You CAN go home again…

… but it won’t be quite the same.

I’m just home from a trip to Washington, DC

commons.wikimedia.org

commons.wikimedia.org

for a nice event at The Corcoran Gallery that included a wide-ranging assortment of events — business, pleasure and in between. There were old faces, new faces and vastly altered landscapes, familiar turf and unfamiliar weather.

There were serendipitous treats like catching up with old friends I’ve not seen in a few years or a few decades… in the case of old friend  Roger Mudd, it was a matter of catching up on some 60 years.

Photo credit W&L.edu

Photo credit W&L.edu

And a side trip to my childhood hometown of Ashland, VA, where the characters of many of my short stories roam.

Thomas Wolfe, whose book title inspired this blog post, put it this way: “Some things will never change. Some things will always be the same. Lean down your ear upon the earth and listen.” I wasn’t inspired to lean down my ear on the frosty February earth of Ashland (although the phrase brings fond memories of leaning our childhood ears upon the train tracks to figure out whether a locomotive was en route,) but it was fascinating to find things changed, and unchanged:

The dining room where I ate dinners for some 20+ years features a different wallpaper and is decorated with different art, but it’s still a warm and welcoming room and I was incredibly blessed to be invited to a “Homecoming Dinner” therein with family, old friends and the now residents of the home. 2014-01-31_18-53-31_136

Randolph-Macon College is unchanged in some of its gracious, over 100-year-old buildings and long familiar original campus on which I grew up, but surely changed in the rapidly expanding new campus… and the student body which was all male in my long ago childhood. It was a very special treat to meet with some of the current students and faculty, in class and at lunch. That story follows in a few days here; I hope you’ll stay tuned.

Thinking about the Bush think tank

Why am I not encouraged by reports of the official launch of the George W. Bush Institute on the campus of Southern Methodist University? According to Dallas Morning News reporter Lori Stahl,

Former President George W. Bush will make his first scheduled Dallas appearance at SMU today when he and wife Laura unveil plans for the Bush Institute before an audience of 1,500 people at McFarlin Auditorium.

The Institute has been described by foundation officials as a scholarly forum that will conduct research and promote dialogue on four core principles identified by the Bushes.

These core principles, reports the San Francisco Chronicle, include education, global health, human freedom and economic growth. Hmm.

My father Earl Moreland, who grew up to be, among other things, president of Randolph-Macon College in Ashland, VA for 28 years, died in 1987 without voting for either of his fellow Texans. He was in the first class ever to enter what would become SMU, and one of my fond memories is of accompanying him to Dallas for his 60th reunion.  I believe it is safe to say he would not be proud to have a Bush think tank on the campus of his alma mater.

For my part, I am just stumbling over those “core principles,” and their connection to our former president. Education? Global health? Embodied by someone who condemned millions throughout Africa and beyond to sickness and death through his ill-advised policies? Economic growth? Hello? Times are surely tough today, ten months into Barack Obama’s presidency, but did he create this mess or inherit it?

Some of my favorite people voted for George W. Bush. All of them are, in my humble opinion, smarter than he is. One of them did graduate work at SMU years ago, but does not support placement of the Institute on campus.

During our trip to Dallas for his reunion (the school opened in 1915, you can do the math) my father remarked that he would come back for his 65th if there were anyone around to reune with. Turned out he never made that return visit. If he were here today I’m not sure he would be making plans for his 100th.

My father had a favorite response to all things he considered outrageous (often applied to his daughters) which sounded like “Poosharisha!” It was from his second language (which I sadly never learned), adopted during a 12-year period in Brazil at the Instituto Porto Alegre. Long after he died I learned it was a Portugese expression that  translates, roughly, “That is beyond anything within the natural order of the universe.”

Somewhere in the ethernet I hear my father contemplating the coming of the George W. Bush think tank, and clearly also hear his voice. Poosharisha.


George W. Bush to unveil Bush Institute programs today at SMU | News for Dallas, Texas | Dallas Morning News | Latest News.

What to do about Mom?

My friend Joan is distressed about her mother.   Joan – that’s an alias, we both value her privacy – lives quite near her parents, visits regularly, helps out with finances, health issues and everyday needs. They are in their late eighties. Other siblings live in other states. Until recently everything was fine; now the parents are in separate areas of their assisted living residence, Joan’s mother is in frequent despair and need. What’s a daughter to do?

This story is being repeated thousands of times every day across the country. Only this story has a peculiar twist: Joan’s parents did everything right. They lived frugally, planned ahead, raised their children to be successful and independent, moved early into a retirement community which offers care through illnesses minor and terminal. With Joan’s help they kept their affairs in order, including updated advance directives. (You don’t have your advance directives done? Horrors. Let me know and I will be at your door, cyberspacially speaking, to walk you through them immediately.) Joan’s parents were among early advocates for advance planning and end-of-life choice.

Joan comments: “Frankly, Mother is tired of being alive.  She’s not depressed, just ‘finished’, especially as she sees these slow declines in her quality of life as a steady and inevitable progression.  Her greatest desire would be to have a massive stroke and not survive.  But then her greatest nightmare would be to have a stroke and live . . . Even with the best advanced directives reflecting her choices, that’s a fine line to navigate.”

The moral of this story is that no amount of planning and preparation can guarantee the kinds of last months and years we might want. My own mother died peacefully at home, followed 20 years later by my father, same story. But that was in 1967 and 1987, in the small town of Ashland, Virginia where they had lived since 1939. The town looked after them; their out-of-state daughters merely visited and counted their blessings. Towns and neighborhoods like Ashland are in diminishing supply.

But all is not gloom and doom; this writer is constitutionally unable to write doom and gloom. Joan is at least clear about her parents’ wishes, and her parents have good care plus all allowable precautions: DNR orders, POLST forms, understandings with their medical professionals. Most of these are possible for today’s Boomers and their Beyonder parents; if you can’t find them I’ll happily tell you how. Joan’s parents are also in housing of their choice. And those choices are many: co-housing, retirement communities, assisted living facilities, many of them available to middle and low income Americans. Anyone over 50 who thinks he or she should postpone considering all of these issues, documents and choices until next year is delusional. Essays re housing choices have appeared in earlier Boomers and Beyond posts; others will follow. The secondary moral of this story is that without planning, late years can quickly turn into hell for elderly parents and adult children alike.

What we don’t have, of course, is health care such as Joan’s parents still enjoy for others who need it. The thing is, we can.