Archive for December, 2007

Parachute and safety net

Posted in family, life with tags , , , on December 28, 2007 by bosquechica

Paul on the beach with friends

Here’s my grand-dad, on the beach in Ecuador. Next to him are two seals, lolling in the warm sand. He was in Ecuador for an investment seminar, which he quickly determined to be a scam intended to lure gullible old people. He ditched the seminar and made the trip a vacation instead. When this picture was taken, Paul was 93 years old, and had taken hang-gliding lessons earlier the same day.

In the last several years of his life, he concentrated alternately on investments and adventures. Quito, Galapagos, Copenhagen, Athens. He liked to tell us that he hadn’t started saving for retirement until he was 80, and that may have even been true. What we know is that when my grandmother died, at 89, they’d been married for almost 70 years, and had been living a quiet, comfortable middle-class retirement. He was briefly immobilized — what to do now? Where to go? How to start over at 90?

This is the very brief story of the end of his life. He made a couple of plans: what to do in case of severe ill health and pending institutionalization (something involving car exhaust and the garage), what to do to keep himself busy and productive, what to do to protect himself from age-related poverty.  Fortunately, he gave the bulk of his energy to keeping himself busy and building a nice last minute nest egg.

He bought a shiny new computer, taught himself to use it, and got on-line. He started researching foreign investments, and places he’d always meant to visit. He took a look at on-line sex sites (beware of what you might find on your old grand-dad’s favorites!). He joined a spanish-language list-serve, brushed up on his Spanish, started dating a nice lady named Lu, and flirted on-line with a half-dozen others. He walked a mile every day, and had a vitamin regimen specially blended for him by a local health-food guy. He bought plane tickets and went places and did things.

He talked to people, a lot of people, and determined that there was more than one way to look at the world. He made up with me (you people) and conceded that my liberal outlook on life might not be utterly without merit. He argued and laughed and butted heads with my beautiful wife. His world expanded mightily in those last few years. As he started winding down, he made my brother co-owner (executor? co-investor? something like that) of his financial assets and kept on growing them. He gave directions to brother and me to look after my mom, who had financial struggles complicated by my dad’s long illness and bad financial judgment.

He was in Athens when the World Trade Center went down. He came home, sold his house, moved closer to my mom, and died shortly thereafter. His investments have sat quietly on the sidelines since then, where they are now ready to start another new adventure.

Now I am a big advocate of the social contract, and believe strongly that it is our responsibility as a culture to look after our more vulnerable citizens. My grand-dad was a Reagan republican (I forgive him, but not Reagan), who believed it was every man for himself. Up by your bootstraps. I got mine; you’re poor or sick or disabled, that’s your tough luck. This is a remarkably selfish economic perspective that is dismantling the middle class in the U.S. and is painful and frightening to many of us, as we watch our financial security disappearing in front of us, a receding mirage. We have no safety net in this country at this time, we who are not rich.

I find it interesting that his spirit of rugged financial independence did not extend to refusing any of the entitlements created for his generation in more compassionate times. He collected social security for 30 years, a pension from his 20 years at the U.S. post office for 55 years (yes, I said 55). 

By comparison, my mom’s financial security was wiped out by long years of caring for my dad, and now that she is sick, there’s nothing there for her, except to lose the little she has left and move into a shared room in a substandard nursing home without her dogs or her dignity.

In the absence of Paul’s last-minute investments, we would just be standing by watching it happen.  What started as a parachute that launched an old man out of his grief and back into the world, has become a safety net that will help us to catch her as she falls. I am grateful for it, but angry too, that without it she would have so few and such unkind options.

And on that cheerful note, I will say goodnight. This is an adventure too, of a sort.

Ghosts of Christmas Past

Posted in life, personal history on December 16, 2007 by bosquechica

Moving to Seattle, I was young, stupid, and broke. I ran out of money between Las Cruces and Seattle and had to stop in San Francisco, where I got a job putting price tags on ladies’ clothes for a mid-price clothing store. Read Chronicles of Narnia in the parking lot on breaks. When I had enough money to keep on moving, I headed up north, caravanning with my friends who were also young, stupid and broke.

At the north end of the Oregon border, the transmission in my 1965 Corvair ceased to function. I had no money, no credit cards, and no plan other than getting to Seattle. So I drove up the coast in first gear, from Portland to Seattle, at about 20 mph, with my friends trailing shamefully behind in their old VW bus. It took us three days.

We got there and rented a ratty little house near the university. Learned several new things in those first few days. Like oil furnaces: we’d never heard of them. Buy oil for heat? Up front? With cash? We didn’t have cash. We didn’t have anything, not knowledge or experience or safety nets or . . . well, anything. And like food banks and blankets: wow, people give things away to the unfortunate and the foolish – hey, that’s us. Cool.

That first Christmas in Seattle we ate red beans and rice, in an unheated unfurnished house that smelled of mildew and young nerves. The lights in the city were one thousand fold brighter, reflected in the wet streets, than the lights in the streets of my childhood, where the sand and the tumbleweeds whistled through the warm winter nights.

Warm kitchen, sweet friends

Posted in family, nice things, this-n-that, Uncategorized on December 13, 2007 by bosquechica

When I first moved into this drafty old house, I had not discovered baking yet. We have since replaced the windows, insulated, and installed new heating. We ran out of funds around the kitchen, which is still unheated.

I have since learned that the purpose of baking is to warm the house. That warmth is both literal and emotional. A kitchen that is carrying pies and cookies and breads and winter squash, sweet and salty, steaming up the windows is full like pregnant, full like family, reminds us of touch and the lasting heart.

We made cookies with our friends Alyx and Julie last night, gift bags for the thousand and one families we work with every day (Alyx is also a therapist). Sugar cookies, ginger snaps, chewy pumpkin cookies, raspberry bars, chocolate chip. Number shaped cookies for the autistic kids, jam tarts for the elders, striped and sprinkled and wrapped in tissue paper on little plates for everyone. Spent the evening in their warm kitchen on the east side of the crispy cold mountain. Ate the butternut soup and drank the red wine. Dogs milling at our feet, looking for buttery fallout, hoping we might be making salmon cookies or pig ear tartlets just for them.

By the end of the evening we are all sticky. We hug and wave goodbye with finger tips dyed red and green, powdered sugar on our bellies, driving home past the lights in the quiet city, just about midnight. We are sleepy, the car smells of kitchen, our dogs greet us at the door, saying “hey, what about us?!!” with reproachful faces. Which makes me want to do it all again, this weekend, for them and for my rattletrap old oven, which is always open, always ready to warm us and wrap us in winter light.

50 things about my mom

Posted in family, Uncategorized on December 8, 2007 by bosquechica

As you know if you’ve been by recently, my mom had a really horrible stroke and things just kept getting more complicated. Well, right now she’s maybe kinda sorta getting a a little bit better – she’s in inpatient rehab, learning to stand again, visiting with her dogs, things like that. 

So for her, this is a list of 50 things about Enid, just to say hey, it’s not all about me:

  1. 77 years old.
  2. Born in Texas.
  3. Three brothers.
  4. Four kids.
  5. One husband (hi, dad!).
  6. Schauzer lover since 1965.
  7. Compulsive Jeopardy player.
  8. Likes to watch the same movies over and over.
  9. Favorite candy is orange chocolate – the one that’s shaped like an orange.
  10. Used to brew home-made kahlua and bottle it in her Dr. Pepper bottles.
  11. She cracks herself up.
  12. Community theater buff. Property mistress and backstage manager for decades.
  13. Argumentative.
  14. Loves sausages, especially summer sausage.
  15. Favorite movies – Groundhog Day, Dave, Baghdad Cafe, All Movies with Kevin Kline.
  16. Went to Texas Wesleyan on a music scholarship.
  17. Beautiful singing voice.
  18. Loves salsa.
  19. Used to do body work on her cars.
  20. Got a dent puller for Chrismas one year (see #19).
  21. Great teeth.
  22. Collected Corvairs for a decade or two.
  23. Watches a lot of TV.
  24. Loves Alex Trebek. Named her new baby schnauzer after him (Alex Treebark).
  25. Same best friend since 1965 (same year as her first schnauzer and her first Corvair).
  26. First female draftsman ever hired by the railroad in Lubbock, Tx.
  27. Has precise, mechanical looking handwriting.
  28. Loves yard sales.
  29. Loves her grocery store — knows everyone there by name.
  30. Lives in the heart of Republican Texas, remains vehemently liberal. At least at home.
  31. Will claim to be Methodist, or sometimes Presbyterian. Not really interested in religion, but likes church music.
  32. Went to the Dr. Pepper museum with my dad for their 40th wedding anniversary.
  33. Loves Seattle.
  34. Formerly a Mensa member, but didn’t like it.
  35. Her uncles (great uncles?) were the Wright brothers.
  36. Met my dad when they were about ten years old.
  37. Her spanish is not great.
  38. Except when singing.
  39. Likes Victorian geegaws.
  40. Tells vulgar jokes, and likes to brag. It’s a Texas thing.
  41. Has a large circle of e-mail friends.
  42. Sends recipes to people frequently.
  43. Loves to get gift boxes in the mail.
  44. Loves Pogo, James Thurber, Dave Barry, Janet Evanovich.
  45. Has great hair – thick and wavy, silvery-white now.
  46. Reads constantly.
  47. Looks good in hats.
  48. Collects gargoyles.
  49. Loves animatronic birds.
  50. Is organized and thorough.