Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Thank you, Ms. Ferguson

Our grandson, Andrew, hated school from the beginning.  In pre-school, he'd get so frustrated with coloring that he'd crumple up his pictures and cry. In kindergarten, he'd either hide under his desk in fear or knock it over in rage. In the primary grades, he had trouble sitting still, listening to the teacher and following directions.  Printing was difficult; cursive, impossible. Everything was a struggle and no one knew what to do. If only he would focus and try harder!

By the time he reached third grade at Saint Mary of the Mills Elementary School, he was having regular meltdowns. The staff would often refer to "kids on the spectrum" when discussing Andrew's unruly behavior. I had no idea what kind of "spectrum" they were talking about.  Around the age of 8 or 9, he was diagnosed with Asperger's and ADHD. When he continued to struggle at Saint Mary's, the assistant principal recommended a nearby public school, Beltsville Academy. She told his parents that the school had a program for "kids on the (autism) spectrum" and that the teachers were excellent.  

He entered Beltsville Academy as a fourth grader. His homeroom teacher was Ms. Ferguson. Andrew was still balky, but Ms. Ferguson worked hard to overcome his resistance. When she found out that he loved everything to do with fish, she bought (probably with her own money) a small aquarium for the classroom. Every time Andrew accepted a new challenge (spending more time in a regular classroom, attending music and art classes, going to PE) she'd add another goldfish to the aquarium. Ms. Ferguson assured us that Andrew was very bright. How could she tell, I wondered. Then one day I realized that he was suddenly reading  proficiently. I cringed at the memory of the tantrums he'd have when asked to memorize a list of  "sight words" in first grade. Back then,  I was afraid that he would never learn to read. 

Here's a photo of Andrew with his clarinet. Resistant to the idea at first, he began lessons in September and took to it immediately. We are all amazed at his willingness to practice and the progress he's made. At the beginning of last Sunday's church service, he accompanied the organist in playing Hark the Herald Angels Sing. Almost the best moment occurred when he stopped midway. He grinned and announced, "Sorry, we have to start over."Apparently, his watch had gotten snagged on his clarinet. We were amazed at the calm, matter-of-fact way he handled this mishap. Ms. Ferguson would have loved to see this.

Recently, we realized we hadn't seen Ms. Ferguson for some time. When Andrew's mother asked the principal about her, she was told that this dedicated teacher had died last spring of cancer. The principal went on to tell  the story of the aquarium, which she said she'd shared at Ms. Ferguson's funeral.

Tomorrow night, Andrew will play his clarinet at Beltsville Academy's winter band concert. I wish Ms. Ferguson could be there. I can only say, "Thank you, Ms. Ferguson. What a difference you have made in our grandson's life." 

Saturday, December 6, 2014

Name That State!

Our grandson, Nate, is six and in the first grade.  Yesterday, we played a geography board game. Nate's challenge was to find three states on the map that began with the word "new." He came up with New York, New Jersey and New Hamster. 

Thursday, October 16, 2014

Wah-sobby Story

What next?

Today's Washington Post reported that the wasabi we've all been eating is actually just "plain old horseradish" dyed green. The green dye is a combination of yellow dye # 5 and blue dye # 1. 

In my late thirties, I enrolled in a beginning Japanese course at the University of Maryland. I stayed with it for four years, taking every language course offered. Each class got progressively smaller, until finally, our professor said (her area of expertise was the poet Basho), "We can't teach a course for just two students." Thus ended my academic adventure with an exotic language. Before the class was whittled down to just a pair, a larger group celebrated the end of the semester by going to a Japanese restaurant. 

In the late seventies, there was only one Japanese restaurant in the area--the Sakura, on Georgia Avenue in Silver Spring, Md. My husband went to the restaurant with the class. We all ordered sushi, which was served on lacquer trays, each decorated a small green "flower." Before anyone could stop him, my husband skillfully picked up the flower with his chopsticks and popped it in his mouth. 

Fire belched from his ears. Tears filled his eyes. Professor K. said, "Oh, no, you didn't----"

Beer, tea, water were no help at all. 

He was wasabi-wise after that.

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

No Thanks.

Today I stopped at Super Best Market (formerly Grand Mart)  for wasabi peas. We're planning a trip and can't leave home without them.

Passing the dairy case, I noticed a half-dozen cartons of small, spotted eggs. I stopped for a closer look. They turned out to be quail eggs. Even though Super Best Market serves Asian, Hispanic and African customers with foods from home, I was surprised that there was even a demand in li'l old Laurel for such an exotic item. 

Next to the quail eggs was a carton of "Preserved Duck Egg." The package pictured an unappetizing-looking purplish-black egg. It advised the consumer that this evil-looking thing, which was the color of graphite, was "lead-free". Good to know, but I think I'll pass. 

Tuesday, September 23, 2014


Ghost MonthGhost Month by Ed Lin
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Jing-nan sets out during an inauspicious month--August, when the dead return to the land of the living--to find out who murdered his childhood sweetheart. What you really get when you read this book is a glimpse of Taiwanese culture--the tension between the aboriginals, the old settlers from south China and the Chinese who came after WW II. Then there's the gods, the gangs, housing, corruption, entrepreneurs, the CIA, music and the immoveable feast at Taipei's night market. Who knew such a vibrant culture existed on this small island that is home to 23 million?

View all my reviews

Monday, September 8, 2014

Silly Dilly

Her formal name is Dilberta Chase, but we call her "Dilly." We bought her the day after Labor Day from an Amish farmer. Although the Amish are notorious for running puppy mills, this is no puppy-mill pooch. The farmer had just two mixed-breed farm dogs, a male and female. He said he did not know who Dilly's father was, only that his dog could not be her daddy. She didn't look like him or any of the other puppies. 

"How old is she?" I asked.

"Gee, I dunno. So much goes on around here. I think maybe 4 months," he said.

This farm is where we buy eggs when we're at our cabin in Knox County, OH. When Phil had gone to get eggs on Saturday, he was smitten by a small, brown puppy. He told me about him when he got home, mentioning that he had a larger, white littermate. I said, "I don't really like white dogs."

"Why not?" asked Phil's sister.

"I don't know. I just don't. I don't like white horses or white cats either."

"That's weird," said Phil's sister.

Tuesday morning when we were getting ready to return to MD, Phil said, "I keep thinking about that little brown dog."  We both agreed that now was not the time to get a dog. We have an ailing cat and Phil is looking at knee replacement surgery before Christmas.

"We can stop at the farm on the way home to see if he's still there, " I said.

Up the gravel drive we went. Six horses stood outside the red barn, watching. A pair of Holsteins paid us no mind. The little brown dog ran out to greet us.

"We're kind of thinking we'd like to keep the brown dog," the Amish man said.

"Where's the white dog?" asked Phil.

"Sophie's usually here with Stan," he replied. "I don't know where she is now"

We called. He called. No Sophie. After a few minutes, we decided to leave, when suddenly she appeared. She was cute. Her head was black and she had a black spot above her tail. "I guess it's OK if she's mostly white, " I said. 

The Amish man told us she'd had a "Seven-way shot."

"Oh, did the vet come by?"

"No, I gave it to her myself."

"How much do you want for her?" asked Phil.

"Oh, you can have her."

"How about $20.00?"


So "Sophie" was ours. The two of us sat in the backseat, as Phil headed east on Route 62 toward Millersburg. Before long, "Sophie" began going "ack-ack-ack." She vomited up her entire Amish farm- dog breakfast plus something else all over my capris. A bird?  A mouse?  A  vole? This was why she'd briefly gone missing. She'd been scouting for "field greens," but in her case, it wasn't delicate vegetation she wanted. Instead, she'd searched the fields for this delicacy, which was green because it was dead. She vomited again and again. And again. I screamed.  Phil pulled abruptly off the road.  He snapped on a leash and whisked the puppy out of the car. We happened to have  stopped by a bubbling spring. Before we could stop her, she waded right into the water that pooled beneath the spring. 

Using half a roll of paper towels, I mopped vomit off  the quilt, the cooler and the silvery folded-up sunshade. Then I fished a pair of grubby capris out of the "dirty-clothes" bag. I changed into them between two open car doors while milk trucks whizzed by.

As soon as we were on the road again, Sophie settled down for a long nap. We agreed that we couldn't call her Sophie. Close relatives had had a beloved dog named Sophie and she had died.  Our puppy needed a name before her first visit to the vet, which would happen the next day if at all  possible.

Heidi?  No.  
                          Daisy?  No.
                                                  How about Dilly?
                                                  Yes, she looks like a "Dilly."
                                                   Dilly it is.

                                                   She's going to be a wonderful pet.

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

A Spy Among Friends: Kim Philby and the Great Betrayal

A Spy Among Friends: Kim Philby and the Great BetrayalA Spy Among Friends: Kim Philby and the Great Betrayal by Ben Macintyre
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Wow, was this book GOOD! Humans are so hard to figure out, and Kim Philby--"the greatest spy in history"--was no exception. He was loved and idolized by friends and colleagues in Britain's counterintelligence unit during a career that spanned 30 years. From the time he began working at M16, he led a double life as a spy for the Soviet Union. Philby was a man who seemed perfectly comfortable with the wealth and position he inherited. Yet while at Cambridge University, he became a communist. He was never, it seems, a true believer. So why did he risk losing friends, family, country for a cause he scarcely believed in?  The author confesses that he does not know, but he suggests, among other reasons, that Philby was addicted to the game of espionage. One of the more entertaining chapters in this page-turner is Chapter Four, "Boo, Boo, Baby, I'm a Spy," in which Macintyre describes what it was like to be a spy in wild and wacky Istanbul during WW II. Whatever you do, don't miss Chapter Four.

View all my reviews

Sunday, August 10, 2014

What Shamu Taught Me about Life Love and Marriage

What Shamu Taught Me About Life, Love, and Marriage: Lessons for People from Animals and Their TrainersWhat Shamu Taught Me About Life, Love, and Marriage: Lessons for People from Animals and Their Trainers by Amy Sutherland
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I am interested in the subject of "animal training," especially when the primates I have in mind happen to be members of my own family. I hope that what I've learned about positive reinforcement and ignoring behavior I don't like will do the trick. I know that, in the past, I have inadvertently reinforced unwelcome behavior by nagging, advising, commenting or overreacting. We'll see if I can change my behavior and if my changed behavior results in more fun and fewer arguments. The author has a pithy style, laced with humor. I enjoyed the book very much.

View all my reviews

Friday, July 25, 2014

Babe at the Beach

Our family goes to the beach every July for a week. A lot can change in a year. Last July, our younger daughter, Becky, arrived at the beach a little discouraged about a potential adoption. Something just didn't seem right. A young woman in Indiana had contacted her and her husband on the adoption agency website and told them that she was expecting a baby girl in August. A social worker in the agency's Indiana office attempted several times to meet the birth mother at Taco Bell, but the young woman would never show up. There was always some excuse. "I was there. I must have been the restroom when you came in and that's why we missed each other," she explained. After several more no shows like that, the social worker concluded that there was probably no baby.

Becky and Tom were beginning to think that adoption might not happen for them. They had applied to adopt when their natural son, Nate, was about three, and he was about to start kindergarten. They were in their mid-forties. Many birth parents seemed to be looking for younger couples. 

In January, a young couple found them. The woman already had two children by a previous marriage. She and the baby's father felt they could not afford a third child. The paternal grandparents, however,  were adamantly opposed to the adoption. Despite the red flag, Becky and Tom went shopping for their newborn, which was due in early April.  On the morning that they were on their way to the hospital to pick up the baby, the agency called to tell them that the birth parents had decided to keep their baby girl.  Heartbroken, they returned the diapers and bottles to the store and laid aside their dream. "If it happens, it happens, but it probably won't, " they said.  They decided to let their contract with the agency lapse when it came up for renewal in August. 

Toward the end of May, the adoption agency unexpectedly called Becky and Tom with exciting news. A newborn girl was available for adoption. Were they still interested?  They had 24 hours to decide. 

They talked it over. They were almost getting used to the idea of a family of three, plus Roscoe, the beagle. They knew their lives would change forever. They said yes. 

The baby was 3 weeks premature and weighed less than 5 pounds. She had to spend nearly three  weeks in the hospital before being allowed to come home. One parent or the other visited her nearly every day, to feed and cuddle and rock.  Her grandparents and aunt also went to see her.  And then, one day in mid-June, she finally came home. 

Last week, she went on her first beach vacation to Lewes, DE, with her extended family. She mostly slept, gazed around and slurped up milk, little dreaming how much joy she was bringing to the rest of us.

At the beach: Mariel being held by her brother, Nate, 
with cousin, Andrew

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

The Friendly Beasts

We just got back from a wonderful week at our cabin in Ohio. It wasn't as 
"muggy and buggy" as it usually is in July. 

One afternoon, after planting geraniums at the cemetery, we took a side trip on the way home. When we saw some grazing horses, we stopped to take their picture. The "horses" turned out to be friendly and curious donkeys. 

The dirt road got narrower and narrower and steeper and steeper and the ruts got deeper and deeper. Side trips may not be such a great idea if you don't really know the neighborhood. 

Earlier that day, on the way to Mount Vernon to buy the geraniums, I saw a "calico cow". Yes! Its legs and its body just above the legs were black and the rest of it was tan and white. We kept going, thinking we'd take its picture on the way back. By the time we returned, the "cow" (could have been a male calf, I suppose) was nowhere to be seen, of course. 

Phil's sister spent the night, Phil's cousin spent the day on Sunday and a neighbor came for dinner another day. We watched yellow finches at the bird feeder, saw a few deer and spotted "our" blue heron, who hangs out at the creek. Phil scared a baby duck when he crossed the bridge tapping his walking stick. The duckling took off like a rocket, paddling and squawking frantically. Phil then heard a commotion up the creek, as if the members of the duck family were trying to find each other.

I slept out on the screened porch one chilly night. The stars were bright. At dawn, birdsong! Maybe 20 species of birds sang and chirped for an hour or so, and then, as morning came on, the chorus abruptly fell silent. A week at "the farm" shows me how far removed I am from the natural world most of my days.

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Day #40. Finished with radiation.

Phil Rings the Bell!

Actually, he rang it three times. 
Once for the wonderful staff at Johns Hopkins.
Once for the friends we made in the radiation waiting room
during these eight weeks, especially one very dedicated volunteer.
And once for a darling young patient
who wears a white knit cap and a pretty smile.

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Day #39 of 40: 97.5% complete!


Almost, almost, almost done. Tomorrow is the big day. The nurse told Phil that the side effects (tiredness, hot flashes, chills, etc.) continue after the final radiation treatment and peak on the fifth day. After that, the patient gradually starts feeling normal again. 

This is my favorite photo of all I took during eight weeks of walks in and around the hospital. Notice the reflection of the sunny morning sky in the window. Unfortunately, I also managed to capture the Tree Hugger's arm in the lower left. 

Monday, June 16, 2014

Day #38 of 40: 95% there!

Unusual Tilework on a Baltimore Rowhouse

This rowhouse is within a block or two of Johns Hopkins and isn't your usual gentrified dwelling. Perhaps the resident owns one of the nearby Mexican restaurants. 

Only two more days of radiation. He'll return in 6 months to have his PSA level checked. We're hoping for zero. 

Friday, June 13, 2014

Day #37 of 40

It's the Tree Hugger's 75th birthday. I didn't go with him today. It's also the last day of school. Our grandson's schoolbus will be at the door around 12:30. Yesterday we didn't get out of the hospital until 12:30, even though Phil's daily appointment with the machine is supposed to be at 9:40. Sometimes we breeze out of there by 10:30, but sometimes the machine gets backed up and everyone's appointments get delayed by an hour or more.  No matter. Thanks to a wonderful volunteer named John, a cancer survivor and story-teller, the patients in the little waiting room have become a community. John brings cookies and conversation. He offers St. Peregrine medals to anyone who wants one. Most people take him up on it. 

There's laughter and tears in that room. We are all in love with a winsome 12-year-old with a rare sarcoma. I didn't know that word until four weeks ago, and wish, pray God, I never had reason to look it up on the Internet. We are told she has a one-in-five chance. We all want so much for her to be the that one.  She's about half way through 54 days of treatment, both radiation and chemo.

Yesterday the rain kept us from our outdoor walk, so we walked indoors. The corridors at Johns Hopkins are lined with artwork, such as this charming piece of needlework. 

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Day #35 of 40.

Elegant Victorian Lamp with Potted Palm

Five more days to go!

OK, maybe I should have cropped the photo,
but don't you think the fire extinguisher
is elegant in its own way? 

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

Day #34 of 40

This 10-foot-high statue of "Christus Consolator" stands in the lobby of Billings, the original building at Johns Hopkins. It is a replica of an 1820 work by the Danish sculptor, Bertel Thorvaldsen. People lay flowers at the feet of the statue and touch it as they pass. They write prayers for healing and expressions of gratitude and sorrow in two books near the statue. 

Johns Hopkins, the wealthy Quaker philanthropist who founded the hospital, envisioned a secular institution dedicated to medical science. The hospital is not affiliated with any religious denomination, yet here stands the statue at the entrance to the old hospital, a source of comfort for many patients and their families. 

Tuesday, June 3, 2014

Day #29 of 40

The Zayed Tower houses the Johns Hopkins Heart and Vascular Institute. The tower was given by his  Highness, Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed Al Nahyan of the United Arab Emirates, in memory of his father. We are told that the colors in the tower were inspired by Monet's painting of water lilies. The clear glass windows are stippled with the same water-lily tints, perhaps to discourage birds from crashing into the windows.

Phil said, "Today I am 72.5 percent done with my treatments."  Leave it to a mathematician!

We're not eating as we should. Fresh fruits and vegetables? Whole-grain cereals? Please. On the way home, we stopped at Lexington Market. Phil had a steak-and-cheese sandwich and a beer.  I had a piece of cheesecake. We promised ourselves to get out the juicer as soon as we got home. Our younger daughter lent it to us. She also bought apples, beets, blueberries, carrots, celery and a horse radish root to get us started. She made us promise to at least try it, assuring us that if we did, we would feel so much better and be more energetic. So far, that promise is all that has been extracted. The mere thought of assembling the beast (which will look  like a miniature dinosaur when set up) is exhausting. Still, after our orgy of comfort food at Lexington Market, we came home ready to juice. We lay down for "just 30 minutes" and slept for two hours. 

Monday, June 2, 2014

Down to a Dozen

Day # 28 0f 40. Several weeks ago, I took this picture of "Billings," the original building at John Hopkins Hospital. The picture of the historical plaque in front of Billings turned out better. Little did Washington know, when he was inaugurated as president in 1789, that a world-renowned hospital would open its doors in Baltimore one hundred years later.

Saturday, May 31, 2014

Day #27 of 40 Scheduled Treatments

Probably all big cities in the United States make claims like this, but Baltimore is special because Johns Hopkins (JH) Hospital is here.  Phil is getting excellent out-patient care at the Sidney Kimmel Cancer Center at JH. We leave the house every day at 7 AM and arrive at JH about 45 minutes later. We have time for at least an hour's walk before his appointment with "Synergy," his machine. We walk outside in good weather. If it's raining, we walk the second-floor loop at the hospital, enjoying the art work. 

His date with "Synergy" lasts about 10 minutes. Once a week, he sees his oncologist, Dr. Tran, a good guy if ever there was one. Usually we stop for lunch on the way home. We're back by 1 PM at the latest. It's a bit of a grind, but I am not complaining. I am so glad we live near Hopkins. 

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

The First Day

Today was Phil's first day of radiation for early-stage prostate cancer. We overslept. We didn't get up until 5:45, which meant we weren't in the car until 6:10. We didn't realize that rush hour would already be well underway at that hour, and we had 24 miles to go to make a 7 AM appointment at Johns Hopkins in Baltimore. 

It was a beautiful spring morning. The daffodils were gone except for withered brownish blossoms,  but the red buds and self-seeded Bradford pears were lovely. A quarter moon sat low in the sky. Traffic slowed, traffic sped up, drivers switched lanes unexpectedly. Still, Phil managed to squeeze into a narrow space near the "Radiation Oncology Patients' Entrance" at 5 to 7. 

Phil's machine, "Synergy", was ready for him. He is the first patient of the day for this machine, which is one of several.  All the machines have upbeat names. I sat in the waiting area with other patients and family members, in full view of the radiation room. Four heavy sliding doors seal the room while the patient is on the table. A sign by the door reads "Beam On." A Korean lady with two high-school or college-age kids chatted while her son and daughter focused on their iPhones. Her husband must return to the hospital each afternoon for the second phase of his treatment, which has to be scheduled six hours after phase one. They go home during the interval, but this can't leave them much time for anything else but being treated for a life-threatening illness. Also saw a cheerful man with half his face gone. And I heard laughter in the hall. People are remarkable.

We stopped at Lexington Market on the way home for bacon, eggs, and toast from a stand run by  a perky Korean lady with broken English. We ate standing up at a table and watched a quartet of deaf people having a loud argument in sign language.  We were home by 9:15. Thirty-nine days to go. 

Saturday, April 12, 2014

America the Boorish

Domestic Manners of the AmericansDomestic Manners of the Americans by Fanny Trollope
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Fanny Trollope, mother of the Victorian novelist, Anthony Trollope, came to America in 1827. She lived for several years in Cincinnati, which was then the hog capital of the nation. She loved America, but loathed Americans. She delighted in America-the-beautiful, but found her citizens boorish and ignorant. They were ridiculously proud of their form of government and stubbornly insisted, against evidence quite obvious to Mrs. Trollope, that all men were created equal. Mrs. Trollope was quick to point out that this vaunted equality was extended to neither Native Americans nor slaves. Mrs. Trollope was glad to return to civilization (Europe) in 1832, and the Americans were doubtless delighted to see her go.

View all my reviews

Sunday, March 23, 2014

Reconstruction: America's Unfinished Revolution 1863-1877Reconstruction: America's Unfinished Revolution 1863-1877 by Eric Foner
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

“The past is never dead. In fact, it’s not even past.” The truth of this observation by Southern writer William Faulkner came home to me as I worked my way through this “perennial classic,” Eric Foner’s Reconstruction: America’s Unfinished Revolution, 1863-1877. Then, as now, differing opinions about where to draw the line between property rights and civil rights divided families, political parties and the country. This sober, nuanced story, which tells what happened after the death of the Great Emancipator, changed my thinking about our country’s past and present. I learned that the South was not a monolith. Some of the propertied people and many of the small, independent farmers were Unionists. I learned that African Americans played a key role in shaping local government policy during the early days of Reconstruction, but that their advances were set aside as white men started reclaiming their positions of power, often resorting to violence. Finally, I learned how the federal government expanded its power during and after the war, taxing income, instituting the draft and building a large bureaucracy. Its role during the early days of Reconstruction as guarantor of the rights of former slaves against local infringement set it at odds with those of that day who revered the Founding Fathers for the strict limits they’d set on centralized power. It was this concentrated power that the Fathers saw as the major threat to individual liberties. This sounds familiar, as well as the fear of 19th-century Republicans and Democrats alike that “special measures” adopted to ease the transition of former slaves to eventual self-sufficiency would foster a “culture of dependency.” The debt-ridden Southern states taxed the poor heavily to pay for education and hospitals, but within a decade were forced to abandon these programs. Eventually, the federal government tired of its effort to reconstruct the South. It never, however, completely disbanded the army, which it now used to break strikes among immigrant laborers and to fight Native Americans. This was not an easy book to read, not only because it covered unfamiliar territory in great detail, but also described atrocities committed against the innocent. I am glad I stuck with it nevertheless.

View all my reviews

Thursday, February 27, 2014

I Know Why the Caged Bird Grumps

When our younger daughter was in her teens, we redecorated her room. She had the smaller of the two girls' bedrooms, so we got her a loft bed with a built-in desk and bookcase. She chose the jungle wallpaper and her dad put it up. He even wall-papered her little closet so meticulously that we're keeping it that way, even though the bedroom wallpaper was removed yesterday. 

The loftbed has been removed as well. First, we tried giving it away. When there were no takers, we hired a "green" junkman to remove it. He planned to take the bed to a thrift-shop furniture outlet rather than trucking it off to the landfill. We might have kept it forever except that I always forgot about the loft when I sat down at the desk. After banging my head countless times, I knew the bed had to go while I still had sense enough to get rid of it. 

We decided to have both the bedroom and the family room painted at the same time. It's taking three days. They will finish tomorrow. I can't wait! Over a week ago, we started moving the contents of these two rooms to the living room. Two rooms can hold an unbelievable amount of stuff. Our living room looks like it belongs to a hoarder. We can't find anything. We're getting grumpy. Very grumpy.

Wednesday, January 22, 2014


Fifty two years ago this month, I was at college when I went down to a phone booth in the dorm basement to take a phone call from my mom. "Papa has been killed in a plane crash," she said. I screamed and cried all the way back up to my room. My friends were waiting for me there, sitting on the beds and looking so sad.

Dad was a successful small-town lawyer in Meadville, PA, the county seat. He was also the attorney for a small company. During the last weekend of January, against his better judgement, he and Eddie D., the company vice-president, flew to Buffalo on business in the small company plane. On the way home, Roger, the pilot, attempted a landing at Port Erie Airport, but the plane suddenly dipped and crashed. Ice on the wings were believed to have brought the plane down. 

Later, when Mom was talking about the accident, she said, "Papa was killed, Eddie was badly banged up, and Roger was--"

"Drinking." I finished Mom's sentence for her. Mom looked surprised. "Why, no," she said. "Where did you get that idea?"

It made complete sense to me.  It was beginning to look to me as if nothing was ever done in that town without a drink. On his last Christmas,  Dad kept good-naturedly badgering Aunt Edna all afternoon: "Let's you and me go into the kitchen and cement our friendship." Normally, they had little to say to each other, but that day Edna tee-heed every time he suggested a drink and off they'd go to the kitchen.

Getting drunk was normal, expected and lots of fun. Growing up during Prohibition probably shaped that whole generation's attitudes about drinking. They were in their 20's when Prohibition was repealed in 1933. No one in their crowd was ever an "alcoholic," except for one man, our family dentist. Everyone agreed that he'd been the one with the problem, especially after he slipped and fell on the ice on his front porch and died.

He was the alcoholic, but everyone else was just relaxing and having fun. My dad's friend, who thought church was just for women and children,  prided himself on giving up hard liquor for Lent. Even my dad cut back during court season. I had an artifact of that era that I now wish I hadn't thrown out. It was an ice bucket with a half dozen cartoon scenes of drunken fun. One red-nosed couple stood at an open door holding out measuring cups. The caption read, "We'd just like to borrow a cup of whiskey." My dad received a birthday card facetiously crediting booze for the relatively long lives of human beings compared to animals. One line said, "The horse at twenty cashes in without the aid of rum or gin." And then there were songs on old 78 rpm records: "Don't roll your bloodshot eyes at me. I can tell you've been out on a spree."

One couple in my parents' crowd brought scorn down on their heads by trying to ration the drinks. Everyone had gathered at their house one evening before going to the club for dinner. The K's announced that they would like some "intelligent conversation" for once. They were limiting their guests to two cocktails apiece. Months later, people were still laughing and shaking their heads at the K's misguided attempt to change the rules.

A Japanese proverb says, "First a man takes a drink. Then the drink takes a drink. And then the drink takes the man." Toward the end of his life, my dad's hard-drinking friends started to worry that he had "lost control." As if he'd ever had it. He'd been collecting citations for driving under the influence, but was always let off with a warning because of his position in the community. Then a policeman came to the door after midnight to tell Mom he had found Dad's car at the side of the road, lights on, engine running, door open, no Dad. They found him eventually. Then there was the time Dad embarrassed himself during a radio broadcast of the town meeting. Opposed to annexing West Mead township to the city of Meadville,  he attacked his opponent in a drunken rant.  He was mortified the next morning when Mom repeated to him some of the things he'd said.

Mom herself was tiring of the perpetual weekend parties. She told me about Dr. and Mrs. C's holiday buffet. Mrs. C had set a beautiful table, using her best china. When someone stumbled into corner of the table, the leg gave way and the table sagged. As if on cue, the guests began gleefully flinging around the food and the dishes, not stopping until they'd totally trashed everything on the table.

So there was my Dad lying in that coffin in midwinter. The quilt looked warm and comforting, with pictures of pheasants rising in flight. Dad would have liked that. The son of a barkeeper and pool hall owner, he had done the things he thought well-off people did, playing golf in the summer, shooting skeet in the fall, and enjoying fine whiskey. Seeing him there, Mom said, sadly, "He looks just like a little boy."  We both knew that his chances of overcoming his drinking problem had been nil. Perhaps this was for the best. 

Saturday, January 11, 2014

Is Your Refrigerator Running?

Remember in the good ol' days before Caller ID, you'd get a phone call at least once a year from the neighborhood teen-ager:

Teen-ager:  Is your refrigerator running?
Gullible me: Gosh, I think so.
Teen-ager: Better catch it before it gets away.


Nowadays we get calls from techno-impersonators wanting to help us with non-existent computer problems:

Caller: We see error message coming from your computer.
Husband: Oh, really?
Caller: We need information to fix problem.
Husband: You sound funny. What's your native language?
Caller: English.
Husband: Where are you calling from?
Caller: Brooklyn.
Husband: Brooklyn, huh? What's the weather like there?