PTSD. 
    On graduating from school at sixteen, Elise had gone to work at an orphanage where she mostly cared for the younger children. One night the place was hit by lightning in the barn area attached at the back. By the time the fire was discovered it'd spread throughout the rear upper level where the young children and Elise slept. Elise had carried children from the burning rooms by twos and threes and led older ones. After many trips she was overcome by smoke and exhaustion and collapsed just inside the rear area. A fireman found her there and carried her out to safety. After several operations and recovering some of her lung function, they could do no more. Today they'd be able to do far more, but things weren't advanced as much in 1954.
     The nightmares were filled with the screams of the frightened children and pain was mainly from nerve endings that had become heat sensitive or scar tissue that pulled the tissue too much. Aunt E explained what I'd already figured out, the pain and memories had become too much for Elise to bear and she'd taken the animal pain medications to end her suffering at a place she loved. Uncles R and F and the local minister buried her between the oak and the rock where the sun shone through in bright speckled dances.
     Later a man from the big city came and created a smooth spot on the rock above her head and inscribed: 
                                     Elise Cote
                              Her pain is gone and 
                             the screams are stilled.
                              She joined those she
                                  could not save. 
   Not a sad memory for me, she gave me two magical summers of afternoons learning how to lay on a rock and quietly enjoy life's many treasures. I only wish it had been the 1990s or later so she could have found the relief she needed. At least a little of it. Until next time, take care and be well.