27 September 2011

Stray Parsley

I'm not usually one to badmouth written instructions. I spent most of my working life writing technical documentation, and apologizing for it. I know how hard it is to explain something in a way that will provide all the information anyone would need, and be totally clear to everyone who might read it.

Maybe the problem is that I expected this to be confusing, so I'm making it harder than it really needs to be.

Or maybe I just assume that anything having to do with the healthcare delivery system is going to be a pain in the butt. You start with healthcare, then throw in insurance and the government, and it's got to be bad. Wouldn't you think?

Maybe I just don't want to be doing this. Well, that part's true, for sure.

But I've got to tell you, trying to figure out what I need to do about my upcoming eligibility for Medicare, and how it may or may not coordinate with the insurance I'm buying through Scarecrow's employer, is giving me a new perspective on what it must be like to live with a learning disability. I can still read the words. I can still understand each of them individually. At least I think I can. I'm just having trouble extracting information that might be encrypted in those words, arranged in that order. I read them slowly. I read them multiple times. It's like reading a webpage that Google has translated. Each of the words is right, but they're just… not… coming… together.

I was recently reading a page that was originally written in Russian. I don't know any Russian, so I don't know how good or bad the translation might have been, but I thought I was kind of getting the gist. Then I came across this:

"But as in all of Russia, the big crisis came to Bobruisk, in connection with the attitude of the Jewish population to the Russian school in the 70's. This crisis was, as is known, connected with the executing of the law of general military service in Russia (1874), which gave great privileges to people with Russian education and origin--shorter military service. It was a stray parsley! Even in extremely religious circles the "fence-breakers" multiplied."

It was a stray parsley!

20 September 2011

Questions I Should Have Asked

I ran across a list of questions I've been meaning to ask my dad the next time we spoke. Nothing of world-shaking importance, no grand questions about life-lessons learned. Truth be told, my dad and I did not often agree on the message to be taken from those life lessons. I didn't expect him to impart great wisdom from the perspective of one who has lived  a long and eventful life. They were mostly just questions that came up when I was rustling around in the family shrub. Why did your dad never tell you what his name was before he came to the United States? What year did you buy the house you live in now? What was the first car you ever bought? I kept putting it off.

Dad died August 26.

It wasn't a tragic sendoff, as these things go. It was not unexpected. He was almost 91 years old. He finally accepted some drugs, so he wasn't in pain. He was home, with his family, the way he wanted. It was time. He was ready. Everybody should be so lucky.

Like most of us, I suppose, he didn't finish everything he meant to do. He was always going to write down what he remembered about his family, but he kept putting it off. He'd get distracted by trying to pin down exactly when the family moved from one house to another, when plus or minus 5 years would have been plenty close enough. He'd go chasing off after details, or get frustrated because he was such a crummy typist, and he never got around to telling the whole story.

Family history is all about the stories, isn't it? I'm not much interested in genealogy. My lineage is not so illustrious that proving it beyond all shadow of a doubt makes any difference to anybody. I don't need three original sources to confirm every detail. I don't agonize over getting every source citation exactly right. I don't really care all that much. I'm just in it for the stories. It's all about stories. It's history, the way it happened to one family. It's getting a sense of ordinary lives, the way ordinary people lived them.

Knowing that Louis Badaillac dit Laplante was born in Sorel, Québec in March of 1680 and died in Detroit in 1703 doesn't really say much about who this guy was, except that he was only 23 when he died. Finding that he accompanied Antoine de la Mothe, Sieur de Cadillac, when he went off to found the city of Detroit, one might be tempted to imagine a rather heroic figure. Finding that between that convoy and his eventual demise he was busted a couple of times for "fait la traite de l'eau de vie avec les iroquois" and for "causé un bruit public", he starts to look a little grubbier. Not pretty, maybe, but more like a real person. (Did you know, by the way, that Cadillac had a really big nose? He was nicknamed the Falcon, and often compared — presumably behind his back – to Cyrano de Bergerac. Hey, I read it on the web, so it must be true.) See what I mean? It's all about the stories.

I need to write down what I remember about my dad. As best I can, I need to tell his story. I'm not religious. In the metaphysical sense, I have no idea where he went, or what he's doing now, besides a literal, obvious fact – he donated his body to science. He made arrangements for that years ago. Some med students at UCLA will get a skinny old white male cadaver. They will get to know my dad in considerable detail. In a different sense, he's here as long as someone remembers him. Those stories he told over and over? I should know them well enough by now to be able to inflict them on someone who never got a chance to hear them from the source.

I've been wondering whether this blog is the right place to do that. I initially set it up as a place to dump MS-related stuff. Going off on a family history tangent seems pretty seriously off-topic. I even got as far as setting up a template for a new blog, called "Out on a Limb" (get it? Am I witty, or what?). Then I decided it was a pretty stupid idea. If I had two blogs, I would post even less often on either of them than I do on this one now. Besides, the topic of this blog is whatever I want it to be. Whippets don't have anything to do with MS, as far as I know, and I write about them all the time. So I'll be stalking dead people, and I'll be doing it here. It's too bad, though. The new blog was looking pretty cool.

There's a barbecue/potluck/celebration of my dad's life/excuse to put away large amounts of tequila planned for this weekend at the old home place. I won't be able to make it down for the festivities, but here's the story I would tell if I were there:

So many times when I was a kid we'd ask, "Dad, do you have a ____ <fill in the blank with the most bizarre item you can possibly imagine>?" He'd think for a minute, disappear into his garage, rustle around for a while, and reappear holding said bizarre item.

I thought everybody's dad could do that.

18 September 2011

A Moment of Silence

27 November 1920 — 26 August 2011

I'm not sure how a moment of silence would work on the Internet, but my dad was not a religious guy and I'm not sure how else one might mark his passing. I'm also not sure how long a moment would last, on the Internet, but I guess we'll find out!

13 September 2011