Enjoy every minute of dying

The concept of a well predicted death is not at all pleasant. It doesn’t matter how old you are there is always something left to do, a sight to see or a grandchild to hold. A few months ago when the CT scan technician at the hospital told me he was going to try to get a hold of my doctor on her cell phone, on her day off, it didn’t sink in. Even after she said it would take a specialist and then a biopsy and, well, it all just goes down hill from there really, it didn’t occur to me that there could be a timeline involved.

No, the “c” word didn’t come up. It was something weirder than that called sarcoid, stage four. The first question is, are there five? The answer is drugs. Why is the answer always drugs? I declined as a collective gasp went up from the audience. Steroids are terrible. Have you looked at the cartoon drawings of Barry Bonds lately? The medical part of this story ends happily. Six months later, without the use of drugs, I am nearly sarcoid free. I wish I could tell you why and so does my doctor.

When you realize you are going to die it changes everything in your life. It’s not a matter of how or even when, it’s the realization that you are going to die. Geniuses, poets, philosophers and even actors die like the rest of us, but nobody wants to admit they aren’t immortal. So when I mentioned to a co-worker that the tests came back positive and I was going to live, he said, “Well, I hope that if you were dying you wouldn’t be at work.”

Where else would I be? I’m dying, but in the meantime I’m living. My grandson’s smile is brighter, the chocolates taste sweeter and there is no minute worth spending on hatred or anger. If you knew you only had a few hours left to live, what would you do? When my neighbor screamed his face purple at my little dog for sniffing at his grass yesterday I wondered how long he had. What a shame it would be if he dropped dead with a purple face. Can the funeral home fix that?

I hate to admit it, but I am not immortal. Death happens everyday and even though I can’t prove it, other people seem to have gotten through it okay. So I’m going to go on living and enjoy every minute of it while I die. Because I’m not sure there is a difference.


The gift

My husband loves presents. At Christmas time he is the one who is in charge of passing them out. He picks them carefully from under the tree to make sure each person gets the best present last, like the climax of a blockbuster movie. We all sit in a circle and wait our turn while we ohh and ahh over the previously opened gifts. He loves this mostly because he gets to be the last to open all of his gifts and everyone watches him do it. I always make sure he gets a new toy. It keeps him entertained for hours while I cook or clean up the mess.

But wedding anniversaries are completely different and I think I don’t want anymore of them. I don’t want a divorce, let’s just forget the celebration of each year from now on.

We have been married thirteen years as of yesterday. Good ol’ lucky number thirteen! The first year or so we gave each other wonderful gifts. He bought me baubles that made my eyes sparkle. But somehow the anniversary gift tradition has faded and I didn’t notice until yesterday how awkward that is.

He recently came into a little money. Nothing big but a nice windfall that paid a few bills and left him holding enough to do something fun. He has been talking about how the money has all been spent and hinting that he bought me something. Since that was just a week or so before our anniversary, I assumed that meant I was going to get a nice little sparkly something. In fact he would get very irritated if I even mentioned that fact that he might have some money, replying that it was all spent and I shouldn’t even worry about it.

Naturally I wasn’t worried about it. It was never my money to begin with but he certainly made it clear I was going to get something! So I was curious, but also a little worried because now I had to get a present for him that would compare. I didn’t want to look cheap, or worse, like he loved me more than I loved him! So I wrangled with ideas and searched my memory for something he had mentioned that he would really enjoy, something he would remember in a few years as the gift I gave him for our thirteenth wedding anniversary. I settled on a wonderful painting by a local western artist. We had talked about his paintings for several years and I found a new one that I could see hanging in my husband’s office. A manly cowboy seated on his horse facing the dying light of a brilliant fall sunset. I was so proud that I had found something he would adore as much as I would whatever he bought for me.

The flowers he sent were beautiful and the romantic note in the card was reminiscent of the song played at our wedding. They still smell wonderful. Right before dinner I handed him my gift and he opened it with much appreciation. He loved it and gave me a big kiss of appreciation. Then he set it on the couch and we had dinner. No gift for me. What a huge mistake I had made. How could I possibly have misread the blatant and irritable hints of the wonderful gift he was buying for me? This morning the painting was still sitting in the shadows of a rainy sunrise, on the couch, covered loosely with the brown paper the gallery had wrapped it in. He left for an early meeting without saying goodbye.

I took the painting out of the paper and carefully hung it up. It is truly beautiful. The colors are perfect. The cowboy sits on his horse, looking back over his shoulder at the setting sun as if he is sorry to see another day pass.

Another year of our marriage has passed. They go by so quickly.


Cut and Dried

In Deadwood the name Kitty LeRoy conjures thoughts of a beautiful woman in Victorian dress, her dark hair piled high atop her head as she smiles from the logo of Miss Kitty’s, a Main Street Gambling Parlor. But few realize that Miss Kitty really lived in Deadwood. In fact, she was brutally murdered by her husband, Samuel R. Curley in her room above the Lone Star Saloon. An act which whisked her to local lore and stardom. It is a mysterious story of love and loss, jealousy and utter stupidity.

In 1877 a brash, unnamed Black Hill Weekly Times reporter was so bold as to rush into the room above the Lone Star where Kitty had been murdered just moments before. Her terrified scream, followed by two loud pistol shots, were still ringing in the air when the room was filled with the curious. He found a grisly scene, blood pooling beneath two bodies, that of Ms. LeRoy and that of her husband, Sam Curley. Kitty, he reported, had a quiet facial expression, Sam had lost half his skull.

The reporter goes on to recount how Kitty had been a reputable jig dancer and had moved to Texas to perform when she became “acquainted with an unnamed person.” They moved to California before coming to Deadwood where they became estranged. Deadwood has a way of doing that to people, too much nightly entertainment from which to choose. While Kitty had not been estranged from her former lover too long she decided that Samuel Curley was husband material and she married him.

Obviously Sam thought he had found a trustworthy wife because he went to Denver on business leaving Kitty to dance the jig alone. This was not a wise choice. Kitty soon realized that she may have have made a bad choice herself as her former lover came around to “visit.”

It is amazing how fast word traveled in 1877 without telephone or internet. Sam got word that Kitty was not dancing alone and he came flying back to Deadwood via stagecoach under an assumed name. He tried first to confront his rival, waiting more than a day for him but the rival refused to see him. So the despondent husband, having exhausted his patience, went to see his wife. She gave him money, which she borrowed from her landlady, before Sam shot her in the chest and then blew his own brains out.

The story seems cut and dried but in reality there are many mysteries to solve:

Why would a man marry a woman, a professional jig dancer no less, fresh out of a six-year relationship and then depart on a business trip knowing the ex-lover is still in town? And this is not just any town, this is Deadwood, Dakota Territory, the most notorious gold camp on the face of the earth.

The second mystery also relates to Sam’s mental prowess. He returned to Deadwood under an assumed name with the obvious intent to commit murder. It gives a person pause to wonder in this day if he thought that he was going to commit first degree murder and actually get away with it. But then Jack McCall shot Wild Bill Hickok in the back only a year previous, in front of a bar full of witnesses, and he walked away, ran actually, after a trial where he was found innocent. But the reporter knew that he had sat and waited for the lover for more than a day before he confronted Kitty. This is a place where the local newspaper reports the names of those that step off the stage each day. Everyone in Deadwood lived to gossip.

Why did Kitty marry Sam in the first place? The obvious reason is money. They live in a camp rich with gold miners and wily, hard working merchants who did their best to get it next. But if Sam was so rich why did Kitty borrow money from her landlady and give it to Sam? And if Sam was so worried about getting his money back from Kitty why didn’t he just take it and leave? It is obvious that he really loved her or he wouldn’t have shot himself. Or, did he really shoot himself?

This story brings to mind so many questions that the eager reporter left unanswered. But the last questions may be the most mysterious. Who was the lover, why didn’t he meet with Sam upon his return to Deadwood and why in God’s name didn’t he warn Kitty? Was this louse so slimy that he ran away leaving the woman he had lived with for six years to face her furious husband alone? The reporter indicates he knew the man’s identity but he refused to name him. It makes you wonder what power this man held over the press.

There was no investigation, it was a cut and dried case in 1877, Deadwood, Dakota Territory.


The greatest mystery of all time

While exploring a very remote section of National Forest last week I came across one of the greatest mysteries of all time. My husband and I were able to locate, with great difficulty, some of the most marvelous ancient rock carvings in North America. The native peoples who painstakingly carved them spent countless hours honoring a sacred place, placating the spirits and praying for life.

After forcing our four wheel-drive vehicle across rugged two-tracks we hiked through a vast stretch of arid prairie, fighting the grasshoppers for air space while rivulets of sweat soaked our clothing in the 105 degree heat. Shade was at a premium. We slid down a steep embankment to reach a cave carved out of a sandstone cliff and as we entered the cool, dark interior I drew in a gulp of what I imagined would be a lung full of refreshing air. Instead I was repulsed by the strong odor of human urine.

I realized before I entered the cave I would not be the first human to set foot there, but what greeted me made my heart ache. The smell was only a warning of what was to come. As I got out my flashlight and looked around I realized that the cave would hold little interest. The ancient carvings of a spiritual people had been obliterated by hundreds who came before me to leave their own mark. Everyone who visited had felt compelled to carve their name and the date of their visit directly over the prayers left there more than a thousand years ago. Sarah even left her heart, it was too bad she didn’t use it first.

The Bud bottles and Miller Lite cans stuffed into the crevices and weather-eaten shapes of soft golden sandstone gave me pause to ponder. What makes people covet what others had before them? Was the spirituality of an ancient people who prayed for the earth to bring buffalo to give them life something to be taken? Was it because it was left in the place where it had been created, not guarded by glass walls or blinking alarms? What triggered their desire to rob the world of that which they had been able to experience? That is the greatest mystery of all time.


Imagination with objectivity

My 2-year-old grandson imagines that his feet stink. He is a sweet little boy whose feet generally smell like soap and clean socks but he is sure they are the yuckiest smelling feet on earth and he loves to tell me about them. He also imagines he is stuck a lot. He invariably gets stuck under the table, between the chair and the footstool or with his arm in a hole. His finest moments though come when the dinosaurs invade over the tops of the surrounding hills. Oh, the noises they make! He loves to imagine things and he does so without the slightest hint of embarrassment.

When did I loose the ability to let my imagination loose? Was it in grade school where I realized that others would look at me strangely if my imaginary friends, Babe and Teapot, suddenly showed up to play? I loved Babe and Teapot. They were my best friends for years! I was sad to see them go. Imaginary friends are the best, they never criticize or make fun of you and they go home whenever you ask.

Maybe I totally lost my ability to let my creative juices go wild while I was in high school. There is nothing more destructive to a good imagination than a couple of years in high school. Then comes the part of life where you start worrying about the bills and where the next load of groceries are coming from because you have two kids and a dog to feed. It really put a damper on my ability to imagine anything beyond getting through the day without screaming.

I have noticed however that many older people, as in over 50, have crossed a line where public opinion no longer matters to them. This seems to be the opportunity to rebuild your imaginative abilities. I have noticed women in this age group imagining that they look good in short shorts and a bikini top. They actually walk around the Sturgis Motorcycle Rally with a casual smile and a wiggle in their hips that says “I’m hot, baby!” They are not hot. They are barely warm, but their imagination is certainly getting a fine work out.

So, now that I am getting older, I have decided that I too can leave some insecurities behind and let my imagination run wild. No, you will not see me in pasties and a thong at the Rally. I have turned to writing books, mystery stories. The first one, Lucky Strike, is pretty good even if I do have to say so myself. It is selling well in the Black Hills area and even on Amazon.com. In fact, I am so happy with the modest results I have begun to work on my second novel. I decided to make this sequel a little more meaningful and so I have been researching an environmental issue. But my imagination is in full bloom!

Letting your imagination wander is not always a bad thing, as long as you look in the mirror with some objectivity.


Complaining Claustrophobe

New York Bicycle Cab RideI am, by nature, a person who loves other people. That said however I need to clarify how I love other people, in small groups on a limited basis. As a native of a state that claims only 700,000 residents, it is a rare occurence when I have ever felt claustrophobic. Raised on the outskirts of Sioux Falls, SD where the plains open wide to give the elements direct access, I grew up without the advantage of knowing what claustrophobic really meant. It is one of those words that the dictionary just can’t define, you have to feel it. And it is definitely a relative term.

Montana does not hold an exclusive right to the phrase “Big Sky Country.” As a kid I would take delight in watching towering thunderheads build over the horizon until they covered over the cool blue summer sky like a soft grey blanket. I would imagine someone a hundred miles away watching the same thunderhead towering over us while the thunder rattled our windows and the rain soaked our parched lawn. Even though I live in the Black Hills now, surrounded by ancient granite-peaked mountains, I still enjoy a southwest view where I can watch the weather and see what’s coming. The weatherman on channel 4 is okay, but my window gives me a much more accurate forecast.

I live in Deadwood, SD, a grouping of businesses and homes that curl through a narrow gulch, following a creek bed bubbling with cold, clear water that is now nearly devoid of gold nuggets. Officially there are 1,380 residents but some of them live here only part time, May though September would be my guess. In addition we live with an estimated 12,000 visitors each day during those same months that the “part-timers” like to be here. Even at the height of tourist season, like this week during the annual Days of ’76 celebration, you can walk down Main Street, greet several of your neighbors by name and complain about something. Complaining, by the way, is the number one pastime of small town residents. When you meet a fellow resident on the street it is customary to complain about something and allow them to participate. This is mostly because your spouse is sick of hearing your complaints. But there is always room on the sidewalk on Main Street for a few people to stop and talk while swinging their arms to emphasize the important points.

A recent trip to New York City reminded me why I love living in South Dakota. Don’t misunderstand me, I am a woman who loves to shop and Midtown Manhattan offers some of the best. That, coupled with the ability to enjoy, at random, a professional Broadway production gives me chills! But my claustrophobic thermometer hit the 100% mark the minute I got in a limo (a black Chevy Suburban, like the kind they use in South Dakota to check stock or fences) at LaGuardia and it stayed tight at that skin-crawling level until I ran down the steps of the regional jet back in Rapid City.

Have you ever tried to talk to someone while walking down Fifth Avenue? It is impossible. The list of reasons begins with the fact that you can’t move your arms. You need to hope that anyone traveling with you knows where you are going because if you lift your arm to point in any direction you will poke one of the millions of people stomping down the sidewalk like they have just been fired and can’t wait to find the nearest bar. Their faces look like they have just been fired too. So, if you forget and raise your arm to point, or make a point, the New Yorker you nail will not be pleasant about it.

Which brings me to the second reason why it is hard to talk to someone while walking on Fifth Avenue, everyone else is talking too. They talk very loudly into little blue tooth devices which hang from their ear, not even close to their mouths, which is why, I assume, they have to shout. There are now little signs hanging on poles all over New York, erected by the city, which warn of a $350 fine for honking. They are totally useless as our “limo” driver demonstrated with glee. He honked several times at each stop and never got a ticket. In fact, the police were quite close to us on at least two of those occasions and they didn’t even look at us, let alone pull out their little ticket books. So there is little use in talking while walking in Midtown Manhattan.

I have been in thick traffic before but it has always been in the protection of a vehicle. Most people in New York do not drive a vehicle, they walk and take the bus or the subway. So the sidewalks are jam-packed with people. I do not use the words “jam-packed” by chance. I have made jam, I know how to get a lot of fruit in a tiny jar. So do New Yorkers. The sidewalks on any given weekday are so “jam-packed” with people that it is like being wrapped in a blanket of humanity. Getting to your destination is like playing chess, you have to plan your moves four plays in advance in order to maneuver over to make a turn. I must have said the words “excuse me” hundreds of times a day, but all I got in return were very funny looks, like they thought I was going to ask them for money or a cigarette. Is it rude to be polite in New York?

One day while we were out making sure that the stores on Fifth Avenue were making enough money, it began to rain. There are so many buildings and they are so tall that I forgot that I was outside and subject to the weather. I had only been in New York for a couple of days but already I could see how people that live there could ignore the weather entirely. In South Dakota we live and die by the weather, literally. In fact when we stop to complain to each other on Main Street the topic is generally the weather. In New York you can’t see the sky so when a little liquid hits your head you look up to see if someone is spitting on you from a window above. Although I couldn’t get the windows in my hotel room to open and so I am not sure if they ever open their windows in New York. The rain didn’t last long and I was glad. I actually thought it was really a waste anyway. There is nothing in Manhattan that needs rain except Central Park and I think they have that covered with underground sprinklers. I imagined the clouds, maybe a towering thunderhead I’m not sure because I couldn’t see through all of the buildings, looking down on the concrete and glass and deciding to move west where it was appreciated.