Archives for category: Friends

My college roommate once told me, way back in college, that I had a great ability to see all sides of a problem. I’m going to consider it a gift to be able to have empathy for people, even those I don’t know. An adult male looked at pictures of me as a little one and said all he could see was a little girl who wanted to please. karen-1948You have a little girl who wanted to please and could empathize with people. A girl who graduated from high school in 1963, right as the world, our world at least, was about to be shaken to its core.

As the events of the 60s occurred, I watched in fascination. In college, we discussed – of course. We also were watching history unfold in real time on television which was new. The assassinations were very real, the war was very real especially since we had the draft, and the student reactions were way too real.

I marched for Academic Freedom in college and signed petitions to get more equal campus rules for females (female students had to live in university housing or a sorority house until they were 23 unless they were married while male students could live off campus at 18. That was one of many rules that were meant to protect us, but were beginning to rankle). I was sensitive to inequality but wasn’t raising my fist in anger.

By the time the Vietnam War was being protested, I was a young wife and mother with a new home starting the life I had been raised to live. A housewife with a college degree who supported her husband by keeping the home fires burning. I had four children while I was in my 20s, even with birth control, so I was busy. Kind of.

For those of us who were fortunate to have occasional help, the newly formed coop nurseries to give us a day off (basically 9-2) for errands, life wasn’t too bad. But, personally, I was bored. I played bridge for awhile, had a wonderful discussion group that kept me up on the world outside, and read a lot. Sigh.

Here’s the thing. I was watching the protests with mixed feelings. I was empathetic to the causes and could feel the unfairness of life for those who weren’t as fortunate by birth as I was. I was learning that it takes a revolution to get the attention of the establishment in order for change to occur, but I couldn’t see me being so radical. I was basically the second line. I wanted to change the world from within the establishment. Or, at least, I wanted to work for my own little corner of the world and make it better.

Starting very conventionally, I worked with children in my church by teaching Sunday School, working with Vacation Church School, helping with the Christmas program to bring food and gifts to needy families. This worked up to me being the Chair of these programs and a Deacon in the church where I could help directly through our reach out programs. Through my mother, I became involved with the symphony, which I had attended growing up. I also ended up being president of both the junior women and the senior women’s auxiliaries, serving on the Board of Directors with the privileged older white men and a couple of token women who kept the orchestra alive. Those early experiences were my first brushes with what it takes to make things happen in communities from both fundraising to administrative responsibilities. I had a lot of admiration for these leaders even though I knew I would always be there because I was smart and did the work rather than just wrote the checks.

Don’t get me wrong. I have nothing against successful people and admire them for the more part. I make my observations based on their character and how they use their money. There are many incredibly generous people who have worked hard and are giving back. On the other hand, watch a few episodes of American Greed to see what else can happen.

As my kids grew up, I was more involved with their school, serving as homeroom mother, classroom volunteer, and PTA volunteer reaching the super high level of PTA President. That was another learning opportunity as I was close the teachers and the administration, learning how parents advocate for their own children without often caring about the needs of the entire school. That empathy trait was in full bloom as I was introduced to my community from all sides.

To cut to the chase, I spent the next couple of decades working with a variety of causes that appealed to me. The Junior League gave me opportunities to work with the city on opening a nature center, water conservation and city planning, opening a women’s center, learning about the impact of historic preservation, and domestic violence. I chaired committees that worked with all of these issues and my work with domestic violence led to terms on their board where I served as President. I also served on the American Red Cross board and volunteered with disasters and to do some of the earliest AIDS education. I had great opportunities to learn and serve. I wanted to make a difference in my idealism.

As my family grew up, they watched me and I tried to set an example for my three daughters and son. I exposed them to the work I was doing, hoping they would see the value. If you think I was neglecting them, I don’t think so. I was the mom who drove to sports and school and was involved in everything, as women do. Yes, we do.

Eventually, I went to work and had a variety of careers that also taught me a lot as I went from corporate to my own business and back to nonprofits in the years that saw me become a grandmother and a widow by the time I was 52. A lot of life going on.

All of my life history has brought us to the past year and an election that changed everything again. All the causes I’d supported and cared about seem to be on the verge of destruction and I found I wasn’t alone in my concerns (that’s a mild word for it). After the election, I heard about the proposed Women’s March on Washington for January 21, 2017, the day after the inauguration and knew I wanted to go. I suddenly felt that I needed to march this time – my days of working within the system seemed to have done no good.

I couldn’t go to Washington, so I signed up to go to Oklahoma City for our state march. Yesterday, I put on my shirt, texted my kids a photo & said that I was leaving, img_0763and set out early. In the usual chaos of my life, I also had a grandchild’s performance to watch in the afternoon so I would have to leave early. I wanted to be counted no matter what.

Getting to the Capitol early gave me an opportunity to watch the event evolve. I fought the urge to volunteer since I had to leave. As I walked to the line to sign in, I saw this first little girl with her sign. I had to smile. This would have been me at her age, wanting everyone to be nice to each other.img_0772My kids had told me to be careful. I hadn’t forgotten that there are crazies out there and you can’t predict what will happen, but I wasn’t worried. Remember, I’m the 2nd tier kind of radical, the ones who wait for the revolution to be absorbed into the establishment to help with the changes. The rules were posted online and as I entered.img_0764For those of you who have preconceived ideas about a march, I’m sharing some of my pictures and thoughts to help you understand what was happening. This was in the very so-called Red State of Oklahoma.

My first images were all the children and families who were there. This was very much a multi-generational event as I stood in line behind a mother and young daughter as the mother explained very calmly why we should care about women’t issues. There were no raised voices or clenched fists. There was something very loving about everything around me. This little girl wore her Girl Scout vest with badges and carried a sign for women’s rights. Seemed appropriate to me.img_0845There were people of all ages, all races, and all economic levels. I looked around at women wearing expensive running shoes and outerwear mingling with others who obviously had other fashion statements to make. There were actually no social tiers at this march. We were all in this one together. There were the usual women’s rights signs and a few anti-Trump signs. Mostly, this was about being for issues and causes, being pro-active! This man was a veteran of protests and I watched a very stylishly dressed African American woman ask to take a picture with him and her young daughter.img_0809Yes, it was a women’s march and there were lots of women and lots of pink pussy hats (which were just the kind of humor this serious issued needed)img_0798img_0917The biggest surprise, although it shouldn’t have been, was how very many men were there. This man was registering voters.img_0853There were men of all ages and they made up a very big part of the crowd. You saw generations and families. I think that was the most heartwarming thing I witnessed – all the men who understood why there was a march and why the women were there. They were so very supportive.img_0863dsc_0530img_0838I ran into a friend and we spent a few minutes talking about how long it had been since we felt the need to protest like this. She commented that she had always been a Republican and I said I had too. We laughed at how we had left the party as it drifted and were now Independents. Who ever even knew an Independent? That shows something.img_0893I was delighted by all the signs for so many issues but some of these said it best. We were all there for everything!img_0889img_0925img_0865As with all of the marches across the country and around the world, the crowd was larger than anticipated but everyone was content to visit, take lots of photos and enjoy being with people who also cared. There was hope and joy in the air, to tell the truth. As the march was finally starting, I had to make my way to the car, but had to empathize with those of us who thought we had some of these issues solved.img_0861dsc_0517When I got to the car, my phone had died so I reached for my big camera and watched a bit of the march go by me. It came in waves that washed over me. No loud noises, just people who cared and shared and came from all over the state to be heard. This one broke my heart and brought me back to the reality of this for many.dsc_0526So several thousand Oklahomans who couldn’t make it to Washington D. C. came by car and bus on walkers and wheelchairs, carrying babies and pushing strollers and holding children by the hand. They carried homemade signs with messages that were powerful in their many diverse messages for so many concerns. They came to be with others and share something that became more powerful as word started spreading about the size of the crowds in Washington and the numbers of similar marches around the world. The sense of hope built and the strength was palpable.

What’s next? For this unmilitant marcher, this was another step to our hope for a better world for those who follow. We are all on alert now to watch and make things happen and it was proved by the women who organized that it can be done peacefully. This is OUR country and our lives. Here we go…img_0940

I was born in December, 1945, which makes me 71 now. At this age, I have enough life lived to look back and get perspective on the good old days of my life. I can understand the good, the bad, and the ugly of the times, seeing how it shaped the world and my life and me.

My parents married at the end of the war, my father having served in the Army Air Force as a pilot, a Lt. Colonel returning heavily decorated for his missions over Italy. My mother had worked through the war for officers on the air base in Ardmore, Oklahoma. They met there and married soon after. He was 33 and she was 24. They had both lived through the Great Depression with his family building a business and her widowed mother raising three children in the worst of it. Without too much detail, I understand that this is why they didn’t talk about the past much. Their lives were about the future.

Actually, nobody talked much about anything, at least in front of children. We were sheltered from just about everything to do with the real world, which was nice when your life was pretty great, as mine was. The trouble was that there were other things going on that we didn’t see at all until years later, things we couldn’t begin to understand from our narrow world view.

My family moved from Oklahoma City to Tulsa in 1948 and lived in a nice house with a large yard and the white picket fence. 2501-s-birmingham-pl-tulsa-okMy father had his branch of the family business and my mother stayed home with me, my brother and, soon, my little sister. She had help in the house, the first Negro (as we knew them), I ever knew. We met others when we went to the country club where my father played golf and we dined, played golf and swam in the summers. More Negro helpers that we knew so well but didn’t really know at all. I don’t remember meeting any other people of different races or even different religions through the 1950s. It was a pretty white life in my little world, even when I went to visit my grandparents in Oklahoma City or my grandmother in Ardmore.

Everybody’s parents seemed nice in the 1950s. We played away from the grownups who were busy talking. In the 1950s, lots of grownups smoked and drank. The men came back from the war as smokers since the government practically gave them cigarettes. Daddy smoked a pipe, cigars, and finally just cigarettes. My mother never did. People drank a lot back then, but we were used to it. Daddy kept a bottle in his desk at the office and came home and had a drink. Everyone did that in those days. Except my mother, who wasn’t a drinker either. She made us clean the ashtrays when we were little so we could see the nicotine which was stuck to the ashtrays as it would stick to our lungs. It was an effective lesson for me at least. We didn’t know about cancer from cigarettes until later and we didn’t really know what an alcoholic was except that some of our parents’ friends seemed to drink a lot more than others and slurred their words. For most of us, drinking was something you would do when you were older to be as cool as our parents were. It was a rite of passage.

In the 1950s, we didn’t know much in my little world about the real world that would come soon enough. We had news on the radio, but what little kid was going to sit and listen to that? By the time we got television, it only came on at about 5:00 and went off the air at 10:00. There were short newscasts, but those weren’t too interesting either. Actually, we got most of our information from newspapers and magazines. In my home, we subscribed to just about everything, so I grew up reading both the morning and evening newspaper and magazines that ranged from my mother’s (Ladies Home Journal, McCall’s), my father’s (Argosy, Field and Stream), my brother’s (Boy’s Life) and the children’s magazines (Highlights). And there were Life, Look, Reader’s Digest, and Saturday Evening Post. I read more and more of them as I grew up, learning much about the world that way. We still didn’t talk much at home about anything in the world. I absorbed by listening and reading.

In 1955, my parents built a beautiful home and we moved to a new neighborhood. We changed from private to public schools so we could meet new friends and the world began to open up. I went from a class of 24 kids I had known forever to a class of 650. I was eleven years old and my world was changing. I was in junior high, thrown into a world of pre-adolescence that I embraced with great excitement. I made my first Jewish friends, I met kids who had grown up in other parts of town. I was exposed to the “facts of life” through raging hormones, changing bodies, and the giggling of girls as we awkwardly learned to dance, talk to boys (we always had but this was different). Everything was emotional, our parents didn’t understand, and we thought we were grown up. We were typical kids, living the American teen life.

I realize now that we learned so much from each other about love, sex, relationships, but our information was scattered. My mother talked to me a little, but I probably didn’t want to hear it from her. How embarrassing! We still didn’t know so much, so very much. One of my dear friends lost her mother and I went to the funeral. I remember it well, but it was hard to absorb. I had no frame of reference for anyone losing a parent. By the time I was in 9th grade, I lost a friend to suicide. I didn’t understand why until 40 years later when I learned she was pregnant. Nobody talked to us about it. And, how sad is it that she thought she had to die rather than face her friends, family and society. Such were the norms in those days when your family’s reputation was everything. Everything. You didn’t say anything that would make anyone look bad. You keep secrets.

In high school, we still kept secrets. If you didn’t, it was gossip and nothing could destroy you more quickly. If you were fast or wild, you got that reputation and I can guarantee that we will still remember you that way today, even if we can at least understand now. There was no perspective when everything was black and white. There was little compassion when you were either right or wrong.

Years later, I learned a lot of the things I didn’t know back then. Gradually through the years, friends have talked about the abuse in their homes, the alcoholism, the secrets. There were fewer divorces because there was really no place for the women to go. Whether you agree or not, a lot of people stayed in marriages that were damaging to everyone stuck there. The abuse of women and children was hidden. What could women do? Where could children go if their mother or father was destroying them at home? We didn’t know anything. I found out later that one of the popular boys used to spend his nights at a relative’s, sneaking home in the morning so that he could be seen leaving for school from his parents’ home so that nobody knew the hell he was living in. We didn’t know.

So many things I’ve learned since those days. I made a new friend when I was in my 50s who is Native American. She grew up across town from me, left on a doorstep and raised by foster families. We didn’t know that was going on and nobody admitted they had Indian blood back then. I live in Oklahoma and didn’t know that friends of mine were Native American. It wasn’t the popular thing to admit because people would look down on you.

By high school, we had lost friends to car wrecks (driving too fast with no seat belts because there were none or driving while drinking) and everything in our world was changing quickly. We danced and listened to music our parents hated and drove around in cars looking for other teens to follow and flirt with. We were the kids you later saw in American Graffiti. Here is the music we were listening to my senior year. kakc_1962-10-15_1Most of it was fun and silly. Some of it was sexy. We had learned to do the Twist and we were listening to folk music. We had progessed from The Kingston Trio to Peter Paul & Mary. We were on the verge of Joan Baez and Bob Dylan and songs with messages. Our world was about to be rocked.

I graduated from high school in 1963 and left for Oklahoma State University, formerly an agricultural school but known for engineering and business by now. It was the heartland and the university was in the middle of the Oklahoma plains, formerly land rush country. Now I met cowboys, real cowboys, for the first time. My first roommate was from a class of 6 in a small town. I had traveled to Europe for the first time when I was a senior so my world was expanding and now I was learning the other side of my own state, meeting kids who grew up away from the cities I knew. We talked for hours, sitting on beds in the dorms, learning about new people.

In November of that year, President John F. Kennedy was assassinated. I remember the shock and horror. We had never experienced anything like this in our lives. Presidents didn’t get assassinated and here it was being shown over and over on television. We watched the accused assassin shot in front of us. To be on a campus of young people when this happened was the rude awakening we didn’t see coming. Our world was not what we had been led to believe at all. Everything we felt secure about was thrown up in the air and floated down around our confused young selves. Our music changed and the messages got deeper. By spring, we had met The Beatles on Ed Sullivan’s show and the sounds and the beat was driving us. We had rock & roll, folk music, and now the British influence. As those college years went on, we were shaking up our parents’ ideas, questioning everything.

In the 1960s, we faced the Viet Nam war and the boys in my class could suddenly be drafted. The ways to at least postpone it were to be in college or to be married. If you left college, you could be called up immediately. To say this had an impact on us is an understatement. Although many of my friends served since the war dragged on, many were able to avoid it. There were weddings all the time, either because the guy was leaving or to keep him from going.

For girls, college life was restrictive in these days when we were testing our new sense of idealism. On my campus, girls had to wear skirts and couldn’t live off campus until they were 23 unless they were married. We rebelled. As fashion changed in those years with skirts going from mid-calf to mini and micro-mini, the rules eased. We signed petitions for more realistic curfews and questioned why we couldn’t do what the guys could. During my college years, Gloria Steinem visited campus, bringing us the messages of women’s liberation. I listened to her and absorbed so much, wondering how this would fit in my life. The world was changing all around us. There was the sexual revolution and birth control and so much to absorb. Abortion was around and girls got them. Some of my friends were unable to have children afterwards. Do I believe in abortion? It’s a private and personal decision and it should be safe. Abortion will always be an option, but let’s make it safe.

I married my high school sweetheart in December 1966, soon after he was home from the Navy. As he worked on his degree, I taught English as a graduate assistant, and we had our first child, our oldest daughter, while we were in school. I was the oldest mother in the hospital at 22 in this time when birth control was new and everyone was marrying at a younger age.

By 1970, we had moved back to Tulsa, where my husband went to work for my father, we purchased our first home, and had our second daughter. I stayed home with the children, leading a life much like my parents had done. The difference was that I was one of a generation of women who had gone to college and been exposed to all these new ideas. We had birth control and education and degrees and what were we going to do with it? I played bridge and kept the house and did all the things I was supposed to do. I was bored and found volunteer work, which was to sustain me for the next couple of decades as an outlet to use my brain, network with the community, and expose myself to the rest of the world while growing into leadership positions. I worked with women, domestic violence, the arts, a nature center, water conservation, historic preservation, and diversity while working with community leaders, the media, and donors, developing skills and relationships I had used as I entered the work world in the 1980s and 90s.

My other salvation in the early 1970s was a group of women I met who formed a “discussion group.” We met once a week in the Presbyterian church half of us belonged to. The other half were members at the Unitarian Church. We had a sitter for the morning and our goal was to discuss anything but children. We took field trips, discussed books and ideas and used our brains, a welcome relief from our lives with toddlers and babies at home. I still love these women and the special bond we formed. We all went on to have interesting lives while raising our families. We were each other’s salvation for many years. One thing that happened in that group was that an older woman asked us to read a book that was being talked about, The Total Woman. A woman was going to use the church to have a lecture on the book and she was skeptical. I was asked to go to the lecture and report back to the group. The theory of the book was that women should be adoring to their husbands and cater to them so that they will adore you back. That’s simplistic, but one of the ideas was to meet your husband at the door dressed in saran wrap with a drink ready for him. Really. I don’t think that was going to happen in my house where I had three daughters by now. Where were they going to be during this? Anyway, I went to the lecture and took notes and reported back. My main takeaway from this was that it was really demeaning to men and gave them no credit for anything. It was manipulative, to say the least.

By the 1970s, we were talking about everything. We had learned from our own childhoods and were going to raise our children differently. When Our Bodies, Ourselves was published, we read it cover to cover. Who had ever talked about our bodies with us? I had learned everything from women’s magazines and talking to my friends. Doctors didn’t even talk about this stuff with us.img_0481We were talking now. And we were raising our children differently, just like we wanted to. By now, I had three girls and a boy and it was just 1975. I wanted them all to grow up with choices, all kinds of choices. They were raised with this…img_0521Yes, life was different for my generation. We talked about things and we learned about all our choices. By the time we were in our 30s, lives were changing. A friend lost her husband and all those years she had spent home raising the kids were now a challenge because she was a single mother having to enter the work force when she had lost ten years or so of career advancement. Other friends faced divorce because men now had the freedom to leave their wives for the girlfriends they had found. These women also found that they had to reinvent themselves. Life was not as simple as we thought it would be.

I won’t go on with the details of what I’ve learned, but it does make you reflect. Were things better back when men worked and women stayed home and nobody talked about anything? Were we better living in a world full of such dangerous secrets?

My own children’s generation is a mixed bag. They saw divorce up close and many chose to either wait or not marry. They have so many choices. They don’t have to hide the fact they are gay or lesbian as many of my friends did back in the days when you married as a cover because it was too dangerous to live your life the way you felt. We have more technology, different types of jobs, more ways to raise our children, more ideas to absorb and it all changes quickly. There have been movements to get back to basics, back to the earth, back to priorities.

My sons-in-law participate in their children’s lives as my generation’s men were only beginning to be able to experience. My father’s generation would never have left work for ball games or plays or stayed home to raise the kids while the wife worked. In that way, women’s freedom has freed up men to be better people, better parents.

The diversity of our world has changed so much in my lifetime as we learn to be proud of where we come from, to understand our ancestors, to see that we all want the same things for our children. I see families with parents from mixed races, same sex parents, old and young parents, and I see families who understand that love is love is love. We learn more about other cultures, other countries, other people. What we should be seeing is that we all want homes, food, water, security and education for our children. We’re not that different at all.

In times of fear and anger, I look around me and reassess once again what I want. I want to leave this world a better place than when I arrived. I want my grandchildren and their children to have the beautiful wild places to visit to restore their souls from the fast pace of human life. I want their lives to be rich with experiences and friendships and love. We’ll never be perfect as human beings, but we can progress. Or at least try. That’s what I see when I look way back at my life’s experiences and then turn around and look to the future.

We keep trying our best and doing good things and loving, loving, loving.

 

 

Looking at my 70 year old self isn’t the most fun if you’re talking about looking in the mirror. There’s no denying the changes no matter how you’ve taken care of yourself. Thinking about who I really am is a different story. Current events make me wonder why my thoughts differ from some people around me, people who appear to have lives somewhat like mine. I’ve realized that my evolution as a person is due to so very many things that have happened to me, things are unique to me as your lives are unique to you. It’s also the people who were there that made the subtle changes along the way. When I tried to capture the change makers in my life, most of them seem to be women. I adore men and have known so many good ones who loved me, made me laugh, were such great friends and teachers and were part of this story, but, it’s the women whose images seemed to jump forward as I write this.

I was a good little girl, more quiet than shy. I was one of those who wanted to please so I didn’t argue with too many people, at least back then. I know I watched what was going around me, saving it in my mind, processing it along the years.Karen - July 1948

I never met my great-grandmothers, but I’ve been finding out about them recently. They were pretty amazing women, ones I’m proud to claim and ones who influenced my grandmothers and parents, which helps me understand who they were and who I am now.

I have a couple of great-grandmothers who were very poor. One of them lived on a farm in southern Oklahoma and another one in Kentucky. Their lives were hard and I now see how they influenced my grandmothers. There was another one who I’ve found working as a servant on a farm inTexas at the age of 14. I can’t find more about her until she met my great-grandfather, but he owned properties in and around early Ardmore, Oklahoma. As a widow, my mother spent a lot of time with her and describes her home as a place where people gathered to talk about ideas, where she kept few clothes but had a hat to wear to the Opera, such as when Jenny Lind came through town. She always wore white, which may explain my mother’s affinity for this, and ate sparsely, as my mother remembered it. She lost her husband and both her sons, so devoted herself to her three grandchildren, including her only granddaughter, my mother.

My other great-grandmother was born to people from Louisiana and Kentucky. There were slave owners on that side of the family, although my great-grandmother’s obituary says she was loved by equally by the citizens of her town, black and white. Interesting that they wrote that back in 1937. I can only admit to this part of my history with regret, understanding that it was a much more complicated an issue that I can only acknowledge and not correct.

My paternal grandmother was one of the ones born poor, one of many children in a Catholic family, who married into one of the nicer families in their hometown of Uniontown, Kentucky, leaving her religion behind to marry my Episcopalian grandfather. The churches were rigid in those days. She raised four children and watched her three sons and her son-in-law leave for World War II. They returned with honors except for her youngest son, who was killed at 22, parachuting over Germany. He is buried in Europe and she never saw his grave. As the middle of her nine grandchildren, I was born after the war and never really saw her grief. To me, she twinkled, but I learned later that she never forgave FDR for her son’s death, refusing to even have a postage stamp with his picture. Her arthritis was linked to this anger, as I heard the grownups say. They didn’t talk about much with kids in those days. From this, I can relate to the mothers of fallen soldiers and their grief, sometimes misplaced.

From this grandmother, I also learned a remote lesson about death. As she lay in her coffin at the funeral home, I watched from the door as my father stood beside her and laid his hand on her cheek. She taught me the power of a mother.

My maternal grandmother was born to poor farmers in southern Oklahoma and, at 18, married my grandfather, who was probably 40 at the time. They had three children before he contracted Bright’s Disease, a kidney disease more easily detected and cured today, and died, leaving her a widow at 27 in the middle of the Great Depression. He bought her a neighborhood grocery store, a tiny place where she could eke out a living in those dark days. My mother, the youngest and only daughter, remembered that their only dignity in those days was that they owned their home. When the gas went out due to unpaid bills, at least they had the house. My great-grandmother left each of her three grandchildren a house along with other property. I’m not sure if my grandmother was left one also, but she lived in one of the houses and rented out rooms to pensioners (I asked my mother and found that these men were retired and living on government income). There was also a big house where she rented out rooms and I remember going with her to check rooms or collect rent. I grew up staying with her and sharing a bathroom with those men, walking down a dark hall lit by one bulb, past those lonely, small rooms with their screen doors that gave me a peek inside. This quiet little girl absorbed all of this.

This grandmother taught me other things, too. I was the oldest grandchild and spent a lot of time with her since she lived alone. Her next granddaughter had cerebral palsy. There was no difference in the way she treated us, which taught me to not be afraid of those who are different or can’t do all the things we can.

My mother grew up an old soul with a mother who seemed to always find the joy in life even though she was faced with so much. She gave my mother her sense of adventure, always saying “Let’s do something,” before we set out to see what was going on in the world. My mother worked from a young age, telling me that she was once turned down for a job as a receptionist when she was 16 for being too pretty. The owner thought she would be a distraction for his son. My mother told me her stories of being sexually harrassed after graduating from business school and going into the workplace. When the Anita Hill case was in the news, she told me what it was like when she was young and why she absolutely knew Anita Hill was telling the truth. This was eye-opening to me since my mother was the absolute 1950s mother, the homemaker who kept everything perfect for my father to walk through the door. Her stories of what her life was like before she met Daddy taught me another side of the story I hadn’t been exposed to in my own life. My mother’s stories as I shared my experiences through my life taught me so much and brought my own experiences into much clearer understanding, even if I didn’t agree with her sometimes.

There have been so many women who taught me through the years. Sometimes, they were friends, sometimes we shared an experience, sometimes we only shared a brief moment. They stay in me, they shaped me.

Growing up, my mother always had a maid to help her with the house and her three children. There were no mothers’ day outs or day care centers, so these women stayed with us while she ran her errands or met her friends or whatever she did. All I know is that we had nothing but love and respect for these women. My mother worked right beside them, cleaning and washing. We were comfortably well off, but not extremely wealthy. We often went with my mother to drive them home when they missed their bus or the weather was bad. My mother wanted us to know that there are people who weren’t able to have the things we had.

One of the maids who worked for our family for many years was Daisy. She was from the south and taught me, just like in “The Help,” to fry chicken and pork chops. I wish I’d learned to make her chocolate pie! Daisy was my confidant and there was no messing with her. In my high school years, she counseled me on boyfriends and scolded me on anything I did wrong, although I was a good kid. In 1962, our family was taking a trip east and we drove a route that took us to Atlanta so we could put her on a bus there to go visit her family. Her nervousness and fear as we drove through the south taught me about prejudice as I had never seen it before. Her approval of my future husband tickled me and her joy at our wedding was special, although she wouldn’t come to church with us and waited at home where we had the reception. Her “ship came in” when she finally found a man and married, and quit working, only to have it end when they died in their little house after a gas leak. She shaped me in so many ways.

As a child, I didn’t know any black people outside of those who worked for us or in places like the country club. Many years later, my mother told me that she thought that my grandmother once loved a black man who shopped in her little grocery store. Of course, that would have been scandalous in the depression days in small town Oklahoma. Learning that gave me new perspective on both my mother and my grandmother. My grandmother did have one boyfriend while we were growing up. His name was Mr. Baker (I never heard a first name) and he always wore a hat. She kind of giggled when I asked about him, but they never married and he was always Mr. Baker. My mother told me she didn’t marry when her children were young because she was so afraid that she might marry someone who might abuse them in one way or another. Again, learning that in my later years taught me a lot about the reality of those times and those wonderful women I loved.

Once I was old enough to be out of the house, away from the complete influence of family, there began the parade of women who flood my memories. Among teachers, there is my high school Latin teacher, a former WAC, a Scots woman, who brought the ancient language to life and shared her no-nonsense opinions, her incredible sense of humor, and her intelligence with us. She is a friend today, still sharp as a tack in her 90s.

My first roommate in college was from a small town, graduating from a class of 6. My class was 650 in the city. She was my first small town friend. Another college friend was my first black friend. She was from Arkansas where her family owned a funeral home. To say she was a novelty is an understatement since she is the only black girl I remember from our dorm. We loved her sense of humor and her tolerance of us. I look back now and realize how hard it must have been for her, but she never showed it. Another girl in college was in the same First Aid class I was in. Since I was making an A, I had no problem, but she was struggling and the teacher made her an offer that she wisely refused and reported. I was called into the Dean’s office to talk about it since I was her student counselor. From this girl, I learned that there was such a thing as sexual harassment by those in authority.

I married during my senior year, graduated in May, and went to work the next day at the local grocery store in Stillwater, Oklahoma, as a checker. This was because I decided to take a summer job like my husband (who had to join a union to work construction that summer) before I returned in the fall to teach as a graduate assistant. My parents never understood my decision. One of my favorite co-workers was a wonderful young woman, married to a highway patrolman, who worked at the grocery store for real reasons. She was so very nice and we became friends as we tolerated our boss, a man who chided us if we leaned back during a lull. There were no computers in the summer of 1967, so we had to figure sales tax with the help of a little chart and learn the ever changing prices of the produce every day. The cash register was quite manual and our lines were long on the Saturdays when people came in from the country to do their weekly or monthly shopping. The store was probably closed on Sundays and not open in the evenings back then either. On the day I gave my notice, explaining to our obnoxious boss that I was going to be teaching at the University in the fall, I saw the change in the way he treated me and saw me. I will never get over being outraged that he would treat me differently than he was treating my new friend who would be there long after I left. I learned a lot that summer. A lot.

In the years following, I had four children, moved into our first home, became a housewife, an educated housewife, which is what you did in those days. I hired my own maid, joined the community groups, worked in my children’s schools and did the things I was supposed to be doing. Oh so many things were going to happen to me in the next years that I could never imagine then.

I had occasion to visit an abortion clinic in the mid-70s, a visit that forever changed my views. There, I observed a woman bringing her 14 year old granddaughter, a young black college couple, a woman who had three children and couldn’t afford more. These women were there for their own reasons, there at a legitimate clinic run by doctors, having to make decisions that they were obviously struggling with. I watched counselors going over their decisions with them in a kindly manner, not forcing anyone to do anything other than make sure. There was no joy in any of their faces. I had thought I was anti-abortion until that visit. I became pro-choice. It was none of my business to interfere with this difficult decision in these women’s lives.

When I was pregnant with my fourth child, I was elected the President of a group of young women working to support the symphony orchestra. It was the first big board of directors I would serve on and I was one of a few token women. The power brokers there were old, white men to this 29 year old young woman. I knew them as civic leaders who had made a huge difference in our city, but I also learned that they were nice but not exactly inclusive of the women in the room. The fact that I was pregnant made them a little uncomfortable. I don’t know if they thought I would have the baby during a meeting, but I learned from the experience. I learned from the strong, bright women who spoke out in the meetings and I learned to let my own voice be heard, even if I was pregnant and looked like a kid to them. I learned to represent the ideas of the people I was representing and stand up for them. It was a huge lesson for me and I thank those other women.

I served as a Deacon in our church during the next years and was in charge of helping people who called the church asking for assistance. I learned that there are people who call churches when they are desperate and that they sometimes take advantage of kind people. We didn’t give them money, but would buy them food or pay utilities for them. Once I took food to a woman and her children who were living in a motel where she was cleaning rooms to pay the fee. The children were clean and going to school and she just needed a helping hand. I remember that woman.

Later, I was chairman of a project to open a Women’s Resource Center, a place for displaced housewives (a new term in the 70s) to come for information on resources for getting an education, a job, a place to live, community help and whatever else they needed when they found themselves suddenly having to fend for themselves after a divorce or other life event. As we congratulated ourselves and met the press on opening day, a woman walked up the sidewalk, holding the article from the paper announcing our facility. She ignored the crowd, the press, and walked up to me. She needed help and was there to find it. I remember that woman. She taught me that we were doing the right thing and those women we had only imagined really were out there.

At that particular time in my life, my friends started facing challenges in their lives. Husbands started leaving them for other women, which rarely happened in my parents’ lives. Their friends may have had affairs, but they stayed together. Women couldn’t afford to leave their husbands because there was no place for them to go, so they tolerated a lot. A lot. Anyway, my friends, who were educated but had stayed home to raise the kids, now found themselves having to support themselves and their kids, even with child support and alimony. What they found was that the workplace didn’t automatically hire them in positions that reflected their education or their volunteer experience serving on boards in the community. They found themselves at the bottom of the ladder, having to work their way up. Not only did I have friends who found themselves in this position due to divorce, but some became widows unexpectedly. I learned from these friends that there has to be a way to raise a family and keep one foot in the work place door. This lesson is still being learned by the next generation. My hope is that the young women of today look at my friends who started late and worked their way up into positions of leadership in the workplace by pure hard work and determination. I learned so much from these women and it influenced my thoughts while raising my own three girls and my son. When I became a widow at 52, it was these women who were my inspiration while I faced those same challenges.

As an adult, I became friends with an African American woman who came to Tulsa as the director of an agency as I was serving on their board. Over twenty-five years ago, we sat at lunch while she told me of her fears of having a child. We are the same age and I had four children at the time, but she taught me the fear of a woman who did not know if she could have a child, especially a son, who would grow up in a world where he would face such discrimination because of the color of his skin. I never forgot our conversation, even as I watched her raise her outstanding son. I silently worried with her. She taught me.

I served many years on the board of the domestic violence agency in Tulsa, starting when it was relatively new and the women who fought for it ranged from Junior League members to prostitutes, all working together. The first shelter was in a neighborhood and the only security from abusive men who would come to the door was an umbrella stand with a baseball bat. I worked with those mothers and they taught me. Once, I was at a Halloween party given by volunteers for the families in the newer, more secure, shelter. I was taking pictures with a Polaroid camera, for privacy, for the mothers. I remember one mother who held up her one year old child who was in a full body cast. When I put the camera to my eye, I had to stop. The lens took me into her eyes too deeply and I had to compose myself and start over. Another mother asked me to take a picture so she could send it to the father. I had to bite my lip. She taught me about the cycle of violence as I tried to understand how she could want to do anything for the man who had caused them so much pain. Once, we took a group to the zoo and my oldest daughter and my son went with me as I picked up a woman and her child for the trip. We spent the day together with this woman who didn’t smile much and a few weeks later we passed the woman at a bus stop and my children recognized her. I remember all these women so well.

So many women pass through my memories. There is my 90 year old artist friend who I have known for over 40 years who taught me the life of an artist as I watched her paint while raising the last of her five children by three irresponsible husbands. She is so intelligent, so independent, and such an individual. There was my friend who died of cancer before her 40th birthday, the first time I watched someone go through the horrors of chemotherapy and mastectomy and fight so hard for her family. Watching her taught me so much when I went through the cancer battle later with my husband and son. And I now remember my life-long friend who lost her mother to cancer when she was 12. The funeral was the first one I ever attended and I remember watching her during the service to this day. And now there is my college friend who is now facing ALS with such bravery,  grace and humor. I treasure these women.

There are my friends who called me through the years to tell me that they were gay, hesitant as they waited for my response. I had the same response I had to the friends who told me their children are gay. I love you and it makes no difference. Maybe I learned that from my mother who had friends who lived out of state and explained to me that they were a couple. I don’t remember what term she used all those many years ago, but I remember that it was ok with her. I have had the same response to friends who were in interracial marriages or other relationships that weren’t like mine. I don’t care. I want those I love to be happy and loved and that’s all that there is to it. And, I don’t feel threatened by it in any way. Thank you for teaching me that I feel that way.

I thank my friend who is Native American for sharing her story of growing up with so much prejudice across town from the lily-white life I grew up in. I thank the woman in the wheel chair who came to my office with her loving daughter who was starting her own non-profit at the age of 15 to help get prom dresses for girls who couldn’t afford them. These women taught me grace and generosity.

So many women’s faces I have seen in my life. The UPS delivery lady who worked so hard at a formerly male job and who took the time to come to my husband’s funeral. The woman who had lost her husband and then was sitting in a flooded trailer in the country when I came to do damage assessment for the Red Cross. Her quiet despair as she barely noticed us walking through the destruction haunts me still.

I have a high school friend who moved to Alaska and found her life as a homesteader, wife of a trapper, mother in a remote area, and now an author of many books. Her life is seemingly so different from mine, yet so much the same. I visited her the year after my husband died and we drove around her area of Alaska, near Fairbanks. She took me to visit a friend, a Russian woman. This lady had been brought to America by her husband and they were looking for a life with their five children when her husband died, leaving her in a place where she spoke no English. She ended up in Alaska and had remarried, living with other Russians near my friend’s home (although everything is far apart in Alaska). The day we visited her, she had a new baby and was in bed. Also in the room were several older Russian women, sitting in a row of chairs, dressed in traditional Russian clothing, complete with babushkas. They spoke no English, so my friend tried to communicate for all of us. I took the baby and they silently watched me, understanding that I was a mother and grandmother and knew how to hold the child. We smiled and nodded and communicated silently in the universal language of women and babies. I found out later that they were from Chicago. I remember them all well.

So many women have made me who I am and I don’t even have to speak of the friends and family who have been mentors and companions and shared so many fun and rich memories. I love my three daughters, my daughter-in-law, and my two granddaughters who taught me how to be a mother and grandmother and continue to teach me every day.

We all have our stories and each is so very unique. I only know that who I am and how I understand the world and how I empathize with all people has been strongly shaped by the women who were my ancestors and those who I meet along the way. Men have had some influence, great influence, but the women have meant so much.

As we celebrate the first woman nominated to be President of the United States by a major party, I think back on my ancestors who couldn’t even vote and try to understand what that must have been like to live in a world where women were not treated as equals under the law. You don’t have to agree on politics to understand the importance of current events.

As we face the world today and tomorrow and the challenges each generation faces, I hope that the person I’ve become, the person I keep becoming, is passing along the best things about this world to those I love and those I meet. We are all in this same world and we need to understand each other and work together for every good thing there is in our lives, all our lives.IMG_8371

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

There’s nothing like the lessons that history teaches us about ourselves. I sometimes wonder how this time in our lives will be judged in even a few decades with all the venom spewing onto social media and the internet. To escape the news, I picked up Bill Bryson’s wonderful book, “One Summer…America 1927.” I know it was a bestseller when it was published, but this was the perfect time for me to read it. I had also recently read “In the Garden of Beasts” by Erik Larson, a history of Germany in 1933 as Hitler was coming into power.

The current news is disturbing, watching crowds of Americans chanting hateful words at fellow Americans. Everywhere there is the fear of people who they assume are different from them, whether they be Mexican, Middle Eastern, of different religions or sexual orientation. We seem to be confused about what kind of people belong in America.

Reading Mr. Bryson’s book, my senses sharpened as I read his description of the 1920s, noting that instead of the terms like the Jazz Age, the Roaring Twenties, etc, it could have been called the Age of Loathing. “There may never have been another time in the nation’s history when some people disliked more people from more directions and for less reason.”

He continues with descriptions of the bigotry, especially the Ku Klux Klan, which reached record numbers. It’s focus was regional with hatred of “Jews & Catholics in the Midwest, Orientals and Catholics in the Far West, Jews and sometimes Europeans in the East, and blacks everywhere.” Then there was the national interest in eugenics, the scientific cultivation of superior beings. Using eugenics, people were deported, groups were restricted in the places they could live, civil liberties were suspended and thousands of innocent people were involuntarily sterilized, including people who scored low on the newly developed IQ test, used not to determine who was the smartest, but who was the least intelligent so they could be weeded out. In the way that these things tend to move, the people chosen to make these decisions had their own prejudices and interests projected onto the results of testing. Those with epilepsy and other mental or physical disabilities which made them inferior stock, so to speak, were victims also. Europeans were tiered with lighter skins being preferred to the darker skins of the more southern regions.

You can read both of these books to see the similarities of what is going on in our country today – and you should!

I had already been trying to process the anger and fear I see daily. It’s hard to understand where it comes from when I look around me. For one thing, what exactly qualifies a person to be considered white? Since the beginning of our country, immigrants have flooded in, assimilating into the country while still retaining some of their heritage. You can drive across the Kansas plains and see tiny towns on the flat horizon with the steeples of large churches built by the European settlers who came there standing out as the places the farmers came together to worship in this new land. I was just in Okarche, OK, which was settled by Germans who conducted all their education and worship services in German until just before World War I.

Since I was born in 1945, I have seen the acceptance of so many different kinds of people in my own little corner of the world. As a child, I only knew African American people in service areas but, through the years, I became friends with bi-racial couples and worked with professional people of all races. Being Native American was not embraced even in Oklahoma, the land of the red people with more than 70 tribes today. Now it is a source of pride with people searching for traces of Indian bloodlines.

The recent surge of interest in genealogy has opened up the realities of our country’s growth with DNA tests available to reveal our roots. My family seems to have moved from the east to the west in the traditional ways with my father’s family moving from the British Isles to Maryland and on to Kentucky, with some spurs in Louisiana, before my ancestors ending up in Oklahoma. My mother’s family took the southern route from the east coast, farming through the southern states into Texas and, eventually, southern Oklahoma. No telling what other family tree branches hold as far as mixed breeding along the way.

We’ve welcomed refugees even if it took awhile for them to be totally assimilated. I remember enrolling Vietnamese children after they were sponsored by local churches. They were so sweet as they came to a new country, a new state and city and started school when they couldn’t even speak the language. They were model students, hard working and thankful to be there.

Today, our wonderful diversity is all around me in ways that were shocking mere decades ago. Children with disabilities are not hidden or shuffled off to institutions as we mainstream them in schools when possible and celebrate them with Special Olympics. They are beloved children who teach us as much as we teach them. Medical advances have made so many lives more livable and children learn to accept rather than ridicule those with differences. One of my grandsons has grown up with a friend with disabilities and doesn’t seem to even notice.

Both of our presidential candidates have children who have married into the Jewish faith, which would have been hard to do in past generations, both from the Jewish and protestant sides. My grandmother was raised Catholic but had to leave the church to marry  my grandfather who was Episcopal. True love ruled out back at the turn of the 20th century and they were married over 55 years. I can remember the fears around the candidacy of John F. Kennedy as to whether the Pope would try to run America if Kennedy were elected.

I was fortunate to grow up in a community where Jews and Catholics were community leaders and friends, so I didn’t see the kind of ugliness as much as in other places. When I worked for the American Red Cross, I took classes such as water safety, disaster planning, and even diversity to many rural schools. For our fundraising records, I was supposed to bring back the racial breakdown of the classes where I made presentations. This was almost a joke as I answered that I could barely tell the girls from the boys. In rural Oklahoma, there were so many kids who were of mixed heritage – African American, Native American, Hispanic and white. Fortunately, the teachers had the statistics for me from enrollment numbers. We all keep those kind of records these days, I guess. It was eye-opening for me to look out at a sea of 2nd or 3rd graders and try to figure out who they were. They were all kids to me and it was amusing to try to decipher the different colors of skin and facial features that could be from anywhere. Such is the melting pot we live in.

One of my grandsons asked me years ago to explain the differences in religions, especially protestants. After pondering that for a minute, I explained some of the differences in structure of the governing bodies and of the basic beliefs. I also explained that churches vary by community depending on the people who are members. You might want to join the Presbyterian church in one town, the Methodist church in another or some other religion. It was about finding which one felt right with your beliefs and where you felt you belonged as far as the membership. It gets confusing in today’s world because each religion is also subject to interpretation by the leadership. This is world wide and we all know that the worst things mankind has done to fellow human beings throughout history is usually done in the name of God. Not the God I believe in who is about love and acceptance, but the God they describe to meet their own desires.

Today, I have friends who have had to hide their sexual orientation for most of their lives and are now able to lead very happy lives, loved and accepted by their families and friends. It’s not always easy for them but they can at least know there are places and people who are working to make it easier for them to live and work as they please. My boss at Oklahoma State University is from Malaysia. Last week, I sat with three friends and thought about where we all are. One of them has a gay son, one has a daughter who is married to a Muslim and raising her grandchildren in that religion and one has a son who is married to a German girl. A friend from long ago was able to see his son married to his partner and accepted at last. As parents and grandparents, we accept and love, even if we know there are still those who will make it more difficult for them along the way.

As two of my grandchildren graduated from high school this year, my own high school, I took pride in watching the cheers from the students as classmates of various racial backgrounds crossed the stage. They are so much more accepting than we were because they are exposed to the differences in their everyday lives. They play sports with them, go to class with them, and get to know them as people. Sure, there are still those who snicker and make tacky jokes or mean comments, but it is infinitely better. In their world, where everything can change in a minute with social media, I still see things as better.

I worry today with the hatred I see spewing because it’s hard for me to understand the fear. The more people with differences of race, religion, sexual orientation or physical limitations you meet, the more you relate to them as fellow human beings. Basically, we all want the same things in life – to love our families and provide homes and ways to contribute to our societies. Sure, there are aberrations with people who have distorted visions and sick needs and ugly aspirations for power and control, but people are basically good.

What is a white person, this ideal that people want to bring back, anyway? There are so many shades of skin that I don’t know what that term even means. How can you be a white supremacist if your own heritage may be of a nationality that was once the focus of the hate you are now spewing? Do you have Italian or Irish blood? You were once hated and feared too. Scandinavians were also suspect as were any people who spoke another language. Where do your people come from anyway? Who are you to think you are superior to anyone? Really?!

What were those good times that people talk about? Do you want to go back to a time when people were discriminated against because of their heritage, their skin color or even because they were women? How good were those times? I can look back fondly at the past and loved growing up in the 50s and 60s, but there were some things that weren’t so great. Adults didn’t talk about anything with kids and I’m always finding out family secrets that were hidden in those days. Finding them out makes understanding easier. There was alcoholism and abuse and no telling what other ugliness hidden in those perfect families of the day. There was discrimination in the workplace and in daily life, all hidden in pleasant seeming communities and churches. It wasn’t quite as peaceful as it looks like in the nostalgic pictures we see.

People will always be people, with all the good and bad things that implies. In our country, in our time, I hope that we will always try to be the best of the best. Let’s be the place where people feel free to believe and live and love because when those things happen, our whole world gets better. Today and every day, let’s look at our own prejudices, which we all have, and try to understand why we have them. Take each prejudice one by one and find someone who makes that prejudice just wrong. If you can find one person, you can find many and, maybe, just maybe, one person at a time, we can put people in perspective and not judge them as a whole but as individuals who enrich our lives. Together, we can recognize the ones who are making it difficult for others and make changes. Together, we can do lots of wonderful things.

We have to keep trying to stop hatred and the ugliness it spreads and encourages. We have to keep trying!IMG_0090

 

 

 

 

 

 

We’re living in historic times with the first woman about to be nominated by a major political party to run for President of the United States. This thought was fresh in my mind this morning as I took my younger granddaughter to her summer program.

This little six and a half year old is already rolling her eyes at me because she thinks I’m doing it wrong. Yesterday, she told me I was going to make her late and she would miss her fun time. The exasperation in her voice, the tone…when did she make the leap to 13? Of course, I didn’t do it wrong, but I remembered exactly what it feels like to be going into a new situation and knew she was taking her anxiety out on me. This isn’t my first time around this block.

My maternal grandmother was the cutest thing, always seeing the best in a situation. This was a woman with about an eighth grade education who married an older man when she was 18 and then was left a widow with three children before she was 30. In the depression. She raised two boys and a girl to be strong, hard working adults. My mother was the youngest and was a beautiful, smart girl, but she was probably rolling her eyes at an early age. My grandmother always had an innocence about her and my mother was more of a realist. I’m sure there were many times in their relationship, loving as it was, when my grandmother was tickled by this serious little girl who was facing their often rough life with her head held high.

I was a shy little girl, one of those who wants to please. As I reached adolescence, there was no limit to the embarrassment my parents were causing me. Their amusement at the situation only made it worse. I loved them, but, honestly, what was the deal? Leave me alone with my teen angst and my friends. We were discovering boys and our changing bodies and minds and solving the world’s problems at those slumber parties. We were seriously silly and ridiculously serious, all at the same time.

My eye rolling was there during college, maybe slacking a little. By the time I married and then graduated and had my first daughter, I was a little more respectful. Three daughters and a son later, I was much more grateful as I edged into my own years of being the object of the eye rolls. With that many children, I endured “the look” more than my share for more years. I still get it today, the result of raising strong women.

With amusement, I watch my middle daughter laugh at her 14 year old daughter as she weaves her way through these years. You either have to laugh at it or cry and our family chooses to be a laughing bunch. It’s not that it’s funny, but you have to have compassion and remember exactly how you felt at that age. We all stumble through finding ourselves, hoping we do.

So this morning, as this little 6 year old woman in the making decided to give me driving directions, I let her do so, smiling all the while. When I told her she needed to let me know when to turn ahead of time, she said she didn’t understand what I meant, “ahead of time.” Time isn’t as important to her since she has so much of it ahead of her. I explained and she said she had to get to the corner to know where she was, which was obviously not where she thought she would be. She did admit she wasn’t on the downtown streets that much. Without a strong “I told you so” tone, I explained that we were at our destination and that my way was ok too. When we got in the building, she asked me if I remembered the code to check her in and I assured her I did. And she soldiered on, bravely marching into this new situation like the strong personality she is with a slight wistful look and wave to me.

What I wanted to tell her this morning was that the world was changing and that she really could be President some day. I’m not sure that will mean much to her since she currently wants to be a veterinarian for wild animals, but it meant something to me. Girls today owe their opportunities to the women – and men – who have believed they can do anything. Today, it’s not a figure of speech to tell them they too can be President. Today, it’s the truth.

You go, Girls!DSC_0077

Lucky me! I got a break from my regular life at a time when it was much appreciated and went south to Florida with friends for a few days. For something different, we left the beauty of St. Petersburg and traveled north to Crystal Springs on the Gulf Coast.

Amazingly, it was predicted to hit a low of 30 degrees the morning we wanted to dive with the manatees in the only place you can do so by law, when they head from the colder Gulf waters into the springs with a constant temperature of around 70 degrees. We almost chickened out, discouraged by reports of visitors only lasting a few minutes before leaving with chattering teeth. At 70 years old, you think you’ve learned to be smart enough to know when it’s not going to work out. We considered a kayak to see them from the surface, but that was a 45 minute paddle, which sounded worse. My friend and I are nothing but game when it comes to a fun experience, so we prepped ourselves by worrying about the cold all night, packing up all kinds of non-Florida like things to keep warm.

It was 30 degrees when we walked to the boat at 7:15 am. I’ll be really honest – I was more worried about squeezing into a wet suit than the cold. Not pretty. I wasn’t shivering and I somehow got into the wet suit as several of us helped each other. Our boat was enclosed which helped.
IMG_9664Their slogan was promising a lot of fun ahead.IMG_9665It was the middle of the week, cold, and we lucked out with the last boat, so there were only 6 of us, my friend and me, two older ladies (maybe our age, but who knows) who are sisters-in-law, and a couple in their 50s celebrating their 30th wedding anniversary. He didn’t end up going in but a few minutes at the end because of heart issues. This was on his wife’s bucket list and he was making sure she got to check it off. Captain Ed has been doing this for 27 years, being a guide for 6. We had an extra photographer and another helper, who stayed on the boat and later served us coffee, hot chocolate or Manatee Mocha (a mix of the two). It was looking good.

We watched a video of rules for approaching manatees before we left and Captain Ed gave us more pointers on how to use the snorkel equipment as our boat approached the location. Everyone had their own dive shoes but us, so the worst cold I felt was taking my shoes and socks off on the boat. The water felt warm, there was no wind, and I climbed down the ladder to be met by a curious manatee.

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This was a great start. I’ve been on whale watching trips in Alaska and Oregon and swam with stingrays in the Cayman Islands, but this was different. For one thing, manatees are so cute. When the first one you ever see swims over and rubs against you as you tickle its back, you fall in love instantly. They’re called sea cows, but a cow could rush you. There is absolutely nothing to fear with a manatee. Nothing! They eat plants and their only teeth are at the back of their mouth. We didn’t want to disturb them, not for fear of them frightening us but because we didn’t want to bother this endangered species whose greatest enemy is man. One had great slashes along his body from the blades of boats, even though their skin is tough.

Manatees can be as large as 13 feet long and 1300 pounds, but those were mostly sleeping. Ducking under water in my snorkel and mask, I quickly came face to face with some smaller ones. Oh, those faces.

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We had seen manatees mating, thrashing around near us, as we approached our site. As the captain said, they’re trying to keep from becoming extinct. We also were so thrilled to see a baby nursing at its mother’s side below us.

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In the springs we visited, there were homes around and the waterway was only 8 feet deep at the deepest. Most of the time, I could stand up if I wanted to stop my floating. We were there almost two hours, petting the cuties we met, watching them roll over in delight with our tickles.

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There were some areas we couldn’t enter, full of large manatees resting.DSC_0081

I can’t exaggerate how very peaceful these funny creatures are.

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When you have a chance to spend time with creatures who are so innocent and passive, you have to compare them to every other person or animal you’ve encountered in your life. I don’t know what their purpose is in our ecological system, but maybe it’s to remind us that it’s sometimes enough to get along with everyone, accepting them without qualm. These aren’t stupid beasts as they are compared to the very intelligent dolphin in many ways. They are gentle in the best kind of way. I felt so special to be in their presence.

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At the end of the trip, I knew I’d had a unique experience. Captain Ed said you’re never going to get as much love as we did that cold January morning in the warm Florida spring water. In the end, we never were cold and had almost missed the adventure of a lifetime over nothing. A friend looked at this picture of me and said my expression was different, the glow of the morning showing in my smile. I know the magic of the manatees had rubbed off on me. I’m very lucky!

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Great teachers never stop teaching.

Last month, I traveled to Kansas City with one of my main purposes to see my high school Latin teacher, who turned 95 that week. Bea Notley was not only one of the best teachers I had in a lifetime of exceptional teachers, she is also a friend and one of the neatest people I’ve ever known. She had come to our high school class’s 50th reunion a few years ago and I had promised myself I would go see her.

One would add that this little Scots woman is also a role model for any of us at her age. She fell a couple of years ago and moved to a retirement home so her children wouldn’t have to worry about her. She told me that was the least she could do for them. When I arrived, she greeted me at the door to the home with a walker, much smaller than I remember, and then sped off so fast I had to catch her. She only needs it for balance evidently. Good grief. She had lost none of her spunk or her enthusiasm for life, which was a delight.

After a tour of her apartment, a one-room studio with bed, living area, bath and kitchenette, we went to lunch with some of the men she likes to eat with. She told me they had lost a couple along the way. I have to say that these guys were absolutely fascinated with her and I thought to myself that they are probably closer to my age than hers. Before I came, she told me on the phone that she pays for three meals, but prefers to cook her own breakfast because there are only so many meals she can eat in a room full of old people who are younger than she is.IMG_0207

Outside her door is a bookshelf full of the Latin textbooks I remembered so well, along with other texts. I told her I still had some of them with my handwritten notes inside, including all the Latin phrases we memorized each year. Her daughter was afraid the books would be stolen, but she said nobody would steal them after reading the titles. There was also a framed cartoon that she had quoted when she spoke at our reunion.IMG_9187

A note on that – at one point while speaking at our reunion, she called all of her former students up to the front and told us all to sing “Gaudeamus Igitur” with her. To say we all started singing, even though most of us hadn’t exactly been humming that every day for fifty years, is an understatement. Something snapped and we all sang out like we practiced every day. It was a showstopper.

One of the places we stopped was a memorial plaque to the veterans who lived in the home. Bea said her nameplate would be ready soon. She served as a WAC in World War II. When the memorial opened in Washington D.C, she attended the ceremony. She said she hadn’t thought too much about it, but standing there with all those women made her so proud to be a part of it.

Bea spends her days in the retirement home reading from the books she has left, especially her Will Durant collection. In the early evening, she turns on PBS and watches television for a bit. That’s all she can stand. She must keep busy around the center since she seemed to know everyone we passed. She told me she should just figure how to lie down and die at her age but she couldn’t do it. That made me laugh. Bea is more alive than many much younger people I know. And sharper. And more fun.

My visit was much too short for both of us so I will have to return soon. I told her the next time we’d get out of there and go someplace fun. I had invited her to do that this time, but she had things to show me. She wants to take me to a cider mill next fall and who knows what in between.

The reason I wrote this was not to tell about my visit but it is so fun to remember that I couldn’t help myself. This woman has taught me so much from the four years of Latin I took with her through our encounters over the past years. She is a treasure of the best kind.

As we were touring her space, I pointed to a photo of President and Mrs. Obama hanging on the wall. She nodded and said there will always be a photo of the President in the Notley home. She said she got some criticism for it around the home, but she said we should always respect the office of the President. I was so taken with the directness with with she told me this, the matter of fact tone she has always had. There is no excuse with her for not having respect.

There are so many things I took away from our visit, mostly her strength and the way she continues to inspire me. But, that photo of the President will stick with me. We have strayed so far in this country from the kind of respect she shows. I haven’t liked every president, but I try to respect the fact that they are in that office because they were elected and are doing a job that is more difficult than we can imagine. She brought it all back home to me. And I remember who helped instill those kind of values in me.

As I said, a teacher never stops teaching. Thank you, Bea!DSC_0097

 

 

Finally! I’ve been waiting my whole life for this day!!! Really, I have. I’m 70 today and my whole life has led me here, like it or not.

I decided to mentally take stock of my years and see where I am.

I’m an educated woman, I’ve been taught and I’ve taught others. I continue to learn because there’s so much to know. So much new stuff to keep up with. And my mind is functioning with a few forgetful moments here and there, probably due to so much being stored in that brain of mine. So much more that needs to be filed away…

My body is still working fairly well, minus a few parts that weren’t in use so much, and I’m lucky for that. I promise to take better care, I promise.

I’ve traveled well, been to several countries and almost all the states. So many more places to go and see…

I’ve given back to my community, hoping to make my little corner a better place, and have received way more than I have given in the life lessons I’ve learned, the friendships I’ve made, the skills I’ve been taught.

There has been sadness and joy, with much much more joy than I ever would have guessed. The sadness has taught me to appreciate the joyful times so much more.

I believe that all faith begins with Love and the Golden Rule and keeping it simple makes life easier in the long run. I believe in living what you believe more than anything.

My friends are there forever, even if we’re not in touch sometimes. It’s fun to reconnect as our lives take different directions.

I’ve been a daughter, granddaughter, wife, mother, and grandmother. Nothing means more. Nothing. Absolutely love my children and grandchildren – absolutely, with all my heart.

So, turning 70 isn’t all that bad. I’m here, after all, to enjoy my friends, watch my children and grandchildren grow into their own lives. Time is going faster and faster and it scares me sometimes to see how little time lies ahead of me at this speed, but what do I know? We only have so much time and we don’t get to know how much, so we live the best we can.

I waited all this time to be 70 and here I am. It’s good. All good.Karen   June 1946

 

 

I’m a picture taker. I hesitate to call myself a photographer because I don’t really take the time to use all the stops and lens and filters I could use. It’s been something I’ve done since I got my first Kodak Brownie camera when I was 12. I took a class when my kids were little and learned to use the darkroom, which I never used again. I took away from that class an understanding of the way you can manipulate photos to make them better after you’ve snapped the shot, an appreciation of light. Today, I do that with a computer, cropping and fixing as I go.

Mostly, I’m capturing my memories, the pictures of my mind. Maybe I think I’ll lose them otherwise, but I do go through my photos all the time, just as I went through my  grandparents’ photos when I was a little girl. Both my maternal grandmother and my paternal grandparents kept all their photos in the top drawer of a dresser. I guess that’s what people did if they didn’t put them in an album. I should have asked them more questions about the people in the pictures. I definitely should have.

Maybe it’s my impatience or my lack of discipline or my trust of the wonder of modern cameras, even on our phones, but I seldom spend too much time using all that I’ve learned in the photography classes I’ve taken. Usually, I have a camera with me and take what I see. And I see pictures all around me. I can’t drive down a street or walk a block without seeing a picture in my mind. I compose all the time, trying to capture the essence of what I’m seeing. That’s impossible sometimes, such as clouds or sunsets, but I can get a little of the wonder of it.

Yesterday, I stepped out my door and was struck by the beauty of the fall leaves in the rain. So, of course, I grabbed my camera and took pictures. For me. Here are a couple so you can see what I’m talking about.DSC_0005DSC_0014I couldn’t let the moment pass. It’s my own memory of that day I walked out my door and saw something so beautiful.

When I travel, I take photos to use in my blog or to remember my trip or to remember where I was. I now take pictures of the restaurants where I eat so I can remember when someone asks me because I would surely forget. I take a lot of photos from the car and it’s amazing what you can get, even through the windshield. It is definitely a problem when I’m the driver because I pull over a lot. A lot. Here’s a photo from Chinatown in San Francisco. I looked up and realized that there were people living lives above the tourists populating their streets. They must be immune to our presence by now.DSC_0508My favorite subjects are the people I love. I’m okay with posed pictures, but I love the candid shots that show me something you can’t see with a pose. My friends are caught in an impromptu dance. She was recently diagnosed with ALS, yet they are marching forward, surrounded by the love of their family and friends. This moment will stay with me for a long time.DSC_1052Here’s a long ago photo of my Daddy, relaxing with his paper on a Sunday morning. Most people knew him as elegant, athletic, handsome and he was. He was also Daddy with his tan line from his golf shoes, his rumpled curly hair, and his daily paper. Scan 32My youngest granddaughter is in love with all animals and not afraid to get up close. This bird was so patient to let her see how his feathers work.DSC_0161Last summer, my family got together for a swim party and I watched my grandsons play like little kids. The oldest one was leaving for college in a month and I caught him enjoying his cousins. How many more times will I get to see them all together playing?DSC_0163The boys made up game after game in the water in total joy with the familiarity of brothers and cousins.DSC_0187The boys are all athletic and I caught one of the younger ones (at 15 and 6’5″) showing his intensity in a ball game. He is a pitcher and first baseman, by the way.DSC_0145I catch my youngest granddaughter all the time in moments that remind me she is still a little one, our last for awhile. Oh, the sweetness of a sleeping child. IMG_7637Here’s another older one that I caught on the Christmas before my oldest grandson was born. All my children are gathered together in that moment before the grandchildren began to arrive. By the end of the following year, we would have three boys…but we didn’t know that at this moment. So much happened after this. So much.photoHere’s a picture I took at the OSU Homecoming Parade a few weeks ago, intending to use it in my blog. Little did I know that a horrible tragedy was about to happen about a mile down the street. Little did I know that this would capture the essence of the parade’s innocence and delight before the horror happened.DSC_0082Years ago, I was volunteering with the local domestic violence shelter. We gave a Halloween party for the women and children and I was taking Polaroid pictures for them. We didn’t use film because we wanted to respect their privacy. That event taught me so much about my camera and myself. One woman held a one year old in a body cast, wanting a photo for the father who had caused this pain. I had to stop myself. I lifted the camera to take a photo of one woman and seeing her eyes through a lens made me put the camera down for a moment. There was too much there, too much of her I was seeing. I lifted it back and took the shot, but I’ve never forgotten the power of what you see through a lens, what focusing on something teaches you in that moment.

So I’ll go on taking my camera with me, stopping to capture my family and friends, everything beautiful, interesting, funny or memorable around me. I sometimes feel artsy, as anyone can with the sophisticated equipment we have today, but mostly I do it because I can’t help myself.

You get the picture.

Forty years ago today, our son was born. Forty years ago. Five years ago today, he texted me:

IMG_1227Two months later, he was gone, his 6’2″ frame weakened by the residual effects of intense radiation ten years previously. At least we had those ten years.

Normally, I’m pretty stoic about all of this, able to process his life and keep it in perspective with the ways of nature and the universe. I understand life and death pretty well, knowing we all aren’t given long lives or easy lives. I don’t cry much anymore, having cried myself out with the death of my husband first and then my son. I talk about it, write about it, keep myself surrounded with the people  who make me happy. I do ok.

This year has been different, especially the last few months. I’m in a new zone of the grief process, a new layer that I wasn’t expecting.  I can’t pinpoint the exact reason for this feeling because I can pinpoint a whole bunch of reasons. Whatever is causing it is real and painful, but I know it will pass. The song, “Forever Young,” goes through my head. Yes, he will be forever young, although I’d like to have watched him get older along with his sisters and all my grandchildren. Not to be.

I try to be angry but it takes so much energy that I need for the living. I should be madder than hell that he isn’t here to watch his daughter grow up. He is missing such fun things with her and her mother. I should be livid that he isn’t here with his wife and daughter and his sisters and their families at our family gatherings. I hate that he’s not here for his 40th birthday, celebrating with his friends. Damn it! That would be easy, I think, to rail against the universe. I don’t really do that too much, although today I will shake my fist once for good measure. I’m not mad at God or nature or any person or event. I’d get mad at cancer, but there are so many diseases equally devastating. It’s part of being a human being, this living and dying.

Mostly, I miss him. I miss him all the time. It creeps up on me at odd moments, as these things tend to do. It’s not the big events in life where the loss is felt the most. It’s the day to day flashes of what was and what might have been.

I defy anyone to think this won’t happen to them if they have enough faith or understanding or people around them or therapy or support groups or exercise or alcohol or drugs or whatever it takes each person to survive loss. It still waits around each corner, ready to disrupt your thoughts or sleep or activities. It can stop you in mid-sentence or mid-thought. If you let it, I guess it can paralyze you. You keep moving, keep moving along.

Don’t feel sorry for me or anyone else grieving. It is what it is and mostly we get through it, some better than others. There are no rules, no timeline, and no way to escape. Maybe that’s ok. Maybe that’s how we measure how much impact our loved one’s life had on us and others. So, don’t feel sorry, just appreciate the power of the love we have lost.

I have a feeling that his birthday will help release me from the pain I’ve felt this year. I hope so. My memories will still make me smile and laugh, his daughter will still do things that remind me of her daddy, my family will remember together. He was part of us from the beginning, forty years ago today, and he will be part of us for eternity. That’s how these things work.

Sharing all of this emotion is debatable but probably a good thing for me and for any of you who ever have to go through this. My heart is with you, whoever and wherever you are. It’s a feeling that you don’t really share with those around you who are going through their own ways of dealing with grief. Even married couples who share the same loss can’t grieve the same way. It’s personal and very very lonely.

I can feel it beginning to shake off because I’m looking forward to being with my family, sharing hugs and laughs. This grief comes and goes, but it will go back into hiding for sure. The sun shines, the seasons pass, the world moves on, and we who feel loss step out and join in the joy that is life, carrying the memories with us all the way.

Images of my son’s forty years pass before me. I don’t have a favorite because each is precious. Today, I can’t summarize his crazy, funny adventure of a life for you, but I can share him, dirty faced in his favorite cowboy hat, at 2 1/2 years old. I can’t help but smile thinking of this baby/boy/man of mine and how much a part of our hearts he will be as long as we can remember.photo