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.