Our house has an idiosyncratic feature that we forget about most of the time. It’s a small observation deck some forty feet off the ground, accessed by stairs from the second floor terrace. A pretty cool space, but the somewhat steep wooden steps are often slick with humidity and the deck is open to the sky, which means there is no shade in the brutal summer sun. But with last night’s foggy full moon, rumbles of fireworks beyond our woods in all directions, it was mysterious and wonderful. The photo I shot from the top deck shows our old van in the portecochere below and the full moon trying to break free of the fog.
Traditional fireworks displays in Florida communities were canceled due to Covid-19, but the Florida legislature legalized fireworks purchases for individuals for certain holidays, including the 4th of July, so — if you’ll excuse the expression — sales skyrocketed.
Last night the war zone sounds went on for hours, long after Buck, Lou Lou Belle and I had carefully descended from our high perch and retired to the bedroom to read and nibble dark chocolate. No chocolate for Lou, of course, but she lay at the foot of the bed and snored. There had been a loud thunderstorm late in the afternoon. She paced around and whimpered a little at those sounds, but the fireworks and intermittent pistol shots didn’t bother her at all, even with the sliding glass door open to the night with all its sounds.
Maybe Lou understands that humans who have been cooped up so long just needed to let their wolf loose for a night.
So masks were difficult to find in the early days. Thank goodness for our local Buddhist community who went to work sewing beautiful, useful face cloths. Now, of course, they are widely available and even more widely argued about. When or whether? Helpful, useless, or possibly even harmful? Cloth vs. paper. Whatever you do, don’t touch your face.
Then there is the learning curve. I saw a woman speaking at a local county commission meeting — one of the first in-person but socially distanced masks-optional ones we have had since the phased re-opening started. She sat in the audience, mask in place. But when she walked to the podium to speak her mind, she removed the mask. At first, she held it gingerly in her left hand, letting it dangle by one of the ear-holds. But as she grew increasingly agitated during her allotted three minutes, she began to ball the mask up in her fist, gesticulating with both hands, voice rising. At last, spleen fully vented, she returned to her seat and reapplied the mask to her face.
Watching a re-run of the meeting video from home, I shook my head and sighed.
Like many folks, Buck and I are assembling a small collection of masks, from an ancient N-95 that was still in its original packaging and had been languishing in his tool shed for years, and a package of the ubiquitous pale blue paper surgical ones, to ones you pull over your head and pull up to cover your nose and mouth. My current favorite is a cloth one made by two local women. It’s bright yellow with navy blue squiggles. But the ones I’ve ordered for both of us may (I hope) be the best yet. They are cloth, with a vinyl window over the mouth area, and were originally designed to help hearing-impaired folks – like Buck – as they augment their hearing aids by reading lips. Fantastic adaptation, and I like the idea that our smiles won’t be hidden in the grocery store or other public places.
We are still spending most of our time at home, but that is really not much of a change for us. We are both fit and healthy, but in the older cohort for whom catching the virus could mean more than a bad day at the beach.
So we’ve made some other adaptations, too, including deliveries of frozen wild salmon and white fish from Wild Alaskan. We signed up for an every-other-month delivery, but I am finding we’re eating a lot more fish and loving it, so I keep bumping up the shipping date so that now, on our third box, we’re getting a delivery about every six weeks. This is something we’ll continue, Covid or no Covid. Same for deliveries of frozen chicken directly from Purdue Farms. The first box was a terrible disappointment, because the dry ice was completely melted and so was all the chicken. I hated the waste, but can’t fault the company. They were dealing with huge issues in trying to get their product to customers in pristine condition despite hiccoughs in the shipping chain and delivery timelines. Purdue Farms’ customer service was fantastic. They offered me a refund or a new order. I took the new order, and it arrived with extra insulation and dry ice in perfect condition. Most of the order was free range and organic, packaged in convenient serving sizes. It’s great. So far, we’ve made a teriyaki-style stir-fry from a package of boneless chicken thighs, fajitas from chicken tenders, and lemon-herb marinated boneless chicken breasts cooked on an indoor grill pan (photos below).
Worth a post? Probably not. But damn, it was good. Pretty, too.
Note: I’ve avoided frozen spinach for years because of experiences with rectangular blocks that, when thawed, was coarse, tough, and unappealing. I keep trying to think of ways to get more leafy greens into our diet without having a refrigerator full of stuff in various stages of turning into a science project. So I decided to try a bag of Publix’s Greenwise brand chopped spinach. Well, now, this is a whole different animal than my rejects of decades ago. It’s tender, sweet, chopped into tiny bits, and delicious. Perfect as a base to bake an egg.
“So where will you live if you have to live without Buck?” my sister asked in our long phone call last night. “It’s okay if you don’t want to talk about it.”
No, no. There’s nothing imminent going on, thank God. But she knows that Buck is 82 and I am 68 (good solid peasant stock and so far remarkably sturdy) and so barring a freak accident or random deadly disease, the brutal calendar suggests I could be a widow for a long time.
Flo is ten years my senior. She turned 79 yesterday and her husband of 56 years turns 81 today. “If I have to live without Charlie,” she said in her voice which has grown breathy and thin, “I think I’ll stay here with my kids. Plus I love Arizona.”
“We’re not in control of the timing of things,” I say, “so it just depends. We know we need to sell the big house while we are still strong enough to do all the necessary things on our own.” Flo has opened the door, and I muse aloud. “When we sell here, when that time comes, we plan to go to Jacksonville and hunker down somewhere close to the Mayo Clinic where we’re assured of great medical care.”
“And they know you there. They have all of Buck’s records.”
“So you think you would stay there, then?”
“Probably, I don’t know. Somewhere in Florida, for sure. I love old Florida, somewhere on the water, maybe a river, but near the ocean where I could walk the beach everyday. Mother was so strict, I never got a sunburn as a teenager.” Flo and I quietly laugh. Oh, we both knew our mother.
Well. It’s early morning now. I realized that conversation was still on my mind when I called Lou dog by my sister’s name when I got out of bed in the dark to leave Buck and my bedroom, trying as I always do not to disturb his sleep and failing as I always do. He stirs and reaches for me.
Buck bought the first sixty acres of thick pine woods we call Longleaf in 1974. The only access was a dim road, a hunter’s trail, paper company land on three sides. He was a man of many hats even then: corporate executive, husband and father to three young teenagers, community volunteer, part-time farmer, and entrepreneur. I was five years out of high school, married and living 350 miles east in Florida’s capitol city. We had not yet met.
Who could have imagined that by 2020 Buck’s first wife would be dead? His middle son dead. My first husband dead. That next month we will have been married for 35 years? That I would have no natural children, but two beloved step-kids who are my good friends, seven grandchildren and three great-grands.
Or that our county plans to build a road through the middle of the now ninety acres of Longleaf where we built a home and have lived since 2000? Or that we would learn the county approved an overlay on top of our land and that of many of our neighbors that would diminish its value when the time comes to sell? Of course we are working to remove this cloud. It has taken more than a year of research, but we are ready. Our case will be heard by our local planning board on February 4, along with three of our neighbors. Should be quite a show.
As for the road, we support that, even though it changes forever my morning walks to the gate and the total privacy we have enjoyed all these years. We and our neighbors need the road. The current one is narrow and way below basic county standards, with multiple blind ninety-degree curves. It has become the corridor between new businesses and subdivisions at one end and a new elementary school and existing middle school at the other. More than 50 school bus trips a day run the gauntlet. We cannot in good conscience oppose it. So. Two different issues. Both presaging major change.
2020. Shaping up to be a barn-burner. My “word” for 2019 was FLOW. This year’s is READY. I told Buck about my word. He chuckled and said, “Mine is MOVE.”
I’m not the only one who likes the small runner that was delivered by Federal Express yesterday.
Here at what we fondly call The Longleaf Bar and Grill, it’s eating for two most of the time. After many (many) years of playing in the kitchen, I’m much more interested in playing at my desk or elsewhere with a notebook and pens rather than a whisk. Still, food is the fuel, so Buck and I have a collaborative style that gets the job done in an enjoyable way. Here’s an example from the last three suppers.
It was January of 2009 when a brief true story I wrote, Tenderness, was published in Brevity: A Concise Journal of Literary Nonfiction. For roughly five happy years, I viewed myself as a writer. Not one who writes. An honest-to-God writer.
During those years of immersion into what I began to think of as a writing life, I was interested in everything and wrote every day — blog posts, essays, and flash fiction. I took on-line writing classes, submitted my work to a variety of small publications and got enough acceptances and encouragement to make me feel thrilled that I had at last found what I wanted to do for the rest of my life.
Then, in the summer of 2013, my husband, Buck, noticed a pea-sized lump on the side of his neck. It felt soft and moved around under my touch. Over the next several weeks it didn’t seem to grow, but it didn’t go away.
In an unrelated visit to Buck’s dermatologist, Buck asked Kevin to take a look at the lump. “Huh,” he said. “How long has that been there?”
“I think I first noticed it a couple of months ago.”
“Have you had a cold or anything? Been sick?”
“Hmm, well, we generally expect lymph node swelling to resolve within about three weeks. You ought to have your regular doc check it out.”
“Okay, will do.”
I was in the room. When Kevin said, “Don’t wait,” I felt something slip in my comfortable world. It wasn’t what he said so much as the way he said it. He put space before the sentence, brought his face closer to Buck’s, and laid a hand on his shoulder.
The men continued their otherwise routine exam. I pulled out my cell phone and made an appointment with our local internist for the next day, August 8th.
We saw the young doctor, who felt the lump and reassured us that it didn’t feel like anything worrisome and would probably resolve in a few more weeks. Nonetheless, he scheduled Buck for a cervical lymph node CT scan on August 14 and referred him to a local general surgeon for possible biopsy.
At our September 3rd visit, the surgeon said, “Good news, I believe you have a reactive lymph node — no need for a biopsy or other measures. Watch it and call me if there are any changes or if you have concerns.”
So that’s what we did. But the weeks rolled by, Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Year’s came and went. We made another appointment with the surgeon and saw him January 8, 2014. He remained sanguine about the lump, said that cancerous lumps are usually fixed and hard, but this one was a “roly poly rascal.” I guess Buck and I just kind of sat there looking at him, so he rambled a bit about statistics, how he felt sure that there was less than a ten percent likelihood that this was anything to be concerned about. When we didn’t exactly jump for joy over that speculation, he suggested we give it a little more time and then if it hadn’t resolved, he would schedule another ultrasound. We agreed, and left.
It seemed to us the lump was getting a little bigger. In fact, maybe now there were two. March 3 I called the surgeon’s office to ask them to schedule another ultrasound. It was done on March 11. Two days later I called the doc’s office to get the results, but had to leave a voice message. After growing frustrated with no returned calls, Buck and I went to the doc’s office and asked for a copy of the ultrasound. Reading it on our way back to the car, I felt a rift in my life open.
“Findings: Ultrasound is performed of the left posterior neck. Patient has palpable abnormality and multiple nodules are present. These may represent lymph nodes, but they lack the normal fatty hilum. One of the largest lymph nodes has a longitudinal dimension of 2.2 cm and a short axis of 0.7 cm and 1.3 cm.”
“Impressions: Numerous nodules in the left neck, likely to be lymph nodes, but all lacking normal fatty hilum. Recommend CT soft tissue of the neck with IV contrast.”
The surgeon was on vacation in Hawaii. We saw him next on April 23. He began to sing the same lullaby until Buck asked him about the lymph nodes missing part of their structure. He jumped up to go look at the ultrasound (which it was nakedly obvious he had not seen). He frowned now and declared maybe it would be wise to schedule a biopsy and see what’s going on.
Uh, yeah. So we scheduled it, but then decided we would rather have it done at Mayo Clinic in Jacksonville where we’d been going for close to twenty years for our annual physicals as part of their executive health program.
And then we were off to the races. By the first week in June, Buck was in chemo , eventually followed by a 15 day course of radiation for a rare type of lymphoma called Mantle Cell. It was months before I realized I wasn’t writing anymore.
The sensational news is that it actually was caught much earlier than usual, at an early B category, and had not spread to his bone marrow. The best news of all is that he remains in complete remission more than five years post-treatment. We continue to trek over to Mayo every six months for PET/CT scans to be sure if it comes back they are ON it to knock it back.
Buck turns 82 in about three weeks. This is sobering for us both. And his recent so-called “minor surgery” for hernia repair in late September had complications that haven’t completely resolved yet. It’s led us to conclude that the idea we’ve toyed with to sell Longleaf (our home and 90 acres) and move to Jacksonville near Mayo is an idea whose time has come.
I’ll try to tell the story of our “Great Upheaval” which I’m halfway laughing about as I type. That sounds suitably medieval! Actually, we’re up for the challenge. I told Buck earlier this week that my “word” for 2020 is READY. He smiled as though I might have gone slightly daft, then decided to play along. “Mine,” he said, “is MOVE!”
This was the short version of a long story. What I really want to say is this: I don’t know if I can write again. But I am humbly here and am going to just show up as often as I can and try my best.