Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Presbyterian Hospital in Dallas

Every time I turn on television I see some reporter standing in front of Presbyterian Hospital in Dallas and yapping endlessly about the ebola crisis. Eric Duncan was being treated there for ebola.  Duncan died.  Then two nurses who cared for him developed ebola.  The nurses were taken away to Georgia and Maryland.  The reporter is still standing in front of Presbyterian making comments. The hospital is criticized for not following proper procedures.  The hospital’s rebutts that it followed CDC guidelines. 

And so on and so on. 

One thing the hospital can not excuse is that when Duncan first came to the Presbyterian emergency room, he was sent home with a prescription for antibiotics. 

Since moving to Dallas in March, I have gone to doctors in satellite building at Presbyterian.  It is the closest medical center to the retirement home where I now live.  So far I’ve driven there for appointments with a dermatologist and an eye doctor.  My new glasses made me see double, and I had to go back several times before they got it right.  Now when I drive out the gate of my home, I scarcely have to think as the car turns automatically towards Presbyterian.

The hospital is in a lovely area of North Dallas, surrounded by tree-lined streets with lovely big homes.  White Texans are paranoid about black people.  Rich Texans who live near Presbyterian are still angry that the government built “welfare” apartments – like the one where Eric Duncan lived – in their beautiful neighborhood.

The first time I went to Presbyterian it was in an ambulance.  During the week before I moved, I did not feel good.  Stressed out and losing sleep over packing, I became over-tired.  On my first night in the new apartment I woke up at 2 a.m. violently ill, throwing up and gasping for breath.  After a few days of being unable to eat I called our “care concierge”.   John Maden called 911.  EMT’s came and took me to Presbyterian. 

At the hospital I had to wait.  Unless you are having a heart attack or stroke, you always have to wait in American ER’s.  A young resident ordered a bunch of tests.  The staff changed shifts.  After another long wait, a different doctor came in and said, “We are sending you home.”

“I’m sick,” I cried.  “I am really sick.”

“As long as your vital signs are normal,” the doctor said.  “We can’t keep you.” 

The ambulance brought me back to The Churchill.  This is “independent living.” I was alone. I felt sorry for myself.  I climbed back into the recliner and did not get out of it to eat or sleep for two weeks.  It took another two months to recover from the virus, or whatever it was that made me feel so wretched.  I lost 25 pounds.  My trousers are falling off, and I still have not bought new ones.   

I find it curious that rich (like me) or poor (like Eric Duncan), Presbyterian did not look for the cause of our distress because we were not “critical” when we first went to the emergency room.  Fortunately for me, I recovered.  Unfortunately, the treatment Duncan and I both received at Presbyterian is typical of America’s health care system.  The best in the World?   

Thursday, October 16, 2014

Should I Have Died at 75?

    There is a lot of talk about an in the Atlantic titled ”Why I Hope to Die at 75."  At age 85 I disagree with much of what Ezekiel Emmanuel said. 

    Maybe I should have died at age 60.  I had breast cancer.  The surgeon came into my hospital room after the mastectomy and told me, “It has spread to the lymph nodes.”  I thought it was a death sentence.  The doctor sent me to a great oncologist.  Six months of chemo and six weeks of daily radiation.  I pulled up tumble weeds in my backyard in Albuquerque.  The result:  lymphadema in my right arm.  The swollen arm in its custom-made sleeve looks ugly but does not hurt.  And 24 years later I am still here. 

    At 75 I was felt good, did whatever I wanted, traveled.  Went to China, Thailand, and twice to Russia.  Went to Europe so many times I lost count.  Then at age 80 my kidneys quit filtering and I had to go on dialysis.  Now it is a big deal to go from Dallas to Fort Worth.  But I write this blog.  I just finished writing another book and sent it to the publisher this week.  I am glad to be alive. I enjoy every day. 

    Other old ladies tell me their children call every day to ask how Mom is doing.  I feel lucky if my children call me once a month.  All live far away.  I am in Dallas.  Martha is in Chicago.  David is in Southern California.  Both are overwhelmed by demanding careers, caring for spouses, and problems with their own children   Karl, in Arkansas, has his own problems.  I have always been independent.  They are accustomed to my taking care of myself.  I’ve been trying to convince them that, in spite of my active lifestyle, I am an old lady who can not do all the things I used to do. 

    Now my family is coming for Thanksgiving.  Martha and David are taking time off from their important jobs.  Martha is coming with husband Don and all three sons, big men, all over six feet tall.  Don, Doug, and Richard are electrical engineers. Joseph is still in college. David is bringing his son, 14-year-old Adam.  Karl called to say he was sorry he couldn’t come, too.

    I wonder:  What kind of parent am I to my adult children?

    One paragraph in Ezekiel Emanuel’s article stopped me cold.  The author (he is Ron’s brother) wrote about parents:

    “Whether estranged, disengaged, or deeply loving, they set expectations, render judgments, impose their opinions, interfere, and are generally a looming presence for even adult children.  This can be wonderful.  It can be annoying.  It can be destructive.  But it is inescapable as long as the parent is alive.  Examples abound in life and literature: Lear, the quintessential Jewish mother, the Tiger moms.  And while children can never fully escape this weight even after a parent dies, there is much less pressure to conform to parental expectations and demands after they are gone.”

    I am thrilled that my family is coming for Thanksgiving.  It will be wonderful to see them, but will they be glad when I die?

Sunday, October 12, 2014

An Abused Wife

This is going to be a very long blog.  Perhaps I am being self-indulgent, but I need to tell this story.

The media is full of outrage over abused women.  People ask, “Why does a woman stay with a man who beats her?  I know.  I was an abused wife.  I never called the police.  I never signed a complaint.  I put up with it for 27 years.

I loved Wally, and I thought he loved me.  When we were first married and I went with him to Chicago, I was not prepared for the situation in which I found myself.  His mother was an ignorant woman, with only a third grade education and who said to me, “You are in Chicago now.  You must do things our way.”. 

She criticized everything I did.  If I slumped under her barrage, she said, “Look at you!  Sit up straight!”  If I sat up, she said, “Oh, you look so stiff.”

She said I was a slob and a bad housekeeper.  Several times a week Wally echoed her in shouting at me.  “There is dust on top of the refrigerator.”  He called me names I never heard in my parents’ home.  

I thought he did not want to disappoint his Scandinavian mother with his choice of a wife.  They really believed I did not know how to clean house.  Before he came home (sometimes quite late), I picked up the children’s toys and vacuumed and dusted the living room every night.  This did not stop the verbal abuse.  Wally came home and irrupted in a torrent of rage. “There is a dust bunny in the back of the closet.  Your house is dirty!  I won’t put up with this.”

Only one time did Wally speak up to his mother.  As he shouted at her, the pitch of his voice became higher and higher.  I was appalled and said, “Wally, don’t speak to your mother like that.”  His mother said, “Yes, Wally.  Shout at me like a man!  You sound like a girl.”

At first I thought all this criticism and shouting was a cultural thing.  In my parents’ home no one ever raised their voices.  The strongest language I was permitted to use when I was really, really angry was to say, “Darn!”   It was a relief when I was upset to say, “Damn!”

The first time the abuse became physical  was when I became pregnant for the first time.  In addition to constant verbal abuse, Wally slapped me around.  The entire nine months was hell.  I told myself, “He is just nervous about taking on the responsibility of a father.”   Karl was born.  Wally was thrilled with his baby son.  There was no more physical abuse for many years. 

Wally was transferred from Chicago to Detroit to Dallas to Philadelphia.  Most of that time he did not even shout at me.  I thought contact with other business men and their wives had shown him a better way to behave.  Then we moved back to Chicago, and the verbal abuse began again.  I thought, “He has problems at work, and he’s taking it out on me.” 

Then the abuse  became physical.  The night he put his hands around my throat and choked me, I finally realized: “Unconditional love is not going to work”.  I saw a lawyer. 

I did not tell Wally.  I was working as a real estate agent.  One night I went out to see prospective clients about listing their house.  I did not get the listing.  Feeling low, I went home.  As I walked in the door, Wally, who had been sitting drinking Scotch in the den, jumped up.  He socked me so hard I fell down.  He started kicking me in the ribs.  David, in the next room, heard the sound of blows and came out in his pajamas.  He saw me lying on the carpet while his father pummeled me over and over.  In tears David said, “Stop, Daddy, please stop.”  

Wally said, “This does not concern you, David.  Go back to your room.”  

David: “Stop!  Stop!”

Wally stepped back.  He looking dazed and drunk. 

I stood up and said, “David, put on your clothes.  We are leaving here right now.”

Wally became contrite.  He begged me not to go.  He promised it would never happen again.

For the next year Wally and I went to Arlington Heights, Illinois, every week to talk with a psychiatrist.  Once the doctor gave us “homework.”  We were to go to the ice cream shop.  I was to order whatever I wanted.  Wally was to order something else.  I was to eat whatever Wally ordered for me, and while I was eating, he was to explain to me why I should prefer what he ordered over my choice.  After supper the next night, we did exactly as the doctor prescribed.  I ordered a double dip chocolate cone.  Wally replaced that order with a maple sundae with caramel sauce. 

As I tried to eat the damned thing, I said, “Wally, have you ever known me to order maple or caramel? You know I don’t like those flavors.”   

Wally said gruffly, “The doctor told me to order something different.”

Why hadn’t he ordered the brownie treat or a strawberry sundae or even a simple butter-pecan cone?  I knew why.  I would have been delighted with any of those, but Wally would never do anything to please me.  He wanted to punish me for my supposed sin of being a bad wife.

Soon after that the angry outbursts began again.  He made fists and shook his big hands in front of my face.  I was terrified that hitting and choking would begin again.  When he finally calmed down, I said, “I’m going ahead with the divorce.”

“Why?” he said.  “I haven’t hit you for over a year.”

I said, “I can’t take any more of your anger.  I simply can’t take it.”

We were divorced.  I still loved Wally, but I could not live with him.  I thought he understood that.  He didn’t  He married Dee.  He broke my heart.  I think he was having an affair with her for the last two years we were married.  I now suspect that he was having affairs since the first year we were married.  All those nights when he was “working late.”  His way of dealing with his cheating was to convince himself that I was a bad wife who deserved all the abuse he heaped on me.

Since the divorce, I’ve had a wonderful life.  First I moved to Albuquerque, crying all the way for the 1,000 miles from Chicago.  Within two weeks I went to the Senior Center there, where I started having more fun than I ever dreamed possible.  Then I met John Durkalski, the kindest, gentlest of men who devoted the last four years of his life to making me happy and whose estate now enables me to live in luxury in a retirement home in Dallas.. 

Wally’s anger turned to pure hatred.  He convinced himself that I was a bad woman who had mistreated him.   David refuses to tell me all the horrible things his father said about me.

Wally developed lung cancer.  The doctor came into his hospital room and told him, “Wally, you are dying.”  

Wally said, “No, I am not.  I’m going to lick this thing.  I am not going to let Ilene have my Social Security.”

Two weeks later he died.  That was 17 years ago.  His Social Security check has been deposited in my bank account every month since.

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

Texans and Fried Catfish

Five of us were dining at a round table at the Dallasretirement home where I now live.   To uphold his reputation as a “gourmet chef”, our cook prepares dishes that are totally unfamiliar to most Texans.  That evening he did a superb job with “salmon en pippillote”.  Four of us agreed that, along with cheesecake for dessert, this was one of the best meals served to us this week.

But the fifth person at the table ordered a hamburger, saying, “I don’t like fish – except catfish.” As soon as she said, “hamburger” I recognized the old lady sitting opposite me as one of those Texans who grew up on a farm (in her case, a ranch in the Panhandle) and only ate foods her mother and grandmother cooked for her when she was a child.

I recalled a river cruise from the Black Sea to Budapest.  As our ship steamed up the Danube, we ate nightly gourmet meals, including fish prepared in an amazing variety of ways.   One night I had dinner with a couple from Houston.  They saw catfish on the menu and ordered it for both of them, but when it was served, a beautiful fillet baked with a special sauce, they called out loudly, “This is NOT catfish“, and sent it back to the kitchen.  For Texans, the only catfish is fried catfish.

“I never heard of fried catfish until we came to Texas,” said the only man at the table.  His wife, sitting next to me on the right, nodded agreement.

“Neither did I,” said the woman on my left. 

The couple are from Chicago.  My dinner companion and my first husband both attended Taft High School on Chicago’s northwest side.  She graduated one year before him but did not remember him.  Still, small World!

I turned to the woman on my left and asked, “Where did you come from?”

“Philadelphia,” she said.

“Oh!”  I said, “I lived there, too.  I loved living in the Philadelphia area.”  We talked about all the things to do in the city (one of the World’s finest art museums), plus the pleasures of living 90 miles from New York City to the north, Washington, D.C., to the south, and the Amish country to the west towards Lancaster.

The Texan sitting across from us was silent, except to say she had not seen any of those places.

It could have happened to me.  I, too, am a Texan.  I grew up in Fort Worth.  I’ve always been independent.  When I was five years old I told my mother, “I’ve eaten enough black-eyed peas to last me the rest of my life.”  I still refuse to eat black-eyed peas, not even on New Year’s, when all other Texans eat a bowl-full to guarantee luck in the coming year.    

Without eating black-eyed peas, I am lucky.  I escaped from Texas by marrying a fellow from Chicago.  I came back to Texas after living in Illinois, Michigan, Pennsylvania, and New Mexico. Everywhere I lived the people believed the place where they have lived all their lives is the best place in the World. 

Texas is totally transformed, Dallas and Fort Worth melded into one giant Metroplex, with suburbs populated with over 200,000 people, larger than Fort Worth when I was a child in the 1930's.  Millions of people have moved into our giant cities.  But Texans are still Texans.

Besides seeing all of the U.S., I traveled abroad.  That Danube cruise was only one stop in a life that took me to many foreign countries, where kind people assured me that theirs was the best place on Earth.  I tried local foods.  Learned to eat fish prepared dozens of ways.  Loved borsch in Russia, but as my companion in China said, “The Chinese should send to Chicago for a chef to teach them how to cook Chinese food.”   

After I went back to my apartment after supper, I thought about Texans and catfish.  They pridefully refuse to learn anything from anyone else.  Their attitude is: “We Texans are independent people who do things our way, and we refuse to change.”  It explains why Texans carry guns into supermarkets, presumably to protect themselves from Peruvian grapes.  Against all scientific evidence, they believe the Earth was created in six days in 6,000 B.C. “because the Bible says so.” 

And that explains why Texans enthusiastically vote for people like Ted Cruz and Ric Perry.  And why Ted and Ric confidently expect all the World to agree with them.  The way to improve the economy is give more money to the rich, and the only fish is fried catfish.

Monday, September 1, 2014

My Sibling Rivalry

On Saturday I sat in my apartment in Dallas watching the U.S. Open tennis matches in New York when my brother called and invited me to lunch. I had to miss Djokovic’s match, but I never miss an opportunity to see Don and Mary. 

I do not see them often.  They are both busy people.  Some people refuse to retire, saying “I don’t want to sit around all day doing nothing.”  I say, “After I retired, I was involved in so many things that I wondered how I ever had time to work.” 

Don and Mary are like that, too.  Or perhaps Mary wants to avoid the lively “discussions” that Don and I have.  She does not realize that Don and I can disagree without really getting angry with each other.  

Don is a retired engineer.  When he worked for Turner Construction, he supervised the construction of big buildings all over the World.  From their offices in New York, he traveled to places like Berlin and Sao Paulo and Tokyo to supervise all the mechanical (heat and air conditioning, plumbing, and electrical) in sky scrapers.  Recently he was hospitalized in a brand new hospital just a couple of miles from their Garland home.  A group of “experts” from came into his room and asked his opinion of their facility.  They expected praise for their radical new design.  Instead, Don said, “I’ve built over 100 hospitals, and you made a lot of mistakes here, starting with these high windows above my bed.  When the sun comes up, light bounces off the wall opposite and right into my eyes.  You need blinds on those windows.”

At our lunch typical Texan Don ordered chicken friend steak with mashed potatoes and cream gravy.  I had chicken breast with spaghetti marinara.  We had a very pleasant meal, carefully avoiding any mention of politics and religion. 

Mary is a fundamentalist Christian who believes that every word of the King James Bible was dictated by God (in English, of course).  Evolution is some crazy theory that Darwin thought up with no scientific basis, and the World was created by God in six days in 6,000 B.C.  

Don is one of those gun-toting Texans who believes every word put out by Fox and the Koch brothers’ propaganda machine.  He knows nothing about economics and history.  He quotes the second amendment without knowing what it meant to the men who wrote the Constitution.    

Looking for a safe topic to talk about, I mentioned that I had been watching the U.S. Open on television.  That’s when Don surprised me.

 “I built that new stadium,” he said.  “They wanted to fill the seats in both the new stadium and the old stadium.  At the same time that we built the new stadium, where the most important matches are held, we took off the top of the old stadium, just like slicing an orange in half, taking off several rows of seats at the same time, so television viewers would see the old stadium filled with people for the secondary matches.”

My brother.  He may be ignorant when it comes to politics, but he is an amazing engineer.  Here I had been watching Federer and Serema Williams fighting for the men’s and women’s championships, completely ignorant of the fact that my brother built the stadium where they were hitting balls over the net.  

Friday, August 15, 2014

Lawrence of Arabia, Robin Williams, and Me

First, a final note on Lawrence of Arabia and Emma Hardy:

Both were depressed and discouraged by circumstances beyond their control.  Lawrence withdrew into that damp, dark little house, while Emma hid from life in a little attic room at Max Gate.  Did Emma even come downstairs when T. E. Lawrence came to tea, riding his motorcycle from Cloud Cottage to Dorchester?   Was his fatal crash really an accident – or suicide?

He was so congenial, so funny.  His comedy was brilliant.  He was funny, on and off the camera.  His wit so quick, his movements so rapid, his talk so fast I sometimes could not follow it. He was manic. Only a few close friends knew about his depression. 

When “high” bipolar people are full of energy.  When depressed they hide (like T. E. Lawrence) and suffer alone.  Robin Williams suffered from bouts of depression all his life.        

I know how it is.  I also am manic-depressive.  These days it is called “bipolar.”  I was not diagnosed until I was in my mid-fifties.  I was relieved to learn those crazy things I did were caused by a genetic condition, a malfunction in the brain that could not be prevented. 

As a young woman I took my children on adventures where other mothers dared not go.  Did I tell you about the summer day I told the kids to get in the car and drove to Glen Rose?  I paid a farmer a dollar to let me drive across his field and down to the banks of the little river to find dinosaur tracks.  Other times I could not sit up and climb out of bed in the morning.  The children got out milk and Cherrios to make breakfast for themselves.  I tried to get dressed before they came home from school.

Only twice have I been suicidal.  The first time was in Texas. I lay on the couch in the den, so miserable I wanted to die. Karl and Martha were 13 and 10.  They were old enough to manage without me.  But David was only three.  I could not abandon that little boy.  (Sylvia Plath put her head in the oven with her children sleeping in the next room; she was sicker than I ever was.)  I got up and managed to have supper on the table when Wally came home.

The second time was after the divorce.  I was in Albuquerque.  Wally had married Dee and abandoned me, leaving me with only enough to pay rent and put gas in the car.  Not enough money for food.  Or anything else.  I went to the mall and bought a sharp Swiss Army knife.  Back in the apartment, I leaned over the bathtub and held the knife against my wrist.  But I did not cut.  I suddenly thought, “How happy Wally will be to hear I am dead!”  After all that he had done to me!  I would not give him that satisfaction. 

I went to mental health clinics in New Mexico and Illinois.  (With Wally’s promise to give me more money, I went to New Mexico.  When he refused to sign the papers and cut me off entirely, I went back to Illinois to sue him for support.  One year I made 10 trips, driving alone in my BMW the 1,000 miles between Albuquerque and Chicago.)

The therapists thought I was in a “situational depression”, a natural process of grief or loss.  But as I raced across the country driving 70 m.p.h. when the legal speed limit was 55, they realized it was more than that.  The only drug available at that time was lithium.  They could not prescribe that as long as my life was unsettled.  Not able to stay in Albuquerque until my lawsuit was settled, unable to afford an apartment in Illinois, sponging off friends, I spent a few nights in shelters for the homeless.  I am grateful for the experience.  I learned that most of the others sleeping on the floor in church basements were, like me, mentally ill.

Then I married John.  As soon as we got to Albuquerque, I went to the mental health center, where  the psychiatrist prescribed lithium.  Immediately my mind cleared.  For the next 15 years I took lithium, one small pill every day   The doctors warned me that it was damaging my kidneys, but it worked so well on my brain!

I did not have a depression for 20 years.  Not until about six weeks ago.  I was still recovering from the terrible virus which kept me down physically in March and April.  Then, on the day she was to bring friends to see my new apartment, my friend Sue was killed.  At Montclair I sat across the table from her at breakfast every morning and to play bridge on Tuesday afternoons.  The shock of her accident sent me into a tail spin.  For a month I could not get out of my recliner.

I knew what was happening.  I rode out the storm.  Now I am feeling good, both physically and mentally.  I go cheerfully to dialysis.  Spending time in a recliner reading magazines three times a week for the rest of my life is a small price to pay for 25 years of living a happy, contented life. 

I talk about my mental illness.  I am bossy.  If I know someone is depressed, I tell them, “Don’t hide (like Lawrence and Emma).  Don’t try to self-medicate with drugs or alcohol.  Get help!  Go to a psychiatrist.  Get medication!  It works.” 

Thursday, August 7, 2014

I'll See You in My Dreams

Last night I had a curious dream.   My friend Sally and I walked through the galleries of the Hermitage Museum in St. Petersburg, Russia.  We wandered through room after enormous room but none of them had paintings on the walls.  I said to Sally, “Keep going.  The collection of paintings is magnificent.  If we keep going, we’ll find it.”

We walked for hours and never found the paintings.  We were still searching when the radio came on, playing Debussy’s Violin Concerto.  (I always wake up to classical music.  Better than the depressing morning news.) 

I would have loved to see the Hermitage with Sally.  Sally wanted to see Europe, but Hugh, her husband for 60 years, did not want to go anywhere.  Sally appreciated fine art, and although she did not drive and lived on a farm near Decatur, Texas, 40 miles northwest of Fort Worth, she managed to see every special exhibition at the Kimball, Fort Worth’s excellent small museum of European art.  
I have been to the Hermitage twice and did not see half of this enormous palace of the czars,  with one of the World’s greatest art collections. A big room with nothing but Rembrandts.  Nearby another devoted to Rubens.  I don’t know how the Russians managed to take it all down and hide it during World War II, when the Germans kept St. Petersburg under siege for over a year.  I would love to go back to St. Petersburg and spend a week going to the Hermitage every day until I saw the entire collection. .  

Now neither Sally nor I can go to Russia.  Sally died last year.  With dialysis three days a week, I can not take any long trips. When my children or grandsons come to visit, like Sally I have them drive me to Fort Worth, also 40 miles from where I live in East Dallas, to see the art museums.

I don’t know what the dream meant.  Mary Adams, my therapist in Albuquerque, was a Freudian.  She could have interpreted it, but she died a couple of years ago.  Besides, I don’t really care what a psychiatrist would say about my dream. 

The dream haunted me all day.  I decided my dream was about dealing with loss.  The loss of Sally, my dear friend for 70 years.  The loss of my college friends, Margaret and Norma.   The loss of friends from Albuquerque: Isabel and Inez, Manny and Lou, also Charles and his wife, Florence. Frances and Doris lost their husbands, Carl and Ramon, who had been kind to me after John died.  The loss of my Pennsylvania friends, Marian and Mary.  The loss of Sue, a friend from Montclair, who was killed in an auto accident on the day she planned to come to see my new apartment.  At my age, I expect to lose friends.  But not that way.       

To me the significant thing about the dream was that we kept going.  On and on.  Through all those empty rooms – not at all like the elaborately decorated rooms of the real museum.  I was confident that the paintings were there somewhere, and I was going to find them. .  

At Montclair I knew an old black lady, whom I met in the dining room.  She moved slowly, leaning on her walker.  She struggled to hide that she was in constant pain.  Whenever I saw her, she managed to smile and said, “I’m still kicking.  Not very high, but I’m still kicking.”

Me, too.

Sunday, July 27, 2014

Thomas Hardy's Wife

The day after David and I climbed the artificial hill of Maiden Castle, I got up early, and leaving Mother and David sleeping, I walked through the cold, misty streets of Dorchester.  The faint early morning light filtering through low-hanging clouds made the pavement and all the buildings look gray.  I searched for Max Gate, the house the novelist Thomas Hardy built after he became rich and famous..

Hardy’s life was almost a “rags to riches” story.  He was born in 1840 in a thatched roof cottage.  His father was a stonemason.  While not exactly living in poverty, his father and all his relatives were definitely lower class.  (I wonder how many Americans reading Hardy’s novels realize that all of them were inditments of the British class system?) As a young man Hardy went to London for advanced training as an architect.  He felt the Oxford graduates he met there all looked down on him because of his lower class background. 

For several years he worked as an architect.  He met his wife, Emma, daughter of a clergyman, when he was in Cornwall working on the restoration of her father’s church.  Then his novels were published, and he quit work to devote his life to writing.  He became rich and famous.   He went home to Dorchester and built his dream house.  Called Max Gate, Hardy designed the house, and his brother, who followed their father in the trade, built it.

I found Hardy’s home on the edge of town, not far from Maiden Castle.  (I don’t remember the pre-historic mound being mentioned in any of Hardy’s novels, but I don’t remember a lot of things.)  I do remember how surprised I was. The grounds were surrounded by a high brick wall.  A pair of tall iron gates bared entrance to the drive with a sign: Private Property, No Admittance.  Just like T. E. Lawrence’s Cloud Cottage! 

Peeking through the bars on the gate, Hardy’s “dream house” was a tall brick structure, one of the ugliest Victorian houses I ever saw.  Hardy was a bad architect.  How lucky we are that he was able to make a living as a writer and did not inflict any more of his designs on Victorian England! 

Years later Edward R. Hamilton, Bookseller had a sale, and I ordered a biography of Thomas Hardy, a handsome, hard-bound edition, for $2.98.  (It is still on my bookshelf.)  From Claire Tomalin I learned that Thomas and Emma were miserable living in Max Gate. 

The trouble was that Emma also fancied herself a writer.  Thomas persuaded his publishers to include a couple of her stories in their magazines, but even to please the famous novelist, they refused to publish any more of Emma’s work.  Emma’s stories were not any good. 

Emma refused to see any difference in the quality of her work and that of her husband.  She became bitter and angry.  Hardy began to take frequent trips to London where, now that he was famous, he was lionized wherever he went.  Emma grew to hate her husband.  She retreated to a little room in the attic, where in solitude she continued to scribble away at stories and poems until she died, a bitter, lonely old woman.

After reading Tomalin’s biography, I began to wonder: Am I another Emma Hardy?  I’ve worked so hard on novels that no one will publish.  Perhaps my work is not any better than Emma’s.  

There is one difference: I have not retreated from the World.  I go to lunch and entertain the old people at my table with my stories.  They seem to enjoy them; they ask me to come sit with them again.  If I can lift the spirits of the old folks, many of them in constant pain, then my life has been worthwhile.

I continue to write.  (Yes, this blog, plus novels)  Whether or not anyone else wants to read them, I must keep writing.  I am a writer.

Thursday, July 17, 2014

Discovering the Ancient Brits

Not many tourists go to Dorchester.  It is too far from London, and not as picturesque as Cornwall, where Doc Martin is filmed..  I took Mother and David to Dorchester so that I could see the hometown of the author Thomas Hardy, best known for his novel, “Tess of the D’Urbervilles.”  In his novels he called the town “Casterbridge.”.  It is a typical English country town, which looks as if it has not added a new building since Hardy was writing about it in the 19th Century.

The most exciting structure David and I found in Dorchester was not the Hardy sites, but a pre-historic fort, built thousands of years before the country was called England – before the Romans left mosaic floors buried all around the countryside, before the Angles and Saxons invaded and wiped out all the native Brits.  Not one word of the modern English language comes from those ancient people.

But the original Britains left some remarkable remains.  Every one wants to see Stonehenge.  To cope with millions of visitors, the huge parking lot is across the road.  I followed tourists wearing blue jeans and short shorts, tank tops and tee shirts, their flip-flops slapping against the pavement as we walked through a long tunnel, only to come up to stand behind a fence, so far away that the big stones looked no bigger than my grandparents gravestones in Rockwall Cemetery. Like watching a football game from the upper stands of Cowboy Stadium.

At Dorchester we were the only visitors the day I stopped the car at the base of  a huge earthen mound, right at the edge of Dorchester, overlooking its quaint half-timbered houses.  Today the English call the structure  “Maiden Castle.”  No one know what the original builders called it   It reminded me of Cahokia Mounds in Southern Illinois, just across the Mississippi River from St. Louis.  Once when on my way from Chicago to Albuquerque, I stopped at Cahokia and climbed to the top.  I had a clear view of the Gateway Arch. 

In England Mother waited in the car (she missed a lot of things in England while David and I had adventures.)    He and I climbed to the very top of Maiden Castle.  There was no path, just steep (very steep) sides.  I huffed and puffed while David scampered ahead like a goat as we climbed up and up, through a series of trenches which ringed the entire structure, forming impressive defenses for the ruined earthen fort at the top.  David and I were surprised as we reached the top of a trench and looked down on a cow quietly grazing where the ancients once fought off invasions by other tribes.  The cow turned and gave us a bored look, as if to say, "What are you two foolish humans doing here in my hillside pasture?"

 I have seen the Parthenon in Greece and equally impressive Greek temples in Sicily.  In Rome I saw the Coliseum, and was surprised to learn that the rest of Ancient Rome is still there, buried beneath thirty feet of dirt and garbage.  T. E. Lawrence first went to the Middle East as an archeologist studying Hittite ruins.  The Hittites were an important force in the Middle East a thousand years before Alexander the Great marched through. 

The Hittite Empire reached its zenith 3500 years ago.  Now the Hittites have vanished like the original Brits.  Like the mound builders of Southern Illinois. 

What makes us sure that the Washington Monument – or Cowboy Stadium – will stand forever?

Saturday, July 12, 2014

Lawrence of Arabia

On Monday during the long hours of dialysis, I read the new Smithsonian Magazine for July/August.  It is packed full of interesting articles.  I’ll be commenting on some of the others in weeks to come. But first I will write about Lawrence of Arabia. 

Surely you saw the film.  Young, tall, impossibly handsome blonde Peter O’Toole, dressed as an Arab sheik, striding along on top of  railroad cars. Flowing white robes billowed around him as he lifted his arms in triumph while below his Arab followers cheered his victory over the Turks. 

The Smithsonian agreed that the film was historically accurate, for the most part, except to point out that unlike the tall (over six feet) O’Toole, Lawrence was only 5 foot 3.  Ivor Prickett, author of the Smithsonian article, visited ancient Hittite ruins where young T. E. Lawrence worked as an archeologist before World War I.  The author also went to places associated with Lawrence’s World War I battles.  The site of his most famous achievement, the capture of Aqaba, a small mud village but a vital Turkish port, is now a holiday resort with high-rise buildings. The sea where Lawrence waded triumphantly is now a place where young Jordanians frolic in the surf.. 

At the end of World War I, Lawrence of Arabia was the most famous man in the World.  One can only wonder what the Middle East would be like today if he could have persuaded his superiors to give the Arabs their one, independent country. Instead, the territories were divided into Syria, Iraq, Jordan, etc. under firm British and French control.  That’s what led to the horrible conflicts in which our country is mired today – with no way out.

Lawrence, a colonel in the British Army was bitter about the lies he told the Arabs at the command of his superiors.  Disillusioned he tried serving in the Army under various aliases.  Giving up, he retreated to a tiny cottage in Dorset. On the last page of the Smithsonian article is a large, color photograph of a brightly painted Cloud Cottage overlooked by purple rhododendron blossoms.

In 1983 I took Mother and my son David to England.  I drove a little red rental car all around England and Scotland, David as my navigator sat beside me finding directions with detailed maps (4 miles to the inch), Mother in the back seat with the luggage, seeing Great Houses and Castles.  Mother and David had no choice as to where we went.  I took them to Cloud Cottage. 

It was a gray day.  The tiny cottage (two small rooms on the first floor, two more above beneath the rafters, no kitchen, no bathroom) was hidden by scraggly bushes and surrounded by a tall, wire fence.   A gloomy sight. Although it is listed as the equivalent of one of our National Monuments, from the car’s widow I read the placard on the gate which said,  “no admittance.” 

I did not linger.  The sun came out as I turned the car west towards Dorchester.  Was this the road Lawrence rode his motorcycle to visit his friend, author Thomas Hardy?  Was this where he had his fatal accident?  All along the narrow road were wild rhododendrons, tall as trees and covered with gorgeous  purple blossoms.  The flowers arched over the road and covered nearby hillsides.  In all my travels my eyes never enjoyed any sight more lovely.

Monday, June 16, 2014

Return to Omaha Beach

It was 40 years after World War II when I met John.  I was 57; he was 68 and had been retired for 12 years.  For the next four years he spent all his time doing things to make me happy. We were married in St. Andrew’s Episcopal Church in Downers Grove, Illinois, on the day after Christmas, 1987.  The next week we left for Albuquerque.

When I told people John had four sons, someone asked, “Did you have to raise your stepsons?”

“No,” I said, “They were all in their 40's when I married their father.” 

One day John, carrying a handful of brochures and papers, came into the living room. He said, “I thought we might take a trip to Europe.  Would you like to do that?”

Like it?  I was thrilled!

We flew to Luxemburg, picked up a rental car at the airport, and headed first to Germany and then to France.  After a week in Paris, we used a rail pass to go to Rome, Venice, and Vienna, spending a week in each city.

For John the highlight of the trip was his return to Normandy for the first time since he waded ashore on Omaha Beach on June 10, 1944.   At the cemetery we walked between the crosses, tears streaming down our cheeks as we read the names.  Each cross was inscribed with the name of a young man (really just boys), his rank, the state he came from, and the day he was killed. 

Photographs show the overwhelming number of dead (over 5,000), but walking among the crosses made us see them as individuals, young men (really boys) cut down before they could really live.  There were names familiar to me in Texas: Brown, Thompson, McDonald, and also names with strange spellings of American boys whose ancestors came from Italy, Scandinavia, Czecho-Slovakia, Poland. And from all the states, a sergeant from Iowa or Wisconsin lying next to a colonel from Oregon or California, next to a boy from Georgia or Alabama or New York or Connecticut.  All those different names and states reminded me how diverse and yet united our nation is. 

At the edge of bluff was a low wall and a sign that said, “Warming!  Do not climb down the cliff!  Danger!  Wild boars!” 

So what did John do?  He climbed over the wall and headed down the cliff, now covered with knee-high brambles.  I gasped.  Then I went to the parking lot and drove the rental car a safer way down via a road.

I found John on the beach where so many boys died as German machine guns cut them to pieces as they waded ashore on June 6.  I took a picture of John walking where little waves met the sands of the pristine beach.    John said, “This place has not changed a bit since the last time I was here in 1944.

People believe what they want to believe.  On Omaha Beach I learned that people also see what they want to see.

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Omaha Beach

On the 70th anniversary of D-Day, June 6, 1944, the CBS affiliate in Dallas took half a dozen veterans pf World War II to France.  Watching the ten o’clock news, I hear these old men recount their memories of landing on Omaha Beach. It brought make back my own memories of my husband John and his stories of World War II. . 

For him it was the most exciting time in his life.  John was drafted in January 1942, right after Pearl Harbor.  After basic training, he was sent to OCS, then to Harvard Business School to train as a supply officer.  In the hallway of our little house in Albuquerque hung a photo of his “class” at Harvard.  Three rows of young lieutenants in spiffy new uniforms.  Since John was short, he was in the center of the front row. 

His unit sailed to Europe on the Mauritania, a luxury liner which had been converted to a troop transport.  They landed in Liverpool on Christmas Eve 1943.  In the darkness the troops marched up from the pier, the only sound the pounding of two thousand pairs of boots echoing on cobblestones. 

In England his company set up a “depot” near Westbury, where they assembled supplies for the invasion of France.  John enjoyed his time in England.  He made friends (John always made friends wherever he was) with two English families who lived in side-by-side bungalows on the edge of the little town. 

The company joined the armada crossing the English Channel.  John said the most amazing sight he ever saw was “the sea covered with ships.  All around us as far as I could see were ships, over a thousand of them.”

John waded ashore on Omaha Beach on D-Day plus four, June 10, “carrying my rifle above my head.”  The beach had been secured.  Since John was in a supply company, always following the troops but never in combat, he never fired the gun during the many months that followed, all the way across Europe to meet the Russians at the Elbe. 

John’s company waited on Omaha Beach for several days before a ship brought their supplies. It dumped a shipload of cartons onto the beach, a mountain of food for men who were fighting the Germans. 

Major Peters gave John the job of organizing all this stuff   To help him John was assigned a group of POW’s.  All were Poles and Czechs who had been forced to join Hitler’s Army to avoid being sent to a concentration camp.  They were happy to surrender to the first Americans they met.  Since John could speak Polish, he had no trouble talking with these prisoners.  He had the men arrange the cartons in neat stacks. A wall of canned peaches six feet high, ten cartons wide, and a quarter of a mile long,  Next came to a similar wall of beans, another of corned beef hash, etc.

As the prisoners strained to lift the cartons into place, one of them said to John, “Why did the Germans think they could win?  The Germans could NEVER have won this war.  You have too much stuff.”

Saturday, June 7, 2014

Time Out

With dialysis three times a week, I never have time to do all the things I need to do.  After Christmas I lost track of time.  First I made the sudden move from Garland to Dallas.  If you have moved, even from one zipcode to another, you know how complicated moving is – letting people know the new address, deciding what to discard (all those shoes I had not worn in ten years), ordering new furniture (finally gave away that Early American maple dresser with the broken drawer which we bought in l961), and finding new eye, chest, and foot doctors closer to the new place.

You probably had a similar experience, but this is what happened to me:.

My new apartment is in a really luxurious retirement home.  Part of the deal for coming to this luxurious retirement home was a promise to pay for movers who would do everything.  “All you have to do is watch them.”  Ashley, my “moving coordinator” and I drew up plans to indicate where all the furniture was to be placed.  The gal from the moving company made photos of my bookshelves, “so that we can place your books exactly as you have them here.”. 

David came to help me move.  Mostly he ran around looking for things I needed for the new apartment; i.e., a blue shower curtain for my guest bathroom.  He came back with an aqua shower curtain.  He failed to get the new box for my wireless internet and take the old one back to Time-Warner, so I guess I will continue to have that $5 “rental charge” on my bill forever and ever.  (My rich children do not understand that their Mom is Scotch and hates to spend a $1 unless it adds pleasure to my daily life.)

The movers came on a Tuesday and packed up everything.  They came back on Thursday.  I spent the day watching them load my stuff on the truck and carry it into the new apartment.  They did a good job putting the furniture exactly where I wanted it. As for unpacking the boxes, it was a disaster. 

By the end of the day I was exhausted.  I went to bed, only to wake up at 2 a.m. coughing and throwing up.  David, who had come to help me move, went into a panic.  But he had to leave on

For the next two weeks I did not get out of my recliner, not even to sleep, except to go to dialysis.  My kidney doctor warned me that I missed dialysis for a week, “You will die.”  That is an incentive to continue.

After going to emergency rooms and doctors, I finally determined I was struck down by a wicked virus, which was making lots of other old people sick.  As I slowly recovered, I spent Tuesdays and Thursdays going for tests for the heart and esophagus for things doctors thought were wrong with me, which proved false. I have excellent cholesterol, am not diabetic.  Most people on dialysis are diabetic, have heart trouble, or have other health problems which is the cause of their kidney disease.  I am the healthiest 85-year-old in Dallas. 

As I felt better, I began to sort out all the things the movers messed up.  I rearranged my clothes in the closet. In the kitchen I climbed up on a stool to bring down from the upper shelves my juice glasses and soup bowls which I use every day.  The books were all on the right shelves – but all mixed up.  Two and a half months later, I still have not sorted them out.  I can’t find my big slotted spoon, a little dish of the B&O Railroad’s blue and white china, a plate (from a set of four), and one of my turquoise “bear claw” earrings.

Now I am fully recovered.  As I walked out the door to go to dialysis, Allen, my Friday driver, said, “Look at you!  You are walking out here like a teenager.”   (Two weeks ago, when Martha was here, she said I shuffled along like I was 90.)

So, now that I feel good, what am I doing this weekend?   Nothing!  I slept late this morning.  Finally climbed out of bed and discovered channel 5 was broadcasting the women’s final in the French Open tennis matches.  After that I went to lunch (delicious beef tostadas), went to a relaxing session of Thai Chi, came home and took a nap. 

Tomorrow?  The same thing.  The men’s final in Paris.  I hope the Spaniard wins.  Sixty-five years ago I took a couple of tennis lessons, tried hard but I could not hit the ball over the net.  Gave up for myself but admire the skill of the champions.

I hope you have a relaxing weekend, too.

Sunday, March 9, 2014

Changing My Life at Age 85

Everybody celebrates my birthday.  On March 17 – St. Patrick’s Day – I will be 85.  On my 80th Don and Mary gave a bang up party, and friends came from all over Texas.  This year will be subdued.  David flies in on Sunday night, and the next day (the 17th) we will have dinner with Don and Mary in the elegant dining room at the new place where I am moving.

Yes, I am moving.  I thought I would live at Montclair Estates until the funeral home wheeled my dead body out on a stretcher.  I have been happy here at Montclair.  I love my two-bedroom, two-bath apartment, and the other residents are dear, dear friends.  . 

I am moving because of something that happened five years ago.  I said something which the black woman who takes me to dialysis thought was insulting.  When I heard she was offended, I apologized profusely.  But she had it in her head that I was a racist, and she has made me pay for it three times a week ever since.  She is one of those Christians who sings gospel hymns and has no compassion.
After dialysis I sit in the lobby of the dialysis center staring out the window. I dare not look away for even a minute.   The driver insists that I be ready to walk out the door the minute she drives up.  Often she makes me wait thirty to forty minutes.  While waiting I think, “What have I done that I must do this pennace for my sins?”

She drives on the freeway, laughing and joking with her sister on her cell phone.  She never speaks to me.  That’s just bad manners! 

Some days I am really sick after treatments.  I live on the third floor of a building at the back of this apartment complex.  I ask the woman to take me around the complex and let me out only a few steps from the elevator.  She drives up to the front and waits silently for me to get out of the van and struggle to walk down the long, outside passage.  That is cruel.

Several times I have tried to talk about this to the manager.  Before I can say anything, Cindy launches into a tirade, telling me I am selfish and overbearing and deserve the treatment I receive.  “Nobody likes you, Ilene.  You are unkind.”

I know what she says is not true, but it still hurts. 

Last week I was really ill.  Cindy gave me another one of those abusive lectures.  I called David in California and told him about it.  He said, “You don’t have to put up with that, Mom.  You have plenty of money.  Get out ot there!”

The next morning he called back.  He had talked to his sister Martha.  My accountant daughter had calculated how much I could spend each month if I live to age 93.  I was amazed!   Never dreamed I was that wealthy.  Then David said, “Spend it all, Mom.  If you run out of money, remember you have two rich kids.”

I feel blessed.

The next day I gave my notice.  Cindy said, “You are not happy here, Ilene.  You are not a happy person.  You will not be happy anywhere.”

My friends tell this “unkind” person they wish I would not leave.  Sue said, “You can’t go until you find someone to play bridge.”  Dan, our maintenance man, a Tea Party Republican, gave me a hug and said he had been looking forward to arguing with me, a liberal Democrat, before the November election.

I am moving to a luxurious independent living facility where I’ll have a two-bedroom, two-bath apartment with a fancy kitchen with dishwasher and granite counter tops.  Also, space for my own washer and drier.  No more a spending all day Sunday in the second floor laundry room!

Best of all: I am finally going to be living in Dallas.

Thursday, March 6, 2014

Remember the Alamo

Sitting in the laundry room while my underwear tossed around in the drier, I picked up an old copy of Texas Monthly Magazine and read an interview with author Larry McMurtry, whom the magazine called “Our Leading Unsentimentalist.”  .

The author of “Lonesome Dove” commented on Custer’s Last Stand: “. . . defeat in a major battle seems to resonate more than victory.  If he’d won the same battle, it probably wouldn’t have had the dramatic force that it has.”

McMurtry continued, “If the Texans had won, the Alamo wouldn’t be a big deal.”

After talking about Custer’s foolhardiness, the author said, “There was an abundance of folly in the Old West, that’s for sure.”

He added, “I set out to demythologize it, but you can’t.  The readers want the myth.  They’ll turn it into the myth, no matter what I do.  Look at Lonesome Dove.  I thought of Lonesome Dove as a book that would demolish the myths.  But instead it just enhanced them.”

I sighed, put the magazine down, and got up to take my stuff out of the drier. 

People believe what they want to believe, no matter how ridiculous.


Saturday, March 1, 2014

Angry Republicans, Angry Me

Texas primary elections are next Tuesday.  Every day I am bombarded with television commercials for Republican candidates.  I see fat, middle-aged white men each claiming he is more conservative than any other.  Even candidates for comptroler and the state legislature boast that they “fight Obama” and “protect Texas” from the evil Federal Government. . 

Every Republican politician assures me that he is a good family man and a Christian who will defend Texans rights to “religious freedom.”  This means he will impose the policies of the fundamentalist right on everyone else.  He will restrict the right of a woman who needs an abortion.  He will deny the right to marriage to a gay couple who have been together for seventeen years.  Those who boast of “protecting our rights” mean to restrict the rights of others.

Republican candidates attack each other for not being tough enough on illegal aliens.  They deny driver’s licenses to men who must drive to their jobs where they are employed by Republicans to build their houses, mow their lawns, and clean their houses.  Republicans deny the children of illegals the benefit of our public schools, preferring young people who grow up in our country remain in economic servitude. 

Several times a day I hear a loud-mouth boast, “I will secure our borders.”   In my travels I saw enormous walls around Constantinople and Rome.  I climbed the Great Wall of China.  None kept out invaders.  The Emperor Hadrian built a wall between Scotland and England.  The English and Scots fought each other for 1,500 years, only the join peacefully when James VI of Scotland inherited the throne of Queen Elizabeth I and became James I of Great Britain.  You can’t build a fence that will keep out desperate Mexicans who only want a better life for their families. 

(No more than you can prevent a desperate woman who needs an abortion.  Before Roe vs. Wade women in Dallas died from illegal abortions.  That will happen again if the so-called Pro-Life faction succeeds in its evil attempt to control women’s lives.)

These men are against all government regulation.  They want the Coan Brothers (who pay for many of these commercials) profit from their oil refineries stewing their waste into the Texas sky, polluting our air.  Would they deregulate the FDA which keeps our food and drugs safe? 

Some commercials end with endorsements from the NRA and the Pro-Life group.  Republicans want every Texans to own a gun so that when he gets angry with his wife he can kill her.  And own an assault weapon so that his immature, angry young kid can take it to school and blow away his classmates.   

There is one thing I hear with which I agree.  One Repubican puffs out his chest and says, “Texas is exceptional.”

Yes, thank God!  Texans do not acknowledge that people in the rest of the country elected President Obama to a second term.  He is our President, and all of us should support him. 

Saturday, February 22, 2014

The Sun Stood Still

My breakfast companions remain staunchly convinced that evolution is some cockeyed theory that Darwin thought up without any evidence.  The Bible says that God created man on one day a few thousand years ago, so it must be so.  Over our scrambled eggs, the three of them continue to try to convert me to their way of thinking.

Von mentioned the story in the Bible which tells how the sun stopped moving for two hours so that Joshua could win a battle..  Von said, “Don’t you believe the sun stood still?”  

I said, “I believe that Joshua thought the sun stopped moving.  He did not have a watch or a clock.  (They had not been invented.)  You know yourself that there are times when you are busy and time passes quickly.  Then other times – like sitting in the doctor’s waiting room – when time passes slowly.  You look at your watch and can’t believe it has been only three minutes since you last looked.

“God can do anything,” said Von.  “I believe the sun stood still.”

What difference does it make if Texans cling to these absurd ideas?

School children are taught to accept the Bible as the authority for everything.  Science is something devised by atheists.  Refusal to accept facts causes “true Christians” to reject everything that leads to progress.

“True Christians” give abject acceptance of everything their preacher says. Since their minister was “called” to his vocation, they blindly follow him, even when the lessons he gives are the opposite of what Jesus taught. 

 If a preacher finds a verse in The Bible to support a certain point of view – “The sun stood still” – then it must be true.”   Passages in the Old Testament condemn homosexuality.  Educated people now recognize that people are born with a sexual preference. They are not seduced into choosing that lifestyle.  Jesus accepted everyone – the tax collector, the woman at the well, the thief on the cross.  He never rejected anyone.

When I was a child taken by my parents to College Avenue Baptist Church, I listened to many sermons on the evils of dancing and card playing.  “A deck of cards is the Devil’s prayer book.”  Then I saw the preacher come to our house and join other men in lively games of dominos. The man never realized that he was not preaching from the Bible but from a narrow-minded distortion of Scripture.  As a teenager I learned the joy of dancing.  In college I became an avid bridge player. And did not feel a bit guilty.

At the retirement home where I live now, we have a couple, devout Christians, who have never danced or played cards.  They will not go to anyplace where alcohol is served.  To celebrate the Lord’s Supper their church serves grape juice in tiny little shot glasses.  Jesus went to a wedding, changed water into wine, and said, “Let’s have a party.”  If Jesus had invited them to the Last Supper, they would have refused his invitation.

The television evangelist, Joel Osteen,.preaches, “Get rich through Jesus.”    Jesus told the rich man to sell all his goods and give to the poor. 

Which leads me to the ridiculous politics we have in Texas.  All a politician has to do is say he is “protecting our religion.”  Texans hear catch phrases like “lower taxes, less government” and do not question what this really means.  Rich Republicans demand Congress cut programs that help people in order to get lower taxes so that they can increase their wealth and build McMansions.

If the sun stood still, our Earth would spin off into Outer Space.  Instead of Jesus coming back, maybe we would bump into Him floating around on some cloud.

Thursday, February 13, 2014

Foolish Me

Every morning I go down to breakfast and sit with three charming old ladies.   On Sunday one of my companions urged me to come with them to Sunday School in our living room.  The other two joined in praising the man from the New Life Methodist Church who gave “such wonderful messages.”  

Four years ago I sat across the table from that man.  Something was said about evolution, and this Christian minister said, “You mean the theory of evolution.”

Remembering, I said, “Anyone who does not believe in evolution is a fool.”

All three of my friends were shocked.  One said, “Perhaps you are the fool.”

A second said, “You are entitled to your opinion.”

These are good people.  They are devote Christians who have been taught that the Bible is “The Word of God.”  Every word in the Bible was dictated by the Holy Spirit.  It is all factual.  They believe the World was created by God in six days in 6,000 B.C.  And God created the animals one by one. 
And Jesus is floating around some place up in the sky, waiting for the Rapture when He will fly in on a rocket ship to carry all the “good” people off to Paradise right away. .

Jean says, “Ilene, you will be surprised when Jesus comes.”

“Yes, Jean,” I say.  “I will be surprised.”

Meanwhile, these old ladies do not worry about dying.  Their faith assures them that they will go to Heaven. They can not accept the possibility that the Bible might be a compilation of myths and legends written by a primitive people over many centuries.  For them Galileo never looked through his telescope and saw moons orbiting Jupiter. 

Foolish me, I should not say anything to upset them.  They are kind and indulge my rants.  Yet sometimes one of them will say something so ridiculous that I can not help myself.  I say things that they refuse to believe. 

Like how the discovery of DNA has affirmed all the ideas that Darwin developed over many years simply by observation.  No, he did not say we are descended from monkeys, but scientists have discovered that our DNA is 95% the same as that of a chimpanzee.  That is not my opinion.  That is fact.

With people refusing to believe scientific evidence, but accept as fact that the Earth was once covered by a single great flood, it is not surprising that they also believe all the nonsense put out by the Far Right.

An editorial from the New York Times titled “The GOP’s war on evolution” said:

“The debate over evolution was settled a century ago – but not for Republicans. . . . with 48 percent now insisting that God created humans just as they are today.  This isn’t only sad, it’s embarrassing.  Why, with most Americans now accepting the overwhelming evidence of evolution, would more Republicans be retreating into a 19th Century world view?  It’s a result of a prolonged ploy by Republican leaders . . . to play on the most base convictions of conservative voters. . . . So climate change, the Big Bang, and evolution must be categorically rejected as threats to religious faith (which they are not) . . . . at a cost of keeping them, and our nation, trapped in deliberate ignorance.”

Thursday, February 6, 2014

Snow in Texas

Yesterday Boston was paralyzed, buried in 12 inches of snow and ice.  In Chicago my daughter did not get home from work until after 9 p.m. her commuter train stalled by frozen switches.  train.

Outside my window snowflakes swirl through the air.  Through the dancing snowflakes, I look down from my third floor apartment and see the roofs of the houses across the alley covered with a light blanket of white.  How deep will it be before it ends?

Not something I usually see in this Garland, Texas, retirement home.

At breakfast Sue said, “I know it is worse somewhere else, but I don’t like it being so cold right here.”  

I dread having to bundle up in heavy jacket and mittens to go downstairs for lunch.  When the cold hits my legs, pain grabs my calves, making every step torture.  I don’t think of my daughter in her heavy coat walking from the train station to her office with Chicago’s icy wind stinging her face.

We all see things from the perception on our own place in the World. 

The other day I saw a young woman on television say she became a Republican because they “cared about people.”  She said she opposed big government because she did not want Obama telling her what to do.   

She was serious.  She was also mixed up in her thinking, her mind buried as in a snowbank by the Republican propaganda machine. . 

Yes, the Republicans are big on “individual rights.”  They make a lot of money, and they want to keep all of it.  The Koch brothers have convinced people that government regulations are bad because they want to keep polluting the air with their oil refineries.  Big corporations talk about “right to work” because without unions individuals are helpless in negotiating for higher pay, and the bosses make more money by employing cheap labor.  (C.E.O.’s take home 200 times as much as the average worker.)  Walmart opposes raising the minimum wage.  Drug companies give millions to Congressional elections to make sure the government does not curb their profits. 

Republicans want “individual rights” – for themselves.  They do not care about anyone else.  

The old lady with enough income to live in a comfortable retirement home does not worry about the unemployed.  Unless she has a son who lost his job a year ago. 

Snow is falling over much of the U.S., even in Texas.  Blizzards happen.  So do hurricanes and tornadoes.  We can not do anything to prevent natural disasters.  The economy is a mess right now.  As individuals we can not do much about that either.  But our government is big enough to help -- if it were not controlled by the 1% of billionaires who own Big Business. 

Friday, January 31, 2014

The Gundestrup Caldron

I leaned back in my recliner listening to the television.  That’s what I do every evening.  Usually I tune the set to whatever is being broadcast on PBS.  With eyes half-closed I heard a man talking about bodies buried in the peat bogs in Ireland and Denmark.  No one knows who they were; the evidence shows that they were murdered around 300 B.C.  A dismal subject to listen to on a night when I was already half-sick and feeling depressed.  Yet I am always interested in programs about history, even ancient times, and art.

The narration changed to the artifacts buried with the bodies.  Hearing the words “Gundestruup Caldron” I opened my eyes.  The television screen showed a closeup strange figures incised on a huge silver bowl. . 

I sat up in my chair.  I had read about the Gundestrup Caldron before Wally and I made our trip to Denmark in 1975.  It is considered the finest piece of Iron Age art ever found.  It is certainly the largest and most elaborate.  I remembered the thrill I felt when I walked into a gallery in the National Museum of Denmark and saw the caldron, as big as a bathtub, right in front of me. 

The caldron is decorated with strange figures of humans, animals, and mythological beasts. The representations of people were as distorted and weird as the figures of dragons and griffins.  I  admired the workmanship of the craftsmen who hammered out these strange figures, but I had no idea what they represented.  

On television a man tried to show a link between the figures on the caldron and the murdered men.  One of the panels on the caldron shows a man dumping a smaller man into a caldron.  Were the men killed as part of some pagan religious ritual?  Why were they buried in the bog when at that time common people were cremated?

I looked up the Gundestrup caldron on Wikipedia.  No one knows who made it or where.  Were they Celts or Norsemen or Thracians?  It is made of silver which may have come from France or Germany.  It is made of plates soldered together with lead from England.  The experts disagree on the meaning of the large human figures.  Were they gods and goddesses?  Some seem to be Celtic deities; others may be Greek.  On television a pair of small animals were identified as “pigs”; an expert on Wikipedia described them as “boars.”         

The Gundestrup Caldron is comes from a time which is totally beyond anything which I have experienced.  How difficult it is to know what really happened 200 years ago, much less 2,000 years ago!

The old ladies who live in the retirement home where I live do not watch PBS.  None of them have heard of the Gundestrup Caldron.  They could not care less about the prehistoric Celts.  They are totally ignorant of history before 1776, yet they are absolutely certain what it was like when Jesus was preaching on the shores of Galilee. .

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Politics and Religion

I like to talk to men. My favorite companions at lunch are Everett and John.  I do not flirt with them – I am too old, and I never was good at that. We talk about politics. 

Many women here at the retirement home where I live refuse to talk about politics or religion. 
We talk about our grandchildren or what we had for lunch.  Today we had a choice of fried shrimp or beef tacos.  Isn’t that fascinating? 

For endless hours we discuss the weather.  That also does not make for sparkling conversation.  After a balmy 70-degrees yesterday, a cold north wind dropped the temperature 40 degrees over night, and we needed to put on jackets to leave our apartments to go out for breakfast this morning.  That’s not something reported on the national news.  Now if it had been a blizzard such as the one that hit the East Coast last week . . . .  

Some of my neighbors talk about religion.  They are self-righteous, fundamentalist Christians who take it for granted that everyone should agree with them.   They pray for me.  They want to save my soul so that I can go to Heaven with them.  I appreciate their prayers; it shows they have concern for me.  But I don’t want to be saved.  Their Heaven sounds like an excruciatingly dull place to spend eternity.  

So at lunchtime I try to sit with either Everett or John and we talk about politics.  We have some lively discussions.  The men usually agree with me as we comment on events of the day.  Everett says he does not understand how workingmen can vote for Republicans, “the party of the rich folks.”  John jokes with me about “your friend Ted” because he knows I despise Ted Cruz. 

Perhaps Everett and John are more liberal in their ideas because neither grew up in Texas.  Everett is from Wichita, Kansas, and spent most of his adult career in Seattle, Washington.  John is from Chicago, Illinois.  They learned to think for themselves.

Texans are brain-washed from infancy in the “old time religion.”   They are conservative.  “If it was good enough for Grandpa it is good enough for me.”  They vote straight Republican. 

Just as they want to convert everyone to their religion, they want the government to reflect their narrow view of rights: no gun control but a ban on gay marriage.  As for abortion, they oppose it, and any other opinion is wrong.  They ignore the fact that desperate women do whatever must be done.  Before the Supreme Court upheld a woman’s right to make decisions for herself, Texas was a place where women died from botched, illegal abortions.

The attitude of people here is: We know what is right, there is no need for discussion, so don’t talk about it.

No one questions that all their opinions might be wrong.

Thursday, January 16, 2014

In a Fog

I am old. It happened again this week.  I see something on television.  This reminds me of something I experienced years ago.  Then my thoughts take off.  One memory leads to another.  I sit in the recliner and let my mind drift though memories.  Suddenly I realize an hour has passed.  Dirty mugs are waiting in the sink and I have not looked at Facebook for three weeks.  

CNN showed Chicago and Philadelphia buried under snow.  I’ve lived in both places.  I was in the Chicago area during the big blizzard of . . . can’t remember the year . . . Streets in Chicago were not cleared until spring, while Mayor Blilandic honeymooned in the Bahamas.  That ended his political career. 

As for Philadelphia, storms brought snow which melted after a few days.  People who live in those East Coast cities are as ignorant of what Midwest winters are like as Texas Baptists are ignorant of the beauty and meaning of a Catholic mass. 

Meanwhile, Texans shivered when the temperature fell to 45 degrees.  The television screen went gray; the weatherman said that pictured the skyscrapers of downtown Dallas hidden by fog.  

That brought a whole series of different memories.

It happened more than 60 years ago.  Dr. Audrey Wiley, head of the English department of the college we attended, brought Marjorie and me to Dallas to attend a writers’ conference.  That night as we headed back to Denton, the World was wrapped in the same kind of fog that hit Dallas last week.  Dr. Wiley gripped the wheel of her little car as she strained to see the roadway.  She drove slowly around curves on the two-lane highway.  Her headlights reflected back from a wall of gray fog which completely enclosed us. 

Marjorie and I huddled in the backseat in terror, yet I kept my eyes open, looking over Dr. Wiley’s shoulder for the danger which might suddenly crash through the thick gray curtain in front of us.  It seemed impossible that we met no speeding car coming from the opposite direction.  Yet we saw no lights, not from other cars, not from the few houses along that road.  We were as alone as if the Rapture had carried off everyone else in the World.  After midnight the professor finally let us out at our dormitory, where a sleepy attendant let us into the brightly lighted hallway. 

How times have changed!  Today we drive from Dallas to Denton on a six-lane highway, I-35E, lined on either side with auto dealers and franchise restaurants which serve the communities which have obliterated the farms which used to provide bucolic vistas along the old highway.  Denton is now a suburb of Dallas. 

I-35E is a north-south highway which runs from Canada to Mexico.  It was not I-35E which had problems in last week’s fog.  Fort Worth connects to Dallas with three west-east expressways   A local six-lane highway runs through the northern suburbs.  I-20 is on the south, and I-30 goes from downtown to downtown and on across the state.  I live just a half mile north of I-30; that’s the highway I take to go to the Dallas Museum of Art.  Last week it was on I-30, just east of me, that fourteen big trucks and some cars jack knifed and piled up in the fog.  The highway was closed for two days while cranes and bulldozers cleared away the mess. .      

My thought was “Typical Texans!”    They elected Governor Ric Perry and Senator Ted Cruz.  How could anyone expect them to have enough sense to drive through heavy fog?

Saturday, January 11, 2014

The Joy of Living Alone

During dialysis I read the New Yorker.  This weekly magazine has lots of long articles which help to pass the three and a half hours that I am connected to the machine which pulls the blood out of my body and through a “dialyser” which cleans my blood before pumping it back into my arm. 

As I turn the pages – hard to do with my right hand while my left arm is strapped down – I pause to look at the cartoons.  In the midst of reading some serious stuff about Syria or politics, it is great to have something to laugh about.  

The January 5 issue has a cartoon titled “Living Alone.”   It pictures a man standing before the open door of a refrigerator and drinking milk straight out of the carton.  Below is the caption which reads “It’s just plain fun!”

I was reminded of this last week when I was alone after having visitors during the holidays.  It was wonderful having Richard and Karl here for Christmas.  My grandson Richard brought his cello (occupying its own seat beside him on the plane from Chicago).   He played a concert of Bach and Elgar for the old ladies who live in this retirement home.   It was a treat to spend Christmas with a grandchild for only the second time in 26 years.

It was also great to be with my son Karl for the first time in ten years.  He proved pleasantly cooperative about bedtime and meals, which he never did when he lived with me in my tiny house in Albuquerque.  He has a brusk, authoritative manner which annoys everyone.  This time he managed to spend a week without insulting any of my friends.  

Both bought stuff which I did not need or want.  Richard bought paper towels without looking under the sink, where I had five additional rolls.  With Karl it was cheesecake, when my cupboards already stored enough cookies to last me for two months.   After they left it took a week to distribute other unwanted food, wash sheets and towels, and get the apartment back in order. 

I realized how much I like living alone.  The joy of getting up in the middle of the night without worrying about disturbing someone else.  I do not drink milk out of cartons, but I do enjoy a nice cup of peppermint tea and watching reruns of Charlie Rose.  The walls are soundproof.  Also, my neighbors on either side, Everett and Herb, are both deaf and turn off their hearing aids when they go to bed. . They never hear my television blasting at 2 a.m. 

My husband John Durkalski was an easy man to live with.  He never did anything without asking me.  “I thought we might go to Europe in October.  Would you like to do that?”  He took wonderful care of me when I had breast cancer and was sick from chemo and radiation for most of 1990.  It seemed a little thing to sit beside him every afternoon watching the Chicago Cubs play baseball.  But I don’t think I have watched a single game since he died. 

Last week I went down the hall to visit my 92-year-old neighbor Vista.  She was watching television and turned it off when I sat down for a chat.  Vista was married to C. G. for 72 years (I cannot imagine being married to one man for that long.)  He took care of everything, paying all the bills and providing for someone to take care of her after he was gone.  When he died, Vista did not even know how to turn on the television. 

I said, “When my husband died, I got control of the remote.” 

Vista nodded agreement and laughed out loud..