More Fun than Dental Surgery? – Book Clubs I have Known

 

bookshelf

 

Quick Question:

Would you prefer to have a Root Canal or belong to a Book Club?

My “fellow” blogger, Suzanne Stavert, wrote a lovely post recently about her book club.

She included jealousy-inducing photos of a friendly-looking group of women, drinks in hand, sitting on the deck of a boat discussing their chosen book. (photos here: http://www.adventuresofemptynesters.com/summer-fun-dana-point)

But Suzanne purposefully chose not to use the words “book club” in the post’s title.

So as not to scare off any would-be readers.

As she put it – “Believe it or not, there are people who would rather get a root canal than be a member of a book club.”

I don’t get this. Maybe because as a child I was a happy bookworm. Reading at all meals (when permitted), going to a chair in the corner to read while my parents visited friends, reading by flashlight while I was supposed to be sleeping. Reading whatever I could get my hands on. Reading the back of a kleenex box in desperation on a family trip one night when I had finished a book and did not have another to start. My worst nightmare.

Actually my worst nightmare is dental surgery.

I once bit my dentist’s hand.

But I digress.

I am a serial creator of book clubs.

And unafraid (until I see what feedback I receive, that is) to use the words “book club” in the title of this post.

Book clubs are more fun than dental surgery. At least the ones I have known. All four of them.

Book Club #1 started when my friend Liz and I were in our 30′s. All couples of same age kids.  My husband reluctantly joined in. He also loves to read but doesn’t like being told what to read.  While driving to book club, I was to provide him with a synopsis of the first and last chapters of the book.

After a glass or two of wine, he was then able to discuss, with a great deal of authority, books he had never read.

Impressive to watch. But his behavior inspired the other husbands to do the same non-reading. Book Club #1 disbanded.

Book Club #2 was a group I created in my 40′s. I asked seven other moms who all had 9th grade daughters in the same school as mine to join. After a few meetings it was obvious that some of us (look in the mirror here) were more serious readers than others.  While I like to chat as much as anyone (just ask my husband), a year of meetings that consisted of 15 minutes of book talk and 1 and 3/4 hours of fun talk convinced us to change our status from book club to social hour.

So, back to my devoted reader friend Liz, we decided to launch Book Club #3. Because women tend to forget painful things that produce pleasure (childbirth, for example), once again a couples book club was born.  And once again it was a mistake. The men were more interested in things other than reading.  One night we spent an entire meeting discussing possible names – not of books to read, but for the book club.

What kind of book club has its own name?

Our husbands told us we needed a clever name so that our popular local independent book store could reserve a book club shelf just for us.  Shortly after the male members of Book Club #3 decided upon the name “The Scorpions”, a name that none of the female members voted for, Book Club #3 fell apart.

My devoted reader friend, Liz and I were determined to get it right with Book Club #4.

Women only! And only women who truly liked to read. And who would actually read the chosen book. And would talk about it without getting easily sidetracked into discussions (at least during hour one) about our health, our jobs or our adult kids.

Putting together Book Club #4 of eight women in our late 50′s was the easy part. Much harder has been deciding on what kinds of books to read.

Book Club #4 is a group of women that defines (in a good way) the meaning of the word “bossy”.

Each of us has our own strong preferences.

  • Pam likes serious stories filled with metaphors and philosophy.
  • I love a good mystery.
  • Liz favors thoughtful female fiction.
  • Karen wants to read the classics she avoided in college.
  • Deborah insists that all of the books we read should fall under the category of “Great Literature.”

Who are we to say no to “Great Literature”?

Although I soon learned that “Great Literature” mostly contains books about women who suffer.

So Book Club #4 specializes in reading books about Women who Suffer.

Perhaps this is why some people, as my fellow blogger, Suzanne said, would rather have a root canal than belong to a book club?

I don’t know, for us, Book Club #4, six years on, works.

We read a book about women who suffer, get together in someone’s living room in or near Washington, DC,  have a glass – or two – of wine,  talk about why and how the women suffered and then go home to our lives feeling good that we don’t suffer quite as much as our literary heroines.

Long live Book Club #4 - far better than root canal any day.

(if your preference is for dental surgery,  I’d love to know why.)

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Filed under Books, Friends, Women, Book Club, Reading, Midlife

Why I am not a Blonde, with Bangs, nor look like Meg Ryan

hairstylist_cutting_bangsI am a truth-teller.

So I like it when people tell me the truth.

Except for my hair stylist, Katie. I have created a special exemption to the truth-telling rule just for her.

Katie does a terrific job with my hair. She also thinks I am funny. She asked that I not tell her my stories while she has her scissors in hand because I make her laugh too much. How great is that?

But even better is that Katie understands that the unvarnished truth for a female client in her early 60′s may not always be the best way to go. Tactful but direct, that is Katie.

She handles my FAQ’s with ease.

1. “Should I get bangs?”

I ask Katie this same question on nearly every visit. I am pretty much obsessed with my forehead. When I look in the mirror my wide forehead beams back at me with over-sized prominence. Approximately 5 minutes of every appointment are taken up with a discussion of what to do to minimize my forehead. With me often suggesting that soft, feathery, to-the-side bangs would be just the ticket.

Katie disagrees.

Last year when Michelle Obama made national hair news with her new wispy bangs, I took to pestering Katie even more than usual about getting bangs cut.

She looked at me in the mirror and said kindly, but firmly:

“Nancy, I want you to like me. You will not like me if I cut bangs for you.”

Even though I very much want Katie to like me (and after all, Michelle Obama did ditch her bangs after a few months), I can’t get off the subject of my forehead.

So I keep asking for bangs. On a recent visit the ever-patient Katie showed me her hand – then spread her fingers across my forehead.

“See, Nancy, I am measuring your forehead. It is about 3 1/2 fingers wide. If you had a 4 finger wide forehead, I’d consider bangs. If you had a 5 finger wide forehead, we’d definitely do bangs. You are only 3 1/2 fingers wide.”

Scientific evidence.  No bangs for now.

2. “How will I look if I stop coloring my gray hair?”

I have been coloring my hair since my 40′s, maybe even since my 30′s. I got my first gray hairs in law school. (go figure!)  Coloring my hair back to its earlier brunette incarnation has been a constant.

Now that I no longer have to show up at the law office every day, maybe the time has come to let Mother Nature do her thing.

How would I look with all gray hair?

This is a slightly tricky question which Katie gracefully evades by pointing out that my natural hair color is by now actually all white, not gray.

Lovely!  I am not only getting older but now I have white hair, not gray.

Then I think,  maybe I could be a blonde?

How far is white from yellow on the color wheel anyway?

I could be a blonde! My husband will be thrilled.

Before I get too excited, Katie looks at me in the mirror and tells me that blonde is not going to happen.

I am going to stick with brunette for awhile longer.

3. “Will you cut my hair short in the summer?”

Every summer I look with jealousy at women with cropped hair. It looks so modern and fresh. The wash-and-go look has never worked well for me. Perhaps if I cut it all off, I can join the hip crowd that is liberated from the electronic tether to their blow-dryers.

Katie side-steps this question as well. She points across the street, where a very popular place called “DryBar” recently opened up.  Blow-outs only, no hair cuts. And free champagne!

Women pay $40 just to get their hair blow-dried in a number of styles including the “Straight Up”, the “Manhattan” and the “Cosmo”.

My hair is stick straight, I grew up about an hour from Manhattan and I once drank a Cosmo.

So I will stick with Katie’s subtle hint that I not go back to the pixie cut I loved as an 8 year old.

4. “Can you make me look like Meg Ryan?”

Ever since I saw “When Harry Met Sally”, “You’ve got Mail” and “Sleepless in Seattle” (movies I admit I could recite line by line, so many times have I seen them),  I have wanted to have my hair cut to look like Meg Ryan’s.

Tousled, shaggy, seemingly effortless. It was an iconic look.

One that my straight, fine hair was never going to emulate.

But I am nothing if not persistent.

“Katie, can you just cut a few layers, wave it a bit and see if I come out looking like Meg Ryan? C’mon, let’s try. How awful can it look? I just want to try it once.”

Katie, who has heard many, many clients before me tell her they want their hair to look just like a celebrity’s hair, avoids this question entirely.

Instead she changes the subject. “What are you reading in your book club, Nancy?”

Point scored for Katie.

5. “Do eyebrows eventually turn gray (or white!)?”

After I see Katie, I venture to the back of the salon to see the young woman who does my – let’s call it, “facial” waxing. Soft-spoken Sherry casually mentions that a single eyebrow hair is completely white. I had noticed this myself but had been avoiding its significance. Instead of plucking it out, she suggests that she can tint it darker. O.K., by me, you’re the expert.

Then, wait , it occurs to me that this could be a glimpse into my eyebrow future.

“Sherry, when women get older, do their eyebrows also turn totally gray – 0r in my case, white?”

“Not always” she says politely.

“Is that the truth?” I ask, seeing her try not to smile.

Sherry laughs, “No, it’s not. Do you want the kind answer or the true answer?”

“The latter, please.”

“Your eyebrows will eventually turn the same color as your hair.”

Yay, something else to look forward to! White eyebrows to match my hair.

 

-Photos of my latest hair cut are available upon request-

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Filed under Aging, BoomerLife, Hair

No Lemonade at the Law Firm

NLW LAwyer

Some years ago I had a corner office.

I had been a partner in our law firm for long enough so that when a new corner office opened up, it could be mine. Yes, it was in a back corner of our building on K Street in DC. Overlooking an alley. Birdseye view of the trash trucks coming in and out.

But lots of light. And a bit of privacy. The best part was the privacy.

I wouldn’t feel quite so guilty making my daily call checking in with my kids after school or taking a break to call a friend.

One of my closest friends at the time, Sharon, was a pre-school teacher. She wore smocks with paint smears and told funny stories about parent-teacher conferences.

We did not wear smocks in my law firm.

Sharon also got to take summers off  from her job.

At my law firm we did not have summers off.

One afternoon in June or July, in between revising one fascinating document and  before moving on to another, I called Sharon at home.

When she answered, I could tell she was in her backyard. The one with the creative herb garden and the adirondack chairs; I could hear the sounds of kids playing. If I listened hard enough, I could probably have heard birds singing and the sounds of the guy cutting his lawn next door.

We didn’t have many birds singing inside my law firm.

From the slight remove of my corner office, I could  hear the sounds of ringing phones, my colleagues reassuring clients – “Yes, I will look into that right away.” and the mail cart periodically rumbling by.

Sharon said to me, “Hold on a second, I’m just pouring some lemonade for the kids.”

Could she make me feel any worse?

We did not have lemonade in my law firm either.

Nor kids.

I liked practicing law.  The best part of being a lawyer was getting to know my clients; I enjoyed finding solutions to their problems – helping smart, creative people run their radio stations.

But summertime, kids playing in the background, fresh lemonade in glass pitchers with small frosty glasses? No, we didn’t have that in our law firm.

When I graduated from college in 1974, the women’s decade of the prior decade had left its impact.

The messages given to us at my all-women’s college sounded like this:

“You are a woman!”

You can do it all!

“You can have it all!”

So many of us chose, as I did, to go on to graduate schools where male students had largely dominated. We were part of that first wave of women encouraged to enter law, med and business schools in larger numbers. Vaguely we assumed we would get married, have families and have careers with all of the pieces of our lives falling magically into place.

At age 22 or 23, we were not long-range thinkers.

No one mentioned during law school orientation that we would not get summers off. Or that the career choices we made in our twenties would affect us years later in unforeseen ways.

My kids are now twenty-somethings.  They tell me that it was good that I was working full-time while they were growing up. Better than having me home, they claim. I could only pester them to do their homework by phone, and not more annoyingly (their word) in person every day after school.

So from September to May each year, I was pretty much fine.

The kids went to school, did their school work.

I went to the office,  did my office work.

We each had our jobs to do.

But every year come mid-June, I would begin to chafe at being encapsulated inside a glass office tower while summer happened outside.

A summer I couldn’t hear. Or enjoy with my kids, except on much-anticipated summer vacations.

Unlike my friend, Sharon, I would have made a lousy pre-school teacher. I don’t look good in a smock nor do I have much patience for choosing finger paint colors.

My legal career suited me.

But regrets? Yes, a few.

Mostly the knowledge that all of our choices as working moms came with trade-offs that we never could have known at the time we made them.

And not being able to serve lemonade to the kids playing in the backyard on sunny summer days was one of mine.

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Filed under Career, Law firm life, Raising Kids, Summer, Working Moms

My Grandma, the Firecracker – July 4th, 1976

daisy1My Grandma Daisy was a real firecracker.

Tart of tongue, explosive, caught you off guard, sometimes delightfully so, sometimes scarily so.

It was not surprising that she died on July 4th, 1976.

About a month before she died, I had moved to Washington DC, where I was working as a summer intern for my U.S. congressman on Capitol Hill before starting law school in the fall.

(and yes, everything you’ve heard about the wild life of interns is absolutely true. or so I was told by other interns in my office who apparently went to better parties that I did.)

July 4th, 1976 of that bicentennial summer was a Sunday.

I probably had plans to go to see the fireworks on the Mall with friends and then attend a cook-out.

It was an exciting time to be in DC, working on the Hill, feeling connected in a rather tiny way to our nation’s history during the 200th year since its’ founding.

But my participation in anything July 4th related was not to be.

That Sunday morning, as was our family’s tradition, I called my Mom and Dad at home in Connecticut at precisely 11:00 a.m.

No one answered.

Highly unusual and not a good sign.

An hour later I learned that  my grandmother had died. She was 80 or 82. No one knew.

Back then women of certain age did not disclose theirs.

My Dad, her eldest son, had gotten in the habit of visiting her in her apartment daily after her emphysema had grown worse. He was the one who found her. He thought she had died in her sleep.

My plan to see the fireworks on the Mall was  quickly replaced by parental instructions to take the next plane from DC to LaGuardia airport in New York City and from there to take the van service to our home in Connecticut to prepare for the funeral.

I was secretly pretty excited to get to fly on a plane.

I’d flown before, of course, but not often and plane travel was still a pleasurable experience.

Our shuttle flight, midday on July 4th, 1976 had very few passengers.

As we began the descent towards La Guardia, the captain of the plane announced.

“Look out your window, folks, there are the Tall Ships in the New York harbor.”

On that bicentennial July 4th holiday, hundreds of Tall Ships from around the world had converged on New York harbor.  It was a huge parade of ships, a historic event.

Breathtaking to view it from the air.

I leaned over to take a look. Then felt very guilty.

Was it o.k. for me to take part in this celebration?

The other passengers were enjoying the spectacle.

“Hey”, I wanted to say, “I’m not supposed to have a good time today. I’m on this plane to go to my grandmother’s funeral.”

But of course, I didn’t say anything.

And soon enough we were landing.

My grandmother’s funeral had its memorable moments.

The rabbi described her as a sweet person, like her namesake flower.

Daisy.

My father turned to me, whispering, “The rabbi clearly did not know my mother.”

It’s true, she wasn’t sweet. A rather sharp wit, not the least bit warm or fuzzy (that was the role of my maternal grandmother.)

My Grandma Daisy didn’t cook as much as she assembled food. She likely did not own an apron.

Her preference was to go out for Chinese food on Sunday nights rather than host a family dinner.

She was always stylishly dressed and I recall the smell of her (strong) perfume that wafted in front of you before she entered the room.

There were not many mourners back at the house after the funeral. One of my grandmother’s friends described her, somewhat lovingly, with a word that began with a “b”.

We all told stories about her snappy personality, her expertise as a bridge player (a grand master I was told) and her fondness for the good things in life.

When I think back to that July 4th, 1976, I remember the Tall Ships seen from the window of the plane as it dipped into New York harbor.

My grandmother had a long full life. Mine, at age 24, seemed on the cusp of beginning.

I didn’t get to see the fireworks or celebrate our nation’s birthday on July 4th, 1976.

But was it a coincidence, that my Grandma Daisy, a real firecracker, died on July 4th?

Probably not. She would have wanted to go out with a bang.

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Filed under BoomerLife, Family, July 4th

The Impatient Patient: Are you a Vertical or a Horizontal?

doctor listing sm

My friends say I am well-informed.

Need to know the name of that new restaurant that just opened up on 14th street?

The latest on the crisis in Iraq?

Which eye doctor to call if your elderly Mom has a retinal problem?

I’m it. Ms. Resourceful.

So perhaps it should not have been a surprise when the doctors in the hospital starting asking me for information –

-instead of the other way around.

In the Fall of 2012 fate decided I should reside for nearly 3 months in a big-city hospital instead of my suburban home.

I was (major understatement here) not an easy patient.

Pain is not my idea of a good time.

The food was awful, the lights too bright, the noise in the halls 24/7.

Making it worse was that mine was a complicated case.

I had multiple doctors in different specialties involved in my care.

Naively I thought they would share their knowledge with each other. And together would make decisions about my treatment.

But instead of talking to each other, so it seemed, the doctors talked to me.

I tried to be helpful – at first.

Dr. Important Cardiologist would drop by around 6:10 a.m. while I was sound asleep.

As I struggled to sit up, he was already asking questions.

“Has Dr. Infectious Disease Specialist been in to see you?”

Trained to be polite, even under unpleasant situations – I would respond:

“Yes, she came by late yesterday.”

“What did she think about your latest lab results?”

(What I wanted to say: why don’t your check my chart? or better yet, ask your colleague yourself.)

What I said: “She thought the numbers had gone down, which was a good sign.”

And Dr. Important Cardiologist would whisk out of my room.

Later that morning, maybe at 8:00 a.m., mid-day in doctor time – in would come Dr. Big-Time Neurologist.

And Dr. Big-Time Neurologist would ask:

“Has Dr. Important Cardiologist been in to see you?”

(What I wanted to say: can’t you people just check my chart?)

What I said: “Yes, he was here earlier this morning.”

“Good, what did he say about your latest MRI?”

Me: “That there was no change.”

“Good” (Dr. Big-Time Neurologist liked that word) – and he would strut out of my room.

On my first hospitalization I thought, O.K. answer their questions.

You are a helpful person, Nancy! Overly-informed, a font of information.

After all, Nancy, what else do you have to do?

In between “this will only be slightly uncomfortable” fun tests, you are just waiting around in bed all day.

But on my 2nd or maybe my 3rd hospitalization within a few months, I began to grow a bit weary of my role as Provider of Knowledge.

Dr. Young Internist came into my room and asked me what tests Dr. Infectious Disease Specialist had ordered the Nuclear Medicine Specialist to perform.

This time, I decided maybe I was not going to be such a patient patient.

And with all the politeness I could muster:

“Uh, Dr. Young Internist. I’m the patient here. Perhaps if you are interested in knowing what tests the Nuclear Medicine Specialist is going to perform, you might check my chart or ask him yourself?”

Dr. Young Internist was taken aback.

He was young, nice and actually seemed interested in my case. I didn’t want to be unhelpful.

But — he was already much too indoctrinated in the Patient as Provider of Knowledge approach which seemed to be this big-city hospital’s governing rule.

So I had to educate him.

And very politely, I said.

“Dr. Young Internist, see this bed, I’m the one in the bed – and see you standing there next to the bed?”

He looked down at his feet.

“That is how you can tell us apart. I am a Horizontal. We are the ones who wear these scratchy polyester gowns that flap open. We get bad food served to us on trays. Needles get stuck in us. We are Patients.”

“And you, Dr. Young Internist, you are a Vertical. You get to wear regular clothes with zippers and buttons. See, how you have a jacket on? Last time I wore a jacket was 2 months ago. You get to walk outside and smell fresh air. You can choose your own food. You do the needle sticking. You are Doctors.”

Dr. Young Internist seemed puzzled at my explanation of the differences between the Horizontals and the Verticals.

So I continued, as helpfully as I could, of course.

“Dr. Young Internist, you are a Vertical because you call the shots. (pun unintended). I am a Horizontal. I lie here and receive the shots. You gather the information. I receive the information. You analyze the information and make decisions. I am told about those decisions. That is why you are a Vertical and I am a Horizontal. So could you please ask your colleagues for information about my care rather than ask me?”

Dr. Young Internist nodded, then quickly backed out of the room.

The next morning, Dr. Infectious Disease Specialist came into the room; 9:30 a.m., nearly evening in doctor time.

She asked me if Dr. Important Cardiologist had been in to see me today.

What did he think of my latest blood tests?

Dr. Infectious Disease Specialist was a very stylishly dressed woman. I was jealous, day after day, seeing her as she came into my room, wearing snappy leather boots, well-cut skirts and interesting jewelry.

I wanted to wear clothes too!

I missed my boots!

I needed a diet coke!

I had become an impatient patient.

So I responded:

“No, Dr. Infectious Disease Specialist, Dr. Important Cardiologist has not been in to see me today. And even if he had, and even if I fully understood what he was telling me, I am not sure I would tell you.”

“Don’t you realize that you are a Vertical and I am a Horizontal? Look down. See? You are wearing leather boots. I am wearing ugly green socks with sticky pads on the bottom so I won’t fall if I can rouse myself enough to go to the bathroom. I am a Horizontal. You are a Vertical. Why don’t you give Dr. Important Cardiologist a buzz and find out what he thinks about my blood work?”

Pretty soon after that conversation with Dr. Infectious Disease Specialist, I noticed that my doctors had stopped asking me for information.

I thought, good, maybe they are talking to each other for a change, instead of to me. Maybe they are even reading my chart before they come in to see me.

Hadn’t I read a recent article about coordinated patient care being the new trend in modern hospital stays?

Proud that I was able to support a positive medical trend, I spent the rest of my hospital stay in (near) silence.

And on the day I was discharged, I got to wear boots and a jacket on the way out of the hospital.

Just like the Verticals!

Probably the sound of loud cheering by all of my doctors as I got into my husband’s car to go home was just my imagination.

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Filed under Aging, BoomerLife, Doctors, Hospitals, Humor, Medical Care

Letters to Summer Camp

nlwwoodlands

When my sister and I were away at overnight summer camp, our Mom sent us daily letters.

8 summers, 8 weeks each summer. You do the math!

Every day the mail was delivered, we could read a letter from Mom.

Each letter started the same way.

“I hope this letter finds you well and happy.”

These were short, newsy missives, updating us on her latest bridge game, volunteer activity or a new sweater she was knitting.

Once she inserted a sliver of cranberry-colored yarn to show me her current project.

It was her way of staying in touch and while we loved it, we took the daily letters a bit for granted.

If my Mom was feeling particularly brave, she would insert into a letter, carefully taped on one side, a single stick of juicy fruit gum.

The all-girls camp I attended had very strict rules on food packages. No gum!!

So it was a special forbidden treat to find a stick of gum inside.

(News Bulletin to Camp Woodlands: take a look behind bunk #13; there may be some used gum stuck to the lower side, near the bottom.)

My Dad, however, sent exactly one letter each summer.

He was and is, at age 91, a man of few but well-chosen words. His letters were always typed, as his handwriting is illegible. Timed to arrive during the first few days of camp, his single offering would contain philosophical advice.

“Now that you are 9 years old, you are old enough to think about the importance of being kind to others.”

Or, “At age 10, we expect you to realize how lucky you are to be spending summers in the Maine woods. Your Mom and I miss you very much but being able to go to summer camp is a gift we are fortunately able to give you.”

I treasured those letters, even though they contained, as did all of his future letters to me, the following closing:

“If you have any further questions about this matter, please do not hesitate to contact me.

Love, Dad.”

I grew up thinking this was a normal paternal signature.

Later, when I was away in college, then in grad school, and then in law school (what can I say, I like learning), I called home at exactly 11 a.m. every Sunday morning.

You may not be old enough to remember but time did exist before the invention of email. We relied on phone calls that cost less if you made them at night and on weekends. So a regular Sunday morning phone call became habit.

My Mom would start off the call. She and I would exchange the news. I would tell her about school, friends and the boys I was dating (this was before I called them men.)

After I gave her all the latest info, she would always say – “Your father wants to say hello.”

The phone would be passed.

My Dad would ask: “How are you doing?”

The expected answer would be given: “Fine.”

He was not interested in details. Big picture only, please. My Mom was in charge of the complaints’ department.

His response: “Good, talk to you next week” and then he would pass the phone back to my Mom.

My Mom died when she was 54, 2 years after I graduated from law school and was already working.

Her funeral was on a Thursday and by that Sunday I was back in D.C. I was 28 years old, my sister 4 years younger. My Dad did not want us to linger at home, watching him deal with his grief. He encouraged us to get back to our own lives in other cities.

The following Wednesday night my phone rang.

It was my Dad. I was startled. I wasn’t even sure he knew my home number. My Mom had always been the one to do the dialing.

(We dialed phone numbers back then.)

Shocked to hear his voice on a weekday, I asked:

“Dad, Dad, are you all right?”

“Yes, I’m fine, why do you ask?”

“Because it is Wednesday. I’ve never talked to you on a Wednesday. It’s not Sunday!”.

Slight pause.

“Can’t I just call to see how you are?”

And the phone line crackled with the sound of unshed tears on both sides.

The ice was broken. He could now call me on weekdays and occasionally he did, and still does, sometimes for no reason at all.

And when my own kids went off to overnight summer camp, I wrote them letters every single day.

Letters about how our dog was doing, what I was reading, stuff in the news.

A daily tribute to my Mom.

My husband, however, would send each of our kids, a single thoughtful letter at the start of each summer, adopting my Dad’s tradition.

Guess whose letters our kids have saved from their summer camp years?

You’re right.

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Filed under Communications, Dads, Humor, Letters, Moms, Summer Camp

Farewell Fred. Regards to Ralph. So long Sandra. Obits I have known.

phyllidfriend Eunice

Reading the obituaries is an acquired skill.

And one of my daily pleasures.

Coffee, newspapers, read the obits.

Start with a quick scan to see if my name is mentioned in any of the bold print.

So far, it has not been.

It occurs to me that if I am able to read an obituary, it is likely that I am not (at that moment) going to be the star of one – but I hedge my bets.

Then a second quick scan to make sure that the names of the recently departed include mostly people called Leonard, Murray, Joan and Lois.

So far, so good.

When I start seeing Cheryl, Sharon and Susan on the obituary page, I will know our boomer round is up.

Then I settle in for a more leisurely reading of the person’s life story.

What do I enjoy about reading obits?

I love learning about people’s lives.

Don’t you?

And what matters to them – or doesn’t.

Starting from day one (unless you are a celeb) – you get only a few chances to tell the world your story.

So word choice matters.

“I’m here”, says the baby announcement, albeit written by someone other than the child her or himself.

Baby announcements don’t tell you much.

Height, weight, name.

(the latter is a fascinating subject on its own. A parent invests their hopes in a baby’s name. Tyler? he will be a star soccer player. Naming him Samuel? please, please let him be a doctor.)

Years after baby announcements come the next public notices of your life story.

Engagement and wedding announcements.

For reasons unclear to me now, my parents thought it was important that my engagement announcement appear in the New York Times.

The fly in the ointment was that my younger sister (thanks, Judy for ruining my solo moment!) decided to get engaged at the same time.

The NYT chose to publish the announcement (yes, the acceptance standards were no doubt more relaxed back then).

And the headline read: Wolf Sisters to Wed

Years later I wondered – what were those copy editors thinking?

Two animals getting married?

Sisters engaged to each to other?

Engagement and wedding announcements are mostly about colleges attended, jobs held and who your parents are or were.

But obituaries top my list for what they say or don’t say about how a person lived her life.

Those captain-of-industry types now passing away in their 80′s and 90′s?

Their obituaries begin with a long list of their important jobs and titles, right up until that top executive chair.

Mentioning family comes in the last paragraph. Does that mean that he viewed them as the support staff in his rise to prominence?

Check also the order of the list of “survivors”.

If a relative is listed in the “Also survived by” section, it means don’t bother to attend the reading of the will. You’re not in it.

The obituaries that worry me the most are the ones that lead off with -

“After a long valiant battle with cancer” or “Following a courageous fight against his heart disease” or “Her grace and determination as she struggled with her illness was an inspiration to all of us”.

For real? They were that brave? Always?

If I die from a dreadful, painful disease, I fear my obituary – if the least bit truthful – will more likely read:

“Nancy complained about her illness for years. She could not tolerate pain of any sort and let her family, friends and all medical professionals within shouting distance know loudly and often how she was feeling.”

My husband enjoys his dental visits. I once bit my dentist’s hand. Hard.

I can’t do pain. Must my obituary state that I am courageous when I will definitely not be?

But apparently truth is a relative thing in obituaries.

“Everyone who crossed her path was better for having known her.”

Everyone? I doubt it.

“He was invariably kind to all who knew him.”

Let’s not ask his kids.

So if you are reading this, future obituary writer, please feel free to take a bit of liberty with mine.

You can say that I loved my husband to pieces, adored my kids and that my grandson was the light of my life.

All true.

But please leave out the part about my drawing blood from my dentist’s hand.

He isn’t likely to come to my funeral anyway.

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Filed under BoomerLife, Humor, Obituaries