Sheltering at Home III-Covid Birthday

No firetrucks paraded past my house, no friends showed up to dance on my lawn (social distancing, of course), and there was no cake. Had there been, the blaze from the candles might have attracted the fire department. Yesterday was my ahemmm, swallow, ahemmm, birthday. Suffice to say I’m old.

In the new pandemic reality, I was very lucky. It was a busy day and it started with a drive into the country. I had my camera and could have had pictures of a fox, a coyote, and turkey vultures. There was no card in the camera; it was at home in the laptop. The dogs had a run along a deserted road. It’s hard to believe how exciting they found an unpaved road and snowdrifts to be.

I made covid bread while answering phone calls and trying to set up an app Houseparty for later evening festivities. I talked with the grandkids on-line and I may have forgotten a cup of flour. Nevertheless, the bread did turn out. While it rose the first time, I took the dogs for their regular walk. It was brutal. The wind gusts were enough to make me appreciate how they and their leashes anchored me. It was a half distance walk but the Jack Russell chased the gopher she’s been looking for all week. It was out on the snow, likely wondering why it hadn’t stayed underground.

After supper, a friend, my son, and my daughter logged in to play Houseparty. It is quite lame but good for laughs and as it seems with online meetings, this one had its glitch, too. My daughter had to leave because she couldn’t hear or see us. It wasn’t a party like face to face but it was a good substitute.

So no firetruck parade, no family gathering, no blazing candles, yet it was a fine time and a chance to reflect on how lucky I am. My birthday wish is that in a year, this pandemic will be a memory. One that we learned lessons from, but only a memory, not an experience to be repeated.

That One Resolution

              Break bad habits, start new routines, evolve a new, improved you. For some reason, the turn of the calendar to a New Year inspires change; an inspiration which soon proves burdensome in its realization. I have made too many resolutions to count and I was determined to keep them but did I?

               The answer is yes, I kept one. Forty-three years ago, I decided to give up smoking. Cigarettes and I had developed a strange relationship and an expensive one. I was married for a year and my husband didn’t smoke and never had. His brief experiments with tobacco were laughable; he didn’t even know how to hold a cigarette. I had been a smoker for about nine years, starting when I couldn’t even blame adolescent curiosity for trying it out. The thing was, I lit a lot of cigarettes, took a couple of puffs and then snubbed them out. Not all, of course, but there were enough barely started smokes sitting in ashtrays to let me know it was time. Time to quit.

               I grew up with smokers. Mum and Dad both smoked in the house, the car, and for my Dad, on the tractor. It was normal and there were warnings about lung cancer seemed bogus. No one we knew was afflicted so the enjoyable habit continued. It was normal.

               December 31st, 1974 arrived and when the clock struck midnight I was done with cigarettes. It wasn’t easy and my ‘withdrawal’ was exacerbated by the supportive husband strolling by, cigarette in hand, blowing smoke in my direction. He claims it was to make me angry enough to keep my resolution. I have my doubts.

               I didn’t smoke again. At first, I not only missed the nicotine hit, but the social aspect of the habit. One girlfriend and I, in particular, shared cigarettes and smoked together. It was like a part of relationship was gone…how ridiculous.

               In 1975, my daughter was born. She developed asthma and when we first consulted a specialist, his questions were, “Was she breast-fed and who in the house smokes?” When I answered, yes and no one, 50% of his treatment was gone. The doctor was almost dejected that he couldn’t deliver the rest of his speech which would have added guilt to the stress. How glad I was that I no longer smoked.

               Years later the health effects of smoking were revealed. Big tobacco’s campaign of false science was debunked and independent research revealed the use of tobacco in its various forms was implicated not just in lung cancer but in a variety of illnesses. Heart disease and stroke, hypertension, bladder cancer, emphysema (now known as COPD), and more chronic conditions were linked to tobacco.  Birth weights were lower in the babies of smokers and there could be further complications, after all, the nicotine and other components of tobacco smoke entered the blood stream and crossed into the placenta.

               My brother, a type one diabetic, smoked. The tightening of blood vessels, in part caused by smoking, contributed to the peripheral artery disease that led to amputations of both his l9egs. A heavy price for cigarettes. He once said, “You’d think the choice, a leg or smokes would be easy.” It wasn’t and like millions of others, he couldn’t quit.

               I am so glad I kept my one New Year’s Resolution and it did break a bad habit, start a different routine and did improve my health. For these reasons, I just might make resolutions, again this year. Maybe this will be the year I keep another one. Happy New Year.

Educated by Tara Westover

Educated is Tara Westover`s memoir of family control and ignorance and an awakening as she seeks answers and knowledge. This was a book recommended to me by a friend and neither the title or the recommendation suggested the kind of horror and abuse that Tara Westover and her family suffered.

35133922

The Westovers are a Mormon family whose fanatic father has re-tooled the religion into his private cult. He selects snippets from the Bible or the Book of Mormon and dictates to his family how they will act and what contact with the outside world they can make. His twisted beliefs come from feelings of deep paranoia. He is sure that the government, educational institutions, and health care are in a conspiracy to harm him and his family.

In her memoir, Tara Westover, tries to patch together a childhood of fear and abuse and fierce love. Her memories are confused and like all of us, some recollections might have planted themselves as memories because other family members have recounted them so often. Nonetheless, her life story is compelling and appalling.

The rules her father makes have no logic. Dairy products are taboo, a year`s supply of food they preserve themselves, must be stockpiled so when some government Armageddon descends, they can hide in the Idaho hills and survive until the crisis passes. To this end, Tara`s father insists his wife become a midwife and healer. It makes them more self-reliant. Tara is her mother`s assistant when she isn`t helping with the family scrap business. Her father and brothers work at this except when they are trucking. The work is dangerous, hard, and performed without concern for even minimal safety standards.

Horrific injuries have to be endured and her mother struggles to provide healing. Burns, brain injuries, deep wounds seldom receive medical attention and if they do, the patient is taken home long before a proper recovery is realized.

From this chaotic, illogical environment, Tara Westover, a young woman with no formal schooling, no birth certificate, and a strange mixture of fears and beliefs, studies for and gets the marks on the ACT exam which assesses students on high school curriculum and their readiness for college. Tara is admitted to Brigham Young University of the strength of her results; she has never heard of the Holocaust, of the American Civil Rights Movement, yet somehow her hard work and quick brain make up for these omissions. She is invited to Harvard and to Cambridge in England.

Tara Westover`s story makes compelling reading. You are drawn along with the kind of urgency that a thriller or horror novel might demand. The best part of this memoir, is that there is a resolution of sorts and that against all odds, Tara has prevailed.