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 #6

There is a new normal.

I say this as I am writing from the couch. We have just had “virtual cocktails” with friends of ours and my husband is now making dinner. (The husband making dinner isn’t the new normal, and for that I’m very lucky. He cleans up too.)

As of right now, Florida has 11,545 cases of Covid-19, with 221 cases in my county. The next county over, Miami-Dade, has 3,890. I know we are not the hardest hit in the nation. New York is suffering something what we can’t imagine right now. But I’m afraid Death, while not knocking on our door just yet, is definitely sharpening his scythe.

It’s coming.

My week was pretty quiet. I worked 8-5 every day, but I was blessed that I was able to stay in my office for the majority. I am damn grateful to be employed with health insurance right now.

Today Kosta and I visited our favorite French restaurant for takeout quiche and we went to the grocery store. Then we came home and took a four-mile walk. It was great to get out of doors and get some exercise. Then I did Dad’s grocery shopping and came home and de-loused. (Which means I took a long, steamy shower with lots of soap and shampoo.)

Virtual drinks with Fabiana and Fernando was fun. It was almost like being at our favorite hangout, Riptide Brewing Company. Not quite, because there was no beer for me, but it was fun to talk to them for an hour. And two vodka gimlets have left me feeling pleasantly buzzed.

In fact, I’ve been talking to lots of people online lately. Maybe I’m not as introverted as I thought I was. I feel the need to connect with my friends that I can’t see right now. And it calms me down and energizes me when I do, so that’s a good thing. And I can do it all from the comfort of my couch in my jammies, so maybe I am as much of an introvert as I thought.

Life has shrunk, most definitely. Even with the Skype and the Zoom and the FaceTime I still feel like my world has diminished. There are fewer faces, fewer conversations, more solitude. I wonder how my extroverted friends are coping. Surely this can’t be easy for them.

But every day I am grateful that I wake up, and every night I am thankful for another day of health. I don’t know what the future holds and I am conscious that I am living each day more completely because of the uncertainty of what is to come.

And through it all, I have the two men who matter to me the most: my husband and my father. I’m lucky to have such fine examples of human beings with whom I spend the majority of my time. I love you both.

And that isn’t just the vodka talking, either.

Plague Diaries #2

This is our fifth day of self-isolation. Although I went to the grocery store yesterday, so it didn’t feel like a quarantine. The store was pretty well stocked and we got what we needed for the week. Today we plan to stay at home and go for a walk, but that’s all.

I am scared. There are lots of things to be scared about: getting sick is the top one on the list, but there are many other things pressing on my mind right now.

How many people are going to die?

The numbers are reported for the state of Florida every day at 11 a.m., and 6 p.m. For the past two days we have been adding 200+ cases every 24 hours. My county has 39 cases. That may not seem like much but testing has been scant. They started getting more aggressive last week when the private labs and hospital started testing too. But if test results take 5-7 days to come in, then we haven’t seen the real spike in the number of cases yet. Maybe in a few more days we’ll see more numbers reflective of how we really are.

What is going to happen to the economy?

It’s in a free fall right now and I don’t see anything stopping it. The stimulus package that the senate is fighting over might help, but I don’t have a lot of confidence they will reach an agreement. Bipartisan fighting is tearing us apart when we need our elected officials to band together now more than ever. I don’t see the senate standing on the steps of the Capitol singing “God Bless America” like they did after 9/11.

I’m not going to comment on who is right and who is wrong in this scenario because that is exactly my point. If Democrats and Republicans can’t come to an agreement now, when the world is collapsing, then we might be doomed.

What is going to happen to everyone who is suddenly out of work? 

I almost can’t sleep at night because I’m worried about friends who have lost their jobs. I realize the importance of shutting things down and agree this is the only way forward to lessen the number of deaths. There is a human life attached to every one of those numbers you see posted every day.

But what about the people who worked in restaurants? That is a livelihood that is already tenuous–a tiny wage with the majority of money made in tips. And when the job is gone, so is the health insurance. (At least that’s so in the USA.) What happens if they get sick and need to be hospitalized? How are they going to pay for that?

Why are some people still not taking this seriously?

My husband and I have been going for daily walks. We practice social distancing, where if someone is headed towards us on the sidewalk, we step out into the street to keep a safe distance from others.

We wash our hands. If we are forced to go out (like to the grocery store) we shower when we come home. And some people, I am sure, will say we’re being extreme. Are we? Or are we making sure we stay well?

On our walk we pass by the Lakewood Public Golf Course. The parking lot is still packed every day. Most of the license plates are out of state. So apparently the snowbirds that are with us every winter still feel that playing their 18 holes is more important than stopping the spread of disease.

Of course, it is a sport with very little contact. You’re out of doors, staying away from each other, and generally getting exercise. But who is sanitizing the golf carts? Who is practicing social distancing in the club house? I see clumps of people standing around and talking as we walk by. And it makes me angry.

But!

I also am reminding myself daily of the things I am grateful for. There is a lot. My husband, my father, and I are all healthy as of this writing. I have a job which I am damn grateful for. I have health insurance. We own our condominium outright and have no mortgage payment. We have plenty of food and enough toilet paper for a month. No one I know has the disease as of yet, although one family member was tested yesterday.

Above all, I am grateful for every day I have that I remain healthy. I can go for long walks. I can watch movies with my husband. I can keep in touch with friends and family that I love dearly.

Watch out for each other. Check in. Spread some laughter in this dark time. And stay away from each other as much as you possibly can.

See you on the other side,

Anna

Plague Diaries #1

This is the weirdest, scariest thing that has ever happened in my lifetime.  Life has become surreal and I am pretty sure we’re going to keep on down this Dali-esque path for some time.

First off, I am fine. My husband is fine, my Dad is fine.  We are taking precautions, washing our hands, practicing social distancing and trying not to go crazy being cooped up. But as one person on Facebook said, “Your grandparents were called to war. You are called to sit on your couch. You can do this.”

I am not working right now. The library where I work has closed its doors to the public, although staff are still expected to report in every day. I asked if I could work from home and was told no. Since I am lucky enough to have four weeks of vacation to spend, I am doing just that. I’d rather have a healthy family more than I’d like my vacation time.

It was and wasn’t a hard decision to make. It was easy in that I care what happens to my very small family.  My father is 73 and my husband is 63. Since everything went sideways I am keeping them out of public as much as I can. And me going to work every day and potentially being exposed was too much of a risk. I’m not going to put their lives in jeopardy for my job.

But it was hard because I feel like I need to be doing something to help. I feel bad that my coworkers are still putting together online story times and other forms of digital entertainment for our patrons. I would like to help but at the moment it isn’t possible. Perhaps I can work from home soon. I have plenty of projects to keep me busy.

Yesterday the governor of Florida closed all restaurant dining rooms, letting places offer takeout only. And I read an article this morning about how so many places have been forced to lay off the majority of their staff. I am terrified for the waitstaff at my local places. How are they going to survive? What happens if they get sick and they have no health insurance?

Our favorite restaurant, Cafe Gourmand, is still serving up takeout from 9-12 every day.  We went down there this morning and got our usual quiche to go. I will do everything I can to support our local businesses through this frightening time until I no longer can go out of the house. As I write this, New York, California, Illinois, Pennsylvania and Nevada are all on lock down. I think within a week the rest of the nation will be as well.

Florida, as a state, has been dragging its heels. It wasn’t until Thursday that our city and county closed our beaches. South Beach in Miami closed last weekend and our county sheriff said that all the spring breakers were driving the 100 miles to Naples to party here. It’s true. On St. Patrick’s Day Kosta and I went for a drive (just to get out of the house). On 5th Ave, where all the fancy restaurants are, we found people everywhere. Every table was filled, every parking spot taken, every sidewalk packed with people.

These are not people who live here year round, I suspect. These are people who are continuing their vacations in direct defiance of the warnings issued by the CDC.

Yesterday was my first day of “vacation” and I did very little. I went for a nice long walk with my husband and braved the markets to do my Dad’s grocery shopping. I had to go to 4 stores, but I got everything on his list. In the afternoon I took a nap and we got takeout from the Yard House for dinner, which we ate with my Dad. We then watched TV for a while. Pretty basic.

I did almost have an incident in Publix, however. It was packed and I was trying to maneuver my shopping cart around someone who had stopped in the produce section when this man in a face mask comes barreling through and nearly knocked me over. I locked eyes with him for a moment and gave him a challenging look. I think I must have intimated what I was thinking, which was, “No, no, you go first, asshole.” I could see the rage flare in his eyes and I am pretty sure he almost turned around to start yelling at me, but fortunately he chose to keep going.

I have to remind myself daily to take a deep breath. I am doing everything I can to protect my family.  I am checking in on extended family and friends. I am still exercising and eating healthy. I am still getting paid and have health insurance and damn grateful for it.

Things are going to get weirder. I hope you all are keeping your heads up.

See you on the other side,

Anna