My Father: The Farmer In His Dell

By Kurt Baumann

People familiar with Sherlock Holmes stories may not know that he had a brother. Only devoted fans know his brother, Mycroft, seven years older than Sherlock, had superior powers of deduction, but was unsuited for detective work because he had no ambition or energy. The only exercise he got was when he walked from his apartment to the government offices where he worked, stayed at the London club he helped found, the Diogenes Club, from five o’clock until twenty of eight, and then went back home—a routine he seldom changed.

Everybody has a circle they live in, from when they wake up through a regular routine during the day to when they go to sleep. This circle includes a status quo of activities whether job, school, or trying to find a way to stay alive to get through the day, involving a regular crowd of people they know, that are part of their status, and ones they avoid.

My father’s dell, or circle, was land of I-forget-how-many acres and a herd of I-forget-how-many dairy cows. It was the world to him. As long as he was on that farm, he was in control. When he left it, the world was in charge of him and he was handicapped. The fact that my grandfather owned it and his brother, my uncle, would probably inherit it made no difference. He was the self-appointed foreman.

Not The Farm, but a landscape like it, image courtesy of Wisconsin Public Radio, altered in Photoshop

My father was born, lived, and died a farmer. Whether he worked as a heavy equipment operator or other jobs, whether he owned his own business, whether he lived with my mother, during their marriage, his children in their Wausau ranch-style house or apartment instead of his family’s century farm made no difference. He was a farmer born and bred. It was his life and his soul. His farmer’s soul would remain intact.

It’s hard to picture my father when he wasn’t working or living on The Farm. Sometimes he mentioned things he did before his marriage. Once he took a road trip to (I think) Arizona as part of a job on a work crew and had to stay in a fleabag hotel. When he met my mother at the wedding of Normie Doggs, the Polka King, he was working for a construction company becoming an expert in heavy equipment, earning the nickname “The Spider.” I didn’t know how he came by that tag until his funeral. It seems that he could bend his leg, step on a bulldozer, and pulling himself up like a spider.

When he went into his own business, he designed a business card that had two ends of a twenty dollar bill on one side and his name, nickname, and address on the other. Regrettably, he was a better heavy equipment operator than he was a businessman and his business went under.

For him, The Farm, as we all referred to it, was the only place that he felt at home.  When his life would become too complicated, it was the only place he could retreat into. It would become his priority, his obsession, taking the place of supporting a wife and three children, rent, and whatever bills that needed paying. Since he was the oldest, he felt entitled to The Farm when my grandfather died. To challenge his unstable, abusive nature would be a mistake.  No amount of begging or nagging on my mother’s part would dissuade him. His farmer’s soul remained intact.

Every morning, during summers, before the sun came up, he’d rise, prodding me to do likewise and at end of the day when the sun went down, he’d drive himself and me back to our home. It was dark when we got up and dark when we finished.

Chores in the morning and evening included milking the cows. The herd knew the routine and would be at the barn by milking time, when my job was to help herd them in, fasten the tethers when they were in their stalls, and scrape the dirt and manure from the floor. After the morning chores were done, we’d go back to our home in Theresa, have breakfast, and go back to The Farm.    

During the day there was planting corn, harvesting hay bales, and unloading them. There would be picking stones in the field to for crops to grow. Work filled the days and my father felt it was more important for me do that than enjoy myself reading books or spending time at the Library.

Dad outlived his father, his brother, and bought out his sister’s shares of The Farm and achieved his dream of owning it. There is a saying that goes: “Be careful what you wish for—you might get it.” Besides money, my father had sacrificed everything to get The Farm—including a wife and three kids who wanted nothing more to do with him. His volatile, abusive nature which he had used had driven the people who cared about him away.

The barn which had housed at least forty dairy cows was empty, though he did try to keep one. The roads were overrun with weeds, and the machinery and vehicles were old. He was the owner and sole occupant of The Farm. In the end, he had to parcel it off in an auction acre by acre, leaving only the house that he and generations of his family grew up in. Eight years after that he would have to sell that too.

He spent the remaining years of his life living in an upstairs apartment in Iron Ridge, Wisconsin. He died alone and no one knew of his death until they smelled his rotting corpse from his apartment. He may not have lived on The Farm—but he died with the soul of a farmer.

©  2021 Kurt Baumann

Since 1983, Kurt Baumann has lived in Beaver Dam involved in his community theater, church, and contributor to his local newspaper. After working a variety of jobs for most of his life, he has retired to do some writing. He has written one book: The Written Works of Kurt Baumann.

Posted in Guest writer | Leave a comment

Truth Or Lie?

By Marlene B. Samuels

“Mom, what happened to your breast?” the girl asked periodically when she was a child. She became ever more persistent as she was maturing and gaining a natural awareness of her own female attributes.

“The S.S. guards caught me stealing food,” her mother answered each time, without the slightest variation. “They beat me viciously and Dorothea Bintz — the most sadistic S.S. woman of them all — got me right across my left breast with a pry-bar. It severed my nipple and part of that breast.”

Decades passed. Her mother died far too young, her brutal truths buried with her.

My parents in Germany, post liberation. 1946.
My mother often hid the top part of her body in photos, a subconscious self-protective stance.  

The girl, about the same age as her mother had been when she died, visited her brother, four years older than she. Her brother was their mother’s confidant. Always, the girl envied their special relationship.

“You know about Mom, right?” he asked her during their visit.

“So what, exactly, about mom are you referring to?”

“That she was experimented on in the camps. That’s the reason she was missing part of her left breast.”

The girl gasped. “Are you sure? I don’t believe it. Why didn’t I ever hear about it?”

“Maybe she didn’t want you to know,” he said. “Why do you think she was so deformed? Any way, what did she tell you happened to her?” the girl’s brother asked.

“That she was beaten by that sadistic S.S. guard, Bintz. She caught Mom stealing food when the women inmates were unloading a supply barge.”

“You do realize Mom lied to you, right?” the brother asked.

The girl suddenly felt sick to her stomach, as though she might vomit. She was simultaneously shocked and devastated. But then a new feeling emerged: anger. She was furious that her mother had lied to her for so many years. The girl began to share those new feelings with her brother.

He remained quiet for a few minutes, enveloped by a calmness with which she was unfamiliar.

“I have three children and you have two, right? So what would you have told your kids if you had endured such inhumanity, such unbelievable atrocities? Do you think, for one second, you would have told them truth?” he asked.

“Never! Not in a million years!” she said, recognizing yet another feeling was emerging—new understanding.

© 2021 Marlene B. Samuels

Marlene Samuels earned her Ph.D. from University of Chicago where she serves on the Advisory Council to the Graduate School, Social Sciences Division. A research sociologist and instructor, Marlene is conducting research, with partner Pat LaPointe, for their anthology about female-to-female relational aggression. Marlene edited and coauthored The Seamstress: A Memoir of Survival, is author of When Digital Isn’t Real: Fact Finding Off-Line for Serious Writers, and is completing her book, Ask Mr. Hitler: A Memoir Told In Short Story. Marlene’s essays and stories have been published widely including in Lilith Magazine, Our Echo, Story Circle Network Anthologies, Iowa Summer Writers’ Anthology and others. Marlene divides her time between Chicago and Sun Valley, Idaho with her amazing, emotionally-supportive Rhodesian Ridgebacks, Ted and George. 

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Leila, Lost and Found

 By Mary Ellen Gambutti

In 1957, at age six, I learned from my adoptive parents about the “lost ones” whom I might never meet. My worry and wondering peaked at forty with anxiety that would only be quelled by knowing. 

On a September 1993 morning flight between Lehigh Valley and Greenville-Spartanburg airports, I gazed out my window at a new chapter. I’d soon be reunited with Leila, the mother who gave me life. My pulse quickened as the escalator glided down to the baggage carousel, where I spotted my welcoming party. A woman beamed and waved. Karen, my half-sister, called my name in the drawl I recognized from our phone calls since my search bore fruit. After I’d contacted Karen, Leila reluctantly admitted her forty-year-old secret that was me. Yes, she had given birth to a girl when her firstborn was two. The nuns in St. Francis hospital would take care of her baby, and find her a good home. She named the newborn after her sister-in-law, Ruth, and her sister, Ann.

My heart pounded as I stepped off grinning. When I’d spoken with Leila by phone, she seemed sweetly joyful, and Karen assured me ‘Momma’ wanted the reunion. The “lost ones” I’d conjured, imagined since childhood, resembled me more closely than my welcoming group, and a sense of unreality overtook me. Karen introduced me to Barbara, my slender niece; nephews, Josh—a tall, burley middle-schooler–and Daniel, his affable elder brother. They hugged me warmly in turn.

Karen looped her left arm under her mother’s right elbow in support. “This is Momma, Leila Grace.” Leila had insisted on standing from her wheelchair. She smiled at me. The large woman was my mother, too. I’d heard her Gospel songs in the womb, felt her inflections; the laughter that rocked her, her fury, and tears, and her tentative touch before the nurse swaddled and took me away. Emotion filled her moist, puffy eyes. Was it a recollection? Regret? Or pang of pride? The panic and anxiety I’d likely inherited? I took charge of our feelings and wrapped my arms around her. “Hello, Momma! So good to see you!” She yielded to my warmth, and murmured something, not meant for me, but for the gods. Her natural affection couldn’t replace a lifetime of nurturing by my adoptive mother. She had dared not hope the infant she’d left behind would return to her one day.

At Karen’s home an hour later, my sister prepared a simple meal for us all. I chatted with Leila as she rested in the recliner, her left leg prosthesis showing below her blue pastel pants. The cruel red streak of her dialysis shunt scar was visible below the right sleeve of her floral cotton blouse. Her salt and pepper hair was cut short and tightly permed for the occasion, while Momma chittered happily in a high, soft voice like a gentle bird. We squeezed together at the kitchen table and tucked into fried chicken, biscuits, gravy, green beans, sweet tea, and store-bought apple pie. Our feast, prepared in generosity, was a celebration of family love. 

From left: Mary Ellen, Leila, Karen.
We are all the same height: 5’7″

After dinner, we perused photo albums and found a few pictures of Leila in her twenties and thirties, aunts and uncles I’d never know, and Karen’s children as they grew up. None of my father–maybe Leila recognized him in me—maybe there was a secret photo stashed away.

Karen and I talked long into the night from twin beds, and she shared stories that connected us. Leila had left her with her mother and father until her brother and his wife took her in. “Momma would come and go.” Karen moved in with her father in her teens, and she married young. 

Several months before our reunion, Karen had driven to Texas to assess Leila’s living situation. Her husband of thirty-seven years had been dead for two years. The daughter she had with him, our young half-sister, Susan—was epileptic, and drowned when she was sixteen in a San Antonio creek. Alone and in poor health, Leila had stepped on an insulin needle. First her foot, then her leg were amputated. Karen brought her back to South Carolina after her rehabilitation. Was it synchronicity, or the pull of souls that brought us together at that moment?

Taken at Antioch cemetery. lFrom left: my half-sister, Karen, cousins Lawrence and Helen, and Leila, my birth mother.

Karen, Leila, and I began to bond during our first reunion in Greenville, South Carolina, the place where we all were born. Momma took her walker, and we moved among the many antique gravestones of our ancestors in Antioch, Standing Springs, and Rocky Creek churchyards. I was determined to learn the truth of my identity, my heritage, and to find my maternal family. My pre-internet quest and discovery, laid the groundwork for finding my paternal family through DNA testing four years ago.

Leila felt she wasn’t able to keep me. Her parents were taking care of Karen, and their livelihood of tenant farming and mill work just sustained them. Leila Grace Cox passed away one year after our reunion. I’m so glad I found her, and the love I lost.

© 2021 Mary Ellen Gambutti

Mary Ellen writes about her life as an adopted Air Force daughter, her reunion with her biological family, her gardening career, and her survival of brain trauma at mid-life. Her stories have appeared in these and other literary journals: The Remembered Arts Journal, Modern Creative Life, Halcyon Days, Memoir Magazine, Borrowed Solace, mac(ro)mic, The Drabble, and Portland Metrozine. Her memoir is in progress. More:

Posted in Guest writer | Leave a comment

Person or Persons of Interest

By Faith Ellestad

Australia had come to the Milwaukee Zoo in the summer of 1984, and there was no way our kids were going to miss the opportunity to see the koala. As it was on loan for only a brief interval, our window of opportunity was closing quickly. Time was of the essence.  We needed to secure vacation days, arrange for dog care, find some money and attempt to work out a plan that would fulfill everyone’s expectations.  Our family trips generally included a weather component, and this one was no exception.  We managed to choose the hottest day of the year to date for our trip.

Locked in by vacation requests, we couldn’t capriciously wait for cooler weather, so attired in our lightest summer wear, we headed south.  Anticipation grew as the boys read the “X miles to Milwaukee County Zoo“ road signs. About 25 miles from the zoo, we passed the town of Delafield where I noted a McDonalds atop a hill, and my husband noted the car was running a little hot.  I decided I could wait til we got to the Zoo to use the restroom, and he decided that it would be prudent to turn off the AC   and put less stress on the engine.  Windows wide open, we cruised into the Zoo parking lot, purchased our tickets and headed straight to the Koala exhibit.

There we joined a line of hot, sweaty patrons, moving slowly in the nearly-hundred-degree heat. Eventually we made it to the rather steamy exhibit window and discovered what was taking so long.  Koalas, unlike humans, are unwilling to risk dehydration or heatstroke for the sake of an educational experience. They were keeping themselves well insulated within the canopy of leafy branches that was their temporary home, barely visible to the naked eye.  But we held our ground, staked our claim and waited stubbornly until eventually one of the adorable marsupials decided to move just within viewing range. I suspect he had been still so long he’d gotten a cramp in his little leg and needed to stretch, luckily for us. We had a brief but satisfactory view of an entire koala, and were ready to move on in search of cold sodas

Lordy it was hot!  After draining our beverages, crunching all the ice, and rubbing the cold wet cups on our foreheads, we resumed our tour.  First up, restrooms, then to the zoo map to plan our route.  Hippos, of course, reptiles, miscellaneous exhibits along the way, and a request by our older son to visit the Big Cat exhibit where the white tiger, a recent addition to the zoo lineup, was housed. 

Before taking on yet another jaunt, we needed sustenance.  You can’t go to the zoo and not have a hot dog.  We did pass on the cotton candy, though, due to the likelihood of inciting a swarm of bees which were lying in wait around the trash cans for just such an opportunity.  It was now late afternoon, and the temperature had risen above 100 degrees. Everyone agreed that a visit to the aviary and a quick detour to view the white tiger would round out our day, meshing nicely with closing time.  The aviary was blessedly cool, and we tarried there a little longer than we’d planned, purchasing, to the boys’ delight, a second round of sodas from a welcoming vending machine.  When it came time for the visit to the Big Cat exhibit, the six year-old suddenly demurred.  He did not want to go there.  He was hot, tired and anxious.  Ultimately, his dad and brother made the toasty trek to the tiger environs while we rested in the relative comfort of the bird house. 

Soon they were back and we immediately headed for the car. Still mindful of overheating the engine, we opted to leave the AC off and allow the breeze from the open windows to cool us off naturally as we headed onto the highway back toward home.  At first, all went well, but soon, the engine began to run hot.  We pulled off on a frontage road to allow it to cool down, and started out again.  We were about twenty miles out of Milwaukee, when the engine began to chug, and then to steam.  Once more, we pulled off to let it cool down, and started the drive again.  But the car was barely moving at all by this point. Blessedly, as the engine temperature passed the red zone, we noted the Delafield exit right in front of us, took the off-ramp, and lurched slowly into a service station at the edge of town.  A mechanic there told us the thermostat was fried, there was no way to fix it at that hour, and no way that car would get us back to Madison. My spouse negotiated with him order a part, do the repair, and let us know when it was ready. A few days at least.

Ah, this was a bit of a pickle, as a condiment lover might opine. There were, of course, no cell phones back then, we had used all but three dollars and some loose change at the zoo, and it appeared to be about closing time in Delafield.  8 pm seemed early to us, but then we were city folk.  All we could find open was a convenience store, fortunately air-conditioned, where we huddled while figuring out what to do.  Ultimately, we realized our only option was to call my mother-in-law in Madison for help.  She graciously agreed to come down and pick us up, but it would take a while.  Our plan to sit tight in the quickie-mart until she arrived was short-lived when we were brusquely informed that the store was closing in 5 minutes.  Did we want to make any last-minute purchases?  Yes.  We bought a mini-snack and comic book for each of the boys, leaving us with less than a dime for emergencies, and went outside in search of a spot to settle in and wait for our rescuer. 

Grandma Maxine with Faith’s younger son

Well, as there were no benches or little parks nearby, we eventually seated ourselves on some low cement walls surrounding the town square.  Almost immediately, we became, apparently, the most interesting thing to ever occur in Delafield on a Friday night.  People began driving around the square in their cars staring at us, some making several loops in case they missed something the first time around.  A group of several adults gathered in a tight knot across the square, gawking at the strangers.  Little kids pointed at us.  We began to feel more and more  awkward and unwelcome as time passed, at least we parents did; the boys, immersed in their comic books, didn’t seem similarly affected. It appeared that Delafield, at least back in the 80’s was a very close-knit community, and they knew interlopers when they saw them.  We couldn’t have been more conspicuous had we been green and sporting antennae.  Look. Aliens. 

We had nowhere to go, so just alternately stood and sat for over an hour in full view of the curious citizens of greater Delafield, until, finally, blessedly, a blue Buick Century hove into sight, driven by my husband’s mom, accompanied by his Uncle Bof.  The kids were delighted to see Grandma and ride in her relatively new car, which held five fairly comfortably.  Of course, there were actually six of us, but so grateful to be out of the public eye and thankful to our rescuers, no one complained as we squeezed ourselves in.  I buckled my younger son onto my lap to make space, and without a single wave goodbye to the curious town-folk of Delafield, we headed back to Madison, in smooth, reliable, air-conditioned comfort.  I suppose they were disappointed when the persons of interest were rounded up and taken away, but oh, well, we were a one-time only spectacle.  Too bad for them.

Thank you in memoriam, Maxine and Uncle Bob.  I don’t know what we would have done without you that crazy night.

You might think I’d have come up with a plan in case such a thing ever happened again, but I haven’t. The optimist in me says we’ll just figure it out. Brave thought, now that we have cell phones and credit cards.  Oh, yes, and a new car.

© 2021 Faith Ellestad

Faith has been writing to amuse her family since she was old enough to print letters to her grandparents. Now retired, she has the opportunity (and with Covid restrictions, the time) to share some personal stories, and in the process, discover more about herself. Faith and her husband live with two elderly cats in Madison, Wisconsin. They are the parents of two great sons and a loving daughter-in-law.

Posted in Guest writer | Leave a comment

Happily Ever Older, by Moira Welsh

By Sarah White

I met some neighbors for beers last weekend. The topic turned to where we might live when we could no longer manage our old two-story homes or afford the property taxes in our gentrifying neighborhood. One had been motorcycling in Wisconsin’s Northwoods, and proposed her idea. “I see all these closed motel-supper clubs. We should buy one, rehab the units for efficiency apartments, and run the supper club for income to support us.” The idea aligned with something I’ve been thinking about—the hippie commune reimagined with senior care included.

I’ve been interested in what becomes of us in old age since I first began to sense my mother’s increasing fragility. Three years of serving as her aide de camp in assisted living before she died only intensified my concern: How are we preparing for the wave of Baby Boomers who will sooner or later need care? We have re-imagined every life stage we’ve encountered: can we revolutionize this one, too? From this mindset, I was delighted to discover Happily Ever Older: Revolutionary Approaches to Long-Term Care by Moira Welsh.

This may seem like an odd choice to review for a blog focused on true life stories. But look at it this way: Our decisions as individuals, in groups, and as societies, create the context for our life stories. What we decide about how and where we live our last chapters impacts everything about those stories. Our degree of hope or despair about the conditions we are likely to live in at the end affect us long before we move into that assisted living facility.

Moira Welsh profiles eight initiatives—call them projects, or thought leaders, or prototypes—held together with a common thread of hope and a common focus on dementia. She writes in her introduction, “The focus of my research turned toward people with memory loss, although the intention was not to overlook stories of those who are frail but still mentally sharp. In many ways, it is in the field of dementia care where innovation is happening.” (While I resent that the lion’s share of government funding for aging research has gone to dementia studies, starving research on the cognitively-healthy elderly, I believe that when the frailest among us are well cared for, everyone is likely to be well cared for. So okay, let’s see what’s up with dementia care in assisted living.)

Moira Welsh is an investigative reporter at the Toronto Star who has spent nearly two decades writing about nursing homes.  Her book is curiously personal; her own problems concerning her aging parents’ wellbeing threads through it. If a reader doesn’t bring her own backstory of worry, Welsh’s personal story provides a ready-made one. But most of us do have concerns about an elder or two, and of course there’s always future-you to worry about. As a child-free person, it’s on me to plan my last chapter.

Welsh’s book grew out of writing about the Butterfly Effect, and that is the topic of the first chapter. This approach, which began in the UK and is spreading across the globe, lives the promise of person-centered care. It’s a culture shift that replaces the institution as the primary metaphor with a home-like model where boundaries and barriers are removed. Routines are relaxed, feelings are prioritized, and “herding” of people from one place or activity to another is replaced with freedom and flexibility. All good, so far!

Chapter Two cover Dr. Bill Thomas’s work with The Eden Alternative and the Greenhouse Project, similar initiatives that focus on de-institutionalizing eldercare. I’ve been following Dr. Thomas’s work in anti-ageism for some time, and was pleased to see the work he and his colleagues are doing accurately represented.

Subsequent chapters examine various approaches to making dementia care more humane, with some interesting probing of the ethics of creating “fake” environments like an idealized 1950s town square to help the memory-challenged feel more at home. A chapter explores the uses of virtual reality in senior care settings, where the confluence of technology and Boomer buying power is driving some fascinating developments. These include virtual exposure to natural environments that people could not otherwise access. This is music to my ears. (See this article I wrote for Next Avenue earlier this year.)

As a person of white privilege, I am squarely in the target of the senior care industry. We are the people paying the assisted living facilities—not the elderly poor, who are often nonwhite, and whose care is provided by family, often at great personal cost to women. Cyberpunk author William Gibson famously said, ““The future is already here–it’s just not evenly distributed.” Let’s hope the future that is already here, described in Happily Ever Older, is distributed with greater equity than now exists.

But now, back to the problem of facility and program design. What would YOU like your penultimate resting place to be like?

Me, I’m moving to the Northwood Retirement Lodge and having a Brandy Old Fashioned before supper. You’ll find me under the taxidermy moose head, enjoying the view of “the land of sky-blue waters.”

©  2021 Sarah White

Posted in Book review | Leave a comment

Reality Check

Photo courtesy of

By Paul Johnson

Got a call from an old colleague the other day.

We hadn’t talked on the phone for some time. A couple of years back, he and his wife moved to Arizona, where they had wintered a time or two. They liked it. We’ve been keeping in touch via email. That’s the way it’s done in the early 21st century.

We exchanged the usual pleasantries. Then we got down to business. I knew he had something serious on his mind. Otherwise, why not just get on the gmail?

“Paul,” he said, “I’m wondering how you talk to someone with Alzheimer’s. I saw your note about Bob and I’m sure you saw the email about Pat and I was wondering what you’re doing about that. I’ve got this friend, too, who has Alzheimer’s, and I just don’t know really how to talk to him or what to do.”

“Well, J– ,” I started to say.

“I guess I really want to know, ‘What would Paul do?’” he said, buttering me up.

I thought to myself, I’m not Jesus, but I was flattered that Joe was asking.

Serious questions. We’d faced them before. More than we like. But at our age, we’re gonna be asking these kinds of questions a lot more.

In Pat’s case, I had already acted. Pat was another colleague. Her luck is about to run out. The doctors gave her months to live. And we know how that goes. It’s just a guess. It could stretch to a year. It might be days. All we really know is that her time is running out.

Someone sent a note around on the email chain of former colleagues asking people to contribute to a compilation of memories of Pat. It would be given to her family to for Pat to peruse in her final days. Thoughtful. Compassionate. Something her family could look back at after she’s gone and savor the legacy, know that Pat was respected and loved by those who worked with her. Very nice idea.

I spurned it.

I decided to just write a personal note to Pat. With my own personal, private feelings. I had mailed it before Joe called. I didn’t need to conform to this compilation idea. I’m gonna do it my way. How arrogant.

I told Joe what I had done to satisfy my own selfish notions of how to communicate to someone who’s about pass on to the next dimension. And I said the compilation is a sweet idea. And perhaps to save face I said there is no reason one couldn’t do both. He kindly agreed and said he had already sent his contribution to the compilation. Time was of the essence.

But Joe was really calling about Bob and his friend with Alzheimer’s. He had already done what he could for Pat.

The question now was, really, what we could do about our friends whose reality no longer meshes with the reality we see — the reality we think they should see? How do we talk to them? How do we converse? How do we connect? Can we connect?

In Bob’s case, things seemed to go to hell in a hurry, but as in most things, it was a long time coming.

He and his wife of more than a half-century moved to assisted living, after holding out on their own for way too long, in our opinion, with Bob taking care of Joanie, who was physically frail and mentally tenuous. Truer love there never was. But Bob was exhausted by the time they moved. And apparently worse.

Days after the move, Bob fell. Broke some ribs. Next day. Joanie fell. Broken hip. I’m told it is usually the hip that breaks, causing the fall. Bob’s ribs healed. Joanie hip didn’t.

In a week or so, Joanie’s dead. Bob’s daughter says he had a breakdown, just like that. He’s now in a different reality.

He’s in memory care. He’s happy. He might not know who you are, his daughter says.

I talked to Bob the day before Joe called. He sounds chipper. His voice is good. He says he remembers me. To be honest, I’m not sure he did. We talk. He says, “I was wondering how you’ve been.” He talks about Joanie. He asks about my wife, but he’s not sure of her name. He remembers things about her, but he was having trouble thinking of her name. I mention some other people we worked with. He recalls some, he asks me to clue him in a little better on others. Steer him to that memory.

Then he tells me some stories. Don’t know how factual they are. They seem a little weird, but possible. He’s got the same chuckle. I can picture the impish grin that goes with it. He struggles to get some of the details out, pausing to try to recall, perhaps hoping I can help him fill in the blanks. I don’t know. Never will. He’s glad I called. We agreed I will visit when the weather is nicer and we can sit outside. Covid is still on my mind, even though the memory care people say everybody’s vaccinated and they take precautions. Bob always liked to be outside. We’ll get together when it’s warm enough to be outdoors for an extended period.

I relate some of this to Joe.

He relates his dilemma with his friend. And it IS a dilemma. There’s no good answer. Joe’s 2,000 miles away from his friend. His friend has no business living alone. His wife is dead. He misses her. Another friend reports he has taken up smoking again. Burn marks around the house. There’s the dementia. Or is it Alzheimer’s? There’s a difference, we understand. We just don’t understand enough.

Joe’s friend is still driving. His friend’s daughter has put a tracking device on his car so she can always find it. She’s aware of it all. Dad doesn’t want to move. Gets ornery at any such suggestion.

Joe’s wondering, how can he get through to his friend? Can he get through to his friend? They share a love of cars. Is that something that can help ground his friend? Maybe open some door where he will agree with his daughter that he should move out of that house, before it becomes a 9-1-1 call?

I got nothing. There are no good answers. There are no universal answers. What seems to be working for Bob ain’t the answer for Joe’s friend, who will literally fight it.

So Joe and I moved on to other topics, agreeing that all we can really do is try to connect with our friends whose reality no longer matches reality as we see it. And hope they can be safe and happy until their days run out. They’re living too, with their own version of reality.

©  2021 Paul Johnson

Paul Johnson lives in Madison, Wisconsin, with his wife Diana. His version of reality is that he is mostly retired after spending much of his adult working life in newsrooms and corporate communications shops.

Posted in Guest writer | 1 Comment

A Girl Scout Troop’s Adventures Abroad in 1949: Part 3 of 3

Come along as Barb Gilbertson experiences the “branching point” of a lifetime. To read Part 1, click here. To read Part 2, click here.

By Barb Gilbertson

Ten days on board a ship!  What a beginning to our three-and-one-half-month adventure.

The SS Samaria had been a luxury liner but was converted to a troop ship during World War II, and then after the war converted back–somewhat.  We slept in a dormitory type room…15 in one room!…but what did we know and what did we care? We were young and healthy and thrilled to be on this trip.

We loved the food, the attention of the waiters, the other young people on board, the movies, the tea on deck, playing shuffleboard etc….all in between our studying currency of the countries we were to visit, French idioms, etc.

We thought it hilarious when during a bit of inclement weather the tea cups slid off the cart on which they were piled..out on deck…right into the ocean!  We were not similarly amused when the same storm produced within some of us that dreaded malady “seasickness”.  However it was short lived.

We were met at Tilbury Docks, where we disembarked, by our pen pals from the Girl Guide Troop from Faversham, Kent. We spent some days in their homes, two of us to a home, and then camped with them nearby and then on to London where we stayed in the Girl Guide Hostel.  

We were escorted around by another group of Guides, seeing all the London sights: Buckingham Palace, Trafalgar Square, St. Paul’s Cathedral..which in 1949 was still surrounded by rubble from bombings, the changing of the guard, the Tower of London, London Bridge etc. At this time the current Queen Elizabeth was Princess Elizabeth, her father, the King, still alive. We got to have a glimpse of her on a trip to Buxton when she and Prince Philip were being driven through the city and waving at the people…including us!  This was all very heady stuff for high school girls from the United States.

Lady Baden Powell

One of the most exciting things that happened  for us while in London was going to the apartment of Lady Baden Powell, the widow of Lord Baden Powell, the founder of Boy Scouting; she herself having started the Girl Guide movement.  We 12, along with various BBC radio people all squeezed into her elegant apartment to be interviewed and to have tea.  Because her husband had been knighted, she was granted housing for life in Hampton Court Palace.

Then across the channel to the continent and the remainder of our trip in Belgium, Holland, Switzerland, France and Germany…camping or staying in hostels and always interacting with Girl Guides from each place.  In Adelboden, Switzerland we stayed for 10 days in the International Girl Scout Chalet along with girls from several other countries.

In Brussels–the girl in the big hat is Ginette, our inspiration.
the Girl Guide Chalet Adelboden, Switzerland.

Once our indefatigable leader Emily got started, she took six more groups to Europe in the ensuing years.  I was on the first two and they shaped the rest of my life.   How very glad I was that I joined Senior Girl Scout Troop One as a Freshman in high school.

©  2021  Barbara Gilbertson

Barbara Gilbertson grew up on the East Coast; met her husband on a trip to Alaska visiting a Girl Scout buddy.  He was from Eau Claire, Wisconsin so that explains the past 41 years in Wisconsin. But prior to that they lived in Minnesota, New York, New Jersey and Alaska..again. Barb holds an Associate Degree from Fordham University, Lincoln Center, New York. Widowed since 2009 after 52 great years, she continues to travel, most often by ship and train.

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

A Girl Scout Troop’s Adventures Abroad in 1949: Part 2 of 3

Come along as Barb Gilbertson experiences the “branching point” of a lifetime. To read Part 1, click here.

By Barbara Gilbertson

“You know, Bill…she will never be the same” …my mother said to my father as they assembled with hundreds of relatives, friends and interested townspeople from nearby Manchester, Connecticut in the Hartford Railroad Station to bid goodbye to the ten Senior Girl Scouts and their two leaders who, after two years of preparation, were taking a train to Montreal where they would board a Cunard White Star Liner–the SS Samaria, recently converted back to a luxury liner from having been utilized as a troopship.  The date was June 10, 1949.

Senior Girl Scouts at Hartford leaving for Europe 1949
Senior Girl Scouts at Hartford leaving for Europe 1949

We girls had worked tirelessly for two years to earn the necessary $550 for the three-and- one-half-month trip that would take us to England, Belgium, Holland, Switzerland, Germany and France.  Most of our fathers earned $2000 to $3000 a YEAR so $550 was a considerable sum, and of course, none of their mothers went out to work. We Girl Scouts picked apples, potatoes, tobacco; washed woodwork, washed dishes, had bazaars, big spaghetti dinners, sold cookies and BABYSAT.  Babysitting rated were 25 cents before midnight; 50 cents after.  So, by June of 1949 we were ready to go.

This all started two years earlier when our leader Emily took us on a two-week hiking trip on the Long Trail in Vermont, part of the Appalachian Trail. We slept in lean-tos or under the stars.  I was 14 that summer.  We had with us a Girl Guide from Belgium, who had been the tent mate of one of our members at an International Girl Scout Encampment in Pennsylvania just prior to our trip. Artie was the delegate from Connecticut; Ginette was the delegate from Belgium. Artie invited her to come along on our hiking trip.  Ginette was 17 and an absolutely delightful young woman with whom we all fell in love.

Girls sleeping under the stars, somewhere on the Appalachian Trail

About halfway through the trip at one of our nightly campfires she suggested that we think about making a trip to Europe.  She would help us.  The more she talked, the more excited we got about the possibility so once home, Emily called a meeting of all our parents and presented the idea.  Would they let us go?  Every parent thought it was a wonderful opportunity if we could raise the money.  Thus began the two years of preparation and finally our departure date had arrived.

We were a phenomenon and quite well known all over town. It was only four years since World War II had ended; no one in our town was traveling anywhere!  

We got out of school two weeks early and returned two weeks late.  We lived with families (to whom we had been sending CARE packages) or camped with Girl Guides from other countries and spent one week at the wonderful Girl Scout/Guide Chalet in Adelboden, Switzerland.  We observed war devastation in London, particularly and some in Germany.  We did stay a few days in the International Student House in Paris just before we caught the same ship back home from Le Havre.

©  2021  Barbara Gilbertson

Barbara Gilbertson grew up on the East Coast; met her husband on a trip to Alaska visiting a Girl Scout buddy.  He was from Eau Claire, Wisconsin so that explains the past 41 years in Wisconsin. But prior to that they lived in Minnesota, New York, New Jersey and Alaska..again. Barb holds an Associate Degree from Fordham University, Lincoln Center, New York. Widowed since 2009 after 52 great years, she continues to travel, most often by ship and train.

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

A Girl Scout Troop’s Adventures Abroad in 1949: Part 1 of 3

For the next three weeks, come along as Barb Gilbertson experiences the “branching point” of a lifetime.

What are branching points? The events that leave your life forever changed. A branching point may come about by choice or by chance; it may seem terrible at the time but turn out to be the beginning of a wonderful new phase. In my memoir writing workshops, I emphasize branching points because that’s where “the plump fish of memory are lurking,” to quote James Birren. Where there’s a branch there’s a good story–one that reveals something about your character.

When asked to write on a branching point, Barb shared these stories with the participants in “Remember to Write”, sponsored by the Monona Senior Center in Spring 2021.

By Barbara Gilbertson

I was just starting high school and heard about a Senior Girl Scout troop that met on Monday nights at the Congregational Church. Should I join? I had loved being a Girl Scout…but in high school? I decided to give it a try. It was a decision that would affect my whole life and for which I would always be thankful. Every week I hiked the mile up to the meeting of Troop One and then back home…for the next four years!

Our leader Emily was a dynamic 37 year old woman who loved to hike and camp and she had a car…a Model T Ford named Henrietta that transported us many times to the beginning of a hiking trail. None of our parents were hikers or tent campers and many did not own cars. This was all new and exciting stuff.

Emily with her car, “Henrietta,” adventuring in Appalachia, 1940

In upcoming posts, follow along as scouting takes Barb and her friends to Europe, thanks to “Manchester’s Extraordinary Scout Leader” Emily!

In Brussels, Barb’s troop visited the famous “Mannekin Pis” statue (look closely above the girls.)

©  2021  Barbara Gilbertson

Barbara Gilbertson grew up on the East Coast; met her husband on a trip to Alaska visiting a Girl Scout buddy.  He was from Eau Claire, Wisconsin so that explains the past 41 years in Wisconsin. But prior to that they lived in Minnesota, New York, New Jersey and Alaska..again. Barb holds an Associate Degree from Fordham University, Lincoln Center, New York. Widowed since 2009 after 52 great years, she continues to travel, most often by ship and train.

Posted in Guest writer | Leave a comment

Did You Say Something?

By Patricia LaPointe

It started during my childhood.

“Mom, Dad, look. I got all A’s this term!”  Silence and a blank stare or a quick change of subject, often to something I hadn’t done right.

I loved to write.  Mom said it was a waste of time, adding “What makes you think anyone will want to read what you write?” I would have preferred the blank stare or change of subject.

I hid my writing.

Pat LaPointe, high school graduation portrait

After my husband, children and I moved three hundred miles from my parents’ home, I decided I would finally go to college. In spite of raising four young children, I received all A’s and made the dean’s list nearly every term. After trying several times to talk about this several times on long distance calls with Mom, only to be met with silence, I gave up mentioning it.

I hid my scholarly achievements, kind of…..

Because on a whim, I decided to send a copy of my grade report to my parents. No response. Sometime later, I asked Dad if they ever received it. He said yes, it’s on the end table in the living room. I didn’t ask if they read it. Why add insult to injury?

There were no congratulations when I graduated college or when I was accepted into a Ph.D. program.

All through my college years I had discussed classes and teachers with my children. They would remember to ask me what grades I got on exams or what new projects I was working on.

While was in graduate school, my daughters spent a lot of time with my mom and sister. Without first asking me, my mom and sister would take them shopping for clothes. If I acted surprised and perhaps a little angry, Mom said “Well you’re too busy with whatever…!” I was not.

Soon, I began to get the same disinterested response from my daughters as I had from my parents: silence and a change of subject. When I published my first book, it too was not acknowledged by my daughters, parents or siblings.

Again, I hid my writing.

I could understand my parents’ reaction. They had not gone to college or had careers. It was difficult for them to accept that I’d be so different. But, to this day, I do not know what my Mom and sister may have told my children that would have made them respond in this way.

I continued to hide who I am from them.

Last week, I met my grandson’s girlfriend, Maggie, for the first time. She is getting her first job as a social worker. I was surprised to learn that she knew about my earlier career as a psychotherapist. We sat with my two daughters, Julie and Samantha at Julie’s kitchen table as we talked. Minutes after we began sharing our experiences discussing clients and best places to work, Julie, in a huff, rose from her chair slamming it noisily into the table, and busied herself filling her dishwasher. Samantha joined her there and they began discussing their plans for the day, in voices louder than mine and Maggie’s.

Apparently, Maggie hadn’t yet been told such conversations were not permitted when my daughters were present. I have no doubt that Maggie and I will never speak about this again in my daughters’ presence.

©  2021 Patricia LaPointe

Pat LaPointe, editor of Changes in Life, a monthly online women’s newsletter, is contributing editor of the anthology, The Woman I’ve Become: 37 Women Share Their Journeys from Toxic Relationships to Self-Empowerment. In addition, she conducts writing workshops for women — both online and onsite. Pat’s essays and short stories have been published widely. Currently, Pat is completing her first novel, forthcoming late 2021.

Posted in Guest writer | 1 Comment