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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.

“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.

Six Birthdays and a Mental Meltdown

 

June birthdays 2

June birthdays 3 June birthdays 1  June Birthdays: Chris, Katie, Taylor, Ofelia, Derek, and Brandon!

 

My bad! I know it’s been a long time since I posted to my blog, but sometimes living my life gets in the way of writing about my life. With six family birthdays and Fathers’ Day in June, I am now officially OD ‘d on cake and small cups of ice cream. At any rate, I’m back!

I’ve been unusually busy lately, but not too busy to catch a few scraps of news or notice sea a change in the smaller world I inhabit simultaneously with the larger one. My little world takes in all of Northwest Austin, with frontiers extending to Leander, Georgetown, and Curra’s on Oltorf south of downtown Austin. Traveling outside this area requires the mental equivalent to a passport, a mindset I call, “Fixing to Travel.” That might mean New Braunfels, Longview, San Antonio, West Texas, or even, rarely, across the state line.

I like my familiar little world. There’s usually no need to fire up the Garmin to get where I need to go. As a matter of fact, most of my errands can be run on autopilot, or at least they could until recently.  I have entered the Season of the Loon. Lately it’s been the Mickey Mouse Club’s “Anything Can Happen Day” every day.

Apparently, while I was out buying birthday cards by the gross, a few traffic laws were changed. It seems it’s now legal to make left turns from the far right lane as long as there is a car length space available in front of me.  A related law allows people to exit highways and immediately cross all lanes of the access road. Any cars in the way must yield to the interloper. Also, I’ve noticed the “California Stop” has been legalized. That’s when you approach a stop sign, consider stopping, and continue on your way. Red lights were always considered more of a suggestion than a fiat, but now it is legal to run them if you are moving more than five mph over the speed limit.

Maybe I missed the passage of the new traffic laws, but I sat transfixed by the goings on at the Capitol. Wendy Davis–filibustering in pink running shoes–took me back to my youthful protests and demonstrations. The sea of orange shirts was a stirring sight. It was a joy to see people care about something enough to get out and make a scene about it. Maybe the apathy of the Me Generation is coming to an end–finally.

Now I have time to reconnect with friends on a deeper-than-Facebook level. July is here, and that means the writer’s retreat in Alpine, while Bryan gets his annual Jeremiah Johnson fix, camping at the state park. We’re both looking forward to our separate pursuits and getting together to talk about our adventures. Even after 35 years, we still can’t wait to talk at the end of the day.

I’m ready to get back to posting regularly, so thanks for your patience, and I’ll update my blog soon so stay tuned, and thanks for your patience.

 

 

 

The Loboto-mobile Rides Again – Dumbing Down Our Future

WARNING!! THE FOLLOWING IS A SERIOUS POLITICAL ESSAY. THOSE OF YOU WHO ARE EXPECTING MY USUAL, WHIMSICAL HUMOR SHOULD THINK TWICE BEFORE TACKLING THIS ONE. LEGISLATORS ARE STRONGLY CAUTIONED.

In 1936, Dr. Walter Freeman performed the first lobotomy in the United States. Over 3,000 procedures later, he performed his last lobotomy in 1967. For several years, he traveled from place to place in a van, which he called the “loboto-mobile,” bringing suborbital lobotomies to most of the U.S. He performed the procedure on such notables as actor Warner Baxter, Tennessee Williams’ sister, Rose, and John Kennedy’s sister, Rosemary. His stated goal was to relieve thousands from what he called “the burden of consciousness.”

The good doctor reached thousands; the lowering of the bar we have experienced in Texas over the past few years has effected millions. When school budgets are cut to the bone and beyond, when resident law enforcement officers are needed to provide a modicum of safety for students and teachers, and when the requirements to graduate from high school are gutted by the legislature, the future of all of us and our kids is moving from doubtful to hopeless.

Accountability testing requirements are reduced from fifteen to five: algebra, biology, U.S. history and tenth grade reading and writing. TENTH GRADE READING AND WRITING!! That means you only have to have the literacy level of a 15-year-old to get a high school diploma. They are increasing a de facto subclass, making even more employers demand a college degree for white collar jobs, because a high school diploma is meaningless. When an employer or employment agency has you take several tests–mostly in reading and writing–before letting you interview, will they really be impressed by your tenth grade level performance?

The effect of lowering the bar–yet again–for education in Texas is to lobotomize an entire generation. Students tend to live up or down to expectations of them. They will be vastly relieved to learn they can stop listening after tenth grade. If dumbing down our future isn’t enough of an incentive, how about the economic repercussions? Companies will stop moving to Texas, because their employees won’t want to move here because of the poor education offered. And forget hiring the locals. They won’t be able to fill out the application forms.

How can people vote into office candidates who are willing to relieve our children of the “burden of consciousness”? There is a reason every dictator’s first targets are the intelligentsia–the well-educated and potential leaders who don’t fall for their drivel. By allowing our legislature to dumb down the populace legally, we are saving them trouble of rounding us up and executing us. The people who want the right to bear automatic weapons are the same ones who want the right to dumb down our future. Think about it.