It was half-past New Year’s, and a quarter ‘til St. Patrick’s Day. Outside Tyranena Brewing Company it was as dark as a suit closet and colder than the front door of a Catholic Church on a January confession. Inside, it was hotter than The Kingston Mines circa 1969. The W.C. Handy Award Winning Cash Box Kings were all lathered up.

My standing request at those mid-winter gigs is Sonny Boy Williamson’s “Nine Below Zero.”

Eyes closed, Oscar “The King of 43rd Street” Wilson, cradled the microphone and swayed. Already, the barroom banter had faded to whisper. The big man raised his hand.

Yeah, ain’t that a pity

People ain’t that a cryin’ shame

Ain’t that a pity

I declare it’s a cryin’ shame

Ned and Sarah had finally made it out of the barn and wormed their way through the throng.

Oscar gave Joel a dozen bars for a guitar break, then howled:

She-wait-till-it-got

n-i-n-e below zero

And put me down for another man

Sarah wrested her right hand, farmer strong and warm as a water bottle, under my collar looking to introduce me to a friend.

I could have melted through the grains in the grout.

The blues is feeling good about feelin’ bad.

It had been half-a-decade since I’d known affection in any physical form.

That moment, the simple power of touch.

Mom’s lessons have no expiration date. I’ve made it my mission to capture my own experiences to better understand what others struggle against.

I’m blessed with two wonderful kids, a hundred fine friends, a cohesive staff, and a thousand clients in my practice. Since that day in ’08 I’ve met and married a wife and family I thank God for hourly. I’ll never forget the hellacious stretches and the empty of returning after a 12-hour day to a house, cold and dark; every light switch and sugar dish exactly where I’d left it.

I use those times and that snapshot from the brewery to try and appreciate the plight of the aged, widowed, and perpetually alone.

Loneliness: the distress caused by lack of satisfactory relationships. A hermit may not be lonely, if a cabin in the woods is truly of his choosing. Others might be lonely in the middle of Time’s Square.

Every kiss begins with Kay

Anyone who’s ever spent their birthday, Christmas, or Valentine’s Day alone-in-spite-of-their-best-efforts knows that a jewelry commercial can incite a brick-through-the-TV moment, or the urge put a serious hurtin’ on a fifth of brown liquor.

Experts equate the physiological effects of loneliness to obesity, a sedentary lifestyle, 15 cigarettes or six drinks a day, or worse. We can surmise that the above tend to compound.

Research suggests that those who are isolated are at an increased risk of depression, cognitive decline and dementia, and that social relationships influence blood pressure and immune function, as well as whether people take their medications.

My dad stopped taking statins after his best friend LeRoy Summers passed. A year later he had a catastrophic stroke.

The deleterious effects of loneliness are especially pronounced in the aging. Mounting challenges like mobility and balance make it difficult for folks to put themselves in social situations. Hearing and cognition loss can cause people to pull away.

There was a day when I could introduce dad to my friends, and listen to the music while they talked on old cars and farm work. When his hearing failed, he’d lean against the door frame and stare in the band’s direction. A mighty-fine swing dancer in his day, not so much as a tap of his toe.

Experts say the key to diminishing the crisis is wisdom and awareness. If Troy Aikman and Joe Buck can talk about erectile dysfunction during a Dallas Cowboys game, we oughta be able to talk about isolation.

The majority of Meals on Wheels’ 2.4 million annual recipients live alone and unsupported. Volunteers are being trained to recognize signs of distress.

Over-fifty condominium complexes, senior apartments, assisted living centers, and clubs are forming and being built in cities and towns of every demographic. A farm widow views moving to town as defeat. A husband thinks reaching out for assistance with his demented wife of 50 years as abandonment, or indignity.

Elizabeth Poulsen brought Allan her Cocker Spaniel to the clinic. By the time I had listened to his heart, looked in his ears, and done his ophtho exam, Mrs. Poulsen had launched into the third verse of her neighbor Harvey Spiegelhoff the national-champion bike rider, and his neighbor Gene Kelley who was a Navy Captain, and the German Shepherd she took to Dr. Smith, who told her to put the dog down, but then Dr. Stephan said, “Just give it time, she’ll be ok…”

The next appointment had cancelled, but there were four prescription requests, two clients to call, and a pile of checks to sign on my desk. I stepped back and fumbled for the indent in the pocket door, trying to get, “All right, Elizabeth, Danielle will take care of you up front,” in edgewise, at least twice, but she was on to the green Ford LTD station wagon that dropped off the litter of kittens in her yard in 1974.

Then I remembered Mittsy and Barb busting my dad out of his corner room at Lilac Springs Assisted Living to take him to their home for beef roast, beers, and to talk fishin’. Dad’s buddies Dick and Dave drove four hours from Illinois to take him to a fish fry.

I slid the door shut, lowered my stool, and grabbed a handful of treats for Allen. Elizabeth pointed the gnarled knuckle of her index finger, “And when you see Dr. Stephan, you ask him about Stormie. Now that Dr. Merry, he was a real vet, but you’d better do just exactly what he said, he was 25 years younger than my dad, but he’d listen to him…”

Dr. Bill Stork is a country veterinarian from Lake Mills. He has been writing a column in the Lake Mills Leader for the past several years and wrote a book, In Herriot’s Shadow.

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