Who or Whom? That Is The Question!

I bless the easy availability of internet grammar sites whenever I have to decide whether to use who or whom in writing.  That’s because, despite knowing that if the word to is included in my sentence, whom is the form that should follow, well, that’s the only situation in which I can be confident I’m using the correct form of the word.  It doesn’t matter if I rearrange the sentence and substitute the pronouns her or him, she or he, as an aid in figuring out the problem. I’m still unsure about the correct form of the word.

Certainly I can’t be the only person who, despite a passable ability with writing, is confused by the sheer insanity of word forms such as these in the English language. Sit, set and sat.  Lie and lay.  Those verbs confuse almost everyone.  Irregular verbs are even worse; is it dreamt, or dreamed?  Awakened, waked, awoke, woke, awoken?  Shined or shone? Weaved or wove?  Inevitably, reading these words in novels, I find myself arguing with the author’s selection and punching out from my e-book to a grammar site.  (Ah, yes, and for that I also bless e-books.)  Happily, I often find out that I am, yes, I AM CORRECT.  I break my own arm patting myself on the back.  Much less happily, I find that the grammar in most direct-to-e-book novels is execrable. Worse, even edited books contain an astonishing number of grammatical errors these days – subject/verb disagreements seeming to top the charts.  Are students no longer taught that “might” is the past tense of “may”?!

Even worse than books, though, I find, are the voice-overs of TV commercials. I was delighted when the commercial for a large medical center spoke of “a list of insurance programs with which we’ve worked”.  Dear heaven, it’s a miracle.  The prepositional phrase correctly spoken.

Unfortunately, in its next incarnation, the phrase returned to “insurance companies we’ve worked with.” Despite Winston Churchill’s famous (but probably misattributed) declaration that, “This is the sort of bloody nonsense up with which I will not put”, most prepositions should not fall at the end of the sentence.  That’s the way it was drilled into my recalcitrant student head, and that’s the way it’s supposed to be.  Period.  End of discussion.

Except that I both speak it and write it incorrectly most of the time.

Even more painful was a commercial for a cleaning product, in which the announcer declared that it “works so good”.  So good?  So good?!  Arrrggghhh. Well. The correct word is WELL.

And then there are songs. I can’t bear listening to Rod Stewart’s voice, which reminds me of a dying frog with laryngitis.  Even if another singer had performed “Tonight’s the Night”, though, I would never have liked the song.  But even had I enjoyed both Stewart’s voice and the song, I would still be driven to violence by the line, “….just let your inhibitions run wild”.  Uh, if one’s inhibitions are running wild, one is EXTREMELY INHIBITED.  Not doing anything.  Inclinations.  The correct word for that line should be inclinations.

I readily confess that I am incredibly picky about matters of grammar. For instance, I sat through the entire movie Inception arguing to myself that those little objects the characters used—the ones that were supposed to determine if they were in reality rather than a dream– should have been called talismans, not totems.  I knew that this was a matter of semantics only, but it irked me.

But, returning to the question of who and whom, I have developed a standard three-part rule for dealing with this situation.  First, if the word follows to, it is whom.  Second, I should try rearranging the sentence and substituting pronouns; if the pronoun is she or he, the word is who; if the pronoun is her or him, the word to be used is whom.  And, finally, if I still can’t figure out the darned mess, I will use whom.  For, you see, almost no one else will be certain of the correct word form, either.  But because whom is generally used only by those truly conversant with the complex rules of grammar, my readers will be certain that I’m not only correct, but am really smart!

In The Moment

Hoding newborn Amanda

After my daughter’s visit to her obstetrician, I hurried over to see the pictures from the sonogram of my first grandchild. As she and her husband, John, told me about the wonder of hearing the baby’s heartbeat, I exclaimed, “Oh!  You ought to have recorded it.”

“I should have thought of that!” John responded. “But I was totally caught up in the moment.”

And that, as I assured him, was perfectly okay. In fact, it was exactly as it ought to be.

There have been too few times in my life when I was totally “in” the moment, totally present for exactly what was happening, but I treasure those memories. One of those moments was the day that my own daughter was born.  In that less-empathetic era, the nurses attendant at her birth began rushing through their own procedures without first handing my newly-born daughter to me.   I could see my child on a gurney to my side, but could not touch her until her father, saying, “I think Mommy  wants to touch her baby!”  yanked my own gurney over that precious extra inch so that I could reach her. Never, never in my lifetime will I forget that moment–electrifying, incredible, impossible–of touching just the tip of my finger to the tiny body of my newborn daughter.  Never, never more than in that moment have I felt completely cognizant of what was happening, yet, conversely, more totally part of the universe, and of the heart of God.

And that is what “being in the moment” does for us. It reconciles our humanness with our divine being.  For one incredible second, we are at one with all that we truly are.  We are, for that moment, not merely spiritual beings having a human experience: we are expanded, total, whole.

I would like to say that I have had other such moments, too numerous to count, in the passage of 64 years walking this planet. I would like to say that, but I can’t.  Like the fictional inhabitants of Thornton Wilder’s Our Town, few of us truly understand the value of life while we are living it. Those rare moments of communion with all that life is are infrequent, at best.  But the fleeting seconds of recognition should be recalled and celebrated.

I’m truly glad that my son-in-law was so caught up in the moment of first hearing his child’s heartbeat that he forgot to record it. No recording could ever take the place of his wonder and awe at that moment.

Sometimes, though, it is something far more insignificant and seemingly less earth-shattering that, for one brief second, brings us to recognition of the miracle of life. I recall one such moment as an adolescent,  when, having gone for a walk in the cool weather of late fall, I arrived back home just as the sun began to set.  The sky was a maze of varied electric and shining colors.  I stood transfixed in wonder at the beauty of it, all awareness of my surroundings forgotten, elated and exalted.  For just that one, mere second, I found myself totally at peace; completely at one with the world.

Also while still young, I used to lie on the cool grass, wet with dew, on late summer nights, and stare upward at the stars lighting the sky. That sense of peace, of oneness, totally enveloped me, as I lay there on the ground, running my hands over the dew-wet grass and gazing at the heavens, feeling the inescapable, undeniable knowledge that, “I came from there.”

In fact, I found a faint memory of those nights triggered in me one dark morning in early spring as I waited for my bus. I looked down at the dewy grass next to the sidewalk, seeing the crystalline sparkle of every jewel-like dewdrop sparkling beneath the rising sun.  I reached down to the glimmering beauty, glittering there in the crepuscular light of the barely-begun morning, and knelt to run my fingertips over the blades of grass.  Feeling the cold, wet dew upon my fingers, I completely lost track of time and place until the bus pulled up, startling me out of my concentration.

I gathered up my purse and boarded, slipping my fare into the waiting maw of the cash box, and my regular driver asked me why I had been kneeling. Had I dropped something there on the grass? Did I need to go back and look for it?

“No,” I told him, smiling. “I was just admiring the beauty of the dewdrops there on the grass.”

He shook his head at me and started up the bus.

“You,” he said, rolling his eyes, “really need a vacation.”

Happy Birthday, Amanda Desireé.

 

Just Jeans That Fit!

As an adolescent reading “improving” Catholic youth literature, I recall reading a story about two young women anxiously preparing for a school dance. In this stuffy little tale, the girls confided their worries ( no, of course, not to their mothers) to a kindhearted neighbor.  They discussed their concerns about waistlines too wide, complexion breakouts, and smiles marred by teeth not white enough.  The kindly neighbor gave them such helpful advice as brushing with baking soda and peroxide to whiten their teeth and patting witch hazel onto their zits.  (Trust me on that witch hazel thing: totally worthless advice, but something I kept trying for years, since it was also endorsed by my Grandmother.)  Girl #1 confided that she had been “slipping into my older sister’s girdle” to get her waistline into shape, and was told by Helpful Neighbor to do isometric exercises because, “All a girdle does is push flesh into other places where you don’t want it.”

Darn, I wish today’s manufacturers of women’s jeans had read that article!

If there is one factor that is constant and consistent throughout the entire United States of America, it is that there is no such thing as a pair of women’s jeans that fits correctly. Talk to any woman who wears a size above 2, and you’ll hear kvetching, moaning, and complaints about having to try on thirty pairs of jeans to find just one that fits correctly.  Even two different pairs in supposedly the same size and created by the same manufacturer will fail to fit one’s body in the same way.  How is that even possible?!

If a pair of jeans fits through waist and hip, miles of cloth will be flapping about one’s thigh. If thigh and hip fit correctly, the waist will either be gapping hugely or so snug that the button can’t be closed or the jeans zipped. If the jeans fit through waist, hip and thigh, they will be miles too long, even in the supposedly “petite” length – or will fall across the ankles at the high water mark. Skinny jeans, appropriate only for the aforesaid Size Two (may Audrey Hepburn rot in hell), are still unaccountably manufactured, and finding anything flattering to a more common figure is virtually impossible, even when spending a small fortune for what should be casual wear.

But of all the jeans foisted on a long-suffering female populace, the Spandex-enhanced, “stomach panel” jeans are truly the invention of the Devil. In keeping with the Hollywood ideal of a female body straight out of the rigors of Dachau or Auschwitz, the normal, slightly-rounded stomach of a woman who is of appropriate weight for her height is, for some unknown reason, supposed to be as unrealistically flat as an ironing board, if not concave.  But (as so perfectly described in that decades-ago improving literature for young women), all that darned constricting panel does is push flesh up into other places where it isn’t wanted, creating the notorious muffin top.  Rolls of flesh that puff up under one’s shirt.  Yep, so flattering!

Worse is the dichotomy between men’s pants and women’s. Stroll down the rows of men’s jeans sitting snug on their store shelves, and one will find nicely delineated increments of waist and length. Short and slim?  There’s a pair sized for that.  Tall but chunky?  Ditto.  Long-legged?  There’s a pair of jeans manufactured for guys built like a stork.

And none of them have a stomach panel.

I remember reading the excellent novel The Color Purple, and marveling that the main character, at the conclusion of the novel, had created her own small business called People’s Pants. She knew that women wanted a pair of pants created for their bodies — not for the body of some sub-male.  Not for the body of a “you aren’t a man so you don’t need a good fit”.  I thought at the time that it was one helluva business opportunity and someone who knew a bit about fabric and fits and stitching clothing should actually do it.

I will never puzzle out why women’s clothing is based on the tradition of “one-size fits all even if it doesn’t and you’ve just got to live with it”, but it’s tiresome and frustrating, and long past due for a change.

But I would genuinely settle for just being able to find one lousy pair of jeans that fit.

Wagons, Ho!

I’ve recently discovered a passion for watching old, black-and-white Westerns—not the movies, but the decades’ old TV series. The Rifleman. Wagon Train.  Rawhide. Have Gun Will Travel.  Gunsmoke.  Maverick.  These and several other shows have become a guilty pleasure in which I regularly indulge, watching them on the Classic TV rerun channels.

Never mind their asinine, inaccurate, and degrading depictions of Native Americans, nearly always played by Caucasian actors dipped in stage makeup. Disregard the pioneers with perfect teeth…the women with perfectly-coiffed hair, makeup, clean dresses, and even popped collars.  Ignore the rare appearance of dirt and sweat, pipes and chewing tobacco on the well-shaven male main characters…the healthy, fat and strong herd animals and horses (barely a mule or a burro to be seen!)  Overlook the extremely rare appearance of a black or Asian person (although Hispanics, all too often portrayed as cunning or criminal, seem to abound).  Never mind the Hollywood fiction of  bespangled saloon girls and the frequently wrong-for-the-era clothing of all the characters.  Yes, it’s all ridiculous.  And, yes, despite all the nonsense and bias, I still enjoy watching these old Westerns.

I grew up watching them, of course; these and several other shows were the common TV fare of my childhood, so there is a nostalgia connected with viewing the reruns. I was too young when I first saw them to now remember more than a scene or two, or a particular character, so I delight in the stories; to me, they are not reruns; they are brand-new.

But what strikes me most about many of these old Westerns are the strongly contemporary themes. The films may be black and white, but the subjects they were tackling were anything but.  Racism. Spousal abuse.  Bullying.  Controlling or brutal parents. Societal expectations. True courage as opposed to implied cowardice. Gun control.  Bigotry.  The way in which gossip, rumor and hearsay destroys lives. The use of religion to justify evildoing. The destruction of wildlife and the decimation of habitat. Kindness toward and acceptance of the different or disabled.

Characters in these old shows agonized over decisions in which they felt their ethics would be compromised. Every shade of grey in the human experience comprised part of the Western stories, and their conclusions were surprisingly contemporary—sometimes what we would now, scathingly, refer to as “politically correct”.  And although often simplistic, the answers provided in each 30- or 60-minute show were, above all, honorable and decent.  They exhibited complex interactions between main characters who held civility and courtesy to be their abiding principles, who genuinely believed that a man’s word was his bond. There was always an expectation that individuals who were proved wrong would admit their fault and be punished for it—and yet justice was often, unexpectedly, tempered with mercy.

My brother commented once that he realized he’d learned much of his understanding of morality from watching episodes of “The Rifleman”.  His comment made me wonder what the children of the current generation are learning from their diet of TV fare consisting of the carefully orchestrated unreality of “reality” shows, horrific crime dramas, and bloody fantasy programs.

It will be a long time before I’ve finished watching these old Western reruns. Even when I’m certain I’ve seen most of the episodes, I occasionally run across one I missed.  And I expect to go on enjoying them, despite the fact that many of the episodes are now reruns even to me.  Like a complex tapestry, the many threads that make up these decades’ old stories are carefully crafted and interwoven, and endlessly surprising.

Anger and Loss

A couple of years ago, an acquaintance passed away. We weren’t particularly close, but she was very dear to another friend of mine, the woman who’d introduced us, and so the feelings I experienced at her loss extended to my grieving friend, as well.

Debbe died, though, unnecessarily, wastefully, of medical error. So when I found myself in a blue funk on the day after her death, it took me nearly another 24 hours to comprehend why I was so upset.  I was sad that she was gone, yes; sadder still for the grandchildren whom she had been raising, and concerned for their futures, too.  I longed to comfort the friend who was most deeply feeling her loss.  But despite all these tumultuous emotions, I hadn’t known Debbe very well. I wasn’t mourning intensely.  Why, then, I wondered, was I so terribly sad?

I discussed the problem with that “other self” in my own mind (I’ve often wondered, when I’m asking myself a question, who precisely it is that I’m talking to?) Was the real cause of my distress the fact that Debbe was a couple of years younger than I?  Had her passing brought home to me the truth of my own mortality?  I didn’t think so.  I’d lost a good many acquaintances of my own age or younger in my lifetime, and had, in fact, recently spent quite a bit of time making my own end-of-life plans.  I didn’t believe that Debbe’s passing was a sudden and jarring reminder of my own mortality.

I was saddened for others, but that didn’t explain the intensity of my feelings.

Finally, after almost a day of puzzling through my feelings, I was able to put a name to them: anger. I was angry – bitterly, desperately, furiously angry, that Debbe had died due to mistakes by the medical professionals involved in her care.  She was dead due to their blithe prescribing of more and more antibiotics for longer and longer terms, until the very medications meant to heal her had turned on her immune system and destroyed it, shutting down her kidneys and killing her.

I was so bitterly, furiously angry at the wrongness of it, of a life wasted and other lives turned topsy-turvy, due to straightforward carelessness. I was outraged at negligence, at sloppiness, at inattention, in a profession in which a failure of precision literally makes the difference between life and death.

I am still angry and sad over her needless death. But my takeaway from this situation is the discovery of just how often I am so disassociated from my own feelings that I can sometimes identify them only with enormous effort.  How is it, I later asked myself, that it took me more than a day to recognize my own fury?

Naming my emotion was difficult; why it took so long is easier for me to answer: early training.  My youth was spent in a household where fury and rage were constant.  Screaming, shouting quarrels were a common occurrence.  Precious things were thrown and broken, doors were slammed until they bounced off  hinges.  Faces were slapped; punches were thrown.  Obscenities were shrieked.

But not by me. Not by my siblings.

No matter what was happening in our household, we children dared not express our anger at the situation–neither verbally or physically. Even as teenagers, with the usual adolescent tendency to smart-aleck remarks and snappishness, we were carefully restrained in our behavior.  And when I vented my fury on paper, my diary was sought out and read, and then used against me.

I learned to be very cautious of anger: to tuck it away, hidden within burning resentment; to avoid confrontation. I learned to bark in irritation over things that didn’t really matter rather than to say what had truly upset me; to fume silently.  Even through the crumbling of my 19-year marriage, I can recall only two occasions where I  was driven to shouting at my husband.

None of this is healthy or conducive to good relationships, but unlearning such early training is difficult. Just how difficult was driven home to me when I found myself unable to identify my anger over a friend’s needless death.

Anger will always frighten me, will always be a specter to be carefully controlled. Yet perhaps that is not entirely a bad thing.  The world might well be a safer place if more children were, from an early age, taught techniques to identify and properly deal with anger–to control its expression; to find healthy ways to express rage.

But not to learn, as I learned, to entirely deny it. Not to spend a lifetime hiding from their own rage and negating it.

I am angry over Debbe’s wasteful, needless death. And I am proud of that just and righteous anger.

Tough Love for the Prodigal Son

I hate the parable of The Prodigal Son.

I realize that this is a very unpopular position to hold, absolutely detesting one of the best-loved of all the parables in the New Testament. But there you have it: I dislike it. I always have, and I always will.

You recall the story, I’m sure, of course: A certain man had two sons… Son Number One takes his inheritance, traipses off, and blows it to hellangonagin.  Then, having (as they say in AA) finally hit rock bottom, he makes his way back to good old Dad and confesses the error of his ways.  Dad not only forgives him, but throws a mammoth party to welcome the wastrel back. (A party, I might add, to which Dad somehow forgets to invite Son Number Two. Very telling, that point.)

In the meantime, Son Number Two, who has spent the intervening years (while his brother was off carousing) laboring for Dad on the old home farm, arrives one evening from a hard day and stumbles into the big welcome home feast. Stung, Son Number Two complains bitterly to his father that, despite all his years of loyalty and service, Daddy Dearest never threw a bash for him, nor even gave him the wherewithal to throw a party of his own for himself and his friends.

To which complaint Dad basically responds by saying, “Hey, yeah, you’ve always been here, hanging around, but I really missed your brother.”  Proving once again that many an otherwise-discerning parent will tumble to the appeal of the runt of the litter.

Or so I interpret the story.

And it’s wrong. Absolutely, treacherously, cruelly wrong.

I have seen this story play out in real life, time and time again; I suspect many of us have done so. The wastrel, the drug addict, the alcoholic, the ne’er-do-well, rambles off to roust and revel, showing up now and again on Mom and Dad’s doorstep when the cash reserves run low, occasionally confessing the error of his or her ways and perhaps even briefly establishing a sensible existence.  Then, having been replenished, Wastrel heads right back out into that singular lifestyle once again–or simply hangs around for free room and board, sponging off the Parents indefinitely.

Meanwhile, Plain Jane and TomDickHarry get an education and begin working boring 9-to-5 jobs. They show up for family gatherings, bring birthday and holiday gifts to family gatherings, acquire spouses, and produce grandchildren. Eventually they begin caring for aging, ailing parents, shuttling them to doctor visits and hospital stays, mowing their lawns and straightening out their checking accounts.  They, Plain Jane and TomDickHarry, are just there—always there, doing the job of being good offspring and doing it well, but rarely lauded for a job well done.

And then the Parents pass on, and the sad truth comes out: they have left everything—every last cent, every fatted calf–to the ne’er-do-well. To the child they rarely saw and to whom they were no more than a revolving wallet.  To the runt of the litter.

Because, as they will sometimes have the grace to explain, “He just can’t take care of himself.” Because, “You’ll be okay, but she’ll need the money.”

And I say again, it is wrong. The parable is wrong; the real-life scenarios are wrong.

We need to give our love, our recognition, our gratitude and our appreciation to the sons and daughters who, like Son Number Two, “lo, these many years” serve and attend and care and demonstrate their affection–daily, weekly, continually. The ones who run their own lives well; who stick around and do the job of being good offspring.  The ones who are there every day; or who, if they live miles or states or countries away, are still constantly in touch.

The ones who are hardly noticed, because they don’t create chaos; don’t demand attention and bail money. The good sons and daughters, who deserve a fatted calf and a huge blowout party and acknowledgement–who should be cherished, just for being themselves.

I wish that, when the Prodigal Son returned, his father had handed him a hoe and a shepherd’s crook and ordered, “Get out there and show me exactly how sorry you are that you threw away everything I ever gave you. And you can have a room in the servant’s quarters and daily rations, but don’t ask for anything more until you’ve given me at least as much help as your brother has.  And I don’t want to see your face again until that happens.”

And then I wish he’d called Son Number Two to his presence and said, “Kid, put on your party duds. I am going to throw you the most amazing bash that’s ever been seen outside of the Pharaohs’ palace!”

That’s how the parable should have ended.

I Really Hate Brussels Sprouts

I confess it: I do not like watermelon. I realize there is something almost un-American about this prejudice.  Tell this to my fellow citizens around the 4th of July, and I’ll probably be looking at a visit from Homeland Security.  But, there you have it: I simply can’t stand watermelon.  It isn’t just the flavor but the texture which repels me, for I don’t actually enjoy any type of melon: musk melon, honeydew, cantaloupe…you name it, I can’t bring myself to eat it, despite having tried each of them many times.  Just the smell of cantaloupe makes me want to yak.  I can’t even imagine eating one.

This continuing distaste flies in the face of my enduring belief that our tastes alter over a lifetime and that we should keep trying foods that we find unpalatable, since we may one day surprise ourselves by actually enjoying them. As a child, I wouldn’t have eaten a lima bean to save my soul, but as an adult, reintroduced to them in my Grandmother’s incredible vegetable soup, I found that I not only enjoyed them, but preferred them to most beans (which I also usually dislike solely due to texture.)  Nevertheless, decades after I first began doing so, I still pick the red beans out of my bowl of chili.  They disgust me.  They smush in my mouth.

And then there’s my arch nemesis: Brussels sprouts. My parents loved Brussels sprouts and they were constantly on our table as I grew up.  I vividly remember the absolute torture of trying to ingest just one single Brussels sprout so that I could be excused from the table.  “Think of the starving children in the world,” I was told anytime I disliked a food that I’d been served, and, trust me: I would gladly, joyously, generously have found a starving kid anywhere and handed over my whole plateful of food if it had meant that I didn’t have to eat that damned Brussels sprout.

As an adult, though, I found that (although I was never going to go out of my way to ingest one) I could endure the dreaded sprouts if I prepared them by halving them, basting the halves with olive oil, generously spreading them with garlic and pepper before finally broiling them until crispy. I still knew, overall, that this was a Brussels sprout, but I could eat them, if not enjoy them.  Some of their essential Brussels-sproutiness still crept through, nonetheless.

When cranberries became the latest entry in the healthful foods array, I was horrified. My only acquaintance with cranberries was that awful jell in a can, which was served by opening both ends of the tin and pushing the jell out, whole, to lie on a bed of lettuce and be sliced.  That was how it had been served at holidays throughout my childhood, and I don’t think I quite realized that cranberries were actually berries.  Reintroduced to them, dried or in muffins and as a side dish blended with other ingredients, I found them tangy and interesting.  If hardly my favorite berry (give me blackberry any day), cranberries made me realize that how a food was prepared made a great difference in whether I enjoyed it.  Don’t like it cooked?  Try it raw.  Don’t like it boiled?  Broil it instead.

I put my “your tastes change” philosophy fully into action when raising my own daughter. We followed the Three Bites rule.  If I served a food she did not like, she had to eat only three bites of it.  Of course, as she so often did, the kid outsmarted me at my own game.  Told to eat her green peas, and barred from sneaking them down to our cat, Rerun, who (god knows why) adored them, she would carefully place one pea on her tongue at a time and swig it down with her glass of milk, like a pill. She did the same thing with lima beans. I suspect that even now, as an adult, green peas and lima beans are never seen on the table in her household.

Nevertheless, she who once shared my own dislike of the red beans in chili now delights in them.

Case proven: Just keep on trying to eat the foods that you simply can’t stand. Our tastes do change.

Judge Not…Sort of

At a summer gathering I attended some years ago, I overheard a young guest berating another for having worn pantyhose with her open-toed shoes.  Totally without shame, I sidled over and eavesdropped while the condescending young person explained that this was a complete fashion faux pas; no one wore pantyhose anymore, and certainly not with open-toed shoes.

It horrifies me to see anyone publicly belittled this way, so, despite the fact that I’m rarely assertive, I decided discourtesy was justified. I rudely interrupted the Fashion Policewoman to compliment her victim’s shoes, which were not the ubiquitous flip-flops but retro heeled sandals.  The girl under fire looked grateful for the change of subject and commented that both the shoes and her cute sundress had come from a vintage shop, and were classic 70s style.  She did not even attempt to explain the pantyhose, but she didn’t need to do so; it took very little effort to see a fresh surgical scar down one calf, partially-disguised by the sheer material.  At that point I glared at the self-righteous critic and said bluntly, “I think the pantyhose were a great idea.  I’m giving away my age by saying this, but that’s exactly how we wore open-toed shoes in the 70s.  Pantyhose without a reinforced toe were a new fashion then, designed just to be worn with shoes like yours.” I smiled at both young women and melted back into the crowd.  But what I really longed to do was grab the sanctimonious little faultfinder by her over-styled hair and yank her right along with me, possibly bitch-slapping her a few times as I did so.

I experience pretty much the same reaction when reading stories about the various shenanigans of the Westboro Baptist Church members. Administering a few head slaps and hair yanks to those people, perhaps accompanied by a kick or two, would be eminently satisfying, as would being able to reach into the computer to dispense a few good wallops to some of those posting cruel comments at the end of news stories.

I admit it: I am completely judgmental about judgmental people. I am unforgiving about condemnatory, negative, disapproving, disparaging and pejorative commentary, especially that made by individuals who don’t have all the facts at their disposal.  It infuriates me.

No matter how well-intentioned, publically criticizing another person in a social situation is an unnecessary cruelty—and, yes, that includes all the pejorative commentary heaped upon celebrities. It is hard enough, I imagine, to live one’s life under a microscope, without having the very hand adjusting the lens also writing vicious rhetoric for public consumption (fully half of it untrue or inaccurate). Let their agents tell them that there is no such thing as bad publicity; I’m not swallowing it.  Having hurtful and scathing things said about one in public forums is rude and miserable.

But (and here is my shameful admission) the simple truth is that I am so intolerant of judgmental behavior, not just because I’ve been the victim of it numerous times in my life, but because I have also practiced it.  It’s true: The bad behavior of others that we hate most is conduct we dislike in our own selves.  I am absolutely as guilty as anyone of sitting in public making casually cruel comments about various public figures, based solely on my own supposition of their probable characters.  Doing this—and I’ve done it a lot–is essentially slander.  And the fact that my victims are not, will never be, present to hear my comments is not the point.  It’s just bad behavior.  And to justify that bad behavior would be to be wrong twice.

There is a place, a proper place and time, for constructive criticism, which should be given gently and with consideration. A garden party, surrounded by other guests, is not such a place.  I’ve often wondered if the Fashion Policewoman took heed of my interruption and learned something from it.  Sadly, I doubt so.

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.