Necessary Resistance: Stories From Higley Hill

 

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Higley Hill after the storm

January 20, 2017

I said I wouldn’t watch TV today. That almost worked. I left Vermont after a snowstorm. Except for the plowed roads,  the whole world was white. I drove to my daughter’s apartment in Providence.

This morning at Southwest Gate 24, women in pink knitted pussy hats waited to board the plane. I was wearing a pink button on the lapel of my black coat. “I’m with Planned Parenthood”. Several friends texted to tell me they were expressing their sadness with this day by dressing all in black, and many others in the airport were too. A young mother sitting next to me texted her daughter on her iPhone and wished her a good day at school. A majority of us were headed to the Women’s March and despite the somber mood of the day, there was a festive air as we boarded the plane. As I slowly made my way down the aisle one man leaned out of his seat, pointed to my button, and said “They do good work. I own a convenience store near their office and there are protestors out there once a week.” He shook his head in disbelief. “Are you marching?” he asked.

“Yes.”

“Good for you. Thank you.” I smiled as I moved along the narrow aisle. It was a full flight and the overhead bins were almost full. Luckily my bag fit under the seat. Two sets of pink pussy ears peaked above the seats in front of me. The man in the aisle seat to my left spoke with a Scandinavian accent. He was returning home to Baltimore, and he also complimented liked my pin. The man at the window was watching the Fox lead up to the inauguration on his iPad and never looked up until the stewardess came by to ask if we were willing and able to open the exit doors in case of an emergency. She wanted his attention so I tapped him on the knee and he gave me a dirty look. I pointed to the flight attendant and he took his earbuds out for a moment and said, “I know the drill. I’m all set.” Then he earbuds back on.  He never shut his iPad off, even when we were taking off down the runway, or when we landed. I occasionally snuck a glance at his screen and watched as Trump and his family made their way to St. James church.

orlando-ladies

Ladies from Orlando, Florida

 

While waiting for the MARC train from BWI to Union Station in Washington, DC, I met many women who came here to march. Two ladies from Orlando, a young woman from Denver who had been traveling since the night before and came by way of Fort Lauderdale. An immigrant from Somalia, a woman from Hartford who broke her foot, was at the same healthcare rally I attended last Sunday, and had stayed at the Inn I worked at in Norfolk but several years earlier than my arrival. She was marching despite her injury. A husband and wife from Long Island both wore knitted pink pussy hats. His was a slightly deeper shade of pink.

At Union Station I made my way to the Metro where I took the red line to Tenley Town. A group of white suburban women wearing red Make America Great Again baseball caps, two of them dressing up the look with fur coats, took the four seats in front of me. They were whooping it up, chattering loudly and celebrating. The black woman sitting next to me looked up from texting and peered over her reading glasses. I heard her “tsk tsk”. She looked at me and we shook our heads. “Scary days,” she whispered. “Yes indeed,” I whispered back. The Trump ladies got off after two stops and so did the lady sitting next to me. A young man grabbed the seat in front of me, turned around, and in reference to the Trump ladies, said, “I just wanted to ask them, Why? Did they hear the things he said? Do they think he’s qualified? What about this Russia stuff? Why? Just tell me why.”

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Trump ladies-Make America Great Again

The escalator at the Tenleytown stop is one of the steepest, scariest escalators I’ve ever been on. I road to the daylight gripping the the banister. Out to the street it was quiet. American University students and people on their lunch break passed by. My cousin had told me about a taco place not far from her house. I took a seat at the counter next to two Mexican workers who spoke Spanish to each other and ate bowls of spicy chicken, rice, and veggies. Outside the window, a man pushed his daughter in a stroller and his young son hopped along a short wall that ran along the sidewalk. The stucco church across the street looked like something you’d see in Mexico. A flock of birds swooped out of the trees and circled the steeple. Life went on and the drama taking place near the Capital seemed a universe away.

On the walk to my cousin’s house I got lost a couple of times and Siri, as usual, was useless.  A group of four young boys whizzed by on skateboards, one of them carrying a sign that read “The End of the World Begins at Noon Today”.

My cousin’s husband was home and the TV was on. Riots were taking place on a street near the offices of the Washington Post. Trash barrels were rolled over and lit on fire. A Starbucks window had been broken. The police were shooting pepper spray and tear gas. My father called. He was watching the news back in Rhode Island and wanted to know where I was in the city. He told me to be careful. I didn’t tell him I heard Trump had failed to fill a lot of government jobs and I was flying today without a director of the FAA. I also didn’t tell him I forgot to bring the whistle.

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On a lamppost in Tenleytown

Once a parent, always a parent. Today is my oldest daughter’s 25th birthday. When she was born on January 20th I thought she might grow up to work for a political candidate and get invited to an inaugural ball on her birthday. This is not the year. She, like her mother, voted for Bernie Sanders in the primary and I think I convinced her to vote for Hillary in November. Today she was skiing on a foot and a half of powder in Lake Tahoe. We talked on the phone but she also sent a text, “Yoooo shreddin’ pow ma”.

sleeping-babies

I’m marching tomorrow for her and her sister. The future of the planet they will inherit, the preservation of good public schools like the ones they attended in Exeter, NH, their reproductive rights, equal pay for equal work, healthcare, so many things I can’t list them all here. I’m worried about their future. Once a Mom always a Mom.

 

 

 

 

 

Trying To Make It Real Compared To What: Stories From Higley Hill

At first my husband didn’t want to join me in Hartford to protest the repeal of the Affordable Care Act. He’s a Democrat who always votes that way, but that’s about all he does. He votes. Even in the midterm elections, so I’ll give him that.

This protest directly effects his well-being. He’s had two DVTs (deep vein thrombosis). The last one occurred when we lived in Florida and was a huge clot that ran almost the entire length of his leg. He has Factor 5 Leiden, a genetic clotting disorder. A preexisting condition. A couple of days ago, at one-thirty in the morning, the Republicans voted against an amendment to keep the provision of the ACA that protects consumers from an insurance company charging more or even possibly denying coverage for a pre-existing condition. Rich also now has a prescription for a blood thinner that without ACA would cost $600 a month.

My husband’s misery was compounded by two herniated discs in his lower back. He ended up out of work for six weeks. With the loss of pay, deductibles, and co-pays, our credit card took a beating. We were on COBRA at the time. Two nights in the hospital on a blood thinner drip cost $17,000, that’s just for the bed and other sundries. The doctors’ bills were paid separately. There were also bills from the technician who reviewed the CAT scan and the blood tests. With our deductible we owed 10% of every bill. That’s $1700 for the room alone. You know the drill. Or maybe you don’t. That’s why I’m this sharing story. The issue of health insurance in America needs a human face.

Everything that makes man’s life worthwhile – family, work, education, a place to rear one’s children and a place to rest one’s head – all this depends on the decisions of government; all can be swept away by a government which does not heed the demands of its people, and I mean all of its people. ~ Robert F. Kennedy

Rich does not like to discuss politics. I am a fiery, opinionated, political junkie. I convinced him to join me by explaining his real life consequences if the Affordable Care Act were repealed without a reasonable, fair replacement. I also suggested we have a late lunch after the rally at Max Burger in West Hartford, a place we discovered when we worked in Connecticut as innkeepers. It was the olive branch of burgers, beers, and bloody Marys that won him over.

We chose Hartford because it is closer to our home in Southern Vermont than Burlington. And after all, I don’t need to send a message to my Vermont senators. Bernie Sanders is leading this charge and this is an American issue. As we approached the city listening to an old Les McCann tape I made thirty years ago I too wondered “what was wrong with the Godddamn nation”. The lyrics were hauntingly prescient. Rich said it was the theme song of the day. He was coming around.

We parked near the train station and walked to the Capital. I expected the entire Bushnell Park to be filled with people. It was a blue sky day, a Sunday afternoon, crisp but not too cold. I started to get angry. There are at least 20 million of us whose health insurance is on the line. Paul Ryan and the Republicans are talking vouchers and access to health insurance. That’s not much help with the monthly premiums that can run as high as $1200-$1500 a month. We have access to health insurance, we need affordability. Words matter, listen carefully when a politician is speaking.

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Where the hell was everyone, I wondered. Two older gentlemen and a woman were asking themselves the same question. “Well, we’re here anyway,” one man said. The other man agreed. “We’re doing something and that makes us feel better.” I asked two ladies with Justice for Women signs if they were going to the march in DC. They told me they couldn’t get out of work but  thanked me for representing them. We encouraged each other to keep up the good fight.

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One of the great liabilities of history is that all too many people fail to remain awake through great periods of social change. Every society has its protectors of status quo and its fraternities of the indifferent who are notorious for sleeping through revolutions. Today, our very survival depends on our ability to stay awake, to adjust to new ideas, to remain vigilant and to face the challenge of change. – Martin Luther King, Jr.

At the top of the hill a gathering of people was beginning to grow along the steps of the High Victorian Gothic style State House designed by Richard J. Upjohn. Made of marble from East Canaan, Connecticut, granite from Westerly, Rhode Island, and accented by a gold leaf dome, it is an impressive edifice. Connecticut was the first state to implement a consumer advocacy program to help patients with their insurance disputes. It became a model for the grant money the Affordable Care Act provides for healthcare advocacy programs across the nation.

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Later in the day, the Hartford Courant reported over a thousand people attended the rally. Rich forged a path through the crowd and helped me make my way to the steps of the Capital where I could take better photos. We were on the shady side of the building and I was working with my old IPhone 4. Before the speeches began the battery died after I took a short video of the crowd chanting “A-C-A, A-C-A”.

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Four Americans shared their healthcare stories. Jonathan Miller was born with cystic fibrosis. In a voice close to tears, he told us he would be bankrupt or dead without the ACA. “It’s not anyone’s decision to decide who does or doesn’t get healthcare,” he said.

I was reminded of a Facebook discussion I recently got embroiled in. One commenter thought he shouldn’t have to pay for obese people’s health insurance. “Why should otherwise healthy people who make healthy choices be asked to foot the bill for others who do not and most importantly do not care?” he asked. Cystic fibrosis also came up. Someone replied there are only 3,000 cases in the United States. I’m not sure about the point he was trying to make but I Googled this and discovered: “To have cystic fibrosis, a person must inherit two copies of the defective CF gene — one copy from each parent. Approximately 30,000 people in the United States have cystic fibrosis. An additional 10 million more — or about one in every 31 Americans — are carriers of the defective CF gene, but do not have the disease.” That’s the thing with the Internet. You need to be vigilant.

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Jonathan Miller has been in and out of the hospital all his life. He currently takes 15-20 meds a day. “Illness can happen to anyone,” he said. “If you want to work through the Affordable Care Act and dismantle this … I want you to hear this from the bottom of my scarred, diseased lung. You will not hurt families — you will ruin families. You will kill people,” Miller said. ” The consequences will be fatal.”

Another speaker, a former drug addict who was able to get the care and counseling he needed through the Affordable Care Act shared this, “A miracle is not walking on air or water, but on this earth.” He is now a college graduate with a good job and a desire to help others.

Isabelle Endicott shared her story of having excellent health insurance through her employer when she gave birth to her second child who was born with a congenital heart disease. Before his first birthday his medical bills had reached a quarter of a million dollars, 25 percent of his lifetime cap. In a panic, she called her insurance company and they told her because of the Affordable Care Act there is no longer a cap on lifetime medical bills. Since the election, she is now worried once again about her son’s future. “It is our faces and voices that will win this fight,” she told us.

“Never be afraid to raise your voice for honesty and truth and compassion against injustice and lying and greed. If people all over the world…would do this, it would change the earth.” ~ William Faulkner

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I looked for my husband in the crowd. I was afraid he might have left and gone for a walk, protests not being his thing and all. I walked through the cheering crowd and eventually spotted him somewhere in the middle, clapping. My daughter and her boyfriend drove from Providence and were standing with him.

When the rally ended we drove to West Hartford and celebrated democracy with those promised burgers, bloodies, and beer. Overall, it was an excellent way to spend a day in the land of the free and the brave. Like one of the guys I met earlier, we felt better.

I think the world is going to be saved by millions of small things. ~ Pete Seeger

***Isabelle Endicott is right. If you can’t attend a protest or a rally, please call your representatives. JOIN ME. Share your stories with me and I will share them here on my blog.***

Happy Martin Luther King Day everyone. “One life can change the world.”

 

A Hard Day’s Night: Stories from Higley Hill

“I am out to sing songs that will prove to you that this is your world and if it has hit you pretty hard and knocked you for a dozen loops, no matter what color, what size you are, how you are built, I am out to sing the songs that make you take pride in yourself and in your work. And the songs that I sing are made up for the most part by all sorts of folks just about like you.” ~ Woody Guthrie

Two days before the unpredictable, somewhat frightening new year began we stopped by a friend’s for an early New Year’s toast. The happy hours are held in his garage. It is a very large working garage, the size of a barn, where he repairs cars and trucks. There are rows of bins with nuts and bolts and hoses. Large books line a reference shelf, a library for the mechanic. The fridge is stocked with Coronas.

Tonight the guys had been plowing for almost twenty-four hours. Most of them work for themselves. If you’ve been self-employed, then you know you are responsible for finding your own health insurance in America. My husband and I have been there, done that, and are still there. One of the guys in the garage that night has a wife whose job provides health insurance. I’ve been that wife. For many years I did that after I gave up running my own bookkeeping business because the two of us couldn’t afford to be self-employed .

“Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter.” ~ Martin Luther King

There has been many a stormy winter’s night when I’ve heard the plows drive by. It’s a mundane scene. I am awakened by the beep beep back up sound or the plow scraping along the icy road. The blinking red or yellow lights flash across the bedroom wall. I snuggle under the covers, safe and warm, and think about the guys driving the trucks that pave the way to a safe morning commute for the rest of us.

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Over a couple of Coronas we heard a few of the stories of how dangerous this work can actually be. One of the guys plows the steep mountain roads and many a dirt road where there are few if any guardrails. He told us a story of the night he hit a patch of ice along a section of road that curved along a steep drop-off up on a mountain ridge, and he just had to ride it out, hoping for the best. One of the guys we were  with that night is still out plowing at the age of seventy-two. Another guy passed on the beers, he was heading out to work a second job, delivering pizzas now that the roads were clear. I didn’t ask why they did what they did — plowing late at night at the age of seventy-two or delivering pizzas after driving a plow all day. We weren’t discussing politics or personal economics. The Coronas had us thinking about tropical vacations and making plans to take a walking tour of the Amalfi coast. I am well aware of the fact we all do what we have to do in the land of plenty.

The winds howl here some nights. The snow blows like a blizzard across the freshly plowed streets and driveways. Sometimes the phone rings, an irate customer calls to complain about the driveway covered with new snow shortly after the plow guy finished his rounds and has just rested his head on his pillow at eight in the morning after a hard day’s night of plowing.

“At least I had frost on my nose, boots on my feet, and protest in my mouth.”
― Jack Kerouac, The Dharma Bums

We had a lot of company visit during the holiday week. My nephew came to ski with some buddies of his. He is twenty-six, works as an independent landscaper, and is now off his parents’ health insurance plan. He has Affordable Healthcare.

On New Year’s Eve we went to a bonfire with some friends. Before we headed out into the snowy night we shared a dinner of fettucine alfredo with scallops and shrimp and discussed our concerns about losing our health insurance. Our friends are a self-employed stonemason and the director of a non-profit art school with only three employees on the payroll. The rest of the help are volunteers and the school doesn’t provide health insurance. My husband is a self-employed house painter and I am currently looking for work while writing from home.

The bonfire was down a tree-lined road covered with snow and was the picture of a Robert Frost poem. It was a beautiful night and the house was filled with like-minded people worried about the coming years. I am sure to some people it would be the stereotypical scene of a group of left wing, hippie Vermonters but we all shared very ordinary concerns. One woman was battling ovarian cancer, another worked as a nurse and doula and met lots of people with insurance concerns, and one other was a cancer survivor. Affordable healthcare frequently came up. So did our children’s college loans and heating bills in the winter months.

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Walk into that fire

A very old friend of ours showed up on New Year’s Day. He asked to borrow my laptop to file something for his Affordable Healthcare. He’s had some career ups and downs over the years including owning a restaurant that went under during the Great Recession. Since then he’s worked as a short order cook and an Uber driver. His ex-wife has a job with insurance but her employer only co-pays the insurance for the employee. The employee pays full price to cover a spouse and the kids, and in addition the company charges for each and every kid you have. It’s not a traditional family plan. I’d never heard of this before but my friend was adding his daughter onto his Affordable Healthcare plan. It was more affordable that way.

My daughter and her boyfriend were here for several days. She recently interviewed for a job where they didn’t offer health insurance. They hired everyone as sub-contractors working for commissions. They also didn’t pay for the first two weeks of training. I told her to forget about it. It didn’t sound like a good opportunity. It didn’t even sound legal.

Healthcare isn’t a right in America. If Americans are self-employed, work part-time, or work full-time by cobbling together more than one part-time job, or work for a small business or non-profit with under twenty employees, they have to buy their own health insurance.

“One day we’ll all find out that all of our songs was just little notes in a great big song.” ~Woody Guthrie

The next time you’re lying in bed one dark and stormy night and you hear the plow guy drive by, before you close your eyes and drift back off to sleep think about him and his family and how they might obtain their health insurance. The Republican Congress has had eight years to come up with an alternative. They say they will repeal and replace but none of us has seen or heard any details regarding the replacement. There are 20 million Americans whose health insurance is on the line. I met several of them this past week and I know many more. If you don’t understand the implications and the seriousness of this issue, you need to get out and meet your fellow working Americans.

I hear from a lot of people who tell me they no longer watch the news. They can’t pay attention to politics. They can’t get all worked up. It’s stressful. The election took too much out of them. Some even say they’re exhausted. Exhausted? Took too much out of you? What about the young men and women who gave their lives to fight our wars? What about the veterans who served our country in ways far more difficult and demanding than the average American who watched the election of 2016 unfold on their TV screens? The veterans who returned home with PTSD, missing limbs, and other difficult problems?

When I was working at the Inn last year I attended a concert that raised money for homeless vets. Wrap your head around that idea. How can someone who makes the ultimate sacrifice to fight our country’s wars return home to find themselves homeless?  Then tell me how much this election took out of you.

“The ultimate measure of a man is not where he stands in moments of comfort and convenience, but where he stands at times of challenge and controversy.” ~ Martin Luther King

Yesterday We the People scored our first victory. The new incoming Congress wanted to gut the Ethics committee. They held a late night, closed door meeting and agreed to bring it to the floor as their first order of business. The media woke up and finally did their job. They reported the news and social media lit up. The phone calls and emails to representatives began. The Congress was bombarded with protests from constituents. Hours later Trump sent a tweet saying the Ethics Committee was unfair but now was not the time to address it. The Congress shelved the bill.  Don’t let Trump fool you.  He didn’t win this battle. We did that. We the People.

#bebrave #speakup #nowmorethanever   JOIN ME. Share the blogs, comment below, and share your stories.

A New Year’s Revolution: Stories from Higley Hill

new-years-bonfire

New Year’s Eve 2017.Goodbye 2016. Marlboro, VT

Speaking of the happy new year, I wonder if any year ever had less chance of being happy. It’s as though the whole race were indulging in a kind of species introversion — as though we looked inward on our neuroses. And the thing we see isn’t very pretty… So we go into this happy new year, knowing that our species has learned nothing, as a race, — that the experience of ten thousand years has made no impression on the instincts of the million years that preceded. ~ John Steinbeck’s letter written on January 1, 1941 to Pascal Covici

If any great author inspired me to write, it was John Steinbeck. I discovered him in high school when I read Of Mice and Men. By the time I graduated I had read all his books. The powerful ending of The Grapes of Wrath has stayed with me to this day. After all the struggle and sorrow the story told, it was that simple powerful image of a woman offering her breast to a starving man that I would never forget. This was the power of great literature.

E.B White once wrote “a writer should lift people up, not lower them down”.

During the last days of the awful year of 2016, I went back through my blogs looking for typos, editing repetition, and correcting run-on sentences. I don’t want to change anything major. I am intent on keeping the spirit of my early attempts at learning to write in public.

Here in the Green Mountains the last days of the year were snowy and cold. Epic icicles hung from the roof, but I was back in sunny Florida reading about those first days and months when we lived in the tropics. It has been interesting to look back at the things I was writing in 2013. Public libraries and the loss of public beaches along the Gold Coast shoreline caught my attention.  Unbeknownst to me, and most of the world, I had my finger on the national zeitgeist. From the very first days when I started blogging back in 2013 I was drawn to the stories of everyday Americans like myself. I was repulsed by the opulent wealth and income inequality I saw all around me in South Florida. The anger and frustration of Election 2016 that came as a big surprise to so many came as no surprise to me.

My favorite pieces to write are not the stories about myself but the stories of average Americans I meet as I go about my everyday life. I like to keep my eyes wide open. I pay attention and I think empathy is a quality we all need to work on. The stories I’m attracted to are slice of life stories of everyday struggles, nothing unusual or heroic. I am not one of those confessional bloggers who talks about my personal struggles. I don’t find myself that interesting or insightful. What I’m trying to do is place myself in the spirit and mood of the times I live in. My generation, my particular time in history. Of course, the stories are told through my eyes and my personal perspective but what I discover is that most people I meet share the same problems I struggle with. I try to present the facts but often my opinion slips in. Just the act of choosing the stories I share is a political act but as I repeated quite often in the Florida blogs, politics have real life consequences.

Although some of the stories are about Me I prefer to write from the perspective of We. Some bloggers are very comfortable with confessional stories about their struggles with marriage, mothering, self-actualization, and living in the present. There are a lot of writers writing about sobriety right now. Although I have frequently written about living in the present, I prefer the perspective of We, as in We The People.

“Hard times are coming…we will need writers who remember freedom” ~ Ursula Le Guin

Steinbeck described his drive to write as a desire to make people understand each other.

“There is great tension in the world, tension toward a breaking point, and men are unhappy and confused…..At such a time it seems natural and good to me to ask myself these questions. What do I believe in? What must I fight for and what must I fight against?”

Despair is not an option. Hiding and going back in your hole is not an option. Not for me anyway. However small my voice may be, I have a voice. And so do you, dear reader. If you hear a story that moves you, please send me a note and I’ll share it in a blog. Names can remain anonymous, or if you’d like a shout out I’ll gladly credit you as my source. It could be a story about your cousin or someone you overheard in a supermarket check-out line. It could be your own story.

However much we are affected by the things of the world, however deeply they may stir and stimulate us, they become human for us only when we can discuss them with our fellows… We humanize what is going on in the world and in ourselves only by speaking of it, and in the course of speaking of it we learn to be human. ~ Hannah Arendt, Men in Dark Times

These are the stories I’ll be writing in the new year. I have a voice. Although it may be rather small, I intend to use it. I also plan to help out at a local food pantry and find other ways to help the people who will surely be hurting in the days ahead. I will share those stories too, beginning with the Women’s March  in Washington, DC on January 21st. If you can’t join us check for local marches in your area.

I am working on the premise that entertainment – writing, movies, books, or music – can provide empathy and understanding, something we desperately need in these very divisive times we live in. If you like some of the blogs I write please share them. Real news will be a rare commodity in the coming year. We have a president who is going to tweet his own version of the story. So join me by volunteering, doing whatever you can, and helping spread the word.

Thanks for all your support over the last few years. Together we can change things for the better. Now is our time. Together we are writing history.

#bebrave #speakup #nowmorethanever.  JOIN ME.

“When things go wrong, don’t go with them.” ― Elvis Presley

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Higley Hill Epic Icicles

A Present From My Dad: Stories From Higley Hill

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My Dad’s Christmas gifts arrived two days after the holiday. He had obviously recycled the manila envelope they came in. My address was written on a yellow Post-it note taped over the previous address.

My eighty-four year old father is concerned by the fact I receive my mail at a post office box. He’s never lived in a rural area and every time he sends me something he asks, “So you still have that post office box?” Then he calls back, “What’s the number again?”  This time he also wrote the box number along the right hand margin. At the top he wrote FRAGILE in capital letters.

Inside were gifts for my daughters, too. We all received a red envelope with our names on it. Two small packages were wrapped in Christmas paper. There was also an unwrapped whistle and a hand-written note.

Dear Sheila,

The package contains the Christmas money in checks and a little gift (not meant to be funny but probably will be) for you and your two girls. Years ago British bobbies did not carry guns, just a billy club and a whistle for protection. Remember I gave my 3 girls pepper spray some time ago (probably  they don’t know what happened to it). It’s a dangerous world we live in. You always need to be alert and prepared.

Merry Christmas Happy New Year ~ Dad

P.S. The checks are inside the Christmas cards.

It was four o’clock when I left the post office. I decided to call while I was still driving through town and had phone service. Whenever he sends a check he worries about its whereabouts and will call a day or two later, and keep calling, until the money arrives safely. He spent his life teaching U.S. History and although during summer vacations he delivered mail, he no longer trusts the U.S. postal service. When my mother was alive she made him deliver the checks in person. This presented a problem when I lived in Florida.

My Dad no longer trusts anyone and with good reason. He is still not back in his condo. It’s been ten months since the fire. The entire affair has been a story of gross negligence, incompetence, insurance stonewalling, and local corruption. Over the past ten months my father has moved three times, lost my mother, and been diagnosed with bladder cancer. I have been in touch with a reporter at a local news station but my father keeps wavering over whether I should  or should not blow this story up. Last night when I called he was in rare form.

He started with an update on the status of the condo’s renovation. A fire inspector had come by and claimed the firewall had been installed improperly so the new sheetrock had to be torn down. Months ago my Dad had received a promised move-in date of January 10th. It looks like that isn’t going to happen.

“I told you I’d go to the news reporter again,” I said.

“Aaagh. I know, and we should, but I told Father Gagnon this is killing me and I’ll soon be joining your mother. I’m too old for this battle.”

“I told you I would handle it, Dad.”

He wasn’t listening. Instead, he was off and running. He moved on to politics. He’s a difficult man; impulsive, opinionated, critical. He is also the man who taught me about democracy and the constitution. If you want to know where a lot of my political opinions come from you need look no further than my Dad.

He started with Trump and went on from there. Not wanting to lose the connection, I pulled into the Valley Market where skiers with New York, New Jersey, and Connecticut license plates filled the parking lot. The sun had set, the night was dark. I sat and listened.

They’re killing the New Deal, you know. That Ryan wants to take away Medicare. They killed the unions years ago. It’s all about the rich. That Trump is an arrogant idiot. The Republicans stole that last Supreme Court justice, you know.  And those Catholic judges. It’s all about abortion with them. It’s none of their business. That’s between a woman, her doctor, and God. And these cabinet appointments!

He obviously had the evening news on in the background because he interrupted the monologue to give me some breaking news. Ah geez, Carrie Fisher died. You remember who her parents were?

“Eddie Fisher and Debbie Reynolds. But then he left her for Elizabeth Taylor,” I replied.

“Aaah, that bombshell.” Then he was back to the condo fiasco followed by more crazy news of people disrupting shopping malls across the country on the day after Christmas.

“See, I know you might think the whistle is a crazy gift to give someone but it is a dangerous world, and only getting worse. I bet you don’t remember that pepper spray I gave you years ago.”

“No, I do. I remember it. It’s a sweet thought, Dad. It is a dangerous world.”

“I bought them in an Army/Navy store somewhere. Can’t remember now where it was. I don’t think you can buy it anymore. They say you shouldn’t spray it in someone’s eyes but that is exactly where you should spray it. It doesn’t blind you, it washes out but that’s what you need to do to disable the guy.”

It was hard to end the conversation so I listened as he went back to politics and the threat of fake news, Fox, Sean Hannity and that pompous ass Bill O’Reilly. It’s not like I didn’t agree with every thing he said and I knew he was lonely in the tiny AirBnB rental he’s been staying in since the insurance money for temporary housing ran out after six months. When we finally said goodnight, I drove back up the hill, poured myself a Jameson, and turned on the news. I saw the tributes to Carrie Fisher and the throngs of people running panicked in shopping malls from Texas to New York. I shut the TV off.

I thought about the places my Dad took me when I was a kid. The Lincoln Memorial, Mount Vernon, Monticello, Dearborn Village, Appomattox, and Valley Forge. I thought about the future of democracy and I thought about my Dad, a man who received the GI bill to pay for his college education, who had a strong teachers’ union throughout his career, helped put his kids through college, retired with a pension. He’s watched it all slip away, get torn apart. He’s watched the rich get richer, and the middle class shrink. He’s also watched the folly of a misinformed public let the fox into the hen house.

Twice a year, he sends my siblings and I a check on Christmas and the Fourth of July. It’s not a large check but always arrives when it’s most needed and certainly helps. Tonight he admitted to me, “Sometimes I wouldn’t tell your mother I was sending the money. She grew up poor and you know she was in that orphanage for awhile. She was always worried about money. I’d tell her we were fine, we did good. Even if I died first she’d be okay. She never believed me. She was worried about being a bag lady. I don’t know what the world’s come to anymore. I’m getting tired. I’m too old for this fight.”

Sadness overcame me. A sadness for my Dad, for ideals like democracy and the Bill of Rights that he tried to teach, back when Civics was a subject still taught in public high schools, and for my daughters, his grandchildren, and the future they will live in. I’m turning sixty in 2017 and I’m tired too but I’m not too old to keep fighting. I should have told my Dad, “It’s okay. I’ll carry on. You can count on it.”

So much in life is fragile, even the gift of a whistle in a manila envelope that carries a wish for safe passage in a dangerous, fragile world.

 

 

JOIN ME. If you are reading this and you are a writer or a concerned citizen, I have a few ideas about what we can do in the days ahead. Please contact me at my email to the right of my blog page or comment below and I’ll be in touch. We can do more than whistle in the dark. #bebrave #speakup #nowmorethanever

 

 

 

 

Walking ~ Days 94-97 In Search of the Intracoastal Among Other Things

A Florida Flashback from three years ago. I now understand why i supported Bernie, reluctantly voted for Hillary, and was not surprised by Trump. I’ve been out there observing it for years. Where were the mainstream media and the politicians? As a new year dawns, I will be writing by the words of Ursula Le Guin – “Hard times are coming…..We’ll need writers who can remember freedom.” #bebrave #speakup #nowmorethanever

Sheila Blanchette

Time got away from me. My daughter was here for a week. I was entertaining her, catching up, having fun. I got a second temp job which I thought was going to be one day a week but the guy hadn’t entered anything in Quickbooks for a year, so I worked two days and we’re still not caught up. Everything needed to be entered; checks paid, deposits made, credit card statements to expense. All sorts of fun stuff. We were reinventing the wheel. I was bleary eyed by the end of the day and couldn’t sit down to write.

Other things were happening. We backed out of the offer we made on the house. The appraisal came in lower than our offer. We did some investigating. The neighborhood was lovely but it was a small little pocket in an area that was going nowhere. That happens a lot here in…

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A Night In The ER: Stories From Higley Hill

It was a chilly night in November 2008. My oldest daughter and I were in Albany, New York visiting Sienna College. She was a junior in high school, the MVP of her lacrosse team, and Sienna was a D-1 school. Fast as grease lightening and tough as nails, she and her best friend also broke the gender barrier at Exeter High School when they earned a spot as the first two females on the boys wrestling team.

In the afternoon, we took a tour of the campus. She was hesitant about the Franciscan brothers wearing long rope belted brown robes and Jesus sandals. At the entrance to every dormitory was a cross that made her feel uncomfortable. She wasn’t raised with religion although we attended a Unitarian church for a short time. I was raised Catholic so I told her what I knew about St. Francis of Assisi, his vow of poverty and his love for all God’s creatures. At the reception in the cafeteria I dragged her over to one of the Friars and asked what percentage of the students were Catholic and how prevalent was the religious life on campus. He reassured us the college welcomed everyone and no one was required to attend mass.

We left the campus, checked into a Fairfield Inn, then drove to a cozy neighborhood restaurant. She had been complaining of a headache since the cafeteria reception. I told her it had been a long day, she probably needed something to eat. I convinced her to order some soup but she barely touched it. On the drive back to the hotel she curled up into a ball and started crying. When I say this was very unlike her, I truly mean it. I started getting scared.

Several months earlier she’d had a sharp pain in her calf. It wouldn’t go away. She called me at work complaining it was getting worse and nothing she did would relieve the pain. I called her pediatrician, Dr. Loh, the most wonderful doctor I’ve ever met. He was there when both my children were born and to this day they both wish he was still their doctor. I called her back and told her she had an appointment in a half hour. “Can you drive yourself there?” I asked. She said she could. Two hours later I got the word Dr. Loh had sent her over to the hospital for a CAT Scan and she had a DVT in her calf. He later did some testing and discovered she had Factor 5 Leiden, a genetic blood disorder that causes clotting. We soon learned my husband and several other family members, including my younger daughter, also have Factor 5 Leiden. It is what the insurance industry calls a preexisting condition.

This all unfolded after I was laid off from an accounting job I had with a developer whose office was five minutes from my house. I worked four days a week and had health insurance but then they sold the pool company they also owned, the company that provided my insurance, and they laid me off. I spent fourteen months on unemployment but rarely collected the checks because I kept busy with Accountemps. Temp jobs don’t offer benefits and my Cobra payments were $1250 a month. I had to use the small 401K I had to make the payments and this cost me a huge tax hit, too.

Two weeks before Lehman Brothers filed bankruptcy I scored an accounting job in a cubicle forty-five minutes from home. The benefits plan wouldn’t kick in for three months. By October, the 401k was depleted and my Cobra insurance had run out. I’d never been without insurance but I thought we could survive two months.

So now it was November and I was in Albany with my daughter curled up in a ball in the passenger seat beside me. I asked her to describe how bad the pain was. “Bad,” she said.

“Really bad? Like maybe we should go to the hospital?” I felt like the bad mother worrying about a trip to the ER without insurance.

“I don’t think we need to go to the hospital. I just need aspirin.” The thought of a blood clot or an aneurysm outweighed the financial concerns. I pulled into an all night convenience store parking lot, bought a bottle of water and some Tylenol and asked the Arab man behind the counter where the nearest hospital was. He tried to give me directions but his English wasn’t very good. He finally said, “Just take a right at the light. You see those blue signs with letter ‘haych’. You keep following. You get there.”

“Is it a good hospital?” I asked.

“Best,” and he added, very clearly, “Albany Medical Center.”

Back in the car, I gave her the aspirin and the bottle of water. She took it but then moaned, “I think we should go to the hospital.”

I followed the instructions the guy at the convenience store gave me, my hands gripping the steering wheel, my legs shaking, and found my way to the emergency room. When we checked in they asked for my insurance. I still had the card in my wallet so I handed it to the woman at the desk. I waited nervously as she typed the info, afraid of being rejected, but she finally looked up and told us to take a seat, someone would be with us shortly. I knew I’d have to deal with the bills another day but we were in the door.

A half hour later they moved us to a room. A doctor put my daughter on an IV to hydrate her. I explained the Factor 5 Leiden situation. He said they were ordering a CAT scan but it might be awhile. Saturday nights are very busy in the ER. She fell asleep and I sat in a hard plastic chair straining my neck to watch the eleven o’clock news on the small TV hanging from the ceiling.

The doctor was certainly right about Saturday nights. At eleven o’clock all hell broke loose. I heard a commotion out in the hall so I stood in the doorway and watched as a very loud, angry black woman wearing a fur coat and a Russian cossack style fur hat was escorted to a room. She was swearing and screaming, “Don’t you touch me there.” Two male nurses joined the fray and they finally got her settled in a room down the hall. My daughter moaned and I rushed back to her side. She was thirsty so I filled a cup with water from a pitcher. She took a sip then fell back to sleep. I stroked her hair for awhile.

Another commotion arose in the hall. This time two EMT’s and two nurses were rolling a young white man on a stretcher into the room across from me. The four of them got ready to lift the man from the stretcher to the hospital bed. One of the EMT’s shouted, “On the count of three. Gunshot wound is on the left. Ok, one, two, three…lift.” The wounded man moaned. I overheard someone in the hallway say, “Drug deal gone bad.” I stepped out to go to the ladies’ room, passing the room where the woman who arrived earlier was sitting on an examining table, still wearing her hat and fur coat. She was being questioned by two men, one a cop. Someone had taped paper signs to the door and the glass walls. “Keep out. Contamination.”

I walked faster, past a father with his young son whose face was bright red. “He pitched a fever about an hour ago.” The dad spoke with an Hispanic accent. “Last I checked it was 105.” We were all here tonight in the Albany ER. Black, white, Hispanic. Poor, struggling middle class, law-abiding,  and law-breaking Americans. I picked up the pace. The last thing I needed was to pitch a fever of my own.

An aide finally arrived to take my daughter down to the basement where they do the CAT scans. I got on the elevator with them and held her hand, waited outside while they did the procedure, and then we returned to the ER room. It was cold and the nurse brought two blankets, one for me, but it was hard to get comfortable in the plastic chair. An hour later, a doctor arrived and told me the CAT scan looked fine. I asked him if maybe I had overreacted. He said, “If it were my daughter, with the factor 5 situation? I would have done the same thing.”

We got back to the hotel room at three in the morning. There were two double beds in the room but I crawled into her bed, wrapped my arm around her waist and fell asleep.

I’ve experienced American healthcare in all its glory and infamy. I’ve had self-employed insurance and work insurance and for two months of my life no insurance. I’ve had high deductibles and in 1992 discovered my insurance didn’t cover pregnancy. When my second daughter was born two and a half years after her sister I was still paying the bills for my first delivery. We had better insurance by then so thankfully the second pregnancy was covered. My husband has a prescription for a blood thinner that without insurance and the help of a kind Walmart pharmacist would cost $650 a month.

My husband and I recently started watching Breaking Bad. I don’t know how we lived in America for so long without having seen the show. I’d heard so much about it but it was always described to me as a show about a chemistry teacher who starts making crystal meth. During the very first episode, I turned to my husband and said, “This show is about health insurance in America.”

I am not sure if the writers of Breaking Bad succeeded in eliciting empathy from the American public regarding the issue of health insurance, so I don’t know why I even try except for the fact I don’t know what else to do as we careen towards January 20th. What happened to me and my family in Albany can happen to almost anyone on any given day in America.

Paul Ryan and Mitch McConnell are itching to gut Medicare. During the campaign, Trump promised to overturn the Affordable Healthcare Act. If he succeeds, roughly 20 million people stand to lose their health insurance.

A month after that night in Albany, the $3700 bill for the four hours in the ER had arrived, and my health insurance finally kicked in. I already knew I hated the job in the cubicle but I ended up spending four years there sitting for healthcare. The start date for my insurance was December 25th and I put the individual cards in everyone’s stocking that Christmas.

H.L. Mencken may have been right when he wrote, “Democracy is the theory that the common people know what they want, and deserve to get it good and hard.” Unfortunately even those of us who didn’t want this will have to share in the misery of breaking bad.

***Please share your American healthcare stories in the comments below and let your representatives know if you have concerns about repealing the Affordable Healthcare Act. I am only one small voice but together we are stronger and louder.***

#bebrave #speakup #stayinformed