February 21, 2014

Driving Dangerous…

Category: News — Ira @ 6:40 pm


How do you rate yourself as a driver?
No, that’s a stupid question. You rate yourself above average.
It’s a well-known fact that all humans consider themselves to
be above-average drivers, including primitive Amazonian mud
people who have not yet discovered the wheel.

—Dave Barry

I’ve grumped about it all before. Lancaster County is full of people, as least compared to the places I come from. A lot of people means there’s a lot of traffic, doesn’t matter where you go. On the main roads and the back roads. And you mix in those buggies and crazy wild horses they drive around here, and it’s a mess at any time of the year. But you mix that clogged mess with the winter we’ve been having, and it’s just downright an obstacle course out there. And there are a lot of idiot drivers out there, too. And maybe it’s all that cold and snow that’s freaking me out, but this winter I joined the ranks of local really stupid drivers. Because last Saturday I came as close as I’ve ever come to totaling my truck because of how I was driving.

The thing is, I have never had an accident. Never. Not even a fender bender. (Except a lady nudged and dented my bumper, once, but that wasn’t my fault. Her insurance company was all concerned about whether the air bags went off, and whether I felt any whiplash. I told them I was fine, because I was.) And I’m not a putzer, when it comes to driving, either. I mean, I move along. But I’m very careful. Always. I keep my eyes on the road. Drive defensively, that’s my motto. Pay attention. There are a lot of idiots out there. And you never know what the other guy’s gonna do.

And that’s why I’ve always had a reputation for being rude, when it came to waving at friends I meet on the road. They waved at me, they told me a hundred times. Some of them claimed to have leaned out the window as we passed, gesticulating wildly, because they wanted to see me wave back. And I never did wave back, because I didn’t see them. And I told them. I wasn’t ignoring you. I just didn’t see you. I was looking at the road in front of me. That’s what you do, when you’re driving. You don’t lollygag around, looking at the sights. You’re on the road, driving. You got to focus, when you’re doing that.

It’s been close, a few times through the years. I’ve done some stupid things, pulled out in front of people. Once, maybe ten years back, I didn’t see a stop sign. In my defense, it was obscured by some bushes, and I didn’t know it was there. And I pulled up and turned right. A little old 80s car swished right by. Missed me by maybe a foot. Talk about being startled. That was the close call that’s made me shiver, thinking about what might have happened, up until the thing that came down last Saturday.

We never saw a whole lot of car crashes, growing up. Our world was pretty restricted. And it was rare to hear of an accident in it. We read about such things in the paper, but rarely saw them. The one that I remember happened when I was very young, maybe four or five. A guy on a Harley crashed at the crossroads just west of our house, less than half a mile away. It happened around dusk. I think my brother Joseph heard the abrupt halt of the bike’s growl. The guy came up to the crossroad from the south, on the road leading to the print shop. Problem was, it was offset, the crossing, not straight. He never saw it. And he crashed into the ditch, and lay there all night. The next morning, I remember seeing the flashing lights of the ambulance when we got up. We all rushed up to see. The ambulance was gone, by then. And we heard the story, from people standing around. The Fehr boys were on their way to work, and were the first to see it. I think the guy survived. I remember seeing the motorcycle, there in the ditch. I think it was blue, although I can’t say for sure. What I remember clearly was the saddle seat. And we talked about that accident for many years, in my childhood world. It was a thing that stood out to us. And of course there was a lesson, down there, all buried in the talk. That’s what can happen, when you drive a thing with a motor on it.

I’ve never even been a passenger in an accident, except once. And that was way back in the eighties, back when I lived in Bloomfield. My old buddy Chuck Leonard (of Chuck’s Café) took a few of us up to Waterloo to see Titus in rehab, one Sunday morning. I don’t remember who all went, but I remember who all came back. It was Chuck and me and Dad and Ruth, heading home. Mom stayed with Titus when we left, late that afternoon. And it was snowing and sleeting, right on down. And it was getting dark. Chuck fussed about the road as we crept along in the slush on the four-lane highway. And then, just like that, his old boat of a car spun out. It turned completely at least once, and we slid down a long gradual embankment into the ditch. I think the bank was gradual, because we didn’t roll. But it sure seemed steep at that moment. I don’t remember anyone saying a whole lot of anything until the car settled to a stop. We took stock. No one was hurt. I don’t think our emotions exploded, or anything. We were pretty much in a state of disbelief and shock. Then Chuck broke that tension. He laughed and explained. The car just slid out. He couldn’t control it. Somehow a tow truck showed up an hour or so later and pulled us out. Other than one little turn signal light, nothing was damaged. We headed on home. I never forgot how helpless it felt as that car was spinning out on that ice, and spinning down into that ditch. I’ve never felt that helplessness as a driver, though. Except last Saturday, it came very close.

I’ve even had a cop tell me how good a driver I was. That happened a couple of summers ago, one fine sunny Saturday afternoon as I was heading over to a friend’s house for coffee. And just down the road a few miles, about six cars were lined up by the Turkey Hill, waiting for the first car in line to turn left. Problem was, there was a lot of traffic coming from the other way. And we just sat and sat, waiting. And more traffic came at us. And there we sat and sat. Why in the world weren’t those backed-up cars passing the first one, on the shoulder? I mean, that’s pretty simple. I looked the situation over carefully. Wide shoulder, six cars to pass. Should be no problem. I edged my way on by, and broke free out front. And just as I was breaking free, I saw him sitting way back off to the right, in a little lane. A local cop. That’s why those other cars weren’t moving. He instantly glided out and tailed me. About a quarter of a mile down the road, he pulled me over. Good grief. Now I’d get a ticket. I fumbled for my driver’s license and handed it through the window. I didn’t say anything, just handed it over. I don’t have a habit of talking to cops much.

He was a young guy, just a kid, really. Mid-twenties, probably. All puffed up in his big old uniform and official hat. But he was friendly enough. “Look,” he told me, as I sat there, silent. “It’s Saturday afternoon. There’s a lot of traffic out here. I don’t like accidents.” He handed me back my license, and I realized he wasn’t going to ticket me. “You had your eyes on the road, and you were driving very carefully,” he said. As he turned away, I broke my little rule and spoke to him. Obviously, I wouldn’t have passed those cars if I had seen you, I said. He chuckled. “Yeah, I know that,” he said. And just like that, I was free to move on. I was pretty astonished, that he didn’t ticket me. But that was as it should have been. I had done nothing wrong.

And that’s the way it’s been, with my driving. I’ve always been careful, and always felt relatively safe. Until this winter. It’s brutal out there. Half the time, it seems, there’s snow and ice on the roads, when you need to get to work. And with all that snow, they’ve piled up the banks everywhere. It’s not safe, to pull out in a lot of intersections. Because you can’t see what’s coming at you. Black ice, and frozen snow on the roads make it all that much more dangerous. The buggies rattle and clop along, right on the main drags. There’s no room for them to pull off on the shoulders. Too much snow piled up. And the traffic clogs up behind them. And sometimes, the road is so bad that it’s hard to even pass a buggy. It’s all enough to drive anyone a little nutty.

And last Saturday, I had a few errands to run, here and there. Light snow in the morning, that’s all they claimed we’d get. It didn’t start, though, until about midday. And the one place I was stopping at was right on the edge of Lancaster. A light snow was spitting down when I left the house. That should have been an omen, right there. This is a sign. Stay far away from all evil cities in weather like this. Nothing good will come of it. But I ignored the premonitions. The snow was light, and it might stop soon. So I drove right out into that mess, all blithe and confident. It wasn’t all that important to get to where I was going. I just felt like heading out.

I wasn’t quite sure how to get there, so I plugged in my GPS. It’s a few years old, and has been mostly good to me. It has an annoying habit of trying to drag me off main roads onto back roads, for the shortest distance. And when you don’t know where you’re going for sure, that gets a little tricky sometimes.

The snow kept spitting down. Not real bad, but steady. I had my pallet of pole pills on the back, and I could feel the solid weight. My truck was anchored. The GPS led me over toward the west side of the city, then guided me onto some real back roads. And again, it was OK. The thing that always irritates me during stressful driving is the pushy drivers that come up behind you. And sure enough, as soon as I turned off onto what should have been a deserted back road, an SUV got all uppity. Followed me way too close. I plugged along, and it finally turned off. Then another slid right in to take its place. And soon enough, I pulled up to the main highway, close to where I was going. I turned right. And the GPS claimed I was there.

But there was nothing “there” except a tiny little opening in the snow, off onto a tiny little side street. And a large sign that screamed ONE WAY. So what now? Irritated and nervous, I drove on down the highway, looking for a street to turn left onto. There was none, in the first half mile. I turned left into a business parking lot, to figure out what to do. Traffic was pretty light, for such a busy road. Snow was still spitting. Sideways, windswept. What to do? The GPS had clearly told me to go down that one way road. I thought about it. I’ll head on back and look it over. Maybe I can make that hard right turn. I’ll look it over. I was pretty tense.

And I pulled out to the right and drove on back. Approached the sign. No Right Turn. Well, I thought. You can ignore signs like that if no one’s watching. I looked around. No cops anywhere. No traffic coming at me. I approached the hard right turn. Glanced at my rear view mirror. No traffic coming from behind, either. I switched on my turn signal. Turning right, here. Swung way left, then turned for the hard right. Right across the right lane. And right there is where I almost lost my truck.

I was turning, edging slowly. The side street was narrow. Edging, edging, halfway across the right lane I’d come from. And just like that, a little white car whooshed past, on my right. The driver avoided me by hitting the snow piled along the side. It will always be frozen in my mind, that instant. Snow spitting down, snow spattering from the banks, and that little white car skedaddling from underfoot like a frightened rabbit. He missed me by less than an inch, I will always claim to my dying day. Had I turned half a second earlier, that car would have smashed into Big Blue’s right front side, by the tire. And at that speed, probably thirty-five miles an hour, there would have been some serious damage, not only to my truck and the car, but probably to the car’s driver. Who knows? About anything could have happened. It all still just makes me shiver.

You think about it, how close that was. This was my truck, my pride and joy. Big Blue. And I came just that close, to losing him. Not to mention all kinds of associated costs. The illegal right turn. I have no moral qualms about making such turns at all. But there are consequences, if something bad happens. There would have been tickets. Points against my license. Insurance costs would have shot straight up. And who knows what all kinds of litigation?

And it all would have happened because I was an idiot driver. That’s the real heart of it. I was a stupid idiot. Sure, my truck might get all smashed up next week. You really don’t have a whole lot of control over that, because something might happen that’s not your fault. That would be hard enough to take. But if you smash up your truck because you’re an idiot, that would make it so much harder to deal with.

And you look at such a thing, that happens in your life. A really stupid mistake, and you walk away unscratched. Not because you deserved to. But because that’s just how it all came down. It’s all so random, mathematically. And maybe it really is all random. But I’ll tell you what I did, right after it happened, right after I quit freaking out. And I’ll tell you what I’m still doing today.

I’m talking to God a lot, in my heart and in my mind. And with my voice, too, yeah, some. But mostly inside. And I’m thanking Him from the bottom of my heart for looking out for me.

Yesterday, we were short in help at the office. Which means Rosita took a day off. So I was the main guy answering the phone. And it wasn’t all that busy, and we managed just fine. About midmorning, the phone rang, and I answered. It was my brother, Titus. I was surprised and pleased. He calls, oh, every few weeks or so, just to chat. But today, he was calling to tell me some news.

“Well, Sollie died,” he said, after we had greeted each other. I grasped at the name. And I asked. Sollie who? “Sollie Herrfort,” he answered. And it all flooded through me, the emotions that always come when I hear that name. Solomon Herrfort. The father of Nicholas in the book. Ah my, I said. When? Are you going to the funeral? “He died yesterday,” Titus said. “I would like to go, but it’s way up in Wisconsin, and it’ll just be too cold.” Yeah, I sure understand that, I told him. Do you think the Aylmer people will go? “Yes,” Titus said. “Yes, a lot of them will go.” And we talked a bit about who the man was. He was 92 years old, close to my father’s age. He had a hard life. And a lot of pain.

I haven’t seen anyone in that family since the mid-eighties, the last time I visited Aylmer as a young Amish man. I know almost nothing of the details of their lives, the Herrforts. I know they moved from Bland, Virginia, sometime after Nicholas died. Way up north, to another real plain community in Hillsboro, Wisconsin. I heard little snippets, now and then, through the years. Esther got real sick one time, got all delirious. They thought she was passing on. And in that delirium, from some deep well of loss and pain and sorrow, she cried out again and again the name of her firstborn. “Nicholas!” And then, somehow, she pulled out of it. Came back. She survives her husband. She had a hard life, too. And there they lived, in Hillsboro, for all these years.

I’ve heard, too, that Solomon got a pretty good price for his little farm when he moved out of Aylmer. He had it paid off. So maybe they weren’t quite as destitute as I remembered them as a child. I just don’t know quite what all is true and what isn’t.

Solomon had been blind for a good many years before he died, they tell me. I can’t even begin to imagine what his existence was like in that darkness. Or what it was like back when he could see, for that matter. Whatever it was, he lived his full range of years.

And now he is gone. And now he is reunited with his son.

He was ignored as a nobody like no other Amish man ever was, at least in the world I grew up in. There is no reason, really, that anyone outside the boundaries of his world would remember many details of his life. Or that anyone, anywhere, will long remember his name. But here, with my voice, I speak of who he was. And I speak of his passing.

Solomon Herrfort, Rest in Peace.

February 7, 2014

Seventy-Two Years…

Category: News — Ira @ 6:46 pm


“….I have lived so long. I have seen so much. I could tell
you so many things”… His eyes were lusterless and dead,
he looked for a moment tired and old.

And all at once, a strange and perplexing vision,
which would return many times in the years that
followed, came to the boy…

—Thomas Wolfe

I thought about it a few times, as January slipped on by and the day approached. A day we had prayed would never come. But it came, and there was nothing to do, really, but to celebrate it as the wonderful thing it was, even though it meant that Mom was still with us. Last Monday, Feb. 3rd, was my parent’s seventy-second wedding anniversary. Any way you look at it, and whatever the journey was, that’s a long time for two people to hang together in a marriage.

Seventy-two years. Threescore years and ten, plus two. A lot of people never even get that old, let alone stay married to the same person for that long. It’s a lifetime, all in and of itself. And I think back, to the stories I’ve heard told about how it all began. It was different, I think, even in that community at that time. Because there was a double wedding going on that day, on February 3rd, 1942. A double wedding. I’ve never seen one. Never even heard of such a thing happening as I was growing up. Or if I did, I forgot it. It’s rare, any way you look at it. A double wedding. Such an aberration could only come from Daviess.

They were very young, the two couples getting married that day. Dad would turn twenty-one and Mom would turn nineteen later that year. And Dad’s youngest sister, Rachel, was real young, too. She married Homer Graber. She was seventeen, if I remember right. I’ve wondered where the wedding service was held. It’s always at the bride’s home. But Mom and Rachel came from two different homes. So there was at least one bride who didn’t get to do things the way they’ve always been done.

And they had their reasons to get married that young, at least from what I remember being told. Because of what was going on right then in the world. The “Good War,” an oxymoron if there ever was one. As if any war could ever be good. But the historians have slapped that label on the destructive monstrosity that was World War II. The Amish, of course, never wanted any part of it. They want no part in any war, not even as noncombatants. Not in any supportive role at all. And at that time, the government had set up work camps here, in this country, for people like that. Conscientious Objectors, they were derisively called. You had to go serve there at those camps, if your name got called.

The thing was, once you were married, you were less likely to get drafted, or however you got called up back then. So that was the strategy, that the two couples got married so young, in a double wedding on the same day, seventy-two years ago. And they were all desperately hoping that they would be left alone in peace, to live their lives in the world they had always known, right there in the Amish community in Daivess County.

And I’m ashamed to say this, but it just was what it was. But I was ashamed of my legacy, way back when I broke free of the Amish. Ashamed of their absolutely immovable anti-war stand. I made excuses for my Dad, when the subject came up. Well, no, he didn’t serve in the war. He was a Conscientious Objector. Many would call him a coward. But he didn’t know any better, and it’s all so quaint, what he believes. I look back now, to what I said back then. And I’m ashamed all over again.

Because he was right, when it comes to war, when it comes to going off and fighting in other countries. He was absolutely right. There is no honorable way to take any part in it. There is no honorable way to kill for the state, no matter how much justification they throw at you, no matter how many Bible verses get thundered over the pulpit by weak and spineless preachers. I’m not judging anyone, here, who was brought up different. And I’m not denigrating anyone who served in that war. I’m just saying. That’s what I heard my father speak, how wrong it always is. There’s a whole lot of things he said that I never heard, never really absorbed. But now, from way out here, I hear him on this. I am pretty much right where he was, except I believe in defensive force. I’ll leave you alone, but if you come at me to hurt me, I’ll do whatever it takes to protect myself. But when it comes to what war is, I’m right there with him. It’s always a racket. I just came through a different door, to see it. And I would do what he did, to avoid shedding a drop of another’s blood just because the state told me to.

And their little plans half worked, getting married that young. Homer never got called to serve in any camp. He got to stay at home with his young bride. Dad didn’t. I’m not sure how that all shook out, but he got summoned to go and sign up. I don’t know that many details of how it happened. Or how hard he tried to fight it. There wasn’t much you could do, I figure. And I’m not sure exactly when it happened, probably within a year of their wedding. And he dutifully did what he was told to do by the state. Packed up and moved out here to Pennsylvania, to the work camp at Sidling Hill. From there, he and a large group of fellow Conscientious Objectors labored to landscape the roadsides of what is now the PA Turnpike. I’ve heard him tell his stories. The thing I’ve never quite grasped, as to how it was, because I’ve never been there, was that he had a young wife back home in Daviess. I’m not sure where Mom stayed during those years. I could ask Dad, I guess. He would remember all that stuff. And yeah, I know. Compared to what his English peers were going through, being shipped off to fight in bloody battles, murdering and maiming and getting murdered and maimed, his burden wasn’t all that hard. But still, it’s a thing I could never have imagined for myself.

My parents were young, seventy-two years ago, and I’m sure they had their hopes and dreams for the future. All based there in Davies, I’m sure, too. That’s where they were born and raised. That’s where they would live and raise their family. I think of Mom, especially, during that time. She was astonishingly beautiful, Dad always claimed. Photogenic. I don’t doubt that claim for a second. And there she was, living alone without her husband. And there she was, when their first child, my oldest sister, Rosemary, was born. While Dad was at Camp. They always told me. He was a stranger to his daughter when he came home on rare visits. She was terrified of this man who showed up out of nowhere, and stayed there in the home for a few days. It’s hard, to imagine such a thing. And I’m sure it was hard for them. They walked forward into life, though, because that was the only thing to do. They did what needed to be done.

I’ve wondered, now and then, over the years. Wondered if that’s where it happened, there at those work camps. If that’s where the seeds were planted for what would come down later when my father returned home. At those camps, he got to meet all kinds of other young men from all over the Amish and Mennonite world. I’m sure they talked a lot about where they came from and what they believed. Maybe that’s where Dad got the idea that he might leave Daviess someday. He certainly had some progressive beliefs for his time. I wonder if he would have ever left Daviess, had he not been called to work in those camps. Probably he would have, sooner or later. Still, who knows? Maybe he wouldn’t have, either.

And he served out his time, there in the work camps until his term was over, or the war was over. I’m not sure which came first. He was at Sidling Hill for the first year or two. Then he got moved down to Boonesboro, MD, to work on a farm. And after his release, he returned to his wife and children. Back to Daviess. Back to where home was. But he had seen things now, talked to people, and the ideas were sprouting in his head. He had issues with what Daviess was at that time. I can’t imagine it could have been all that bad, compared to some of the things I saw there decades later. But he had issues with where he came from. And his home, the place where he was born and raised, the place where he married and settled in to start his own family, that place had little chance of holding him for very long.

I’ve written it before, so there’s no sense in repeating all the details here. Before many years after Dad returned, he decided to leave Daviess. And off they went, to Piketon, Ohio, to check out a new little community that was struggling to life. Other like-minded men, radicals in the Amish world, were settling there. And Dad bought a farm. I’ve never been to Piketon, to check out what it looks like. They always said it was pretty remote and hilly. My older siblings returned with Dad a few years ago, and they found the old farm. And the old general store, too, although that had been boarded up long ago. They had memories of the place, the older ones who returned. And they went back to see that world again.

And so Dad moved his little family out of Daviess. Mom was very sad. Soon after they moved, my sister Naomi was born. Mom smiled again. She had a baby to take care of. Still, I can’t even fathom what all she went through during that period of her life. Sure, there is social life in any Amish community, and I’m sure there was in Piketon. But still. This is one of the biggest struggles I’ve had over the years with bitterness toward my father, because of what he decreed way back then. Mom was never allowed to reconnect with her close family ties back home. Never. The Yoders were bad, because they had left the Amish. She was forced to disown her family. That was a brutal thing, for anyone to ask or demand of anyone. And it was so very wrong.

But it was what it was. And they lived there in Piketon for a short time. A few years, exactly how many is not that important. And then that settlement disbanded, because a great big nuclear (or military, I don’t remember. But it was a big thing.) plant was going to be built, a few miles away. And so they left, the Amish. A lot of them moved to Aylmer. And ironically, whatever had scared them out of Piketon was never built. Just as well, those people could have stayed there, had they known the future. But they didn’t, and so they didn’t.

And for the next twenty-three years, my parents lived in Aylmer. There, in Aylmer, their family grew until it was done. All the children from Rachel on down were born there. And Dad, ever driven, grew to be the man he was in the Amish world. An intellectual, a writer, a man who spoke great and noble things of how it should be in a perfect world. His bold venture in launching and publishing Family Life cemented his reputation as a mover and a shaker. The man became a legend in his world. That’s simply how it was.

I think now of how it was for Mom during that time. Just quietly in the background, raising her children and not saying all that much. And feeding the flocks of pilgrims that flooded through the mecca that was Aylmer in those days. She had her own thoughts and feelings about a lot of things, I’m sure. She just never got heard much.

And through it all, Dad despised and detested her family. Mom’s older sister, Rachel, was married to Henry (surname nickname: Mealy) Wagler in Daviess. They were Block Church people, who had left the Amish and drove cars. And Rachel lost two of her adult sons in terrible accidents, just a couple of years apart. One got chewed up by a corn chopper, the other crashed into a train. Both were killed instantly. Mom wept and wept and begged to attend the funerals. And Dad looked all dark and grim and flatly refused to let her go to her own sister’s sons’ funerals. Those are big wounds, right there, any way you look at them. Brutal wounds. And Mom endured them all.

And then her children started leaving. Not moving on, as in leaving to establish their own families in the Amish world. But leaving that world altogether. I can’t even begin to grasp how she endured all that. They hung together, my parents, through all that life was for them. For better or for worse. And a lot of it was for worse, in those years. No party is ever innocent, when a marriage is for worse. I can tell you that, from where I’ve been. And there’s no sense in pretending that Mom wasn’t flawed. She was. We all are. But still, I look at all she had to deal with, and I marvel at her strength, just to keep a half-even keel in her world. I don’t know how she did it.

And Dad plunged on to Bloomfield, then, because his way of doing things wasn’t working out in Aylmer. I give him all the credit in the world, for doing what he thought he needed to do to keep his family. I realize today what all it cost him, in more ways than one. But there were deeper things, way down there, that he never saw or considered. And Bloomfield, of course, is the core place I broke away from. Not a whole lot of need to recount any of all that here, either.

And I look at who my parents were, all the way through that journey. They had a tough road. They saw and lived a lot that I will never see or live. And there’s no way I can judge either of them for their flaws. I just can’t. But I can sure sympathize with both of them, especially Mom. She endured so much. And most of that, she endured in silence.

From here, from where I am today, the bottom line is this. Yeah, it’s true. She never had a voice. And she suffered a great deal. Not just from her husband dragging her around to new communities and new settlements. And not just from Dad roping her off from her family. Her children caused her a lot of pain, too, especially her wayward sons. We left, in the middle of the night, with no warning. Just like that, we were gone. And she had no idea of where we were, or if we were safe. And looking back, I try to imagine how my own journey must have made her feel through all those long years. I was seventeen the first time I ran away. That’s a child. And later, the whiplash, the back and forth and back and forth. Her mother’s heart tearing to shreds every time I left. And what joy she must have felt for me, when it seemed like it all would work out. All the way to the doorstep of getting married Amish. And then pulling back, for reasons she could never comprehend. And running once again, leaving all that wreckage behind. It must have been brutal for her. It just had to be.

You think about that, and you don’t judge Dad so harshly for doing what he did. Yeah, he could have done things a lot better. But so could I. And looking back from where I am today, it was all just one big flawed jumbled mess.

I don’t know how she kept her sanity. But I rarely remember her not smiling, not in her daily walk through life. Maybe that smile wasn’t real, sometimes. But we didn’t know that, back then. Mom was Mom. Just a rock, always there, and always loving and always welcoming. I don’t know how she did it. Except her heart was just full of love.

Despite all his flaws, and despite how he’d taken her for granted all those years, Dad couldn’t bear to see her leave him as the Alzheimer’s settled in. He got all gentle and protective, all of a sudden, when he realized what was going on. This late in life, for the first time ever, she just faded out, just left him. She couldn’t hear him speak about how things were, and how she couldn’t see her family. And when he saw what was actually happening, it was a hard thing for him to deal with.

He never faltered, though, not after he knew where she was going. She could not leave him. He was pretty determined about that. And he did all he could, to keep her there with him. As she gradually drifted from his world into the twilight that is Alzheimer’s, it was touching to see how hard he held on. This could not be happening. He had vitamins. Those will bring her back. He did all he could, to keep her with him. All to no avail, of course. She left, except she didn’t. He could still talk to her, even though she didn’t hear. He could still do the little things, to show her how much he cared. And he does those little things now, every day.

And that right there is the real tragedy of so much of their seventy-two years together. Those little things, to show how much he cared. Cared about who she was, and how much she meant to him. He could never speak those little things, never show them, not through all those years while she lived with him as an alert and beautiful woman. He could never do it. Maybe he just didn’t know how. I don’t judge that in the man. I’ve got my own flaws, believe me. I’m just saying. That was the real tragedy of the journey of their lives together.

Seventy-two years. At the end of such a long road, you look at that, and you marvel. And I look back at my own life, and my own failed marriage. Mine lasted a measly seven years before it just blew up. They held it together for more than ten times that long. That took some doing, any way you look at it. There was a price, to get there. There always is. There were huge costs. There were a lot of hard roads. And maybe it wouldn’t have held together, had they been in my world. But they weren’t. They were in theirs. They had little choice, really, but to slog on through, regardless of how it went sometimes. Because that’s the culture they lived in.

Those were yesterdays, all the stories of their lives back then. Today is today. And that’s all anyone has, including my parents. And there they live, in Aylmer, as Mom slowly wastes away. The pain of what she saw and lived and felt is gone, now. I like to think that she knows joy from where she is. No one can ever know that, because no one can ever return from such a world to tell us. She is where she is, cared for as tenderly as any person in her condition and at her age could ever hope to be cared for. And there is no question that she is deeply loved by the man she married seventy-two years ago.

And today, in the story of their lives, that’s all that really matters.

I guess I’ll cough politely here. And clear my throat. Ahem. How about that Super Bowl? For the second year in a row, I’m proud to have picked the winner. Right here on my blog, before the game was ever played. Last year I nailed it, right down to the points. This year, I’m a bit embarrassed that I was so far off. Seattle by three indeed. How about Seattle by thirty-five?

No one could have seen that coming. I’m just proud that I picked the winner. And like I said before, I got nothing against Peyton. I’ve always liked him. I felt kind of bad for him as his team got demolished in an old-style knockdown. It’s been a lot of years since we’ve seen such a lopsided Super Bowl. We’ve been spoiled, the last while, with real close nail-biters. This year, we saw that football is just a completely unpredictable game. You can “know” all you want, but no one knows until the game is played, how it will all turn out.

Seattle was just hungrier. Plus, they had a “real” coach. A guy who had built that team up from scratch, made it into an image of what he wanted it to be. You gotta respect Pete Carroll. John Fox is not a real coach. (And yes, I know he had that heart attack last season, and I’m all sympathetic about all that.) But he’s not a real coach. The last real coach Peyton ever played for was Tony Dungy.

Anyway, the game got a little boring, there toward the end. No real reason to watch it, except you knew it was the last football game you’ll see until August. That’s a long ways away. Congrats to the Seahawks. You earned it. You deserve it. Enjoy your moment in the sun, because in the NFL, it’s always only a moment, as the Ravens know all too well. Next year, some other hungry team will rise up.