August 16, 2019

It's my birthday and I'll cry if I want to!

Fair warning, this post is not for anyone who doesn't want to hear all about the joys of turning seventy. That's right, I said seventy. Seventy. I figure if I keep repeating this number, it will lose its potency.                                                                                

When I woke up this morning, did I bound out of bed and shout, "Hooray. It's my birthday?" No, I did not. I sort of rolled out and stood up and groaned. My knees hurt. Why? This is a bit of a conundrum to me. What in heaven's name can my knees have been doing all night that I wake up and they feel as if I have just climbed the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains. This is only one of the many mysteries I've encountered as I quickly approach 'old age'. 

Well, I guess I am actually there, aren't I? There are a number of things I've noticed in the past year that are not particularly amusing and that scream, “Boy, are you getting up there!” For one, my skin has lost all elasticity. I mean I have become walking crepe paper. You could decorate a school gym for the big dance with me if only I had some color.

And let face it, things are drooping – badly. Knees are sagging, butts are dragging. I could send semaphore messages with my arm flaps if I knew the correct formations. Because this is a family blog, I will not go into the hideous result of not wearing a bra. Suffice it to say, it is not pretty.

My hearing is an in and out affair. My end of conversations with Tom consist of a lot of, “What?”, “Sorry, what did you say?”, and “I can’t hear you when the waters running.” Or really any other time.

Tom, whose hearing is a bit more in and out than mine, thinks he’s a bit of a comedian. So, his end of the conversation is always a treat. Instead of just asking what I said, he likes to repeat what he thinks he heard, but knows damned well he didn’t. There is really no reason I can think of that I would ask him if his liver had been dyed. He is a card.

My memory is a bit off. This is putting it kindly. If I don’t write it down, it doesn’t get done. I actually forgot what I was going to make a note of the other day in the time it took me to pick up the pen.

Also, I have an affliction which I call ‘noun aphasia’. I sometimes cannot remember nouns. This leads to a lot of interesting conversations that consist of charades and word clues. Such as, “You know, that stuff you put in a glass to make the drink cold.” “You mean ice?” “Yes, ICE!”

Tom and I had a kind of funny experience visiting the optometrist. We had already been to the ophthalmologist, so we only needed to have our vision tested. We both went into the exam room together and met the doctor. We hadn’t seen him before, but assumed it would be a quick ‘read the chart’, write the prescription, and Bob’s your uncle. At least he was mine. We were not expecting the third degree.

I was first in the exam chair and the doctor started peppering me with questions about my medications and other health issues. I hesitated while I tried to remember exactly what I took and for what reason I took it. Luckily, Tom was able to fill in the blanks. I felt a bit of an idiot. And I’m pretty sure the doctor agreed with me.

On reflection, I think it was the chairs fault because when Tom sat down he couldn’t remember a damned thing and I had to fill in the blanks for him. It was like a weird marital cross-talk act. I’m pretty sure the doctor was happy to see us go.

Seventy. Let’s say it together – seventy. Well, I’m finding that the adage is correct. Old age is not for sissies. And the other old adage is also correct. Being seventy is better than the alternative.

June 5, 2019

Crazy Old Ladies

I'll start with my favorite old lady joke. 

Jane and Regina went out for a drive, Regina at the wheel. The day was clear and bright, the traffic was practically non-existent. They were tooling along as they came to an intersection with a bright red traffic light shining right at them. Regina tooled on through without a pause. Jane thought this a bit odd.  

At the next intersection with another glowing red light, Regina didn't hesitate for a second. She just cruised on through. Again, Jane thought this a tad on the odd side as Regina was usually a law-abiding kind of person. 

When Regina sailed through the next red light, Jane finally spoke up. “Regina, honey, why the hell are you running all these red lights?” 

Regina turned to her and said, “Was I driving?” 

Well, that’s what I ask myself much of the time. Was I driving? Am I in charge of anything? And does anyone know I’m here? 

My sister Chris and I recently went to Florida for the wedding of my younger sister Martha's stepdaughter. Since the security crack-down resulting from 9/11, we now fly under assumed names. We assumed them at birth. We were named Jane Christine and Regina Penelope by our parents. No one calls us Jane and Regina. 
Martha, Penny and Chris

The wedding was on Memorial Day weekend and flights that suited our timing needs, were non-stop, and weren’t exorbitant landed us with Spirit Airlines. 

Spirit Airlines offers a number of fine amenities. It has reserved seats in which you can sit up very straight without crossing (or even moving) your legs for the entire flight just as mother used to encourage - for a price. If you care to travel with more than a toothbrush and change of undies, you can carry-on or check your baggage - for another price. Most of all, you can, and are encouraged to, make all transactions on their very fine website. No need for pesky interactions with other humans. 

Well, we started our adventure by trying to purchase tickets on-line. This was not to be and here was the first pesky interaction I had to make. The answer to why I was unable to purchase tickets on the website was, ‘So sorry the website isn’t working properly today. I’ll be glad to sell you tickets for $5 more than the advertised price on-line.’ I didn’t quibble. I bought the tickets.

Second pesky interaction. A few days later, we decided to take one suitcase and check it, this being quite a bit cheaper that carrying on two bags. Nope. Could not do that on-line either. The nice woman told me the price. It was a few more dollars than the on-line price, so I questioned her a bit abruptly. She offered, ever so graciously, to give me the on-line number because the website was being updated and wasn’t working properly. I was getting the picture.  

Third pesky interaction. I decided that we had better purchase seats. Our luck with Spirit hadn’t been too good so far and we did want to sit down while in flight. You guessed it. The website was still being tweaked and, no, I would not care to pay more than the advertised price. 

The next convenience for our flying pleasure was the joy of self-tagging our luggage. It couldn’t be easier. We just go to the kiosk, print out the tag and drop tagged bag at baggage drop-off. Well, of course there was a fairly long line for the kiosk. Then a longer line for baggage drop-off and when we finally got there, the attendant needed to see our IDs and tickets and then she weighed the bag. So why had we tagged it ourselves? Because if we hadn’t, we would be charged if the attendant had done it.  

In the past five years Chris and I have flown Delta and have been TSA pre-checked. We were not this year, meaning we had to go through the regular security line. We were x-rayed or whatever that weird machine does when you put your feet on the feet spots and hold your hands up in the air. And then we were both patted down. Clearly, we looked a bit sinister. 

Luckily the flight was uneventful. We landed on time and had a good weekend. I got to visit with my sister, Martha, her husband, Roy, and my great-niece, Madeline. The wedding was lovely. We visited the Dali Museum which is certainly worth seeing. Martha chauffeured us around and generally took care of us.  

One quick word about Florida drivers – there are evidently only two kinds. About 2% of them seem to be perplexed as to whether they have actually left their driveway. They move along in a bemused sort of way and annoy all other drivers on the road. The other 98% (of which Martha is one) apparently believe that they have actually taken the on-ramp to the Indy Speedway and just realized that if they don’t step on it they will never catch up to the pack. Our trips to and from the airport were a lot like Mrs. Toad’s Wild Ride. Chris and I were put in the back seat and told to ‘Shut up and READ A BOOK!’. Speed aside, Martha is a good driver and I appreciate all she did for us last weekend. 

Finally, we started home and we must have looked equally sinister because once again we were x-rayed and patted down. At least, I was – sort of. By the end of the weekend my left knee was telling me in no uncertain terms that it was not a happy camper. I limped through security, planted my feet and raised my arms once again, and was told to wait for my pat down. The woman looked at me (a fairly bedraggled specimen at that point) and asked if I were in pain. I mentioned my knee. She patted one hip briefly and moved me along. My Kindle,
forgotten by mistake in my purse’s zipper compartment, also made it through without detection in spite of the dire warnings from the official about leaving such items hidden in one's bag. I’m beginning to wonder just how efficacious all this screening is. 

We made it home in one piece. I drove us from the airport in the dark and I stopped for every light whether I needed to or not. Just kidding. I'm pretty sure I knew I was driving.


May 22, 2019

Remembering my big brother

On the anniversary of a death, it's very easy to recall all of the shock, the disbelief, and finally the deep sadness that the day evokes. And I am afraid I sometimes dwell too much on the event and not enough on the life. I have written before about May 22, 1968, that last light of day when my brother, Tim, was taken from us. Now I would like to recall other days when we were very young, before teenage angst and civil unrest and the Viet Nam War; some good, some not so much. But they were mostly brighter days that bring a smile.
Tim Clover, maybe 5 years old

I was born two and a half years after Timmy and we, apparently, were in sync from day one. For example, I didn't talk until I was well past two years old. The doctor seemed a bit worried, my mother did not. According to Mom, I didn't need to talk. Tim did all my talking for me.

When we were small, we lived in a row house on 20th Street in Washington D.C. right off Dupont Circle.Washington was a small town then. Small enough that mail addressed only to Mr. Clover, Washington D.C. was actually delivered to my dad. Small enough that Tim and I, and eventually my little sister Chris, were allowed to play outside unsupervised for the most part.

I remember a friend in the neighborhood. We called him "Mr. Man Across the Street". I have no idea who he was or where he lived, but we would wave and holler 'hello' to him as he strolled down the opposite sidewalk. He would smile and wave back and on good days he would roll nickels across 20th Street to us.

There was the old lady that lived next door in a house that sat far back from the street. She did not smile and wave. It certainly never occurred to us that she might send a nickel our way. I never saw her dressed in anything but black. Someone (very possibly my older sister) convinced Tim and me that she was, actually, a witch, although I never saw a broom and I don't remember any warts. But we were pretty darned scared of the poor woman who probably just wanted to be left alone.

Summers were fun. We stayed outside most of the time playing with our neighbors, Bobby and Earl. Occasionally, the city would open the fire hydrant in front of the house so we could run in the water. High old times indeed! Tim and I got to share a popsicle on the front steps once a week. We caught lightening bugs and went with my dad when he fished in the Tidal Basin. We watched fireworks on the Mall and bought ice cream cones that came with ice cream cubes from the Peoples Drug Store around the corner. On very hot nights Mom would rub on our backs with alcohol to cool us off so we could get to sleep. I can still remember the smell.

Christmas mornings were special. We had no fireplace, so our stockings (Dad's socks) were hung on the end of our beds. Tim, Chris and I got to open these before anyone else was moving. It was our special time. And now that I think about it, I don't understand why the custom didn't continue. It certainly gave my parents an extra half hour or so before we charged into their bedroom.

I remember that Tim and I spent several nights one winter synchronizing our dreams. We'd decide before bedtime to dream of the same thing and our stories always meshed in the morning.

I have one particular memory of that little house and my brother. I was a rather trusting little girl. We were playing inside, so I'm guessing the weather was coldish. I was sitting in the big chair in the living room and Tim decided he would do a little target practice. I was the target. My little toy broom with the red handle was the projectile. He promised that he would miss. So I sat there and let him throw it. Well, his aim was a little off and he whacked me right in the forehead. Copious amounts of blood and a none-to-pleased Mother ensued. He did feel bad and his aim certainly got better over the years, but I never agreed to be a target again.

We went to Calvert School which was the parochial school attached to St. Matthew's Cathedral where we went to church. We walked to both. And much of what I remember centers around them.

My most horrid memory was the day he fell on the playground and hit his head. The playground for the girls, if it could be called that, was the small yard in back of the school. The boys played in the small yard across the alley from our area. I was in first grade and standing by myself when there was a bit of commotion and suddenly I saw two eighth-grade boys carrying my brother, unconscious, possibly dead for all I knew, across the playground into the school. I have to hand it to the nuns, they did an excellent job of ignoring me. Not one of them thought to reassure me that he would be okay, which, thank God, he was. But that picture is engraved on my mind to this day.

Much more amusing memories come to mind. Tim was an altar boy at St. Matthew's which is a large church with a large altar. Well, his first time out, he must have been all of eight years old and on the small side, he went behind the altar to get the water and wine as was done in those days, and he didn't come back. The priest finally had to go get him. We never found out what he was doing. Perhaps he saw something that struck him as interesting? Or he simply forgot that a whole church was waiting? Who knows? This was my brother to a tee - easily attracted to foolishness, as one nun told my parents. But, really, he was a little boy with a vivid imagination and no sense of time.

I love one particularly ridiculous story which I'll preface by saying that as a whole, we were fairly literal children. My mother and our neighbor, Mrs. Smith, shared the walking to and from school responsibilities. Someone (probably Mother) from our house got us there and Mrs. Smith walked us home. I'm a bit fuzzy on whether I was part of this particular screw up or whether I wasn't yet going to school. At any rate, my mother was fond of singing and, apparently, was belting out "I'll be down to get you in a taxi, honey" as Tim was leaving for school. When Mrs. Smith got there in the afternoon to walk him home, he refused to go with her. He told her Mom was coming in a taxi and he had to wait for her. She, of course, had to drop whatever she was doing, pack up my sister and, probably me, and fetch him - sans taxi. She dined out on that story for years.

It's been over fifty years, but I still miss him. I miss playing in the rain and coming home to tomato soup and grilled cheese sandwiches. I miss our Sheena Queen of the Jungle and Tarzan act as we ran through the woods near our home in College Park. I miss being arctic explorers trudging through a foot of snow for what seemed like hours. And I miss his smile, his laugh, and his always being there. I want his grandchildren to know what a glorious nut he was and what a wonderful big brother I had. Rest in peace, dear brother. You are not forgotten.

March 19, 2019

Some vacation or Who was that masked man?

Well, he wasn't masked, but he was a man. Here's the story.

As summer approaches and I mull over our vacation options, I’ve been reminiscing a bit about vacations past. Warm, sunny days spent at the beach getting sunburned and bitten by sand fleas. Crazy weeks spent in log cabins hiking trails, dodging bats, and getting eaten alive by mosquitoes. Long car rides to state parks with no air conditioning to a chorus of, “She’s touching me.” Fourteen sweating people in Nagshead, NC sharing a non-air-conditioned cabin. Colicky babies. Hurricane evacuations. Emergency room visits. High old times all. But one vacation sticks in my mind particularly. 

Probably because it was it was my first ‘adult’ vacation.  It was the summer of 1970 and my best friend, Linda, and I decided we would go on a real vacation by ourselves. After much mulling on what would be fun and, most importantly, cheap we settled on camping in Massachusetts. God only knows why.  

I now think of it as a learning experience. We learned rather quickly that we did not like camping. We learned that neither of us is particularly fond of the great outdoors. We learned that both of us had, and still do, deep reservations about any proximity to bugs of any kind. 

But it was an adventure. We set off one morning in late June in my little yellow Opel – the worst car in the world - loaded down with every conceivable camping accoutrement Linda could get her hands on. She was working at Atlas Sporting Goods at the time and had ample opportunity to select among other things, matches that would still light when wet. In case, I suppose, we decided to cookout in the rain. 

We set out on a bright sunny morning and wended our way up the East Coast toward Boston. Now, I must admit that my memory is a bit hazy. It was forty-nine years ago and I haven’t gotten to that stage of dementia where I can remember past events clearly, but nothing from yesterday. I simply can’t remember either much of the time. Anyway, we got to Boston and spent a lovely day walking around the city. Saw a matinee of Hair and felt quite urbane.  

From there we went to Gloucester, Salem and Plymouth. We visited Hawthorne’s birthplace, saw the Mayflower II, stood off the shore and stared at the spot the Hesperus wrecked, and watched a lobster boat bring in its catch. Word to the wise, if you see the odd lobster claw on the ground you probably do not want to pick it up, stick it in your trunk, and take it home as a souvenir.  

We spent two nights of our adventure sleeping in the car. One because we saw a large bear in the camp grounds which turned out to be a medium sized dog. The other because a vicious mosquito had gotten into our tent. We had one emergency car repair and, believe it or not, didn’t have one drop of alcohol the entire week. What were we thinking?  

However, all of these were just stops on our way to lay in the sand at Cape Cod and frolic in the ocean. When we got there, we found out that there is no ocean beach at Cape Cod. At least none that we could find. There is just an incredibly rocky shore. No wonder the Hesperus wrecked. We finally located a small sandy beach on the bay side of the cape. It wasn’t really what we had hoped for. 

The highlight of the week, if you can call being scared silly a highlight, came when we went walking on the sand dunes. The dunes in 1970 were pretty spectacular. Miles of rolling sand mountains under a gorgeous blue sky. I don’t know if they have since been eroded by wind and tourists, but back in the day they were really something. 

We seemed to be the only tourists in the area that day. We were trudging along, up and down the dunes, giving our legs quite a work-out when a man approached us from out of nowhere. Suddenly, there we were all alone on a vast expanse of sand with this weird little man. It felt uncomfortable right away. But we said hello politely because we were polite young women and walked on. But he felt the need to chat. He informed us in a, frankly, scary kind of way that four bodies had been found not long before right where we were walking.  

I now know that he was not the murderer because that man had already been arrested. But at the time, Linda and I weren’t sure just who we were conversing with. Was this guy implying that he actually had planted the four bodies and was wondering if we would like to make to six? Or was he just an ass with a warped sense of humor? Or, perhaps, a self-appointed tour guide? Whichever, we were not sticking around to find out. We just smiled goofily and made tracks back to the car as fast as you can make tracks when wading through the sand. No doubt he had quite a little laugh at our expense. 

The rest of our journey was unremarkable other than a rather exciting drive down a mountain followed by a semi without his load who really would have preferred us to go a lot faster. We made it home in one piece, and icing on the cake, have remained best friends, but have never even considered camping again.


February 21, 2019

Pride and Prejudice, the rest of the story

What can I say? I love Jane Austen. I’ve read all of her books and seen many of the film versions of them. I simply love the words. I love reading them and hearing them. I love the characters and the setting and the manners. 
My favorite is Pride and Prejudice which I just finished watching for the umpteenth time. The BBC version, of course, with Colin Firth and Jennifer Ehle. Perfection.
As I sighed at the end – Elizabeth and Darcy’s rather chaste kiss as they were driven away from Longbourn – I got to wondering about just what happened to all the Bennet daughters. What were their lives like? Did they all marry well? Did Mrs. Bennet confine herself to her room for the rest of her life enjoying fits of vapors? These are things I would dearly love to know. I wish Miss Austen had written a sequel. As she didn’t, I have filled in the stories for myself. 
I am quite sure that Elizabeth and Darcy had a passionate marriage lasting at least sixty years. No doubt they died in each other’s arms, having had simultaneous heart attacks while attempting some rather athletic love making. Not a bad way to go.
Jane and Bingley had a long happy marriage. Not quite so passionate as that of her sister, but with quite as much love. They had six beautiful children. And as Mr. Bennet predicted the family was a happy, and luckily, quite wealthy one, for they were much too good-natured and trusting for their own benefit. 
Mary, quite naturally, married an impecunious curate in a rather obscure parish. She spent her life piously boring the congregation to tears and playing the piano badly.
A good marriage was arranged for Kitty to a dull, but suitable young man. They lived an unremarkable, but satisfactory life together. The only fly in the ointment was that Kitty threw a fit at least once a year because her husband steadfastly refused to take her to Brighton.
And then there is Lydia. She, I think, had the most interesting life. Wickham died of syphilis deeply in debt to various merchants and bookmakers ten years into their marriage. Luckily, he had lost interest in Lydia before he contracted the disease. Having estranged herself from her family entirely, even her mother had given up on her, she was left with only one hundred pounds a year and saddled with her three children who had inherited all the worst traits of their parents. One can only imagine what gems they were. While she was hopeful that her father would pass away and she would come into a portion of his estate, Mr. Bennet seemed not to care to accommodate her in this. Thus Lydia, using her most impressive talents, became a fashionable madame catering to the military stationed in Brighton under the name, Mrs. Flanders.
Mr. Bennet did Mrs. Bennet the favor of out-living her so that she should never be thrown out of Longbourn by Mr. Collins. The dear lady actually had real heart palpitations one afternoon, but no one noticed as neither Jane, nor Lizzy was there to take her a cup of tea. Afterward, Mr. Bennet found that life at Longbourn without any females in residence was so peaceful and so free from worry that he managed to make it to one hundred years old, also out-living Mr. Collins.
So, there you have it. Is Jane Austen turning in her grave or having a good laugh? I rather think the latter.


January 10, 2019

Happy New Year

Well, it’s 2019 and sadly nothing is looking particularly rosy. The world of politics is a shambles. PBS has little to offer in the way of new mysteries. The weather is unfortunate. And I think I’ve run out of stories to tell. I happen to be closing on seventy years and am realizing that most of my adventures are behind me.

I did fall down the other evening. I had a package to return to L. L. Bean and the UPS man pulled up across the street. It was after dark, so I trotted down the driveway, continued on the sidewalk, walked up to the truck, and scared the bejabbers out of the driver. I am paraphrasing his own rather descriptive words. Apparently, I move rather stealthily. Who knew?

At any rate, on my return to the house I took a short cut across the lawn because it was a tad chilly. Tom was watching my progress from the window. He, of course, turned away just as the flowering cherry in the front yard deliberately stuck out a root and viciously tripped me.  Down I went, banging the hell out of my knee and wrenching my wrist and shoulder while narrowly missing cracking my head on the landscape tie bordering our bed of ivy. No one came to my rescue because no one saw me go down.

After quietly assessing my various bumps and bruises and confirming that nothing was broken and celebrating the fact that my bones must be in pretty good shape, I limped into the kitchen. “I fell down,” I said.

My wonderful husband Tom is a master of denial, especially when it comes to my health. So, “No you didn’t,” was his response. And he believed it. Problem solved.

When I assured him that the problem was not solved and that I actually had fallen and would appreciate a bag of ice for the knee which was rapidly swelling, he got me the ice. But then had to tell me exactly where I went wrong. If I had just stayed on the sidewalk and come up the driveway instead of cutting across the lawn, I would not have tripped on a root.

I’m not an idiot. I had already figured this out. I was well on the way to understanding my mistake as I was flying through the darkness. I was saying to myself, “Why the hell don’t you look where you’re going?”

Why do men do this? It’s not just Tom. It’s well documented that men need to instruct even when it’s clear you already have the picture. I don’t understand why can’t men just give you a hug and say, “Here’s the ice, sweetie. Twenty minutes on, twenty off.”

At any rate, I have to admit that after his initial reluctance to acknowledge my little mishap, he was very solicitous. He finished making dinner and cleaned the kitchen. Which is why I’m pretty sure we’ll make it through 2019 together, politics and PBS be damned.