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Archive for the ‘Family’ Category


Central Indiana has been so dry lately that we’ve been begging for rain.  Late Sunday afternoon, the clouds were moving in from the west and it was pretty certain that rain was on its way.  Steph and I had gone to see  Contagion and as we came out, I told her that rain was indeed on its way.

As I go back and forth to St Louis, sometimes I leave on Sunday night, other times, Monday morning.  It really depends on a lot of things.  This weekend, after I confirmed that my Monday  8:30 am meeting was cancelled, I opted to stay the night.  I got to sleep sometime around 11:30—not ideal having to get up so early to drive back but it works.

The rain came in sometime after midnight.  It was probably around 3:00 that something woke me up.  It could have been the indigestion from dinner at IHOP or it could have been the sound of the rain coming down.  Whichever, I couldnt’ fall asleep and stay asleep.  Around 3:15 though, I heard another sound that startled me—it just didn’t sound right.  As I got up, it was certain that I was hearing rain.  But then I opened my bedroom door.  It was the unmistakable sound of water.  It sounded as if someone was in the upstairs bathroom and taking an early shower.  Problem is, the bathroom door was open and the lights were off.  I ran up the stairs and looked in the bathroom.  Not seeing anything, I thought that the sound must be the new water softener.  Problem is that it’s in the basement.  I turned on the light.  The floor was sopping wet!

Where it was coming from was another mystery.  The shower was off, the sinks were off.  I moved further in.  There was water spewing from the supply line to the toilet bowl.  A quick twist-twist and that was the end of the leak.  Unfortunately, this bathroom is on the second level, above the kitchen.  I ran downstairs–more water!  And water in the pantry!  In the half bath!  That means water in the basement.  The water leak was NOT what I wanted to hear at 3:15 in the morning!

So here we are, 17 hours later!  The basement is almost dry.  The kitchen looks like a remodeling job.  The island is being pulled up so that the linoleum can be pulled up and the sub-floor dried out.  The fridge has to be pulled out—the stove too.  The ceiling will be pulled down.  To help dry things out, the work crew is building containment units upstairs and on the main level.  You know the type—if not, go see Contagion.  There’s wood framing with plastic sheeting, taped and closed off.  The dining room will have a zipper built into the plastic so that we can get in and out but for the most part, Benny’s room, upstairs bathroom, and adjoining section of hallway are being closed off.  They’ll set up blowers and dehumidifiers in the containment zone.  On the main level, it’s the half bath, pantry, kitchen, adjoining hallway, and about a third of the great room.  We’ve moved the piano and furniture.  Pots and pans line the dining room table.  You’d think we were being quarantined and locked down.

An option was given for us to take a hotel room but we’ll rough it out.  There’s too much involved in trying to move school kids back and forth, and then we have Gracie, our 11-year-old Dane.  Nah, as challenging as it may be, we need to stay here.  We’ll figure out how to manage and we’ll have a nice, dry house by the end of the week—I hope.

Oh!  So water got into the furnace.  Not that we need the heat today, but no luck if we did.  And no luck if we needed the AC either.

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St Louis Blues


Sounds like it should be the name of a sports team but it’s actually a description of me over the past several weeks.  I posted last month about giving notice and starting a new job.  I’m in St Louis now, having started the new job on May 25th.  It was a quick start and not for any particular good reason that I should have started so soon.  No matter, I’m here now.  We’ll work through the family separation, double expenses, travel, and all that goes with living/working across wide geographies.

The team here was not ready for me.  Now into my fourth week, I still park in visitor parking and wear an “escort required” sticker because I’m not in the client’s system.   I’ve even had to introduce myself to some of the client contacts here because my Director and my predecessor have failed to do so.  On boarding here is a painfully anemic process!  That also means a fourth week of squatting–no system ID, no cube, phone, PC, etc.  For the first three weeks, if it were not for my personal laptop and my new Sprint 3G/4G Mobile Hot Spot (Yes!!!), I would have had nothing to do, read, study, etc.  One of my first official duties as I take over will be to document and add process to the on-boarding procedure.

So the next challenge was finding a place to live.  I opted for an apartment that was close based on its proximity, pricing, and availability.  Oh how I wish I had waited and talked to more people.  It would have been nice to check other places.  Being in a hurry is not a good way to be when making such decisions.  I’m “stuck” now and have been questioning the wisdom of my choice.  I’ll make the best of it.

On the homefront, we have listed our house.  Before the week was out, we decided to not try to sell the house.  However, we have not taken down the sign nor have we advised our realtor.  We’re expecting no traffic anyway, even as we clean, paint, pack, etc.  The house needs it whether we sell or not.

The new job has with it the potential to take me back to Indy in the next year or later.  My hope is that I end up back with my old client but with this company.  Too early to make plans, but keeping this in mind is more reason to not sell the house and move.

There are a lot of other things going on as well–too much for this post.  This was meant as a quick update into what’s going on and to let you know why I’ve been away from the keyboard.  Since I’m in the office, I should probably get back to pretending to be doing something official.

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Tobacco Slaves


Clarksville, Virginia 

Newton Farm 

There on the left side of the gravel and dirt road is a large field of tobacco.  On the right is a cemetary.  Some of the markers are nice, white or gray stones with names carved in them.  The names bear the surname “Newton”.  These well-preserved stones rest within a fenced area.  Outside of the fence, there are several smaller stones marking what one presumes are graves.  These stones bear no names or hints as to who or what lies below.  The fact that they lie outside the fence suggests that they are not family.  The absence of names suggests that these are the remains of former laborers on the farm—slaves who served the Newton family in growing and harvesting the valuable tobacco crop.  They are buried here probably to save space and land, farm land being far too valuable to be given over to a dedicated and separate slave cemetary. 

A Tobacco Field in Virginia

Further back along the road are a few houses, lived in today by those who own or work these fields.  Further along the road, past the bend and behind a stand of pine trees, three cabins stand.  It’s possible that at least one is a tobacco barn.  The other two appear to be residential—doors, windows, chimneys.  The remaining slave cabins leave little doubt as to the farm’s past.  Far too small to be a plantation, but still a center of commerce driven by slave labor. 

My mother’s father was a Newton.  Most likely he came into the name from the Newton family on whose farm his parents would have worked as slaves.  But my grandfather, being born in the 1880s, would have been of the first “free” generation. 

Thousands upon thousands of slaves labored over this addictive crop, adding to the wealth of their owners and in many cases, building the tobacco empires of today.  An industry grew fat and wealthy off of the backs of slaves. 

All these decades later—one hundred and thirty years later—tobacco slaves are still among us.  Although they no longer labor out under the hot sun tending the crops, they are no less a slave.  Tobacco has become their master through addiction and they are bound to it as tightly as if they were held by a ball and chain.  And they are still driving the wealth of the same companies whose forebears held slaves in the fields. 

My mother is now 82 years old.  She smokes and has done so since a teen. 

Is this her way of “enjoying” what some her ancestors had to produce for their masters?  Is this a matter of saying “they had to grow it for your pleasure, now I’m going to have some too”?  

It is a misguided sense of come-uppance if it is. 

More likely it is the result of an act that was glamorized and made popular by so many of the movies and actors she would have seen in the 1930s and 1940s—fueled by the lies from the industry as well as general ignorance about the risks and damage done by smoking.  It’s an addiction enhanced by an industry that sought to produce a high-nicotine product, knowing the addictive nature of the substance. 

If as a matter of racial identity someone had told her that this was the same product for which her ancestors had been held as slaves and forced to farm for the wealth of their owners, would she have been so willing to add 70-plus years of consumerism to the wealth of those present-day companies?  Would she have been so willing to make herself a tobacco slave? 

My grandfather was of the first “free” generation in the Newton family but he grew up as a tobacco slave—he smoked as well.  His daughter inherited that condition, never truly breaking free of that insidious leaf. 

Although not a Newton, I represent the first truly free generation.

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But then this post has little to do with hats.  Sure, my father wore them.  He made me wear them when I was younger too.  For some reason, I was forced to wear those little brimmed hats with feathers in the side.  I hated them!  Maybe not always, but at some age, I grew to hate them.  Seems like the only time I had to wear one was on Sunday to go to church.  But my dad—he couldn’t go out of the house to get the newspaper without putting a hat on.  It was something about his generation best I can figure.

Hats were something I never understood and swore I’d never wear.  So at the age of 18 I joined the Air Force and had to wear a hat outdoors when in uniform for 16-plus years.  It became second nature to put on a hat.  Just this past weekend, I needed to do some yard work and guess what I put on?  Yep, a hat.  Not as a fashion statement, but for protection from any falling tree matter.  I rarely wear hats now and typically they are purposefully donned if at all—sun protection, cold weather, bugs and stuff.  Never a fashion statement.  Nope, not me.

So what brings me to hats?  I was going to blog about my dad and was looking for a photo.  Here’s the one I found.  It dates back to 1963 during his time in the Air Force.  He was stationed in France and apparently had some downtime.  Not my favorite picture of him, but certainly characteristic.

It contrasts with one my sister sent me last night of my dad lying in a hospital bed.  There in the corner of the photo is one of his hats.

He is 88 and has been ill and dealing with chronic issues for nearly a year and a half.  His tired body is wearing down and he was not expected to make it through the night.  News of the morning said that he had survived the night but his prognosis remains grim.  He will be moved into hospice care sometime today.

As I got ready for work this morning—life goes on—I realized I had some things to say that I’d rather write while he is alive than to put to page afterwards.  You see, he and I have had our issues along the way.  Some might say that’s normal, but it’s a normal I would have preferred not be the case.  At times it felt as if the neighborhood boys or my cousins had a better relationship with “Mr Dunn” or “Uncle Buster” (respectively) than I had with “Dad”.  Maybe that’s to be expected but it seems he always held me to a higher standard.  Sometimes that standard seemed unattainable as I always fell short with chores and tasks around the house.  Nothing I did was good enough.

In later years, it became clear as he stated once that I never did what he wanted me to do.  This was a man who had hopes and dreams for me, or goals he wanted to see achieved in my life.  But this was also a man who rarely if ever shared what those goals were.  I guess I was just supposed to know.

When I was 17, this is the man who told me I needed to be out when I turned 18.  And the same man who asked me where I was going at the age of 18 when I decided to leave.  And the same man who repeatedly tried to get me to come back home over the years.   Nope, I never did what he wanted me to.

In 1984, I quit the USAFA Prep school.  He wanted me to leave the Air Force, return to New Jersey, and go to Rutgers.  By the way, his desire for me to go to Rutgers is the very thing that took me to Colorado and the Air Force Academy in the first place.  No way was I coming back home.  I enlisted and stayed in Colorado.

At the end of that enlistment, again the invitation to come home and go to school.  So I reenlisted and took an assignment to RAF Greenham Common.  (See “Newbury” and “RAF Greenham Common“)  As that tour ended, a request for me to get stationed at McGuire AFB in New Jersey was followed with my assignment to Ramstein Air Base, Germany.  I was getting farther and farther from home and staying away longer and longer.  Life continued that way.  I won’t and can’t go into every disagreement we’ve had, but suffice it to say that I am my own man and make my own decisions—typically at odds with my dad.

In 2008, he and I had a heated argument in which I told him I hope that God shows him one day where he was wrong.  I didn’t speak to him again for four months and even then, only because of his hospitalization due to a stroke.  Even so, he was not quick to forgive or forget and I doubt he has or ever will forgive me.  You see, this was the issue with my brother I wrote about in “My First Movie“.  It remains an issue to this day and one more disappointment for my father.

I know I did the right thing.  I just wish my father could acknowledge that before he takes his last breath.

Many decades ago I ceased looking for his approval.  With this latest issue, I didn’t expect him to be happy about it.  But somewhere along the line, I half expected that he might say something to indicate that he had done a good job with me if I could stand up against the incredible situation I found myself in and still have the strength to do what was right to do.  Well, whether he ever acknowledges it or not, I take comfort in knowing that even despite the continued judgment from my father, I had the conviction to do what was right.

You see Dad, I have done what you wanted me to do.  I grew up as a bravely honest man.  I grew up with strength of conviction and with integrity.  I grew up able to stand on my own two feet and to make my way in the world.  And now with my own family, I take the lessons of my youth and apply them in an attempt to be better.  It will be up to my children now as they come into their own.  They may not do what I want them to do, but I will respect them enough to let them try, fail and/or succeed.  I will suggest and I will support.

And I won’t force them to wear hats.

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Continued from Part 1

We stopped at the house briefly to gather some things we’d need for an overnight stay.  We knew that with the numbness, they wanted to admit him.  Once at the hospital, the staff quickly told us that it WAS NOT Lyme Disease.  Benjamin was given some more Benadryl but otherwise, no medications were prescribed.  Regarding the numbness though, they were going to do some MRIs and other testing but they didn’t think it was necessarily tick or rash related.  Good news, but puzzling.

Photo_053109_017

Benjamin's Legs on Sunday Evening

As the evening wore on, Benjamin got worse.  The good news was that he was not itchy or in pain and he was going to be allowed to eat.  One Mighty Kids Meal later, he seemed to be a happy, healthy kid—except for the rash.  The rash actually got worse and started reappearing on his face, neck and back.  It got more intense looking on his legs and if I didn’t know better, I would think he had been burned or scalded.

He was finally assigned a room and  around 2:00 in the morning—48 hours after this began, Steph was stretched on the little converta-chair and I was heading home to sleep.  I wanted to be back first thing Monday morning to see the doctor when he came around.  It seemed Benny had a case of Urticaria.  How or why, no-one knows.  And it would eventually go away.

So Monday was filled with neurological tests of his hands and feet, countless stethoscope exams of his heart, lungs, and abdomen, eye checks, ear checks, mouth checks—all good.  And then the MRI.  The first one was in the morning and was of his head.  We learned a new term that morning:  Gliosis.  We’d have to wait for a follow-up to learn more.  A second MRI was done in the afternoon and that was of his neck.  It was normal.

This past Friday, we met with his doctor who told us his best thoughts on the gliosis.  With a normal medical history, it would be unlikely that we’d ever determine what caused it.  It could be from any number of injuries or illnesses.  I suggested to Steph that rather than submit Benny to a battery of tests that might not give us any more or better information, we would do just as well to watch him over the years and “be aware” in case something else happens.

So there you have it.  The staff at Clarian West who thought they’d seen Lyme disease for the first time—didn’t.  The immediate care doctor who said it wasn’t—vindicated.  As for the tick?  Certainly not the troublesome deer tick.  Last we heard, it was still in the canister in the doctor’s office.  How it got on Benny?  I don’t know.  We’re up against a wooded area and it could’ve gotten on him directly or the dog may have had it.  We’re just glad it’s gone!

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In a departure from my normal topics, I decide to share with you about a recent “scare” in the family.  Three Saturdays ago, I found a tick on Benjamin.  It was well-fed and fortunately, came off easily.  Based on what I could find online, I

Not the actual tick

Not the actual tick

was able to determine that it was an American dog tick—not particularly known to cause problems.  Relieved it was not a deer tick which is known for transmitting Lyme disease, we went about the day normally.  The tick found its way into an old film canister—the type 35mm film comes in.  Anyone remember film?

The following week, Benjamin finished kindergarten and began his summer break.  Steph and I attended Katherine’s graduation on Friday night and on returning home, settled into something of a normal Friday-night routine.  Benjamin got to bed a little later than normal but otherwise, everything seemed OK.  Around 2:00 in the morning, there was a knock on the door.  It was Rebekah with Benny letting us know that he had woken up itchy and crying.  He had a rash over his face and upper torso and was very uncomfortable.  We put some itch cream on his face which helped, but it would be impractical if not a bad idea altogether to try to treat all of him that way.  I doubted one tube could cover everything.
Benjamin's Legs on Sunday Afternoon

Benjamin's Legs on Sunday Afternoon

Realizing it was a systemic problem, I decided to treat him from the inside out.  Seemed safer and more reliable since the problem was likely to spread.  Two Benadryls later, he was feeling some relief and ready to go back to bed.  Steph and I spent another half hour or so going through the list of things he’d been exposed to that could have caused an allergic reaction.  We came up empty.

Later Saturday morning, he initially seemed OK but as the morning wore on, he began getting the rash again.  Some of it was splotchy, some of it raised bumps.  By now, we’re suspecting the tick so I decided to take him and the tick to a local emergency clinic.  The doctor felt it was not a tick-borne illness and agreed that the tick was not a known vector for such diseases.  She felt the rash was unrelated and said to continue the Benadryl and other treatments that could give him comfort like lotions and bathing.  As a precaution, she gave us a prescription for amoxicillin.

Sunday morning rolls around and we keep Benny home from church.  By the afternoon, he seems better and Steph and I go out to do some grocery shopping.  As we’re walking away from the check out and heading to the car, my cell phone rings and the caller ID says “Home”.  It’s Aaron wanting to know if we’re still at the store or headed home because Benny is walking funny.  When Aaron had asked him why he was walking that way, Benny told him that his feet felt numb and tingly.  We raced home.

Twenty minutes later, we’re off to the local hospital’s ER with Benjamin.  The staff heard the history and felt it was Lyme disease.  After three failed attempts at establishing an IV, a tech was finally able to get the line inserted and antibiotics were started.  Once the IV finished, we were to take Benjamin downtown to Riley Children’s Hospital for further testing, treatment, and observation.  That’s where we’ll pick up the update in part 2.

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It was probably 1970—I don’t remember for sure.  George and Elaine 220px-arri_16_st_stativ_1were friends of my parents, having been neighbors years before.  George was reaching out and looking for help with a project he was doing.  The project turned out to be a film he was doing for the State of New Jersey—a film to be used throughout the state’s schools to help educate children on the do’s and dont’s of life.

My parents agreed to help out and we were soon in the movie business.  The family was assessed for roles and the filming began.  Some shots were in our house, other shots were done at other locations that I’ll mention in a bit.

Fast forward to 2009—almost 30 years after the filming, here is where our family finds itself.  My older brother is in jail and awaiting sentencing for a despicable crime.  Sadly, although others knew of or suspected his criminal activity for years, it was not until I became aware of it in 2006 that anything was done about it.  While not proud of the fact that I turned my brother in, I am satisfied with the knowledge that I did the right and necessary thing.  He will be sentenced in the next two weeks, having been convicted on all counts this past January.

Understandably, my role in the matter has strained relations for me with my parents.  It didn’t have to be this way but it just is.  In my father’s eyes, I am more despised for what I did than my brother is for his crimes.  So be it.

The family dynamic becomes more complicated as my father is ill and elderly, having initially fallen ill this past December.  He has been in and out of hospitals and rehab centers and only returned home in late March.  Since that time, my older and younger sisters have been dutifully visiting and assisting our parents at their home.

OK, back to the movie.  The scene shot in our home involved a family having a meal together.  Around the table were my parents and my two sisters.  My brother and I were not included in this shoot because we had been singled out for other scenes.  George wanted to avoid any role confusion by reusing us in the family shoot.  Interesting that the core family as shot in this 1970 film is the core as it is in 2009.

The scene I was used in was shot on location in a local store.  It may have even been the pharmacy where my mother worked—seems like it was but I don’t recall clearly.  I had to walk down the aisle of the store and there was an item on the floor that had apparently fallen from a shelf.  Being a good kid, my role called for me to pick this up and put it back on the shelf (as opposed to pocketing it???).  Anyway, I was the good kid doing the right thing.

jail_cellMy brother?  His role was also shot on location at a nearby facility.  In this case, he was the bad kid who had done something wrong.  He was facing the consequences of whatever it was that he had done and his scene—was shot in a jail cell.  He was behind bars.

Who would have guessed that all these years later, we would have the older brother in jail and not in the family picture, me—the one who did the right thing also not in the family picture, and then the core family consisting of mom, dad, and dutiful daughters?

Irony?  Yes, sometimes life does imitate art.

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