The Colonel’s Plan – Catching Up

April 2, 2019

Dear Daddy–

So much has happened in the last six weeks, it’s been hard to keep up. Mother was in the hospital… Jim Heller died… Christian got a car… Tax season hit…

I already talked about Jim. That was a blow, and really got me thinking about my career and what I want out of it. Still thinking, so I won’t say a lot about that.

Mother’s hospital visit and aftermath… I wrote about her homecoming already. Since she’s been home, things have been stable, but our lives have changed a bit. Mother’s more forgetful than she was before. A severe urinary tract infection can do that to someone who’s 92 years old. They affect the brain, sometimes permanently. Mother is very aware of her short-term memory loss, and very frustrated by it. She asked me the other day why she had lost the ability to focus on something like doing her taxes. “I always did our taxes,” she said. “Your Daddy never did. Why can’t I do them anymore? I try, and it just frustrates me. I get exhausted just looking at them.”

I explained to her that the human short-term memory is like a table. When you’re young, the tabletop is big enough to hold, say, three rows of five index cards. Everything you can write on those cards, you can think about, all at the same time. As we get older, the available space shrinks–the tabletop has to hold our pills and our eyeglasses and our hearing aids. And photos of our grandchildren and the parents we lost a few years ago. After a while, maybe there’s only room for three index cards, and that’s all you can think about at once. If it takes seven index cards worth of information to do your taxes, well, you don’t have space for that anymore. You need to put them on another table, namely someone else’s brain.

I have no idea what I’m talking about. I’m not a psychiatrist. I should ask my friend Victor what he thinks of that explanation–he is a psychistrist. I just hope my analogy made Mother feel better. It made me feel better. My table doesn’t hold fifteen index cards anymore, either.

And Mother loses things. That frustrates her, too. The latest lost thing is her pocketbook, a little maroon carry-all that she kept her license and credit cards in. She doesn’t know when she last saw it. I was able to confirm that she used one of the missing credit cards 23 days ago, which is since she last left the house. So she didn’t drop it in a public place. And there are no charges on her cards since, which means it’s not in the hands of someone who would use the cards for ill-gotten gain. We’ve turned the house upside down looking for it. Our theory? It’s either tucked away in a weird corner, or in the landfill. [It was tucked in a weird corner–in a stack of jewelry boxes in her letter desk.] Either way, she’s relatively safe. Should she replace her license? I guess eventually. Of course, she’ll have to contend with the idiotic RealID provisions we now have for renewing licenses. Fortunately, I’ve searched for enough lost things in the last month that I absolutely know where her birth certificate is!

Mine is another story…

Christian got a car–Mother’s car, to be exact. Her 2008 Ford Escape was collecting pollen and running up insurance bills, and she never drove it. Over the course of the last six months, Mother decided she would never drive again. Over the course of the last two, I’ve decided I absolutely agree with her decision. So she made a deal with Christian that, if he would handle the business of changing the title, and pay the expenses, it was his. Christian’s been working way too hard this past year. He carries 19 credits at a time, does a couple of plays every semester, and works two to three internships a year. He’s still Christian, but I can tell it’s wearing on him. He’s so much like you! When he’s overworked, no one is happy. But, as Mother said, knowing he had his own car “brought back his sparkle.”

And taxes… sigh… So I did Mother’s taxes, and she did well. Renee and I, on the other hand… Well, it’s true that the 2018 tax code revisions did lower our taxes. We’re paying less this year than we would have under the old code. But… The new withholding tables were a mess. We were under-withheld by $3000. I owed $1500 in self-employment and business taxes. The $2500 tax credit I expected, which would have made those two manageable, was reduced to $205 because of our luxurious income (funny, I don’t feel particularly luxurious!) and I completely forgot I had sold some mutual funds last year to pay for Christian’s college. Bottom line–a month’s pay (for me) still owing to the IRS. Yay.

In all this, there hasn’t been a lot of time to work on the house; but I did keep a promise to myself to get some of the brush on the property tamed before Spring made the leaves come out on the vines. I rented a brush cutter (a “bush hog,”) from a company over in Jessup. I loaded it into the bed of your pickup truck (now also title-transferred, and mine), and brought it to your house to do some damage. Over the next three days, I eliminated a house-sized bramble behind the chicken coop, which had grown up because a fallen tree had never been removed. I also cut back the embarrassing hedge row along the driveway. The place is still, um, very rural, but it’s getting better. I unearthed a nest of beetles the size of my thumb. They were living under the fallen tree. But I was early enough in the season to not encounter snakes. I don’t like to encounter snakes while running power equipment because A) they could be killed and B) I still have to take deep breaths when I see snakes. I’m not terrified of them, like I was when I was little, but the memory remains.

It’s silly, but renting that brush cutter was one of the few things I’ve ever done that made me feel like I was actually a grown-up. Getting a job, getting married, having kids… I still felt like a kid playing a part in a show. But going and picking up heavy equipment in my own truck? There’s something about that.

And that’s the latest. We’re maintaining. As I told Christian recently, there’s a point in life where happiness comes from knowing that you’re doing the things you should be doing. I sound like my mother-in-law. But, hey, it’s a measure of success.



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