arteejee

A site of satirical musings, commentary and/or rhetorical criticism of the world at large.

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Location: Southeastern, Pennsylvania, United States

Thursday, March 26, 2015

Anne L. Gunther


It would sound cruel if I began a tribute to my mother who passed away one week ago today with a sense that I’m glad she’s gone. No, phrasing is everything. Instead, my feelings that I am grateful her suffering is over is closer to the truth. And it sounds more civilized.

Watching arthritis slowly overcome her body during the last few years was heart breaking. I have realized that perhaps there is a definite place in our lives for end of life suffering. The memories of those last months are definitely making it easier to let her go.

And the other memories leading up to these last years have crept up to the front of my mind in recent weeks when my brother and I and our families knew that the end was near. Memories such as…

The time when we were still living in the Frankford section of Philadelphia, and Mom would sometimes meet us at our school, H.R. Edmunds (now a charter school specializing in music education). We had an hour for lunch, which allowed us time to walk the five blocks home, eat, and walk back for the afternoon classes. One time, she made tuna salad sandwiches and in those days Mom would take the extra step by cutting the crusts off. This made the meal seem more like a high tea rather than an elementary school lunch.

So this one day she left the sandwiches resting on paper towels on our kitchen table and left the house to meet us. We returned home, Mom announced that lunch was on the table and we went to the kitchen, finding not sandwiches, but vacant paper towels. It seems that Mom had not counted on Champ, our Belgium Shepherd, detecting that something delectable was on 
the kitchen table and helping himself. I’m sure she had some choice words for dad that night when she told him what “his” dog had done.

Another elementary school story, hitherto unknown to everyone beyond my Mom and me, since I have never discussed it since the day it happened. My friend Teddy Wolf and I were walking through the schoolyard at lunchtime (Mom didn’t meet us this day) when we saw a group of kids bent over in what appeared to be a football huddle. I said, “Hey, let’s see what they’re doing.”   Teddy had some premonition and said something that we probably shouldn’t bother them, but I proceeded undeterred.

I said, “Whatcha doing?” One kid grabbed me, pulled me inside the huddle and said, “This is what we’re doing.” The problem was that the kid grabbed me by the neck and tightened his grip around my throat until I started screaming and crying. He let me go and I cried the rest of the way home.  (BTW, the kids were lighting matches using a magnifying glass. Big whoop!)

I told Mom what happened and, after lunch and calming me down, we walked together back to school and the principal’s office. She told him what had happened and all three of us went to one of the classrooms on the third floor where the upperclassmen (sixth graders) were learning or otherwise being indoctrinated into the post nuclear age way of American life. The principal told the teacher what had happened and I was given the chance to see if I could identify who had grabbed me. There was one problem: I hadn’t seen the faces of any of the kids in the huddle. Also given my height at that time I could not see any faces because I could, at best, see only the bottoms of the polished wood desk tops.

Every once in awhile, the memory of that day comes back to me and I have since concluded that the kid didn’t mean to harm me, but perhaps didn’t know the strength of his grip. Whatever, I’ve made it a point to avoid crowds (from more than three people to 100 people) ever since.

Mom was one of five daughters born to Jack and Bonnie Cathers (there were also two boys) and she was the last of the daughters to get married. Unfortunately, I’ve never seen any photographs of my parent’s nuptials, probably because none exist. Just as well, as it is may have been the happiest day of her life, but a few incidents that day probably dampened her enthusiasm.  

For one thing, there were religious differences: Dad was Catholic and Mom was Protestant. Grandmom, thinking that there must be a good reason why her only son was marrying a Protestant girl, assumed that they had to get married. She asked Mom bluntly if she was pregnant. Mom was not expecting, and the incident set the tone of their strained relationship forever after.

Then there was the more dramatic reaction from Dad’s sisters. They cried,  not for the usual reason that weddings are a happy event that evokes tears,  but  they were convinced that their baby brother was going to burn in Hell because he was a marrying a Protestant. This reaction has baffled every Catholic person I told this story to, but all I can figure out is this is how people believed in 1957.

My parents got married for reasons that were more economic than starting a family. Dad reported for active duty in the Navy two days after the ceremony, and the marriage allowed Mom to receive whatever benefits would be available to anyone married to a person serving in the armed forces. Mom and Dad remained married, happily as far as I know, despite their different religious upbringings. There were also political differences: Dad was conservative, while Mom was more progressive thinking, being a supporter of the Equal Rights Amendment. I’ll never forget my discomfort the day after the ERA ratification deadline had expired and Mom yelled at me, “I’m still a second class citizen.”  

Okay, Mom, gee, sorry about that.

Both of my parents served on the Catawissa town council, at different times and from different political parties. Mom felt comfortable being a Democrat because she believed they looked out for the little guy. Due to their political allegiances, they were known as the Odd Couple of Catawissa Politics. So naturally everyone probably believes that over the years my brother and I witnessed many spirited discussions at the dinner table. The truth is disappointing: politics was never discussed at dinner time, save for the activities of the other people on the council.

As far as I know, Mom was a lifelong Christian Scientist. My brother and I were both raised in this religion, but, despite my Mom’s best efforts, we have both drifted away from it. Of the two of us, she realized that I had a better understanding of it, which is probably why she confided to me in one of our final phone conversations that she wanted to use prayer to work through her situation. We talked the day before she was admitted to the hospital with pneumonia. No doubt she probably found all this medical attention with feeding tubes, IV tubes, and talk of intubating her to facilitate clearing her lungs annoying.
The last few weeks I have found myself thinking about Mom’s religious beliefs and – apologies for this left turn in my narrative — something Michael Nesmith said when his fellow Monkee Davey Jones passed away a few years ago. Nesmith is also the offspring of a Christian Scientist, and he reacted to Jones’ death with a description of death as transition. He alluded to it as part of a journey in our existences. So when we, family and friends of Anne Gunther, gather this weekend for her service, I don’t believe we are saying goodbye. Rather we are seeing her off on the next stage of her existence.

I did not say goodbye to Mom when I saw her for the last time at the hospital. I just said, “I’ll talk to you later.”  

And that’s how this will end: Mom, I’ll talk to you later.

(Thank you for reading.)

Friday, March 20, 2015

Eye Surgery …and Then!



It’s strange how we can go through days, weeks, months at a time without a single deviation from our routine. The sameness of our day to day happenings can devolve into boredom or even ennui. Occasionally and too infrequently the routine can be broken up by a life changing event, which granted aren’t always happy. If we’re really bored with our existence, we might be lucky enough to have a life changing situation happen at least once a year just to shake things up.

I was real, real lucky yesterday. I had two life changing events happen to me yesterday (March 19). Two in one day!

First, I had cataract surgery on my left eye. Since I would not be in any condition to drive home after the procedure, it was recommended, nay required, that I have someone drive me to and from the appointment. Warrior Queen graciously volunteered to take me to surgery. I was told to report at 6:45a for registration.  

I hope you can see where this is going.

I could not have anything to eat or drink after midnight, so our usual morning coffee ritual had to be postponed. I offered to make coffee for WQ, but she refused. After all, who could pass up the opportunity to grumble at intervals that she did not have coffee that morning, act miserable, and make sure everyone she came into contact that morning knew that she did not have her coffee and was miserable because of it.

I said, “Hey, how do you think I feel? I can’t have breakfast or coffee and I have to be there at 6:45a, and I’m the one going under the knife?”

WQ: “I didn’t have my (unintelligible) (unprintable) coffee!"

No empathy whatsoever.

I was told to allow three hours for the surgery, as if I were planning my whole day and would be able to do other things afterward to fill out the day. First, registration, or that process where you confirm you are who you are, and that you have adequate means (insurance) to pay for it all. Naturally, more time is spent on the latter determination then the former.

Then back to the prep area, where I donned a gown, vital signs were taken and recorded, a needle was stuck in my wrist for later anesthesia, drops of this and drops of that were applied to my upturned eyeball, placed on the center rack of an oven preheated to 425 degrees for two hours, and served with candied sweet potatoes and succotash…but still no coffee.

Sorry, I seem to have digressed…

Then waiting to be taken to the first procedure, a laser which would burn away the actual cataract. All I had to do was lie on my back, fitted with a special cup like device, through which I would see a light show. This took all of 45 seconds, or less time it took to type this description of the procedure.

Then back to the prep room where I was hooked up to my sedative and wheeled into another room. Here a blue sheet was placed over my entire head (my dear claustrophobic wife WQ would have been freaking out at this moment, but fortunately she was, I hope, downing cup after cup of java provided by the surgery center), and a bright light was aimed at my eyeball.    

Then, with what seemed like mere moments and constant reminders from the surgeon and the anesthetist to keep the eye wide open, the procedure was done.

In recovery, unhooked from the IV, stood up so I could get my bearings, dressed and given instructions for the next week. Eye drops of various medications every day: becavinase, somethingelseoranother, and ilevro (the latter named after the Marx Brother who ran away from vaudeville to become an ophthalmologist). Reunited with (at this point) a highly caffeinated WQ, we left the surgery center and made the three mile drive back home within seconds.

Apparently the coffee at the surgery center was that good, so good that it converted the gasoline in WQ’s car into some sort of high test rocket fuel...

Once home, we noticed that the light was blinking on our answering machine. The message was from my brother, who said he had some news about my Mom. I phoned him right away and got the message that I had been expecting for the last three weeks: Mom had passed away that morning at the nursing home. 

Mind you, it was only 9:30a at this point.

(Thank you for reading and TO BE CONTINUED…)

Tuesday, March 10, 2015

Seeping Through a Writer’s Block



I’m having the worst case of winter doldrums I can remember having. There’s a variety of reasons for this, which may or may not be ripe for future blog fodder. In the meantime, the following ruminations were able to seep through my writer’s block.

A car commercial has caught my attention a few times in the last month. It tells the heart-warming tale of a man who finds a lost dog in San Francisco and discovers that his new found furry friend has a Seattle address on his tag. The man, with nothing better to do than drive 807.5 miles*, decides to do a road trip and take his best new buddy home.

It’s good deed time!  

A quick montage ensues: scenes of the dog in the front seat, panting excitedly next to the driver, who is relaxed, happy, and maneuvering his car with the greatest of ease up the highways of the Pacific Northwest! Overall the road trip is a great bonding experience for man and beast!

So I can’t help wondering what each of them is thinking! I can only speculate…

DRIVER: Good dog, yes, you’re a good dog! Yes, this is crazy, but what the hell! It’ll be worth it if it gets this guy back to the people who love him. They must miss their pooch. It’ll be so gratifying to see the look on their faces! Or maybe…just maybe his owner is a hot Latina chick that looks like Sofia Vergara**. Maybe she’ll be very grateful and I’ll get laid! This could be a great weekend after all! Hmm…this may take awhile. I wonder if there are any pet friendly motels in the middle of Oregon?

And what could the dog be thinking?

DOG: Oh boy, oh boy, oh boy! We’re going for a ride! Where are we going? Oww, Seattle? Great! I know a great coffee shop there! In fact, I know a few thousand great coffee shops there. They're easy to find because they’re all called Star… oh a tree! Can we stop? I got to mark it! Oww, another tree! Please, can’t we…oh, there’s another one and another one and…I’ve never seen so many trees at once! I hope I have enough piss in me to mark them all! Oh, please can’t we stop yet? I’ve…I’ve…Oh My Dog!     
REDWOOOOOOOOOOOODDDSSS!!!!

So the man and the dog get to Seattle, present themselves at the address on the dog’s tag, and find out that the owners had moved to San Francisco last week. Our human hero, obviously possessing the patience of a saint with the ability to handle extreme disappointment well, happily gets back into his car with his canine buddy and drives back 807.5 miles to San Francisco, hoping like hell he won’t face dognapping charges.

Their thoughts on the return trip?

DRIVER: Oh well! So I drove up here for nothing! It was a good weekend, and this car has a nice, smooth ride and…hmm…what is this car anyway? I guess I should return it to the dealership once I drop off my buddy.

DOG: Harrumph! Nice ride indeed! We rode all the way to Seattle and didn’t get so much as a pound of ground House Blend. Hey, can we stop to get a t-shirt on the way home? I want one that reads "I went all the way to Seattle and all I got is a t-shirt, but no doggone cup of coffee!" You thought you were gonna get humped when you got up there? I could’ve told you that! My owners are a nice lesbian couple! Why do you think they moved to San Francisco***? You’ll get a thank you, a few smiles, but carnally you’ll get squat! Boy, what a dumb…oww, a tree! Can we stop? Can we? Can we? Can we?

And sometimes writer’s block can be a good thing.

*I looked it up! Nyah!

**Yes, I have been getting hooked on Modern Family between car commercials.

***I know! I know! The dog is stereotyping like crazy now. Bad! Bad dog! Bad!

(Thank you for reading. Hmmm, House Blend!)

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Cajun


I had a bad feeling yesterday about someone I knew. I initially got the feeling without any clue as to what had happened sometime in the afternoon. I went to the blog, On Transmigration, and read the last post of one of our blogger friends who had been sick for the past two years. Nothing seemed amiss, other than his meditations on the end of his own life and the fact that this entry was over a week old. Later that evening, my worst intuition was confirmed when we read that our blogging buddy Wayne had passed away very early in the day.

I did not know Wayne that well - he preferred to be known as Cajun in the blogosphere - but I considered him to be a wonderful acquaintance. Warrior Queen and I have followed his commentary about his adventures at his job, or on the world in general. I only met him once as he strolled into the lobby of The Inn at Canal Square on the night of our Bloggerpalooza dinner. Just seeing him smile and the display of self confidence reminded everyone that we were in the presence of a genuinely warm and caring human being with a deep passion for life.

I am saddened that we will not be able to read his blog anymore, or that we will not be able to sit down with him and listen to his stories. Stories like the time he was hosting at Dos Locos and a family was treating Grandma to dinner with alcohol. Trouble was grandma was also on pain pills and the cumulative effect of the pills and the margaritas led to grandma taking a nose dive into her entrée. Obviously, not a happy situation for any restaurant staffer at the time it happened, but a story worth retelling later after all, presumably, ended well.

I’ll remember Wayne’s laughter and, damn, he looked good in a custom made Spo Hawaiian shirt.

In any event, I can’t help but smile at Cajun’s timing. He left this material world on Fat Tuesday. I can only hope his spirit made its way back to his hometown of New Orleans. Wayne, if you’re able to read this, I hope you had a ball at Mardi Gras!

Rest in Peace, Cajun.

(Thank you for reading.)