Category: Uncategorized

Grateful

Things

To be

Grateful for:

A good, brisk, walk;

Low humidity;

Rain brightens shades of green;

Friends who still send me snail mail;

A sweet note of thanks from Gracie;

Voluptuous blue hydrangeas,

In a vase on the coffee table;

Today, I spied a scarlet tanager!

“There was a little girl…”

When I was growing up, our next-door neighbors were Mr. and Mrs. Gilhooley, an elderly couple whose children were grown and had moved away. Their house had a wrap-around front porch. Mr. Gilhooley sat by the front door and faced the street while he chewed tobacco and spit into an Eight O’Clock Coffee can. Mrs. Gilhooley sat around the corner where her chair faced the side of our house, probably so she wouldn’t have to watch the chewing and the spitting. Just below the railing of that side porch, three brilliantly pink peony bushes, Mrs. Gilhooley’s pride and joy, blossomed all summer long. Mrs. Gilhooley pruned them, built supports for them, and often gave cut blooms to my mother who enjoyed their fragrance.

Mrs. Gilhooley wasn’t mean, and she wasn’t particularly nice. What she was, was “there.” As in always “there,” on the porch, rocking and knitting or dealing with the peonies. Every time she would see me, she’d say the same thing, “What nice curls you have, dearie. Keep eating those bread crusts, and you’ll always have curls.” If she saw me twice a day or twelve times a day, it was always the same greeting.

I despised my curls. I picked all the crusts off the bread I ate, but it did no good. The curls remained, untamable. Every morning I stood in front of my mother while she tried valiantly to get the comb though the tangles that had accumulated during the night. She’d section my hair and shape baloney curls around her fingers, and then she’d tie a bow at the top of my head before school. By lunch time, the tangles would have reappeared, and a repeat of the morning’s torture would follow when I came home for lunch. There was not one thing about the procedure that I looked forward to except its conclusion.

My chestnut-colored hair turned blue-black as I outgrew the baloney curls. My sister, Fran, cut my hair to chin length, and she showed me how to use barrettes and bobby pins to tame my locks. I turned 16 in 1960 and got my first job as a car hop at the Embers just outside of town. This was the year of the Jackie Kennedy flip and the long, straight hair of folk singers like Joan Baez, the barefoot Madonna. I could aspire to being neither. But I did save up my earnings for a visit to Mrs. Featherall, the hairdresser, where I paid to have may hair lightened to chestnut brown and cut to “pixie” length. My mother and Mrs. Gilhooley were not pleased. Neither, it turns out, was I. As the pixie length grew out, so did the color fade, and the curls came back with a vengeance. My best friend, Naomi, suggested that I let it grow over the summer, and then I could set it on huge brush rollers at night, and it would stay smooth.

Thus began eight years of sleeping on curlers every night. Throughout high school and college, I wore my hair first in the Jackie flip and then in a long page-boy style. To save time when I became a first-year teacher, I went back to very short hair, which I pretty much kept throughout adulthood. Never dealing with curly hair again was my goal.

My last hair cut occurred in late February. Here’s what I discovered. I love my curls! Now that we have hair products, corkscrew frizz becomes curls. Who knew? I spent 60 years, denying my natural hair. Mrs. Gilhooly, I eat all the crusts on my bread now.

Before, During, and After

THE BEFORE TIMES

Coffee with a friend

Browsing my favorite independent book store

Lunch at that little sandwich shop

Running to the store for the one thing the recipe needs,

And Also,

Diseased blankets

The Edmund Pettus Bridge

Ruby Bridges

Little Rock, and

Four little girls murdered

In a Baptist church.,

and

George Floyd.

Using my age as an excuse

For avoiding difficult conversations,

For lack of action.

Being part of the problem

By not being part of the solution.

THE DURING TIMES

Learning to “make do”

With what is on hand.

Taking action

One day at a time

In steps, one foot in front of the other.

THE AFTER TIMES

Life must be lived

Forward.

Some people

Want to go back to the way things were

Before.

Which “Before” do they want?

Adventures in Zoom

If you’ve read some of my slices, you know that I am decidedly “non” tech. It’s all I can do to get these posted, let alone add photos. Still, when the pandemic and its requirements to shelter in place made it impossible to meet face-to-face, my family met via Zoom. I downloaded the app to my phone, and since there are only three groups in the meeting, and with my older son providing guidance, we managed okay.

When I needed to meet with larger groups, I tried using my laptop, but Zoom would not load. My son says that my laptop is “a paperweight” and I need a new one. Interestingly, that’s the same message my friend, Lynne, gave me about a year ago!

So, I downloaded the app to my brand spanking new iPad, and I thought I was good to go. Unfortunately, not having my 6-year-old grandson to show me in person what to do (the way I learn best), I needed to read instructions: First, “blah, blah, blah.” Then, “blah, blah.” Okay. I read, practiced, goofed up, and tried again. I thought I was ready.

BUT, I was not. On the first zoom I joined, I neglected to activate both the camera AND the audio. I couldn’t understand why I was neither seen nor heard. Next time, I left the meeting prematurely because I couldn’t hear anyone else. My people were getting annoyed with me. Some wrote me off (I’m looking at you, neighborhood book club: “See you again when we can meet in person.”) Others, just gave up I guess.

Fast forward to last month, when I was elected recording secretary of our county branch of AAUW. Our board meeting held via Zoom, seemed to be all set up. Having an iPad instead of a laptop, though, I could see only 9 participants at a time. I needed to keep asking who made the motion; who seconded; please repeat that name. Honestly, I think I may be the first recording secretary in AAUW history to be impeached. Another board meeting is today!

Last Friday I tried to join a writing group on Zoom and wasn’t able to sign in. Fortunately, I wasn’t the only one who had difficulty, so that’s a plus. We’re having a tutorial this Friday (if I can sign in that is).

On another note, on my walk today, I was treated to the sight of a peony bush loaded with pale pink flowers with lemon yellow centers that reminded me of my next door neighbor, Mrs. Gilhooly and gave me an idea for another slice.

And, I shaved almost 1/2 minute off my walk at the mile marker.

Life is good.

“There is no peace on earth, I said”

And in despair I bowed my head;

“There is no peace on earth,” I said;

“For hate is strong,

And mocks the song

Of peace on earth, good-will to men!”

Then pealed the bells more loud and deep:

“God is not dead, nor doth He sleep;

The Wrongs shall fail,

The Right prevail,

With peace on earth good-will to men.”

Henry Wadsworth Longfellow wrote this in the middle of the Civil War on Christmas Day, 1863, after his son had enlisted in the Union’s cause and returned home seriously wounded. The words speak to the despair I think we all feel at this moment of crisis in our country.

The evidence exists that hate is strong when we need love to save us. Yesterday I watched in horror as the Military Police and mounted troops pushed peaceful protesters back, pelting them with tear gas and rubber bullets. What country is this? In my 76 years I’ve witnessed disgraceful actions: Kent State, the Rodney King riots, the unrest after the assassination of Martin Luther King, but I’ve never seen such blatant disregard for peaceful assembly.

If I weren’t concerned about spreading and contracting COVID-19, I’d be in Philadelphia today. I feel helpless and hopeless. Not a good state of mind at any time, but especially now. Today is the Pennsylvania primary. I voted by mail which assures that I will get a mail-in ballot in the fall. VOTE!

Our country has yet to celebrate its 250th birthday. Let’s hope we make it.

The Joys of Noticing

I notice that those “slight rises” when I’m driving are “REAL HILLS” when I’m walking.

I notice the abundance of color in the flower beds along my walk, from blue heather to coral geraniums to yellow pansies, a riot of eye candy.

I notice that the rose trellis at the front door of one of the houses I pass is in full bloom this morning, its crisp red flowers bringing me joy today.

I notice that many people keep their garage doors open all day. I wonder why.

I notice the many “Congratulations, graduate!” in the front yards during my walk. I didn’t realize we had so many teens in our neighborhood.

I notice the chalk messages from the children: hearts, happy faces, stick figures holding hands, and my favorite–a red heart with the words “Sta posativ.”

I notice that the scent of the honeysuckle is fading on the back road where there are no sidewalks, reminding me that the month of May is making its exit.

I notice the variety of litter on the back road where there are no sidewalks, but I also notice that there is way less of it.

I notice that all of the dog walkers keep their dogs on a leash and are carrying pick up bags even along the back road where there are no sidewalks.

I notice that the drivers along that back road where there are no sidewalks drive slower than the speed limit.

I notice when I hit the mile mark of my walk, that I have shortened my time from 30 minutes to 26 minutes. I know. I know. But as someone who has just celebrated her 76th birthday, that makes me happy.

I notice that on a day when I thought I couldn’t write a slice, because I had nothing to say, taking a walk and noticing things along the way showed I was wrong.

The Joys of Weeding

Yesterday, the NY Times published 14 essays, “The Joys of…” in the hopes of uplifting our spirits in these unpleasant days. So, I decided to write today about the joys of weeding.

I have a pachysandra patch which runs the length of our front walk. We used to have a heavily wooded lot, but, unfortunately, several of our trees succumbed to a variety of ailments and have been taken down over the years. We still have shade, though, and our pachysandra thrives. I love its hardiness; I love its greenness; I love its lush carpet-like rapid growth. While I don’t love the weeds that still infiltrate the patch, I do enjoy pulling those weeds.

For one thing, pulling the weeds takes effort. I appreciate the necessity of putting effort into something that matters, even if it matters only to me. While I’m exerting that effort, I can imagine that I’m digging into deeper matters. I can let my mind wander. When I come across a particularly difficult clump of dandelions, I think about my dad, whose vegetable garden was the delight of his summer. He’d let me dig up the dandelions along side him. “First, use the watering can and get the soil wet. Wait a little bit. Now, take the weed knife, and jiggle it all around the stems to the root. Push the soil away from the root. Start pulling. If it’s not coming up easy, dig some more. Keep pulling.  Be careful. We don’t want the root to stay behind.”

“We don’t want the root to stay behind.” I think about the roots that have stayed behind in my life. Roots of kindness. Like the time my friend, Jim, brought me a gift of music after my brother died and sat with me while we listened, and I cried, and he held my hand. Like the time,when we were young homeowners and our neighbor noticed a dogwood we had just planted was in distress, and he offered to help us save it. Like the time just recently when a different, much younger neighbor, called to ask if she could run any errands for us. Like the time, a few days ago, when one of the children who live next door, brought a bunch of rhododendron blooms, rang the doorbell, and dropped them on the porch with a big smile. They were blooms from my bush, but still!

I think about how we used to use the broad leaves of weeds to make “cabbage roll” mud pies. My friends, Marie and Geraldine, and I spent so many lazy summer afternoons “cooking” and having tea parties and pretending we were mothers.

I remember the days when my own children were young. How they would “help” with the gardening, picking me nosegays of wild violets and dandelions. How they would “help” me bake a cake by licking the beaters and assuring me that “This is real good, mommy.”

Weeding brings me joy because it brings me memories. Joy is more than being happy. Joy is more than delight. Joy is what happens when we let ourselves believe in tomorrow.

What do you know?

There used to be a radio program which aired on NPR on Saturday mornings. Perhaps it still is broadcast other places, but our local station no longer carries it. “What do you know?” was a breezy Q & A that incorporated news briefings with opinion, quiz, and comedy. Michael Feldman hosted the show from Wisconsin, and audience members were often called on to participate in some fashion.

I got to thinking about that show lately. One thing I miss while here in quarantine with my beloved husband of 53 years is the give and take of conversation and bon mots with my “people,” the friends, neighbors, former colleagues, shopkeepers, delivery people, our mail carrier–I have chatted with them all.

Even though I “Zoom” (not very well, but I’m getting better at it), it’s not the same as face-to-face talking. Seeing expressions and playing off one another is a necessary component of true communication. I don’t foresee Zoom becoming a substitute for that kind of togetherness.

Still, there are things that I know:

I know that this crisis will end eventually.

I know that my neighbors are kind and caring.

I know that my children are safe and wise and good citizens.

I know that the creative way the kids on my block play “together” demonstrates hope for the future.

I know that we old timers need to be careful about venturing out even when quarantine ends.

I know that I still find joy in the day-to-day–brilliant sunsets, gentle breezes, budding azeleas, the scent of May.

I know that love does conquer all.

Peace, joy, and love to you, my friends.

 

Muffins, cakes, and buns

So, I’ve been doing a lot of baking. I like to cook, but baking is my forte. When I was a kid, somehow, I became the dessert maker in the family. My mother didn’t have time for baking; things had to measured carefully, oven temperatures had to be monitored; and there was all that stirring and beating and pan preparation. She simply didn’t have the time or patience for any of it. Cookies and bread were one thing, but cakes? Forget about it. By default, and because I enjoyed doing it, the job of baker became mine.

Over the years, as more people have been eschewing desserts, particularly rich desserts, I had been doing a lot less of that baking. Lately, though, finding myself with ingredients and a recipe box (it really is an old shoe box) that I haven’t bothered with in some time, I have reverted to my previous role as “baker of the house.”

I’ve left small loaf cakes on the porches of my neighbors; half-dozens of muffins in mailboxes; cinnamon rolls on doorsteps. I drop them off anonymously on the first of my two daily walks, around 6:00 a.m. Of course, my husband and I eat our share (more than our share) and I have not weighed myself in weeks. Baking has been my return to a kind of normalcy; if you do everything right, you are rewarded. If you make a mistake, learn to “make do.”

“Making do” is our motto now.

QWERTY

A S D F G F space J K L ; J H J space

Twenty-one students, mostly girls, sit at their Remingtons and stare straight ahead.

“Eyes front, class,” says Mrs. Manion.

“Look forward, not down at the keys.”

We are learning “touch typing.” Repeating the finger exercises until the letters become embedded in our muscle memory. I think I read somewhere that it takes thousands of repetitive motions for something to become second nature to us. Well, we certainly achieved that!

In those days of pony tails, poodle skirts, and saddle shoes, all typewriters were manual not electric. We had Remingtons, Royals, Underwoods, Hermes, and Coronas. At home, we had an ancient Remington that must have weighed 20 pounds. I used that to practice and, later, I typed school papers on that old thing.

Originally, typewriters did not have the number one; instead, we used a lower case letter “l” for the number. There was no “!” either. To type an exclamation point, one typed a period, then backspaced and added the apostrophe on top.

The Qwerty keyboard was designed to work around the the mechanical limitations of those early typewriters. There’s a newer, more efficient keyboard, but it hasn’t caught on.

Electric typewriters were a big advance back in the late 1960’s; they were followed by word processors. I could never write drafts on a typewriter or word processor. I used to need to feel the pen or pencil in my hand. I needed the time to think as I wrote and to cross out, add, underline. Or so I thought. The laptop has been a boon to me. Though the keyboard is slightly different from the one I learned with all those years ago, I have adapted. Now, as I sit here this morning, I may be nostalgic for that 14 year-old girl with the pixie hair cut learning how to type, but I recognize that the equipment I’m using right now is more efficient and easier to use.

The only way to live is to grow and to be open to change. We are all growing together these turbulent days.