A GRADUAL CONGREGATION – Marilyn Armstrong

It turns out, there are a lot of variations of congregate meaning “to get together, join together, group together, party hearty.”

With some fish, it also means collaboration to make baby fish. Or is that conjugation?

But there is no word which means “someone who congregates.” No congregator. Congregationalist? Congregationistic? Congruent?

 Way back when, in the days when I had energy, enthusiasm, and I liked most people, I was much more enthusiastic about “getting together.” I was considered sociable and I almost agreed with that.

I was never quite as sociable many thought. I was a party “edge person.” I would look for whoever was standing along at the edges of a party and engage them in conversation. I never like big groups of people in one place because you couldn’t have a conversation with anyone when everyone was trying to talk.

I made exceptions when I gave the party because if it was my party, I didn’t expect to engage in conversation. Party giving was more about flitting about and making sure everyone else was having a good time. I gave a few good parties through the decades (generations?), but mostly, I preferred having a friend or two or three — and a great conversation about everything.

Remember conversations that lasted until dawn? We covered philosophy, government, the meaning of life. Travel to the stars, reincarnation and the best books we’d read lately. No one was bored or left out.

Later, people got old. Died. Drifted into a world of their own, moved to senior housing “somewhere near their kids” which was always hundreds of miles from us. Others simply drifted.

What we had previously held in common — work — it was no longer relevant after we all had stopped working.

Those of us with functional marriages who really liked our partners have been lucky. Singleness is fine when you are active enough to travel and gadabout, but these days, it’s an abiding joy to have a partner whose hand you can hold while you watch old movies, cuddled by dogs with cold noses.

We’ve been talking lately about how few friends we have remaining. This isn’t unusual at our age. People leave and don’t come back. Many others don’t like traveling. Or driving any distance. More don’t like going to places with which they are unfamiliar. Everyone like their own bed.

If you have pets, it gets increasingly difficult to find someone to take care of them, especially as your pets get old, too.

We still have friends. They are old friends. Friends forever. Who knew the people we knew and share memories of the times through which we’ve lived. Have common political and philosophical beliefs — and hopefully enjoy the same movies.

So let us congregate to our greater enjoyment! Or try, anyhow.

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!

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.

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.

KEEP IT SMALL, KEEP IT SIMPLE. BETTER YET, ELOPE – Marilyn Armstrong

FOWC with Fandango — Abstain from Ceremonies

If you survive the wedding, marriage is a piece of cake.

When Garry proposed, I was shaken. He was 48 and I was 43. I’d been married twice and my first husband (still alive) was Garry’s best friend. Don’t ask for details. As they say in modern RomComs, “It’s complicated.”

I had finally managed to get unmarried to number two which was complicated by requiring a board of Rabbis in Jerusalem to agree and you’d be surprised how complicated that can become. They are not modern guys.

Photo: Debbie Stone

Garry proposed. Once I got over the shock, I realized there would be a wedding, about which I wasn’t enthusiastic. I’d never been enthusiastic about weddings.

But Garry wanted the whole thing with flowers,  music, and his pastor from childhood (retired, but drug out of retirement for the occasion) … and of course, me. It had to be in New York, not Boston.

Having told me what he wanted for a wedding, Garry retired from the fray and let me get on with it. At some point, he figured out I would do everything and he could show up in a tuxedo. Voila! Done and done.

Somewhere in Ireland

It’s a blur. I don’t remember the details though I have it on a CD and that helps. When you are a bride, you get moved around, told where to stand. You wear shoes so painful you need the jaws of life to remove your feet. Also, the gown had no shoulders, so I had to wear some kind of corset thing. It was a warm September and beneath the corset, it was sweaty. Then there were stockings and a veil, flowers, hair, and makeup. Sheesh.

As for the date, it was simple. It would be when Garry’s baby brother, the honorable Dr. Anton Armstrong, conductor of the St. Olaf’s Choir wasn’t going to be on the road with the choir. We wanted him to sing — and HE wanted to sing — but he’s a busy guy. Then there was a bagpiper (my former first husband insisted). My Maid of Honor wanted to sing (lovely voice) … and another friend was going to sing too. NO way we were getting away with simple music and anyway, Garry has a streak of Hollywood director in his soul, so we made almost no plans for the party, but staged a big show as the ceremony.

On September 15th. Today. In 1990.

When people asked if they could bring their kids, we said NO and they brought them anyway. Garry’s mother invited all her best friends because she was Garry’s Mom.

Happy anniversary!

I wanted to go to city hall and have the Mayor marry us. He was a pretty good friend then — still IS a friend, though he’s long out of office. We could have had a nice little ceremony on the steps of city hall, grabbed a plane at Logan and headed for Ireland. But we had to have this wedding. I think we were the ONLY people to invite 86 people and end up with 110 people. No one refused.

Everyone came.

“You mean — GARRY is getting MARRIED? I’ve gotta BE there!” He was Boston’s longest known bachelor, so this was an occasion for all and sundry.

It was a great wedding which I know because we had it taped. A couple of years ago, we transferred to DVD. It turned out mylar tape corrodes over time. Who knew?

With a few exceptions (mostly due to death), we know all the same people today we knew then. Funny how that works.

Photo: Debbie Stone

I suppose we stayed married because we were determined to make it work. We really cared about each other. Love is important in a marriage, but I have to say it is the friendship that keeps it going. When the flush of romance has been crushed under the pressure of two full-time jobs and Mr. Romance just wants to sit around the apartment watching baseball, being good friends matters.

Ireland

Love is a grand thing, but a deep and abiding friendship is forever.

Personally? Call an abstention on the wedding and spend the money on a fabulous honeymoon.

LEARNING TO HATE – BY ELLIN CURLEY

There’s a beautiful and poignant song in the musical “South Pacific”, by Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein. It’s called, “You’ve Got To Be Carefully Taught”. It opens with the lines “You’ve got to be taught to hate and fear, you’ve got to be taught from year to year.”

I’ve been thinking about those lyrics recently. I was struck by a common statistic in both the Brexit vote in the UK and our election of Donald Trump. In the UK, the voters who voted most heavily anti-immigrant and anti-EU were from areas that had few to no immigrants. The open-minded, pro-immigrant, pro-EU voters were clustered in the areas with the highest volume of immigrants.

Interesting.

The same phenomenon repeated itself in the United States. Trump supporters accepted, if not endorsed his xenophobic, anti-Muslim, racist rhetoric and dog whistling. His voters were concentrated in areas that were most heavily white, with the lowest number of immigrants and other racial minorities.

The cities, where immigrants and minorities are concentrated, were across the board Democratic and anti-Trump. It seems that if you have contacts with minority groups or people not exactly like yourself, you accept and don’t fear them.

If these groups of people are total unknowns to you, you’re open to believing all the negative rhetoric about them. You’re open to seeing them as dangerous and destructive to you and your way of life.

At first, I thought this was counter-intuitive. But I realized that it makes perfect sense. When you live with a diverse group of people, you see that everyone, regardless of race, nationality or religion, shares your life experience. Most importantly, you see all other people as individuals. To you, they’re not, nor can they be seen as, a monolithic, mysterious blob of humanity, threatening everything you hold dear.

On a personal note, I grew up in New York City. Even in the ‘50’s and ‘60’s, I saw different races and nationalities everywhere. I also went to integrated schools. When I was four years old, I had an eye-opening experience that I still remember. I’m a Jewish Caucasian. My beloved Nanny was a Christian black woman.

To me, Ethie was part of the family. She was just like me in every way. The first time that belief was challenged was when something came up about her going to church. It suddenly hit me that Ethie wasn’t JEWISH! She wasn’t just like me, she was different in some ways. It still didn’t register on me that her skin was a different color. That didn’t even show up on my four-year-old radar. I just remember grappling with the idea that Ethie was not really family.

She was not JUST LIKE US. She was, in some crucial way, different. I didn’t love her any less. I learned something that day. That I could love someone who wasn’t exactly like me.

Different was okay.

I guess isolation from different religious and ethnic groups leaves you susceptible to hate and fear.



You’ve got to be taught
To hate and fear,
You’ve got to be taught
From year to year,
It’s got to be drummed
In your dear little ear
You’ve got to be carefully taught.

You’ve got to be taught to be afraid
|Of people whose eyes are oddly made,
And people whose skin is a diff’rent shade,
You’ve got to be carefully taught.
You’ve got to be taught before it’s too late,
Before you are six or seven or eight,
To hate all the people your relatives hate,
You’ve got to be carefully taught!