Thanks for all the pointer folks. I've had to face reality and realized it's time for a new system. This 10 year old one has been such a workhorse and so reliable that it surprised me when it finally refused to be revived this time :(
Time for a new system. And if that wasn't bad enough, after this happened I put my backup old laptop into service, 2 days later on boot-up in the morning I got a SMART -- imminent hard drive failure message! I thought you got to be kidding! No it wasn't -- next morning on boot-up it didn't. Was able to get it back in service with a HDD swap and reformat but wow what a string of bad luck :(
Then...took my HDD's out of my old PC, dropped them into a caddy to retrieve the data from them to transfer to my laptop -- guess -- went to plug the USB cable into the only slot and a pin broke off! A few bucks later and a PCMCIA to USB adapter I finally got all my data safe and sound. What a week and half it's been :)
Once again chaos was hard at work. Dang gremlins.