The Conversation

Cindy's Stories
Stories About People from 2007 Pages

I was going to post this entry last night, but we had a big windstorm that knocked out our internet cable connection. We are back in business, despite a snowstorm that blanketed us this afternoon. It has been a wild winter thus far...

It seems like every time I drive down a street or road I haven't been down for a while, I run across a new commercial building either in the process of going up or already up. Many of the new stores are the same as ones found 40 miles south down the freeway, closer to Seattle. When I went to England and France in 1978, I was struck by how very old the buildings were. I remember telling friends it was like walking and living in a museum— the buildings were hundreds of years older than I was used to. In the US we have some lovely older buildings still in use, but many have already been torn down after a century or less of use. It's not unusual for a perfectly good home in a hot housing market to be torn down so that a larger, more expensive one can be built in its place.

It's interesting to go into buildings built during my lifetime and realize many of the components are indeed already dated and worn: electrical, heating, cooling, safety systems, etc. I know the generation or two before me found the pace of change mindboggling at times— it was. Change is a constant for us and seems to have accelerated in the last hundred or so years.

Once when I was in an "older", more worn-looking building, maybe built in the '70s, I chatted with an elderly lady who lived there. She told me how she had lived in that town much of her life and remembered the building she lived in being built, how grand and fancy it was, how the country club set went there to retire. Did you go into the bathroom downstairs? Oh, you must go in there! The paper towels come out just by putting your hand out! They come out without touching anything! I smile and marvel with her. Who would have thought I would ever live someplace like this? Who would have thought I would get to live here! She squeezes up her shoulders and almost shivers as she sparkles with delight, and I am happy for her.

The road of life can only reveal itself as it is traveled; each turn in the road reveals a surprise. Man's future is hidden.— Anon

There seems to be some sort of theme, or maybe conspiracy, going on. Recently I have read a couple of books written by men who immigrated to the United States, one from Mexico and one from Argentina, and became professors here. Interestingly, both authors within their stories spoke of how acculturating to a new country distances a person from their original culture. The old always remains a part of you, while the new changes you.

I also recently met two ladies born in the United Kingdom, one in Scotland and the other in England. One told me how she had become a citizen as soon as possible after coming to the United States because I knew I could never go back. A friend of mine met her American husband during the war, World War II, and they came here after the war. She always complained that she wanted to return to live in England and I told her over and over: no, you cannot go back, you can visit but you cannot go back because IT WILL NEVER BE THE SAME. Eventually they moved back to England after her husband retired, and I visited them a while later. She was not happy, it was not the same. Shortly after that she went into the hospital and died. Her husband returned to the United States. Life changes, you just can't go back, you have to move forward. The other lady I met told me of the many places her and her husband had lived: Scotland, London, Iran, Washington DC, Belgium. More than once she lamented that her daughter had been taught French when she was young, but she just doesn't use it now, I don't know how much she remembers. She showed me a picture of herself with Churchill and spoke of pleasant times when Eleanor Roosevelt would come over for tea. She knew she had a special life story to share and I remarked that I loved hearing peoples' life stories, that every person has an interesting life and story. She responded really? In a surprised and snooty tone that, well, surprised me. I assured her indeed, all people have interesting stories to tell, but I wasn't sure she believed me. She was not aware that her own odd skepticism confirmed for me how very interesting every person is.

It is funny how we concentrate so on our differences, when all the while it is the fact that we are all so similar that makes the differences stand out. And at the same time we bring attention to our differences, we assure and reassure ourselves that the things that make us different also, somehow, make us better.

Some people are born on third base and go through life thinking they hit a triple.— Barry Switzer

I don't know how to teletransport myself. She glanced at me with a look that seemed to hold wonder as she passed, looking to catch my reaction to this unbelievable confession.

"Neither do I!" My own confession was met with a small smile.

Has it ever struck you… that life is all memory, except for the one present moment that goes by you so quickly you hardly catch it going? It's really all memory… except for each passing moment.— Tennessee Williams in "The Milk Train Doesn't Stop Here Anymore"

We live out on the "flats", the flood plains of the valley, where the tulips grow. The weather was decent today, bringing with it hoardes of tulip gazers. Can't blame them. Just a couple miles up the road are fields of tulips with colors so intense you'd swear they had been photoshopped. Gorgeous.

Can you see those trees up on the ridge? Yes, see the one in the middle of the three, with the tip bent over? A man sits up there all day! I haven't been able to figure out why or what he's doing. I think there's a sky-hook holding him in place, then just before the sun sets a plane with two sets of wings swoops down to pick him up. Actually, I'm not sure if it is a man or a woman from this distance. The 90+ year old woman gazes over at me as if trying to see into me, checking my reaction to secrets normally kept close to her chest, so to speak. Can you see all those trees on the ridge? Actually, if you look closely, you'll see there's someone at the top of each one! They come everyday and hang on a sky-hook, until the plane swoops down to pick them up before dark. For the life of me I can't figure out what they're doing up there. I shook my head, marveling with her. Lots of people like to gaze at nature, and out windows, and some have more interesting stories to tell me about it than others.

It rained a little here this evening, creating a huge, close double rainbow in the sun's setting light. Jay took pictures, maybe they will show up here later. The lady next door, Rose, has a couple of old fruit trees in her front yard. When I went to close the front curtains in the darkening light, I saw her cherry tree glowing with its white flowers in the dimness. I took a picture as best I could.

I wheeled with the stars,
my heart broke loose on the wind.
—from "Poetry" by Pablo Neruda

Jay picked up a book for me to read at the library last weekend called Carved in Sand, When Attention Fails and Memory Fades in Midlife by Cathryn Jakobson Ramin. I think you can tell by the title mostly what it is about. I am a slow reader (Jay tells me I do not have to read every word, but I am sure he is wrong) and have not gotten very far, but the author starts with dramatic stories about her own and others' memory slips as they head on into, well, into my age category. The author then starts into more scientific information about frontal lobes and such, mostly boiling down to the fact that in days gone by middle aged frontal lobes had a little bit of a hard time keeping up, but now, in the age of information onslaught and change, our task is daunting. We are still working in middle age, still raising or involved in families in middle age, and still busy with a multitude of important and mundane things. Such as it is.

Last night Jay asked me how the book was going and I told him I thought many of the examples were perhaps exaggerated— I am not doing that badly! I have a little tray on a little shelf under a mirror on the wall opposite our front door, in which I put my keys when I come home. This morning as I prepared to leave before Jay, I noticed my keys were not in the little tray. This happens occasionally, and my keys can be found in my purse because I had earlier entered the house with my hands and arms full. Before I could look in my purse though, Jay opened the front door to take out the laundry to his truck— voila! There were my keys, I need look no further, as they were safely stored in the lock on the outside of our front door. That puzzle solved, I now need to get busy reading that book…

As I visited, she told me she wanted to go home, she missed her house, missed being on the beach, missed going down to walk along it every evening with her husband. I knew it was time for him to go, he had cancer you know. I did not know this, but I shake my head because I have learned that this is indeed how life is. He was a wonderful husband! I loved him so much! We were married a long time… The pause betrays her lack of exactness as she struggles to come up with a reasonable number, one that portrays the time frame she is trying to express. 50 years! She smiles broadly, expansively. I can see the top of her upper denture the smile is so very big. I tell her, yes, that is a very long time and she nods thoughtfully, wistfully. I know there is more. I know the thoughts, the ones only sometimes shared, expressed to the other unsatisfactorily, thoughts containing feelings that we seem to be unable to express clearly enough. Yes, I say, that is a long time, but it wasn't long enough was it? It can never be long enough. She shakes her head yes. Her huge smile returns. Yes! Then a hearty, hearty laugh. I need to find another husband! Yet another huge smile that lapses quickly into a contemplative face. The lovely lady in pleated dress slacks, heels and a silk blouse tells me she enjoyed my visit as I leave, the bright orange ball cap bobbing along with her nodding head.

perhaps it is the chisel which is beautiful, not the statue.— Robin McKee

They grow quite a few crops here in Skagit Valley and this last month has been cucumber harvesting time. Driving back into the valley from the north down I-5, down Bow Hill, I have watched the fields to the west of the freeway being picked. Day after day the cucumber fields are filled with pallets and boxes, a porta potty or two about. People along the rows of green are bent over, pushing aside leaves to find cucumbers that are the right size to pick.

Jay grew up in the valley and as a teen worked in the fields some, but only picked cucumbers one season. The grueling work, paid as "piece work", at the end of the day did not pay close to minimum wage at the time, so he did not do it another season. These days the teens seem to work anywhere but in the fields. Fields are picked by adults, I see them bent over as I go north for work and, even on the hottest days of the summer, bent over as I drive home late in the afternoon. I wonder if these days they get up to par with minimum wage? I wonder if they get health insurance… No, we all know the answer to that question.

One of my co-workers got a new car, one with all the bells and whistles. As she showed it off she bragged that her husband had ordered all sorts of extras on it for her. Another co-worker remarked "that's okay, you deserve it". The remark startled me. Both co-workers make a huge amount more than myself and more than a huge amount more than the people bent over in the fields. "Deserve", an interesting choice of words. The remark sent an image flying into my head, an image of the people in the fields, bent over in the heat. I wondered if they had gotten a new car. I wondered what it would take for them to deserve something so grand.

That all of us were stranded inside ourselves was a new feeling, but it would become as familiar to us as a bad habit, and then, as again and again we felt it— in that house and later in the wide world— it would take on the irrefutable constancy of a truth. We couldn't have known it then, but our lives had already begun to change in a direction which dictated we would soon leave Jakarta and spend the next twenty-five years of our lives living in other people's homes and being told which room we should and should not enter.— from "the winged seed" by Li-Young Lee

I have been writing cindysworld for six years this month, and as time goes on it is harder and harder for me to remember if I mentioned something here before, or if I just mentioned it in real life.

As many of you know or can imagine, working in health care is challenging. Health workers are witness to lots of pain, suffering, loss and death. Until fairly recently what is now called secondary trauma or compassion fatigue was not even recognized. Health care systems are incorporating some programs to address secondary trauma's impact on their workers, at least some are and this is good.

I haven't done much searching, but I have not run across anything about workers' trauma from being party to the denial of health care. The US health care system uses denial of care in order to funnel money from people paying for insurance to the pockets of insurance company executives and shareholders. It is an interesting dance to participate in, working and advocating for patients while being aware some options are closed off to them by the insurer they chose to pay their hard earned money to. I have had clients whose Medicare "supplemental insurance" would not pay for nursing home care regular Medicare would. Surprisingly, I was irate. I wanted to call 911 and report the insurance company was stealing my client's Medicare benefit. But I did not call the police because I was in the middle of the dance, the dance of pretending the patient is the hospital's customer when the insurance company actually is the one to be kept happy, preferred provider status and all. Some revelations make you want to cry with joy, some just make you want to cry.

The United States ranks 42nd in life expectancy for many reasons. I think you already know what I think one of the reasons is. I went to see Sicko the other night, simply expecting to see a movie preaching to the choir, preaching to a convert, and wondering which of the five million facts presented in the movie was the one that was wrong. I was not prepared to see insurance company workers crying about the truama they have inflicted, I was not expecting to cry myself as I saw health care workers in other countries simply doing the work they, like me, were called to do. They did not have to find out what insurance patients had, they did not have to get permission from an insurance person to treat the person in need. I saw a world where hurting people were cared for because they hurt.

We are a rich, rich country. We are not helpless babies, doomed to be victims of a ruthless predatory system. We are participating in a health care system that is the way it is by our own choice. It is up to us. Our health care system is the choice of our democracy, it represents who we are. Most people profess to believe in heaven, and in some sort of judgement. I always wonder if God will have Ricky Ricardo's accent when he says "you got some splaining to do!"

Make sure you click on the "megatron" device picture above. Later man.

Now, here, you see, it takes all the running you can do, to keep in the same place. If you want to get somewhere else, you must run at least twice as fast as that!— The Queen, Lewis Carroll in "Through the Looking Glass"

When the kids were young, one of Kira's school friends often came over to play and the girl's mom would sometimes drop her off or pick her up. I would make small talk with the mom and I always remember one particular time when the two of us chatted in the driveway waiting for the kids. We stood next to her late model Volvo and I could see a Bible poking conspicuously out of a cubby in the dashboard.

I was noticing the Bible as she asked what I did for a living. “Oh, a social worker! I thought about being a social worker myself, helping people and everything. I liked the idea, but then I thought about what kind of people you would be helping…”, her voice trailed off. I actually cannot remember my response or if I did respond. Maybe I kind of raised my eyebrows and said “mmm” as I looked about desperately for the girls to save me.

A few years later I responded to a hospital referral and found myself talking to that mother once again. Surprisingly, I chuckled a bit to myself as I helped her apply for nursing home Medicaid benefits for her own mother. I couldn't help thinking about the kind of people this social worker was helping.

Some people who are saved seem to take it as a license to do anything they please the rest of their lives. They feel they are special, chosen, above all others. I tell people I have to do what I believe is right in this life, that I'll have to answer to whatever god there is because I am not already saved. So I continue to help that kind of people, heathen that I am.

The man who slanders his fellowman unwittingly uncovers the real nature of his inner self.— Napoleon Hill

So, yes, where was I? Last Sunday, the 11th, I made the zucchini bread that included my brandy soaked plums. That bread was really wonderful. I shared some with Kate at work (her mother sends New Yorkers for us to read and so I gave her 3 pieces, one for herself and 2 for her to eat with her mother) and a few bites with others at work. Jay and I ate some then I froze two packages of two slices each for us to have with our Saturday toast breakfasts— after this morning we are down to our last two pieces in the freezer.

Mrs. Becker across the street loves my usual zucchini bread and so I almost always take a few slices over to her when I make it. I also run over some fresh picked stuff or a bit of something I cooked now and then. She likes me to stop in and visit, and she tells me I do not have to bring food to come over, but I know she likes it if I bring the food… I had Monday, Veteran's Day, off and so I took three slices of my new bread over to her that afternoon and visited a bit. She looked at me sideways when I told her the story of making plum brandy and chopping up the strained out plums to put in the bread. She seemed to resolve this in her mind rather quickly and injected a comment about how much she likes my zucchini bread. We talked about the neighbors, about our addition, about how she and her cat don't like it that we got rid of the huge prehistoric-sized quince bushes in the front yard, and somehow we talked about how so many people are now living to be 100 or more. Margaret is 91. She told me emphatically that she herself does not want to live to be 100. I looked at her and shrugged. I told her I wouldn't worry since we really don't get much say about it, we just get to wander around until we're not here anymore. She thought that was about right. I haven't been back to get a report on how she liked the twist on my bread recipe, I'll let you know if she didn't like it. Click on the picture up left for some life instructions. Later man.

An author doesn't necessarily understand the meaning of his own story better than anyone else.— Alice in the 1951 "Alice in Wonderland" movie


Music: Click on the Licking Lips
India Arie,

Page Created January 2007

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