Thursday, December 20, 2007

Topsy Turvy World

What a topsy turvy world we are living in. Here in Missouri’s wine country on Dec. 5th my husband and I were out Christmas shopping in our shirt sleeves and snapped the attached photo of a geranium still in full bloom planted next to a tree with its trunk wrapped in Christmas lights.

Several days later we awoke to find everything coated in a thick coat of ice and feeling as if we had been transplanted into the Ice Castle scene in the Chronicles of Narnia.

Before the week was out we were shoveling several inches of snow from our driveway and watching the geese walk across the frozen lake near our home.

What unusual weather we are having this year but we were among the lucky ones. Many of the good folks in our area were spending several days without electricity or unable to travel the steep hills that abound in our small town causing them to be housebound.

I am not a winter person by a long shot and would prefer to be able to live in a climate that does not require wearing a coat. But, I have to admit that I am enjoying this weather because of my Frank. After 40 years of living in southern California he is like a kid in a candy store. His excitement is sure catching and I am finding it fun to see it all through his eyes.

I overheard him telling the cable installer that he had done something that day that he had never done before in his life. When ask what he replied “shovel snow.” Frank has not been without the camera and is constantly snapping photographs to send to his grandchildren back in California that have never seen snow or ice. He has captured everything from the squirrel’s robbing the bird feeder to the sunsets over the frozen lake.

A month ago Frank was reluctant to go shopping for cold weather clothing and after much urging finally agreed to purchase a winter coat and gloves and now I believe he is wishing that he had also gotten a hat and boots as well. He is such a dear that he came home the other day with a new pair of boots for me but has yet to get them for himself.

As a retired navel officer Frank has had to spend many Christmas seasons away from home and apparently the ones that were spent at home in California just did not have the same excitement that the weather is giving to this holiday season. Plus, I suspect I am more prone to overdo the decorating and fussing than he is used to. I have always gone a bit overboard for the holidays and while he has been a real trooper and pitched in and helped with everything I don’t think he started to enjoy it all until the snow came.

We have spent evenings driving the neighborhoods checking out all the lights and counting the number of nativity scenes set up in the yards with Frank giving a running commentary on how it is all so different in sunny California. I have found it all very educational and extremely exciting. And, just maybe I have worked a little harder at putting things together this year to assure that Frank’s first Christmas here, and our first together will be his best ever.

I wish all of you out there a Christmas as wonderful as the one I am having this year.

Today is January 6th and I want to add a postscript on this crazy weather we are having here in Missouri. Today the temperature got into the low seventies and so Frank and I like most everyone else in town spent the day outdoors.

At one point we walked around our new yard checking things out and discussing plans for the gardening we wanted to do come spring and were overwhelmed to discover all is not as it should be around our new house. First, the grass is much too green for January and we found a dandelion blooming in the front yard. Then we discovered what appears to be tulips poking leafy green sprouts about 3 inches above the soil around the back wall. Next, I discovered a spider plant that had been left sitting in the corner of the patio under the decking and it not only has survived it looks quite healthy and is putting out new baby shoots.

Who would suspect that signs of spring could be found here in Missouri in January. Simply amazing. Perhaps Frank was right when he said he planned to bring the best of California to Missouri with him.

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Disposing of Christmas’s Past

I’m sure that every person who celebrates Christmas with a gift exchange has at least once been the recipient of some white elephant. If you are like me you probably have a long list of things that came from a friend or relative who would feel hurt if they knew you had passed on or disposed of their wonderful gift.

I will admit confessing to more than one unfortunate accident or lost item as a way of explaining why I was not using Aunt Sadie’s hula dancing hippo figurine or that purple enameled seagull brooch swallowing a large blue tuna from my best friend. But, that is not what this missive is all about.

My husband and I recently purchased our first house together and I have been unpacking items that have been in storage for many years. My dear Frank has been overwhelmed by the sheer number and variety of items I have accumulated. I have tried, without much success, to shrink the amount of plunder I have collected during the past forty years. It seems that many of the items I must make a decision about are past Christmas gifts and that brings me to the topic of this post.

Over the last couple of days I have been unpacking lots of large plastic totes filled with the decorations of decades of Christmas past. Every item has a story and most important, memories. Among boxes of childish school and scouting craft gifts are ornaments of walnut shells covered in more glue than glitter, with bits of yarn tied into uneven bows. There are Candy Canes made of rainbow hued beads strung on pipe cleaners. The creator of these jewels is now 37 yrs. old and collecting her own set of offspring treasures. When is it okay to let these gems go missing?

There is the moth eaten fur stole my Father acquired second or third hand and gave to me for Christmas 1963. He was so proud of that gift he requested I wear it to Midnight Mass every Christmas until the animal rights folks started screaming some fifteen years later. My Dad has been gone for years but I just can’t find it in my heart to get rid of that ratty old fur. Another clear tote contains what appears to be a mass of red tulle. It is in fact a very red Christmas tree made of nylon netting and covered in gold balls with a dove as the topper. The netting is limp and torn, the ornaments tarnished and the dove has gone from white to a battleship gray. It has been taken apart many times and washed, starched and shined but has finally reached the point where no amount of work will salvage it. Yet I can’t seem to toss it out. That poor pathetic looking tree was lovingly made for me by two seventeen year old friends who were high school sweethearts (now married 35 years) and given to me to decorate my bedside table during an extended stay in the hospital one December. That tree was displayed in a place of honor for many years as a memorial to my first born son who was born and died during that Christmas season of 1967.

If you dig deep enough into my moving boxes, you will find a small bottle of Lancer’s Rosé sitting in its own hand crocheted patchwork Christmas stocking; a handmade silky blue prom dress, the wedding gown I wore at my wedding in August of 1966, and even several boxes of personal items that belonged to my long deceased first husband. All of these items are well past their prime, have no current use or monetary value and certainly lost their luster decades ago; yet I continue to tote them around and take up valuable storage space with them.

I have a new husband, a new house and a very happy and exciting new life yet I find I am having a hard time parting with all the baggage (literally) that accumulated from my old life. Regardless, it is time to shed all those extra pounds of worthless plunder so I am boxing it up but I will find someone else to decide how to dispose of it all.

For all of you who gifted me with this mountain of boxes; please know that your items were appreciated, loved and had a good life, but now it is time for them to go the way of all good things. Your love and support will remain in my heart always and never be forgotten. But, it does feel good to lose a hundred and fifty pounds overnight.

Friday, December 14, 2007

When all good things fail

No, I did not fall off the face of the earth. No I have not been on a trip around the world. And, No I have not been intentionally ignoring my blog. But I have been disconnected from a way to post to this cyber medium for quite some time now.

It is one of those “good news” “bad news” stories I have to tell today. The good news is that our house hunt is finally over. As reported in my last post we found an adorable little house on the west side of town and we are now almost settled into our cozy bungalow. The better news is that a buyer for our tiny condo almost fell from the sky into our laps and tied up all our loose ends into a nice holiday package. The bad news is that our wireless router went out and left us without internet service in the condo two weeks before the scheduled move and we elected not to fix it since we were planning to change our internet provider at the new house. Plus all the packing and fix-ups at both properties would keep us too busy to use it anyway. Then we ran into a list of problems and screw-ups with the new company long enough to fill the Sunday Times. As I write this, we still are fighting to get the new service connected at the house. We have been told that hopefully today will be the magic day. Only time will tell, so I am trying to have this ready and waiting in the event a miracle does happen.

I would love to go into all the gory details of the many errors made by our big name service provider but I am afraid that it would only cause us to get disconnected (assuming we ever do get connected, that is) if they were to come across my bad mouthing them in print. They are so large they do not need our business and have been such jackasses during this whole process that I don’t want to rock the boat. I am sure by now you are asking why we did not give up and go to another carrier. That is part of the story as well. We have actually been working with two providers and it has come down to whichever gets us hooked up and working properly first will be the one we stay with. The other will get a call to cancel their install. It is sure a shame the way big business has taken service and pride of work out of their formulas for success, but that is another kettle of smelly fish I do not have time to fry.

Much has happened over the last 8 weeks and I hope to bring you all up to date as soon as possible but it may be some time as I still have boxes to unpack and the holidays to prepare for. Actually, we have been without both our television and our internet and that has probably been a blessing. Without any distractions from those two fronts we have had no reason to do anything but work on getting our house in order and are much farther along than we would have been otherwise. But, I look forward to being able to take a break and play a game online or just read my email without taking a trip to a cyber café.

Wow!!!! You are reading this. That means that I must be back on line.

Thank you all for your concern and inquiries as to my absence.

Friday, November 09, 2007

Bittersweet Days

If you are a Chocolate lover, like me, then I’m sure that you have sampled your share of everything from those rich, creamy, sweet European delights; you know the kind I mean, those white and milk chocolates in fancy shapes like sea shells that you can only afford to buy on the 75% off after Christmas sales, to those semi sweet to very tart dark chocolates that can be as much as 80% Cacao.

Well, Forrest Gump’s mama was certainly right; sometimes life is like that box of chocolates. It can be rich and sweet one minute and bittersweet the next. A few days ago I posted about how blessed my life is at present. While that is all very true, there is some bittersweet mixed into these days as well. It is hard for me to have things going well without getting caught up reflecting on the not so well times in the very recent past.

Yesterday, was one of those blue days when the past and the present where destined to collide in a bone mashing head butt. November Fifth is the anniversary date of my first husband Tim’s birthday. Actually, to be truly honest, the whole of last week had reoccurring moments of bittersweet walks down memory lane. One of Tim’s brothers was born on Halloween day and another on Nov. 1st. So every year I would host a birthday dinner for the three of them during that week. Birthdays were not celebrated in their family until I came along and started making the usual Knight fuss over the occasions; so each year the three brothers took on a childlike quality with the anticipation of what surprises I would spring at their party. It meant so much to them that I was continually trying to top the year before, and I am not sure who enjoyed it the most, me or them. All three of them are now gone, two passing within a few weeks of each other as if they had planned being together in death the same way they were together in life.

My life could not be more perfect right now, but, this time of year holds so many memories that I find myself thinking a lot about my deceased husband and his brothers and find myself missing my three Musketeers. While I would not want to change anything about my current life I do regret that it took so much sickness, suffering and even death to place me on the road that lead me to this wonderful new life. How can someone be so happy and so sad all at once? How do I move forward without feeling guilty over the past? How do I keep the past from sneaking in and adding discord or embarrassment to the present? How do I keep my ghost from coming between me and my wonderfully understanding Frank?

It seems that time is the only answer to all those questions. With time all things will be as they should be.

Sunday, November 04, 2007

What a Difference a Year Makes

At this precise moment my life is so blessed. Wonderful things are literally falling from the sky in such a rapid downpour that I am completely discombobulated. A year ago I would have taken a sworn oath that events like the ones happening to me this last year just did not happen to people like me. I can only attribute them to blessings from the Almighty and I am past thinking that my daily prayer of thanksgiving is adequate repayment for all my good fortune. My brain is in overdrive trying to figure out how I am expected to repay all of my blessings one minute and overloaded with dread the next, fearing that today is the day I will wake to find it has all been a dream. And at the same time I am trying to grab each moment and lock away all the love, joy and excitement so I will have it forever in my emotional memory bank to continue to enjoy for the remainder of my life.

I am just amazed that so many changes and so much happiness and joy have happened to me in one short year. It all began on Thanksgiving Day last year. One of the traditions my family has continued to celebrate despite its ever growing size (80 at last count) is to have everyone mention the things from the past year that they are grateful for and list the petitions they want the family to pray for. When my time came I asked for prayers that I would meet a nice man and some day remarry. It was the very next day that I received the first contact from my dear Frank on a personals website.

Since then I have had many firsts in my life. My first plane trip, my first cross country car trip, my first winter spent in the sun, and my first year of complete retirement. In March I married my wonderful Frank and started a new life with him in the same apartment where my first husband’s life ended four years ago.

Even though we thought financing was going to be impossible, we are now packing up to move into our first house together and by some miracle we will also be starting off with almost everything in that house being brand spanking new as well and all on the anniversary of that first contact one year ago. What a difference a year makes.

I am just blown away at how everything in my life has been coming together. As someone whose furnishings came from auctions, garage sales and thrift stores most of my life and who often worked more than one job and was still drawing straws to determine which bills got paid each month, having a house filled with things that are not previously owned is mind boggling. But, actually being able to move from a small apartment into a house, and not a rented house at that, is more then I can fathom. The last time I walked out of my last house the repo man was standing there waiting for me to hand over the keys. Never in my wildest dreams did I ever see myself living in another house that had my name on the deed; and, after losing his house in the divorce settlement Frank was of the same mindset. So, we have many reasons to celebrate this Thanksgiving Day.

The list of things that we both have to be grateful for may take so long to recite that everyone will be forced to eat cold food. But, despite the many things on this year’s list the one item I must list first is my gratitude that Our Lord answered the prayer made last year in such a spectacular way it give me nothing to request prayers for this year.

Thank you Lord for bringing me my Frank and all the good things that have come to both of us as a result of our love and the joy of living we share.

Wednesday, October 31, 2007

The Cigarette lady

I have a question for all of you. What is with the worlds obsession with giving everything and everyone some form of nickname? Seems I have been assaulted by the phenomenon recently. For some reason I always assumed this was just an American quirk, but then several articles crossed my path about such unlikely subjects as the African National Soccer Team and their nicknames, followed by one that puts the Aussie’s in first place for assigning nicknames to everything to a trivia quiz on the nicknames of US presidents.

It seems every one of us has had at least one nickname we love, and at least half a dozen we hated in our life time, and now that we are all so entrenched in the use of the internet we get to make up our own. Apparently nicknames have been in use since written history began, and as far back as oral history reaches.

Almost every President has been given some form of nickname by the press or his fellow politicians. Do you know which president was called the “Illinois Baboon”, “Sphinx” or “His Fraudulency?” Nicknames are a colorful part of baseball history and most other sports as well, with both the teams and the players being fair game. Every state in the Union has a nickname as does almost every city, town or hamlet in the country. Debates have raged for years in some statehouses over just the right nickname for their state.

Even our President gave nicknames to the members of his cabinet, during his first term in office. I’ve been told that if you put any group of men together on a regular basis for any reason including being in the military or just going on a hunting trip, they will often start using nicknames for each other. And I do not know which is worse; the nicknames that men give to their private parts or the ones their wives use behind their back. Acorn Randy and Dead Fred are just two of the ones that women friends of mine have used to describe their husbands member. So, it seems nicknames, both affectionate and insulting are a part of the fabric of American life.

I am no stranger to nicknames and not all of them were meant to be flattering or affectionate. Growing up I was a chubby, short, glasses-wearing, opinionated, overly responsible eldest of 13; so I heard most of the insulting nicknames. Besides being from a large family, I have a mother from the Deep South, so I am no stranger to folks being called by family, pet or nicknames. There is more than one Bubba, Cricket, Junior or Billy Bob in my family tree. I can remember my mother adamantly saying she chose names for her children that could not be shortened or altered. She did not succeed because most of her sons have chosen to go by the shortened forms of their names. They may be William, Robert, David, Andrew, Jeffery, and Peter to my mother; but they are Bill, Bob, Dave, Andy, Jeff and Pete to the rest of the world.

My first husband was always known as Tim and it was not until we were standing in the registrar’s office applying for our marriage license that I learned his given name was actually Melvin. I also admit to still calling my 11 year old grandson, who is taller than I, Munchkin. His mother was called Bear by her father until the day he died.

Do you have any nicknames you are unaware of? Are you sure? Well, don’t be so positive you know that answer. Why, you ask? There are nicknames we pick up in life we are unaware of. Names others give us based on our habits, personality or even the way we dress. Names we would work to expunge if we knew they existed. Let me tell you about a few of the people I have known. But, first check out what Wikipedia has to say about nicknames.

Over the years, I have known people that were called, behind their backs: Purple Lady, Dumpster Diver, Fagan, Backward Charlie, Trash man, Bow Lady, Coupon Cheat or Cigarette Lady by their co-workers, neighbors, church members, store clerks or friends. Many of the names were self explanatory while others had quite a story behind them.

One of the first people I met after moving to a new town was a sweet elderly woman named Arlene, who lived with her husband in a house across the street. At some point in every conversation with each new neighbor I met, I would be asked if I had met the Cigarette Lady yet. One morning I was waiting in the checkout line at the gas station when I heard one clerk mention to another that the Cigarette Lady had been in again. Another day I was in a training class for new checkers at the Shop ‘n Save when the trainer began to mention problem situations and how to handle them. One of her examples was someone called the Cigarette Lady. A few days later I finally met the Cigarette Lady when she knocked on my door asking to borrow a pack of my husband’s smokes. If only took me a second to figure out that my sweet neighbor Arlene was in fact the infamous Cigarette Lady. I soon learned that shortly after being diagnosed with a respiratory disorder and having her cigarette budget cancelled by her husband: Arlene began making the daily rounds of anywhere she thought she could mooch a cigarette. She would hit up all the neighbors and even their guests if she saw them smoking. She would stand outside the gas stations and ask each person that purchased a pack to give her one until the complaints got her evicted from the lot. She would do the same on the parking lots of the super markets and drug stores. As a result she was known my most of the people in town simply as the Cigarette Lady and when they saw her coming they would go the other way to protect their expensive smokes. Did Arlene know how she was perceived by those around her? Did she care? You will have to ask her, but after years of being her neighbor and friend I don’t think so. Her addiction to cigarettes trumped any embarrassment she may have felt. I asked her husband if he was aware of her activities and her nickname. He said that it was a shame and hoped it caused some reduction in her smoking, but it did not change his stance on providing Arlene with cigarette money.

One of the ladies who regularly checked out through my grocery line was known by everyone as the Bow Lady. I never learned the Bow Lady’s real name but I did learn that she was a high school teacher and also taught Sunday school classes at the Baptist church. She was very nice and seemed well liked by her students but even they called her Ms. Bow Lady. The Bow Lady was a attractive matronly woman who wore business suits with white button down collared blouses. She came by her nickname because she had the habit of wearing multi colored package bows made of curly ribbons at the neck of her blouses. Did she know or care that she was considered a strange duck?

If you are a creature of habit and often visit the same places, eat the same food, wear the same color or style of clothing or make the same purchase from your local store----------watch out. You may already have a nickname you may wish you did not have.

As for me I know that I have been called the “Purple Lady” by many of the customers in the stores in which I have worked and that is fine with me. It is my color of choice and two thirds of my wardrobe is made up of something purple. Thankfully, I grew into my eyes and the term “frog eyes” has not been heard since elementary school. My first husband rarely called me anything but “Babe” and my dear Frank ………….. Well that’s for me to know and you to find out.

Sunday, October 28, 2007

procrastination really is the thief of time

I can’t believe how long it has been since my last post. Where does the time go? Today I realized I had a dozen posts started and none completed. It has been weeks since my last post.

The reasons are many and varied, but the basic truth is that I have been so busy enjoying the day to day events of living life with my Frank that I have not taken the time to complete very many of the projects that I somehow seem to start.

Today, I am forcing myself to buckle down and clear my deck of some of my unfinished work, so, do not be surprised if several posts show up here all at once.

I’m also very overdue posting updates of the events in the lives of Rita and Frank, so here goes. Besides getting all of our medical insurance details worked out and hunting down new doctors we can trust, who take Frank’s military insurance, we have been spending a fair percentage of our time house hunting.

Since Frank is new to this part of the country, I wanted him to have a real sense of what is here, before committing to a specific town or house. Therefore, we have been exploring all the little towns, hamlets and villages in this county while touring almost every home in our price range. I’ve lost count of the houses we looked at but I doubt there are many we missed. We toured everything from an 1880’s converted school house to civil war era houses made of bricks so soft the foundations are crumbing into the cellars. We have been in everything from 600 square feet to over 2000 sq. ft.; homes that still have coal chutes or oil tanks sitting beside modern electronics in their basements. Apparently home owners in this area have never heard of the importance of staging their houses to sell. We have seen everything from perfect to gross. I can overlook having a few breakfast dishes in the sink but toilets that have not been cleaned in years do not get any interest. We have seen houses sitting a few feet from the street and others with yards it would seemingly take days to mow. Houses with great views and ones that faced a factory or some ugly shed. We have toured everything from fixer-uppers to pristine showplaces and even a few that could only be improved by a wrecking ball.

Ultimately, we did find the perfect home for us. We let our first choice go when the building inspection noted a fatal flaw. Then just as we were about to commit to our second choice, we got a call from the agent who showed us the first house we looked at months ago. He said a home just listed the day before might be of interest to us. It turned out to be the one we were looking for. Of course, we had to look at dozens of other homes in order for the image of what we really wanted to form. We are now scheduled to close on November15th.

While house hunting, we still managed to squeeze in a few weekend trips and purchase a new mid-sized SUV. Good thing too, because, now we have tons of things to haul. We have been shopping for everything from appliances to plumbing fixtures during the day and working late into the night to get our condo ready to put on the market and making a dent in the needed packing.

We also discovered that while we do have many differences in our home taste we can compromise when needed. Somehow we are managing to combine my love of country chic with Frank’s love of modern minimalist. We should have a very interesting home to say the least.

So stay tuned to find out if the move goes swimmingly.


The events of the last few weeks have me convinced that the world has skipped the chance to “go to hell in a hand basket” and moved on to something much larger. I am even sure that “going to blazes in a barrel” would not give us a container large enough to handle all the evil in some people. Perhaps the phrase should be revised to read “going to Satan in a silo” or even “Going to Beelzebub in a barn.”

I have written in earlier blogs about the differences in today’s world versus the one I grew up in, and not a day goes by where some newspaper or TV news show refers to the ill effects modern technology is having on human relationships. While that may be true, I think the use of euphemisms, sometimes called “politically correct speech” is one of the ways we distance ourselves from really seeing and caring about the people around us. It allows us to see others as less than a flesh and blood person whom we should care about. And, losing the ability to care for and support others is what I believe is allowing so much evil to creep into our world.

One day I was working as a slightly more than minimum wage employee of K-mart and the next day, after punching my time card, I learned I had been given the title of “Associate” without any wage increase. Since that day I have been an associate of several other large corporations including Wal-Mart. Regardless of the title, I was still nothing more than a minimum wage employee. Let’s go back to the good old basics of life and call a spade a spade.

If you work for wages and have no say about how your job is done but must respond, without question or comment, to the directions of others, then you are an employee not an associate.

By the same token, I am not an economically marginalized, gerontologically advanced, uniquely coordinated, vertically challenged, melanin-impoverished, mattress appreciator who is nasally repetitive. I am, however, a poor, old, clumsy, short, white woman who hogs the bed and snores.

While I find fault with a lot of what George Carlin has to say I do agree with most of what he says about Euphemism’s. The following text is quoted from one of his CD’s. with the language cleaned up a tad.

I don't like words that hide the truth. I don't like words that conceal reality. I don't like euphemisms, or euphemistic language. And American English is loaded with euphemisms. Cause Americans have a lot of trouble dealing with reality. Americans have trouble facing the truth, so they invent the kind of a soft language to protect themselves from it, and it gets worse with every generation. I'll give you an example. There's a condition in combat. Most people know about it. It's when a fighting person's nervous system has been stressed to its absolute peak. Can't take anymore input. The nervous system has either snapped or is about to snap. In the First World War, that condition was called shell shock. Simple, honest, direct language. Two syllables, shell shock. Almost sounds like the guns themselves. That was seventy years ago. Then a whole generation went by and the second world war came along and very same combat condition was called battle fatigue. Four syllables now. Takes a little longer to say. Doesn't seem to hurt as much. Fatigue is a nicer word than shock. Shell shock! battle fatigue. Then we had the war in Korea, 1950. Madison Avenue was riding high by that time, and the very same combat condition was called operational exhaustion. Hey, we’re up to eight syllables now! And the humanity has been squeezed completely out of the phrase. It's totally sterile now. Operational exhaustion. Sounds like something that might happen to your car. Then of course, came the war in Viet Nam, and thanks to the lies and deceits surrounding that war, I guess it's no surprise that the very same condition was called post-traumatic stress disorder. Still eight syllables, but we've added a hyphen! And the pain is completely buried under jargon. Post-traumatic stress disorder. I'll bet you if we'd of still been calling it shell shock, some of those Viet Nam veterans might have gotten the attention they needed at the time. I'll betcha. I'll betcha.

……...soft language. That language that takes the life out of life. And it is a function of time. It does keep getting worse. I'll give you another example. Sometime during my life, toilet paper became bathroom tissue. I wasn't notified of this. No one asked me if I agreed with it. It just happened. Toilet paper became bathroom tissue. Sneakers became running shoes. False teeth became dental appliances. Medicine became medication. Information became directory assistance. The dump became the landfill. Car crashes became automobile accidents. Partly cloudy became partly sunny. Motels became motor lodges. House trailers became mobile homes. Used cars became previously owned transportation. Room service became guest-room dining. And constipation became occasional irregularity. When I was a little kid, if I got sick they wanted me to go to the hospital and see a doctor. Now they want me to go to a health maintenance organization...or a wellness center to consult a healthcare delivery professional. Poor people used to live in slums. Now the economically disadvantaged occupy substandard housing. And they're broke! They're broke! They don't have a negative cash-flow position. They're broke! Cause a lot of them were fired. You know, fired. management wanted to curtail redundancies in the human resources area, so many people are no longer viable members of the workforce.
……………people have invented a language to conceal their sins. It's as simple as that. The CIA doesn't kill anybody anymore, they neutralize people...or they depopulate the area. The government doesn't lie, it engages in disinformation. The pentagon actually measures nuclear radiation in something they call sunshine units. Israeli murderers are called commandos. Arab commandos are called terrorists. Contra killers are called freedom fighters. Well, if crime fighters fight crime and fire fighters fight fire, what do freedom fighters fight? They never mention that part of it to us, do they? Never mention that part of it.

The language I learned in school seems to have gone the way of the dinosaurs. So I have to end by once again quoting George Carlin: “I'm telling you, some of this language makes me want to vomit. Well, maybe not vomit. Makes me want to engage in an involuntary personal protein spill.”

As for me, I am just going to say what I mean and mean what I say and treat others with fairness and genuine concern and stay with the policy of spreading brotherly love to all I meet. Why don’t you join me?

Monday, October 08, 2007

The green eyed monster

I was educated in a parochial school system where nuns; real nuns, still ruled the classrooms. By real nuns, I mean those pious angelic looking creatures dressed from head to toe in black with long veils and flowing skirts who silently glided down corridors in heavy square heeled orthopedic shoes. They were gender neutral beings with clean scrubbed faces poking through circles of starched white linen. They wore heavy crosses around their necks and giant rosaries around their waists which reached to the hem of their skirts. That saintly packaging hid formidable and stern characters who swatted knuckles with rulers and matched professional pitchers with the accurateness of thrown erasers that magically appeared from hidden pockets. The Nuns of my generation could outdo even the best Jewish mother when it came to instilling lifelong guilt trips while making every subject and situation a life lesson on the damnation of our souls.

High on the list of things that led us to the weekly confessional were the repeated lectures on the Seven Deadly Sins of Lust, Gluttony, Greed, Sloth, Wrath, Envy and Pride. I have had my small encounters with most of the mighty seven but the one cardinal sin I have struggled with most is the sin of Envy. I once read that Envy is the desire for others' traits, status, abilities, or situations because we think other people are so much luckier, smarter, more attractive, or better than we are. Envy in literature is often linked symbolically to a dog or the color green, thus the term the “Green eyed monster” or Green with envy”. According to those wonderful Nuns who taught in my elementary school the punishment for dying with the sin of Envy on our soul was not only being banished to Hell but having to spending eternity in a tub of freezing water as well.

Now, I certainly know the difference between envy and jealousy and do not get me wrong, I do not want to trade places with any of the people I envied and I am thrilled and happy for them and all they accomplished in their lives, but, I am somewhat envious that my life has not yet found a way to walk the same path as some of the people I have known during my 60 plus years.

Just yesterday I found myself once again being envious of my dear husband who traveled the world visiting so many interesting places while serving in the Navy. When I mentioned this to him he admitted that he was just as envious that I had been able to spend my life in one place with my family.

Oh well, I guess it is back to the confessional for me.

Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Ooh, Ahh Moments

There are times in life when we have one of those Ooh, Ahh moments. They are often few and far between which we should sometimes be thankful for but they are certainly life changing moments. I have had several of those moments so earth shaking that they will stay with me until my dying day.

First I should explain what I am referring to as an Ooh, Ahh moment. Ooh moments are always bad. You do something or something happens that involves you and you just know that nothing good is going to come from it. In fact, dread climbs on your back and sits like a heavy weight for weeks or years waiting for all the fallout to subside. Ahh moments are always good and happen much more often than their trouble loving cousins. Ahh moments, however, can come and go so quickly that you almost miss them entirely and certainly do not have time to enjoy them, all that might remain is a faint smell, a smile on a loved one’s face, or the soft caress of having been part of the most rare of magical moments. Other times the Ahh moments will linger and you will find that feeling or scent returning to be enjoyed over and over as you go through the day. Sometimes you just get that relaxed, everything-is-perfect feeling and want to make time stand still so it will stay with you forever.

The first serious Ooh moment that is committed to my memory happened when I was eleven. It started out as what seemed like the absolute worst thing that could happen to a young city girl and was the catalyst for my next even more serious Ooh moment ten years later. That is when I learned that Ooh moments can come strung out like beads on a chain with all of them traced back to some original Ooh moment that was the silent trigger.

One day my parents sat their six children down and told us we were going to have two new changes in our lives. First, we could expect a new sibling to be arriving soon and second we were moving to a larger house out in the country. Well, as the oldest of the bunch the new addition was no surprise. I was a smart child and had that one figured out many months earlier. I also knew that a move was planned because my parents had the habit of waiting until they were in bed each night to discuss all their important business. They thought that would make the conversations childproof. They did not know that I would pretend to be asleep until after Mom did her bed checks, then I would get up and place my quilt in front of the bedroom door to block the light from going under the door into the dark hallway and read with one ear glued to the door until after their nightly talk turned to sounds of things more adult or they said their good nights. I just never expected my parents would drag us all off to a house so far in the sticks that it had no indoor toilet and we would be attending a four room school house, of all things. I was devastated.

I was in the sixth grade and it was the first year that I had what I would call real friendships with a group of girls in my class. Barbara Clark claimed to be the niece of Dick Clark of American Bandstand fame. None of us believed her but liked the idea that we knew someone with a famous relative so we never let on. Barbara lived close enough that I was allowed to go to her house and play and often the twins Suzanne and Stephanie would be there as well. At the time of my parent’s big announcement we had just been to our first boy-girl party with a real jukebox and dancing and now they wanted to take me off to the boondocks and away from not only my new friends but Elsie the lady that helped care for us. I knew that, as the oldest, I would soon have to change my name to Cinderella. I think I cried myself to sleep every night for weeks before and after that move.

I admit that for the remainder of that year I took every opportunity to make my parents life as miserable as I was. If my brothers felt any of the same emotions about moving I do not remember because it only took one visit to the new house for them to fall in love with it. Finding the new place had a field big enough for baseball, the promise of a dog, plus learning the family down the road had eight boys added to their excitement so they were soon in their glory. We had been eight people in a small four room bungalow and now we had four bedrooms with a large kitchen and a full basement. Sure, having more room was nice, but all I could see was an old house with a musty basement covered in coal dust, and a well worn path to the outhouse. Besides, all my parents grand stories about how we would have a garden, chickens, milk cow and even a few pigs did not sound like it would be as much fun as they made it out to be. The last thing I wanted to do was have to touch some smelly old pig.

My dread of the life I would have after the move was not unfounded and my life was forever changed, but, so was the life of every member of the family. For me, the seedlings of resilience, adaptability, and personal growth began to grow, but a life long struggle with the weeds that choked my self worth, inner peace and personal harmony also became firmly rooted as well. After our move the family grew from seven to thirteen children and the struggles of my parents to care for their growing brood added considerably to the responsibilities my oldest brothers and I were expected to take on. The struggle to find and be myself, and not the person everyone else expected me to be, was what lead me to my second most serious Ooh moment in 1967.

In the fall of 1965 I became enamored with a very handsome young man. Looking back I realize that my parent’s disapproval of the relationship probably increased my attraction and within six weeks we became engaged. We were married in the summer of 1966 and as the saying goes, “the blush was hardly off the honeymoon” before I realized I had jumped from the frying pan into the blazing fire. Being a proud and stubborn Catholic girl I was determined not to let my parents know just how right they had been. There was no way I was going to crawl home admitting that I should have listened so I set about doing all I could to make things work. The problem was that we were both of that sandwich generation wedged between the strongly chauvinistic husbands of our father’s era and the more liberal thinking males of the next generation. In other words he wanted to be a classic nineteenth century male while I wanted to be a twenty-first century woman. We were married for 37 years until his death in 2003, and during that time I never once doubted my husband loved me as much as it was possible for him to love anyone, but, his kind of loving did not translate into the kind of support I so desperately needed. One day in 1967 my second major Ooh moment occurred when I suddenly realized that I was pregnant and any chance I might have had of achieving the life I dreamed of was forever lost. Regrettably, that child died shortly after birth and the resulting grief and depression caused me to overlook the perfect window of opportunity to undo the mistake I had made. By the time that thought finally occurred to me I was pregnant again and the dye was forever cast.

Until this year the ahh moments in my life quickly became indelibly etched in my memory because of their rarity. I am not referring to things like the first time you held your newborn child, watched as they performed their first violin concert or strutted across the stage to receive their diploma. Yes, those are all Ahh moments but I am referring to moments that are unexpected and send warm tingles all the way to your toes. For example, if you and you spouse are out walking and notice a spectacular sunset and stop for a moment to watch that is a nice moment. But, if when you stopped your spouse put their arm around you and said, “What a lovely sunset, I am so glad I was able to share it with the person I love most,” That is an Ahh moment to remember and will probably have you walking an inch off the ground for awhile besides.

Yesterday, my husband and I were sitting in the office of our investment banker and while she was busy entering our information into her computer my dear husband leaned over and whispered into my ear that he wished he was free to nibble on my ear lobe at that precise second. Now that is an Ahh moment that had me floating on air all the way home and other events like it are the reason that the Ahh moments in my life are on the increase this year.

You will have to forgive me because I am going to end this now and go tell that sweet man how much I love him.

Ohhhhhhhh Frank, where are you?

Sunday, August 19, 2007

Fairy Tales

A few weeks ago I received an e-mail from someone who read one of the stories on my blog. They wanted to know how I got ideas for the stories I write and said I had great imagination. They also suggested I take up writing fairy tales.

Most fairy tales tend to open with “Once upon a time” or even “once upon a time in a land far far away.” Well, my stories are not fairy tales. They all happened to me or someone I know and often I was the witness to the event taking place in my story. I do best writing about things I know, but my stories might as well be happening in a world that existed once-upon-a-time for today’s world is no longer the same.

Those entering college this year have always had such things as color TV, cell phones, video games, computers, designer jeans and Reeboks. They would probably find the world of my youth as foreign as Nardia or Hogswart Academy, so in a sense, the world of my stories is now truly a place far far away.

I can imagine the reaction I would get from my nieces, nephews and grandchildren, if they were told they had to go to school where girls never wore anything without a skirt and boys could no wear jeans. Tee-shirts were considered underwear and books were strapped together with an old belt. School work was only done in pencil until high school, and then everyone had to have a fountain pen and a bottle of black India ink.

It was a place where the roads were still dirt or gravel, families had one car and some had no TV. The television was a small screen in black and white with no remote. Telephones only came in black, had a rotary dial and were attached to a wall, plus every family was on a party line with several other families, all of whom could eavesdrop on every conversation.

The lucky folks got their water from a well and had a flush toilet. Everyone else got water from a cistern and they followed a well worn path to an outhouse that made today’s porta-potties seem like mansions. There were no sewers or trash collection and a few homes were still so far off the main road they lacked electricity.

Could today’s young people go back and visit much less live in a time and place where the only violence on TV was a Roy Rogers shootout and only the bad guys got killed. A place where married couples on TV always slept in twin beds and the only sex they were exposed too happened between house pets and then all they saw was the basket full of fluffy kittens or furry puppies. This was a world where no man had walked on the moon, drank a Mountain Dew, or saw an SUV. Movies were watched through the car window sitting on giant parking lots we called “the drive-in theater”.

Basically, the answer is that I am an “old lady” and I just write about the things I remember or the people I have known. My point of view may be different from the events as you remember them, but this is, after all, a blog about the recollection and other dumb stuff that runs through my head and seeps out through my fingers. If you were there and have a different memory or can add to my tales then please, leave your comments here or send me an e-mail. I would love to hear from you.


I am jinxed. Honestly, I will take a bible oath to that fact. It there is anything odd, strange, unusual, unique or different going to happen, it will seek me out. It is as if I have some sort of magnetic field around me that draws the unbelievable, and causes it to attach itself to me.

Over the years many of my friends and co-workers have accused me of sitting up nights inventing stories that I could use when I needed a reason to cover for some absence or tardiness. I’ve been told that so many odd events could not believably happen to one person. But, the solid truth is that they have, so the only explanation is that I must be jinxed.

Have you ever:
Had a fork in your arm up to the shank? Been in a car up to the dashboard in water and about to float down a small creek during a flash flood in a area that has no history of flooding? Been driving down a busy roadway and suddenly had your front wheel weaving between the cars in front of you? Driven your car down the steps on the hillside of the courthouse grounds? Lost your many layers of crinolines in the middle of the dance floor while dancing with the most popular boy in school at homecoming? Been trapped in a chicken coop by a rogue rooster? Forced to spend hours of a day home alone on top of a dresser because of a five foot snake on the bedroom floor below? Stuck at the top of a Farris Wheel all night?

Well, each of these things and many more have all happened to me over the years and are all on my list of future stories to write. It’s like Mark Twain said, “the difference between truth and fiction is that fiction has to make sense”, so check back occasionally and see if I ever get any of them out of my head and on the screen.

Hot Summer Days

The picture outside my window each morning as I sit at my breakfast table is one of a beautiful summer day waiting to be enjoyed. Here in my part of Missouri, we have had lots of bright blue skies and fluffy clouds with the trees rustling in a steady breeze. But, once outside, I am assaulted by a breeze that seems to be circulating through a blast furnace with humidity like some monster sauna.

Our record breaking heat of the last few weeks with highs in the triple digits and a heat index as high as 110 degrees has my mind working in overdrive remembering other hot summer days. Perhaps one side effect of recently having a birthday that marks me as an official old lady is my mind continually jumps to reminiscences of times past by the oddest of triggers. Something as normal as spending a few minutes outside on a hot day brings back memories of things long forgotten or things that had little impact at the time but now take on a whole new life in my head.

My dear husband, of 5 months, has on several occasions asked me to tell him what I was thinking about because he saw I was off somewhere deep in thought. Sure it is easy to talk about the joyful days and all the silly happenings of your life but, how do you explain thinking about love and loss and other emotions that cut to the center of your very being without making us both feel uncomfortable or causing embarrassment to yourself or him.

Well Frank, just so you will know here are just a few of the things I have been thinking about recently. First, I was thinking about when I was eight and five playmates and I wanted to find out if we really could fry eggs on the sidewalk. We met on the school lot one afternoon with all the eggs we could get from our parents refrigerators, only to be caught by a nun before the eggs were cooked. Besides scrubbing the entire walk, we had to spend a half hour kneeling at the communion rail in church praying to be forgiven for our sins.

Then there was the heat wave of 1984, when I became bothered by an intuition so strong I left work and made a long drive to the home of relatives, where I found them overcome by the heat and passed out on their living room floor. The ER doctor said if I had been ten minutes later one would certainly have died and the other was only minutes behind him.

I’ve also been thinking about the hundreds of miles my brothers and I walked during the summers of our youth hauling five gallon buckets of water from the house to the garden and spreading it, one tin can at a time, on each plant to keep the garden from dying because we did not have a hose long enough to reach. Then there was the hot summer day when my brothers set fire to the barn and another when a girlfriend and I snuck off to St. Louis on a date with some college boys and I ended up in the hospital with what the doctors thought was appendicitis.

These hot summer days reminded me of the time I won a speech contest in 4-H and got to make a trip to the state competition only to have one of the most embarrassing moments of my life. After sitting in the back of the auditorium for hours, listening to the other contestants give their talks, my name was finally called and I made the long trek up the aisle to the podium wondering what had the audience whispering as I passed, only to discover later that I had started my period and there was a large red stain on the back of my new white dress.

But mostly I have been thinking a lot about the surreal events of that hot August day in 1966 when I married my deceased first husband, and the even hotter days in August 1970, one when we buried my grandfather and the one two days later when I gave birth to my daughter.

Maybe I am different than most folks but hot summer days hold some of the best and worst memories for me. So I have been mulling over thoughts of everything from lazy afternoons playing in the sprinkler as a child, to hours sitting in the ER with a little brother who cut off the end of his finger in the screen door while I was babysitting as a teenager. Maybe one of these days I will actually write about a few of these events in more detail, some are quite humorous while for others I will need to be sure that the statutes of limitations have expired on some of the secrets I still keep.

Thursday, July 26, 2007

The Forty Acre Club

I am guessing that it was sometime in 1955 when my parents scraped together the down payment on a cute little white bungalow that stood in a row of identical twins on a quiet block in the St. Louis suburban town of Berkeley being built to house returning WW-II veterans and their families during the post war boom. It did not matter that Garfield Ave. was located on the industrial side of town or that this adorable little house was the fifth house from the end of a street that ran parallel to the railroad tracks. It also did not matter that by the time my parents took procession and settled their meager belongings into their dream house, they had already outgrown the small, four room house with the recent birth of their sixth child.

What mattered was that this house was their first real home. What mattered was that, unlike many of the places they had lived, it had indoor plumbing, the roof did not leak, there was no broken down stoop or exposed wiring, and it was only a short walking distance to both their church and my father’s work. But, what mattered the very most was that it belonged to them. They were no longer living at the mercy of family or renting someone else’s substandard nightmare.

As happened with every house my parents lived in, that little house on Garfield Ave. soon became the hub of the whole neighborhood. Our yard was where all the kids came to play and our kitchen table was often the setting for Saturday night pinochle games or Sunday dinners. That table also saw many long hours where men swapped war stories and fish tales over endless pots of coffee, or where the women commiserated over each others problems and shared tales of childbirth or the antics of their children while sipping tea.

That little house was the first on the block to have a fenced yard, swing set, playground slide, broken window and a garage that never housed a car. It seldom had a empty clothesline and was the last house on the block to receive both a telephone and a television set. Rarely did a week go by that a ball, kite or some other toy had to be retrieved from the roof or the table could not be properly set for dinner without a search of the sand pile and mud holes in the yard for a missing table spoon.

It was not long after we moved in that Jim and Elsie Placker moved into the house next door but one, or to put that into American English two doors down. Elsie was the most remarkable person that I had ever met and the only one besides my Mother’s southern kinfolks who spoke with an accent. Elsie referred to her yard as the garden, her car had a boot and a bonnet, and she liked to drink hot ale straight from the bottle and always called the bathroom a loo. Elsie was soon known around the neighborhood as “that English War Bride” with those huge Airedales, because she seldom went out without her two large dogs in tow.

Elsie and my mother quickly became lifelong friends and Elsie became not only a fixture but a substitute Mother in our home. She would walk into our house without knocking at all times of the day or night and start barking orders at us kids as if she owned us and there was “Hell” to pay for anyone that did not jump to and obey. Elsie never visited without bringing her stainless coffee percolator with her. She said that the standard cup of American coffee was just wimpy dishwater and the junk my mother brewed was nothing more then colored water. Needless to say, the coffee Elsie brewed looked and smelled like crude oil and a spoon would stand up straight as if inserted into chocolate pudding.

I remember one night when all of us kids were sitting on the living room floor, in our pajamas, watching a TV program about thirty minutes before bedtime when in walked Elsie with her coffee pot, she stood in the middle of the room and calmly and firmly stated “bed, I said bed” as she began to scan the gathered faces. Before she could get to the third person the room was empty. Yep, there was nothing like Elsie to empty a room.

My Mother had always been good at inventing creative ways of keeping her growing brood busy during school breaks and what she did not think of, Elsie did. One spring she and my mother began to go on late night scavenger hunts the night before trash collection day and would drag home a odd collection of all sorts of castoffs. After several weeks we awoke one day to find Elsie hard at work in our driveway with a blowtorch and a assortment of pipes and several relics that once passed for bicycles. By midmorning my mother was also hard at work on the project and within several days we came home from school to find several brightly painted and completely functional bikes, one of which was to become the talk of the neighborhood. This bike was so tall that a stepstool was required for even an adult to mount it and if you happen to loose your balance and fall over you were destined to push it until the proper height object came along to give you a way to climb back aboard. That entire summer was spent at the park at the end of the street trying to learn to ride the giant bicycle. The park had a concrete stepping stone retaining wall that gave us our boost up and we could ride in circles around the baseball fields. That bike became the challenge of every adult and child in the neighborhood before summer’s end, and my tiny four foot eleven inch mother loved to show off by riding it around the block with one of the kids sitting on the cross bar.

Jim and Elsie were avid campers and in good weather would pack up their gear and head out every Friday evening and not be seen again until late on Sunday. All their vacations were also spend camping. Being the oldest child, I was the lucky one chosen to take care of their two monster Airedales. I was presented with my own house key and had to go over twice a day to feed, water and let the dogs out into the yard to run. The truth is that I found Elsie’s house to be foul smelling, and creepy and those dogs were huge and had the manners of spoiled children. I don’t know which I hated most, having to go into the house or spending time with the animals I began to call Brutus and Titian. Actually, they scared the tar out of me more than once and I was always so happy to see the Placker’s car turn into the drive.

Over time I not only began to like and respect Elsie for all she did to help my Mother over the years, especially during one long and confining illness, but I began to get a odd feeling that all was not what it appeared to be where Jim and Elsie were concerned. When I was in the sixth grade my sixth sibling was born so my parents decided it was time to move to larger quarters. Over the years my Mother kept in touch with Elsie and Jim and they would occasionally come for a visit. Once, after a visit, when I was in my teens I asked my Mother just how much she actually new about the personal relationship of her friends and if she felt that there was something odd about them. Instead of an answer Mom just told me to go and tidy up the kitchen.

Some forty years later my husband and I moved to a small town and I went to working nights at the local Wal-mart. One night in the break room during out dinner break several associates began to tease another associate and told them that they belonged in a placed called the “Forty Acre Club” Later I ask a co-worker to explain the joke connected with the teasing and was told that the “Forty Acre Club” was a Nudist Colony located in a neighboring town. With my interest and disbelief aroused I came home and did a web search and came up with not only the clubs webpage but half a dozen newspaper articles written about the club over the last half century. I was not only startled to find my parents good friends were among the founders of the Club but a photograph of a Seventy something Elsie doing a full Monty was included in the websites advertising. That is when I realized just where all those weekend camping trips they took during my youth were taking place and why the dogs were left at home.

Several years later I learned that both Jim and Elsie had passed away and I never had the nerve to mention to my Mother what I had learned. So Mom, if you happen to hear about this, I’m sorry but I just did not have the heart to tell you what I had learned, but I suspect that you have known for a very long time.

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

My favorite time of year

July has always been one of my most favorite times of the year. As a child it may have been second only to Christmas, but since reaching adulthood, July has been my hands down favorite month of the year. All my favorite things seem to happen in July.

When I was a child my grandfather lived in a suburban area that had a wonderful park with everything a child could want. Besides a playground and swimming pool, there were great picnic areas surrounded by large expanses of thick green grass perfect for cloud watching and tumbling. Wabash Park was also the setting for the most elaborate Fourth of July picnics ever held in my young life, complete with old fashioned games, lots of hand churned ice cream, a parade and spectacular fireworks show.

Each year my grandfather would reserve the largest pavilion and host our annual Family Reunion, where we would have ringside seats for the parade, take part in all the games and contests, cool off in the pool, and stuff ourselves with barbeque and watermelon. Just before dark my brother Bill, cousin George, and I would get to help Grandpa blow out the candles on a giant birthday cake. Then we would all settle down with a huge slice to watch the sky exploding in a kaleidoscope of patterns and colors.

For years my brother and I were under the impression that Grandpa planned all those wonderful events just to celebrate our birthdays. Grandpa’s birthday was on July first, followed by Bill and George’s on the third and mine on the seventh. Years later, my sister Veda chose my birthday to make her appearance into the family and added another reason to celebrate. It must be some kind of family record, having five birthdays all in one week and all within a few days of the fourth. No wonder Americana themes with fireworks became one of my favorite ways of celebrating birthdays.

The year Veda turned 21, I gave her a huge surprise blowout of a party on the fourth that included everyone dressing in only red, white and blue costumes, and I even went so far as serving only foods that were all in patriotic colors. I spent months making thousands of red, white and blue stars, bunting and pendants that covered the siding, drive, walkways and every available surface of my house and yard. We had patriotic music blaring from a loud speaker on the corner of the house, released hundreds of red-white-blue balloons into the air at one point and had a man in an Uncle Sam costume on stilts walking around the yard greeting the guests.

The year I turned forty, Veda repaid me by helping to host a surprise red, white and blue luau in my parent’s back yard. She and my sister Nancy enlisted the help of dozens of friends and family members and they dug and hauled countless truck loads of river sand that they used to turn my parents yard into a beach; built palm trees complete with parrots, made a lagoon with a waterfall and lined hundreds of hand made luminaries along the drives, walkways and yard in addition to having roast pig complete with a red apple in its mouth on a spit.

This year I traveled to Omaha to celebrate both the Fourth of July and my birthday with my birthday sister. Veda was born on my fifteenth birthday and I was given the honor of naming her. As a teen I thought that rhyming names was cute so she became Veda to go with my Rita.

While we did not plan to do anything special this year in the way of celebrations it turned out to be one of the best birthdays ever thanks to the good citizens of Omaha. The people of Omaha take their patriotism seriously and go all out to celebrate our nation’s birthday.

July Fourth began with a neighborhood parade that most of the families in my sisters subdivision took part in. Entire families showed up at the starting point decked out in every conceivable red, white and blue costume ranging from the simple shorts and tees to the most patriotic ready to walk or ride anything on wheels that could be begged or borrowed for the day. There were Dad’s on skateboards, little ladies in Barbie cars, tots in decorated coaster wagons pulled behind parents bikes, kids on trikes they outgrew years ago and some on bikes where they could barely reach the peddles.
Even the family pets were decked out and joined in the fun. Those that could not walk or ride in the parade lined the streets to cheer on those that did. Beads and candy were flying back and forth as the parade made the circle of the neighborhood.

My brother-in-law was the Grand Marshall riding a star painted, flag adorned bike in the most unique super hero costume ever. Mark named his character J4 (short for July Fourth) and he sported a striped cape and star-studded wristbands along with a huge Mad Hatter top hat.

After the parade, the block parties got started and entire streets became one big smorgasbord as tables were set up and the ladies tried to outdo each other for the record of bringing the best dish. The air became pungent with barbeque and sulfur and a cacophony of sounds as firecrackers, boom boxes, and happy children drifted on the famous Nebraska winds.

At sunset the fireworks began and went on till almost midnight. I was told that it was illegal to sell, purchase or shoot fireworks in the city of Omaha but that did not stop the men from making trips across the state line into Missouri to purchase them by the thousands as friends, neighbors and entire blocks pooled their resources trying to have the best show in the neighborhood. For hours the fireworks went off in a 360 degree circle all around us. The streets became launching grounds as yards were lined with rows of people covered in circles of jewelry made from multicolored glow sticks.

I have been to some spectacular fireworks displays in my 61 years put on by places like Disney World, Six Flags, Opryland, Fair St. Louis and many communities and civic groups, but nothing to beat the size and style of the show put on by the private citizens of the city of Omaha, Nebraska.

You can bet that I can’t think of a better place to be than with my birthday sister as we celebrate July Fourth in her front yard. We have already reserved our spot for next year. Anyone want to join us?

Sunday, July 15, 2007

What will the verdict be?

There is no reason for weeks to go by without a single entry being posted here. In my word files I have dozens of articles I have started that just need a little tweak to be ready for posting . My only excuse is, I guess, nothing more than pure laziness.

My last post was made June 29th. Several days before I had been released from the hospital, and I was in a very tenuous mood while waiting for the verdict on my most recent health episode. I guess that accounts for the subject of my last post. I have to admit I have been giving life and death matters a lot of thought lately. Nothing like having a possible death sentence hanging over your head to get you thinking.

Well, I guess I should start at the top and explain. I have suffered from fibromyalgia for thirty years. I had the illness long before most doctors had ever heard of it or would admit it was a real medical problem, and long before the American Medical Association gave it status as an illness by giving it a name and a set of symptoms.

For years I went to doctor after doctor with my list of complaints only to be repeatedly dumped into one of two classifications. Some doctors would get that glassy eyed look wondering how fast they could get rid of this dingbat. A look that told you they considered you just another neurotic female in need of pacifying. You knew that the word hypochondriac was going to be written in bold red letters on your chart the minute you left the room. Others would lump all your problems into that quote-unquote “female bag” and refer you to the nearest gynecologist.

By the time I found a doctor that took my symptoms and list of complaints seriously and actually gave my mystery disorder a name (yes, disorder was how it was described back then) most of my family and friends and certainly my husband and daughter had already written me off as a nut case suffering from some mysterious mental illness. I was repeatedly told that my illness was not real. They would say, things like “its all in your head.” or “just get over it” or questioned whether I liked to be thought of as crazy.

After a while you actually begin to think that you really are a brick short of a full load, but in my defense I believe that all of you would feel crazy to if you went days without sleeping with diffused chronic pain, no energy, no life, no hope, and had been bounced from one doctor to another and given dozens of tests and took numerous drugs which didn’t help. All your lab results were normal and still you got worse year after year! Add to that numerous complaints including: anxiety, depression, fatigue, chronic pain, insomnia, IBS, MVP, tingling in your extremities, night sweats, headaches, reflux, and other symptoms. Are you crazy?

It is understandable, I guess, that others could not understand what I was going through. I did not understand it either. Over the years I learned that the only way I could avoid all the negative attitudes and misconceptions about my mental state was to suffer in silence. I tried to develop a way of coping that did not add fuel to the fire of already badly distorted ideas about me.

One major problem with a chronic pain disorder is that you become so used to having something hurt that you tend to ignore any new pain as being just a new wrinkle in the old package. This lack of pain consideration causes you to run the risk of ignoring symptoms of a new more serious illness in its early stages, thus causing an emergency situation to arise.

When I met my Frank, I made several mistakes. First, I told him I had fibromyalgia and left him to do his own research about the illness. Second, I continued to live my stoic suffer-in-silence way of life. As a result; when I had a flareup that put me out of commission, I not only scared the shit out of him but caused him to accuse me of lying about the real state of my health. So what happened? Here is the story.

With fibromyalgia you have eighteen trigger points throughout your body which react to different things and cause inflammation and pain. Rainy weather is one that most affects me and we had been having a lot of rain over several weeks. This caused a flareup of the trigger points in my back and chest and I was having lots of discomfort in those areas.

I have always been a fast walker. I have short legs and take short fast steps. Not many people are able to keep pace with me, but my Frank not only keeps up, but causes me to have to work at keeping his pace. Each night we go for a walk and I have to really work at maintaining the pace he sets. One night last month as Frank and I were out walking I began to get very winded and had to ask him to slow down. I figured it was due to the flareup in my chest and brushed it off as nothing important. Later that night I began to have some serious pain in my chest that woke me up. Not wanting to worry Frank, I got up and settled down in the recliner in the living room. Frank, found me there sometime later. As he said, I exhibited the classic symptoms of a heart attack: cold clammy skin, pain in my chest, very slow heart beat, shortness of breath and a general feeling of malaise. Before I could protest he had me in the car on the way to the emergency room of the local hospital.

After a overnight stay and dozens of test I was released with the assurance that I had not had a heart attack but no knowledge of what had actually taken place and a fist full of slips for appointments in the outpatient dept. for further testing to rule out other possible causes for my once again mysterious episode. Reassured that I was not in any immediate danger and with testing a week in the future we headed off on our previously scheduled trip to Omaha to celebrate the fourth of July holiday and the birthday my sister and I share on July 7th.

Since returning home, I have completed all the required tests and we are waiting for the results. My nerves are on edge and I am still in a pensive mood. Will this be just another occasion of more normal results with no answers, or will I be handed some major bad news.

Only time will tell. I will keep you posted.

Friday, June 29, 2007

Repenting for past sins

Most 12 step programs require that the member try to make amends or set things right with anyone they have injured. Are we as humans under a moral or spiritual obligation to right whatever wrongs we can in our lives? And, if so then just how far are we expected to go? When is the debt satisfied?

Why do I ask? Well that requires a story.

In the neighborhood diner where I regularly eat, I often see this very cute older couple. The woman is in a wheelchair and has apparently had a stroke and is unable to walk and only has use of one arm and her speech has a lisp. It is pretty obvious that the man dotes on her and takes great pains to care for her. She is always very well dressed in coordinated outfits and even has on earrings and a brooch or necklace, there is always a small handbag looped over the back of her chair and it always matches the shoes she wears etc. It is very apparent that someone is taking more then the customary care you would expect for someone so disabled. I have always admired the way the man talks to her and cares for her and wondered how many years they have been married, and thought about the kind of love it takes to be that nurturing and loving for so many years. More then once I have said to myself......Boy, I wish I could find someone that would want to care for me like that in my old age, regardless of what my infirmities might be.

One day when going to the diner for dinner, I happen to park in the spot directly in front of a mini van and notice this man get out and head to the passenger side cargo door, I then saw the woman sitting in her chair in the back of the van. The van did not have an electric chair lift and so I sat in my car and watched as this man spent a great deal of time and effort unloading and align ramps and struggled to wheel the woman and her chair out of the van, then replace everything and lock up the vehicle. Inside, I watched him separate her chicken from the bones and cut everything into tiny pieces and serve her; and, the whole time I was thinking about the other struggles this man must face on a daily bases to care for his wife, and wondered how long he has cared for her and much longer he would have the physical strength and emotional stamina to continue.

One morning I happen to get the chance to leave work early so I decided to attend the early mass at my church. I was early and found the church doors were still locked. As I was waiting on the steps for the doors to be opened the man from the restaurant came and joined me and we started to talk. I started to tell him how much I admired him and his care and dedication to his wife and he stopped me and told me this story. He said:

“Arleen and I are not married. Oh, we were once a very long time ago, and we have three children together. But, I was a first class bastard and I mistreated her and the children terribly. I was quite a charmer in those days and I knew it and I had an ego to match, so I was never faithful to her. I also had a serious alcohol problem and I would often come home drunk and take it our on her and the boys. I put them all through hell, until the day I just walked away and never looked back. I have no idea how she managed for so many years to raise and support our boys alone, but, she did a wonderful job.”

“I have to admit that I was hell on wheels for many years; I tramped all over the world doing as I pleased and living the party life. Somehow, I still managed to start my own business; a small but successful import/export company. Oh, I finally got sober, remarried and had a second family but I never told them about Arleen and the boys, and I never tried to contact them, and over the years it began to nag at me. Finally, after my second wife died I decided it was time to face my past and began to look for my first family. Arleen had taken the children and moved from the coast, back to the St. Louis area to be closer to her family and eventually remarried and settled here. By the time I found her she was widowed and had just had a debilitating stroke and was living in a convalescent home. My sons were scattered across the country struggling with how to best care for their Mother, and as you can imagine, they wanted no part of me. Well, to make a long story short I felt I owed it to all of them to do what I could to help as a way of making things right for my past mistakes, and I felt the God was telling me that I needed to take on Arleen’s care as my penance for my sins against her and my sons. So that is how Arleen came to be in my care.”

This mans actions are very admirable and I applaud him for them. But, I would not consider his actions to be the norm, and it brings me back to my original question. Just how far would you go to make amends, or repent for the sins of your past?

Friday, June 15, 2007

The Oldest of Thirteen

Whenever I am asked the question “how many brothers and sisters do you have?” and I respond with something like, “I am the oldest of thirteen” I get a look from people that can only be described as completely incredulous.

Growing up in a time and place where large families were the norm I always thought the reaction was rather odd. As I got out into the world, I learned just how rare my family and my community really were even though that first time reaction still catches me by surprise.

When I first starting getting involved with single’s websites and going to single’s get-togethers, I found I was hesitant to say how many siblings I had out of fear that any prospective suitor would be put off. I finally reached the point where my large family was the first thing I mentioned about myself. If knowing my immediate family consisted of more than sixty people and was still growing did not have the gentleman shaking in his boots then I knew I had a keeper.

Usually, one of the first questions I am asked is, “What is it like growing up with that many people and only one bathroom?” Somehow I do not remember the bathroom situation as being a major problem, but then, for quite a while we used an out-house sitting at the edge of the backyard.

What I do remember is going through many phases while growing up. I had my Cinderella phase, where I felt destined to be the ugly duckling of a spinster slaving away, caring for a house full of ungrateful men. I did, after all, have nine brothers and it often seemed the rule book was biased toward the males of the household.

I also went through my enlightenment phase, where I just wanted to take my parents and shake some sense into them. Didn’t they know where all those babies came from, and how to prevent them? Didn’t they know how much it would cost to educate all of them? Didn’t they care that others thought we were poor and deprived? Hadn’t they read about the benefits of population control?

Then, of course, I had one totally embarrassing phase where every time I was out somewhere with the youngest kids, someone would mistake them for mine. At seventeen, did I really look old enough to have six kids? Once, at the grocery store, I had the task of babysitting the little ones while my mother shopped. I lined them all up on the brick ledge in front of the widow by the doorway with some candy. Folks entering the store would often stop and make some comment on how cute they all were, or just shake their heads in amazement. I lost count of how many asked me if they were all mine, so finally I reached my breaking point. The next person that asks that question was told “yes they are all mine and I have six older ones at home besides.” I though she was going to swallow her teeth in shock.

I’ve often read or heard were someone would make the statement that they “grew up poor” or even “dirt poor” well, we many have been poor but I don’t think any of us kids ever knew it. Being the oldest, I was more aware of the financial struggles in the household than the others because my mother tended to use me as her sounding board and possibly confided more to me because she had no one else to talk to. That grew from the frustration and isolation that came from our moving to a rural area when I was twelve, and several years before she was able to drive. Once Mom got her license she became very involved in church and civic groups, and was able to take a bigger part in the daily operation of the family business. Once she was able to make friends among the ladies of the community, Mom stopped using me as her confidant . However, it was not always for the better where I was concerned. The more involved my mother became in outside interests, the more I was expected to pick up the slack at home. But, with my mother’s mobility also came more excursions and adventures for the children. Where my mother went also meant that some lucky kids would be chosen to go along, so everyone’s world got expanded as a result.

The phase that I am the least proud of, and wish I could make amends for was my resentment phase. During this time I was already married and not very happily. My parents were becoming more prosperous and had moved to a larger house in a less isolated area. I was on the sidelines of the family watching as my younger siblings got more freedoms and opportunities than we older ones ever had. It seemed the rule book that governed my childhood had been lost or rewritten as my parents aged. My mother claims that it was just that as they got more experienced at parenting they made fewer mistakes with the younger ones. Regardless of the reasons, I was envious of the opportunities that were coming their way and developed a much less caring and forgiving attitude toward both my parents and my siblings for a while.

Today, as a sixty-ish woman looking back on my life as the oldest in a family of thirteen children, I realize there is little I would have changed and I have much to be grateful for. The hardships and strife of that time helped make me the stronger person I am today. The love and support of my brothers and sisters helped me travel many a rocky road. Each has grown into a wonderful, caring and supportive person and I have been truly blessed. That fact is reinforced each Thanksgiving as I watch the interactions of the large, loving crowd standing around my Mothers dinning room table. Today, being the oldest of thirteen seems to be the perfect place to be.

Garrulous Old Man

Several times recently I’ve heard my dear sweet husband, of less then three months, telling someone that he is in training to be a garrulous old man. Not wanting to admit that I was clueless to what he was referring, I had to spend some time online seeking the correct spelling and finally the definition of the word "garrulous."

For those of you who, like me, need the word explained, here is what the American Heritage Dictionary had to say. gar·ru·lous adj. 1. Given to excessive and often trivial or rambling talk; tiresomely talkative. 2. Wordy and rambling: a garrulous speech. And the thesaurus gave me Adj. 1. garrulous - full of trivial conversation; "kept from her housework by gabby neighbors"
chatty, gabby, loquacious, talkative, talky, voluble - marked by a ready flow of speech; "she is an extremely voluble young woman who engages in soliloquies not conversations"

Well, since learning this definition I have assured my husband that I will have him a tee-shirt made stating that he is a "Trainee in the Garrulous Old Men’s Club." for his upcoming birthday. My Frank certainly lives up to this description, NOT.

Like all women I have heard all the jokes that men make about how women can spend hours in conversation and not say a thing that they consider worth hearing. Well that does not apply to my Frank. This man continues to amaze and astound me with the amount of trivial, factual and complicated knowledge that he has stored away. When you combine all the stories culled from 30 years of navy service, the world travels he made at Uncle Sam’s bidding, the number and variety of books that he read idling away off duty hours at sea plus his uncanny ability to never forget a single statistic and who can recall the name of anyone he has ever met; then you have a person that has plenty of interesting stories, factoids and useless trivia locked up inside his head to keep a conversation from lagging.

It is true that my Frank is a “know it all” but he is actually someone that legitimately does know it all, and is not one of those “smart asses that just thinks they do and tries to outdo everyone else. Frank just tells it the way he learned it, his facts are seldom wrong and he is genuinely not trying to be a show off or a knowledgeable jerk. While Frank may be wordy and rambling he is certainly never tiresomely talkative. He is voluble and I suppose a small case could be made for his using soliloquies instead of conversations.

The dictionary defines soliloquies as; A dramatic or literary form of discourse in which a character talks to himself or herself or reveals his or her thoughts without addressing a listener. And no, Frank does not talk to himself, but, he does like to give long dissertations on an assortment of topics. And, if I were to be completely honest then I would have to admit that he is sometimes not addressing a listener or I am not qualified on the subject to carry on an actual conversation. Truth is, that growing up in a house with twelve siblings I developed a life long ability to tune out the conversations around me and become solely focused on my own thoughts. So if I am not paying attention or responding then I suppose the soliloquies definition might apply.

Sorry dear, you were right when you accused me the other day of not always listening to you. But, I only do it when you get overly engrossed in your operations of a navy carrier mode or want to expound on the complexities and virtues of aspartame over saccharine or some equally enlightening topic.

I will admit that when getting involved in conversations with my sweet husband, I sometimes feel as if it is my first day back at school after a very long absence and I am leagues behind the rest of the class and will never catch up. But, that is a good thing. Where he is concerned I really have to stay on my toes and keep my wits about me and it is a very rare day that I do not go to bed with a lot more knowledge then I started the day with. I use to question his facts on occasion and he was always able to prove me wrong. Now, I just head for the old computer and do my own research before I end up finding my extra wide foot stuck in my mouth.

And, in case you’re wondering, this little “Salute to the man of the hour” was just my way of letting my Frank know that he will never be a garrulous old man. One, he just does not fit the profile. And two, I will not allow him to become an “old man” because then I would have to admit to being an “old lady” and that is just not going to happen.

I swear! So there!

And, Frank darling, I do love you ------ and your soliloquies! Really I do.