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.

Watching Children

Donna and I watch our grandchildren and a few other children. As we counted them up, we have watched over 20 children not counting our own children. I think that babysitting your grand-kids improves and extends your life and studies have confirmed that.

If you discovered the secret to a longer and more meaningful life I am sure we would all do it.  Apparently, watching children is that secret. People frequently say that being around children will make you feel younger and reports can actually measure and identify the benefits from caring for children. If the experts are all saying that “caregiving” gives older people a purpose in life and helps keeps them active, then maybe even small doses of babysitting may extend your life.

 “Caregiving may give caregivers a purpose of life because caregivers may feel useful for the others and for the society,” said Bruno Arpino, who was the associate professor at the Pompeu Fabra University in Barcelona, Spain, in 2016, according to Reuters Health.

Researchers have actually found that grandparents who watch their grandchildren have a tendency to live longer than seniors who don’t. Researchers with Berlin Aging Study conducted investigations over almost 20 years on the effect of caregiving on mortality. The study was published in the journal Evolution and Human Behavior in 2016.

The Berlin study showed that after factoring in grandparents’ age and state of health, the risk of dying over a 20-year period was one-third less for seniors who took care of children as compared to those who didn’t. More than 500 seniors were interviewed and had medical tests at their homes, doctors’ offices, and hospitals, and these tests were repeated every other year between 1990 and 2009.

Participants were asked how often they cared for children of during the last year. This was defined as looking after or doing something with a child without the parents being there. Then this was scored from 1 (never) to 7 (every day). The sample did not include any primary caregivers who had full custody of the children, though it did include those who watched non-family members.

We are watching both grandchildren and children of friends that I affectionately call the strays or OPCs (Other People’s Children). The oldest OPC, Andrew, will be 22 in August and lives in Arlington Texas. Donna started watching him after the company Donna was working for closed. We are looking forward to seeing Joedin this summer another of our OPCs. She and her family moved to North Carolina seeking employment. She comes up during the summer to spend time with us. We think of them both often. They feel just like kin to us.

This study concluded that spending time with your grandchildren and helping friends and family members with their children most likely gives people a feeling of purposefulness and assists them to keep mentally and physically active running after a child. Anyone who has looked after a preschooler can attest to having to be physically active.

We are in our 70’s and are still looking after grandchildren and OPCs. Every time a child leaves our care due to entering school, moving or a change in their family situation, we discuss taking on another child. We both agree that we don’t need the money or that it’s tiring for us to do but then someone asks “Are you still watching children?” We always answer yes and take on another child.

As per Reuters Health, half of the grandparents who took care of their grandchildren were still alive 10 years from their first interview. Whereas, those who didn’t provide help lived for only about five years. It is extremely important however for every person to decide, just what “moderate amounts of help” means. As long as you do not feel frazzled about the help you provide you might just be doing something good for others and for yourself.

Researchers have found that grandparent babysitters had a 37% lower mortality risk than adults of the same age that do not provide care. Research has also indicated that people involved in providing care to children had a reduced risk of dying during the study follow up than people that didn’t watch children. But the study can’t prove cause and effect can only suggest this correlation.

So if you are a senior, go find some relatives or neighbors who need your help or support part-time. It might be a challenge but there are all sorts of ways you can help others. Watching kids so mom and dad can work or have a night out, picking kids up after school or providing a “bridge” between the time the kids get out of school and the time their parents get home. We have done all three.

Additional research would be required to find out the cause of the longer life expectancy of caregivers, however researchers present a few explanations. But I really don’t need some expensive research from some razzle dazzle organization to tell me just how good watching children makes me feel, how it lets me connect with my youth again.

Old Age

I thought I would feel completely different about growing older. I thought I’d worry more about getting gray hair and the spare tire that would collect around my stomach after I had retired than I have. As I begin my 70’s, I can’t muster more than a shrug about any of those things. MEH. Last I remember I was in my 20’s so I don’t know where the last 50 years went. Instead, what I find terrifying about getting older is that I’ve totally lost the capability to comprehend what people do and why they do it.

Up until recently, more recently than I really want to confess, I didn’t know what a meme was. I had to look memes up on the internet to find out what they were and I am not really sure I understand what they are yet. It was around last week Monday, when I decided to dig deep down into my own oblivion to write this piece, that I discovered that Drake is not just a male duck.

I need a good strong drink and a  to reduce my stress every time I need to remember a password. I have trouble using the 4 remotes that control my TV that my 7 year old grandsons can use in their sleep. Remotes are bad enough. I see you can now turn your lights on and off, luck and unlock your doors and adjust your thermostat with your smart phone. I just want to make a phone call!

I also have no idea how to use Snapchat, WhatsAPP, Tumbler or Venmo, whatever those are. I have a Facebook account, mainly because I want to let people how things are going, to see how they are doing, find recipes and to promote my writing. I have a Twitter account that I only use to stay in touch with a granddaughter who is now going to school out of state.

I’m hearing that cutting back on social media is starting to be trendy, so I might just find out that I am, for one brief second accidentally on-point. We will see how long that lasts. What should I do now? Try to close up the void between the generations, or should I embrace it?

A few years ago, when I first started to sense a technological gap opening up between me and the youth, I tended to enjoy it, much like an old person who’s reached that spot in life where it’s perfectly acceptable for me to dismiss all new music as racket or trip a passerby with my cane just because.

People in a few generations behind me are now becoming parents and CEOs, and I am becoming exactly what I’ve spent the last 40 years accusing my elders of being, angrily befuddled by every new skill needed to get by in life. Give me a smart phone and strand me in a desert and I’ll most likely die there.

When I was in school, “pop culture” just seemed like a course you took for the easy credits not something that was fun, but I did pay attention because it was fun. Part of the charm of becoming an adult was that I could stop working on the oppressively boring task of having to remember trigonometry, history and the periodic table.

Now, though, it turns out that there’s even more for me to try and jam into my brain. The problem is I’ve been in an elective, educational coma for few decades, having reached my interest in modern culture. I don’t know how many Kardashians there are, nor do I care. Just the thought of trying to catch up on everything I’ve missed now is exhausting.

I’m a member of a generation that can remember a time before texting and email and chat rooms. I learned these things in slowly during my 40s, and it wasn’t a problem. I scoffed at, and even felt bad for, anyone who was older and said that they weren’t prepared to try new stuff.

We have a very negative stereotype of people in thier 70s and that stereotype is usually incorrect. Elderly people are very likely to describe the last five or ten years of their lives as the happiest years of their lives.

It may come as a surprise to some, but studies have shown that seniors are among the happiest segments of the population and they are frequently more contented than people in who are in their middle ages. Older people frequently have a very healthy sense of satisfaction that comes from their achievements. These accomplishments don’t need be great feats.

In John Lennon’s lyric, “A working class hero is something to be,” Lennon explains it succinctly. Achievements like being happily married, raising healthy and happy children, serving in the military or retiring from a company in after years of dedicated service, may see ordinary but they can be the basis of contentment in old age.

Peripheral Neuropathy

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I have peripheral neuropathy  from chemotherapy. This is customarily associated with symptoms like numbness pain, and tingling but there are other symptoms as well.

The peripheral nervous system is composed of three different types of nerves. They are the motor, the sensory and the autonomic nerves. Each of these nerve systems controls different functions. I have both sensory and motor peripheral neuropathy.

Damage to my motor nerves makes walking difficulty. My legs feel heavy like I am trying to move a 10 pound canned ham and are difficult to move especially on waking up. I may constantly feel off balance.  Since the damage to the motor nerves interrupts the signals from your brain to the muscles, telling them what to do even doing something as easy as walking could become a difficult task. I require a cane while walking to maintain my balance.

Also I need to see the floor or ground, or I lose my balance. If I shut my eyes, I start waving around like a willow sapling in a wind storm. Damage to my sensory nerves has made this problem worse. The pain or numbness usually associated with damage to these nerves has affected my feet. A doctor tested for this damage using a pin. They repeatedly pushed it against my flesh on my foot and I could not feel anything.

However sometimes if I step on a coin I swear I can tell if it is heads or tails. Then I have the electric shocks. It feels like my toes are getting shocked and the feeling moves across the bottom of my foot.

Because I suffer from symptoms related to this motor nerve damage, I must exercise extra caution when walking on stairs or other areas where my risk of a fall is greater. This is the primary reason I had a first floor addition put on my house, so I wouldn’t have to climb stairs. Allowing myself extra time and not hurrying can also help me limit my risk of falling. I now walk like a two year old.

I also find it difficult to pick things up off the floor due to a lack of balance. I sometimes try to hook then with my cane or use my cane to push them close to something I can grab onto when I bend over.

Because damage to your motor nerves affects the ability of your brain to transmit messages to your muscles I find myself limiting the use of my legs and feet. Unfortunately, this decrease in physical activity results in me having muscle deterioration and weakness. This is often referred to as muscle atrophy and I found it hard to get up from a chair. I had a box built to raise my chair to assist me in getting up.

Muscle weakness further contributes to my loss of balance and difficulty walking that I previously mentioned. While exercise is often difficult and painful for me there are low-impact exercises that I do to help retain muscle mass and prevent muscle deterioration. I am now attending Physical Therapy to help with this and have exercises I do at home to try and rebuild my strength like stepping on and off a step stool every time I leave the living room to try and build up my muscles.

The disruption of signals from the brain can also lead to cramps, muscles spasms and twitches. Sometimes it feels like my toes are overlapping each other. But they aren’t, it’s just my nerves playing tricks on me. Most of the time, the cramping strikes at night and ranges in severity from mild to terribly painful.

While most common symptoms that are associated with peripheral neuropathy are pain, numbness, burning or tingling they are not the only symptoms. When the motor nerves are affected by neuropathy the symptoms might go far beyond pain or numbness. They affect my ability to control muscles and perform otherwise simple physical tasks. Though you might not be able to reverse these negative effects completely, alternative methods like exercise could help you build and retain muscle mass therefore helping you to reduce the effect of motor nerve damage.

There are other a few other therapies I use though to help me mitigate the peripheral neuropathy symptoms. I take the controlled drug, Lyrica twice a day. Other things I use are homeopathic treatments. I treat my feet with a Frankincense and Myrrh oil every morning.  Finally I use a CBD tincture twice a day. Every time I need a refill, I search the internet for the best price because there are now so many players selling this that pricing is all over the place. I have also moved from 300 MG to 1200 MG and the price increases proportionately. You can buy the 1200 MG for less than some people ask for the 300 MG.

CBD has been called safe for almost everyone. This is according to a new article from the World Health Organization. But you should check with your own doctor before you begin using any CBD product. Research has indicated there are several CBD oil benefits, ranging from improving rheumatoid arthritis to alleviating social anxiety. CBD could also decrease chronic pain although your mileage may vary.

Norb is a freelance journalist from Western New York. His blog is at WhyWNY.home.blog.

Mail order drugs.

bunch of white oval medication tablets and white medication capsules
Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

At my age, I take several medications. Many of these I get at a local pharmacy. The only one I can’t get from them is an oncology drug. I get that from an out of state pharmacy.

I have been taking this drug for over 2 years and receive it monthly. I recently had to reorder this medication as I was going to run out on January 22nd. I hadn’t received a call from them so I started calling them on January 18th. I called their 24 hour “help line” and listened to all the options and selected “1” to be whisked to a live customer service representative.

Four songs later, Corrine, asked me to verify my name, date of birth and address. This, I will call my PI (Personal Identifying Information) in the interest of brevity. So far so good. They accessed my file and asked if I was calling on my beetledopper (not the drug’s real name). Well, that is the ONLY drug I get from them, so yeah. I was asked how much medicine I had left and I told her I was running out on January 22nd. She put me on hold so she could check with someone. I think she went for a cup of coffee.

When she came back she told me my copay would be $2437.59. I told her this was wrong because I am enrolled in 2 programs that help me pay for my drugs and I was looking at a letter from my secondary provider that stated my initial deductible for the year would be $1303.00.

She asked if I wanted some financial assistance and I declined saying I already have two plans and I was happy with them. She said she would take care of this for me and that she would call me back later. In the meantime I called my secondary carrier, pushed buttons, listened to some music and finally talked to Mike. I gave him my PI and he verified the $1303 yearly deduction.

On Friday, I called my pharmacist again and talked to Jasmine. I went through all the PI again and she reviewed my file. When I asked what the holdup was she said they were waiting for a response from financial assistance. I told Jasmine I had no interest in financial assistance and was put on hold. Five songs later she came back and asked me if I was ready to proceed with my order. I said yes and I once again had to give her my PI (Didn’t I just give this to her 5 songs ago?).  Things were going well until she told me my copay. Again it was $2437.59. I told her this was wrong. That I was holding a piece of paper dated December 1st indicating my deductible for the year would be $1303.00. Apparently the larger sum was just the deductible from my primary carrier.

On Saturday, 1/19/19 I called the pharmacist (They have a 24 hour “help” line, which is an oxymoron) and I went thru all the button pushing and song listening until Latasha came on the line. Again I gave my PI and explained that I would be out of drugs on Tuesday. She told me that they were ready to ship as soon as they got an override from my secondary insurance. Well at least I was getting somewhere. Called my secondary insurance and they were closed for the weekend.

On Monday morning 1/21 I got up early, and called the pharmacist and was told to call the secondary insurance to get the override. I called the secondary and was told by Shannon that the pharmacist had to call them for this. I started to feel like I was on a merry-go-round. Back to the druggist and got on a conference call with Felicia and Ashley from financial and explained I didn’t want assistance from them and THEY had to call my secondary to get the override. I called back at 1:55 and was told by Evita that they were “working on it” and not to worry, they could send my prescription overnight. She said to call back later. At 4:20 I called and talked with Arianna and she said they were closing the office due to the snowstorm and there was no one there that could help me.

January 22nd, I called the druggist at 7:55 AM. Regina told me my payment would be $1758.86. Getting better but still not right. I was told to call back later. When I called back later I was told my deductible would now be $1502.  I gave up. I was now out of my chemo drugs. They said they would rush my drugs to me. On January 23rd, I received a call from them that delivery was delayed and I would get it January 24th. It didn’t arrive that day either so Friday I got up early again to call the pharmacist. As I was waiting for Amanda to check on my order I saw someone walk up to my door and ring the bell. SUCCESS!!!! The drugs I tried to order on the 18th had finally arrived one week later. Someone keeps calling me wanting me to order all my drugs online, telling me this is easier. This doesn’t seem any easier to me. I can’t wait till next month to see what happens.

Norb is a writer from Lockport. Follow his blog at WhyWNY.home.blog

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”.