I don’t know if the old adage applies to writing or not – you know the one – if you can’t say anything nice, don’t say anything at all?
It’s been a little over a week since I drained my heart and wrote my Thanksgiving article. At the time, genuine in my appreciation for all the good that has come out of this experience. Unfortunately, those feelings have left me and I am nothing but an empty shell of bitterness and frustration. As drained as I feel, I should have lost 50 pounds but I see this morning that I have gained 3 pounds in as many days.
We finished watching 1883 last night and I think I drew more from that series than Yellowstone. Now as I write, I think of the gravelly voice of young Elsa, the badass daughter of James Dutton. I can only fantasize that the words I write would be as profound as the words she spoke in that show.
The show documents the trials and tribulations of a girl coming of age while her family travels cross-country in search of a brighter future in a new land. She experiences the worst of the worst, and the best of the best. I don’t want to ruin it for those that haven’t watched but I think Sam Elliott’s character summed it up best when he told her father, played by Tm McGraw, that she had lived and done more in her life than most do in a lifetime. It was a most brilliant 3-4 sentences that I wish I could recall in exact. She was a force to be reckoned with. There were no secrets with Elsa. She was an incredible character who was a ferocious fighter and a passionate lover; all by the time she reached the age of eighteen. I want to be her in my next life.
There are so many things I wish to tell you but cannot. My husband is a very private man and accepting my writing to the general public has been a stretch. Who knows, maybe some of these darker moments of our experience will become chapters in the book I hope to write in the future where only readers that commit to the whole story will find a few hidden gems.
He continues to find sleeping difficult. It’s nothing to hear him up at 3 a.m. moving about. Spilling his water on the nightstand and struggling to get it mopped up. This morning he was up at 5 a.m. turning on the lights and rustling about the kitchen; making coffee that normally is cold by the time I get up. I’m not a morning person. I try hard to be; particularly in the fall when the temperatures are just right but at this time of year when mornings mean 19 degrees and pitch dark until 7:40 a.m. I see no purpose in getting up at 5 a.m. Today I was just plain wide awake. As expected, we sat watching television until he fell asleep around 7 a.m. leaving me to spend more time alone watching whatever show he had on at the time.
Friday night was our friends annual Christmas party. It’s always a good time with a great bunch of friends that I was looking forward to seeing. Still as Friday approached, I sensed that he was nervous about being with so many people. Commenting that it would be difficult to go to a party where everyone was drinking and he was not. The closer we got to Friday, I lost all energy or interest to make the hour drive to the party. Knowing he would not enjoy himself and that I would end up being the one to drive home when he was ready to leave early. Answering so many questions and trying to appear happy and upbeat.
I’m tired. I’m tired of not sleeping all night. I’m tired of being the one that is responsible for everything. I’m tired of all the same stupid shows on television and constantly picking up after both of us. He tried helping with laundry and that resulted in him washing his phone which meant I had to add filing an insurance claim for the phone and getting the new one set up with the representative. I’m tired of being strong and upbeat and positive.
So many well-meaning people have been reminding me to take care of myself. I’m afraid after a life-time of being a people pleaser, I really don’t even know what that looks like. Given a few hours of time, I don’t know what to do with myself. I look at the ever-present “Things to Take Care of” list and see that there’s really nothing on there that can’t wait another day. So, then what; the best I can do is pop in a piece of toast and sit down and write. Hoping that as it has worked in the past, I can write all my toxic thoughts and move forward. Leaving it all out there for you to read and digest with me. Printed proof that I’m not this wonderful, amazing person that you all comment about. That I’m actually ungrateful, self-centered and mean.
I look back and I see that it was June 10th that I wrote of feeling alone; that while I should be glad that he was alive I still questioned that he was really still with me. Back then the pain was consuming him and he wasn’t present. Nearly six months later, with his transplant behind him he is no longer in pain but he’s still not “back”. I think my frustration and sadness now revolves around my fears that he will never really be back. As if the chemotherapy has stripped him of his dignity, his passion and compassion; his sense of time and common courtesy. He is numb and has no spirit. That twinkle in his eye that told me he loved me without words is gone. The fact that he has no interest in holding my hand or putting his hands on my shoulders to comfort me even when I express the need for it.
I know that I need to be patient and more understanding of all that he’s gone through but it’s hard. I’m not a patient woman. I can’t imagine what it’s like for people caring for people for years on end. That requires more than I have in me. It’s been an entire year since he felt good and was the man I fell in love with and married. It’s been an experience I know he doesn’t deserve so I’m left feeling like it must be my punishment for the life I’ve led. The hurt I’ve inadvertently caused others. When will it end?
I think maybe we put too much emphasis on our 100-day goal. The illusion that there would be light at the end of the tunnel once we reached that mile-stone. Yet here at day 108, it feels as if nothing has changed. We are still waiting for things to feel more like they used to. Instead, I think I have to realize that nothing ever will be the same again and I’m not ready to accept that.
Life has it’s way of sending you signs when you need them; reminders of a bigger picture and a power greater than you and I. A cardinal just landed outside the window, as if to stop and tell me something. Maybe a reminder that it could be so much worse. Telling me to that I need to put on my “Elsa” pants and keep going. For better, for worse; in sickness and in health.
Post script: As I sat rereading and making adjustments to this; my phone rang and it was a friend that I hadn’t heard from in months. She said she just had a feeling that I needed a call. Explain that…..
The house feels a little empty without all my fall decorations up. I wasn’t going to do any decorating since we weren’t supposed to be home. Things will be scarcely decorated for Thanksgiving. You won’t see Christmas at my house until November 25th. Which also happens to be Day 100; the day after Thanksgiving. It will certainly be a fitting holiday for us this year. We can’t be thankful for all that we’ve had to endure this year but coming out the other side without constant and excruciating pain is a gift that our insurance company has paid over a million dollars for.
I’ll admit; I’ve had more than a couple days where finding anything to be thankful for has been more than a challenge. While I’m feeling genuinely grateful, I thought I would share our Top 10 Things we CAN be thankful for this year.
Obviously, FAMILY. For sister-in-laws with medical knowledge back when we were first learning how to deal with pain management. For everyone’s unwavering concern that ultimately led to us going to Mayo Clinic for a diagnosis that would have taken the folks in Kalamazoo forever, if ever, to figure out. Home-made meals, baked goods and Culver’s when he would eat nothing else but milk shakes. Money, cards, letters; sitting with Scott when I had to work. Helping with the IV’s & medications as well as staying with him for a few days and nights so I could go to my daughter’s wedding out of state. Equally important was having family take our dog and treat him like their family while we couldn’t have him around.
FRIENDS & NEIGHBORS – most notably our bestie Tal that took a week out of his very busy schedule without blinking an eye. Driving us to Mayo and going to all our appointments with us. Being that extra set of eyes and ears when we were trying to understand things that we never thought we would have to know. For keeping me company when all Scott could do was sleep. Not to mention helping make the connection with the couple that allowed us to rent their lake home when we needed to be within 100 miles of U of M. All the friends that called, texted, sent cards and financial gifts and even helped with firewood deliveries.
You have to believe in a power greater than our own when you manage to meet a fellow BMT spouse while at U of M and quickly form a friendship based on shared experience. I can only hope that I helped her as much as she helped me. During the days when our guys were enduring inconsolable suffering and didn’t want us around we hit the trails and walked off our stress. Days they didn’t want to talk but we needed to talk. We continue to check back with each other and share our on-going journeys to recovery.
We also have the best neighbors we could ask for; watching the place all the time we were gone. Again, sitting with Scott when I needed to work. Taking care of my butterflies & our lone pet chicken, keeping the lawn mown, and even canning peaches from our tree.
INSURANCE & TIMING – It’s nothing short of a miracle that I delayed my retirement last year and then again in April. By delaying it until August 1st, I was able to work pretty much up to his admission to the hospital and extend my 18 months of COBRA insurance as long as possible. Keeping a high-quality insurance program throughout this experience is priceless – well truly – worth at least $1.5m so far and growing. Between $15k drugs and $23k injections, we can’t begin to imagine the stress this situation would carry if you didn’t have good insurance. After meeting our fairly sizable deductible, everything has been covered at 100%.
GIFTS of MONEY – Accepting money was something that took us a long time to be comfortable with. The fact that we never asked for money yet people kept asking to give and ultimately forced us to accept was humbling. Not having to take money out of the farm while they had to pay others to do Scott’s work was something that was important for us to do and the gifts made that possible. We are forever grateful for so many people’s generosity.
FINANCIAL STABILITY – Divorce has a way of causing financial chaos. Thankfully we both were able to pay our dues and move on successfully. Always working and saving and living within our means set us up to weather the storm that this year brought us. Having adequate savings, along with the gifts from friends and family allowed us to get through the year without accumulating any credit card debt or loans.
RETIREMENT – Another benefit of being part of a relationship where both partners believe in living within a budget and not abusing credit cards allowed us to be in a position for me to retire early. That, and having worked at least two jobs throughout my entire adult life was finally paying off. I kept up the ordering, bill paying and payroll for the store while I was gone but I didn’t have to worry about the daily duties of a 40-hour week on top of everything else while he spent 40 days in the hospital. While we had amazing nurses there, there were a lot of situations that I was able to minimize or mitigate by always being there. When he wasn’t able to tell them what he needed or remember everything that was going on, I was able to keep the staff aware of all that was happening to him.
HELP/LABOR – After years of never having relief labor for Scott and his brother on the farm, a young man was made available to us; truly a godsend. He quickly learned the feeding routines and helped fill the void left by Scott’s absence. Scott’s two nieces stepped up and in to help where ever possible and while things weren’t the same, they all made it work. Staff members at my store were taxed and tested and immerged successfully. So many people giving 110% to help make our businesses continue as much “as usual” as possible.
STAFF AT U of M – Having been raised in a green and white home, seeking treatment at the maize and blue was an adjustment. One would think that something deemed a life-saving procedure would be administered by a highly skilled physician. In actuality, the stem cell transplant was done by a nurse. Throughout his stay, we were blessed by so many caring nurses. Not only were they always doing everything possible to make Scott comfortable, they were always asking to see what I needed as well. Overall advances in the whole process and medicines available to limit the effects of the chemo are also something to give thanks for. During his hospital stay, we felt we could always count on Emily the Physician’s Assistant and now we have nothing but praise for our Nurse Practitioner, Kari. The care given there is outstanding.
TECHNOLOGY – When I asked Scott for his top ten, he was able to come up with two. Of all things, he mentioned technology. I have to agree that without technology I don’t know how we could have navigated this situation. Allowing us such full and instant access to his medical information is pretty amazing. Keeping in touch with all our loved ones while not being able to see them throughout the entire process was priceless. Initially he was very hesitant about the Facebook group and then the blog but now he understands the need for the communication and fully supports my need to share our experiences.
I think probably most people that have gone through something like this can look back and say that it made them realize all they had. We are blessed with great families and friends and thankful for all that they have done for us. We are amazed by the whole process and the gift of life received from a stranger from a far-away land. Hopeful that someday we might be able to meet him and thank him in person.
More important than my opinion or rating of our blessings is Scott’s exact words; that “the promise of a new day” is the greatest blessing of all. That chance for Scott to be present to watch our family grow and age.
I haven’t written much on Scott’s medical progress lately. It’s pretty much a very slow climb up a very long and winding road. The 100-day road to recovery. We have “illegally” moved home. After almost three months of transient living – the first 40 days at the hospital, followed by a couple Airbnb’s and our friend’s cottage, it’s good to be home. Or is it? For me, it’s back to the grind. For Scott; not so much.
It’s probably a good thing to have given up the lake house before this last dumping of a foot or more of snow. Actually, here I think we only have 4-5 inches but my friends to the North report as much as 20 inches and its only mid-November. You might know, weather in Michigan is very unpredictable. My former golf partner and I have golfed as late as Thanksgiving weekend before. I doubt anyone will be doing that this year. I basically gave up golfing when I moved here but I know she was disappointed to report that she put her clubs away today.
We returned home so that he could feel more comfortable recovering in his own Lazy boy recliner and watch television on our 65-inch television. He’s binge-watching Storage Wars, Jade Fever with Claudia and Robin Bunce and their buddy scrappy Larry. Mountain Men, featuring characters such as Tom Oar who makes his living trapping and Eustace Conway who is trying to make his way in the lumber business. Shows that feel like a get-away from life in Michigan.
Me – I’m back working at the store as I have an employee off for what I’ll call medical reasons. Since Scott technically wasn’t to be left alone for more than four hours until the end of the 100-day period, I have tried to keep my shifts short. When I’m not there, I’m doing bookwork, working on catering orders, calling repairmen and doing battle with AFLAC. Still trying to get claims paid from our trip to Mayo Clinic in March.
A few days after being home, I had some errands to run. Sure enough, like a dog who slipped his collar, I hear that he was spotted driving to town in his 1985 Pickup. He was quickly reminded of the revocation of his driving privileges and reprimanded. He’s not supposed to drive until the 100 days is up.
He bought another Jeep with a snowplow off Facebook market place that was supposed to be a parts Jeep. However, after watching about 100 YouTube videos on how to repair everything including the broken frame, he decided that it would be fun to have both Jeeps so we could leave one at the cabin in Canada. He’s spending a lot of time in the pole barn or “shop”. Not only working on the Jeep, he’s decided to make wood working his new career. We have plans to make a few items to give as gifts and possibly sell at the store. Our first project turned out to be a little more challenging than the videos made it out to be. He’s leaving the detail work for me and that may not be the greatest idea. The wood for our proto-type was hard so it made precision a challenge. We will see if I can do a better job on the next one. Unfortunately, after he does all the cutting and staining, if I mess up the detailing then the whole thing is trash.
His appetite has improved but not returned to full on eating. I’m doing my best to keep him eating something every couple hours and drinking lots of fluids. What was really shocking was his ability to completely eliminate all opioids within a short period of time. He’s down to about 5-6 drugs, twice a day. The magnesium IV is now every-other day. In preparing documentation for AFLAC, I received a copy of his 44-page hospital stay. Any guesses on just the stay; not including all the visits leading up to and since the transplant? I wasn’t too far off on my guess of $1m; the cost was shown at just over $890k. The n-plate shot that he has gotten almost every week since leaving the hospital is being billed at $23k. Plain craziness. Tomorrow is his first bone marrow biopsy since the transplant. They hope to be able to see a marked reduction in the scarring in his bones.
This weekends snow event was really disappointing. Not only did it kill business at the store for a couple days now, it totally ruined my long-awaited plans. As the men from our friend group planned to gather for cards and sharing of their big buck sightings of the past few days, the women folk were having a party of their own. Our party planner had been working on her event for weeks and was looking forward to hosting the sisterhood for a much-needed girl’s night out. Not only have Scott and I been going through our challenges, we’ve had a few of the friends group lose parents in the last couple months. I wasn’t the only one that needed a night out.
After months of being lectured about taking care of myself and doing something I enjoyed, tonight was finally going to be just that. As the snow up there started to add up to something treacherous, the only option was to cancel the festivities. I managed to kill the evening by watching a movie, playing games on my phone and eating everything in sight; trying to simulate the feeding frensy that would have been the party.
Eventually, we retired to bed where Scott read a couple pages and called it a night. I finally finished the worst book I have read in a long time and started a new one. I don’t know why I can’t start a book and decide – nope not going to waste my time. Once I pick it up, I’m committed to seeing it through. While by a noted author, the main character of the book was a very confused young lady living a pretty miserable existence. It should have made me feel pretty good about my life but it was actually depressing and I’m glad to be done with it.
Still not tired, I started another book. This one appears to be a refreshing change. Something I can relate to in just the first few pages. Another gift from a well-meaning friend for passing time during this recovery phase. This book focuses on a newly divorced woman in her 50’s who quits her job and moves to Saugatuck Michigan to renovate her family cabin into a bed and breakfast. Certainly, a fantasy I can relate and escape to.
Being home creates its own challenges and growing pains. I joked with Scott today that we need to check with the doctor and see if he’s cleared to empty the dishwasher yet. As I return to work as usual, other than not having a good paying job, I’m back to attempting to work, cook, clean and manage the finances on top of the duties of caretaker. All while trying not to get caught up in all the thoughts in my head; knowing that its not business as usual yet. So much of our life is still not functioning and for him, knowing that it never will be the same.
Watching the farm operate from a distance and not being part of it. Not being able to take the cold weather like he used to. Having to take rest breaks throughout the day. Me, I miss our playfulness; kisses and his smiles. We continue to limit our visitors and enforce strict hand washing and social distancing rules. We have self-imposed no kissing to make sure we aren’t passing cold germs back and forth since he has no immunity. He’s still coughing and sneezing regularly. They say it could be this way for a while yet. Our physical relationship has been on the back burner until his counts are where they need to be. Most days I feel more like Nurse Ratched than a wife.
Nearing my favorite holiday; Thanksgiving, I know that while I have so much to be thankful for, I find myself experiencing a sense of grief; once again missing what life was like before cancer. As I battle another night of insomnia, at least he is finally sleeping and we are safe and sound at home together. I guess I will read for a while. I can almost bet that when I find myself ready to nod off, that the dog will need to go out. Gee it’s great to be home.
For many years, opening day of deer hunting was a big deal at our house. As a child, it was just another day as my dad was an avid gun collector that couldn’t stand the taste of venison. For my children’s father and all his friends, it was practically a national holiday. Over the years, many of my friends have moved to bow hunting as it adds a level of difficulty and challenge but for many opening day for gun season is still a big deal. So much so that in Michigan, many schools have gone to being closed because so many students were missing that it couldn’t be counted as a day of learning.
Preparing for the season was time consuming. Clearing shooting lanes, observing deer patterns, working on stands or blinds and finally shopping for supplies. I always figured that for what we spent on hunting equipment, clothing, licenses and snacks, we could have just bought a cow and had a freezer full of good tasting meat. As much as I enjoyed the sport once I tried it, I never really got to the point of really enjoying the taste of the catch.
While hunting can create great family and friend traditions, it can also be a source of family drama, end friendships and lead to disgruntled neighbors. Each hunter has their idea of a “shooter”. Most hunters I know are pretty serious about planning and “cultivating” their crop. There are books written about it and organizations dedicated to teaching the right way to harvest a deer. Unfortunately, more often than not, each hunting season brought some type of discord. Someone shooting a deer that someone else thought should have been allowed to grow. Youth hunters typically given a pass for their first kill but little grace for shooting a small buck after that.
After several years on the side-lines, I decided to give it a try. By that time, radios were popular and our neighbors and friends all kept each other posted on their where abouts on a shared channel. That gave me the level of comfort to go out and give it a try. Going out meant that I needed some heavy-duty camo clothes to withstand the wind, rain and sometimes freezing temperatures. Probably $300 later, I had my new duds and a hunting license. When opening day eve arrived, our blinds were stocked with comfortable chairs and propane heaters. Backpacks were filled with all our favorite snacks and extra propane canisters; we were ready to hit the woods.
That first year I sat with my husband in his spot. My first kill was a terrible experience. Two bucks presented themselves and while we watched, a coyote decided to chase them to us. I managed to put what should have been a kill shot on the one, but after being chased he was so full of adrenaline, it took additional effort to put him down. That experience almost kept me from doing it again.
When they were old enough, both my son and daughter took part in hunting with us. We never did the big family breakfasts which are tradition for many but we enjoyed the family shopping trip to purchase ammo, snack foods and our hunting licenses. The whole hunting experience is something that most won’t understand. Either because it repulses them or because they won’t ever have the opportunity. There’s something about spending a few quiet hours with nature and feeling like a pioneer that is like nothing else. Watching the small critters in the woods, listening to the noises of the forest and smelling the wet leaves and watching the sunrise. I understand that some find it cruel and unnecessary but harvesting deer not only puts food on the table for many but is necessary to control the population. I would much rather have people shoot a deer and eat it, than have it run out in front of a car and end up as roadkill for the vultures to feast on and an insurance claim to deal with.
Everyone had their opening day spot. The day before Thanksgiving meant a group hunt canvassing a large number of acres. For several years, I got up early and put my turkey in the oven on Thanksgiving and went out for a few hours. I always thought it would be cool to shoot a big buck on the same day I put on a big feast for our family but the timing never worked out.
My most memorable hunt was with our friend Scott. The guys had developed a tradition of going up North to a camp together the weekend after Thanksgiving. This trip eventually included the sons and it was a great father/son bonding event for them. Scott was a dedicated wrestling coach for many years so was unable to do the trip so he hunted our place that weekend. One particularly warm fall, I knew he was going out and let him know via radio that I was going to go out and sit a while as well. After a few hours of quiet with no activity, we decided that he would start walking my direction and see what we could stir up. It was warm enough that I had to shed my jacket and lined coveralls. As long as I was shedding my layers, I decided to step away from my blind and use the “restroom”. It was then that I saw what seemed to be a huge buck coming from the North. I carefully retreated to my blind to let Scott know that he should stay put until he heard back from me. I snuck back out and continued to watch this buck. I began to panic; I had never had a buck walk straight at me, would I make the necessary shot to kill? Not only that, Scott and I had always depended on the others to cut and gut our deer. If I was successful, then what? I decided that the thrill of having my husband and his friends return empty handed, only to find this trophy buck hanging in the barn was certainly worth the work that it was going to take to field dress it and get it up to the house.
By the time I made the decision to shoot this big boy, he was so close that I couldn’t use my scope. I took a deep breath and pulled the trigger. I was sure it was a good shot, but the thing ran full speed ahead and ran smack into a large tree. I heard the crash. I envisioned walking up to him only to find at least one of his antlers on the ground, broken off when he hit the tree. I relayed the events of my kill to Scott and after the designated waiting period he headed my way to see what I had bagged.
We shared a once in a lifetime experience together, cutting my way through the process. Carefully removing parts that if nicked, would not only smell terrible but could cause the meat to taste bad. We huffed and puffed getting it back to the barn and hung up to cure. We laughed and had an unforgettable adventure. Today that deer looks small compared to what is being harvested on that farm now, which is a testament to responsible deer hunting by my son and the neighboring farmers. Carrying on long standing family traditions of responsible hunting.
I woke this morning with a mission. I wanted to find out what the official difference between gratification and satisfaction was by definition. I think we tend to use the terms simultaneously but do they really mean the same thing? I’ve been asked over the years why I have to be involved in everything and am constantly over-committing myself. Well, I find that gratifying, I guess. Why do so many people retire and pass away within a short period of time? Or pass away within a short period of time after a loved one does? I think it has a lot to do with being satisfied and feeling gratification.
www.Merriam-Webster.com indicates that satisfaction: [noun] is the payment through penance of the temporal punishment incurred by a sin. Reparation for sin that meets the demands of divine justice. Wikipedia’s definition of gratification carries a much happier connotation. Gratification is the pleasurable emotional reaction of happiness in response to a fulfillment of a desire or goal. It is also identified as a response stemming from the fulfillment of social needs such as affiliation, socializing, social approval, and mutual recognition. Gratification, like all emotions, is a motivator of behavior and plays a role in the entire range of human social systems. Wikipedia
A topic of conversation in the over 50 crowd is the younger generations need for instant gratification. After doing my research about the meaning of these words I think we have that all wrong. They are expecting instant satisfaction as if working a couple years is penance enough to have that brand new 3000 sq foot house and shiny new vehicles. Unfortunately their limited experience keeps them from knowing what true gratification feels like. I have to believe that our parents thought the same thing about our generation and their parents about them. Has anything really changed or is it just that we are now the ones looking in the rear-view mirror? If this generation is like this, it would have to mean that they were trained or raised to expect this. Not that we did it, but we all know many parents that did right? I mean we, ourselves, can’t be to blame, can we?
I think probably my dad is the reason I am a gratification junky. He has always been one to create and make things from scratch. Wood, metal, automobile parts, other people’s junk. He derives great pleasure from working with his hands; and making things and seeing the final working product. The cider mill is a great example of that. When you see that, you can’t help but want some of that. That’s probably why I can see such potential in his large shop full of scrap and broken-down equipment. It could all be something someday. My mode of transportation is a little different. I create by cooking, sewing, working and writing but I manage to achieve the same results.
We need to lead by example and show our children and grandchildren the art of gratification. Collecting unemployment and welfare is satisfying; it will pay the bills. Our penance for doing time on this earth. What everyone needs is a chance to experience gratification instead. The high of working to achieve a goal. That goes back to if you love your job, it won’t be work. Find something that is gratifying and not just satisfying. I think that’s why I have always said that I don’t know what I want to be when I grow up. It’s because I am always looking for the next big high. That thing that gives me such joy in completing it. Right now, I feel like writing is that thing.
All this talk about gratification and satisfaction leads me to another current buzz word. In my youth, I don’t remember much talk or use of the term narcissism. If I enjoy writing and look forward to seeing comments and responses, am I going to become a narcissist? I remember when a high school friend posted something on Facebook about her ex-husband being a narcissist. I had to look it up. Was this person one, was that person one; was I one? I think the key is excess. In order to be a happy person with success, you have to have a little pride and look out for yourself but how much is too much?
I think we have social media and technology to blame for a lot of this. Everyone taking selfies and comparing themselves to others. I had a girl’s night a few years ago and invited ladies from different friend groups. We were going around the table and they were all telling a little about themselves. One of the gals made the comment, what do you want to hear? The Facebook version or the truth? Then when Facebook became the mode of communication for the old people, the movers and shakers moved to Instagram and TikTok. Even the names tell us it’s all about instant satisfaction. I’m not knocking technology; I can’t imagine going through what we just did without it. If I didn’t have Facebook to notify 300 people what was going on with Scott’s progress, I would have gone crazy taking phone calls. Or what if I had to write letters to let people know how he was doing? In all the years I have had a cell phone I have never run out of data or maxed out my plan but I did it twice while in the hospital. After that I got a little better at remembering to switch to the hospital’s WIFI. I spent a lot of time while he slept on my phone and computer. One month I had over 900 texts. Crazy.
In the marriage counseling world, they talk about your “love bank”. When your spouse does something that makes you happy, they are making deposits, when they screw up, they are making withdrawals. You might also be familar with Gary Chapman’s writing on the five love languages. The idea is that we all have a love language; the one thing we relate to or enjoy the most. The five languages include acts of service, gift-giving, physical touch, quality time and words of affirmation. Being married to a person whose bank is filled by service; it can be pretty easy to keep their bank full. You just let them do and do and do; it makes you both happy. Until things reach that point where service becomes work that is no longer appreciated. Without work and effort by both partners, things can easily get lopsided and one person finds their cup running over while the partners well is running dry. When your marriage is nothing but a long standing over-drawn bank account you finally make the decision to close your account and probably hold onto your cash for a while. Eventually you find a bank with the features and benefits you find more pleasing based on your past experiences with the old “bank”. Still, it’s a challenge to not manage your “money” like you did in the past and some find themselves making the same mistakes again.
As we see all the signs of the Christmas season creeping in and running over Thanksgiving, take some time to really think about your life. Enjoy time with friends and family. Give some thought to what you are doing and consider making time for something that you find gratifying. Throughout this journey, people are always telling me to take care of myself and make time for me. Strangely enough, what I have gone through with Scott is right up my alley; something that as horrible as it seemed some days, was providing me a way to exercise my love language of acts of service. Learning new things and pushing myself further than I thought possible allowed me to feel more gratified than fear or frustration. Being able to retire and spend the entire time in the hospital with him allowed me to give him what he needed; my time and encouragement. Seeing him through the whole process has allowed us to fill both my love bank and his.
Nothing beats Michigan in the fall. Crops are being harvested, the trees are beautiful, the weather is perfect and the absence of the August heat makes me feel like baking. Something with pumpkin or apples of course. Apple dumplings used to be my specialty until I decided I didn’t have time for them or need the calories. My favorite fall treat is apple sauce donuts. Although Michigan is full of very cool cider mills, we don’t have one near us so I have to settle with what Family Fare or Meijer have to offer.
September is when the majority of our family has birthdays so it’s an expensive month. My mom, Scott, my son, my daughter, my step-son and now only grandchild are all September babies. With both my children I felt like I went into the hospital in the summer and came home in the fall. Seasons can change in a day here; and more often than not – change back again after a few days.
While September means birthdays, October means Cider Making Day at my parents. A day almost better than Christmas. Great fun, food and conversation. After missing the wedding and so many other things over the past few months, it was great that Scott was feeling well enough to go with me a couple weekends ago. This year was super warm; making it a little scarier with all the bees being very active. Growing up picking apples on my dad’s little orchard I was always getting stung in the hands. A tug of war with a downed apple that I was sure to lose. The more I got stung the worst the reaction.
It was also the first year that my grand-daughter was able to participate. Last year she joined us but was just a wee one all wrapped up in her snuggly blankets. This year she came ready to work. Or at least get herself all wet. My son was busy trying to keep her from climbing into the apple washing bucket; the girl loves the water. She’s going to be good help one of these days.
I’m not sure where my dad got the original plan or idea for the mill but back then it certainly wasn’t from pinterest or a youtube video. Like everything he has, it’s pretty much all home made. Back in the early days, the press sat outside and apples were actually pressed with a big wheel that was hand cranked to squeeze the chopped apples. I think originally pails of apples were dumped into the home-made grinder from a ladder. Now it has an elevator and a hopper that we load. A motor powers the crushing so we can get more juice than we could with man power. Today it resides in what else but “The Cider Shed”. A single garage style building with a big apple painted on the roll-up door that I first painted in high school; a mere forty some years ago. The trap door in the floor leading to the storage of “the good stuff”. I haven’t been down there in years but it used to house the hard cider and barrels of home-made wine.
Everyone mans a post; apple washing/rinsing and keeping the hopper full. Dad manages the mechanical part of the process. After pressing, the apple mash requires some brute force to get it out of the pressing bucket and into the trailer. It takes a couple more people to manage the straining and jugging of the fresh cider. Tasting is everyone’s job.
It wouldn’t be a family get together without great food. Dad’s always tweeking the equipment and the we’ve made some changes to the after-pressing meal. Last year we had a soup bar and this year a taco bar. It’s always near my sister’s birthday so it includes a yummy desert as well. If you go hungry there, it’s clearly your own fault.
One year, it almost didn’t happen. Dad ended up in the hospital with appendicitis. Apples were picked and he had already promised cider to the local museum. They were needing it to make apple butter for a fund raiser. In a panic, he dictated notes to my mom from the hospital bed. Much to his surprise, between us we had all paid enough attention that we managed to pull it off. Crisis averted.
There’s something really special about getting together as a family and making a product. Especially this year when cider at the grocery store was running about $6.99/gallon and it tastes terrible after you’ve been raised on the good stuff. Scott could watch and help take pictures but he couldn’t drink the cider because it’s not pasturized. It’s never sold, only given to those that help make it or donate apples for the pressing.
Some of my favorite photos come from this day. Typically I enjoy taking pictures and seeing everyone congregate and catch-up with one another. This year I over-saw the mixing process; making sure each batch has a mixture of apples to insure the most flavor, some varieties are sweeter, some juicier and the right mix has to include a few tart apples too. Scott took over my photo detail. Along with the fun comes a little sadness. Remembering the people that have enjoyed our event with us in the past. My uncle just passed away this fall. I have memories of him helping back when the press was still at my grandparent’s place as well as coming out to watch over the years. My parents’ neighbor Dave was always very enthusiastic about being part of the process; and he passed away a few years ago after becoming a regular helper. Now we add new spouses and the next generation of apple pickers to the mix. Many hands make light work.
It’s hard to believe that it’s November already. Scott is post-transplant day 80. After weeks of bonus high temperatures, today feels like fall is here. The wind has picked up and it’s spitting rain. I had some apples left over from cider making and an about to expire (well – you got me – past date cake mix from the store shelf) and I threw together a dump cake for a snack when the kids come over later today. If it doesn’t turn out, at least the house will smell good. Today is a homecoming of sorts. Scott’s daughter is bringing our dog Zeus back home.
It’s been hard not seeing the kids like we are used to and equally hard to not have our dog with us. After all, he’s the only child we have together. He’s been in excellent care; to the extent that we’re a little worried that he won’t want to stay home with us. Being that we got him as a rescue dog, I’ve been imaging what he’s thinking. I’m sure he’s like “Wow, I can’t believe this – I thought those people really liked me. I only peed on the floor a couple times, and I never chewed my toys or ate shoes or anything………well at least they didn’t leave me along side of the road like those other people. I’ve stayed at this other place before and the lady here practically smothers me with hugs and kisses. They complain about my gassy stomach but they give me lots of treats and there’s places to explore. The other dog here is pretty chill and we pretty much just ignore each other. The cat likes to snuggle with me so I let her.”
Then there’s when they drive in the driveway and he realizes he’s back. “Oh my God, they aren’t dead! I’m back! What the heck??” And maybe even “Man, dad looks way different, but he sounds the same. I wonder if something happened to him and that’s why I had to go away?” I think he probably knows, it seems that dogs are very receptive when their humans are sick.
We will have to adjust to having him around again. Remembering to find him a sitter on check-up days and getting up during the night to let him out. Remembering the joys of stinky dog breath and his silent and deadly toots. Our chicken, Lucky, will have her buddy back. The resident woodchuck that has been illuding all the traps will have to be a little more careful; the pooch is back on yard patrol.
Well, that didn’t last long. We haven’t even been home for two weeks and I’m already soul searching; trying to decide what I want to be when I grow up. All my life I have wanted to help people. If my job didn’t allow me to do that on a daily basis, then I assumed active roles in non-profit groups that would. For most of my life I was helping farmers to be more profitable or in many cases trying to keep them in business. Giving them that loan or helping them to restructure to breathe life back into their operation was very rewarding work. When I wasn’t doing that, I was helping families obtain funds to buy or build their dream home. I wonder if my talent for writing (assuming that I have some and people aren’t just trying to be kind) comes from years of pleading others cases. Nearly thirty years; presenting convincing written narratives of why my customers should be granted a loan so they could continue to live out their dreams of operating the family farm.
We still own the store and I could spend all the time I want pouring over the numbers and making spreadsheets; sharpening my proverbial pencil to make it as profitable as possible. Sure, one could say that I’m preserving the legacy that predecessors have worked so hard to build, and that’s something. I’m providing a good hot meal at a fair price and affordable catering for those looking to feed their friends, family and co-workers. I pay my taxes and provide employment for a handful of people; and try and treat them as fairly as I possibly can while still being the boss. I donate when I can and our annual cutest dog contest generates a little money for the local animal shelter. Santa and Mrs. Claus visit the store each year and that’s great fun for us too. I enjoy it, but it’s not the rewarding feeling that I am looking for.
Having retired on a Friday and moved into the hospital with Scott less than a week later, I really didn’t have time to process my retirement. Working from home remotely meant my co-workers sent their well wishes via text or email. No packing up or saying good-bye. It was just over and with so much on my mind it was on to the next crisis. Since moving down here, having the job and the store didn’t really allow any time for charity work. I did a little writing for the local newspaper for fun but that was about it. Unfortunately, after a life-time of always having too much on my plate, what do I want to do for fun? Sure, I enjoy sewing and I should spend some time organizing my house and decluttering but what after that? I don’t need a job; but I need to be busy. Busy doing something that makes a difference.
As difficult as it is being a caregiver and basically living on a couch in his hospital bed for the greater part of his 40-day stay, one might say I was in my element. I had a job and I was fully committed to it. Needless to say, it was probably the most critical job in my life. Doing what I could when nurses weren’t around and learning to be his nurse once we headed out. Balancing my store duties from afar, making sure bills got paid and that he had everything he needed to get through this thing that meant life would go on. I was needed. Now that he is feeling better and recovery is staring us in the face, I feel a little lost. Strangely I never felt lost when my kids left the nest, I knew that I had raised them in a way that they could have successful, happy lives and I was excited for them to get out and experience that. Having Scott start to want to get out and about is a little more nerve-racking. A reminder of the days when we were taking the training wheels off the big bikes, or handing our children keys to the car or truck.
Scott and I talked after my last article that alluded to the fact that we were workaholics. His point was that it isn’t work if you love what you do. That is certainly what farming is all about. You love what you do; it’s all you want to do. It can be part of you at an early age. A fellow farmer can see it in a young person; a child farmer is born with an old soul. When I saw that in a young person or felt it in their commitment, I would do anything I could to help them survive in farming. Sadly, the future of America’s farmers is questionable. It’s a lot of hard work for little money for the average farm. The level of financial investment it requires now days is staggering. Not to mention the need to be good at a multitude of things. Now more than ever, a farmer must be an impeccable money manager. Even the best farmers with the best animals or ground have faltered over the last few years of terrible prices. Prices haven’t risen on the farm like they have at the grocery store or meat counter. A large percent of the increases in food costs are covering wages and transportation costs at the packers and processors and not ending up on the family farm. What little that does make it back to the farm goes out the door to cover higher feed costs, fuel costs and inputs for our fellow crop farmers. Add to that the rising interest costs and rumors of a diesel shortage and we could really be heading into big trouble for agriculture and ultimately everyone.
After a long wait, we are finally watching Yellowstone. The portrayal of the passion that it takes to run a large farm is accurate. The idea that it takes a lot of money to run a ranch like that is also true. One shouldn’t assume that where there are big houses and shiny new pick-ups that there is a lot of money being made. There’s a good deal of the story line I hope is just that – a story. In my world, not many farmers and ranchers are appointing family members to the highest offices of State government and killing everyone that gets in our way. Still, an hour or two of Kevin Costner will never be something I will say no to.
I’m really enjoying writing. It’s great to create and get things off my mind. While writing is helping me; I don’t see that it will help others to the extent I would like. I’m considering doing some You Tube videos as a way to try and help others that are going through cancer. This is a big step as I have always enjoyed being the one behind the camera; so being on camera would be a challenge. Maybe my readers have some ideas for making my retirement rewarding as well as relaxing. Feel free to leave me your ideas in the comment box. I would love to hear your feedback. For those that know me, I’m sure it’s no surprise that I’m already ready to take on something more to do.
In what I refer to as my “first” life, our friend group decided to try a Mexican vacation. For me, it was the best. As soon as we returned from that first trip, I set up a payroll deduction adequate to accumulate the funds to do a repeat trip in two years and have it fully paid for. I was hooked. After my divorce, I continued building that vacation fund and ramped it up. I worked hard; I deserved that one week in paradise; every year. Heck with that every other year thing!
When Scott and I started dating in 2011, I knew that continuing a relationship with him would require a lot of compromise on my part. Everyone knows that a 4th generation livestock farmer doesn’t fall in love and move in with his girlfriend in another part of the State. Considering, if we were the match that our match maker thought we were, I would need to make some serious changes or concessions in my life. So, I decided Scott would have to agree to a couple things himself. He would have to get along with my “brother from another mother” and he would have to agree to annual destination vacations.
Could he enjoy this type of vacation? While it sounds like a no brainer for most, it was a major accomplishment getting him out of the barn for a day let alone for multiple days and all the way out of the country. Never a sun worshiper, he couldn’t see how this was going to be enjoyable but he was a sport and gave it a try. Ultimately the idea of a all expense paid vacation won him over. So in 2013, we went with a group of farmers from Michigan, many of them much older than us. That was a good starter group for him since he had something in common with them. We didn’t hang out on the beach with them but we dined with some of them a few times. It was nice seeing a familiar face on the resort occasionally. He managed to enjoy himself and we set a goal to do it again.
In 2014, I was able to take a once in a lifetime trip to Ireland with my daughter. She was finishing up a study abroad trip so I joined her for an extra week with one of her friends and three of her family members. It was a delightful series of planes, trains and automobiles. The country-side was beautiful and the people were so friendly. I think it will remain on my bucket list as a do-over trip with Scott.
The next year we invited Tal and Cindy to join us in Mexico for a belated honeymoon. That was an eventful trip resulting in several memorable stories. They joined us again in 2017 and we went again with them on their honeymoon in 2018. In 2019, we joined Scott’s cousin Jeff and his wife in Spain. That was another very fun trip with beautiful scenery. The language barrier was somewhat difficult there but the people proved to be very trustworthy. Scott left his suitcase at the railway station and when we returned some time later, it was still there. We joke that they opened it and found nothing but out of style clothes and decided to leave it. Funny now but not so much then.
Four couples enjoyed Jamaica in 2020; so much so that some are returning to that resort in 2023. Scott won’t be cleared for international travel yet so we will likely visit friends and family in Florida instead. Saving Aruba for 2024. 😊 We also were part of a group that did a house boat vacation in Kentucky in 2020. Scott didn’t have the best of luck on that trip either. After a slip and get crushed between the rock and a rocky ledge kind of fall, he was in agony with what was probably a broken rib or two. We went to Costa Rica in 2021 while most of the world was locked down for COVID. We found traveling very enjoyable that year as the resort was nearly empty and the excursions very affordable. We got hooked up with a young man doing day trips that had worked on a dairy farm in Michigan; a farm that was part of the co-op that I worked for so I knew of the farm. We did a great variety of activities including fishing for tuna and going to a crazy iguana park. Feeling comfortable with him, we did some touring out away from the resort and it was very interesting learning more about their culture and the work environment there.
That summer we did a bucket list trip to Maine for Cindy’s birthday. In 2022, we invited a new couple to join us in Cozumel. They proved to be a great addition. He’s an all-round nice guy like Scott and she’s as kind and bubbly as they come. And I think she enjoyed the water slides as much as I did. Again, we got to know a local guide and asked him to show us around some of the local hang-outs rather than the tourist traps. The island, resort and company were all great but the vacation turned into a nightmare when Scott developed excruciating headaches that just couldn’t be controlled. There were a couple nights that we both feared that we were on our last vacation together. One particular night I did something rare and almost unheard of, I got myself all “gussied” up for dinner; in my little black dress and a great tan. It was soon evident that he wasn’t going to be able to join us. I remember what a huge disappointment that was to not have him by my side. All dressed up and no prince charming to take me to the ball.
I’m not telling these things to brag but more as a walk down memory lane. A reminder to myself of all the great things I’ve been able to experience in my life. Precursors to all the things we dreamed we would do in our retirement. Reality was that we were both work-a-holics that cut out two or three-time outs each year. Always too much work to do; never enough hours in a day. Yet here we are, after basically tapping out for 3 months. The farm still moves along without him and the store is managing just fine without me. Sure the work environment is full of people that don’t want to work as hard as we think they should but at the same time, too many of us get so wrapped up in our jobs thinking the work place just can’t function without us. I left a job after 20 years in 2014 and they all moved on just fine without me. Sure, some people miss you occasionally but ultimately business goes on. We like to say that no one wants to work any more. Maybe part of the younger generations commitment to working is a consequence of growing up with working parents. It will always be about balance. Make sure you aren’t living to work and missing out on the adventures that await you.
Last two Monday’s doctor appointments brought solid blood results and two weeks of weight gain. Food is finally sounding good to him. Platelets are finally increasing nicely – first up to 69k then today a whopping124k with 50k being a major mile marker in the road to recovery. For those new to medical “benchmarks”, the normal range for platelets is 150,000-400,000. While battling Essential Thrombocythemia, he was on high doses of hydroxyurea to keep his platelets from going up near 1 million. One big clue in solving the mystery of his illness progression was that his platelets began to drop. While the doctor thought this was from the high doses of hydroxyurea over an extended period, it was actually the transition of the disease to Myelofibrosis. It was the reports of the enlarged spleen that cracked the code and sent us to Mayo Clinic with a pretty good idea of what was wrong.
The role of platelets is to bind blood cells together and enable clotting. Right after the chemo, his platelets were as low as 5,000. With platelets under 50,000 any injury or even minor cuts or bleeding of any sort is a concern. While in the hospital he regularly received platelets but the body was using them up as fast as he was receiving them. Finally, they began “sticking” – literally, and we saw slow improvement. It took a while for the insurance to approve the n-plate shots as they claimed they weren’t approved for Scott’s situation but once he started getting them it didn’t take long to start seeing the results.
Another important measurement is his hemoglobin. Monday showed him at 8.4. Still below the normal range of 13.5 – 17.0; but much improved. This was another early indicator of problems. Low hemoglobin zaps you of your energy. Levels of less than 7 will get you a blood transfusion. In Scott’s case, we are guessing about 30 of them so far. We are really hoping that October 17th marked the last two units. In my younger days I was a regular blood donor, but I got away from it when it seemed to be such a hassle to fit it into my busy schedule. I think I need to get back in the swing of it now that Scott has done his part in denting the O Negative stockpiles.
My non-medical mind has to wonder, if the body holds 10 pints of blood, and he has gotten three times that, what roll do the stem cells play when it would seem that all that has been flushed out already. Being that the procedure has moved from bone marrow to stem cell transplants, what will be the next improvement to the process? While some people can escape cancer for a while by removing the affected area, blood cancer can be removed with a complete fluid flush of sorts. Crazy to think about.
Back in the days of discovery and disbelief; I found that educating myself helped. I read and read and searched and searched. I created a spreadsheet with multiple tabs. I would say “if” you find yourself in a similar situation but as I learned we are all living in a world where it’s just a matter of when and not if cancer will hit your household. Having a cheat sheet on the blood markers was very helpful while we were in the hospital and even now. I would encourage you to keep a date log as you will need it; either for filing for disability or submitting claims to additional insurances. The challenge of wanting to be fully informed is that your patient may not want to be that informed. I had read early on that for the patient, less is best. Unless they are asking for the information, sometimes it’s just best to keep it to yourself. It helps you be prepared for doctor’s appointments, but your patient will likely need to hear it from the experts.
With his numbers being much safer, he convinced me to move us home. Promising me he wouldn’t do anything that would lead us to need to rush to the hospital for any reason. So, after being retired from my full-time job for nearly three months already, I finally had a couple days last week where I actually felt retired. I managed an afternoon outing with a friend and a couple store shopping trips without feeling rushed. I wasted more time than I would like to admit playing games on my phone. You know, to keep my mind sharp; at least that’s what the advertisements say. My days of leisure were short lived; I’m short staffed at the store for the next couple weeks so I will be working there most days. Thankfully not 8-hour shifts. Not to mention that there’s still appointments in Ann Arbor on Mondays. Making sure we have all the meds he needs, working on social security disability and fighting with AFLAC; all duties of my new full-time job. Along with being parole officer to a 62-year-old newborn.
He is so happy to be home and everyone is offering their support and congratulations. Yet honestly, now that we find ourselves on the backside of this situation, I’m not sure that it will necessarily be the easier side of things. I’m afraid that keeping him safe and out of trouble was a lot easier when we were living at the hospital or in one of our “safe” houses near the hospital. After feeling horrible for basically a year now, he is starting to get over his post-transplant cold/mono and feeling like doing things. He is supposed to be on restrictions. With low platelets, any trip and fall injury could end up being a life-threatening situation but it’s going to be hard to keep a good man down.
The stem cell transplant manual is pretty clear about the risks. It’s a full year of limitations. No gardening or lawn mowing. No swimming and limited sun with lots of suntan lotion. Limited exposure to pets or small children. No driving until your doctor gives the green light. The rule about not leaving your patient alone for more than 20 minutes makes more sense now that he is feeling good. Given 20 minutes alone, Scott has already managed to break a multitude of rules. These next few months will be challenging as the last few; a matter of picking my battles. Knowing that he will want to keep busy, but trying to keep him from doing things on the list of prohibited activities. Realizing that it will be up and down as he works his way through the A,B,C’s of new allergies, bacteria and cold viruses.
For Scott, going from being a farmer working seven days a week to total inactivity in less than a year was a major shock to both of us. Then finally feeling better but still not having the strength and stamina that he has always had is frustrating for him. Knowing that our activities will be limited for an entire trip around the sun is disheartening. We will try to keep in mind that the months of excruciating pain are behind him and there is promise for a number of amazing adventures in our future. Hoping that one day we can say that this wake-up call was what we needed to change our lifestyle to one that includes a lot less work and a lot more play. Life is too short to work seven days a week; especially at our age.
I think it’s only fitting that after experiencing the joy and wonderment of my daughter’s wedding last week that I reflect on my past relationships. All the way back to the days of first kisses, drama and heart aches that plagued adolescents in the ‘70’s and ‘80’s. Back in the days when things were simple; before social media dating and before kids claimed to identify as cats or fairies, at least publicly.
Pretty sure my first kiss took place at an infamous boy-girl party in junior high. If I remember right, it was the result of spin the bottle and took place in a coat closet. The precursor to junior high dances. In those days, school dances were held in the gymnasium with the bleachers pushed back and chairs around the perimeter. Couples would find a dark corner and kiss for hours. I bet chaperones and teachers today wish all they had to worry about was kissing teens!
Growing up in a rural area, there were lots of boys in my neighborhood. I was always a bit of a tomboy and enjoyed being with the boys; the girls were either babies or drama queens and I didn’t have the patience for that. In the summer, we rode bikes and played softball or baseball in one another’s yards. I was terrible at sports but I showed up. I’m not sure if it came from being small and left-handed or if I was just born that way. In fact, I was so small in junior high that George Mendoza picked me up and put me in a trash can upside down. That might have been his idea of flirting with me but needless to say he was dead to me from that point on.
Through most of high school, I had a boyfriend. It was your typical off again, on again adolescent relationship. There were a few others in between but most of my memories include him. Homecoming, Valentine’s dances, prom, my first concert with a boy, etc. I went to the cabin with his family and hung out at their house frequently. We ran into each other off and on over the years and I often wondered what life would have looked like for both of us if we had stayed together. I think everyone has that person. Sadly in 2015, he took his life. It’s hard to imagine the young man that I spent so much time with ended up feeling that hopeless. I can’t imagine the pain that his family must feel.
Right out of high school I was working at the local grain elevator as the accounts receivable clerk when a particular customer seemed to take interest in me. He was farming with his father and came from a well-known family in the area. He was nice and funny; but a good deal older than I was, and he was very persistent. New Year’s Eve was approaching and I was out of high school and living at home. Not looking forward to spending the evening with my parents. The high school guy was still in the picture but it was becoming clear that wasn’t going anywhere. So, when the funny farmer asked me out for what felt like the 100th time, I broke down and said yes.
Not wanting to show up in the farm truck, he borrowed his mother’s car. (Remember that; it will resurface another time; wink, wink.) He met my parents and we took off. As we headed out, I asked where we were going. He indicated that his friends played in a band and that we were going to a New Year’s Eve party where they were playing. A local bowling alley/bar. There was only one problem with that. I was eighteen and the drinking age was twenty-one. I wasn’t going to be able to get in. He was twenty-seven. We managed to find somewhere else to go and we continued to date. By summer we were engaged and by October we were married.
Marrying young, I was in no hurry to have children. Our friends were having babies and that was enough for me for a while. Not to mention that we married in 1983 and interest rates for agriculture were nearing 18% and land values first rose then drastically dropped. I never dreamt of staying home and being a full-time mom; which was a blessing because most of my married life I worked two jobs to help keep things afloat. The farm put a roof over our heads but family living draws (wages) on the farm were near to non-existent. I never minded, I was as committed to farming and agriculture as he was. Farming is something that is in your blood for life. It takes a special commitment to borrow hundreds of thousands of dollars to put seeds in the ground and hope the weather and markets cooperate.
Eventually the bank determined they had invested enough in the farm and they were pulling the plug. I’ll never forget my son’s reaction; he was about nine at the time. He was on his bed sobbing. “You mean we aren’t farmers anymore?” It’s as painful today as it was back then. “No honey, we are still farmers, we just aren’t farming right now. You will always be a farmer.” We managed to sell at a time that values were just starting to rise again and we saved the main farm. We built a new home adjacent to my mother-in-law and attempted a fresh start. We raised our children and maintained our friendships but it wasn’t the same.
In simple terms, I would say that our marriage never made the transition out of farming. In reality there were many things wrong. I think it’s human nature to want to help our friends and family when they are in unhappy relationships. What I learned is that only you can make the decision to end things. Only you will know when it’s time. I still struggle being in the same room as him; feeling ashamed that I have no feelings for a man who I shared a bed with for over 25 years. I’m a pretty tolerate and giving person but when you finally break me, I don’t flex back easily.
As difficult as divorce is, if you aren’t with your person, it’s a necessary thing. I lived most of my adult life never knowing what a perfect match felt like. I had a good life with a great career and raised two terrific children. I made more friends than any one person deserves but I wasn’t with my person.
Now that our children are all married; I just pray that they are fortunate enough to have found their person the first time around. I don’t want them to have to wait 50 years to find their perfect match. My son has purchased the home we built back in 1998 and I’m hoping it will prove to be the perfect place to raise his family. While the miles might separate me from my friends and family, the last year has convinced me that I’m where I belong. It’s been hard, scary and everything in between but not for one second have I regretted my vows; this time around.