Celebrating a half century of true love

As appearing in the Niagara Gazette and the Lockport Union Sun and Journal

8/11/2019

Last Friday, my wife Donna and I celebrated our 50th wedding anniversary.

A half-century ago, we were a pair of young, clueless kids. We went out into the world with everything we owned in the back of a Volkswagon “beetle” and drove 500 miles from home to establish a life of our own in Newport, Rhode Island. If it weren’t for wedding presents, we wouldn’t have had enough money for gas to get to Newport, which was my ship’s home port while I was in the Navy.

We first moved into a fleabag motel. Living there depleted our funds quickly so we scoured want ads in the local papers, looking for a cheap apartment. We didn’t have much money but we had our love to keep us going.

Then a shipboard buddy told us about some inexpensive apartments in Fall River, Massachusetts, just across the state line. We moved into this welfare development where your rent was based on your income. I was earning $64 a month back then. Our rent was $32 a month. Fortunately our rent included the heat and electricity. After I paid the rent, I had $8 a week left over for our phone bill, food, gasoline and auto insurance. Heaven forbid my car would break down. All the money we had left from our wedding went into cheap, pressed wood furniture. We still have some of that furniture today.

We were living without the benefit of family nearby so we had no safety net and we had to do whatever it took on our own to survive. We learned more about self-dependence than we had ever known. It made us reliant on each other.

I was proud of Donna the first time I went to sea. She didn’t go home to her parents. The apartment we shared was now home to her, and with the help of a few friends who were close to us, she was able to stay in our place. I am thankful to our next door neighbors, Millie and her family, for helping Donna out. Tony, Millie’s youngest, would spend more time at our house than his own keeping Donna company.

One of my friends, Cole, a bosun’s mate and mountain of a man, would check in on her to see if she was OK during my absences and if she needed anything.

The neighbors would share their food with us and showed us how to apply for a monthly allotment of surplus food that the state gave to low income people. Every month we would have a food exchange in the common area of the complex. We would meet up with whatever free food we didn’t want and swap it for food we did.

It was during this time we had two of our children. How crazy were we to do this? I don’t know. We figured, “How expensive would it be to have children?” Of course, this was in the days of cloth diapers, rubber pants and diaper pails.

As I look back on those times, I have to wonder just how we made it. Foolish as we were, we managed to survive. We were from the generation that believed when you made a promise, you kept it.

I think often about how much in love we were. How our marriage was made stronger by having to make it on our own in the early years. How we couldn’t run home to our parents when we had differences of opinion. How I learned the four phrases that helped keep us together: “Yes dear,” “You are right,” “I understand,” and most importantly, “I love you.”

Now, 50 years later, I think about all the problems we overcame together, standing back to back with our guns drawn, ready to take on whatever came at us.

I now send my wife a cheesy text every morning, professing my love for her to make her smile and to let her know that I am thinking about her. I also try to keep fresh flowers in the house just because. She is the best thing that ever happened to me and I love her with all my soul.

The first time I saw her, my heart whispered “That’s the one.” Imagining my life without her is impossible and I am so lucky to be able to spend my life with her.

Norb Rug is a writer from Lockport. His email is nrug@juno.com where he welcomes comments

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Growing older

People my age are so much older than me.

When I think of old age, I to think of my maternal grandfather. When I was a kid, I considered this white-haired, 65-year-old man as old. I can still vividly remember his vegetable gardens at 101 Bickford Avenue, Buffalo and how he taught me how to trap yellow jackets.

He sold Watkins products and aprons to women around his own age. I recall going on sales calls with him in his dark blue 1948 dodge. This was a treat for me because I got to ride in the front seat of the “Blue Bird” as he called it and every client he had invited me in for milk and cookies. Instant grandmothers!

Now that I’m in my early 70’s, my concept of old age is substantially different than it used to be and I suspect I’m not alone. I am positive that everyone else is growing older and that person that I see in my mirror each morning is somehow aging at a slower pace. I frequently ask my wife how come everybody we know is getting older and we’re not, ala Dorian Grey.

If you’ve been pushing yourself for many years by working, raising a family or both, it feels strange to have time to yourself once you have retired and the kids have all flown the coop. One good thing about getting older is that you’ve been there, done that. Now you can take the time to impart what you’ve learned over the years. I try to do this by writing.

Baby boomers seem to be having a hard time admitting to the inevitability of growing older. Granted, we are all mortal, but I never imagined this referred to me. Sure, I am in my seventies and have been married for fifty years. Yeah, my children are in their forties and have grandchildren in their twenties. Indeed, I have been retired for four years and have been fighting cancer for ten. But those are only numbers to me, not an indicator of how old I feel.

When I take sum of my life, everything I’ve created, experienced and collected, I can count more positives than negatives. More than anything else I learn with each and every passing day the importance of appreciating what I have and choosing to be happy. Taking time to laugh with my family and friends becomes more important. Of all the good things about getting old, the best by far, according to older adults, is being able to spend more time with family members.

My 8 year old grandsons will yell “Papa run over here.” I have to explain, Papa doesn’t do run anymore.  There’s a lot that Papa doesn’t do anymore. Papa doesn’t drink anymore. Papa doesn’t go to the basement or attic anymore. Sure I move a bit slower, but that’s just my body that’s acting it’s age, my mind and my spirit are still in their twenties. The great irony, in this, say the experts on aging, is that this could be a healthy thing. Believing you are younger can actually make you feel younger.

“People, particularly older people, usually say they feel younger than they are,” said William Chopik, assistant professor of psychology at Michigan State. “People who report feeling younger actually tend to live longer and healthier lives and they don’t tend to have as much of a pattern of decline.” says Chopik. In most circumstances, people state that they feel around 20 percent younger than they actually are. This is according to a Michigan State study of over than 500,000 people.

They say when you are older, you heal slower but my innate ability to recover from injuries is well known among my friends and family. Recently I hurt my ankle but I thought I could just walk it off. After 8 days of walking on it, I discovered I had broken it. I was in a boot for six weeks after that and still wear a splint. The orthopedic surgeon I went to said “The x-ray revealed that your bones are, and I going to use a medical term here, crap.” (I love a doctor with a good sense of humor). He said he wasn’t sure just how long it would take me to heal but he suggested it would take months.  I surprised him by how quickly I healed. I have had cancer three times, and managed to spit in death’s eye each time.

So, at my age, I’m on a low salt diet, do Physical Therapy, quit smoking, and have to take an assortment of meds to control my blood pressure, cholesterol, edema and pain. I wear bifocals and hearing aids and But I still don’t look into the mirror and see an old man looking back and I definitely do not see a septuagenarian gazing at me. I see someone that is much younger and more vibrant than that. Then again, I never put my glasses on before I look in the mirror. You remember the age old adage “You are only as old as you feel.”? I believe this to be true. In my mind I am still only 25.

It’s kind of funny how being old doesn’t seem so old now that I am old.

Norb is an independent journalist from Lockport.

Hugs, they’re not for everyone.

There’s currently a Puritanical idea that has pervaded our culture in which touch and sex are inherently linked and it is doing us a great disservice. I think that people are afraid to touch each other no matter how platonic.

I will admit it, I’m a tactile person. I give and receive hugs every day. Touch is one of the ways I communicate. I’m also a shoulder patter, and a hand holder. Hugs are free and there is no purchase required.

We Americans are often “touch starved” because the casual, nonsexual contact that happens between friends in other cultures just doesn’t happen here. I think we were never meant to hold each other at arm’s length.

 According to Readers Digest, hugs are more than just a friendly greeting, they’re a surprisingly powerful health booster you’ll want to take greater advantage of every single day. From the time we’re born our family’s touch shows us that we’re loved and special. The connections of self-worth and tactile sensations we received in our early years are still implanted in our mind as adults. Hugs affect our ability to love ourselves.

Hugs are much more than a friendly greeting. Holding a hug for an extended time is said to lift one’s serotonin levels, elevating mood and creating happiness. Hugs supposedly strengthen the immune system. Hugging is reported to boost self-esteem.

Touch is incredibly important for us as human beings. Studies have shown that hugs can reduce blood pressure and release oxytocin. Oxytocin is a hormone that has been associated with empathy, trust, and relationship-building among other things.

A good hug relaxes muscles and releases tension. Hugs can help ease pain and soothe aches by increasing circulation into the soft tissues.  Hugs teach the importance of giving and receiving. There is an equal value in receiving a hug as there is to giving one. Hugs show us how love goes both ways. As a loving person, I get an abundance of hugs from my family. I find that hugs are like a miracle drug.

A Swedish study of 172 nursing home residents found that those who received hugs and physical touch, connected more with family, friends and visitors, were more socially active and had a tendency to thrive better than the residents who didn’t receive the physical contact.

When you are in a relationship, it is too easy to take the other person for granted. A benefit of hugging that is frequently overlooked is that a hug can reaffirm your love. I think it’s valuable to know that something as simple as time spent touching or hugging has been shown to have measurable benefits.

I had a doctor who was very professional but unemotional. He was an excellent doctor that in my mind saved my life on more than one occasion. The first time he proclaimed that I was “In remission” I jumped up and gave him a big hug, I was so elated. It was like hugging a tree.

 In his culture, men did not hug. Over the course of several years and 2 remissions, I hugged him many times. Our relationship warmed so much that the last time I saw him, he initiated the hug. He also had a student with him on this particular day. He said to the student that he might as well hug me because I was going to hug him too.

A few years ago, I had a person report me to HR that I had hugged her. She was telling me about her horrible battle with cancer when I said “sounds like you need a hug”. I did not approach her or grab her, just stood and opened my arms. She then stepped forward to get her hug. She didn’t protest at the time or say “No thanks.” but seeing as I was in a position of superiority over her she didn’t think she could refuse.

 She taught me to always ask if people are comfortable with a hug or possibly even a warm handshake before assuming that they were. It was a boundary I needed to understand and something I needed to learn.

I now recognize that for lots of people, touch can be not only be something unfamiliar but has the ability to transmit aggression or dehumanizing and scary messages.  I mean nothing more by it when I offer you a hug other than make an effort to connect with you or to offer comfort to you, not to invade your space or make you feel uncomfortable.

So while I will continue to offer hugs to people who seem to welcome them. I will never foist them upon anyone. I will say though that if I see you crying, eating cold pizza and you explain your troubles to me and ask for advice, offering a hug to you seems as reasonable to me as offering you a tissue.

Hugging might also be a wonderful way to resolve a disagreement. I think that giving each other the touch they need may have the ability to reverse the damages.

To me, there doesn’t seem to be a downside to consensual hugging, I just have to ask first. Norb is a loving husband, father and grandfather who doles out hugs in Lockport.

Love Poems

old couple walking while holding hands
Photo by Noelle Otto on Pexels.com

I recently received a picture of a painting from a local Buffalo artist of two older people hand in hand walking away due to something I had published in the newspaper. It reminded me of my wife and me, always walking hand in hand wherever we go.

I remember meeting her at a birthday party I crashed with a friend of mine. It was the wild sixties. I picked her up and carried her off into a corner loudly proclaiming “This one’s mine”. I had dated quite a few girls but had never met anyone like her. Eventually, I fell in love and I remember trying to find a way to ask her how to marry me.

She worked at Saint Mary’s Home for Children with children who had birth defects and knowing how much she loved children, I devised what I thought was the ideal line. One that I thought she could not say no to.

One night at Ellicott Creek Park, as we were looking out across the water and I said I had something to talk to her about. I then asked her to marry me and have my children. She hesitated a bit and I thought I had blown it. I realize now when I said I had something to talk to her about, this wasn’t quite what she was expecting, but she manage to say “Yes.”

It also reminded me of a few short poems I wrote to her several years ago that she has framed on her dresser.

The first poem reads.
Thru good times. Thru Bad.
Thru happy. Thru sad.
Thru high. Thru low.
Thru you, I’m whole.

The good times were all the years we have been together, going to dinner, laughing and loving each other. The bad times were when I was being treated for cancer and I would lay in bed sleeping, only waking to eat chocolate covered mini doughnuts. The Oncologists and I didn’t think I would see another Christmas. She would lay beside me comforting me thru it all. I firmly believe she are the reason I made it.

The happy is when she said “Yes” at Ellicott Creek Park and when she said “I do” in Saint Patrick’s church in 1969. It also relates to the children and grandchildren she has given me. She has given me an amazing, loving family. The sad is the loss of family members we have both suffered.

The High is the soaring feeling I get seeing her, hearing her voice and snuggling with her on the weekends. The low is the times we had to spend apart while I was in the service. She will never know just how I missed her then.

With you, I’m whole means that without her, I would be a ship drifting on the sea of loneliness. Completely lost. I never thought I would deserve such a loving, kind person in my life. One who accepted me for who I am.

The second one’s a three-word poem that goes. Together, Forever, Whatever. This reflects in three words how I feel about us. Sometimes simple is best. Both of these poems reflect what she means to me.

In all the years we have been together, I don’t ever remember having a major argument. We’ve had disagreements sure, but we always resolved them quickly.
She is my soulmate, the Yin to my Yang, the ping to my pong, the day to my night. We’ve been together for 50 years and I want another 50. She will always be my “Bride”.

The Gambler

ace achievement banknote blackjack
Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

My name is Norb and I’m a gambler. (Muted response, Hi Norb.) I don’t bet on the ponies or play poker. I don’t play the over/under on sports games but I gamble every day.

When my alarm goes off and, at seventy, when I swing my legs over the edge of my bed, I gamble on the fact that when I stand up, my legs won’t collapse. I’ve been to the hospital a few times when I “melted” as I call it. I don’t fall, just slowly collapse to the ground because my legs can’t support me.

Once I am up, I shuffle to me kitchen where I lay bets on a number of things. I make myself a breakfast sandwich and I gamble several times. I make myself a ham, egg, cheese and kimchee breakfast sandwich in the microwave. According to Consumer Reports, “More than 10,000 people were hurt using microwaves.” I gamble the egg I use won’t give me salmonella or the ham I use won’t give me food poisoning. I’ve had food poisoning, also called foodborne illness, once in my life and it wasn’t fun. As I cut my English muffin I am reminded that lacerations caused by kitchen knives affected more than 900,800 people in 2012, according to the www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov. I gamble I don’t cut myself.

After I eat my sandwich, risking choking, I then go down my back steps gambling on the chance they aren’t wet or icy causing me to slip, go ass over tea kettle and doing a face plant on the concrete sidewalk at the bottom. My wife has put non slip strips resembling black sandpaper on the steps to help prevent this.

I then take my biggest gamble of the day. I get into my car, turn on the ignition and ease myself on to the road. According to driverknowledge.com, the average number of car accidents in the U.S. every year is 6 million. I wager on fact that every other driver isn’t DWI or Texting or Chatting on their cell phone and are paying attention to their driving. When you think about it, half the vehicle to vehicle car accidents on the road are caused by the other guy. I may be the best driver in the world but that might not help me if someone is acting unsafe on the roadway.

I also gamble, if it is winter, the road crews have plowed and salted the roadways properly before I drive on them. I have traveled on unplowed roads before and I slid into the ditch.

Other gambles I have taken were asking my wife of 50 years to marry me. This was probably the most important chance I have ever taken. I would have been devastated if she would have said no. I tried to “stack the deck” to favor me when I asked. Knowing how much she loved children I asked her to have mine.

Two children later, I also took a chance when I got out of the navy.  The movers were supposed to be at my apartment at 8:00 AM and pack us up for the trip back to Western New York. Donna and I got up early that day and made sandwiches, filled bottles for our two daughters and prepare for our road trip to Western New York. We figured it might take the movers 3 hours or less to load up our merger possessions so we could head home.  We packed up our Volkswagen Beetle with what we thought we would need for a few days, filled a cooler and waited for the movers to arrive.

They only missed this appointment by 12 hours showing up at 8 PM. By 11 PM we were sitting in our empty apartment and had a decision to make. Should we start an 8 hour long drive, in the middle of the night, in the ice and snow of January, after being up for 18 hours? Our other choice was to stay in a motel overnight and leave for home in the morning when we had some sleep and were fresh.

Donna, my wife was as anxious as I was to get home so we gambled on option one. She said she would stay awake and keep me awake during the trip. So I went all in. We loaded the kids and the last of our possessions in our car and I started to drive

The first 25 miles went well, Donna and I chatting about how glad we were to be going home, but as soon as we got outside of Providence, Rhode Island, Donna fell asleep. I gambled again and decided to drive straight through. This almost proved fatal. I tried to deploy a few ways to try and stay awake. I turned the radio real loud and opened my window allowing the freezing air in.

I had fallen asleep a few times during that long trip but I would manage to wake up when my tires would hit the shoulder. The last time I fell asleep however I woke up in the median to snow flying over my car as I was plowing it. I jerked my steering wheel to the right and popped back on the roadway like a Jack-in-the-Box. Thank god no one was hurt.

We all are unaware we are gamblers and unknowingly gamble several times a day.  Follow Norb at  https://whywny.home.blog/

Thanksgiving

I value the traditions we have around the end of the year but some traditions are set in stone and some are a bit more fluid. We have burgers and fireworks for the Fourth of July, a tree and egg nog for Christmas and a turkey with cranberry sauce for Thanksgiving.

Good conversation, delectable smells and the laid back mood make Thanksgiving one of my favorite meals of the year. I will always have warm feelings about this day. 

The planning for Thanksgiving starts shortly after Halloween. Who has the folding chairs? Who is going to bring which dish? My wife and I always bring the turkey and she selects one of the largest ones she can find. She starts thawing it ahead of time so it will be ready for roasting.Then early Thanksgiving my wife starts the long process of cooking the bird soit will be ready for meal time.

We have three generations of Rugs that show up for this holiday. The younger grandchildren shrieking and running is the first sign that the guests have arrived and everyone is greeted at the door by these family members.

With my whole family comfortably gathered around, I can’t help but feel content. The relaxing noise of a house filled with the people I love mingles with the sound of a video game and I can’t think of anything that I would rather hear.

My Daughter’s home is airy, with a large island where she would lay out the appetizers. We used to have a seafood tradition where I would buy shrimp, clams, smoked salmon etc. that we would lay out before dinner along with chips, dips, salsas, pickles, etc. Honestly you could make a meal from the appetizers. I had to quit buying the seafood however as it got too expensive to buy crab legs for a dozen people.

Once the cooking starts, the kitchen seems a bit cramped though, like working on a food truck. The delicious smell of a turkey roasting fills the house with delicious aromas. It’s all worth it though when the aroma of the Brussels sprouts roasting in the oven waft out to fill the house in yet another delightful smell.   From the timemy wife starts cooking the turkey until the satisfaction of that last bite,when I am too full to move, Thanksgiving never fails to fulfill my expectations.

When the large assortment of dishes is finally cooked and put on the dining room table, we all sit down and it’s time to dig in to a family style meal. My daughter serves up the best corn dish ever created. It’s creamy, with a smooth texture but she serves many, many more delectable concoctions.But every dish is better than the last and to just sample every dish on the table fills your plate. You need a side plate to hold your dinner roll.

Dinner conversations are lively, with hilarious jokes that have me laughing so hard my eyes are tearing and stories that often revolve around my children’s childhood. The conversations around the table are refreshing change from the chaos of everyday life. When my whole family is at my daughter’s house, we have to split the family into the adult’s table and the kid’s table. This is a poor description though, considering some of my grandchildren are all grown up and living by themselves. In fact one year I ate at the kid’s table and I am the oldest family member, the patriarch of this motley crew.

I promise myself each year that I’m not going to eat too much but it always happens. Just when you have had to open your belt a hole or two and you think you are done, the table gets cleared and the homemade desserts come out. There are usually three to choose from and you have just small piece of each one so you won’t have to unbutton your pants. Every year I feel as if I could just make it to the couch and take a nap, I would be fine.

Once dinner was over we would go back to the living room to watch some grade B horror movies. We used to have a competition to see who can find the worst movie. My son won one year with a movie called “bad taste“. Talk about truth in advertising.   Unfortunately this tradition had to change the year that a movie depicted a head rolling across the floor and my grandson took off saying “I’m outta here “.

The hours of work preparing the food are always worth being able to share a meal with others and with all the wonderful people in my family, it’s impossible not to have an enjoyable time. With its easygoing,laid back attitude, Thanksgiving almost tops Christmas as my favorite holiday of the year.

The comfortable attitude is infectious, and for a time we can all forget our worries over a cup of steaming hot chocolate with mini-marshmallows.

From my family to yours, have a happy Thanksgiving.

Note: This article has also appeared in The Union Sun and Journal, Buffalo Rising, The Buffalo Chronicle and Art Voice. 

Thanksgiving

chicken close up dish food
Photo by Public Domain Pictures on Pexels.com

I value the traditions we have around the end of the year but some traditions are set in stone and some are a bit more fluid. We have burgers and fireworks for the Fourth of July, a tree and eggnog for Christmas and a turkey with cranberry sauce for Thanksgiving.

Good conversation, delectable smells and the laid back mood make Thanksgiving one of my favorite meals of the year. I will always have warm feelings about this day.

The planning for Thanksgiving starts shortly after Halloween. Who has the folding chairs? Who is going to bring which dish? My wife and I always bring the turkey and she selects one of the largest ones she can find. She starts thawing it ahead of time so it will be ready for roasting. Then early Thanksgiving my wife starts the long process of cooking the bird so it will be ready for meal time.

We have three generations of Rugs that show up for this holiday. The younger grandchildren shrieking and running is the first sign that the guests have arrived and everyone is greeted at the door by these family members.

With my whole family comfortably gathered around, I can’t help but feel content. The relaxing noise of a house filled with the people I love mingles with the sound of a video game and I can’t think of anything that I would rather hear.

My Daughter’s home is airy, with a large island where she would lay out the appetizers. We used to have a seafood tradition where I would buy shrimp, clams, smoked salmon etc. that we would lay out before dinner along with chips, dips, salsas, pickles, etc. Honestly you could make a meal from the appetizers. I had to quit buying the seafood however as it got too expensive to buy crab legs for a dozen people.

Once the cooking starts, the kitchen seems a bit cramped though, like working on a food truck. The delicious smell of a turkey roasting fills the house with delicious aromas. It’s all worth it though when the aroma of the Brussels sprouts roasting in the oven waft out to fill the house in yet another delightful smell.   From the time my wife starts cooking the turkey until the satisfaction of that last bite, when I am too full to move, Thanksgiving never fails to fulfill my expectations.

When the large assortment of dishes is finally cooked and put on the dining room table, we all sit down and it’s time to dig in to a family style meal. My daughter serves up the best corn dish ever created. It’s creamy, with a smooth texture but she serves many, many more delectable concoctions. But every dish is better than the last and to just sample every dish on the table fills your plate. You need a side plate to hold your dinner roll.

Dinner conversations are lively, with hilarious jokes that have me laughing so hard my eyes are tearing and stories that often revolve around my children’s childhood. The conversations around the table are a refreshing change from the chaos of everyday life. When my whole family is at my daughter’s house, we have to split the family into the adult’s table and the kid’s table. This is a poor description though, considering some of my grandchildren are all grown up and living by themselves. In fact one year I ate at the kid’s table and I am the oldest family member, the patriarch of this motley crew.

I promise myself each year that I’m not going to eat too much but it always happens. Just when you have had to open your belt a hole or two and you think you are done, the table gets cleared and the homemade desserts come out. There are usually three to choose from and you have just a small piece of each one so you won’t have to unbutton your pants. Every year I feel as if I could just make it to the couch and take a nap, I would be fine.

Once dinner was over we would go back to the living room to watch some grade B horror movies. We used to have a competition to see who can find the worst movie. My son won one year with a movie called “bad taste“. Talk about truth in advertising.   Unfortunately this tradition had to change the year that a movie depicted a head rolling across the floor and my grandson took off saying “I’m outta here “.

The hours of work preparing the food are always worth being able to share a meal with others and with all the wonderful people in my family, it’s impossible not to have an enjoyable time. With its easy going, laid back attitude, Thanksgiving almost tops Christmas as my favorite holiday of the year.

The comfortable attitude is infectious, and for a time we can all forget our worries over a cup of steaming hot chocolate with mini marshmallows.

From my family to yours, have a happy Thanksgiving.