My Cousin Joe

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My cousin Joe and I grew up together in the same small town.  We were almost exactly the same age.  Neither of us had siblings.  We had a close relationship for many years.

Eventually, our lives took different turns and we lost touch.

He became an internationally-known journalist and made his mark globally and personally.   Obviously, I didn’t go down that path.  Our wildly disparate lives kept us  apart for over 30 years.

A few years ago, after he’d returned to the states, we re-established contact and got to know each other again.  Sadly, he died in 2013, in a most mysterious way.  We’ll never know exactly what happened.

Last week I received an invitation from my college alma-mater for a reunion luncheon, scheduled for early June.  The cover of the invitation is quite beguiling.  It’s a black and white photo of college kids, in 1960 or so, doing the “frug “or some kind of awkward dance we did way back then.

The photo was clearly taken at a “mixer.”   For those not quite old enough to know about “mixers,” they happened when bus-loads of boys or girls were shipped from one single-sex school into an opposite single-sex school.

Something made me look at the photo several times.  I have no idea what I was looking for but, suddenly, one face in the crowded room popped off the page and took my breath away.

I’d put money on the young man at one side of the picture being my cousin.

Joe wasn’t as tall as most of the boys.  His khakis were always a tad bit too short.  He didn’t  conform to dress codes. He was handsome.  Just like the boy in the picture.

Now I can’t take my eyes off the picture.  Or him.

I’ve called the school to see if they can source the photo.   Maybe they can tell me where it was taken.  I doubt they know the names of the kids in the photo.  But perhaps I could put two and two together.

Part of me wants an answer.  Is it Joe or isn’t it?

The other part of me just wants to hang on to the long odds that his picture simply arrived in our mailbox.  Mysteriously and curiously.   Just like he died.

Please Just Leaf It Alone.

There it is.  I see it.  It’s one leaf.  Blowin’ in the wind.

Well, actually it’s blowin’ in the man-made wind.  The man behind the blower doesn’t seem to know where he wants that last leaf to go.  I could tell him where to put it but that would be inappropriate and he couldn’t hear me even if I tried to tell him.

I think I understand the problem.   People are hired and wages may be determined by time spent on the job.  Work hours are important and so are salaries.  I get that.

It’s the noise pollution, of course, that gets us.

Beautiful days when you’re trying to talk to your neighbor across the fence.

Sunny days when a lie-down on the chaise is just the thing.

Painting a plein air scene on the banks of the river.

A card game on the porch.

The joy is sapped from all those things….and many others….by the leaf blower, the lawn mower, the tree trimmer.   Blow, Mow and Go.

It’s always that last leaf that seems to be the problem.   The clock ticking so the salary can be earned and the family can be housed and fed.

Conundrums?  Yes.  Solutions?  I don’t see any in the foreseeable future.  I hope I’m wrong.

 

On Friends

Sometimes chance provides an opportunity to assess and evaluate what’s most important.

Such was the case this last week when, through another friend, old friends from Ohio happened into my blog and, subsequently, onto our porch.

There was ample wine, much laughter, even political chit-chat….and what fun it was.

Later that night I got to thinking about what seems, to me at least, to be most important in having good friendships.  So, here are those thoughts, unfiltered, as usual.

I’d like to know what you’re thinking; not where you’ve been.

Please tell me what you’re feeling; not what you’ve done.

I’d like to know who you are; not who you were.

I’d like to know what you love and why.

I want to know what makes you cry and why.

And, finally,  please tell me what makes you laugh so that I can laugh with you.

That laughter thing may be the most important of all.  If you can get there, it’s all good.

A Trip to the Cinema

For most people, going to the movies would not be an “alert the media” moment.  But, for us, it is.

So.  Please.  Alert the media.   We actually went to a movie theater.  And stayed for the whole movie.

It’s been years since that happened.

See, one of is seriously allergic to the aroma, the vapors, the mere presence of popcorn.  (That, in and of itself, is so sad.)

We have, many, many times, paid for tickets, settled into a seat and watched the screen for five minutes before the popcorn attack arrives.  We leave abruptly.  There’s really no choice.  We forfeit the fee and are grateful for the fresh air.

So we don’t go there anymore.   To the movies.

But, we were tempted by “Sully.”   Tempted seriously enough that we actually got in the car and drove to the theater.  Paid our money.  Went in and….now you can alert the media….stayed for the entire film.

But, the other one of us….not the popcorn averse one….nearly lost her mind with the ads and movie previews, all accompanied by screaming, pounding, pulsing sounds, pretending to be music.  So much so that we were concerned that we were going to have to leave prematurely again… popcorn notwithstanding.

For some, noise is good.  Very loud seems to be better than sort of loud.   Sounds that deafen are best.

We are reminded that we are no longer the “target” audience.

Our ears are too tender.  Our eyes get too watery.  The violence is too graphic.  It’s all too much.

The movies have morphed into the ultimate sensory-overload experience.

I know it’s wrong to long for Doris and Rock.  Fred and Ginger.  Bogie and Bacall.

But isn’t there something in-between?

 

 

Photo of enthusiastic movie-goers courtesy of union.wisc.edu

Leggo My Eggo

Actually, you can have my Eggo.  Just keep your mitts off my Sunday New York Times Crossword puzzle.

Don’t touch it.  Don’t get near it.  Don’t even think about helping me with the clues.  There will be a price extracted for any of that.  Just ask anyone who’s been around me when that happens.  It’s not pretty.

The NYT Crossword people just celebrated their 75th year of publishing crosswords.  I’ve been addicted for almost 50 of those years.

I buy anthologies of NYT crossword puzzles.  I still fill in every blank, knowing full well that I’ve done most of them more than once.   I have just as much fun now as when I did them the first time. Of course, a little memory loss enhances that second-or third time around experience.

For many years, summer Sundays were spent poolside with like-minded fiends, hovering in the shade with the Times puzzle, making sure no one was looking over our shoulders as we filled in the squares.  No sneaking a peek at anyone else’s puzzle. No whispering.  No colluding.  We were on our own to get the thing done.  A.S.A.P.  And the tennis people thought they were competitive!

One of my dearest treasures is a handwritten note from Eugene Maleska, NYT puzzle editor from 1977 to 1993. For a crossword puzzle maniac, that’s like getting a letter from the Dalai Lama.  I had written to the editor asking for help on a puzzle I’d solved but had no idea what it meant.  Apparently, there were many who were equally confused.  In those days, there was no Xeroxing, no faxing, no emailing, no robo-response.  Just a handwritten letter of apology to each of us.

I do the NYT puzzle during the week.   Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday are usually do-able.  Thursday starts to challenge and, most weeks, Friday and Saturday are over my head.

And then there’s Sunday.  A lot like Thursday, a little bit bigger and always thematically fun.  I fill in the squares, just like I always have.   And I enjoy it, just like I always have.

And yet, in my mind, I’m back at the swimming pool, surrounded by children playing  Marco Polo,  fellow puzzlers toiling away and, yes, those annoyingly competitive and  sweaty tennis players.

I miss that part.  A lot.

 

Help is on the Way. Maybe.

I’ve recently had cataract surgery and as the song says, “I can see clearly now.”   It’s truly a modern miracle.  Clock numbers are there again.  Street signs are legible.  I can see birds in the trees.  Flowers in the garden.

That’s all good.  Wonderful, in fact.

However, I can now see things on my face and hands that others may have noticed earlier but have had the decency and self-discipline not to tell me about.

All of a sudden, this isn’t adding up.  I spent perfectly good money so I could see better.  Now I have to spend even more money to hide what I saw.

All those splotches, dark areas, deep creases and puffy-nesses are now abundantly clear and visible to the naked (i.e. corrected to 20/20) eye.  And the eye is not happy.

Accordingly, I took myself to our local cosmetics emporium.  I had but barely arrived when I wanted to leave but their bright lights and mirrored walls encouraged me to stay the course if I were ever to have a shred of self-respect.  Or the confidence to appear in public, now that I was seeing what others have seen for who-knows-how–long.

I wandered in that glitzy, shiny, over-stated, beguiling never-never land all by myself for a while before I begged for assistance.   As it happens, there was more than one person who was eager to help me.  There’s good and bad to that.  Was I that needy or were they just naturally helpful?  Turns out, I think it was both of those things.

I was there for quite a while and won’t bore you with the ins and outs, the ups and downs, the trials, the patches, the promises and assurances.  Suffice it to say that I spent money.  More money than I’d planned on spending.  No one was less surprised at that than I was.  Those people are good.  They’re skilled at being optimistic, positive and flattering.

What I bought stays between me and my mirror but I will tell you that one of those nice people sold me a “face lift in a box” and told me that I will see “amazing” results in five to seven days.

Even I know better than that but hope has to spring eternal.

 

A Small World

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In a recent publication of the Bluffton Sun, the editor shared a few of her  “small-world” and “six-degrees-of-separation” experiences.  We all have them.  One of ours relates to our life here, in this house, originally built in 1795 on the May River.

When we moved into this old house, we were acutely aware that no one outside the Huger-Gordon family had lived in it for the past 130-plus years.  To say we felt like aliens and interlopers is an understatement.

In the process of acclimating ourselves to the house, we sought out stories about its past inhabitants.  We hoped to feel closer to the family through those memories.

We learned that a patriarch of the family, Hugh Gordon, senior, was, among other things,  a highly-respected global aviator and the chief pilot of Pan Am Airways.  In fact, he was the chief pilot aboard the airline’s inaugural 747 trans-Atlantic flight from New York to London in 1970.

That flight, Pan Am Flight 2, carrying 342 passengers, was certainly no ordinary flight.  The New York Times described the airplane as the “epitome of plushness… a luxurious auditorium some genie had wafted aloft.” A passenger told the Times reporter that the 747 looked like “Radio City Music Hall with wings.”

We can imagine that the champagne flowed generously that day. That everyone was dressed to the nines.  That Chief Pilot Gordon was truly the man of the hour, if not the year.

Certainly, no one aboard that flight was likely to forget it.  Ever.

Now here’s the fun thing.  That small-world thing.  That moment that connects us, the outsiders, to this house.

See, we already knew all about that flight.  We’d heard stories about it for many years.  We’d had vivid first-hand reporting from two of its passengers:  my husband’s parents.

We hadn’t connected the dots until we moved here.  We didn’t even know the dots existed.

Small world.

Roger that.  And, as they say, over and out.

 

 

MY VOODOO DOLL

(Please click on the photo for a full view)

She was given to me by a friend over twenty years ago.  She’s intended to be a personal health-aid.  When something hurts, you stick a pin in that part of her medically-encyclopedic body and abracadabra!!  It’s gone!

She came equipped with ten pins.  At the time, I wondered how on earth I could ever use that many.  “Really?”  I thought.  “What was my friend thinking?  Only a hypochondriac could come up with that many aches and pains.”

Fast forward twenty years.  The poor little thing has become a veritable pincushion.

Through the years, she’s been forced to undergo a few additions and corrections.  She’s been altered to specifications, if you will.  Her pains; my pins.  Too many of both.

Her edges are now frayed, just like mine.  Her muscles have gone saggy, like mine.  Her joints ache, like mine.  Even her stuffing’s a bit lumpy,  just like mine.

She’s my new best friend.  I think she likes me, too.  We commiserate and heal each other.

After all, friends stick together.

GUILTY AS CHARGED

We didn’t know it was a crime when we did it but isn’t that what guilty people always say?

Sure, we knew they were underage when we poured them Bloody Mary’s so they would smile for our Christmas photograph.  (see Family Photos)

But, hey, it was all done in the confines of our house, so who cared?  Who was going to report us?  Not the children, certainly.  They were too young to drive, let alone file a complaint.  And, I might add, too happy to care.

Apparently, serving booze to our minor children was just the tip of the iceberg of our criminal streak that morning in Ohio.  Oh, so many years ago.

It was what we did afterwards that was the bad thing, the criminal act.

See, we took pictures.  And not just any pictures.  We took pictures of underage children, who were, by all accounts, slightly intoxicated.  And, some might even suggest, strongly encouraged along that path by their parents.   See where I’m going with this?

No, neither did I until I submitted that little essay to our town’s newspaper, who generously runs one of my blogs each month.

Seems we were guilty of a “PUI” and the Editor gently but firmly told me that what I had written could get us…..and the paper….in hot water if it were to be published.

FYI, “PUI” stands for “Photographing-Under-the-Influence.”  Bad enough to do that by itself.  It gets worse when you toss in that underage thing.

Now we’re talking C as in Crime and T as in Trouble.

But, I protested to the Editor, surely after all these years no one would care.   We were young parents. Didn’t know any better.  Seemed like a good idea at the time.  Harmless little acts of indiscretion.

No, no, no and no, said the Editor.

I capitulated, of course. And we tamped down the blog for obvious reasons.

It was a first-hand lesson in public perception.  And just how easy it can be to cross the line between intended humor and potential harm.

Little Treasures

Question:  What on earth could the following items have in common?

A purple bud vase

A small African warrior statue

Two little glass hearts

A handmade piece of pottery with the words “You Are Great” painted on it

A badly chipped china angel

A kitchen timer

A painted spoon rest

Answer:  They have absolutely nothing in common.  Except that I have a special affinity for each of them.

I didn’t buy a single one of them.  They were each given to me.  With love.

If I don’t see each of them, in their rightful places, every day, several times a day, I go into a cold sweat.

They each have names, of course.  They’re named for the people who gave them to me.

They’ve developed an aura of personal significance which is why I panic if I don’t see them.

They’re supposed to be in their proper places.  They’re there for a reason.  And that reason is that I put them there.  And that’s where they’re going to stay.  Exactly in that spot.  Their special spots.

If I wrote a letter to people who were planning to rob our house, I’d draw them a map to the silver with a request to take it all.  I’d beg them not to harm the cats and to please leave a couple of rugs and some of the wonderful lamps my husband made.

I’d also ask them to leave me those eight little items but they most likely wouldn’t take them anyway.

I think we could start all over with just those few things.  I don’t want to.    It would be a bother.  But it could be done.

 

On Books

I read a lot.  I study the New York Times Book Review each week in search of books I might like.  Goodreads sends me stuff once a month.   I study book club lists.  All in hopes of finding books to enjoy.

I’ve gotten picky.  The words “war, violence, slavery, torture, suffering, strife” don’t compel me anymore.  There was a time when I was drawn to that, but not now.

Instead, I look for kinder, gentler stories.  Stories that I can climb into and yes, that clichéd word, “identify” with.  I like that.

Henry James said many years ago: “The purpose of a novel is to help the heart of a man to know itself.”  That’s what I’m looking for.

For some reason, at least for me, Swedish and British mysteries fall into that category.  I think it’s because the protagonist is almost always a pensive, brooding, thoughtful person who is trying to figure out his/her own heart.

He or she is usually smart. I admire that.

He or she is usually a loner.  I get that.

Sure, there’s a murder or two but they’re just props.  Tools for the characters to develop and act accordingly.

In the process of solving the crime, the detective finds his family among his co-workers and friends.  Each has a role and they form the whole to solve the mystery.  They are independent and interdependent.  They are the sum of their parts.

I like to figure out where I might fit in.  Where I could help.  I try to climb into the heads of those who are part of the group and wonder why and how they think that way.

In the process, they let me discover something about my own heart.  Just like Mr. James said they would.

 

 

Splinters and such.

The iconic Katherine Hepburn once said in an interview that she’s quite good at getting foreign objects out of eyes…her own or anyone else’s.  The mere idea of that gives me the heebie-jeebies.  So, I’m not your go-to person if something’s in your eye.

I am, however, quite infatuated with splinters.  Those little shards that end up in the bottoms of bare feet or in tender little fingers.

Pro-splinter people have unique outlooks and perspectives.

A rickety old wooden pier becomes a source of hope and possibility.

A child screaming “Mommy, I have a splinter in my foot” is cause for celebration.

Nothing brings a smile to my face more than the prospect of getting that splinter out.  Just ask my children.  And most recently, the Mister.

I happen to think that my needle and tweezer work is exemplary.  It’s hard to be sure of that as no one I’ve ever worked on has said: “Wow, that was really great!” or “I can’t thank you enough!”  So I have to rely on my own personal assessment.

I look for a fairly high degree of pain tolerance in my patients.  And, as I’ve gotten a little older, I also expect them to forgive my lack of precision, due to failing eyesight.

I know that all sounds a bit macabre.  Perhaps it is.

I’ve never looked at my patients as victims.  But perhaps they are.

I do know that more than one child has limped around for days with a splinter in his foot before he (or anyone else) told me what the problem/opportunity was.  That could be viewed as stealing candy from a baby.

But since I’m the one with the sharp needle, I suppose I should proffer a little compromise and, perhaps, a touch of compassion.

What a bother.

 

 

 

Can We Talk?

Don’t put pussy willows up your nose.

Don’t put your elbows on the table. 

Don’t chew with your mouth open.

…and other things our mothers told us NOT to do.

It almost goes without saying that unless you’re sure  the person you’re talking to voted the same way you did in our recent election, do NOT talk about it.   Don’t go there.  Bad idea.  Our mothers would be the first to tell us so.

Well, I’d like to suggest that we should do exactly that. That we indeed need to talk about it.

I… and others I know on both sides of the election … would very much like to know how and why we made our decisions.  We musn’t think less of one another, regardless of how we voted.  To the contrary.

IF, and it’s a big IF, we can, as friends with differing opinions, hurdle the divisiveness and ugliness of the past two years, it surely would be a good thing.

I, personally, need to understand those differences if I’m going to continue to feel a part of this town, state, country.  If I don’t, life will be emptier.  And scarier.

I’m always the one to giggle at funerals, say the wrong thing, ask the wrong question.  That will do nothing but get worse if I feel throttled and unable to say what I think and feel.  Especially when it comes to our lives and hopes.  And those of our children and theirs.

Perhaps the time isn’t right.  Maybe it’s too soon.  Maybe there’s still a fragility in the air.  Too much raw emotion.  But if not now, when?  Who decides that?  Maybe I’m ready for a conversation but no one else is.  When will that be?  How will we know?

I don’t expect total agreement on this.  I’m simply suggesting that our door is open. And I’d like to think that our minds are, too.  The goal is pretty important.  If not critical.

As Joan Rivers used to say, “Can we talk?”

Exam Time

So a friend walks into a doctor’s office.   It’s her annual check-up.  She’s strong and healthy so this is just routine.  Right?  Wrong.

Seems she’s reached the magical age where not only her physical well-being is evaluated; her mental acuity is also going to go under the microscope.  To say that she was flustered and taken aback by that is an understatement.  Which explains the “off-by-a-century” answer to the question: “What is today’s date?”

Once she got over the terror, she did quite well.  As those of us who know her would have guessed.

She was cooking right along, spelling WORLD backwards, remembering her children’s and grandchildren’s birthdays, asking for clarification on the question “Who is our President?”  And so forth.

But then came the kicker.  The stumper.   The unanswerable question.

“What is the number and street address of this office?”

If you live here, you understand her complete surprise and inability to even come close to an answer.

We quickly learn that, around here, we get to where we’re supposed to go by first going to someplace we know.  Then we take a right (from it), or go three doors down (from it), or across the street (from it).  Directions are obscure, convoluted and always given in relation to something else.  Say a Sam’s, a Walmart, a Publix.

But a street name?  A number on a door?  Not our way of doing business.

But it works.  Somehow.

Sure, we could use our GPS, or ask Siri, but, really, what fun would that be?  Think of all the dead-end streets and illegal u-turns we’d miss out on.

So, as long as we know how to get to the place that’s sort of close to the place we’re going, we’ll get there.

Sooner or later.

 

 

Dates and Appointments

I still use a paper calendar.  A month-at-a-glance thing.   It sits right in front of my computer and yes, I know that if I were “with it,” I would keep all those dates, appointments, and birthdays on the computer.

The Mister does that.  He’s computer savvy.  He also forgets most of his dates, appointments and birthdays.

I’ve used the pretty Hilton Head calendar for years.  But the publisher started using fancy glossed paper and everything you write on it smudges.  Only a ball point pen doesn’t smudge and I don’t like ball point pens.  Oh, what to do?

As it happens, I recently ordered my outfit for next year’s Bluffton Christmas Parade from an on-line source and those nice people enclosed a free calendar with my purchase.   I tested it with my favorite pens and, oh joy, it doesn’t smudge.

But, here’s the best part.  Did you know that nearly every one of our 365 days in the year is special?  And not just because we’re here to experience it.

My new calendar alerts me to “National Cow Appreciation Day,” “ National Rubber Ducky Day,”  “Belly Laugh Day,” and “Drinking Straw Day,” and that’s all just in first week of January.

Towards the end of the month, we can enjoy “Bubble Wrap Appreciation Day,”  “World Penguin Day.” and “National Cream Filled Donut Day.”  I haven’t dared to venture into February yet.  It’s overwhelming.

The mind boggles with opportunities.  However, I’m afraid to let the calendar out of my sight.  There are people I know who might actually find cause to celebrate each and every one of those days and I don’t think I’m up to that.

Participation in The Bluffton Christmas Parade is already pushing me to my limits.  It is, however, clear that I will be ordering something…who knows what?….from this place again next year so that I will receive their calendar.

I want to be ready for “Backwards Day.”  I’ll send out a save-the-date notice so you can get ready, too.  Of course, I have no idea WHAT that is but at least we’ll know WHEN it is.  Information is power.   How we use it in this case is entirely irrelevant.