Farewell To A Legend

Penny’s 91st birthday

Oh, how I hate to share this news… Penelope (“Penny”) Marshall, (the writer of this blog,  NearlyNinety.wordpress.com), passed away peacefully, in her sleep on Thursday, October 6, 2022. She was at her home with family. Penny was where she wanted to be. 

Above Photos: Penny in Coral – 2022, Penny & Soomsie (cat), Penny’s 90th birthday, and her fabulous family (2013), including Gilly! 🐾

I met Penny via email, years ago. A mutual friend, had sent an email including both of us. We would reply all each day, talking as if we were sitting across the table from one another. Everything had been via email until one day Penny emailed that she would be off of email until one of her family/friends could get her iPad working again. I realized what the problem was and responded directly to her with an offer to help. She immediately replied and she was back in business. I had no idea that one email would lead to a million future emails back and forth between us – I couldn’t have been happier to have my new “Pen Pal”. Penny was a brilliant woman (not just “book smarts,” this was a well educated woman that had common sense well beyond her years).

Penny would always tell you what she thought. She didn’t beat around the bush, she was direct, honest, and would share information with humor. Delightful humor. In later years, when email was difficult to see, we would talk on the phone. Not nearly enough, but we enjoyed those conversations. Most of her emails and chats on the phone were centered around her family. She has wonderful “children” – each one is brilliant and well-educated, just like their mom. 

You can probably get an idea of how much she loved Howdy, her husband — it was so apparent when speaking to her, in reading her blog and her emails. Penny was such a strong woman. I told her I wanted to be like her when I grew up, she would always laugh. I was serious!

One year she came to Monhegan Island, which as many of you know, is no easy feat. She had a beautiful suite that was on the main floor right off of the porch facing Manana Island. Once Penny arrived we had the nice man from the Island Inn pick her up in his big truck (I can still see him plunking down a wooden platform for her to climb up on), she laughed with him on her way up the (very steep) hill. We had a nice lunch the first day we met. Fred and I felt like we had known her forever, she was that kind of person. We met again for dinner several hours later, a large group of us who came to the island at the same time each year. Fred would go to her room to walk her to the dining room. I would bring her coffee in the morning, so she could have it while she was getting ready for the day. Fred drove Penny around the island in a golf cart so she could see the different views, while I snapped a few photos of the adventure. We toured the museum and had the best time!

For two years we were able to spend several days together. Not enough time, but a blessing to have any time at all! After her first trip, Penny gave me a box of Effie’s Oatcakes. She would always end her emails with “time for my coffee and 2 Effie’s Oatcakes”. So many emails, I would ask her, what is an oatcake? I envisioned a mushy, small round of baked oatmeal for some reason. Don’t know why I never Googled it. Once I tasted one – I WAS HOOKED. I ordered a case from Effie’s! (It’s not mushy, it’s more like a cookie). I even sent Effie’s an email to tell them the reason why I ordered a case – it was all because of Penny. (I was hoping they would send her a little something, ha ha.) 

Penny, you are missed. Your laugh, your brilliance, your quick comebacks that were oh-so-hilarious (and spot on)! 

I am thankful that Penny shared some of her stories with you. The emails that I received from her had so many wonderful stories – nearly every time she sent one I would respond by telling her she needed to write a book. I told her I don’t know anything about writing a book, but I do know about writing a blog, and if she would do the writing part and could send me an image – then I could pop it into WordPress for her. It was then that Penny’s blog, Nearly Ninety, was born. 

Thank you, Penny for being willing to share your stories with us. For caring so much and getting things just right. You have been a joy the short time we’ve known you. Your support for the arts has been immeasurable. (She loved art and had great taste in paintings!) The support and love you’ve shown your family and friends is the gift that keeps on giving. Heaven gained an angel – one that is with her loving husband, Howdy and with her youngest son, Alex. May you have a beautiful reunion, with so much joy! Don’t forget about us here on Earth – (but please do smile down at us to let us know you’re thinking of us). 

For those of you who knew Penny, or those who got to know her through her blog: 

When you look up at the night sky and see a brilliant star, you’ll know exactly who it is. Penny!

Penny had been working on another blog post over the past months, along with her daughter, Margaret (“Marker”). I love how they took on a challenge. Penny would dictate a paragraph or two to Marker and then, working together, they would edit. Change, add, take away, finesse until it was just as Penny wanted it. Marker’s editing skills are over the top excellent. What a special time to spend with your mom. I know Penny loved that time spent. 

So be on the lookout for another post coming in the following months. Feel free to comment on this blog. So many of you commented on Penny’s posts and she was overwhelmed and grateful for your support over the years. She absolutely LOVED comments! So if you have a minute, feel free to leave a comment on this blog, Penny’s blog – that she worked so hard on. What an amazing woman!

Feel free to comment on this blog and perhaps even add your own Penny story

Well, I need to run… it’s time for my coffee and a few Effie’s Oatcakes!

Penny, I will think of you every. single. time. and I will smile, as you’ve made me do so many times throughout the years. 

God speed sweet friend.



Listen Up! A Cautionary Tale.

As you read the “picture” above, imagine this message blaring repeatedly as if broadcast from every wall of your house, stupefying and earsplitting in volume, waking you from a deep and peaceful sleep. This was how I woke up December 5th, shortly after 5:15 a.m.

What a terrifying, God-awful way to wake up! I felt heart, lungs and brain had all died and I was too stunned to turn on a light as I fumbled with my feet for my slippers. After a quick tour of a deafening but otherwise unremarkable first floor, I called 911.

“I hear your alarm and have alerted the fire department. Do you want a fire engine?” I reported that I could see nothing wrong and suspected a malfunction, but thought a fireman would be the better judge. Asked if I was in Biddeford, I said “No, Biddeford Pool” and the Dispatcher told me the truck was on the way. I gave them my name, street address and phone number, and was told to get a coat and leave the house at once.

Well trained by my parents on priorities, I visited the bathroom, made sure my purse was in my walker basket, and headed to the coat closet. By this time in addition to the bass cries of “Fire, Fire!” I had also distinguished the treble shriek of my home security system. Then the phone rang. It was my local son, Clint, saying the security company had called him and he would be there in a minute. Thankfully, about this time the “Fire! Fire!” alarm FINALLY turned off.

Clint must have called en route, since he walked in at the end of his call. He took a rapid run-through of the house, beginning with the basement and the furnace area. He then helped zip me into my chosen yellow puffy parka and helped navigate my walker and me to a bench on the front porch. Before joining me to wait for the firemen, he also took an inspection tour around the outside of the house.

The fire truck arrived in about 20 minutes and two smiling firemen carrying various detection devices headed into the house. They had gone about 4 feet when a NEW piercing alarm began to sound, accompanied by flashing red lights. “Carbon monoxide at lethal levels” announced one of the firemen.

Clint reported to the firemen a foul-smelling furnace and was asked to turn off the noxious beast and silence the remaining alarm. The firemen first opened all house doors and windows, then asked Clint to produce any household fans and proceeded to put their gas-eating apparatus into action. Meanwhile, I sat, stunned, having been sure that it was an alarm malfunction and never having once thought of carbon monoxide poisoning.

It took only about an hour and a half until the firemen told us it was safe to re-enter the house. They also complimented me on being legally blind, as had I been legally deaf, demented (or possibly dead drunk?), I might well be dead. They left, and Clint went home charged to call the oil company to come and check the furnace, while I retired to my bed to contemplate what I had learned from the incident. It seemed obvious that I bore much of the blame for what had happened, but I could also take pride in my insistence on having a house security system put in when we moved here. (A thwarted burglary when we lived in Irvington had prompted buying an alarm for that house.)

Sad truth. Had we not installed our fire and burglar alarm 25 years ago, I could now be Resting in Peace instead of struggling to complete this blog. However, carbon monoxide detection alarms have grown in importance and in some places houses without them cannot be sold. We have now installed a carbon monoxide detection component to our alarm system, which has the benefit of NOT waiting for a near-fatal level before sounding.

Dead River Oil Company would not let Clint order a visit, because his name was not listed on my account. This may be a bigger issue for older people, but the second name on accounts can be critically important for calling for help or repairs.

Our 25-year-old furnace was clearly a major player in the morning’s events. I found myself wondering if it, all by itself, could have produced a fatal dose of carbon monoxide (a very scary thought) or if I inadvertently had left undone something which I ought to have done (another scary thought!).

Socrates said “To know thyself is the beginning of wisdom.” When I called Dead River Company to confirm Clint’s request for an emergency furnace cleaning, I asked some questions. Did I currently have a contract for an annual cleaning? The answer was alarming. Union Oil had sold its business to Dead River Company in 2007, and I had had no regular cleaning contract since then. I had requested cleanings just two or three times during that period. I immediately signed up for their “half priced” program, where one pays an annual fee in exchange for a yearly furnace cleaning and for all service calls being at half price. Too bad I didn’t realize this sooner; it took the service man 3 1/2 hours to clean out a packed-to-the-gills furnace boiler.

Also packed to the gills is my coat closet. Inexplicably, when I could no longer wear my beloved high heels, my passion turned to outerwear. The yellow parka I grabbed when leaving the house that morning was too tight, too short and made of down, to which I am allergic and can only wear for an hour or so. Stupid choice! Wise heads advise selecting a coat that fits, with pockets stuffed with scarf, hat and gloves, and boots nearby. Cleaning out the outgrown, worn out and heirloom jackets in that closet awaits my attention—of course!

Reliving that morning as I wrote about it made me as slow as molasses in January, February and even early March. A lighter topic should be writable in half that time. I’m hoping you’ll be reading my next blog before 2022!


The Remembered Snit

3 Spurrs on a Slide

In my latest blog post, I mentioned remembering only one snit in my long life. I am now prepared to tell you about it.

I was an only child until I was eight. I had also been the only grandchild on either side until I was seven, when mother’s two sisters-in-law each had a daughter. A week after my eighth birthday, my mother produced the long-desired son that my parents had expected me to be. Then when I was nine, my father’s father died, leaving my father’s 13-year-old half-sister to come live with us. Six months later when I was ten, I got a new baby sister. I found losing my position in the family disheartening. I was, in fact, very upset.

Thus amply stoked, I staged my memorable snit on a damp April, 1941 afternoon at our house in Fairmont, West Virginia. I was 13 at the time, little brother Benjy was five, Isobel was three, and former aunt Gertrude–now referred to as big sister Trudy–was 16, but away at boarding school with her horse. (Because Trudy had money of her own and had grown up on a farm where her great passion was horseback riding, she received a horse for her first birthday with us. I felt this entitled me to receive the collie I currently craved. Because we already had three dogs, my parents felt otherwise.)

Isobel was born with a birth mark on her forehead, for which she was taken to a dermatologist in Pittsburgh for an annual treatment with dry ice. Mother, 41, had planned such a trip for the upcoming Snit Day. Two nights before the big day trip, mother had a dental disaster. Because her dentist was also in Pittsburgh, she was able to make an appointment with him. But this raised a new problem: Who would hold the wiggly three-year-old while the dentist fixed mother’s tooth? The solution was to take Louise, 20, the family nursemaid, with her. This raised another problem. My grandmother, 66, was staying with us and could take care of Benjy until his nap, but was going out to a festive bridge party at 1:30 p.m. Bessie the cook, 62, could listen for Benjy at naptime, but it was my job to come straight home from school to babysit him until mother’s return.

Because Benjy preferred to be outside but it was a rainy day, I established him on our wide front porch. He had his tricycle, a ride-in red toy car, a fleet of smaller trucks and cars, and a few other toys. I established myself on the living room sofa, facing the many windows and French doors that opened onto the porch, with the newly arrived issue of Life magazine.

All went smoothly until I heard the telltale sound of a ball hitting the one section of solid wall. I rushed out and ordered Benjy only to throw the ball there, since of course if it hit a window or the French doors, it would break the glass. Returning to Life, it seemed only seconds later that I heard a crash and the tinkle of breaking glass and saw a baseball rolling down the floor toward me. A stricken Benjy stood looking aghast.

Gob-smacked, I dropped Life and stared as if mesmerized at the ball coming to a stop in front of me. Benjy’s ball was better known to me as the “forbidden-to-Benjy family baseball” which lived in my old toy box on the porch, filled with grown-up outdoor game paraphernalia. I wondered how it was that I was smart enough to know to tell Benjy that “his” ball could break windows, but not savvy enough to realize I should be taking it from him. Both of us were going to get Holy Hell from Mother. “Benjy, get in here!” I shrieked. 

Benjy came to stand nervously beside me and I began a mini-inquisition.

Q: You didn’t believe me when I said it could break windows, did you?
A: No.
Q: Why were you using that baseball?
A: I was bored and looked in the toy box, and it was on top.
Q: Your rubber balls bounce better. Why weren’t you using one of them?
A: My two balls were on the lawn, out in the rain.
Q: How did they get there?
A: I was trying to bounce them on the ceiling and they fell off the porch.

Benjy went into the next-door playroom and played quietly, while I hid the ball under a sofa cushion and tried to think if I could do anything to place myself in a better position with Mother. When the Pittsburgh travelers arrived half an hour later, Benjy and I both rushed to greet them. First in was Louise, carrying a sleeping Dibble (early Benjy-speak for Isobel). Mother followed looking tired, and both Benjy and I gave her a hug. “Did your tooth get fixed?” I asked. “All better,” she answered. “And what about Dibble’s doctor?” I asked. Mother smiled and reported that Dibble’s next appointment was in a year and a half, and would probably be the last needed. “I’ve simply got to get out of these clothes. Come upstairs with me; I want to hear all about your afternoon together.”

We went upstairs with mother to her bedroom and milled around idly while she swapped her Pittsburgh clothes for more comfortable ones. Sitting on the chaise to put on her favorite at-home shoes, she looked at me and said “Plops, you look like you have something to say. I tried to keep my voice calm and not gleeful as I reported on the use of the illegal baseball and the shattered window. Mother scooped Benjy onto her lap facing me and said “Don’t you know how long we had to wait to have a little boy who would who would track in mud and break windows?” Benjy’s eyes were twinkling and he grinned from ear to ear. It felt like a “Nyah Nyah on you!” grin, and I exploded. Breaking into sobs, I yelled at Mother and said the only children she loved were Benjy, Dibble and Trudy, and I rushed, weeping, from the room, slamming her door and mine, and threw myself on my bed in hysterical sobs. I was too undone to eat dinner, and expected a lecture in the morning which was never given.

When thinking this through recently to write about it, I had a revelation. It seems to me that Benjy had it at the time, 79 years ago. I realized for the first time that Benjy had understood at once that Mother’s remark about her precious son had eliminated any further remarks on the ball, the broken glass, or my laissez-faire style of babysitting. His grin meant “We are getting away with this!” and I was too blind to see it.

Enough of snits! Wear your masks–the life you save may be your own; keep your distances, and some day you will get yet another blog post from me.


Foiled, Frustrated, Fuming and Dithering

I AM IN A VILE SNIT! My newest love, amateur detective Lord Peter Whimsey, describes this as his brain feeling like a wasps’ nest poked by a stick. While I hope I appear to others as normal, when alone the least mishap occasions my worst swearwords, and bigger ones can make me absolutely shout them.

Blog Posts

I have thrice chosen subjects, composed titles and several paragraphs for the post I promised in June and have had to abandon them when they wouldn’t work. At this time, I am only able to put together a hodgepodge of odds and ends. I expect to recover from this condition, but meanwhile hope you can find something of interest among this miscellany.

Plant Pictured Above

The amount of frustration and fuming this plant has cost in the last month is flat out remarkable! It is probably the rarest plant in my garden and I am inordinately fond of it. However, when my friend Cookie, admiring it, suggested it was a dogwood I firmly denied that, but when asked what it was, I was clueless. There followed three or four days of memory pumping, fruitless searches for planting plans with IDs and literally hours of researching Andromeda in Oliver’s Nursery catalogs, to no avail. Then one morning I awoke with “Elizabeth Lustgarten” on my mind. I asked my daughter Marker to research that name, as I thought it sounded right. The next day, Marker called me saying with enthusiasm “I’ve got it!” I hoped it wasn’t the virus she was referring to, as I couldn’t think WHAT she had gotten. She announced that she had found Cornus kusa ‘Lustgarten,’ weeping. Its rarity comes from the fact that the single weeper was found in the same seed block as Elizabeth Lustgarten, an upright form of Kusa dogwood. So, Cookie was right! If I had known plant leaves better, I could have identified it myself.

Of Memory, Hindsight and Snits

My passionate, multifaceted snit of early June is long gone, leaving almost no memory of what it was about. I seem to be given to short-lived and unmemorable snits. In a long and clearly remembered life, I can remember only one snit. (It involved preferential treatment of my spoiled younger brother, and perhaps will come up in a future post.) I need to tell you about my memory.

I was born with an excellent memory, which has given me great pleasure over the years. I have memories that date to before my third birthday. Events appear to have been photographed internally in technicolor, and accurate dates accompany many insignificant memories. For example, I remember the exact date that I was required as a New Girl to arrive at Dobbs (The Masters School) to start 10th grade: September 23, 1942. I remember that the night before, we had heard Dinah Shore, dressed in long-sleeved white organdy, sing at the Waldorf Astoria, where we had dinner! Until I was about 65 and people started commenting on how phenomenal my memory was, I assumed that everyone’s memory was like mine. As I have never worked to develop it, I feel this is one of the nicest gifts God ever gave me.

Thinking about childhood summers recently, I remember nights at my grandmother’s cottage in Canada when she, my parents, and some of my aunts and uncles played memory games of my grandmother’s choice. Perhaps this was just the memory training I needed. We played The Suitcase Game (“When I went to Paris, I packed…”) and The Tray Game, in which we all got a brief look at a tray of random objects and wrote down all that we could remember. Also Classifications, in which each of us named a category such as Rivers or Cars, which we would all write down. Someone would pick a letter of the alphabet, and we all had to list one item in each category beginning with that letter. Points were awarded based on how unique each answer was. It was fun to see the teasing between and inventions of my older family members. Is there or is there not really a Zambezi River? In a pre-Google world, who knew? Grandmother also used to challenge me to the memory card game Concentration. Perhaps some ideas for families in Lockdown today?

Wrapping this thing up

Appallingly, creation of this stupefyingly dull and inept attempt at a June blog post has taken over three months to complete. (I was at “appallingly“ on July 1st!) I am deeply dispirited—humiliated to be an American, which has all my life given me pride.

I have just heard that Northeastern University in Boston has decreed that any student found disobeying the standard precautions against Covid-19 will have their admission rescinded permanently. I wish more institutions and individuals would stand up for protection against the pandemic as firmly.

When I think of something entertaining to say, I will say it in a blog. Meanwhile, stay well! —p


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

Cuomo pic.PNG

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.

Penelope Spurr Marshall

Hunkering Down!

Hunkering mourning dove

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


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,


My Bi-Polar Travel Issues


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!


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