Please God, Don’t Let the Baler Break

I have been thinking of duality lately. Duality of personality to be specific. When we go about our lives, we act differently in our various roles. How we act at work is often not how we act at home. Yes, we must behave differently due to societal norms and constructs, but I am discussing more on a primal level. An actual personality difference. We see that often in the media when someone goes nuts and kills someone. Many people who knew him say things like “I never would have thought him to do that” but others, perhaps those closest to him or those who saw him in a different role, would say “oh hell yeah, I can see him doing that”.

My biological paternal parent died last week. My father. My dad. My daddy. The man I once looked up to and wanted to be like. The one I would do anything for and often did. The man that had a duality of personality. Kenny Johnson would do anything for anyone that asked. He really and truly would. And he would ask for nothing in return. When we would be working on our farm and had our equipment out, we would go to another farm to help them do the same. It’s what folks did back then. He was well respected. He was prayed for (he did not attend church) but we was respected. He was a hero. A neighbor’s child had an accident and it was the quick thinking of my father that saved her. He worked all day at the glass plant then came home to work the farm. He was not one to be idle. He truly was a good, honest man.

Then there’s the other side. Kenny Johnson had a temper. And he directed it at his kids. No matter what he was really angry at, his kids were easier targets. Which brings me to the hay baler. Anyone who has ever baled hay with a square baler knows what I mean when I say they are the devil’s own nightmare. They need constant care. Constant watching. When they work, they work well. When they don’t, they are a pain in the ass. Spitting out 7 foot bales weighing five pounds or 2 foot bales weighing a hundred. And working in hay is hot, itchy, hard work. Back then, it was done by hand. The tractor pulled the baler which pooped out the bales. Then the tractor was driven with a trailer attached and folks picked up bales and handed to them to whoever was up there who stacked them carefully. It was driven to the barn where it was all unloaded and stacked again. Hot, itchy, hard work. I’ve seen my older brother hit so hard he was knocked off the driver’s seat of the tractor. I’ve been knocked so hard I saw more stars than I already was from the heat. All because the baler broke and dad was mad at it but took it out on us. Instead of teaching my older brother how to better drive the tractor through the field, he was hit. Instead of teaching me how to do whatever it was I did (or did not) wrong that time, I was hit. Same when we were planting tobacco. Or working any field or crop or task or whatever. We weren’t taught. We were beaten until we stumbled onto the right answer. Many nights I worked by the light of the truck, straightening up tobacco plants, my butt getting kicked every other plant, because I was taking too long. They were crooked because of how they were planted. I was being punished because the ground was too wet, too dry, or the planters were not paying attention. When we were out there, we prayed the baler worked. We prayed the tractor kept running. That the truck did. That the spreader did. That the weather holds. That everything goes right and Daddy doesn’t get mad. Please don’t let the baler break. Please don’t let daddy get mad. Please don’t let him take off his belt.

It wasn’t just in the fields that we feared him. It was at home. Dad drank beer. Lots of it. And he wasn’t a mellow drunk. We never knew then what would get him mad. I once spent over an hour looking for his carton of cigarettes that he demanded I look for. I looked everywhere. Couldn’t find them. I was getting the “If you’d looked everywhere, you would have found them so keep looking!” comment from him. Finally, I was standing at the front door, knowing I was about to get berated again, when I turned to tell him I really and truly could not find his damn cigarettes. That’s when I finally found them. He was right, I had not looked everywhere. I had not looked right by his fucking seat, right by his beer cans on the floor. And out of my mouth comes the sarcastic comment I really should have kept in my head. I was knocked out of the living room and into the kitchen where I slid across the floor until I collided with the cabinets. Mom stepped between the two of us and told him to stop. That I was actually right. The cigarettes were right by his hand and that he had driven me to smart off. Dad never hit me again. I think it frightened him a little that he had hit me that hard. And that I had finally stood up to him. Bullies are like that.

[I truly believe I am such a sarcastic person because of all the comments I had to hold in all those years. The “stop crying or I’ll give you something to cry about” crap. There was no way I would have said what I wanted to say so I kept it in.]

I am a lot like my paternal parent. I can’t help but be.
– I have one helluva temper. I have worked hard to keep it under control. I know I have it. I know that demon lurks under my skin. I avoid situations where I know I can lose control of it.
– I like to think I will do anything for anyone. I believe in the pass it forward philosophy. I have been helped out along the way. And in return I have helped out others. I don’t think about what I will get out of it. I know that makes me sound like such a freakin’ good person. I’m not.
– And I can sweat in a snowstorm. When we hung tobacco, we could always tell where Dad was or had been because of the puddles on the ground. Of all his physical attributes, I just had to get that one, didn’t I?

So as folks talked about how great a man he was, I winced. Sure, he was. But that greatness is dwarfed by the damage he caused. Some can say he was only doing what he was taught. That he was raising his kids the way he was raised. To which I say bullshit. If something makes you uncomfortable, you find another way. If it doesn’t, then you continue it. So it didn’t bother him to continue it. And when my younger brother (who left the farm too young to really experience all this, thank you God!) said he hopes he grew up to be just like him, I really winced. No, Kevin, you didn’t grow up to be like him. You grew up to be better. When you had your first child, we prayed you would not be like him. You weren’t. You were better. You talked to Ryan as he had his many, many (many, many) tantrums. You didn’t beat him. Or scare him just by entering the room. You are a real father to both your kids. You did not perpetuate the cycle. Your kids will do anything for you. Not out of fear, but out of love.

Childhood memories are tainted when we look at them as adults. Those memories were formed by that child and still contained by the view of that child. The child in me both loves and hates Kenny Johnson. But both those emotions are overwhelmed by the fear of him. The memories I have of him are almost all coated in that fear of him. Even those that are of love, there is that fear. As an adult, I could have looked him in the eye and confronted him and those fears. I chose not to. I chose instead to protect my Self and never contacted him. I wish I could say “this even is what broke the camel” but there isn’t. It was several events that ended when he said “I won’t let you kids ruin this marriage like you did the first one.” It was his multiple affairs that ruined the first marriage, by the way. But it was his inability to admit fault and his attempt to pass the blame onto me that made me step back and realize he had not changed. That he was not going to hear what I was saying. At any point in all those years since, he could have approached me. He knew how to get in touch with me. Instead, he chose to purge me. I was never brought up in conversation. Family stories were told without me in them. It was as if I had never existed.

I chose to not go to his funeral. It was a big decision for me and I did not make up my mind (for the last time) until the night before. I am Southern. Not going to my own father’s funeral? I am damned to hell for that. But the benefits of going (which were numbered less than three) were not enough. I will head over to The Valley later and pay my respects my own way and without an audience.

Thoughts of Time

You know those motivational quotes with oceans or bridges in the background? The quote says something like “if someone is toxic, get rid of them” or something along those lines.

I did that. Got rid of someone “toxic” to me. I made the choice to take care of myself, to protect my Self because, when it comes down to it, no one can do that but me. It was not an easy decision and it was not done on a whim and it certainly was not made because some motivational quote told me to. I did it because this camel’s back was getting tired. The weight of time was heavy. So, I removed myself from a situation. From two people actually, although one was much easier than the other. Removing them removed an entire part of my life. A huge chunk of it was suddenly outside my reach.

Over the years, things changed and I often considered re-inserting myself into this person’s life. But I couldn’t do it. Telephones ring both directions. So do mail deliveries. This person could contact and call others but never me. Hell, I was never mentioned. And now it is too late. He died this morning. It is not regret that I feel. It is more like I am holding the scales, putting my care of Self on one side and this morning on the other. It is a cold, heavy scale to hold.

And then I am reminded of my invisibility. In removing myself from them, they removed me from them as well. It is as if I never existed. And that is a weird weird feeling. It was happening prior to me walking away. I just made it kinda official I guess. I’d been slowly phased out for years.

He was a strong man but with screwed up priorities. Wouldn’t take one fucking step in this direction. That’s all it would have taken. One wee bit of effort on his part to show me..something. I know he was given my contact info at least once. And I know he knew how to ask for it. But he couldn’t. And he didn’t. So he pretended I didn’t exist and now he is dead.

Dad, I never stopped loving you. How could I? I believe now you understand at least. I wish you had understood a little sooner though.

What I Did This Summer

Wow. Where did summer go? I mean, it was June just yesterday, right?

I had a freakin’ crazy summer. Here goes the shortened version:

June:
Got the bathroom done, got some of the Rose Room done, got some other stuff done.

July:
Left on the 1st to go up Nawth. I took Mike, my Service Dog in Training. The Plan was to clean up my Mom’s house, do a yard sale, and come home with Ryan for his long-planned-for Summer with the Insane Aunts. 2 weeks tops. What Actually Happened was I got there and saw my Mom the first day. She was not doing well at all (as in she couldn’t hold her eating utensils, could barely stand, and, basically, appeared to be a quadriplegic). We started working on her house the next day or so. She got worse. She had seen one idiot “Physician” who said it was diabetes neuropathy and was scheduled to see another neurologist in mid August. But they called one afternoon to say there was a cancellation and she went to see them the next morning. She was hospitalized a few hours after the appt. The diagnosis: Guillain–Barré syndrome. She was hospitalized for 7 days, undergoing intravenous immunoglobulin treatment. From there, she went to a rehab facility. We continued working on cleaning Mom’s house but now with the objective of making it as safe (as in cleared) as possible. Me, Ryan, and Kelli worked our butts off. I stayed until late July and rushed South with Ryan.

August:
In late August, Ryan and I returned up Nawth. Our short 3 weeks in The South were quiet, calm, peaceful. We did nothing, really. We shot a bow, ate a lot of pizza, visited the Blue Ridge Parkway, ate more pizza. It was pleasant, really. Hot as hell but pleasant. We got windows put in the Rose Room! They look great and now I want the rest of the windows replaced. Oh, and I turned 45 early in the month. We got back up Nawth and prep for school to start began. We didn’t get a chance to go back to Mom’s to work more on her house, though.

Sept:
Mom had been having these strange episodes where a tight band of spams would hit around her torso, making breathing very difficult. The first time it happened, she was taken back to the hospital. They didn’t find anything and sent her back. The second time, they knocked her out and did an MRI where they found really really bad cervical spine stenosis and disk problems. Now the question was what problems are the neck and which are the GBS? Her initial response to the GBS treatment was wonderful. She was doing great in PT then took a sudden dive and was, in some respects, worse than when she started. I was visiting her a few days after my return when the spasms hit again. They again took her to the ER but this time admitted her. The neurosurgeon and neurologists both agreed that the neck needed to be taken care of so on Sept. 2nd, she had surgery where they shaved bone, reset the cervical spine, relieved the pressure on the spinal cord, and then affixed the mess in place with plates and screws from C2 to T1. By the next morning, Mom was able to lift both legs and move both hands. The right side had been critically low in function. Her right hand was starting to contract. When my brother and I saw her the next day and she showed us what she could do, we were in near tears. But Mom was far too busy screaming in pain to share the joy completely and it was several days before she was comfortable enough. She was moved back to the rehab place (a nasty, nasty place but has decent PTists) just over a week after the surgery.

I then get a call from Lorna. Her dad was very ill (he has Parkinson’s, diabetes, heart complications, couldn’t swallow, etc) and was refusing to eat. I helped her make arrangements to come up to see him because they were saying he was most likely dying if he continued downward. She rented a car to drive to Elizabethtown and I drove out to meet her on Sunday the 12th (her parents are in PA and mine are in NJ). Her father recovered (problem was partly medication, partly exhaustion, partly sheer stubborn mule) and we left there Tuesday to go back to NJ, get my stuff and Mike, returned to visit the next day, and headed home that afternoon. We were still in PA when we got a call from my brother. Their house had a fire! Luckily, the dogs were the only ones home and they were all fine. The neighbor smelled the smoke and the fire dept. was there within a few minutes. They are living out of boxes as the insurance company does the repairs (which will not be completed until November!).

We were not yet unpacked all the way when we get a call from Lorna’s sister on Sunday the 19th. Her father took another dive and this time it was very obvious he was dying. Sadly, we didn’t make it back up in time. He died at about 8pm while we were racing northward through VA. He was laughing with us just a few days ago and now he was gone. Luckily, he’d made nearly all the arrangements so the sisters had very little to do in terms of major decisions. The funeral was Thursday. We took our time coming home after spending time with her mom. Winnie is doing well, considering. She’s got some health issues too but seems to be keeping on.

So Lorna and I are home and have spent the weekend decompressing. She’ll return to work tomorrow and our lives will find their rhythms again.

Mom (her name is Patti) is doing great with rehab. I got a photo of her feeding herself the day before Clarence’s funeral. Sadness on one end, joy on the other.

Winnie turns 90 in November and Lorna (perhaps me, too) will go up to celebrate with her.

Update #Whatever

I have been properly fussed at for not saying much here lately. So here’s some updates.

– Knee is doing better. It’s only been 9 weeks but I think I expect it to be normal already. I started PT (finally!) and although it is painful and I gripe a lot, I know it is for my own good.

– Mike is great! He’s not a year yet and is on that cusp between puppy and adult. He’s still only about 50lbs but he should put on muscle mass soon. He may get to 70lbs tops. I don’t need him for weight bearing so it’ll be just fine. I keep wanting to get started on his official training but haven’t. Not sure why. My gumption level is low for most things.

– Joella has fully recovered from her own joint problems. Well, as much as she ever will. We give her an anti-inflammatory each day and she gets a ton of supplements. Joint wise, she’s doing good. Skin wise, however, she’s having a tough summer. We were late with the flea stuff and I think she is reacting to them. She’s chewed a chunk of her back raw. It’s about the size of my hand overall. She’s had several baths with lots of cool rinsing afterwards. We are using Calendula cream on the wounds and started giving her benedryl to help control the itching. No, we won’t do steroids.

– The Johnson Horde descended and retreated last week. We had a blast! Kev, Col, and Ryan went on a Segway tour of the NC Arboretum while Lorna, me, and Kelli explored the Bonsai Exhibit and explored some of the gardens; Lorna, Kev, and Ryan went to Gray, TN for a day long fossil dig while me, Col, and Kelli went to the Silver Armadillo to get beading stuff and then to the Asheville Aquarium to see the fish tanks; all of us plus a young friend went to see the Asheville Tourists (an awful game that rained so we left early); and we played Uno, talked, and laughed (usually all at once!) at the cabin they rented. At times their visit was relaxing while at others it was exhausting. I was tearful when they left but didn’t let that stop me from napping most of Friday. I wished they lived closer but perhaps the distance is why we still like each other so much.

– In June, Lorna and I celebrated our 19th anniversary. Wow. 19 yrs. Bless her heart.

– Writing – well, yes, I am writing. Truly I am. I missed the GCLS Con this year because the Johnson Horde was here at the same time (and the choice between the two was easy). I miss the battery charge I get from attending. I am working (still) on Simple Sarah. I keep wanting to make the Setting more real. At the moment, it is just a flat surface, like a green screen in the movies. I need to help the reader see what is going on behind everything.

– We have some sad news but I will share that later, perhaps tomorrow. Not ready quite yet.

Stuff stuff

Knee is doing much better. Still can’t straighten it out all the way but I can take as few steps using the toes. But then it hurts like the dickens later so I don’t do it very often. I see the bone doc on Tuesday. Hopefully I’ll get to start PT soon and get back to my usual crippled up self instead of this new version.

My bro and his family arrive in a month. We’ve been busy making arrangements for stuff since several things changed with my busted knee. Ryan was supposed to stay the week after and attend dinosaur camp at Gray Fossil Site but since we didn’t know if I could drive him there each day, we canceled it. We also had to cancel a trip to the Charleston Zoo with Kelli (we wanted her to see Penguin Planet) for the same reason.

Ryan, Kevin, and Lorna will go do Gray Fossil Site’s Dig For a Day. Kelli, Colleen, and myself are still trying to think up something we can do instead of the zoo. The TN Aquarium is just over the hill in Chattanooga but it takes nearly as long to get there as it would getting to Charleston. We may do the WNC Nature Center instead. It may be small, but it is packed with cool stuff without being crowded like zoos. They are one of the few places working with Red Wolf relocation. They do animal rehabilitation, too.

Kev, Colleen and Ryan will do the Segway tours at the NC Arboretum. While they are doing that, Kelli, Lorna, and myself will be at the wonderfully air conditioned Biltmore Mall.

Other than that, I don’t think we’ll plan anything else. We’ll have a list of stuff (Mt. Mitchell’s new observatory is a must at some point) to do but usually we just sit around and talk, eat, and laugh. They rent a cabin that is on Lorna’s mail route. We know the people who own the two cabins and they give them a discount. The view alone is worthy of doing nothing but gazing. And cooking out.

Hump Dump Umpdate

An update to this update is found at the end.

Knee: The overall pain has dropped dramatically, unless it rains then it’s a heap o’ goodness. The swelling has finally gotten to where it looks more round like a basketball and less lumpy like a football. I still can’t straighten the knee out, though. And I can balance with the toes but cannot take a step.

Hip: My hip is giving me a lot of grief. We’re trying to figure out what the problems are so we can eliminate them as much as we can. I think most of it is the entire weight of the leg is on a so-so hip socket. The tendon on the front (groin?) is very tender, hates to be moved, and isn’t happy no matter what position I try to sleep in. I can now only sleep on my back with a pillow under and to the side of that leg to position the hip and to support the un-bending knee.

Other Knee: the brace I got is great! I can wear it all day and not get the usual grossness underneath. This proves it is the latex/neoprene and it is an allergy, not heat related. The knee is very tender to the touch but it is easier to stand and hop on it now. I have a groove on the side that includes the knee cap. I’m going to have the bone doc check it out when I see him one the 23rd.

Writing: Eh, not much. Lots of ideas, though. I got Moon’s Deeds of Paksenarrion and am re-reading it. I love that book and it inspires me to write. The style is so simple, so real. There’s big info dumps because of the war strategy and stuff but overall, it is fantastic. I am re-gaining a visual image of where Sarah and crew are and that allows me to “be there” further and therefore write much more better-er.

Cats: The Tues. before I fell and broke my leg (that still sounds so weird), Lorna called me to say there were three kittens at the post office. I joined her there and we caught them. We brought them home and set them up in Mike’s Big Boy crate. They drove the dogs nuts. We had to cover the crate with a sheet at night. We knew there were going to be problems. Mike has a huge prey drive and chasing cats is fun. I could keep that under control if Sass didn’t egg him on. So when I fell and we realized how much it was screwed up, we also realized there was no way Lorna could take care of three kittens AND me AND the house AND the dogs AND our own 2 cats. So we called Mary at Asheville Pet Supply. She often finds kittens in boxes left on the store’s doorstep and has a huge cat crate set up. We called her and asked if she could take them for us and help us find homes. She did! AND then called the next day to say they’d all found homes already! All 3 went to the same home which was great. This lady decided a while back she wanted kittens but would only take any that Mary got, knowing they’d need homes. She happened to come in that morning and there they were. We’ve heard since then that they are doing great.

Dogs: Joella is now on full-time pain meds for her arthritis. She still has trouble getting up off the floor but is happier and more active. We played with the dosage for a few weeks and think we found the right amount. Mike is a handful and a half. What a teenager he is! No more snakes although there was the dead possum and the mouse. And bamboo. Lots of bamboo. And sticks. And lost toys. Lorna had to wander through the dog lot to find all the cat bowls he took outside. She has to pick them up each morning or they wander back out. Now that I’m not so stoned, I hope to re-re-restart his training again.

Friends: About a week before I fell, a close friend of ours was thrown from her horse. She broke her spine but had no spinal cord damage. She was in neuro-ICU for several days then in a room for quite some time. She’s home now and slowly recovering. It will be a long haul for her. Patti is the woman who takes care of the dogs when we both leave, like for trips up Nawth. Another friend, Elena, is doing “as good as can be expected”. Her husband is dying of cancer. Hospice has been working with them for a month or so now. The hard part for her is his mental capacity. Between the cancer and the drugs, he’s far from himself.

**I have found out that Lew died Sunday, at home where he wanted to be.

So there you have it. A big honkin’ set of updates. Did I miss anything?

On Possums and Games

Mike brought me another surprise yesterday. This time a possum. It was very dead and not just playing at it. I used a plastic grocery bag, picked it up, and dumped it out behind Fort Rooster. Lorna buried it when she came home later. I couldn’t find the shovel (that’s my excuse and I’m stickin’ with it). The day before, I was on a long phone call with my baby bro. I turned around at the end of it to find several sticks, both outside balls (nasty well-used half-sized basketballs), most of a dead tennis ball, the remnants of what used to be underwear, several walnuts, and some bits of plastic (not sure from what). Mike was busy whilst I chatted! How nice of him to bring the outdoors in. Still don’t know where he found the undies.

Our dog lot includes the back porch which has a doggy ramp going from the porch to the ground. We keep the back door open so the dogs have free access to the outside. Of course, we only do this when it is warm enough. We’re supposed to be putting in a doggy door in the wall but I got sidetracked and it’s not done. Not that the doggy door would keep Mike from bringing miscellaneous stuff in. He’d probably be like that dog in a cartoon that can’t figure out why the 2′ long stick won’t go through the 1′ wide door.

As for the games, I’ve joined the ranks of those that play World of Warcraft. I know, I know. I tried to resist. I did. But I thought it would be cool to play online with my bro and his family. The problem is, they all work during the day and then at night, they have to go to bed early ’cause they gotta be at work the next day. Sigh. I don’t see how people do that. Anyway, I tried a demo, liked it, and bought the game. In case anyone knows what I’m talking about, I’m a gnome mage, level 14. My character’s name is Gadgetmoss. I have a human character, too: a mage named RockOn who is at level 8 or so. But I’m more in like with the gnome than the human one. Gnomes are funny little things with emphasis on the little. It was so funny the first time Kev joined me in the game. My character is really not much higher than his knees! I play some during the day, usually the human character, then get going with the gnome chick later in the day.

My neck is slowly getting better, although now the headaches have started. I was surprised it took them so long. Last night, I was playing the game with my sis-in-law (Col) and this guy they know. He (a level 80 somethinganother) took the two of us on an “Instance”. I think what we did was we little gnomes (Col restarted with a new character and chose a gnome so we could do things together) tagged along behind him while he blew everyone and thing up. Since we were a group, we shared the bonus points and stuff and our levels went up. That and we got a crapload of loot. Anyway, I don’t remember much of it. I had this roaring headache. And I was trying to not hurl. But it was impossible for me to leave the game. Not there! So I stayed quiet, did what I was told, and tried to not throw up on my laptop. Finally we got out of there and went somewhere safe. I used my somethinganother stone to zap back to my home tavern. And quit the game. I heavily medicated myself and went to bed. It was a rough night with weird dreams (gee, wonder why?).

So, Col, if you read this, that’s why I was so quiet. Between the headache and the nausea, it was all I could do to just focus on the game. I don’t remember much except whatshisname laughing because the two of us walked under that cannon near the end (he had to go way around it). That and I kept saying Stone Henge instead of Iron Forge. Sigh.