Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Keeping the Faith

The venue had the gaudy elegance that was popular in the 60’s and 70’s.  Gilded mirrors, crystal chandeliers and even a grand marble staircase that lead to the cavernous dining hall above. It was reminiscent of my late Aunt’s home where heavy chintzes combined with flowery brocades.  It even had the old smell too.

It was 1975 again.  Only I was not thirteen years old anymore.

I attended a fundraising gala for my old high school.

I had stepped back in time.  My old neighbors were there, a physician’s family whose many children had in turn become physicians themselves.  The daughter, who was being honored that night, was an accomplished breast surgeon, accompanied by her plastic surgeon husband and her internist brother. 

There were nuns from my sister’s high school who politely but vaguely remembered my last name. Chances are they remembered later that evening all the trouble my sister had caused them as she rebelled against their Catholic high school and wanted to graduate in 3 years. She was barely 16 at the time.  My parents thought she was too young.  Conversely, she thought she was too old for the white-gloved patent leather shoe nonsense.  They both won in a sense, she eventually going to a much more highly ranked college and my parents had her home for one more year. The war was ruthless however. 

The collateral damage was that I went to the other Catholic Girls High school just barely six blocks away, rupturing friendships that were almost 9 years in the making.  But books replaced those friendships and I think to this day, I got the better spoils of the battle between my parents and sister.

There were parents of friends who were extraordinarily polite yet had aged so incredibly so. They were the “young” parents of my high school set, but age is now so relative. Now they are now older and frailer. Not even I would be considered a young parent of a high schooler anymore.

The evening was  celebrated with typical benedictions and prayers that I can recall only with prompting.  Even the sign of the cross has become a odd gesture that I had to consciously think about.

I even ran into an old boyfriend there.  In traditional fashion, his daughter attends the same high school as her mother and both grandmothers combined. 

“In my house it’s 1957,” he proudly and paternally boasted as a throwback to the conventional values that persisted in that room, in that parish, in that neighborhood, in that city.

And in 1957. 

The Poppa!  TRADITION! I could hear a fiddler in the background.

Strong-willed daughters will change that heart. They always do.

My parents made the right choice in 1975 having me attend that high school.  It was the best choice they had at the time.  The public high schools may have had the basic academics but racial tensions were still very high. My geographic high school had only two white students.  In contrast, my Catholic high school had only 3 black students in a class of 114.  It was white flight without the movers.

 But as times change,  attitudes do so more slowly.  Over time, the city quietly assembled an Academic High School, even gave it that name, and through much hard work it has become one of the best high school in the state as well as the country. The city gentrified, improved, progressed and finally took advantage of its proximity to  Manhattan. I love going back now to new restaurants, the amazing waterfront and a new vibrancy. And I do go geographically home from time to time.

The most odd scenario of the evening was supposed to be its most engaging,  yet it was its most telling.  The Chairman of the Gala greeted me at the door. 

“”Maureen’ it’s nice to see you.”

“Huh? What?”I  silently gasped. ( My name is not Maureen). I honestly did not know what to say. I was initially upset that maybe the ravages of age had taken too horrible a toll.  I am unrecognizable.  Crap. I have aged, gained weight, looked hagged, etc.  

But that’s me.  Always my fault.  Mea Culpa.

Bless me father for I have……

Not sinned! It took me days to realize I am glad she didn’t recognize me.  I have earned these lines, thicker waist and cropped fingernails by doing things I love. I am raising three beautiful girls as their father has moved a thousand miles away. I care for many patients that others would find loathsome and unprofitable.  I dig gardens, refinish furniture , write awful poetry and browse used book sales for old poetry. I am a dogged researcher and I have the bad eyesight to prove it.  I cook. I eat. I garden.  I cook and eat what I garden.  All well.  Perhaps too well. Oh well.

That lemon of a greeting became my hard (fought) lemonade.

I have learned to finally make that too.

 I am not the obedient, quiet Catholic girl that I once was. Hell, I even wore a plunging dress.

And I even brought a date.

No, I am not the same.  No, I am not 17 anymore.

 I have seen the world, lived the world, tasted the world, been educated in the world and have progressed in the world.

Tom Wolfe famously said “ You can’t go home again.” 

I disagree.

You can, as this gala can attest.

But why would I want to?

Thank you SDA this Thanksgiving. 

You are still teaching me valuable lessons about life. 

Only this lesson is that you can leave it all behind.

Wednesday, September 3, 2014

Support Can be Beautiful

Don’t find the man of your dreams.  Find one that will support your dreams.
 -Excerpt from a conversation with my daughter August 2014

I read Huffington Post.  Yes, it doesn’t carry the literacy of The New Yorker nor the analysis of The New York Times but it gets the news job done.  It's usually a quick read in the morning before my requisite two cups of coffee.

And it has juicy news.  You know.  The type that you either shake your head at, sends chills down your spine or makes you thank goodness you don’t live in Thailand.

Guilty as charged.

But sometimes it has stories that make you just think.

I was struck by an an article that featured Jeff Bridges the other day. It was not a celebrity tell all (he didn’t impregnate an alien)  but he spoke about his wife and how his career would be nothing if it weren't for her.  It was charming, complimentary and downright cool. He has clearly stood on the shoulder of a giant.

And he is certainly “THE Dude.”

Ah, but Huffington did not disappoint.  The next article I read was on Kendall Jenner.  Topless. Yet again. In Thailand!

Get that girl a parent and a bra and perhaps some Ceftriaxone.

So what two neurons fired to find a connection here?

Bras. Brassieres, Over the shoulder boulder holders, Goody Hoodies, Nork Sacks, Tit pants, Upper Decker Flopper stoppers,  Hooter Holsters,  Cup Cake Wrappers and  Brass Ears (I have no clue what this one means) . Somewhere deep in my psyche,  a 11 year old primordial male neuron fires, sends signals to the motor neurons in my metacarpals, rolls that trackball and can find anything on Sicktionary.

Ah, yes.  The connection.  Yes there is one.

Bras, the really good ones without euphemisms, are very similar to life partners:

Very few of us look good without one. But there are always exceptions.

We need them for more than 18 hours a day.

They lift you, yet separate when you need breathing room.

The good ones cross your heart gently, passionately,  not stomp all over it.

We don't need one when we are younger yet the first ones can be trainers too.

And strong, emotionally athletic ones hold you really close when you are really going over rough terrain.

Victoria, your secret is out.

Because support can be beautiful.  At age 52 I certainly know what Playtex meant physically.  

Now I finally know emotionally too.

And Kendall, Rumor, Rihanna, etc.: Over exposure makes you just another boob.

Equal time:  I guess athletic supporters fill that same role for gentlemen. But where are those advertisements?

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

A Clinician’s Eye

With a clinician’s eye
My plumber has
a variegated mole on his left check
that needs attention

And the neighbor has lost
Perhaps a future along with
too much weight in the 6 months
since I have last seen her

And the rash on the boy
on the cheek
in check-
out line
pairs well  
with his slight wheezing
and shiners

But I keep my tools cast down
to myself

Minding my own clinical business

Sunday, January 19, 2014

Minds and Hands

I am a child of a child of the Depression.  Growing up I learned to be as frugal as possible.  Stale bread was always turned into breadcrumbs if it hadn’t already become moldy. Clothes were always dried outside and never in expensive dryers. Home repairs were at least attempted until the job either got too complicated or way too expensive to fix on your own.  No one hired painters.  If you wanted your room painted, it was done as a group project bright and early on a Saturday morning.  Children were for the woodwork and adults the ceilings. The walls were up for grabs. No exceptions.

Yard work was always hard work.  Thank goodness we lived in the city and our yard was not that big.  My kindly uncle who lived down the street taught me. He was quite the character: part railroad worker, part classical reader, big time gambler and amazing gardener.  His training (for all disciplines) came from the Civilian Conservation Corps, the job program started in the 1930’s for young unemployed men.  Hours I would spend with him and his garden as he regaled in his stories that always started with “Jackson, when I was in the CCC camps…” I have no idea where he got that nickname from but he was the only one who called me that.  I planted things I would never eat, yet delighted in cultivating. Rhubarb, tomatoes, horseradish, and zucchini were planted in his “victory” garden. I handled real fish heads that legend has it the Native Americans used to condition their crops. (Or at least that’s what he told me.) I learned how to save the seeds for the next harvest and to sun dry tomatoes on the back porch way before they were sold in expensive oil in specialty markets. And who could forget "zombie geraniums?"

I cringe when my children leave a room and do not turn the light out or leave the television on. I hate when someone has turned the thermostat to 72ºF.  I love a brisk 62-65º.  My children make fun of my sweater collection not realizing it was a necessity growing up. Surprisingly when my daughter came home from college this Christmas, she raided my sweater collection. I delight in relatively recent recycling trends although I feel my family had been doing it for decades.  Paper bags became book covers, or if we were really fancy, left over “Sanitas” that graced the many walls of our aged urban Victorian. The old adage "Waste not-want not" certainly was strongly advised.

Who could forget my mother’s “Depression soup?”  It was her comfort food on a cold winter’s day. It was simply warm milk, leftover noodles of any shape or variety and salt and pepper.  It certainly can fill an empty belly.

These are lessons that we have gotten away from in the last generation.  Simple items. Simple food.  Simple chores.  You lose a side of yourself when you don’t know how to fix something, make something, grow something or even try.  Life doesn’t have to be fancy or expensive.  Not all manual labor is distasteful or without thought.  I have many friends ranging from an amazing internist who sews designer quilts to a highly regarded trial attorney who does cross-stitch. Necessary for warmth or decoration? Probably not. Good for mental health?  Ask them. We have not only intellect but also hands.  I love the motto of my sister’s alma mater MIT:  “Mens et Manus”.  Ah, Mr. Kaster what would I do without your sadistic Latin teachings?  “Mens et Manus” means “minds and hands”.  Life should be the right combination of the two in good times and bad.  Wonderful lessons from leaner times that we should think of today.

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

God Bless You, Mr. Minivan

“You will last a lot longer, if you don't try to sing.” 
― Kurt VonnegutGod Bless You, Mr. Rosewater

The roads were slick yesterday with the Northeast snow.  Undeterred I went shopping anyway, songs blasting and heavily clothed in my minivan retreat.

The ride went smoothly, predictably and the stores not crowded.

It was the drive home that was a source of anxiety then relief.

Route 695 is my Circle of Willis, providing a major artery to all things Baltimore. 

Want to go to IKEA for high styled yet temporary furniture?  695 to 43.
Want to go to a horse show in Finksburg?  695 to 795.
Want to go to DC?  695 to 95 to 495 past the looming Mormon Temple that still gives me the heebie-jeebies.

God Bless you Mr. Minivan.

I have had more expensive cars in my home.  Ones with pimp-inspired rims.  Ones with not only heated seats but air-conditioned ones as well.  Ones with back massagers, laser speed control, and rear-view signal turns. I have even thought in a more fecund phase of getting a Tesla, which provides the practicality of an electric engine, amazing style and  (I admit) relief of a good old-fashioned middle-aged crisis.

But God bless you Minivan.

I saw the minivan on the right.  Same model as mine but a different color. Overturned but not damaged below the slope of the mildly elevated highway.  I could easily see how the accident occurred.  Someone probably wasn’t paying attention, lulled by singing along with Steely Dan at the top of his or her lungs or playing with the connected iPhone for a new playlist on iTunes.  Or perhaps reading a short text from home asking me what is for dinner.  Not paying the upmost of attention, they swerved to avoid the car in front, not fully realizing the slick conditions, veering off onto the shoulder, unguarded by rails.  Easy Peasy.  Simple, but costly in emotion, car repairs and future insurance premiums.

By the time I had approached, the vehicle was righted and emergency personnel clearing the shoulder.

The clinician inside of me always listens and waits for ambulances in accidents like these.  You can subtly tell the extent of injury by their rush to the scene.  No ambulance heard, then the crash victims walked away.   Hurried rush, there is usual serious life threatening injury.  An ambulance in view but no sirens, then the unfortunate has succumbed to the injuries. 

There was no ambulance called for this accident.  The passengers were safe and sound and standing, albeit distressed, by the side of the road.

No need for ambulances here. 

No need for further rubbernecking either.

Nothing to see.  Nothing to see.  Move along. Move along.

God Bless you Mr. Minivan.

I thank God sometimes for my practicality. Despite my often-perilous driving habits, it’s nice to know I have a safety net.

But it also has a DVD player that I admit I have never watched and a moon roof I have never opened. 

And that iPhone connector.

Options. Options.