IT HAD TO BE YOU


Big shopping day at Costco yesterday; three items divided between the two of us. Seems a waste of time to have such a short list, but it was a nice day to get out. Dr. A has joined a large group of people who have become highly aware of the ethnic clientele in Costco. I have begun to appreciate my failing vision, because though I hear the music of multiple languages, all I see are legs and feet. In this time of year we see shorts, colorful saris, and all sorts of pants on all sorts of bottoms. As for shoes, there are high heels, low heels, sandals, flip flops, trainers. School is still out for another week or two, and there are progeny of all sorts clammering for attention. A trip to Costco is an education.

While at the check stand I heard a voice softly singing the old song “It Had To Be You” with which I have been intimately attached to for 74 years, because it is “our” song, claimed shortly after Dr. A and I decided that we liked each other well enough to have a song. The words in this one seem to convey affection without becoming too mushy.

Do people today have songs they claim as “their” songs? I suppose they do, but it’s hard to get romantic listening to the music of today. It evokes such tender feelings to hear a song which has meaning to both parties. I was insulted years ago when attending a friend;s birthday party where they played “our” song for him. I confess that I have the problem of becoming proprietary about things like names, songs, etc.

I was sorry to hear about the death of Aretha Franklin today. Her inimitable music will be greatly missed. It was music with meaningful lyrics delivered by an amazing God-given voice. RIP Aretha.

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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.

THE NINETY-NINE PERCENT


I have noticed that when a new cleaning person has been hired to straighten up the mess you have made of your home, at least 99 percent of the people spend a couple of days cleaning house before the new cleaning lady arrives. It’s human nature to want to be seen in the best possible light.

I don’t mean pushing the vacuum cleaner around the middle of the room, or fluffing the feather duster over the books, I’m talking about really scrubbing. Move furniture and toss out all the old magazines. Heaven forbid that anyone would see that hidden corner in the kitchen you’ve been meaning to clean for several months.

Cleaning people know what they need to do the job, and they want to know if you have all the stuff available for them. My Grandma used the expression to “give it a lick and a promise”, which meant wipe it up quick and promise to do better next time. I have respected this mantra for 71 years with very little complaint. The beauty of it is that you can always do it tomorrow.

Eyesight fades as one ages which adds another perk for the old guys. The less you see, the less there is to clean. But cleaning ladies see it all with the first perfunctory glance. “Oh yes,” they say”, “this will take time.”

It behooves the homeowner to decide just why they hired someone in the first place. For instance, those of us who share our homes with four-legged ‘children’, want someone equipped with a vacuum cleaner better than that which lives in the hall closet. It’s a fact of life: dogs shed, and gravity does the rest. I have never heard anyone complain about the dust collecting on the book shelves, but I have developed a number of friendships with other frustrated owners of dogs complaining of their hairy homes. For some unknown reason Jack Russell Terriers leave a path of white hair in their wake. At some point in time, I look forward to once more enjoying the carpets in this house.

5

PREJUDICE


It’s a big subject. Too big for a simple blog, but we encounter it in some way each day in our private and public lives, so it needs to be addressed.

Conducting an interview with myself, I wondered when I first became aware of the mean spirited effect of prejudice. The strong Yankee-bred women in my family were ardent Republicans who thought the last best hope for the country had been Herbert Hoover. They gladly overlooked the Depression which was consuming the country; possibly as a result of Mr. Hoovers’ miscalculations.

Without knowing or caring who Franklin D. Roosevelt was, it was apparent from their conversation that he was the devil incarnate, and his busy body wife was a disgrace. My father, away at sea most of the time, did not participate in the conversations, so I had no idea on which side he dwelt.

Somehow, listening at dinner tables and eavesdropping in nearby rooms, I felt uncomfortable with the negative conversations. Surely this man was not as bad as they thought. I often differed from authority, and this gave me one more reason to determine my own path. When my father returned from a voyage, I found that he had voted for this same Franklin D. Roosevelt, which made me feel validated.

Prejudice touches so many facets of our lives. Politics and religion always draw the most heat, making them the most interesting of subjects. Due to my Grandmother’s dynamic leadership, we attended the Christian Science church, at least my Grandmother and I did. My mother and aunt, though believers, were usually busy on Sunday mornings. My father, needless to say, had no interest in the study of Christian Science. Auntie and Uncle Phil, with whom I lived occasionally, followed no religion, and we usually spent Sunday at the movies.

I never determined why, but overheard conversation told me that the Catholics, and possibly a few other religions, were not appropriate friends. I knew no blacks, though there were a few Japanese living in Long Beach in those days. We were a strong Masonic family, with various relatives holding office in the organization. We were a proud flag waving, Anglo-Saxon Protestant family. Not that any of these things were talked about; they were simply there, and you knew.

I had exhibited a few minor talents from an early age. I had a pleasant voice, I could dance, and I could draw a straight line. Grandma was convinced that I was a winner, yet I knew many other girls who surpassed my efforts, so it seemed uncomfortable to take any credit for anything I produced.

My feelings of being at odds with the accepted beliefs sent me on solo trips around town exploring various churches and the lone synagogue in Torrance where we were currently living. It was a marvelous education in the various views people held in the acceptance or non-acceptance of Jesus as the Savior. I realized that I had no opinion either way, which was no surprise. In fact, I took offense to the words of the entrance hymn which entreated the Christian soldiers to keep marching on to war.

On my first trip to the Southwest with my Indian friend Georgia Oliver, I immediately tried to fit in with the locals by identifying which village someone came from by the way they wore their hair. I whipped off a small sculpture of a woman’s head with something which looked like a Dutch cut, Georgia just smiled and said that I missed the back style. I smugly identified a man riding by on his horse as a Navajo. With a curled lip and a sharp retort, Georgia shot back “He’s a Mexican.” Clearly here lived prejudice, even in a country comprised of people who lived rather low on the totem pole.

Yes, there is prejudice wherever we look. It lives in small children and in the very old who should know better. Give it a chance, recognize it when you see it, and speak up to make a change.

THERE’S MAGIC IN A TOWN


Ibecame familiar with Palo Alto, California while my father’s cousin worked at Stanford University. We were occasionally gifted with tickets to art exhibits and concerts there, and made the trip over the bridge from our island of Alameda. Years later, when I had the decorating business, Palo Alto was a source of much of the material I used in store design.

Allied Arts is a lovely group of artist studios and a small tea room where volunteers take your order for lunch, and even sell you the recipes. Shirley Temple Black waited upon us once years ago. I still use their recipe for carrot soup. Our young neighbors were married there in the patio.

The main office for Sunset Magazine was for many years in Palo Alto. The magazine was started after The Southern Pacific Railroad advertised that you could come out to California and buy a lot for fifty bucks. The magazine advertised the ‘good life’ showing how Californians decorated their homes, planted their gardens, and cooked food equal to that of anywhere in the world. Their building was an ideal typically California style, with hand made tile roofs and floors, and a quiet beautiful decor, showing off hand woven pieces, and pottery. It was surrounded by a rough post and rail fence covered with America climbing roses. When we began landscaping our home, we took note of all of it, and planted 125 America roses along the fence. It was a mass of peachy-red color in the spring. Time Magazine bought the magazine and moved their office to Jack London Square in Oakland. The lovely building in Palo Alto has become something else now. I hope they kept the roses.

Dr. A’s cousin worked for the Magazine for many years, and now our next door neighbor works in the testing kitchen a few days a week. She gets first hand knowledge of what goes into a coming issue, and frequently brings us a sample. This Christmas it was a delicious shortbread cookie.

The town itself was charming, filled with lovely old homes and tiny ‘candy box’ cottages, all owned by mega moguls working in San Francisco. As the years have progressed, businesses have begun to fill in the vacant spaces and it has become another busy place to stay away from. The lovely old homes are still there,surrounded by well-groomed gardens, and the tiny cottages sell upward of a million dollars.

Though Dr. A will always support his beloved University of California at Berkeley, we rarely missed a football game at Stanford, Berkeley’s arch rival. It had a lot to do with the country feel of the campus as opposed to ‘middle-of-the city’ feeling of Cal. It didn’t hurt that he took over the insurance for the University years ago. Today it finds itself in the middle of Silicon Valley.

A number of our friends were Stanford graduates and football fans, and we met each morning of a game in the same place for a “tail-gate” party. There were perhaps 10 or 12 people in our group, one who played in the infamous Stanford band, and whose parents and grandparents before him had graduated from the school. Amazingly, though he donated a great deal of money each year to the school, when it became time for his daughter to enroll, she was denied admission because all she had to offer was a 4.0 scholastic score. Stanford wanted someone who also was active in another activity, such as a sport. Stanford, named for Leland Stanford’s son, Leland Stanford Jr., became one of the most prestigious universities in the world and though in the middle of the city it still maintains its over 8,000 acres of tree-shaded beauty.

Football fans can become a bit over the top, and many people set up shop early in the morning with barbeques fired up, and drinks being buzzed in osterizers. Another friend, who was a big football star at Stanford, brought an enormous bus each game day, filled with his friends and fitted out with all the comforts of home, to be partaken of in the few hours before the game. Thankfully, in those sensible days, a game started at about 1 p.m. Today, most games are televised, and begin in the early evening, making it a very late evening before the game ends.
Stanford parking is in the unpaved woods under ancient oak trees. Of course if it rains, the area becomes a giant mudhole. I remember a story my mother-in-law told of being stuck in the mud after a ball game in their youth. Not fun in the mud and in the dark if it were a night game.

Today, our eleven year old great granddaughter has hopes of someday attending Stanford on a soccer scholarship. The dreams of an eleven year old can’t be dismissed. It always begins somewhere.

WAITING ROOMS


‘INUIT MOTHER AND CHILD’ watercolor painting by kayti sweetland rasmussen

We are all in some sort of waiting room. Some with anticipation and some with trepidation. It depends upon where you are waiting; grocery store, post office, assisted living facility or doctor’s office. The grocery store is a toe tapper, while you wish the person in front of you would hurry up and count her change, and return the unwanted can of beans. The post office could go both ways; did you get a bill or a check? The people in the assisted living place, are waiting for God, and it could also go both ways. The doctor’s waiting room is far and away the most interesting.

Our hospital is getting older and seems smaller, and the number of patients has increased; drawn by the advent of Silicon Valley technology. For lack of space, various disciplines have been combined in spaces far to small to contain them. While waiting for my rheumatology doctor, I watched mothers and children waiting for pediatrics, There were also cardiology and oncology patients cooling their heels.

A beautiful young woman dressed with a jeweled head dress offered a seat which I gladly took. She was from India and her husband had come here to work for Google. She misses her parents and the fact that her daughter has never met them.

Two young fathers carrying their babies checked in and I remarked to myself that fathers never came to pediatricians appointments, let alone carrying their offspring. Another sign that times have changed. The day of the stay-at-home mom is over.

As refreshing as these fellow waiters were, a dark cloud arrived in the shape of a grumpy looking gentleman in his late 70’s dressed in baggy work pants and jacket, checked in with the young woman at the desk and obviously was disgruntled by having to give a co-pay. Mumbling all the way, he threw himself into the small chair with a scowl. He gave a challenging look toward the check in counter and groused: ” I pay enough as it is around here. Now you expect me to wait here?”

I was glad to go in to meet the cute young woman doctor who is always a pleasure. After chatting and acquainting her with any new problems, I told her about the current state of the waiting room, including a description of Mr. Grumpy. She laughed and said “I think he is my net patient.” I hope she was able to make his day a bit better.

GAME PLAYING


monoppoloy

There was a time when nearly every house in America owned a Monopoly game board, as well as Parcheesi, Checkers, both Chinese and the other kind, and if you were somewhat intelligent, a Backgammon board and a chess set. Suffering the lack of visual entertainment, we either passed the evening hours playing games or reading.

When TV knocked on the front door, we forgot how to play games. You might say we forgot how to think. It was so easy to sit in front of a lighted screen and wait to be entertained.

We played all kinds of games while I was growing up. I used the floor as my table for solitary four handed play. I’m sure I wore out at least a couple of Monopoly boards during the 30’s and 40s.

My family were keen on a great number of card games, the names of some are no longer in my memory. Game playing complements our spirit of competiveness as well as polishes our little gray cells. As we grow older we find that fewer people are playing games. Out of a large number of our friends, there are only a few who still like game playing.

I learned to play Bridge many years ago which has given me a great deal of pleasure, both in the game and in the social aspect. Some friends have been social players and some have been eager, go-for-the-throat players. Usually that kind of person likes all games.

My friend Joan was that kind of person. After learning a few tricks from a male client of mine, we entered a local Gin Rummy Tournament, and though we did not win, we didn’t disgrace ourselves.

I grew tired of Monopoly, perhaps because of such close early association, but a number of years ago on New Years Eve, we played the game with close friends at their cabin at Lake Tahoe. The men lost their paper money and went to bed early, which left Joan and I still in competition.

The hours passed, the coffee pot was refilled, and still we battled the game. This became serious stuff. The snow lay thick on the ground as the sun rose on a new year, when the game was finally decided—ten hours later, Joan was the unanimous winner! I have never played Monopoly again, and I do not expect to find another competitor with such determination.

Toward the end of her life, when beset with so many stumbling blocks, Joan continued to test her game playing with all comers.