Tuesday, February 5, 2013

Opa's Stories

For some reason, I've been thinking a lot of my Opa.  Wishing I could talk to him one more time.  Remembering the magic tricks and swimming lessons.  And the life lessons.  Mostly, though, I wish I could sit by him and hear one more story.

Opa told the best stories.  When I heard his voice take on that familiar “narrator” note, I would shut up in a hurry.  His stories were not to be missed, nor was the awesome “shhhh shhh” laugh that accompanied them.

I often wonder how I will tell stories to interest my kids and grandkids, when I haven’t had the life to fill a room like his stories could.  Perhaps what mom says is true – she always says you have to be tortured and have a hard life to be an artist (writer, musician, painter… it doesn’t matter).  Opa’s “luck” was being at the confluence of some of the largest events in history … and being on the wrong side of all of it.

Opa was an Indo, which is not short for Indonesian , but rather a term for the Eurasian or Indo-European peoples of  what was then known as The Dutch East Indies.  He was the product of those Dutch sailors sailing at the behest of the crown and the Dutch East India Company who got greedy for what Indonesia had and colonized a people who did not want them there.  Those sailors intermarried with the locals and thus “Indos” were born.  Our family and other families like us say that word with pride, but it wasn’t always uttered by others in a nice way.

It was a good life for Opa, until WWII came along.  Being Indo made him a victim three times.  Once when the Japanese occupied the islands and Opa, technically a member of the Dutch army, was captured and imprisoned as a POW.   The second time when he was he was freed by the Allied Army only to be re-imprisoned by the Indonesians fighting to throw off their colonial “oppressors”.  And finally, when he was “repatriated.”  Although he was innocent of the colonial fighting that brought the Dutch to rule over the Indonesians a century before he was even born (and the violence that made it an official “trading post” 300 years prior), he was hated by the native Indonesians for the bad (or good) luck of being born into a ruling class.  So he and his family (including my aunt and uncle) were “repatriated” to The Netherlands even though Indonesia was the only home they had ever known.  My Opa spent the rest of his life looking for another Indonesia… even moving to Hawaii briefly in search of it.

The best of Opa’s stories were actually about his time as a POW.  But I think it’s only because of Opa’s need to cast everything with humor.  It was his armor, as it is my mother’s and mine.  I think it’s a family trait actually.  Like my cousin Pam talking about putting the “fun” in funeral and my cousin Rick IM’ing me from his time in Iraq with stories of bombed porta potties.  We are experts at laughing at ourselves.  It deflects attention from the ugly matters at hand.  While Oma would sometimes talk briefly about being loaded naked onto trucks “like cattle” and packed in so tight you could hardly breathe, Opa told of playing tricks on the guards and my favorite, landing in a “pit of shit”.  I lived for that story.  It never got old.

I don’t even remember how it started.  I’m not sure how, in the middle of a Thanksgiving dinner or a Super Bowl party it could come up.  I just know the rest of the sound in the room disappeared and I could see the tropics of Indonesia intersecting with the brutality of the camp when I heard him say, “I remember being scared of a tiger once in camp…”  I was riveted.  So here’s his story.  I only wish you could hear his accent (mostly Dutch with some influence of the Indonesian language that made him sound different from those raised in Holland) when he told the story.  And his laugh that made me think of Ernie on Sesame Street. 

Opa was up one night in camp because he had to,  ahem, use the facilities.  However, being a prisoner, the facilities consisted of large pits dug into the ground.  Now, keep in mind, this is Indonesia.  There are animals there we do not have to worry about here in the USA unless you’re worried about escapees from the local zoo.

So he’s wandering in the dark when he sees yellow eyes peering at him from the bushes and freezes.  He’s wondering just how big this tiger is and how on earth he’s going to get away.  He weighs his options and decides that instead of shitting into that pit, he’s going to have to jump in.  Up to his neck.  So he does it.  Jumps in up to his neck and waits.  And waits.  And waits some more.  Yellow eyes still staring, not moving and Opa is left wondering how long it takes a tiger to pounce once it has stalked its prey.  And will it jump into a pit of shit if it's hungry enough? The eyes begin to move toward him, the leaves rustle and out steps… (and here’s where Opa cracks up) the guard’s damn German Shepherd dog. 

At this point in his story telling, Opa is laughing so hard he begins to swear in both Dutch and English and it takes him a few moments to catch his breath.

So poor Opa, covered from the neck down in shit (and I use that word because that is the word he used, even when he first told me the story and I was only about 7).  He climbs out, giving the dog a murderous stare, and has to now dive into the FREEZING river to wash it all off.  He then drags himself out and attempts to dry off, warm up and stop shaking – he still can’t tell if it’s from the cold, the fear or just sheer lack of body fat.  He weighed around only 80 pounds when he was freed.

Opa never did see a tiger during his time as a POW.  And he never forgot that German Shepherd either.  Nor, I suspect, did he ever forgive him.

Sunday, February 3, 2013

Of Snot, Hips, Arthritis and... JEEZ! WTF already?!

My buddy Chris Clark from work (at my old mortgage job, not my stay-at-home job... I'm not just keeping some dude around the house for my entertainment) used to ask me if Mike and I lived on an old indian burial ground for our extreme bad luck with illness, injury and other random household items.  Well Chris... I think I'm just gonna answer yes now.

The illness and injury and "strange shit" rate in the Plavin household has now reached comedic proportions kids.  It's ridiculous.  I mean COME ON already. Current status:

Mike - back injured and sore, some kind of cold/flu crap he got from William
Me - walking on crutches thanks to a fall on my hip this morning, gotta call doc tomorrow about swollen lymph nodes all over, but cleared of the breast cancer scare after a mammogram and ultra sound
William - on week 2 of the cough he has lingering after the horrid bug he brought home last week
Elizabeth - feverish and at the height of the cough/snotfest that William brought home last week
Yukon (yep, including the dogs here) - liver is repairing, but mobility and bladder/bowel control is not great.
Ellie - Still need to take her to the vet because she is a literal dialy "snot cannon" who sneezes out a horrible concoction of dog food and green goo a few times a day.

I think it's time to invest in better vitamins, some horrid tasting made-only-from-vegetables daily drink, some good pyramid-scheme supplements and snake-oils, a Shaman, a priest and a good exorcist around here.   Seriously,  I'm out of options.

When I took William to the doc at the start of his bug (thinking he might have strep) the Pediatrician said she hasn't seen the rate of illness around here (not just us, I mean, but here where we live) in many, many years.  William's school sent out a special email about keeping kids home and ALL my friends and neighbors (regardless of diets, vitamins, anything-you-can-think-of-to-boost-your-immune-system methods) are stuck in the same hellish merry-go-round of illness.  I'm thinking we need to just send the kids in hazmat suits for a couple months and "Silkwood shower" the whole damn school.

As for Mike the illness would be enough... but no, we're Plavins and we do everything BIG.  I believe it was last week or the week before that I hear Mike yell out in pain after a few minutes of playing with the kids.  Here's the deal, Mike has Spina Bifida Occulta.  His last two vertebrae are not formed as they should be.  He has to be very careful with impact.  William, however, forgets this and decided to try out is WWF moves on Mike and jumped butt first onto Mike's lower back.  All 56 pounds of him.  Mike's legs tingled for a few days and now he's very sore. "Can you smell what The Rock is coooookin!" - yes, yes I can Mr. The Rock and it's called a crippled Daddy.

Dizzy finally had a good night of sleep last night after two nights of crying, nightmares and breathing difficulty.  But of course, following the Murphy's law of child illness vs. parent illness, she has the energy of 3 Jack Russells hopped up on crack, so getting her to get enough rest is going to take some sort of animal tranquilizer... or duct tape. 

We brought Yukon back from the brink of liver failure and pancreatitis with the help of some meds from the doc, HOWEVER, the meds do not treat his spinal stenosis, so now he cries when he lays down now and his bladder/bowel control rivals that of a newly potty-training 2 year old.  Needless to say,  a trip to the vet and perhaps a 12-step program to get him off the booze might be the answer.  "Hi, I'm Yukon and I'm an alcoholic"... I can see it now.

When we first brought Ellie home we actually took her to the vet fearing she had kennel cough or some horrible respiratory ailment because we have never, EVER seen a dog like that.  She is a mucus factory.  She has these HUGE sneezes, multiple times a day and look out if you're close.  You will require a change of clothing.  I'm NOT kidding.  So I've been wanting to take her back to see if there are some allergy solutions or something, because I'm running out of "oh shit" towels in the house just cleaning up her snot.  But between doctors visits for me and the kids and school-baseball-indoor playground obligations, there's been a delay.   But our "snot cannon" is making us CRAZY, so I'm going to try to squeeze it in this week... if I can walk.

Because that brings us to me.  As if the arthritis and William shouting "YOU NEED THAT" at a wrinkle-cream remover commercial doesn't make me feel enough like an aging freak, these past two weeks have involved a CBC, Mammogram, ultrasound, two doctors trips, the same flu/cold crap William has, swollen lymph nodes that I STILL need to see the doc about, and now... The Fall.  The whole house is currently under quarantine to try to stop the spread of the crap, so I've been sleeping in our office.  I was TRYING to get up with the kids today to let Mike sleep in again to help rid him of whatever bug he has.  Dizzy is in there with me and I'm dozing again when I hear "beep... beep... beep..." OH SHIT.  That's the burglar alarm.  William (whom I vaguely heard come downstairs and thought was just going potty) had tripped the alarm attempting to let Yukon out to pee.  So I scramble off the futon bed and start to RUN for the alarm.  Only... I turn the corner really fast into our hallway and our beautiful entry carpet (there ostensibly to prevent slips on our hardwood floor) is apparently slippery to the barefooted human.  Or at least to someone as clumsy as I am.  My legs shoot out behind me, my arms in front of me and, assuming the pose of a runner sliding into home, I CRASH hip-first onto the floor.  I'm in so much pain I can barely think and being an expert fainter, I start to recognize the fluttery, cold sweat, darkness-closing-in feeling as I at least crawl far enough to hoist myself up and disarm the damn thing.  Then I collapse.  Elizabeth is screaming and shaking me in her best Simba-trying-to-wake-a-dead-Mufasa rendition, William is crying and Mike IS NOT sleeping in.  I'm now on his crutches and some Advil and he has drug his sick ass and our two freaks out to accomplish the grocery shopping I was supposed to do today.

I think we're an episode of Modern Family.  I really do.