Category Archives: Family

Separating Families? #ImpeachTrump

Stonekettle Station on Facebook

After the entire country got up in his face, Trump minutes ago signed an Executive Order to end the family separation policy that he created and that he himself spent the last month claiming only CONGRESS could end.

Of course, it’s full of weasel words which will allow ICE to continue to separate families. I’d expect nothing less. But, that said, here is yet again another one of his bald-faced lies. He blamed Obama. He blamed Clinton. He blamed Congress. He tried to extort money for his idiotic wall by using children as hostages. He claimed there was nothing he could do. And yet, turns out, he COULD do something after all. He could have done it months ago. And he knew it all along.

No one who’s read this damned and damnable executive order, has read it and isn’t a stormtrumper, seems to think that anything will change tomorrow. Frankly, I don’t see how anything can change tomorrow, which means that the outrage and lawsuits have to continue until we #ImpeachTrump, because the Orange Hate-Monkey (OHM) doesn’t know what the truth is. If there is one thing we can say for certain about the OHM, it is that he does not have a personalized conception of  the truth beyond whatever the words coming out of his mouth at that very moment are. Some people would call that stupid, some people would call that moronic. I simply refer to it as Real Estate Developer’s syndrome, something that everyone of them I’ve ever met seems to have in common.

For days I’ve been reading and posting news stories about the Trump administration’s policy of family separation. This policy is the most inhumane and unAmerican thing that the OHM has done to date, but I don’t think he’s done with the outrageous behavior on the subject of immigration yet. Not by half, even. He can’t stop. This is exactly what he campaigned on. This is why people voted for him. This is what his base wants him to do, punish immigrants to whatever level it takes in order to make the immigrants leave. To make asylum seekers go elsewhere. This is what his cabinet officers and advisors who have spoken on this subject have been saying for weeks now, that punishment is the goal and self-deportation is the desired outcome.


NPR POLITICS PODCAST, Trump Signs Order To End Family Separations June 20, 2018

So he can’t be done and this practice will continue in some form, possibly in exactly the same way it has been going on for months. Going on in our name. Rachel Maddow broke down on national television Tuesday night just reading about the tender age shelters, the Trump administration’s euphemism for places where they put babies they’ve torn from their parent’s grasp, or tricked them into surrendering voluntarily. So we’ve gotten to a place where talking heads, people trained in the art of maintaining calm in the face of anything the news throws at you, talking heads breaking down in tears at the news that babies have internment camps that they are being sent to. Babies. In internment camps. Let that idea sink in for a few.

The defenders of these policies have a few valid points. The first one is that the parents in question are breaking a law, it is a misdemeanor to cross into the United States except at border crossings. A misdemeanor that would not even get you arrested were it not involving the convoluted subject of immigration in the United States. This law has almost never been subject to prosecution until now, but the OHM is correct that he can have these people prosecuted, and does want these people prosecuted. That is the job of the executive branch of the federal government, 100% his policy in spite of every protestation he has made to the contrary.

The second point is that there are many American children who go to sleep each night in worse conditions than these children in internment camps on the Southern border. This is also demonstrably true. I myself had days when three hots and a cot were more an aspiration than a reality when I was a child. However, the fact that many children face worse treatment and housing conditions in the US is not a justification for treating the children of asylum seekers as badly as we treat our own citizens; rather, it is an observation of just how far the poor in the US need to be elevated in order for them to meet the standards set by governing bodies all around the world for treatment of refugees, let alone what the citizens of the wealthiest nation on the face of this planet should be able to expect from being among the chozen few who get to live here.

There should be a backlash by Americans over the treatment of children who had the misfortune to be born outside the US in a time of global unrest. People who are no different than we would be if we were forced out of our homes and made to seek charity from the tender mercies of the more fortunate. Let us hope that the people we are faced with, should such a misfortune befall any of us, are more forgiving than we have been. We need to send a clear signal to the rest of the world, and we need to do it now. #ImpeachTrump. Do it now. Do it before more horrors are committed in our names.


The OHM’s administration failed to meet family reunification deadlines set by the courts today. So the torment of children and their parents at the hands of the US government continues. These are our dollars at work here. This is our government. If you voted for Trump, you voted for this to happen. Understand the horror you have created here. Child abduction is not a political issue. Abducting children and imprisoning their parents for crimes they were given no alternative but to commit can’t be a political issue because there’s nobody out there aside from slavers that think that stealing children is a good idea. I will go so far as to say that I don’t even think immigration should be a political issue.

You live here, you work here, you pay taxes here? Welcome, citizen. I don’t know what other requirements for citizenship there should be aside from saying I want to be a citizen and proving your upstanding status (again, live, work, pay taxes) I’m singularly uninterested in there being an underclass that can be subjected to lower wages and fewer rights so that I can get my tomatoes a few dollars cheaper. I’ll pay more for produce. Institute a guest worker program with a path to citizenship, screen everybody and then let them get to work. It certainly isn’t rocket science to make the immigration system function, we just have to admit that we need the workers and that we want to do right by them.

Asylum seekers are being stripped of rights under the current regime. It was bad enough when Obama allowed ICE to house children in detention centers when they were coming over the border unaccompanied (and with parents) back in 2014 seeking asylum. But at least those kids got asylum hearings and were dealt with in a legal fashion. This travesty has to end, and it isn’t just Trump to blame. Every Republican in congress could have stood up and fixed this problem back in 2010 and every year since. They haven’t. They haven’t even tried, aside from Rubio, who backpedaled from his own bill so fast you’d swear someone else had written it. Shame on them, is all I have to say. Shame on them and everyone who voted for them.



Beto O’Rourke Facebook Live video outside ICE processing center in El Paso, July 21, 2018

Mother

There is something about this introduction to This is Love that freakishly makes me think of my mother.


Introduction to the This Is Love podcast

Freakishly, in that I wonder if other people have similar flashes on the things their parents gave up for them? It’s not that my mom ever quantified her sacrifice for the children she had, at least not consciously or as an attempt to persuade. I know some people have had that experience, I’ve had the experience myself with other relatives. Our grandmother would tell us she was dying each year around Christmas, and oh, this might be your last chance to see me. Don’t you remember how I made time for you when you were growing up? We would laugh and roll our eyes, and then try to make time to visit at some point during the season.

But not mom, at least not when she was parenting us. Guilt never seemed to work for us. I remember distinctly her wanting us to clean our plates at mealtimes while I was still in primary school, and so she put a coin jar in the center of the table labeled for the starving children in other countries. We had a great laugh at that as we crammed food into the slot on the jar. That is the one time I remember her attempting to guilt us into anything and it failed, spectacularly.

When I was a teenager and could finally drive and own my own car, I would take long, meandering drives in the country, sometimes for several hours at a time, just listening to music. I’m not sure what I was looking for out there on the road. Release from the pressures of herding three other children around, most likely. On a few occasions mother grew concerned about my spending so much time alone, and so I invited her to come along on a drive with me, just so she could see what I was doing.

While we were out there together, me just driving aimlessly, we would talk. Mom and I could always talk. We’d talk for hours on the phone sometimes. I never could recall the particulars of any of our conversations, it was always small talk. Just impressions of concerns of the day, plans for the future. Musings about the days gone by. It is these times that come to mind when I listen to the story of the mother spider calling its children to itself, sacrificing herself to them so that they could survive. Feeding herself to them on purpose.

Mom was an artist before we children were born; or more precisely, before I was born. She left college to travel with her then-husband, my father, going overseas for the first time in her short life. I can imagine what her hopes must have been like at the time. Visiting places in Europe, possibly even going to Paris. She did talk to me about wanting to visit Paris, as I sat in vigil with her over the last months of her life. It wasn’t the first time we had talked about her young dreams, I know. I know because in those long drives as a restless teen she had told me of her dreams when she was a restless teen. Traveling. Painting. Exploring the world. I can picture her in Europe right now if I close my eyes, sipping coffee at a cafe near a river, trying to decide which scene deserved her artistic attention.

But that never happened. Instead she had me, and her husband didn’t prove to be much of a father, so she left him within six months of my birth. She married the man I called father for my entire life and eventually settled with him in the middle of the Kansas plains, pretty much as far away from the lights and glamour of Parisian culture as it is possible to get. She set about raising me and the three children that followed me, burying a miscarriage somewhere along the line. When dad’s wayward eye got him in trouble about the time I turned thirteen, she simply switched to the next person she thought could keep her children fed. And so on.

She worked her fingers to the bone at odd jobs as a single parent at the time that inspired this writing, when I was a senior in high school and then attending the local trade school. Two, three jobs at a time if required. She never complained, other than to say how tired she was. Never guilted us about what she gave up so that we could live. She just set about getting from where we were today to where we would be tomorrow, a progression in time that saw us all graduate high school. Some of us went on to college and all of us eventually had children of our own. She helped raise those children, none of us ever asking her if this was what she wanted to spend her life doing. Never once.

Until the end of last November, when her world crashed down around her. Stage four transitional cell carcinoma. Months to live. She could have gotten treatment. She could have still been here with us. She couldn’t pay for the treatment. She wouldn’t even dream of asking us to pay for it, and she didn’t want the government to pay for it. In some weird way, she thrummed her web, and we great mass of the living consumed her without even questioning why things had to be this way.

Now she’s gone. I have become the eldest of our little band of misfits, a natural leadership role that I never wanted and go to great lengths to avoid when I can. What form is the web that I’m now the center of? Will I be called to sacrifice myself to the greater good? Do I want that to happen? Do I have a choice? …And I can still see her youthful, hopeful face among the crowd that I envision along the banks of the Seine. Sipping coffee and deciding what to paint next. If I could tell her one thing now, what would that one thing be? Paint as if your life depended on it. Because ultimately it does.

Rage Against the Dying of the Light

This poem ran through my head for weeks as I watched my mother slowly fade away. As I watched my dad die. It is the only answer I have.


Dylan Thomas, Do not go gentle into that good night

Do not go gentle into that good night
Dylan Thomas, 1914 – 1953

Do not go gentle into that good night,
Old age should burn and rave at close of day;
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

Though wise men at their end know dark is right,
Because their words had forked no lightning they
Do not go gentle into that good night.

Good men, the last wave by, crying how bright
Their frail deeds might have danced in a green bay,
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

Wild men who caught and sang the sun in flight,
And learn, too late, they grieved it on its way,
Do not go gentle into that good night.

Grave men, near death, who see with blinding sight
Blind eyes could blaze like meteors and be gay,
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

And you, my father, there on the sad height,
Curse, bless, me now with your fierce tears, I pray.
Do not go gentle into that good night.
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

Copyright © 1997-2002 by The Academy of American Poets

(Yes, I realize that posting the poem here constitutes a probable breach of copyright. The widget that allows for embedding the poem does not function. I would happily use that function if it worked. It would have been easier.)

Barbara Ann Polk 1941-2018

Barbara Ann Polk left this earth on February 9th, 2018 to be with the angels, while in the company of her family. Born June 8, 1941 in Williamsport, Pennsylvania, she was her mother’s youngest child and her father’s second child. Barbara moved many times in her life, Sacramento, CA; Leoti, KS; Sweetwater, TX; San Angelo, TX; Albuquerque, NM; and Buda/Austin, TX. She graduated from Angelo State University in 1992 with an RN and worked as a nurse and hospice care supervisor for many years. She was preceded in death by her mother – Lucille R. Lavo Zonge, her father Randolph Daniel Zonge Sr., her stepmother, Marie Mendler Zonge, and her brother Kenneth L. Zonge. She is survived by her brother, Randolph Daniel Zonge, Jr.; her children: Ray Anthony Steele, Jonnette Ann Kraft, Dawn Marie Wostal, John Russell Steele and her seven grandchildren and her three great-grandchildren. The family will have a private memorial service for her in the fall. She requested that in lieu of flowers, donations be made to World Vision. (www.worldvision.org)

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It Is Not Fair.

It is not fair.
The strongest of women, the weakest of which are stronger than any man while lying on their backs receiving the obeisance of men succumbing to their own mortal lusts.
She was the strongest of women, now struck down by the power of creation itself.
The mad hatter of genomic mutation, cancer, consuming her from inside.
She who could not be broken breaks herself from inside.
It.
Is.
Not.
Fair.
But she succumbs anyway.
Fair is not a word nature understands.
She who consumes the innocent and the guilty, the survivor and the wretched fool alike.
Nature claims her anyway, fair or not.
The hands that raised a multitude, struck down by simple time.

Sitting a Vigil

It’s four in the morning. I’m holding my mother’s frail hand in mine, for one last time. It is warm still. I’m trying, in what I’m certain is a vain attempt, to communicate with what little is left of her. What little the cancer hasn’t already eaten. Trying to let her know that we love her.  That we know she loves us, but it really is time to go. The curtains are closing. Silence is descending.

“Rage against the dying of the light?”

The light is gone. The rage is spent. The breaths are ragged, sometimes minutes apart. Will this be the last one? And then the next one comes. Why does life go on without purpose? How do the systems that make up the form that is my mother, with all that a mother is to a child, how is it that the systems don’t know the purpose has been served? The children are safe and grown. The fight is done. How can it be that she would not know this? She who knew how to mend wounds with a kiss, not knowing the battle was won long ago?

It is a shame. A shame that the kisses of loving children and grandchildren and great grandchildren cannot cure cancer. Cannot mend the ills of old age. Cannot wisk away the pain the way that a mother’s love can. A shame that she fights on for each painful breath of life, not knowing that the decision was rendered in her genes years ago. This battle cannot be won.

It is the fate of us all. To be born is to someday die. A dance with death that spans all of life. Hers has been a long dance. Not the longest, but I think she would say “long enough.” Always time for one more favor for a friend. Always  care to spare for the lost souls. For the wayward child with more will than sense. Always more worry for others than for self. So busy helping others with their battles that she forgot to fight her own, perhaps.

A life long enough to see the children grown. A dance long enough to know the form that the ending will take. Now it is done. We miss you already, mommy.

Evidence of Society

When was the last time you stalked prey, ran it down and then ate it? That’s not a realistic question, is it? I mean silly, right? I’ll skip over asking if you’ve crafted your own weapons with which to hunt game, I know most people have not and the creation of the most basic tools an individual can make is a skill that vanishingly few people can exhibit. When was the last time you planted seeds, watched them grow, and then harvested the crop? Well, all of us have probably tended a garden in our lifetimes. Agriculture is in just about everybody in some way. There is something real about digging in the dirt and watching plants grow. Something very zen and rewarding about the entire process. However, gardening is definitely not the same as growing everything you need to survive all by yourself year in and year out.

Why am I asking these questions? Because that is what it means to be truly self-sufficient. To be able to produce the food you require independently. To be able to create all of the tools and clothing you require to survive in any climate in any region of the world. If I were to ask you about building your own shelter, even fewer people would understand just how difficult that process and others are. They would be clueless as to just how many people are required to create the many things we take for granted. Take for granted (i.e. an entitlement) especially in the US and other developed countries.

TED, Thomas Thwaites, How I Built a Toaster from Scratch

I have heard the challenge, repeated many times over my years in libertarian circles, to prove the existence of society. It is almost a mantra to some individualists, and I know there are survivalists out there who are convinced they could live on their own indefinitely. Some of them even can do it, I’m sure, but the number of people who could do it are a vanishingly small fraction of a percentage point of the entire human population currently living on Earth.

Coming from the other direction, the number of people the Earth could support if everyone had to live a hunter-gatherer life is probably less than one billion people. I haven’t seen anyone do a back of the envelope calculation on that in several years, so my number is off I’m sure. The point is that the number of people the world can support in a primitive lifestyle is smaller than the number of people our established technology can support. The systems built and maintained over centuries by people who just want to see their children have it easier than they did, to be able to survive without having to claw their way through every day wondering if they’d make it through the next day.

The nine-to-fiver who complains about the cost of his latte has no clue, none at all, just how many people who had to labor just to get him his coffee with milk in a container that he could just throw away when he’s had enough caffeine to keep him alert. And he gets that tasty beverage in exchange for a promissory note, a debt instrument, money, that the retailer then passes back down the chain eventually to the field workers in a far away country that actually touch the soil and grow the coffee that he thinks he paid too much for.

All of this, the high numbers of people, the ease of access to goods and services, the ability to do some task divorced from producing sustenance for yourself directly and still be fed, clothed, sheltered? All of it is evidence of society. Money is evidence of society, all by itself. Money is a socialist system, a system that exists because there are others to trade with in the first place. Without the group’s agreement, you’d still be running down prey like your ancient ancestors did, and hoping that the animal didn’t injure you before you killed it.

Watching the seventh season of The Walking Dead, I was struck by the notion that the entire group still wears clothing that doesn’t visibly disintegrate when they move. Seven years on, they still aren’t spinning and weaving thread and cloth. Patching shirts and jackets. For that matter the vehicles still run after being essentially without maintenance on the side of the road for years. Gasoline still burns even though (as anyone who has experience with small engines can attest) you’re lucky if you can get a lawn mower engine to start after it’s been sitting idle through one winter. Lucky to get it started because the fuel itself is unstable and will degrade over time. Rick and Carl and the rest of the crew? They’d be walking or riding horses everywhere by now because the fuel to run modern vehicles can’t be easily created without a vast infrastructure of technology that very few people understand.

That’s television, you say? Of course it is. It’s fantasy. And so is the notion that any of us are truly self-sufficient. None of us can replicate even the most simple of machines that we rely on daily, and yet we delude ourselves into thinking that we are capable and independent. Rational actors on a vast, mathematically predictable stage. That ability to delude oneself in that fashion? That too is evidence of society. Flat Earthers are a modern invention, and absolute proof of society’s existence. You don’t question that the Earth is round when you watch the people who will bring back your dinner tonight sail over the horizon to catch fish. The curvature of the Earth is as evident as the gnawing hunger in your belly.


I first thought about writing a post like this one after listening to this episode of Freakonomics,

I was inspired by the complexity of the process of creating one of the oldest tools modern man utilizes, the simple wooden pencil. As the episode goes into, the pencil is hardly simple at all. It took generations of tinkering and tweaking to create the object that you and I think of as a pencil when we say the word “pencil”. This TED talk portrays the complexity of the subject more quickly,


TED Ed: Small Thing Big Ideas, Why the Pencil is Perfect

Unfortunately the video is hosted on Facebook only. I apologize for the cludgy video interface design that comes along with that; the parts that aren’t directly copied from YouTube, I mean. Modern technology is so much not like the pencil. Facebook’s baldly abrasive and ham-handed attempts to acquire all internet traffic for itself are a hallmark of poor design, but that is a different subject for some other day. The subject for today is how the simplest of objects that we take for granted, a toaster, a pencil, are beyond the ability of any one person to put together and have work properly. So much for the dreams of rugged individualism and self-reliance. Would you mind passing me that cup of tea, please?

Status Update: Ubuntu is Now my Friend Again

I whacked Windows 7 on The Son’s old laptop (circa 2012ish) The Dell laptop gifted to me by Eric finally died a tired, old death last year and I’ve been rummaging around the house for another functional portable now that mom is in the hospital. I stumbled across this one in a bag in The Son’s room (also in the bag? The Mac Mini we’d been planning to give to mom. The Wife was ecstatic) but it’s drives were full and it was running a dead old version of Windows that I wouldn’t trust to run reliably or securely away from home.

We discovered that Ubuntu has a Studio version for graphic creators and video editors, so we burned a disk of that OS and after a bit of back and forth we’ve managed to make it work reliably. I am now happily keyboarding from the couch in mom’s hospital room. She’s happily snoring quietly as Rainymood plays on my phone which is plugged in across from her bed.

The interface is clean and spare. The tools for graphics editing are plentiful. I just wish I had enough editing skills to be able to judge their quality. I have always found Gimp perfectly acceptable as an image editor given the limited amount of image editing I do. But then I get by on Windows with just Irfanview. In Windows 10 Paint is capable of saving in common graphic formats (not just for bitmaps anymore!) I don’t know when they added that ability but it is a welcome discovery in version 10.

It looks like I’ll have plenty of time to test tools, sadly. We could easily be here for several more days. But that is OK. I am a vampire and I enjoy waving the nurses away at night so that mom can sleep. With Sister #2 being a nurse and willing to drop by for the day shift, we can keep doing this indefinitely. Well, I can. I don’t really have anything else to do aside from sit at home and enjoy my vertigo. At least here I can medicate my vertigo if it occurs and do so under medical supervision. It is a win-win in my book as long as mom gets better. 

Status Update. A Lot of Hot Air.

The only time you’ll ever see
my #bedhead

So I’m finally feeling almost normal after our trip to Chicago. The day after we returned home, the sore throat that had been bugging me in Illinois turned into a full-blown sinus infection complete with glaring red pink-eye. This prompted a hasty trip to my immunologist and a series of antibiotics. I finished the ten day course of antibiotics on Wednesday, and had my first physical therapy session in three weeks on Thursday. I was bushed after the PT, but that was only part of the problems that surfaced this week.

Monday morning was the follow-up for the 90 day Betahistine (Serc) test that my ENT and I had been running. The results looked promising, and so I’m going to try upping the dose for a year and see what that gets me in the way of relief from Meniere’s symptoms. I’ve noticed that I seem to start exhibiting symptoms again before the next dose of Betahistine is due, so I’m going to take the same dosage three times a day. If you are a Meniere’s sufferer and you have triggers similar to mine, you probably should get your ENT to trial you on Betahistine and see if it helps you or not. I am curious to know if there is a sub-group of Menierians who benefit more from Betahistine than others. This data would clarify whether there is a benefit to Betahistine treatment or not. Comments on this subject are not only welcome but I’ll beg for them if I have to.

I’m feeling better, I thought. I should have known this was a prequel to the hell life had in store for me later in the week. On Wednesday the air conditioning dropped dead on us. It had been acting a little squirrely for awhile now and the system is nineteen years old. Several times over the last few years I had noticed that the thermostat didn’t seem to control the system like it should. It would sporadically fail to come on when it got too hot in the house, and would fail to turn off when it got cold. Sometimes the interior spaces got chilly enough that I thought seriously about wearing more clothing. On Monday, the system’s lackluster cooling performance lead me to do some basic troubleshooting and I noticed that it was well past time for a filter change. Changing the filter did seem to improve cooling and airflow, but Tuesday evening the fan wouldn’t start if we set the thermostat to cool, and Wednesday the fan said fuck it, I’m outta here and refused to start in any position. On or auto. Heat, cool or off. No dice and no air conditioning.

myhistoryfix.com

Ah, Texas in the summertime with no air conditioning! Back in the days before that invention every building in the region had ten or twelve foot ceilings and floor to ceiling windows that allowed cool air to enter the building from the lower sash, while simultaneously allowing the heat to escape the building from the upper sash (this is the origin of the term double-hung for the architecturally curious. Windows which can be opened from both top and bottom) and even then you slept outside on what was referred to as a sleeping porch because it was too hot to sleep indoors at all. Air conditioning changed architecture radically and not necessarily for the better. With the ability to alter indoor temperatures builders could ignore long-held rules of thumb that governed Southern construction, putting large glass facades on South-facing walls and lowering ceilings to the now-common eight foot height. Which is all just fine, as long as the air conditioning works.

So we called our handyman, but he was out of town for a week. Deeming it time to bite the bullet, we called a contractor we have dealt with successfully before, and they sent a guy out on Friday. Based on his estimation we had to replace parts just to see if the system could be revived or not. I’ve been down this road a few times. Replacing one part leads to replacing another part, which leads to replacing a third part until at some point you’ve rebuilt the entire system. As I mentioned previously, it’s a nineteen year old system. I can’t even get refrigerant for it anymore, legally. Spending money on this dinosaur is throwing good money after bad.

The heat and the humidity were threatening to send me spiraling back down into vertigo hell, but the salesman (comfort specialist) who showed up to pitch us on a new system came bearing gifts of window units. Consequently we were open to the idea of looking into replacing the ancient HVAC system. This was a theoretical possibility on Friday, a possibility that is rapidly gelling into a reality for Monday. So I’m taking this opportunity to start some renovations of my own that I’ve been wanting to get done since the first day we toured the place before buying it.

I won’t be raising the floor in the former garage yet, that project is a bit too ambitious even if it is desperately needed. The attic fan that has hulked above my head every time I climb the stairs is going away though. I’ve wanted that thing gone from the time we moved in. I can’t use it. It draws outside air into the house unfiltered. Everything outside wants to kill me with allergies. The last thing I need is something that pulls even more allergens into my breathing space. The window units alone are making my symptoms worse, I can feel vertigo perched above my head like an unwelcome avian visitor. Removing the attic fan means the upstairs HVAC will finally be properly balanced without the thing taking up attic real estate and letting attic heat into the living space.

Who knows, maybe other repairs and modification are following fast on the heels of the new HVAC system? Hope springs eternal, even for those cursed with chronic illness.

Then, methought, the air grew denser, perfumed from an unseen censer 
Swung by Seraphim whose foot-falls tinkled on the tufted floor.
“Wretch,” I cried, “thy God hath lent thee—by these angels he hath sent thee
Respite—respite and nepenthe from thy memories of Lenore;
Quaff, oh quaff this kind nepenthe and forget this lost Lenore!”
Quoth the Raven “Nevermore.”Edgar Allan Poe

A Toast to My Alcoholic Father

“You would never know if I relapsed,” he said to me. “I was very good at being an addict.” 

No, honey, you weren’t. None of us are. We think we are cleverly hiding it. We think we have it under control. We think we are getting benefit from it. We think we are the exception to the rule. We think we will be able to prevent it from consuming us. 

– A Facebook Status Post

I have taken out the garbage in my home (eldest son always gets that job, ditto with husbands)  for my entire life. Consequently I know what people throw away in the house. I know who recycles and who doesn’t. I know who is doing what based on what garbage appears in their waste cans. It is extraordinarily hard to disguise behaviors that create garbage, behaviors that leave behind evidence which must be destroyed if you want that behavior to be secret.

My dad went through an astronomical amount of Canadian Club, Black Velvet, etc. At least a fifth every, single, day, without fail. I must have hauled several tons of discarded glassware to the ashcan over the course of the years I lived at home with my parents. We kids knew the drill. Ice (this much) bourbon (that much) water (a much smaller amount) He always drank, all the time. It wasn’t until the drunk driving laws started appearing that he knew he was heading for trouble, because he couldn’t be without his glass of bourbon and a cigarette (Pall Mall‘s) at any point in any day. Couldn’t do without it (them) until the cancer started.

When the cancer started it became imperative that he stop smoking and drinking, and he still couldn’t do it. He just didn’t know how to stop. He switched to low-tar cigarettes first. No more filterless Pall Mall’s, it was Carlton‘s or whatever else he was trying that week. He insisted the low-tars were filled with cabbage leaves, but he had to have a smoke. The bourbon took longer for him to give up. He switched to cheap beer when it finally became clear he was going to have to stop his addictions, not understanding that he was going to have to actually stop the behaviors entirely. He smoked and drank until they stopped allowing him to eat because of throat cancer. In the end the addictions killed him by causing the cancer, and that is what I remind myself of mentally every time someone offers me a cigar or I pour myself a drink.

I stopped smoking cigarettes ages ago because I could feel the drag they were putting on my lung capacity, and that process took years. One of my sisters now runs a cigar shop and I have to decline offers of cigars every time she comes to town or we meet with relatives who have seen her recently. I can feel the itch of a lifetime nicotine addiction in the corner of my mind just thinking about picking up a coffin nail. The air in the Steele household was blue with tobacco smoke for my entire childhood. Nicotine was in the air I breathed every day until I left home and had to infuse the drug by smoking it myself. Kicking that habit was one of the hardest things I’ve ever done, and it took years of mentally associating the desire to smoke with the smell of a the bars I worked in as a young adult, reminding myself of the stale smell of smoke, sweat, alcohol and vomit that permeates the air of a bar before all the people show up and renew the smells with life.

My dad loved to tell a story about me when I would drink with him. One thing my dad was really good at was spinning yarns, and he could talk all day and night if you let him. He was a certified master of bullshit and I could sit and listen to him talk for as long as anyone would let him talk. I was fascinated by his ability to just make stuff up on the fly. The bare bones of the story went like this; The first time my parents took me along for a fine dining experience, one that included courses of meals and an after-dinner drink, I cried for the glass of cognac they sat in front of my father. My father, being the indulgent person that he really was, wanted to see what I would think of the cognac. Would I hate it? Would I reject it because of the alcohol taste? He didn’t know. So he handed me the snifter and as he told it “You drank it right down. Sat there for a few seconds. Then you cried for more!” It always got a laugh and I laughed right along with him.

I am reminded of that story every time I crack open a new bottle of brandy or cognac, which is about the only thing I will drink these days; and I will drink a quiet toast to my father on those days. It is because of him that I am not an alcoholic, and that is probably the best lesson I learned from him. I have often wondered what he would have made of the efforts to end addiction these days? Would any of them have helped him? Would he have wanted help?