Archive for the ‘Aging’ Category

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Two Harbors Rainbow

Ore Docks Two Harbors MN, June 2016

For a dozen years now, my husband and I have talked about where we’re going to live upon retirement. Duluth has figured prominently in the discussion. We went as far as buying a five-acre parcel of land in Two Harbors, 22 miles up the Lake Superior shoreline from Duluth. It was a decision based on keeping our options open. That land is ours, and we can build on it if we choose. If we don’t choose to do that, we can hang onto it or sell it.

Over the last year or two, I’ve become quite vocal about not wanting to live in Two Harbors. It’s a town of about 3,700 people. There are some shops and a few restaurants, a grocery store, a hardware store of the “general store” variety. There is a very small hospital. It’s within a half-hour’s drive of Duluth, which was my firm requirement when considering a healthcare emergency involving two people of retirement age. Two major medical centers are in downtown Duluth. However, I can see the writing on the wall that I would be spending a fair amount of time in Duluth: shopping, participating in activities with the Unitarian Universalist congregation, volunteering with wildlife rescue and humane societies, taking advantage of the many festivals and other entertainment opportunities. I don’t want to spend my time driving back and forth from Two Harbors to Duluth. I want to be there.


Duluth MN

We’ve begun to explore that option now. I’ve found an area of Duluth that I really like, the Woodland neighborhood, which is near to the University of Minnesota-Duluth and the College of Saint Scholastica. If one gets out on the edge of that neighborhood, he’s in a less developed, rural-like setting but still only a few miles from the hub of the activity. It’s got a good feel to it, combining the natural setting I love, the peace and quiet, and the close association with wildlife while still being very convenient to all the small city amenities. (Duluth is a city of 86,000. That’s the same as the population of the largest Twin Cities’ suburb of Bloomington where the Mall of America is located. The total population of the Twin Cities metro area is approaching four million people.)

Change is hard for me, though. Moving in particular is very hard. We don’t do it very often! We spent sixteen-and-a-half years in our home in South Minneapolis. We now have been in our current first-ring suburban home for twenty-one years. The move from South Minneapolis to Maplewood was very difficult on me emotionally and I struggled with depression. I’m not looking forward to going through that again.

My husband recently turned the reins of this proposed move over to me with my emotional well-being in mind. He said, “You’re driving this decision. I want you to be happy.” I’m grateful for this. Truth of the matter is that there is part of me that doesn’t want to leave the metro area. This has been my home for 40 years now, and a fine home it’s been.

We ARE moving from this home only six miles from downtown St. Paul, even though my husband said that staying here is certainly an option on the table. I’m good with the option of moving. We’re going to let some other family live in this bedroom community of people who work for 3M, Ecolab, the State of Minnesota, Wells Fargo, and other corporations nearby. We’d also like to build a home, our dream home. It would be a single-level home built with ADA-assessible doorways and bathrooms so that we can stay there as long as possible into our geriatric years. If we stayed in the Twin Cities area, though, where do we go from here?

Several of my biggest losses if we moved are my healthcare team (my primary care doc and

st paul river view.jpg

Downtown St. Paul MN on the Mississippi River

my behavioral health provider), my cat-specialty veterinary clinic with vets and staff I really like, and my professional cat sitter who is top notch. We’ve got a couple of close friends here that I’d hate to move away from. With those factors in mind, I’ve been exploring the east side of the Mississippi River around Cottage Grove, Newport, Saint Paul Park, Afton, outlying areas of Woodbury. Of course, if we get too far out to avoid being in the middle of a current or proposed surburban development, then we’re talking driving a half-hour to get anywhere! We’ve lost the convenience of having things close by and easily assessible.

This past week, I’ve been back to liking the sound of Duluth. It’s a calmer, quieter environment. The suburbs aren’t encroaching on the available land at the edges of the city. If we buy a secluded property, it’s going to stay a secluded location. Everything we need is there on a smaller scale, and the reality is, who needs a hundred choices when five is more than adequate? It keeps life simple. Simple is good. It’s sounding better all the time. As much as I hate to leave Dr. Stiffman’s care, I could find an adequate primary care physician in Duluth. I could even keep my behavioral health team here in the Twin Cities because I’m low maintenance most of the time and could schedule some trips here periodically to check in. I would need to replace my vet clinic and my cat sitter, but there has got to be some suitable options there, although no one can really replace Parkview Cat Clinic, the notorious “Dr. Grant” Gugisberg, and “Auntie Lisa,” the cat nanny. Replacing friends? No, that can’t be done, but we can visit. Our one close friend in particular was born and raised in northern Minnesota (as my husband was), lived in Duluth years ago, and loves it there. There would be some driving back and forth, but we could all manage it.

This decision is nudging towards the forefront now, no longer something that may occur five or ten years from now. My husband retired after thirty years of service with his company. He’s enjoyed the retired life for four months now. I’m still working for the State of Minnesota but not for much longer. He seemed to be enjoying retirement so much that upon his encouragement, I told my supervisor two months ago that my last day would be October 4. Three months from now I’ll join the ranks of the retired folk. Next month, around the time of my 61st birthday, I’ll collect all my documents and get my application for retirement benefits turned in to Human Resources. After forty years in the workforce, that phase of my life is coming to an end. It feel strange. (I’ll get used to it!)

I’m restless and impatient right now. I’d like to know where I’m ultimately going to land with this decision. It’s going to need to simmer for now, though. Rushing it is not a good plan.

First world decisions. So many people don’t have these choices. How fortunate I am!


Left to Carry On   Leave a comment

Posted February 21, 2011 by StPaulieGrrl in Aging, cats, Relationships

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Stunned and Heartbroken   4 comments


Easter Birthday

Originally uploaded by Lady Birchwood

Dale and I had taken to putting a large bowl of kibble on our urban porch in the South Minneapolis neighborhood of Powderhorn Park during the winter of 1993-94, keeping an eye on one attractive and friendly cat who had been abandoned when his owners moved. I couldn’t take him in because of my elderly cat, Mandy, then 18, who went ballistic at the sight of another cat. Pete disappeared (we hope to a home with someone), to be replaced by a couple of other stray cats in the area. One was a pregnant queen, a short-haired white cat with black ears and a black tail. Around the first of April, we noticed she was thin again and was obviously nursing. She was also very feral, wanting nothing to do with human contact. She would run and hide at the sight of a person.

It was Mother’s Day weekend in May when I came home from my 3:30-midnight shift at what was then Smith-Kline-Beecham Clinical Labs. I parked my car in front of the house and started up the sidewalk, stopping in my tracks when I noticed Mama Cat at the food bowl with two small kittens with her, a little white one who had her black head markings and a black tail and a little pretty calico. They all scattered at my approach. I entered the house that night so excited. I woke my husband, exclaiming, “Kittens!  We have kittens!”

I immediately fell in love with that darling little calico. Both kittens were very fearful of us, though, and would scramble away if we came around. The little white one even managed to squeeze himself through a chainlink fence in the neighbor’s yard when we had him cornered one day up against it. (I called that kitten “him” right away, even though I had no idea of the sex. I had a 50-50 chance of getting it right!) We wanted to capture them and see that they received homes eventually, but how to do it? I quickly realized that we were losing the game by chasing them around the yard  We were just creating more fear.

In June, the little calico got very ill with what appeared to be some sort of respiratory infection. A thick discharge matted her eyes closed. I thought we were going to lose her, and I made one attempt to “rescue” her. She was under the neighbor’s chokecherry tree that grew beside our property, snuggled next to her mama. A low wooden fence separated us. I reached over the fence and gripped the scruff of her neck. She twisted and jerked like a handful of rattlesnakes and her mama stood and hissed, about to nail me. I lost my grasp on her, partly out of shock at her strength and partly to save my hand from being bitten by her mother. I made a resigned decision that I would leave the little calico with her mama, where she could nurse and be kept warm, and Nature would take its course. We went away that weekend to celebrate our anniversary, and I expected that she would be gone when we got back. Much to my surprise, she was still there on Sunday, on her feet, her eyes looking better, and went on to a complete recovery! I then named her Katina for “tiny cat,” although she was always called Katie.

I changed tactics and backed off from any further attempts to capture them. I continued to feed them, switching to canned food for my little family instead of kibble. I figured that this may entice them more strongly to the food pan. I would put the food out and back away, going into the house at first so that they would eat and not run away. After a time, I would put the food out and then go back in and stand at the door. When they were eating without panic, knowing that I was there, I started putting the food pan down and stepping back but remaining on the porch with them. Gradually, it got to the point where I could sit down on the steps about four feet away and they would eat while I was there. I couldn’t get any closer, though! If I got too close, they would bolt in a flash!

Towards the end of August, I made my move to get them into the house.  After feeding them all summer, they had grown comfortable with my presence.  One evening, I put the food pan inside the front door and set it in the foyer.  I held the door open.  Both of them marched right in and ate their supper.  I closed the door. They were nearly five months old when they saw the inside of a house for the first time.  They played in the living room that evening, chased each other around the recliner, and used Mandy’s litterbox before they went back outside for the night.  (Mandy had been confined to the bedroom during this visit.)  We repeated this several more evenings before they slept inside for the first time, separated from 18-year-old Mandy by the door between the dining room and the back half of the house.

We declared them officially our kittens.  I called them my “kittens from God” because Mandy died in September and I was so overcome with grief and depression that I don’t think I could have actively gone out and adopted another pet for quite some time.  However, as things worked out, I had two kittens put on my porch that May with an invisible note which instructed, “These are yours now.  Take good care of them.”  I didn’t get to pick out the sex or the breeds.  I didn’t get to choose the colors.  I got what I got — as most parents do.  We adopted Katie and her littermate, who did indeed turn out to be a boy when we took them in for their first checkups in September with Dr. Mike McMenomy at Kitty Klinic, our vet since 1980.

I love these two cats, both different as night and day.  Katie-cat has always been small, compact, athletic, and aloof.  Life is on her terms.  It took a long time to gain her trust, but once I did (my husband, Dale, never did!),  we became soulmates, although even I couldn’t pick her up and hold her. She hated that!  Bubba-san is a larger cat, 16 1/2 pounds in his prime, a gorgeous longhair with the sweetest personality a cat can have.  He has displayed “ragdoll” tendencies from the first time I picked him up and he went completely limp in my arms.  For years, I’ve picked him up and draped him over my shoulder where he’s completely relaxed and purring against my neck.  He loves affection!

Several years ago, Katie was diagnosed with renal insufficiency, a problem that was discovered as part of a routine chemistry profile prior to having her teeth cleaned.  She felt well, though, and the only recommendation that was made was to put her on a prescription food for cats with kidney disease.  She liked the food, thrived on it, and had no health issues except for a bladder infection almost two years ago.  She had lost some weight then, and I took her to the vet to figure out why.  Her kidney function tests were more elevated than they had been, but still, she wasn’t dehydrated and her electrolytes were fine.  The vet gave her a long-acting injection of an antibiotic, her bladder infection cleared up, and she regained the weight she had lost.  All has been well.

When my friend, Lottie, cat-sat in November after not seeing the cats for perhaps a few months, she remarked on how well Katie was looking.  She was looking great and might have even put on a little weight.  Life has been good, and Katie-cat and I have been happy together, both us down on the rug outside the bathroom every morning where she greets me and wants to smooze.  She’s been following me all over the upstairs every morning as I get ready for work, meowing at me, head-butting me, and clearly not wanting me to leave her for the day.  (The best times have been when I’ve been able to crawl back into bed on a weekend morning and she has climbed in with me to snuggle.)  She’s been down in the TV room a lot of evenings, clamoring for her treats.

Then last month, I began to get a nagging feeling that something was a little off.  I wasn’t filling up her dry food bowl as much as I had been.  However, she was still eating her evening serving of canned food into which she gets a glucosamine supplement to support her bladder health.  She was still insisting on evening treats.  She was drinking and urinating normally.  Constipation has been an issue over the past year, but she was going fairly regularly.

But still…. I wasn’t filling up that dry food bowl much.

Last week I noticed that she wasn’t coming to bed with me at night, which was very odd for her.  That’s always been our time to smooze, with lots of purring and noisy meows and head-butts.  (Bedtime has never been quiet at our house.  The bedroom is filled with the demands of a Katie-cat on our bed, wanting her mama’s attention and words of love and praise before we can settle in for the night!)  Early this week, I just knew that something wasn’t right and I made an appointment to get her in to the vet, sooner rather than later.  I took off work Thursday morning to take her in before her usual vet left on vacation.

Thursday morning, she was very “off.”  Clearly, she wasn’t feeling well.  She was moving really slow and seemed kind of unsteady.  She made a half-hearted attempt to smooze with me on the rug but wouldn’t purr.  Even at that point, I was assuming — hoping! — that this was perhaps a bladder infection again and some fluids and an antibiotic would get her back on her feet.  She’d be feeling better in no time and things would be back to normal.

The vet pronounced her very dehydrated, and the scale said that she had lost almost 2 pounds.  This had to have been since November when she was looking so well, and I even asked Dale a few weeks ago if he thought that Katie was losing weight and he said, “She looks okay to me!”  But the numbers don’t lie.  The vet kept her at the clinic that day to rehydrate her.  Before the IV was started, blood was drawn for chemistries and a CBC.  Dr. Arend called me at work about 11:30 and gave me the bad news: Katie’s BUN and creatinine were very high, her postassium was dangerously low, and other electrolytes were way out of balance.   She was in kidney failure.  I was devastated.

Katie spent all day on Thursday at our regular clinic and was then transferred to the Animal Emergency Clinic in Oakdale where they could continue with IV fluids and electrolytes all night and monitor her condition.   Dr. Arend felt that with sustained fluids and electrolytes, Kate stood a chance of pulling out of this crisis.  She was a tough, determined little kitty, and we agreed to give her this chance.

Friday morning, the vet called me from the Emergency Clinic and reported that Katie had had a very, very good night.  She slept well and her BUN and creatinine were lower, her potassium had come up.  The values weren’t good but they were quite a bit better, and Katie was alert and active, ate a little Fancy Feast and drank quite a bit of water.  The vet reported that her attitude completely belied the severity of her condition.  She looked for all intents and purposes like she was ready to pack her bags and go home!  Everyone was optimistic at this point that we were going to pull her through this crisis and go on to manage it for a time.

I packed her up Friday morning and took her back to our regular vet for the day.  More fluids and electrolytes.   Some progress but not nearly enough.  Dr. Arend recommended another night of fluids and monitoring at the Animal Emergency Clinic, so we took her back there at the end of clinic hours at Scenic Hills.  Katie seemed despondent.  She was also hyperventilating and visibly trembling.  They wondered about fluid overload due to her Grade 3 to Grade 4 heart murmur but a chest x-ray at the Emergency Clinic showed her lungs were clear.

The phone report from the vet this morning was not good.  Her BUN (blood urea nitrogen, a waste product normally filtered out by the kidneys) had risen again.  Her creatinine (another waste product) was about the same, and in spite of aggressively giving her potassium supplementation, her level had not come up any further than it had been the day before.  The vet was very discouraged at this lack of progress and said that Kate would not do well at home with fluids being administered under the skin by her mom, the RN.  She said that we might want to consider another 48 hours of around-the-clock ICU care with them and re-evaluate at the end of that time. I had planned on bringing Katie home that morning and had been given all the injectable medications, needles and syringes the evening before to care for her here. This morning’s emergency vet was very firm, though, that Kate wouldn’t do well at home with her values being what they were.  And when I asked her if she thought another 48 hours worth of care (at $1000 a day) would make a difference in Katie’s condition, she didn’t say no but she repeated what she had said; she was discouraged by the lack of progress so far. I took that to mean that the prognosis was not good.  This vet really gave me no reason to think otherwise.

Dale and I discussed euthanasia.  I decided before we left for the clinic that I would wait and see how she seemed to me before making that final decision.  If she seemed interested in my company and eager to come home, I was going to bring her home, even if it ended up just being for a few days.  I wanted to give her that option to be home again in her own comfortable environment, her home for the past 16+ years.  I wanted her to be able to sleep with me for a night or two if she wanted.  I wondered if being calmer here at home with us and getting some fluids at home might improve her, even just a bit.

When I saw her, my heart sank.  She was very weak, could hardly stand.  She was shaking.  I held her and talked to her, but she wasn’t even paying much attention to me.  Her eyes anxiously scanned the room.  She did not purr at all or give me a head-butt, no affectionate acknowledgment at all. She wanted to be put down after a time of uncharacteristic holding, so I put her down on the room’s blanket-covered coffee table.  She jumped down and wanted to find a place to hide.  She tried repeatedly to crawl under the low couch.  She wanted to find a place to hide and die.

I made the decision to proceed with the euthanasia.  I picked her up, leaned back on the couch, and laid her against my blanket-covered chest.  I held her warmly and whispered all the loving things I’ve ever said to her over the years.  I assured her that she would always have a forever home in my heart.  The love will live forever.  She was safe.  She was loved.  As the injection was given, her head dropped against my shoulder and she was gone.

And I am stunned.  I had what appeared to be a happy, healthy cat just a few weeks ago, albeit an almost-17 year old one.  Literally within days, she went from an interactive, normal-appearing cat to one who was obviously seriously ill.  Just from yesterday morning until this morning, she had surrendered her spirit, her desire to “pack her bags and go home.”  Suddenly, she was dying.

I am shattered, heartbroken, consolable only by the great comfort of knowing that almost all of her days were happy ones.  She was very, very loved and cared for.  She was told every single day that I was here to say it, at least a dozen times a day if not a hundred, that she was loved, that she was very special, that she was my princess, one of the greatest gifts in my life.

She always will be, and her Forever Home will now be in my heart.

Posted February 19, 2011 by StPaulieGrrl in Aging, cats, Relationships

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The Double Nickel   1 comment

funny pictures of cats with captions
see more Lolcats and funny pictures

It is my birthday today. Somehow, I’ve arrived at the “double nickel”. Age 55. I spend way too much time thinking about how many years have gone by and what do I have to show for them, etc. I spend a lot of time thinking about what the aging years will have in store and who will sit me out in that snowbank during temperatures of 25-below if I develop Alzheimer’s Disease and become a burden to myself, my loved ones, and society. I need to quit thinking about the numbers and take the days as they come. However, this philosophy, should I have any future success in adhering to it, will NOT prevent me from taking advantage of those Senior Citizen discounts that begin at some establishments at age 55. I’m all for that!

Posted August 12, 2010 by StPaulieGrrl in Aging, Baby Boomers

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80% Crabby   8 comments

I’m crabby.  I think I know why.  My previously comfortable bras that I’ve been wearing for several years (and have five of in my drawer!) are killing me.  Yes, I realize that it most likely has to do with the fact that I’ve gained 15 pounds since spring and am now at a record-high weight for me.  It may also have a little bit to do with starting a different formulation of estrogen in my HRT and my breast shape may have changed a bit.  The bottom line is that I need new, comfortably-fitting bras RIGHT NOW.

Therein lies the problem.  I spent 2 hours in Kohl’s a few weeks ago and tried on 20 different bras.  I still came home with something that is not completely comfortable and is probably not even the right size.  I’ve read estimates that claim that at least 80% of women are wearing the wrong size bra.  [Hangs head in shame.]

Well, how do you find your “right size?”  I just researched this online and came away just as confused as when I started.  The very first article I read told me to measure  under my boobs and take that measurement as the band measurement.  It explicitly instructed me NOT to add five inches to this measurement to find my band size, that this was an inaccurate and obsolete way of measuring for modern bras.  Every single other article I read (at least another half-dozen I had time to peruse) instructed me to add the five inches to the measurement I obtained to get the correct band size.  So, who do I believe?  And what kind of sense does it make, anyway, to add five inches to a measurement?  Do men have to add five inches to their inseam measurement to get the correct length of their trousers?

All the articles are in agreement that to get my cup size, I measure the fullest part of my breasts and subtract this measurement from the band size.  (Is that the actual measurement or the “add five inches” calculated number??)  I’ve never been able to get this calculation to work for me when I’ve tried it in the past.  The cup size I come up with is clearly wrong when I try on these bras.  And then there is the whole situation of gravity, of the “fullest part” of a woman’s breasts being distributed between her ribs and her waistline.  How do you measure that?  If you were to pick all that sagging up and shove it into cotton cups, how big does that cup need to be?  Sounds like a good story problem for a high school physics class…  (“If the nipples hang five inches or more below the 5th rib, divide by four and take the square root of the number obtained, and then do the Hokey-Pokey and turn yourself around.  That’s what it’s all about.”)

One article instructed me to get down on my hands and knees and measure the widest part of my bust by that method.  It seems to make sense to let gravity in this position put the boobs where they need to be — straight out from the ribcage.  I just can’t figure out how to hold the tape measure in a snug position while I’m down on all fours on the floor, letting gravity do its thing.  And again, the conflicting information rears its ugly head:  this was the only article I read that suggested this position.  (Don’t worry, it only feels kinky the first time you do it!)

And every single article I read emphasized that the measurements are only a starting point.  Don’t let the measurements decide what bra you should be wearing.  Manufacturers vary, women vary, etc.  Go into a dressing room armed with dozens of bras and start trying them on, they said.  (Only five garments at a time, please!)

So, why am I down on all fours with this tape measure, getting rug burn on my nipples?  HELP ME, PLEASE!!

Posted October 22, 2009 by StPaulieGrrl in Aging, health, sexuality

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40th Class Reunion: In My Words   2 comments

My husband’s 40th high school class reunion was this past Saturday, and much to my surprise, he committed to going a couple of months ago and submitted his registration fee for the two of us to attend.  I was quite curious as to how this was going to go.  Of course, he was, too.  He has not kept in touch with any classmates from his graduating class of 1968.  The last classmate we saw was probably Tommy Wilcox, the guy he considered to be his best friend during his senior year in high school and throughout their first couple of years of college.  We saw Tommy during the summer of 1972 when he was a student at Mankato State, and I think that was the last time.

The class reunion festivities began at a “club” on Howard St., Hibbing’s main drag, at 2:00 Saturday afternoon.  The club had been reserved for the 1968 class to congregate and watch the Jubilee parade that was scheduled that afternoon.  We walked into a small crowd of maybe a dozen or so people just before 2:00, having only arrived in Hibbing 20 minutes earlier.  No one was wearing any name tags, and everyone looked like a stranger.  A couple of introductions were made, but I could tell that names weren’t ringing a lot of familiar bells to anyone.

We helped ourselves to some food that was set out: a large crockpot full of porketta pieces for making sandwiches, some buns, potato chips and tortilla chips, brownies, some blue-and-white frosted cookies, some blue-and-white M&Ms.  (Blue and white were the school colors, in case this isn’t obvious.)  Wine, mixed drinks, and pop were free for the taking.  Beer was $2.00 a bottle/can.  Dale grabbed a Heineken beer and I started off with a bottle of water to rehydrate after the long, boring car ride from the Twin Cities.

We sat there for awhile, watching people wander in.  Dale wasn’t making any move to talk to anyone.  I had some moments of wondering if this was what the whole reunion was going to be like: those folks who probably had some contact with each other as long-time Hibbing residents hanging out together and others just sitting around with the date they had brought to the event and not interacting too much with anyone else.  Jeez, that was a long car ride and a hefty $45 a person to sit around on a Saturday and do that!

I don’t know if it was the beer and wine that was flowing freely (i.e. “liquid courage”) or if the initial scoping-out period had just run its course, but Dale finally got up and started talking to people.  “Hi, I’m Dale Scheiskopf,” he would announce.  “And who are you?”  Some tentative conversations started.

One of Dale’s classmates had brought The Hematite, the high school’s yearbook (we had, too, but had left it in the car), and this became an attraction — comparing faces of the folks in the bar with the old senior-class photos in the book.  Few people were recognizable from those 40-year-old photos in the book!

Dale and I had sat around with a bottle of wine the evening before and had gone through his yearbook, studying the photos.  I repeatedly kept going back to the same photo of one female classmate.  “Wow!  What a babe!” I said more than once.

Yeah, yeah, she was,” my husband agreed.  (I found out upon leafing through some saved programs in his yearbook later that she was in his Junior Achievement “company” of kids, so he must have been quite aware of this at one time!)

Well, the “babe” walked into the bar during the course of the afternoon, and my illusions were shattered.  She didn’t look bad necessarily, but my impression was that she had seen some rough years.  She looked tired.  Her eyes were baggy.  She looked her 58 years.  The lines on her face and her lackluster expression had a story to tell.  I never found out what it was. 

But then this man walked in, and I have to say that he caught my eye.  I found him attractive.  He was fairly trim, well-groomed, salt-and-pepper manicured beard.  He wasn’t drop-dead gorgeous — I mean, NOT like George Clooney! — but he was the kind of man I find appealing.  I went over to Charlie who was manning the yearbook.  “Who is that guy who just walked in?” I asked.

Charlie peered.  “That’s Tom Chambers,” he said.  We flipped to Tom’s photo in the yearbook.  I saw an awkward-looking unsmiling 17-year-old with large black-framed glasses, the kind that all the boys wore then.  His glasses weren’t sitting straight on his nose.  He looked like he couldn’t wait to get out of that suit and tie he was wearing.

I looked at the handsome man who had just come in, and once he was settled with a drink, I walked right over to him, able to look him right in the eyes because somewhere along the way he had either gotten contacts or Lasix.  “You don’t know me, ” I informed him, at least a glass of wine under my belt by then.  “I’m married to one of your former classmates, but I just had to come over and tell you how much more attractive you are now than you were in that yearbook photo.  You’re fifty times better now than you were then!”

He was fairly speechless then, but as the party was breaking up so that people could get ready for the evening’s festivities, he stopped me on the way out.  He said, “I have to give you a kiss for what you said to me earlier.  That was really great.”  And yes, he gave me a kiss.  I kissed him back.  I probably made that man’s day!

At 6:00 that evening, we all reconvened at the old Androy Hotel for a heavy buffet line of appetizers (I’ll do anything to get out of trying to spell hors d’oeurves), desserts, more drinking, more socializing, and dancing to the oldies from the ’60s.  It was 11:30 when we decided to leave.

We both had a very good time, and I’m really glad we went.  Dale commented, “I wish we had all gotten along like that back when we were in high school together.”

He said this in his own words in a journal entry he wrote yesterday afternoon, but I’ll say it, too.  High school and that age of adolescence is a rough time for most young folks.  It’s a time of building a self-identity which at that age is shaky at best.  There are a lot of insecurities.  Everything seems like a major, insurmountable deal.  Adolescence is a time when life is inwardly focused.  Teens are trying to figure out how they personally fit into the world, and the “big picture” isn’t seen until much later.

My husband was not a “popular” kid in high school.  By his own description, he was “a geek, a nerd.”  He was not athletic; he was “a brain.”  He wore geeky glasses and a plastic pocket protector.  He often carried a slide rule.  He was a lab assistant, a frequent winner of the Science Fair, a Junior Achievement member, and an inductee into the National Honor Society.  He didn’t date.  During his senior year, he linked up with the theatre group because “they were misfits” like he was.  He felt comfortable around the theatre people and found a home there, working the technical aspects of that year’s productions.

At the reunion Saturday evening, his classmates said, “Yes!  I remember you!  You were smart!”   And I heard the admiration in their voices when they would voice this recollection.  When they would ask what he was now doing and he would reply that he was a project engineering manager for a major manufacturing company and builds plants for them all over the world, they knew he’d be successful at something like that because Dale Scheiskopf always had a lot going for him that would see him well-placed in a professional career someday.  They respected him for that.  And I smiled to myself Saturday night because his intelligence was one of the big-ticket items that attracted me to him.

But 40 years ago?  No, the “Brains” weren’t necessarily respected except by members of the faculty and a few like-minded peers.  Brains didn’t gain you popularity.  In fact, “Brains” in general were intimidating people to the student body at large.

So, no, Dale didn’t have many friends except for a couple of other brainiac type people and his theatre group during his senior year.  However, Saturday night he came to realize that the cliques, the groups, the “in-crowd” and the “weirdos” were a thing of the past.  Age and experience has a way of equalizing the playing field.  After 40 years, all of those former classmates have experienced some combination of life’s joys and trials: marriage/relationships, divorce/breakups, parenthood, job promotions and losses, deaths of loved ones, travels, war, finding a niche in life in ways never before dreamed.  Over those 40 years, the “misfits” have had an opportunity to discover that being different is a good thing; it brings creativity and fresh perspective to an otherwise dull world! 

Ross Halper, one of my husband’s classmates, was a classic example of a “misfit” at Hibbing High School in 1968: extremely intelligent, exceptionally creative, talented in music and drama.  I commented that he seemed to have starred in every theatrical production that the school produced during that senior year, including playing The Cowardly Lion in The Wizard of Oz.   (Dale was a “techie” on that show, and his best friend, Tom Wilcox, was the voice of the Wizard.) 

Saturday afternoon, when Ross Halper walked into that bar on Howard St., people surrounded him like he was a celebrity.  And, indeed, he is!  Take a look at this resume, if you will.  Ross Halper from Hibbing, Minnesota, has gone on to do great and wonderful things with his life, bringing joy to many.  He couldn’t have done this if he wasn’t a bit different, if he wasn’t able to view the world with a different perspective than the mainstream, if he wasn’t a bit of a “misfit.”

He brought tears to many former classmates’ eyes Saturday night as he took the floor and sang:

When you’ve grown up dears
And are as old as I,
You’ll often ponder on the years
That roll on swiftly by
My dears, that roll so swiftly by
And of the many lands
You will have journeyed through
You’ll oft recall
The best of all
The land your childhood knew!
Your childhood knew.

Toyland! Toyland!
Little girl and boyland,
While you dwell within it
You are ever happy then
Childhood’s Joyland
Mystic merry Toyland!
Once you pass its borders
you can ne’er return again.

When you’ve grown up dears
There comes a dreary day
When ‘mid the locks of black appears
The first pale gleam of gray
My dears, the first pale gleam of gray,
Then of the past you’ll dream
As grey haired grown ups do
And seek once more
It’s phantom shore
The land your childhood knew!
Your childhood knew.

Toyland! Toyland!
Little girl and boyland,
While you dwell within it
You are ever happy then
Childhood’s Joyland
Mystic merry Toyland!
Once you pass its borders
you can ne’er return again.

“Toyland” (1903)
Words by Glen MacDonough, 1870-1924
Music by Victor August Herbert 1859-1924
(from “Babes in Toyland”)

40th Class Reunion: In His Words   Leave a comment

My husband was quite moved by the experience of attending his 40th high school class reunion, and he wrote this when we got home from Hibbing on Sunday. I am reprinting it here with his permission.

Oh, What a Night!

Saturday night, June 29th, marked the occasion of the 40th reunion of my high school class.  Bonnie and I actually had more fun there than either of us had anticipated.

The day started out at the Algonquin Club (a small bar) on Howard Street, Hibbing’s main drag.  The Reunion Committee had rented out the place for the afternoon so that classmates would have a place to gather to renew acquaintances while watching the big “Jubilee Parade” celebrating 150 years of Minnesota statehood and Hibbing’s 115th anniversary of being founded as a town.  Some food was available, as were beverages of various sorts.  Beer from the bar’s cooler could be had for two bucks a bottle, but wine and soft drinks provided by the Committee were free.  That served to get the activities off to a fluid start.  All that was missing were name tags of some sort…

The Class of 1968 was a fairly large one, well over 400 kids, the exact count an ongoing topic of debate throughout the day.  About a fourth of them, plus spouses, etc. showed up for the event.  This was a turnout much better than anyone had hoped for.  Quite a few of the gang showed up at the Algonquin Club for the kick-off.  However, without the name tags, nobody was able to recognize anybody.  Fortunately, Charlie Curtis had brought his 1968 Hematite (our yearbook) along. That provided a good cross reference and also the means for people to identify themselves.  “Here, find your class picture for me in the yearbook.”  With all of that going on, the big parade outside of our front door was largely ignored.  As we gradually started to re-establish identities, and struggled to remember each other – our memories ain’t what they used to be! – a degree of class cohesiveness began to develop.  By the end of a few hours, in spite of the quantity of adult beverages consumed, we were actually starting to recognize and remember each other.  By then the parade was over and it was time for us to move on to the main event – a more structured gathering at the old Androy Hotel.

The Androy was Hibbing’s grand hotel, dating back to the turn of the century when the entire town was uprooted and moved a few miles south to relocate it off of a particularly rich deposit of iron ore – but that’s another story.  The hotel was built to anchor the new downtown area and to serve as a symbol of Hibbing’s prosperity.  This was a very wealthy boom town in its day.  My dad was a cook in the hotel’s kitchen in his younger days, providing a further connection to the Androy.  Anyway, our event took place in the grand space that was once the hotel’s lobby.  The building has since been converted into apartments, but the main floor level has been restored for hosting special events such as ours.  And this was a special event.  Rather than a “sit down” dinner, where folks would feel confined to one seat at one table, we had a bar (always a necessity at these affairs) and a buffet line of “heavy hors d’oeuvers” that were enough to make a meal of.  This arrangement was much more amenable to mingling.   The mingling aspect was also very much enhanced by providing name badges that included a small copy of our Senior Class pictures.

High school is not an easy time for most of us.  It is even more of a challenge if you are lost in a class as large as mine.  Populations of that size tend to subdivide themselves into smaller, more personal, groups, cliques and circles.  If you found yourself on the outside of these sub-groups, as I did, you were out – far out, man.

One of the most fascinating aspects of the Class Reunion was how much everyone had changed – or not changed – over the past forty years.  That’s where the little photos on the name badges really came in handy.  A few folks were instantly recognizable after the passage of four decades, but not most.  A few of us (myself included) actually look better now than we did then.  For example, my class photo features a dorky crewcut hairstyle, geek glasses, a plastic pocket protector (not visible in the photo) and bad teeth.  I still have the bad teeth – but, hey, three out of four isn’t too bad.  It was reaffirming, in a way, to match up names that I associated with sleek, powerful athletes, only to find dumpy, balding guys who are in no better physical condition than I am.  The girls who were once so intimidating because of their good looks, intelligence and talent now seem a whole lot more approachable. It was as if forty years had eroded away all of the clique boundaries and other barriers and left us with: just us – the people we really are.

When we were 18 and just beginning to experience life, those events were all new to us and seemed very profound; we were sure to be the first to have ever felt such a thing.  That made us very special – so we thought – and it seemed that life truly was all about us.  However, after the passage of forty years, we find that we have all experienced the same things to a slightly greater or slightly smaller degree: jobs, careers, births, deaths, weddings, divorces, losses, gains – in short, all of the elements that make up living.  In the end, we find that we are much more alike than we are different, after following our individual paths to this point in the cosmos.  That was reassuring.

Unfortunately, far too many never made it that far.  To date, forty-six of our classmates have passed away.  A memorial was set up to remember them.  Some left early.  They went away to Viet Nam right after graduation and came home in a box.  Others lasted longer, but not long enough to join us last Saturday night.  It’s a pity.  We would have enjoyed seeing them all again.

After a moment of silence and the reading of the names of the departed, we had the pleasure of listening to Ross Halper, a talented classmate, sing a special song for us.  Ross now writes, directs and performs in light operas on the West Coast.  Then the young DJ fired up his gear and we had some music.  It certainly was a disconcerting sign of the times for us aging Baby Boomers that no actual media was used in the creation of this music… no vinyl, no 8-track tapes, no cassettes, not even a CD.  All of the music was digitized inside of a black box and the DJ (if you could call him that) picked out the songs with a click of his mouse.  It seemed like something tangible was missing from this process.

However, the electronic play list was pretty decent and before long we were able to ignore the fact that the tunes were coming out of a computer.  Of course, such things can lead to dancing.  At least that was the intent.  The dance floor remained empty for a while as we listened to the music and kind of eyed each other to see who would be brave enough to venture out into the void.  After a few songs, a few courageous souls wandered out to break the ice.  We actually had two couples who were very accomplished dancers, making it fun to watch them.  Little by little, the dance floor filled as the evening progressed.  This old guy even ventured out there to shuffle around during a couple of slow dances.  My arthritic knees weren’t up to the stresses of anything more energetic than that.  Bonnie, however, managed to find some willing classmates and was able to dance all that she cared to.  As the night wore on, brains and aging limbs became more highly lubricated, thanks to the bar.  By 11:00 many of my classmates had rediscovered their lost youth – and each other – and were out on the dance floor jiving like a bunch of teenagers.  No doubt a few were feeling the effects of that in more ways than one the following morning.

The one small downside of the event was the acoustics.  Classic hotel lobbies were designed to be peaceful, quiet places – not venues for rock concerts.  The ornate terrazzo floor, dark wooden paneling and ornate plaster ceiling all looked wonderful, but these are very hard surfaces.  Just the din of normal conversation filled the space with a low level white noise that sometimes made conversation difficult.  Add in a batch of 60’s rock and roll music and you have a very loud environment indeed.  By 11:30, Bonnie and I were both thoroughly saturated with stimulation from the evening.  We quietly slipped out the back exit into the cool, rainy night to head back to our hotel.

It was a coward’s escape and I admit it.  We Minnesotans are known for our protracted good bye rituals and I was not feeling up to that.  Here were people that I had just reconnected with after forty years – or maybe connected with for the first time after forty years – and we were leaving each other after just a few hours.  Who knows when, or if, we will ever see each other again.  I wasn’t feeling emotionally up to that.

We did manage to pass out a few (too few) calling cards listing our contact information.  We also put our email address on a list to be published.  So maybe, just maybe, some connections will be maintained.  This reunion went so well that maybe we will have another one in ten years.  If so, sign me up now!