ORGANIZING THE PAST – BY ELLIN CURLEY

I just spent three weeks with my 34-year-old daughter, Sarah.

She lives 3000 miles away, in LA, so this was a rare treat. We have so many interests and views in common, we never run out of things to talk about, even when we spend 24 hours a day together for three weeks!

Sarah

Beyond great conversation, visiting with friends and family and watching TV and movies together, Sarah provided an invaluable service. She is a world-class organizer and loves going through the boxes and boxes of photos and memorabilia in the attic.

She organized our family photos going back to my grandparents from the early 1900s. Everything is now in plastic containers, organized by category, dates, properly labeled. We had a serious mouse problem so the plastic boxes with lids are life savers.

Organized boxes in my attic

We found wonderful treasures buried in the attic boxes.

We found the hospital bracelet I wore when I gave birth to my son in 1980. We found a large photo negative of the Surgical Army Hospital my ex-husband ran in Vietnam in 1970-1971.

Letters I wrote to my Mom from my first trip to Europe with friends in 1965 were a hoot to read. We also found a sterling silver cup with my name engraved on it – a gift to my mom in honor of my birth in 1949.

The oldest find was a series of love letters to my grandfather dated 1914. They were from someone who was clearly in love with him and equally clear was the fact that her feelings were not reciprocated.

Letter to my grandfather dated 1914

I was blown away by a particular set of writings from my early life. I had saved my teachers’ comments and evaluations (given in lieu of grades) from third grade through sixth grade. Most interesting was the fact that my basic personality has not changed much since then. I apparently had only a few close friends then, as now. I was considered a leader in small groups but faded into the background in large groups. Like now.

I was curious, inquisitive, creative and intelligent but lacked confidence. I seemed to have constantly sought the approval of adults. I’m better today but still lack confidence and undervalue my talents and accomplishments.

My senior thesis in college

The second category of writings we found, were papers I had written from grade school through college. I was thrilled that Sarah actually read some of these – my early evolution as a writer. She was impressed by my organization, persuasiveness, and writing style. I was impressed too. I was very sophisticated for my age, in writing and thinking.

Our exploration of our family history was gratifying. I’m very happy my daughter will keep our family treasures and pass on our stories. In fact, Sarah encouraged me to write about the many family stories from my grandparents down to my kids. I spent about a year writing and posting autobiographical blogs for Serendipity. I have over 330 pages of these blogs.

Sarah and my dogs

Sarah helped me put them in roughly chronological order, copy them, and put them into large three-ring binders. We added tabs to indicate stories from different people and periods of time.

For example, my life is divided into my early years, living with my first husband before kids, my kids’ childhoods, and life with my second husband.

My Family History with Tabs

I gave a copy of the Family History in Blogs to both my children, so we all have a collection of the most interesting stories about everyone in the family. I feel great that I’ve preserved in writing what the photo albums preserve in pictures. It’s one of my proudest accomplishments.

Binder I had customized for my Family History

And you, Serendipity readers, came along with me for this amazing ride. You gave me the motivation to write all these stories and sharing them with you has been fantastic.

Thank you for reading them and commenting on them. My children thank you too!

THERE’S NO REVENGE THAT BEATS GETTING RICH – Marilyn Armstrong

FOWC with Fandango — Revenge

Revenge is giving you cousin’s kids an ant farm for Christmas. Or maybe one of those big drums that will beat automatically when you turn a handle. Or, for any teenager, a small chainsaw and when someone objects, point out that we all need to learn to handle tools. Just a little chainsaw.

Or, as the old lady said to the congregation, there’s always outliving the bitches.

I don’t think about revenge. That would make me insane. I work on survival. That only make me a little less insane.

PATHS CROSSING – BY ELLIN CURLEY

I became friends with Jane in the late 1970’s in a rather circuitous way.

I worked at a law firm and one of my jobs was to write short Trust and Estate recommendations for Merrill Lynch clients. The person I dealt with at Merrill Lynch was a woman named Jane London. That was Jane’s professional, maiden name. Jane knew me by my professional, maiden name, Ellin Kardiner. This fact becomes important later on in the story.

Me in 1980, when I was first friends with Jane

Jane and I both hated our jobs and spent a lot of time talking on the phone. We had a lot in common and developed a great rapport. We only met in person once, when both of our bosses took us all out for lunch. We hit it off fantastically.

At one point, Jane had just gotten married and was house hunting. She wanted to move to a coop on the upper east side. I had just moved to a coop on East 92nd Street, so I was giving her advice.

Jane at her wedding in 1979 when I first knew her

For some reason, which I can’t remember, our professional relationship ended and we lost touch. By then I was pregnant. I gave birth over two months early and quit my job to stay home and take care of my preemie.

I made friends with a woman in my building who was also an older (I was 30) stay at home mom with young kids. Her name was Janet. One day, Janet told me that she had met a new tenant in our building, on our elevator line, who was also a stay at home mom in our age group. Her name was Jane Berenbeim. By now I was using my married name, Ellin Kaiser, so Jane was told she was meeting someone named Ellin Kaiser. You can see where this is going.

We all arranged to meet at Janet’s apartment. I got there first and was nursing my son. Jane walked in and we looked at each other in disbelief. “Jane London!” I cried! “Ellin Kardiner!” Jane exclaimed! We didn’t realize that we were seeing an old friend again because we didn’t know each others’ married names! We also hadn’t realized that Jane had, in fact, bought an apartment in the same building I was living in, just three floors down.

Jane at my son’s Bar Mitzvah in 1993

We became close friends and our kids grew up hanging out at each others’ homes. We would run up and down the back stairs to see each other. Jane and I both had second children and we both named them Sarah. We stayed in touch for a while after I moved to Connecticut in 1991 but eventually, we lost touch.

Jane and her 2 daughters at my daughter’s Bat Mitzvah in 1998

We reconnected recently and are happily back in each other’s lives. We still have a lot in common and enjoy each other’s company. Our husbands get along famously as well. So this friendship is back on track and destined to last for the rest of our lives!

Jane and me today

AS ELEANOR OF AQUITAINE SAID, “WHAT FAMILY DOESN’T HAVE ITS UPS AND DOWNS?” – GARRY ARMSTRONG


“What family doesn’t have its ups and downs?” – Eleanor of Aquitaine, “The Lion In Winter” (1968)


Family!

We are always in the middle of dealing with our relatives, especially this time of year. It can be a challenge. We love them but brokering who is going where while trying to avoid the inevitable battles which will last until the next century leaves us having “loud conversations” with each other.

Which is not fair. It isn’t even our drama. I suppose that’s why some families just give it up after a while. The drama overwhelms the joy.

Dublin, September 1990

We don’t have Mom and Dad, Gramps or Gramma, Uncles or Aunts to consult for help. We’re it!

July 2012

I look at the old photos of my family from long, long ago. I wonder how they dealt with these things. They look so young and carefree. I know things were not always easy for them as my brothers and I grew up. I still recall “loud conversations” between Mom and Dad.

I used to wonder why they didn’t resolve things easily like they did on family TV shows which were forever playing as we were growing up? You know, where father definitely knew best? I once even asked my Mom why our house wasn’t like Donna Reed’s home. You can guess how she answered me.

1963

Why didn’t the clock stop for Marilyn and me when we were younger and healthier with some of those beloved family members still around to help us deal with stuff. We’re the “old folks” now, the senior members of what was once a lot bigger bunch of relatives.

Family are us. It’s more than a little disconcerting.

COMPLIMENTS AND SUGGESTIONS UNBIDDEN – Marilyn Armstrong

I read a post by The English Professor at LargeShe was writing about kindness and love and the simple things you can do to make the world a better place to live. If you have a chance, read her piece. You probably already agree, but she says it so very well and with so much class.

Mated for life

I got to thinking that my version of that is to offer compliments (unasked for) to people who I expect are rarely offered a compliment.

Ducks on a golden pond

I tell people they look great and they do. Maybe not for a 20-year old, but for them, they look fantastic. I tell them when they seem to have lost weight. I got a bullseye last week when it turned out she really had lost 50 pounds. I tell them they have a beautiful smile.

Saying nice things to people who don’t often hear them is the only gift i have to offer. I usually don’t know whether it was appreciated, but I know an unexpected compliment makes me feel good. Sometimes a bit embarrassed too, but what’s a little embarrassment between friends?

Red finch!

On the other hand, I am very wary of offering suggestions to anyone. I have a friend who takes pretty good pictures on her cell phone. She has come a long way, but can’t seem to remember to hold it level. Every picture is just a wee bit crooked. My pictures are crooked too, even with the leveler built into my camera. But I have Photoshop so I can straighten them later.

She doesn’t use any software. What it does mean is if the photo starts crooked, it will slant for all eternity. But she’s sharp. So I finally suggested she try and pay attention to holding the phone level when she shoots. I bet she will, too, because she is one of those “tell her once and she gets it” learners.

I’m pretty sure I complimented at least one follower into getting a better camera and she’s become an amazing photographer. Sometimes, a compliment, a well-meant suggestion can make a huge difference.

The most important part is to offer a compliment or suggestion without an expectation of payback and realize if you get rejected, drop it. The best thing is when you make someone feel better or improve their work or get them started in a different direction … and maybe they don’t even realize you’re the one who did it. When that happens, remember to never mention it. If you bring it up, you’ll ruin it.

Be happy. And shut up.

A TEST FOR FRIENDS – Marilyn Armstrong

 

RDP Thursday – FRIEND


Does anyone remember for what litmus paper actually tests?


Litmus is a water-soluble mixture of different dyes extracted from lichens, especially Roccella tinctoria. It is often absorbed onto filter paper to produce one of the oldest forms of pH indicator, used to test materials for acidity. Blue litmus paper turns red under acidic conditions and red litmus paper turns blue under basic (alkaline) conditions, with the color change occurring over the pH range 4.5-8.3 at 25 °C. Neutral litmus paper is purple. Litmus can also be prepared as an aqueous solution that functions similarly. Under acidic conditions the solution is red. Under basic conditions, the solution is blue.


I’ve yet to determine the “litmus test” for anything other than PH balance.

Like in a tropical fish tank. You need to know the PH of the water or the fish will die. As for friends? There are no tests. All my best friends became best friends because we liked each other, enjoyed each other’s company. Shared a similar taste. There was no test. We hung out and sort of “stuck.”

Really good friends and one excellent dog

People and life aren’t a formula. There’s nothing which indicates the potential quality of a friendship, the probable value of a relationship, the likely longevity of two hearts that resonate to each others’ rhythms.

Garry and Harvey Leonard

I’m sure I’d never pass anyone’s “friend test.” Probably, assuming I could create one, not even my own. I don’t believe in standardized tests. Not in the schoolroom and certainly not in relationships.

As for standard litmus testing, I’m pretty sure I have a pH.

Really old friend.

If an actual litmus test were applied, I would definitely pass. Everyone would pass a litmus test because … (drumroll, trumpets) … you can’t fail a litmus test. There’s no correct answer and no passing grade.

“Throw that bum out! His pH is way too low!”

If my mother was any kind of judge, I’m too acidic, though there are days when I feel solidly alkaline.

Since surviving my brief fling at youth, I have opinions, but I don’t test. I have standards. I won’t argue with stupid people. I’m referring to folks who combine blissful ignorance with strong opinions. I suppose there are a few other points, political, intellectual and social (don’t chew with your mouth open), but no test. I like people or I don’t.

To put it another way, I like what I like and I have no idea why. I don’t want to analyze it. Does that make me a loser? Or, as they say on Facebook, a looser?

I’ll bet my problem is when I have nothing to say, I say nothing. That’s gotta be it!

If you want to be my friend, I promise you’ll never have to pass a test of any kind. Not a litmus or any other test. My love and loyalty are test-free, organic, and earth-friendly. All that’s required is genuine affection and a modicum of respect.

A LACK OF UNDERSTANDING

The Message by Rich Paschall

Roy walked into the restaurant just after noon, about the same time as almost every other Saturday for the past ten years.  He picked up a newspaper from a rack near the door and came inside.  The sign in front of the register said “Please wait to be seated.”

“Oh, you can sit anywhere, hon,” the blonde haired waitress advised.  She was on duty most Saturdays but Roy did not know her name and she did not know his.  Their faces were familiar to one another but they never introduced themselves.

The restaurant was equally the same size to each side of the register.  Roy took the first booth to the right, as was his usual custom. He set his cell phone down on the table and grabbed for a menu.  A bus boy appeared with a glass of water, set it down and hurried away.  Roy turned over the coffee cup on the table, as if to invite it to be filled.  Then he perused the menu which he knew well.

As he waited for the waitress to arrive his phone buzzed the alert that he had received a message.  Roy did not look down.  A moment later it buzzed again, but Roy continued to ignore the phone.  He knew who was sending him something on Messenger, and he would read it near the end of the day, as usual.

The waitress came to booth 1, filled Roy’s coffee cup, and then set the pot on the table. “What’ll it be, hon?” she inquired in a tired voice.  At that she grabbed an order pad from her apron and a pencil from her blonde teased hair.

Roy looked up and thought that her hair style must have been in fashion 30 or more years earlier.  He guessed bright blue eye lids were in vogue then too.

“I’ll have scrambled eggs and sausage with hash browns and toast,” Roy announced.  It was his usual Saturday fare at the Golden Prize Restaurant.

“Links or patties?” the seasoned waitress asked.

“Uh…links.”  Roy thought he must have had sausage patties last time, so a change was in order.  In truth, little ever changed in Roy’s life, except for one recent event, of course.

His concentration on pork sausage choices was interrupted by another buzzing on the phone.  He glanced down to have his suspicions confirmed.  He knew what the message would say.  He would read it later.

Soon the bus boy arrived with a coffee pot in hand, but Roy’s cup was full and the young man scurried away.  Roy sipped his coffee, read through the sports section of the paper, and did not look at his phone.

Across the room he spied a couple with three young children.  The youngest was just a toddler who could not sit still. Roy stared at the group and wondered how a family of 5 could afford to eat at the “family restaurant” at those prices.  “I could buy a week’s groceries for what that  meal will cost,” Roy thought.  It was a bit of an exaggeration, but not far off the mark.

“Here ya go, hon,” the waitress announced as she artfully slid the coffee cup over to set down the large plate of eggs, sausage and hash browns and the small plate of toast.  “Anything else, dear?”

“Nope,” Roy said automatically. There was something else, but it was not on the menu at the Golden Prize.  In fact it could not be bought anywhere so Roy tried to keep it off his mind.  His phone sitting in plain view was a reminder of his situation, however.

When the meal was finished, the waitress arrived with coffee pot in hand.  “More coffee, hon?”

“Just a little,” Roy stated.  The waitress filled his cup, put the check face down on the table and walked away.  Roy sat motionless for a while, took a sip of coffee and then grabbed the check.  He calculated 15 percent of the total in his head, so he would leave the appropriate tip in cash. Then grabbed his phone off the table and headed to the register.

The blonde waitress was leaning on the counter as if she was waiting for Roy to arrive.  He handed her the check and his credit card.  She  handed back the receipt to sign and Roy was soon on his way home.

When he got home, Roy plugged in his phone to be charged and successfully ignored it the rest of the day.  When the clock had passed 9pm, Roy picked up the phone to find the battery at 100 percent.  He sat at the kitchen table, opened Messenger and began to read.  It was basically the same message he had received every day that month.

“Baby, I am sorry I had to go.  Things were not good for me and I needed to go away. I want for us to be friends, but I just could not stay any longer.  I need more freedom.  I hope you will understand and forgive me.  Please bb.”

Roy read the short message a few times.  He did not understand, so how could he?  Each night he read the message received that day, thought it over carefully, but he just did not understand.  If he could not understand, how could he forgive?

Roy sent no responses for over a month.  Then the messages stopped coming.