The More Things Change

I was with a group of friends the other day and someone asked the time. Before anyone had picked up/turned on/unlocked their phones, I’d glanced at my wrist and said, “Twelve fifteen.”

Everyone looked at me in surprise; I still wear a wristwatch. I knew that I was an anachronism in this.  But I now realized that we have, essentially, returned to the era of the pocket watch.

You know of it, I’m sure; everyone’s seen it in old Westerns and in movies set in the Victorian era. To check the time, a man pulled a chain from a vest or suit pocket and, sometimes after first flipping open a cover, announced the time by looking at a large, hand-held watch.  Occasionally, woman might flip up and read the time from a specialty watch, one having an upside-down dial, which was pinned to the bodice of her blouse.

But wristwatches were being seen occasionally in 1800s, and were standard use by the military late in that century. Sheer practicality made watches popular.  No more waiting for the clock on the town hall to strike; no more the cumbersome chain and multiple movements needed to check on the time—just a quick glance at one’s wrist. Forgetting one’s wristwatch in the 20th century led to the tired joke, “It’s a hair past freckle”, as one glanced at a bare wrist.

But now we have returned to the era of the pocket watch. Unless a smart phone is already in one’s hand, turned on, and unlocked, checking the time means multiple gestures or wasted effort just to find out what the heck time it is. Call me old-fashioned and I will smile proudly: I find it’s easier to just wear a wristwatch.

Of course, when checking the time, one might also be figuring out when the grocery order will be delivered.

Grocery delivery was a common service in the 1800s. Much of the population lived in rural, farming areas outside the cities, and few housewives had either the time or the wagon available to make a long journey into town for groceries and sundries more than monthly. Such trips had to be carefully planned.  But a shopping list could be dropped at the General Store while a male family member was on the way to the blacksmith’s or the feed store, or even by a child walking home from school.  The grocer gathered together the items on the list, debited a running account, and sent the groceries off to the purchasers by an employee making rounds in the store’s delivery wagon.

But cars were invented, urban sprawl happened, and within just a few decades, the supermarket became the standard. The lady of the house made a weekly trek to shop for groceries, pushing a metal cart around packed aisles, Stepford Wife-style.  No supermarket delivered groceries; that was an antique concept, simply laughable.  Until recently.  The pendulum has swung once more to the other side of the metronome, and now fewer and fewer full carts are seen being guided through the aisles of the grocery store.  Busy purchasers log in and click through an on-line list to select their food purchases.  Some arrange a pick-up time; others have their foodstuffs delivered; and a few even have someone enter their homes and shelve their goods.

Leaving entirely aside the fact that I don’t want anyone waltzing into my house and deciding where my well-organized spices belong, nor seeing the likely state of my pantry and cabinets (which gremlins apparently mangle into untidiness just hours after I’ve cleaned and rearranged them), I resist this whole idea. Having someone else choosing my cucumbers and lettuce just strikes me as a bad plan.  Is that disinterested clerk going to root to the back of the row to pick out the bagged salad with the most distant ‘use by’ date?  Not likely.  Are they going to know that I will substitute blueberries, but not raspberries, when blackberries are unavailable?  Are they going to select the freshest package of mushrooms?  Not to mention that spending an hour pushing a heavy, packed grocery cart hither and yon about the store might be the mildest form of exercise, but at least adds to my daily step count.

Nevertheless, a few years ago when I was housebound throughout the month of December with a wicked illness called adenovirus-68 (the “Killer Cold”), I would probably have paid good money to have someone deliver goods to replenish my depleted pantry.  Like those 1800s folk, I’d have used the service out of sheer necessity, rather than modern luxury.  Unfortunately, at the time, grocery delivery wasn’t yet a glimmer on the horizon, which meant that I was down to my last can of chicken noodle soup before I was finally well enough to venture out and restock my shelves.

Fashion, I’ve always heard, repeats itself. Save anything long enough, and it will come back in style.  So also, it seems, do all the other aspects of daily living.  Or, as the saying goes, the more things change, the more they remain the same.

Strawberries, Blackberries

Most people think the strawberry the pinnacle of fruit, an epicurean delight.

I’m not that crazy about them myself.

Oh, I enjoy them dipped in chocolate or even just lightly sugared. I confess to adoring them topping a shortcake, too, especially if smothered in whipped cream and vanilla ice cream – but that has more to do with the additional toppings than the strawberries.  But when others swoon over a strawberry pie, I just shrug.

If I were to pick a favorite berry, it would probably be the black raspberry.   Or possibly the blackberry.  Or a red raspberry.  Or a blueberry.  Or a boysenberry. Or…well, you get the point.

Obviously, with the exception of strawberries, berries are high on my list of favored fruit. That is probably a little odd, because when I was growing up, berries were barely regarded as a viable fare, and certainly not a staple.  The cooks of my childhood used berries for pies and cobblers, but rarely for anything else.  Fruit in the households of my childhood consisted of apples and bananas, peaches or nectarines and oranges, perhaps some grapefruit or tangerines.  Pineapple was seen only on an upside down cake, and cherries were mostly baked into pies. Cranberries appeared on the table only at the holidays, and then in the form of  disgusting canned, jelled sauce. Kiwi or star fruit were unknown, and I really can’t recall papaya or mango being in the grocery bins, either.

Perhaps I came to enjoy berries because, when I was 10, my parents moved to a house in a neighborhood still under construction. Our new home, one of only three houses on that street, was surrounded by empty fields, full of milkweed and wild onion, but most of all growing wild with blackberry bramble.  I quickly discovered the berries.  I began going out the back door in the early mornings, clad only in my nightgown, to pick fresh berries from the bush at the end of our yard and add them to my bowl of cereal.  I was devastated when the builders arrived to clear the brush from the surrounding fields and begin building houses.

A few years ago, when I stumbled across the first few articles illustrating the amazing health benefits of berries, it was like discovering those fields of blackberry bramble all over again. My childhood love affair with berries was validated at last.  Not only were they the most delicious of all fruit, but they were good for you. It was exactly like hearing the first announcements that dark chocolate was good for you.  Delicious and good for you, full of polysyllabic nutrients that do wonderful things for the human body.  What more could one ask?

“Doubtless God could have made a better berry,” Dr. Butler famously said of the strawberry, “but doubtless God never did.”

Well, I may not have doctor as an honorific before my name, but I beg to differ. Give me a black raspberry any day.

Things in Movies That Drive Me Nuts!

I loved the original Star Wars movie.  I saw it at the theater the second weekend of its release.

But I spent the entire movie wishing that Luke Skywalker would just comb his damned hair.

This is just one minor chapter in a long, long list of movies, TV shows, books and songs in which one niggling little thing pretty much drives me over the edge and nearly ruins the entire experience for me. Hair issues in movies seem to comprise a surprising number of these irritants, for I felt exactly the same way about Meg Ryan’s hair in You’ve Got Mail.  “For the love of heaven, comb your hair, woman!” I longed to shout at the screen.  Fortunately for the other moviegoers, I kept my peace and just seethed in silence.  Weeks later, reading a magazine article by a hairstylist,  I almost choked when she referred to “Meg Ryan’s adorably tousled hair”.  My eyes rolled upward so hard they almost lodged there permanently. Adorably tousled?  Adorably tousled is a toddler’s hair after a long day.  This was a grown woman who just needed a comb and a mirror.

Despite my griping, let me point out that all of these were movies that I really liked. That fact in itself may be the key to my irritation.  Had I seen people wearing these ridiculous hairstyles in a movie I didn’t actually enjoy, I would probably just have shrugged.

Hair issues aside, there are the moments in movie plots that just seem so completely unrealistic or totally wrong that they simply set my teeth on edge.  For instance, I’ve watched My Best Friend’s Wedding a number of times,  which only goes to prove that I’m a complete masochist, because the ending always infuriates me.  Why? Because he marries the wrong woman. As the newly-wedded characters drive off into the night betwixt the romantic sparklers, I always think, “Well, there’s a marriage that’s not going to last six months past the honeymoon.”

I felt the same way about the characters in Sleepless in Seattle, although hardly anyone agrees with me, being blinded by the romantic “I just knew!” nonsense that comprises the heart of the script.  I myself got over that “I just knew!” rubbish at the age of 17, but apparently many grown people are still suckered in by it.  This may explain the national divorce rate.

Far more minor incongruities annoy me in other movies I love, such as The Holiday. I absolutely adore that show and watch it ever holiday season.  But the entire movie would have been made even better for me if a few improbable scenes had simply been smoothed by careful scriptwriting.  After all — let a total stranger have one’s home for a two weeks, without even a background check?! All that needed to come out of the American character’s mouth was something along the lines of, “I’ve been registered on that home exchange website for a year now….” and the whole scene would have been made realistic.  And being able to obtain a transatlantic plane ticket on less than 24 hour’s notice at the start of the Christmas season?! Why not a cry of protest – “We’ll never get tickets!” from the British character, and a response from the Hollywood American, “Don’t worry about that; I’ve got contacts.”  Simple Realism 101.

I felt even more flabbergasted watching a scene in Steel Magnolias, in which Sally Field’s character, working in the kitchen as she talks with her severely diabetic daughter, takes out a giant bag of sugar to begin cooking.  The first time I watched the movie I lost the next several seconds of the film because my mind couldn’t focus on anything but that five-pound bag of sugar…the five-pound bag of sugar being used by the mother of a diabetic while they discuss the girl’s condition. Yes, the scene was set during the Christmas treat-baking season; so what?  What mother of so seriously ill a diabetic would be cooking a ton of sugar right in front of her?  Had the director been lobotomized, I wondered?

And then there was that moment in the first Indiana Jones movie, in which Karen Carpenter’s character, having been gagged and bound in the heat of an Egyptian desert all day, is untied and served a meal and reaches for the sandwich first.  Say what?!  The water!  She would have chugged that water like a young partier doing Jello shots.

As picky as I undoubtedly am, I’m sure you’re wondering why I ever watch a movie in the first place. I wonder it myself sometimes. Nevertheless, if there’s ever a magic button that lets one change these little problems while home viewing a movie, I’ll certainly wear out my finger poking the darned thing!

Customer Service…Or Not

Some time ago, I travelled into the city to a government building for what I believed to be a simple transaction, taking some paperwork to obtain a license. I’d already done all the initial preparation on-line, navigating my way through a frustrating website, trying to be sure I’d dotted every i and crossed every t.  I’d even fulfilled the requirement for fingerprinting and a background check which seemed rather ridiculous, since as a former government employee, I’d been fingerprinted and checked twice before; my information had to be on file somewhere.  But, so be it. I did it all once again.

Before starting out, I carefully divested myself of my usual weaponry (pocket knife, pepper spray, nail file, “keycat”, even my miniature flashlight that I knew from bitter experience would be confiscated due to its batteries). Having dealt with streets under construction and city center traffic and non-existent parking, after arriving downtown, I walked several blocks to finally arrive at my destination. I went through the charade of security, submitting my purse for scanning – twice — and then being asked to remove what they thought were tweezers (my reading glasses.  Deadly weapons, those).  After being questioned as to why I had so many sets of keys – uh, let’s see, my house, my daughter’s house, my father’s house, the home of one friend and the apartment of another — I was finally allowed into the building.  Thus it was that, already in a state of irritation, I wandered about looking desperately for a directory before finally, quite by accident, stumbling upon an information desk that was, of course, nowhere near the security entrance.

I waited patiently for the woman at the information desk to complete a phone call, and then asked for directions to the department I needed. I arrived there a few minutes later. Stepping inside, I waited for the desk clerk to look up and say something basic, such as, “May I help you?”  When not a word was forthcoming, I simply smiled, said hi, and began to explain my errand.

Checkmate. “They shouldn’t have sent you in here.  That unit is closed on Tuesdays,” she said.

I’m sure my face was a picture of consternation. “But…but it didn’t say that anywhere on the website,” I stuttered, dismayed.  She shrugged.  “They’re closed on Tuesdays.”

I shook my head and picked up my paperwork to leave and sighed,  “They really need to put that on the website.  They really do.”  But before I could even turn to leave, the clerk leaned forward belligerently and snapped at me, “Well, you can just march right down the hall there and tell them that!.”

I was flabbergasted. I’m sure I stood there staring at her for a full thirty seconds before I said quietly, “I’m quite sure my opinion wouldn’t matter to them any more than it does to you, ma’am.”  I turned and walked out the door.

Now, no doubt that young woman was weary of dealing every Tuesday with customers made unhappy by a situation beyond her control, a problem created solely due a failure of the IT department to properly update a website. But her insolence clearly illustrated a problem about what passes for customer service in modern society: that is, that poor service and outright rudeness are acceptable behavior.  The customer, once touted as “always right” is now never right and deserves not even a modicum of courtesy; the customer is merely an irritation to be swatted aside like an errant housefly.

In a government career that spanned 37 years, I spent much of my time dealing with complaints and trying to assist welfare recipients. (I even learned to call them clients, although in my viewpoint a client was someone who was paying for a service, not receiving payments and services for free.)  During those years, I was the target of many a customer’s frustration as they tried to navigate an unwieldly system with contradictory rules and overworked caseworkers. I dealt with men who mouthed obscenities and women who broke down in tears.  I was called filthy names and threatened.  I was shouted at and endured racist remarks.  Yet never once was I as rude to a those members of the public as that receptionist was to me.

There is simply no excuse for the mistreatment of customers by those entrusted with work on their behalf. Until and unless their own behavior makes it impossible to do so, one deals courteously with consumers who have just come smack up against a wall not of their own creation.

Had that receptionist sighed and said, “I know, I get that all the time, and I keep telling them, but no one will listen to me,” all my sympathies would have shifted on her behalf. I would have commiserated, understanding what she was up against.

Instead, when I returned a few days later, I asked for her name, and her supervisor’s name—both of which, shockingly,  she refused to provide me. Still, I went over her head and attempted the useless process of reporting the problems I’d encountered with the rude young woman.

That no one even bothered to respond to my report, I’ve thought many times since, just made the situation even sadder, since the effort to restore some measure of civility and courtesy to everyday interactions needs to begin somewhere. But it seems that, short of a viral video showing someone being dragged brutally down an aisle, no one truly even cares.

The Name of the Goddess: Isis

Surely I cannot be the only individual worldwide who objects to the co-opting (only by an ignorant American press, I must point out) of the name great Mother Goddess of ancient Egypt to signify the Islamic militants. To employ the acronym ISIS, the same letters that compose the name of Isis, Goddess of compassion and enduring love, to signify terrorists who are anything but compassionate and loving – who do not even exemplify the tenets of the faith for which they claim to be waging war – is wrong.  Simply wrong.

During the years when Downtown Abbey was one of the most popular shows on TV,I read all too many reviews containing references to the “unfortunate” name of the fictional Earl of Grantham’s beloved dog.  So I was not surprised when the show’s final season made a carefully contrived reference to the ancient Egyptian origins of the name Isis.  British press, I understand, tends to refer to the militants as IS or ISIL, not ISIS, so obviously it was the American fans who were being coddled with this explanation.  But, I wondered grumpily, why was an explanation even necessary? Did most American viewers fail  to realize the name was that of a goddess of ancient Egypt? Obviously so.  The untutored American audience was, apparently, largely unaware that the name Isis was chosen as a compliment to the setting of the popular series, Highclare Castle, where Downtown Abbey was filmed.  Highclare was the onetime home of Lord Carnarvon, who financed archeologist Howard Carter’s magnificent discovery of Tutankhamun’s tomb.  The dog’s name was an historical reference. Surely, I thought, everyone must know that.

Uh, no. It would seem not.  Not everyone, I finally acknowledged, was passionately interested in ancient Egyptian history.  Not everyone was a fan of the inimitable Elizabeth Peters’ Amelia Peabody series of archeological mysteries.   The subtle compliment to the series’ setting apparently did a complete flyby right over the heads of most of its American fans.

Still, if I were a member of the press, selecting an acronym for Islamic militants and terrorists, I would prefer to call them almost anything else. Probably something very rude. Sadly, I suspect that the acronym ISIS is too firmly entrenched in American minds to make the change.  That saddens me, and makes me long to beg: Please, please, stop using it!  Restore to grace the name of ancient Egypt’s great Goddess, she who was the Protector of Children, Resurrector of the Dead, Patron of Artisans, Protector of Slaves, Friend of Sinners, and Universal Mother: Isis.

A Tale of Two Funerals

Like so many people, I often bemoan the lack of courtesy and etiquette in modern society, but never so much as during the past year, when I attended two funerals, months apart, and encountered vastly different experiences.

On the first occasion, I did not even know the woman who had passed when I attended her funeral calling. I was making the nod to kindness, in that she was the daughter of a distant acquaintance, and that she had died unexpectedly and far too young. I had already sent a sympathy card, but I felt it would be appropriate to offer my condolences in person, sign the guestbook, make the requisite and banal remarks, and take my leave.

It didn’t turn out precisely as I’d planned.

I arrived at the calling, and, not seeing my acquaintance, signed the guestbook and walked up to the coffin to murmur a prayer for those left behind, grieving. An inherently shy person, I am never at ease in a roomful of strangers, so I looked about, hoping to spot someone else whom I knew even slightly.  Having failed at that, I seated myself.  A few people in the room glanced at me, but no one spoke.  After a quarter-hour or so, I thought I might check the refreshment room and the chapel; perhaps my acquaintance was taking a break from the stress of the calling.  Still failing to locate her, though, I returned to the calling room;  again, a few of the family members and friends present glanced at me, but no one spoke or even smiled.  I had just nerved myself to ask one of these aloof strangers if my acquaintance was present when she finally arrived.  I waited patiently to one side while she talked with family members, and then, when she finally acknowledged me, I spoke to her briefly, extending my sympathy.  Although she thanked me for my condolences, she didn’t introduce me to any of the family members standing with her.  I found that odd, but  attributed it to her stress and grief.  Having nothing more to offer, I left, feeling as though the whole thing had been hardly worth my effort.

The second funeral I attended was so different that I felt I’d stepped off the Transporter. Again, this was the funeral of someone I barely knew—the mother of my daughter’s old friend.  I’d met this lady a few times, years earlier, when the girls were teenagers; her passing, too, was unexpected and sudden.

I was not looking forward to a repeat performance of the first funeral, but consoled myself with the thought that my daughter would be present at this calling, so I wouldn’t be quite alone.  This time, though, arriving at the funeral calling in the same manner, a stranger to almost everyone present, I was greeted.  A young woman, a friend of the family, stepped forward to acknowledge me, thanked me for coming, shook my hand, and asked me how I knew the deceased.  When I explained my tenuous relationship, she assured me that, although my daughter’s friend had not arrived yet, she would be so glad that I had come to pay my respects to her mother.  I was directed to the guestbook and to the photo gallery for the deceased, shown where I might get a cup of coffee; in short, I was given every courtesy, set at my ease in a roomful of strangers, and assured that my effort to be present at this sad affair was appreciated.

People sometimes bemoan the lack of decorum at modern funerals – the casual clothing, the inattention as individuals focus on their phones. And while those are very valid criticisms, they are but a few facets in the overall loss of courtesy, charm and kindness that seems to infest all society, but is never more noticeable than when people are cloaked in anguish and grief.

Charm, I once read, true charm, is the ability to set someone at ease by assuring them that they are wanted, and liked. Courtesy to a stranger is much the same thing: it is to demonstrate to that person that they are welcomed; that their presence is appreciated.

We should always extend courtesy to the stranger in our midst, for we never know when an angel might be walking among us. I hardly count myself an angel, but the young woman, unknown to me, but who made every effort to set me at my ease in a stressful situation, was most certainly one.

Live Long and Prosper

I just read yet another article about a person who was celebrating a centenarian-plus birthday. As always happens, the aging individual was peppered with questions from the press about how it happened that they had managed to live so long.

These articles drive me nuts. I don’t know why I even read them, except that I am, perhaps, slightly masochistic.

I always long to reach out and grab the questioners by their collars and shake them silly. “For the love of heaven!” I want to shout.  “They’ve lived this long because they got a lucky shake in the gene pool!  And they were fortunate enough to avoid fatal accidents and survive epidemics! That’s why they are still alive!”

No matter what these centenarians claim when responding to inane questions, their longevity wasn’t really due their habit, however enjoyable, of having a shot of single malt daily – or flossing their teeth every morning – or even due to an irrepressibly sunny nature which saw the silver lining in every event, from the mundane to the dreadful, throughout a lifetime. Those things may (or may not) have contributed to their longevity, but the simple answer is: They got lucky.

They got genes that did not switch on diabetes or clogged arteries. Their bodies recognized cancer cells and immediately shut them down.  They were the product of long-lived ancestors.  They didn’t drink enough to destroy their livers with cirrhosis, and if they tried various illegal or potentially addictive drugs, they had the intelligence to recognize the their peril and stopped. They gave birth easily or had great medical care and so didn’t die in childbirth. They had strong immune systems. They were wise enough to choose spouses who did not abuse them.  They rarely took unnecessary physical risks.  There was no way to take selfies, so they didn’t pose at the edge of the cliff—and, anyway, they were bright enough not to go near the edge of the cliff in the first place. They had access to birth control and so weren’t worn out by constant childbearing. They were prescribed antibiotics to beat the very infections that once slaughtered thousands. They either didn’t encounter  or survived  house fires, muggings, wars, car accidents, or a myriad of other assorted personal disasters which could have ended their existence.

Good nutrition may have played a role in their survival, but here’s one thing I’ve noticed from reading about many of these survivors: Often these long-lived people began life in dirt-poor conditions, eating only subsistence rations. Nor can an absence of stress or tragedy explain their longevity, for many have lived lives so filled with calamity that an ancient Greek playwright would shudder.

So before I have to read another of these mindless stories asking, “How did you live so long?”, here’s the answer, short and simple: If you want to live long and prosper, choose the right ancestors. Pick the right DNA.  Behave wisely.

And get lucky. Very, very lucky.


I have believed in human reincarnation throughout most of my conscious life. Amazingly, I can even pinpoint in memory the day when, as an eight-year-old, I realized that I completely accepted the concept.

It was spring, near Easter, and I was sitting in church on a weekday morning, attending Mass at my Roman Catholic school. I was seated near one of the beautiful stained glass windows that frequently took my mind off the incomprehensible, still-in-Latin mass.  I even recall what I was wearing (as we didn’t wear uniforms at Holy Name in the early 1960s): a little yellow-striped seersucker skirt and top, brand-new, of which I was inordinately proud.

And as I sat there, mind wandering from the Mass, I realized that I didn’t question whether I had lived before; I only wondered, “But if I’ve lived before, why can’t I remember?”

I reached my 20s before I actually researched the concept of human rebirth, learned the difference between a belief in reincarnation and transmigration, read the multitude of accounts of those who had proof of an earlier life, and, finally, began to experience dreams which seemed to reveal brief moments of my own past existences.

For someone who does not accept the theory, all of this undoubtedly seems like a great deal of nonsense. And that’s fine. It would be a very boring world indeed if we all followed precisely the same path.  I’ve also reached the conclusion that some of us do choose to live but a single existence in this human plane (which is, after all, sometimes pretty close to Hell).  I’m sure there are souls which select the path of personal spiritual growth working wholly on the Other Side.

But the gift I have been given by a lifelong belief in human rebirth is a source of knowledge and a sense of comfort. I have a clear explanation for why certain individuals, certain situations, have been drawn into my life, sometimes over and over.  I understand that there are reasons, causes, and motivations behind the seemingly-random and often cruel events of life.  And I accept complete responsibility for my situation, knowing that I chose this life and these lessons – that my life is, in a sense, a do-over, and one which I requested.

I recall reading of one author in the 1950s who, having experienced memories of a past life that she found it impossible to deny, nevertheless found the whole concept horrifying. She used her memories in writing a novel, but she wasn’t at all happy with the idea. I understood her aversion.  The knowledge that we have made the choice to return to this life, might choose to do so again, can be harsh.  But there it is: I cannot un-believe something which walked into my consciousness in early childhood, and which simply makes such good sense to me.

Yet sometimes, I admit, when in the midst of grief and utter misery, I must acknowledge the sad truth: that believing we have only one life to live would actually be easier.

So very much easier.

My Life in Photos

There is shortcut file on my computer desktop titled, “My Life in Photos”.

This is a fairly unusual file to be maintained by a person who is well-known among all her friends and family, to hide her face from every camera. (“Point that camera at me,” I have been heard to say, “and I will turn you into a frog.” And, if they persist, I instruct, “Start picking out your lily pad!”)

The simple truth is that I take horrifically bad pictures. Some individuals are gifted with just that flawless bone structure, that enviable arrangement of facial features, so that the play of light and shadow in the two-dimensional image of a photo results in loveliness. In fact, years ago when I lived in Charleston, I knew such a woman.  To meet her on the street, one would have said she was plain, even unattractive.  Yet in photographs,  even without makeup,  her face was striking and remarkable.

I am not such a woman. I’m as plain as the proverbial mud fence—except in photographs, in which I look like a bowl of undercooked oatmeal.

So for me to have a file representing the highlights of my 64 years of life through photographic evidence is not only unusual, but was damned difficult to assemble. Nevertheless, I put it together and am even now in the process of turning it into a PowerPoint show, a storytelling event, eventually to be (I hope, and when I’ve acquired a few technical skills now absent) recreated as a video slide show, complete with music.

But the important aspect of this project is the reason I am doing it: because, several times in the past years, I’ve had to hunt through my collections of photographs for pictures of friends or family members who have recently died. To do this is to be assaulted by mixed emotions—heavy feelings that are hard to bear when one is already grieving.  Each time, too, I’ve wondered if the pictures I’ve chosen were the ones that this person would really have wanted to represent her life.  Which of these, I pondered, would have been her favorite photo of herself?

Which might she not have really much liked?  Is this a photo she would have preferred had never been taken?  An event she wanted to forget?

And while the act of looking through old photographs was wondrous and painful, time constraints limited what might have been a nostalgic journey through another’s life. The photos had to be located and selected quickly to be prepared for a funeral or memorial service.  There just wasn’t time to pick the perfect set of pictures to represent someone’s entire existence on this earth.

2000 Rebecca Xmas Crop

And so, for my survivors, this job will be already done. The photos will be chosen, the stories behind each of them told.  The one photo of my adult self that I have ever truly liked will be there and labeled as such; the events that I saw as the highlights of my existence will be arranged chronologically. If others choose to add to those memories with photographs representing memories of their own, they’ll be free to do so.  But the difficult work of recreating the important moments of my life  will be done.

It will be a special and loving farewell to those I love best, demonstrating how much I cared for them: that there exists an album of photographs of the woman who, always and forever, simply hated to have her picture taken.

Remembering Advice

As mentioned in an earlier post, I used to read the newspaper advice columns religiously. As regularly as I attended daily mass at my Roman Catholic grade school, and with a great deal more religious fervor, I read Ann Landers in the morning paper and Dear Abbey in the evening news.  And because I have a quirky, persnickety memory, some of those columns have remained in my head forever.

I particularly recall one that related to a young couple who had requested that no very small infants be brought to their wedding. This was a hot topic at the time: Do babies so young that they will likely cry and disrupt the wedding service actually belong at a wedding, or not?  This young woman and her fiancé had chosen “not”, and she and her husband had been paying for it ever since.

The husband’s sister, it seemed, had borne a child  just shortly before the wedding, and was resentful of the young couple’s decision. She’d contrived a very specific revenge.  Since the sister’s home and yard were the largest, all family gatherings and holidays were held there.  Her brother and his wife had been excluded from every get-together since their wedding.  The angry sister refused to have them in her home.  Being continually excluded from his own family gatherings broke the young man’s heart, and his wife was wracked with guilt, blaming herself for their ostracism.

I don’t recall now what the advice columnist’s response was, but I certainly knew what my own reply would have been, and to this day I wish I’d sent in my retort to the newspaper regarding the vengeful sister’s behavior. It might have gone something like this:

Dear A,

In response to the young woman and her husband who were excluded from all family gatherings after requesting that no small babies be brought to their wedding ceremony, my question is: Does no one in this family have a spine?!

Here’s the salient point: Babies are a surefire draw for attention, and Little Sister just couldn’t STAND the thought of not stealing her brother’s thunder on his wedding day. I would be willing to bet my next paycheck that Little Sis has been the spoiled darling of the family her whole life.  She just couldn’t abide not being the center of attention, even at her own brother’s wedding.

But to make him and his new wife pay for her petty narcissism by ostracizing them from every family gathering from thence onward is taking spitefulness to an entirely new level! How long does the average wedding and reception last?  Four or five hours?  And how many times has the young couple been excluded from family events, times the number of hours?  Every July 4th, every Memorial and Labor Day celebration, every Thanksgiving and Christmas dinner?  Four or five hours each,  multiplied by the years that this nastiness has gone on, equals what?  The spoiled little princess has gotten her payback with a vengeance, along with thousands in interest.

Someone in this family of spineless wonders needs to stand up to this narcissistic little shrew and say, “Enough already! You’ve gotten your revenge.  Now act like the adult you supposedly are and make up with your brother and his wife.  Otherwise, the next family gathering will be held at MY home, and the only one not invited will be YOU. And don’t give me that ‘you have the biggest home and yard’ crap.  There isn’t any home or yard large enough if love is absent.  Or have you never heard that proverb which begins,  ‘Better a dinner of herbs where love is’?”

All these decades after reading that advice column, I still do wonder if someone in that family group ever got up the gumption to smack the spoiled princess upside her nasty, narcissistic, vengeful little head. Knowing families as I do, though, probably not.  They were probably united in their resentment of the outsider who had upset their precious darling, and never forgave her brother for wanting his wedding day to be focused on him and his bride, rather than his spoiled sister.

But I do wish I’d written that letter.