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.

The Club

I have recently become a member of an exclusive club. So exclusive, even my husband isn’t a member. I have a few friends and relatives who belong though. My friend from high school, Jenny, joined in her twenties. My cousins Michelle, Andrew and Paul have been members since 2006. And most of us, at one time or another will gain membership. It’s easy, you just have to lose a parent.

I don’t mean to be glib. In fact, I don’t want to be at all. Most of you know my mom died last Saturday. She had been sick for a long time. Her last month of life was spent in the ICU of Tampa General Hospital. And in the early hours of the morning, just five days ago, her fragile body gave out. Specifically, her lungs just couldn’t keep up anymore. She was 67 years old.

Grief is an overwhelming thing. Sometimes I am all right, I have moments of calm. But then my brain thinks, “I can’t believe this is happening,” and suddenly I feel like I have been kicked repeatedly in the solar plexus, all breath knocked from my body and the ugly crying commences. And I never know where or when it is going to happen.

The past few days I’ve been sleeping a lot. It is my one escape from reality and a blessing. While I am asleep I do not cry. I do not remember she has gone. I do not think, “I’m never going to see her again in this life.”

My own mother’s mother, Grandma Marcy, died when Mom was in her early 30’s. And Mom had told me on numerous occasions that you never stop grieving for your mother. I believe her. I will get distance and time away from that horrible day, but I will never stop wanting her near me. I’ll never stop wanting her to touch my face with her soft hand, or kiss me, or tell me to “Get home good,” when I’m on my way home.

But the club. They are part of what is keeping me going. You see, they know the hell I am in right now and they see me. I’ve had several members approach me over the past few days to let me know they know how I am feeling. And in a weird way it’s a great comfort. They have been through this and yet they are still actively living their lives. Thank you Andrew, and Julie, and April, and Beth.

Don’t believe, however, that if you aren’t in the club I’m not grateful as hell for your kindness, your sympathy, or your love. Everyone has experienced loss, and I don’t belittle it one bit. Pain is pain and you don’t have to lose your mom to feel that. My husband Kosta, has been my rock. He never gets sick of seeing me melt down. He just holds me and lets me get it out.

For everyone who has lost a mother or father, I see you. I know the grief you carry around with you every day, no matter how much time has passed since they died. I see you.

But we carry on. I am sure I will find ways to deal with my grief, and the day will come when I won’t cry once.

Just not today.

Mom

Next Friday on January 19 my Mom is having high risk surgery. She has a benign tumor in her colon that is growing aggressively fast and it must be removed before it becomes a bowel obstruction. Because of other health issues the doctors say she has a 50% chance of survival.

The surgery will be in Tampa, about two hours north of where we live. Kosta, Dad and I will be staying in a hotel for the duration.

I won’t deny it. I’m scared.

Please send us your prayers, goodwill and energy. Regardless of the outcome this is going to be an extremely difficult time for all of us. I’ll post again after the surgery to keep everyone updated.

Thanks in advance and love to you all.

 

Shelter Me

Kosta and our little patch of floor.

We got to “bed” on our patch of floor near to midnight. But in our haste to flee we had no pillows, no blankets, nothing but our suitcase, computer bags, and some food and water. We did have two bath towels from the car, and we rolled those up to use as pillows. The lights were on in our room as folks were still coming in. But we lay down and tried our best to be comfortable.

The floor was poured concrete with just the thinnest skimming of industrial carpet and before long our backs, hips and shoulders protested. Our necks twisted painfully under the towels. At 1:30 the lights went out. But some jackass was watching Pulp Fiction on an iPad without headphones and the sounds of gunshots thudded through me. I was already strung as tightly as possible and squeezed my eyes shut, waiting for it to end.

Finally, all was quiet, but getting cold. I had not packed wisely. I grabbed three t-shirts, but nothing with long sleeves. I at least had long pants but the air conditioning was over-efficient and we both were starting to shiver. But then a flashlight appeared out of the darkness and some angel came towards us with a blanket. “Here,” she said, “do you want this? I noticed when you came in you didn’t have any bedding.”

We gratefully pulled the blanket over us, snuggled together as best we could, and finally were able to sleep.

In the morning we got in line for breakfast. The cafeteria had scores more of folks sheltering on the floor, demarcated areas with painter’s tape marking their little rectangles of personal space. Everyone looked like something out of The Walking Dead–glassy eyes, shambling gaits as they waited in line for food.

Waiting for breakfast in the cafeteria.

The storm still hadn’t hit that far upstate so we ate outside on picnic tables. I think we had food they normally serve high school students. If that is the case, we need to do better as a country at feeding our kids. The food was edible, but highly processed and tasteless. Don’t get me wrong though, I was damn grateful that we didn’t have to feed ourselves solely from the snacks we brought with us. Popcorn doesn’t fill a belly like toast with sausage and cheese.

The day was long and uneventful. We watched as much storm coverage on my phone as we could. My breath hitched as I watched the eye of Irma move directly over Naples on the radar–my house right underneath it. We talked a lot about what we would do if our house was destroyed. Mostly, we were trying to mentally prepare for the idea that we would have nothing to come home to. But my parents, the cats, and Kosta and I all had our lives. The rest could all be rebuilt if need be.

I was able to talk to my parents and found they had fared somewhat better at the special needs shelter. They had both been given cots, Mom even had a mattress. They didn’t have blankets but they had brought their pillows so they were able to sleep in reasonable comfort.

The day was an interminable wait, our nerves stretched tight. I tried to read but our neighbors made it nearly impossible. The room was filled with screaming kids, people watching movies on their phones with the volume turned up, and lots of loud talking, one woman in particular shouting at her toddler every few minutes with a voice like a bullhorn. We sat quietly in our corner and tried to block it all out.

That night some jackass tried to invite the entire shelter to our classroom for a dance party. He went so far as to go to the office and ask if there was an intercom system that he could use to tell people about it. Then he put on some music and tried to coerce everyone into dancing. The only takers he had were the kids in our room, bursting with unspent energy.

Then Mr. Dance Party got sullen. He got on his phone and started talking to a friend loudly how we were all useless and just “waiting to die.” I ignored him and kept my nose stuck in my book. Finally he shut up.

The light were out by 11:30 and things quieted down for the night. But then at about midnight we all heard the power die as the air conditioning ground to a halt. The faint howl of the wind could be heard through the bunker-like walls and ceiling. Kosta and I held each other and tried to sleep.

 

My Kosta

Konstantine-George  Athanasios Karras

Konstantine-George Athanasios Karras

 

Twelve years ago this morning I met the guy above. It was my first day of work at the Naples Branch Library and my supervisor David introduced me to Kosta right by the CD racks. I still remember he wore a red-checked shirt and was very nice and funny.

Did I think immediately I was going to end up married to him? Good heavens, no.

But after about six months of working together we discovered we had things in common: we had both studied archaeology, we both loved to write, we both loved history and art and travel. When he suggested we go out for a beer to talk about writing some more I agreed. We went to McCabe’s and had a beer and talked and talked and talked. We were friends.

After that we went out once a week as friends. We laughed and drank beer and ate burgers and had a great time. We did this for about six months before I was brave enough to take things to the next level. So on January 6, 2006 I invited him over to my place for a home-cooked meal. I made spaghetti and garlic bread and he brought the wine. We watched The Thing from 1951 with James Arness as the monster. I don’t really remember anything about the movie at all because I was so nervous. When the credits rolled I leaned over and kissed him.

He didn’t run screaming, which I took as a good sign. It took him a while to figure out his mind though. At the time he was 49 years old and had pretty much decided he was going to be a permanent bachelor. He was concerned that there were eighteen years between us. But by President’s Day that year he had committed and we never looked back.

Now we write together. We talk about history and art. We travel as much as we can afford. We laugh every day. And yes, there are eighteen years between us but it doesn’t make one whit of difference. We are best friends and that is that.

The only thing I would change about my relationship with my husband would be that I had met him sooner.  I love you, honey. You’re the one for me.

Wurzburg and Rothenberg ob der Tauber

The four of us only spent a morning in Wurzburg, had lunch and then went on to Rothenberg in the afternoon.  A few hours of the morning were spent at the laundromat, as we were all beginning to offend with our not so fresh clothes. Afterwards we took a look at the palace and had lunch:

Palace at Wurzburg

Palace at Wurzburg

IMG_6301

Palace at Wurzburg

Lunch

Lunch

Then we made the trek over to Rothenberg. This town was the whole reason for this trip. I had seen a famous picture of the town and said to myself, “I want to be THERE.” And so we went. Rothenberg ob der Tauber is the most well preserved medieval town in Bavaria. It was largely spared from bombing in WWII and still remains as charming as hell. Case in point:

The money shot. This was the place I saw that I wished to stand and gaze upon.

The money shot. This was the place I saw that I wished to stand and gaze upon.

Main square of town

Main square of town

There was also a tour I wished to take: the Nightwatchman’s Tour. The guy who has been giving this tour has been doing so for over 20 years. He’s got a dry delivery and is very funny. The tour itself was highly informative and massively crowded. But well worth it.

George the Nightwatchman.

George the Nightwatchman.

Rothenberg is lousy with charm and I wish we’d had more time to spend there. We did manage to eat at a restaurant that was in a garden that was lovely. Sylvain stole my camera and took some photos, one of which is a favorite snap of my husband:

My happy husband.

My happy husband.

The garden restaurant.

The garden restaurant.

It was a long day full of fun, history, shopping, picture taking, and walking everywhere. Let me leave you with this stinking cute hotel in Rothenberg:

Looks like something out of a fairy tale, doesn't it?

Looks like something out of a fairy tale, doesn’t it?

Bad Windsheim and Nürnberg

We spent four days visiting the “bergs” of Bavaria: Nürnberg, Bamberg, Würzburg, and Rothenberg ob der Tauber, with a day in Munich on either end. We traveled with our good friends Danielle and Sylvain, who flew in from France to join us.  We stayed in the charming little town of Bad Windsheim:

Bad Windsheim

Bad Windsheim

We chose to stay there because it was centrally located to what we wanted to see, and also because my friend Niki used to live there when her husband was stationed in the military nearby.

We rented a house off AirBnb and it was adorable. It had a patio where we sat every night to eat, or have a drink:

Sylvain and Kosta sample the schnapps.

Sylvain and Kosta sample the schnapps.

So. Nürnberg. It was the first city we visited and it was charming for all the notorious reputation is has received from the post WWII trials. We saw the Imperial Palace, walked the city wall, had lunch next door to Albrecht Dürer’s birthplace, and saw some beautiful churches and half-timbered houses.

On the river.

On the river.

Danielle and Sylvain

Danielle and Sylvain

My husband's herring. Ew.

My husband’s herring. Ew.

View from inside the fortified palace on the hill.

View from inside the Imperial Palace on the hill.

IMG_6260

Doofus.

Market Day.

Market Day.

Birthplace of Albrecht Durer.

Birthplace of Albrecht Durer.

One more thing we did was visit the Zepplinfield, or the Nazi Party rally grounds. Sylvian is a huge WWII buff and was intellectually interested to see the spot. We stopped there on our way out of town. The concrete risers are still there, although crumbling. I have no pictures of the spot because I did not want to honor it with a photograph. It was interesting, in a morbid way, but I definitely had the creeps being there. Kosta said he felt like he needed to wash the bottoms of his shoes after we left. I still can’t believe it hasn’t been razed.

On a lighter note to send you along your way:

I'll just leave you with this picture of a busker playing the accordion with his dog hanging out on top.

I’ll just leave you with this picture of a busker playing the accordion with his dog hanging out on top. Like you do.

 

 

 

We gotta say goodbye for the summer…

The Friday morning breakfast club met this afternoon for coffee. It was our last time together until the end of August. As early as Tuesday we all go our separate ways for the summer. It was bittersweet, because I love these people so much and yet I am raring to get on with vacation.

The weekend started out with a birthday party. Miss Tammy, my rainbow girl, turned the big 5-0 this week. There was a long table of us at Wyld’s Cafe in Bonita Springs to help her celebrate. There was great food, fantastic company and a decadent chocolate cake from Norman Love to complete the night.

Because cake is so important...

Because cake is so important…

Like I said, this afternoon we all met for coffee to say our goodbyes. Tammy is off to the Jersey shore for three weeks before she and Diane jet off to Peru to see Machu Picchu. Then later they will be joining family in Seattle and perhaps do an Alaskan cruise.

Of course, Kosta and I are set for our trip to Europe. 18 days! And dear Cary will be stuck at home, keeping the breakfast table saved for us until we return. Don’t think we’ll forget you! There will be a special present for you, our keeper of the Eternal Breakfast Flame.

Summer is going to be full-throttle, but so much fun. Before you know it the end of August will be here and everyone will be back. And I can’t wait to hear all about the adventures.

Of course, our day was marred by the horrific news out of Orlando. I don’t understand why this keeps happening. I suppose my head does, but my heart cannot fathom why. All those fallen and their families are in my prayers. Other than that I don’t have the words to convey my heavy heart.

X is for…

XXanthi’s house

Kosta’s aunt Froso has a good friend named Xanthi, and bless her that her name starts with an X! When we were staying with Froso in Nafplio we spent an afternoon at Xanthi’s house having lunch. She used to own a restaurant with her husband and is an amazing cook. Although I have yet to meet a Greek woman who wasn’t an amazing cook. We had roasted lamb, potatoes and greens in an avgolemino sauce. When my husband took his first bite he burst into tears because it reminded him of his mother’s cooking. That of course, endeared him to them even more. He was pronounced a “good boy.”

A "good boy."

A “good boy.”

Xanthi was so sweet. Even though she didn’t speak a word of English and we only had a handful of Greek words, we had a wonderful time at her house. She each gave us gifts too– a set of komboloi (Greek worry beads) even though she doesn’t have a great deal of money. What a lovely, lovely, woman.

Froso on the left, Xanthi on the right.

Froso on the left, Xanthi on the right.

Roasted lamb and greens in avgolemino sauce.

Roasted lamb and greens in avgolemino sauce.