Archive for July, 2013

Our Oma
July 25, 2013

oma

Betty in 1946. Doesn’t Shannon favor her?

The WWII generation shares so many common values: duty, honor, country, personal responsibility and the marriage vow ” For better or for worse”–it was the last generation in which, broadly speaking, marriage was a commitment, and divorce was not an option. ~ Tom Brokaw

This impeccable woman, always elegant and proper, always dressed for the occasion, even if only to go to the grocery store… Betty is my mother in law. She was probably initially horrified at my lack of elegance and proper attire, much less my non-existent cooking skills in our early married days. My only saving grace was that she was friends with my mom; they were in the same Sunday School class at our church.

Driving her to the doctor recently, I pointed out the old Shell Research building (now called the Shell Bellaire Technology Center) on Bellaire Blvd, and mentioned that’s where my mom worked right after she graduated from college. Mom had earned a degree in Chemistry from The Rice Institute (as it was known then) in 1946, but was essentially hired as a secretary to the men chemists, because they just didn’t hire women chemists. But she did know how to spell all the chemical lingo, so she got the job.

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The old Shell Research Building on Bellaire Blvd

(note: if she had graduated in the middle of the WWII years, she might have actually gotten a chemist job, given the scarcity of men who were off fighting in Europe or in the South Pacific)

Just making conversation, I offhandedly asked Betty where her first job was after she graduated from the University of Houston in 1945.

I’d heard the stories of her magical summer in NYC following her graduation; there she had studied at the Irvine Studio for the Theatre, while living in the Woodrow Hotel on W. 64th Street. In her spare time, she attended all the performing arts events that she could! It is SO interesting to look through all the playbills she collected.

Before she headed back to Houston, she experienced VJ Day there in NYC, which I imagine must have been quite the place to celebrate! What wonderful memories she has of that summer…

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VJ Day, Times Square, 1945

But home to Houston she came, and she told me that she landed her first job at the Texas Company (forerunner to Texaco) in downtown Houston that fall. She said the hiring manager was impressed with her resumé, and hired her to be a receptionist and “general flunkie” until a better position became available. In due time, it did, and she worked in Personnel and afterwards in the Research Department (her favorite).

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The old Texas Company Building, 720 San Jacinto St.

But then she said she learned that they’d hired another young woman to work there and paid her more, so she quit and began her teaching career, a career that suited her very well! She got to share her love of musical theater and drama with her  students, as she taught these courses and English at the old San Jacinto High School and then in Tulsa after her young husband was transferred there in the early 1950’s.

Lately, she’s been needing some special attention, due to some falls and chemical imbalances. It’s been hard for her, as independent and resourceful as she has always been, and hard for us to see her need our help, but we are grateful that she is safely tucked into a place that can and does take good care of her.

I look at Betty, at my mom, at their friends, all of whom have come to be known as “The Greatest Generation”. They are all such interesting and amazing people who have so many stories to share. I am glad that I took the time to ask Betty about her early job history. Who knew?

Do you have you a Greatest Generation parent or grandparent? Don’t delay! Ask them to tell you their stories before they are lost forever… we need to remember and carry on their legacy of selfless patriotism, honor and duty. Theirs is truly a generation (almost) gone with the wind.

Note: pewperson will return in three weeks! Yikes, that’s the longest I’ve ever gone without a post. Hoping you’ll stay tuned and check back in on August 16…

The Name Game
July 18, 2013

quail bites

Come on everybody! I say now let’s play a game! ~ Shirley Ellis

Recently Joel purchased a novelty item from our favorite “boucherie”, Pete’s Fine Meats, here in Houston. There we always find outstanding and fresh cuts of beef, but also poultry, game, seafood and more.

On this particular visit, he was tempted by the shrimp, wrapped in a quail bite, wrapped in bacon, and he brought it home to grill for dinner.

It was delicious! But as we ate it, we were thinking, what would we call it? There is such a creation down south called a “turduckhen” which is a boneless chicken, wrapped in a boneless duck, wrapped in a boneless turkey. I’ve never had one, but some folks swear by them for holiday meals. I think they deep fry them.

So we tried to come up with a similar catchy name for our meal… baquashrimp? shribaqua? quabashrimp? None of them were keepers, in our opinion. What do you think?

This name game brought back a memory of some of our favorite family friends when we lived in New Orleans, back in the early 1960’s. The Kleinschmidts were just so much fun. We ALL loved them. Particularly, my mom and Roberta were forever loyal friends from the moment they met. She above all, was my mom’s dearest New Orleans buddy.

How did they meet? Well, we lived in Lake Vista, and we joined Lake Vista Methodist Church soon after moving there in 1957. The church’s outreach mission was to have its members go knock on doors and invite neighbors to come visit the fledgling church. So Mom knocked on Roberta’s door, and the rest was history.

Roberta’s older son, Chris was our brother Ray’s age. And her twins, Nell and Ken (born on Halloween 1953) were our sister, Camille’s age. There was much going back and forth between the two houses. She was definitely one of those “other mothers” whom we all remember fondly.

The name game is why I am remembering them now. The Kleinschmidts had an interesting system of naming their dogs. The first one I recall was a typical hound dog cross whose name was “Geeorbetter”. Nobody neutered their dogs in those days, and Geeorbetter had his way with our Pokey the Cocker Spaniel, and she had quite an assortment of spotted pups. (see photo below)

puppies

Geeorbetter? I found out that the provenance of his name was that they had promised their son Ken that if he earned a “G” (good) or better in conduct, they would get him a dog. Thus, Geeorbetter.

The next Kleinschmidt dog was a Sheltie (yay!) named Chneke (for the first two letters of the three kids, Chris, Nell and Ken). We Simpsons thought about that and decided that the next dog we got would be named Rakadecamajo using the first letters of our names, Ray, Kathryn, Dee Dee (Camille’s nickname at the time), Carol, Mary and John.

Can you imagine standing outside yelling, ” Rakadecamajo! COME!”

Uh, no.

Our next dog’s name was Skipper.

Trading Places
July 11, 2013

picnic

(mom, my grandmother, me and my sister)

 And so our mothers and grandmothers have, more often than not anonymously, handed on the creative spark, the seed of the flower they themselves never hoped to see – or like a sealed letter they could not plainly read ~ Alice Walker

The pattern begins at birth, with a mother teaching her daughter how to live, how to learn, how to grow, how to act and how to find herself. In a happy home, there should be lots of love thrown in for good measure, and for an extra dash of fun, much laughter.

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A mom teaches a daughter many things, for instance: talking, walking, eating, singing, dancing, reading, writing (using correct grammar and spelling, of course!), drawing, coloring, riding a bike, brushing teeth (and flossing!), cutting fingernails, cooking, sewing, gardening, playing musical instruments, worshipping God, proper pet care, driving a car, doing the right thing always, being honest and loyal and true, loving unconditionally, writing checks, balancing a budget, saving money, prioritizing, forging an identity, reaching for dreams and figuring out a way to get there… All these things, and much more, this mother taught her daughter.

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If the daughter is really lucky, she’ll have a dad like our daughter had, who reinforced all these lessons and added some extra things like making waffles, fishing, building a fire, tying knots, first aid (because this mom is not very good at that), flying a kite, standing up for herself when she needs to, self respect, grilling a good steak and many more skills that this mom may not have had or thought of. This is the beauty of having both a mom and a dad who love a daughter very much.

But my main point today is about the moment this relationship shifts from the mom teacher- daughter learner to the daughter teacher- mom learner. It comes about gradually, usually post college, and it’s now happening in our relationship.

So I’m enjoying learning some new tricks. You see, I tend to do the same things in the same old way, even though I know there are a lot of new things under the sun out there of which I am usually unaware. That’s where my daughter as teacher has stepped up.

(I realized that she had become a real adult when she recently admitted that she was now happy when the lifeguards announce the adult lap swim time at the pool, rather than being bummed about it like she was when she was a child!)

What have I learned from her? How about new knife skills and new cooking techniques, complete with new equipment and utensils? Here I had been recently dissatisfied with certain dishes didn’t come out as well as I had expected. Turns out that I only needed new baking pans and skillets, among other things. I’m afraid I’m my mother’s child who never throws anything out until it’s beyond redemption. Now that my daughter has opened my eyes in this regard, I will not hang onto useless items. For instance, out went the old sticky waffle iron that was just taking up room. And it wasn’t even broken!

Let’s not forget to mention technological updates. I am prone to being satisfied with the way things are, and am not especially excited about learning entire new systems, whether computers, smart phones, websites, televisions, music channels, etc. etc. Just when you get used to something, it changes.

But as my daughter keeps reminding me, “You don’t want to be a Memaw!” (my grandmother who eschewed all modern technology… no dishwasher, microwave, cordless phones, and a horrible TV into the 1990’s), so I have grudgingly agreed to update my equipment, all the while being clueless about what it can actually do. For the most part, there are no instructions, except for my daughter’s advice, and she has held my hand through various upgrades.

Another area in which she has enlightened me has been in new exercise techniques. I’m a die-hard runner who used to think that running was the epitome of working out, and that was all I had to do. But not too long ago, I added biking to the repertoire, switching out daily. It may not burn as many calories (in the 30 minute workout), but it does work different muscles, which is important, and I can feel a difference.

Of course, I’d faithfully do my daily crunches and free weights, as well, but she taught me about a new method to develop my “abs” called “planking”. It involves holding your body horizontally aloft while resting on your elbows and toes. Hold your head up and your body straight out. It’s not as easy as it looks, and now I understand why it’s so effective!

Certainly it’s good to mix up one’s exercise routine, and I have been remiss about doing this until inspired by my daughter.

As the years go by, I hope she will learn things from me about maturing and aging, as I continue to learn things from her about staying current with the times. It is a wonderful symbiotic relationship.

It goes for my mom and myself as well. Of course, she taught me much as a child, and as an adult, she has taught me about resilience, patience and a constant faith in God, among other things. She has been an amazing mother whom I love very much.

I’m not sure there is much I can teach her at this point in her life, but there IS just one thing: if I could just teach her to quit answering her darn telephone when she doesn’t recognize the caller ID, her days would be much less aggravating. Mom, are you listening?

Seriously, I am so grateful to God for both my mom and my daughter, and all the life lessons that have gone in both directions, from generation to generation. I hope to never stop teaching AND learning!

Celebrating Through the Years
July 4, 2013

(pewperson reached back to the archives to find this tribute to Independence Day, originally written in July 2007…)

 

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God Bless America, Land that I Love! ~ Irving Berlin

Taking history in school was always a mad dash through dates and names, with few of the interesting details thrown in. And as time marches on, the younger the students are, the more years need to be packed into their course of study.

Unfortunately, because of this phenomenon, the juicy details usually go by the wayside. As a result, I think most people feel that history is a pretty dry subject, but I disagree after recently reading some well-written and fascinating books.

I’m talking about the latest popular bios of Ben Franklin, John Adams and the book by David McCullough titled,1776, which is a recounting of the struggles that our nation suffered through during that pivotal year. After this immersion into the 18th century, I have a new respect for July 4th, one of my favorite holidays.

What’s not to like about July 4th? It’s kind of like Thanksgiving, in that it’s a totally American celebration, one not shared with the rest of the world. It’s a chance for our country to shine, to show everyone else how much we appreciate our heritage. You don’t have to exchange gifts, and there is no religion involved, so to speak; you just gather round to eat, drink, salute our country and be merry!

When I was growing up, we always had sparklers to twirl and write our names in the air as we ran through the dusk. I don’t recall having any major fireworks; after all, we were city kids, and my dad was a law-abiding type of guy! Perhaps there were some little popping firecrackers, but they don’t register in my memory. That’s the nice thing about having siblings; I asked them what they remember.

Camille remembers the money scramble at the Briar Club, when they would throw coins into the pool for the kids to gather. There were coins of all denominations; some were silver dollars! Her memory jogged mine, and I’m grateful for that. Do they do that anymore? I’m betting not…

Nowadays, I think one of the very best ways to capture the feeling of American pride is to go to a small town and take part in its annual celebration. One of my favorite July 4th memories was the year (1998) we spent the evening in Utopia, Texas with my aunt. The townsfolk gathered in the park by the Sabinal River and enjoyed a delicious potluck dinner under the shade of the oak trees, with patriotic music for atmosphere and the kids all enjoying the park amenities. When the sun went down, we gathered at the rodeo grounds where the volunteer firefighters had set up a fireworks display that rivaled any I’d seen in the big city. We were right there with a front row view, and it was awesome!

Another cool July 4th memory came from the summer of 2002 when I found myself on a jet headed for London with my family. We took off from Houston at dusk, and as we headed northeast across the country, I looked out of the window to see many random bursts of fireworks scattered in the darkness. Every town across the country was celebrating, and it was absolutely one of the most moving sights I’ve experienced in recent memory. Particularly given that it was the first July 4th celebration after the sad events of September 11, 2001, I believe that it was an extra special show of patriotism. It sure worked for me…

On this July 4th (note, I wrote this in 2007), my plan had been to run down to watch the Memorial Villages parade in the morning, which features school bands, floats by the Scouts and other local groups, citizens who’ve decorated their bicycles, cars, and who knows what! I love to watch this hometown display of patriotism. Alas, it rained all morning, so I didn’t go look. Perhaps they marched in the rain? I don’t know yet, but if they did, hooray for their spirit!

That evening, I picked up my mom and took her back to the neighborhood where I grew up, and where sister Mary now lives in our old house. The rains had stopped, and it was overcast and cooler (by Houston standards, albeit humid!). We re-connected with old friends, watched the new generation’s bike parade and enjoyed live music, great food, a fire engine and the coolest ever Art Car (an old Volvo covered with 250 animated singing fish/sharks/lobsters, all synchronized to perform opera in unison). My favorite bike parader proudly rode with her tiger gecko lizard, whose name was ‘Geico’. He  (she?) was very patient as we all gathered round for an opportunity to pet its soft little chin, as directed by his young owner.

It was a wonderful day to appreciate friends, neighbors, our country and its rich heritage. How blessed we are to live in the United States, and how much we take these blessings for granted.  Irving Berlin’s lyrics capture it perfectly: “God Bless America! Land That I Love…”