The TV Shows That Shaped Us

My parents had unusual ideas about what constituted good family TV viewing.

If you have read my post “There Are No Generations”, from November 18, 2020, you’ll already be aware that the article, “Baby Boomers: Five Reasons They Are Our Worst Generation” written by Mr. Gene Marks in 2013, supremely ticked me off.  As I pointed out in that earlier essay, the people described in Mr. Marks’ angry diatribe in no way resembled anyone I’ve ever known.

But one of the points he made in his unpleasant and inaccurate rant, far from causing me disgust or making me angry, left me laughing—laughing hard and long.  That point concerned his remarks regarding the television shows that, watched by Boomers during their youth, supposedly shaped their worldview. According to Mr. Marks, the television shows of that era created a belief system, shared by all Boomers, that women were intended to be housewives; that of all human races, Whites alone mattered; and that homosexuality was disgusting.  As an example, he provided the vision of then-youthful Boomers clustered around the TV for family viewing of shows like Ozzie and Harriet.

Uh, no.

At least, not in the household where I grew up.

My parents, if not precisely having better taste, at least had more varied ideas about what constituted good family viewing. I don’t recall that we ever watched even a single episode of Ozzie and Harriet.  I did take in just a few installments of Leave It to Beaver and Lassie, but, honestly, I thought both shows were pretty dumb.

But, as I say, my parents’ tastes were varied.  Tales of the Vikings, Kirk Douglas’s only venture into television, lasted only 39 episodes, but was our favorite family viewing. (I can sing the theme song to this day.) We clustered about the TV, enthralled by the amazing sets and costumes, and always cheering when swords inevitably clashed.

During the day, especially as she endured the boredom of doing the ironing, my mother regularly viewed a few soap operas, which she would not let me watch.  Nevertheless, she and I also spent summer afternoons together drinking in the much higher quality Loretta Young Theatre in the early 1960s.

But Westerns were the order of the day for evening viewing, and, as I commented in the blog post Wagons, Ho!, what still strikes me most about many of those old Westerns are the strongly contemporary themes. The films might 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. 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.  

The Rifleman, Paladin, Wagon Train, Have Gun Will Travel, Gunsmoke—all encouraged us not only to consider adult concepts, but to learn and practice ethical and moral ideals and behaviors.

Then we still-young Boomers grew a bit older, and true Westerns faded into Gene Roddenberry’s contemporary wagon train of Star Trek, throwing new ideas and concepts at our heads like errant baseballs.  A woman, a Black woman, as an officer on a starship? Amazing!  And an interracial kiss!  Wow!

From there we dove into the conflict, debate and generational discord of All in the Family.  Greatest Generation guys like Archie Bunker were being constantly challenged, on screen and in real life, and we then-young Boomers lapped it up, rooting always for the Glorias and Michaels of this world, and praying that the Ediths would stand up for themselves and find their place in the scheme of things.

Now, once more scanning Mr. Marks’ ridiculous comments about the TV programs that shaped a generation, I suspect that his misapprehension may stem from his misplaced certainty that reading about, and perhaps even knowing a few individuals who lived through a particular era, entitles him to draw generalized assumptions about an entire group.  But, as I learned several years ago to my dismay, that isn’t at all the case.

My enlightenment arose on the terrifying evening of 9/11/2001.  Still in the dark about who had committed this terrible atrocity against our country, we citizens were all simply reaching out to loved ones.  I called my Dad, saying to him, shaken, “Daddy, finally, finally, I really know what you went through on the day of the attack on Pearl Harbor.”

He was silent a heartbeat before he responded.  “No, honey, no. You don’t. This is completely different.  At Pearl Harbor, we knew who the enemy was.”

Perhaps it is true that the TV shows of our era helped to shape the viewpoints of the entire Boomer generation, contributing to our belief systems; molding us into the adults we would eventually become. I know that I was challenged by and acquired many progressive ideals from the programs I viewed.  But someone who did not actually live through those turbulent years can never have any more than the faintest glimmering of understanding, the merest glimpse into the reality of our lifetimes in that era.  They will never quite comprehend what the TV we watched really taught us.

If you enjoyed this essay, you might also like the post “Wagons, Ho!”, which  was published on April 6, 2018, and “There Are No Generations”, posted November 18, 2020.  Scroll down to the Archives to locate both.

Tales of the Office: Idiots I Worked With

Over the course of 40+ years, I worked with a lot of insufferable morons!

Every time I find myself sliding into the “Retirement Guilt Phenomenon” (I have no required schedule! I have so much free time to read! I have only the responsibilities I determine for myself!)—well, every time that happens, I remind myself not just of the many, many years I worked full-time, but, even more importantly, the incredible number of truly idiot coworkers I dealt with over a career that spanned 44 years.

The “idiots born of morons” coworkers part is especially poignant for me, since for most of that career I functioned as what is now so lightly termed “office support staff” (think: Ms. Dogsbody). Administrative Assistants, lowliest of the low, answer to everyone and take care of everything. It’s a hellacious job and the people performing it deserve, not a bunch of flowers on Admin Professionals Day, but canonization, for they are truly saints.

Some moments of my career still stand out brightly illuminated in a haze of Darwin Awards-style imbecility. I recall the section supervisor who stormed up to my desk, incandescent with rage because, rather than wait until I had a moment to take care of it, she’d changed the toner cartridge in the printer—twice!—and neither cartridge was working. Her handouts had to be printed RIGHT NOW for a meeting that was to begin IMMEDIATELY. (I bit my tongue on the questions of why she’d waited until the last minute to print the paperwork, or why any of this was my fault.) Instead, I hurried to the printer, and in seconds diagnosed the problem: She hadn’t removed the cellophane tag from either of the new cartridges before installing them. One good rrrip, and that printer was functioning once more.

The same supervisor jammed the fax machine while I was on vacation one year. Rather than refer to the “For Emergencies In My Absence” e-mail I’d sent just prior to leaving, and call the appropriate repair tech, she (and everyone else in the office) just left the fax machine hopelessly jammed. When I finally returned two weeks later and had the machine repaired, it whirred away for hours until it had printed hundreds of backlogged faxes.

Standard office machinery seemed to baffle a good many of my coworkers. I still remember with no fondness whatever the employee who hated me like hell’s fire because, during my absence, she changed the toner in the copier, but (much like Ms. Broken Printer), failed to remove the cap from the new toner bottle. The machine not only malfunctioned, but the toner bottle burst and sent clouds of fine black soot sifting like a Pompeian ash cloud throughout the copier. Our copier repair tech, with whom I maintained a consistently friendly and courteous relationship (as if my life depended upon it, as it frequently did), commiserated and spent hours meticulously cleaning the machine. But Ms. Change-the-Toner never forgave me for the general e-mail I that I sent out (carefully naming no names, mind you!) to all staff following this incident, gently reminding them of the proper procedure for changing copier toner. The culprit forever afterwards treated me like something nasty on the bottom of her shoe.

I shrugged it off; she had plenty of company. I was also genuinely hated for reporting a pair of coworkers who skimped their work (sitting in one another’s cubicles, talking and crocheting!) and who refused to read their e-mails until the in-boxes had reached their limit and bounced incoming e-mails, sending them skittering right back to the senders. Another employee despised me eternally when I discovered and reported that she’d found a back door into a boss’s e-mail and was casually perusing every word that was sent to and from him! (I am still bewildered by the fact that she was not fired, but instead hung around for several more years, making my life hell.)

And that was the critical factor: Despite the fact that these people, some of them, at least, despised me—or at least made my job twice as difficult by their ineptitude–I had to continue working with them daily, treating them courteously, even respectfully; doing my best to deal with their requests, solving their problems, fixing the machinery they gummed up…and somehow managed it.

And, as I pointed out in Administrative Professional (or, A Tale of Popularity), I outlasted every one of these boneheads to retire having achieved something which none of them managed to gain: Appreciation. Approval. Friendship. Popularity. Respect.

And that, looking back on the years that I worked, makes it all worthwhile.

You might also like “Administrative Professional (or, A Tale of Popularity)”, which you can find in the Archived posts from April 25, 2018

Earth Day, One Stitch At a Time

 Use it up, wear it out, make it do, or do without!

For many years, after I had finished reading a magazine, I took the used issue to the office and shared it in our small lunchroom. It seemed such a waste to merely throw each magazine out, even into recycling bins.  Later, pre-pandemic but retired and no longer having the office as a sharing option, I’d offered my used issues to an acquaintance to take to the reception area at her job.  She dropped by my home to pick them up.

She arrived to find me surrounded by billowing yards of cloth, needles, thread and scissors. “What are you making?” she asked curiously.

I explained that I was not making, but mending. A fitted bedsheet, still quite new, had ripped at one corner because the elastic was too tight. So I was fitting in a piece of extra elastic. Then I would use a bit of cloth from an old, worn pillowcase to repair the shredded seam. If I completed the work carefully, the finished product would probably last at least another two, perhaps three years.

She shook her head in disbelief. “I’d just have thrown it away,” she commented.

I wasn’t really surprised. Thirty-some years younger than I, this woman had grown up paying lip service to and even a few concrete actions toward recycling. But the concept of genuinely reducing waste by thriftily repairing had never really been requisite in her life.

I was raised in a different mindset. My parents, both born at the start of the Great Depression, had lived with the necessity of thrift throughout their earliest years. “Use it up, wear it out, make it do, or do without!” was their mantra. I recall watching my mother darn socks—a skill that I was never able to master—or repair a purse by carefully using an awl to punch new holes before restitching the worn leather. In those long ago days, the buttons of my father’s office shirts were made from slivers of mother-of-pearl; when the shirts became worn, Mom conscientiously cut the buttons from the cloth before reducing the rest of the shirt into cleaning rags.  She never even considered wasting paper towels for housecleaning.  (I still have, by the way, some of those delicate mother-of-pearl buttons.)

My father was no slouch when it came to making do, either. Dad washed and waxed his cars himself (how much less water and energy consumed than at a car wash?) and mowed his own lawn, raked his own leaves (a simple power mower as opposed to large equipment; a rake, not a leaf blower) until he was well into his 80s.

Despite my lack of skill at darning and my habit of lavishing paper towels on housekeeping chores, something of my parents’ careful economy must have rubbed off on me; hence, the mended bedsheet, as well as the seams of various throw pillows and the fringe of the entryway rug, all of which I carefully repaired, stitching them back together. Those buttons from my mother’s old button-box are still often the subject of a search when a replacement is needed for an item of clothing; there is no need to buy new ones. In fact, I once passed over the purchase of a warm, high-quality winter coat in favor of another, just as fine but much more reasonably priced due, I felt certain, to its very cheap, ugly plastic buttons. I took the ugly-button coat home, clipped off the hideous fasteners, and stitched on a lovely metal set which I recycled from the old button box. There was no need to buy new buttons, and the plastic uglies went themselves into the button box.

But returning to the event of the mended sheet, the real question was, to my mind, the fact of paying lip service to the whole process of “recycle/reduce/reuse”. I have, I must admit, been known to (guiltily) toss out a plastic water bottle when I could not find a recycling bin handy. But now I began looking at the concept of recycling from a larger perspective, and I realized that my inherited thrift was, in fact, the very definition of genuine recycling. Now I wondered to myself exactly how much water was involved in growing the cotton blended into that sheet set—how much gasoline powered the combine that harvested that product—how much energy was used as the cloth was woven and then sewn into sheets using thread that had also been produced by a mechanical process—everything involved in the packaging and shipping that had finally resulted in the (defective) product that I plucked from a shop shelf. Then I considered not just the waste of money, had I simply thrown away the ripped sheet rather than going to the effort of repairing it, but the real waste—the waste of all that damage sustained by Mother Earth in producing a simple set of sheets for my bed. Sheets that I would not even have purchased had not the old ones been worn past repair and past using.

I recalled the young woman’s reactions when, first, I asked her if she wanted to reuse my finished magazines, so that they would not be wasted by being read merely once; and, second, at my effort to mend the spoiled sheet. She’d been almost taken aback by the first; flabbergasted by the second. Yet both actions were those of reusing and reducing waste.

The generations since the Industrial Revolution are often accused of having damaged the Earth nearly beyond repair. Perhaps it is not entirely our fault, after all.

If you liked this essay, you might also enjoy “Second Hand Rose”, which you can find in the Archives, posted July 1, 2020.

We Look Forward to Your Apology

It’s doubtful that I will do any further business with the “Green Fruit Bird” company, and I’ve warned everyone I know about the treatment I received.

Not long ago I sent an order to a company with which I’ve done business for several years. (I won’t actually name the company, but perhaps I can just say that its name is a fruit, a bird, and the population name of those who live in New Zealand.) I had a large credit due me owing to a previous miscommunication.  So it was with some apprehension that I entered my current order.  The credit was applied without a hitch, though. Pleased, I hit the checkout button.

Having the credit available meant that I decided to purchase double my usual order, but I didn’t anticipate any problems; in years past, I’d also sent in a double order.  I followed the shipment and tracking e-mails casually, simply glancing at the subject line and sliding them into a saved mail file.

Unfortunately, at no point in either the checkout process nor in the order acknowledgement e-mail was it mentioned that my order was being shipped in separate packages. Later, more closely examining the tracking numbers, I would find that, although each tracking number began with the same three digits, there were, in fact, two separate trackers. For one of those, I’d received nothing except the “It’s been shipped” e-mail. That notice had been sent seven days after the initial package shipped. There were no further updates. But I would learn those facts much later.

At any rate, I received my order, and was dismayed to find only half of what I’d paid for. I immediately sent a quick e-mail stating vital stats such as the order number and total price, noting the credit that had been applied, and explaining that I had received only half of my order. I requested that I receive the rest “ASAP, please”.  (Yes, I really did say “please”.)

In reply, I received a long-winded explanation, stating all the reasons for which my consignment had, unknown to me and never mentioned in the checkout process, been sent via two shipments. The e-mail concluded with the words, “We look forward to your apology.”

Ouch.

I replied, politely thanking them for their explanation, but remarking that, having worked 47 years under that precept that “The customer is always right”, they would not be receiving any apology from me for a straightforward and polite inquiry and request!

Later I was notified that my ticket was being escalated to a manager. Well, I hadn’t expected that, but decided it was a good thing; the individual who had sent the snotty response would, perhaps, be chided.

No such luck.

Instead, the manager replied with a long harangue, castigating me for my remarks, telling me that “The customer is always right” might go over at a pet store (A pet store? I wasn’t ordering a clownfish!), but not with regard to their company, nor any other well-run company these days. That precept might, I was informed, damage employee morale. The manager helpfully included links to articles written on that very topic, published from such sites of sterling journalism such as Huffington Post.

Wow.

Replying mildly, I said only that my remarks had been in response to being asked to apologize for my inquiry. A truly professional reply from their employee(s), I added, might have been to simply state, “Thank you for your inquiry. If you will look closely at your e-mail tracking information, you will see that your shipment was split; there are two shipments. Possibly the similarity of the tracking numbers confused you. We hope this clears up any question. We appreciate your business.”

Of course, I received no further response to my suggestion. Probably just as well, for I can’t imagine what such a reply might have said!

The whole exchange rankled, though, and was also bewildering. As I once explained in the blog post, “Customer Service…or Not”, the insolence which I endured clearly illustrates a problem about what passes for customer service in modern society: that is, that poor service and outright rudeness are acceptable behavior.

I thought it unlikely that the employees making these responses had been introduced to the true meaning of the concept that “The customer is always right”: that it denotes only that customers are to be treated respectfully and with appreciation. That even the most irritable and contrary of customers serves to keep a business afloat. That learning to maintain one’s temper is an obligatory aspect of customer service.

Seventeen days after this exchange of acrimonious e-mails, and five full weeks after my original order, I finally received my second shipment (for which there had been not a single further tracking e-mail).

Of course, it’s doubtful that I will do any further business with the Green Fruit Bird company.  And while I had lauded them in the past, I’ve now warned many people, customers or potential customers, about the treatment I received.

I’m truly tempted to contact GFB one last time, though, providing links to a pair of interesting articles published by a slightly more respectable mainstay of high-standard journalism, Forbes. These articles explain the genuine meaning of “The customer is always right” in a manner that should be understandable even to those employees possessing the most fragile of egos.

But I doubt that I could look forward to their apology.

https://www.forbes.com/sites/blakemorgan/2018/09/24/a-global-view-of-the-customer-is-always-right/#51993ba8236f

https://www.forbes.com/sites/micahsolomon/2013/12/27/is-the-customer-always-right/#72a991d770f1

If you enjoyed this post, you might also like “Customer Service…Or Not”, from March 10, 2018. Check for it in the Archives.

Reconciliation Day

Reconciliation Day—April 2 in the U.S.–was established in 1989 as a day to make amends: to apologize, repair a damaged or fractured relationship, and (most importantly) to accept an extended olive branch.  

There is nothing quite as bad as an apology that isn’t…except, perhaps, an apology that is rescinded.

I was thinking about all of this on the most recent Reconciliation Day as I recalled two apologies received years ago: one which did me worlds of good until it was thoughtlessly undone; the other which wasn’t truly an apology at all.

The event resulting in the annulled amends actually occurred  in my high school days: an incident which, in the scheme of a lifetime, was extremely minor, but which at age 15 caused me intense mortification. A classmate’s actions inadvertently resulted in my inappropriate discipline.

The classmate–I think her name was Leonie—sat near me during study hour each afternoon in the school cafeteria. On the day in question,  Leonie made several complaints to the study hall proctor, Mr. Iverson. Another student’s behavior—talking, teasing, flirting, laughing—was making it difficult for everyone to concentrate. I ignored the troublemaker, but she drove Leonie to distraction.  The third time Leonie complained, Mr. Iverson stomped back with her to our table.  But, having misunderstood, he grabbed me by the arm and frog-marched me to the front of the cafeteria, where he forced me to stand at attention for the rest of the hour.  Leonie attempted to tell Mr. Iverson that he’d gotten the wrong person, but he waved a hand in her face, commanding her to sit down and shut up.

The humiliation I felt was extreme.  I was that “good kid” who was never in trouble—and here I was, displayed before 200 of my classmates as a scofflaw.  And it was all Leonie’s fault.

She tried to speak to me as I grabbed my books when the bell rang, but I stormed furiously past her. The following morning, though, she managed to catch me and shove a paper into my hands: a written apology.  Worded very dramatically—we were teenage girls, after all!—it nevertheless did the job.  The next time I passed Leonie in line, we joined hands, all forgiven.  Although I rarely saw her after that, being in different classes, the effort Leonie had made to apologize left me with a warm glow.

Years later, as young adults, we met accidentally on the street.  We both recalled that old incident with rueful grins.  Then Leonie said the words that were, to me, like a sharp slap across the face:  “…and then I gave you that stupid note! I was such a little idiot.”

The apology that had meant so much to a distressed 15-year-old was now reduced to regret and ashes; to having been a worthless gesture made by a fool.

Perhaps my face revealed my feelings as I heard her annul her apology.  I only recall that she quickly ended our unplanned meeting and went on her way.  But I’ve never thought of Leonie again without an ironic twist of the lips.

The second apology—the apology that wasn’t—came to me in letter form, also,  decades after the events in question.  The woman who penned the apology had, in those pre-internet days, gone to some trouble to track me down and mail it to me, writing that she hoped she’d found the right person.

When we were both young, I’d been the victim of this woman’s intentional persecution: horrific bullying that went on for months.  Even belatedly, I was overwhelmed to have an apology…at least at first.

Her letter began well, saying that she now realized she’d behaved badly. She needed me to understand that she’d been young and immature, and desperately afraid of not looking “cool” in front of her clique of friends.  I, unfashionable, plain, and insecure, had been an easy target.  She hoped that  I could, would, forgive her.

I read this letter through multiple times, puzzled as to why I felt no relief upon reading it.  Finally, it became clear to me. Notably absent were the two vital words that would have made the letter an actual apology:  “I’m sorry.”   Nowhere in her letter were the words, “I’m sorry”, or “I apologize”; nor even the words, “I’m ashamed”.  This wasn’t, I realized, an attempt to make amends, but a pallid excuse embroidered with pale justifications. It was a request for absolution failing either an assumption of personal responsibility or penitence for the wrongs done, coupled with an unflattering, if accurate, assessment of my person in that era.

Crumpling the letter, I tossed it into the trash.  I never wrote back to her.

Now, though, I regret not having replied.  I should have responded, pointing out precisely what was missing from her ostensible apology.  I should have explained that, while I had long since forgiven her, I could neither forget her behavior nor absolve her misdeeds. It was incumbent upon her to find some way to repay the debt she owed, not to me, but to the universe, for her cruelty.

As I say, I sat this Reconciliation Day thinking of these two apologies: one annulled, one that wasn’t, while reminding myself that true reconciliation also mandates that one accept an extended olive branch.   In both situations, by withholding my responses—yes, even my disgusted responses—I failed, and a liability now sits upon my own shoulders.  That is the debt I myself must repay to the universe…perhaps on another Reconciliation Day.

If you liked this blog post, you might also enjoy “Forgiveness is Always an Option”.  It can be found in the archives posted on June 24, 2019.

The Stories Grandma Told

In celebration of the memory of my paternal Grandmother, Marie Ruggiere Gregory, whose birthday would be April 3.

In earlier posts, I’ve related the stories told by my paternal grandmother, Marie Gregory, of The Mortgage, The Irish Catholic Nun Who Hated Wops, and The White Spot.  But these were just a few of the tales of her life that Grandma shared with me when I was a young woman, dropping by her home to visit most Sunday afternoons.  I loved sitting there on her old brown couch, sunlight pouring in from the windows behind us, listening to her relate these memories—some disturbing, most hilarious—in her expressive Italian manner, hands gesturing; voice rising and falling in rhythmic inflections.

I only wish that I could remember all of her anecdotes; wish that I had written them down at the time, captured all these chapters of her life to share with future generations.  But there are a few I will never forget.

Many of her tales concerned her children, of course.  The one which she would relate with the greatest bitterness was The Silk Parachute.  In WWII, parachutes were often made of silk and, if damaged, could not be reused.  Someone had sent Grandma just such a parachute, and she, delighted, planned to sew a silk blouse from it.  Unfortunately for Grandma, her unruly brood of kids had a different idea.  She found them one summer morning clambering up to the top of the swing set with their kittens, each little feline safely ensconced in a tiny parachute cut from the silk.  The kids laughed hysterically as they dropped the little cats to float gently to the ground.

Grandma herself laughed aloud as she told me of an incident with my then 3-year-old father.  He wandered in to see her one summer afternoon with a pitiful expression on his face. He’d been dressed lightly for the summer heat in shorts and a tank-style undershirt, and the straps of the shirt had slipped down his shoulders, pinning each arm to his side.  “Ain’t ya sorry for me, Marie?” he asked her pathetically.

The children often played on the big, semi-enclosed front porch, and one summer afternoon she heard more than the usual raucous laughter and giggles emanating from that area.  Stepping to the door to investigate, she discovered that her younger son, John, had taken her expensive mantelpiece clock from the dining room credenza, strapped sparklers to each of the hands, overwound it, and then set it on the concrete of the porch before lighting the sparklers.  As the hands circled the clock face wildly,  fireworks tossing sparks everywhere, the clock jerked and “walked” across the porch, leaving the children helpless with laughter.  (Amazingly, both John and the clock survived this incident.)

Marie Gregory
Marie Ruggiere Gregory’s Senior Photo

Grandma’s sense of humor meant that she could tell tales upon herself, as well.  The very best of these may have been The Smoke Alarm in Her Purse.  Smoke alarms were still a fairly new development when Pat, Grandma’s older daughter, lived in an apartment complex which had just begun installing them.   Prior to the installation, Pat had put up her own smoke alarm, so she now removed it and dropped it off for her mother to use.  Grandma was on her way out of the door to go shopping when Pat arrived,  so she just shoved the alarm into her capacious purse and continued on her errand.  But upon leaving the grocery with her purchases, she stopped to light a cigarette…and triggered the smoke alarm.  There she stood, in the middle of the busy parking lot, the alarm blaring stridently in her purse, with absolutely no idea how to turn it off!

I, of course, laughed myself sick when Grandma related this tale.  And despite this incident, Grandma continued smoking to the very end of her days.

Grocery parking lots may well have been her Waterloo, for one of Grandma’s other stories concerned the day she purchased hard-to-obtain calf’s brains.  (We won’t even go into the whole “why would anyone ever eat brains with scrambled eggs” question, not right here, anyway.)  But I, arriving at her home one weekend afternoon, heard the story of her purchase.  The calves’ brains had been put into a styrofoam deli container, and Grandma had simply carried it out without a sack.  But as she headed to her car, she was nearly sideswiped by a careless driver and dropped the container.  Splat!  Brains all over on the asphalt.

“Oh, too bad!” I commiserated hypocritically.  But Grandma told me no sympathy was needed.  She scraped up the brains right back into the container, took them home, rinsed them off, cooked them up, and ate them!  (To this day, I would pay good money to see a video of my face as I was told this story!)

I have more of Grandma’s stories, too many of them for this essay. I’m certain my cousins must have others, as well; tales that I never heard, but would love to know. But what struck me as I compiled these memories was my wonder about what, someday, my own granddaughter might recall of the tales I hope to tell her of my life.  Will she, I wonder, even listen, or care?  Will she read the essays from this blog, which I am compiling into a book for her?

Or will she someday perhaps write her own essay, and smile as she titles it,  “The Stories Mimsey Told”.

You can find some of Grandma Marie’s earlier tales in the Archives: Racism Knows No Logic, 06/10/2020; and, Scrubbing the Sunbeam, 09/09/2020.

I Told You So!

Then came Lockdown…

I admit it: I absolutely LOVE saying, “I told you so!” Love it, enjoy it, and particularly relish saying-not-saying-it with a very evil, falsely self-deprecating grin. Oh, I am usually tactful enough that I don’t actually say the words aloud. I just think them very, very loudly.

But I am hereby declaring, stating and announcing that I WAS RIGHT, I TOLD YOU SO, HA! SO THERE, YOU WACKADOODLES!

What I am (in my mad, gleeful dance of triumphant delight) referencing is my blog post of October 8, 2019, titled Apples to Oranges, the subject of which was that scurvy little mailing that I receive periodically from the local power company; the one which purports to tell me how well (or not) I’m doing in managing my power consumption.

As I pointed out in that earlier post, that unwelcome notice always explains that my power usage is being compared to “similar homes” within the area. It then continues on to state various methods (90% of which I am already doing, barring the quite ridiculous ones) by which I can reduce power consumption and so, one presumes, my bill.

But, as I also pointed out in that previous post, just one dynamic among the many factors which the Gods of Power Consumption fail, in their infinite wisdom, to take into consideration is whether all those people living in all those “similar homes” are (or at least were, prior to pandemic) usually out of the house for ten or more hours a day every weekday, as they go to work or attend school. Never once considered when the Electric Deities make their ridiculous calculations are whether those “similar homes” (which, as I also pointed out, ain’t so darned similar at all) are occupied daily, all day, most days, as mine is. Are the people who live in those homes present in their houses for long periods of time—retired, as I am, or stay-at-home parents of small children? Do the occupants of those houses regularly work from home and therefore are using lights and stoves and microwaves and TVs and computers and power tools and furnaces and air conditioners and whatever, at times when the majority of homes are sitting empty and idle—powered down—unplugged–evincing little draw upon the power grid?

Nope. Neighborhood location seemed to be only actual factor figured into their bogus calculations.

But then came Lockdown. Stay-at-Home orders. Families home together all day long: working from home, doing virtual schooling, cooking three meals daily, using lights and stoves and microwaves and TVs and computers and hair dryers and water heaters and the whole darned schmear the entire livelong day. Home. Consuming electricity. Just like those of us who are retired, or who are stay-at-home parents or who work from home on a regular basis.

Next began to roll out the news articles, one after another: the increase in utility consumption due to lockdown. Gas, water, electricity—all off the charts, over the top, as families whose homes usually sat empty and idle every weekday were occupied 24/7. Increases in electricity use of as much as 37% for some families.

And so, at last, the proof of the pudding. The prize in the Crackerjacks box. The reality in the show. For when the “how you’re doing” mailing appeared in my mailbox last fall–the one that should have encompassed mostly the period of lockdown–it carefully did not cover only those weary weeks of quarantine. Instead, it averaged the preceding multiple months. And I know, absolutely and unquestionably why: because all those who had previously been told how astoundingly slight their power consumption was would have received very bad news indeed, while we, the stay-at-homes, drawing constantly upon the power grid when so the majority of other homes usually sat empty and idle for hours daily, could no longer be told that our power consumption was, comparatively, merely “Good”, or even “Poor”. Instead, our usage would have had to have been recorded as (skirl of bagpipes, blare of bugles, ruffle of drums) great. GREAT. Wonderful. Fantastic!

Well, truth be told, my power consumption has always been great. The very fact that I could be told, time after time, that my usage, when compared to those empty and idle homes, was Good, when my own home was occupied all day long and drawing upon the grid (as well as the many other factors I mentioned in that earlier blog), meant that my careful use of electricity was actually, all along and every single darned day, just great. Cautious and sparing. Stupendous, in fact.

I’ve received several more “How’re You Doing” mailings, as the Divine Managers of All Power use the money that their customers pay them to print up and send out all these scurvy little missives telling us just what power-consuming-gluttons we customers are. Funny thing, though. Lockdown having ended, those mailings once again reverted to covering only the period of the most recent couple of months. Learn the game, change the rules…. I’m not that big a chump, guys. Onto you.

There are few things I like better than being proved right. Especially when it comes to besting a utility company.

If you enjoyed this post, you will probably really, really like Apples to Oranges, in the Archives on 10/08/2019!

We Never Really Know

It is almost impossible for the average, genuinely humane person to comprehend horrendous inhumanity.

We know far less about the people around us than we’d like to believe.

For me, this fact is proven continually by the reactions of friends, family and neighbors when some horrific act is perpetrated by someone in their midst.  Think on it: The recent Nashville Christmas bomber.  The airline pilot who intentionally crashed his planeful of passengers into the Alps. The Unabomber. John Wayne Gacy, the serial killer who played a clown for children’s parties. Each time when these terrifying actions come to light, one reads and hears in news the reactions of the people best acquainted with the alleged destroyer–childhood friends, neighbors, teachers, coworkers, acquaintances: “But he was just such a quiet person. Eccentric, maybe, but just quiet.”  “But she seemed so normal – look at her prom photo; she would never have tortured someone.”  “He never acted  depressed; not at all.”

Then, slowly, significant details and patterns begin to emerge, demonstrating the depth of sickness, the unimaginable mental illness or the soulless center of each of these individuals, and we are all forced to readjust our view of this “healthy”, “everyday”, “normal” person.  We are even (terrifyingly) compelled to readjust our own thinking about ourselves.  We are, after all, average, ordinary people. Does that mean that we…?  Surely we couldn’t possibly ever…. The thought is so frightening that we desperately shunt it aside.

For that reason — because it is so hard for the genuinely human and humane person to comprehend true inhumanity, or to imagine themselves participating in it — protests continue to litter the airwaves.  Old playmates insist,  “But we lived in the same neighborhood growing up.  He had a regular childhood!” “There was nothing in her upbringing to indicate she’d ever grow up to do such a thing. Nothing.”

At these remarks, I can only shake my head. 

No one, no one at all – not child services, nor counselors, nor neighbors, nor extended family members, nor childhood friends, nor even siblings – no one ever has more than the merest glimpse into the reality of another’s childhood.  I recall the smooth façade of normality that my own mother donned like a mask when in the company of others, and I do not doubt that few people realized how very mentally ill she was, or the havoc she created in our home.  And, even in that regard, I know only what I, personally, endured.  I can’t speak to what the others in my family experienced, either good or bad. And I will always be well aware that many of my childhood acquaintances thought my mother the best person, the coolest Mom in the world.

The simple truth is that we all wear false faces, adjusting and gearing our social façade to meet the expectations and needs of those around us and not be thought too strange, too otherly. Sometimes those masks slip.  But for most of us, the loss of our carefully-constructed disguise results in only momentary confusion or embarrassment, and not a descent into demonic acts.

The best psychological and physical science still cannot completely explain what drives some people to horrific behavior. Might it be emotional or chemical imbalance? Was it the result of a bad reaction to psychoactive drugs? Is it genetics, or socialization? Both? Mob mentality? Could it be just a malfunction in brain development?  Or is it all of these, combined with other factors as yet unknown? Some might say that many such people are simply born without a soul, and I suppose that is as good an explanation as any.

Someday, science may piece together the puzzle of these monsters who wear the faces of human beings, and we will understand at last why they became what they are (and, more importantly, perhaps how to prevent it happening ever again.)  But for those of us who live within at least a semblance of normality and humanity, we will probably never comprehend what created the monster.  We will never be able to dwell within their twisted minds.

If you appreciated this essay, you might also like “Epitaph In An Elevator”, which you may find in the Archives from September 28, 2018.

Coloring Our World

Decorating schemes are entirely built upon personal preference–and in that, those of us who live alone have the advantage. We need not compromise!

A man I once dated had been divorced for a long while, and, consequently, had erased many memories of his ex-wife by redecorating his home in colors and styles that he preferred. While I knew from our first couple of dates that our relationship would not be long-lasting, his household color scheme alone would have been enough to make me bail on the association.

The worst room was, I recall, his kitchen. It had been painted precisely the shade of bottled mustard and enhanced with a strip of wallpaper border at the top: a coal-black background across which a frieze of golden pears and yellow apples danced. (Where, I still wonder, does anyone even find such a thing?)

It’s possibly needless to say that I experienced difficulty eating a meal in that room.

My own decorating tastes run to pale, rich, quiet colors: shades of ivory and shell pink, lavender and light teal, pale blue and mint green and peach. Since Boyfriend was in the market for a new home to ruin with his lack of taste, I accompanied him while he examined several model houses. Entering one, I found myself enchanted. The walls of the living room were brushed a medium lilac, while a wallpaper border along the top featured wisteria bunches amongst pale green vines on a white background. This room led into a glassed-in patio at one side, filled with white wicker furniture bearing cushions decorated with the wisteria-and-vines motif. I found the combination delightful. He thought it was nauseating.

And that, as I have pointed out many times previously in these blog posts, is perfectly okay. We are each entitled to our personal preferences. The real trick lies in maintaining the validity of one’s own stance while not belittling another’s choices (at least to their faces; in the privacy of one’s own mind is another matter!) By exercising tact, we refrain from making anyone feel that their selections are inadequate or unusual. When Boyfriend, immensely proud of the kitchen that I found so atrocious, extolled the brilliance of his color scheme, I merely remarked that it was “really bright”. I even smiled as I said it. (“Makes my eyes bleed,” was my preferred response, but I bit my tongue. Hard. I may even have drawn blood.)

Another date, stopping by my own condo for the first time, gazed about the lower floors done in my ivory/light brown/shell pink/bottle-green color scheme and remarked noncommittally, “It’s very feminine, isn’t it?” (Well, yes, of course. I live here alone, and I’m a woman.) But I took his actual meaning, and silently lauded him for his tact. Date had admirably overcome the hurdle of expressing his reservations without sounding overtly critical. He actually did a far better job than a female friend of mine. Her tastes run to brighter, deeper shades; she remarked that my color scheme reminded her of an 80s hotel.

Neither Date nor Boyfriend made it into the category of long-lived relationships, so their decorating preferences were really just a blip on the screen. But had there been any chance that I was going to continue seeing either one, I might have been just a touch more assertive in my reply, while still avoiding overt criticism—something along the lines of “Uh, well, to be quite honest, I really prefer softer colors, especially in a kitchen. Dark, bright colors make a kitchen feel very small and hot, I think.” Tactful, while nonetheless honestly acknowledging my own preferences, so that he might file them away for future reference. If Date had been someone I wanted to follow up on, I might have described to him the colors that my condo had originally been painted, while carefully noting his reaction: the living room in camouflage colors, flat khaki green and brown; the tiny half-bath in dark royal purple; the main bath in dried-blood scarlet and poison candy green; a kitchen the shade of Grey’s Poupon and the main bedroom in the darkest teal accented with pale violet and mustard. (Yeesh! The gallons and gallons of paint it took to overcome these shades does not bear remembering! Nor the fact that the young clerk at the paint store insistently debated my decision to use the “eggshell” finish paint, rather than semi-gloss. Once more, an instance of someone attempting to impose their preferences over my own.)

But, as I have pointed out before (and probably at nauseating length), the tendency to compel others to do/think/feel as we do seems to be genetically encoded somewhere in our DNA. No matter, though. I live alone, so I have absolute dominion over my decorating preferences. 80s hotel or not, I will eschew the elementary school Crayola palette and stick with the pale, soft, rich colors that I so love.

If you enjoyed this post, you might also like “Roses of the Soul”,
which you can find in the archives from December 16, 2017.

When Life Was Simple (Sigh.)

I long for the days when running an errand merely meant picking up my car keys and putting on my shoes.

I am ironing coffee filters for my masks.

Early on in the pandemic, when masks were not easily available, I read recommendations for creating them from doubled tee shirt cloth with a filter pocket filled by a flattened coffee filter.  Testing had shown such three-layer homemade masks to be efficient at stopping virus particles.  And so I made masks, a dozen or more, hand-sewing them for my friends and family, and ironed coffee filters to insert in the pocket.

Later, cloth masks having become readily available, I purchased a half-dozen expensive but comfortable coverings of thick, double-layered soft cloth.  But then (of course), recommendations changed. Double-layers weren’t enough in the face of virus variants; no, a triple-layer mask was necessary.  Buy new ones, the Pandemic Gurus recommended.

New masks not being planned in my budget,  I began double-masking and returned to inserting a coffee filter between the two masks.

And so now I stand at the ironing board, ironing coffee filters for my masks, while watching my DVDs of “Downton Abbey”.  I’m watching the episode in which Matthew’s fiancé dies of Spanish Flu.  The irony (bad pun intended) of this is not lost on me.

I long for the days when running an errand merely meant picking up my car keys and putting on my shoes, perhaps a coat or jacket or even a hat or gloves.  Now my errands, those such as I absolutely must run, are an Olympic marathon in preparation and clean-up.

Before even leaving my house, I set a bowl of water in the microwave, ready to be heated for scalding my masks when I return.  The countertop where any shopping sacks will be deposited is protected with wax paper.  I place disinfectant soap, a nail brush, and a spray bottle of strong isopropyl alcohol next to the sink.  I rub the lenses of my glasses (some small protection for my eyes against airborne viral particles; I have not worn my contacts in months) with shaving cream to keep them from fogging up.

In my car, small paper sacks sit opened and waiting on the seat.  One will contain discarded mask filters and disposable gloves; the other, my used cloth masks.  I prepare a mask for each stop I must make, placing the filters between them, and lay out pairs of disposable vinyl gloves on the passenger seat.  Whether the gas pump or shopping cart or door handles or ATM buttons, I’ve touched nothing for months without wearing gloves.  Questioned by one stranger as to why I wore them — “The virus particles are in the air,” she instructed me officiously — I could only answer logically,  “Well, they’re going to land somewhere, you know!”  I check to be sure that I have both hand sanitizer and another spray bottle of disinfectant in the car.

Masked and gloved, I race through my errands (pumping gas, taking a package to the post office, or picking up groceries, almost the only excursions I’ve allowed myself in 11 months) trying always to avoid the cretins in the aisles wearing their masks as “nose-wipers or chin diapers”; changing my contaminated PPE between each stop.  Returning to my car, I strip off masks and gloves carefully, dropping them into the paper sacks,  before disinfecting everything I have touched and sanitizing my hands.

Returning home, I toss the paper sack containing used disposables into the garbage bin and carry the sack with masks into the house. I scrub my hands thoroughly, and once more disinfect everything I’ve touched—door handles, car handles, alarm buttons, purse, wallet.  I carry in my purchases, placing them carefully on the waxed paper.  I scald my masks in boiling water and agitate them with disinfectant soap, then rinse, spray them with alcohol and hang them to dry.  I wash my hands again and put my purchases away, then pull up the wax paper and disinfect the countertop.  I wash my hands a third time.

This, this is now my new reality, and that of millions of other people, as we try to avoid the virus; waiting ever hopefully that our number will come up and we will be scheduled for the vaccine; frightened always that all our efforts to be safe will fail, and we, in the most vulnerable of groups due to age and chronic illness, will contract and die of Covid-19.

I remember when life was simple.  I remember complaining about the restaurant a friend preferred; about believing that, living alone, I knew what loneliness was. Now I would gladly go to any restaurant, just to be out once again.  Now I know more of loneliness than I have ever endured in a very solitary life.

The world will turn, I know; this will end.  Someday, Covid-19 will be merely a sad footnote in the history books, to be wondered at by generations that have never known pandemic.

It can’t happen soon enough. 

You might enjoy looking at these thoughts through another lens, by reading, “In the Moment”, which can be found archived from April 12, 2018.