Thursday, May 29, 2008

A few irises~

I complimented a fellow teacher, a young, slim beautiful girl, on her blouse.

She gave me one of those "oh this old thing" comments and said she'd worn it because all her other tops were . . . and here she made some hand gestures around her belly.

I didn't understand at first. I thought maybe she was pregnant, or else feeling nauseous. But no.

She told me she was getting so fat. Told me! Not that I'm FAT fat, but compared to her I'm a mature tree and she's a sapling. I've got some rings on my trunk.

She left and Dave, another colleague, walked by. "She thinks she's fat!" I said shaking my head, although many of my friends felt that way when we were her age. We see pictures of our younger selves and ask, "Why did I think I was fat then? I looked good."

Dave and I got talking about our perceptions of ourselves and how much energy we waste obsessing over minor issues, energy that could be better spent in more productive ways.

"We should just be happy we're healthy," he said.

"Yeah, and not in Burma," I added. Extra padding around the middle pales in comparison to the hardships faced there.

Then he said, "Monday, I was out in the yard when the wind whipped up. My irises were bending and about to snap, so I hustled to stake 'em up tight. And then I thought of all the people in the Midwest whose homes were devastated by the tornadoes. I thought, here I am worrying about a few irises when they've lost everything."

"Iris syndrome," I said. "I'll remember your story next time I start worrying about nothing."

So much of what I worry about amounts to "a few irises."
Stop worrying about the potholes in the road and celebrate the journey!~Barbara Hoffman

Sunday, May 25, 2008

When will they ever learn?

Memorial Day, a federal holiday in the United States, is observed on the last Monday in May. It commemorates U.S. men and women who died in military service. First enacted to honor Union soldiers of the American Civil War and known as Decoration Day, after World War I it was expanded to include casualties of any war or military action.

My words get caught in my throat. There is nothing I can say that will return the dead, and sadly, nothing that will prevent more from dying. If I could give comfort to mothers and fathers, wives and husbands, brothers and sisters who've lost someone to war, I would, but is that possible? I would not be comforted. Or would I take heart in knowing that my loved one would be remembered? That would not be enough for me, I know. My loved ones have been spared, but I feel the collective sorrow. When will it ever end?

“True heroism is remarkably sober, very undramatic. It is not the urge to surpass all others at whatever cost, but the urge to serve others at whatever cost.” ~Arthur Ashe

Tuesday, May 20, 2008


When women run out of conversation before their husbands do, and the men wipe tears from the corners of their eyes, something powerful is happening.

Bruce and I attended the reunion of former Marines who graduated from The Basic School at Quantico in 1967 before shipping off to the steamy jungles of Viet Nam. It provided a catharsis for long buried feelings.

It had been forty-one years since the newly commissioned officers were sent to face the stench, the sights, and sounds that the best of training couldn't fully prepare them for. Stateside fear was only a shadow compared to the terror of what lay camouflaged ready to spring.

But they'd been trained well, these Marines. Fear would get them killed, so they ignored it, stuffed it deep inside where it hardened like a concrete plug keeping so many other feelings trapped inside as well. Survival trumped emotion. Decisions were made by the mind, not the heart.

It had been forty-one years since most of these men had seen one another. Hair has grayed, gaits have slowed, and bellies hang over belts. But the same indomitable spirit-- albeit tempered by experiences no human should face-- remains. The same laugh, the same twinkle in the eye, the same firm handshake erased forty-one years in an instant.

As the men shared memories most had not stirred up for decades, the concrete plug began to soften, and emotions found a way up and out with the tears that flowed along with their laughter.

And the wives? We shared laughs . . . and tears, too, for no one was left untouched by that war, even if it was only experienced through letters and the TV in a living room so long ago.
When our memories outweigh our dreams, we have grown old. ~Bill Clinton

Tuesday, May 13, 2008


Quantico Marine Corps Base is home of the Officer Candidate School my husband attended back when the Viet Nam War still raged.

With an eight-hour drive ahead of us, if all goes perfectly, we'll be in Virginia at 1500 today.

On Thursday, my husband will join hundreds of former Marines for the 41st reunion of those who graduated from Officer Candidate School at Quantico Marine Corp Base. Most haven't communicated, let alone seen each other, since 1967.
Email has been flying for nearly a year as the committee worked to make the reunion possible. And now with the event schedule in hand, we're off.

Only it's not called a schedule. It's a sit rep. Actually, Sit Rep it says on the top sheet.

"A what?"

"A situation report," Bruce says.

The three-day agenda is printed in military time. That's as bad as the metric system. So I draw myself a normal clock, and jot the military hours beside the numbers on the normal person's clock. I will need this crib sheet, I'm sure. Events are tightly scheduled, most on the hour or half-hour, but some at 5-minute intervals.

This explains a lot. My husband tells time to the minute, and insists on being early. I don't wear a watch, I tell time to the "ish," and anything less than fifteen minutes isn't late.

From the hotel, buses will take the Marines and spouses an hour north to Washington, DC where we'll visit The Wall, but all other events will be by POV.

"What's POV?"

"Privately owned vehicles," Bruce says.

That would be a car in normal person's language.

The sit rep gives 10 minutes to "load the buses."

"Load the buses with what?" I ask.

"Us," Bruce says.

Marines don't board buses; they load them.

Then we're given 15 minutes to depart the hotel.

Marines don't leave; they depart.

I'd never have made it in the Marine Corp Bruce has told me more than once and somewhat irritably. I wouldn't navigate in the proper direction. I'd get lefts and rights reversed, let alone coordinate points. But worse, I'd question the reason for my orders, and would try to suggest a better way to my superiors. As you might imagine, this is not good Marine behavior, and not always welcome in a marriage either.

This I know, though, that these men share a bond I only understand mentally. They feel it in their gut, in every fiber of their being, in their hearts that still, and always will, beat with pride at having served in the Marine Corps. It will be my pleasure to see Quantico through their eyes and hear the memories they've held for so long.

Semper Fi.

Courage is endurance for one moment more.~Unknown Marine Second Lieutenant in Vietnam

Sunday, May 11, 2008

The scent of a mother~

I woke up early this Mother's Day filled with snips of memories involving my mother. She'd filled my last sleeping moments like a fragrance . . . Emeraude was hers.

She lives some distance away in an assisted living home. Her memory is slippery, but her essential essence remains.

Memories are elusive, I've discovered, even when not subject to the ravages of time. Mine, it seems, remembers fragments, and delivers only snapshots for my scrapbook of the past.

My mother is lying on the couch when I arrive home from school. The boxy black and white television set is on, "rabbit ears" spread eagled on top. She's watching "Afternoon Playhouse."

"Change out of your school clothes," she tells me after I lean down and she's kissed me.

My mother pinions me on my back. She rests a knee on the couch and leans closer. I see a lace-edged hankie in her hand and she tells me to open wider.

"I just want to see how loose it is," she says.

But I know she'll pinch my tooth between hankie-protected thumb and forefinger and try to twist it out. I squeeze my mouth shut.

My mother plops dollops of mayonnaise on canned pear halves that rest on iceberg lettuce leaves. The pears are on the salad plates, not the plates where our hamburg patties, peas and boiled potatoes wait on the table my father made.

"Wash your hands. Supper's ready," she says.

My mother sits with the cat on her lap and folds his ears inside out so that they look like tiny pup-tents, and the resigned cat looks faintly embarrassed.

"Mom!" I protest. My father grumbles, "Virginia, leave the cat alone." She laughs, shoulders shaking.

My mother peers out the living room window into the darkened street, then goes back to the kitchen. We're having spaghetti for supper. She's mixing Spatini sauce mix with tomato paste from a tiny can. She stirs in water, then puts down the wooden spoon and looks out the living room window again.

"You father's late," she says. Then sighs with relief. "Oh, I see his headlights."

My mother stands in front of her mirror in a long dress, one she made on her Singer sewing machine. She opens her mouth slightly and applies lipstick, then folds a Kleenex and puts it between her lips and pinches them together.

"Let me see," I say. She unfolds the tissue and shows me the red "O" of her mouth on the thin paper. Then she dabs Emeraude behind her ears . . . and mine.

I love that scent. . . and my mother.
Mother's love is peace. It need not be acquired, it need not be deserved. ~Erich Fromm

Wednesday, May 7, 2008

Share a pint~ ABC Wednesday: P is for pint~

Sharing a pint at lunchtime is common in some circles, but not something I typically do during my school lunch period. But today I did.

Massachusetts General Hospital's mobile blood van pulled into the school parking lot 8 a.m. and stayed until to 2 p.m.

Four phlebotomists worked steadily, drawing a pint from each of us who mounted the steps to enter the air-conditioned vehicle. We gave blood straight from the heart, both literally and figuratively.

Giving blood isn't a big deal. Really.

It's painless after the initial prick in the crook of your arm. The needle is taped in place and connected to plastic tubing that ends in a plastic pouch. When the pouch is full-- a pint equals a pound-- you're disconnected.

After the intake screening, it takes no longer than fifteen minutes to lose a pound. Then you get a drink and cookies.

That's it.

Still, a pint is no small amount. Take a look at 16 ounces of water. Two cups. It looks like a lot. While healthy adults can lose that volume with little to no problem, it will take a while for blood counts to return to pre-donation levels.

Plasma volume returns to normal within a day. Red blood cells will be back to pre donation level in three to five weeks, and iron is replenished within six to eight weeks.

Giving blood isn't a big deal. For you.

But for the person who receives it, it's a very big deal, often the difference between life and death.

Someone needs blood every two seconds, according to the American Red Cross, but only about five percent of eligible donors actually give.

My father gave regularly. I don't think my mother ever did. This was my second time. But it won't be my last. I'm not type O+, the universal donor, for nothing.

*Donation given in memory of Matthew Westfield, oldest son of a friend and colleague who died more than twenty-years ago from leukemia at age seven.
ABC Wednesday is brought to you by: Mrs. Nesbitt's Place
The only gift is a portion of thyself. ~Ralph Waldo Emerson

Monday, May 5, 2008

The heart of an athlete~

On my sleeve~
Sports. Competition, blood, sweat, and tears, hopes and dreams make up a college athlete's daily life. Athletes want to win. They train hard. They want the best record. It's a matter of pride. A game is for winning.

But sometimes the heart supercedes the ego as in the case of the softball game played at Western Oregon College where senior Sara Tucholsky hit a homerun-- her first ever.

She bolted down the baseline and rounded first and saw the ball sail over the fence. She slowed to jog the bases to home plate, collect her high fives and bask in some glory.

But Sara knew she had missed first base and when she turned to touch the bag , she wrenched her knee and fell to the ground curled in pain.

Rules. They can seem heartless.

The rules that define college softball say there is no home run until home plate is reached. Sara would be called out if her teammates touch her. A pinch runner could go in, but the hit would become a single.

Sara remained on the ground. Two teammates remained on base. Coaches deliberated. A three run homer was in contention.

Then, in an act straight from the heart, players from opposing Central Washington University asked the umpire if they could help her.

Rules. Sometimes there just isn't one.

So opposing players Mallory Holtman and Liz Wallace formed a chair with their arms and a seated Sara was carried around baseline to home plate amidst tears and cheers.

Her three-run homer counted. Western Oregon won 4 -2, and Central Washington lost their chance to win the conference and get into the playoffs.

But the losing team did win. The game of life is a far harder game than softball. The Central Washington girls are all-stars in the game of life.

Find the story here.