On May 12, Joe Wheeler took a terrible tumble down the stairs, resulting in a traumatic brain injury. We are hoping for a quick recovery, but it could be lengthy.
BLOG #15, SERIES #9
WEDNESDAYS WITH DR. JOE
WHY SO MANY U.S. MEN DIE AT AGE 62
APRIL 11, 2018
That is the title of a landmark study of aging conducted by Maria D. Fitzpatrick of Cornell University and Timothy J. Moore of the University of Melbourne. The information came from the National Center for Health Statistics (years studied: 1979-2012).
They discovered that the increase of the probability of death for men who retire at 62 could be as high as 20%!
How strange! The lifeline we call Social Security” may be resulting in earlier death rather than extending it!
This dovetails with other studies I’ve come across during the last 25-30 years. According to virtually all of these studies, there is one constant: the average American (especially the average male) tends to die within seven years of retirement. Apparently, the very worst thing that can happen to a male retiree is for him to breathe a great sigh of relief and say, “Finally! No more committees, no more deadlines, no more projects—starting today I can just veg, and enjoy life!” When that happens, in his brain’s control tower, the commander in chief of his white armies sends out a final command: “Demobilize! You aren’t needed any more!” And you die. Clearly, often quickly—even at 62! Thus, every retiree (at any age) ought to be aware of his/her options: unless you immediately establish new priorities, develop new passions, set new goals, get involved in new hobbies, find new ways to serve and make a difference, read books widely, travel in order to learn—, yes, failure to do this is a death sentence.
All around us are men and women who refuse to let go, refuse to terminate growth (at any age!)—and they tend to remain vibrant, relative, energetic, and interesting to be around. On the other hand, those who piddle out their days with mindless TV, lackadaisical physical activity, etc—nobody wants to be around them. Because they get dumber and more uninteresting by the day.
The writers in the Good Book concur: Nowhere in the pages of Holy Writ is there any indication that God expects us to cease growing at any age. Instead, Christ’s parables are full of stories that teach us that, of no talent God has entrusted to us, will He require a stricter accounting on Judgment Day than of the Talent of Time. Nowhere in Scripture do we find a divine injunction that says, “When you get old, you’re home free: you no longer have to grow, learn, make a difference.”
Who knew that early retirement would amount to a death sentence?
Permit me to conclude with one of the greatest poems (and plays) on aging ever written:
DO NOT GO GENTLE INTO THAT GOOD NIGHT
Do not go gentle into that good night,
Old age should burn and rave at close of day;
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.
Though wise men at their end know dark is right,
Because their words had forked no lightning they
Do not go gentle into that good night.
Good men, the last wave by, crying how bright
Their frail deeds might have danced in a green bay,
Rage, rage against the dying of the night.
Wild men who caught and sang the sun in flight,
And learn, too late, they grieved it on its way
Do not go gentle into that good night.
Grave men, near death, who see with blinding sight
Blind eyes could blaze like meteors and be gay,
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.
And you, my father, there on the sad height,
Curse, bless, me now with your fierce tears, I pray.
Do not go gentle into that good night.
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.
—Dylan Thomas (1914-1952)
Copyright ©1945: New Directions Publishing Corporation
BLOG #2, SERIES #9
WEDNESDAYS WITH DR. JOE
THREE WEEKS IN BRITISH COLUMBIA #9
January 10, 2018
I first read about this magical place in the September/October 2016 issue of The Saturday Evening Post; the article by Todd Pitock was titled “Storm-Chasing on Vancouver Island.” The subtitle is just as intriguing:
The rest of the first-person paragraph is, “Sailors know the coast as ‘The Graveyard of the Pacific,’ and chronicles of disasters and survivor stories fill volumes.”
Once Pitock reached Wickaninnish Inn in Tofino, one of the porters informed him, “Oh, a storm is coming all right. But not to worry: the Lodge is built into a rocky promontory, whose floor to ceiling windows are tempered to withstand 100 mpg gusts so guests can look into the heart of the storm without flinching.”
As to what it’s like in a storm, Pitock obliges: “Rain pelts the windows and taps the roof, strong and steady, and then builds into a real torrent, billions of little beads dropping from the sky. The water’s surface whips into a creamy brown foam, and enormous swells heave and then roll in long seams into waves that explode on the boulders, sending bursts of spume a hundred feet into the air. The wind cuts the crest of the waves like a scythe and slings foam and water. Across from the beach are tiny islands with huge sitka spruce trees so strong that the wind can’t bend them. Everything begins to look like an impressionist painting up close. The susurrations [whispers, murmurs] of the water are amplified by a rumbling, a sound of thunder that comes from the sea itself, which we can hear even from within the cozy safety of the lodge, thanks to a pipe that carries the sound in from outside.”
Pitock goes on to some tourism stats: “Today, the 1,875 residents receive about a million visitors a year, though most of them come in season for the water sports and whale watching, not for the storms.”
But Pitock does not conclude without warning po’ folk like us that staying at the inn is not for pikers: “When the Wickaninnish Inn opened in 1996, its cedar-sided building, along with furnishings from recycled old-growth fir, western red cedar, and driftwood and natural stone tile floors covered by wood sisal carpets, all let the 75-room inn fit the setting. But the ‘Wick,’ as it’s called, was intended as an experience for people who take their rustic neat, without the rugged. Let’s call them (or us, as the case is) the Pampered Traveler–people who appreciate a good double-soaking tub, heated floors, private ocean-facing balconies, in-room fireplaces, and a four-star full-service spa. . . . Construction was no mean feat. Each massive post of the restaurant is mounted on a steel saddle connected to a concrete post that is anchored deep into the surrounding bedrock. Pairs of 5-foot-wide panes knit by narrow mullions give guests a 260 degree view of awe-inspiring weather in awesome digs.”
* * *
After I read and re-read that article, I sighed, Wouldn’t it be great if we could see this incredible place for ourselves. Even more–since I’m wishing for the moon–, to be actually privileged to stay there.
The seed had been planted, thus when ten months later we set up this three-week sojourn in British Columbia, a must-see had to do with the Tofino Coast and the legendary Wickaninnish [that extra “in” throws me every time] Inn.
For, always, I have been a stormaholic. How well I remember a banana boat experience when I was about twelve. My missionary parents booked tickets on this 300-foot ship that shuttled bananas from Trujillo, Honduras to Tampa, Florida. It was cheap so my folks could afford it. Then there was the not-so-small-aspect of all but nonexistent weather forecasting back then. No sooner had we headed out into the Gulf than the wind began to blow, the rain to fall, the waves to grow higher and higher, and (not coincidentally) the ship to rock, roll, wallow, and all but sink; every sane person on board, even seasoned sailors, retreated to their bunks and clutched their bedsteads like they were life-rafts. Same for my parents, brother, and sister. I, however, decided it was high time to get a better view of the action–and my folks were too sick to care what I did. There were no equalizers back then. I staggered down the hallway to the stairs and up to the deck. No one was crazy enough to be there but me. Gradually, I pulled myself along the railing until I reached the bucking prow. And there, shades of the Titanic film’s protagonists, I rode the screeching maritime bronco as the prow reached far up towards the sky, then plunged down deep into another canyon. Never in all my life have I experienced higher highs or lower highs than during those hurricane-driven hours. Finally, as the storm passed, my folks and the irate captain discovered my whereabouts, I got the castigation of my life.
Another time, at the Eagle’s Nest on the rim of Mexico’s Copper Canyon, we were lucky enough to be visiting my brother Romayne (internationally known concert pianist) when a terrific storm blew in. It was no laughing matter as it was the only time in my life when a storm blew up at us from a mile below us! The storm blew up rather than down, through the louvered windows, into the studio onto the priceless nine-foot Steinway grand piano, and an equally valuable seven-foot grand. For hours we labored to save the pianos.
Another tremendous storm hit us in the Mediterranean on board the Stella Solaris. We were in the dining room when the storm hit, sweeping china, glassware, pots, pans, etc., off the serving decks and the guests’ tables, and catapulting them across the room and splintering on the walls.
And, more recently, returning on a cruise from Alaska, just north of Vancouver Island, in Queen Charlotte Sound, a doozy hit us. While Connie hugged the bed, I sallied out into the hallway and sashayed like a drunk toward a stairway. Occasionally I met other lunatics who reveled in storms like me; sometimes we passed without careening against each other, and sometimes not. It really got funny when I got to the stairway–sometimes the next step was higher than I calculated on, sometimes not there at all! Oh how we fellow inebriates laughed! Once I reached the prow of the ship, I joined a crowd of other passengers afflicted with the same malady as mine.
Oh, it was wonderful!
* * *
But with that windy [pardon the pun] preamble, our foursome did make it to the Wickaninnish Inn. Not being flush enough to actually stay there, we did book breakfast in that already referred to iconic restaurant with 260 degree view windows. The service was all one would have expected and the food, in a word, “wonderful!” The view itself was worth the price of the trip.
Our waiter loved us! I’ve observed this, in other grand hotels, the waiters clearly tire of many of the so-called “beautiful people” who stay there, affluent couples and families who are bored of luxury the rest of us can only sigh for. Waiters who are used to being all but ignored, really come to life when they meet people like us who sacrifice just to have a meal in their famed dining rooms, people like us who take a personal interest in them, where they come from, how they got here, and how they relate to such five-star facilities. “The Wick” is sometimes referred to as a “Ten-Star.”
* * *
We vowed to return. Byron declared that he’d save up his sheckels so that he could bring Kim back here on a romantic anniversary. I’d like to do the same, but it’s a “fer-piece” from Colorado!
BLOG #42, SERIES 7
WEDNESDAYS WITH DR. JOE
WE DISCOVER NORTHERN EUROPE #3
October 19, 2016
All our lives, we’d heard about the three fascinating Baltic States: Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania; three small neighboring Northern European countries that have shared histories, similar geographies, different languages, and separate identities. They lie between Scandinavia to the north, Poland to the south, and Finland and Russia to the east. Their combined total land mass is only 67,000 square miles, about the size of Oklahoma—even smaller than Austria. Although they are much alike, they are also distinctively different from each other. According to Insight Guide editors, Lithuanians are stereotypically the most outgoing and nationalistic. Latvians are the most rural in outlook; because Russia did its utmost to swallow up its identity, today only 60% of Latvians are Latvian rather than Russian. Estonia is more influenced by Scandinavia. Under the heading of “Showing Affection” in the guidebook is this thought-provoking paragraph:
“Estonians have mastered the art of being impeccably polite without being friendly. Friendship, for them, is for life…. Despite their differences, Estonians, Latvians and Lithuanians are united by a love of nature and the outdoors. Admittedly, they enjoy it in different ways. Lithuanians will drive their car to a beauty spot and blast their surroundings with pop music, whereas Latvians will organize barbecues or swimming parties. Estonians tend to regard such habits with horror, going to great lengths to find a truly solitary spot where they can sit in silence.”
Unfortunately, due to time constraints, it was only possible for us to visit one of the three: Tallinn, the fairytale capitol of Estonia. It was a heartstoppingly beautiful blue-sky day when the Zuiderdam arrived. It took some getting used to for us to shake off distance misconceptions. Tallinn is only 53 miles from Helsinki, Finland; and 80 miles from St. Petersburg, Russia. This close proximity to giants such as Russia has resulted in a tragic past for the Baltic States. Every time Russia sneezes, they shudder. This is one reason they pay so much attention to U. S. politics, for if Russia should once again swallow them up, if the U.S. refuses to honor its treaties, one gobble and they’d be erased from the face of the map.
But it’s not just Russia that has dominated Estonia. The first conquerors were the Danes; since the Estonians held off 1,000 ships, Denmark called in Teutonic Knights; together, in 1227, they took over Estonia. Sweden was next, but proved so repressive that Estonians turned to Peter the Great. By 1721, Russia was firmly in control. Estonia remained subjugated for 270 years until on August 20, 1991, with Russian tanks rolling into Tallinn, Estonia formally declared its independence. Thus, Estonia has only been independent for a paltry 25 years in its entire history!
Tallinn is a medieval walking town with meandering cobblestone streets. Unfortunately, we weren’t permitted to stay long in the lovely old city. Apparently, it is today being loved to death by Russians, Swedes, Finns, Norwegians, Germans, and Danes—just for starters. Yet, in spite of it all, Estonians revel in their newly won freedom.
Just as was true of the Danes, Estonians were all outdoors, savoring the early May sunshine. They are so far north, Northern Europe is, that they have very long gloomy winters, with precious little sunshine. Consequently, when May comes, no one wants to stay indoors!
It was with great reluctance that we watched Tallinn receding from view, vowing to return in order to explore more of those three magical little nations, each reveling in its new-found freedom.
BLOG #9 SERIES #7
DR. JOE’S BOOK OF THE MONTH CLUB #50
FRANK AND ERNESTINE GILBRETH’S
CHEAPER BY THE DOZEN
March 2, 2016
A timeless classic! There is a tumbler in my mind that is constantly churning books, each vying for a chance to be one of my book of the month selections. Night and day the non-stop churning of books continues. But over the month that separates one book choice from another, certain books tend to surface more often than others. Just so, Cheaper by the Dozen has been struggling for its place in the sun—not just for a month but for close to half a year now. Its time has come.
I first read it during my own growing-up years, and loved it. Also loved the movie. But then, it gradually receded from my conscious thoughts. What changed all this is my need to consider all my known and cherished books so that I don’t short-change any of them.
To a historian of ideas, the Roaring Twenties was an ideological gold mine. First of all, it was a period of profound disillusion and loss of faith in God, the result of a war so horrific that many felt that spirit of God was withdrawing from the earth. Where was God in the millions of dead, wounded, and incapacitated for life? Where was God when some 40,000,000 additional deaths from Spanish Flu were added to battle-related casualties?
Second, when a generation of men went to war during World War I (the so-called “Great War”), millions of women were forced to take their places on the factory home-front—in the process, getting their first taste of freedom. But when all those men eventually returned home, that act resulted in women being forced back into their stereotypical boxes—and many were deeply resentful of this collective clipping of their wings.
Third, the automobile changed everything. Concerned parents called them “bordellos on wheels,” and feared for their daughters’ virginity. And for good reason.
Fourth, the movie industry reinforced this perception that all the traditional moral safeguards against rampant godless hedonism were rapidly being swept away. In the process, more and more, youthful peer-pressure was replacing the “still small voice” of God.
It was unique in another respect: large families were still the norm, birth-control was essentially a non-factor, men openly bragged about controlling women by keeping them “barefoot and pregnant.” In my own immediate family, my mother was one of seven children and my father was one of eleven (two of whom died young). People did die young then. Few people outlived their sixties—and many died in their fifties. Modern medicine was still in its infancy. Smoking was openly encouraged. Obesity was merely a fact of life. Exercise? Why? Diabetes? What was that? But, as for children, they lived out of doors and felt perfectly safe anywhere they went.
World War II had accomplished something peacetime had not. It finally brought an end to the Depression that had been raging ever since 1929. Now, with boundless optimism in the air, get-rich-quick speculation reached epidemic proportions. Fortunes were made by bold entrepreneurs who were convicted that only fools worried about tomorrow.
* * * * *
The father in this book, Frank Bunker Gilbreth, was in real life the developer of the Science of Motion Study, and, not coincidentally, is today considered the father of Efficiency Studies. He and his wife (and business successor after his untimely death) used their children as convenient (and cheap) subjects on which they could test their theories of motion management. He took moving pictures of the children washing dishes to see how he could reduce motions and speed them up. Irregular household jobs were awarded to the kids on a lowest-bid basis (each one submitted sealed bids).
So this, in short, is the world of the Roaring Twenties depicted in this wondrous true story of a man and woman and their twelve children. A story that may seem like a fairy tale to us today—so different from what we daily experience.
And it has to be, for good measure, one of the funniest books ever written.
In summation, I urge each of you to read it on several levels: read it to compare our world to that one. Read it as an armchair historian of ideas. Read it for humor. And read it for one of the most enjoyable (and funniest) reads of your life.
* * *
And, for good measure, you may want to acquire or rent the rollicking 1950 movie. The cast features Clifton Web, Myrna Loy, Jeanne Crain, Edgar Buchanan, Mildred Natwick, Sara Allgood, Betty Lynn, Barbara Bates Ollestad. The film was directed by Walter Lang.
Try to pick up an unabridged dust-jacketed hardback (Thomas Y. Crowell, 1948).
BLOG #8, SERIES #7
WEDNESDAYS WITH DR. JOE
AUTUMN IN APPALACHIA
UNEXPECTED SPLENDOR – Part 4
February 24, 2016
We now come to the conclusion of our Appalachian Autumn journey.
After regretfully having to leave the Greenbriar, we jagged up Highway 19 to Hillsboro, and then a few more miles to Pearl Buck’s birthplace. Even though it wasn’t open for tours, we were able to walk around it and take photos. Pearl Buck, the only American to be honored by both the Pulitzer Prize and the Nobel Prize for Literature. Since I have anthologized a number of her stories, this was a very special stop for me.
Then it was on down the river canyon, then up and up to Pipestem Resort State Park on the canyon rim of the Bluestone River Gorge. After checking in and enjoying the spectacular view while having dinner, we relaxed by the fireplace. Next morning, we took the tramway over 1100 feet down to Long Branch Lake. The lodge proved most difficult to leave.
A short distance away brought us to one of America’s most spectacular bridges, the New River Gorge Bridge: third highest (876 feet) bridge in the United States, 3030 feet length, and longest open steel arch in the world. From the Visitor Center we had a stunning view both of the bridge and the canyon. The bridge is a favorite launching platform for daring bungee-jumpers.
Underneath the bridge is of course the fabled New River, said to be the world’s oldest river. The three intersecting national park gorges are home to some of the greatest whitewater in America. In the fall, when the up-river dams unleash their deep reservoirs upon the canyons below, rafters and kayakers from around the world come here to compete.
Then it was on through peak Autumn colors, as we slowly meandered down the curvy Blue Ridge Parkway to Boone, NC; then next day it was on to Asheville, a retirement and tourist mecca (9,000,000 people visit the town each year). Our first stop was an old hotel that wasn’t expected to survive, the historic Grove Park Inn, the brain-child of E. W. Grove, creator of Grove’s Tasteless Chill Tonic, that once outsold Coca Cola.
The Inn opened in 1913 to instant acclaim. A crew of about 400 men had accomplished what was considered impossible: constructing the majestic landmark in only twelve months. At an opening dinner, William Jennings Bryan declared that it was “built for the ages.” Regulars included stars of the age such as F. Scott Fitzgerald, Houdini, Will Rogers, and George Gershwin—as well as ten presidents: from Woodrow Wilson to Barack Obama. But like all hotels, sooner or later, age caught up with it. Just in time, it was saved by the Dallas husband/wife team of Charles and Elaine Sammons in 1998 – 2002; $45,000,000 was spent on restoration and expansion. Today, Omni Resorts has elevated it into the highest echelon of world-class hotels.
It was a beautiful morning on Asheville’s Sunset Ridge, where the inn is perched with a commanding view of Asheville. Feellng it would be the perfect place for a meal, we waited an hour and a half until a table opened on the outside terrace. It was well worth the wait.
Next we toured the Thomas [Clayton] Wolfe home in downtown Asheville. Wolfe was born and raised in Asheville, and thanks to books such as Look Homeward, Angel; Of Time and the River; The Web and the Rock; You Can’t Go Home Again; and the short story collection, The Hills Beyond, he is today considered one of America’s great novelists. Since I had studied him in depth, this was a real serendipity to be able to see this museum-home. And we were incredibly lucky to have as a tour guide a young scholar who was passionately excited about the Wolfe story. As she led us into room after room, she brought the family, boarders, townspeople, to life before our eyes. By the time she finished, we felt we knew them..
Next we visited the historic Riverside Cemetery, in which are buried Asheville’s two most famous sons, Wolfe and William Sydney Porter (O. Henry). Both graves are prominently pointed out in nearby signs. But our real serendipity was finding a mother and little daughter Astria hovering over a tombstone. The little girl was lovingly running her hands over some coins they’d just attached to the stone. When we came up to them, we could see a long line of coins–unfortunately, so many coins had been stolen they were unable to bring them up to one dollar and eighty-seven cents, all the money Della had left, as immortalized in one of the greatest Christmas stories ever written: O. Henry’s “The Gift of the Magi,” a story I included in my own Christmas in My Heart© story anthology series. At any rate, this mother and daughter’s life-long gift of love is tending the grave of a man buried here in 1910, 106 years ago, and on each visit, bringing the coin total back up to one dollar and eighty-seven cents. What dedication!
Then it was time to move on, traveling the most spectacular stretch of Autumn splendor of the entire two weeks: the almost unknown and unsung “Cherahola Skyway, undulating up and down between 5,000 and 7,000 feet in elevation (the best colors showing up between 4,200′ and 5,400′. Eventually we left North Carolina and descended into Tennessee, encountering the rain that had mercifully held back until then, at Fall Creek Falls. Ordinarily this park would have been spectacular too in Autumn but, in the rain, it was muted. Then it was on to Murfreesboro, concluding our several thousand miles on the back-roads of America. We will never forget the memories we made there.