Archive - Nov 15, 2013


The fog of narcotics

I heard from home that Aunt Olla was in a tizzy so I called her to find out what was up. 

At first, she couldn't hear me at all. She is awaiting a new hearing aid, but usually she can talk on the phone without difficulty. This was new. Eventually, she said "call me back and see if we get a better connection." 

I did. 

"Wow, this is so much better," she said. "That other ear is no good." She had been trying to hear me out of her deaf right ear. So, we got that settled. 

Aunt Olla has been on a narcotic for the severe pain caused by a pinched nerve in her leg. I was on the same narcotic after tonsil removal this summer, and I went off of it due to the horrific effects on my mood. So, I understand what Aunt Olla is going through. And I take some of the blame, because before I left, I went through a bunch of her pictures. Included were pictures of an old boyfriend, Joseph, who Olla claimed was just a friend, a former student who escorted her to dances. 

Under narcotics, however, Joseph has taken on new meaning to Olla. She is beseiged by guilt for breaking up with him right before he left to fight in World War II. She is convinced that his surviving relatives have arrived from the East Coast, taken the staff of the Hilton hostage, and are fixing to shoot her. 

I tried some reason: "But Olla, that was 75 years ago!"

"I know, can you imagine hanging on to a grudge that long?" 

"They're all dead!" I said, but that didn't register. 

I tried to change the topic, and told her about my nice glass cottage here in Tucson. 

"A black cottage? What in the world." 

No, I said a glass cottage.

"Spell it," she said. 


"Oh, a grass cottage!" Olla said. "That sounds pretty primitive." 

"But if that's what you like, I guess that's okay!" 


Joseph's vengeful family came up again and again. I tried to assure her that things would be okay, but to no avail. 

"All of the staff are on my side," she said. They are letting her eat in her room for the time being, at least until the hostage crisis is resolved. 

It was 5 p.m. on Friday night, so I didn't have a chance to call the staff. I have no idea how to resolve the situation but wonder if perhaps easing her off the narcotics for a while will give her a chance to reset to her normal, easy-going self. If the pain is too much, she can go back on, having perhaps gotten out of this horrific Joseph rut. 

Sister Tracie is on the scene, and her visits help a lot. 

Signs of Olla's old self appeared. "I am lucky--most people my age aren't lining up for supper anywhere!" 

I said that's right, most people your age are pushing up daisies. 

That got a laugh. 

"Thanks, I needed the compliment," Olla said. 

My sympathies to the Hilton staff going through this crisis. They are marvelous, as always. And let's hope everything settles down in a hurry. 

It is heartbreaking to see a 102-year old suffer, even moreso from a distance.  


Catalina Mountain Moonrise


Taken at sunset tonight from the front porch...

First customer

Here is the obituary for Jeanette, who I will always remember as the first customer I ever waited on at the nursery. 

In the early days, Grandpa never kept hours. You were free to come when you were free. Jeanette was a night owl, and she usually showed up late. Really late. It was 10 p.m. in May. Mom and Dad were exhausted. And up drove Jeanette. I offered to go out and wait on her, even though I didn't know prices or how to use the till. Dad said, go do the best you can. I was in second grade.

Jeanette and I were friends after that. I have enjoyed seeing her in the Halstad Living Center when I play there. I interviewed her for my book Pirates on the Prairie. She recalled driving home from Concordia College to attend the big game in Thief River Falls with her father. They could only find one ticket, so Jeanette sat in the car the first half while her father watched the game. They switched for the second half. It was 12 degrees. She had the radio on, the windows cracked open, and the radio on. 

Jeanette was not just a little eccentric. After she finished her late night shopping at the nursery, she drove 100 miles to Barnesville for a steak. It was the only steakhouse in the valley open that late, she claimed. She usually had an old man in tow, somebody near 100 years old. There were many different ones. They liked the free steak. 

We found out later that Jeanette never planted a single flower. She just let them sit in their pots until they died. All that work we did to stuff her car to the gills with flowers, and she never planted or watered them.  She also couldn't resist artificial flowers. In the barn on her farm, stall after stall was filled to the brim with artificial flowers. 

Jeanette had plenty of money from renting out the good farm land she inherited, but she also could be tight. Rather than buy a dryer, she hauled her wet laundry out to Augustana cemetery where she laid it out over the gravestones. The warm gravestones dried the clothes in a hurry. Not so crazy after all. 

In her later years, Jeanette became convinced that the FBI was after her. They had bugged her car. Last time she traveled to the Cities, she told me, she had to go 95 miles-per-hour on Highway 94 just to shake the FBI cars. Now that was something I would have paid to see! She could barely see over the wheel, and she sometimes wore a scarf. The visuals would make a great scene in a movie. 

After going into the nursing home, her "survelliance issues," as a mutual friend called them, subsided. They must have found the right medications.

Jeanette was educated and well-traveled. As with every old timer who dies, you wish her stories were written down. She was one of the reasons living in a small town can be so interesting. She will never be forgotten, at least as long as I am alive!