Saturday, December 20, 2014

Remembering Dad by Writing About the Things He Said

Sometimes the best way to express my feelings is to quote my father.

"I'm in pretty good shape, considering the shape I'm in."

"If you're going to do it, do it right."

"Always leave a campsite in better shape than it was when you arrived."

I'd start out with, "Well, like my daddy says . . . " or "My dad says it this way . . . "

Now that Dad has passed away, those moments when I remember how he phrased his thoughts have an extra dimension. I'm not only expressing an idea in a manner that reflects my past; I'm also celebrating and honoring that past. It's a good feeling, an expression of continuity and also of evolution.

I am not my father, nor was my father his, yet there is a connection. Depending on the clarity of our thinking and the purity of our lives, we have the option to take from our family heritage, to nurture the growth of our family tree, to prune, to feed and water, to bring light to our daily living.

Quoting my dad or my mom is a way of honoring that past from which I have come. It's a way of reminding myself of who my dad was and of who I am.

It's like my dad would say, "Where you are is just one step away from where you've been."

Copyright 2014 by Thomas L. Kepler, all rights reserved

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Book Review: S.M. Stirling's The Given Sacrifice

S.M. Stirling's novels of the Change are an interesting blend of sociology, medieval and pre-industrial history, and alternative reality speculative fiction. The Given Sacrifice ends the saga of the second generation of history after the Change, when "the lights went out" and electricity and internal combustion engines (and a few other inventions) stop working when a few specific laws of nature decide to start working differently. 

The Given Sacrifice, the 10th novel, does a good job of ending this "Generation 2" cycle of the Change series. The novel is written in two parts. The first completes the epic struggles and battles of the newly formed kingdom of Montival against the "Cutters." It is the story of Rudi MacKenzie and his generation of "Changlings." This part of the novel is a war on several fronts, and the conflicts of the earlier novels weave together to a satisfying, lance-sword-and-arrow bloodifying climax. Part 2 provides a long denouement where each faction and group of significant lesser characters are seen moving toward the fulfillment of their cultural and personal desires. This may seem overmuch, but after seven books of sighs and articulations of what peacetime will be like, it is fulfilling to see closure. Besides, after the multiple endings of The Lord of the Rings, a "what's happening in the kingdom now" ending is canonical tradition.

Of course, the title The Given Sacrifice provides a clear prophesy of what's going to happen to poor old Rudi, King Artos I. This is no spoiler. He's told several times in earlier novels about his early sacrifice for his people and country, he recollects aloud this several times in the novel, and--by golly--Artos and Stirling (and the gods or Powers) aren't just jerking our chain. The appeal of the ending isn't the unexpected turn of events; its Stirling's ability to provide detail to create both stirring action and authentic pathos that makes the ending worthy of seven books' worth of build-up.

And, incidentally, we are introduced to Princess Orlaith, Rudi's eldest child, and beckoned through Stirling's keyboard to the adventures of Generation 3 of the Change, introduced by the novel The Golden Princess, already available for purchase. The saga continues!

Copyright 2014 by Thomas L. Kepler, all rights reserved

Sunday, December 7, 2014

There's No Place Like Home

Mom has lived in the same mobile home for thirty years. She know her home like the back of her hand . . . or maybe even better.

With macular degeneration, she is legally blind and can see only shapes before her and some detail from her peripheral vision. She is deaf in one ear and has 12% hearing in the other--boosted to perhaps 25% by her hearing aid. She uses her hands and memory a lot. My brother and I always make sure we put things back to exactly where they were if we use something.

I don't know what it would be like if Mom moved into a retirement home. She'd have to start all over in an unfamiliar environment. She'd be less independent. She'd have less to do. Mom cleans now, knows where the vacuum is. She wipes the table and counters, washes some dishes. She washes and dresses herself. She makes herself peanut butter and crackers or an ice cream cone. She's a pretty spunky, independent lady.

She says, "You've got to keep moving. If you sit down, you'll never get up."

I think being at home is what makes Mom more independent. My brother stays with her and does a great deal to help, but he always leaves Mom something to do. It's part of her daily routine. When I come to visit, I use more pots and pans than Mom and my brother do; they use the microwave a lot. I suspect that when I leave, Mom washes the pots and pans again to make sure they're clean--and that's okay.

We go shopping, and the flat floors of the supermarkets let her get some good exercise as long as she holds onto the cart or onto my arm. She needs vacuum bags and I bring her a pack of three. She sends me back for another pack. We go to the hair stylist, and Mom makes sure she gets the senior discount. She amazes my cousin, whom she hasn't seen in over twenty years, by remembering her birthday.

A great deal of Mom's active life is centered around her familiar environment. My dad passed away recently after a year in a nursing home. Part of Mom's routine was to visit regularly. She always came home, though, and always had her cleaning to do. Home is her safe haven.

"I do a lot by touch," she says, and that includes cubing the spuds we've cooked to make potato salad and cutting up the cantaloupe that we buy on our trip to the store. Sure, I have to eat around some green spots from the cantaloupe rind, but that's an insignificant price to pay for providing my mom a sense of place and purpose.

There's no place like home. It's where we belong, where we feel safe. As my dad used to say, it's where you can scratch where it itches. It's where Mom as much as possible continues to live the life she's always led--and that continuity is important.

Copyright 2014 by Thomas L. Kepler, all rights reserved

Thursday, December 4, 2014

My Dad Never Forgot Mom, Even with Alzheimer's

In the time before my dad passed away, he said he was "tired and going home." Often he wouldn't remember where home was and asked where Mom was living, to reassure himself that he had it right in his head.

When Dad said he was going home, did he mean home where Mom lives, or did he mean Home, going through the pearly gates? You know, I don't think it really matters or makes any difference.

My wife has been traveling for a week, visiting family, and I have been doing a good job of being efficient at work, of eating well and keeping the house clean, of generally keeping it together. Yet behind that checklist efficiency is a sense of just waiting, of biding time until we are together again. Then I'll really start living again.

I guess that's what marriage means, a unity. True, physical proximity shouldn't be absolutely necessary, but the whole idea of marriage, it seems to be, has something to do with physical proximity. Not being together makes this more clear to me. We learn this as kids. As we grow older, we don't buy a winter coat and then leave it on the hanger when we go outside in January. There's a certain congruity.

The importance of establishing a sense of unity is central to us all. I think it's why so many snapshots are taken--a desire to establish some enduring connection with geography, people, and experience. It's why Dorothy clicked her red shoes together and said, "There's no place like home." It's why Vladimir and Estragon wait and wait for a guy named Godot. It's why when my dad was in the nursing home, his most frequent question was "when am I going home?"

We want to be in that place where we belong, where we are "in the know" and accepted. We don't want to be a stranger . . . especially in a strange land. We want unity. We are conscious atoms with atavistic memories of the Unified Field. My parents were married and together sixty-eight years. That definitely created a gravity well in the fabric of time and space, an attraction, an aching in the bones.

I'm heading to the airport now to bring my wife home. It is altogether fitting and proper that I do this. But, in a larger sense (and thank you, Abe), we will be recollecting our unity, reaffirming our unity, and maybe just enjoying the pedestrian pleasure of being together. Our small universe is expanding, and the infinite universe is collapsing upon itself. If it's not one thing, it's the other, or more likely it's only one thing, individual and cosmic, husband married to wife, duality become One, and pretty darn happy about the whole situation.

Copyright 2014 by Thomas L. Kepler

Sunday, November 30, 2014

Another Day Out with Mom #4: Mom and Dad Dancing

A few times when I was young, I remember Mom and Dad dancing, the big band music swinging and Mom and Dad at one with the beat.

I remember how, hold hands, they would swing back with the beat, away from one another, and then pull and come close again with the beat. A little to the side, a spin, they were elegant while we kids watched, somewhat aghast and somewhat amazed. It was obvious that they had danced together many times and that their bodies were remembering the old times, the old dances, the old sounds. They were smiling slightly, competent and confident in their dance skills.

Dad, I remember, had this look on his face--satisfaction at a job done well, pleasure at how well things were going. In this case, the dancing. He had worn that expression before and would again in the future. It was how his face would settle around the pleasure of listening to a car engine purr its idle after he'd tuned it and adjusted the carburetor. It was the expression he'd assume while before a Little League game he'd do infield warm-up and the team was looking good, scooping up the grounders and firing them to first base. It was Dad's small smile of success.

Mom told me about World War II and how everyone worked together, sharing rides to save gas, helping with the rationing of food and cloth, having a garden in the back yard. Sure, there were conscientious objectors, but even they found ways to help if they could and still honor their principles. There was this sense of unity, Mom said, a willingness to give something up for the greater good that crossed many American boundaries, especially generations--grandparents, parents, and children agreeing on an idea and acting together. It was like a nation dancing to the same tune; toes were sometimes stepped on and some weren't with the beat, but it would be inaccurate to say everyone wasn't in some way caught up by the music.

Out of that war experience came the "modern" era--fragmentation, isolation, cynicism. We stopped dancing together or danced as my generation did, facing one another but not touching. That was the great gift to my parents, that expression on their faces as they danced, that remembrance of the moves they made together, that tactile reassurance that they could swing away and would come back together, on the beat.

I want to say I envy my parents, but that would be too bathetic, proving the idea beyond redemption. My generation--our generation--has to find its own unity, its own common ground, our own music. Then we can dance to the tune we know and remember, our hearts one, that look on our face, a small satisfaction at having done something well.

We are our parents' children, mother and father of our children. Long live the Dance and its swinging beat, a rhythm much like the beating of our hearts.


Copyright 2014 by Thomas L. Kepler, all rights reserved