Monday, November 18, 2013

DR. LUCHS UP HICKORY CREEK



During their final years our adoptive parents could have continued to live in their home in Athens, Ohio, had Father been willing to accept a daytime housekeeper who would cook the evening meal, keep the house clean and pick up and do the laundry.  He chased a series of housekeepers away and thus spent his final years in a modern but soulless assisted care facility.  Mother, on the other hand, continued to live in their house in Wonder Hills and when that was no longer possible, she asked to be moved into a small apartment.  In her last year Janey created a bedroom suite for her in Janey’s home.  

 
                                    Father is off to Hickory Creek

          When mom and dad, our adoptive parents in Children of the Manse, reached their mid-80’s, my sister Janey hired housekeepers that would come in each day to pick up and clean the house, do the grocery shopping, and prepare an evening meal.  Dad chased them all away, insisting that he and mom could take care of themselves, thank you.  What that meant in effect was that mom would take care of him, responding as she had all their lives together to his many needs, real and imagined.   For years she had said from time to time, “He’s killing me by inches,” but she complained little though it was obvious to Janey, the only one of us who lived in Athens at that time, that his demands were in fact slowly killing Mother.  But he was king, like King Lear, and the discussion ended there.    
          On Palm Sunday in l990 Dad had a bad fall and was taken to O’Bleness Hospital in Athens.  About the same time Janey discovered his abuse of prescription drugs was worse than she had thought.  His behavior was becoming ever more erratic.  In anger he had grabbed the steering wheel of a granddaughter’s car in which Janey and mom were also riding and almost drove the entire family off the Richland Avenue Bridge.   The psychologist and the psychiatrist at O’Bleness recommended he be placed in Hickory Creek, a new assisted living facility in a village called The Plains near Athens.  After a few weeks at Hickory Creek medical personnel there recommended he be sent to Harding, the Ohio State University medical center in Columbus, for a full psychiatric evaluation.  He was at Harding for over a month.  The doctors there concluded he should be placed permanently under medical supervision in an assisted care facility.  One of their observations did not surprise us.  “This patient is the most manipulative human being we have ever evaluated.” 
          Mom chose a new assisted care facility she liked down along the Ohio River near Pomeroy but once the staff there read the Harding evaluation, they declined to take him.  He hated leaving home, hated going into an institution, and we hated having to place him there.  He was particularly hard on Janey, always his favorite child, who he blamed for his commitment to Hickory Creek. He began calling her Big Mouth in his belief she had spilled the beans about his prescription drug abuse and talked authorities into sending him to Hickory Creek in the first place.  It was as if he was King Lear, driving away his favorite daughter as Lear drove away Cordelia.  At other times he told Janey, “The only reason I am going there is because I love you.”  All this was unfair because Janey, as the only one of us living in Athens at that time, had to take the initiatives we all agreed were necessary.
Dad continued to resist staying in Hickory Creek.  No wonder.  It was a sterile, charmless place that looked more like a newly built hospital clinic than anything else.  But, to borrow a line he sometimes used on us, “He brought it on himself.”   Even so it was sad that the view from dad’s room window in the Hickory Creek facility was bleak in a county with some of the most scenic landscapes of wooded hills and open fields in North America. He knew his Shakespeare and some times, like King Lear, he ranted against his fate.  He managed to run away twice.  Once he hid in a house of a couple he had known for years until the hospital staff discovered his whereabouts and brought him back.  I felt sorry for him during my first visit to Hickory Creek while on home leave from Australia.  He seemed too active, too alert, too capable, and too young to be in a place where many of the residents had lost some or most of their capacities to function in life.  It hurt to see that he could no longer enjoy the splendid west-looking view he had had of Athens County hills from his back porch at home. 
          Unhappy as he was, he continued to distinguish himself in his new environment. Even in a place that had to depress him he found the means of continuing the ministry to others that he had exercised all his adult life. He worked at organizing singing groups so that the residents would have something to do.  He read to those unable to read for themselves.  He led non-denominational religious services and a prayer group. 

Weeks after he arrived the director, an attractive woman in her late 30s, told Janey. 

“You know, Janey, our work days here were mostly boring until your father arrived.  Now the staff can’t wait to get to work to see what he has been up to.” 
          What he was up to was doing everything possible to escape Hickory Creek.  He called judges he knew, he called prominent lawyers.  He wanted them to legally force his family and Hickory Creek to release him.  He called a psychologist, a former drinking buddy, who called mom to berate her for having put him there.   
There were other developments.  The moderate hypochondria he suffered as a man in his middle years had advanced to the point that he was calling a dozen different doctors a day with one symptom or another he feared signaled his imminent demise.  These were doctors long established in Athens.  He called newly arrived doctors who had not yet been told about his campaigns to obtain prescription drugs.  Most doctors eventually instructed their nurses to take no more calls from the Reverend Fred E. Luchs.
The doctor who suffered most from his barrage of telephone calls was his personal physician. Finally, after repeated frustrations and doing violence to his medical ethics, his doctor also instructed his nurse and his family to take no more calls from Dr. Luchs that were not clearly emergencies.

So one day dad called his doctor’s residence and said:

“Good afternoon. This is Dr. Luchs.  Is my doctor there, please?”   

The doctor’s son answered the phone. 

“This is Matthew, Dr. Luchs. Is this an emergency?” 

“Well, no it’s not actually an emergency but I need to talk with your father.”

“Well, my Dad has told me not to take any more of your calls unless they are emergencies.”

  A day later dad called his doctor’s office again and, told he was not there, again called his residence.  The son again answered the phone.

Dad cupped his hand over the receiver to distort his voice and said,
“This is Dr. Maxwell, calling to speak to your father.” 

“I’m sorry, doctor, but you will have to call again.  Dad is up on the roof doing repairs and told me not to take any phone calls that are not emergencies.”

Not to be stymied, the Dr. Fred E. Luchs told a whopper.

“Look, son.  You must tell him this needs his immediate attention.  This is an EMERGENCY.

So the son ran out of the house, shouted up to his father who climbed the long distance down the extension ladder he was using and, somewhat annoyed, went to the phone. 

“Hello, Mac.  This is John.  What’s up?”

“Good afternoon, doctor, this is Doctor Luchs.” 

“Doctor Luchs?? Dr. Fred Luchs???  You are not Mac Maxwell?”

“Well….. no…. but you see…..

“You impersonated a doctor?!!”  You, a clergyman, impersonated a doctor?  
His doctor’s blood pressure was rising rapidly.    

“Well, you wouldn’t have come down off the roof to speak to me otherwise, would you?”

His doctor slammed down the phone receiver on its cradle!  He raced to his car and drove at 50 miles per hour on hilly, winding county roads to Hickory Creek.  He ran through the front door, ran down the hall and ran towards dad’s room, second on the right side, without saying hello to the nurse on duty.  He ran into Dad’s room, grabbed the wall phone next to Dad’s bed and with one mighty pull, yanked it out of the wall.

“There,” he said, spanking his hands against each other.  “That will you fix you.  No more phone calls!” 

He stopped at the nurse’s station as he left to write in dad’s chart: “Do not under any circumstances have the phone in Dr. Luchs room repaired. His telephone privileges are suspended indefinitely.” Then he scratched part of that out and wrote, “No.  They are cancelled forever!  And he is not to be permitted to use any other phone in this facility!”    
Days later Dr. Luchs, formerly the pastor of First Presbyterian in Athens and other pulpits, went from house to house ringing door bells in the Plains with his hand out begging for “a little spare change, in quarters if you have them.”  He told a sad story of his family having refused to give him any money for an occasional candy bar or even basic necessities such as shaving lotion and a razor – pointing to his four day beard.  In no time at all he managed to collect over five dollars in quarters.   He headed directly to the pay phone installed a short distance from the entrance of Hickory Creek and made his first call to yet another doctor.  He was back in business!
As he aged dad’s antics became ever more bizarre.  One morning the supreme master of the attention getting mechanism decided to lie naked on his back in bed.  He refused to put on any clothes or cover himself with a sheet.

The director of Hickory Creek called Janey.

“Janey we have a problem with your father this morning. We need your help.  He is refusing to dress.  He is lying naked in his bed.  No one on the staff will enter your dad’s room.”   So Janey drove out to The Plains and persuaded him to put on some clothing.
          Each time I visited him on trips from abroad and Washington, DC, he seemed older and after two years, he began to look like most of the other residents.  Then, in his 90th year, two months after his 89th birthday, on Memorial Day, 1993, he died.  The doctors said the damage to his lungs from tuberculosis as a young man was what killed him. 

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

THE DEATH OF MARK



When readers of Children of the Manse asked me how the four of us, adopted as children from an orphanage, had turned out I would think immediately of Mark, second in birth order, and wonder how I could ever write that story.  Well, it’s done and I have also written a sequel, “Reactions to the Death of Mark.” It seems to me that one of the saddest realities in life and the hardest to accept is the unfulfilled promise of the young.  Mark’s early death turned our lives upside down.  None of us would ever view life or our own lives in the same way again.

 
MARK’S STORY

          My brother Mark, only 15 months younger than I, was the sibling to which I was most attached.  Perhaps that was because of all we had been through together in our biological family and at the orphanage before we were adopted at ages seven and eight by the Luchs.  Perhaps it was because Mark and I were in the same unit at the orphanage while I was rarely permitted to be with Janey and Michael. And surely it was because we were so close in age.  Mark was more solidly built than I and by age 10 was taller.  Mark loved the crunching of bodies in our school ground football games at Rufus Putnam and always voted to play tackle while I voted to play touch.  My favorite sport was basketball, a game of finesse in those days.  Mark liked the rough and tumble of football.    
Some years later, after Mark persuaded me to try out for the Los Alamos High School football team ---I was already on the Los Alamos varsity basketball team --- I liked that we ended up on the line together, he, number 36 at left tackle, I, number 46 at left end.  He was a better football player than I was.  He did most of the heavy work moving bodies out of the way on our offensive line and he made most of the tackles on the left side of the line on defense.  He was elected co-captain of the team at the end of his junior year.
A few months later Dad accepted an offer from the First Congregational Church in Evanston, Illinois.  Mark, disappointed he would not be able to play another year for Los Alamos, left early for Evanston to join the football team there.  He almost immediately earned a position on the starting varsity eleven, the first senior-year transfer in the history of Evanston High School to do so.  Suburban high schools north of Chicago typically enrolled ten times as many students as did Los Alamos High School and Evanston High School played in a much tougher league than Los Alamos. The athletes were bigger and Mark, playing on the line as a guard at 175 pounds, was 50 pounds lighter than most other linemen in Evanston’s league. 
In the fall of l953 he described the Evanston football program in a letter to dad, who was still in Los Alamos.     

“We started out with two practices a day, each lasting 2 ½ hours.  The boys here are big.  The two boys I am competing against weigh 230 and 250 lbs.  They use the two platoon system.  I am playing first string defense and second string offense.  But I’m on my way to first string offense, too.”   He finished the letter with “Tell Coach Cox (his Los Alamos coach) that there would be nothing I’d like better than to play in Los Alamos this year.”
It was in Evanston that Mark took his first hard blows.  In the Oak Park game he lay on the field unconscious for a few minutes, then stood up in a daze, and lined up as if he was playing with the Oak Park team.  The Evanston coach pulled him out of the game.  But then, not five minutes later, the coach sent him back in to play.  Mark suffered two concussions while playing for Evanston.   He began to have terrific headaches which he relieved with ever larger doses of Empirin.  You could wonder why Dad did not try to stop Mark’s football career then.  Dad’s only nephew, Richard Amacher, spent weeks in a hospital recovering from a damaged kidney injured during a high school football game and barely survived to become a professor of English and concert violinist.  I guess it was because having to stop playing football would have broken Mark’s heart. 
Mark accepted a football scholarship to Ohio University in Athens, Ohio, the old home town, in l954.  He played on the freshman team and was identified as one of the four outstanding players that year.  Football, academics, and the need for money were the themes of his letters home that year. 

“We lost our game to Miami (University of Oxford, Ohio) 36 to 19 because we gave away our usual amount of fumbles and blocked punts…I have a calcium deposit on my left arm and my right shoulder is kinda banged up.”  “I am still playing first string and liking it very much….I don’t have much of a social life because of all my studies but I still like it.”    

          He suffered two more concussions that year, one on the field, the other when a roommate, trying to wake him, pulled him out of bed and banged his head on the concrete floor.  Shortly after that he had his first seizure.   Mark’s state of mind is evident in a letter he sent home in the autumn of l954.  The letter begins by announcing he has pledged Delta Tau Delta. 

”I am very happy with my choice….we have a very large pledge class.  I never saw so much talent in one group of boys in my life.”

But then the tone of his letter turns somber.

 “Dr. Hudson got those tests back from Columbus.  I don’t know too much about them except they are not normal…Dr. Hudson wants to do some more research on the case …It’s no fun to have someone tell you that your tests didn’t come out normal and that you will have to take some more tests.  Also, that you may not be able to play football….”

“I haven’t said anything about all this crazy testing, but if he doesn’t let me play football there’s going to be trouble.  The minute I don’t show up for football I will lose my scholarship…I know this doesn’t sound very much like me, but when I don’t feel any different than I did before I had this so-called seizure, it’s very hard for me to cooperate.”     

In a later letter he writes in response to the news that Mom will have to have a disc removed to relieve her back pain.   

“I am going over to the medical center Monday to find out the results of my skull x-rays.  They will probably find it cracked and send me across the river (to the state mental hospital in Athens).  Man, I never had to put up with so much nonsense in all my life.  Mother, when I get home, we can lament together.  If you see an atomic bomb explosion coming from this way in the near future, you know that the Dr. has said I cannot play football.  I would rather be in your pants than in mine.  I do not know what is going to happen to me.” 

          Ohio University took the view that the seizure was the result of the concussions he had suffered in Evanston and withdrew his scholarship.  In looking through records and interviewing biological family members, one burning question on my mind was, did epilepsy exist in our biological family?  I found no evidence that it did.  We know much more about concussions and seizures as a result of football injuries than we did in the 1950s.   Mark’s seizure was almost surely the result of repeated concussions.

          Football was Mark’s life.  His dream was to play football through college and eventually become a football coach.  After the seizure he was put on anti-seizure medicine and told not to drink alcohol or coffee or stay up late at night.  He felt lost and aimless.  He began a difficult period of reassessment and adjustment.

          Next to football Mark’s first love was music.  He played the piano, read music easily, and had a fine voice which he had used over the years in church choirs and school choruses. He sang the only vocal solo, Del Riego’s “Homing,” at his junior high school promotion exercises. 

          After graduating from Evanston High School in the summer of 1954 Mark attended the University of Michigan sponsored music camp at Interlochen.  He was in four choirs and a madrigal group, and earned eight hours of credit taking voice lessons and enrolling in a University of Michigan course in music theory.  “We are doing the Messiah, Bach’s B Minor Mass, the Brahms Requiem, and some other stuff,” he wrote. Of the madrigal group he wrote, “We have learned 33 pieces of music in the last two weeks.”  He concluded one letter with, “We are all having a great time and working very hard.” 

          One letter discussed a visit by his current Evanston girlfriend, Liz Chapman, and he issued invitations to all members of the family to visit and hear the Interlochen groups sing.  “We are as good as any professionals,” he writes.  Also in the camp that summer was Bob Kingsbury, a charming southerner and favorite of the Evanston high students who participated in Bob’s choral and orchestral programs. Mark writes, “Tell Mike to work on his voice and violin because Kingsbury wants to see him in orchestra and Master singers next year.” 

          But even during the intense musical summer at Interlochen his mind was very much on the upcoming football season at Ohio University. “I should weigh 180 in the next couple of days but I can’t gain the weight I would like because they don’t feed me enough…I am keeping up my exercises and am on a good training program. I’m in great shape.” 

          After Mark had to give up football he enrolled at Northwestern University where he earned a bachelor’s degree in music with a specialty in conducting.  He then spent a year teaching and leading the high school choruses of St. Clairsville, Ohio.  His senior chorus competed at the state level and received an “excellent” rating.  The school was deeply disappointed when he announced he was resigning to return for a graduate degree and offered him a paid assistant football coaching job to add to his music teaching as an additional inducement.  But the following year he enrolled in the graduate music program of the University of Michigan, this time majoring in music theory and composition. He chose Michigan because he wanted to study under the then composer-in-residence, Paul Cooper.  During these years he had no more seizures. 

          Some months after enrolling at Michigan his eye was caught by a blond student accompanist, a young woman from Iowa.  He asked her if she would play a choral composition he had just written. When he returned home that evening he told Mom, “I have just seen the woman I am going to marry.  Her name is Joan.” 

          He asked Joan out.  She turned him down.  Weeks later he asked her out again.  Again she turned him down.  He tried a third time with the same result.  Then, a month or so later, he said to Mother. 

“I am going to give her one more chance.  If she turns me down again, I will give up.”

          He asked her out a fourth time.  She accepted, they began dating, and were soon engaged to marry.  Dad’s diary contains a quote from the period when Mark was building an apartment in the basement of the family home in Ann Arbor.

“I marvel at his aptness in handling tools and knowledge of building.  What a marvelous girl he is marrying!” 

Another diary entry recorded on September 7, l960.  “Mark marries Friday – a most lovely and unusual girl.” 

          Dad officiated at the marriage of Mark and Joan in the first Congregational Church in Ann Arbor and they moved into the basement apartment Mark had built.   Both continued their academic programs to earn master’s degrees. 

          After the incident at Ohio University Mark had no seizures for five years.  But not because he was following doctors’ orders.  He drank coffee regularly, sometimes drank alcohol, and often stayed up late to study, all unwise behaviors.  He continued to have severe headaches for which he took large doses of Empirin.  Then, because he had had no seizures, he stopped taking his prescribed medication, Dilanthan.  Weeks later, he had a seizure during which he fell on the concrete basement apartment floor and broke his arm. 

          Late in the morning of Tuesday, March 27, l962, Mark told Mom he was tired and wanted to sleep for an hour before conducting a rehearsal of a choral group at the university.  He complained of a splitting headache.  He asked if she had something to help him sleep.  She suggested he look for something in the medicine cabinet on the second floor in the master bedroom.    

          When Mark failed to show up to conduct a rehearsal of a choral group at the school of music in which Joan was the accompanist, she returned to the house at once because missing a rehearsal was so unlike Mark.  It was early afternoon.  She found the door to the sitting room locked.  She knocked.  There was no answer. 

          She called to him, “Mark, Mark, are you there?”  No answer.  She became frantic.  She shouted Mark, Mark!  Still no answer.  Desperate, she ran outside the house, broke the half window of the basement room and crawled through the window.  There Mark was, lying on his side turned away from her on a couch as if asleep.  She shook him, “Mark!, Mark!  She pulled him toward her and then administered CPR.  He did not respond.  He did not move.  In horror Joan realized that Mark was dead. 

          Mother found Joanie on the front lawn crying hysterically.  She managed to say to Mother, “Mark is dead!  Mark is dead!” 

            Mark died between noon and 2:00 P.M. on Tuesday, March 27, l962.  On the turntable was the Passacaglia of Anton Webern, an Austrian composer in which he had developed a passionate interest.    

REACTIONS TO THE DEATH OF MARK



I recently met a college roommate of my wife.  We spent a delightful two days with her and her husband in Ashland, Oregon, the city of Shakespeare.  They adopted two children, one a boy of eight, the age I was when adopted with my three siblings from a county children’s home in southern Ohio.  Their son died at age 29 of lymphoma, leaving a wife and child. When my wife asked how her college friend was coping with his death ten years later, she said, “It seems like yesterday and it seems like forever.”  If anyone still doubts the depth of love in adoptive relationships, I share my adoptive family’s reaction to the death of my brother Mark in this sequel to Children of the Manse. 

                    FATHER’S REACTION TO MARK’S DEATH

I have to admit I resented Dad’s parading his own grief, which no doubt was genuine, while Mom and I and Janey and Michael mourned Mark in silence.  Even when faced with death Dad could not resist working to be the center of everyone’s attention.  He rose to Shakespearean heights in the eternal curse he pronounced on Tuesday, the week day of Mark’s death.  He planned Mark’s funeral without consulting Mark’s brothers and sister.  At that point I wasn’t sure I wanted Mark to be cremated. It seemed too sudden, too much of a shock to reduce him to a box of ashes so quickly.  It was done before we could ask for a few days delay.  
Two weeks after Mark’s death Dad was well into a sermon when his mind went blank.  He stood silently in the pulpit while the congregation waited, wondering.  After a few minutes he said, “I don’t feel well.  Let’s sing the final hymn.”  Mother noticed that the next day he walked with a stiff arm and dragged his right leg.  He had had his first stroke.      

                                        MOTHER’S REACTION

Mother grieved in silence as we did, trying to console Mark’s wife, Joan, and being helpful to all.   Shortly after the funeral she and Dad went with another couple to a restaurant near the University of Michigan campus.  Students near Mark’s age at the other tables were laughing and having a good time as students normally do.  Atypically and irrationally, Mother said out of their hearing, “How can you be so insensitive, so inconsiderate?  Don’t you know that my son Mark has just died?”  A few weeks later Joan found Mom at her desk staring blankly into space.   She asked, “Where am I?  What am I doing here?”    She was suffering transient global amnesia, a reaction to the shock of Mark’s death.             



                                        JANEY’S REACTION

“After Gus (her husband) walked into our bedroom and told me Mark was dead, I went into denial.  All the way back on the flight from Missouri to Ann Arbor I looked out at the clouds, crying and asking, “Mark, where are you?  Where are you?” I was not yet able to accept that what Gus had told me was true.  When the plane landed at Willow Run I saw the four of you waiting together, Mom, Dad, Michael, and you, and then I knew it was true.  Mark was dead.” 
“After Mark died I cried every night for over a year.  It was physical.  I felt my heart had been ripped out.  I dreamed of Mark every night. I could not let him go.  I hated God.  Then God disappeared.  I could no longer believe in the God I had grown up with.  I feared others close to me would die.  When would the next blow come?” I asked.  I became determined never to love anyone so much again.  Gus tired of my crying.   Mark’s death put pressure on our marriage and contributed to the divorce two years later.”     
I remarried eventually, this time a man I was not in love with but who was economically secure.  He was a brilliant young lawyer, the son of a federal judge.  I made it clear I did not love him before we married but he wanted to marry me anyway.   
A few years after Mark’s death Julie (her daughter) and I moved into the basement apartment where Joanie and Mark had lived.  Julie was three years old.  One morning she told me a man had come into the apartment the night before.  He had, she said, sat there, pointing to a cedar chest near the entrance to the apartment.  I asked her to describe the man.  She described Mark.   She had never seen Mark alive.   

                                        MICHAEL’S REACTION
Michael was in army intelligence, stationed in Burlington, Vermont, when Mark died.    
“When Mother called me to say that Mark had died I went immediately into shock.  I was overwhelmed.  My reaction was raw and physical.  I did not sleep at all that first night.  I was simply unable to digest what Mother had told me, that Mark was dead.”  
“I immediately applied for and was granted 10 days of emergency leave.  I remember the day I flew out of Burlington was the first warm day of spring. The sun was bright, which annoyed me.  I more or less got through the next few days by rote.  I don’t remember much from that period.”
When Michael returned to Burlington he coped with his grief through extreme physical activity.
“I did calisthenics at every opportunity during the day and long runs of up to 10 miles at night.  I had developed a bad smoking habit and became determined to quit.  I focused intently on my work, which involved a lot of driving alone around upper New England.”.
“I began taking risks and I did not hold back.   I began looking for a motorcycle, the biggest and most powerful I could afford.  I had never been on a motorcycle before.  When I finally found the right one, the man who sold it to me said, “I don’t know that I want to be responsible for selling you this motorcycle.”  I rode thousands of miles at high speeds over many hours without a helmet, eating up the time to forget. 
“I met and spent time with the Tuppen family that had recently come down from Canada.  The father, Jack, liked to walk through the house reciting Shakespeare.  Through the Tuppens I met Ivonne, a British nurse, and began dating her.  We rode my motorcycle together.  She had also lost a brother, in her case to a motorcycle accident, and that gave us an additional bond.  It was crazy. The worst was there was nothing I could do to bring Mark back.  I could do nothing to change the fact of Mark’s death. I felt utterly helpless.” 
The undiagnosed panic attacks Michael had suffered from childhood became more severe.  When they came Ivonne, a nurse, rushed him off to the emergency unit in the local hospital, thinking he was suffering a heart attack.  Michael rarely drank alcohol before Mark’s death.  He did not frequent bars with army buddies.  But he found that alcohol eased the panic attacks and his grief and he began drinking.   

                             
                                        LEWIS’ REACTION

Mother’s phone call announcing Mark’s death was so shocking I remember well the details today.  I will never forget her words:

"I hate to do this to you, Lewis, but your brother Mark is dead."

From deep within me I cried out loud, “No!  No, Mother!” My mind whirled out of control.  I was disoriented. I could hardly speak.

          After Mother’s call I began the six hour drive around Chicago to Gary, Indiana and on through Kalamazoo and Battle Creek to Ann Arbor.  It was a cold clear night. I drove, often in tears, feeling that something had been physically torn right out of my heart.  What I remember most during that long ride besides crying wildly was looking up at the starry sky and shouting, “Mark!  Mark!  Where are you?!!!  Where are you?!!! Where have you gone?”   
          I thought of nothing but Mark on that long drive.  I reviewed many scenes in our lives together as I drove through the moonlit night.  The challenges we had overcome. I found I could bring his presence back in my mind but I could not, as I wanted, fix the images of him to gaze upon.   I tried to remember every detail of the time I had last seen him so I could carry that memory within me forever.  He was sitting in the kitchen of the apartment he had built.  He was sitting with his back to the wall in a chair at the kitchen table.  He was drinking coffee.  He wore a red Pendleton plaid shirt unbuttoned over a white T-shirt.  
          The memories flow backed as I drove on and other images flashed before me.  Of Mark in our Los Alamos green and gold high school football uniforms.  Of his wedding pictures with Joan.  
The other memory that does not fade at all after so many years is returning to our home in Ann Arbor after a long walk alone.  I could hear his wife in the basement, mourning.  She was moaning and only stopped to cry, "Oh, Mark, Oh, Mark, Oh, Mark."  Her words shattered me.  It was the saddest voice I had ever heard.  I will never forget the crying of his young widow.  Later Joan said to Janey, “I so wanted to have his child! Oh, why couldn’t I have had his child!”                    
          For months I shut out the world. I seemed to be abandoned again as I was as a five-year-old abandoned to an orphanage.  But this time my abandoner was God.  I was angry with God.  I felt God had betrayed me.    
The day after the funeral the March weather in Ann Arbor warmed a little and spring began to appear.  Easter was still a week or so away.   I heard birds, including some early arriving migrants singing their morning chorus.  They were the signs of continuing life that I heard but rejected.  I was with my brother in death. I could not understand how everything went on as usual, just as if nothing had happened.  Self-indulgently I wanted to cry out, “Don’t you realize that everything has changed, that nothing can be the same again?  Mark is dead!”   Why didn’t the world end?  How could they smile?  Who is next?  Who else will I lose?  When?  Tomorrow?  Next month?  Next year? 
Death was not a matter of being adopted by new parents or of surviving serious illnesses. I could not do anything about death.  Death was the universe’s big NO to whatever hopes and dreams I had. No cry of our hearts, no moaning of our souls, no amount of effort or willing or praying or pleading can change the fact of death.    
At first I tried to believe that I could continue with my cheaply purchased faith in God.  But when I admitted that that faith would no longer do, I faced years of painful soul-searching reflection.  I went into my inner desert alone and for a long time to re-think my life before the wound began to heal and any relationship to God began to be possible, and when years later it was, it was not at all as before.  I no longer was an innocent believing I had any right to be protected from the worst in life. 
  

Thursday, August 15, 2013

BRUSHES WITH DEATH



ACCIDENTS ON PUTNAM HILL, AT THE HOTEL BERRY, AND A MURDER AT THE SPOT CAFE

Tragedy and death were ever ready to threaten the happy and secure life we were given in the manse.  The following piece describes three events from our childhood in Athens that are still vivid in my memory many years later.   


                                    A TRAGIC WINTER ACCIDENT

When we had a good snow of three inches or more we would go to school early to sled down East Union, the street that ran along the 104 steps of the stairwell we descended and ascended daily to reach the front doors of our elementary school, Rufus Putnam.  At that time we called that section of East Union “Putnam Hill.”  I remember it being as steep as a ski run and about 60 yards long.  
Because it was so steep, East Union was closed to car traffic with two large heavy white sawhorses as soon as snow began to accumulate on the dark red brick street. The saw horses spanned the entire width of the street and took two men to lift off a truck and move in place.  The cross pieces of the sawhorses were low enough that we had to keep our heads down flat against our sleds as we sped under the saw horse at the bottom of the hill.  Then we would slow down at the end of the run by dragging one foot behind our sled during the last, flat part of the ride.       
The snow storm that had come in the night was still blowing on the morning of the accident.  I remember the hiss of the snow and how the large white flakes melted against my cheeks as I stood among a group of a half dozen boys, all of us waiting our turn to descend the hill.  We could see each other’s white puffs of breath as we boasted excitedly of the great runs we were making and lifted our tongues to the sky to taste the falling snow.  Next to me was a neighbor and classmate, Marshall, son of the dean of the university’s College of Fine Arts.  We had already made half a dozen runs down the hill that morning with the snow, still falling, pelting our faces.  The street was now packed enough by the runners of our sleds that we were making excellent runs at high speed. 
We had time for one more go before school began.  Marshall, the dean’s son, went first.  He took two or three steps, grasped his sled in both his gloved hands, dropped to the now rapidly descending street and disappeared into the dim silence of the falling snow.  
After waiting a few seconds I followed him, dropped my sled to the street and immediately felt the cold air and snow on my face as my sled quickly gained momentum as it sped down the hill. The wet flakes battered my face and I could just make out the snowy street rushing up towards me in the dim early morning winter light.  I could hear the sled's runners gliding quickly over the snow and, halfway down, I was excited to think this would be my fastest run of the morning. 
At the bottom of the hill, seconds before I was to pass under the sawhorse barrier, a boy's voice shouted “Marshall!!”  Then I heard a loud thud.  Because my head was down tight against my sled to avoid hitting the barrier I saw nothing.  Only when I completed the run and was walking back towards the hill did I see three teachers gathered around Marshall, who was lying on his back in the snow.  His head had crashed with full force against the cross piece of the barrier.  He had lifted his head automatically in a reflexive response to the calling of his name. 
Someone had run into the principal's office to call an ambulance and another teacher was shooing curious children into the school.  I tried to stay but the teachers told me to go inside as well.   Marshall looked dead.  His face was a strange pale green and his head was bleeding.  He was not moving at all.   I saw a teacher wrapping a white towel around his head to staunch the bleeding wound.   It seemed to take forever for the ambulance to arrive.  We went inside but could watch from the big window in the stairwell where we could also hear the siren of the approaching ambulance.  Miss Dunham, the 6th grade teacher, barked at us to go to our classrooms.
Marshall underwent a series of brain operations in Columbus, 75 miles to the northwest of Athens and once almost died because an intern gave him the wrong medication.  He eventually did recover but he never returned to Rufus Putnam and Putnam Hill was forever closed to sledding after the accident.

                                    A DEATH AT THE HOTEL BERRY
 
            Since we lived next door to a funeral home we were certainly aware of the reality of death.  But those who were brought to the funeral home were elderly people such as Grandfather Coulter, who died at the end of long lives.  Death among the young was a rare event.  There were only two or three notable exceptions that came to our attention during our eight Athens years in our nearly deathless world. 
            When the north facing window of the bedroom I shared with my brother Mark was open, we could hear the music of dance bands on Saturday nights at the Hotel Berry. We were old enough to enjoy the ballroom music of the l940s and to wonder what it would be like to attend such grand events.  Eventually we would, despite ourselves, fall asleep. 
          The Hotel Berry was the logical choice for the annual dance for graduating Ohio University seniors and their families and friends.  Among the graduates was a young couple that planned to marry the following week.   Happy, excited, and drinking, some of the students began running up and down the wrought iron fire escape steps at the back of the hotel which faced into our back yard.  What the celebrating students did not realize is that the steps ended where a vertical ladder fell directly to a concrete well that surrounded the foundation of the hotel.   The about-to-be bride, followed by her groom, danced merrily down the unlighted fire escape and fell over the iron rod at the bottom of the fire escape.  As she fell, the young woman’s head struck a corner of the concrete well.   I awoke to the ensuing commotion as the police and an ambulance from the fire station a block from the hotel arrived on the scene.  None of this could I see from our window.  I had no idea why so much noise should be coming from the back of the Hotel Berry, turned over and went back to sleep.   
          The next morning, a Sunday, we learned at church that the young woman had died.  Curious, Mark and I walked to the north side of the back of our yard to where the four-story fire escape ended and a vertical ladder descended almost to the bottom of the concrete well.  It was still dark when she was removed to an ambulance, which is probably why Mark found a bloody lock of her dark brown hair attached to a white piece of skin.  I recoiled when I saw it and watched in disbelief as Mark kneeled down to study the lock for a few minutes.  Then he picked it up and took it with him as we left.  He ignored my disapproval.
  
                       Murder at the Spot Café
 
          I recall one murder near us. The Spot Café was a coffee shop on the northwest corner of Court and West Union streets, only two blocks from the manse.  On a Saturday evening the murderer, a man from the county, had fired through the plate glass window of the café from the Court Street sidewalk.  The bullet killed his estranged wife who was sitting there on a stool enjoying the company of another man.
          We read about the murder early Sunday morning in the “Messenger” and it was the topic of the morning in Sunday school.  As soon as the church service ended Mark and I walked down Court Street to the cafe.  The window with the bullet hole in it had not yet been replaced.  The hole was about a half inch wide, was almost perfectly round and had a small rim of clouded glass around it where the bullet had burst through the glass.  Our gaze shifted to the stools in the cafe, trying to line up the bullet hole with one of the stools, as we wondered where the murdered woman was sitting and where the bullet probably entered her body.  Some adults came by, with the same curious interest we had, and we drifted back up the street, half ashamed of our morbid interest in a murder scene. 

                            
                             


    

Sunday, August 11, 2013

MY FIRST BICYCLE



        Road cycling is the recreational passion of my adult life.  But like many children who spend time in an orphanage and are adopted as older children, I came to most things later than most boys my age.  I was ten years old before I could ride a bicycle.  But when the desire to ride a bike came it arrived almost overnight and was impossible to contain.  My legs were growing long at age 10 and fairly ached to pump pedals and feel breezes on my face. One Sunday we visited a family with children our ages that had a junior sized bike that was easy to mount and I wobbled across their lawn on it two or three times that afternoon.  The following morning, a Monday, I became obsessed with wanting a bike. 
          I persuaded my brother Mark to go with me to visit White's Bike Shop on North Court Street in Athens.  The first new bikes were arriving after WW II during which bicycles, like automobiles, were not manufactured at all.   Mr. White had on the floor new bicycles made in Shelby, Ohio.  These shiny Shelby bikes came painted in various patriotic combinations of red, white and blue.  In l946 there were many commercial reminders of our World War II victory, such as the V for victory hood ornament on new Chevrolet automobiles.
          I immediately fell in love with one bike on that first visit to White’s bike shop.  It was red--- my favorite color---with blue and white trim.  I thought I had never seen such a beautiful machine in all my life, and nothing on wheels, not even a car, not even the costly road bikes I have owned as an adult, matched the thrill I felt in just looking at that Shelby bike.  The red, white and blue paint was brilliant; the chromium-coated handle bars shimmered and were decked out with black rubber grips.   I was excited by the aroma of new paint on metal and lubricant on the spotless chain.  Not a speck of dust violated the crisp bright newness of the bike I had already chosen as my own.  I ran my hands over the smoothly painted fenders, the black leather seat, and the frame.  I inspected the chain; I scratched the treads of the tires with my fingernails.
          I fantasized about my new love, imagining myself riding up to a group of my peers at school, all admiring me on my new bike.  The bike would make easy the endless trips to the post office to buy pages of three cent first class letter stamps or to mail bundles of father’s letters and book packages and other errands and chores.  A new bike would make it possible to ride quickly to the state hospital grounds to fish in the lakes there.  Mr. White did not have to say a word to sell me that bike.  I sold myself.  Within hours I had a dozen reasons I needed that bike.  Overwhelmed with desire for the bike and seized by the moment, I wanted that bike more than anything I had ever wanted before -- more than carpentry tools, more than a chemistry set.
I was soon at the point I would have sold my soul to the devil for that bike.  But I didn’t think I would have to offer up my soul.  All I had to do was put $37.50 (over $400 today) cash in the hand of Mr. White and he would let me have the bike.  That seemed almost as difficult as giving the devil my soul.
          "Well," Mother said, as I leaned across the kitchen table, moving my hands and arms to help me describe the bike I had just seen. "You have a savings bond.  I guess we could cash that.  It isn’t fully matured but that would give you almost $25.00."  “Yeah!”  I had forgotten all about the bond.  "And I can mow lawns this summer."  At 25 to 50 cents a lawn that was a lot of mowing.  But at that moment I would have agreed to mow all the lawns in the city of Athens to have that bicycle.
          The pressure I applied was irresistible.  I wore mom down and she agreed to help by loaning me the additional money I would need to purchase the bike.  We went to a bank on Court Street to cash the war bond, she gave me the additional money and I ran all the way to Mr. White's shop, all the while worried that someone else had come in to buy my bicycle. 

"Don't let that happen!  Don't let that happen!” I shouted silently as I ran down South Court Street.

          I arrived out of breath and looked around frantically for my bicycle.  After a moment of panic, I saw it, in a line, side by side, with three or four other new bikes.  I told Mr. White I had the money.  He checked the bike over, looked at me and then at my legs and lowered the seat and seat post as far as they would go and retightened them.  He took my money and wheeled the bike into my hands.  I could not ride the bike home.  I did not know how.  I had never ridden a full-sized bike, had no idea how I was going to get my leg over the top tube, and would barely be able to reach the tops of the  pedals with the seat as low as it could go.  In any case busy commercial Court Street was no place to begin to learn how to ride a bicycle.  So I pushed my shiny new bike up past the feed store on South Court Street to State Street and then College Street to the manse.  
                                          I Learn to Ride

          It came to me suddenly how I would get my leg over the top tube of my new bike.  Out in front of the manse was a full step up from the sidewalk to the walk that led to our front porch.  I figured I could stand on top of the step with the bike on the lower sidewalk. It should be easy, I reasoned, to hoist my right leg over the top tube and put my foot on the pedal positioned at the top of its arc.   But I needed an adult to hold the bike for me while I mounted.  I went looking for Grace Monigold as soon as I got home from school and pestered her until she agreed to hold the bike for me. I was excited and nervous and eager and yet afraid to ride my new bike.  Moreover, I did not want a single scratch on the paint from falling on the sidewalk as I learned to ride.  Somehow I imagined I could learn to ride a bike without ever falling at all. 
         
"Are you ready?"  Grace asked.

"Wait a minute.  I adjusted my body from side to side until everything seemed just right, looked down the College Street sidewalk along the large elm trees and said,

"OK, Grace, let her go!"  

          And off I went.  I crashed seconds later, falling just at the edge of our property, on the thin grass island between the sidewalk and the street." I lost my balance a second time, falling this time on the concrete in front of Mrs. Lawrence's house, just down the street from us.  That fall hurt and scratched my bike and me and I, at ten years old, whimpered on the edge of crying, more because my bike was scratched than because I felt any pain.   The challenge for me was balance. I could not see how it was possible to balance and did not know then that poor balance would be an issue for me my entire life. Then we tried again and I asked her to give me a little push off to get me going.  I fell twice more, but got further down the walk each time, the last time almost to Mill Street, a busy cross street.     

Finally, now more confident, I asked Grace to stand back and let me mount the bike myself and see how far I could go.  I did that, and after a wobbly start, the gradual descent down College Street gave the bike some momentum and I was headed, faster and faster down the sidewalk toward Mill Street.  I had not yet tried to use the brakes because I was stopped each time by falling off the bike.  Having succeeded in going some distance and keeping my balance without falling, I now had to learn to stop.  I tried to get the pedals in the right position, so I could bring my right foot at mid-stroke down on the pedal to brake. But before I knew it, I was sprawled on the brick pavement of Mill Street just missed by a car.  I was able to pick myself up and wheel the bike out of the street with no serious damage done to me and, what pleased me more, no visible new scratches on my bike.
          I would ride 1000s of happy miles on the streets of Athens over the next five years doing errands, visiting friends, delivering papers, and going to and from lawn jobs. I lived on my bike.  My bicycle was a new form of freedom from the adult world whose constraints I was beginning to feel more and more as I approached the wild country called adolescence. Mark, 15 months younger than I but as tall and heavier, began his campaign to buy a new bicycle only two weeks after I did.  It seemed unfair to me at the time that he should have a bike so soon. But I got over that quickly when we began to cycle together. I liked having his company and knew we were safer when we were together.