The view from Mount Wood

It is dusk and haze hangs over the Ohio River as the wide serpent slithers into its den between distant mountains. I have an amazing view of the legend and its urban child, Wheeling, from Section A of Mount Woods Cemetery. The view makes me particularly grateful to still be on this side of the grass.

Adjacent to the Mount Wood Hebrew and Jewish Orthodox Cemetery, the rural cemetery is entrenched on Wheeling Hill, where Ebenezer Zane paused long enough to survey the landscape and declare that this place would become a land of promise. The valley, yes, but the hill was reserved for those whose promised land is just beyond the sunset.

To enter this place you pass by a sign warning “Restricted Area Authorized Personnel Only.” I assume, by virtue of being a mortal, I am authorized to enter, and so I make my way up the patched road of sorrow toward the summit, past crumbling, fractured headstones, the stumps of oak trees and mausoleums inserted into the hillside. And I ponder the odd sign, wondering just what it means.

Mount Wood is an example of what was a national movement in the mid-19th century, the rural cemetery. Replacing the crowded, urban-church graveyard, rural cemeteries featured carefully planned lots interacting with the natural beauty of the setting. The rural cemetery thus became both a place to mourn and find comfort, to listen to both the sermons in stone and songbirds in the boughs.

“The flowers are beginning to bloom beautifully and the shrubbery is showing forth its sweetest livery of green,” stated a Wheeling Intelligencer article written in 1866. “In the evening, when the sun has gone down, and when the air is cool and pleasant, you can wander amid the tombs of Mt.  Wood Cemetery and examine the monuments which mark the spot where different bodies are interred, or you can stand in the grounds and obtain a most excellent landscape view.”

Little has changed in the ensuing 150 years, but Mount Wood has a tired and battered look this March evening. For all the planning and planting, everything feels crowded, stilted and exhausted. Around the lower perimeter are the graves of the Jewish interments—the Finegolds, Katzes, Friedmans, Weissmans and Malts. The concrete rectangles that mark their graves lean toward the distant serpent, as if pulled by the river’s supreme authority over this land and all who would live and die upon it. Graves are packed together so tightly one suspects the entire cemetery would slide into the river should just one corpse be raised at the final trump.

Above the Hebrews’ graves rise the gaunt oaks, no doubt some of them among the 110 that were planted in 1933 in collaboration with Oglebay Park. It is unreasonable to expect even the mighty oak to withstand the buffeting winds, lightning and erosion of this exposed face. The living deciduous cell, no matter how noble, cannot survive in a place where stone erodes and concrete gives way to the forces of gravity, ice and time.

On the summit, however, the sense security is stronger amid the towering obelisks, “white bronze” markers, marble stones and mausoleums. The trees are more numerous here, so too the graves of the affluent, the famous, the celebrated Wheeling citizens of the 19th century.

Such distinguished company in which I stand: Eliza Hughes, the first female doctor to practice medicine in the new state of West Virginia; Col. Joseph Thoburn, a member of the First West Virginia Infantry and mortally wounded at the Battle of Kernstown; Noah Linsly, founder of Linsly Military Institute; Edward Norton, early city leader.

The most intriguing burial, by virtue of his epitaph, is Dr. Simon Hullihen. Rare is the man who lives in such a way that the citizens of his city raise the marble obelisk to his memory and thereupon declare his death “a public calamity.”

“Eminent as a Surgeon the wide fame of his bold original genius was everywhere blended with gratitude for his benefactions,” states an inscription on one of the four base panels.

The stone, however, goes into no detail of what great deeds Hullihen (Dec. 10, 1810-March 27, 1857) performed. The answer lay not in a grave on this knoll, but in the Wheeling Hall of Fame, where Hullihen’s brief life is summarized as one of both “prejudice, scorn and skepticism” as well as “bold, creative, inventive work and his tremendous contributions to mankind.”

Dentistry, in the days when Hullihen became a doctor, was not considered a profession and specialization was “tantamount to quackery.” Yet, in Hullihen’s time, he saw the Baltimore College of Dental Surgery open, and in 1843, he received an honorary doctor of dentistry degree from the school.

His fame as an oral surgeon drew patients to Wheeling to seek his surgical intervention for defects of the mouth and head. He has been called the “Father of Oral Surgery,” and rightly so. Hullihen performed more than 1,100 operations in an era when “neither anesthesia nor asepsis were in use.” Patients with cleft palate, crossed eyes and damaged lips and noses were given new leases on life through his pioneering surgical methods. Because he was developing the specialty as he went along, Hullihen invented many of his own instruments, and the designs of some remain in use today.

The growth of industry in the riverfront city brought with it many horrendous industrial accidents that required advanced medical care, but community leaders did not Hullihen’s demands for a hosptial. It was only after combining forces with the Roman Catholic Bishop of the Wheeling Diocese that Hullihen was able to see the city’s first hospital chartered in 1850.

Worthy, indeed, is this man of the obelisk, the accolades and a city’s appreciation for his “Tremendous contributions to mankind.”

The haze becomes dusk, the veil falls upon the city and creates the illusion of down-river lights burning more brightly than before. The air at the lower elevation chills my skin and teeth as if death itself exhaled it. My old tooth tingles in the chill; I must remember to see the dentist soon.

What? Beans in your ears?

My Mommy told me “Don’t put beans in your ears, beans in your ears.”

Remember that song?

It comes to mind every time I slip my hearing-aid domes into an ear canal. It feels unnatural. You’re not supposed to put cotton swabs, pencils or beans in your ears. You might break your ear drum. It might get stuck in your ear and they’ll have to take you to the hospital and use a giant vacuum to suck it out. And your brains could be sucked out in the process.

And if you put a bean in your ear, it will get stuck in there, take root and you’ll have green beans growing from your ears by late summer.

Don’t put beans in your ears …

So here I am, sitting with two electronic beans in my ears. And I don’t like it. I don’t like it one bit.

I don’t like the tinny sound. I don’t like the feeling of fullness.

I don’t like the sounds I’ve been missing,
the dog licking,
shower dripping
keyboard clicking.

It’s all too loud.

For years I’ve tried to ignore my failing hearing. I first became aware of it when my spouse would tell me a smoke alarm was going off in the basement or the reel on my 16mm projector was making a squeaking sound. I didn’t hear it, so it didn’t exist.

Next came errors in reporting, especially at meetings ,where I would have to quote speakers in rooms with horrible acoustics. Sheepishly, I’d have to ask them to repeat themselves after the meeting, if I could track them down in time.

I noticed that the sound from the telephone receiver was much louder in my right ear than the left. In fact, when people spoke into my left ear, I just didn’t hear it. I even had a psychic tell me I had a bad left ear, and that was 20 some years ago.

It all goes back to 1976 or so, when I was bill collector for Sun Finance. Remember finance companies? Yes, I worked for one. And one evening as I was doing collections, I acquired a new disability. I was knocking on the door of a delinquent debtor, who happened to live in a block house down on the lakefront in Conneaut. The house had an enclosed block porch, and I was standing in that area when two misfits tossed a pack of firecrackers into the enclosed area.

The blast floored me. When I came too, I had incredible ringing in my ears, and no hearing.

I went home and figured it would go away in a couple of days. Slowly, the hearing did return, but never the ringing. Tinnitus, they call it. And the hearing, although recovered, was never the same.

Ruth, God bless that sweet lady’s heart, played along with my hearing loss when we were dating. She patiently repeated things and showed great empathy, even though she has great hearing. But I could not deny that something was seriously wrong, and that I was going to get myself in trouble by playing along like I knew what people were saying to me. Only in one-on-one conversations, with no background noise, could I understand the words. I just nodded and smiled, and I often wondered how many times I did that when the other person was trying to tell me that something gross was hanging on my face or that their mother had just passed away after a lingering illness of 42 years.

Years ago I saw an ENT doctor about the problem, and he suggested some super-expensive hearing aids to try to block the constant ringing and regain some of the high-frequency loss. The cost was around $12K. In case you are unfamiliar with how all this works, hearing aids are not covered by health insurance. They are smarter than that. So it was always out of the question.

Last month I decided to have my hearing checked again. The audiologist charted on a graph the frequencies that I could hear. It looked like the graph of the coming stock market crash when Donald Trump is replaced by a Democrat or Libertarian. The audiologist just shook her head and said “You ain’t hearing much, buddy.”

I can’t hear frequencies above 1 kHz. The left ear is especially bad. It might as well be dead. The audiologist told me that I’ve compensated all these years by using the right ear, but it’s on life support. But at least it can be helped with a hearing aid.

Armed with the results of my hearing test, I went shopping online for the dreaded hearing aids. I selected a pair from Audicus. Cost more than a full-frame Nikon DSLR.

I’ve had them for about three weeks now. The company is good to work with, but did I mention I don’t like the hearing aids?

Granted, I can now hear what the preacher says during the sermon, and I’m starting to realize that a lot of the stuff that I thought he said was OK, isn’t. Well, I may exaggerating on that.

And I’ve discovered that my little car is extremely noisy (suggestion: if you suffer from hearing loss, you can save money by purchasing a noisy, subcompact car). I recently wore my hearing aids while driving and was amazed at all the rattles and rumbles in that car. And I noticed for the first time since I purchased the car I could hear the turning signal clicking. I just figured it was some modern thing, that the turning signals no longer clicked. Then I realized why Ruth was always poking me to turn off the signal.

When her told her that I discovered my car was noisy, she said “I knew that.”

“You mean when we went on our first date? Was it noisy then?


“And you continued to date me?”


Now that’s love!

And that is why I will eventually get used to wearing these darn things, these beans in my ears. I want to hear to her voice, and I want to hear all of life, cacophony and music alike. I don’t want to end up like my mother, although I probably will, who had to be screamed at because she refused to wear her hearing aids, and who had to constantly turn to my father and ask for an interpretation of what I just said.

Hearing aids are expensive, they don’t sound anything like “natural hearing” and they are a pain to wear. They eat batteries like Christmas morning. You always worry about that silly retaining strand sticking out of your ear like an old man’s hair that hasn’t seen a razor since adolescence.

And it feels like there are beans in my ears.



Never had so many calls

Are you lonely?

Does your cell phone never ring?

Do you have an afternoon to waste?

Go to a website where you inquire about health insurance plans for individuals.

Such was my Monday afternoon as I launched my search in the land of Obamacare.

Excuse me, I need to answer the phone. It’s Sandra.

Sorry about that.

On Friday I got my letter advising me that funds are no longer available to pay for my position with Ashtabula County. Health insurance ends at the end of April.

Being 63 and without insurance is about as scary as having Donald Trump for President or being an empath at a covert narcissists’ convention.

Excuse me, I need to answer the phone. It’s Devin.

Sorry about that.

So I plugged in the personal information, including my cellphone number, in two websites. And I am telling you that within five seconds of hitting send, the first call came in.

A nice young lady by the name of Nicole took all my information and offered a policy with no deductible at only $275.89 a month. What is this, Chinese health insurance?

Excuse me, I need to answer the phone.

Sorry about that.

It sounded too good to be true. I mean the COBRA premium was something like five times that, and it has deductibles.

Excuse me, I need to answer the phone.

Sorry about that. It was another one of those calls.

Nope. No deductibles. Funny thing, when I asked for something in writing, via email, they aren’t able to do that. Humm.

Excuse me, I need to answer the phone.

Sorry about that. You guessed it.

Based upon the person’s unwillingness to put it writing, I wrote it off.

Besides, at that point, I had five more calls waiting.

The next one wants one to know, right off the bat, how much I can afford every month for health insurance.

“Well, let’s see. I just got laid off. I’ll probably not be able to get unemployment because I have a business. Um. How about nothing?”

The next guy asks me the same question. But he wants to know how much I could wire him today to get the ball rolling. Brother, I think it’s dice, not a ball, that’s rolling.

Excuse me, I need to answer the phone.

Sorry about that. It was Samantha. Wow what is smoking? Nobody should be so upbeat on a Monday afternoon in gray, dreary, windy, rainy northeast Ohio. Then I check the area code. She’s in California. Figures.

The phone stopped ringing. I continued my search online, preferring to put my money into a medical sharing account with a Christian organization. I found a portal for these plans and received great service from an agent whose quote was much more in line with what I anticipated. And so I asked her, why a sharing plan with $10,000 deductible is still twice as high as the premium for a plan that has no deductible.

I won’t share the answer, although it is rather obvious. I smell a rat whenever there are so many sales people jumping onto an inquiry from

Excuse me, I need to answer the phone.

Sorry about that.

one old man trying to

Excuse me, I need to answer the phone.

Sorry about that.

get some health insurance

Excuse me, I need to answer the phone.

Sorry about that.

just in case.

A the Linesville Spillway in Pennsylvania, hundreds of fat carp compete with each other for one slice of bread tossed into the water. I think it’s that way when some sap like myself fills out one of those online forms seeking a health insurance quote. The enthusiastic, persistent calls suggest to me there is both a lot of money to be made in this business and the consumer is being taken for a sucker (like the lips on that light fish). Who regulates these guys? And what ever happened to the affordable in the Affordable Care Act? When your income equals zero, nothing is affordable.

I’m exhausted from swiping the phone and listening to these hot shots promise me the world.

But you  know what’s really scary?

Excuse me, I need to answer the phone.

Sorry about that.

If I am unemployed for very long, or folks don’t buy our books, I may have to work in a call center, selling my soul for

Excuse me, I need to answer the phone.

Sorry about that.

health insurance.

What a sorry state of affairs. But at least I’m not lonely. I have along list of numbers I can call back.

Excuse me, I need to answer the phone.

Sorry about that.

I have learned that I can identify the nature of the call by the five-second silence before they come on the line. And the background is filled with the chatter of other

Excuse me, I need to answer the phone.

Sorry about that.

“agents” “assisting” “customers.”

I am going to turn off the cell phone. I am going make some soup for my lovely wife. We are going to have a quiet evening in the cottage.

I will deal with health insurance, tomorrow.