This morning, when my cat, Cleo, and I, peered out the window and saw, in the growing morning light that the hills on the far side of my valley were clear, the dark smog had vanished and, once more, the air was the purest anywhere in the world. Covid-19 is like that. Here we are in the home stretch of a world-wide plague that has laid us low for nearly a year. It has given the world’s economy what might have been a death blow. It has sickened millions and killed hundreds of thousands world-wide. The morning is coming.
Every person I have met during my fifty tears in lake County, and especially in Witter Springs, are good neighbors. They are the sort of folks you would want living next to you. Next to my farm in Witter Springs, I have two of the best neighbors you could find anywhere. Maybe it’s because of Carl Sandburg’s poetic prose about neighbors; ‘Good fences make good neighbors.’ We all have fences in Witter Springs. Naturally. Otherwise, our cattle and horses would be sitting on each other’s front porch.
Animals communicate. They can’t speak words, at least that’s true most of the time, but we once had a mongrel dog that could. My dear wife, who found the dog in San Francisco and brought her home, taught Sweetness (that was the name she gave the dog) to speak. I’ll swear to it. Our friends heard her speak as well. Many times. Sweetness had a limited vocabulary, but it could say ‘I love you.’ That’s what my wife taught the dog to say. Sweetness did it every time she had an audience, and when my wife asked her. Of course, it was rough speech. Actually, the dog said something that sounded more like, ‘Ahhiiiee wuuvvve oooo.’ But that is what it was trying to say.
Driving my Jeep from Witter Springs to Lakeport, on my way to my monthly support group at the Pizza palace on Eleventh Street, I had a crackerjack of an idea. First off, let me tell you the support group meets once a month every Thursday in the back room of the Pizza Palace. Naturally, everybody buys something for lunch. It may be anything from a slice of good Pizza to a Veggie plate. I usually get the Veggie palate and load up. It’s a good way to get my veggie vitamins and keeps me cranking full speed ahead. Once everyone has arrived, we talk.
A good friend reminded me of something I had forgotten. It relates to the old warning that the greatest danger and the greatest chance of a mistake happens in the last mile on the way home. Driving home from a journey, we may let down our defenses when we are closest to the finishing line. I know it’s not easy for you. For nearly four months, after being Sheltered in Place, except for a very few times going out as a masked stranger, there have been times when I was ready to climb the walls. Since I live alone, the best cure has always been to call a friend and listen to their problems, or just have a good conversation. It always helps me forget my problems and, I believe, the other person benefits as well. There have been times when the only thing I could do, rather than stare at four walls, is to drive around my valley and see how beautiful the world still is.
Before I started writing this article, I had second thoughts. What I wanted to write about was personal. I want my friends to think well of me. To say what I wanted to say, I had to unload myself and tell my friends about some of my faults. Exposing my mistakes might lower me in their estimation. On the other hand, if I can’t speak freely to my friends, who can I tell?
Every day I make mistakes; usually, one or two. I expect that, but yesterday I made my quota, and they were doozies. You may think a person as old as I don’t make mistakes anymore. After all, by the time you get to be ninety and, if it is true that we learn from our mistakes, then I should be perfect. Right? Not so. I keep on making mistakes all the time, no matter how hard I try to be perfect.
Perhaps, after my ninety-four years of making mistakes and watching this old world roll by, I have acquired a broader sense of what the future may hold for us, a sense that I did not have when I wore a younger man’s clothes. I never expected to live this long. I expected the two score and ten would be plenty during which I had my fair share of life. Now that I have, I had better use, and share, whatever small lessons and knowledge I’ve acquired to help others be ready for tomorrow.
I am a persistent person. Once I set out to do a job, like a dog with a bone, I cannot quit or let go until I have got all the meat off the bone or finished the project. While I admit that I am not always the brightest bulb in the room, I’ve discovered even a dim bulb, given time enough to shed light, may furnish enough light to do a job.
The next thing to being famous is to have a famous friend. My cat, Cleo Paleno, is famous. I know she is famous because on three separate occasions, total strangers, as well as several of my acquaintances, have gone out of their way to tell me how much they admire Cleo. That warms my heart because I consider Cleo my best animal friend and a cat deserving of admiration and praise.
Sometimes life gets complicated. Like a slap on the side of your head when you least expect it. The other day my reading glasses right ear hanger fell off. Being a person with a razor-sharp intellect and the reflexes of a jungle cat, and since the same thing happened to me a hundred times before with other glasses during the last twenty-five years, I knew instantly what happened; the screw that fastens the ear hanger to my spectacles had come unscrewed. Over time and use, the screw had come loose and fallen out.
We got to the Indian Rock and parked a dozen feet away. The rock was looked like a giant gray egg. It was half out of the ground, ten feet in diameter and covered with algae stars and rock carvings. It must have rolled from a precipice of stone at the top of what had been a mountain peak a million years ago.
I drove into town to check my front wheel bearings at Loren’s Garage. Loren, Brian, Ryan, and the other boys treat me right. They never stiff me on the cost of the repairs. They go farther. More than once, they give me a ride home while they pursue their delicate ministrations on my vehicle.
For a week, I had terrible static on my telephone. It was nearly impossible to call out, and when people called me, I couldn’t understand anything they said except every third word for the static interference. Each time I called, the static on the phone sounded like I had dialed into the grandfather of all snowstorms.
My cat Cleo and I understand each other. When I got her a year ago at the SPCA, she was a six-month-old semi-Angora kitten that nobody wanted. She let me scratch her head, so I took her home. She and I have become, well, not exactly bosom buddies, but we respect one another, and she will do what I ask if she wants to.
At a time of the year, when many of us are the center of a human bee-hive of family and friends, and have work we enjoy, feelings of loneliness don’t pay us much attention. Still, there are many of our friends, who are older, or because of illness or the loss of someone near and dear to them, feel alone. They suffer more often from those great cripplers; loneliness and depression. In a world so wonderful and amazing, some may wonder why being lonely has gained such control over so many people’s lives.
A week ago, I was driving home from Lakeport. I had just come from our once-a-month support group for folks that had lost their spouse. As I rounded the corner, going toward the 29 Freeway North and Upper Lake, I noticed one of the UPS trucks barreling ahead of me. It was heading in the same direction as I was.