Friday, April 29, 2016

Memory - by Dale Hein

 Susan arrived at my faculty office for her appointment.  She had been my advisee for three years and was enrolled in two of my courses.  I knew Susan well, but when I greeted her I could not remember her name.  Finally it came floating up in my memory.  A few days later the same thing happened with David.  I was 57 years old.  

Over the next decade, my ability to rapidly recall names and some words gradually faded. I had previously recalled names easily, usually knowing all students by name in my courses, even 50 or more, within a few weeks.  But then, even in small classes, I began having to point at students whom I knew well but could not call by name for class discussion.  I no longer was the smartest person in the room, and I retired from CSU at age 66.  

I learned to say, “Having a senior moment.”  Lately, I admit to “memory lapses.”  I fear perhaps progressing to “pre-dementia” that my doctor once mentioned.  “Early senility” sounds like inoperable cancer of the memory.  Few of my senior friends will mention the dreaded a-word.  

My doctor advised crossword puzzles, acquiring new knowledge, physical activity, and good nutrition.  He knows there is no cure for the a-word.  

I write copious post-it notes to myself.  I say my name when meeting a casual friend, hoping s/he will reciprocate.  I keep note cards with lists of words I may want to recall. 
I work NY Times crossword puzzles.  I take Front Range Forum adult courses at the Senior Center.  I walk and exercise rigorously for an octogenarian.  I do not buy mail order cures for memory loss!

There are advantages to memory lapses.  I enjoy rereading classics from my youth long after I have forgotten why I loved them.  Many memories from long ago remain vivid and precious.  Recent memories are more often ephemeral.

My greatest concern is end-of-life options.  Final relief from extreme pain may be available but not relief from a living death of the a-word.  Emerging choices for death-with-dignity require conscious informed consent near the end.  What if I cannot remember where I hid my final option?  

If you know me casually, will you say your name when we meet?  Do not ask whether I remember my own name!  I hope I can remember to send this item to my editor.  I could tie a string around my finger.  Would I remember why it is there?  We all live in the now.

Saturday, April 2, 2016

Zella, My Favorite Retirement Project -by Scott Marsh

Almost ten years ago, my mother called saying that the sister of a good friend of hers had a farm covered with old cars and trucks, and she needed some help.  I called Zella, 84 at the time, met her a few days later at her farm near Pierce, and found her mourning her husband and totally overwhelmed by the massive number of vehicles and implements on the farm.

Zella smells of mice.  Her home, shop, cars, clothes, and farm smell of mice.  I am sure that at least a million mice call her shop building home and many more her old two-story house.  Early in our relationship, I asked her if she had considered using mouse poison.  Her reply was, "I could never kill one of God's creatures."  Her face is lined and rugged with 93 years of hard times, good times, and farming.  Zella's hands are gnarled into fists by arthritis, but she smiles and laughs quickly and often.  Her long gray hair blows around her face as we sit on her stoop and talk.  I probably only get out to see her about once a month, and it is nice to see how excited she is to have some company.  Born in 1918 and growing to adulthood very poor during the Great Depression, she brings that experience into every conversation.  Zella is convinced that another depression is imminent, and she said recently that such an experience would be good for the current generation of "throw it away" young people.

Her gray- green eyes show great sadness, and every time we talk she mentions how much she misses Leo, her husband of 61 years.  Although he died a year before I met Zella, I have gotten to know him by working on his treasures and hearing Zella's stories about him.  He was a photographer, musician, piano tuner, mechanic, welder, and whatever else he needed to be on the farm.  His five old tractors each had a different implement so he wouldn't have to change them for different jobs, and I think he really liked keeping the old machines running.  Everywhere I look on the farm, there is a testimonial to making do with little or nothing.  Unfortunately, when he died after a five-year illness he left the farm covered with unfinished projects - cars, trucks, tractors, and farm equipment, some dating back a century.  I have sold ten cars, five trucks, five tractors, and two motorcycles, the newest of which was a 1975 Cadillac and the oldest a 1936 John Deere tractor.  

I have had great fun hauling Zella's vehicles and implements home, getting them working, and finding someone who wants to buy them— the ultimate in recycling, since nearly all of this equipment would probably have been hauled off as junk.  Zella gets a little money and buyers are happy.  In the process, I have the fun of getting to know Zella, working on her old equipment, and seeing her happiness in receiving cash for the items that meant a lot to her husband but were a burden to her.  She appreciates what I do for her and loves my company, but also I think she sees some of Leo in me.

This story was written in 2012.  Recently Zella’s niece called to inform me that Zella had passed away behind the wheel of her van after feeding and spending time with her cats, whom she loved.  I miss her.