Here is part II of the wedding series, tweaked and amplified a bit. I had several requests to re-post them together. As I mentioned in my previous post, I had a moment of caution last fall when I first wrote this series, and feared that I would alienate everyone, including my husband, by being so candid about our personal lives. But Geoffrey never reads this blog — he shuns all social media as part of his commitment to what he perceives as “higher” ideals and activities (more on that sometime, I promise) and his family, mercifully, are too busy spending their fortunes to bother with little ole me any more. So, it is safe to judiciously peel back the curtain again and ultimately update this little set of vignettes by adding two new sequels soon. In the immediate future, I will be writing about my visitors. Since I took over 1200 pictures during the two weeks they were here, I am dividing it into two posts, and then posting the third previously posted piece I wrote, “The newbie wed” and moving on … stay tuned!
Unlike most people, I like cold weather best and therefore vacations, to me, whenever possible, are ideally in cold places or times of the year. So when we were identifying a destination for the official ‘honeymoon’ to follow our upcoming winter wedding, we put our heads together and came up with two locations that worked for us for the week that we had (as we had other commitments that month). We narrowed it down to the Greenbrier Resort in West Virginia and Mount Snow, Vermont. It was really a hard decision, because we both liked both places. But, always erring on the side of more guaranteed cold and snow, I pushed for Vermont. And so, in the midst of a stifling August heatwave in the city, I booked us into a charming vacation village, and thought no more about it, as the honeymoon was six months away.
As luck would have it, my husband-to-be (who subsequently took over a family business – more about that subject in an upcoming post, I am sure), a CPA for one of the big eight at the time, had to conduct an audit upstate in January, before the honeymoon. I went with him. Having gone to school for four years in that vicinity, I lectured him about the absolutely mandatory snow-and-cold-shunning clothing and equipment he needed to take with him, even though he had gone to Dartmouth as an undergrad and taken courses at Cornell himself (never in winter, and we never ran into each other during school, either, as I would leave every summer just as he was arriving to take courses, so our paths never crossed as undergrads). He was, after all, a beach boy, and couldn’t possibly, in my view, withstand the bone-freezing and nose-planking icy cold of lake-effect winters. So, I bundled up as I had done each year at school: fleece-lined thigh-high boots, insulated gloves, thermal silk long johns, woolen pants, a heavy turtle neck and of course a shearling coat (none of which animal products would I ever purchase today). I brought scarves and ear muffs and vests. I was ready.
Geoffrey wore what he always did, year round and in any weather: thin-soled Italian shoes, a Brooks Brother’s spring wool silk-lined overcoat, a suit (to meet with clients). No gloves, hat, scarf, boots, nada. It, like the upcoming honeymoon, was a one-week trip. We stayed in a cozy vintage hotel, the kind that abounds in New England, in a room with a fireplace – it was quite romantic and quaint, with breakfasts in the small colonial dining room surrounded by Revolutionary war Early American antiques. His first day off to meet the clients, I waved goodbye and shook my head as he navigated through the freshly fallen foot-high snow in his shiny Bruno Maglis. Well, live and learn, I smugly thought to myself. It must have been in the stars: I became sick as a dog and spent the entire week in bed, barely coherent. My husband sailed through the weather with flying colors and we returned to NY, me the wiser and weaker and thinner for the wear.
But, here’s the rub. For the first time in my life, I had had enough of cold and snow. Damn! Had I known in August what I knew in January I might have booked us into a sailing vacation in Jamaica (that we took another time). So, the chilling spectre of a honeymoon in Vermont in February cast a certain kind of pall over my enthusiasm.
Too late for anything to be done, we packed up the car (we had a vintage diesel Mercedes that was in mint condition) and headed to Vermont for our week of intimacy and relaxation.
Uh, not so much, as you might have suspected from Part I of this saga.
First of all, there are two ways to get there from the metropolitan area. One is straight flat, wide-open freeway, boring as all hell and fast, efficient, safe. The other is far more adventurous, small winding path-like country roads inclining and declining over the steep hills that lie in a northerly trajectory between the city and Mount Snow. It was my parochial romanticism that led me to map out the latter, picturing a stop at a country store for some old home cookin’ along the way. And for the first part of the journey, it lived up to its promise, as I started out the trip, driving my portion of the road until we were to switch off and my husband helm the ship, trading back and forth as necessary until we arrived. We planned four hours for the drive.
If you haven’t gleaned this elsewhere, I tend to be the anal/retentive type – very organized, scripted, scheduled to fifteen minute parcels, with everything planned, packed and perfect before I go anywhere or do anything. As opposites do attract, my husband is a classic oral. Unlike my strict upbringing that entailed a military-like timetable of chores and duties throughout my eighteen years under my Dad’s command, my new spouse’s family expected all seven of their children to just enjoy life, and my father-in-law generously made that possible.
The upshot of this was that we were not ready to walk out the door bright and early on the day of the trip as I would have liked. Nope. My husband slept in, had a late breakfast, two cups of coffee, read the paper, and absently threw a few clothes into a small bag. And then, on that, the first morning of our official honeymoon: called his parents to chit-chat with them for an hour. How romantic.
Needless to say, I was disappointed, sulky and growing more uptight by the minute, until we finally got in that car and started heading out of NY (but not until we had stopped for snacks, more coffee, the ATM, the dry cleaners, and fuel – this became an ongoing pattern and joke, when I could finally find my sense of humor about it, years later).
So, instead of being on sun-dappled rural lanes from, let’s say, 8 to noon, we hit the hilly patch at 7 pm in Stygian darkness. It was freezing and all the snow that had melted during the midday, was now transformed by the magic of chemistry and physics to black ice. Even a heavy Mercedes slipped around like Sonja Henie on that road. Oh, and, after I put in my first two hours, my husband (juiced up with more coffee) took the wheel and promptly started to fall asleep not 30 minutes into his “half”.
I put half in quotes here, because the four hour trip? Turned into seven, most of it slick non-illuminated mountain roads, that were crawling with big-rigs snaking in a long relentless line in both directions. And I was at the wheel behind them, peering through a dirty sleet-covered windshield for over six of those seven hours. By the time we got to Mount Snow, we had been squabbling, both exhausted, having breathed five hours straight of big-rig fumes, eaten bags and boxes of salty and sugary trash from roadside dives, which now littered my usually immaculate chariot and we were both already fed up with the bitter cold.
The “cabin” was more like a ski lodge – cavernous, sterile, sparsely furnished (why had I not known this in advance? I really don’t recall, but, didn’t I see pictures???) and about ten times too big for us. I think we counted bedding for 20 people, no joke. So, out the window immediately went my foolish imaginings of the cozy honeymoon cottage deep in the woods, with an intimate fireplace glowing where we could bond after the invigorating and meditative walk through the woods to a nearby hamlet.
None of this was the case. The nearest village was Montpelier, too far to walk and not an easy drive in a lumbering boat. But, neither was there a diesel station in Mount Snow, so we had to make the Montpelier trip anyway, because we were by arrival time perilously low on fuel. To make matters worse, the Merc was not used to the subzero temps, so the glow-plug would stick, and apparently the fuel became a thick viscous gum that meant the car would stop and start fitfully over the remainder of our stay.
To top things off, the chalet came with — I am not exaggerating — a one and a half-inch thick binder of instructions and prohibitions. The owners of the property warned about what we could and mustn’t use from supplies, what brands we must replace them with, and where to put them. What to do with every inch of that cabin, from the fireplace (walk in, and plain) to the kitchen, to any bathrooms we might use, to the disposal of the trash, the way to set and reset the alarm, to letting the gardeners into the tool shed and the fact that the whole structure ran on a generator and propane gas, the latter we were expected to replace by ordering a two-tank delivery before we left. I sat down and burst into tears and, while my husband called his mother again (!) to make sure she was recovering satisfactorily from the wedding traumas, I ran around checking all my instructions before we both fell asleep on the floor in the downstairs living area, in the street clothes we wore for the drive up.
There were other snafus that will likely make their way into future posts when levity is needed. Still, Montpelier was a nice place to go and have dinner and shop during the cold but sunny crisp days that followed that week. We had our first big argument about whether or not we were required (in order to get the deposit back, I guess) to comply with all the rules and regulations set out in that binder, or whether as my husband would have preferred, we just left the place a mess and forewent the deposit, so as to put a thumb in the eye of those ridiculous owners. Needless to say, the last day of my honeymoon saw me scouring, vacuuming, scrubbing, sweeping, polishing and installing a propane tank on my own. My husband refused to lift a finger, as he had paid for it and was not about to contribute to my insanity or theirs (the owners – they may not have known this was a honeymoon, to be fair to them; I simply don’t remember).
There is a coda to this absurd string of events, that took place back in LA, which I will save for the future. What I took away from this experience at the time, I don’t know. In hindsight, I can see that my struggling to have things my own idiosyncratic way, paddling upstream, so to speak probably led in an ironic twist of fate to all these woes. I have tried to be objective about my constant chafing against convention, always being different. Never wanting to conform or to be viewed as a docile sheep, I have actually made quite a few things much more difficult in my life than had I been more secure in my uniqueness and simply gone along to get along.
Nevertheless, you will see as I periodically unpack these past episodes here, some amusing, others only painfully instructive, there is a pattern of striking out on the path less taken and suffering or enjoying the consequences. In the meantime, I will break up this personal focus with the current events and causes that take up my life and time now that I am older and a bit wiser. So, this is just the beginning …
Here is my third attempt to re-release this with updated comments. Clearly I have not mastered WP, even one year into it …
Originally posted on Beth Byrnes:
Since I last published this post almost a year ago, I was concerned that the players involved might somehow stumble upon it and be furious. But I have relaxed a bit about this since my husband, Geoffrey never reads this blog, and I have kept to an absolute minimum any digital photographs of any of us with the exception of my husband whose picture does appear in a handful of posts. I have just calmed down and slowly incarnated into blogging about them candidly again, using my maiden name and my real life nickname (they know me by married last name, and Geoffrey has always called me Veronica because he grew up loving Archie comics and Veronica is my middle name — you following all this? Beth Byrnes is the last name they will think of, thank heaven).
So, I had made this post private, but decided that I will continue…
View original 1,273 more words
Last Sunday, I had MSNBC on while I caught up on some e-mails. Alex Witt was interviewing an out of work Boomeranger. She was a nice looking girl, 25-ish, college grad, living at home with her mother. Throughout the little segment, I wanted to reach through the screen and shake her to wake her up. In a dull voice, she droned on about feeling cheated by life and I guess our economy because, after a bunch of dead-end jobs, working at min wage among them, she just couldn’t keep paying her bills on her own. Including college loans. Now, that I do understand, even though I never had to do that. She owes $30K on them — a tough lift on a poverty line income.
But, I wanted to tell her, ‘Girl! snap out of it’, MSNBC just gave you a worldwide job interview opportunity and you sound about as exciting as chalk. Where is your verve? Sell!
One of the things Alex Witt asked her was, what was her “dream job”, the one she insisted felt cheated out of, like someone baited and switched her. Her incredible answer was that ‘she didn’t know’. Talk about vapid.
I wanted to tell her, there is no such thing as a ready-made dream job, but there are definitely great organizations where you may be able to create your own dream career. Everyone knows that working at, let’s say, Costco, Starbucks, Ben&Jerry’s, Waste Management, Berkshire Hathaway, Grainger — I am sure there are dozens of others — is not only pleasant but great for getting in on the ground floor of a company with promotion potential. Why flip burgers at McDonalds or walk the floor at slavers like Walmart when you can do the same thing, for more money and far better conditions at fill-in-the-blank from the top 100 companies to work for in the US (and elsewhere).
If Boomerangers are suffering and complaining (as she did, incredibly, because her mother, in whose home she is crashing, now has health issues — holy toledo!), forgive me, but it is their own fault. They feel entitled to start toward the top. I am not sorry for them, because they have youth on their side. I feel some empathy for the 50-something who gets fired and is too old to get another job. Those people end up taking servile work out of desperation.
So what has this got to do with my post?
I mentioned awhile back that I have a grand uncle who turned 100 this year. He is a cantankerous but smart man and his is no trivial achievement.
For years he was a golf bum, basically, an amateur opera baritone and buff (he knows almost every one of them by heart), a Christian Scientist and an early health nut, at one time as close to a beatnik as anyone in the family has ever been. Truly, he was and is a colorful character.
He fought in WWII and was decorated. It couldn’t have been pretty — as most of us know — and even though he was brave and served the country, he now rails against what he considers to be the Democrats’ wars (!).
In my interactions with him over the years, I have tried to steer clear of politics, for one, and a couple of subjects on which he and I don’t see eye to eye, to put it mildly. Where we do agree is about diet and health, he is not a vegetarian, but close to it, has always loved eating fruits and vegetables, drinks milk (there we disagree), never smoked, drank, or even took aspirin.
So far, so good. Everything in his life was going well, despite the fact that a couple of his children are now deceased, along with his wife, and he has been alone for the past two decades. Up until recently, he was managing the apartment building where he lived. Then he had a heart attack, and to make a long story short, he had to move to a VA facility.
He didn’t go willingly. Even though he had received exceptional care when he was at the VA hospital for his heart problems, he felt he should be able to leave the VA living facilities any time he wanted, and go out and get another apartment at 97!
While I am at it, I just want to say that I am well aware that there are likely abuses at VA care centers all over the country. Certainly they have been in the news lately and cross-haired for criticism. Some of it they no doubt deserve. But the allegations as well as the documented cases of abuse number in the hundreds, while the VA system cares for hundreds of thousands of veterans. Percentage-wise, the failures, while important because they represent people whom the system has let down or even harmed, potentially, are far fewer than the successes.
I am a person who believes in statistics, properly gathered and manipulated arithmetically, so I won’t stretch the anecdotal evidence here any farther than I think it warrants. However, it does mean something.
Harry got a free heart operation to clear blocked arteries, he was able to stay in the hospital for three weeks and get daily monitoring, a special diet and other assistance that accompanies a heart event like the one he suffered. He also got new hearing aids, three sets of prescription glasses, and a special diet designed for him. Today, living at the VA, all of that care and equipment continues to be provided.
He has a team of caregivers that meet once a month to analyze his mental and physical health and to discuss adjustments to his care. I know this is the case, because I have been included in them telepresently from my computer. These specialists include a general physician, cardiologist, registered nurse, social worker (due to his age), recreational therapist, physical therapist (he has some problems walking now), psychiatrist and dietician. My healthcare provider would never be able to furnish all that assistance for a price I could afford. The VA does this for Vets — maybe not every single one gets the full array, but the ones like Harry do. I have witnessed it first-hand.
When his 100th birthday approached, the recreational therapist contacted me and told me that they wanted to do something to honor him, including get him a Presidential citation and similar recognition from his city. I guess I misunderstood them to mean I was to arrange the party at which all this would be presented.
But when I called to check on the preparations for the formal presentations, and asked them, were I to attend, what I would need to bring, I was pleasantly surprised to hear: nothing. Just come.
Great. I also inquired about the length of time it was scheduled for and whether it was a big enough deal to have others there. The answer was something like, ‘it will be simple, maybe 45 minutes’. OK, no point in making a fuss. I am never wild about interrupting my orderly routine, but, no one else is any closer to his location than I am — the rest being mainly on the East Coast. One other relative hoped to attend from farther away, so I couldn’t justify skipping it for no good reason.I put together some simple gifts for him and planned to go. I have to admit, I wasn’t thrilled to do it. It did cross my mind that it might be bad and I would really hate being there (what a baby). When we arrived, I was even more leery when I saw that some of the buildings were in need of paint. But, when I stupidly registered surprise, Geoff reminded me: severe Federal budget cuts. Ever heard of the government shut down? Sequester? Austerity levels? Yup, if you want to know whether and why the VA is suffering, look to our crackerjack, compassionate, tightwad Congress.
I was listening to Lawrence O’Donnell’s emotional speech upon his return to television earlier in the month, following his April injury in the Caribbean. He reminded us of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s definition of high intelligence as the ability to hold two contradictory thoughts in one’s head simultaneously and still function. That is what I think on just about everything these days. There are more conflicting ideas that we must accept at once, than there are harmonious ones.
That the VA, and every other Federal system, could be both necessary and bloated, efficient and dysfunctional, good and bad is now just a given. That a crotchety old man, who spent the past eight years glued to Fox News, listening to hatred could now be grateful and in the best emotional state of his life, in the embrace of the warm and wonderful people who staff his local VA seniors facility, and could be attended to by a rainbow of ethnicities that he has railed against on more than one occasion, represents a zenith of this intellectual challenge to which the great writer undoubtedly referred.
Meanwhile, Harry (he re-named himself this as a kid because he didn’t like the name his mother gave him — who would pick Harry, nowadays??) is enjoying unprecedented kindness. Let me give you an example.
We walked in to the room in which his centennial celebration was to be held and were astonished to see the gathering of men in wheelchairs, a room decorated with balloons and favors, on each table, a guitar playing vocalist, accompanied by a cellist, a long table laden with refreshments waiting to be served and a dozen or so young and old women bustling around readying the party for the guest of honor.
For the next three hours, VA staff and veterans and friends of this sometimes persnickety man just kept pouring into the room. You would think he was the Pope, they treated him with such warmth and appreciation. All kinds of speeches were made, they gave him gifts, including an incredible hand made quilt, plus an album of pictures showing the auxiliary ladies laboring over it — all volunteers. He got cups, towels, chocolates, and other memorabilia.
Of course there were plaques from the VA and certificates and citations from the city, the state and the President of the United States, given that Harry won a Silver Star in the African campaign.
These confounding images are burned into my mind. The VA, clean and caring, expertly choreographing this event, with no expectation that anyone will acknowledge or report it, while it is daily excoriated in the media. My difficult, tea-partying, easily riled old Grand Uncle Harry being seen as not only a hero but a celebrity. He must be doing something right there. Oh, and Fox News was on in the background, in case you get a glimpse of the big screen television that stayed on in one corner of the room. This could have been a terrible experience, and Geoffrey and I could have left, bitter, annoyed and confirming all the negative press the VA has gotten from partisans, for the past six months.
Instead, it was the exact opposite.
My advice to the girl lucky enough to win an international job pitch gratis on MSNBC last weekend would be: run, don’t walk, to your nearest Federal Government human resources department and get an entry level job. Move up in an organization that does what it does so expertly, that when it falters, it becomes national news. Fodder for the fanatics to seize upon and dupe the fatuous American public into thinking it is a diabolical plot to take over their lives, when it is really just doing its job, for millions of people. Quietly, not perfectly, but sincerely, every single day.
There is no such thing as a dream job or even dream company, just like there is no person who is a dream candidate. You find a good organization, offer yourself to help solve problems, and move up by hard work and foresight. Instead of railing against the government, people could work there and improve it. Instead of sitting on fat behinds complaining in front of the tube, get in there and help the government of and by the people, do it expertly.
Just the way one Veteran’s facility is doing that for eccentric, cantankerous, sometimes ungrateful Harry. So, with Geoff’s help and my cousin generously helping out too, we took some awesome pictures that we made into a print album to send to the relatives who couldn’t attend.
Harry told us he is having the time of his life!
Images: Beth Byrnes archives, departmentofveteransaffairs.gov