Friday, August 28, 2009

The Immigrants

In one of the first blogs I posted was about a book called “Immigrant Voices”, a collection of first person stories told by immigrants to America from 1773 to 1986. The first story was the diary of a man who came from the Shetland Islands as an indentured servant to a tobacco plantation in Virginia, where he taught school for the plantation owner’s children and also accepted other pupils.

In October of 1776 he wrote in his diary, “I seed a Company of 70 Men belonging to one of the Regiments of Regulars raised here for the defense of the rights and liberties of this Colony in particular and of North America in Generall. They were on their March to Williamsburg.”

(In the 18th Century even educated people were uncertain about punctuation and spelling.)

Of particular interest to me was a trivial matter. In naming of the pupils in his school he wrote that John Pattie enrolled his children, William, Lucy, and John. It is all there in print. John Sr. was my ancestor; John Jr. my great-great-grandfather! I pictured my grandfather’s grandfather as a little boy, sitting in that little one-room Virginia schoolhouse learning his ABC’s from a semi-illiterate Scotsman while George Washington and other Virginians were fighting the American Revolution.

After that discovery, I put the book aside, taking it up only occasionally while trying to keep up with the torrent of weekly magazines which the postman brings. Time, Newsweek, and the New Yorker keep me diverted, one for each of the days I am in dialysis every week.

This week the latest New Yorker was buried under other stuff in one of the boxes hastily packed for moving, so, as I started for the elevator to go to dialysis, I grabbed the only book that was visible in the mess of the apartment: “Immigrant Voices.”

The last story in the book is about the Nguyen Family who came from Vietnam to Chicago in 1975. That was almost 200 years after that Scotsman came to America. Where did the Nguyens take refuge? In the Chicago neighborhood where I lived with my new husband when I was an immigrant from Texas to Illinois in 1952.

“Immigrant Voices” tells how the Vietnamese adapted to their new environment. In the ‘70's the Uptown neighborhood was different from the place I remembered. But even in the ‘50's it was very different from Fort Worth. Next time I will tell you about my experiences there.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Berlin Express

Dialysis is draining. After sitting in that chair for four hours, my left arm immobile with needles and tubes attached to the dialysis machine, my blood churning through my body, I come home and collapse. Then comes an evening of sitting in the big blue recliner and watching television. I am too exhausted to do anything else.

Charlie climbs on my lap, and that’s a comfort. For a while the cat will keep his eyes turned on the tv; then he turns his head to me as if to say, “Isn’t this a bore?” Then he goes to sleep.

I struggle to stay awake until bedtime. PBS has been running another of those damned pledge drives, with reruns of the same musical programs (“greatest hits of the 1960's”) that they run every pledge drive, interrupted with those long commercials from the station that claims to be non-commercial.

Tuesday night I was reduced to watching a two star movie on Turner Classics. “Berlin Express” is a clumsy black and white thriller made shortly after the end of World War II, with the brave American rescuing the beautiful Merle Oberon from the wicked Germans.

The movie was full of footage made in Berlin at the end of the war, showing the total destruction of the city, mile after mile of ruins, every building a hollow shell, streets filled with rubble. The theme of the movie was that Germany had been destroyed so completely that the nation would never recover.

I made my first trip to Germany in 1978. I was amazed. I saw no signs that there had been a war. Yet when I went to New Mexico in 1984, I met a former Army man who had been sent to Germany about the time this movie was made. He was convinced that German cities were still bombed out shells and that the German people were starving. Nothing I said could change his mind.

I have not seen the many modern buildings which transformed Berlin in the 1990's. My brother Don, a mechanical engineer, worked on some of those skyscrapers. He says Berlin is one of the most beautiful cities in the World.

There will always be people who see something – or learn something – and are so stuck in their minds that they cannot see change. “I saw it that way, so it must be so.” We revoke the past like an old black and white movie. That should not prevent us from seeing today’s World on a 42-inch plasma tv in vivid color.

Monday, August 24, 2009

Crazy Lady

I am crazy. People retort, “Everyone is crazy.” No. At times everyone does crazy things. I am mentally ill. There is a difference. Being mentally ill is not all bad. That is, if the illness is bipolar.

Schizophrenia is horrible. Hallucinations, imagining being attacked by snakes or hearing voices which command a person to kill – that is hell on earth. I am lucky; I am not schizophrenic.

Being bipolar means I am not psychotic (i.e. completely irrational). I just do foolish things. Everyone has “highs” and “lows.” Until I was in my mid-50's, I thought that was just part of the “normal” woman’s monthly cycle, even though my “highs” and “lows” were extreme.

For a week each month I was full of energy. “Come on, kids, let’s do something exciting.” In Michigan it was trips to the science museum at Cranbrook or to old Fort Wayne in Detroit. In Texas I drove over a farmer’s field to find dinosaur footprints on the banks of the Paluxy River. In Illinois we went to Wheaton where the boys climbed on army tanks at Cantigny. I never hesitated to drive 40 miles to Chicago’s Field Museum or the Museum of Science and Industry. Or take the kids hiking and camping on the Appalachian Trail or for many other adventures.

Then I would wake up one morning so “tired” it was difficult to get out of bed. It was all I could do to put my clothes on before my children came home from school.

I looked forward to menopause. In addition to being an end to the usual physical problems of being female, I expected my energy and emotions to “level.” Instead, I became mentally much more volatile. Twice I was close to suicide. At other times, when the legal speed limit was 55 mph, I drove 70 miles an hour on icy highways.

I was in my mid-50's when finally I was diagnosed as manic-depressive. It was a relief to know why I made hasty and foolish decisions. Since then I have been on medication. My illness has been under control. For most of the time.

As near as I can determine, in the last three years I’ve made only two hasty decisions. The first was two years ago on the afternoon I called American Airlines and found out I had enough miles for a free trip to Europe. Two hours later I had tickets for departure and return dates and had made a deposit for a $3,000 Elderhostel to Prague, Vienna, and Budapest. Who but a crazy woman would do that without thinking it over for at least one day? I went on the trip and had a wonderful time.

The second time I made an impulsive decision it changed my life. In June I saw the apartment in this retirement community and immediately wrote a check for the first month’s rent. Since then I’ve had to sell my house and go through the ordeal of sorting, discarding, packing, and moving. Not fun. Unexpected were the problems in getting a new telephone number and internet connection.

Now I am settled in the new place; I like the lifestyle. No cooking, no dishwashing, no scrubbing or vacuuming. I don’t have to drive to dialysis on Tuesdays and Thursdays. Jackie takes me in the facility’s station wagon. I have no regrets about impulsive way I changed my life.

Even if my hasty decisions demonstrate that I am truly crazy.

Saturday, August 22, 2009


You know the Peter Principle: Anything that can go wrong, will go wrong.

True, true, true.

Moving is hell. I can write at least a half dozen blogs about my move from my house into an apartment in a retirement community. Those will come later.

But all the ordeal of sorting, discarding, and packing was minor stress compared to my frustrations with AT&T. For over a month I have been incommunicado ("without means of communication"). As of today, I have a telephone but still can't send e.mail. Don't know whether I will be able to post this. . . .

"This too will pass." Yeah?

When this mess gets sorted out, I will write about some of the crisis I survived in the past. Surely I can get through this one, too.