Saturday, March 31, 2007

Ray Bolger in Las Vegas…….1957

It was 1957 and a friend and I were driving cross country from Santa Barbara, California to the East Coast. My year at KEY-T had been rewarding and exciting but new management took over and I could see the handwriting on the wall. Besides that, I was anxious to try my luck in NY City.

We had driven through the night and our first impression of Las Vegas was a distant sparkle of bright lights suddenly appearing on the horizon. One minute we saw nothing but desert and then it turned into this gaudy city called “Vegas”. Although it was 5 AM the town was hopping and people were everywhere.

Breakfast and 4 hours of sleep were what we needed and we had both before we headed out again. Our contact in the city was the parent of one of our friends and she had made arrangements for us to attend a floor show that evening at the Hotel Sahara. The main attraction was Ray Bolger and we were thrilled. In 1939 he had become a household name for his rendition of the timid scarecrow in “The Wizard of Oz” movie, but we knew that his talent far out-weighed that one show.

His performance on Broadway in the musical “Where’s Charley?” was proof that he was a song and dance man of star quality. He played an Oxford student named Charley, who dresses in drag and pretends to be his dowager Aunt. His soft-shoe rendition of “Once In Love With Amy” was the hit of that show and became his theme song.

The opening of the Las Vegas show was the typical girlie parade, but then the lights dimmed and Ray Bolger took the stage. We sat mesmerized as he performed his routines ... he was so loose that you’d swear he didn’t have a bone in his entire body.

Most of his routine was comical and fast-paced so we were completely unprepared for the finale. Ray suddenly stopped and stood perfectly still in the spotlight. A hush came over the audience and then the orchestra softly began to play “Once In Love With Amy”. Ray sang and performed his soft-shoe routine to perfection and then he asked us to join in. We sang very softly in the background as he continued to dance and toss the lyrics to us a line at a time . It was a magical moment.

I guess most people will remember Ray Bolger as traveling the Yellow Brick Road in search of a brain...but I will always cherish my memory of him in 1957, as the lovelorn Charley singing to his Amy on the stage at the Hotel Sahara in Las Vegas.

Wednesday, March 28, 2007

AGING GRACEFULLY …. to 100 and beyond !

I know, I know, there are days you can hardly make it out of bed and here I am writing about living to be over 100 !! But, wouldn’t it be neat if we could do that...and do it gracefully.

A few years back I heard a wonderful interview with two doctors who had conducted a study of aging. They had made a five year study of 40 seniors who had arrived at the age of 100. These people were active, mentally alert, living on their own and able to care for themselves. They all came from the United States but were from widely varied economic backgrounds.

The doctors made an extensive documentation of : daily habits, lifestyles, ethnicity, weight, eating preferences, race and genetic backgrounds, as well as spiritual and religious leanings.

At the end of the five years these two doctors did a comparative study of their findings and came up with some fascinating conclusions. They found that it mattered little what the people ate or if they were prone to exercise…although they did point out that all their participants were moderate in these areas.

The exciting thing about their study is that ALL of the 40 people had four things in common and, remember, these were all people who are active and alert at the age of 100.

The four areas of commonality are:
1. A sense of humor.
2. A positive outlook on life.
3. The ability to bear loss.
4. A total dedication to something outside of their daily life.

The show that I listened to also included interviews. One lady had just come through the grief of losing a daughter in her 70’s and she was proving that #3 was possible. #4 was especially interesting because there were many variations on this. Quite a few were dedicated to a church or religious organization...but there were others, too. One man worked with retarded children and a few of the women helped in charitable organizations. The main thrust of #4 was to get the person away from their own problems by concentrating on others.

All in all I found this to be a very uplifting study. I don’t know about anyone else, but I’m going to try to practice it in my daily life.

Sunday, March 25, 2007


Imagine a room with wall-to-wall females of all ages, packed in like sardines and each one vying for the best bargain available. The scenario is not all that uncommon in this day and age, but it was unheard of in the early 20th century. At that time “Sales” were fairly civil affairs and, more often than not, they were held on specific days or at the same time of each year.

This all changed in 1908 when Edward A. Filene came up with the idea of selling surplus and overstocked merchandise in the basement of his father’s department store in Boston. In 1909 Filene’s “Automatic Bargain Basement” opened it’s doors and it was an immediate success.

I was 16 when I made my first visit to the famous discount store. This was in 1949 and I waited in line until the doors opened. It took all my strength to hold my own against the push of all those bodies. Once inside I elbowed my way to one of the tables and was thrilled to see a peach colored cashmere sweater. It was a brand name in my size and at an incredibly good price. I held it high in front of me to inspect for flaws & before I knew it a hand reached out and snatched it from my grasp. I was so surprised that I didn’t even try to see where it went.

This was not an auspicious beginning and I decided to step back and reconnoiter. I saw that the savvy shoppers had large Filene shopping bags. They would quickly scan a table and shove anything that seemed of interest into the bag. When they had their fill they would retire to the end of the room where large mirrors were hung. Then they would take their time inspecting their choices…keeping everything close and out of reach from the other shoppers.

Now I had the maneuver down pat and, at the end of the day I’d spent very little and had quite a bit to show for it. However, I couldn’t help but wonder if it was worth it. I was exhausted and I realized that both my dignity and my body were bruised. I was glad to say that I’d visited the famous Filene’s Bargain Basement but I never went back.

It is interesting to note that Edward A. Filene not only devised a new way of shopping but he also introduced practices in the workplace that we take for granted today, such as: the 40-hour work week, Minimum wage, Profit sharing plans and Medical Insurance for workers. He was truly a pioneer in his field.

Thursday, March 22, 2007

“DOG DAYS OF SUMMER” , 2004 & 2006

In 2004 the Village of Pinehurst, NC went to the dogs for the first time. This was when the Business Guild presented the works of more than 50 local artisans, myself included, to raise money for a variety of non-profit organizations in our community.

I have a small business called “Snowflakes…Custom Designs” and I specialize in painting “tired” furniture to match a customer’s own personal taste and décor. Thus it was a “natural” for me to be asked to contribute my time to this event and I agreed.

We were given our choice of a standing or sitting “naked” fiber-glass Labrador retriever and asked to bring the statue to life. My sponsor for the event was Dugan’s Pub, a popular café in the heart of Pinehurst. The owner had a favorite poster displaying many different doors and facades of Irish Pubs and we decided to use that as our theme.

The final outcome was a Black Lab, named “Pub Pup”, wearing a coat covered with pictures of famous Irish establishments. He was also impervious to weather thanks to a local auto dealership that donated the time and labor to give all the “critters” an auto-body, clear coat finish.

The event was a smashing success and was repeated in 2006. This time we had a choice of a cat or a Basset Hound. You can see, by the picture, that I chose the dog. I decided to have his coat simulate alabaster and called him “Al A. Baster”. Once again the auto dealer provided the final coat and this gave “Al” the high shine that made it seem even more convincing that he’d been carved from alabaster.

Both years the dogs (and cats, too, in 2006) were on display in Pinehurst from June to September. They attracted thousands of visitors and it was a boon for the merchants who had sponsored the event.

The Grand Finale was in September when a public auction was held and the dogs were sold to the highest bidder. I think that even the organizers were amazed at the success of the event and I was glad that I was a small part of it.

Sunday, March 18, 2007

VENICE, 2001...our Monastery Experience

In September of 2001 my friend Douglas and I spent the month in Italy and we lodged in Monasteries. This worked very well for us and we’d been pleasantly surprised at the convenience, the cleanliness and the wonderful hospitality that had been extended to us in Rome, Orvieto, Bavagna, Gubbio, Cortona and Florence.

When I had communicated with the Sisters to make reservations I had been careful to explain that Douglas and I were not married. Some of the Monasteries were very strict about this and I wanted to make sure they knew that we were traveling friends and would be staying in separate rooms.

Our final Monastery stay was in Venice and we were anxious to see how the “Casa Caburlotta” would compare to the others. It was early evening when we arrived there and we couldn’t see a light in any of the windows. This didn’t bode well but we pulled the door rope and were rewarded with a bell tone that was loud enough to wake the dead. It didn’t seem to wake the Sisters, however, and it took 3 bell pulls and 15 minutes before a very old nun dressed completely in black (and with a dark frown to match) opened the door.

I had verification of our reservations and I presented it to the Sister. She took a long time pouring over the document and finally allowed us to enter. She pointed to a chair and instructed Douglas to sit there. Then she took my arm and we proceeded to the second floor where she showed me my room and gave me a small packet of instructions. I realized that I was in for the night and hoped I’d catch up with Douglas at breakfast.

My room was quite sparse but very clean and comfortable. The next morning I did find Douglas in the breakfast room and he was still chuckling. It seems that the Sister situated him about as far away from me as possible. He was in the students quarters on the top floor and accessed his room by a different set of stairs than mine.

It was our good fortune to meet a fellow traveler at breakfast who had stayed many times at the Monastery. He said that he didn’t think there was a Sister there under the age of 80 and that they were very strict but loving. I had my doubts about the “loving” part but we were there for four days regardless.

The next days were filled with all that Venice had to offer. We’d leave early in the morning and return after dinner. The Sisters were thawing a bit toward us...although they still made sure that we separated in the front hall before we retired to our rooms.

On the morning that we left I was amazed when the most austere of the sisters said she had a remembrance for me. She gave me a hug and a small glass pendant from Morano. I will always cherish that gift, but it was the gift of her smile that I will remember truly was “loving”.

Thursday, March 15, 2007

The lovely CONNECTED FARMSTEADS of New England

When I am inundated with fast-food chain stores, used-car lots and shopping malls my stress level goes berserk and I feel faintly ill ...not enough to call the doctor but just enough to make me aware that something is out of whack. I’ve come to realize that that “something” is SPEED.

Our efficient life style is fraught with computers, cell phones, digital cameras and every other work-saver gadget known to man. It literally takes my breath away. I feel squeezed and wrung out at the end of an ordinary day where speed is the norm. I yearn to go where the pace is SLOW.

In August of 2002 I did just that. I spent the month traversing the back roads of New England, wending my way slowly through Maine, New Hampshire and Vermont. The countryside was lush and pastoral and the days were long. Of course I basked in the warmth and peace of the drive, but my eyes were always searching for the delightful connected farm buildings that dotted the countryside. They were a constant source of surprise and I loved them.

These structures date back to the 19th century and there is a child’s verse that describes them perfectly: “Big House, Back House, Little House, Barn”. It is possible to walk from the main house (the parlor, dining area and bedrooms) through the “little” house (kitchen and wood shed) through the “back” house (privy and storage or workshop) to the barn without ever going outside.

There are two theories for this connected arrangement. One theory is that a family could exist through the extreme winter snows without having to go outside to get to any of the buildings. The other premise holds that the thrifty New England farmer figured he could eliminate 3 walls by connecting the buildings!

I became fascinated with these add-on homesteads during my journey and especially with the fact that no two of them were alike. Some of the homes were imposing Colonials connected to the smaller buildings, but usually it was the barn that dominated the grouping. The animals were valuable assets to a working farm and it made sense that they would be cared for as well, or better, than the family.

I spent day after day on those New England back roads and every time that I spied a connected farm complex I would slow down or stop. Although it was August and a warm breeze caressed my cheek I would envision this same scene blanketed in snow. This gave me a feeling of snugness, safety and contentment. Now, when I feel the need I just bring back those memories and it never fails to slow me down.

Monday, March 12, 2007

My move to NORTH CAROLINA… 1978

It’s January of 2007 as I write this. The news spotlight has been on North Carolina recently and what it reveals seems to be deep-seeded prejudice among our college students. In the case of Duke University three white lacrosse team players are accused of raping a black girl. Then at Guilford College three football players face assault and ethnic intimidation charges after an attack on three Palestinian students.

Both of these cases are pending and I make no judgments here. The reason I cite them is because this is just what I expected to find when we moved here in 1978. I was very apprehensive about moving to the South. I had many preconceived ideas and seeing a small restaurant in the town of Robbins with a sign hanging over the front door that said, “We Reserve the Right to Serve Who We Want” only reinforced what I thought. I imagined KKK members lurking in the woods and bodies hanging from the trees.

I took a secretarial job in the Emergency Dept. of our local hospital and one of the first persons I met was a nurses aide by the name of Virginia. She is a black lady about 7 years older than I. Both of our husbands were named Richard and, since neither one was well, it gave us the basis for a friendship that has lasted for more than 26 years. Virginia retired two years before I did and we tended to drift apart...although our bond was never broken. I was very pleased to get a call from her daughter recently telling me that the family was planning a big surprise party for Virginia. It was for her 80th birthday and I was invited.

I didn’t know what to expect since she is on dialysis twice a week now; but, she looked wonderful. She was absolutely glowing and the love and warmth that permeated the room was palpable. I did a quick head count and figured that there must have been at least 125 people present. Only 13 of us were white...mainly her “family” from the ER, but there wasn‘t an inkling of discomfort among us.

What really touched my heart was the way that we all melded as one. A sit-down dinner was served, there were many impromptu speeches and a slide show was presented. Then a man and woman stood up and proceeded to entertain us with a medley of Gospel songs. It wasn’t long before we all joined in and the room was rocking with our voices.

When the party was drawing to a close we all stood. Black and white hands joined to form an unbroken circle and I couldn’t help but bask in the good feelings of love and unity that were in that room.

As I drove home I marveled at the difference between how I felt in 1978 and how I feel now. Prejudice will never be eliminated here (or anywhere else, for that matter) but a gathering such as the one I had just left was proof enough for me that, at least, we were trying.

Saturday, March 10, 2007

“JONAH and the WHALE”...wood puzzle

My daughter and son-in-law gave me this wood puzzle in 1988. It came from an Estate in Garrison, NY. I assumed that it was from the Orient but Bob Armstrong*, a leading expert on the subject, tells me that jig-saw puzzles are a western phenomenon. He also surmises, since the pieces are not interlocking, that it probably dates to the late 1800’s.

This, of course, is not technically a “jig-saw” puzzle because the pieces were probably cut by a fretsaw, but the theory is the same. A picture was adhered to a wood board and then dissected. Evidently this whole puzzle craze started around 1790 when a London map maker mounted a map on a sheet of hardwood and then, using a fine thin saw, cut around the boundaries of the counties. It was his idea to use this as an educational tool to help children learn geography.

I grew up putting jig-saw puzzles together. I remember that we had two card tables pushed together with a white sheet on top. It was always covered with half-finished puzzles and every time we passed by we would put in a piece or two. Or, we might sit for hours trying to get it done in one night. It used to infuriate me to get to the end and find that one piece was missing…especially when my older sister would mysteriously “find” the piece. She thought that was the funniest thing in the world always be the “winner”, the one to place the final piece.

As I grew older I realized that the puzzle table was a great place to carry on a conversation. There’s something about working with another and watching a puzzle come to life that opens up the lines of communication. Piece by piece the picture would appear (just as would the solution to many problems).

There are lots of advantages to working a jig-saw puzzle. It can provide hours of entertainment for a small price, the puzzles can be recycled and traded with other enthusiasts and it is a great way to reduce stress. Of course, as in any pastime, it can become addictive…but, as addictions go, it is certainly a harmless one.

* Bob Armstrong's Old Jigsaw Puzzles

Tuesday, March 06, 2007

Oona brings me memories of Bitsie, 1942

A few years back my granddaughter, Alicia, was between living quarters and needed a temporary place for her pet parakeet, Oona. I agreed that my house was the obvious answer to her problem and she brought the bird over later in the week.

Having a bird in the house was no great bother, but it did tweak my memory. I was no longer a 73 year old widower living in North Carolina. I was 8 years old, living in Plainfield, New Jersey and training my own little bird, a canary named Bitsie. She was the first pet that was mine alone and I loved her accordingly.

In 1942 my Dad had a change in jobs and we moved from New Jersey to Massachusetts. We made the journey by train and it must have been amusing to see. I was the youngest of 5 girls ranging from age 9 to 17 and we each carried our most precious possession. Mine, as you could guess, was Bitsie. She made that long trip in a small metal cage that I carried on my lap.

I don’t remember how long Bitsie lived after that move but I do remember her funeral. My mother had received a brush & comb set in a box that closely resembled a small coffin. It was about 3x10” and the sides and top were made of transparent plastic.
We lined it with satin and placed Bitsie’s little body inside. Then we gathered in the back yard for the service and the burial. I shed many tears but, thanks to the wisdom of my mother, I learned to face death with sadness but also with dignity and love.

Alicia visited Oona often while she stayed with me and it was fun to watch them play together. One of the bird’s favorite “outings” was when we would turn on the kitchen faucet...just a trickle…and she would play to her hearts content under the water. She would show off for us, flapping her wings and tossing her head from side to side.

My house is back to “normal” now but I still remember Oona’s visit and how it brought back memories of Bitsie.

Monday, March 05, 2007

HOME AGAIN…and back to Goldendaze-ginnie

Back in the early 1960’s my Mother used to travel to Ft. Lauderdale with my Uncle. They would escape the cold of New England for a month and always took the same route to Florida...which was Rt. 1. I thought it would be fun to try that way on my recent trip and I did so. It was a silly, sentimental thing to do, and it added 3 hours to the journey...but I got it out of my system once and for all.

It was wonderful to see my sister and brother-in-law. We talked up a storm and, other than our Saturday excursion, kept a pretty low profile. My brother-in-law has been active at the Kanapaha Botanical Gardens in Gainesville since it’s inception and we visited there on Sunday. If you are ever in the area you must put it on your list of “things to see”. It is maintained and operated by the North Florida Botanical Society, a non-profit educational org., and is 62 acres of gardens of all descriptions.

On Saturday we made our way to Cedar Key, as planned, to meet with Terri and Ray. This is a fascinating little island village of 900 year-round residents. It is located about an hour from Gainesville. We were early and spent most of the time bird watching. We were especially pleased to come upon a flock of Oyster Catchers, which are fairly rare.

We met Terri and Ray at Cook’s Café and it took us about 10 minutes before we all felt like old friends. I think Ray was happy to have another male on hand. After a wonderful lunch we went back to their house for coffee and desert...carrot cake baked by Ray, no less. It was fun to meet Holly and Dundee and the three cats. The two dogs were excited to meet us and the cats ignored us completely!

Terri has a wonderful studio. I can see why it would be inductive to her creativity. I was thrilled to get her two books and look forward to reading them. My sister and her husband and I thoroughly enjoyed meeting my new “blogging” friend Terri and her family. It is just another example of how the blogging world brings us together.

I started out at 6am today and took the tried and true Rt. 95 North. I don’t usually like that but there was little traffic and my trip from door to door took under 9 hours, as opposed to the 12 that it took going down.

And now I am “Home, Sweet, Home” and glad to be here. I’ll get back on my regular blogging schedule tomorrow.