Friday, October 31, 2014

A Day in the Life

     This blog was supposed to be about Being Old, and today it is.  Looking back, I realize it has been a Senior Day All the Way.
     Morning -- Elder Law Fair, sponsored by half a dozen organizations including the County Bar Association.  The flyer promised it would start with Refreshments at 8:30 -- alas! nothing set out but coffee urns and hot water for tea.  You know the drill  -- the usual opportunity to cruise exhibitors' tables and pick up imprinted pens, key chains, and wrapped candy, all of which went into a bright red tote bag from the AARP. 
  I breakfasted on tea and kisses.  Sounds like a song title.
    The first lawyer who spoke said he preferred the phrase Seasoned Citizens, which he then used  throughout his presentation.  Maybe I'm the only one of several hundred attendees who found that somehow patronizing?  as if Senior was a bad word?  I did pick up a few facts, though -- did you know Americans aged 85 and older constitute less than two percent of the population?  I realize there's no particular merit in simply breathing for a long time,  but it doesn't take much these days to make me feel special.
Retired Teachers
Autumn Leaves
     After a couple of breakout sessions, I left for the town's weekly Senior Lunch, where after the meal we had a concert of Fall Music sung by -- it does seem to be the theme of the day --  the Retired Teachers Chorus.  Music now strikes my ears as painful cacaphony, so I scuttled out after their first number, which was the appropriate Autumn Leaves.  
     Then in the afternoon -- I swear this was all coincidence -- I had an appointment at a local non-profit called Lifespan.  My health insurer is discontinuing the fine prescription drug coverage it's been offering -- well, it was somewhat fine.  I have fallen into the Donut Hole
Donut Hole
and trust me, that's quite a shock.  I've been at sea, trying to find the right new insurer for stand-alone  Part D -- spent hours on the Internet, studied formularies -- imagine learning  a new word at my age --  and finally gave up in frustration.

     That Lifespan appointment turned out to be with a woman who took courses and passed an exam to be certified as a Medicare Counselor or whatever they call it.  She said there's at least one available in every county, free.  She typed my meds into just the right screen, hit keys to research things I hadn't even considered  -- would I save money buying online? -- did any insurer have special arrangements with pharmacies in my zip code? -- and came up with exactly the right company (four stars out of five in consumer satisfaction, too.)
     Best of all, when I said I wouldn't be able to enroll over the phone and was stressed out by the Internet, she offered to do it for me.  She spent another half-hour on the phone -- even she found it frustrating.  But at least she could hear what they were saying on the other end.  And I'm all set!
     You've got to work at Being Old.

Friday, October 24, 2014

My Musical Career

      In 1936, during the Depression,  I was having trouble in school and my mother was called to the Principal’s Office.  I believe the problem was “talking too much” – probably disruptive in class, perhaps because I was only 10 years old in the 7th grade.  We’d moved around a lot, doubling up with relatives as Daddy’s employers went out of business one after another.  I’d  go from a progressive school to a backward one and be “skipped” a grade.  They did that in those days.
     The principal suggested therapy -- it must have been free -- at the Judge Baker Foundation in Boston.  They evidently recommended “enrichment”, for I suddenly found myself joining the Girl Scouts, attending camp (on scholarship), and taking free clarinet lessons at school.
     A few years ago, my friend Mary wrote on her impressive University letterhead to the Foundation and secured the transcripts of my interviews.  Reading them over, I was surprised to see that The Depression was like another member of our family.  A clarinet reed cost 25 cents, the instruction book cost 25 cents, and the family was discussing – which should we buy first?
     The school lent me an instrument that was antique even for those days – a one-piece metal clarinet.  I could join the junior high band as soon as I’d memorized the third clarinet part to “Military Escort” – I remember it to this day.
     But what I started out to tell you was that my clarinet teacher told me he’d been playing in the band at the PanAmerican Exposition in Buffalo when President McKinley was shot.  I had a vague feeling that meant he was extremely old.  Recently figured he might have been in his 20s that day in Buffalo, in his 50s when he told me – younger than any of my kids are right now.
     Some years ago I joined a seniors ensemble sponsored by the Eastman School of Music, a group eventually named the  New Horizons Band.  That  always sounded to me like a drug re-hab group --  I had proposed The Grateful Living.  Anyhow -- some years after that I found my embouchure was going the way of all the other muscles, back hurt sitting in rehearsal, hearing was threatened by the trumpets, and brain started hearing music as jumbled cacophony.
      End of my musical career.  My clarinets ended up on eBay, all but one -- my granddaughter has it in Vancouver.  She didn't need a teacher -- you can learn an instrument these days just by watching YouTube.

Saturday, October 18, 2014

Today's Fun

As I may have mentioned, I’m clearing out old papers, and a couple of weeks ago I found this 1876 document.  No idea when or how it came into my possession but I know why I kept it – it’s about a mortgage loan between
                                      DARIUS PALMER
and – here’s where it gets really delightful –
                               COLUMBUS LOVELY.
Also enjoyable -- that semi-literate addendum extending the loan.  It contrasts nicely with the law clerk’s more polished wording and penmanship but I guess it got the job done.
There is, of course, no reason to hold on to this but I couldn’t bear to throw it out, so I posted it on eBay ten days ago.  As the folded document fits nicely in a one-stamp envelope, I even offered Free Shipping. 
       There was just one bid, there’s just one person in the world who wants this, and today they found him !!   He lives in Levittown, PA. 
       My Paypal account (so handy for Internet shopping) is all of $5 richer.  And -- over the years I’ve had a few interesting chats with eBay buyers, so I emailed this guy to ask if he is by any chance a banker or lawyer who might want to frame this and display it.
       If you’re not using eBay, you’re missing some fun and games.  Trust me – it’s user-friendly.  If I figured it out you can too.  I never even had to consult a grandchild.

Monday, October 13, 2014

Answer to Comment

In case you don't read the comments --
First response to the post about my war-time job as a teen-aged journalist asked -- was my job taken over by a man when the war ended?  And my immediate reaction was
"Who even noticed?"  We were all so eager to make up for the four years we'd lost, most of us couldn't wait to get married.  Where do you think all you baby boomers came from? and why the 1950s were so contentedly suburban?.  My recollection is hazy, but I believe the Feminist Movement didn't raise our consciousness (mine anyhow) until those babies started leaving the nest.

Pink was Big in the '50s.

Saturday, October 11, 2014

My Career as a Stringer

I was a teen-aged stringer.
In 1943, with all the young men away at war in Europe and the South Pacific, girls could go for just about any jobs they wanted.
     My cousin in Boston, drafted after one semester of college, had sent me his Introduction to Journalism textbook. And having memorized the whole book, as soon as high school was out in May I walked confidently “down-street” in Penn Yan and talked to Sidney Ayres, editor of the village's weekly newspaper.  He hired me on the spot, not only as a full-time reporter, but also as – thrilling title -- the Yates County Correspondent for four city dailies.
     I brought in my prized possession, a portable Royal typewriter that had no keys for the numbers one or zero (capital “I” and “O” served instead.) Sid squeezed in a battered little desk out by the job printing presses in the back room, and I was a journalist!
     Each story was written first for the Penn Yan paper, deadline Wednesday noon for publication on Thursday.  (One of my first assignments was keeping in touch with the hospital on Wednesday mornings to see if anyone was going to die in time.)  Then, if the item seemed important enough, I wrote it with two different leads.  One was intended for the state edition of the Rochester Democrat and Chronicle, the other for that city's Times-Union.   With each I typed a carbon copy, and those went to the Elmira paper and – if I remember right -- Geneva.  I do know my deadline was three in the afternoon, when some copy left town on the Greyhound bus, and the rest went, I believe, on the five o’clock train to Rochester.
      I remember interviewing an old man who had piloted steamboats on Keuka Lake, and taking his picture with the paper’s Speed Graphic, with its 4 by 5-inch film pack.  For that article Sid gave me a by-line; in those days by-lines were seldom awarded and it was my first.  I remember being sent to interview a brand-new war widow only a few years older than I was, talking in her kitchen while she fed her son in his high chair.  All of this, of course, on foot.  I had no license, no car, no gasoline ration. 
     I remember counting the coded blasts on the fire whistle that told where a blaze was located, and seeing all the shopkeepers on the two blocks of Main Street dash out for a little excitement as volunteer firemen.  I remember being sent out on D-Day, sixth of June, 1944, to write about the village’s reaction. It was a beautiful sunny day, and all the church doors were open.  Inside, people simply sitting in the pews or kneeling, nothing going on, not a sound.  Silence.

     After a few weeks, the elderly journeymen in the back room offered to teach me something about printing.  They promised to show me type lice, which nested in between lines of metal linotype slugs.
      “You have to look close,” they said, “bend right down and we’ll pull the slugs apart so you can see them.”  And of course, as soon as I did, they slapped the column of slugs back together and I got a faceful of ink and cleaning fluid.
      “Now you’re a real printer” they chortled, and wasn’t I proud!
     I believe Sid paid me $15 a week, the equivalent of perhaps $200 today.  And in addition, he showed me how to bill the Rochester papers as a stringer.  Each day I’d scan my parents’ copies.  With any luck I’d find something of mine, to clip (alas, without the headline) and paste in a long rolled-up strip.  At the end of the month I’d stretch a string the length of the roll, measure the string, and send in the roll with a bill for ten cents a column inch. 
     Why I wasn't instructed to just measure the roll of paper itself, I have no idea, but I’ve always assumed the process was what made me a stringer.
     I never got to see the glamorous press rooms of those Rochester newspapers, and I spoke with an editor just once.  As September approached, I telephoned (my first long-distance call!) to tell the state editor someone else would be taking over till next spring; I was leaving for college.  And he said – it was one of the most wonderful moments of my life –

“It has been a pleasure receiving your copy.”