In 1904, the Sisters of Notre Dame founded the all-girl high school that I attended. The building which the class of 1968 attended was a mostly glass edifice built earlier in that decade. Several intersections of corridors allowed visibility of another corridor because of the floor to ceiling windows.

I was not one of the clique, the popular, or even the intelligentsia. I ate lunch most days with my cousin, who was only four months younger, but a member of the class of 1969. 

At the end of the school day, I usually rushed for bus #4 to take me home. Even in my senior year, there was no car for me.

I did have some merit as a school musician. I sang alto in the Senior Choir and often was the accompanist for school programs.

Most of the students who attended Notre Dame Academy were Caucasian. There were a handful of “black” students. I believe that was the correct terminology then. One of the minority students was Benita who was in my cousin’s class. We became friends partly through our mutual piano talents.

Benita was a better musician than I. She even started a gospel group with a few of the other black girls. They were good and joyful. Sometimes, Benita asked me to accompany the group so that she could concentrate on directing.

The first party I was ever invited to was at Benita’s. I was the only white person at the party. I had the best time. Everyone made me feel welcome.

At the end of my junior year, we entered a talent show as duo pianists. We played “More” from the movie Mondo Cane. We won either first or second or third prize, I don’t remember which.

My most indelible memory happened almost a year later. On April 4, 1968, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated. Allegedly by a white man.

The next day, I came to school with a tear-stained face. I avoided Benita. My still developing young brain was fearful that Benita would see me as a generality (white) rather than a specific (friend). I had the feeling, “All whites had helped to pull the trigger on the murder weapon.”

Most students and all the sisters in the school knew of Benita’s and my relationship. In the early afternoon, Sister Jon, asked if I had talked to my friend.

I sobbed as I told Sister that I had been avoiding Benita. How could I look her in the eye, knowing someone of my race had done this horrible thing.

Sister was consoling and asked the questions I had forgotten myself, “Was that the basis of your friendship?’

“No, it was not.”

As if cued, through a window, I saw Benita coming down a corridor. We were the only three in the hallways.

Benita and I walked toward each other and fell into each other’s arms. No words, just comfort in each other’s arms.

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The Gatekeepers

 

Aaron Sorkin’s “The West Wing” was the first that I recognized what the title “Chief of Staff” meant. This book really brings home that a good chief of staff is fundamental to a President’s administration.
Chris Whipple, gives a brief history of the first named Chief of Staff under President Eisenhower before looking at all of the Chiefs from Richard Nixon’s H. R. Haldeman to Barack Obama’s Denis McDonaugh.
Some were excellent at the job (e.g. James Baker for Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush and Leon Panetta for Bill Clinton) allowing a smooth running administration. Others (Jimmy Carter’s Hamilton Jordan) were erratic at best resulting in divided loyalties among the administration staff. Some were prima donalds aspiring to BE the president and others truly understood that ego was anathema to the job and therefore to the President and the country.
Well written. Well researched. Full of information about personalities that can be surprising (Dick Cheney wasn’t always considered to be “Darth Vader.” Oh, and don’t miss the story of Ronald Reagan and Queen Elizabeth riding horses.
Politics aside, this book is for everyone interested in the inner workings of the White House.

I don’t recall exactly how we met. I’m pretty sure it was in the diner. I had started going there so that I could read while I waited for a meal. Eventually I became a Wednesday regular because of the meat loaf special of the day.

Each of us sat alone in our chosen booths reading. I just about always had a physical book. Ron preferred his iPad or newest tablet.

We were both the perfect stranger-readers at first. “What ya’ readin’?

Pertinent information was exchanged then each of us returned to the days read.

Before too long, there were more and longer discussions, but we always showed proper book reading etiquette by asking if conversation would continue or “do you want to read your book?”

Even when I really wanted to read, I could be cajoled to spend time with my friend.

Our paths crossed at another place in town, that shouldn’t be a big surprise. The county library. I was in charge of the library book sale and was scanning and classifying tens of thousands of books. With the weekend of the sale imminent, Ron asked if I needed help. Since the Friends , who sponsored the sale, were a mostly older female group, a person who could lift copy-paper-boxes filled with books from tall shelves was eagerly welcomed.

Ron never missed a sale once he started. And he paid his dues for the honor of working with us.

After I relinquished my chairperson of the sale duties, Ron continued to help the Friends for both the Spring and Fall sales.

Our “rendezvous” became exclusively at the diner. We’d still ask if it was okay to interrupt the reading. It always was.

We talked books. I’d let him know the latest Science Fiction titles I knew about. He sent me sites where I could find free e-books.

He sold his iPad mini to me and one of his tablets to my husband. I’m pretty sure my son, who worked the same place he did, bought a device from him. Ron liked to have the latest electronic gadget.

He is the only single person I know who purchased a 3-D printer. He was always coming into the diner with something new he’d made with the printer. The last one I saw was a toy-soldier-sized Hulk. Who was yellow.

“He’s not green.”

“Yeah, well…”

Then, last fall…

He shared with me that he had cancer. He had gone in to have something removed near his right temple, something he had been through before. This time the news was not good.

He had more invasive work done and the prognosis was worst than thought originally.

He asked me not to say anything to anybody. I honored his request – in the diner, at the Friends of the Library, and at my home.

Ron started getting his affairs in order. He asked me to write his obituary. He let the library know they would receive his 3-D printer. He didn’t want his wife, Sherry to have to worry about anything.

He started Chemo.

He let others know. At the diner and the library, people came to me to see if I knew. All were shocked.

Ron’s and my meetings at the diner were never maudlin or morose. Ron had a great attitude. Thirty years ago he had had a successful heart transplant and he looked at the next 30 years as a gift. Icing on the cake, if you will.

We looked out for each other at the diner. Especially if we didn’t run into each other for a few days.

In the last month, he contacted me for a lunch “date” that both of our spouses knew about and accepted. There was a new waitress at the diner that day. We all laughed when Sherry came in and I pointed out, “She’s the wife. I’m the girl friend.”

Two weeks ago, I was just getting ready to leave the diner when the owner told me to sit back down. “Ron’s on his way in.”

I sat.

He came to tell me things were going well. He was doing well on the Chemo, things were shrinking. He was very optimistic.

I didn’t see him last week. But I sure thought about him a lot.

Today I got two calls. One from the diner. One from the library where I work. I missed both calls. The diner owner called back. Sherry was trying to locate me.

Ron died this morning.

As soon as I heard, I drove to their house. Sherry and I hugged and hugged and hugged.

I said, “I thought he was doing better.”

“He was,” she said, “But then he got the flu and his body just couldn’t take it.”

Before I left, Sherry thanked me for writing Ron’s obituary. I told her, “I don’t want to say it was my pleasure.”

I’ve talked to her several more times today on the phone. At the end of the last call she said, “Thanks for being Ron’s friend.”

I told her, “Sherry, I’m your friend, too.”

She knew, but she appreciated that I was Ron’s friend.

All I could say, “Sherry, that was my pleasure.”

Ron

A long time former neighbor was turning 90, so his children planned a big party. My entire family traveled from points near and far to Ohio to help with the celebration. My sister, Sue, drove from North Carolina and I made the two-hour trek.

I drove up on Friday. The day was sunny. The display in my car showed the ambient temperature as 75º. I wore a long sleeve shirt, to protect my window-side arm from the sun. My windbreaker was thrown on the passenger seat since the forecast was for a continuation of the weather roller coaster the Midwest has been experiencing this winter.

The constantly changing weather — in northwest Ohio, in south central Ohio and in central North Carolina — was a topic of conversation.

Sue mentioned her early blooming flowers. I seconded that by mentioning the shoots sprouting from the soil on the campus where I work. Cathy, the non traveler, commented that even Mr. Freeze had opened early (February?).

Mr. Freeze!

Mr. Freeze is the soft ice cream place in the suburb where I lived for 20 years, 21 years ago. Heck with the calendar, it was the opening of Mr. Freeze that designated the start of spring.

I lived less than a mile from the confectioner, so a walking-the-dog often turned into a stop for ice cream. That dog just pulled us in that direction. We never complained.

The lines, especially on a hot day, were long, stretching into the too small parking lot.

The amount of ice cream in a baby cone would satisfy a family of kids. On one occasion, I witnessed a man from Fostoria (about one-hour south) receiving his medium-sized ice cream and exclaiming, “Wow! If the place in Fostoria gave this amount of ice cream, they’d go broke!”

During the weekend, the temperature plummeted. My jacket was necessary and others commented that it would not be warm enough for the wind and snow that had developed.

Sunday morning, I decided to fill my gas tank before hopping on the expressway for the ride to my present home. Because of highway improvements, I could not get to the gas station the way I did previously. My detour took me right past Mr. Freeze.

I looked at the temperature. It was 32º. Freezing. I’d been hankering for ice cream since before “Mr. Freeze” had originally been mentioned. Why not? When would I be back again. A tin roof (vanilla ice cream topped with Spanish peanuts and chocolate syrup) would be a comforting companion for the long ride home.

Sunday morning, in February, 11 15 a.m., 32 degrees. And I still stood in line! Granted there was only one family in front of me, but there were two mini lines.

I approached the window, asked for a tin roof and was asked, “What size?”

Seeing my bafflement, she placed three styrofoam cups on the counter — small (6 oz.) regular (16 oz.) and large (I have NO idea). I chose the regular.

Ah! Memories of my grandmother making us tin roofs and the chocolate covered ice cream kept me company from Perrysburg to Cygnet — the length of Wood County.

Yep. It was worth it.

Every.

Single.

Calorie.

Today, February 21 is the 91st anniversary of my father’s birth. I have missed him more than I thought possible since he succumbed to a cerebral hemorrhage 15 years ago. I want to share one of the lessons he allowed me during our time together.

olds

My father was known through family, friends, and neighbors as a laconic gentleman. He was a man of few words but an observant eye, ready to help anyone in need, anytime.

My mother, to this day, is more impatient and quick to criticize.

With these credentials, my father became the de facto driving instructor for his six children.

My lessons started in the spring of 1967. I had turned sixteen the previous December, but mom acted as principal of the driving school and would not allow winter driving lessons.

In those olden days, the Sunday “blue laws” were in effect. Those laws meant that no stores were open on “the Lord’s day.”  So, Dad and I took advantage of the Miracle Mile Shopping Center, making it the track for my driving lessons.

The lessons started with dad driving the roads to the shopping center’s parking lot where he turned over the keys and steering wheel of the 1958 green Oldsmobile 98. That car was so big some of my siblings called it a boat. With its fashionable-in-the-late-fifties fins, I preferred calling it the green dragon.

Over time, my lessons progressed. I became the dragon driver, chauffeuring us both over the quiet streets to the shopping center to practice parallel parking between dad-made wooden poles.

My most cherished lesson came after a Sunday afternoon of parking practice followed by my confident drive back home. The journey ended with a left turn into our single car driveway.

It was a narrow drive past a side screened-in porch that ended in a much wider surface that always reminded me of a map of the United States. To leave we drove through “Florida” and to get to the house we walked through “California” and the Baja peninsula.

Almost home, I engaged the turn signal as I got to Metzger’s house, two doors up from ours. The indicator blinked past Crowley’s and the breadth of our house. Fortunately, no one was proximate to see me turn into the drive and continue turning until I was stopped on our front lawn, parallel to the driveway with the grill of the Olds a very few feet from the entrance to the side screened-porch.

I felt like a complete failure. How could I mess up such a simple maneuver? I must have been shaking—especially since my hero, my father saw my mistake. I could have injured him!

My dad’s reaction allowed one of the best lessons of my life.  He asked the perfect parental and instructional question, “Do you want me to move it or do you want to?”

My dad still trusted me? Wow!

I quickly deduced that I was not always going to have my father to get me out of trouble and that I was going to need to fend for myself. “I’ll do it.”

I not only said, “I’ll do it.” I did it.

That was not the last mistake of my life. It was not the last time my father supported me. It was and is a lesson that I’ve kept close to my heart for fifty years.

I hope I’ve been able to pass it down to my son.

A compilation of thoughts:

1.) A few hours ago, I saw a headline “Elderly couple dies after jumping from parking deck together.” Aw, I sadly thought, envisioning a sickly people in at least their eighties. I opened the link to learn where this tragedy took place. Las Vegas. 

I truly do not mean to make light of the couples situation, but I was stunned to learn the age of both people was sixty-three! Sixty-three! That’s younger than I am. Elderly?

Recently I did reflect about myself that I could not be “middle aged” because I most certainly was not going to live to be twice my “middle” or 132 years.

I know “everything is relative.” I might consider my mother to be elderly. I’m not sure she considers herself thus.

As to relativity (mine, not Einstein’s), I recall 40 years ago when I first was looked to purchase a house. I lived in a 12 foot x 65 foot mobile home with a 12′ x 15′ pull out that made the living room roughly 20′ x 20′. The real estate agent was showing me what I could afford, but all seemed to be “cracker boxes” to me. Where would I put my furniture and the “stuff” I had?

Later, after selling the mobile home and moving into an apartment with a 12′ x 15′ living room and one 9′ x 9′ bedroom, the same houses seemed to have turned into palaces.

2.) A few years ago, two friends from Urbana, where I now live, visited my birthplace, Toledo, with a friend of mine from there. I dubbed it the “seat of the pants” tour. We saw the highlights of Toledo in Ellen’s van.

Of the four of us, only the oldest, who I believe was 70, could walk for any distance or length of time. Ellen, the youngest, needed knee replacement that the surgeons would not perform because she was too young. (She needed to be 55.) Anne’s rheumatoid arthritis hindered her locomotion. And, I have used a cane since my back surgery thirteen years ago.

In October, Anne, now 70, had a knee replaced. She has progressed to walking with a cane. When I saw her last week, she with her cane, me with mine, I thought, “This is giving new definition to a three-legged race.”

3.) My parting shot is something that I’ve wondered for awhile. Since it deals with an intimate issue, I have not had the courage to express to anyone. Here goes…

I know that as I’ve aged, it takes longer to do things:  getting dressed, getting in and out of the car, going to the rest room to name a few. So…

Since it seems to take twice as long, is it now eight-play?

It has been an incredibly emotionally sad year – especially the last three months. That has kept me from sharing my writing because I usually write lighter fare.

I have been looking forward to today because I put in motion an act of kindness that should reach fruition today. That’s all I’m going to say. Christmas means a lot to me and this will be an example of it.

One of the miracles I have awed about is my marvelous son. When I went to the hospital to give birth, I took a book. Anyone who knows me won’t be surprised that I had a book. When don’t I have a book? The book I took was Pat Conroy’s Prince of Tides. It was 2 more years and a sprained ankle before I got that book read. The only reading I did in the hospital was the face and body of my son.

It’s been twenty-seven years and I still am amazed by this young man. I constantly wonder how he turned out so fine, giving, witty, intelligent, and hard-working.

To illustrate one of his fine qualities, I relate this conversation that took place this morning.
Son and Husband, downstairs, had a conversation while I was upstairs getting dressed.
Son came up a few minutes later and, as I passed his door, I asked, “What’s going on?”
He didn’t answer until I was in my bedroom in a far corner. There were absolutely no pauses in this exchange
Son: unintelligible
Mom: “Were you talking to me?”
Son: “Yes.”
Mom: “What did you say?”
Son: “I asked dad if the fish had been fed.”
Mom: “Why didn’t you just ask the fish?”
Son: “They lie!”
Hug those you love and tell them that you love them!
Merry Christmas.