Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Bah! Humbug! or Joy! Joy!

It happened again: When life seems so frustrating that I drop into Depression, something makes me so happy I feel manic.

This year I can not get into the Christmas spirit. I love getting cards, hearing from old friends near and far. It lifts my spirits to know they think of me, as I think of them. To remember all the good times we shared. I’ve had cards and stamps for over a month but have not addressed any.

My little artificial Christmas tree sits on the round table beside my living room window, but the big cardboard box of ornaments has sat packed and unopened on my coffee table for over a week.
With dialysis three days a week, I can’t travel. I have memories: Paris, Rome, London, St. Petersburg, Bangkok, Beijing, Copenhagen, and many, many other places I will never see again. Even worse is to think of friends I never again will meet face to face. I would love to go to New Mexico, or even to Houston and Galveston. Can’t.

We celebrated joyful Christmases when my children were small: baking cookies, Danish sandwiches on Christmas eve, going to midnight services and all kneeling together to sing “Silent Night” (Wally and Karl tone-deaf and singing monotones), 12 little packages in each stocking to make merry for all 12 days of Christmas. Now my children are far away, Martha’s family in Illinois, David’s in California. I should be accustomed to being without them on holidays, but I’m not.

I will have Christmas at the retirement home with others who also will be alone. Doris, Sylvia, Bob, and I will “make a merry little Christmas” together. They are all good friends and good company. Our cook promises a feast of turkey and ham on Christmas Day.

Then comes a wonderful surprise. Martha called last night. She has a week’s vacation between Christmas and New Year’s. She is going to leave husband Don and their three boys to cope without her for a five days and come to see me! I am filled with joy! I’ll get to work and put those ornaments on the tree!

Here’s hoping the holidays will bring you wonderful surprises, too.

Friday, December 17, 2010

Christmas Gifts

What to give the grandchildren for Christmas? In my case, nothing. Shocked?

As a child during the Great Depression, I was thrilled to get one little doll for Christmas and a $1 bill for my birthday. It shocks me to see the kind of gifts children today expect to receive for Christmas.

These are hard times for lots of people. Yet mothers working for minimum wage cry out how terrible it is not to be able to give their children the most expensive toys.

My children are rich. When I visited my son’s home in California, his children’s rooms were filled with toys, so much so that there was no space for my grandson and granddaughter to play. So they played in the living room, with toys scattered about so thick that it was difficult to avoid stepping on them. If I accidentaly crushed one of those plastic marvels underfoot, it did not matter. Hidden among the stuff on the carpet were three more toys just like it.

Now I send family gifts to both my son and my daughter. David’s family gets cheese. Martha’s family gets grapefruit. Both families get subscriptions to Smithsonian. Things that can be consumed or read and then disposed of, not adding any clutter to their homes.

David brought his little boy to visit me in Albuquerque. I didn’t have any fancy toys for Adam to play with. But, quite by accident, I had something better. My house had dessert landscaping, cactus in the “flower” beds and gravel instead of a lawn. All Adam wanted to do was play with the “rocks” in Grandma’s front yard.

Next year David brought both the children. When the car pulled into the driveway, Adam turned to his sister and said excitedly, “Look, Alli! Grandma has rocks!” You would have thought my yard was covered with diamonds.

Now Adam is eleven. David and Adam leave the toy-strewn house and drive out into the California dessert, where they hunt rocks and fossils for Adam’s collection. I wonder if my grandson may become a geologist.

The best thing we can give children is not fancy gadgets from the store but time spent with them exploring the world around us.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

My Savior

I went with my friend Lois to the annual Christmas concert at the First Baptist Church in Garland. Church members put on quite a production. An 85-voice choir raised their voices for over an hour in a series of rousing choruses to back up soloists and a pageant with Mary and Joseph and a real, live baby who leaned against Mary’s shoulder and quietly looked around without a whimper until the end of his 10 minute appearance on stage.

Someone remarked to me that when she came to Texas, she thought there was only one First Baptist, the one in downtown Dallas, at that time the premier Baptist church in the World. Baptist churches are everywhere, small ones on neighborhood street corners and cathedral-size edifices on every major avenue. Since people moved to the suburbs, every community has a First Baptist Church– First Baptist Church of Mesquite, First Baptist Church of Rockwall, First Baptist Church of Garland – plus others with names like Faith Baptist Church, Gatewood Baptist Church, and Bobtown Road Baptist Church. There are no saints in Baptist churches.

Like all Baptists, the emphasis is on “accepting Jesus as your personal savior.” In the middle of singing Christmas carols, the preacher came to the pulpit and gave a short sermon, which began with asking each of us if we could remember a single event which changed our life.

I couldn’t help it. The big event that I remembered was the night in 1986 when I walked into a bar in Downers Grove, Illinois, and met John Durkalski. He was short, old (68), bald-headed, and pot bellied, and I felt about him the way Thomas Jefferson must have felt when Sally Hemings arrived in Paris, a beautiful, nubile 16-year-old who looked like his deceased wife. (Martha Jefferson and Sally were half-sisters.)

The Baptist preacher was telling us that when Jesus came into our hearts, he would change our lives entirely. John Durkalski changed mine. He became my second husband. Although he died in 1992, he still takes care of me financially. But even more important, at a time when I was depressed and abandoned, he brought joy into my life.

In Junior High we memorized Robert Browning's poem about Abu Ben Adam, who dreamed of an Angel who. making a list of those “whom love of God hath blessed,” asked Abu Ben Adam is he loved God. “Nay, not so,” said Abu Ben Adam, “Write me in as one who loves his fellow men.”

I’m with Abu Ben Adam. When I see the havoc brought by Katrina, earthquakes in Haiti, and floods in Pakistan, I can’t believe a loving Heavenly Father would permit such things. There are also evil men in the World, who preach hatred of all who disagree with them.

But I also believe evil is counter-balanced by good men, Christians, Jews, Muslims, and Buddhists, who seek to help others on both a world-wide and personal level. I was lucky in meeting one of them in 1986 in a bar.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Surprising Friday

Here I am, an old woman living in a retirement home, and life continues to surprise me. When I was young, problems overwhelmed me. I would try to figure out solutions, and that never seemed to work. I would go into deep depressions. It took me a long time to notice that my problems usually were solved unexpectedly – and usually the outcome was better than anything that I imagined.

Friday night, after a busy day, I couldn’t face getting out a pot and cooking my solitary supper. Besides, all I had was one can of mushroom soup and a refrigerator with a jar of mayonnaise and two loafs of frozen bread. I went downstairs and climbed into my Hyundai, planning to drive to McDonald’s for a sandwich.

I turned the key in the ignition. Not a sound. Not even a grinding of the battery trying to turn over. Nothing. My car was dead.

What could I do? I got out of the car and walked back across the parking lot. I had the keys in my hand but no way to start the car.

As I entered the walkway of my building, I met Nell. I told her my plight, and she said, “I’m going to Taco Bell to get a burrito for my husband. If you don’t mind tacos, you’re welcome to come with me.”

How nice it is to live in a retirement home with such good neighbors!

We were in line, waiting to place our order at the drive-through, I was thinking, “How kind of Nell to do this,” when my cell phone rang. My brother Don said, “Would you like to eat Mexican food? Mary and I are going to El Fenix. We’ll pick you up, and you can come with us.”

I told Nell, “Thank you, but I won’t be ordering after all.”

Instead of getting take-out from Taco Bell and taking it home for a solitary supper, I had enchiladas at a fine restaurant in the delightful company of Don and Mary – and they paid for my supper!

After they brought me home, Don used his jumper cables to start my car. Then he drove my car home to his house. The next morning he charged the battery and brought the car back to me.

All of this I could not have imagined as I sat in that cold car with not a murmur from its engine. What more could an old woman want than a good brother and such a happy end to a Friday?

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Muslims in Texas

Our retirement home is a friendly place. During our weekly “Happy Hour”, several of us sat around a little table eating barbecued chicken wings. Some were drinking beer and wine, which made them even more convivial than usual.

After the usual joking and teasing, somehow the talk became serious. Someone mentioned the war in Iraq and Afghanistan. Next to me was a former judge with flowing white hair whose bulky body was wedged in an electric wheel chair. He said something about our men fighting “to protect our freedom.”

I was drinking Dr. Pepper, but I don’t need alcohol to loosen my tongue. I am not one of those shy Texas “ladies” who never voice an opinion. I said, “This war is a tragic mistake. We can never win this war. I wish the President would bring all our boys home before any more are killed or maimed.”

“Better we fight them over there rather than fight them here,” the judge said, setting his beer glass down on the table. .

I’ve heard that nonsense before. I said, “They never planned to invade us.”

“There are seven million Muslims in this country,” the judge insisted. “Everyone of them wants to kill you.”

“That’s not true,” I said.

I don’t know if he believed that. Or was he simply goading me into a good argument? When we left, we agreed that we’d had better conversation than the usual talk about each other’s latest trip to the doctor. Old people go to doctors all the time.

A few days later I went to the vascular clinic to find out why the vein in my upper arm could not be used for dialysis. The last time I was there, a Texas doctor tortured me by probing in my arm without using any pain killer. I vowed never to back But my surgeon told me I had to go for an angiogram or he couldn’t fix my arm.

For months now I’ve been having my blood pulled in and out of the dialysiser through a catheter in my chest. My kidney doctor says if I stopped dialysis for a week I would die. The catheter does not work as well as a graft in my arm. A good reason for getting the arm fixed.

The nurse assured me, “You’ll see a different doctor this time.” I put on the hospital gown and lay down on the gurney. In came a big, burley man with a dark face and a ferocious black beard. Bluntly, I asked him where he came from.

“Bangladesh,” he said.

“Your parents were from Bangladesh?” I said. “Were you born in this country?”
“I was born in Bangladsh,” he said, examining my arm. .
“You must have come very young,” I said. “Your English is perfect.”

(Actually, he spoke better English than most Texans.)

I was wheeled into the operating room, where the big, black doctor apologized for the slight pain he caused when inserting the small catheter into my vein. After taking x-ray pictures and an ultrasound, he determined what the surgeon must do. He was gentle, courteous, and, pointing to various areas on the pictures, carefully explained everything to me.

This Muslim did not try to kill me. Causing as little pain as possible, he did a procedure which will enable me to go on living.

Saturday, November 27, 2010

Charlie Goes to the Vet

In Albuquerque, as soon as I got up every morning, I went to the kitchen and let Charlie out the back door. He jumped up on the block wall that surrounded the backyard and wandered all over the neighborhood. When we moved to Texas, I was afraid if I let him out of the house he would try to go back to New Mexico. Charlie became a house cat.

Soon after we moved into the house, I took him to the cat hospital. The vet gave Charlie shots. He also insisted on lots of expensive tests. After the tests came back, the vet said, “There is nothing wrong with Charlie. He’s a very healthy cat.”

I paid the bill, but thought, “Why does he need to go to the vet if he’s so healthy?”

Charlie did not see a vet for six years.

Then he started pooping on the carpet. Not all the time, but a couple of times a week I would come home from dialysis and be greeted by Charlie at the door and that noxious odor coming from the room I use as an office. I’d find a little moist heap on the carpet in front of the litter box. I thought, “Does he do that to punish me for leaving him alone so much?”

But if he wasn’t mad at me – he always came running as soon as he heard my key in the lock and begged me to sit down so he could climb on my lap – I jumped to the conclusion that he might have colon cancer. I called my brother Don and asked, “Do they give a colonoscopy to a cat?”

Don said, “I’ll come take Charlie to our vet. Go close the bedroom door.”

Mary comes to clip Charlie’s nails. As soon as Charlie sees Don and Mary walking in the door, Charlie runs and hides under the bed. It takes the two of them to coax and drag him out.

Sure enough, I opened the front door and Charlie saw Don, he retreated under the coffee table. Then he made a run for the bedroom. Finding the door closed, he ran into the office. Seeing it was hopeless to stay under the computer desk, he dashed back to the front of the apartment and hid on a chair under the dining table As Don knelt on the floor and reached under the table, the cat moved over onto the next chair. But I was there, waiting on the other side of the table.

Charlie gave up and moved back to Don’s chair. He liked the way Don held him and stroked his ears. He balked a little when Don pushed him toward the carrier. Then Don gave him a pat on the rear, and he went right in.

At the veterinary clinic, the doctor ran practiced hands all over the cat’s anatomy. She said, “How high is the door to his litter box?” Charlie is a big cat. He has a big, deep litter box. He has to climb up about eight inches to get inside.

“He has painful arthritis in his hips,” the vet said. “It hurts for him to get in there. Try getting a lower litter box.”

How often this happens. I look at a situation and think, “This must be the solution.” And if that doesn’t work, then I know the problem can be solved in the only other way I can think of. Then it turns out that I misinterpreted the problem in the first place. And the answer lies in something I never imagined!

Thursday, November 25, 2010


Thanksgiving Day. I hope this is a happy time for you.

Robert, our handyman, took me to dialysis yesterday. As we drove along Northwest Highway he told me he was debating whether to have dinner at his mother’s house here in Garland or to go with his wife to her mother’s in Arlington. He tries to watch his weight and does not want to overeat. I told him, “Go to both places and eat dinner in each of them.”

Sometimes family harmony is more important than any diet.

I’ve forgotten more Thanksgivings than I can remember. Some happy, some not so happy. None of them have been exactly like a Norman Rockwell painting.

Once, alone in Albuquerque, I took a Banquet frozen meal out of the refrigerator and heated it in the microwave. The sliced turkey was as thin as the paper in my copier. And nothing on television but football games. I thought about the big turkeys I baked for Thanksgiving when my children were little. Those were good times.

The next year I came to Texas for Thanksgiving with my brother Don and his wife Mary. I’ll be going to their house again today for a feast. Mary’s sister and nieces will bring cornbread dressing and green bean casserole. She said I didn’t need to bring a thing, just come and eat.

My son David says all he remembers from his first trip to Texas as a child, to visit my parents, was, “The biggest table I ever saw in my life.”

When I was a child, my family always went to my grandmother’s for Thanksgiving and Christmas. The oak dining table seated twelve, but my brothers and I always ended up eating in the kitchen. I was in college when my parents bought the house from my cousins. I knew I was grown up when I sat next to my father at the big table.

My Thanksgiving will be complete later today when I’ll drive to DFW Airport to meet David, now 45 years old, married, living in California, and father of two young children. The joy of having him here makes me realize what it meant to my parents when I brought my children from Chicago or Detroit, or wherever we were living, to be with them for even a little while.

I hope you feast with family today, and, if not, I hope you can be thankful for happy memories.

Monday, November 22, 2010

November 22

Today is the anniversary of John F. Kennedy’s assassination. It is also my son Karl’s birthday.

We were living in Birmingham, Michigan. I was down in the basement hanging balloons. Nine little boys were coming after school for a Cub Scout meeting and birthday party. I heard the doorbell and ran upstairs. My neighbor was standing on the doorstep.

“The President has been shot in Dallas.”

I went across the living room to the maple cabinet containing a combination record player and radio. I turned on the radio and Dottie stood beside me as a male voice told us that the President was dead.

The little boys arrived, all in their gold-trimmed blue uniforms with matching beanies on their heads. I never saw a more disturbed group of children. They twisted and chattered. We always began the den meeting with the Pledge of Alliance. None of them could stand still but shifted nervously from one foot to the other.

One cherub looked up at me and asked solemnly, “Mrs. Gaarsoe, did the Communists kill the President?”

“I don’t think so,” I said. “Dallas people are very conservative. There are lots of people there who hate Mr. Kennedy.”

I was dumbfounded the next day when I learned the shooter was a young man who called himself a Communist and had lived in Russia.

It has been a long time. I divorced Wallace Gaarsoe and later married John Durkalski. John died in 1992, Wally in '97. After his father died, Karl came to live with me in Albuquerque for several years. Today he is 56 years old and lives in Arkansas.

My brother Preston believed Oswald had an accomplice. He did not believe Osward was good enough marksman to have fired those three hots. Once when John and I were visiting in Texas, we came to Dallas and rode the elevator up to the Sixth Floor Museum in the School Book Depository. John looked out the window at the clear view of the street below and said, “I could have shot him myself from here.” John was a man who in World War II landed on Omaha Beach and followed the troops into Germany without ever firing his rifle.

I have read all the articles I could find about the assassination. I read the biography of Lee Harvey Oswald written by his brother, and I own a copy of “JFK: Breaking the News” by Hugh Aynesworth, a newspaper reporter who was in Dealy Plaza when the shots were fired and in Oak Cliff when Oswald was captured.

Lee Oswald was a nut. He acted alone, hoping to become famous like John Wilkes Booth. Plain and simple. There was no conspiracy. Anyone who believes there was a conspiracy is a fool.

Hatred does terrible things to people. Hateful people inflame unstable men like Oswald to commit terrible acts. On the internet I read horrible attacks on Obama. I hear friends praise Russ Limbaugh and Glenn Beck. My friends are gentle people who would not harm anyone. But it gives me nightmares thinking that somewhere out there is another Oswald.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Dancing Lady

I loved to dance, but during the 27 years I was married to Wally, we never danced. After we were divorced, I never went out on a date with another man. Until I went to Albuquerque. .

When Wally told me he was going to remarry, I offered to go far away and not interfere with his life if he would give me enough money to live a decent life. He agreed. I climbed into my BMW and headed Southwest.

I cried as a drove alone. All the way across Missouri wet Kleenex piled up on the passenger seat. I could not sleep and cried all night in the motel in Amarillo. The next day, as I crossed into New Mexico, a rainbow arched across the highway in front of me. It was an omen of happier days to come.

In Albuquerque I read in the newspaper that a senior center had a dance every Wednesday night. At the first dance I went to I met Manny. He was short, only an inch taller than my 5'1". His favorite dance tune was “Kansas City”. He lived all his life in New Mexico. He was a Pueblo Indian.

At Palo Duro Senior Center I met Jim, an Italian-American from New York, and the best partner I ever had – on the dance floor. At the singles group at the Unitarian Church I met Aaron, a retired architect from Toledo. Tall and gangly, he was difficult to follow, but he was an interesting guy and fun to talk to.

Here I was: a fat, ugly lady in my mid-50's, and I was having a ball!

Wally refused to sign the agreement to provide money for me to pay the rent. For three years I commuted between New Mexico and Illinois, suing Wally for support. I hated it each time I had to leave Albuquerque and go back to Chicago.

One good thing came out of that terrible time. I met John. The first time he spoke to me was when he asked me to dance. We kept dancing for the next five years. After we married we danced at Los Volcanes Senior Center in Albuquerque. John was not a good dancer, but he had good rhythm, and he enjoyed it so much! His favorite was George Strait’s “All My Exes Live in Texas.”

One New Year’s Eve we danced, sliding across the floor as our cruise ship met rough seas in the Caribbean. A poignant memory is another New Year’s Eve and John saying, “Honey, I’m so tired, but I’ll dance this one with you.” We danced to “You Belong to My Heart, Now and Forever.” Three weeks later he was dead.

Manny called. “Sorry to hear about John. Would you like to go to the dance?” I said, “Not now, Manny.”

Soon Manny and I were dancing again. We would go out, and I would talk about John.

After several years Manny and I broke up. Then there was Louis Rice, half-Anglo, half-Mexican, who loved to dance.

Lou’s stomach pains turned into inoperable colon cancer. One afternoon when I arrived at the hospital, the nurse said, “He tried to get out of bed. He said, ‘I have to get dressed. Ilene and I are going to the dance at the senior center at 5 o’clock.”

When I moved to Texas, I resigned myself to never dancing again. The men at the Garland Senior Center were uninteresting and uninterested.

I am 81 years old and for the past year I’ve lived in a retirement home. Friendly people, even some interesting men – but no boy friend. My body is horrible. I’ve lost both breasts, and my freak colon has expanded until I look eight months pregnant.

Then we had the Military Ball. Men danced with me. This old woman suddenly felt like she was 18 years old again.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010


Mail Preference Service
c/o Direct Marketing Association
P.O. Box 643
Carmel, NY 10512

To whom it may concern:

Please ask every distributor of catalogs to TAKE ME OFF THEIR MAILING LISTS.

I am 81 years old and live in a small apartment. I am getting rid of things. I don’t need to buy any thing.

When I get an unwanted catalog, without looking at it I throw it in the garbage.

What a waste of postage, printing, and paper.

Yours very truly,

Ilene Durkalski

Sunday, November 14, 2010

I Could Have Danced All Night

We had a ball! At the “independent living” residence where I live, we got dressed up (I wore a new black silk blouse with my pearl necklace and earrings), and we had a Military Ball.

The Air Force sent a squad in crisp blue uniforms to present the colors. The party began with all standing up (except the ones in wheel chairs) for the presentation of the flag. We put hands over our hearts and sang, softly in old squeaky voices, as the band played “The Star-Spangled Banner.”

Our activity director announced that the military group would stay for dancing. The only problem was that the color guard was colored, and half of the “airmen” were women. The black sergeants seemed reluctant to ask old white women to dance. A lingering racism? They went from table to table, sat down, and talked with us congenially.

The Frisco Jazz Band was a full orchestra – must have had 15 musicians playing saxophones, trumpets, trombones, drums. Best of all, the band played music from the 40's and 50's, when us oldsters, now in our 70's and 80's, were in our twenties. Some of the old folks were content to just sit and recapture the mood of their youth. Leo and Lola, who go everywhere together, did not leave their chairs.

But some of us got up and danced! Bob, who had a stroke which left him with a paralyzed right arm, jitterbugged with Alma to Glen Miller’s “String of Pearls”, twirling her around with his left hand. I found partners for some of the slower pieces. Bill Pitts, a big man who also had a stroke and moves cautiously, was reluctant, but after seeing other oldsters lumbering around, led me to the little dance floor, and proved to be the best partner I had all evening.

Oh! What wonderful memories were evoked by dancing. As a teenager, when Bob came home from college, we went dancing every week. At Christmas, Joe Lillard brought his record player, and. we rolled up the rug and danced on the hardwood floor in my parents’ living room. In the heat of summer we went out on the front porch and danced on concrete. For dances with a big band at the Casino beside Lake Worth, I dressed up in a long, formal evening gown.

Bob and I broke up. He went to work for United Fruit in Central America. I married Wally and moved to Chicago. I didn’t dance again for 30 years. I was passionately in love with Wally, but many times during those years when I found my foot tapping to certain music, I couldn’t help remembering the joy I felt while dancing. A joy that came back to me at age 81 on a rigged-up dance floor in the dining room of an old folks home.

Friday, November 12, 2010

Remembering Margaret

Every Sunday I look at the calendar on my desk where I note things I have to do that week. Then I look ahead to upcoming events. We’ll be going to the Frontiers of Flight Museum on the 17th, and Lois will come for dinner and to go the matinee of “Man of La Mancha” on the 21st.

This month marks several birthdays. I got out the box of birthday cards and addressed three, one to my son Karl, who will be 56 on November 22. I’ve only had one telephone call from Karl since he moved to Arkansas five years ago. But I keep hoping. His brother David is coming from California for Thanksgiving. That will be the high light of the month.

Their father’s birthday was November 11; that’s one I want to forget.

Two of the cards are to friends I’ve known since we were in college more than 60 years ago. Marjorie Lewis and Norma Miller both live in Fort Worth. I have not seen them since the party on my 80th birthday last year. Another college friend was Margaret Cinque, whose birthday was the 7th. She and her husband, Jack, planned a special trip from Houston to come to my party when she died suddenly the week before.

I written blogs about the great hosts the Cinques were when I descended on them in London in 1980. You’d think they would have had enough of me after those two weeks! But they treated me as if I was doing them an honor by welcoming me into their home and letting them take me to fine restaurants, to the theater, and to day trips in the English countryside.

Margaret was a true friend from the time we were classmates at Texas Woman’s College. On my first paid vacation I went to Houston and stayed with Margaret at the YWCA. Neither of us had any money. I was an underpaid reporter at the Fort Worth Press, and she worked for pittance at Foley’s Department Store. We had such a good time.

Margaret was a little woman who kept her light-colored hair in a bouffant long after it went out of fashion. Margaret was not one to worry about style. She went all over the World carrying an enormous purse shaped like a big green fish. It held a lot of stuff, and she thought it was fun.

Margaret liked to do things – eat delicious meals, go to concerts and theater, and especially art museums. (She’d been an art major in college.) Jack also enjoyed these enthusiasms, but if he was busy, she would share them with someone else.

After London the Cinques lived in New York and California before moving back to Texas. They invited me to visit them each time there was a special exhibit at the Houston Art Museum. I flew to Houston and enjoyed their hospitality every time.

When my nephew Rusty was to be married in Houston, I flew in from Albuquerque. Jack met me at the airport. They took me out to dinner and, once again, treated me like I was a visiting duchess. There was no way I could repay them for their generosity. They seemed to enjoy giving me pleasure.

Always cheerful, Margaret looked kindly on everyone. She supported her kind thoughts with actions. I always felt good when I was with her. How could I not love someone who treated me as if it was a joy to know me? She was a dear person, a true friend.

I’m getting old. Getting old? I AM old. My brain is stuffed with memories. I try to forget the bad times and remember my blessings. I had many good times, thanks to my friend Margaret.

Monday, November 8, 2010

Down the Tube

In London I saw many wonderful things – Westminster Abby, St. Paul’s Cathedral, paintings in the National Gallery and the Tate, sculptures from the Parthenon at the British Museum, and so on. But one of the most memorable places was underground: The London subway system is amazing.

Londoners call it “the tube.” The center of the city is surrounded by a tangle of subway lines, marked in various colors on the map. I used it frequently to save steps, as trains came often and made frequent stops.

At that time people described things as “Way Out”, as they would later say, “Cool”, or even later, “Bad” or “Hot”. Seeing a good movie was “Way Out.” The landing on the Moon was “Way Out.” The London tube was definitely “Way Out.” I stepped off a train and a sign saying “Way Out” showed me to the exit.

I had ridden subways in New York (many times), in Chicago (daily, when I worked in Chicago’s loop), in Montreal (wonderfully quiet on rubber wheels), in Moscow (statues and murals at each underground station), and the Paris metro (the best system in the World). .

At first the London tube did not seem much different than Chicago or New York. The dimly-lit cars were filled with men in shabby work clothes, young people in jeans and tee-shirts. The trains screamed and screeched through black tunnels.

After a long day of sightseeing, I went underground to return to Margaret and Jack’s. At the Highgate station the “Way Out” sign led to what looked like the longest, steepest escalator in the World. With feet aching after walking all day, I stepped on the escalator and rode upwards counting the posters across from me on the wall behind the “down” escalator. I estimated the ride was the equivalent of climbing a five-story building.

I walked onto a tile-floored platform, which proved to be only a rest stop before another long escalator. It was another five-story ride until I finally reached the surface. Not as deep as the Chilean miners, but quite a ride! “Highgate” was aptly named. From places in the suburb you could look down on skyscrapers in the city, many miles away.

During World War II, as the Germans bombed London into rubble, people took shelter in the subways. For months families slept every night on station platforms. “The tube” saved thousands of lives.

Saturday, November 6, 2010

Who Was Karl Marx?

Last week I asked several people what they knew about Karl Marx. Curtis said, “I only keep up with the Cowboys. I don’t know the names of players on the other teams.”

He’s a typical Texan.

You know I am not typical. I’ve read and studied about a lot of things. (My brother said, “Don’t ever play Trivial Pursuit with her!) In a post-graduate course at TCU, I studied economic systems, including Capitalism, Socialism, and Communism. I actually read Karl Marx’s “Das Kapital.” A big, thick book with lots of statistics about British laborers in the 1800's.

Asked what she knew about Marx, Jean said, “All I know is that he was an evil man.” Then she added, “Wasn’t he Russian?”

Marx was German. Forced to leave Germany after the failed revolution of 1848, a time when Germans came to the Hill Country in Texas, Marx and his family went to England. He did all his research on which he based his theory of Communism in the reading room of the British Museum and Library.

When I went to London the first time, I spent a day in the Museum, where I got to see the Rosetta Stone, the Elgin Marbles, Chinese porcelains, ancient illuminated manuscripts, and a special exhibit on Karl Marx, with pictures of his family and his library card.

In “Das Kapital” Marx describes horrible working conditions: five year old children digging in narrow tunnels in coal mines, factory workers maimed and discarded with no benefits, farm workers barely living on starvation wages. He thought surely the workers would revolt.

He could not foresee what would happen in Russia, where Communism collapsed and there is now chaos. Or China, which is still nominally Communist but which is now becoming our rival as the fastest growing Capitalist economy in the World. .

Marx certainly did not foresee what would happen in England. No violent revolution. Today middle class English people have more comfortable lives than we have in the U.S. (It’s true. I’ve traveled all over England, staying in British homes; also, John and I spent a summer living in Ipswich, England, with middle class neighbors.)

In any case, Marx is dead. He’s buried in Highgate Cemetery. In London I stayed with Margaret and Jack in a handsome house in Highgate. I said, “Let’s go see Karl Marx.” We drove over to the cemetery, but the gates were locked. R.I.P., Karl. He is one whose influence lived after him, but not in the way he expected.

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Let's Forget

My brain is stuffed with names and facts of history. I went to England to find places I read about, hoping to make history come alive.

Since I was a teenager, I loved English novels – Jane Austen, Dickens, the Brontes, but my intense interest in English history developed in 1954, after our son Karl was born and his father enrolled in Northwestern University as a graduate student. One of the first courses Wally took was 18th Century English History.

I was trapped with a tiny baby (not much of an intellectual companion) in a tiny efficiency apartment in Chicago, a thousand miles away from family and friends. What did I do? I went to the library and checked out all the books I could find from 18th Century England. In the end I learned more than Wally about England in the time of the American Revolution.

I read about Sir Robert Walpole, Lord North, Charles James Fox, and others, famous in their day, whom most Americans never heard of. Sir Robert was England’s first Prime Minister, who upon Queen Ann’s death, negotiated to bring George I from Germany and established the constitutional monarchy that is England’s form of government today. Quite an accomplishment! Did you read about him in your history books?

The only place where that history came alive for me was when we went to Blenheim. I walked through that vast palace and imagined John and Sarah Churchill, Duke and Duchess of Marlborough, receiving guests under the enormous painting of the Duke leading his troops to victory at the Battle of Blenheim.

As I wandered around London later that week, I couldn’t conjure ghosts of any of the other 18th Century “great men.”

All this came to mind this week after that disastrous election. Like most people, I am disgusted with Republicans, Democrats, and those nuts in the Tea Party. But: Two hundred years from now Jimmy Carter and George W. Bush will just be names on a list school children will memorize. Nancy Pelosi, Rand Paul, and Sarah Palin will be as forgotten as Walpole, North, and Fox. I won’t be alive then, but somehow I find that thought strangely comforting.

Monday, November 1, 2010

London Churches Big and Little

St. Paul’s Cathedral is Sir Christopher Wren’s masterpiece. It is huge. It is impressive. Standing on the marble floor and looking up at that great dome is like standing in the rotunda of the U.S. capitol. Light pouring in on all that white marble, I could see why Diana chose to be married to Prince Charles in St. Paul’s, rather than in dark and frankly gloomy Westminster Abby.

Watching on television as Diana walked down the aisle trailing fifteen feet of white satin, I thought the whole production was overdone. In St. Paul’s on a quiet day with few other tourists around, I still felt overwhelmed. I preferred the 50 other churches Wren designed in the center of London.

I had a booklet titled “Churches of London” with a map and descriptions of each. Somehow, in my moves from Illinois to New Mexico to Texas, I misplaced the booklet. Maybe I gave it away. Or it may be in one of those boxes, still unpacked, on the shelf in my closet. I’m too tired to look for it now. Just as I am too lazy to look up the exact date of the Great Fire of London.

During the Middle Ages, when London grew to be one of the largest cities in Europe, people lived in wooden houses, packed close together and as crowded and unsanitary as New York tenements in the early 1900's. The city was divided into many small parishes, each with its church.

Then came the Great Fire of London. In 1666? Around that time. The city burned down, except for a small area near the Tower of London. It was rebuilt with rows of brick buildings replacing the wooden ones in the same narrow little streets. Christopher Wren was the century’s leading architect. St. Paul’s neo-classic church with its great dome replaced an ancient Gothic cathedral. And then he designed 50 other churches, no two alike, to surround St. Paul’s like chicks around an old hen.

By the 18th Century London was spreading out. St. Martin’s-in-the-Fields, which had been in open countryside, now faces Trafalgar Square, considered the center of the city. As people moved to the suburbs, the Wren churches lost parishioners. I visited one church, kept open as a museum, which in 1800 had over 1,000 members. Fifty years later only 20 remained, and the church was closed.

Benjamin Franklin spent ten years in London before the American Revolution, trying to negotiate ways to keep the colonies from revolting. Since the Continental Congress was not generous in supporting him, he worked for a while in a church which had been converted into a print shop.

During World War II, German bombs destroyed all of the Wren churches except St. Paul’s. The cathedral was saved by plucky civilian volunteers who scrambled across the tiles to put out fires from bombs which landed on the roof. I heard one man say that after the war he stood on the steps of St. Paul’s and all around, as far as he could see, not a building stood over two feet high.

The English refused to lose their heritage. One or two churches were left in ruins as reminders of the war. The rest were restored to all the beauty of their 17th Century architectural glory. All are open to the public and are used for special events and concerts. Remember the church service at St. Clement’s at the end of the movie, “Chariots of Fire”?

I attended several concerts, including one where a young Japanese woman attacked the piano furiously. More in keeping with the retrained interiors was the classical music of Mozart and Bach, which I listened to while sitting in the elegant surroundings of Wren churches. I recalled those happy memories as I was getting dressed one morning this week in my apartment in Garland, Texas, making up my bed as the Dallas radio station WRR played a recording by the Academy of St. Martin’s-in-the-Field’s.

With my booklet as a guide, I spent days in London going from church to church, seldom seeing other tourists and sitting quietly and alone in each of them. My favorite was St. Bride’s. Just as few blocks from St. Paul’s, from the steps of the cathedral its pure white spire can be seen pointing to Heaven.

When German bombs pulverized St. Bride’s during World War II, the gaping hole uncovered Roman ruins below the church. After sitting for a while in the restored church, I went down into the crypt and walked on a Roman street with shops on either side. It was an odd feeling, standing on those old stones and realizing how this place had been built and re-built through the centuries, a church on top of houses, changing the foundations and, recently, changing the way the “restored” building is used.

Someone said to me last week, “The only thing that remains the same is that things are always changing.”

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Walking Through History

I am a nut for history, especially stories of royalty. London is crammed with historic places.

When I visited Jack and Margaret in London, they were busy with his work and her commitments to other activities. So, for two weeks I left their house in Highgate and took “the tube” into the center of London to go sightseeing on my own in one of the greatest cities in the World.

I made leisurely visits to all the famous places, finding space between the groups of tourists who crowded the aisles of Westminster Abby and taking time to read the inscriptions on the monuments. Then it was a short walk across the square where Margaret told me I could find an inexpensive lunch in the Methodist Church’s cafeteria.

After lunch it was back to the Abby Museum to see the effigy of Queen Mary II (in history books as half the reigning duo of William and Mary). The life-like figure was placed on top of her coffin for the long procession from Hampton Court, where she died, to be buried in Westminster Abby.

Another day I saw non-tourist London from the window of a city bus on the long ride to Hampton Court, where, in the wing added by William III, I saw the small bedroom where Queen Mary II died of smallpox.

In the older part of that huge palace I stood in the chapel where the tiny son of Henry VIII and Catherine of Aragon was baptized, only to die two months later, dashing Henry’s hopes and leading to their divorce.

I walked down the corridor where Catherine Howard, the fifth of Henry VIII’s six wives, ran screaming for him to save her. He didn’t. The guards dragged her away to have her head cut off in the Tower of London.

I also spent a day at the Tower of London. The White Tower is surrounded by a park-like lawn encircled by a high walls with many smaller towers, including the one where Sir Walter Raleigh was confined before his execution, and another where Princess Elizabeth was briefly held until released by her sister, Queen Mary I, who later conveniently died, and the princess became Queen Elizabeth I.

Inside the White Tower is a fine collection of armor, including Henry VIII’s huge and magnificent suit of armor with its beautifully engraved breastplate. On one of the upper floors of the tower is a chapel, “the oldest church in England” (I doubt it), where Anne Boleyn was buried after Henry had her head cut off.

In Medieval Times the White Tower was believed built by Julius Caesar. It wasn’t. It was built by William the Conqueror. Julius was there. A nearby tube station is “Roman Wall” where I stepped out of the underground and saw a fragment of the wall standing 12-feet high, with a modern statue of Caesar in front of it.

Across the street from the Tower of London is an old church which escaped the great fire of London in 1666. In this Medieval church William Penn was baptized into the Church of England. When he grew up he became a Quaker and founded Pennsylvania as a refuge for people of all religions. His descendants reverted to the Anglican church. The font in which he was baptized was brought to America and is in Christ Church Episcopal in Philadelphia. Tourists go there to see the pew where George Washington worshiped when he was first President of the United States.

History is full of twists and turns that kids don’t read about in World History courses in high school or college.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

An English Lunch

Americans drink coffee; the English drink tea. Everyone knows that. Right? Wrong! Neither custom is true of either people all the time, or even most of the time.

Margaret and I were friends for more than 60 years, since college in the 1940's. I never drink coffee. She teased me about using only a single teabag to brew four cups of tea. Margaret was a typical American; she was a coffee drinker.

Before I went to England the first time, I wrote to Margaret, whose husband, Jack Cinque, was stationed in London. They invited me to stay with them. I was there for two weeks. Jack and Margaret treated me like royalty on a state visit.

On later visits to England, after the Cinques returned to the U.S., I stayed in bed & breakfasts in British homes. I was surprised how most English prefer coffee for breakfast.

On that first visit, Jack took Margaret and me on a Sunday outing to Oxfordshire. After our tour of Blenheim Palace, Margaret suggested lunch at a famous English inn. It was an elegant place, with linen tablecloths, real silver “silverware”, and waiters in bow ties and short black jackets. I had a traditional British lunch of lamb with mint sauce. Delicious!

When we finished eating, Jack asked the waiter to bring coffee for himself and Margaret, tea for me. Promptly the waiter brought their coffee. Then we waited for my tea. Jack and Margaret finished their coffee. Jack called to the waiter, “Where is the lady’s tea?” The waiter sniffed and disappeared.

We waited. It must have been 30 or 40 minutes before the waiter appeared again bearing a large, two-handled silver tray. He set before me a complete tea service. On this large tray were two teapots (one with tea, the other with hot water), a creamer, a covered sugar bowl, a dish of lemon, and a waste bowl, all in handsome embossed silver, and a single delicate china cup and saucer.

As I stared in amazement at this elaborate production, Margaret and Jack burst into laughter.

Evidently, I had created a faux pas. For the English, tea is not served at lunch but at tea time.

Saturday, October 23, 2010

Blenheim Palace

Typical of British weather, most days were cold and wet when I visited the Cinques in London in 1980. But it was a delightful day, balmy with sunny skies, on the Sunday that Jack drove Margaret and me into the serene British countryside, where white sheep dotted the incredibly green grass on the hillsides.

In Oxford we peeked into the courtyards of various colleges. Now I see them on PBS tv in the Inspector Lewis Mysteries. Walking down an Oxford street I found a plaque in the pavement where Archbishop Cranmer was burned at the stake. So many centuries ago, the cobblestones are replaced by concrete, but on a nearby door scorch marks from the flames are still visible.

From Oxford we drove to Blenheim, entering a large park and crossing over the marble bridge where Dr. Johnson remarked to Boswell about how ludicrous it was to erect that elaborate structure over what was merely a small brook. Then through the ancient trees we saw Blenheim Palace, a vast, ornate place, steeped in history.

A hundred years before Napoleon, when England was enmeshed in one of the endless wars in Europe, the British Army was led by a Churchill. (I can’t remember his first name.) Anyway, “the first Churchill" was the husband Queen Ann’s favorite lady-in-waiting and best friend, Sarah Jennings. Churchill was the hero of the Battle of Blenheim, at that time a victory as famous as Waterloo would become 100 years later.

In honor of his achievement, Queen Ann created Churchill the first Duke of Marlborough and had Parliament vote funds to build him a home in the country. Sarah, now a duchess, proceeded, with much quarreling with her chosen architect, to erect the grandest residence ever built in England. Queen Ann was shocked by the extravagance.

Blenheim Palace fostered a rivalry among the British nobility. During the next century, dukes and earls built “great houses” all over Great Britain. Most are now “Open to View” several days a week. I’ve tramped through many.

Those old mansions are expensive to maintain and impossible to live in. The grand salons and banquet halls were never used more than once or twice a year for house parties, when guests would come in droves to hunt and engage in “other recreational activities.”

The rest of the time, when the lord and lady were in residence, they retreated to a small private suite, more intimate and livable. Or, as divorce was not permitted, these houses were so large that husband and wife could live under the same roof in separate apartments and never contact one another.

Living in a mansion does not guarantee a happy life. From all accounts, the first Marlborough remained passionately attached to his duchess despite Sarah’s notoriously quarrelsome nature. She even quarreled with Queen Ann.

But their descendants produced a family tree full of infidelities and unhappiness. An American heiress, Jenny Jerome, married a Churchill, whose father was Duke of Marlborough, and found herself locked in matrimony with a brilliant but unstable alcoholic. Their son, born at Blenheim, was Winston Churchill, World War II Prime Minister. He found happiness with his Clemmy, in a much smaller, and much more charming, house at Chartwell.

As Jack, Margaret, and I wandered through the vast rooms of Blenheim Palace, with huge paintings of the first duke's battles, I thought of all the people who lived there, happy and unhappy. I puzzled about what makes a good marriage. I loved my first husband and tried for years to make our marriage work. And failed. Yet here, going side by side through these elaborately decorated rooms, were Jack and Margaret, who on the surface had many differences: she a Texan, he a New Yorker; she a Methodist, he a Roman Catholic; she a Democrat, he a Republican. Yet I never knew a more loving, devoted, and congenial couple.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Our English Enemies

People who never travel have images in their minds of foreign countries based on what they have read or seen in movies or on television. I, too, had “preconceived notions” of what to expect when I traveled. Before going on a trip I read as much as I could about the places I was to visit. When I got there, I was always surprised.

In London, entering St. Paul’s Cathedral for the first time, I noticed an unusual monument. On a high marble pedestal stood life-sized figures of two young men in 18th Century military uniforms. Usually statues are of one person; very unusual to see two soldiers standing proudly side-by-side.

Can’t remember the date on the inscription, something like 1778 or 1780. I remember the inscription in the marble said these young men were friends who fought side-by-side and gave their lives for their country “against the rebels in the colonies.”

The date was from the American Revolution. It dawned on me: Those rebels were us! My great-great-grandfather was at Yorktown. Maybe he shot them.

How long has it been since we fought the English? Not since the War of 1812, and we’ve forgotten that. I have friends in England. Maybe they, too, forget that once we were enemies.

At 81 I probably won’t live to see peace in the Middle East. But seeing those statues in England gives me hope.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Not Eating Oatmeal

Bob sat down next to me at the breakfast table. He looked at the menu and said, “I hate grits.” He ordered oatmeal.

I said, “I hate oatmeal.” I ordered two poached eggs on toast.

Different strokes for different folks. What a dull World this would be, if we all liked the same things.

I would not eat oatmeal, but I cooked oatmeal for my kids. As it boiled, I stirred and stirred until it was smooth and creamy. Until the morning that Karl complained. He said, “You didn’t leave any lumps in my oatmeal.” I never cooked oatmeal again.

When my father was a teenager, his brother, who was twelve years older, bought a ranch in far West Texas. Uncle Dick didn’t have much money, and land was cheap out there. One summer Daddy went to help on the ranch. The family was so poor that all they had to eat was oatmeal.

At the end of summer Daddy went to Kansas City and got a job in a bank. He never ate another bowl of oatmeal for the rest of his life.

Our family went to visit Uncle Dick a couple of times a year. The lanscape I saw from the front yard was absolutely flat. I slowly turned around and saw sand stretching out into a bowl, no trees or houses interrupting the perfect circle of the horizon. The only thing growing in that sand was sage brush, which Uncle Duck called “shinnery” because it didn’t grow higher than his shins. Hereford cattle spread out to find forage in that stuff.

In the evening Uncle Dick saddled his horse and rode out to find the cattle. He let my brother and ride beside him For Lyle riding horses on Uncle Dick’s ranch was almost as good as dying and going to heaven. They rounded the cows up and drove them towards the windmill behind the house. There are no creeks or natural ponds on the plains. The only place the cattle could drink was from the “tank”, a small pond fed by the windmill. The windmill pumped up water day and night.

Aunt Verna went to the windmill and brought in buckets of water for cooking and washing dishes. The ramshackle frame house had no running water, no electricity, no indoor plumbing. No convenient shopping either – the nearest town was 40 miles away. It was impossible to clean house. The whole house was covered in a thin layer of sand, drifted in under the loose-fitting window frames.

Aunt Verna wore out and died young. Life was easier for Uncle Dick’s second wife, Aunt Allie. The REA stretched electrical lines across many miles of prairie, all the way to the ranch house. Uncle Dick brought water lines to the kitchen and even installed an indoor bathroom – although he continued to use the outhouse.

The one thing our family looked forward to was the home-made biscuits which my aunt baked every morning for breakfast. We arrived one night, dusty and tired after the long drive from Fort Worth in my father’s old Hudson. After Aunt Allie greeted us, she told us she and Uncle Dick had been to town the day before especially to buy treats for us during our visit. She proudly showed us the big loaf of “store-bought” bread.

Even with modern conveniences, in many ways the ranch remained the same. When I went to bed, my face chaffed against gritty sand on my pillow. I drifted off to sleep listening to the metal arms of the windmill turning in the wind, and the clank of the pump bringing up water from far under ground.

Land remained cheap. Uncle Dick bought more and more acreage. After World War II, I overheard him tell my father he bought 10,000 acres for $1 an acre without the mineral rights.

Uncle Dick retained the mineral rights on the rest of the land, Oil companies offered to lease, not the land on which the cattle grazed, but the right to drill for oil which may or may not lie far underneath the surface. Uncle Dick leased thousands of acres for $100 per acre per year.

As an old man, Uncle Dick became rich. Very rich. He and Aunt Allie moved to town. As they breakfasted in that handsome new brick house, I wondered: did they eat oatmeal and toasted “store-bought” bread?

Saturday, October 16, 2010

Old Acquaintance

In the mail was an invitation to the reunion dinner for alums of Paschal High School. On the list of committee members I saw a familiar name: Lunda May O’Toole.

I had not talked to Lunda May since August, 1952. Wally and I were married on August 3 and left immediately for Chicago. Lunda May and Bob were to be married two weeks later. While I was living in Chicago, my mother wrote me of seeing her in the grocery store from time to time – I heard that her little boy had polio – but I knew little of what happened to her in the last 50 years.

We were children of the Depression. My family lived on the corner of the 1800 block of South Adams Street. Lunda May’s .father built a new house across the street. Both were small, frame houses. Our old house had five square rooms, with the one bathroom tacked onto the back after the house was built. To take a bath or use the toilet, my brothers and I had to go through our parents’ bedroom. The Keiths’ new house, just as small, seemed much more modern. Its one bathroom was between the two bedrooms.

Lunda May and I went to different elementary schools. (Mother transferred my brother and me to a school near my grandmother’s house, as she went to her mother’s every day.) But we were together in junior high and high school. We both played in the junior high orchestra. Even then she was accomplished violinist. I attempted the cello, but played so badly that I gave up when I entered high school.

By that time my family had moved to a larger house. Lunda May’s family remained on South Adams Street. But we both went to Paschal High, where we ate lunch together every day.

I was a good student; she was a better scholar. She was salutatorian of our graduating class. The girl whose grade points were barely higher than Lunda May’s was given the valedictorian scholarship. She did not need it. The girl was the daughter of a physics professor at Texas Christian University. Lunda May’s family struggled to pay college tuition. (The next year Bob Adams received a scholarship to Harvard and gave up the honor of being valedictorian so that the second ranking graduate could have the scholarship to a Texas university.)

After high school, we saw each other now and then. We went to different colleges. I don’t know what she did after graduation. I became a reporter for the Fort Worth Press.

We sent each other wedding invitations. I remember she and Bob O’Toole came to our house to bring me a wedding gift. It was the first and only time I met him. Lunda May and I left him alone in the living room while we went back to my bedroom where I showed her my wedding dress. I wondered if he was a good person, or if, like me, the starry-eyed romance brought years of living with a difficult man.

The alumni association sent me her address and phone number. I picked up the phone and called her. Lunda May's voice sounded as cheerful and full of life as when she was a teenager.

While I married, divorced, remarried, was widowed, and lived in various houses and apartments in five states (and for six weeks in a house in England!), Lunda May and Bob also lived in several places, but always in the Fort Worth area.

They’ve been married for 58 years. Their son, whose left arm is useless because of polio, has a successful career. He and his wife, whom Lunda May adores, live in a beautiful home on a nearby lake. Lunda May and Bob also have a daughter, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren. They fill her life with joy.

Belief in God is the sustaining force in their lives. They use their love of music in service at the Assembly of God Church. Lunda May switched from violin to cello, and continues to play at age 81. She sang in the church choir, which Bob directed. She sounded as busy and enthusiastic about life as the girl I remembered.

At our age, when tragedy marks the lives of friends, many are dead, and all who remain suffer from some ailment or another, it was great to connect with this old friend and to hear that, staying right at home, she indeed has had a good life.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Taking Surveys

Every few days the mail brings a questionnaire. The Republicans take a survey. Then Democrats take another, and the two come up with entirely different results. This week the dialysis center asked me to complete a six-page questionnaire of “Your Health and Well-Being.”

“Did you have a lot of energy?” I have very little energy. What do you expect? I am 81 years old.

Questions 2 and 3 asked if my health limited me (2) from moving a table, pushing a vacuum cleaner, bowling, playing golf, or (3) climbing several flights of stairs. I marked “no” on both these questions because I do not do any of these activities.

I can’t move furniture or push a vacuum cleaner because of the lymphoma in my right arm. In this retirement home a nice lady named Gloria does that for me.

I never bowled. I never played golf.

I never climb stairs. I use the elevator to get to my third floor apartment. When I traveled, I asked for elevators, even in places where most people are required to climb stairs. In Rome I avoided climbing the long marble stairs in front of St. Peter’s when a monk in a long cassock took me up to the church in a private elevator (perhaps the one used by the Pope).

“During the past four weeks have you felt calm and peaceful?” “True or false: My kidney disease interferes too much with my life.” “Do you feel washed out or drained?”

I’ve adjusted to going to dialysis three days a week. I feel utterly drained after each dialysis. I sit in my recliner and watch television. The next morning I feel fine and with enough energy to do whatever I want to do. In this retirement home I don’t have to cook or clean house.

I had a setback when my access became clogged in June. Dr. Cook put a new graft in my upper arm. It still is not healed. I feel good. As long as I am not in pain, I don’t worry. Soon I will be back on the regular routine. I “go with the flow.” I’m in better health than other people on dialysis. Better health than most people my age. I have excellent health insurance.

No complaints.

“How much does kidney disease bother you in your ability to travel?” I don’t get to the Dallas Art Museum or meet my friend at the Kimball in Fort Worth. That’s because on my “good days” I write my blog. It’s a choice, not because my health interferes.

I won’t take any more trips to Europe. Now I write about my travels on my blog, and tell stories to old ladies who have never been abroad.

I do think my kidney doctor should have let me go to India before going on dialysis.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Our Amazing World

As a child, I thought I lived in the modern World. During World War II, I wrote to my cousin Richard, fighting in Europe, and the letters flew over the Atlantic in less than a week. In World War I, Hobbs, New Mexico, did not hear of the end of the war until two weeks after the Armistice and the guns fell silent

Oh! We were very up-to-date. We didn’t have a telephone, but our neighbor did. When something happened that was really important, we used her phone to call my grandmother.

Long distance calls were expensive and reserved for major emergencies, like when a call came from West Texas that Uncle Dick’s horse fell and punctured his intestines. My parents called back to say they were leaving immediately, hoping to get there before he died. He survived and lived for another 60 years.

Last week, as I left the doctor’s office, my cell phone rang. My brother Don, who lives here in Garland, Texas, half a mile from the medical center, told me, “I just saw on Fox News that a plane from Aero Club Airport in Naperville, Illinois, crashed onto a third-story building.”

My daughter lives in Aero Club Estates in Naperville. Her husband keeps his plane in a hanger in their backyard, and he flies out of that private airstrip. I called Martha. When I told her there had been a crash, she said, “What?” I’d heard about it in Texas before she did, even though she was less than a mile away – almost close enough to hear the crash.

Later she e.mailed me that the airstrip was there long before the three-story building was erected just off the runway. The plane failed to gain enough altitude before hitting a tower on top of the building. There was no fire. Fireman put ladders up to the roof and rescued two people. The pilot, a neighbor, broke both legs and was released from the hospital later that day. His wife, also a friend of Martha and Don, was badly injured and remained in the hospital.

On Sunday my son David called from California. I asked if he heard about the plane crash in his sister’s neighborhood. He said, “Just a minute.” Maybe 90 seconds later he said, “I found pictures on the internet. I’ll send them to you.”

Two minutes later on my computer in Texas I had pictures sent from California of the plane crash in Illinois.

This is an amazing World. With cameras on cell phones everywhere, news travels around the World instantly. There are no secrets. The government can’t hide what is going on in Afghanistan. That’s good.

A home invasion in Connecticut and old ladies in small towns in Texas lock their doors and go to bed afraid. A child is abducted in California and mothers all over the country get in their cars and take their children to school, afraid to let them walk three blocks alone. Nineteen Arabs crash into the towers in New York, and people in Iowa don’t want Turks building a mosque in their small town. Living in fear is not so good.

Friday, October 8, 2010


On the radio this morning I heard a male voice announcing a choral Evening Prayer service this Sunday at the Church of the Incarnation in Dallas.

Before my first trip to London, a clergyman in Downers Grove, Illinois, told me, “After you’ve seen the Westminster Abby, be sure to go back at five o’clock, when the church is closed to tourists. Tell the guard at the door you want to attend the service of evensong.”

A tall gentleman in black escorted me down the long nave and up into the choir, where I was given a seat near the high altar. A few minutes later the organ filled the great vaults with majestic music, as down the center aisle came a procession of about 20 boys in crisp white tops over floor-length red cassocks. The choir boys were followed by an equal number of men in black robes. The choir took places behind me, a 40-voice choir for a congregation of perhaps 25. The combined voices of men and boys sang familiar hymns, moving me more deeply than any choir I'd heard in Episcopal churches in Illinois, Michigan, or Texas.

The Evening Prayer service was especially beautiful in that magnificent church. I was grateful to the Illinois clergyman who told me about it. Ten years later when John and I were in London in July, it was a different choir. After the service, a verger apologized,.”Westminster School is on summer holiday. In summer we have guest choirs from throughout England, and sometimes they are . . .”

“We attended a church service in Ipswich,” John said. “The 14th Century church was beautiful, but the choir. . . “

The verger just shook his head.

One reason I enjoyed traveling was the serendipity. As a student of history, In Europe are many places where I felt I was stepping back into the past. But even in Westminster Abby, surrounded by a thousand years of history, the experience was different each time I visited. I learned to “go with the flow.” Still, without the Westminster choir, attending any service at Westminster Abby was exalting.

My initial feeling was that it was too bad most tourists do not know that evensong is sung every night in all the cathedrals in England, usually to congregations of fewer people than are in the choir. On second thought I realized, selfishly, with few others praying in the majesty of those ancient spaces I felt the Holy Spirit, which I never felt when surrounded by hordes of other tourists.

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Westminster Abby

Every tourist who goes to London has to see Westminster Abby, if only from the windows of a bus.

Once I was on a bus tour that started in London. We were given a half-day tour of the city, and as we drove by, I looked out the window as the guide said, “That’s Westminster Abby, where Queen Elizabeth was crowned.” Then the bus drove out of the city and on to Harwich to board the ferry, which took us to the Continent and more half-day tours of other cities. Not the best way to see Europe.

On my own I’ve spent weeks in London. I loved walking around in the dusky light beneath the Gothic arches of Westminster Abby, circling groups of tourists to find quiet corners to read inscriptions on plaques, on statues and in the floor. The Abby is crammed with monuments to all kinds of people: royalty, novelists, statesmen. Many people are buried inside the church. I heard a guide say that Winston Churchill is buried there. There is a memorial to Churchill in the Abby, but his body is in a country churchyard near Oxford.

On a high marble platform in a side aisle Queen Elizabeth I lies, hands folded in prayer, as if the great queen fell under a spell while resting and, enchanted, was transformed into white marble. On the opposite side of the nave Mary Queen of Scots rests in marble effigy on a similar monument.

Standing before those marble figures in Westminster Abby, I remembered the history of these two queens. Throughout her reign Elizabeth was troubled by Mary, who besides being Queen of Scotland, also claimed to be the rightful queen of England. Men died plotting to put Mary on England's throne, replacing Elizabeth. Some endured the horrible death of traitors, "hanged, drawn, and quartered", cut down while still alive, their bowels cut out before their eyes, and than hacked to pieces. Elizabeth's cousin, the Duke of Norfolk, was executed for plotting with Mary. Finally, Elizabeth allowed Mary to be beheaded.

Ironically, when Elizabeth died, Mary’s son, James VI of Scotland, became James I of England, peacefully uniting two countries which had battled for centuries. He had his mother’s body brought from Ely Cathedral, where she was originally buried, to lie in equal state with Elizabeth.

The two queens, antagonists in life, now lie serenely beneath the shadows in the great church. They lived in troubled times. We also live in troubled times. If only our troubled world could find peaceful solutions as easily as England and Scotland united under one king and we could honor the vanquished as equals to the victors.

Saturday, October 2, 2010

Going to London

Dr. Johnson said, “He who is tired of London is tired of life.”

I returned to London several times and each time found new and interesting things to do. And always left wishing I had more time to see some of the things I missed.

The first time I went to England, my Texas friends, Margaret and Jack Cinque, were living in London. I wrote them that I was coming. They not only welcomed me into their home, but also let me stay for two weeks, treated me like visiting royalty, and even invited me to come back again.

It was a schizophrenic experience. Here I was in a foreign country but staying with Americans. I would go sightseeing in the city, evoking history in Westminster Abby and the Tower of London, then ride the “tube” out to Highgate to enjoy an American dinner with the Cinques. One night Margaret cooked tacos.

Their house was not a typical London row house but a red brick house on a big lot, looking much like the two-story, four bedroom “Colonials” built in the 1960's and ‘70's in suburbs all over the U.S. Margaret was proud of her big “American” kitchen, with lots of cabinets and a huge refrigerator, while upstairs the bathrooms were English-style with a little room for the tub and a separate closet for the toilet.

Jack and Margaret were suburb hosts. Busy people, they went about their usual activities, while I went sightseeing on my own. They had lived in London long enough to advise me about how to get the best out of my London experience.

Margaret took me to lunch at the Tate Museum (now the “Old Tate”) where she introduced me to the whipped cream dessert the English call “trifle”. Afterwords we went to a play at the theater in Convent Garden where Liza Doolittle met Professor Higgins. Then it was home again, for a typical American dinner.

I was there in late November. The Brits do not celebrate Thanksgiving. For them it is just another work day. My hosts told me about a special service at St. Paul’s Cathedral. In that magnificent church where Charles and Diana were married, I sang American hymns (“God Bless America”) and heard our American ambassador address a congregation of ex-patriots.

That evening Margaret and Jack invited friends to come after work for a Thanksgiving dinner with turkey, sweet potatoes, and pumpkin pie, just like our fellow Americans were eating at that same hour back home in the U.S.

The Cinques alerted me to the day when Queen Elizabeth was to open Parliament. They told me exactly where to stand: in the park after the turn from the Mall. “Less crowded there.” I stood in front, just behind the barrier set up by the police, and saw the Queen, in coronet and little white ermine cape, drive by in her golden coach. She wore long, white gloves. She turned her head, looked at me, raised her right hand, and gave me one of those little royal waves.

When I travel, I don’t want to be “the ugly American”. Even in London, where they speak English, I was aware that many things were different. In foreign countries I am the foreigner. Still, on this first trip to London, having American friends to shelter me and advise me was extremely comforting.

Thursday, September 30, 2010

Talking about Traveling

The end of September. Since the pain in my left arm ended, it is as if the beginning of October is also the beginning of a new phase in my life. I feel like New Year’s Eve and a time again to write about my travels.

With dialysis three days a week I can’t go anyplace anymore. My trips are limited to walking to the bookcase and looking at my scrapbooks. I call up memories and give programs to a half dozen old ladies who live with me in this retirement home. Some of them have never been out of Texas. I try to entertain them with tales of my adventures.

It’s difficult to describe places that are different from what people are accustomed to. I remember my mother’s surprise on a trip to Arkansas in October and seeing the hills covered with colorful fall foliage. In Texas the leaves don’t turn until November. No matter how much I’ve read or how many magazine pictures I’ve seen, or movies I’ve watched, when I go to a new place, it is always different from what I imagined.

It is also difficult to get to know ordinary people in a foreign country. On an organized tour it is impossible. The only time I felt I knew what it is to live in a foreign country was the summer John and I exchanged our house in Albuquerque for one in Ipswich, England. I also am fortunate in having friends in the Netherlands and Germany. My daughter was an exchange student in Norway, and I was able to visit her Norwegian family. Other than that, although I’ve been to Italy many times, most of what I know about how people live in Italy is from hearsay.

But I’m going to write about it. Are you ready? In October we are going to England.

Saturday, September 25, 2010

McVeigh vs. Muslims

Yes, I know I promised to avoid writing about politics, but I can’t resist after what I read in TIME Magazine this week while sitting in my recliner during dialysis. Here’s a quote of a quote:

Stanley Fish, writing on the New York Times Opinion blog about how someone like Oklahoma City bomber Timothy McVeigh is viewed differently from a Muslim terrorist:

“If the bad act is committed by a member of a group you wish to demonize, attribute it to a community or a religion and not to the individual. But if the bad act is committed by someone whose profile, interests and agendas are uncomfortably close to your own, detach the malefactor from everything that is going on . . . and characterize him as a one-off, nongeneralizable, sui generis phenomemenon.”

The key phrase is “a group you wish to demonize.” Ten years after 9/11, Blogs attacking all Muslims continue to circulate on the internet. People seem to forget what happened in Oklahoma City.

The New York Times blog was published on August 30. It was quoted in the TIME issue dated September 13. Am I the only one copying it? Did anyone forward it to you in an e.mail?

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Time Flies

Remember when you were little and it seemed forever for Christmas to come? As I get older, the body slows, while time flies faster and faster. I creep into the bathroom each morning for the pill I need to take an hour before breakfast. I have a little box with as row of compartments, one for each day of the week. Is this Tuesday? No, it’s Thursday. Somehow Wednesday disappeared.

And can it be September already? What happened to August?

I lost August. On August 2, I had surgery on my arm. I spent the whole month sitting in my recliner with my left arm propped up on a pillow. The arm ached constantly until after Labor Day. I watched a lot of dumb things on television, including repeat broadcasts of Larry King at 2:00 a.m.

Like a miracle, ten days ago I woke up free of pain. I feel good. Really good. Now I have stacks of mail piled up on my dining table, including some checks I must write and date properly.

I have not yet lost it completely. In Albuquerque I went with Louis Rice for him to be evaluated by a psychiatrist at the VA hospital. The doctor asked, “What year is it?” Lou hesitated before saying, “1986?” The year was 2000.

At least I remember to date my checks 2010.

Besides putting the paperwork in order, I must reorder my life. I live in this retirement home where all the basic things are taken care of, including cable TV. So why is life so stressful? A month of sitting in the recliner gave me time to think about lots of things.

I continue to be interested in life outside my apartment. I watch CNN and Charlie Rose. During dialysis I read TIME Magazine and The New Yorker. For entertainment I order old movies from Netflex, plus films to supplement the travel talks I do for ten or so old ladies who live here at Montclair. Then, in preparing my talks, as I recall my trips, I write blogs about my adventures. .
In the future I will try to resist writing about politics. I am disgusted with both the Republicans and the Democrats, the Republicans because they vote “No” without offering any alternatives, the Democrats for failing to take action. I suggested an income cap of $2,000.000 a year with a 50% tax rate. Who needs more than a million a year? The excess could go on the deficit. Nancy Pelosi did not answer my letter.

As for the Tea Party, they are fools to talk about lower taxes and less government. Anyone who wants less government should move to a place down a dirt road in the hills of Arkansas and try living with an outhouse and a well and no electricity – and all the other things our taxes pay for.

My promise: Less politics, more travel tales.

Meanwhile, today I ordered Christmas cards. The holidays will be here before I turn off my computer.

Friday, September 17, 2010

The Fragrance of Lilacs

September has brought cooler weather, even to Texas. The high each afternoon in now only in the 90's. In August we endured 24 days of over 100.

Thank God for air-conditioning!

Most of the people who live in this retirement home have lived in Texas all their lives. They are accustomed to the weather, including the violent thunderstorms which sometimes bring tornados. Last week a twister picked up a northbound semi-truck, spun it around until it was headed south and slammed it into the side of a warehouse. That was on the other side of Dallas. No damage here in Garland, but the furious rain caused the ceiling to collapse in our dining room.

Enough to make Mariam wish she was back in Illinois. She grew up in Bloomington and came to Texas 30 years ago when her husband was transferred here by Allstate Insurance Company. Asked what she missed most about Illinois, Mariam said, “Lilacs.”

I, too, remember springtime in Illinois and the beauty of lilacs in bloom all over town, mostly in that lovely light shade of purple that Sears catalog calls after their flowers, “lilac”. One time my family went with friends to the lilac festival in Lombard where lilac bushes as tall as trees were umbrellas of delicate pastel blooms in many shades, including whites, as pretty and fluffy as a the summer dresses young girls used to wear.

Lilacs do not do well in Texas. Too hot? Not cold enough? I’m not a horticulturist.

Instead of lilacs, we have crepe myrtles. They grow into tall bushes, similar to lilacs. Beside Ilene Timmerman’s house was a crepe myrtle tree, as tall as the second-story windows and covered with at the end of every branch with a canopy of pink blossoms.

In summer crepe myrtles add color to every street in North Texas. I remember the white crepe myrtle behind our house in Irving in the 1960's and a dark red one at the corner of my house in Garland, which I sold last year. Now from my third-floor balcony I see a pink one behind the house on the other side of the parking lot.

Crepe myrtles bloom all summer long. They are still in bloom here in the middle of September. Driving to the doctor’s today, they nodded to me over fences in the back yards of houses along the roadway, added color to front lawns, and stood in rows along the parkway. They made even going to the doctor a pleasurable drive.

Unfortunately, crepe myrtles do not have the fragrance of lilacs.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Television Critic

On Sunday our local PBS station changed its programing. I was caught by a boring pledge drive and didn’t get to see the Inspector Lewis mystery originally scheduled.

So what difference did it make? I could have changed channels and watched something else. But what? Football? I’m not a rabid sports fan. Besides, the people I talked to at breakfast the next morning were dejected. They watched for hours as the Cowboys went down to a dismal defeat. They felt almost as frustrated by sports as I was by PBS.

What do I like to watch for entertainment? The programs our local PBS station imports from England. “Masterpiece Mysteries” are better than all the CSI, Law & Order, Dateline, 48 Hours, or anything else on American television. As for comedy, “As Time Goes By”, “Keeping Up Appearances”, “Are You Being Served?”, or half a dozen other series are so entertaining that I watch reruns until I can quote the dialog. Only when nothing else is worth watching do I turn to “Two and a Half Men” or “Everybody Loves Raymond” to give me an antidote to the daily news before I go to bed.

The only good dramas on American television are the old movies on Turner Classic Television. Now and then KERA, our local PBS station, presents a British drama as a “Masterpiece Classic”. On the various times I was in England, I saw excellent dramas that have never made it “across the pond.” The BBC has companies throughout the U.K. that produce their own shows. If you look at the credits after a BBC import, you will find programs produced in Manchester, Cardiff, Edinburgh, and other places besides London.

For many years Mobil Oil sponsored “Masterpiece Theater”. When we lived in Illinois I watched it every Sunday night. My husband’s insurance company began to phase out his department. Worried that he might lose his job, I went back to work. Then he got a better job and much higher pay with a consulting firm.

I decided to continue working and use my earnings for things my highly-paid husband refused to buy. I bought 25 shares of Mobil Oil stock and gave it to my son David under the “Illinois Gift to Minors” act.

When my husband and I were divorced, David was still in high school. His father signed the divorce agreement specifying that he was to pay for David’s college, “four years at a state university, tuition, room, board, books, and fees.” The Cad paid for two years. David was marooned at the University of Illinois without any money – and couldn’t qualify for financial aid because his father was rich. With dividend reinvestment and stock splits, Mobil Oil proved a good investment. David, now an adult, sold it. That paid for his third year at the university.

Who could have predicted that? “Experts” always recommend investigate before investing. I bought that stock because Mobil sponsored a TV program that I liked. Dumb? Yes. Dumb luck. That’s not the only time I’ve done something rash or just plain stupid, and afterwords it has surprised me by bringing into my life a joyful experience. So I keep ranting about things that annoy me, hoping that somehow or other it will have a good outcome – if only in giving one or two of my friends a chance to say, “I feel that way, too.”

Monday, September 13, 2010

Trusting Televsion

Whom can you trust? When most people say something, they truly believe what they are saying. I am skeptical. People often base their opinions on prejudice and misinformation. I don’t trust anything I get forwarded to me over the internet. I want reliable sources, like TIME magazine, television news programs, and the newspaper. I worked for newspapers; they are supposed to check facts before publishing.

Now I don’t know whether to trust the Dallas Morning News or our local PBS station. It is a trivial thing, but small matters may indicate larger problems.

The television program printed in the Sunday Dallas Morning News showed KERA, our local PBS station, scheduling a pledge drive “special” from 7:00 to 8:00 p.m., with a regular program (a mystery with Inspector Lewis) 8:00 to 9:30, a TBA from 9:30 to 10:00, with British comedies starting at l0:00. I never watch during pledge drives. I can’t stand the long, boring non-commercials.

I waited until 8:00 to turn on PBS. The 50's music thing was still going on. I thought, “KERA is extending this program from 8:00 to 8:30, switching to fill in the 9:30 to 10:00 time slot. Then they can run the mystery I want to see from 8:30 to 10:00.” That seemed logical. I was wrong.

At 8:30 I watched old gals decked out with black eyes and sequins. Then at 8:30 KERA started a 30 minute commercial. “Surely this thing will be over at 9:00,” I thought. And it did! But instead of Inspector Lewis, a guy started promoting his tax videos. This was “non-commercial” television?
At 9:02 I switched to AMC and watched “Mad Men”.

At 10:00 I switched back to KERA. The tax man was still promoting himself. I turned off the tv in the living room and turned on the one in the bedroom. I let the man rave while I got ready for bed. He did advise people to “Get a good CPA.” I have a good CPA. My daughter is the tax accountant for an international corporation. At 10:30 I snuggled comfortably under the covers and finally got to see one of the PBS programs I had been looking forward to all evening: the British comedy “As Time Goes By”.

At last, after an evening of frustration, I had something entertaining to enjoy. I fell asleep during “Keeping Up Appearances”.

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

The Food Critic

The retirement community where I live claims to serve meals “as in a four-star restaurant.” When we go to lunch, we sit at tables covered with white cloths, unfold our linen napkins, and open leather menu covers to select the entree. Our waitress, in her uniform of white shirt and dark tie, writes down our choices among the dismal offerings.

Often the combinations are – well, strange – and things that sound “gourmet” on the printed menu turn out to be – well -- disappointing to the palate.

I go to the office and complain. Am I a crank? What gives me the authority to be a food critic?

My development as a connoisseur of food came in three phases: my childhood in Texas, my years as a suburban housewife in Chicago, and as a retiree traveling and enjoying the cuisine in other countries.

(1) Growing Up in Texas

My ancestors came to Texas in covered wagons. My grandmother and mother cooked like typical Texans: fried eggs, fried bacon, fried chicken, and chicken-fried steak. Cornbread was made in a skillet on top of the stove. Beans and peas were boiled in a big pot. Before I was five years old, I ate enough black-eyed-peas and turnip greens to last me the rest of my life.

My mother’s best friend, Ilene Timmerman, came from a prominent Dallas family. From the time I was old enough to be put on the interurban trolley, I made the 30-mile “journey” from Fort Worth to spend a week at a time with Ilene and her grandmother in their home, a big cream brick house, half a block from Turtle Creek in North Dallas.

Ilene’s grandmother, Mrs. G. D. Smith, had a cook who prepared wonderful meals. When World War II came, the cook disappeared, and Ilene gained control of the kitchen. She was a gourmet cook. She also loved to dine in fine restaurants, and she took me to the best places in Dallas.

(2)Married Woman

I met a young airman stationed at Carswell Air Force Base. We married, and I moved with him to Chicago. My mother-in-law was convinced that the only way to prepare meals was the way they did in Denmark. She never heard of cornbread stuffing. At Thanksgiving she stuffed her turkey with prunes and apples. That’s when I realized that most people form their food preferences by what they ate as children.

My husband and I sampled many ethnic restaurants in the Chicago area. I loved open-faced Danish sandwiches with their variety of toppings, and I especially enjoyed Chinese dishes, chop suey in brown sauce, chow mein on crispy noodles, and thick patties of egg foo yong.

After my son Karl was born, each morning at 10 a.m. I turned on the television and let Francois Pope teach me how to cook. I managed to take notes even as I cradled my baby in my arms. Pope was Chicago’s Julia Child. I learned all the basics of French cooking.

I made daily trips to the neighborhood bakery for freshly baked bread and pastries. Once a week I drove to Irving Park Road to buy fresh produce and to watch “our” butcher cut pork chops off the pig’s carcass.
I tried new dishes from recipes I clipped from the Chicago Tribune and American Home Magazine. I developed a repertoire of favorite dishes, but never served the same dinner menu twice in one month. For 27 years my husband and family enjoyed my “gourmet” cooking.

Then I was divorced.


I always wanted to go to Europe. After the divorce I sold my house in Illinois and went to Europe for six months. I thought I would never be able to afford to travel again. But five years later I married my second husband. John took me to Europe on a month-long honeymoon. After he died, he left me enough income to make at least one overseas trip a year for the next twenty years.

In Russia I learned that borscht can be prepared in many different ways, and I liked all of them. In Paris I thrilled at what I saw in museums, but for dining, rather than Paris, I enjoyed more marvelous dinners in small towns in the French countryside.

I enjoyed Hungarian food in Hungary, Greek food in Greece, Italian food in Italy, Spanish food in Spain, and Chinese food in Copenhagen, Berlin, Paris, and even in China.

From my travels in the U.S., I knew that Chinese food was prepared differently in New York, Illinois, and California, but I was surprised in Copenhagen when egg foo yong was scrambled eggs. After going to China, my traveling companion said, “The Chinese should send to Chicago for a chef to teach them how to prepare Chinese food.”

Never order spaghetti in Germany.

4) The Critic

Many of my friends in this retirement community have lived in Texas all their lives and have never traveled. They think the only way to eat seafood is fried catfish. We have it every Friday.

What a bore!

Then our cook tries to go gourmet. He comes out with strange concoctions. Every day the menu says “mixed vegetables.” One week we had squash four times, each time combined with something different. One day “mixed vegetables” was yellow summer squash and zucchini. Squash and mushrooms? Please!

I wish I could give our chef tips on menu planning and food preparation. I know good food and the variety of ways it can be prepared. But the administration does not want a mere resident interfering in the kitchen.

The nice thing is that I can go to the dining room, sit down, unfold my napkin, and give my order to Linda. It may not be like a dinner in Arles or Nice, but I don’t have to cook.

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Obama: His Influential Mother

My e.mail is cluttered with hatred for our President, claiming he is a Socialist, that he wants to make everyone dependant on government, and that his aim is to become a dictator with complete power over our nation.

Anyone who spreads this nonsense is a bigot, a liar, and a fascist. And anyone who believes any of this is a fool.

Some even believe Obama is not a true American, that he was born in Kenya and that he is a Muslim. His father was born in Kenya and was a Muslim. Our President was born in Hawaii and, abandoned at age two by his father, grew up under the influence of his white, Christian mother.

Ann Dunham was born in Wichita, Kansas. After her father returned from World War II, the family moved frequently. They even lived for a while in Texas. Ann went to high school in the Seattle area. She won a scholarship to the University of Washington, but shortly after her high school graduation, her parents decided to move to Hawaii. They insisted she go with them.

Ann was a friendless newcomer when she entered the University of Hawaii as a freshman. She was seduced by this handsome, intelligent, charismatic African. They married, and she named the baby after his father, Barack Hussein Obama. She was only 18 years old.

When the little boy was two, his father received a scholarship to Harvard. He left and only came back once. The month in Hawaii when Barack was nine years old was not a happy visit. When Barack Sr. left that time, the boy never saw or heard from his father again.

The big influence on his life was his mother, Ann Dunham. She was a remarkable woman. Only 20 years old when she became a single mother with a child to raise, she did not become a “welfare mother” content to let the government support her. She obtained a college degree in anthropology. While doing research for her Ph.D. in Indonesia, she worked with villagers, helping them to develop crafts to market and sustain their native culture.

Later she worked for the Ford Foundation on economic development projects throughout Southeast Asia, including the Philippines, Japan, Vietnam, and India – and other countries I can’t remember. If you want to check the facts, please read “The Bridge”, David Remnick’s biography of Obama.

Remnick quotes Obama’s sister, Maya Soetoro-Ng, “I don’t know what she (Ann Dunham) wanted, beyond what any of us wants – some measure of satisfaction that we have contributed positively to the lives of others and enriched our own understanding of the world around us and taken full measure of our own place in this life and world.”

That’s what Ann Dunham instilled in her son, Barack Obama. In his speeches Obama always stresses “self-reliance” as accompanying any government program. In his policies he strives to “contribute positively to the lives of others.”

Not what the internet attacks on him would have you believe.

Monday, August 23, 2010

The South Shall Rise Again

My grandmother was an unreconstructed Southerner. At the beginning of the Civil War, her father and two of his brothers rode their horses to Dallas and enlisted. Bill Wade said, “The only lie I ever told was when I lied about my age to join the Confederate cavalry. I lived to regret it.”

My grandmother was proud to be the daughter of a Confederate veteran. On Sunday afternoons she took me to the Court House. In Texas in the 1930's a big room in the basement was devoted to Confederate memorabilia. I remember a horrific picture of ladies in hooped skirts fleeing a mansion being burned by Damn Yankees. Among the large group of old people were three actual Confederate veterans, white-haired old men with beards. As we all stood up to sing “Dixie”, the old men threw their caps up in the air. Afterwords we ate ice cream, and I liked that.

Like all children, I accepted my parents’ prejudices. All my family used the “N” word, frequently and unselfconsciously. We thought we knew Negroes. They lived in my grandmother’s backyard in a little room attached to the garage.

A photo shows me and my brother Lyle as toddlers in the hands of big, black Will. Later, when I was a teenager and my grandmother was alone in the big house, she felt safe with the little room occupied by Robert Fisher, an elderly black man, a preacher with an incomprehensible stutter. (He must have had one of those congregations where they speak in tongues.) The final tenant was a fat old woman who looked like a movie Mammy. She ironed my dresses for a pittance. She called me, “Miss Ilene”, and I called her “Stella”.

When I went to the door of the “servant’s quarters”, the place smelled of sweat. We thought all Negroes smelled that way. The room had a toilet but no shower or tub for bathing. Our servants lived there for 50 years.

In 1952, I became engaged. A little woman came up to me after church and said sorrowfully, “Ilene, I heard you were marrying a Yankee.”

In Chicago I was shocked by my mother-in-law’s hatred of Negroes. She feared them as rapists and murderers. She did not know any black people. I loved Will and Robert and Stella. I knew Negroes, or thought I did.

People everywhere want the same things: a good life for themselves and their children. But we are all victims of our heritage. We inherit our prejudices, and it is difficult, almost impossible, to look at things from the point of view of another person or group.

My family moved from Detroit to Dallas in 1966. My nine-year-old daughter enrolled in Brandenburg Elementary School in Irving. When I went to parents’ night, I met Ronnie in the hallway. Ronnie, a friend from church and Girl Scouts and wife of the head of anesthesiology at Southwestern Medical School, said, “I choose Mrs. Kerwin as Susie’s teacher. She’s the best teacher in this school.”

I went into the classroom. My daughter’s new teacher was black.

The next night I looked across the supper table and asked my daughter, “Martha, why didn’t you tell me that Mrs. Kerwin was black?”

The nine-year-old looked up from eating tuna casserole and said, “Why? Is that important?”

I was proud of her. And proud of myself. I had not passed on my prejudices to my children.