Thursday, May 24, 2012

The older I get the more I come to respect my father's older sister, Celia M.Crosse. Such has not always been the case. We were a world apart in political, religious, and social values. She did not come into my life until my mid thirties, when, at Lee's urging, I contacted her in Los Angeles where she lived a modest but very proper life as a retired First World War veteran and public health nurse. She dedicated her energies to the practice of Religious Science. At that time she she rented a neat but humble apartment near Hollywood and professed her adoration of all things LA'ish. She collected pewter and I thought her just about that exciting.
Her voice probably irritated me more than anything sounding too octaves too high and  squeaky. She was tiny in stature even though a little stout. She suffered from congestive heart disease even then. Her heart condition would eventually take her life, but not until age 96. Her hand tailored suits, always lavender, matched her lavender scented  handkerchiefs and lavendar hand soaps. I found it hard to believe we shared any genetic makeup. What we had in common was a deep love for my long deceased father and that is about all. Armistice Day (now Veteran's Day of course) was her special day for she always wore a crepe paper red poppy in her suit lapel and waved a tiny American flag.
Most off putting to me about her was her opinionated personality. She did not hesitate to criticize my home, wardrobe, work, or behavior. I think she rejected most everything about me except my cats, for strangely she thought cats were wonderful. In her latter years she came to live in Oakland and be dependent on me, something for which I tried to hide my resentment. I'm sure my attitude and lack of attention was painful to her and I regret it now.
This morning cleaning out a drawer I came across a picture of her posing somewhere in France when she was an Army nurse in the First World War. Doesn't she look dapper? Like many others she volunteered to be a Red Cross nurse and was inducted into the army on rocking shipboard when torpedos were sighted on the crossing.. She was still in her teens, just out of the Boston School of Nursing. According to her the nurses served on the battlefield, even helping amputate limbs of wounded men in the trenches where conditions were beyond belief and there was seldom anesthetic.  This weekend I salute her courage. In fact the courage and dedication of all nurses everywhere.
During the First World War more than18,000 Red Cross nurses served with the Army and Navy Nurse Corp. I don't know how many of them were inducted into the army on shipboard as she was.  She used to tell the story of that day. Following the swearing in the nurses were ordered below deck for a physical. The army regulations required she be 5'0" or more. Measuring 4'9" the doctor instructed her to stand on her toes, which she did. She passed.
There was a wondrous parade in Paris following the Armistice. Nurses were given an allotment of money to buy a new uniform, theirs being battle worn. In true Aunt Celia style she bought instead a new Parisian chapeau. I can imagine it now.  Probably pink and covered with roses and rows of netting.

Friday, May 18, 2012

It Could Be Worse...

My friends from Minnesota taught me the adage in the title above when we were last painting in France. I keep trying to apply it to my life, seldom remembering it soon enough to smile away problems when they first occur.
Since I have a lifelong issue with trusting myself to make right decisions, I took pal Andrea with me to pick out new glasses frames. My prescriptions are always expensive, but eyes are everything, right? We settled on a plum color, intended to give my old face new zip.  After plunking down $750 (wincing vigorously) I looked forward to the new glow. Hah! I started wearing them Tuesday noon and by last night both eyes were almost swollen shut and burning. I have a hunch I am allergic to the plum colored dye in the frames.  On the other hand, it could be just my regular allergies taking on a new venue. Time will tell.
Meanwhile, several old friends met for lunch yesterday because the eldest of us, Clem, 90, is moving permanently to Arizona. We posed on the porch of the restaurant. l-r Clem, Bertie, Jeanne, and I. Egads, I have known each of them at least 55 years.  I think we look pretty jazzy for old bags, or do my blurry eyes deceive me? I waved goodbye to Clem as she drove away in her new Prius aptly hand decorated with  turquoise and maroon swirly stripes painted on the side.

Saturday, May 12, 2012

Not Kansas, but my schedule this last week has been a whirlwind. Last week it warmed up and as if waiting, my roses and iris exploded. The new baby pears on my pear tree are two inches long already. My funny and energetic friend Nancy from Denver was here for five days.  We managed to avoid much cooking by eating out (Chinese, Thai, Japanese and Mediteranean to mention a few.) We also shopped for new sheets and towels and summer clothes because I couldn't remember where I put mine. We even perused a Mexican market.  If you know me you know I have a low tolerance for shopping so this is a miracle. One beautiful day we even took the ferry to the city.  Another day we drove to Santa Rosa to visit old friends who had moved there. I bid Nancy a warm thanks and sad goodbye yesterday before coming home to water and weed.  This morning my good friend Jan J picked me up and we made the two hour jaunt to Penryn above Sacramento to attend the Loomis art loop, an annual Mother's Day weekend event. Visiting Sandy Delehanty in her lovely home and seeing her paintings is such a high for me.  It happened to be 98 outside.  How delightful to get home and see the fog meandering in through the Golden Gate.

Friday, May 4, 2012

Lost Objects

Living alone, a I do now, I have no one to blame if I misplace my keys or even worse, my partial plate or hearing aids. When she was living, Lee could always find whatever it was I had put down carelessly in the wrong place. She was patient and orderly, of course, whereas I am impulsive and messy. I wrote the following story for my Senior Center Creative Writing Class this week about lost objects, in this case through no fault of my own. . 

The Lost Objects
            It was only on Sundays I missed the slender engraved pen and pencil set making a barely perceptible bulge under his business suit jacket.  They appeared pristine and polished, though he had them as many years as I could remember.  They were of slick design, the background color of pussy-willows, interspersed with a darker grey variegated stripe.  When one pulled off the cap of either instrument the fit was so accurate it made a little sucking noise.  I think they were made by Schaeffer .
            Why did I covet them?  Partly because they were visually and kinesthetically lovely; partly because they were off limts to me.
            Sunday was the day my dad skipped shaving, wore khakis and rocked in his mahogany rocker, reading the Sunday papers, Time and Fortune.  From Monday through Saturday he performed a ritual.  A single parent, he fixed me Ovaltine, toast and a soft-boiled egg before donning a dark grey serge three-piece business suit, blue tie, and laundry starched white shirt.  Lastly he clipped the fountain pen and pencil inside his left vest pocket, lined up like toy soldiers.  He wore a gold ring and watch as well, but these were of little interest to me.
            It had been established that I was not allowed to play with the pen and pencil for these were an extension of his work.  All day he sat at a large desk in a private office and wrote mathematical figures on thin lined legal pads using the fine pointed pen with the slender gold nib.  Any notes were in tiny backhand.  Sometimes when not in school I hung out there, though I had to act adult and be very well behaved.  I remember the pencil was always loaded with extra thin black lead and I would marvel that the eraser hidden under the cap was virtually unused.  From time to time he would walk to the large room across the hall where his secretary and aides worked, handing out notes and assignments.
            He died instantly, head slumped over his desk, a massive stroke.  A day or so later one of his secretaries called me to come down.  I located Mr. Chitwood in the big room across from the closed door of Daddy’s office.  He found a place for us to be alone and there he presented me with my father’s gold ring, explaining he had removed it from his finger “before they took him away”.  His instructions were serious: “Put this on and never remove it.”  I thought the gesture was well intended, but creepy.
            What I wanted most was to go into Daddy’s private office but the door was closed tightly.  I wanted to sit in his swivel chair and feel his presence.  I wanted his pen and pencil set.  Where were they?  Probably the pen was in his hand as he died.  Were they to be buried with him?  I could not bring myself to ask, and I would never know. 
            I swallowed, saying nothing.  Later I had a jeweler make the ring smaller and I wore it for about ten years.  I think it might have been his Masonic ring.  Perhaps it was some comfort but it always felt awkward and difficult to explain.  It gathers dust in an old case in my closet sixty plus years later.
            Today the pen and pencil set would bring good money at an antique collector’s meet, but of course I would not part with them, any more than I would part with the memory of their significance in his life and mine.