Christmas Week Past

The Cautious One, the Double-Digit, and I returned yesterday midafternoon from a weeklong holiday trip to visit with her family in one of the flat, windy plains states (at least I think that’s what they’re called, if I’m remembering my elementary school U.S. History or Geography with any accuracy). We arrived home a day late.


As noted in a previous post, we motored further north and west on the Sunday after our arrival into a frozen lake land of 0 degrees Fahrenheit, and a wind-chill factor of 17 degrees below that. So cold that it was hard to breathe running with Seventy-Six in his car seat (of course, he pulled the blanket and hat off his head to see what was going on) from the house to Thursday. Car, in that cold, started with a whir and clatter that made me glad I use a multi-viscosity crankcase oil.

Our Snapfish Christmas-card order failed to arrive by the day we left. We emailed customer service. They resent the order at no charge (we found the overnighted Fed-Ex mailer at our door when we arrived yesterday).


Monday, I hung out around the house, still not at my best with a cold, and kind of spent after driving all day Saturday and a long day Sunday.

Monday was, if I remember this aright, the day I heard from my younger brother via Facebook message (neither of us talks to the other by cellular telephone regularly enough to have saved these numbers) informing me that he had taken our mother to the ER at Stepford complaining of chest pain.  They’d kept her overnight, and planned to run a stress test that morning.  We talked on the phone.

I was concerned, because that hospital has a higher than average death rate (based upon my insurer’s stats through ’06 or ’07) patients having heart procedures.   My brother told me Mom wanted to check herself out of the unit, but he’d managed to convince her to stick around for the stress test.  The test indicated blockage of some sort behind the heart.  Yeah, real technical language, but I do not as yet know the technical details.

Anyway, she was transported by ambulance to a real hospital in Nashville staffed by qualified medical practitioners, had an arteriogram, had a stent (it is ‘stent?’) inserted into one of the arteries behind her heart, and was sent home by Christmas Eve.

Mom insisted we did not need to cut short our Yankeeland trip, and, like a storybook bad son, I took her at her word.  She is home and we spoke on the telephone today.  We plan to visit with her New Year’s Day, after I’m sufficiently over this damned flu that I am no longer contagious.  We were supposed to have had a family Christmas over there with my family yesterday, but we spent the day driving home, instead.



On Tuesday, I helped my father-in-law load the grain truck, then take the grain to the elevator in a distant town. I’d brought thermal underwear – polypro I purchased years ago when living at St. Johns – a working-class neighborhood in North Portland. The secret to keeping your polypropylene socks and undergarments intact for many years is to never machine-dry them. Anyway, I needed them Tuesday. So cold that for several hours, I could hardly feel my feet. My Outdoor Research thin gloves (a discontinued product similar to those linked above) proved inadequate, and after lunch, I switched to a dirty blue pair of ski-gloves my father-in-law had in the garage. Much better.

Some years ago, I spent a week at the farm helping with soybean harvest, hoping I would not become allergic, and that we could eventually move north and help operate the farm in conjunction with other vocational endeavors. Vain hope, that. By week’s end I felt as if I had poison-ivy inside my eyelids, sinuses, throat, and lungs. Combining blows huge volumes of bean-dust into the air, a yellow coating of the dust covers every surface, including those inside one’s noggin and lungs.

My father-in-law has devised and welded together a jig that secures by chain to the bucket of the blue Ford tractor, and that is used maybe eight times a year to install and move that sweep-auger.

I’d imagined that once the device was installed in the bin, we could monitor the bin and truck augers from the ground, outside. However, the rule with farm equipment is that unless the human eye regards its work and progress, it will break down, resulting in a delay that will last from one hour to several days. It is by sweat and labor that we get our bread, according to the biblical descriptor setting forth the consequences of our first parents’ failure as gardeners in Eden.

Invisible bean dust fills the space under this domed roof

Invisible bean dust fills the space under this domed roof

One of the pictures I shot in the grain bin, looking up at the domed ceiling and the steel loop to which one hooks one’s harness when working inside a fuller bin, revealed countless (not really, finite, actually, just more than I can count) particles of dust and crud in the air that were invisible to us as we worked.

This stuff make lousy air for breathing

This stuff, revealed in the Pentax flash, makes lousy air for breathing

The sweep-auger working buries itself in the grain until it reaches floor level, then moves clockwise along the floor. Its use requires that someone occasionally lift the end nearest the bin’s wall making sure its progress is unobstructed, and that he listen to the motor’s sound to ensure nothing has gotten jammed in its works. At one point, the electric motor emitted (in the New Testament Greek, “and continued to emit”) a sound pitched to indicate mechanical distress, but the problem was easily resolved by shaking the auger and turning the motor off, then on again.

Sweep-auger at work

Sweep-auger at work

We got the grain truck loaded. Numerous times I climbed up into the cab driving backward this time, and forward that time, two or three feet, then applying the brakes with a slam of my slightly less numb right foot. Evening out the load.

This was at left

This was at left

And this at right, but I photographed them out the truck's passenger window from right to left

And this at right, but I photographed them out the truck's passenger window from right to left

On the way back from the grain elevator, I snapped a couple of pictures of hand-painted diatribes at roadside in front of what is, presumably, the publisher’s mobile home. I got a picture of a partially frozen river, and a picture of a roadside shrine or marker memorializing the place of somebody’s death. I never saw these markers in California, and remember seeing them only after moving to Kentucky, then Tennessee. Don’t recall having seen them while living in Oregon, either.


7-frozen-river1We got some more grain in the truck, then cleaned up the worksite and put the truck back in the large barn. By this time freezing rain had been falling for awhile, and the wind continued to blow as it had all day. Glassy ice covered every outdoor surface, and the wind blew me a little sliding on the frozen gravel when I walked around to the other side of the barn.

Wind at my back I slid on this frozen ground

Wind at my back I slid on this frozen ground

Pointy ridge against a still, gray sky

Pointy ridge against a still, gray sky

Something about the angle of the metallic gray barn’s peaked ridge entranced me. Something American and old. I took a couple of pictures, but they may not communicate what I thought I saw.

Blurry photo shot without flash in the large silver painted barn

Blurry photo shot without flash in the large silver painted barn

We drove to the local garage to check the progress they’d made on my brother-in-law’s van. I got out of the pickup truck, slipped and fell as soon as I set foot on the service-station’s asphalt. Cussed. Got up and went in, being careful not to fall again. The van would probably be ready the following morning. Rack and pinion steering needed replaced. Another in long list of problems with the Chrysler Town and Country purchased new in 2006. Bummer. Comfortable van that handles and drives well on those rare occasions when all its parts interact harmoniously.

I removed my boots in the carpeted stairwell between garage and kitchen before entering the house to get a shower. Soybeans, about a cup or two in measure, spilled out onto the steps. A hot shower helped return feeling to my lower extremities. Good to have spent the day working at something useful. By evening, however, my hyperactive immune system was a trainwreck resulting in EPA cleanup levels of snot and sneezing. Sheesh.

When I first wrote this morning, I’d forgotten the week’s big event – the family photo.  My wife thought it would be nice to have a photo taken for her parents with them, their children and families.  My sister-in-law thought it would be best to hire a professional photographer, and have him come out to the house.  Shooting in the big room at that house is like shooting in a cave and the images derived thereby typically have an eery, pink glow to them from some red curtains and wall-paper googins in the dining room.  Then we had to color coordinate our attire.  I had to buy a pair of brown trousers for the occasion.

The photographer managed not to crash his car on the black-iced roadways, brought enough lighting to counteract the drapes and wall-paper, and handled the kids well.  Said his day-job is dental technician.  He actually snapped off one picture with me smiling, and looking human, as opposed to an intellectually and developmentally disabled half-zombie spawn.  He’ll get a thank you note after we get the pictures.

By the end of the photo shoot, I was feeling really allergic and overheated, began sneezing.

Tuesday night (not Monday, as I previously misremembered), I woke myself up laughing from a scary dream wherein that disgusting little chef from the film Ratatouille, the one that looks like an excrescence, was trying to murder me in a supermarket, but whose best efforts to both kill me and create a culinary masterpiece that would have secured him world renown were thwarted by my dreamself’s precision and mephitic flatulence.

If real, this creature would probably float

If real, this creature would probably float

So, laughing in my sleep I laughed out loud awakening myself and my wife who asked if I was alright. “I had a scary dream,” I said. “Oh dear, what was it about?” she asked. When I told her, she said, “Are you sure you don’t have a fever?”


Wednesday, Christmas Eve, family Christmas celebration. In the house were my brother-in-law, his wife, their two preschool age boys and infant girl; my sister-in-law and her husband; my family; my wife’s parents; my wife’s grandfather arrived for lunch. This was our first Christmas without her grandmother. We opened gifts, and this year was the first everybody took turns opening gifts. The women scrapbook, and wanted to be able to photograph everybody getting gifts, and to do so orderly. My brother-in-law complained, but went along. I sympathized with him. My family has been taking turns opening things since I was a child. Galling.

Thing about the morning opening of presents is that everybody does so unshowered, in their pajamas. I was feeling like crap, anyway, and to be in sleeping togs around other people left me feeling soft and vulnerable. Just like childhood. My wife wonders why Christmas evokes no happy memories for me. Usually sick, a flabby child aware of same, too close to my birthday (which has always at some level left me aware of creation’s wrong, fallen, disordered state), too cold or rainy to play outside, in a crowded room with other people whose happiness finds no corresponding spark in the heart due to all of the above.

Big lunch with prime-rib, twice-baked potatoes, a gelatin dish called “Easter Salad,” deviled eggs, broccoli, gravy, cheese-sauce, and a cake-roll dessert.


While at the grandparents' home, one of my brother-in-law's boys makes the figures on the Giant Lego container's label every morning

While at the grandparents' home, one of my brother-in-law's boys makes the figures on the Giant Lego container's label every morning

My brother-in-law and his family planned to leave Wednesday, but stayed until Thursday. He had to be at work Friday, and scheduled for on-call duty the weekend. Thursday I felt well enough to go to the YMCA to work out, but, as it was Christmas Day, the Y was closed. Another day in the house. I think I played a table game called Bananagrams – like Scrabble only not scored and the players work independently.


Friday morning or very late Thursday night I awoke with a sickness unlike anything I’ve had since maybe 1994. Buckets-o-Barf.

I lay in bed all Friday sleeping, sweating, shivering, barfing, joints aching. I drank some Gatorade. Around midday, I could smell lunch cooked in the kitchen, and when my wife stuck her head in the room to check that I was still alive, I asked her to close the door as the smell of food resulted in a nausea I feared would be productive. I ate five saltine crackers in the evening. I never once felt hungry.

I felt well enough by evening to sit bundled in a chair and watch three episodes of House, a show that’s clearly a ripoff of Arthur Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes and the Dr. Bell upon whom (if that is the correct indicator) Doyle based his character, Holmes. But I remained sufficiently ill to enjoy the show.


Saturday morning, I checked this site, and found a comment to one of my previous posts. An angry reader accused me of having “some pretty asshole thoughts.” The guy, one Greg Long, also called me an ass. Smart-ass, maybe. I could own smart-ass. I went ahead and “approved” his comment, then replied to it. Maybe he’ll make another. I’ll be interested to find out what he has to say.

Saturday we drove home. Because we took Thursday, and because Caution-Lady has never mastered the standard five-speed transmission, I drove the entire way. I didn’t expect to make it as far as E-Town, but with a couple of baby-stops, a stop for fuel and lunch, we made it home before dark. Not that I’m feeling that much better, but the dizziness and clumsiness associated with my weakened state does not seem to affect driving ability.

Worst thing about being sick is I haven’t been able to play with Seventy-Six much. I don’t want him to catch my virus.


I’ll post some photos when I get a chance, perhaps later today. Eventually, I will catch up on Facebook, as well. We are skipping church today. I am probably still contagious, and we need a day at home to relax. Maybe I’ll make the evening service.

Rods, I was sorry to hear your Christmas was cancelled due to the bug stalking your part of England. Hope you are better now. I will check out those links you sent sometime today.

I hope none of you were as sick I’ve been this past week, and that you had a blessed and merry Christmas, that those of you who do not celebrate Christmas had a good week and perhaps the joys associated with home, family, love, and health.