Thursday, 24 April 2014

Piano (and Other Life) Lessons

By Carl Hansen

I began taking piano lessons while I was in grade school under the tutelage of our church organist, Mr. George Lind.

I am not sure how many budding pianists in Denver were included in his roster of students but I do know that whatever income he received from the church was augmented by private lessons and by serving as the organist for a large Denver mortuary.

My lessons took place in our home on an old upright piano that stood in the living room. Mr. Lind did not own an automobile. He came to our house in east Denver by street car in the early years of my instruction and later by bus when street cars were phased out.

Weekly lesson times varied for they had to be scheduled on days and times when he was not scheduled to play for a funeral service.

Mr. Lind was a serious, stern man who always dressed in a gray suit and tie. He rarely smiled and to be honest, I found him rather intimidating for he expected a level of excellence from me that I was not sure I could ever achieve.

Only on rare occasions was he complimentary about my skill as a pianist but apparently I made enough progress that he continued to give me lessons well into my high school years.

The lessons, by the way, not only had to do with music but, as I was to learn, about life as well.

When I entered junior high, I became the pianist for the Smiley Junior High Jazz Band and a few years later for the East High Jazz Band. On weekends, I also played piano in a small dance band organized by a group of fellow students from East.

Our “gigs” consisted, for the most part, of church-sponsored dances with the size of our ensemble determined by the amount of money available to meet our huge fee of $10 per person.

Since I was still taking private lessons from Mr. Lind, I decided not tell him about these extra-curricular musical activities for I assumed this would not sit well with him. His focus, from my point of view, was on “serious music.” I assumed that what I was playing in these groups could not possibly be anything he expected from one of his students.

But one day he found me out and that was when I learned an important life lesson about what happens when we make unfounded assumptions about someone else.

In the midst of one of my lessons, he suddenly put his hands on top of mine, forcing me to stop whatever it was that I was playing. “Something is different,” he said with great seriousness. “Are you practicing more?”

The answer to that question, unfortunately, had to be an honest “no.” In truth, I never practiced as often as Mr. Lind wanted; just enough to get by.

With reluctance, I confessed what I thought would a great sin in his eyes: I was playing in a school jazz band as well as a weekend dance band.

To my surprise, this did not elicit a response of disapproval but a very rare smile from this normally stiff, formal man.

And with the smile, these words of commendation: “Keep it up. For the first time since I began giving you lessons you are playing music and not just notes. And what’s more, playing it with a sense of rhythm I’ve never heard from you before.”

So much for my assumption about reaping his disapproval.

And looking back, I now realize I made a second false assumption about Mr. Lind. I assumed he did not believe I had much promise as a musician. Two things lead me now to reassess that, for I now believe he was mentoring me in his own quiet way.

For example, during the last few years I took piano lessons from him, he frequently provided piano transcriptions from his own private collection for me to play. Although he did not say so, I now realize he was in the early stages of moving toward retirement, so the music turned out to be not a “loan” but mine to keep.

And most impressive of all, was his invitation for me to begin organ lessons with him using the pipe organ he played on Sundays for our congregation.

Unfortunately, the lessons were short-lived, for just days after my second lesson, I suffered a serious injury to my left wrist. The wrist was so severely broken that surgery was required leading to two separate times of having my left arm and wrist encased in a heavy cast for a number of weeks.

By the time the wrist was healed and I was able to regain full use of my left hand, Mr. Lind’s declining health had forced him into retirement. That brought an end to any further lessons.

Although I continued to play the piano - in a jazz group during my college years as well as for my own enjoyment until a few years ago - I regret that I never did learn to play the organ.


[INVITATION: All elders, 50 and older, are welcome to submit stories for this blog. They can be fiction, non-fiction, poetry, memoir, etc. Please read instructions for submitting.]

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Wednesday, 23 April 2014

Blog Blackout

Since Thursday 17 April, Time Goes By and The Elder Storytelling Place have been offline. For the first day or two, the outages were intermittent and the two blogs were sometimes available. By Saturday or Sunday, nothing appeared when anyone visited the blogs except a notice of “unknown domain.”

This is due to a criminal and malicious DDoS (distributed denial of service) attack on Typepad, the blog host I use. All Typepad blogs have been affected.

It is odd for a blog hosting business to be targeted for such a vicious take-down. Usually they are aimed at banks, credit card companies, other kinds of large businesses and they are common in online gaming.

Beyond that, if you are interested in technical details, you're on your own. I'm not going to do the work necessary to explain it.

When this happened, I was already on a personal hiatus from blogging, posting only small items to have a page each day on which to link to new stories at The Elder Storytelling Place. So before we get back to business as usual here, let's play catchup.

This page and the links below are being posted at both Time Goes By and The Elder Storytelling Place so you can easily choose what you want to read from the blackout period. If some seem familiar, that's because the first two or three days of the attack resulted in only intermittent outages so some of you may have been able to read some of these.

Thank you for all your messages of concern via email while the two sites were down. I was able to respond to some of you but when the volume moved into dozens and then hundreds, I had to give up.

TIME GOES BY
Mental Health Day No. 5

Mental Health Day No. 4 – Gabriel Garcia Marquez

Elder Music - Triskaidekaphilia

Interesting Stuff – 19 April 2014

Mental Health Day No. 3 - Hand Wave

THE ELDER STORYTELLING PLACE
Riding the Rails to Mexico by Marcy Belson

Vladberry Pie by Steve Kemp

Water Witching Science and Voodoo in Bib Overalls by Dan Gogerty

Oh, No! Not Grandmom by Nancy Leitz

How to Make Your Own Luck by Clifford Rothband

Posted by Ronni Bennett at 05:30 AM | Comments (1) | Permalink | Email this post

Riding the Rails to Mexico

By Marcy Belson

Our plan was to ride the train from Mexicali to Guaymas, Mexico over the Memorial Day weekend. Three days to get there and back. Everyone worked in our group of four couples so it would be a short stay of two nights at the hotel on the water.

The train was called "El Rapido" and we had first class tickets. It was sometime in the late 1960s, women still wore dresses for travel and men wore jackets for dinner in the hotel dining room.

It was advertised as a six hour trip. We boarded the car in Mexicali before noon. Hot weather in the desert by Memorial Day, probably close to 100 degrees. The car was clean and modern, air conditioned and sealed windows.

Do you see where this is headed? Well, we didn't. But about two hours out of the station, our train ground to a halt in the middle of nowhere - desert and cactus as far as you could see.

The electricity flicked and was gone. Now we were sitting in a sealed car, no air, no way to open a window. It took only a few minutes before the entire car of first class passengers was making a run for the second class car directly behind us.

The car was dirty, chickens in cages and children crying, music from a guitar and only a few empty seats. The windows were up, the Mexican passengers were laughing and talking and in the back of the car. A woman was cooking tortillas on a small butane burner stove. The smell was heavenly. But it was hot.

By that time, we could see the train porters and other employees standing outside talking and pointing to a man who was shimming up a telephone pole. He cut the wires and used Morse code to reach out for help.

It was a long couple of hours before another train engine arrived from Mexicali and pushed us to Guaymas. By the time we arrived, it was late afternoon and cooler next to the Sea of Cortez.

Taxis were hired and we were on the way to the hotel built by the Americans as a designation hotel for the train riders in the 1930s. Playa de Cortez. It was a lovely hotel with a big swimming pool and miles of beautiful beach.

The next day, we went into town by taxi and did the usual touristy things, buying souvenirs, enjoying Mexican food and beer at noon. Then back to the hotel and an afternoon by the pool. We were living the good life.

That night, the hotel fed our group in the open patio area at a long table with Mexican music played by the mariachi band. Maria Elena became my favorite song after that evening.

The following day, day three, it was time to return home. One couple made a fast trip back to town and filled their Styrofoam cooler with fresh shrimp and ice, a nice treat to take home.

The train was late, no big surprise. The day was still young but late enough for our group to wander into a small Mexican bar located next to the railroad tracks. The local men in that bar were shocked to see us. They probably didn't get too many customers, women in mini skirts and men in shorts and sunglasses.

We finally reached our northbound train by climbing through another train car that was blocking our way Only in Mexico would eight people with luggage climb through one train car, drop to the ground and then climb into the second train.

By the time we were underway, I was ill. Very ill. Montezuma's revenge is one way of putting it. I figured my big error was using the bathroom faucet water to wash my mouth after brushing my teeth.

We arrived back at the Mexicali depot worn out, me still sick and started down the platform next to the train. At that moment, the couple with the shrimp in ice had a disaster. The cooler broke open, the ice and shrimp went everywhere.

Our group bent down, trying to retrieve the shrimp. The effort was abandoned when we realized we had nothing to put the shrimp in and no ice. We were still an hour from home and the summer temperature was high.

My so-called friends referred to anyone with diarrhea as having "The Marcys" for years thereafter. I didn't gain any weight on that trip.


[INVITATION: All elders, 50 and older, are welcome to submit stories for this blog. They can be fiction, non-fiction, poetry, memoir, etc. Please read instructions for submitting.]

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Tuesday, 22 April 2014

Vladberry Pie

By Steve Kemp

Sebastopol, Crimea April, 2014
Right after Russia occupied Crimea this year, the news sources reported that the President and Vladimir Putin had spoken by phone for at least an hour.

Not having heard of such a precedent begs the question, what did they talk about for a whole hour? Here is a purported transcript.

Putin: Hello, Barry.

Obama: Hey, Vlad.

Vlad: So why you calling?

Barry: The dogs are at my heels, Vlad. I needed someone to talk to.

Vlad: I know. People are mad at me too. What are we going to do?

Barry: No matter what we do, they'll be taking pot-shots at us.

Vlad: Hey, I have great idea. How about we be mad at each other.

Barry: Aren't we already? Heh-heh.

Vlad: Yeah, we sure are! HAH!

Barry: Hmmm. We can make a big show of it and invite the press.

Vlad: Okay, so this call is act one. We publicize the hell out of it.

Barry: Yeah, but nothing about what we “discussed.”

Vlad: Let drama build.

Barry: Yeah.

Vlad: So, about Crimea. You know Sebastopol is our only warm water port. We will never give it up. Too strategic.

Barry: We know, we know. But let's try to do it peacefully.

Vlad: Yeah, that's important. And cheaper.

Barry: Besides, you just built that Sochi winter spa.

Vlad: Da. I didn't build it for peanuts, you know, so when Ukraine kicked out my guy and rattled their swords, I had to protect my investment. And borrowed much to do it. Bankers are robbing me, too.

Barry: Yeah, they're all like that, believe me.

Vlad: And Ukraine was going to buy oil from me, too, but not now. So I'm getting pretty strapped.

Barry: Damn, I'm looking forward to Sochi. Oh yeah, the wife sends her regards. She told me to be sure to invite all of you to come stay with us in Hawaii when this blows over.

Vlad: Yeah, I was wondering when you'd get around to that since I invited you to come ski in Sochi, heh, heh.

Barry: Yeah, hah. Hey, so how about this: I get IMF to loan Ukraine a shit-load of money so they can pay it back to you for oil? I'll throw in a billion just to get them moving and keep your money flowing.

Vlad: What do I give you?

Barry: Cover.

Vlad: Cover?

Barry: From my enemies here in the U.S. such as John Boehner, you see? Ban him from visiting Russia, makes good news.

Vlad: Hmmm. Not bad. And you would attack my bankers?

Barry: Da!

Vlad: But not too hard.

Barry: No, just enough to be believable.

Vlad: Good thing I don't report to MY bankers, heh!

Barry: Very funny. I think maybe sanctions would shake them up.

Vlad: Sanctions? Aren't those a good thing?

Barry: They are also a bad thing.

Vlad: Ah. Perfect word for diplomats.

Barry: Yes, that's why they are the only ones who use it.

Vlad: Great word, very clever. Who came up with that?

Barry: The Brits.

Vlad: Of course! They are silly but very clever, da?

Barry: You should hear them on the phone. They go nuts.

Vlad: Yes, that we have noticed.

Barry: Of course. Much more interesting than the Germans. Oh, and I have been enjoying your theater.

Vlad: Hmmm?

Barry: Come on! Your whole army is in costume, no stripes, no big hats or flashy buttons.

Vlad: You noticed? Hahaha.

Barry: Heh, heh. And only one fatality.

Vlad: Yeah, sorry for that - jealous husband.

Barry: It can happen. And your massing troops along the border is a good touch.

Vlad: Yeah they were starting to get bored and sloppy, you understand.

Barry: Sounds like my navy.

Vlad: These guys miss war, you know. Can't blame them.

Barry: Nope, it's a way of life.

Vlad: Okay then. So we're on?

Barry: Yup. but YOU have to call ME next time, okay?

Vlad: Okay, until then we can both work on our images.

Barry: How about two weeks from now?

Vlad: Think you could make NATO blow some smoke at us? My guys would enjoy that.

Barry: Sure. I'll throw in the U.N. too. That always looks good. So are we cool, man?

Vlad: Da, I think so.

Barry: Okay, we chat in two weeks.

Vlad: Da! Do svidanya, homie.

Barry: Aloha, bra!


[INVITATION: All elders, 50 and older, are welcome to submit stories for this blog. They can be fiction, non-fiction, poetry, memoir, etc. Please read instructions for submitting.]

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Monday, 21 April 2014

Water Witching, Science and Voodoo in Bib Overalls

By Dan Gogerty who blogs at Cast

Water witching, motherearthnews

So - water witching (dowsing) is in the news and my knee-jerk reaction was to notice that the buzz is centered in California, a land known for fads and fringe. Or maybe the drought has them desperate.

But then I read that wine company executives and respected farmers are hiring witchers (diviners) and some are paying $500 a session.

I’d want the witcher to find a reservoir of Guinness Stout for that price but I understand what the Big Dry has been doing to the Golden State. The lack of water is no joke - but does that mean we need to grab our divining rods?

And just when I’m getting smug about “voodoo followers,” I’m reminded that a fair few in my home area of central Iowa have the water divining faith.

“They might be using copper or wooden divining rods nowadays,” Dad tells me, “but I’ve seen locals use willow branches or even wire coat hangers. Many rural folks think of it as a proven practice.”

Most scientists scoff at the method - they’re just lucky, they say, or they often witch where water is bound to be present. Dad has no time for palm readers or Ouija boards, but he’s not quick to discount water divining.

“Experts in the old days held a forked willow branch in both hands and the single part of the stick would turn as they crossed over water. One old timer told me the force of the pull could be enough to rip the bark off the branch.”

A family friend from days past apparently had the knack. Wearing bib overalls and clenching a short cigar in his teeth, Milo could find tile lines, water pipes or promising locations for farm wells. He’d concentrate on the task like a man on a mission. “Well now,” he’d mutter, “let’s see. It’s leading me this way.”

Years ago, Dad and some of the other editors at John Deere’s Furrow Magazine had Milo do a test run. They knew of a buried water tank in a field and Milo “witched” his way until he found it. Not necessarily hard scientific proof but it gets you wondering.

When it comes to modern-day water witching, I suppose digital imaging and water sniffing drones will win out. But for my money, I’d take guys like Milo. The drones might find water but at the end of the day, they couldn’t tell a good story or share a cold beer with you.


[INVITATION: All elders, 50 and older, are welcome to submit stories for this blog. They can be fiction, non-fiction, poetry, memoir, etc. Please read instructions for submitting.]

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Friday, 18 April 2014

Oh, No! Not Grandmom

By Nancy Leitz

One thing that struck terror in the hearts of my young teenage children was hearing that Grandmom was on her way. Not that they didn't love Grandmom. They did. Very much. BUT, she was the World's Greatest Housekeeper and the only thing she did better than clean her house was criticize me for not doing as splendid a job as she did.

So, that meant that when Grandmom was coming we had to spend days straightening up, putting all toys, games and sporting equipment away and trying to find the can of Pledge we hadn't seen since her last visit and, finally, locating and running the vacuum cleaner.

One day the phone rang with the dreaded call. Aunt Tilly had died in Brooklyn and Roy and I were selected to drive Grandmom to the funeral. Uncle Ernie would bring her to our house and then we would take over and drive her to New York for the burial ceremonies.

The call came on Wednesday and the funeral was on Friday so we had two days to prepare the house for a white glove inspection. How would we ever do it?

Everybody went into a sort of blue funk as we considered our plight. One by one the kids came around to the realization that there was nothing to do but pitch in and get the place ready.

So they roused themselves from their lounging positions on the sofa and started looking around wondering where to begin this impossible task of having the house look as nice as Grandmom's house did.

The front door of our house leads directly into our family room, then on to our laundry room and powder room. If we didn't allow Grandmom into the family room and ushered her right up the steps to the living room we figured we were spared having to prepare those rooms for inspection and, best of all, we would put all the stuff we didn't know what to do with into the laundry room.

So, that was the master plan.The laundry room was our warehouse for all the things that really never had a "Place.”

Steve started with his Automobile Mountain Climbing Game. He picked up all the pieces and I helped him set them next to the washer. Carol had her ice skates and a dozen library books (Carol always had a load of books out of the library) and Chris helped her stack them next to the dryer and out of the way so he could put his chemistry vials and instruments next to them.

Jerry had a basketball and a real NFL Duke football he wanted to safeguard so they went IN the dryer. It took a couple of hours and every time somebody, including Dad, had an item they didn't know what to do with we all just shouted, "LAUNDRY ROOM.”

Pretty soon you couldn't walk in there but the living room, dining room and kitchen were free of toys and things and we were looking at the rug for the first time in awhile.

We found the vacuum cleaner and the kids did a good job of running it in the rooms that we were going to allow Grandmom to see. Pretty soon the upstairs rooms looked very nice and we were all congratulating each other on doing such nice work.

Now we just had to make sure it stayed that way for one more day.

The kids hardly breathed all day Thursday and never sat on any of the furniture because we had the sofa pillows all plumped up and the kitchen looked like a model home with flowers on the counter and two wine glasses next to the bowl of lemons that added a wonderful fragrance to our immaculate home.

Friday morning everyone is on edge. They are to be here at 10AM and by now we can't wait for it to be over. We were all in the kitchen making sure that everything was in place when we heard something like a typhoon blowing and without any warning the front door was thrown open and Grandmom came rushing in.

She did not hesitate for one second in her stampede to the powder room. She blew through the family room and went into the laundry room without missing a beat and then we heard the powder room door slam.

A collective groan went up from all if us . We knew it was all over and we were doomed to our fate. In a few minutes Grandmom came running out of the powder room, looked around at all the stuff piled in every nook and cranny of the laundry room.

She never went up the steps to see how beautiful the rest of the house looked. She shouted to Roy and me that she did not want to be late for Aunt Tilly's funeral and she would wait for us outside by the car.

As she was leaving through the front door, she took the time to turn in our direction and shout in her thick German accent, "You people keep a schloppy house."


[INVITATION: All elders, 50 and older, are welcome to submit stories for this blog. They can be fiction, non-fiction, poetry, memoir, etc. Please read instructions for submitting.]

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Thursday, 17 April 2014

How to Make Your Own Luck

By Clifford Rothband

As bizarre as it might seem when we reach retirement, at least myself, I found out that I have run out of things to do that I thought pleasurable when I was younger.

As an example, here I am in a dentist office or getting ready for a prostate exam and the attendant says, "Think of something that you enjoy, like the beach, dancing or music or playing a game. You know, get your head in a better place.”

Hey, really. I am anxious just thinking about what will come tomorrow. I am not afraid of dying. But I do fear pain.

Well, I did everything possible to prepare for this final epic or era of my lifetime and you know what? Guilt by never fulfilling my dreams stands out. Nothing worked out as I might have planned it would.

Sure I have my health, whatever that is (I am alive and breathing). Happiness, a feeling of accomplishment and usefulness are only misleading or deceptive.

I have a family, a loving playful wife, kids and grandchildren. I have had my injuries, I had a education, served our country and tried to make a better life. I've got thank you letters and plaques. We have coached kids. I've been arrested, charges always dropped.

I never smoked, or drank, not even a beer. I never did any drugs that were not prescribed or over-the-counter. I eat right and try to exercise. I seldom if ever gamble. I never really partied, played golf or tennis.

I always worked hard to support a family. I never cheated anyone, although I have been accused. That's life.

Now the point of this writing exercise is to use my brain. Let's assume our creator gave us a special gift at an advanced age. We enjoy certain freedoms in the USA, the most important are the freedom of thought, and free speech comes in close second.

When I was younger, I dreamt of travel although I never really had the time or the funds. Our short overseas excursions usually ended up sick on a ship food poisoned, third world facilities or trying to decipher a foreign dialect.

So, before our time is up, we decided now to see the USA. Not just set out for a destination but let's aim somewhere and get lost getting there. Remember Dinah Shore, "See the USA in your Chevrolet.”

Whatever vehicle rents the most economical and is comfortable, unlimited mileage and easy exchange. This maybe the nearest to a miracle in today's world. An engine light or bad tire can cost gazillions on the road. Triple A and their books are helpful. Cell phones are a necessity. Pamphlets, maps and GPS are useful.

But getting lost is the most fun. Thank goodness for the Walmarts where one can always pick up a new anything, or take a break 24/7.

The hamburger and sub shops also have an appeal, the exception being seafood on the gulf coast in Texas where BBQ reigns supreme, or the northeast where Johnnycakes and syrup or lobster are king.

You can visit friends and there are always motel rooms. We used the discount coupon books offered on the interstates. Among the lessons learned, stay away from the "numbered" named motels or those who say that they are the best.

A lot of people dream of visiting sporting events or parks. We look for history. We remember having such a bad time in the military Vietnam era and consider that "million dollar experience not worth $2."

Before my time is up I wanted to see as many points of interest - forts, war ships, military installations and museums and veterans facilities as possible. I had read and heard that the military has been reformed. Yes it has.

Great pleasure was had visiting active military and veteran facilities. Start a conversation during a meal, later on mail a hat or small gift with a location logo and you share a dream with someone else.

We all have stories but many seem to remember only the hard times. Even so, as the philosopher Fredric Nietzche wrote, "What doesn't kill us only makes us stronger.”

Or my grandfather's Depression era favorite saying, "Boy, you gots to be hard in this world."

Now I can write about the places we visited but those are stories on there own merit. People are more important.I have learned that making a smile maybe the most important common human trait.

As an example, a motel lobby clerk in Panama City who helped with our laptop: In conversation she said that 10 years ago after finishing school, she took this dead end boring job and offered to drive and pay her way just to travel. She made us all smile.

To end with some humor, picture this: My wife is taking photos of me in Virginia Beach> They have this enormous bronze globe with King Neptune along with life-size sharks, dolphins and creatures of the deep.

So everyone on the boardwalk is wearing bathing suits and I am posing and this attractive 30-something, redhead in a thin black dress strides up to me. "Hey Pop,” she says, “are you a tourist? Do you have some money? Let's have a good time."

Now my wife can hear it all and is laughing but not helping me from a near distance. My first thought is this is a police set up or what do I want with another woman?

Or the sexy young woman on Pensacola beach who approached me and said that she has six kids at home, no job or money, her husband is in jail and she would do anything for money.

“Yea, please go away,” was my response.

We met so many different people - many happy, some lonely, some empty, some less fortunate and most just plain working folk. Listened to so many nice stories, Saw so many faces and folk as unusual as the places we visited.

Life can be full of surprises. Sometimes one has to make your own luck.


[INVITATION: All elders, 50 and older, are welcome to submit stories for this blog. They can be fiction, non-fiction, poetry, memoir, etc. Please read instructions for submitting.]

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Wednesday, 16 April 2014

Another Way

By Maureen Browning

It was very cold in North Dakota in late October of 1956, the day my aunt Angie died. My uncle Harold was at work and my cousin Frankie was at school. Angie, who was in her early forties and home alone, suffered a severe asthma attack and within minutes. Died on the living room floor.

The saddest part, other than her death itself, was that when she collapsed, she fell face down over the open grated furnace vent. I was told that when she was found, her face was badly burned from the heat coming up through the grate from the coal burning furnace in the basement.

Angie was my dad's sister. Her funeral was scheduled for a few days later and burial would be in the spring after the ground thawed.

I was almost 15 then, about to attend a funeral for the very first time in my life. In the hour ride from our home to the church, I had a lot of time to think but I had no idea what to expect.

I had never seen the body of a dead person. I knew that Angie would be prepared with make-up and dressed in her finest clothing before she was placed in her casket.

When we arrived for Angie's funeral and entered the church, I immediately noticed her open casket at the front near the altar. I distinctly remember how much I dreaded the idea of seeing Angie that day, especially since I knew her face had been so badly burned. I wanted to remember her as she was the last time I had seen her.

Angie was a remarkably good-natured person with an especially bubbly personality. She and my uncle must have loved each other a lot because I can remember them holding hands almost every time they sat beside each other.

Angie and I shared our maiden name of McGuire and we also shared the asthmatic condition. Knowing how she died, I could not stop thinking about how she must have struggled for air and how frightening it must have been.

As we made our way to the front of the church, I anxiously whispered to my mother my sudden feeling of not wanting to walk by Angie's casket. She told me that I had to follow her but that I didn't have to look at Angie.

As we approached the casket, I made a split second decision to look at her anyway. Her eyes were closed and other than that, I could barely see any details of her face because a very light pink gauze fabric had been placed over the open area of her casket. Heavy makeup and the pink fabric had been used to disguise her badly burned face.

I felt a wave of relief after moving past her but was consumed with a deep sense of sadness for my uncle and cousin who would miss her terribly.

On the ride home, I wondered about Angie's burial in the spring. I knew that I didn't want to go. A few days later, I talked to my mother about it. She told me the decision whether to go or stay home would be up to me.

I stayed home that spring day but by late that afternoon, I realized that I might as well have gone along with my parents because my vivid imagination of Angie's casket being lowered into the ground had played over and over in my mind all day.

By evening I knew that after my death, I did not want by body to be placed in a casket, viewed by family and then buried underground. Even though I was not aware of exactly why I felt so strongly about this at that particular time and had no idea of how and where I wanted my body to end up after my death, I just knew there had to be another way.

By 2010, I had found another way. In July of that year, I made legal arrangements to donate my body to a University Medical School for anatomical use, to be followed by cremation.

Upon my death, it will be my gift to science and to the education of the doctors of tomorrow.


[INVITATION: All elders, 50 and older, are welcome to submit stories for this blog. They can be fiction, non-fiction, poetry, memoir, etc. Please read instructions for submitting.]

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Tuesday, 15 April 2014

No Blue Hair, Please

By Janet Thompson

After my second divorce, as a newbie I brazenly answered an irresistible ad in a weekly, alternative Denver newspaper noted for its unusually clever singles ads.

John’s was so imaginative I was immediately hooked. He described himself as a distinguished, mature man, a writer who liked movies and intelligent conversation.

His surprising criteria for a prospective lady friend were a mature woman who enjoyed the same, had no entanglements and he specified, “no blue hair, please” (the hook for me). He requested a handwritten response.

My handwritten response on high-rag-count, discreetly proper, buff notepaper stated, “I, too, enjoy movies; delight in intelligent conversation and my previous entanglements are now disentangled.”

Specifying the “hook,” I also declared, “Miss Clairol and I are dear friends.”

Phoning, he invited me for conversation, wine and cheese. (In the late 80s in Denver, it was unlikely to meet undesirables through a singles ad).

John appeared comfortably relaxed, of average height and indeed was distinguished-looking. I observed a shock of snow-white hair, a silk cravat at the throat of an open-collar, preppy-patterned shirt under an academic style blazer above khaki trousers and boat shoes.

With his white mustache, deep vertical forehead wrinkles and lively blue eyes under bushy eyebrows, I saw a combination of Hollywood bon vivant and eastern, financially secure, leisure-loving academic. He was at least 15 to 20 years older than I, maybe the age of my parents. I would describe John as the most “worldly-wise" person I've ever known.

We visited senior matinees and art house movies twice a week. At either home, we enjoyed wine, cheese, avocados and conversation. He loved avocados, a certain brand of jug wine, water crackers and triple crème brie.

John said I should first critique the movies we had seen. I would and only after I did, would he tell me his impressions. It was daunting for me to disclose mine. (My reviews were usually lame). I now watch movies more knowledgeably than before meeting him.

I finally learned from John the correct use of “lie” and “lay.” His being a writer, it vexed him sorely when I would misuse them. Every time I want to use either word, I stop and think first, reminded of John in the doing.

Many times after our sojourns, he wrote and mailed me a little note. One I saved described me as having been “a remarkable companion, intellectual foil, conversational nourishment provider and hand holder in the dark recesses of Denver’s cinema slums.”

John told many engrossing tales about his Hollywood screen-writing life between the 30s to 50s. He authored during the McCarthy hearings but disclosed little about that sorry period. He wrote poems, stories and plays all his life. I was captivated by some he shared.

A native easterner, he subscribed to the New Yorker magazine so I gleefully thumbed through the most interesting articles and fun cartoons.

We watched TV in horror as the Tiananmen Square massacre unfolded live. We discussed movies as varied as Sex, Lies and Videotape, White Men Can't Jump, Pretty Woman and When Harry Met Sally. He knew Nora Ephron well and the movie became a constant theme between us: whether men and women could be "just friends" or would eventually have to become lovers.

I felt tongue-tied at comments like, “until they have been lovers, a man and a woman are strangers.” This, and then he would expand on it by penning a note to me. Some of his greetings were: “Dear Person.” If he sent the note the next day after we saw each other, it might be “P.S.” A paragraph might end with, “Seque to - ” followed by “But will we?” Or it might be prefaced with “(Stage direction: He takes a deep breath – Then -)”

Having just disentangled myself from the entanglement I had assured him of, I wanted to be just friends but glanularly, he needed a lover.

John continued putting ads in the singles columns. One reply finally produced a JoAnn and he started seeing her. In writing, I became “The Other Woman” or “Dearest Other.”

January, 2003, in answer to my Christmas card, JoAnn sent me a note with no return address saying John had died around Thanksgiving. I never knew her last name so I couldn't share my innocent memories with her, making me feel empty.

* * *

He always made this college drop-out feel his intellectual equal.

In heaven, is he still collecting singles ad replies? If not suitable compositionally, do they still go into his round file?


[INVITATION: All elders, 50 and older, are welcome to submit stories for this blog. They can be fiction, non-fiction, poetry, memoir, etc. Please read instructions for submitting.]

Posted by Ronni Bennett at 05:30 AM | Comments (8) | Permalink | Email this post

Monday, 14 April 2014

The Panhandler

By Norm Jenson of Mostly Anecdotal

Our dog’s a panhandler. I didn’t realize it for a while, but then one day it was clear.

She occupies the prime real estate in front of my chair. She gazes straight into my eyes trying to make eye contact. Her eyes are sorrowful. I'm not sure how she accomplishes it, but she does.

She tilts her head to the side. I can see the sign, "Hungry, Little Ones at Home, Please Help, God Bless.” She should remember that I know she's been spayed. Perhaps she's forgotten.

She leaves for a spell but then returns with a determined look and a new sign. "Will Work for Food," it reads. And then as if to prove the point she trots over to the back door showing her willingness to do something in return.

Probably she thinks doing her business outside counts as work. I can see her point. She goes out and down the stairs — sometimes she pretends to get business done but it's a ruse — not this time though, this time she does her job and I reward her with a treat.

She's back again with the "Will Work for Food" sign but I'm not buying it so she changes signs to "Single Mom, Help Me Feed The Little Ones," and then does the head tilt bit.

I toughen up and ignore her but then she starts whining and snorting and then whining again. I lose my place in the book I'm reading and I’ve had it. "Out of here," I say, but she screws her little rear into the floor, and growls. I need a new plan.

I get a treat and throw it into the hallway, she bounds out of the room but before I can get up and shut the door she’s back with the treat in her mouth. She has this half-open mouth grin she does sometimes, she's doing it now, bits of dog treat drop to the floor.

I try again. I get another treat and throw it into the hall; I'm on my feet now and confident I'll get to the door before she does. But she's pretending she's not hungry.

She stares at me. She lies down and pretends to sleep so I sit down and start to read. I look over at her, there she is lying on her side like a giant pork sausage.

I'm back to my book. Detective Wallander is working on a case that's taken him to Latvia. He’s just discovered a bug hidden in the clock in his room, it's then I notice the dog has done it again.

While I was sleuthing with Kurt she was stealing the bait I left in the hall and was back again with her half-smile.

I don't have an answer. I'm certainly no match for this devious pooch. We should have trained her better. We should have stuck to our guns and not let her outwait us. We shouldn't have fallen for her well thought out plans and now we'll just have to live with it.


[INVITATION: All elders, 50 and older, are welcome to submit stories for this blog. They can be fiction, non-fiction, poetry, memoir, etc. Please read instructions for submitting.]

Posted by Ronni Bennett at 05:30 AM | Comments (6) | Permalink | Email this post