Friday, February 26, 2021

Time in the balance

The man in the wilderness, he asked of me
How many strawberries grow in the salt sea?

Neil took off for a 10-day trip to New Jersey. He’s going partly to see his dad, who will be 92 years old in May and hasn’t been feeling his best self. Dad Bob has a rare bone marrow disorder that causes a reduction in his red blood cells. His symptoms are primarily fatigue and shortness of breath. His treatments, which are therapeutic but not curative, include regular blood transfusions, testosterone patches, various palliative medications, and just recently, supplemental oxygen.

On the bright side, this disorder isn’t necessarily terminal and people may live with it for years. New therapies are being tested in clinical trials and each case is unique and has its own timeline. Neil’s dad has a good outlook. If anything, he’s frustrated that pandering quarantine prevents him from doing more, being out and about. Even though getting around in his two-bedroom condo can be an effort, he’s tired of the same four walls.

Neil’s nephew has been bunking in the spare room, attending college remotely thanks to Covid, and that has been a blessing, since he’s on hand to help out, make coffee, drive to doctors appointments , and just allay the isolation. Neil’s sister comes over daily to cook dinner and keep things in some relative order. Still, Neil’s dad is eager to see him, ready for any small change of pace.

The second reason for Neil's trip is to deal with his mom’s estate. His mom died in September; Neil assumed executorship of her estate from his brother in November. He’s done as much as he could remotely, including consolidating and distributing some of her numerous bank and brokerage accounts. Some things require more hands-on attention, such as her safe deposit box, the contents of her house, and the sale of the house.

When my dad died and my mom became a permanent assisted-living resident, my brother and I met in Florida to dismantle the home my parents had lived in for 17 years. After a very late night of sorting through the kitchen contents, we threw up our hands. Our realtor referred us to a charitable group who, for a reasonable fee, would clean out the apartment, donate whatever was worth salvaging, dispose of the rest, and get the condo into marketable condition. We sold it with its furniture, which was quite nice. I spent a bit of the estate’s money to ship one piece of furniture that I wanted to keep.

We made a pass through and took what we wanted, jewelry, the sterling silver, crystal and fine china, some artwork, some collectibles. My brother still speaks ruefully of cut crystal we left behind, but I regret nothing. My daughter has the Wedgewood service now but if she hadn’t taken it, it would be boxed up still. There’s no market for dinnerware or crystal any more. Millennials aren’t interested in worldly goods like that. My brother sold the silver and apparently forgot that he was supposed to split the proceeds with me. Ten years later, it’s not worth reminding him.

It helps that I’m not sentimental and that my brother and I didn’t sweat the small stuff. There are some mysteries, such as what happened to my parents’ wedding rings. I thought my brother took them for temporary safekeeping, he claims not to recall doing that and says he doesn’t have them. It’s possible they were stolen in the days leading up to my mom’s death. I’m a little sad about that, but if I had them, they’d probably spend their days in Neil’s safe deposit box, along with some heavy gold chains that belonged to my mom but are totally unsuitable for my lifestyle. I’d like to sell them for their gold value, but it’s not urgent to monetize them, so they sit in the dark.

Unfortunately, not only is Neil more sentimental than I am, but he is dealing with a suddenly sentimental sister and a brother who wants photos of everything, an inventory of everything, professional appraisals of items of remotely perceived value, and dollar amounts assigned ad nauseam. While 10 days feels like a long trip, that’s a lot to tackle and I can’t see that the game is worth the candle. I’d probably work with a realtor to have the house emptied,, even if that meant renting a storage space and dealing with the contents later.

It’s not my decision though, so I’m trying to keep mum and let Neil sort it out. It does affect me, because his absence is hard for me, and he’s already floated the idea of returning to New Jersey in April. I’ll keep that thought on ice for now, and concentrate on weathering the week ahead.

The first days are the worst, I remind myself. Of course I worry while he is on the road. And it takes some time to get into a new routine. After he left, I got dressed and I put on my soft pants because I didn’t have a reason to go out that day. In all honesty, I don’t have a reason to go out at all, other than my knitting group meetings. Anything I need I can have delivered. And there’s nothing I need at this ten seconds. But I’m going to make up some excuses to get out of the house. Socks, I can always use some new socks, and maybe a new purse or wallet. Now that I have one immunization under my belt, I’m more confident that my double masks will keep me safe enough to venture into TJ Maxx and Target.

I have two knitting projects on my needles at the moment. I have books and I have my weekday calls with my grandson. I have the treadmill and also some binge-watching plans. I’m going to make beads a couple of times at least. I still enjoy it when I just do it, although the call is wistfully weak. I have an idea for a collage project. I have three cats for company all the time.

It’s challenging when the weather is gray and cheerless, but some sunshine is predicted in the coming days and my mood will lighten as the days pass. Neil and I spend a lot of time together and while we’re largely compatible and simpatico, there is occasional nerve-grating. A little time apart might not be a bad thing for us.

I got some news that raised my spirits. My younger daughter and her boyfriend will be visiting us in March. I loved having them here in September but it was a tough time patch. Biscotti had surgery to permanently correct his urinary tract blockage, and that was a nightmare, especially because he went berserk if we used a cone, and he wanted to constantly groom his stitches. It was also the time period when Neil’s mom died, and while her deteriorating condition made that a mixed curse, it understandably put a damper on Neil’s mood.

I’m hoping for balmy spring weather and the chance to do some activities while they’re here. They’ve just spent a year cooped up in a tiny New York City flat. Recreation here will still be pandemic limited but if we can be outside a lot it will be good for everyone.

On the sprit-lowering front, I just read this chilling report in The NY Times morning newsletter.
Mitch McConnell said he would “absolutely” support Donald Trump if Trump becomes the party’s 2024 nominee, after calling him responsible for the Capitol riot.
I know I shouldn’t get cold sweats at something close to four years in the future that may never happen. But it’s terrifying to comprehend that twice-impeached former president Trump is reportedly focused on another run for president in 2024, and that he retains relentless support from his base.

Also from the Times.
A poll released Sunday by Suffolk University and USA Today found that three in every five voters who backed Trump last year said they would like to see him run again next time. Just 29 percent said he shouldn’t try again.
And even more disturbing, this.
Only 17 percent of respondents to the poll said Biden had been elected president legitimately, despite the absence of real evidence to the contrary.
One must hope that in the forthcoming years, Trump will be criminally convicted in a civil prosecution or otherwise rendered unfit for office, perhaps by age and health. I don’t wish illness upon anyone but desperate scenarios motivate desperate counter-scenarios.

I long for the days when politics for me was chiefly background noise, when I had sufficient trust in our system of government that I believed that things would be OK in the long run, regardless of interim setbacks and disappointments.

Now I just don’t know. And there’s the even darker suspicion that climate change will make all of these shenanigans moot in the not-too-distant future. As the winter storm disaster in Texas and across the region demonstrated, our current infrastructure does not take into account the potential weather extremes we appear to be hurtling toward.

While Neil’s away, I’m re-watching season four of Outlander, later in the evenings, when my tired brain is mostly looking for something to knit by. The hardships of 18th century North Carolina remind me of the warp-speed progress we’ve made in a couple of centuries. Modern dentistry was an outstanding example in last night’s episode, where, circa 1770, Claire finds a skull with teeth with amalgam fillings and proclaims that that technology won’t be invented for another century.

From unheated cabins without running water, no antibiotics or proper pain medicines, and horses and buggies, to nuclear weapons, space exploration, smart phones, plastics, drones, and Amazon prime, we’ve come so far so fast that it would be wondrous indeed if we don’t exhaust our natural resources or innovate ourselves to kingdom come.

And I doubt that will mean heaven on earth.


The man in the wilderness, he asked of me
How many strawberries grow in the salt sea?
I answered him, as I thought good
As many a ship as sails in the wood

The man in the wilderness, he asked me why
His hen could swim and his pig could fly
I answered him as I thought best
They were both born in a cuckoo’s nest

The man in the wilderness asked me to tell
All the sands in the sea and I counted them well
He said with a grin, and not one more?
I answered him, you go make sure


(Mother Goose © 1915, as interpreted by Natalie Merchant, 2010)

Illustration by Frederick Richardson