Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Lazy Day

This has been one of those days.  As usual Charlie woke me up at 7:00 a.m. by jumping on the bed and meowing in my face.  But I could not get out of bed. 

I had to make a choice.  To keep my kidneys functioning I need protein.  I eat two eggs for breakfast every morning.  One reason I moved into this retirement home was so I would not have to cook or wash dishes.  Breakfast is served from 7:00 to 9:00.  Finally I drug myself into the bathroom, brushed my teeth. 

I skipped my usual shower.  I needed to shampoo my hair, but I didn’t even wash my face before pulling on my blue flowered “lounger” (a kind of mou-mou).  Putting keys and cell phone in my pocket, I took the elevator down to breakfast. 

As soon as I sat down, our new waiter, David, brought my tea.  Just the way I like it: a pot of hot water with a tea bag on the side.  I like pale amber tea; Bob likes his brewed until it looks like coffee.  I ate my eggs and toast and had pleasant conversation with Bob, John, and Shirley.  I began to think I might stay alive until noon. 

As I left the dining room, an old lady stopped me and said, “That’s such a pretty dress.” 

My old baggy lounger!

She gave my spirits quite a lift.  One of those little things that make such a difference.

I came home and spent the rest of the day stretched out in my recliner, alternately dozing and hearing the television drone on and on about a hurricane approaching New Orleans and the Republicans gathering to nominate Mitt Romney. 

Tonight the hurricane will batter New Orleans and Romney will batter the President.  I can’t do anything to stop either catastrophe.  Tonight I will play bridge.  I play with Mariam, Pat, and Sue.  They are all good at the game.  We have a nice foursome. No one gets angry or upset when a partner does not hold a winning hand. 

I must go to dialysis tomorrow.  On Thursday I will do the things I should have done today. . . . Or maybe I’ll wait until Saturday.

I really enjoyed today.  A day of doing nothing.  What luxury!

Sunday, August 26, 2012


My son David flies in from California to see me two or three times a year.  He comes Friday evening and leaves on Sunday.  It is always a short visit, yet he always wants to spend a day driving the 60 miles to see Sally at her farm near Decatur. 

Today is Sally’s birthday.  She is a special person.  No wonder David wants to see her every time he comes to Texas. 

Sally and I have been friends for 68 years.  I remember vividly the day I met her.  I was eating a sandwich in the lunchroom at Paschal High School when a friend brought in a new girl, who had just moved to Texas from New York.  Sally was short (about the same height as my 5'1") and stocky with beautiful shoulder-length black hair.  She wore a red and gray checked suit, totally unlike anything worn by other girls in our high school.  To me she looked exotic and sophisticated – after all, she was a New Yorker. 

Before coming to Texas she began high school in New York, where her stepfather, Charles, worked for the Statler Hotel chain.  But Sally’s roots were deep in Pennsylvania, where her grandfather and great-grandfather had been doctors in Wernersville.

World War II brought Sally to Texas.  In those days planes could not fly coast-to-coast without refueling.  Navy planes flying across country to the War in the Pacific refueled in Fort Worth. Charles Hastings was commanding officer of the Navy’s base here. 

How handsome he looked in his Lt. Commander’s uniform!  As for Sally’s mother, she reminded me of the Duchess of Windsor.  Sally was pretty; her mother was not.  But she was tall and slim and carried herself regally.  Emmy Hastings was a graduate of Bryn Mawr (How I wished I could go to that college!) and read the Montaigne’s essays in the original French.

The Hastings rented a big, Victorian house on Penn Street.  On the coffee table in the living room were the latest issues of the Atlantic and the New Yorker.  Going to Sally’s house after school was entering a different World.  Yet in those days I was a partisan Texan and tried to educate them about the Alamo and the Glorious South of the Lost Cause of the Confederacy. 

The war ended.  Sally and her mother moved temporarily into quarters at the Marine Base at Eagle Mountain Lake until Sally graduated from Paschal.  The Hastings moved back east, but Sally returned to Texas to enroll in Texas State College for Women with me. 

While living at the Marine base, Sally met a Navy man, just returned from the Pacific, son of a tenant farmer, who grew up in the neighborhood.  He came up to Denton to date her on weekends.  One Saturday, Hugh picked up Sally and me and drove us to Fort Worth.  They dropped me at home and left. 

My mother was furious.  “You and Sally could both be expelled if the college found out she did not spend the weekend here in my house.”

Sally and Hugh went down to the court house and got married.   I doubted the marriage would last a month.  They came from such different backgrounds.  He was a Texan, a graduate of a small town high school with no further education.  He was a Texas Republican; Sally was a Democrat.  He was Church of Christ; she was high church Episcopalian.  They fought constantly and always made up at bedtime.  They had five children.  The marriage lasted until Hugh died, a month before their 60th wedding anniversary. 

Next time I’ll tell more about how Sally became a Texan . . . and I ceased to be one.  And how we maintained our friendship for the next 68 years without ever living in the same town.

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

What Do You Know?

An old woman told me, “I know all about Europe.  My husband and I took a two-week tour and saw six countries.  We had a wonderful tour guide who told us about each place we visited.” 

Of course she knows nothing about Europe.  She could learn more watching television than she did looking out the window of a bus as a young man droned on about “Look left” or “Look right to see a fine example of 18th Century architecture.”

After spending a week in Paris with David, I came away thinking, “I don’t know anything about the city or the people who live there.”

I pictured Paris from reading Georges Simenon’s murder mysteries.  I imagined the city as Simenon’s Inspector Maigret and his wife strolled the boulevards after supper.  Then I read about the author.  Besides being a strange fellow -- an oversexed egoist – Simenon was not even a Parisian!  He was a Belgian who lived in Switzerland!  

I returned to Paris six times.  I visited and revisited the churches, museums, and monuments.  I still do not “know” the city.  I do not have any friends who live there.

I promised to tell you more about my daughter Martha.  What do I know of her life? 

She and her husband live in Illinois.  Just before their first son was born, John Durkalski and I were married and moved to New Mexico.   For the past 24 years my daughter and I have lived a thousand miles apart.   

Martha’s husband, Don Schumann, has master’s degrees in electrical engineering and computer.  They live in Naperville, Illinois, in an exclusive neighborhood in a house with a three-car garage and with an airplane hanger in their backyard.

Martha and Don have three boys.  I’ve taken them on Elderhostels, spending a week alone with each boy in an attempt to get to know my grandsons. (Like knowing Europe after one of those 12-day, 10 country tours.)   This year I was thrilled when Martha’s oldest, Doug, instead of partying with other college kids, spent his spring break in Texas with Grandma. .

When Martha was in her late 30's she went back to school.  She became a C.P.A. and is now U.S. tax accountant for an international company.  Last year, after a visit to the home office in Switzerland, she went back to Norway to visit her “family” there.  She is still going to school and has almost completed a master’s degree in accounting.   

This June was a banner month for the Schumann family.  Their oldest, Doug, graduated from Southern Illinois University with a degree in electrical engineering.  Richard played his cello in a concert in Chicago, where he is an engineering student at the University of Illinois.  Joe or “J. J.” graduated from high school and was awarded his pin as an Eagle Scout.

Isn’t this a picture of a perfect American family?  I am proud of my daughter’s family, but . . . . I barely know them.

This year Martha and Don celebrated their 25th wedding anniversary without even going out to dinner.  “Too busy.”   I hope they “take time to smell the roses.”   That’s all I can do: just hope.

Saturday, August 18, 2012

David's Sister

On these blogs I’ve written a lot about my son David but very little about his sister, Martha. August 15 was her birthday, so it is an appropriate time to write about her. Of my three children, she has had the most adventuresome life. 

Martha was the middle child.  Like other middle children, she received less attention than either her older brother, Karl, or David, the baby.  I named her Martha after Martha in the Bible, the one who took care of the household chores while her sister Mary sat talking to Jesus.  “Martha” means “worker” and my daughter has worked hard at everything she has done. 

Martha notices things.  She was almost eight years old when David was born.  In the car going home from the hospital I cautioned her, “He’s a newborn baby.  He can’t do anything yet.”

“Yes, he can,” big sister insisted.  “He blinked his eyes.  He made a fist.  He moved his legs.”

Following David’s birth I dropped into a deep Depression.  My little girl helped care for her baby brother and, all too often, made supper and washed dishes. 

Martha was a teenager when I went back to work.  My daughter said, “In movies Martha is never the heroine.  Martha is always the name of the maid.  My mother has a live-in maid.  It’s me.”

Martha was only 16 when she graduated from high school.  Two weeks later she left for Norway as an exchange student.  She loved Norway and the Norwegians, especially the family with whom she lived for over a year. 

After her year abroad, Martha came home to enroll in St. Olaf College in Minnesota, founded by Norwegian Lutherans.  For her junior year of college she returned to Norway.  In Oslo she could not get the courses she needed to complete her degree in math.  The next year she graduated from St. Olaf with a major in Norwegian! 

Since the business world has no demand for experts in Norwegian, she worked as a secretary while going to the University of Illinois at Chicago and earning a Master’s Degree in Teaching English as a Second Language.  She taught a class for a group of old people, first generation Americans who had grown up speaking only English and wanted to learn some phrases in Norwegian before going to visit the home of their ancestors. 

Martha took full-time job as a secretary and went back to school.  She earned a master’s degree from the University of Illinois in Chicago in Teaching English as a Second Language.  She taught part-time in a small college; her class included students who spoke many languages, including Chinese and Vietnamese. 

While working in Chicago, Martha met a fellow named Don Schumann.  They dated for over a year, then broke up because Don did not want to get married. 

Martha went in the Peace Corps.  She spent over two years in Thailand, teaching English in a Thai college in Yala in the far south of the country.  She loved Thailand almost as much as she loved Norway. 

When Martha came back to the U.S., Don met her plane.  They were married a year later.

This blog is too long.  Next time I will tell about Martha as a wife, a homemaker, and as a working mother. 

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Changing Times

At the Cluny Museum in Paris, David and I stepped back into the Middle Ages.  For an hour we shut out the modern city and tried to imagine when Paris was a small town.  Knights lived in castles, where they hung tapestries on the stone walls to keep out the cold.  Peasants lived in straw huts with dirt floors. 

By the 18th Century, when Ben Franklin went to Paris to represent the revolting colonies, Paris was a modern city.  David and I walked in streets still lined with handsome 18th Century houses.  In rural areas peasants still lived in huts.  And in Texas?  There were no cities, just a few thousand Caddo Indians living in straw huts.

My mother’s family came to Texas in the 19th Century.  In the 1850 census Dallas reported 160 residents. Rockwall was not established until 1854.  Our family’s first home was a log cabin. My grandmother said, “They were always glad when it rained, because Indians never came when it rained.”  They needed guns for protection against raiding Comanches. 

Conditions were not much better in rural Texas well into the 20th Century.  My father’s parents lived in Comanche County, Texas.  When I was little, my father took me with him on his once-a-month visits to his parents, who lived in Sidney, a “town” that consisted of a post office and a barber shop, each the size of the bathroom in our Fort Worth home, plus a school, two general stores, three churches (Baptist, Methodist, and “Campbellite” – no Catholics in that part of Texas), and four houses. 

My grandparents’ house was typical “dog run” style, with a wide front porch and a “dog run” separating the two front rooms.  The main room was a combination living room and bedroom.  At night my grandmother lighted a kerosene lamp on a little marble-topped table next to the fireplace.  Water was hauled up by bucket from the well outside the back door.  The toilet was a  cold walk, holding my grandmother’s hand, to the privy.  The yard was full of chickens, which were enormous and terrifying to a two-year-old.

We – my parents, me, and my brother Lyle – lived in the modern city of Fort Worth, with street cars, 250,000 people, indoor plumbing, and electric lights.  Yet the street next to our house was not paved.  Once a year Daddy hired a truck to spread oil on the street “to keep down the dust.”

During my life I’ve seen Dallas and Fort Worth grow into this giant Metroplex sprawling through five counties.  Millions of people are all crammed together in one of the largest urban areas in the U.S. . 

I live in Garland, a Dallas suburb.  People here are stuck mentally in the 19th Century.  They demand to own guns for protection.  Against whom?  The Caddos are extinct, and the Comanches, rich from oil wells, stay in Oklahoma.  Texans are paranoid with fear of the unknown.

Texans also are strong advocates of “less government.”  In the old days a single sheriff could provide law enforcement for a whole town.  A city with more than a million people must have many policemen.  It is simple arithmetic.

People who live in cities depend on government for a multitude of services.  We pay water bills every month without thinking that taxes paid for the filtration plants that clean lake water and the pipes that bring it to our homes.

Filtration plants were built with help from the national government.  Sewage plants, too.  Paid for by taxes.  Remember that the next time you flush the pot. 

Sunday, August 12, 2012

Olympic Digressions

For over a year I have been writing about a three-week trip to Europe with David, many years ago when he was 13 years old.  I’ve finally reached Paris.

But I keep digressing to talk about other things. 

This week I became immersed in memory when I went to see a doctor in Rockwall.  I will have more to write about Rockwall.  But that can wait.

I sat in front of my 36-inch Sony television watching the Olympics.  (Do I sound like Hyacinth Bucket telling callers she is talking on “my exclusive slim-line telephone”?)   Years ago I took a couple of tennis lessons.  I could not hit the ball over the net.  I watched with rapt admiration as Federer and Murray ran back and forth and slammed the ball at each other.  So Quick!  How do they do it?  As for the little girl gymnasts doing backward somersaults onto a four-inch beam – unbelievable!    

During dialysis on Friday, I read the August 6 issue of The New Yorker.  That magazine should give me a free subscription for all the plugs I give them on this blog.  You really should get a copy of this one. 

The New Yorker prints long, long articles which give detailed analysis of various topics.  The August 6 issue leads with a piece on Paul Ryan.  How’s that for fortuitous timing?  Ryan’s tax plan reminds me of Adolph Hitler and his “Mein Kampf”.  A big bill of bullshit for gullible people. 

Just for fun read “The Marathon Man”.  A Michigan dentist promoted himself as a marathon runner.  An elaborate internet fraud.  The mystery is how and why he did it.

Towards the back of the magazine is an article about the Olympics.  Titled “Glory Days”, Louis Menand tells “What we watch when we watch the Olympics.”  Here’s a quote:

    . . . . Achievement in sports must comply with the laws of physics. . . . You
    can dedicate your life to the sport, but, if you are under six feet tall and weigh
    less than two hundred pounds, you are never going to throw the discuss seventy
    meters.  The motto of athletic competition should not be “Follow your dream.”
    It should be “Follow your reality.”

This rule applies to every thing in life.  A little girl with an I.Q. of 95 should not be encouraged to think she can grow up and become a brain surgeon.  Or even strive for a college degree.  I am not being an “elitist” for saying so.  People with all levels of ability can have satisfying lives by working at the best of which they are capable.  And all jobs should provide a “living wage”. 

We don’t need to become as rich as the Romneys and Kennedys to feel successful.  We should not feel like failures if we don’t make millions.  In Albuquerque a retired telephone linesman said to me, “I married a good wife, bought a house and a car.  I have two good kids and  sent them to college. I’ve had a good life.”

Friday, August 10, 2012

Rockwall, Texas

That trip to Paris with David was many years ago.  I couldn’t do it today.  I can’t travel anywhere.  With dialysis three days a week, going to Fort Worth becomes a big deal. On days when I don’t have dialysis, I often have to see other doctors.

My medical bills cost more than $100,000 a year.  The government and insurance pay for all of it.  Republicans say we must cut Medicare.   Without Medicare I could not pay the rent on even a small apartment.  Without dialysis I would be dead within a week. 

On Thursday I saw another doctor.  This specialist comes to Garland on Wednesdays, when I have dialysis.  For this appointment I had to go to Rockwall. 

As a child I went with my grandmother to visit her sister in Rockwall.  From Fort Worth we drove on a two-lane highway past fields of cotton and pastures where cows grazed.  There was a traffic light at the little town of Arlington, and another at Grand Prairie. 

We crossed Dallas, right through downtown on Elm Street, where 30 years later crowds would cheer as Kennedy’s motorcade passed going to his death.  From there it was another 25 miles, past more cotton fields and cows – Garland was a filling station and a hamburger stand – until we crossed the river and went up the hill, passing the cemetery where my great-grandparents are buried, to the village of Rockwall.

It was such a long trip that we always stayed for several days, sleeping on the glassed-in back porch of Aunt Lou’s little Victorian house, a few blocks from the Rockwall County Court House. Aunt Lou’s husband, Uncle Lon, was the only doctor in Rockwall County.  One day he went out to a farm to deliver a baby.  When he came home, Aunt Lou asked, “Did you get paid?”

“Yes,” Uncle Lon said, “I got two chickens.”
We had fried chicken for supper.

My grandmother, age 89, died in Fort Worth in1974.  I held my mother’s hand in the car following her hearse along Interstate 30.  It took little more than an hour to reach the family plot in Rockwall’s the old hillside cemetery.

Today Fort Worth and Dallas are welded together in a giant Metroplex.  Beside the interstate at Arlington are Six Flags Over Texas and stadiums where the Texas Rangers and Dallas Cowboys play.  Arlington and Garland are cities, each with as many people as Fort Worth had when I was a child.  Rockwall is now a Dallas suburb.

To see my doctor I drove east on Interstate 30.  I crossed the long bridge over Joe Pool Lake, which separates Garland from Rockwall.  On the other side was a part of Rockwall, far south of the village I knew as a child.  There were shopping malls and franchise restaurants and a four-lane road leading to a medical complex with a big Presbyterian Hospital and several multistoried buildings with doctors’ offices and clinics. 

I am glad doctors are no longer paid with chickens.  I also an glad someone developed the dialysis machine that keeps me alive.  But all these changes I’ve seen in my lifetime make my mind spin.  We live in a different World.

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

"We'll Always Have Paris"

Mornings in Paris I could not pull myself out of bed.  I lay awake between scratchy sheets while David got out of the other bed, dressed, and sat in the window looking down at Frenchmen gong about their daily lives in the street below. 

Looking back I know now I had a manic-depressive mental illness since I was David’s age (my mother said I was lazy), although I would not be diagnosed for another ten years.  In Paris with David I was sliding into depression.

The maid brought in our breakfast tray.  I had seen her carrying a wire contraption holding four trays, each loaded with coffee pots and cups, bread and jam, climbing up the five flights from the basement on the circular stairs.  She was a young woman, but short, dumpy, with a face as undistinguished as mashed potatoes.  Was she even French?  Perhaps a refugee, or a country girl come to Paris looking for a glamorous life.  

Not all Paris adventures are Bogart and Bergman.

This month the book club which meets at the Garland Public Library is reading “The Paris Wife”, a novel about Earnest Hemingway’s first wife.  Hadley had a miserable life in Paris, poor (Hemingway had not yet published a best seller), and coping with a baby alone in dingy flat while Earnest was out enjoying the company of the Fitzgeralds, Lady Britt, Gertrude Stein, Picasso, and others of that scintillating group, and also cheating on her with her best friend. 

Actually, David and I had a good time in Paris.  Each day started sitting at the rickety table in our room, eating jam and butter on French bread.  No croissants in our budget hotel.  By the time I had my second cup of tea, I was ready to go sightseeing.

We went some place different every day.  David was cheerful, cooperative, and enthusiastic, a much better traveling companion than anyone would expect a teenager to be.  It was me who flagged.  By mid-afternoon I was exhausted.  Supper time usually found us in a French deli with me telling David to choose snacks to take back to eat in the room. 

Once I took David to McDonald’s, where he had “le grand repast”, a big Mac with fries and a Coke.  I felt guilty for being in Paris and not eating the famed French food.  David said it was just as good as “back home” in Illinois.

After eating bread and cheese I went to bed, leaving David to sit in the window for more “people watching.”  I did not go to sleep.  When I heard him in the other bed, breathing gently in the sleep of the innocent, I gave way to tears. 

I faced the truth. In coming to Paris with my kid, I was not fulfilling a dream; I was running away from a failing marriage. I loved Wallace, but there would never be “We’ll always have Paris” for the two of us.  I cried quietly, salty tears running down my cheeks onto the rough sheets in that Paris hotel. 

David and I had another week before we were to be in Frankfurt to board our return flight to Chicago.  I wrote to a pen pal in Rotterdam, whom I had never met, and said we were coming to see them. 

On our last morning in Paris, I took David to a neighborhood cafĂ© for a second breakfast.  We had croissants.  David’s attitude was, “What’s the big deal?”

Friday, August 3, 2012

Happy Anniversary

Today is a special day for me.  Sixty years ago today Wally and I stood in the chapel of University Christian Church in Fort Worth and promised “‘til death do us part.”  We were young and in love.  I thought we would live “happily ever after.”  

Things did not work out that way.  It took me 30 years to figure out what went wrong.  I won’t try to tell abut it in a paragraph. 

We went out to dinner on our wedding anniversary.  On our 21st we were having difficulties.  To make amends I made a reservation and gave Wally a $20 bill.  In those days dinner at a nice restaurant cost $6 a person, leaving enough for a drink and tip.  I asked for a glass of champagne.  The waiter said they only sold champagne by the bottle.  Wally, unwilling to spend a penney of his own to celebrate with me, asked for a glass of sherry.  I should have known our marriage was blowing away in the Chicago wind. .  

Generally, the years we lived away from Chicago were happy ones for me; the years in Chicago were difficult. 

We were living in the Chicago suburbs when David and I went to Paris.  In picking up those tickets and going without Wally, I slipped out of Wally’s control.  I still loved him.  We had problems, particularly with our son Karl.  I thought we could work through them together.

In the year after David and I returned from Europe, Wally became increasingly violent.  On the night he put his big hands around my throat and choked me, I finally realized that unconditional love was not going to work.  I filed for divorce.   

In 1983, when David graduated from high school, I sold the house in Illinois, bought a ticket with a six-month return, and flew off to Europe.  On August 3 I was in Norway, eating smorgasbord at a hotel on Sonja Fjord.  As I sampled Baltic shrimp, herring, Danish cheese, and all the other Scandinavian delicacies, I thought, “This is better than sitting in my room crying with regret over what “could have been.” 

I looked across the table and said to my companion, a very young man I met on the bus crossing the mountains, “This has been a lovely evening.” 

A year later Wally told me he was going to remarry and forget about me.  I cried all the way to New Mexico, wet Kleenex piling up on the seat beside me.  Two weeks later I went to the Senior Center in Albuquerque and started enjoying the most fun in my entire life. 

In the following years I took someone else out to dinner every August 3.  For several years it was Manny.  There was a hiatus during the four years I was married to John.  When I told Inez the reason I wanted to take her to dinner, she refused and then reluctantly agreed.  We had such a good time, she said, “Any time you want to celebrate an anniversary, I’ll go with you.”

Tonight I am taking my brother Don and his wife Mary to Red Lobster.

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Point of View

After David and I returned from Europe, I asked my teenager to write a paper telling about what he had seen.  He came up with a single handwritten page saying, “Mother went crazy over the mountains”  Neither of us dreamed that within a few years I would go to New Mexico and live in a little house where, sitting on my patio, I looked at a beautiful view of the Sandia and Monzano Mountains.  

He also wrote down that “In Innsbruck, Mom made a wrong turn and drove on the trolley tracks   Then she drove the wrong way on a one-way street.”

He insisted those were the only things he remembered about the trip.  Not a word about Paris.  At the time I thought this was his way of letting me know he did not want to write a paper.  After all, he was a teenager. 

The young boy who went to Paris with me is now a 47-year-old man who lives in California and designs traffic control systems for cities in Oregon, Georgia, and New Jersey.  When he can get away from work, he comes to see me in Texas. 

On a recent visit I reminded him I was writing blogs about our trip to Europe when he was 13.  I asked, “How much do you remember?”

“Quite a bit actually,” he said.  He recalled going up on the Eiffel Tower and seeing the paintings in the Louvre.  “You know what I liked best?  That little museum near our hotel in Paris.” 

“The Cluny?”
“Yes, the Cluny”
“It was my favorite, too.”

The intimate setting of the old monastery was exactly right for evoking an atmosphere of the Middle Ages.  The Unicorn Tapestries were right at home in those rooms, with their ancient stone walls, as were 14th Century statues of Madonnas with delicate French faces. 

David and I stood at back-to-back easels displaying Books of the Hours.  We each stood at an easel, turning glass-protected pages of  illuminated manuscripts.  The first one I looked at had wonderful borders of vines and flowers touched with gold.  At the top of each page was a small square picture of a little man in peasant garb doing some task appropriate to the month: plowing, planting, harvesting wheat with a scythe.  For October he was standing in a barrel.

“Look, David,” I said.  “The little man is taking a bath.”

Then I realized that he was crushing grapes to make wine.

How easy it is to get things wrong, even when looking straight at something.