REMEMBERING LEROY


He was a familiar sight running past our house each day, useless, withered arm swinging at his side. He ran as if it was a challenge to the Almighty in payment for the curse of his loss. I encountered him once or twice at 5:30 a.m. while running with Max, our Dobermann. We would see him later in the day at the other end of town. I heard that he sometimes ran 25 miles in a day. He worked out daily in a lap pool in his small back yard. He and his wife lived around the corner from us with a menagerie of pets, while caring for each of their parents. His father in a wheelchair and her blind mother.

The name “SPRINZ” was written on the back of his t-shirt, reminding my husband of former major league baseball catcher Joe Sprinz, who played for the Cleveland Indians and the St. Louis Cardinals in the 1930’s. His claim to fame after he retired, was a publicity stunt attempting to catch a baseball dropped from a blimp in 1939. On the fifth try, the ball landed in his glove at a speed estimated to have been 154 miles per hour. It slammed his glove hand into his face, breaking his jaw in twelve places. He also dropped the ball.

Joe’s son Leroy, our intrepid runner, lived around the corner from us for many years. Though I had not really met him, he knocked on my door one morning asking if he could leave his father here while he finished his run. Not knowing what else to do, I said it would be OK. What led was a fascinating hour while the old man reminisced about stories of his baseball past to us. All the famous names in the years of our youth came back to him. He also recounted the story of Leroy’s withered arm. He had had polio as a youngster, and though the doctors wanted to amputate the arm, the boy fought to keep it, saying he would figure out a way to live with it.

He became a teacher at Newark Memorial High School in Newark, CA, and while teaching tennis and baseball, he played in the school band. Proficient with a variety of instruments, refusing to let an obstacle such as the loss of an arm stop him. Much like his father, he obviously enjoyed overcoming challenges.

After retiring, Leroy and his wife, Lory Ostenkowski, moved to Oakhurst a few years ago, to enjoy their leisure years in the company of tall pine trees and deer in the mountains near Yosemite. Both were prolific writers of poetry and haiku, and were generous with their output. Leroy also found time to play in the local community band while indulging his interest in photography, and running the mountain trails.

Leroy was a trusted critic of my work, approving of my blog, though he hated the word BLOG, thinking it ugly and an embarrassment to the English language. His wife Lory, became a victim of AMD, and he greatly enlarged any artwork I posted on their large TV so that she could share it.

I had not heard from him for several months, and sent an email to see if they were OK. Last night I decided that I would write again this morning. Before I went to my computer, his widow Lory, called to tell us of his passing two months ago. According to her, the polio got him again. Post-polio, which affects many survivors, renews all the original suffering. Their daughter, who lives in Alaska, found the note I sent while clearing out his computer after his death.

Leroy was a quirky, courageous and rare person who will be greatly missed. The legacy he left was that nothing is impossible to those who keep forging through in spite of unforeseen difficulties. RIP Leroy, I’m glad I got to know you.

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THE GIRL FROM ISLETA


“GEORGIA ABEITA OLIVER” watercolor by kayti sweetland rasmussen]

“What color would you call my hair?” I asked her once. “Mouse”, she quickly replied, so I made her a giant wire sculpture of a rat. We found that we could laugh at each other until the tears flowed down our cheeks, and not remember why. She was a girl from a village I never heard of and a culture I only guessed at.

I painted pictures of Indians I had never seen, in landscapes I had never traveled, until she became my daughter’s teacher.

On “Back To School” night I met Georgia Oliver, fifth grade teacher, and as my daughter had told me: “A REAL Indian”, as opposed to what I had painted.

Georgia Abeita, by photography class at University of New Mexico

Georgia and her husband, Emmett Oliver, became extended family over a period of time, and together introduced us to Native America. Georgia Abeita came from Isleta, a small pueblo in New Mexico, and Emmett, a Quinalt, from Washington state. Both became teachers and there are untold numbers of former students who are grateful for having had either as their teacher. Their son, Marvin Oliver, has carried on the teaching profession as Art Professor at the University of Washington, and has become famous as a North Coast artist.

A turning point cor me as an artist came when Georgia invited me to spend time with her at her home in New Mexico. From that time on, I no longer had to look for pictures to copy when painting an Indian.

More important, I found a very special friend.

WE ARE A WEB


Like it or not, we are a web. We are connected in ways we cannot imagine. Back in the dark ages, we were girls of seventeen and eighteen and parted ways to begin our lives, careers and families. Through the years we tried not to think of our age, which makes it interesting now to celebrate 90th birthdays so often.

By and large, everyone is holding up well, give or take a few aches and pains, though four out of nine have lost children, three in this past year. All but one are widowed, and the strength in each is admirable and enviable. All but one still live in their own home. All but one still drive. One is giving her car up next week at the urging of her children. Yesterday’s birthday girl passed the DMV test, had her license renewed for 5 years, and bought a new car in celebration.

There comes a time, if you are cognizant, that you need to throw away the car keys. In my case, I found fading sight was to blame, but I think there are also tiny things like jumping when another car horn frighten you, or slowing down when others are speeding up. So many small warning signs.

It is always interesting even after seventy plus years to hear that someone is related to someone that is a friend of someone else. One friend worked for the Oakland school district with the Godmother of my daughter. A few years ago, I met the sister of another friend and mentioned that a good friend of mine was moving into a lovely senior development. She asked if it was “blah-blah” and I said it was. She told me that she sings at a church in Walnut Creek, and I told her that our cousin donated the stained glass windows. Someone mentioned a few girls and someone else said those are my cousins.

One had a menu from the Matson Line ship Lurline from 1948 where one of our ladies was listed as a passenger. My cousin was the captain of the Lurline at that time.

Of course our conversation flows from subject to subject and includes things which need to be discussed either for ourselves or for other aging friends. One women received a new scam telephone call which she warned about. I don’t believe that this group of women are particularly vulnerable, but in a weak moment, you never know. One friend who is 95 and not in this group, is sharp as a tack and has all her marbles, but when someone told her she needed to send $15,000 to Mexico to help her grandson, she sent it. Luckily she was able to get her money back.

The picture of the frail little old lady is not always a true picture. Some grannies may be packing a small derringer in their pocketbook.

However, yesterday afternoon, my daughter was shopping and a frail little old lady was clearly confused and panicky beside her. When she asked if she could help, the little lady said that she wanted to get back home but couldn’t remember where it was. My kind daughter put her into her car and found where she lived and got her home again. When I said how proud I was of her, she said it might have been me. You just don’t know from one day to the next.

Memories are great, but we tend to forget that there is still time to add to them while polishing up the old.

IS IT MORE THAN A GAME?


Is Bridge more than a game? I think it is probably the social media of the past; a way of connectivity. Playing cards are believed to have been another invention of China, along with paper, sometime in the 14th century. From China, the interest in card games spread to Persia, India and Egypt before arriving in Europe.

Tarocchi Players of Caso Borromeo, Milan 15th c.

My parents played cards throughout their lives. Game playing was very important during the Great Depression, and people played a great variety of card games along with Bridge, a game which allowed four people to play and demanded a certain degree of skill. My aunt and uncle made up the fourth at the bridge table, and there was no ceremony connected to their decision to sit and have a game of cards. My father was a natural card player who somehow knew what cards each of his opponents held. He was also an impatient player, which led my mother in later life to refuse to play with him. Strangely, none of the next generation of our family have chosen to learn the game. A favorite niece of mine, when offered a suggestion by a kibbitzer, threw her cards in the air and said “I give up!” Though we love games of all kinds, it amazes me to find that many of our friends do not. They much prefer an evening of good conversation, and we find that equally stimulating.

A “Bridge party” soon became a party, complete with food and beverage, and allowed the hostess to trot out her best linen bridge cloths and china, and supply tea and cookies. Hundreds of cookie recipes have been created to keep up with the social obligation of a bridge party.

When in my forties, I joined a group of women most of whom were learning to play the game, and we met once a week learn the finer points. I was late to the game as my interest lay elsewhere at an earlier age. The game takes concentration, and I have to admit that my focus was more on the food and the companionship.

My mother-in-law introduced me to the bridge party having two tables of four players, and as the years passed I found that two or even three tables were expected if you joined a bridge club. Your bridge club was a commitment to however often it was decided to play. If you found you would not be available on that day, it behooved you to get a substitute. Through the years I have belonged to several bridge clubs, some often containing the same women. As women aged, their intensity never waned. My sister-in-law and my best friend each took the game seriously, and would play at the drop of a hat or should I say at the drop of a card?

Game playing of any kind is a competition, and let’s face it, we all like to win. Playing with and against all kinds of men and women over the past 60 years, you can learn a lot about human nature. For those who stick too closely to the rules, I admire them and hope they enjoy their game, but I will be busy that day so you need to get a sub.

One lovely aspect of the bridge party is the sharing of secrets, and keeping up old friendships.

DAILY DRIVEL


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We are in another long heat wave. The garden seems to shrink into its cooler self, and the blossoms on the hydrangea have dried up early due to lack of enough water. The heat rises from the bricks and the corners of the garden under trees which look cool and inviting, aren’t. It’s a day to stay indoors.

Yes, those are my feet atop a stack of pillows. A side effect of the leg bypass is swelling. Knowledgeable medical practicioners smugly assure that elevating one’s legs will restore a matching pair. The reality is, it won’t work unless you elevate 24/7. If I have to do this again I will have to get a better looking pair of pajamas.

We went to the local diner this morning. You can’t miss it; the life-size figure of Elvis strumming his air guitar out in front gets you moving in the right direction, and the food is not bad either.

We have two hardware stores. One at either end of town, and both owned by nice people. If Dr. A goes missing, it’s been a fair bet that for over 55 years he could be found at Dale Hardware. It’s a guy thing, of course,and as such it needs to be visited several times a day. Much like checking your e-mail or looking at Facebook.

One way or another you become known to others by the times you show up, and Dale Hardware is no exception. On the way into the store, a young and pretty employee smiled and said “Hi Sam!” When the concierge saw us he called “Hi Trouble!” In the space of two minutes several other “Hi Sam”s were exchanged. It’s very folksy and makes you feel welcome. He didn’t buy anything. I think sometimes he just stops by to visit.

HIGH PERFORMING SENIORS


bathing ladies

These women with whom I spend time every month are tied together like knots in the rope mooring us to shared memories. We traveled in parallel lines in the long ago, touching base when necessary, but not really reaching the stage of complete truthfulness.

Knots“Knots” original watercolor painting by kayti sweetland rasmussen

Memory is a complicated thing. A relative of truth but not its twin. Ann Beattie says “People forget years and remember moments.” I’m sure that is true, because as we meet over lunch, moments of our pasts are revealed and relived by some but not all. “Where did we go for our Senior picnic, do you remember?” Several choices may be given, but who can be sure?

Our ballet dancer remembers marching a squad of ROTC boys straight into the railroad yard, whereas I, marching along beside her with another squad, have no recollection of it. Memory can be a squirrelly thing. Looking back I was clueless until the age of 50.

We are beginning to lose friends, but I’m at a time of my life when illness and death and grief aren’t the surprise visitors they once were. The casualties are increasing among the people I loved and even the people I didn’t love, but they still shock and unsettle you.

We had role models as young people, but none in old age. How do you learn how to be old? My friend says we are ‘high performing seniors’, and that seems good enough to me.

GRATITUDE


audrey mabee 2
Painting by Audrey Mabee

I’m always happy when I find that a nice hotel exceeds my expectations, but I get impatient when it has a lamp or TV which doesn’t work, or I can’t figure out the shower controls or if it considers itself too fancy to put in a coffee machine. We’re sometimes more comfortable in a budget motel where our expectations are not as high.

We feel gratitude when some kindness exceeds our expectations or is undeserved. David Brooks says “gratitude is a sort of laughter of the heart after some surprising kindness.”.

We’re grateful when some people showed they thought more of us than we thought they did. It is a form of social glue to be repaid forward to another person who also doesn’t deserve it. You’re amazed that life has managed to be as sweet as it is.

G.K. Chesterton wrote that “thanks are the highest form of thought and that gratitude is happiness doubled by wonder.”

Life doesn’t surpass our dreams but it nicely surpasses our expectations.