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Sunday, May 25, 2014

An old cornmudgin


My brother, our brother, is a good man, affable, secretive, kind, devious, generous, given to occasional excess. He’s worked hard at everything, his job, his motorcycle, his garden, his car. Kittens curl up and sleep between his feet, cats seek his lap. He answers children’s questions, shows them how to swing a hammer or handle a shovel. He helps where he sees a need. He accepts little.

Walt is my oldest brother. I left home at my earliest opportunity; he returned home at his earliest opportunity. My sister was seven when I left. Walt was Jan’s big brother; he watched out for her, helped her, protected her. When Walt came home from the service he bought Mr. Lymon’s house, on the street behind our parents. Everyone knew Mr. Lymon would not sell that house to anyone but Walt. That’s just how it was.

Walt met Hazel when he was in the service in England; they married and came home. Our Hazel; she figures in several old stories of mine. Three sons came along, Roy, John and Mark. I don’t know what ended their marriage, but it did. Hazel eventually had to return to England; she did not become a citizen and could not be sponsored without a spouse. Walt took custody of his sons.

My brother had a romantic concept of women, and an unshakable visual ideal. His wives, three in total, were small women with black hair. He married the last two, I’m sure, to take care of them and their children. Walt’s job relocated him for years to southern Ohio and Mark, his youngest son, had trouble holding his own in the blended families; eventually Mom brought him back home.

Walt had one daughter with his last wife, and there is another young woman who came by his wood shop to talk to “Dad”. He took care of all his children who have scattered to the parts of the county that were their childhood homes. Mark is here, ten minutes away.

When Walt retired fifteen years ago he moved to Mark’s house and they began renovating it together. Walt is a fine craftsman; Mark keeps things tidy. For several years Walt ran a small woodworking business out of our barn. He was so cavalier about sawdust that Tom eventually put a dust collector on the ShopSmith and carted sawdust out in wheelie bins.

About ten years ago Walt had a stroke. Like me, he was a smoker, and like me suffered the consequential bone loss. We compared creaky knees back in our sixties. But nicotine is a tougher taskmaster, and one day Mark called the house, asking Janice to intercede. He thought his dad had a stroke the day before, but was refusing all help. Walt’s little sister arrived in ten minutes and took him to the hospital, where he stayed several days while doctors regulated his blood pressure (yes, he’d had several old heart attacks and small strokes) and started therapy for a semi paralyzed right side.

A day or so after Walt was released he pulled his Jeep into the yard. He came over for someone to tie his shoes. The hardest part had been shifting with his left hand. Yes, he was our same brother.

And so we have gone on these last five years or so. Same old Walt, putting together the family picnic every summer. Sometimes smoking, sometimes not. Regaining drafting skill with his right hand.Quitting the doctor when he disagreed with her. Stocking my daughter’s pantry for several years; underwriting braces for Emily and for his granddaughter, Caitie. Becoming so right of right in his views that we sat on the porch in comfortable silence, having little in common to talk about except family.

Walt organized yesterday’s picnic. He brought all the food over Friday afternoon and stowed it in the fridge.  He slipped in early yesterday, and laid down on a bed for a nap. Not unusual; he’s a night owl and we often see the Jeep in front of the barn in the wee hours. But when he appeared for hot dogs and hamburgers, we knew he was in trouble. No, he was fine. “Have you had another stroke?” his little sister asked bluntly. No, he was fine, as he carefully assembled his picnic plate and slowly made his way out to the table.

After lunch he joined everyone on the porch, and everyone watched him like a hawk. He was not well, spoke little and soon excused himself in carefully slurred words. We watched him across the yard, his left side considerably drooped, steps painfully slow. The driver’s side of the Jeep did not face us, and we watched him go around to it. He was at the door, opened the door, and disappeared. “He’s down!”

Help assembled, lifted him upright. “It’s the trick knee” he announced, as animated as the old days. No help necessary, don’t call an ambulance, he was fine, right up on the seat and off. Adrenaline is pretty powerful stuff. Mark and Caitie discretely left a minute later, to tail him home.

Mark called this afternoon. He woke his dad to assess his state of being and found Walt ready to go to the hospital, but later on, not now. Janice said to tell him she said so. Mark was grateful for the advice and said he would get the old man to the hospital, and that’s where he is now. Jan took charge last time, Mark was able to take charge this time. The baton has passed.


Only the diagnosis is left. We wonder if the old curmudgeon will take his medicine.


Walt and his oldest boy, Roy, about 1968

26 comments:

  1. Joanne, this is a very touching story that brought tears to my eyes. This photo of Walt and Roy is beautiful.

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  2. I like the way you opened your story... "My brother, our brother is a good man..." It says so much in those few words. I wonder if Walt gets to read this, what he would think. I wonder if anyone wrote about us - what we would think. To see ourselves in someone else's eyes could be a revelation. I will keep your brother in my thoughts and prayers...

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  3. I always love reading your stories Joanne and this one is no exception. Wishing your precious old curmudgeon a speedy recovery.

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  4. Oh Joanne. It is so hard for someone who has spent his life helping others to acknowledge that he(she) needs some of that care.
    Your brother sounds like a fine man, and I am glad took that step. He (and you) are in my heart.

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  5. Dear Joanne,
    this is very touching - to see a person one loves and knows and is used to to get weak and losing his strength, of course not wanting to acknowledge that (men!). I love especially your sentence: "Becoming so right of right in his views that we sat on the porch in comfortable silence, having little in common to talk about except family." Sometimes this is the only way to be there for another. I hope very much that he can be helped in the hospital (and I admire him for changing a doctor he didn't agree with).

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  6. Most of all, I appreciated the picture of Walt in his vibrant youth. I'm sure he'd prefer that as the picture you posted, too. He sounds remarkable. Your family is lucky to have him. I wish him well.

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  7. One tough old guy. I will hold him in my thoughts and prayers as he goes through the recuperation period. (Whether he likes it or not lol)

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  8. You wrote once that you were not an "author" of plots etc... that you could only write from your own experiences. When I read your blogs I wonder why you'd ever need to "make up" stories... your own life and your own experiences and your own family have so many stories and you tell them in the most loving and descriptive ways. (and I don't think I was able to comment about Hamilton's next adventure in life, but I wish him the best... with your influence these past few years I'm betting he'll be a success at whatever he attempts.)

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  9. Joanne, this is such a tale of stoic family details of which my family and I am sure so many others are guilty or proud of in one way or another, such is life, the ups and downs, acceptance and reluctance, waiting and wishing so much of the human existence and struggle in your story..

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  10. your brother was a handsome man and no, he will not take his medicine.

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  11. These are the best kinds of people to know and the hardest to debate. But, always worth it, in the end,yes?

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  12. Thank you for sharing Walt with us, who I could only describe as a kind man. As I read about the events of his health over the last couple days, I was fearful the end would have a different outcome than it did. I was wondering if perhaps Walt wanted to end his life on his own terms and postponed medical treatment for that reason. I am glad he is in the hospital, I hope his recovery won't be a long one. Seemed like you and him have a very good close sibling relationship; I hope you get to enjoy that for many years ahead.

    betty

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  13. You can't keep a good man down. Seriously, I hope he is okay and makes him home to take his medicine.

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  14. Yes it is a very touching story. I hope Walt will be okay. It would be nice to have many more Walt's in the world and you are blessed to have him. big hugs.xx

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  15. I do wish him the best. I'm thinking of that song, "My Way". Maybe it would be his theme song.

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  16. Sunday has ended and I am hoping that no news in good news or at least better news. Will be anxious to hear about Walt..Please let us know ASAP.. NO PRESSURE here-hah

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  17. Sad story Joanne, I hope Walt is okay, but he needs to follow doctor's orders.....I'm glad he has people looking out for him. You're a good sister.

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  18. What a man. Beautifully told Joanne x

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  19. Hari Om
    ...I can add nothing - except perhaps some companionable silence across the Atlantic porch... YAM xx

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  20. Tenacity runs in your family.
    Keeping you in my thoughts.
    Jane xxx

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  21. Oh my, good luck and God bless. These things happen and thankfully you have the next generation.

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  22. Joanne
    That first paragraph is a wonderful piece of writing

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  23. Walt is quite the character. I am sure he did not want to ever give up. My grandmother smoked like that and so did my father. My fathers death certificate said cause of death was 60 pack year tobacco use.

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  24. That was scary, but I hope Walt will pull through with flying colors. He sounds like such a wonderful, colorful character who everybody can't help but love.

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  25. This touched me greatly, Joanne. My father had a serious stroke seven years ago and went from being able to take care of two large properties, a large garden, fixing vehicles and general puttering, to barely being able to manage a wheelchair with the good side he was left with. I hope your "cornmudgeon" accepts some help and his doctor's instructions. Meanwhile, I'm glad you are taking care of yourself.

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