Thursday, December 24, 2009

Candy Making Beckons

When R and I were in our early stages of marriage, we decided to continue my mother's habit(and that of thousands of others) of making candy for Christmas. Not being a cook, R decided a delicious candy for the season only would be his contribution. Through several years of adjusting the recipe from the side of the carton of Hershey's Cocoa (we believed in this ingredient--bar chocolate was foreign)he came up with the fudgiest chocolate fudge, full of refined sugar, cream, and butter. Anyone eating a piece had to check out another, and another, etc. Then we'd lie around the rest of the day castigating ourselves.

Today this fudge is a part of our memory. R refuses to bend to my wishes for just "a little bit" so I can refreshs my memory as to the taste, thinking that should last another 10 years of remembrance. But no, he is too "busy".

So what do I do to kill the dire need for sugar? I order (mind you, I'm no cook, either) from our local deli, Primos, one of the oldest in the city, one sweet potato pie and one pecan pie!(OK cooks, don't tell me how easy these pies are made--I hate doing anything in the kitchen!!) One of our guests for Christmas lunch brought her berry pie, and my sister made our mother's recipe for Fruit Drops (miniature drops of baked fruit cake batter). Also, I had on hand plenty of egg nog (I luckily was the only one to partake of this delicious drink so I had enough for sips whenever). I didn't miss the fudge at all--well, just when I say the word or think it!

Saturday, November 28, 2009

New Direction

I love to write. Most of my writing is for this blog or essays or short stories. I've even written a novel, 50,000 words! Whew! Took me three months to get to the end. Now it sits tucked away while I tend to the other writings in my flock. After all, I can't give preference to one and ignore the others.

Two weekends ago my sis and I attended a writing morning at University of South Alabam, Mobile. Reason 1: another viewpoint from authors; Reason 2: one author was Carolyn Haines, who writes the Bones series of mystery books. She is writer-in-residence at the college. Alas, she spoke about novel writing, a course which I'd had plenty of instruction. What actually peaked my interest was the poetry author, a Sue Brannon Walker (Poet Laureat of Alabama), an exhuberant lady who made writing poetry sooo easy. We did one exercise I've seen on many blogs: the "Where I'm from..." That was answering a series of questions about one's self and writing it in sentence form. She eliminated the sentences,used phrases and clauses. She reminded us how quickly we can write prose and drop lines and eliminate a lot of punctuation and voila! a poem is born. And sure enough it seems easy.

Sunday morning after returning I awoke with a poem in my head. Unfortunately, it wasn't anything we had been introduced to. A limrick. How that got caught in my brain I'll never know. Read on. . .

There once was a horse named Katrina
Who loved prancing in the arena,
But when a lady got on
with nothing but a thong
Katrina behaved like a hyena!

Isn't that disgraceful after an earlier morning of good poetry writing?
Time now to write a more graceful one. Next, writing a poem with only two words per line:

I look
At you
And wonder
If I
Can afford
The pounds
I'll earn
From you
Chocolate, Vanilla
Strawberry, Nuts
Oh, gosh
Those bars
Are much
Too much
I know
It's hopeless
To feed
My tummy
I have
To leave
And find
My mommy.

Ok, I gotcha. Improvement. I will have to study Mrs. Walker's students' poetry. Let's see...what page do I want to start with?

Sunday, November 01, 2009

For Ladies Who Hate Carrying Handbags

Carrying a handbag means to me carrying the proverbial "kitchen sink," so I try not to take anything more than a few dollars, one credit card, and keys tucked in my pockets, unless I am to be gone for a length of time and need the hundred of items I stash in a purse.

A few weeks ago I should have taken my handbag. Needing to be at doctor's office for an epidural, I had insisted that R not accompany me since he wasn't feeling well. Meaning to be a help, he accompanied me. After an hour's wait R began having difficulty breathing. I told him to go to the car, wait for me to get cleared about my leaving the office for a few minutes to pick up my cellphone I left behind. R was going on to his own doctor for a check up. I informed the clerk, who said I had to wait and clear with the nurse, who then said she had to clear with the doctor--was I up next after an hour of waiting?? I ran out to the car anyway, to discover R had left me--almost naked. Despair filled my body. I had no purse (why, with hubby along?) and my cell phone had gone with him. A Hummer sat in our parking space. I returned to the office and told the clerk I was back but would have to cancel. She insisted I had to wait for the nurse to whom I explained I had to call my sister to come pick me up. Nurse said she had to consult the doctor.

After 10 minutes I told the clerk I was leaving, she said for me to wait for the nurse and before I could sit down the nurse came in and said I had to have someone in the office NOW. I explained my situation, asked if I could take the injection without a sedative to avoid waiting for my sister to come, she said wait, she'd talk to the doctor. While sitting there I tried to figure out my next move to get to hubby's doctor. Nurse returned saying doctor wouldn't okay my being there alone and would prefer that I take the sedative. Meaning I needed someone present in the waiting room throughout the procedure. I then said I would
cancel, the nurse said to wait until she consulted the doctor. Another five minutes passed and she finally came out and said doctor thought I should not take injection but take care of husband. Then I realized I knew only one phone number and that friend was out of town. I didn't know my sister's cell phone number, nor any other person's cell number. Most friends were not in town. Not living in a city with public transportation, I couldn't think of a way to get to hubby's doctor's office unless I walked the 10 miles...until I thought of a taxi.

In the meantime, R found my cell phone and had a clerk figure out how to use it to call my sister to come. He told her I was at one place when I was at another (did someone say men can't remember important info?). She looked for an hour at a hospital trying to find my doctor, whose name was R's doctor (he was too sick to understand her questioning). I called R's doctor to ask the clerk to get $5 from R for my taxi (I hadn't ridden in a local taxi in 30 years)that I was coming to where R was and not to leave me.

The taxi cost $ll.80, thankfully, R had no change other than twenties. We made contact and my sister and I laughed at the turmoil that happened on that Monday. I learned a valuable lesson: If I don't carry a handbag, for heaven's sake, CARRY THE CELLPHONE!!!

Monday, October 05, 2009

Checking the Fridge

Since R has become aware of food labels, he checks frequently the pantry and the fridges,discarding dried or moldy food and foodstuff with expired dates. Left to my decision I'll allow foods to hobble along as long as 12 months. This crazy man now checks my fridge weekly to determine what should be discarded. I know after all these years he understands that cleaning our fridges is not my favorite hobby. I push items I think we need to keep just a bit longer hidden on the back shelves. Discarding left overs is a difficult task for me. Makes me feel I am not a decent cook who is careful about leftovers. It's OK that I know that fact, but R's knowledge is too much for me. However, prior to leaving for summer vacation, I cleaned our two fridges until it was near-empty and gleamingly clean.

However...after two months we return and voila! a bowl with food dried to the bottom. The artistic me saw a beautiful painting. Practical husband saw something differently. At least his vocal exclamation rattled my senses as to how astute he has become in recognizing fresh food. If the picture above reminds you of the heavy brush strokes full of intense colors, then you understand why I had to take the photo. I'm thinking of framing this one.

Friday, September 25, 2009

Two Months Recap of NY Visit

I have to state that our stay in the woods of the Lower Catskills was rather uneventful this year. First, we left too late to really enjoy our time there, second, we had to break up the weeks to include a trip to Maine for 10 days, and third, I insisted that what family was around had to follow me on cemetery trips. The latter were usually one day trips, but terribly boring for everyone except me.

Before leaving for NY I had stumbled upon the Newkirk ancestors as having been residents of Ulster Co, Montgomery Co and Orange Co, NY. We traveled to Kingston, Marbletown, Old Hurley, and Middletown to view tombstones of folks gone by. I was the only excited one, because I finally have reached that point in life in which I appreciate history. Snapping photos of headstones that were barely legible as well as those illegible and the buildings that formed the early Dutch Reformed Church were totally worthwhile. Armed with shaving cream and paper towels, we were ready to wet down the old concrete stones to discover who was buried beneath. However, one cemetery anticipated the move of "bounty" hunters and forbade such "defacing." so we ended up with standing this way and that way to pick out with the naked eye some recognition of the letters of the last name.

Most of the remainder of the trip was enjoying the beautiful water around Georgetown Maine, visiting with friends and new relations, and packing for the trip home.

I'm getting too old to pack and unpack. Maybe that's why I had a birthday recently and added a year--to remind me I just can't go at the pace of a youngster.

Monday, September 07, 2009

Watching Fall Dance

Here in New York, a hike upwards from the Delaware River in the hamlet of Yulan, so named by the Chinese laborers who lived in the area during logging days, the beginning of fall is beautiful. One tree which we can see from our deck is already putting on new leaves. The ferns,so abundant in this area, are still green. Even they have a beauty about their browns when the green fades. Ferns in these parts are the perennials that border property, dress up bare spots, and proudly stand along the rustic road leading to our sheds.

Temperatures plunged (I write this because as a Southerner we don't get temps like this so early) to 40's several times last week and we declared "It's time to go home" and then the days following the temps were upper 50's nights, so we said, "Let's stay awhile longer." Those cold nights must have ushered in the right medicine for the leaves to change.

As time nears for us to return to the South, we suddenly feel we've not made enough contacts with friends, haven't taken enough out-of-town trips, haven't enjoyed the outdoors enough. It takes us weeks to relax together before wanting to connect with others...then suddenly time has run out.

I have new projects in mind, now that I feel invigorated,so I don't face fall and winter reading. I've read enough books here to last for the remainder of the year. I need action of a different nautre. Ahh, life in these mountains do relax us and gives us incentive to examine our blessings more frequently.

Friday, August 21, 2009

Behind the Obituary

I'm a fan of obituaries. It is the first page I read every morning. At my age I'm interested in knowing who in my realm of friendship has passed on. But even those whom I don't know, I read to discover what a fine contributor to our life the person has been. Whether a man was a farmer who worked hard (a seemingly less appreciated trait), served on the town's board, loved kids, kept a garden or a woman whose life was devoted to others' welfare--these were important to their families and to our life.

When R and I started our life after college in Jackson, we met a young childless couple as we who attended our church. Within a few years children came: two boys and a girl for us, two girls and a boy for them. Ironically, our daughter J and their second daughter S were born on the same date of the same year: August 28, 1963. Although not close during school years because we had moved further north while they continued to live in Jackson, we remained friends to celebrate special dates. New Year's Eve was a gathering for over 15 years until S married and J moved west.

Life rocked on beautifully. J traveled, living in different parts of the U. S, while S and her husband settled down and had two children and a thriving business. S and J met together in January at our oldest son's wedding to find time to chat as they did as youths. Reconnection.

A few weeks ago S's life was shattered by the loss of her well-respected husband in a headline-making situation that no one could have foreseen. This couple, who gave so much of their time to helping others, gaining a wealth of friendships in their years of marriage, and having been blessed as a family, were kind, active in their small church, loving to their families. The shots that rang out that day in the front yard of this couple took two lives and injured another. S survived with wounds in her arm, cheek, and chest. A terrible forever reminder of a tragedy that should never have happened.

No obituary can say how genuinely good T was, how seriously he took his role as father and husband, how he helped his neighbors, especially those older, and did what any young man could to better his neighborhood, his community, his church. His passion was flying and at one time had been an instructor. He is one of those young men who would have made his part of the world a better place to live. And now he is now gone. His community and we friends mourn his loss.

We are left to wonder why.

Todd Randolph died three weeks before his wife's 46th birthday. May you rest in peace, Todd!

Enjoying Maine

As a landlubber who doesn't go near water any further than the swimming pool for aerobic exercise, R and I have spent ten days on the shores of salt water on the Georgetown island in Maine. Our son-in-law emphasized that what I call peninsulas are really islands in this area. If you were to stretch out the Maine coastline it would be longer than the entire Atlantic coast. These shorelines are jagged and each piece holds mystery, history, and lure for those who love to swim and boat and revel in storytelling. I've been a landlubber too long to find the excitement others do. That doesn't mean I haven't enjoyed my stay. Watching the tide go in and out, seeing stillness of the water on hour and movement the next enchants me because it's so new.

Daughter J recently married a Mainer. He doesn't speak like one, but his lifestyle is such that being around him and his family who have enjoyed summer cottage life involving swimming all day at favorite swimming holes, enjoying boating and fishing outside their cottage door and ending with big suppers nightly during their growing-up years speaks for a well-rounded individual who is sharing this same life with J.

We'll never get to explore the whole coastline of this magnificent state, but we'll discover enough to want to continue revisiting each summer.

Tuesday, August 04, 2009

Return To The Hills

We're ba-cccck! Back in the hills and behaving like pioneers, almost. No utilities. Using a cooler for a fridge, going to the mountain stream for water, going to sleep nights when Mother Nature turns off the lights at 8:30, and waking up 12 hours later, something we'd never do at home!

Despite the fact that we left home with searing, humid heat,we came into the mountains that has seen fewer days of sunshine this summer than ever before. Rain, rain, and more rain. The sunny days find us constantly on our new deck, another thing we can't do at home. Being cooped up in a 12' x 12' building we call a shed, but fancily we say cabin, during the constant rain isn't our idea of a vacation. But, hey, we sleep under a down comforter nights, and we don't have to pay utility bills for two or three months. There's some equalizing to all of this.

We aren't pioneers because we don't plant a garden, build our fire for cooking, use the same clothes constantly, or sit by a fire nights mending our socks. But we feel like pioneers because our way of life here in the lower Catskills is a dramatic change from our usual life in town. We love it and hate to grow too old to return.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

City LIfe

The noises are muted. It's 9 p.m. and I hear outside the sounds of an occasional city bus, cars passing, an occasional taxi taking off.This isn't New York City, it's Brooklyn--across the river. In all the years we've visited this part of the world, away from Mississippi, I've never been anywhere but Manhattan. Only through movies have I heard of Brooklyn. Now I've crossed over the Manhattan Bridge for the first time into a city of interest.

Without our adult kids moving around, probably R and I would never have seen the inner workings of Boston, Cambridge, Portland OR, Portland ME, Salt Lake City, Bluff, UT (town of 58)or Barryville and Yulan NY. These are places they've lived and worked and we've had the privilege of visiting. We tried to influence one of ours to not remain in Mississippi, but choose Paris France, his and our fav place to visit, but J is a homebody and has been the chief caretaker of his parents. We'll have to visit Paris again without his invitation.

We'll stay in Brooklyn another few days and then to Yulan where we'll prepare to live "off the grid" for the next few months. Our advancing age keeps us wondering during the winter if we can continue to live this way summers. But once there we are there we are estatic, rather like a kid at Disney World (almost).Yes, that is hard for material girls and boys, but our summer life is invigorating, mind settling, nerve soothing.

Until then we are enjoying our Brooklyn stay, watching the dog walkers, using the sidewalks which we don't have (and miss)at home and visiting the unusual grocery stores and shops.

Friday, July 17, 2009

Keyboard Stress

In my life of owning computers, five machines to be exact, all the used ones had just the right keyboards, although I didn't select any of them. However, I ordered my last-nearly a year old-HP on the telephone and forgot to ask for a simple keyboard. The computer came with one that businesses own--complete numbering on the right side, which I don't use. I learned to type on a manual typewriter that didn't have such a division.

In August I will have had this computer a year and still I've continued to place my hands on the wrong keys. So when I write a compliment to a friend on Facebook and say "I like your new photo" the typing comes out like this"

O ;ove upir new [jptp!

Sometimes I have to rewrite several times just to hry yjr lrud yp eptl gpt ,r/.(get the keys to work for me). I'm ready to pitch this keyboard in and get one that beckon my fingers to the right landing so they'll be on asdf jkl; every time!

Monday, June 29, 2009

Old Habits Never Die

With temps soaring into 100 degrees last week and the heat index hovering at 108 deg. our 13 year-old air conditioner compressor decided to die a slow death. We were unaware that the coolness had declined by Friday. One of those mechanical failures you least expect. Like everyone else, we've become accustomed to home air conditioning. We are into Day Four of the art of staying cool.With July Fourth looming, we may spend a lot of time in the mall reading.

How reminiscent this is of the temps I faced teaching school. No matter how neatly dressed and made up I was at 8:00 a.m., by 8:30 my makeup was sliding towards my waist, strands of hair were losing their stance on my head(no hair spray has been invented to ignore heat), and the light starch in my blouse was wilting. In one hour my appearance likened me to a Rip Van Winkle nap. No fans were provided for the classrooms, so I contributed one.There was such a fuss made over the direction the fan should face I eventually turned it off to avoid classroom conflict. I was fooling myself that this medium-sized fan would offer relief. But the psychology was worth more than the actual cooling. By the end of the day exhaustion filled our bodies like a tank of hot water. The difficult part of teaching was keeping students alert in all the heat. The next difficult part was maintaining control with humor.

For some inconceivable reason architects of early schools chose to face the buildings where a lot of sunlight floods classrooms, not taking into account heat that often begins in mid-to-late April. Yet, you check the buildings and those that do face south have tall windows that create havoc in the classrooms with students jockeying for a seat on the other side of the room. Those days are memories.

With a tall glass of ice water and a good book, I sit near a fan that does its best to make me comfortable. I can't complain. Some people don't have the luxury of one fan.

Waiting. There's bound to be the fridge, the washer or dryer or the hot water heater ready to blow its valves. Doesn't it happen in pairs?

Thursday, June 18, 2009

'Grams of Love

Oftentimes we learn more about our parents when it is too late to ask questions. I recall when my mother was alive I quizzed her about her courtship with Daddy: How long did you and Daddy date? Why did you pick out each other? Did you meet his family, vice-versa? And in her 85 years of memory she gave me the answers. However, never understanding why she had such a short courtship I found the answer in a packet of telegrams sent to my mother by an ambitious, overeager, testosterone-driven, and most of all, poetic father.

In 1931 telephones were few, telegrams were many.Daddy was a telegrapher with the Postal Telegraph(later, Western Union) and sent his new girlfriend a telegram, many with the words that came out of a teletype machine on one long strip of paper 3/8” wide. Dad tore off the strips to fit the 8 ½” wide page, wet the pasty side by running the strip across a porcelain roller sitting in water and pressed the strips onto the paper.

At one time Mother worked across the street from Daddy’s office in a discount store. Deliveries of telegrams arrived frequently, and her boss was well-aware of a budding romance. Dad’s very first telegram, which Mother wrote in pencil at the bottom “the first wire I ever got from H. E.” began this courtship. If you notice the date, it is 1931 June 22. On July 12 they were married in the home of a Presbyterian minister. Dad worked fast and furious, didn't he? Mother was 18 years old; Dad 22. But for my dad, winning this pretty young lady was very important.

The first telegram, delivered by a messenger on a bike, reads, “This seems the only available means of communicating with you. Called you but you “were out”(as usual). Will call you tomorrow at seven bells sharp. Be there or there might be another shootin’ in town.” Fresh out of business school Mother had found a room at the local YWCA which housed young women on a month-to-month rental. The Y was located at one end of the main downtown street and Daddy’s office was at the other end. No other young woman ever received a telegram, making Mother a popular topic of conversation when one arrived.

Succeeding posts increased Daddy’s poetic side. Just before their planned wedding he wrote on July 3, 1931, “Your li’l voice sure sounded sweet over the phone this a.m. I couldn’t sleep last night for thinking of you. But I don’t regret the sleep as long as my thoughts are of the sweetest girl in all the world--you. All my love and here’s looking forward to the time when you will be all mine.”
Dad couldn’t voice his words as well as he wrote them, so he sent another telegram-- the words typed directly onto the paper--a special three-page love letter asking Mother to marry him. How could she have refused this love-sick young man?

Daddy's enjoyment for writing telegrams didn't cease when computers and fax machines replaced the old-fashioned teletype machines that spit out the ribbons of type. He switched to handwritten notes that were pinned on her pillow or on the fridge, and even on the living room floor so she'd see them when she arrived home from work. Notes when he didn't buy a gift; notes to remind her of his love; notes to wish her a happy trip or a welcome-home note. Many are lost, some were saved.

But nothing can compare with the telegrams. After her death I found a small number of them in her cedar chest. Glued together from moisture and heat, the messages remind my sister and me of the way our dad showed his creativity and love for his "sweet girl".

Happy Father's Day, Dad.

Monday, June 15, 2009

Where Is My Pipe and Holmes Hat?

I am a dedicated detective. Even without the paraphenalia Sherlock wears. I own a copy of Idiot's Guide to Private Investigation. But I don't use my "skills" to find people alive. They've usually been in the ground or a small box, or in the wind, sea, or mountains. I'm a genealogist.

I use the same skills I used to obtain information for news articles when I was a budding journalist. I scare people with what I want to know. And they shut up tighter than the proverbial "Dick's hatband." So few folks today understand the importance of preserving family history. Sometimes I fall flat on my face with reasons why I want the information. Who has time, they say, to dredge up birth and death dates as well as family members of my grandparents? That happened too long ago! And I leave them searching for another member of the family from whom to draw the info. These are the ones who have never been asked family questions.

Keeping all information of your immediate family in one place, even a bank box, you will have ready for your family genealogist when she/he calls. his includes certificates of all types (birth, death, divorce,baptism,awards) letters, diaries,photographs, medals, and the like. Sounds like you need a special box to put them in? Indeed! Handwritten letters and notes are so special and fade with age that you need to make copies only a few times if any at all. Put them in UV ray-free enclosures you can purchase in a photography store. This careful attention as you age will be appreciated and easier to find at your passing.

A glance at (now advertised online and tv) to find a public search of your family is the beginning of a great treasure hunt. Only recently did I connect the Newkirks to families in New York, who had lived less than 100 miles from where we stay summers! How exciting now be able to plan a trip to visit cemeteries and place names where these elders once lived.

WARNING: This family checking can be habit-forming. When you find a long-lost great uncle or note which ship your great great grandfather sailed to the new world, you will have a whole new world of information to digest.

Sunday, June 07, 2009

When Folks Get Together

This weekend I've been to two places to meet new folks and renew friendships.

The first was a funeral of a sister of my best friend in high school. Although P and I hung together all through high school and into early marriage, raising kids parted us for those extra responsibilities that impeded our get-togethers. We last talked on the telephone ten years ago vowing to meet each other for lunch to keep the friendship ties. That didn't happen. When I entered the funeral home and signed the visitor's book I looked up and saw this beautiful woman. We didn't recognize each other. She glanced down at the book to see the last entry and saw my name. We enveloped each other and looked hard into the eyes to validate their owners. P made a comment that emphasized how important keeping close to old friends. "I've been so depressed these last years, I wondered what happened that I no longer saw my true friends anymore." And here we were, two of many high school friends we had shared. Where the others are no one knows. But we know the importance of picking up the chain of long ago and keeping it off the ground from now on.

By the evening R and I were enjoying the friendship of our neighborhood at an outdoor party. The weather was perfect. Warm, cool breeze, music, and the best friend chicken around. We have great cooks in our neighborhood. What is wonderful is the strong friendship the neighbors have. We are mostly retired folks. A smattering of younger families have moved into the area. Then there were the first-timers, many of whom have lived in the neighborhood but haven't attended earlier parties. As one neighbor said, "I think folks thought our parties were alcoholic ones and didn't want the hassle of meeting neighbors that way."(We refrain from alcohol to help those in AA) The strongest drink served was a New England bottle of Moxie (or was it another M word?). A transplant from NE had brought several bottles over for other transplants to have a bit of home. One woman from New Hampshire and an over 20 year neighbor, declared she'd never had such a drink. Stronger than Dr. Pepper the giver said. I didn't get a taste, most consumers kept it to themselves to transport themselves home for a few swallows.

I have found it easy to stay home and have little contact with others. But I know as my friend P says, depression can set in before you know it. I want nothing to do with that!

Monday, May 25, 2009

Finally, I Honored Others on Memorial Day

For over thirty years on Memorial Day I've closed out the school year by completing final paperwork. After I retired I celebrated by attending quiet parties. or I shopped, unmindful of the significance of the day.

Last Monday my sister and I attended the services for the Royal Dutch Flyers who had trained in Jackson, MS during WWII. We both realized minor parts our parents played in that long ago time and it was somehow necessary that we attend one service in our lifetime. We are aging just as many vets are. Loyalty to their comrades brings most vets to any memorial service. Ours was delayed respect.

Mother worked as one of several PBX operators--you've seen them in old photos or in early movies sitting at a board plugging and unplugging wires to connect phones--and Daddy repaired all the telegraph/teletype machines at the base. In those days airbase workers couldn't reveal much about their work or what they saw at the base.

The activity at the Jackson Air Base of 1941-47 was the reason we saw so many airmen in town. A number of American squadrons came and went at different periods of time. In May 1942 the base was designated as the Army Air Force Specialized Flying School and would be open to the Netherlands East Indies Air Force to train here. One story is that the Dutch base in the East Indies had been taken over by the Japanese and training had to be conducted somewhere else. The Jackson base was selected by the Dutch Air Force for basic and advanced training while Fort Levenworth in KS would conduct primary training.

Today one veteran from the Viet Nam War told us he'd heard stories of these young men, many in their late teens, who were daredevils, flying loops under telephone and utility lines, flying low over buildings and homes--any scary tactic imaginable. I faintly remember one occasion looking upward and hearing that same remark from the few around me as a light plane flew just above our heads. Many died during their training or on flights across the U. S. The war activity prevented the transfer of bodies in the United States back to Holland, so the remains were sent back to Jackson, Ms where a plot of land in the city's cemetery was designated for the Dutch Airmen. For over 60 years a service has been held in honor of these young men and their commandants.

Over the years a member of the Royal Dutch Family came to lay the wreath at the base of the monument.Other times a special guest did the honors. This year veterans of four conflicts lay the wreath while 100 persons, mostly vets and their families, watched.

A few years ago one of the oldest men in the Dutch Air Force was laid to rest alongside his comrades, last year his wife's remains were buried next to him. This year, an airman whose remains were in a Florida cemetery were transferred to be laid to rest with his squadron. In the rear of the cemetery known as Cedarlawn lie 36 airmen, two children, and one wife in a quiet area unknown to most of the traffic passing daily.

The 9:30 a.m. day began cloudy with the sun peeping until it found a wide gap in the clouds. Within thirty minutes the humidity has risen and heat had replaced the few breezes we experienced earlier. Military honors with gun salute, fly over, a lot of speeches of reminiscence reminded us of the once presence of the Flying Dutchmen. May 4 is the Dutch celebration of Memorial Day. I'm sure they honor those buried in Mississippi.

Saturday, May 16, 2009

Bedbugs Resurgence Recalls Memories

I was settling into a bedroom in a beautiful two-story home in Mexico City in June, 1959, expecting to enjoy summer study with my high school collegue Mary F, a history teacher who traveled with me. We would attend Mexico City College on the outskirts of the city on a mountainside. We had been met at the airport by the Senorita's maid and dropped at the door in front of one of the houses in a fashionable neighborhood. Time enough to have supper and unpack. Our hostess was an artist, and appeared excited to have American boarders for the duration of the summer.

However during the night something attacked me. I jumped out of bed and turned on the lights, pulled back covers to discover---nothing. At this point I'd only heard of bedbugs, but not really experienced them. It was easy to recognize the feeling of what was nestling in my musky mattress. I fought them all night. The next morning I felt as if I'd downed 10 Margaritas without food as I stumbled down the curved staircase for breakfast. How to say "bedbugs" in Spanish? My dictionary was still packed away. Our hostess spoke enough English to say hello and good morning and the maid none. I was a bit jealous that Mary F had enjoyed a good night's sleep. She knew very little Spanish so I was left alone to figure out how to explain to our hostess there were bedbugs in the mattress in the room assigned to me. I knew not to say Tiene (you have) because would mean she owned them; I made my best effort, telling her first, that the mattress needed sol. Then to dispel the quizzical look on her face, I said hay mosquitos pequenos... and then I walked my fingers like the adverts did for yellow pages years later, repeating "... caminan en la cama." She looked at me and said "Absolutament NO" or something similar. I then had to explain "un variedad de mosquitos" but she left the room in a pout.

Mary F and I took the bus to school that one morning, riding in a Trailways-like coach for about 20 minutes and filled mostly with American students. Between classes when students flocked to the snack bar Mary F and I stumbled upon a lovely little Mexican lady speaking good English soliciting summer boarders. She had a nice place, she insisted, for two ladies as we. I repeated my experience the previous night and she said "Come with me after class,I will explain, then you rent from me." Srta. Artista was angry and refused to believe we were moving because of the bedbugs, but she understood we had an ally and wanted our deposit returned. Before long we were stuffed in Sra. Solana's little car on our way to the outskirts of town. We parked and dragged our suitcases across the wide street and entered through a non-descript door in a wall.

We stepped into a fairyland of color: a square area of yard with green grass, shady trees, and colorful flowers. Ten Mexican bungalows huddled in a U-shape around the green area. We were greeted by a monster on four legs they called a dog that stood up to our thighs and only understood Spanish. He had to smell us and hear our voices so we'd be protected on the outside of the fence. Otherwise, he would have torn us up when we inserted our housekey into the outside door. Later we would discover how difficult it was to obtaining taxi rides late at night. One driver asserted that we were located in a dangerous part of town where taxi drivers were robbed. No one in the neighborhood bothered us, despite our having more money probably than the poor taxi drivers.

The little bungalow had a small living room/kitchen and bedroom. The bar separating the living room, or la sala, from the kitchen, la cocina was shaped like an ironing board--for that very use. Every day we'd leave this beauty situated across from the American School,walk into another world to the corner and turn to walk several blocks to the highway and wait for the bus. The streets screamed poverty--people sleeping and cooking in lean-tos,half dressed as they swept the dirt floors of their hovels,as we, bowing out of the way of half clothed children playing in unsanitary conditions. Would we safely return to our little slice of heaven? We passed semmingly unnoticed.

Those darn bedbugs, so tiny and white that I couldn't locate a single one during the night, caused a new experience for Mary F and me. Oftentimes I wonder how we would have fared in that beautiful neighborhood, rubbing elbows with the arts crowd, and having downtown D. F. within blocks of us. Los senores Solana took care of us, explaining Mexico and their fare. They served as our parents for the time we spent with them. Neither Mary F nor I will forget living on Calle Observatorio.

We never missed the artist and her home and the bedbugs she refused to acknowledge.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Something New

Remember when your family moved to a newer house containing two bathrooms instead of the usual one? Remember the rising glee as each of you ran to one bathroom, then the other, admiring all the new fixtures, and realizing how each of you can shower or take a tub bath with more privacy? If you’ve had that experience, you'll understand about yesterday.

That same penetrating excitement washed over me when a member of the Geek squad hooked up my husband’s computer Tuesday afternoon. Now we each have our own. This isn’t a story found in most households. Nothing new about families owning several computers. For us it's different. R hasn't cared to use the computer until recently A rising apprehension began welling inside me in December as R learned on the desktop this black key moves the screen that way, this other key at the top does that, and then with two fingers and a bit of magic the printer turns on spitting out a wealth of information.

Now R is the proud owner of a netbook, a waif-like machine that shrinks even more in a large man’s hand. The screen is approximately 10” wide and closed, the machine fits into an 8 ½” x 11” envelope weighting three pounds. R behaves as if he’s bought a brand-new Bentley.

And I’m relieved that I can plop down in front of my desktop any time of the day to empty my head of ideas that rush into a short story or that still-to-be-published manuscript that keeps me forever young.

Sunday, April 26, 2009

Fifty Years Ago. . .

...I was a young teacher with four classes of tenth grade English and one class of Spanish in the original building housing Central High School in Jackson, MS. The half century class reunion of 1959 held its gathering last evening in Jackson at a site that was a wooded area fifty years ago. Those posing for a photo showed that despite the number of deceased, there were a large number still living. They are now retired or nearly so, have contributed much to their community, and only twelve years younger than I.

Today I wish I had begun my teaching at Central. I had chosen to "learn the ropes" in two small Delta towns before tackling a large school in the capitol city. Blessed is what I call my years at Central, a school being torn apart by progress--new high schools in the northern and western ends of town. Soon Central High would be an empty building with its wide hallways, creaking wood stairs, stalwart lockers lining the walls like sentinels, dark basement rooms, empty patios. Silent but for the echoes of the once-heard marching of ROTC students outside and the commands of their drill instructors, locker doors slamming between classes, and the thousands of feet pounding the wood floors only to quieten when the bells clanged to warn of classes beginning or ending. With little trouble I can transform myself mentally into those hallways just left or right of the auditorium. As I progress through the hallways,I hear teachers explaining the history lesson, the math problem, the rules of grammar. No school was like Central High, and I was in a bit of heaven last night as I saw and talked with many of my former students, my mind reeling with photos of them as seventeen-year olds.

There were five of us teachers out of ten who attended. At our table we talked about the meaning of this school and declared that our time at Central High was the best of any school where we had worked. We were family. What better way to explain the warmth we still hold in our hearts for these students and faculty with whom we worked?

Friday, April 03, 2009

I Could Have Had the Best Mentor. . .

Now that I'm retired I have time to reflect on those with whom I've been in contact who could have changed my life had my decision at the time been opposite. I seem to have floated through life making a few bad ones. Here's one example.

Fresh out of college I took a summer job with a suburban newspaper. My goal was to teach a few years and then to enroll in journalism school. My new position was to work with the owner and his wife. Marlene covered the business side and dipped into the social scene with her reporting. When I was hired I reported just about every angle until Sam decided I could write features. I interviewed the kid who won a monkey, the award-winning rose grower, the prim antique collector, the college trekker. Then I began to cover the evening parties with a photographer, getting names of the posed. That was par for the course, I suspected. I had spent four years writing for a community college newspaper, covering every aspect of putting out a papers except printing.

One day an imposing lady wearing a hat whose brim was as wide as an umbrella and as springlike as daffodils entered the doorway. She wanted to see Sam. Later Sam exclaimed she was the owner of two small newspapers. Her name was Mrs. Smith. Uh, yea, Mrs. Smith in disguise I said to myself.

However, she came in often, always sporting a different wide-brimmed hat. I thought by then that she was interested in buying Sam's newspaper. In early August I received a letter from her asking me to join her staff in Lexington, just north of Jackson. That request sent me into the struggle of "Should I or Should I Not?" Already I was preparing to teach in a Delta school. I had learned in college -- YOU DON'T BREAK CONTRACTS. Here was my opportunity to work full time at what I truly loved. I leaned towards staying with my contract, regretfully. By the following year I was ready togive my body a hundred lashes for the mistake.

Little did I know Hazel Brannon Smith and her zeal for values. As a staff member of the Lexington Advertiser, I would have become embroiled in civil rights with Hazel. Her complete bio is found online at www.journal of Mississippi History written by Newman, Mark, “Hazel Brannon Smith and Holmes County, Mississippi, 1936-1964: The Making of a Pulitzer Prize Winner,” Journal of Mississippi History 54 (February 1992), pp. 59-87.

The summer I received the invitation was 1954 and during the following year as I struggled with 150 students Hazel Brannon Smith struggled with the Supreme Court's decision to desegregate public schools. She stood alone while white merchants and citizens boycotted her newspaper.

By 1964, ten years after my invitation to join her staff, Hazel Brannon Smith became the first woman to win the Pulitzer Prize for her editorials expressing her strong opinions. The last edition of the Lexington Advertiser was printed in 1983. She won the Fannie Lou Hamer award in 1993 and died May 1994.

I often think of the exciting and dangerous ride I would have had with Hazel Brannon Smith. Would I have stayed and fought alongside her? Could I have coped with the burning cross in her yard? The anger and meanness of the citizens? I had no strong political opinions but I agreed with many of her beliefs. I would have witnessed zeal and heartbreak and courage in one woman. I would have had the best mentor anyone could have wished for.

Now the Mississippi Legislature has honored Hazel Brannon Smith with Resolution 83 for her courage in the heat of adversity. Look online at the Clarion-Ledger, Jackson, MS, March 31, 2009 for an article by Emily Wagster Pettus reporting the honor and giving some background. I can see Hazel now, standing on a cloud wearing one of her wide-brimmed hats, smiling down on all of us.

Sunday, March 08, 2009

Mexico Nowadays a Danger to Travelers

I spent three summers studying in Mexico in the 1950's, when the country was safe enough for me to travel via Trailways bus to the Texas border of Laredo, waiting an hour in a messy bus station, relying on my American-taught Spanish to get me on the Monterrey-bound and later the Mexico City-bound buses. I never gave a thought of danger those summers. Now with trouble exploding in Mexico, I'm glad my students were introduced to the colorful, exciting, historical Mexico in their teen lives that today is difficult to capture as drugs endanger travelers.

I was to repeat that trip several more times for myself, then when I became a teacher of Spanish, knowing the ropes of getting around the country from one point to another, I planned trips for my students. I knew the customs, and I pushed those customs down the throats of my passengers, including the length of the skirts of the female students. The acceptable length in Mexico was below the knee, and we Americans were just beginning to raise the bar to above the knee. Also, no shorts. And no flirting. Now try to convince American girls they didn't flirt! I told them dating Mexican boys was NOT the object of our trip. Well, who listens to an old fogey of a school teacher? That's another story.

On one trip to Mexico City, I expressed to the boys and girls not to get caught with a shadow. There were guys who'd follow them around hoping to be included in meals, day trips, anything where the Mexican didn't have to pay. We weren't in the Capitol 24 hours before I saw a group of my guys with one Mexican youth their age insisting on taking them places "the teacher would never tell you about." He spoke English well and an invitation to go to the red light district of D. F. were enough to convince the students to follow this guy. By the next day I sat the students down and explained that when they least expected it, they would be paying this guy's meal ticket. They smiled, acted like they knew better than I, and proceeded to continue this "friendship."

The seventh and last morning the male students rushed in anxious to sit with us and tell us their latest experience. I never was so relieved to hear the words "You were right, Mrs. N, he seemed never to have any money when we were ready to eat!" Then the Mexican came in, sat down with them, ordered his breakfast and ate his last meal with them. The boys remained cool, laughing with their visitor. The students got up, shook hands in farewell to their "friend" and left. I remained behind to witness the ending of this story. When the Mexican finished his breakfast, he started out the door only to be stopped and asked to pay his bill. He tried to explain that his "friends" had paid, but he got nowhere. The manager took him somewhere out of sight.

You can bet I had the best reputation for being strait-laced about behavior that helped my future Mexico excursions. My trips from the 1950's to 1990's were successful giving beautiful memories for the students. From the first trip of 8 students traveling in two cars driven by moms to the bus loads of 36-40, there was never a situation that couldn't be handled. However, I know some activities occurred without my knowing it (thank goodness!) and I'd love to hear from those students who are now in their mid-fifties in age tell me what they did those Mexican nights that I never knew about.

These photos are from my last two Yucatan trips where the students were few but delightful. By this time we were using air flights to allow for more time for sightseeing.

Thursday, March 05, 2009

We Have Wild Animals, Too

After reading several blogs from folks who live in the East, the authors write much about the animals they see in the woods. Our yard, our neighborhood, our small town are backed by woods and water--and the deer, rabbits, squirrels and probably a few other wild things roam around freely. There's a story that the neighborhood has a wildcat that wanders from one side of the area to the other. Few have seen it. It's not uncommon to come home late nights and find our car headlights startling four grown deer in the back yard. We talk next morning to neighbors who can swear to the number seen crossing the street early that morning.

Madison is gobbling up nature. Because our neighborhood borders the famed Natchez Trace Parkway, where woods are seen on both sides of the road, we can count on a continuous parade of large deer in the future.

There's always an inner thrill to arrive home and see these beautiful beasts visiting--and the thrill disapates when we see our outside plants are . . . no more.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Keeping Up with the Electronic Age

I hadn't intended joining Facebook. I thought it was for the younger generation. But I wanted to see a video daughter J had shared on her page. Then I began to read the notes (public notes, that is) from her friends with whom I was familiar. Well, I thought, maybe this is a good way to keep up with news of all her friends. So I joined. In this way I'd not have to ask her from time to time "What's going on with LW?" I could just check her Facebook page and see if she had written J a note. Then my son S joined. Surprisingly, because he has trouble just reading and answering his emails. However, by checking these two pages I see photos never before shared with us. Not because the kids are thoughtless, just because they don't send us every snapshop.

I'm not nosy. I'm curious about everything and everyone. Who knows when I'll meet someone who knows someone I know or my kids know? It's good for conversation when you can speak a little about a lot of things and people. Back to Facebook--I don't know how to find pages of people my age, so I have to be happy to read what is going on in the minds of folks younger than I. Half of the time I think they're speaking in unknown tongues. Someone told me to watch "Family Guy" on TV and learn the latest lingo. I failed to recognize what was being said, so I'm trying to translate the latest vocabulary on Facebook.

I don't use a closeup pic, so my photo won't appear on someone's passport or driver's license. You can see me rappelling down the side of a tall hill in Tennessee. After that first jump when I thought my life would end,I was able to enjoy the drop; the climb up was impossible. One time rappelling was enough for me.

Visit me at Facebook. Become my friend.If you want to.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Warm Days of February

Just last Saturday the temp soared upwards to 76 degrees! A beautiful time to get out. Like folks our age, we hit the flea market track south on Highway 49. We need two bedside tables. We ended up in a community of shops that have more glasswear than anything else, but did find one table. Some shops are so crowded with items that you have to lift and move them to search for just your selection. Other shops had displays that were more enticing. The owners know how to treat the customer. They sold cold drinks for $1 or less. And the day was warm enough to sample the cans and bottles of carbonation.

However, there weren't many cars on the road. Until we were ready to cross to the other side and head north. Highway 49 south goes to Hattiesburg and eventually the Gulf Coast. By spring the traffic will increase, as folks head to the casinos and whatever beach they can find between Gulfport and Mobile.

Usually February is our coldest month, but this year we are having unseasonal weather. Daffodils are already sprouting, but the camellias are troubled, preferring the cold weather for blooming. There are a handful of buds on the bushes. I planted tulips in pots and their sprouts are showing just enough to let me know I placed them
in the correct position for growth.

If this weather holds up by the weekend, we'll head north on another route to find that perfectly shaped, one-of-a-kind bedside table to complete our shopping for the year.

Whoever said the fun is in the journey not the destination is absolutely correct!

Saturday, February 07, 2009

The Wedding's Over

It's history. Gone are the confusion, the searching, the decisions. Our oldest son married January 24 and the entire time we chided the whole process of spending so much money (not ours entirely) for such an elaborate outpouring for a simple ceremony. But as one couple of friends said,when expressing their feelings about their son's wedding, there was a euphoria after the weekend. The fuss and bother, the strain and stress, the anticipation and results were worth all the preparation.

I'm reminded of the old hymn that begins with "Precious memories, how they linger..." They do. But memories that are precious don't have to cost and arm and a leg, in my opinion. If our newly-weds could have had the dollars that were spent on an elaborate cake, flowers, expansive buffet dinner, music, clothing and the likes, they would have been able to furnish their home, maybe put a little in savings...but I'm a penny pincher, and many would disagree with me. In the long run we are proud of our son's choice for a mate and they are happy. Why should I worry about expenses?

Our family was grateful to watch our oldest experience a weekend of his own. And a precious memory.

Sister and Brother waiting for ceremony to commence.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Discovering Old Letters

Fishing through the myriad of boxes and folders that contain family history, I’ve come upon several letters written to my parents. They bear dates of 1937 and 1938. At that time my parents had been married less than ten years.

The letters are brown and faded, written in pencil, as pens were a luxury only afforded by the few. But the three cent stamps and the post office stamp with date, time, and place are indelible.

The first is from my grandmother who lived a simple life in South Mississippi. Her husband was a store keeper. Grandfather Mitchell had built a one-room store across the road from the house and the corn mill. So much bartering went on in those days that money seemed to be used for extras, as in what they sent to their daughters and families. The letter was addressed to Annie, my mother. At the time my grandparents had two daughters living in the Jackson, Miss. area. My aunt's name was Wilmouth; everyone called her Will.

The short note was written on lined paper, within a 5” x 8 tablet. The kind you bought in a country store. The paper has browned considerably with age.In the 1930s loose-leaf paper was a thing of dreams. The envelope is dated May,1938; I doubt this envelope contained the letter at all, since the contents reveal a different time:

Dear Annie. Enclosed you will find a check for four dollars. You have it cashed an give will(my aunt) one dollar & Elsie (her daughter) one you keep one give viv a fifty cts Hubert fifty cts this is your Christmas Presant. Buy any thing you all want
From. Dad & Mother.

Despite their offspring receiving high school and college educations, these humble folk never had the opportunity past the fourth grade. Just enough to write notes and add and subtract.

The second letter received by my parents was from a couple who had lived in the neighborhood and had moved west. Only a portion of this letter is repeated, just to inform the reader of life in this California city in August, 1937. This time the letter is on unlined paper from a similar tablet, and also written in pencil.

Dear Mr.and Mrs. W: guess you folks think we’ve forgotten you, but really we’ve been so much on the go since leaving you all. This is a beautiful country. Nothing like it anywhere. We’ve been in this town two weeks, stayed a week in San Francisco. We are 48 miles from there now. This town is surrounded by mountains. With all kinds of orchids growing right up the sides of them (mountains). Four of us drove up Mount Hamilton after dinner and coming back we coasted 19 miles. The top of it is 4200 feet above sea level.

Most of the work here is controlled by the union. It’s a wonderful thing. Snooks (the wife) is making $18 a week and $1 to $1.25 in tips daily. It cost her $5 to join the union and $1.25 a month dues. My pay is $7 per hour for 8 hours, and I paid $25 to join and five dollars a month dues. Grocery stores and markets open at 9 a. m. and close promptly at 6 p.m. --Saturdays, too. We have a swell five room apart. for $35 a month.

This is the home of Edmund Lowe, Fatty Arbuckle, Jackie Cooper, and Janet Gaynor and a number of other stars. The pop. Is about 80,000 people. Expenses are not much more than in Jackson. Jobs are not as plentiful as expected but when you do get on you get well paid.

Oh, I forgot to tell you about the desert. There is about 300 miles and hot as fire. We bought ice and dry ice too, and then almost died.

We are going to get us a large Kodak and make some pictures and send some to you. This is just like you see in the Wild West pictures. You sure can enjoy picture shows after you have seen this country. P. S. This town is pronounced
San o-zay.

This letter must have set my parents to thinking about their future travels. By 1945 we family of four would climb into a packed Ford station wagon (with real wood panels on the sides) and take a similar trip to California along Route 66. And yes, we thought we’d die there in the desert at Blythe, California, despite packing ice in a bag and tying the bag at the front of the car’s engine and hanging a sack full of dry ice at the passenger-side, nearly-closed window to give the car’s inside some cool air...What a trip that was!