NOTES ~ JANUARY 2017
Surviving old age
As some of you know, I have spent time researching the positive side of advanced age . . . a project I titled “Surviving Old Age” which may seem like an oxymoron. But since all survival is temporary . . . not so much!
To facilitate this project I have moved to Florida for the winters, which given the weather in New York, has proved providential. I wanted to be in the state most often referred to as “God’s Waiting Room” to understand why older people want to be with other older people. Answer. They don’t. They just want to be warm. And not risk important bones on icy sidewalks.
What I’ve discovered is that given reasonable health, most old (75+) people are thoroughly enjoying life. Age, like distance, offers perspective. Liberated from the expectations of others, free to explore new territory, seniors are often happier than younger people. The NY Times actually had a front page article about seniors who see old age as a “never ending adventure”, even pursuing risky sports (because, let’s be honest, they haven’t much to lose). They can concentrate on the present because there’s not a lot of future. Like the song says, “forever more is shorter than before.”
We who were born before 1940 may seem to be circling the drain but in fact we are more optimistic than we were in our youth. Our lives are simplified. We have nothing left to prove. Men who were expected to produce more than they consumed have that weight lifted off their backs. Women who took responsibility for child care and the rigors of homemaking are liberated. For me, just the absence of small faces turned to me every day asking “What’s for dinner?” is a get-out-jail-free card. When you’re over the hill you’re allowed to coast.
We’ve been educated about the survival of the fittest but we are testament to the truth that survival is the reward of the most adaptable . . . so just the fact that we’re still here proves we’ve mastered some handy tricks. And old age is harvest time. You are reaping what you sowed. Your children are raised, the grandchildren are undisguised blessings and your family’s expectations of you are limited. Although in these troubled times they fervently hope you don’t run out of money before you run out of breath.
Recently the Times’ David Brooks wrote a column that generated enormous response. It was titled “The Geezer Crusade” and portrayed a rosy picture of life after retirement. Where Freud claimed that old people aren’t educable, current studies prove older people retain abilities and continue to develop. And Brooks ends his column with a plea for the elderly to lead a generational revolution to make life better for their grandchildren. His last line was “The elderly. They are our future.” Who would have thought!!
I tell friends hitting 80 “You won”. In the often unfair game of life you have what money can’t buy. Time. So at 84 I remain encouraged and optimistic and grateful that of all the rules I’ve been told about old age only one immutable one remains. “If someone offers you a breath mint, take it.”
NOTES ~ DECEMBER 2016
What no one tells you
Have you ever noticed how many things no one ever tells you? Universal truths exist but for some reason, in accordance with some unwritten law, you have to find them out for yourself. And then when you finally do figure it out you’re expected to keep it to yourself.
There are the lies we were told as children. “Good things come in small packages.” Small things come in small packages. “It hurts me more than it hurts you.” No Way! “The best things in life are free.” But the tragic things like sickness and death cost a bundle. “A friend in need is a friend indeed.” Actually a friend in need is a pain in the ass.
My current concerns are the myths about old age which I approached more rapidly than I’d expected. Having been warned that when you’re over the hill you learn to coast, I felt fully prepared to slow down a bit but no one told me that after eighty short years the warranty on my parts would run out. That past my sell-by-date, my pipes would clog and I’d need all new washers. That eyes and ears would become inept, gums less gummy and teeth wobbly. That a waist that heretofore had only stretched horizontally would begin inching upward vertically like a badly tuned TV picture, threatening a rather nasty collision with a simultaneously falling bust. And that knees would commence to malfunction, working well enough to lower me down but failing dismally to boost me back up again.
Worse yet the old age I was assured would make me more mellow has not worked out. In fact it has further diminished my chronically weak resolve to set a good example. I blurt out truths because whatever filter used to keep me politically correct has also degraded. Opinions best kept to myself are now shared with anyone within earshot. Discretion has evaporated altogether and worst of all, I (who actually knew the identity of Deep Throat) blab ceaselessly about the most confidential information. I’m becoming like my friend Doris who claimed “C’mon tell me. You know I can keep a secret. It’s just those loudmouths I tell it to that can’t.” My grandchildren tease that I have one foot in the grave and the other in my mouth.
Notwithstanding all these complaints, I am thoroughly enjoying old age and concur with Groucho Marks who declared . . . ”Dying is the LAST thing I want to do”.
NOTES – November ‘16
I am an 84 year old grandmother and due to some pulmonary problems I have been ordered to take Cialis. You should have seen the expression on my pharmacist’s face when I handed him the prescription. Somehow word got out and I have been inundated with emails offering me male enhancement products (some would make your skin crawl). Which altogether has made me especially conscious of what seems to be a plague.
I have begun to think of this as an epidemic like the swine flu (there is a piggy element). This particular scourge is the one that transforms intelligent, accomplished older men into victims of testosterone eruptions they should have outgrown decades ago.
And while this phenomenon is attested to almost daily as politicians and high profile CEO’s are caught, literally, with their pants down, they are simultaneously urged by the advertising media to keep it up. Again, literally. By the incessant promotion of drugs guaranteed to keep them firm in one spot while their brains get mushy.
Why don’t these drugs carry accurate warnings? A four hour erection is NOT the worst side effect. These drugs prompt guys to indulge in “stupid geezer tricks” with unsuitable partners in questionable locations with ruinous results, often costing them their jobs, marriages and reputations. And should be labeled to accurately reflect these potential consequences.
Clearly what is called for here is not medication to exacerbate the problem but medication to diminish the incongruous urgency afflicting these poor devils. As the antithesis of Viagra, an appropriate name for this new drug might be Niagara which conjures up images of honeymoons/marriage and/or starch. And the starch as in “stiffen your resolve/backbone”. Period!
I haven’t the heart to bring up the litany of names of men in public life who might have benefitted from such medication. Their wives have suffered enough. But one prominent casualty of this lack-of-control syndrome was a 60++, former Republican legislator who was serving as a deputy asst. attorney general in the great state of South Carolina. A while back on his “lunch break” a police officer found him with an 18 year old stripper and a supply of Viagra and sex toys in his sports utility vehicle parked in a downtown cemetery.
In an attempt to verify that Casanova worked, as he claimed, in the State Attorney General’s Office, the policeman called there and spoke to a co-worker who happened to be Mrs. Casanova. She reported the news to her supervisor the Attorney General, and by the close of business Casanova was unemployed. And probably homeless.
One must speculate why over-sexed politicians in South Carolina are drawn to wacky settings like Buenos Aires and cemeteries? But I digress.
These guys with their lives and careers in shambles are not young bucks with testosterone surging through their bodies to insure the survival of the species. They have artificially inflicted exigent desires on themselves that are as inappropriate as they are ludicrous.
Viagra is a prescription drug so why shouldn’t a physician be required to ask the patient why he needs this drug and what lucky woman might be the recipient of his new-found prowess? Wanda Sykes has suggested that before a man over 65 is given Viagra he must produce signed affidavits from three women who expect to benefit. I might add that if he has a wife she could be granted veto power.
So pharmaceutical companies looking for profitable new products should really figure out a formula for Niagara. And if it proves unpopular with older men that’s no problem. Older women will buy it in bulk, especially if it’s soluble in orange juice.
NOTES – OCTOBER 2016
HYPOCRACY RUN AMOCK
Like all of you I am obsessed with the presidential election. But unlike TV pundits I have no special insight into the problems on the table. Except one that I am too, too familiar with.
Donald Trump has been pressured by his guru Rudy Giuliani to go after Hillary Clinton as “stupid” for staying with her philandering husband. The irony staggers me but you’ve got to concede they are true connoisseurs of marital fidelity. With 6 wives between them, they seized the moral high ground, feeling qualified to evaluate how a betrayed wife should comport herself. But the more light they throw on this subject the more pronounced the hypocrisy.
My expertise on this subject is both personal and anecdotal. When my husband left me for a younger woman after 38 years and 5 children, I had no choice but to let him go. I wrote about it for the Modern Love column in the NY Times in January ’06 and was flooded with emails from fellow dumped wives.
Some stories were tragic, some bordered on funny, but each of these wounded women helped me understand and accept my own feelings. And I kept in touch with many of them through the years. And learned something astounding. Most wives who threw their husbands out wrote about regretting being so rash. Many found themselves living with their children in cramped apartments while Himself was sharing a spacious house with his new wife and children.
And all of them felt their children suffered, becoming distant from their father and tougher yet, coping with his new family… often acquiring a step-mother, step-siblings and new grandparents while every family occasion became riddled with tension.
My pen pals who stayed in their marriages were not ecstatic but were usually content. One wife confided that her husband was still involved with his secretary but was otherwise a considerate and generous spouse and father. And I became aware of how very many long-term “happy” marriages depended on wives turning a blind eye to their husbands’ peccadillos. And generally the smarter women did what Hillary did . . . forgave and moved on and kept their family intact and cared about, even loved their husbands warts and all.
And one revealing fact about Mr. Trump’s first divorce it that for all his devotion to the Second Amendment, he made more practical use of the Fifth Amendment regarding self-incrimination. Back in 1990 he invoked it 97 times in answer to questions about his infidelity as he tried to wiggle out of paying proper alimony to his first wife…the Mother of the three oldest children he is so proud of.
What a guy! Encouraged by his aging frat boys, Gingrich, Ailes and Giuliani, he chooses to vilify a steadfast wife which only focuses attention on his own dismal marital history. Now that’s what’s known as stupid.
NOTES ~ FEBRUARY 2015
It’s February 1st and it’s SUPER BOWL SUNDAY one of this nation’s major events. The winner gets the Vince Lombardi Trophy. Who would have thought!!!
Here’s the story. My Father ran concession stands in NY City parks and the Palisades Park which meant every spring he had to hire dozens of high school boys to work from Memorial Day to Labor Day. He found the perfect solution by contracting with high school coaches to run the two jobs who could bring their teams along. Now no budding athlete is going to goof off in front of his coach so the system worked.
For the Bear Mountain Inn/Palisades concessions he conscripted Leo Paquin, the distinguished football coach of the prestigious Xavier High School who ran the stands magnificently for two decades. Back in the late thirties Leo Paquin had been one of Fordham University football’s iconic SEVEN BLOCKS OF GRANITE, as had another local high school coach Vinnie Lombardi who, like Leo, became a close family friend.
He was Mr. Lombardi to me and was nothing like the tough intrepid figure that he’s perceived today. He was warm and funny with a roaring laugh and even back then he lit up a room. Vinnie (I never heard him called Vince) was coaching at Fordham in ’47 and when Dad heard from the West Pont coach Red Blaik that they needed an offensive line coach he recommended Vinnie who took that job in ’49. With West Point so close to the Inn, Vinnie and Marie spent more time with my parents and, in,54, when the NY Giants were training there Dad suggested to the coach, Jim Lee Howell that Vinnie might be an asset to his team.
Having done that Dad cornered Vinnie and forewarned him the Giant’s offer might be coming but he added that he honestly believed there wasn’t a future for a guy like Vinnie in professional football. We always thought that advice was right up there with the guy who told the Wright brothers “That thing won’t get off the ground”.
After moving to Green Bay Vinnie got in touch every spring when he came to NY for the Football League meetings and always brought along the great Lou Spadia from the San F. 49ers. In ’61 my parents, my husband and I met them for dinner at Toots Shor’s and then on to see the musical HOW TO SUCCEED IN BUSINESS. The show featured Rudy Vallee singing a football fight song, “Grand Old Ivy” for which Vinnie gave a standing ovation and when the cast recognized him (he’d become quite the celebrity by then) they saluted and sang an encore.
During dinner it came out that Vinnie and Lou and my Mother all had immigrant parents who entered the USA through Castle Garden . . . an arena in lower Manhattan that preceded Ellis Island. So Dad had Toots send over champagne and we drove to Castle Garden (through the gate and onto the grass). A furious mounted cop chased us but when he recognized Vinnie he calmed down and had some champagne as we toasted our brave forefathers.
I used to love football. I know times change and you can’t go back but I prefer to remember the Giants I knew who had a team Chaplin (Fr. Rowley). A game whose players didn’t have agents or personal trainers because they had Doc Sweeney who personally trained everyone. When Coach Lombardi would never have fielded a player who abused his spouse or carried a gun into a night club or disrespected the reporters or the fans.
One of his famous quotes is “Football is like life. It requires perseverance, self-denial, hard work, dedication and respect for authority.” How many of those qualities are present in today’s over-paid and too often ethically challenged players? And what changed the game? How did a sport played by heroes become so contaminated? HL Mencken had the answer . . . ”When someone says it’s not about the money, it’s about the money”.
NOTES ~ JANUARY 2015
2014 was a transformative year. Ebola left the headlines and Ferguson claimed them. Meanwhile Turkish president Erdogan, a devout Muslim, declared that women shouldn’t be considered equal to men and since pregnancy and motherhood are sacred in Islam, Turkish women should bear at least three children. He proposes to limit cesarean births and abolish abortions. His grasp of reality was evidenced as he also claimed that the Americas were discovered by Muslims more than 300 years before Columbus.
New York City voted in Bill DeBlasio a tall man who claims to be dedicated to animal rights. Within weeks after taking office, on Feb. 2nd, he picked up and then dropped the prescient celebrity Ground Hog. It died within days from the internal injuries. He might now view that mortification as one of his better days.
The French President Hollande who provided aid to Mali was thanked by the grateful country with an elegant camel. It bit him. He decided to leave it in Mali in the care of an esteemed local farmer. Returning months later he inquired after his trophy camel and was assured, “it was delicious”.
There has been extensive study of Mars after America sent drones to check it out. Afterwards a dozen of scientists commented in the Times on the meaning if this venture. There were deep feelings as to the social etc. repercussions of this scientific breakthrough. My favorite comment came from the insightful Wanda Sykes . . . who mused that the probes we planted on Mars would probably be seen by giant Martians as we would see germs threatening to bring the flu and their response would be “We’d better spray again”.
We probably have heard the last of Congressman Weiner’s wiener, Benghazi, Donald Sterling and Oscar Pistorius. But that’s where the good news ends. Because regrettably we haven’t heard the last of the Kardashians. Speaking of Kardashians, back in the day people paid money to see freak shows. Right now the Broadway play ELEPHANT MAN demonstrates our past fascination with these unfortunates. Now we get to ogle freaks who have become reality television stars . . . freak shows where the freaks exploit themselves and get rich doing it. That’s called progress.
Join me in praying that 2015 may be better.
NOTES ~ DECEMBER 2014
Have you noticed how much is being written about the problems of old age, mostly by people under fifty? Well I was born during the Hoover administration so my view is not abstract. And I am thoroughly enjoying old age. I see no value in age-defying products and never wished to be forever young because each year brought me new challenges and rewards. I haven’t lived right by society’s standards. I have acquired what Alexander McCall Smith refers to as “a traditional build”. I don’t look my age because I actually look older which serves to alarm me when well-meaning strangers rush to help me across the street. I don’t exercise because living in a third floor walk-up is enough of a challenge. I don’t color my white hair because I’m grateful to still have hair.
The trick with advancing age is acceptance. And gratitude that you made it when so many marvelous people die young. If you see life as a lottery, living past eighty makes you A WINNER. Growing old is a majestic blessing and it baffles me that advanced age might be viewed as a burden. Or something to be tolerated while serenity becomes confused with surrender.
Being old is liberating in that no one expects much of you. You can throw away the alarm clock because there is no place you really have to be. There is time to visit your few remaining friends (half of the names in my address book (aka The Cemetery) have already been crossed out). You understand what Noel Coward meant when he claimed all he asked of his friends was that they live through lunch.
We have the twin safety nets of Medicare and Social Security and with modest advanced planning we probably won’t run out of money before we run out of breath. There are downsides. Your body begins sprouting little knobs (think old potato) and your skin has moved from silky to seersucker. Your senses are refined even if when you feel it in your bones it’s probably arthritis. My Aunt Lizzie claimed that in her eighties she went to bed every night with three men. Arthur Itis, Ben Gay and Johnny Walker.
While it has become politically correct to make fun of the elderly no one sees the absurdity more than the old trouts themselves. We talk about senior moments but in fact our heads are like old computers . . . the information is there but it takes time to bring it up. The limitations of age force us to adapt and alter the ways we conduct our lives and these are not without absurdity. In England it is common for seniors to be referred to as Twirlees because whatever the event they arrive “too early’.
If you’ve been lucky enough to have children, it’s harvest time. Dessert time in the banquet of life. At a time when your days can be plagued by loses (your friends, your teeth, your marbles) grandchildren bring enthusiasm and excitement. And mine rather expect me to speak my mind, teasing that I have one foot in the grave and the other in my mouth. As a group we old folks are amazingly cheerful although there is that specter of humiliating illness and death which hangs over us. Which is why our country should embrace the right of the elderly to decide when they’ll “leave the building.” We’re not afraid of death . . . we’re afraid of being kept alive. This is a contentious issue and I recently had a discussion with a very religious friend who claims that time of death should be left to God. And only God. My response to her was it was God’s decision to give you an A cup bra size and a nose like a macaw so why did you mess with Him about those assessments.
NOTES ~ NOVEMBER 2014
THE HONEST TRUTH ABOUT AGING
There were so many comments regarding last month's notes on Dr. Emanuel's silly "only living to 75 manifesto" that I was prompted to vigorously research the aging process. And not a moment too soon. At 82 this is no longer an abstract problem. I was directed to the book, BEING MORTAL, by Dr. Atul Gawande (currently on the Times Best Seller list) and was blown away by his grasp of the many faceted problems of an aging society. Here are just a few of the factors he scrutinized.
Times have changed EVERYTHING. In terms of longevity, the subjects of the Roman Empire had an average life expectancy of 28 and death before 30 was the norm for centuries. Now life expectancy has more than doubled but old age offers its own pitfalls. After 85 almost 40% of us have no teeth at all. More than half of us develop hypertension by 65. The peak output of the heart decreases steadily after 30 so no wonder we're huffing and puffing. By age 85 working memory and judgment are sufficiently impaired that 40% of us have textbook dementia. We optimistically think our mortality is genetic but whereas your parent's height gives you a 90% chance of being that tall, only 3% of how long you live is tied to your parents longevity.
As life expectancy increased other issues surfaced. Dr. Gawande details the impact of "rectangularization . . . a recent phenomenon in a society where there are more seniors than children. In 1950 children under five were 11% of our population and over eighties were 1%. Today we have as many fifty year olds as five year olds and in thirty years there will be as many over 80 as under 5. Regarding social mores, in early 20th century America 60% of those over 65 resided with an adult child. By 1960 it was 25% and by 1975 it was below 15%. Now the average American spends a year or more of old age disabled and living in a nursing home at more than five times the yearly cost of independent living.
In the United States 25% of all Medicare spending is for the 5% of patients in their final year of life and most of that goes for care in the last couple of months with no apparent benefit. Death usually comes only after a long medical struggle with an ultimately unstoppable condition. In most cases death may be certain but timing isn't so we must deal with how and when to accept that the battle is lost.
As a medical professional Dr., Gawande makes this brave assessment of the troubles we face as we age. He writes "The problem with medicine and institutions it has spawned for the care of the sick and old is not that they have an incorrect view of what makes life significant. The problem is they have no view at all . . . They concentrate on repair of health not sustenance of the soul . . . You don't have to spend much time with the elderly or those with terminal illness to see how often medicine fails the people it is supposed to help. The waning days of our lives are given over to treatments that addle our brains and sap our bodies for a sliver's chance of benefit. They are spent in institutions . . . where regimented, anonymous routines cut us off from all the things that matter to us in life . . . Lacking a coherent view of how people might live successfully all the way to the very end, we have allowed our fates to be controlled by the imperatives of medicine, technology and strangers."
I urge anyone who is over 65 or has an aging parent to read this book. As an old woman not afraid of death but terrified of being kept alive I deeply admire his humane view of life, death and dying. And the brilliant alternatives he suggests offer welcome and unanticipated hope.
NOTES ~ OCTOBER 2014
I’M STILL HERE
This picture taken in the early nineties, was just sent to me by a good friend (actually the handsome man with the moustache . . . my dentist). The occasion was the after-party for the only play I ever produced. It was A.R. Gurney’s two character play LOVE LETTERS which oddly enough is currently being revived on Broadway. You might recognize my pal Elaine Stritch who co-starred with Jason Robards and there was Helen Hayes sitting with them. In a white blouse I am standing behind them (distressed to now detect the first stage of my second chin).
Helen Hayes is long gone as is Jason Robards. Elaine died a few months ago and there will be a celebration of her life in November at one of the big Broadway theaters. If I could carry a tune I would now break out with one of her favorite songs . . . Sondheim’s I’M STILL HERE.
Which brings me to the well-publicized current Atlantic magazine article by Dr. Ezekiel Emanual titled, “Why I Hope to Die at 75”. He writes of the decay of old age, the futile attempts to ward off the Grim Reaper, the terrible expense of keeping people alive past their sell-by date.
Sadly having been born during the Hoover administration I am way past his cut off age. And enjoying every minute. If I had died at 75 I wouldn’t have seen three grandchildren graduate from college. I would have missed going para-sailing with nine of them last year. I would have missed watching old enemies die before me (don’t let anyone tell you that isn’t gratifying!)
Dr. E. writes “How do we want to be remembered by our children and grandchildren? We wish our children to remember us in our prime. Active, vigorous, engaged, animated, astute, enthusiastic, funny, warm, loving. Not stooped and sluggish, forgetful and repetitive, constantly asking “What did she say?” We want to be remembered as independent, not experienced as burdens. Living the American immortal’s dream dramatically increases the chances that we will not get our wish—that memories of vitality will be crowded out by the agonies of decline . . . But the most-recent years—the years with progressing disabilities and the need to make caregiving arrangements—will inevitably become the predominant and salient memories.
Helen Hayes acted well into her late eighties. Elaine wasn’t killed off on THIRTY ROCK until she was 89. I’ll give the good doctor this. I don’t want to live as an invalid requiring a care giver and have made that abundantly clear to my five children and twelve grandchildren. But since I am still able to live alone in a three storey walk-up, taking care of myself and enjoying all the magnificent gifts life has to offer, I’m not ready to shout sayonara.
Please dear Dr. E. put your amazing intelligence into figuring out how we old coots can take control of our happy lives. There are some old codgers hanging on to life at any cost, hoping to postpone death with ludicrous treatments and pills. Burdening their near and dear. But most of us oldies able to live independent, fulfilling lives are not afraid of death. We are afraid of being kept alive. Here’s where you come in! Wait until you hit 75 . . . you’ll see!
NOTES ~ SEPTEMBER 2014
THE GOOD OLD DAYS
During a beautiful if too short summer there was a lot of porch talk about the good old days . . . happy memories of simpler times. Nostalgia galore. It’s so comfortable to long for those good old days when the world was better. And it’s hard to envision that today’s world is actually an even better one. But it is. The good old days were not all they’ve been cracked up to be.
When I married in the mid-fifties it was against the law for negroes to use the same bathroom as whites in Virginia where I lived and a crime to marry a person of another race. A homosexual had to hide his or her lifestyle to hold a job especially if it involved teaching children. There was discrimination on every level. My in-laws lived in a community that didn’t accept Italians. When my Irish Aunt went to our pastor to arrange the wedding to her Italian fiancé he refused claiming he didn’t do mixed marriages. Most country clubs excluded Jews so they had to form their own clubs. Pregnant women were not supposed to have jobs. Married women were not supposed to have ideas. Few, very few, women held elective office or became doctors or lawyers.
Besides discrimination the fact is life was much harder before and during the war and well into the fifties. Furnaces fueled by coal needed constant attention. Laundry had to be washed in a tub with a wringer and dried outside on lines. There was no such thing as frozen food . . . fresh or canned was the choice. Summers were sweltering before air conditioning. There was no TV to amuse a family that gathered around a radio (which was great fun as I remember). My Brooklyn family never owned a car and a trip to visit Aunt Nellie in New Jersey took longer than it now takes to fly to California.
There is a word, retronym, which means a noun that didn’t used to have an adjective attached but now requires one. An oven can be a toaster oven, convection oven etc . . . you get the picture. Milk was milk . . . now it’s 2% or almond or a dozen other permutations. Coke was coca cola . . . not a drug and not calorie or caffeine free. Almost every standard product now has an adjective attached. This is a piece of modern life that is very confusing. But a small price to pay for convenience.
Without modern medicine to replace worn out parts most seniors (me for instance) would be in wheel chairs and half blind with cataracts. Our premature babies wouldn’t stand a chance. Illnesses that once ended lives prematurely are now cured with pills. Inarguably most of us today live fuller lives than our forefathers. More stressful perhaps. Busier. And undoubtedly more bewildering. But taking in all the negatives, we still have better lives. And instead of grieving for the past we should adopt the anthem from the finale of LA CAGE AUX FOLLES . . . The Best of Times is Now.
NOTES ~ AUGUST 2014
The ultimate Broadway Baby and my best friend Elaine Stritch died on July 17th at the age of 89, and I am at a loss for words.
My daughter, Annie Hekker Weiss posted this on Facebook and it says it all.
I want to thank everyone who reached out to give their condolences to my family about Elaine Stritch. She and my Mom became the best of friends when she moved across the street from us in Nyack with her lovely husband John Bay during the 70s. She spent many a Christmas at our house, sang at family weddings and was just such a good friend to my Mom. They traveled together, held hands when each other needed support, talked at 2am but most of all they laughed . . . and they laughed. She asked me to call her "Tanta Lanie" and she called our family "the Waltons with drinks". I found a few pictures: The 1st one was taken at my Mom's book reading in Nyack (Elaine and Arlene Dahl both read excerpts). The second was at my brother Jack's wedding and the 3rd was Christmas -- with my Dad, my brother Tom and Julie. Thanks so much for the happy memories, the laughter and the love Elaine.
NOTES ~ JULY 2014
MORE FATHER STORIES
Although I still contend that Fathers are too often mocked on television I must admit that there is a grain of truth there. Because I was overwhelmed with the reaction to my June piece about my Father and by how many people wrote telling funny stories about their Dads. Let me share a few.
One daughter of a former army major wrote that her Dad believed in rules. For everything. Each new appliance or bicycle, the answering machine, the cell phone, the computer etc. etc. required a new set of strict rules. Drove his family crazy. I wrote back that my Father bought a motor boat and for the first time had rules written out for us. Life jackets, life preservers etc. etc. He forgot “Don’t play with the motor”. So in attempting to bring to life a reluctant fan belt he sliced off his index finger which flew irretrievably into the Hudson. Every subsequent attempt to bring up rules was met with a four-fingered salute from his children.
An aunt reminded me that my Irish Grandfather, the fireman, was never able to get the outdoor grill going . . . said he could only put fires out. And although having many medals for bravery, tracking down the occasional mouse horrified him. His line was, “I’ll need a few hookers (whiskey) before I tackle that joshkin.” A non-drinker he soon became functionally unable to tackle anything. Grandma claimed she heard the mice laughing.
A woman told about her Father attempting to snare a squirrel from his attic. He bought a HAVE-A-HEART trap to pursue a humane removal but when he opened the attic door the squirrel jumped out at him. Startled, he waved the trap in the direction of the beast and struck him. Actually killed him with that blood stained trap. Hardly what the HAVE-A-HEART PEOPLE had in mind. The children wailed at first and finally began to laugh…conceding that their Dad’s intentions were noble but the squirrel failed to cooperate.
So it follows that Father’s missteps become the stuff of family legends. My children never get tired of reminiscing about the time their Father tried to make them the smoothies he’d loved in Hawaii. His efforts required ice, pints of ice cream and bowls of fresh fruit but his well documented impatience prompted him to try to speed up every batch by pushing the contents of the blender downward into the blade with a wooden spoon. This resulted in five mangled wooden spoons and five batches of smoothies riddled with splinters. We never did get to try a smoothie but the sound effects more than made up for it. Whosh whosh, grind grind, d***, s***. As he went past the family room where we were all huddled, convulsed with laughter he said. “I am going to bed now and we will never speak of this again”. Fat chance!
June 2014 ~ Father's Day Memories of my Father
John Martin 1907-1968
Probably the most unappreciated job in our culture is “father”. He is the butt of jokes calling him clueless. He shows up in TV commercials as the one asking the stupid question or behaving like a dimwit. A man’s home may be his castle but he’s regrettably portrayed as more court jester than knight in shining armor. In our family the role of a husband had been defined by my grandmother O’Donohue whose infamous line was “It’s not a fit night out for man or beast. Let your Father go.”
But in truth and in life, a Father is most often that knight. He struggles to make money he almost never sees as it flies out to cover family bills. He carries you when your ankle is sprained, comforts you when bad dreams terrify and confronts your mean teacher/coach/boss. He refinances his house to pay for your education and foregoes the new car to pay for your wedding. He is your life-long safety net and most trusted advisor. And when he’s gone there is a void no one can ever, ever fill.
My own Father was the original alpha male. A child of the depression his first job (while still in fifth grade) was as a look-out for a floating crap game. He never did finish high school when he married he had to supplement the income from his Hell’s Kitchen diner by pushing a hot dog wagon down by the NY docks. One sweltering day, when the fleet was in, he realized that families in line who couldn’t afford his Orange Crush were parched so he began going up the line giving out small cups of water. Free. Now here comes an anomaly . . . a good deed that wasn’t punished. The iconic Parks Commissioner Robert Moses rode by and noticed this kind act and had an aide contact Dad to offer him concessions in some of the city parks. Soon, with umbrellered carts all over the metropolitan area, he’d built such a fine reputation that in 1941 he was offered the Tiffany of concessions . . . the state owned historic Bear Mountain Inn up in the Hudson Valley, which he managed magnificently for the next 25 years.
But think about taking over a country hotel in September ’41. Three months later war was declared and with it came gasoline rationing, food rationing and ruination. Then Dad saw an item in the Daily News that the major league ball clubs would no longer be able to travel south to Florida for spring training so he found the Dodger office in Brooklyn and offered them a deal . . . come north instead. But the boss, Branch Rickey, thought it wouldn’t work because the weather would confine the team indoors.
So Dad then drove the few miles from the Inn to West Point where he assured the Commandant that his cadets were about to be perceived as draft dodgers and the Academy needed some good publicity like giving over their huge indoor Field House to the Brooklyn Dodgers. With that deal done the Dodgers trained at Bear Mountain for the next four years. The football Giants came too and the Knicks and the Golden Glovers and they stayed on into the sixties.
Along the way my Father was considered such a friend to West Point that he was made an honorary graduate and to this day an award in his name is given out at graduation. (An honor that proved more enduring than his solid gold pass to Ebbetts Field.) Providentially his connection to West Point gave him the chance to recommend an old friend (who’d been coaching high school football) for a job with the Army team. His old friend was Vince Lombardi who later got to know the NY Giants as they trained at Bear Mountain. And the rest, as they say, is history.
Still in the game of modern fatherhood my Dad would have struck out. He never read any of his six children a bedtime story or helped with homework. He never came to our school events although Dad was once blackmailed into attending my brother John’s high school graduation because he was valedictorian. And later proclaimed it was the best speech given since the Gettysburg Address. And he should know!
Dad took care of us all . . . Mother, her mother, his mother and was a soft touch for all who knew him. His motto was “Never resist a generous impulse” which has infused his children and their children with their remarkable generosity. In his later years he was a millionaire and knew three presidents and dozens of celebrities. He had friends in high places and not so high places and treated them all the same. And his faith demanded that no priest or nun ever got a dinner check and that the many groups of disadvantaged children who visited the park were guaranteed free drinks and ice cream.
He believed that to run a business there was only one rule . . . you had to be good to your customers and be good to your employees. His was one of the first corporations to offer profit sharing to employees who knew they could always come to him for help and advice. As the biggest venue in the area, the Inn specialized in huge banquets which made for a crushing work load for the employees. So at the end of every big event, when he knew his staff was bone weary, Dad would take off his tie and jacket, roll up his sleeves and help mop the floors. I heard that when a union representative attempted to organize his employees the poor fellow was lucky to get out alive.
While he demanded that each of his children got a college education and insisted that the boys get advanced degrees from Ivy League universities, Dad brilliantly educated himself with books. And since he came to learning later in life he brought an unusual perspective. One night as he was immersed in the Greek classics he shouted to Mother, “That Socrates was one smart son of a bitch”.
As a Father he was our gallant protector and bountiful provider. And he did the most important thing a man can do for his children . . . he loved their Mother. Not that they were a perfect couple. My Father was, to say the least, mercurial, and Mother’s patience was stretched. But she often had occasion to look at him lovingly and say a line I used a lot in my own marriage. “I’m so glad I didn’t murder him yesterday.”
May 2014 ~ Joy and Fun
There is massive attention given to the fact that the present generation will not have better lives than their parents based on income and growth potential. It’s true I suppose but income and job opportunities are not the only major issues. Let’s talk about quality of life for today’s families, especially Mothers.
My eight granddaughters have advantages I never imagined. They play varsity sports, travel to exotic places as part of college (I never left Brooklyn). They can have love lives I was too scared to even contemplate. And they aim at careers unavailable to most women of my generation. But they and their parents also have stress . . . not enough hours in the day to do what’s compulsory, pressured by expectations that are practically unachievable.
So let’s set aside opportunities and talk about happiness. Here’s where 50 years ago I had it all over them. Not that I had it easy . . . not that I didn’t work hard. My full time homemaking job was demanding but it kept me in constant touch with the people I loved most. Other than getting five kids out to school most mornings, I had no inflexible deadlines. No wardrobe issues. Absolutely no one else was angling for my job and no job performance reviews except from my mother-in-law but that’s another story. (She disapproved of my serving fresh vegetables when everyone knows that canned ones have all the nutrients packed in).
I saw my husband through law school and he used that education to support me and our children. We always felt that it was his responsibility to make money and mine to disperse it suitably by paying the bills, feeding and clothing the kids and keep our home comfortable. He worked hard, putting in long hours, and never was expected to do anything but relax when he finally got home. His relaxed home life would be the envy of today’s sharing-the-childcare Fathers.
In view of modern threats, my children had safe and carefree childhoods. When we finally sold our home we had to have keys made for the closing because in 25 years it had never been locked. And when I’d sent those five children off to school the only physical harm they might anticipate was Sister Rita striking their knuckles with a ruler. When we all went to see the NY Marathon our biggest worry was pickpockets.
I just finished the book ALL JOY NO FUN by Jennnifer Senior and considered it a clear and compelling picture of the tribulations of today’s mothers. And it compelled me to acknowledge how lucky I’d been. With no stress getting off to a paying job and keeping it, no expectations that I might succeed in a career, no juggling child care, I only had to focus on my near and dear.
And distance allows me to rate our parental performance. All my children are grown…most of them over 50 . . . and they are decent adults. Caring, honest, hard working and excellent parents who love me and each other. And when together we all laugh a lot.
I laugh the loudest because parenting in the sixties and seventies allowed me both joy and fun.
April 2014 ~ The Legacy of Hirro Onoda
May I recommend the book THIS TOWN by Mark Leibovich for a current look behind the scenes in Washington which will astonish even the most cynical voter. If I ever thought he exaggerated the boldness of big business’s control of government the front page of the NY Times on March 28th reinforced his facts reporting that Senator Lindsey Graham brazenly introduced legislation actually drafted by a donor’s lobbyist. Remember when the sport of kings was horse racing? Well that seems to have taken a backseat to politics. Why own a thoroughbred when for less money you can buy a senator? With the return on investment more guaranteed.
Which solves the puzzle about who these people in congress are listening to. It can’t be to the working middle class citizens of their home towns. They can’t be that of touch with the real concerns of the people they are sworn to represent. It appears they are more inclined to listen to lobbyists who donate and dictate. (read the book). How else can you explain that 90% of Americans want stronger gun laws but not even 50% of their representatives will vote for them.
Why can’t these non-progressive law makers see what my Aunt Adelaide used to call “the handwriting in the hall”? Democrats are getting stronger because of young voters. While Republicans have cornered the market with the 60+ crowd, Dems have captured the 18-29 year olds. A recent Pew poll reveals that most Americans between 18 and 33 (68%) think gays should be allowed to marry. 56% think abortion should be legal. 55% believe people living illegally on the US should be allowed to stay and apply for citizenship. 54% feel the government should be responsible for Americans health. This magnificent country is driving forward while the Republican leadership is fixated on the rear view mirror.
Aunt Adelaide used to claim she was all for progress she just didn’t like change. That seems to be the mindset of the more conservative elected officials. They should speak to their children or talk to their chauffeurs or barbers. Most of the biggest bones of contention in todays politics will not be an issue for their children and grandchildren. Gay marriage, abortion, creationism, resistance to climate change won’t be issues. Educational prospects, equal opportunities, level playing fields will be their concerns. Dignity and fairness in the job market will be important. The environment and universal health care will be paramount.
Why can’t conservatives accept that the world is changing, the good old days are gone and the best of times is now. Instead, they seem to have embraced the attitude of the late Hiroo Onoda, the Japanese soldier who defended his post in the jungle of the Philippines for 29 years after the war ended, refusing to believe Japan had surrendered.
He meant well. He just couldn’t see the handwriting in the hall!
February 2014 ~ THREE LITTLE WORDS
There are many opinions about what are the most beautiful three words in the English language. Many say I LOVE YOU. My friend Alma says REDUCED FOR CLEARANCE. Another old standby, my personal favorite, is TOLD YOU SO.
That one springs to mind given that last month I blabbered on about not putting anything of the least importance in an email. Alex Rodriquez didn’t listen. Gov. Christie’s staff didn’t listen and several Wall Street traders are heading for prison because they didn’t pay attention either. Had the aforementioned put their ideas in their diaries (the ones with the locks) as I suggested, they would have avoided losing millions, sinking presidential aspirations and going to the slammer.
Emails would also indicate that Jamie Dimon, the feisty CEO of JP Morgan Chase, didn’t have a good year. An internet trail resulted in his company being fined 20 billion (yes BILLION) dollars in penalties but its Directors recognized this disgrace by giving him a 74% raise . . . 20 million dollars. A checkout clerk at Target who misplaced $100 would have been fired. Clearly Main Street and Wall Street have dissimilar criteria. And by the way what ever happened to “A rising tide lifts all boats”?
When we consider big money, let’s not forget the Koch brothers who spend millions pushing conservative ideals promoting the reduction of social services (luxuries like food stamps and medical care) while indignantly suing a wine merchant who sold them a $9,000 bottle of counterfeit hooch. Which they unquestionably needed since one of the brothers only has 40,000 bottles in his wine cellar. As the Irish are fond of saying, “Thirst is a terrible thing”.
One of the elected officials the Kochs supported was the Florida conservative Congressman Trey Radel who insisted that poor people shouldn’t get food stamps until they pass drug tests. He managed to take the word “hypocrisy” to a new level. Soon after throwing down this gauntlet he was arrested in DC while buying cocaine but nevertheless returned to Congress until their ethics folks suggested he resign to “spend more time with his family”. When I hear that ubiquitous phrase I wonder if anyone bothered to ask the family. You can only just imagine what fun it must be to have 24/7 time with a jobless disgraced man in withdrawal.
Lastly, back to the subject of words (every writer’s obsession) I am constantly befuddled by the way words are twisted and rearranged so that bank tellers become customer service personnel, secretaries are administrative assistants and that formally deadly sin of “greed” is merely “irrational exuberance”. But there’s a new phrase popping up in government circles that takes the cake. “Revenge” is out . . . now called “negative reciprocity”. Gov. Christie take note.
January 2014 ~ HELLO AGAIN
I have missed too many opportunities to keep in contact with my email friends although you have been more faithful in keeping touch with me. And although I try to answer every one there are things that fall through the cracks. So my only New Year resolution is to keep connected. And this last holiday season offered me a chance to reminisce about my past Christmases which many of you may remember.
Today, post holidays, the reality of looming charges on their credit cards are overwhelming families. Whereas back in the day we had Christmas Clubs. For a year we regularly deposited a portion of our paychecks in a special account (with a passbook) and early in December we cashed out and bought gifts. Credit cards had not yet been invented. Lucky us.
We also didn’t have “black Friday” or indeed any reason to stop eating on Thanksgiving Day. My Mother was the Christmas shopper and as my four brothers got older she not only bought gifts for them but gifts from them . . . appropriate gifts they could give to other family members. She tended to be incredibly generous with these. My brother John claimed the real surprise on Christmas wasn’t what you got but what you gave.
One concern these past few months that we never dealt with was the huge international issue of privacy. It amazes me that so many citizens are troubled by the idea that they are being watched when most of them regularly post astonishingly intimate things about themselves on the internet for all to see. I tediously warn my grandchildren not to put on facebook anything they might regret later. Because emails, like zombies, never really go away. It’s shocking that titans of industry are going to jail because of what they wrote in emails. Which gives a depth of meaning to the word “schadenfreude”.
Because we didn’t have the internet we kept track of our lives by writing everything down in diaries. And years later when we applied for college or jobs we didn’t have to speculate if those secrets might sabotage our chances. Everyone I knew kept a diary albeit with a lock and these private thoughts were guarded . . . kept hidden away in a drawer behind your sweaters lest your Mother pick the lock. Young girls kept track of their crushes and boys tended to record the size of their genitals. There is even an episode of EVERYBODY LOVES RAYMOND about this guy/diary thing. Which prompted me to send this along.
LITTLE KNOW FACTS
It takes your food seven seconds to get from your mouth to your stomach.
One human hair can support 6.6 pounds.
The average man's penis is two times the length of his thumb.
Human thighbones are stronger than concrete.
A woman's heart beats faster than a man's.
There are about one trillion bacteria on each of your feet.
Women blink twice as often as men.
The average person's skin weighs twice as much as the brain.
Your body uses 300 muscles to balance itself when you are standing still.
If saliva cannot dissolve something, you cannot taste it.
will be finished reading this by now.
are still looking at their thumbs.
Happy New Year!!!
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There was a full house at the Nyack Center in Nyack, New York, celebrating Terry Hekker's new book DISREGARD FIRST BOOK as the crowd thoroughly enjoyed an evening with the author and her friends, the actresses Elaine Stritch and Arlene Dahl.
The stars of stage and screen delighted the audience with their readings of book excerpts --- Ms. Stritch relayed the story -- in her inimitable way -- on how she came up with the title of the book (Chapter 1, AFGO). Ms. Dahl enchanted the crowd with highlights from Chapter 6, The Madam Was Adam, sharing the author’s views on the vast, and not-so-obvious differences between the sexes, and the possibility of the female as the original sex.
The author took questions from the audience, including inquiries about her next book and the fascinating people she’s met along the way, and autographed a mountain of books.
CLICK TO SEE TERRY AT THE NYACK CENTER!
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DISREGARD FIRST BOOK, Terry Martin Hekker’s second non-fiction book, follows the success of the 1979 bestseller, Ever Since Adam and Eve, hailed by Publisher’s Weekly as “a gem”. The book launched her as a national domestic authority for her views on the joys of motherhood and homemaking at the height of the feminist movement. Decades later, following Terry’s unforeseen divorce after a 40-year marriage, Terry decided to take life head-on, becoming the first woman elected mayor of her Hudson Valley village of Nyack.
In 2006, The New York Times ran a piece written by Terry about her divorce and recovery in their Modern Love column, which went around the world and triggered enormous media interest and hundreds of letters. Although there had been many requests that she write a book, Terry felt she could hardly write a sequel to her story of happy homemaking with the chronicle of a dumped housewife. Mostly, she couldn’t even think of a title. Until her long-time friend, the astonishing Broadway legend Elaine Stritch, came up with a perfect one, ‘Disregard First Book.’
Disregard First Book offers the author’s mixture of wit and wisdom as she tackles issues triggered by the cataclysmic changes fostered by the feminist and sexual revolutions. Readers will enjoy her odyssey of hope and love punctuated by uproarious anecdotes about her big Irish family.
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Click to read excerpts from "Disregard First Book"