20 June 2018

The Gulley Chronicles. Inviting The World To Come On In

By: Jon Katz

The Gulley Chronicles

First of all, I need to thank the many hundreds of blog readers who wrote Carol Gulley yesterday and last night about her struggle to come to terms with her new role as a caregiver. I wrote about a poem she published on her blog in which she shared her pain and confusion about her life being turned upside down by Ed's brain tumors.

I doubt Ed missed a  day's hard work in his long life, and Carol was beside him every step of the way.

Now, Ed can no longer work, and she has a different role. Everything about her life has changed, and there is no school for caregivers. The poem was angry and wounded. She was clearly looking for help, I thought, and I asked if the caregivers out there – I know there are many – might contact her and offer her support and good wishes.

They sure did.

She wrote on her blog today that by this morning, she had already received over 300 e-mails about her frustration and concern. Caregivers are the unsung and usually unpaid heroes of the health care universe, their work is grueling, urgent, exhausting and often traumatic. It is most often ignored or taken for granted, as our sick health care system retreats and contracts and overcharges.

There are some excellent human beings out there, Carol is one of them.

I am glad and grateful that you and she found one another.  I live in a bubble, I suppose, I write these things and am simply not conscious that there are so many good people reading and listening. That is humbling and shocking. And wonderful.

Carol has startled me more than once, she did it again today by asking everyone who messaged her in the area – it's hard for people her to see that my blog is actually much more national than local – to stop by  the  farm if they were in the area, "please feel free to do so, all I ask is that you call and/or text to give a head's up. It means a great deal to us, especially the Farmer."

Carol gave her phone number, and also her e-mail for good measure: bejoshfarm@gmail.com.

She said the messages lifted her up, they touched her heart and  created a "calming effect" for her. She said she couldn't possibly answer each message but asked that if she whines, "you are welcome to tell me to go to my room and put my big girl pants on if you'd like. LOL."

She added "you are all my friends that I haven't met yet…"

it was fascinating to read yesterday's post and todays. The Gulleys scare me sometimes, I think they see the entire world as a family farm, safe and cozy and eager to help. Ed stops total strangers on the street and has long talks about brain cancer and life.  They see the Internet as a sea of friends they haven't met yet. Their trust and gregariousness is alien to me,  sometimes seems completely at odds with the times.

Perhaps that will be the legacy of the family farm – trust.

And maybe that is the point for them. I was concerned. And I felt protective.

I messaged Carol and urged her not to invite the entire Internet to come to her house, and also to not give her phone number out to the world. There are lots of wonderful people on the Internet, but there are lots of strange and troubled people there as well.

In the coming weeks and months, I said, she and Ed might not want hordes of strangers popping by, or tele-marketers or cranks calling up to offer miracle cures for just a few hundred dollars. This is a place where I have been, and although we are all different, and I am grateful to the Internet for so much of my life, I do not see it as a large family farm.

I've had all kinds of people drive up to my houses, pop up in the woods, send me huge boxes of unwanted gifts that I can't  us, and even, once or twice, stalk my ungainly and non-exotic self.

But I am not Ed and Carol, what didn't work for me might be wonderful for them. And it is up to them, and up to the world.

Ed Gulley is radically more open than I am, he means it when he says everyone in the world should come by his farm, and Carol seems to share the same idea. But I hope that doesn't always happen, there will probably be many times in the coming weeks and months when they will not want the phone to ring or people to come banging on the door just a few feet from Ed's bed.

Nobody asked me, and forgive me for offering advice,  but I will venture that I think e-mail is a great way to go when it comes to communicating with the Gulleys, at least at first. They are quite sincere, and they do love visitors, but I am not sure they quite get what is out there, a vast Army of Angels and warmth, and a world that is sometimes dark and forbidding.

In the farm world, the door is always open and the lights are always on. I was kidding Ed about it yesterday, I said his life sometimes sounds like an ad for Motel 6.

I want to thank you for supporting Carol, and in so doing, supporting Ed. She no longer feels alone or misunderstood.

Your messages seem to have done a world of good, and I should say it shows us the best side of this strange new world, a lesson I have already learned, where people I do not know and will probably never meet have transformed my life and the lives of so many people in need.

Despite all of the good, the world is not a big family farm, and I can't say I would ever invite all of it to drop in or call.

That is me. It's a wonderful image, and if it's really what the Gulley's want, I hope it happens.

I hope the world will one day be just like a family farm. That would be very beautiful.

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Visiting Beautiful Mary Kellogg: Sometimes You Can’t Go Home Again

By: Jon Katz

Visiting Mary

We visited our good friend, the poet Mary Kellogg today at the Holcomb Adult Residence in Granville, N.Y., where she has been living since she fell down in her house and broke her hip. We are publishing Mary's fourth book of poetry this summer and she plans to be at our Open House on Columbus Day Weekend.

Her hip is healing but more and more, it looks as if Mary will not be going home to her beautiful farm again.

It is a painful thing for her to acknowledge, but she has always been a brave and honest and authentic realist. She does not flinch from the truth. She likes the Holcomb residence, she likes not having to cook, clean, she likes having help when she showers, she likes having people around to help her if necessary. The staff is wonderful, she says, and the other residents are very nice.

She loves her farm very much, it sits on 30 beautiful acres and Mary has lived there alone in the more than 20 years since  her husband died. She went to rehab and a nursing home after her fall, and then to Holcomb to rest and, it seems, to live.

She is accepting this with her usual grace and faith and courage. Her very loving daughters are keeping Mary's house and she can visit it as often as she likes. She's coming to visit us at our farm in the next couple of weeks.

Mary is an iconic figure, a gifted poet and animal lover and conservationists. She is a great inspiration to me, and she is also very close to Maria. Her decision to stay in the Holcomb residence seems a wise one to us, she is understanding and accepting that she can't quite care for that  house and farm by herself, she needs help with her life.

She loves gettiing letters from you, she tries to answer all of them, she admits to forgetting a lot of things these days, "I am after all, 89," she says, laughing. She does not forget the letters.

Mary discovered today that there are other poets at Holcomb, she's thinking about starting a poetry club there. She looks good and has not lost a bit of her radiant smile and positive view of life.

We dropped off some books for her, and got some poems in return. She is talking about a fifth book. Mary personifies the term "indomitable." Red came and charmed the other residents.

You can write her c/o Mary Kellogg, the Holcomb Adult Center, Granville, N.Y., 12832.  And thanks.

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Bless My Heart: Annual Cardiologist Day

By: Jon Katz

Bless My Heart, Cardiologist Day

Today was my annual visit to the Cardiologist, a reticent, soft-spoken man – the only male doctor I ever see – who locked onto the novel I was reading while waiting for him: "There, There," by Tommy Orange, a wonderful book. Dr. Annistan asked me about it and I recommended it highly.

I like him, we often talk about books and music, he is deeply into heart data, and I usually hear about the latest study that might keep me alive a bit longer. Like most male doctors, he doesn't take much time and doesn't have too much to say. But he seems knowledgeable and takes good care of my heart, which is all one can really ask.

He is an avid reader and he asked me if I could drop my book off for  him to read when I was done, and perhaps it was the writer in me, but I asked him if he was really too cheap to buy a hardcover book (I am a book writer, still). He said he had a huge stack of books to read, and we laughed.

I can't tell you how many people tell me – a long-time book author – that they never buy hardcover books. They read e-books, or go to the library, or wait for dog-eared paperbacks, and get them at used bookstores in 10 years They do not ever seem to realize this is my livelihood they are talking about. I guess there is no reason why it should, but still…I was thinking to myself that a busy cardiologist probably could afford to buy this book.

"I think I read about it in the New Yorker," he said. I nodded. "There you go," I said. Hmmm, I thought, the New Yorker costs about $80 a year. The novel costs $14.95 on Amazon.

The exam was quick and very good.

He gave me good news all around. My EKG was excellent, my blood pressure was excellent, my blood work and cholesterol were excellent. He asked about my angina and I said it only bothered me walking uphill. I said I shoveled snow all winter. He  said shoveling snow was five times more of a strain than walking up hill. I'm complex, I said. He said I was, in fact, unusual.

He said he had nothing to discuss with me, everything was good. He asked me about exercise, and I said I was active and walked when I could, that  was about it. He asked if I had any questions, and I did not.

Well, he said, you are doing so very well, my advice is to keep doing what you are doing. See you in 2019.

I was happy, and I supposed relieved, to hear this, I have grown fond of my broken heart and wish to keep it intact. I don't want them to take it out and refurbish it again.

The doctor and I had our annual statin fight and I agreed to take a higher dose, he said people who take higher doses live longer than people who don't. He said cholesterol doesn't really matter all that much any more. It did for the last three years, as I recall.

I said I didn't want to live forever, and he said with a dry smile, don't worry, you won't.

I could tell he was finished. He said he was "thrilled" with the condition my heart was in, angina murmur and all. In gratitude, I agreed to try a higher statin dose. The session took 14 minutes.

He said goodbye, and reminded me about the book, and gave me paperwork for a blood test in a month or so, and I got dressed and went outside to make an appointment for next year.

On a mad impulse, and as I was signing out, I gave the book to the receptionist and signed it, "Since you can't afford it, here's a gift." He was shocked, and said he didn't want me to just give it to him before I finished it, he wanted me to take it back..

I rushed out the door, and before it closed, I turned and winked at him: "Hey, don't get your heart in a lather,  you are even cheaper than my grandmother, keep the book and enjoy it and  give it to somebody! See you next year." The nurse was laughing so hard I thought she would fall over.

I think it was the best cardiologist appointment I ever had. I called Maria, and I said I couldn't quite believe I called my cardiologist cheap. Good for you, she said.

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The New New Herb Mound

By: Jon Katz

The New New Herb Mound

We dug and planted and constructed our new herb mound in the back yard, and then Maria seeded it. I had lunch with a new friend – Charlie Garbadian – who, it turns out, grew up right near me in Providence, R.I. At lunch, he reminded me that the herb seeds might not grow for six to eight weeks, almost the end of summer here.

This made sense, he directed me to an herb an garden store in Bennington and I loaded up with a tray of grown herbs and handed them over to Maria, who planted them this afternoon. So we have a new, new herb mound.  I gave them a good soaking. This is more like it, we can snip some herbs for dinner tonight. We love the mound. It belongs. And there is a lot of good donkey manure under there.

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By: Jon Katz

Fanny, On A Hot Day

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