Saturday, December 31, 2016

2016 exits, and 2017 begins

“The old order changeth, yielding place to new,
And God fulfils himself in many ways,
Lest one good custom should corrupt the world
Tennyson, The Passing of Arthur.

I know that years, as a measurement of time, are somewhat arbitrary in their calculation.  Why not have them run from June 1 to May 31, for example?

Well, we don't.  And being a calculating species, the calculations mean something.

I can honestly say that while I doubt it would be apparent to many people who know me, unless they know me very well, 2016 was one of the hardest years of my adult life.

It started off, I suppose, sometime mid winter, maybe even in December 2015. I've completely lost track of it but some time ago we had to move my mother from what I'd call a nursing home into an assisted living facility.  I thought she's like that better, and maybe in the end she did, but that was hard.  Anyhow, sometime in the middle of the winter things really began to change.  Her already impaired memory rapidly began to decline.  And then her health followed.  This was followed by endless trips to the emergency room until an honest doctor informed us the end was really here and we could just best prepare for it.  At that time, we supposed it to be days, but it became weeks, as her tough old physical self refused to go where her mind had already gone.

My mother, as a young adventuresome soul.

My relationship with my mother had been strained since some point in my early teens but one of the odd twists of fate that occurs in life is that my father, who stuck with her in a way that truly did honor to their Catholic marriage vows, died just as an earlier condition of her began to stabilize.  He was 62 years old at the time, nine years older than I am now, and that had been a hard thing for him. That left me and my mother in that relationship and in a lot of ways it repaired itself as a result.  Later that left me and my wife with dealing with the devastating decline in her health and mental status and we carried the ball on that, helped by my father's fantastic siblings, for years.

She finally passed away in April.

You will hear people guiltily proclaim such things to be a relief. I don't know that I've felt that in any sense so much as a vacuum, and its hard to describe.  I'm an only child and now the framework of my early life is gone in a temporal sense.  In a other worldly sense it seems more real than ever, however.  To some degree the burden of my mother's illnesses has gone and the mother I had back before I was 13 is strangely present.

In another, however, I feel like I lost both parents this year.  I hadn't really realized it but the need to take up where my father had left off when he died kept me from fully feeling the impact of his loss even though we were very close.  Filling his shoes at home was a huge job, and I never did it adequately by a long shot, but it took up a lot of the space that grief would have filled.  Now that its gone, the grief came in late with it. 

Me and my father at the local fish hatchery, about 1966.

January through April, therefore, was a nightmare.  Weeks thereafter weren't much better as we dealt with all the things that a death brings along.  It was a hard winter and spring.

Death didn't stop there, however.  Just before my mother died, her brother Mark died.  I didn't really know Mark and I'm not sure if I ever met him.  He was the sibling of my mother's that I knew the least about. She was quite close to her brothers and sisters but for whatever reason Mark is one that I just heard less about.  I only talked to him once in recent years and at that time it was quite clear that he was very confused, not a good sign, so old age was catching up with him.  My mother, in a state of decline, reacted not at all to it really, which I suppose was a good thing.

Locally, just as my mother started to decline one of the male relatives in my extended family did as well.  He was really the last of my father's generation or near generation of my collection of local male relatives left alive. My Uncle Bob died some time ago as had my Uncle Bill.  My Uncle Frank is very much alive be he is quite a bit younger than my father.  Joe was a contemporary of Bill's and like him a World War Two veteran.  With him, it seems to me, the last of the giants of my youth have passed on and those of us left behind can hardly measure up to them.

As if that wasn't enough two more death visitations hit before the year ended, indeed within the last few weeks. One was the death of the husband of a high school colleague of mine.  This is the second time she's lost a husband. This one passed when a blood clot developed following knee surgery, and therefore it was unanticipated.  A true tragedy that left her with two distraught teenage daughters.

The second was the odd news that my grandmother's estate in Quebec is winding down.  It's been open since the 1970s. That seems nearly impossible in the American context but it had something to do with providing money from the sale of her house in Montreal to support an uncle in a nursing home.  He's still in the nursing home so something must have been worked out, but its odd to think of.  This year, as my mother became increasingly ill, she was asking about her own mother and if she was still alive.  Now, in an odd way, her mother's estate has come back to visit us after her daughter passed on, the third of her daughters to do so.

In the spring my son graduated from high school.   That is of course a happy event, but it's hard not to be a bit self reflective about it, particularly in a year like this.  I'm not going to go into it in depth, but what it does bring to me how very, very fast we grow up and into adulthood, and for that matter how fast adulthood passes us by. At age 53 the horizon of my time here on Earth is clearly visible. That doesn't bother me all that much but it does make me realize how very poorly I compare to my father and his role as my father.  I wish I'd been that good of father to my children, but I haven't been and I'm well aware of it.

Some of that is occupational and some of it isn't.  I've come to be very much aware of that this past year as well.

Occupationally I've worked now for nearly 27 years as a trial attorney, and I'm using the term advisedly, i.e., "trial attorney".  Plaintiff's lawyers have appropriated that term as if they're the only trial attorneys that there are, but that's complete bs. There's no trial without a defense and plaintiff's lawyers are no more or less trial lawyers than defense litigators are. For that matter, I've long thought that the real trial lawyers out there are the state's prosecutors and the public defenders, both of whom are in trial all the time.

Anyhow, civil litigators, which may be a better term for trial attorneys, don't make the best spouses and parents, I think.  It's a really stressful occupation and it follows a person home everyday.  Additionally, and as I've tracked continually on this blog, civil litigators travel constantly and this means that you aren't there a lot.  I've missed birthdays of my children, spouse and late mother, via travel.  I was out of town in a trial when my daughter became quite ill as a young child and I was in trial when the outside water line froze.  All this means that my wife had to do double duty quite a few times, including times when my mother was quite sick, and that's a hard and unfair thing.  Additionally an occupation that trains you to interrogate and argue and which regards those as virtues will impact your personality at least to some degree, and probably not universally in a good way.  Looking back on it, it's pretty clear to me that my own father was much more patient and caring than I have been in the same role.  He wasn't a lawyer and he was always there.

Of course, it's easy to pin the blame on something other than on ones self, and maybe that's just it, frankly.  Probably my father was just flat out a better person than I am.  I certainly cannot be one of those people who laments the faults of his father, to be sure, as mine are much more manifest than his.  My personality may be such that I would tend to exhibit a lot of these traits no matter what, who knows?

Anyhow, given the passing of my remaining parent and the arrival in adulthood of my son, these defects have been quite glaring, in my view.  I have pondered those a fair amount.

I noted travel above and this year has had some unique travel incidents that added to the general gloom of the year.  In January 2016, just after the turn of the year, I had my 2007 Dodge D3500 develop a critical exhaust problem which required me to seek assistance immediately, which in this case meant driving all the way back to Casper in sub zero weather without stopping and, moreover without slowing down too much.  Quite the adventure that only those with diesel particulate filters would be familiar with.  The exhaust system of that now old truck had to be rebuilt.  In late summer I went to my mother's old house to pick up my son, who now lives there while attending college, so that we could go to Cody.  I had a pretrial hearing that morning and he was coming along.  It was early, early, and as he didn't come to the door, I briefly waited and then decided to go to the door and knock. Even though I have never done this before, I forgot to set the parking break and left the truck in neutral.  As I was at the front door, I heard a rolling sound and . . . to make a long story short it rolled down the block as I ran after it until what was going to happen was obvious.

 Sigh. . . .

And what was going to obviously happen is that it was going to hit a house.  Yes, a house.  But, oddly enough, or perhaps not, it executed a nice backwards right turn and swung off to the side of a sides street, hitting a tree and bouncing into a Subaru, which it destroyed.   My truck was pretty badly damaged but workable and I drove it to Cody that day, but not before I was made a little late by a really long delay as a real jerk of a policeman investigated the thing.  It's the second time a member of my family has had to interact with Officer Crabby who is, frankly, an asshole to deal with even when you fully admit its your fault.  He needs to retire. . . to Syria.

Anyhow, that was a bad deal but I have a lot of vehicles and so it wasn't a huge inconvenience when I was down to my Jeep, which I drive most days anyhow.

It was inconvenient when, a couple of weeks later while my Dodge was in the body shop I hit an elk with the Jeep.  Uff.


It had to be hauled into town. We were lucky that I was driving really slowly at the time, but it sure did the damage. So, at that point, I had a Jeep and my Dodge D3500 in the body shop.  Before the Jeep came out, sure enough, my wife's Tahoe went in for some fender damage it sustained in a parking lot.

No sooner had the D3500 come out of the shop and the check engine light went on.  This meant it had to go into the garage, which it did. While there it was determined that it needed a new clutch, which isn't cheap for a big truck of that type.  Went it came home it went back out in the field, hunting, next weekend and the check engine light came back on with an exhaust warning.  Usually the diesel particulate filter will burn off but it wouldn't, so it had to go into the deisel shop for that.  It was there for a long time while they worked on the exhaust and when I got it out they warned me right away that it might need new injectors but they didn't do them as they were pricey.  Well, I didn't even make it home before the light went back on. Sure enough, I needed new injectors.

To cap it off, early this month I drove to Pinedale in arctic weather and the light went back on. Fortunately, this time, it was something really minor and was back out of the shop within a day.

At some point in this vehicular saga my wife suggested that maybe I should consider looking for a new truck.  I bought this one new in 2007.  I'm really disinclined to do that as I like the truck and if I were to do it I'd have to buy a really pricey one to get the same thing I have now, a 1 ton manual transmission truck.  I'm down to Dodges, really, which is okay as that's what I like anyhow, but it's clear the options for manual transmissions are dwindling.  That actually argues for getting a replacement now, while I can, but I drive the Jeep most days and have a foolish notion in my head that at age 53 I won't ever need to buy another vehicle.

Indeed, I started the year off hoping to finish improving the Jeep to where I want it to be, which would have required adding an external tailgate rack to it and adding a winch but I gave up on that due to all the vehicle expenses.  Maybe next year. And with all the money that's now gone into the D3500, I'm keeping it.  It only has 140,000 miles on it and I figure it's good for at least another 140,000.  Besides, somewhere in this mix I'd bought new tires for it and I hardly have any miles on them.  I do regret not switching out to higher walled tires, however, as I've always found that this truck doesn't have the clearance it should.  Now that it's old, and I've done a lot of work to it, however, I'm going to definitely get higher walled tires next time around.

That's because I get that truck stuck in the snow nearly every year and have this year, while elk hunting, which of course I did this year. This is so routine for me, however, that it's not in the list of unfortunate events.  I do that every year.

Which was on one of the few days this year I was able to go hunting.


I've complained about this already, and if you ask my wife she'll tell you that I'm wrong, that I went hunting every weekend during big game season, but that just isn't true.  It isn't true as, for the first time in my life, I didn't draw an antelope tag.  I also didn't draw a deer tag, but of course I could and did go general.  I drew elk tags, however.

This is a matter of some frustration and part of it is my fault. I could have and should have put in for landowners tags for antelope, but I didn't.  I didn't as I wanted to be able to range over the entire area, not just the place the landowners tags pertained to, which is ironic as last year I shot an additional antelope on that very land.  But neither my son nor I drew.  Very disappointing.  And frankly it makes me a bit miffed, which I generally am not, on how licenses are apportioned.

We went general deer, but that was frustrating as Rob's goons followed us all over to make sure that we didn't step foot on private land, which I will remember next general election when he's running for reelection.  We never did, but we could have gotten a deer but for that.  But we also could have gotten one if I hadn't been so busy.

Now, a person with work in an area that's having a big down turn cannot or should not complain about being busy and I'm really not, but that was part of it.  I didn't have the time to devote to it this year like I normally do. That was a big part of my lack of success for elk as well, which I've already lamented. Added to that, when the weather finally turned to where t he elk hunting got good my son was in finals so that meant I was doing it as a solo project. That's not easy, but it also was an odd thing I hadn't really experienced since I was his age.  Indeed, it made me look back at that period when I was in university and he was here.  I kept wondering why he wasn't getting out for big game. Well, now I know, too late to appreciate it.

Being busy has, this year, added to my waist line. My weight routinely varies by about five pounds and I haven't gained weight, but I have gained girth.  This doesn't make me fat, but going into 2017 I need to do something about that.  My trousers are tight and I don't like that.  This is due, again in part, to being really busy.  If you are getting up early, working all day, and coming home tired at night you likley aren't going to get a lot of exercise.  And I'm not one of those people who feels comfortable going to a hotel gym.  Wait, I'm not one of those people who feels comfortable going to any gym.  This has never been a problem for me as I'm not a heavy eater, but when you are not getting a lot of exercise during the day it can start to become one.  This year I need to loose a few pounds, which is not all that easy to do really.

Somebody who has lost a few pounds is my son, which is due to the effect of living outside the house.  My wife is a good cook and its always easy to eat more of anything if you aren't the one cooking.  Now that he's living outside the home, in my mother's old house, he's cooking for himself and he's not bad, but like a lot of single adult men, you just don't feel like whipping up three big squares a day.  One will do, and that tends to be a single course meal generally.  I well recall it from when I moved to Laramie and lived on my own, although I have to say that we weren't exactly doing much fancy eating at home at that time anyhow.

As noted, he's now living in my mother's old home here in town while he attends college, which is working out well.  However, the house itself turned out to be one of the years events.  

My mother loved her house and when she became ill I kept it.  I feared, and I am certain that I am right, that if I had sold it it would have killed her.  I rented it out for awhile but for much of that time it was empty as a busy person has little time to be a landlord.  Well, neglect on my mother's part of certain things and the long passage of time of all kids mean that certain things needed to be worked upon, and one of those things was, the plumbing.  In a major way.

The plumbing line, in the basement.

This was totally unanticipated and not a very pleasant experience.  Fortunately insurance paid for a lot of the work. Thank goodness for insurance.

And then there was politics.

That may seem to be an odd thing to add to all of this, but I think a lot of people felt a bit out of sorts this year due to the election. The General Election turned out to be truly surreal and we're still feeling it.  The Presidential election turned out to be a sort of revolution with the voters saying no to the establishment of both parties, and for good reason, but in a sort of scary way.  Nobody ever knows where revolutions end up once they start, and we don't know yet.  Some turn out really well, such as the American Revolution.  Some turn into freaking disasters, like the French Revolution.  As the revolution isn't over, we don't know where it ends up.

Even locally it was bizarre and it continues to be. Odd gaffs kept one candidate from being reelected but didn't keep another from being elected.  Candidates and even reelected politicians resigned on an untimely basis messing up the polls and the results of the polls.  A body of the Wyoming legislature launched off on one of their occasional "don't tell me what you want, we know better than you" efforts, which hasn't fully played out yet.  It was a truly odd year.

It strikes me that all of these things are simply life.  It's just that they all occurred in a single year.  But then, they probably weren't all that bad.  The truck didn't go through a house, by the Grace of God.  The elk didn't end up in the window of the Jeep.  Insurance covered the plumbing.  So, all in all, it was probably a better year than I imagine.  

Still, I'm hoping for a better 2017.

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