Saturday, August 29, 2015

Ten years ago...

Ten years ago, around this time of year, I decided that if I wanted anyone else to take me seriously as a writer, I would have to do it first. I set out to write a blog and publish my own work--since no one else was clamoring to do it. It wasn't so much a "blog" as a website upon which I posted weekly (or least monthly) an essay about "The world as I see it and make sense of it–or not– as the case may be." That was my clever tagline. Also around this time of year...maybe even today...ten years ago, Hurricane Katrina hit New Orleans and I found myself writing my first post. It was as difficult to write then as it was to reread it today, but I'm re-posting it as a tribute to that day, that event and the memory of my college roommate Sue. Feel free to let me know what you think and thanks, as always, for your support. 

Miss New Orleans
Friday, September 02, 2005

The funniest things occur to me.
~ Feeling sad for the man who journaled all his life in Gulfport, Mississippi - whose journals just blew away.
~ Wondering how the babies are getting dry diapers.
~ Wondering if, after all these years, the city still looked the same before it was washed away.
~ Is the Morning Call still there?

I don't know how to process this disaster that is Katrina. As I did in September 2001, I watch and watch the TV and the film clips and the faces and the stories until I can't watch anymore. I want to cry, but I am afraid that if I start, I will never stop.

Those little faces. The children who are so sad and hungry and cold and wet. The parents who are helpless to care for them. The people who have been ripped from their families and wander with bloodshot, tear-filled eyes...just looking.

What can a woman in Connecticut do?

I want to offer warm beds, dry clothes, water by the gallons and long, long hot soapy showers and clean fresh towels. And lots of food. It's this emotional connection I have to New Orleans that makes me want to just go down there and help, even though I haven't been there in over 25 years.

My roommate in college, Sue, left our school in Texas to finish school in New Orleans. She was going to be a nurse. She might have been in New Orleans still when Katrina hit and ended up helping others had she not died 25 years ago helping one other. Only 22, she was out on the town with friends--fellow students--when a car pulled up beside them and grabbed her companion. Being Sue, she dove into the car after her friend and was instantly shot in the face. Fortunately, they both fell from the car to safety from the blast. Unfortunately, Sue died that very night.

One January, a couple of years earlier, I met Sue in New Orleans before classes started back for the semester. She took me on a real native tour of the city. We stayed off of the well-traveled paths and took the ones--well--less traveled. Down alleys and around corners. Through wrought iron gates and into tiny shops with no names above the doors. In one shop, I swear she knew the proprietor because it seems as they both conspired to get me to "try some of this perfume". Sniff! My face flushed as they both doubled over hysterical at my reaction. "What the hell...?" It was amyl funny...

Sue was Miss New Orleans that day. My ambassador to adventure, the wild side I never possessed. I never went back to the city after our tour. Not even when a bunch of girls went to celebrate Mardi Gras with Sue just a month before she died. Had I known I only had a month left to see her, I might have made an effort to go. But I was newly married and I stayed home and let my single friends go party it up in the Big Easy. And then she was gone.

I gave my daughter her name and invested New Orleans with her spirit. That way, whenever I heard anything about New Orleans, I thought of Sue--she was still around. Laughing at the silliest things, taking risks and dancing...always dancing. And this town that she held in the palm of her gone. Like Sue.

I miss New Orleans.

Suzanne 1958-1980


The world as I see it and make sense of it–or not– as the case may be. - See more at:
The world as I see it and make sense of it–or not– as the case may be. - See more at:
The world as I see it and make sense of it–or not– as the case may be. - See more at:
The world as I see it and make sense of it–or not– as the case may be. - See more at:

Friday, August 21, 2015

Thinking of Jimmy Carter

 Author's Note: Many years ago, I wrote this essay about my Dad and Jimmy Carter. The recent news of President Carter's cancer diagnosis is sad and I heard about it while visiting my parents in Florida, where my Dad is still recovering from his coma. I remembered this essay and am posting it now as a tribute to both men, still strong despite the challenges of a life of hard work and debilitating health issues.
My parents with the Carters at Maranatha Baptist Church in October 2003)
 My Dad, Jimmy Carter and me
February 2003

I have a crush on Jimmy Carter. I think he can fix all the worlds’ ills and strife just by opening his mouth and allowing that soft, gentle Southern accent to pick everyone up in its great big ever-loving, peanut farmer richness and get everyone to start remembering just what is important in this world. Like peace, shelter, dignity, rights. I’m not alone in this feeling, am I? The man did, after all, win the Nobel Peace Prize.

Maybe it was because Jimmy Carter was the first president I ever voted for. That is a memorable experience – voting in one’s first presidential election. It is a huge civic and mature responsibility especially when combined with an equally exhilarating milestone – reaching the legal drinking age. I was of age, in Texas, in my first semester at college and voting for a United States president – who won! It doesn’t get much more memorable than that.

Or, maybe it’s because he resembles my dad. My mother has always maintained that I have been drawn to men who look like my dad – blonde, fair skinned, blue eyed. I once kicked my pediatrician’s stethoscope across the room and hid under a table, all because, according to my mother, he had dark hair and didn’t look the slightest bit like my dad. I was pretty sure it was because he was messing with my dress and he had a huge needle in his hand. I was four, I’m supposed to be discriminating? My dark, chocolate-eyed, Italian husband doesn’t believe that theory, and hasn’t for the last some-odd years. But the fact remains, there is a resemblance between Jimmy Carter and my dad. I have definitely done a few double takes when I’ve seen Mr. Carter on TV– “Hey, what’s my dad doing on CNN?” Then I realize – oh – it’s just Jimmy Carter.

Looks aside, there are other similarities between Mr. Carter and my dad. They are both family men, married to the same woman for almost 50+ years, in their 70s, seemingly ready to retire and yet working harder now than when they had real jobs. Mr. Carter’s real job, of course was being president of the United States. My dad was a chemical engineer at General Electric. Now they are both peace activists working against time and tide of popular thought to prevent war, pain and suffering.
My brother writes a monthly newsletter from Hollywood, where he moved to keep warm. One of them referred to the emails that our dad sends us – daily. With the war in Iraq being waged daily on TV, the internet and in our hearts, the emails come fast and furious alerting us to peace vigils, phone calls to make, petitions to sign, and other people-driven contributions required to remind people that peace is good – war is bad. This activism has not just recently occurred, however. We attentive offspring have been watching our parent’s commitment to good causes all our lives. Because you don’t think my dad did all this alone? The very least he needed was my mother’s support. The best he got was her complete agreement in the issues and causes he felt needed the most attention. Hunger, race relations, conflict resolution, and yes, peace.

And here I sit, going to work everyday, reading or, sometimes not reading, all the emails I get, wondering, who thought it was a good idea to get this man a computer? I feel like I did when I was in grade school gym class. I hated gym class. Besides the fact that we had to wear these ridiculous blue gym suits – ugh – even the most un-athletic of us were forced to participate in very excruciating athletic calisthenics. Like jump rope. I guess my gym teacher also didn’t resemble my dad, because I didn’t like her very much either. Anyway – when the group jump roping started, everyone had to line up and jump in, jump for 10 counts or something and then jump out. Please – could I just wear this stupid gym suit to classes all day instead? It would be less painful. The anxiety I developed waiting to jump in, jump for the expected number of jumps and jump out was unbearable. I would let the other girls cut in line – they liked this crazy jumping!

And that’s how I feel about all this peace activist stuff – I am waiting for the rope to come around at just the right time so I can jump in and not make a fool of myself, or not fall down and get laughed at. What do I do? What can I do?

If I wasn’t so uncoordinated, I would smack myself in the forehead. Of course it has been before me the whole time – my whole life in fact. I’ve seen what one man – or woman – can do, both on the worldwide stage and the personal. My dad will never have a non-profit, nongovernmental organization named after him, like Mr. Carter. But believe me, he works hard at the same causes with the same impressive dedication. Mr. Carter has unlimited resources at his disposal and he has the dignity to use them with respect. There probably aren’t too many people out there who will say “no” to a former president. Plenty of people say no to my dad. But that’s ok – because he just gets back on the phone, computer, or podium and asks again. I have two role models before me, one whose website I can visit and research the latest work on conflict resolution and one I can call on the phone and ask advice from – that would be my dad. If I haven’t learned by now that one person can make a difference than I haven’t been paying attention. Or, to quote Mr. Carter’s Nobel Acceptance speech, “an individual is not swept along on a tide of inevitability but can influence even the greatest human events.” So where does that leave me? I guess I just get in there and jump.

(My mother sent President Carter's office a copy of this essay. 
He read it and sent a short note back in return.)

Monday, August 10, 2015

Too Old

You’ve heard it a million times: “I’m getting too old for this.” Most recently these words panted out of my own mouth as I tried to keep up with my daughter on one of our frequent walks around town. One of the routes we take (and we have several with varying degrees of difficulty) combines the flat sidewalk along Main Street with the uphill side streets by the firehouse and the post office. It was during one of those uphill stretches that I uttered those words that often describe a once-manageable task now found daunting: “I’m (huffing and puffing) too old (more huffing) for this.” And I wasn’t even the one pushing the stroller with my toddler grandson.

The Aging Cheerleaders would have you believe that getting older is all in one’s head. Adopt a positive attitude! Do brainteasers! But it’s not. Aging isn’t just in my head; it’s in my knees, my belly and many of my internal organs. Of course it is...these body parts have been around as long as I have, generally, and some diminishment in function is to be expected. My knees don’t always bend when I want them to and when they do achieve the desired angle in an attempt to ascend stairs, there is often pain associated with the movement.  What other mechanism can last that long without some deterioration? We’re not Volvos.   The uphill climbs I attempt never get easier, but there are days when I accomplish them with less exertion. And some days I feel like Sisyphus because-- “it’s just one of those days”--another aging adage that explains why doing something one used to do with ease is now fraught with some difficulty.

Until quite recently, I have been slightly oblivious to having to “deal” with getting old. I admit, those lovely comments insisting I must have been twelve when I had my children because how could I possibly a grandmother are sweet music to my ears. And although I am on a couple of medications that help regulate a faulty thyroid and some pesky hypertension, it’s not that big a deal. A little wear and tear on this old body has not hampered me in the things that I really love to do, which, quite honestly, isn’t that much--physically speaking. I like to walk (on flat sidewalks), do some swimming, putter in the garden and get down on the floor with my grandson to play trucks. I often opt for the low footstool instead of lowering myself all the way to the ground to play, but so far he hasn’t complained.  I can usually complete one of those brainteasers, too, if it’s not too hard. 

Facing my own aging struck me recently when I needed to choose a photograph to include with a local interview for my book. There is one (and only one) photograph of myself that I don’t mind showing to others. Obviously I use it every chance I get. But it’s slightly outdated and I was compelled to get a new one and the new one makes me look old. And it’s not the photograph that makes me look old. I am old. I am an older woman now and I look it. My hair is grayer, there are deep lines in my face and smaller ones around my eyes. And if you pinch the skin on my elbow, it stays that way much to the delight of my grandson, who tries it out every chance he gets. I must have thought all those aches and pains I’ve complained about over the last few years were going to go away. But they’re not. They’re here to stay and I am--to employ yet another old adage--not getting any younger.  My body and my mind and my looks are, in fact, aging. But, as they also say (and they must be those same AARP cheerleaders), aging beats the alternative.

In an effort to broaden my perspective on the aging process and how to best navigate its sometimes-choppy waters, I consulted my uncle Art. Uncle Art has been enjoying nonagenarian status for several years now. And counting. As far as I know he golfs fairly regularly and he and my aunt Diane play cribbage every night. They enjoy a steady stream of family visitors while managing a full social calendar, which includes continuing education courses. He told me, “Old age is a reward. When you reach old age, enjoy it fully. Don’t complain about not being able to do this or that any more than earlier in life when you would dwell on one obstacle for too long. If life is a meal, then old age is the dessert. And dessert is the best part.”

So that’s the advice I’m going to follow. The changes and challenges of getting older are no different than the changes and challenges at every life stage. A challenge is a challenge. Bodies will succumb to the planned obsolescence of physiology at one point or another.  I will learn to remember to enjoy the meal that has been my life. Besides, I always did like dessert best. 

Sunday, August 2, 2015

That's What Friends Are For

Annie, my 34-year-old daughter, packed up her little family early one beautiful Sunday morning, much earlier than I was ready to get out of my pjs and come downstairs, to attend a friend’s housewarming party--in Vermont. That’s a three-hour road trip up and a three-hour trip back. I am still nosy enough to have inquired the night before: What’s the hurry to see them? Tony had been out of town for most of the week and they had been out all day Saturday. Wouldn’t a nice relaxing Sunday at home be just what the doctor ordered?  I pressed further (I’m not only nosy, I can be downright persistent sometimes).  “Why don’t you just tell them this weekend won’t work? Can’t you go up another time, maybe when you can spend the night?”

I got one of those looks. You know the look. The look comes when you’ve ventured way over the line and meddled too far into your child’s business, particularly your 34-year-old child. The look says, “Um...I’ve got this...stay out of it.” And most of the time I can. But, sadly, I had another question. “Annie, what’s so important that you have to go this weekend? They’re not moving out--they just moved in!”  She answered as if she were trying to convince Luca to please eat his peas--exasperated, but trying to be patient: “Mom. These are the kind of friends that we really need to work at. They won’t understand if we don’t come.”

And there it was, right in front of my eyes. The generation gap, looming large.  You’ll be happy to know, dear readers, that I did finally stay out of it. In fact, I stayed so far out of it, I stayed in bed Sunday morning while they bustled about trying to get out of the house on time. I had worked all day Saturday, so even though I was a little sorry to see them go, I was a little excited at the prospect of some alone time.  And as I heard the car pull out of the driveway, I thought to myself, “thank god I don’t have friends I have to work so hard for.”

Friends now are people who won’t get mad at me for canceling because I’m wiped out. Because, honestly, they’re probably wiped out. We are at the age where getting together is fun, but getting out of getting together works, too.  Attendance at a birthday or retirement party doesn’t get recorded as a measure of friendship. Often, not showing up when expected garners a concerned call or email. I don’t want to “work hard” at friendship and I suspect my friends don’t want me to either. Because they don’t want to.

Friendships after fifty are based on mutual respect and common interests. In my 30s, I am pretty sure I had friends that I felt I had to “work hard” at. Friends who had come into my life by way of the school my kids went to, the places I worked or people my husband was friends with, when I had one. 

Just recently I invited a friend and her husband to join Angelo and me for an evening at a jazz concert. Even though I was looking forward to it (kind was outside and the forecast was for blistering hot temperatures) when she emailed me the morning of the concert to tell me that she and her husband were going to beg had been a long weekend and they needed some down time, I assured her it was fine. In fact, it sounded like such a good reason to me, I didn’t go either. Angelo and I stayed home, hung out on our shady porch and grilled outside. No black marks on either side of this friendship.

I tried to impart the wisdom I’ve gained on Annie’s Sunday plans, but she didn’t need my wisdom. This is her friendship to manage; they may stay friends forever (based on all that hard work, I hope so!) or theirs may wane with the passing years. That’s her business and definitely not mine. It’s a process of maturing that can’t get skipped over because that’s how we figure out who our friends are.  If she needs help with this, she can ask her other friends. That’s what friends are for.