Since I was a child, my favorite color has been blue.
The color of my eyes and my mom’s and dad’s and sisters’.
The color of the sky at midday.
The color of some of my favorite clothes, although not jeans, which I never learned to like wearing.
I still like blue. I’m wearing it today.
But today, thinking of blue makes me think of how I’m feeling.
Most of my #SoCS posts in recent weeks have been giving updates about my father, who is struggling to recover from falls, broken bones, infections, and we aren’t totally sure what else, while dealing with dementia and the wear and tear of ninety-six years.
I am doing everything I can to keep him as comfortable and content as possible and he is doing much better than he was ten days ago. We finally have the rest of his things in his skilled nursing/rehab room.
His Irish-themed banner and plaque are on his door, which makes it easier for him to find his room in the hall of similar-looking doorways. We finally got a temporary phone number working, although he needs help to answer calls and we aren’t sure if he can re-learn how to dial.
It’s just hard for me not to feel blue. As much as I understand that this is just the journey we have been given in this last period of his life and that we are doing everything we can for him, I can’t help but feel sad.
All the time.
It’s hardest when I am with him, although I have a really good game face and manage to be cheerful – or seem cheerful – when I am interacting with Paco. He is sleeping quite a bit, which is probably good. Most of the time, he isn’t really aware of how much he has forgotten, so he is not blue, which is a blessing.
Here in the US, we are facing another wave of COVID. I think it is considered our fourth wave, but that has become pretty hard to define over the many months of the pandemic. What is different this time is that this wave is almost exclusively confined to the unvaccinated population, at least in terms of serious illness, hospitalizations, and mortality.
In New York State, where I live, the Northeast in general, and a few other states with high vaccination rates, you are seeing case numbers climb somewhat, largely because the delta variant is causing more breakthrough infections among the vaccinated, but you aren’t seeing extreme impacts on hospitals being overwhelmed and lots of serious illness and deaths.
In states like Missouri and Mississippi, with low vaccination rates, we are seeing conditions that look like the early days of the pandemic in New York, with hospitals overflowing with very sick patients, more than they have space, equipment, and personnel to handle. While in the first-wave, most of the very ill were elderly, now we are seeing that most of the very ill are younger adults. Even in these low-vaccination-rate states, the elderly are the ones most likely to have been vaccinated, so they are less impacted by this current wave, even with the delta variant making up a larger and larger share of infections.
As people who read Top of JC’s Mind from time to time may recall, I, spouse B, and daughter T are all part of the Phase III trial of the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine. B and T both were in the original vaccine group and were vaccinated last August. They are now both enrolled in the follow-on study of booster shots and their efficacy. Like the original study, it is double-blind, so neither the participants nor the researchers know who received the actual booster and who received the placebo injection.
However, B and T are both having side effects similar to their other doses of the vaccine, so we are pretty sure that they got real booster shots, not placebos. For the record, last August, I got placebo shots. When the study was unmasked after the emergency use authorization was approved, I was offered the real vaccine, which I got in February. I remain in the study as part of the design to follow participants for at least two years. I don’t know if I might, in the future, wind up participating in a follow-on study for boosters as well. It will depend on how the results of the booster study that B and T are now in play out and whether more data is needed. It’s also possible that Pfizer may re-formulate in response to current and future variants and need a pool of test subjects for that. My family will continue to participate as long as we can be of use to help advance the science and protect public health.
It is so very sad to know how many people are suffering from COVID, especially now that we do have good vaccines available. I’m sad for people in countries or regions that don’t have access to the vaccine. I’m upset that there are so many who do have access but still remain unvaccinated, often because of misinformation about COVID and about the vaccines. Choosing to remain unvaccinated doesn’t just impact the individual’s health if they get infected. It also impacts public health, giving the virus more opportunities to mutate and create new variants. It also can spread the virus to others, which is especially dangerous if those people are also unvaccinated. Sadly, we are seeing an increase in hospitalizations of children, who aren’t yet eligible for vaccination, and teens, who are eligible but still have low vaccination rates in many states. Earlier this week, the state of Tennessee announced that it is ending all vaccine outreach to teens. It would be bad enough if this was just COVID vaccine but they are also ending outreach for other vaccines, like TDaP, HPV, hepatitis, and MMR boosters.
Please, everyone, remember that we are still in a pandemic – and will be until we can get COVID under control globally. If you have access to vaccines, please take them for your own good and for the good of others. Everyone needs to be vigilant to following public health and infection prevention measures recommended by public health professionals in your region.
COVID doesn’t care about your political views or whether or not you believe it exists. It is a virus that is just looking for a host to make it possible for it to replicate as many copies of itself as possible. If you are infected, you might be lucky and have mild symptoms, but you could pass it on to someone who might become seriously ill or even die. Or you might be unlucky and become seriously ill or die yourself.
I have long said that hope is the virtue that I struggle with.
Or maybe it is that I struggle with the intersection of hope and reality.
I do try to keep my hopes realistic, not veering off into fantasy, but lately, it seems, even my realistic hopes get dashed on a regular basis.
On a personal level, my biggest struggle to maintain hope has been with my father’s health condition after a fall four weeks ago. I keep hoping that the medical team will be able to figure out what is causing his increased confusion, disorientation, and fatigue, so that we can make him more comfortable, but we don’t seem to be able to. I am not hoping for a miracle. Paco is 96 and has several underlying health conditions. I know the time we have left with him is limited. I just want to help make things as comfortable and stress-free as possible. I didn’t think this was an unrealistic hope, but perhaps it is.
Even with this personal struggle, there is always an awareness of what is going around us here in the US. I had hoped that, with several effective vaccines widely available, we could tamp down the pandemic, including the newer and more contagious variants. Instead, we are seeing some areas with very low vaccination rates experiencing spikes in COVID cases. Another realistic hope dashed.
Equally or perhaps even more alarming is the increasingly bizarre behavior of the Republican party. I had hoped that, after what even Republican election officials knew was a fair election, and especially after the horror of the January 6th insurrection and attack on the Capitol, the Republicans would fulfill their Constitutional duties and govern, at this point as the minority party. But they are not. In states that have a Republican legislature, especially if there is a Republican governor, too, we are seeing rafts of legislation that try to suppress votes of people who are less likely to choose Republican candidates. This isn’t just another dashed hope. It feels dystopian.
Of course, some hopes are more mundane. I had hoped to get an SoCS post written before I fell asleep and I have managed that.
When I saw that Linda’s prompt for Stream of Consciousness Saturday this week was “up/down”, I knew that I needed to write a follow-up to last week’s SoCS in which I talked about my father (Paco) and his recent fall, hospitalization, and move to a rehab facility.
When I wrote last Saturday, it seemed that, though there was a long way to go, things were trending up.
Everything changed on Sunday when new complications arose. For various reasons, I will not even attempt to elaborate.
Let’s just say it has been a very “down” week.
We are working hard at untangling a mass of symptoms and trying to keep him safe and comfortable, but it’s an uphill battle. I know he is 96 and so, very vulnerable and prone to complicating factors but it is still so hard to deal with.
And to watch.
I know intellectually that I am doing all that is possible for me to help him and his care team, but my heart aches because I can’t make it better.
We have no idea what the outcome will be. It’s not just one day at a time, which is Paco’s favorite saying. It’s one hour at a time. One moment. One more early morning phone call telling me that he fell again during the night.
There are up moments here and there. When Paco easily remembers my name. When he gets to enjoy a slice of blueberry pie for dessert at lunch. When he manages to make a little joke with his aides.
I had planned to go to vigil mass today at a friend’s church, but was too tired to make the drive, so I went to a nearby church instead. I was blessed to see Sister A. there. She had been one of the stalwart visitors during my mother’s final illness, a span that stretched over two years. Because of the pandemic and other circumstances, I had not seen her in months. I was able to fill her in on Paco’s condition and she assured me that she has been lifting him up in prayer.
After such a “down” week, that assurance was a much-needed balm.
One of the changes with the rules in New York State and with my father’s assisted living home is that I can now sign him out and take him for a drive. Previously, I could only take him to medical appointments.
My father, who is known here as Paco, loved to drive. He drove quite a bit when he worked for New England Power Company for 43 years and, given that our town was twenty miles from a grocery store, other stores, our grandparents and other relatives, the movie theater, and just about anything else that wasn’t work-related, he drove quite a bit on evenings and weekends, too. (My mom also drove, especially taking us to piano lessons and my sister’s dance lessons, but, if the five of us were going somewhere together, Paco always drove.)
In those days, it wasn’t unusual to “go for a drive” as a form of recreation. Given that we lived in the Massachusetts/Vermont border area, there was beautiful scenery in any direction you chose to drive. And hills. And what to us was normal but in retrospect were narrow, winding, and largely unmarked roads. It didn’t matter. Paco was used to it and was a very good driver with a very good sense of direction.
Paco had said that he would stop driving when he turned 90. That turned out to be not quite true. I think he stopped when he was 92. By then, my mother was entering her final battle with congestive heart failure and Paco was staying with her in their apartment nearly all the time. Their senior community offered transportation for the occasional trip to the grocery store or for medical appointments and I was nearby and there every day and could drive for errands or deliver things to them. They decided to sell their car and Paco replaced his driver’s license with an official state ID.
The IDs have a longer renewal term than driver’s licenses do, so his current ID is good until he is 103. He’s currently 96. He says he doesn’t think he will make it to 100.
Paco is famous among family for always saying “One day at a time.”
Yesterday, when I read that Linda’s prompt for Stream of Consciousness Saturday this week was “yarn,” the very first thing I thought of was my friend Merrill Oliver Douglas’s chapbook Parking Meters into Mermaids. The title poem is about yarn bombing. For someone who may not be familiar with the term, yarn bombing is when someone puts yarn, usually knitted, on unusual objects, like parking meters, or tree trunks, or lampposts. It’s a fun and quirky form of public art.
Things have been pretty quiet here at Top of JC’s Mind for the past few days because I was back in North Adams on a solo writing retreat to work on my poetry collection.
I’m happy to report that I have the bulk of the manuscript assembled, including a few pieces that I wrote this week. There is only one blank page with just a title; I’m hoping to get that poem written and integrated into the manuscript over the holiday weekend. I also need to write a foreword and a notes and acknowledgements section at the end. When I have the draft complete, I will ask my local poetry circle, the Grapevine Group, to do a group review/critique for me, with the goal of having it ready to submit by mid-July.
This collection has been in development for a looooong time. In November, 2015, I took a leap of faith and applied to attend a week-long workshop/residency at the Massachusetts Museum of Contemporary Art, a collaboration between The Studios at MASS MoCA, which had, at the time, only been in operation for a few weeks, and Tupelo Press under the direction of Jeffrey Levine. I was accepted, even though I was a relatively new poet at that point. Had it not been in that particular place, I would not have even applied, but I grew up in the North Adams area and had hopes that a chapbook might grow out of the experience, given the intersection of my personal and family history with the current, very different reality there. Case in point: MASS MoCA occupies the complex that housed Sprague Electric when I was growing up but that started out as Arnold Print Works that made textiles. (If you are interested in how the week went, you can check my blog archive for Nov. 2015, as I blogged every day of the residency.)
Short version of the story is that I was in way over my head, but was saved from going under by my fellow poets. We all bonded so well that we have returned to MASS MoCA every year (except for 2020 due to the pandemic) for a reunion residency as the Boiler House Poets Collective.
So, two things happened to my initial idea of writing a chapbook about my family and the North Adams area. I realized pretty quickly that a chapbook would be too short, so it would need to be a collection. Also, life intervened in the form of a long and ongoing period of inter-generational caregiving, which made the time required to devote myself to the project scarce.
There have been two other attempts at this collection, both of which failed miserably in review. I learned a lot from the failures – at least, I hope I have – and this new iteration of the manuscript has a (I hope) more compelling focus.
We’ll see how manuscript review goes…
There are over fifty poems in the collection and over seventy pages, so there is room for cuts if needed. Most publishers expect collections to be between fifty and one hundred pages, so there is some space for adjustment.
While members of the Grapevine Group have seen a lot of the individual poems, this will be the first time they have seen the manuscript. The two prior iterations of the collection were with Boiler House Poets Collective, back before Grapevine started doing manuscript reviews within the group. The exception is my friend Jessica, who is a member of both groups. It will be especially interesting to see her reaction to this newest iteration.
After Grapevine review and edits, I may see if any other BHPC poets want to weigh in – or maybe even before, if any of them are especially keen on the concept/subject to my begging/gluttons for punishment/very bored.
At any rate, come mid-summer, I’m hoping to start doing submissions with the collection. Then, in the fall and winter, the rejections will start rolling in, where they can join the growing list of rejections for my chapbook manuscript in my submission database.
Eventually, one of them may make it into print. The chapbook has been both a semi-finalist and finalist in contests. So, someday?
This version of the collection is definitely stronger than the two prior attempts. So, maybe, someday?
If it happens, you will definitely be able to read about it at Top of JC’s Mind, which will probably be around even though it is cheugy. I just learned that word…
Or, if the chapbook or collection gets accepted for publication, you may just be able to hear me scream, even if you are not close by. 😉
It’s spring in my hemisphere so signs of new growth are everywhere.
The lawn is growing. There are new flowers blooming in turn. We are excited to see the new landscaping we had put in last fall growing. Because most of the plants are new to us, it’s fun to see how they put out new shoots and when. Some have already flowered, along with our old standbys like bleeding hearts. We are especially pleased that the ferns that were re-located in the project are coming back strong, unfurling from their fiddlehead phase.
The most important growth we are observing this spring, though, is coming over our computer screens. As some of you may recall, we have yet to meet our granddaughter JG in person. She was born during the pandemic in the UK, so we aren’t able to travel there yet.
She is now nine months old and growing up quickly. She has three teeth in with more ready to break through. She is anxious to walk and can already manage to toddle along holding with just one hand. Soon, she will be off on her own. (She doesn’t care for the whole crawling thing.)
What is most endearing is that we can now see more of her personality coming through over our computer. She has grown enough to be curious about these figures on the screen who talk directly to her. We can engage in conversations where we react to her baby-babbles. She can lock eyes with us. We can even play peek-a-boo with her.
Her mom calls us Nana and Grandpa and Auntie T. As we look forward to that blessed but currently unknown day, we wonder if our screen visits will translate into JG “knowing” us when we see her in person for the first time.
We hope she will grow to love us, even from afar, as we love her.
To my immediate left is a throw on the back of the couch which features carousel horses.
Here in Broome County NY, carousels are part of our identity. Back in the early part of the twentieth century, one of the important sources of jobs for immigrants and for people already established here was the shoe company named Endicott-Johnson for its founders. They also gave their names to two of the villages, Endicott and Johnson City, that with the City of Binghamton make up the Triple Cities of Broome County. I’m sure everyone is excited to learn this local geography!
The Endicott and Johnson families wanted their employees and their families to have a good quality of life, so they paid them fairly and helped with home ownership, as well as innovations like providing health care and pensions. They also invested in creating recreation opportunities, which brings us to carousels.
The families installed carousels in six public parks scattered around the area. Because they didn’t want anyone to be deprived of a ride, part of the stipulation of the gift was that they would always be free to ride. And because one of the founders recalled the disappointment of getting onto a carousel but being on a stationary horse, all the horses on these carousels are “jumpers” which means they go up and down as well as ’round and ’round.
Most of the figures on the carousels are horses, but some also have a couple of other animals included, such as a dog or boar. Most of the carousels also include chariots to accommodate babes-in-arms or anyone who can’t climb up onto a horse.
When my daughters were young, we spent many hours at the various carousels. They traditionally open Memorial Day weekend and close after Labor Day weekend. I admit that I also love to ride carousels and we would see many other adults there, too. Sometimes, bridal parties will even make stops at the carousels to take photos. My favorite visitors would be elders who grew up in the area but then had moved away; they would come to take a ride and tell stories of how it had been visiting the carousels when they were young.
In our photo albums, we have a succession of years of photos of E and T visiting the carousels. It was a privilege when granddaughter ABC was living with us to introduce her to the carousels, too. It won’t be this summer, but maybe next it will be safe to travel and we’ll get to bring ABC and her little sister JG to the carousels for a ride. We’ll take photos with our phones that they can look at when they return home to the UK and remember.