Banner photo of Larry Eugene Meredith, Patrick Flynn and Ronald Tipton, 2016.

The good times are memories
In the drinking of elder men...

-- Larry E.
Time II

Tuesday, June 27, 2017

Enter the Two-Headed Black Dog and the Temple Temptress

1987 started with a familiar ritual, going to a car dealer to purchase a new car. In the news during several recent years was praise for Lee Iacocca, then CEO of Chrysler, for bringing the company back from the brink of disaster in 1983. For most of the ‘80’s decade there was praise for the “new Chrysler” and Iacocca became a media icon. Thus I fell for the constant and glorious Chrysler hubbub and I bought a Dodge Omni.
This was my first Chrysler product; it would be my last. We had nothing but headaches with that abominable thing. Like an unsettled volcano it kept overheating and be on the edge of eruption. I had it back to the dealer, Price Dodge along the Route 13 strip, a number of times, but although they swapped out the thermostat a time or two, and ran numerable tests, they couldn’t fix the problem. Anytime we got into slow moving traffic the heat rose beyond the red line as if the car were on the verge of a stroke. Once taking the kids to the shore I had to turn around on New Jersey Route 55 because the traffic was so bad I knew the car would boil over. Had to get on the open highway going back northwest to avoid disaster. That was a long trip wasted. It was a nightmare for the whole time I owned this dog.
The Omni wasn’t the only acting up. Lois’ behavior had become somewhat erratic.
It was not that there was anything which to the casual observer might appear strange. To most people Lois seemed perfectly normal, if a bit distant at times and sick more than usual. But over time unnoticed patterns clearly emerged. She suffered periods of depression, often very deep and dark. Of course, these did tend to be rather noticeable. Many people have depressions, something that Sir Winston Churchill referred to as a visit from the Black Dog, but at that time we didn’t realize this was a Two-Headed Black Dog.
(By the way, Churchill didn’t actually coin the term “Black Dog” as a trope for depression. Its use in that context goes back beyond Roman times.)


IN THE COLORS

Move the colors.
But they stop and go,
Not red or green or yellow.
No, no, they flow where colors never go.
Some darker stolen painted skies
From haunted worlds
And go away and go away
How I wish they’d go away.

But the colors stay
And they have a weight
Because they’re not a shade;
They’re not a ghost, a specter or a Sigh of wispy hues at all.

Move the colors, make then change,
From dark and deep and deeper gray.

Make the colors
Give me back the sky
Of golden rays and lighter blues,
But be careful there if when they lift
That reality I fear within
Doesn’t fling the shattered palette
And blind me to the outside day.

“In the Colors”
By Larry Eugene Meredith
Published “Poetry Vortex”
Dallas Kirk Gantt, editor
2011


She dismissed her bouts of depression as genetic. She claimed her mother suffered them as apparently her father had as well. Some people attributed her dark moods to the loss of our babies, but both the depressions and other patterns preceded these deaths. They began in her childhood. These occurred frequently enough that she discussed the problem with our family doctor and he prescribed an antidepressant. We would eventually learn that this was the wrong thing to do and only exacerbated the problem because what she had was Bipolar Disorder, but no one yet realized this.
Along with continuous attacks of depression, she also had migraines and occasional sleep problems.
MIGRAINE


She lay like old laundry in a dark room.
Tossed and unfolded upon the nearest rest,
Soaked with the pain and depths of gloom,
Throbbing colors and flashing lights.
Her head bloody split from fore to aft.
Her life all drained and seeped away.

“Don’t bother with the empty skin,
Just let me die, just let me lie.”

They roll on waves without warning,
Tsunamis, crushing currents, these migraines,
Which are assassins of the lowest form
Whose knives tear and stab and maim.
All her willingness to exist at all
Has left her useless, limp and drained.

“I cannot reach you with my love,
I’ve tried, I’m tired and I’ve strained.”

“Migraine”
by Larry Eugene Meredith
Published “Poetry Vortex”
Dallas Kirk Gantt, Editor
2011

The depressions and the migraines were certainly a disruption in our lives. But more frightening than these were the paranoia and fears that haunted her so often. She also could not perceive the positive around her. More and more everything became negative. It was robbing her from any joy.
Among her patterns was a compulsion to constantly change our curtains, rugs and wall hangings. Later an even more intrusive desire was repainting our rooms. These habits, if you can call them that, began early. The purchase of pictures began on our honeymoon. It wasn’t anything I saw as unusual. It was just her choice of souvenirs. When we got home she hung her purchases about the rooms. There was one, I believe bought in a shop at Sturbridge Village, that would eventually become a favorite of mine. It was of a young girl holding a rabbit. It was almost a premonition because years later after Laurel was born and became a little girl she reminded me of the girl in the painting.


Her purchases of paintings, curtain and rugs became excessive as decades passed, but I took little note in the early years. After all, I had my own obsessions, such as my growing library of books. I also began collecting coffee cups everywhere we went. These things were not exactly space savers and became a real burden when we moved.
All her years were punctuated by anxieties, panic attacks, delusions and negativity. Another pattern that emerged was her distrust of churches. She could not find a church where she was comfortable; being especially critical of the minister, who along the line always said something that stuck in her crawl. She was also convinced that our fellow parishioners were constantly judging us.





There was something else occurring, but I didn’t catch it right away. It was actually part of entering a manic stage. It was a period where she wasn’t depressed, but quite the opposite. It was nice to see her up, but what she was manic about eventually threatened to ruin us.

“Whether you have bipolar disorder or you know someone with it, you’ll want to be aware of the signs of mania -- the extreme highs that can lead to big risks with money, sex, and even safety.”

There had been periods when we took risks with sex and I thought how great to have a wife who is so open to experimentation. I did not know what I saw as a blessing was part of the curse of Bipolar Disorder. It is a very deceptive disease. Her sexual mania just fed into my own sexual desires and we were fortunate nothing particularly serious resulted from the behavior we indulged in. Of course we never viewed our behavior as being unusual or wrong in those days.
However, when her newest manic episodes finally drew my attention they eventually led to a diagnosis.



As I have stated, although I was beginning to notice certain patterns in her behavior, we still did not know she suffered not just from depression, but from Bipolar Disorder. Meanwhile, life was very busy. With Lois now working evenings into the night, I was cooking many of the meals for myself and the kids as well as looking to the kids needs during those hours between dinner and bedtime. My job was also growing more intense.
I was very happy in my work and part of this enjoyment of work was because it provided variety and it was growing in scope. By the end of 1986 I had developed and presented a plan for
Deposit Services and Data Preparation to include employee involvement in running the units. This was a modification of Quality Circles, a management technique developed in Japan utilizing the theories of Dr. W. Edwards Deming. This method of including employees in management planning was just beginning to pop up in the United States. I had published at Wilmington Trust a book called, Japanese Management Style: Its Relationship to Quality/Productivity Improvement. I had expanded on the idea of Quality Circles in my follow-up book, Tire Teams and Unicycles: Q/P Theory. Now I was working with a vendor out of Atlanta, Rich Toole, to develop a workable team effort acceptable to the management at Wilmington Trust. My title for this project was Action Concept Teams (ACT).
At the same time, I had begun a project on my own, a kind of secret endeavor pirate operation. I was creating a cost system for our divisions. Why a pirate operation, you may ask? It was because since I was a kid I had found it better to employ the “Field of Dreams” philosophy (well before that movie ever existed, I might add). If you build it, they will come or at least come around. If you announce you are building it they may come as well, but to tear it down before you even start. I wasted a lot of time on ideas that everyone else pooh-poohed because “that’s not the way we've always done it”
Lack of cost data was a pet peeve of mine almost from the day I was hired. Much of my presentation in selling a project required financial justification. A project could be cool, it could be sexy, it could be worth having, but it wouldn’t fly with senior management and ever gain their approval without a feasibility study with a good Cost Analysis showing a reasonable return on investment (ROI).
One of my greatest frustrations when I began as project Manager and had to do a Cost Analysis was no cost system existed. I was shocked, shocked, I say! I thought a bank would have its costs nailed down to the penny, nay, down to the mill. But they had no costing, nada. Every analysis I did had to be created out of the dirt, scratched from non-existent data. It was excruciating. No one knew their costs. I did have some knowledge of costing (by gosh I had studied costing at Widener garnering A’s and once upon a time I was Cost Accountant of Olson Brothers, egg-breakers extraordinaire).
I decided to build a cost system.
The growth of the PC, which I had kept pushing in management’s face and hearing the old “that’s not the way we've always done it” chant, now made this effort possible. I choose to build it using M/S Excel.
I immediately ran into a problem. Bank operations did not work the same as the breaker of eggs or a steel tubing manufacturer. The traditional raw-materials come in, get processed and a product dumps on the market just didn’t work. I had to invent a new approach. I found I would have to break every job down to its base elements and I called my system, Activity Based Costing. There would be a real irony in this a half-decade down the road. I, apparently, was ahead of the game.


At the end of 1986, due to the spread of my duties, I was given permission to hire an assistant.
I interviewed several candidates. I finally hired a young woman named Linda.
She certainly came with great credentials, and like me started her higher education majoring in Sociology. She did get her B.A. in the discipline, but she didn’t stop there. She had a M.T.S from Harvard. That is a Master of Theological Studies for the uninitiated in degree shorthand, like I was at the time. She also had a Master of Divinity from the Episcopal Divinity School at Cambridge and was currently working on her Doctorate in Organizational Communications and Psychology at the University of Delaware.
Her work experience was just as impressive. She had taught sociology and community organization at DelTech, been the Rector of St. Paul’s in Camden, Delaware for 7 years and recently been a member of the Mayor’s Task Force on Employment Opportunities for the City of Wilmington.
If anything, I probably should have been intimidated by her background, but it wasn’t her impressive background that led me to hire her. It was we were immediately simpatico. We were a lot alike. We spoke the same language.
Both of us had been through a number of courses where your communication style and personality type were tested. It was taught in the late eighties that you were made up of four general characteristics. You were a Conceptualizer, Analyzer, Activator or Socializer. Actually, you would contain some of each, but one or two would dominate and these would dictate your approach to how you dealt with the world. Linda and I were the perfect team for what we were going to do together. We both scored highest as Conceptualizers, which meant we could sit down and blue sky ideas outside the box and understand where each of us was coming from and going.
My second highest trait was Analyzer and her secondary attribute was Activator. This was great, because we would act as a counterweight to each other. We could both come up with ideas and plan, but her instinct was to immediately go run with the idea, while mine was to dig deeper into how it would work. I slowed down her over enthusiasm that could easily have run amuck, and she sped my getting lose in the weedy details forever and a day. I could keep us on track, she could go out and get the train moving.
We were going to get along closely; perhaps too closely. There was a nasty two-headed black dog attacking at home and a temptation in the making at work, something of a dangerous combination.


Saturday, June 17, 2017

From the Crest of the Hill...


My mother was unable to get into Phoenixville Hospital to visit my grandmother all the way through the Fifth of January 1986. A nurse called and said my grandmother was confused and in some pain. My mother was finally able to visit on the sixth. Grandmother looked terrible and my mother felt very bad; she feared she might have to put her in a nursing home.
On Wednesday my dad came home without his truck. he had left it on route.  He had pneumonia. Around 10:00 AM the hospital called and said my grandmother wasn’t good, so mom and dad went in to see her. She died about 10 minutes after they arrived. Mother was grateful the suffering was over. Lois and I gathered up the kids and we drove down to the hospital.
Esther Wilson Brown died at 10:00 Am on January 8, 1986 at the age of 86 years 7 months.
The undertaker came the next morning to pick up her clothes and the viewing was held on the tenth at Grove Methodist Church and the funeral was performed there the next day. She was interred next to my grandfather, Francis Fizz Brown and my infant son, Michael, who had been buried atop his great grandfather in 1967. A luncheon was held back in the church fellowship.
This is the last photograph taken of my grandmother, Christmas 1985, just a day over two-weeks before her passing. Despite over a year of pain and suffering she still looked like the strong farm girl she was. She had been born at the family farm called Marchwood on June 11, 1899, the youngest of six children born to William and Anna Wilson, all of whom she outlived. She married a carpenter, Francis Brown in February 26,1920 (yeah, do the math and you’ll see my mother was born a little less than 4 months later). My grandfather preceded her to the grave on February 6, 1957, leaving her almost 30 years a widow.

My graandmother’s family, 1900. From left to right: standing – Heber, Clare, Evans, Billy and Helen. Seated – William Frederick Wilson and Anna Margaret Dunlap Wilson holding Esther Wilson Brown. Helen and Esther were named for their grandmother Esther Helen Bicking.
The day after the funeral, my father went into Phoenixville Hospital with double pneumonia on the 12th. He was not discharged until the 18th. In the meantime, Lois, the kids and I came up to Bucktown and stayed with my mother. She was having a difficult time coping with all this death and sickness and she missed my grandmother so much.
Four days after dad was released from the hospital he went in for x-rays. They found his one lung was not completely cleared and he was immediately readmitted for another week. This must have been a concerning time for him given his family history. His own father, Benjamin Franklin Meredith (left); his Maternal Grandfather, William Elsworth Townsley and his Grand Uncle, James Hunter Townsley all died within a three-week period in 1937 of pneumonia. (In this photo James is standing on the log wagon to the far left. William Townsley is to the far right on the ground., 1931. Others in the photo are James Ivan Townsley, one of William's children; his son-in-law, James Skiles; and two of William's grandchildren: Charles Richard Johnson, Jr., and Charlotte Jean Johnson [Their mother was William’s first child, Clara Susanna Townsley.]




I headed down to Miami, Florida on January 25 to another of the BAI Productivity Conferences. Perhaps it would be good to escape all the drama and winter for a time. It snowed off and on all week and the temperatures were beginning to drop. Everything was going into the bleak time of winter now that the Christmas lights had come down. The trees were bare and forelorn and the snow along the streets were black with dirt and turned to slush. Miami should be worlds away from all the dreariness…as long as there was no gun fighting in our street this year.
It was a quick trip down the coast line to Florida compared to the 6-hour plus flight and St. Louis layover out to Los Angeles the year before. It felt as soon as we reached cruising altitude we were beginning our decent for landing. Once again I was greeted by the sight of palm trees as I left the airport to catch a taxi, but man, it was cold. The chill was to remain my whole trip.
I felt sorry for the Floridians and other southerners who were there. The temperatures were dipping down into the thirties. I was lucky because I had my winter coat that I had started my trip wearing. The natives of that area were not equipped for this and they were walking about shivering with chattering teeth. This cold snap had hit the whole country and this unusual weather was long before Al Gore could make up scare stories about Global Warming. Up in Pennsylvania and Delaware the thermometers got down into the low teens, dropping to 12 degrees, while the wind increased. With two weeks-worth of snow on the ground it wasn’t likely to warm up quickly.
I was staying in the St. Regis Bal Harbour Resort, in those boom times Wilmington Trust always booked me into first class lodging. (By the way, if they spell harbor with a u, it is the same as adding extra dollar signs to everything around.) I found Florida exceedingly boring. There wasn’t much to do in Bal Harbor beyond the conference. I tried walking, but you couldn’t go anywhere. There was like a wide highway and it curved off around a bend and disappeared.
Across this wide highway was a mall, the Bar Harbour Shops. I wandered over to it. Although I could enter the Mall proper, nothing was open. It was as dead as everything else in the area. Very few people were out on the beach. There were half-dozen surfers paddling out off a jetty. They wore those rubber scuba outfits. One couple walked the sand hand and hand, but they were dressed more for skiing than swimming.


On Monday the 28th, when we broke for lunch, I took another little hike along the beach. This was just before noon. When I came back into the lobby there was a great deal of activity. Groups of people had formed around some of the TV monitors in the lounge. I saw a lot of downcast faces and asked a man hurrying by me what was going on.
“The space shuttle blew up,” he said and hurried away. This was to be a very historic launch, one of great anticipation and interest. This was the tenth Challenger shuttle flight and for many these count downs and launches had become rather routine. What had drawn so much excitement to this particular one was the inclusion of school teacher Christa McAuliffe as one of the two payload specialists. Fo this reason many school kids were watching the launch in their classroom, including McAuliffe’s students. 73 seconds into the flight there was this snake-like pattern of smoke across the sky and everyone froze in stunned horror. All seven crew on board were killed. It was decided the O-ring seal on the right rocket booster failed due to the unusual cold.
Tragedy and death appeared to be stalking me.

On Wednesday, right after the closing session, I was going back to my room. As I approached the elevator bank I saw only one man waiting by the buttons. As I came near his eyes grew large and he backed up a couple steps, holding his hands out in a stay-away gesture.
He began screaming, “What’d you got! What’d you got! And he ran down the corridor and disappeared.
I felt like running after him and shouting, “I’ve got The Rot and it’s highly contagious.” However I didn’t.
I was diagnosed with psoriasis when I was 15 and probably had it long before that, but in all the past years I had never had anyone act in such a way. Very, very few ever even commented on my scales or rash. Those who did usually mistook it for Poison Ivy, especially children. Of course, last summer with a combination of tanning salons and summer sun I had lost most of the signs of the disease. I had ceased going to the tanning salons as the skin cleared up, but now summer was months over and winter is a bad time to have this thing. There is far less exposure to sun and even when it is sunny one is hardly ambling about in shorts. Winter tends to bring physical discomfort. The flare ups are larger and more often. You have periods of annoying itching. The rash hurts, feeling like a bad sunburn at times, the kind where your clothes hurt as the material moves with your movement. Even the bed covers can hurt and make sleep difficult. I knew my condition had worsened. I could see the scales and redness form on the back of my hands. It had never seen that before, showing up on generally sun-exposed areas. Something else to think about when I returned home. It was certain I wasn’t going to get much relief on Miami’s beaches, even in my Speedo
It was also a fact that my psoriasis was going to get worse.
A few days after flying home from Miami, I had to drive back to the Philadelphia Airport with my dad. He was finally over his pneumonia and able to work again, but when he had taken sick he was in Buffalo and it was there he left his truck. He was flying back to pick it up.
Lois and I managed to get a couple days to ourselves during February by dropping the kids off at my parents. Lois was beginning to have what she referred to as panic attacks as well as her depressions. Of course the events at the beginning of this year were not helping with her problems. She was claiming it was inherited, that her mother suffered the same depressions, but would sometimes blame it on her father’s verbal abuse and indifference or on the bullying she had received in school. She was also beginning to complain about Bethel Baptist and claiming Pastor Ryle was her problem. Her resentments against churches would continue to grow.  (In the photo are Lois’s Godparents, John and Leona Gerhart to the left, and her parents, Harry and Dorothy Raab Heaney on the right.)


Misty, my parents Chihuahua, was ill. She was refusing to go to my dad, which was unusual since she liked him best of all. She had done nothing but bark, snarl and nip at me since my mother got her as a pup. One of my dad’s truck driver friends gave the dog to mom after my Chihuahua, Cindy, had died. Misty was nothing like Cindy. Misty was just mean to everyone except mom and dad. I always feared she’d bite the kids. Still, I didn’t want to see anything happen to her on top of my Grandmother’s passing and dad finding his dog, Greta, dead earlier in the year.
Things were rough on everyone. My mom came down for Laurel’s 8th birthday in March, but all she could do was cry. She said she guessed my grandmother’s death finally hit her. 
On April 14, I spent Tax day in Washington. Nothing to do with the taxes, of course. I was there for another three-day seminar given by the AMA, a continuing credits course on Bank Operations Management.

In April, the day before my mom and dad’s 45th wedding anniversary, my Uncle Bill was in a serious auto accident with a pickup just outside of Media. He was taken to Riddle Hospital. On June 22nd my parents were down to our place and Lois made them a large turkey dinner. That evening they went to see Francy (my dad’s youngest brother) at the hospital. Uncle Francy was in a halo brace that ran down his back and screwed into the top of his head. He had fractured his neck and his back and had a concussion. He couldn’t remember anything at all about the accident. It would be a slow recovery.

Immediately after visiting Francy, they went to Coatesville to see my Uncle Ben, dad’s other brother (dad was the oldest). Ben was ailing and would require an operation on July 31. My Aunt Dot (right) had died just before Christmas 1985. Dot and Ben had separated by then and I believe she died of cancer, but both Ben and Dot were alcoholics. Most of their time together had been spent at bars. Even so, Ben was my favorite uncle. He always was in a good mood when we saw him, whether during a visit at the house or more often at the barroom of the Fraternal Order of Eagles in Coatesville.


During July and August, we took the kids several places, such as the circus, Dorney Park and the Philadelphia Zoo, plus the annual Wilson Family Reunion in late August. We also took them to the Brandywine Creek State Park for the first time, they explored the creek bank searching for frogs or tadpoles in the water.
Then on September 7, my parents surprised us with a big party at a restaurant called Yonglings between Pottstown and Boyertown. It was our 25th wedding anniversary. We were taken totally by surprise and a little embarrassed by all the fuss. (Photo, me and Lois opening gifts as handed to us by Laurel, Noelle, Darryl and Kelli Ann, my Uncle Francy’s daughter.) But this was a joyous occasion in what had been a year of gloom in the family. Perhaps the drama was ending.
But one thing I have learned as a lifetime hiker is the trails you start out on lead uphill. That
is the draw and the challenge, to conquer the mounts and push through all obstacles, the rivers needing fording, the downed trees to clamber over, the hidden hornet nests that lead to stings upon the ankles; the bruises and scrapes and skinned knees as you force yourself to stand after a trip and fall. Then there is the other lesson learned after you have fought through all of that, endured the itch of poison ivy or the hurts from stinging thistle, and you have climbed the hill to the top; you stand looking from the crest at nothing but going down, and you discover that gravity on the descent is no more a friend that it was on the ascent.

I had conquered a lot of rocky country getting where I was and here I stood on the crest. I stepped out with confidence in my balance then on December First I hired Linda as my Assistant and my balance was thrown off.