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!