Tuesday, July 7, 2020

HOLIDAYS

You remember how my last blog referred to Memorial Day triggering lost memories. Well, the recent Fourth of July holiday not only recalled old memories, but led to me dredging up old memories from many different holidays in my lifetime. 

So here goes, in no particular calendar order.


The Fourth first, of course. When I was a kid, during and just after WWII, we were so proud of our country and what we had done to save the world that the sight of a flag in a parade was enough to bring me to tears of pride. So I did a bit of crying this weekend when I saw Fourth of July tributes on TV.

As a young mother, I always made a flag cake on the holiday for our cookout (impressed the kids so much they often invited their friends over for dessert). Sheet cake baked in 9 x 12 pan. Lines of strawberries for stripes, massed blueberries in star area. At the last minute, white Reddiwhip squirted on for stripes and stars. Also--- neighbor, a fireman, always had firecrackers that he had confiscated (rules were a lot tougher in those days!) that he shot off in his yard. Great holiday for years!
                                                                                                                             
The first day of summer, the Simmer Solstice. We were in England. As an art student, of course I wanted to see Stonehenge. Arrived early, driving up a sloping hill to the site. Lovely morning. Fantastic view coming up the hill. (Only Chartres Cathedral in France had a more awesome hillside approach!) We hadn't realized it was the solstice. Astonished to see, at some distance, hundreds of tents of people who had camped out to see the stones on this particular day. (Check Stonehenge site info---the stones and sun are supposed to align perfectly only on that day.) It was a bonus for us. Also the fact that, in those days, there was no fear of vandalism and we were able to go up and through the stone circle, touching the stones as we passed.

Christmas. I know I have mentioned in old blog entries about how wonderful our holidays were in Germany, when we were invited to share the holidays with our German friends and neighbors.
 But I don't think I ever mentioned two stories. 

One was silly and fun. The other was ultimately embarrassing.

The fun? Don't remember for sure if it was Christmas or New Year, but it was a holiday that in Germany was celebrated with fireworks, though we didn't in the States. Neighbors (the local baker who let me cook casseroles in his oven during the summer when I only had a hotplate, and my coal stove with oven was not active (too hot for the summer months)---anyway, neighbors invited us over that evening. We watched the outdoor fireworks from a distance, then repaired to their kitchen with them and friends. Hot mulled wine. Small "inside" fireworks. We were instructed to cover our glasses when one of them was lit, since the ashes would fall into our wine. And an especial memory of that evening---a firework that was a small cement dog with a large asshole. The small firework would be inserted into his asshole and lit. Whereupon it oozed forth very realistic-looking dog poop!

The embarrassment? Invited back for Christmas to our previous German family from whom we had rented a room. Very excited. We had bought lots of presents from the Army PX that I had wrapped in fabulous wrapping paper (lots of decorative foil---very new), fastened with Scotch tape and attached with bows and ribbons. 

When we untied the ribbon and unwrapped the presents that our landlady and family had given us, they carefully refolded the paper and put it away with the ribbon. Too late, I realized that they had probably saved their wrapping paper for years, especially during the war years and after. And when they had to tear our packages because of the Scotch tape, I remember feeling very embarrassed. There was simply not enough left to save.

Thanksgiving. I think I've mentioned before that we called it Bird Day, because my nutty mother always came into the dining room bearing the turkey and singing "Happy Bird Day to Us"!

Veteran's Day in November--- we called it Armistice Day before the war. It represented the day and hour (the eleventh minute of the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month) when the troops of both sides put down their arms in 1918 to end the first World War.

Halloween. Great memories. Through the years we gave many Halloween costume parties. While still in high school, my brother and I gave a great one. (I made a sari, dyed and gold-painted it and wrapped it authentically, according to an article in Life Magazine.) One school friend was a young man, very handsome, but with a pronounced sloping brow line. We teased and sometimes called him a Neanderthal. Well, he came to our party in a fur loin cloth and nothing else! Looked perfect! (Too bad in those days it seldom occurred to us to take pictures.)

College-age party. Both in school (I finishing Brown, he starting law school), but we met at my parents' in Massachusetts to go to their country club Halloween party. We came as Salome and the head of John the Baptist. (Will explain at some point in the future how we did this, but it was very authentic-looking! Have a picture somewhere if I could find it!) We won first prize. A bottle of champagne. Couldn't accept it because we were both under 21, which was the age allowed to drink alcohol in those days!)

A much later party, when we were a married couple. Had a wonderful friend who came from Florence in Italy. She told fortunes. Sadly, after one of her fortunes, the father of one of our guests died the next day. The following year, our friend said that if our fortune teller was coming to our party, she would not attend. (Spooky!)

And finally, the most spooky holiday story. My father's younger brother was a dear man. Served in the Canadian Army during the war. Came home and married. (Eventually moved to the States and worked for my father in his business.) He married a wonderful woman who was my favorite aunt.

She was born on March 17, St. Patrick's Day. They married on December 7, Pearl Harbor Day. Her first child was born on January 1, New Year's Day.

We used to tease her about it. Her reply? "Just so you won't forget me!"

She died young and unexpectedly. We all went to her funeral, then sat around in someone's house mourning her loss. 

Someone brought up the coincidence of all her holiday dates.


Then we realized that she had died on October 31, Halloween! 
It gave us a moment of laughter and joy, saluting her wonderful lifetime.

What's the Life Lesson here?

Memory.

Go back to your own memories of holidays. See how many touching, fun and oddball things happened through the years.

Just to remember is a joy.

P.S. Do leave a response on this site if you can, and share your own memories here.
                                                                                                                                                                           


Monday, June 8, 2020

GARBAGE IN MY HEAD

Head garbage. That's what's going on in my head, here in my solitude. Sitting here alone, week after week, with not much seeming to change, I've discovered that all kinds of oddball trash bits have dribbled into my brain, triggered by the most useless and trivial bits of outside influence.

None of it vital, none of it earth-shaking. It just pops into my head. Garbage.


This past Memorial Day. Suddenly remembered that, when I was a kid, and before WWII, it was called Decoration Day. In the little mill town where we lived, there would be a small procession to the town park, where people would lay bunches of flowers. Can still see them in my mind's eye, though I don't remember what they were placed on. Maybe nothing but just a spot of ground, since there were only a few swings and seesaws in the little park.


But of course the holiday was to remember the men who had fought in WWI. I was born just 15 years after the war ended. I'm old enough to remember legless men on the street, on little wheeled platforms, begging for money. And dazed men wandering the streets, seeming slightly out of their minds. "Shell-shocked", my mother would tell us.


And everybody wore poppies to commemorate the day. Where did that come from? Check out the poem, "In Flanders Fields" by John McCrae, written during the war. "In Flanders fields the poppies blow. Between the crosses, row on row."


What other garbage? Listening to the news programs and the talking heads and pundits, though it sometimes gets to be depressing. But that's not what I notice. I 'm a writer. So I listen and cringe. Trivial garbage again. 


Check out those talk shows and interviews. 


"Where did you go?"

"SO I went to the store."

"Who was there?"

"SO I saw a few men."

"How many were there?"

"SO I counted four."

Caught that? Almost every answer today starts with the unnecessary SO. Check it out the next time you're  watching TV news shows. I suspect that the SOs will start to drive you crazy too!


And don't get me started on the Latin phrase et cetera. Most pundits don't even really know its literal translation. ("et" means "and" and "cetera"  means "the rest.")   They almost always say "Ek cetera." I gnash my teeth, since I have too much time to spare!


And another thing---when a guest's interview is over, and the host thanks him/her, the guest almost always says "Thank you for having me."


But my nutty mother (check out an early blog, JUST FOR FUN) would have answered thus if someone said, "Thank you for having me." 

"Thank you for being had."

Another forgotten memory: From the time I was a young woman, I've always sent greeting cards---birthdays, baby births, weddings, anniversaries. Kept a card list that I would check before every upcoming month, then bought all the cards and marked them when to send. Can't do that anymore. I don't go out. But I have a subscription to an online card company, which sends out lovely sound cards.


My ex-brother-in-law's birthday came up recently. Knew he was a bird-watcher, as was my middle son. Sent him a card with birds on it.


He thanked me for remembering that he was a bird-watcher. That triggered a delicious memory. (I have his Okay to tell this story!)


It was in '71, he has reminded me.  He was in his mid to late 20's and his mother (my then mother-in-law) was getting impatient about him finding a girl and getting married. We were all at her apartment for dinner one night. He had just come back from a summer trip to the Grand Canyon and a visit to the Audubon Sanctuary in Wyoming.  So he was, of course, sharing his adventures, especially with my son.


In exasperation, my mother-in-law said, "Birds. birds, birds! Is that all you can talk about?"


His reply (with a straight face): "Well, not all the birds are in trees. For example, there is the Double-breasted Bed Thrasher."

My teenage sons nearly collapsed in embarrassed laughter, but she never got it!


What other garbage? A dear friend who lives in San Diego sent me a link to a place called "Sylvia's Bookshop." She was tickled to find it.


But it triggered a very old memory.


1955/56. Husband drafted into the Army, sent to Germany. I followed him.

We traveled quite a bit with a dear couple we had met. Traveled cheaply, of course, because we didn't really have that much to spend with Army pay. But this was Europe and we were very excited to be travelling. In that era, only rich Americans had begun to travel abroad. (I was an Art Major. Had packed all my Art notes, so I knew what I wanted to see!)


We were in Florence, April 1956. Feeling very classy. Had eaten at a posh Italian restaurant.(Customers dipped the tips of their knives---not their fingers---into the salt bowl and delicately sprinkled the salt onto their food!) Of course we simply ordered the antipasto and then dessert and coffee, to save money. But we still felt very elegant!


Step out onto the Piazza. Across the way, outdoor cafe. Man singing opera. Divine! Sat and ordered (cheapest)  wine, listened to the music. Felt so fricking "Continental" we were ready to burst! Europe, the heart of Florence, fashionable cafe. (We were only in our early '20s---this was a big adventure for our age group at the time.)


I was pregnant. (We drank and smoked in those days, even pregnant.) But I have to go to the Ladies' Room. Go inside the cafe. Find the loo. Clean, beautiful, elegant, modern. Inside the toilet bowl is stamped the name of the manufacturer of this magnificent porcelain piece.


SYLVIA

Another oddball memory. Another friend in San Diego. Wrote that she had an infection and had to take antibiotics. Not serious, but she found it a nuisance. Reminded me of when infections were far more serious and deadly.


Fall, 1948 or '49. Not sure. I had probably banged my shin at some point. Since I was skinny, there wasn't much fat on my leg to cushion the blow and it probably didn't get enough blood to drain the bruise. (It actually didn't really turn red, as I recall, though it was a long time ago,)


My father was, as I'm sure I've mentioned, in the textile business. He took me on a day-long trip to several of the mills in Eastern Massachusetts. Fabulous trip. Saw block printing, screen printing, weaving, brocading, dying, etc. Was on my feet all day, walking around.


By the next day, the spot on my shin was swollen, with red streaks darting out from it. Blood poisoning. In those days, it was often fatal. The doctor immediately had me in bed for two weeks, leg elevated, ice pack on the bruise constantly. Definitely a scary time. I could have died, and we all were aware of the danger.


But penicillin had just been invented. Doctor had no faith in the brand new drug, but visited me every two days to administer it with an uncomfortable shot in the ass---quite new for a generation that mostly was used to arm shots. if any shots at all! (I had mumps, scarlet fever, measles, whooping cough! And had friends who had had polio and limped.)


The doctor really didn't trust the new drug, so I still had to be immobile for the next two weeks. He would come with the shot, then mark on my leg with an X the spots that were no longer sore or red. (With the penicillin, I probably could have gotten up in a few days, but who knew?)


When I sent this story to my friend, I told her to be grateful for antibiotics!


So what is the Life Lesson here?


With nowhere to go, we all have time for a change. Time to dredge up silly bits of trivia, to search our memories and revel in past experiences,


Enjoy the memories. Share them.


It helps to pass the time and it reminds us that we are still vital, thinking human beings, with lives that are worth living and remembering.    

Sunday, April 5, 2020

LET ME COUNT THE WAYS . . . .

. . . . WORLD WAR III?

It's difficult not to be emotional in these trying times, yet it's not easy to be upbeat when we hear so many sad stories on the news.

So I  thought I would simply try to be objective, and pass on some interesting stories, to try to take our minds off what is happening.

On the other hand, maybe I can do both.

To begin, I was struck by how often commentators and news sites and others tried to compare the Covid-19 disaster to World War II. I mentioned it to one of my sons, Fred, who said, "Mom, that's the perfect topic for your next blog!" And I think he was right. so, as Shakespeare said, "Let me count the ways."

I was born in 1933. I lived through the Depression. I was 8 when the war started. How was it different from today and how was it similar?

WWII Rationing: Because so many products had to go to the troops, we were rationed. We received monthly coupon books for many products, limiting us to a certain amount. If you ran out before the end of the month? Tough noogies! (We didn't say that then, of course. That's a much later bit of slang.)

What was rationed? Coffee, sugar, butter, meat, gasoline for our cars. Maybe more, but I can't remember. I don't recall being too bothered by this. My mother must have been very practical. I don't remember being deprived of anything. I do remember, however, that, because of the butter shortages, margarine was invented then. (Oleomargarine, it was called.) Colorless---a washed-out pale yellow---and tasteless. We tried to avoid it by saving our butter ration for what was important.

I remember about the gasoline rationing because my uncle, Goody Rosen, who played for the Brooklyn Dodgers, was a National League All-Star in 1945. But the All-Star game was cancelled that year because people couldn't easily travel with the gas rationing. (The game was played in 1963 as an Old-Timers game in Baltimore.)

Today's Rationing: We don't really have "rationing". In the war years, the shortages had a purpose and we had time to get used to them and adapt. Today, the crisis came up so quickly that panic set in and people became selfish hoarders. (Maybe if we had rationing, things would work out better!) But the sense of community that galvanized us during the war may soon kick in, and our shelves will not be so bare. I'm not referring here to the shortages of hospital supplies---that's a different matter entirely.

 But the almost psychotic run on toilet paper is baffling. In the old days, we were quite content to find substitutes, especially during the Depression, when everyone was poor! My grandparents' bathroom floor was covered in newspapers. When you were done, you simply tore a piece of the paper on the floor and used that! (The only setback was that, if you were reading a story while you were sitting, you could suddenly find that the end of the story had been torn off to be used for TP!) So why the desperate need to hoard rolls and rolls of the stuff?

In our present situation, because we can't go out to shop easily, we are learning to be more careful with what we have. For example, I'm now using old printed documents a second time by turning them upside down and putting them into my printer. In the same vein,"making do with what we had" was a habit we had already learned during the Depression, when no one had enough money for everything they needed or wanted.

During the war, of course, we were free to shop. No fear of going out and getting sick. And we could usually find what we were looking for at the store, as long as we had the ration points. So it was maybe better then. (Though I remember that, for several years, it was impossible to get bubble gum because of the shortage of sugar!)

And in some ways it was certainly better. In the matter of our personal freedom, for example. Businesses and factories stayed open. (Rosie the Riveter became a heroine, filling in at the factory for the GI's who were at war.) Except for the blackouts, which mandated that we douse all lights, we could go out, live our lives, shop, visit with friends and family.

Today's isolation and mandated distance is stressful, not being able to visit, be with, share special events with friends and family.

On the other hand, modern technology has kept us connected today in ways that would have astounded WWII people.. Television, the Internet, Facebook, Facetime, Zoom, etc. etc.

In those days, we had radio and the telephone, though not everybody could afford it then. That's it. Yes, we could go out, shop, visit, etc. but our world was narrowly limited. Because of the gas rationing, we were pretty much confined to our local community for companionship.

But of course all that refers mostly to  here in the US. as we compare our WWII experiences to today. But I wonder how aging Europeans, suffering under the virus, would compare their lives now to their lives at the time of the war.

Londoners who endured the blitz, Parisians who were occupied by the Nazis, Germans who were bombed into defeat, Hiroshima citizens who saw their city destroyed by an A-bomb. How would they compare today's Covid-19 troubles to the devastation of their past? With a little less sense of doom, I suspect, having lived through difficult times.

What couldn't we get, that people can get today? Silk, for one thing. It was largely made in Japan, our wartime enemy. It's why women took to drawing a seam down the center back of their bare legs to simulate the seam of silk stockings. (That's how stockings were made in those days. No pantyhose, of course,  but a stocking sewn up the back with a visible seam.)

No rayon or polyester was available or invented in those days. And, more important, parachutes were made of silk. So whatever was available had to go to the war effort. My father was in the textile business. He made silk screens. But he had seen the possibility of war coming, and had bought excess parachute silk a year or so before. So while other silk screen makers had to recycle their screens, he was able to use fresh silk.

What else couldn't we get? Too much clothing, because fabric went for our troops'uniforms. I think that's why dresses got shorter and shorter as the war years went on---to use up less fabric. In England, they even had laws about using too much fabric on clothing. No ruffles, extra skirt fabric, extra trims, etc. Printed dresses became popular, filling a shorter skirt with interest. My father became very successful during those years, since he made the screens for those printed fabrics.

And an interesting sidebar---during the war in England, servicemen were getting married very quickly. And alas. Not many wedding dresses were available because of the fabric shortages.  A woman   who worked, I believe, officially for the UK government, started an organization that collected used bridal gowns and loaned them out to brides for  their weddings. Who was she? Barbara Cartland, world-famous Romance Writer and step-grandmother to Princess Di. (Look her up. She's a hoot. Since I'm a romance writer, I met her a few times.)

What else was rationed, by necessity not government fiat, that compares to today? Doctors. In our case, it was all the good doctors who were drafted into the Army. What was left for us civilians were the old, the near-retired and the semi-competent. My mother had a bent middle finger for much of her life because our only local doctor, an alcoholic, burned off a wart on her finger and severed her tendon.)

The Scare Factor: Perhaps today it's more scary because it's so random. Yes, we had to keep a bucket of sand in the attic of our house in case of incendiary bombs, and we had regular blackouts that darkened our town against possible enemy attacks, but the war was so far away that it affected us but didn't really come close.For my brother and me, blackouts were fun. We would leave the movie theater and have to walk home in the dark. At home, the drapes were drawn and we read our books and papers by the light of the fireplace. My future husband's father was a Fire Warden, who put on a special hat and walked around his neighborhood knocking on doors if he saw any light coming from a house.

The only scare factor for us kids was the uncertainty of our own parents. My father was in his 30's with 3 kids, past the draft age. But if the war had gone on another year, he would have been drafted as the troops began to need more and more reinforcements.

For my relatives, however, the scare factor was a little stronger. Several of my uncles, who were all in Canada, were in the  Canadian Army.

One of my uncles was somewhere in Europe in 1944. He wrote his wife often. (Letters of course being heavily censored by large black spaces, so that you knew someone had already read them.)  But she had not heard from him in weeks. She was a nervous wreck. Her sister insisted on taking her to the movies to help her relax. In those days, every movie program included the News of the Week. And there on the screen was a segment announcing the recently concluded Battle of the Bulge.

And who was in the filmed footage? Her husband!

After the last show, she and her sister went to the manager.and told her story. He ran the clip again and, when she determined that the picture was truly her husband, the manager removed the film and clipped out one frame for her to take home to have made into a photo. She still didn't know at the time if he had survived the Battle (he did---unscathed) but at least she knew where he was.

And a story I particularly treasure from those years. One of my other uncles was in England, where my grandmother had come from. He looked up our distant relatives in Cheshire. At that point, my personal recollection is still strong in my mind.  I vividly remember helping my mother wrap care packages for those relatives.

Instant coffee, which was fairly new, and teabags, which had just been invented. (Probably made of rayon fabric packets, since there would not have been any other material that would have existed in those days.)

The Cheshire relatives were clearly delighted with our package. They wrote back this: "How clever of you Yanks to have figured out how to pre-measure tea!" They had opened a teabag, measured its contents, seen that it was exactly one teaspoon, and proceeded to open every single teabag that they needed and dump the loose tea into the teapot, as they had always done! (My mother, of course, wrote back to explain how this new invention was to be used.)

My ex-husband used to tell the story of his uncle, who was in the Army, who rode in the bombers as a photographer, taking pictures of the bombing sites as the action took place. And my ex, as a young boy, kept a scrapbook of those pictures, plus maps and photos of the progress of our troops through the battles that took place.

(Fascinating sidebar---when husband and I were in Germany after the war---see previous blog entries for stories---our German landlady kept the same kind of scrapbook that involved her son in the service, complete with maps, letters and assorted stuff. (Including a picture of Hitler in the front. She was not pro-Hitler, I don't think, but she felt that, to maintain historical accuracy, the picture had to stay.)

Do I have a Life Lesson after all this?

Yes, perhaps I do. This is it. The world has ALWAYS been filled with tragic, unexpectedly difficult times and situations. One of our problems today is that we have had so many years of relative calm and good times that we can't deal easily with this current difficulty. But perhaps we should stop to realize that our unhappiness and panic comes from a surfeit of good times, and that we have grown too soft and complacent. We should also accept the fact that for most people through the ages life has been far more difficult than this. We should toughen up and adapt and face the difficulties with wisdom and reason.

We will make it through. We're stronger than we think.

Monday, March 30, 2020

KEEP YOUR CHIN UP

In these troubled times, I have an upbeat story to share.

Having been the mother of 4 children, I knew how to plan in advance. So when I knew I would be stuck in my apartment, alone, self-quarantined at my age (86) and reluctant to go out, I had stocked up on lots of food, drugs, wine and etc. way in advance.

But as the weeks went on, and a few items began to dwindle (especially cat litter, which comes in huge boxes I can’t easily carry ) I didn’t know what I was going to do. I figured I would have to call my local grocery, see if they were still delivering, bundle up with scarf over nose/mouth, hood up, etc, go off to the store, shop, and then have items delivered. But here in NY at this moment, that’s not the most optimum solution for an old lady trying to stay healthy.

Then my son in PA mentioned that he had heard about Instacart.com, which delivers groceries.

So I went to their website. At some point I had to give my zip code, log in (used my email addy) and create a password. They showed me a list of grocery stores and I chose the one I usually shop at, since I know what brands they carry.

It’s very easy to order. They have categories and, when you click on one, they will tell you what they have in that category. (Forget paper goods and Lysol sprays at this point---couldn’t be found.)

Their website added up my purchases, gave me an estimate of price (delivery charges and tip are very low), took my credit card info, and that was that.

Then came the remarkable part. Within 15 or 20 minutes, I got a text from the company, giving me the name of a young woman who would be my “shopper.” She was already at work, finding my grocery items.

Not long after, I got a text from her, telling me that the item I had ordered was unavailable, so could she substitute the same item in another brand? I said yes. She answered Thanks! Within the next half hour, she texted me 7 or 8 times to tell me she was either substituting another brand if I agreed (which I always did) or that the item was totally unavailable and she was refunding me for that item. We even exchanged numerous Thanks and OK’s. I was delighted at how competent she was. (Hats off to you, Rohanie!)

Then I got texts from the company giving me a time frame for my delivery, and in no time, telling me the delivery was on its way! I had already asked that the delivery be left outside my apartment door.

The woman who had been shopping for me also turned out to be the delivery person. She had to make 2 trips back to her car to bring up all that I had ordered. As per my instructions, she left them outside my door, but I did speak to her from a distance, as she got off the elevator and thanked her for all her efforts! Also left her a large cash tip on the floor outside my door. Thought that the tip the company arranges was far too little for the effort she had put in. (Turned out that there was a place on their updated email that allowed me to add a credit card tip.)

I sprayed everything, of course, and dumped the bags that had held the groceries, then sprayed the groceries and let them stand for a few hours before I put them away. But I am still amazed at the company’s competence and efficiency. From logging on to the site, then ordering, to the delivery probably took about 3 hours.

In this day and age, with so many sites and companies putting you on hold because of the overflow of desperate people, it’s wonderful to find a company that operates with efficiency, competence and warmth.

I know that the Instacart employees are currently asking the company for more pay and insurance in order for them to continue their dangerous jobs, and I hope the Instacart executives are smart enough to know what a wonderful team they have.

Life Lesson? The more we can focus on the extra-special good qualities in people, especially if it's unexpected, and in spite of our current troubles, the more we can mentally make it through these difficult times. I have not had such a personal shopping experience in ages!

Please, everybody, do go to Instacart.com and check them out.

Thursday, August 22, 2019

KEEP YOUR COOL (IF YOU CAN!)

In this era, when too often we have become hypersensitive, keeping your cool is more important than ever. There are ways to handle difficult situations without immediately jumping into a confrontation.

I've found that one of the most effective tools is to keep smiling, even though you might say something less that friendly. You win the argument but, because you don't seem to be angry, your "adversary"doesn't know how to handle the situation.

I remember once being in a department store, purchasing something for my then-husband in the men's department. The clerk who had started to help me was called away. He turned to another man at the end of the counter and said, "Joe, can you help this lady?"

Joe was holding a clipboard and riffling through the papers on it. He looked up and said, "May I help you, ma'am?"

I pointed to something in the case in front of me, and said I wanted to see this. Instead of coming over to me, he looked up again from his clipboard and said, in an annoyed voice, "May I help you?"

I realized he expected me to come to him, even though I was the customer, and a woman, and quite a bit older than he was.

I could have made an angry comment. Instead, I smiled sweetly and said (in a voice that carried to the other customers in the department), "Certainly, young man, if you're not nailed to the floor!" He was in front of me in an instant.

And then there was the time I was driving into Brooklyn and missed the exit before the tunnel to Manhattan. I was with a friend. She said I would have to go through the tunnel into the city and then somehow turn around. Instead, keeping my cool, I pulled over to the side and said to the policeman on duty, "How do I get back to the other side? I seem to have missed the exit."

I was deliberately non-confrontational and friendly, not automatically annoyed at myself, him, the roadway, etc. I guess my "cool" pleased him, as he immediately said, "Don't you worry about a thing, little lady." He stepped out into the plaza and held up the traffic in both directions so I could make a U-turn!

Much of keeping cool in my life involved situations with my four kids. I think that's especially important---to keep the children from panicking and to give them needed reassurance at a scary time.

I remember once when my boys had been playing outdoors, and one of them had accidentally swung a rake, which had hit his brother on the chin. Lots of blood. I grabbed a bunch of towels for the kid's chin and called my pediatrician, saying we were on the way.

Keeping my cool? I told my other boys to run cold water into the tub. Before we left for the doctor, I put the bloody white towels in to soak and covered the wound with a brown towel!

And when one of my sons came in from playing and showed me his pinky finger that was dislocated into a Z-shape, I rested his hand on a pillow to comfort him while I called the doctor.

And when my toddler daughter ate a hard candy that got stuck in her throat, and in a panic ran away from my trying to help her, I simply grabbed her by the legs, turned her upside down and shook her until the candy came out. (The Heimlich maneuver hadn't been invented at that time.)

My own experience with the Heimlich was also a "Keep Cool" moment, though I knew I was in trouble.

My husband and I were attending a Police Organization function, where scholarships were being given out to children of the cops. My husband had walked away from our table to greet some friends. I was eating. A very dry piece of turkey stuck completely in my throat. Not a bit of air could pass it. I simply couldn't  breathe. Oddly, I was very calm. "I will simply pass out and die," I thought.

Feeling helpless, I kind of tried to pat myself on the back---all the while I couldn't even breathe! A ridiculous gesture. I looked up. A young man was at the end of the table.. He frowned and said, "Are you okay?" I shook my head. "Do you want me to do the Heimlich?" I nodded my head. He came around, pushed at my diaphragm and the piece of turkey came out.

The word got around after my husband and others returned to the table, and when the young man was called up to receive his scholarship (for a pre-med college program, no less!) he received a standing ovation.

Keeping your cool is especially important when you're raising children. (See my blog entry IT'S MY HOUSE AND I'M BIGGER THAN YOU ARE!) As I've mentioned there, the less you engage in head-to-head angry battles with your kids, the easier it is to deal with them.

I remember, for example, one son who loved to wave around his spoon or fork at meal times, even though there might be food on it. I had asked him numerous times to not do that, since bits of food tended to fly around the table.

One evening, at desert time, I was serving applesauce. Since he was the youngest child, he was served first. He took a spoonful of the apple sauce, then waved his spoon around. I asked him not to do it anymore.

He smiled and waved his spoon again.

Now I could have lost my temper and yelled at him. Instead, I kept my cool. My serving spoon was huge. I scooped up a giant spoonful of the applesauce, smiled back at him and threw the spoonful across the table directly at his face! He couldn't be mad at me, because I was still smiling.

It took me a long time to scrub the applesauce from the wall behind him, but he never did that again!

P.S. I spoke with him about this episode, and I had his permission to relate this story.

Finally, there was the time that one of my sons, early or pre-teen---can't remember which---announced that he was independent of the family, since he was old enough. Again, I didn't quarrel with him.

But when he came home from school and wanted his uniform for a game, he was surprised that I hadn't washed it.

"Sorry," I said. "Thought you were no longer a part of the family. But if you want to wash it, there's the machine. And please leave me a quarter for the cost of the soap." Needless to say, he wore his dirty uniform to his game.

And when he came home for supper, I announced that, since he was no longer part of the family, he would have to cook and pay for his own supper. And wash his dishes. It didn't take long for him to decide he wanted back into the fold! (My point being, I didn't lose my cool---I didn't resort to fighting with him, which would have involved pitting his ego against mine. And children's egos are fragile.)

Having said all that, I must, in all honesty, say there were times when I DIDN'T keep my cool.

For example---though I was cool about handling my children's' injuries, I lost it with my cat!

My husband was away hunting. I had taken the cat to the vet several days before to get her spayed. After several days, with the vet's approval, I had taken her back to get the stitches removed. When I brought  her home,  I noticed she wasn't licking at the incision, but was simply sitting under the dining room table. When she stood up, I saw that the rug beneath her was wet. Then I looked at her belly. The incision had opened up and her guts were hanging out.

I called the vet and he said he was leaving in five minutes. Didn't seem to care. Don't remember how, but I found another vet ASAP. He told me to wrap the cat's body in a tight towel and get to him as soon as I could. Holding the wrapped cat, I went out with one of my. sons, planning to put the cat in his lap as soon as he got into my car.

Just then, my husband's station-wagon came down the driveway, with a dead deer strapped to the roof! Completely unhinged, I screamed at him to get out of the way so I could drive my car to the vet. He looked at me as though I were nuts and said, "Get into the wagon with the cat!" He drove us at once to the vet. The doctor had cleared the waiting room and had even held the door open for us to arrive with the cat.

He saved the cat's life and even laughed for years about us arriving with a sick cat and a dead deer in the same car. (And I was NOT cool the whole time---was in a total panic! Maybe it was easier to be cool with a child you could reason with, than a cat that looked at you with glazed eyes that said, "Let me die, please.")

And further examples of NOT COOL---

I've mentioned before that my husband was drafted into the Army and that I followed him to Germany and lived there for nearly 2 years. But I don't think I mentioned that his transfer orders arrived a week before our wedding. (He was a baseball pitcher and he pitched for an Army team while in basic training. They had a successful season, but their team must have beaten the team of a higher-up officer so, a week before the wedding, it was announce that their team would be disbanded and shipped to Germany.)

Because of that, I spent my honeymoon in Guesthouse #2, Fort Dix, New Jersey! The first couple of days, when my husband came back from his processing, we went to the PX to buy stuff. The next day, while he was gone, I decided to be brave and go to the PX alone. I picked out my purchases and went to the check-out.

"Where's your ID?" the clerk asked me.

"I don't have one," I said, close to tears. "I came in before with my husband, so I didn't know I needed an ID."

"He should have known," the clerk said.

Weeping openly (definitely had lost my cool!), I finally said, "He's only been my husband for three days!"

He let me buy the stuff without an ID.

And finally, a happier "Losing My Cool" story.

When I flew over to join my husband in Germany, I was all of 21. I had never traveled much, and here I was on my way---alone---to a foreign country. I was excited but a bit scared. This was in 1955---Americans were just beginning to travel extensively in Europe.

At that time, jet engines were quite new. They were attached to propeller planes (I suspect that there was a bit of unease that a jet engine alone could cut it). Planes were called prop-jets. Because of the propeller engines, we still had to refuel. Once in Newfoundland, and then in Scotland.

While they refueled in Scotland, we were escorted to the waiting room. As we sat there, a young woman appeared, carrying a large tray filled with mugs of coffee. She turned to me and, in a thick Scottish accent, said, "Black or white?" (At the time, we in the US would have said, "Do you want cream in your coffee?")

That's when I really lost my cool. "Oh my god," I thought. "I'm in EUROPE!"

In spite of that, I still think that keeping your cool as often as you can is the way to manage the difficulties of this world!




Saturday, November 24, 2018

OPENING DOORS

I'd like to start by apologizing for the long delay in publishing my blog since my last entry. I had further surgery earlier this year---not serious, I can assure you. But for some reason, it triggered a long spell of the blues, where I couldn't work up any enthusiasm for much of anything in my life. (Whether emotionally induced or chemically induced because of my medications, I guess I'll never know.) I simply went through the motions from day to day. I've slowly come out of it and, with Thanksgiving just behind us, realized that I had much to be thankful for. *

I also realized that, to keep on living---not just existing---you have to keep opening doors. To think outside the box. To stay open to new things. I had forgotten that that was how we had kept our lives interesting through the years.

New husband drafted into the army and shipped to Germany? Did I stay home with my parents as most young brides did when their husbands were in service abroad? Not on your life! Off I went to join him. Because he was just a private, we lived with German families and I learned to cook on a big black coal stove!

And when the kids came, did we stick to the same old "Parenting" routines? No way! We dreamed up lots of ways to deal with problems and situations. Some straight and some goofy! (See IT'S MY HOUSE AND I'M BIGGER THAN YOU ARE.)

Going from New York to visit my sister in Boston when the boys were young? We gave them a general itinerary on the map, then told them to find lots of interesting things for us to do along the way. They came up with a bunch of fun stuff. The Basketball Hall of Fame. a colonial village recreation, The House of The Seven Gables in Salem, the Old North Church (Paul Revere's church) in Boston, the Boston Science Museum---where, as an unexpected bonus, we got to see, live, the first moon landing on the museum's giant TV screens!

And then there was my problem with opening cans of fruits and vegetables. If the top of the can was slightly dusty, I'd turn it over and open it upside-down. Eventually, the kids asked me why I sometimes opened the cans right-side-up and sometimes in reverse. I explained that I had an Australian twin, who came from the opposite side of the globe and therefore did everything I did, but in reverse. We had the same wardrobe, so sometimes she would take my place while I went shopping or something. The kids took great delight in trying to catch me up. By opening a goofy door, I had created a fun, ongoing game between us.

And because I was not afraid to open an unfamiliar door, that was how I got to be a published writer of historical romances. The children were growing up, and I, who had been super busy for years with a large house and four kids, was feeling slightly bored. But I was a pretty good cook at that point (see YUM! entry), so a friend and I, who also cooked well and was between jobs and also bored, decided to write a cookbook.We met for a few months, shared recipes and cooked together, made lots of notes, etc.---then decided 1. It was basically boring and 2. We really didn't know what the hell we were doing or how to put together a cookbook!

"What shall we do, then?" we both asked each other. But, by mere chance, I had read, that morning, an article in the paper about a Romance writer, who was actually two housewives from New Jersey.
"Want to do that?" I asked.

"No." she said. "It doesn't hit my buttons. But you (meaning me) are one of those 'Ha! Thou lusty wench!' types of  people. So maybe you could do it." (I think she meant that I was a bit of a Drama Queen. Guilty as charged!)

And so---despite the mockery of my kids (and possibly the skepticism of my husband) I opened that door. Wrote the book, then boldly contacted editors and agents till I got someone who was interested in what I had written. Was encouraged to write a sequel, then encouraged again to write an outline of a third book. Ultimately sold the trilogy to Pocket Books to launch their Tapestry line. ("Marielle", "Lysette", and "Delphine". Reprints and e-books available through Diversion Books.)

And all because I wasn't afraid to open a new door.

And now I sell wedding dresses at Macy's. And how did I get there? Another door.

My daughter was getting married. I had separated from my husband and was working part-time, but thinking I was going to have to leave New York because I couldn't afford to stay unless I had a full-time job. Because I couldn't help my daughter out financially, she was paying for her own wedding. She wanted to go to David's Bridal, because her funds were limited.

"You've got a good eye, Mom," she said.. "Come with me." (I sewed my own clothes for 40 years and studied for a fashion career, so it wasn't exactly unfamiliar territory!)  So off we went.

Clerk wasn't much help. I found the dress, veil and shoes for my daughter in no time. Daughter was pleased and admiring herself in the dress. Just then, a woman in the dressing room next to us asked me, "Do you like me in this dress?"

Well, it was none of my business, and I could simply have brushed her off. But I opened the door instead.

"No," I said. "That's all wrong for you. What size are you?"

She told me and I poked around a bit and found a dress for her to try on. She put in on and started to cry, she was so happy with the dress.

At that point, a third bride looked hopefully at me and said, "You're not leaving yet, are you? Can you help me?"

And the manager, who had come up to us, turned to me and said, "Would you like a job?"

And that's how I got into bridal! (Worked at David's for a few months until I found out that Macy's in Herald Square was opening a new Bridal Salon. Applied and got the job.)

Incidentally, I still open doors. When I have a bride or bridesmaid at the Salon and we connect in a friendly way, I sometimes say, "I DO hang out!" Which is why I have half a dozen new young friends, with whom I go to theater, movies, museums, lunches, etc.

Life lesson? Open doors to keep your existence lively and interesting.

Damn your comfort zone---full speed ahead!

* Must mention the final "kick in the head" I got to get me going again. All four of my wonderful kids surprised me two weeks ago by coming from all over the country to spend the weekend with me on my special birthday. (I spent half the time crying happy tears and realizing how lucky I was!) God bless them all.





Friday, August 11, 2017

"THERE ARE MORE THINGS IN HEAVEN AND EARTH, HORATIO . . .


 . . . THAN ARE DREAMT OF IN YOUR PHILOSOPHY."

That line from Shakespeare's Hamlet reflects how I feel about this blog entry.

Coincidences? Instinct? Fate? Sometimes, things in life get a little spooky, and though we---as rational people---try to explain away what's happening, the specter of Fate tiptoes into the room, tickles us behind the neck, laughs in our faces.

And that's where I'm coming from right now.

I should begin by explaining why this entry was somewhat delayed. It's a narrative known only to my family and my closest associates and friends. For a year now I've had a health issue, culminating six weeks ago in my having major lung surgery to remove a malignant tumor in my right lung.

(Let me jump in quickly to say that I'm fine. The tumor is gone, I am cancer-free, with no need for any chemical or radiation followups---only CAT scans from time to time.)

As I look back, I'm sure I didn't believe in Fate, but maybe it was there, in the back of my mind all along. And maybe it explains my odd cold-bloodedness from the very beginning.

I never for a moment worried about dying, even though all indications were that the tumor on my lung was, in all probability, cancer. Though friends and family were in a semi-panic sometimes, I didn't mind. I was aware of the possibility of dying, of chemo, of radiation. I wasn't in denial, but none of it fazed me. Totally neutral. Couldn't figure out why. Because I've lived a rich life and was content, no matter what? I didn't know. Even joked to my daughter the day before surgery that, because of all the outpourings of good wishes I had gotten from so many people, that---if I should die---there would be hundreds of people at my funeral! (Poor dear. She was not amused, and I apologize to her now for my thoughtless levity.)

But maybe it was Fate speaking to me at some gut level?

To begin, I had a mild cold last year. No big deal. A little sneezing, a bit of coughing. But when my slight fever kept coming back, I went to my doctor. Fate? Having come from an era where we pretty much took care of our sicknesses on our own and only saw doctors when it seemed to be important, I don’t know what persuaded me to go to my GP. Still don’t know what pushed me.

Called my local Primary Care physician. He was on vacation. His substitute was a pulmonary specialist. (Coincidence?) That doctor's diagnosis was that I had a mild case of pneumonia, which necessitated a chest x-ray, which then showed something on my lung. Scar tissue from my years of smoking (I don't want to hear it, people. Have been filled with my own regrets---don't want guilt trips from others, if you don't mind).  And on the scar tissue was something that looked like a tumor.

I had preliminary tests in my neighborhood. Follow-up tests in labs and hospitals. Doctors seemed fine, but something held me back. (Inconvenience? Personnel? See UNDER MY SKIN---AARGH EDITION for some of the less pleasant experiences.) Went for repeated tests over months, because things just didn't feel right. Primary doctor and lung specialist were both urging me to go for a biopsy, to schedule lung surgery to remove the tumor, etc. But I resisted. Why? Fate again? Instinct?

It wasn't a sense of denial---that if I ignored it, it would go away. I knew I had to have the biopsy and possibly the surgery. 

I'm aware now that if 1.) I hadn't come down with pneumonia and 2.) if I hadn't somehow felt impelled to visit a doctor, my life five years from now might have been vastly different. 

But maybe it was spooky Fate at work. That whatever was happening was meant to be. That I was making connections and decisions that were fated.

Finally asked my ex-husband for a referral for a second opinion since he had had medical contacts as an attorney through the years. He gave me the name of a pulmonary specialist at NYU-Langone in New York City. Don't ask me how we got on to colleges but, within fifteen minutes, that doctor and I had discovered that his family, like mine, were Brown University graduates. More than that, he had graduated from pre-med at Brown with my physician niece, in the same year. Innocent coincidence? Or Fate?

He sent me for tests, then we scheduled the biopsy. This time, I had no hesitation about agreeing to it. Why? Instinct again? Or Fate?

Biopsy showed it definitely was cancer. Arranged to see the surgeon who would perform the operation. Met first with his Nurse Practitioner for preliminary questions, explanations, etc. She took one look at me and said, "Why do you look familiar to me?"

I suggested that perhaps we had met when I made the rounds of the hospital for all my preliminary tests. "No," she said, indicating that she wouldn't have been in the section where all the tests were done.

Half as a joke (since I do sell wedding dresses at Macy's Bridal Salon), I said, "Have you had any connection with weddings lately?" (I guess I figured she might have come in with a group for bridesmaids' dresses, or something.)

She gasped in surprise. "Macy's!" she cried. "You showed me all those veils last month!" (Another eerie coincidence that's too coincidental? Or Fated?) She didn't buy the veil, but she remembered me. (And she married four weeks ago! I send her my congratulations.)

Then I met the surgeon who would perform the operation. We spoke of the operation, then chatted for a bit. It turns out he's a writer, with a published book to his credit. (Do check it out on Amazon---it's wonderful. Moving, inspiring, creative, funny. Super Performing At Work And At Home by Robert James Cerfolio MD, MBA.) And, basically, it's what I write here on this blog. He basically writes Life Lessons for the Professional, as opposed to the more general, motherly advice I give. But we're clearly on the same page. Another spooky coincidence? He played baseball in college. Well, so did I, and got a college letter for it. He has three sons. Well, so do I. 

I'm not trying to say I'm on his level of competence---he's at the top of his profession. But the coincidences were overwhelming. And so, when I was wheeled into surgery, I never for a minute thought I wouldn't come out of it. Because Fate had brought me to that moment and that place.

Coincidentally (???), while I was recovering at home, I watched a lot of old movies. And in The Prisoner of Zenda (1937) , one of the older characters spoke this line: "As a man grows old, he begins to believe in Fate." And I knew that line was meant for me.

What's the Life Lesson here? Sometimes you have to put aside reason and accept that "There are more things in Heaven and Earth . . ." that are more than just "coincidences". And just roll with them.

Now I know that I'm usually more light-hearted than this. So I thought I'd close with a spooky "coincidence" story that is fun (but no less eerie, anyway!).

This happened some years ago. I had already written seven books that had been published. (Three by my first publisher, four by my second.) But the second publisher had closed down their division and I looked around for another publisher. I found a young editor at a new house who loved my latest book proposal. She signed me to her publisher for a four-book contract. She was a lovely young woman, about the age of my youngest son, Roger, I guessed. (He was 30 at the time.)

We worked together for months as the book was put together, edited, revised, discussed, etc. At some point she wanted me to meet her at the editorial offices on a Friday afternoon to go over something (can't remember what---not important). 

"I can't," I said. "I'm going up to my University that weekend for a seminar on Women and Popular Culture. Will be speaking there."

"Where did you go to college?" she asked.

"Brown."

Her eyes opened wide. "Oh my God!" she cried. "You're Roger's mother!"

Not only had she been in Roger's class, she had also been in Roger's dorm! Moreover, because I had first become a published author while Roger was at Brown, the young editor had been in the common room of the dorm the day Roger had rushed in and announced, "My mother just sold a book to be published!"

Oddly enough, until that moment, she had not put that memory together with my name. We laughed about that spooky coincidence for a long time!

P.S. I realized, thinking about this later, that I never thanked and praised my four children enough for standing by me through the surgery. They showed up from all over the country, to take me to the hospital, visit me there, take me home, visit me after I was home, etc. And thanks to my sister, as well, who came from Boston to visit. I feel truly blessed.