Monday, April 30, 2012

Thomas Kincade

John Quinlan and I were lingering over our tea and coffee cups, when Nellie walked over to our table and said, “Did you hear?  Thomas Kincade died.”

I was surprised that she knew the name of the popular painter.  Nellie boasts, “I never want to go anywhere outside the borders of Texas.”  My impression of her was that her mind also never went beyond Texas.  My reaction must have shown in my face.  I said, “Yes, I heard about it on the news.” 

Nellie said proudly, “He was a great artist.” 

John said, “He certainly was great at promoting his work.  Besides his pictures, you see Kincade’s stuff on everything from note paper to lamps to coffee mugs.” 

Kincade made millions for his paintings.  He had a factory in California which printed copies of pictures of pretty cottages buried in colorful flowers.  In my trips to England I saw flowers everywhere, usually in the tiny front yards of ordinary brick houses.  I never saw a view reminding me of Kincade’s romantic paintings.  On my Roku, I watch televised series of Agatha Christie’s Miss Marple and her village of St. Mary Mead.  Those films present a fairly accurate representation of a typical English village.

After I saw a print of Kincade’s paining of an old stone bridge, with flowers behind it and all along the stream below, I got out my photo album and found my photo of an identical old, gray, stone bridge a dull gray brook.  I thought the real stone bridge made a nice photo, although there was not a single bright flower in the frame.  Reality versus romance.  Kincade’s “art” was designed for pretty calendars.

Recently the residents in this “Old Folks Home” discussed the meaning of “High Brow” and “Low Brow.”   Most of them seemed to think “High Brow” meant rich people who thought because they had money they were better than people who are not as rich as they were.  I could not persuade them that they defined the terms incorrectly.  I know wealthy people who are certainly Low Brow. 

A “High Brow” is a person who enjoys classical music, reads books for their literary quality, and appreciates fine art.  A “Low Brow” is person who loves country and western music, reads pop fiction (if he/she reads at all), and thinks Thomas Kincade is a great painter.

The important thing to remember is that neither “High Brow” or “Low Brow” is an indication of character.  Some of the finest people I know are “Low Brow.”  I don’t care if you are willing to pay a high price for a Kincade print to decorate your bedroom.  That’s your preference, and that’s all right.  To me it is more important that you have a kind heart. 

Bill Pyle told us he has a little ceramic Christmas tree designed by Kincade.  When he and his wife lived in a house, they had a big tree every Christmas.  Now they live in a small apartment.  Every year he plugs in Kincade’s little ceramic tree; it lights up and turns around in circles playing music. Living in reduced circumstances in this “Old Folks Home”, that little tree playing Christmas carols cheers them into a happy holiday mood.  Kincade’s design is a true Christmas gift.

Saturday, April 28, 2012

Lazy Saturday

Saturday morning and I did not have anything urgent to do today.  I did not open my eyes until 8:30.  I looked at the clock and closed them again.  I lay under the covers enjoying the warmth and quiet.  What luxury! 

I’m trying to start a new routine: Take it easy.  Don’t rush.  At this stage of my life, I should have learned: Slow and easy and I can still get done all the things that are essential.  Since I survived breast cancer 22 years ago, every day is a bonus.  Put up with what I must put up with.  Sometimes I feel that dialysis is devouring my life.  But I still have four days a week to enjoy.   

Perhaps I dozed off again.  Charlie jumped up beside me.  I opened my eyes.  The cat looked at  me as if to say, “Don’t you know it is time to get up?”

Usually the radio starts to play at 6:45.  I force myself to get out of bed, take my pills, brush my teeth and wash my face.  Among my distractions this week were trips to the dentist and the dermatologist.  No cavities, but in spite of taking an antibiotic pill every morning and washing my face with special soap, I still get ugly spots on this aged face.  The skin doctor took a growth off my nose.  It proved benign.  

On ordinary days I dressed and go outside to go down to breakfast.  One reason I moved to this retirement community is so that I don’t have to cook or wash the pans.  I need lots of protein for my kidneys.  Monday through Friday I eat two eggs every morning.  Our kitchen staff does not cook eggs on weekends.  This morning I put on my silk robe over my nightgown and sat in my recliner drinking tea until 10 a.m. 

Finally, I reached for the control and let my electric recliner push me out of the chair.  In the next hour I did the usual morning chores – made my bed, washed the tea mugs, cleaned Charlie’s litter box and carried the result with the trash to the container outside my apartment, showered and dressed, and went downstairs for lunch. . 

As I got off the elevator, I saw Louise coming out of her apartment.  She struggled with her walker to push open the screen door.  We chatted as I held the door for her.  I moved on towards the dining room, and she called to me, “You cheered me up!”

Before I reached the dining room, I met two more old ladies.  Both greeted me with big smiles.  I thought, “I try to make life a bit more cheerful for all of us.  Maybe that’s enough to get out of life.”  

I felt really good about life and about myself until Bill Pyle sat down across from me at the dining table.  He told me at breakfast he ate one of our cook’s giant-sized home-made cinnamon rolls.  I dearly love Sal’s cinnamon rolls, and I missed the one time he made them this month!

Oh, well!  Life is full of choices, important and trivial.  In my 83 years I’ve made bad decisions, but I’ve had an interesting life.  I’ve eaten lots of great meals.  In spite of dialysis and a shaky heart, I have a good life now.   Next Saturday I’m not sure it will be worth getting up early, even to have one of Sal’s cinnamon rolls.    

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Three Darned Things

One darned thing after another.  For me one darned thing follows another follows another follows another until my life becomes a series of unplanned and unexpected events.  To quote another cliche: “Life is what happens while you are making other plans.”

First, pain in my left leg.  When I got up in the morning, pain shot up my leg making it torture to put my foot down.  I grabbed the desk for support as I hobbled into the bathroom.  By the time I took my shower, the leg felt better.  I drug the cane out of the corner of the closet and used it to ease the pressure on my left foot as I made my way into the kitchen to take my morning pills.  I left the cane beside the door as I walked out to go down for breakfast.  The pain was gone.

Arthritis?  Probably.  Still, I made an appointment with an orthopedist.  The doctor took x-rays.  “There is nothing wrong with your leg.  Your hips are good for a woman your age.  The nerves in your back send those pains down your leg.  Your back is worn out.”

Old age. Aches and pains happen to everyone who is lucky to live as long as I have.

Each day when the radio goes on (this morning it was playing Chopin), I sit up in bed and put my feet down into my slippers, knowing my legs will hurt, but the pain will go away if I just keep moving.

Blood pressure is another thing.  Until I went on dialysis, I always had good blood pressure: averaging 124 over 60.  Since the first of the year, it has skyrocketed to over 200.  A nurse urged me to go to the emergency room immediately as I was in imminent danger of a stroke.  (That warning was enough to give me a heart attack!)

I saw a cardiologist.  It is difficult to get an accurate blood pressure reading on me.  I can’t have a blood pressure cuff on either arm.  Not on my left, as that is the arm where blood is pumped out for dialysis.  Not on my right, swollen with lymphademia (have no idea how to spell that) due to breast cancer 22 years ago.  The blood pressure cuff on my leg causes readings that are always higher than they would be on my arm.  Still, 210 is too high. 

The doctor prescribed pills.  One, for which “side effects are extremely rare,” caused me to have symptoms of heart failure: rapid weight gain, extreme fatigue, and swollen ankles.  The doctor let me stop taking those pills.  I’m losing weight, my ankles are slim, and I feel better. 

On Sunday, as I was eating dinner, I looked down and saw my napkin streaked with blood.  A pimple on the end of my nose had burst. Blood dripped onto the tablecloth and even onto my lemon cake.  I held my nose for 30 minutes before it stopped. 

Yesterday morning it bled again.  Today I saw my dermatologist.  He did a biopsy on the end of my nose.  Now my big, ugly nose is tipped by a band-aid.  I said to Bill Pitts, I was going to tell everyone that he hit me.  This big, Teddy Bear of a man said, “That’s all right.  I need to keep up my reputation as a touch guy.” 

One darned thing after another. 

Thursday, April 5, 2012

Texas Tornado

David called from California just as I was getting on the elevator to go downstairs to play bridge. On television he saw 18-wheeler trucks flying through the sky like airplanes during a tornado in the Dallas-Fort Worth area.

I told him I saw the same thing – on television. Then I told him I was on a bus going past Arlington, half-way between Dallas and Fort Worth, just before the tornado struck.

Rene, our petite young activity director, drove the big white bus to take five of us from our retirement home in Garland, east of Dallas, to the Kimball Museum on the west side of Fort Worth. We left after breakfast, going to see the Kimball’s exhibit of impressionist paintings from the Clark Museum in Massachusetts. Sue Montgomery said it was worth going on our bus (it rides like it has square wheels) in order to see bluebonnets in bloom beside the highway.

John Quinlin’s daughter came with us to push his wheel chair. Bob Sanford who, like John, is a stroke survivor, walks with a cane. Visiting a museum is a challenge for all us old folks. Even without a physical disability to make walking difficult, we all tire quickly. Sue and I went because we were eager to see the paintings. We were relieved to find padded benches in all but one of the rooms exhibiting the paintings.

After spending an hour looking at Monet and Pissaro landscapes and a dozen or more Renoirs, we lunched in the museum’s buffet. John put just a sandwich on his plate. When we convinced him that it was a “one price” meal for whatever he chose, his daughter Nila filled his plate with the Kimball’s fresh fruit salad. I regretted not taking more of the fresh pineapple and strawberries.

We lingered over lunch. After finishing my quiche I had a second mug of English breakfast tea. Sue said she was tired and ready to go home. Bob and I insisted the others wait while we had a quick look at the permanent collection. Once again I was impressed by the quality in this small museum. In one alcove were masterworks by Rembrandt, Velasquez, and El Greco.

If we had left when Sue wanted to leave, we would have missed all the excitement. As soon as John’s wheelchair was on the bus, it started to rain. Crossing Fort Worth on Interstate 30, it began to pour. By the time we passed the city limits, the rain was so coming down so heavy that Rene could barely see the taillights of the car in front of her. Traffic crept along. Rene faced the ordeal of braking the bus, moving forward a few feet, braking again.

Water flowed in from a leak at the back of the bus and made miniature riverlets in the ribbed flooring between the seats. Then it began to hale, hitting the roof like machine gun fire. Out the window I saw white marbles dive bombing into the water filling ditches beside the highway.
Long lines of cars and trucks stopped behind the lucky few who found shelter under bridges. At one point as we approached a bridge, all four lanes stopped. Surprisingly when we managed to get through the bridge, the weather cleared. Then Rene saw the sign: “Tornado warning. Take shelter immediately.”

She pulled the bus off at the next exit, turned right at the traffic light, and drove up to the door of a LA Fitness Center. The entire staff was standing in the doorway looking at the funnel cloud approaching from the South. When Rene told them we were a group of old people seeking shelter, it was as if they had assembled just to greet us. They whisked John away in his wheel chair, leaving the rest of us to plod along behind. Bob was sent into the men’s locker room.

The women’s locker room was like a bomb shelter, windowless and deep in the heart of the building. A young woman stood near us casually drying her hair. I sat on a bench beside Rene. She was shaking uncontrollably.

“I’m just cold,” she insisted. “I left my jacket on the bus.” While the rest of us jumped out of the bus and into the doors of the fitness center without getting wet, Rene stood in the rain to bring John’s wheelchair down on the bus’s lift. Her clothes were soaked through to the skin.
Nila took a sweater out of her little backpack and draped it around Rene’s shoulders. We told this tiny youngster she had done an amazing job of driving the bus through the storm.

“Where are we?” I asked the woman drying her hair.
“Arlington,” she said.

A staff member of the fitness center came in to tell us when the danger had passed the area. As we went out the front doors of the fitness center, we met a young man arriving with his gym bag. He looked in amazement at this group of senior citizens climbed on the bus, Bob with his cane, John in his wheel chair, and this fat old lady. Not the sort the young man expected to see at the LA Fitness Center.

As we sped along the interstate highway, Sue was happy to see the bluebonnets survived the storm. The rest of us watched the funnel cloud coming up from the south.

As the bus stopped in front of Montclair, we gave three cheers for Renee. We were told not to go to our apartments but to go to the dining room. Garland was under a tornado warning.

I told Rene that my son David designs software to control signs like the one which told her to take us to shelter. She said, “God bless David.”
I said, “He’s done it for cities all over the country, but I don’t think he did these for the Dallas-Fort Worth area.”
“God bless him anyway,” she said. “I’m sure he has saved someone’s life with those signs.”

An hour later we saw on television that the tornado skipped over us and hit Forney. We were allowed to go to our apartments.

Charlie met me at the door and insisted I sit down and cuddle him in my lap as the thunder exploded above. I turned on the television where I saw trucks flying over Lancaster and cut a half-mile swath across Arlington, damaging and destroying hundreds of homes. The tornados, eleven in all, moved into the Eastern counties.

The rain pounded down on Garland. Nothing separated my third floor “penthouse” apartment from the heavy rain except a very old roof. It leaked in the dining room and in Everett’s apartment next to mine. Charlie and I were snug, warm – and dry – in our usual place, sitting in the recliner in front of the television set.

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Paris at Night

David and I left Colmar early on a Saturday morning. When darkness fell, we were still on the expressway driving towards Paris. I pulled the car into a rest area which advertised “Tourist Information.”

Behind the counter was a young woman. French women are slim and elegant and look chic in the simplest clothes. How they accomplish this miracle is a mystery to me This one, with her neat, close-cropped dark hair, was charming in a simple white blouse and black skirt. She greeted me in English with a delightful French accent, with only a frosty glance to indicate she recognized me as an American by my clothes, also a shirt and skirt, stained from German meals and disheveled after driving all day.

I asked if she could make reservations for David and me at an inexpensive hotel in Paris.
She said, “Paris is full.”
“What do you mean, ‘Paris is full?’”
“It is the weekend. There are no hotel rooms available in Paris. Paris is full.”

Despite this warning, I drove on into Paris. I had a list of cheap hotels from the Frommer guide books. Surely we could find something.

I drove up the Champs Elise, as garish as Las Vegas with ugly neon signs. I found the highly recommended hotel near the Arch de Triumph. No vacancy. Could they suggest another hotel? No. Nothing available on this side of the Seine.

We drove by the long, dark shape of the Louvre. David said, “That sure is a big museum.” I said, “That’s only one wing. There is more on the other side.”

We crossed the Seine. From the bridge David had a good view of the Eiffel Tower, brilliantly lighted at night. In the Latin Quarter I drove through ancient, narrow streets vainly looking for a hotel with room for a middle-aged American with kid in tow.

I turned the car back towards the river. We passed Notre Dame. I remembered Audrey Hepburn and Cary Grant in 'Charade' seeing the cathedral on a night such as this from the boat on the Seine. As I drove along the boulevard next to the river, I saw a road sign indicating the way to Versailles. I decided to follow the signs out of the city and all the way through the Paris suburbs to Versailles.

In the village of Versailles, I found the Hotel Richard, another Frommer recommendation. They, too, were full. Then a miracle! The manager called another hotel. They had a room for us.

Hotel Clagney was off the main drag at the end of a dead end street called the “Impasse de Clagney.” (First time I was at an impasse.) The little hotel was next to the railroad tracks, where trains from Versailles to Paris roared past day and night. That did not keep us from sleeping in the comfortable bed. The large room had a shower but no toilet, a situation we found several times in France.

As I fell asleep, I thought about our night-time tour of Paris. I said to myself, “We might as well have been on a damned bus tour.”

Years later I went on a trip which included a daytime “tour of Paris” which was a perfunctory as the night David and I wandered around the city looking for a hotel. But that night we had a full week ahead of us to really see the sights.