Friday, July 04, 2014

Required Reading

Because you should read it at least once a year. 

"When in the Course of human events, it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bands which have connected them with another, and to assume among the powers of the earth, the separate and equal station to which the Laws of Nature and of Nature's God entitle them, a decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires that they should declare the causes which impel them to the separation.

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.--That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, --That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness. Prudence, indeed, will dictate that Governments long established should not be changed for light and transient causes; and accordingly all experience hath shewn, that mankind are more disposed to suffer, while evils are sufferable, than to right themselves by abolishing the forms to which they are accustomed. But when a long train of abuses and usurpations, pursuing invariably the same Object evinces a design to reduce them under absolute Despotism, it is their right, it is their duty, to throw off such Government, and to provide new Guards for their future security.--Such has been the patient sufferance of these Colonies; and such is now the necessity which constrains them to alter their former Systems of Government. The history of the present King of Great Britain is a history of repeated injuries and usurpations, all having in direct object the establishment of an absolute Tyranny over these States. To prove this, let Facts be submitted to a candid world.
He has refused his Assent to Laws, the most wholesome and necessary for the public good.
He has forbidden his Governors to pass Laws of immediate and pressing importance, unless suspended in their operation till his Assent should be obtained; and when so suspended, he has utterly neglected to attend to them.
He has refused to pass other Laws for the accommodation of large districts of people, unless those people would relinquish the right of Representation in the Legislature, a right inestimable to them and formidable to tyrants only.
He has called together legislative bodies at places unusual, uncomfortable, and distant from the depository of their public Records, for the sole purpose of fatiguing them into compliance with his measures.
He has dissolved Representative Houses repeatedly, for opposing with manly firmness his invasions on the rights of the people.
He has refused for a long time, after such dissolutions, to cause others to be elected; whereby the Legislative powers, incapable of Annihilation, have returned to the People at large for their exercise; the State remaining in the mean time exposed to all the dangers of invasion from without, and convulsions within.
He has endeavoured to prevent the population of these States; for that purpose obstructing the Laws for Naturalization of Foreigners; refusing to pass others to encourage their migrations hither, and raising the conditions of new Appropriations of Lands.
He has obstructed the Administration of Justice, by refusing his Assent to Laws for establishing Judiciary powers.
He has made Judges dependent on his Will alone, for the tenure of their offices, and the amount and payment of their salaries.
He has erected a multitude of New Offices, and sent hither swarms of Officers to harrass our people, and eat out their substance.
He has kept among us, in times of peace, Standing Armies without the Consent of our legislatures.
He has affected to render the Military independent of and superior to the Civil power.
He has combined with others to subject us to a jurisdiction foreign to our constitution, and unacknowledged by our laws; giving his Assent to their Acts of pretended Legislation:
For Quartering large bodies of armed troops among us:
For protecting them, by a mock Trial, from punishment for any Murders which they should commit on the Inhabitants of these States:
For cutting off our Trade with all parts of the world:
For imposing Taxes on us without our Consent:
For depriving us in many cases, of the benefits of Trial by Jury:
For transporting us beyond Seas to be tried for pretended offences
For abolishing the free System of English Laws in a neighbouring Province, establishing therein an Arbitrary government, and enlarging its Boundaries so as to render it at once an example and fit instrument for introducing the same absolute rule into these Colonies:
For taking away our Charters, abolishing our most valuable Laws, and altering fundamentally the Forms of our Governments:
For suspending our own Legislatures, and declaring themselves invested with power to legislate for us in all cases whatsoever.
He has abdicated Government here, by declaring us out of his Protection and waging War against us.
He has plundered our seas, ravaged our Coasts, burnt our towns, and destroyed the lives of our people.
He is at this time transporting large Armies of foreign Mercenaries to compleat the works of death, desolation and tyranny, already begun with circumstances of Cruelty & perfidy scarcely paralleled in the most barbarous ages, and totally unworthy the Head of a civilized nation.
He has constrained our fellow Citizens taken Captive on the high Seas to bear Arms against their Country, to become the executioners of their friends and Brethren, or to fall themselves by their Hands.
He has excited domestic insurrections amongst us, and has endeavoured to bring on the inhabitants of our frontiers, the merciless Indian Savages, whose known rule of warfare, is an undistinguished destruction of all ages, sexes and conditions.
In every stage of these Oppressions We have Petitioned for Redress in the most humble terms: Our repeated Petitions have been answered only by repeated injury. A Prince whose character is thus marked by every act which may define a Tyrant, is unfit to be the ruler of a free people.

Nor have We been wanting in attentions to our Brittish brethren. We have warned them from time to time of attempts by their legislature to extend an unwarrantable jurisdiction over us. We have reminded them of the circumstances of our emigration and settlement here. We have appealed to their native justice and magnanimity, and we have conjured them by the ties of our common kindred to disavow these usurpations, which, would inevitably interrupt our connections and correspondence. They too have been deaf to the voice of justice and of consanguinity. We must, therefore, acquiesce in the necessity, which denounces our Separation, and hold them, as we hold the rest of mankind, Enemies in War, in Peace Friends.

We, therefore, the Representatives of the united States of America, in General Congress, Assembled, appealing to the Supreme Judge of the world for the rectitude of our intentions, do, in the Name, and by Authority of the good People of these Colonies, solemnly publish and declare, That these United Colonies are, and of Right ought to be Free and Independent States; that they are Absolved from all Allegiance to the British Crown, and that all political connection between them and the State of Great Britain, is and ought to be totally dissolved; and that as Free and Independent States, they have full Power to levy War, conclude Peace, contract Alliances, establish Commerce, and to do all other Acts and Things which Independent States may of right do. And for the support of this Declaration, with a firm reliance on the protection of divine Providence, we mutually pledge to each other our Lives, our Fortunes and our sacred Honor."

Happy Independence Day 2014! Let the fireworks begin!


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posted by MaryB @ 6:00 AM  0 comments

Wednesday, June 04, 2014

The Shredding Bills Blues

"Bills! I hate you so, I always will." (apologies to Marilyn McCoo and the Fifth Dimension)

Paper, paper, paper. I have boxes of it. Bags of it. Plastic storage containers of it. And I'm determined to go through every bit of it, pull out only the most important keepables, and shred the rest.

Not only do I have eight years' worth of New York paper, I actually brought a lot of accumulated Atlanta paper with me when I moved up here because the move happened so fast. Hey, maybe I needed that power bill from 1996! Anyway, it ain't coming back South with me. So I bit the bullet and bought a heavy-duty shredder.

And now the Great Shred of 2014 begins.

I am determined to shred the contents of at least one bag/box/container every evening until I am practically paperless. So last night I started with the biggest bag of miscellaneous papery stuff that I had, one of those giant Ziploc garment storage bags. That one bag has taken me two nights to shred, so here's hoping the smaller bags/boxes/containers keep me on my one-a-night schedule.

What is all this paper, you wonder? Oh, dear. A lot of it is painful to revisit: all of the closing down stuff for my life in Atlanta, the paperwork for selling my beloved Strathmore Drive home, certain bills I'd rather forget. Yet, much of it brings laughs and fond memories - notes from friends and family, theatre ticket stubs, photographs. Some of it I keep, most I don't. Farewell. The bulk of it, however, is just tedious old day-in-day-out (or should I say, month-in-month-out) bills, old checkbooks, old business cards.

I only shred the paper that has my name, address, account numbers on it, as well as anything with the names and addresses of family or friends (so you're all safe, as well). The business cards and checkbooks are the biggest pain to shred. It's tiresome to keep feeding that stuff through the shredder. Plus, I can stand the loud, grinding noise for only so long. But I will persevere until all this silly stuff is in tiny pieces and in the recycle bin.

I have a goal. I have a shredder. I can do this. "Don't you bury me, bills! I've got the shredding bills blu-oo-oo-ues."

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posted by MaryB @ 10:01 PM  2 comments

Saturday, May 31, 2014


I heard her before I saw her. The nurse at Lenox Hill Hospital, where I was being treated for pneumonia several weeks ago, had popped in a few minutes earlier to let me know, "You're getting a new roommate," so it wasn't a complete surprise. At first, it sounded like a man's voice. In my IV-antibiotic-induced haze, I remember thinking, "They wouldn't put a man in here, would they? I shouldn't have a man roommate, right?"

The voice was loud, off the Richter Scale loud, giving orders to the whoever was wheeling her to the door. Then it stopped sounding like a man - really, they wouldn't give me a male roomie - and started sounding like . . . Howard Wolowitz's mother from The Big Bang Theory. Exactly.

Betty was a mess and let everybody know it. She was almost deaf, so anyone talking to her had to repeat - louder and louder - whatever they were saying. She was almost blind. She was very obese, as big around as she was tall. And her body was completely failing her.

On the other hand she was very entertaining. That voice, wow. I did feel like I was in the middle of a Big Bang Theory episode. She had a good sense of humor, complete with some real zingers. After having to skip breakfast and lunch because of medical tests, she came back to the room famished. Our fabulous nurse, John, had saved her lunch and her dinner so that she would have plenty to eat. And eat she did! Inhaled it (yes, I could hear it all). In the middle of her meal, she said in a loud (very loud) voice: "I'm eatin' like I got ten assholes heah!" I lost it. And every time I think about it, I lose it. Just think about it.

She was also concerned about me. "How ya' doin' over theah, Mary! All right?" And I'd yell back - several times so that she could hear - "Fine, Betty. Thanks!"

But as hilarious as Betty was, she was also losing control of her body and ready to check out. "I've lived a good long life, why am I still here?" She was embarrassed by her inability to hear, see, and control bodily functions. In short, she was ready to go. She readily admitted to the nurse that she was depressed. Only one grand-daughter lived nearby, and she visited once a day, but the rest of her family were either dead or lived far away. She'd lived in the same Brooklyn apartment for over 50 years, but now her neighbors were strangers who didn't speak English. She was a stranger in a strange land and was ready to move on.

Betty taught me a lot. I learned that getting old ain't no picnic, especially if you lose control of everyday body functions, those things we take so for granted. I learned that to make things a little easier going forward, I must control my weight, and I must pay attention to the tiniest changes in my sight and hearing. I learned to keep family and friends close, or as close as I can or dare, because being pretty much alone at that stage of the game is a hard, hard thing.

After a particularly hard night of groans and tears and massive clean-up on the other side of the roommate curtain, I found myself squeezing my eyes shut and praying, "Please, Lord, do not let me live too long, where I'm in Betty's condition." Now, I'm not sure whether or not that was a good prayer, but, boy, that's exactly how I felt after sharing a room with her. As entertaining as she was at times, she really scared me, or, rather, her condition scared me.

It got too much in the middle of that tough night,  and I realized I needed to take care of myself, since that's what I was in the hospital to do. In the middle of all the chaos and smell, I requested a room change. The nurses accommodated me immediately, and I was put in a room with a less effusive roommate. As I was getting ready to leave the hospital the next day, I told our nurse to please give my best to Betty.

I'm not sure of Betty's fate, but I learned enough from her to give me great pause about what the next twenty or so years might hold for me. Plus, I learned a great zinger for when I'm stuffing my face. Ten assholes. Ha!

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posted by MaryB @ 10:55 AM  0 comments

Thursday, May 08, 2014

A Beautiful Day for an Ambulance Ride

A week ago, my colleagues wrestled me into urgent care after I'd shown no improvement with a cough and cold I'd had for a couple of weeks. Testing of vital signs and a chest x-ray later, and the doctor was informing me that I had a mass of pneumonia in my left lung and that an ambulance had been called. Whoa, serious.

While, yes, it was serious, it was not so crazy life-threatening that I couldn't appreciate the experience and enjoy the show around me. Take the ambulance ride, for example. I've never had an ambulance ride before (thank God), and let's face it, this was a bloodless, painless way to get the experience of riding from the Upper West side urgent care to Lenox Hill Hospital on the Upper East Side, the route of which took me through Central Park. It was a beautiful day, I could lie back and enjoy the view, while Joseph and Kathleen, my ambulance professionals, took care of everything. Plus, my friend Ann got to ride with me. Best possible ambulance ride, truly.

And then, there was the emergency room experience. I was duly prodded, poked, tested, x-rayed yet again, and left to wait while others got their ER attention-time. One guy was raving and cursing so much that he was finally cuffed to the bed. A little Upper East Side "lady" fought and scratched as the emergency personnel tried to assure her that she wasn't in jail, but in the ER, because a passerby had worried about her on the sidewalk. "I only had one margarita too many and now I'm being held prisoner!" she kept yelling (this little UES "lady"). She tried to slip away several times, but they kept re-capturing her, until the last time - while no one was looking, she was out the door. I saw the whole thing, but, hey, what could I do?

I finally got to my room around 10pm (a 12-hour ordeal so far, if you're keeping score), I saw hundreds of doctors, residents, medical students, nurses, nursing assistants, and who knows who else, who asked questions (the most popular: name, birth date), affixed IVs, drew blood, snapped on a variety of wrist bands, showed me how to maneuver the IV to and from the bathroom and how not to set off alarms by keeping my arm absolutely straight. Well, just a lot of faces coming and going and asking questions and sticking me. I was vaguely aware of a roomie, but she was quiet and I tried to be the same. It was not a restful night, as anyone who's ever been in a hospital can attest.

If you have to have pneumonia, it's not a bad gig to be ensconced at Park Avenue and 77th Street in NYC. When you look out of your windows, you get to see beautiful buildings where really rich folk live, plus you get to see them coming and going to all sorts of fancy affairs. Quite entertaining.

The most painful part of the experience: my tiny, tiny veins, which caused untold pain every time my blood had to be tested (which was often) or my IV moved. I foresee this as a huge problem in the future, as I get older and need more medical care. Anyone know a way to boost vein size?

The best part of the experience: jello! Couldn't get enough of it. It's something I never make for myself, so I forget how comforting it can be. Mmm. Hospital jello!

The next day, my quiet roomie went away, and just having the room to myself let me get a lot more rest. I was roommate-less for one whole day. Then came Betty.

While I don't remember all the doctors' names (weird, eh?), I do remember the great nurses that took very, very good care of me at Lenox Hill. Here's to Esther, Alysa, Brigitte, John, and Emily. All of you treated me with dignity, care, and good humor. You made the experience bearable. Thank you.

As for Betty, that's another story for another day.

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posted by MaryB @ 8:42 PM  0 comments

Sunday, April 27, 2014

From Park to Peachtree

It's time to come home. Several months ago my New York landlords let me know that they were selling my building. Except for the first few months I was here in 2006, my little Spanish Harlem apartment is the only New York home I've known for the past eight years. I've gotten used to Metro North trains running under my window, and I know my way around several of the local bodegas. It was hard to find something I could (barely) afford every month in Manhattan, but after an intense search, I landed on Park Avenue - the dicey end, not Billionaires' Row.

As the time grew closer to the building sale, I found myself becoming so stressed out about trying to find another safe, affordable apartment in Manhattan (yeah, yeah, Brooklyn, I know) that it was affecting my work, my sleep, my health. What to do? I need (and love) my job, so quitting is out of the question, but perhaps it was the perfect time to go back to Atlanta. Is there a way to do both - keep my job and move back home? Well, turns out I could do both, thanks to a great boss and other powers-that-be who needed to bless my telecommuting plan.

As of August 1, I will say a bittersweet farewell to New York City and settle back into my hometown, Atlanta. I can certainly do my work efficiently from anywhere on the planet, as long as there's an internet connection, cell phones, and some kind of power to keep the computer, et. al., running. And face it, I travel enough that working from Atlanta makes more sense than NYC, since ATL has a much finer airport than any in the surrounding New York area - plus, I can take MARTA right into the airport, saving those astronomical taxi fees.

I'm looking forward to being just around the corner (sort of) from my daughter Kate, my sweet grandbabies and son-in-law, and other family members and long-time friends. I look forward to being closer to green grass, azaleas, and dogwoods than my 10-minute walk to Central Park. I look forward to awesomely wide grocery story aisles. I look forward to settling back into my pew at All Saints' Church. I look forward to being able to sock away a little more money for retirement. Bottom line, nothing can take the place of close proximity (but not too close) to family and friends.

But, oh, how I'll miss New York City. It's the most wondrous place on the planet. I'll miss Broadway, Central Park, The Met, MoMA, Union Square farmers market, living in a place that aligns with my political views, easy commuting (yea! walking and subways!), Janice Huff - my favorite meteorologist, Grand Central Station, wafels and dinges, the energy!, but mostly, I'll miss my colleagues that I get to see day in/day out. Extrovert that I am, I do love coming into the office and being face-to-face with the folks I work with. Fortunately, I'll get to travel to the Mother Ship several times a year, so NYC will always be on my radar.

OK. So that's the news. I'll be writing more about my farewell to NYC and my hey, y'all to ATL in the next few months. What an incredible experience it's been! There are a few things on my checklist that I need to complete before moving home (Coney Island, anyone?), but I'll do my best to pack it all in before I leave.

While I'll always be in a New York State of Mind, now it's Georgia that's on my mind. That old sweet song. 

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posted by MaryB @ 6:31 PM  0 comments

Monday, March 31, 2014

Attend the Tale

Great art has the power to knock you off your foundation and plant you in a different place. It is very rare, and maybe some folks never have that experience. I'm moved to say that I did get to experience foundation-knocking Wednesday March 5th at the New York Philharmonic's Sweeney Todd, the Demon Barber of Fleet Street, with Bryn Terfel and Emma Thompson.

The stars were properly aligned last October when I nabbed my ticket online. The impetus was the opportunity to see/hear Bryn Terfel in person. Ah, the man can sing. I had the funds, I was online at the right time, and - boom! - orchestra aisle seat for March 5. Only 5 performances, so no time to dawdle.  I'll admit I had my doubts about Emma Thompson's Mrs. Lovett being able to match Terfel's Sweeney, but, shoot, it's Emma Thompson, right? And it's Sondheim. And Sweeney Todd. Here. Take my money, and save me a seat.

I didn't stop to think that it was opening night of a 5-performance run. I had no idea what to expect, except that I knew Bryn Terfel would blow the roof off the place. And the Philharmonic. And Christian Borle as Pirelli. And Emma Thompson - even if she just sat on the stage and picked her nose, well, Emma Thompson. Add in Christian Borle as Pirelli and surprise cast member (noted as ? in the program) Audra McDonald as the mad woman, well, nothing short of perfection.

After a long and busy Ash Wednesday day at work, I crossed over to the West Side, had a nice dinner, and made my way to Avery Fisher Hall at Lincoln Center. The place was absolutely mobbed. I wormed my way into the crowd and let it carry me up the escalator and to my seat. I settled in, thinking I knew what I was going to see. I was well familiar with the score (it helps to have memorized Sondheim before turning 30) and story. But everything about this production exceeded my expectations.

The New York Philharmonic gave the music the treatment it deserved, well beyond what the normal Broadway orchestra is able to do. It was big and lush and spectacular. The orchestra was the focal point, of course, front and center and taking up most of the stage. The actors worked around the musicians, even using some of the instruments as props.

The cast marched on stage, all prim and proper, dressed in formal garb with their scores tucked neatly under their arms. They took their placed behind their music stands, and I thought, oh, OK, it's going to be a recital-type thing. But just as I was settling into that notion, each one tossed their books to the stage and started ripping off their dress clothes to reveal the seamy, dirty wardrobe better suited to this story of murder and questionable meat pies. And then it just took off.

I have never seen anything like it. Everything about this production was superb. I've seen many a fine production in my life, but this one blew everything else out of the water. The evening was spectacular and well worth any price paid to see it. And at the ending ovation, Emma Thompson ran out into the audience, grabbed Stephen Sondheim, and brought him on stage. Thrilling!

It made such an impression on me that I think it will be a while before I can see another musical, since I'll be comparing it to this production. Well done, New York Philharmonic, Bryn Terfel, Emma Thompson, and cast! Thank you for  giving me the experience of a lifetime. I'm so glad I attended the tale of Sweeney Todd.

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posted by MaryB @ 9:38 AM  0 comments

Wednesday, March 05, 2014

Dust Thou Art, to Dust Returneth

Instead of attending a full-on worship service, I thought I'd give Ashes to Go a try this year. I'm not much on bells-and-smells, but no one loves a whackin' great pipe organ and Tiffany windows in a lovely old church or bewailing my manifold sins more than I, so this was a tiny little Lenten adventure for me.

There's a lot of pro-and-con about Ashes to Go, which is basically taking the prayers and imposition of ashes to the streets for any and all who want them. The pro-folk believe it to be a worthy evangelism effort, going to where people are - commuter stations, street corners, grocery stores - rather than requiring them to show up at a given time and given place. The con-folk believe that it is a cheap short-cut and that the imposition of ashes means nothing if you haven't fully confessed your sins (bewailed the manifold) and been granted absolution by a clergy-type.

Before I go any farther with this, I would like to lodge a protest against the name "Ashes to Go," which does smack heartily of the flip, the easy, the wink-wink-nudge-nudge. But I'll let that go. Here's where I stand on it. Meh. I can go either way. Ash Wednesday is way bigger than which method I use to get ashed. Yeah, I'll probably stick with the tried-and-true service from here on out, but my manifold sins feel no less bewailed (I don't need the Prayer Book for that) or my dusty beginnings and endings any less internalized because I opted to have myself reminded of them on the streets of New York rather than in a church.

Last year, I assisted one of our priests with Ashes to Go at 42nd and Lexington. We had a goodly number of folks line up for the prayer and ashes. All took it very seriously and were grateful for the opportunity to demonstrate their faith. The most memorable were a couple of down-and-out men, who solemnly received the ashes and prayers, said bless you, and seemed genuinely moved that someone had prayed with them and given them the sign of the cross in ashes on their foreheads. Who knows what it meant to them? But maybe it was the first time in a long while that someone had said a prayer with and for them. Maybe it was the first time someone had touched them in a positive way.

So here's the thing. If you don't like or approve of the Ashes to Go concept, don't go that route. If you want to try it, go ahead. Remember you are dust, and to dust you shall return, whether in a formal worship service or on busy city streets.

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posted by MaryB @ 4:33 PM  2 comments

Thursday, February 13, 2014

Blow, Thou Winter Wind

A few things to think about as you whine about winter. Have some hot chocolate and calm down.

(All photos taken in Central Park, New York City, Winter 2014)

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posted by MaryB @ 2:25 PM  0 comments

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

The Fire of '74

Forty years ago (forty! yikes!), I was having a hard time sleeping the night of January 11, 1974, at our Bellows Court apartment in West St. Paul, Minnesota. Not sure what was keeping me awake, but I was getting frustrated with the whole insomnia thing, when a bright pinky-orange light flooded our bedroom window. The first thing that came to my mind, in my wide awake but maybe partly asleep state, was "Who the hell is setting up a carnival in our parking lot?" The light was cotton candy pink and bright as the sun. Carnival. Hm. Well, that's the way my mind works.

I honestly don't remember what happened next or how Charley and I got out of the apartment, into our car, and a mile or so away before the big explosion. We obviously moved pretty damn fast, so fast, in fact, that I left behind two of my essentials - contact lenses and birth control pills. But I did manage to stuff my feet into snow boots and pull on my parka before tearing out the door.

Where to go? What to do? This was out of the realm of experience for a couple of 22-year-old newlyweds from the South. We headed to a co-workers' apartment because we knew she'd be up late packing for Texas and the Super Bowl (Vikings vs. Dolphins).  Lest you need reminding, this was well before cell phones, email, and texting, so all we could do is just turn up on someone's doorstep without any notice. This acquaintance - not even a friend, really - let us crash in her spare bedroom so that we could at least be warm and dry for the rest of the night.

And that's about all I remember of the night itself. I'm not sure where we slept the next night, but I don't recall having stayed in a motel. Perhaps we found our new apartment the very next day, which is possible, since I guess nearby apartment complexes were housing the displaced residents of the destroyed ones.

Fortunately, Charley was an insurance man, so he knew to call to find out about emergency benefits and get details of our coverage, etc. We were lucky not to have lost everything. In fact, we were on the outer edges of the L-shaped complex, and the explosion and fire damage mainly demolished the center angle of the L. However, there was a lot of smoke and water/ice damage to furniture and clothing, mainly. In short, the sofa and mattress were gone, but my carefully packed away China was intact (a 22-year-old newlywed's priorities).

Four people lost their lives in the fire and explosion - three firemen and a manager of the other damaged apartment buildings. The cause was a little fuzzy at the time. We were told some guy was trying to thaw out something-or-other with a blow-torch just as the propane gas truck was pumping in the monthly gas allotment for the apartments. Bad timing.

I'm not sure of that's the real story, but the cause didn't really matter to us at the time. It was scary and confusing and frigid cold. But we were alive. A lesson learned about priorities forty years ago.

Sometimes, insomnia can save your life.


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posted by MaryB @ 7:26 AM  0 comments

Tuesday, January 07, 2014

Losing a Force of Nature

Many years ago, I was pulled out of my kindergarten class to help Mrs. Miller with something. Now, Mrs. Miller was the founder and head honcho at Brainerd Baptist Kindergarten, and her family and ours were like . . . family. Anyway, this was a big deal, right?

After I ran though any of my behavior that might cause the head of the school to pull me out of playhouse time and determined I should be clear, I felt pretty special. I mean, Mrs. Miller needed my help with something. So I go out into the hall with her, and she sits down in a little chair. "Mary, I want you to pull out any gray hairs you see." Whaaaat?? Well, of course I didn't say that. I was a little kid and a grown up friend and teacher told me to do something, so, OK. I spent several minutes eyeing any gray hair in her side-part (I don't think there were very many) and yanking them out. Mission accomplished. Then I went back to my classroom.

Now, why Mrs. Miller had asked me to perform this particular honor, I'll never know. Maybe because she knew I needed to be rescued from Mrs. Jones' class or maybe because my family and hers were such good friends that she knew I could be trusted. Whatever. I was asked to do a task, and I completed it to her satisfaction. That's my earliest definable memory of this incredible woman, who'd known me since birth.

She started one of the first modern kindergartens in Chattanooga, Tennessee, pulling together creative, loving teachers (including my mother) and drawing a rather large number of 4- and 5-year-olds for her half-day school.

In her ground-breaking  kindergarten, I learned all about my five senses. I learned the song "It's a Hap-Hap-Happy Day." I learned my first cheer: "Apples, oranges, peaches, candy, Brainerd Baptist Kindergarten you're so dandy!" I learned to sit in a circle and listen to a teacher. Bottom line, I learned lots of things in kindergarten, as you do, of course. And all of this was driven - and I do mean driven - by Mrs. Miller. The school was her vision of what kindergarten for little Baby Boomers needed to be. Right time, right place, right vision.

Summer of '63 - I was 12 - she hired my sister Cindy and me to 1) help organize/cut out/assemble all the artwork projects for the upcoming kindergarten year, and 2) babysit for 2-year-old Star (you were a handful, Star). So in the midst of "Blowin' in the Wind" and Martin Luther King's March on Washington, we were camped out at the Millers cutting out circus animal patterns, chasing a 2-year-old, and eating our weight in Campbell's tomato soup (made with milk, not water). I know many of my famous organizing skills were birthed during the summer of '63.

The summer I left for college, we sold our house on South Moore Road and moved - guess where? - next door to our good friends the Millers. Now we really were like one big combined happy family. The Fraziers and the Millers. 

I'm writing this rambling little memoir because Fonza Miller Barkley died on Sunday at age 93. If I had to sum her up in one word, I'd say "Enthusiasm!!" (complete with exclamation marks). She was tall and had impeccable posture. When someone with her physical stature is enthusiastic, then - wow - that energy just fills the universe.

She was, of course, so much more than a standard happy, enthusiastic person. She really did make a huge impact on pre-school education in Chattanooga. That kindergarten she started is now a thriving pre-K through 5th grade private school. She was active in the Eastern Star and lent her talents to many other endeavors. But I knew her outside of all of that. To me, she was a force of nature.

My last memory of her was sharing brunch with her and son Glenn last spring when I was in Chattanooga for a weekend reunion. Though older and frailer (too many gray hairs to pull out now!), that famous enthusiasm was still there. We laughed and hugged tight before saying our goodbyes. I'm so glad I got to share one more tiny slice of my life with her.

Farewell, Fonza. It's a hap-hap-happy day in Heaven. There'll certainly never be a dull moment up there, dear lady. And no more gray hairs!

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posted by MaryB @ 8:44 PM  0 comments