Author Archives: Barbara

About Barbara

I live in a small railroad town in Virginia, am a retired elementary school librarian, and enjoy recording the funny, poignant, quirky, and thought-provoking things that go on daily in my little corner of the universe.

Vivez Les Etats Unis!

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At 67, I have celebrated our country’s independence each July for a good long time now. Often growing up, the festivities were at our local park, watching the fireworks drop their colors into the lake there. Some years we were in Colorado, cooking out and sharing sparklers with second cousins who we only saw every four years. And since I grew up outside of Washington, D.C., we occasionally journeyed to the city to sit with thousands of others as we watched the “rocket’s red glare” over the Washington Monument to the strains of the National Symphony Orchestra playing “The 1812 Overture.” A surefire guarantee of goosebumps on a warm summer’s night…..

And yet, for all those wonderful memories, the nicest Fourth I’ve had in recent years happened just last summer, very far from home. I was on a two week tour across France with 24 other Americans that began in Paris the first of July. We’d headed out of that glorious city and into the countryside a few days later. I’d remembered it was the Fourth that morning when I awoke, but soon forgot as we toured the site where a 13th century castle was being recreated, enjoyed a picnic lunch, and finally landed in Bourges late that afternoon. The incredibly picturesque town, situated in the Burgundy region, was replete with houses that dated to the 15th century, a beautiful cathedral, narrow streets, and even a palace. We explored the Cathedral, then journeyed en masse to our restaurant where we dined on boeuf bourguignon, fresh bread, goat cheese salad, and of course, wine from the nearby vineyards.

As the meal drew to a close, servers suddenly appeared from the kitchen, carrying out creamy desserts. Each was topped with a lit sparkler! “Whose birthday is it?” I asked someone at my table. “America’s,” she smiled. Of course……Almost immediately, we heard the first notes of the “Star Spangled Banner” coming from a cd player somewhere in the room. We stood as one, and began to sing. My eyes were welling with tears, and it was everything I could do to keep them from spilling over. The locals watched from their tables, smiling broadly, and applauded with us as the anthem came to an end. We looked at one another with American-sized grins, and shook our heads at this incredibly kind gesture. We were in a foreign land several thousand miles from home, and yet made to feel very welcome on a night that was quintessentially American.

The French have had a heartbreaking couple of years. And yet, the people of Bourges went out of their way to remember a holiday that belonged to a group of strangers feeling a bit homesick that particular evening. I am so very grateful; I will long remember that especially sweet Fourth.

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A Boomer’s Imperative

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“Tell me what democracy looks like….This is what democracy looks like!” The call and response chant filled the air repeatedly a little over a week ago, as I walked with half a million other women, men, and children in Washington D.C. I have deliberately waited a bit to share my thoughts on that incredible experience.  My heart and mind were simply too full to do so before today.

While I consider myself political, generally more in thought and voice than deed, I had never taken to the streets in protest of a person or policy.  I had not been a marcher. I guess if you’re finally going to become one, you might as well “go big!” Indeed, I did…..

In retrospect, it’s a bit strange that I had never marched before last week. Certainly I had the credentials, having been raised in a hardcore Liberal family just outside the Nation’s Capital. Political talk around the dinner table was the norm in our house and both parents, particularly my Mother, were active in Democratic politics. Mom worked the polls every election I can remember, enjoyed tea at Ethel Kennedy’s home once, and even wrangled an invitation via my uncle to LBJ’s inaugural ball for she and my Dad.

Moreover, I was a child of the 60’s, heading to college in 1968, surely one of the nation’s most turbulent and troubled years. I had, like everyone I knew, wept over Martin Luther King and Robert Kennedy’s deaths that spring, both appalled and frightened at what was happening in our country. “The whole world is watching!” resonated in my ears as the Democratic Convention unfolded, but I was busy that summer, working, packing, and daydreaming a bit about the changes that lay ahead come fall and college.

I followed the election campaign closely once there, and over the years signed petitions and attended small gatherings demanding U.S. withdrawal from Vietnam. This was a tiny campus at a church-affiliated college in rural Virginia; we were miles, both geographically and ideologically, from what was happening at Columbia and elsewhere across America. So, no marches those four years; instead, marriage, a degree, and an ongoing sympathy towards all things Liberal. As the years rolled by and my family grew, I attended political rallies and occasionally canvassed for candidates in the presidential races.

And now I am a grandmother, several times over. Things now are different, and all of us, including my children and those grandchildren, face a very uncertain future. I am once again incredibly frightened of what is happening to our country. It is that worry and the encouragement of my daughter and others that impelled me to drive to Washington, D.C. and join in those chants. I found it to be one of the most exhilarating, empowering, and emotional things I have ever done. The experience pushed me to become more politically involved locally, and I have written our state’s senators expressing specific concerns I have about the new administration taking shape in Washington. I will return to the Democratic Committee that meets monthly in our little town; I will work to make a difference.

As my good friend, daughter, and I made our way in that huge mass of people down Washington streets whose names are so familiar, I found tears welling up in my eyes and a lump forming in my throat more than once. I looked at the people who stretched to the horizon in either direction, and saw kindred spirits. I saw lots of men, and was so happy about that. And little kids, ‘tweens, and teens….a very good sign. I saw people of many races and religions; people my age and older, on walkers, canes, and in wheelchairs. I saw so many signs, lots that were clever or irreverent, but all heartfelt and making a point. It was a wonderful feeling to be among such a huge crowd of people whom I knew felt the way I did. Their feelings were evident not only in their signs and chants, but in the conversations we shared as we learned to know one another that day. They, too, were worried that our country has been usurped by a showman who has no redeeming qualities and too many odious ones to list. We, the American people, are better than that; we deserve better.

I was told by so many of my friends and family that they are proud of me; I’m proud of myself. There comes a time, it seems, when it’s not enough to simply espouse beliefs.  You must show up. For me that time is now, at age 67. If not now, when? If not for this cause, then what? I may have been late taking those first steps, but am so very glad I did. They will not be my last.

The Day After

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I’ve been too long from these pages, but today seemed the right time to return. My father–a lovely, gentle man–would have been 96 today, so I am thinking of him. And knowing how heartsick he, my mother, and my husband would be over the election two days ago. So I’ve put Vivaldi on Pandora, and moved out to the porch, where it’s a bit on the chilly side, but okay with a blanket over my legs. I needed to be out here where there is more sunlight than anywhere else in the house, and where birds greet me on either side of the room at the feeders. The squirrels are running their usual zig zag patterns, and the tree colors–as they do yearly at this time–lift my soul.

Soul lifting is in order after Tuesday. I had a day of wound-licking yesterday, avoiding contact with anyone in person, but checking in with those whom I love, as distraught as I was. It was a day in which I journaled, read a bit of the Book of Common Prayer, watched a most gracious response from Hillary Clinton and President Obama and yes, ate ice cream and watched trashy t.v. But last night, at my daughter’s suggestion on Facebook, I sent a donation to an immigrant rights organization, and tonight I go to my usual Thursday night gig. I am part of a group in my small town that is working to eradicate poverty here, which is much higher than you might imagine. A meal is served weekly, followed by group time in which marginalized folks are paired with town folk (“allies”) who can offer advice and hands on help. My part is with the children, and though it can be frustrating at times trying to convey concepts such as “mindfulness” to a nine year old, I always come away with at least one insight from the night’s session; I always come away with at least one hug. I hope they are absorbing a little of what we are trying to share.

I retired almost a year and a half ago, and though I am kept very busy with family and particularly the growing crowd of grandchildren, I know that I need more with which to fill my days. So I will think about what that might be; the Trump victory and the changes it will bring in policies toward the poor, minorities, the LGBTQ community and so many more, will certainly provide many opportunities…..

I miss you often,  but especially today, Dad, your wisdom and advice. But I will follow the example you set my entire life, one of compassion, love, and help for those who most needed it, including me. Love indeed trumps hate.

Baby Talk

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I recently visited my daughter and we had a great time eating Vietnamese food and shopping with her beautiful eight month old son in tow. I realized on these outings that people are prone to making some fairly  inappropriate comments to babies they have never met and/or the adults who are with them. Since I am 65, I was somewhat dismayed to discover that frequently these well meaning  (I’m trying so hard to give them the benefit of the doubt here), strangers are often my contemporaries. They are, in fact, Baby Boomers and beyond.  After all, it’s a classic combination: babies and grandparents. But really, these encounters were a revelation to me. Because two of the things I most like in the world are venting about inappropriate behavior and offering free advice, I have taken it upon myself to compile a handy list for my contemporaries.  It is short enough to print, fold, and tuck into a wallet next to the reader’s AARP card for easy access. Without further ado, herewith~

THE TOP FIVE THINGS A STRANGER SHOULD NOT SAY TO THE MOTHER OF AN EIGHT MONTH OLD BOY WHEN MEETING FOR THE FIRST TIME IN A PUBLIC PLACE

 

  1. Day Brightener #1~Elderly lady, clearly bitter, to baby’s mother: “Aaaahhhh…a beautiful baby! But enjoy him now; he will grow up, get married, and he’ll never pay attention to you again. He will only want to be with his wife!” You have now not only fulfilled the mother’s worst neurotic fear, you have also managed to ruin what was  previously a pleasant outing at Ikea.
  2. Day Brightener #2 (variation on #1)~Elderly, kindly looking gentleman: “Your boy is very cute, but I really like girls better. A boy will grow up and won’t pay any attention to you. A girl will take care of you when you get sick.” And once again, the baby’s mother is sent into a blue funk, picturing unreturned calls when her son grows up,  marries, and moves out of her life….forever!
  3. Creepy elderly man (see above), not satisfied with lobbing only one depressing comment, has circled the thrift shop to swoop in for another too familiar encounter with the baby. This time, in a move that is clearly inappropriate and ill advised, he offers the baby not one, but two pieces of wrapped hard candy. While he seems to understand that my grandson can’t actually eat the treats yet (lack of  teeth and the fact that the candy is, you know, from a stranger tend to put the kibosh on such a gift), he nonetheless gives it to him. Then, in what quite possibly surpasses the previous creepiness, he hands the baby’s mom another piece of candy, “For Grandma!” (Yes, that would be me; I start scanning the store for the nearest exit).
  4. Grandmotherly type, looking at what is clearly a small birthmark: “Oooh!!! What happened?! Did you get a boo boo, pretty  girl?!” No, no he did not….
  5. We have finally made it to the check out line; perhaps we can exit without any further baby comments and/or advice.  Nope.This time, a 65 year old woman is the culprit. I know she is 65 because she has asked me to guess her age. This, after muscling her way into the long line and ending up directly behind us. Before I can guess, she has announced her age and modestly asked, “Don’t I look good?! I take care of myself, and inherited good genes.” Thank you so much for sharing. When we had seen her elsewhere in the store earlier, she announced that the baby, in a Bjorn, was lucky to be toted around by someone. “I wish someone would carry me around!” That, dear lady, would indeed be a sight to see. This time, as the line crawls forward, she announces that she wants to carry “that sweet baby” everywhere. It is at this point that my daughter makes  a hasty retreat, muttering a few choice words under her breath. I stare straight ahead, make my $5.75 purchase, and join the family outside the store, clutching the baby and tossing the candy as we head for the car.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                            There you have it; just a few choice examples for people of any age (but mostly my generation) of what not to say, should they encounter a baby in the course of their daily errands. You don’t have to thank me; but I will have to insist that from now on you stay the heck away from my grandson.

The Wing Chair, Revisited

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I’m sitting in the last of the day’s light, watching yet another snowfall softly make its way onto my car, the street, and in much more poetic fashion, onto the bushes and naked trees in my front yard. I’ve turned my wing chair toward the window in order to see the snow, and am listening to Esperanza Spalding–a recent wonderful discovery–and finishing up a Sue Miller book, while sipping Merlot. An altogether pleasant, relaxed way to spend a March evening.
But as I sit in this comfortable chair, I remember how I grew to nearly loathe it last year at this time. After a hip replacement in mid-February, it was necessary to sit in a chair that allowed my hips to be higher than my knees for three months. The wing chair couldn’t quite achieve this feat on its own, so I bolstered the seat cushion with extra padding and pillows. And it was from that spot that I did nearly everything that required sitting over those months. I would pull up a tray to eat meals there, and perched on the chair to read, work on my computer, write letters, chat with visitors, and watch t.v. How I longed for the day when I could sit somewhere else, and have a different view of the room! In retrospect, I realize this was a fairly insignificant complaint. I was, after all, so incredibly lucky to have had the healing surgery, really nothing short of a miracle in restoring my ability to walk without pain.  I suppose, however, that it’s human nature to want what we can’t have, to miss the simplest of things when they’re literally or figuratively out of our reach. When I was finally able to graduate to sitting anywhere I pleased,  I eschewed the wing chair, preferring the couch (a better view of the fireplace and so much nicer for naps!).
So it’s nice to return there tonight, this simple piece of furniture that served me so well during those recuperative days. As the sky darkens and the flakes mount, I know I’ll be back.

A Street Curb Named Desire

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I read an article recently on the various quirks we humans have, and was reassured to find that I’m not alone in some of my behavior. And I’m not sure if the failure to master parallel parking falls under the heading of an endearing quirk (probably not) or, more likely, complete ineptitude on my part. Whichever area you assign it, it’s pretty much been the bane of my vehicular existence for the last forty plus years.

I didn’t get my license until I was 20 and a junior in college.  I wasn’t that interested in driving, had friends to squire me about, and it simply didn’t hold the allure for me that it did for lots of other kids my age. My Dad, an incredibly kind and patient man, understandably seemed a little more tense with me by the time I followed my three brothers to a license. While I knew all the rules of the road and was conscientious about following the speed limit and using the signal indicator, parallel parking was a bugaboo I simply couldn’t conquer. We practiced it ad nauseum, but I think his unflagging patience was tried to its limit with me. Finally, the day of the road test came and I was of course pretty nervous about the parking portion of the test, which came  last.  [May I just interject that I was really annoyed when I learned my own children weren’t required to park when they took the road test. So unfair!]  At any rate, I passed the driving portion with flying colors, and then carefully pulled into the designated parking spot between two orange cones. If memory serves, this maneuver took two or three tries. I knew I was in trouble when the young officer opened the passenger door, leaned his head out and asked, “What do you want me to do, lady, take a boat to the curb?!” He passed me anyway, either out of pity, not wanting to have to repeat the experience, or a combination of the two.

I’m sorry to say that I haven’t improved much since then. I am self-conscious enough about my lack of parking skill that I’ve employed a number of methods to avoid the whole experience. Generally, I’ll coerce a more competent friend into driving if we have to head into the city, and have been known to ply them with paying for drinks if they’ll take on the parking chore. On one notably humiliating occasion I even stopped the car in Old Town Alexandria and had my daughter take over the wheel; it was that clear that I wasn’t going to be able to park. I suspect she is disgusted with me to this day! Should I find myself in the unhappy position of having to actually park on my own, it’s often quite the show. I tend to garner one or more men who out of kindness or sport feel called upon to help me as I flail about and drivers behind me become increasingly annoyed. The kibitzers will stand on the sidewalk offering helpful advice and counsel, all the while attempting to hide grins or outright laughter. “That’s it, turn that wheel! Good, come on back…you’ve got it!!”  On finally exiting the car, I feel like I should either take a bow or slink off with my head down, but generally just thank them profusely and hurry the other direction.

However, that was then, this is now. I don’t know if it was turning 65 recently or simply chagrin with myself for being so incompetent for so long in this one area, but I decided to embrace parallel parking. Okay, embrace is too strong; I decided to attempt it with less fear and loathing. Perhaps I wanted to disprove the adage of being unable to teach an old dog new tricks, or simply wanted to master it while I was still able to get behind the wheel. In any case, I now deliberately choose spots on the street that require me to use the parallel parking skills that my contemporaries mastered years ago. No pulling in head first for me, no sir! I’m not saying it’s always pretty; it isn’t. It takes two or three tries sometimes, and frequently involves the tires scraping the curb as I settle in. But I’m doing it, and I’m 65! And yes, I have the i-phone photo, proudly sent to my daughter recently, to prove it. Now if I could only learn how to use chopsticks….

Dance Party

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I saw something quite lovely the other night, and as small a gesture as it was, it tended to renew my sometimes flagging faith in humanity. A friend and I went to a mini-concert at a local mall, the kind they often have for shoppers and other interested folk on weekend afternoons and evenings. It was a pretty evening, breezy and full of puffy white clouds, with a relaxed, mostly Baby Boomer crowd. When the band came onstage and started to play, several children, there with either parents or grands, got up and started to dance to the beat. It always tickles me to see the unabashed freedom of little kids; they aren’t even remotely embarrassed to dance in front of a bunch of strangers. Such uninhibited joy in their movements!
Before too long, a man of indeterminate age who was obviously special needs came over to the area where the kids were, a grin on his face. He was bopping along to the music as well, and the mom of one of the dancing girls jumped up and joined hands with him. She danced and twirled with him, and soon some of the children joined in, making their twosome a circle. Before long, another fellow who was with the first joined the fun. And a couple more women from the audience got up to dance with both men. The joy on the guys’ faces was transcendent and it made everyone in the vicinity smile. It also taught the children an incredible, unspoken lesson about kindness and reaching out to those who may be a little different from you. As the concert drew to a close, I know the enthusiastic young mom who energized that dance party left feeling good. But no more so than the male dancers, and those of us in the audience who saw more than a concert that night.