all of the selves we Have ever been
Keep The Change
There is a coin shortage.
And a pandemic.
Together these two forces may bring about the end of dollars and cents. Hello, micro-chips and plastic; goodbye, lucky pennies.
This saddens me. Pennies, nickels, and dimes were the currency of my childhood. I still feel on top of the world when I find a shiny copper penny in the convenience store parking lot or a dingy silver dime in the grass along the bike path.
A few coins won’t buy much in the world today, but when I was a child, a single penny was admission to the most magical place on earth. I am not talking about Disneyland; I am speaking of Apple Annie’s, the local penny candy store.
I don’t know what the shop’s real name was. I don’t know how the proprietress came to be known as Apple Annie. Perhaps, the children in my family gave her that name. She was married to Ted, the co-owner of the store. However, Ted was never there as he was busy doing janitor-things at the Catholic school and church across the street. I never saw the living quarters, but I am told that Apple Annie and Ted lived in the back of the store with their son and daughter.
I don’t know what else Apple Annie and Ted sold in that store. I never looked left. Arriving at the store filled with anticipation, I peeked through the glass window and opened the door. A small, tarnished brass bell jingled above me when I entered and summoned Apple Annie to the front. At the right of the shop there was the large wooden and glass case displaying a wide assortment of candy. I would swear that side of the store glowed with a halo of heaven’s light. The display case may have rested upon a fluffy white cloud. I can’t be sure so engrossed was I in making my selections.
The display seemed grand inside the weary store with its worn and creaking wooden floors. Today, one might expect to find fancy French pastries in such a magnificent case. Of course, I wasn’t looking for pastries; I was studying the candy necklaces, the flying saucers filled with tiny candy beads, the wax bottles and wax sticks. There were licorice strings, Pixy Stix, and black taffy. Favorites included the striped rainbow coconut that we called “bacon,” and watermelon slices that looked like teeny tiny wedges of watermelon, little black seeds included. The bacon and the watermelon sparkled with crystals of sugar. There were ruby red wax lips, marshmallow ice cream cones, and Kits in banana, vanilla, chocolate, and strawberry flavors.
An expensive choice might be a role of Necco wafers, but that could go a long way. Necco wafers were not just food, they were also props. We used them as play food, play money, and for thousands of re-enactments of Holy Communion. Among the best bargains were the pastel blue, pink, and yellow candy buttons on a long white ribbon of paper. We had to pick the small, crunchy dots off with our fingernails or tear them off with our bottom teeth spitting out the excess paper. The best bargains were the two-for-a-penny candies such as Atomic Fireballs and root beer barrels. The two-for-a-penny items were a great buy on a tight budget and also made it easier when aunts and uncles gave you coins and marching orders to share with your siblings or cousins.
After children made their selections, Apple Annie placed the items into a miniature brown paper bag, a child-sized version of the adult grocery bag. Whoever came up with that bag was a genius as far as I was concerned. The bag was a perfect fit for a child’s hand. It was also proof that penny candy existed for children only. An adult would look foolish carrying such a tiny bag. Unlike the purchases of beer or cigarettes, adults-only products, no proof of identification was necessary for these child-only items. Your physical stature and missing teeth were proof enough for Annie.
Before Amazon took over everything, before Google began to spy on our buying habits and catalog our preferences, Annie controlled the kingdom. No one but Annie ever got behind the display case. There were no cameras or digital facial recognition systems. Annie knew all of us. And she knew our parents too. And we knew she knew. She didn’t need an alarm system or a gun. She could pick up the phone. But Annie never needed to do so. She was kind and patient. Annie never rushed the selection process. She came to know our preferences, helped us make decisions, and magically, the case never ran empty.
If any of the town’s children had gone missing, Annie could have created an age-enhanced image from her mind’s eye. She would know our fingerprints and our nose prints from the many times she wiped them from the glass. Apple Annie probably could have made an accurate guess of our IQs from the way we went about our business. It is likely Annie could have accurately predicted which among us were headed for success and which were headed for the penitentiary. She saw the ones who learned to get the most for their money, the ones who shared, and the ones who would not. Annie knew the patient children from the impulsive ones. She knew which children spent everything they had and which kept some money back for later.
A little money in your pocket is a wonderful thing whether you are six or sixty. Some money of our own helps us to feel confident, hopeful, capable, and fortunate. It buys us choices and gives us a future. Most importantly, money gives us the capacity to be generous and to enter into the world of magic.
If coins and cash disappear, how will I acknowledge the street musicians? The homeless veterans? How will I tip the person who does the unexpected good deed? What will I tuck into birthday cards? Toss into a wishing well? What will I leave beneath the pillow of a sleeping child with a toothless grin?
And when the shiny pennies disappear, where will all the luck go?
I don’t want to risk it. I say, keep the change.
Today, I cooked butt.
I will cook butt tomorrow, and the
next day, and the next.
It was a two-for-one sale. And it is not actually butt; it is shoulder. Pork shoulder. Only the label says butt. It must be the prime cut for people who don’t know which end is up.
I guess they found me.
During the pandemic, I asked my son to keep his eyes open for two-for-one meat sales at the grocery store figuring we could share. He’s super-busy. I’m not. In cave people style, I assigned the muscular, young adult male to find the meat and haul it home. The old, not-so-muscular-mom will tend the fire and do the cooking. Last night caveman delivered. In cavewoman style, I dragged the bag containing the two roasts across the kitchen floor to the refrigerator and heaved it onto the lower shelf. The bag was as heavy as a whole hog just not as squirmy.
This morning, I cleared a countertop and got out the super-duper-sized crock pot. With another day of
100 degree temperatures, I won’t be firing up the oven and letting it run for eight hours. I carried one of the roasts to the counter and placed it next to the crock pot. “Houston, we have a problem.” This is one BIG butt. No way will it fit into the crock pot. Not even in Spanx.
Minimalist that I am, I make do. I don’t own a meat cleaver, so I got out my favorite knife which is actually a tomato knife, and began to saw the hunk of meat in half. I thought I was doing okay until I hit bone. In the process I discovered how the butt bone is connected to the shoulder bone: I may have dislocated my shoulder or at least tore my rotator cuff sawing the butt in half.
I persevered as cavewomen do. One surgically removed cheek of the butt roast is now in the crock pot the other back in the refrigerator. Three cheeks to go. I should finish by Sunday. Hopefully, that is enough time to rehab my shoulder.
I guess I will have to establish some two-for-one sale guidelines. My son is a serious shopper ever on the lookout for bargains. He is also a powerlifter, so heavy is a relative matter. Hence my first rule: don’t buy anything heavier than your relatives. And if you happen to see a pair of bison--walk away!
Rocking a Baby
Many years ago, during a lull between patients, my colleagues and I chatted. My co-workers were all women and accomplished healthcare professionals who had raised families. Their lives embodied success. One of the women asked the group, “If you could go back and relive one moment from your life, what would it be?” Without hesitation,
all of the other women answered in unison:
"a moment to rock my babies again.”
At the time, my children were young school-agers, and I was a single mom just hoping to live long enough to see my kids grow up. Twenty years later, my children are young adults with busy lives, and I have joined the chorus. If I could relive a moment from my life, I would choose to rock my babies again.
I would gladly take back the moments when my entire world fit into my arms, moments when no universe existed beyond my rocking chair. I would take back those eyes that sparkled like jewels inside a small, soft head covered with damp curls. I would breathe in the scent of those warm bodies exuding the fresh, clean smell of baby powder and innocent new life. I would take back those moments when their eyes locked with mine and a broad grin overtook their faces, droplets of milk escaping their cupid-bow lips and sliding down their small chins. I would delight once again in that moment of discovery and recognition, when their eyes danced saying: “It’s you! I know you!” And they were happy to see me. I would take back those sweet moments before the real challenges of parenting began, the moments before anything went wrong, the time before the universe expanded and the weight of the world was sometimes more than my arms could carry.
Parenting is hard work. There are ups and downs. Personalities emerge along with needs, talents, and health problems. The adorable baby develops a mind and a will, and too quickly, our children enter a world outside our arms, a universe that is constantly expanding and often strange and frightening to us. All the while, we are also trying to manage the demands of work and adult life and the pressure to choose career over family. Books, magazines, newspapers, the internet, and social media inundate us with how-to advice and images of wealthy influencers as examples for comparison. We are constantly re-assessing and doubting ourselves. We are robbed of joy.
If I were to write a book on child-rearing, it would be short: Parenting is hard work. It will not be easy. You will face uncertainty. Sometimes you will be scared to death. But nothing in your life—past, present, or future--will ever matter more. Ignore the mob and choose the joy. Stock up at the beginning. Savor the moments when the entire world fits into your arms and the universe is no bigger than your rocking chair.
Getting the Message
My head is exploding along with coronavirus cases.
Is it just me, or do we have a major messaging problem?
Do government and health officials really believe they can harness the energy of youth and youthful feelings of invulnerability and optimism by pleading with young people to save the old?
Seriously? Were these experts not young once themselves? Are they as completely out of touch as young people believe them to be? Let’s get real. Young people don’t go to crowded bars to drink to the health of senior citizens.
The public is confronted with horror stories as droves of older adults die in nursing homes. Many young people, and some not so young, don’t know anyone living in a skilled nursing facility. Some folks believe that older adults go to nursing homes to die, so what’s the big deal? With all of the focus on frailty and “underlying conditions,” the picture painted is one of aging citizens about to tip over the edge at any moment. Why shut down the economy for such a hopeless cause?
Adding to the misperceptions of older adulthood is advertising. If most of your education about aging comes from television, what is a person to believe about the quality of life and the value of seniors?
Let’s take a look. Turn on your televisions sets.
Senior citizens watch a lot of television and are the big consumers of cable TV services. Cable? Yes, cable. How quaint. Didn’t cable go out of style along with typewriters and rabbit ears? How can you take someone seriously who does not stream?
“Active” seniors are depicted out in the park walking their dogs. The really hip grandparents are busy snapping smartphone photographs of their pets and sending three of those pictures each day to their grandchildren. What a full life! Really groovy grandparents might work part-time and still manage to walk a couple of miles twice a week, but the fact that they can still concentrate and remember their names is due to brain-preserving over-the-counter medications.
And speaking of medications…how many erectile dysfunction advertisements do you think a child sees in the years from preschool through college? It is not a wonder young people can’t imagine adults with intimate relationships and full lives. Based on advertising, a viewer might believe the number one problem facing older adults is sexual dysfunction. Forget about loneliness and poverty.
And why would senior citizens care about sex when they are the subject of so much advertising for arthritis pain relievers, heart disease remedies, and diabetes medications? How about those sexy ads for bladder and bowel leakage products? If you were a teen, wouldn’t you rather die from COVID-19 than humiliation?
Body and mind problems aside, older adults fall and they can’t get up. When the ads come on, they take notes about term life insurance, reverse mortgages, and pre-paid funeral services. None of those products implies a future.
I was young once. I get it. And the picture we paint is not pretty. And not accurate.
I loved the older generations of my extended family. In the past adults did not grow old out of the sight of their children, grandchildren and great grandchildren. Old age was not an image contrived by advertisers and used to play upon fears and stereotypes. Aging loved ones were associated with wisdom, special skills, soft hands, stories, recipes, good food, family gatherings, and the gifting of heirlooms.
Time with the family’s senior citizens was part of the rhythm of a child’s daily life, and we all cared for older family members as they aged and experienced declining health. My parents would not have tolerated disrespect toward elders at any age or stage of life. Adults of that era were not ones to add “okay?” to the end of every sentence. Important value-driven decisions were not optional and did not require a child's agreement.
Society has changed. I get that too. And not all young people are without concern for older members of our society. And not all older people are showing regard toward one another or toward the young.
For the herd immunity and anti-maskers among us—I agree: this virus could get all of us at some point. But it doesn’t have to. What is important at this moment is that the virus must not affect all of us or even most of us at the same time. People of all ages are getting sick. Those who do become ill are in for a long haul, hospitalized for weeks and months at a time followed by more recovery and rehabilitation at home. With such long lengths of stay, there are no rooms available for the newly ill, not to mention those who become sick due to other health crises. If a mask is an assault to freedom, try being sedated and tethered to a ventilator.
So here’s an updated message. This virus is not a hoax. It will not disappear through the power of magical thinking. The coronavirus did not come just for the old. It came for everyone. Perhaps, it will take the frailest lives first, but it doesn’t have to. If it doesn’t take the young now, it may alter their health and vitality for a very long time, perhaps, forever. But it doesn’t have to.
There is still so much we do not know, but upon this I think we can agree: everyone wants an ambulance to come when they call. Everyone wants and deserves a bed to lie upon if they get sick. Everyone wants clean sheets and a hospital gown, medicine, and a caregiver who is well and has PPE. Everyone would like a loved one at their bedside when the end of life nears.
As far as I can see, we are not “all in this together,” as I hear on the TV commercials--at least, not yet. But we must get there because all lives matter. That sentence does not end with an “okay?” All means every single one of us. Being selective about the use of that tiny word “all” has wrought big problems in our lives and in our history. The coronavirus does not discriminate. It is here to define what “all” really means.
Today I am revisiting an earlier post, one I wrote in May.
I wish to honor and remember an American hero,
The Honorable John Robert Lewis,
United States Congressman and Civil Rights Activist.
He never gave up on The Beloved Community.
Shake up the heavens, John Lewis! Send us some peace on earth.
The Beloved Community
My city is on fire.
Does anyone know the way to the Beloved Community?
Someone told me about it a long time ago. I was only a child at the time. It was a decade much like this one. Tumultuous. Divisive. Streets filled with protesters. Signs said “peace” and “love” while war, discrimination, and distrust of elders and government fueled flames of despair and burning buildings. A child living in the suburbs, I wondered how close the blaze was to the street where I lived.
It was a decade when answering the question of how to put a man on the moon became easier to answer than the question of how to treat a man on the street. We lost a president to assassination. Later, his brother, a presidential candidate and civil rights activist, would be gunned down too. Many great leaders of the civil rights movement died by violence even the ones preaching peace and love.
We have been wandering through this wilderness longer than Moses and the Israelites. People can only wander for so long. It is hard to live on promises.
Like Dorothy on the way to Oz, we don’t really know where we are going. We’ve become distracted. Falling asleep in a field of poppies, we awakened to find we are alone. Where are our brains, our hearts, our courage? There are voices coming over the loudspeaker, but it is all bluster. We are leaderless and on our own. There is no one behind the curtain.
Once again, we have set our sights on conquering the heavens. Did we give up on the earth?
Does anyone know the way to the Beloved Community?
Seeking an answer, I tried Mapquest. The Beloved Community might be in Jersey City, Chicago, Birmingham, St. Louis, Greensboro, or Atlanta. It is hard to find without an address. Without a leader I must rely upon the people who know, who remember…
I have an old description of the place. A worn pamphlet reports that courageous people live in the Beloved Community. Nonviolence is a way of life. Members of the community seek friendship, understanding, redemption, and reconciliation. Any resistance that exists in the Beloved Community is resistance to evil and injustice not to people. It is a place where suffering educates and transforms without fear of retaliation. People of the Beloved Community choose love instead of hate. They believe that the universe is on the side of justice.
I want to be on the side of justice too. Does anyone know the way to the Beloved Community?
Mother Knows Best
The pandemic has shaken the world
and dismantled our standard operating procedures.
How will we safely re-open businesses? How will we get children back to school? How can we get people to wear masks? The experts weigh in and the politicians counter every recommendation. If the coronavirus doesn’t get us first, we will either worry ourselves to death or die from stupidity.
When I was a child, in the nascent vaccine epoch, parents were more pragmatic. We lived through many childhood illness outbreaks. The standard, recurring diseases were rubella, measles, mumps, and chicken pox. Tonsillitis was common too. Thankfully, there were vaccines for small pox and polio and no reported cases of leprosy.
Urgent care did not exist, and I never heard of an emergency room. When I fell on the playground and tore open the flesh on my knee, the school principal marched me over to the doctor’s office across the street, and Doc stitched up my leg. My parents got a phone call. When my brother got hit square in the eye by a speeding fastball, dad drove him home in the back of our Ford station wagon. Mom called the doctor, and the doctor made a house call later that evening. There were no x-rays involved, just a small flashlight and the doctor’s attentive eyes and clean hands. My brother recovered, and the pitcher went on to the minor leagues.
One time I slid down the entire staircase from our second floor to the first, coming down so fast and hard that both of my legs went through the plaster wall at the bottom. I passed out. My parents heard the crash and came running. My father got me up and helped my woozy self to the couch. I could walk and talk. No doctor visit required. Never again did I attempt to climb the polished wooden stairs in slippery socks. The wall was patched and covered with a wall paper only slightly more attractive than the gaping hole.
Back then, mothers, not ER doctors and pediatricians, were the arbiters of illness. They held the secret powers that determined if a child was truly ill and what, if any, medical care was needed. A mom could tell by looking at her child if the kid was sick or faking it. Maternal intuitive powers came from looking into her child’s eyes and checking the calendar and the homework. If a test or a particularly unpleasant unit in gym class was scheduled that day, a child could do her best acting, but she was unlikely to get past the MRI--mother receiving information.
Unless you were in a full blown grand mal seizure, a fever was the hallmark sign of illness. It was a child’s only hope of being taken seriously and staying home from school. A seizure would pass and wasn’t contagious. You might find yourself getting to school a little late.
In this age of coronavirus, we have new-fangled, high-tech, instant, non-contact, digital, infrared thermometers. That’s a lot of power to hold in your hands! When I was a child, moms didn’t need thermometers. A mother would tenderly place her palm or cheek across her child’s forehead, feeling the heat, Mom would determine the presence of fever…or not. If Mom had any doubt or wanted to validate her findings to provide the school principal with actual data, the mercury thermometer came out of hiding. Mom would shake, shake, shake the thermometer and then slip it under my tongue. I had to sit with my lips tightly sealed for at least a minute. People are too impatient for such devices now, and that is far too long to keep your mouth shut in 2020.
Minor injuries were taken in stride. A sprained ankle meant time on the couch with a leg elevated and a homemade ice pack attached to the injury with an old, soft bath towel. There was usually a used crutch somewhere in the basement that could be called up for duty if hanging onto the furniture was insufficient for mobility. Today, a teen would go into the emergency room and come out with a handful of opioids.
Other home remedies were applied in this era before big pharma. Despite my mother’s oft-stated social commentary, “That gives me a pain where a pill can’t reach,” there weren’t that many pills from which to choose. Chief among the maternal prescriptions was rest on a comfy couch. Other interventions included baby aspirin, Vick’s Vapo-Rub, and cartoons. Weak tea and cinnamon toast delivered to the couch along with some soft kisses on the warm forehead rounded out the treatment plan. Occasionally, the interventions were unique to the disease. I can remember that my siblings and I wore diapers around our faces when we had the mumps. What was that about? Perhaps it was intended to be a badge of honor, the uniform of a stalwart soldier battling inner suffering. Even so, I’d rather wear a mask.
A few times during my youth a child did disappear from the classroom for an extended period of time. Occasional serious illnesses or surgeries that required hospitalization did occur. A kid could miss months of school as surgeries were more invasive and complicated, alternative treatments far fewer, medications more limited. Recovery times could be lengthy, stretching into months. Sometimes a fellow student did not return to school for the remainder of the year. There were no computers or high-tech devices connecting classroom to home. The youthful patient used an actual book to self-educate. No parent was going to spend an entire day every day “home-schooling,” but older siblings or parents were willing to be the go-betweens, exchanging assignments between home and school. If necessary, children repeated the year of school and everyone understood. It was a reasonable option in extreme circumstances.
With one foot in the past and one in the present, I would rather wear a mask on my face than that old cloth diaper around my head. And most definitely, I prefer either of those face coverings to a ventilator. Books and pencils along with thoughtful assignments, some self-discipline and a little monitoring can go a long way in the absence of technology. Women sent men to the moon with their good minds, a few books, and pieces of chalk. Nothing will be lost if a living, healthy child spends an extra year in school when the pandemic is over.
And if you wake up and want to know if you have a fever, call and ask your mom…if you are lucky enough to still have her.
Crime and Punishment K-12
With talk of de-funding the police in schools, I reflect on school security during my own years of education.
Most of my learning was acquired in Catholic schools. My military family moved frequently, so I have a larger school sample than most of my peers.
Police didn’t visit schools when I was an elementary student. Teachers could pretty much handle any crime wave that broke out—gum chewing, late arrivals, bus shenanigans... In Catholic school, if a person in uniform was needed, a nun would do. Dressed in distinctive garb, nuns wore a giant rosary around their waists, crosses dangling like revolvers. One false move and a kid could be sprayed with shame and humiliation. It was very effective until it went out of style some time during the mid-to-late 1980's when the self-esteem movement took hold. Self-esteem was not invented yet when I was a kid. My trophy-less mantle proves it.
In one school where I spent some of first, second, and third grades, the day began with the principal going from one classroom to the next. We could hear her coming, and we all knew she was carrying a wooden paddle. When Sr. Principal knocked on the door, the classroom sister was ready. Out went the students who had a bus report that morning. We could hear the paddle cracking across their small behinds just beyond the door. “Beware, my pretty!” was the morning greeting before the expression, “Have a nice day,” was invented.
Throughout the average school day, minor infractions were dealt with swiftly by the classroom teacher. A child biting his fingernails might feel a ruler come down over his knuckles. One wriggly youth was often picked up from his seat by a long pointer under his shirt collar. A student could be made to stay after school and do chores or extra assignments and was then expected to walk home if he or she missed the bus. Parents always sided with teachers, so a kid knew there was more to come when he got home.
My biggest infraction in elementary school was being left-handed. Moving to that new town with the school year in progress, the second grade teacher, Sr. Genevieve, zeroed in like a laser on my dominant hand as soon as I took my seat. She was relentlessly abusive in her efforts to make me right-handed. I think she believed that left-handed was the same as leftist. And it was the Cold War. The McCarthy hearings had ended a few years before I was born, but that didn’t discourage Sr. Genevieve’s determination to rout out budding leftists. The ongoing exercise scrambled my brain and damaged my gross motor coordination which then became the focus of a new series of attacks. Once a child came under surveillance, it never ended. J. Edgar Hoover was surely proud of Sr. Genevieve. I didn’t care too much for her, and, thankfully, we moved again before I was excommunicated or thrown into a federal penitentiary.
By high school, the world was changing faster than a nun’s habit. While the sisters’ skirts were getting shorter and their headdresses smaller, a new counter-culture was blossoming. America was getting restless with a war in Vietnam fought largely by teenagers, a drug culture was growing on the streets and college campuses, and Civil Rights Movements and Women’s Movements were happening everywhere. That was a lot more movement than was generally allowed in Catholic high school. My friends and I remained under the tight security of nuns and Catholic guilt. However, it was the 1970's, and there was the occasional bomb threat. Police turned up at school every now and then to search the building. While the men in blue scoured the school premises, the women in black watched over us. The students in their unfashionably long grey skirts and navy blue knee socks happily passed the time in the parking lot wishing they had a bigger campus to be searched. Perhaps the school would not be safe until the police investigated the Kaufmann’s Department Store and bank across the street. We made our best argument to the art instructor, the most gullible of teachers.
Those bomb threats and the growing social unrest gave the adolescent student body the energy to join the movement. One day someone managed to arrange a student walk-out. During the change of classes we discovered the words “Go home Jerome,” (a reference to the principal) painted on a statue of the Blessed Mother holding an open book. At an appointed time following the discovery, all of the students stormed out of the building en masse. With no security footage back then, there was no way to single out one student for punishment. The nuns might as well have been hit with a stun gun. They were used to doing the intimidating, but the pointer had turned.
Other than that protest march, my only real infraction in high school was defiantly chewing a piece of gum in the classroom once or twice. Imagine the threat to law, order, property, and hygiene! It is probably on my permanent record. I am surprised I wasn’t kicked out of National Honor Society and forbidden from graduating.
My friends who are now the teachers tell me that the transition from “power to the people” to “power to the pupil” has gone too far. Schools are becoming more dangerous. Students no longer fear teachers; students fear each other. And teachers fear students and angry parents. How did we get here? Perhaps that is the bigger conversation we must have before we remove security from some of our schools.
As for me, I have come out. I openly write left-handed. (Take that, Sr. Genevieve!) I can still do many things right-handed, but my brain remains scrambled. The right hand doesn’t always know what the left hand is doing. And neither do I--except that I deliberately chew gum EVERY DAY.
I remain on the run—a radical leftist gum chewer.