Small Town Living

Small town living can be such a hoot.

I spend most of my time in my back room where I read and work on the computer. Because there are a couple of windows that face my neighbor’s house, I can hear the mail truck pull up to her place, but not mine.

Yesterday was exceptionally cold with a few isolated snow flakes and a lot of biting winds. (28mph). So when I heard the mail truck, I hurried to the door to catch the mail deliverer, bundled in a parka, hat, hood, muffler, heading up my neighbor’s sidewalk.

“Did I get any mail?” I called out.

“Just a flyer,” she called back.

Postal regulations put into effect right before I moved here require new residents to plant a mailbox along the street, though no such regulation targets those who lived here before the rule. Hence, my neighbor gets her mail delivered to her door. I have to walk out to the street. It’s not that long a walk, obviously, but it does entail putting on shoes and a coat and fighting the wind for possession of my storm door.

“So it’s not worth it for me to walk out the box?” I asked.

“Definitely not,” she answered.

We talked about the weather for as long as it took her to stuff my neighbor’s mail in the box, then she said, “You be careful. Don’t go for your walk today.”

I had to laugh at that. Yep. Small towns.

***

Pat Bertram is the author of Grief: The Inside Story – A Guide to Surviving the Loss of a Loved One. “Grief: The Inside Story is perfect and that is not hyperbole! It is exactly what folk who are grieving need to read.” –Leesa Healy, RN, GDAS GDAT, Emotional/Mental Health Therapist & Educator

 

Informal Poll

I just came across an interesting comment in a book. Supposedly, if people are in a restaurant with somebody, they look at their food more than the other person. If they are alone, they watch people more than their food.

It seems right, and I remember doing both things, but I’m curious. Is this what you do? Is this what people around you do?

Of course, the question doesn’t take into consideration the prevalence of phones at the table. So, do phones affect the original premise? Or does it still hold true?

Pat Bertram is the author of Grief: The Inside Story – A Guide to Surviving the Loss of a Loved One. “Grief: The Inside Story is perfect and that is not hyperbole! It is exactly what folk who are grieving need to read.” –Leesa Healy, RN, GDAS GDAT, Emotional/Mental Health Therapist & Educator

Young Elderly and Elderly Elderly

My post on elderliness the other day might have seemed fatuous, because who of us really cares what age “elderly” is? We don’t need to define our time of life, no matter what it is. At any age, we simply take care of ourselves as best as we can, and as we get older, we make adjustments for ailments, infirmities and joints that don’t work as well as they once did.

And yet, what about others who define “elderly” for us? That will affect us for sure.

For example, one candidate who is trying to win the democratic nomination says that certain medical treatments should be withheld from the “elderly.”

To be honest, people should not be getting quadruple bypass surgeries in their nineties (as my father did) or getting chemo in their late-eighties (as my mother didn’t) but these should be a determination by the patient and the doctor rather than a matter of legislation. (Some insurance companies do make this determination, but it is generally a case by case decision and is not yet mandated by law.)

Many younger folk think this agenda is a good idea. Why should the elderly use up valuable resources if it’s not going to make their lives appreciably better? I, for one, would not opt for such treatments, but then, I only go to the doctor when I scalp myself or break a bone. But it is — and should continue to be — my choice to go or not to go, to accept treatment or to walk away.

A major issue with the candidate’s idea (besides the obvious one of government needing to stay away from such matters) is the term “elderly.” If by elderly, they mean someone who is so frail the treatment would probably kill them, then any reputable doctor would urge the person away from treatment anyway. If by elderly, they mean a person who is strong, healthy, and still heals fast, but has lived many decades, then treatment should definitely be an option. But if by elderly, they mean a person over 65, as is the current political definition of elderly, then such legislation would be nothing short of euthanasia. But it sure would be a political and fiscal coup, eradicating any need for Medicare!

I am not a big believer in government control (not a little believer, either), and usually stay away from politics of any sort, but this particular agenda showed me that “elderly” is not simply a pejorative term or an ageist term, but one of great significance.

And it shows me that I’m right: in the matter of health, there is a big difference between a younger elderly person and an elderly elderly person.

***

Pat Bertram is the author of Grief: The Inside Story – A Guide to Surviving the Loss of a Loved One. “Grief: The Inside Story is perfect and that is not hyperbole! It is exactly what folk who are grieving need to read.” –Leesa Healy, RN, GDAS GDAT, Emotional/Mental Health Therapist & Educator

Preparing for the Death of a Spouse

When people ask me how they can prepare for the death of their sick spouse, I can only shrug helplessly because there is no way to prepare emotionally for all the painful and chaotic feelings that grief will throw at you.

I thought I was prepared for Jeff’s death, so after he died, I truly was stunned by the depth and breadth of my feelings. During the last year of his life, and especially the last six months, he’d begun withdrawing from the world and from me. This withdrawal, this lessening of a need to be with others is a natural part of dying, and my response to his withdrawal was just as natural — an increased determination to live. He might have been dying but I wasn’t, and I had to untangle our lives, find a way to survive his dying and his death. I thought I had successfully completed this task, but his death rocked me to the core of my being.

As I discovered, there is a world of difference between presence and absence, and an eternity of difference between dying and dead. Because of this difference, you simply cannot know, cannot prepare for how you will feel.

There is one thing, though, that you can do to prepare, and that is to make sure you are familiar with all the little chores that come with modern-day living.

Even if we don’t have a traditional split in chores, such as the woman doing the cooking and cleaning, the man doing the outside chores, we do tend to gravitate to certain chores and over the years, they become habit. So still, in a time of — perhaps — more equality around the house, the person left behind is also left learning how to do things that are generally simple to learn. When you are grieving, however, when you are caught in the never-ending spiral of pain and stress, helplessness and hopelessness, befuddlement and utter bewilderment, learning such tasks becomes almost impossible.

One woman I know was frantic when it came time to take her car in for an emissions test. Because it was something her husband had always done, she had no idea what to do. Another woman had no idea how to balance her checkbook, had never even been to their bank. One man didn’t know how to make coffee or even how to cook simple meals. In another case, it was the woman who had done minor chores around the house, and the poor husband was ashamed to admit he didn’t even know how to change a lightbulb or tighten a doorknob.

Those of us who knew how to do these things found it almost impossible to garner the energy to do them, so I can only imagine how these people were nearly done-in when confronted with such tasks.

Preparing ahead of time is not as simple as it sounds. Sometimes it is the dying person who wants to teach the person being left behind how to do all these small things, and the soon-to-be survivor resents not just the lessons, but the very idea that their mate is leaving them.

Sometimes, the one dying is resentful. They already feel helpless and the survivor, by taking an interest in “their” chores, seems to be pushing them further into helplessness.

None of this is easy. We humans are odd creatures — so very fragile, and yet at the same time, so very tenacious. It’s hard to die. It’s hard to survive. And yet each of us manages to do what we need to do, prepared or not.

***

Pat Bertram is the author of Grief: The Inside Story – A Guide to Surviving the Loss of a Loved One. “Grief: The Inside Story is perfect and that is not hyperbole! It is exactly what folk who are grieving need to read.” –Leesa Healy, RN, GDAS GDAT, Emotional/Mental Health Therapist & Educator

Shame

In response to a blog I wrote the other day, Validating Grief, a reader left the following comment:

Last night at my grief group, three people apologized for being tearful or crying as they spoke! They seemed ashamed…actually saying “I should be composed”! How can we expect society to validate our grief, our shadow world, when we don’t! I think that is the reason your voice has been so important to me…you validate yourself which gives permission and example for others in the same to position to do so. Then and maybe only then will the “others” come along.

This comment really made me think. Although I have talked around the issue during the past ten years, I have never actually used the word “ashamed,” and yet it’s true. Our current society, which so shamelessly promotes mores that many people find appalling, still manages to find one group to shame: those who are mourning.

I was never ashamed of my grief, though I did at times feel as if I weren’t handling it well because of all the tears. I cried around others at the beginning because I could not talk about Jeff’s death without sobbing; my grief came from somewhere so deep inside that I had no conscious control over my tears. Later I did my grieving in private. Only I (and my blog readers) knew what I was going through. And even then, as I continued writing about grief, I sometimes felt apologetic as if I were trying to garner sympathy rather than simply telling my truth.

In our present culture, tears are a sign of weakness. Through thousands of movies and books, we are taught to be stoic, to hold back our tears, to be cool. Yul Brynner in The Magnificent Seven was the epitome of western cool, gliding across the film’s landscape without a single show of emotion. Think how different our experience of grief would be if men such as these had wept.

Even more than that, the complex and painful experience of grief for a spouse, life mate, soul mate is not something we see on television shows, in movies, or read about in novels. Fictional folks shed a fictional tear or two, perhaps go on a fictional spree of vengeance, then continue with their fictional lives unchanged.

In real life, this doesn’t happen, and so we are ashamed of our weakness.

For men, this is an especially fraught situation. Where women’s outward shows of grief are often greeted with sympathy, men’s grief is treated with disdain. From a young age, boys are taught that only girls cry, that to be a man, you must be stoic. And so, for men, an additional layer of complication is unnecessarily added to an already complicated situation.

Another reader commented on that same blog post about validating grief:

Agreed that the embarrassment and shame about expressions of grief is important and significant enough for its own essay. I’d add that for us guys, it’s got a different dimension or layer to work through.

Anger is just about the only acceptable form of male grief, and so all those chaotic feelings that so many of us, male and female, feel after the loss of a mate — anxiety, frustration, loneliness, confusion, despair, helplessness, panic, resentment, bitterness, isolation, numbness, emptiness, futility, yearning, envy of those who are still coupled — have no place to go in a man except to be buried in anger and embarrassment and shame.

Current theories about grief that are supposed to replace the outdated five stages of grief model, are just as damaging to the griever, because proponents of these theories say that getting past the loss and returning to our normal selves is a matter of resiliency. Normal selves? There is no more normal! Resiliency? People who are grieving are utterly resilient; how else would we survive?

Because of all this conditioning, if our grief doesn’t fit into any of the established ideas about dealing with loss, we are ashamed. If everyone else can get by without tears, why can’t we? If everyone else can get over their loss, why are we still in such pain?

Despite what people might believe, weeping and wailing are appropriate ways of relieving the incredible stress, pain, and angst of losing a longtime mate for both men and women. Such releases are necessary because otherwise the pain stays inside to cause emotional and physical damage, gets relieved by pharmaceuticals, or leads to inappropriate behavior such as illicit drugs or dangerous anger.

Grief is not just a matter of emotions. It is, in many cases, a physiological response to stress, and especially to the loss of our survival unit. Humans are pack animals, and our very survival depends on our pack, and when we lose the other half of our survival unit, it sets off a cacophony of alarms in our bodies that create havoc with our systems. And yet, somehow, instead of being taught to accept physical changes as a normal part of grief, we are taught to be ashamed of these body processes, as if we were defecating in public. (But oh, wait, I just remembered — in many cities, relieving oneself in public is now accepted without shame and is no longer a punishable offense, but cry in public? Oh, no! That is shameful.)

As time goes on, we are supposed to “get over” our grief, and miraculously, the pain does diminish, but there is no way to get over the loss — every single day, we wake up to a world without our loved one. One year, five years, ten years — what are years to a broken heart? For people who are still married, every day of those ten years, they woke up to their spouses. They take comfort in being married, and yet we are supposed to . . . what? Take comfort in our lonely beds? One year, five years, ten years — doesn’t matter. They are still gone.

We did nothing wrong but try to do the best we could in an untenable situation. So why are we supposed to be ashamed?

The truth is, there is nothing to be ashamed of while grieving. It takes courage and strength to grieve and aren’t those traits the epitome of manliness (and womanliness)?

It’s those “others,” the people who urge us to “get back to normal,” who should be ashamed — of their ignorance, if nothing else.

***

Pat Bertram is the author of Grief: The Inside Story – A Guide to Surviving the Loss of a Loved One. “Grief: The Inside Story is perfect and that is not hyperbole! It is exactly what folk who are grieving need to read.” –Leesa Healy, RN, GDAS GDAT, Emotional/Mental Health Therapist & Educator.

Mystery Script

[For those who couldn’t make it to the murder mystery dinner, or who did but couldn’t hear what people were saying, the following is what I’d written. I wanted the people with scripted parts to be placed around the room to make it seem as if it weren’t a play — which it wasn’t; it was supposed to be an interactive game — but things didn’t work out that way. Still, one way or another, it did work out.]

DOLLY CARSON introduces herself as The Mistress of Ceremonies of the Lost Souls Underground Club, extends a welcome along with a wish that her guests enjoy their evening, introduces Felix Tucker as a card dealer, Win Winslow as a bookie taking book on an upcoming boxing match, then raises a finger to her lips and cautions everyone to “speak easy.”

After everyone has their dinners, DOLLY CARSON introduces POPPY O’HARE as the Lost Souls own songbird.

When Poppy finishes her song, BESS JORDAN approaches her on the stage.

BESS JORDAN My name is Bess Jordan, and I have a petition to get more rights for women. Would you sign it?

POPPY O’HARE: I’m an emancipated woman. I don’t need anyone’s help. (She flounces off)

BESS JORDAN: (Calls after her) The nineteenth amendment giving women the vote is only the first step.

FLORENCE NASH: Poppy’s emancipated all right. She emancipated her way into my husband’s bed. My name is Florence Nash. I’ll sign.

CARMEN TRUJILLO: I’m Carmen Trujillo. I’ll sign, too.

During the meal, there is more talk about women’s rights instigated by BESS JORDAN , flirtatiousness from POPPY O’HARE, who is Win Winslow’s girlfriend, and snide remarks about flirtatious poppy from FLORENCE NASH, but most of the conversation is about the money everyone lost at the horse race that morning, when the least favorite (Milk Money) beat the favorite (Dandy Lion) at 50 to 1 odds.

It is widely known that a mysterious person known only as “Mr. Big” runs the rackets in the County, and it had been rumored that Mr. Big had fixed the race so that Sugar Beet (third place contender) would win. No one knows who to be angry with: Mr. Big for selling them out, a second person who sold out all of them, including Mr. Big, or the jockeys who only did what they’d been bribed to do.

When the meal is almost finished, DOLLY stands up and flings out her arms:

DOLLY CARSON: That was the slowest horse race in history.

CARMEN TRUJILLO: My husband is going to kill me when he finds out how much I lost.

JAMES PROWERS: I lost more than anyone.

CARMEN TRUJILLO: What are you talking about, Mr. Prowers? Milk Money won.

JAMES PROWERS: Call me James. James Prowers. Milk Money is my wife’s horse.

FELIX TUCKER: So? What’s hers is yours.

JAMES PROWERS: Milk Money is the worst trotter ever. Couldn’t beat a donkey.

FELIX TUCKER (bellowing): Shut up everyone, I want to hear this!

CARMEN TRUJILLO: Then why did she win?

JAMES PROWERS (points to Frank Faraday): Ask him. Frank Faraday. He’s the nincompoop who rode her.

FRANK FARRADAY: (Stands up) I didn’t mean to, Mr. Prowers. Honest. It’s just that all the other racers were so far behind. Usually I’m the one behind, on account of I’m bigger than all the other jockeys, and I didn’t know what else to do.

JAMES PROWERS: That’s why I hired him. He never wins. I figured with him on that dobbin I couldn’t lose. See, my wife wants to help me train horses, and she kept nagging me and nagging me, so I agreed that if Milk Money won, she could help.

FELIX TUCKER: I heard that Mr. Big fixed the race and that Sugar Beet was supposed to win. That’s why I bet on Sugar Beet. I only bet on sure things.

FRANK FARRADAY: Mr. Big did fix the race, but then that gambler Win Winslow came around and bribed the rest of the jockeys to lose. He tried bribing me, too, but Mrs. Prowers had already bribed me to win, and I am honest. Honest, I am.

WIN WINSLOW (who is at a different table, stands up): Are you talking about me?

FRANK FARRADAY: Yes, Mr. Winslow. Sorry.

WIN WINSLOW: No problem. I don’t care if everyone knows what I did

POPPY O’HARE: You’re not scared, baby? What if Mr. Big finds out?

WIN WINSLOW: Mr. Big has been running things too long. It’s time for new blood in this town, and I intend to be the new top dog.

FELIX TUCKER: So you’re the one who made the killing at the track?

WIN WINSLOW: That was me! I placed my bet under a phony name so that Mr. Big wouldn’t know who won, but now that I have my money and everyone knows I’m Mr. Bigger, it doesn’t matter. Mr. Big wouldn’t dare touch me.

POPPY O’HARE: But what about people who lost their money, like Felix Tucker or Carmen Trujillo? Won’t they come after you?

WIN WINSLOW: They can’t. They know if they did, they’d never be able to gamble in this town again.

JAMES PROWERS: I wouldn’t mind if something happened to you. My wife is at home right now, painting the barn pink.

WIN WINSLOW: (laughs): I hear you. That’s a fate worse than death. Hey, Effie! Bring me some of my Amaretto!

EFFIE tOWNSEND (bartender): Sure, Mr. Winslow. I’ll go get your special bottle (Goes in the back room.)

CARMEN TRUJILLO: I like pink.

JAMES PROWERS: A pink barn. I will be a laughingstock.

EFFIE tOWNSEND: (placing a glass in front of Win Winslow next to one that’s already there): There was only enough in the bottle for one drink, so this is the last of it.

POPPY O’HARE: I don’t know why people have to gamble. Why can’t they just watch the pretty horses run?

WIN WINSLOW: Without gambling, there is no horseracing.

POPPY O’HARE: (snuggling up to Win): But gambling upsets people too much.

WIN WINSLOW: I have business to conduct, Dollface Why don’t you go sing us a song?

POPPY O’HARE: Okay, Snookie. (She picks up a glass and takes a swig.) Ooh, that’s horrible stuff! (Goes to the stage area and begins to sing. After a verse or two, her words falter, she stumbles, and collapses.)

DOLLY CARSON rushes to the fallen singer, but she’s pushed aside by CHARLES PRESTON.

CHARLES PRESTON: Step aside. I’m a doctor. Dr. Charles Preston. (He bends over the body.) This woman is dead. Murdered. I can smell the bitter almonds from cyanide. Call the cops.

(General pandemonium, and cries of “No cops” and “No pigs” “No Coppers” and “I have to get out of here.”

Dolly CARSON: Sit down.

FELIX TUCKER (bellowing): Everyone sit down and shut up!

Dolly CARSON: Thanks, Felix. We don’t need the coppers. We can figure out who killed her and then turn the murderer over to the cops ourselves. (Points to Florence Nash who has been badmouthing Poppy all evening.) You didn’t like the victim, did you?

FLORENCE NASH: She was okay.

Dolly CARSON: That’s not what you were saying earlier.

FLORENCE NASH: Okay, you’re right. I didn’t like her. She was a flirt. And more. She was always going after my husband, and he left me, thinking she meant she wanted to be with him. But she was just playing around, and now I’m all alone. But I didn’t kill her.

Dolly CARSON: Do you know anyone beside you who would want her dead?

FLORENCE NASH: Everyone. All the women anyway. She flirted with our husbands.

BESS JORDAN: She put the woman’s movement back twenty years.

Dolly CARSON: You didn’t like her, did you, Bess?

BESS JORDAN: No. Didn’t hate her enough to kill her, either. We don’t need people like her. The woman’s movement is becoming stronger all the time. We can do anything men can, and better.

WIN WINSLOW: In your dreams!

Dolly CARSON: She was your girlfriend, Win, but you didn’t really like her, did you?

WIN WINSLOW: She was a flirt. And a gold digger. But she was beautiful and fun.

Dolly CARSON: Is that why you killed her? Because the fun was over?

WIN WINSLOW: I didn’t kill anyone. I don’t need to. I got guys for that. Besides, poison is a woman’s weapon.

BESS JORDAN: No, poison is a woman’s privilege, but men poison, too. We are all equal.

Dolly CARSON (Points to people at random and asks them questions): You didn’t like the victim, did you? What was your beef with her? Do you know anyone besides you who would want her dead? Do you have any information relative to this investigation?

Dolly CARSON (turning to Mildred Boggs): Mildred Boggs, you were sitting across the table from Poppy. Did you like her?

MILDRED BOGGS: No, but . . .

Dolly CARSON: What was your beef with her?

MILDRED BOGGS: Same as everyone else. With women like her around, no one’s husband is safe, but . . .

Dolly CARSON Do you have any information relative to this investigation?

MILDRED BOGGS: Yes. That’s what I’ve been trying to tell you. I don’t think Poppy was supposed to be the victim. I think it was Win Winslow. She drank from his glass.

Dolly CARSON: The bottle was in the storeroom. Anyone could have spiked it with cyanide. It could have been Felix Tucker. James Prowers. Carmen Trujillo. Effie Townsend. Or anyone here. So, Win, who wanted you dead?

WIN WINSLOW: No one wants me dead. Everyone likes me. I’m a likeable guy.

Dolly CARSON: Does anyone else have anything to say? (If there’s no response, or when the discussion dies down, Dolly holds up a ballot.) We don’t want to call the cops, and since no one has any pertinent information, and since no one is confessing, let’s take a vote.

While the votes are being tallied, people go get dessert.

After the votes are tallied, Dolly announces the winners of the voting for Most Dastardly Villain, Best Costume, and Best Role Playing, and thanks everyone for being such Keen Detectives.

After the applause dies down, it’s time for the truth to come out. If the right person was chosen to be the villain, the killer takes a bow and explains why he or she did it. If the wrong person is chosen, the real villain tells the truth.

***

So, who do you think is the killer?

***

Pat Bertram is the author of Grief: The Inside Story – A Guide to Surviving the Loss of a Loved One. “Grief: The Inside Story is perfect and that is not hyperbole! It is exactly what folk who are grieving need to read.” –Leesa Healy, RN, GDAS GDAT, Emotional/Mental Health Therapist & Educator.

Mystery Evening Critique

The Roaring Twenties mystery fundraiser was a success. It had the biggest turnout to a local event that I’d seen, it made money, and people had fun. At least, they had fun to the extent that the evening met their expectations. The people with no expectations and those who were willing to get into the spirit of the game had the most fun. Those who expected to sit and watch a play were not quite as satisfied.

People’s comments to me revealed their expectations, and said more about them than it did about my writing. Some people said I did great, and I could see they meant it. Some people avoided me. Others damned me with faint praise: “It was good for a first attempt.” Or “You’ll do better next year.” Others said it was fun, but that they couldn’t hear most of the play.

A friend warned me about this — how nerve wracking it was for scriptwriters who had to sit back and see their dialogue not working the way it was supposed to. I’d glibly responded to him, “If it doesn’t work, I’ll get to blame the role-players for not doing their job of engaging the audience.”

And so it was.

Few people, even those to whom I had explained the concept, got the point — that it was a game, a role-playing game, with some scripted parts to keep things going. Everyone who came was supposed to play a role, and to that end, each had been given a cheat sheet with a bit about their character. For example: You bet on Sugar Beet since it was supposed to be a sure thing, and now you think Mr. Big sold you out. Or You strongly approve of the suffragette movement, and you think flirts like Poppy give women a bad name.

The people who played the various scripted characters were supposed to sit among those without lines and get them involved. Only a couple of women did this, and did it admirably, but I could see the strain it was for them since so few responded to their attempts. Some of the younger people who volunteered to play a part were great, but others huddled in a corner with their friends instead of getting the non-scripted folks to participate, and they kept sitting when they too-quietly spoke their lines rather than standing up when they were supposed to speak.

After the murder, non-scripted people were supposed to have been interrogated, but that part was dropped, maybe because of the problem with getting attendees into the spirit of the game.

I’d thought that during the event the characters would become less my creation and more theirs as they adlibbed, took things further than what I had suggested, and got other non-scripted guests to participate. None of that happened. And since I wasn’t one of those who were supposed to be chivvying others into participating, there was nothing I could do about it. Nor was there anything I could do about lost lines, swallowed punchlines, clues that no one could hear, participants with jitters and nerves, and people who wanted to do things their own way.

That the evening was a success was due to the efforts of those who did get into the spirit of the thing and who so wonderfully (and in the case of the bartender, so chillingly, and in the case of the jockey, so charmingly) delivered their lines.

From a personal standpoint, I enjoyed the evening. It was interesting to see how far I had come in the eleven months since I’d moved here — how many people I knew or recognized, how many people knew or recognized me.

From an author standpoint, it wasn’t nearly as enjoyable, mostly because of my own expectations. The game never took on a life of its own, as I had hoped. I’d seen it as sort of a flash mob thing, where scripted characters, seemingly from the audience, would jump in with their lines as if on the spur of the moment, which never happened because of the aforesaid huddling. And I woefully overestimated how many attendees would get into the speakeasy attitude and play along. (I should have known what would happen when only a smattering of people with non-scripted lines made any effort to dress the part.)

So what’s the solution? Insist on having greater control of the process? But then, this wasn’t really about me as an author, but about the community. Give explicit instructions to the scripted players, making sure they sit among the “audience,” and write additional lines so they aren’t expected to adlib? When people make a reservation, ask if they are willing to say a few lines, and then give them specific things to say? Wait to see who shows up in costume, and give those people lines? The characters who were the most enthusiastic and who really carried the evening were those who had been coopted almost at the last minute, so is the solution to coopt more people like these, people with big voices and bigger personalities? Or is the answer to give up on the idea of an interactive experience and give people the play they expected?

But then, that raises the question: Is this who we have become? A people who would rather simply sit and watch rather than get involved?

I don’t know the answer, and I don’t need to since my scriptwriting days are done.

Besides, the evening really was a success, and in the end, that’s all that counts.

***

Pat Bertram is the author of Grief: The Inside Story – A Guide to Surviving the Loss of a Loved One. “Grief: The Inside Story is perfect and that is not hyperbole! It is exactly what folk who are grieving need to read.” –Leesa Healy, RN, GDAS GDAT, Emotional/Mental Health Therapist & Educator.

Mysteries

Editing the murder mystery I’ve been writing for a dinner at the local museum on February 9, seemed as involved as any other editing job. There were a few small inconsistencies to repair, but the main thing I had to do was to add lines so that the characters can introduce themselves. I didn’t want to do a program with the characters and their roles listed, because in a way, everyone who comes to the dinner will have a part — as a visitor to the speakeasy if for no other reason. Those who will be set apart as possible villains, though, will have to have a name, otherwise, how would anyone be able to vote for the dastardliest villain?

Tomorrow will be rehearsal, though mostly it will be a matter of setting up the logistics of the mystery. Although no one but the mistress of ceremonies will have many lines to say, I don’t expect anyone to memorize their parts. (They can if they want to, of course.) For the most part, they just need to know what they are supposed to be doing and how the whole thing fits together.

I’m hoping people will get into the spirit of the thing and not just sit back and watch as the story unfolds, but if people prefer to watch, that’s okay, too.

I feel as if I should be nervous about the murder mystery because after all, the story was my creation, but I’m not. Or at least, not very.

Maybe it’s because so much is going on. Not just meetings and preparing for the dinner and attending the mayor’s strategic planning sessions, but also the house. The excavator should be available for rent sometime next week, so I’ll get to watch a different sort of play unfold — digging the foundation and pouring the cement and whatever else it takes to start building a garage.

I wonder if the dig will uncover some other weird bit of mystery to go along with all the other mysterious artifacts we’ve uncovered, such as the cistern, ancient sewage pipes, water where no water should be, bloody shirts, and a few miscellaneous bones.

Whatever happens, the dig should be interesting!

And so will the murder mystery dinner. If you are in the area, please join us for an evening of food and frolic.

***

Pat Bertram is the author of Grief: The Inside Story – A Guide to Surviving the Loss of a Loved One. “Grief: The Inside Story is perfect and that is not hyperbole! It is exactly what folk who are grieving need to read.” –Leesa Healy, RN, GDAS GDAT, Emotional/Mental Health Therapist & Educator.

Activities!

It still seems odd that I am so involved in activities after being in town for such a short time. (Not even a year yet.) It’s so not me. At least, it hasn’t been.

Today was one of those particularly busy days, starting with an early morning visit with the contractor who came to pick up his tools that I was holding hostage. I wasn’t really holding them hostage; it’s just that he left them here because he thought he’d be able to rent the excavator sooner than he was able to. He also wanted to talk about scheduling. Next week, he should have the excavator, so he will be able to dig the foundation for the garage. I hope for his sake, the weather warms up before he gets to work. Although it’s supposed to get up into the seventies this weekend, the temperature will drop considerably on Monday and Tuesday. (A low of 6˚ — brrrr.)

After he left, my next visitor arrived. She came to pick up the book (Unfinished) I’d donated to a fund raiser, and to buy a couple of others to auction off.

After she left, the president of the art guild arrived. We needed to go over the script for the mystery dinner — since she’s going to be the mistress of ceremonies of the speakeasy, she wanted to know what everyone will be doing, when they will be doing it, and how to cue the various skits. She also is the only one who knows who has volunteered to play the various speaking parts, so we were able to get the script cast and updated to make things simpler. (My part will be to sign people in, to take money at the door, and then later to tally up the votes for Most Dastardly Villain, best costume, and best actor.)

Since she is also one-half of the couple I bought the house from, we took the time to tour the changes that have been made to the place since I moved in.

Later, I will be going to a community dinner. I wasn’t planning on going — I’m exhausted, not just from lack of sleep (all of a sudden last night, the beginning to my next book showed up in my head took roost) but also from all the activity, but since I missed a potluck lunch earlier today (the monthly birthday celebration at the senior center), I figured I should at least do one thing to get me out of the house.

Whew! Just talking about all these activities has worn me out.

I’d better go read for a while, relax, and hope I’m still awake when it’s time to leave this evening.

***

Pat Bertram is the author of Grief: The Inside Story – A Guide to Surviving the Loss of a Loved One. “Grief: The Inside Story is perfect and that is not hyperbole! It is exactly what folk who are grieving need to read.” –Leesa Healy, RN, GDAS GDAT, Emotional/Mental Health Therapist & Educator.

 

Strategic Planning

I attended another strategic planning session at the town hall last night, and I still find the sessions interesting on several accounts. It’s interesting to hear ideas and see the plan form, interesting to see who shows up, interesting to find that, although many of the original attendees have dropped out, I am still going.

Almost every place I have lived has exploded into a growth cycle a couple of years after I moved there. The only exception was the town I stayed when I was in California, but though I was present in the state for several years, I never moved there. (California might have a different slant on the matter, but I figure my point of view is the correct one, otherwise the growth would have been much greater than it was.)

I see that possibility for exponential growth here, too. Several people I have talked to have said the town should market itself as a retirement community, and apparently the mayor agrees, though I tend to think it will happen whether people want it or not.

The town is old, with a lot of cute old houses — cheap houses — crying out for a makeover. These houses are generally small, which makes them perfect for those who are downsizing. At the moment, less than half of the houses in town are owner-occupied, which is the crux of many of the town’s problems — a transient population, absentee ownership, and a general lack of caring about those properties. At the moment, there is a trickle of older people moving to the area because of the ability to buy a house. I am one of them. I never in my wildest dreams expected to be able to own a house. And yet here I am.

Some of the people I know are lifelong residents, others are people who left and came back here to retire, and the rest are like me — people who have moved here to live out our remaining years in homes that we own. We all have a stake in this town, more even than the youth growing up here. We are here to stay. Many of them are not. (And yet, very few of the people I know have been coming to the meetings, even those who have — or think they have — solutions to the stagnant economy.)

The problem with marketing this town as a retirement community is that there are no doctors in town and no urgent care. Though there are a couple of hospitals within a 30-mile radius (and ambulance service), there are no specialists in the whole southeastern part of the state. Most people end up going to the big cities along the front range for specialty care, such as cancer, or liver problems, or whatever.

Still, the southeastern part of Colorado has a fairly mild four-season climate, the mildest in Colorado. It does get cold in the winter and hot in the summer, but there are almost always a few comfortable hours each day for outside activities — early morning and evening in the summer; afternoon in the winter. Add that to a favorable housing market, as well as an active Area Agency on Aging that is trying to improve the lot of older folks, and this place is well set up for a retirement destination.

Whenever I have mentioned my belief that this town could explode in both population and housing costs, people scoff at me. Many of the rural folk have sold their water rights (which makes me wonder how many of them ever watched a classic western movie — most of those films are about water rights, the value of keeping them, and the importance of water to future self-governance), but for now, water is not the issue.

The history of Colorado during the past several decades shows the trend and makes me think I am correct about this place ready to explode in population and, unfortunately, housing costs. Every time California has a huge uptick in property values along with a corresponding downtick in moral values (on a political level, not a personal one), vast numbers of Californians move to Colorado, where property costs aren’t (or weren’t) as high. They generally move to the front range, causing those property prices to escalate, causing people in those cities to sell up and look for a cheaper area. This has happened often enough (there were at least two, probably three of these waves in the past three decades) that property values in most areas of the state have escalated accordingly. Even if I had wanted to, I couldn’t have moved back to the western slope where Jeff and I lived, because those property values increased beyond my means (and way beyond their true value.) I can’t even afford a place to rent there. The place where we lived now rents for three times what we paid.

So that leaves southeastern Colorado. The area i lagging way behind the rest of the state, which is why I like it and why I am here, but I truly don’t see it remaining this way. Any new growth, of course, would bring new problems — on the one hand, property values could rise to the point where the careless landlords will sell to people who will care for the property. But those same increased values will make it not quite as an attractive place to retire.

Hence, the strategic planning committee. The mayor and the council are already looking into the possibility of senior housing. (My concerns aren’t with housing or economic development so much as safety — making sure it’s safe to walk, making sure the crosswalks are accessible, and making sure that the less-than-law-abiding folk are kept in check.)

I don’t know whether my presence at these meetings is needed, but it’s been a good experience. At least, if the growth does come, especially if it comes in a way that doesn’t benefit me, I will have had my say.

***

Pat Bertram is the author of Grief: The Inside Story – A Guide to Surviving the Loss of a Loved One. “Grief: The Inside Story is perfect and that is not hyperbole! It is exactly what folk who are grieving need to read.” –Leesa Healy, RN, GDAS GDAT, Emotional/Mental Health Therapist & Educator.