Monday, October 29, 2018

The Great Knee Caper

The anniversary of our wedding and getting into the anniversary season or our first winter together brought back some memories - especially when a storm front moved in and my "accu-knee" was giving me the forecast.

On our first official weekend together as a new couple with my now husband up in Chicagoland, I had a bad spill walking the dog.  I tried to soldier on as they say, but after trying to walk on and doing several flights of stairs, it finally gave out and I ended up in the local ER with a diagnosis of a torn meniscus. We were at this funky antique place when it finally gave out so the hospital was NOT in the best part of town (think armed security walking in).  Fortunately, when they found out I actually had insurance, there was a team of medical professionals all over me. 

The doctors suspected a torn meniscus I was told to make plans for an MRI and an orthopedic surgeon back in my hometown.

Partner in Grime canceled his Christmas plans and drove me over 200 miles to my own doctor and home and stayed and took care of Barkley and me while I recovered from surgery. I knew then he was a keeper.

But the recovery from such things is never fun, even with the most loving of company but it provided a great memory and a chapter for The Book of Barkley.


CHAPTER 25 From The Book of Barkley – The Great Knee Caper

It was supposed to be a perfect weekend - a first weekend-long visit to my friend EJ’s house.  After the autumn of outings, our friendship was evolving into a bond that knew not the span of years or miles between us. 

He was inviting a few of his friends over to meet me.  I had a new outfit; Barkley was going to be on his best behavior.  All his friends would like me.  There would be crème Brulee that had absolutely no calories.

So how did I end up in an MRI machine, after two days in his easy chair with a pack of frozen peas on my knee, followed by a long drive?

Take one black lab, excited for a walk after a long drive.  Add a flight of icy steps and a female golden retriever across the street.  The fact that the vet rendered him incapable of knowing exactly what to do with a female did not deter him.  He lunged to greet her at the same moment my knee turned ninety degrees to go the other way and my center of gravity, always far forward anyway, was pointed the wrong way.

The doctor at the emergency room said, “You likely have a torn meniscus, you will need an orthopedic specialist and an MRI.”
It was two days before Christmas.  My doctor was two hundred miles away and EJ was planning on going home to see his family for the holiday.  My roommate was also out of town for Christmas and New Years. But I was in too much pain to travel for a couple of days, even if I could have driven myself.

Christmas itself was subdued, myself in pain and feeling bad about ruining his holiday.  But we made the best of it, opening gifts, setting the 60s aluminum tree and matching color wheel briefly out on the covered porch. That, of course, resulted in comments that we should not have the color wheel out there on a final approach to an airport, due to the dangers of pilots being blinded by bright laser lights.

"Captain!  There's a bright light in my eyes!   It's Green.  Wait it's Blue, now it's Orange, now it's Red!"

Even as much as I hurt, I laughed, with a vision of law enforcement showing up to confiscate the color wheel and we made the best we could of our Christmas.

With driving out of the question for me, EJ canceled everything and drove me back to my place, an appointment made to get an MRI and an orthopedic consult. 

That first night home night Barkley stayed glued to my side.  There was nothing to do but wait as serene and still as possible, while others did the worrying for me.  Outside, the moon shone on nibbled shadow, the only other lights as far off and distant as memories of shame or pride or loss, remembered there with a sharp twinge of the knee, then fading to dim memory as Barkley leaned into me with a comforting snuggle.

The MRI was done the next day, the news confirming that I would need surgery, and right away.

Barkley hovered with that worried concern that dogs can convey, he more so than most, with Groucho Marx eyebrows that could move up and down with the most expressive of facial expressions.

He wasn’t the only one hovering.

EJ canceled a business trip and stayed with me through the surgery and the first week of recovery, cooking for me, helping me up and down and making sure Barkley was fed and exercised. 

I was not the best of patients, not wanting to take the pain meds, other than that first day, so as not to feel loopy.

I was also anxious to get out of the house.  I hated the crutches, but at least they were so big Barkley could not get them in his mouth and carry them around like the cane.

After a week, EJ needed to get back to work and we confirmed I could manage on my own.  An old exercise step had a hole drilled through it with a cord that attached to my truck’s headrest.  I could drop it on the ground; step in, then pull it up, the truck too tall for me to manage otherwise.

I got checked out on the scooters at the local stores, until such time as I could ditch the crutches.

The scooter was fun, though one of the greeters came over and asked if I needed help operating the controls (consisting of forward, backward, right and left). Granted, it might be more difficult than a jet aircraft, but I was good to go, thanking them for their help. Speed wise, it was fair to say the scooters were slower than the INDY 500 and faster than a snail on Demerol. But I was not only able to do a cookie in the chicken aisle; I found that the displays in the electronic section made for great S patterns at top speed. I also discovered that large guys with carts containing a hundred bags of Tater Tots and beer can move surprisingly fast when faced with a redhead in a Springfield Armory T-shirt, converging at top scooter speed.

Dealing with the crutches and the scooter was the hardest part. I tried holding them, but that made it hard to work the controls. I put one out front. Jousting – Big Box Mart Style (if you can knock a Billy Bass out of someone's cart with it, it's bonus points). I finally gave in and let EJ carry them while I tried to burn rubber doing .02 mph, keeping watch that the store manager was not involved in radar trail tactics.

I also set up a schedule of friends to come over and walk Barkley for a few weeks.  He’d been great, viewing the whole crutch thing as a human equivalent of “the Cone of Shame,” looking at me with pity for my having to use them, and convincing me that his body heat would be the only thing keeping me from freezing to death there in my big bed.

Before EJ leaves, I will make us a dinner of pancakes, if I can keep upright long enough to cook.

When I was a kid we’d have pancakes for Sunday breakfast, but sometimes we'd have them for dinner as well. It was usually when the household budget was tight. My Mom quit her seventeen-year career as an LEO to be a full-time Mom, and Dad took a lesser paying position that allowed him to be home every night, sacrifices I know that made a difference in our lives. Certainly, I remember those dinners and the laughter and the love that lived in the house 24/7, more than any brand new bike I didn't get.

We’d have different toppings for them, maple syrup and lingonberry jam, perhaps some real butter from a nearby farm and a little molasses.

As we ate, Dad would finally relax after a long stressful day at work, and we'd tell the tales of our day and small childhood victories. For these breakfasts at dinner, no worries about money, or the mortgage or the future. Simply bites of life shared with those you love. I'd savor one bite, even while anticipating the next, the golden disks disappearing like coins well spent.

Tonight, I toss one plain one like a Frisbee, as I give my knee a rest, caught in the mouth of a dog that’s shown nothing but patience. Like pancakes for dinner, such was this Christmas, unexpected, not ending as planned, but full of little bits of sweetness and caring from those that are becoming like family.

Friday, October 26, 2018

5th Wedding Anniversary

“Everybody knows that everybody dies. But not every day. Not today. Some days are special. Some days are so, so blessed. Some days, nobody dies at all. Now and then, every once in a very long while, every day in a million days, when the wind stands fair and the Doctor comes to call, everybody lives.”
— River Song, Season 6, Episode 13
“I am and always will be the optimist. The hoper of far-flung hopes and the dreamer of improbable dreams.”
— The Doctor, Season 6, Episode 6
“You don’t just give up. You don’t just let things happen. You make a stand! You say no! You have the guts to do what’s right, even when everyone else just runs away.”
— Rose Tyler, Season 1, Episode 13
“Do what I do. Hold tight and pretend it’s a plan!”
—The Doctor, Season 7, Christmas Special
The Doctor: "Amy, you'll find your Rory. You always do. But you really have to look."
Amy: "I am looking."     
The Doctor:" Oh, my Amelia Pond. You don't always look hard enough."
Doctor Who - Season Six, Episode 13
 “There’s a lot of things you need to get across this universe. Warp drive… wormhole refractors… You know the thing you need most of all? You need a hand to hold.”
— The Doctor, Season 6, Episode 6
 “We’re all stories, in the end. Just make it a good one, eh?”
— The Doctor, Season 5, Episode 13
"The universe is big, it's vast and complicated, and ridiculous and sometimes, very rarely, impossible things just happen and we call them miracles." 
— The Doctor, Season 5, Episode 12 - "The Pandorica Opens"

Wednesday, October 17, 2018

To the Bridge and Back - On Memory

There are some of you that visit here, that know Barkley and my shared history and how his book came to be. There are others, dog lovers like us, some brand new visitors from the blog hops, that probably wonder how "The Book of Barkley came to be.

My Big Brother, an ex submariner, was diagnosed with Stage 4 Esophageal cancer in 2013.  He and I were adopted together as small children, though I only found out very recently that we weren't biological siblings. But we were closer than lot of siblings, though our careers often kept us thousands of miles apart when he was under the water, and I was piloting an airplane miles above the earth.

He finished with chemo and radiation, dropping 100 pounds on his six foot two frame.  He moved in with our widowed Dad so they could support one another, and to get out of his house, as he couldn't hold on to it,  having lost his job as a Navy Contractor.  I lived 1500 miles away and had a job that had me living out of the suitcase too often, but I visited them as often as I could, during all of my vacations, and on every long weekend.
He held his own, even if towards the end, everything he ate got smashed in a blender.  Pretty much all he could get down was some protein shakes. (I thought he was joking when he said he'd put my leftover cheese omelet I brought back from a restaurant with some leftovers, in there with the juice, fruit and ice cream but he said it was tasty except "I don't think the hash browns were such a good idea".

But we had some time, to do some grieving, for the loss of some older family members, including our Step-Mom who stepped to the plate after our Mom died fairly young from cancer.  We also had some time to do some laughing, especially as now he could share all the embarrassing childhood stories with my new husband who met him for the first time.  But we also  had a lot of time alone, up late, talking about our Dad, about growing up (or our inherent refusal to),  He told me more than once "you're a good writer, you need to put this down in a book" and I'd just laugh and say, "maybe after I retire".  He said, " we don't always get to retire, do it now".
At that point, I realized that the one  thing I am glad I did not hear from him in his end days was, "I wish I'd. . ."

I've heard so many people say "I'll do that when I'm older, when I lose 20 pounds, when I'm retired". We got through life saying "I would, but it probably wouldn't work out" or " I'd like to but. . ." We too often base our actions on an artificial future, painting a life picture based on an expectancy that time is more than sweat, tears, heat and mirage.

You can't count on anything. For out of the blue, fate can come calling. Barkley was in fine spirits at my wedding, weeks later limping; a few weeks after that--gone to the Rainbow Bridge.  In a flash, life robbed even of the power to grieve for what is ending. I think back to when my brother and I were kids, going down a turbulent little river with little more than an inner tube and youth, risking rocks and rapids and earth, just to see what was around the bend of that forest we'd already mapped out like Lewis and Clark. The water was black and silver, fading swirls of deep current rising to the surface like a slap, fleeting and gravely significant, as if something stirred beneath, unhappy to be disturbed from its slumber, making its presence known.  A fish, perhaps or simply fate. 

I was in the paint section of a hardware store the other weekend, looking for a brick colored paint to paint a backdrop in the kitchen. I noticed the yellows, a color I painted my room as a teen. I noticed the greens, so many of them, some resembling the green of my parent's house in the sixties and seventies, yet not being exactly the same color. The original was one that you'd not see in a landscape, only in a kitchen with avocado appliances, while my Mom sang as she made cookies. I remember Big Bro and I racing through the house, one of us soldier, one of us spy, friends forever, stopping only long enough for some of those cookies, still warm. Holding that funky green paint sample I can see it as if it were yesterday.  Memories only hinted at, held there in small squares of color.
What is it about things from the past that evoke such responses? A favorite photo, for some, a piece of clothing worn to a special event, a particular meal, things that carry with them the sheer impossible quality of perfection that has not been achieved since. Things that somehow trigger in us a response, of wanting to go back to that time and place when you were safe and all was well. But even as you try and recapture it, it eludes you, caught in a point in your mind between immobility and motion, the taste of the empty air, the color of the wind

Today is a memory that months from now, could be one of those times.  You may look back and see this day, the person you were with, the smile on your face, the simple household tasks you were doing together. Things, so basic in their form, as to, at this time, be simply another chore, cleaning, painting, another ordinary day, while the kids played outside and the dog barked merrily along with them. It might be a day in which you didn't even capture it on film, no small squares of color left to retain what you felt there as you worked and laughed together, in those small strokes of color, those small brushes of longing.

Twenty years from now, you may look at yourself in the mirror, at the wrinkles formed from dust, time and tears around your eyes, at the grey in your hair and you will think back to this day, the trivial things that contain the sublime. On that day, so far beyond here, you may look around you, that person with you in your memory no longer present, and you want it all back. Want it as bad as the yearning for a color that is not found in nature, in the taste of something for which you search and ache, acting on the delusion that you can recreate it, those things that haunt the borders of almost knowing.

You touch the mirror, touch your face and wish you'd laughed more, cared less of what others thought, dove into those feelings that lapped at the safe little edges of your life, leaped into the astonishing uncertainty.

My brother spent years running silent and deep under the ocean, visiting places I can only guess at as he will not speak of it, a code about certain things I share with him.   But I knew the name.  Operation Ivy Bells.  He understands testing the boundaries of might and the deep, cold deep depths to which we travel in search of ourselves.

I too have had more than one day where I stood outside on a pale crescent of beaten earth and breathed deeply of the cold.  I am here, my wings long ago hung up, tools in hand because someone has died and with great violence.  On those days I felt every ache in my muscles, I felt my skin, hot under the sun, the savage, fecund smell of loss in the air, laying heavy in the loud silence. Somewhere in the distance would come a soft clap of thunder, overhead clouds strayed deliberately across the earth, disconnected from mechanical time. I'd rather be elsewhere; the smell simply that of kitchen and comfort, the sounds; only that of laughter. But I knew how lucky I was to simply be, in that moment and alive.  I also knew, how blessed I was that after such days, I came home to my furry, four-legged best friend Barkley, who was my Black Knight in somewhat shedding armor, the soft-coated Kleenex when I needed to cry.

You can't control fate, but you can make choices. You can continue your day and do nothing, standing in brooding and irretrievable calculation as if casting in a game already lost. Or you can seize the moment, the days, wringing every last drop from them. Tell the ones you love that you love them. Hug your family, forgive an enemy (but remember the bastards name), salute your flag, and always, give the dog an extra biscuit. Then step outside into the sharp and unbending import of Spring, a dying Winter flaring up like fading flame, one last taste, one last memory, never knowing how long it will remain.
I said goodbye to my brother that last time, neither of us were certain as to what the future would hold. Had I known that just weeks later, my beloved Barkley would be gone to an aggressive bone cancer, followed just weeks later by my only brother, I might have held him longer, but I wouldn't have played the days out any differently.   For one thing we both agreed on, today is that memory, go out and make everything you can of it.

The Book of Barkley is that memory--for Barkley, for my brother, for all the laughter we wrapped around each other in the end days, to be carried on forward like held breath, in the airless days ahead.

-Brigid

Monday, October 15, 2018

Train Alert - Photos from Devils Gate

My daughter and son in law live in Colorado so every so often there is a visit.  And a ride on the Georgetown Loop.
History: The Georgetown Loop Railroad was one of Colorado’s first visitor attractions. This spectacular stretch of narrow gauge railroad was completed in 1884 and considered an engineering marvel for its time. The thriving mining towns of Georgetown and Silver Plume lie 2 miles (3.2 km) apart in the steep, narrow canyon of Clear Creek in the Rocky Mountains west of Denver. Engineers designed a corkscrew route that traveled nearly twice that distance to connect them, slowly gaining more than 600 feet (183 m) in elevation. The route included horseshoe curves, grades of up to 4%, and four bridges across Clear Creek, including the massive Devil’s Gate High Bridge.








The Georgetown, Breckenridge, and Leadville Railroad had been formed in 1881 under the Union Pacific Railroad.[3] The Loop portion of the line was the crowning segment of the line, crossing the top of the gorge on a 95-foot (29 m) high trestle.



Originally part of the larger line of the Colorado Central Railroad constructed in the 1870s and 1880s, in the wake of the Colorado Gold Rush, this line was also used extensively during the silver boom of the 1880s to haul silver ore from the mines at Silver Plume. In 1893, the Colorado and Southern Railway took over the line and operated it for passengers and freight until 1938. The line was later dismantled but was restored in the 1980s to operate during summer months as a tourist railroad, carrying passengers using historic narrow-gauge steam locomotives.


In 1959, the centennial year of the discovery of gold in Georgetown, the Georgetown Loop Historic Mining & Railroad Park was formed by the Colorado Historical Society. The Colorado Historical Society’s chairman negotiated a donation of mining claims and mills and nearly 100 acres (40 ha) of land