Our new gorilla girl at the Dallas zoo is three weeks old and her name is Saambili.
(sam-BEE-lee) I don’t know that I’ve ever seen anything cuter!
As a young person I was unconsciously self-conscious, in denial that I cared about what people thought of my stuff and me. I worried so much about my hair. It was either utterly gorgeous or horribly frizzy and I was obsessed with which it was going to be on any given day. I feared that my cooking, although I knew it was good, wasn’t quite brilliant enough. I worried about my beautiful area rugs being perfectly straight without any rug pad showing.
Over the years, I’ve worried about hot water heaters, air conditioners, automatic awnings, stoves that stopped working, stains on carpets, Pebble Tec spontaneously falling off the walls of a pool, those damn pool vacs that go around the pool supposedly cleaning it that break constantly, mold in showers, strange noises in the house, etc. And then next thing I know, I don’t even own that house anymore. Don’t get me wrong, I fix stuff in my houses but it’s so weird to sit here and think of all the stuff I worried so bad about for weeks on end about a house I owned 5 houses ago!
My sibling, Orlando has on the signature of email this quote:
”Could things get any worse? Why yes, little one, be patient”. – Morrissey
Well, some things have gotten worse. I guess maybe it comes with time and stuff you have to deal with as you age like surgeries and illnesses. In general we are hanging in there but the stuff I worry about now is in a very different category than anything I mentioned above. In fact, I blow off the stuff above, it’s relatively meaningless. (And, in Dallas, it’s so humid so much of the time that if our hair is curly, it’s frizzy as hell and if it’s straight, it’s flat, so we use hairpieces! Big business here! Ha!)
I just found out today that my Jenn-Air range cannot be repaired because it’s 12 years old and they don’t make the parts anymore. And, there are two of them side by side that must match or it would look ridiculous in a house like mine. They are very expensive. My attitude is “Bummer, but it’s not cancer.”
“We’re probably the youngest ones in here,” I said to my husband Steve. “I thought the Beatles had a new younger following.”
“Yeah,” Steve said, “I don’t know…..I don’t see anyone younger than us either.”
At 55 and 58 it’s rare for us to be the youngest ones anywhere. The other day Steve and I went to the Music Hall at Fair Park, Dallas Texas to see Let It Be, A celebration of the music of the Beatles. The concert hall was nearly full and almost everyone was over 75.
The show started with the voice of Ed Sullivan introducing four “youngsters,” the curtain went up and with I Wanna Hold Your Hand blasting, there was what looked almost exactly like Paul, John, George and Ringo singing and playing as very young men. On either side of the stage were huge screens with the old footage of girls screaming, crying, fainting and trying to run up on stage.
Then, before the fab four started performing songs from the famous concert at Shea Stadium in New York on August 15, 1965 the screens showed footage of John before they went on stage looking out at the 55,600 in attendance and is heard saying in his thick English accent, “They’re here to see us? These Americans, they must be out of their minds!”
Like many people, I’ve followed these guys since I was very young and this performance reminded me of what I observed over the years. To say Paul was the happy Beatle is cliché of course, but true. John was obstinate and antagonistic. George lived his life painfully paranoid and scared to death of the fame and mobs. Ringo rolled with it, lucky that he was the second drummer after Paul and John were not happy with Pete Best. Ringo, was always number four. Four might not be the greatest if you are a chimpanzee but it kinda doesn’t suck if you are a Beatle.
At the end they were playing Hey Jude and everyone wanted to pay respect to this amazing imitation ensemble and let them know how much we appreciated their performance. In the dark, you couldn’t tell that this audience was a very elderly group of people. I didn’t smell like marijuana like in the old days but I did see the light of cigarette lighters swaying. I looked around and realized it wasn’t the old cigarette lighter thing at all, it was cell phone flashlight apps swaying all around the arena.
“Ouch, oh god!” I exclaimed. “OW!” Helen made consoling sounds but kept on working.
I was born with several congenital abnormalities and as a result I’ve had more surgeries than the average person and maybe a few more aches and pains. Big areas are my hips, low back and since taking up pickle ball my shoulder and elbow. I probably play more pickle ball than I should although who is to say? (Is 14 hours a week too much?)
She calls it “Korean Massage” but what Helen does is outrageously deep tissue muscular therapy. It keeps all my parts working and I see her twice a month. She is a master at her craft and if the issue is muscular, she can fix it. It might take a while but she will do it. Her Christmas card to me said, “Thank you for letting me keep your body updated. Happy Christmas.” I supplement her work with regular stretching so I can joyfully and addictfully continue playing my sport. (I take the creative license on my own blog to make up words!)
Helen is Korean and trained in her country and in the US. She is soft-spoken, subtle, graceful, highly intelligent and respectful. When I enter her space she performs a slight bow. I return the gesture. Her English is coming along but isn’t fluent. We have a wonderful time together. I am very good at understanding accents and I’m very patient and persistent in trying to understand what she is saying and we’ve made huge strides in in our communication. She tells me I’m “opened mind” so she feels comfortable as we go back and forth until we understand what the other is saying. We do all this while she is expertly finding any and all areas on my body where my muscles might be sore, tight or utterly killing me.
I look forward to seeing Helen every other week but I don’t look forward to the pain. As I drive away however, I am pain free so it’s worth it. Today as she worked on me I was saying “Ouch!! and OW!” At these times she models a deep breathing technique and I can hear her and begin doing it myself. Sort of like Lamaze for childbirth.
Then this gentle soul quietly said, “You say ouch and ow, some people I work on say son-of-a-bitch or mother fucker. I know what son-of-a-bitch means but what about mother fucker?”
I was waiting in the car while my husband ran into a store and I looked across the street at a business called “The Mattress Firm.” I’m pretty sure it’s a national chain. We were in a very busy and rather chic part of Dallas where parking is at a premium. I saw a sign at the entrance of their parking lot. It was clearly a very professionally made sign. It read No parking except for Mattress Firm customers. All others will be towed at the owners expence! I was shocked! My fellow writers, notice anything downright wrong here? I wish I had thought to take a photo!
“Maybe this young lady will know…” he said, as an embarrassed looking shopper sped away.
People in Texas are very polite and it always makes me chuckle when they refer to me as a young lady. I mean, c’mon, I’m 58. However, this man was clearly in his late eighties or early nineties so to him, I suppose I’m a spring chicken.
Something that makes me feel sad is when someone like that shopper is embarrassed by another person who needs help and speeds away.
There’s the good, the bad, and the ugly about aging. Not so thrilled with sagging skin, wrinkles, aches and pains, doctors’ appointments, etc. But there are some up sides and one I’ve been keenly aware of lately is our tendency to take care of one another, people we don’t even know, a lot better than we did when we were younger. Having the time and not being in such a huge rush all the time surely has something to do with it. But also, life experience, illness, surgery, loss and vulnerability create intense compassion.
I have a new friend named Kelly who I met at pickle ball. I don’t know her well but her sense of humor is infectious and for those of you who don’t know me, that is right up my alley. When Kelly and I are together much of the time is spent laughing. One day at Pickle ball when I first met her, Kelly fell down and hit her head on the gym floor. I rushed over to help her up, as did many people. I told her to sit and drink water and listen to her body and if anything felt weird, I would immediately take her to the emergency room. She said she was fine but would do what I said. Twenty minutes later she came to me and said she was feeling a little light headed. I said, “let’s go!!” I wanted my exercise and my fun that day at Pickle ball but this was more important.
Recently, Kelly blew out her Achilles and had to have surgery. She is on one of those scooter things to keep all weight off her leg. The other day I took lunch to her house. We talked and laughed and I helped her fill dog dishes with water, feed the fish, replace toilet paper in bathrooms and play with her adorable dog.
Today I was at Walgreens looking for beauty products for 58 year olds. (HAHA!) Suddenly I heard, “Maybe this young lady will know…..” I turned and saw a very old man with a shopping cart containing his folded up walker and some items he had chosen as he shopped. (The shopping cart provides the same support as a walker as I well remember from after my hip surgery.)
I did not hesitate. I walked right up to him. “What do you hope I know, sir?”
“Do you know where the hair gel is?” he said without hesitation.
“We are in the right aisle,” I replied, “this is the hair section. Are you looking for men’s or women’s hair gel?
“It doesn’t matter!!” he said sort of grouchily, which made me laugh because he reminded me of the character playing Winston Churchill on Netflix “The Crown”.
“Okay, let’s figure this out,” I said, “Is it for you or someone else?”
“Me,” he said, “I’ve got to control this hair when I’m at the office!”
“Okay, fine and by the way your hair looks great,” I said. “Now let’s look at some of these products. Here, let’s sneaky open this one, does this feel right?” I said as I put some of the product on his fingers.
He shook his head and looked somewhat annoyed. (Just like the cantankerous Winston Churchill.)
“My wife knows what it is, she bought it for me!”
“You should have brought the empty container then this would have been easy,” I said.
“I should have brought my wife!”
I laughed out loud.
Suddenly he said, “Here it is! This is it!” It was Suave $1.99 hair gel.
“Great!” I said, “I’m so happy you found it!”
He then proceeded to talk to me for about 15 minutes about his life. He is 90 years old, a molecular biologist who owns several small companies creating products I really didn’t understand. (A dressing for wounds which knows when to come off your body so that ripping the thing off doesn’t damage tissue, etc.) He has turned the company over to his granddaughter but still goes into the office every day. (Which is why his full head of hair needs to look so awesome.) I stood with him patiently and listened to him happily.
Out at my car, I worried a little about him getting his purchases and walker to his car. He was mentally completely there but he was fragile physically. I watched as he came out. It wasn’t good. He had the shopping cart in front of the walker and was trying to finagle both. I guess outside he felt he needed the walker and not just the walker folded into the shopping cart like he was doing inside. I was about to park my car to get out and help when a woman my age saw what was happening and stepped over to help him. He immediately gave her the shopping cart and clutched his walker more tightly while pointing to his car. This woman stayed with him, with her own shopping bags in her hands, while he slowly got his stuff into his car and told her his life story. I stayed in the parking lot to watch. When he finally got into his car and the woman went on her way to her car, I pulled around to her.
“I saw that whole thing,” I said, “and so did God. Good for you!”
She smiled, put her hand to her chest and blushed.
“This was the hardest one,” an ape keeper named Tara at the Dallas zoo told me today, “the hardest one ever.”
Anyone who works in any capacity with the apes had sunglasses on today and were carrying much needed tissue.
Last night as I sat at dinner with my husband I kept hearing my phone tones for email and text. I don’t work (I volunteer) so I don’t get as much activity on my phone as most people and the rate at which these sounds were coming in alarmed me a little. “Excuse me please, let me check that,” I said to my husband.
I am an amateur expert on the Western Lowland Gorilla and the Chimpanzee and I volunteer at the Dallas zoo two days a week speaking about behaviors and personalities of the apes. I have come to know each ape intimately and some know and recognize me. I love them deeply.
Andrea, it’s Julie at the zoo. I know this is going to hit you hard and I’m so sorry. I sent you several emails and I think Tracy did, too. We lost Kona today, I read on text. I burst into tears. My husband was frantically asking what happened of course and I told him we lost Kona.
“Oh, the one who got his toe bit off by Juba?” my husband asked anxiously.
“NO!” I said, “those are the gorillas, Kona was the 7 year old Chimp!” I said as I sobbed. I cried myself to sleep.
Driving to the zoo today was horrible. I was so scared to see the keepers but even more scared to see the Chimpanzee troupe. Cindy did a good job faking it at the Chimp Keeper Talk and then I saw Annie. We embraced and I started to cry and she hugged me even harder. Sweet thing, she’s only 28.
I am good friends with Kona’s main keeper whose name is Will. Will is an emergency medical technician and is in Vietnam right now on a doctors without borders type mission with his father who is a surgeon. I was so shaken up that I texted Will and just said OMFG and he responded and was an absolute wreck. Annie is his girlfriend and he asked me to take care of her until he could get back. I told Will she’s a lot stronger than either of us, which is true. Annie is not unemotional, she just controls it well. When I told Annie Will texted me to take care of her she chuckled with tears in her eyes.
Later in the day I saw many other ape keepers and it was emotional. Kona was one of a kind. He was a rebel, a clown, a strategizer, a risk taker and his two and a half year old little brother Mshindi loved him to pieces. In fact, at the zoo when an ape dies, they let the other apes in the troupe see the deceased body so they can process what has happened. Little Mshindi was slapping Kona’s dead body trying to wake him up. Gut wrenching.
No one knows exactly what killed Kona. He had been a little lethargic and not eating well for a week. When they brought him in and put him under anesthesia to try and figure out what was wrong, he just died. Blood work and autopsy in progress but who cares, it won’t bring him back.
This morning when the keepers got to work there was poop spread on every wall, floor and ceiling of the indoor Chimp bedrooms. Last night, the chimps protested. It was the only way they knew how. Today the Chimps were despondent and little Mshindi was trying to play the games on the ropes and climbing structures all by himself that he used to play 0n with Kona. Gut wrenching.
Mshindi is going to miss Kona
So am I
“You have to be strong,” the woman in the waiting room at the oncology radiology facility said. “My husband has lymphoma everywhere in its final stages and we are cheerful and optimistic. It’s what you have to do to be with cancer.” Her husband will probably die. He is completely hunched over by what I suppose is osteoporosis in addition to the lymphoma his lovely wife told me has taken over his entire body.
That first day we went for Steve’s radiation treatment, I noticed a bell on the counter with a ribbon tied to it. On the ribbon it said I made it the whole way! I was so new to this idea of my youngish husband having to go through radiation that I didn’t quite get what that was. Then, when Steve was in treatment, someone walked out, picked up the bell and rang it. Everyone in the waiting room applauded and some jumped up to hug the person who had just completed the grueling months long, daily treatment of radiation. I suddenly got it and of course, was one of the jump-up huggers. But I was also in tears.
A couple weeks ago was Steve’s last radiation treatment for a mild recurrence of prostate cancer. MILD? Can you really even say that if its cancer? You really can’t. It’s cancer. In his case even though his numbers are low and very encouraging, you get only one shot at radiation. One. You can’t do it again because radiation causes cancer. What? We are trying to solve cancer with a cancer-causing agent? Yep. OMG.
On Steve’s last day I was in the waiting room, waiting. My husband is a very subtle and humble person. He is not a person who has a need to bring attention to himself so I wasn’t expecting him to ring a little funny bell. I just assumed he would want to get out of there and put it all behind him while we wait and wait for results of radiation. He walked out, made eye contact with me, picked up that bell and rang it loudly with a huge smile on his face. I burst into quiet tears; I try not to be a spectacle either. People applauded, jumped up to hug him and it was a demonstration of how beautiful people can be when we realize we are all in the same damn boat. Cancer levels the playing field.
“I tried to get through your text without crying but it didn’t work,” George’s daughter Melissa texted me.
Pickle ball has changed my life. After back surgery for a herniated disk, my husband was worried I’d not be able to play tennis again and he found this new sport for me. Pickle ball is played in a gym on a badminton size court with a whiffle ball and a paddle and it’s a game of mixed doubles. Men and women of all shapes, sizes and ages all play together. It is a fast, aggressive game combining tennis with badminton and some people say Ping-Pong. I don’t see the Ping-Pong part of it. It’s an incredible work out but also an amazingly fun and addictive sport. I now play between 5 and 6 days a week for between 2 to 3 hours. It’s like my job, that and speaking about Gorillas and Chimps at the Dallas zoo 2 days a week. Lucky me. My recovery from the surgery was so excellent, I could easily play tennis, but I have no desire! My new love is Pickle ball.
I have met so many people and I have many very close friends in Texas as a result of Pickle ball. I am in awe at the support and camaraderie this PB community provides.
Not long ago, several of our Dallas police officers were shot and killed in a race relation issue. The next day at Pickle ball, one of the players called us all together and asked that we bow our heads in a minute of silence for the men who died. You could have heard a pin drop in that gym. It was powerful.
A couple months later right before we began play, a woman asked us to gather as she had a sad announcement. One of our dear Pickle ball friends Sarah, we were told, just lost her 48-year old daughter a day or two before. Again, we gathered, bowed our heads in silence and surely a lot of prayer for one of our own. Then the coach, Dave, went to get a bereavement card, which we all signed and he sent it. Sarah is not back yet but our community is there for her when she is.
Recently, one of our wonderful friends, George found out his heart rate was way too low. George is very athletic and otherwise a very healthy 72 year old, but his doctor was insistent on a pacemaker. He was going back and forth, stressing out about the decision because he felt so good and was playing Pickle ball several days a week aggressively. He was finally convinced it was what he needed to do.
George had the surgery to install the pacemaker on a Monday morning. Most everyone in our Pickle ball community knew. Shockingly, on Tuesday afternoon George sauntered in to the gym. He didn’t have his paddle with him and he didn’t intend on playing but he felt great and wanted to see us. Here is what I texted his daughter later, of whom I am very fond even though I don’t know her well.
Hi Melissa! I wish you could have seen the scene when your father walked into the gym today. The only word I can think of, and I don’t think I have ever used this word before, is “Fellowship”. Several women jumped up to embrace him. Our coach then went over to give him a hug and handshake and brought him a cushioned chair so he wouldn’t have to sit on the hard bleachers. Then as games ended, men began walking up putting their hands on his shoulder or shaking his hand asking about his procedure and how he was doing. He was the prince of the ball and everyone was quietly rejoicing in how well things went and how fabulous he looked. Then a much older man than George took the padded seat and your father, of course, didn’t say a word and sat on the hard bleachers. He’s a special man and I know losing his wife was devastating as it was for you losing your mother. But as a family, you have each other, and now know you can take comfort in that your father is a beloved member of a huge Fellowship of Pickle ball people. Love, Andie
Here is Melissa’s response:
I tried to get through your text without crying but it didn’t work. What a wonderful thing to read. Thank you. Thank you again and the Fellowship of PB’s for caring about him so much. I’m so glad you’ve all gotten to know the awesome man I’m lucky to call “Dad”.
I’m kinda starting to like Texas….