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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.

The Wisdom of Facebook

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I don’t usually make life decisions based on Internet advice, much less anything I see on Facebook. However, lately I’ve felt a need for a basic change, and strangely enough, Facebook has been flooded with seminal advice. Like someone driven to buy something after a barrage of advertising, I feel a need to get my act together, and this may be my last opportunity. I’m not on death’s door, but I’m definitely on the downhill slope of my life. I’ve decided to live this part differently from the rest.

Hopefully, with age comes perspective about yourself and others. Here are some of the conclusions I’ve reached about how I want to conduct what’s left of my life:

  1. Don’t drink anti-freeze. It’s toxic. Likewise, it’s okay to cut toxic people out of your life. You’ll live longer.
  2. Stop feeling guilty for not being able to like someone.
  3. Try to be happy. If it makes you happy and doesn’t hurt you or anyone else, do it.
  4. For God’s sake, have an opinion on things that are important to you, the country, and the world. If you lie on the beach and just let the waves wash over you, you will die at high tide.
  5. You can’t save everyone or change the world in one lifetime. But it is our duty to try.

There are a few people in my life who are absolutely toxic to me. I get physically sick every time I have any contact with them. Some of them are people society tells me I should love/tolerate/suck it up and abide. I’ve tried. For years. Without success. These are people who literally drain the life out of me, and I just can’t afford to squander any.

I no longer feel guilty for not being able to like someone. Some people are just plain mean, and I have chosen, finally, to walk away clean. You can’t fix mean.

It is not a sin to be happy. Nor is it a personality defect or character flaw. I would never seek happiness from something that hurt someone else. It’s not that important. And it shouldn’t be something that actually hurts me in the long run, like eating pie every day. I confess I sometimes drowned my sorrows in a Hostess Fruit Pie. My name is Janet, and I’m a fructoholic. No stick and carrot for me. My stick dangles an apricot fried pie. Too much of a good thing will kill you, but so will too much of a bad thing (See No. 1 about that anti-freeze thing.) I refuse to spend the years I have left lying to myself. “Pie is bad for you,” is a lie. It makes me happy.

We are an opinionated family. My daughter called home just a few days after being dropped off at college to complain about her roommate. “Mama, she’s just not normal. She has no opinions on anything! She thinks I’m crazy for handing out flyers on the quad to stop violence against women. How am I supposed to communicate with someone like that?”

How can a sentient being not care about what’s going on around them? If a mother refuses to change her baby’s diaper because it is dirty and she doesn’t want to get involved, she’s arrested for child neglect. Well, America needs its diaper changed, and anyone who doesn’t want to get involved in politics because it’s distasteful and dirty is guilty of societal neglect. How did the Nazis take over Germany? Not enough people wanted to get involved.

Many people refuse to do even something as minimal as recycling, preferring to deny the existence of global warming and resource depletion. And so what if Dallas, Texas has suddenly become an earthquake zone? Couldn’t possibly have anything to do with fracking ‘cause we need that oil.

And finally, we may not be able to save everyone, but how can we not at least try? Every great world religion teaches the same thing: help those less fortunate. It’s a sentiment that’s repeated in our music, our literature, even our fortune cookies. Seeing to it no one gets kicked to the curb, not our elderly, disadvantaged, disabled, or ill, completes us as human beings. How can you not care that some people are trying to legitimize neglecting those who most need the help?

I figure, if I’m lucky, I’ve got maybe another ten years of lucidity. I’m not going to waste that precious time on negative situations or people. I am going to learn how to say, “To Hell with you!” in many different languages, and I am going to eat pie when I want to.

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You Don’t Have to Be Patsy Cline to Do Crazy

Squirrel 2

Invitation to My Last Family Reunion

Squirrel 1

Don’t talk to me…I’m Isadora Duncan!

I like squirrels. I relate to them. Maybe I was a squirrel in a previous life.

Admittedly they have a reputation for being, well, squirrelly, but they’ve always
seemed perfectly normal to me. That should have been a red flag.

Crazy doesn’t run through my family; it saunters slowly and deliberately. My daughter hates going to a new doctor and filling out the medical history sheets. When she gets to the question, “Is there mental illness in your family?” she has to ask for extra paper.

And I’m not talking about eccentricity. None of my people were rich enough to be eccentric. The kindest term I heard applied to one ancestor was, “He was notional.” Right. This was the guy who fought for the Confederacy for three years and switched sides the last year of the war. That might sound pretty smart and not crazy at all to some people, namely those from north of the Mason-Dixon Line, but context is everything. He was removed from the family Bible and never spoken of again.

My mother’s aunt, another example, was a complete loon. Her given name was Willie Polk Morgan, which she hated. The first chance she got, she had it legally changed to Pocahantas P. Morgan, which she considered a major improvement. I remember her well, because she used to remove her dentures at the table after eating, wrap them in her napkin, and then surreptitiously make the bundle move slightly, as if those choppers were alive. She would scare small children (mainly me) by grabbing the bundle, shoving it into their throats, and making Cujo growling noises. I had a stressful childhood.

Polk’s brother’s name was Robert Edwin, but he went by Pete. No one bothered to tell me he and his wife were dropping by from Tennessee one day, so when a strange man got out of his car and growled, “Come here, girl!” I screamed bloody murder and ran for the front door. Everyone laughed at me and acted like I  was crazy. That’s when I learned about “the eye of the beholder.” For the first time I realized I was the only sane one in my house.

My father approached normalcy, at least compared to my mother’s side of the family. But he carried a spool of tamale string in the trunk of his car in case he needed to effect repairs on something. He believed if it couldn’t be fixed with tamale string, it was broken beyond repair.

My mother was superstitious to the point of paranoia. It was bad luck to kill crickets, lay a hat on a bed, return to a starting point by a route different from the one by which you sallied forth, or walk around an obstruction on the opposite side from someone else without dispelling the bad luck by saying, “Bread and butter!” I remember many childhood hours spent in deep guilt because I had stepped on a crack in the sidewalk; my mother’s paraplegia was imminent. She used to make up superstitions if she didn’t have one ready-made to fit any occasion.  “You put those rocks back! Don’t you dare put them in the car. I had a cousin who came down with diphtheria right after putting rocks in the car!” It was years before I realized she just didn’t want my dirty rock collection in her Caddie.

I am not superstitious. I simply don’t believe in pressing my luck. And I can’t see letting those near and dear to me tempt fate, either. For example, my husband has a tendency to put hats on the bed. This is a community property state. That means half of his bad luck is mine! I have enough trouble forestalling my own doom without having to worry about a paranormal loose cannon.

We recently attended a party on a cold day, where everyone piled hats and coats on a bed. He motioned at me through the open door and asked, “Is it okay to put my hat on the bed if my coat is in between?” I made an executive decision. And I must have been right, because both of us survived the party and made it home safely.

I’ve heard that sane people are boring. I can’t confirm that because I’ve yet to meet one. I don’t even know where they are kept. If you find one, please let me know so I can judge for myself. In the meantime, I’ll just continue to relate to squirrels and my family as equals.

Hark the Herald Angels and Demons

The holidays sneaked up on me again this year. When do I have to start getting ready for the holidays to have a handle on things when they arrive? The reality is, I could start putting up decorations in early January and still feel like the holidays were sprung on me the following November.

Christmas is a time of reflection for me. I guess everyone gets nostalgic this time of year, missing times long-passed or even ones that never actually existed. The holidays started for me every fall, when my mother set up a Ping-Pong table in the master bedroom.  That table was ground zero for wrapping Christmas presents. It went up before Thanksgiving and was my signal to start getting excited.

In the days before ready-made bows,  Mama made them herself, twisting flat ribbon into a figure-eight, notching the middle, and tying it off tightly. Then, one at a time, she pulled a loop out, bringing it down and across, until she had a gorgeous, perfect bow. Mama was wonderfully good at this, but I got the impression she hated doing it. She was extra-edgy and short-tempered from the time that Ping-Pong table came out until it went back in the closet under the stairs.

My father was philosophical about Christmas, usually just waiting for it to be over. He enjoyed the once-a-year foods–Mama’s fruit cake, boiled custard, and angel food cake. But no matter how hard we tried, he never seemed to get a gift he really wanted.

“Socks with feet in them,” or “Drawers with seats in them,” followed by, “Just what I wanted,” were his standard comments. Admittedly, buying a gift for him was a nightmare. The man had two of everything he’d ever wanted. Plus, he had an annoying habit of going shopping for himself just before Christmas. It was the only time of the year he did this, and it drove my mother nuts.

Only a couple of times did I please him with my gift. When I was in high school, I managed to find a blacksmith in North San Antonio, no mean feat in the late 1960s, and had him make a wrought-iron sign, “T. W. Wheeler.”  Daddy didn’t say much on Christmas morning, but he did hang it on the ranch gate, an indication of approval. Years later, when he had to sell the ranch, he retrieved the sign and kept it in his home office. Later, as an adult, I gave him a Care Package one Christmas. It contained all his favorites: Marshmallow Circus Peanuts, Saltines to crumble into a glass of cold milk and eat with a spoon, Penguins–chocolate-covered marshmallow cookies– rat cheese (Longhorn style), and chocolate-covered cherries. That gift actually made him grin as he unpacked it.

At least shopping has gotten a lot easier over the years. Bryan is easy to buy for. He likes just about anything I get him. My grown kids want money or gift cards, and my grandchildren cheerfully provide me with detailed lists of EXACTLY what they want and where to get it. And the Internet, bless its little silicon heart, brings everything to my door. No more fighting crowds or doing psycho checks in dark parking lots before getting into my car.

Doing some heavy remembering, letting myself float back through the years, is my way of honoring the season. Instead of turning up at church on the high holy days because I feel I ought to, I use the time to reflect on my behavior on the other 364 days a year. Have I done enough for others? Did I manage to curb my wicked tongue at all this year? Did I hurt someone intentionally or un-? Do I deserve another year of walking this earth? We all have demons to wrestle; mine come decked out in jingle bells and mistletoe.

I hope your holidays are everything you want them to be; I wish for you the ability to determine what that is.

Merry Christmas, Happy Chanukah, and Happy Holidays, y’all!

 

Pining for Alpine

I just attended my fourth writer’s retreat in Alpine, Texas. I can’t tell you how much good this does for the people who attend. We spend five days living, eating, and breathing writing. I come back feeling re-energized and ready to write.

Far West Texas is my favorite place to be in the hottest part of the summer. It’s always 10 to 12 degrees cooler than here, and it gets downright nippy at night. I get a week in my favorite place, doing my favorite thing, taught by some of the best writers around, and comparing notes with like-minded people. Heaven.

My teacher this year, Mike Hall, an editor at Texas Monthly, is a really nice guy. He was approachable and genuinely interested in helping us take the next step. I got my ego stroked and my confidence built, so much so I’m determined to finish the book I’ve been working on forever. The whole project is a lot clearer than it’s ever been, so maybe 2015 will be my year.

Paisano Hotel, Marfa

Paisano Hotel, Marfa

A big part of the fun on these trips is playing tourist with my husband. Bryan and I visited Marathon, Marfa, and Alpine. We’ve been to each one before, but there’s always something new to see. That’s something people don’t expect from tiny towns sitting in the desert.

Marfa has really grown and has turned into a clean, pretty little town. In addition to becoming quite the art colony and providing Marfa Radio which saves tourists suffering NPR withdrawal, it has two traditional claims to fame: the Presidio County Courthouse, which is one of the prettier members of the Tacky Texas Courthouse Club, and the Paisano Hotel, where the cast of Giant stayed while filming the movie in the mid-1950s. A young friend of mine announced she has never seen Giant but planned to rent it after hearing about it in Marfa.

Presidio County Courthouse, Marfa

Presidio County Courthouse, Marfa

“Or you can read the book,” I suggested.

“There’s a book?” she asked wide-eyed.

The exchange made me feel old, but I smiled picturing Edna Ferber watching us, thoroughly disgusted.

Gage Hotel, Marathon

Gage Hotel, Marathon

Marathon Cafe

Marathon Cafe

Next Bryan and I headed for Marathon, pronounced MAR-a-thun. You swallow the last syllable. The one visible place to eat turned out to be a highpoint of the trip. Just the other side of the historic Gage Hotel sat the tiny Marathon Café.

We complimented our waitress, who turned out to be one of the three owners, and the floodgates opened. The residents of Far West Texas have learned to be polite to the tourists but not to get too friendly. We are different; we are The Others. And they never know exactly how we’ll react to open friendliness. I always try to get people to talk to me. It’s half the fun of traveling out there.

We found out the café was owned by three cousins, all older ladies with painful arthritic joints. As is normal there, none of them plan to retire anytime soon. Hard work is ingrained in them from childhood. You work until you get too ill or too dead to continue. A niece did the cooking. She had trained at the Gage Hotel and brought her considerable talents to the tiny family concern. Bryan said his chicken fried steak was excellent, served interestingly on top of the cream gravy. My hamburger quite simply was the best I’ve had in years, and she seemed surprised when I told her so. We will definitely go there again next year.

Sometimes we revisit favorite places, only to find them closed up or reincarnated as something else. Businesses come and go out there with the suddenness of death in the desert. Apparently you’ve got a window to make it or else. There’s always a little feeling of relief when we arrive and find a favorite haunt still standing and still in business.

Our last stop was Alpine. I had just spent a week there and had seen everything in town three times. But we discovered the Museum of the Big Bend on the Sul Ross University campus last year and decided to go back. For one thing, they have a great gift shop, and I always stock up on memorabilia there. The displays don’t change drastically, but one of the blessings of advancing age is short-term memory loss. I see places for the first time over and over.

One of my favorite exhibits is a large topographical representation of the entire area. Plates on each side list points of interest and landmarks. Push the large, red button next to the plate, and a tiny light goes on at the appropriate place on the map. In the vastness of the place it’s easy to get turned around, and I enjoy lighting up the places we’ve just seen.

Black Bear, Museum of the Big Bend, Alpine

Black Bear, Museum of the Big Bend, Alpine

Pterosaur, Museum of the Big Bend, Alpine

Pterosaur, Museum of the Big Bend, Alpine

I like the stuffed black bear, whose relatives are repopulating the area. I also like the life-size replica of a pterosaur, which won’t be back anytime soon, hanging from the ceiling. Between dinosaurs, and later on Comanches and Apaches that gave the settlers many a bad day, Far West Texas has always been a pretty busy place. I prefer the toned-down version of today.

Every time we visit, Bryan and I try to figure out a way to move out there, and every year we realize we can’t. There are down sides to living in such a remote place: medical care is sketchy and usually far away; there is no quick way to get out there or back here from out there; and I’d have to hold auditions to find people to talk to about politics. With kids and grandkids in Central Texas, there’s a lot to stay for.

Still, I think we both started thinking about our next trip out there as we unloaded the car from this one. Far West Texas calls to both of us. As a friend, Joe Nick Patoski, said, “You either get this place or you don’t.” Bryan and I get it.

A Busy Summer Gets Busier

Eddie Izzard

Every year I look forward to summer like a castaway watches for a ship on the horizon. I fantasize about all the rest I’ll get and all the writing I’ll get done. Not happening.

Instead of lazy days in a hammock, my schedule shifts into overdrive. I have more to do than at any other time of the year, and this summer is no exception.

On June 27 we continued the Kilgore family tradition of going to see Eddie Izzard as a family whenever he makes it to Texas. A few years ago we took our grown children to Dallas to see his performance. This year we lucked out because he came to Austin on his Force Majeure Tour. I’d had tickets for Bryan and me and our son and daughter for about three months. Unfortunately, our son had to cancel, so I was able to introduce Eddie to a friend who had never seen him before. She was suitably impressed, and a new Izzardette was born.

We happen to think he is the best stand-up comedian on the planet. His humor is educated and smart, much of it based on ancient history. Eddie Izzard maintains the Roman Empire fell because Latin was a silly language. By the time they conveyed how many barbarians were upon them (MCMXXXIVCCCCCXXIV), they were overrun.

Sometimes he talks about Bible stories. Eddie provides crackerjack impressions of James Mason as the Voice of God and Sean Connery as Noah. This year he added Liam Neeson, as Zeus, to his repertoire. We also had the distinction of witnessing his first sneeze during a routine. He seemed surprised, but no one in the audience was. Welcome to Austin, Eddie.

The very next day, first thing in the morning, I got ready and headed for photo (13)the Hyatt on Ladybird Lake for the Writers League of Texas Agents Conference. I got to introduce and assist Karleen Koen, one of my favorite writers and speakers. This year’s conference was sold out for the first time ever! Jeff Collins, the keynote speaker, was funny and fascinating, and, as always, I met some really interesting people.

If you’re a writer and have wondered if it is worth attending, I can tell you it is. This is my fourth conference, and I’m always impressed by the level of talented speakers and professional organization that goes into it.

While I was at the conference, my husband Bryan filled in for me in Georgetown. The San Gabriel Writers League had a booth at Hilltop Market, and Bryan delivered the canopy and fixings to the writers manning it. I love the way he steps in when I’m overbooked, never complaining and always efficient.

The Georgetown Animal Shelter was in attendance, as well. Between workshops I got a text from Bryan asking how I would feel about another dog. We already have three, but he attached a picture and a sad story about no one wanting this one because she’s eleven years old. Her 86-year-old daddy went into a nursing home, and Lexi had been at the Georgetown shelter for four weeks. I think he was already on his way home with her when he got my text, “Sure, I’m always up for another dog!” The man knows me.

So now we have four small dogs. I comfort myself with the thought that ifLexi you add all their weights together, you get one border collie. Lexi is totally at home, and the other dogs can’t even find anything about her worth a growl.

I’ve got a full dance card, and the cotillion ain’t over yet. Next in line will be the Writers League of Texas Writers Retreat in Alpine in August. I can’t wait: a week in one of my favorite places concentrating on writing. The part of heaven where they stash the writers probably looks a lot like this retreat; at least I hope so.

I can only hope all of you are as busy and having as much fun as I am this summer. If not, watch Eddie Izzard on YouTube and adopt a dog. That’s a start.

 

 

 

Five Christmases, a Birthday, a Broken Finger, and a Virus

The title of this post is the answer to the questions:

1) How were your holidays?

2) Why haven’t you posted to your blog in such a long time?

We had five separate Christmas get-togethers. The evening after the first one, I fell in a parking lot and broke my pinky finger. Going with my upbringing (If there is no blood and no bones sticking out, you’re fine!) I continued the holidays wondering vaguely why my finger hurt so much.

The day after actual Christmas, I hosted a 65th birthday party/roast for a friend who has had a rough year. You can’t go wrong with 20 old friends and Threadgill’s comfort food. Then it was off to Longview for the last Christmas and to see our family there.

Every bit of all this was a blast. We had wonderful holidays and I wouldn’t have changed a thing. The first day back from the trip it was time, however, to get the finger checked out. Eight days after the fall I found out it had a hairline fracture. No wonder it hurt.

New Years came and went, and two days later I was wrestled to the ground by a virus. It had the earmarks of flu but no fever, so I just had to tough it out for two weeks with over the counter medicine. It ended the day the cedar pollen went through the roof, which landed me back in bed.

Okay, enough already. I am finally well and anxious to get back to my life. And back to my writing. My pinky finger can finally hit Enter without too much pain, and I’m ready to go forward.

One benefit of the illness, I was able to restart my diet. I had turned into an eating machine over the holidays, but that all changed with two weeks in bed. I’m pleased to report my stomach has adjusted to Small Bird Diet II, and I’m on my way to whipping my figure back into shape.

I’ve been fighting the battle of the bulge my whole life. I was a fat baby, child, and teenager. As an adult, my weight roller coastered so much, I collected enough different sizes of clothes to start my own thrift shop. But one of my New Year’s resolutions is to declare war on my body, get control of my weight this year and keep it under control. My other resolution is to cut back to three or four Christmases next year.

So if you haven’t seen or heard from me in a while, now you know why. But I’M BACK! Pull up your socks and tune in for adventures in 2014.

“President Kennedy has been shot…”

 

Fifty years ago today, I came home from ninth grade, and my mother intoned her usual, “What did you learn In school today?” For once my answer came easily.  I had to come up with  an answer to that question every day. Sometimes I couldn’t think of anything special I’d learned, so I’d make something up. It didn’t seem to matter to them.

“I saw President Kennedy today. His motorcade went right by our school on Broadway, and they had us all stand on the curb and wave. He looked orange.”

“Was Jackie with him,” she asked, mildly interested for once.

“Yes. She didn’t look orange. She looked normal.”

I never found out why the President of the United States looked orange that day, or if he always looked orange. Maybe it was make-up, maybe it was a bad artificial tan—they tended to turn you orange back then—but I remember that very clearly, my main impression of the two-second look I got of John Kennedy on his way to the Alamo to make a speech.

When my father came home later, he asked me the same question, “What did you learn in school today?”

“She saw Kennedy today,” my mother interrupted before I could get it out.

My father made a sound somewhere between a growl and a spit. He hated John Kennedy for his liberalism, his privileged background, and apparently most of all for his accent. Daddy thought  Kennedy had to be talking like that on purpose, putting on airs or something, because nobody talked like that naturally.

During the campaign three years before, my father pointed out to me a poem that appeared in the local newspaper:

Since Kennedy says “hawf,” then Johnson must agree,

That a Texas calf is now a “cawf,” as any fool can see.

So when  you go to the butcher’s, do not snicker and “lawf,”

Just go up and say, to be quite genteel,

“Please give me hawf a cawf.”

We all got a good “lawf” about that. My father’s politics, which were slightly to the right of Attila the Hun, meant he hated Kennedy as he had hated Franklin Roosevelt before him. Only 2/3 into his first term, Kennedy had had less time to incur his wrath, but he couldn’t stand him, end of conversation. I was still quite young, fourteen in 1963, and generally parroted my parents’ political opinions. It would be several years before I began to think for myself. From that time on, our conversations were limited to old times, and, like a Jane Austen novel, the weather and the condition of the roads.

The next day started off like any other, but after lunch our principal came on over the public address system. He announced that apparently someone had shot the president in Dallas. Using the cutting edge of 1963 technology, he held his transistor radio up to the microphone on his desk to let us hear the radio broadcasts and updates. It was no time at all before we knew for sure he was dead.

Even today I can’t describe what I felt. I wasn’t devastated like the kids who had actually liked him. I didn’t cry. But I definitely felt weird. It was the first time in my life when someone I had seen one day was dead the next. Things like that didn’t happen in my little world. Maybe during war or if you saw someone off on the Titanic, but people in my world didn’t just up and die. Not yet, anyway.

That night, as we watched the aftermath playing out on all three channels, my father expressed his sympathy. “Well, I hated the sonofabitch, but I didn’t necessarily  want him to die.” All things considered, it was a real gush of emotion.

Like everyone else my age, I can’t believe it’s been fifty years since the assassination. That is the watershed event for my generation. Everyone remembers where they were when they found out about it, as my parents’ generation remembered hearing about Pearl Harbor, and my children will remember finding out about 911.The girl who was barely a teenager in 1963 has five grandchildren now. I wonder what their watershed event will be, whether there will be a place deep inside them that is permanently chilled by it, and whether they will write about it fifty years later.

Guilty Pleasures

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I wish I loved opera. Or abstract art. Or The Catcher in the Rye. The truth of the matter is, I never hum “Don Giovanni” in the shower. I can’t look at abstract art without noting the folly of not wearing a seatbelt. And one paragraph into J. D. Salinger”s novel, I wanted to slap him and his whiney main character, Holden Caulfield. I am afraid my tastes are downright plebeian.

‘Fess up, now. We all have guilty pleasures, those little diversions we don’t mention to strangers. We enjoy them, despite the fact they are nerdy, uncool, and sometimes downright tacky. They almost never include any of the things we are supposed to enjoy. But since we’re all friends here, I’ll confess my top five.

When it comes to music, I don’t listen to much of anything recorded after 1975. As far as I’m concerned, disco heralded the end of civilization. I wrap myself in oldies and sing along to lyrics seared in my brain. There were a few dicey moments when Austin, a city stuck in the ’60s, decided it no longer needed an oldies radio station. Thanks to Sirius, I’m back on the road in my time machine, radio buttons programmed by decades, ending with the ’70s. And I’ll keep going to those tribute concerts, like Janis Joplin and the Fab Four. Heck! I may never have to catch up.

Although I have never paid to have my horoscope done, I admit I check out the forecasts for me and various friends and family members each morning. It’s not that I actually believe in it or depend on it. I just like to see what it says lies in store for the day. It’s completely coincidental that I pay especial attention to it when my life is in crisis, or I want to see if a friend’s new sugar is compatible or an axe murderer.

When it comes to literature, you’d think as a writer I would have more intellectual tastes. Of the authors I had to read in school, I liked only a handful. I loved Harper Lee, Dorothy Parker, and Oscar Wilde. Stream of consciousness, a la William Faulkner and James Joyce left me frustrated and angry. Mostly I read nonfiction: history, especially World War II, biography, and true crime.

There’s one exception, Jane Austen. I have her complete works on my Kindle, and whenever I’m waiting for something, or when I’ve had a whole day of dealing with the masses of asses that make up too much of today’s society, I retreat into Jane Austen’s world. It had its share of asses, too, but at least they were painstakingly civil.

As for reality television programming, the next time I swallow some deadly poison, I’ll just tune into Honey Boo Boo. Forget ipecac; that show makes me violently nauseous. There is, however, one reality show I like, and it’s definitely a guilty pleasure. I’ve gotten a little hooked on Duck Dynasty. At first I had my doubts, but I watched to humor Bryan, who seemed just about ready to dash off a fan letter. Once I got past the beards, I realized these are well-educated, articulate people who espouse values I can get behind. No women’s work/men’s work sexism here. Men’s work consists of duck hunting and anything else the women will let them do. The truths of life, even delivered with a southern accent, are still valuable and refreshing

And then there is food. Gourmet food is lost on my peasant’s palate. Three bites of thinly-sliced something, drizzled with squiggles of some sauce from a mustard squeeze bottle will never get me through the night or cheer me up, much less make me want to slap my mama.

There was a local company called Pie Fixes Everything. They made miniature pies that contained absolutely no guilt. Unfortunately they went out of business after eight years. If only I’d found them sooner! In their honor, however, I have adopted their company name as my personal credo. If I ever design a family crest, Pie Fixes Everything will be emblazoned on a field of rhubarb and meringue. I’ve been known to drown my sorrows in a Hostess Fruit Pie, so I can’t imagine a more appropriate family motto.

Okay, now it’s your turn. Guilty pleasures. Dish! I can’t wait to hear…

Happy Campers ‘R’ Us

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Camping 1 (2)I’m back. I’ve almost recovered from my semi-annual day surgery, and I’m ready to blog again. I won’t go into what was wrong, because I never get anything interesting or sexy. Trench foot would be a step up from most of the stuff I get fixed. Suffice it to say I’m almost well. And many thanks to my loving husband, Bryan, who gets to take care of me through all my woes, even when the yuck factor is pretty high.

We used to have a Buick like me. Seems like every other month something went wrong, not surprising since that car was the same age as my daughter. She was off at college when I finally waved goodbye to the Mom-mobile. At that point, the only thing original left on that car was the body (similar to me), since we had replaced virtually every replaceable part on it (also like me). So, if you must judge me by appearances, don’t compare me to Meryl Streep or Sally Field. Compare me to a grey 1984 Buick Le Sabre. (Actually, you can compare me to Vanessa Redgrave, if you like. I think I look better than she does, but only because pudge has smoothed out most of my wrinkles. There are disadvantages of staying rake-thin your whole life.)

Getting back to the subject, I want to comment on some of the fun things we did before being operated on sidelined me. In my last blog I mentioned the Writers League of Texas Writer’s Retreat in Alpine, TX. While I luxuriated in a Best Western, Bryan camped for a week at Davis Mountains State Park. He is the only person I know who could stay there a week without a car and love every minute. The man is a hiking and camping fool, so I never worry he’ll get bored. I only worry he’ll fall off a mountain.

We started camping about twenty years ago. I was in my forties before I camped for the first time, and I must say I’ve gotten good at it. The turning point came when I decided not to try to cook city food out in the middle of nowhere. We left the cooler at home, I invented ways of cooking really good food from dried or vacuum-packed ingredients, and we camped happily ever after. We got the camping process so stripped down, we stopped taking my aging Mom-mobile and went camping in Bryan’s Camaro. That was impressive.

I’m usually the resourceful one in the mix, but this last time Bryan’s right brain kicked in and he came up with some really good ideas. One of my brainstorms on my first foray into the wild was a campsite paper towel dispenser. About the third time the wind blew the roll off the table and into the dirt, my Rube Goldberg gene went to work on solving the problem. The result was a bungee run through the roll and hooked around an oak tree. Not only did the paper towels stay clean, but the taut resistance made select-a-sheet a breeze.

Strangely enough, the end of July is the rainy season in Alpine, rainstorms coming virtually every afternoon.  With me in Alpine and cell phone communications only possible if he climbed a mountain, necessity became the mother of invention, and Bryan was the proud father. I was so impressed by his invention. He attached the bungee to one of the camp chairs, and covered the roll of paper towels with a plastic bag. If it started to rain when he was in camp, he could simply move the chair into the tent. If he was away when the rains came, the plastic bag kept the towels from being ruined before he returned. Brilliant!

I want to say a word about our new tent. It’s hard to tell from the picture, but it’s 14’x14’, 196 square feet of spaciousness. Whereas we dubbed our previous smaller tents “Camp Kilgore,” we now luxuriate in “Kilgore Manor.” It features cross-ventilation, a vaulted ceiling, and even a vestibule. Okay, the vestibule is a bit of a stretch, but that’s what the manufacturer calls it. Now if we get shut in by bad weather, we have plenty of room to spread out, make a sitting area with the camp chairs, or practice cartwheels.

Since it was a new tent, Bryan and I assembled it in a backyard dry run beforehand. It is the easiest to assemble of all our tents, although the ceiling being out of the reach of either of us necessitated buying a fold-flat step stool. I slept in the tent two nights, one on each end of our week, and Bryan stayed there comfortably the rest of the time.

Alpine (the Davis Mountains in general) is the only place to be in Texas at the end of July. It’s always at least 10 degrees cooler than home during the day, and the nights are downright nippy. It always saddens me a bit to drive back into the inferno of the rest of Texas, although I’m usually ready to be home.

If you want to rough it, our way of camping isn’t yours. If you want luxury and air conditioning, our way isn’t for you, either. But if you want to try something in the middle, I’ll be happy to give you some pointers. We really are happy campers.