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Old Friends, New Friends, New Old Friends

Alamo Heights ISD

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Do you remember The Fonz trying to say he was wrong and the words refusing to come out?

“I was wr-r-r-r-r-r-r-r-r, wr-r-r-r-r-r-r-r-r-r!” He looked like he
was passing a kidney stone.

I have somewhat the same problem, but when I’m wrong I do eventually admit it. I attended my tenth high school reunion and the 45th. In between I had very little contact with anyone I knew from high school, and that’s the way I wanted it. They were not good years for me, and those were not fond memories. If it weren’t for high school, what the hell would we have to talk about with our
therapists?
Thanks to the woman who ramrods the reunions, Ilene Arbetter, I was hunted down and practically dragged to our reunion in 2012. The supposed end-of-the-world apocalypse forecasted for December 21 may have had something to do with my decision. After all, what did I have to lose?
What I discovered was that I was wr-r-r-r-ong. Everyone was much older, a bit wiser, and we had all swallowed a good dose of reality in the ensuing years. I saw old friends who still seemed glad to see me and to be seen. Memories of good times I had completely forgotten returned, and for the first time in 45 years, I felt the pain and anger I associated with that time of my life ebbing away. I discovered a lot of the negative feelings I’d carried for so long had more to do with my relationship with my mother back then than they did with the kids I
blamed for them.
I am so grateful to Ilene for nagging me into going. I’m still reaping benefits from reconnecting with my schoolmates. It seems like every few weeks there’s someone new who takes the plunge and joins our Facebook group. And every once in a while, one of those people become new close friends, based on shared interests and politics, or friendly adversaries, based on opposite viewpoints and politics. It all stays remarkably civil, much more so than I would have believed
possible.
So now I have old friends, new friends, and new old friends. My husband has been caught in the fallout and has made a few new friends, too. He enjoyed my reunion because he likes hearing things about me I never told him. Also, he doesn’t have to remember anyone’s names since it’s not his reunion. There’s no pressure, and
occasionally he gets an illuminating tidbit about my teenage years to laugh about.

My point is this: when your next reunion comes up, give it a chance. If you make just one new old friend, it will be worth your effort. You might even discover that someone you despised back then isn’t so bad now. There’s something about life that mellows most people. Marriage, kids, divorce, illness, and deaths have happened to us all, and we carry the scars on our faces.

Most of us look like crumbling Greek ruins, until we smile. There’s something so touching about someone smiling and being able to glimpse that sweet young boy or girl again, even if it’s only for a second. Our younger selves are still inside us. That part of us never ages, never dies.

Flirting with Death–Growing Up Boomer

imagesRT5WAQE7If you grew up in the 50s, 60s, or 70s, it’s a miracle you’re alive. There’s a reason for the saying, “The road to hell is paved with good intentions.” In other words, raising your children with danger and bad medicine didn’t end with the discovery of seatbelts and penicillin.

I can hear my mother now: “If a little does a little good, a lot will do a lot of good.” This was her rationale for ignoring dosing instructions on over-the-counter medications. To her, a tablespoon was a serving spoon from the table. A teaspoon was the soup spoon. She cheerfully ladled out Pepto-Bismol to reverse my problem, then ladled out mineral oil to reverse the cure. I was almost grown before I knew medicine doses measured like salt and baking powder, not mashed potatoes.

My mother was a helicopter parent long before helicopters were invented. Maybe she was a spiro-gyro or hot air balloon parent. Worrying was a way of life for her, and we were first on her list. A sneeze or cough was enough to make her drag us off to the doctor, where we were guaranteed a penicillin shot. The miracle drug was dispensed for complaints big and small. After all, what’s the use of having a miracle drug, if you aren’t going to use it for everything? And if we were really sick, too sick to go downtown to the Medical Arts building to his office, the doctor would stop by our house on his way home, and he always had a supply of penicillin in his bag.

The bathroom medicine cabinet was full of over-the-counter remedies, too. Pepto-Bismol, iodine, mercurochrome, Little Black Pills, and Carter’s Little Liver Pills all played a role in keeping the family healthy. Bayer aspirin, and later Excedrin, were the cure-alls for headaches. Aspirin, hot tea, and dry toast was the treatment for cramps. Little Black Pills were for constipation, with Pepto for diarrhea. Cuts and abrasions called for iodine. Always. Period.

My parents would have fit right into the Stoics’ society. If there were no bones sticking out and no blood, you were fine. Suck it up and walk it off. Of course, first we had to annihilate the enemy of the Free World–germs. These little critters were a relatively new discovery when my parents were little, and their parents attacked them as if they were going after “Kaiser Bill.”

For a good part of my childhood, iodine was the poison du jour for medical germicide. Unfortunately, iodine felt like having lava poured into an open wound, probably because it had an alcohol base. Screaming because of the injury redoubled when I felt the cure.

There was a kinder, gentler antiseptic–mercurochrome. It didn’t burn nearly as badly, and much of the discomfort it caused could be eliminated by blowing on the wound until it dried. No one considered the fact that blowing germ-laden breath on an open wound was counter-productive. In addition, it didn’t seem to impress anyone negatively that the active ingredient was mercury. Yes, as in “permanent brain damage” mercury. Mercurochrome wasn’t banned as an over-the-counter product until 1998.

And speaking of mercury, we loved it when Mama dropped the thermometer while “shaking it down,”  shattering it on the tile bathroom floor. That provided a really cool, new toy to play with: mercury. We were fascinated by the way it “crawled” when it moved, and even more awed by how well it cleaned tarnish off dimes and nickels when we smeared it over the coins with our bare fingers.

Dental care was high on the list for “better living through chemistry.” When an Air Force dentist looked at my husband’s teeth and exclaimed, “Good grief, boy! You’ve got Cadillac teeth!” there was a brief moment of alarm, before Bryan realized this was a good thing. His hometown, Pasadena, Texas, was one of the first cities in the state to put fluoride in their drinking water. Consequently, cavities were rare, but their smiles looked like a “before” picture in a whitening gel commercial. The recipe needed a little fine tuning.

imagesQ4VRVBCKDDT trucks driving up and down the streets, spraying for mosquitoes, were also part of growing up in Pasadena. Bryan and his friends rode their bikes in the fog behind the trucks for fun.

If being endangered by your parents and health care professionals wasn’t enough, toymakers and Madison Avenue joined in, too. No cool kid would have dreamed of wearing a helmet when riding a bike. I remember my father saying, “Aw, she doesn’t have to wear one of those. Nothing’s going to happen. Besides, she can hardly see out from under it. That thing’s dangerous.” And why on earth would you need child-proof packaging on medications and drain cleaner? “Kids know better than to get into those.”

My brother had a chemistry set. He managed to make his room smell like dead fish for a month, but at least no one was killed. Early Gilbert Chemistry Sets included 56 chemicals, such as ammonium nitrate (a key ingredient in homemade bombs) and the poisonous and flammable potassium permanganate. The “Atomic” chemistry sets of the ’50s came with radioactive uranium ore. They got a little safer in the ’60s but weren’t really reined in until the Toxic Substances Control Act of 1976.

imagesHT8EWSF6As if the sexy men and women puffing away in movies weren’t convincing enough, we were encouraged to smoke by actors dressed like doctors on television. No one had even heard of secondhand smoke. And remember candy cigarettes? I used to get them in my Christmas stocking.

Car seats and seatbelts were optional. imagesZYTDNG9FAnd lead-based paint, which causes brain and kidney damage, wasn’t outlawed until 1978. It was routinely used on cribs, among other things.

I don’t blame my parents. They only knew what they saw on TV and in the newspaper. I do blame the scientists and advertisers who knew these things were dangerous, even if they didn’t know the full extent. They ignored the fact that people were buying and using their poisons, and it really hasn’t changed much over the years. It seems like every day something is recalled or declared unsafe, something we did to our newborns is now considered deadly, and some medicine our parents gave us is now used to kill roaches.

There are seven billion people on the earth, and the population is growing. How can that be when we are doing our best to kill ourselves off? Maybe it’s the underdeveloped countries, whose people don’t have access to our medicines, cleaning products, and chemical-infused food, who are overpopulating. They better hope the don’t catch up to us. That could be a real health hazard.

Aging, American Style

Roger & Addie 2Roger & Addie 5

 

Roger & Addie 3

As someone approaching the Medicare Wonder Years, who anxiously awaits catalogs with the latest styles in knee braces, and who has a map of the Nile Delta etched in the skin at the corner of each eye, my recent trip to Georgetown to visit some older friends was profound. These friends, Addie and Roger Busfield, are just about ten or fifteen years older than my husband Bryan and I, and we’ve come to admire, respect, and  love them over the years.

Roger had a long career in theatre and teaching, and he wrote a textbook on writing plays that was translated into several languages.  It is still being used. Addie is a gifted artist, whose works can be seen on display in the Georgetown Public Library and on several friends’ book covers.  Both highly intelligent and interesting people, they mastered the art of being urbane and down-to-earth at the same time. Also, both of them are a hoot!

A few of their friends and Bryan and I joined them for a Dos Salsas food fest at the Wesleyan Nursing Home where Roger now lives. Ann Bell picked up Addie at Estrella Independent Living, and Joan Hall, Carol Menchu, Bryan, and I picked up fajita taco plates for all, Roger having requested that specifically. We ate, talked, ate, and talked some more, seven old friends around a large table, a great way to spend an afternoon.

It impressed me that with an age span of about 20 years around that table, we all were on the same page in life, give or take a page or two. I could easily see myself in five or ten years, an observation common to us all. The disadvantages of getting older are readily apparent, so I tried to think of advantages that will come–basically from here on out–as I approach the place on the highway of life where the pavement ends.

1. Pie will be reclassified as a vegetable, and no one will care if I eat my dessert first.

2. Having forgotten her name and phone number, I will no longer have to deal with my sister.

3. I will no longer care about getting to watch what I want on television; my favorite show will be Progressive commercials with Flo.

4. My grandkids will remain little forever. When they bring their children to visit me , I will assume they are all my grandchildren and be permanently delighted.

5. My mind will eventually migrate to a time and place I was happiest, probably the Sixties when the music was good, and all the deceased ones I’ve missed will come visit me at night–by invitation only.

6. I won’t own any clothes that aren’t comfortable, and I won’t notice whether they match. My dress-up shoes will be socks with non-skid patches on the bottoms.

7. My beloved Bryan will still be with me, although he will n0 longer care about sports and will have developed an interest in true crime programming.

8. My dogs will return from Pet Paradise to visit me but will no longer poop on the floor.

9. My face will have a permanently pleasant expression, carefully cultivated over the years, so people will be nice to me and want to talk to me.

10. I will not “find God,” (not having mislaid Him, as far as I can tell) or be more religious than I was earlier in life when all my screws were countersunk, when I knew exactly what I was doing, and what the cosmic consequences were likely to be. I will not expect amnesty because I am old. Instead, I will count on His having a sense of humor.

I hope I can age as gracefully as Roger and Addie have. I hope my friends will want to throw a shindig for me at the nursing home. I hope I will still be able to make them laugh.

I would also like to get  my order in now for a Dos Salsas Enchilada Plate.  I will tell you where to bring it when I make my final blog entry.