My own, or selected others.
For Isaac, who was shocked at a story about his early flashes of brilliance. Here are a few early memories of your shining mind.
First I wanted to mention two very early things.
In the first you were about 18 to maybe 20 months old, that’s a toddler. You had started walking a few months before. Your favorite form of travel was me picking you up and carrying you around. You started to talk a couple of months before this. We were in the backyard at your Mom’s old house, I was carrying you. It was a beautiful evening with a royal blue sky and a big, nearly full moon. You pointed your tiny hand and said “Moon climbing up the sky…” In case you don’t get it that’s amazing. One night not long afterwards, your mom was driving you home from day care and you were of course strapped in the back seat and said “The night is dark and lovely” You have your quirks my boy, but you have serious gifts too.
I have always been fairly bouncy and youthful. I’ve also always been vain and deeply in denial about getting older. 2 years ago, my health nosedived in a way that went from sad to frustrating to terrifying. It started with sudden arthritis bad enough to stop my aerobic routine and make keyboard and mouse use agonizing. If you know me, you know that means a lot of every day was agonizing. I rationalized that I am getting older and that I’ve earned any repetitive motion injuries with 2 decades of thoughtless ergonomics. I sucked it up.
I started having a lot of stomach trouble but it was gradual enough that it never clicked into the foreground. Whatever was happening, it messed with my energy levels. It messed with my sexuality. It messed with my sleep. I had a hundred odd little complaints. I rationalized it all as me getting old. My optimism decayed, my demented confidence that women still think I’m hot went with it. It turns out that a lot depends on that delusion for me. You might as well remove my thyroid or my knees.
I love moving, I love walking. Suddenly one day there was a tightness in my chest when going up a big hill. Over the next year, it got worse and worse and worse. All the joy in my life began to shrink and dry up like a waterhole. I was imprisoned on a small island. Walking to my classrooms the chest pain would become crushing and terrifying. I wasn’t tired or out of breath, just being squeezed by something that would pop me like a bubble if I kept moving. Worst were the weird middle of the night chest pains that seemed to come from nowhere. I think they made me the loneliest I have ever been.
It’s harder to explain how I rationalized and lived with this. The minute I took this to the doctor I would be admitting my normal life was over forever and I’d be off on the horrible “older guy with heart trouble” ride I’ve watched lots of people go on. I would be transformed into a patient. I also knew that my ADHD meds would be instantly canceled and I began to consider a future where I would never again feel awake and motivated.
It was like my only remaining decision was where to crash my plane.
My ADHD (and its co-morbid buddies, anxiety, depression and brain fog) got worse. I was overwhelmed by smaller and smaller challenges. “Nope, can’t check the email. I sure hope nobody sends me anything important ever again”. And no wonder, life was filling up with fearful choices with sad outcomes. Game over, man. Suddenly everything that would simply be kind of a downer ordinarily became text from my obituary. No girlfriend? He died alone. House dirty? He died amid his clutter and unwashed dishes. Unsatisfied creatively? He failed, period.
It might impress you how fatalistic I can be, and not in a good way.
The only reason I finally flushed my ADHD meds and went to the doctor was my son. Me dropping dead would destroy him. As little as was left for me personally by sticking around, I couldn’t possibly allow this to happen if I could avoid it. Of course my doctor was horrified at my story, and of course, all the things I passionately don’t want were prescribed, planned and scheduled. I went for the cardiac stress test and my blood pressure was so high they wouldn’t do the test because it might kill me. They did still charge me $150 though.
My ADHD was then untreated and exacerbated by emotional stress. I limped through my work. I became a flake with a short temper and increasingly frequent crippling angina pain. This way, ladies.
But I kept feeling that something was being missed and one day it came to me in an instant. A couple of years before she died, my Mom told me that she had been diagnosed with hemochromatosis.
All of these “You’re just getting older” problems were symptoms caused by a mutation of a gene called HFE which is most often the cause of hereditary hemochromatosis. Hemochromatosis causes your body to absorb too much iron from the food you eat. Excess iron is stored in your organs, especially your liver, heart, and pancreas. I was being slowly poisoned to death by iron. Each symptom was a different system in my body expressing its toxicity.
The genes that cause hemochromatosis are inherited, but only a minority of people who have the genes ever develop serious problems. Signs and symptoms of hereditary hemochromatosis usually appear in midlife. Treatment includes regularly removing blood from your body. Because much of the body’s iron is contained in red blood cells, this treatment lowers iron levels. The menstrual cycle protects women with hemochromatosis until menopause, when symptoms sometimes emerge.
I’m not out of danger yet but my prognosis is good. I expect I’ll be showing real improvement soon. If there’s a medical lesson in this story it’s about assumptions on the patient’s part as much as those held by the doctor. I looked at most of these symptoms and just assigned them to the “unimportant background noise” bin when every single one of them alone and as a group was a foreground signal. I didn’t want to sound like a whiny little bitch when talking to my doctor so I didn’t say “My joints hurt and I feel foggy and I have little sores in my mouth oh and my HEART HURTS so much!”. I didn’t want to sound like Grandpa Simpson. I wanted to tell my doctor a clean, coherent story that reflected well on my ability to tell such stories. I didn’t want to sound dumb or heedless of how busy he is and that desire to impress might have killed me. Just as there aren’t really any such things as “drug side effects” but effects we don’t choose to focus on because it’s not part of the narrative, there aren’t necessarily trivial symptoms, just ones that seem that way.
Thanks, Mom, for saving my life 17 years after you lost yours. I remember how emphatic you were in explaining it to me. That’s why the memory finally resurfaced and led me to safety.
Not such a happy time. Florida. No friends. Heat like a beating. Lawns watered with sulfurous well water. A four mile bike ride to the worst school I had ever seen. 35% dropout rate: They called them “dysfunctionals”. It smelled like broccoli and peanut butter. They hit kids with a wooden paddle to punish them 1. There was no fresh air. The windows were permanently sealed slits of frosted glass. Kids had desperately scratched at the windows for a glimpse outside. A social studies teacher talked about how black people had better natural rhythm in the course of teaching class. I started to curl up and surrender inside. I began bringing a novel every day and refusing to participate. Then a four mile bike ride back.
1 One fond memory: My Dad called the Principal and told him if he ever used that paddle on me he’d come straight over and use it on him.
I didn’t know that at the time but one day the principal called me out of class to say: “I’d just like to reassure you that we will never use the paddle on you.”
My Great Grandfather, Karl Oscar Lundstrom wrote this letter to his wife, my Great Grandma Henrika.
Dieppe the 20th of June 1883
My dear beloved wife, live well. Many thanks for your welcome letters which came today, it was a great joy for me. Any other earthly joy can’t be compared to this one, when I heard that you are still alive and in good health. I am in good health too, thanks god, till now and God, may these simple lines find you, my noble wife by the same precious gift of grace. I don’t know anything better to wish for than that.
We have to be separated, but in thoughts we can embrace each other I hope. If God helps me, then I can take your hand once again just like the hands here above and I can press you to my heart with devoted love. May god give us soon that day.
We stayed here longer than we thought to, but now the cargo is taken in and we are nearly ready to go out to sea. I wrote a letter the 13th of this month. You hadn’t had it yet when you wrote your letter but perhaps even got it the next day, I don’t know. Please write to me again as soon as you can, so I can know how you are. Remember me to Father and Mother, sisters and brothers, relatives and friends. Tell the first and last of them, you are all remembered.
My consolation, my joy, Goodbye.
If you haven’t had the first letter yet I write the address here
Sailor K.O. Lundstrom
The Swedish ship FRANS
My Grandma, Aina Helena Sundberg wrote this quick little reminiscence about Christmas during her childhood in Nykarleby, Finland.
Sleighs and jingle bells and candles in the window! She was born in 1887 and died in 1982 at 95 years old.
“Little Christmas,” the 13th of December, was the day for school children’s festivities in our all-girls school.
Our vacation had started the day before. We were all dressed in our best bib and tucker as we trudged through the snow to our school in the mid-afternoon. It was all dark — there were only four or five hours of daylight. Our one-room school was all lit up. There was a big tree to the ceiling, colorful decorations and live candles, ten or twelve inches high burning brightly on the tree, There was an air of expectancy all around. I can still remember feeling the warmth of that room and the crowd.
There were between 30 to 40 of us girls, and anyone who wanted to come was welcome to see us perform — singing, reciting, doing ring dances, imitating “Little mouse, watch out for the trap — little pussy cat tiptoe; little rabbit, sound asleep, better wake and hop before the wolf comes,” etc. We had our fling around and around. Last of all came refreshments of candies, cookies and red rosy apples and Children’s Christmas Magazine, with very colorful pictures and interesting stories, with one for each pupil to take home. By that time we had had our fill and we ventured out into the cold, homeward bound. Our ages were between 8 and 13, We had four classes, and one teacher. We had attended the “Children’s Cradle” school for two years previously. There the first year was kindergarten, and the second year there was reading, writing, and arithmetic.
The 14th of December was the boys‘ school entertainment. They were more favored/in that their school was located on the teachers‘ college territory. There were four buildings in all, so they had individual classrooms. In the last year of the teacher’s’ course of four years, they practiced their teaching ability in the boys classes, observed and judged by the principal and the professors of the seminary, as it was called. All students were males. The boys’ Christmas festivities took place in the big gym and assembly hall I of the seminary. The seating was about the same as at our gala, but everything was on a bigger scale. Some boisterous plays were performed in costumes. Last of all, there was a real, fur-coated Santa Claus who was very generous with gifts for the boys. They all got the same simple useful things. There were goodies for all the children present. You can bet we girls were there too, as were the boys the day before, at the girls‘ celebration. Continue reading