Friday, December 30, 2005

The Basement Part I

The Basement Part I

The year was 1953: it cost 3 cents to mail a letter and 3 cents to mail a postcard, including the postcard; Gasoline was 29 cents a gallon with an attendant pumping gas for you and washing your windshield; air and water were still free at a filling station; Miss America was Heva Langley from Macon Georgia; and I was 10 years old, fully appreciating the benefits and exploring a new world. I had recently got a new baby brother and by the summer I came to the conclusion that he was going to be OK to have around. No one called me the baby of the family anymore and most people stopped calling me “Little Teddy Ray”. I remember going to the Post Office with my Mother and when we exited the car, a lady that my Mom had not seen for some time, came by shouting “Ruby, Ruby how are you”. I quickly moved to an invisible position behind my Mothers skirt. She carried on for some time and then turned her attention to me. It required her to reach behind my Mother and grab me by the arm pulling me out front. “My goodness, is this Little Teddy Ray”? “No it is not” My body strained to hold the words inside. “My name is Ted” I wanted to scream at this ridiculous, fat, old woman. When she reached over and pinched my cheek, my little body shook with spasms as I fought back the desire to chomp her fingers off and watch her scream in horror, as she would clutch her fingers dripping with blood and realize the error of her ways. God, I hated that name. I had just became Ted when Baby Gary came around but his coming also created a problem for me because I was evicted from my bedroom for him. There was no room for me. I never held that against him because I knew my time was up in “The Nursery” as I was just finishing up 10 years of really good pampering and it was time to pass the torch to “Little Gary Lee” the new baby of the family.

My parents decided that in the summer months I should take up residence in our basement because it was cool and in the winter I could move into the laundry room, as it would be warm. They made it sound like everyone was looking out for me but I didn’t think so. The basement was my first residence and I really didn’t like it. They had provided me with a roll-a-way bed and I didn’t find it very comfortable plus if you didn’t sit on it just right it would fold up on you. The root cellar that was behind my head, had a dirt floor and was responsible for all sorts of crawling things that invaded during the night. The basement was windowless but there was a light, with a pull string over my head. My Mother was a bit of a stickler when it came to conserving electricity and water so the stair light was off and all of the other lights in the house were extinguished when bedtime rolled around. I was not allowed to keep any light on to chase away the creepy, crawly, things. The furnace was located in the other end of the basement and was a converted coal furnace. It was an octopus looking device with arms stretching out everywhere and at night there were two opening into the firebox that glowed like eyes. My imagination conjured up all sorts of different monsters and beings. When the furnace fired, an explosion rattled all of the pipes and fittings while flames escaped around the doors and from other parts appearing like a fire breathing dragon coming alive, belching fire from its eyes, mouth and ears. I would lay in bed motionless expecting all sorts of catastrophe to occur. My bed sheets and the bed would shake to my rhythm that was quickly accelerating knowing that the furnace fan was about to start. The loud click of the switch would signal the start of the event as the basement filled with a high pitch scream, as the fan belt slipped on the pulley, that I could only imagine was some type of shrieking bird trying to escape the confines of the furnace. The shrieking would get higher and higher, almost deafening but also getting quieter and quieter as the great bird accelerated and got further and further from the cage that confined it, leaving only me to battle the furnace ogre. Then as suddenly as it started the shrieking went away leaving only a dull rumbling, like a distant thunderstorm in the pipes, causing them to shake and flex. Shortly the flames would subside, the dragon would go away, the rumbling would stop with only the two eyes glowing dimly as I prayed as hard as I could and tried to convince myself that it was only a furnace. I whimpered and usually fell sound asleep knowing that a monster was sharing my room.

A major problem I had was trying to negotiate the basement and the stairs in the pitch black as I searched for a way out, to go pee. One of my first nights I had to get up but was half asleep and couldn’t find my way out and ended up peeing on a wall. That panicked me and the next morning when I realized what I had done, I rigged up all sorts of strings to my pull light so that no matter how I swung my arm I could turn the light on. Shortly after being banned to the bowels of the house, the heat was turned off for the summer. What a relief as the monsters and birds went away and all I had to contend with were the creepy crawly things attacking from the root cellar. I didn’t mind that as most of the lizards and spiders I had already discovered and considered pretty good friends.

Part of the reason I was so scared of the furnace was from the trauma of trying to light the furnace for the previous heating season. My Dad was away on a business trip and only my Mom and I were home. The house was extremely cold with the first cold snap of the season but my Mother didn’t know how to light the furnace. Finally she called Mr. Katon, our next-door neighbor, and he agreed to come over and give it a try. I remember peeking out from around my mother, at Mr. Katon with a flashlight in his hand and his head pressed up against an opening in the furnace, surveyed the situation. Then he open a valve and I could hear a hissing noise coming from inside the furnace as Mr. Katon put a lighted match to a rolled up newspaper in his hand and then shoved the lighted newspaper into the furnace. Nothing happened and Mr. Katon would remove the burned newspaper with only black, crumbly, ashes falling off to the basement floor. Mr. Katon would shut the valve off, curse and grab another newspaper to try again. Each time my Mother would say “Mr. Katon, please be careful” and I would squeeze up tighter to her. Finally Mr. Katon succeeded. The furnace gave out a great explosion and flames exited every crack and all around Mr. Katon’s head. My Mother and I stared anxiously until Mr. Katon turned to face us and all of the whiskers were gone from his face, it was black and what was left of hair was all curly and singed. Mr. Katon said “there you go Mrs. Dickson, call me if you have any more problems with it”. When he put his hat on to leave, most of his hair fell on the floor. As soon as he left my Mother and I roared endlessly at the plight of poor Mr. Kayton but from that moment on I was scared of the furnace because it had eaten most of Mr. Katon.

Little did I know that the basement would become my sanctuary and my friend. I would learn to box down there, throw knives, hone my marksmanship skills with first my BB gun and then my .22, build bombs [or so we thought], explore the worlds of chemistry and photography and get banned from the basement after I was accused of causing lightning to strike our house.

Wednesday, December 28, 2005

Medicine man

At 62 one tends to start having a few ailments. I didn’t have any that were very serious except some hypertension and I thought I had a going problem but my Dr said I had a growing problem. He told me to forget about it and we could worry about it later. Easy for him to say. He’s young. Then my little brother Gary’s wife Nancy called me to say he was in the hospital in Iowa undergoing a quadruple bypass following his last heart attack. “His last heart attack”. What the hell is she talking about. Gary is 10 years younger than I am and the perfect picture of health, when last I saw him, about 2 years ago in the Black Hills with his wife. They ate healthy, exercised, were trim, didn’t smoke. He and Nancy were climbing mountains and mountain biking for kicks. We were driving from place to place to meet them. It was true but Gary survived and is now doing just excellent. All of this sent me into a depression as I realized that My Grandfather had died of a heart attack, my father died of a heart attack as did my mother. Not good signs especially since I had hypertension and was now experiencing chest pains when I pushed myself very hard. Time to see the Doc. Its funny but when you call your Dr’s office for an appointment and say that you are experiencing chest pains, they get you right in. Gary the Dr. [he is really a PA] took my blood pressure, had the nurse give me an EKG and sent me home with Nitroglycerine pills, copies of my EKG and an appointment with a Cardiologists for the next day. The Cardiologists had his Nurse take my blood pressure, listened to me with his stethoscope, had another Nurse type give me an EKG [EKG #2]. He sent me on my way but with appointments at the local hospital for more tests. At the hospital I was to undergo “Nuclear Stress Tests”. This was a brand new procedure for this hospital and it was all going to be done in brand, new, sparkling facilities deep in the bowels of the hospital. Also know as the basement. I must say, upfront, that all of the people I came into contact with were extremely nice and polite. The service was 1st class. First I had my blood pressure taken and they left the cuff on for future use. Next came another EKG and then Nurse #1 attempted to find a vein and start an IV. The reader must remember that at this time I have already heard about stress tests from all of my, so called friends, have already assumed that I was soon to have a heart attack and this “stress” test was going to give it to me, and the room was cold. I think that everything on my body had shrunk as far as it could and there were no veins to be had. Nurse #1 tried hard to find a vein three times but to no avail. She hurt me each time which was further causing me stress. In came Nurse #2 to give it a go. Nurse #2 took away the bottle of Nitroglycerine pills that I was clutching in my hand and replaced them with a rubber ball, hung my arm over the table and stuck the needle in with success and no pain. Now it is time for the dreaded stress test. I now have an EKG machine hooked up to me, an IV and a blood pressure cuff and I start off walking on the treadmill. My Cardiologists puts down the magazine he had been reading and comes over to observe and as the walking gets harder and harder, I say to myself, in a sing songie type of voice “Nurses to the left of me, Nurses to the right of me and a Cardiologists right behind”. I go and go and I can’t go any further and holler “Uncle” [see note] and everyone panics. No one had remembered to tell me that I was to go as hard as I could and then tell them I couldn’t go anymore but I still had to go for one more minute and it was Very Important that I keep going for that extra minute [sounds really confusing]. Being I am the trooper that I am, I summoned up my superhuman residual strength and completed the test. During the last minute they were squirting some type of radioactive fluid in my veins via the IV and reading my blood pressure. Everyone was shouting “keep it up” “Don’t quit” “ only 35 more seconds” and I felt someone trying to rip my fingers loose from the handle grip but I was having a balance problem. I had a death grip on the bars but the Nurse taking my blood pressure needed for me to loosen up my grip so she could take my blood pressure. My death grip on the bars included the tube from my blood pressure cuff to her gauge. I relaxed and she pumped and all was well. Anyway the test was over and I reveled in the fact that I was still alive. Nurse #2 then helped me back to the table where everyone removed the electronics and tubes that were hooked up. She then announced that I was to leave and go have a greasy lunch [something to do with my gall bladder I think]. I immediately said “ a double quarter pounder with cheese OK”? When I came back I was put into some type of photo machine and then sent on my way. I quizzed the photographer [also know as Nurse #2] as to what was happening and she stated that the machine was recording the x-rays, I believe, that were given off by the radioactive liquid that had been given to me via the IV and moved forward into my veins and heart through the action of me eating a double quarter-pounder and cheese with fries. See those things are not always bad for your heart. The next day I went back and had more radioactive stuff put in my veins and then was sent out to have a greasy breakfast. 2 eggs, sausage, home fries and toast. Upon return I had more pictures taken. 2 days later I returned to my Cardiologist’s office and had another EKG [#4or #5] and a heart ultrasound. I was then asked where the results of all the tests were to be sent. I didn't have the foggiest idea so I just said “my regular doctor”. Apparently they didn't find anything bad because no one was interested anymore. No more money to be made I guess. My Cardiologist called me in last week and told me that I was OK and I should lose some weight and exercise more. Dr Phil told me that, on TV and it didn’t cost me anything. Wonder what an EKG costs now days? My test didn’t cost me anything except the cost of the two meals. The Dr. and the Nurses all got paid I’m sure but then so does Dr. Phil. I wonder who pays these people. God I’m almost dead, or so it seems sometimes, and I have still got all these questions about life. I really don’t think I am going to live long enough to get them all answered. I’m sending in the receipts for my meals to Blue Cross as they were a necessary part of the testing. Good luck you say?

note: In my youth, growing up in South Dakota, “Uncle” meant “I give up”.

Tuesday, December 27, 2005

The Black Hills

I am a 62 year old, white male, living in New England and I have a lot to say. This appears to be a great medium for that task and I thank Google for this free opportunity to express myself. I have found that I am a pretty good storyteller and I have 62 years worth of experiences to draw on. Harking back to my sea-going days, these tales were called “sea stories” and always were prefaced with the statement “This aint no shit”. The one thing that sailors have is a lot of free time on their hands, especially in the Submarine Service, and the free time is spent reading, eating, playing acey duecy and weaving elaborate stories with other sailors. Every one of those stories always started out “This ain’t no shit” and I intend on filling these pages with lots of “Sea Stories” in the coming weeks. I will change the names to protect the innocent whenever possible and keep the tales as true as recollection and 62 years of failing memory allows, however I may take a bit of “artistic liberty” from time to time.

. I grew up in the Black Hills of South Dakota and my first work was at my fathers sawmill and in the woods. That was all I knew, except for a brief stint pumping gas at a ‘Standard’ station when gas was .35 cents a gallon, Standard was a brand of Gas, Ethyl and Regular were types of gas and they were called Filling Stations. When you pulled in we gave you gas, checked your oil and water levels, checked your fan belt for cracks, washed your windows and if you wished we checked the tire pressure. Then I was off to the Navy for six years on Diesel and Nuclear Submarines, Vietnam and the Cold War. Since then I have been a Father, Fireman, Ambulance Attendant, Police Officer, Chief of Police, Deputy Sheriff, State Criminal Investigator, Builder, General Manager of a Gift Products company, General Contractor, Grandfather and now I am a Cemeterian. I also hold 3 college degree’s. WOW! No wonder I never made any money.

For those of you that have visited before and wondered where I went I must report “nowhere” except for a brief visit to The Black Hills of South Dakota for our Daughter’s wedding to Michael . We joined them, our Grandson Sam, The Grooms parents, who were our old friends Dale and Sig and a whole host of wedding guests, most of whom were also old friends. Ellen, Sam and Michael all joined together in blessed matrimony, on the South Dakota prairie, under an afternoon sun with Bear Butte as the backdrop. The South Dakota prairie was on Michaels Grandfathers ranch and Bear Butte is also called Mato Paha in the Lakota language and is a place of high religious significance. It couldn’t have been nicer to make a Mother and Father prouder.

My last attempts at blogging, with this blog title, taught me a lot and I am now ready to go on with newer and better things. According to the AARP Bulletin for Dec 05, “Only 0.3 percent of the Internet's estimated 53.4 million bloggers are age 50 or older, according to a recent study by Perseus, a Web survey firm, but their ranks—160,000 or so—are growing.” I am one of those 0.3 percent. Stay Tuned!

Mike and Ellen about 1 yr old