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Monthly Archives: March 2015

Partly Cloudy with a Chance of Eeriness

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IMG_0013Have you ever wanted a quiet beach vacation? One without the throngs of people crowding the parcel of sand in front of your condo? Where you don’t have to get up at the crack of dawn to claim your lounge chair by the pool, or deal with August humidity and heat? Well…be careful what you wish for! I just had that type of respite in South Padre Island and it was more like “The Shining” than “The Holiday.”

It started with a phone call from my eldest daughter, who had a week off from grad school and wanted to lay on a beach and do nothing. She wondered if we’d like to take her to South Padre Island. “Are you kidding me,” I asked, “that place is crawling with hundreds of thousands of crazy spring breakers this time of year.” In her best academic tone she replied that she’d done her research, and learned that no schools for miles around had spring break this particular week. “It’ll just be winter Texans and us,” she proclaimed, hopefully. Sure enough, I made a couple of phone calls and found that condo rental rates were back down to pre-crazy-spring-break prices beginning the day that we wished to head down there. So, we were off for a few days!

We checked into our condo around 5:00 last Tuesday afternoon. Entering the beautiful, light-filled lobby, we marveled at the gorgeous upholstered lounge chairs and huge Easter island-style sculptures. The receptionist went over “the rules” with us. “Absolutely no inappropriate behavior,” was one of our favorites. Then, she affixed sapphire-colored bands to each of our wrists, explaining that they must be worn at all times or we could be asked to leave the premises, and there would be a fee to replace them if lost. Wow, I thought; this place must be really special. We headed up to our room on the 17th floor. Beautiful! We all admired the modern vibe of the place, black leather sofa, red leather swivel chairs, granite countertops, silver pendant light fixtures. I fixed cocktails, poured them into red solo cups, and we headed to the beach for a stroll. We passed two giant swimming pools, the largest hot tub I’d ever seen, and probably 200 empty lounge chairs. “Look, there’s the bar,” declared my daughter. I looked over to see a bucket and shovel abandoned in the sink and a discarded bottle of sunscreen on the counter, along with some yellow caution tape all around it. “Maybe it will be open this weekend,” I said. We walked out onto the boardwalk to the beach. It was a beautiful spring evening, with a light breeze blowing and the water gleaming blue-green. A few couples strolled hand in hand and we began to unwind. Just then we heard a plane overhead, pulling a banner. “Look up! What does it say?” I shouted over the noise. “Oh lord,” said my eldest. I squinted. “TROJAN. NEW! STUDDED BARESKIN,” was its message. Guess that was meant for last week’s crowd.

The next morning, we arose and slipped into our swimsuits for our first day at the beach. As it was partly cloudy, we lingered over breakfast before heading out for a long walk. Leaving our condo, we noticed an eery silence; there was no one on this property. No one in the elevators, no one in the hallways, no one in the lobby and not a soul by the pool. Outside, there were just a few people walking along the edge of the Gulf, which was still very cold. But, the plane and its offending banner were circling purposefully. By the end of our stroll, we noticed the clouds had thickened so we decided to abandon the beach and go into town for lunch. Entering a local seafood joint, we saw rows of chairs and benches outside the door as if a crowd frequently gathered there. Inside, there were only two tables of people – us and one other. It was 12:30 on a Wednesday! Where was everyone? My daughter remarked that she felt guilty being on vacation; the lack of people on this island made her feel like she should be at work or school. We ordered strawberry daiquiris and felt better. The rain started in earnest after lunch, so we watched Netflix movies and napped, followed by dinner out at a restaurant where the tables were mostly full. We began to feel normal again.

On Thursday morning, I awoke to hear my husband chuckling from the den. “Look out your window,” he said. Pulling up the blind, I saw fog so thick I could not even see the ground. It was spooky, like living in a giant grey cloud. Everything felt damp. The modern vibe of the condo was beginning to seem sterile and industrial. I tried to think of something we could do in this weather. “Anyone up for the turtle farm?” We decided to go downstairs to the fitness room and work out; that’s always a good use of spare time! After an hour or so, my husband said, “I think the clouds are parting.” I dared to hope, and, as if rewarding us for our effort, the big fog lifted, and the sun began to peek out. The three of us changed into our swimsuits in record time, grabbed sunscreen and magazines and raced out to the pool. Ahh. We lounged and sprawled for about an hour, then the wind picked up. I don’t mean a gentle breeze; this was a full-fledged norther with wind gusts up to 35 miles per hour. I watched my flip flops take flight, sail across the pool and lodge next to the hot tub, several yards away. Our beach towels were flapping madly, and the poolside furniture begin to move. “Hurry! Let’s get inside,” yelled my husband. And, just as quickly as we’d made our way out, we found ourselves back in again. A few hours later, my husband, determined to remain undefeated by Mother Nature, bundled up and went for a stroll on the beach. I watched from my 17th floor perch and saw not another single soul outside as far as I could see in either direction. Not even the Trojan aircraft was flying. When my husband came in, he swore the blowing sand had ruined the finish on his eyeglass lenses.

Finally, Friday dawned bright and beautiful, a perfect 68 degrees, with a clear blue sky. We all three collapsed into lounge chairs by the pool and watched as people began slowly and silently emerging from their rooms, like butterflies who’d been kept in their cocoons too long. The sun’s rays felt warm and curative; a slight, cool breeze kept us comfortable all day. Our books and magazines seemed more interesting than the day before, and we felt relaxed. As the day went on, more people arrived at the resort and their happy chatter lifted our spirits. Then, we heard it. The plane! I looked up and read, “GEICO. 15 minutes could save you 15% or more.” I smiled. Different weekend. Different audience.

Our last day on the island had been a perfect one. We sauntered back and forth between the beach and the pool until sunset. Then we had a ceremonial cutting of the sapphire wrist bands. IMG_2855



Getting to Know You

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IMG_2844I have discovered a gold mine, but better than material riches, this one is full of information about my maternal grandparents who died several years before I was born. Growing up, I missed having grandparents. My father’s father died young, when my dad was just sixteen, and his mother, my namesake, died when I was six. I was envious of classmates who traveled to the homes of their doting grandparents at Christmas and during the summers. I grew up in Cuero, the small town of my father’s ancestors, so I always felt I knew more about that side of the family. My mother, who grew up in Minnesota, never spoke much about her parents. She had small portraits of them on her bedside table, but, they looked so old and remote that I couldn’t imagine a connection to them. Now that my parents are gone, I’ve found countless letters, folders, tablets, personal papers and photos that, sixty years after my grandparents’ deaths, are beginning to fill in the blanks.

I knew a few basic facts about my grandparents. My grandfather, Jules,  was a movie critic for the St. Paul Pioneer Dispatch.  In the past weeks, I’ve read many of his movie reviews from the 1940’s, and, I’ve learned that he had a thing against chomping popcorn in the movie theatre! Oops – guilty!

I knew that my grandmother, Freda, was never the same after she lost her young son, Avery, to diphtheria before Mom was born. I’ve found a newspaper write-up from May of 1917, dateline Spring Grove, Minnesota, that reports little Vincent Avery Steele died of diphtheria while his mother and brothers, of Manitoba, Canada, were in town visiting Mrs. Steele’s mother and brothers. And, that he was buried in Spring Grove because my grandparents were under the mistaken assumption that they could not take their child’s body home for a certain amount of time, due to the infectious cause of death. Among my grandfather’s papers, was a letter from the Minnesota Department of Health, dated three years later, which indicated that the body could be removed and reinterred if the family so desired. A note scribbled in my grandfather’s hand at the bottom of said notice is heartbreaking, “We did not have to leave our little Avery in Spring Grove after all, and if we want to remove his casket, we can do so at anytime.” I’ve also discovered that my mother was born nearly one year to the day after her older brother’s death, by uncovering a hand-written note from her mother which read, in part, “Oh that I could write just how I feel, Little Avery’s birthday is almost here. Is it possible you have been gone over a year! And you would have been three the last day of June. How you used to chuckle when I asked you why you weren’t a little girl baby & now the little girlie has come, but you are not here & all the time I call her Avery thinking you are in my arms once more.” My poor mother had an uphill battle from the start.

I grew up knowing my mom’s oldest brother, a favorite uncle, who was a life-long bachelor (or so we thought…more on that in another post), who came to visit us each Christmas. I knew he’d been wounded in World War II, and I found this letter he wrote shortly afterward:

“Aboard Ship, 28 February 1945

Dear Dad,

Well the inevitable happened and I find myself aboard a very comfortable hospital ship at this writing. My left foot has a few shrapnel holes in it as well as a few broken bones and I’ve some small pieces of lead in my right leg that, strangely enough, do not bother me in the least. I had hopes of writing to you before the telegram from the war department arrived but this date is the best that I can do. My foot and leg to the knee is in a cast with a walking iron on it and three days ago I gave up my crutches and am doing a satisfactory job of gimping around though I do list rather violently to starboard.” 

My uncle wrote that he was not at liberty to give any details concerning how his injuries were inflicted, but he included a photo.IMG_2845

“The baby is a four year old Philippine baby and was picked up by the soldiers after his family had been killed in the action in which I participated.”  He was wounded in a bloody battle in Corregidor. He concluded by writing, “Mother is probably worried stiff if she has even an inkling I’ve been wounded. It will take about two months for me to be back in shape and I sure hope to put on some weight. I will let you know my new address as soon as it is made available to me.” Oh, I cannot imagine the angst my grandfather felt as he chose a time to relay this info to my grandmother.

I’ve found poems written by my grandfather to his wife on their anniversaries, Grandmother’s journals with encouraging sayings in quotation marks, even a children’s story penned by my grandfather in 1950 for his first grandchild, my cousin, Kathy. I can hardly wait to mail it to her and imagine her delight at reading her dear grandfather’s words of so long ago.

Over the past few weeks, I’ve gotten to know these special people through letters they wrote and received, journals they kept, and photographs they marked on the back. There is something so powerful and personal about reading something written in a deceased relative’s own hand. Which makes me wonder…how will our grandchildren and great-grandchildren know anything about us?


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Unknown“I no longer have patience for certain things, not because I’ve become arrogant, but simply because I reached a point in my life where I do not want to waste more time with what displeases me or hurts me. I have no patience for cynicism, excessive criticism and demands of any nature. I lost the will to please those who do not like me, to love those who do not love me and to smile at those who do not want to smile at me. I no longer spend a single minute on those who lie or want to manipulate. I decided not to coexist anymore with pretense, hypocrisy, dishonesty and cheap praise. I do not tolerate selective erudition nor academic arrogance. I do not adjust either to popular gossiping. I hate conflict and comparisons. I believe in a world of opposites and that’s why I avoid people with rigid and inflexible personalities. In friendship I dislike the lack of loyalty and betrayal. I do not get along with those who do not know how to give a compliment or a word of encouragement. Exaggerations bore me and I have difficulty accepting those who do not like animals. And on top of everything I have no patience for anyone who does not deserve my patience.”      

This statement, attributed to Meryl Streep, was recently posted on Facebook and went “viral.” I saw it when a friend posted it, and, because I found it brilliant, but mostly because it was attributed to Streep, I immediately “shared on my timeline.” I’ve always loved Meryl, and this statement seemed so pertinent to me. It was confirmation that she and I were soul sisters. It was late, maybe there’d been a glass of wine or two served, not sure, but now that I’ve re-read it a few times, it sounds mean-spirited and I feel the need to justify my post. We all know Meryl isn’t mean, and I don’t think that I am either. So, an explanation is in order.

First, I’ve learned that Meryl never said this. Somehow, attaching her name and photo to it, gave it a great deal of credence. Apparently, it was authored by Portuguese self-help author/life coach José Micard Teixeira, according to an internet article. While it may be hard to believe that someone we’ve never heard of, and a man, at that, wrote these words, I think women who “liked” this, thinking it was authored by our friend, Meryl, can still relate to it.

She/he had me at “I no longer have patience for certain things…”  Surely we can all agree with that statement. Patience is waning, especially for those of us who are over 50 and menopausal. Have you ever had that parent of a child in your child’s class who, despite knowing you for the ten years or so that your children have been in school together, insist on calling you by the wrong name; not a totally out of the blue name, but one that is similar to your own. Like, “Candace” when your name happens to be “Constance.” And, you’ve finally given up correcting her after serving on committees and working side by side in PTA with her for all these years? Well, that’s one of the types of people with whom I’m impatient.

How about the neighbor who rang your doorbell EARLY on a Saturday morning to complain about something you or you kid did that irritated her, and now runs the other way when your grocery cart heads down the same aisle she’s coming up? That person irritates me. I can’t help it if her McCain sign was taken out of her yard and placed in mine as a prank. I had nothing to do with it! The more I explained, the huffier she became…

Or, the acquaintance you’ve met through mutual friends too many times to count, and each time you see her she acts as if your face has never made its way into her orbit? The one who glances at you at the grocery store (it’s my second home), and when you start to smile and speak, she glances away to peruse the canned vegetables while you scoot past, wordless. I’m sick of that person.

Have you ever had a meal with someone you haven’t seen in awhile and all they do is boast about their kids, grandkids, pets, spouse and their generally fabulous life? Two hours later, when you drive away you realize she didn’t ask a question about you or anyone in your life, implying that she doesn’t give a darn? I’m not doing that lunch again.

“I reached a point in my life where I do not want to waste more time with what displeases me or hurts me.” It’s so true; that day when you wake up and realize 55 years rushed by and there probably aren’t another 55 where those came from, you suddenly feel freer to speak your mind, do what you want and just say “no” to certain demands. But, I must admit that hurt and displeasure are inevitable and there’s nothing we can do to avoid it if we are truly living.

“Exaggerations bore me.”  Uh-oh. My family and friends know that all my stories are exaggerations of the truth; but isn’t that what a good story-teller does? Isn’t it called “poetic license?” Well, here I must draw the line. We all have to struggle with impatience and irritations daily, and we need to learn to deal with it gracefully. Even when hormones and stressors make that difficult.