Monday, December 22, 2008

Approaching Christmas

Am I the only one who has a hard time getting in the mood for a joyful Christmas?

As I addressed Christmas cards, I realized most of my friends are in their 80's. How many would come back marked "deceased"? So far: none. But phone calls came from New Mexico and Illinois and Michigan, each recounting health problems more painful than mine. "I don't have the energy to send cards any more." Getting old is not easy for anyone.

Lack of energy is a major problem for me, too. Is it because I don't feel well physically? Or has feeling unwell made me depressed? Or is it Depression because all my children are far away . . . and I remember other Christmases when I was alone?

My brother Don brought my artificial tree from the storage shed and set it up in the front window. This is my third artificial tree. When Wally bought a "real" tree, it always looked like it came out of a Charlie Brown cartoon. Finally, in frustration, I bought a big, handsome artificial tree at Sears; Wally took it in the divorce. The tree I had in New Mexico was left as part of the sale of my house in Albuquerque.

The new tree, bought at the thrift store two years ago after I moved to Texas, came with lights permanently attached. All I do is plug it in. The multi-colored lights look cheerful to children passing by on Meadowcrest Drive and also to me, sitting across the house in the den.

But it took two weeks before I opened the big box and starting taking out ornaments. Then memories rushed out with each little bauble I hung on the tree.

Little cradles I bought for a dime more than 50 years ago at the dime store near our apartment in Chicago. Wooden soldiers made by my friend Betty when we lived in Michigan. Paper birds from a little shop in the French Quarter when Wally let me go with him on a business trip to New Orleans. (That was a good time.) The red paper mache pony Martha made in Girl Scouts when we lived in Irving -- another Dallas suburb, 20 miles and 40 years from where I now live in Garland. Finally, all the "soft" cloth Santas, angels, and little red hearts, hand-made by me to hang on the lower branches after David's cat, Matilda, attacked the tree.

So far I've found only one "soft" snowman lying under this tree. My cat, Charlie, seems content to lie on the carpet looking at the lights. Surely I can be content, too, with all the reminders of good memories. I enjoy my Christmas tree. Also, at the opposite end of the room, in the center of the dining table, is a red vase filled with dark red roses and white lilies, sent by my daughter, Martha, far away in Illinois.

Saturday, November 15, 2008

La Boheme

One things leads to another. One thought leads to another.

Like Alice jumping down the rabbit hole, when I listen to classical music, I have trouble concentrating on the themes and structure. My thoughts wander off into memories and end up with ideas which may be remote from whatever the composer intended.

This year the Garland Symphony Orchestra builds its series of concerts around the theme, "I love Paris." At the first concert, when the orchestra played "An American in Paris." all I could think about was my first trip there, accompanied by my 13-year-old son, David. Not the romantic way I had fantasized about going there -- but a good trip, anyway.

"Every woman loves Paris," said the music director, Robert Carter Austin, before, at the most recent program, he conducted the orchestra as two singers -- a soprano and a tenor -- as they sang parts from operas. "Manon," "La Traviata," and "La Boheme" are all set in Paris -- a Paris of the past, maybe mostly fantasy.

The last two were written by Italians (Verdi and Puccini) and were sung in ITALIAN. Another example of how nothing is simple. All things are complicated -- and surprising.

Which brngs me to my thoughts on La Boheme. My favorite opera -- memories of hearing that beautiful music "under the stars" at Santa Fe -- and still another example about how "art" can shape how we look at things.

The story is about an impoverished poet who falls in love with a little seamstress living in a Paris garret. This was the "Bohemian" life that gives us what is now an English adjective, bohemian, which has come to represent any young person, poet, or painter "starving" for his art.

The original Bohemians in Paris were refugees who in the 19th Century fled from the oppressive rule of the Hapsburgs in their native Bohemia. Today we know Bohemia as the Czech Republic, a democracy, with its capital, Prague, the beautiful city I've visited last year.

I met real Bohemians more than 50 years ago when I lived in Chicago with my first husband. Cicero, Illinois, was a settlement of immigrants from Bohemia. Instead of "starving artists," they had a reputation of being the most conservative and thriftiest of people.

"The Bohemian Easy-Payment Plan" was simple: pay cash for everything. When a Bohemian bought a new car, he showed up at the dealership with a shoe box containing cash to make that "one easy payment." Buying a house? The same thing: withdraw enough cash from Tallman Savings & Loan and buy a neat little brick bungalow in Cicero.

Maybe the young people who bought those big houses with no money down and a mortgage which goes on forever . . . maybe they should have known about Bohemians. . . . not the poets and dreamers who lived in Paris attics, but those thrifty Cicero Bohemians in their little brick houses, with NO mortgages.

Thursday, November 6, 2008

Book Club Notes

Like a lot of women, I belong to a book club. All of us read the same book and meet to discuss it once a month. My group meets at the library on the fourth Thursday of every month.

This is typical. My sister-in-law Mary is in another group that meets in homes in her neighborhood. Before I moved to Texas, I was in a similar group in New Mexico. My friend in Connecticut is in a similar group. All of us also seem to be reading similar books.

Last month my group read "Water for Elephants" by Sara Gruen. When our group met, I was the only one of twelve who was not enthusiastic about this novel. I felt Ms. Gruen, who had never been to a circus, relied too much on her "research" and did not present a true picture of circus life. The others said that did not matter. "It is a good story, and that is all that is important."

O. K. a good story.

The argument can be made that millions of American women are deluded by romance novels, in which the heroine is always beautiful and where she is always rescued by a handsome hero. In real life there are few heroes to "save" women; most of us have to (1) settle for ordinary men, and (2) take care of ourselves.

An aside: I never was beautiful, and when I was 58 years old, I was rescued from extreme poverty by a wonderful man: short, bald, and 69 years old. For me it was a fairy tale come true -- when I was at an age when I least expected it. I know dozens of women who were not so lucky.

My idea of a good novel is one that tells truths that are more than just "facts." Universal truths.

Fiction can be dangerous is causes readers to believe in ideas or philosphies which are not true. An example: Ann Ryn's "Atlas Shrugged". An economic position that is deplored by anyone who understands economics. Her followers are typical of the C.E.O.'s and Wall Street brokers who lead our country into the present financial chaos.

Then there is John McCain. When asked to name is heroes, the top of his list was Robert Jordan, the FICTIONAL hero of Hemingway's "For Whom the Bell Tolls." A man who never existed! The election is over, and now I don't have to worry about a president who might lead us into war through a philosophy of "better to die than admit you might be wrong." That might have lead us into another Iraq War.

The lesson, my children: Read those good stories, but read CRITICALLY. Ask yourself, "Is what this writer is saying really true to REAL life?"

Saturday, October 25, 2008


Lots of talk lately about how to decrease our dependence on foreign oil. I filled the tank in my Elantra this week for the first time in over a month. It took six gallons to fill to the top. How do I do it? I don't go to work -- I am retired -- and most of the things I need, or want to go to, are less than a mile from my house.

My little house in Garland, Texas, is not my "dream" home. I would have loved a big, sprawling "Texas ranch" house with two-car garage and a den with a fireplace -- the kind we looked at in nearby Richardson in 1966. Instead, I am in a poorer neighborhood, no fireplace, and a one-car garage. It suites me just fine. I have good neighbors. I see young people riding their bicycles up and down the street in mixed groups of black, white, and brown.

I bought my little house in 2006 for several reasons. First, the price -- having sold my house in Albuquerque, I could pay cash for this one. No mortgage for me.

Also, the location. To the north, I'm seven minutes from my brother's house. If I drive southwest, in five minutes I am at Baylor Garland Medical Center, with its hospital and numerous office buildings. All my doctors are there. I can drive myself to the dialysis center without having to stop at a traffic light.

Bonuses: I am less than a mile from the Kroger supermarket, Garland's Central Post Office, the library, and the "arts center" where I go for plays and the Garland Symphony. In case of fire, it is less than a mile to the fire station!

Finally, just a mile from me is the Dart station, the end of the line for Dallas's commuter light rail line. Last week I parked my car at the station and took the train to downtown Dallas, where I crossed the platform to board the Trinity Railway Express. An hour later I got off the train in Fort Worth and found the bus waiting to take me to the Kimball Museum.

At the museum I met Jack and Margaret, who drove up from Houston to see the exhibit of Impressionist paintings on loan from the Chicago Art Institute. Incidentally, it was a joy to see again some of my favorites from the museum I visited often during the years I lived in Chicago. But I told my friends they would have to go to Chicago to appreciate the best collection of Impressionist paintings in the entire World.

Jack insisted they bring me home in their luxurious car. So, instead of letting me ride the train, he drove through rush hour traffic. Almost as bad as Los Angeles. It took two hours to drive the 50 miles to my house ON THE EXPRESSWAYS.

There were frequent slow-downs as cars and trucks piled up in front of us. As I watched the lines of cars going the opposite direction, I wondered, "Why do people who work in Dallas live in Fort Worth? And why do people who work in Fort Worth live in Dallas?"

Why do they insist on going to work in their cars?

In the 19th Century, before Henry Ford, everyone lived near their workplace. Shopkeepers lived above the store. When I lived in Pennsylvania in the early 1970's, my children's doctor had an office attached to his home. Now in the 21st Century, people seem to think nothing of driving 40 or 50 miles to work. Are they crazy? Is this any way to spend a life, sitting in traffic breathing someone else's exhaust fumes?

Soon a lot of fancy suburbs will be derelict with houses foreclosed on people who bought their "dream" homes only to find out they could not afford to live there. Maybe they will move closer to their workplaces. It makes no sense to spend hours a day driving in heavy traffic. And that will help us lesson our dependence on foreign oil.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Joy in the Shower

I met Betty more than 60 years ago, when we were both students at Texas State College for Women. Except for those four years in Denton, Texas, Betty has lived for all of her 80 years in Galveston.

She remembers her terror during Hurricane Carla (1950? or 1952?) when she listened to the howling wind and rain on the roof of her home near the seawall. She vowed never to go through another hurricane alone.

For the past year she lived in a retirement facility just five blocks from that old home on Seawall Blvd. Before Hurricane Ike, all the residents were evacuated to College Station, Texas. Betty packed a few things, expecting to be gone for three or four days. She was away for over a month.

In talking to me, Betty praised the kindness and generosity of the Methodist Church which provided shelter and three meals a day to all the old folks from her retirement community. Yet at times it was difficult, sharing a room with 11 other women and one bath for 30 people.

She came home this week. Riding in on the bus, she could not believe her eyes. The destruction was worse than anything pictured on television. All the shops were destroyed. She said, "I don't believe my town will ever be rebuilt."

Her building withheld the torrent. The apartments facing the Gulf had overlooked restaurants and shops along the seawall. Now there was nothing obstructing the view of the sea.

Her third floor apartment, on the other side of the building, was undamaged. Only her refrigerator, full of food which rotted for a month, had to be hauled away and dumped.

She told me she was delighted to be living in privacy with an ice chest, electricity, and hot water. "I have lights and television and, best of all, hot water."

She said it was the first time she had a real bath since before the hurricane.

"Now I know what a thrill it is to stand in the shower and shampoo my hair!"

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

Facing the Wall

"Things Happen."

"Best Laid Plans"

"Hitting a Brick Wall"

All of us find ourselves in situations which change our lives. This happened to me. At least four times I've come up against a totally new environment. After I've been knocked down, I've always come up better for the experience.

The first time my life turned completely was when I married my first husband and moved with him to Chicago. Growing up in Texas, I accepted that Texas was the best place in the World, only people who believed in Jesus would go to Heaven, and the Bible was the authority for everything. In Chicago my in-laws were uneducated, prejudiced, never went to church, were suspicious of anyone whose ancestors were not Scandinavian, and were as convinced as Texans that theirs was the only "right" way to think.

Fortunately, my years in Chicago also enabled me to meet people from many ethnic backgrounds, most of whom were kind, intelligent, broad-minded, and tolerant. The city was fascinating -- wonderful museums and concerts -- and I learned to accept differences and enjoy life in this multi-cultural mix.

In the next twenty years my husband was transferred from Chicago to Detroit to Dallas to Philadelphia and back to Chicago. Every move meant a new house, new doctors, new grocery stores, new schools for our three children. I learned to adjust and enjoy every place we lived.

After 27 years, my husband and I divorced. My life changed completely when he told me he was going to remarry. I offered to move far away and start a new life; he agreed to provide enough money for me to live decently. I went to New Mexico.

Wonderful New Mexico! New friends, great climate, diverse culture -- and mountains! Then my ex refused to sign the agreement. I was stranded, 55 years old, unable to work, with $500 a month and a $350 house payment.

I returned to Illinois to sue my ex for support. The next three years were the worst in my life. I commuted between Albuquerque and Chicago, as his lawyer found excuses to delay going to court. A few times I slept in a shelter for the homeless -- a valuable experience as I emphasized with others who were destitute.

In the midst of this trauma, I met John Durkalski. The lawsuit was settled on November 18, 1987, and John and I were married on December 26. I was 58, and John was 69. He left sons and grandchildren in Illinois and moved with me to Albuquerque.

This was the fourth big change in my life, beginning my four happiest years. John and I never quarreled. We traveled all over the U.S. and went twice to Europe. I had breast cancer. That "life threatening" disease did not change my life. John's cheerful support through months of sitting on the couch during chemo and radiation were almost as much fun as going up in the Eiffel Tower with him in Paris.

In October 1991 John's aorta burst. He survived surgery but died in January 1992. After the divorce I felt rejected, betrayed, and abandoned. After John died, I still felt surrounded and protected by his love.

John left me secure, both emotionally and financially. He continues to enable me to live comfortably. His insurance pays all my medical bills. The assets supplement Social Security. I made many trips to Europe and to China and Thailand. I have no debts. My car is paid for. When I moved back to Texas two years ago, I bought my house with cash.

Next March I will be 80 years old. I planned to celebrate with one grand trip: to India to see the Taj Mahal. Then came another life-changing blow. My kidneys are failing. The trip was cancelled. I start dialysis in November. I am stuck in Garland for the rest of my life.

So? I face a brick wall. No use banging my head against it. I'll turn around. I look at the old ladies I met at the senior center. Most of them have never been anywhere, read any books, or done anything exciting, while I've had a wonderful, interesting life!

For dialysis I will sit in a chair for five hours three times a week. I will have time to read all those books and magazines piled up on the shelf while I gadded about. Best of all, I can write essays, novels, letters, and e.mails, exchanging ideas with people all over the World.

To me facing a brick wall is an opportunity to turn around and view the World from another direction.

Sunday, September 7, 2008


by Ilene Pattie

The headline in the Dallas Morning News read:

"Newlyweds killed in crash with serial DWI suspect"

The 22-year-old drunk,who broadsided the car,had FOUR previous DWI convictions. He killed and incinerated a young school teacher and her husband of two months. Young people who had purposeful lives to look forward to. Ended.

Everyone in the Dallas-Fort Worth metro area was outraged. Mothers Against Drunk Drivers urges legislators to pass a law requiring devises that keep a drunk from starting a car. Who are they kidding? That is not the solution.

This accident would not have happened in Europe. My daughter was only 16 when she went to Norway as an exchange student. When she came home, she told me that whenever she went out with other Norwegians, they asked this inexperienced young girl to drive. She did not drink. In Norway if a driver is caught after having even one glass of beer, he/she goes to jail for a year!

That is only by hearsay -- what my daughter told me. The following is what I heard in Italy.

My host, after admiring my new BMW, told me, "Do not worry about speeding in Italy. But if you are in an accident and you have been drinking, you will never see America again."

I did not put his warning to a test. (I only tried the BMW at 100 mph once, on a superhighway with no other cars in sight.)

I do not drink alcohol. In Albuquerque, my friends, Charles and Florence, invited me to have supper with them every Sunday night. I was their "designated driver" who accompanied them to restaurants where Charles always had a martini before dinner. A good deal for me. On my limited budget I could not have afforded such fine dining.

Americans are so jingoistic they refuse to learn anything from Europeans. Remember how France and Germany tried to keep us from invading Iraq? George W. Bush pushed us into going alone. The result has been disaster.

I am old enough to remember when England adopted its National Health Plan. The American Medical Association (the doctors' union) put out a big advertising (propaganda) campaign that made everyone terrified of "socialized medicine." Today most Americans do not know that every country in Europe has better medical care at lower costs than we do -- and all of those countries have some form of "socialized medicine."

But, back to the drunks on the road, my suggestion is: first offense, 30 days in jail, license suspended for one year. and five years probation. Drunk pleads he needs car to go to work. Too bad. Use public transportation or get someone else to drive you.

Second offense: six months in jail and license revoked. No exceptions.

Third offense: two years in prison. Fourth offense: five years in prison. Fifth offense: life!

Vehicular homicide: Anyone causing death, whether by speeding, careless driving, or intoxicated, life in prison without parole.

Young people (under 25 years old) have brains that are not fully developed. They do not have good judgment. But if they take a life, they should face the consequences: life in prison.

Harsh? Yes. We should forgive lots of foolishness in the young. . . . but not murder!

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Unexpected Lily

That poor lily was photographed today in my front flower bed. It popped up suddenly behind the row of little Indian hawthorn bushes. For a week it stood there in solitary splendor.

I was busy. I didn't take time to take the picture. The poor plant was battered by rain for two days. This is the result.

The point is: I did not plant this beauty. It came up from its bulb as a total surprise.

When I bought the house, there was NO landscaping in the front yard. Grass grew right up to the foundation. I paid cash for the house. I have no mortgage. I spent all the money I had left hiring a smooth-talking Peruvian immigrant to dig out the grass near the house, build a low stone barrier, fill in the flower bed, and plant those hawthorns, bridal wreath, and at the corner of the house, a handsome dark red crepe myrtle.

Crepe myrtles are the "Texas lilacs". Right now these gorgeous plants, which grow as tall as trees, are in bloom all over Dallas and its suburbs. Lining the streets, they bloom all summer, feasts of color. They bright spots throughout Garland, a "working class" town where people cannot afford professional landscaping.

This year with the drought they are not as pretty as usual. The blossoms, which do resemble lilacs, are not as numerous and are smaller than we came to expect. That's true of my red crepe myrtle, too. I failed to drag out the hose to water my plants during dry, hot June. That's another case of: "I should have done and didn't."

Then comes this lily. Unexpected. Undeserved. Gorgeous.

I could not stop the rain; I did not want to. I planted the crepe myrtle so that everyone who came down my street would see that I was a caring homeowner. Cars and pickups speed past; the drivers do not turn their heads towards my front yard. Old people taking their daily walks, and young mothers with babies in strollers sometimes pause on the front sidewalk. Older children, black, white, and brown, running and riding their bikes, they may have noticed.

I did nothing to produce the lily, but everyone who came down Meadowcrest Drive was free to enjoy it. What a blessing!

This occurred to me: something like this happens among human beings. No one can predict where a genius will suddenly pop up. It happens in all countries, on all continents, among all races. Unlike the lily, which sprang up suddenly without any help on my part, a people must treasure and cultivate its people of exceptional talent, or they will die with their promise unfulfilled. Nothing stifles genius like war.

Michael Phelps was a child with Attention Deficit Disorder, a lonely child, teased by other children. He succeeded in the Olympics because he developed a body perfect for swimming -- his size 14 feet are like fins. But remember: he became a swimmer because as a child his mother recognized his problems and took him to the pool.

Tuesday, August 12, 2008


This morning I drove into Dallas for lunch, and -- as usual when I venture out of the house -- it turned into an adventure.

A group of old ladies who graduated from Texas Woman's College in 1950 meet for lunch every two months at various Dallas restaurants. This month the luncheon was at Nieman-Marcus in the North Park shopping center.

My first problem was finding the place. When my family moved from Dallas to Philadelphia forty years ago, North Park Center was brand new and on the northern edge of the city. My sister-in-law Mary told me to exit from the expressway at North Park Drive: "It's right there at the exit." I drove south 60 miles an hour on the expressway, mentally noting as I passed exit after exit that the city had grown so big that I no longer recognized any landmarks.

I felt confident when I saw the North Park exit. I drove up the ramp and turned left onto a busy, six-lane street. I had turned the wrong way. I made a big circle around North Dallas, passing along an avenue lined with spectacular mega-mansions. Except for wasting $4 a gallon gas, my big detour confirmed my belief that the reason George Bush has such loyal supporters in Dallas is that it is full of millionaires who think the way he does.

Finally I circled back and drove into the shopping center. In front of me on the building at the end of the parking lot were big letters on the brick wall: Neiman-Marcus. Serendipity! A parking space was waiting for me right in front of the door. That's the story of my life: I take wrong turns and waste a lot of time wandering around, but I always end grateful for the experience.

Inside the store, I passed through the department where handbags were on sale, piles of them spread out on a table similar to a display you'd see in a thrift store. I picked up a big gold bag and looked at the price tag. Sale price: $402. Original price: $895. Please! No woman needs a purse which costs $895 or even $402. In my plebeian mind, any woman who carries such a purse should be convicted of extravagant consumption and required to do penance by living a year in a trailer park.

Upstairs our group gathered in an elegant private dining room. I had not seen these former classmates in almost 60 years. People's appearance changes in such a long time. I did not recognize any of the faces beneath those gray heads, and, worse of all, I did not even remember their names. We had a good time talking about the lives we lead today.

The lunch was delicious. Our attentive waiter's accent was strange. As he went out the door, he said, "Bradbutr" meaning "I'm bringing bread and butter." It did not matter. Our leader had chosen the menu, which included gourmet chicken salad with almonds, a mandarin orange "souffle" (little oranges in jello), and a large serving of cantaloupe, honeydew, and berries with poppy seed dressing. Dessert was another "souffle" : like very light angel food with caramel sauce.

When a gal is 80 years old and been a lot of places and eaten a million meals, it is always fun to have a new experience. I never ate lunch at Neiman's in all the years I visited in Dallas while growing up in Fort Worth, nor many years later when we lived for four years in the Dallas suburb of Irving. I did not even shop at the Neiman's in Oak Brook when we lived in the Chicago suburbs. But I had always heard about the innovative menus in the Neiman's tearoom.

Then came the bill. We had to pay for five people who made reservations but did not show up. The waiter added a 20% gratuity. And Texas sales tax. It cost each of us $33 for lunch. And Neiman-Marcus does not accept Mastercard nor Visa. Just their own credit card.

I can't remember another time when I paid $33 for lunch. Not even in France. Was it worth it? For the Neiman-Marcus experience? Yes. Once.

Thursday, August 7, 2008


by Ilene Pattie

The bus thumped over a speed bump. Going home from the senior center, the old ladies held tightly to plastic bags full of goodies won playing bingo. The bag on my lap held an almond coffee cake, chocolate cookies, and a loaf of "country French bread."

I turned my head. Behind me an old black lady, thin, with skin dry and wrinkled, looked out the bus window as we passed the First Baptist Church. Her hands, folded placidly, held nothing.

"Didn't you play bingo?"

"I don't play bingo," she said firmly, not looking at me.

I turned to face the front of the bus. The driver, Danny, sang "Oh Danny Boy" in a dreadful, off-key whine. That's his idea of entertaining us as he drives the meandering route, taking each old lady to her own doorstep. We ride his bus every day and laugh indulgently at his antics.

Bingo is a silly game, but I play twice a week. Tom Thumb Supermarket sends all its out-of-date bread and pastries to the senior center. Bread is on a table in the front hall for anyone to pick up and take home, but the "sweets" are reserved for bingo prizes.

As bingo numbers are called, old people creep to the front of the social hall and choose goodies
from tables piled high with cakes, pies, and other pastries. Everyone wins at least two prizes. I like that.

I don't have much luck. In two years once I won a $16.00 chocolate cake, which I put in the freezer, and which my son David devoured when he came from California to visit. Several times I won a cherry pie, which I took to my brother Don. Usually I am thrilled to take home a box of apple-pecan muffins. That's breakfast for four days.

I wondered why the old lady sitting behind me on the bus denied herself the simple pleasure of playing bingo and taking home a pineapple jellyroll or an angel food cake. I turned and asked, "Why don't you play bingo?"

"I obey the Lord."

"There's nothing in the Bible about bingo."

"I follow the Lord's rules," she said. "I don't play bingo. And I don't eat pork."

It was useless to explain to her that the ancient Hebrews were wise to avoid eating pork because in those days pigs carried a disease which could be fatal to men. American swine do not carry this disease.

"I follow the Lord's rules," the black woman repeated, then added happily, "I am going to Heaven."

The implication was that the rest of us, with pies and coffee cakes on our laps, were going to Hell.

That old woman was poor, black, uneducated, and probably had a hard life. It comforts her to look forward to Heaven, where she will enjoy all the things denied her in this life. She also enjoys thinking the rest of us fools are surely going to Hell. Everyone needs to feel superior to others in some way.

Why do I tell her story? She is harmless. But she is also an ignorant bigot, and ignorance and bigotry can lead to tragic results. That's why this article is titled, "Knoxville."

That man in Tennessee. His neighbors thought it was all harmless talk, his harangues about "liberals." Then he carried his rifle into a church and started shooting.

Many people hide bigotry by saying we should base our actions on "fundamental" beliefs. We call them "fundamentalists." Muslim fundamentalists. Christian fundamentalists.

In support of their beliefs, people argue, "The Bible says . . . ." The Bible says lots of things; a person can find somewhere in the Bible a verse to "prove" any cockeyed idea. Before the Civil War, fine, upstanding Southerners quoted the Book of Philemon to "prove" that the Bible approves of slavery. Does anyone today believe that slavery is justified anywhere at any time? Think about that when you hear someone railing against "pot heads", "peacenics". "tree-huggers", "feminists", and homosexuals.

Misguided beliefs lead to hatred of anyone who does not conform to a particular, narrow view. In Tennessee that man walked into a church where he never had been before. He heard Unitarians were "liberals", so he felt justified in killing them. Uniterians! Their "sin" was being broad-minded, accepting people with many different points of view. Yes, they admit Jews, Muslims, and all religious people into their fellowship.

Fundamentalists are evil. The young men who attacked the World Trade Center and who blow up other Muslims in Baghdad markets have the same goal as the old black lady who won't play bingo. They think they are going to Heaven. The only difference is that the fundamentalist terrorists have the ability to carry out their beliefs in a violent and destructive manner which shocks us all.

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Stumbling Blocks

I took my red-headed friend, Lois, to Spaghetti Warehouse to celebrate her 74th birthday.

"This is my lucky day!" I said, driving between lines of parked cars to find a space right in front of the entrance door.

Lois, who has difficulty walking, climbed out of my Hyundai and cautiously moved between my car and the next. She stopped and pointed down to the concrete slab, meant to stop tires, which extended between the two cars. Seeing the hazard, she managed to step over, using her cane. She said, "That is a real stumbling block."

"Yes," I said, "Several times I've tripped over one of those and taken skin off my knees, elbows, and my big nose."

It is important to look where I am going. But sometimes no one sees the hazard in front, particularly if it is not something solid, like a big piece of concrete. As Lois and I sat over our lasagna, I did not foresee the stumbling block which would change my life within the next week.

I am content with my life. Usually. I was annoyed with my brother, George, who spent two weeks at my house constantly moaning about his fate. He was miserable. He could not do the things he wanted to do (i.e., go to topless bars, etc.). Like Cher in "Moonstruck", I wanted to slap his face and say, "Snap out of it!"

I did not do or say that. I called my other brother, Don, who took George back to Fort Worth to be miserable in his own house.

Determined to live my own life to the fullest, I picked up the phone and finalized reservations for TWO trips. In October I go to New York City to visit my friend, Gertrude. Then in December I am spending all the money I've saved for the past two years and I will go to India to see the Taj Mahal!

I have various physical problems, but, luckier than most old ladies, none of my ailments cause pain. I lead an extremely active life. I've traveled all over the World -- although this will be my first trip to India.

I never anticipated a stumbling block when I saw my kidney doctor for a regularly scheduled appointment. I sat in the little exam room and waited for my little Indian doctor to sit down in the chair facing me and say, as she has done every time I've seen her, "Your kidneys are struggling just as they have for the past ten years."

Instead, the specialist looked at the lab reports and said, "In the past three months your kidney function has dropped from 20 percent to 9 percent."

"Nine percent?"

I sat back in disbelief.

The doctor patted me gently on the shoulder and said, "You know what this means."

"Dialysis," I said.

That was my stumbling block. I blurted out, "I'm going to India in December."

The doctor's eyes lit up. "Take me with you!"

We talked about my situation. I have an appointment next week for an ultrasound with a vascular surgeon who is to put a "port" in my left arm. It will take two months for that to heal. Baring complications, I can take my trips. Dialysis will begin in January.

Surprisingly, for a person who admits to being bipolar, I do not feel depressed. Seeing the Taj Mahal will be a grand finale after years of going any place in the World I wanted to go and doing whatever I wanted to do.

Then I will spend the rest of my life confined to Garland, Texas, going several times a week to sit in a chair for four or five hours while dialysis cleans my blood of the poisons caused by my failing kidneys.

The doctor says I can spend the time reading and watching television. I plan to take a laptop computer and write blogs. Also, I can work on revisions of those novels that publishers have rejected for all these years. What if they never get published? Posterity will be the loser.

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

The Dog Ate My Homework

“The dog ate my homework.” What kid hasn’t tried that on a new or inexperienced teacher? It’s easier than saying, “I watched tv instead of doing my homework.”

I don’t have a dog. I have a cat. Charlie does not eat paper; he tears up newspapers. At the end of the week I put the old tv program down on the tile floor, and he attacks it, shredding it with his sharp little claws. Just newspapers. He does not eat computer paper. On the other hand, I have not offered him anything to eat. For months I have not printed anything off the computer for him to read and disdain.

When people are ashamed, they make excuses. You have done it. I’ve done it. It is hard to admit when we have done or said something we regret.
In March I set up a blog, planning to write about many, many things, dozens of ideas in my head. But now it is the middle of July, and I have not posted a second article.
I have lots of excuses.
  • Excuse No. 1: My kidneys. They are only working 20%. That makes me anemic, and that makes me tired. Too listless to do anything but watch tv. Okay, but every month I get expensive shots to boost my hemoglobin. (I’ll write a blog about that one day.)

  • Excuse No. 2: I’m bipolar. Maybe I’m in a Depression. But I take medication to control that. (Subject for another blog.) Still, some things happened to upset me . . . maybe that’s why I’m so “down.” Except when I stir myself to get out of the house; then I feel fine.

  • Excuse No. 3: I’ve had houseguests: Dan and Jean from Independence, MO. and, a week later, Margaret and Jack from Houston . To prepare for their visits, I moved into the small bedroom, with its twin bed, so the couples could have the double bed in my room. I took down my clothes from one closet to another, emptied dresser drawers, and put my tooth brush and pills in the other bathroom. Of course, I washed sheets and struggled putting the fitted sheets on both beds – a strain on my bad arm, (Subject for another blog: “How Much Stuff Does a Person Need?”). I enjoyed my visitors – they entertained me – I forgot to feel tired. (Another blog idea: Friends)

  • Excuse No. 4: My brother George came and stayed for two weeks. He was sick and needed someone to take care of him. He was NOT a good guest. He worried about the results of a biopsy, complained of constipation, and cried, “Why me?” He would not exercise. He lay in bed all day, asking me to bring him glasses of water. He argued with me about everything. He always was cantankerous, but it was frustrating to try to help him, as he refused to cooperate.
At Baylor Medical Center in downtown Dallas, the specialist told George, “It’s a miracle! The last biopsy shows your leukemia is in total remission! Go back to Fort Worth and see your doctor there.”

I thought George would jump for joy. Instead, he collapsed, said he was two weak to go home. He refused to get out of bed, refused to eat. He said, “Since I am cured, I can do what I want to do, just as I’ve been doing all my life.” (i.e. sleep until noon, eat nothing but cheeseburgers, and go to topless bars.) Finally, after another week at my house, he went home and hired a woman to come in four hours a day to baby him. Now he is doing fine.

Two subjects for blogs: “How to deal with difficult relatives” and “Taking Care of Caregivers.”
No more excuses. I didn’t write blogs because I spent too much time watching “Dr. Phil” and “Cops.” I’ll try to pull myself together and write those blogs and some others: “Why children don’t understand their mothers.” “Misunderstandings at home and abroad.” “Why I’m glad I’m not Amish.” . . . . and several other topics.

Don’t check this blog every day. What I want to do right now is get in my car, go out, and have FUN!

Saturday, April 26, 2008

Mother's Day

Mother’s Day
by Ilene Pattie

At 8:20 next Sunday my brother Don will pull his old Ford station wagon into my driveway to take me to DFW airport to catch a 10:30 plane. My big white cat, Charlie, will be sitting in the front window looking at me accusingly, as if to say, “She’s abandoning me again.”

I am flying to Philadelphia to meet my daughter, Martha, coming from Chicago to spend a week with me at an Elderhostel seeing Pennsylvania gardens. We’ll go to Longwood and Winterthur and spend a day with the Amish. What a wonderful way to celebrate Mother’s Day!

I don’t feel a bit guilty about leaving Charlie alone to wander forlornly about the house shedding white hair on my blue couch and throwing up hair balls on the carpet. My wonderful neighbor, Pat Price, will come in once a day to see he has dry food in his bowl. I love Charlie. I put up with his hair on all my clothes when he climbs up on my lap when I watch tv. Especially I feel a surge of joy when I come from the senior center, and he is waiting right inside the door, where I almost trip over him as I step inside the house. But he is just a cat.

I never thought I could feel so nutty about an animal. My friends Charles and Florence. had vicious schnauzer, who bit everyone who came in the house. When the dog died, Charles, overcome with grief, saw a psychiatrist who prescribed antidepressants. They adopted a little white poodle. Then they would not come to the senior center for lunch because Pierre barked constantly while they were away.

For Charles and Florence, their dogs were their children. They had no one else on which to lavish their fortune and their love. As Charles approached his 90th birthday without a will, I urged him to see a lawyer. He saw an attorney and “took care of the most important thing,” arranging an enormous sum for an organization which promised to care for the dog after he and Florence died. He made no provision for his wife, who had Alzheimer’s. He finally made a will two weeks before he died. Florence now lives in a luxurious facility with Pierre at her side. The carpet had to be replaced with linoleum, as the dog puddles constantly.

I am grateful that I have children instead of a dog. Martha will take time off from her job (she’s a CPA), leaving behind a husband and three sons, to fly a thousand miles to spend a week with her mother. That’s the best Mother’s Day gift ever!