‘Like, A Very Smart Person’

From the first mention of Donald Trump as a possible candidate for the presidency of the United States, I have wondered how my father would have reacted to the news that his fellow Wharton School alumnus harbored such ambitions. Charles Alfred Keyser, Class of 1931, died in 1970 in Montclair, New Jersey at age 60, still to my knowledge intensely proud of his connection to the prestigious University of Pennsylvania Wharton School of Business. That and his Delta Tau Delta fraternity chapter there. My siblings and I used to grumble about the long hot rides in a car with no air conditioning before the Garden State Parkway and other toll roads existed  because the dentist or doctor or someone else was an old school friend from Penn. Of course, as a Northwestern Mutual life insurance agent, there probably was a business benefit to maintaining those old contacts. As kids, we didn’t see that.

My father taught me all the words to the song disparaging Penn’s rival university, Cornell: “Far above Cayuga’s waters there’s an awful smell . . .”  It was probably good that I chose a different midwestern university’s school of journalism to attend when the time came.

Charles Keyser, nicknamed Whitey by his boyhood friends in Nebraska in reference to his very blond hair, was born in Lincoln, the son of a horticulture professor and a conservatory-trained pianist. The marriage ended in divorce, with Charles and his mother moving to the town of Wayne, where she offered piano lessons in her home. My father spent his first two years of college at the local state teachers college before transferring to Penn. When I suggested a similar approach as a money-saving move for myself, he said, “No, it’s much better to spend the entire four years at the same place.”

After graduating, my father moved to New York City and found work at a large company, with which he shortly became dissatisfied, planning to leave as soon as he was able. (When I saw the film, “The Apartment,” the scene of actor Jack Lemmon’s workplace – row upon row of identical desks occupied by identical men all identically dressed and robot-like pushing identical-looking papers – it reminded me of my father’s description of the place. For all my life I heard from an uncle on my mother’s side of the family about how my father quit a perfectly good job during the Depression.)

I don’t know how my parents met. I picture them as young people do, making the best of a bad economic condition, sharing cheap wine and food with equally strapped friends. My mother had returned from a wonderful year in France where she’d  attended the Paris branch of the New York School of Fine & Applied Art (Parsons). Back in New York, she found work as a fashion illustrator with the designer Muriel King. Following a wedding in the backyard of her parents’ home in Orange, New Jersey, the newlyweds moved to a rented apartment in Jackson Heights, Queens. I came along eventually and lived there with them until the aforementioned perfectly good job did not lead to another, and the three of us were forced to move to the third floor of my grandparents’ home in Orange.

That is a very long-winded explanation of how little my father had in common with our current president: Wharton and some exposure to Queens, though I can’t imagine the Jackson Heights neighborhood holding much interest back then for the young playboy developer. However, after my father died (playing chess at the Montclair YMCA) my brother and my husband went to the Northwestern Mutual offices in Newark to pick up his belongings. All his co-workers expressed sorrow, with many agreeing with the colleague who declared, “Charlie Keyser was one of the smartest people I ever knew.”

But I never heard my father say anything like that about himself. Out loud, for all the world to hear.

Oh, and he was a Republican, I’m sure. That’s another thing I’ve wondered about in the time of Trump. Would he still be?


Photo: Wiki Media Commons

St. Patrick’s Pandemic

For the first time in the 82 years since the maternity nurses at New York’s Columbia Presbyterian Hospital convinced my parents it would be almost unpatriotic to give their newborn daughter any other name when the huge annual St. Patrick’s Day Parade was marching down Fifth Avenue, my birthday took place in a truly surreal time.

(I have always been grateful to those New York nurses, not to mention St. Patrick, even though an ancestry.com DNA Ethnicity Estimate a few years ago indicated I am just five percent Irish.  The rest of me is pretty evenly distributed between Great Britain and Italy.)

The thing about having a name and a birthday like mine makes it hard for friends and relatives to forget it once the day arrives and one way or another mention of St. Patrick gets made. This year’s news mentions tended to be limited to parades cancelled and bars and restaurants shut down. So again this year, and especially this year, hunkered down in my small apartment where public health authorities recommend older persons with medical conditions sequester themselves, I spent the day talking on the phone, answering texts and email, never changing from the scruffy old sweatpants and shirt I throw on to pick up the newspapers each morning.

Any plans for celebrating my birthday changed from day to day as COVID-19 news grew more frightening with the numbers of those infected steadily growing along with deaths. And as we learned more about this brand-new, never-before-experienced virus, with no advanced warning symptoms, some of us began to realize we could already be infected.  At first, I told my Los Angeles daughter that I really didn’t feel like going out to a restaurant or inviting other friends to join us that evening, but it turned out by the time of the 17th, many restaurants here were not serving diners at tables anyhow. She was disappointed and offered to look into nearby restaurants offering take-out meals that she and her husband could bring to my apartment.

That morning, lying in bed I re-played in my mind video she had shown of her husband playing with his new grandkids, delighted laughter of all serving as soundtrack. No, they can’t come here, I thought. I could be a carrier, especially as I’d spent the afternoon before at the DMV renewing my drivers license. I sent a text, but she insisted she had things to deliver. She would alert me from the elevator and hang a bag on my door. I was talking on the phone when a soft knock and the sound of the birthday song from a mobile phone sent me to open the door. My daughter and son-in-law stood  the required four feet back, smiling and wishing me greetings. Thank you, I said, now go home.

In the bag she’d brought were a few grocery items I’d mentioned and four packages of Hostess cupcakes that she, who doesn’t eat chocolate, had searched for. The cupcakes, especially the coconut covered Sno-Balls® are a junk-food tradition for my birthday. On the east coast the coconut is frequently green for St. Patrick’s Day, but here the best she could find was pink. I assured her later when I called thanks, pink is the new green.

Even my birthday cakes are downsizing!

B'day Cake 1.jpg

B'day Cake 2.jpg


Time to Woman Up

Okay, enough of this nonsense. I’ve allowed the current frightening times to scare me from speaking out. When two friends on opposite sides of the country wrote within two days wondering why this website has been even more than usual devoid of blogging activity, I guess I can’t continue to describe it as a site that nobody looks at. There’s two anyway.

Knowing my inclination toward news addiction, particularly political and particularly now, they rightly assumed I’d been riveted to TV coverage of November’s House Impeachment hearings and the subsequent swift Senate trial of the president, with its disappointing results, perhaps my two web followers hoped I’d have a properly snarky comment designed to lighten the ensuing horror. I’m sorry, can’t do snarky right now.

The morning after the Senate vote when only one brave Republican dared to honor the oath each member took at the proceeding’s outset – let’s hear it for Mitt Romney’s conscience and vow to cut him some slack on that hopefully now abandoned practice of driving with his dog in a crate atop his car – I stumbled downstairs to retrieve my newspaper in a masochistic urge to relive it all. A fellow tenant, a man in my demographic age-wise as well as political leaning, asked, “How are you this morning?” and I knew he wasn’t inquiring about my health. Shaking my head morosely, I answered, “Sad. I am so very sad for my country. And fearful.”

I went on to tell my neighbor that the only telegram Ed and I ever sent to the White House in more than half a century of marriage and shared daily consumption of the news, was in response to the Nixon Administration’s Saturday Night Massacre. I remember feeling proud and patriotic, and perfectly safe, knowing it was our Constitutional right to do so. Now, signing petitions, placing phone calls and demonstrating to express my opinions, I do it with a degree of trepidation: Am I opening myself up to being tracked? Harassed by people who disagree with me? Getting on a list of some kind?

A guest on Rachel Maddow’s program recently quoted another person who said this feels like Germany in 1939. I’ve always wondered how Hitler and Nazism happened in that advanced and richly cultured country, and yet in recent times it’s become more apparent. When friends ask how I can stand following the news, so much of it unpleasant, any answer I can give about our nation and history sounds priggish and certainly not conducive to continuing conversation.

I replied to my two web followers that every night I climb in bed, my mind buzzing with ideas and a determination to blog about them. But in the morning in front of the computer, I chicken out. And curse the situation that makes me afraid.











Collection of Mugs in Search of a Purpose


What would you do with more than 150 coffee mugs, each emblazoned with a design representing a museum or cultural attraction? If you’d always wanted to open a café that would give you immediate cachét. “Let’s meet at that cool place with museum mugs,” people would say. And possibly, provide a name for your establishment: Café Cachét. Perhaps even a slogan: “Where culture vultures never run out of inspiration.” With an image of a vulture? Nah. That would be seen as overkill, pardon the pun.

My daughters, in their continuing effort to help prepare for the ultimate downsizing of their mother’s stuff, thought I might enjoy learning eBay. Selling on eBay, that is, not the purchasing side of the online auction site. I’ve already experienced so-called “estate sales” on both coasts. For the first one in a very large wreck of a house we’d occupied for 30 years in New Jersey, we were blessed with a contingent of friends who helped. Still painful, so much so that when it came time to empty a more moderate-sized house – though still jammed full – in California, I opted for an estate-sale service that would take those things they considered saleable to one of their two resale locations, extract a hefty commission and send an accounting with a check. That was somewhat less painful, though their accounting reports got very short shrift before being shoved into a file drawer. Again painful.

Trouble is, we liked our stuff. And we were collectors. Once you acquire more than one of a thing it becomes a collection. And before long, an obsession. Not an out-of-control obsession, you understand, just something interesting to do at the many business conferences we were required to attend. If the locale was at all conducive to it, organizers of business conferences almost always included time in the schedule for golf .  Not being golfers either of us, we chose to use that time for sightseeing and especially, prowling museums.

And here is how the mug collection came about. Heading toward the exit after an afternoon of art appreciation and perhaps a pleasant lunch, the conversation might go like this:

 “Should we stop in the gift shop?”

 “Oh, I don’t know, what would we want? The luggage is already heavy.”

“We could always buy a mug.”

Before long, “We could always buy a mug” became “Let’s see if they have mugs.”

And so it begins.

I told one of the daughters my contention is you can’t call it hoarding if it’s part of a collection and properly displayed. And these mugs, never used, were displayed on specially built shelves in the guest room where we assured overnight company they should not worry about waking under a blanket of crockery.

Friends have suggested alternatives to this method of selective downsizing, but my daughters and I think this is worth a try. Who knows? Perhaps there’s a café about to open up with empty walls crying out for décor that is unique — and utilitarian. I picture diners selecting their favorites to take to their tables, much like old-time barber shops kept their clients’ shaving mugs on display.

The first part of the collection goes up for auction on ebay.com this evening, 10/17. Check it out.  https://www.ebay.com/usr/ninedanes2




On Columbus Day, Things My Italian Relatives Never Told Me

Even after nine decades of life as an American, I can find new details about history — even history with particular personal resonance. Until reading in yesterday’s New York Times opinion pages Brent Staples’ piece titled “How Italians Became ‘White,’” I had no idea of the extent of depravity and racist violence inflicted upon Southern Italian immigrants in the early years of the last century. I knew there had been discrimination, but I thought of it in terms of slights or shunning – or struggles for employment or embarrassment about mob bosses – not being hanged alongside African Americans for the sin of skin that might have been somewhat darker. My Southern Italian relatives never told me about that.

Staples notes that “a white, Protestant and homogeneous America” was what Congress had in mind when it declared in 1790 that only “free white persons, who have, or shall migrate into the United States were eligible to become naturalized citizens.” His article continued, “The calculus of racism underwent swift revision when waves of culturally diverse immigrants from the far corners of Europe changed the face of the country.” Staples cites historian Matthew Frye Jacobson’s immigrant history “Whiteness of a Different Color” in noting, “the surge of newcomers engendered a national panic and led Americans to adopt a more restrictive, politicized view of how whiteness was to be allocated.” Sound familiar, does it?

In my as-yet-if-ever-to-be-published book, In Paris, Everyone Calls Me Honey, the letters my mother (family name Miele) wrote  home from an extraordinary year as an art student in France are interspersed with descriptions of the struggles and successes of her immigrant family striving through the Depression years and beyond.  As a second generation Italian-American, I was perplexed by the absence of empathy toward others enduring somewhat similar indignities. Riding in the car with two aunts on a shopping excursion, I saw one turn to the other and gesture toward me in the back seat. “You know,” the one said, “She thinks black people are the same as white people.”  The other, the driver, replied, “That’s because she went to college.” I wish I’d known at the time to mention the lynchings.

Not long ago, my brother, visiting from the east, chatted with a diverse group of my Los Angeles neighbors. He told them about our Italian grandparents and the discrimination that existed on the East Coast when they started out. “Oh no, not Italians,” the neighbor said, implying my brother didn’t know what he was talking about, that no Italian-Americans ever suffered any hardships ever. Always the conciliator, I quickly interjected, “That’s because the Italians who came to California, established vast wineries and giant banks, and became leading citizens. Not everyone on the east coast was able to accomplish that, given the competition. But they managed to educate their children and assure their success, while becoming stalwart members of their communities.”

I am as proud of my immigrant ancestors whose names are now etched on the wall at Ellis Island as I am of the Revolutionary War surgeon and Midwestern homesteaders in my family tree. They and all their descendants have played important roles in making this nation worth preserving.

Real Drivers Required!

A Saturday morning jolt: Stumbled back upstairs with the newspapers, poured coffee and sat as the New York Times business section fell into my lap. Oh my gosh, a story about a couple in Florida asphyxiated when their keyless car did not turn itself off. That’s the car I lightly, almost jokingly, wrote about on my personal blog last February, describing a harrowing 65-mile drive in a Colorado snowstorm with a push-button rental car. Same car, same model. The Times article says that older drivers especially, forget to turn the ignition off. How is it done? Instructions for starting the engine without a key were printed on the dashboard but not for stopping it. I’m an older driver, and that evening in the motel parking lot, I was disturbed to walk away from a still-running car and sought help from the young desk clerk.  He walked outside to look just as the car shut itself down. “Oh, that’s one of those cars that gives you enough time to get into your building,” he said. The following day I sought instruction from another young man at a car wash on how the various buttons work. “Sure,” he said. “I have the same car.”

Judging from comments by the few friends who read my sporadic postings, many people are confronted by new cars whose bells and whistles leave them flummoxed.

I began to think I was among the few drivers left whose car at home needed my intervention for all sorts of actions. I had titled that February post “Bring on Self-Drivers,” but had been thinking better of it in light of increased news coverage about horrendous mishaps like this one with the unfortunate Florida couple who bought a car they believed was safe. I also recently heard of a car that drove itself under a semi-truck to devastating destruction, its computer works having mis-calculated the space available.

When I contemplate roadways filled with self-driving cars, the picture that comes to mind is an amusement park attraction. Bumper cars without drivers, moving about haphazardly.

No, these times are haphazard enough. People — and real drivers — are required.



The 2020 Campaign. At Last!


It’s barely just begun, but are you enjoying the 2020 Presidential Campaign as much as I am? Or are you not a fellow political junkie? Trust me, there’s good stuff there: Two nights of Democratic debates with a total of 20 candidates, any one of whom I would find preferable to the current situation. And there are even a few more who didn’t make the cut first time but could still do so. Smart, articulate, brimming with ideas; as a bench, all give me hope.

Along with politics, I am also a language enthusiast. I enjoy the words being added to the lexicon during the campaign. We already were aware of “mansplaining,” which any woman alive in the last hundred years could recognize immediately, but after last night’s second televised event – more raucous than the first rather polite offering – we met “manterrupting.” Again, instantly recognizable.

I have been mulling over whether there could be similar terms for what older people encounter. In a conversation a while back with an adult person I know, an adult but not one as old as I – who is? – I remarked that increasingly I find myself being interrupted in mixed-age group conversations as if what I’m trying to add has so little consequence that it doesn’t warrant slowing down the rest of the conversation. “When did I get so boring?” I wondered. “Yes,” she said. “I know what you mean. And how about when entire conversations go by around you as if you weren’t there?”

Did we do that to older people in the past? Were we that rude? There needs to be a term for that. “Elderterrupt” perhaps or “elderignore.” No wonder elders tend to cluster together instead of mixing in with all ages.

Everyone needs to emulate one individual I see on the news frequently who refuses to be interrupted: “Excuse me, I am speaking here . . .”

Good News for Bibliophiles

In yesterday’s New York Times, Columnist Timothy Egan gives hope to all of us who love books – real books, the kind he describes as “with a spine, a unique scent, crisp pages and a typeface that may date to Shakespeare’s day.” Dismissing Steve Jobs’ 2008 dismissive quote that “people don’t read anymore” and acknowledging that “nearly one in four adults in this country has not read a book in the last year, Egan still manages optimism. He cites rising sales of printed books, along with increased new openings of independent bookstores and declining sales of electronic versions.

Egan’s piece was titled “The Comeback of the Century.”

I read the column while casting rueful glances at my apartment-sized IKEA bookshelves that hold the remains of my late husband’s 3,000-volume collection. “This is a very nice collection,” said the only buyer of books I was able to entice to the house to look. “Yes,” I responded. “Ed loved to prowl used bookstores on his lunch hour when he worked in New York.” I refrained from mentioning that was easier to do in New York, not that the book-buying ceased much when we moved to LA. Bibliophiles will always find a way to acquire.

I watched the book buyer arrange those that interested him into pathetically short stacks and nodded as he pointed to each stack and said, “Two dollars, five, ten and fifteen.” I accepted the small check he wrote and watched him pack his purchases in the boxes he’d brought and drive away. I hadn’t even paid attention to what warranted the “fifteen.” Just one more unpleasant chore for the newly widowed.

And now I stare at the remains on the IKEA shelves. I did keep the collection of every winner of the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction (and have since added the past three winners) along with books written by friends and family members, and some I just couldn’t bear to part with. And I purchased a Kindle in order to download books I want to read right now, but I haven’t done much of that. Too dangerously easy for someone on a budget.

My appreciation for yesterday’s Times column extends to Egan’s appreciation for storytelling, which, he writes, “will never die,” continuing, “And the best format for grand and sweeping narratives remains one of the oldest and most durable.” Pointing to the fact that “more than a third of the people in the United States and Britain say their cellphones are having a negative effect on their health and well-being,” he proposes “a clunky old printed book [as] a welcome antidote.”

Ed and I, both onetime print journalists, harbored dreams of adding a couple of those “clunky old” things to the world during our retirement years. He completed the first volume in an envisioned trilogy depicting a fictionalized version of life among the Volga Germans. Those Russian-born descendants of ethnic German colonists, of which Ed’s mother was one, had been living since the 1700s in communities along the Volga River. I was unsuccessful in convincing Ed to submit that first manuscript, titled Scattered Grains of Wheat, to a publisher; he felt he should be further along with a proposed trilogy, and the second volume was giving him problems. “Why not skip ahead to volume three?” I offered. “That book will practically write itself since it covers stories we’ve been hearing about for years. And then you could go back and fill in with volume two.”

But before he could even decide on whether that was a good idea, he was hit with a deadly medical diagnosis: Stage Four inoperable lung cancer that took over both our lives. After more than three years of treatment – both traditional chemotherapy and more experimental options – he died at age 84. Everyone who knew and loved him was heartbroken. “What about his books on the Germans in Russia?” was not a first question on people’s minds, but it did eventually surface. A daughter who is a journalist gathered all his research materials and computer files and hopes to complete the project in her father’s name.

My attempts at producing a “clunky old” thing like a book also stalled. In Paris, Everyone Calls Me Honey is a memoir of sorts featuring use of my mother’s letters home from France in 1930-’31 where she attended art school, lived with the family of a well known French painter, met and socialized with other noted artists of the day, and also possibly had a romance with a descendant of French nobility – someone her cheeky brothers back home always referred to as “the no-account count.” Upon completion of my manuscript, I was at a loss about how to proceed to get published. I felt I needed expert assistance and contacted scores of literary agents, some encouraging but none knocking down the door to represent me. And I started this website as a way to showcase my abilities.

But life does intervene, doesn’t it? That’s why we should hold up and celebrate those who manage to write and publish in spite of all obstacles. I have always had a particular soft spot in my heart for Helen Hooven Santmyer, author of the 1984 best seller . . . And Ladies of the Club. I read that she found annoying press notices that claimed the book took her 50 years to write. She said, “It may have taken me 50 years or more to get it done, but I didn’t do it all at once, for heaven’s sake! I did it whenever I had a moment, and mostly I didn’t have a moment. I had a living to make . . .”

These days, one might say to her, “You go, girl!”



30 Days Was Enough (This Time)

Trips away from home should not last longer than eight days. “Eight days is enough.” That was my late husband’s maxim. Possibly two weeks if an ocean is involved. During our long marriage, I was able sometimes to draw the time out longer, but it occasioned a lot of grumbling.

He would have hated the trip I just returned from: Four weeks on the East Coast visiting people and old haunts. Well, not the people and old haunts part; he’d have loved that. But an entire month? No way.Northeast USA

My New York daughter, whose apartment was to serve as home base for my excursions to other places, assumed I had planned this in anticipation of my supposed imminent demise. No, I explained, what I’m anticipating is a possible lessening of energy and stamina in ensuing years to enable such an undertaking. Plus, for once in my life I am without responsibilities to any person, pet, job, volunteer activity or much-needed project. My Los Angeles daughter agreed to stop by to water my few house plants should the need arise, but my attitude toward them was: Perhaps my time for house plants is over anyway. Or not, since the plants survived.

April was not the smartest choice of months what with people’s Easter and Passover plans to work around, and the weather was pretty cold and rainy – I am convinced I experienced more rain in four weeks there than I had in the past 13 years in Southern California. But that could be exaggeration.

The choice of dates for my visit was determined by the NY daughter’s two-week break from teaching English at locations all over the city. During that time, she and I would experience a variety of cultural and sightseeing activities together before she began preparing for the next sessions of classes and I headed out to impose on friends in the Greater New York area and beyond. Instead, on the morning after my arrival, her large black cat – possibly excited by the presence of company or simply showing off – leapt from a shelf to a small wood table piled with books, upsetting everything and causing the table to land on the daughter’s bare foot. Having spent the past year recuperating from a stress fracture on the opposite foot, she knew immediately that this was not good. She suffered through the day and night and saw a doctor the next morning. X-rays showed a broken toe with the doctor’s admonition to stay off the foot as much as possible. So much for sightseeing and strolls through museums.

The injury did not, however, prevent the daughter from donning an orthopedic boot and insisting on accompanying me and a heavy carry-on up and down steps and in and out of buses and subways. My offers to use one of the ride-share accounts on my phone or to spring for cab fare were rebuffed. Do all New Yorkers hate cars?

Or did they know without even waiting for the results of a study described in a recent Los Angeles Times showing that the popularity of ride-share companies like Uber and Lyft “is the single biggest factor behind [San Francisco’s] increasingly snarled traffic.” Analyzing millions of trips, the researchers “concluded that the services accounted for more than half of the 62 percent increase in weekday traffic delays between 2010 and 2016.” Additionally, it was found that the presence of ride-share vehicles did not, as originally envisioned, improve traffic there. “Instead,” the study notes, “they often increased the total number of cars on the road.”

So with encouragement from my daughters, I did not rent a car this trip and determined to get re-acquainted with public transportation. And in spite of what I read about crumbling infrastructure and desperate needs for equipment replacement, East Coast public transportation has come a long way since I was commuting. For instance, what happened to all the dirty old men with their wandering hands who preyed on sweet young things in subway cars packed like sardine cans? Did I miss that because I tended to avoid the worst of rush hour? Or is it because I am no longer a sweet young thing but rather a gray-haired octogenarian to whom seats were routinely offered?

On subways and buses in the metropolitan area, I rode with nice people: commuters of all ages and mothers pushing strollers. Once I moved into the suburban areas, transportation became more problematic, and that’s when I relied on friends with cars.

I made several trips from the Port Authority Bus Terminal in midtown Manhattan to Montclair, New Jersey where Ed and I lived, the last time for more than 30 years. If I do this again, I’ll do a better scheduling job, grouping visits together geographically. As usual, I was over-optimistic of how much I could accomplish, and some planned visits had to be cancelled or not scheduled at all and promised for another time (if I’m still welcome). But looking at the map I scribbled out, there were at least half a dozen subway and bus trips back and forth between Queens, NY and Montclair, NJ; a car ride to Westchester County, NY; a bus trip to and from Providence, RI; a car ride to Freehold, NJ; a bus ride to Bethesda MD; and a car ride to Fairfax VA. In addition, two family members drove over from Pennsylvania to spend a day in New Jersey with me, while we drove around former neighborhoods and reminisced.

My plane ticket had been open-ended, meaning that ideally I could have stayed indefinitely. Except that I was getting tired of alternating the same four black sweaters to wear with my jeans — socks and underwear got washed with my daughter’s laundry — and the few warm-weather outfits I brought never made it out of the big suitcase. The newspaper delivery instructions could be changed with a phone call but I seemed to recall that the post office had different directions in the case of mail held beyond 30 days. Furthermore, for the sake of future family harmony, I needed to return their privacy to my daughter and son-in-law.

I slept on each of the flights back to California, and once home, for many days after, could not sit in a chair more than a few moments without dozing off. And bedtime came very early. I’m now back to normal, walking and working out at cardiac rehab, while thinking of future travel and ways to improve it. I’ve already mentioned the need for better organized planning in advance – Ed’s common sense and realistic thinking would have come in handy for this trip – and, who knows, maybe he’d have come around a bit on the “eight days” maxim. But I’m realistic enough myself to know, probably not a whole month.

Bring On Self-Drivers!

Not only do I own what I am sure is the last station wagon in America, but apparently I am among the last drivers to be unfamiliar with push-button cars. I learned this on a recent four-day trip to Colorado where I attended a funeral for a friend of long-standing, followed up by a quick visit to Nieder family relatives.

I’d ordered a Volkswagen Jetta but at the Denver Airport’s car rental facility I was presented with an upgrade at the same price, “a white something-or-other parked at the curb” but as a lifetime VW owner, the names of other makes and models is meaningless to me. I did remember “white” and “parked at the curb.” It was evening so as I made my way out in the dark in the indicated direction, I headed for a white vehicle avalon-front.pngsitting at the curb with the motor running. The driver side door was unlocked so I put my bag on the back seat and got behind the wheel. That was when I noticed no key in the ignition. Where a key should be was a button with the words “push to start or stop while keeping your foot on the brake pedal.” I’m paraphrasing there but since the car was already running, I eased away from the curb and headed toward the exit, stopping at the gate to get pointed in the right direction,

I set the mobile phone’s GPS to lead me to the mortuary. I had very little time before the visiting period ended and sure enough, one missed turn or two and the required backtracking and reasserting of myself on the dark unfamiliar highway, and I quickly missed the visiting time altogether. Okay, so I told the GPS to take me to the motel. Once there, I couldn’t figure out how to turn off the headlights; I went inside and played the first of what would be several days’ worth of “old lady cards.” The nice young man behind the desk came outside in the cold – Did I mention it was cold and I’d just flown in from Southern California? – and walked in his shirtsleeves with me toward the car. Just then, the lights went out on their own. “Oh, that’s one of those cars that keep the lights on long enough to get you in your building,” he said, “My car does that.”

I didn’t tell him my car at home doesn’t do that. If you forget and leave the lights on, you will be greeted in the morning by a dead battery. So passé.

Other old friends of the deceased arrived a little later, having “UBER-ed from the airport, and we agreed to meet at breakfast the next morning. There, they accepted my offer of a ride to the funeral later that morning, albeit pointing out that if I hadn’t made plans for a visit after the funeral, I could have done without the rental car. (My shared-ride company of choice is LYFT, so yes, I could have LYFT-ed everywhere, but didn’t.)

At the agreed-upon time, we met at my car and headed for the funeral, which was in a chapel at the mortuary located at the edge of the cemetery. Armed with individual mobile phone GPSes, each shouted directions at me, but we nevertheless arrived shortly to take seats in a pew at the last row. The chapel was lovely with tasteful flower arrangements and our friend’s flag-draped coffin at the front. A large glass window overlooked the cemetery beyond, a natural setting without headstones and other statuary. Shortly after the minister began the service, a flock of wild geese flew past the window, wheeled and circled again, as if on cue. Could Hollywood do any better? I wondered.

At the indoor service’s conclusion, we were informed that those who wished could follow in our cars to the gravesite where prayers were offered and the coffin lowered into the ground. A bagpiper stood off playing, and at the final conclusion, continued to play as he walked off into the distance. It was all very moving and beautiful. The snow boots I’d purchased especially for this instance were in the trunk of the car but it was alright.

Back at the mortuary, a reception was underway with refreshments and a slide show of photos from the life of our friend and his family. Deep in conversation with someone, I caught a glimpse out of the corner of one eye, of a picture of our friend sandwiched between two of our giant dogs. I smiled to remember when we moved next door to that Bismarck at fencefamily, our friend’s consternation, not only that we had a giant dog but that we planned to completely fence in our yard, placing one side up against that neighbor’s driveway. It took hardly any time during the brief year-and-a-half we lived there, for the dog and our friend to develop an early morning ritual, the dog on his hind legs looking over the fence and our friend calling a greeting on his way to his garage.

Snow started falling the day after the funeral, and I headed – wearing my newly purchased snow boots – up the 65 miles to Fort Collins. I quickly realized I didn’t know how to work the windshield wipers, except to do it manually with one finger each time I needed to clear snow away. The same was true of defrosters; as the clear visual area became smaller and smaller, I put the palm of my hand to use. But what to do about the heat blasting out at my midsection? I pushed every button I could reach in an effort to make some of these functions work. Why don’t rental car agencies keep a copy of the car’s manual in the glove compartment?

There was no place to stop, no one to ask and so I just kept driving straight ahead for 65 miles until I pulled into my sister-in-law’s driveway. The bright white car was a mess with splatters of slush and mud and gunk. The next morning I drove to a car wash where I played the “old lady card” once again. When a young employee noticed me puzzling over the start of the drive-through, he approached and showed where to insert my credit card. “When I get through,” I said, “do you suppose someone could come out and show me how to work all these various buttons on this rental car?” “Oh sure,” he replied, “I’ll meet you in the parking lot. I have a car just like this.”