Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Christmas Bits

It was a quiet Christmas here. John fixed breakfast- eggs, home fries and sausage. We opened presents. We called the German side of the family.
Dinner was roast duck, prepared  by John, with fixin's by Polly-mashed yams, Brussels sprouts with bacon and maple syrup. Polly also whipped up some tasty chutney to go with everything, and for dessert, mince pie. It was not our old traditional Christmas fare, but it was full of flavor and color and exceeding delicious.
We almost didn't have a tree. John and Polly went to a tree place, which was closed - this was on Christmas Eve. However, there were two trees for the taking, so they took one. It's more a shrub than a tree, but Polly got it going. We have enough ornaments for a seven footer, and this shrub is a little  over three feet tall.  Then she found a box of old trimmings, shiny things I'd forgotten I'd had, the sort of things you could get at K-Mart years ago, like garlands, baubles and bright shiny things. They found the little ceramic Christmas tree given to us by Miss Simms, in whose pool we used to swim. It's actually a bit of overkill, but enjoyable.I have no idea why I accumulated some of this stuff, since some of it looks brand new.
The Christmas shrub is on a table. The top is adorned with two of the tin stars a friend brought back from Mexico years ago. They added a large golden "thing" to the top, which glitters gaily.
The beauty part is, of course, that the "tree" was free, a gift from whoever owns the tree place.
On Saturday, it was back to Cleveland for the Boar 's Head Festival and dinner at Minh Ahn, both of which were splendid.

Monday, December 22, 2014

And a Merry Christmas to All

 I wish all those who visit this blog a Merry Christmas, a Happy Chanukkah, a Kaputal Kwanza, or a nice day off work.

Sunday, December 21, 2014


A week ago, Sally and I went up to Cleveland, to the "Messiah Sing" at Trinity Cathedral, the place where the Boar's Head  pageant takes place after Christmas. I went to listen, Sally went to sing. I've written about this magnificent cathedral in the past, a place over 100 years old, built when Cleveland's Euclid Avenue was part of Millionaire's Row, lined with elegant mansions. A few of these mansions are still around, some of them part of University Circle, parts of museums, or buildings used by Case-Western University. There are probably ghosts of these people regularly attending Trinity Cathedral
The place was packed for the "Sing," with each section designated for the voices in Handel's timeless work. By far the largest section was the altos, who filled almost half of the main nave. I have only participated in one of these things once, many years ago, when I spent a year in the Bach Chorus at Baldwin-Wallace. I still have my score, but there's no way I can navigate the range or the tricky bits. I hummed along with the parts I remembered, as did a number of us in the "listening" section.
There was a small, beautifully precise orchestra, and four young soloists. With the first words of the first chorus, "Glory to God," there was such a thrill, hearing that great space filled with hundreds of voices, I swear I levitated.  It went on like that for the next hour. The soloists, unmiked, projected their gorgeous voices throughout the vaulted nave. Maybe you had to be there, but it was stunning.
At the end everyone was beaming.
Sally was ecstatic.
It was glorious.
It is s a wonderful way to tell that story.
I think the listening to the beautiful music of the human voice is as close as one can get to grace.

Sunday, December 14, 2014

Eating on Fleet Street

Fleet Sreet is the main thoroughfare of Slavic Village, which was a mainly Polish section of Cleveland. Not too far from the valley of steel mills just south of downtown, it was settled in the late 19 th and early 20 th century by immigrants from Central Europe, who flocked to this area  to work in the mills and factories that made Cleveland one of the largest, and most diverse cities in this region. Cleveland was a collection of ethnic villages, few of which remain, since white flight to the suburbs in the prosperous post-war years.
Slavic Village remains as a smaller version of its  slice of Europe in Northeastern Ohio. It's centerpiece is the magnificent St. Stanislaus Church. Most of these neighborhoods have, or had, beautiful churches, built by money from the working class immigrants to glorify the old religions of their homelands. Some are now empty and sad, but St. Stanislaus remains strong.
Slavic Village has suffered from being in the Rust Belt of dying steel mills, and the housing has fallen victim to the rash of predatory lending. The business district was affected by this, too, withe little grocery stores and bakeries unable to cope with the change in population.
However, there are still restaurants specializing in real, honest Polish cuisine, and not just pierogies. We have been to a couple of them, and scoped out a couple more which look promising. They are neighborhood centers, old, warm and friendly. The juke box leans toward music of the 40 s and 50s. The Red Chimney, the outside of which resembles a Swiss chalet, serves individual meals, while the Seven Roses has a luncheon buffet, with more food than I could ever eat. The proprietress, who looks like the cook on "Orange is the New Black," complete with the dyed red hair, and her friend were sitting in a corner, chatting in Polish. A young waitress, also Polish, directed us to the buffet. This is a very large place, set up for banquets and parties. They were in the process of getting a Christmas tree decorated  for the season of parties.
The food was delicious, and mainly spiced with dill. There were cabbage rolls, mashed potatoes, greens, latkes, and things I didn't recognize. The proprietress came over to ask how we liked it, and was pleased with our answer. She sent over some cookies-kolaki? She made money off us, because there was so much food we didn't 't even try to eat. I found out that the restaurant is a destination, with people coming in from the suburbs, especially those of Polish descent.
There's a resurgence in the Rust Belt. The mills are back. Young people are coming back to remake the cities in new ways. Downtown housing, walkable neighborhoods, high tech professionals, repurposed old buildings, specialty restaurants, brew pubs, artists and galleries, and creative types grabbing up cheap properties to make new neighborhoods - it's pretty exciting to see what's happening around here. Places like Slavic Village will benefit, and perhaps some of the other old ethnic neighborhoods will be revived.
I like having the benefits of living so close to a city, where we're only 45 minutes from the museums, theaters, concerts and discovering  these pockets of old Cleveland that have survived, complete with their delicious food.

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Can There Be A Conversation?

I have not responded to the most outrageous manifestations of racism that have occurred over the past months. And that is what it is, I believe. It is also classism, for that is also part of the story. It is difficult  to discuss in a country where there is not supposed to be such a thing as "class," in spite of the fact that there is. It is also not easy to have honest dialogue about it or race.
Take the police, for instance. My only contacts with the police involved minor traffic incidents. It is extremely intimidating to hear a siren and see flashing lights in you rear view mirror. But I am white and an older woman, and the police have generally been polite but brusk. I've dared to argue a couple of times, but I was never been pulled out of my car and made to put my hands on the car roof. I am white. And when you think about it in this gun crazy country, a policeman stopping a car is generally more at risk than the occupant of the car.
I find myself wondering what kind of people want to be police? Is it a sincere desire to be of use in the community? Is it a family legacy? Is it a desire to protect the neighborhoods and the people? Is it a way to demonstrate one's willingness to take risks?
Is it a desire for power? Is it a way to carry a gun legitimately?  Is it the uniform?
Then I I wonder about the selection process. I know there are educational requirements.Are there  tests to weed out things like mental instability?  How subjective are the observations during training as to the suitability for this important profession? How do they deal with racial issues during and after trading? And why are so many of them built like steers?
Those kinds of questions need to be explored honestly, since the recent tragic deaths of unarmed Black men and a CHILD were caused by the people who are supposed to protect the people of communities they live and/ or work in.
Another, more difficult conversation is about the poor, Black communities, which are in chaos, with high rates of school violence,  kids dropping out before graduation, leaving young Black men with few or no skills to find jobs, young single mother teen-age girls trying to survive and trying to keep their children from being  killed, trapped with few job skills, inadequate child care, and all the ills of poverty. It's hard enough rearing a family alone, but if you have little hope, you are vulnerable to all sorts of personal and public dangers. There are people who survive bad beginnings, but there are too many who don't. Poverty debilitated the spirit as well as the body.
When my friend Susan and I did one of our storytelling workshops in Cincinnati a few years ago, two of our students were women who taught in kindergartens in the inner city. What they said about some of their students has stuck with me: children were showing up for kindergarten with minimal language skills. They were not talking about immigrants,  they were talking about American children who could not put a sentence together at the age of 5. How were these children going to able to tackle little black squiggles on white paper, when their oral language deficit was so great? (I am waiting for someone to do a doctoral dissertation on this issue, which might help to explain why so many inner city schools are dealing with so many kids just giving up.)
It's hard to talk about this sort of thing without sounding racist, even though it's evidence based from many studies, but it's the sort of thing that needs to be addressed to relieve the anomie that persists in poor Black communities. Can we talk about this ?
This is in noway to blame what has happened to those recently blatantly murdered by "law" officers. I wrote about this to demonstrate how hard it is to discuss race issues honestly.
George Bernard Shaw's  "Pygmalion" was about class, the rigid British system of his day. It was not a love story about Eliza and Henry, but  a demonstration of that rigidity and the upper class demand that everyone behave like "" us." It was Alfred Doolittle who took Henry Higgins down with his speech of  " middle class morality" that was seen as the ideal way of life. All people should not have to live the same way, and cultures are different even in the same communities. However, everyone wants a safe and healthy place to live and rear their children, everyone needs the food of hope. Everyone wants their sons to live.
I don't know the answers, but there must be some, right?

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

Let The Holiday Season Begin

We had a very fine Thanksgiving Day. Unfortunately, Polly wasn't able to come home because she is with dog. We missed her, and I was forced to get back into the kitchen for the first Thanksgiving in several years. John did the pies and the turkey and I did the fixin's.  Everything turned out well. We had planned to watch a movie after dinner, but we ere a bit dazed by the food and the labor involved.
The next evening John provided a wonderful treat at Cleveland' Playhouse Square to watch "The Nutcracker," with the Joffrey Ballet, accompanied by the Cleveland Orchestra. It was in one of those great old restored theaters, the State,  from the twenties, an elegant venue from the days when movies and vaudeville were an Event. I've written about these theaters before, which comprise one of the largest theater districts outside of New York. Saved from destruction by some terrific people, the area is a center of entertainment attended by people from all over the area. Besides that, this performance was absolutely magical, beautiful, and a total delight. We've seen the Joffrey a couple of times with the orchestra at Blossom Music Center, their summer home. Superb all around. Nothing like having one of the world 's greatest orchestras  for your pit band.
One night we did watch the weird  and hilarious "Lemony Snucket," a tour de force for Jim Carrey. I can only take him in small doses, but he is very good in this movie, playing a truly vile villain in several guises. The movie looks like a Tim Burton flick, but is by some other genius with a great grasp of color, texture, humor and grisly fun. Meryl Streep was her usual expert self in a very different kind of role for her, and very funny.
Sunday a friend and I went to see "A Theory of Everything." My eyes glaze over at abstruse scientific theories and I have absolutely no grasp of cosmology and how it works ( other than the funny stuff they do on my favorite sitcom, "The Big Bang Theory)' but this is a film about a man. My friend said after the film, that she, for the first time, saw Stephen Hawking as a human being. I agree. I think because we see the twisted body in a wheel chair, we don't think of him as a sentient human. In the film we see the person within, the person who was a witty, brilliant young man, the person who is still there. It's very well done.
Tonight we went to see and hear Apollo's Fire, an incredible Baroque orchestra, do their Celtic Christmas concert. The music is medieval, and includes singing, choral pieces, dancing and a bit of tomfoolery. It was at the Kent State auditorium, which was packed. For a small college town, Kent is a great place to live, with access to all sorts of great events.
Tomorrow morning we're going up to Cleveland to hear the Baldwin-Wallace University ( where  my husband used to teach) Men's  Chorus do their Christmas concert at the studio of WCLV in Playhouse Square. This will be the second year they are doing this and this is an excellent group. Who knows, we may have lunch at Otto Moser's, an over one hundred year old restaurant that used to cater to the vaudeville players of old. It's been moved from its original location, but the moth-eaten moose head and the old fly-specked show bill posters are still there.

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Music and Memories

While sitting in the old University Auditorium yesterday, listening to a wonderful performance by the Kent State University symphony orchestra, I found myself thinking of all the fine things I have heard and seen there over the years, especially during my time as a student from 1948 - 1951. The program yesterday was of French compositions from the late 19th  century :Faure, Saint-Saen's, Ravel and Chaubrier.  It is rather dreamy stuff, which must be why I started thinking of  the past while the music floated through the air.
One of the first events I remember was the Fred Waring orchestra and his famous chorus. He had a popular radio program, sponsored by Chesterfield cigarettes. His forte was his choral arrangements of popular songs. (He also, it turned out, invented the Waring blender, but that was later.) I believe we were part of his live broadcast, which was exciting in those days, when radio personalities were stars.
 He may have been on a college tour to hold auditions for his famed chorale.
The next even I remember was the appearance of the Cleveland Orchestra. Although George Szell took over in 1946, I think the conductor that night was Joseph Gingold who was the first chair violin in those days. It was such a thrill to have this orchestra right on our campus. I decided  to take my glasses off to see what  the group looked like blurred so I could do an impressionistic watercolor the next day in class. The above illustration, 60 some years old, is my myopic vision of a musical institution which I would come to love many years later.
Perhaps the most memorable events of all was the time that Menotti's opera "The Medium"  was presented by Cleveland's noted Karamu Theater, a part of the Karamu Settlement House, an inter- racial treasure on  the East Side. Karamu offered theater, dance and art classes to the people of the inner city, and it's still going string after almost one hundred years. The medium was played by an African- American singer named Zelma George, who, in real life was a social worker. She was astounding. When Menotti got word of her performance, he invited her to play the role in New York,
and later at one of his Spoleto Festivals. When the performance ended, the audience went wild,cheering, shouting, and clapping, with a standing ovation that lasted a long time. Students in those days always packed the old auditorium, taking advantage of these free cultural events. On the way out, I ran into a rather snotty English professor, who was just amazed at the students' enthusiastic response, and wondering why they did so. I just stared at him. Of course it had been excellent, but students actually liking an opera?
The famed Juilliard Quartet came and the students packed the theater again. During those years, the radio networks NBC and CBS each had its own symphony orchestra, and presented regular classical music programming, so many people knew groups like this quartet, as well as "stars" of that genre. There was this kid who always sat in the front row. He may have been a facility child for all I know. During the Juilliard's performance, one of the violinists had a string break. When he discarded it and put on a new one, this kid jumped out of his seat, scrambled to the edge of the stage and grabbed it. It may show up on "Antiques Road Show" any day now.
Another favorite of mine was the poet Ogden Nash, well known for his wit and word play. I had been a fan in high school, and had a couple of his books. It was fun to hear him, in his dry, mid-Atlantic drawl read his funny, clever take on the catsup bottle and why his Cousin May fell through the parlor floor today.
One somewhat sad thing happened. Jose Iturbi was one of those musicians who was a classical pianist/radio and movie stars. He was in a lot of those really cheesy MGM  musicals with those shrill, reedy sopranos like Jane Powell and Kathryn Grayson. I guess he was too big for Kent State, but we got his sister Ampara, also a pianist. She looked like a female version of Jose -not a good look for a woman. Unfortunately, she got lost during Chopin's Fantasy Impromptu, noodled around until she found her way out, and finished it in good time, a musician's nightmare. Nobody laughed that I know of, especially the music majors.
Now the University Auditorium is called Cartwright Hall, and is one of many performance venues. There is no longer an artist/lecture series, but there are plenty of concerts,  plays and interesting guest speakers through various departments.
Many significant  performances linger for me when I am there.

Saturday, November 22, 2014

Lost, Stolen, or Strayed

Once again the Christmas rush is upon us, with the media full if messages to get out and shop. And, of course, Black Thanksgiving  afternoon, so that people don't have to linger around the table being thankful for all the things they've already got. The current holiday season is Hallowe'en and Christmas, with a day in between when the banks and the post offices are closed for some vague reason.
I attribute this to the present day need for instant gratification. You get candy on Hallowe'en and more candy and more stuff you already have more of than anyone really needs on Christmas. On that holiday in between you just get a lousy turkey dinner and a lot of football  games and nothing much to add to your stuff. And then you get to shop!!
When there was life in the slow lane, when we could spend time just appreciating the day. If we  anticipated what was to come, we still savored Thanksgiving as a family holiday, and Christmas was a long  time away.
We did not put up the Christmas tree the day after Thanksgiving, nor did we trim the house with boughs of holly after Thanksgiving dinner.
There's no going back, of course, so one must bear with it, and be thankful for the past and those memories.
The first time I was in London, it was the first week of December, and there was no sign of Christmas yet. Startling! By the second week, the stores  were suddenly bedecked for the holiday and  theChristmas season was on. They don't have Thanksgiving there, of course, so there was no need to rush the holiday season. That was over twenty years ago, so maybe they've caught up with us by now.
On behalf of those Pilgrims and the Native People who helped them put together  a mighty fine feast, I resent the minimizing of Thanksgiving in the name of commercial greed. The day  still matters, and I suspect that most of us still enjoy it with family and friends in spite of the efforts to skim over it by
the lure of discounted "stuff" at the mall.

Friday, November 14, 2014

Snow Falls, Autumn Lingers

We had our first snowfall today here in Northeastern Ohio. It didn't stick, just a dusting. I was at a meeting late this morning, on the second floor of the library, so I couldn't see the ground, and the snow was coming down in thick flakes, looking as if it was the middle of January. I expected to see a white world when I left, but instead the streets were just wet and bare, and the grass was hardly covered.
November is not too early for snow here. I can remember heavy snow in October in years past. When my children were small, it seems as though I was booting, mittening, hatting and scarfing them all from October until May, the sort of task that usually ended up with at least one of them having to go to bathroom and my having to unpeel everything and then put the kid back together. Winter always lasts longer than the other seasons, and preparing children for outdoors makes it even longer. Makes me tired just thinking about it. (But I wasn't in my eighties then.)
In spite of the snow, while my maple and oak trees are bare now, the trees in Dix's Woods across the street still gleam with gold. Some are bare, but others seem to be reluctant to she'd. It's nice to see them, even on a gray day, and especially on a sunny one. This has been a glorious autumn, warm, sunny and brilliantly colorful. I've been treated to lovely rides through the countyside by Sally and John. I still miss driving alone, listening to Mahler and Mozart and James Taylor while trying to get list, but I can't complain. I can still enjoy gawking at the scenery, especially this year.

Thursday, October 30, 2014

When to Rake

The chief raker at this house is son John. His custom is not to rake until the last leaf has fallen. We have three large trees in front of the house: one pin oak, which sheds leaves and numerous acorns, two large maple trees, which provide the golden aura during late October. There  is also Dix's Woods cater-cornered across the street from the yard. That's a lotta trees. The yard gets completely covered, several inches deep, tracked into the house along with the odd acorn, the one that the black squirrels somehow missed. The rain gutters are stuffed with the colorful detritus, and sometimes if they are not cleaned out in a timely manner, small trees appear along the eaves.
This year, Sally decided to get some exercise, grabbed a leaf rake the other afternoon and started raking up the leaves while there were STILL LEAVES ON THE TREES! One of the visitors from abroad, not having any leaves back in Deutschland to rake (that's taken care of by management of the apartment)', found another rake and amused himself by clearing away another patch of ground.
By the time, Sally was running out of steam,  and the chief raker returned from work. What could he do? Leave the yard half- raked? Shake the trees until all the leaves were gone? In spite of his system being undermined, he pitched in and piles of leaves were soon placed along the curb, ready for the city's service department to suck them up with their giant vacuum cleaner.
There will, unfortunately, be more leaves to rake and a person does not wish to appear ungrateful for the raking done (too soon),  but the years long chain of waiting for the last leaf to fall has been broken.
(I speak  for the chief raker, even though personally I like having the yard cleared early.)

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Out My Window-Autumn


The fall colors arrived with visitors from Germany, which was one of the reasons they ( the visitors) chose this time of year to come to Northeastern Ohio. While there is beautiful scenery in Germany - the Alps, castles, lakes and rivers -  there are no bright leaves to gawk at in the fall. Last year Emily came in mid-October, the usual time for the color, but nothing happened until she left, when everything burst into color the first week of November. This time the weather and the leaves have been perfect.

This time, too, Chris is here, my darling Australian son- in- law. It's been a long time since he's been here. To add to his pleasure, the World  Series is on. When they lived in San Francisco, Chris became an ardent Giants fan. Since I am not watching the games, I don't know how they are faring so far.

We have taken some rides up to Geauga County, and shown off the "new" Kent. It's a happenin' town these days. People from other places come to gawk, eat and shop. The restaurants seem to be doing well, but  the retail shops keep changing. Most of them are aimed at students and people  with disposable income. A couple remind me of the ill-fated mall Scotch-tape shop from an early SNL skit. One just sells those cloth hand bags made by some woman whose name escapes me. It may have gone by now, as people rush after the NEXT BIG THING. The pop- corn shop thrives, of course, adding salt and sugar to the diets of its devotees, who are encouraged to walk it off on the Esplanade, an expensive walkway connecting town and gown. The little bake/shop restaurant where I meet the ladies who lunch seems to be suffering these days, with fewer people coming in for take-out. There is a lot of competition for those who have been around and survived the tatoo par lord and bars thatproliferated in Kent for many years. Many of the new businesses have benefitted from tax breaks not available to the old timers.  This seems to be the norm for cities looking for development. Money rules.

But I digress. The picture is today's view from my window, enhanced by having been thoroughly cleaned inside and out by the man from Oz.

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

The Autumn Leaves

In spite of continuous rains, we are having a lovely autumn. Last week Sally drove me through the golden tunnel, and then continued on Infirmary Road up to a little piece of New England in Ohio, Mantua Center. All along  the road there was a blaze of color.
Mantua Center is a little village of century buildings, a couple of houses that were once stage coach stops, a town hall, a church and some kind of meeting house, and a cemetery with a dry stone wall around it. I've never seen any people about, but when I was working, I used to go to the village school to do programs. The school is in an impressive building, much younger than the rest of the structures. It is red brick with white pillars and a domed cupula. It sat empty for a number of years, but has been saved by the locals to be used as a community center. The population is scattered quite a bit, but they seem to have a lot of community spirit. The little village is a perfect place any time of year, but spectacular in the fall.
On the way home, we stopped at Beckwith's orchard to pick  up some of their excellent cider, the best in the county.
It was a full autumn experience.

Friday, October 3, 2014

Wait...wait. Where'd September Go?

All week I thought it was still September, only to discover a few days ago that October, one of my favorite months, has been going on already. I have spent most of September chained to a walker, tending carefully to my injured greater trochanter. I am happy to report that it is healing nicely. Wednesday I ventured out, thanks to daughter Sally, to get my hair washed and cut. My hair was beginning to feel as if things were growing in it, as if bugs could get stuck in it and start laying eggs, or whatever bugs do. Rather than lug the walker into the salon, I used a cane and Sally's right arm. Even went to lunch afterward.
I still  use the walker around  the house for security. Sally picked up some wheels for it, so it moves more smoothly. She also got a tray which attaches to it, but not very securely. I have to pour my coffee into a tumbler, which fits into the hole meant for that which is not big enough for a coffee mug. John has been fixing my coffee in the morning before he leaves, along with my muesli and setting them on the table by my throne.  When he comes home from a hard day of historically restoring some ancient stone or brick structure, he rustles some dinner together.
I have reached a point now of being able to do more, but I am trying to keep off of the affected leg as much as possible. The doc said to do that for a month, which will be a week from today.
Thank god for Netflix. They just dumped a bunch of new stuff in, including a bunch of good old Woody Allen movies, like "Radio Days." (I just watched "Stardust Memories," possibly the most annoying  film ever made. I got so sick of his whining that I shouted at my innocent IPad, "Just shut the eff up!" ) His movies are so much better when he's not in them, with the exception of "Take the Money and Run. " At least in that one he's not importuning women to love him like some lovesick dog.
So October is here and I am healing and looking forward to the arrival of visiting children in a few weeks. And Ohio will be all red and golden.
The picture is what I have missed while healing inside my house.

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

September Song

We have had the most beautiful summer this year. It has rained a lot, but mostly at nighttime, so every growing thing is as green as May. September days are brilliant blue, bright green and yellow sunshine. The nights are cool and the summer's full moons have bathed every lawn and tree with pure silver. These are the diem one should truly carpe.
My friend and former favorite teacher, the late artist Robert Morrow, lived in an old house a few blocks away. One year he decided to focus on the view from one window, making watercolors of the view throughout the seasons. It was not a spectacular view- no mountains, not much sky, no cathedrals or palaces- but in his hands each small painting was a thing of beauty. The trees, the roof  and windows of the house next door, the tones of light, made each scene distinct, suggesting the passing of time in that one limited area, and how the artist or viewer might feel about the changes of the seasons.
I've often thought of doing the same thing, but I am no Bob Morrow, and now that my vision is not so clear as it used to be I'm not so sure I could get the results I want. (I do not want to compare myself to El Greco' but the dude must have had a form of macular degeneration.) Anyway, the drawing above is what my front window view looks like on a bright and sunny September afternoon.

(The drawing program I use is called IPastel, and while I can't always get exactly the color I want, it's close enough. I'm still figuring out how to use it.)

Sunday, September 21, 2014

Greater Trochanter

The greater Trochanter is not a landmass south of Istanbul. It is not an island in the Adriatic Sea. It is not a superlative part of speech on Lower Slobbovia. It is not a species of prehistoric reptile, recently discovered in what was once ancient Tyre. And if there is a lesser or least Trochanter, I know not where that may be.
What it is, is that knobby part of the femur, the part many people call the hip bone, the one that sticks out on models when they do that slouchy kind of stance. There are those who have never seen or felt their greater trochanter, which makes them the kind of people who are built for comfort, which is a good thing, and who, if they fell on it, would most likely just bounce.
I tripped over a TV cord last week and landed on my G. T. , which hurt very much. I don't have any hip bones to spare, having had new hips installed over the past seven years. A trip to the ER, lasting 8 hours, showed only that I hadn't broken anything, and that the hip implant was intact. However, it hurt like hell. And the ER doc and the radiologist were not bone docs. Since this was on the worst night to be in the ER, a Friday,  I had to wait until Monday to get in touch with the devastatingly handsome orthopedic guy to find out why  I was writhing in pain like a Whirling Dervish.
Well, it was because I had done something to the Greater Trochanter and have to stay off the rest of the leg below that bone. John fetched me a walker, the shining metal symbol of the full  geezer. I clump around the house, spending as little time allowing the affected  limb to touch the ground as possible. The pain is a lot less, but I can't carry anything with this kind of walker, things like a cup of coffee, or a plate of food. There are things I can drape over it, like clothes. Can't wash my hair. The doc said to keep off it for a month and see him again then. How can I see this handsome guy with hair that by that time will really be, as the young folks say, totally gross?
Anyway, it feels better day by day, and it could be much worse, and I'll figure out something to take care of the hair. And it's not as if the gorgeous doc finds me irresistible in the first place.

Saturday, September 6, 2014

Idly Comprimising Values

I have lately, like many people, been watching much lauded television series on Netflix. Beginning last year with "Breaking Bad," continuing with " Mad Men," and now "Dexter," I find myself wondering why there is so much interest and fascination with really terrible, sociopathic and evil characters. It's not just their badness, but the fact that I find myself rooting for them not to get caught-with the exception of "Mad Men's" Don Draper, so far as I know, hasn't killed anyone, but the environment he operates in is so cynical and sexist that his pathological behavior is shared by everyone in it, and it's easy to dislike them all.
How have I gotten caught up in this upside down version of the old tales I grew up on, where good triumphs over evil? Those old bad guys were one dimensional. These new ones are not. We learn how they were damaged early in some way that seems to not only explain their  dreadful behavior, but asks us to understand their need for it. We may not like what they do, but, after all.... We know the series will end with the doom they deserve, but not until we have been sucked into their lives for months and years when watching the series in  real time. Binge watching 90 some episodes on Netflix cuts that time to several weeks, but not the impact on us. What  is this doing to our minds and souls over that time as we watch and cheer for bad people doing bad things over and over?
At my age, I am pretty sure of the difference between right and wrong, pretty much immune to making stupid choices, uninfluenced by popular culture fads and craziness, have a good shit detector when it comes to people I don't want to know, and all that other dangerous stuff out there. However, how do young, unformed people take these bad, but sympathetic, characters? There's a lot of high risk behavior going on these days and a lot of really bizarre influences floating around. I know people have been saying this for centuries, but we have some very powerful and graphic elements that were not available in the past, and we make a lot of casual assumptions about those elements and the ability of young people to make sense of all of it.
 I'm not saying that "Dexter" will create serial killers, or that Walter White will turn your kindly high school chemistry teacher into a meth cook, but it's a strange trend  and must at least have an effect on how we think about the evil that people do and the people who do evil

Friday, September 5, 2014

Found 'Em

Son John happened to stop at Stahl's farm market on his way home from a weekend with friends in Pennsylvania. I used to go there frequently when I was. car driver, for things like their asparagus in the spring and Red Haven peaches in August and September. I can't seem to convince anyone to take me there. It's only about 7 miles away, but Kent people don't go there. Anyway, John brought home the peaches of my dreams and I'm glad to know they still exist. You have to eat them standing over the kitchen sink to avoid creating a peach juice puddle on the floor. I sliced a few to dress up some plain vanilla ice cream.
I don't remember how many there were, but they're gone. Now I shall have to nag Sally to drive out there for more. We are also behind in our trips to the ice cream place in New Baltimore, which will be closing soon for the season. Everyone is talking about how fast the summer flew by, unlike the past winter which dragged on and on in the polar vortex. This summer the weather was perfect, the kind that people think of during a polar vortex, and rare in usually humid Ohio. I shall think fondly of it in February, and be glad of it.

Friday, August 29, 2014

Where Have All the Peaches Gone?

I haven't had a really decent peach in several years. I used to be able to by peaches at the supermarket that were just fine and peachy, even if they were shipped in early from the Carolina's. Lately they are either hard as rocks  or stringy and mushy and flavorless. I know this has been a bad peach year because of the harsh winter, but this not good peach thing has been going on for a number of years
One of the joys of August used to be the beautiful, ripe, juice running down you chin peach. I spent my childhood in the peach state, Georgia, where the fruit is , or maybe was, delicious, but even Ohio has had good peaches. We also used to get Monet- painting worthy Red Haven beauties from western Pennsylvania. Even  if you find a few good ones now, when you go back for more, they are no longer as good. Local orchards have peaches about the size of a lime, which is not the size a peach was ever intended to be.
It is a puzzlement. Maybe it's divine retribution for all that genetic manipulation of the food supply.

Saturday, August 23, 2014


I have a  friend , Nancy, who calls herself a COW, as in Cranky Old Woman.  It applies to many of us, at least to me and many people I know. My friend Caroline  was a COW, but she was also a Cranky Young Woman. She was the kind of person who was not satisfied with the way things were in the world.  However, unlike many of us, she did not just complain or whine.  
 Caroline used her energy, her talents, her fierce intelligence, and her voice to tackle problems and  issues  that she saw as reducing the quality of life and hampering the public good. She did not suffer fools gladly, but firmly believed that  understanding was possible through respectful dialogue with those who disagree. She was a terrific writer of essays on a variety of subjects, mostly focused on national and global issues, essays which were published in our local paper, but many of which were picked up by the online journal Common Dreams.  These essays are well thought out, carefully researched and liberal. Her views infuriated the local Tea Party, the leader of which seemed to be convinced that she was a C0mmunist.
Caroline worked for Senator John Glenn for many years as an assistant and writer, a job she love and did well. Here in Kent Caroline was involved in the Kent Environmental Council,  an early volunteer group which literally changed the environment in this community. Un deterred by snarky  "tree-hugger" comments, this group made our community a leader in cleaning up the environment, including the Cuyahoga River through actually getting themselves muddy and wet, as well as by  promoting legislation.  She served on the school board. She served on the Social Services board. She worked at the county clothing center, sorting out donated clothing which is given to those who are in need.
Although we were both students at Kent State at the same time, we did not know one another then. I knew who she was, since she was in a number of plays during that time. We both ended up back in Kent years later. We got to know one another when we were both Teacher Guides in the Experimental College. Caroline instituted,  a new class in that program -  prescient topic for the mid 70s: problems for the digital age. At this time, IBM was working on those room-size computer, with the PC yet to come.
Caroline was an educator, a musician and composer, and a poet. Every Christmas, if you were lucky, you would receive a little chapbook of poems, songs, and lovely small nature essays. They were little treasures. (If I got any of this wrong, I shall expect a ghostly poke some night in my sleep.)
In recent years, Caroline was one of the Lunch Ladies at Baked in the Village, a local eatery with plain good food and good conversation. She has not been with us for about two months, suffering a return if the cancer she has fought for the last year and a half, and she has been, and now will continue to be, missed. She died this past week, in hospice. I had only seen her once during this time, too early to say good-bye. But how do you say that anyway?
The picture is not of Caroline, but I did it because years ago, she photographed a blue heron down by the river, and it was used on the web site of the Kent Environmental Council. So my heron is in her honor.

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Feline Dignity Affected

OA couple of weeks ago, Sixto, the resident Burnell cat, was obviously feeling under the weather. He was off his feed. He sort of crouched and his beautiful black coat had that dull, ruffed up look that cats wear when they lack that feline spark of well- being. In short, the beast was ailing.
 John took him to the vet, who checked him over and decided that whatever it was was beyond her expertise. She recommended  a place in Akrom which is the Cleveland Clinic for animals, a state of the art facility that operates 24/7.
The experts there started a process involving four different specialists in sick cat medical practice and lots of money concommitent with their their medico-scientific wonderful ness. Their actions involved IV infusions, and x- Rays (but no cat cat scans) looking for some sort of intestinal blockage. They kept him overnight, so that the odd specialist could study his condition, come up with a diagnosis and treat whatever it was.i
Sixto is a most agreeable cat, affectionate, friendly- he greets company at the door in a very un- catlike, semi- doglike manner - but at this upscale vet clinic he began to hiss and strike out with extended claws at these practitioners. John decided that they were more interested in conditions than in animals. He was also tired of waiting for each specialist to show up and pontificate on a diagnosis. Finally, since they couldn't find anything specific, and Sixto was indicating that he didn't much care for their attitude, that they saw him as a collection of symptoms instead of a particular animal. John decidided to bring him kome.
That seemed to work just fine, because whatever it was, it no longer is, and Sixto is fine, eating well again and looking sleek - except for his legs. In order to perform the IVs, they shaved his front legs and one of his hind legs. He looks like a damn poodle-cat. I am embarrassed for him. God knows what the other cats are thinking. The fur will grow back, of course, but for now, he does look strange indeed

Monday, August 11, 2014

Wet Tomatoes

This has been an unusual summer here in Ohio. Instead of the hot, humid summer days and nights, we have had pleasant, warm, sunny and breezy days and cool nights. July was like August, with blue skies and fluffy clouds, and , so far, August is like September, with cool mornings. This is fine with me, since I do like like the usual summer weather of Ohio. I completely lose the will to live. I sweat. I wilt. I droop. I toss the cat off my lap. Air conditioners help, but I feel locked in with the windows closed and the fresh air filtered, and the sound of machinery whirring. Since we have window units, at night I cannot hear if a serial killer maniac is breaking in. It is better than tossing about in the horrible humidity, when a serial killer would be a relief, actually. This summer of cool nights is preferable.
Along with the coolth,  we have had a lot of rain. It is raining as I write this post, and has been doing so since early afternoon. It has rained a lot on these cool nights. The problem for us tomato growers, is that tomatoes do not like too much rain. My poor plants look like late September has sneaked up on them, with leaves turning yellow at the bottom of the stalks, and all the tomatoes stunted. We did plant some aromas, but even they are smaller than they should be, and misshapen. Pitiful. A friend who is a very experienced gardener and has a huge vegetable garden said that she has just pulled all her tomato plants out because they were so waterlogged from all the rain. This was the year to do container planting, I guess, because people seemed to have more luck with sheltered container planted tomatoes. The herbs have done well, so I have lots of basil, but not enough tomatoes to serve it with.
In the meantime, everything is very green for this time of year. jut like the tomatoes.

Sunday, August 10, 2014

O Happy Day

Forty years! It seems like yesterday that I spent weeks glued to television, watching a political process involving the kinds of statesmen long since gone from Washington, D.C. Senators and Congressmen and women who were thoughtful, judicious and sure of their Constitutional duty. Senators like Howard Baker, Lowell Weicker, Daniel Inouye, and the magnificent Sam Irvin; Congressional representatives like John Sieberling and the magnetic Barbara Jordan with her God voice - these people became my heroes that summer.
I had been waiting for years for the weasely Mr. Nixon to get what he had coming to him. He had an aura of the sneak about him, putting his ambitions above all. His paranoia became increasingly evident the more politically powerful he became. His response to the tragedy at Kent State only increased my distrust and dislike. His speech that week pretty much blamed the students for their deaths and injuries. ( That happened to be the prevailing response right here in Portage County, which was thereby reinforced by the man actually responsible by moving the war into Cambodia unconstitutionally.)
So the summer was instructive for me and destructive for the president I did not vote for and did not like. There are still those out there who believe he was a victim of a Democratic conspiracy, and there is no way to convince them otherwise. You could lock them in a room and force them to listen to the damning tapes, and, still, they would stand by their idol. The sad thing is, he did some good things for the country, but that positive legacy is swamped by his ignominious departure.
In comparison, the harm to our country and the world perpetrated by Bush and Cheney is far greater than anything Nixon did or did not do. Yet they remain unscathed, Georgie boy painting sad pictures of Iraqi children, and Cheney offering unwanted advice to the government. How do they sleep? When will they be held accountable for the damage they have done?

Thursday, July 31, 2014


My sister and I as children were indefatigable snoops. I've written before about breaking into our brother 's sacred closet office. We also seemed to be curious about our parents' lives before we were born. They were still young, in their thirties, when we were wondering what they'd been like when they weren't so old.
We looked into the large trunk and found things like my mother ,s wedding dress, or at least pieces of it. She had cut it down to make a regular dress for herself, so the trunk contained what was left of it- large sections of midnight blue silk velvet. We loved the feel of it and what the dress must have looked like. Both she and my father had photo albums, filled with small black and white pictures of them as young adults, but they looked pretty much the way they still looked, which was, to us, old. Their wedding picture showed them in front of a church in Holyoke,, Massachusetts, way up north. Daddy was wearing a suit, much like the suits he wore to work. Mother was wearing her velvet gown, with long, open sleeves, tied with ribbon at the wrists, and a wide brimmed hat.
We used to go through those little albums. Most of the photos in my father's were taken during his days at Auburn and was full of high jinks and silly poses. Mother's were from her late teens and early twenties, equally full of stringing poses, in middy blouse and bloomers, with her and her friends, hiking, swimming, and pretending to  smoke with rolled up paper "cigarettes',  dancing like Isadora Duncan in a meadow.
Our absolute favorite resource was their yearbooks. We practically memorized the names of some of their classmates. We loved the little paragraphs about each of the students. My father's claims "and his soul is full of automatic fire extinguishers." The yearbook also included each young man's nickname, which my father claimed were made up by the yearbook staff. His was "I . W . Harper," which we didn't get until we were much older. His best friend was " Swede" "Nelson, who became Uncle Nelson to us. Also pictured, as a sponsor of a ROTC unit, is Miss Zelda Sayre, of Montgomery. She would come up for the dances. My father knew her from home and was one of her partners on the dance floor. She later married a Yankee from Minnesota by the name of Scott and became a notorious representative of the Jazz Age.
Mother's high school annual was smaller, but we did the same thing, reading about all the old looking boys and girls of the class of 1917. When she went to her 25th reunion, we asked her especially find out about one Ambrose Shea, whose glossy black pompadour fascinated us. I think we knew these students better than she did. The little  squib accompanying her photo mentioned her "three cornered smile," which she couldn't explain.
I still have one of the photo albums and both yearbooks. All are falling apart from our incessant paging through them all the years of our childhood. The young people in all of them still look old to me. My own children, so far as I know, have not found my own yearbooks interesting at all. They have probably done their share of snooping, and that's all right. Parents are mysterious creatures.

Monday, July 28, 2014

The War to End All Wars

Today is the hundredth anniversary of the beginning of World War I- which we have to enumerate because it was not the war to end all wars. (Makes your head spin to think of all the wars that have followed and which continue to rage around the world.) When  I was growing up, that 1914 - 1918 conflict was just" the war." By my teen years, we had to add the "I" Both my and my mother's high school years coincided with war years, even though in her case, the United States was not actively involved until 1918. Both wars had to do with Germany, too. She remembered calling sauerkraut "Liberty cabbage," a ridiculous euphemism of the type that resurfaced not long ago in calling one of America's favorite bad- for- you foods "freedom fries."
Apparently, the popularity of Downton Abbey's WWI episodes  and ""War Horse" have sparked an interest in what is also called "The Great War" to go along with this sad anniversary. The Kent State Fashion Museum is featuring an exhibit  of women's fashions from that era. Their advertising touts the Downton Abby connection, hoping to attract fans of Lady Mary's and Lady Edith's costumes to pour into the display.  They will be disappointed, I fear. It's a fine exhibit, but the emphasis on the clothing of women who served during the war-nurses, canteen servers, auxiliary aides and the like. There are some absolutely stunning posters by artists of the period, some great gaitered, high-buttoned, pointy toed shoes, a few big hats I would love to own and about a dozen dresses, none of which are anywhere near as spectacular as the ones we saw on TV. So it's  an interesting exhibit but DA does not loom large.
Since it was the era of my parents' youth, I dug up some artifacts of that long past time to ponder.
The picture above is one my mother did in her high school art class. The assignment was to design what I think was called a walking outfit, although those shoes don't look that comfortable, though tres chic.

That's my father perched jauntily like a hood ornament. He is wearing his ROTC garb. He was a college student during the war, commissioned a second lieutenant upon graduation, by which time the war was over. What he is wearing is pretty much what the WWI doughboys were wearing in the trenches. He has on what look like gaiters instead of those wrapped puttees.
My Uncle Ed, my mother's older brother, was in the army and was sent to France. He was traumatized by fear of poison gas, and couldn't wait to get out of there. The picture below is on of the souvenirs he brought back from France to my mother.


Friday, July 25, 2014

Luncheon Guest

Alert: Some may find this post disturbing/ Don't say I didn't warn you.
For the past several years I have joined a group of convivial, bright, interesting and accomplished women for lunch on Fridays. Several of them are in my water aerobics class, and others I have known slightly from other activities in town or from the university. Our ages range from late 50s to 91, and in the summer the delightful and intelligent 12 year old daughter of out youngest member of the group. Conversation ranges from fluff to serious issues.
Sadly, one of the most interesting and brilliant women is in hospice, and not expected to be in the world much longer. She does not want company, other than family and a very few close friends. Before her rapid decline early this summer, she talked about her frustration with
 the world situation. She is one of those people who believe that if everyone would  just think rationally, we could deal with complex problems and improve the lot of the world's citizens. She's a writer of rational polemics, a musician and a scholar. It's not enough that she has personally spear- headed some incredible improvements in the quality of life in this community, but feels that she has not made a dent in the world at large. It's made her what my friend Nancy calls a COW:Cranky Old Woman.
The conversation began with a report from one of those close friends on Caroline's current condition. This sparked a discussion of what's now called "end of life" issues, and how one handles them, spanning "drug  the hell out of me" to "just bring me a gun." Right now Caroline is heavily medicated, receiving palliative care, but is able to talk, but not about her impending death. Among this group of women, there is no talk of "heaven" or any kind of afterlife. The majority of them are Unitarians, and the Episcopalian   joined that church just to sing in the choir. (Caroline is a Unitarian, and the first time that minister came to visit her, Caroline threw her out. Last week, she let her stay.)
Another woman  who overheard our discussion- she was at the next table and someone we all know- and knows Caroline, joined us and talked about the death of her partner of 42 years who died this past June.
At this point, I remembered an incident in another restaurant some 20 or so years ago. I was visiting my sister in Corning. Our mother  had died a few months earlier. My brother- in- law and she took me to dinner in a very nice, rather small restaurant. It was mostly empty with only one couple at a table way across the room. We were talking about our mother's death (she was almost 91 and had been in failing health for over a year, since our father's death and was in a nursing home.) Our oldest brother, a doctor, had come to Ohio from Montana to visit her, and she died just after  his visit. We began to talk about the possibility that perhaps he had helped her in some way. We were not speaking loudly, but the couple across the room had apparently overheard us. At any rate, the man suddenly appeared at our table and requested that we stop talking about this subject, as his wife had recently lost a favorite aunt, and found our conversation upsetting. My sister apologized and I stifled my impulse to ask why they were eavesdropping and why weren't they  talking to each other about something pleasant? Or at least eat something crunchy so they couldn't hear us.
I guess restaurants should have a "No Talking About Death" section.
Today's lunch talk didn't seem to bother anyone. We are all concerned about our friend and only want peace for her, and soon. We have missed her already.
But we had Death at lunch today in her honor.

Thursday, July 3, 2014

Expanding Mystery Lily

A few years ago, a strange stalk appeared in my small side  garden. This garden has some beautiful, short lived, purple swamp iris, and some overgrown Stella d' Oro day lilies, which I should really thinned out. Over the years there have been zinnias, black- eyed Susan's and forget-me-nots.

This new intruder grew taller and taller and finally produced one orange-peach star shaped lily. It was beautiful, but was chomped up by a deer after a few dazzling days. The next year, there were three stalks and the original stalk produced a cluster if lily blooms, as did the new stalk.
Every year another stalk emerges and now for a few weeks I have these lovely blooms to brighten this little garden, while the poor Stella d'Oro blossoms in spite of being packed together.
I finally figured out how this mystery plant appeared. Since it's a bulb, it couldn't have sprung from bird droppings, at least not without  a lot of squawking  from the dropee bird. Now I think a deer dropped it while fertilizing my garden. Since that one bloom was chomped, none other has been eaten . I think the original gifter came back that first year to feast on its gift, just to let me know where it came from. Could be. Why not?
Thank you, Bambi.
the picture at the top was taken 2 weeks ago,, and turned into what's in the bottom picture a week later.

Monday, June 30, 2014

Forbidden Paradise

I mentioned the Sewer Creek Woods in my last post, so I thought I'd better write about it. I don't know why it had that name. There was a small creek that ran through it, and it didn't look as bad as I have pictured it. It was clear and their were craw dads living in it. We were not supposed to go to the woods, and were especially warned about stepping into the creek.
Our street, Sells Avenue, ended at Hopkins Street, and Hopkins Street ended at the railroad cutting, which had created wonderful red clay cliffs. You could make your way down a path through the cliffs, cross the tracks and take another path through the opposite cliffs and there you were, with Sewer Creek Woods right in front of you. The woods were mostly scrub pine, bushes and a few real trees. The red clay ground, before you entered the woods, which were set in soft sand, would dry up in the summer, making interesting patterns of cracked pieces of clay. I liked to pry these pieces out of the ground to see what I could make with them, but they just crumbled when they were handled.
In the woods, we just explored the terrain, finding interesting stones, some with crystal embedded in them, bits  of colored glass from who knows where, and mica, which you could peel apart.
My older brother collected chameleons, which he kept in wooden and screen cages. We would catch flies to feed them and got quite good at snagging them live in mid-air.
My older brother and sister had an ongoing, evenly matched feud most of their childhood, both of them smart and clever. He had taken over a large closet in the central hall. Our father had given him an old desk. Billy had wired the closet to install a lamp and had "found" an old telephone which he had tied into  the house phone system. My sister and I were forbidden to enter, naturally, so we kept snooping every chance we got, trying not to leave evidence. But he knew.
One day we found a map, carefully coded. It looked like a treasure map, with arrows. It didn't take Mary Lucille long to break the code. Decoded, it contained the Sewer  Creek Woods! Once there, the map told us, you needed to locate a certain tree, take a specific number of paces in the direction the arrows pointed to, then turn another way, and take another number of paces there, etc., etc., and you would find The Treasure, which was marked on the map with a big "X." The anticlimactic result is that we flew to the woods, found a lot of trees, paced in all directions and found nothing. Our brother looked smug that evening, but I don't think we ever talked about it. We knew he'd planted the map for us to find, but we'd had a good time anyway.
We have a wonderful few acres of woods across the street It was full of children all year long, finding their own treasures and exploring nature, sneaking smokes, and who knows what else.  Every kid should have a place like that, with or without a "sewer" creek.

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

The Things We Did

 Either the world was a safer place in the 30s or our parents were just plain careless. We had an enormous amount of freedom as children. When we weren't on Sunday drives, we walked everywhere by ourselves, once we were school,age. I remember walking by myself to kindergarten, once my mother had walked me  me there a few times. It was not just a couple of blocks, but it never occurred to me that I wasn't safe. I had to cut through a golf course, where I once helpfully picked up a ball and handed it to the golfer who had just putted it. He thanked me and didn't kill me.
The walk to our elementary school was  quite a few blocks and involved a few busy streets and there were no crossing guards. We were very bright children, and knew enough to look both ways. However, I did once misjudge an approaching street car, dropped my books as I skittered  across
and lost a corner of my 4 th grade geography book as the trolley screeched to a halt. Not sure why I did that because I was on the right side of the street at the time. This happened in front of The Wren's Nest, the home of  Joel Chandler Harris, the journalist who recorded African folk tales and saved them for posterity in the person of Uncle Remus, who is not politically correct today. The house was then and is now a museum. Our little nearby branch of the Carnegie  Library was also called The Wren's Nest in honor of Harris. We also walked to the library, which was near our school.
We were always looking for interesting ways to walk to and from school, since there were a lot of different ways to get there, all of which took about the same amount of time. Our school, St. Anthony's was on a major street, Gordon Street. It had been used by the Yankees as they marched in to burn Atlanta 70 some years earlier. When my parents first married, they lived in a boarding house on Gordon Street, owned by two old ladies. They told my Yankee mother how terrified they had been at the sight of those soldiers, pointing out to her the route they had taken right in front of their home. But  I digress. One of my very favorite routes was an alley behind some of the big houses along Gordon Street. Along these alleys were cabins, which were inhabited by people who worked in the big houses. The alley was unpaved. The dirt yards were fenced and contained chickens and small  vegetable gardens. In the winter there was smoke curling up from pipe chimneys, with  great smells of burning wood, and a faint scent of kerosene.  I loved those aromas  and tried to imagine what these little houses looked like inside. I never saw any people around outside, because they would have been working. I found the whole thing mysterious and can still see it in my mind.
In the summer we swam at Mosley Park. It was free before noon, so that's when we went. We always got typhoid shots from my father's cousin' s  husband, who was a pediatrician and apparently didn't trust Atlanta's public pools. Our route to the pool was as varied as our route to school. My sister and I would start out while it was still cool. We discovered Chicamauga Street, an unsaved lane of very soft, dusty, pale, whitish sand that felt so good on our bare feet. There were weathered, dilapidated houses on either side, with no visible inhabitants.  When I think of two little blond girls walking through this deserted area, I have to think of the possibilities that could have happened. If course, one of the things is that we never told our parents about these excursions, because we never felt there was any danger. We were forbidden to play in the sewer Creek woods (don't ask) so, of course, that's where we went...adventure was our aim.
I think how the world is such a dangerous place for children today - or does it just seem that way, with constant news available with the press of a button, bearing fearful stories of abductions and assaults. Were we just lucky? Or did those prayers to our guardian angels actually work?

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Sunday Drives (cont'd.)

There were other pleasures and sights on those week-end drives into the countryside around Atlanta in the 3os. At that time, before food regulations made  "amateur" food vendors unable to peddle their wares on the roadside, inexpensive treats were available to a car full of  overheated family members.
By far the favorite, to me, was iced sugar cane. Along with cotton, Georgia farmers grew sugar cane and peanuts. The sugar cane stalk was cut into 6 or 7 inch long pieces, and kept in ice chests. When you bought a piece, the vender would peel back the tough outer layer, revealing the sweet white pith to suck on. To me it was as good as ice cream
Farmers would sell raw peanuts, the soft green shells hanging from bushy green stems,. My father was the ultimate peanut lover, and figured he could roast these peanuts as well as Planters, which he bought in  two pond bags. However, as I remember, the home roasting experiment did not turn out to match the flavor of the commercial product. The green shells turned the right color, the peanuts turned brown, but they still tasted "raw."He never tried it again. (When he died many years later at the age of  91, my older brother and sister and I took part of his ashes down to Montgomery, Alabama, to the family plot. My sister first went to a peanut store and bought a small bag, of in the shell peanuts,  which we sprinkled on the plot along with the ashes. As we left, a few Alabama squirrels  were having a little celebratory party.)
Another common roadside treat was watermelon, sold by the slice,kept nice a cold in a big wooden  box full of chipped ice. It was always the perfect treat, given that there was in those days no such thing as automobile air-conditioning, other than opening the windows to the hot Georgia summer air.
In the heat, in a car full of sweaty kids, there was often  behavior that evoked the  perennial Dad threat from the driver: "If you don't stop that fussing, I'm going to stop the car and put you all out! "  It never happened, but we could never be sure he wouldn't do it.
A more sobering sight, not involving food treats, was the sight of chain gangs. Never on Sunday, though, Georgia being full of Baptists who took  the Sabbath very  seriously, as in no dancing, and no playing card games. Apparently the chain gang guards were home and not dancing or playing "Go Fish ,"  as the prisoners were hanging out in their luxurious  wooden  bunkhouses behind the barbed wire fences. When they were working along the road, it generally involved shovels and pick axes and guards keeping their eagle eyes on the prisoners. I don't remember if the prisoners were integrated racially, because that would n't have registered with me. I suspect not, because I do remember some which were all African Americans, then called "Negroes."Who knows what their crimes were? During the Depression one could get thrown into jail for stealing a loaf of bread.  One could be thrown in jail for being Black.
It  was like "Les Miserables" in the 20th century. It was a common sight along  the red clay back roads of Georgia.  And bing Black was a perilous condition, rich or poor. The sight of these men, of whatever race, was saddening, and for once, we in the back seat were quiet.
By the way, the Klan, in all their white sheeted glory, marched in the annual Decoration Day (the South's version oh Memorial Day) parade. Since they hated Catholics, too, having burned a cross on the grounds of Christ the King Cathedral, they were roundly booed  by us as they shuffled by. I remember one woman shouting, "Shame on you!" She was white, thus safe from being taken away to a chain gang.
This was the South in the 30s, with pleasant country drives, and unpleasant realities.

Monday, June 9, 2014

The Sunday Drive

Back in the 1930s, gas was cheap, which enable families the inexpensive pleasure of the Sunday drive, an entertaining excursion into the unknown. In those days of un-air conditioned cars, this could be a sweaty experience in a Georgia summer, but my father persevered, perhaps out of his own sense of unrealized  adventure. Every Sunday morning,the Atlanta journal would publish an itinerary for a short trip to an interesting destination not too far from the city. We didn't always use this for a guide, but it appealed to my father  once in a while. The most memorable ride, to me, was to what I remember as Muscle Shoals, but not the one in Alabama. I was never sure what a "shoal" was, but it sounded interesting.
The back roads of Georgia were red clay, often slick and slippery. All of Georgia seemed to be red. The Chatahoochee River was red. The woods where we played was surrounded with red clay cliffs. The lake where my neighbors had a cabin was yellow with banks of ocher clay.  (I never saw blue water until we crossed the Ohio River  on our way to our new home in Ohio. We marveled at the sight as we crossed the bridge to Cincinnati.)
It must have been spring, and there must have been a recent heavy rain on the trip to Muscle Shoals, because the roads were heavily rutted and slick. Our 5 year old 1931 DeSoto slid about, in and out of ruts which started getting deeper  and sloppier. Finally, the wheels started spinning, could get, as my father used to say "no purchase" ( which in his Alabama accent came out as "pou chase") and we were STUCK IN A RUT!- condition which, for some reason, terrified me. Maybe I had heard tales of people getting stuck in rites and never getting out, spending the remainder of their pathetic lives rut-captured. My older brother and sister did not seem to share this terror, being much cooler children than I was. I think my father was probably embarrassed, having failed to negotiate the bad road as he imagined a ship captain would have negotiated a stormy sea. And he would further humiliate himself by having to ask for help.
There's something about rural areas that has always amazed me, at least in the old days. If your car staggered into a deserted village with one gas pump outside a falling apart grocery store, and no one on the street but a stray dog, as soon as you stopped, four or five guys in overalls would appear, open the hood and start discussing possible diagnoses, methods of repair and fall to work soon and send you on your way. (Of course, nowadays you've got your serial killers and "Deliverance"  psychopaths, so it's probably better to just stay in the car and die of natural causes.) Anyway, some of those overalled types came to our rescue at Muscle Shoals, or wherever we were when the clay mire trapped us. We headed back to the city with its  paved roads and never attempted that particular adventure again.
I must mention one favorite Sunday drive that never disappointed. Paces Ferry Road was where the very wealthy Atlantans had built their mansions. Bobby Jones, the Tiger Woods of his day, had  a beautiful estate which was on our way to the star attraction of the area, the Candler palace, home of the folks who brought you Coca Cola. A pair of immense wrought iron gates opened to a sweeping drive at the end of which was a veritable  castle. What was so unique about this gawk festival is that as cars slowly reached the vista beyond the gates, each would pause for a few seconds to allow the passengers time to take it all in, then move on to let the next carful take its
turn. No one ever honked. One more recent Sunday, when I turned on the TV to watch "The Good Wife," it was delayed because of some football game, and a program called "The Great Race" was still on. A bunch of fit, but sweaty people were apparently ending the race in Atlanta, right at the Candler castle! It looked small.

Monday, June 2, 2014

Blue Sky in Holmes County

Last week-end we took a drive down to Holmes County. John wanted to show me a little town ,tucked into the hills, which had been founded by French pioneers in the early 1800s. It's a tiny place, a village really, but with three churches. The one he wanted me to see is a stone Catholic Church built by French missionaries. It's a small, beautiful  building, set on an immaculate grassy knoll. The churchyard gravestones are engraved with a number of French names.
There are quite a few houses in this village and two other gleaming white wooden churches. There is no commercial center in this place, and it has  a Brigadoonish air about it. The town is called Glenmont, and it is very much off the beaten path. It became notorious during the Civil War, when, after the passage of the Conscription Act, enacted because not enough men were volunteering for the Army, 400 men from the area refused to participate. Federal troops rallied to force the draft, and there was a skirmish near Glenmont, resulting in the arrest of three of the refuseniks, descendants of the early French settlers. The site of the tussle is called Fort Fizzle, which describes the futile rebellious fray. Only one man was jailed, but he was pardoned by President Lincoln. So this is Glenmont's claim to fame. I can't imagine that there were ever 400 men in this hilly area 150 years ago.

Another small town we stopped in was Killbuck, which is surrounded by the Killbuck Marsh. I used to drive by this town off Rte. 62, south of Millersburg, the county seat of Holmes County. While this county is home to one of the largest  Amish populations in the U.S. of A., there are not so many in this area. Kill buck got its name from some legend about someone killing a large buck in the swamp (marsh) back in the early days. That's really clever, no? It's not so isolated as Glenmont, and even has a formerly empty building fitted out as an auditorium for local entertainment, including a screen to show movies via a DVD  player once a month.
The only thing open when we were there was the Killbuck museum, so we decided to check it out. It's in a storefront, a large space that could have bee a hardware store. It had a very large collection of miscellaneous artifacts, consisting of a lot of rocks and an enormous collection of stuffed birds, hundreds and hundreds of species of same: hawks, eagles, herons, owls of every kind, tiny birds, medium birds. All of these birds were incredibly old and covered with sooty dust. The volunteer at the front desk told us they had been donated by a kindly benefactor, (who was probably relieved to find some place to dump them.)  Some little girl visitors admitted to being spooked by the many dozens of owls, staring out of their glass cases with their huge owly eyes. It was a very large museum for such a small town, and I was impressed, but wished someone could clean all those dirty stuffed birds. I expect they would probably disintegrate if touched.

We had dinner at the restored Millersburg Hotel, which seemed to be the place for families to bring geezers for their birthdays, since we could overhear a number of creaky voices askingp the waitresses to "guess how old I am" followed by the waitresses being very tactful and tip conscious in their responses.

It was a nice excursion and the skies were absolutely gorgeous above the hills and valleys of one of Ohio's most lovely areas. It was the kind of day I dream about in February, and is payback for going through the kind of winter we had this year.

Friday, May 30, 2014

Spaghetti vacation

Last Friday was the last Lutheran church spaghetti dinner  ( an oxymoron if ever I heard one) until September. The First Christian church final spaghetti dinner was  three weeks ago. I did a post on church dinners a few years ago,  when we were going to Swiss steak or chicken and biscuit dinners, mostly in small towns around the county. They were sponsored by churches, but sometimes held in the village hall and were very much the same: meat  and gravy, mashed (real) potatoes, green beans, corn, applesauce and many colorful and sugary desserts.
Now we confine ourselves to the two spaghetti dinners right here in town. Both of these offerings started fairly recently in  the church supper business. In each case, the congregations had built a new church hall for various uses-weddings, Eagle Scout investitures, altar society meetings, maybe even quilting bees for all I know. They can be rented to groups and generate some cash for the church.The dinners were started as a way of paying off the mortgage debt created by the building of the halls, where the dinners are held, which seems redundant, or something.
The Christians offer plain marinara or meat sauce, salad, beverages and homemade desserts:pies, cakes and brownies. The Lutherans give you plain marinara or meatballs, much better salads, garlic bread, beverages and desserts, including really good German chocolate cake in honor of Luther, I guess. Their hall is quite magnificent, designed to fit their semi-Victorian Gothic stone church. Their dinner is a dollar cheaper and they donate a portion of the proceeds to different social service agencies each month, thus demonstrating civic involvement and rendering to Caesar and all. I only know this because an acquaintance who volunteers there told me. I do not know if the Christian church does this sort if thing, but I do know that they've paid off their mortgage on the social hall, which is a good thing, along with providing a night off for the family cook once a month, which is also a good thing and all.
For the next three months I shall have to make my own damn spaghetti with no dessert to follow, since I don't do that sort of thing. It makes for a long summer.

Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Empty Street

When I moved to this street 52 years ago, the neighborhood was full of children. The street is only a block and a quarter long, with a dead end. We were all creating the Baby Boomer generation. On this short street, there were over sixty children, ranging in age from 9 months ( my youngest) to 18 years old.
The houses were built in 1951, with two stories and full basements. The yards were small, but with a couple of exceptions( houses where mean old ladies who always threatened to call the police if a child set foot in her yard) the children  pretty much had the run of the neighborhood. At the end of the street was-and still is- Dix's woods, the owners of which let the kids roam there freely, with a hill for sledding. The kids played well together, no fighting, except for a couple of boys who tried to bully the smaller kids. It was the era of stay at home mothers, so any problems were quickly settled.
The area was close enough to downtown, the library, the movie theater and school, so everyone walked once they were old enough to go places on their own.
In the summer, there was constant activity. Out after breakfast, in for lunch, out again until dinner, out again until bed time. Almost every summer evening the whole gang would be in the street playing "mush ball," so-called because it was played with a semi-collapsed toy ball about the size of a soccer ball, using a large plastic bat. Even though most of the boys were also in Little League, usually played early in the evening, mush ball was more fun and not confined to boys only. Very seldom did a car interfere with the game, since the street was a dead end one. When it was time to come in, each family had its own way of signaling the end of the day for their kids: a specific whistle, a bugle, and in my case, a cow bell.
All that is gone now. There is one child on the street, a six year old boy who plays mostly by himself. There are three empty houses for sale. The small houses here which held all the large families we had in those days, even though they have four bedrooms and two bathrooms, are no longer popular. The
kind of people who used to buy these places now want bigger places, not so close to the town. The
fact that the kinds of houses they want also entail driving their 1.2 children everywhere doesn't seem to bother them.
I miss the children, mine and all the others. I loved watching them walk by on their way to school, I
miss their voices on summer evenings. I miss the thudding of their feet as they ran across the yards.
It is just too quiet. The street is too empty.
I am glad that my kids had this place and all those other kids to be with throughout their childhood. I think most boomers had the last really free childhood-at least those in middle class families of the time. I don't envy the over-scheduled, over- tested children of this generation, growing up in suburbs with no sidewalks and hovering parents.