Saturday, July 17, 2010


They risk their lives in the blazing sun and there are bodies strewn in the pathways. The landscape is barren, no water to be found, and yet they keep coming, determined to reach their goal. Those who don't make it are left behind to wither and rot in the sun, until there is nothing left but a pile of bones to indicate what was once a human being.

The problem of Illegal Immigrants has been left undetermined for so long that the stream of people crossing the border has become a way of life. Border guards do their best, but the border is so long that it is impossible to guard it. Even the National Guard has been unable to halt the flow. Some of those who come across are very unsavory people, drug lords, prostitutes, pimps, and children to be sold into sexual slavery. On the other hand, most of the immigrants are just ordinary people, desperate to escape the poverty and violence that go unchecked in Mexico.

It is an angry, violent land. In some spots, tourists enjoy the sights and sample the food, in other places entire families are shot and killed by invading drug lords. Some towns are so terrorized, the citizens live in fear. Calling the police or the military doesn't help, because so many of them are sympathetic to the outlaw groups who brandish guns and kill for no reason.

In this unhappy, violent land, who can blame these people for leaving? If Americans were in the same circumstances and a better life were available in Canada, we'd all start walking immediately, driven by desperation. We'd work at any jobs we could find, we'd work for lower wages. We'd thankfully send our paycheck home to help feed the children. We'd live twenty to a room and put up with inconveniences, happy to be in a land where violence didn't strike with every sunset.

How different things would have been had we welcomed these strangers! Suppose we had said to them, "We lift the lamp beside the Golden Door!" Instead of this, we watched this horde arrive with resentment and discrimination. We resented basic services they were given, lest babies be born on sidewalks or people die on the streets.

Along the way, Americans have developed a rosy picture of former immigrants, of those people who passed through Ellis Island and made their way in a new land. Hard-working, proud, wonderful people who left their sweat on the landscape, farming soil, chopping trees and carving out our country. This is only partially true, as with every human being, there were also those who weren't so savory, who were horsethieves, malingerers, bullies and criminals. As with every group of humans, some were good people, some not so good, but Americans seem to have canonized our settlers and compared them to Mexicans, whom they feel are primarily drug dealers and dealers in sexual slavery, theories promoted by people like Lou Dobbs and other Media fearmongers.

There are no people as generous as Americans. They extend a helpful hand to all who are in need of assistance. When Haiti suffered from the ruin of a violent earthquake, Americans reached in their pockets to donate millions of dollars. Other disasters have strummed the hearttrings of American donors. They give freely and generously, except to Mexicans.

Americans feel that Mexicans are taking American jobs and nothing irritates them more than to hear some politician talk about "jobs Americans won't do!" They also feel that Mexicans are draining the country of its resources and, with many Americans needing help themselves, they resent what is given to Mexicans. What is even more important is the attitude of the Illegals, who insist that portions of our country belong to them. Undoubtedly, one could counter this with the fact that, if we took the Southland from the Mexicans, they in turn took the territory from the Indians. There are stories of American flags being held upside down and replaced with Mexican flags and supposedly, children are being taught that several states really belong to Mexico.

This hasn't helped the situation at all and has helped lead to Arizona's Law, which gives the police the right to check Identification and citizenship. The person failing this test is then sent back to Mexico, without a thought as to what he or she is being returned to face. Let's admit it, Illegal Immigrants are refugees, fleeing from poverty, from near starvation, from lack of jobs and the murderous raids of drug lords. They live in a battered, shattered land with no hope for the future and want to live what is called the "American Dream." That this Dream is slightly askew these days is being truthful. It is worn by Recession, joblessness, homelessness and the bitter taste of financial failure in the mouths of most Americans.

Arizona is wrong to pass such a law, because this is the duty of the Federal Government. The Arizona Law is just plain unConstitutional. It isn't the Law itself that is the worry, it's the repercussions of such legislation. If we bend even one rule in the U.S. Constitition, then the rest of it is worthless. We must uphold that document in order to strengthen and abide by it. Failing this, we have nothing but a useless piece of paper. We would have no union, no United States of America. Any State who disagreed on any subject could then pass legislation to follow their own path. We fought that long and arduous battle once before in our tumultous history. There is no sense in fighting it again. The Constitution must remain like a companionpiece to the Holy Bible. We can't afford to allow one state to try to change the rules. It is the precedence of the Arizona Law that makes it so dangerous. It could lead to the loss of Civil Rights, our Freedoms and the equality of every human being.

In the meantime, let us insist that the government take action. Let us insist that politics and partisanship be set aside to solve this problem, a problem so raw and violent that it is bleeding harsh resentment and anger into the heart of America, an open sore that will not heal! Let us cover that wound and solve this problem before our Constitution is torn apart and shredded into bits of paper and tossed into the raging wind.

Monday, July 05, 2010


My feet ached for the first five years of my life and I blame it on the fact that they crammed my feet into Helma's shoes. She had tiny feet and only wore a size 4 even when she had attained adulthood. To this day, my toes are curled inward, even though they no longer ache. Like the Chinese woman whose feet are bound, one eventually adjusts to the pain.

We always wore hand-me-down clothing or wore the dresses Mom made out of flour sacks. Back then, flour sacks were large fifty-pounders, stored in decorative material that Mom rescued after the flour was used in making biscuits and her sugar cookies and sewed into shirts and dresses Deed went to school in colorful floral shirts, and Helma and I were decked out in these homemade dresses that may have been patchwork but we proudly wore them.

I remember one dress that is immortalized in several pictures. Instead of discarding it when I outgrew the garment, Mom simply let out the hem and seams and then the dress could be used for another year. I have seen pictures of myself at different ages, wearing that same dress in its various sizes. Mom saved it for special occasions, for Sunday school meetings or trips to a relative's home.

Years later, I fell in love with a dress that was owned by Donna, my neice. It was black and beautiful, stitched to perfection, an Alexander McQueen, a far cry from the dress I remember from my childhood. Donna, always generous, allowed me to wear The Dress on several occasions and so I went forth in style, wearing this dress that probably cost more than most men earned in a year.

Then Donna decided that I was wearing The Dress more than she wore it and calmly asked me to leave it hanging in her closet. I complied, but my heart was broken. I loved The Dress more than any of my various boyfriends. So I was demoted back to my usual garb, left with memories of The Dress.

As for boyfriends, I had just a few, an assortment of characters I remember to this day. I met a fellow with an impressive car. It had a skylight on its top, which made it possible to stand up at football games, while remaining protected from the cold weather from the shoulders down. Even though this boy was about the homeliest fellow I had ever encountered, I went with him throughout the football season. Sometimes a girl has to think of comfort instead of lively company.

My first kiss was from a boy named Al. It is not a memory I cherish, for Al had teeth so yellow they looked like daffodils and his breath was rancid. He walked me home from the movies one day, a two mile trek. We were chatting comfortably when suddenly he grabbed me and landed a kiss on my mouth. I almost retched! It wasn't Al himself, because he was a nice enough fellow. It was those yellow teeth and that terrible breath that turned my first kiss into a traumatic experience I still remember with a shudder.

Then, too, there was Hubert and Bud. I roamed the city, getting one lousy job after another, and everywhere I looked, it seemed that they were there. It was difficult being the belle of the ball with two brothers who lurked like mysterious shadows. If I stood on a street corner chatting with a guy, convinced I was both charming and irresistible, I would glance over my shoulder and there would be Bud, staring at me with those dark, deep set eyes. Then, too, one day I took a pack of cigarettes into a cafe, lit one up in my most sophisticated fashion, then looked over the side of the booth where I sat and encountered two green eyes watching me. Hubert never said a word about my cigarette habit to Mom, but he ruined my moment as a high-classed gal, on a par with Veronica Lake and those beautiful women on the silver screen. With Hubert or Bud watching me, I once again became that plain, dumpy country girl.

Of course, I wanted to be a movie star, the likes of Judy Garland who sang so beautifully. So, I would walk down to the lake and stand on the old, gray, gnarled picnic table, slanting as it was, with boards rotting through. I would stand up there like Judy on a stage and warble my song as professionally as I could, holding out my arms and dancing around, careful to keep my balance on the old table. One time I finished my song, and heard the sound of applause. There was a moment of shock, then I looked in the direction of the sound of clapping and there was Joe Bernardi, my brother in law, smiling and applauding my effort.

This embarrassing moment remains in my mind, because slowly, painfully, one gives up his dreams. I did not reach movie stardom, I did not rival Judy Garland, I did not accomplish my goal of living in Hollywood. I did not escape Bud and Hubert, who joined together to make my life miserable. I finally had to admit I was a 17 year old failure, not an actress, not a singer, not a high fashion model, just an ordinary girl with more dreams than talent, the tail end of a huge family, afflicted by brothers who found me amusing.

So even today, seventeen year old girls dream, fueled by Mylee Cyrus and Jennifer Aniston and all the stars and models that fill their imaginary world. It's a rite of passage, a phase of living...and about twenty years later, you finally learn that you may not be rich or famous, but you are yourself, unique as we all are, capable of love and laughter and surmounting life's problems all of the things that count in this world!

Sunday, June 20, 2010


Once every decade there is a photo that captures the eye and stays in the memory, evoking either horror, pride or amusement. Thus the photo of the military raising the flag on Iwo Jima is recognized by just about everyone, and who could forget the picture of the joyous sailor embarking from his ship to kiss the gal waiting for him on San Francisco's wharf?

Two photos from the last decade will stay with me forever. One is that image from Abu Ghraib, with a prisoner tied to a rough imitation of a cross, stripped of his clothing, his dignity, his humanity. There is no sense of national pride when one views such a picture. It brings a sense of shame to think that our countrymen could sink so low.

The other photo I will never forget is the view of that spewing, deadly fountain of oil roaring upward from its broken source. On television every day, it is like a perpetual reminder that human beings may have finally succeeded in their determination to ruin this planet. It is bad enough that we have strewn pop bottles and plastic and cigarette butts along the roads and the beaches. It's another to have that gusher destroying an entire ecosystem.

There doesn't seem to be anyone in the world who knows how to turn off this roaring, dangerous and constantly bellowing spigot. We have very little control of it. It is Mother Nature being vengeful, angry and merciless, reacting to recklessness and utter disdain for the treasures we have been given. There was a lack of safety measures, a disdain for the consequences of what might happen, a search for greater profits by a huge Corporation with tremendous profits earned already.

As I write this, thousands...perhaps millions...of animals are gasping and dying, coated with the black liquid we have often called Black Gold. We feed on this substance, we have made it a God. We have paid billions of dollars for the privilege of using it. Most of it has been imported from distant lands, the very lands that house the terrorists that threaten our demise. These lands have customs very different from our own. Their women are hidden behind veils and live minus freedoms that we take for granted.

Despite the terrorism, the inequality, the misery...we have enriched these nations and bought their oil. Huge tankers arrive at our ports every day as we devour this substance, this thick black juice that fuels our nation.

But getting the oil from foreign countries isn't enough to please us. We must seek oil on our own land. So we have found it in Alaska, where the pipeline sits like a huge, winding snake stretching across the wilderness. We have found it in our Western states and in Texas, where the oil provides some employment. Even that isn't enough to satisfy our hunger. We looked toward the oceans to find even more.

Oil rigs are ugly. They rear up on the horizon like warts on flesh, ruining the scenic beauty of the ocean. They are ugly enough when they are working as they should, but get even uglier when they explode and kill. Yes, eleven workers were killed on the rig they dared call Deepwater Horizon, and I'll warrant there have been other deaths on many other rigs.

These deaths are disturbing, these dead fathers, husbands, sons, brothers, grieved by their families and gone forever. In the meantime, the oil continues to gush, with no mercy for the chaos it causes, and the Corporation hides truth because of fears for their profits.

Somewhere in the Southern ocean, a brown pelican is dying, sodden with oil and lacking understanding. It's HER ocean that has always been her home, this gentle, sweet creature who loves to sit on posts, sitting there looking over the world she belongs in, the world she should always find safe.

It is you and I who destroyed this pelican's world with our hunger for oil and our love of our cars. We haven't taken the time to find another source of fuel. We use the expedient method. We're in a hurry. We don't have the time or the money or the imagination.

Tell that to the brown pelican as she sits with her dripping coat of oil, waiting for the death that will surely overtake her. Tell her we just don't have the ingenuity and determination that we used to have, when we invented all the machines, the technology, the miraculous paraphernalia in the world today. At one time, we managed to send a man into space. Then, we did not stop dreaming, but sent men to the moon and brought them back to earth safely.

We have won wars. We have laid train tracks across the country. We have created the computer and the Internet. We have tossed out the laundry tub and invented the automatic washer. We have made Medical history by banishing polio, smallpox, malaria and other diseases.

So tell the brown pelican we've come to the end of our American spirit. We cannot take oil, oil rigs and oil spills out of our lives and find other fuels that will energize our country, save billions of dollars, and perhaps in the future, thousands of pelicans and other animals from inevitable spills.

We finally have a President who is urging us to move ahead, to harness the wind, and look upward at the sun. With energy abounding in that beautiful Orb, Our Star that supports and nurtures us can send that energy downward to us if we can only capture it.

There is oil on the outer islands. There is oil in the marshes. There is oil on the beautiful beaches where children used to play. There are thousands of people who now have no jobs. The beautiful Southern shoreline faces years of ruin, with an end to fishing, shrimping, oyster beds, and birds like the pelican that live on the coast.

The oil spill may spew upward for weeks...or months...or years to come, because man is helpless to halt it unless the relief wells work. So, let us plan on some relief of our own....and find that source of energy that is waiting for us. As Ted Turner has said, "Oil has served us well for more than a century. It's time for something better!"

It is a challenge we can meet. It is a need we can fill. We may have to phase the use of oil out very slowly, but we can accomplish our goal. There IS something better, a country free of fossil fuels, free of dependence on the good will of wildly wealthy sheiks and kings, a country no longer dependent upon oil, a country no longer in danger of another huge oil spill!

Friday, June 11, 2010


When I was very young, I can remember Hubert and Bud riding horses in the hills and fields behind our house. They would sing and shout and yodel and the sound of their voices echoed across the green of the land, through the cornfields and meadows, to bring delight to my young ears. They were strong and lithe back then, aglow with the beauty of youth, both of them trim and fit, both of them handsome young boys.

Oh, how I loved them even then, caught up in the adoration of a young sister for her older brothers. I watched them as they raced those old plowhorses back to the barn, then jumped off to laugh about their ride. They were inseparable back then, always laughing, enjoying the pleasures of youth together.

The family left Illinois before Helma and I were born, loaded possessions in an old car and rumbled up to Michigan. There were jobs in Michigan, it was said, jobs that didn't involve labor on a farm. The brothers planned on getting jobs in the auto plants. Henry Ford was looking for men and they were ready to work.

Unfortunately, Hubert and Bud were too young to get jobs in the plants, but the older boys were soon employed. Herman, Harry and Homer were old enough and punched the timeclock every weekday, rustling around to get something to eat before they had to leave for work. They came home greasy and exhausted, falling into bed to grab some sleep before morning came again. Herman spent his lifetime working in the plants, but the other brothers eventually went on to other careers.

They rented a house in a crowded neighborhood, with houses lining the streets and streetlights casting their light through the shadows of the night. From the house, one could hear the rumble of streetcars as they labored down the tracks and the view from the windows were not scenic vistas, but a seemingly endless world of chimneys and housetops. Pop had also obtained a job in an auto plant and he was as miserable as a born farmer can be, hating the job, hating the house, hating the rows of houses and the crowds of people walking past on the sidewalk, going somewhere, too busy to stop and chat. He hated riding the streetcars, shoulder to shoulder with countless others, all smelling of grease and perspiration, all staring out the windows and the passing storefronts and miles of sidewalk.

Once in a while, the lure of the big city affected Pop and, according to Mom, he would fail to come home when his shift was over and would stagger in late at night, still awake in the wee hours of the morning, and definitely under the influence of demon alcohol.

One night, Pop staggered home, opened the door of the house, and fell into a stupor on a couch, only to discover in the early morning that he was in a strange house. He managed to get up and hurry home before the unknowing family discovered his presence, but Mom was already out of bed to greet him and definitely ready to berate him. No one could bang pots and pans around and tell someone off like Mom could. Pop would listen, then wander to his chair and light his pipe, unperturbed by her anger.

In his heart, he yearned for Illinois, for the people he had known and talked with throughout his life. He missed the fields and the woods of the farms where he had planted crops and traded horses to make his living. He wanted no part of city life and resented their lives there. His young children were running wild on the city streets and he felt that no man should spend his life working in grime and grease when there were crops to plant and fields to plow. the soft breezes, the falling rain, and the sun smiling down as you worked.

Mom, too, had her problems. The older children were working most of the time, but she was left to manage the younger scamps. Hubert and Bud explored the neighborhood and fought with some of the aggressive older boys. They would return to their rented home with scrapes and bruises, while Mom fussed and fumed and washed off the wounds with Fels Naptha. When a group of boys tied Hubert into a cardboard box and left him on a streetcar track, it was Bud who ran home for help. Mom's heart leaped into her throat, as she prayed that a streetcar wouldn't come barreling past before she could get Hubert out of the box. Fortunately, she made it there and a disgruntled Hubert was freed.

It was episodes like this that made Mom uneasy and dissatisfied with city life. Her lively boys were magnets for trouble and it didn't take them any effort to use their fists to protect themselves. They were strong and fit, from their early years on the Illinois farms. They knew they could lord it over these puffy. weak city kids. They walked together, Kings of the Road, winking at the girls. scowling at the boys, but always courteous and polite to the older folks.

When Hubert tied the string around his penis, Mom knew it was time to do something about their behavior. His organ had swollen to encompass the string and Mom didn't know how she could extract it. When Pop came home, he helped get the string out and Mom put lotion on the red, swollen organ, while Hubert tried to hold the tears from his eyes and babbled nonsense when asked the reason for the string. No one ever knew just what had happened, whether Hubert tied the string himself...or did he finally meet his match and was humiliated by strange boys holding him down, taking down his pants and subjecting him to this indignity? If Bud knew the answer, he didn't tell, so throughout the years, the story was told that Hubert tied the string himself.

Mom and Pop knew then that their city days had to end, but where could they go? They rattled around in Harry's car, looking for places to rent. Harry and Herman decided that Pop couldn't make any money as a farmer. If he was going to quit his job at the auto plant, he had to go into business for himself, where he could make money and maybe even end up rich. Pop was flabbergasted by this idea. He had never wanted a store. His life, he felt, belonged to a farm, and business was beyond his imagination.

In the days ahead, they located a store on a little rural street in a little Michigan town, with buildings stretched up and down this street like beads on a necklace. The store was a tiny grocery, with two gas tanks in front. With the riches garnered from the auto plants, Pop was soon ensconced in his very own business.

So, the younger children were enrolled in the red brick school, while Pop and Mom ran the grocery store. My only interest was the bins of cookies that lined an outer wall. I would snatch a cookie several times a day, until Pop began to guard the bins. But he hadn't counted on my host of nieces and nephews who also raided the bins. Sis, Junior, Ronald, Donald, Richard, Norma Jean and Bette June and I would stake out Pop's position, then one of us would creep through the door in the direction of the bins. By hiding behind a counter filled with grocery items, we could make it across the room, then quickly take cookies and stuff them in our pockets, while Pop was busy with a customer. Then we would run out behind the house and enjoy our sugary treat.

One time, Hilda ran into one of the gas pumps and the excitement that followed allowed us time to empty the bins. The problem was, there was one cookie left over, and Ronald claimed it as his due, because he had been the one to sneak into the store and empty a bin. "Not fair!" we cried. "We have all taken turns getting the cookies. Why should you get more than us?" We ganged around Ronald and tried to grab the cookie from his hand, but he ran like the wind and disappeared into the house, where he told Mom we were beating up on him and we ended up getting scolded.

Pop was not happy. Running a store was not his cup of tea. He ended up handing out credit to all of the financially strapped people in the neighborhood, whose numbers seemed to be astronomical. They always promised to pay him back, and some of them tried to do so, but times were bad and hiring had cut down at the auto plants and so, the return was scant.

Helma entered school, a fact which filled me with bitter envy. I was so incensed by this unfair fact that I vowed I would seek my revenge. So, when Mom walked Helma to the school, I followed not far behind. When Helma sat at her little desk, I found a perch near a window and spent the day glaring through the glass at her. She complained to Mom, who tried to keep me home, but I slipped away and continued sitting at my post. Finally, the teacher told Mom that, if I was going to attend school every day, I might as well do it correctly, so they placed me in a class.

I was extremely happy, even though the teacher was an ogre who slapped tape on my mouth because I wouldn't stop talking. If I had known the Constitution guaranteed me Freedom of Speech, I would have informed Mrs. Williams. As it was, I had to stop talking and pay attention, which was never easy for me to do.

This was a very strict school, with some very strange methods of punishment. Deed was punished for some extraction and was forced to stand on tiptoe with his nose placed in a ring that was screwed into the wall. After being punished this way several times, Herman placed a visit to the school. When he had finished lambasting the principal, the nose ring was removed from the wall.

Again, Pop and Mom decided to move on. The store shelves were empty, the till was empty, and Pop was unhappy being a businessman. So, once again we began to look for a place to live, a house to rent, a place surrounded by fields and woods. Pop found his farm and I found the happiest years of my childhood, blissfully leaving Mrs. Williams behind.

Thursday, June 03, 2010


My father, whom we all called Pop, was not a big man. He was small and wiry, with skin so browned and toughened by the sun that it resembled leather. He had big, broad, work-worn hands that held a steady grip on a plow and paused now and then to run along the flanks of a tired horse or mule. His black hair had turned to gray and he had a round bald spot on the top of his head. When children piled onto his lap, as they did when he sat in his old green chair, they would play with his hair and make it stick up like devil's horns, giggling and laughing at the way he looked.

He loved children. He wanted thirteen children. He had his favorites. Many of his grandchildren have fond memories of sitting on his knees, while others only have the memories of knowing a very old man. An old-fashioned man, he wanted the farm to provide everything we could possibly need. When Mom had to ask for money to buy such commodities as sugar and salt, he was reluctant to reach into his wallet to give her what she needed. He felt that a good farmer raised everything his family needed. To see anything "store bought" seemed to be an insult to his life's work.

Somehow, smack in the center of a gravel pit, he raised his yearly crop of corn, using no fertilizer, no method of bringing water to the fields, nothing but the sun and the rain and the constant work with the plow. God must have smiled down at him, because year after year that crop of corn filled the local markets and the stand along the street running by our house. He made enough money from the sale of corn to buy a few mules to help with the work. He made enough money to grudgingly give my mother a few dollars for that sugar and salt.

From seven boys, Pop only raised one true farmer. Hubert shared his love of the soil, while Bud had his nose stuck in a book, and none of the others paid a bit of attention to Mother Nature. They helped on the farm because Pop insisted, but made their way in the outer world as soon as they became adult, while Hubert came every week to look over the status of the corn.

I remember that my brothers, Hjalmar and Harold, whom we all called Bud, were prone to ponder. They would sit outside on the porch and, rather than carry on a lively conversation, would just sit there, stare at the sky and the green of the trees, and silently ponder. I never knew what they were thinking about and they seldom wasted a word in my direction, but I always thought they were solving all of the world's problems as they sat there.

Hubert never pondered. He chatted and smiled and now and then lost his temper with a balky child. He was completely in the moment and lived in a world of here and now, while I think that Bud was off in tomorrow's world, contemplating the future.

Most of my brothers and sisters were ten or more years older than me, which made them seem more like Uncles and Aunts than true siblings. To me, they were gods and goddesses, ruling the realm of adulthood, free to select their own activities and not forced, as I was, to trot to school every day, memorizing dates of the Civil War, trying to remember the names of the Presidents and, worst of all, working those enigmatic sums in that hated Arithmetic Book.

I especially hated "story problems." Joe took a train to Baltimore on a trip that took him two hours, while Jim took a train from Detroit that took him eleven hours, how fast was the train traveling? This kind of question did not teach me Math at all, but certainly stimulated my creative side. Yes, Joe enjoyed a pleasant trip, but Jim was mugged at the train station and spent two hours in an Emergency Room before he could make his way to Baltimore.

I remember showing my sister, Helen, the manuscript of my first novel. My heroine was named Fairy and how well I remember Helen trying not to laugh as she read my lines. My hero was named Larry and so it went...."Larry took his Fairy in his arms!" Helen read the entire book, then advised me to never again place a story in England, which I knew nothing about, and never again writing about a daughter of the Queen. I felt this was terrible advice, since I wanted my heroine to be a Princess.

"Write about what you know," Helen told me, reaching into her grim, humorless adulthood to hamper the writing talents of a genius like myself. I glowered at her and vowed to never show anyone a story again. It was obvious they didn't appreciate anything above their comprehension.

So I lived life on the Farm, a wild-haired, sun-tanned girl with absolutely no Mathematical ability, running in the orchard, playing in the fields, my best friends my dogs that followed me around like loyal shadows. Each day, I had an older brother or sister to contend with, to try to understand from the level of childhood. Looking back, I see that I hardly knew them at all, that I didn't know their dreams, their hopes, their ambitions. I didn't even know if they believed in God. I didn't know if they had ever loved or lost. I didn't know if they had had their hearts crushed by life's little cruelties.

They were actually strangers. Only Helma and Harlan (Deed) were anything near my age and our relationships were thus that I was the perpetual younger sister, not too bright, never to emerge from this trap to become an equal. Our family was so close that hardly a day went by that we didn't get together. There were picnics, ballgames, musical moments and both arguments and laughter, but these older people lived in a secret world I could not enter. Now, as the years have passed, I wonder what I missed, what great relationships passed me by, what friendships were never mine. The tragic truth is....I will never know!

Friday, May 07, 2010


I have heard it said that you know you are old when you reach down to pull up your socks and find out you aren't wearing any. There is some truth in this, and there are several other ways you can perceive that you are indeed growing old.

A friend of mine in Grand Rapids said that, as you age, every organ in your body either dries up and withers away, or leaks. This might be a gauge to use to judge your true age.

From time to time, I have seen the charts in magazines and newspapers where they have tried to help you view your physical age. You see, you may be only 30 years old, but if you enjoy yourself too much with life's little pleasure, you may actually be much older. Benjamin Button went from old age to infancy, but the rest of us follow a familiar path. We are born in various circumstances, and it's all downhill from there. Agewise, that is.

If you drink, smoke, eat too much, sit on your duff several hours a day and take no interest in the world....alas, you are doomed. The most important thing is good nutrition and, unfortunately, this does not include chocolate covered doughnuts. Exercise is also important, so try to lift yourself up occasionally. Take a walk, or at least a stroll, and maybe even run the vacuum. Exercise buffs never include running the vacuum as a way to slim your Abs, but if the dust and dog hair is two inches thick on the carpeting, it helps.

Generally, as you get older, you begin to shrink. Your body lowers, bones sinking wearily into joints, and flesh hanging down in unsightly folds. You lose inches from your height, but your shoe size generally remains the same. At an advanced age, comfort seems more important than fancy shoes and you find yourself buying them three sizes bigger, giving your toes the space to absorb all of those inches you are losing in height. Forget stilettos, or you'll be in a wheelchair much sooner than you planned.

The enemy of good health is Belly Fat, especially as you grow older. You know you have Belly Fat if you look like you are nine months along and you haven't had sex in several years. The way to avoid Belly Fat is to exercise strenuously and eat nothing but celery and carrots until you are fifty. Then, you can avoid Belly Fat and only suffer from a healthier condition, called Belly Sag. Belly Sag isn't pretty, but it won't kill you.

There are some advantages to getting old besides wearing a red hat. When you are bent over, wizened and wrinkled, you can be as mean as you want. You can use a cane and whack at anyone who displeases you. You can scowl and complain and be as miserable as a dark cloud on the horizon. There isn't a thing other people can do to defend themselves from your meanness. They can't whack back or tell you just how dismal you are much too delicate, fragile and aged for that! They may kindly try to lighten your mood, point out the beautiful flowers or the blue sky, but you can sneer at these attempts. You can wreak your revenge for every irritation, every trouble, every slight you have encountered throughout the years.

However, you may get better care if you are a sunny sort, a lovable old Bo Peep. Then you might get your diaper changed at a faster rate, or be given a special dessert at mealtime. So it is up to you to decide just which type you want to be.

As age approaches, it's time to think of the trials and tribulation of advanced age. Will you stay in your home, watched over by a "caregiver"? Or will you live in a back bedroom in the home of one of your children? Or will you enter a Nursing Home and try to think of it as your "Home Away from Home," rather than a warehouse for the aged?

There is no cure for old age, even though the Beauty Barons tell you otherwise. You can slather your face with age-defying creams, be treated with Botox and Collagen, have the fat sucked from your limbs, dye your hair, pluck your brows...and your chin hairs.....flirt with young men like a Cougar....and, alas, the wrinkles will eventually win! Gals like Cher can spend millions keeping up the impression of youth, but eventually these just won't work.

The best way to proceed is to embrace your creeping years with gay abandon. Pretend you are having the time of your life, whether you are or not. Point out that only the aging can join the AARP, or can sometimes get 10% off a restaurant meal. One thing is sure, you will not grow older alone. Like Mark Twain's description of Hell, you'll have a lot of company.

Saturday, April 17, 2010


This month I have visited the Valley of Death. I have sat at a hospital bedside and watched a grandson die, my heart pounding as though it were being ripped from my body, the pain inside me so intense it was like a penetrating knife, cold and sharp. It was a big hospital, with corridors as long as city blocks, stretching into another long corridor and another. Sometimes I wandered aimlessly from one long stretch to another, seeking something as simple as a cup of coffee, leaving my bedside post for a moment, trying to clear my thoughts. It was a "trauma hospital," filled with gloom. Each unit had a locked door, with a telephone on a wall where one could communicate with a nurse about your need to enter the premises.

I stayed through the nights, sleeping on little settees made of flimsy wood and thinly padded seats, my purse under my head for a pillow, my legs folded like an origami fan as I tried to balance myself. I would wake up tireder than when I fell asleep, creeping out of the waiting room, hoping not to awaken the group of other sleeping visitors, nestled in various couches and chairs, slumped in slumber, awaiting word on the condition of their loved ones. We were a sad, silent group.

When it was over, when my grandson had drawn his last precious breath, I was strangely composed. I could only think of leaving this hospital, this warehouse of dying people, to get outside into the cold, crisp air and shake the essence of tragedy from my body. To leave my grandson behind in these strange hands, to leave him to be lifted and manipulated and loaded into a black vehicle like a sack of potatoes was almost more than I could bear. I wanted to pick him up and carry him with me, but I couldn't. So I walked outside to the car and we headed homeward, leaving a huge piece of our hearts behind.

Since then, I have been immersed in sorrow. I have wallowed in my grief. I held up for the funeral, with all of its trappings, the flowers that then sit around and threaten to wilt and must be carried to Nursing Homes or Hospitals, the cards, the letters, and that pathetic sack filled with the earthly remnants of the deceased....a ragged pair of jeans, a t-shirt, a scuffed pair of shoes, and five dollars in a wallet.

It was heroin that killed my grandson at the age of 22. Heroin that he became addicted to at a younger age and somehow could not shake away from, despite a stay in ReHab and other efforts to cure him. On the day that he died, he was happy because he had passed a drug test and this meant that he had been a month and a half off the drug. Then a friend called....and called again and again. He decided to go with him, telling me he was just visiting a friend and they would play video games together. I believed him. He was lying.

So, he Overdosed on the streets of Detroit in the parking lot of a Wendy's store....a heartbreaking end for a young man with a bright, ready smile and a truckload of friends, all of whom mourned his passing. The other young man survived and is now trying to cure his own addiction to heroin. We are standing behind him and cheering him on, because my grandson would have been happy to see his friend break free from this habit.

How many young people are falling into this trap? More than I ever knew until I entered the shadows of addiction. In the village where I live, there are more than a hundred young people using the drug. It's cheap and it's a thrill. It will even be given to you free...until you're caught! That's just the number of young people I know about. Heaven knows how many others are out there.

They are here, one there. The Overdoses occur regularly, and many survive. Some don't. The deaths pile up, young people with long lives ahead of them, dead of a vicious poison racing through their veins, stopping their hearts, starving their brains of oxygen.

What do do? When this scourge enters your life, don't hesitate. Try Rehab and, if you can afford it, make it a long stay. Try a doctor. There is medication that helps take away the urge....too late for my grandson, but worth a try for others. Don't hide the addiction, because friends and family can help. Communicate with others, because they can help you pinpoint the source of the drug. Remember, there are thousands of parents in your same predicament today and you want to do all you can before it is your child dead in a faraway hospital bed.

I have emerged from the sodden, mournful, doleful state where all I did was cry and wonder if there is a God and, if so, where was the miracle we needed? I have made my peace with my grandson's death and I am working on making peace with God. There is a huge, empty, black hole in my heart that may never be filled with love and laughter again. I know others have suffered so and survived. I know useless, unnecessary deaths are something many, many of us encounter. So I'll lift up my head and walk forward, one step at a time, and celebrate the fact that our troubled young man is finally free of the hateful scourge that so brutally took his life.

Monday, February 22, 2010


What is the problem with Republicans, concerning Health Care Reform? They scream about cost, but didn't say a word when George W. Bush unloaded our money in Iraq. They didn't scream about the waste of money given Halliburton. Nor, when George W. Bush suggested bailing out the bankers, we didn't hear one Republican scream! That deficit just kept going up, and the Republicans were very silent. If President Bush wanted a few billion more to spend, he could depend upon the Party of Yes!

Their objections seem to be based on the hope that Obama will fail, as Rush Limbaugh admitted. They seem to be doing all that they can to make that happen, even if they have lie in their Ads to make the Elderly shiver with fear and believe that they'll be subjected to Death Panels..... even if they make countless trips to speak on CNN about how conservative they are! They were spendthrifts, however, when it concerned George W. Bush. With Obama, they pretend to be frugal. Futilely frugal! Remember, when Health Care Reform was suggested, one Republican said that, if they could defeat it, it would be Obama's Waterloo. So the Party of No banded together to try their best to defeat Health Care, as though they are French gendarmes chasing after Napoleon.

It doesn't matter to them that there are about 40 million Americans with no Health Care at all. If these Americans get sick, they will try to fund their Health Care through Medicaid. In doing so, it will cost the tax payer just as much as if these sick people had some sort of governmental coverage. Other Americans could lose their homes and savings over the cost of just one serious illness. Costs are inflated and often insurance companies refuse to cover their customers.

Then, too, there are the young people. Many youths have advanced in age to a point where they are dropped from their parents' insurance policies. They have no insurance at all, even though they are at a time in life when accidents and calamities seem to happen. Many of them are jobless. Even the ones with low-paying jobs have trouble paying premiums. They can hardly afford their inflated car insurance payments, let alone carry health care. It is obvious they need some kind of help, but the Party of No isn't interested in helping anyone. Besides being the Party of No, it's the Party of "Too bad, Chum, help yourself!"

What is the Republican problem with Health Care Reform? If it's price, let's point at the fact that it hasn't bankrupted Canada. Nor has it bankrupted England or other European nations. A majority of these citizens appreciate their Health Care and wouldn't change it for any reason. Many of them pay taxes to pay for it, but still want to keep it.

Mention "tax" to a Republican and they turn purple. They obviously want a country with no government at all. They can then wear their guns around their middles and hold early morning feuding gunfests. They can annihilate minorities, unions, the ACLU, Al Gore, Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, Birth Control, Women's Rights and all of that long list of Republican Pet Peeves.

Republicans seem to be playing games. They refuse to cooperate in any way, refuse to talk with Obama about Health Care Reform, just gather in a useless pile to vote No on everything, accomplishing nothing, doing nothing, yammering about their Tea Parties and how the country is rebelling.

Yes, I know many people who are rebelling over the behavior of the Republican Party. They have caused a broken government. When a political party fails to think of the people it is supposed to serve, it is time to boot it out and start over. President Obama has done everything possible to placate and please the Party of No. Instead, they just keep on being the Party of No. No, no, no, no!

The Governors of our various States met with President Obama today, a bipartisan meeting with both Republicans and Democrats involved. They talked about issues, settled some problems, and said that the Stimulus had helped keep and provide jobs in their states. Governor Crist of Florida, a Republican, said that he couldn't understand the lack of respect for the President. He said that he would cooperate and help the President in solving problems, because this is what a politician is supposed to do.

Now isn't it a pity that the Republican Congress isn't filled with Governor Crists? He's level-headed, sincere, and acts like an honorable man. This is the Republican I would vote for, one who shuns the Party of No and considers the plight of the people.

If anyone thinks we can climb out of this Recession (Depression) without spending some money, I wish they'd come up with some answers. We're not going to do it with Monopoly Money, for sure! If we wait too long, we'll sink into a mire of suffering like the people endured in the 1030's. Republicans were President back then, too, but the Depression continued until the people elected a Democrat. He instigated Jobs Programs, started what he called the New Deal, and people like my family once more had groceries in the cupboard. This is what Obama is trying to do! This is what the Party of No doesn't want, because they want to defeat Obama! Your empty cupboard is no concern of theirs, they are only interested in their goal.

Health Care Reform is important because our medical and insurance costs are wasting millions of dollars. Aside from that, health care is a universal right. Every man, woman and child in this country should have adequate health coverage. Even the Party of No is completely covered. They don't even pay their premiums. The taxpayers do it. So what on earth are they whining about? They have it pretty good themselves, and don't even consider it Socialism or Big Goverment.

Is there something deadly in that Tea, something that withers the brain until it wastes away and atrophies into a whiff of meaningless air? Perhaps they should switch to a Fruit Juice instead. I know one that they'd probably like. It's a bit tart on the tongue, but they would find it familiar. It's commonly known as "Sour Grapes" and works much better then tea. Let's admit it, they all have a case of Sour Grapes, so why waste it?

Friday, February 12, 2010


I wasn't going to divulge this secret, but then I thought I had better join the group. Yes, I had an affair with Tiger Woods. It lasted for years and, of course, I thought I was the only one. I knew he was married, but Poor Me, I loved him anyway. Now that our affair is public, I guess I'll go on Good Morning, America, and try to rake up a little more publicity. Or maybe I can become a Porn Star, if the salary is right and the lighting can hide the sag.

Now if you believe that, you will believe anything. As I grew up, I had no self-confidence at all. In one way, I was the spoiled brat of a big family. In another way, I was a poor farm kid, with homemade clothing and bad teeth. I couldn't measure up to the rest of the girls, who seemed like beautiful starlets to me.

Later, one of my older brothers and sisters paid for my tooth repair. After hours sat in the dentist chair, I emerged with new, white teeth. Except for one. One of my front teeth was laced with gold. I was devastated! My smile would be like a flash of precious metal, its gleam bouncing off the walls and windows. I solved the problem by smiling without showing any teeth or holding my hands over my mouth area. It took great effort, but I thought the gold tooth made me look like old tobacco-chewing goldminer.

The first sexual experience I ever had...if you can call it that, is when a young man, a few years older than me...asked me for a date. My criteria for dating was that the fellow have a car and this one did, so off we went on a date. He even met my parents before we took off, this well-mannered fellow who even wore a suit and tie to take me out.

After our dinner, he asked if I wanted to go for a drive. Sure, I said, agreeable that I was. We explored the area, the hills, the valleys, the sideroads. Then he drove to an area I think was called Ploss Lake and stopped the car. I was looking around when I glanced over and saw that he had unzipped his trousers and what emerged was an apparition I could have easily mistaken for a garden hose, so to solve the problem of what and why....I simply opened the door, got out and walked home.

That same year, on Halloween night, Sis and I were knocking on doors, gathering up a large sack of candy, to be enjoyed for hours later. We knocked on the door of a cute little white cottage and who opened the door? None other than my former suitor, whose face betrayed his surprise. Behind him stood his pregnant wife, holding a baby. At her knees was another toddler hanging onto her skirttails. Sis laughed at me all the way home as I fumed over that lying rat whom my parents had dubbed "a nice young man!"

Experiences like this didn't bolster my confidence at all! Nor did they help me have the self esteem I needed to have to become accepted as one of the leaders of my class.

Oh, I tried! One day, one glorious day, I was allowed to join a group of popular girls, girls with fuzzy new sweaters and salon-clipped hair. I felt as though I had been anointed by some High School God who had taken his sceptre and placed it on my shoulders, saying "Let there be light!"

At the lunch I attended, one of the girls, whose name was Joan, as I recall, said, "I need help in the library today. I have to tabulate all the books in Section C."

I was like an eager puppy, tail wagging! Here was my chance to further my membership in this elite group. "I'll help you!" I blurted, an eager smile on my face.

Joan regarded me as though I was a scrap of food left on a plate, an imposter trying to infiltrate her kingdom.

"I'll let you know," she said, in a haughty tone of voice.

Curses on Joan with her arrogant air! She has since moved northward into Canada and lives on an island off the coast! At our Class Reunions, the moderator always says..."We have had a note from Joan, and she's the same sweet girl she always was!"

Thus, I was once again relegated to my status as a lowly farm girl. Nor did I ever again get an invitation to join the Elite for lunch. You can take the Farm Girl away from the farm, but you can't take the farm away from the girl. Those childish rejections, those schoolgirl ways, cause teenaged girls to shed bitter tears and it takes years to shake off the feelings of inadequacy, but when one does this, if it's possible, it's a wonderful feeling of freedom to be oneself, like a butterfly emerging from a dark cocoon.

I told Bud about this experience and he was sympathetic, telling me of his own younger years. Of all the people in our large family, it was Bud who should have been able to finish school, go on to college, earn his degree, and contribute to the world. Instead, he had to find his niche by reading books, through experiences, and joining groups like the school board to be recognized as the intelligent man he was.

Hubert, on the other hand, was gifted with a panache that served him well. He covered up the Farm Boy with a veneer of charming sophistication. He smiled easily and made his way on sheer personality. He chummed around with our brother, Hjalmar, who was so quiet one could hardly remember him saying a thing. They were totally different, but stayed close for many years to come. They would earn money playing Poker and, one time, were faced with angry men who were convinced they were cheating. One time they ran across the back area of a hotel, believing they were running across a cement tennis court, and both of them ran right into an empty swimming pool. Bruised and battered, they climbed out and kept escaped.

Undoubtedly, the prettiest woman among my four sisters was Hazel. She had the face of an angel, but struggled all her life with weight, as so many of us do. She had a melodious, lilting voice, deep and passionate, with a terrific range. We used to gather around to hear Hazel sing. When I graduated from high school, I used to stay at Hazel's house, using it as a base to make it an easier trip to reach my job at a local hospital. Hazel never got angry with me, this young girl always scrambling around, late for work, taking off in a flurry of dropped clothes, a piece of toast clutched in her hand to eat along the way.

I was young and silly and totally irresponsible. Of all things, they put me in charge of Birth Certificates. In my area, there are white babies born who are recorded as black or Oriental, and vice versa. There are babies whose births are not recorded at all. There are mix-ups and foul-ups and the buck lands right on my desk. I was far more interested in a cute young doctor than I was in doing my job. Thankfully, jobs were easy to find back then. I would leave or get booted out of one job, just to get another and go on with my fumbling, bumbling style of life.

When did I shred the Farm Girl and become a responsible adult. I'm not sure I ever have. The ghost of that shoeless girl with her flying, tangled hair and complete ignorance of the world around her stays with me like a ghost from the past, like a whisper in my ears, like a summer breeze touching the cheeks and rustling the hair. Do we ever escape the miseries of high school? Do we ever grow past those teen-aged years? Well, maybe some do. Some of us don't, but we muddle through the best we can, pretending a confidence we never had and that may never fully arrive.

Thursday, February 04, 2010


A Republican Governor has likened the distribution of food stamps to "feeding stray animals." According to reports, he said that feeding stray animals is useless, because they just come back for more, and then start breeding, multiplying themselves until you have many more strays to feed.

It would be difficult to sell this idea to the many Americans receiving food stamps. Most of them have lost their jobs and have worn their shoes down to the flesh applying for employment in the few places advertising for help. In most cases, they are joined in filling out applications by hundreds of other job seekers. In most cases, the food stamps are the only way they can feed their families in this crisis that has struck Americans in the past few years.

The ironic thing is that most people blame the Republican Administration of George Bush for the aforementioned crisis. President Bush may not have caused all of the problems, but he certainly did little or nothing to halt them. In fact, he spent our money....not on efforts to put people back to work...but on the War in Iraq, which the British people are still investigating. Not so here in the United States, we do not spend our time with lengthy investigations on the reasons for fighting that war, because most of us know the answers. We simply sit in our jobless state, hope for the best, and pray for a better tomorrow.

At one time in my young life, my parents went on what was called an Old Age Pension. They applied for money to help them out, these elderly folks who had worked in the fields all of their lives and had finally reached a point where even a healthy crop of corn would not sustain them throughout the year. Proud, independent, worthwhile people, they did not want to live off the money given them by their children, simply because their children were themselves poor and had very little to give.

So, the Old Age Pension arrived each month in the mail and it was a godsend to them, as they hacked away at the ice on the creek, in order to get water to use. The pump would freeze solid, the creek was the only source of water, and once that ice hole was chopped, they would carry bucket after bucket of water to the house to use for cooking and laundry.

Each month, the social worker would arrive to ask questions and ascertain that my parents deserved the pittance they were given. She not only visited my parents with questions, but arrived at the homes of my brothers and sisters, peeking in corners, checking on the status of living styles, making sure that no child could afford to support the parents.

This well-dressed, coiffed and well-groomed lady arrived in a shiny big Buick. As a child, I really enjoyed her arrival, so I could admire the gleaming finish of that car. To me, it was the epitome of luxury, with its padded interior and gleaming accessories. I dreamed of growing up to ride in such a vehicle and dress in woolen suits and linen blouses like the social worker.

This lady would often corner me as I sat outside admiring her car. "Is Hilda working?" she'd query. "Does anyone eat out every night?" She asked me questions I could not answer, but she managed to scare the me to death, because her eyes were like piercing bullets and her accusatory expression made me feel as though the wrong answer might land me in Leavenworth for a lengthy stay.

"Better watch your mouth," my mother admonished me, "or we'll all be starving to death!"

This placed a double burden on my shoulders, to a point where I hid when the lady arrived. Eventually, the summer came, the corn blossomed, the garden gave its harvest and the Old Age Pension became a part of the past. The stray cats had found a meager supply of their own food and were able to say farewell to the lady in the Buick, the fat cat who could ride in splendor on the tax money everyone paid.

Frankly, I resent any person who treats another human being like a piece of worthless driftwood. Comparing poor folks to abandoned animals has got to be a remark that paves the way to Hell. In the first place, the pitiful plight of stray animals is hard enough to bear. My area has a plentiful supply, frightened creatures who run away at the slightest noise and live a life of hunger and fear. I feed those stray cats. I don't care if they come back or multiply, they are God's creatures and deserve more than life has handed out. I figure that each time I feed a stray cat, I have saved the life of a bird.

Walk in the shoes of a jobless man! Walk in the shoes of a hungry child! Imagine yourself hopelessly trying to survive, with no resources to help you. Imagine yourself as Jesus commanded, helping to keep your brother!

A Republican friend of mine said, "Oh, all this means you are in favor of Big Government!"

I'm not in favor of big government. I'm not in favor of little government. I am in favor a government that works, a government that knows that poor people are not stray animals, unworthy of help. What I am saying is government should be...let me try to get it straight...OF the people, FOR the people, and BY the people! Could anything be clearer than that?