A Rotary Phone

It would take forever to dial a number. The dial clicked, slowly clicked, clicked, clicked. One number after the other as it made its leisurely way back to stillness. After waiting forever to find the party line finally free, it took another eternity to place the call.

I was sitting at the kitchen table. The phone was a wall model ad I had to sit very close since the cord was so short. It was Saturday morning and I was calling to see if my best friend, Cathy, wanted to go shopping. We did that nearly every Saturday. We’d cruise through the few downtown clothing stores and then stop on the way home at McCarthy’s drug store for a cherry coke.

But this time, the week had been busy at school and we hadn’t firmed up anything. When she answered, her voice sounded strange. Kind of muffled. It took a while for her to answer my question. No, she said. Her brother, Bob had been in a car accident last night.

It didn’t really register at first. I thought maybe he was in the hospital or home in bed after the emergency room, sleeping the experience off. Or sleeping off his hangover. He was pretty wild and I knew from Cathy how her parents worried about him.

To me, he was so cute. He dressed flashy with his leather jacket and slicked back hair. A real cool dude, as we said in those days. I guess I had a crush on him though I knew he was out of my league and I’d never have admitted that to anyone. Especially Cathy.

Back to her response, I was confused. I didn’t get it. What did his accident have to do with whether or not we could go shopping? I might have even said something about how Bob was always up to something and how we never let his shenanigans get in our way. She had to actually say it. He’d died at the scene, she cried.

That was unreal to me. He always seemed so alive. Nothing could touch him. I’d just seen him the other day. I don’t remember what I said to Cathy; we just hung up. I think I just went on with my day as though nothing had happened. I don’t remember the funeral or talking to her parents or anything.

Looking back, I’m embarrassed that I didn’t get it. I don’t think I said the right things.  Or said much of anything. I don’t think I was sensitive or comforting. I could plead naiveté or immaturity but there is no excuse. I still feel bad.


Sloppy Joe Thanksgiving

I wonder if something is wrong with me. I often feel like, pardon the cliché, I’ve gone off the beaten path. Or off the deep end. The things that excite everyone around the holidays are unimportant to me. How I handled it this year is a case in point.

I saw a feature on the news about a man who was alone on Thanksgiving and figured there must be many others like him; so, he planned a dinner for anyone who had no place else to go. He started some time ago and the first year there were twelve guests; it grew each year and now he has over sixty who attend.

His event is so busy he doesn’t have time to sit down and eat dinner himself. He loves it and it really makes him feel good to provide a place for so many people.  Some of his guests were interviewed and remarked that they attend every year; they often meet the same people and have become like friends.

This is a lovely thing. But this year, I just wasn’t up for anything. Don’t get me wrong. I’m not lonely. I have plenty of friends, places to go and things to do. In fact the week before Thanksgiving, I spent three days at a rented lake house with ten girlfriends. We had many group meals, toasts to the past and future and lots of laughs. Maybe that was a thanksgiving of a different sort.

I had two options for Thanksgiving this year, one with a relative and another with a friend. I passed on them both. I just didn’t feel like it. Which leads me back to wondering if there’s something wrong with me.

I woke up Thanksgiving morning and it felt like just another day. I picked up my medications. The pharmacy thought it was just another day. Then I went to the grocery store. Same there, with families, couples and singles slowly perusing the aisles as though they had all the time in the world.

After putting groceries away, I spent the day reading and catching up on a few taped TV programs. I took a short nap. Later, I watched the Thanksgiving Day Parade I’d previously taped. The three hours only took one to watch on fast forward, stopping when it looked interesting.  The Rockettes were great.

I had Sloppy Joes for lunch and dinner. Hardly any prep or clean up time. My phone never rang once and I spoke to no one all day.  That might sound dismal but for me it was peace and serenity. Watching the pre-Black Friday crowds on TV made me thankful I don’t need anything that bad. There’s nothing wrong with me.


Feeding the Wolf

There is an old story that says a lot about today:

An old Cherokee chief told his grandson about a battle that goes on inside people: the battle is between two wolves inside us all. One is Evil. It is anger, envy, jealousy…. arrogance, self-pity….resentment…. lies, false pride, superiority and ego. The other is Good. It is joy, peace, love…humility, kindness…….empathy….truth, compassion and faith.  The grandson thought for a minute and then asked, which one wins? The old Cherokee replied, the one you feed.

The wolf can be a person, a group, a city, a country or the whole world. In these difficult times, let’s examine where we are going and where will it lead.  More importantly, let’s determine what can be done if we believe change must happen. Or, if some changes cannot be allowed to happen. Giving in or staying silent is a choice. Taking a stand or speaking up is also a choice. Deciding which wolf to feed is the most important choice.




Nothing Wrong With Nothing New

Asking “what’s new” is common when talking to someone we haven’t seen for a while; what generally follows is an excited exchange of the latest activities, family events or accomplishments.  But lately I’ve noticed I often answer this question with a pause and have to think for a minute before responding.

Not much is new or exciting, I realize; my tepid reply might give the impression that I’m unhappy or bored when nothing could be farther from the truth. But I feel sad when I don’t have much to report even though I’m busy every day. As I look in my appointment book, next week is quite usual.

Yoga on Monday. Lunch with a friend on Tuesday. Tutoring with grade school students on Wednesday. Friday off to a birthday party with girlfriends. Thursday is the only day I have nothing scheduled. These activities take up only an hour or two a day and that’s just enough. So, how did I manage when I had to work a full day and also attend to my private life? How did I get everything done!

That’s probably why adjusting to retirement was so difficult. I was accustomed to the frenzy of always searching weeks ahead for an open slot in my appointment book. Then once retired, it made me nervous when I had nothing to do and the blanks in my appointment book seemed like a failure.

So I was going out just to go out. A trip to the mall, though I had nothing to buy. A trip to the coffee shop, though I’d already had three cups that day. A trip to the library, though I had a pile of unread books stacked up at home. Soon, going out so much turned into a chore. So I stopped.

Now, I’ve become more comfortable with the knowledge that each day there is only one question: what do I want to do today?  I still have a to-do list. I still rely on my appointment book; some habits die hard. But this also helps me stay organized and those are things I don’t want to let go of.

My pace has slowed. It’s okay to stay home. I can even put off getting dressed until noon if I feel like it. The uncomplicated life is the one I really want. The one everyone says I earned and should enjoy.

So, now when anyone asks what’s new, I begin by saying that things are good. That’s really what people want to know anyway. I follow that with appreciation that my life is calm and quiet, that I’m as busy as I want to be. Then I can share the latest details of my not very important but delightful news. Nothing new and exciting is a good thing.

Getting a Word in Edgewise 2016

Some things never change. And that’s a good thing! The Babe’s (Julie, Carolyn and Karin) met once again in Milwaukee in October 2016. It was a whirlwind of shop talk, catch up gossip, shopping and eating. The only change was scheduling issues to accommodate Julie’s new work schedule, teaching at UWM.  Her academic  gig is “good.”

Karin and Carolyn spent the first afternoon admiring all the nooks and crannies of Pier I and Crate and Barrel then a coffee stop at Panera Bread.  Leave it to sweet Carolyn. It wasn’t until the day after she was gone that Karin would discover, hidden in a cabinet, that lovely mug she’d admired at Crate and Barrel. She’d wondered what took her so long to check out and now she knew. Carolyn and her hostess gifts. She is so “good.”

They then headed to Julie’s for evening activities. Karin and Carolyn were in for a real treat, a chance to be with children. Julie’s daughters Natalie and Lydia were scheduled to appear in an all school concert that evening. At first, Julie insisted she didn’t want to impose so they had to nearly beg her to let them attend. Couldn’t she see what a great opportunity it was for those without kids to get in on the action!

It was a delightful evening with grades 6 through 8 each taking the stage to do a medley of songs all in a beach theme. Lots of familiar music from our younger days. The Beatles and Beach Boys dominated. Kids in hula skirts, with lei’s and bare feet.

What a marvel how Mr. Shue, the very competent and energetic music director, orchestrated (pun intended) the logistic miracle of getting each class, 30 plus students each, on and off the stage without a major collision. Karin refused to be corrected grammatically, insisting the girls “sang good.”

Julie’s parents (Lynn and Jerry) joined them for the concert; on the way home, in the car, Jerry offered a long explanation of Julie’s habit of always being overly sensitive to other people’s feelings, not wanting to impose. Julie laughingly reminded her dad that she was in the car and was hearing everything he was saying. So, it was no surprise when Jerry and Lynn insisted on leaving early, so as not to impose on the girlfriend get together. Now we know where Julie got that oh so annoying habit, Karin joked.

Some other things also hadn’t changed. Skeeter still loves Karin and hopped on her lap as usual. Put an MD (Julie’s husband, Dennis) and a Nurse Practitioner in the same room and the conversation surely turns toward such hot button issues as reproductive rights and the latest OB/GYN procedure. Put an MD, a Nurse Practitioner and two Social Workers in the same room and the conversation surely turns to the state of the world, training advances, educational imperatives and the election.

Julie recounted the challenges of parenting eleven year old twins while managing her demanding lecture schedule. Carolyn’s massive preparation for her bat mitzvah scheduled for December was admired. A thorough analysis of her relationship with Lawrence, approaching its second year, was dissected. He passed with flying colors. Karin’s named scholarship with the Helen Bader School of Social Welfare and her recent writing successes were praised. All of the women’s latest accomplishments were declared “good.”

Carolyn was the first time user of Karin’s new sleeper and gave it her own good housekeeping seal of approval. Next day, Julie joined the party later and dinner was the plan. Julie knew a “good” place in Wauwatosa. Getting there was another story.

Why can’t these highly educated women get from one place to another without a major glitch? Missing the first turn in Wauwatosa (and we know how easy that can be) led to a cat and mouse chase around corners and down narrow back streets amid laughter and jokes. Oh, I know where we are…my sister used to live up that street…….this road doesn’t go through… but I know which one does…..turn left…no right.

They finally arrived at Juniper 61 and settled in to a “good” meal despite Julie’s bath of a spilled drink down her back. The waiter still got a “good” tip. Back home for more talking, something they never seem to get enough of. And isn’t that the basis of the best friendships.

Not meaning to get schmaltzy, it’s truly amazing how these three women who worked together over twenty years ago are still connected. It’s one of those situations where though you haven’t seen someone for a while, you can pick up right where you left off. These relationships are not only precious but “good.” They’re planning for the next time already.


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