Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Talking About Denmark

In the living room of our retirement home, I met with some of the old folks and talked about Denmark. I told them about the places Wally and I visited and then showed a Ric Steves video.

I obtained a package of Ric Steves programs on Europe by donating to the Dallas PBS channel. Ric compressed Denmark into two 30 minute DVDs, one on Copenhagen, where Wally and I spent a week, and the second on Denmark outside Copenhagen, where Wally and I spent another week driving around the countryside.

After the program several of our senior citizens came up to me in the dining room, and, stepping back from their walkers, told me how much they enjoyed the program. I’m glad they were pleased. Poor dears, most of them never traveled further than the casino just over the border in Oklahoma.

I felt I failed to adequately describe this pleasant little nation, its big farms with green fields and pretty villages with flower boxes beneath every window and tall stone churches unchanged since the 12th Century.

My talk expanded on some of the places pictured in the Ric Steves DVD. I saw the Viking ships in Roskilde, walked the streets of the folk museum in Arhus, and looked in wonder at the stubble of hairs on the face of the 5,000 year old bogman. I told about my encounter with Japanese tourists in the cathedral in Odense. I described the two tiny rooms where Hans Christian Andersen was born and as a young teenager escaped his family’s poverty by going to Copenhagen, where patrons sponsored his schooling and travels.

But how could I convey what it was really like to be there, to breathe the clean air, to feast my eyes on flowers everywhere, geraniums like a red blanket thrown over the railing of a balcony, to be met with smiles by friendly people?

Wherever I’ve traveled, what I remember best is not the grand “sights” but the people. Remember the palace guard who wanted to learn Japanese so that he could greet Japanese tourists in their own language? “Denmark is a small country, and I want to help my country any way I can.”

Perhaps my talks give me friends only a vague idea of what it is like in other countries. But I hope these Texans will begin to realize that the world is full of wonderful people who live very good lives – and maybe not everything is better in the U.S.

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Psychiatric Help from Peanuts

Above my desk the bulletin board lists of books I’m never going to read, plays I saw last year, and programs I don’t have time to go to. I took down all the lists, tossed them into the wicker trash basket below the desk, and added the pins to the can on my desk.

I also took down the Classic Peanuts cartoon that has been right before me for over a year.

Charlie Brown plods along, head down, saying, “I’m in a sad state.”

Lucy is in her booth with the sign, “Psychiatric Help 5 cents.” Charlie Brown says, “What can you do when you don’t fit in? What can you do when life seems to be passing you by?”

Lucy says, “Follow me. I want to show you something.” She leads him to the top of a hill where she and Charlie Brown stand side by side with a blue sky behind them.

Lucy: “See the horizon over there? See how big this World is? See how much room there is for everybody? Have you ever seen any other worlds?”

Charlie Brown: “No”

Lucy: “As far as you know this is the only world there is. . . Right?”

Charlie Brown: “Right”

Lucy: “There are no other worlds for you to live in . . . Right?”

Charlie Brown: “Right”

Lucy: “You were born to live in this world. . . Right?”

Charlie Brown: “Right”

Lucy shouts: “WELL, LIVE IN IT, THEN!”

Charlie Brown tumbles over and lies on the ground. Lucy: “Five cents, please.”

That cartoon has been right in front of me for all these months. Among the clutter on my desk and bulletin board, I don’t notice it. I sit here complaining. Like Charlie Brown, I am in a sad state. So what? Just because it is hot outside (close to 100 every day) that is no excuse for mopping about my apartment. I have a new membership in the Dallas Art Museum. I’m going out, drive to Dallas in my air-conditioned Hyndai, and LIVE!

Sunday, June 26, 2011


Why haven’t I written any blogs lately?

Life is too complicated. I don’t feel good. I’m turning into an old grouch.

Paperwork keeps piling up on my desk. Just when I think it is under control, in my mailbox I find something that sets me back again.

When I ordered new glasses, the optometrist tried to charge me $100 for special lenses. I told him, “No, I just want the glasses that the insurance will pay for.” Today’s mail brought an E.O.B. (Explanation of Benefits) from my insurance company, saying I owe $80.

Now I must make telephone calls and listen to a machine and punch buttons and wait half an hour before I can talk to a living person.

The dialysis access in my left arm is still causing problems. The vein is deep and difficult to find. Last week blood “infiltrated” causing a big, black bruise.

The news is depressing. Our boys are still getting killed and maimed in Afghanistan. In Libya, Kadafi refuses to quit. As for Congress, why do the American people elect such idiots to represent them? Democrats are as bad as Republicans.

Charlie climbs into the litter box to pee, then poops on the carpet.

It is enough to push anyone into Depression!

On days when I don’t have dialysis, I feel good. I wake up to beautiful music on my clock-radio. I eat breakfast and lunch with pleasant people, even if most of them are Republicans and think Governor Ric Perry would make a fine President – the man who last week vetoed a law which would have made texting while driving illegal. He said it would interfere with personal liberties.

Life today isn’t easy. . . but when was it ever easy?

Here at this Texas old folks home, four of us secret Democrats found each other. We also discovered we all play bridge. We now have a foursome of clever, congenial people to play bridge every Friday evening. A pleasant way to end the week.

Nothing gives a gal a high like bidding four spades and making it. Who can complain?

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

The Golden Past

I wish I didn’t get upset about things I can’t do anything about. “God give me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change.” I try to divert myself with nonsense, i.e. watching “Pawn Stars” on television. Then something happens, and I can’t resist writing a blog. As if anything I say makes any difference!

My son David called my attention to an article I overlooked in Smithsonian Magazine. It was the last article in the June issue. I missed it on a day when I was tired of reading and put aside the magazine to watch television where greedy contestants chose between door No. 1 and door No. 2.

If it weren’t for David, I never would have read Lance Morrow’s essay. He tells about a Buddhist monk, Kenko, who yearned for a golden age, “a Japanese Camelot,” when all was “graceful.” In the 1300's Kenko idealized the past, sure that things were much worse in his own times.

In Edwin Arlington Robinson’s poem, “Miniver Cheevy”, a 19th Century New Englander longed for days when knighthood was in flower and “men wore iron clothing.”

Today some people still pine for the "good old days" when we didn't have electricity or indoor plumbing.

The Tee Party proposes to return America to the land of the pioneers. Each man lived on his own plot of land, with his rifle close at hand to defend his home against all who would attack it. If his barn burned down, the neighbors would come and help rebuild it.

We no longer live in Mayberry. I live in a suburb of Dallas. In my town of 250,000, local taxes pay for our fire department, police protection, schools, and all the other city services, including parks and street repairs. We don’t want dusty unpaved streets like the one where Marshall Dillon shot down bad guys, who truly “hit the dust,” but if we don’t get enough money from taxes, we drive on pot holes.

Expand this to the nation. We are one of the largest countries in the World. It takes a lot of money to keep the U.S. working, a lot of government, a lot of taxes. Anyone who falls for that silly slogan, “Less Government, Lower Taxes.” is a fool.

Friday, June 10, 2011

I Hate Serbs

My friends come from many ethnic backgrounds. I am proud to call “friend” people who are gay and straight, black and white Christians -- Baptists, Methodists, Presbyterian, Episcopalian, Catholic, Mormons, and Jews,Muslims, Hindus, and whatever, including a dear friend who is a Jehovah’s Witness.

Can I name them? Bill, Emma, Edna, Alma, Alice, Phyllis, Marjorie, Sally, Sue, Jack, Gertrude, Peter, Jo Anne, and Doris. So what? I know African-Americans, Hispanic-Americans, Chinese-Americans, Italian-Americans, and Indians, both Native-Americans and East Indians. Forget the first part of the hyphenated names. They are all Americans.

I am a fifth-generation Texan, grew up in the Baptist Church, and married first to a first-generation Danish-American Lutheran from Chicago, and second to a first-generation Polish-American Catholic from Pittsburgh. I should know not to judge anyone by the color of their skin or the place their ancestors came from.

Yet I am prejudiced against Serbs. I do not like them, Sam-I-am, I do not like Serbs man by man.

In Croatia in 2007 I witnessed roofless buildings with shell holes in their walls, destruction from the war waged by the Serbs and Croatians in 1990, as the former Yugoslavia broke up over differences between Roman Catholics and Orthodox Christians. Ruined buildings but no evidence of the many lost lives.

My prejudice was confirmed last week when Ratka Mladic, hidden by his fellow Serbs since the war, was finally caught. He was the general who lead Serbian troops in killing thousands of Muslims in Bosnia. In Srebrenica his men raped the women and massacred 8,000 (yes, that’s eight thousand) men and boys, some as young as 13, all the males they could find in that village. His men killed eagerly and mercilessly. In Serbia many consider Mladic a hero.

Then I listened to the French Open tennis matches. A young Serbian player challenged Rafael Nadal for the championship. I found myself saying, “I hope that Spaniard whips that Serb!”

How could I feel that way? I know nothing about that young Serb. He may be one of the best tennis players in the World and also a nice guy. He might feel about Mladic the same way I do. How do I dare condemn him, simply because he comes from Serbia?

I am ashamed of myself.

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Half Broke Horses

Gertrude sent me a book, “Half Broke Horses”. Gertrude, who has lived in New York City all her life, didn’t know quite what to make of this novel about a woman growing up in the Southwest a hundred years ago.

After I read it, I recommended Jeannette Wall’s “novel”, based on memories of her grandmother, to the book group I go to at the Garland Public Library. Everyone in the group loved it.

The heroine of “Half Broke Horses” grew up in Southwest Texas. The harshness of that area is something city people (like Gertrude) can’t imagine.

My father’s older brother, Uncle Dick, was a pioneer in West Texas around 1900 He bought land for $1 an acre. As a teenager my father worked on the ranch one summer. The family was so poor that all they had to eat was oatmeal. My father refused to eat oatmeal for the rest of his life.

The battered frame house was nothing like the one we saw on television’s Ponderosa. Standing in the front yard, ankle-deep in sand, the horizon was like the rim of the plate, not a hill or a house or a tree in sight.

Jeannette Wall’s grandmother lived about the same time as my father and in a similar situations. While the Texans who go to the book group at the library did not grow up in such harsh conditions, most of them had grandparents or great-grandparents who did.

Readers in Garland thought it outrageous that the woman whipped the students in her one-room school, but laughed at her using the hearse-turned-school-bus in her personal taxi business. They admired her spunk, an independent woman who found ways (sometimes of dubious legality) to overcome any difficulty.

Texans are proud of their pioneer traditions; Governor Perry carries a gun when he goes out for his morning jog. When I mentioned something funny that happened on one of my trips, Nellie announced, “I don’t want to go anywhere outside the borders of Texas.”

People assume that the place where they grew up is the best place in the World. When I moved to Chicago, people said to me, “Aren’t you lucky to live in wonderful Chicago?” An interesting city, but I gladly left Chicago’s snows and came back to Texas’s brutal summers, now that everything is air-conditioned.

Sunday, June 5, 2011

From the Laundry Room to the Holocaust

This morning, as I walked toward the door to the dining room, my shoes squished on soaking wet carpet. I looked up. Water dripped from the ceiling. It happened before. In the laundry room above, three washers simultaneously unloaded, overwhelming the drainage system.

Our breakfast conversation began with laments over the problems with plumbing, moved on to talking about too many people using the same laundry room. I mentioned that I do laundry on Sunday afternoon. My breakfast companion said, “The Bible says Sunday is a day of rest. I was brought up never to ‘work’ on Sunday.”

The lady admitted she, too, sometimes washes clothes on Sunday, “In an emergency.” The Bible sets the rules for her life. She said, “The World would be a better place if everyone were Christians.”

I grew up in a family with the same traditions. My mother would not sew a button on a shirt on Sunday. I remember the shock of sneaking out to go to a movie on Sunday and seeing our church’s music director buying a ticket. Going to movies on Sunday was almost as grave a sin as playing cards or dancing. A game of rummy might lead to gambling; dancing incited lustful thoughts.

Most of the people we knew were Baptists. My father was convinced that anyone who did not “believe and be baptized” would have no moral restraints, and all the non-Christians would be rapists, thieves, and murderers. One of his best clients was a florist, who was alwys giving flowers to Mother and me. What beautiful gardenia corsages he gave me to wear to formal occasions while I was in college. Didn’t Daddy realize that kind man was a Jew?

In college I studied the Bible from an historical perspective. The story of the Hebrews’ theological development is very different from insisting, “Every word was dictated by God (in English, of course) and must be taken as law without question.”

Throughout history passions over religion – “Our religion is right; your religion is wrong” – caused suffering and death. Christians killed Christians, Protestant against Catholic. People were burned at the stake for reading The Bible. In Germany during the Thirty Years War women and children burned to death when churches where they had taken refuge were set afire.

In our own time good Christians in Germany killed six million Jews just 60 years ago.

Yet my breakfast companion maintained, “The World would be a better place if everyone were Christians.”

Some of the nicest, kindest, most generous people I know are bigots. To maintain “My religion is the only true religion” is an assault on humanity. A bigot is a bigot, whether he/she is a Catholic, Protestant – or a Muslim.

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

My New Green Tee Shirt

As a child of the Great Depression, I am thrifty. I don’t buy new things as long as the old stuff is serviceable.

Feeling nostalgic, I got out my family scrapbook. I found a photo of John and me sitting under the Christmas tree in our little house in Albuquerque in 1988. With a shock I realized I’d worn the same blue blouse just two days before. It is still in my closet in 2011

The furniture in my apartment is all old: from Albuquerque the hand-crafted “Santa Fe style” coffee table John had a crazy Hispanic build in 1989, in front of the blue couch from Chicago I persuaded Wally to buy for our new home in 1960, facing two little arm chairs my mother bought when our family moved into the house on Cooper Street in Fort Worth in 1942.

People compliment me on how attractive my apartment is. I don’t tell them I studied interior design at the Art Institute of Chicago and worked as a reporter covering the home furnishings market in Chicago. Experts taught me how to make a room look good. .

Right now I have thousands of dollars in my checking account. With the stock market driven up to ridiculous heights and bank c.d.’s paying nothing, I gave up trying to invest the money from the sale of my house in Garland. So this year I bought a whole new wardrobe.

My new green tee shirt pictures a cat lying in a hammock. Not a white cat, like Charlie, but a black and white cat. Above the recumbent animal is printed, “I would be unstoppable if I could just get started.”

That’s exactly how I feel today. “My get up and go has got up and gone.” Instead of lying in a hammock, I lie back in my recliner and brood about the sad situation of the world today. Charlie climbs on top of me. I tell him all Congressmen, Republicans and Democrats, are greedy rich guys who deceive the public. Charlie does not argue. He jumps down and ambles into the bedroom and curls up to nap on my soft green quilted coverlet.

In coming weeks, I’ll try to stir myself and, putting aside my travels, I’ll send you blogs commenting on current events. In 82 years of reading, traveling, and analyzing, I learned some things about politics, government, economics, etc.

What do my green tee shirt and old furniture have to do with the wreck of our economy? How come I have money in the bank while so many people are buried in debt? I didn’t charge that tee shirt until I had money to pay my entire credit card account each month. My car is paid for. That house I sold did not have a mortgage.

People who have lost their jobs are in a tough situation. I know what it is to be unemployed and without enough money to buy food. I drove to the homeless shelter in my BMW, which I’d bought with cash three years before. An interesting time in my life. I’ll tell you more about it some other time.