Monday, December 30, 2013

Notes from the Home - December 30, 2013

   Russell and Bethany are spending a lot of time in the kitchen these days. As a result, I have been eating my way through the holidays. Karen and Russ brought dinner to me on Christmas day. It was a shared effort. Karen baked the ham, mashed the potatoes and prepared the vegetables; Russ made the rolls from scratch and made some sort of custard stuff for dessert. It was all very, very good.

   On Friday, my other gift from Bethany and Ken arrived. The first gift from them – an impression of Hayden’s hand and one of MaKenna’s foot, both brightly painted – was delivered earlier in the week. The second gift came from Beth’s kitchen. My cupboard is now full of jams and jellies. She sent blackberry vanilla bean jam, up top grape jelly (up top of what she didn’t say), white grape jelly, cinnamon pear vanilla bean jam, white grape strawberry jelly, ginger pear jam, mountain elderberry jam, and a jar of sliced pears.

   My first thought was to run over to Piggly-Wiggly and clear its shelves of English muffins. But, it has since occurred to me: if Russ can make homemade rolls, he can make homemade bread. Wouldn’t that be wonderful – Beth’s homemade jam slathered on Russ’ homemade bread.  Dreams are made of such things.

   There was also an unexpected treat in the parcels from Idaho. Beth is a shipping professional, and with her and Ken operating their own business, she has access to bubble wrap, which she used liberally. There was so much of the stuff, I wondered if I could get it all in one garbage bag. Then a piece of the stuff fell out of my hand on to the floor and I inadvertently ran over it with my wheelchair. It was great; I was ecstatic as the sound of bubbles popping filled the apartment.

   I spent the next half hour purposely dropping bubble wrap on the floor and advertently driving the wheelchair over it again and again. I felt like a kid on Christmas morning.

   After things quieted down, I got to thinking. When Russ was a lad, and I was doing the cooking most days, he had no interest in the kitchen. If he walked into the kitchen, he was either on his way to somewhere else or looking for a Pepsi, never a Coke.

   There were times, however, when Beth would seat herself on the counter and keep a close eye on what I was doing. Those times were when I was making tuna-noodle casserole. She needed to supervise to insure that once the noodles were boiled I didn’t empty all of them into the casserole dish and that I did not pour all of the cream of celery soup-Worcestershire sauce-milk mixture on top of them. She derived great pleasure from stirring the unused noodles around in the unused sauce and eating them. But it should be noted that Beth was also extremely pleased with the finished product. A few years later, on those occasions when she came east from Idaho to visit me in Ashtabula, I would ask her if there was anything special she wanted for dinner during her stay. Her answer was always, “Tuna-noodle.”

   Beth also made a habit of visiting the kitchen when I made bread. But most of those visits were made in stealth mode. They would start as soon as I put dough aside to rise and went to do something else while it did. Making frequent trips to the kitchen, Beth would pinch off a pieces of the bread dough and eat them. When I’d go back to check on the dough, it looked like a giant golf ball, thanks to all the dimples left from Beth’s pinching. I tried to tell her that the bread dough would continue to rise after she ate it and eventually her stomach would explode. She didn’t believe me.

   Those were the days, my friends. I thought they’d never end. Oh yes, those were the days.


   On my way back from dinner Saturday, I discovered I was in the middle of a cat fight. Eleanor had called earlier in the day. She smashed her hip about three months ago and is back home now after a lengthy stay in a rehab place. She still isn’t getting around very well – her one leg is two inches shorter than the other – and she asked if I would mind stopping by Covenant Woods’ little library and grabbing a couple of Sue Grafton’s books for her. This seemed like the perfect opportunity to do my good deed for 2013. I knew there were several of Grafton’s books in the library, and Eleanor said the only one she’s read is Q is for Quarry. It took no more than five minutes to make my way to the library, pull K is for Killer and P is for Peril off the shelf and call Eleanor to tell her I had the books. It was raining and she lives down in the duplexes, so she said she’d ask the woman who is helping her to come up and get the books from me. A few minutes later the woman was at the door, and my good deed was complete.

   Three hours later, I was talking to some people after dinner when I heard Penelope, the activities director, say she wanted to talk to me. I turned around and she was gone. Someone pointed to the hallway that goes back to the offices, and Penelope stuck her head out and said, “Back here.” So I joined Penelope in the hall, where she was making some copies.

   “Did you get those books for Eleanor?” she asked in a tone that was dripping with disgust.

   I told her I had. I was about to ask her how she knew about the books, but it soon became evident that Eleanor had first asked Penelope to get the books for her. They are both strong-willed, often demanding women. I’m sure Eleanor’s attitude was, “I want the books when I want them, and I want them now.” Meanwhile, Penelope would have had a you’ll-get-them-when-I-get-them-for-you-which-might-not-be-until-the-week-after-next edge to her voice. And when I was about to leave, Penelope said, “I owe you big time for this one.” I didn’t bother to ask why.


Sunday, December 29, 2013

Eponyms from A to Z . . . Almost

 Words derived from names of hers or hims
   Are what are known as eponyms.
   To wit: Aloysius Alzheimer’s
   Last name’s the bane of old timers.
   At least according to some rumors
   Amelia Bloomer wore nice bloomers.
   And there’s Anders Celsius
   Whose temperatures are known to us.
   Do you suppose that Rudolf Diesel
   Drew his engine at an easel?
   An architect, Mr. Gustave Eiffel
   Designed the tower, no mere trifle.
   O, the temps of Gabriel Fahrenheit;
   Only the US thinks he’s got them right.
   Robert John Lechmere Guppy, as you’ve probably guessed,
   Is why the fishes got their name. Aren’t you impressed?
   Heinrich Rudolf Hertz was fond of desserts,
   And his unit of frequency, the hertz, got him just deserts.
   From Irene, the Greek goddess of peace,
   We get irenic. Will wonders ever cease?
   James Prescott Joule discovered the joule,
   A unit of heat. That’s really cool.
   William King was the first hotel cook
   To prepare chicken a la king. I read it in a book.
   Jules Leotard, the daring young man on the flying trapeze,
   Wore his leotard to fly with the greatest of ease.
   From Jean Martinet, a French army officer, disciplinarian,
   We get martinet, who’s a stickler for rules and is authoritarian.
   Jean Nicot thought tobacco was really quite keen;
   Then they called some of its bad stuff nicotine.
   Ransom E. Olds built the car and made a deal
   To sell his very shiny Oldsmobile.
   In Mexico, John Roberts Poinsett ignored the operetta
   And went searching for the elusive poinsettia.
   The Norwegian Vidkun Quisling was a traitor to his nation,
   Now a quisling is thought lower than a crustacean.
   Cesar Ritz owned hotels that were glitzy
   And soon everyone said his inns were ritzy.
   Bullets and pellets from an exploding shell
   Was the work of the limey, Henry Shrapnel.
   When there’s much too much food for the stomach to bear
   You can store all the extra in Mr. Tupper’s Tupperware.
   Eponyms? The Greek god of the sky has two of ’em:
   The planet Uranus and all that Uranium.
   Alessandro Volta’s battery gave the world a jolt,
   So a unit of electric potential is now called a volt.
   Thomas Nuttall, who knew his flowers and plants,
   Called one wisteria, for Caspar Wistar, who looked askance.
   Eponyms starting with X or Y are arcane and hard to rhyme.
   I hope you don’t mind if I skip them this time.

   Johann Gottfried Zinn got a moment of fame
   When they chose zinnia for the plant’s name.

Sunday, December 22, 2013

Notes from the Home - December 22, 2013

   My ideas about old folks’ homes were shaped by television – a black-and-white television, a Muntz, if memory serves me correctly. I don’t recall any shows revolving around life in what are now euphemistically referred to as retirement communities, but several commercials did. In those ads, three or four grizzled residents sat on the veranda discussing constipation. Then one of them, the fellow with the cheery countenance, would wax ecstatic over his latest bowel movement and, flush with excitement, recommend that the others try the laxative responsible for it.
   Constipation is still a problem for those of us of a certain age, and I talk to myself about it quite often. But this is the 21st century, and this isn’t your grandfather’s geezerhood. Thursday after lunch I was talking to Al. Now, in the interest of full disclosure, Al does not suffer from constipation, but he does on occasion describe his bowel movements in great detail. “The damn thing must have been a foot long.” Al’s concern Thursday, however, was writer’s block. He is writing the story of his life, and when he runs into a problem he calls me. He does this because, “It’s all your fault, Tom. You’re the one who got me started with all this.” It is my fault because when he asked me to see if there was anything about him on the web, I found a newspaper story, by Peter Arnett no less, about the Battle of Song Be. “Damn it, Tom, that’s what did it.”
   Anyway, as Al went on about the difficulty of recalling all he’s been through in the last ninety years, his phone rang. It was Beatrice, one of the managers at Covenant Woods. She had something for Al and wanted to know if she could bring it up. Al told her he had several bags of VHS tapes and DVDs in the trunk of the car that he wanted to give her, and he suggested they meet in the parking lot.
   The movies – there must have been fifty or sixty of them – were given to Al by his friend Ken, the man who bought Al’s house when Al moved into Covenant Woods. Ken is a retired colonel, who, according to Al, worked for a time with the Joint Chiefs of Staff. In retirement, Ken has become a hoarder. And his hoard of movies is being pushed out by his hoard of elephant figures – “He must have a thousand of the damn things. Everywhere you look in that house there’s an (effing) elephant,” – and his hoard of jigsaw puzzles – “You know what Ken got in the mail today? A package with ten puzzles in it. And he said he’s ordered twenty more. What the hell is he going to do with all of them? I think he’s losing it.” Al hoped Beatrice would be able to find a spot in the building where the movies would be available to the residents.
   In true lieutenant colonel fashion, Al told me to come along, and we set off for the parking lot. Beatrice was holding a bulging six-by-nine envelope, which she handed to Al and said, “There are eight of them. But be careful; that’s some pretty good stuff. Don’t have more than one at a time. When you eat it, it takes longer to hit you, but when it does, you’ll know it.” Who needs laxatives when Alice B. Toklas brownies are available? Not Al. At dinner that evening, he said, “Beatrice was right. I had one this afternoon; it’s good shit.”
   When I moved into Covenant Woods, nearly two years ago, William and Evelyn were an item – an odd item, to be sure, but an item despite the difference in their ages. William was fifty-nine, and Evelyn ninety-two. Evelyn has since moved out of Covenant Woods, and there was talk that William was planning to marry a woman he knows in Atlanta. Whether or not that was his plan, I can’t say, but it is clear William now has a new squeeze.
   The woman in question moved into Covenant Woods not long ago, and appears to be a sixty-something. Appearances at Covenant Woods can be deceiving. Erris appears to be an eighty-something, a low eighty-something, something like eighty-one or eighty-two. She is 102.
   But back to William’s love life. Evelyn was a feisty old broad. She had opinions on everything, and she was more than willing to share them. So willing, that even if you didn’t care to have the opinions shared with you, she’d share them anyway. When Evelyn spoke, you listened, or at least put on an Oscar worthy performance of rapt attention.
   The current object of William’s affection is not the scrappy, high-strung sort. Her countenance is beyond placid; it is more like blankly unaware. There are times when she looks like something out of Night of the Living Dead, although she’s never been spotted with entrails hanging from her mouth.
   Then again, perhaps looks are deceiving. A day or two ago, as I was on my way to dinner, she passed me in the hall with what looked to be a glass of wine in hand. “Hey, Tom” she said, smiling. “I’m trying to track down that old William.” She knew my name, which means she is more aware than I am, because I have no idea what her name is. And at dinner last night, Isabelle, who lives next door to the woman whose name I do not know, said she had heard William and her having a lovers’ quarrel earlier in the day. She must not be as passive as I thought, either.
   ’Tis the season, and Bethany and Russ each received a CD of scenes of Christmases past at the Beck house in Geneva-on-the-Lake from their Uncle John, Debbie’s brother. Beth was taken aback by the fashions of twenty years past.
   “Mom was wearing this puffy red jacket or something,” she said when we talked Friday. “It was so weird looking. I can’t believe she wore that stuff.”
   Russ, on the other hand, noticed my hair.
   “Dad, you sure did have a lot more dark hair back then,” he said while he, Karen and I were shopping Saturday morning.
   “I thought you had a wig on,” Karen said.
   This must be what is meant by what goes around comes around. I used to make remarks about my mother’s gray hair. But just a few ... now and then ... only once in a while ... maybe a couple times a year ... almost never ... really.

To Bed, Perchance to Sleep

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