Thursday, November 12, 2015

Searching for Patties in England


There is no record of the parents of our great-great-grandfather, John Pattie Sr, or of how he happened to be living as a wheelwright in Fredercksbug, Virginia, in 1770.  One thing seems obvious: The family did not originate in America like the Sioux and Apaches.

My brother Don came home from a business trip to England and told me he found several Patties listed in the London telephone book.  Then, in the summer of 1991, my husband, John Durkalski, and I exchanged our home in Albuquerque, New Mexico, for a house in Ipswich, near the North Sea Coast in Suffolk County, England. 

Standing by a little table in a corner of the dining room of our Ipswich house, I looked in the thin, little Ipswich telephone book (Ipswich is a small city) and dialed what I thought was someone listed as Pattie. The voice that answered had the reedy voice of a frail old man.  He told me politely that I was mistaken; his name was not “Pattie” but “Pattle”.  In the small print of the little telephone book I had misread the “l” for an “i”. 

One of the delights of living in England that summer was making friends and having neighbors. One evening John and I went next door to visit the Blands.  I can’t remember their first names – this was 1991, and in 2015 I remember other things vividly.  Mr. Bland was a retired sea captain.  He said, “Even in storms and cloudy weather I could cross the Atlantic and land within 30 miles of New York.”.  

John and I sat on the couch in their living room, while Captain Bland went upstairs and came down carrying a box the size of a twelve-inch cube made of polished wood with brass fittings, as handsome as any jewelry box.  Opening the shiny brass clasp, he lifted out of the velvet liner a brass instrument.  He explained, “This is my sextant."

I was reminded that in his years of navigating the seas, Captain Bland used the same instruments that Columbus used on his voyages of discovery.  By the time Captain Bland retired, satellites were guiding ships, like the autopilot flies airplanes and the GPS directs our cars on freeways. 

Before saying “Good Night” to with the Blands, I mentioned my disappointment at finding Pattle instead of Pattie in the Ipswich telephone directory.  Mrs. Bland immediately said, “Pattie is a North Country Name.”   She and Capt. Bland were originally from Northumbria, a county in the north of England, bordering on Scotland.  They had moved south to Ipswich for his job. 

The next day she brought over her telephone book from Northumbria, even smaller and thinner than the Ipswich directory.  Sure enough it listed six or eight Patties.  I copied down the names and telephone numbers.  I regret that John and I became so involved in enjoying sightseeing in the Great Houses and fine Fourteenth Century churches in charming Suffolk villages that I never called any of them.  Somehow I also lost my list of Patties in Northumbria..

I had learned some things.  Forget about possible origins in France or Italy.  For many centuries the Patties have been English.  The ancestors of John Pattie Sr. of Virginia probably came from Northumbria. 

Tuesday, November 3, 2015

Uncle Hugh's Family Tree


Uncle Hugh’s genealogy stopped with his grandfather, John Pattie of Kentucky – the one whose marriage license Effie Ludlow Pattie found in Virginia. 

Uncle Hugh also found records of a William Pattie, who had come to eastern Kentucky about the same time as John and his wife settled in Frankfurt in western Kentucky.  Uncle Hugh speculated that John and William were brothers, but he could find no proof of the connection.  

William’s grandson Silvester and Silvester’s son James were among the first Americans to trek all the way to California.  The account of their adventures is told in “The Autobiography of James Ohio Pattie”, a 19th Century best seller.  This wild tale makes good reading even today.  As for me, it is nice to know there was previously a best seller in the Pattie family. 

William’s sister, Lucy Pattie Yateman, filed an affidavit stating that her father and her brother William had “gone to fight with General Washington” during the Revolutionary War.  As a result of that affidavit, in his old age William was granted a small pension as a Revolutionary War soldier.  I was surprised to learn that this country has a long history of giving pensions to veterans.  Now my son Karl gets benefits for his service in the U.S. Army during the Vietnam War – although he never went to Vietnam.  In my book, “Mama Goes to Paris”, I tell about Karl working in Army intelligence as a Russian expert, stationed in Frankfurt, Germany.    

Over 60 years after Uncle Hugh’s death, I looked for ancestors at the Garland, Texas, Public Library.  Sitting at a computer in a room full of other old ladies searching for their own family records, I was delighted to see pop up on the screen the yellowed paper of Lucy’s affidavit.  But I was no more enlightened than Uncle Hugh was about any connection between John and William.

Later I found that connection, thanks to my Italian-American friend, Jack Cinque. 

Jack was a first generation Italian-American.  His parents came to the U.S. as teenagers from Positano, Italy.  Jack was born in “Little Italy” in Manhattan, grew up in New York City, graduated from City College of New York, then obtained a master’s degree from M.I.T.  This son of an immigrant whose career started as a push-cart peddler in New York, had a brilliant career.  He came to Texas to work as head of a Texas City oil refinery and married Margaret Condon, a Texan and my dear friend and classmate at Texas State College for Women.  Working for Flour Inc., Jack traveled to Iran and China, and he and Margaret lived in Sydney, Australia, and in London, England.  My first trip to England was to visit them in London.

After Jack retired to Houston, he and Margaret attended a series of lectures on immigrants to America.  He sent me their textbook, a collection of first-person accounts written by immigrants.  The very first chapter was a diary written by a Scotsman who came to Virginia around 1770 as an indentured servant, contracted to be a slave until his passage was paid off.  He worked for a tobacco planter who wanted a teacher for his young children.  He was given a small building with both a classroom and living quarters.  He was permitted to accept other pupils for his small school. In the diary he wrote that “John Pattie, wright, of Fredricksburg, brought his children, William, Lucy, and John” and enrolled them in the school.

From this account I learned not only that John and William were brothers, but also that Uncle Hugh’s grandfather (my great-grandfather) John was really John Jr.  Also, John Sr. was a "wright" meaning a wheel-right.  On my first trip East, Emma Wright and I stopped in Fredricksbug to see the elegant home of George Washington's sister Betty, whose husband was a wealthy man who helped finance the Revolution.  I did not dream that one of my ancestors may have made the wheels for her carriage and perhaps also for General Washington, whose mother also lived in Fredricksburg.

Thanks to Lucy’s affidavit that her father fought for General Washington, I am eligible for the Daughters of the American Revolution. It amuses me to think I could join the D.A.R. on my Pattie line, thanks to Jack Cinque, a first-generation American.
   

Tuesday, October 27, 2015

THE PATTIES


As a chld, all I knew about the Patties was what I heard from Uncle Hugh, my grandfather’s younger brother, Hugh Lawrence Pattie.  He was retired from the “Frisco” railroad, where he had supervised a crew laying track and building bridges.  He and Aunt Ceil lived in Amarillo, but, using his pass on the railroad, he made frequent visits to Fort Worth for Masonic activities.  I remember him dressing up for a Shrine dance with his fez on his head or wearing a fancy gold-braided uniform with a hat with a feather as a Knight of Pithias.

He always stayed at our – already crowded – two-bedroom house.  I do not how we rearranged beds for him.  My mother complained that even though he was helpful, making beds and washing dishes, she wished Uncle Hugh did not come so often.  I was always glad to see him.  Uncle Hugh came in dancing and singing and ready to party.

I do not know why Aunt Ceil did not come with him. Rumors were that Aunt Ceil was strict. She did not let Uncle Hugh smoke in the house.  Maybe she was not much fun to live with.  Uncle Hugh's visits to Fort Worth were brief times of freedom for him. Aunt Ceil had a sister and two brothers living in Fort Worth, but instead of visiting his in-laws, Uncle Hugh preferred to come to our house.  Aunt Ceil -- Lucille Gibson Pattie – was Uncle Hugh’s cousin.  That made all her nieces and nephews my cousins, too.  They all lived in Fort Worth, and I knew the Gibsons and Cassells (her sister Frances’s children) better than I did my Pattie cousins.

The Gibsons and the Paties came to Texas from Kentucky about 1900.   Besides coming to see us, Uncle Hugh used his pass on the railroad to go back to Kentucky every year.  He told me about happy hours he had spent as a boy in the loft of the big tobacco barn on his grandfather’s farm.  He also described the fun of swimming in the Ohio River as if he had lived on its banks. 

Uncle Hugh was a Romantic.  He insisted the Patties were originally from France.  The name sounded French to him.  He said that the family were Huguenots who fled to Louisiana from France to avoid religious persecution.  (Of course, no one in our family could be Catholic!)  He speculated that his grandfather had been in business in New Orleans.

In his old age Uncle Hugh assembled a family history, which I typed up for hm.  In my college dorm room I hunched over my 1898 Smith-Corona typewriter.  Pounding those heavy metal keys was like driving a truck, especially difficult when making five carbon copies.  Among Uncle Hugh’s papers I found a letter from a lady in Virginia who had researched Pattie genealogy.  Ellie Ludlow Pattie rebuked Uncle Hugh sharply, saying, “Your grandparents were from Virginia. I’ve seen their marriage license in the courthouse in Caroline County.”  

On my big trip around Europe in 1983, I stopped at a posada in Ebora, Portugal.  In the elegant dining room of this government-run hotel, I sat with two young men from Chicago.  As if it was enough of a surprise to meet two fellows from Chicago in this remote place, one of them was named Sebasti├ín Patti.  He told me, “My family is Sicilian.  There is a town named Patti in Sicily.”

Now it is my turn to be a Romantic.  I fantasize that some Italian stone worker went from Sicily to decorate one of the great houses being built all over England in the 17th and 18th Centuries.  He married an English girl and over the generations the family become 90 percent English.  That’s more likely than Huguenots going to New Orleans.  My brother Don still insists that the name was originally French.  Some people cling to their favorite myths, refusing to believe evidence.

Tuesday, October 20, 2015

My Education


Some of the best educated people I know never went to college.  I wrote about Betty Rahn and Mary Grieb in my book, “Mama Goes to Paris.”   Neither went to college, yet they learned by reading and experience.  Besides being good companions, these two always gave me good advice. 

Harry Truman’s formal education ended when he graduated from high school in Independence, Missouri.  Yet people who knew him say he was one of our best educated Presidents.  He read constantly.  He knew history.  He understood economics and law.  He read critically and saw through the “baloney” of puff pieces and propaganda.  From experience he learned how to deal with Congressmen of both political parties in order to accomplice his goals. 

My education continued after I graduated from college  Riding the “el” to work in Chicago, as the train rattled along over the city’s slums, I read Dante and Marcel Proust in translation.  I learned about writing memoirs from the famous “madeline” passage in Proust’s “Remembrance of Things Past.” 

Evenings, while Wally attended classes at Northwestern, I read Virginia Woolf’s novels and practiced my writing skills. I envied Woolf and her friends who lived in the Bloomsbury neighborhood in London before World War II.  Virginia and Leonard Woolf’s house was destroyed by German bombs during that war, but thirty later I wandered around in the streets of Bloomsbury and found plaques on the houses of the economist John Maynard Keyes and the novelist E. M. Forester.  In her diary Woolf called him “Morgan.”   By that time I had read biographies and learned that those talented people were not the happy, carefree bunch I had imagined.

I tried to read Gertrude Stein and James Joyce.  While I could saw how they experimented with language, for me it was more important to communicate in words ordinary people could understand.  Stein and Joyce are fascinating people, interesting to read about but for me too difficult to read. I closed the book on each of them and went to bed.

As a young mother, alone and lonely in a tiny apartment in Chicago, I read Charles Darwin’s “The Origin of Species”.  I was amazed by the amount of research Darwin had done.  Years later when DNA was decoded, it proved Darwin was right.  Scientists are impressed by what Darwin had accomplished simply by observation. 

Holding my baby in my map, I read Karl Marx’s “Das Kapital”, which he wrote after doing research in the reading room of the British Library.  The same summer I wandered around Bloomsbury, I went to the British Library, where I was not permitted into the vast reading room, but where in a glass case at a special exhibit I saw Marx’s library card.  I have learned so much from books I checked out at libraries; I found it oddly touching to see that small piece of cardboard that enabled Marx to do his research.  Working conditions for the lower classes in Victorian England were so horrible, I could see why Marx thought the abused workers would revolt.  He did not foresee what would happen when workers formed labor unions. 

We moved from Chicago to Detroit to Dallas to Philadelphia and back to Chicago.  Besides finding new dentists and supermarkets every place my family lived, I saw how each community had its own customs and prejudices – and how similar they were in unexpected ways. .

In the library in Birmingham, Michigan, tucked away in a corner in the back of the stacks, I found a whole collection of books about various tribes of American Indians.  I could not foresee that I would spend twenty years living in Albuquerque, New Mexico, where I became a friend of a Pueblo Indian.  Like Marx unable to predict the future of the labor movement, I discovered many things about American Indians that were not in the books I’d read.

Reading was the basis of my education, but experience was equally important.  Living in five states, traveling throughout the “lower 48", and spending time in foreign countries, I constantly revised my thinking.  Telling about my eighty-six years of reading and discovering new experiences is the story of my life.

Tuesday, October 13, 2015

Who Should Not Go to College


I kept thinking about what Maggi said about young people: “They don’t all need to go to college.”

I remember my friend Bill Park.  He was a over six-feet tall, a handsome, gray-haired, a “manly” man, and he was gay.  A neighbor took me to meet him at his home, where we sat in the living room of his  “ranch-style”house on Albuquerque’s western mesa with a magnificent view of the Sandia Mountains.

Bill’s partner of more than twenty years had died, and Bill asked me how I handled my grief after my husband John died..

This tall, strong man had tears in his eyes as he said, “I miss him so much.”

I said, “There is no right or wrong way to grieve.  For a couple of months I couldn’t stay home.  I found meetings and programs where I went so I would not have to spend an evening in the house where John died. Other people do not leave the house for weeks after they lose a loved one; they need to cry, and I understand their need for privacy.  Each person has to find their own way.”

Then I added, “I am no longer grieving for John, but I still miss him.  I think I always will.”  John died in January, 1992, and every day I think about the joy he brought to my life.

It is fifteen years since I met Bill Park.  We became good friends.  On the stage at the University of New Mexico, we saw a local production of “La Cage au Fou”.  Bill laughed -- a big, hearty “Whoop!” — at the actors portraying a gay couple who adopted a “straight” son. 

Bill took me to lunch at a top Italian restaurant.  I loved the lasagna; but after trying a few forks of his expensive spaghetti, Bill pushed the plate away.  “Not to my taste,” he said.  Afterwards we went back to his house, where we spent many afternoons discussing all sorts of things – news events, politics, religion, books we’d read. Bill bought best sellers, which he loaned to me. 

One day I asked him, “When did you know you were gay?”

Bill said, “As long as I can remember.”

What has all this to do with education?

Bill’s family disowned him for being gay.  Bill was rich.  His partner was dead.  He was happy in his modest house with its great view.  We were good friends, but I had no need for anything but companionship. Bill found a special way to use his fortune.

Bill told me, “There are plenty of scholarships for kids  who go to college.  What we need is more plumbers and electricians.”  Bill set up a foundation.  Any graduate of an Albuquerque high school who wants to train for a job in a trade can have tuition at the Technical Vocational Institute paid for with Bill’s money.


I wish every city had someone like Bill Park.

Not every young person is born with the mental ability to succeed in college.  My grandson Joe is one of these; he wanted to become an engineer like his older brothers, but he could never pass trigonometry. He likes to build things.  He will become a valued member of our society. 

People like Joe are the backbone of our country.  Most of us do not go to college   All the clever inventions and techniques discovered by people like Thomas Edison, Henry Ford, and Steve Jobs would be useless without skillful people who learned to use their inventions. It is the hard-work of “ordinary people” which has made the U.S.A. the greatest country in the World.  

Wednesday, October 7, 2015

What I Learned in College


Thinking about my conversation with Maggi about educating our young people, I asked myself, “What is the purpose of going to college anyway?”

I went to college to prepare for a career.  My family had convinced me that I was so unattractive that no one would marry me, so I needed a way to support myself.  In college I majored in journalism.  I knew I wanted to be a writer, and it offered me a way of getting a job doing something I enjoyed.  I had no clue about how much more enriching, mentally, college would be for me.

In my journalism courses in I learned how to check facts and always look for more than one source for information.  I always look for “the story behind the story.”  The Koch brothers pay millions to convince people that climate change is not a danger and government regulations are bad.  Their purpose is to protect their right to pollute the air from their vast oil refineries.

To get my degree I also was required to take courses in government, economics, and sociology.  I found out that much of what we are told is false.  All these scare tactics about the dangers of “Socialism” are wicked propaganda.  The Scandinavian countries are “socialist democracies” in which the people pay high taxes but have the benefits of medical care for everyone and generous retirement pensions – plus all the “freedom” we have in the U.S., including democratic elections.  And surveys show that people living in those “Socialist” countries are the happiest people in the World! 

At TSCW I also took courses in the History of Art, Music Appreciation, and Religion.  They opened up whole new worlds to me.  I now get pleasure from listening to Bach symphonies and from seeing fine paintings, pastimes which were not available in Fort Worth when I was growing up there.  Fort Worth now has two excellent art museums, the Amon Carter Museum of American Art and the Kimball, a small museum with a fine collection of European paintings. In the last thirty years I also have been able to travel and see most of the great art museums in the U.S. and Europe. 

Also at college I learned a whole new way of reading the Bible.  Growing up I accepted my Baptist preacher’s reading a passage of scripture from the King James translation of the Bible and commenting on it, based on his own experience.  At the retirement community where I now live, a group of women meets every Tuesday for “Bible study” and does the same thing.  At TSCW, I took several courses taught by a wonderful woman, a Methodist and a former missionary in Japan.  I learned that Genesis I is a poem written by men who could not imagine what scientists are now discovering about the creation of the universe.  The World was not created in seven days in 6,000 B.C. .

A truly educated person knows how to read and how to analyze what is read.  I wish every young person could have the kind of education that I had. 

My brother Don trained as an engineer.  He built big buildings – skyscrapers and hospitals and schools – in cities and towns all over the U.S. and in Berlin, Germany, and Sao Paulo, Brazil.  He is proud of his successful career.  He also reads.  But he listens to Fox News and never asks, “Why are they saying this? What are the facts?  Is there a different way of thinking about this?”

Don is intelligent and an excellent engineer, but somehow he can not see the fallacy of the propaganda he receives over the internet from far-right zealots.

He is 79 years old, too old to change.  But what about young people entering college today?  Will college teach them how to make money but not how to think?

Sunday, October 4, 2015

When I Went to College


That September, Mother and Daddy loaded the trunk of the car with suitcases packed tight with all my clothes, plus a carboard box containing a set of bedspreads and draperies.  We drove 40 miles through little towns (which are now Fort Worth suburbs), taking me to Denton, Texas, to start my first year at Texas State College for Women. We called it “TSCW”.   That was almost seventy years ago. 

At Austin Hall my parents helped me move into the room in the dormitory.  Mother smoothed the striped spreads on the twin beds, while Daddy helped me hang the matching draperies.  I had seen similar sets advertised in Mademoiselle Magazine and thought my roommate would be delighted with the fashionable ensemble. 

My roommate stood scowling in the corner.  My roommate, whom I’ll call Buffy, did not like my choosing to decorate our room.  She did not like me much either.   She was a chubby gal with a round face and lanky brown hair; she did not think I was “cute enough” to date her brother, a senior at Texas A&M.  That was O.K.   During Christmas vacation I met Bob Adams who was to brighten my life for the next five years. 

The next year Buffy transferred to Sam Houston State in Huntsville, a coed school, and Emma Wright transferred from Sam Houston and became my roommate at TSCW.   Emma is brilliant. In spite of being handicapped (she is deaf), she maintained a B average in college without ever hearing a word a professor said.  She became one of my closest friends – and still is. 

Through all these years, although often separated by many miles, Emma and I nurtured our friendship through letters and getting together as often as we could.  When I returned to Texas in 2006 and bought a house in the Dallas suburb of Garland, one of my greatest pleasures with taking the train to Fort Worth to meet Emma for lunch at the Kimball Art Museum. 

Now Emma has moved to Austin to be near her son Lee and his wife.  Since she cannot talk on the phone, we communicate by e.mail.  Long e.mails tell each other how we feel about what is going on in our lives.  That is not as good as talking face to face (she reads my lips) – but it is still wonderful to hear from her frequently.

As I moved to Illinois and Michigan and Pennsylvania and New Mexico, I made other friends, most of whom never went to college.  I treasure them.  But the friends I made in college have continued supporting me through the bad times and sharing in good times.  Support I seldom got from my family.  Friends were the most valuable thing I acquired in college.  

I went to TSCW because it was the cheapest college I could find. My grandsons can not believe that when Grandma was in school, tuition at TSCW was only $25 a semester, no matter how many courses I took.  Some semesters I took 21 hours of classes each week.  Fees added another $10 each semester.  Room and board was less than $50 a month.  As for books, the college had a “book room” where, at the beginning of each semester, we checked out text books, just like checking out books at the public library.  During my entire time at TSCW, I had to buy only one book.  It was a compilation of “Modern British and American Authors” for an English literature class.  The book is out-of-date.  Lots of important writers were unknown seventy years ago.  But I still have the book!

My senior year I had a $100 scholarship from the journalism department.  After paying tuition and fees, I had money left over.  During that year I also worked twelve hours a week in the employment office.  For $25 a month!  Wages are another thing that has changed in seventy years.

But I hope that when my grandchildren are in college they find friends to last a lifetime.

Thursday, October 1, 2015

Conversation Before Lunch


While waiting for Darlene to go into the dining room for lunch, I met Maggi (not her real name), also waiting for a friend in the lobby of our retirement home.  We sat down near each other and big wing chairs, and somehow, I don’t know why, we two old women got into a heated discussion on college education. 

As if our opinions had any influence on anyone!

It started when Maggi said, “The government should not pay for anyone to go to college.  I  worked and paid for my own college; I did not get help from anyone else.”

I thought but did not say, “I wonder how many years ago she did that.”

Maggi continued by saying that today’s young people should do the same thing that she did.  “Get a job!” she insisted.

Maggi has no children or grandchildren.  My daughter and her husband paid for a their sons’ education.  Martha and Don both have high-paying jobs, so their sons did not qualify for financial aide.  I do not know how much it cost to send three boys to college – but the total must have come to hundreds of thousands of dollars.    

College tuition has ballooned out of all reason.  A young person working part-time for minimum pay can not earn enough to pay today’s tuition costs.  

The cost of tuition is sinful.  What can be done about that? 

We hear a lot from citizens who scream for “less government”, and “Let the states decide how to educate their children.”  What can local governments do to bring college costs down?  Maybe spend less on football stadiums and basketball arenas.  Less on fancy buildings, less on enormous salaries for coaches and college presidents – and more on classroom teachers.

Or maybe it is time to realize we live in a big country.  Our children are the future of our nation, no matter where they live or how much their parents earn. It is the responsibility of all of us to educate ALL our children, rich and poor, in Texas and New York and Idaho.  And if the government has to tax all of us to subsidize college for poor people?  That is an investment in our country’s future.

Maggi said, “Maybe they don’t need a college education anyway.”

Before I could say anything more, Darlene came, and we went into the dining room for lunch. 

But my conversation with Maggi gave me a lot to think about – and to write blogs about – in the next few days.  What is different from when I went to college?  What is the purpose of sending young people to college?  What about those who, for whatever reason, do not go to college?  Finally, what did I do with my college education?

You will be hearing from me.

Sunday, September 20, 2015

A Child in the 1930's Wild West


I grew up in Fort Worth, where my father worked for the First National Bank.  My father, Byron Preston Pattie, grew up in Sidney, Texas, where his parents still lived when I was little.  Daddy went to see them once a month, and sometimes he took me with him.

Mother would take me downtown to pick up Daddy on Saturday afternoon.  (In those days all office workers were required to work from eight to five from Monday through Friday and from eight until noon on Saturday.)  Daddy would be waiting on the sidewalk in front of the bank.  Then we would take Mother and my little brother Lyle home before heading for the highway.

Our “Model T” Ford chugged along on the two-lane road, full of pot holes, through the little towns of Cressen, Stephenville, and other tiny communities.  Somewhere we always seemed to have a flat tire, and Daddy would get out of the car, and hand me his suit coat.  Daddy always wore a suit with white shirt and carefully tied tie.  He hated to get dirty.  But when a tire went flat, he would roll up his sleeves, knell down, and put on the spare. 

When we came to the town of Comanche with its domed court house, county seat of Comanche County, Daddy turned right, and we went west on a sandy, unpaved road, deep in the heart of Texas.  We came to two big hills, one on either side of the road, which Daddy called “Long Mountain” and “Round Mountain.”  The car rattled on wooden runners on the iron bridge across Jimmy’s Creek, and we were in Sydney.

Entering Sydney was like stepping back into a nineteen-century pioneer community.  My Pattie grandparents were pioneers, among the first “white” people to live there when they moved to Sydney in the early nineteen-hundreds.  The Comanches Indians, for whom the town and county were named, were hunters and raiders and never made permanent settlements. 

Sydney was literally “a wide place in the road.”  The road divided in two, with a middle of the division taken by a wooden building occupied by a general store.  Years later on a return visit, I stepped inside and was amazed to see a group of old men sitting around an iron, pot-bellied wood stove, just like I’d seen in Western movies.

As we drove into town – although it seems presumptuous to call these few buildings a “town” -- across the road on the left were the low, one-story school and three churches: Baptist, Methodist, and “Campbellite”(what Daddy called the church known properly as Disciples of Christ). 

In Comanche County, Catholics were as rare as black people.  Any Negro entering the county was told to be gone before sundown.  As far as I know any black person  coming that way heeded the warning.  I heard of no lynchings.in Comanche County.  That was how these white Southerners avoided racial problems.  Of course, that does not make it right, but that was how they felt at the time.

Back to describing Sydney:  Opposite the churches, on the road to the right, were two small buildings, similar to the storage sheds advertized on today’s television.  One was the post office, the other a one-chair barber shop.  Then came the entire residential area of the town: three widely separated houses.  In the first house, behind a rough wood picket fence, was the home of my grandparents, Joe and Ada Pattie.  And this was the community where my father grew up, God-fearing, Bible-quoting, yet fiercely independent pioneers who had come to Texas in the wake of the Civil War and in the 1930's still talked about the Lost Cause of the Glorious South.  

Wednesday, September 16, 2015

I WAS BORN


Dickens began his novel “David Copperfield” with the phrase “I was born.”  It is considered a prime example of how only a genius like Dickens could begin a novel that way.  Maybe I am not a genius, but this is also how I will begin the story of my life.

I was born on Sunday, March 17, 1929, in St. Joseph’s Hospital in Fort Worth.  I have no memories of the first couple of years of my life.  All I can tell is what I’ve been told – although through the years I now look from a different perspective than when I was young.
  
“Sunday’s child is fair of face.”  Well, not me.  My brother Lyle was always telling me how ugly I was.  Lyle was only 13 months younger.  I have no memories of when I did not have a brother.

St. Joseph’s was a Catholic Hospital.  When I was a little girl, nuns wrapped up in black habits still walked quietly guiding us to visit Mother in the two weeks she spent hospitalized after Don’s birth.  I was seven years old.  I was 15 when our youngest brother, George Preston, was born in Methodist Hospital. But that is a story that will told much later.     

My family were all Baptists.  And Baptists believe that children should not be baptized until they were old enough to say they "accepted Christ as their personal Savior."  Catholics were wicked people who baptized babies.  So why was I born in a Catholic hospital?  This takes some explaining, especially about my grandmother, whom we called “Nonna.”

My grandfather, Lyle McDonald, died in the 1918 fly epidemic, leaving my grandmother as a penniless widow with two small children.  Sue Wade McDonald moved to Fort Worth to be near her sister Lena, who was married to a prosperous lawyer, George Wharton.  When Lena had to go to a tuberculosis sanitarium, Sue and her children moved in with the Wharton family to  take care of the three small girls

Lena Wade Wharton and George Wharton both died.  “Uncle George” left his estate in trust for his three daughters, Vivian, Patsy, and Georgie Sue.  As guardians he appointed his two best friends, Judge Barwise and Dr. Coffee.  (I never knew their first names.)  My grandmother stayed on as unofficial housekeeper and caregiver.   Nonna – or “Aunt Sue” as the girls called her – devoted her life to taking care of “the girls” She determined to make everyone aware of how important a role she was playing.  She dominated Mother and my life, but I will postpone telling any more about that.   

Dr. Coffee was the girls’ official guardian, so we all went to the Coffee Clinic for our health care.  Dr. Coffee was a Catholic.  And I was born in St. Joseph’s Catholic Hospital.

Since I was born on St. Patrick’s Day, the nuns at the hospital insisted I be named “Patricia”.
My Mother said, “No!  She is Pattie enough already.”

I will tell you about that Patties.

Sunday, September 6, 2015

Why I Am Writing My Autobiography


My brother, Don Pattie, is 7 ½ years younger than I am.  He is writing his autobiography.  He urges me to write my own.  I know things about our family that happened before he was born.  For one thing, I have vivid memories of our Pattie grandparents, who died when Don was a baby.

Don says, “I know your story will be very different from mine.”

Does he suspect how different?  Our lives have taken very different courses.  Don has remained a typical Texan, a follower of Fox television.  He does not believe in climate change.  He collects guns and is an enthusiastic supporter of the NRA.  I am a liberal, a member of the ACLU, a supporter of Planned Parenthood, and an advocate of gun control.

How I diverged from the path taken by Don and other members of our family will take many pages, many chapters, thousands of words. 

But please keep one thing in mind: This is an exploration of how two people with the same parents came to think so differently about many things.  It is not an attack on Don. 

When I go to visit Don and Mary in their lovely home in Garland, Texas, we sit in matching velvet-covered chairs in their living room.  Both of us are now on oxygen 24 hours a day, so we sit there with tubes in our noses, trying to breathe and talk at the same time. We keep to “safe” topics, like the number of days since Dallas has had a drop of rain and the temperature still in the high 90's in mid-September.  The house is air-conditioned, so we are quite comfortable, avoiding the heat outside and also any heated conversation.

Our parents never argued, never raised their voices.  One evening when Daddy stood up from the dinner table and threw his napkin down on the table in an angry gesture that was so astonishing that I still remember it 75 years later.

On the other hand, Don and I enjoy a good debate.  We could go on for hours.  Why did we get that way?  Are we like teenagers reacting to the repression of all emotion that we felt as children?  Or is it an inherited characteristic, an enate enjoyment in arguing?  Mother told me that our Pattie grandparents were always arguing with each other, often about obscure passages in the Bible. 

So why don’t Don and I indulge in this family pastime?  It upsets Mary.  She is like Mother; she wants to avoid any conflict, even in conversation.  And we both love Mary, just as, despite our differences, we love each other.. 

So we talk about the weather.  

But writing my autobiography gives me an opportunity to explore my own development and way of thinking.  Indulge me and read on.
   

Sunday, August 16, 2015

Mother's Quaker Ancestors


My Mother spent many days – months, years – in the genealogy section of the Fort Worth Public Library looking on the computer for documents naming ancestors who fought for America in our War for Independence.  She proudly made additions to the pin which she wore on her dresses when she attended D.A.R. functions. 

After my family moved to the Philadelphia area, my Mother wrote to me (those were the days before computers and e.mail)  that she found the names of some ancestors who lived in Pennsylvania.  Unfortunately these ancestors were Quakers. That did not add to her D.A.R. standing.  The Quakers – or more properly Society of Friends – are pacifists.  They never fought in any wars. 

Mother came to visit in our big house in Drexel Hill.  We did the usual tourists things, going to Independence Hall and seeing the Liberty Bell.  Then I decided to help her look for those Quaker ancestors. 

I took her to New Hope, PA, where she searched documents in the court house.  I stood beside her at the counter as she opened a faded brown paper, being careful not to damage the fragile 18th Century document, which seemed ready to crumble each time it was touched.  We read a contract by which an ancestor had signed an agreement to become an indentured servant and be a slave to another man for seven years.  We do not come from an important family.

On the same trip I urged Mother to let me take her to a Quaker meeting.  For those who say all the Founding Fathers were Christians, the Society of Friends avoid all association with Christian churches.  The Quakers do not have churches.  They have a “meeting houses” where they gather on the “first day” (Sunday).  I had been to a meeting at Radnor in a plain room with golden wood paneling where the Society of Friends have met since 1709.  I had found it profoundly moving to sit with others waiting for “the inner light” to show me the way I should go. But when I asked Mother to go with me on Sunday morning, she refused She said, “I don’t want to attend one of their services.” 

“But your ancestors were Quakers,” I said.  “Don’t you want to share their experience?”

“No,” she said softly but firmly, “I won’t go.”. 

At noon – too late to drive from Drexel Hill to Radnor – Mother sat with my family at lunch at the mahogany table in our formal dining room.  While I served the ham and potato salad, I said to Mother, “It is too bad that you would not go to the Quaker meeting” 

“Frankly,” Mother said, “I felt I could not keep my head bowed for that long.”

Only then did I realize that Mother had heard that Quakers did not speak during their services.  As a Baptist she assumed that they were silently praying the whole time, and Baptists pray with their heads bowed

“Mother!” I said, “During a meeting they do not bow their heads.  They just sit quietly.  I think you would have found it a lovely experience.  Not like listening to some Baptist preacher ranting for 45 minutes about the evils of playing cards and drinking alcohol”. 

Mother sat up straight and glared at me across the dining table.  She was a Baptist.  She set great store on what her pastor preached each Sunday.  She was unhappy with what I said, but she did not say anything.  She would not enter into an argument with me.  Mother always avoided conflict.  When it came to refusing to argue, my Mother was a Quaker.  

Monday, August 10, 2015

Baptists and Quakers


The other day at lunch, as we dug into the tortilla shells of our taco salads, I looked across the table.  The  old lady facing me was telling about a wonderful sermon she heard on Sunday at the First Baptist Church of Dallas.  She has been a member of that church – one of the largest Baptist churches in the U.S. – for more than 50 years.  Now it is a long drive from our retirement home in the northeast corner of Dallas.  She still drives herself there every Sunday morning, negotiating heavy traffic on the freeway in order to hear the much-admired pastor’s harangues.  .

When I was a child the pastor of College Avenue Baptist Church in Fort Worth preached against drinking alcohol, dancing, and playing cards.  “A deck of cards is the Devil’s prayer book.”  By the time I was in junior high I realized those prohibitions were just plain silly.  I loved to dance.  I enjoyed bridge games with my friends; I still do.  Margaritas are delicious. I regret that the medication I take prevents me from drinking any alcohol.  But I do not think a person who relaxes with Scotch in the evening is committing a mortal sin.

The lady who sat across from me at lunch never learned to play bridge.  But I noticed that she had a small glass of wine with supper.  I did not ask this Bible-quoting Christian if her excuse was that Jesus passed around the cup of wine at the Last Supper. When the Baptists celebrate the Last Supper, these people, who claim to base everything on the Bible, pass around trays of tiny glasses filled with grape juice.  

I did not dispute any of her beliefs.  She is too old.  I did not want to upset her, although I sat there thinking that her pastor at First Baptist Church in Dallas is an evil man.  His pronouncements are much worse than my childhood’s experience. 

Every Sunday he preaches against a number of things.  He is against gay marriage: “Marriage should be between one man and one woman.”  Abortion kills babies.  Every word of the Bible is true.  The World was created by God in six days in 6,000 B.C.  Evolution is something that some silly “philosophers” dreamed up. Texas schools must teach “creationism”. All scientists are to be distrusted.  Global warming is not happening; it is something Al Gore promotes to make money.

Isn’t it surprising that in the year 2014 some people still believe such nonsense?

Another of their dangerous beliefs is that “The Founding Fathers established our country as a Christian nation.”

Many of the Founding Fathers were not Christians.  Thomas Jefferson made a thorough study of the Bible and then rejected all the myths and fables he found there.  He deliberately made sure that the word “God” is not anywhere in the Declaration of Independence.  Instead, our rights come from a vague “Creator.” 

Some of the Founding Fathers were Quakers.  They refuse to be called a religion.  They are the Society of Friends.  They are Pacifists, who refuse to fight in our wars.  But they are always there to help people in need – and they never ask others about religious affiliation when dispensing charity.  I first heard about them after World War II, when the American Friends Service Committee did heroic work aiding people displaced by the war.  The Quakers and the Mennonites were the first to rush to help the people of New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina.   

I will have a lot more to say about the Quakers.  More than I can publish in one blog.  Look for it in the weeks ahead.  They are not Christians, but they are admirable people.

Sunday, August 2, 2015

The D.A.R.lings


My Mother and grandmother were proud members of the Daughters of the American Revolution.  My grandmother (we called her “Nonna”) was “regent” (president) of the Fort Worth Chapter of the D.A.R. 

My grandmother assembled the genealogy which, as a descendent of a man who fought for our independence in the American Revolution, enabled her to become a member of the D.A.R.  I wondered how much was accurate and how much was manufactured by some “expert” who collected a fee for providing the “proof” Nonna needed. 

To me these were merely lines on a piece of paper.  I knew nothing about these people.

After Nonna died, Mother became regent of the D.A.R.’s Fort Worth Chapter and expanded her role in the organization by becoming an officer in state D.A.R. in Texas.  She enjoyed going to conventions, where to attend banquets she dressed up in long gowns like a girl in a beauty contest. She looked pretty in her fancy dress and with a youthful face beneath a halo of curls.  Her strawberry blond hair never turned gray, even in her 80's. 

There were two other D.A.R. chapters in Fort Worth.  The Mary Isham Keith Chapter was the largest and more fashionable.  Mother and Nonna did not have much to do with them.  They had friends in the Six Flags Chapter which, as the name indicates, had close affiliation with Texas history.  Mother and Nonna were also members of the D.R.T. (Daughters of the Republic of Texas), although not officers.  Nonna was especially proud to be a member of U.D.C.  (United Daughters of the Confederacy), since her father fought for the Glorious South in the Civil War.

After Wally was transferred to Dallas in 1966, I joined the Dallas chapter of the D.A.R. but dropped out after the ladies listened with rapt approval to a guest lecturer who spouted conspiracy theories of the Kennedy assassination.  She vilified Ruth Payne.  “She had a Russian typewriter.” the woman said, as if that were a crime.  The D.A.R.lings applauded her talk enthusiastically, believing every word.  I left the D.A.R. that day and never returned.

The media described Ruth as “Marina Oswald’s landlady.”  I guess they did not know how to categorize her.  I knew Ruth as a Quaker who opposed all violence.  The last thing Ruth would have wanted was a rifle hidden in her garage.

Not much older than Marina, from the goodness of her heart Ruth had taken Marina in and provided a home for Marina and her babies.  Instead of taking money, as a “landlady” would have done, Ruth provided everything for Lee Oswald’s wife and children.  Ruth had compassion for this young woman who was stranded in a foreign country with an abusive husband.  

How did I know Ruth Payne?  We both lived in Irving, and we were both members of the League of Women Voters, an organization I preferred to the D.A.R.  I never joined the D.R.T. or the U.D.C. 

Mother also did not join the U.D.C.   She never forgave the Yankees who burned houses in their march across Geogia.  I guess that can be called “Gone With the Wind Syndrome.”  When Mother learned that her great-grandfather was one of those Damned Yankees, she conveniently forgot that ancestor.  Why didn’t she join the U.D.C.?   I will never know.  

My brother, George Preston Pattie, remained an unreconstructed Southerner like our grandmother.  He even said he wanted to be buried with a Confederate flag on his coffin.  This in spite of serving in the U.S. Air Force.  During his two tours in Vietnam he serviced planes returning from missions spraying poison on the forests.  He was exposed to agent orange, which probably caused leukemia.  He died at age 65 -- without the Confederate flag.



Friday, July 24, 2015

Wagons West


My Wade ancestors were true pioneers.  They came to Texas in a covered wagon.  It is easy to imagine their trek in wagon train as I saw it in a dozen movies: a brave leader raising his rifle to point the way westward followed by a long line of wagons, their immaculate white tops like a row of cumulus clouds, the kind that float across the Texas sky in summer, pure white without bringing any rain.  Horses strained to pull the wagons.  The wagons themselves are portrayed as a kind of early version of a camper-trailer with room inside for couples to sit and talk – or do other things.

Life is not like the movies.  Horses were for riding.  Wagons were pulled by oxen, who moved slowly, very slowly, laboring under the weight of wagons loaded high with household goods plus items the settlers hoped to trade with the Indians.  They did more trading than fighting.

Someone drove the oxen, keeping them on the track westward.  The drover did not sit on the wagon but walked beside the oxen, urging them forward.  Women and children also had to walk every foot of the journey.  They helped to herd cows and sheep, as many as the family could afford to bring.  At least they only tried to go a few miles each day.

At sundown the wagons would stop.  A fire would be lighted so that the women could cook supper.  The meal was always something simple that could be fried in a skillet or boiled in a pot. 
My grandmother and my mother both considered themselves good cooks.  The truth is they were masters of the iron skillet and the big pot school of culinary arts.  Like their pioneer ancestors, they knew no other kind of cooking For each meal my mother cooked meat, usually pork chops or “chicken-fried” steak, fried in her grandmother’s iron skillet.  On Sunday she boiled vegetables in three big pots.  Then for the next week she would serve us the same vegies as leftovers every night.  Eventually my father refused to eat any more carrots.  By the time I was five years old I’d eaten enough black-eyed peas to last me the rest of my life.  .

I can see the influence of my pioneer ancestors in other ways.  My brothers  were all Southern Baptists.  All three owned guns.  Don has a collection of a dozen rifles and is a passionate member of the NRA   He is ready to defend his homestead against an attract by wild savages. 

And me?  I’ve strayed.  What happened to make me take a different path?  That’s the story of my life.  Education.  Further study.  Experience.  I lived in five states and traveled to foreign countries.  I went to Europe many times, once to China and Thailand, twice to Russia. 

A fifth-generation Texan, I married twice, both times to first-generation Americans.  Wally’s parents were Danes who emigrated to Chicago.  John’s parents came as teenagers from Poland to Pittsburgh. This gave me an understanding – and appreciation – of other ethnic groups.

Bur before I can write about Wally and John, I have a lot more to tell about growing up in Texas.

Sunday, July 19, 2015

Rockwall, Texas


My ancestors were true pioneers.  The Wades came in a covered wagon from Missouri to establish farms and lay out a town, the first in this part of North Texas.  There were still buffalo and Comanche Indians roaming around where the skyscrapers of Dallas now stand guard over one of the largest cities in the U.S.   I was born in Fort Worth and grew up there, but my roots were 20 miles east of Dallas in the small town of Rockwall. .

A few years ago I was a member of a writer’s group which met at the senior center in Garland.  One day a man read a piece on the establishment of Rockwall which he had “researched” on the internet.  He wrote about the “rock wall” which was the basis of the name of the town.  Every “fact” in his paper was incorrect. 

This man was always writing pieces attacking someone or something.  Previously I had been incensed by his essays claiming all Muslims were terrorists and another in which he claimed President Obama was a secret Muslim planning to overthrow the government and turn the U.S. into a Muslim caliphate. 

I learned from others that he had tried to be a fundamentalist Protestant preacher and had failed to obtain a following.  He was bitter and frustrated and vented his anger by grabbing any excuse or false rumor to attack other people and organizations.  His paper on Rockwall was a diatribe against geologists and archeologists for “not properly investigating” the rock wall.  I was outraged when he quoted my Mother as saying she went through a hole in the wall and discovered a series of rooms, a settlement built by pre-historic Indians.  Mother never said any such thing!  My brother Don, who disagrees with me on many things, agrees with me: The man’s quotation from Mother was a lie.

This is what I know about the naming of Rockwall:

When my great-great-grandparents, Grandpa and Grandma Wade, arrived in North Texas, they unloaded their covered wagons on a hilltop overlooking the east fork of the Trinity River and decided to lay out a town.  Another family, whose name I forget, joined them in this project, all of them envisioning the beginning of a great new city.

There was a dispute with the other family over what to name the settlement. Each wanted the town named after his family.  Wadesville and whatever.

Despite their disagreement over the name of the town, Terry Wade and a man from the other family agreed to work together to dig a well.  After digging through several feet of thick black top soil their shovels struck a massive rock formation.  Those early well-diggers thought they had discovered a wall built by pre-historic Indians.  The two families decided to compromise and call their town “Rockwall.” 

As a child, when we went to Rockwall to visit my grandmother’s sister, Aunt Lou, we passed Cousin May’s place on the highway with a sign in front saying, “See the Rock Wall.”   Once we stopped to visit Cousin May, and her husband let me go in for free since a I was a relative.  Usually he charged 10 cents for visitors to go down the steep steps, smelling of mildew, like going down into my Grandmother Pattie’s backyard fruit storage and storm cellar (Remember The Wizard of Oz). Far underground I saw a section of rock that truly looked like a man-built wall of neatly stacked oblong shaped blocks of stone. .

Geologists say it is a natural formation with layers of stone with cracks that look like a man-built walls.  I saw similar formations in cliffs in New Mexico.  I was still learning things when I was 55 years old – and am still discovering new ideas in my 80's.   

On that hill overlooking a branch of the Trinity River, Rockwall remained a small town, while 20 miles to the west on a hill overlooking another branch of the Trinity, James Neely Bryan laid out the town he called Dallas.  No one has explained to me why Rockwall remained small while Dallas expanded like a balloon, quadrupling in size within my own memory.  Below Rockwall the Trinity has become damned to become Lake Ray Hubbard, and Rockwall is a suburb of Dallas where Realtors advertise lakeshore lots with a view of the distant Dallas skyline.

Thursday, July 9, 2015

Rockwall, Texas; Rockwall, Texas


The banner headline across the top of the real estate section of the Dallas Morning News proclaimed:  “Rockwall/Heath known as one of Dallas’ ‘best-kept secrets”. 

Let’s ignore how something that is ‘known’ can not be a secret. .  The article turns out to be a puff piece for a real estate developer promoting his project where “The residents of Rockwall and Heath love living lakeside and the relaxing lifestyle that is offered only 20 to 25 minutes outside of Dallas’ hustle and bustle.”

I was surprised to read that Rockwall County, “the third wealthiest county in Texas”, is also one of the fastest growing areas in the state and country,    Quite a contrast from the 1930's when Mother and my grandmother took me from Fort Worth to Rockwall to visit my grandmother’s sister, “Aunt Lou”.  As a child I was bored, as wedged in the back seat between my cousins, the car drove slowly on the two-lane highway through the little towns of Arlington and Grand Prairie.  We crossed Dallas on city streets, then saw cotton fields on both sides of the road. 

My grandmother, whom we called “Nonna”, would wave an arm to a hillside on the right and say, “That’s Rowlett over there.”  The “town” consisted of three or four buildings.  The surrounding farms were reputed to be one of the few predominately Catholic communities in North Texas.  It was taken for granted that most people were Baptists. 

The old center of Garland, where I first lived when I returned to Texas in 2006, was not even on the highway.  There was a gasoline filling station and a hamburger stand where we sometimes stopped on the way home. 

Today those towns, each with over 100,000 people, are welded together in one vast urban complex.  Bordered on both sides of the six-lane road are fast food restaurants and shopping malls.  There is nothing to indicate the city limits between towns. 

As a child, I seem to remember a single traffic light on the highway at Arlington.  Off to the left was a race track standing derelict after the Texas legislature banned gambling.  Today the state permits betting on horses, the ponies race at a track in Grand Prairie.  Crossing Dallas County are two interstate highways, I30 and I-20.  Traffic is horrible, especially bad on I30 at Arlington, site of Six Flags Over Texas with its giant rollercosters, and also that monstrous stadium where the Dallas Cowboys bash other teams in football.

Rockwall has not caught up.  The Dallas Morning News says the “fastest growing area in the country” consists of the “city” of Rockwall with 40,000 people, while Heath, “a bedroom community of Rockwall”, has 8,000 residents. 

Those lakeside lots which the realtor is promoting are on Lake Ray Hubbard, which was not there when I was a child. We would come down off a little hill into a valley where the Trinity River flowed sluggishly.  Beyond was a high hill on which we could barely make out the dome of the old court house. 

“There’s Rockwall,” said my grandmother. 
“Where’s Aunt Lou?” I asked.
“Don’t you see her?” said my precocious cousin Pat.  “She’s standing on the front porch waving her apron at us.” 

I knew she was teasing me.  My cousins always treated me as if I were slightly retarded.  But why do I remember that particular remark? 

Today Pat is an old lady, 97 years old, living in a retirement home in South Dakota.  We talk on the phone now and then.  Our attitudes towards each other have changed.

When I was a child, the trip from Fort Worth to Rockwall took all day.  We always stayed for several days with Aunt Lou and Uncle Lon in their little Victorian house a few blocks from the court house. 

After grandmother died, we took her back from Fort Worth to Rockwall on Interstate 20.  The trip from Fort Worth to the old cemetery in Rockwall cemetery on I20 took less than an hour. 

We buried Nonna next to her husband, Lyle McDonald.  He died in the 1918 flu epidemic.  She had been a widow for more than 60 years.  Nearby are the graves of were her parents,  “Grandpa” and “Grandma” Wade.  (I did not know them by any other names.)  In the same plot are my grandfather’s parents and also three little graves of my grandmother’s little brothers, who all died in infancy before she was born – mute testimony to those days when infant mortality was frequent.  Many things have changed, but my roots grow deep in Rockwall, Texas.

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

I Always Eat Dessert


This week’s TIME magazine has.a long section on aging.  “How to Live to 147.”  It said I could add years to my life by proper diet and exercise.  Then I picked up the current issue of The Week and found a special report on retirement. 

All this information is too late for me.  I am already old.  Next month I will be 87.  I  “retired” when I was 54.  I never expected to live this long.  I had breast cancer.  When the doctor came in after the mastectomy and told me the cancer had spread to the lymph nodes, I thought it was a death sentence.  That was 25 years ago, and I am still here.  Seven years ago I was told I had “end stage kidney disease.”  That made me reevaluate how I wanted to spend the time I have left. 

Some things can not be avoided.  I have been on dialysis for six years. I am used to sitting in a recliner three days each week with my left arm attached to that machine.  That’s when I read magazines.  I can not travel any more.  I make the most of every Tuesday, Thursday, Saturday, and Sunday.

All that advice about proper diet can be tossed out as it applies to me.  Because of the kidneys I must avoid high potassium foods.  That means no potatoes, no beans, no fresh fruit.  The only vegetables that are low in potassium are lettuce, cucumbers, eggplant, and green beans.  I was told to eat white bread and avoid whole wheat.  I should not eat avocados or asparagus, but sometimes I cheat.  I am not diabetic.  I always eat dessert.  

As for exercise, in this new place where I live my apartment is such long way from the dining room that I take a walk every time I go to lunch or supper.  I march along on my own two legs.  I don’t use a walker -- not yet.

I live in a retirement home with other old people.  Everyone has some sort of health problem. 
People must face the truth: bodies wear out.  The lucky ones are those who may be creeping about with a walker or zipping along in an electric wheelchair but whose minds are still alert.  It frightened me when I could not remember names, but my psychiatrist said it was all right if I remembered later. .

Here’s what I want to tell to young people: Take care of your health and you will grow old.  And when you are old you will have lots of aches and pains.  You will have arthritis and cataracts and become hard of hearing.  Then you will take pain killers, get artificial lenses in your eyes, and pay a fortune for hearing aids to put in your ears. 

And life will still be good.  I always eat dessert.

Thursday, February 5, 2015

My Life as a Writer


I know old people who retired and then decided to write a novel.  They have been reading books for years, so it should be a simple thing to write a murder mystery or a romance novel.   They are amateurs.  l am NOT one of those.

I published my first short story in the school paper when I was in junior high.  In high school my journalism teacher saw a story I had written and published three installments in the school newspaper.  Neither of these was a good piece of writing, but I did not realize it at the time.  All I knew was that I was a writer.

At Texas State College for Women I majored journalism.  I also took a course in “creative writing” in which I wrote short stories that, again, were published by the school in its “literary” quarterly. Mamie Walker, our creative writing teacher said,  “Ilene thinks of the whole life of her characters.”  I knew then that short stories would not work for me.  I wanted to write novels.

After graduation I worked for the Fort Worth Press, writing reports on weddings and women’s clubs.  I wrote feature stories on local women, always interested in how background and experiences shaped their lives. But I did not want to do this for the rest of my life.  I enrolled in a course in “Modern Drama” at TCU.  Also in the class was Wallace Gaarsoe, a young airman stationed at Carswell Air Force Base who was trying to complete his sophomore year of college. He persuaded me to marry him and go to Chicago where I was to work and help him obtain his degrees.

First I worked as a secretary in the Chicago office of The Billboard, the entertainment weekly.  A fun place to work but my boss told me bluntly, “The Billboard has never had a woman reporter.”   Then I found a job at Retailing Daily, where I reported on lamp manufacturers, curtains and drapery retailers, and got to go to the semi-annual furniture markets at Joseph Kennedy’s Merchandise Mart.

My career came to a halt when I became pregnant with Karl.  I became a stay-at-home housewife and mother.  While pregnant with Martha I completed a long novel about a group of women growing up together who all had very different lives.  Wally was furious when he found out I spent time typing instead of scrubbing floors.  The novel went into a box on the closet shelf.  For years all the writing I did was letters to my mother and Sally. 

At last my three children were all in school.  I wrote a second long novel.  I sent the manuscript to Simon and Schuester, who kept it six months then sent it back with a printed note, “We only consider books submitted by agents.”  I spent the next year trying to find an agent.  They all said, “We only handle published authors.”   That novel went up on the closet shelf, too.

Wally and I were divorced.  I went to New Mexico where I participated in a play-writing seminar at the University of New Mexico.  I also met Joan Leslie Woodruff, who has had 13 books published and who assured me “You are a real writer.”  I wrote a novel, “The Baglady with the BMW”, based on my experiences during the difficult years when I was suing Wally for support.  I could not find a publisher who would look at it.

Today I have boxes and boxes of manuscripts, boxes I’ve moved from a house in Illinois to apartments and a house in New Mexico and on to a house in Garland, Texas, and to two retirement homes. 

My son David said, “Mom, you need to get published.”  He set up the blog, where I have been venting my opinions for the past seven years.  I often wrote about my travels.  One of my most loyal “followers” is my grandson, Doug Schumann.  He said, “Grandma, let’s publish your blogs as a book.”   With his encouragement I put together a story based on the trip I made to Europe with David when he was a little, thirteen-year-old kid. 

“Mama Goes to Paris” is almost ready for publication.  Will anyone buy it?  For me it will be the satisfaction of finally seeing one of my books in print.   

Sunday, February 1, 2015

Doubts and Determination


My editor e.mailed me the final version of “Mama Goes to Paris”.  I am filled with dread.  I invested a lot of time and money in this project.  What if the book is not as good as I think it is?

All of us go through times when we are assailed with doubt and uncertainty.  I remind myself of other times when my situation was so awful that I became so depressed that I considered suicide.  The only thing that kept me alive was knowing how happy Wally would be if I were dead.

I had no premonition of the many years of happy times that lay ahead for me.

Back in the 1980's I went through a horrible time.  Unable to work (I went really crazy after menopause) I asked Wally for enough money to live on.  He refused and cut off all communication with me.  He even sued me for harassment.  This man I loved for 30 years came into court and on the witness stand swore it upset his second wife to find mail from me in their mail box.  The “mail” consisted of a birthday card and a “Happy Father’s Day” card I sent to the father of our children.

I had moved to New Mexico, where I had lots of fun, and returned to Illinois to sue him for support.  I did not have enough money to rent an apartment in Downers Grove.  For three years I depended on friends to have a place to sleep. When I could not bare to ask my friends to do any more, I went to a shelter for the homeless.  That’s when Martha and Don reluctantly let me come to stay with them.  They were newlyweds, and it was a difficult situation for the three of us.

I could have given up and gone to New Mexico to live on welfare.  Instead, I found ways to make life as enjoyable as possible.  I bought an annual pass to the Morton Arboretum where I hiked in the woods in all seasons.  How gorgeous were the daffodils in the spring!

Another time I spent my last $1.50 on a coke to meet Nancy at a singles at a bar where Parents Without Partners was having a mid-week break.  Nancy did not show up, but that was the night I met John Durkalski.  What I worried about (i.e. dying of hunger and lack of medical care) turned out totally different.  I never dreamed such a fine man would take on the responsibility of crazy, mixed-up, unattractive me.  John and I married and had four gloriously happy years.  Too brief, yes, but wonderful. 

Even after death John took care of me.  I am financially secure.  His money is paying for publication of  “Mama Goes to Paris.”   If no one reads it, I will still enjoy holding in my hands my own, published book.

Sunday, January 11, 2015

Let It Snow, Let It Snow


Throughout the U.S., even in Texas, the weather is bitter cold.  I am holed up in my apartment, unable to install an new ink cartridge in the printer David bought for me at Thanksgiving. Frustrating.

I want to write letters to various organizations to tell them to quit filling  my recycling bin with their pitiful pleas for money.  I am careful about how I spend my limited funds.  Mine go to Planned Parenthood, the ACLU, and the Texas Food Bank. I also want to write to the Texas Democratic Party to tell them they will not get any money from me as they are totally incompetent.  But without a printer, I can not send out any letters.  Maybe no one will read them anyway.

So I will write a blog.  I can post it without using the printer.  As I begin this new series of blogs I will continue to comment on current events, relating what is happening today to my memories and experiences.  Also, my son David also wants me to write family history to tell him what happened before he was born.

First, I will begin with what television news showed about the big storm up North.  I lived in Michigan and Illinois.  I remember many dreadful winters. 

The television showed pictures of trucks and cars wrecked in a huge pileup during a snow storm in Michigan.  When we lived in the Detroit suburbs, Wally used to travel that highway on business trips to Grand Rapids.  He was there when the state was buried in a sudden 12-inch blizzard.  Believing he could not get home that night, I gave the kids hot dogs for supper and settled down for a quiet evening.  At 7:00 p.m. Wally walked in the front door. 

He said, “I followed the snow plow all the way from Grand Rapids.  No problems until I got home.  The snow plot has tossed up a mountain of snow at the end of our driveway.  I just came in to get the shovel, so I can clear the drive and get the car off the street in front of our house.”   

My daughter and her family still live in the Chicago suburbs.  For work she rides the train into the Chicago Loop, then walks a quarter of mile to her office. 

“Why don’t you take a taxi?” I asked her. 
“Mom!” she said, “There is a long line waiting in the cold for a taxi.  I can walk across the Loop quicker than I could get a taxi.”

The high today in Chicago is 18 degrees.  Makes 35 degrees in Dallas seem balmy.  But don’t tell Texans it isn’t cold here.  Like many things in life, how we feel and react to things depends on our personal experiences.  If a person has never gone through a Northern winter, then 35 degrees feels bitter cold.

P.S.  Even though I know 35 degrees is not really cold, I am not going out today.  Why should I?  All I need is right here in the elegant retirement home where I live. 

Thursday, January 8, 2015

Choices, Choices


I make choices.  Things  I must do.  Things I ought to do.  Things I want to do.  Sometimes the choices are hard, especially when there is conflict between what I ought to do and what I want to do.  At times the best choice is to do nothing.

This morning the radio woke me at 6:50 a.m.  That gives me 10 minutes to before hauling myself out of bed at 7:00 to wash my face.   Three days a week I have no choice.  I must get up early to cook my two eggs and do chores before going to dialysis. 

Today was different.  I took off the CPAP.  (I sleep with that mask on my face because of sleep apnea.)   Then I pulled the covers up under my chin and listened to classical music coming from the radio on the dresser, letting my thoughts drift.  The radio played a Schumann symphony.  My daughter is Martha Schumann, but I found myself daydreaming about other things.  I was awake but lethargic.  I pulled myself out of bed at 8:30, then sat around drinking tea in my fleece robe until 10.  Finally showered and dressed by 11:00 

Why not?  For the first time in months, there was nothing I had to do today. 

It has been a hectic time.  Martha came for a week at Thanksgiving and brought all her family.  She drove down from Chicago to Dallas with sons Doug and Richard.  Husband Don and youngest son J. J. flew in and out in Don’s plane.  David and his son Adam came from California on commercial flights, which meant trips to Love Field to pick them up and take them back three days later. 

I enjoyed seeing all of them, but their visit left me exhausted.  I finally got the sheets washed and found most of the things that Martha put away when Karl arrived for Christmas.  We went to IKEA and I bought another bookcase, which he put together.  I am grateful that he is no longer angry for making him move out of my house (at age 50!), but he brings tension as soon as he walks in.

After committing myself to a publisher, I had a lot of work to do on  “Mama Goes to Paris.”  As of this week, my editor is sending me a sample of what the book will look like in print.

Today there was nothing I had to do.  I became a lazy old woman.  It is mid-afternoon and I have not made my bed.  Dirty dishes in the sink. It would take only two minutes to put them in the dishwasher.  I have not done it.  So?

At the retirement home where I live, we visit with each other at meals.  Otherwise, we respect each other’s privacy.  No one is likely to enter my apartment until the “housekeeper” comes to mess around with her feather duster next Tuesday.  The question: How long will I choose to look at the mess?

Choices, choices.  Never thought I would live to see the year 2015.  There is nothing I can do about terrorists in Paris or Republicans in Congress.  My New Year’s resolution is to post more blogs.  But Warning!  Instead, I may choose to sit in my recliner and watch Wheel of Fortune.
  
Today I relaxed.  What bliss!