Wednesday, November 30, 2011

My Navistar Stock

Georgeson Inc.
PO BOX 43023
Providence, RI 02940-3023

To whom it may concern:

Another offer to let me purchase stock in Navistar for a ridiculous price. I am insulted.

My late husband, John Durkalski, worked for International in the truck division. He was proud of those big International trucks and for the company where he worked for 40 years. He bought stock, paying as much as $40 a share. When he retired, he sold that stock for $4 a share.

Later I persuaded John to buy 100 shares “for sentimental reasons” at the same $4 per share. After he died, Navistar had a “stock reduction” scheme, and I ended up with only 10 shares.

I feel the company stole 90 shares from me. Now you offer to let me buy 90 shares by sending you a check for $4,500. Really! To buy back stock for which we paid $360.

You say you would save me “the inconvenience and cost of brokerage commissions.” Fortunately, the other stocks I own comprise a large enough portfolio in my Wells-Fargo PMA account that I never have to pay commissions on the rare occasions when I buy or sell stock.

I’ll keep my 10 shares and let Navistar send me the annual reports where I can read about the enormous cash payments and gifts of thousands of shares of stock to company officers and board members. What a lousy deal for long-time stock holders, like me, who never receive a dividend!

That’s the way the American industry works these days. It is all legal, and every corporation is run by a bunch of greedy crooks! Is anyone surprised that the U.S. economy is in a mess?

Yours very truly,

Ilene Durkalski

CC: Navistar, Inc.

Saturday, November 26, 2011

My Cat Charlie

Daisy moved down from her third floor apartment next to mine to one on the second floor. Now when she meets me in the dining room, she does not ask, “How are you?” She says, “How is my friend Charlie?”

Friends call from New Mexico and New York. It is the same thing. They always ask, “How’s Charlie?”

Charlie is just fine. When I come home from dialysis, he meets me at the door. Each evening when I sit back in the recliner to watch “Jeopardy”, he climbs on top of me, but for “Wheel of Fortune” he moves over and stretches out on the coffee table.

He’s once again asking to go outside the first thing each morning. During the heat of summer he would not venture out of the door of the apartment (Not such a dumb cat!) But when the weather cooled, he still was reluctant to go out until one morning when I pushed him out the door. Now I let him out before I go to take my shower. After a brief stroll along the balcony, Charlie sits staring up at our doorway. Jim McMullen or Faye Scandlin let him in as they pass on the way to breakfast.

Charlie was always a slow learner. I don’t know what happened to him before he adopted me at the animal shelter in Albuquerque twelve years ago. He is a beautiful cat; he must have been someone’s pet. But he was picked up as a stray. The shelter sold him to me for $5. I took him to the vet, and it cost $100 for shots and to have him bathed and the matted knots cut out of his hair.

I suspect he had been poisoned. He still will eat only dry food. He always hopped up on the bathroom counter to drink running water out of the faucet. Only in the last year, with arthritis in his hips, has he learned to stay on the floor and drink out of a bowl.

For years he was terrified of men. My neighbor LeRoy came every Thursday to take out my garbage, and Charlie ran and hid under the bed. After ten years he finally let LeRoy pet him. Last week I was pleased when my new neighbor Everett came to the door to say “Hello”, and Charlie, lying on the carpet in the living room, merely looked up as if to say, “Oh, just another of Grandma’s visitors.”

So even an old cat can adjust to changing times and situations. I’ve always thought I was pretty good at that, too. But . . . .

My son David is here for Thanksgiving. He put Charlie’s photo on the blog for me. Now he says, “Mom, you do one.” I’m not even going to try. I am “technology challenged”. Besides, I have a son who is an expert. I’ll ask him to do more photos when he comes again next March. Meanwhile, all my pictures will be word pictures. You will have to imagine the rest.

Monday, November 21, 2011

My Hobby

People collect things. Wally collected Scandinavian postage stamps. My brother Don collects Ford Mustang cars. I collect museums.

I don’t know why I developed a passion for fine art. My parents never showed the slightest interest. My mother did not know the difference between a Rembrandt and a Picasso.

In art class in high school I scratched charcoal on paper, drawing portraits of other students. I soon realized I had no talent. My joy in art became limited to admiring the work of others.

That was “before the museums came” to Fort Worth. Most of what I knew about art I learned from looking at cheap reproductions. Not very good in those days before printers could give us inexpensive color photographs.

My only experience with fine paintings came each week when I rode the bus downtown to have the sadistic Dr. Terrell adjust the braces on my teeth. Afterwards I’d stop by the Fort Worth Public Library, check out five books, and go upstairs to visit the paintings loaned by Mr. Kimball on the second floor landing, mostly 18th Century portraits of elegant ladies.

Once there was a special exhibit. I was thrilled to see an actual Cezanne still life with oranges. How did I recognize that it was a Cezanne? I don’t know. All I remember is that I hungered to see more “real” paintings.

In my senior year in college, I took 21-hours each semester so that I could audit a two-semester course in the History of Art. I absorbed the slide shows as if they were cake and ice cream. Afterwards I’d sit in the little art department library staring at a large (4x6 foot) Van Gogh reproduction, admiring the variety of colors in the different fields of wheat.

On my first vacation after I went to work for the Press, Emmy and I took a wild trip east. I’d bought a used ‘46 Chevy, and we drove off, not like Thelma and Louise, but more like two Brownie Scouts who had somehow obtained drivers’ licenses. I expected great things at the Museum of Modern Art and the Metropolitan in New York – and saw them – but was amazed by the wonderful collection at the National Gallery in Washington, everything from a Fra Angelico nativity to a bust of Lorenzo the Magnificent to Monet’s ladies with parasols on a sunlit beach. .

As a bride in Chicago, I took courses in interior design at the Art Institute. Going through the main museum to reach the basement classroom, I fell in love with the collection of Monets: seascapes, rows of poplars, fields of poppies. It was a heady experience, going to a great museum every week for two years.

I was hooked. I wanted see more museums. Like a heroin addict, the more I saw, the more I wanted. It did not matter that I could never own a fine painting. I spent an hour absorbing Monet’s waterlilies in the Orangery in Paris. In my memory I owned them forever.

Wherever we lived, I joined the museums and went to gallery talks and programs. In Detroit my children obediently looked at the Diego Rivera murals, as afterwards we ate chocolate almond ice cream in the courtyard. In Philadelphia I sat for hours in the Tyson Collection wondering how anyone could give away that Cezanne landscape with the view of Mont St. Victoire. When we returned to Chicago, I went back to the Art Institute on my lunch hour.

Looking at art became my hobby, just as others go to movies or play video games. In my travels I visited most of the great museums of the World. The Louvre held few surprises; I’d seen colored slides of most of the paintings in my History of Art class at TSCW. But Vienna – Ah! That’s a great museum with comfortable couches to sit in while admiring the paintings.

Now I am back in Texas. This week David comes for Thanksgiving. We will go to Fort Worth to see the Caravaggio exhibit at the Kimball, the fine museum of European art endowed by the man who loaned the paintings I saw at the library when I was in high school. I wonder if in storage is that big portrait I admired of a lady in a long white “empire” style dress by Sir Thomas Lawrence. It is never on display.

Saturday, November 19, 2011

Approaching Thanksgiving

Holidays are coming. My son David comes to celebrate Thanksgiving with me. I’m thrilled and grateful to him for leaving wife and children in California to spend the holiday with his aged mother.

My brother Don will meet David at DFW on Tuesday evening; then on Wednesday, Mary and Don will drive up to Oklahoma for Thanksgiving with her relatives.

My friend Sally invited David and me to have Thanksgiving dinner with her family. Every day, not just at Thanksgiving, I am thankful for this friend and for others who, in difficult times in my life, provided comfort.

Sally and I have been friends since high school. Hers is a true “only in America” story.

Sally came from a Pennsylvania German family. Her grandfather was a doctor. Her mother studied Latin and archeology at Bryn Mawr, read Montaigne’s essays in the original French, and met Sally’s biological father, later a famous research scientist, when he was a medical student at the University of Pennsylvania. It was at their house that I first picked up from the coffee table and read The Atlantic and the New Yorker.

The family came to Texas during World War II, when Sally’s stepfather, Lt. Commander Charles Hastings, was in command of the Navy’s air station in Fort Worth. After the war Sally stayed in Texas to graduate from Paschal High School and to go to college with me at Texas State College for Women.

Sally dropped out of college to marry Hugh Pegues, whose family, like mine, has been in Texas “since the days of the Republic.” She was a Democrat; he was a Republican. She was high church Episcopalian; he was Church of Christ. They had five children and were still skinny dipping together when he died, just before their 60th wedding anniversary.

Their children and grandchildren are totally Texan. The great sorrow was losing their son Alan to a brain tumor when he was only 52. His two sons are now in college, one at Rice and the other at nearby North Texas University in Denton. I don’t know if they will be with us for dinner on Thursday.

Now 82-years-old and a widow, Sally raises prize beef cattle on the farm near Decatur. Daughters Amy and Cece live nearby and help with the farm, as does son Guy. The third daughter, Sara, is flying in from Maryland for Thanksgiving. It should be quite a party. Amy wants to cook the turkey with cornbread stuffing – the kind her Texan grandmother made.

On Wednesday, the day before Thanksgiving, David and I will go to the Kimball Museum in Fort Worth to meet Emma Hill, another friend since college, . We’ll have lunch, see the Caravaggio exhibit, and take time to sit and talk.

Speaking of art (Kimball and Caravaggio) I will detour from my travel blogs to write about art. Then I promise to get back on tour with my discovery of Tilman Riemenschneider (that's spelled correctly)in Wurzburg, Germany.

Sunday, November 13, 2011

What I Learned in Germany

My first trip abroad was with my son David. He was only 13, with no memories of World War II and no preconceived ideas of what to expect. I discovered a Germany that was not at all as I imagined it. Germany is a democracy, the leading economy in Europe, conquering through trade.

The cities, with modern buildings, look as if never bombed; Germans forget the war we fought against them. A woman, a small child during World War II, said to me, “My mother told me that when the American soldiers came, they would eat little children. Then they rolled into our village in their tanks and turned out to be these big Teddy Bears who gave me chocolate.”

I thought about this yesterday when Al, sitting across the table from me at lunch, said, “I went around the World three times before I was 19. I have no desire to go back to any of those places.”

I said, “I’ve learned something every place I’ve gone.”

Al hates everyone who is not white. He scorns all Asians, even if they are not “Japs”. Al brags that when he was in the Merchant Marine, any black or homosexual who dared to join the crew went overboard during the first storm. Our black waitresses listen politely to his tirades.

We are all products of our backgrounds. Growing up in Texas, I took it for granted that Yankees were horrible people that burned down people’s houses. I loved Robert and Edna, the black folks who worked for my grandmother. I used the “N” word without knowing it was an insult. Of course white people were superior to all other races. As for religion, the Baptist Church was the only true way of believing; all others – especially Catholics – were going to Hell. .

Why did I change? Daddy said to me, “I’m sorry we let you go to college because you left the church you were brought up in.” In college I studied journalism. I learned to think critically and to look for “the story behind the story.” Even facts can be misleading. I realized that many of the ideas I was taught to “believe” as a child were wrong.

Then I married Wally and went to Chicago. I was thrown into a totally different culture. For my grandmother the only way to stuff a turkey was with cornbread “dressing”. My mother-in-law never made cornbread; she stuffed her turkey with prunes and apples. It was different, but that was okay.

Chicago is a multi-ethnic city with Italians, Jews, and more Poles than Warsaw. My friends were Catholics and Lutherans, all wonderful people. No one was kinder and sweeter than my Mormon sister-in-law. I discovered that people with different ways of thinking are also good U.S. citizens.

Later I traveled. I found that, yes, people in other countries have different ways of cooking and eating, but that is not important. All people want jobs to support their families. They want to feel safe in their homes. They want to enjoy life. And most Europeans do just that.

Europeans come to the U.S. to shop, to buy jeans and tee shirts, but they don’t want to live here. I have friends and have visited in homes in England, France, the Netherlands, Norway, and Germany.

Let’s face it. Europeans have a more satisfying way of life than most Americans. They work fewer hours and have five or six weeks of vacation every year. We hear propaganda about the dangers of “socialized medicine”, yet Europeans spend less on medical care and have better health care systems than we do. They have democratic governments; a higher percentage of Europeans vote than do Americans.

I am an American. I don’t want to live in any other country. But we can learn a lot if we open our eyes, ears, and minds.

I wish I could return to New Mexico or live in Southern California with its great climate and my grandchildren, but if wishes brought Mercedes, we’d all be riding in German cars.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Our German Enemies

As I drove the German autobahns with my 13-year-old son David beside me in the little rental car – the damned Opal wouldn’t go over 80 miles per hour, and the Mercedes passed going 135 – I was uneasy about the German people. I have vivid memories of World War II, when the Germans were our enemies.

I was just a kid in high school. All I knew was what I read in the Fort Worth Star-Telegram and what I saw in newsreels at the Saturday matinee at the Tivoli Movie Theater. After the war I found out what really happened. At one time I had several books about the war, which I gave to my grandson when he heard about World War II in his high school history class.

My husband John, whom I didn’t meet until 40 years after the war, in 1944 was a young Army supply officer in the Normandy invasion and followed the troops across Europe to meet the Russians at the Elbe. He told me his personal experiences in the war.

This week I gave a program on June, 1944, Normandy invasion, the greatest amphibious operation in history. The object was to kill Germans and drive them out of France. The worst fighting was on Omaha Beach were German machine gunners on the bluff killed thousands of American boys before many of them could wade out of the water onto the sandy beach.

Today the cemetery on the bluff above Omaha Beach is serene with row after row of white marble crosses. Over 9,000 young Americans are buried there. A few miles further down the coast is the German cemetery with 21,160 graves.

I’ve been to Normandy three times. My first visit was with John, who had landed on Omaha Beach on “D-Day plus 4". That was June 10, 1944, after the Germans had been driven back. We had a friend in Albuquerque who landed the first day as an Army sergeant. By the time he was wounded at St. Lo, he was a captain. Forty years later John walked along the water’s edge and said, “It has not changed a bit since I was here in ‘44.”

But of course it has changed. The whole world has changed. Roofs have been repaired, glass restored in windows in all the village houses. Church steeples again point to Heaven. Normandy looks as if there never was a war.

When David and I drove around Germany, one of the first thing I noticed was that we were never out of sight of a castle. In the valleys every little village backed up to a mountain topped by a castle. All very picturesque, but it made me realize how unsafe life was a thousand years ago. No one knew when the lord of the next village would attack. No one trusted their neighbor. Today all the castles are in ruins.

England and France were enemies for centuries. One conflict is called “The Hundred Years War”. The English defeated the French at the Battle of Waterloo in 1815. Then the English and French joined (with our help) to fight the Germans in World War I and World War II.

Today Germany and France are partners in the European Union, sharing the common currency, the Euro, and working together to shore up Greece and Italy. Every time I went in Europe, I saw German tourists and said to myself, “They didn’t need to invade other countries with their army. The Germans bring Euros, and everyone welcomes them.”

Recently I talked to a guard at the Dallas Museum of Art who was stationed in Germany a few years ago with the U.S. Army. He kept repeating, “Germany is so beautiful. I love Germany.”

Monday, November 7, 2011


One of the first places David and I went in Germany was to Aschaffenburg. I don’t know why we went there. This city is not on the usual tourist route, and it has nothing of particular distinction.

Before the unification of Germany in the 19th Century, Germany was carved up into dozens of little independent states, some ruled by dukes and counts and some ruled by prince-bishops. Aschaffenburg was once the “capital” of a principality owned by the Catholic Church.

David and I did not tour the bishop’s palace but went instead to the museum in what had been a monastery. We walked around on the wide plank flooring through many rooms looking at church art.

A guard motioned to David to come up a short flight of stairs into a small, white-washed room. It was a torture chamber, with heavy chains to attach men to the walls, just like in the cartoons, only this was for real. This was also the first time I saw an actual rack for stretching men’s bodies until their joints broke.

The guard showed David other instruments of torture. Surprised, David said, “A torture chamber in a church?”

I told David about the terrible wars over religion. The Thirty Years War in Germany was particularly brutal, Catholics and Protestants torturing, burning down churches with people inside, and killing each other as viciously as Shias and Sunnis bomb and fight among themselves today. The fanatical Muslims who want to kill Christians are following examples set by Christians who killed Christians in the 16th Century.

With that gruesome lesson in mind, we walked through the rest of the rooms in this former monastery. I could not find a cloister. In Medieval times monasteries were built around courtyards, where monks could walk under the porches which surrounded the enclosed gardens while they meditated. (I almost wrote “medicated”.) We call these enclosed gardens “cloisters”. In New York City there is a beautiful museum of Medieval art, called “The Cloisters”, with cloisters transported from several European countries. But in the former monastery in Aschaffenburg I went through many rooms but could not find a doorway into the cloister.

I went to the front desk and asked the little, gray-haired woman on duty, “Where is the cloister?”

I don’t speak German. Her English was limited. When I kept repeating, “Cloister?” She looked puzzled, then said firmly, “Here is Kloster.” She waved a slender hand around to indicate the entire building.

Finally I understood. In German “kloster” is the word for “monastery”.

Just another example of how things are misunderstood between people of nations and cultures who speak different languages. It also happens between individuals who think they are speaking the same language.

Wednesday, November 2, 2011


I told Wally I wanted to go to Paris. Instead, he brought home tickets to Frankfurt. So my first European trip began in Germany.

If I made a list of places I wanted to visit, Germany would not even be on the list. I was a teenager during World War II, when the Germans were destroying Europe. My brain held pictures of bombed cities and piles of dead Jews in concentration camps. I did not want to go there.

In later years I traveled to many places. When I arrived at a place I read about, it never was exactly as I envisioned it. That first trip to Germany was a total surprise.

David and I spent several nights in Frankfurt, sightseeing in the city and venturing on day trips in the countryside, returning each evening for dinner with Karl. From studying history I knew that Germany had been torn by war after war since the original tribes clashed with the Romans. In World War II, British and American bombs (that’s us) destroyed all the German cities, leaving factories and houses as burned-out shells or piles of rubble. .

The big surprise in 1978 was I saw no evidence that there had ever been a war. Instead, I saw picturesque villages, with flower boxes at every window, each set against a backdrop of a castle on the hill, looking like pictures in a child’s book of fairy tales.

I remember little of Frankfurt. The cathedral had several big wooden altarpieces with panels filled with dozens of little figures telling Bible stories. On the table in a large “Last Supper” the little wooden fishes, apples, and loaves of bread, carved in high relief, were so real they looked like I could pick them off and carry them away in my oversize purse.

We went to Goethe’s house, which gave me an idea of how upper middle-class Germans lived in the 19th Century. Comfortable, but dark, with heavy furniture, carved with scrolls and lion paws for feet. I pictured a society of fat, complacent burghers. Probably another mental distortion.

David and I also visited a big hall with portraits of all the kings of Germany. The biggest portrait, on the end wall, was a 10-foot high man in Medieval dress labeled “Karl der Grosser”. After that, I couldn’t think of Charlemagne without associating him with a grocery store.

Yes, Germany was full of surprises. Frankfurt was only the beginning.