I was talking about the basement, and the accumulation of
STUFF. Most of that stuff is gone now. Here’s how that happened.
You were still alive and mobile, albeit diagnosed with
Alzheimer’s, when the cleanup began. After making some inroads in the house (literal
inroads–pathways through the mountains of junk), I told Mother I wanted to do
something about the basement and the garage. She said something to me like,
“I wish you’d do something about the storage place. It’s costing us over
$700 a month.”
You were paying more than my first house payment for a garage bay storage unit that was about 10′ by
28′. Yes, that needed to go away.
It’s officially Winter. Actually, it’s not. Winter comes in
nine days, I believe. But the days of below-freezing temperatures, frost on the
grass, aching muscles and leaving the water trickling in my kitchen (old pipes
near old farmhouse walls tend to freeze) have begun. Mother had her first oil
delivery of the year and was astounded at the bill for over $500. I explained
to her that I paid $250 every month last year, and over $1900 in August to make
up for the rising cost of oil. Her response was, “Yes, but my oil bill was
The furnace is heating the house nicely, though. No more
space heaters. No more blankets and curtains in every doorway. The whole house
is warm and usable.
I was explaining to Renee last night why this house always
had oil tanks, when the furnace wasn’t active until last year. She had
forgotten the Sears Oil Stove in the basement.
Tonight I’m cleaning up the basement a bit more. Still
working in the train room, as I’m calling it now. “We have a train
room?” Christian asked me recently. “I’m just so amused that our
family has a house with named rooms. Do we have a skinning and tanning
room?” (He may not have said “skinning and tanning.” It was
something just as absurd. It may have been “taxidermy.”)
In all these weeks, I don’t believe I’ve discussed, in
depth, how the basement came to look the way it did when you left us—the way it
had looked for decades before that. I believe I mentioned the dreaded trip to
the Sacred Heart Hospital in Cumberland, but I don’t think I told the whole
story. So here goes.
I once played a squirrel in a school play, in fifth grade.
Nutty the Squirrel. I would say that you would recall it, but I don’t think you
made that performance. The show was “Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs,”
an operetta written in 1938. It was released a year after the Disney film, and,
as I recall, was trying hard to cash in on Disney’s version without paying them
royalties. Hence the inclusion of my role as a furry animal companion not in
the Brothers Grimm original.
I remember auditioning for the part, in the same ballroom at
Glenelg Country School where Renee and I later held our wedding reception. I
don’t know if the gray sweats and bushy tail I wore as Nutty would elicit as
much comment today as the white tux I wore to the wedding, but I do recall
being asked why I thought I would make a good squirrel. I believe I said I was
small and cute like a squirrel.
Well, it’s November. Was it November the last time I wrote?
Maybe. It’s been a very hectic week, and I don’t remember.
Last night was election night—the 2018 midterm election, and
the one in which Maryland picks its governor and Howard County picks its executive.
Our incumbent governor, Larry Hogan, is very popular. His competitor, Ben
Jealous, is a Californian who was running on what he said was not a socialist
platform, but which his deep-pocketed West Coast backers declared would turn
Maryland into a “laboratory of democratic socialism.” Predictions
said he had no chance of winning, and predictions were right.
But predictions also said that our County Executive, Allan
Kittleman, had a double-digit lead over his opponent. Those predictions were
wrong. Allan lost by about 6,000 votes, or about 4%. I’ve spent the last six
months or more working Allan’s campaign. He’s an honest man and a solid leader,
and I think the County was better for his being here. He was endorsed by the
police, the firefighters, the Baltimore Sun and an independent ethics
committee, not to mention our very popular governor.
It’s sad, but I guess that’s politics. Politics is a very ugly game right now.
This morning I insulated the well. I’ve written about the
well before, and how you and your father installed the pump yourselves all
those years ago. I believe I also said that the supervisor on the job of
replacing it this Spring reflected that he had seen designs like yours many times…
The supply line that draws water out of the ground comes up
out of the ground, at which point it’s galvanized steel. It makes its
connection to the house line (also galvanized steel, I believe, because the
Verizon crew was able to find it easily with a metal detector) above ground,
and then the whole thing goes underground again to the house.
While writing this, I realized that I had no idea what
galvanization actually is (other than
a word that is drattedly hard to type correctly on the first try!). I know galvanized metal when I see it,
and you taught me the word. I inferred that it was a protective process. So I
just looked it up, and I was correct in my assumption. Galavanized pipe is
steel pipe dipped in zinc to prevent rust. I learned something else, courtesy
of the American Vintage Home website, which seems to specialize in talk about
old houses in the Chicago area.
I won’t lie, I’m not very happy with you right now.
“He’s been in his grave for 18 months,” my mother
says. “You’re not going to hear back from him about it now,” my
And yet, 18 months in your grave, your idiosyncrasies are
still coming back to, pardon the expression, bite me in the ass.
It was a list of simple tasks that I set out to accomplish
today. No grout, though the pink bathroom still has need for grout, and no tile-mounting,
though it still has one bare wall. No building enclosures or fences, or hanging
doors. Just cleaning the chicken coop, putting in fresh pine shavings and
straw… the chickens are very impressed by straw–damndest thing… making a list
of the kinds of things we have in the
garage that need storing, putting the drawers in the computer card cabinets
into alphabetical order, according to their computer card labels… and getting
the old window air conditioner out of the window in the family room.
Once again I remind my kind readers that this entry was written some months ago. It is not a cry for help. I simply believe that, if you’re going to document an experience, it’s important to document all of it. Please don’t worry over me, and, if this account brings you down or tests your patience, please just skip it. I know my problems aren’t of the scope of those being suffered by others, but our problems are our problems. If yours have you in this place, let these words serve you as a reminder that we all land in the low place sometimes. If you’re there, please keep moving forward. You will climb out. Like the theme song of a show the Colonel hated says, “So while you’re here, enjoy the view. Keep on doing what you do. Hold on tight. We’ll muddle through one day at a time.”
October 10th, 2018
Dear Daddy –
It’s hard to know what to write today. Honestly, I’m
battling depression. I have been for some time. I’m sure that shows up in my
earlier letters, but I’m finding myself needing to admit it out loud, and in
writing, for my own benefit.
I don’t think it’s a chemical depression. What did they used
to call a breakdown? “Psychosis Situational?” Not that I’m psychotic, either.
But a situation is causing my depression, and, dammit, the situation is psychotic. Over the course of the
last two days, reading up on the things that I’m dealing with, and reviewing
notes and emails, I’ve wondered just how in the hell I’ve coped this long with
Hey, everyone, Steve here. Apologies for the unannounced hiatus. I published a non-Colonel’s Plan reflection, and then I had to take a week off to put intense effort into a presentation for Carroll County Libraries this past weekend–a presentation enjoyed only by close friends and family, it turned out! But I’ll be offering that up to conventions in the coming months, so it will yet see the light of day. Anyway, back on track now!
October 3rd, 2018
Dear Daddy –
Tomorrow would have been your 96th birthday. I
guess a fitting present, one day early, is that Susan learned she is cancer
free. Her surgery removed the tumor, which was categorized as stage 1A, and 12
lymph nodes, which were clear. No chemo, no radiation. One big sigh of relief
Not much has gotten done on the house since I wrote to you
last. The week was filled with doctor’s appointments for Renee and Christian.
Christian had a follow-up appointment with his oral surgeon to verify that his
bone graft had taken. It had healed beautifully, we were told.
“It isn’t personal,” they say. “Don’t take it
personally,” they say.
Well, I take things personally. Always have. Probably always
will. For me, there is no “just doing my job,” or “just
following the rules.”
When my First Grade teacher taught me to read, she was just
doing her job, but it was personal to me. She called me her “Young Spaceman,”
and I loved her. She had given me the greatest gift in the world.
When my Third Grade teacher threatened me with a tree branch,
because she was following her rules and I wasn’t, it was personal. I frustrated
her. She pretty clearly hated me. When my other Third Grade
teacher (my father fired the entire school on my behalf and took me elsewhere)
taught me my multiplication tables, a year late and after much struggling, it
was personal, and I loved her too.
In high school, when the yearbook advisor told me that our
senior yearbook would likely not be published until the class after ours
had already graduated, it was personal, and I stayed late every day for two
weeks, getting the layouts finished, meeting the printer’s deadline. We had all
worked hard on that book, and I wanted it in people’s hands. That wasn’t just
my job or my grade, it was personal. I could make a difference, and, dammit, I
was going to.