Tuesday, February 14, 2017

Africa, Africa: Why Africa is Always on My Mind.

Recently in line at the Greendale YMCA in Worcester, Massachusetts where I play tennis, I noticed a new guy behind the counter. He was black and he had an accent that I immediately recognized.

When my turn came, with a big smile on my face, I said, "Harbari." (a standard Swahili greeting in Kenya roughly meaning, "How are you doing?")

His mouth flew open. His eyes looked like they were going to pop out of his head. Then came a huge smile, and I mean HUGE.

"Mzuri, mzuri sana," he replied in Swahili ("good, very good").

"Asante," I said. "Asante Sana." ("thank you, thank you very much")

Since this is America and not Africa, I then reverted to English. "I used to teach in Kisumu, Kenya. Nice to meet you."

 "Wow, I was born and raised in Kenya."

I told him that I had taught in Kisumu for two years. I also told him that my oldest son, Gregory, was born in Kenya in 1964, making him a dual citizen of Kenya and the United States. 

"I would say we have a lot to talk about, right?"

Mouth open, wide-eyed, he nodded his head. We shook hands, exchanged names, and email addresses, and he agreed to arrange a time for me to hear his story. That will be an upcoming blog.  Below is a photo of Kimani Thumbi behind the counter at the Y:

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Below left is a photo of Greg with his ayah Philomena and a little playmate in Kisumu, Kenya. Below right is a photo of Greg and me at a recent Pollock family get-together at my home in Worcester, Massachusetts. We look like brothers--agree?  I'm on the left.

Immediately after graduate school, I was accepted into the Teachers for East Africa Program (TEEA) of Columbia Teacher's College. Soon after, Phyllis and I went off to Kenya as newlyweds. Fresh from college and with an intrepid new bride, I was going to save the world. I would do good. I would spread civilization. I would make friends for America. I was young and naive and I didn't know any better.

We spent two years in  Kenya. It was the greatest learning experience of my life. First, I saw real poverty. Everywhere I went I saw children naked, walking with bare feet, often with distended bellies, a sign of malnutrition.

Just outside of Kenya's capital, Nairobi, were perhaps a million black African souls existing in Africa's largest slum, Kibera. It was a mass of shanties without electricity, running water, sewage, and health care. Life here was short and brutal.

But, newly freed from decades of British colonial rule, Kenyans throughout the country were  celebrating independence by singing and dancing in the streets. It was a happy, optimistic time for Kenyans with their own new government under Jomo Kenyatta or the "Mzee" (old man). 

Several times I was at packed Kenyatta rallies where he stood tall in his multi-colored beaded cap, fly wisk in hand, and evoked roars of  "Harambee" (work together) and "Uhuru na Kazi" (freedom and work). Sometimes I was one of just a few "Mzungus" (whites), but I felt perfectly safe.

In Kenya, America and Americans were deeply respected. I felt it everywhere. For example, in 1963 I was in a little village -- the only American there -- getting my VW serviced when news broke of President Kennedy's assassination.

One Kenyan after another came up to me to express their sorrow. Each one extended an open hand, bowed, expressed their sorrow and slowly backed away. Here I was, me, representing the United States of America!

Despite widespread poverty and homelessness, Kenya was rapidly becoming an important regional and transportation hub as its tourist industry began growing in leaps and bounds. Kenya would soon become East Africa's biggest economy and an island of calm, avoiding bloody conflicts that ravished Sudan, Rwanda, Somalia, and Uganda.

Following are some photos from our time in Kenya.

Above are Phyllis and Greg in Kenya with two African women. We were driving our 1961 VW Bug along a dirt road in Masai country when we saw them. On the spur of the moment, we pulled over. Gesturing with my little Instamatic, I asked in bad Swahili if I could take their picture.
They smiled. Greg patted the goat without bothering to ask. Truthfully, Phyllis and I both felt safer with African tribal people than with strangers in American cities. These were the days when Europeans, what all white people were called, were greatly respected. Now Kenyan cities are as dangerous as American ones can be.

And here is a photo of me leaving the school with books under my arm. And what a teaching experience! I have never seen such eager students. You walk into the classroom and the whole class jumps to its feet.

"Morning, Sir!" they shout in unison.

Then they sit. All eyes are on the mzungu mwalimu (white teacher). With notebooks open and pencils at ready, they are ready and eager to learn. And you had better teach them so they can pass the overseas exam from England -- or else.

I'll never forget the time I was telling a story about life in America. A student in the back row, very tall and older than the others, jumped to his feet.

"Sir!" he all but shouted. "What you are telling us is not in the syllabus!"

He sat down with pencil at ready to take notes.

"Quite right," I said in my best faux British accent. "So sorry. Yes, I'll get on with it. Thank you."

 I never again strayed from the syllabus.

When I was not teaching, we drove everywhere. One time we drove all the way to the coastal city of Mombasa on the Indian Ocean. On the way, we stopped to say "jumbo" ("hello") to an elderly man on the side of the road. I gave him a shilling and asked if I could take his picture. He readily agreed.


When we saw a couple of African girls hiking along the road, we again pulled over. They were just as curious about us as we were of them. After Swahili greetings and giving them a few shillings, they willingly let us photograph them.

In Mombasa, we enjoyed the beach for a few days. In the photo below, I'm on the beach playing with Greg.


Have an idea why Africa is always on my mind? Oh the memories!

So long and keep moving.

For info on my ebooks, click here. 


Saturday, December 10, 2016

2016 Pollock Reunion: Five Sibs and a Houseful of Family Chat, Eat, Play and Have a Ball.

I tell you, our house has never been so packed, noisy, and brimming with joy and laughter.

A wild party? In a way, yes, judging from all the storytelling, smiles, joking around, hugs, all  with everybody feasting on food fit for royalty: shrimp, lasagna from Val's in Holden, homemade meatballs, chicken, salads, fruit plates, homemade pies, cakes, and cookies galore.  Yummy!

It was a Pollock family reunion hosted by Barbara and me at our place.  The key word here is "family."  That is something that I and my four younger siblings were forced to spend our entire childhoods without. No father, who died when we were six and under. A toxic mom who quickly abandoned us all to state care where we spent our entire childhoods in uncaring, ever-changing foster homes.

Former foster kids routinely drop into lonely, failed lives. Many end up in prison. Somehow, all five of us not only survived but went on to build happy, successful, family-packed lives and today live in nice homes in respectable neighborhoods. I have documented our horrendous childhoods and described how each of us got to where we are today. For that story, click here.

Check out the above links and you will surely see why this Pollock reunion was such a happy blast.  Growing up, never, never could we have imagined such a gathering.  But here we are at the Pollock reunion, all five siblings with our real Aunt Lillian:

 Aunt Lillian is center, between Ruby (left) and Marion  (right). From top left are Reggie the baby, me the oldest, and Vic in between. On my neck chain is a ring that may-- or may not-- be our dad's. Unlike our  mom, our dad was a decent person.

Got our last name?  Yes? Good. The sweaters are doing their job. They were designed and handmade by our daughter Misha, who lives in Edmonds, Washington with her husband Ed and four grandkids (out of a total of 10 grandkids.) The fish  is perfect for us since all three of us guys love the water, me for swimming and my two brothers for fishing -- not to mention that there is a fish by the name of Pollock.

When I'm swimming in my sister Ruby's lake in Oxford, Mass., Vic and Reg fish. I take a deep breath and go underwater to warn my fish friends to stay away from their hooks no matter how tasty they look. Sorry bros, love you both, but my fish friends are also family to me!

Now here is the group photo of the whole gang at the Pollock reunion:

Talk about family! From no family growing up, we five Pollocks are today surrounded by family --packing the entire living room. Where am I? Top right beside Aunt Lillian.Vic stole my spot front and center!

Early on my son Jon and wife Laurie and their two kids Aidan and Nathaniel let me know that they were not able to come. They had a previous commitment, involving kids' activities, in Vermont that had to be kept. Also, my other son Greg told me that he would be unable to come because of job commitments.

Bummer.  But, unknown to me, Jon and Greg would each deliver a delightful surprise.

Jon and Laurie shortly invited Barbara and me to their home in Berkley, Mass. where they gave us a wonderful early Christmas present.  They drove us early in the evening to Providence. They left Aidan, now a responsible young adult of 14, to look after his younger brother Nathaniel.

There at a downtown restaurant the four of us had a yummy pizza feast. Then we went on to see the musical "Once," which was terrific. Jon and Laurie picked up the tab for it all. We stayed overnight at their home. In the morning, Laurie fixed us a great french toast and sausage breakfast. Thanks Jon and Laurie for a great time that Barbara and I will remember always!

Now the other wonderful surprise. On the day of the Pollock reunion, I came out of the bathroom and walked into the kitchen -- and nearly had a heart attack. There standing in the kitchen were son Greg and his wife Kelly with huge, mischievous smiles!  They had driven all the way from Pennsylvania!

I ran into their arms. Here is a photo of Greg and me just after I saw him:

Two greybeards! Never in a million years could I have imagined myself having a kid with grey hair! With people who don't know any better, I just tell them that he's my kid brother.  We could pass for brothers, don't you think?

On my last birthday, Greg and Jon surprised me with a gathering at the Merrimack College rink in North Andover, Mass. I had gone to Merrimack on a full four-year ice hockey scholarship. They contacted teammates from those old days, arranged for use of the college rink, and there I was out there like the old days skating and chasing a puck.

It was the best birthday ever.

Greg is a Child of Africa. He was born in Kisumu, Kenya where I was a teacher for two years way back in the early 60's. He survived malaria in Kenya and later dengue fever in Maidugeri, Nigeria, where I taught for a year. Below left is a photo of Greg as a baby in Kisumu, Kenya. Yup, he was playing the drums just like any other child in Africa.

Below was Greg in Kisumu,  with his Ayah Philomena and a little African playmate.

And now he's a greybeard? Where did all those years go?

One thing is sure, this  reunion will live on in our hearts.

So long and keep moving.

For info on my books, click here. 

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Wednesday, September 21, 2016

Sam Mascitti Is No Longer: His Passing is a Reminder That the Six Horsemen of Death Await Us All.

That's Sam Mascitti, left above, a little over a year ago when five tennis buddies, at the invitation of Rich Pyle, above second from right, got together for lunch. At 81, Sam was, as you can see, the picture of health. Marty Griff was at far right. Second from left, with just a little bit of his head showing, was Jim Kane. The character standing and waving his arms and, as usual, doing his best to attract attention to himself was, of course, yours truly.

A year later, on Aug. 12, 2016, Sam died of cancer at 82. That's over a month now and thoughts of Sam leaving us keep gnawing at me. Sam, a longtime friend both on and off the court, was in fantastic shape. He was trim with not an ounce of fat. A year ago, he was flying around the court chasing down tennis balls and hitting winners.

And talk about competitive! He played in 60 and over senior tournaments and at one time was ranked 22nd in New England. In 2009, he won a USTA sanctioned 70 and over tournament, defeating the top seed in the final.  In 2014, he won a gold medal at the Maine Senior Games.

Then, suddenly out of nowhere, came the cancer.  Like the cruelly ravenous demon that it is, the cancer quickly spread throughout Sam's athletic body. He dropped out of our tennis group. For many weeks, I didn't see or hear from him.

When Sam knew that his passing was coming soon, he made a list of people he wanted to say goodbye to. I was on that list. That was a first for me. I never had a dying friend ask to see me to say goodbye.

Trouble was I and my wife Barbara were across the country in Edmonds, Washington, visiting our daughter and four grandkids.  We were committed for a month.  Leaving would be too disruptive of complicated plans, such as our daughter and her husband getting away  while we watched the kids.

Then I read a major, deeply researched report in The New York Times about immunology and how it is successfully helping cancer patients defeat cancer.  Basically, the body's immune cells are used to attack and kill cancer cells. It is a major breakthrough in overcoming cancer!  

I had to tell Sam.  I picked up the phone and called him.

"Hello," said a weak, barely audible voice.

"Sam? George Pollock."

"Sorry, my voice has changed," he said so softly I could barely hear him.

"Don't worry about it, Sam.  I didn't call to chat. There's a report in today's New York Times that you have to read.  It's about immunology and how it is curing  people of cancer."

"Oh, wow," he said with a sudden infusion of life. He asked me to hold while he got a pencil and paper. When he came back, I gave him the info.  "Wow," he said in a voice that seemed to have come alive. "I'll read  it. Thank you, George."

"I'm going to go now so you can get the paper and read it. We'll talk later."

Sam did read the NYT report on immunology, but he was too late.  He died a few days later. After we got back from the west coast, Barbara and I went to Sam's wake in his hometown of Leominster, Mass.
Kneeling at his casket and looking into his motionless face, I was going to say something about looking forward to meeting up with him in hell. Instead, deciding to behave, I silently thought these words, "Goodby buddy. Meet you in the next life. See you then!"

As death took Sam, it is going to take us all sooner or later.  Ten years ago, I wrote about death. Looking over that story, I found it as true today as it was then.  Maybe it's because I haven't learned anything. Or maybe what I wrote then was right on and still is.

You decide. Here it is:

One way or another, we must all come to terms with death. We must reach beyond the abstract death of the philosophical tome; the religious death of the church; the grieving death within families and among friends; the technological death of the hospital, the hushed-up death of the funeral parlor; the mass-denial death of society; and, especially, the oppressive death of fear and horror.

We must contemplate, understand, and embrace our own end. Death is natural, necessary, and a normal part of our cycle of life. Instead of keeping the poor despised and feared ghoul in the shadows, who, after all, only has a thankless job to do, we can bring him out into the open and get to know him better. There are many ways that this can be done, all of them human and life-affirming.

This is not to say that death is our friend. After all, it is the end of earthly life and for a living, breathing, moving creature, it is catastrophic finality. It may or may not be the end of consciousness, whatever that is. Consciousness is perhaps the greatest mystery of all. It certainly will take us away from earthly family, friends, love, large and little pleasures ....

And, as much as we don't want to believe it or think about it, death is often painful, horrific, and tragic. In his fine book, “How We Die,” Sherwin Nuland, who has witnessed thousands of deaths as a physician, writes that the process is frequently drawn out, painful, ugly, and terrifying to the dying person.

Nuland, who prefers not to use “Dr.” as a writer, shows us that it is physically not easy to die. The body's immune system fiercely resists the process of death. When the first line of defense is breached, a second line is thrown into the battle.

When the second line fails, a third line rushes to the front, and then a fourth and a fifth, until the body has no troops left. Death frequently is a long, desperate fight to the last immunological soldier and for most of us the final struggle takes place in a hospital or nursing home.

According to Nuland, about 85% of people are finally overrun by what he calls the Six Horsemen of Death: atherosclerosis, hypertension, type II diabetes, obesity, dementia, and cancer. All weaken resistance to infection, opening the way for hordes of bacteria and all manner of microbes.

As for my boast that I'm going to live to 120, in the same story 10 years ago I quoted Donald Tipper, a longtime professor at Umass Memorial Medical School in Worcester and fellow tennis player.  I quoted him as follows:

 "The neurons in our brain have to last our entire lives. Unlike the cells of the gut, which turn over in a week, the brain cells we have at maturity do not reproduce themselves. They have to last 60 years and longer. What happens is that over time proteins in brain cells become more and more likely to misfold and accumulate in a form that the garbage system can't help.

"We lose .2% of our brain cells every year. In a 100 years, we lose 20% of our brain cells. We can do without 20% of our brain cells. But the accumulation of damage to brain cells accelerates the decline of brain function. This is the same mechanism that takes place in Alzheimers. Before that, you lose critical aspects of your personality.

"I don't want to live to be 120. My brain will wear out long before then. And Alzheimers is the way it is likely to wear out. We are not selected for longterm. What makes a person a person is what dies off even if the rest of the body is alive and functioning. My father-in-law is 90 and he is really sharp. I enjoy talking to him. How long he will stay that way I don't know. I only know that his brain is the same one he's had for 70 years and it will wear out."

So much for my living to age 120 and still being me. Nothing like a good reality sandwich to bring a dreamer down to earth. Donald told me that exercise and diet and common sense can take me a long way, but not to age 120 with a normally running brain.

I just had my annual physical and there were no signs of any of the Six Horsemen of death. But I am now 78, regularly older than half of the people in the obits. As with Sam, you never know. So my aging friends, I suggest that we all live every single day to the fullest!

We miss you, Sam. Rest in peace.

To read the full story of 10 years ago, Feb. 5, 2006, click this link.

For info on all my ebooks, click here. 

Thursday, August 25, 2016

In Edmonds, Washington: A Month Enjoying Family and a Great Play at Kitsap Forest Theater.

Good news. Instead of  lots of words, I'm going to tell the most interesting and enjoyable story of my month-long visit with wife Barbara to Edmonds, Washington, mostly through photos.

That's right, photos. 

One good photo can say more than dozens of written sentences. But there won't be photos of every little thing during the month. They are  primarily of one wonderful experience: the musical production, The Little Mermaid, at Kitsap Forest Theater on Bainbridge Island.

Kitsap has been putting on outdoor plays in this beautiful setting amidst old-growth forest of ancient western cedars and Douglas firs since 1923.
This play is extra, extra special for Barbara and me. First, our daughter Misha designed and made all the costumes, working day and night for weeks to complete them all. Second, grandkids Mia (14), Bella (13) and Max ( 9) all had onstage roles in The Little Mermaid.

They did great. Barbara and I are so proud of them. They are going to be stars some day!

Now let me get my one really bad experience out of the way: my son-in-law Ed, below, trying to strangle me!  As you can see, I am dressed...as a seagull! I managed to break away and fly back to Massachusetts alive.

So now, on with the show!

In her workroom Misha works on Jason Gingold's costime for his role as King Triton. She not only designed all the costumes from scratch, but selected and purchased  all the materials, and then sewed them all! Below she is trying out her costume for Prince Eric on me. I was thinking: me a prince? Yes!

Now show time! Below three grandkids were up there giving it their all in costumes designed by their mom! Action!

Above, Max (fluke fish) is front and center, Mia (flamingo) is at right and Bella (angelfish) is in the rear flowing through the sea. Below, Mia (mersister Adella), front and center, sings and dances her heart out in the mermaid costume made by her mom. Every costume you see below was created by Misha from start to finish!

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 Max, front in blue, and  Mia, top far right, give it their all.

Above, after the performance, Prince Eric poses with his costume designer, 

Of course, I had to go on stage for a photo with King Triton. Here I hold his Triton after he transferred his powers to me.

Both of us wicked, the sea witch Ursula and I clicked.  (In real life, she is Natasha Chen, a reporter for KIRO 7 News.) 

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I am sensitive about my height. So I asked Prince Eric, played by Kori Lopreore, to bend down and he did.

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Finally, above, on stage after this wonderful production--Barbara, Mia, Misha, Bella, and Talula pose for the papparazzi.

So long and keep moving.

For info on all my ebooks, click here. 

Monday, June 27, 2016

Foster Alumni: By a Beautiful Lake, They Find Food, Fun, Friends, Freedom -- And So Much More!

Above is a group photo at the first annual Family Fun Day on Sunday, June 26 sponsored by the Massachusetts Network of Foster Care Alumni. It was held at the beautiful lakeside Oxford, Mass. cottage of Ruby Pollock, who grew up in foster care as did her four siblings, including me.

In those days, when foster kids aging out of state care were released to the streets, such a gathering was unthinkable. So for the 60 or so former foster kids there, along with family, and friends, the day was a dream come true! 

Following are some photos from that great day:

Grace Koshinsky, left above, leads the Massachusetts Network of Foster Care Alumni (MassNFCA) and she performed wonders in making Family Fun Day happen. She arranged for funding, volunteers, food, a lifeguard, games, boat rides, and a raffle (which I won, a $100 gift certificate at Wall Mart).

She even got tennis rackets for alums to play tennis on a neighbor's court. It was all free for alums. Here, listening to one alum, you can see in her eyes that her whole heart is there for him and his story. She knows how he feels. As a child in Ohio she herself was a foster child for 4 years from age 6 to 10.

Always with an eye for real estate value, Ruby managed to buy a rundown lakeside cottage 35 years ago. Over the years she has redone the kitchen, roof,  plumbing, expanded the beach area, and had a new patio built (feeding me as I built it and all the walls you see in following photos).

Summers Ruby and I often sit out looking at the water and marveling that a couple of former foster kids are sitting out here drinking coffee and taking in all that natural beauty. Not a house. Not a road. Not a store. Not a sound except for the squawking of an occasional hunting hawk. Here are a few photos of alums, friends, and family enjoying it all.

Below, a couple of alums conduct an acrobatic balancing contest for an audience of kids -- who didn't seem to know what to make of it.  In the background, Ruby's daughter Linda takes alums on a tour of the lake in her mom's boat. Not used to such treatment, the alums rode wide-eyed, soaking up the natural beauty all around them.

Did everybody have a great time? Well, check out this closing photo below. It shows my baby brother Reggie and my wife Barbara trying to make me jealous -- it worked! -- while brother Vic's wife Marianne mugs it up for the camera! Reggie's wife Jeanette, in the middle, enjoys the show. This kind of goofing around, joking, laughing went on throughout the day.

Thanks, Ruby. Thanks, Grace. Thank you volunteers for all your hard work. And to all you foster care alums, let me -- as one who spent his childhood in foster care -- say this to you:

You are just as good as anybody out there. What's more, considering what you have gone through, you ... you... YOU may be a stronger and better person than most.  Got that?

You have?  Good for you!

P.S. My ebook, Something Tells Her, tells the story of a 12-year-old foster girl. It is fiction based on cruel reality. Read  excerpts. For info on all my ebooks, click here. 

P.P.S. How did the five of us build successful, happy lives?   Not interested? Do what you're told and read this.

Friday, June 17, 2016

Dr. Dennis Burke: How My Longtime Surgeon Is Making Me a Bionic Man.

A year ago, on June 7, my longtime surgeon, Dr. Dennis Burke, (then of Mass General and now of Beth Israel in Milton, Mass.),  gave me a new left hip, shown above.  It is the X-ray from my June 15 one-year follow-up appointment with Dr. Burke.

Beautiful, don't you think?

No? What's wrong with you?

Dr. Burke took one look at the X-ray and pronounced my new hip "beautiful."  Of course, I think my new metal hip is not only a thing of beauty but a literal lifesaver.  A year  ago,  I had gone to to Dr. Burke in excruciating pain in my left hip and was having trouble walking much less playing tennis.

I hadn't played tennis for months and missed it terribly. I couldn't be me: playing tennis, building stone walls and walking for miles around neighborhoods, snooping, checking out houses and landscaping, and striking up chats with perfect strangers.

Now, thanks to Dr. Burke and my new left hip, I am back doing it all. I'm playing tennis three or four times a week at the Holden Tennis Club.  What I find even more remarkable is that I am running flat out after tennis balls, hiking for miles, hauling heavy rocks for stone walls, all on both knees replaced by Dr. Burke 14 years ago and my new left hip!

At this latest appointment, Dr. Burke looked at the X-ray of my knees and pronounced them "perfect, just as good as when I put them in." I was not a bit surprised.  They have been so good for so long -- 14 years! -- that I hardly give them a second thought. They're just my knees.  Hey, everybody else has knees, right?

Well, thanks to Dr. Burke, so do I. They just happen to be metal.

I joke with Dr. Burke and my friends that my goal is to be "a bionic man looking down on stupid bone-dependent humans." And, wouldn't you know, my joke is becoming less and less far-fetched.  Pointing to my right hip on the X-rays, Dr. Burke said, "There's early stage arthritis there, though we don't have to do anything right now."

"In other words," I said, "the right hip will eventually have to be replaced. I really am on my way to being a Bionic Man."

Dr. Burke didn't agree or deny. He just smiled.  A surgeon renowned for his outstanding outcomes, he has a demeanor that is easygoing, friendly, and confident but with an utter lack of self-importance.  "You're good for now," he said casually even though speaking of my very way of life. "See you in two or three years. However, if you need to see me sooner, just let me know."

Over the past 14 years that I have been seeing him, Dr. Burke and I have gotten to know each other. We're serious when we have to be, such as before and after I go under the knife. In between joint replacements, we joke, laugh, and have a good time.

We are doctor and patient, but also buddies.  Above on the computer screen behind us are  the X-rays of my two knee replacements and my new left hip replacement.  At my request, Dr. Burke put both shots together on the computer screen so they could be in this photo.

Dr. Burke is happy to let me take such a photo even though he is well aware that it will likely be published in this blog, which he says he reads.  However, he did say that he does not read all of every blog. Like most of my readers, he finds the stories too long.

Some people talk too much.  I write too much.  Oh well.

The photo of Dr. Burke and me together was taken by my wife Barbara who, with Dr. Burke's routine approval,  was with me during the  appointment -- one more example of how caring and how different Dr. Burke is.  With Dr. Burke, it's not about him; it's about you and me, the patient.

Finally, below is a photo taken by Dr. Burke in the recovery room immediately after my hip replacement surgery a year ago. I'm giving thumbs up. The surgical staff are all smiles and having a ball. Immediately after major surgery? Yup.

And the surgeon himself taking the photo immediately after performing surgery? Unheard of. But that's my buddy Dr. Burke, a topflight surgeon, a people person, and surely one of a kind.
Well, it's getting late and I have to get to bed.  Thanks to Dr. Burke, this three-quarter Bionic Man he has created will  be on the tennis court tomorrow morning at 7:30 running full out like a crazy man.

So long and keep moving.

P.S. For more about my hip replacement, click this link.

P.P.S. For info on my ebooks, click here.

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Thursday, May 05, 2016

Turning 78: Old? No Way! A Great Birthday to Remember Always.

May 2. Not another birthday! 78? OMG! I'm getting ancient!

Just joking about being ancient.  I see myself as a young man in my prime. I tell people that "I have turned 50." Strictly speaking, it's not a lie, since I HAVE turned 50.

But the fact is that I am now 78. There I have said it.  I am regularly older than most of the people in the daily newspaper obits.  Actually, according to the latest federal data, the life expectancy of a white male in the United States is 78.8.

At first glance, that gives me just a few months to live, but the figure is misleading.  Age 78.8 is the life expectancy of a white male born today.  A white male today who has attained the age of 78 in good health as I have, could live many years longer. In other words, generally speaking, the older you are, the older you get.

I brag in this blog that I'm going to make it to age 120.  Wouldn't that be a blast if I actually did? Actually, it is not as unthinkable as it used to be.  I just had a thorough physical by my longtime primary care doctor. He tested everything, heart, lungs, blood, cholesterol, prostate, mobility, etc. and pronounced me in perfect all-around health.

"The complete blood count is perfect," he wrote in his report.

No sign of cancer or of anything else bad.

The only thing he found was that my vitamin D level was "slightly low." It was 26; normal is above 30.  He suggested that I take a daily dose of vitamin D3 to restore it to normal.  I take no medications now and I like that. But vitamin D is important for calcium absorption and bone metabolism so I'm considering taking a daily dose of it to raise my level to normal.  The dose is not medical but fully organic  and natural.

Much credit for my good all-around health certainly goes to the fact that I have had both knees and my left hip replaced. The knees were done separately 13 years ago. The left hip was replaced last June.

Three or four times a week, I now run around the tennis court like a crazy man (which I am of course) and almost daily walk for miles snooping around new neighborhoods. (Haven't been arrested, yet anyway.)

Luckily for me, I have one of the most remarkably skilled and successful surgeons in the U.S., Dr. Dennis Burke formally of Boston Mass General and now of  Milton's Beth Israel.  He has also become a good friend. I'll be seeing him again in June. As usual, we will spend a good bit of time laughing and joking.

Of course, when it comes to keeping me going full speed ahead, Dr. Burke is all business. He is renowned for his regular successful patient outcomes.  Dr. Burke is  an amazing surgeon and person. To read why, click here.

I also have to thank the great physical  therapists at Greendale Physical Therapy on Goldstar Boulevard in Worcester, Mass. A few months ago,  after I came up with awful pain on my right side. It was ortho arthritis. I went to Greendale for help.

Greendale therapists put me through several sessions of stretching exercises that zeroed in on the source of the pain.  To my astonishment and great relief, the pain stopped and I returned to normal. I now do the same exercises after tennis when I am all sweated up.

So thanks to Dr. Burke and Greendale Physical Therapy, I could still be around for many years blogging, playing tennis, stealing rocks for my stone walls, snooping around in other people's lives, and stubbornly refusing to grow up.

In any case, even if I die tomorrow, I can't die young like so many people do.  I will have lived a long, full, and happy life and would in death merely be going on to my next adventure. I'd like to die on the tennis court after hitting a winning point.

"Drag the body off the court and keep playing," I tell my tennis guys.

So you know what, having gone through all the stages of life -- birth, childhood, school, college, U.S. Army, marriage, fatherhood, three years teaching in Africa, a 26-year career in educational publishing,  I feel that I have earned the right to be just be me, with all my quirks and immaturity, and to enjoy life.

(How's that for a long sentence? My 8th grade English teacher, Sister Francis Helen, would rap my knuckles. Sorry Sister. But I thank you for having me read my essays in class. It told me that I could write a grammatical sentence and it led to a long career in publishing. )

And, best of all, one look at my age and people, except for my good wife Barbara of course, generally don't expect a damn thing from me. That is perhaps the greatest gift of a healthy old age; you are who you are and as free as a bird to enjoy life to the fullest.

That's exactly what I did in celebration of my May 2 birthday, thanks to my sons Greg and Jon and my wife Barbara.  Unknown to me, the three of them conspired to give me the most different and happiest birthday of my life.

"Hey Dad," Greg said on the telephone, "Jon and I are traveling North and we're going to meet  at Merrimack College. We thought it would be a chance for the three of us to get together. What do you think?"

"Great," I said immediately.

Greg lives with his wife Kelly in Scranton, Penn. and Jon lives in Berkley, Mass with his wife Laurie and their two kids, Aidan and Nathaniel.  Because of distances,  we can rarely get all of us  together. I jumped at the chance.

At Merrimack I  played ice hockey for four years on a full athletic scholarship.  It would be great to visit the school where I had so many memories.  It was where I met Greg and Jon's mom  at the switchboard in the Student Union where I was the evening telephone operator. It was where I built the foundation for my future good life.

We  were to meet Greg and Jon at Merrimack's hockey rink. Well, when Barbara and I entered the room overlooking the ice hockey rink, I got the shock of my life.  The room was full of people and there was a huge banner, shown below with a Warrior jersey made for me, with my old number, 2, and with my name on the back in big letters.

Here I am below in my new Merrimack jersey with that huge banner:

If my heart had not been in such great shape, I would have dropped dead right there.

Then I noticed some guys sitting together at a table. "They are your old Merrimack teammates," Greg said, "

My mouth flew open.  My eyes nearly popped out of my head.  I went over and, sure enough, they were a table full of my old teammates. Merrimack had sent out invites to my old teammates and these four were able to make it. Several had passed away and others lived too far away to make it.

Greg left me with my old teammates and we sat there talking the old Merrimack hockey days for a good 45 minutes. It's an amazing experiences talking to guys you played college hockey with back in 1962 -- over 50 years ago.

Then came another surprise.  Greg and Jon had hired the rink. Unknown to me, Barbara had brought my skates, Jon provided hockey sticks, and out we went to the rink to skate and pass pucks around.  I had not been on skates in a couple of years but I quickly felt at home. I grew up playing hockey in a hockey town, Stoneham, Mass. I'm as home on skates as I am in shoes. That's me below.

"You looked natural out there," Greg told me.

My grandson Nathaniel challenged me to a race and I beat him.  But I'm glad Greg didn't challenge me to a race because he is a terrific hockey player and he was out there flying.

The day was also a family reunion. In the photo below are from left, Aidan, Greg, me, Jon, and Nathaniel. Because we get together so little, the photo is just precious. The only thing I don't like about it is that both of my sons are taller than me!  GRRRRR!

Greg and Jon, I'll never forget this birthday.  It was my best ever.  And with 77 previous birthdays, that is saying something! In fact, I have set up a display in my mancave that I will be looking at just about every day.  Here it is:

So long and keep moving.

For info on my ebooks, click here.

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