Barb Caffrey's Blog

Writing the Elfyverse . . . and beyond

Archive for July 2022

Racine Concert Band Parts Ways With Me

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Folks, this is a blog I never thought I’d write, but here goes.

Four days ago, I received a letter from the current president of the Racine Concert Band’s board of directors. It was titled “RCB Letter,” and at first I thought it was something they wanted me to look at to give my writing/editing opinion (as they’ve occasionally done that before).

That was not it.

The letter said it was “uncomfortable” for them to ask this, after my many years of service, but that they wanted me to resign for the good of the band.

I will not do it. They can put me out, and I’m sure they will. But I will not resign, and I will not pretend this was my decision. It wasn’t.

I have been a member of the RCB for over twenty years. Every time I was capable of playing music and in the area, I was in the band. I played oboe, clarinet, and saxophone in the band, and soloed (in front of the band) on all three instruments. I’ve also played in both the regular concert band and the jazz ensemble.

However, if you’ve read my blog for any length of time, you have to realize my health is problematic. Especially for a band that has a summer outdoor concert series like the RCB, my health issues — which include asthma, allergies, and migraines — have always been difficult to deal with for me.

Until the last few years — after Covid-19 hit the US with great force — I was able to power through most of the time. I still had migraines and still had asthma issues (one knocked me out of half of a rehearsal, several years ago; I went to the local hospital’s ER to get a breathing treatment), but I played many concerts under hot, humid, and difficult conditions.

The difference now is, I suffered a pulmonary embolism in early 2020. (We did not yet know Covid was in the country, so all I can do is presume that’s why it happened. There were obviously no tests for Covid at that time.) I have really never been the same since then, though I have regained some strength and some health.

Just not enough.

Anyway, the RCB has been important to me for a long time. I was fourteen when I first joined. (Yes, fourteen.) I never have wanted to cause trouble for the band, or its members, or its board. (Especially as I was on the board for two years myself, once upon a time.)

I’ve loved playing the music over the years and have appreciated the fact that they put up with my health for the past two years before making this decision to part ways with me.

There are many great people in that band. I want them to be able to play music, enjoy themselves, and enjoy life.

But I will not say I resigned, because that is not the truth.

The truth is, I was forced out.

And it makes me very, very unhappy that this is so.

Written by Barb Caffrey

July 28, 2022 at 9:35 pm

Sunday Musings: Why should you help a widow? (Or widower?)

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Folks, my last blog asked you to please help Eric Flint’s wife, Lucille, in her time of need. (I was one of many people asking for people to help.) She received an outpouring of financial support, and the GoFundMe for Eric’s final expenses has been closed.

Thank you all.

That said, there are still other things to be done to help her, or other widows/widowers suffering from the loss of their spouse.

First, though, I wanted to answer this (somewhat obvious) question: Why should you help a widow or widower?

I’ve thought a lot about this question in the intervening years since Michael’s passing. And I’ve come up with a few reasons as to why you should always help a grieving widow or widower — any grieving widow or widower, whether you like them personally or not.

When you’ve been newly widowed, you are exceptionally vulnerable. All of your support, all of the love you had that you had freely shared with your spouse, is suddenly gone. That love has no place to go. And worst of all, you are often misunderstood when you try to express your grief in any way, shape, or form.

It’s incredibly difficult to deal with the world when you’re in deep shock, suffering with the worst wound you’ve ever had. That’s just a fact.

Everything seems unreal. Nothing feels the same. It’s very hard to go on, alone except for memories (and, if you’re like me, the knowledge that the spirit is eternal and that you will eventually be reunited in joy somewhere/somewhen again).

We all grieve differently, but what I just said tends to be in common for nearly any grieving widow/widower if they deeply loved their spouse.

Anyway, I wanted to talk more about Eric’s wife and widow, Lucille, at this point. I do not know Lucille except for that one meeting in 2002 I’ve previously discussed (and there, I asked Eric a question; I should’ve asked her one, too, in retrospect, but I didn’t think of it). But I do know that if I were within a hundred miles of where she is (I’m not), I would try to bring her a cooked meal or two. Or volunteer to run errands.

And if I knew her better, I’d offer to listen to her talk at any time of the day or night.

Lucille is a valuable person in her own right. Yet if she’s anything like me, or the other widows and widowers I’ve known, she’s not going to be able to feel that for quite some time.

She deserves to be helped in as many ways as possible in whatever way she’ll allow on any given day. She should be given all available love, stamina, support, and whatever other good things she can possibly be helped with for as long of a time as she needs.

Her loss should be respected.

People should talk with her about Eric, as soon as she’s able to do that (or wishes to do that). He was her favorite person in this world. It’s unlikely she’ll want to stop talking about him, merely because his Earthly presence is gone.

Give her time, space, if she needs that. (I know this seems contradictory, but much about grief seems contradictory, too.) But help her as much as you possibly can, those of you who know her best. (I will help, too, if I ever get a chance to meet her again, and if she allows.)

In other words, while monetary help is great, it’s not the only way to help a grieving widow or widower.

Now to a bit more personal stuff, about my own feelings regarding being a widow.

Those of you who have met me, in person, or even have known me through my blog or my books, should know how much I value — and will always value — my marriage to the most wonderful man in the world, Michael B. Caffrey. I had some monetary support at the time of his passing, enough to help me buy an obituary for him, and help to pay for his funeral expenses. I appreciated that, too, at the time.

But no one knew how to help me with my grief. (My grief was so bad, a grief-support group sent me away.)

My family understood that Michael’s death was a huge loss. They didn’t have any idea how to help me process that.

I suffered, mostly on my own, with how to come to terms with it. How to see myself as valuable in my own right. How to go on alone (except for memories and the belief, as I said before, that the spirit is eternal). How to keep writing on my own, with little to no support or understanding of why I felt I must write (whether it be poetry, SF/F, or nonfiction/essays).

I had to figure it out one step at a time, stumbling and fumbling in the dark.

I don’t want anyone to have as much trouble as I did, not even the person who believed Michael was better off dead than with me. (I will never forgive that person. Never. But I still don’t wish ill on them. No point.) If and when they lose their spouses, I want them to have help and support.

That, most of all, is why I dearly hope that Lucille will be aided in as many ways and for as long of a time as she needs. And I pray very much that this will be so.

Eric Flint dies at 75, and his wife Lucille needs help

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Folks, Eric Flint passed away yesterday due to a long illness. He was a brilliant writer, an interesting soul, and a kind-hearted man — the last needs to be pointed out at great length, as most people focus on the other two.

I only met Eric Flint and his wife Lucille once. It was in 2002, not long after I married Michael. At that point, Michael and I were both trying to figure out how to write together, as our writing styles were about as opposite as can be imagined.

Anyway, it was a Barfly gathering, in Chicago. Many others were there. Some knew we’d just gotten married. (I don’t know if Eric did, but at least a few of ’em did.) We weren’t saying much (observers R us, or at least we both were), but were taking in as much information as we could.

I somehow got enough energy and gumption to ask Eric how he wrote so well with disparate people. (At that time, he’d worked with David Weber, Dave Freer, Mercedes Lackey, K.D. Wentworth, and I think he was in the process of working with Ryk Spoor. This was not long after his landmark novel 1632 was published.) I told him that my writing process was far different from my husband’s, yet we wanted to write together. How could we do that?

I figured Eric had the answer, and he did.

Eric said that the way to collaborate with someone is to play to their strengths. If someone writes fast — such as Dave Freer — work with that and add what you can. If someone needs more time and thought — as did Michael — let him add what he could. Otherwise, try not to step on each other’s toes, and remember to have fun…I’m pretty sure he said all that, and if not, he probably meant to say all that (so I’ll attribute it to him anyway).

This made a huge difference to us. We knew we could do it, you see, but we needed the right words from an expert to let us know it was OK to fail. (This may seem counterproductive, but bear with me.) If one of us could write faster than the other (believe it or not, that person was me), the other could take his time and add what he wanted. If the other needed to write things in longhand before transcribing them to the computer, that was fine…if he wanted my help, I could slow down just a little, and help him out.

This was very, very important to know. And it grew more important after Michael died, because I now was looking at a bunch of stories that Michael left in progress, wondering how I could possibly finish them and do justice by them. (I’m still working on that part.)

Anyway, I mention all of this because Lucille, Eric’s wife, needs help now. Eric was ill the last year or so, and while he plateaued out for a while, he wasn’t able to do much writing. (He did encourage people right up until the end, though. That counts more than anyone can possibly know.) Without being able to write, the income stream narrows…without being able to write, the writer is in danger of people forgetting all about them (though I find it hard to believe anyone could forget about Eric Flint, maybe he worried about that as he was human and it’s a justifiable worry). And without being able to write, the writer gets frustrated, stymied, wondering what in the Hell has gone wrong — just because health has intruded, why does that mean we can’t write?

(That’s how I see it, anyway. I can’t ask Eric anymore to know if that’s how he did.)

At any rate, Eric Flint was a very generous soul who cared about others and nurtured many fine writers along the way. He also was a very good husband to Lucille, and as I understand how it feels to be suddenly widowed and in need of help, I wanted to make damned sure I passed along this link so you could go help her out.

This is the link: https://gofund.me/6b66d7f6

If you can’t donate now, share the link as far and wide as you can.

And please, please, stand with the widows and widowers in your life, most especially right after they’ve been widowed. They need much care and love and concern, most particularly because they are unable to care or love or take any concern about themselves due to their bereavement.

Written by Barb Caffrey

July 18, 2022 at 4:13 pm

A Requiem for Willkomm’s Mobil

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Folks, one of my favorite places to go in Racine has closed as of June 30, 2022. That place was Willkomm’s Mobil station, which had a drive-thru, a pet wash, and a car wash. The drive-thru was extremely convenient, and I often got lottery tickets and small amounts of food, milk, or other items.

Now, why did this wonderful place close?

Partly, the expansion of Kwik-Trip’s gas stations in the Racine area is to blame. Kwik-Trip serves food, and though it doesn’t have a drive-thru or a pet wash, it has a car wash. Kwik-Trip stations, besides the food, are much comparable to any other gas station.

But partly, I fear, is because the owner of Willkomm’s Mobil felt he could do better with a Rocket Wash (where you get your car washed in two minutes or less via various automated processes).

We already have another Rocket Wash in Racine, and it’s also operated by the same owner. (We used to have another Willkomm’s Mobil station in that place, but he closed that and kept the Rocket Wash instead.) I don’t know if this area can sustain two Rocket Wash stores.

Anyway, I wrote to the owner about six weeks before the station closed. I told him that the clerks were very friendly, that I enjoyed going to Willkomm’s Mobil, that it was among my favorite places, and that I truly hoped he would not close the store.

While the automated form says the owner will respond to all comments, he didn’t respond to mine. (I wonder why. /sarcasm intended)

My feeling was that if Willkomm’s Mobil’s owner was willing to actually promote the drive-thru aspect, as it was the only drive-thru of its type in all of SE Wisconsin to the best of my knowledge (and assuredly the only one in Racine County), he would not have needed to close the store.

And if he’d been willing to do some minimal things like adding hot dogs or microwaved meals that were hot and fresh for people who walked into the store to get as an impulse buy, he also would not have needed to close the store.

Anyway, I drive by my favorite place, now shuttered forever. It angers me. It was one of the few places that helped me, as I could save my energy, talk with friendly people through the drive-thru, and get gas without having to worry about anything. If I was having a poor day with regards to energy, I didn’t have to get out of the car, and that in and of itself was a major blessing.

I hope everyone who worked at Willkomm’s Mobil station has found a better job. (Some were going to stay with the company in other capacities. Some weren’t.)

I wish I could write references for every single one of them, as I felt they all were kind-hearted as well as being good cashiers and overall knowledgeable people.

Thus, this post.

I wish I could write a requiem for Willkomm’s Mobil in music. As of yet, I can’t.

This blog will have to stand, at least for the moment, as the incomplete requiem for one of my favorite places, ever, to exist in Racine County.

Written by Barb Caffrey

July 7, 2022 at 2:30 pm

Posted in Uncategorized