Monday, July 29, 2013

Reviving Memories

At Chandler's Cafe on Main in Sylvania with Dan (far left) and David Bitter,
who grew up in Sylvania. Can't sit there long without someone they know stopping by.
"Fran Cary!" I heard someone yelling my name as I walked up Main Street to Chandler's Cafe for a cup of  'Morning Joe.'  Who's that old geezer calling my name, I wondered.  I got closer to the table outside of Chandler's where he was sitting, and I saw.  "Oh, good heavens. Dan Bitter!" I think I jumped a foot off the ground.

What a surprise to see a dear friend from bygone Toledo days early on a weekday morning. It would never have happened if I hadn't been up at 5:00 a.m. to drive my granddaughter to DTW for a flight to Seattle.

I got a cup of coffee and sat down with Dan, brother David, and friend Mark to catch up. My tiredness lifted.  "What are you doing here?" Turns out Dan and David are in Sylvania to fix up their family home to sell, the place they grew up, the place that holds so many childhood memories. Their mom died a few years ago, and their dad several years before that. Dan and David both live in Atlanta, and have for many years. It's time to move on, they both agree.

The Bitters, whose ancestors are German, are an old Sylvania family. They lived in the same house off upper Main, just a block from the Michigan line, for years.  Same red and white house, with a white picket fence around it. Same antiques, adorable bird cages in every tree (or fallen to the ground), children's toys and books, tools and other treasures in the garage. It's an antique dealer's dream.  Dan, his brothers and sister went to the original Maplewood School and Sylvania High School. Dan remembers walking to school; strolling along the railroad tracks; stopping at shops on Main on his way home, including a bakery at the same spot Brieschke's is today, and at the hardware store, which is now Chandler's; collecting pre-historic fossils from the quarry on Centennial Road; and just being "free-range" kids before the computer and internet age. They still have lots of friends here, lots of connections, and vividly remember the neighborhood as it was over 50 years ago.

I hadn't seen Dan in over a decade, since I lived in Tampa and he lived in Tampa, where our paths crossed again briefly.   Since then I've moved to St. Petersburg, then Ukraine, then Sylvania. Dan's been in Atlanta, though he still has a house in Tampa.  I never knew where he had gone.We just lost touch.

Memories came flooding back. When I lived in Toledo, in the Old West End (OWE), Dan painted our house on Robinwood. First he stripped off the old paint on the gray shingles, coat after coat, layer after layer, dropping paint chips into puddles of water, into the ground, onto the gardens. It was a hard job, and took longer than we thought it would; much longer. My kids were about 10 and 7 years old, and they had fun with Dan.

One night, our family dog Tryg, a beautiful Norwegian Elkhound, went crazy, chasing his tail around the house and howling.  We took him at 12:00 midnight to the only Vet who would see him, Dr. Bob Esplin in Sylvania. Dr. Esplin was thrilled to inform us, the next day, that Tryg had lead poisoning. OMG. The paint on our turn-of-the-century house.  We were shocked, but Dr. Esplin was kind of excited: first case he'd seen of lead poisoning in a dog! He was pleased he had made a proper diagnosis and could treat our family pet. So were we.  We've appreciated Dr. Esplin ever since, as have so many other Toledo families over the years and to this day.

Dan, meanwhile, continued with the paint job, aware of the issue of lead on OWE homes.  Our house got painted and looked stunning in its natural cedar shingle state, with a coat of transparent varnish that brought out the grain. A shining star on Robinwood. A work of art, Dan called it.  It's since been painted again, now a  pale yellow with light bayberry green and cream trim, but it is still as pretty as it was when Dan Bitter had a go at it.  And, thanks to him, it's free of lead paint.

Dan is skillful and talented, a Renaissance man. I've always enjoyed talking to him about any subject, from politics to religion and philosophy to art.  He's knowledgeable, thoughtful and funny.  It felt in a way like meeting friends at my 50th high school reunion at Harley School in Rochester, NY, although Dan's younger than me, I have to say, before he says something about old geezers.  

Isn't it the greatest thing to "bump" into an old friend from the old days, to reminisce and catch up?   We picked up the threads of wonderful discussions from all those many years ago and are now weaving them into our ever-expanding quilt of memories.  Serendipity and convergence: reviving memories.

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Here's an article that Dr. Bob Esplin wrote for the Sylvania Advantage, where my daughter is graphic designer. She asked Dr. Esplin, who writes a regular column for the paper, to talk about the dangers to pets of lead paint. Of course he remembered Tryg, and filled in a few more details.
Sylvania AdVantage, March 21 2012 issue
Bob Esplin, Pet Sylvania
Q: Dr. Bob: Years ago my dog Tryg was diagnosed with lead poisoning by you. I am sure your readers would like to hear this story and other facts about the risks of lead poisoning in pets. Thanks, Elissa
A: Though not common, elemental lead can be highly toxic to pets and cause serious disease. Three cases that I clearly remember show the many faces of lead toxicity. Elissa’s parents lived in the Old West End and were doing major outdoor repairs on their home. The summer months were filled with scraping and repainting the outside of the house. An early 20th century home, the paint being scraped off was lead based (paint companies no longer make lead based paint). Flakes of old paint both big and small mixed with water from a power washer as the siding was prepared for a new coat of paint. Tryg was frequently seen wandering through the gardens along the house where the paint debris was landing.

Tryg was presented to me in seizures in the middle of the night. He had no history of seizure previously so there was concern about epilepsy. As his history developed and he calmed down with sedation I was able to do a more thorough exam. Chips of paint were caught in the hair of his feet. Dogs lick their feet, so Tryg was swallowing paint chips. Questions about why he had paint chips on his feet caused the light bulb of suspicion to brighten. As part of the workup for the convulsions we chose to do a blood lead test. The test came back positive and the proper medications were used to remove the lead from Tryg’s body. He lived many more years with no consequences from his encounter with lead poisoning.

One year a Beagle was presented for pale gums and weakness. During his visit I learned that the dog was a big chewer of all things wooden. Lab work revealed a low red blood cell count which meant anemia. In looking at a blood slide we found target cells which can mean lead poisoning. Further history revealed that our wood hungry Beagle was chewing on an old chair with many coats of paint. There was no time to wait on lab results so the anti-lead medication was started while we waited on the lab test to verify my suspicion. The time gained by a simple blood test and a good history made our Beagle’s recovery quicker and more successful.

Molly was a quiet, sweet Sheltie that suddenly had a change in personality. She began to howl, pace, bump into things around the house and in general seemed “crazed.” I immediately started looking for the cause of such bizarre behavior. Lab work didn’t help much but during my several exams I noted she seemedmuncomfortable in her belly. X-rays revealed a large, square, very dense mass in her stomach. Surgery to remove the object showed it to be a lead weight for the bottom of a floor-length curtain. The owners had no idea Molly had chewed on the hem of the curtain let alone swallowed the lead weight. Again proper treatment corrected Molly’s lead toxicosis.

Lead poisoning is not common but one must be careful where access to lead containing objects is possible. Houses built before 1950 can have lead issues with water pipes. Fishermen with lead weights in their tackle boxes can be a risk for a curious pet. Painted antique furniture or paint chips in an older home can be a risk to pets and kids in the house. 
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