Sisters Come to Visit

Two of my sisters drove over from Madison to check on me.  They planned to spend the day and offered to help with anything I needed to get done. I had an errand to run and they seemed interested in going along. Then having lunch, of course. Our day would turn out to be a combination of a visit to a bygone era and an immersion into the rituals of retirement.

I’m the oldest of six and these sister siblings are number three and five in the birth order. Number five, considerably younger then me, is still working and had the week off. Since I live here I opted to drive and enjoyed taking the scenic route down Honey Creek Parkway and the Menomonee River Parkway.

Our first stop was to Daly’s Pen Shop. The first time I’d noticed this shop on North Avenue was when we went to George Webb’s in the same strip mall. I remember marveling out loud how in this high-tech world a shop that sold only pens could survive. The answer came on this day when I needed what they were selling.

As a commemoration for a retiring staff member, a board I’m on decided that a pen would be a lovely parting gift. Walking into the store was like stepping into the past. Two glass display cases in an L-shape contained every type of pen imaginable.  On the walls were hanging displays of more pens. Frank Sinatra singing in the background created a time warp. What year was it again?

The owner greeted us and my first comment to him involved the recent newspaper article announcing the closing of this, the oldest pen shop in the city that had operated for 94 years. This had been shortly followed by another article about the uproar that ensued and the owner’s decision to remain open.

The owner grinned and agreed there had been quite an uproar. He said this had caused him to re-think his decision. He said he realized he had a very healthy E-Bay business; he’d always thought of it as a pen shop with an E-Bay business on the side. Now he saw it as an E-Bay business with a pen shop on the side.

He talked about the hours and the days he’s open, saying he has a young man who works for him on Sunday who was really good at researching and repairing old pens. He wanted to keep this young man on so decided to stay open on Sundays. For now.

His large stock and wide variety of pens was unexpected. We learned that he features ball point, roller and fountain pens.  He also carries ink as he pointed toward the glass ink bottles on one of the shelves. He said that millennials love the ink he sells which comes in many colors. They buy a rather inexpensive pen but spend much more for the ink. And they love the old-fashioned fountain pens, the ones with a cartridge that is filled manually.

The owner was helpful as I looked for just the right pen. I picked out a silver Cross pen which is the gold standard of pens.  With engraving, it came to about $125.00 We hovered around, asked more questions and were hesitant to leave this most interesting shopping experience.

But we returned to the present day and moved on to lunch. I took another scenic route down Water Town Plank Road to Boston Market. The parking lot was completely full. In fact, we got the very last one, the only empty spot. I surmised that there was a morning meeting of the Kiwanis going on. But no. We were taken into the nearly last open table in the main dining room.

The mystery was solved when we saw the table sign that announced Free Pie Wednesday. All I had to do was look around the room and take in the sea of gray haired ladies and balding men to understand the mesmerizing power of a free piece of pie.

We’d arrived early and before we finished lunch the place began to empty. We laughed that it was only noon and it was nearly deserted.  That gave a whole new meaning to the term, early bird special.

We ended the day with a trip to my storage locker to get books I needed for next week’s board meeting. How nice of my sisters to help me carry. We had a big laugh upon discovering I was trying to open the locker with my mailbox key. Wonder what that says about me.

Finally, we sat out in the backyard at my apartment building. We took in the sun since it was a cool day and remarked that fall was either coming or was finally here. Seeing the garden plots maintained by several building residents led to a discussion of planting, freezing versus preserving and the best and worst things about going to a farmer’s market. We ended with a full analysis of the state of health care. Another sign of our advancing age.

My sisters left at 3:00 to beat the rush hour traffic and I settled in for a usual evening of TV and reading. All in all, a very nice day. I got some errands done, had a history lesson and a pleasant visit with my sisters. Ah, life is good.



The Chronic Illness Lecture

I was puzzled when I saw the paper posted on the bulletin board in my friend Cyndy’s kitchen. With back marker, she’d written “The Chronic Illness Lecture” in bold letters across the top. I recalled thinking it was odd when she’d asked me to write down my “lecture” and e-mail it to her.  She said it made her remember our talk and kept her on track.

It had all started when Cyndy had called off several of our planned activities. That’s not like her to postpone our all-important lunches and shopping trips. Her vague explanation was that she had to stay near the bathroom.  She clearly didn’t want to talk about it. I worried and finally badgered her to tell me what was going on.

She described symptoms only in a general way. From what she said, I deduced it was one of several common gastro-intestinal problems. It sounded  like much more than acid reflux; irritable bowel syndrome, ulcerative colitis or even crohn’s disease was my thought.

But she was reluctant to give me many details of her recent flurry of doctor visits; she seemed hell bent to fight this thing until she was rid of it. After a month or so of hearing her latest adventure in the world of medicine, I couldn’t hold it in any longer.

I’d been dealing with MS for more than twenty five years and had come to accept the reality of dealing with a chronic health condition. I’d never told anyone about my disease; the law said I’d didn’t have to tell an employer so I’d maintained my work and private life keeping this carefully guarded secret. Now I felt I needed to make an exception. We sat down for a talk.

In the cure oriented world we live in, I began, there’s little attention paid to chronic health conditions. The kind for which there is no cure. These are the ones that don’t come to visit for a while, then get fixed and go away. Instead, these move in for the duration, most of the time, for the rest of your life.

I recalled how before my diagnosis I’d visited many doctors and therapists for an explanation of mysterious symptoms that would come and go. In each instance, I was told I was either stressed or depressed.  Most often, both. Then I was offered an anti-depressant and told to work through it, stay on it. Fight it. Exactly the wrong thing to do.

So, I learned the hard way what happens when you do battle with a chronic health condition. You lose. This slimy parasite has invaded your body and it will have its way with you.   That’s basically the essence of the chronic illness lecture. You have to take care of it. Adjust to it. I’d read an article that recommended treating it as you would a friend with special needs.  Now that’s the epitome of the love/hate relationship if I ever heard one. But It is reality. I told the short story of what I’d learned.

I thought we were having one of our usual girlfriend chats. I didn’t think I was lecturing but perhaps I was. That’s because I felt so strongly about this and had watched Cyndy’s anxiety grow as it became a real possibility that a total cure might be out of reach.

As time passed she seemed calmer, more in control. I never did find out what her actual diagnosis was.  She refused to name it. Eventually, I lost touch with Cyndy after her move to another part of the country. So, I don’t know what the end result was for her.  But I know this taught me a lot and, more important, it reinforced the importance of how to handle my own situation.

I get a kick out of recalling our short time together and how she appreciated the insight I shared with her. But I think I got more out of it than she did because it was a reminder of what I needed to do to stay healthy. And though I’ve never posted the chronic illness lecture on a bulletin board or on my bathroom mirror, I often give myself the talk when I get off track.

Crsytal Clear

For Poetry Breakfast, Sept 2017: Six-word prompt (crystal, vagabonds, protest, fewer, part, original)


The unexamined life is not worth living

Exploring my exceptionally examined life,
one thing is crystal clear.
That I give merit and revere
the words of an ancient Greek seer.
The end results please,
though the penalty costs me dear.
Speaking a personal truth
can lead to protest, disagreement and fear.
The loneliness of original thought
can threaten and commandeer.
I’ve traveled a solitary road
and charted that course throughout my career,
befriending free thinking vagabonds,
creating a vibrant atmosphere.
Though having fewer friends
or frightened folks who sneer and leer,
the best part is the payoff of discourse
the superiority of Shakespeare.

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