Category Archives: PEOPLE ENCOUNTERS

OUR MINISTER’S DAY OFF

In the 1960’s we moved to scenic West Milford; then a rural community in the rolling hills of North Eastern New Jersey. Our four bedroom Cape Cod was built into a half acre of wooded hillside – so the front looked tiny. However, the back was actually three stories high and consisted of an above-ground basement, the ground floor, the three room upper story, and a full-size attic above which was hidden within the roof itself.

            It was – and still is – a fascinating area. The hills were formed at the same time as the Appalachians, eroded down, and then rounded off by glaciers. There are ruins of iron mines, furnaces, and manufacturing plants. Gold, silver, and various semi-precious stones can be found, Lenape Indian villages are scattered throughout. Unique plants, animals, and birds found nowhere else in the state live there, including cactus! In the hills are caves famous for their bats and fluorescent minerals. UpperGreenwoodLake is a well-known body of water in the northern part of West Milford.

            In those days, funds were very tight, so we only had one bathroom for ourselves and our four children.

            The development had two streets which formed a “Y” from the main road. It was small: about seventeen homes from the top of the hill. Our home was at the intersection of that Y, which ran steeply downward to the shores of the PequannockRiver.

            We lived there between 1966 and 1977, at which time we moved to the RancocasNatureCenter in Westampton, New Jersey.

            Over the years, we finished off bedrooms, and part of the basement, and added a huge garden, which at one point contained marijuana plants – but that, my friends, is another story. Most of it was legal, by the way.

            Some of my children are still in touch with former neighbors’ children through Facebook, and I occasionally exchange messages with them.

            Our basement was an interesting place. Over the years the usual laundry and heating appliances and the children’s indoor play area played host to a series of pets and exotic pets we were baby sitting: a South African Otter named Sam, exotic snakes (our own pet snakes were kept in cages in the living and dining rooms), various rabbits, tame rats, turtles, opossums, baby raccoons, wounded birds, and a semi-tame woodchuck who ate his way through the insulation up into the attic.

            In other words, we felt at home.

            As time went on, I graduated from college, and the funding situation improved. Until then Christmas presents from our parents were used to purchase auto tires, make repairs, and replace worn out appliances.

            One Christmas Eve, our gas hot water heater blew up. You know: BANG!!!

            However, the annual Christmas largess enabled us to buy a new one. The plumber, an old timer in the town, was a bit crotchety, and  he agreed to come on Christmas Day to install the new heater.

            As usual, brought his tools and his daily ration of bourbon: a quart bottle. After the pleasantries, he lit his cigarette and disappeared into the basement. Occasionally he would call on my husband and/or myself to assist, but he was cheerful.

            Finally, after two hours of hard work, the heater was installed. He told me he was ready for lunch, so I dutifully went upstairs to prepare it.

            Our intrepid hero, lit a cigarette, and turned on the gas.

            A huge explosion followed by a sickening THUNK rocked our house.

            I called 911. Within minutes the volunteer fire department arrived. They were having a Christmas celebration at the firehouse, a mile away.

            Frantically, I raced downstairs, while my husband turned off the gas. Our hero was burned on his arms and face, so, being on the first aid squad, I gave him first aid. There was no fire. The tank did not go through the ceiling. But when it came down, it knocked him in the head and opened a cut.

            Suddenly, I realized there was one fully clad fireman – complete with axe and carrying part of a hose on each one of our basement steps. While I filled them in on the events, they came down and inspected. I look at one of the volunteers, and said, “Hey! I know you! What’s your name?”

            Everyone started to laugh hysterically.

            I was stunned.

            He took off his coat. He took off his undercoat. He took off his hat. Then slowly he removed his goggles.

            Very slowly and dramatically he said, “I am your minister, Liz.”

            My jaw dropped.

            “I didn’t recognize you without your collar.” I stuttered. He took off his scarf. There was the clerical collar.

            Then he reached over and lifted my jaw back into place.

            Eventually, then they put the plumber on a stretcher which had been wheeled in.

They took away the plumber’s bottle and cigarettes.

Then, the crew removed the wounded heater, brought another one from the plumber’s truck, installed it, all the while singing Christmas carols.

Within half an hour we had hot water again.

As we merrily exchanged Christmas greetings and hugs, our plumber friend was put into his truck, and the minister drove him home. Just before they left, one of the firemen brought him his bourbon and his cigarettes.

Thankfully, he took a swig and lit a cigarette.

I understand his wife almost had a heart attack when the entire fire department arrived at their house.

Oh, yes, our friend recovered in a few weeks. The injuries were not dangerous.

In church that Sunday, the minister strode to the altar dressed in full fire gear, while we call gasped. After he stripped them off, he told of his adventures.

It was a merry service.

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MEMORIES OF THE YARNALL & PRESCOTT 07/18/2013

Image

Liz in my hat.

HONORING THE HEROIC HOTSHOTS AND THE OTHER WONDERFUL, CARING PEOPLE WHO RESIDE IN THAT PART OF ARIZONA

This essay started out as a light hearted tale of my delightful adventures in Northern Arizona which I was anxious to share with friends and Eva’s writing class. Then tragedy struck.

Now there are three parts.  Part I: The Fires of Hell ~ Part 2: Light reading ~ A humorous look about my adventures “up there”. ~ Part 3: There are no answers to this tragedy.

 

Part I: The Fires of Hell:  Forest fires in Arizona? I’ve seen miles and miles and miles of forests or desert grasslands burning as I drove past the many areas struck by the veritable Fires of Hell.

            I’ve been in unintended – but luckily: few – scary spots; including several times being pulled over by law enforcement – once was even given an oxygen mask – because the smoke made highways impassable.
            Twice I’ve lugged water in a volunteer fire brigade. It’s not much fun.

 As the years transitioned into the Twenty First Century, the fires got more vicious and widespread.
            Total desolation was observed by me after thousands of acres of lush forest land were turned to piles of ash. Increasingly, homes, cars, farms, farm vehicles, pasture land, businesses, schools, and government buildings have been devoured by flames.
            Indeed, I’ve met several dozen of the brave heroes who annually risk their lives to put out these fires. They are quiet, self-effacing, humble men, and include some women.

            My personal, deep-rooted thankfulness for the way they risk their lives because they chose to be of service to their communities is part of my feelings. God bless them and their families!

Late in this year’s spring and summer, air temperatures in Arizona reached record highs of a hundred twenty degrees and higher. I fondly reminisce about my explorations throughout the state where I lived for nineteen years. (New Jersey and Arizona are my two favorite states because of their natural diversity of geology and living things.) Temperatures were lower then; drought had not dried the land into dust.
            Parenthetically: after 2001, thousands of raging wildfires starting erupting in Arizona and other parts of the Southwest and Southeast. Slowly at first, wildfires began increasing in scope in locations throughout the forests and grasslands of the state. The decade of 2000 became a nightmare. Decade 2010 is beginning to look horrendously worse.

There are reasons for this: drought, climate change, population explosion, unrealistic government regulations based on pseudo science. That’s without the capital letter. Science is real and is appalled by the various levels of government’s ignorance and greed.
            Family and close friends who are residents in the state are concerned. We talk frequently about the awful heat and ongoing drought.
            Some of them seek refuge in the relatively cooler mountainous areas of North Central Arizona. The heat is close to hundred degrees there, too. However, the nights, as my close friend Grani, said, “are definitely cooler.”

Our conversations started me thinking about my nineteen year sojourn in what is the last state in the lower 48 to join the union.

So, on Memorial Day, I happily set out to write about some of my Arizona adventures which  celebrate the people I interacted with, including some of whom I still am in touch who live within the Prescott, Yarnell, Wilhoit, Peebles, and other adjoining places of the mountainous areas of north central Arizona.
            “Memorial Day”? How tragically “coincidental”!

Around July 1st, a wildfire erupted in those north central mountains – already a drought-struck area. Hours later, two thousand acres were aflame and out of control because of high winds and piled forest debris.

Within several more hours, over eight thousand acres were destroyed in the Towering Flames of Hell: Swiftly moving, raging flames devoured some 200 homes and businesses in the towns of Glen Isla and Yarnell, 30 miles south of Prescott and about 85 miles northwest of Phoenix.

            The increasing nightmare devoured the land and reduced it to smoldering ashes from this uncontrolled wildfire as even more homes and businesses were destroyed in the ensuing hour.
            A call from the US Forest Service went out to their nationally professional personnel available. Included in this call was the need for specially trained firefighters – elite teams called HotShots, who risk their lives to put out raging flames.

            Coincidently a team of Hotshots – and their families – reside in Prescott. Many of their families have lived there for generations. Known as the Granite Mountain HotShots, they had just returned from fighting a fire in another state, and were recuperating from their stint.

When the wildfire burst out of control, they immediately joined other firefighters to control the growing nightmare devouring settled and land. The area was reduced to smoldering ashes. And the fire spread to the four compass points. 

They died several hours after arrival on this day of tragedy. The men, who wanted only to serve others – died within minutes as the fire roared from two thousand to over eight thousand acres. There were twenty HotShots. Nineteen died. One survived.
            The shock waves which reverberated throughout Arizona and the rest of the world were laced with pain. Loving fathers, husbands, sons, brothers, cousins, friends – were overwhelmed by the flames.

May the Lord bless and keep you and your families and bring healing to them.

 

.With few exceptions, my original purpose was to speak about some of my personal adventures in the mountains or North Central Arizona. In particular, tell of a delightful personal encounter with one caring individual who typifies the region’s residents.

            And then I hit a totally unexpected brick wall.

As I researched the background information, I came to a shattering personal conclusion: The HotShots gave their lives because of federal and state governments’ simplistic, non-scientific rules involving problems solving serious situations.

What was I to do? One solution seemed to totally ignore the governmental guilt; however, Science and History raised their heads and nudged my conscience.

After a week of mulling the situation, my research showed this is not by any stretch of the imagination a national issue. The problem is world-wide! So, at the end of this adventure, I will present the facts. {See Part 3: There are no answers to this tragedy.}

             

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Part 2: Light reading ~ A humorous look about my adventures “up there”.

            After the tragedy, Many, many people asked me if I “have been in the Yarnell and Prescott areas”.
            Yes I have. It is one of my most favorite spots on Earth. I would visit “up there” about twenty times a year, though winter visits were sometimes well nigh impossible because of the snow and snow and ice which begin falling at the four thousand feet altitude mark The demarcation boundary is simple: when the hug Saguaro Cacti peter out, the snow begins its onslaught.

            Dear friends live up there. In fact, my daughter, who has lived in Phoenix for almost thirty years will be buying a house in Prescott in the next six months or so.

            To get to the area, I soon discovered a short cut which was about fifty miles shorter than the less than exciting Interstate Route. However the last ten miles on my road  are delightfully exciting: a road climb of  2000’ to 6000’ in the last twenty six miles, followed by a somewhat curvy, precipitous elevation drop of six hundred feet right into the heart of Prescott.

            If you look at Google or Mapquest, you will see how this scenic 113 miles short cut brought me from my home in Phoenix (at an elevation of 1000’) to Wickenburg (at 2300’ elevation) in an hour or less. From there, a steady climb on curvy, somewhat narrow roads took me thirty four miles further to Yarnell, an oasis of six hundred people in the wilderness. Granite Mountain, where the nineteen firefighters lost their lives, is a half mile west of Yarnell. The huge hunk of rock has an elevation of 4,780’. 
            And then, just north of Yarnell, the northward-bound adventure really begins. The final thirty five miles of road.  (twenty-six miles north as the eagle flies) It may be paved, however the two lanes consist of contorted curves, triple switchbacks, climbs, drops, broken roadways, destroyed railings. Over the edge, one glimpses dozens of smashed trucks, cars, motorcycles, and several buses which line the 89 highway slopes which sail into space and drop several hundred feet to the valley ledges and floor far below.

            I arrive at the top, go past the HotShots fire station. As I pass the Welcome to Prescott sign, I descend six hundred feet within a few miles; arriving jubilantly at Prescott’s lowest point: a 5372’ elevation.

Highway 89 will ever be a speedway. The highway was originally only two lanes wide. It still is awaiting widening in the last forty miles.  Accidents were frequent. And still are.

Sometimes the lower road has to be closed because road construction during the 90’s hadn’t accounted for an unstable layer of clay and sand layering the sides of new road cuts. The worst case closed Highway 89 for months when thousands of tons of debris slid down a two-mile-long stretch of the road. Reconstruction was not a simple task. Roadways snake over and under each other, double back on themselves, tunnel through mountains, and sometimes contain median strips up to a quarter of a mile across.

            Still, despite the improvements, minor slides of several hundred feet in length after rainstorms occur regularly during the Monsoon Season in late summer and fall.

The media keeps the warnings of hazards up to date.

Four years ago, as I was heading north, a Monsoon drencher passed through, thus causing an unstable clay based landslide which just missed my car by inches.The construction workmen screamed in horror as a I slid and careened from one side of the highway to the other – over the median to the outside drop zone, and barely avoided going over a six hundred foot drop. The rain had caused a different landslide which pushed the safety rails to slide down the mountain. I arrived in the south-bound lane, facing oncoming traffic. Then I shut down the motor and dissolved in tears onto the steering wheel.

The men were drenched, but brought me water, kisses, and hearty cheers as they pulled me from my car, 4-man carried me back to the north lane. They hand pushed the car back onto the highway, across the median strip and to the northern lanes. They had to stand guard to make sure no one smashed into my vehicle. Whew!

Snow storms were a royal pain in the neck. Theyseldom occrred below 2,500’ elevation. At times, I had to turn around and go back to Phoenix because the roads were impassable as the road climbed. Sometimes, snow plows arrived to open a path to the southbound lanes.

Did I enjoy my adventures?

YES. 

I soaked up the excitement of my explorations by car and on foot through miles and miles of uninhabited land wearing my “gambler’s hat” (not a “ten gallon cowboy hat”); carrying spare water and food, cell phone, first aid kit, my camera, binoculars, and my trusty nine-shooter thrust into my holster.
            Yes, I was an expert shot, and had earned a hidden weapons permit.

For years, I happily exploted mesas, canyons, mountains, deserts, waterfalls, swamps, bogs. Plants? 3900 species! Plant trvia? Insect eating plants. Trees such as Ponderosa Pine. Desert plants are spiny. Rule #1: Don’t fall onto a cactus.

Was there another “the catch” SR 89 leading to Prescott? Well, yes. Speed was NOT an option any more than the curves were. There were near collisions with deer, jack rabbits, raccoons, skunks, hawks, vultures, caracaras, ferrets, prairie dogs, bats, turtles, frogs, snakes; but, as I could not drive very fast on the mountain roads, the animals survived.

I have to admit I often picked up road kills to bring home. Mammals were almost impossible, so I contented myself by photographing the corpses. In fact, I photographed anything: dead or alive. Became a decent photographer, too.

By the way, it is illegal to pick up native birds – dead or alive. Fines are hefty. Working for the Arizona Mining and Mineral Museum in Phoenix, often enabled me to legally bring in bodies and/ or feathers from eagles, caracaras, and other birds of prey. My license plate was on file with the INS (illegal immigrant police), the State Police, and many local police departments. But that’s another story.

One of the Phoenix Magazines wrote a humerous article about my travels throughout the state. Most of the feathers were put on display, but I kept one from each species. Alas! When I moved, that box disappeared.

            Don’t laugh. One of my identification guides was Flattened Fauna: A Field Guide to Common Animals of Roads, Streets, and Highway.
            Many of the police officers, state troopers, and sheriff’s posses I got to know in my travels often stopped by the museum to have rocks and minerals identified, and we became friendly over soda in the back kitchen. How did I get to know them? This essay tells one such tale.  
            A Sheriff’s posse? Um, there are a great many criminals and mysogynssts in those terrain. People actually live as hermits in remote areas of the state, but upon meeting, we got along quite well as I hiked the canyons and slopes.

The last stretch of the so called “road” between Wilhoit and Prescott is so curvy and dangerous, cars commonly sail into space when driving too fast. There are no fences or barriers. Knowing the lay of the land I would play a game coming down the thirty six miles of unfenced road. Keep in mind road shoulders do not exist on the curves; nor on the ensuing ten miles of highway to Wilhoit. I was determined not to use brakes – and at fifteen mph, was quite successful. Often, I would see tourists on the straightaway who had used the road for their first (and only time!) screech to a stop at the end of curves, pour out of their cars, and lose their last meal while sobbing uncontrollably.

The lack of road shoulder on the straightaway often kept me from exploring. I could not park on the narrow shoulder. Leaving the car parked there,would mean the State Police would have it immediately towed away. The fines were hefty. However, whenever a speeding vehicle took the metal rail fence down on the straightaway, it opened up a parking spot in the wilderness until the railing was repaired. Most of the state and local troopers – who knew me – would merrily wave at me as I trudged around.

Once, I stumble upon a sixty inch long harmless snake too close to the road, draped it around my neck, and took it to safety.

This background brings me to the most delightful Prescott adventure which started this whole essay. It honors  people living and working in the various parts of Arizona; especially those involved in paying it forward.

I worked for now defunct Arizona Mining and Mineral Museum for thirteen years, and during that time, developed a program entitled Have Rocks Will Travel. Thanks to generous grants, I was able to visit schools throughout the state; travelling to and from all six corners of Arizona and points in between – sometimes on overnight two/three day trips.

We received generous grants, and I had a fantastic time presenting programs to isolated, distant, Indian reservations, small town schools ranging from regular size populations, elementary and high school; as well as those schools with fewer than twenty students in one and two rooms, ranging from grades K through eight. Friend Grani was my assistant several times a year. But, that, as I keep saying, is another story.

Earlier that day I had presented a program to the elementary school in Peebles – north of Yarnell – then headed up to Prescott to visit some friends. Late in the afternoon, I left for Phoenix.

As I came down “the 36 mile stretch” to the straightaway on 89, I glanced at a huge thunderstorm sweeping over a several thousand foot high mesa several miles to the west of me. There were six rainbows arched over it. The sky was coal black. I was in sunshine.
            Quickly, I pulled onto the narrow shoulder lane on the right. It was just wide enough for my car. I got out, waited for cars to whiz by, and happily began taking pictures.

The state trooper, about forty years old, who had been following me down the mountain immediately pulled in front of me and asked, “You have a problem, ma’am?”

He looked familiar.

“No! Thank you for caring. Look at Griffin Top Mesa! Ten thousand seven hundred feet elevation! Six rainbows!!” I gushed as I quickly took pictures.

“Are you out of your mind, lady?” he shouted.

“Huh? What? No! I’m taking photographs.”

“This road KILLS people who stop to rubberneck, lady! You nuts? Haven’t you seen them careening down the hill? And that reminds me, your brake lights aren’t working.”

“Oh my gosh! I’m so sorry, officer! Er, I don’t use the brakes, I just do fifteen mph, and haven’t had an accident yet.”

“Yeh, well, I was behind you. Didn’t make the connection. Let’s see your license and registration.”

We moved to the trunk of my car, and I brought the paperwork over to him. Then he saw the id card around my neck.

 First he checked out my paperwork on his radio. All clear. I was “clean”.  ” Oh, it’s THAT Anderson. Didn’t I see you passing water buckets over by Four Peaks last August during the fire?

“Yah, was coming down from doing a program up Flagstaff way. They were stopping cars to pass buckets. Two hours of hell. You know, I do recall you being there.”

He smiled. “It’s a time passer. But when we need to help, ya know. We help.” I work wilfires with firefighters during forest fires when I’m off. Deliver supplies and water and tools and stuff.”

I smiled broadly. We shook hands. “Yah. I do the AZMMM Outreach Program, and was on my way home from the Peebles Elementary School. There are only forty children in the entire school.”

“Oh, yeh, I saw part of the program and looked in at the lunchroom. My two kids go there. You are funny.”

“Officer, I am SO sorry about parking.”

“For God’s sake, get outta here, will you? Wait til I tell my kids I almost gave you a ticket.”

He grinned.

I thanked him profusely and waited while he stopped traffic for safety. After the cars screeched to a halt I headed for home.

The following year, I did the program again, and here he was, but not in uniform.

This time he stayed the entire time. I made him my assistant, and we had a terrific time.

At one point, I asked him how much he thought a huge head-sized chunk pumice weighed. He grinned and guessed about twenty pounds. Actually, it only weighed about a pound and floated in water. I carefully tossed it at him. He caught it, somersaulted backward while I gasped in horror, then continued somersaulting to the back of the lunchroom, clutching the rock to his chest.. After my first gasp of fear. I realized he had known the weight all along.

He got up, dusted himself off, and then overhand threw the hunk back at me. The students, teachers, and I all laughed hysterically.
            The applause was thunderous.

I love that back road to Prescott!

 

 

 

Part 3: There are no answers to this tragedy.

POSTSCRIPT: Parenthetically, after 2001, thousands of raging wildfires starting erupting in Arizona and other parts of the Southwest and Southeast every dry season. There are reasons for this: drought, climate change, population explosion, unrealistic government regulations. There are no viable solutions.

Before remote areas were heavily settled, annual periodic controlled burning was practiced for centuries from native occupation through to extensive settlement and the Industrial Revolution through the 1960’s. These fast moving and relatively non-destructive fires were annually set by lightning or deliberate torching.

            They cleared farmlands, were good for native plant and animal species, and kept forests clear so people could maneuver them.

            The periodic fires reduced forest floor debris, preserved wildlife habitat, restricted invasive vegetation and animals – often brought in from other lands, and maintained habitats so species of living things did not become endangered. I will mention the woodpeckers, sandhill and whooping cranes, hawks and eagles, mammals, reptiles, fish, butterflies; but many less spectacular species of native animals are affected.  

The Industrial Revolution brought about misuse of living things and their habitats. Animals were wiped out with over hunting. NOT sports hunting.

Eventually the endangered species and endangered habitat laws were passed.

Some scientists claim this is a simplistic approach, and, like them, many, many of us wonder why the plant and animal species survived the fast fires and thrived.

In the eighteen and until the late nineteen hundreds, dozens of species of plants and animals were endangered or became extinct by overkilling and human product greed. However, once these habits were controlled, and an national conscience developed, it wasn’t hunting that wiped them out as we shot towards the twenty first century. Especially in lush natural land areas, it was the lack of controlled burning.

There needs to be something such as a section to section plan laid out, not the hole-y blanket of scientific / political version of throwing the baby out with the bathwater.

            Some caveats –  #1: I ask the reader to be seriously aware of my stance as citizen of this, the greatest nation on Earth. #2: I do NOT belong to any political splinter groups because I maintain ultimate faith in our system of government. #3: Either Science or Government, or both – have failed in their efforts to solve a serious problem by ignoring the developed laws of their respective professions.

Tax monies support government. It’s the truth, and a workable system. So governments faced with overpopulation on local and national levels support home and retail expansion in once natural areas.

Avoidance of guilt in the Yarnell Fire deaths is truly a conundrum. There may never be an answer.

This disturbing answer seems to be wildfire control is a world-wide crisis,and governments are unwilling to take intelligent steps of prevention. I fear  there seem to be no viable solutions.

Remember WWJD? I have seen it replaced with WWJRD. Is that guidance being presented to us?

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BUTTON BOX – WHO’S GOT THE BUTTON? April 22, 2010

My granddaughter looked around my apartment and the stacked and labeled boxes that were to be moved to New Jersey. “It’s not as cluttered as it was now that everything is packed,“ she said quietly. I detected a note of gloom in her tone. “But I miss the collections you used to have when I was a little girl.”  Rachel is nineteen and a sophomore in college. “You’ve given so much away during this move.”

“Well, I happily gave you the little things you always wanted, but I’m through with collecting. Through.  Genug.”

“Uh-oh!  When you say genug, it means you have made up your mind, Oma. That’s kind of sad. No more knick-knacks, books, doodads, travel souvenirs, hat pins from places you’ve visited, nor magnets for your refrigerator.”

“And no more buttons, either.” I smiled at the memories.

“Buttons! Oma!” she howled. “Buttons?” Then my granddaughter paused for a moment before starting what she calls “the deeper thoughts to myself”.   “But I do remember your button box. I loved playing with them.” She looked intensely at me. “Do you still have it? When I was little, you used to tell me family stories about some of those buttons.”

            “Goodness, I’m amazed you remember those buttons.” No, I no longer have the button box. It disappeared during one of my moves in this past decade.”

“Well, Oma, that’s truly infamy. You and I weighed the buttons once, when I was ten. They weighed almost five pounds, as I recall.”  She smiled fondly and patted my hand. “How did you get started with button collecting, anyway?”

 “It’s a collection mania I inherited from both my mother and her father. Mom always had a large, two-quart, round, tin button box for what she called the strays.  She would reminisce and tell family history about nearly every button.”

“That’s what you used to do! And then you would tell me how much money you could save when a lost button had to be replaced.” Rachel said with great animation.
         I laughed delightedly. “My father used to complain about her collection, but she placated him by pointing out how reusing buttons save a great deal of money. Then she would furtively buy a set of new buttons so she didn’t have to use any from the box. She taught me to keep uninteresting buttons in another box so husbands won’t complain.  I inherited that family button box after she died and melded its contents with my own similar collection. Eventually, it disappeared. But from that point in my life, I no longer sewed buttons. Safety pins work just as well.”
         The two of us grinned conspiratorially at each other and gave each other a high five.

            On the other hand, as I explained to Rachel, Mom’s parents were, like my mother, skilled quilt makers and owned a thriving feather and down quilt business in New York City’s Harlem. Their area of expertise was making European style down quilts and pillows, as well as the specialty covers for them. My Oma Feld invented a pillow case that could be closed without zippers or buttons. “You and I use that method on our own beds.”

            Rachel nodded in agreement. Then she voiced another thought. “Weren’t you also a skilled quilt maker, Oma? And you know what? I forget the difference between European and American quilts.”

            “Indeed, yes! My sister and I were both trained in the family business, and both of us had our own shops at different times in our lives.”

            I then enlightened Rachel by explaining the tradition of European down quilts. The size is always sixty inches by eighty inches. The quilt is sewn into ten inch squares that act as individual sections and keep the down from shifting.  A one-inch-wide, flat margin surrounds the squares on the outer edges. Genuine mother of pearl buttons are hand sewn onto both sides of these margins. Next, an overlapping cotton coverlet is fastened to the bottom side of the comforter. This coverlet is not like a contemporary duvet, which encloses the quilt rather like an oversized pillow case. Rather, the coverlet overlaps the top of the quilt by only fifteen inches, also fastened by buttons. Thus the quilt itself decorates the bed, while the overlap keeps the quilt clean from human contact. When the bed is changed, the quilt is flipped over.

            After several decades, the materials would start to show wear. In addition, the quilt and cover became grimy. Quilt makers like my family skillfully refurbished the quilt “like new.”

            At the shop, the renewal process began when the down was taken out, then cleaned and restored. Before being put between four new layers of finely woven material, it was weighed, and, if necessary, additional down was added. Once this was accomplished, experienced seamstresses used heavy duty sewing machines to sew the complex margins and squares.

            By custom, the buttons still attached to the margins were cut off and disposed of, they were replaced with new mother-of-pearl buttons. These new buttons were hand sewn onto both sides of the new comforters. It was an odious job, and one I detested.

            My granddaughter was intrigued. “That sounds so peculiar. Why was that done?”

            I replied. “It makes sense. American and European button sizes are different. Also, buttons change over the decades, and it would have taken too long to match existing buttons by color and thickness.”

            “What happened to the cut off buttons?” inquired my granddaughter.

            “By time-honored custom, buttons were just cut off and thrown into button bags, which my grandfather kept in a special storage closet in his store. Twice a year, I would help him pull out more than a dozen drawstring bags from the closet. The bags were four feet high, eight feet around the horizontal diameter, and too heavy to lift. They were stuffed full of removed buttons. Occasionally, when Opa found a unique replacement button that had been sewn on a quilt, he would remove it to a five gallon jar of special buttons. Especially beautiful buttons were sometimes gifted to me, and I had them for decades.”

            “They were what you called your Opa Feld Buttons’, breathlessly interrupted Rachel. “Oh, they were so beautiful!”

            I smiled with fond remembrance of all delightful shimmering, multihued buttons spanning the colors of the rainbow and beyond.. They were made from abalone and other deep sea shells . “You know, I think that those buttons got me started in conchology. To this day, the beauty of iridescent shells gives me the greatest of pleasures.”

            “So, will you be collecting shells again when you go back East?” she asked.

            “Hmmmmmmmmmm.  No. I’ll leave collecting to you, dear child.”

            “When I eventually get married and settle down, I’ll start a new button box. I have about a dozen that have your family stories attached to them, which you gave me, Oma. Then there are another twenty or so that have my stories attached.” She said.

            “Any other collections you might have?” I asked quizzically.

            She giggled. “Well, someone has to continue the family traditions. Of your four children, only Barbara has followed in your footsteps. So I will carry on the family custom and become this generation’s Clutter Bug.”

            Another high five followed.

            The empty rooms no longer seemed so empty to me.

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PARLEZ VU SWAHILI? ~ It’s All A Matter of Built-In Brain Power.

Language Center in a tri-lingual brain.

This poster says it “all”, eh?

PARLE VU SWAHILI? Multilingual tricks of the human brain.

Until a child is around six years old, their brain has two language centers; one in each hemisphere. Around that time in our lives, speaking just one language causes the language center in the right hemisphere to disappear. On the other hand, being bilingual keeps the right hemisphere language center to thrive. More than two language raises many powerful language centers throughout the brain. The picture above shows spots for three languages. The more, apparently, the merrier.

Language is a powerful tool. In the days of my youth, family members constantly emphasized the importance of speaking various languages. Being born in Vienna, Austria, and having extensive familial roots spread throughout America/UK, Poland, Czechoslovakia, Hungary, Russia, Israel, the United Kingdom, France, and the United States gave me a head start in languages. Individual members of the immediate family spoke at least three languages fluently; often four or five.

By the time we came to this country in 1938, I was able to understand, and speak nine  languages: two regional dialects of German, as well as Polish, Slovakian, Hungarian, Russian, Hebrew, Yiddish, and Hungarian. Other languages, such as English, Italian, French, and Dutch, though not spoken, were readily understood. Eventually, as I grew older, my mother continued to encourage me, and I began to speak them on an elementary level.

Years later, a neurologist told me I had two “excellent” language centers in my brain; an advantage single language people lose before they are six. Interestingly enough, through my early exposure to folk songs, classical music, jazz, and other music through my multi-language experiences, enabled multiple music centers in my brain to remain active to this day. He said I had an inborn ability to learn language and, despite three somewhat damaging genetic brain syndromes, and a serious automobile accident, neither my language nor my musical abilities would never be affected.

“In fact,” chuckled Dr. Nitti, “Your language and music centers enable you to communicate quite well. They seem to have taken up the burden of your various injuries and syndromes.” Other neurologists have agreed.

Practice, alas! makes perfect. The old cliché says, “If you don’t use it, you lose it.”

Thanks to my spotted brain, however, within a few weeks of using the language, however, I am able to re-achieve fluency in languages I thought had been long forgotten. The more I use the language, the more fluent I become.
            Learning new languages, although I am in my late seventies, is not that difficult for me to achieve.
            In my teens and beyond, I started to travel throughout the world and developed a working knowledge of being able to understanding and brokenly speak Spanish: Castilian and several Central American dialects; three more dialects of German; regional English from the United States, Australia, and Canada. And, of course, in my later travelling days, Mandarin Chinese, and even Swahili.
            And thereby hangs a tale.

People would say to me, “If you understand the language, but can’t speak it, HOW do you communicate?”

“I have an expressive face and body, am an amateur actress, am able to primitively illustrate concepts on paper or in dirt, but most of all am extremely interested in people.” This explanation has caused some confusion.

            So I patiently explain: “When I’m going to visit a country, first of all, I totally immerse myself in its ancient, past, and current history/political philosophy.
            “Then, I learn some basic vocabulary: The usual basic greetings and questions: locations of sanitary facilities, airports, police, coffee shops, libraries, and museums, getting assistance, and so on. Altogether, I become familiar with about one hundred fifty basic words. Included in this list are personal words about myself: grandma, mother, teacher, nature person, historical knowledge, personal interest in others, humanist, and so on.”

Most people react by telling me this is why we have tour guides. Sigh. The tour guide is not as much fun as actually interacting with the citizen of another culture.
            “At one point, in my forties, I could request black coffee without sugar in a dozen languages,” I would explain. Mono-lingual people would just walk away, often shaking their heads in confusion.

Goodness! I had fun during my travels! The introduction “speech” in any foreign clime was to introduce myself as a mother, and eventually, a grandmother. Then my acting skills come into play: I can make any person anywhere on Earth laugh hysterically, as I describe my children and grandchildren with signs, grunts, waving hands, facial expressions, and slapping my forehead with the palm of my hand.

            As a result, for decades, I’ve been invited to address small or large audiences in education facilities, museums, political arenas, and just plain friendly people using a mobile face, sign language, blackboards and paper/pencil, maps, semi-dried mud, and even desserts.

            The results have been delightful: sending Chinese soldiers to rescue my girlfriend on the Great Wall; surviving earthquakes in Central America; experiences in serious riots; dealing with aggressive vendors; having a group of ancient grandmothers check out my teeth in public; slugging a robber and telling him I was a grandmother and not to fool with me ~ much to the delight of his cohorts; who beat him out of sight and then escorted me to safety. We parted with hugs and kisses all around. I’ve even had extensive experience dealing with the US INS and Mexican Border Police.

Of course, I must admit dealing with many “true” southern women is somewhat difficult. There are two reasons: they insist on being in charge. Men are considered “useful” tools. They really do live on another planet.

            The only one who I couldn’t really communicate with was my ex. However, now that we’re divorced, we get along just fine.

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Incidence and Coincidence ~ meeting Burl Ives, and Sister Mary Margaret

 

 

  

Burl Ives and Lady Mount Carmel Photos by Internet

INCIDENCE AND COINCIDENCE

CHAPTER 1 – INCIDENT WITH BURL IVES

Being incident prone is an engaging and often delightful part of my personal life adventures. These happenings are far from being detrimental, and are often quite entertaining. Indeed, especially in retrospect, a great deal of drollness gathers around the unexpectedness of an escapade being played out. Many years ago, a friend who had been (and still is) witness to some of these goings-on most seriously asked me if I’m disturbed by “your psychic phenomena”.

I answered her, “There is nothing psychic about these incidents. They’re merely a part of my life.”

Looking out of a city bus window and into the eyes of Dwight Eisenhower and Richard Nixon sitting in an open convertible next to us during their election campaign was not worthy of being called an incident. It was merely an interesting happening. We all waved at each other and smiled broadly; and, might it be said, synthetically, as the bus pulled away.

On the other hand, that same year, when I barreled out of Tiffany’s Jewelry Store in Manhattan early on a Saturday afternoon and knocked folk singer Burl Ives, who was hurrying by, off his feet, is more of what I consider an incident. I immediately lost my balance and there was a tangle of our two bodies and our various packages. Both our hats went flying, rolling, and bouncing along the concrete at the corner of 57th Street, just south ofFifth Avenue. I might mention we were both wearing almost identical fedoras.

None of the passersby even slowed down. They barely glanced at us. This was, after all, New York City.

We picked each other up, dusted each other off, retrieved our beloved hats, and properly sorted out the packages both had been carrying, laughing loudly and delightedly all the while.

“Want to sit a moment and catch our breaths?” said the singer. Accordingly, we sat down on the sidewalk with our backs against the Tiffany Buildingand gabbed for awhile.

None of the passersby even slowed down. They barely glanced at us.

In the course of the conversation, sitting comfortably on the sidewalk, it came out that I happened to be a folk music fan, and he was one of my heroes. He asked me, since I attended so many Hootenannies and concerts, if I sang. I said that neither teachers, relatives, nor friends allowed me to do so in their presence.

“So, when I’m home alone, I play the songs on the piano and sing them loudly. I do know the verses for dozens and dozens of song, you know.”

“Oh, it can’t be that bad.” Ives, a true gentleman, proclaimed. “Sing something for me.”

Barbara Allen? How many measures, sir?”

“Sing the whole song, m’ dear. It’s one of my favorites.”

“Why don’t I just do the first verse of Barbara Allan?

“With our hats here, Liz, maybe we should put them out to collect spare change?”

“Uh . . . no.”  We both giggled.

So, sitting on the sidewalk, I hesitatingly and softly launched into one of my favorite songs.

By the third or fourth measure, Ives started to quietly sing along with me. It made a difference! We soon finished the song as the verse is blessedly short.

None of the passersby even slowed down. They barely glanced at us.

“You are a very sweet girl, Liz. Please do me a favor?”

“Uh . . .  yes?”

“Quietly go along with someone who can carry a tune. You mightn’t want to sing on your own.”

We happily grinned at each other, got up, gave each other a bear hug, and went on our separate ways. He was singing “Barbara Ellen” loudly and joyfully as he literally danced down 57th Street.

None of the passersby even slowed down. They barely glanced at him.

I never met him again, even though I faithfully attended his concerts.

That, to verbalize a phrase, is a true incident.

CHAPTER 2 – GOD WORKS IN INTERESTING WAYS, DON’T YOU THINK?

A coincidence, however, is totally different experience.

Think of the tapestry of anyone’s life. It is definitely not an uncomplicated work. The interweaving and patterns are often incredibly complex – threads appear and disappear seemingly at random. Thread colors meld with other threads, and new colors appear. Patterns are repeated, of course, but a skilled tapestry maker can easily add unexpected detours, symbols, tales, illusions, and illustrations. The representations on the tapestry, then, can hold both predictable and unpredictable figures in the narrative being depicted.

In other words, coincidences surface in unpredictable ways and at unpredictable times.

Through the years that have flowed by, I always am taken somewhat aback when an unexpected iteration in the life-tapestry system comes home to roost. Some of these long-ago frayed threads of my life tapestry unexpectedly resurface without forewarning.

Fractals can be amazingly entertaining, and one never knows what pattern will eventually emerge.

CHAPTER 3 – INCIDENT AT OUR LADY OF CARMEL IN ASTORIA, NEW YORK

 

            We lived in many places in New York City before we moved to New Jersey. That is yet another chapter or so. New York City has five separate boroughs. Around 1940 until August of 1942 we lived in Astoria, New York, in the Borough of Queens.

            During that time, my parents commuted by subway to Manhattan. Dad worked for his friend, running electric sock and hosiery-knitting machines. Mom worked nearby in a sweat shop somewhere else not far from him. She ran a heavy Singer factory machine, and was paid for each piece she completed.

I was a partial latchkey kid at the ages of six through eight. A neighbor girl named Joan was paid to take me to school and to pick me up to take home. We had to leave the house and join with other neighborhood children so I could get to school on time. At dismissal time, Joanie, who was about 13, would leave her school and pick me up to bring home every day except Wednesday. Her name was Joanie, and she attended the nearby Catholic School, Our Lady of Mount Carmel School and Convent. She stayed with me until mom came home.

On Wednesdays, New York City Public Schools had a policy of religious instruction release an hour before regular dismissal. Most of the students like myself walked to nearby churches or synagogues for ninety minutes of intense religious instruction. I faithfully attended Hebrew   School and learned how to read, write, and speak the language. The tenets of the faith were also drilled into us.

I was bored and frightened, too. We were all terrified of Yahweh, who apparently had a bad temper and didn’t hesitate to wreak revenge on those who crossed Him. When I shared my fears with my mother, her answer was, “That’s right, He’ll get you. And if HE doesn’t get you, I will!”

I was an excellent student who had lots of nightmares in the dark hours of the night.

On occasion I had gone to Catholic classes with several schoolmates, and found them a great deal of fun. Also, the concept of love and forgiveness appealed to me. The old time Catholic Lord was almost like the Jewish Lord, but He had several outs for us: Jesus, Mary, and the Saints. It was an appealing concept, and I was an excellent student.  As time went by, I attended faithfully every Wednesday, and didn’t go to Hebrew School anymore. Somehow everyone thought I was registered.

Since we were taught both the Old and New Testaments, I was able to tell my mother enough to satisfy her.

Lent came and went, and eventually Ash Wednesday arrived. Joanie and I went to church and walked up to the altar, where the priest anointed my forehead with ashes. I was terrified. My mother would want to know where the “dirt” came from!

As we retreated to the back of the church, I saw the holy water container. Quickly, I pulled out the handkerchief in my sleeve, dipped it in the water, and industriously began to clean my forehead.

A sixth sense caused me to look up onto a mountain of black flowing robes, hands tightly clasped in prayer, and the most disapproving mouth I had ever seen on a person. Good heavens! She was taller than my uncle, who topped six feet ten.

“I do not know you. I am Mother Superior.” Her voice dripped ice. “And what do you think you’re doing?”

I answered in a matter of fact tone that if I came home, “with that kind of dirt on my forehead my mother would kill me.”

“WHAT?”

Mother Superior then proceeded to give me crash course in Ash Wednesday. Then she grasped me by the arm and began to drag me to the front of the church.

“You are a disgrace as a Catholic. You will pay penance. You are a disgrace.”

I wailed at her, “I am NOT a Catholic! I go to religious school here because your God isn’t as mean as my God. Joanie lets me. She’s my babysitter.”

“WHAT?” said in a whisper. “What is your family name? Who is your father?”

“Brǘck. I’m Jewish. I’m JEWISH. Leave me alone, I’m Jewish.”

Mother Superior dropped me, stepped back and crossed herself. Then she tore the wet handkerchief from my hand and roughly rubbed my forehead clean, all the while calling loudly for Joanie. Joanie appeared and was terrified. They had quick, whispered conversation.

Then Mother Superior pointed to the doors. “Take her out. Take her OUT. Do NOT bring her back. This church is closed to that kind!”

Then she dematerialized into thin air, or so it seemed.

On the way home, Joanie threatened to kill me if I told my mother or hers.

It was too late.

Mom was waiting for us.

Apparently, due to a new policy of religious tolerance, the factory had given the women time off (with pay) because of Ash Wednesday, and she headed straight for the synagogue to pick me up. I wasn’t there. They hadn’t seen me since September and thought we had moved to another school and just attended Saturday family services.

She was frantic, but figured out from our past conversations and homework that I was attending religious instruction somewhere.

When we saw her on the front steps, Joanie and I both began to cry. Mom heard our story, then gave me a spanking in front of the whole neighborhood and sent me to bed without supper.

On Saturday, mom went to see Mother Superior and expressed her displeasure about admitting me into classes. I understood from overhead whispered conversations with my two Oma’s and father, that neither woman of either faith remained calm after the first thirty seconds.

Joanie was fired and I subsequently became a full-time latchkey kid. I was also put back into Hebrew School.

When I became an adult, I told my husband and children about the incident, but they didn’t believe me.

CHAPTER 4 – THE COINCIDENCE OF GEORGIAN COURT AND OUR LADY OF MOUNT CARMEL
http://www.georgian.edu/virtual_tour/index.htm

After I graduated with my BA in Education (1973) and became a teacher, I kept building upper level credits towards an eventual Master’s Degree. During the years, I had built up almost seventy or so unrelated Master’s Level credits from a dozen or so colleges. A series of rather explosive personal incidents occurred in those three years, but that is another chapter of these memoirs.

Georgian Court College, in Lakewood, NJ, and now known as Georgian Court University, was founded, and is sponsored by, the teaching Sisters of Mercy to provide comprehensive liberal arts education in the Roman Catholic traditions and responsibilities. The university has a special concern for women and is a dynamic community committed to the core values of Justice, Respect, Integrity, Service and Compassion, locally and globally. It was originally only open to women until the nineties. Close to a dozen former professors from other colleges, with wide faith-based backgrounds, who I admired and respected, all began teaching there after their retirements. As you can imagine, the academic standards are high. I decided to apply there for my degree.

Eventually, in 1991, I was accepted to and was formally enrolled in the Master’s Program in Georgian Court University. Graduation date was to be the summer of 1993! Those of us who graduated from the graduate programs felt we learned more in those few years than we had acquired in all our earlier academic experiences. It was indeed a heady experience. Coincidently, my Master’s Thesis advisor was none other than William Strunk of Strunk and White. We adored each other, and he became my first true writing instructor.

On the other hand, the process leading up to acceptance was one of the most traumatic events in my adult life.

Naturally, the candidate’s previous academic record and professional achievements are closely scrutinized before that person is accepted into an academic program on the Master’s level. Three professional recommendations specifically dealing with the candidate’s goals through the programs offered at Georgian Court are requested. There was also a detailed questionnaire to be filled out by that person.

The candidate is required to have clear short term and long term professional goals directly related to the degree. Additionally, the candidate’s personal life is looked at in great detail. Included in this scrutiny is a one to one personal interview with Sister Mary Margaret, the director of admissions. The paperwork was to be delivered in person to her and I was given a deadline.

Six weeks later, I left school early and I finally delivered my lengthy and somewhat bulky paperwork package to her in person. She was formidable and tall. Her height reminded me of a nun I had known when I was a little girl in New York City. The habit she wore did not soften her in the slightest. Her eyes, as a I recall, were a piecing green or blue, and they missed nothing. Her reading glasses sat on her nose, or were laid on her desk.  Her mouth made a one hundred eighty degree line across her somewhat wrinkled face. She and I made some small talk, myself stuttering and stammering. Sister in deep, confidently resonant tones, during which time I discovered she was nine years older than me and had lived in New York City.

Then she spent about ten minutes looking briefly through the paperwork. When she was done, she sent me into a waiting room and closed the door. After a half  hour or so, Sister open the door, and motioned me back to a chair across from her. I was told she would indeed interview me at length and to expect at least an hour or two of time devoted to the interview. We agreed upon a mutually acceptable date.

Sister Mary Margaret sternly warned that I should not get my hopes up until after she would make a decision. She also told me I would have to professionally defend the credits I had acquired if I wanted any of them to be accepted towards a degree.

“Very few credits are given, Mrs. Anderson. We do not tolerate frivolity on an academic level.” She said in her quiet voice, just as sternly.

“I am pleased to see you dress professionally. I trust you do not chew gum. If you smoke, I do not want to smell it.”

I stammered, “I stopped smoking almost twenty years ago.”

“Excellent. It’s a filthy habit.”

The humor of that choice of language didn’t occur to me until many years later.

We said our good-byes, shook hands firmly, and I left. Her voice followed me, “Do not be late.”

At the parking lot my shaking hand refused to turn the wheel of my car for a long time after I started the motor.

I was frightened out of my mind and the ten days before the interview consisted of sleepless nights and a great deal of junk food. Pizza with extra cheese is an superb comfort food.

Of course, I did arrive early, professionally dressed. I was promptly ushered into the office by Sister on the stroke of the hour. I told her about my fears. She nodded sagely. “Overconfidence is not a professional trait. Let’s get to work, we have a great deal of territory to explore.”

It was indeed a long, detailed interview. To my utter amazement, the time involved turned into a position of personal strength for me. In the first quarter hour, I noted that Sister looked formidable, but was kind and polite. She would listen closely and respond in context. As time went on, I started to become less frightened and began to open up about my joy of teaching as a profession. To my amazement, she and I agreed on many points. Conversations developed and were appreciated by both of us. Several times, when I recounted professional adventures, that one hundred and eighty degree line shaped itself into a smiling mouth. She would become instantly aware of it, and straighten the line.

The academic credits were next on the agenda during the second hour. As I outlined my purpose for each course, she would either draw a line through the course on a transcript, or say, “That is acceptable.” In the end, about half of my credits were accepted. I was ecstatic.

“Well, before I make a final decision, which I will do today, I’d like to know about you personally. First of all, are you a person of faith?” She knew about my religious history from our last meeting.

“I’m trying to be. It’s a great deal more difficult than I ever imagined.” I told her about my early adventures in religious school. “Yes, she said, “Ignatius Loyola said, ‘Give me a child until he is seven and I will show you the man.’ “

I smiled and said I was acutely aware of that statement. Sister actually smiled. “Yes. So it is.”

I told her of some ways that I “sneak” faith lessons into my teachings, and how well the students responded. She smiled broadly. “Excellent! You are indeed creative.”

Then she asked me about my other background.

I told her my history in brief, and she actually leaned forward. “How fascinating. Where in New York City did you live, and when?”

I started my list, and when I said to “Around 1940, we moved and lived in Astoria or several … “ She rose partially in her chair.

“Do you know where Our Lady of Mount Carmel is located?”

“Why, yes, I lived walking distance from it.” And then I told her about Ash Wednesday and Mother Superior. I mentioned that my husband and children didn’t believe it, so I never brought it up in front of them.

She stood up, pointed her finger at me and said, “It was YOU? It was YOU! Mother Superior told us all about you. She was deeply shocked by the whole experience and told Joanie NEVER to do that again. You got thrown out of  Wednesday classes when your mom came screaming in to the blessed Mother!”

“You, my dear child, were the talk of Our Lady for years. For years.”

You refer your husband and children to ME. I will tell them the truth!”

And then, to my everlasting surprise, she broke into peals of laughter interspersed with, “It was YOU. It was YOU!”

Tears came welling into my eyes. She ran around the desk, held me in her arms, and said, “My dearest child, what is the matter?”

“They never believe me. They always think I make these things up!” I wailed softly.

The line came back, and Sister Mary Margaret made the sign of the cross. “You must have faith in yourself and what you do. Do not ever forget that. Do you hear me?” Then she proceeded to explain the differences between incident and coincidence.

I nodded.

“You are now a student here in Georgian Court, and we will expect you to give 110%.”

I stared at her.

“Yes, I am proud to welcome you to our community. I will expect great things from you. And,” glaring at me, “as your advisor, I will see to it that you will produce them.”

“Yes, ma’am.”

“Sister Mary Margaret.”

“Yes, Sister Mary Margaret. Thank you. Thank you.”

Then she hugged me once again, and walked out to my car with her arm around my shoulders. With pride she pointed out her license plate: SR M M

We stayed close during my time in Georgian Court, and she was ever proud of what I would accomplish. I never saw that straight line on her face again when we were together.

At graduation, she handed my diploma to the college president and then beamed as, grateful tears running from my eyes, I accepted it.

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The Rich and Famous … and moi … Gypsies. Gabors. Albert E. Banesh.

         ©Photo by Oma Liz 

          

Famous … and moi … Gypsies. Gabors.

Albert E. Banesh? Naw, Albert Einstein and Banesh Hoffman. Somehow, April 1st, being April Fool’s Day, got me to thinking about some of the fools I have met in my life, whose names escape me now. Bless old age! Then I began remembering some of the famous or infamous people of renown whose paths and mine have crossed since my earliest days. Occasionally something will trigger a memory, and then I’ll make note of it for a future writing project.

            Many of the names of the people I’ve met are no longer in my psyche. Although a few recollections of adventures with these persons do remain, many others have long evaporated into the fogs of seven decades of life. Several memoir writings of mine contain references to these remembered / recalled people. This particular essay came about when I wondered what two adventures in my life are farthest removed from one another. So I decided my personal encounters with the Romanian gypsies of the Danube with the in the middle 1930’s are totally dissimilar with them.

One of my earliest memories involves the gypsy “king” and his tribe who lived in a forest area in a dozen wooden gypsy caravans on the high shores of the Danube River, about a kilometer from our family’s summer homes in Klosterneuburg, an hour’s automobile ride from Vienna, Austria. We spent weekends and summer holidays there until the war started. The tribe earned a handsome living seeking “donations” from citizens who wanted to get on a less than steep sandy road down to the water and its muddy beaches.
          On any given Saturday, my parents and grandparents would ride their bicycles along the well paved road passing our homes to get to the gypsy-guarded path to the Danube River. My seat was a roomy wicker basket in which I faced forward. It was fastened onto the front handlebars and fender of the front wheel of my mom’s bicycle.

            The adult members of my family disliked the gypsies, and, it seemed to me, were inordinately afraid of them. I rather liked the tribe, and they and I would greet each other warmly and happily as I climbed out of my basket. The extremely cordial children poured out of those wooden wagons called caravans to surround our bicycles. When travelling, the caravans were pulled by horses. After I hopped out of my basket, we played merrily together for about a quarter of an hour. The king and his wife beamed benignly as we children played circle games or tossed beanbags to each other. On occasion, the king would let me ride his crossed knee as we held hands and he jounced me to the tune of a folk song I still vaguely recall until my dear friend, Eva wrote it out for me correctly

She remembers the rhyme from her youth in Germany, and kindly wrote it down for me correctly. It is chanted by the adult and the child. Hűppa, hűppa, Reiter, Gehn wir immer weiter. Hűppa, hűppa, Reiter, wenn er fällt, dann schreit er. Fällt er in den Graben, fressen ihr die Raben. Fällt er in den Sumpf, dann macht der Reiter p l ű m p f !  Huppah, Huppah, riders we continue forever. Huppah, Huppah, rider, when we fall, and cry out, the ravens will eat us. But if we fall into the ditch, then the rider makes a ploomf sound! Then the king’s knees would part, and I would fall towards the ground. He always caught me an inch from the actual floor. We laughed wildly.

My family wore forced smiles, knowing full well that the men of our family played this game with me for hours, but were afraid to insult the gypsies. Then it was time to go, and he refused to accept money from my family as they moved onto the river path. Later, at home, I was warned gypsies could and would cast spells.      As I grew older, many stories about the wickedness of the gypsies were repeatedly told to me, but I didn’t believe them, much to the adults’ chagrin.

            This memory started my mulling about contrasts. What casual, chance meetings would be furthest removed from the gypsies?  During my times of residence in New York City, I had chance, personal encounters with many well known baseball players, stage, concert, folk musicians, opera, radio, TV personalities, celebrities, civil rights and union activists, and well known political figures which once included Dwight Eisenhower and Richard Nixon. Some encounters happened more than once, and I was always delighted these people remembered me, if not by name, but by former conversations.

Even the infamous Gabor family knew me during my childhood and teen years as my parents, with their upholstery, down comforter, and drapery talents were favorite trades people of theirs. The Gabors were amused to have to pay in advance. These Hungarians, like my parents, knew the queens had an extremely poor track record regarding debts.

            “Hungarians! Romanians! Gypsies! They are all gypsies. No sense of honor. They’ll pay me in full first. Then we do their work.” my father used to shout after receiving a phone call from their majesties.  

            Well, let’s see. My parents considered the Gabors no better than the gypsies, I feeling I didn’t agree with. But in respect to the family, I had to think about what other encounter of my past is farthest removed from the Romanian Gypsy King?

            A few days later, as I was looking at the calendar, still thinking about this conundrum, I found my answer –  Albert Einstein.

            Well, I casually knew ol’ Albert. I spent a great deal of time in Princeton in my youth, birding, botanizing, and rubber necking. When we saw each other on the grounds of Institute of Advanced Studies, or on a Princeton street, my pal, who wore no socks, would greet me with a cordial, “Jahwohl, hier ist unsere Weinerin!”. (Yes, indeed, here is our Viennese girl.) We would exchange short pleasantries. Every once in a while, he would gently twit me on my lack of math knowledge. You see, back in 1951, after I graduated from high school, one of his best friends, the well-known mathematician Dr. Banesh Hoffman, had been my long-suffering calculus professor at Queens College.

Despite extensive tutoring, I was the only one of his students who ever got an F double minus on the final because I spelled my last name wrong. I was so agitated, I forgot the “s” of Brooks!`

After that final disaster, the good doctor and I, who really enjoyed each other’s company, sat down in his office.  “My dearElizabeth,” he said, holding both my hands in his as we sat in his office after the final, “You must promise never to take an advanced mathematics course again. Your tutor often came to me in tears, poor girl. I am very fond of you, and since you spend so much time in Princeton, I will introduce you to a friend of mine during your next visit. He is highly amused by my tales of your struggles with calculus. But you may NOT take anything more complicated than Statistics. I also encourage you NOT to take Physics as you had planned.”

To tell the truth, I was relieved to hear his words, and gladly promised him I would not reach for the heights. Incidentally, my adventures with physics many years later is titled New Clear Glass in my memoirs.

Just before we left, I asked him his friend’s name. He smiled. “Albert.”

“Albert? Albert who?”

Dr. Hoffman laughed until he had tears in his eyes. “He doesn’t wear socks because his wife was angry about how he mismatches the styles and colors. You can recognize him by that field mark.”

“Oh, that Albert. I’ve often seen him all over town, but have never spoken to him. We do nod to each other, though, as we’ve passed each other so often.”

“So, you shall meet him formally next Saturday. You two are truly on opposite ends of the scale. Since I do like you both, I must admit I find the contrast between you two fascinating”

Viva higher mathematics,” I muttered, giggling.

Dr. Hoffman roared with laughter.

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