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.