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>In Memoriam

13 Jun

>It was unexpected. One of my long-term co-workers, well-liked, good at his job, passed away over the weekend. He was a friend and though it is trite to say, I will miss him and so will everyone else at work.

Schedules had been rearranged and set for weeks in advance, because he was going in for minor surgery — minor, but it would have kept him off work for well over a month. Something went wrong afterward (we’ve all signed the release. It’s not unknown but it is rare).

He leaves behind a loving family — wife, children, grandchildren — and many friends. In a high-pressure business, he brought a kind of steady levelheadedness that is in short supply, calmly dealing with the frequent emergencies and ready for whatever came next.

He was, in short, a good man. He leaves a legacy at work, not only a collection of SOPs that guide operators through all the routine crises but an attitude of dealing with people and events as they are. It is as fine a thing as anyone could hope to leave behind — and makes for very big shoes to fill.


>Decoration Day

30 May

>It’s Memorial Day, Dad. My birthday was yesterday; Mom’s was a week ago, the same day you died. I drove by your gravesite today, too sleepy to stop, and thought again of you.

You didn’t fall in uniform but I think you fell in battle, fighting your balky, unreliable body and a mind gone hazy in patches, so much so you did your best to be affable to visitors, even your kids; hid the worry away for only Mom to see. We knew you were still in there, the agile, quick-witted Dad; still there, looking out, stuck.

Mom says she made you morels the night before you died. One good thing, one last joy; she says you did enjoy the treat, too, present in the moment.

You slipped away before you left, a little at a time. We’d spoke the week before and you were….distant. Friendly but as if talking into a wind, facing a too-bright sunset, unsure who it was on the other end of the line. I missed you then.

I miss you now. Did I ever really know you? I knew my Dad: bigger than life, looming over the horizon of my life. Maybe that’s all of their parents children ever know. By the time we meet as peers, we’re not who we were.

But Dad? You are remembered. All of you I ever knew, from the Daddy who guided my steps to the father whose steps I guided: the memories are still there.

That much is left.

Tomorrow, I’ll stop by.

(My Dad served in the U.S. Naval Reserve, originally in the gunpowder section of a battleship turret, where he hurt his back pretty badly. Ended up his hitch as ship’s librarian and — as near as I can figure — studying for radioman. When I was little, he said it was “a powder room accident,” and wouldn’t explain. I thought he’d slipped in the shower! Of course, he also claimed the job of the USNR was to collect, sort and safely store the nation’s reserve supply of bellybuttons and darned near had me convinced, too.)

>Obituary Of A Stranger

17 Feb

>Fact, fiction, a very full life? I don’t know. But whatever, read it.

>Made From Stardust

29 Dec

>The man who was probably the first to point out in mass media that we — and everything else — are made out of stardust has returned to that stardust. Astrophysicist Benjamin F. Peery, late of Indiana and Howard Universities, was 88.

>Tommy, Several Years Ago

23 Sep

>He had settled down with a borrowed pair of socks as a pillow.…And then I had the effrontery to take a flash photograph! He returned to his nap when I stopped.

>Thomas (Cat) X, October 1989 – 22 September 2010

22 Sep

>Tommy didn’t make it. The veterinarian called a little after 2:30 this morning to say he’d taken a turn for the worse; his temperature had started to fall and he need an oxygen mask to breath. His white-cell count was still abnormal, despite antibiotics. Time was running out. “I thought you’d better know,” he said, “he’s unlikely to make it ’til morning.”

Tam and I went to the pet hospital. Tommy was on a table, looking like just what he was: a very old guy, on life support. He’d continued to decline and started panting while we were there, needing his oxygen turned up even more. He was swaddled in heated blankets. I petted him and talked to him; so did Tam and the vet. He did start to purr but all too soon, it was time. He passed peacefully and, I hope, happily. It was about four in the morning. I was crying.

I cried when he was born, too. Unlike The Slinker’s mama cat, who gave birth under a quilt, quietly, Thomas’s mother, a feral I’d named Missy, fetched me to attend at her birthing bed. She’d showed up at my door, wanting in, wanting to be My Pet, and was so sweet-natured I couldn’t refuse. Like her offspring (and the tom who probably sired them), she was almost all black, just a hint of white at her throat and tummy. She was a smallish cat, almost prissy, very neat and dainty in her movements.

As is so often the case with female stray cats, she soon commenced to swell. I read up on birthing cats (it’s called “queening” and for good reason: you have not seen regal ’til you have seen a mama cat proudly reigning over her kittens) and made a bed for her in a broken kitchen cabinet, just the height of the toe-kick off floor level. She spent some time in and seemed to approve; with a door propped ajar, it was dark and private. I figured she’d have them there, move them to any one of a number of spots soon after, and I’d be well out of it.

I was wrong. One morning while I was getting ready for work, Missy — now looking fit to explode — came and got me, insistently meowing until I followed her into the kitchen. She hopped into the cabinet and kept on talking ’til I opened the door. As soon as I did, she went into labor!

It didn’t take long; about as soon as one tiny kitten was born and cleaned up, another was on the way. One of them — the last or second to last — seemed to be stuck; I reached to assist but before I’d barely started to move, she leapt up to the half-width shelf above and pop! out came the kitten. I think that was Tommy; he was always larger than his three sisters. In due course, she gave birth to four black kittens, who would later be named Jane, Charlotte, Emily and…Thomas. (He was briefly named after the Bronte brother but it didn’t stick). I was so touched by Missy’s faith in me that I just broke down and cried.

I made up another bedding area in the space next to where she’d given birth and eventually left for work; by the time I returned home, she’d moved them and after I removed the birthing box (fancy name for a cardboard box and a rag bed), she kept the kittens there until it was time, several weeks later, for the Grand Parade.

Missy was a very good mother, but she was a feral cat. As soon as they were weaned, I was going to take her to the vet and have her spayed; but as soon as the kittens were weaned, she went into heat and as frantic to Get Outside! She made a dash for freedom before her appointment, joined up with a big, dark tomcat and they both lit out. I never saw her again.

But the kittens remained, a furry, purring quilt through that Winter, a source of joy as they grew up and explored. Tommy and Janie were with me all their lives; Emily and Charlotte had a litter of kittens each as soon as they were old enough (oops!) and with their young, spent about a year as outdoor Rodent Control Technicians at the Skunk Works North Campus. (They lived in a tent over a ground-level hot-air exhaust that Winter. I found homes for all of them except Slinky, who came home with me).

Tommy grew up to be a dignified tomcat; he had a degree of gravitas, though he was willing to set it aside to thwart string or shoelaces and loved chasing bouncy, foam-rubber balls on the stairs at my old house. He’d play with one by himself at night, chasing it down, catching it and carrying it back upstairs in his mouth, meowing, “‘Awl! ‘Awl!” all the way. As he aged, he was less active; I’d skip the ball up a flight of stairs and he’d reach out and catch it effortlessly.

When he was even older, he had problems with getting stopped up; like many another aging individual, he had to have Metamucil daily, and eventually he had to have a prescription digestive aid, too. Then came thyroid trouble, and high blood pressure; but he persevered. He spent most of his time on my desk, sleeping behind the monitor or sitting at my right, smoothing on my hand as I used the mouse and helping me type. He had become very frail. His old bones felt like porcelain but he’d leap down from the desk (with a cat carrier as an intermediate step) and until very recently, he could leap back up again, too, despite arthritic back legs.

He was so frail for so long and held on nevertheless. I kind of wonder if he was staying to be with The Slinker; after she passed away, he was pretty quiet, though he was still coming out to be petted as I typed.

I miss him a lot. I’ve had one or more cats most of my life but Thomas, along with The Slinker and Janie, was one of the very best. He was a wonderful cat.

As for me, I’m lost. I’ve outlived my adopted children. I just hope I gave them good lives.

>I Went To See The Tommy Cat

22 Sep

>The vet said he was “continuing to improve.” Which means he was even worse off than I thought, as he mostly just laid there while I petted him and talked to him. His eyes tracked me a little and he didn’t seem miserable, just exhausted. Breathing pretty fast.

Tam went to the pet hospital with me. (I turned my ankle at work,thanks to some holes left in the lawn and a mower who just mowed flat across them. I can drive my manual transmission car but it’s no fun). She cried. I cried too.

I’ll see how he’s doing and what vet has to say about him in the morning. I’m still hoping.