Pitter Pat…Pat…Pat

A handsome, young waiter noted,
when returning our credit cards
that there were so many Pats in our group.
From this, I realized, my life is filled with Pats.

In that group of long-time friends,
bean bags in Door County,
where we teamed by height,
as munchkins and giants,
Patty P and Little Patti were on opposing teams.
Patty P won a writing contest but claims she is no writer.
Trish and Little Patti are friends from college days.
Little Patti’s college nickname was  “Jersey.” Origin unknown.
Trish belongs to three book groups and shares good reads with all.
That leaves the final Pat,
usually identified by her full name.
How else to know who we’re talking about.
Good thing the group has only one
Betty, Bonnie, Ginny, Sandy, Diane, Helen, Kathy, Lex.

Then yoga group
with Pat and Pat.
To keep them apart one is Patricia Lynne,
the other is Pat.
Then poetry group.
The same two Pats.
Then writing group.
Two more Pats.
But one is the same Pat from poetry and yoga.
Then in my building,
you guessed it.
Three more Pats
But one is the other Pat from poetry and yoga.
Pats are everywhere

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Third Grade Wisdom

The building where I live has arranged a reading program where third graders from two local schools visit us each month throughout the school year. We grandparent-types are assigned children who read to us; once we get started the room is abuzz as we work hard for nearly an hour.

This gives the kids an opportunity to read out loud and us a chance for some quality time with someone outside of our usual social circle. My job, other than being an alert and supportive listener, is to help with word pronunciation and meaning. Each year, I’ve met some delightful children and marvel at their demeanor and quickly developing personalities. I’m often surprised at how much they already know.

Sam loves maps. Instead of showing up with the usual third grade story books, he brought an atlas. It’s a kid-sized atlas given to him by his father. When I asked him where he’d most like to visit, without hesitation, he said Madagascar, then quickly flipped the pages to show me where that was. I could see right away this was a very unique child.

He was puzzled that Scotland wasn’t in the atlas. Ah, a teaching moment, I thought. I asked if the United Kingdom was on the list of maps at the front of the book. He knew right where it was and pointed.  I then said that Scotland was part of the United Kingdom, so it wasn’t an independent country and therefore not listed as such. It made my day to see this piece of news registering in his alert little mind.

At Christmas, Sam’s mother dropped off a plant for me. The card thanked me for spending time with her son. She also wrote that whenever Sam talked about me, he smiled. So, who’s getting the most out of this?

First time, each child brings a personalized letter they’ve written to introduce themselves. Sam’s letter told me he liked to play twenty questions and assured me we’re going to have “a really good time.” Samantha’s letter focused on reading and asked what my favorite genre was when I was her age. The fact that “genre” was even in an eight-year old’s vocabulary was surprising. But she had no idea what my childhood favorites, Nancy Drew Mysteries were.

Samantha was most excited about the reading program because she’d heard that on the last day, we’d have a party. I recalled how, the year before, Jada had made a very big deal about waiting on me. I had too many cookies and glasses of punch that day. I didn’t have the heart to say no to her diligent efforts. Her determination confirmed my assumption that she was a child lost in the rush of a large, blended family.

When fewer and fewer volunteers were signing up for the program, we had to double up. So, with two children, issues of fairness and splitting the time evenly had to be addressed. Though Teddy and Mick were friends, they couldn’t have been more different. Teddy was clearly from a family of means and talked, quite matter-of-factly about his many vacations in far off places.

Mick was his own person, informing me that his name was Michaël but he insisted on being called Mick. For all their differences, they worked out their own method of sharing time and helping each other with problem words. My job was easy.

My most recent pair were Max and Emma. Again, different as can be. Emma is a quiet and thoughtful girl. She gets out a lot to movies and travel with her family. But I have to work to be sure she gets attention and doesn’t get lost in the bushes. When a character in the book she was reading had a tattoo, she told me her father has tattoos.  Curious and jumping to conclusions, I asked what they looked like. She said they were of her name. Admittedly, I was relieved.

Then there’s Max. A ball of energy and oh so smart.  This third grader can list all the US Presidents. In order and even giving their number. He also does a spot-on impersonation of Kevin Hart. He’s often stood up in the middle of reading to do some tai chi that he learned from a video. Oh, and no surprise, he’s an excellent reader.

I have no children. I decided quite young that being a mother was not very interesting. Being in a reading program with third graders is totally interesting. I get more out of this than they do, I’m sure. If I’ve learned anything, it’s that children are very smart and I’ll never underestimate what I can learn from them.

Eagle Eye

 

One who sees or observes keenly. That’s the dictionary definition of eagle eye. It helps explain my experience being the subject of such observation. It also provided a reminder of the power of nature.

Our house outside of Eagle River was near Rice Lake on Highway G. The houses behind us had lake access and one of our neighbors let us use their pier. They were often not there since this was a vacation home; that provided a perfect vantage point for enjoying the beautiful north woods sunsets.

That’s how we first spotted the eagle’s nest in a large tree on the south end of the lake. The pair would arrive each spring and put on a show of flying around high and low and swooping for food then returning to the nest. Binoculars gave us an almost video-cam view of their domestic activities.

One year, we noticed babies in the nest. It was a pleasure to watch these eaglets being fed, along with all the other nest maintenance that was going on. The adult pair took turns heading out for food. That was their main job and it kept them pretty busy throughout the day.

We were entertained, seeing the eaglets many attempts to launch from the nest. On their first tries, they’d take off and then swoop so low we thought they’d land in the lake. But they soon got their footing, venturing out just a short distance before returning home; as time passed, their forays out into the world grew longer and longer.

One day as we were doing our usual watch, one of the adult eagles left the nest and made his rounds of the lake. I don’t know how to determine an eagle’s gender but for this story I’ve decided it’s a him. Much to our surprise, he made sweeps near us a couple of times and then perched in a tree about twenty feet directly above us.

We’re looking up. He’s glaring down. I suddenly fully understood the term, eagle eye. His eyes were piercing. We wondered what he was thinking and if he would attack us. Maybe we were the food source he was looking for. It was kind of scary. We sat quietly, maintained eye contact and waited him out. He then began to flap his wings, getting ready to take off. Luckily, he headed out instead of down.

The last year I lived in this house, the eagles didn’t return to the nest. We worried and weighed the possibilities. The fact that eagles usually return year after year to the same nest made their absence less than hopeful. We’ll never know.  Such is life.

The Mall

I only met the boy once.  I don’t even remember his name. But his story, I will never forget. I was a supervisor in a big-city child protection unit, so didn’t often meet the children being overseen by my staff of case managers. That was, unless there were problems and a special staff meeting was needed. That’s how I met this boy who was ten and who’d been in foster care since he was five. He was about to mess up his third placement.

His behavior problems were understandable. At age five, his mother had abandoned him at a local shopping mall. It’s beyond imagining, picturing this child, frantic as he searched the hallways for that one familiar person. He was originally placed in a transitional foster home, considered temporary until the court process slowly trudges its way to resolution.

The system had done all it could to locate the mother, a chronic drug user already known to us. It had been, so far, a fruitless process of searching for her or other relatives. By law, each month the system was required to launch an all-out effort by searching public records, running newspaper ads, visiting the last known residence and neighborhood. This would go on for his entire time in care.

Family reunification was always the top priority. But as time passed, the reality of him being returned to his mother faded and his permanency plan was changed to long term foster care. The facts around his abandonment were being handled with velvet gloves by his therapist. All he would say when asked was: “I got lost.” For a child of this age it is imperative to not push the facts upon him until he is emotionally ready to handle it. He had a long road ahead of him.

With his history and age, he’d already been designated unadoptable. He was in a special-needs foster home and that was probably where he’d remain until he aged out at eighteen. Of course, if his current behaviors continued, the system would have to move him to more and more restrictive placements. A group home was probably in his future.

I often shop and go to movies at this same mall. As I look down from the ascending escalator at the activity in this busy and bustling place, I can only imagine that terrible day. I wonder where this boy is and how his life has turned out. He’s an adult by now and I’m hoping he came to terms with this awful and unfair event and has made sense of his life. I hope against hope he has beat the odds by overcoming the dismal statistics so common common to foster children.

Mystery Tour

April 3-4, 2019 – Hart Park Senior Center Mystery Tour
Cuneo Mansion and Gardens, Loyola University, Vernon Hills, Ill.
Illinois Holocaust Museum and Education Center, Skokie, Ill.
Holiday Inn Skokie, Dinner, Bingo, overnight
Halim Glass and Clock Museum, Evanston, Ill.
Lunch at Trattoria, Evanston, Ill.
Tea and scones at Curt’s Café, Evanston, Ill.
Bahai Temple, Wilmette, Ill.

I’ve officially joined the ranks of senior citizen bus trip mavens. I. along with twenty-one (including tour guide) women and our token man, set out for a two-day, one overnight, mystery tour to parts unknown. Barb, the tour guide, kept things a secret throughout. She’d announce where we were as the bus was being parked.  Then give us a time estimate when we’d reach our next destination but didn’t announce where we were going until we’d arrived.

Docent tours had been arranged for each stop which meant we learned a lot. At the Cuneo Mansion I wondered how a family could live comfortably in such opulence. The many shelves of shoes stored in the bathroom made me wonder if Imelda Marcos had given lesson to the mistress of the house.

The Holocaust museum was sobering. The Glass and Clock Museum broadened my knowledge about Tiffany who I’d thought only made lamp shades.  Silly me. And now I know, after seeing one thousand clocks from many time periods and countries, how important the pendulum was to modern day time keeping. We all felt wonderful to contribute our business to Curt’s Café that provides job training and jobs for unemployable youth. The scones were to die for. The Bahai Temple was a mystery or a well-kept secret.

Barb says she’s learned to always have shopping time in the schedule.  So, for our noon time in Evanston, the option was shop or lunch, or both; most of us didn’t shop. Instead we had lunch at a lovely Italian restaurant that included some day drinking. Why not because we had a designated driver.

I’d signed on alone and was fine with the quiet on the bus and had brought my Kindle to fill the down time. I don’t remember the names of my fellow travelers though a few were familiar from earlier trips. There was a lot of talking and laughing going on.

Most memorable was our lengthy breakfast discussion of Oscar movies with our declaration that Bohemian Rhapsody should have won it all. The bar at the hotel had bingo night and we won a few shots and scratch-off tickets. No one won the $1000 for a full card. But we tried.

All in all, it was a great trip. Not too long. Just long enough. And plenty to do but not be rushed. What can be better than the comfort of a bus and a driver who knows just where to go and gets you there. Another was having someone else driving through these enchanting north shore cities and being able to take in the architecture. I’m checking the schedule for future travel opportunities.

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Weary

When poets critique,
there is no end to thoughts, theories or thinking.
Just the sound of the word,
that’s the poetry of poetry.
Once the poem is read out loud,
only a moment until the first comment.

I think the word weary should be changed to tired.
No, that sounds mundane.

I think the word weary should be changed to drowsy.
No, that doesn’t fit the rhyme.

A better choice is drained.
No, that seems severe.

The sound of the word exhausted fits better.
No, that has too many syllables.

Sleepy sends a better message.
No, that’s too vague.

Since the language is casual, the word beat is best.
No, that’s not poetic.

The rhythm of the word fatigued adds charm.
No, that seems harsh.

So much is gained from group think.
A new word never thought of or an idea
that takes the poem down another road.
But,
after much thought,
wistfully weighing the words,
and after all,
this is my poem
and I can do what I want,
though the process makes me weary,
weary is the word I choose.

 

The Men in my Life

Two of my most wonderful friends, Carolyn and Julie, think I should find a man. A male companion, or boyfriend, perhaps a husband is what they have in mind. I say, what are you thinking? Two divorces aren’t enough! But that got me thinking.

Actually, I have lots of men in my life. All right in the building where I live. Some live there and a few work there. The library is our central meeting place where we chat while waiting for the mail. And then I run into others by chance throughout the day.

There’s Dave (oops he likes to be called David) who does maintenance. When I had to put new license plates on my car, I went to his office and asked David for a screwdriver. He gave me a puzzled look, then asked what it was for. When I explained, he said he thought he should do it. We then spent a half hour in the parking garage talking cars while he worked his magic. We both agreed that Buicks are the best.

Tom lives in the building and also does housekeeping. At nine o-clock on Mondays I can hear the hum of his vacuum cleaner coming down the hall. He also manages the in-house grocery store and is open to suggestions on new items.  I think he knows everyone by name and offers a friendly greeting to everyone, all day.

John of John and Alice (I call him that to keep him separate from all the other John’s in the building) is part of our Rummikub game. John of John and Alice is meticulous, some would say obsessive, about how the tiles should be laid out on the table. John says he has nicknames for some of the more colorful characters in the building but only chuckles to himself, not telling me any of them. Or if he has a nickname for me.

Dave (he doesn’t mind being called Dave) is volunteer manager of the in-house library. I help him with the magazines. Dave does woodworking at one of the senior centers and just built a new bookcase for our library. He has a master plan for culling the old, tattered books that no one has read in years

Tom (a different Tom, this one wears a hat) never sits. He just hovers in the library doorway, drops a comment or two and then moves on. He always makes sure he gives me his latest copy of Harper’s and tells me what are the best articles. Some insist Tom with the hat is shy which he covers with a gruff exterior. I’m not so sure.

Sy who loves to tease and joke must have been feeling pensive one day when he joined me alone in the library. He’s eighty-six and seemed to be wondering how much time he has left. Quite different from his usual quick and pithy comments.

Dennis is quiet. We laugh that we can always tell when Dennis has been in the library because the daily newspapers are lined up in perfect order on the table. Dennis can tell which grandchild is calling for pick-up by their ring tone. And off he goes.

Jay works at the front desk. He helped me when the wi-fi connection in the coffee shop wasn’t working. He was pretty nervous, relating how some residents expect him to solve complicated software problems. He solved my very simple problem in a flash and I let him know how thankful I was.

I think I have the best situation with the company of some pretty nice guys. We laugh and joke. We talk about the latest news and generally philosophize about life and any other important issues. Then I go back to my apartment. I have men in my life but only as much as I want. This is the best place and best situation for me, for now.

 

 

Angie Makes Another One

Angie and Vern were a colorful couple in their nineties who I first got to know at the weekly dinner at Hawthorne.  I admired Vern and Angie. They were very active and I’d most often see them returning from their daily outing: lunch and shopping. That’s how I became accustomed to that friendly greeting.

“Well, we made another one,” Vern would say in a jovial, sing-song fashion as they ambled down the hallway holding plastic bags of groceries and restaurant left-overs. And then we’d laugh about the grim alternatives. Hardly a day would pass that we didn’t exchange this affable refrain.

But as time passed, attendance at the weekly dinner declined until the building administration canceled it. Our hallway encounters dwindled even more when I heard Vern had a car accident and gave up driving. Finally, Vern was hospitalized and died.

Angie grieved mightily and her own health declined.  It was sad to watch this vibrant woman fade. I lost track of Angie until one day I saw her at the mailboxes. She smiled and asked how I was. I wasn’t sure I should say it. What if this brings up sad memories or makes her feel bad. But I took the chance.

“Well, we made another one,“  I said in my best Vern-like style.  Angie’s silence was only for a few seconds. Then for a short moment I saw that old Angie spark as she repeated the refrain with a laugh and shake of the head.  Most things change but some things never do.

Then I heard Angie had fallen and had to go to rehab. I was sure I’d never see her again. But I was wrong. Such a surprise to see her at the in-house beauty salon where she still gets her hair done each week.  She’s dressed up as though her next stop is lunch or the theater. When Angie celebrated her ninety-ninth birthday, Hawthorne had a party and provided a cake ordered from Simma’s.

I still run into Angie near the mailboxes or when she shops in the in-house grocery store. Always smiling as she navigates her walker down the hallway.  And though she often doesn’t remember my name, now she’s the one who always greets me with Vern’s old salutation: “Well, we made another one. “

 

 

Betty

Sid’s wife, Betty, died today.
Betty, the superlative caregiver
of Sid who has Parkinson’s.

Over the years,
Betty seen guiding Sid through the hall in his walker.
Then Betty pushing Sid in his wheelchair.

Then Betty walking alone.
Sid was now bedridden, she explained.
And family so helpful.

Betty always smiling,
always saying hello,
always including your name in her greeting.

Stopping for a short chat about the weather.
Introducing Sid’s twenty-four-hour caregiver,
saying what a good job is being done.

Sid’s world turned upside down.
A reminder.
All we have is today.

 

 

 

Driving Lessons

Long before driving schools existed it was necessary to beg a family member to act as instructor. Mom, a traditional housewife, didn’t drive. That left me only one choice and it was a triple whammy of complications.

First, just learning to drive. Second, I was learning to drive on a stick shift. And third, I was learning to drive from my dad – a policeman. I recall during my childhood that Dad was this phantom who was often absent but always intimidating. When present he was this tall man in a blue uniform and a funny, wide-brimmed hat. Then there was the badge and the gun, holstered at his side.

During grade school, my sisters and I would come home for lunch to hear Mom’s admonitions to be quiet. Dad was sleeping due to a night-shift. But when he was around, lunch involved Dad’s orders to be completely quiet.

He loved Paul Harvey whose radio program aired each day at noon. The only sounds allowed were Dad’s chuckles or ah-hah’s in agreement with Paul Harvey’s analysis of some world event. I went through my childhood obeying without question and just staying out of the way of this mysterious interloper.  Until it was time to learn to drive.

After long, arduous kitchen table discussions and much spirited advice, we set out. Dad was a stern teacher, not known for calmness. I recollect our practice driving on city streets.  Perhaps large shopping center parking lots didn’t even exist back then.

I recall the first time we approached an intersection and I noticed the red light had changed to green.  I commented that that meant I didn’t have to brake though there were two cars ahead of us. I thought Dad would go through the windshield.

He smoked a pipe and always propped it, unlit but ready to go, in the open ashtray on the dashboard. I always knew when I wasn’t doing well. The pipe was lit. Couple that with his jerky motions and clearing his throat. The longer the session, the worse I felt.

Mom, in our much later reminiscences, laughed at how she knew right away how things had gone when we returned from a driving session. She’d peek out the window as we both walked toward the house; most often, I looked defiant and Dad looked angry. She knew not to ask how things had gone. By the way, I got my license on the first try.

Our father/daughter love/hate relationship was quite usual but with a little twist. I commented, as an adult, that I went through high school with a cop car in my driveway. And it did wonders for my social life. Guys often asked if they could pick me up on the corner. No way! I learned the hard way to toe the line at home. But it didn’t impair the adolescent sneakiness of my social life.

Just once, my friend Ruth Ann and I got the bright idea to skip school. We thought we were so smart, calling in for each other. Then we hit the road in Ruth Ann’s boyfriend’s car. We had a great time.

When I got home Mom coyly asked how my day had gone; then informed me I was busted. In fact, I’d been busted in the first half hour. As Ruth Ann and I blithely “cruised the gut,” I was spotted by a city cop. Who then called my Dad.  Who then called Mom.  She, of course, called the school. So, that was the end of my career on the lam. And it further curtailed my already limited use of the family car.

When as a senior in high school and just turned eighteen, some younger friends asked me to buy beer for them. In the desperate need to be liked, I said okay and went to a small grocery store and smugly showed my newly minted driver’s license.

Somehow Dad got wind of it (as he always did); all he said was what I was doing wasn’t wise and if I got caught I shouldn’t except any help from him. Needless to say, that put an end to my career as an underground supplier.

Life with a dad who’s a cop was hard. I got away with nothing. But I look back and appreciate a few lessons. I always signal my turns, keep a safe distance when following another car, don’t break any laws drinking or otherwise.

As soon as I graduated, I escaped the prison of my childhood.  Visits home from college were punctuated by Dad’s hunched shoulders and judging silence as I regaled him and Mom with my latest adventures. My only regret was once, to get his goat, I called policemen “pigs.” But then, that was the 60’s, don’t you know.

 

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