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.