In Memoriam: Henry Ingwersen

For those of you who really know me, you know how over-educated I am. I have three degrees: a BA in Anthropology, a BA in Art History, and a Master of Library and Information Science. Lots of education, lots of student loans I’m still paying, but a head crammed full of stuff.

What you may not know is that I seriously considered getting an MFA in Creative Writing after I finished my BA in Art History. But at the time, in my early twenties, I did not have the requisite portfolio nor the maturity to complete such a program. Library school was a much more practical option, so that’s what I did.

But I never forgot about the MFA. It’s always been sitting in the back of my head, but I had too much student debt and no money to pay for more school. Until now, that is. Let me tell you a little story about how we now are solvent and have the money to pay for school.

My husband, Kosta, used to work at the library too. (I met him on my first day of work here in January of 2005, but that’s a story for another day.) He had been working for the library about a year when I came in. And in that year he had met a patron named Henry. Henry was a cranky old WWII vet that took a shine to Kosta because my husband knows his history and the classics (i.e. Greek history). He once invited him out to dinner and that became a weekly occurrence for the two bachelors.

They kept up their weekly dinners for ten years, even after I came into the picture. Except when we were on vacation, every Thursday night would find Henry and Kosta at Perkins, or the Olive Garden, or the Clock.

Henry had lots of fascinating stories. He was a pilot in WWII and flew P38’s over New Guinea. He was awarded a bronze star. He was a career army man who was stationed all over the world: Paris and Gibraltar and Reykjavik and Beirut. He even did a tour in Vietnam because he had been stationed in Duluth and wanted out. (Well, it does get a bit cold in the winters.)

Henry was married once, briefly in the 1950s but after his divorce was a confirmed bachelor. He loved Danish design and liked to draw and work with wood. He was highly intelligent.

But he was also a mean old cuss. I went to dinner with them a couple of times. He would curse at babies crying in restaurants, complain about everything from the food to the music, and would leave a $2 tip if he was feeling generous. Kosta always put down more cash when Henry was walking out.

But Kosta kept going out with the old man. Henry didn’t have many friends and was rather alone in the world. So when about 8 years into their friendship he asked my husband to be the executor to his will, Kosta agreed. Henry did have two living sisters, but they were far away and both nearly as old (Henry was about 89 at this point.)

When Kosta agreed, Henry said this next: “By the way, I’m giving you my condo.”

Kosta protested. Surely it should go to his family? Didn’t he have nieces or nephews who might want it? But Henry was adamant. He said, “No! I don’t like those sons of bitches.”) Alrighty, then.

So Kosta was written into the will.

Henry died of lung cancer that spread to his brain. It was swift and I don’t think he suffered monstrously. He had fallen at home and had been taken to the hospital and later rehab. He knew he was dying and didn’t want the treatment. But we saw him suffering in the nursing home and got him out of there–he could afford round-the-clock nursing care so we did that for him and he died peacefully in his own home.

Which now belongs to us.

We’ve been living there for a year and a half. You can’t believe what it means to not have a rent or mortgage payment. We paid down our credit cards. And now, when I’m thinking of a career change, suddenly, magically, I am able to work towards it.

As hard as Henry was to like, I will be forever grateful to him for this gift. The place might be a little rundown (the kitchen and bathrooms are still 1979 original) but by God, it is ours. And it doesn’t even freak me out that he died in the very same room where we now sleep. I think he went peacefully, knowing that he had been on the earth 91 years and it was his time to go.

Thanks, Hank, for the gift. It keeps on making our lives easier in new ways and I have a sense of relief that I will never be homeless. That’s no small thing during this pandemic when so many are out of work and unable to pay rent. I am damn grateful every day to you.

Plague Diaries #12

It isn’t really a tale of the plague, this entry. This story goes back much farther than that. A year, in fact.

In March of 2019 we moved from a 1400 square foot duplex into a 900 square foot condo. We did A LOT of downsizing. We had to practically get all new furniture. I spent weeks assembling flat pack tables, dressers, night stands and bookcases. (A weird side note: I adore assembling furniture. It’s like a really neat puzzle that you put together and then you end up with something useful. My husband thinks I’m bonkers.)

Before we moved I had a lot of space of my own. I had my own office with all my own books in my own cases and odds and ends littered about. In the garage I had my mosaic studio where I would spend Saturdays piecing together glass treasures. I had candles, and pictures, and figurines, lots and lots of rocks (been collecting them since I was a kid) and for over a  year now, they have sat packed away in boxes. Because there was no place to put them out. My mosaic tools are trapped in our outdoor storage space. My knitting supplies are crammed in under-bed boxes.

We have two bedrooms in our tiny new place. One of them is obviously the bedroom. The other is the library where most of my husband’s books and things are. (Greek helmets, a bust of Brahms and one of Homer, Greek vases and all of his fountain pens.) He has his computer on the desk in there, and the blue recliner where he reads and does crossword puzzles.

Since he’s retired and I have the car all day it seems only fitting that he should have the space as his own. He spends more time in the condo than anyone else. Over the past year, when I’ve wanted to relax, I’ve mostly spent the time in bed watching stuff on my iPad or reading.

These past two weeks off have been a breakthrough. One of the things I did as a therapeutic act for myself was dig out my knitting. I hadn’t really done any knitting since my Mom died, since that was ALL I did in the hospital. I got rid of a lot of my yarn stash when I moved, but still have all my grandmother’s knitting needles and quite a bit of yarn. I told my dear friend who is treating me with acupuncture that I would knit her a pair of socks and she was delighted. And then I came up with a brilliant idea: Frankensocks.

In all my years knitting (and it’s been over fifteen) I’ve knitted dozens of pairs of socks. It is a truth universally known that Floridians don’t need scarves, hats or mittens, but there are a few months out of the year when a pair of hand-knit socks are a most supreme pleasure. With every pair I’ve knit I’ve had leftover yarn which I have put in its own separate Ziplock (to keep them from mating like Christmas lights) and shoved in a canvas bag that I keep in my closet.

As I was considering what color socks to knit my friend, I came across that canvas bag of remnants and the idea hit me: what if I knit ALL THE COLORS? What if I knit an inch or two off each little ball I had remaining, switching them up and sort of patch them together? And the Frankensocks were born.

Frankensocks

I had real joy in knitting them. Each stripe represents a pair previously made socks and I remember each pair and who they were for. You might think that a little bonkers but knitting a pair of socks is an investment of time and they don’t just fall off the needles in a couple of hours. You get intimate with the yarn and think a lot about the person you are knitting them for as you are creating them.

As I was knitting these socks I was also looking around our apartment. The walls are still bare because we haven’t hung any pictures. Most of them are sitting in the bathtub in the second bathroom. And I decided that it was damn time we did something about it. So we hung pictures, we hung a clock, we hung mosaics I had made. We’re not done yet, but every day we do something more around here that makes the condo seem more like home.

As these two things sort of came together I started to realize something. All of my things (my candles and pictures and figurines and rocks) were still packed away in boxes and I was staggered all at once with how much I missed them. A wise friend said that when you are home and don’t see yourself reflected in it, it isn’t really home. There are things my husband and I have together, but my things, MY THINGS, were missing.

So I made a plan. We have an empty corner of our bedroom and I am getting (Lord, help me) one more IKEA bookcase (which will make seven). It will house the books I use for writing and research, and it will hold my bowl of rocks, my statue of Kuan Yin, picture frames and candles. It will be my space reflected back at me. I will truly be home.

And I wonder if this whole meltdown I had didn’t have something to do with these things. I am sure they were a part of it.  Yes, the pandemic has scared the bejesus out of me, but I have to go one with life. I will take all the precautions I can and let it be. But I will no longer be a stranger in my own house. I am going to set up my mosaic station on our lanai. I am going to arrange my precious items and see them when I walk in the room.

Maybe, as I begin to carve out the creative life I used to have (piecing glass together in mosaics and knitting and journalling), things will shift back to where they used to be. I’m already on the way.

This wasn’t something I did in a punitive manner. I did not go about to make myself miserable by packing away my life and leaving it in a closet. But getting it back is like getting out of jail. The air is a little sweeter, the sun a little brighter.

And as I move forward I know that writing mojo is going to return. I just have to find a new space to do that. Before, I was going to a coffee shop in the evenings and writing. But now, maybe now with my stuff back out I will feel more comfortable writing at home.

It’s taken a year, and it shouldn’t have. But what are we as human beings if not constantly learning lessons?

Excuse me, I have to go knit something.

New Year, New Me?

It’s the second week of the new year and I was hoping for some magical transformation. Like I would suddenly be satisfied with my job and editors would start sending me acceptances for the short fiction pieces I’ve written and submitted in the past few months. Life would lighten and I would be able to breathe and look forward to the future.

In short, I was looking for a miracle.

It seems like so long since anything has gone right in my life that I am despairing a little that I will never catch a break. My mother has been gone for seven months now and Christmas was a bugger to get through. I did, and am relieved it is over. The day itself wasn’t as bad as the lead up to it. Everywhere I looked and saw the decorations and heard the music I would think of her and how much she loved it.

There are good things to look forward to. We will be moving into the condo we own at the end of March. That is going to save us a significant amount of money a year in rent. We’ll be able to pay off debt, and maybe even squeeze in a trip to Greece this September.

We are currently downsizing, as we are lopping off 550 square feet to our living space. Many books, furniture, old clothes and other odds and ends are going away. I am starting to feel lighter with the purging we have already done. Come March I want our place to be positively Spartan so when we move we will fit. That feels good.

But I feel like my writing career is dead. I’ve tried so hard, worked tirelessly, and it seems that the world doesn’t want to read my stories. I’m weary with the sting of rejection. But I love writing. So what do I do? Just write for myself and not try to pawn my words on anyone? Perhaps, but that makes me feel like a failure.

So there are good things and bad things happening. I suppose that is life. I just feel like I’ve been down so long that there is no climbing out of this well. When will I catch a break? I’m putting it out there: I want transformation. I will work hard for it if I just had a hint that something good was coming. Because I’m getting tired. I’m losing faith that everything will turn out all right.

Sorry to be such a downer. Life has been kicking me in the teeth and I don’t have many left. Maybe dentures are in order? At least I’d have my smile back.

Homecoming

On Tuesday morning we were up before six, eager to be away from our patch of floor. We asked the police officer on duty at the shelter if he knew of any place that had gas. He told us Sam’s Club received fuel at about 4:45 am. We plugged the coordinates into the phone and left the shelter behind without a backward glance. We are grateful to the folks in Marion County who helped us out. Without them we would have faced the hurricane sleeping in our cars. That’s not a place you want to be.

The line at Sam’s Club was already long at that early hour, but the folks working there were efficient and had a good system going to keep things moving. We probably waited 45 minutes altogether to get to the gas pump. We didn’t have a membership but one of the worker swiped a dummy card for us, which was very nice. We had gassed up just as the sun was breaking over the horizon.

But Mom and Dad, still at the special needs shelter had only fumes left. When we had left home we put Mom’s oxygen generator in our trunk because there was no room in their car. They forgot to take it with them when we split up so Dad had to drive back to us to get the machine and then drive back. His light was on and his gauge was on E.

Before we could address the issue (we were going to see if we could find a gas can and bring him some fuel) we had to wait for the stores to open. We found an IHOP open and pulled in with a screech of tires, relief washing over us. There was coffee to be had.

Breakfast was one of the most satisfying meals I’ve ever had. I’ve had better meals, but none so sweet as that one. Eggs, sausage, hash browns and toast with cup after cup of coffee. They were one of the few places open and they were packed by the time we left. We were fortified and ready for our next task: getting gas for my parents.

But we failed utterly. We went to a handful of stores (Target, Pep Boys, a hardware store) looking for a gas can but they were all sold out everywhere. But then Dad took matters into his own hands and he and Mom left the shelter without telling us. They ended up at an empty gas station with God only knew how much fuel left. I may have freaked out a little bit.

Gas Buddy saved us. We were about 8 miles from a Pilot on the Interstate and we decided to drive there, the two of us following my parents in case their car died in transit. It was one of the most nail-biting rides of my life. How would we get Mom out of the car if they had to pull over on that country road? We were out in the middle of nowhere and Dad had already pushed the gas tank to the limit.

But we made it. Again, there was a fantastic line at the station, but their car must have made it on fumes and good wishes. They filled up and we parted ways again. They could go on their way home, but we had to go get the cats who were still at the Marion County Animal Shelter.

The cats were piiiisssed. They were both put in the one carrier, which was a tight fit, but they could both lie down inside of it. They were very vocal when we brought them out to the car. The staff at the shelter warned us that they could both very likely pick up colds from being exposed to so many other cats. I was just happy to see them alive and loudly protesting.

We got on the road around noon and started to head south, but it was very slow going on the freeway. We prayed it wouldn’t be like that the whole way home, but it cleared up after the exit for the Florida Turnpike headed towards Orlando veered off. But then, we were stopped dead on the freeway again a few more miles down the road because of an accident. It took us a good half hour to get clear of that. Finally, we were sailing along at a good clip and eager to get back to see our house.

We didn’t really see much evidence of the hurricane until we hit Ft. Myers, which is just north of us. There was a lot of water in the ditches, lakes were really high, and trees were down here and there. We saw a few homes with water up to their front doors and I began to grow anxious. There hadn’t been any reporting about storm surge damage in Naples, just wind and rain, so we were hopeful.

Getting off the freeway we hit ground zero. All the traffic lights were dark, trees were down everywhere, some still blocking the roads in places. We crept slowly towards home, navigating the intersections as best we could. We got to a corner close to home and saw the local Lutheran church nearly underwater and we drew a deep breath. Around the corner, and into Mandalay, and there was our house! It looked all right from the outsides. There were a ton of leaves and minor debris in the driveway, but everything looked fine.

We went in to our dark and stuffy home and found that indeed, we had been spared. I think that was the moment that I finally cried a little. We let the cats out, filled up their water dishes, and headed out to see how Mom and Dad fared. The cell towers were down, power was out, so we had no way to communicate.

A few miles away we got to their condo. The roof was lying on the ground in front of the hall to their front door. But because they were on the first floor they only had a small amount of water damage. They too, had been largely spared. No broken windows, no other damage than a little water.

Back home we took the shutters off the patio and opened the doors. It was hot. The temperature in Florida this time of year hovers between 91-94 degrees with around 80% humidity. Without air conditioning, or one lick of breeze, we began our exciting and new brand of suffering.

More to come…