Monday, September 24, 2007

Hunting Season is around the corner

Since Zero Tolerance policies were implemented in our high school a couple of years ago, the principal has been making the following announcement in the school’s Daily News program:

“Now that hunting season is open: Just a reminder that possession of bows or guns on school grounds is a violation of school policy. Please do not bring them to school. I realize that many students may head directly out to their stands or the field after school; make time to stop and get your hunting gear at home or a friends after school. Thank you and good luck hunting!”

An essential part of growing up in these parts, more important than Girl Scouts, Boy Scouts, or attending Church, at least as far as I can tell, is going through gun training and getting your Firearm Safety Number. The kids in this area, both boys and girls, at the age of about 10 years old and forward, pile into the gun training class put on by the local gun club each fall. I used to teach religious education. During three weeks in September, my class would be practically empty because all the kids were in gun training, and that was much more important than their spiritual development. One time I called the instructor, when my son was in the class, to see if it was possible for him to miss the class, or make up the work; so that he could attend Religious Education (Catholics call it CCD). The instructor proceeded to lecture me on the importance of understanding firearm safety (including cleaning and maintaining a firearm) and then which would I rather choose, and so on and so forth. At the end of the conversation I realized the Harry would have to miss his CCD because the instructor had a major point.

There are more than several hunting seasons for firearms: fish, water fowl, pheasants, turkey, and buck only, buck and doe season. Buck season starts first, and then towards Thanksgiving it opens for buck and does. I am not exactly sure of all of them, or the exact rules and regulations, but I have observed that on the first day of any opener, our office empties out by more than half.

We have let certain people hunt on our land for years. Since my son acquired his firearm’s safety certificate; he now hunts with them. He loves hunting and he loves wild venison. I always pray the he doesn’t hit anything so I don’t have to deal with having to cook it. I am sorry. I just prefer getting my meat from supermarkets.

Our little town is affected as well. It is another sign of fall, the invasion of the men in orange. They come in truck loads. And then the signs appear on the Hardware Store, the Liquor store, the Gas Station all with the same message: "HUNTERS WELCOME" or “GET YOUR TAGS HERE. It is very popular.

What is the latest in hunter's fashion?

This is my family’s response to deer hunting. Oh ok, just the women then. Hunting season is on at Thanksgiving. Every other year or so, my entire family and their children will spend the holiday at our house here in Minnesota. We make them all wear orange when they are outside, as we are surrounded by fields and woods. Even though it is our property, and we warn our neighbors to stay out while they are here, we still need to be cautious.The one in black with the thermal glove worked into her hair is my older sister, and we call her Bambi La Doe. And yes, those are antlers.

Thursday, September 20, 2007

Conversation with the Dr.

The other day I went with my son to his dr. appointment. My son has an aortic aneurism (a complication of a bicuspid aortic valve) which forced him to quit all competitive collision / contact sports. Normally people have a three flap valve. My son has a two flap valve hence the bicuspid term. Sometimes this will lead to complications similar to what my son developed.

He played hockey, football and soccer; pretty much all his favorite activities, but no question, hockey was his favorite. The disease was diagnosed a couple of years ago. It was both very sad to discover, and difficult to transition our high energy athletic son to a different lifestyle with new interests. No matter, we consider ourselves fortunate to have stumbled onto it. Complications from this condition are the fifth most frequent cause of sudden death in young athletes on the field during sporting events. Most individuals are unaware that they have the condition as there are no symptoms. John Ritter, the actor, died when his aortic aneurysm burst, at least this is what I read at one time, I cannot say for sure that it is true. And, at the time I don’t believe he or anyone knew that he had this health risk.

We were always aware that my son had a heart murmur, and the doctors all said he would grow out of it, except that he never did. The heart murmur, long arms (possible marfans – President Abraham Lincoln was though to have Marfans), and a breathing episode during hockey, resulted in a recommendation to get an echocardiogram from our local doctor. My son had nothing wrong with his heart, but they discovered this out lying condition that they would only let our family doctor discuss with us. Now, my son has annual medical visits to check his cardiovascular system, along with regularly scheduled CT scans, and I am joking about starting a “heart” fund for future complications (valve replacement, periodic scans etc. at one grand a pop) at a time when my son is no longer covered under my insurance. Well, I guess I am sort of joking.

My son’s doctor (also my husband’s doctor) is a stereotypical small town doctor you see in movies or on TV. He gives discounted sports medical exams for the kids over the summer. He can do anything and knows everything as far as I am concerned. One time I stopped in his office for some reason, and the nurse went to get him and he comes out holding the snow shovel, saying “what, what? Does the sidewalk need clearing again?” They’ve since hired another male staff member, but at the time he was the only man in an office full of women and the sidewalk was his responsibility. On the occasions when he had to discuss our son’s condition with me or my son, there were tears in his eyes. He really cares a lot. And Harry and I have always joked about doctor visits in general, because he’ll take the time to tell you all the technical ins and outs of whatever condition you have, what he checks, why he checks, and so on. While it was great for this particular situation with his heart, for things like tetanus and other infectious diseases we would usually leave feeling far worse than we came in given all the gory details he provided.

So on this most recent visit we were talking about Harry’s senior year and I was complaining about all the solicitations by every branch of the armed forces, and how they were un-phased by Harry’s medical condition, and went even so far as to schedule visits to our home after Harry mentioned his condition to them.

The doctor began to explain that teenagers were vulnerable and made easy prey because of their ignorance and lack of experience. Teenagers do not realize that when they signed up for service, the government owned them and their bodies. He said that these young men could be court marshaled simply for getting hurt or sick to a point that they are not able to serve. Then he talked about WWI and foxholes.

There were high incidents of infection during WWI because there was a prevalence of uncircumcised men and the difficulties of keeping clean under conditions that existed in foxholes. For the next war, per the doctor, men were given shots, hair cuts and circumcised on the spot, and that this led to an increase in babies being circumcised, so that the next generations son’s would be able to avoid this if they were called into service. (I currently know at least one man who served in the Vietnam War and was not circumcised going in. It is an interesting story anyway. As a side note, there is a rise in un-circumcised boys again because insurance companies are defining it as a religious preference rather than a preventative health measure. )

The doctor talked about being a medical doctor in the armed forces, and some of the “tricks” the government played to encourage one to re-enlist. It was clear that he did not care for the armed forces and he was none too happy with how he or his patients during this period were treated while serving their country. That brought us to the current government. The good doctor did not disagree with my opinion on the war, nor the state of our government, though he did not add to it. And then I was on a roll against our current government policies. I feel we’ve lost twenty years on the fight for a cleaner environment, and with the changes in laws regarding terrorist activity; we are taking away the hard won rights of individuals. This country was settled by slaves, bonded servants and criminals (unfairly prosecuted no doubt) who had no rights in the countries they left. It is no wonder our constitution is based on the necessity of presumed innocence and certain inalienable rights, and this was all part of the declaration of independence. I also got a call from the State Troopers auxiliary or association or whatever it was last night. I told them I wouldn’t give them any more of my money because I’ve given them plenty (inference meaning traffic stops on state highways)! I’ll get off my soap box now.

Friday, September 14, 2007


I just finished reading a great book: “We Are All Welcome Here” by Elizabeth Berg. It is the story of a girl who is being raised by her mother Paige, a victim of polio, paralyzed from the neck down. It is a wonderful story that addresses many issues regarding human nature, growing up with a disabled parent (like my child and stepchildren), and how normal changes. I found it inspiring, and given my current situation I need inspiration.
There is a moment, toward the end of the book where the disabled mom, Paige, lectures the social worker for accusing her of taking advantage of her daughter to help with her daily care.

“Was it fair what happened to me? Of course not, but here I am. And let me put this the simplest way I can: if being paralyzed is my fate, helping to take care of me is my daughter’s.”

My son is obligated (as were John’s two stepchildren) to do more in our family than I suspect is required in most families. The difference now for my son is that John was much more able when he was younger, and provided more guidance to his older son and daughter and better emotional support. John has always done a lot of remodeling in basements, garages, you name it. Johnny used to help John wire electrical fans, do plumbing, carpentry and electrical work. Later, Harry helped John put up drywall, insulation and fertilize trees and they all did things like walk John places or do chores with him around the house and yard. Harry takes care of John’s meals and medicines when I am traveling on business trips or visiting family on over nights. There is very little that John can do independently, and with his strokes, that ability has been reduced further. The key, to our survival and his, is acceptance, on many levels.

And that reminds me of two movies that are absolutely my favorite in this regard. One is “My Left Foot” starring Daniel Day, and the other is “Regarding Henry” starring Harrison Ford and Annette Benning. What I loved about My Left Foot was again the family, and the way they accepted their son’s, brother’s disability. My favorite scene though, was where it showed the four boys sleeping in one bed, two up and two down. I just loved that.

What struck me most about Regarding Henry is how much Henry’s life changed, and what he lost. Regardless of how they portrayed it, he did lose a lot. The scene that stands out most in my mind in this movie was a cocktail party that Henry and his wife attended after he was back at home(long recuperation from brain damage after being shot in the head). The Hostess was making some comment about Henry and his disability to a group of her guests that was negative and condescending, and she was making a cruel joke at his expense. The wife overheard, and she let the hostess know she overheard, and then she and her husband left and that was it for the wife’s friendship to that woman I would guess.

When John was younger he talked to me more about what it was like to lose his sight (he lost his sight when he was thirty) and how his life changed. Before he lost his sight he was very active. He lifted weights, played pickup football on the weekends, golfed, tennis, repaired his cars, he loved to drive, painted his house, remodeling, gardened, you name it he did it all. He had lots of friends and was very social. When he lost his site he kept fairly active, and that was the only comment that he made to me that I remember regarding what life was like after he lost his sight. He said he lost a lot of friends. Having a disability can be very lonely and isolating, no matter what anybody says. He does not talk about it and he does not complain.

John retired from the phone company in 1998, after having had a mild stroke. He worked for at least 20 years with his disability, in Chicago, Maryland and Minnesota as an Account Executive. I think he did a pretty good job of accepting the change. He moved on. He made new friends and he has had a pretty good life so far considering.

Tuesday, September 4, 2007

Mud Flap

When Harry was young, every dog we had was bigger than he was. I realize now, this must have presented an impossible situation for him. In the country our dogs live chain free and loose out of doors. Harry was “hounded” the minute he walked out of the house, and as his mother, yours truly, I never quite understood that this could be a problem for him.

Mud Flap was our first dog. We’d just moved to Minnesota from Chicago. She was a four month old blue heeler; a very popular breed in these here parts, what with all the cows and cold weather. Blue heelers are skilled herders by nature. I watched her once move a group of Herefords into a tight knot and away from us when we were trying to feed them carrots over the fence. All most dogs would manage to do is upset and disarray and I’ve seen that happen with dogs too, but not with Mud Flap. She was short legged and compact, not weighing more than 50 pounds as an adult. At the time Harry was about three years old and maybe weighed more or less, nearly the same, but with less strength and less mass. Mud Flap would stand on two legs, press Harry up against the garage wall, give him a smooch and take whatever toy he had, which she did regularly. I remember dressing Harry to go outside. I would bundle him in his sweatshirt and windbreaker with a hood, and then on his signal, like a nurse handing the doctor scalpels on TV shows, I gave him his toys. He would have a toy under each arm and one or two in his hand. I’d open the door and out he went. Sometimes, the minute he was out the door I would hear milk curdling screams, and there would be the dog and Harry locked in a death grip on a toy. Harry was a screamer so I tended to ignore it, or ask him to lower his voice. Like talk about under reacting to something. The dog had a major chew fetish which he applied to all of Harry’s toys and some of our other things as well. So I discovered all the attributes and qualities of various types of tape from electrical, to hockey tape, to duct tape, in order to resuscitate Harry’s favorite play things, being that they were mostly plastic. Other stuff, like my leather gloves never survived. Ufdah, as they say in these here parts, the things we tolerate for a “family member”.

Mud Flap came to a very unfortunate end, but it wasn’t until a few days after the dog was gone, and I was preparing Harry for play outside, that I realized the true nature of their relationship. I had Harry bundled in his sweatshirt and windbreaker with a hood per usual, and on his signal, I began handing him his toys to tuck under each arm. I gave him the dog phone pull toy gift from my dad, (red electrical tape very cleverly wrapped around chewed sections of the phone handset), the dump truck under the next arm (duck tape around the joystick lever for operating the shovel), and then his shovel (black electrical tape all over). I could feel him stiffen with resolve as he faced the door and solemnly nod to me to let him outside. He was ready. And then I realized why the posture. “Harry, Mud Flap is dead.” Harry’s shoulders relaxed. His face visibly lightened. He loosened his hold on his toys. “Oh!” He had this sweetly pitched little three year old voice and a sing song inflection. “Mud Flap’s dead.” And that was it. He went outside. We had been going through this ritual for an entire season and it never dawned on me, till that moment, that I had been sending Harry out to battle everyday. I wonder if he’ll need therapy when he gets older. (The reason I say this is because I am afraid this isn’t the only thing I need to confess.)