11 June

Portrait: Ed And Carol Gulley, In Love One More Time (At Least)

by Jon Katz
Portrait: The Gulleys

When I visited Ed Gulley yesterday, Carol was out shopping. I itched for a portrait of these two photogenic and charismatic people and so I went back today after lunch.

I am sorry about Ed’s cancer, but it is good to see these two so happy and in love, both of them say they have “bonded” dramatically since Ed was diagnosed with advancing brain tumors, and  it is good to see them so happy together. Carol is also my friend and I could see the stress and fatigue in her face.

But they have finally, she said, had the time and motive to really talk to each other and understand one another.  Cancer, like any other thing, can be a gift, and they both know it.

This time to talk and reconnect t has made both of them very happy, soul mates once more, and it was a pleasure to see it.

Ed and Carol both surprised me – we had a long and sweet talk this afternoon by Ed’s bed and chair. I asked them if they hadn’t bonded before in their 45 year of marriage. They said no, not really, they never had much time alone, they never had much time to talk to each other, they were just too busy with the daily grind of farming.

They often drifted apart, and Ed often neglected his children, he was so busy with the farm.

Ed admits he had little time to spend with his children or his family, he said he gave up too much to his farm, even as he loved farming. He rarely told his children or grandchildren how much he loved them, he said, and he is making up for lost time now. I think he’s telling Carol that now, too.

Carroll and Ed both said on their recent journey, they talked and talked and reconnected in a beautiful and loving way. Carol said she finally understood why Ed seemed too busy and remote to spend more time with his children. She said it was because he was working so hard for them that he just didn’t have any extra time and energy.

Their closeness is palpable, they are so much in sync and together, especially since Ed learned of his illness. Ed and Carol are planning another trip together, this one to Maine. Ed has been in touch with a number of people who have told him of the many years they have lived happily with brain cancer just like his.

I realized today that Ed is becoming increasingly convinced that he is not dying soon, or perhaps at all.

He said when he went on his trip to the Badlands in South Dakota he was certain he was near death. Since he got home, he has had a transformation. Even though he has lost the use and control of much of his left side, his hand, feet, arm, he is in no pain and is eager to do many things, including take another trip.

His family is tearing apart the farmhouse to rearrange the living room into a bedroom and office for Ed, it is big, flat and close to the bathroom. He is eager, he says, to project to the world the importance of being positive and living in the present. He certainly has been energized since he got home from his trip, the family has gathered around closely and is, I think, lifting him up.

He has plans to travel, lecture, write and paint. You can follow his writing and poetry on his and carol’s blog, the Bejosh Farm Journal. They are, he says, moving ahead.

I think I am finding my role in all of this, especially since Ed has come home and we can talk face to face. We are very comfortable with one another. I think what I need to be is myself.

When people get sick, there is a tendency for other people – especially on social media – to adulate and praise them for fighting and struggling and being heroic.

Ed gets messages all day telling him how wonderful and brave and honest he is. That can be beautiful, and it can be dangerous or misleading.

But I know that praise alone can be misleading. That is not the role of the friend – to be a cheerleader. My idea of the friend is to be just the same as I always was, to be familiar and honest, to say the things he doesn’t want to hear sometimes.

My job is to remind Ed that being sick alone does not make one wonderful, we can never take ourselves for granted.

I am not Ed’s cheerleader, not here to shower  him with praise and admiration. A lot of people are doing that. And I do not believe that is what he wants from me, or what I want from him.

I’m the one who tells him the truth as I see it and as I believe he wishes to hear it. When we get close and look into one another’s eyes, I see a friend who relishes the truth and treats life with respect and dignity. A friend who wants to know what the reality is.

A friend who must always look beyond himself, as Ed is working  hard to do.

Sometimes, his eyes look pleading to me. Sometimes, they are just looking elsewhere, they are not there. Sometimes, he is drinking up the excitement of being the object of so much attention.

I know that an illness like this is an agent of change, it changes the person who is ill, it changes the people around the person who is ill.

Every day that I can, I plan to stop by and say hello, drop off sandwiches, look into those eyes and just be myself. I am not fans, I am not family, I am not a therapy volunteer, or a doctor, or come to  say how wonderful he is. I’ll leave that to others.

it is good to have him home, good to see him often, good to hear his thoughts and see his feelings as they churn and bubble. That has helped me to see where I need to be in this.

Ed is a truth seeker, he is always seeking to know. My job is to tell him what he wants to know when he wants and needs to know it. That is what a friend does.

11 June

Jaiboy On The John Deere

by Jon Katz
Jaiboy On The John Deere

Yesterday, I put up a photo of Jaiboy, one of Ed and Carol Gulley’s grandchildren (they have four children, not three as I mentioned yesterday), he was sitting in Ed’s lap. Today, when I went out to visit Ed, I asked him who was riding that big tractor across from the farmhouse baling huge round bales with such precision.

Oh, he said, that’s Jaiboy, he loves to ride the tractors. “He’s a farm kid, through and through.” So I went out into the hayfield and there was Jaiboy in his new mohawk cut, driving the tractor around as if it were a lawn mower. He sure knew what he was doing.

Farm kids are different from other kids. I think Jaiboy is thirteen. Farming is in his blood. And I couldn’t help thinking of where most kids in America were Monday afternoon. They were perhaps on Instagram or a smartphone or some other screen.

Jaiboy was out in the hot sun for hours, driving that big machine, maneuvering it as the round bales popped out of the back like eggs in a chicken house.

I think farming is Jaiboy’s dream, I think Jaiboy will pursue his dream and catch it.

11 June

Passages Of Time. Farewell To Our Loyal Toilet Bowl. I Get It.

by Jon Katz
Goodbye To The Yaris

For ten years, I’ve snarled and grumped about Maria’s Yaris.

I called it a “toilet bowl,” or a “lawn mower with tires.” Many people laughed at this joke, and I didn’t think much about it until Maria got ticked off earlier this week and told me I had overdone it, and she didn’t want to hear about the Yaris any longer.

And that was before Charlie called us from the garage to pronounce the little blue car dead.

This startled me into thinking just what it was about this car that bugged me, and I realized that cars, like dogs, often mark the passages of our lives. There are Toyota Yaris and Honda Fit people, and there are people like me for whom cars are more than just a way to get from one place to another, but a statement about who we are. (Of course, I realize now that Yaris’s and Fit’s are also statements about who people are, I just didn’t get what the statement was.)

The Yaris died last Friday and Maria bought another small car, a Hyundai Accent which is quite similar to the Yaris in many ways. But I like it, I thought it was perfect for her the first time I saw it, and I recommended she go and look at it. We are off to a good start,  we are fortunate to have had enough money in the bank to buy it outright, and won’t have to make any monthly payments.

Tomorrow, the Yaris heads off to the dump. A part of me wants to say good riddance, my better angels stop me, and whisper “don’t be so small.”

As cars go, it is inexpensive, well maintained and just right for the driver.

Maria and I have an understanding, when either one of us is upset about anything, we sit down and try to figure out why.  And I could see she was upset about my ragging on the Yaris. Perfect marriages are not marriages without arguments, in my mind,  but marriages with problems and arguments that are addressed and sorted out in an open and respectful way.

The Yaris meant a lot to Maria, it symbolized her emancipation as a woman and a spouse and a human being.

For the first time in her life, she had her own car, and it took her where she wanted to go for ten busy years. I am sorry to have dumped on it for all of that time, but as often happens after arguments, I am just figuring out why it bothered me so much, and I hid behind humor to deal to screen manger and fear.

Maria and I met one another in the Fall of 2008, as it turned out the darkest year of my life.

The year of the Great Recession, the collapse of book publishing as I knew it, the very loveless year of getting divorced, breaking down, living in panic and depression and dread,  alone on a 90 acre farm on a hilltop in a town nobody heard of ever had reason to go to. The year I either faced up to things or would almost certainly perish. A year of awful loneliness and fear.

Maria came into my life along with the Yaris, the kind of car I would never buy, and Frieda, a dog who, like her mistress, disliked men and wanted to eat as many of them as was possible. The Yaris would soon find a home in my driveway, and that was good news, it meant Maria was in my house. Maria and Frieda both hated men, but the Yaris seemed to take no notice of me, at least at first.

That winter, Maria took a job in remote Argyle, N.Y. tending to people in a home for the emotionally disabled. It was a rough job, she had to get up at 5 a.m. to get there. We both were separated and in the midst of divorce proceedings, I was desperately seeking the help of therapists and Maria was eager to show and know that she could take care of herself.

We became lovers that awful winter, and my life was transformed over the next months and year.  I loved Maria more than I had ever loved anything in my life. So my life was different, I began to heal, and quickly, before she decided to leave.

Every Sunday she went to work, and every Sunday during that winter, we had a blizzard, every single Sunday for more than two months. These brought high winds, ice, and heavy, driving snow. I knew Maria would manage to get to work, she is like that, but I begged her to take my SUV, which had four-wheel drive.

She refused, she said she had to know she could take care of herself.

I can only be honest, I was not in good shape at that time, I obsessed on her driving that tiny car, it tapped into my fear – it didn’t even  have snow tires – out into this icy and usually unplowed roads and hills in darkness and sometimes, whiteouts. The roads were slippery, and all day ling, I saw cars slipping and sliding, often off the road.

I am my mother’s child, as we all are, and she was always terrified that one or the other of us would be killed in a crash on the way to her house, she had memorized every State Police barracks on the way so she could call them when we failed to show up.

The route to work was not easy on sunny and dry days, in these snow and ice storms it was especially treacherous, we heard of cars flipping over, sliding into trees and ending up upside down in ditches, especially those cars with no four-wheel drive or snow tires.

Sometimes those accidents hurt people badly.

It just killed me to see  her drive off into those two-and-three day storms. For much of the day I would start out the window, studying the roads, and then later, watching to see if she could make it home. Cell phones didn’t work much in those hills, and she had no way either of getting help or calling me.

I can still remember those Sundays as if they were yesterday, my heart still races, I break into a sweat, and I feel the worst kind of stomach-churning panic. I am so glad Maria never listened to me and stayed home or switched cars, she knows now that loving me will never take away her independence and strength. She just wouldn’t let it happen, not then, not now.

Our snow plow man came by one day to tell me not to let her drive the Yaris in a storm. A neighbor whose father was a deputy sheriff called to tell me he saw Maria driving her Yaris down our steep and icy road as hail fell and he said: “are you out of your mind, letting her go out in a car like that on a night like this?”

The car was just too light for blizzards, his father said, it had no traction or weight to it. I told him the truth. Maria didn’t care what I thought about her car, and she didn’t care what his father thought about his car either. She was never going down that road again, I told him.

What road?, he asked me, puzzled.
You know, I said, the road where men tell her what to do or where to go. If  you want to talk to her, call her yourself.

He did not call me again. He never called her either.

I  understood even then that it the car was Maria’s business and she needed to know she could handle her car in a storm.  It was just that simple. I wouldn’t presume – or dare – to tell her not to drive her Yaris, not after I  saw what it meant to her.

I see now that these Sundays were traumatic for me, it wasn’t a joke, I was terrified that I would lose something I had just found and that was precious to me. I also knew that love was not about clinging to someone, it was about letting them be free to live their lives.

On Sundays, I nearly lost it,

I had finally found the love I had been seeking all of my life, and it was in danger from a little blue car in blizzard after blizzard. I couldn’t read or watch TV or listen to music or write. I just paced back and forth until she got home. I got dinner and a fire going.

I  still get the chills when I think of those Sundays, storms still trigger all kinds of symptoms if Maria drives out in them, and she did and still does, bless her, she agreed to at least get snow tires. But she never did agree to drive my car in a storm. I love her for that, but I hated the car for it.

Maria never quite understood my bitterness towards the helpless car, she couldn’t quite imagine what it was like for me, and didn’t really want to know at the time

How foolish to project these feelings onto a  helpless car. I went out and said goodbye to it tonight, and thanked it for driving Maria around safely for 10 years. It’s odd,  her new car is also small and light, but I have no ill will towards it, I think it’s just right.

What has changed?Not the car, but me.

I am stronger now, and I know Maria is quite strong and able to care for herself. To dump on the car was almost a way of telling her that she couldn’t take care of herself, that I knew better than she did what to drive. For me, ragging on the car was always an act of love, nothing less, nothing more.

So one passage ends and another begins.

We had fun getting this car and were happy to be able to pay for it. I want to start out on a new wheel with the Hyundai, Maria test drove it this morning and I sat in the back seat, which I had never done in the Yaris, not once in ten years.

It was fine, the ride was quiet and smooth, there was ample room for my feet and my head.  Maria is already fond of the car and its saucy deep red color. So goodbye, Yaris, I think you were a trauma trigger for me, a PTSD car, you caught me at a bad time. You got into my head.

The Hyundai and I will get along, and if I have any jokes to make about it, I can shut up and keep them to myself.

11 June

The Huddle, The Refugee Soccer Team. Great Escape Trip, If You Can Help

by Jon Katz
The Huddle

The soccer team knew they were in for a rough day yesterday, the opposing team was one of the richest and most powerful and well-funded in the area. They are used to this, they used to go on the field in flip-flops and T-shirts, slowly, we are bringing them up to speed.

They have new uniforms coming next week with their new name, the Albany Warriors, they have new sneakers and T-shirts and head bands, and there are now 22 people on the team. There must have been 60 players on the opposing team, and parents and supporters of the home team were lined up all across the field.

Ali is in the process of purchasing a larger van we helped him buy so that they can get to all of their games and some other retreats, tutoring appointments, and other outings as well. They lost yesterday, 4-0. It was a practice game, the team is undefeated in regular play.

The soccer team has been critical to the lives of these young people, many of whom have suffered greatly in their lives. Most are on the honor roll in their schools, Ali insist they do well with their homework. The team has given them community, a sense of purpose and great pride.

We would like to take a dozen of the team’s hardest working (and those with the best grades) to the Great Escape Adventure and Water Park at Lake George in July.This will be a reward for the players who have worked the hardest to learn English, learn the best sportsmanship, do well in school and support their teammates.

The trip will cost between $500 and $600 dollars and I would welcome some help in making this happen. If you wish to support this trip, please send your contribution to me at the Gus Fund, Jon Katz, P.O. Box 205, Cambridge, N.Y., 12816, or via Paypal, jon@bedlamfarm.com.

The package would be for a one-day ticket including lunch and some photos. Thanks for your help, these kids deserve it. Being a young refugee in America right now is not an easy or simple task.  They face hostility and challenges every day of their lives.

This is something that would excite them and lift them up, as it did last year when we organized a similar trip. And thanks.


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