Tag Archives: aphasia

COMMEMORATING ALICE

The photo above shows Alice checking her camera before hitting the beach during our first time at Couples Weekend on the Coast under the auspices of the Aphasia Network.

A few weeks ago, I published a Post-It that Alice wrote before she and I engaged in a commitment ceremony. The outdoor setting with a running-water, rock-garden fishpond occupied by spectacular baby koi, a six-foot deep swimming pool and a 12-person-size, screened-in gazebo was made complete by 30 invited guests. Alice planned to feature me as the last man she was ever going to love.

Alice had a rough life, far greater than anything I ever experienced. Each of her children and grandchildren had it tough, too. Comparatively speaking, I was just a babe in the woods.

Perhaps I sensed my innocence in the commitment letter Alice asked I write before our commitment ceremony, deliberately scheduled to occur Sept. 24, 2011, one year beyond the day we met.

On the beach, Alice became a child again, engaging in ridiculous chit-chat with two students.

Currently, the Aphasia Network is holding its annual Couples Weekend, but, because stroke survivors and care partners are especially at risk during this pandemic, we began meeting this week in a virtual setting using the Internet program Zoom.

Alice on the beach with student Meredith.

Everyone loved Alice, almost as much as she loved them, and the next 10 weeks will emulate the weekend event, the first camp since Alice’s passing. Students, educators, stroke survivors, care partners and staff members are clamoring for details about our love.

I watched an extraordinary video prepared by computer-savvy Mollie Wang, in which she sang and engineered pitch-perfect duets with Professor John White of Pacific University. The second and last song performed, “You’ve Got a Friend,” was written by James Taylor, Alice’s heart throb. At a meaningful moment in the song, an image of Alice appeared, and my heart flowed deeper than expected. Tears filled my eyes.

I took Alice to see James Taylor’s spectacular show at the Moda Center.

Today, I ran across the commitment letter I wrote to Alice on August 28, 2011. Shortly after Alice’s passing, I shared Alice’s commitment note here.

Since the Aphasia Network formally started its extended Couples Weekend celebration on Tuesday, the time is perfect to publish the commitment letter I wrote her. After all, it’s only fair, right?

Dearest Alice,

As we witness the last hurrahs from Hurricane Irene’s visit to the Northeast, I recall the time George and I went streaking during South Florida’s version of the hurricane’s namesake in 1999.  So much has changed since you became part of my life.

All my worldly possessions are now stored inside your house, a place you insist I call “ours.”  My environs are surreal, far beyond any expectations.  I feel out of kilter.

So far in life, my expectations as a writer have not borne fruit.  In order to cope, I declare myself a musician first, a writer second.  Somewhere in the scheme of things is my fallback identity as a limousine driver, bringing in the meager income I contribute.

Why do I try to defend myself from you, as if you are an intruder and not a friend?  Have I grown terrified of life, reverting back to the frightened boy depicted in my nightmares?

I decided to write this letter, even without a pat ending.  Perhaps I should write more this way using my subconscious, rather than wait until ideas ferment and scream to come out.  Anything worth investing into a sit-down exercise at this computer should attempt to glean insights without a glossy finish.

I love you in ways I know little about; I break new ground with every step we take.  I can predict nothing beyond tomorrow; is that what scares me?

I don’t know what you see in me; maybe that’s why you love me.  Little of it makes sense.  Just know I am trying to be true to myself and to our relationship.  Everything else seems up for grabs.

All my love,

Mason

This photo of Alice with student Megan Bravo says it all.

Guidance from Beyond

The photograph above is the last image taken of Alice McCormick, and I am the lucky guy who took this picture.  Alice and I were on the verge of returning home from the north side of Vancouver, Washington, where we “scored” a large package of Kirkland toilet paper during Costco’s senior shopping time.  Twenty-four rolls, oh boy!

On the drive back home, Alice must have been musing about something, because she was notably silent.  And once we sat down in the living room, she asked me to promise something.  As I think about it now, I wonder if Alice knew she was close to leaving this gray-green planet.

“Mason, I need you to promise me something,” Alice began.

“Oh sure,” I responded. “What is it?”

“Mason, I want you to promise me that you’ll start writing again,” Alice said seriously.

“Well,” I said, “I’ve stopped [rideshare] driving. That means I have the time to do it.”

Alice looked into my eyes, and said, “Promise me.”

I mulled it over for less than five seconds, and muttered, “Yes, I’ll go back to my writing.”

Alice nodded to show her satisfaction, stood up, and went into the kitchen to put our Costco goodies away.

(Alice managed me so much that I was left few tasks in which to reciprocate. She simply wanted to witness me make a bona fide attempt before she took over.)

I look at the featured picture above and wonder what Alice was thinking about. In the almost 10 years living together, Alice was consistently good at concealing some pretty serious things.

I have no clue what Alice knew on the eve the day before I found her body wearing a faraway, wistful expression. (Alice would wake up early each morning to putz around the kitchen, cuddle the cat, open the blinds and gaze at the nearly 1,000-foot-high hill north of our development before coming back to bed.)

The day of our commitment ceremony, which followed rules set forth by Keith C. David, author of The Complete Guide to Gay and Lesbian Weddings, in support of same-sex relationships.

And now, I know I must write, I cannot screw around, I must make good to my promise, because Alice is all around, watching and guiding me.  Dammit, I’ve already written one book, got it published, chronicled some major bands in concert (the Marshall Tucker Band, Heart, Norah Jones, Commander Cody and the Lost Planet Airmen), and won the heart of Alice McCormick, a remarkable denizen of a historic Pennsylvania town known as Doylestown.

My grandmother was a librarian, my mother was an English teacher and my father was a professional musician.

I went to private school in Princeton, N.J., and do I have a tale to tell about being there! Imagine a boy from Miami thrust into an environment where Albert Einstein was known to stroll, and being schooled with fewer than 8 children per teacher.

Twenty years later, the managing editor, Gloria Brown Anderson, at the Miami News increased my workload until I had to drop out of Florida International University in the late 1970s. Anderson justified this tactic by confessing she did not want to have an unknown scholar destroy a “natural gift.”

In 2002, I wrote a book: Gulag to Rhapsody: A Survivor’s Journey, for Paul Tarko, who was imprisoned in the same Soviet workcamp later occupied by noted Soviet dissident Alexander Solzhenitsyn. (After a literary agent showed interest, Tarko decided to self-publish.)

After promoting the book in Hartford, Connecticut, I discovered the Pennsylvania borough of Doylestown (30 miles south of Princeton), where I met Alice McCormick, although, in fairness, I say she met me.  I have never been loved by anyone so unabashedly, so flagrantly, so wholeheartedly and so fairly.  Yes, Kailey, you’re right, Alice was amazing!

So give a lot of credit to Alice for this decrepit creature I am becoming again. Every time I sit down to write something new, I’m fulfilling my promise to Alice. What comes from these slender fingers dancing over the computer keyboard is a celebration to that long-legged lady. Each phrase is a commitment, revisited over and over, checked and re-checked for readable style.

But here’s the amazing part: Alice made me a promise eight years ago. She said that when she disappears to an unnamed place, I would find a hidden message inside something I used, but a place where I seldom looked. She giggled when she told me.

Three days ago, in the top drawer of a small bureau in my writer’s office, where Alice had commandeered some of her possessions, I came across a Post-it note written by Alice, written on Dec. 22, 2011, approximately three months after our commitment ceremony:

Alice’s message from beyond.

I am honor-bound to follow up what I promised. Alice is all around me.

I have begun the book.

Members of the Aphasia Network created a GoFundMe page to support me during the time ahead. To see their message and hopefully donate, follow this link Alice was amazing

Goodbye Chloe, Your Life Will Improve

One thing about undergoing grief; some moments stand out more than others.

Take the matter of a tortoise-shell, short-haired cat named Chloe.  With incredible claws.

She turned out to be praise-worthy, where once upon a time she looked scraggly, barely alive.  You can read this website’s story about her adoption using the link at the end of the previous sentence.

Chloe still looked scraggly in July 2019.

For nine months, Alice adopted, fed and nurtured, brushed Chloe’s coat into something astounding, guided her bathroom habits toward the litterbox, and instructed the cat never to tip me off about how she was going to use our new, semi-plush carpet.

In that time, Chloe became a fully grown cat under Alice’s tutelage, and was taught “not to care.”

Then Alice passed over.

Almost from the outset, Chloe began performing her version of Mozart’s Urine Sonata.

Within two weeks, she awakened me by peeing loudly in the bedroom. On previous mornings, I discovered bathroom throw rugs tossed askew while I made morning rounds. Maybe I need to change all the kitty litter in the upstairs bathroom, I thought, so I took pains to make the litterbox immaculate.

Chloe took this gesture the wrong way. The very next morning, she shit on the bedroom carpet next to the window curtains. My eyes opened wide, I went ballistic and explored an option I previously considered blasphemous: take Chloe back to the same place where we adopted her, the Humane Society of Cowlitz County.

To understand the depth of my anxiety, readers need to consider my second wife. For 22 years, she became the woman with whom I intended to spend my life. We met in Miami in the winter of 1980 while I was attempting to get the city’s Bicentennial Park renamed in honor of John Lennon.

I was devastated by that tragedy. The night Lennon was shot, I was listening to the Miami Dolphins game against the New England Patriots in the Orange Bowl when an announcer breathlessly interrupted the lengthy commercial break after the third quarter to report John Lennon was shot and had died. When the broadcast feed of the game returned to the stadium live, it was impossible to tell.

The rowdy Orange Bowl home crowd had fallen silent.

As a Lennon admirer, my would-be partner stood by my side during a public show of grief, so I married her.  I also married quickly, because I needed to heal from Wife #1, but that’s another story.

Wife #2 was carrying some work-history baggage, though, relating to animals.

She worked as a secretary at the Humane Society of Greater Miami where more than 90 percent of its intake animals were euthanized on site.  As much as I asked her about that time in her life, she would shut down and give few details.

Back in the 1970s, Miami’s Humane Society became a dumping ground for unwanted animals where an onsite gas chamber was in frequent use. I visited the facility twice and felt an overpowering sense of doom walking past cages of desperate animals that sensed the Animal Holocaust awaiting them.

(A San Antonio reporter’s 2004 visit to that city’s Humane Society shelter is comparable to conditions I witnessed in Miami. Read that report here, if you have an ironclad stomach.)

Could I possibly be delivering Chloe to an unspeakable end of life? What kind of animal would do this?

I worried, frantically speaking at length with good friend Kailey Cox Wednesday night and cousin Margaret Thursday morning. I explained at length without saying what animal shelter care was like in Miami. Instead, I seriously castigated myself on the phone, imagining the worst possible results of an encounter at the Humane Society of Cowlitz County.

At 11 am on April 16th as I walked toward the Longview entrance, Chloe and I were intercepted and steered to a side door for cats, when another staff member in personal protection gear guided us back to the original entrance, and my heart sank.  These people are desperately confused, I thought, and everything inside was going haywire.

Carrying Chloe within her cat carrier, her woeful howling announced our entrance. Tears were creeping out of my eyelids, and I peered around my coronavirus mask.  We were “socially distancing,” but I thought how damned inappropriate it was to be “social” around would-be executioners.

The last time I saw Chloe, she was meowing at everyone inside her cat carrier (bottom left).

How inaccurate my apprehensions turned out to be!  These folks were here because of love for animals. The Humane Society of Cowlitz County turned out to be an adoption center where virtually all animals wind up being adopted by locals. The revelation I discovered yesterday is each Humane Society can be as different as night from day.  It’s characterized by its citizenry.

Looking at the sunny side of life, Chloe is on the verge of becoming the ideal outdoor cat within the same wild environment in which she survived, gave birth and was neutered before Alice and I adopted her in a condo development prohibiting outdoor cats. Alice brushed her daily and treated her like the queen both of them were, and Chloe grew fat in respect and stature.

Chloe’s aptitude for barn use is off the charts. She can dispatch all kinds of critters with her uncut sharp, long claws, and she knows how to be wary in an environment of bear, cougars and maybe Sasquatch. By being adopted with Alice’s constant care, Chloe’s warrior royalty should be at its prime.

Inside the Cowlitz County’s Humane Society building, I could not have been treated better – and neither could Chloe – by hard-working, blue-collar ladies who live by a no-kill policy, except for creatures at death’s door.  So now I feel an amazing sense of relief, colored by the firm, yet gentle, way I saw its staff handle animals.

Have fun, Chloe. I’ll miss you, and so will Alice.

But somehow, I suspect I might miss Chloe more.

Members of the Aphasia Network have begun a GoFundMe page to support me during the time ahead. To see their message and hopefully donate, follow this link Alice was amazing

Grief of My First Cousin

When Alice and I became interested in Moving West (unlike pioneers of Old, 21st century nomads resort to modern conveniences), we contacted a first cousin, Margaret Johnston, on my mother’s side of the family who in 2005 transplanted herself into the metro Portland, Oregon area.

Alice’s curiosity about this destination became an obsession after we vacationed in September 2013 for two weeks in Ashland, Oregon. A virtual fan of my writing, David Churchman, who bought my book, Gulag to Rhapsody: A Survivor’s Journey, had retired from his duties as a senior professor in Los Angeles to become a volunteer at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival. When we blew into town, he literally became a one-man Ashland promoter and showed us all the tourist town’s hot spots.

“We’re proud of the fact that the only McDonalds in town went out of business,” Churchman proclaimed.

Before returning home from that eye-popping vacation, I showed Alice the wondrous national park, Crater Lake, where I once celebrated Summer Solstice, 2000. My affection for that heart-dropping collage of cloudless vistas of mirror-perfect images upon the deep-water lake inside a once-active volcano moved Alice the same way, and we committed to move into the more-cosmopolitan Portland area.  Margaret, unwittingly, became our co-conspirator.

(You can read about our impossible drive on my website here, and read more about the treacherous rescue of all our possessions in my blog from October 2014 onward.)

Fast forward to today, when Margaret is grieving deeper than one might ever suspect.

Why?

Because if you know anything about Alice, you know how she tugged on people’s hearts. And six months after we moved in September 2014 to Oregon, Alice tugged even more poignantly after enduring a serious stroke that caused hospitalization at the Rehabilitation Institute of Oregon (RIO). (For those who might question privacy concerns, Alice specifically instructed me to chronicle her experiences on this blog.)

Margaret and Alice spent St. Patrick’s Day 2019 on Washington’s aptly named Long Beach.

Alice and Margaret befriended one another from the day they met. And these days Margaret chooses to remember good times they shared:

Happy hours at Rock Creek Corner in Hillsboro, roadtrips throughout Oregon and Washington collecting McMenamins’ passport stamps, dinners at Teri’s Restaurant in Longview, beach trips, dancing at Coyote’s in Hillsboro and Rock Creek Tavern on Old Cornelius Pass Road.

Margaret also relished “the laughs and ability to share our deepest thoughts, whether is was about single parenthood, relationships, work experiences, or just day-to-day nothing. That is why she will be missed so dearly – she was my confidante and partner in crime!

“And we both loved giving Mason a hard time – on whatever the topic of the day was!!!

“The one thing about Alice that will live on forever is her favorite saying, which both my girls and I have adopted: ‘I don’t care,’ with Alice’s special vocal inflection. Thank God, aphasia did not steal this Gem!”

Jordon Horner was Alice McCormick’s speech language pathologist at RIO.

Alice’s unreliable speech aphasia would ebb and flow, but that tall, gallant woman fought through all the words that never came, yet became “the sister and confidante I never had growing up in life,” said Margaret tearfully. Margaret and I had gathered at the funeral home east of Kelso, Washington, where I reeled from my own sense of loss, but was incapable of perceiving what Cousin Margaret was going through.

When Margaret whipped out her checkbook to pay for Alice McCormick’s cremation on the very afternoon of the day she passed over, her knee-jerk response served more than to benefit me. (Another cousin, Carolyn Levin, later graciously picked up half the tab.) It was an exquisite expression of grief, denoting how Alice and Margaret bonded and loved one another.

There are many seismic events that have occurred in my life. This catastrophic one affects more people than me.

While Margaret treated Alice to a weekend in Seattle, Margaret snapped this photo after Alice emerged from a day spa.

Members of the Aphasia Network have begun a GoFundMe page to support me during the time ahead. To see their message and hopefully donate, follow this link Alice was amazing

An Open Letter to Alice

Dearest Alice,

I brought you home yesterday, but only your ashes are inside the urn.

I think you will like the vessel you’re in.  It’s perfectly color-coordinated to match our audio-video cabinet, although I know you would say, “I don’t care.”

You are no longer in this plane of existence, and that makes me miserable.  I have moments when I try to speak, but it’s garbled with tears. That’s become my own brand of aphasia, right?

No matter how competent a writer I may be, that won’t bring you back to life. Please know that my grief is shared by your family and close friends in the aphasia community. I share the picture of what remains of you on this website post to substitute for a viewing ceremony in these days of coronavirus.

Please know I continue to practice physical distancing. (I don’t like to say “social distancing,” because there is nothing social about staying 6 feet away from well-meaning friends.)  The coroner’s report says your cause of passing was “probable myocardial infarction,” but you looked peaceful when I found you.

I believe your passing was due to the strain of movement caused by ever-increasingly painful arthritis.  Well, your hips and legs stopped hurting March 27th, and that makes me glad.

Being physically unavailable to lie naked beside me, though, makes me sad and lonely.  Now I must let you go to ease the star journey you earned after this life. You put up with me so patiently, my love.

Green Hills funeral home is located east of Kelso, Washington.

I hope you like the funeral home that cousin Margaret Johnston researched the day after you passed. Green Hills funeral home and crematorium is located 500 feet up in the hills east of Kelso, Washington. And both Margaret and cousin Carolyn Levin stepped up to pay for the whole shebang.

Also, please know that Kailey Cox drove up here Thursday morning to adopt your plants before they go to ruin.  I never had a green thumb, and Kailey wanted to make sure I didn’t give visible testament to a plant cemetery.

I hope you like the reverence the funeral home director, José Nuñez, showed as Margaret and I oversaw the disposition of your physical remains. I kissed your chin at our viewing, but your skin was so cold I realized you were no longer imprisoned in that fragile body. Your slender fingers and expressive hands will no longer hurt you.

Unlike your skin, our love will never grow cold. Alice, I love you. So blessed much.

The picture you saved from one of our aphasia gatherings on the Coast contains the following message from a Chinese fortune cookie: “Rarely do great beauty and great virtue dwell together as they do in you.”

Indeed.

Please accept my tears of grief as a gentle rain, and may each drop bring you peace on your unending journey.  Save me a spot, okay?

Preparing to return home with Alice’s remains.

Forever yours,

Mason

Members of the Aphasia Network have begun a GoFundMe page to support me during the time ahead. To see their message and hopefully donate, follow this link Alice was amazing

Alice Jane McCormick 3/6/1944 – 3/27/2020

Alice Jane McCormick, 76, formerly of Doylestown and Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, suffered a massive heart attack and passed away Friday, March 27, 2020 in her recently acquired condominium home in Longview, Washington.  A private viewing prior to cremation is to be held Monday, March 30.

Mason Loika, 77, Alice’s domestic partner and co-conspirator in life, survives Ms. McCormick’s passing, along with a horde of students, nurses, organizers and teachers from the Aphasia Network who are devastated at her loss. Besides Mr. Loika, she is survived by sons Ed Goetz, 59, Park County, Colorado; and John Goetz, 54, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania; daughters Elaine Krasousky, 52, Philadelphia; and Linda Goetz, 48, Philadelphia; as well as six grandchildren.

One of those grandchildren, Shelby Krasousky, was raised by Ms. McCormick. Ms. Krasousky and her son (Ms. McCormick’s great grandson), Vinny, reside in Bucks County, Pennsylvania.

At a statuesque 6’3″ height, Ms. McCormick told me she made frequent after-school excursions to the ABC-TV Philadelphia studio to dance on the national broadcast of American Bandstand. Nevertheless, Ms. McCormick faced a bleak future after dropping out of John W. Hallahan Catholic Girls’ High School at the age of 15.

Ms. McCormick was born and raised in the Kensington section of Philadelphia, and gave birth to five children, rearing them in the beautiful Lawndale area. After 13 years of physical abuse, though, she fled her husband and divorced.

She eventually was awarded an associates’ degree from Camden Community College, Camden, New Jersey, and later worked with autistic children as a certified special education teacher.

Born March 6, 1944, Ms. McCormick met Mr. Loika on Sept. 24, 2010, and exactly one year later, they underwent a commitment ceremony led by an interfaith minister and a now-deceased Native American leader who guided them in an Apache prayer.

“May beauty surround you both in the journey ahead and through all the years. May happiness be your companion, and your days together be good and long upon the earth.”

Ms. McCormick survived a stroke in March 2015 after moving west with Mr. Loika to Oregon, and her speech was never the same. However, the two of them became part of the Aphasia Network, where she regained enough of her speech to proclaim her independent spirit and speak openly of her love to Mr. Loika.

Now she has begun her star journey, and Mr. Loika has promised to honor the request she asked of him the day before she passed over: to write.

Members of the Aphasia Network have begun a GoFundMe page to support me during the time ahead. To see their message and hopefully donate, follow this link Alice was amazing

Life in Longview

Life is good.  And opportunity is at hand.

Five and a half years ago, I, Mason Loika (climate-change refugee from Miami), and life partner Alice McCormick (a true Philly girl) moved “Westward Ho.” We left a historic Pennsylvania town — Doylestown – to wind up in Longview, Washington, 50 interstate miles north of Portland, Oregon.  Longview has quite a history, but currently the sleepy town remains below the radar.

Most snow has melted atop Mt. St. Helehs.
Mt. St. Helens is 90 minutes away from Longview.
Alice meditates at Cape Disappointment.
Alice goes crazy over lighthouses. This one on Washington’s Long Beach peninsula known as Cape Disappointment provides a view for thought.

Positioned midway between Mt. St. Helens and Washington’s spectacular Pacific Coast, the self-contained industrial-residential town runs alongside the Columbia River, and was founded by timber-baron R.A. Long. Next to downtown is a magnificent, Japanese-styled,127-acre Lake Sacajawea, where residents wear their casual best to stroll – or show off their dogs’ pedigree – around a 3½ mile maintained gravel trail. (Lake Sacajawea is named after a Shoshone woman who guided Lewis and Clark west.) Longview’s population and that of sister town, Kelso, totaled 50,000 in 2017.

Serene lakeside concert
Longview provides free summer concerts with room to stretch out by Lake Sacajawea.
What does that darned cat want?
Two clever sculptures greet patrons at the Longview Public Library.

In September of that year, Alice and I bought a roomy two-bedroom condominium in Longview next to a manicured golf course, leaving three years of price-predatory apartment developments and unforgiving traffic in Portland, Oregon.

The Portland metro area incorporates Vancouver, Washington (not Canada), and has obscenely grown – over 2.4 million residents.  Once, pedestrians felt safe crossing city streets, but today population centers all over the West are bursting at the seams. Everywhere, people are increasingly crowded together.  Much of what ruined Miami when I grew up is happening today in Portland, and an unexplained number of Florida license plates can be observed.

For almost five years, I kept the financial wolves at bay by driving for Uber and Lyft in Portland.  Nowadays, Alice and I live a better life in Longview, although I continue “ride-share” work in Oregon. We have good neighbors in our newfound socially interactive community, and, after closing my garage at night, a neighbor offers me a solid toke from a well-stacked pipe containing some of the finest locally grown agricultural products.

Is this what they mean by "fresh air?"
Alice poses next to the mascot of the Freedom Market in downtown Longview.

It’s legal here, y’all!  So we don’t have to lead double lives to protect our right to partake.  Surrounded by the greenery on a nearly 1,000-foot-high, properly populated hill north of our development, this could be our forever neighborhood, limited to whatever Creator decides to gift us.

You never know quite what is in a hot dog.
This concession stand at a Longview outdoor concert piques curiosity.

And mercy of all mercies, musicians get work here.  I’ve already touted Teri’s Restaurant, which keeps getting better.  Teri now reserves Friday nights for local bands to perform in her two-story saloon-style roadhouse, just perfect vibes for performing musicians to jam together. And on the coast recently — Long Beach, Washington – a recent weekend event celebrated “Oysters and Jazz.”  Mmmmm. Sustenance for the body and soul.

Pacific Coasters endure unpleasant weather with style.
Friends at the Aphasia Network pose shamelessly when the Coast is rainy and chilly.
Gazing at the beach is relaxing to one and all.
When it’s sunny and warm on the Coast, a bonfire on the beach feels perfect.

Alice continues to manage me, occasionally making progress with her stroke-affected speech. Each year our closest buds in The Aphasia Network host two weekends at a Methodist church camp on the tip of a scenic peninsula on Oregon’s pristine coast. We attend regularly, and – especially – treat each other like family. (During breakout sessions, caregivers discuss relationship concerns with their group apart from their respective stroke survivors who simultaneously participate in activities designed to simulate everyday chores and challenges.)

Prof. John White is unique in more ways than one.
Professor John White of Pacific University stands tall on the beach.
"Let there be light."
Prof. White shows perseverance by holding sheet music in the light.

Looking around at the Aphasia Network staff – nurses, professors, occupational therapists, speech therapists, students, and executives (who don’t act that way), – we delight at how one musically astute professor appears to be attached by the hip to a guitar, with which he schedules bonding hootenannies with invited amateur musicians. This is, simply put, glorious territory for an elder inhabitant of Planet Earth to traipse about.

There is still much to share with readers. While Alice and I cocoon to avoid the coronavirus, Creator has decreed this time of fear and worry as a prospective blessing. Or as Jim Morrison once sang in “Light My Fire,” there’s “no time to wallow in the mire.”

Onward!

Alice Leaves the ‘Y’

It didn’t take long.

After beginning childcare duties on May 15th with the YMCA of Southwest Washington in Longview, Alice McCormick received the following email from the facility’s executive director on June 7th:

The Y’s Rainbow Corner “has some concerns about your communication skills with kids and parents [emphasis added]. Because you are still in the 90-day probationary period, she [the Rainbow Corner’s director] is letting you go because she does not feel like this is a good fit for our members.”

Alice never returned an invitation to speak further to the Y about its decision, so I pressed Alice to forward me the terse communiqué.  Once she did so (after two months), I wrote directly to the Y’s executive director who in turn refused comment to me, her life partner, or to anyone other than Alice.

My wife, Alice, can hold a conversation, but lacks the verbal pathways to do so eloquently, which self-explains her recalcitrance to hold a formal conversation with Longview’s YMCA about such an important matter without my participation.  Therefore, no further communication is anticipated between us and, accordingly, I spoke with Alice to relate her impressions, and here are some of them.

The Southwest Washington YMCA in Longview

Inside Longview’s Y

The childcare room in Longview’s YMCA was touted as a “Rainbow Corner,” but painted only with a stark white color.  No accompanying artwork, such as that appearing in Doylestown, PA.’s YMCA (where Alice once worked), is part of the color scheme.  Half of the children’s toys were, in some way, in a state of disrepair.

The Rainbow Corner’s director expected Alice to continually consort with a mentally challenged co-worker, whom the Y was proactive enough to hire.  However, the assignment convinced Alice that her speech aphasia was considered by her superiors as another form of mental incompetence.  Not one person volunteered to be Alice’s trainer or a confidante.

I could go on, but Alice and I have no plans to be mean-spirited.  But something happened here, and we won’t be silent about it.

Alice excelled in the field of special education and served as a substitute teacher for four years in the Philadelphia School District, no mean feat.  She is an elder, an experienced parent who nurtured five children and one grandchild through childhood, teenage angst and later development.  These skills remain intact.

Alice’s speech suffered significantly after her stroke in March 2015, and she found out what anyone here who does not speak American English fluently innately knows: She has become a second-class citizen.  As I once quoted Hungarian film star Paul Javor in my book, Gulag to Rhapsody: A Survivor’s Story, “The less English you know, the more likely it is that people will spit on you.”

Alice deserved better than what the Y’s mission here exudes.  Working with infants and toddlers provided Alice an opportunity to offer attentive caring, a safe atmosphere and love.  This mission doesn’t require her to speak much.  When wide-eyed children look up at her (because Alice is considerably taller than her peers), they feel love.

Lynn Fox, founder of the Aphasia Network, greets Alice.  The woods in the background accentuate a majestic lake.

The Aphasia Network is our advocate

People with aphasia are not mentally deranged or incompetent.  This is plain wrong.  The pathways through her brain were interrupted by a stroke and must be rebuilt through years of therapy and practice so she can feel confident to communicate as well as the rest of us.  Alice manages me, and I’m not easy.

Pacific University professor John White, musician extraordinaire, leads a hootenanny on the Oregon Coast.

Two weeks ago, I broke this sad news to over 100 stroke survivors, care partners, occupational and speech therapy students and instructors at our Aphasia Adventure Weekend on the Coast.  Now I share it with the readers of this blog.

Today, Alice freelances by occasionally cleaning people’s apartments.  She only works for those who treat her (and me) the same way.  Unfortunately, Longview’s YMCA does not meet Alice’s standards.  The neighbors in our condo association do.

We remain hopeful that an aphasia awareness campaign will open new doors for people who suffer the debilitating effects of a stroke.  For survivors and their care partners, more education and interaction with the outside world needs to be done.

As much as I expressed love for Alice when entering our civil ceremony seven years ago, I love her in a deeper way now.  All her struggles inspire me to match her courage.  Every little thing she does for me behind the scenes gives me an air of organization.  Alice’s dedication to my wellbeing is akin to the Portland (Oregon)-based Aphasia Network’s ever-expanding programs.

When student therapist Megan Bravo hugs you, it’s impossible to keep your eyes open.

Yes, we are exceedingly grateful, and our gratitude is only matched by the unmitigated embrace of support offered by our delightful extended family.

Alice gets a job

Two weeks ago, Alice and I visited the Longview YMCA to tour its facilities.  I have put on 20 pounds since my bladder operation, and we both could use some shaping up.  Our guide turned out to be the Y’s executive director who took a keen interest in Alice’s renewed ambition to care for infants and toddlers.

The director handed Alice an application, and the two of us put together a multi-page submission, hand-delivering it on May 2.  Two days later, as we prepared for a weekend with our extended family at the Aphasia Network’s Couples Retreat on the Oregon Coast, Alice received a call back from the Y.

Alice was offered a job!

We shared the good news with over 60 student counselors and staff, as well as other aphasia-recovering couples that night, and the people went wild.  After three years of wondering whether she could adequately function as the professional she expects from herself (Alice’s stroke was March 12, 2015), here was the promise of a new beginning.

Back from the Coast

After our return last Sunday, Alice returned to the Y for a late-afternoon confirming interview.  Two days later, Alice underwent training, and guess what?

Her first day at work is Tuesday morning.

The initial assignment calls for Alice to work one day a week.  If Alice is able to progress at the Y, will I finally feel confident to take a break from driving for Uber and lately Lyft?  Will I finally knuckle down and begin to write the book I’ve been bragging about?

At this point, it’s one step at a time.  Four years ago, we moved to the Northwest to fulfill our manifest destiny.  Now Alice is 74, I’m 75, and we’re settled in a beautiful condo apartment where we can jump-start our talents.

So here we go!

Feeling Thankful

Thanksgiving is a time when one is supposed to feel grateful.  This year, though, I believe my gratitude is far more abundant than at any other time in my life.

One particular cause of such supreme gratitude is our condominium unit and the community we now live in.  Alice and I thank my cousins, Margaret Johnston and Carolyn & Jeff Levin, for investing in our vision, transforming us into stewards of a beautiful property overlooking the mountains of Washington.  If it were not for them, our place would not be as spectacular as the view.

24-unit condo community with a view

We love Washington!
The hills of Washington underneath a sullen sky.

Take a peek outside my second-floor writer’s office window.  That’s one of several mountain ridges in the distance where a few developments punctuate the landscape.  Frequent rain events during the fall/winter obscure their top-of-the-mountain view more than ours, which encourages a certain personal, snobbish feeling of superiority.  And during an occasional burst of heat during the summer, a smaller ridge to the southwest shades our valley community an hour before dusk.

Inside the Loika/McCormick home

What an ideal surround room.
After DishTV installed our TV on a wall mount, the workmen insisted their sound system is better than Bose. I turned them down, and I’m glad I did. Check out the stonework for the fireplace.

Our living room has become an audiophile’s wet dream.  The television is mounted on the wall and the audio connected to my Bose surround-sound system.  Before we moved in, Reid Rasmusson, a local Longview painter and stalwart resident who has knowledge of our building’s architectural history, applied several coats of paint to the entire apartment.  What stands out is how Alice directed Reid to reinvent a cranberry-red wall into a more-aesthetically pleasing olive-brown accentuation to an artistically constructed fireplace.  An added attraction, thanks to Bose: the acoustics are outstanding.

Great colors, eh?
Instead of watching MSNBC, Alice now loves quiet time early in the morning before I awaken.

Therefore, one wouldn’t blame Alice for reclining on our six-month-old sofa toward the entertainment center.  But that’s not her usual position.  Alice lies in the opposite direction, sharing my outside view, but the downstairs window position aligns her 6-foot frame next to a riot of greenery.  Already, Alice is adding her creative touch to the outside backyard.

(Our cat, Millie, complains loudly every day of wanting to go outside and explore.  But we hear that bobcats, cougars and coyotes prowl about, so we admonish Millie for expressing reckless desires and keep her inside.)

After Reid finished painting, the carpet people showed up to execute our carpet and flooring plan.  Every old piece of carpet was discarded in favor of a tan-colored replacement, with a luxurious feel and look we enjoy today.  The carpet installers were finishing up barely moments before our movers were scheduled to arrive.  The movers?  That’s a different story, and a future post will detail the story of that near-disaster.

Light streaming from above.
Never before saw a light shaft like this.

One particular view of the upstairs railing reveals light shining through the upstairs bathroom.  (We have 1½ bathrooms, by the way.)  That’s sunglare coming through the bathroom skylight.  That’s cool, isn’t it?  A skylight for the bathroom?  Oh yeah, try to get that in a condo in Portland!

A feeling of community

Never know about the legitimacy of people you meet.
If you get accosted in a Mexican restaurant, can ICE deport you?

Our digs are so splendoriferous that I hesitate to include the generosity of spirit from our neighbors.  Nevertheless, I’m dutybound to report our next-door neighbors meet two criteria: quality and congeniality.  Terry and Carole Sumrall introduced us to a restaurant they favor: Fiesta Bonita Mexican Grill and Cantina.  Of course, our journey turned out to be a late afternoon on Halloween, so the tradition in town conjured up a wannabe for the Village People instead of a waitperson.

Other neighbors are equally generous with their time and talents.  Already, Longview is full of revelations, and the history of this town is worthy of more national attention than it gets.  This is a true community, and my future writing here may reveal what I call “living in a Gentile kibbutz.”  I only wish I didn’t have to drive to Portland to buy whitefish salad, a proper bagel and latkes.  Or cheese blintzes!  A full story about Longview, Washington will appear in a future post, or perhaps be contained in the book I committed to when moving West.

Teri’s Restaurant is what’s happening

Music on Friday nights.
Teri’s restaurant, 3225 Ocean Beach Highway, Longview.

The photo at the top of this post was taken by one of the employees at Teri’s Restaurant in our newly adopted hometown.  Besides a continuous dedication to provide restaurant fare a cut above the standard, Teri’s is a hubbub for local musicians and their groupies.  (No age requirement to become a groupie.)  We met a dean from Lower Columbia College (in Longview, naturally) who got on one knee in front of us to encourage Alice to return to work for child care.  How is that for a welcome?

A quick apology

Please excuse the delay in getting this post written.  There were plenty of chores for me to take care of, not to mention the time I wasted while being hooked on DishTV during this college football season.  Yes, I am still functioning, sometimes badly, on the aftermath and life after a bladder removal surgery.

But I am far more than just alive, and I’m married to an Amazon woman who sets a pretty high standard for how she looks after me.  That’s why every time she allows herself a genuine smile, my heart continues to go pitter-patter.

Dr. Seuss said, “You know you’re in love when you can’t fall asleep, because reality is finally better than your dreams.”

I agree.  Life is grand, ain’t it?