I stepped from Plank to Plank
A slow and cautious way
The Stars about my Head I felt
About my feet the Sea.

I knew not but the next
Would be my final inch -
This gave me that precarious Gait
Some call Experience.

Emily Dickinson, c. 1864

Sunday, November 27, 2022

Together again

Fia, Markee, Buz, PJ (the balloon), Norma Jean, me

 The picture was taken the day before Thanksgiving at my sister Markee's home in Apollo Beach, Florida. We didn't want to leave out our departed sister, so we decided to represent her with the pretty pink balloon. It's been eight years since she died, but it makes no difference in our memories or hearts: she is still missed and will always be present when we gather.

Fia had just had her sixtieth birthday, and I will have my own eightieth birthday this coming Thursday, when I return back to my home in Bellingham. We spent the last three days in Apollo Beach, all of us together, along with Markee's husband Bob (the hosts for our gathering), Buz's friend Vic (both traveling together here by car from Fort Worth, and Fia's husband Russ (who also traveled there by car from the Fort Worth area). I was the only one who arrived both by plane (in Tampa, picked up at the airport by Norma Jean) and then by car when she drove the two of us to Apollo Beach, where Markee and Bob spend their winters instead of their home near Calgary, Canada. It was also the first time we had been together since PJ's death in February 2014. 

It was wonderful to reunite, and, as usual, we had to have our picture taken with all of us in birth order, youngest to oldest. My life in the Pacific Northwest seems so remote from here, both in distance and in time.  This place is almost as far from my home in Bellingham as you can get and still stay in the United States. Three thousand miles. But probably the biggest difference is that we haven't all been together since the pandemic hit the world. And there is quite a difference, all right. We are not the same people, for many reasons, than we were when we last gathered in Texas for PJ's memorial. It's probably true for many people that, as we reemerge from our different environments to reconnect, things have changed. We have changed. Those years of separation were not kind to our connections to one another. It's like I emerged from a cocoon of comfort into the world for the first time in a long, long time. Maybe this is the way people feel when they visit a foreign country for the first time. I don't know, but although I was able to connect with my siblings, it's just different. All of us have aged, of course, but some of us (I'm actually mostly talking about myself) have lost significant physical abilities. 

It's time for me to bite the bullet and get myself some hearing aids. I thought I had lost significant hearing, but this environment has clinched it. I have lost huge segments of conversations, and it's been obvious to everyone, especially to Norma Jean, that I cannot hear properly. She gets pretty upset with me when she has to repeat herself over and over. I will not put anybody through this again, if I can help it, and I can. All of my siblings already wear them, but they also grew up in an environment where huge B-52 bombers passed overhead constantly. Their home in Lake Worth was right across the lake from Carswell Air Force Base (now a Navy base) and I remember when talking on the phone with Mom, we would have to stop and wait while one passed overhead. It took a toll on all their hearing abilities. I have advancing age and probably ear wax problems to blame. 

But hearing is just part of the problem. My ability to see in low-light environments, especially, has become pronounced, which I sort of knew, but in a place I don't know at all, like the cupboards in Apollo Beach, would throw me for a loop almost every few moments. And the entire experience of being somewhere I didn't know at all was upsetting to my sense of equilibrium. And the incessant cacophony of so many people interacting all at once did not help me cope, either. So, as you can read here between the lines, I was experiencing a lot of stress, pretty much constantly.

Now, as of yesterday afternoon, we have returned to Norma Jean's home in Zephyrhills, where I am in more familiar surroundings. Yesterday all the siblings drove home, and then there were only the two of us, Norma Jean and me, and the house felt cavernous and empty. Bob and Markee can now enjoy their own home together, after just ten days since they arrived from the frozen North, by themselves. I was amazed at the beautiful place they purchased a few years ago, but were unable to visit because of the pandemic and the closed borders. They live on a salt-water channel off Tampa Bay, with their own boat dock, and a beautiful boat of their own, not too big and not too small.

Bob standing in his "backyard"

It's a pretty serene environment in a secluded place, tucked away from the wider world, and very much a paradise, with hibiscus flowers in bloom everywhere, palm trees, and also, of course, heat. It was in the low 80s (26°C) the whole time, and it's only a few degrees cooler here in Zephyrhills, 35 miles north. For a Pacific Northwesterner, it sure feels on the warm side. I've enjoyed the change, in many respects, but not the extreme humidity. I'll be needing some time to adapt to my normal environment and the Pacific time zone, when I return in four days. How is it possible to get accustomed so quickly to such a different world? It's a good thing we humans are so adaptable.

One good thing about the time together is that the entire world of politics faded away, as we dealt with the need to find common ground among each other. No need to add to the stress by talking about the world situation, not to mention that we cover the gamut in political views. And I am in Florida, after all. 

It's a good thing we love each other, and that all the difficulties could be overcome with a little kindness and a bit of time. I am afraid that my declining abilities added to my sister Norma Jean's stress level. She's not used to her big sister having become, well, a little senile. Hey, there's a reason that we call old people seniors. We definitely are in our senior years. It can be a blessing and a curse, losing the ability to see, hear, and smell, and walk without assistance. Yes, I can still do that, which is an ability I will continue to appreciate for as long as I have it. I cannot pretend that I am not a senior, nor would I want to.

Leaving my familiar environment has been enlightening. But I can't pretend I am not looking forward to returning to the evergreens and forests that are now my home, with new eyes (figuratively speaking) and new understanding of how different life is for my extended family. My heart is full, but not in the way I imagined before I came into this experience. Isn't that the way it always happens?

We shall not cease from exploration, and the end of all our exploring will be to arrive where we started and know the place for the first time. —T. S. Eliot

I am hoping that your own holiday, if you have one, has been one as fulfilling and expansive as I have been enjoying. I will continue to explore the depths of emotion, I am sure, and then when I am able to lay on my head on my old familiar pillow, with my beloved beside me, perhaps I will know the place for the first time. Until we meet again next week, dear friends, I wish you all good things and abundant health. Be well.


John's Island said...

DJan, It is great to hear from you this morning and what a great post you have given us. I so appreciate the way you have given us both sides of the story … the good and the not so good. It sounds like you will come home with a new appreciation for the kindness of your siblings and a new appreciation for our Pacific Northwest environment. Thanks for the excellent post, enjoy the remainder of your stay, and have a safe journey home. John

ApacheDug said...

That's a wonderful photo of all of you DJan, you're an attractive bunch. This was certainly a thoughtful read, and a very honest one. I admire how you accept and face your own physical frailties so head on. It's like being with everyone again after so long has given you a reality check of sorts (even though you're one of the most self aware people I know). Anyway, good to hear about your visit so far, and seeing Norma Jean, and I hope the rest of your time is just as special.

Arkansas Patti said...

Loved the picture of all of you. Seems like me, you are the runt of the family:)
Sounds like the visit has been a mixed bag. Lots of good but with some discomfort. Sometimes it takes getting out of our comfort zone to realize how we have slipped a bit physically. Get those ears checked. Probably just a bit of a wax build up. I was surprised what a professional ear cleaning could do.
Know you have enjoyed the visit but also hear you are missing home. Glad you will be back for your Birthday.
Keep enjoying what you can while in Florida. This is a very special occasion.

Anvilcloud said...

As a guy with bad hearing, I commiserate. It is frustrating for both talker and hearer. Hearing aids definitely help, but they can still be a bit difficult in an environment where there is background noise. They are still worth it, though. Have a good trip home.

Marie Smith said...

Great photo of you and your family, Jan.

I can understand how the senses diminish with age. I would add taste to that too. Subtle flavours are lost on my husband and I now. I cook with spice blends which we put together such as Indian or Mexican. We can taste the blends and enjoy them. Aging involves adapting continuously, as our body change. Life is not boring, that for sure. As long as we can continue to adapt, we will continue to grow!

I hope you have a safe journey home and enjoy the remainder of your visit!

Elephant's Child said...

Thank you for this thoughtful (and thought provoking) post. I am the youngest in our family, but some of my disabilities exceed those of my seniors. No hearing aids for me yet, but I hope that I face up to the necessity when the time comes.
I hope the rest of your stay is wonderful, and totally understand your yearning to be home again.

Rian said...

I understand full well about being in one's comfort zone - especially as we age. I spent 2 days and nights with my friend out in the country who had surgery recently so she wouldn't be alone and to give her grown boys some time off. We enjoyed my time there, but finding things and doing things in a different environment is a bit... not stressful, but harder.
And regarding the hearing problem, I was told several times (once by my oldest son) that I needed a hearing aid. I know this. Was hoping Medicare would up it's game and start paying for things like that.
But sounds like you had a good visit. Love the pic! (that blue looks good on you). Hope you have a good safe trip home (no crying babies). And Happy 80th Birthday!

gigi-hawaii said...

I am so sorry that you experienced so much stress being with your family. Yes, do get hearing aids. My daughter bought hers from Costco for $1,800, and it's a bargain. Worth it for her, as she is a math teacher. Take care, DJan, and enjoy the rest of your stay in Florida.

Far Side of Fifty said...

My husband says I need a hearing aid also, but I just need him to stop mumbling:) Maybe? Wishful thinking perhaps. I hope you got to have some one on one time with each of your siblings.
I know you were apprehensive about this visit and the travel, however I am certain that you will look on it positively in the months to come.
Stay calm and travel safely!

Galen Pearl said...

That Eliot quote is one of my favorites. Your description of your trip is how I imagine I would feel if I went back to Memphis to see my sister -- glad to see her, but stressed about the trip and not being in my familiar surroundings. I can relate. But glad y'all had a good time with each other. I especially appreciated your description of finding the common ground of family and not getting caught up in what divides you, like politics, for example. Good model for all of us!

Red said...

A new environment puts stress on seniors. We tend to get into a safe routine. Hearing aids are better than nothing . Hearing aids don't help much in noisy situations. The noise is amplified. Anyway there's no sense of beating ourselves up just because we have some disabilities. The Micro Manager gets quite frustrated sometimes when I can't hear her. Keep on getting out like you do.

William Kendall said...

My dad ended up getting hearing aids in his late fifties.

Glenda Beall said...

DJan, I can sympathize with the new environment and difficulty getting used to things. I am in my apartment at my sister's house and although it is my place, I can't find things I put away here. So different from my home in the mountains. The loss of hearing and failing eyesight are bothering me now. I am not sure if I could take a long visit with many people in one house. Noise bothers me more than it used to and I think that is because of hearing difficulty. So glad you were able to visit and did not let politics and such put a damper on your gathering.

Although I grew up in the deep south, I cannot handle the humidity now. I think you live in a wonderful place that I would enjoy. Have a safe trip home to your beloved and have a happy birthday.