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Revisit: I still like prunes—a story of my Miss Mary . . .

This is a revisit to a post I made in August of 2010. It has languished in the Stygian darkness of prior posts and in that period of seven months it has garnered an astonishing total of three comments—one from a blogger in Virginia, a person that combines the talents of a writer, blogger, painter, wedding planner, party planner, sculptor, photographer, desktop publisher and gardener—and two comments from her father, the King of Texas. Yep, that blogger is the second-born of three beautiful girls that unashamedly admit to the world at large that I am their father.

I  take an enormous amount of pride in the story of Miss Mary—writing it was a labor of love and reading it is, for me, a return to a gentler world, one without nuclear energy, atomic weapons or rap music. Miss Mary influenced my life to such a degree that I still adhere to most—but not all—of the principles she taught me, her efforts aided substantially by her use of an 18-inch wooden ruler.

This story is true. I wrote it in 1987 when I lived for six months—an eternity—in Houston, Texas. The story has appeared in sculptor Tom Clark’s Cairn Studio quarterly issue, a publication that is distributed to dealers and collectors of the artist’s work in every county in every state in our United States, including Hawaii and Alaska.  Please note that any use of this document, other than brief excerpts, is prohibited by US and international law—it cannot legally be used in any other fashion without my permission.

Yes, ma’m, I still like prunes

On a special September morning in Mississippi many years ago, the air was crisp and clean and cool, and the woman standing in the doorway folded her arms against the chill. Her deep-set eyes, startlingly blue in a heavily lined unsmiling face, were fixed on a small boy as he neared the steps.

To a casual observer she presented a normal picture. A portrait from an earlier time, perhaps, than 1938, a time of black high-buttoned shoes and ankle length skirts, black and thickly pleated. Her white cotton blouse, high-necked and long-sleeved, was relieved in its starkness only by lace at the neck and wrists. Her hair was tightly plaited and shining in the early morning light, the heavy braids coiled and crossed in an intricate crown of silver.

I was that small boy, and I was not a casual observer. For me the picture was very different as my dragging steps brought me closer to my first full day of school. Fear of the unknown made me forgo any shortcuts between home and school, choosing the longer way to delay the inevitable. I was late, and as I squared the final corner the tardy bell rang. From the bottom step the black-skirted figure loomed gigantic, conjuring up visions of darkness, of beating wings, of things seen only in dreams.

I would come to know the woman as a pioneer educator that brought many innovations to her state and city educational systems. And I would come to love her. On that day I found a friend, and that friendship would be broken only by death.

Although past retirement age, she continued her position and her duties as an elementary school principal, and remained a dynamic figure and force in state and local school administration. In a career that spanned three-quarters of a century, she gained the respect and love of all that knew her.

We called her Miss Mary. She had another name, Stokes, but few of us knew it and none of us used it. She was simply Miss Mary. I spent my first six school years in the square two-story red brick building, my attendance broken only by the unpredictable moves of an itinerant carpenter stepfather.

Miss Mary ruled her school with an iron hand, and meted out corporal punishment on the spot. Always present in one wrinkled blue-veined hand was a wooden ruler. With deadly precision the eighteen inches of supreme authority landed on miscreant knuckles, shoulders and backsides of boys and girls alike.

I had the dubious distinction of being Miss Mary’s pet. Apparently to refute that notion, she punished me for the smallest infractions of a bewildering array of rules. The taps were delivered with love, but became painful through sheer repetition.

Lunch was closely supervised. With military precision we moved through the line, plates on trays, collecting helpings from long-handled spoons along the way. Everyone received the same items in identical portions. Conversation was kept to a minimum with Miss Mary moving among the tables, scolding here, praising there, coaxing us to eat everything on our plates. Probably the most disliked food was spinach—in spite of Popeye’s efforts—and stewed prunes ran a close second.

How I loved stewed prunes! At a time when happiness for other little boys was a Buck Rogers ring with a built-in compass, happiness for me was a third helping of stewed prunes. Served almost daily, they were usually eaten only through Miss Mary’s insistence. Not me—I needed no encouragement. I ate the prunes before I touched the main course. Seeing the affinity that developed between me and stewed prunes, Miss Mary told the ladies on the serving line to give me as many of the wrinkled dark delicacies as I wanted. My taste for prunes and Miss Mary’s indulgence probably made me the most regular kid in town.

As with all activities at Miss Mary’s school, playtime was highly regimented and closely supervised. Boys and girls were separated and each grade had its own area for recreation. If one of us strayed into another zone we were reprimanded and returned to our own.

There were exceptions. Miss Mary felt that in sports and at play children should be evenly matched. If one of us was appreciably smaller than our classmates, or lagged behind in muscular development and coordination, we were assigned to an area where we could compete more effectively and where the chances of injury were reduced.

I was smaller than most of my classmates—perhaps because of the prunes—so I spent my playtime with the next lower grade. There were some advantages. I was better coordinated than the younger boys, and I often spent the entire play period at bat by intentionally hitting foul balls. The rule was, “99 fouls and you’re out.”

Miss Mary ended her career in education at the same time I began mine in military service. Our friendship endured as the years passed, but our visits became infrequent because of my duty assignments. Returning to my hometown after several years overseas, I learned that Miss Mary, nearing the century mark in age, lived near the sister I had come to visit. After a call to her nurse and a short walk to the house, my sister and I were ushered into Miss Mary’s parlor. In the cool dimness of the room with its heavy drapes drawn against the bright fall sun, we saw the tiny figure seated in a massive rocker.

Her frail shoulders sagged under the weight of a thick brown shawl. She sat slumped forward, head down and eyes fixed on skeletal folded hands. Silhouetted against the single dim lamp she had an ethereal quality, her skin almost translucent, the diffused light a halo for her bowed head with its wispy strands of white hair. She seemed unaware of me, and paid no heed to my gentle reminders of the past. The nurse said that long periods of withdrawal were common, that Miss Mary might not recognize me or correspond in any way. I tried several times to talk to her, but there was no indication that she knew me or even heard me. Feeling awkward and ill at ease, and filled with a deep sense of loss and sadness, I told the nurse that I would come back later. I stood and moved toward the door and then I heard it.

“Do you still like prunes?”

Each word loud and clear, the voice deep and strong, lightly dismissing the long years, pushing back time and space to another day when a small boy found an unexpected and lifelong friend. Memories flooded over me as I turned back, sat down and replied, “Yes, ma’m, I still like prunes.” But that was all. Not another word. She remained silent and unmoving, head down and hands folded, and did not respond to me or to the nurse. Throat swollen and blinded by a scalding rush of tears, I stumbled to the door and out of the house.

I never saw her again. She died several months later, peacefully in her sleep according to newspaper accounts. Tribute was paid in eulogies by leading citizens and educators from all over the South, and the press detailed her long career and her many accomplishments. All the pictures in the newspapers were of a stranger. Not one was of the woman I remembered. Not one of them was of my Miss Mary. And not one of them was the Miss Mary in my strongest memories, the first time and the last time I saw her.

My sister did not hear Miss Mary ask me the question that day. She heard my answer that I still liked prunes, but thought I was trying to bridge the gulf with another reminder of the past. Nor did the nurse hear the question. She heard only my answer. Did Miss Mary speak to me? Did she remember me? Did the other two people in the room simply fail to hear the voice I heard so clearly? Could I have wanted recognition so badly that I imagined she spoke to me? Or did Miss Mary somehow transcend the need for speech and reach out to me without words?

My old friend spoke to me that day. I did not imagine her voice. I heard it. She knew me and in order to show that she remembered, she asked the one question that would identify me among the many thousands of people whose lives she had touched and shaped and strengthened.

“Do you still like prunes?” She knew me and she spoke to me and she heard my answer.

I have no doubts, no misgivings. I know it.

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Posted by on March 23, 2011 in Uncategorized

 

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Palin, guns, massacre, Tucson, Ed, Chris, guests, et al . . .

Palin, guns, massacre, Ed, Chris, guests, et al . . .

Okay, let’s see if I have this right:

Immediately following the recent Saturday massacre at a Safeway outlet in Tucson, liberals skewered Sarah Palin for using symbols related to guns and gun use, symbols such as cross-hairs pointing to Democrat incumbents that should be targeted for the recent congressional elections, and for using such terms as don’t retreat, reload and similar gun-related expressions. Radio and television communication airways and publications continued discussing violent  rhetoric around the clock for several days, speculating that it had contributed to the massacre and. They called our attention to the fact that the one-time Alaska governor was “strangely quiet,” and intimated that her silence was an obvious sign that she realized her actions had contributed to the massacre, and that she had no ammunition available to fire back at the attack  being made on her by far left commentators and their guests. Note the italized gun-related terms such as cross-hairs, ammunition and fire back—our language is replete with such terms, and any attempt to relate that to the massacre is not only preposterous—it’s also utterly stupid.

After several days of silence Palin returned fire—see, there I go again with the gun-related terms. She posted an eight-minute video on Facebook, and that effort to explain her position brought a broadside of criticism from the left, a veritable fusilade of bullets fired by left-wing proponents on television, both main stream and cable. Again, note the gun-related terms—they are inherent in our use of the English language—without them we would be stifled in our efforts to communicate, and yet Sarah Palin is pilloried for her use of such terms.

As an aside, I want to point out to MSNBC that its worst commentator—and I mean that term worst in all its definitions—has a section of his nightly presentation called Rapid-Fire. Would you like to explain that reference to gun use, Ed? Would you consider changing that title, Ed? No, I didn’t think so, Ed.

As told by those on the left in political circles, the governor’s biggest mistake in her video was her reference to the term blood libel. Here is what she said on Facebook:

“Journalists and pundits should not manufacture a blood libel that only incites the violence they purport to condemn. That is reprehensible.”

I humbly submit that this was the brightest light in her presentation—I consider that a teachable moment, one capable of enlightening our nation’s entire population with a term that has hounded and preyed on the Jewish people for centuries. The term was completely unknown to me, and I am convinced that it was completely unknown to the other 308 million people in the United States—except, of course, by many religious scholars and by the Jewish population in the United States, a group estimated to be somewhere between five million and seven million souls. I’m willing to bet as much as half-a-barrel of pickled anuses that most of the people in that group are quite familiar with the phrase blood libel. Click here for an explanation and history of the term blood libel.

I consider myself to be at least partially educated. In addition to the life experiences I have accumulated during a relatively long life, a life that includes 22 years of military service covering two wars, both of which we lost, and 26 years of service as a federal law enforcement officer. I have been awarded two college diplomas, a Bachelor of Arts degree and a Bachelor of Science degree, each from accredited four-year universities, one in Texas and the other in Nebraska, and each conferred the degree to recognize four full years of study. Much of that study was concentrated on religious thought and history, including Judaism, but the term blood libel was never discussed. I never read it in textbooks and never heard it spoken in classroom discussions, probably because the text books had been purged of the term or the term had never been included.

A certain African-American member of the United States House of Representatives appeared on The Ed Show recently. When the host, Big Ed, asked for his take on Palin’s reference to blood libel, the congressman said this: I have heard it before but I have since studied up on it, undoubtedly in order to better understand it for his appearance on MSNBC. Click here for Ed’s show dated Thursday, January 13, 2011 and the video discussing blood libel. That part begins around the 10-minute marker of the video, so you won’t have to suffer through the first 10 minutes—unless you are an Ed fan and want to suffer through it.

I have serious doubts that the congressman had ever heard of the term until Sarah Palin provided him with a teachable moment, just as she provided one to me. He probably claimed to have known about it in order to save face, just as I would have done had I been asked about it, whether in public or in private—see, I’m honest about  it—I’m never reluctant to say, Hey, that’s a new one on me! I thrive on teachable moments, both receiving and giving.

That’s my story and I’m sticking to it.

 

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Breakfast in Mexico . . .

The first paragraph of A Tale of Two Cities, by Charles Dickens, English novelist (1812 – 1870):

It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us, we were all going direct to heaven, we were all going direct the other way—in short, the period was so far like the present period, that some of its noisiest authorities insisted on its being received, for good or for evil, in the superlative degree of comparison only.

I began this posting with Dickens’ work to emphasize and compare some of the differences in two sovereign nations, two states of those nations and the towns on their borders. This is not an invitation for my readers to travel in Mexico to observe the differences, not in these troubled times—travel to Mexico is fraught with danger, and as a long-time observer I would suggest that until the Mexican government eliminates the drug cartels, with or without the help of the United States government, all travel to that country should be forbidden, including trips to the interior of Mexico. Twenty Mexican tourists on a commercial bus were recently kidnapped in one of Mexico’s most popular resort cities—no place in the nation is safe from the murderous drug cartels.

I will also add that no place along the Texas border with Mexico is completely safe on either side of the Rio Grande River, but especially en la frontera—on the frontier, the Mexican side of the border. People in Mexico’s border cities are being kidnapped and held for ransom, women are being kidnapped, raped and murdered, and blockades manned by heavily armed bands are being erected along main highways by criminal elements to enable them to exact tribute from travelers driving to and from vacation spots in Mexico.

This is my advice to anyone contemplating visiting or vacationing in Mexico, given in words of one syllable:

It is not safe. Do not go there—not in a plane, on a boat, in a car, on a bus or on foot. You could lose your cash and your life—stay home.

Breakfast in Mexico. . .

The United States Air Force and I entered into a sometimes tumultuous relationship on March 7, 1949 and we parted company on July 1, 1971. Before ending my 22-year-plus career with the Air Force I studied for and took the test for employment with our federal work force, and spent the first five months following retirement waiting for a suitable offer of employment from our government.

Offers were plentiful, ranging from military units to the Veterans Administration to the U.S. Treasury Department, for locations all over the southeastern quadrant of the United States. I finally responded to an offer of employment with the United States Custom Service in the lower Rio Grande Valley at the international bridge at Hidalgo, Texas, a few miles from McAllen across the river from Reynosa, Mexico.

I accepted the offer and waited for a call to arms, but when the call came I was asked if I was familiar with Progreso. I replied that I didn’t know what a Progreso was, and the caller said it was a small town downriver from Hidalgo, that it had just been declared a separate port from Hidalgo, that it needed to be staffed, that my offer of employment was now for that location, and that should I decline the change the offer for employment would be withdrawn.

Having felt then, as I do now, that I am a very slight cut above the average retired military person, I wisely accepted the change in assignment and reported for duty at the port of Progreso, Texas on Monday, December 21, 1971 to begin a tour of duty that lasted almost six years, ending with my promotion to a supervisory position at Roma, Texas.

My memories of those six years are legion and as the saying goes, would fill a book, an enterprise that one day may come to fruition with the assistance of my daughter, the one that lives, loves, labors and languishes in Northern Virginia. Click here for her blog, an adventure that will take a reader worldwide on subjects ranging from agapanthus (lily of the Nile) to zinnias, from Alaska to Antarctica and from aardvarks to porpoises to zebras. This daughter is the middle one in age of three daughters—she is a world traveler, a professional and ardent photographer, a desktop publisher, a skilled artist, a graphic designer, etc., etc., etc. I hasten to add that she is not a chip off the old block—I admit unashamedly that I possess none of her talents and very few of my own.

But I digress—as the title promises, this posting is a tale of breakfast in Mexico, of two barrels and of sewage in the drinking water in a small town  known as Nuevo Progreso—New Progreso, in reference to its sister city across the Rio Grande River in Texas. Originally known as Las Flores—Spanish for the flowers—this is probably one of the most contradictory names of any town—ever.

When I came to work at the port of Progreso, one of Las Flores’ most memorable and most photographed scenes could be observed from the U.S. side of the river. One could watch the town’s water hauler as he rumbled down the slope to the river’s edge, perched high on a wooden bench seat on a two-wheeled cart drawn by a lone burro. In addition to the driver, the cart boasted a huge wooden metal-ringed barrel. The driver filled the barrel by wading into the river and dipping two buckets into the Rio Grande, then emptying them into the barrel, a system that required many trips to fill the barrel before heading back to town for locations that used his services, locations that included small eating places and private homes.

I soon learned how the freshwater system worked. At the end of my first 4 pm to midnight shift at the port of Progreso, the toll collector for outbound traffic, a bridge employee that would become a close friend, suggested that we cross the river and have breakfast at a small café that stayed open well after other eateries had closed for the night. I agreed, and we were soon seated at a table in a small, dimly lighted room with no more than six or seven tables. In addition to the front unscreened door the room had two doors to the rear, one closed and the other open to show the kitchen area. I noticed that there were two large wooden barrels in the kitchen.

Following a short wait, the closed door opened and a woman dressed in a chenille house robe with her hair up in curlers entered the dining area, apparently coming from a sleeping area. I say this because of the robe and the hair up in curlers and because she was yawning—she was also scratching her crotch, a motion that could have meant, but did not necessarily mean, that she had been sleeping.

While we awaited her arrival I asked my friend about the two barrels in the kitchen and he readily explained their purpose. I had suspected the worst, and he confirmed my fears. He told me that the barrels were filled from the burro-drawn cart bearing the giant barrel filled from the Rio Grande River. Two barrels were needed in the cafe—one to provide water for cooking and drinking and diverse other purposes while the sediments in the recently filled barrel were settling to the bottom, and at the appropriate time the proprietor would switch barrels.

My friend ordered blanquillos con chorizo y tortillas de harina—eggs with sausage and flour tortillas—but I stated that I had suddenly been afflicted with a stomach ache and a slight bout of nausea, and felt that I shouldn’t eat at such a late hour. He accepted my declination without comment, and consumed his breakfast with obvious gusto. Our friendship blossomed over the following years, but that was the only time we went across the river for breakfast. Other invitations followed, but I always managed to decline them.

In all the years that I worked on and lived in proximity to the border Texas shares with the state of Tamaulipas, Mexico, raw sewage flowed into the Rio Grande River at points all along its length, conditions that probably still exist. The little town of Las Flores sported open sewers that meandered their way through the town and spewed their contents into the river’s murky waters. That was then and this is now, and I cannot speak for the town’s sewage disposal system now—I haven’t been there for more than twenty-five years, but I can assure the reader that raw untreated sewage is still pouring into the river at various points along our border with Mexico.

Just as an afterthought—I lived with my family in Donna, Texas for twelve years before moving out of and far away from that city. Donna’s water supply came from the Rio Grande, pumped from there to an uncovered reservoir referred to locally as a settling pond, then from that point to a water-treatment plant before going into homes and restaurants in the city of Donna. As far as I know, that is still the system used in Donna. Let’s face it—Donna’s settling pond is the equivalent of the second barrel in that little café in Las Flores.

During the years I worked at the port of Progreso, the city of Nuevo Progreso just across the river in Mexico had several nice restaurants  with international cuisine, served on linen-covered tables with all the dishes and fine wines found in upscale restaurants across our nation. I am reasonably certain that their water supply came from some source other than a barrel on a donkey cart. Arturo’s Restaurant was one of the best, and my family and friends dined there frequently. I recommended it then and I would recommend it now were it not for the difficult times and dangers posed by the turmoil existing in Mexico, specifically the drug cartel wars and the government’s inability to control them and their murderous activities.

And now, at the risk of repeating myself, I will repeat myself: This is my advice to anyone contemplating visiting or vacationing in Mexico, given in words of one syllable:

It is not safe. Do not go there—not in a plane, on a boat, in a car, by bus or on foot. You could lose your cash and your life—stay home.

That’s my story and I’m sticking to it.

 

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I still like prunes—a story of my Miss Mary . . .

This story is true. I wrote it in 1987 when I lived for six months—an eternity—in Houston, Texas. The story has appeared in sculptor Tom Clark’s Cairn Studio quarterly issue, a publication that is distributed to dealers and collectors of the artist’s work in every county in every state in our United States, including Hawaii and Alaska.  Please note that any use of this document, other than brief excerpts, is prohibited by US and international law—it cannot legally be used in any other fashion without my permission.

Yes, ma’m, I still like prunes

On a special September morning in Mississippi many years ago, the air was crisp and clean and cool, and the woman standing in the doorway folded her arms against the chill. Her deep-set eyes, startlingly blue in a heavily lined unsmiling face, were fixed on a small boy as he neared the steps.

To a casual observer she presented a normal picture. A portrait from an earlier time, perhaps, than 1938, a time of black high-buttoned shoes and ankle length skirts, black and thickly pleated. Her white cotton blouse, high-necked and long-sleeved, was relieved in its starkness only by lace at the neck and wrists. Her hair was tightly plaited and shining in the early morning light, the heavy braids coiled and crossed in an intricate crown of silver.

I was that small boy, and I was not a casual observer. For me the picture was very different as my dragging steps brought me closer to my first full day of school. Fear of the unknown made me forgo any shortcuts between home and school, choosing the longer way to delay the inevitable. I was late, and as I squared the final corner the tardy bell rang. From the bottom step the black-skirted figure loomed gigantic, conjuring up visions of darkness, of beating wings, of things seen only in dreams.

I would come to know the woman as a pioneer educator that brought many innovations to her state and city educational systems. And I would come to love her. On that day I found a friend, and that friendship would be broken only by death.

Although past retirement age, she continued her position and her duties as an elementary school principal, and remained a dynamic figure and force in state and local school administration. In a career that spanned three-quarters of a century, she gained the respect and love of all that knew her.

We called her Miss Mary. She had another name, Stokes, but few of us knew it and none of us used it. She was simply Miss Mary. I spent my first six school years in the square two-story red brick building, my attendance broken only by the unpredictable moves of an itinerant carpenter stepfather.

Miss Mary ruled her school with an iron hand, and meted out corporal punishment on the spot. Always present in one wrinkled blue-veined hand was a wooden ruler. With deadly precision the eighteen inches of supreme authority landed on miscreant knuckles, shoulders and backsides of boys and girls alike.

I had the dubious distinction of being Miss Mary’s pet. Apparently to refute that notion, she punished me for the smallest infractions of a bewildering array of rules. The taps were delivered with love, but became painful through sheer repetition.

Lunch was closely supervised. With military precision we moved through the line, plates on trays, collecting helpings from long-handled spoons along the way. Everyone received the same items in identical portions. Conversation was kept to a minimum with Miss Mary moving among the tables, scolding here, praising there, coaxing us to eat everything on our plates. Probably the most disliked food was spinach—in spite of Popeye’s efforts—and stewed prunes ran a close second.

How I loved stewed prunes! At a time when happiness for other little boys was a Buck Rogers ring with a built-in compass, happiness for me was a third helping of stewed prunes. Served almost daily, they were usually eaten only through Miss Mary’s insistence. Not me—I needed no encouragement. I ate the prunes before I touched the main course. Seeing the affinity that developed between me and stewed prunes, Miss Mary told the ladies on the serving line to give me as many of the wrinkled dark delicacies as I wanted. My taste for prunes and Miss Mary’s indulgence probably made me the most regular kid in town.

As with all activities at Miss Mary’s school, playtime was highly regimented and closely supervised. Boys and girls were separated and each grade had its own area for recreation. If one of us strayed into another zone we were reprimanded and returned to our own.

There were exceptions. Miss Mary felt that in sports and at play children should be evenly matched. If one of us was appreciably smaller than our classmates, or lagged behind in muscular development and coordination, we were assigned to an area where we could compete more effectively and where the chances of injury were reduced.

I was smaller than most of my classmates—perhaps because of the prunes—so I spent my playtime with the next lower grade. There were some advantages. I was better coordinated than the younger boys, and I often spent the entire play period at bat by intentionally hitting foul balls. The rule was, “99 fouls and you’re out.”

Miss Mary ended her career in education at the same time I began mine in military service. Our friendship endured as the years passed, but our visits became infrequent because of my duty assignments. Returning to my hometown after several years overseas, I learned that Miss Mary, nearing the century mark in age, lived near the sister I had come to visit. After a call to her nurse and a short walk to the house, my sister and I were ushered into Miss Mary’s parlor. In the cool dimness of the room with its heavy drapes drawn against the bright fall sun, we saw the tiny figure seated in a massive rocker.

Her frail shoulders sagged under the weight of a thick brown shawl. She sat slumped forward, head down and eyes fixed on skeletal folded hands. Silhouetted against the single dim lamp she had an ethereal quality, her skin almost translucent, the diffused light a halo for her bowed head with its wispy strands of white hair. She seemed unaware of me, and paid no heed to my gentle reminders of the past. The nurse said that long periods of withdrawal were common, that Miss Mary might not recognize me or correspond in any way. I tried several times to talk to her, but there was no indication that she knew me or even heard me. Feeling awkward and ill at ease, and filled with a deep sense of loss and sadness, I told the nurse that I would come back later. I stood and moved toward the door and then I heard it.

“Do you still like prunes?”

Each word loud and clear, the voice deep and strong, lightly dismissing the long years, pushing back time and space to another day when a small boy found an unexpected and lifelong friend. Memories flooded over me as I turned back, sat down and replied, “Yes, ma’m, I still like prunes.” But that was all. Not another word. She remained silent and unmoving, head down and hands folded, and did not respond to me or to the nurse. Throat swollen and blinded by a scalding rush of tears, I stumbled to the door and out of the house.

I never saw her again. She died several months later, peacefully in her sleep according to newspaper accounts. Tribute was paid in eulogies by leading citizens and educators from all over the South, and the press detailed her long career and her many accomplishments. All the pictures in the newspapers were of a stranger. Not one was of the woman I remembered. Not one of them was of my Miss Mary. And not one of them was the Miss Mary in my strongest memories, the first time and the last time I saw her.

My sister did not hear Miss Mary ask me the question that day. She heard my answer that I still liked prunes, but thought I was trying to bridge the gulf with another reminder of the past. Nor did the nurse hear the question. She heard only my answer. Did Miss Mary speak to me? Did she remember me? Did the other two people in the room simply fail to hear the voice I heard so clearly? Could I have wanted recognition so badly that I imagined she spoke to me? Or did Miss Mary somehow transcend the need for speech and reach out to me without words?

My old friend spoke to me that day. I did not imagine her voice. I heard it. She knew me and in order to show that she remembered, she asked the one question that would identify me among the many thousands of people whose lives she had touched and shaped and strengthened.

“Do you still like prunes?” She knew me and she spoke to me and she heard my answer.

I have no doubts, no misgivings. I know it.

 
3 Comments

Posted by on August 7, 2010 in Childhood, education, friends, Writing

 

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Ponce de Leon finds a flower first . . .

One of my three princesses, the one that lives, loves and works in Alexandria, Virginia recently posted a photo of a gorgeous highly complicated plant on her blog. This is the princess that in age and maturity falls somewhere between my first-born and my last-born daughters. Click here to go to her blog and enjoy a photographic journey that covers the state, the nation and various distant parts of the globe—be prepared to spent a lot of time there—it’s well worth the visit! Be sure to read her Stuff About Me page, located on the right of her home page. If you’ve never been to Alaska, Antarctica and deep into the four sections of the United States—dozens and dozens of locations in the north, south, east and west quadrants, with emphasis on the Four Corners of the Southwest—and Canada, Spain, Italy and other foreign countries, she’ll take you there with her photography and her writings. Be forewarned—it’s highly addictive!

She captioned the photo as follows (it’s pictured at the close of this posting):

Your guess is as good as mine!

It looks like a Gaura plant, but I’m just not sure, and the plant wasn’t labeled at Green Spring Gardens this morning. Any one venture to guess? Patty? The sprigs tend to lean downward, like a waterfall.

I commented on the posting and chastised her for failing to research the Internet in an effort to identify the plant. Having a bit of spare time on my hands—well, a lot of spare time—I spent a few minutes on research and the results of my effort are shown in the narrative analysis below. I was pleased with my findings, so pleased that I decided to bring my comment up from and out of the Stygian darkness of comments and into the bright light of a separate posting in order to share those findings with my viewers.

This is my comment, exactly as entered:

thekingoftexas (03:52:16) :

I am in shock! You don’t know? My guess is as good as yours? Evidently you made no effort to identify the flower by researching the internet. I found it in less than ten minutes!

This is the Flower of Paradice—no, not the paradise flower, that gorgeous bloom also called crane flower (Strelitzia reginae), an ornamental plant of the family Strelitziaceae.

Note that in the spelling of the Flower of Paradice, the ess in paradise is replaced with a cee. The flower was discovered by the Spanish conquistador Ponce de Leon (1474 – July 1521) in his search for the fountain of youth. He believed it to be in what is now the state of Florida, but he ultimately turned his attention to Venezuela, spurred on by a notation he had found in a centuries-old document indicating that the fountain of youth was at the foot of what is now known as Angel Falls.

After an arduous journey fraught with perils and nearing the end of his life, he arrived at the falls but found that the pool at the foot of the falls failed to restore his youth. However, he did discover something there that would shake the scientific world, especially the world of flowers and that would ultimately have an effect on locations such as Las Vegas and Reno and Atlantic City—he discovered an unusual and theretofore unknown blossom that he almost immediately christened the Flower of Paradice—the Spanish name of the flower is “La flor que pasa siempre inmediatamente,” the flower that always passes immediately.

You see, Ponce de Leon was addicted to the game of dice—craps, if you will—and he noted that each bloom of the plant was graced with six beautiful petals and five golden yellow thingies protruding from the center of the bloom for a total of eleven elements and, much as did the great Pythagoras on his discovery of the 47th Problem of Euclid when he exclaimed Eureka!, a Grecian word meaning “I have found it,” Ponce de Leon shouted “Eleven!” He meant that he had found a flower with a total of eleven elements in its bloom, and to one addicted to the game of dice, the number eleven is magic—eleven along with seven are the two numbers in the game of craps that give the shooter an immediate win.

Sadly, Ponce de Leon never found the fountain of youth and he died at the age of 47. His many discoveries in his travels contributed greatly to our knowledge of the new world, and we are indebted to him for his discovery and naming of this beautiful flower.

A special note: Journey to any one of the world’s great gaming sites and head for the crap tables—there you will find that many of the high rollers wear a Flower of Paradice or a facimile of such—a ring or perhaps even a tattoo, just for luck.

PeeEss: I stated that on his discovery Ponce de Leon shouted, “Eleven!” but the actual word he shouted was once, the Spanish word for the number eleven, pronounced as on’ce with the accent on the first syllable. I used the English word to avoid the reader untutored in Spanish pronouncing it as the English word once, meaning one time only, a single occurrence, etc.

That’s my story and I’m sticking to it!

 
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Posted by on July 3, 2010 in Uncategorized

 

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Help me, help me! A lass and lipstick moment . . .

Please study this photo and tell me what you see. Is this child a refugee from a war-torn country? From somewhere in Europe during World War II, or perhaps from one of the Balkan countries during a later time of conflict? Bosnia? Kosovo?

Look deeply into this pitiful child’s eyes, at her wrinkled brow, at that pleading look and stance, and try to imagine what horrors she has endured. Does she awake in the dead of night screaming, reliving sights and scenes and sounds from the past? Has she been abused? Is she a victim of ——-? (fill in the blank).

Nope, none of the above. This lovely little girl is not from any war-torn country—she is not a refugee. Those are not blood-stains you see, and the only thing she is a victim of is having gotten into her mother’s cosmetics and applied lipstick, quite liberally—she has lipstick in varying amounts on lips, teeth, chin, cheeks, neck, eyebrows, forehead, arms, hands and tee-shirt, and in her hair.

That pleading look is one of, Look at what someone did to me! How could this happen to me? What have I done to deserve this? That pleading look and pitiful pose is actually saying, Help me, help me! If the picture had sound, it would be similar to Vincent Price, half-man and half-fly, trapped in a spiderweb in that old black-and-white movie, The Fly and pleading, Help me, help me!

She’s begging for a clean-up job. My first thought when I saw the damage was to strap her on the hood of my car and run it through the automatic car wash a couple of times, but her mother nixed that. My next suggestion was to remove the lipstick with scouring powder but that was also nixed, and ultimately soap, water and lots of rubbing returned her to something approaching a normal appearance.

This child, this urchin with the oh, so innocent but pleading look and stance is my daughter Cindy, the middle one of three daughters, the one that lives, loves and works in Virginia. She was somewhere between three and four years old—closer to four, I believe—when I took this picture. She’s standing in the driveway of our home at Brooks Air Force Base in San Antonio, Texas, an upscale on-base neighborhood, one that our family hated to leave after just one year there. We left Brooks Air Force Base and traveled just twenty miles or so across town to another assignment at Kelley Air Force Base—our six year stay at that location is a subject for a future posting.

Cindy is all grown up now, married without children and working as—well, her work is so varied that rather than trying to capsule it into one category, I’ll let her tell you in her own words. The following is from Stuff about me on her Word Press blog. Click the link below for her Stuff about me. Click here for her latest postings and get ready to view some really gorgeous photography, some of the finest to be found on the web!

http://cindydyer.wordpress.com/about/

Paying the bills: self-employed graphic designer and photographer (mostly print; professional and trade associations, and small businesses—magazines, newsletters, brochures, annual reports, logos, posters)—celebrating 21 years on my own this year—2010!

Family: by far the best Mom and Dad on the planet, two sisters, two great brothers-in-law, nieces and nephews, and my sweetie, Michael…wonderful friends who are always there for me…an ode to my Garden Club Weedettes as well, who are always eager and willing to dive into a project with me, dress up for a party, whip up a potluck contribution, or get their hands dirty doing something crafty.

Some other activities—some, but not all: Oil and acrylic painting, photography (portraits, glamour shots, nature, macro, floral/botanical, travel), cement leaf casting, crocheting hats like crazy come winter time (what else can a gardener do when it’s cold out?), needle felting, sewing, murals, faux painting, Polaroid transfers (if it’s something crafty, I’ve probably at least tried it once), biblioholic (any topic, you name it—we probably have at least one book on the subject…don’t even begin to guess how many gardening books I’ve amassed!), animal lover (currently: two cats (ZenaB and Jasper), down to one goldfish (Goldie), and one pleco (Spot); formerly: ferrets (Ginger, Jessie Belle, Missy, Pogo Diablo, Ben, Callie Jo, Silver, Bandit), one white rat (Lucky Fred Chewy Ratatouille), and countless other goldfish (Calico Joe, Dorrie, Nemo, Suebee, Debbi, and Regina). Also handy with power tools and do-it-yourself projects…

Magnificent obsession: Gardening! As the “Head Weed,” I started a garden club in my community over five years ago and I’m surrounded by an amazing group of Weedettes!…and gardening books (reference, how-to, essays by other gardeners)

Always on my radar: Gardens, nurseries, plant sales! In my travels, I always look for the local nurseries and botanical gardens to visit.

And another obsession: BOOKS! I love to read and subjects include nature, science, gardening (I especially love personal essays by gardeners); photography; graphic design; nature and travel writing essays; how-to books on writing, editing, crafts, journaling, cooking, designing, decorating; biographies…sometimes a book just has to be beautifully designed for me to want to possess it! I never met a book I didn’t like (um…scratch that. If it relates to math, I’m outta here). And when I travel, I always look for new bookstores. What could possibly be better than Powell’s Books in Portland, The Tattered Cover in Denver, Elliot Bay Bookstore in Seattle, or any Half Price Books & Records in the south?

Other diversions: writing poetry, entertaining (all my parties must have a theme, dress code, and guests pose in front of related theme backgrounds for their photos!), animal lover; magazine addict (covering photography, graphic design, Photoshop, Mac, home and garden, travel). I also love to research the things I photograph.

Oh, and just a few more obsessions: Yarn, fabric and craft stores!

Globetrotting: I love to travel (so far: Italian and French Riviera, Rome, Chile (Buenos Aires), Argentina (Tierra del Fuego, Ushuaia), Antarctica, Alaska, the islands (Tortola, Virgin Gorda, St. John, St. Thomas, St. Lucia, St. Barts), southwest U.S. several times over (Arizona, New Mexico, Colorado, Utah), all the eastern states, Ohio, California (San Diego, Monterrey, Carmel, San Francisco, Napa/Sonoma Valley, Death Valley), Texas (mostly South Texas and Mexico), Newfoundland, Prince Edward Island, Nova Scotia, Point Pelee for bird migration, Maine (and all the other New England states), Maryland, West Virginia, New York, Louisiana (lived there when I was in 5th grade), Alabama, Arkansas, Tennessee, South Carolina, North Carolina, Alabama, Georgia, Mississippi, Florida, Montana, Pacific Northwest (Washington, Oregon, Victoria/British Columbia)….love a good road trip…need to do more!

Music: Lifelong John Denver fan, Tingstad and Rumbel, Eva Cassidy, Christine Kane, Katie Melua, Cheryl Wheeler, Janis Ian, Barbara Streisand, Karla Bonoff, James Taylor, Trisha Yearwood, Carly Simon, Mary Chapin Carpenter, Josh Grobin, any acoustic instrumental music (particularly guitar and piano)

In a nutshell, I live to create.

 
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Posted by on May 18, 2010 in Uncategorized

 

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Sarah Palin: A letter to the editor, San Antonio Express-News . . .


On Saturday, June 20, 2009, the San Antonio Express-News in San Antonio, Texas printed the above letter from a reader. Apparently as an adjunct to the letter the above photo of Alaska’s governor was also printed. The photo prompted a letter from me to the editor—my letter and the series of e-mails that followed are the subjects of this posting.

Saturday, June 20, 2009 (my initial letter to the editor)

letters@xpress-news.net, YOUR TURN, June 20, 2009:

Re: Sarah Palin, the governor of Alaska, and her photo published in YOUR TURN today:

Please convey my congratulations to the staffer who painstakingly researched your voluminous files and unerringly selected the most unflattering photo available to be printed, and also to the upper echelon person who approved its use.

Sarah Palin’s mouth is grotesquely twisted into what can only be described as a snarl or sneer, and her left eye is squinted closed. The governor is apparently right-handed, and she appears to be taking aim at a target. It’s pure conjecture as to what, or whom, she sees through her sights.

I have zero expectations of this letter being printed. I have in the past submitted letters to the editor—some were printed and some were ignored. My experience has been that when the letter strikes a nerve, it is not published.

A prime example of comments striking a nerve and not being published is my recent submission, a letter in which I noted, and in no small measure criticized, recent changes to your publication.

I appreciate it when a letter is published because all writers enjoy seeing their work in print, but I usually feel much better when it strikes a nerve and is not published—its rejection indicates its effectiveness.

I am reasonably certain that you will not disappoint me this time.

This is the editor’s response to my letter:

From: BRichter@express-news.net (the public editor of the paper)
Mon, Jun 22, 2009 1:34 PM

H.M. – Thanks for your letter. May we publish it? I think I’ll cut all the whining about your letters not getting published when they strike a nerve. We’ll just go with the criticism of the photo in question (which I didn’t really think was so bad). Bob Richter

And this is my answer to his request to publish my letter:

To: BRichter@express-news.net
Tuesday, June 23, 2009 11:11 AM

No, do not publish the letter. I’m pleased with your response, but I now have no desire to see any part of the letter in print. Besides, I seriously doubt that the first two paragraphs would be published as written.

The word whining is a term of derision and a poor choice for the Express-News’ Public Editor, or any other staff member, to use in response to a letter from a long-time subscriber. Your use of the word was petty—you could have conveyed your thoughts just as effectively by using comments instead of whining.

I did not expect the letter to be published in its entirety—my interest was only in the first two paragraphs. My so-called whining was meant to increase the odds that those paragraphs would be published—evidently it served its purpose.

Considering your statement that you didn’t really think it (the photo) was so bad, I’m surprised at your offer to publish any part of the letter. The photo was derogatory, extremely disrespectful to a person who has earned respect, and I think you know that.

In closing, please be aware that I will strive mightily to resist any temptation to submit other letters to the editor, regardless of the subject—I will retreat into silence and make every effort to stay there.

This is the last e-mail I received from the Public Editor of the Express-News:

From: BRichter@express-news.net
Tue, Jun 23, 2009 2:32 PM

You’re right; I was wrong to use that word. I would use that with a friend, in kind of a joshing way. But I don’t know you, and it was improper. I’m sorry.

Re: The editor’s statement, “I’m sorry.”

Is his “I’m sorry” offered as an apology? If intended to be an apology, it rings hollow—it could mean he’s sorry I wrote the original letter, or he’s sorry he made a petulant reply to a serious subscriber’s letter or, more likely, he’s sorry that he offered to print my letter, albeit only partially, and it could mean that he’s sorry I refused his offer to publish it, and of course, that he’s sorry about all the above.

A bona fide apology should include the word apology, as in “I apologize,” or as in “Please accept my apology.”

The editor seems reluctant to use the word.

What say you?

 
 

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