Friday, September 29, 2006

A life without left turns. How different would that be? How difficult would we find it? A friend of mine sent me this link to an article that I found touching and something to reflect upon. Life without left turns may seem silly and pretty much impossible, but after reading how Michael Gartner's father accomplished it, it made me yearn for a time when I can afford a life without left turns - a time when life is more simple. I hope you enjoy this as much as I did. Thanks GirlGeek.


A life without left turns
By Michael Gartner

My father never drove a car.

Well, that's not quite right.

I should say I never saw him drive a car. He quit driving in 1927, when he was 25 years old, and the last car he drove was a 1926 Whippet.

"In those days," he told me when he was in his 90s, "to drive a car you had to do things with your hands, and do things with your feet, and look every which way, and I decided you could walk through life and enjoy it or drive through life and miss it."

At which point my mother, a sometimes salty Irishwoman, chimed in:

"Oh, bull——!" she said. "He hit a horse."

"Well," my father said, "there was that, too."

So my brother and I grew up in a household without a car. The neighbors all had cars — the Kollingses next door had a green 1941 Dodge, the VanLaninghams across the street a gray 1936 Plymouth, the Hopsons two doors down a black 1941 Ford — but we had none. My father, a newspaperman in Des Moines, would take the streetcar to work and, often as not, walk the 3 miles home. If he took the streetcar home, my mother and brother and I would walk the three blocks to the streetcar stop, meet him and walk home together.

Our 1950 Chevy

My brother, David, was born in 1935, and I was born in 1938, and sometimes, at dinner, we'd ask how come all the neighbors had cars but we had none. "No one in the family drives," my mother would explain, and that was that. But, sometimes, my father would say, "But as soon as one of you boys turns 16, we'll get one."

It was as if he wasn't sure which one of us would turn 16 first.

But, sure enough, my brother turned 16 before I did, so in 1951 my parents bought a used 1950 Chevrolet from a friend who ran the parts department at a Chevy dealership downtown. It was a four-door, white model, stick shift, fender skirts, loaded with everything, and, since my parents didn't drive, it more or less became my brother's car.

Having a car but not being able to drive didn't bother my father, but it didn't make sense to my mother. So in 1952, when she was 43 years old, she asked a friend to teach her to drive. She learned in a nearby cemetery, the place where I learned to drive the following year and where, a generation later, I took my two sons to practice driving. The cemetery probably was my father's idea. "Who can your mother hurt in the cemetery?" I remember him saying once.

For the next 45 years or so, until she was 90, my mother was the driver in the family. Neither she nor my father had any sense of direction, but he loaded up on maps — though they seldom left the city limits — and appointed himself navigator. It seemed to work.

The ritual walk to church

Still, they both continued to walk a lot. My mother was a devout Catholic, and my father an equally devout agnostic, an arrangement that didn't seem to bother either of them through their 75 years of marriage. (Yes, 75 years, and they were deeply in love the entire time.) He retired when he was 70, and nearly every morning for the next 20 years or so, he would walk with her the mile to St. Augustin's Church. She would walk down and sit in the front pew, and he would wait in the back until he saw which of the parish's two priests was on duty that morning. If it was the pastor, my father then would go out and take a 2-mile walk, meeting my mother at the end of the service and walking her home. If it was the assistant pastor, he'd take just a 1-mile walk and then head back to the church.

He called the priests "Father Fast" and "Father Slow."

After he retired, my father almost always accompanied my mother whenever she drove anywhere, even if he had no reason to go along. If she were going to the beauty parlor, he'd sit in the car and read, or go take a stroll or, if it was summer, have her keep the engine running so he could listen to the Cubs game on the radio. (In the evening, then, when I'd stop by, he'd explain: "The Cubs lost again. The millionaire on second base made a bad throw to the millionaire on first base, so the multimillionaire on third base scored.") If she were going to the grocery store, he would go along to carry the bags out — and to make sure she loaded up on ice cream.

As I said, he was always the navigator, and once, when he was 95 and she was 88 and still driving, he said to me, "Do you want to know the secret of a long life?" "I guess so," I said, knowing it probably would be something bizarre.

"No left turns," he said.

"What?" I asked.

"No left turns," he repeated. "Several years ago, your mother and I read an article that said most accidents that old people are in happen when they turn left in front of oncoming traffic. As you get older, your eyesight worsens, and you can lose your depth perception, it said. So your mother and I decided never again to make a left turn."

"What?" I said again. "No left turns," he said. "Think about it. Three rights are the same as a left, and that's a lot safer. So we always make three rights."

"You're kidding!" I said, and I turned to my mother for support. "No," she said, "your father is right. We make three rights. It works."

But then she added: "Except when your father loses count."

I was driving at the time, and I almost drove off the road as I started laughing. "Loses count?" I asked. "Yes," my father admitted, "that sometimes happens. But it's not a problem. You just make seven rights, and you're okay again."

I couldn't resist. "Do you ever go for 11?" I asked.

"No," he said. "If we miss it at seven, we just come home and call it a bad day. Besides, nothing in life is so important it can't be put off another day or another week."

My mother was never in an accident, but one evening she handed me her car keys and said she had decided to quit driving. That was in 1999, when she was 90. She lived four more years, until 2003. My father died the next year, at 102. They both died in the bungalow they had moved into in 1937 and bought a few years later for $3,000. (Sixty years later, my brother and I paid $8,000 to have a shower put in the tiny bathroom — the house had never had one. My father would have died then and there if he knew the shower cost nearly three times what he paid for the house.) He continued to walk daily — he had me get him a treadmill when he was 101 because he was afraid he'd fall on the icy sidewalks but wanted to keep exercising — and he was of sound mind and sound body until the moment he died.

A happy life

One September afternoon in 2004, he and my son went with me when I had to give a talk in a neighboring town, and it was clear to all three of us that he was wearing out, though we had the usual wide-ranging conversation about politics and newspapers and things in the news. A few weeks earlier, he had told my son, "You know, Mike, the first hundred years are a lot easier than the second hundred." At one point in our drive that Saturday, he said, "You know, I'm probably not going to live much longer." "You're probably right," I said. "Why would you say that?" he countered, somewhat irritated. "Because you're 102 years old," I said. "Yes," he said, "you're right." He stayed in bed all the next day. That night, I suggested to my son and daughter that we sit up with him through the night. He appreciated it, he said, though at one point, apparently seeing us look gloomy, he said: "I would like to make an announcement. No one in this room is dead yet." An hour or so later, he spoke his last words:

"I want you to know," he said, clearly and lucidly, "that I am in no pain. I am very comfortable. And I have had as happy a life as anyone on this earth could ever have."

A short time later, he died.

I miss him a lot, and I think about him a lot. I've wondered now and then how it was that my family and I were so lucky that he lived so long.

I can't figure out if it was because he walked through life.

Or because he quit taking left turns.

Michael Gartner has been editor of newspapers large and small and president of NBC News. In 1997, he won the Pulitzer Prize for editorial writing.

Saturday, September 23, 2006

It's Saturday, and we arrived here at the homestead last night. It's a pretty slow weekend for us - the weather is kind of forcing us to relax a bit, instead of catching up on all the outside work we need to do. It's a bit rainy and cloudy. Perfect opportunity for Bernie to clean some rifles, which is exactly what he is doing as I write this.

We got the phone line and DSL installed here last weekend. The DSL far exceeds my expectations. We have a cable connection at our home in town, and this DSL rivals the speed we get there. Very nice.

I took some pictures of the personal rifle rack Bernie and Tex built last weekend. I'll get those up on the website soon, along with a description of how they built it. I really think you'll like it - it's pretty cool and very functional. *UPDATE - it's on the website now.*

You may have gathered that Bernie and I are into motorcycling. We're also politically active with regard to bikers' rights - not only in Virginia, but on a national level as well. In fact, we're fairly politically active on many issues such as privacy issues, anti-gun control, etc., but bikers' rights is especially near and dear to our hearts as riding is a big part of our lives. I've been reading up on NAIS, and this is another area I intend to get heavily involved in. I'm concerned about the implication this program may have for homesteaders and small, traditional farms. A lot of what I've read so far is very alarming. Look for additional info on this subject as I learn more about it and how to address it.

In closing, I would like to share something I wrote when I learned that we lost a friend when his motorcycle struck a deer:

Who Wants to Die Happy?

What a sad day. Today I learned we lost one of our brothers. Jim Orange was killed while riding his motorcycle and a deer ran out in front of him.

I learned about this through a phone call at work. I suppose my reaction to the call alerted others in the office that something was up, because as soon as I hung up the phone someone asked “What happened?” I was numb with shock, but I managed to mumble something about the bike and the deer and the fact that my friend is now gone. And then I heard “At least he died doing what he loved to do.”

I have honestly always hated hearing “At least he died doing what he loved to do.” I mean, what does that mean? That you should die while you're happy? Who wants to die while they're happy? We want to LIVE while were happy! I'd rather die and have someone say “Well, at least she had a happy life doing what she really wanted to do, and died when she was doing something she hated.”

I guess if I had an actual CHOICE of when I'd die, I'd pick doing something I really like. I could prepare myself for that and make some decisions. But if I have to just randomly die, I wouldn't give up the moment I was actually happy. In the hustle and bustle of everyday life, those happy moments don't seem to happen often enough. I'd pick a time when I was really bummed out, a time when I wasn't enjoying being alive. I'd probably pick a moment at my desk at work. But a moment when I was enjoying a nice ride? I don't think so.

Anything worth doing in life comes with risks. Riding a motorcycle comes with risks. There is no denying that. But taking the risk of riding a motorcycle doesn't necessarily mean that you have prepared to meet your “Maker”. If you have any sense at all, you've considered the risks, educated yourself on the ways to minimize them, and taken the necessary steps to stay as safe as possible. Not because you are preparing to die, but because you want to LIVE.

Riding doesn't mean throwing your life to the wind. It means just the opposite. Riding is a way to experience life to its fullest. IN the wind. It's a way to connect with the air we breathe, the sun that bathes our bodies, and the things that allow our very existence.

“At least he died doing what he loved to do” should really be “At least he lived his life to the fullest and has no regrets.”

Damn those deer. Damn those inattentive drivers. We're doing what we love to do, and we don't want to die doing it.

To Jim I quote, “I rode with him. I have no regrets.”

Ride on, brother. Ride on.

Live Free,

Wednesday, September 20, 2006

The homestead is coming right along. Even though it is becoming more and more difficult to leave it at the end of each weekend, we make the most of each moment we are there. We've finally gotten some rain, and the ton of grass seed we've sown is finally starting to sprout. It's looking nice - and we're tracking in a lot less dirt and mud because of it!

I spent some time following deer trails through the woods this weekend. I wasn't necessarily looking for deer - I was really interested in where these guys wander. Apparently, the answer is "all over the place". There are so many obvious paths through the woods, it would have taken me quite a few days to follow all of them. It's as though they have a schedule to follow during the day. They seem to like to munch on stuff in the backyard around 8AM in the mornings. Based on that and all the paths, it seems to me they meet up in our back yard at 8AM, stand there munching away for a while, and then one of them will look at the sun, determine the time, and inform the others they are late for their appointment to meet up with others and eat wildflowers down at the power line clearing. And off they'll go - down a predetermined path. I'm hoping they stick to their schedule during hunting season ;-)

We had to get up early Sunday morning to leave the homestead and get back in town for an Open House we scheduled. It was our first since listing it as "For Sale by Owner". We didn't get much action, but I did a little better with advertising this week and we'll try it again this Sunday. Selling that house is really the first giant step towards getting back to basic living for us. It can not happen soon enough.

Bernie and Tex made a super cool "Personal Rifle/Shotgun" stand while I held the Open House on Sunday. Bernie didn't get pictures, but I'm going to take a few of the finished product and put them up on the website and get him to describe the steps in making it. I was quite impressed - and I can see where a lot of people would be interested in making one. I'll try to get that up there this week. *UPDATE - it's on the website now.*

Live Free!

Sunday, September 10, 2006

Another great weekend out at the homestead has come and gone. We arrived on Friday night just in time for the sky to open up and let loose a tremendous amount of rain. It didn't rain too long, and when it was finished we walked outside and took a deep breath of the fresh air it left behind. It rained a little during the week too and we were pleasantly surprised to see new shoots of grass coming up throughout the yard.

We also noticed the telephone company had been out and run the line underground for our new telephone service. I believe they took a lot of time and went out of their way to map the route of the line through every brand new blade of grass that had just sprouted. I could not believe how many just sprouted seedlings were sacrificed for the phone line. Oh well, we wanted a phone line and now we have one. I should just be thankful and sew some more seeds.

We spent a great deal of Saturday installing the phone wire from the house so the phone company can hook their line up to it. That involved digging through a fair amount of rocks - but I'm proud to report we sacrificed very little new grass for it. Hopefully the phone company will be there this week and hook the house up to their line and we'll have a dial tone next weekend. I'm going to pick up the DSL modem this week so Bernie can install it next weekend. We've decided it's worth the monthly bill to have internet connection. While we are striving to get back to basic living, we do appreciate the value of the internet for communication and for information. It's one of the few "luxeries" we hope not to have to give up.

I made some bird feeders this weekend from some 1 litre soda bottles. This seems like a great project to tackle with kids. I put some pictures and a narrative of it on the website. Check it out.

We're heading back out to the homestead next weekend and, as always, have a list of things to accomplish. I'll post when we return and will hopefully have some pictures.

Live Free,

Tuesday, September 05, 2006

Wow - where does the time go? Seems like only yesterday I last posted, but looking at the date of the last entry, I see that's not at all true. I apologize. What a month it's been for us.

As I mentioned earlier, we planned a big camp out at the homestead for about 30 bikers from across the country during the weekend of August 17- 20. We took the full week off before hand to get things ready and Spotman showed up from Iowa to spend the week helping out. We had bikers from Texas to Wisconsin, and South Carolina to Massachusetts and places all in between show up. What a great time. It was nice to see people we consider family and share our homestead with them. It is a bonus that many in this group are people who live a back to basics lifestyle, and a handful are what I consider survivalists. We got many tips and suggestions, and Uncle Rock even supplied a book on building a green wood house. Nice!

The following weekends were spent getting the homestead back in order after having a yard full of visitors and relaxing for a bit. We are still trying to sell our house in town so we can move permanently to our homestead, and this week we had a set back. Well, I guess the set back actually occurred long before this week, but we've been so busy we didn't heed the warning signs. The realtor that was supposed to be working on selling our home was fired. In hindsight, it really should be no surprise. He certainly has not been the "go getter" we expected when we signed on with his agency. His excuse of the "soft" real estate market was easier to believe when we were so incredibly busy with getting the homestead in order and it was more convenient to believe he was doing his best. Oh well, live and learn. We're coming up with Plan B to sell the place now. We're leaning towards selling it ourselves. I'll let y'all know how it goes.

On the lighter side, it does seem that the wildlife is finally starting to get used to us being around. A couple of weekends ago, Bernie and I were in the back yard working on my trike. We were clanking around and talking and not even attempting to be quiet. Suddenly we heard a commotion in the woods behind us. We looked up just in time to see 3 deer romping through the woods. They took a quick look at us, and then casually continued on their path.

We’ve seen several bunnies (or maybe only one that is brave enough to show up time and again) and a couple of snakes (a Ring Neck and a Black Snake). Last weekend I had a bunch of dinner rolls that molded and decided to put them out for who ever was hungry for a little bread. I arranged them in a circle, so I could see when one or more was taken. Bernie took one look and said “Looks like a trap to me. No self respecting animal will fall for that.” But sure enough, there were 3 or 4 missing the next morning. And last weekend, there was not a crumb left. I didn’t get to see who benefited from that little snack, and even though Bernie is convinced it was birds and mice, I’d like to think a bear may have enjoyed some home cooking added to his diet of our blue berries. Probably it was mice, but I’m not telling Bernie that.

By the way, before you yell at me for feeding the wildlife and drawing them in as nuisances, I should tell you this is not something I intend to make a habit. I had hoped to witness some of the little fellas coming out of the woods. I missed it and don't intend to make this a regular event. But you can’t blame me for trying at least once, can you?

Next weekend we’re heading back to the homestead with a list of things to do. I’ll be sure to take pictures this time, so y’all can see the progress we’re making. It’s getting harder and harder to leave there each week. Cross your fingers that we sell our house in town soon. The Homestead is calling us and we really need to answer that soon.

Live free,