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.