Friday, October 4, 2019

A Eulogy

While I was working on the stories about Ellie's and my move, one of my best friend's cancer took a bad turn. It was brain cancer, diagnosed in late 2015, and when it took this turn, it quickly took his life. He honored me by asking me to do the eulogy. While I absolutely love and enjoy speaking to large groups ( I am a seasoned lector in the Catholic Church, for example ) I am usually reading/delivering/proclaiming someone else's words ( God's usually, I am a lector ). Delivering my own material is quite foreign to me; this was a step outside my comfort zone. Nonetheless, I could not turn my dear friend down ... and really didn't want to.  The eulogy follows:

Before I begin, I want you to know the honor I feel being asked to share Wojtek's story through my eyes. Thank you Margaret, Maya and Philip.

My name is Walter Jost. Wojtek and I worked together at DecisionOne, a computer support company, for many years.

We were part of a help desk, taking phone calls from people with computer problems. Soon after arriving, Wojtek found my voice too loud for him and, seriously but good-naturedly, he told me about it. I seriously considered this, smiled, and replied, good-naturedly, of course, "Wojtek, I am so sorry you feel that way; I hardly ever raise my voice." This interchange shines some light on Wojtek and I'll return to that momentarily.

Wojtek, born and raised in Poland, married his wife, Margaret, in their native Poland, in 1982. Looking to make a better economic life for his family, he came to the United States in the early 90's, eventually settling with a sponsor just across the river in Hudson Wisconsin. At that time, he was completely ignorant of and without interest in computers.

After studying Marketing and Management at the University of Wisconsin at River Falls, Wojtek believed opportunities were much better here than in Poland; Margaret joined him in 1993, after which they had two children, Philip and Maya.

In spite of his limited knowledge of and interest in computers, Seagate hired him. He built disk drives on the assembly line. He became very good at it and this piqued his interest in computers. He went to computer shows, parts stores, built his own computer ( about which I believe I have known for a long time but about which only very recently did he confess to me this computer never actually ran ). He changed jobs a bit, and wound up at DecisionOne, the company from which he ultimately retired. He began in H/W support and then moved into the department I was in ... S/W support.

We read in the Obituary: "Wojtek made many lifelong connections with his humor, kindness, generosity and warmheartedness." I experienced all of those, but as I have reflected on our friendship, the thing that stands out for me is its foundation of truth; that is, Wojtek's ability to acknowledge and confront unpleasant truths and manage them ... which is to say, put them aside, and live his life, never letting the unpleasantness interfere with who he was and what he wanted to be. The problem of the volume of my voice illustrates that. After I responded, we understood each other. We both knew I was too loud for him. He tried to live with it and I tried to control the volume of my voice. The important thing here is, we could talk about it; it was not a divisive issue. Even after I retired we were able to joke about it: he would introduce me to a friend saying, "Walter was the jet engine I sat next to for many years."

Though we were on friendly terms at DecisionOne, I would not say we were friends.

We had a mutual interest in sports, but mine was mostly as a spectator and cheerleader. He was actively involved in Fantasy Football, and easily integrated his love of family with his interest in sports by coaching football, soccer and basketball teams Maya and Philip played on. He even integrated his interest in technology one year by making a video of Philip's football team's season, talking a colleague into creating an animated introduction to the video, and making copies of the video for the other parents.

We spoke often, shared many stories. I knew of his love of playing guitar and riding a bicycle and he knew of my addiction to fountain pens. We really seemed to enjoy one another, but we did not socialize outside of work. When I retired, we mutually agreed that we wanted to stay in touch, and we did, seeing one another often.

The first time we got together after my retirement, we went to a buffet in Edina. There were always empty tables there, so we didn't feel bad spending a lot of time. We also sat in a relatively isolated area so we could talk freely. ( You know of my booming voice ... )

Our talk that evening exemplified another example of the pillar of our relationship. All I remember of that conversation is his admitting to some level of "social awkwardness." I loved him for such an admission, particularly because I, too, felt some of that but was loathe to admit it. This was one of those unpleasant truths, but showed an honesty that was heartwarming and brought us closer together.

After several such dinner meetings, a mutual friend from DecisionOne, Benjamin, joined us and became a fixture. We celebrated our friendship by having dinner at this same place, same time, same day, every month. Though a techie, apparently thinking the maxim that we'd always meet on the third Wednesday of the month sufficed as a reminder, Wojtek refused to put our dinner date in his phone calendar. This inevitably led to his texting one of us, "When are we meeting this month? Is it the sixteenth?"

Benjamin had never golfed, but he suggested we play mini-golf on the course behind the restaurant. Though Wojtek hated golf, he gamely agreed to play. We just enjoyed being outdoors, competing with one another.

Occasionally we just walked ... there was a man-made lake next to the mini-golf course, and much beyond it, and a walking path surrounded it. We'd walk the path. After Wojtek's diagnosis, he didn't always have the energy to walk the entire route so we'd take a short cut. We made this correction to our routine easily, without fanfare.

It was during this time I gained entry into Wojtek's family life. He invited me to come watch his daughter Maya pitch a softball game. I had never seen a fast-pitch softball game, would very much have liked to see Maya pitch and meet her, but that never worked out. When school restarted in the fall, he "pitched" her talent in theater, and suggested I come to a school play to see her perform. Long story short, that worked out, I met both Margaret and Philip in addition to Maya, and saw more plays in our ensuing years. I also witnessed Maya's throwing her arms around her Dad when they'd first meet in the school hallway after a play. I thought it a remarkable display of affection by a high-school girl for her father.

My learning of Wojtek's diagnosis, and his response to the diagnosis, are further examples of his ability to confront and transcend unpleasant facts. With my only knowledge being that he had had some sort of brain surgery, on Christmas eve, 2015, I visited him in his private hospital room. I walked into the room, casually asked, "Hi, Wojtek, how're you?" and tossed my coat and scarf on the chair on the other side of the room.

"Pretty good, considering."

"Considering what?" I nonchalantly asked.

"Considering that I have inoperable brain cancer."

Poohhf. While this hit me like a gut-punch, he was remarkably serene and calm about it all. The biggest complaint he voiced about it then or later was, "I'm screwed."

I remember only a few other things about the visit. His beloved family was coming later to celebrate Christmas and he was looking forward to it. And of course he insisted we'd continue to have our monthly dinner. He was determined to continue to live.

By February the following year we were back at our monthly dinner. Except for his being a little slower, our evenings were much as they had always been.

Ultimately the news from the MRI scans was not so good. Wojtek went into home hospice; I visited him once a week while Margaret was at work. Wojtek and I interacted pretty much as we always had, although he slept more. Eventually he went into the hospice at Our Lady of Peace in St Paul; I continued to visit him.

The cancer eventually won. But Wojtek had fought gamely, continuing to live a life of integrity, refusing to back away from unpleasant realities. Thank You, Wojtek! Godspeed.


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Thursday, August 15, 2019

Invaluable Help from Jane

"I can take that to Goodwill." 

Jane had been very helpful to Ellie when Ellie sold Loretta's condo. Well before we bought, she had frequently said, "I'd love to help you move."  She has a personal interest in a non-profit that accepts donations of the type we expected to have, lives close to a Goodwill donation center, and doesn't mind asking her Toyota to share space with miscellaneous boxes. Also helpful, she relishes using her car to haul stuff.

The first time she came to help move, carrying a new purchase of ten banker's boxes, she entered the house saying, "How can I help?" When learning that our son, recently moved, had provided us with twenty to twenty-five large plastic tubs with tops she said, "When moving, there is no such thing as having too many boxes."

Helping us provided her the opportunity to scratch an old itch that was her desire to explore our admittedly stuffed den closet. The closet opens in the middle, is about three feet deep, with approximately four feet of closet space to the right and the left. Each side contains four or five shelves, and a clothes-hanging rod is in front of the shelves on the left. All shelves and the clothes rod were full. The floor immediately in front of the door was also full while a few things hung on the back wall.

Though still untrained in Wendy's sorting lesson, the two of them distinguished a large number of things we didn't want to take from everything else in the closet. "I can take that to Goodwill," Jane said.

"You sure?" Ellie asked. "There are a lot of boxes there."

"Of course; that's why I came," Jane replied. "My car is empty, I have space in my garage. If there are things you don't think you want to take, but aren't sure about, I can store them in my garage until you decide."

This kind of thing happened often ... Jane would come over, help with sorting through our stuff, say, "I can take that to Goodwill," and leave with a car full of miscellaneous boxes.

Jane also helped the day of our move. While the movers were still packing their trucks, Jane helped Ellie capture our cats, went to the new house with her and the cats, and stayed while the cats got acclimated to their new digs.

Eventually Ellie and I sold our house; this required us to remove our remaining stuff collection.  The den still contained furniture our buyers had expressed possible interest in. And the basement contained  lots   of unsorted stuff we had not wanted moved.  We had planned to put everything from the basement into the living and dining rooms in three categories, "keep," "don't keep," and "( still ) don't know."

We were putting the finishing touches on that plan when Jane, thinking we were pretty well done, drove up. "I'm here, how can I help?" ... then, seeing the furniture in the den and the stuff collection spread across the living and dining rooms, "Oh my stars and garters ... I thought you moved!"

The stuff collection greeting Jane one of the last times she visited our old house.
"Ho, ha" ...  her humor eased our stress.

Getting close to the end, Jane again met us at our old house. Prior to this, Ellie and I, with Wendy and our sons, had moved all the "don't keep" boxes to the garage. Only "keep" material remained in the house; we again loaded our cars and drove the entire "Keep" collection home ... to keep.

Except for the "Don't keep" garage collection, thanks in no small part to Jane's help, WE WERE DONE! The items we wished to keep from the thirty- six years of accumulated stuff were in our new house, the donatable stuff was at Goodwill, most of the trash was tossed, and the remainder resided in the garage. I made a call to a trash picker-upper, made an appointment for "him" to come sweep our garage, and slept well that night knowing our final solution was at hand.
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Friday, July 5, 2019

A Sorting Lesson

"What about this?"

Wendy came one Saturday. Friendly, talkative, and energetic, with several recent moving experiences under her belt, she was ready, even eager, to bring her experience to bear for us. We loved her for that but were concerned that she was failing to comprehend the magnitude of our stuff collection.

See, over the last several years Ellie had frequently said, "When I think of moving all I want to do is go to bed." We had been in our house for thirty-plus years; no doubt she was thinking of the millions ( slightly exaggerated, I am pretty sure ) of nick-knacks, small statues, kitchen gadgets, bar accessories, framed photographs, framed art, computer accessories, mini food warehouse, seasonal decorations, books and the like, not to mention the years of photo albums and gently used clothing intended for Goodwill, that we had stashed in various places around the house.

My response was less poetic; thinking about moving turned my mind to my basement workroom ( which served as a combination hobby room and storage room for things like obsolete electronics, miscellaneous cords, plugs and electronic accessories for which I might someday have another use, blocks of wood which will certainly be handy to have if I ever do wood carving again ), my basement office ( which contained various and sundry office gadgets, dozens of little notebooks given by charities, my fountain pens, inks for them and tools to work on them, ballpoint pens, multiple office accessories and gadgets, two nearly-full two-drawer file cabinets and several bookshelves containing things like ... well you get the idea ) and my beloved computer with its multiple pieces of peripheral equipment. Move this stuff? Let's nap!

And the garage. It contained a myriad of things including stuff I had put there when not knowing where else to go with it. This was a one-way area: stuff went in and nothing ever came out. Whenever this garage came to mind I'd force myself to turn my attention.

Thoughts of moving simply overwhelmed both Ellie and me, but we did have a new place. We didn't want to move everything - and while our new place was big, with generally adequate storage, we may not have been able to move literally everything.

"You have to decide early on what you want to take and what not," Wendy had often said when we spoke of moving from our house of thirty-six years. "If you're not rigorous," she'd go on, "you'll get to the new place, open a box and wonder, 'Why did I move this?' That's what happened to me, anyway. And you don't want that." No, we didn't.

Upon arrival, she was cordial but all business. "You sit down," she said to Ellie. Ellie's hip bothered her a lot and sitting appealed to her. "I will go through each cabinet, piece by piece, and you need to respond, 'keep,' 'don't keep,' or 'don't Know.' I'll put each piece in the appropriate group." Ellie nodded.

Wendy approached the first corner cabinet, opened it and pulled out a angelic figurine. She motioned to Ellie, "Well?" Ellie began her consideration. Wendy waited very briefly, "OK, don't know!" and, in one smooth motion, put the figurine in the 'don't know' box and pulled an old china teacup from the cabinet.

"I hadn't decided!" Ellie yelped.

"Honey," Wendy said showing neither sarcasm nor rancor, and motioned to the two corner cabinets, drawers under each, and two - door cabinets under those, "there's a lot of stuff in there. We've got to be quick. You have to decide faster than that."

She briefly returned her attention to the tea cup. "What about this?"

Ellie's "Keep!" was immediate.

It went on like this for the bulk of the afternoon. In the end, we had empty corner cabinets and drawers, three groups of stuff that had been in them, a sorting lesson and a new bond between Wendy and Ellie. To almost nobody's surprise, the 'Don't know' group was the largest. Now, however, thanks to Wendy, we had a better handle on how to deal with it. And I was beginning to grasp how I was going to handle the stuff in my office.
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Thursday, June 20, 2019

Planning a Move

"I promised to help, and I'm not backing off from that, but ... "

As  previously mentioned, Ellie and I bought a townhouse just after Thanksgiving. Of course, we told our friends and received both expressions of congratulations and offers of help. Three offers stand out. 

Our friend Jane, who had been a huge help to Ellie when, as executor of the will, Ellie sold our friend Loretta's town house, offered help with anything we needed doing. She was involved from early on until we were moved and settled. 

Our son's girl friend, Wendy, who has quite a bit of recent experience packing houses and moving, offered her truck to help with the actual move and to help sort through our stuff. She was an enormous help  getting started with the process of deciding which of the three categories
( keep, don't keep, not sure ) individual pieces of our stuff fell into. 

Two people, neither of whom do I know well, surprised me with their offers to help, as well. When I saw one of these two later, she said, "I offered to help and I stand by that offer but I would urge you to consider a company called Serious about Moving, ( I am not promoting anyone here, and this name is a fiction. ) as they moved my mother from a long-lived in house and were absolutely wonderful. They do as much or as little as you want and they do it well."

This post is about the moving company. In the future, I'll post about Jane's help, Wendy's help and the actual move.

We called Serious about Moving and they sent Jean ( fictional ) out to talk to us. Jean is the person who would serve as our move manager, the person who would coordinate whatever work we wanted Serious about Moving to do. She explained Serious about Moving's "womb to tomb" capability.

"After closing," she began, "I'll meet  you at the new house and help figure out how to arrange the furniture to fit the new space." As if to bolster her street cred, she got out a tape measure and counted and measured every piece of furniture we planned to move. When finished, she had a handwritten list of eighty-one pieces of furniture ( I had no idea we had so much furniture ), along with their widths and lengths, which she would use to execute the furniture mapping she would be helping with. "Two moving trucks, for sure," she said, adding, "and, I'm estimating, one hundred to one hundred-fifty boxes for your 'stuff.'" We were stunned. 

She told us Serious about Moving could do the packing, moving, and unpacking if we wanted. Or only the moving and unpacking ( of course they could not warranty the boxes they didn't pack, and we understood that ), or only the moving. She pointed out that the unpacking would be done by the same people who did the packing, so they'd be familiar with our 'stuff' and know how we had had it. The boxes and packing material would not be our problem, either; they would haul that away. "After you're moved," she went on, "we have yet another service to help sort through what was left and decide 'keep', 'don't keep', or 'still not sure'. We can also appropriately implement 'don't keep' on the stuff in that category. Recycle, trash, donate, as appropriate."

In addition to charging for boxes used, they charge by the hour, Jean continued, so if we were concerned about a budget she could keep track of the costs in real time, keep us appraised, and they'd give us the option to quit when we reached our budget limit. The way she talked, if we wanted, we would have to do virtually nothing. This appealed to us; we hired them ... for packing, moving and unpacking.

Wendy's help got a great deal of our stuff into "Keep", "Toss" and "Don't know" categories and appropriate boxes; she, our sons and I physically moved boxes so that groups of boxes were in those three categories and in physically distinct parts of the house. This left two rooms in the basement untouched, and a large closet in the guest room. These  rooms contained  unsorted material not to be moved by Serious about Moving. Prior to moving day, we moved, perhaps, ten or twelve "keep" boxes ourselves
( fragile items, sensitive material, miscellaneous stuff we knew we wanted to know the location of at all times ) to the new house.

By closing, Ellie and I had spent a fair amount of time at the new place and had a pretty good idea of where we wanted to put most of the furniture. We had some concerns about getting all our bedroom furniture into the new space ( the bedroom in our old house is enormous ) and how our decisions about the living room furniture would work out. 

On cue, after closing, Jean met us at the new place, a roll of blue tape in one hand and the pages with the eighty-one furniture names and measurements in the other. As we went through the various rooms, talking about where we wanted each item, Jean checked the item off the list and put tape on the floor, identifying the corners of the various pieces of furniture. The checklist ensured we placed each of the items we'd be moving, the tape marks ensured the collection would actually fit as we wanted, and we were gratified. All the bedroom furniture we planned for the bedroom fit; we had to make some rather minor adjustments to the living room layout; there were a few items we'd forgotten to place that Jean asked about because they were not checked off her list. 

At the end of an hour or so, we had an implementable plan.
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Monday, June 10, 2019

And Just Where Have I Been?

A better question might be, "Where is the Benjamin who last posted?"  I honestly don't know what the Benjamin of 2008 would have in common with the Benjamin of 2018.  We change so much in a decade, but some times of our lives bring more change than others.  This has been one of those times.  The 2018 Benjamin blogged.  Does the 2019 Benjamin?

My blogging partner motivated me to blog.  When he officially went on hiatus, I did too.  Now that his haitas has ended, I'll end mine as well.  I certainly have a lot of ideas bouncing around my head.

My journey started with that trip to Medellín, Colombia in January.  It was fantastic. I can and will go into more detail.  The brief takeaway is:

  1. I loved the weather.
  2. I felt very at home with the culture, and the city.
  3. I made some friends, who I have kept in touch with.
  4. The exchange rate is phenomenal.
  5.  I would move there tomorrow if I could keep my current job.

What I'm saying is, I wanted to see what the world has to offer, and I found it.   Years ago it was like a switch flipped in my brain telling me I needed to see the world.  Coming back from Medellín, a different switch was flipped.  I feel a little more grown up.  I know a little more about who I am inside.  I know where I want to be.

Instead of spending my vacation time exploring other places, I want to spend it moving closer to this city.  Later this week I will be going again for eleven days.  I plan to see friends, and do a little reconsince of the practicality of living there.  Things like an office, and housing.  I'm taking some Spanish and dancing lessons.

My trip to Medellín is where my journey started, and I expect it to end there too, but there is so much more to this journey.

Thursday, June 6, 2019

Hiatus Ended

Moving is a pain in the tookus.

This is known as conventional wisdom. When I posted Hiatus Claimed, I revealed that Ellie and I had been busy house-hunting, had bought a townhouse and would be busy with moving. Not admitted, but also on my mind, were the activities associated with settling in once moved, then preparing our original place for sale, listing it and selling it. My blog partner said he optimizes his life-style to minimize moving pain and moving still costs him a couple of months. "Moving is a pain in the tookus" dominated my consciousness as I decided on and declared my hiatus.

I am happy to report not only that we are moved and settled, but that it went far smoother than we could have dreamed. In addition, our original house is also sold, to people we both knew previously and with whom we have become better friends during the process.

I continue to desire to write and to tell stories; I have missed writing and posting to this blog; I hope you have missed reading my posts. The good news is that all moving, preparing, and selling has generated much story material, much of which I will weave into stories in the coming weeks. Please plan to read these stories, beginning next week with the intial phase of our journey. 
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