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Archive for November, 2021

Book Review: Slow Puncture: Living Well with Dementia by Deb Bunt and Peter Berry

I wish I had read this book while I was caring for Mom and Dad.

In this cooperative project about dementia, friendship, and adventure Peter Berry, who received a diagnosis of early onset dementia at the age of fifty, and Deb Bunt, a world traveler who retired to rural Suffolk, share a candid account of what dementia looks like from the inside as well as the outside. Berry fights his dementia monster by reducing him to a cartoonish caricature and by devising biking challenges, accepting speaking engagements, and writing this book. The insights he drops into conversations with Bunt over coffee and cake are insightful and often stunning, but they are almost immediately forgotten – but not by Bunt. He says that having her to chronicle their journeys and adventures is like having a memory outside his head.

Berry’s insights and his approach to life give those of us on the outside a tiny peek at what the world looks like through a mind clouded by dementia, and Deb’s empathetic responses give the rest of us some idea of how to have a respectful and loving relationship with those with dementia. Berry says that he tries to make life about the “I can do’s” rather than the “I can’t do’s.” Bunt says that while others suffer from dementia, he has learned to live with it – with an emphasis on the living part. But just when his coping mechanisms and showmanship lull the reader into thinking dementia is not so bad, he says something like this: You know, in life, most people walk towards the light, but people with this condition are walking away from it. So, here’s my plan, when I have to, I’m going to walk backwards so I will still see the light.

This may have been the easiest five-star rating I’ve ever given. I loved this book and highly recommend it.

Blessings,

Linda

Buy at Amazon

Being thankful for 2021 | by Linda Brendle

Published in the Rains County Leader on November 24, 2021:

In preparing to write this week, I read last year’s Thanksgiving column called “How Thanksgiving Grows.” The gist of the story was that, because of residual fears about COVID, none of our usual family gatherings occurred, so I planned to fix a small but special meal for David and me. However, by the time the big day came, we had three guests, and I spent the best part of two days fixing the customary multi-course feast. This year we will be sharing a traditional celebration with David’s sisters – and we had to turn down two other invitations.

Although I enjoyed the memories, the article didn’t help much with this week’s column. After that I went to Facebook and scrolled through my photos. I didn’t take many pictures last Thanksgiving, but I did find one of the kitchen island loaded down with food. There was also a photo of the leftovers the next day when we invited the neighbors back for a rerun. I remember feeling grateful that we could enjoy another go-round without all the work and also that all that food wouldn’t go to waste.

From there, I scrolled through the rest of the year. Again, there weren’t a lot of pictures, but there were enough highlights to inspire a gratitude list for this week:

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Calves | by Linda Brendle

Published in the Rains County Leader on November 18, 2021:

Those of you who have been raised around cattle all your lives and know everything there is to know about these four-footed critters might want to pass on reading this column. If you choose to read on, keep in mind that the author is, as the column name indicates, a city girl and knows nothing about the bovine species – except that they are delicious when grilled and served on a bun with a little mustard and a few veggies. Given this disclaimer, you may wonder why I chose this subject. It just seemed a natural choice after several calves came to my notice recently – so if you opt to read on, be charitable.

As Spike’s official dog-sitters and his unofficial step parents – along with his small herd of cattle, we usually receive baby pictures when new calves arrive. Friday I received a text with a picture a shiny black baby girl weighing fifty pounds or so. Stella said she was born on Wednesday but disappeared soon afterward, probably hidden by her mother to protect her from the large group of buzzards that attended the birth. The baby was safe, though, because she and mama were at the fence to see Kent and Stella off when they left for home group. At lunch after church on Sunday, we discussed names for the newborn. Mama’s name is Annabelle, so the name has to include Anna. The odds-on favorite by the end of the meal was Julianna.

David and I will be staying with Spike for a few days at the end of the month, so we will be able to see Julianna in person – or at least through the fence. Considering our lack of experience with and our aversion to being stepped on by animals that weigh upwards of half a ton, others come in to feed and care for the non-domesticated livestock. All we do in that regard is count noses each morning to be sure no rustling has occurred in the dark.

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A Long and Winding Road – 99 cents through Monday, 11/15

My first memoir, A Long and Winding Road: A Caregiver’s Tale of Life, Love, and Chaos, is bargain priced in ebook format. Less than three days left to get your copy for 99 cents. To tweak your interest, here’s the first several pages that tell about how I survived a game of chicken between my motorcycle and a dump truck – and that was the highlight of my day!

2004

Thursday, September 9

Change

Cast thy burden upon the Lord, and he shall sustain thee:
 he shall never suffer the righteous to be moved.

Psalm 55:22

There it was—a dump truck, coming straight toward me on a road with no shoulders and no place to go. The Department of Transportation’s motorcycle safety course teaches you to look where you want to go, and the bike will follow your line of vision. That would probably have worked, but I couldn’t take my eyes off the truck. Instead, the world around me abruptly shifted into a slow motion action sequence with a one-sentence caption that crawled across my mind: You’re going to die.

Avoiding a collision should have been easy: slow a little, push a bit harder on the  right handgrip, and then swing back into my lane My adrenaline-drenched muscles were tensed for fight or flight, though, so easy wasn’t happening, and I leaned hard into the curve. With a death grip on the throttle, I revved the engine, straightening my trajectory and sending the bike straight into the path of the truck. The right footrest screeched against the asphalt and gave way under the weight of the 700-pound motorcycle. I pulled my left leg up toward my chest; rubber crunched metal as both the front and back wheels of the truck hit the bike.

I don’t know what happened next. I don’t know if a heavenly hand reached down and plucked me off the bike or if I tucked and rolled, bouncing up at the end like a gymnast after a tumbling run. The next thing I knew, I was standing in the middle of the road, surrounded by bike parts: a headlight; the footboard, where my left foot had rested; and various, unidentifiable bits of chrome.

The bike was a blue 2002 Harley Heritage Softtail that I called the Blue Angel. She was beautiful, loud, and had chrome in places where most bikes don’t have places. When I rode her, I was powerful and beautiful and shiny, just like her, and I rode every chance I got. Now, she was lying on the side of the road with a trail of broken bits and pieces behind her.

In a daze, I wandered over and said to no one in particular, “I guess my riding days are over.”

My husband David was leading the ride. Out of sight around the next curve and deafened by the roar of his pipes, he was unaware of what was going on. James and Peggy, our neighbors and riding buddies, were bringing up the rear. James pulled up beside me and made sure I was still breathing before speeding away to catch up with David.

I watched him until he was out of sight, and then I sat down in the weeds to take inventory. Unlike my Angel, I was bruised and shaken, but not broken. My helmet was scraped, and the visor hung from one snap. There was a slight cut on the bridge of my nose from my glasses. My left foot hurt, so I took off my boot to check the damage. I didn’t find anything major, but my instep was swollen and turning blue, so I put my boot back on before my foot outgrew it. My elbows were skinned, and the length of my right thigh stung from road rash. A dull ache on my left hip presaged a huge bruise—but I was alive.

Peggy and the truck driver had just dragged my bike out of the path of oncoming traffic when an Arkansas Highway Patrol car arrived. The next few minutes were a blur of activity. I watched it all from the cocoon of numbness that surrounds you after a traumatic event. I answered questions when they were asked and signed my name when it was required, but mostly I thought about what had just happened.

I had been following David like always. He rides a black 2000 Harley Road King Classic. As we had been winding through the trees and hills on a beautiful two-lane road, I’d felt good, enjoying both the memory of David’s compliments about what a good rider I was becoming and the elegance of his riding style. Even after a couple of decades as a civilian, he still had his military posture, and he looked almost regal in the saddle. He had pulled ahead of me a bit, so I had given the Angel a little more gas—a little too much as it turned out. I had gone into a right-hand curve a little too hot and swung out just over the yellow line.

If I could just hit the rewind button and take that curve one more time.

Once the formalities were done and the shiny, twisted remains of the Angel had been towed away on a flatbed trailer, I climbed onto the buddy seat of the Road King. I was once again riding two-up behind David, leaning against his back with my arms around his waist the way I had the first time he took me riding when we were dating. shrunken caravan rode off in search of a place to eat dinner and lick our wounds.

Sitting on the back gives you time to think and pray. I thanked God for His mercy, amazed at what I had survived. I also asked why it had happened and if my riding days were really over. The only response I received in those moments of quiet meditation was a sense that I’d know when it was time to ride again. So far, I’m still riding two-up behind David.

Back at the condo, I took some pain reliever and soaked in a tub of hot water to ease my aches and pains. The pills and hot water worked on the physical woes, but they did nothing for the shock and horror of the images in my head, images of that truck coming toward me again and again. I joined the rest of the group in the living room and snuggled up next to David, looking for the warmth and comfort of his touch.

I was beginning to relax and unwind a bit when the cell phone rang. A flutter of anxiety made me catch my breath as it rang a second time. Only a few people had that number, so when it rang, it was usually serious. My first thought was of Mom and Dad who were over two hundred miles away.

In the fall of 2003, Dad had a mysterious neurological infection that landed him in the hospital for two weeks and in a rehab facility for three more. With her world turned upside down, Mom had an emotional breakdown, so she had stayed with us temporarily. She had delusions that Dad had died or run off with another woman, and when she saw him at the hospital, she called him “Mama.” Their snug two-bedroom house was not her secure little nest without him there, but she was afraid to be anywhere else.

Trying to meet their needs without neglecting my job or my husband did a number on my world, too. My neat, orderly little life turned into a chaotic mess. My perfect daughter, superhero alter ego took over, and I flew to the rescue.

I was the only one who could get Dad to eat, and I was afraid if I didn’t show up at the hospital three times a day, he would starve to death. I also spent hours with Mom, trying to calm her fears and cure her insecurities. This was when I experienced my first close encounter with the caregiver’s secret fear that it was my sole responsibility to see to the welfare of my parents. I thought that if I did everything right, my parents would get well and things would go back to normal. If they didn’t get well, it would be my fault.

After several months, Mom and Dad had both recovered from the trauma of his illness, but things had changed. They were back in their own home, but I still dropped by every day on my lunch hour to say hello and check on them. The yard on their little corner lot had been, at one time, well-tended and frequently admired by neighbors and passersby, but now it was unkempt, brown, and weed-choked. The hedges that had once been neatly trimmed now sprouted wild branches in every direction.

Inside was worse. The smell of unwashed bodies greeted me at the door, and the sigh of Mom and Dad sitting on the couch, staring at the TV, waited for me in the living room. The books and crossword puzzles that used to occupy their attention lay forgotten on the coffee table, along with piles of unbalanced bank statements and unpaid bills. The pantry and refrigerator that had once been stocked with fresh, nutritious food were either empty or filled with pre-packaged meals and snacks or leftovers that looked like a science experiment gone bad.

“What did you have for lunch?” I asked.

Each looked to the other for a response.

“I don’t remember.”

“You did eat, didn’t you?”

“I don’t know. I think we had a sausage biscuit around ten o’clock.”

Answers to questions about medications and doctor’s visits were equally vague. I reluctantly began to research care options, arming myself with as much information as I could. Eventually, some decisions would have to be made.

Not today, though. Today was supposed to have been a good day. We were on a motorcycle adventure with our neighbors, spending several days exploring new scenery and finding the curvy Arkansas roads that are like a Disney World thrill ride for bikers. The morning was beautiful, a perfect start to a day of forgetting about the real world for a while. Unfortunately, the day wasn’t so perfect after all.

When we stopped for a mid-morning rest, David whipped out his cell phone and called his buddy Roger, also a biker. Knowing Roger was at work, David greeted him with his usual taunt, Hey, man, where ya’ at? This morning, though, Roger had news. Delta Airlines, where David had worked for sixteen years, had announced that the DFW maintenance hangar would close and relocate to Atlanta in January. David was only fifty-six, too young to retire. He could relocate, but I wasn’t sure if I could work out a transfer with my employers. Starting a new career wasn’t appealing to either of us. Plus, what would we do about Mom and Dad? Then there was the truck, and now the phone was ringing.

The phone rang a third time, and I picked it up with a trembling hand.

“Hello?”

“Linda, this is Mary.”

Mary and I were running buddies before I met David, and we were still closer than she and her twin sister. She explained that she had received a panicked call from Mom.

 Mom had asked her to go check on Dad. He had gone to my house to pick kup the mail and feed the dogs, and he’d been gone for long enough that she was worried.

My heart was in my throat, unable to decide whether to beat wildly or stop altogether.

“Are they okay?” I asked.

“Yes,” said Mary, “but you need to know what happened. When I turned onto your street I saw emergency vehicles in front of your house. The EMTs were huddled around Elmer. A passing neighbor found him lying unconscious on the sidewalk and called nine-one-one. By the time I arrived, he was awake, but he’s refusing to go to the hospital. I think you should talk to him.”

“Okay,” I agreed. My hand was shaking so badly I could hardly hold the phone while I waited for him to come on the line. “Daddy, are you okay?”

“I’m fine,” he said. “I don’t know what all the fuss is about. I don’t need an ambulance.”

“Maybe you could let Mary take you to the ER, just to be sure everything is okay. Would you do that for me?”

“Okay. I don’t see any need of it, but if it will make you feel better, I’ll do it.”

After I hung up, I sat with my head in my hands, feeling like I’d just been hit by another truck. As I fought back tears, the caregiver’s guilty mantra taunted me: I should have been there.

Mary called back a couple of hours later. “Linda, I took your dad to the ER. They didn’t find any real damage, so they sent him home. I’m going to spend the night with them and check on him periodically.”

He made it through the night with no further signs of injury. A later check with his doctor showed no major damage, either, but he has not been quite the same since. None of us have.

Available on Amazon.

Blessings,

Linda

Welcome Home | by Robert Worley as told to Linda Brendle

Published in the Rains County Leader on November 11, 2021:

In February of 1965, nineteen-year-old Robert Worley was accepted into the U.S. Marine Corps Platoon Leaders Class as a lance corporal E-3. He admits that, at the time, he had never heard of Vietnam – he was busy trying to adapt to college after Paducah High School. Three weeks later, everyone knew about Vietnam.

On March 8, 1965, President Johnson launched what became a three-year campaign of sustained bombing of targets in North Vietnam and the Ho Chi Minh Trail in Operation Rolling Thunder. The same month, U.S. Marines landed on beaches near DaNang, South Vietnam as the first American combat troops to enter Vietnam. Still, Worley thought the war, which was being called a police action, would be over by the time he graduated from college in 1968.

However, before he received his degree he was being trained by Vietnam veterans, and the TET offensive turned 1968 into the bloodiest year of the war. In October of 1969, 2nd Lt. Robert Worley was sent to DaNang Air Base as part of the First Marine Aircraft Wing. He was assigned as the Supply Officer for Marine Composite Reconnaissance Squadron 1. In December, he was promoted to 1st Lieutenant.

By then, Worley had learned some of the history of Vietnam. The French preceded the United States in South Vietnam until May 7, 1954 when North Vietnam defeated them at Dien Bien Phu. The U.S. provided the French and South Vietnam with money and became secretly involved in the war in 1955 as soon as the French left. The first official U.S. death in Vietnam occurred in 1960, and President Kennedy officially entered Vietnam in 1961 with troop buildup. By 1962, nine thousand American troops were in South Vietnam in an advisory capacity but some were being killed. In February of 1965, President Johnson ordered the bombing of targets in North Vietnam in Operation Flaming Dart in retaliation for a Viet Cong raid at the U.S. base in the city of Pleiku and at a nearby helicopter base at Camp Holloway.

The Vietnam War is a controversial part of our nation’s history with many attributing shameful and brutal behavior to the American military and touting the humane conduct of the North Vietnamese. Among the many spreading pro-Communist and anti-U.S. rhetoric were John Kerry, Dan Rather, and Walter Cronkite, to name a few. Most notable among these is Jane Fonda who toured Vietnam in July of 1972 where she visited several sites including the Hanoi Hilton, the infamous Hoa Lo Prison in Hanoi. After her visit, Fonda concluded that the U.S. was unjustly bombing farmland and other sites far removed from military targets. She also claimed the Vietnamese provided their prisoners of war with the most humane treatment in the history of war.

John Kerry also spent three months in Vietnam. After returning home to run for congress, he told about how inhumane the U.S. military was. Kerry was once asked by David Frost if the South Vietnamese people liked U.S. soldiers. Kerry’s answer was that the Americans were hated. But Worley has a completely different story to tell.

Shortly after being stationed in DaNang, Worley discovered that his unit regularly sent medical civic action patrols far into the jungle to take medical teams – doctors, nurses, dentists, surgeons, and other volunteers – to offer treatment to South Vietnamese who had been brutalized by the North Vietnamese. They worked in crude conditions, doing amputations in mud huts and performing dental procedures on patients sitting in a regular chair while sitting on a four-legged stool. All personnel kept helmets and pistols at the ready in case of attack. The medical teams were always accompanied by a Marine reinforced rifle company for protection. Worley went once as an observer, and he said once was enough. He went on to say, “It was a sobering day, seeing the torture and cruelty the North Vietnamese did to Vietnamese natives who they thought were friendly to the Americans.” The First Marine Aircraft Wing received the Civic Action Medal from the South Vietnamese government for these trips and more that benefitted the South Vietnamese.

Although the medical missions were not for him, Worley still wanted to be part of what was included in that “more.” When he discovered that a group of Marines, enlisted and officers, and Vietnamese Air Force officers were teaching English as a Second Language at a Catholic orphanage, he wanted in. Every Tuesday night the volunteer teachers dressed in flak jackets and traveled through enemy territory to Ahn Sang School where they taught grades 1-12 and others. They were shot at on the way to the school, and classes were taught to the background of the sounds of war.

The students in Worley’s class included a high school principal, a nurse, and a teenage boy. The teenager was a Montagnard Indian, a generic term for Vietnamese natives who lived in the mountains and were fiercely anti-communists. One of Worley’s most treasured war relics is a hand-carved wooden water buffalo bell given to him by this student. His favorite ESL memory is the evening he spent explaining America’s favorite pastime to a class who didn’t know what baseball was.

In direct rebuttal to John Kerry’s claim that the South Vietnamese hated Americans, Worley said, “We were all that was between them and genocide.” When Nixon announced a phased withdrawal, his ESL class was in tears, asking why the Americans were leaving them. “They were terrified, and they all wanted us there,” he added. On his last night, Worley gave a graduation speech. “I told them to be strong. I said that even though the good guys were pulling out, their army could prevail. I lied.”

Of course, not all the natives were as cordial. The South Vietnamese bought garbage from the Americans, and some of those people were used to set up attacks on the base. One day Worley noticed a mama-san walking very slowly and carefully across the base. Later, it was realized that she was making markers for a planned rocket attack. In early 1970 during one of these raids, a Vietnamese rocket exploded close to his hooch, landing squarely on an enlisted hooch. One enlisted Marine was killed, seven were injured, and Worley eventually developed tinnitus and went deaf.

Another of Worley’s treasures is a signed copy of When Hell Was in Session, a book written by Admiral/Senator Jeremiah Denton. The inscription reads Robert, To one of the best who always got there 1st. In response to Jane Fonda’s comments about the Hanoi Hilton, Worley refers to that book. Denton was a prisoner at the time of Fonda’s visit. He says that, before she arrived, prisoners were cleaned up and given new clothes, and anyone who showed signs of being beaten or punished was secluded.The prisoners were lined up, and Fonda shook hands with each one. Denton says the man next to him palmed a note to her giving names of some of the other prisoners, and that she passed it on to the prison guards. After she left, that prisoner was beaten to death.

When asked what he most wanted people to take away from his story, Worley said,“We were not murderers.” He conceded that atrocities occurred in Vietnam. “There were a few who were vicious,” he said,“but there are vicious people in regular civilian life. The vicious ones of the 2.1 million who served in Vietnam were in the minority.

“One of the hardest times for those who served ‘boots on the ground’ in Vietnam was the return. We were aware of the nation’s attitude toward us during and after Vietnam. I only encountered the negativism a few times, and it wasn’t that bad for me. But I had friends who were cursed at, spit on and called ‘baby killers.’ That was really sad. I only got accused of being a baby killer once. Some of the most ardent promoters of that attitude – John Kerry among them – are still with us and still spewing out stupidity.  To this day it is appropriate to say to a Vietnam veteran – ‘Welcome Home!’”

Worley left Vietnam in May of 1970 as a 1st Lt. He was transferred immediately to Okinawa, then to Camp Pendleton, California in July of 1971. He was honorably discharged in July of 1972 as a Captain.

Robert Worley is now the Director of Economic Development of the City of Emory Development Corporation. For more insights into the politics and strategies of the long Vietnam War, he suggests “We Were Soldiers Once, and Young” written by Army Lt. Col. Hal Moore and also the movie, “We Were Soldiers.”

NOTE: The photos are from Google and are intended to be representative of Worley’s experiences.

MHS Class of 1965 | by Linda Brendle

Published in the Rains County Leader on November 11, 2021:

David and I, along with my cousin Penny, attended the 55th reunion of Mesquite High School class of 1965 last weekend. The reunion was planned for 2020, but COVID had other ideas. Some referred to our gathering as the 55th + 1, and some just went with the 56th.

The crowd wasn’t huge, especially considering the class was 300+. The very impromptu class picture showed about 26 classmates, and 10-15 guests accompanied them. The party took place in an event room behind Ozona’s Restaurant on Greenville Avenue. It was a nice sized room for the size of the group, though, leaving plenty of room to move around and visit without tripping over each other and adding more canes and walkers. Seriously, as a whole we were amazingly well-preserved considering we’re all around three-quarters of a century old.

Thanks to Facebook and other social media, many of us have stayed connected at least a little bit. Even so, it often took a glance at the senior picture on a nametag to connect the even more senior face with the name. But years were melted away by hugs and handshakes, and conversation was easy and lively as we shared memories and discussed children, grandchildren, retirement, and health problems. One common question was Where are you living now. I was surprised that everyone who asked me knew where Emory is. I guess our little town is better known than I thought.

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The slow cooker | by Linda Brendle

Another catch-up post. This one was published in the Rains County Leader on November 4, 2021:

The title of this column probably brings to mind the smell of a pot roast or a soup that has simmered all day while you were at work. I love my crock pot and all the easy meals it cooks, but the slow cooker in this story is me.

I enjoy cooking, and I’m pretty good at it. I can follow a recipe to get anticipated results, or I can adjust a recipe and end up with something completely different. One of my specialties is the creative use of leftovers or produce that is approaching the end of its shelf life in order to avoid throwing away food. That’s what happened last week when David called my attention to four pears that were getting soft and turning brown. A Google search yielded several suggestions such as smoothies, a pear crumble, and several pear breads.

I chose one of the bread recipes and scanned some of the general specs. I smiled at the prep time of 15 minutes. Maybe if I had an assistant who had all the ingredients, bowls, and implements ready for me, but since it’s just me in the kitchen and I’m slow by nature, I always allow at least twice as long as the recipe says.

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The Problems Behind the Sale | by Linda Brendle

Somehow I’ve gotten behind and haven’t posted in almost two weeks. Time to play catch up! This article was published in the Rains County Leader October 28, 2021:

Last week I wrote about the amazing success of the Friends of the Library Book Sale and how smoothly it went. That was true, but the sale wasn’t without problems. Most of the problems landed in the lap of Cheryl Watson, our facilities coordinator – and me. Her responsibilities included picking up keys to the City Centre, opening and locking up, and coordinating the delivery and pick of books and equipment.

The plan was simple: Cheryl would pick up keys at the EDC office on Monday, Oct. 11. On Tuesday Jane Dillon would meet the Road and Bridge crew at the book shed by the Library to pick up books and equipment and Cheryl would open the Centre for volunteers to begin setting up. On Monday the 18th, Road and Bridge would pick up the equipment, unsold religious books which would be donated to Love Packages, and books reserved for Little Free Libraries, and Peter Adams of Gladewater Books would pick up remaining unsold books. Cheryl would return the keys to the EDC office, reserve the Centre for April, and the sale would be over. But there were problems.

#1 – Because of family illness, Cheryl wasn’t available until Saturday the week of the sale, but I stepped in. Problem solved.

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