Thank-yous

A Good Book by Stan Moeller 12x16 Oil

“A Good Book” © Stan Moeller (with permission)

Ever since I sat down on the floor in front of the Wheeling living room bookcase and wrote a large “P” with purple crayon in most of my parents’ books that I could reach, I have been addicted to writing. As both my grasp of the alphabet and I grew, my writings have become longer and more important to me. As a youngster, I wrote stories and even had one published in my Dobbs senior yearbook. At Smith, I majored in English and was managing editor of Current, our weekly college newspaper. In almost every organization I have belonged to I have been secretary, and often publicity chairman and contributor to or editor of the newsletter if one was published. I wrote for the Dobbs Alumnae Bulletin for many years, including four as its editor. And in THIS century, I was editor of the Garden Club of America’s Conservation Watch magazine. At 89, my flaky vision forced me to give up driving and most meetings, so I started this blog as a vehicle for the stories, odd thoughts, memories and other things I simply had to share.

This is a long and rather braggadocio way to say that having to write was the main reason for this blog. This is contrary to views expressed by some that I write it just for the flattery of comments. They are the icing on the cake, ego-boosting and soul-satisfying, and Marker will read them to me as often as I want. I cannot now either read them or respond to them, but please know how many thanks I send your way. The fact that I HAVE readers is in itself a heady delight. You are kind, discerning, very bright and put feathers in my cap!

I am also passionate about reading, books and bookstores! Growing up in Fairmont, West Virginia, I collected all the books about Nancy Drew, Judy Bolton, and the Dana girls at 50 cents a book. For about six years, the book department of Hartley’s department store got most of my weekly allowance. I think if I could not “read” today—that’s how I spend my days!—I’d rather be dead.

Thank God for the U.S. Library of Congress! Striving to see “that all may read,” the Library developed its Talking Books program. Open to the blind, visually impaired and people with certain other handicaps, this federally supported, free program requires a recommendation from a doctor with your application. Depending on where you live, your local source may be a state library as in Maine, or another special entity. Components of the program include a quarterly catalog of new recordings listed by topic and a small but heavy, simple-to-use player. You may choose books from the catalog, search for specific titles, or let the source choose books for you in selected categories. The talking books themselves arrive on multi-book cartridges specially designed for the player. They arrive in plastic cases pre-addressed for return to your source. These cartridges must be returned, but you can order the same book again if you want to re-read it. This is a truly fabulous service for those of us who can no longer read normally. I want to sing whenever a new cartridge arrives, and I imagine a horde of happy “readers” singing the Hallelujah Chorus together on the Library of Congress steps!

As an avid and passionate reader of advice columns, I have learned that parents who both love and like all their children are less plentiful than one might suppose. So when I admit that I adore all five of my children, like them enormously and enjoy spending time with them, you may think that I am a prideful braggart. But I even learn from them, and have been known to ask for and act on their advice. This is intended as a warm and heartfelt “Thank You” to all of them for their foresight, ingenuity, and generous gifts of time and research to make my home safer and life easier as my vision and mobility worsen.

It was about five years ago that I ignited the “Let’s Help Poor Old Mom” program with a piteous email to my kids begging that SOMEONE come help me organize my piles of papers and choose books to give away. There was a speedy response. Although the papers may have appeared too overwhelming, the book winnowing began and has continued ever since. It was when my two neatnik children visited at the same time that things got really serious. It was felt that the house was over-furnished, filled with clutter and lacking the room I needed to safely maneuver with my walker. Somehow this required cleaning out the so-called “attic,” which led to disagreements on what was essential to keep and what was just plain junk. Carloads of so-called “crap” went to Goodwill and the Biddeford dump. Downstairs, the project required clearing surfaces of cherished knickknacks (“clutter”), moving furniture enough to give a feeling of airiness, and getting everything off the kitchen counters that I had left out in order to easily find. A particular bone of contention was my dead dog’s large metal crate somewhat blocking access to the kitchen.  When the crate was moved out of sight and I didn’t notice its absence for 24 hours, I decided it could go. The results of all this cleaning out are a real improvement, although I confess that the counters are filling up again.

My television has been upgraded to high definition and set up to record my favorite programs. Christmas four years ago brought an Amazon Alexa into my life from one family, and two Alexa plugs from another. My old and early iPad was traded in for a new and advanced version, and many new applications were added. One allows me to manage my new Nest thermostat either on the iPad or by commands to Alexa. Having plugged a distant bedroom lamp into one of the Alexa plugs and the Christmas tree into the other one, I began to see a new world opening. Many plugs later, I can turn all the lamps in every room on just by giving a command like “Alexa, turn on the dining room lights.” Meanwhile, one child researched Alexa-compatible email providers, so that Alexa can now read me my emails.  Two others spent endless hours adding all the numbers I use most to my home phone’s directory and also to my cell phone contact list, which Alexa can access to make phone calls for me. I continue to find new uses for Alexa and have added two Echo Dots so I don’t have to yell. Bragging about this to family members at dinner last week, my son asked me if I knew Alexa could fart. To my surprise, he then requested that she do so and because of the placement of the three extensions, we heard a CHORUS of farts. Why on Earth???

Don’t hold your breath while waiting for the next blog post. I am happily spending most of each day reading Dorothy Sayers’ Lord Peter Wimsey books, which I find enthralling.

See you in June?  p

In Love Again


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When I was seven and in second grade in Fairmont, West Virginia, I was smitten by an attack of love. This was the start of something new which has added color and given me great pleasure throughout my life. Sadly, all my past loves except the most recent two are dead. I like to be honest and utterly candid. So I am compelled to list for you the loves of my life: Bernie Sampson; Errol Flynn; Clark Gable; Ian Eastmure; Howdy Marshall; Dwight Eisenhower; Richard Burton; Gary Cooper; Paul Newman; David Rockefeller; Tom Hanks and Colin Firth.

Most of my readers will probably have surmised that the actors on my list were loved from afar and totally oblivious to it. The rest of the group all played parts in my life. Bernie, a third grader, was the unofficial leader of our neighborhood gang of youngsters who hung out together after school and most weekends. I adored him, could hardly talk in his presence, and on his ninth birthday put an original, anonymous poem in his family mailbox. (See below.)

Ian, a close lifelong friend, was Canadian. His family owned the property next to my grandmother’s at Pen Lake in Muskoka, Ontario. Friends since we were very young, Ian and I were virtually inseparable three or four summers in our late teens.

Howdy, the greatest love on this list, was my beloved husband and the love of my life, the course of which he changed at our first meeting. I spent a sleepless night after our long conversation at a dinner party, recognizing that Howdy was by far the best of anyone I had ever dated. Why, I wondered, was I planning to accept Harvard Law’s invitation to start in September, when Howard Marshall was in New York? I even had an offer from three Smith classmates to share a New York City apartment in September. Nothing ventured, nothing gained. I was off to New York.

Dwight Eisenhower was running for president in 1952, when on a campaign visit to New York he rode past United Fruit Company in an open white convertible. Spotting a young woman with a homemade megaphone leaning unsafely far out of a second story window, he smiled and waved exuberantly at her. When I yelled through my megaphone “I am voting for you!“ he burst out laughing and threw both hands in the air, making his signature “V“ for victory with each hand.

David Rockefeller rescued me. It was at a Garden Club of America annual awards dinner at which he was to accept a Conservation Award on behalf of his family. Beth, my fellow delegate, and I had arrived late to the festive cocktail hour preceding dinner. She disappeared to meet, as planned, an old friend from California. I headed straight to the bar and, armed with my scotch and water, looked for a familiar face. There was no one I recognized, and I felt too timid to thrust myself into a group of strangers. I knew that I was looking my personal best in my lovely long navy chiffon, but no one noticed me. I felt conspicuous and rejected and I looked it, I expect. I was nearly ready to cry when a man’s voice announced “I’m David Rockefeller. Are you a fellow New Yorker, or do you come from Away, as we say in Maine?” Beaming, I turned to him and said “Both!” We had instant rapport, a lively conversation and when I said that I had met his wife, he told me that she had been the most important person in his life and had made him a better man and able to do better things. We shared that belief in our spouses and agreed that living without them was very hard. Neither of us had ever considered marrying again because we still felt married to our departed loved ones. At this point, Beth came to claim me and Mr. Rockefeller felt he should rejoin his companions. With a warm handshake we said goodbye, kindred spirits who were unlikely to ever meet again.

I have a new love! And about time! Now I can wake up smiling in anticipation of a bright spot in my day and feeling cheered up, no matter the weather. For about four years I, together with many patriotic Americans and loving fans of America worldwide, have been heart and soul sick over the degradation of American values and leadership and of America’s place on the world stage. Our federal leadership—inept, unprepared, ignorant, prejudiced, dishonest, and mercenary—shame us in the eyes of the world. My new love is Governor Andrew Cuomo of New York.

As I have lived 48 of my 92 years in New York State, it is not surprising that when I recently stumbled on Governor Andrew Cuomo’s daily Coronavirus Update on MSNBC, I listened to it. I now listen to it daily, anticipating with pleasure his smart, confident, well-phrased and highly articulate honest report. He promised us “truth and facts” and gives them daily on all the issues raised by the coronavirus throughout the state. As a lawyer, he studied the Constitution and knows by heart the responsibilities assigned by it to the states and to the federal government. In his reports he is not afraid to show emotions—sadness when he reports those who died, anger, his love for people and his great affection for and pride in the state of New York. Vignettes of his life as a child and as a father add color and lightness to the reports, as does his sense of humor and wonderful use of similes to clarify points. Realizing the trauma endured by those in prolonged home stays, the governor gratefully daily credits those stay-at-homes for saving thousands of lives by reducing the spread of the virus. He is a forceful advocate for smart, scientifically planned and staged reopening of business. I think he and his upbeat, can-do spirit are absolutely wonderful!

The thousands of people who are filling essential jobs to keep our world ticking along while the rest of us hunker down at home are heroes. They fill me with admiration, awe, and gratitude for their courage, commitment and stamina. I couldn’t have done this even in my prime! I lack the courage. To them and to Governor Cuomo I dedicate the following poem. It is not beautiful at all but it is now not anonymous and still holds the infinite measure of affection which it was endowed with by me 85 years ago:

“Roses are red
Violets are blue
I want you to know
That I love you.

Anonymous
Penelope Spurr Marshall

Hunkering Down!

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Hunkering Mourning Dove

Since childhood, I have been both known for and teased about the breadth of my vocabulary and my penchant for using unusual words, and for using plain words unusually. Paradoxically, I cannot retain the names of sexy new inventions or the political slogans and catchwords introduced by television personalities and government officials. (It took years before I converted from calling compact discs “diskey things.”) I call what we are adjured to do now “hunkering down.“

Shockingly and unforeseen, I am now 92 1/4 years old. This vast spate of years has taught me that occasions for hunkerings come in two distinct varieties. The first is Homestyle or Personal and has very few participants, much emotion and is short-lived and insignificant beyond the borders of its location.

The other variety, which I think of as Community-wide or Public, I know very little about. The crisis we are facing now is clearly of this variety. By paying attention, we can see that governmental leadership and guidance is key, that lots of people and lots of geography can be involved, and that duration, significance and serious repercussions are part of the package.

I have never lived through anything like this before. The closest thing was caused by a polio epidemic when I was in eighth grade. School openings were delayed a month because polio (aka Infantile Paralysis) is so contagious. All public swimming pools and local beaches were closed, as well as all large gathering places including movie theaters. (Where were T.V. and Netflix when when we needed them?!) If you are like me, you are probably suffering from frustration, anxiety/fear, and bewilderment because we are unable to plan the future. It is deeply unsettling.

I told a BIG lie above! After my 10th thought, I realized that in my years from birth to roughly 15 I was aware of only personal hunkerings, and oblivious to public ones. During my 3 1/2 years in Wheeling, the mighty Ohio River flooded yearly in the spring. This meant that Wheeling Island, on which my father’s office was located, was inundated by the Ohio and cut off from the also flooded downtown streets of Wheeling. During World War II, when gas rationing and universal blackouts were called, I neither drove nor dated yet, nor had a nighttime social life. If driving at night was prohibited, I was oblivious.

Despite my brash declaration of a class of hunkering down called Homestyle, serious pondering of 92 years of memories has produced only one example. The occasion was the home birth of a younger sibling, because my mother was unnerved by the age of the local Cook Hospital. A spare bedroom, newly painted, wallpapered and occupied by some sort of rented birth-bed and a brand new crib, awaited the delivery.

On March 8th, 1938, the occasion presented itself. Mother, attended by a nurse, skipped dinner. That left my father, Mother’s mother, my father’s younger sister Trudy (who lived with us) and me. Dr. Clinton arrived during dessert (which he refused), rushing upstairs closely followed by my father. Feeling somehow adrift, Gram, Trudy and I gathered in Trudy’s bedroom where Gram promptly burst into tears. We learned that she was worried not only by my mother’s age of 39, but also that we lacked the security of a hospital as backup. Trudy and I could stop the tears briefly by demands for stories about Gram’s and Mother’s childhoods. But the tears came back several times.

It felt as if we were hunkered down approximately forever, but it was probably just about two hours later that my smiling father appeared in the door announcing the birth of a red haired daughter. Grandmother cried harder than ever with pure relief and joy as Daddy hugged her. We all then trooped in to meet the baby and congratulate Mother. The baby, with carrot-colored hair and beet-red newborn face, was colorful if not beautiful. Mother told me years later how much she admired my gallantry in telling her that the baby was beautiful, while my whole face screamed “ugly!”

By the way, mother was right to fear residence in Cook Hospital. After an emergency appendectomy there, sensing hospital personnel‘s amusement when seeing her, she learned from Dr. Clinton that she had said “shit shit shit“ nonstop throughout the operation. Startled and mortified at first, she then began to giggle, and laughed so hard that pain from her operation site made her cry.

Apparently only Cook Hospital prompted Mother to swear, as I rarely heard her do so. On the other hand, it only took a game of bridge to make Daddy swear. (“God dammit, Marg, why the HELL do you have to trump all my aces?“)

My DNA, however, has led me to be verbose, voluble, untidy, klutzy, impatient, and prone to easy exasperation and frustration. The above qualities have led to a lifetime proclivity towards profanity. Advancing age and blindness, having to use a walker, three years of polarizing partisan politics, and more than four weeks of hunkering down in isolation have exacerbated these traits. Looking for misplaced objects and trying to identify items in the fridge without a helping pair of good eyes is impossible. Deplorably, my use of “strong language” has grown during this time. My latest version developed spontaneously when my elbow knocked a bowl of nicely melted chocolate ice cream onto the dining room oriental rug. I think it reverberates resoundingly, with faint echoes of my mother and of the musical Chitty Chitty Bang Bang: “Shitty shitty SHIT shit.”

See you next time? Enjoy Spring and stay well! —p

P.S. 

Please forgive me for the long absence of Nearly Ninety— which to be accurate could now be Nearing Ninety-Three. I love writing it and oh! those ego-swelling comments! Sadly, I am now “legally blind” thanks to glaucoma and macular degeneration. Although I can see a little (fuzzily), I can “read“ only talking books and I am a disaster on both my iPad and computer. The Iris Network tech helper who was helping me be LESS of a disaster was just getting started when the Pandemic grounded her.

Today’s blog is the creation of three of us. From my home in southern Maine I composed, memorized, and dictated it to Marker Marshall in California. She re-dictated it legibly and turned it into a written document on her iPad. Marker then emailed it to my blog mentor Barbara Stroud in South Carolina, who published it, as she had done with many of my first blogs. I am incredibly grateful to these wonderful, generous women. I also feel I must thank both Google and Alexa for confirming my remembered definitions of many of my beloved long words.

By the way, don’t expect profanity in other blog posts. Desperate times require desperate measures!

Love to you all,

Penny

My Bi-Polar Travel Issues

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1953: Dashing off on our honeymoon, beloved in tow. “Dashing” is no longer my travel speed.

I LOVE TO TRAVEL. I hate to travel. I love having traveled. I hate having no planned travel. If I were to conjugate my travel issues, it would sound like that. Looney!

I LOVE planning trips. I’ve planned many for others, not just for me. My most ambitious was a trip for twenty-one to visit the museums of Dallas and Fort Worth. Inspired by the opening of an exciting sculpture museum containing the collection of a favorite Smith classmate and her husband, we were all Smith classmates with a few brave husbands. Finding buses to move us and choice restaurants for refueling us plus enlisting guides and alerting the museums kept me busy for months!

My history teacher daughter and I made three weeklong trips to Civil War battlefields with a few famous old houses and Revolutionary War sites thrown in when they were too near to our route to comfortably ignore and I was the trip planner and shared the driving on these, too. I also put together three exhausting but satisfying trips to the British Isles for small groups of six or eight. Our focus was spectacular and famous gardens and historic houses and I planned what we would see while British guides drove us and found lodgings. These trips included England, Scotland, Wales and two flavors of Ireland although not on a single adventure. Even Macbeth’s Castle and Culloden.

However, I am widely, possibly internationally, known for my over-whelming pre-trip panic. Age has exacerbated this as my agility, speed, strength and self-assurance not to mention eyesight have decreased while my arthritis and stress levels have increased. Knowing that the betting odds on my going anywhere are hugely in favor of my “chickening out” doesn’t help. Back in May I was due to fly solo from Portland, Maine to LaGuardia and back for a festive Manhattan weekend with my youngest son’s family, my Christmas gift to them. I would, of course, speed through airports by wheelchair but I would be hauling my rollator walker, an amazingly lightweight spinner carry-on and a shockingly heavy “lightweight” personal tote packed with my purse, my meds and, as loved ones who hefted it guessed, either an elephant or my weight in bricks. Because of massive construction at LaGuardia, I was told no one could easily meet the plane so I should just hail a taxi to the mid-town hotel.

I was taking about $500 cash to pay for incidentals and had been lent an around the neck safety pouch to stow it in because of “the rampant crime in urban areas”. This was the proverbial straw that while not back-breaking was ruinous to my sleep and peace of mind. While I didn’t quite believe in that, how to tip and pay without exposing my unaccustomed wealth, roughly at least $492 more than I have usually in my wallet, worried me. (I am also well known as inept with cash.) I attribute the entire comfort and success of the trip to this next brilliant move! I threw money at the problem!

I ordered from Eileen Fisher a smashingly becoming Hot Red pull-on windbreaker I had been bravely resisting for three months. It features a dashing stiff high funnel neck collar and deep twin front pockets, one on each hip with fold down flaps. I carefully figured out probable cash needed and in what denominations, allowing for some unexpected contingencies. The right hip pocket was for departure needs: boarding pass, picture I.D., reservation confirmation and expenses in Portland, mostly tips for baggage handlers and wheelchair driver. My left pocket housed arrival costs for New York including the wheelchair and a taxi into our mid-town New York hotel. Like a nervous Santa, I checked and revised my pocket packing roughly ten times. Incidentally I flew to Florida and back a week later, Hot Red jacket garbed and secure about how to deal with cash en route. A Travel Problem Solver on sale for $99! What a steal of a deal!

There’s one teeny little insignificant travel component I haven’t touched on so I will do so briefly, an adverb that could never be applied to my actual packing process. Despite detailed intelligent, well thought out lists of what to take, opening my suitcase triggers a cessation of intelligent thought in me. I love every stitch I own and know that items not worn in months, even years are the sure ticket to a joyous trip. They rarely are but I do not always come to this conclusion in time. Sometimes they no longer even manage to button or zip, which can be a devastating post arrival blow if I have not brought alternate choices which, luckily, I try always to do. So I “travel heavy” in extremely lightweight bags that I intentionally selected knowing my packing past.

Travel has benefits which I will focus on some other time so stick with me. See you soon? p

 

Here’s to a brighter Outlook!

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Youthful photo of Tom Hanks, my latest film idol, joining longtime loves Clark Gable and Paul Newman.

Ye gods! I am officially 90 and 1/2 as of June 12 and very late in welcoming umpteen new followers with remarkably optimistic outlooks as most have not yet read a current post! Talk about being hopeful!

Back when I came home from rehab, newly assigned to a walker, and with a slowly healing crushed vertebra (T 12 to those in the know), due to be healed by mid-April, I thought blogging might need to wait on my ability to sit comfortably at the computer. WRONG! I’ve been lolling back in my comfy Aeron chair since early March but I’m not only useless at reading anything on the screen but also ridiculously dangerous to the safety of years of data as I stab vigorously at keys that are not where I think they are. This has caused multitudinous emergencies that my nearest already burdened offspring must identify and rectify when possible. Crushed bones apparently accelerate going blind!

We (my busy life and I) are slowing down this year. I and my walker are purposefully speediest when, chaperoned, I cross streets, or, unchaperoned, head toward plumbing facilities. In these activities and daily life I am both aided and impeded by one of my small fleet of “mobility enhancing” vehicles. In addition to three canes now gathering dust, I own a nifty folding wheelchair used for such things as museums and galleries and bought for college graduations which seem to require miles of walking. I got my first walker in 2007 (broken pelvis) which is a “rollator”, folds, has big wheels but is great for lacrosse games, has great brakes and a decent seat which can lift up and let you get up against counters or sinks for domestic chores. My friends who drive me out to dinner or events find it heavy and resistant to car travel, where it folds and declines to open again so I have a traveling version. Its seat is bigger, padded and more comfortable, and when lifted, reveals a baskety place for my purse and it loves to fold and open too. The medical world thinks I am and ought to be on it for life. I am gunning for freedom. Like most walker users I know, I frequently absent-mindedly walk off from mine and have to track where I left it. I also tend to park it mid-kitchen and scuttle around on my own.

I have made a happy discovery by accident. Do you know about Movie Clips? Movie Clips is a YouTube channel, fantastic for seeing what is magic about special scenes or dialogue, and just plain fun! I wanted to see clips from Sleepless in Seattle, then moved on to You’ve Got Mail, Big, When Harry Met Sally and Pretty Woman. I specialize in watching final scenes, over and over again.

See you next time? Have a great end of summer! p

 

Bits and Pieces

Maine Winters demand SOMETHING to smile or laugh about!

Maine Winters demand SOMETHING to smile or laugh about!

“Penelope has a tendency to be verbose which we are working to correct,” Some things take years and years to correct.  I found this first English class comment in my boarding school Bio file in the archives and swiped it.

Longtime readers may recall a post on Charles Bonnet syndrome and the useless spectacular wallpapers it enables me to wrap my world in.  I now see moving figures, too. Last Sunday dozing over The New York Times, I “saw” a huge, 12 foot scantily clad basketball player outside my bedroom window,  bare armed and legged, dribbling a basketball in the snow. Last seen stark naked soaring skyward! Am I better or…?

To all who sent me cards, emails and responses to the explanatory post Wonderful Barbara Stroud wrote about my silence, Bless you!  You made me feel surrounded by loving, well wishing friends. What a healing gift!

Enough! See you soon?    p

Personal Public Service Warning!

From Twenty Nine Palms, to the shores of the sunny Saco to You!

In the wake of Friday’s Government shutdown and in the absence of careful thought and planning for the well-being of visitors to the still open National Parks –  Please Note Well!  If visiting a national park, bring a private stash of toilet paper. Law enforcement, the only park staff permitted on property during the Shutdown has no access to Sanitation supplies.

When the thousands of Park Restrooms left open for the comfort of visitors run out of toilet paper, my daughter, the Park Ranger, thinks the cost and need for recovery could  move to a whole new level!

Update! Just heard the government has re-opened – so you may want to save this information for future use! 😉 

Due to unforeseen circumstances…

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Hello everyone!

Due to unforeseen circumstances, Penny is unable to write her blog at this moment. She is recovering and rest assured she will be back soon! – Thoughts and prayers are always welcome!

I know we all miss her stories and her quick wit – she will continue as soon as possible – and I’m sure the stories will be as amazing as she is!

Sincerely,

Barbara (friend of Penny’s)

*Note: Thank you to those who have commented/are commenting. Your comments will be replied to once Penny returns – if this is your first time commenting the comment has to be approved before it will appear – Please DO comment, your comment will appear once Penny has seen it 😊 – Thank you!

New Year’s Eve ’62 – A Grand Party

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Howdy and Penny anxiously await any sign of a party guest coming through the snow.

An ongoing project at my house has two opposite (sort of) sides, both aimed at long term gratification and simplicity, each resulting in what seems to be an everlasting state of clutter, disorder and confusion. The two goals are finding missing objects that Must Be Here Somewhere. The other is De-Accessioning Things, lovingly acquired by me over a lifetime of appreciation, greed and acquisition, and apparently of no appeal to my next of kin. Happy and fortuitous finds occasionally spice or brighten the somewhat negative feel of life while this goes on. Today’s blog is based on a yellowed and faded sheet of three ringed notebook paper neatly labeled New Year’s Eve ’62. Covering both sides of the sheet, it clearly reflects a different stage of my life but possibly of middle-class suburban American life in the sixties as well.

At the time of this party, Howdy was a partner in a New York City law firm practicing corporate law, working long hours and often working at home on weekends. I was an “at home” mother of four and an active volunteer for the Junior League, my boarding school, and my college. Our sons were seven and five, our daughters three and 9 months. I had a trustworthy cleaning woman who worked one day a week from about 8:30 to about 4:15.  She made things look as “If real people lived there” but, according to others who hired her, was not a good cleaner. She always did some ironing and if asked, would polish silver and brass. I had no help for these Christmas parties either to serve, cook,  set the scene or clean on party day. I look back in mixed horror and pride when I remember this. Scarcely imaginable to this slow moving old gal!

We gave an annual Christmas holiday dinner party. It could be anytime between December 18 and January 2. The basic menu was always the same, the regulars “our crowd “ occasionally had additions if some regulars were unable to come.  I kept meticulous notes on who actually came and ate so as to get my planning as perfect as possible. Our congressman queried his wife after perhaps the third party. “Why does Penny always serve the same food?” “Oh Peter, darling,” she told me she replied “Don’t you understand? It’s a traditional party, the sameness is part of the fun and it’s always different!” The year one of our guests challenged all the other men to see how many could take my good inherited damask napkins, fold them diagonally, and tie them around their waists, our Sally, ironing the napkins later, asked what on earth had happened to make the napkins so out of shape? Fortunately the instigator’s wife gave him hell in the car going home so that happened only once! In later years, other men, hoping to do better because of lost weight, were told firmly by all wives they were not to do that to” Penny’s  beautiful napkins” Their “Damask be damned” feelings were clear but being kind to the hostess took precedence!

The picture above was an annual guest at all our winter/ holiday parties after its appearance Feb. 20, 1960. After we moved off our hill in Irvington and away from our long private drive which shared the steep uphill entrance to the high school – rarely plowed on weekends! I framed the cover. It lives where I can enjoy it daily, in my bathroom gallery. In Irvington it moved into the frame that normally featured my 11×14 picture in my wedding gown.  The above picture is of it framed, so not the greatest image. Despite the hill and annual parties for about 37 years, we never had the disaster the poor pictured couple seem to be suffering. Our crowd was game and loved a party. The one night we had a serious snowfall in progress, the party star was Connie, born, bred and taught to drive in Toronto. After several useless attempts with her Dutch husband at the wheel, she took over. Backing the car carefully across Broadway and into the entrance to the lane opposite our road, she waited for a clear shot, stepped on the gas and virtually flew up the slippery hill which, she reported in triumph at the party, “scared the bejesus out of my flatland bred husband!”

Guests brought nibbles but I served the following: Baked West Virginia ham, sent to me unbaked by mother, biscuits, a canned green bean casserole with cream of mushroom soup, mushrooms, and canned French fried onion rings, and a jellied black cherry and grapefruit slices molded salad with a special homemade salad dressing, rolls or biscuits. Coffee was served with a choice of home made bourbon balls and/or, in the years when she was alive because the recipe died with her, a fantastically yummy chocolate prune cake from a Wheeling, WV caterer Mother knew.

The guest list had 39 regulars who were always asked although a few moved away and others moved in. In 1962 the list had 53 possibles but 10 were never asked because 53 was really too many. According to my notes that year, only 28 really ate dinner and as 11 of the 39 refused, that seems accurate. Fun was had by all, even the host and hostess and while occasionally a pajama clad child showed up briefly in later years, our kids mostly slept through the happy din. That very hostess was in bed reading by 9:30, New Year’s Eve 2017 and asleep over her book before ten. Wakened by a stiff neck, I was off and so were the light a few minutes later. Gone are the days when we kissed everyone at eleven and rushed off to see the ball drop in Times Square with our sleepy children.

See you soon. Happy 2018! Hope your year is a great one!   p

Blessings!

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Christmas dinner 2017: Full of yummy dinner and ice cream melon mold, I am wearing the contents of my Christmas popper. Crown is worn correctly bandit mustache was applied upside down.

Becky took the above photo with her iPhone from her end of the Christmas dinner table past six on each side to where I sat next to my son, the host, at the other end. I am festively adorned in the crown and bandit mustache from my Christmas popper and chock full of roast beast, Yorkshire pudding, potatoes with yummy host-made gravy, hollandaise sauce on broccoli and ice cream melon mold. I do not look properly sinister in part because my moustache was on upside down but who could look dangerous so soporifically stuffed with good food, prosecco and camaraderie as I was?

Its’ purpose for this post is to accentuate my feeling of  being blessed by the “new” (34 years) relatives in my life, Becky’s family. Inheriting so welcoming a family of in-laws you really like, admire and have fun with, is a HUGE blessing. (Thanks, Clint!)

Thinking about this over coffee in bed this morning, I found myself thinking how kind people can be and of various times when busy people blessed me with gifts of time and help when I really needed both.  Joan Lord drove me fast to the hospital in White Plains when I thought my 4th child was staging an early arrival. Thankfully “it” Joanie, who was president of the Junior League which was having a rare night meeting at 7:30 that night, never revealed a sign of concern about timing. I would have been a nervous wreck in her shoes. As I was recording secretary, Joanie was pleased I was new-baby-less and we both made the meeting easily.

For the on-time arrival of this same baby, I had three different baby sitters lined up. Each knew well not only my two sons and very young daughter but also our house and routines to come if needed to stay with the children when we rushed off to the hospital. Neither of us had family nearby. Labor pains started at five something a.m. on a chill St. Patrick’s Day Saturday and none of the three could come. Taking a deep breath I called our congressman (and close friend) who had volunteered if all else failed, he could come. While Howdy stared, stunned at my 5:55 call, Peter Peys answered and cheerily said “All else failed, eh?” He said he’d be there in five minutes as he didn’t need to find a girdle or matching stockings, and he arrived in about eight. Reviews on his performance were outstanding. He organized laundry folding for the mountain on the dining room table, served pancakes and sausage for breakfast having grabbed the sausage from their refrigerator on his way through their kitchen. After breakfast, he took the three to Becker’s to pick out presents which “the new baby had asked him to buy for them”. No other child of ours got the same warm welcome from her new siblings as Peter engineered for Margaret.

This next rescue is a bit mortifying to share as I was behaving like an over-tired, over-stressed idiot but the fact that all involved knew it and they still bailed me out I find marvelously kind and impressive. Our family, Howdy and I, our sons, five and three, and 21 month old daughter plus the dog, were leaving next morning for a ten hour trip to visit my parents at the Muskoka cottage for two weeks. It was July and oppressively hot and humid. The children were napping or amusing themselves, packing would be finished after they were in bed at nightfall. Meanwhile, I was trying to finish making matching Madras jackets for the two boys. (Idiots was more apt than you expected, wasn’t it?)  We had bought our Maine cottage the year before and would go from the lake to the seashore. My family were cross about this as they felt it was a dumb purchase. Mother was also cross because I was newly pregnant with number four and she felt I was stressed, tired, overworked and was angry with Howdy about all this, too. By arriving at ther cottage with 3 beautiful, well dressed children with some snappy homemade clothes, I intended to prove how on top of my game I was! So there!  However, when Joanie called to see how I was doing and wish us a lovely vacation I burst into tears. I’m not even very good on my little Singer featherweight and matching madras was well beyond my skill level, quite possibly impossible which terrified me! Joanie quickly got the picture and asked could she come and take the boys to the Country Club pool with her kids? “Don’t worry about finding towels and their suits- they’ll help me,“ she said. I couldn’t believe my good luck but I realized that when Julia awoke from her nap, she would want to help me sew. How would I ever manage to finish my ridiculous project?

I should have known better. When Joanie arrived in 15 minutes she was followed by Marguerite Peyser. Peter, our baby’s god-father, was just home from the city –“too hot to think!” and craved the honor of entertaining Julia in their little rubber backyard pool with their youngest. 

Kindness makes the world go round. My assessment of blessings did not include any outstanding gifts of time and effort such as these on my part, sadly. I say thank you even to the dog and cat and to my double lights by my bathroom mirror which I adore but which have four bulbs and are a bit prickly about how many will turn on together. I think that saying thank you is working wonders with them. I apologize freely as needed and much too often according to good friends but I don’t think I have ever dropped my life to help someone handle a crisis in theirs. I hope to God I am wrong but think I am not. An uncomfortable realization but I’m lazy, very old and extremely short on agility and energy. It may be too late for me to be anyone’s savior.

New Year’s Resolution season is  upon us. If more of us put qualities of character at the top of our lists and we had some success in our follow through, we could make our personal worlds nicer ones. I’m considering giving up my useless striving to be neat and leaving the kitchen clean before I leave it after a meal as just hopeless. Eating gives me new bees in my bonnet to attack! Too many of my resolutions mimic a “to do” list. While I’d like to suggest all politicians put HONESTY at number one of their resolutions, it has been suggested I, myself, may lean too far that way. Thoughtfulness is my top goal for 2018 with a sub category of a more practical iteration: PAY ATTENTION! Generosity, humility, helpfulness, courage, kindness and  patience should all find places on my list as should frugality –my latest electric bill is an absolute doozy! Perhaps striving in so many directions will magically thin me down?! Fat chance! Perfection is not the goal, liking who I am better is. See you soon? Next year, for sure! Happy New Year!  p