Thursday, December 31, 2009

Taking Stock

This post is about two men named John and the Stock Market.

At breakfast John G. commented that the DOW went down yesterday by $1.39. We all laughed, Lately the market has gone up over 100 points every day.

Then we had some serious talk about the market. After the sharp drop last March, the price of stocks has gone up and up. It’s crazy. I said, “Like a game of musical chairs, brokers keep moving from one stock to another expecting the price to go up on each place they land.”

John G. said, “I remember when you used to invest in a stock, keep it, and reinvest the dividends. I knew a man who did that year after year. When he retired, he started collecting the dividends. He had more money than when he was working.”

Today no one invests in stocks. They trade. Buying and selling, buying and selling. Brokers make millions.

I remember another trader. I met John D. 24 years ago. I went with him to the dealer to get his new Oldsmobile, bought with profits from stock trades. He told me he watched just one stock, which fluctuated in price between $26 and $32.

John and I had been dating a few months when he told me, “I bought a block of stock at $26. When it reaches $32, I’ll sell and take you on a Caribbean cruise.”

Week by week John gave me reports. “It’s now selling at $28.” “It’s gone up to 30 1/4” “Now 31 1/2" It won’t be long now.”

Then it started to go down. “It’s at 29. Don’t worry, it will go up again.”

Down it went: to $25, to $21, to $19, all the way down to $16.

John and I were married for two years before in October 1989 the stock finally reached $31. He did not risk any further. He sold. In November we booked a Caribbean cruise to leave Miami on New Year’s Eve.

Two weeks later I was diagnosed with breast cancer. The doctor said, “You must have a mastectomy. As soon as possible.”

“Not before I have my cruise!” I told him.

John and I celebrated New Year’s 1990 dancing on a ship bound for Puerto Rico, St. Thomas, St. Martin’s, Barbados, and Martinique. It was a great beginning for the year, followed by a radical mastectomy, six months of chemo, and six weeks of daily radiation.

Now I have no one to dance with on New Year's Eve. I go to dialysis three times a week; I won’t be going on any more cruises. Hey! Next month will be 20 years since my mastectomy. I am still here. . . . . and because I am no longer traveling, I have money to invest in the stock market.

Life is a seesaw. The stock market is still going up. I won’t be surprised when it goes down.

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Sour Deal

My letter to Irene Rosenfield, CEO of Kraft Foods:

Dear Ms. Rosenfield:

Your crafty deal to acquire Cadbury chocolates sounds like a sour deal for little stockholders like me.

To acquire all the outstanding shares of Cadbury you propose to issue 370 million shares of Kraft common stock and plus pay Cadbury 4.3 billion British pounds (about 10.5 billion dollars?).

How many candy bars will you have to sell to make a profit on this deal?

With the number of increased shares, the value of common shares in Kraft will go down. You and your board will give yourselves thousands of shares of stock to make up for the loss. Besides, these days the price of stock seems to have no relation to true value.

You will have to cut dividends. Who cares? With your enormous salary, you don’t have to count on dividends to supplement your income.

I only own 300 shares of Kraft, which I bought with money from the sale of my house. I don’t have your enormous salary. I depend on dividends from the stock I own to pay my rent.

You are a typical C.E.O. Your wheeling and dealing makes you richer and richer. Everything you do is legal. The ethical situation is different. You and all the other multi-millionaire CEOs are embezzlers. I wish you could be prosecuted for defrauding your stockholders. Your punishment should be to forfeit your ill-gotten wealth and go to live in a trailer park with no income but Social Security – like so many honest, hard-working men and women.

Sunday, December 27, 2009

The Middle-Aged Bride

The English call it “boxing day.” In Catholic countries it is St. Stephen’s Day. For me it is the anniversary of the day I was married to John Durkalski in 1987.

I met John in the fall of 1986. I was 57 years old; John was 68, a little man wearing glasses, going bald, with a pot belly and bow legs. He was wonderful.

John was the kindest, most considerate, most loving man. My son David, who became his step-son, described him as “The finest man I ever knew.” John was a care-giver. His sister told me, “He carried Vera (his first wife, who died of cancer) on a pillow.” I said, “He married me because I was the woman he met who most needed taking care of.”

When I met John, I was staying with my daughter Martha and her husband Don. The newlyweds were not thrilled to have a mother-in-law as a semi-permanent house guest, and I was miserable having to live with them. I had no place else to go except the homeless shelter. I was suing my children’s father for support. I had no money.

John was thrifty. The son of an illiterate Polish immigrant, he grew up poor during the Great Depression. He turned out lights. He also was generous. We had been dating only a few months on Valentine’s Day when he gave me an enormous heart-shaped box of chocolates. Martha was impressed. “Don gave me a one-pound box, and it is not even heart-shaped.”

John was funny. He could see the ridiculous side of any situation and would make a witty remark to defuse any difficulty. He was in a slight accident with a car driven by an off-duty policeman, and he got the officer to pay for the damage to John’s car.

My lawsuit was settled on November 19. John and I married on December 26.

On Christmas Day my three children and Don came to dinner at John’s condo in Darien, Illinois. After they went home John put the “My Fair Lady” album on the stereo, and we danced all around the living and dining rooms to “I’m getting married in the morning.”

The next morning at 11 a.m. we did just that. Before an alter decorated with dozens of poinsettias in St. Andrew’s Church, Downers Grove, Illinois, we pledged our love in the presence of my three children, John’s four sons, in-laws, and his six small grandchildren. After the Episcopal wedding we had a private luncheon at a local restaurant. When John asked for the check, his son Paul said, “Dad, it has been taken care of.”

Afterwards John’s family went to the elegant Glenn Ellen home of John’s son Peter, where his wife Delores served champagne and a wedding cake topped with the same little bride and groom figurines which had been on the cake when she and Pete were married.

The next day was Sunday. After church Connie Butler arranged another wedding cake and punch for my friends at St. Andrews to congratulate us middle-aged newlyweds. Then in the afternoon more Downers Grove and Woodridge friends came to a party with more wedding cake and punch at Martha and Don’s house in Lisle. (We covered several Chicago suburbs in our three-day wedding partying.)

John and I could have danced all night. And we did. A week later on New Year’s Eve at the Woodridge Country Club.

John and I kept on dancing. Four years later we danced at the New Year’s Eve Party at the senior center in Albuquerque. John had survived as “a miracle man” in October with a 10-hour surgery after his aorta burst. He was on oxygen, he didn’t feel good, but when the band played “It had to be you,” to please me he got up, and we danced together. I had no idea that three weeks later he would die in the back yard of our Albuquerque home.

I don’t feel sad when I think of John. I remember that happy day, December 26, 1987, the New Year’s dance in 1991, and all the happy days with John.

Friday, December 25, 2009

Dreaming of a White Christmas

Life is full of surprises, even when a gal is 80 years old.

Six old people sat around the breakfast table, men and women ranging in age from 68 to 89, enjoying bacon and eggs in the comfort of our Texas retirement home while 50 cars smashed in the blizzard in Oklahoma, Daisy’s grandson on the way to Pennsylvania was stranded in Little Rock, and snow isolated my friend in New York. None of us could remember a white Christmas in Dallas.

Wednesday was a balmy 74 degrees. Temperatures fell on Thursday. It was cold and rainy by 11:30 when Jackie took me to Christmas Eve dialysis. Even during holidays, dialysis is required three days a week. When I stepped outside afterwords, I was hit in the face by icy wind. I was grateful when Jackie, not I, drove home on the wet streets.

The night became bitter cold, wet and windy. Family parties were canceled. Friends who were to pick up a handicapped oldster for church on Christmas Eve called to say they could not come. Those able to drive themselves decided not to venture out on slick streets.

On the way home from dialysis, Jackie stopped at Cici’s and picked up a three-foot-high stack of boxes containing pizzas. The residents at our retirement home gathered in the dining room for a pizza party. Some of us missed being with children and grandchildren, but we had the companionship of each other. That was enough to make a Merry Christmas.

I woke up Christmas morning listening to Bach on the radio and looked out my bedroom windows. Snow! Dusting the railings on my balcony and, down below, covering the roofs of the houses behind my building. When I put on my quilted winter jacket and stepped out of my apartment to go to breakfast, it was like a Christmas card with snow on the hedges and grass of the courtyard. Snow in Texas!

I am 80 years old, and for the first time ever we had a White Christmas in Texas! Somehow that sight brought smiles to every old face in the dining room as we called to each other (most of us are going deaf), "Merry Christmas."

The snow was not enough to make driving hazardous. Not nearly as dangerous as the rain and wind the day before. The sun came out, and the snow melted by noon. Still, we had a White Christmas – sort of.

Wonders never cease.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

'Twas the Night Before Christmas

I am frantic. A bipolar woman, manic and threatening to dump into depression. Too much to do, and too little time.

Christmas eve tomorrow, and a dozen cards still to be addressed. If I get letters written and tucked into their envelopes, I have no more stamps.

I love getting Christmas cards with letters inside. Especially since I can no longer travel, I look forward to hearing from friends, especially those who live far away and those I’ve known for many years. It is nice to know we are still alive.

The least I can do is respond.

Should I get in the car and drive to the neighborhood post office? The line of people waiting to mail packages overseas always snakes around the counter and keeps me waiting for 30 minutes.

I’ll wait, juggling my purse from shoulder to shoulder and thinking about all the things I should be doing. I posted only one blog since the first of the month. For a lady who is living in a retirement community and does not cook, wash dishes, or clean house, why am I so busy?

Who cares?

It is time to say, “STOP!”

I’ll sit in the recliner with Charlie on my lap and practice deep breathing. If I can’t find anything to watch on television, I’ll turn on the radio to WRR and listen to Christmas music.

I’ll rejoice as the choir proclaims, “Hark the herald angels sing.” I am on the side of the angel who sang, “Peace and good will towards mankind.” That angel was talking about all men (and women), including Baptists, Presbyterians, Lutherans, Catholics, Jews, and Muslims. Let’s add the Buddhists. They are good people, too.

I am not a church-goer any more. I don’t agree with people who say, “You are a sinner. Become a Christian or go to Hell!” I would rather be a follower of the Jesus who welcomed the thief and the woman caught in adultery and who told the parable of the Good Samaritan.

Tomorrow I will invite to join me anyone who, like me, does not have family here. We’ll make sandwiches and eat cookies (store-bought; I don’t bake). We’ll drink hot cider and toast each other with “Happy Holidays” or “Merry Christmas.” Whatever. Either way is fine with me.

In 2010 I’ll mail letters and cards to my friends and say, “I still love you, even if it is not Christmas.”

And to you, whoever you are, I wish you a happy holiday. Let's all pray that 2010 brings us closer to peace and good will towards all men.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

George Celebrates 90

On his 90th birthday George pulled himself up out of his chair and danced with his daughter. A two-year-old, wearing a long frilly dress and Mary Jane patent shoes, danced along with her grandmother and great-grandfather.

George’s daughter Kate invited all the residents at Montclair to join the family – three sons, two daughters, plus numerous grandchildren, in-laws, cousins – at a big, noisy celebration in the dining hall of our retirement community. Champagne, little sandwiches and cookies, colorful table decorations, lots of balloons, and happy people made for a great party.

A Frank Sinatra impersonator sang the songs that evoked memories in all of us. “Fly Me to the Moon”, “Strangers in the Night”, “Set ‘em Up, Joe”, “When I was 21, it was a very good year.” So many more. Sinatra was born the same day as George in 1919; he’s been gone for more than 20 years.

At a lull in the party, after the cake had been served and George blew out the two candles on “9" and “0", I went and sat beside him for a few minutes. I said, “I remember my 80th birthday. I felt surprised. Am I really 80?”

George smiled with a twinkle in his eyes. He said, “Yes! It all happened so fast. It seems like yesterday that I was 20.”

Yesterday, when he was a teenager during the Depression. Yesterday, when he was a young man serving in the Army in World War II.

Yesterday, when he was a producer in the early days of television in New York. Later he was an advertising man making television commercials and raising a family with his wife in Cleveland and Little Rock. Now his daughters have brought him to live among the old folks in Texas. He is an old man, hard-of-hearing and walking with a cane – but still dancing, even letting go of his partner to give her a whirl.

And I am an old lady who doesn’t have anyone to dance with. But I have memories! Bob, Jim, Aaron, all good dancers. Manny could do the Texas Two-Step to anything. John loved to dance and could keep time to the music as he moved his feet back and forth. Wally thought he could dance but was torture to try to follow – maybe that should have been a hint as to his character.

The years passed so fast. Now I wonder what life will be like for my grandson 60 years from now when he is 90. Will he look back on 2009 as a year of the New Depression, unemployment in Illinois and dissension in Washington? Or will he remember 2009 as a glorious time to be young and dancing?

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Remember Pearl Harbor

On Monday John pulled up a chair to join the four of us lingering over coffee after breakfast. “Do you know what day this is?”

December 7, Pearl Harbor Day, the anniversary of the Japanese attack which destroyed the U.S. fleet moored at the docks in the harbor at Honolulu, Hawaii. John and I were the only ones at the table who remembered where we were that day. Alma was only six years old and had vague memories of newspaper boys shouting “Extra! Extra!” The other two had not been born.

I have vivid memories of sitting in the back seat of the family car as we drove to the farm and listening to a man on the car radio talking about “Pearl Harbor,” a place I never heard of. The next day I sat at my desk in a science classroom at Daggett Junior High and listened to President Franklin Roosevelt’s velvet voice on the different radio, saying that the world would always remember that “day of infamy.”

Do most Americans know what “infamy” means?

Most people today know of World War II only from movies. Tom Hanks leading his little squad to save Private Ryan. The war in the Pacific? Hmm, maybe they heard something about it. The Japanese? They make Toyotas, those well-built little cars whose competition destroyed our auto industry. Well, it is Detroit’s fault for not doing a better job. That’s the free enterprise system. And Obama is a socialist for trying to save American industry. Right? Japan is our prime ally in the Far East.

Times change. People forget.

In New Mexico I knew several men who survived the Bataan Death March and imprisonment in Japan. The Japanese were brutal to American prisoners. Many died. Some were executed; others tortured and beaten to death. All were starved. The ones I knew were poor Hispanics and Indians who were accustomed to deprivation before the war.

Surprisingly, the former prisoners I knew harbored little resentment toward the Japanese. Their attitude seemed to be, “That was just the way the Japanese were in those days.”

The survivors were simply thankful that they were able to come home. Unlike some Vietnam veterans who were rewarded with seats in Congress, my New Mexico friends did not expect any special treatment because of their suffering. After their long ordeals, they came home to resume their former lives. Many had died; the survivors felt grateful for ordinary jobs, homes, and families.

They are my heroes.

Sunday, December 6, 2009

Piano Music in East Texas

My first job after I graduated from college was as society editor of the Kilgore News-Herald. I had my degree in journalism and thought I was a smart cookie, ready for the New York Times. Instead I was describing bridesmaid’s dresses and reporting on children’s birthday parties in this little East Texas town.

A local music teacher brought in “stories” about a little club she sponsored for her piano students. I dutifully printed the names of each child who attended the meetings.

One day, as she handed over the slip of paper with latest news of this little club, she said, “Kilgore is the most musical town in East Texas. You would never guess the musical authority who told me that Kilgore is definitely the most musical town in East Texas.”

“Please tell me.”
“He’s really an authority when it comes to all things musical.”

I thought, Perhaps the music critic of the Dallas Morning News.

After much persuasion, she told me the name of her distinguished “authority.” He was the organist at Kilgore’s First Presbyterian Church. “You know he lives in Longview.”

Longview is another East Texas town, about 12 miles from Kingore.

Another time she told me that her son was sure to become a world-famous pianist. I knew the kid, 14 years old and already over 6 feet tall, with a mop of blond curly hair which stood straight up from his freckled forehead.

I thought, Probably will become a piano teacher here in Kilgore, just like his mother.

I was polite. Smugly, I said, “Yes, Mrs. Cliburn, if you say so, I am sure he will be world-famous.”

Last week I went to DFW airport to pick up my son David, flying in from California for Thanksgiving. As I sped along LBJ freeway, blessed with little traffic on the holiday, my car radio serenaded me with Tchaikovsky, a recording by that world-famous pianist, Van Cliburn.

I reminded myself of that incident in Kingore. Not the first time, nor the last, when I was not as smart as I thought I was.

Friday, December 4, 2009

Memories of Chopin

Texas is experiencing unusually cold weather. Yesterday it snowed! I woke up this morning hearing the radio playing the lilting music of Chopin’s Grand Valse Brilliant, bringing back memories of other cold winter mornings, when I awoke each morning to the same piano melody, the theme music for Norman Ross’s early morning radio program in Chicago.

That was 58 years ago. Wally and I were newly married, living in our first “home.” a two-room apartment in the basement of a “three-flat” building. We furnished this dismal hole with a table, chairs, and a small chest scavenged from his parents, as was the old iron bed, which we painted bright red. We were young and in love, and I felt totally happy waking up under the warm covers in that old red bed listening to Chopin.

Music can evoke all sorts of emotions and memories. I always loved Chopin. One of the few records I bought as a teenagers – I did not have money to buy more than a few – was a two-record set of Jose Iturbe playing Chopin waltzes. Years later for a birthday Wally gave me a “long-playing” record of the same thing – there were lilacs on the album cover.

I used to play records while I dusted and waxed the furniture. Sometimes it was Beethoven or Brahms. David was three years old when I asked him what music he wanted to listen to. My toddler said, “Play the pretty music.” He meant Chopin.

David came from California to spend Thanksgiving with me. He is 44 years old. It is hard to evoke the time when he was a little boy, even harder to recapture the feelings I had as a young bride in that Chicago basement.

It was an exciting time. I had an interesting job at the Billboard, where I took dictation for letters to circus performers and called record companies about their new releases. (“How much is that doggie in the window?”) Wally was studying history at Roosevelt University. After work I met him and his colleagues for supper and good conversation before going to my own classes at the Art Institute of Chicago.

Weekends we went to the movies – there were four theaters within a few blocks of our apartment. Or we climbed the five stories to the “peanut gallery” where we paid $2 to hear a pops concert by the Chicago Symphony. Or we sat in a neighborhood bar listening to jazz combos. Or, once, Wally took me to a strip club, where I watched a young girl peel off layers of clothes to reveal an absolutely flat chest.

Yes, Chicago was exciting. And cold. I don’t miss living there. It is nice to think I had the happy experience of being young and in love. But now I am old and living in Texas, where it will soon be warm again.

I still enjoy listening to Chopin in the morning.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

The Cost of Health Care

Today I found a letter on my door saying rent on my apartment would increase 8% on January 1. This was a shock. When I signed the lease, I was told rent would go up no more than 5% a year.

I went to the office and confronted the director of our retirement community. She said she had no choice. Expenses have gone up dramatically. The excellent staff who cater to our every need have not had a raise in two years. With homeowners defaulting, the city is raising taxes on commercial property. “Utilities are sky high.”

But the biggest expense is providing health insurance for employees. Next year the premiums are going up by 22%.

Now there is a lot of talk in Washington about how much it would cost to provide “government run health care” for everyone. How about the cost of private health insurance? Our country provides the best health care in the World – for the rich. But middle-class Americans no longer can afford the skyrocketing cost of health insurance. They don’t take their kids to the doctor until they are critically ill.

If you want to know how a government-run health program might affect this country, look at Medicare. It is a government health program, and it works. Personally, I would rather give my money to the government in taxes to provide health care for all, rather than pay insurance companies whose overpaid executives fly around in private jets from their mansions in Connecticut to their $6,000.000 winter homes in Palm Beach.

The U.S. now spends 19% of our CNP on health care. European countries provide health care for all their citizens for 6% of their CNP. In many ways “socialized medicine” is better. Not only is everyone covered, but with good primary care, people do not put off going to the doctor until they are critically ill, which means less costly treatments in the long run.

Don’t believe those nasty tv commercials that ask you to write the senators to oppose government-run health care. They lie.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

An Influential Man

At the reunion celebrating the 100th anniversary of Daggett Elementary School, Barbara and I stood in a hall crowded with former students. Little Hispanic girls passing out programs dashed between the legs of tall adults.

Barbara and I kept looking at name tags, hoping to find one we recognized. No luck. Lots of gray hairs, but, shockingly, all topped heads at least ten years younger than ours.

My brother Don made his way through the crowd and exclaimed excitedly, “Dunaway is here!”

He called to his wife, “Mary, come take a picture of me with Dunaway.”

Bill Dunaway who was the school’s janitor for 38 years, from 1947 to 1985.

The Fort Worth Star-Telegram quoted another former student, Deborah Bolles Carl, remembering Dunaway as “He always had a twinkle in his eye and knew all the kids and knew all their names. He was a very important part of the school.”

Don recalled fondly how, as a little boy, Dunaway let him come into the school’s boiler room and showed him all the gauges and pipes. As a ten-year-old student of the janitor, my brother learned how to heat a large building.

Don became an engineer. He worked for various contractors from Dallas to San Diego to St. Louis to New York. He worked in the Manhattan headquarters of the World’s largest building contractor, where he was engineer in charge of all the mechanical work – heating, air-conditioning, plumbing, and electrical for schools, hospitals, and 30-story office buildings. His work took him all over the U.S. and to Berlin, Germany, and Sao Paulo, Brazil. A fine career inspired by the school janitor.

I moved to Texas three years ago to be near Don and Mary. They are the ones I call whenever this old lady needs help. They were vital in my move into my apartment, hauling furniture and boxes up to the third floor. Don used his precise engineer’s talents to measure carefully and hang all my pictures.

Don and Mary took me with them when they drove to Fort Worth to celebrate Daggett’s anniversary. When dignitaries were introduced, the audience clapped politely for the superintendent of schools and the Congressman. When Dunaway was introduced, everyone stood up and gave this former janitor a standing ovation.

Friday, November 20, 2009

What I Learned from Marx

As I prepare to give a program next week on my travels in England, I think about Karl Marx.

Some people believe Marx was Russian. The Soviets claimed to be Communists based on the theories of Karl Marx. But Marx the man was German. Exiled from Germany, he did all his research in England. And that is where he died.

When I went to England the first time, I visited friends who lived in the Highgate neighborhood of London. I heard that Marx was buried in Highgate Cemetery. My friends took me to the cemetery on a Sunday afternoon. The big iron gates were locked. So I must base my belief that Marx is buried there on what I have read. I did not actually see his grave.

But I’ve seen his library card.

On another trip to England one summer afternoon I spent several hours pouring over Marx documents and memorabilia in a special exhibit in the British Library and Museum. Photos of his wife and daughters pictured typical middle-class Victorian ladies. I peeked in the doors of the reading room, where Marx did his research, but like the cemetery, the doors were locked except for authorized persons. That I was not.

I read “Das Kapital.”

What impressed me most about this big book was the amount of statistics on workers in Great Britain, the awful conditions in mines and factories, the brutal work of farm laborers, and the meager wages paid to the man, women, and little children forced to endless back-breaking tasks in order to eat.

Marx thought that surely the workers would revolt against these horrible conditions. He was wrong. Gradually, mostly through the organization of labor unions, pay and working conditions improved in England and other “developed” countries. In the U.S., where 19th Century working conditions were almost as bad as in England, by the end of the 20th Century the “average man” could not only provide his family with “a chicken in every pot,” but cooked the chicken in a pot in the kitchen of his own home.

Now what? At the beginning of the 21st Century women join men in households where two incomes are necessary. Workers lose jobs and depend on government for money to buy food. Homes are lost to foreclosure. “They should not have been given mortgages in the first place.” Really?

No one suggests a Marxist revolution.

But there are other lessons to be learned from “Das Kapital.” Marx wrote that there were only two kinds of capital. One was natural resources (in the earth (coal, oil, gold) and grown on the earth (lumber, cotton, wheat). The other type of capital was labor, which produced things out of the other kind of capital. In “advanced” societies people with specialized kinds of “labor,” such as making music or teaching school, exchange their labor for the hard goods produced by others, i.e. food. Money is used to facilitate these exchanges. You don’t teach the baker’s kids to read in exchange for a loaf of bread.

Today we hear a lot about capital markets, as if our economy was based on money. Our industries move overseas, and companies improve their “financial position” by firing workers. What are we producing? Wall Street is just a lot of paper shuffling. The brokers get richer and richer.

No, we don’t want an armed revolution. What are we to do?

Wednesday, November 18, 2009


Last week E. M. Daggett Elementary School in Fort Worth, Texas, celebrated its 100th anniversary. My brother Don and his wife, Mary, took me to Fort Worth for the party. My friend Barbara, whom I have known from second grade through college, met us there.

I began kindergarten at Daggett in 1934. My three brothers also went to school there, as is did Mary and her sisters. We all had the same teachers, even though Mary’s sister Becky was 20 years younger than I am.

The kindergarten room was at the west end of the first floor of a two-story cream brick building with a tile roof, very handsome and modern in 1934. In kindergarten the boys built houses out of enormous, light-weight blocks – there was no foam rubber in those days, they must have been balsa wood. The girls played at cooking with pots and pans on a miniature stove. The boys also constructed “shopping” stalls where the girls pretended to buy things from the boys. Yes, there was gender discrimination in those days.

Don remembered the kindergarten room as having a small piano, which he took apart. On the second day of school, he was expelled from kindergarten. When he grew up, he became an engineer.

The kindergarten teacher was a big, fat, motherly woman, whose name I can’t remember. My first grade teacher was Miss Spencer, a prim old maid with rust-colored hair. I was afraid of her. At the end of the year, despite Miss Spencer’s efforts, I could not read.

An old lady, a friend of the family, moved in with us and spent the summer teaching me. I remember holding the soft, tan pages of stories about Little Henry and trying to solve the puzzle of the words on a page with pictures of Little Henry and some ducklings. How frustrated I felt when the letters made no sense to me.

By the end of summer I was reading well enough to enter second grade with the rest of my classmates. But, for the rest of my school years, I felt inadequate. Arithmetic remained a puzzle. I never learned my multiplication tables, and even today I cannot balance my check book without using the calculator. It was only at commencement from high school and college that I looked at the programs and saw how few others graduated with honors. I realized I was not so dumb, after all.

Junior high was in two square buildings, joined at ground level with offices, creating odd stairways where we seemed to be constantly going up and down between classes. I thought they were ancient and should be torn down. In a second-floor classroom, on the day after Pearl Harbor, the science teacher brought her radio from home, and I listened as President Roosevelt gave his “Day of Infamy” speech.

At the 100th anniversary party I felt as if I was suddenly on the set of “Back to the Future.” We walked into the kindergarten room, and it is still a kindergarten. Don stood among the tiny chairs and said, “This is where I took apart that little piano.” I peeked across the hall. The first grade classroom was exactly the same, “easy” words printed in big letters on charts, just as when I sat at those tiny desks 75 years ago!

The physical layout of the school changed in the 980's with the addition of gymnasium and new cafeteria, joining the buildings where I attended elementary and junior high. The buildings which I considered old and out-dated in the 1940's are still there. All are in excellent condition and students still study in those 100-year-old classrooms. I wonder if they have the same old blackboards, or have they been replaced by whiteboards?

Little Hispanic girls offered Barbara and me programs as we went into the familiar auditorium, which looked exactly as we remembered. Barbara said, “Do you think this oak floor is original? At least the auditorium is now air-conditioned.” Also, the upholstered chairs were more comfortable than the old wooden ones.

When Barbara and I were pupils in that school, all the other children were Anglos. As the chorus of current students lined up in front of us, most were Hispanic with a few blacks and only a couple of Anglos. The new children sang and danced enthusiastically, although their music was (to me) incomprehensible. The principal, a young, vibrant woman with long blonde hair, gave a short speech telling us about the excellent scores the Daggett kids made on the Texas standardized tests.

I hear a lot about how bad the public schools are today. My old school with 100-year-old buildings and “disadvantaged” students is doing okay.

Monday, November 16, 2009

Sesame Street

For children “Sesame Street” is a magical place where Big Bird and Oscar the Grouch live in row houses, the kind of brownstones you see in New York City. You get there by turning on the television.

I can tell you how to get to Sesame Street.

You go to Albuquerque, New Mexico. It is only fifteen minutes from the airport. Drive west on Bridge Boulevard, passing auto body shops and karate studios with signs in Spanish. The street goes steeply up hill onto the mesa. The street is still sloping upward at the traffic light at busy Coors Road. You’ll need to keep your foot on the brake. When the light turns green, go ahead to the second street and turn right. That’s Sesame Street.

The third house on the right is a little fake adobe house: 412 Sesame Street, where I lived for twenty years.

I bought it at one of the lowest points in my life. I was divorced, unable to live on $500 a month, and the man I loved for 30 years refused to speak to me or give me more money. My apartment rent was $350 a month. Then I found this little house. It was filthy – how surprised I was when I cleaned the black stove and discovered that under the grease the color was Sears’ harvest gold! But it had a fireplace, a dishwasher, and a view. And the payments were exactly $350 a month.

I had to go back to Chicago to sue the Cad. It was a miserable situation. I rented a moving van and drove it back to Albuquerque with what worldly goods I had left after the divorce.

I loved that little house, surrounded by my favorite things. Blue couch bought after we built the house in Arlington, Heights, Illinois, in 1960. Hanging above the couch the brown landscape print I bought with my grocery money when we lived in Dallas in 1968. Bookcases I purchased at Union Station in Chicago in 1976 to hold all my favorite books.

After John and I married, he had the couch reupholstered in a similar blue fabric. Since I had not been able to salvage tables after the divorce, John hired a crazy Hispanic to make a coffee table and end tables in the “Santa Fe style” appropriate for a fake adobe house in New Mexico. Later I added a Gayle Waddell watercolor of a cat on an Oriental rug for my bedroom and in the living room Acoma and Zia pots above the books in the fake walnut bookcases. I loved the way the house looked.

But the best part was outside, the view from the patio. High on the mesa, over my back wall, across a big open field, beyond the traffic on Coors Road, looking down on the city of Albuquerque, as a backdrop I could see two ranges of mountains. At sunset Sandia Mountain turned red. The color only lasted a few minutes, but it was magical. Darkness fell, and the mountains disappeared into the black sky. Then the city lights came on, a carpet of twinkling lights spread out for my enjoyment.

People said to me, “What if they build something behind you?”

I said, “That’s the advantage of living on the wrong side of town. No one wants to build in this low-income Spanish neighborhood.”

But after eighteen years, someone did. A row of nice new houses, with a pair of two-story houses right behind me. Between them I had just a narrow band of glimmering lights at night.

I was still happy living on Sesame Street. Then the kidney doctor said, “It is time to go on dialysis.” I moved to Texas to be near my brother and his wife.

My apartment in the retirement community is comfortable. I still have the blue couch and the “Santa Fe style” tables. The shelves in my living room hold the Acoma and Zia pots and my favorite books. The watercolor of the cat is now in the living room, and the Dean Meeker print is above my bed, its brown tones harmonizing with my new brown and blue bedspread. From my third floor balcony I look down on the backyards of houses with a swimming pool and barbecue grill. Long ago I learned to change with the times, to keep what I can but go ahead. I am content.

But I miss Sesame Street.

Saturday, November 14, 2009

The Wall

Anniversaries cause me to wonder, “How did we get here?” This week brought triple anniversaries. I relate personally to two – the 40th anniversary of Sesame Street and the 100th anniversary of E. M. Daggett Elementary School in Fort Worth, Texas. The third was the international observance of the fall of the Berlin Wall.

The Berlin Wall came down 20 years ago. I woke up one morning to see television pictures of people hammering on the concrete barrier and rushing through holes where for 28 years anyone who tried to climb the wall was shot. No one expected it to happen so suddenly and so peacefully.

I was in Berlin only once and only briefly. This was in 1994. Our tour group rode around on a bus for a couple of hours and stopped at the Brandenburg gate, in front of which President Ronald Reagan made his famous speech: “Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall!”

I stood in the plaza watching the traffic, cars, trucks, and buses racing in front of arches topped with horses representing Imperial Germany. I bought a postcard at a souvenir stand offering mugs, tee shirts, and all the usual tourist junk. Behind the piles of stuff, the salesperson was a young brown-skinned woman wearing a head scarf. To me that Muslim represented the many changes, not only in Germany, but throughout the World since the wall came down.

I lived through the Cold War, when we were told an attack from the Communists might come at any moment. President Reagan initiated the “Star Wars” program, spending billions of our tax dollars on missiles designed to shoot down Russian missiles before they could destroy U.S. cities. The national debt soared, but those expensive anti-missile missiles did not. When test fired, none ever hit its target.

The Soviet Union never intended to attack us. They feared we would attack them. The Soviets drained their nation in building defensive weapons, spending so much money on armaments that the civilian economy went bankrupt. That’s when the Soviet Union collapsed.

Some people thought it was all due to President Reagan’s diplomacy!

The Wall came down, but Germany is still struggling with the problems of reunification. In Eastern Europe I saw people suffering from the hardships of factories closed and jobs lost when the Russians stopped buying their products.

Part of our present economic situation can be traced back to waste in our defense against Communism. War in Vietnam cost not only our material wealth, but, tragically, over 58,000 young men dead. Project “Iraqi Freedom” was based on the false assumption that we could impose democracy on a people who had been ruled by foreigners for 2,000 years and had no experience with self-government. Now our boys are dying in Afghanistan, another country where the people don’t want us. We spend billions every day – and Congress quibbles about the cost of providing health care!

Many people in the World would like to build a wall and keep us out.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

It Is in the Genes

Look at that word “genealogy.” The basis is “gene”. Just a couple of years ago scientists “mapped” the entire gene system in our DNA. The increase in understanding our bodies is amazing. Recent discoveries proved that Darwin was right. Anyone who thinks otherwise is deluded.

Darwin did not sit under a tree and dream up a “theory.” I read “The Origin of Species.” The technical detail is massive. All the factual detail is a bore. Darwin looked at animals and birds. He saw and compared. Scientists are still impressed by what he understood just by observing.

We now know that 90% of the DNA in all mammals is the same. You are 90% the same as a mouse or an elephant. Our closest relatives are the chimpanzees, with which we share 95% of our DNA. Only .0001% makes you unique among human beings.

Before we knew about DNA, before Darwin, there was Mendel. (I hope I have the name right. It has been more than 60 years since I graduated from college.) Anyway, there was this monk who proved that if a brown rabbit mated a white rabbit, the four babies would all be brown, but in the next generation one in four would be pure white.

I think I remember the ratio correctly. The point is: this monk discovered that there are “dominant” and “recessive” characteristics. All the males in my family have a little brown spot on the base of their necks, like a small birthmark. That’s a dominant characteristic.

Daddy’s hair (before it turned white) was dark, dark brown; Mother was “strawberry blond.” My brother George's hair was red; his son's is brown. My brother Don’s hair, now gray, was light, light brown; his two sons’ hair is fiery red.

One trait may be dominant for generation after generation until: Surprise! Two brown-haired, brown-eyed people have a blond, blue-eyed daughter.

In my family we have a recessive name.

My great-grandfather was Preston.
My grandfather was Joe.
My father was Byron.
My youngest brother was George.
George’s son is Terrance.

Actually, all of them were Preston: Great-grandfather was Preston R. Pattie; the rest were Joseph Preston, Byron Preston, George Preston, Terrance Preston.

The only Pattie I know of with Preston as a first name is the grandson of my grandfather Joe’s brother, Hugh Pattie, who was in turn the grandson of the first Preston Pattie.

Is this name following a Mendelian ratio? Or am I falsely comparing genealogy with gynecology? This is like comparing the facts of biology with the caprices of naming children. Like saying a person who supports national health care is a Russian Communist!

Tuesday, November 10, 2009


Genealogy – looking for ancestors – is a popular pastime. With some it is a passion. I wonder what these people are looking for. Do they hope to find royalty? My husband’s professor at Northwestern University confessed that one of his forebears was the first man hung by the Pilgrims in Plymouth Colony in 1621.

My mother went to North Carolina and Pennsylvania searching court house records. In Bucks County, Pennsylvania, she found a yellowed parchment by which one of her ancestors contracted to be an indentured servant, making him a virtual slave – a real slave, not a video character – for seven years.

History comes alive when I know one of my ancestors was there. I was thriledl in finding my great-great-grandfather’s name in the 1776 diary. John Pattie was a little boy enrolled in a school on a Virginia plantation. As an old lady his sister filed an avadavat that her father and brother William were soldiers in the Revolution. Perhaps my ancestor was there to see Cornwallis surrender to George Washington at Yorktown.

On the other hand my Mother never admitted that her great-grandfather, George Worstell, was with Sherman’s troops on the March Through Georgia to the Sea, burning plantations along the way. As a Southerner that fact was too shameful to believe.

“Pattie” is an uncommon name. Uncle Hugh, who composed a family history, was convinced that the name came from French Huguenots. There is absolutely no documentation to support this idea. Uncle Hugh was a romantic.

My brother Don found Patties in the London telephone book. When John and I exchanged our little house in Albuquerque, New Mexico, for six weeks in a lovely two-story home in Suffolk, England, I looked in the Ipswich phone book and found the name which, to my old eyes, looked like “Pattie.” I called; an old man said his name was “Pattle.”

When I expressed my disappointment to my neighbor, she said, “Pattie is a North Country name.” She brought me a list of nine Paties from the Northumberland telephone directory. Sadly, John and I became busy with sightseeing all around the beautiful Suffolk countryside, going to great houses and little villages with magnificent churches. I never contacted a single Pattie in England.

On another visit abroad, I had dinner in Portugal with a young man from Chicago named Sebastian Patti. He said the origin of his name was Sicilian and that there is a town in Sicily called “Patti”. My theory is that back in the 1600's or 1700's some Sicilian stone carver went to England to build some of those handsome great houses and churches. He married an English girl. Somehow the “e” was added. Through the generations the family became English.

That’s my theory. There is no documentation. I am a romantic, just like Uncle Hugh.

Friday, November 6, 2009

Feeling Rich

I just came back from lunch, satiated with roast pork, sweet potato and asparagus. I sit here in my dark blue recliner in my comfortable apartment. My Social Security check is already in the bank. Since I sold my house, I have more money in my checking account than any time in my entire life. I feel rich.

Others are not so lucky. Times are tough. Unemployment is approaching 10%. Hundreds of thousands of young people move back in with their parents. Young mothers do not take their children to the doctor because they can’t pay. Middle-aged men depend on working wives to make their mortgage payments. Many families make a choice between car payments or buying food.

Under these conditions I am outraged by the “salaries” paid to ball players, actors, and executives, not just bankers but all those fat-cat C.E.O.’s who fly around in their private jets to their various houses in New York, Palm Beach, and Paris.

According to Time Magazine, in 2007 the top 0.01% of Americans consisted of 14,588 tax payers making MORE than $11.5 million a year. This group controlled more than 6% of all U.S. income.

Using my $5 calculator, I figured that at the current tax rate of 33.3%, a man “earning” only $11.5 million would pay $3,829,500 in taxes, leaving only $7,670,500 to live on all year. That works out to $147,509.61 per week. To me that is obscene!

The same Time article stated that 90% of Americans have an average income of $32,421 a year, or $4,550 less than the megarich gets in one week! That would buy a lot of lettuce and tomatoes even at today’s inflated grocery prices.

Who really “earns” more than $2,000,000 a year? Let’s not just “restore the Bush tax cuts.” I vote to raise taxes on the rich! Call me a Socialist. That’s okay by me. But as the rich get richer and the middle class becomes poor, something is wrong. The system needs to be fixed.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Letter to Congress

Congressman Sam Johnson
1211 Longworth House Office Bldg.
Washington, DC 20515

Dear Congressman Johnson:

Republicans are right when they say that any health care plan which covers all Americans will be costly. It will cost a lot!

Some of those costs can be diminished by regulation of your friends in the insurance business, the drug companies, and the medical profession. Still, to give all Americans the benefits of good health care will cost billions.

That is not a reason for opposing a “public option” program.

A nation has a moral obligation to provide all its citizens with certain benefits, including protection from foreign invaders, police to enforce the laws against thieves and murderers, firemen to put out conflagrations, schools to educate all children in the principles of democracy . . . . . and a medical system to protect their health.

Republicans are the party of “No.” And you always vote as the Republican leaders tell you to do. Just as if you have no mind of your own.

You should vote for the “public option” because it is the right thing to do. Do you have the moral courage to do so? If you don’t, you are morally weak and a coward.

Yours very truly,

Ilene Durkalski

Sunday, November 1, 2009

Old Tricks, New Tricks

After ten years of eating nothing but dry food, my cat learned he likes tuna. I commented, “Old cats can learn new tricks.” Can old people learn things, too?

This morning Charlie showed me again how stubborn he can be. He always refuses to come when I call, no matter how persuasive I try to be with, “Here kitty, kitty” or an angry, “Come here, you dumb cat!”

On Sunday mornings I like to pick up breakfast in the dining room and return to my third floor apartment in time to watch CBS Sunday Morning. This morning I was a little late. As I hurried out the door, Charlie slipped out under my feet. I called, “Come back here.” He walked away. I called again, “Come back here, Charlie!” He walked leisurely along the balcony. Annoyed, I slammed the door and briskly walked past him. As the elevator door shut, I left a cat looking surprised outside on the balcony carpet.

After picking up my bagel and cream cheese, I walked into the courtyard. High above on the third floor balcony, I heard the plaintive crying of a cat. Charlie wanted me! When I stepped off the elevator he was waiting outside the apartment.

He ran inside as soon as I opened the door. Will he come back in the next time I call? Probably not. After all, he is just a dumb cat.

I think he is a Republican.

Republicans put up silly objections to everything the Democrats propose. Those votes against Sotomayer, one of the most qualified judges ever appointed to the Supreme Court. That nonsense about “death panels.” And now the opposition to “government-run insurance” – when every old person knows Medicare is better than any private insurance program.

I’ve been writing to Congress again. My senators are John Cornyn and Kay Bailey Hutchison. My congressman is Sam Johnson, who, like John McCain, was a POW in Vietnam and was rewarded with a seat in Congress where he sits there and votes Republican without doing any initiatives on his own.

I doubt they read my letters. I can’t help myself. I keep writing, even if no one listens. Just like writing this blog.

Charlie does not answer me either. But he sits close to me and purrs. That’s comforting.

Saturday, October 31, 2009

That Darn Cat

Like all felines, my cat Charlie is independent. When I call, “Here, kitty!” he looks over his shoulder at me and walks away in the opposite direction. Yet when I sit in the recliner, he jumps up on my lap and lays there purring while I pet him.

I wonder about what goes on in that animal mind, just as I am curious about people. Okay, I am nosey. Most people are willing to talk to me, and I try to understand why they act and think the way they do. But the cat can’t talk to me.

Charlie simply doesn’t understand English. Maybe he is a Hungarian cat.

On my 70th birthday my son David took me to the shelter in Albuquerque, where this big white cat put his paws up on the door of his cage and begged me to adopt him. The cat had been picked up as a stray, scrawny and with his long hair dirty and matted. He was neutered, so I only paid the shelter $5 for this beautiful cat. I took him to the vet, and it cost $100 for the shots and to have him bathed and groomed.

I had a friend named Charles White, so my white cat had to be Charlie. Charles called him, “my godson.”

I can only guess what Charlie’s life was like before he came to live with me. At one time he must have been someone’s dear pet, for he immediately moved into the house as if he owned it. He liked to go outside to play early in the morning, but after a few minutes came to the back door begging to be let in again.

I offered him canned food as a treat, but after sniffing at it, he turned up his nose and walked away. He only ate dry cat food. I put water in a bowl beside his food bowl. The only place he would drink was the running water in the bathroom faucet. It was quite a feat for him to jump from the tile floor onto the bathroom counter (like me jumping onto the porch roof). He is getting older. He can no longer jump that high. He figured out to jump onto the edge of the tub, step onto the toilet, and then step onto the counter and put his head down under the faucet for his drink.

If I go out for an hour or more, to the grocery store or to dinner with a friend, when I put my key into the lock, he is waiting just inside the door. I would step on him if I didn’t know he was always there. After I had been away on trip, for a few days after I came home he followed me around like a dog.

After I fall asleep each night he climbs on the bed and lays on top of the covers. I wake in the night and reach out my hand; in the dark I feel his soft fur. When he stretches out full length it is like having a child next to me.

For years he was afraid of men. When the doorbell rang, Charlie retreated to the hall doorway and watched to see who was standing in the door. If it was my neighbor Leroy, a big burly man, Charlie ran as fast as his little legs would carry him and hid under the bed.

I wondered, “Did some man abuse him and turn hm out to starve in the New Mexico desert?”

Eventually he felt safe. After five or six years, he let Leroy touch him. Now when anyone comes to see me, he cautiously approaches and sniffs them out. If he likes the way the stranger smells, he lets her/him pet him.

He loves children. When my grandchildren first came to visit when they were five and seven years old, he went to them immediately and stayed with them the entire time, sitting on the floor next to them when they played and forsaking me to sleep next to them at night.

Today Charlie was stretched out on the coffee table when the woman who cleans my apartment (her name is India) brought her son, Zion, to see me. Charlie jumped off the table and went to the three-year-old. The little boy, unaccustomed to cats, clung, terrified, to his mother. Charlie waited until India convinced the child that the animal wanted to be friends. Zion put out a tentative hand and felt Charlie’s soft white fur.

A little later I was in the recliner eating my supper of tuna and macaroni salad when the UPS man knocked on the door. The man had to wait while I put my shoes on. I set my bowl on the table and got up to answer. I took in the package. As I closed the door, I heard the click of Charlie’s tag against the stoneware bowl. I turned, aghast. Charlie had his nose in my tuna!

This was a cat who NEVER ate anything but dry food!

“Charlie! That’s mine!”

I hit him with a pillow to make take his nose out of my bowl and get down off the table.

He gave me a look which said, “How dare you treat to me like that?” Then he sat on the carpet in the middle of the living room and calmly licked the tuna off his paws.

Old cats learn new tricks. Old people learn new tricks, too. Maybe there is even hope for those old men in Congress.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Silly Me

“Growing old is not for sissies.”

I live in a “retirement community” where everyone is over 65, and where everyone has some sort of physical problem. As people grow old, bodies wear out. Like an old car, it is a case of, “What is going to go wrong next?”

Patsy’s problem began with her eyes. Macular degeneration left her with only a foggy perception of shapes. Then she fell and broke her hip. Now she is in a wheel chair, in which she wheels herself into the dining room for meals. She lives alone, determined to take care of herself. Today after breakfast, as we lingered over coffee, Patsy said, “I can’t stay any longer. I have to go upstairs and make my bed.”

Remember: she is legally blind!

Most of us “oldies” cope with our physical problems. What we fear is Alzheimer’s.

On the day after one woman moved into an apartment here, she came back to the dining room after lunch and said, “I can’t find my apartment.” The same thing happened the next day and the day after that. Her daughter had to find another place for her mother to live.

Losing our minds and our independence is what all of us fear.

I am lucky. Except for my kidneys, I am in excellent health physically. With most people kidney disease is a “bi-product” of another condition, such as heart trouble or diabetes. My kidneys were damaged by medication, so I don’t have the horrific physical problems of others I see at dialysis.

And I thought I was still alert mentally. I moved into this new place in August, and I am still not familiar with the neighborhood. After lunch today, I got in my Hyundai and drove out in search of four places I had never been before. I had looked at the map and planned a circular route. I went to a new (to me) gas station and figured out how to use the unfamiliar self-serve pump to fill my car. I only had to make one U-turn to get into the Time-Warner office to check on my cable tv. I found the CITI Bank branch and opened a new checking account. Final stop was at the Wal-Mart “market” where I bought cottage cheese and eggs.

I was proud of myself: I used the self-check out. It worked fine. I put my two little bags in the shopping cart and wheeled out to parking lot, congratulating myself, “I did all these things this afternoon. I am still an efficient, functioning woman.”

I was in the elevator, going up to the apartment, when I realized that the only things I had in my hands were my purse and the folder from the bank.

When the elevator door opened on the third floor, I punched the “1" and the “close door” buttons to return immediately to the ground floor. The groceries were not in the car. I pushed the speedometer up to 40 mph in a 35 mph zone as I raced back along LaPrada Drive. I told myself, “You senile old lady! This is not important. You just sold your house and have money in the bank. If you lose a dozen eggs, it won’t matter. You can afford to lose a few dollars – and it is your own fault for being so careless.”

But I did not slow down.

I turned into the parking lot at Wal-Mart. There next to the lamp post, exactly where I left it, was the shopping cart with my two little white bags inside.

The cottage cheese and eggs are now safely sitting on the wire shelves in my refrigerator. I am sitting safe and snug watching television in my recliner. But boy! Do I feel foolish – and old!.

Monday, October 26, 2009

Food for Thought

People are creatures of habit, and the older they are, the more habitual they become.

I eat lunch every day with three other residents at Montclair, a “Senior Lifestyle” residence in Garland, Texas. There are no assigned seats in our dining room, but the same four usually sit together. Our conversations are about trivia. Not intellectually stimulating, but better than eating alone.

When I lived in Albuquerque, I lunched at Los Volcanes Senior Center, where the same group gathered every day at a round table in the corner of the dining hall. No matter how we disagreed about politics or religion, the same six showed up and sat in the same chairs every day. We had some lively conversations. We were five Democrats and Pauline, the one Republican.

Pauline grew up in Illinois but came to Albuquerque after living many years in Silver City, New Mexico. Until her children were grown, she devoted her life to being a housewife and mother. In middle age she went to work at K-Mart. She worked as a cashier for 15 years and accumulated an handsome wardrobe which she bought on sale. After her husband died, this tiny, energetic woman at age 80 moved to Albuquerque and bought a house to be near her grandchildren.

Every day she came to the senior center perfectly dressed in pants suits with coordinated blouses and a pretty pin on the lapel of her jacket. After eating lunch, where she was not intimidated by all those Democrats, she drove her own car to school to pick up her grandchildren, whom she cared for until her daughter came home from work. Pauline did not talk about politics, but we heard about the daily activities of Jonathan and Rachael.

Mentally Pauline was still an Illinois farm girl. She would not eat anything her family had not grown back on the farm. Chinese dishes were too foreign.. She pointed to the egg roll and said, “What’s that?” She would not eat the egg roll or the chow mein. There was another “What’s that?” for zucchini. I explained it was a kind of squash. She tasted it once but put her fork down, saying firmly, “I don’t like it.”

Most transplants who move to New Mexico love the food, the chili relleno, enchiladas, posole. I became addicted to green chili. After I was away for two or three weeks on a trip, first thing after I coming home I went to a restaurant for my “chili fix.” Pauline would not touch any of it.

So? She missed the pleasures I enjoy in a variety of experience. To her it did not matter. She was a dear person, always concerned about anyone who was sick. She was the one who remembered birthdays. She gave me a card and a bracelet with cats on them.

I asked her, “Pauline, why are you a Republican?”

“My husband was a Republican,” she said. “So I became a Republican, too.”

I liked Pauline. She never harmed anyone or did an unkind thing. One of the World’s innocents. I wish I could be more like her.

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Guns in Europe

One afternoon, during a tour from Vienna to Amsterdam, to Europe, I was sitting in the ship’s bar as we cruised along the Rhine. An American came in and tried talking to the bartender in German.

“Tomas is not German,” I said.
“Yes,” said Tomas. “I speak better English than I do German.”

Tomas was a delightful young man, tall and good looking, from the Czech Republic. I sat in the bar talking to Tomas every afternoon. Every night I take a little green pill which makes it dangerous for me to drink alcohol, so I don’t. But I have to take another medication (old people take lots of medication), a powder which must be mixed with water. The glasses in the cabin were tiny, only 4 oz. So every afternoon I sat on a bar stool facing Tomas as he mixed my “afternoon drink” in a tall glass.

We talked of many things. I learned that his father was a school teacher. During Soviet control of Czechoslovakia, was his father a member of the Communist Party? “Of course. He had to be. If you don’t join the Party, they shoot you.” Tomas knew nothing about the German occupation during World War II. He is young. I neglected to ask about his grandparents. He would have told me. We talked honestly with each other.

One day Tomas said, “I don’t understand about Americans and their guns. In Europe it is difficult to get a permit to have a gun.”

I told him, “I think it is a cultural thing which goes back to pioneer days. My ancestors moved west in covered wagons, just like you see in the movies. They needed guns to hunt for food. They also needed guns to protect their families from the Indians. I knew a man whose grandmother was killed by Apache Indians in Santa Fe, New Mexico.”

About that time a middle-aged American came into the bar and ordered a beer. I asked, “Sir, do you own any guns?”

“Yes,” he said. “I have four.”

About that time another older American male came and stood on the other side of me. I waited while he ordered whiskey for himself and his wife before I turned and asked the same question, “Sir, do you own any guns?”

“Yes, I own fourteen. I am a collector.”

Tomas and I both threw up our hands.

Friday, October 23, 2009


When I lived in New Mexico, my Hispanic friend, Roman, went on an annual deer hunt with his brothers and their sons. “It is a social thing,” his wife said, “They hunt and drink beer for a week.” They also hope to kill enough animals to provide meat for the family to last all winter.

One year my neighbor, Leroy Martinez, killed an elk. I went next door to see the huge carcass hanging in his garage. He also gave me a chunk of venison. I braised it in a big pot. The deer meat was tender and delicious.

My New Mexico psychiatrist also was a hunter. He went every year with his teenage son.

My psychiatrist was the most patient man I have known. No matter what I told him, he remained calm and reassuring. He was a geriatric specialist, and many of his patients were old people, confused and suffering from dementia. I said to him, “You deal with crazy people every day. I wonder if you go hunting to work off your frustrations by killing things.”

“I don’t think so,” he said calmly. “I am a Nebraska farm boy. I’ve hunted all my life.”

The doctor said he was teaching his son how to use a gun, but he hunted with a bow and arrow. He explained, “When you shoot a deer with a gun, if the animal is not killed, the sound of the gun firing will frighten it, and it will run for miles before it collapses from loss of blood. An arrow is silent. When the animal starts to bleed, it will lie down and quietly die. The doctor felt this was the more humane way to kill.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

A Squirrelly Tale

At my retirement home, my three companions and I started lunch talking about fish and lingered after talking about hunting and guns. The discussion caused thoughts to swirl about in my head with ideas that I’ll be posting with blogs on food and guns for a week.

My father did not hunt or fish. Uncle Lon fished in Caddo Lake, and bought catfish home for Aunt Lou to fry for us when we visited in Rockwall. Uncle Dick came to Fort Worth from his ranch in far West Texas and brought quail, which my mother cooked, but she refused to eat “those dear little birds.” I know nothing about fishing or hunting.

Dodie grew up on a farm in the Rio Grande Valley. Not “The Valley” near Brownsville but on the New Mexico border near El Paso. I was not surprised when she said her father and husband were hunters, or that she cooked the game they brought home.

Elizabeth and her husband were married for 57 years and lived most of that time in the Dallas area. Not exactly big game country. Her husband both fished and hunted, and she cooked everything he caught. She loved going to the Gulf and cooking fresh-caught fish on the beach. If her husband killed a deer, he took it to a commercial butcher and had the meat wrapped to put in the freezer. She said, “I cooked all sorts of things: rabbits, ducks, squirrels.”

“You ate squirrels?”
“Yes. They are tender, if they are young.”

Dodie agreed. She cooked all kinds of game, including squirrels.

I never suspected that these genteel little old ladies were experts at cooking wild critters. I tell people, “I know everything.” That’s a joke. I don’t know how to cook squirrel.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009


At lunch, while discussing food likes and dislikes, the four at the table agreed on liver and onions. We like it. Then the talk moved on to other food likes and dislikes.

I said, “I’m tired of having fried catfish every Friday.”
The other three disagreed. They all love fried catfish. Typical Texans.
I said, “But there are so many other wonderful ways to cook fish!”

On trips to Europe I ate many varieties of fish and seafood, prepared many different ways. In Belgium I indulged in an entire bucket of mussels, and in France I stuffed myself on a platter of “fruits de mer” heaped with shell fish whose names were a mystery to me. On river cruises gourmet meals served many varieties of fish prepared with ingenious sauces.

One of the best trips I made was the river cruise from Vienna to Amsterdam. Our small cruise ship took 105 Americans up the Danube, through 65 locks over the “watershed of Europe,” down the Main to the Rhine, and through a canal to Amsterdam. The meals were marvelous!

At dinner one night I sat opposite a couple from Texas. I can’t remember their names or their city; it might have been Beaumont. A big, burly man and his buxom wife. I think I ordered veal for the entree; they chose the catfish. When it came, lovely large baked fillets garnished with red and yellow pepper strips, the Texans said, “What’s this?” “This isn’t catfish.”

They sent it back to the kitchen.

For them, the only way to serve catfish was fried.

Monday, October 19, 2009

Parking Space

Coming home after dinner with a friend, I drive around to the back of the apartment complex and start looking for a parking space. I try to park close to the covered walkway, so if it rains the next time I come out I won’t soaked getting to my car. There is an open space, but it has a little sign, “reserved for apartment 145.” The first floor apartment has a patio gate which opens directly onto the parking lot. I have never seen a car parked in that reserved space.

I walk into the building. The night is beautiful; I do not get wet. As I wait for the elevator, the occupant of 145 comes out the front of her apartment and turns, leaning on her walker, to close the door. I know her. She is short, solidly-built, with a round face, round glasses, dark eyes, and, unlike most old, gray-haired ladies, her short, straight hair is surprisingly dark with only a few gray hairs to indicate the black locks are natural. She looks healthy, but I’ve seen a nurse knocking on her door. Often I follow her into the dining room. We walk slowly, as she leans on her walker as she puts each step forward carefully.

I ask, “Louise, do you have a car?”
She: “Oh no.” She glanced down at her walker.
Me: “You keep the space reserved for a car.”
She: “My daughter comes some times. I need room to get out with my walker. Twice an ambulance had to come for me.”
Me: “I understand.”

It would be impossible for her to navigate with her walker between parked cars. How much easier to bring a stretcher out the patio door and through the empty parking space than to use the front door and struggle around the corners of the building and the covered walkway.

How often I’ve complained about someone doing something that seems selfish or unfair. Maybe I just did not know the reason behind the other person’s actions.

With her dependence on the walker and other health problems, Louise needs that open space behind her apartment. It seldom rains in Texas. It will do me good to get a little exercise walking across the parking lot. Thank God! I do not need to use a walker.

If a little rain falls on my head, I won’t care. I am washable.

Sunday, October 18, 2009


It is a joke. I tell people, “I know everything. I have read everything. I have been everywhere.”

I repeat: That’s a joke.

I don’t know everything. But I know a lot of trivia. I can answer most questions about history and literature. But I know little about science and nothing about mathematics. I can post a blog, but I have no idea how a computer or television works.

I have not been everywhere. I have not been to Africa or South America. Or Hawaii or Alaska. And, sadly, I did not get to India. I had paid for a trip to see the Taj Mahal last year when it had to be cancelled so that I could begin dialysis.

I will not be traveling any more. But I am constantly surprised when I see places on television or see a picture in a magazine or newspaper, and I say, “I’ve been there!”

Last week a PBS documentary reenacted the capture of the pirate Black Beard on Okracoke Island. I looked for shells on the beach at Okracoke when I visited my friend Betty at Hatteras. She and I became friends when we both lived in Birmingham, Michigan. After her divorce, she moved to Hatteras Island, where she had spent happy vacations and where she bought a house near the ferry to Okracoke.

In the 1980's, when I suffered terrible depressions, I visited Betty, making several long drives from Chicago to North Carolina’s Outer Banks. She had no money, living by selling off 20 years accumulation of stuff she bought at garage sales and by the charity of neighbors who brought her fresh fish they caught in the Atlantic. Her enthusiastic attitude toward life always lifted my spirits.

Then this morning I was attracted by a headline on the sports section of the Dallas Morning News. Tony Romo, quarterback of the Dallas Cowboys, flew in a private jet from Dallas’s Love Field to Charleston, Illinois, to be inducted into the Hall of Fame at his alma mater, Eastern Illinois University. I also have flown in a private plane to Charleston, Illinois, to attend a function at Eastern Illinois University.

My daughter Martha and her family live in Naperville, Illinois. Her husband, Don, has a pilot’s license, and – sounding like Hyacinth on “Keeping Up Appearances” – they live in a house with a three-car garage, a swimming pool, and an airplane hanger in the backyard.

I was taking their youngest son, Joe, to an Intergenerational Elderhostel. I was amused when Don said to his son, “Take the suitcases out and put them in the plane.” I followed him out the back door and climbed into the small plane (nothing like the jet that took Romo). The runway was at the end of the street. We flew over the patchwork quilt of Illinois farms and landed at the small – well, tiny – airstrip at Charleston.

The week Joe and I spent at the Elderhostel at Eastern Illinois University was a good experience for both of us. We “studied” Abraham Lincoln and visited Amish farms. He got to swim in the pool and made friends with other ten-year-olds. I got to know my grandson.

Since Martha lives in Illinois and I lived in New Mexico, I did not see her family often while her boys were growing up. I did not see Joe until he was over a year old, and had been to Illinois only a few one week visits, until we spent that week, just the two of us, in Charleston.

I had also taken his older brothers, Doug and Ric, to intergenerational Elderhostels. I took Doug to the Art Institute of Chicago, where he discovered the painter Chuck Close, and to Washington, D.C., where we toured the Capitol and saw Mount Vernon. With his brother Ric I was less ambitious. Ric came to New Mexico. At Gallup we saw a Navajo woman weave rugs, and at Roswell, Ric built and flew a rocket.

I hope the boys learned something on these “educational” trips. For me the whole point was to spend one week alone with one of the boys and to get to know him.

That’s what I have learned in all my travels. I always see the unexpected and hear things different from what I had read .in books and promotional brochures. More important than sightseeing is what I learn about people.

(Written in a hurry on Sunday night without correction. Is it okay? I am missing Masterpiece Mystery!)

Saturday, October 17, 2009

Revolvers and Pistols

My brother Don has guns. He keeps a revolver near his bed. If a thief breaks into his house, Don says he is ready to kill.

Fort Worth, where we grew up, is a city, never in the top 40, but not a small town. We had “bad” neighborhoods and “good” neighborhoods, with neighborhood shops, and a “downtown” with tall buildings and department stores. I never thought it was a dangerous place to live.

Daddy had a gun, a small black pistol, which was kept hidden under his handkerchiefs in a box on his dresser. My brothers and I were warned never to touch any of Daddy’s “things.” As far as I know that gun was never fired.

Our grandmother also had a gun, a big revolver. As an 80-year-old woman sleeping in the front bedroom of my parents’ house, she slept with that gun under her pillow, just in case some deranged maniac broke in and tried to rape her. My brother Preston, after he came home from Vietnam, would come in the front door at 2 a.m. I was afraid our grandmother would wake up, thinking he was that dreaded intruder, and shoot him. She was deaf. She kept snoring, no matter how much noise Preston made stumbling drunkenly through the dark house.

When our grandmother died, each of my brothers asked if he could have Nonna’s gun. I don’t know how Mother decided which of the three got it. All three of my brothers became gun collectors.

In today’s newspaper I read about a young woman who carried her pistol with her wherever she went, even to her son’s soccer games. She is dead, killed by her husband with her own gun in what police believe was a murder-suicide. An accompanying article reported that people who own guns are four times more likely to be killed, even in “bad” neighborhoods, than those who do not have guns.

I never owned a gun, and I am never afraid, although I ived alone for all but four of the past 30 years. When I was married, my husband and I lived in or near big cities: Chicago, Detroit, Philadelphia, Dallas. In the 1960's, Detroit was reputed to be a “dangerous” place; we lived in the “safe” suburb of Birmingham. We never felt the need for a gun to protect our home and our family.

I do not understand the fascination with guns. Maybe someone can explain it to me.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Fort Worth

Thomas Wolfe said, “You can’t go home again.”

I left Fort Worth in 1952, came back in 1984 but stayed less than a year. Three years ago, when I returned to Texas, I looked for a house in Fort Worth but decided to come to Garland instead, My brother Don and his wife Mary live here.

Today I went to Fort Worth again. I went to meet my friend Emma for lunch at the Kimball Museum. It is 50 miles and a four-part journey.

After breakfast, when I went to the car, I found the windows fogged. I drove north, defrosters going and windshield wipers clanking, through cold drizzle, rather frightening for an old lady, to find the last parking space at the Downtown Garland rail station.

I put two one-dollar bills in a kiosk and out popped a one day pass for “all systems.” One of the greatest bargains in the U.S. I found a seat in a half-empty car on the DART. Read the latest issue of Time as the light rail purred along to Dallas’ Union Station, where I only had to cross the platform to board the TRE (Texas Railway Express) to Fort Worth. A bumpy ride, difficult to read as the magazine kept jiggling.

An hour later I climbed down off the train in Fort Worth and rushed across the platform to board the Camp Bowie bus. It was almost full, but I found a front seat next to middle-aged black man with a lot of wavy black hair and a thin face with a bushy mustache.

As the bus rounded the corner into Fifth Street, I pointed to the red brick building on the corner and said, “I worked in that building 60 years ago when it was the Fort Worth Press.” (The newspaper later went bankrupt.)

As we passed between the skyscrapers of downtown, the Roman temple of First Christian Church came into view, and I said, “I learned to swim in the indoor pool behind that church.” That was 70 years ago. I added, “All these other buildings weren’t here then.”

The man said, “I guess a lot of things have changed.”

Me: “It is a different world.”

I thought a minute.

Me: “Maybe it is better.”

He: “Maybe so”

Me: “Sixty years ago you and I would not be sitting here next to each other talking like this.”

He smiled and nodded his head.

The bus crossed the bridge over the Trinity River. Ahead was the tall white building which used to be the Southwest distribution center for Montgomery Ward. Another company that went bankrupt.

Me: “Are you old enough to remember when it was Montgomery Ward’s?”

He: “Oh yes! Once there was a big flood down here.” (It is bottom land next to the river, supposed to be protected by levees, like New Orleans.)

Me: “That was 1946. I was in college in Denton.”

My roommate rushed into the journalism classroom where I was typing and said, “There is a big flood in Fort Worth. Across the room the wire service machine clicked rapidly rolling scrolls of paper printing details of the disaster.

Me: “My roommate’s home was down here. They lost everything. Her mother felt around in the mud for her teacups.”

For a few seconds I thought about a woman I met in Garland who lost everything in Katrina.

Me: “My friend became a college professor and taught at TCU. She is now retired and lives in a luxury apartment in Trinity Towers.”

He: “I’m glad things turned out good for her.”

Me: “I don’t know. She doesn’t have any children. My children are the best things in my life. Do you have children?”

He: “Yes, I do. They are good kids.”

Me: “That’s what life is about.”

He: “Yes, children make it all worthwhile.”

We smiled at each other.

The bus turned into Camp Bowie Boulevard, and I got off at the next stop. As the bus pulled away, the man waved and smiled to me through the window.

I walked through sunshine to the Kimball, where Emma was waiting in the gift shop.

“I don’t need any more books on art,” she said, picking up as toy. “I think I will buy this for Will." (her three-year-old grandson)

It was a good day.

Monday, October 12, 2009

Liver and Onions

The lunch menu provided a choice between fried chicken livers with cream gravy and roast pork. The four of us at the table all chose the pork.

Which led to a discussion of liver and other foods. I said I did not like plain grits (too bland) but liked them when cheese was added. John said plain grits were fine, but cheese grits were unfit for human consumption.

Which only proves that different people have different tastes. Literally. When food touches the tongue, what is agreeable to some is disagreeable to others. “There is no accounting for tastes.”

Norman does not like chocolate. To me that seems weird. A psychiatrist might suspect that he suffered a chocolate trauma when he was a baby. Maybe. Or maybe he gets a different sensation in his mouth when he eats chocolate than I do when I purr with delight over Hershey’s Special Dark.

None of us wanted fried chicken livers with cream gravy. All four agreed that we liked liver and onions.

Which reminded me of my Mother.

When I was 55 years old I moved back to Fort Worth to live with Mother. I needed a place to live, and Mother needed help. She refused to admit that often she was confused. It was difficult for both of us. We tried for almost a year before I gave up and moved to New Mexico. During those months when we were polite and kind to each other, we went out to eat every week, usually at Denny’s.

Mother always ordered liver and onions.

After this happened five or six times, I said, “Mother, I did not know you liked liver and onions so much.”

Mother said, “I don’t like it at all. I won’t cook it, so I order it when we go out. I eat it because it is healthy.”

That was my Mother.

Today I thoroughly enjoyed the roast pork with sweet potatoes and fresh asparagus. Italian cream cake for dessert. Yummy!

Saturday, October 10, 2009

The Mulberry Bush

When I was a child, we’d make a circle and dance and sing a little song:

“Here we go ‘round the mulberry bush, the mulberry bush,
So early in the morning.”

That came to symbolize running around, going in circles, any pointless activity, any time spent going and going without accomplishing anything significant.

The other night I went out to dinner with my brother and his wife and another couple. We decided to go to a restaurant near my apartment. They had been there before, but I had not. My brother drove under the freeway, and, as he turned onto the access road, the man in the back seat called out, “Don’t go on the expressway. I know a short cut.”

Following his instructions, Don went to the next signal light, crossed back over the freeway, drove about five miles east, turned at an angle and went a couple of miles southeast, then turned back west for six or eight miles to get back to cross over the freeway again, where the restaurant faced the access road about two miles south of where our friend had told us, “Don’t go on the freeway.”

After a leisurely dinner – I had chicken marsala and took a whole breast home to heat in the microwave for supper tomorrow – I said to my brother as we left the restaurant, “Why don’t you turn onto the freeway to take me home?” He nodded, “That’s what I planned to do.”

By taking the “short cut,” we spent 25 minutes driving to the restaurant. On the freeway, it took about seven minutes to get back to my place.

Why did this friend think his circuitous route was a “short cut”? Perhaps from his house these were streets would have been more direct than going from my house. More likely, he directed us on a way that was familiar to him.

Similar misdirections have taken me out of my way several times since I moved to Texas three years ago. Once I knew how to negotiate the Dallas areas confusing tangle of roads and streets. But everything changed during the 50 years I lived in Chicago and Albuquerque. Nothing was familiar.

I bought a Mapsco and consulted it each time before I needed to drive to a new place. Then I would have as a passenger someone who has lived in this area for many years. I would be told, “Don’t go that way! You should go this way!”

Off we’d go on winding thoroughfares on routes that the map told me were miles in the wrong direction.

People become accustomed to certain streets, familiar routes to take them to the usual places – grocery stores, drugstores, Wal-Mart, the mall. They can’t find any place not on their usual pathways. Because they live near Beltline Road where it heads due south in Mesquite, they don’t realize it swings due west when it crosses Garland.

Some people become afraid to leave their own neighborhoods. When I lived in Drexel Hill, Pennsylvania, a neighbor was surprised when I told her I had been to Haverford. “How brave you are!” she said, “I would never try to go there.”

(Haverford is not dangerous. It is one of Philadelphia’s “Main Line” suburbs, very upscale, like Dallas’s Highland Park, Detroit’s Gross Point, or Chicago’s North Shore.)

My neighbor knew that she could get in her car and drive east into Philadelphia, but she did not know she could turn left and follow the street into the Haverford, the very next suburb on the north. She had never been there because she simply would not try a new way of doing things.

The man who sent us “around the mulberry bush” to the restaurant is typical. People not only cling to old ways of going places, they don’t know there are different ways of thinking. They stubbornly refuse to consider alternatives in education, religion, politics – you name it. It simply never occurs to them that there are other ways of doing things that are as equally valid as “our way.” And some other ways are better!

That is not a lie!

Wednesday, October 7, 2009


Today I went to the “Vascular Clinic” because of problems with my left arm. In order to have dialysis a surgeon put a thing into my forearm – graft, fistula, shunt, whatever you call it -- this gismo feels like a loop of plastic tubing inside my arm.

Each time I have dialysis, a technician sticks needles into the two sides of my arm, on the right into the artery to pull blood out, on the left to push clean blood back in. Most times the treatment works perfectly, and I spend the three hours reading Newsweek, Time, or The New Yorker.

Other days something goes wrong in the arterial “pull”. The light on the dialysis machine blinks red. Everyone in the room cringes to loud, raucous beeps.

The tech comes running, shuts off the noise, pulls off bandages, and adjusts the needle in my arm. Sometimes turning the needle over solves the problem. Last Tuesday the beeping kept starting every 10 or 15 minutes for three hours.

The doctor signed orders for me to go to the Vascular Clinic to determine what was wrong with my arm.

I was afraid.

At the clinic I was stretched out on an operating table. As always when under stress, I talked constantly as nurses and techs hooked me up to oxygen monitor, blood pressure cuff, and EKG machine. I tried not to think about the impending procedure while a nurse explained all the things they MIGHT have to do to me, such as put a balloon into my artery to open it up, or, if that did not work, insert a shunt, or if the artery was completely blocked, surgery to put a “port” in my chest or neck.

When one nurse commented that we had the same birthday, I launched into a talk about my birthday at the Hilton Hotel in Izmir, Turkey, where “Conrad Hilton” gave me a birthday cake. Talking distracted me from my fear as I anticipated the doctor digging in my arm.

I was draped in sterile blankets and a heavy lead shield on my chest to protect me from x-rays. A drape kept me from seeing my arm. From behind the curtain I heard the doctor’s voice as he introduced himself. Quietly he explained that he was going to stick a needle into my arm to deaden the area and then insert a catheter.


“Never” (It always hurts when the needles go in for dialysis.)

This time I did not feel a pin prick.

The nurse said, “Ilene and I have the same birthday. Where did you say you had that birthday?”


From behind the curtain came the doctor’s voice, “Where in Turkey?”


From there the doctor and I launched a conversation about the ruins at Emphasis, opera in Prague, bad food in China. In between his telling me that he found a narrow place in the vein and needed to use a balloon to open it, he told me he did not like the Greek Islands. “All the same white houses and nothing to do but buy cheap stuff.” He wanted to go to Russia. We agreed that tour groups don’t give enough time for places like the Hermitage in St. Petersburg.

About that time he said, “We’re finished here. You can go home.”

The whole process, which I dreaded, took half an hour – and was totally painless.

How many times have I worried about things unnecessarily? Today I came home giddy with relief.

Monday, October 5, 2009

What Did You Say?

My talk at the retirement home was supposed to be about Native Americans. Instead, I talked about Indians.

Joe Sando, a professor at the University of New Mexico and a member of the Jemez Tribe, explained, “We don’t care what you call us. We call ourselves names we use in our own language. ‘Indians’ is your name for us. We are just glad when Columbus got lost, he was not looking for Turkey.”

When I asked a man who worked for the Bureau of Indian Affairs if there was much difference between an Iroquois and a Navajo, he said, “Is there much difference between a Swede and an Italian?”

In talking to the old ladies at the retirement home, I learned that most of them were as ignorant about American Indians as a certain former President was about Muslims. There is as much difference culturally between the Muslims of Arabia, Iran, and Turkey as between the peoples of Greece, Germany, and Spain. Maybe more. Greek, German, and Spanish all belong to the same “family” of languages, a group called Indo-European languages. That also includes English.

The Turkish language is related to no other languages in the World except Hungarian and Finnish. It is as different from English as Chinese.

Arabs speak a language which is similar to Hebrew. It is more than a legend that both Jews and Arabs are descended from Father Abraham.

As for Iranians, they speak Farsi, which is another Indo-European language, just like English! Historically the people of Iran had a culture similar to Europeans. Only recently have they adopted some of the restrictive policies (i.e., the suppression of women) which come from traditional Arab culture but which are not part of the teachings of Mohammed in the Koran.

Jews, Muslims, and Christians all worship the same God. Before Mohammad, the Arabs worshiped numerous gods in stones, wells, etc. The Prophet, influenced by the Bible, commanded them to worship one God – the God of Abraham! Christians use different names for God in different languages. In Spanish God is Dios. In Arabic God is Allah.

The more I know about the differences between people, the more I understand that in all this variety, we have common needs and goals. “Our values” are “their values” too.

We may call them by different names, but all people everywhere want the same things: a safe place to live and raise their children, shelter from cold and heat, food. Men need work to provide for their families. Women need time to care for their children. That’s the tradition since primitive times, when men hunted and women stayed close to the cave and gathered up firewood.

Today we want big houses, lots of clothes, money to eat in nice restaurants, plus fancy cars, giant television sets in every room, computers in every backpack, cell phones, and ipods. Our rich economy provides these luxuries for most people. When is it enough? When is it too much?

Friday, October 2, 2009

Robin Hood

Turner Classic Movies showed “Robin Hood” again last week. A great movie! Errol Flynn, handsome and virile in green tights, swinging through the trees in Sherwood Forest, shooting arrows into the bull’s eye, and sword fighting up and down castle stairs against the wicked Sheriff of Nottingham. All in beautiful technicolor!

“Robin Hood” is a four-star classic. Robin fights against Evil Prince John, who usurps his brother Richard’s throne and gouges the poor with taxes in order to enrich himself. In the climax of the movie at a jousting contest, Richard the Lion-Hearted rides into the arena to reclaim his throne and restore Robin to his estates as the Earl of Huntington.

I was a small child when I first saw “Robin Hood.” I loved the movie. My brothers and I used to play Robin’s merry men on the gym set in our back yard. As I grew up and studied history – and also learned to read and think as an adult – I realized that it is all a piece of historical propaganda.

Look again at the movie’s message. “Robin Hood stole from the rich to give to the poor.” Robin is not a peasant. He is an aristocrat who has been defrauded of his inheritance. In the end he regains his title and his estates, where presumably he will live as a lord and benefit from the labor of serfs who are his slaves.

Then look again at the absent king. Richard the Lion-Hearted, remembered as the perfect knight and ruler, in a ten-year reign spent no more than two months in England. He was either off on a Crusade, in prison in Germany, or battling subservient lords over his territories in France. In addition to England, Richard inherited half of France; he controlled more land than the French king.

His younger brother John was left to handle things in England. The English idolized the king who was not around to interfere with their lives; they hated the prince who raised their taxes, even though he did it to raise money for the enormous ransom to free Richard from captivity in Germany.

Furthermore, Richard died without leaving an heir. Most historians conclude that he was a homosexual. Our hero knight was gay!

John became the legitimate king of England. Although he reigned for a number of years, he proved unequal to the job. John lost all the French lands and faced a revolt of the nobility in England. If you remember your high school history book, the barons met King John at Runnymeade and forced him to sign the Magna Carta. That established the rights of the aristocracy. It was hundreds of years before common men gained those rights in England, the rights we fought for in the American Revolution.

Poor John! He receives a bad rap in the public mind. Shakespeare wrote a play, “King John”, which is seldom performed. In it John is a hard-hearted schemer who murders his nephew to gain the throne. It is not one of Shakespeare’s masterpieces. The bard did a better piece of propaganda against regicide (murdering a ruler) in “Macbeth”.

John was not evil. He was simply incompetent.

Incompetence is not a sin. Our country has survived a number of mediocre presidents. Who remembers Franklin Pierce, John Tyler, or Benjamin Harrison? A hundred years from now perhaps someone will produce “The Tragedy of George W. Bush”. Let’s hope President Bush will be remembered as a sincere man who did his best but who led us into an unnecessary war which destroyed our country’s reputation in the rest of the World and cost thousands of American lives.

“Robin Hood” is still a great movie.