Tuesday, December 19, 2017

Merry Christmas 2017!

Debbie and I have achieved an age where, considering the things we've done this year, we should be a lot more tired than we are.  Plus, I harbor a suspicion that the adjective "tired" is going to become, more and more, a fixture in our lives.  It's like baseball great Mickey Mantle said when he achieved his sixties:  "If I'd known I was going to live this long, I'd have taken better care of myself."  Ah, the vicissitudes of life!  When I was in my twenties, I remember, vividly, thinking, why, I'm only a youngster, nobody takes me seriously.  And now that I'm in my sixties, I'm thinking, vividly, why, I'm just some old dude, nobody takes me seriously.  There may have been some point in time x between 23 and 63 when I was actually taken seriously -- what?  Once?  On a Saturday afternoon?  Well, if that ever happened, and I'm not saying it did, it's gone now.  I'm back where I started.  Fine with me.  Russian literature has a tradition wherein some of the wisest things spoken are spoken by the village idiot.  So I'm very well qualified to say something worthwhile in Russian, if only I knew any Russian.

Debbie had been teaching orchestral strings at the fifth grade level here in Virginia since 1999.  But, with her damaged hearing (we think, due to chemotherapy back in 2001), this year she decided she had to retire.  We attended a beautiful retirement dinner hosted by Virginia Beach Schools at the convention center.  The food was great!  And hey, there were bars!  (There was wine at the dinner, but given a choice, I always pick the Scots over the French.)  Fast-forward now to late September 2017.  Debbie went to one of her schools to pick up her very last VBSCHOOLS pay stub.  The principal greeted her and said, "I don't have a replacement for you!  Puh- puh-puh-pleeeeze!!!!  Will you come back and teach this year?!!!"  Any one who knows Debbie knows that she could never turn down an offer like that.  So she still has her hand in, teaching two classes a week at one elementary school.  It's the one school where she taught that made accommodations for her, due to her hearing issues -- they added sound baffles in the room to deaden the echoes.  It seems to be working for her, so far.  Fingers crossed!

We took a vacation in the first week of July.  We visited old college chums of mine from my Pittsburgh days, Kevin and Ann Schmalz, in upstate New York.  Another old college chum, Dan Stofan -- one of the best bass trombonists I've ever known -- was there as well, with his wife Kathy Sherritts.  Dan retired after more than twenty years playing with the Seville Orchestra, in Spain.  When the calendar says July, upstate New York is one of the most beautiful places in the world.  Just make sure you're somewhere south of the Mason-Dixon Line when the music stops and it's December.  We drove down to West Point, New York for July 4th, Independence Day, to visit the United States Military Academy, which has been on Debbie's "bucket list", like, forever.  West Point reminded me of Pittsburgh in that things aren't built just out and around, but also up and down -- lots of hills, lots of stairs, lots of nitroglycerin tablets, clutching my heart, defibrillation...  Then, once I was revived (just kidding), the architecture was gorgeous, particular in the old chapels.  The graveyards contained the earthly remains of many famous people.  Marty Maher -- he was an enlisted man at the Academy, worked there for most of his life, Tyrone Power starred in a movie about him, "The Long Grey Line."  General William Westmoreland, commander-in-chief of our forces in Vietnam.  General George Armstrong Custer, killed at Little Big Horn by a boy named Sioux.  General Norman Schwarzkopf -- "Stormin' Norman", who led the coalition forces to victory over Saddam Hussein during the Gulf War.  Humbling, to see a landscape filled with the people who gave so much on our behalf.

After West Point, we took a scenic drive up to Massachusetts.  I had an appointment the day after Independence Day with Osmun Brass, to have them work on a couple of old trombones I'd bought.  Both are vintage Conns from the late 1960s.  When I got finally those trombones back later on in the fall, I was more than happy with the work they'd done.  I've been telling Debbie for years that she deserves a top-of-the-line flute, but she'd always insisted that her ancient Haynes (from 1969) was perfectly fine for her.  Funny, though, how many flute factories there are huddled around Boston.  Apparently, the two world flute-making superpowers are Japan and Massachusetts.  We stopped in at Brannen Bros., and the next thing we knew, we were taking home one of their flutes on a trial basis.  But Debbie finally settled on a Massachusetts-made Powell flute, after a long drive to a dealer in Charlotte NC, shortly after our Massachusetts trip.  (I liked the sound of the Japanese Miyazawa better, but Debbie said it was harder to play in tune.)

Then, we shot up the coast into New Hampshire and spent two wonderful days at a beautiful bed & breakfast in the town of Rye, just south of Portsmouth.  I was delighted to discover New Hampshire liquor stores. They've figured out how to steal tax revenue from a neighboring state: they've set their prices low and placed their outlets strategically around the Massachusetts border.  On a map,  it looks like they're staging an invasion, with armies of cheap gin.  State motto:  "New Hampshire -- where Taxachusetts buys its booze."  Beefeater Gin is only $24 a handle (it's $45 here in Virginia), and Debbie and I enjoyed some fine martinis. 

I had the tiniest little bit of a health scare this past summer.  I was in for my regular checkup at the dermatology clinic in June -- checkups are a must for both Debbie and me.  Skin-wise, we're the fairest of the fair, and when I'm wearing shorts, you can't tell where the white socks end and my skin begins.  I checked out just fine, and then I pointed to a mole just about half an inch below my left eye.  "My wife doesn't like this mole and wants you take it off."  The doctor told me, "Well, it's just a tag, so removing it will probably not be covered by your insurance."  That's fine, I said, just take it off.  They did remove it and, God bless 'em, they had it analyzed.  A couple weeks later, I was called by a chirpy voice that announced, like I'd won the lottery, "Good afternoon! You have squamous cell carcinoma!  We'll be sending you to a real doctor very shortly."  Sorry, that's not fair.  But they did send me to a real surgeon.  Dr. Jolie ("jolly") removed the cancer and, as a bonus, gave me a deal on a brow lift that my drooping eyelids couldn't refuse.  The wart that was on my knee is now at the end of my nose.  At the office, they're calling me "Zsa Zsa".

We did take another little trip this year, this one to upstate New Jersey, about five miles south of the upstate New York border.  The son of my good buddy Kurt Rauscher, Michael, married a lovely young lady named Kim, and the wedding was in Park Ridge, NJ.  That's about a seven-hour drive from Virginia Beach, but the good news is that about four hours of it is through the swamp and marshlands of the DelMarVa Peninsula, on the east side of the Chesapeake Bay.  The Virginia part of DelMarVa is as flat as Nebraska is supposed to be.  Breakfast at the Exmore Diner, which will blast you right back to 1938.  They serve scrapple, a Pennsylvania treat that has trickled, so to speak, all the way down the copper pipes to an hour's drive north of our home.  If you have to ask what's in scrapple, you really don't want to know.  I love it.  Just fry it up, cover it in butter and/or syrup, and pretend it's food.

It's been eighteen years since I played bass trombone in the Plymouth Brass, a group based in Lincoln, NE.  A couple of weeks ago, my old friend Tom Kelly called me and asked if I'd like to perform with them for their 40th anniversary celebration, on New Year's Eve.  Twist my arm!  Virginia has been great for Debbie and me, but I do miss my friends from Nebraska -- both the musical friends and the programming friends.  Having a chance to relive some of those memories is a great gift.  It's going to be so much fun, as the theory goes, that I won't even notice it's fifteen below.  Hah!

Best of all, this coming April, it will be 35 years since Debbie and I both decided we needed to become a team.  This will be our 34th Christmas together as husband and wife.  Unto us, a child is born; unto us, a son is given.  And his name shall be called wonderful Counselor, the mighty God, the everlasting Father, the Prince of Peace.  It's good to take time and reflect not just on the gifts we're exchanging with each others, but also on the great gift that the Lord gave to us.  Debbie and I both send our best to you this wonderful Christmas, and best wishes for a great New Year.