Saturday, March 30, 2013

Today's Exciting Topic

Okay, gang, today we’re back to Being Old and today’s exciting topic is Hearing Loss.  The book –enjoyable and very well-written indeed – is “Shouting Won’t Help”. Katherine  Bouton was an editor at the New York Times who started losing her hearing and started faking it for many years thereafter.  She ended up deaf, while I simply have impaired hearing (and now I know the difference).  I suspect, though, that you’ll find the book fascinating even if you have no hearing loss at all – and frankly, after seeing some of those studies and statistics, I suspect you probably do anyhow.
It's delightful to come across some things that happened to me --yes, at first I took off those hearing aids carelessly and yes, I didn’t carry the little packet they go in so I mislaid them.  She describes things I’ve figured out for myself --yes, solo instruments are sometimes okay, but an orchestra, she writes, is painful cacophony – exactly the word I arrived at myself as I gave up concerts and most of my CDs.  And for that matter movies, and conferences, and airport announcements and tour guides and don't get me started on the kitchen timer or the telephone.
She offers explanations for things that have puzzled me. C’mon, I’m not that old, why did I have to leave the dinner party and go lie down in the dark?  Just struggling to decipher  conversation, she points out, is more physically exhausting than one realizes.  And how come I arrived back home with the impression that – as usual – I’d talked too much?  Why do I keep doing that?  It’s comforting to read her explanation that the hard-of-hearing can be unconsciously garrulous because when they’re the ones doing the talking, at least they know what’s being said.
She ends with a snippet of conversation—

  “When are we eating?” my husband says.
  “Chicken,” I answer.

Reminds me of the woman in O’Hare Airport who told me she was flying to Peter Rabbit.  So I looked on the notice board, and the plane just boarding was on its way to Cedar Rapids.

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Give 'Em Hell

Discussing the etiquette of  men's hats, I forgot to tell you what may have been one of the best moments in my sister's life.  Esty was stationed at the Office of Naval History in Washington, and had a basement apartment in a row house right opposite the old House Office Building--this would have been in the early 1950s.  And one day while she was in full uniform, she saw the Commander in Chief coming down the sidewalk right toward her.  She saluted him and
       Harry Truman stopped, stood at attention, and
                         RAISED HIS HAT TO HER.

Give 'em hell, Harry!

Saturday, March 23, 2013

Head Gear

I had an Aunt who opened up her own hat shop.  Ladies’ hats – it was properly called a millinery store.  But I also remember stores that sold nothing but men’s hats. 
Every man and boy appeared in public with his head covered.  Just look at those pictures of hobo jungles in the 1930s.  Those men may have had nothing, but they all had hats.

It may have been Jack Kennedy, bare-headed at his inauguration, who finished  off men’s hats.  It’s a pity they have pretty much disappeared, except for the actual utility ones – ski hats and the like, and the baseball caps that protect elderly scalps from sunburn.
           The Man’s Hat used to have all sorts of etiquette associated with it.  It came off, of course, as soon as one entered a home.  Wearing one indoors was considered rude if not challenging.  In old black-and-while movies, the Dead-End kid who forgets to uncover gets a quick whack to remind him.  In those days the act of removing the hat could be erotically charged--no gentleman would kiss a lady without taking off his hat first.  On the other hand, a girl who snatched a man’s hat and put it on her own head was sending a signal that she wouldn’t object to a kiss.   And when a funeral procession went down the street, men would stop on the sidewalk and hold their hats over their hearts till it passed.  Same during the national anthem. 
       All sorts of fashion rules applied back then.  One house mother at my college dorm said you didn’t put your gloves on while you were going down the front stairs – you had them on before you stepped outside.  You didn’t wear white after Labor Day, we heard that rich women didn’t wear diamonds until evening, and every year on Memorial Day—
                         Daddy changed to his straw hat.

Thursday, March 21, 2013

Ou sont les Hats of Yesteryear?

Been thinking about hats. Not the ones that keep the ears warm, the ones worn for religious purposes, the ones with sun visors, but the totally useless ones.  When did they disappear?
In the spring of 1947, before college graduation, I took a train to New York City for a job interview.  It never occurred to me to fly – in those days air travel was so momentous a woman would dress up for a flight in high heels, wearing a hat and gloves of course, and probably with a corsage as well.  I didn’t drive for two good reasons:  no car (those being still scarce with long waiting lists after The War) and I didn’t know how to drive anyhow (gasoline rationing started before I turned 16 and had only recently ended.)   
So there I was barreling down along the Hudson on the New York Central, crying on the shoulder of the woman sitting next to me.  Here I was about to meet a College President !!! for a job interview, and I had forgotten to bring a hat.  How could I face him?  He’d never hire a girl who was so rude as to show up hatless!  So strong was my distress that just before Grand Central Station that stranger took off her hat (of course she was wearing a hat) and settled it on my head. I was to return it to her hotel after the interview.
And I did.  And I got the job.
So when did hats disappear?  I know I was still wearing them into the ‘60s, because I have pictures of myself with a minimal pillbox (God bless Jackie Kennedy) on a huge bouffant hairdo.   I had at least one hat with a veil, and I remember one that looked somewhat Mary Poppins – did it have a single daisy perking up?  I know just where they lived -- they were up on the right hand shelf in the hall closet.  And there’s nothing there now.
What happened to them?

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

All Eleven Different

At a book club meeting the other night (Julian Barnes, The Sense of an Ending) there were eleven of us.  When someone started reading a paragraph from page 42 the others scrambled to find it.  “For me it’s on page 5,438” said my neighbor, holding up what I guess is known as an e-reader.
I looked around the circle -- saw a big old Kindle, a Nook, a new small Kindle, a laptop, what looked like an assortment of cell phones – and what struck me was that no two were alike.  Even the three who held old-fashioned books happened to be unique, one with a hard-cover edition, one paperback, one large print edition.
And I – yes, I contributed something different – as a last-minute guest who had read the book last year, I had no copy at all. 

Sunday, March 17, 2013

What a Mess

      Okay, today it's definitely about one problem with Being Old.  Day started well, Sunday paper (read in bed of course) carries a cryptogram, a simple substitution crypt that provides one of the most pleasant five or ten minutes of the week.  And I’d slept well, which otoh makes walking particularly difficult, so I decided to postpone breakfast until after a hot bath.  Put up half a dozen eggs to boil, off to the tub where the book rack on the bath tray held a half-finished new novel about Alma (Mahler Gropius Werfel).  What followed is partly the fault of  Being Old, but also attributable to a concentration problem I remember from when I was Young – it particularly disturbed my mother that when reading, I heard nothing, not even someone calling my name.  I have even used reading as an anesthetic upon occasion, specifically during childbirth. 
      So I’m reading and relaxing and nothing hurts, when I hear a loud thump.  One part of my mind wanders off into how the house makes odd noises, but they’re only scary at night, and promptly back to Alma’s amorous adventures with the geniuses.  (genii?)  A few minutes later, another thump.  Maybe they’re doing something outside?  But – as Jane Austen wrote in Northanger Abbey – I can see  by the telltale compression of the pages before me that we are all hastening together toward the end of the book.  Running from the Nazis, why are they lingering in Lisbon?  Not many pages left for them to get to Hollywood and Franz hasn’t even started to write The Song of Bernadette yet.  So I pay only scant attention to those thumps, though in the back of my mind I’m idly wondering why the house still smells of – well, it must be last night’s cooking.


       You’re right – it was those eggs.  They’ve exploded all the way in to the livingroom. 
        Nor – full disclosure – is this the first time it’s happened.

Saturday, March 16, 2013

Thursday, March 14, 2013

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Nyah Nyah Nyah Nyah NYAH NYAH

Recalling that jump-rope rhyme last week, I got to thinking about the little musical phrase that went with the lines “Mother’s got a baby” and (oh joy, it’s a boy) “Daddy’s nearly crazy.”  I’d slip the tune in here if I knew how to post a musical clef, but I don’t.  You know the melody – it’s always TAUNTING – and here’s the best I can think of to show it.  The phrase goes –

g  g           g  
        e            e.
This is not Ronald Reagan

“I know what you’re THINK-ING!”
“I see Mary’s UNderPANTS!”
It's always something sarcastic or downright nasty.  What I want to know – does the phrase have a name, something I could look up on Google?  I’ll bet one could look up “Shave and a Hair Cut – Two Bits” for instance.  Something like that?  And I want to Google because I’m wondering how old it is  (Amy guesses it’s medieval).  And does it mean the same thing in Russia?  In Kenya?

Any help with this important problem will be appreciated.

Monday, March 11, 2013

Information for My Grandchildren

Realized I know something nobody else in the world knows—it was just my mother’s birthday.  If she were alive she’d be 108 so she’d be dead anyhow. 
Been thinking about our home(s) when I was a child in Boston.  I guess it was the immigrant culture, always a bed for a recent arrival or a boarder.  In the 1920s when we lived right the ocean on the North Shore, Mother’s unmarried sister Pearl lived with us.  Daddy’s brother Harry and his wife brought their baby back from the hospital to our house.  My half-sister Ethel came to us for her last year of high school.  And Mother’s youngest sister Ida and her husband moved in with us as newlyweds.
Then the stock market crashed,  Daddy lost his job, the mortgage was foreclosed and we became the vagrants.  We moved in with his sister Minnie’s family in Buffalo—I slept in the upstairs hall and went to first grade there.  The next year back to Boston, to “the slums” of Lynn where we shared with Ida’s family, seven of us by that time, in a four-room “cold-water flat” over a grocery store.
Then our own apartment in Malden, Aunt Pearl living with us again--how I coveted that tiny private little room in the front of the house but I never got it.  Daddy’s grown-up nephew Norman came to live with us and slept on the "studio couch" on the porch.  (He owned all the swash-buckling Raphael Sabatini novels, purple cloth covers; I read every one.)
Always relatives boarding with us, until when I was 13 we finally settled in Upstate New York.  Along the way we lived several other places – Lowell (Depression closed down the mill so that was the end of  that job), two different apartments in Lynn (factory town), five different rented apartments or houses in Penn Yan and then Rochester, so that by the time we bought the house out on Keuka Lake and I started high school, I’d gone to seven different schools. 
Nice finish at any rate: Like those in several small towns around here, the public high school had (has) such an elegant Victorian name.  I'm a graduate of  Penn Yan Academy.

Friday, March 8, 2013

Start Earlier

     One thing I’ve learned – and only in the past couple of years – is that in old age time changes.  Long established guidelines – figure 15 minutes to the airport, for instance -- just don’t work any more.   It took apologetically arriving late a couple of times in one week  to convince me that from now on I have to Start Early.  
    This morning, for instance,  I opened the door to our attached garage, got in the car, and realized I’d brought the wrong set of keys.  The right set of keys was on a hook maybe five feet away as the crow flies, assuming the crow could fly through the fireproof wall into the laundry room.  But here’s what was involved:
Open car door (back pain.)
Shove car door further open (left shoulder pain.)
Move driver seat back (wrist pain.)
Move steering wheel up (no pain.)
Lift left leg with two hands, swing it out of car (back pain.)
Exit car (right hip pain.)
Three steps to door (left foot pain.)
Oops, door key back in car, three steps back to get it.
Three steps to door again (left foot etc.)
Unlock door. 
Five steps to get correct keys.
    And the exercise is only half done.  You don’t even want to know about getting back in the car.  Full disclosure – don’t let me whine too much – the pain involved is not very severe.  But everything takes a lot more time than you would imagine.
    Start Early.



Wednesday, March 6, 2013

Speaking of Skyping

I had a grown-up half-sister who’d gone to California to live near her mother’s family, and some time around 1936 she wrote that she wanted to talk with my father on the phone.  The project was coordinated ahead of time by mail (3-cent stamps and one-cent postcards) and the exciting venture was finally planned for a Sunday (lower long-distance rates evenings and weekends, when the lines weren’t busy with business calls.)
At exactly 3 pm on that winter afternoon, I watched my father lift the phone receiver,  and when he heard “Number please?” he suavely asked for the long-distance operator.   We heard him explain that he wanted to call Los Angeles, he gave Ethel’s phone number, and he hung up.  The air was full of nervous tension for the next half hour.  Then our phone rang and an operator said “I have your party on the line.”

And what news warranted all of that?  Was Ethel getting married?  Divorced?  Sorry, but I never found out.  At that point I was sent out of the room.  And anyhow, I'd had enough excitement for one day. 

Monday, March 4, 2013

Union Suits

Good heavens!  Granddaughter says she remembers playing cell phone games during recess.  But she does mention bouncing balls, and yes, besides circle games we did have bouncing ball chants, of which I remember just one (probably because I don’t remember owning a bouncy ball):
                 “One, two, three O’Leary
                  My first name is Mary.
                  Don’t you think that I look cute,
                  In my sister’s union suit?”
Other verses may have involved swinging a leg up over the bouncing ball.
Haven’t thought of union suits in lo these many years. My off-hand guess is that “union” referred to the one-piece construction -- white cotton “waist” or "vest" and attached underpants, with a big drop flap in the rear that fastened with large buttons. For winter, those sturdy undergarments had elastic garters hanging from them, to hold up cotton stockings.  When the garter fasteners broke off, they could be replaced by large safety pins (“diaper pins”), which ended up scratching unbearably during school hours.
So anyhow, we had circle games AND jumprope games AND handclapping games AND bouncy ball games.  And that's definitely it for the playground, kids.

Saturday, March 2, 2013

Penultimate Playground Post

Received a comment about hand-clapping games on the playground and my first reaction was that we didn’t have any in Boston, they were (are) probably a regional tradition.  But then in the middle of the night a rhyme came to me that seemed to make my hands twitch a bit:
Pease porridge HOT
Pease porridge COLD
Pease porridge IN the pot
Nine days OLD.
I do wish this blog had some nine-year-old readers who could tell me if all of that still goes on, if one Big Girl organizes the first-graders and passes on the rhymes.