Friday, 19 December 2014

Pajama Day

By Fritzy Dean

I thought maybe I was lost. I had left my house headed for the elementary school where I volunteer but I noticed people, adults and children, who seemed to be out in their Pjs.

Had I driven to Walmart by mistake? No, I recognized the receptionist behind the desk at the check-in office. But why is she wearing her pajamas?

As I went down the walk to room 21, I saw more of them. What's up? Did they all have a sleepover and not invite me?

As I got to the door, one of my little ones said, "Hi, Ms. Fritzy, it's Pajama Day!"

Pajama Day? What will they think of next?

As I sat down and glanced around, it seemed to be more like an Action-Hero-Day for the boys. I think I recognized Spider Man and maybe a ninja but most of them were too new fangled for this old lady.

The little girls were in various pastel shades and maybe some of them were Frozen characters. How would I know? I wouldn’t recognize the girl from Frozen if she came and sat on my lap.

I did see one little girl in a long flannel nightgown who looked as if she'd stepped out of Little House on the Prairie. Now, that I recognized.

I was thinking how happy I was that I had NOT been invited. I would have shown up in my stretched out sweat pants and ratty old teeshirt - both too tattered to be seen in public but soft and comfy for sleeping.

The children did seem different - more playful, more animated as if changing from their school clothes had changed them from their schoolroom personas.

Just before I left, one little boy invited me to feel inside the pocket of his new fleece robe. "Just see how soft it feels, Ms.Fritzy!" For a few moments my old wrinkled hand and his small young one were nestled inside that fleece pocket together.

"Oh, Steven, it's lovely. So soft and so warm and so cuddly. Thank you, sweetie!”

I bet he still thinks I was talking about the fleece. I was not. I was referring to his perfect little hand.

Children are such awesome little beings. They are.

[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, 18 December 2014

The Synapse Murders

By Arlene Corwin of Arlene Corwin Poetry

A dear, dear friend
Has gone quite mad –
Waking nights with no idea
As to location:
How she got there,
And certainly
Not why.
She looks all right.
She sounds all right
Until the middle of the night
When lapse of synapse murders reason.
It is tragedy
If you see tragedy
As human failing
From a human flaw
Combined with circumstance
Beyond control.
It is so sad
It’s almost funny.
Forced to treat her crazinesses
Hoping that you never get 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.]

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Wednesday, 17 December 2014

Memories of a German Childhood

By Henry Lowenstern

Some people have vivid - and detailed - memories of childhood. Mine are only a few. One of them is my childhood ambition of wanting to be the driver of the funeral hearse.

Funeral processions passed our house regularly in my small German hometown, Korbach in Waldeck, and I always ran to the street or to a window for a closer look.

At the head of the procession was the fancy black hearse bearing the black-draped coffin drawn by two black horses. Then followed the procession of mourners, in black, walking silently behind. Sitting high atop the hearse was the carriage driver, also dressed in black, wearing a glorious black top hat and wielding a long whip over the horses.

Usually, no one at my house knew who was being buried. If I were the driver, I reasoned, I would be able to wear a glorious black top hat, wield the whip and I would know who was being buried.

My next memory is less innocent. It involves a different kind of a procession along our street. At the far end of our town was a training camp for Nazi SS recruits. SS stands for Schutzstaffel, literally “protective staff.” It was the most brutal of the Nazi storm trooper organizations.

When the column of recruits came to our street, on which were a number of Jewish-owned stores and homes, the goose-stepping recruits sang at the top of their voices: Wenn das Judenblut vom Messer spritzt, dann gets nochmal so gut. (When Jewish blood spurts from the knife, things will be a lot better.)

Needless to say, I did not run to the street or to a window for a better look.

When the Nazis came to power in early 1933, my parents and many others in our town thought they could wait them out. Governments in the Weimar Republic had come and gone in quick succession and many people were confident that “This too shall pass.” So, when the harassment and boycott of Jewish-owned businesses began, my father and others Stammburger (solid citizens, as they believed themselves to be) thought they could outlast or even fight the harassment.

My father’s clothing. yard goods and bedding business was regularly targeted for broken display windows and sidewalks white-washed with the slogan, Juden sind Volksverater (Jews are traitors).

After a few of these incidents my father, who was pretty handy with poster materials, went to our synagogue and copied the legend on a bronze commemorative plaque that had been presented to the Jewish congregation by the German government.

The plaque listed the ten members of the congregation – my father’s brother among them – who had been killed in World War I while serving in the German army. Below the names was the promise: Des Volkes Dank ist Euch Gewiss (You can be certain of your fatherland’s gratitude).

I remember that my father placed his poster behind the broken glass in one of his display windows. It made him feel better, but it was soon removed by the Nazis.

Perhaps it is just as well that I don’t have many more childhood memories.

[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, 16 December 2014

500 Words

By Trudi Kappel

My grandparents, Alexander and Sonia, had an unconventional marriage. They spent many years living apart in different cities, different countries and even on different continents.

In 1923, Alexander was living the life of a bon vivant in New York City. He had emigrated from Russia the previous year and had become the toast of New York City’s Jewish theater world. He wrote theater reviews and articles for the Jewish newspapers and he was always ready for a party.

Sonia was living in a village on the Trans-Siberian railroad in Siberia with their 15-year-old son Max, not in a gulag. She liked her job working in a hospital. After the Bolsheviks had arrived a few years before, her working conditions and salary had improved. Her sister lived with her to look after Max.

Unlike today’s continuously connected world, Sonia and Alexander communicated by hand-written letters. These letters traveled between Siberia and New York by ship and rail. A response could take more than six weeks. There was no Skype, no texting and not even a telephone.

Alexander urged Sonia to emigrate for a better life and the resumption of a normal marriage. She resisted, she liked her job and Max was doing well in school.

Then one day a letter arrived that instantly changed her mind. Alexander reminded her that Max was approaching draft age. If he was inducted into the Russian army, it was unlikely they would see him again.

Sonia immediately quit her job, sold what she could not carry and purchased train and ship tickets for the long journey to the United States.

The journey took many weeks. When she arrived in New York, she knew that she could never return to Russia.

Once settled in New York, Sonia went about re-qualifying as a doctor and establishing a practice. Fifteen-year-old Max was initially enrolled in the third grade so that he could learn English. He progressed quickly to high school and then to engineering college.

With the family reunited and settled, the next important task was to become naturalized American citizens. The first requirement was a residency of five years. Next each applicant had to take the feared citizenship exam.

Sonia knew she could not fail this test. She prepared carefully. On the day of the exam, she learned that one part was writing a 500 word essay in English on an assigned topic. She asked the person supervising the exam if the instruction meant approximately 500 words or exactly 500 words.

His response was: “Read the instructions!” Since this was the most important exam of her life, she couldn’t take a chance. She wrote, she counted, she erased, she revised, she counted again and again until hours later she turned in her essay of exactly 500 words.

A few months later, the family celebrated as she took the oath of citizenship and became an American.

This story has more detail than is truly necessary. That is because it is exactly 500 words long.

[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, 15 December 2014

After the Fall

By Marc Leavitt of Marc Leavitt's Blog

Six years ago, I rushed into the bedroom to change my clothes, caught my foot on the rug, fell and broke my neck.

A trip to the clinic confirmed my worst fears. Three weeks later I had neck surgery. Several weeks later, when I returned home to my second-floor garden apartment, I had a cane, a walker and a wheelchair. Physical therapy followed.

I turned 70 that summer but had no plans to retire. I naively thought the operation would leave me as good as new. Despite the accident, I was going back to work. In the meantime, I took stock of my condition.

The surgery left me with brass screws in my neck and an inability to turn my head. My sense of balance was severely compromised and I suffered from constant, low-level lower back pain preventing me from standing without a cane for more than a few minutes.

Most normal activities were history: bicycling, hiking, walking on the beach; travel, without serious planning for the problems of the handicapped (I now had handicapped plates on my car).

Nevertheless, armed with a letter of permission from my doctor, I went back to work 11 months after I broke my neck.

I tried to anticipate every contingency. On the morning of my first day, I slung the strap of my briefcase over my neck (to keep it from slipping off my shoulder), locked the door, cane in hand, turned carefully and walked down the stairs one at a time, clutching the banister firmly, using the cane with my right hand.

At the bottom, I opened the outer door, and walked down four stairs to the sidewalk. Switching the cane to my left hand, I slowly shambled 150 feet to the car.

Using my right hand, I clutched the telephone pole for support, turned sideways and stepped off the curb. Opening the car door, left hand on the roof, I swung onto the seat, lay the cane on the floor, buckled up and drove to work.

At the office, I parked in the handicapped spot nearest the door, slowly walked into the building, took the elevator, ambled to my cubicle, sat down and exhaled a sigh of relief.

One beautiful, almost-summer lunch-time in June, I was sitting outside chatting with two colleagues. One of them said he just put in his retirement papers. The other laughed and said that he’d done the same.

I congratulated them and they went back inside. I thought, why keep inconveniencing myself with a difficult routine?

I checked the time; one o’clock. Human Resources would be back at work. I walked inside and filed my papers.

It was time for a new adventure.

[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, 12 December 2014

The Gravity of Gardens

By Elaine Frankonis who blogs at Kalilily Time

They gave me a garden the size of a grave,
so I filled it with raucous reminders of sense:
riots of marigold, lavender, sage
rosemary, basil, dianthus, rue.
And waving madly above them all
spears of brazen Jerusalem artichoke,
that perplexing garden gypsy
that blossoms and burrows,
grows up to nine feet tall, and
in the harsh summer storm
dances her defiance
to the grim arrogance
of gravity.

[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, 11 December 2014

My Reply to Fritzy's Brunch

By Joyce Benedict

(In reply to this story)

Oh my, how I related to your account as a single senior living alone. I have often stated to others why I love birthdays and Christmas. Cards come, the phone rings. I’ll declare after I hang up or a card arrives, “Whee! I’m not invisible!”]

A good 20 plus years ago I was in our local community theater’s production of Our Town. I have forgotten names but there is a scene in it where a young daughter confronts her mother doing dishes I think. “Mother!” she asserts loudly. “Look at me! Do you ever SEE me!” Look at me!” And her lament went on.]

I remember at that time I felt her plea and in my heart I could have said the same to both mother and stepmother.]

It is true as we age. Older people are terribly neglected. All summer I contacted about 6 libraries to give talks on about 5 subjects I have studied much in my life and am a good speaker/teacher. Not one offer. I was to charge nothing.]

So much wisdom, stories, experiences to share but who listens anymore? Most older, senior gals I know are alone too, hurting, lonely. I call, patiently listen, but my sharing is not listened to, I can tell. I understand though. I constantly remind them of actress Betty Davis’s sage comment as she matured, “Aging ain’t for sissies!”]

As babies came in life, there was the joy of their faces lighting up when I awakened them in the morning, picked them up at school and I loved it. My two marriages succumbed and it was still a blessing and joy the children were under my thumb. Very difficult times followed but we knew how to have a good time.]

They left the nest, I took jobs and a great love came into my life. A man who “saw” me, listened to me, actually had tears in his eyes when I cried. We shared togetherness on every level: communication, emotions, projects, physically.]

He would declare, “Tilsy (my name he called me), we’re like two peas in a pod.” Never had I experienced such a sense of oneness with someone, especially a man. We seemed to know each other’s every thought. Both of us gentle, kind, caring people.]

Sadly, he had a serious drinking problem and I had to let him go. What sorrow. I had had a NDE and knew it had to be. The stress and emotional toll beyond belief.]

The years filed by. I never felt that “seeing one another,” that connection on a soul level again.]

One day I had errands to do. My thought was, another day of being invisible. Passing hundreds weekly and yet no one seeing one another. The day unfolded in a most unusual way.]

At a cafeteria a young girl came up to me commenting on a flower in my hair. Shortly afterwards, a woman asked to join me and we had conversation on our lost relationships. Later, on an elevator, a woman commented on a star pin I had on my sweater.]

“Why, thank you!” I mumbled. Goodness, the day has brought surprises! They didn’t end.]

When I was shopping at a market later, a woman I had not seen in quite awhile appeared with three people I knew not! I was introduced. One of the women remarked, “Why I know that name, don’t you teach Adult Ed classes at the community college?”]

By now, my mind was alight with bells and whistles. Later that evening, I attended an open air concert and a fellow I used to work with at an historic site approached me, he a photographer. “Joyce, I was told you did the photograph of Eleanor Roosevelt’s Cottage that is in the gift shop. Is that correct?”]

By now I’m almost speechless, “Why yes, I did the piece.”]

“It’s a great photo,” he replied. I was absolutely tickled pink!]

Following the concert heading to my car, I heard a former co-worker call out, “Hey Joyce, good seeing you!”]

“Hey! You too!,” I answered back.]

I couldn’t help but reflect that somebody up there heard my lament that morning and decided that I forget the business about being invisible.]

[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, 10 December 2014

Flirting With M.C. Escher

By Janet Thompson

“I haven't seen you in a long skirt for years,” I said.

Yesterday my oldest daughter came for lunch. Sharon’s an artist whose body of work style is reminiscent of a combination of Peter Max and Salvador Dali. Since junior high she has dressed almost hippie-fashion. Color is her comfortable custom. Pink, hot pink, magenta and purple are her favorites.

For a long while she wore rose-colored glasses and cartoon-character earrings. (Formerly a cake decorator, kids loved to watch what she created and see what she wore in her ears).

Also a jewelry-maker, she wears glitzy necklaces. Multicolored tennies and strange socks are indispensable for her. At 61, she often wears pigtails.

Her multi pleated skirt was topped with a three-quarter-sleeved top of a color my mother always described as “shit-muckeldy-dung.” Black stockings and brown flats were on her feet. She wore no necklaces or earrings.

At my surprise, she stated, “This is one of my Jehovah’s outfits. I found two of them at the Goodwill.”

Several years ago, the Witnesses persuaded her to study the Bible with them. Two of them came to her house every Tuesday. Finally, she admitted she was seriously considering joining them.

We talked about how she is a devoted gift-giver, a year-round shopper who always surprises everyone with the perfect present. She loves holidays when her baking, decorating and wrapping talents shine. I told her, “Sharon, whatever decision you make, it’s okay with me. I just want you to be fulfilled.”

A week before my birthday, she had shown up with three garments still in the sack bearing the department store logo. One top was my favorite lime green, one blue with sequins in a fireworks pattern and another, a bright red shrug. She explained, “Jehovahs can give gifts, Mom, just not on holidays or birthdays.”

She had only gone to one of their meetings earlier. After joining and going again, she reported, “Mom, I'm not going to stay with the Jehovahs.” When I asked why, she replied, “I went there and everything revolved around the men; the women had nothing to do and they just sat there, quiet.”

When she called to tell them she had changed her mind, she was relieved to get the answering machine - the chicken’s way out. She’s happy to have had such faithful Bible study partners but they’re not visiting on Tuesdays any more.

Free-spirited Sharon is a bit too colorful for that group. I guess the old apple don't fall too far from the tree. My mother used to complain, when for business I wore much black with beige, saying, “Janet why do you wear such dull rags; you look so much better in color?”

I realized Mother was right when I saw Sharon in her drab outfit.

[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, 09 December 2014

Reading, Writing and Redundancy

By Bettijane Eisenpreis

Remember the three R’s – readin', (w)ritin’ and (a)rithmetic? They used to be the basics of a good education. I wonder what they teach today, the three C’s – coding, calculating and computing? It’s a brave new world and I have no place in it.

My business card defines my expertise as writing, editing and public relations. I always said that writing was what I loved to do, editing was something I liked okay and it helped to pay the bills, and public relations was what I would do only to prevent starvation.

After I turned 65 and retired from a regular office job, I continued to write and edit mainly because I enjoyed it.

For quite a while, there was enough work out there to keep me just as busy as I wanted to be. A group of small magazines for medical professionals (nurses, nurse-practitioners, X-ray technicians, physical therapists, etc.—everything but doctors) assigned me profiles of people who had interesting careers within the various specialties.

There was a pharmacist who worked in a prison, an occupational therapist who retrained people in California who had lost their drivers’ licenses because of disability or age, and – my favorite – the pharmacist who volunteered at the World Trade Center site immediately following 9/11 procuring medical supplies for the first responders.

I wrote two books for teenage girls, one on breast cancer and one on scoliosis. None of this made me rich but it kept me busy and happy.

After the years of (extremely modestly) paying jobs, there were the years of interesting volunteer work. I discovered that I was an excellent proofreader. I was old enough to have gone to school at a time when spelling and grammar were actual subjects in the curriculum.

I can still hear Miss Ryan say, “I before e, except after c, and when sounded like “a” in neighbor and weigh.” Or Miss Rowe tell me that “Ram forward and ram backward with a “g” in front spelled “grammar.”

So even though I had trouble with the Adobe format, editors put up with me and even welcomed my contribution. One told me that I usually found the glaring error that other proofreaders didn’t see.

Now, however, I have reached a new stage where I can’t even give away my expertise. I should have seen it coming. I was still employed when the writing appeared on the wall.

The organization I worked for was doing a short film about couples living with AIDS and the husband in one such couple said that the disease caused problems “between my wife and I.” I gasped quite audibly at hearing “I” used instead of “me.”

The entire group turned on me. “Bettijane, in a life or death situation like this, who pays attention to grammar?”

The answer of course was “I (do),” but I didn’t dare say it.

I knew the end was in sight but fortunately it has been a long time coming. I had been happily proofing for the magazine of a professional association to which I belong when the (also volunteer) editor told me she had been politely let go and her loyal cadre of proofers with her.

The magazine has been available both in print and online for years but it will be only online from now on. And I guess the new online editor doesn’t think he or she needs to communicate in full English sentences. Do I sound bitter? You are darn right I do!

Generation gaps have existed since Cain told Adam he had killed his brother and what did the old man want to do about it?! But parents and children have usually communicated in some version of the same language, no matter how contentiously.

Now we are apparently being divided by the new language of emails and texting. The shorter and more cryptic, the better, and grammar – what’s that?

I knew at some point I would be redundant. I just never thought I would be unintelligible.

[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, 08 December 2014

Thanks for the Memories

By Dani Ferguson Phillips of The Cataract Club

As a kid I was always trying to find my special gift - you know, what they call talent?

My mother was a singer with a beautiful soprano voice. She sang all her life in operas, the church and anywhere she was asked to perform. My father was a gifted, and I mean gifted, storyteller, writer and actor. He performed in college and kept his hand in acting all his life.

Like many little girls I wanted to be just like my mother. So, the first attempt at finding my own talent was dancing lessons

My mother enrolled me in Mr. Michael’s Dancing School when I was five years old. He started all of us out with tap dancing. Now, I didn’t have much trouble with hop, shuffle, step, slap step. I got that move down rather quickly but it was everything that came after that that had me stumped.

When the row of girls would tap their way to the left, I was always going to the right. I just didn’t have any sense of where I was in time and space. Fortunately for me, five year olds are pretty much cute no matter how non-rhythmic they may be

At my first recital we were to dance The Naughty Girl Polka. In this number, we were supposed to come out on stage and sing a song about a naughty little girl. We all lined up with one hand on our hips and our free hand shaking an accusing finger at our audience.

Well, I handled that with no problem. I shook my fanny and wagged my finger and when I was done I just walked off leaving a gaping hole in the chorus line. I completely forgot to do the dance! I think it was obvious to both my mother and Mr. Michaels that I was no Ginger Rogers in the making.

So onward I forged in my quest to find “my talent.” It took about six months of begging and promising to practice every day to convince my mother to enroll me in piano lessons.

After what seemed like an eternity of begging, I was enrolled with Mrs. Glasscock, the piano teacher. By now I was at the ripe old age of seven. I won’t bore anyone by retelling my brush with the keyboard as that story has already been told here and titled The Recital.

My next stop on the road to fame and fortune was my attempt at singing. By now I was in junior high and had been in the girl’s chorus for about a year when I broached my mother on the idea of singing lessons. Always willing to assist me in my quest to find “my talent,” she agreed and into my life walked Mrs. Mayfield.

She was a young pretty blonde who had been first runner up in the Miss Oklahoma contest. I met with her every week and while I sang the scale she would push on my diaphragm in an attempt to get something louder than a whisper out of me.

Her other efforts were concentrated on trying to remove the nasal quality from my voice as well as all signs of my Oklahoma twang. I did manage to lose most of my accent but I never could tell when I was singing out my nose.

The first time I sang in public, I was also wearing my first pair of high heels. I wobbled on two skinny legs out on the stage where I proceeded to sing a little show medley from South Pacific.

I remember looking out at the audience and locking eyes with my mother. There she sat with a frozen smile on her face trying to calm my nerves with a mother’s look. It didn’t work. I couldn’t get any sound to come out of my mouth. Just as I began to sing about my attempt to Wash That Man Right out of My Hair, my knees knocked and my ankles folded right out from under me.

Down I went along with my dignity and any chance I may have had of becoming the next Debbie Reynolds.

So, though I am still in search of my special gifts, I am forever grateful that I had patient, supportive parents who allowed me to explore so many venues in spite of the risk to the family name and reputation.

Thanks Mom, thanks Dad, thanks for the memories!

[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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