Friday, 29 August 2014

Witnesses to History

By Bettijane Eisenpreis

Victor Klemperer’s book, I Will Bear Witness: A Diary of the Nazi Years, 1933-1941, was one of the most memorable, though disturbing, books I have ever read.

An assimilated Jew with a non-Jewish wife, Klemperer managed to survive house arrest and extreme deprivation under the Nazis and, at the risk of losing his life, kept meticulous records throughout the whole period.

Perhaps it was the fact that keeping a record was illegal that spurred Klemperer to keep the diary. Or perhaps being so constricted drove him to find an activity to stave off depression and boredom.

The record that resulted is invaluable, proving to future generations the depths of the Nazis’ inhumanity.

But bearing witness is not limited to those with extraordinary stories. All of us are witnesses and what we live through today is history for the next generation. I am fascinated by how much you can be exposed to just by being alive.

I was born in 1935, the year the Social Security Law passed in the United States, two years after Hitler seized power in Germany. My 10th birthday, August 6, 1945, was the day the atomic bomb fell on Hiroshima. When I first came to New York, the help wanted pages of The New York Times listed male and female jobs separately.

I have lived through at least five wars – World War II, Korea, Vietnam, Afghanistan and Iraq – in which the U.S. has participated, and countless more in which it has not, at least overtly.

When I married, my husband’s company had one computer, a monster made by IBM that occupied its own dust-free, air-conditioned room. No one had heard of a personal computer, a cellular telephone or email.

But that’s just my personal experience. I was very close to my father (born in 1898) and grandmother (born in 1869). Grandma’s uncle, Simon Wolf, was an influential Jewish lawyer in Washington. He wrote a book, Presidents I Have Known, which detailed his relationships with every president from Grant to Wilson.

As a young lawyer, Simon was part of a delegation that visited President Lincoln, so he could have included Lincoln in his list as well.

Grandma was close to her uncle’s family. In her diary, she describes a month-long visit to their Washington home during which she and a cousin walked over to the White House and “saw Mrs. Cleveland go carriage-riding.”

Grandma approved of all the rooms, especially the Blue Room, but there is nothing in the diary that indicates any need to get a ticket or go through security.

I learned about World War I from my father. Clinton’s passion to participate in “the war to end all wars” was so great that he completed four years of college courses in three years and volunteered for the army which promptly turned him down because of his extreme myopia.

Looking for a civilian war job, he met a colonel who waived the requirement for a vision test and recruited him into a new branch of the service, aviation medical research. They tested potential fliers to find out if they could function in open-cockpit unpressurized planes.

Clinton spent several exciting years on Long Island, and emerged with plenty of stories he later told me.

My parents were married during the Depression. My father described the menu my mother served during those hard years this way: “I got paid on Friday so we ate fairly well over the weekend. Monday and Tuesday, we ate out of cans. Wednesday and Thursday, we ate the cans.” It was only a slight exaggeration.

For the rest of his life, he refused to eat corned beef hash. I loved it but one sight of the can it came in was enough to send Clinton away from the table.

When Clinton was well into his 80s, we hired a young man to help him with daily chores. David was a nice fellow and he and Clinton got along famously. But one day I mentioned something that had happened during the Korean War and David said, “I was never good at history.”

“That’s not history,” I almost shouted. “That’s my life!”

George Santayana said, “Those who do not remember the past are condemned to repeat it.” Everyday histories are important. Have you made a record of yours?

[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, 28 August 2014

Dear Dairy

By Marcy Belson

Marcy Belson

I believe I was seven years old the Christmas that I received the diary as a gift. It had a faux leather cover and a tiny gold key and lock.

I immediately put the gold key on a string and wore it around my neck.

I wish I knew what happened to that journal. I remember laughing and reading it when I was a teenager.

Each entry began with "Dear Dairy.” As you probably know, those books had very limited space for each day of the year - perhaps four lines and I was using part of the first line with my salutation of "Dear Dairy.”

As I grew older, my love of the English language helped my spelling abilities but at age seven, dairy and diary were just too close and I wasn't choosy.

I also had several pen pals, other little girls - I guess boys weren't too much into spending their time writing letters about pets and school work.

At any rate, I have to surmise that I was using the "Dear Dairy" because I knew every letter had to include the salutation. And I believed I was writing a short letter to the journal.

That was my first writing assignment. I wrote on those tiny lines just like I was writing my English pen pal. "How are you? I'm fine. My dog's name is Honey and the cat is Puff."

Finally this became so boring, even at an early age, I quit writing and the book landed in a dresser drawer. I think my mother kept it with the autograph book I also started about that time. That book did survive, filled with my family members' autographs and sweet sayings. "Roses are red, Violets are blue, honey is sweet and so are you."

I will end by saying "Dear Dairy, it's been a great ride for 77 years. I'm fine and delighted to be writing, smiling and laughing with my friends!"


[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, 27 August 2014

You Can't Stop a Laugh

By Clifford Rothband

In a discussion recently, we were talking philosophically about life. One conclusion is that you can throw away anger or get a handle on it but you can't stop a laugh.

At one time in the early 70s, I worked with a guy named George Lord. George was my supervisor and what he said was the law. He had at least three assistants at any time yet when he could not figure out a problem, he turned to the lowest ranking employee, a big old black guy named Joe Farmer who was the car washer.

As innocent as a child Joe gave an honest answer in it's simplest form and was always right.

Now if I remember correctly, George was an army officer during World War II and George kept his army-issue, 45 automatic in his top desk drawer. George dressed his part and he always wore a bow tie and he acted like he knew it all.

So this one fine day, a Rolls Royce, brown and beige with a license tag that read "Great 1" comes into the shop parking area and a fat guy asks to speak with me. I never knew why, other than we both came from Brooklyn.

He lived in Inverrary Country Club, a short distance from my home in Lauderdale Lakes and he played golf with some of the people we knew as friends.

George is almost too busy but brings the guy over to my station. George must have seen him on TV or in movies but didn't seem to recognize a mustached Jackie Gleason and silly me, I introduced him as Ralph Kramden.

George and he shook hands and Jackie says, "How sweet it is,” and the Lord moves on.

We talked a bit about something or other. I seemed to have forgotten whatever - maybe horse racing or playing the greens at Pompano Park. Now everybody else in the shop sees the conversation and some even think that it was Barry Sullivan or Richard Diamond from TV.

Later on, the Lord, he comes up to me and asks was that really Ralph Kramden from The Honeymooners?

Now the lesson learned: Today is full of opportunity, everywhere, everything, whoever you meet. Look for the good, the humor, welcome the challenges, enjoy the situations, slow down. Offer sincerity, the stuff of life.

You cannot often control the situations but you can control how you deal with them. Every moment is your opportunity to express what a unique person you are. Forget the past, don't even try to see the future. What is now is who you are.

Today is your opportunity. Put a smile on your face. Strive for happiness. Someone once said to me that immortality lies within our genes, in our offspring.

No. It is how we face pain or emotions. The projection we produce. So make today a great day and put a smile on your face. You can stop pain or suffering by many means but like Jackie said to me that day, "You can't stop a laugh.”


[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, 26 August 2014

Comparisons: Yesterday and Today

From Johna Ferguson

[This is an anonymous item from the internet but I felt it is rather appropriate for us who grew up without “that green thing.”]


Checking out at the store, the young cashier suggested to the older woman that she should bring her own grocery bags because plastic bags weren't good for the environment.

The woman apologized and explained, "We didn't have this green thing back in my earlier days."

The young clerk responded, "That's our problem today. Your generation did not care enough to save our environment for future generations."

She was right - our generation didn't have the green thing in its day.

Back then, we returned milk bottles, soda bottles and beer bottles to the store. The store sent them back to the plant to be washed and sterilized and refilled, so it could use the same bottles over and over. So they really were truly recycled.

But we didn't have the green thing back in our day.

Grocery stores bagged our groceries in brown paper bags that we reused for numerous things. Most memorable, besides household garbage bags, was the use of brown paper bags as book covers for our schoolbooks. This was to ensure that public property, (the books provided for our use by the school) was not defaced by our scribblings. We were then able to personalize our books on the brown paper bags.

But too bad we didn't do the green thing back then.

We walked up stairs because we didn't have an escalator in every store and office building. We walked to the grocery store and didn't climb into a 300-horsepower machine every time we had to go two blocks.

But she was right. We didn't have the green thing in our day.

Back then, we washed the baby's diapers because we didn't have the throwaway kind. We dried clothes on a line, not in an energy-gobbling machine burning up 220 volts. Wind and solar power really did dry our clothes back in our early days.

Kids got hand-me-down clothes from their brothers or sisters, not always brand-new clothing.

But that young lady is right. We didn't have the green thing back in our day.

Back then, we had one TV or radio in the house - not a TV in every room. And the TV had a small screen the size of a handkerchief (remember them?), not a screen the size of the state of Montana.

In the kitchen, we blended and stirred by hand because we didn't have electric machines to do everything for us.

When we packaged a fragile item to send in the mail, we used wadded up old newspapers to cushion it, not Styrofoam or plastic bubble wrap.

Back then, we didn't fire up an engine and burn gasoline just to cut the lawn. We used a push mower that ran on human power. We exercised by working so we didn't need to go to a health club to run on treadmills that operate on electricity.

But she's right; we didn't have the green thing back then.

We drank from a fountain when we were thirsty instead of using a cup or a plastic bottle every time we had a drink of water.

We refilled writing pens with ink instead of buying a new pen and we replaced the razor blades in a razor instead of throwing away the whole razor just because the blade got dull.

But we didn't have the green thing back then.

Back then people took the streetcar or a bus and kids rode their bikes to school or walked instead of turning their moms into a 24-hour taxi service.

We had one electrical outlet in a room, not an entire bank of sockets to power a dozen appliances. And we didn't need a computerized gadget to receive a signal beamed from satellites 23,000 miles out in space in order to find the nearest burger joint.

But isn't it sad the current generation laments how wasteful we old folks were just because we didn't have the green thing back then?


[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, 25 August 2014

The Turtle That Looked Toward The East

By Vicki E. Jones

The year was 1984 and our son was eight years old. When he convinced us that he just had to have a couple of semi-aquatic Reeve turtles for his pets, we acquired a long 55-gallon tank and a wrought-iron stand at a yard sale and headed for the local pet store.

The female was larger than the male at about 8 inches in length and he named her Haywire, no doubt because her vision seemed rather poor and when we leaned over the tank she bobbed up and down excitedly, indicating she would like to eat our noses, which she probably mistook for meal worms or some other tasty treat.

The male, Bright Eyes, was about 6 inches in length and both were full-grown adults, meaning they were not young.

Reeve turtles were caught in the wild in the fresh waters of Japan and China back then, a practice that is no longer legal. They were shipped to the United States for sale at pet stores. Each of our turtles had a distinct personality and both were excited when we came near the tank to feed them or talk to them.

The tank was in our family room and faced long sliding glass doors that faced east and opened to our heavily-wooded back yard. The yard was full of mature trees including fruit trees, flowers and flowering shrubs and was surrounded on two sides by a wooded walking trail with trees towering high above our fence.

Flat rocks were piled up in the tank so the turtles could climb out of the water and they frequently did, but they were not inclined to look out at the yard or trees. They were far more interested in the people in the room and the family room itself and my husband had his office area in there so that they at least have some companionship.

Our children soon grew up and moved away and Haywire and Bright Eyes had just the two of us, my husband and me, for company.

The years rolled by and the turtles began to grow old. Then one day we found that Bright Eyes had passed away during the night. We knew that Haywire would be lonely. She had lost her constant companion.

Two years later, we noticed that Haywire was starting to act old and was slowly getting weak. Climbing onto the rocks was more of an effort and she had always been a voracious eater but her appetite was getting poor. She no longer got excited or bobbed up and down when we leaned over her tank.

As Haywire got weaker, she began to do something we did not expect: We would find her resting on the rocks early each morning, her neck outstretched, staring toward the east. She would gaze at the tall trees behind the property and at the sky above them holding her head up high, with almost a longing look.

Each day would find Haywire on the rocks gazing toward the east – the direction of the rising sun and the direction of rebirth. Perhaps she knew her life would soon come to an end. Perhaps she was longing for freedom from her body and her life in her tank. Perhaps she was patiently waiting for whatever would come next, since it is said that when animals die they cross over the Rainbow Bridge and are once again well and whole.

Each day was the same, until one day she could no longer raise her head and just quietly slipped away.

We will never know what she was thinking. What we do know is that each day she greeted the morning sun, staring toward the east in the direction of freedom and rebirth, stretching out her neck and raising her head for as long as she could.

Then she would rest, and then she would again raise her head, staring toward the east.

She embraced each new day by looking toward the east with peace and grace and dignity - and in that there is a lesson for us all.


[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, 22 August 2014

Crossing the Bridge

By Dan Gogerty who blogs at Cast

I grew up thinking a real farm had certain built-in qualities - an oak tree to dispense shade, acorns and wisdom; a barn with a haymow, square bales and kids playing in it; and a creek that meanders through pastures ready for fishing, skating or swimming.

Gogerty farm lane

A creek also means a bridge — in our case a small wooden structure with no side rails and a gravel lane that crosses it. It’s not much really but when we were kids, it was an unwritten rule that we had to stop and toss rocks whenever we came near it.

On hot summer days, we’d sit there swinging our legs, aiming small stones at driftwood or lugging larger rocks over to see who could make the biggest splash.

I fell off the bridge once, probably at the age of eight or so. It’s only a seven- or eight-foot drop and if you land in water or mud, the fall isn’t much. I was more frightened several years before when the bridge was washed out and we had to walk the plank for a few weeks.

Dad set up a wide, sturdy board 25 feet upstream with the house on one side, the car and the outside world on the other.

We three boys were ages 4, 2 and 1. My folks probably grew tired of carrying us across. I had enough morbid imagination to be certain we would fall in — no doubt swept downstream to a watery grave.

Dad reckons our ancestors had to ford the stream when they settled there in 1856. “It had less water then,” he says, “but it would have been easier to locate the buildings on the other side of the stream.”

Dad has a love/hate relationship with the bridge. He has watched flash floods take it out and he remembers when we used to herd livestock down the lane.

“Spread a bit of straw, rattle a feed bucket and cattle usually crossed. Hogs were different. As soon as their front hooves touched the bridge planks, they’d hit reverse and you had a 250-pound ham backin’ into you.”

Mom could see the bridge from the house and she’s amazed none of us ever drove over the side. “You could survive falling off alone into the mud, but going off while on that old John Deere 4020—well, the way you kids drove scared me to death.”

Gogerty creek kids two

Inconveniences and dangers aside, we all know the bridge is a crucial piece in the farm’s jigsaw puzzle. When we come down the lane and cross the bridge, we’re officially home. It’s a wrinkle in time that crosses space and generations.

A few weeks ago, my wife, our daughter and our granddaughter walked to the bridge in the summer twilight. The two-year-old tried to toss rocks, my daughter tried to keep her from falling in and my wife enjoyed the déjà vu moment.

When I drive off after visiting the home place, I usually make a stop on the bridge. I’m not sure what I expect to see — a muskrat swimming to its den, a blue heron with a minnow in its beak a group of tow-headed kids and a shaggy dog running in the tall grass along the bank downstream.

Maybe a farm bridge is just a good place to pause for a moment — a place to toss a few rocks every so often.


[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, 21 August 2014

Partying Hearty

By Janet Thompson

As other urban (many gay) pioneers were restoring their Victorian houses, my New Orleans neighbor, Bill, in keeping with his origin and traditions, decreed that his friends must come costumed to his 1983 Fat Tuesday bash.

My best friend, Vonnie, became a French exotic dancer (long gloves, ivory cigarette holder, red blouse, black skirt, hose and beret). My gentleman friend, Ralph, borrowed a Boy Scout leader uniform and with a pillow I turned into a pregnant Girl Scout.

My partners, Jay and Lair, portrayed Grizabella and Old Deuteronomy from Cats. Another neighbor, Mike, came swathed in Styrofoam, as the blizzard of ’82, the huge Christmas Eve storm that immobilized Denver a couple months before. Many others came in drag.

After too many boozes, Vonnie was seated on the back of a couch when the four folks on the seat all got up at the same time pinning her booted foot under as it fell over backwards.

She limped around for several weeks, never allowed to forget that embarrassing episode.

* * *

Jay had bought a catamaran thus forming the Curtis Park Yacht Club. To signify our club membership, we proudly wore blue T-shirts with little Ralph Lauren-like logos of a sailboat and the Yacht Club name on them.

Usually, about a dozen friends traveled to Lake McConaughy in Nebraska for “yachting.” Lair and Jay had made huge wooden chests for storing cooking equipment, games, tents and other camping gear.

One of the first trips I took with them to the lake, after a hearty dinner and many beers, I noticed Jay take something from a chest, go down to the lake’s edge and swish it around in the water. Then he came back to the campfire with a bagpipe. (Some old-timers say if a bagpipe bag is made of sealskin, wetting it makes for a softer sound).

All afternoon campers across the lake had assaulted us with their loud boom-boxes booming. Suddenly hearing the strains of Amazing Grace wafting across the water, the rowdy revelers instantly stopped their music. There was silence and we were sure they must have thought the rapture had descended and they were about to be swallowed up and swept away Revelation-style.

After that, Jay treated everyone to Scotland the Brave and other typical bagpipe musical treasures. Unexpected.

* * *

Socialites Marvin and Barbara Davis had Hollywood connections but also business in Denver. For several years they underwrote the annual gala, The Carousel Ball as a fund-raiser for the Denver Symphony.

All the city and suburban movers and shakers attended by invitation only. It was like a mini Oscars event with its long red carpet, stretch limousines, glitterati, paparazzi and the whole caboodle.

For our “Not the Carousel Ball and Polyester Party,” we hired an old, red double-decker bus. Everyone haunted Salvation Army shops for outdated polyester outfits. I'll never forget Jay’s puce-colored, polyester Nehru jacket and my brilliant orange polyester evening gown bedecked with rhinestones.

Clutching our beer in brown paper bags, we assembled downtown at the newly designed Confluence Park on the formerly polluted Platte River where bike paths and sheltered picnicking areas had been created.

At the small amphitheater, we noshed on hors d’oeuvres of Vienna sausages wrapped in Wonder Bread and Velveeta cheese as we held our fashion show.

Jay’s ice-cream-store partner, Diane, won the prize for best dressed. Then we bused our way to The Weinerschnitzel where we dined on 10-cent hamburgers and hot dogs.

Piling back in the bus, we arrived at the Convention Center just in time for the elegant donor-party-goers arriving for their big ball. As the limousines deposited their important passengers, our old bus disgorged about 30 of us, gloriously dressed appropriately for OUR event.

Partnering in twos, we strolled the red carpet right along with the distinguished others. That accomplished, it was back in the bus to the famous Tracks Nite Club by the abandoned railroad tracks for dancing and more drinking until lights out.

* * *

I imagine Jay, now in heaven, serving up his and Diane’s cherry-cheesecake ice-cream and welcoming the new arrivals to the bagpipe groans of Amazing Grace.

Some of the other newbies later succumbed to AIDS but Lair and many more friends are still living well, thank heaven! Those were the days, my friend.


[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, 20 August 2014

Lost and Found

By Henry Lowenstern

My spectacles have gone astray.
I used them earlier today.
Now they're not here.
How'd they disappear?
...Oh here they are! HOORAY! HOORAY!


[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, 19 August 2014

The Psychology of Paint

By Trudi Kappel

A visit to the paint store is both a lesson in the poetry of naming colors and one in psychology.

I know there are people who earn their living dreaming up thousands of names for paint colors. Paint is never named plain “white.” It is snowflake, antique white, opaline or alabaster.

Usually the name gives a hint of the color family. For example, a 2014 color of the year is radiant orchid. I understand it is a lavender or purple.

Some years ago, I needed a gallon of antique white paint. This is a standard pre-mixed color. When I lifted it from the shelf, I noticed the can next to it was labeled China Silk. What is that? Green perhaps? Red?

As the salesman rang up my purchase, I inquired. He started laughing. This was the funniest thing he'd been asked all day.

He told me that that paint color had just been renamed. He knew it was the same color because the paint identifier number was the same, just the name had changed. Another guffaw.

As “beige” it had sat on the shelf gathering dust but as the renamed China Silk, he couldn't keep it in stock!


[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, 18 August 2014

The Joke Was on Me

By Chlele Gummer

A funny thing happened when I sat down at the big table for my first meeting of the education committee. Earlier I had been instructed that as co-president of the docent council, I had to represent the council on the education committee. So there I was.

I had prepared myself. The chair woman had emailed the members the agenda, the minutes of the last meeting, some other research articles, graphs, etc. I went to Walgreens and found a large white plastic binder and a set of dividers.

When I got home I printed out all the material and inserted it between the dividers. I even found a picture representing the organization to put in the slot on the cover of the binder. How smart it looked. I was prepared.

The chair woman lived nearby and agreed to pick me up as we drove to another metropolitan area that had a community center with big rooms for nonprofits to have their meetings.

Our room was big enough for a huge polished table that sat a dozen people around it. The interior walls were all glass so anyone in the hallway or the central desk area could see that we were using the room.

Members of the committee gathered together, choosing their spots and settling in for a long, three-hour meeting. I sat down in the middle of the table facing the glass and placed my brand new binder open in front of me. I was ready.

Then I looked around at the others and noticed no binders, no notepads, no pens, papers or what have you. Everyone, and I mean every person at the table, all 11 of them, had set up their laptops or electronic tablets.

I had to laugh. The joke was on me!


[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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