Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Indian Time

Here it is the last day of June, and I spent an hour sitting in Walgreens doing nothing. Wasting time? Maybe. I prefer to think I was spending Indian Time.

I was reminded of those hot afternoons sitting in a folding aluminum chair, my feet in the sand beside the plaza at Cochiti Pueblo. Manuel and I went to feast days at all the pueblos in New Mexico. The Indians “danced” on the hard sand of the plaza all day, in winter the buffalo dance, in summer the corn dance. Not social dances, as we think of them, but religious ceremonies. The buffalo dance was to appease the animals before hunting; the corn dance was to bring rain to produce a good harvest.

Each pueblo (the word means “village” in Spanish) has two groups. A person belongs to his/her mother’s “side”, either “turquoise” or “squash.” Manny told me proudly that he was a turquoise.

On feast days the dances begin early in the morning. The “sides” take turns until each has performed eight times. The ceremony begins with the sound of drums throbbing in the distance. Then the procession enters the plaza with banners waving and two long lines of people, moving with dance steps to the rhythm of the drum, old men first, followed by their wives, then couples in descending age down to three and four-year-olds at the end.

The men, faces painted and with bandoliers of shells across their bare chests, wear white deerskin kilts (once I glimpsed pink boxer shorts underneath). They shake gourds filled with pebbles, imitating the sound of rain. Their feet are protected by “moccasins”. Not the loafers we call moccasins, but short boots made of untanned leather.

The women, in one-shouldered black wool dresses called “mantas”, dance on the hot sand with bare feet. I pitied the sore, blistered feet of young women who the next day would put on “town clothes” and high heels and go to work in offices and shops in Santa Fe or Albuquerque.

Each “dance” takes approximately 30 to 45 minutes. The drum stops abruptly. The dancers walk out of the plaza as casually as an audience leaving the theater after a movie.

Then we wait.

All around the plaza, on lawn chairs and wooden benches, and standing on the roofs of the adobe houses, a large crowd waits silently. Visitors come from Albuquerque, Santa Fe, and other pueblos. We sit under the brilliant blue sky burning in the desert sun. No one moves.

At times we sit for another 45 minutes before the “other side” is ready to begin.

On those hot New Mexico afternoons I learned patience. I learned to observe. The adobe houses around the plaza, which all looked the same at first, now I saw in a range of earth tones, grays and beiges, from light yellow to dark brown.

I also cleared my mind. I asked myself, “What am I doing here? What is more important that I should be doing now?” Then I realized, “Nothing!” After a nanosecond I was asking myself, “What do I want to do with the time I have left in my life?”

Pueblo Indians preserve ancient traditions, yet on ordinary days blend into our modern society. I knew a fireman, an electrician, several teachers, and a man who worked at Sandia Labs. They are successful in their careers. New Mexicans joke about “Indian time.” The Pueblos do things when “everything is ready.” Call an Indian plumber. He may show up tomorrow morning at 8 o’clock, or he may come in two weeks. Whenever he comes, he’ll be ready to do a good job.

This morning I sat in Walgreens waiting for film to be developed. It took less than an hour. But it was an hour spent thinking. I spend too much time fussing about yet accomplishing nothing. I don’t have much time left. I need to take more Indian Time, thinking and getting ready to do what is important.

Sunday, June 20, 2010

Whom Do You Believe?

You must be bored with my writing about politics. But I can’t help getting upset when people keep forwarding e.mails with right-wing garbage attacking Obama. Most of it is distortions, innuendoes, and outright lies.

Just this week I received another diatribe which accused Obama, among other things, of being a disciple of Bill Ayers, who as a young man was a member of the radical Weather Underground, which bombed buildings as protest against the Vietnam War.

I am plowing through “The Bridge,” David Remnick’s biography of Obama. I’m up to page 283, still not half way through.

This afternoon I read the passage on Obama’s relationship with Bill Ayers. It is a long section. Here are some brief excerpts.

Republicans are still saying “Obama had a dangerously radical background, that leaders of the Weather Underground had ‘launched’ his political career. Which was ridiculous.”

Remnick quotes Rosellen Brown, a friend of Ayers and his wife, Bernardine Dohrn: “Some of us draw a line between what Bill and Bernardine did when they were young and now, when they are doing unimpeachable work in the community. . . . . Hyde Park is a pretty, small, insular community, and everyone, from Studs Terkel to school teachers working on juvenile-justice issues, came to their house to meet interesting people.”

Remnick states that Ayers and Dohrn “viewed Obama as someone far more to the center than they were.” He quotes Ayers: “. . . Obama . . . struck me . . . as the smartest sort of guy. He was a moderate, middle-of-the-road Democrat. How into him was I? Not very. I liked him as a person.”

Remnick concludes, “But no matter what one thought of Ayers’s past – and Obama said that Ayers had been guilty of ‘despicable’ acts during the antiwar movement – the notion that the two men were close friends or ideological soul mates was false.”

Wednesday, June 16, 2010


“Like a bolt out of the blue.”

We know what that means. We use it to describe an unexpected event. A young girl walks across the grass in the park under a clear, blue sky and is knocked off her feet by the electrical shock of lightning searing through her body. We don’t even think of the phrase as describing something like that.

We say we were “struck by lightning” when an event puts us off balance emotionally. The boss says, “Pick up your things and leave the building You’re fired.” Or the person you’ve been married to for 25 years says, “I’ve fallen in love with someone else. I want a divorce.”

But have you ever thought about how it feels to be jolted by sudden, horrific physical pain?

It happened to me Tuesday. I’ve become accustomed to dialysis. At the beginning of the procedure, two needles are stuck into my left arm, one into the artery, the other into a vein. As the needle pierces the skin, it hurts. I take a deep breath. Blood squirts out into the tubes attached to the needles. The technician connects the tubes to the dialysis machine. After the first thrust of the needle into my flesh, I feel uncomfortable but not in pain. I pick up my magazine to read for the next three hours and fifteen minutes, ignoring the needles in my left arm just as I ignore the elastic glove on my right fingers which makes it difficult to turn the pages in the New Yorker.

My arm is a row of needle marks. If I ever get stopped by a cop, he will think I am a drug addict.

On Tuesday the technician decided to try sticking the needle into the artery in a new spot. “Ready?” he said. I took my deep breath. The needle struck a nerve. It was if I had been struck by lightning. Or, as if he was trying to electrocute me. I felt as if my blood was on fire down to my little finger. It was not pain. It was PAIN.

I screamed.

With my right hand I grabbed the hand of the nurse standing next to me. I felt hot tears gushing down my cheeks. The technician twisted the needle. The searing pain eased. Now I just had pain around the needle.

The nurse said, “You held my hand so tight you hurt me.” She laughed.

I said, “I didn’t hurt you a tenth as badly as he hurt me.”

My arm hurt. I picked up my magazine but couldn’t concentrate. I turned to my private television screen. Usually I tune to CNN to keep track of the time. This afternoon I used my right hand to flip through channels, searching for a program to distract me. I found a rerun of Bonanza.

After I came home I thought about pain. It is impossible to feel another person’s physical pain. Only if you have had a similar experience can you empathize.

The same is true of other types of experience. Only a person who has lost a job can know the emotional devastation from being fired. Only a person who has lost a spouse through death or divorce understands the trauma – and in many ways, divorce is worse than death.

Some experiences I try to imagine, but I cannot. I have not experienced the pain caused by the death of a child

Monday, June 14, 2010

Different Worlds

I live in a different World from the one I knew as a child growing up during the Great Depression and World War II in Texas before air-conditioning. As for my grandmother, she remembered when the first automobile came to Rockwall. More important in her memory was her father being a Confederate soldier during the Civil War. She took me to Sunday “camp meetings” in the basement of the county court house where I saw old men, Confederate veterans, toss up their caps as they sang “Dixie.”

My family were all Baptists. I spent half my life at College Avenue Baptist, a church in a working class neighborhood in Fort Worth. We were in church all Sunday mornings and went back again Sunday evenings for “training union” with afterwords more hymn singing and hour-long sermons. Sometimes at the Sunday evening service I got to watch baptisms in the tank of water up behind the rows of wooden choir chairs. I myself was dunked under water there when I was nine years old.

Tuesday nights my father went with other men on “visitation” to members who were ill and to proselytize sinners who had not accepted Jesus as their personal Savior. After that they came to our house, where the preacher, who on Sunday mornings railed that “a deck of cards is the Devil’s prayer book,” sat down to join the others in a lively game of dominoes.

Wednesday nights we went back to the church for supper. While Mother met with the other teachers to prepare for next Sunday School lessons, my cousins took me to Taylor’s for an ice cream cone. That was a treat, especially since I got to be with the older girls and listen to their “grownup” conversation. Then it was back to church for prayer meeting.

My cousins were orphans. They had no Mother and Daddy, but they were rich. The bank gave my grandmother $200 a month to take care of them. My father’s salary at the same bank was less than $100 a month. I used to lie awake nights worrying that the house would burn down, or if Mother and Daddy died, my brothers and I would have to go to Buckner’s Orphans Home.

In Sunday School we collected money, clothes, and toys to send to Buckner’s. The people at our church were poor, but we were told to feel compassion for the orphans, who were worse off than we were.

After I grew up, married, lived in Chicago, I came home to visit. One Sunday, sitting around the big oak table in the house where my grandmother had lived since before I was born, I heard my grandmother say, “When I was a little girl, I was afraid Mama and Papa would die and I would have to go to Buckner’s Orphans Home.”

It was a revelation to hear my grandmother express the same fears I had when I was a child.

Years later, when I was even older than my grandmother was when she said that, I came back to Texas. I found some things changed beyond belief. Dallas is now one of the largest cities in the U.S. Garland, a little town of about 1,000 people when I went away, is now larger than Fort Worth when I was a child.

But the Baptists are still strong. My friend Lois goes to the First Baptist Church in Garland as many times a week as my family went to College Avenue Baptist in the 1930's. I heard that Buckner’s is now a retirement home for old people similar to the place where I now live in Garland.

Then in the Dallas Morning News I learned something new about Buckner’s. The Sunday paper devoted three pages to stories of 69 Vietnamese children who came to Buckner Children’s Home at the end of the Vietnam War.

The incredible story told in the News began with Patrick Beckham, an Air Force surgeon from Texas stationed at Can Ranh Bay during the Vietnam War. In Korea he had seen the damage war did to families and children. He enlisted the aid of the base’s chaplain and a Baptist missionary, a former Buckner orphan, to start Cam Ranh City Christian Orphanage.

When Da Nang fell in 1975, the director, Ha Nguyen, asked his sister to evacuate the orphanage at Cam Ranh City. On April 2, 1975, all 69 orphans, plus staff, loaded onto three buses and headed south. After an amazing journey, involving roadblocks and buying a leaky boat which was rescued by a Taiwanese freighter and towed to Singapore, a Houston Baptist church sponsored the entire group’s entry into the U.S.

“Finally, on June 12, they arrived by bus at Buckner Children’s Home, which had agreed to take them all in.”

The Dallas Morning News told stories of individual children, some of whom were adopted, forgot how to speak Vietnamese, and grew up in American Homes with American names. The four Nguyen children remained at Buckner’s until they were adults. They kept in touch with the others, and last week the group returned to Vietnam for a reunion with relatives these now-Americans had not seen in 35 years.

The stories were deeply moving. The best of immigration stories, where children who are happy they grew up in America and are now loyal citizens, still retain love for their Vietnamese heritage. I had an additional emotional response. In this changing World, where little Baptist children don’t lie awake worrying about parents dying, I am grateful that children from a different world found refuge at Buckner Children’s Home.

Friday, June 11, 2010

The Last Time I Saw Paris

Here I am: 81 years old, retired and living in an “old folks home.” And I don’t have time to do half the things I want to do!

Annoying things keep interrupting my plans. After lunch today I opened my mail and discovered a mistake in my Time-Warner bill. I waited for 47 minutes while the machine kept telling me I was a “valued customer.” I finally got to talk to a pleasant young man named Karl; he took care of the problem promptly.

But . . . there went an hour out of my life.

While waiting, I read my e.mail. Two friends who keep sending me horrible Republican propaganda, full of venom against Obama with distorted facts and downright lies! I hate it. But I forward it, knowing they both believe this stuff, nothing I say will open their closed minds, and let the two of them waste their time reading each other’s garbage.

But my Houston friend also sent me photos of Paris to go along with a letter from Gabriel Garcia Marquez. It was a strange juxtaposition: pictures of Paris to illustrate the words of a man whose novels are all set in Venezuela.

The photos reminded me of the vision of Paris most of us have in our minds.

I always wanted to go to Paris. In 1957 I asked Wallace to take me for our 25th wedding anniversary,. He made reservations and then canceled them. A year later I went with our 13-year-old son, David. In Paris the garbage-collectors were on strike. Every street was piled with uncollected trash. The overpowering stink was not French perfume.

I’ve been to Paris five or six times. The stained glass in Notre Dame and Saint Chappelle are finer than anything in the U.S., but you can see a better collection of Impressionist paintings at the Art Institute of Chicago.

In 1988 I finally experienced the romantic interlude in Paris I dreamed about. One enchanting evening I walked holding hands gently through the park to the Eiffel Tower with my husband. His name was John.

Tuesday, June 8, 2010


The day my grandson Doug was to come from Chicago for a visit, I looked in the mirror and said to myself, “What a mess!” Why didn’t I manage to get a haircut? I should have had my long, scraggly mane cut a month ago.

I drove the 635 expressway at 8 o’clock in the morning, proud of myself as an 81-year-old woman negotiating rush-hour traffic, braking to quick stops and then speeding up to 70 mph to keep up. I did it as confidently as if I’d been in a NASCAR on the Texas Motor Speedway.

At DFW Airport, Doug waited at the curb outside baggage claim. My tall (6'2"), handsome grandson’s hair was as disorderly as mine, standing up in brown waves all around his head and hanging in his eyes.

I promised myself we’d get haircuts before I sent him back to Chicago. But two days later we went back to the airport to meet my son David, flying in from California. From the moment they fastened their seatbelts, uncle and nephew were talking computer. They could have been speaking Chinese for all I understood. They were so involved in talking to each other, I could have been on the moon.

That’s how it went the whole weekend. They had to go to the electronics store to buy cables to attach Doug’s laptop to my television to watch a movie. I had to go to dialysis. David had to leave on Monday. I had to go to dialysis again the next day.

The last day of Doug’s visit he wanted to go to the National Boy Scout Museum. Since the museum is in Irving, next to the airport, we started out at noon. On the way we stopped to get Doug a Whataburger. They don’t have that chain in Illinois, and Doug wanted to try one of those big hamburgers.

The museum has a long gallery filled with paintings Norman Rockwell did especially for the Boy Scouts. I enjoyed those, but for me an unexpected delight was pages from Baden-Powell’s journals. Exquisite watercolors! The founder of the Scouts traveled in North Africa and India and elsewhere, with a keen eye and genuine talent. Also humor. In St. Peter’s in Rome, he painted a profile of the famous statue of the saint with a small girl bending over to lift her sister up to kiss the bronze toe, traditionally meant to confer good luck.

An hour and a half at the museum was all Doug needed. We had two more hours before Doug had to be at the airport.

I asked Doug, “What's the terminal and gate for your plane?”

“I don’t know.”

He pulled off MacArthur Blvd. into the parking lot of a strip mall. He left the car running for the air-conditioner (it was 95 degrees outside) as he got out his blackberry and started punching buttons. I looked up. We were parked in front of a shop with a big sign that said, “Haircuts. No appointment necessary.”

“Turn off the engine,” I said. “We’re going to get our hair cut.”

Thirty minutes later a tiny Vietnamese lady was sweeping up piles of hair, Doug’s brown and my gray.

That’s the story of my life. It happened many times. Just when I think the situation is all bogged down, something turns it around.

I sent my grandson home to his mother looking trim and handsome. And I came home to my retirement community looking better than I had in months.

Sunday, June 6, 2010

This Is D-Day

Sixty-six years ago: June 6, 1944. D-Day. The invasion of France during World War II, the biggest amphibious military operation ever. How many people remember? Some know about that day from Tom Hanks’ movie, “Saving Private Ryan.” That was several years ago. I wonder if my 22-year-old grandson has seen it.

In Albuquerque I met Russell Frye, who was a sergeant in the Army when he waded ashore on Omaha Beach with German bullets killing men around him on June 6, 1944. So many men in his company were killed that he became a captain before he was wounded at St. Lo. He refused to talk about it. With three knee replacements because of shrapnel, plus being an insulin-dependent diabetic, he died last year in Albuquerque, aged 90 plus.

In 1944 I was 15, starting summer vacation after my sophomore year at Fort Worth’s Paschal High. I barely remember the excitement when we woke up that hot Texas morning and learned our boys were landing on the beaches in Normandy.

On our honeymoon in Europe 44 years later, I stood with my husband John in that cemetery on the bluff above Omaha Beach, walking between those rows of white crosses, over 3,000 of them, and felt the full impact of what that day cost in young men's lives.

On June 6, 1944, John was on a ship in the English channel, waiting to go ashore on Omaha Beach four days later. He remembered marveling at the sea full of ships. His brother-in-law, Sam Musico, was a Naval officer on one of those ships. John was best man when Sam married his sister, Stell, in 1939, but he was not to see Sam again until after the war.

John and I danced at Sam and Stell’s 50th wedding anniversary party. John died two years later. Sam and Stell went on to celebrate more than 60 years together. Sam also is gone now, but she is a lively, alert 95-years-old, still driving her Lexis to supervise her McDonald franchise.

John’s buddy, Dominick Fallacaro, was navigator on a B-17. Shortly before boarding the troop ship, John received a letter Dominick’s wife, Vera, saying Dominick’s plane was shot down over Germany. John wrote his mother he was too sick to eat supper. Three years after the war John married Vera and adopted her son, Mike, as the oldest of his four sons.

(Vera also died too young, at age 52. John was widowed 12 years before I met him in 1987.)

My brother, George Preston Pattie, was only three months old on D-Day 1944. Although he did not remember it, he was keenly interested in World War II. I went with him to France, so that on June 6, 1999, the 45th anniversary of D-Day, we drove a rental car along all five of the Normandy beaches where U.S., British, and Canadian troops landed.

At the Omaha Beach cemetery we sat on folding chairs listening to dignitaries give unmemorable speeches. Near us sat a woman whose brother landed on Utah Beach on June 6, 1944. His unit met very little opposition from the Germans, and less than 20 were killed. One of them was her brother.

In war many die, but many more live. Survivors go on to live good lives. But for their loved ones, each man killed is a tragedy.