2013: Our Family
All three generations
The year 2013 ended with all of us in good shape. As new members of the octogenarian cohort, Jeri and I are looking forward to this new decade of our lives with enthusiasm, tempered somewhat by the realization that there is a fair chance that we will not see this decade's end, and even if we do, that our cozy life in our country house, surrounded by fields and forests, will be replaced by some sterile condo, or worse. So, we take it a day at a time, and focus on the future of our two sons Doug and Leif, our daughter-in-law Stephanie and our much loved granddaughter Gwendolyn.
FamilyI drove home, but just out of town on the highway amid dense traffic, at 90 k/hr, I had a near-blackout; only intense focusing on driving prevented a major accident.
In late spring, our over-wintered house plants are on tables in the garage, gradually adapting to living outside; the rake is the symbal of managing our biodiverse lawn. Photo Leif Harmsen
We two oldies had our share of medical problems, but nothing really serious. Jeri's handicaps, resulting from her brain tumour and its surgical removal in 2009, are stable. Further improvement is not expected. She is blind in the left half of each eye, and she has 'constructural apraxia', which is best described as having difficulty comprehending and hence manipulating spacial constructs and temporal sequences. But she has mastered the ability to avoid the effects of her handicaps remarkably well, and as a result, she lives a fairly normal and enjoyable life. We have good local friends, who are always willing to help, and it is easy for me to arrange my days so as to make it possible for Jeri to enjoy her days and get things done. We had a bit of a scare this summer, when Jeri developed a debilitating pain in one leg, putting her for a couple of weeks in a wheelchair. Fortunately, a competent physiotherapist did wonders, and her programme of exercises resolved the problem. I too had a medic-scare, which turned out to be quite interesting. I had a viral gut infection, which left me dehydrated and low in electrolytes. Simultaneously, our family physician prescribed a new drug (Tamsulosin) to address urine retention, about which she was more concerned than I was. I took my first dose of this drug, and the next morning I went into town, where I did banking, shopping, and such things. Then I drove home, but just out of town on the highway amid dense traffic, at 90 k/hr, I had a near-blackout; only intense focusing on driving prevented a major accident. Had I blacked out completely, I would not be writing this sentence now. I sort of recovered, my heart pumping at a very irregular rate with faint-feeling stoppages, and made it home. I called an ambulance, and spent the next 24 hrs in emergency care in hospital, with various tubes recording, sucking out or pumping in whatever the medics could think of. Finally, after a long analytical discussion of my health with a cardiologist, we concluded that the combination of dehydration, low electrolytes and the relaxing effect on involuntary muscle of the Tamsulosin, relaxed my cardiac muscles to the point that my heart stopped pumping effectively. The smiling cardiologist guaranteed me that there is nothing wrong with my heart. It took me a while to believe him, but this week, I have gone on some strenuous snow shoeing tours through the bush, and my ticker is doing just fine. But, the container with Tamsulosin pills has not been opened since the event, and won't be soon in the future either!
Leif is making a success out of a complicated career of various art productions, including painting, film, digital presentations and writing, as well as creating and managing websites for art organizations and theatres. His own website is a colourful, post-modern journey for anyone who clicks on <www.harmsen.net>. He resides in Toronto, but considers our home in Glenburnie to be his 'country residence'. We love his feeling at home here with us, partly because he is our son, partly because he is such a wonderful companion and partly because he rolls up his sleeves and tackles any job that has to be done, from cutting dead trees down and up, to installing a timer on our electrical water heater. He often brings a friend, and I must say that he picks his friends well, they are always welcome.
Gwendolyn and her 'Dada' love going for a walk through Bennet Park. It is where the squirrels are, and seeing squirrels is very exciting! Photo Stephanie Cozart
Douglas and Stephanie are staunch New Yorkers. They will take jobs elsewhere, but maintain their primary residence in Washington Heights in the northern part of Manhattan. Most of their friends are New Yorkers, and New York is where Gwendolyn was born in 2012, and where she will grow up. As a result, we are also becoming more and more New Yorkers. We have developed the habit of spending chunks of time there, and feel at home, at least in certain parts of the city. This past year, we played New Yorker only for one two-week period in March, which included my birthday. As several times before, we took the train (assuming that there will not be another hurricane Sandy washing out the rail-bed along the lower Hudson) with an overnight stop-over in Montreal. We were fortunate that friends of Doug 'n Steph – or perhaps more accurately, parents of Gwen's friend Emma – were willing to let their flat to us, for the time they were visiting relatives in the UK. It turned out to be the perfect temporal home for us: only half a block from Doug & Steph's, equipped with an outstanding 'batterie de cuisine' and splendid comfort.
We made the most of our short visit to New York; we never get tired of the museums, galleries and theatres, and are inevitably seduced into some shopping as well. But the highlight of this New York was my 80th birthday celebration. It was a 'full monty' event with a cake and candles, and a cold bottle of Veuve Clicquot, delivered by a local wine merchant exactly when Leif called us from Glenburnie to tell me that his present would be delivered any moment, the timing was perfect!
We had not seen little Gwen since early November 2012, and despite having been sent a lot of pictures, we were bowled over by how much she had changed, mostly in meaningful response and communication skills. I just checked my diary entry for the day we left New York, and what I wrote about Gwendolyn. This entry says it all: “Our little granddaughter is the most adorable living creature I have ever beholden – she is beautiful, humorous, alert, communicative and loves to be loved”. I strongly recommend all you readers of this, young enough still to be made grandparents, to do everything possible to make that happen!
When at the farm in Glenburnie, life is even more exciting. Every living entity is admired, from grasshoppers to bunny rabits. Here a leopard frog is the object of exciting admiration. My photo.
For a three-week period in August Doug, Steph and little Gwen stayed with us here at the farm. It was wonderful to have them here and come to know them better. We had anticipated that Gwen would like a kiddy-pool, so we got a nice blue one, and indeed, she spent most days splashing in it (when we filled it with lukewarm water) or next to it (when the water was cold) playing with an abundance of toys. I loved those days, so let me once more lift a page out of my diary: August the 16th.
Mid August – one of my favourite times of year – cool sunrises, hot mid days. Still summer, but the first signs of autumn are hard to miss; the dry leaves on the lawn, the samaras hanging in bunches on drooping branches high up in the maple trees, the browning of the pale green ferns' leaves of spring. Even the blue jays, secretively silent when nesting, are now flying around, shrieking warnings to one another. And the cardinal, who still sang to us a few days ago, has fallen silent. Doug and Steph are staying with us, and of course, they brought the amazing Gwendolyn, making this a memorable summer. I will never forget her, the way she is now: so full of life, aware of everything around her, and excited about any thing new, from seeing Gaffer mow the lawn, to the little golden eyes of a toad, which had to endure being examined by her chubby, little hands. So, I see and love the next generation, the one for whom I wrote my share of Love and War, and I wonder. What will her life be like when she reaches adulthood? Will there be yet more generations, carrying some of the thoughts left by me further into the future? I can only imagine; I will never know.
In September, both Steph and Doug were offered good parts in three successive plays at the Denver Center for the Performing Arts, which meant good employment from November 1st till April 30th . They accepted the deal, and after subletting their New York flat, they moved to Denver, where the Center offered them two apartments in a highrise, one block from the theatre, one for them and the other for Gwen's nanny. Since the nanny they hired was a Denver resident, she used it only occasionally, so that we were invited to use the apartment for a period over Christmas and New Year's. We decided to make it another three week get-together (from 20 Dec till 13 Jan) with Gwen and her parents. Our journey to Denver had a few problems, the worst of which was our losing one another shortly after arrival in Denver. The Denver airport is organized rather differently from most. It has three or four terminals widely spread over a very large area. Some of the outlying ones are not fully equipped. The travellers, as in our case, go to another, fully equipped terminal, to pick up their luggage, and exit from the system. The various terminals are connected by an underground railway. For the traveller from elsewhere it can be hard to sort all this out. Fortunately, cute, uniformed personnel, scattered among the crowd, are very good at solving problems of where to go and what to do next.
And so it was with us. But we ran into an unexpected problem. Still in the terminal of our arrival, after getting the advice to take the train to the main terminal where our luggage was waiting, Jeri froze at the top of the downward escalator because it was too wide for her to hold on to both handrails. I was already on my way down, being followed by a mob of other travellers. Fortunately, an observant man called down to me: “I will show her to the elevator!”, and he and Jeri walked back out of my sight. From the bottom of the escalator, I had no trouble finding the elevator doors, where I waited. Every now and then, one or a few people would come out, but not Jeri. I took the elevator up to the level of the top of the escalator, but no Jeri there either. Down again – still no Jeri. Also no cute, uniformed help. Conclusion: I have lost Jeri. I went into one of the elevators and perused the labels for the five floors, and #5 was called 'Administration'. So, up I went, to find someone who would be able to set something in motion that would lead to our reunification. As I emerged from the elevator on floor #5, there stood Jeri to the left of me, looking at a wall of locked wooden doors. The kind man, it turned out, had told her: 'go down all the way and turn left when you come out of the elevator', This she did, except for one little mistake, she went up all the way.
There were no further major problems, so that from our unification onwards we just moved at a snail's pace with the crowd, got our luggage, exited into a cold night, got a taxi and arrived at Doug and Steph's apartment 18 hours after we got up in Glenburnie at 5 am. Despite our exhaustion, and the late hour, we all very cheerfully embraced the reunion. And so started 20 wonderful days with Gwendolyn. I could write several more pages of our rapprochement with Gwen, and her world. But I am aware of how tedious grandparents' stories of their grandchildren can be, and how all baby pictures are just that: baby pictures. So, here I end this first section of our life in 2013, by wishing you all the best for your lives in 2014, and by expressing the hope that humanity will come to its senses, and start working towards a sustainable future for all the generations that will follow ours.