WIFE FOR SALE OR RENT—$10.50


Just as marriage customs change through the years, so too do customs of getting rid of an unwanted wife. A La Mesa, California man advertised his ex-wife at a garage sale, though there was no information as to whether the sale was consummated.

Wife-sale dates back to 1073, and in England for nearly a thousand years, a man could slip a halter around his wife’s neck, lead her to the cattle market and sell her to the highest bidder. She was sometimes happy to get out of the marriage, so in that case went willingly. A drunken husband sells his wife in the opening chapter of Thomas Hardy’s “The Mayor of Castorbridge”. No doubt that she was glad to get out of that arrangement. Amazingly this informal route to divorce lasted until 1887, according to “The Family Sex and Marriage”, by Lawrence Stone and Samuel Menefee in “Wives For Sale”.

In the Old Testament, the law allowed for divorce because of infertility and other vague reasons, but wives could not divorce a disreputable or impotent husband for any reason. If he finds something obnoxious about her, he simply writes her a note of divorcement, hands it to her and throws her out of his house. He’d better be sure that this is what he wants, because he can’t have her back again.

Henry VIII proved that a wife who failed to provide him with a male heir simply lost her head. With that pronouncement in her future, bedtime became a dodgey occasion.

Interestingly, some Native American wives had similar rights of divorcement. If a wife decided she wanted to be rid of her lazy husband, she simply put his boots outside her door, and he was gone. Often his only other possession was his saddle, which he probably kept to ride away.

The Bible leaving nothing to chance, provides soldiers taking enemy women to wife a lesson on managing them. You don’t just throw her to the ground and have your way with her immediately. No, you bring her into your home and clean her up first. She must trim her hair and nails, and get rid of her captive’s garb. ‘She shall lament her father and mother,’ and I’m sure, clean and cook. After a month, you may possess her and call her your wife.

The lesson includes instruction on how to get rid of her, too. ‘Then, should you no longer want her, you must release her outright. You must not sell her for money; since you had your will of her, you must not enslave her.’

I write all this in warning. This is a real drop in the bucket for what life may have in store for you.

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HOPE OF SURVIVAL


clouds

“I remained in Buchenwald until April 11. I shall not describe my life during that period. It no longer mattered. Since my father’s death, nothing mattered to me anymore.

I was transferred to the children’s block, where there were six hundred of us.

The Front was coming closer.

I spent my days in total idleness. With only one desire: to eat.

I no longer thought of my father, or my mother.

from time to time, I would dream. But only about soup, an extra ration of soup.”

From “NIGHT” by Elie Wiesel

PERSPECTIVE


weak moon

Sweet, sorrowful moon
You have no reason to weep.
And yet in your pale grief
You are the most becoming.

Your moonbeams fall delicately onto the foreheads,
Lips and cheeks of evening wanderers,
So lightly that they do not feel their touch
But merely their presence.
They invade the breasts of young lovers huddled
In the dark corners of the emptying streets.

May lay day after day in the sun.
Basking unashamedly in her brassy, showy attractiveness.
Me, I appreciate the unusual, the understated,
I love your mild illumination.

Poem by KATE NICKERSON

A WOMAN I NEVER MET


“Believe in laughter”, she always said. Another of her favorite sayings was ” Life is too short”. Hers wasn’t, she passed on at age 94.

Like a lot of people, I read the obituary column, if only to make sure my name is not on it. Occasionally, more now than before, I read the name of a dear friend or acquaintance, and wish I had been a better friend. They sound like such interesting people, and did so much I never knew about.

Natalie Schreiber Marino sounds like someone I would have loved to know. Daughter of two cultures, her beauty was astonishing. A pioneer from before birth, she was conceived in the Peruvian Andes, the home of her father, the son of a three-time prime minister, yet born in Alameda, which was the home of her mother. Wanting to give birth in the U.S., her mother rode down the Andes on horseback while pregnant, which Natalie said contributed to her own quirky personality.

Her many smiles and laughs were as numerous as the pins she wore uniquely, on the back of her right shoulder. “You meet the nicest people that way!” What a clever way to strike up a conversation! I used to write funny or inspirational words on autumn leaves and toss them along the creek path where we walked daily. My son in law thought that was a crazy idea, but I always felt someone would get a lift by picking up a pretty leaf on the road and having it say something. I gave that up when we stopped walking on the creek trail. Now I pick up feathers.

Getting back to Natalie, She got jobs at the Peruvian consulate (I always wanted to do that), and later the pavilion at the 1939 world’s fair in San Francisco. That would have been fun too, except I was too young and living in Connecticut at the time. Dr. Advice and his sister rode the train across the bay numerous times to visit the fair. I even found a photo of him with a young girl friend and another teenage couple taken at the fair. I was happy to make a copy of it to give to one of the girls a few years ago.

Anyway, Natalie got engaged, and went back to Peru where she spied a very handsome man in the box seats who, as it turned out, was also engaged. Undaunted, she and Guillermo Marino started dating and and, despite a scandal on two continents, began their 60 year marriage. So much for people who say “It will never last”. They said that about ours too, and we celebrated our 68th anniversary last week.

Peruvian wives do not work, but Natalie presented herself at the U.S. Embassy as a translator, and began spying on the correspondence of Peruvians of German and Japanese ancestry. Not being able to translate anything except Latin to English, I would not have been good at that job either.

Natalie and Guillermo came back to California and went to Hollywood to coordinate war bond broadcasts to Latin America. Natalie began frequenting the Warner Bros. lot and was spotted by studio executives who thought she’d make a great Latin leading lady. Given a screen test alongside Sidney Greenstreet and Eve Arden, she was unable to “laugh with her eyes”, and didn’t get the job. Later Guillermo won the Mexican lottery and they built their dream home in Piedmont.

In still-scarred post-war Japan, Natalie once drove a coal-fueled jalopy through Tokyo to pick Guillermo up at the airport. They traveled abroad throughout their lives, once sharing a floor with the Aga Khan in Pakistan, even being set adrift for three days in the Caribbean after their cruise ship caught afire on its maiden voyage. They won the on board version of “The Newlywed Game” by answering the question “What did you wear on your wedding night?” Natalie answered “A smile”! Now I ask you—doesn’t she sound like someone you might like to have known?

AUDREY THE IMPECCABLE


audrey hepburn

One by one, the whole family disappeared leaving me alone with my pineapple and the remote control. My youngest daughter asked “Who comes to Maui to watch TV?” Not too surprising from Dr. Advice, but I expected better from her.

We may not have had any popcorn, which you are supposed to have in order to enjoy a movie, but there was plenty of fresh pineapple, and a papaya still left on the kitchen counter after dinner, and the prospect of Audrey Hepburn on the TV screen. Though we usually trundle off to bed by 9 p.m., Audrey would not appear until 10, and I didn’t intend to miss “Charade” starring her and Cary Grant, who you may remember was no slouch in the looks department.

They ran some preliminary shots of Audrey’s previous movies, and my oldest daughter joined me, she is very well-versed in movie trivia, from living in Southern California where it all happens. Those not in the know, say “It’s all so L.A.”! When the “Breakfast At Tiffany’s” short shot came on, she said she heard that Truman Capote really intended the novel of the same name to be about the life of a wild, beautiful young man in New York in the ’40s and ’50s. Because of the anti-homosexual bias of the times, though, he had to create a woman as the main character. I know that Capote wanted Marilyn Monroe to play Holly Golightly. Do you think some authors write a book with certain people in mind in case it gets picked up as a movie?

In the old Hollywood days, everyone smoked and drank martini’s, and the only one who never got into trouble for being drunk was William Powell as “The Thin Man”. The cops who pulled him over on the bridge (I forget which bridge) simply wished him a good day and sent him on his way still holding his martini. The gorgeous girls of Hollywood, sported fabulous clothes, had hair which never looked like they just got out of bed, gazed soulfully at their leading man, were never pictured in the kitchen fixing dinner, or scrubbing their bathrooms. Why wouldn’t we all want to be them? New York was impossibly glamorous and chic–and so was Audrey Hepburn, effortlessly stylish, charming and graceful. Just as she was in her private life.

-Charade-(DVD)-Comedy-(1963)-Run-Time 113-Minutes-~-Starring -Cary-Grant,-Audrey-Hepburn,-Walter-Matthau,-James-Coburn,-George-Kennedy-~-Directed-by -Stanley-Donen

By the time the feature movie started, both daughters and a ten year old great-granddaughter were curled up on the couches with me, ready to watch Cary, for perhaps the second or even third time, rescue Audrey from George Kennedy, the bad guy. Dr. Advice was snoring away in the other room.

HOW OLD IS OLD?


Navajo Grandmother “NAVAJO GRANDMOTHER” original watercolor painting by kayti sweetland rasmussen

I was raised to believe that asking another person’s age was as bad as asking how much money they had in the bank. Kids did it. Polite grownups did not. It was one’s personal business, not to be shared. I don’t know what they believed anyone was going to do with this information if we somehow let it slip.

Some years ago I began practicing Tai Chi each morning at the crack of dawn in the park. My face was the only non-Asian, and was clearly the oldest face in the group, although there were plenty with more wrinkles.

From day one, as each came to meet me, their opening question was “How old are you”? At first I felt this to be an invasion of privacy, or at the very least, an indication of the category in which they placed me.

A young friend has been teaching English in Beijing for several years. During his first year he was taken aback as people stepped into his “privacy zone” and looked him up and then down. Another cultural difference. So this is the box where the asking of one’s age is placed.

These days I’m different. You can find out a lot about someone by knowing his age and where he grew up.

You can find out what kind of music he grew up with, what presidents shaped his political opinions, even what kind of clothes were in fashion. Did she wear poodle skirts or hot pants? Did he wear knickers or polyester leisure suits? A well known haberdasher and dear friend used to sport pale blue leisure suits open at the neck with a gold chain. You may say “How gauche”, but it actually WAS the fashion.

Where were you when certain life-changing events took place? I’ll bet you remember where you were when JFK was assassinated, don’t you? Or when John Glenn landed on the moon? I know where I watched all the newscasts. Glued to to TV set and as it happened, I was painting a watercolor each time.

Now that I am the one asking how old you are, it places you in a certain place in your life, and that’s what I really want to know. I want to know you, and I know that’s what you want to know too when you ask the question.

Whereas in most of my early life I was the youngest person in the group, now I reside in the other realm—to my great-grandchildren, I am probably the oldest person they have known. I hope I pass muster.

A DANISH ORIGINAL


HANS CHRISTIAN ANDERSEN

His earliest writings were based on stories he heard as a child, but he soon began constructing new and original stories, some of which reflected his humble background and ungainly looks. “The Ugly Duckling”, while universal in theme, is believed by some scholars to be an expression of his struggle with his homosexuality in an era in which same sex relations were illegal.

Hans Christian Andersen (1805-1875) was a Danish author who left us an incredible legacy in the form of stories that transcend age and nationality such as “The Ugly Duckling”, “The Princess and the Pea”, “The Little Mermaid”, “The Emperor’s New Clothes”, “The Snow Queen”, “The Steadfast Tin Soldier”, “Thumbelina”, and “The Little Match Girl”.

In it’s proverbial form, “The Ugly Duckling” is an account of an unprepossessing, unsatisfactory member of one species evolving into a beautiful, admired member of another and encourages us to expect for ourselves an eventual transformation of situation and self for the better, whatever the restrictions of our early circumstances and the current low opinion of others.

Obviously this story is of irresistible appeal to insufficiently appreciated children, but also to those whose familial praise and appreciation seems in direct opposition to those of his peers. As an only child, I had been led to believe that I somehow possessed superior qualities in whatever field I entered. It was a pity that no one else shared their opinion!

Many children imagine themselves in the role of Prince or Princess, having somehow been switched at birth into a royal or more privileged family. I expressed a common desire to be found better than I was, and occasionally embarrassed my self by jumping into the fray only to be discovered lacking in whatever talent to which I had laid claim.

On one such occasion in a fourth grade talent show, I confidently sat at the piano and pounded out a “Russian” piece which I made up as I went along. The scalding looks and silence which greeted me fortunately kept me away from any further public piano recitals.

“The Ugly Ducking” assures us of the hope of acceptance during our unhappy times, while confounding all those authority figures who have given up on us or who have failed to see the possibility of excellence.

ugly duckling

The inclination to bully those different from ourselves is universal, beginning in childhood. It involves the first taste of class consciousness, as well as the ability to exercise power over another. As a child, I attended a different school each year, in a different state. I was therefore somewhat different, and fair game for those inclined to bully. Bullying can take the form of rejection, sarcasm, a promise of some future aggressive action, or casual derogatory remarks, any of which can leave lifelong scars on a sensitive child.

The object of hostility, or at least aversion, can be either one who is richer, poorer, beautiful or homely, smart or dumb, fat or skinny. In other words, someone different from one’s self.

The current rash of NFL abuse cases springs from people trained to hit first and then ask questions. The difference in size and strength, the exorbitant amount of money paid these people, plus the weekend adulation given them, somehow makes them immune to ordinary behavior. We can only hope that public opinion and a steady reduction in their paychecks will eventually make them rejoin the human race.

It is interesting that “The Ugly Duckling” was Andersen’s most constant favorite and one for which he exclaimed to a friend in 1843 “It’s selling like hotcakes”! The similarities between Andersen’s life and the ugly duckling are irresistible. Andersen was gangly, poor, and uneducated–yet he became a literary star despite the under-appreciation he suffered. In a similar fashion, the hatchling is mistaken for a common duck and mistreated before discovering that he is a beautiful swan. He often remarked that “The Ugly Duckling” was the hardest story to compose, as it was the most autobiographical.

This classic example of an animal tale also spawned one of Andersen’s most famous quotes: ‘Being born in a duck yard does not matter, if only you are hatched from a swan’s egg’. In Andersen’s day, the definition of artistic genius was shifting and was less bound to class than it had been before. He was part of this exciting new breed, and the tale’s inspiring and hopeful message continues to make it one of Andersen’s most beloved stories to this day.

All of us know moments of oppressive solitude of the soul. What we want most at such times is the assurance that we are not unique in our emotions, that others have the same yearnings, have suffered similarly. “The Ugly Duckling is an instrument of profound comfort.