Saturday, July 30, 2011

Same Name

Shakespeare asks, “What’s in a name? A rose by any other name would smell as sweet.”

But how about two people with the same name? A new television program exploits that situation, comparing celebrities with “ordinary” folks with the same name. I am more interested in two non-celebrities named Wes Moore.

Once a month my friend Pat Brown drives her Buick into the parking lot here at Montclair and picks me up to go to the Garland library for the meeting of Page Turners. The members all read the same book and meet to discuss it. Right now we are selecting books for next year. I recommend “The Other Wes Moore.”

No one is to suggest a book unless she has read it. Before we had that rule, members chose books they had heard about and thought they might like to read. I’ve never read such a bunch of silly romances and third-rate murder mysteries. A common excuses was, “My friend told me it was a good book.”

There is no accounting for tastes.

Last year I saw Wes Moore talk about his book “The Other Wes Moore” on television, but the other Page Turners, justifiably, would not put it on this year’s reading list.

This year I am prepared. I checked the book out of the library, read it, and carried it to the meeting to let the others take a look before adding it to the list of suggested readings.

“The Other Wes Moore” is the story of two young black men with the same name who were born in the same neighborhood in Baltimore, grew up with single mothers, but from childhood followed increasingly divergent paths. As a rebellious child Wes Moore, the author, was sent to military school, received a scholarship to Johns Hopkins, went to England as a Rhodes Scholar, earned a master’s degree from Oxford, and has had a distinguished career in the Army, on Wall Street, and in public service. “The Other Wes Moore”, who is the same age, followed his older brother into selling drugs. While robbing a jewelry store, they killed a policeman. The other Wes Moore is now in prison for life without parole.

Wes Moore writes, “The chilling truth is that his story could have been mine, the tragedy is that my story could have been his.”

I recommend his book to my friends in the library’s reading group. I also recommend it to you.

Monday, July 25, 2011

Nosey Me

I am nosey. I ask personal questions about people I have just met. My excuse for my curiosity is that I am a trained journalist and can’t help trying to find “the story” behind everyone I meet.

People and why they act the way they do is endlessly fascinating. Nothing is more true than, “Never judge a person until you have walked in his shoes.” On the shelf in my closet are five unpublished novels. All have characters who are involved with others whom they don’t understand at all. Unfortunately, no publisher finds them as interesting as I do.

People grow up with a set of ideas implanted by their parents. I live in a retirement home. Some of the sweetest old people still accept their parents’ prejudices without question. Living in different places and traveling to foreign countries made me aware of the differences between people – and how it is all right to be different.

My parents were a gentle people. My mother and father never raised their voices, not to me and my brothers, not to anyone. They tried never to do anything to upset other people. Before Mother went to Scotland on a tour paid for by my brother, she bought a book listing Scottish bed and breakfast houses. I told her, “Mother, you don’t need this book. Don has arranged for all the places you will stay. You haven’t opened the book. Take it back to the bookstore.”

Mother said, “Oh, no. I don’t take things back.” She was an old woman living on Social Security. Paying for that book meant skimping on her purchases at the grocery store. But she “believed” the store would be angry with her if she asked them to take back merchandise. Mother did not want to offend anyone.

Some prejudices are harmless – like Mother’s belief that she was “doing the right thing” by not returning things she would never use. Other “beliefs” can be just plain wrong, and, if carried to extreme, can lead to tragedy.

My father thought anyone who did not “believe in the Bible” was wicked. Only belief in Jesus kept people from lying, cheating, stealing, even raping. During the Depression, night after night at the dinner table, I listened to him say, in that soft Southern voice, that all our economic troubles were caused by the Jews. At the end of World War II we were horrified by pictures of bodies piled up by the thousands in Nazi Concentration Camps. I wonder if even then he realized what his prejudice could lead to.

Fortunately, people can learn. I grew up thinking all black people were lovable but inferior, incapable of doing things white people can do. Now I have friends that are black. Certainly they are lovable. Also, they are intelligent, accomplished, and my equal in every way.

Saturday, July 16, 2011

My Son David

Today is my son David’s birthday. He is 46 years old. Where did the years go? It seems such a short time since he was a three-year-old blowing out the candles on his birthday cake in the den of our home in Irving, Texas, under the smiling eyes of our family: his father, older brother and sister, and me.

That happy suburban family is vaporized. I now live in a retirement home with other old folks. Still active. Still going places. I go to art museums and theater. Others prefer to go to the casino in Oklahoma. All of us agree that the older we get the faster time flies. Remember when you were little and it seemed ages before Christmas came? After you’ve experienced 80 Christmases, it seems as if Christmas is every other month.

David was born in Michigan. We moved to Texas when he was ten months old. When he was five, we moved to Pennsylvania where he started kindergarten. In the middle of second grade, we moved to Illinois. That’s where he grew up. While he was in high school, he witnessed the trauma of his parents’ divorce. David was a freshman at the University of Illinois when I pretty much abandoned him and moved to New Mexico. He never abandoned me.

David now has a wife and two children and lives in Irvine, California. When he was a baby, I never heard of computers or the internet. Now David is a computer expert, handling programming problems for cities all over the U.S.

Last week he called me while at an airport waiting to board a plane.
After chatting for several minutes I asked him, “Where are you?”
He said, “New Jersey.”
Me: “What are you doing in New Jersey?”
Seems there were problems coordinating computer systems at Newark airport and the Port Authority of New York. David flew from California to straighten things out.

David also straightens out this old woman’s computer problems. He knows me well. He set up this blog and suggested calling it “Ilene Rants.”

I’ve always been an independent woman who tries to solve her own problems (and gives others advice, whether or not they want it), but everyone encounters problems that they can’t deal with alone. My children are far away, David in California, Martha in Illinois. But when I need help, David and Martha are there for me.

David is coming to see me next weekend. Hooray! Hooray!

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Point of View

Our understanding of everything is framed by our past experience.

At exercise class, without leaving our chairs, we did leg exercises, lifting them up and down, moving them back and forth, using stretch bands to strengthen our calf muscles, and exhausting ourselves “riding a bicycle” without the bike.

Then Renee, our teacher, a delightful young lady but young enough to be our granddaughter, said, “Let’s all stand up and march in place.”

As Sue struggled to her feet, she said, “Is this trip really necessary?”

The old ladies in the class laughed.

I turned to Renee and said, “Do you know that expression?”

Renee: “What expression?”

I explained, “During the war we had to conserve gasoline. The government kept reminding us, ‘Is this trip necessary?’ We heard it all the time.”

Then I realized. Renee is too young to remember World War II with gas rationing and coupons to buy butter and meat and shoes. There have been wars since – Korea, Vietnam, Bosnia, the First Gulf War, Iraq, Afghanistan – but for us old folks, “the war” is always World War II.

I also remember a trip Emmy and I took in 1953. As we drove along the James River in Virginia, hoping to catch sight of some of the famous 18th Century plantation homes, I saw a sign, “Malvern Hill, Ancestral Home of the Cocke Family.” I turned into the drive, telling Emmy, “This must be my ancestral home. My mother and grandmother are members of the DAR on the line from their Cocke ancestor. I’ve got to see this.”

At the top of the hill we found a ruin, only the chimney standing of what had been a large mansion. A woman came out of a nearby frame farmhouse and asked what we were doing in her front yard.

I told her we were looking for my ancestors. Malvern Hill was also the site of a bloody battle during the Civil War. I asked, “When did the house burn?”

She: “I don’t know exactly. It was before the war.”
Me: (wondering if she meant the Civil War or World War II): “Which war was that, M’am?”
She: The Revolution

I guess Virginians want to forget the Civil War. For them “the war” will always be the American Revolution, with the victory at Yorktown, Virginia, which gave us our freedom.

It’s all in the point of view.

Sunday, July 10, 2011

The Reluctant Vacationer

Wallace was a reluctant vacationer. In the first ten years, when we lived in Chicago, we had very little moneys. After he went to work for Penn Mutual Life Insurance Company and was transferred to Detroit, he made enough that I didn’t have to work. Also, he was entitled to three weeks of vacation time each year. He seldom took any time off.

The second year in Detroit, Wally promised our son, Karl, to take him to see the U. S. Constitution, the sailing ship moored in Boston Harbor. (Karl was precocious, already interested in miliary history at eight-years old.)

Two days before we were to leave, Wally tried to cancel the trip, saying we could not afford the expense of motels and restaurant meals. The next day I went to Sears and bought a tent. When Wally came home from work that day, I showed him the tent set up in the back yard. I said, “We can afford to go camping. We’re leaving in the morning.”

The kids loved camping. Wally hated it. At our campsite in Miles Standish National Forest, six-year-old Martha drew a picture of her Dad sitting on a folding stool and reading a book while she splashed in the nearby pond. Back home in Michigan, a neighbor asked Martha how she liked camping. Martha said, “I liked it except for the underground plumbing.”

The next year my parents were going to a convention in San Diego. They invited our family to go with them. Wally said, “I can’t take time off from work to go to California.” “Okay,” I said, “The kids and I will go without you.” Wally called every night, berating me in Tucson and San Diego for going without him, then turning up in person at my friend’s house in San Francisco. It was funny how he not only was able to take time off, but also the money to fly to San Francisco. We camped in Yosemite and at the North Rim of the Grand Canyon. Wally paid for his return flight to Detroit from Albuquerque.

Wally was transferred from Detroit to Dallas. I persuaded Wally to take us on a family vacation in New Mexico. (I always wanted to see New Mexico.) After one night at Santa Fe’s beautiful (but expensive) La Posada, we set up the tent on the mountainside in Hyde Park.

The kids were thrilled to ride horses through the forest with a real, live Indian as a guide. Karl and Martha fed crumbs to the little chipmunks who overran our campsite. Wally became angry when the children’s pets broke in our food box and helped themselves to more of that delicious people food. The kids and I laughed at the chipmunk’s ingenuity.

In the four years we lived in Texas we took one other vacation. Wally wanted to “get away from it all.” We drove through the desert of West Texas. At Marathon, a “last gas” stop, we filled the tank and headed south. After 100 or so miles of nothing, no other cars on the road, no ranch houses, no even a lonely cow, we came to a sign, “Welcome to Big Bend National Park, campground 40 miles.”

The campground was so crowded we could listen to people whispering in the next tent. Young people, on spring break from the University of Texas, spread sleeping bags under the stars. My kids had a good time in Santa Elena Canyon, where Karl and Martha played in the Rio Grande. Although the river was only two-feet deep, three-year-old David was afraid. He found a three-foot-wide puddle and joyfully splashed around in it, as if it were a backyard plastic kiddy pool.

Then Wally was transferred to Pennsylvania, and we took that trip to Prince Edward Island, which Wally aborted after the first week. claiming fictitious car trouble.

He continued to say, year after year, “I can’t take time off.” and “We can’t afford to take a vacation.” That was okay. The next year the kids and I went camping on the Appalachian Trail – and left Wally at home.

Friday, July 8, 2011

Prince Edward Island

Last weekend Prince William and his bride visited Prince Edward Island. I remember our vacation there many years ago. I’ve been to Europe many times, to China and Thailand, but all that travel came after I divorced Wallace and most of it after I married my second husband, John. But I went to Prince Edward Island with my first husband, Wally.

We were living in Drexel Hill, outside Philadelphia. For vacation Wally wanted to go to someplace remote. He chose Prince Edward Island.

Off we went, with the three kids, driving up through Maine, which was not at all scenic after we left the coast. Wally, of course, did all the driving. Crowded into the back seat were Karl, in high school, and Martha, in junior high, with David, just finishing first grade, wedged in the between them. I sat quietly and looked at the passing scenery. The kids were no bother. As soon as the car started, all three fell asleep.

So the kids missed New Brunswick, which was mountainous and beautiful. I wondered why we had to go further to find a beautiful vacation spot. Nova Scotia was also beautiful, but Wally drove at the legal limit to get to the ferry over to Prince Edward Island.

Wally made reservations for the cheapest cabins he could find. The fist week, at the western end of the island, we crowded in a cabin, advertised as three bedrooms, which consisted one 9x12 living room-kitchen, and two “rooms” with barely space in each for one double bed. Martha slept on a cot in the furnace closet.

The young couple who owned the place were lovely. The man was a lobster fisherman. He took Wally and Karl for a day on his boat, out on the Gulf of St. Lawrence to tend his lobster traps. That evening his wife came to our door, and said, in a soft Scottish accent, “Here’s something for your supper.” She handed me a dishpan full of boiled lobsters, each too small to sell commercially but large enough to make a great meal. One of the best dinners I’ve ever had.

Several days we put on swim suits and went to the nearby beach, where we alone, never seeing anyone else enjoying the long stretch of soft, brown sand. The kids built an enormous sand castle. They also buried Wally up to his neck in sand. (I wish we could have left him there.)

The kids and I waded into the ocean. Surprise! When we lived in Chicago, one July I took the children (only two of them then) to the beach on Lake Michigan. We walked in the water and came right out again. The water was like ice! But there in Canada, far up north, the water was delightfully warm. The residents told us the warmth came from the St. Lawrence River which flowed into the nearby gulf. I think maybe the Gulf Stream, which loops over the Atlantic and warms England, may also have something to do with it.

At the end of the week we left our quiet holiday spot and drove across the width of the island, stopping at Green Gables house where Martha was thrilled to see the setting for the “Ann of Green Gables” (she read all the books by that author). We discovered the central and eastern end of the island swarming with tourists. Canadians take their holidays on Prince Edward Island the way New Yorkers go to Florida.

Wally did not like to be around other tourists. He did not like the second cabin, which was old and shabby, and which he had booked for a week. It had a lovely view. The next morning I stepped out onto the grass and saw at the bottom of the hill a tall-masted sailing ship had slipped into an inlet of the sea. On the deep blue water, the white ship with its white sails against the green hills on the other side of the bay made a perfect picture – and Wally, still asleep in the cabin, had control of the camera.

The next day Wally decided we had car trouble. We needed to leave immediately before the car broke down so far from home. So we packed up and left.

Somehow Wally did not feel the need to have a mechanic look at the car in Charlottesville, the capitol and the one big town on the island. No problems with the car in Nova Scotia, where we made several stops, including a night we spent to watch the tidal river flow backwards from the Bay of Fundy. And no breakdowns or need for repair all the way back to Pennsylvania. As far as I know, no mechanic looked at that beautiful big Ford LTD for months after our trip to Prince Edward.

In their brief visit to the island, William and Kate had to deal with crowds and ceremonial events. On our vacation there, I had to deal with Wally. Somehow, in spite of Wally, I suspect my children and I had more fun than the royals on Prince Edward Island.

Sunday, July 3, 2011

Watching Tennis

This morning, as I do every Sunday,I went in my kitchen and, still in my nightgown, cooked two poached eggs and toast. Then, still in my nightgown, I leaned back in the recliner in my living room and watched “CBS Sunday Morning” and “Face the Nation” on my 42-inch plasma tv. What luxury! Who in the World has a more relaxing way to spend a Sunday?

After that, Charlie came and climbed on my lap. Together we watched the men’s final tennis match at Wimbledon. The Serb beat the Spaniard..

You know how I feel about the Serbs. Look in the archive for my blog: “I Hate Serbs.”

Today I give the Serb credit: Djovonik played an excellent game to beat Nadal, who won the past two years. The Serb became Wimbledon Champion by winning four sets to one over Nadal. How I wish his countrymen would pursue their goals as peacefully – and fairly!

A couple of years ago I was sad when Nadal triumphed over Federer. I liked the Swiss player. I also liked our American champion, Pete Samprus. Those are my prejudiced opinions, based on hearsay. I heard both were true gentlemen, on and off the court. I’m not always a Polyanna.

I’ve enjoyed watching Wimbledon for many years. I don’t play tennis. I took a few lessons when I was in summer school at Texas Tech in 1947. I am not quick on my feet. I never learned to serve. If I hit the ball, it went right into the net. I appreciate the skill of all the players as they dash back and forth across the grass courts in England with amazing agility, hitting balls back across the court as accurately as if they were Supermen. Maybe they are.

Wimbledon is the pinnacle of all tennis, outranking the French and American open matches. In all the years I’ve been watching, no British player made it into the finals. The English crowds cheer both winners and losers wherever they come from.

Twice I managed to be in England during the “fortnight.” Just like at home, I watched the games on television.

The first time I saw the excitement when young American Andre Agassi, long blond hair flying wildly, arrived to play in the championship games, a first time for him, too. He didn’t win that year, but the English loved him. (You’ve seen him, totally bald, in television commercials with his tiny son swinging the tennis racket.)

The second time in England I sat on the king-size bed in a bed and breakfast just a few miles from Wimbledon. Mother, David, and I went into that little town to catch the train to London. Like saying “I’ve been to Atlanta” because I changed planes in that monstrous airport.

I’ll soon forget all the dramatic shots in today’s match, just as I don’t remember who won the year Mother, David, and I were in England. On the final play, the Serb shot the ball over the net and Nadal sent it back, right into the net. I'll remember the pure job on Djovonik's face, more radiant than any bride’s on her wedding day.