Month: May 2017

Good-bye, Arvin. Fly high. Run fast.

My friend Ann had been posting cryptic messages on Effbook for a couple of days. Given that she hasn’t, in the 20 years I’ve known her, been cryptic even once, I got worried and called her.

Turns out her husband Arvin, who’s been in an Alzheimer’s care unit for about four months, was expected to die in the next 24 hours or so. He’d declined quickly since entering, but we expected him to be around for at least several more months. This was a surprise.

I love these people. I lived in their basement suite while looking for work when I first¬† moved here. We went to pen shows, concerts, movies, all kinds of things together. When my two younger sons came to visit, Arvin would entertain them with his antique gun collection or by firing off his little 12″ or so cannon model (great Fourth of July fun). We’ve seen a lot of life together and they’re both precious to me.

So I postponed the Mothers’ Day lunch I’d been planning with a friend and went out to the care center to spend some time with Ann and Arvin. We sat with him for a couple of hours. I held and stroked his hand. She kissed him and told him repeatedly it was OK for him to go whenever he was ready. He was medicated (for comfort) and unresponsive, but Ann and I talked and laughed and reminisced, as we usually do, even so including him in the conversation.

When a caretaker came in for a bit of maintenance, Ann and I went outside, sat in the sun for a little while, and talked about the usual A to Z variety of things we talk about. No more than 10 or 15 minutes later, we went back inside.

Arvin must have just taken his last breath, because he was still fairly close to normal color. But he had no carotid pulse and his chest was still. Ann went to get a nurse. I held him and talked to him and gave him a good-bye kiss on the cheek, and told him to go run with the big cats, which he always loved, and be at peace.

The nurse came in and confirmed that yes, he was gone. By this time, blood had settled and he was the typical waxy-yellowish color. Ann and I had speculated that he was holding on, waiting for his daughter Lynda who was scheduled to arrive tomorrow. I suggested maybe he felt OK letting go because perhaps he thought I was Lynda, who’s about my age. Either way, he felt it was all right to leave, so he did. He’d not been eating or drinking for two or three days, and as the nurse put it, he finally found the correct exit sign on the roundabout.

I join Ann in gratitude that he didn’t have to suffer for another 12 months, which wouldn’t be unusual for Alzheimer’s patients, and also in the knowledge that we’ll miss him enormously. He and Ann were two of the happiest-together people I’ve ever known, and she’ll be bereft without him even though she’s an independent, adaptable woman and understands that this is, in the long run, a blessing.

It’s not my place to chronicle Arvin’s life, and indeed, there are huge swaths of it I know nothing about. However, I can speak to the part of it I shared with him, and it’s my privilege to do so.

The three of us met through pen collecting and hit it off at once. We became close through sharing the oddities of that hobby as well as Life that happened while we were busy collecting. Arvin was probably one of the foremost experts on the old Chilton brand of pens, and since he’d been collecting pens since the 70s (while I was in college!), he had an extensive group of them (as well as pens of many other brands). After Ann began to veer off into art, starting with photography, Arvin joined her and became a competent photographer (at that point, “photography” still meant “work” to me). A few years later, she moved into painting (and she’s become a darn good painter). Even then, he and I continued to share our love of pens, papers, calligraphy, and the like. He kept a leather pen holder fastened to his belt at all times, with at least one filled fountain pen at the ready.

He was one of the world’s truly gentle, caring, compassionate men, a kind we could surely use more of now. He worked with disabled people. He taught for many years at Goodwill, introducing people to computer-related job skills. He was the rare kind of guy who accepted people as they were, for who they were, and without worrying overmuch about their differences. Even when someone made him angry, his final response was likely to be bafflement and tolerance, not hatred. We could use a lot more of that these days, too.

As the father of two daughters, Arvin adored (and understood) little girls. He was infinitely patient with the intricate imaginary scenarios they could set up with toys and delighted in sitting on the floor with them, watching their imaginations fly while they used him as a pillar of their play. He loved teaching them math skills long before they realized that’s what they were learning. I wish he could have known my own granddaughter better; they would so have enjoyed each other.

Of all Arvin’s qualities, I think his intellectual curiosity stands out the most. He dearly loved learning new things, finding out how things worked, why they worked that way, and comparing that information with info from other sources. He read widely, deeply, and voraciously. He even read my stuff sometimes! An avowed skeptic and atheist of Jewish extraction, he nevertheless respected my faith and quite enjoyed discussing with me why I held my beliefs and how faith worked for me. It was easy to discuss even hot topics with Arvin, because he listened and tried to understand. He wasn’t busy, while you were talking, trying to formulate his response, the way most of us are. He cared about what you said.

He also cared about making a great cappuccino, terrific martinis and Manhattans, and sharing a good glass of wine. He loved word and math games and I enjoyed reading his books and magazines, not least because they were filled with little Post-It notes on which he’d scribbled questions, references to other pages and books, and comments (sometimes with exclamation points!). We also shared a love of fiber arts; he had done a fair bit of weaving years before and some spinning (with a wheel!), and was intrigued when I took up knitting.

For one of his 80-something birthdays, I knitted him a vest of alpaca in his favorite autumn colors. He spent quite a while trying to figure out exactly how I’d done it. He respected craftsmanship and fine handiwork wherever he saw it. Corvids (crows and ravens) fascinated him, too, and he knew a great deal about them and liked sharing that knowledge. A great joke teller, he had a repertoire of hundreds and, in former days, could pull them out one after the other, like pearls on a string. He loved (and played) classical guitar, and I clearly recall his pleasure when he discovered he could have acrylic nails applied over the ineffective ones that grew on his right hand, making it possible to pick strings more clearly.

Arvin was one of the world’s best, a man who moved quietly through the world but touched many, many lives. I dislike that when someone passes on, we always seem to say “so and so will be missed” in passive voice, as if the emotion isn’t really going to touch us as individuals. It’s going to touch me. I will miss Arvin. But I wish him peace and freedom, and as Ann said, a good run with the cheetahs and soaring flights with the ravens.

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Best. Mothers’. Day. Ever. (Or at least since the last one.)

Snaotheus and famille came up for early Mothers’ Day, which gives me the holiday day and leaves KrisDi with her own Mothers’ Day, and the opportunity for the grands to kick up their heels twice.

Today, Snaotheus, Chilkat and I spent most of the time doing SCIENCE! Physics, to be exact. Using the motor from a hand-held vac whose battery had died, a battery Snaotheus brought up, an Amazon cardboard box, some wheel-shaped things and dowels from my Craft Resource Store in the Spare Room, a kitchen knife (that really needs sharpening now), a couple of rubber bands, a plastic straw, an old boot lace (for a brake) and a few what-nots we later picked up at the craft store (with hope, which shortly was smashed) before lunch (Chinese, yumm), we intended to Make A Car using the Rapid Prototyping Process. Snaotheus had been planning this for a while, since he’d brought up some actual gears that we never got to try.

Snaotheus managed to mount the motor to the outside of the cardboard box while I trimmed down the dowels so they’d fit into the centers of the wheel-like objects (two of which really were toy wheels, repurposed from their initial repurposing for spinning spindles). We hooked the rubber band around one axle and the power shaft. We put the battery in the box, hooked it up, and voila! The motor worked and it made the wheels go around!

We called in Chilkat to watch the maiden voyage, explained to her what was going on, and asked what her hypothesis was. Since she’d put a plastic tiger on top of the (very heavy) battery, which was now inside the cardboard box on the other side from the motor, her hypothesis was that the tiger would go flying out.

Well, not quite… the weight of the battery was such that it kept the wheels from turning and going anywhere. We asked her what she thought we ought to do. “Um, put the battery in the middle,” she said. Smart kid: Distribute the weight evenly. Didn’t work, but a good idea!

Snaotheus took the battery out to try it without the weight. It turned out the car went the opposite direction from what we’d expected, so we did a Dr. Who: reversed polarity (in one of the rare situations where that will actually work!).

At the craft store, Snaotheus bought some upgrades for the Rapid Prototyping Project: a wooden crate (small), some wooden spools (for the axle, to give the assembly more torque and make it easier for the motor to turn it while loaded) that turned out to be so badly made they were oval, not round, and a couple of other things. No wooden spools of any size were in my extensive chest of spools with sewing thread, so we were out of luck there.

Chilkat decorated the wooden box while Snaotheus did Tool Things and sent me hunting through the Craft Resource Store for this, that, and the other, including a drill, some bits, and some hole saws.

Despite the upgrades in materials and mounting the motor inside the chassis, it didn’t work any better this time around. The axles were much too wide, since the new chassis was narrower than the cardboard box. We had some clearance issues (a mouse turd would have high-centered it), and after a couple more attempts, we’d run out of materials to try to improve the situation and imagination for identifying completely peculiar materials that might work, if… So it got packed up and went home with them, where other materials and tools are available.

But what fun it was!  And, as we explained to Chilkat, not a failure: just a series of learning experiences that informed improvements to the next iteration.

I’m really sad the cardboard box didn’t work. It was so cool, with its knife-gouge axle holes, flyaway tape threads, and plastic drinking-straw “bearings.” Very Northrup. ;D

I took videos, so if I can figure out how to either string them together and upload them as one or as several very short ones, I shall. If not, KrisDi took stills, so we have a reliable record somewhere.

We finished off the day with the neighborhood potluck, which wasn’t half bad except the kids didn’t want to eat anything. But that’s the kids; they often have days like that, and the two steamed dumplings they had for lunch managed to keep them going.

Plus, Snaotheus gave me a card that called me a bad-ass mother! And little brother Northwood said his wife refused to let him send me the card he picked out for me (I shall get to the bottom of this; he said he might tell me in about five years), so you know that one’s gotta be good. Wheeee!

Posted by wordsmith in Family, 0 comments