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Old Lesson from Marge, Redux

Posted by Kathy on Apr 15, 2020 in Uncategorized

Life hasn’t always been like this. But for my mom, and millions like her, there was a different version of the corona virus story.

It was 1942 when my parents, ages 17 and 18, got married. They had both graduated from high school, and Dad was stationed in Georgia for basic training in the Army Air Force, training to fly planes. He had enlisted because of World War II. After just one semester at Penn State, Mom took the train south to join him. She couldn’t bear to be without him. The high school sweethearts were so young that Mom had to get permission from her parents, long distance, to get married. They consented.

My dad very much wanted to be a pilot, but during maneuvers, each time the plane turned over, his stomach did, too. He was disappointed, but in retrospect, his inability to control his bodily response may have made it possible for me and my three siblings to enter the planet Earth. A lot of soldiers did not make it home alive. (Dad ended up playing his clarinet in one of the Army bands, giving us bratty kids, years later, multiple openings to tease that he and his clarinet saved the world from the Nazis.)

Once married, Mom found tiny apartments or single rooms, one after another, depending on where Dad was stationed. Housing was unreliable and inconsistent. She was alone, except for the rare times Dad could get off the base for a day or so. These were trying times, and she was not always in a safe situation. She was young and vulnerable, navigating a life that was far from the cushy one she had left behind. But she and Dad persevered. A year and a half later, she gave birth to my brother Bob at the base hospital, beginning a happy, if unstable series of stories of raising a baby in wartime.

Let’s talk about rations. For those of you who may not know, during WWII, the government limited the purchase of supplies of some of the basics which were in scarce supply because of the need to divert some to the soldiers overseas. Gasoline. Rubber products like tires. Butter. Eggs. Meat. Bacon. Canned goods. Coffee. Milk. Tea. Sugar. And more. People would get monthly ration books to use to purchase designated items. Once the stamps were used up, that was it, for those certain rationed products, until the next month.

As my brother Bob’s first birthday approached in this time of war and sacrifice, Mom made plans to make him a simple birthday cake. For weeks, she’d scrimped and saved up enough of her rations to buy the ingredients. Mom was a super-mom from the start. Her baby boy gave her tremendous joy in the uncertain time of war. She’d had natural childbirth, and breastfed Bob before it was popular to do either. So in anticipation of his little birthday celebration with Dad and a couple of others they had come to know in Georgia, Mom baked that special cake. I can picture how lovingly she made it. When it was time to take it out of the oven, something went very wrong, and the glass baking dish slid out of the oven and crashed onto the floor.

Mom was devastated. The cake was ruined. She told her close friend Shirley, who came over to the apartment to see if there was any way to salvage it. There wasn’t. But Shirley opened her pocketbook and gave Mom replacement rations so she could buy ingredients to make another cake. And this friend, according to Mom, carefully pulled out areas of the cake which did not contain splinters of glass, to eat for herself.

During the present pandemic, when I hear that our stores are out of toilet paper, bread, or other basics, I think of Mom and how she managed her complicated life during the War. When I make a product last longer by extreme conserving, I think of my dad, the King of Conservation, who lived his long life with the lessons learned during the war. When I get groceries from a small nearby grocery store, whose employees willingly shop for me and others, overworked and inundated as they must be, and deliver it curbside for those who need that level of service – or of friends who do pick-ups and drop-offs for older folks like me with health issues – or when we share what we have with others, I think of Mom’s friend Shirley, who gave up her own rations for another, someone who demonstrated, in a small way, an important truth…that we are always greater for love and sacrifice.

 

 
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Breaking Free

Posted by Kathy on Apr 5, 2020 in Thoughts from ME, Uncategorized

For some reason, the coronavirus pandemic and how it affects us has been stirring up some old memories of my mom’s experiences during her life time. I wish she were still here to guide me through, but even recalling her stories gives me strength.

As I sit here during this trying time, isolated and alone, I go through various phases of inspiration and despair – and everything in between. This morning, I thought about it in terms of what solitary confinement might feel like, although admittedly my little 560 square foot apartment is hardly a jail cell.

This is the story I recall hearing my mom, Marge, tell us:

When she was 11, in the 1930s, she was sent from home in New York to a girls summer camp in Maine. Her brother Bob, several years older, headed to a boys camp just down the road from her. Presumably, they were happy and excited to go.

Her brother Bob (my Uncle Bob) was happy enough at his camp, but for my mother, camp was a disaster. She hated it. It was not a warm and fuzzy place, she was homesick, and she desperately wanted to leave during those first couple of weeks, which soon and unfortunately coincided with a measles outbreak there. (She was not infected.) Everyone was quarantined, and her camp experience was already lousy, quarantine or not. She wanted to leave, but that was out of the question, not permitted, no matter how unhappy she was.

Somehow, her brother heard about this and went, at a distance, to check on her. The camp directors allowed her to see him to talk, at a substantial distance. But for my mom, the sight of her beloved big brother was too much for her. In an 11-year-old “outta my way” moment, she ran. Past the boundary, she ran. And right into his comforting arms.

The camp directors’ response?

“Well, now you’ve done it. You might as well go!”

Nice, huh? They did nothing to get her back. I don’t think they even called her folks.

Mom’s brother Bob took her with him, and it was arranged for her to go to the summer house of her parents’ family friend, a woman whose name I don’t recall. Bob stayed at his camp, and the family friend called their parents to update them. The family friend asked her parents if young Marge could stay with them for a few days. She had an idea brewing.

So, Mom spent a few lovely days with this family. She swam, laughed, was taken care of, and on the day she was supposed to head back to New York, the family friend asked little Marge to come sit with her a moment.

“Would you like to go for a little drive with me?” she asked.

They drove to Camp Waziyatah in Waterford, Maine, which was a girls camp at the time. (Never mind the scandal decades later.) The family friend chatted with her friend, who was part of the camp management, while my mom went off to meet a group of girls. By the end of the day, my mother was having so much fun that she could barely stand to leave. The girls were putting on a play that evening, and Mom was involved with it and having a wonderful time.

“Can I stay? Please?” she asked.

And that began five of the most meaningful and happiest summers of her life which, is why our family started coming to Maine years later to visit – and later, to move up (for some of us – the smart ones).

This morning, I pictured that scene of my mom fleeing into her brother’s arms. That desperation to leave seclusion and isolation. The freedom to run, to hug, to hold and be held. Now, there is a part of me that wishes I had the impulsivity of an 11-year-old, that I could allow myself to throw caution to the virus-filled wind, to wrap my arms around someone – anyone – just for a minute. But my 60+ year-old brain and moral compass, at least in this case, won’t allow that.

When this is over, my own brother is going to have to peel me off of him, along with pretty much every friend and family member in my path.

Get ready.

 
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The Song That Kind-of Ends

Posted by Kathy on Mar 18, 2020 in Thoughts from ME

 

This might be the shortest blog I’ve ever written.

NEGATIVE for corona.

With stern warnings to follow all strict corona virus precautions.

So – “Yup! You are free!” Kind of. And I’ll take it.

The  call came in about 11:45 am, after 5 days of waiting for results. I was told to continue taking good care of myself for what feels like the Cold of the Century. I was actually starting to think of a theme song for it. But that’s all been interrupted by “You’re free to go.”

However, in my age group, I must be especially careful in all the ways we have learned. Social distancing. Staying home as much as possible. Hands out of and off of one’s face. You all know the rest. You young folks also need to follow the guidelines so we can all get past this. Please. There are more than just us seniors who are vulnerable. So let’s all be good citizens. It’s the very least we can do for all the brave folks who are the helpers out there.

For now, I can get in my car, drive to the ocean, and dream about the day when hugging will be OK again. When we are all free to recapture human connection in real time, face to face.

It will happen.

 
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Day 4 – or is it 5?

Posted by Kathy on Mar 17, 2020 in Uncategorized

The first day or two of quarantine while waiting to get results of the corona virus test had been kind of interesting, ignoring the part about being sick with what felt like an cold virus with an extremely leaky water hose. Maybe that’s all it was. I still don’t know. I’m somewhat symptomatic, but am on the mend.

But the initial intrigue is fading fast. I’d been as optimistic as a school girl heading out with her Scout troop for a weekend camp-out. Ready to take up the challenge. I’d wondered what it might be like to be in relatively comfortable isolation for a few days. I’d focus on small house projects. Let my hair and makeup go, and maybe even have that often-sought-after me time.

Last evening, at the close of Day 3, that changed. More than I could admit to myself, I was missing human contact, very, very much. I was losing optimism, hearing the realities of the viral spread. It was like a curiously appetizing hunk of cheddar you discover at the back of your refrigerator. There might be mold molecules present, but you don’t understand the impact until you turn the cheese over and see that big, gross, fuzzy, blue patch.

My laundry pile is growing, and I have no accessible machines while confined. I have some food, but I’m starting to lose interest. Cheese, bread, and butter. Bread with butter, cheese on the side. Coffee. Heated bread, butter melted. I have other food, but it all seems to taste like, uh, bread, butter, and cheese. Even the soup tastes like that. And it’s not.

My fears and panic which led me to a crying meltdown last night around 7pm immediately following a news segment have been replaced by a kind of existential wandering. Should I write? Why bother. Home exercise? Eh. I sit. Look at the TV. Get up and pee. Cough. Write for a few minutes. Pick up paperwork I need to read and work on. Sit. Cough. Drink water. More water. Sit. TV. Pee. Cough.

The projects lined up on the table are now begging to stay napping.

My initial experiment to refrain from plucking facial hair to see what would happen over time gave way to a few swift moments with my frightened tweezers, the innocent victim of my humor gone missing.

It’s raining out, and the gray background doesn’t help.

But over the course of the past eight hours today, there was occasionally – just barely – a tiny peek through the clouds. Not exactly sun. No. I wouldn’t call it sun. More like a teeny piece of paper someone drops in front of you at a store checkout line. You notice it, fleetingly, and mindlessly turn back toward your own business at hand. But then you see it again. And you end up saying “Excuse me, I think you dropped something” and they say thanks and pick it up, because even though it’s barely bigger than a postage stamp, it holds something important, something that person needs, something that is, in some tiny way, significant enough to their day that without it, their path will not allow them to move forward.

I don’t know if I can even identify what the scrap of paper was for me today. But somewhere between waking up this morning hung over from a feeling of doom to now, something within interrupted the breadline-to-bathroom path long enough to make a grocery list and call for help. Something nagged, ever so quietly. Something or someone in the chaos of electronic contact and input, something moved some of my cells over just enough to feel a tap on my shoulder, a message saying “Excuse me…”

Tomorrow, I’ll have to start all over again to figure out how to keep some segment of solitary life moving.

It will start with the tiniest whisper.

 

 

 
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Waiting and Watching and Hoping and…

Posted by Kathy on Mar 16, 2020 in Thoughts from ME, Uncategorized

 

 

I’ve had a lot of time to think during the last few days, as I wait for results on my corona virus test. In my last blog (Testing 1-2-3) I shared the surreal experience of getting tested – like something out of a sci-fi film. In that fictitious piece of fiction, I am the star – the patient. (Also, my hair looks good.) Acting career and other delusions aside…

I hope my COVID-19 test result is “negative.” But that’s irrelevant at this moment.

I’m waiting, at least temporarily confined, in my apartment.

In my apartment. My sweet, small but lovely apartment, where I have a little outdoor garden spot, wonderfully fun friends, and am only a few minutes’ walk away from stores and restaurants. I hope to be able to go out for recess sometime.

I have food, enough to last me at least a couple of weeks or more, if I’m not picky.  So many people cannot say that, on any day. My situation is likely temporary. Theirs is not.

I have heat if I need it, cool air if I need it; I don’t have a washer and dryer, but I have access to these in my building, normally. Meanwhile, I have enough clothes. Most, I don’t even wear. Not that I’m a fashion plate. Far from it, as anyone who knows me could attest – and undoubtedly chuckle about. Most of my things are many years old, some literally decades old. I will never give up my warm fuzzy fall coat, even though it is disintegrating, thread by thread, at the cuffs. My point is that I have more than enough clothing. If this crisis goes on too long and I need to stay confined, I can probably call a laundry service or wash them by hand as needed. I have running water. Many do not have any of these luxuries, and some of them live here in the USA.

I look out my window and see my ol’ previously-owned 2006 BMW, scratched, needing a good cleaning and TLC, and think how nice it will be to take her on the road again, to pick up some good takeout food,  do some shopping when it’s safe, maybe drive to the beach just four miles down the road. Spoiled? Yes. Grateful? Definitely.

I spent most of my adult life investing my being in family, friends, personal faith formation, and my work as a nurse. I am most thankful for that. I got to a reasonably stable place financially. Not amazing, but good enough. It wasn’t always like that. There were rough times. I don’t think being comfortable makes me spoiled. But it makes me think.

We find ourselves in current times of school closings, children needing food, and those in high risk groups requiring the herd protection of healthy others.

We will need to be the best neighbors we can be.

We will need to do our part to adhere to safety recommendations; to help those who normally are doing “just fine” and those who are not doing well in everyday life even without a crisis. Whatever contributes to an individual that lands them in the category we conveniently call “marginalized” is unimportant. We are called to be brothers, sisters, theysters, without compromise, without prejudice. Without defensiveness. We need to do what we can, individually and systemically, to help in an ongoing manner. With or without COVID-19. We must understand that living under the financial grid and being in need is simply that, no matter what the demographics. Being in need is being in need.

Observe the empty grocery shelves. Some worry about the comforts that may go away for a long time.

I worry less about what is available at the store and more about what’s present in our hearts. There’s no glory in stocking up for the end of days, perhaps finding yourself very alone surrounded by your material goods.

Be generous. Now and always, as you are able.

Be tolerant. Things are not always what they seem.

Be grateful and thank your medical people who are going above and beyond.

Be ever more mindful of what is important. 

And how we can truly become one for another.

Give it some thought.

I will, too.

And let’s leave some stuff on the shelves – and in our hearts – for others.

 

 
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How I’m Spending my Summer Vacation

Posted by Kathy on Jul 26, 2019 in Uncategorized

Every summer for the last couple of decades, I’ve made a pledge that, barring disaster, I would stay in Maine for the summer. Bear in mind that a normal Maine summer lasts only about a month or so, as best put in my favorite old Maine joke, “Maine has two seasons: July and Winter.”

So far I have resisted leaving the state. This is the first summer I can recall, in a very long time, that I have kept my promise to myself. I feel like a slug, and I love it. Maybe this is what vacation feels like.

My days begin with writing, coffee, and more writing. I take a walk nearly every day. Yesterday I walked on the beach and sat, reading a book. I have finally located the combination to my bike lock which I’d so carefully put it where I would “surely find it” months ago, so one of these days a bike ride is going to happen with my old purple Huffy 3-speed. I’ve been playing cards with neighbors, eating out, seeing friends, and properly putting my still-full storage unit out of my mind, at least most of the time, until my conscience rears its ugly frugal head. At about $150/month, well, that could pay some bills and still buy me a new bathing suit, allowing me to throw out the one that’s so worn it threatens to break apart at the seams, and I only wish I were kidding.

It’s absolutely fascinating to see how spandex breaks down after twenty years.

Question: How many people does it take to clear out a storage unit?

Answer: One, if she would just speak up and ask for help.

But – it’s summer. Time to have an ice cream cone on warm evenings, not to worry about things undone. To try to stay stress-free and not watch the news quite so often. I’ll break my Maine-only rule to witness my grandson David check into his dorm near the end of August, but that’s in the Boston area, so I think that counts as Maine. And there will likely be pizza, so – vacation.

I say my prayers at night, watch old reruns of The Office, sing in church, and talk to my “away” kids on the phone.

Now I have to go, because there are only five days left of July. It’s a beautiful day out.

And I can’t wait to see exactly where I’ll be when the seams give way on my old suit.

 
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Hi, Apple? It’s Me, Kathy

Posted by Kathy on Apr 14, 2019 in Uncategorized

Dear iPhone,

It’s 9am. I am home, checking for texts, emails, shenannigans on Messenger…and just like every other day, I see a pattern. Once upon a time, I was taught that the meek shall inherit the earth. I now know it will be you. You are not meek.

My angst started a couple of years ago, when I thought I was ready for Messenger. My writer friend Cathy from California was one of my first contacts. We enjoyed the occasional “Good for you!” and “Wow! Congratulations!” as we each ventured into the world of getting books published. Soon, we were texting like old pals. And although I will always love her very dearly, our contact is now less frequent, as sometimes happens in our busy world. Yet, no matter what, she will forever remain in my thoughts and on my page, for every time I send an email to anyone, or a text, or smoke signals, my own name – Kathy – shows up as Cathy.

“There’s a way to fix that,” says my older daughter.

Uh huh. I’ll get to that after I figure out how to transfer my contact list from my old email address to the new one. After I group business emails into appropriate folders. And after I check to see exactly which virus protection is on and which one is off in my computer. Et cetera.

Ms. or Mr. iPhone, I get that you want to be right. After all, even in the best of relationships there is often a childish component. A yearning to win. That’s why God invented marriage counselors. I’m willing. You?

But for now, I give up, Mr. Microsoft/Ms. Apple/Siri or whoever you are.

Here’s the thing: I loved my parents fiercely, and they loved me back and gave me my birth name  – Kathryn – later shortened to Kathy for daily purposes. But you have proven to be smarter, stronger, and for lack of a better phrase, you have more staying power than the parent-child bond.

So you win. I give up. You are bigger and better than I am. I am weak, and maybe I won’t be inheriting the earth after all. It’s all yours.

Sincerely,

Cathy

 
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The Look of Things: Getting Political

Posted by Kathy on Jan 21, 2019 in Uncategorized

Maybe it really is all about the accessories.

A couple of days ago, students from Covington Catholic school in Kentucky boarded buses and headed to Washington, DC  to participate in the March for Life.

By now, you probably know that their field trip became a big news story when media outlets reported that a student wearing a “MAGA” hat disrespected and “stared down” Native American activist Nathan Phillips.

A number of my fellow-liberal buddies posted on FB about this incident. Many were harsh in regard to the teen in the forefront, Nick Sandmann. The vitriol spewed in these threads that followed reminded me of a witch hunt.

So I did what seemed appropriate. I viewed a number of videos, over and over again, each time trying to understand the situation and to be objective. Each time, I questioned why people were condemning the student. True, some of the other students appeared to be disrespectful. Not Nick. Participating in this perfect emotional/political storm was a small but vocal group identified as the Black Hebrew Israelites who voiced their own protests toward the kids in heated, harsh language, language that I will not repeat. At one point, they verbally harassed an African American young teen from the school group, who was subsequently and vehemently defended by his peers. Meanwhile, Mr. Phillips was beating a drum in the face of Nick, who stood, smiled at times, even looking down at the drum, probably anxious as hell and not knowing how to respond. At one point, I thought he was suppressing a laugh, possibly trying to be polite. I might have had to suppress nervous laughter, too.

But here is what Nick never did: He never made a remark. He never moved toward Phillips. He never did anything that in any rational thought process can be called even close to disrespect.

The whole thing left me wondering. A lot.

Would this have happened if the MAGA hats were not present? And by “this”, I mean would the media have made an instant call to judgment and condemnation? And by “this”, I mean would people across our nation have been up in arms, calling these kids entitled rich kids (or so, so much worse)? And by “this”, I mean what if the students were promoting female rights, or at almost any other kind of rally? I ask you who have condemned the kids here to imagine that they were wearing “pussy” hats (a term I find personally offensive) instead. Seem different?

Make no assumptions about my motive. I am not, and never have been a supporter of Trump, nor his presumptuous, ridiculous “Make America Great Again” catchphrase, now undoubtedly a handsome source of income for hat makers. I am Catholic, but socially liberal.

But I call it as I see it. This kid was framed. He was framed by a media looking for a juicy partisan-fest. He was framed by people who had an agenda long before Nick and some of his less mature buddies stepped foot on the bus in Kentucky.

And he was framed by what now has become an everyone-has-an-opinion knee-jerk (emphasize jerk) ocean of social media op-ed wannabes who have forgotten the golden rule.

I have some advice for all young people: In spite of the unfortunate way adults behave, do your best to stay kind and respectful. Stay strong in the face of false accusation.

And one more thing.

At the next March for Life rally?

Lose the MAGA hat.

 
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Breathing, reading, and other odd ideas

Posted by Kathy on Oct 21, 2018 in Uncategorized

Hi. I’ve been thinking of ways to clear my often-cluttered head. If you’re like many people, you are trying to juggle family, friends, work, faith, dishes, laundry…and yeah, things like eating, exercise…the list goes on.

Everyone’s situation is different, but most people have moments (or more) of stress and tension each day. Here are some concrete ideas to try:

 

1. Stop trying to read everyone’s posts every day. (Including mine – so altruistic…moving on…) Choose a set amount of time for social media, and experiment with it. Then put the phone down, close the computer. I often skip posts in particular groups I like and save them to read in short batches, when I have 5 or 10 minutes to really enjoy them, as opposed to feeling obligated to read/comment. You get to choose the way you spend your time on social media. Here’s a question: what do you get from it? Hint: there is no right answer. My late husband Ted used to tell me “You do not have to answer the phone every time it rings.” Your time, your choice.

2. Take those now-extra few minutes to do nothing. Or something fun of a calming nature. Read, breathe, stretch, have decaf tea, look out the window, walk, and breathe again.

3. Turn off the TV when you’ve had enough. Whether it’s politics or reruns of something you could recite back, sometimes enough is enough

4. If you pray, try making it a simple conversation. If you have a partner, hold hands, or dance. If you have a small child, color together.

5. Move gently. I have started doing modified, simple ballet moves in the confines of my own living space. (Those of you who know me can stop snickering. I never promised to be a ballerina.) But the gentle movement really feels good for those sore muscles and adult joints. Both genders can try this. Hold onto something if you’re new at it, and please, no broken bones. G-E-N-T-L-Y does it.         

 
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Do you have a moment?

Posted by Kathy on Oct 15, 2018 in Thoughts from ME

I know you only have 3 seconds to read this. I get it. So I’ll be brief.

OK. That’s it. Thanks for reading.

Oh. One more thing.

Don’t give up.

Don’t give up working on something that’s important to you.

Don’t give up on forgiving yourself if you do not finish it. Or haven’t finished it yet.

Don’t give up on hoping for a time when we can face problems together without harsh rhetoric.

Don’t give up taking a few moments each day to sit, reflect, pray or meditate. Try just 30 seconds.

And lastly, don’t give up when things seem dire.

Breathe. Have tea. Wrap a blanket around yourself and your wishes.

You are never alone.  

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