T-Bars

Story_squareIn the stone age of mountain skiing was the T-bar and there it should stay.

A T-Bar Lift consisted of a steel rope looped over a series of wheels. A bar hung down from this steel cable with a horizontal cross piece at the bottom. Think of the idea of an upside-down T.

The cable ran up the mountain and skiers were expected to rest against the horizontal piece which would push them up the mountain.

Two skiers could go up the same  T-Bar and that’s where my problem began.

My college roommate and I were out for a day of skiing at a small ski area that featured several T-Bar lifts. No problem. We weren’t beginners anymore.

We glided up the mountain together several times before things went a bit haywire.

As we were sliding over the snow, my roommate developed problems. Her skis caught and she weaved from left to right to left, bucking the T-Bar with her wild maneuvering. I clung to my balance until she lost hers.

It was over then. The T-Bar heaved skyward, pitching me into the air.

I landed on my back with the end of my ski hooked over the horizontal bar. Up the hill I went, dragged by the now-calm T-Bar.

I jerked my leg like a fish trying to shed a hook and, after a couple of eons, kicked myself free from the lift and roll into the deep powder alongside the lift track.T-bar

I could no longer see my skis under the powder. I rolled and kicked until I worked my way onto the ski run itself.   Hard-packed snow never looked so good.

Sweat ran down my shoulder blades as I stood for a few minutes to let my heart rate drop under 200.

And then my roommate slushed up beside me. After falling off the T-Bar, she’d skied to the bottom, caught another ride, and beat me to the top.

She ran her eyes from my snow-caked boots to my powdered cap and shook her head.

“What on earth happened to you?”

T-Bars… you can keep them.

 

Good as gold

SeasonsMy dad’s financial ideas were good as gold – and carried him well in his older years.

When I left home for college, he told me, “Have a savings account. Treat it like a bill and put money into it every month just like every other bill.”

I did. He was right. Whenever I needed a new tire or a root canal, I always had funds.

But the best financial legacy he left his family was his trust fund. He and Mom set up a simple revocable trust about 10 years before he passed away.

They changed their checking account, their deed on the farm, and their vehicle titles to the name of the trust.

When Dad died, there were plenty of difficulties but one we didn’t have was with his finances. The trust has provided for Mom since he passed – and without probate or any complications.

Some parents are slow to face their mortality so I’m glad my dad set things in place to make the transition a smooth one.

Over the trail

Story_squareSometimes it’s the destination. Sometimes it’s the journey that’s important.

In this case, our daughter decided to spend a day crafting her own wire rabbit cage. She raised Dutch rabbits for 4-H and wanted to expand a little.

So, in true 4-H fashion, she discovered some extra wire panels and set to work with her materials in front of the tool shed.

She had to bend corners, crimp the back and front panels onto the main framework, design her own doorway into the cage.

She spent most of the time on her knees twisting and binding wire.

And then it was done.

She took a step back to admire the cage. It fairly glowed in the afternoon sun.

Her back ached, her hands were sore, and she decided she needed a little recreation after the big project.

We had 40 acres of open pasture and so a run on the four-wheeler looked interesting.

Off she went. At 14, she hadn’t started training for her driver’s license but she handled the four-wheeler with experience.

She zipped across trails, feeling the wind blow through her hair. She made a loop around the house, leaning into the turn.

The cool early-evening air sliced past her as she drove on and on.

And then she swung around the chicken house with a little more speed than she intended and the four-wheeler refused to turn tightly.cagewiore

She wasn’t about to roll over in the turn but, as she looked up with panic, she was about to drive over the top of her newly-made cage.

Releasing the throttle didn’t help. She came to a stop just past the now flat-as-a-pancake rabbit cage.

She built the cage and then she squashed it.

The destination that day had been a new cage for her rabbit project. The journey had been about crafting the cage with hours of perseverance.

On that score, she did terrific.

Sadly, the cage was still flat.

Over dinner

Chuck pushed the baked beans around his plate, stalling.Seasons

“Are you feeling all right?” Chuck’s mother reached across the table to press her palm against his forehead.

“I’m fine. Really.  I’m 55 years old. I can tell if I have a fever.”

“I know, dear.  Of course. Is something wrong?”

Chuck dropped his fork.  “Here’s the thing. What do you want for your funeral?” He cringed. This was blunt even for him. “I mean, we should talk about–   Well, have you thought–” He stopped himself before the hole got deeper.  “It’s just something we should talk about.  Sometime.”

He began shoveling the baked beans into his mouth before any more words flew out. What did they think? He didn’t look up.

His father spoke first. “I suppose a regular funeral.  With a casket. Nothing fancy, of course. A funeral at the church and a burial at a cemetery. It’d be nice to have lunch for the family.  I don’t want anything to be hard on Mom.”

Chuck looked up.  His mother had leaned into the discussion.  “That’s what I would like, too.  Nothing fancy.”

Chuck swallowed hard. “I’ve learned some things since Mary’s dad died.  Do you know what a casket costs?”

His dad shook his head.

“From $1500 up to $8000.  The funeral home costs were about $5000. A plot at the cemetery was about $1000. And then there’s the headstone.  Maybe a couple of thousand.  Those are the simple ones.”

“Well.” His dad shook his head. “Things have certainly gotten expensive.” He looked up to the ceiling and Chuck knew he was calculating numbers although he could have been praying for insight.

“So you’re saying a simple funeral might be around $8000?”

Chuck nodded.  “Have you thought about how to pay for that?”

“I have a life insurance policy that I thought would pay for burying me.  It’s worth $5000.  That isn’t enough.”

“Nope.” Chuck finished dinner. Mom’s baked beans were superb, like usual. “Do you have anything for Mom?”

cemetery“My policy is about $3000,” she said. “We didn’t know.”

What Chuck knew was that they had no savings and barely got by with monthly Social Security checks.

“I wonder if the VA could help,” Dad said.  He had regular medical check ups through the Veterans Administration, a perk from his military service.

After many phone calls , Chuck’s father learned that being a veteran helped. Both he and his wife could be buried in a military cemetery with the cost of burial and headstone paid.

“That cuts funeral costs in half,“ Chuck’s dad said.

It was a start. Chuck knew there would be discussion with siblings. But it was a start.

Talking microwaves

Story_squareCommunication is such a fragile thing.

I was blending the butter and sugar for cookies when younger son wandered into the kitchen.

“Where’s that neck thing of Dad’s?” he asked.

“Sore neck?” I pointed to the drawer under the microwave where I knew my husband stored a fabric neck wrap. He would toss it in the microwave for a minute or two and then pull out a warm cloth that felt heavenly on sore muscles.

“No, it just feels good.” So Son began rummaging through drawers while I continued to toss ingredients into the mixer for cookies.

I had just finished adding the flour when he floated another question my direction. “How long do you set the timer for?”

I placed the cookie sheets on the counter, surprised that he hadn’t already snitched a spoonful of the dough. “Eleven minutes.”

The oven was warming and I quickly dropped cookie dough onto the sheets, ready to push them into the oven.

I sometimes suffer from squirrelitis, that ailment which causes me to be distracted by every movement or sound. But apparently not when I’m making cookies.

I didn’t notice the microwave running until I had the last cookie in place.

I hadn’t noticed the smell, either.

“What—“ The microwave timer still had 5 minutes on it and burnt rice smell was wafting into the kitchen, overpowering cookie dough scent.

My husband had come in search of the stink. He scooped up the neck warmer with a wooden spoon and threw it out the front door onto a snow pile.

“What were you doing?” I turned to our son, who was standing with wide eyes.  “You’re supposed to heat that neck warmer for maybe two minutes. How long did you set it for?”

“You told me eleven.”cookies

Huh? We stared at each other for a moment.  “I thought you meant the cookies,” I said.

We laughed then. But I’m sorry to say that even the smell of freshly baked cookies couldn’t overpower the smell of burnt rice.

Communication is such a fragile thing.

The ambulance

The first time Dad fell at home, Mom called the logical people: her two daughters.Seasons

We both arrived on the scene with plenty of concern and zero medical experience.

“Should we call the EMTs?” my sister asked.

“I hate to bother them just to get him into his bedroom,” I said.

“I know. We can do this.”

And so we did. She wrapped her arms around Dad’s chest, I got his knees and we carried – well, sort of dragged and carried – him from the bathroom where he’d fallen into his bedroom.

Dad was grateful while Mom was in a flurry of tucking him into bed.

It happened again the next day. Dad was in the bathroom and lacked the strength to pull himself up. He fell between the toilet and the tub.

We were called again.

This time, we decided he needed to go to a doctor. And so we carried and dragged him to the car and drove to the emergency room, since it was in the evening, and let the doctor check him out.

He was admitted overnight and then sent home.

The next day, he fell again. Same scenario: no strength, little balance.

“Let’s call the ambulance,” my sister said.

“Is it serious enough for an ambulance?”

“All I know is I’m tired from hauling him around. I think it’s time for an ambulance.”

We didn’t have to do the rock-paper-scissors thing to decide who called. She decided: “You call.”

ambulanceSo I did. “I’m really sorry to disturb you but my father has fallen and we could use some help getting him up. He might need to go to the hospital.”

“It’s not a problem.” The woman’s voice was kind and clear. “That’s what we’re here for.”

Within minutes, a police car pulled up at our house but the 911 operator had alerted us to that possibility. Then came the ambulance and two EMTs walked in with medical gear.

They checked Dad’s blood pressure and pulse. They listened to his heart. And when it was time to take him to the ambulance, they gently lifted him onto a stretcher, buckled him in, and rolled him out.

I learned a few things. First, when an elderly person falls, the ambulance crew does not see my call as a bother. Second, the EMTs know a lot more medical information than I do.

And, third, I’m pretty sure my Dad was glad not to get dragged – I mean carried, of course – out of the bathroom yet again.

This thing about heights

Story_squareNot long ago I noticed that I have a slight fear of heights.

The seeds might have been planted when, as a child, I didn’t climb the trees clear to the top like my brother did. I may have missed an opportunity to immunize myself to heights at an early age.

A photo opportunity during my reporter days took me to the top of a grain elevator. Those tall white cement tubes stood at least 100 feet tall and the manager who offered me the photo shoot also offered me a rough elevator ride to the top.

But that was nothing compared to watching him jump from one elevator to the next. The distance between the two was two feet or less – an easy jump any time except when seeing a 100-foot drop under your shoes.

I did it.

Twice. Coming and going. And got some spectacular aerial shots of our little town.

But my heart pounds a bit just telling the story.

But things got worse once I had children. Our family visited some beautiful bluffs one day and I got to watch my offspring scrambling up and down the rock formations.

That was OK until we all wanted to see how far up we were standing, on the top of the bluffs. grain_elevator

If the elevator was 100 feet, this bluff fell down 200 feet. I don’t know, maybe more. You lose that assessing ability when your eyes fog over.

I scooped up the four-year-old and found myself wanting to hang onto the belt of the other two, even if one was 8 and the other was 14.

And then I had to watch the Fellowship of the Ring gang run across the Bridge of Khazad-dum, a pencil-thin bridge through Moria. Yeah, yeah, I know it was a movie and, yeah, I know it was totally computer generated.

I still hung onto my chair as though the entire fellowship might slip over the edge into oblivion.

Heights.

If I had another chance to jump two feet over a 100-foot drop, I might give the camera to my brother.