“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.

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.

 

Guilty Pleasures

janis joplinzodiakjane austen

duck dynastyapple pie

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

Camping 3-2Camping 2-2

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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.

A Childhood Memory

childhoodLast month I attended the Writers League of Texas annual writer’s retreat in
Alpine, Texas. This was the third year in a row I have participated, and it is
fast becoming a tradition both my husband and I look forward to.

I attended the memoir class taught by Donna Johnson and Christine Wicker. This
class dug up a lot of my past, some sweet, some not-so-much. If you want to get
in touch with yourself, try a memoir-writing clinic. Be prepared, though.
There’s no such thing as free therapy, as the old saying almost goes. Ours was
the only class that came with Kleenex.

I want to share a piece I wrote as one of the class writing exercises. It is one
of my fondest childhood memories, and I’m grateful for the chance to bring it
forward again.

***

My older brother dug holes in our backyard. They were large and deep enough to
sit in undetected by casual passersby. I loved those magnificent holes Tom
shared with me.

Mama allowed him to have only one hole going at a time, lest the backyard become
an unusable No Man’s Land. He always filled one hole in before starting another
one.

I watched for signs Tom was about to start another hole. I tagged along to watch
him choose a site. He was limited to a four-foot radius around the mulberry
tree. Grass wouldn’t grow there anyway, and Mama had given up trying. He walked
around and around, kicking a rock here, prodding a dirt clod there. Finally he
would sink his shovel into the ground, and I’d know he’d found his spot.

And Tom’s holes were always clean. I never got my play clothes dirty sitting in
them, and you could take books and magazines down there without fear of ruining
them. I would run my fingers across the hard-packed walls or floor without
soiling my hands. I always suspected Mama cleaned our holes when we weren’t
looking.

When the hole was finished, we observed a brief dedication ceremony, culminating
in both of us climbing in and sitting down. I was protected, circumscribed, and
unassailable, totally safe. Sitting in that hole with Tom felt like a hug.

Self-Help, “Soapbox” Style

I’ve never really believed in luck, good or bad. Not that I go out of my way to break mirrors or walk under ladders, but that’s as much from a fear of being cut or hit in the head with a paint can as any belief in bad luck. Perhaps being mostly Irish has made me skeptical about luck. The Luck of the Irish, after all, runs to potato famines and IRA bombings. But sometimes I encounter a string of mishaps that makes me wish there were ways to be a more proactive in making my own luck.

Bad things happen in threes, according to my mother. Any wimp can handle that. However, what do you do when they start coming in dozens? I’ve been through spells like that, and a good friend of mine is currently treading the cosmic minefield. Surely there is a way to redirect negative energy, refocus the karma, or alter the vibes, whatever it takes to end a streak of bad things piling up on one person.

As a modern woman, first I checked the Internet. FYI, you can find all sorts of videos on how to make good luck charms on you.tube, where you’ll also find ways to break curses imposed in this or past lives. As interesting as that sounds, there must be something you can do that won’t change the tenor of your mail from Cooking Light to Coven Digest.

Bad patches affect all cultures and ethnicities. Whether you consulted a curandero, a feng shui master, a chiropractor, or the latest self-help book doesn’t seem to make a lot of difference. About all you could do was wait until bad things stopped happening to you. At least that was the case until now.

Welcome to The Soapbox Self-Help Boot Up the Bum. Over the years, I have learned most problems can be written off, if not solved, by any one of a number of expressions common among the younger generation. Unfortunately, I can’t print any of these expressions in this venue, being a family blog and all.

So here are some cleaned-up versions you may find helpful.

  1. What the dickens?!?
  2. Darn that!
  3. Stuff happens!
  4. Dang that poo!
  5. I don’t give a flying squirrel!

Make a list of all the bad things you are dealing with right now. Select a woe. Choose an appropriate riposte from the above list, say it with attitude, and you will feel empowered and in control of your destiny. If you don’t, however, repeat the process until you do, or until you need a bathroom break. It may take a while for this to work, but it’s at least as fast as therapy and a whole lot cheaper. If those phrases don’t help, try Googling “British curse words.” They usually sound more silly than profane.

The point is, be proactive. Find something that works for you and will help you cope with whatever comes your way. The old chestnut about, “God helps those who helps themselves,” although nowhere in the Bible and usually attributed to Benjamin Franklin, is not only an affirmation of buffet dining but a self-help mantra. Give it a try!

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.

 

 

 

Sometimes Dreams Come True

Fab Four #2Last night I achieved a dream I’ve harbored for almost 50 years. I met the Beatles.

I remember so clearly February, 1964, when the Beatles appeared for the first time on the Ed Sullivan Show. The hype preceded them, giving birth to what would become Beatlemania. A month shy of my fifteenth birthday, I knelt on the cold terrazzo tile floor of our den, up close to the television. When the boys finally appeared, I screamed and pounded my hands on the floor, imitating the teenage girls I’d seen on the news. It was a turning point in my life and the beginning of my dream to see the Beatles in concert.

Not that I had a rat’s chance of that, even when they appeared in Dallas and Houston. My father, appalled by their hair, their clothes, and their Britishness in general, thought they had been sent by the Russians to destroy our country and poison our youth. Between him and my mother, who didn’t believe in going anywhere but Disneyland, I would never get to see the Beatles in concert, at least not until I grew up and was on my own.

Of course, by that time the Beatles had broken up and no longer were seen together anywhere. The decades passed and like most fans, somewhere in the depths of my heart, I clung to the hope they would reunite for one last hurrah. Then John Lennon was murdered, and George Harrison died of cancer. That put a damper on my hopes.

Fast forward to 2013. As Bryan and I watched a fundraiser forPBS , there they were–the Beatles–not as they would have been now, even if they were all still alive, but as they were in 1964. The four moptops in tight-fitting suits and Beatle boots, hair unbelievably long for the times, delivered their songs with youthful enthusiasm and cheekiness. After a break to campaign for donations, the boys were back, this time in the ridiculous, wonderful satin costumes of their Sgt. Pepper phase. One more costume change later, they appeared as I remembered them in their final days, John in a white suit with long hair framing his face, Paul well-coifed and heart-stoppingly handsome, George, my secret favorite, thin, dark, and brooding, and Ringo, who changed so little over the years, gazing out past his nose and drumming his little heart out.

It was the tribute band, The Fab Four. They looked like the Beatles, they sounded like them (passing muster by two fans who knew every note of every album), and they had the accents, body language, and gestures down cold. Bryan and I were entranced. Once we learned they were coming to Austin in May, it didn’t take a lot of arm-twisting from PBS to get us on the phone, pledging the amount required to get two free tickets to the performance. We donate every year anyway, and this premium was too intriguing to pass up. Then the host explained that, for an additional donation, we could get two tickets to the Meet and Greet, where we would meet and greet the band members before the show. How could we pass that up?

The day of the concert finally arrived. Aside from trying to figure out what I should wear to meet the Beatles, our plans went smoothly, we arrived at the Paramount and were herded into a corner to wait with the other Meet and Greet people. Watching the less favored come in and head for their seats, I was struck by the parade of former pretty, young girls and sweet, young boys, now shuffling by as senior citizens. A few young people came, and there were even a few children, brought by parents or grandparents wanting to pass the magic on to that generation.

Finally we were led backstage, where we gathered around the drum platform and neatly arranged instruments. Then the boys appeared and greeted each of us politely and warmly, shaking hands, joking, and giving every appearance of being thrilled to meet a group of slightly dazed AARPsters. Then they moved in front of the huge backdrop screen and dutifully posed with us, two at a time, as someone took a picture with our phone camera. It turned out dark, and soon George Harrison had our camera, trying to adjust it. I stood in a totally surreal situation, Bryan and I wedged between the four Beatles, looking straight off the album appropriately named “Meet the Beatles.” That we did!

As we moved quickly to our seats, I automatically threw a “thank you” over my shoulder. I chalked up  another surreal moment as a Liverpudlian accent called, “You’re welcome.” We had hardly sat down when the fun started. They encouraged the audience to scream (mostly at the end of a number so we actually got to hear the music), clap to the beat, dance in the aisles, and sing along anytime we felt like it. The people filling the theatre sang every word in unison, surprisingly on key. I thought of the throngs in Vatican Square, responding to a papal mass as one person.

We got our money’s worth and then some. The show, which started promptly at 8:00 p.m., ended at 10:30, by which time I was screamed out, boogied out, and worn out. I might not be fifteen  anymore, but I’d had the time of my life, and so had Bryan. We got to relive together the youth spent before we knew each other.

So hooray for dreams that finally come true, in a way and 50 years later. It wasn’t the real thing, but dreams aren’t about reality. It sounded like the Beatles, looked like them, felt like them, and I probably appreciated this “meeting” more than I would have when I was fifteen. It may be that dreams come true when they should. This one did.

Candlestick Maker, Indian Chief…Writer?

“Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Sailor, Rich Man, Poor Man, Beggar Man, Thief, Doctor, Lawyer, Indian Chief.” Everyone knows the nursery rhyme. Along with “Butcher, Baker, Candlestick Maker,” it was the only career counseling I received in my youth. And the fact I was female ruled out most of the above.

At one point it looked like I might turn out to be a thief, one of the few equal opportunity professions back then. At the age of six, I stole a roll of Five Flavored Lifesavers from the Handy Andy grocery store where we “traded.” When my mother discovered them in my sock drawer, she took me back to the store, asked for the manager, and had me confess my crime and beg him not to call the police and have me arrested. That experience pretty well cured me of a life of crime. As an adult, I once went back to HEB in a driving rain storm because the cashier had given me too much change.

My parents made it very clear there were only two occupations open to proper young ladies, my mother’s Number 2 goal for me and my sister. Number 1, of course, was getting married and having babies (in that order). On the off chance we had to work a few years until we could retire to housewifery and be “taken care of” the rest of our lives, we could consider only teaching and nursing. We weren’t choosing a career; we were just killing time while waiting to be taken care of.

It’s not that I was a feminist in those days. Being taken care of didn’t make me nauseous back then. I did wonder if women ever worked at jobs they enjoyed and weren’t ready to ditch at a moment’s notice. I had seen pictures of World War II’s Rosie the Riveter, dressed in pants (!) assembling aircraft and tanks to lick the Axis. I also knew those women left the factories in droves, supposedly happily, to return to the kitchen and nursery when Johnny came marching home.

My choices were further narrowed by my mother’s ban against being in the same room with naked people. Hospitals were full of the naked and near-naked, and were not the kind of places for me. That left teaching, and it was understood that if I wasn’t married within a week of my Senior Prom, I would go to college and double-major in teaching and virginity.

My point is, if I had told my parents I wanted to be a writer, they would have taken me to the family doctor for a penicillin shot. If I had persisted, they would have checked me into one of the places Mama went when she became “nervous.” They could have more readily pictured me as a candelabra-carving Native American.

I tried hard to fit in, to be what they wanted. I refused to become a teacher, mainly because they were so determined to make me one, but I did conform enough to get married, have a baby, and make a stab at caring about dirty yellow wax buildup and collecting recipes involving ground beef.

But writers have little choice in whether they write. Mostly, we have to do it, like fish gotta swim, birds gotta fly. I finally succumbed in my 40s. Both my parents had passed, blissfully unaware of my latest trip down the road to Perdition. I started writing for real in 1997, and I’ve been feeding my writing jones ever since.

Making enough money as a writer to call it a career happens to only a very gifted few. The rest of us have day jobs, night jobs, or sugar-daddies/mamas. And still we soldier on, filling up pages of paper or cyberspace  with words that  will hardly live forever. Mine have the life expectancy of a May fly, not a Hemingway. Not that it will stop me. And I’m grateful I don’t have to convince people to lay out good money to read my words. Getting them to read them for free is hard enough .

Like Popeye, “I yam what I yam.” I’ll continue to write as long as I can stick two thoughts together with super glue. When I can’t write anymore, it will be time to move to a nursing home, and I hope you’ll come visit me. You’ll recognize me. I’ll be the old lady wearing a Cheyenne war bonnet.

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.