Living in Society

Aging in America – Part VI

Worn t-shirt from the 50th anniversary of the Stratford Festival of Canada in 2002.

Passing Down History

I have conversations about stuff with our child. It is specific stuff. It is my stuff, eventually to be her stuff, at least some of it.

For example, a couple hundred vinyl LPs rest on my bookshelf. A lot of good music there, a lot of great memories. The technology is old and hardly portable. The sole album for retention to pass down is Beethoven’s Opera Fidelio because it was a memory from childhood. That will make it easier to dispose of the rest of them, I hope.

I want to pass down some of my Iowa history books but there are too many of them. I have hundreds. My guidance was to select maybe three or four of the best ones to pass down. My work is cut out. To get started, here are the first dozen that came to mind. It is a first draft of the list for posterity and by no means final.

  1. Iowa’s Groundwater Basics: A geological guide to the occurence, use, and vulnerability of Iowa’s aquifers by Jean Cutler Prior, Janice L. Boekhoff, Mary R. Howes, Robert D. Libra, and Paul E. VanDorpe.
  2. Eastern Iowa Prehistory by Duane Anderson.
  3. Black Hawk: An Autobiography dictated to Antoine LeClaire, edited by Donald Jackson.
  4. Wakefield’s History of the Black Hawk War by Frank Everett Stevens.
  5. Hunting a Shadow: The Search for Black Hawk: Eye-Witness Account by Participants compiled and edited by Crawford B. Thayer.
  6. The Emerald Horizon: The History of Nature in Iowa by Cornelia F. Mutel.
  7. In Cabins and Sod Houses by Thomas H. Macbride.
  8. Robert Lucas by John C. Parish.
  9. Executive Journal of Iowa 1838-1841, Governor Robert Lucas edited by Benjamin F. Shambaugh.
  10. The Trader at Rock Island: George Davenport and the Founding of the Quad Cities by Regena Trant Schantz.
  11. The Life and Times of Samuel J. Kirkwood, Iowa’s War Governor by H.W. Lathrop.
  12. Iowa: The Middle Land by Dorothy Schwieder.

Reducing the number of history books to three or four is an impossible task, although one worth considering as I write my autobiography. We’ll see how the list changes over time. By spring, I should have a better idea.

Figuring out what to pass down becomes more important as we age. Partly we seek to let go of the past. Partly we seek to make room for a future.

Living in Society

Aging in America – Part V

Lake Macbride State Park trail.

The neighbor who owned the grocery store in town for 40 years took to walking the state park trail in retirement. He used a cane and we stopped to talk from time to time. I was wondering where he was last Monday. It turned out he died at home on Sunday.

I didn’t know the family well, although I stopped at their home on association business a couple of times through the years. Seems like a lot of people in our association died the last few years — at least five since 2018. While we are well below general U.S. statistics for deaths per 100,000 population, when people we know die, it has greater impact.

Being in the community for more than 29 years makes a difference. When people move out or die, we notice the broken relationships. The trail remains, with its joggers, bicyclists, and walkers. On Monday morning, when the work week begins, there is a loneliness on the abandoned gravel path.

As we age, we come to accept it.

Living in Society

Aging in America – Part IV

Vegan applesauce muffins.

For septuagenarians, an overnight visit from a child is a big deal.

We prepared for weekend guests most of the week. That meant cleaning the house and making space for extra people to sleep. I emptied the vacuum cleaner dust trap many times. There were countless loads of laundry. It seemed like a miracle, yet by the time they arrived we were ready. We are thankful for the work of preparing for a visit.

Our child lives close enough for a weekend visit to make sense. Time together was limited. We had dinner of tacos Saturday and my homemade corn tortillas were well-received and eaten up. I prepared a grab and go meal of vegan applesauce muffins with a fresh apple and some peanuts for an early Sunday departure. We are thankful for the time together, the chance to plan a meal and share it with someone other than ourselves.

The main challenge of aging is to live independently for as long as possible. In part, that means taking care of our health — eating a proper diet, exercising, regular visits to health care professionals. Part of it means a solid financial platform — making do with a fixed income and living from our own resources. There is also a part about dealing with potential and actual emergencies, although I try not to let that dominate my life. Once those parts have been addressed, everything else is optional.

Well, sort of. As we age, we need help from other humans.

The lilac bushes planted soon after we settled here need cutting back. After delaying this work the last couple of years, I hired a professional to do it in the fall. The windows and doors need attention after 29 years. We never built the deck I had planned or finished the lower level of the house. We replaced the roof in 2010 and it will need replacing again in a few years. All of that requires the help of professionals.

For now I can mow the lawn and work in the garden. I’m hoping to continue that work into the future, at least for another ten years. Whether the lawn tractor we inherited from my father-in-law’s estate back in the 1990s will make it that long is doubtful. I rely upon having a good tractor mechanic in town and being able to locate new parts for repairs. I avoid thinking about it when he talks about slowing down and retiring.

Making the transition from a work life to a home life sneaks up on a person. What was once a sideline to a career takes center stage in the form of yard, garage and garden work, and cleaning the house to prepare for visitors. I’m glad to have lived this long, and being aware of these parts of life is essential to successfully aging in America.

Even though we are not rich, we are better off by having a family and home… and by preparing for overnight guests.

Living in Society

Aging in America – Part III

Wildflowers by the state park trail.

The loss of social relationships as we age is expected and well-documented. Not only do we miss people who died, such as parents, grandparents, and friends, there is no replacement for relationships that stretch back in time for decades. People are gone and the sense of loss remains tangible.

I find there are more invitations to do things than time allows. This seems especially true in retirement, yet maybe I’m simply more aware of what’s going on. This social situation is complicated by living on a fixed budget. Given the choice to get out of the house and attend an event, most often, I opt to stay home. Keeping the auto parked in the garage saves on fuel. Besides food and sundry shopping, and walks along the state park trail, I seldom leave the property. I don’t see that changing near term.

My trips to the county seat have been reduced to as close to zero as they can be. There are trips to the doctor or pharmacy. Most of the other groups to which I belonged have faded to the background.

There are political events because of the Nov. 8 midterm election. I attend few political fundraisers. I donate to candidates online and try to stick to a tight budget. Once I log in each month and make my two or three donations, that’s it until the next monthly pension check arrives.

There are groups of which I’d like to be a part. The group of seniors in our nearby town does a lot of good and they would welcome some help. I love our public library, even if I don’t go there that often. They need volunteer help, too. That is the short list of what I’m interested in doing.

Coping with loss and loneliness is part of aging in America. I’m like everyone else in that regard.

Living in Society

Last Walk in Solon

Solon Beef Days parade entry, July 16, 2022. Photo Credit – Johnson County Democrats

Most of my political friends no longer walk in the Solon Beef Days parade. This year may be my last, as well. If anything, participating in our politics is about nurturing long-term friendships. When old friends are absent, it’s time to make new ones or move on.

A positive thing about parades is the conversations with candidates and elected officials that are possible. The Johnson County Democrats entry included State Rep. Christina Bohannan who is running for the U.S. Congress, State Senator Kevin Kinney, County Auditor Travis Weipert, and County Supervisors Lisa Green-Douglass and Jon Green. House District 91 candidate Elle Wyant had her own entry further back in the lineup. Informal accessibility makes for good conversation and remains a positive aspect of participating in parades.

I wore a Mike Franken for U.S. Senate t-shirt with my old Solon Beef Days ball cap. Later that afternoon the Des Moines Register Iowa Poll reported Franken trails incumbent Chuck Grassley by eight points. There is a steep hill to climb for Franken to win. It’s not impossible, yet not easy either. Democrats are not afraid to do the work.

“It is his weakest showing since 1980,” pollster J. Ann Selzer said of Grassley’s results. It only takes 50 percent plus one vote to win, I retort.

Each cycle it becomes increasingly clear Iowa is returning to its conservative roots. As older folks step off the main political stage, younger people debut with different values, creating a new electorate which is taking a turn to the extreme right. Democrats have been relegated to minority party status for the time being. I plan to stay engaged in party politics in a county where Democrats hold a significant voter registration advantage. I’ll have less to say as I age.

Leaving the state is not a real option for us. Our living family was born here and starting over would take more energy than we have. Our finances are stable, we own our home, and our health is reasonably good. I don’t know to where we’d move that would offer better opportunities for septuagenarians. We are bound to the state where we were born.

The county party opened an office in nearby North Liberty on Friday. I gathered some 35 yard signs and delivered them there so they would be more available for voters. I’ll help distribute yard signs from our garage when the big push comes, yet for now, better the office has them to distribute. I didn’t stick around for the speeches from gubernatorial candidate Deidre DeJear, congressional candidate Christina Bohannan, and others. I heard everyone scheduled to be there speak multiple times. Before I left, I signed the volunteer sheet and will help out with the office if they need me.

Saturday was my last political walk through Solon in a parade. I’m thankful for all the experiences and have no regrets. I wish my successors well.


Postcard from Summer Holiday – #1

Heads of garlic curing in the garage.

The main effect of summer holiday has been to get more sleep. It hasn’t been good sleep, just more of it, maybe seven or eight hours per 24-hour period. I felt fully rested a couple of days since beginning this holiday and hopefully more of the same is in the immediate future.

My main activities have been gardening, walking the trail in the nearby state park, and cooking in tune with seasonal produce from the garden. There has been time reading on my mobile device, although my book reading slowed down. It is beginning to pick up again as I just finished Octavia Butler’s Parable of the Sower. Since my sister-in-law gave us her old television, I’ve been watching some of the January 6 Committee hearings and cooking shows on Iowa Public Television. These things are a preview of retirement life to come.

We decided I’m too old to be climbing on the roof for my annual inspection and cleaning of gutters. I haven’t resolved how to get this done yet I’m thinking of buying a drone to fly around the roof and send pictures of its condition back to the ground. At 12 years since the installation of the current roof, it may be showing some wear. When I’m ready to clean the gutters, I’ll post a notice on our community Facebook page feeling confident someone will help. The gutters do not appear to be clogged with organic debris and haven’t been since I cut down the maple tree I mistakenly planted too close to the house.

I drove our new car 1,196 miles since we bought it. A trip to Chicago, three trips to Des Moines, and the rest of the miles are local errands. It is good to own a newer car, one that runs well and gets better fuel economy. I also enjoy the ability to charge my mobile device while driving. The 2019 Chevy Spark is a subcompact and the feel of driving it is a bit rough. It’s not like I live in it, so it is tolerable. During holiday I’ve been considering what other trips I may want to make. No decisions, yet I’m looking at Saint Louis and another trip to Chicago.

When conditions are right, I spend time outdoors. There is unending garden work and a host of long delayed yard projects. There will never be enough time to do everything myself, so I’m going to have to hire some help. Once finances stabilize after replacing the freezer and auto, I’ll take a look at a fall project by a contractor.

The main purposes of this summer holiday were to rest and consider where I want to take this blog. I know some things about my writing, but haven’t made any progress toward a decision. I expect the blog will survive in some form.

For now, it has been raining with scattered thunderstorms. The lightning woke me earlier than usual this morning. If it stops raining, I’ll walk on the trail by the lake and take it all in. I’m in no hurry to determine what’s next.

Living in Society

Summer Holiday

Police boot on a car violating street parking rules in Skokie, Illinois, June 25, 2022.

Thank you readers for sticking with me as I work through how to write in public in 2022. To write more meaningfully, I’m taking summer holiday to recharge my batteries and find inspiration for the next chapter of this blog.

I am working on some projects, which I will post here, notably, my upcoming interview with progressive talker Thom Hartmann scheduled this week. I’m also reviewing his upcoming book. I’m filling in a few days at Blog for Iowa this summer and anything I post there, I’ll cross post here. If I write any letters to the editors of newspapers, I’ll also cross post here. Mainly, I’ve gone on break, though.

As Robert Johnson wrote, “And I’m standing at the crossroads, believe I’m sinking down.”

I hope you will rejoin me in the fall.

Living in Society

Personal Transportation

2019 Chevrolet Spark LT

Our 2002 Subaru reached the end of its life. The frame is dangerously rusted and other repairs are needed. We can’t get parts for it. If we could find used parts there is no assurance of their quality. If repairing it was possible, what else might break that we couldn’t find parts to repair? We decided to replace the vehicle as quickly as is practicable.

The fact we need motorized personal transportation is a result of our 1993 decision to live in a rural area. Back then, living within commuting distance of Cedar Rapids, Iowa City, Coralville, North Liberty and the Quad-Cities sounded good. I wanted the flexibility for work. Over time, I worked in all of these places. When in February 1999 I took a job in the Quad-Cities, gasoline was $1.029 per gallon. We inherited a 1989 Cadillac in excellent condition and I continued to commute rather than relocate there. Things have changed since then. We retired and turned our lives inward.

Our need for transportation is real. We have the same existential errands as other septuagenarian retirees: getting groceries and other household items, medical appointments, and occasional trips to the county administration building to take care of business. With the coronavirus pandemic, our trips for socialization have diminished, yet that may change going forward. It all takes transportation.

We spent time researching what kind of vehicle we wanted to purchase and first decided on a new plug-in electric hybrid like the Toyota Prius Prime. A number of friends drive a Prius and they recommended it. The future of personal transportation is electric and we were ready to make the transition.

After family discussions I called the dealer to discuss ordering a plug-in electric and secured a loan to pay for it. It turns out dealerships are subject to allocations from the manufacturer, all Prius products are made in Japan, and the waiting time for a Prius Prime to be delivered is well over six months. In fact, the dealer said he couldn’t accurately predict how long we would have to wait after specifying and ordering a car. For other Prius models, the wait time is less, three to six months according to the dealership. We couldn’t wait that long with the issues affecting our auto.

Our go-to dealership for used cars is the Ford-Chevy dealer in a nearby small town. I arrived around 1:30 p.m. on Thursday and they had my contact information in their computer database from the last purchase. We discussed new vehicles and they have the same problem Toyota does: allocation of vehicles from the manufacturer is less than demand and there is a long waiting time. We looked at used vehicles.

Their website had 147 used vehicles in inventory, but the in-person inspection revealed only a couple of them were suitable for us. The sales representatives at this dealership are paid on salary vs. commission and made a conscious effort to be honest and straightforward about the cars without exerting any kind of sales pressure. I identified two options and went back home to discuss. We returned to the dealership later that evening to buy a 2019 Chevrolet Spark LT. Used cars are currently expensive and selling quickly. We didn’t want to miss the opportunity on this particular vehicle. It took longer than anticipated to finish the paperwork so we returned the following day to meet with the business office and finalize the deal. The vehicle was delivered to our home less than 24 hours after I first arrived at the dealership.

On Saturday we went on a day trip to Des Moines in the Spark and it meets our expectations. As a subcompact hatchback, the cargo space is less than we would have liked, yet it will serve until we are ready to go electric. It drives well and there are a number of electronic gizmos to figure out, including how to display Google maps on the touch screen using my Android mobile device. When I bought my first auto in the 1960s, accessories like that didn’t exist. The fuel economy is better than our 2002 Subaru. We were able to make it to Des Moines and back without refueling. Importantly, we can start planning trips again.

I don’t want to contemplate the day when I have to give up driving. I have octogenarian friends who continue to drive and hope to be able to go at least that long. I don’t relish the thought of moving into a city to be closer to amenities. We navigated this crisis in personal transportation and reached a point of stability for now. That may be all we can ask in June 2022.

Living in Society

After the Democratic Primary

Iowa County Democrats central committee meeting on May 10, 2022.

Iowa and the country are heading into a weird place. The combination of isolated lives made more so by the pandemic, social media, and unceasing stimulus from people and corporations wanting to convince us of something brought us here. The sense of loss is palpable.

I miss the political environment we had when I was growing up, when Dwight Eisenhower, John F. Kennedy and Lyndon Johnson were president. Democrats were in the minority in Iowa yet I felt there was a secure place for people whose opinions differed from the majority. That feeling was lost, slowly eroded until it was gone. There are few prospects of it returning. All that is visible is a bare wound with the bandages of society ripped off. We are becoming a place where our assumptions about feeling welcome are challenged.

To meet this — that is, to maintain mental health — I return to specific actions in a limited context, to wit: Once the winners of the June 7 primary election are known, it’s hammer down to the Nov. 8 general election. There will be plenty of political work to do in that five-month period. The Iowa Democratic Party reached out for an organizing event this week in the First Congressional District, and I plan to do my part. After the rout in 2020, why won’t I give up? There is a bigger picture related to needing something useful and fulfilling to do.

It begins with the idea people are not that interested in my stories about old campaigns. I told my story about helping elect Lyndon Johnson in 1964, yet there are only so many times that old saw can be brought out. It still cuts wood among people who haven’t heard it. Trouble is, most people I hang with have heard it.

As I age my views become less relevant to people on life’s main stage. I’m being mostly forgotten, not quite a has-been, but one can see it from here. I’m okay with that. I remain a predictable Democratic vote and can bring a few people with me when needed.

As far as the economy goes, my fixed income isn’t a driver. When the curtain falls on this mortal coil, my payments to the gas, telephone and cable company won’t be missed. My insurance company may miss me, yet once the final payments are made the relationship will be over.

We need short-term projects, in which to engage. Projects like the 2022 midterm election campaign. It helps us forget the hopelessness of modern society and the hegemony of rich folk hard at work deconstructing what few protections remain in government programs like Social Security and Medicare. I miss the old days, yet look forward to the new, even if the sense of loss is palpable.

I think there is a song about that.

Living in Society

Memorial Day Weekend 2022

Service Flags

The only national holiday I note is Memorial Day. Giving one’s life for their country is the ultimate sacrifice, something to be noted and revered, even if the death occurred in the most ignominious circumstances. Long ago I fell away from celebrating birthdays and holidays. My celebratory focus is the Memorial Day weekend.

Partly, it’s because Memorial Day is in spring. Leaves on the fruit trees and oaks look the best they do all year, before insects arrive and ravage the pristine growth. I endeavor to get the garden in by now, although I’m behind this year.

Military service has been important in my life. I wanted to do my part for a greater good and that led me to enlist in 1975. I was a peacetime soldier. It seems important to recognize those who gave their lives while serving in the military.

The weekend began last weekend when I asked our state house candidate whether they would attend the fire fighter’s breakfast to greet people. No, there were other plans. Even though our child left home in 2007, my spouse remains with her sister to finish the move to Des Moines, and I don’t get out much, I continue well-worn habits.

Friday, for the first time since March 13, 2020, I had dinner at a restaurant with friends. Our political writing group has been itching to get out and break the coronavirus pandemic isolation. A good time was had at a local brewery where they make an “Iowa City lager.” I learned to love pilsner beers while serving in the military. We have been writing together since we met before the 2006 general election cycle.

Saturday was a catch up in the garden day. I spaded the last plot, planted bell peppers, and harvested what is expected to be an avalanche of kale and other greens. I cleaned up and moved to the kitchen where I made a batch of vegetable broth. I closed the evening there, made a big salad for dinner, and water bath canned the vegetable broth, finishing up at bedtime.

I missed listening to A Prairie Home Companion on the radio. The program was my Saturday night for so many years. I couldn’t stand the loss so I went to the living room and turned on the new (to us) digital television to watch an episode of Pati Jinich’s Mexican Table from San Miguel de Allende, Mexico. Jinich is no Garrison Keillor, and that’s a good thing. Her history as a policy analyst, focused on Latin American politics and history, makes her more interesting. Nonetheless, I missed the tradition of listening to the radio while working in the kitchen. No. I’m not hooking up a television in the kitchen to watch cooking shows. That would be so wrong.

Today is the fire fighters breakfast and I plan to attend when they open at 6:30 a.m. Almost everyone in the area comes into the station and I can break the isolation at home for an hour. I don’t particularly enjoy the industrial food, yet greeting locals I haven’t seen since last year makes the event worthwhile.

After the breakfast I would normally get out a copy of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby for my annual read. It is one of the best books about summer, although I missed last year’s read and may let it lie this year as well. Noting my fandom, our child gave me a couple of posters derived from the book. They are not a fan of Gatsby. I hope to get the posters framed. I may yet read Fitzgerald again, although it’s time for new habits and new interests. The garden isn’t in yet so there is that work to do today. I’ll need something else after it is in.

Tomorrow is the holiday and I’ll put the flag outside. I eschew the ceremonies in town which have turned into an “all veterans” celebration. That misses the point. I considered driving west in the new legislative district to Marengo for their Memorial Day remembrance. The legion has gone to an “all veterans” format as well. I’ll likely just drive to the cemetery and pay my respects after breakfast this morning.

Freedom has a cost, and there is no more salient aspect of it than the sacrifices men and women made by giving their lives in military service. Memorial Day celebrations are tempered with a feeling of loss, isolation, and sadness this year. One hopes participating in the holiday makes us stronger as we enter summer.