February 2012, I drove to Chambersburg and picked up Nate and Kathy, then drove them to Pittsburg where Jeff was in the ICU in a coma. He had been suffering from pneumonia and working. Several days later he came out of the coma and survived only to die a year later on my 67th birthday, January 01, 2013. His life was complicated. He was a hard working man with a big, friendly personality. He never remarried after his divorce from Patty. They had two wonderful children together, Jessica and Justin.
In March, I was digging with a shovel creating a deck and enclosure for a new outdoor shower we had just installed. I was suddenly out of breath and felt chest pain. I sat for a while and when it passed I worked at a slower pace. Soon after that I scheduled an appointment with a cardiologist to run a stress test. I was only starting the test when the nurses stopped me and called in the doctor. He looked at the results on the screen and advised me to immediately go to the hospital for a cardiac catheterization to check for blockages in my arteries. Since I was a “tough guy” and had never been sick or used medication, everything suddenly seemed surreal. There was nothing physical that I would not tackle though I knew my age was starting to slow me down a bit. I had just read news stories of how doctors were inserting stents in patients just to get insurance money. One local doctor was losing his license to practice. My doctor assured me they were not doing unnecessary surgery. It was a Wednesday, Gwendolyn was working, and Friday I was expecting to work at school even though my students would not be in class because of year end testing. I discussed it with Gwendolyn that evening and told her I wasn’t ready to rush off to the hospital. I felt fine. That night I woke up with what seemed like shortness of breath and some feeling of tightness in my chest. I worried for a while and went back to sleep. In the morning I couldn’t get it off my mind and throughout the day I thought, maybe the doctor was right and maybe I was about to have a heart attack. It was on my mind all day as I worked. We talked a little more about it that evening. I was starting to feel anxious. When I went to bed it was clear I was heading into a full blown anxiety attack. If I slept at all it was fitful. All night long I felt what I thought were symptoms of an impending heart attack! I wondered if I should wake Gwendolyn and go to the hospital. I had visions of an ambulance in front of our house with the flashing red lights reflecting off the neighborhood houses up and down the street with our neighbors watching from their front porches and looking out their windows as the emergency paramedics carried me out on a stretcher. By the next morning, Friday, I was a sleep-deprived, out-of-control mess. When my general practitioner opened, I called, and Gwendolyn and I went to her office. She was unsympathetic and scoldingly said, “Why didn’t you do what the cardiologist recommended?” She had become my doctor by default when the doctor I had been with for years had committed suicide. I had not liked her much and at that moment I added her to my list of people to avoid and I never went back to her! From her office I went directly a few doors down to the cardiologist’s office. He was much more sympathetic and his sensitivity caused me to become emotional. Soon, I was in tears and was ready to do whatever. By that time Gwendolyn was also in tears. The Dr. said just sit tight for a few minutes. He left us in the examining room. Apparently, he made some calls to an associate at the Peninsula Regional Hospital. He came back into the room and said, “Don’t even go home, just go directly to the hospital in Salisbury.” I immediately started feeling better. On the way to the hospital I called the school and told them I could not come in and that I was on the way to the hospital but didn’t think it was cause for concern. Of course, they were concerned and fine with my absence. I got checked in at Peninsula Regional and a few hours later when I was in the operating room waiting for the doctor I was sleeping. They woke me to tell me they were ready to “put me to sleep” and we had a laugh. There was only a mild blockage in one artery which did not require a stent. It was difficult to access and was growing collateral vessels. I was prescribed some meds which I started taking. While I was more careful of physical stress, my life returned to normal. I had been smoking an occasional cigar and I ended that.
That summer we went to Asheville, NC and the Biltmore Estate. We stayed in a beautiful Hilton Hotel thanks in large part to Erik’s willingness to share his Hilton Points. We took a fun day-trip to Greenville, SC. Asheville was somewhat strange as it has become a “hippie” haven and quirky art and craft center. A highlight was a visit to the home of author Thomas Wolfe.
I designed and self-published a second book of photographs I titled, “Real/Surreal.” I wanted to archive some of the more conceptual work I had done. Again, I used “Blurb.com.”
We spent a weekend in Virginia Beach, which was kind of a bust. It rained some of the time. There was an arts and craft fair on the boardwalk which we did not expect or enjoy that much. Also, we did not find a restaurant we liked. It was still fun to do a weekend trip together.
Again in July, we went to Shepherdstown, WV to the Contemporary American Theatre Festival to see several shows.
On August 21, 2012, after several weeks of discussion with Richard, I suggested a price for my stock in the company. He accepted my resignation and purchased my stock. I had previously offered to sell my stock to Terrye who had been our principle employee for twenty-five years. She and her husband, Chuck, were about to purchase a house and so she declined my offer. Richard and I had one last meeting with staff and made an official announcement. We had been equal partners for 26 years. We had three employees at the time and everyone was there. It was surprisingly emotional. Richard handed me the check and I left. I drove to the local Tastee Freeze and ordered a milkshake. I had the same feeling that I have had a few times before. When I left high school, when my Dad bought the store back from me and when I was separated from Doris. It’s the feeling of something important being finished. Something that had become all consuming that is suddenly lifted. I felt my life changing. How will I spend my time?
I started working on paintings again. I began doing more writing, making lists and keeping a journal. I had started writing short haiku style poems putting current thoughts into 17 syllables, 5, 7 and 5. The haiku were functioning as a condensed journal. They reflected the mood and thoughts of the day they were written, so in addition to numbering each one, I noted the date each was written. I started in 2012 and by 2016, I had written well over 1,000. I also started doing volunteer work at the Ocean City Art League’s art center. My main activity at the art center was to head up a small group to hang shows. We also met with the staff and helped plan shows. The center featured new shows every month and we hung forty to sixty pieces. Later after Gwendolyn retired, she began volunteering there as well. A few years later I began to write short stories. The stories were in the “flash fiction” genre. My first stories were all under 1,000 words. During the summer of 2017 I wrote over fifty stories.
At Easter weekend in 2013 we met the Muthers in NYC. We stayed in Times Square and went to see “Stomp” at the Orpheum Theatre where the show opened in 1994. We went to the observation tower in the Empire State Building and on an open upper deck bus tour. The boys had fun playing in Central Park and Gwendolyn and I took them out to have their caricatures drawn by a street artist. They loved the Lego store in Rockefeller Center. On Sunday morning, Easter Day we had an egg hunt in our hotel room and went to brunch celebrating Nicole’s fortieth birthday. Then we walked to 5th Avenue and watched the people who were parading in costume. It was a wonderful weekend.
Doris’ Mother Beulah Cordell died suddenly on Christmas Eve that year. We were at Jack’s and had opened gifts with Jack, Deb, Kyle and Lauren. Courtney and Rachael would come later with their families. Later in the morning, Nicole called. After the boys told us about their Christmas morning, Nicole told Gwendolyn and me that Beulah had died on Christmas Eve. We went to the funeral on Sunday, the 29th. Doris and Nicole both spoke beautifully and with composure. Gwendolyn and I sat and wiped tears. Elizabeth Nottingham and Luci Cline were both there to support Doris. Ed was also there. Simon and Toby were sitting with Erik and Nicole and were quiet. Toby was a little restless during the sermon. At the reception, after the graveside ceremony, the man who preached the sermon came to our table to talk with me. He was someone that I knew in my teen years but would not have recognized (Darrell Baer). I had stood up when he came to the table and Toby was sitting next to me. When Darrell and I were about done chatting Toby turned and commented on the sermon, “You talked for a long time.” It was true and funny to hear Toby come out with it! Darrell just sort of smiled. Darrell told me he was a retired bishop and had been mentored by Doris’s Dad, Merle. It rained throughout the funeral and at the grave. Trish Cordell loaned us an umbrella and saved me from needing to run to the car for ours. Later, also at the reception, there was an open mike and a few people spoke. Toby went to the mike and said he especially liked his grandma because she made him things. He didn’t say it specifically but I think he was referring to her mac and cheese, his favorite! Beulah was a kind and creative person. She kept shelves of books, filled with cards and notes documenting family activities. She did ceramics with her own kiln in their basement and in the summers she kept a large flower garden. The flower garden had become a regional place of interest and she and Merle gave tours through the many beds of colorful flowers.
A few years before Beulah died, I took Gwendolyn, Jack and their sisters, Sue, Sandy and Polly to see the gardens. Merle and Beulah were happy to see us. Merle had been teaching himself to play the piano and organ. Sue played the piano and Merle played the organ and they proceeded to play through hymns that they both knew. After Doris and I separated in 1989, Beulah had continued to send me a Christmas card every year with a personal, handwritten note wishing me a happy birthday and noting their advancing age. I had always continued to send holiday cards to Merle and Beulah as well as Doris’ brothers and her sister.
Recently, Nicole told me that Merle had commented to her something that indicated that he recognized I had done well in making a life for myself. I was pleased that he said that to her because it indicated to me that he had seen some good in the outcome of the divorce.
In January 2014, we took Sparky to the vet again. We decided to have him euthanized. It was a difficult decision. He was becoming completely incapacitated and he was suffering. He was only eating and drinking a little and laying in one spot only to get up to come to the kitchen to pick at his food. His back legs were wobbly and he had lost so much weight he was skin and bones. He was nearly 18 years old. He had been a good cat for us! He was a very small kitten when Gwendolyn’s students found him abandoned at school and he was a skeleton then! We had nursed him to health.
Later that year Pete Seeger died. He was 94. I had admired his work in politics, social and environmental issues. He had the courage to speak out.
I began to wonder if the rest of my life was going to be about death?