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.