Mom in Germany

Dear Mom,

One of the best legacies a mother can leave are stories. Even though I lost you physically in 2006 I can hear your voice today. You left a record in the albums you made for us. I wonder if you know how much that means to us now?

One of my favorite stories was of your trip to Germany in April of 1962. You flew to Germany to attend the North Atlantic Girl Scout Conference as one of the Girl Scout Leaders. You had encouraged us to be in Girl Scouts and as always was you were very involved in everything we did.

I love the story of this trip because it tells me so much about you as a person, not just as my mom. You visited Berchtesgaden…the photo (Mom is in the center with the sweater) shows you holding hands with the other Girl Scout Leaders there. Mom looks calm and dignified. The lady behind her, Lord who knows what’s going on there.

Mom in center I know now that you stayed at the Hotel General Walker, which as I understand it was originally a hotel built to house Nazi dignitaries and after being heavily damaged during WWII was rebuilt as one of Europe’s finest luxury hotels, with a breathtaking view of the Bavarian countryside and the Alps. I have the menu of your lunches there and your itinerary.

180512_0001But your words tell the story best. Talking about the crystal clear alpine streams in the villages you said…..

“In this stream I saw my first black completely round pebbles so smooth they were almost like marbles. This was the first time I had seen mountains and by the end of the day I had a crick in my neck trying not to miss any of them. It was in this village that we (her roomie) bought a bottle of German Beer, a loaf of black bread and a roll of German sausage. We set the beer in the snow on our window sill to cool and when the meeting was over we came back and had a midnight snack; with the windows open, snow on the ground and the moon lighting the mountains and the sounds of cowbells echoing from high on the mountain.”

You were 30 years old. I love the idea of you drinking German beer and watching the moon on the mountains. The poetry in your words reminds me how much you loved to travel and see new places, which is great since you were an Air Force wife. This must have been an exciting trip for a Texas girl from the small town of Jacksboro because you went by yourself. I wonder now how you talked Dad into that. My sister and I, nine and six years old respectively, stayed back in Texas with my Dad. I remember you saying that we told you,” We always got dessert when Dad cooked dinner when you were gone.” I’m sure Dad was just trying to bribe good behavior out of us.

You brought us back a box of the different salts mined in Berchtesgaden, which the pamphlet describes as their most important industry. You told us how you had donned miner’s clothes and sat on wooden rails and slid down through the mine. When you ran your fingers on the walls you could taste the salt. I remember the box of salts, different colored one-inch cubes. I secretly licked each one when you were not looking to see if they tasted differently.

I wish I had been with you as an adult on that trip. I smile every time I think of you whistling through the salt mine licking the salt off your fingertips. I bet you yodeled at the mountains too.

Thank you for telling us the story. It also explains why you loved the movie Heidi so much.

Happy Mother’s Day Mom.

p.s.  After I posted this my very intelligent sister told me that 1962 was one of the three years we were stationed in England, which of course makes much more sense that my mom got to go to Germany because she was so close. Well my bad. Math is not my strong suit. 🙂

 

 

 

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Dear Doctor

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We are visiting our family doctor for the last time today. He is retiring at the end of this month and gosh we will miss him. Dr. James Newton has been our family doctor for years.

Finding a new family doctor is a gradual and delicate process. Sort of like having your mom pull your loose tooth as a child. You know you can handle it, but you know it’s going to hurt. When our last doctor moved away, we had been to three new doctors trying to find a good fit. So when a teaching  friend recommended Dr. Newton I went in with high hopes and a cautious nature. I knew he was probably for us the first time I saw his waiting rooms. He has a fish-themed examination room, a children’s examination room and a hunting-themed examination room. That might sound a little strange, but have you ever had to sit waiting for the doctor in a sterile, picture-less examination room? Or worse, one full of those medical charts, most of which made me believe immediately that I definitely have one or more of the dreaded diseases shown in glorious detail. In Dr. Newton’s office I could look at stuffed fish or birds or hunting cartoons given to him by patients. Or if I was in the children’s room, I could gaze at a large hand-painted mural of trees and small forest creatures. In most rooms in his office there were pictures of our doctor with various large fish or animals, family and friends, smiling and happy.  Whatever your opinions about fishing and hunting I liked seeing my doctor happy. It kept my blood pressure down.

But entertaining examination rooms is not what made him a good doctor. Dr. Newton  listened to us. He listened. He did not lecture, he talked to us. He knew us as people. He talked music with my band director husband, Dr. Newton’s father-in-law being a great music director at Texas Tech University. Who else knows that your doctor has a broken drum stick from Ed Shaughnessy?  He recommended a great nursing home when my mother-in-law needed  one. In-between those talks he kept track of our common ailments with a sense of humor, a soft-spoken and direct bedside manner and the common sense not to prescribe a pill for every ache and pain. As he said , “Sometimes, a pill is not what is needed. Let your body do it’s work.” He had patience for our opinions about the cost of medicine and the deplorable state of the medical insurance industry in this country. And it is that last sad fact that has forced a new search for a family doctor upon us again.

But now, for Dr. Newton, we wish him a rewarding retirement, free from computer work  and strangling bureaucratic regulations and happy in the knowledge that he served his patients well.  And as our Doctor and our friend told us yesterday, “We’ll see you around town!”

Crawdads and Roses

Mom's Roses
Mom’s Roses

My parent’s house was on the south side of Fort Worth, Texas, a city of about almost 800,000 today, but back in 1969, when I was 13, it was about half that. Point was, Fort Worth didn’t seem like a big city then; the neighbors we had were friendly and their kids wandered the small streets without fear. Not so much today.

I remember mom telling me that they bought the small L-shaped ranch-style house because of its location right next to Kellis park, which touched the west side of the house. “You kids needed space to play.” The small back yard was chain-link fenced. The front had split-rail fencing that was covered in mounds of climbing roses. A long concrete driveway ran up the front of the house ending in the attached two car garage. The driveway was framed on the left by the same split-rail fencing sunk in a flowerbed, with the same sprawling rose bushes. My mother loved roses. My dad didn’t want anyone using the driveway or front yard as a bicycle ramp into the park so the rose fence was beautiful and to my practical, retired air force master-sergeant father, served a good purpose. Secretly, I believe he loved the roses as much as mom.

The house was big enough for three kids, but not spacious. Four bedrooms, one used to be a den at the front of the house; a large living room with a white brick fireplace and a large kitchen on the back with a door that connected to the garage. My brother had a basketball goal mounted on a pole just at the corner of the garage and practiced incessantly when he wasn’t hitting tennis balls against the garage doors.

It was true that the best feature about that house for us the was the park. My sister was three years older and my brother nine years younger than me, and we all loved the park for different reasons. It had a ramshackle tennis court and playground equipment (swings, teeter-totters) and a city swimming pool! We all learned to swim there, in chlorine-laced water that brought us home disinfected, pruney and red-eyed in the summer.

The park had another attraction, a sort of combo creek and city rainwater drainage system. Now being a country girl from Jacksboro, Texas, my mother told us that there were probably crawdads in the creek and told us how to catch them. We would steal bacon fat from the refrigerator and armed with a safety-pin and string, would regularly yank the ONE lone crawdad that we managed to find under the rocks at the edge of the creek. He was a big sucker with ancient blue claws that could pinch a blood blister anywhere he latched on to.  That poor crawdad got hauled out of the creek over and over while we laughed and watched him furiously try to seek his revenge before we tossed him back in.  There were even a few spotted sun perch and tons of minnows in the creek that my small brown terrier Ginger would try to catch; blowing bubbles through her nose while in hot pursuit of a fishy snack. The back yard had a sand box built primarily for my brother Billy. Many a fort and imaginary off-road track were built in that sand box, while he wasn’t burying our dogs up to there noses in the cool sand. The dogs loved it during the hot Texas summers.

We also waded through the pond by the child-sized concrete drainage pipe to get golf balls out of the water for my father. He would pay us for all we dredged up. I actually think it was ransom to get us out of the house for a while. My father did not play golf. It makes me shudder now to think of it, but I regularly used to crawl through the drainage pipe under the Trail Lake intersection to the other side of the park. It was a time in childhood where you know nothing bad could ever happen and you would be home by dark for supper.

Great memories live in that house. My parents are dead now and my brother, but the house is still there. I have only driven by the outside one time. Hopefully the family that lives there has children who laugh as much as we did there.  And I hope the grandchildren of that poor crawdad are still putting up a good fight.

Dad

Miss you……….Happy Birthday Dad.

In My Mind's Eye

My Dad and Mom on their Wedding Day My Dad and Mom on their Wedding Day

My Dad, who died in 2010 was the master of gentle and undeniable advice. Words delivered with a killer combination of decisiveness and humor. He retired from the Air Force as a Senior Master Sergeant and had spent some of his best years molding the young airmen that worked in his radio shop for the B52 bomber. That time in the service defined him. Not the kind to mince words, he got to the point. I loved that about him.

Vintage Dad:

When I was complaining about not being appreciated at whatever job I had (a.k.a. whining): “Take your hand out of a bucket of sand and see what kind of impression you leave.” Ok. Enough said there.

He would also give me invaluable advice about working with difficult people who outranked you. “Respect the position, not the person.”While at the same time explaining the risky but satisfying…

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Internal Flight

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In my dreams, I don’t have to fight gravity, I only have to flex some hidden internal muscle to lift off from the ground. I don’t even stretch out my arms (thank God, that would look so silly!), and just float effortlessly up to the heights over the trees where I can see the earth below me. There is no sensation of movement or speed, just a presence over the earth. I guess I would describe it most like rising up to the surface and floating in water, but upside down, where you can see everything under you. Thrilling. Don’t start with me about Freudian interpretations, I think Freud had way bigger problems than I do.

Strangely enough, my awake-self is afraid of heights. I have a recurring nightmare of falling off a bridge. Riding in the car with my parents, looking out the window at the concrete barrier posts of the bridge flashing by, my father inexplicably pulls off to the side of the bridge and stops. I get out, climb the railing (who knows why) and teeter on the edge for some sweat-soaking, scream-inspiring moments before  falling towards the water below. Waking up before I hit, I’m still alive to redream that terror again and again. Hitchcock made Vertigo for a reason.

I’ve made an intense hobby of watching the wing-flap position in every phase of flight to ease my horror in commercial aircraft. My father, an Air Force Senior Master-Sergeant taught me the correct positions to calm me down. Like there would be anything I could do if they were not in the right position. Not that I have avoided heights or flying, I simply recognize my fear and plan for it. On planes,  mostly with wine.

I did however, almost brain an pimply-faced teenager over the Swiss glacier “Les Diablerets”, when  he announced it might be funny if we all bounced up and down in the Volkswagen-sized gondola to …” see what would happen”. I tell you what happened, I froze him in his tracks with one look and he trailed off to contemplate how many times he might bounce if I threw him out the window of the gondola.

He did not know I could fly in my dreams.

The Next Word

HandsIt’s a funny thing about people. As I have gotten older, I’ve come to realize that very few people keep their word. I don’t mean a sacred promise, like a marriage vow,  or a “I solemnly swear to…” kind of promise that politicians seem to love saying, then go scuttling off to do whatever it is they are doing up there.

I mean just things ordinary people say they’ll do.  Like a commitment from people you do business with.

I’m writing this after watching my husband suffer through five months of the worst real estate deal in the history of mankind trying to sell a home for a relative. Before that it was negotiating the Medicaid system through a forest of questionable advice from Medicaid consultants talking through their ass.  Before that it was the purchase of a new car, which went along just great until the little ferret of a salesman realized we were not going to purchase an extended service contract. My husband asked him if the product he was selling was not manufactured well enough to hold up for the three-year, 36,000 mile warranty that came with the purchase. Crickets chirped for a moment and then we left with the car.

When I do business I try to look at the person talking and think if I can trust what they are saying. I fall into that trap every time.  Something in me knows that they are just spouting the memorized company marketing line, but I still naively try to believe.

But now more and more doing business with any company has become an arduous process. I try to research the company beforehand and look at what they have done. Always better to look at what they have done than listen to what they say they will do. I look at their Better Business Bureau file. I find out what my options are if the company does not do what they say they will. What are similar companies?

It’s exhausting, not being able to trust. What happened to the handshake and giving your word? Silly girl, that world is disappearing.

As he was making our tea this morning my husband asked me if I thought he was always going to be cynical now. I responded “Probably, but I beat you to it.”

So, very few people keep their word.

But it sure makes you value those who do.

photo CCO creative commons image

 

Little Kitten

 

My husband. George. We’ve been married thirty-nine years and he still surprises me, astonishes me. We have history, we went to the same high school, started dating right out of high school, went to TCU together, got married right after I graduated in 1978. We know each other.

So last weekend, Labor Day weekend, we are sitting at the kitchen table drinking our morning tea and George says ” I have something to tell you.” “Okay”, says I, not expecting anything earth shattering, but we do have a project pending (the sale of my mother-in-law’s house for her). I was expecting a problem with that.

“Do you remember the story of Ferdinand the Bull?”, he asks. “Yes.”….I said slowly. “Did he have a friend?” “No”, I said, “He was rather solitary, he just like sitting and smelling the flowers.” “Well,  I need you to see something down at K.J.’s pasture.” Now, I’m slightly alarmed. K.J. is our thirty-year-old horse. He had been really ill last year but has recovered and is fat as a pig and doing great. Then it hit me. “You’ve adopted a cow?” I asked, thinking I’m in a scene from City Slickers. Our neighbor’s cows have broken through the fence before. “No.” he said, looking down.

“What?” I looked at him. “K.J. has a friend.” ” WHAT IS IT?”, I ask. “A cat.” he says. ” A black cat.”

I laughed. I laughed until I cried. You see my husband is really allergic to cats. We live in a country house that we bought from my dear Aunt, who had thirty-five cats. She was the cat lady you read about. Thirty-five. Twelve in the house, seventeen in the garage and six in a pen in a corral. She loved them to a fault. Enough said. George took a year off from work when we bought this house, completely gutted, repainted and refurbished it before we could live in it. He’s really allergic to cats. We can’t have a house cat.

We’ve been through this scenario before, by the way. The twenty acres where K.J. is pastured is separated from the acreage our house is on. It’s a short drive down the county road from our home, but isolated enough that people dump things on the road. Like cats. There is a particular brand of cretin that thinks it is ok to dump defenseless kittens or old dogs in the country and that somehow they will survive. Or they just don’t give a damn and they think starving defenseless animals is a thing that people do. There is a hell waiting for folks like that. My husband is not one of those people. The last time it was a box of four kittens that someone left in the drive to K.J.’s corral. They were weaned, but just barely. They stayed in our garage until we could get them built up enough to stay around the yard. We vetted them, neutered and spayed them and kept each one as safe as we could. Our population of coyotes and owls got them one by one. It is heartbreaking, but they had a happy, well-fed cat life while they were here as loved country cats, catching field mice and our pond frogs and the occasional lizard. I started feeding another stray cat that presented us with two kittens and years of love, so I’m guilty too.

But at the moment we were a cat-free family. Until now.

“How long has he been down there?” “Three months.” This what I mean about my husband surprising me. He has been feeding this kitten on the sly for three months because he didn’t want to tell me. After I could catch my breath from laughing again I asked, “What’s his name?” “Little Kitten.” he says.

We’re going to have to work on that. I think Ferdinand. Welcome Ferdinand.