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Sunday, December 23, 2012

standing where it is

  The house is still there. A bit worn, tired, and in need of some repairs. But it is still a warm shelter, it is clean, it is useful. More than forty years old, still solid, built to withstand tornado wind, maybe, it has not been tested. High winds only bring tree limbs to rest on the roof, erosion has washed away much of the brown dirt hugging the foundation. Each year, more is added for wind to whisk away in the dry times. Yet it is a good house, built with love by the original owners. There was attention to detail like positing the homestead due north, in winter, where the sun will rise to warm the children's bedrooms to ease the chill of the night.

  The fireplace in the dining room is large, not so large as one can step into but large to warm the home, and by the way, it is central with all air flowing toward the bedrooms of the H shaped home. The second owners were not as kind, they replaced items with those of less quality. They covered the wallpaper with paint, and the wood floors with carpet, wall to wall. The tile in the bathrooms were the seventies pink and grey, but the finest tile, with pieces specially made to fit the corners and edges. Now, they are cut, and the cut tiles around the tub show they were not even sanded. The towel rack is slightly tilted. The linoleum in the kitchen has burn marks, made probably by the ash of cigarettes hanging from someones lip, lots of cigarettes. There were fire alarms in every room, unnoticeable battery operated discs that would blare when the oven was lit. Reminders that someone smoked, or that the house was heated with wood. The black on the walls would attest to that, and the film on the windows too. Ash in the kitchen cabinet or is it simply years accumulation of dirt, either or both.

  When dreaming about how to spend the lottery money we will win, when we play the lottery someday, the little instances of loving care this home needs, grows to the wish list of true dreamers, indoor swimming pool, sauna, whirlpool,  windows, walk in closets and on and on. But mostly it is the wish to pay respect to a thing that most persons would say is not alive, this house, this home, the place that hugs us to sleep at night, and warms us awake in the morning. The place we take for granted, until, adversity puts it in jeopardy, this place that has been good to us for so long, and when we have to leave, we would like to pass it along, in better shape from when we got it. But that too is probably just the stuff that the dreamers of winning the lottery dream. We will just leave it, standing where it is, and if we are smart, we will not look back.

1915 - 2012

  Some cites on Google say the unemployment rate in the United States in 1915 was seven percent, others nine, and one stated that ten and a half percent in Chicago were unemployed.

  In those days sanitation was not as clean as today, the streets were filled with horses, their waste and flies. We often think of the romance of the horse and buggy days but seldom reflect on the urine and feces flowing freely through the streets, where people stepped and women dragged their skirts. Except for the wealthy elite, most had one coat which was passed on down to younger siblings or from parents to children. Cleaning a coat in 1915 novel. Rugs were hung on the line and beaten to remove loose sediment. Milk was unpasteurized, not necessarily a bad thing, but an easy breeding ground for every thing. Refrigeration was a chunk of ice chopped at your doorstep by the man who rode around town in his wagon. Lye was the soap of choice or the only choice. Clothes were ironed with a heated piece of cast iron placed on the same wood burning stove that prepared food.

  It is 1915, the streets are filthy, people are hungry and out of work. Worry is mounting, how to feed the family, each day eating less and less. Sleepless nights further weaken the populace. War breaks out, men are leaving their families to die on foreign soil. Some service men never left fifty miles from home, die and are buried thousands of miles from their family.

  Still unemployment is high, people are becoming weaker, the nation as a wave of humanity is flowing to the abyss, around the corner the influenza epidemic which will erase the millions of specs of the foam of the wave. And nothing will stop it. Fatigue, filth, hunger, fear, and want will meet on the battlefield and win the skirmish with man/and wo-man. A cough shared in the same room, a hand shake, a kiss, a piece of paper passed from one to another and an epidemic is born to run its course. Mass graves, mass mourning and a major event is recorded for the future.

  And here it is 2012 on the doorstep of 2013. Unemployment is high, Super Storm Sandy made sanitation in many states a challenge, people are hungry, they are afraid, they are homeless, living in the streets, sharing the dirt with their neighbor. Clean water no longer flowing from pipes, heat again from burning wood, carcasses floating down main street a main stream on the doorstep of history repeating, it is different, yet, it is the same. Will we be prepared, will we be ready, will we care, or will they.

Sunday, December 16, 2012

  The most popular posts on this blog was not written by me, they were written by my father and his friend, way back in the nineteen-forties. The letters written to my mother during world war two. They are about a man alone in a foreign country. He followed the rules and wrote covert letters. All that he could not say because the letters were censored and for fear of punishment lest he say something he should not have. He writes about the weather, the mud, the rain. The constant rain of war. He does not speak of the perils or the fear. Simple notes that give one an impression of a new father fighting in war. He chose to volunteer because all his friends were drafted and he felt he had to go to help them all win the war.

  He was not especially tough or arrogant. He came from adversity and made good for himself. He was not rich, but learned the value of reading and thinking for himself.

  While in Europe on holiday, (joke) he learned about the peoples of the countries he visited. His letters more present his appreciation of the local populace and their battle to survive during war, that the hardships the military faced. He immediately warmed to them all and felt a little more at peace while fighting, because of the kindness the 'locals' afforded him.

  There is no description of anything much except for Uncle Franks letter warning him, when he got closer to combat, to not go into any buildings for shelter but to dig his fox hole. That recollection was vivid, that was the only time you could get a tinge of caution from his words.

  Most of the letters are about the cold or the wet and the request for socks and cigarettes. Smoking was a big deal in those days. Watch any of the old movies showing everyone with cigarettes in their mouths or the poise of offering a cigarette from a case to another, the match or lighter the focus of the camera, and the ballet of the parties meeting. Prelude to romance. But during the war it was the only escape, the first drag, the fade from reality. Cigarettes seem to be more important than food, or food so available and cigarettes less so.

  On the other hand, Tony's (Nunzio) letters were written stateside. His vision so poor it is a surprise he was ever accepted into service. He was stationed in all the places everyone wishes for military service. Colorado and California. He was more worrying about all his friends, he was at home concentrating on the plight of all his friends. You can see the measure of comfort he had compared to being in a combat zone. You can also feel his disappointment that he is not out there with his friends.

  With both writers, it is evident how homesick they are, how much they miss the familiar. And how strange it is for them , as little boys, it is to be away from home. Fighting or working to support the fighters more a secondary sense. With Tony you can feel his commitment to the safety of folding the parachutes in the proper way. That he was in a personal relationship with whomever got that particular chute. How important it was for him to do it right, his total sense of responsibility, an honourable man.

  With my father, you can sense how much he did not want to be there. He did not say so in so many words but like someone having to do something distasteful, like swallowing Castor oil. He had to do it, and did not want to. And it just kept dragging on, soon he would be home, soon the conflict would be over and month after month, wishing or writing, it has to end soon.

  Seeing the Follies in Paris, was probably his favorite. He loved to go to clubs and listen to the music. I am not sure if he also enjoyed the girls, my recollection of him was a prude.

  Around the world his and Tony's letters are being read. Seventy year old notes home. It is a compliment to my effort to see the words of faded pencils and the persistence of putting them all on the web, instead of trying to get a book published and making millions of dollars. (chuckle.) It was years ago I began with the first letter my dad wrote. It was the gotta do it inspiration. The idea that my mother saved them all those years, and my sister sent them to me after my mother died. Along with boxes of other papers to sort through. The stuff  to discern whether of not to throw it out. The letters sat for two years before I even opened one. And then I read another and then another and then another and then realized it had an impact on me. Not the conscious kind of slap in the face but the visceral touch, even though his letters didn't say much. They touched something that sparked the need to share the information. And now I have been proven right. The most popular items on this site were not written by me. And yet, it makes me feel good, that perhaps they are doing some good somewhere in this world.  For those of us who will never see combat and for those close to the front lines these notes seem as real as if they are happening today.

  So I am not the great writer I had hoped  to be, and I have found something that is touching all of us, where ever we are. Happy New Year.

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Insurance in the land of the free

   The homeowner and auto insurance is carried by the same provider. We have been doing business with them for more than twenty five-years. They are not the inexpensive providers you hear advertised on tv. They are not the sort of organization that argues with every claim, instead they pay promptly  and courtesly. Like when the roof was damaged with hail from a tornado, there were no problems about the claim and the payment was made right away, and we got the roof fixed.

  For the autos it is an interesting dilemma, one was bought used in nineteen ninety seven for thirty thousand dollars and paid for in installments with interest. That car now, looks good, the paint still shines. It was a lemon, a very expensive lemon, with repairs each year at about a minimum of another thousand dollars. We kept fixing it because a thousand is cheaper than buying a new one, and we are surprised each year but the new problem, something we never heard of before, or since. So we keep fixing it.  We carry collision on it, which means they will replace the car with with the same thing or an equivalent of the same value. The car is now worth on the blue book listing at about three thousand dollars. Collision insurance fees go up each year even though the price of the car goes down each year. We debate dropping collision, but if someone hits us and totals the car then we would have to pay for the collision repairs. And usually when an accident happens it is when one can least afford it. So each year we complain or try to get the rate reduced, instead we keep raising the deductible, our out of pocket expense before the insurance company will begin paying. We want to keep the car till it dies completely. A new car is an expense we do not want to incur if we can help it.

  The other car, truck really, used to cart hay, seed, equipment and anything we need to maintain the farm. It was bought six months after the other car we have. The price was about sixteen thousand dollars, and has not been an expense since we got it. We have only had maintenance charges, oil change, tune up, tires, and air conditioning refills. Both machines have more than a hundred  thousand miles, the truck is closer to a hundred fifty thousand.

  The only other insurance we have is health insurance.  We got the changes in policy for twenty thirteen, and it is one confusing document, actually three confusing or incomplete documents requiring a phone call to the provider for clarification.

  Of course, we get the voice that offers to assist or redirect the call to a real human, but that does not happen immediately, we get the next voice that informs us that we know that we can go to the company web site to get all our questions answered.
The the next voice, after listening to some static melodies, tells us that our call is important to them. Reminds me of the phone call we got from Mitt Romney, the intro voice tells us that Mitt is contacting us with some very important information, then a recording of Mitts voice is heard. If it is such important information he wants us to have, he should have called us himself, or gotten a real person to make the call. How do we know, it was really from him, how do we know he is real. But I digress, this discussion is about insurance in a free country.

  The new changes talk about who the insurance company wants us to do business with. The insurance company is telling us that they have preferred providers and non preferred providers and the price for prescriptions differs accordingly. If we do not do business with the companies they want us to use, they prescription we get filled. Here is where it gets tricky. They sort the various drugs or medications into tiers, and they further sort the tiers into generic or non generic or brand names. The co-pay for the generic drugs is less than for the brand names, and the co-pay is further sorted into tiers. Tier one drugs have the lowest co-pay, all the way up to tier five, which is exactly thirty three percent of the cost of the drug. But ninety day supplies are cheaper than thirty one day supplies.  Now if you think you got that all sorted, it is further, still, changed, because there are some drugs that must have prior authorization before the company will pay any part of the prescription charge. And there  are some drugs that are not on the list in the printed documents received, so either the website must be visited or a phone call to listed to all those voices and static music, and it is an important call to them so we must hold on until they are finished with us.

 Now this is just an explanation of the drug part of the insurance. Anyone in need of medical insurance, especially some who have chronic illness or 'conditions', are in less than optimal operating order and must then have someone read all the info and explain it so they can understand it, or call or visit the company website and have it explained to them before they can explain it to the insured.

  Then, of course there are the other rules the insurance provider has set down. Such as which procedures they will pay for, and where they are done, and for some, who will provide their medical care is also dictated.

  So, in summary, it use to be that the patient and the patients health provider  decided the course of treatment, then the government stepped in and decided which health care providers would provide which care, and now it is the insurance companies which tell us, what treatments and treatment providers are right for us. They also tell the treatment providers exactly how much they will pay them for any service, no matter what the provider wants to charge. Doctors can no longer prescribe over the phone for a patient, they must see the patient before any service is provided. Hey doc, I think I have pneumonia and out to be admitted to the hospital, can you please make those arrangements? No, you either make an appointment to see me at my convenience or go to the emergency room. 

  Now, besides these dilemma, the doctor shortage is also adding to the difficulties of getting medical care. The AMA controls the amount of doctors graduated each year, to keep their income at high levels and demand at equally high levels. Good for job security except if all the patients die waiting to see the doctor.