“Are You Still in Your Own Home?”

In April, 2013, I wrote a blog about the experience of being 74 years old.  I made the statement that, “Daily life is not without its aging reminders.”  I gave some examples such as being offered a seat on a crowded bus, attending matinees rather than evening performances, being referred to in a waiting room as “that lady with white hair.” These are all the beginnings of feeling somewhat at variance with the world around me.

Now, three years later, a new phenomenon has shown itself.

In the past two months, at least four different people have asked me if we are still in our “own home.”  The question makes sense, these are people I haven’t seen for a while.  It’s a perfectly reasonable and interesting thing to bring up.  And yet–the question is also a very heavy “aging reminder.”

Being in one’s “own home” in older age serves as a powerful symbol of well-being and independence in much of western culture.  I remember my mother, then past age 90, responding to people’s concerns by saying, “I’m doing all right.  I’m still in my own home.” Have Ed and I reached that point of vulnerability now?

Living into these later years definitely takes courage and fortitude, folks — definitely.

Sally’s Tale of the Wild Things

Last week, we spent several days “up north” at Howie and Sally’s cottage on Oxbow Lake. It’s a great place to relax and to experience some remnants of wildness — bald eagles, loons, deer, wild turkeys, once in a while a bear.

Soon after we arrived, Sally shared with us the tale of an early spring experience.  It is the story of an encounter with wildlife in their cottage world.  It’s a simple tale, yet it touched me deeply.

The Tale

Early this spring, upon their arrival at the cottage, absorbed in the flurry of activity involved in settling in for comings and goings all summer long, Sally looked up through her kitchen window to see a doe standing only a few feet away, staring at her. The deer literally stayed there for the rest of the day, determinedly staring toward the window.

The next day, the doe was out of sight, but all day long Sally and Howie heard her — a sort of bleating sound coming from somewhere in the woods nearby.  On and on it went, with almost no let-up  — a sound full of distress and agitation.

On the third day, the bleating stopped.  At some point later that day, Howie was startled to discover a dead newborn fawn, lying in a small space below one corner of the deck. What sounded so mournful the day before was, indeed, just that:  Or so it certainly seemed.

Surely, this was an experience of being truly a part of a wild creature’s world for a brief period of time.  A doe’s desperate sharing of distress. A doe trying so hard to communicate with two humans.  And for Howie and Sally, a brief but poignant connection with one of the wild things of the world and a glimpse into its inner life.

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Serendipity and the Duo-pianists

Today is July 11, 2016.  It’s early evening here in Wisconsin, and I must get this posting published today — because today is a significant date for me.

Today was my sister Eleanor’s birthday.  She was my “big” sister, 3+ years older than me, and where Eleanor led, I followed.  Eleanor died in 1994; she was 58 years old.

One of the everyday activities of our growing up years was playing duets on the piano at home. Even In our early adulthood and middle years, whenever we were together with our young families, the kids would be playing board games somewhere in the house, and Eleanor and I would be at the piano playing duets.  We didn’t have a large repertoire of music from which to choose, but nevertheless we thoroughly enjoyed playing what we had — Erik Satie’s Three Pieces in the Form of a Pear, Brahms’ Waltzes, Opus 39, and Bizet’s Children’s Games.

Somewhere in the late 1990s, friend Melinda asked me in church one day if I would like to try to play some duets together. Yes!  Playing together started out to be once in a while and strictly for ourselves.  Then our time at the piano increased a little to include playing in church, and attending a monthly music group of nonprofessionals who played for each other.  A few years ago, we somewhat hesitantly decided to try working with a piano coach, a decision that turned out to be fantastic for our piano skills and musical understandings. We have been working with Jess ever since.  It was Jess who persuaded us to try two-piano works; we were pretty much hooked immediately as we launched into playing Brahms’ Variations on a Theme of Haydn in a practice room in the School of Music on campus.  The opening theme is one of those pieces you can sit down and play decently without any preparation.  The sound was sublime.  Ultimately, Melinda purchased a second piano, rearranged her living and dining rooms, and voila (!), we have two small grand pianos at our disposal all the time.  As Ed says, this is like a gift to me and one which I appreciate dearly.

So where is serendipity in all this piano stuff?

Melinda’s birthday is the same date as my sister Eleanor’s — July 11.  Happy birthday Melinda and happy birthday Eleanor!

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