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ralph robert moore


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ralph robert moore

Copyright © 2003 by Ralph Robert Moore.

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just one more square on the calendar
january 18, 2003

Mary and I were in the local Kroger's supermarket this past Wednesday, January 15, to pick up her latest supply of drugs (in addition to Warfarin, Effexor and Zocor, she now also takes a small daily dose of Methylin, a form of Ritalin, which recent research has shown helps stroke victims with aphasia recover their ability to speak. After only one month, I've already noticed an improvement. Apparently because it's a drug that can be abused, although it isn't a narcotic, there are special protocols to getting the drug. A physician can't simply call in a prescription. The script has to be in writing, and on a special prescription pad, not the pad used for normal prescriptions. Also, when we went to pick up the drug at the pharmacy, it wasn't in the row of bins where the rest of the filled orders are kept, KA - LU, MA - MO, and so forth, but was instead locked in the pharmacy's safe. Wow).

It snowed in Dallas the previous Sunday, on an absolutely still day, snow falling straight down, onto bare limb, bird bath, black earth, the straightness of the descent emphasizing the total quiet outside. By Wednesday, the snow had melted, but it was still cold and damp, so Mary put on an orange pigskin jacket to wear to her speech therapy session, a jacket she hadn't worn in a while.

We stopped at the Kroger's on the way home from the therapy. As we were walking through the produce section towards the in-store pharmacy, Mary pulled a four-folded sheet of paper out of the side pocket of her jacket. Isn't that always interesting, to put on an article of clothing you haven't worn in a while, absent-mindedly reach in the pocket at some point, and finger-discover there's something in the pocket you had forgotten from your past?

She unfolded the sheet, read a little, raised her eyebrows, passed it to me.

I side-stepped people waiting in line to buy stamps and money orders, glanced at the four-paneled sheet.

It was a print-out of an e-mail Mary had sent to the Campbell's Soup website, asking where we could buy beefy mushroom soup in Dallas (we use two cans whenever we make salisbury steaks, but hadn't been able to find an area supermarket that sold the soup). Campbell's had replied with a short list of stores.

I smiled at her. "Yeah, I remember that."

She shook her head. "Look at the date."

The date in the heading of the e-mail read January 15, 2001. Exactly two years ago from this day.

Vladimir Nabokov had always been interested in coincidences, and in fact, in his novel Ada, created the term Tower for when several related coincidences occur within a brief span of time. The week before, we had seen the movie Signs, where at one point Mel Gibson's character asks, in effect, are coincidences just coincidences, are do they hint at some deeper meaning in life?

For as long as Mary and I have been together, we've experienced a large number of coincidences.

We were married on January 19, 1981. Sometime later, when we were going through our stuff prepatory to leaving California, we came across the receipt from the pawn shop where we sold the wedding rings from our first marriages. The date of the receipt was January 19, 1980, exactly one year before the date we put on the wedding rings for our marriage. We had no idea in 1980 we would be getting married on January 19 of 1981, and in 1981 had long ago forgotten the date we pawned the rings from our first marriages.

We got our cat Elf on November 30, 1990. She eventually died, of feline leukemia, on November 30, 2000, precisely one decade later.

Mary and I buy a new calendar each year, the type that hangs on the wall with a large color photograph (usually of a cat) in the upper panel, a grid of the month's days in the lower panel, a large square for each day. Since 1982, we've been filling those squares with a brief summary of each day's events. Usually it's what we ate for dinner that night, what book we're reading, first hearing a new song we like, etc. Some days the entries are a little more unusual: We bought a new car, got a new job, discovered a batch of old photographs, etc.

Around the mid-nineties, we purchased a new computer, which included software allowing you to create your own calendars (at that time, without the upper glossy photograph panel, just the grid of days).

It occurred to me I could go through all our old calendars, and on this new calendar type in all the significant and semi-significant events that had occurred to us over the years on each date, so we could glance at this new calendar each morning and in effect see, This Day In Our Personal History.

It was a lot of fun to do, something we enjoyed looking at each morning as we were about to go out the door.

For example:

On November 18, 1987, a letter we wrote while we were still living in Maine, to a Boston TV show, Ask the Manager, was read on the air.

On November 18, 1990, I got a ticket from a state trooper while speeding through Oklahoma.

On November 18, 1991, Mary's parents had Thanksgiving dinner with us in our new home.

(The entries for that original calendar were limited to events occurring up to December 31, 1995).

I recommend the practice to all couples (and for that matter, all individuals).

What surprised us, though, was the pattern that emerged once we began looking at the past history of specific dates.

Most dates, of course, such as November 18, were a mixed bag of good and bad, mostly good.

Some dates, though, were always bad through the years. On a particular date, one year I was held up at the bank I worked at in California, then a few years later, on the same date, a tooth broke off, a few years after that, on the same date, we got a flat tire during rush hour.

On other dates, events occurred which were consistently good through the years.

I stopped creating updated calendars for our personal history after 1994 because the software I used to create the calendars went haywire. The font size got so small you couldn't read what it said.

Just recently, I discovered the Microsoft Office Suite 2000 has similar software. So I've dragged out all our calendars from 1995 on, and have been building a new personal calendar for us in the evenings. So far, the consistently good days/consistently bad days pattern has held.

Does it mean anything? Is it just coincidence? Something more? I honestly don't know.

One side benefit from recording our lives on a day to day basis occurred to me fairly early in the process, probably 1982 or 1983. We were living in a condo in Mariner's Island, California, where we parked our car, a beautiful white Mustang, in the underground garage. One night we went down in the elevator to drive somewhere, and the car would not start. It was dead. While my hand kept the key twisted to the right, getting nothing but a whirring sound, I could see into the immediate future: having to call a tow truck, the hassle of asking the neighbors to move their cars from the adjacent slots, so the tow truck could maneuver against the Mustang's front fender, having to deal with the repair shop mechanics, the bill that's always so much more than the first estimate, etc. etc. And in that moment of black despair, it suddenly occurred to me, Hey, it's just one more square on the calendar.

We received a call from Joel, the Senior Vice President at Mary's work, where she's currently on medical leave because of her stroke, asking if we'd be interested in an all-expenses-paid trip to Bermuda in late Spring. The company is flying all its employees down to Bermuda to celebrate the parent company's tenth anniversary. Although it would be a lot of fun, we ultimately decided it would be too much at this stage in Mary's recovery, given the long plane trip, the unfamiliar surroundings, so we passed. But it was yet another example of how supportive the people at her company have been during this time. The offer was much appreciated.

Al Bernstein was an adjunct Professor at Arizona Western College, the author of hundreds of non-fiction articles, many short stories and poems, two novels, and head instructor at the Parker Chinese Boxing Academy. He was also the editor at Bookbooters who oversaw the preparation of my novel Father Figure for publication. Soon after he finished his proofing of my novel, he took a vacation in Colorado, where he drowned in a canoeing accident. He was much-loved and much-respected within the publishing industry. I regret I didn't have a chance to get to know him better.

The publication of Father Figure has been understandably delayed because of his death, but it will soon be appearing in print. I wish I was able to thank Al for his work on the novel.