Wednesday, April 25, 2018

The View From 100

My father-in-law, George Luchtan, will be a hundred years old tomorrow. My wife and I have been looking after him this past month in Detroit, and I've wondered what it must be like for him at his very advanced old age.

I think of a book by the literary historian Malcolm Cowley, written when he was in his 80s, called The View From 80. In it Cowley quoted a fellow octogenarian as saying, "I feel like a young man who has something the matter with him." I'm 83 myself now, and can relate. My father-in-law, on the other hand, at age 100, has a lot the matter with him, and I doubt he feels like a young man anymore.

Still, he's amazingly alert, though physically and mentally, of course, not the man he once was. He was a fixer, a problem solver, as a young radio repairman in Yakima, Washington, and later as a Ford general foreman in the company's River Rouge plant in metropolitan Detroit. But he isn't able to fix much anymore.

Yet he still reads, mostly technical stuff, stuff he's read before and now comes to as if for the first time. Watches closed-captioned television (factory work damaged his hearing early on, and he's all but deaf now). Still likes the challenge of puzzles, but he seldom figures them out anymore, even those he invented.

He lives now one day at a time, as don't we all, really. When you ask him how he is in the morning, he replies, I'm alive."   

Sleep, I think, is his great pleasure now. He's asleep more than he's awake these days, having dreams (sometimes what he calls nightmares). He sometimes talks in his sleep. He sometimes confuses a particularly vivid dream with reality.

And he doesn't get around much anymore. Except for trips to see his doctor, or whenever we can get out to a restaurant meal, he's confined to the house. Doesn't get much exercise other than the walk from his bedroom to his chair in front of the television, or into a back room where he sits and watches the birds in his back yard. We throw bird seed on the ground to attract the birds.

So how much "quality" does my father-in-law have left in his life? Enough, it seems. He soldiers on. Still sings snatches of old songs, recites poems he memorized as a young man and still remembers. Still notices things, still laughs at some of them. Tells stories out his past, stories of personal triumphs, of problems solved.

He's looked forward to his 100th birthday. There'll be some 20 well-wishers in his house tomorrow, relatives mostly, some old friends who happen still to be alive. It'll be an exciting, tiring day for him, and he'll perhaps be unable to sleep tomorrow night and instead sleep all the next day.

What's next for him, besides the inevitable? We all hope it'll be a return to his house in the Florida Keys, which was severely damaged by Hurricane Irma last September, from which he and his youngest daughter Kathleen, his chief caregiver, had to evacuate, and where she's been this month seeing to the repair of the place. There on Long Key he can sit out on his veranda above a canal, in Florida's warm sun, and watch the birds and the boats going by. Long may he still live. Happy Birthday, George.

Sunday, April 15, 2018

Waiting for Spring

We're in Detroit, looking after my wife's aged father (soon to turn 100) and waiting for spring. Today is dark and rainy here. Earlier the rain was creating icicles. The weather is crazy, everywhere on the planet, and the evidence is of climate change caused by global warming (that the arctic is warming is most alarming). Yet there are people -- self-serving most of them -- who are climate change deniers.

These are crazy times, and knowing that history itself is more or less a record of crazy times holds little comfort. Still, we beat on, though this planet, our one and only home in the universe, seems sick and we've doubtless had something, probably a lot, to do with it.

We flew here on Easter Sunday from Puerto Vallarta, leaving warm weather and our winter home in Yelapa behind (actually, it had just started to warm up around the Bay of Banderas after an abnormally cool season) but expecting to enjoy, as April unfolded, the start of spring in Detroit. Instead, we've been suffering an extended winter.

It's still cold and snowy in southeast British Columbia, where we live, and yesterday there was a "spring" blizzard blowing around Minneapolis, where my sister lives.

We fly for home on the 27th of this month, the day after my father-in-law's birthday. Maybe it'll be spring by then. 

Sunday, March 25, 2018

Semana Santa in Yelapa

It's Palm Sunday and the start of Holy Week here. It's also the start of our last week in Yelapa this year. I say "this year" because our hope, our intention, is always to return next year. God willing. If we should live so long.

I'm sitting at my laptop on the front balcony of Casa Emilio at the start of another beautiful day here. I'm surrounded by jungle. Below, mostly obscured by the trees, is the central village, and beyond, across Yelapa's cove, is the main beach. There's a spinytail iguana -- the locals call them garobos -- in a tree in front of me. We have a resident population of these black lizards, some of which, the males, I think, sport streaks of scarlet on their bodies. They live under our roof tiles, come down the steep little stairway from the flat rooftop above our guest room (where we sunbathe, hang our wash to dry) to waddle past me at my computer, cross the balcony, slip between the wooden bars of the railing, and crawl out into the sun on our landlord's tiled roof to warm their cold reptilian blood before hopping into a tree to eat some leaves.  They grow quite tame as they get used to us each year, often stopping within a foot or so of your foot to look up and cock their heads as if waiting for you to say something. I often do say something, like "How you doin', buddy?" or "Aren't you looking ugly today?"

Actually, they're kind of cute, and lately they've been chasing each other around in a reptilian mating dance.

We have other visitors on occasion. One night I was awakened by what sounded like crockery being moved around on the front balcony outside our bedroom. Got up, shined my light through the bars of our open window, heard a scurrying. Cranked open the door to the balcony and pointed my light across the balcony to see the back end of a raccoon and the face of another, its eyes reflecting my light back to me from between the bars of the railing. I had to charge out at it to get it to scramble across the roof tiles and jump into a tree.

Then just yesterday my wife April, while sweeping our bedroom floor, pulled our empty luggage bags away from the wall, where they'd been stored since January, and there was the curled-up length of a snake. She yelled. Norma, our landlady, at her lavadero just below us, came up, grabbed our broom and clapped it down on the snake as it tried to crawl away. I came down from our front balcony, Norma handed me the broom, and I managed to sweep the snake outside of the bedroom, onto our back (kitchen) balcony, and down the stone steps of our entrance.

This was the second snake we've had to eject from our house, the first found in our bathroom about three weeks ago. That one I prodded from where it was curled behind the toilet into the shower stall, where it escaped through one of the two holes in the concrete wall where the water pipes come through. Both were long and skinny, dark and speckled. We have a field guide to the amphibians, reptiles, birds and mammals of western Mexico, but I'm not sure it shows the kind of snake we've seen. Norma calls them house snakes, which tells us something. In any case, they're harmless, she says, and they're probably good for ridding the house of other creepy-crawlies.

Oops! My wife says I must stop now. She wants us to go down to the village for the Palm Sunday procession. The church bell has been tolling.

P.S. We missed it. Took too long writing this post. Next year!


Saturday, February 10, 2018

Old Guy Writes First Novel

Odd weather here on the Bay of Banderas lately, overcast, misty, even a little rainy accompanied by lightening and thunder. But definitely warmer than it was when we arrived in Yelapa at the end of December. Then we had cool days and downright chilly nights through much of January. We feel the humidity now, if not always see the sun. The leaves are falling. Spring is coming.

Sent off a revised and largely rewritten draft of my novel to the editor I've hired for a professional critique. I've actually had two editors look at it, and both more or less liked what I'd done on my own while offering much-needed and much-appreciated suggestions. Dammit, I'm determined to find a trade publisher for the thing but, at last resort, will publish it myself just to be done with it.

I call it Waiting for the Revolution. It's set at the beginning of the 1970s in a back-to-the-land commune in British Columbia. The characters are mostly American "refugees" of the period. The title, apart from the idea of a cultural and political revolution, I hope suggests the longing for some all-inclusive change for the better, something like a "final solution" to the human condition. In that sense, the title can be taken as ironic. 

It's basically a love story, a story of relationships, my main characters a man and wife who break up, tentatively rejoin in the free-love atmosphere of a sixties-era commune, and finally struggle to make it together as a couple. The struggle won't end, I want the reader to infer. Life itself is a struggle. The human condition goes on.

Gees, I see the last two paragraphs above as something like the dust jacket copy for my novel. Should I wind up self-publishing, I might use it.

Sunday, January 28, 2018

28 January 2018

Here we are, my wife April and I, back in Yelapa for our 13th stay in this village just down the coast from Puerto Vallarta. Arrived here at the end of December, the day after my 83rd birthday, and plan to remain until around the 20th of April when we'll go to Detroit for April's father's 100th birthday before returning to our home outside Nelson, BC.

I doubt very much I'll make it to my father-in-law's very advanced age; not sure I even want to, though his abiding alertness is amazing. He sleeps a lot, his short-term memory grows ever shorter, but he's still reading, still thinking, still acquiring knowledge, still content to be alive.

I recently read an interview with Philip Roth, who in his mid-80s claims to have retired from writing. He hasn't, of course, retired from reading, nor from thinking, and what he says about his old age and the approach of the inevitable that awaits us all certainly resonates with me. He goes to bed at night, he says, grateful to have had the day, and wakes up the next morning thankful to be starting another. That's basically it for us folks who have made it beyond the biblical three score and ten.

Unlike Roth, I'm still writing in my mid-80s, though also unlike him I have virtually nothing to show for all the years I've been writing -- some 60 years, starting in 1956 when as a Navy sailor I started sending out stories and within a couple of years actually published a few in obscure and now vanished magazines.

How time has gotten away from me. How much time I've wasted in my long life. Still . . .

Hope springs eternal.

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

It's been over a year since I posted here, don't know what I want to say, but I guess I'll just ramble on for whatever it's worth.

I turn 80 at the end of this year. Hard to believe -- until I think back to all the years I've been alive in this world, all the lives I've lived, all the jobs I've had, farm boy, college student, Navy journalist, university student on the GI Bill, then newspaper reporter, magazine editor, high school janitor, urban mail carrier, golf course groundskeeper, back-to-the-lander, husband, father, grandfather. And writer, always a writer, beginning when I was still in high school and never stopping, though only on a part-time basis, through most of the years of my working life (until I was able to retire in 1998. Sixteen years ago! Since then I've been writing full time -- that is two to four hours every day except when interrupted (my wife and I hike with a group one day each week, sometimes take a trip, and occasionally I have to stop writing to do some housework or work in the garden or chop and stack firewood).

So what have I got to show for all my years as a writer, would-be and otherwise? Not much: a lot of unpublished and some published short stories, quite a few published book and movie reviews (in the 1980s and '90s), a memoir I took years to write and was finally published in 2007 (mentioned a number of times in this blog), and a novel I took years to write and for which I'm now looking, without much hope, for a publisher.

I may have to publish it myself, finally.

Thursday, April 4, 2013

Yelapa countdown

We leave this tropical paradise just a week from today, just when it's turned most paradisal. That is, we wake each morning now to the cool start of another hot day (to take from a favorite description from a favorite writer of mine: you may guess who) after sleeping with only a sheet to cover us and our bedroom's overhead fan going at a steady clip. In the cool of the morning we might take a walk, before or after breakfast, and in the hot afternoon enjoy a swim at Isabel's beach. The Pacific water in the Bay of Banderas is finally warm enough, as it wasn't (for me, anyway) through most of January, February, and quite a bit of March.

In the cool of the evening we might take a second walk, if only to go down to the village to visit one of Yelapa's three main tiendas for some groceries. Otherwise we might go out for our evening meal, our cena, at one of village's outside or semi-outside restaurants, El Pollo Bollo or Tacos y Mas or Los Abuelos. Or we might walk the short distance upriver to the Oasis to see a Tuesday or Wednesday night movie. Or stop by Gloria's or El Cerito to hear some good blues or rock and roll by Yelapa's resident musicians. Or walk the longer distance upriver and across the bridge over the Rio Tuito to eat at El Manguito or order only a beer in order to listen to the good music you often can hear there.

Then home by flashlight, down the upriver path to the village, through the village and finally up the rocky trail, feeling the tiredness by this time in our legs (one acquires "Yelapa legs" here) to our rented apartment above our landlords' house in the jungle.

Of course we have only a week left to squeeze all this in -- so I doubt we'll even try. We are, though, going tomorrow up to Chacala, the mountain village above Yelapa from which its founding families came from many years ago. Though Yelapa has no road, per se, to it, and is mainly reached by panga, water taxi, from Puerto Vallarta, there is a dirt road, more a bulldozed track that has to be repaired every year after the rainy season, that starts outside El Tuito, a town on the highway some thousands of feet above Vallarta,  angles more or less level to Chacala, then plunges down toward Yelapa to end on the ridge above the village. Our landlords' son, Emi, keeps a truck up there, in an area called "the parking lot," and tomorrow morning we'll walk up with him and his mother, Norma, and perhaps his younger brother, Omar, for the drive up to Chacala, to spend the day.

Among other pleasures, we'll visit Emi's beautiful younger sister, Nora, who's married now and has a child. 
Our landlord, Emilio, will remain in Yelapa tomorrow to work at his trade. He's a builder in the village.

"Our family," we call our landlords and their children, whom we've gotten to know and care for after eight winters with them.

We'll be among the last of Yelapa's norteamericanos to leave this year. Hasta ano proximo is what you say to people, gringos and Mexicans alike, as you leave: See you next year.

We hope. At our age it's one year at a time.