Friday, February 27, 2009

My Fair Lady

Last week Turner Classic Movies showed one of my favorites, “My Fair Lady.” I settled down in my recliner with my cat Charlie on my lap, like the picture on this blog site. How many times have I seen this movie? I never counted. Like eating chocolate cake, where I don’t count calories, it does not matter. I enjoy it every time. As I snuggled down in my chair, Charlie purred as I scratched his head and stroked his back. His long hair is soft as a down pillow.

I watched the credits begin with those gorgeous flowers in “living color” on my plasma TV – my self-indulgence I bought when I moved into this house three years ago. As the peonies and daisies unfolded before my eyes, I remembered the visual delight I felt seeing that series of flower photographs the first time. That was 43 years ago in a theater in downtown Detroit. I was pregnant. I was 36 years old, already had a son and a daughter, and felt deliriously happy to be expecting another baby. David is still the joy of my life. He will be flying from California to Dallas in two weeks to celebrate my 80th birthday.

“My Fair Lady” is entwined with many memories. We moved from Detroit to Dallas to Philadelphia, and, finally, to Chicago. During family dinners in Woodridge, Illinois, we put records on the stereo to play music in the background while the three children talked about school and I passed meat loaf and potatoes. Those were good times. “I could have danced all night.”

My theme should have been, “Just you wait, Henry Higgins!” Audrey Hepburn’s eyes flashed as Eliza imagined all the ways she would take revenge, “Just you wait ‘til you’re drowning in the sea. I’ll get dressed and go to tea.” But there was no revenge for either Eliza or me. For 27 years I adored a man who lied, cheated, abused, and broke promises. My ex lived the jet set life with his second wife while I slept in a shelter for the homeless. He gave her everything he promised me: the diamond ring, the trip to Paris; they even bought my “dream home.” He told his lawyer he could not afford to give me money for food. My lawsuit was postponed again and again, while he and No. 2 went off on an African safari!

During that dreadful time I met John. He also had the “My Fair Lady” record. The night before we married, he put it on the stereo, and as Alfred Doolittle sang, “I’m getting married in the morning,” John and I danced all around his fourth floor condo. Thus began the happiest time in my life. That was 21 years ago, and my heart still feels joyous when I remember.

My little house in Garland, Texas, is not my dream home. The exterior is a pinkish brick. Not my favorite color. One -car garage, where I manage to drive in my Elantra among the boxes of unpublished manuscripts. The house has three small bedrooms, and one little bathroom, plus a tiny bathroom. The previous owner remodeled the kitchen, with more cupboards than I’ll ever fill (the top shelves are empty). Behind the dining area he also added a big den. That’s where I watch television.

On the screen in front of my recliner Audrey Hepburn, dressed as the scruffy waif Eliza Doolittle, is lifted onto a bed of cabbages, and I listen to the lilting, “All I want is a room somewhere, with one enormous chair. Lots of coal making lots of heat. Lots of chocolates for me to eat.”

Charlie jumps off my lap and ambles off in the direction of his food bowl. I look down; the front of my blouse and my navy slacks are covered with long white hairs. Charlie sheds. On me, on the furniture, on the carpet. That does not matter. Just as it does not matter that the songs Audrey Hepburn seems to sing are really a recording of someone else’s voice. It sings to my heart.

Warm air blowing down over my head tells me the furnace is making lots of heat. I turn up the thermostat and keep warm without worrying about the gas bill. My house is paid for. I don’t have a car payment. I buy groceries with my credit card, and there is money in the bank to pay the balance every month. John’s insurance pays all my medical bills. I don’t care if Wally and his second wife went on a safari. I never wanted to go to Africa, and I’ve been so many other wonderful places. Wally died, and I get his Social Security.

In my enormous chair I eat Hershey’s special dark chocolate. “Warm hands, warm feet” Isn’t it “luverly”?

Sunday, February 22, 2009


No one can choose their ancestors. Our DNA is determined at conception. Scientists are now tinkering with genes, hoping to “cure” inherited diseases. We will see where those experiments lead. Meanwhile, I am surprised at all the people I know who are avidly looking for ancestors. They squint through long lists of names in old census records and travel down dusty country roads, where they tramp through the weeds in old cemeteries, searching for tombstones which bare their family names.

My mother was one of those people. Her mother – my grandmother – was a member of the Daughters of the American Revolution, having established descent from a private in the Continental Army. Mother carried the ancestor hunt further. When she visited me in Pennsylvania, I took her to Bucks County Courthouse where she found the yellowed contract signed by an ancestor and his wife pledging to serve as indentured servants, becoming virtual slaves of another man for seven years. Becoming indentured was the way the poorest of the poor paid for their passage to the New World. Mother assembled quantities of notes on the various “lines” she pursued, but she never organized her research. After she died, all those loose papers were turned over to my niece. I don’t know what she did with them.

On my father’s side, the family historian was H. L. Pattie, my father’s “Uncle Hugh”. While I was in college, I earned spending money by typing Uncle Hugh’s lengthy family history. Many hours I spent at the old Smith-Corona, trying to make as few errors as possible to avoid having to correct the five carbon copies. That practice made me an excellent typist, which served me well 45 years later when I paid for my daughter’s college by doing temporary work typing for large corporations in Chicago .

Uncle Hugh was romantic. He dreamed that the Patties (he thought the name sounded French) were originally Huguenots who came to the New World to escape religious persecution. He thought his grandfather was from New Orleans before moving to Kentucky, where he and his brother Joe, my grandfather, were born. At least he had the honesty to include in his family history a letter from Effie Ludlow Pattie, which said, as I remember, “That’s nonsense! Your grandparents were from Virginia, and they were married in 1790 in Caroline County, where I’ve seen the record in the county courthouse.”

Uncle Hugh included in his genealogy the information Effie supplied. His grandfather was named John Pattie. As I remember there was a William Pattie, just a bit older than John, who was also born in Virginia, and whose sister Lucy made an avadavat that her brother William and their father served in George Washington’s Army during the American Revolution. Ah! Another possible ancestor for the DAR. Unfortunately, at the time Uncle Hugh assembled his history, he speculated that John and William Pattie were brothers, but he could not find any records to prove this.

Recently friends gave me a book, “Immigrant Voices,” a compilation of first-person accounts of immigrants to America from 1773 to 1986. The book begins with the diary of John Harrower, a Scotsman, whose passage to America was paid for by a Virginia planter to whom he was indentured for seven years. Although barely educated himself, Harrower’s job on the plantation was as a teacher for the planter’s three small children. He was lived in a small building, which served both as his home and as schoolhouse. He was permitted to take additional pupils and keep the fees he collected.

Imagine how I felt when I read on page 45: “Tuesday, 14th. (June 1774) This morning entered school William Pattie son to John Pattie wright. . . .” and then on page 60: “Wednesday, August 2d. (1775) . . . . This day came to School Wm. John and Lucy Patties, and to pay conform to the time they Attend. . . . “

I was thrilled. And then surprised at my emotion. John Jr. was too young to join William and their father John at Yorktown – just as his youngest son, Preston, was too old to serve in the Civil War. Preston’s son, Joseph Preston Pattie, my grandfather, used to say, “I was born in ‘61. That’s the year the war begun.” My father, born in 1897, was too old to serve in World War II.

No heroes in my family tree. You can’t choose your ancestors. Still, it is nice to know who they were. My great-great-grandfather was not the privileged son of a wealthy landowner, like George Washington, but the son of a “wright:”, a little boy learning his A B C’s in that tiny Virginia schoolroom. In 1775.

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Children's Games

Little Brother and Big Brother were sitting on the couch in the family room. Little Brother kept pestering Big Brother to play with him.

“Go away!” said Big Brother. “I played your games yesterday. Today I want to watch television.”

Little Brother kicked Big Brother in the shins, saying, “Play with me!” .

“Stop that!” said Big Brother. He doubled up his fist and punched Little Brother in the chest.

“Mommy! Mommy!” called Little Brother. “Big Brother hit me!”

Mommy, drying her hands on a dish cloth, came out of the kitchen and said, “Don’t hit your little brother.”

“He hit me first,” said Big Brother.

“He won’t play with me,” said Little Brother.

“You are just a little boy,” said Big Brother. “You don’t know how to play big boy games.”

“He can play checkers,”.said Mommy. “Why don’t you play checkers with him?”

Mommy set up the board on the coffee table. Kneeling on the floor by the table, Little Brother chose the little red disks – little brothers always assume they will get first choice – and eagerly began to set out his pieces on the checkerboard squares. Reluctantly, Big Brother, still on the couch, leaned forward to set up the black. Mommy went back to the kitchen as Little Brother made the first move. After two moves, Little Brother saw a way to jump one of Big Brother’s pieces and pounced on it. On Big Brother’s turn, he jumped two of Little Brother’s pieces.

“That’s not fair!” cried Little Brother, doubling up his little fists and pounding them on the table.

“It was fair,” said Big Brother. “You made a mistake when you jumped my checker. You don’t look ahead and see what will happen if you make a wrong move.”

Big Brother sat back and waited, as Little Brother continued to jump on openings which put his pieces in jeopardy. In a few minutes he had to crown so many of Big Brother’s checkers that there were no captured pieces to use, and Big Brother merely turned his disks over to show the crowns on the underside. Soon all of Little Brother’s pieces were captured and piled up in front of Big Brother.

Little Brother’s face turned bright red. He reached out and swept all the little round disks, red and black, flying off the board and tumbling to the floor. He stood up and stamped his feet, yelling, “You are mean! You don’t deserve to win! I’m little, and you are big. You should not treat me this way!”

“Cry Baby!” said Big Brother. “If you want to win, you should be more careful when you make your moves. I won fair and square. Now shut up!”

“Meany! Meany!” Little Brother yelled as loud as he could.

“What’s going on here?” asked Mommy, coming out of the kitchen.

“Big Brother wins all the time!” cried Little Brother, bursting into tears. “He never lets me win!”

“Will you let him win the next game?” Mommy asked Big Brother, as she gave Little Brother a comforting hug.

“No,” said Big Brother. “I tried to show him how to make better moves. He won’t learn, and now he throws a temper tantrum. I’m not going to play with him any more.”

“You don’t mean that,” said Mommy. “He’s your brother. You must be nice to him.”

“Not if he throws temper tantrums every time we play,” said Big Brother.

“I’m sorry,” Mommy said to Little Brother. “If you want to play big boy games, you have to stop acting like a baby. Even if you are little, you must learn to play like a big boy.”

End of fable.

What does this silly little story mean? Sibling relations are a problem in every family. All children are born self-centered and selfish. We all know children who throw temper tantrums, until they learn that screaming and stamping feet may work with Mommy but not with other people. Most children learn other ways to get what they want.

Some people never grow up. How about those Republicans? Republican policies for the past eight years were a failure. The majority of Americans voted for changes. The Republicans still maintain that only their tried-and-failed policies will save the economy. President Obama offered conciliatory gestures. What did the Republican Representatives and Senators do? They knew the Democrats had enough votes to pass legislation without their cooperation, but they would not compromise. All the Republicans in Congress said, “You must do it OUR WAY, or we will NOT vote for your programs.”

Just like little kids throwing temper tantrums.

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Texas vs. Charles Darwin

I live in Texas, where people cling to their myths, as if to believe facts would consign them to Hell. This week I am reminded of this in the midst of the hoopla for the 200th anniversary of the births of Lincoln and Darwin.

Doubtless you also saw the deluge of programs and articles. Do you subscribe to National Geographic and/or Smithsonian? Both magazines put the two men on their covers and published similar accompanying articles. As for television, instead of covering the usual “breaking news,” CNN toured Lincoln exhibits in Washington and Illinois.

PBS broadcast two programs on myths. “In Search of Myths and Heroes” Michael Pallin toured sights associated with the legends of King Arthur. Via television I went to Wales and Scotland, which both claim the site of Arthur’s battles, and to France, where Eleanor of Aquitaine’s court greatly embroidered the stories into fantastic tales. The tour ended in Winchester, where England’s King Henry VIII had the “round table” on the wall of the cathedral repainted, centered by the Tudor rose, and with his own face dominating as King Arthur. In the end our guide concluded that there is little or no facts behind these myths of “the once and future king.” As he said, “People believe what they NEED to believe.”

This program was followed by two hours of “Looking for Lincoln.” As a young man, the “Great Emancipator” was a racist! Even when he signed that famous document, he believed that black men were inferior to whites. Only after he saw the courage of the black soldiers who fought in the Union Army did he say that they – and other “educated Negroes” – should be given the vote. At the conclusion of his life he finally supported, “All men are created equal.” The Lincoln story is one of a change in attitude, as a decent, thoughtful man came to recognize the basic humanity of all people. The myth carries a hint of truth: Without Lincoln, the former racist, slavery would have continued in the South. Many African-Americans refuse to believe any imperfections in Lincoln. To them he will always be “The Great Emancipator.” And people believe what they need to believe.

In Texas people cling to their myths of a different kind. When I mentioned to someone that I had “strayed” from the Baptist Church, she tried to reconvert me. She asked, “Do you believe in Christ as your personal savior?” I said, “No.” She asked, “Why not?” I said, “One of my best friends is a Jew, and I know too many fine Muslims.” She said, “Don’t you believe the Bible?” I said, “Not the way you do.” A few days later she came back to my house and, standing in the door, said accusingly, “You believe in Evolution.” I said, “Yes. Darwin was right, and DNA supports what he learned by observation.” She shook her head. It was my turn to ask, “Have you read The Origin of Species?” She looked as if I had insulted her by asking. She said, “No,” then added, “I’ll pray for you.”

I thanked her for her prayers. She is a kind woman who wants to go to Heaven and who wants to take her friends and relatives with her. She does no harm.

Others who attack Darwin can not be excused for their ignorance. Ministers still preach that true believers must accept that God created the Earth in 6,000 B.C., when all forms of life sprang into being by “divine design” as told in the King James translation of the Bible. This is taught from the pulpit of the church across the street on Garland Avenue, half a block from my house.

The Texas Board of Education, which sets the curriculum for all the schools in the state, is in a hassle over whether science teachers should be required to teach the biblical explanation for the origin of human beings and also to point out “the flaws in evolution theory.” No wonder Texas has such poor public schools. This week the Dallas Morning News reported a shortage of science teachers in Texas; also, 24% of current science teachers are “not qualified” in that subject. Add to that, the woman who came to my house, a member of that neighborhood church, told me she majored in biology at East Texas State College! This is 2008, and Texas is still in 1808 B.D. (Before Darwin). The problem here is: the same kind of thinking that requires people to believe in “creationism” also teaches that only those who “believe in Christ” will go to Heaven. That leads to religious prejudice.

People believe what they are told. When the leaders of a people ignore scientific facts and/or preach intolerance, the result can be catastrophic. In Germany this lead to the Holocaust. In Iraq it causes Sunnis and Shias to blow up each other. Islamic fanatics kill our boys who were sent there to promote “Iraqi freedom.” Except for rare instances, bombing of synagogues and of that church in Birmingham, it has not come to violence in this country. Not yet. Remember those little girls in their white Sunday School dresses on the steps of that Birmingham church. The Great Emancipator could not save them from people who clung to their false beliefs.

Let’s celebrate both Lincoln and Darwin. Give thanks to the Creator, whoever that may be, for giving both of them to mankind. Also, give thanks that most thinking people do not believe the myths perpetuated by many Texans.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Book TV

On weekends I sleep late and then, still in my bathrobe, dawdle over breakfast watching Book TV on CPAN 2 with authors, liberal and conservative, talking about their books. Every print and television reporter seems to write a book to expand things they did not have space or time for in newspapers or on television. Very interesting!

Many new books are published by both right and left wing organizations to promote their ideologies. CSPAN lets both sides vent their opinions. By listening to the authors I learn their thinking without buying the books.

On Saturday the programs were interrupted to broadcast Senate debates on the stimulus plan. (Did you know that wherever the Senate is in session you can watch every minute LIVE on CPAN 2?) This Saturday, when the senators went into recess, it was back to books and authors.

To fill in the time, CPAN rebroadcast an event videotaped at a Washington, D.C., bookstore on January 8. Robert Kaiser, longtime observer of Washington as a reporter and editor of the Washington Post, talked about his book, focusing on the corruption of politics, called “So Damned Much Money.” Television ads are so expensive that the cost of running for office has become astronomical. To run for re-election in 2008, the average senators spent ten million dollars. That’s $10,000,000! Congressmen spend one day a week on the telephone trying to raise money for their next campaign. The result? Lobbyists act as “consultants” advising them on how to contact the big money guys and get the cash, lots of it. “He who pays the piper calls the tune.”

Later in the afternoon I watched a conversation between David Brooks and Gwen Ifill. I can’t remember whether it was Kaiser or Brooks or someone else who commented on the decline in ability in the men and women in Congress. The impression seems to be that most of our representatives and senators are not “public servants” but people who go into politics to get the money. After a few years in Congress, they become lobbyists themselves and make the big bucks. Kaiser told about one who amassed a fortune of one hundred million. That’s $100,000,000.

Brooks and Ifill talked about race relations. Despite great changes in the past 40 years, Ms. Ifill said, even as a successful woman, a Harvard and Stanford graduate, she is sometimes treated differently because she is a black woman. Where she sees racism, she says, “I laugh.” Brooks commented, “All of us have been treated as minorities at one time or another. Some of us have only sipped where others have drunk by the gallon.”

Take a look at Book TV. It is on all day Saturday and Sunday on CPAN 2 – unless the Senate has an emergency session.

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Trucks on Cars

The accident was not important enough to make the front page, but as I sipped my breakfast tea in the quiet comfort of my den, I was shocked by the picture on page 7 of today’s Dallas Morning News. A group of firemen stood behind a pile of knee-high junk which until yesterday was a car. The headline said: “Truck-crash kills woman in Euless.” A sand truck hit her vehicle and rolled on it.

It happens again and again. Last week on I-35 in Dallas, a huge rock hauler rolled on top of a Toyota. A crane was called to lift the truck off the crushed car. Paramedics worked for over an hour to extract the driver. By a miracle, he survived with broken arms, legs, ribs, plus internal injuries.

Not all accidents involve fatalities or serious injuries, but, day after day as I make my morning tea, my kitchen radio reports traffic tied up around Dallas and its suburbs by accidents. Usually it involves an 18-wheeler. Sometimes the truck jack-knifes or rolls over, spilling its contents across six lanes, halting freeway traffic for hours. If a car is involved, the car loses, often with serious injuries to the passengers. The driver has even less chance than a two-stripe corporal in conflict with a bird colonel.

I go into my den, relax in the big rust-colored arm chair, and pick up the morning paper. I feel grateful that I am retired and don’t have to battle rush-hour traffic to go to work every day. But in the middle of the day I sometimes drive the expressways to the art museums in Dallas. Even at 11 o’clock in the morning, 18-wheelers terrify me.

Who has not had a close encounter with those monsters crowding our highways? The Kings of the Road are less like constitutional monarchs than all-powerful dictators. According to newspaper accounts, inexperienced drivers cause of some of the messiest rollovers. Are trucking companies trying to save money by using men for less pay than experienced drivers?

I suspect it is old-timers who honk their horns to force me to move out of their way when they want to change lanes. Men who, delayed by bad weather in the East, try to make up time as they haul tons of steel or other stuff from Boston to Los Angeles. Sleep-deprived truckers are a danger. On long-hauls, from Coast to Coast, drivers go days without sleep – and sometimes are so lead-eyed by the time they get to Dallas that they can’t keep in their lane. BOOM! Another car side-swiped or rear-ended.

Get monster trucks off our highways! Not only are they a hazard to automobiles, they also chew up the pavement. Plus, they use enormous amounts of fuel. Our importation of foreign oil would be cut dramatically if freight moved off highways and onto rails. Only one problem: As James Howard Kunstler says, “The United States has a railroad system that Bulgarians would be ashamed of.” Obama pledged to put people to work rebuilding our infrastructure. Let’s hope that includes billions for railroads.

Meanwhile, as always, I have a suggestion. Let’s give our highways to trucks from midnight to 6:00 a.m. Only 18-wheelers. Police and emergency vehicles excepted. If truckers had to lay over after a six-hour shift, they would not try to drive when they need pills to keep their eyes open. This plan would also keep drunks in cars from racing the expressways at 80 m.p.h. to kill themselves at 2 a.m. Also, men or women who think they are alert enough to drive from Dallas to L.A. non-stop would have to try it in the day time, when they can at least see the road ahead.

Day times, from 6:30 a.m. to 11:30 p.m. would be for cars and pickups. That would not stop the idiots who speed in and out, tailgating and changing lanes, cutting in front of slower drivers. Accidents would happen. Just maybe fewer.