Category Archives: Observe & Ponder

Happy 90th Birthday Sidney Poitier


On February 20, 1927, Sidney Poitier was born in Miami, Florida. His parents were poor immigrant farmers from the Bahamas, where he and his family eventually returned.

When he was 15, he moved back to Florida, eventually making his way to New York’s Harlem where he became a dishwasher.

He served in the army, and then joined the American Negro Theater working there as a janitor in exchange for drama training.

In 1961, while the Congress of Racial Equality (CORE) was organizing the “Freedom Ride” Poitier appeared in his first major movie appearance when he played Walter Lee Younger in A Raisin in the Sun. While Poitier’s fictional character was mired in neighborhood tensions over interracial population in Chicago, the original Freedom Riders were being beaten by mobs in several places, including Birmingham and Montgomery, Alabama.

The movie was terrific, but Poitier and the film didn’t get much attention. If you haven’t seen the movie, I strongly urge you to do so.

Two years later, a quarter of a million people participated in the March on Washington on August 28, 1963, and heard Martin Luther King Jr. deliver his “I Have a Dream” speech.

That same year, Poitier starred as Homer Smith in the 1963 movie Lilies of the Field, and he was finally recognized as the star he was. The story of an African American itinerant worker who encounters a group of East German nuns in Arizona, who believe Smith has been sent to them by God to build them a new chapel, hit moviegoers hard.

I will never forget the last scene of the film, with Smith slipping quietly away into the night.

I recall my mom weeping next to me in the theater, and my grandmother later telling me “things were changing.”

Changing, indeed. The movie debuted just one month before Kennedy’s assassination.

Poitier’s role as Smith earned him an Academy Award for Best Actor, making him the first African-American man to win the honor.

I saw both movies as a child, but to be honest, I was too young to fully understand the importance of the films, or how talented Poitier was.

It wasn’t until 1967 when I was fourteen that I fell in love with Poitier in his role as a high school teacher in To Sir With Love, a British drama film that dealt with social and racial issues in an inner city school.

It was also in 1967 that the changing times had divided most Americans into “them” and “us.”  Following a police raid on a black power hangout, Detroit erupted into the worst race riots our country had ever experienced, with 43 people dead—33 African Americans and 10 whites. Hundreds of racial disturbances were reported across the country that year, including major riots in Tampa, Cincinnati, Atlanta, Newark, Plainfield and Brunswick, New Jersey, which killed at least 83 people. It was also the year that Muhammad Ali, formerly Cassius Clay, was stripped of his heavyweight boxing title for resisting military draft as a Muslim minister in the Nation of Islam.

I am embarrassed to say that at the time I didn’t fully comprehend any of it.

But To Sir With Love left an indelible mark on me and forever changed my view of black vs. white.

Poitier played teacher Mark Thackeray, and it was the first crush I ever had on an actor.

I can still vividly recall when at their end of the school year class dance there was a “ladies choice,” and tough girl Pamela chose Thackeray as her dance partner. That scene hands down just blew me away.

The film’s title song “To Sir With Love,” sung by Lulu (who played the unforgettable Barbara Pegg in the movie), reached number one on the U.S. pop charts.  I can’t tell you how many thousands of times I played that 45 record. (See the YouTube video of it below.)

In the same year, Poitier followed up with In the Heat of the Night and Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner, where he starred opposite Katharine Hepburn, as a black man in love with a white woman.

Art indeed imitated life—the film debuted the same year that the Supreme Court legalized interracial marriage in the landmark case Loving v. Virginia.

The lyrics of To Sir With Love ended with “A friend who taught me right from wrong
and weak from strong, that’s a lot to learn.”

But if I’ve learned anything, it’s something my French-American grandmother used to tell me over and over again: Plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose.   The more things change, the more they stay the same.

Happy 90th Birthday Sidney.


https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=k8-M_wg8AI4

Not a Creature Was Stirring, Not Even a Mouse

What’s your very first memory?

I often ask this question to family, friends, and colleagues.

The answer to my question never fails to enlighten me and speaks volumes about the person remembering.

Here’s mine:

My First Memory—December 25, 1957

It was late Christmas night and Mammy, (pronounced May-me), and I were sitting on the couch admiring what I thought was a truly magnificent Christmas tree.

Mammy was my grandmother—my surrogate mother. My mom was divorced, and very young when she had me, so Mammy was raising us both. I never knew my father.

Mammy used to explain to me that when I was a baby I was confused and couldn’t figure out who was the Mom.  Mammy used to call herself Grammy around me, but when I was old enough to speak, I bestowed upon her the weird name of Mammy.

According to Mammy, at ten or so months old I had brilliantly managed to come up with a name that was a cross between Grammy and Mommy.

Mammy was also divorced, so I never knew my grandfather. And Grammy Nadeau, my great grandmother, was a widow and lived with us too.  And like my father and grandfather, I never knew my great grandfather either. Grammy Nadeau was sleeping that Christmas night and my mom was on a date.

Mammy was busily crocheting an afghan. Almost sixty years later I still have that afghan. I curl up with it nearly every night and wrap myself in Mammy’s memory.

Back to my first memory: Christmas night 1957.

I was four years old, and my head rested on Mammy’s shoulder. I was trying to be especially quiet because Mammy was preoccupied with her crocheting, and I was hoping that if she forgot that I was there, I could stay up a little later. I closed my eyes and was drifting off until Mammy began to softly poke my arm.

When I looked up at Mammy, she had a mischievous look on her face, as she put her finger up to her mouth to shush me. She then took her finger off her lips and pointed toward the tree.

So I took Mammy’s cue and gazed at our sparsely decorated tree, adorned with a single strand of blinking lights, a teensy bit of tinsel and a few ornaments, most of them home-made.

Underneath the tree sat my treasured present from Santa Claus.  She was the most beautiful doll I had ever seen. I named her China because she had the silkiest long, shiny black hair, and a flawless porcelain face.  It must have been an expensive doll—much more than Mammy or Mommy could afford.

Anyway, China was sitting under the tree, wearing a red organza pinafore that Mammy sewed for her which to my delight perfectly matched the red Christmas dress she had designed for me.

As I sat looking curiously at the doll under the tree, wondering why Mammy was pointing and shushing, I noticed a tiny mouse sniffing around China. I looked up at Mammy terrified, but she was smiling ever so softly, still shushing me with her pursed lips.

So I looked back at the mouse with a different eye—from Mammy’s tender perspective.

As a child, I was entirely molded by those three women in my life. What they saw I saw. What they felt, I felt.

Mammy had no problem with the little mouse—it was just a baby after all, and so I was all right with it too.

The mouse sniffed around my doll and then snuggled in its lap.

I looked at Mammy’s bright and smiling face, as she lightly kissed her index finger and then playfully touched the tip of my nose with it.

Taking my cue from Mammy, I lay my head back on her shoulder, watched the baby mouse sleeping and then closed my eyes, and drifted into my own peaceful sleep.

 

Drinking Alcohol. How Much Is Too Much?

I recently went to my allergist to be retested for certain fruits that have lately been causing me extreme stomach pain, lip throbbing, nausea, and internal palpitations.

As I breezed through filling out the medical forms, one question, in particular, gave me pause. How many alcoholic beverages do you have a week on average? I lied. Bigly.

After my tests, my doctor wrote down the following fruits to avoid: Cherries, blackberries, peaches, plums, and grapes.

She further explained that as part of getting older, my body chemistry is going through a change, thus all of the new allergies I have developed. The cursed female change wasn’t enough? And hello. DID MY ALLERGIST JUST SAY TO AVOID GRAPES?????

“What about wine?” I asked her hesitantly.

“Yeah, I’d definitely stay away from wine for a while,” she said like it was no biggie.

Whoa. Stay away from the vino?

Before I could fully process her suggestion, my allergist followed it up with: “As a matter of fact, I would like you to stay away from all alcoholic beverages for at least a month.”

I was speechless, so I just gave her a super ugly grimace.

Yikes! Her dictate swirled around in my head. This is what she’s asking me to do a week before Christmas???????

Could I actually go cold turkey for a whopping four weeks?

Okay, maybe I could, but definitely not until after the New Year.

After the New Year, I reiterated to myself. But not a day before.

Okay, so I’m at the allergist because my stomach pain is so bad I can’t sleep, I’m throwing up in the middle of the night, my lips are regularly throbbing and swelling, and I have an incessant metal taste in my mouth.

And I’m resisting my doctor’s recommendation, because?

My brain was turning and churning. As I mentally processed if, how and when to stop drinking, I asked myself: Why do I drink?

Easy enough to answer.

I drink to relax, I drink to celebrate. I drink to calm down. I drink when I’m lonely. I drink because it’s hump day, Friday and Saturday. I drink because it’s Monday. I drink because it’s snowing, storming, sunny, cloudy. I drink because it’s my birthday. I drink because it’s someone else’s birthday. I drink because it’s Mother’s Day. I drink because it’s Father’s Day, Memorial Day, Fourth of July, Labor Day, Thanksgiving, New Year’s Eve… Dang, I drink for any old reason.  Plain and simple: I like to drink…in a boat, with a goat, in the rain, on a train, in a house, with a mouse. Here there and anywhere.

My allergist interrupted my rambling thoughts: “It seems to me that you’re unnecessarily obsessing over my suggestion. If having a drink is that big of a deal, and you can’t let it go, then have one drink, and don’t beat yourself up over it.”

Gee, thanks, Doc. One measly cocktail.

I responded to my doctor with: “One drink a day? One drink a month? Define one drink.”

“Remember that this is your decision and your decision alone,” she replied. “You’re in control.”

“I’m not sure I am in control,” I weakly blurted out, shocking myself at my honest candor.

And therein was the elephant-in-the-room question: Was I in control of my drinking or was my drinking in control of me?

“Go home, think about it, and do some research,” my allergist suggested as she led me out of her office.

And as most of you know, I am the fact-finding Queen. So I dug right in…

Below is everything I wanted or needed to know about alcohol abuse but was afraid (or just didn’t give a hoot) to ask:

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, moderate drinking is defined as up to 7 drinks a week for women and 14 drinks per week for men. [There goes that gender gap again.]

Heavy drinking is defined as consuming 8 or more drinks per week for women, and 15 or more drinks per week for men. [Eight lousy drinks per week? Uh-oh.]

Binge drinking, the most common form of excessive drinking, is defined as consuming 4 or more drinks during a single occasion for women, and 5 or more drinks during a single occasion for men. [Do the number of hours per a single occasion change this statistic up at all?]

In the United States, a standard drink contains 1.2 tablespoons of pure alcohol. Generally, this amount of pure alcohol is found in:

  • 12-ounces of beer (5% alcohol content). [Don’t drink it. Don’t care.]
  • 8-ounces of malt liquor (7% alcohol content). [What’s a malt?]
  • 5-ounces of wine (12% alcohol content). [Aren’t there 8 fluid ounces to a cup?]
  • 5-ounces of 80-proof (40% alcohol content) distilled spirits or liquor (e.g., gin, rum, vodka, whiskey). [Yikes, no wonder those martinis always do me in.]

Most people who drink excessively are not alcoholics or alcohol dependent.  [Whew. Good to know.]

The economic costs of excessive alcohol consumption in 2010 were estimated at $249 billion, or $2.05 a drink. [what’s a couple of bucks here and there?]

Okay, I was on a research roll. So I kept on trolling:

    • Do you really want a drink or are you drinking out of habit? [To be clear, I really want a drink.]
    • We live in a very boozy world. [You got that right Jack!]
    • Being sober does not mean you have to spend the rest of your days living like a nun. [Then why am I feeling one with Mother Theresa?]
    • If you look carefully, you’ll see there are loads of people out there leading full and happy lives without alcohol. [Carefully is the operative word.]
    • A glass of wine has similar calories to a slice of cake. [I’d rather drink my calories. Just sayin.]
    • The body can’t store alcohol, so it metabolizes it right away and gives it priority slowing down your metabolism. [As Bob Dylan would say: The slowest now will later be fast.]
    • The Arthritis Foundation has linked alcohol to inflammation of the joints resulting in arthritis. [So what if I can’t open a jar? That’s what husbands are for.]

All kidding aside, after my extensive research, I decided to dip my probably arthritic toe into the no alcohol water. No plunging head first for me, though. Not yet anyway.

Starting today, until January 2nd, I have imposed a new alcohol rule on myself: No more than one glass of wine a day, any three days per week. And never two days in a row. So the end result is that I am going to consume no more than three glasses of wine per week through January 1st. Yes, I can, yes I can.

Okay, I hope I can, I hope I can.

And on January 2nd? I’ll keep you posted on that.

Donald Trump and Sexual Healing

sexual-abuse
Michelle Obama’s epic and deeply emotional speech denouncing Trump’s predatory language about how powerful men can do anything they want to women was the impetus for writing this blog post.

To be honest, this post has been in the making for what seems like forever.

The untold thousands of accumulated words painfully written here there and everywhere.

Some boldly stated in a diary, a folder, a Word document. Some more subtly hidden in a poem, a painting, a short story.

But ironically, Trump’s own words bragging about sexually assaulting women both infuriated and invigorated me to come out and finally say what I’ve wanted to shout from the rooftops for decades.

Okay, maybe shouting it out would still be too painful and way too shocking to those who know me, but don’t really know me.

Baby steps, I reminded myself as I tossed and turned in the middle of the night for the past week or so.

The question of “Why wait for decades before coming forward?” has dominated the recent airwaves.

Why would any woman wait for years to speak out against a man who has helped himself to her body parts against her will?

It’s a valid question, although I’m certain that if a woman is asking it, she has never been a victim of sexual assault or molestation.

Because if she had been one of the “unfortunates,” she would know the answer.

Like maybe they’re heartbreakingly too young to understand, or too frightened to speak up.

How about the fear of retribution or victim shaming? Or the accusations of scheming, man-baiting, lying, exaggerating?

Perhaps they don’t want to be shunned or rejected by their community, friends, family, or permanently branded as “used goods.”

Or maybe they’re not tough enough to fight the battle, the war of words, the degradation, the self-loathing, the guilt, the never-ending nightmare.

Michelle Obama’s quavering words salved my scorching soul and pretty much said it all: “I can’t stop thinking about this… It has shaken me to the core…no woman deserves to be treated this way…The belief that you can do anything you want to a woman… It’s that feeling of terror and violation that too many women have felt when someone has grabbed them or forced himself on them, and they’ve said no but he didn’t listen …This is not normal…it is cruel. It’s frightening…It hurts.”

And then Trump’s response which sent chills through my body: “I’ll take all of these slings and arrows, gladly for you,” he bellowed as the audience roared with cheers.

Sure Donald, play the victim. Call it a conspiracy. Label your accusers as liars, unattractive, desperate for attention. That’s what accused men do.

Baby steps. One foot in front of the other.

I didn’t think Trump could ever say anything that would resonate with me, but I couldn’t have said it better myself when he uttered these words: “They will seek to destroy everything about you…they will lie, lie, lie, and then again, they will do worse than that.”

Yes, I agree with you, Donald. But not in the way you would want me to.

Because your “they” and my “they” are what sets us apart.

And to the Trump supporters, I say: Yes, indeed. Your man Trump speaks the truth for once.

After “they” seek to destroy, “they” will lie, and then “they” will do worse.

Baby steps…

The Midtown Tunnel and Second Avenue Gridlock Fiasco

traffic-37th-and-2nd-avenue
Photo: View of Second Avenue traffic leading into Queens Midtown Tunnel

Yesterday my husband and I drove into Manhattan from our house on the Queens border. We left at 4:15 pm, in plenty of time to make a 6:45 pm wedding at the Pierre Hotel on 61st and Fifth Avenue. The distance from our home to 61st Street is 20.3 miles and should take approximately fifty minutes with traffic, but one never knows what to expect, so we tuned into WCBS 880 radio as we always do.

The traffic report said one lane was closed in both directions at the Midtown Tunnel but did not report any significant traffic congestion so we assumed mild delays, and decided to take that route into the city. As we approached the Midtown Tunnel, approximately 1/4 of a mile away from the toll booths, the traffic was appallingly at a complete standstill.

We inched along for close to two hours before we finally got to the toll booths. As we waited to go through, I asked a traffic officer, who was busy eating a bag of potato chips, what the problem was. She curtly answered, “One lane going into Manhattan.” I replied to her that the situation was disgraceful.

Since we had nothing better to do under the East River, we tuned in again and again to WCBS 880 for their traffic report, shocked that this melee wasn’t major traffic news.

Despite tens of thousands of cars literally at a standstill in and around the tunnel, the traffic report said absolutely nothing about the situation except that there were delays due to lane closures.

Delays? This was a complete traffic meltdown.

I was astounded that no traffic officers were assisting in the chaos of the five lanes of crawling snarling traffic in front of us. Cabs were blocking two lanes, drivers were angrily sideswiping each other, and everyone was aggressively maneuvering to be the next vehicle to gain access to the one lane going to Manhattan. It was the worst traffic congestion I have ever witnessed, and it was not only alarming but potentially dangerous.

Now I don’t know the pecking order of what the bridge and tunnel officers can and can’t do. But it seems to me that thousands upon thousands of motionless vehicles for miles, a snarl-up of drivers fighting to get into the tunnel, and the tunnel jam packed and unmoving, should evoke action on someone’s part, don’t you think?

And I would hope that one of the many officers I saw standing around near the toll booths, including the woman who was eating a bag of chips, was in charge. One of those officers working at the tunnel had to know what was happening at the entrance and the exit of the tunnel, right?

Since the traffic in, out and around the tunnel was at a dead stop, it would seem to me that anyone with a brain would know that something was amiss, no?

As my husband wound his way in and out of traffic, almost getting sideswiped numerous times, intently and courageously attempting to get into the one lousy tunnel lane, I kept asking myself why there wasn’t anyone directing traffic.

Put your bag of potato chips down, and do something.

Once we got into the tunnel, we crawled through it for almost an hour. It was evident as we sat in an automotive deadlock in the dark, dank, claustrophobic tunnel for four to five minutes at a shot, then inch forward for a few feet, then back to a dead stop, that there must be something very wrong happening at the exit.

As the fumes from the other cars began to seep into our vehicle, I was fuming with anger and frustration.

This is what’s wrong with our country, I kept saying to myself. No infrastructure, total mismanagement, and a complete lack of respect for others.

Was it possible that no one in charge was aware that the Midtown Tunnel was at a complete standstill?

When we finally got out of the tunnel, there were two officers mostly ineffectively directing traffic in two directions:  Left, or right to 39th Street. One traffic officer would have been sufficient. Send the other one somewhere else. We regrettably turned right.

It was no surprise to us that there were no traffic officers at 39th Street and 2nd Avenue, where hundreds of cars were trying to exit the tunnel and cross over. And from the gridlock on 2nd Avenue, it was disappointingly obvious there were no traffic officers anywhere in the vicinity.

The cars on 2nd Avenue were completely lawless, with no regard for their fellow drivers, and blatantly ignored the yellow and red lights. The gridlock on 2nd Avenue was bumper to bumper, which did not allow for one car to get across it—thus the real problem at the Midtown Tunnel.

This massive traffic jam was not caused by lane closures. The real traffic culprit was that there was absolutely no way to exit the Midtown Tunnel because of the clogging of 2nd Avenue.  A handful of traffic officers could have solved most of the problem.

Now I am usually a very calm person, but I was beyond incensed at the massive traffic jam, the disgraceful mismanagement and complete lack of consideration and planning for the Midtown Tunnel lane closures, as well as not one officer on duty to direct 2nd Avenue traffic.

We finally arrived at the Pierre Hotel around 8 pm, an almost four-hour odyssey to travel less than 21 miles. Needless to say, we missed the wedding ceremony and the cocktail reception. I was so carbon monoxided out, I could barely enjoy the rest of the evening.

Am I the only one who is furious and exasperated by the complete lack of management, bad judgment, utter disrespect and ambivalence for drivers, and the enabling of vehicle lawlessness?

I don’t know who’s to blame: Mayor de Blasio, Governor Cuomo, the New York state legislature, the Triborough Bridge and Tunnel Authority, the MTA?

What I do know is that the lack of proper management and policies will continue to condemn New York City to years of epic traffic dysfunction.

Shame on all of them.

What to Do About Writer’s Block

writers-block-b

As a writer, I should be writing and as a blogger, I should be blogging, right?

Not.

These past few weeks, I have been making myself crazy trying to pull together a compelling blog post for The Teri Tome or a thought provoking article for my website worldpress.org.

It seems that I have everything yet nothing to share with my readers.

Because unfortunately the topics I want to blog about, or the situations around the world I want to highlight, don’t seem to be anything anyone cares about.

And all those familial memories I thought I could courageously share with my followers have become harder and harder to write. My “situations” that I have in the past been able to  articulate quite well, have been of late hurtfully gnawing at me and starting to feel too painful and too personal.

Have I lost my creative passion? Where’s the joy, the humor, the gut-wrenching irony?

I need to get my writing mojo back!  And fast!

So this morning, I figured I would jot down on a sheet of paper a few topics that have been floating around in my head. Lay out my ideas by hand, and you know, see if any of them have legs.

Here is what I came up with.

Trump’s love of Putin
At first, it sounded like the subject could work, but the truth is, Trump’s love of Putin can be covered in two quicky sentences. If Trump were a Russian citizen, he would be either dirt poor, dead or in prison. It doesn’t take a genius, or even Trump to know that if you live in Russia and don’t share your money with Putin, you’re probably going to be arrested, or poisoned.

Trying to lose those last five pounds
Everybody loves a diet story. But try as I might, I can’t lose the last five no matter what I do, so what’s there to write about? And okay it’s actually eight pounds, but who’s counting?

My obsession with germs
If you’ve read my blog entry about my sun phobia or my post about my biggest fears, I think you’ve heard more than enough about crazy Teri.

The next president of the United States is…
All I can say about this stomach churning topic is, “I have never…,” which doesn’t make for a titillating blog post. My anti-acids are at the ready.

Will I ever be able to retire?
More anti-acids. Plus this topic can be answered in one perfunctory word.  No.

Hillary’s basket of deplorables
I was only able to come up with three measly sentences for this topic, which a riveting blog does not make. (1) Let’s be honest, there are more than a basketful of racists, bigots, homophobes, and misogynists out there. (2) Tell me with a straight face that you haven’t met one, or six, or hundreds who fall into the basket. (3) Come on Mike Pence, man up and admit that David Duke is deplorable!

I need a new kitchen and a new car
I could only come up with five words for this blog post.  Not a chance in hell.

Syria
I can write for days on this subject. But the sad truth is, nobody really gives a damn. As an example, August 20 was the third anniversary of President Assad’s chemical attacks on his own people, killing over 1,000 Syrian citizens in 2013. Too bad nobody cares.

Milwaukee, etc.
As someone who lived in poverty as a child, I know first-hand that there are a thousand Milwaukee’s out there. But writing a blog post about Milwaukee or any other poverty stricken place in America would get me nothing but hate mail. Even though four out of five children, who live in Milwaukee, live in poverty. And even though that in 2013-2014, 84.3% of Milwaukee Public School students failed in reading proficiency and 79.7% failed in math. And by the way: Since Wisconsin was admitted to the Union on May 29, 1848, it has had 45 governors: 31 Republicans, 12 Democrats, 1 Whig, and 2 Wisconsin Progressives, so don’t blame the Democrats for this shitstorm.  The lives of people who live in poverty apparently don’t matter. Nobody wants to hear any of this.

Zika Virus
I tried to compile a travel blog and began to round up a list of places that were Zika-free, but I was afraid of getting sued or worse, be responsible for someone going someplace I recommended and then getting Zika’d. So the only thing I could safely say was this: Before you travel, be sure to visit the Center for Disease Control and Prevention. So much for my Zika-free travel blog.

American voter suppression
Now this is a topic I could sink my teeth into. Because, as I write this, Republican-controlled state House and lawmakers across the United States are actively and openly trying to prevent people from voting. The 2016 election will be the first presidential contest in decades without the full protections of the Voting Rights Act. This should be a national scandal, except nobody gives a hoot. And let’s be honest, even with this small tidbit of information, my email will undoubtedly be flooded with hateful messages and accusations that I am a God-forbid, liberal. (Even though I’m not.)

Look at that! I managed to create something out of nothing and everything.

Yep. I made it to my 45th Staples High School Reunion!

Reunion 45th

To go or not to go? That was my Staples High School Reunion question.

But after all the handwringing, I came, I saw, I conquered.

After I had written my blog post about whether to go or not to go, I received tons of e-mails and postings from hundreds of people—many of them were former classmates but many were not. There was an incredible outpouring of support, but more importantly, so many of those who wrote to me opened up about their own heartbreaking high school experiences.

So I want to thank all of you for your honesty and compassion. Because in the end, you were the reason I decided to suck it up and go.

And sure, it was the same old reunion-type dialogue. We talked ad nauseam about the good and bad old days. We reminisced about this store and that restaurant. We told horror stories about our drunken forays from Portchester to Westport. Sit-ins, Cardinal Puff, detention, lots of pink and green, Devil’s Den, Steak and Brew, the girl from uncurl, blah blah blah.

But here’s the thing.

We also asked each other the deeper more meaningful questions. We talked about our parents, our siblings, our children, our grandchildren and our feelings. Nobody really cared about how we made our livings. It was more about how we made our lives.

And it was cathartic. Because for a brief few hours, I was able to go back to that time and place and rediscover that naïve teenager, with unlimited promise, within myself. I would like to think we all went back to that young girl or boy who possessed enormous opportunities; full of hopefulness, and youthful ambition and dreams that were actually possible.

It was restorative to hear stories about that young Teri I once was, and I was grateful to meet her again—this time through the eyes of others.

As Paul Simon so eloquently put it: “What a time it was, it was a time of innocence, a time of confidences.” But my time of innocence has long past, so it felt good to celebrate who I was back then, and now as I enter my twilight years, to give me pause to reflect on who I am now, and how my life has impacted the lives of others.

I drove by what was once Mario’s, Oscar’s, the Red Barn, and Sally’s Place. I made my way to the spots where the Big Top, the Ice Cream Parlor, and the Remarkable Book Store once stood. And despite the sweltering heat, I walked the length of the Staples football field and then took a peaceful stroll through the Nature Center. I drove by my old house—three times. And then I pulled my car over and wept. A mixture of tears of joy for all that I have and tears of sorrow for all that I have lost.

As I shared stories with my fellow Stapleites, I realized that we walk a similar walk. And talk the same talk. And in our conversations, we all agreed on this: that our lives were rich, precious, painful, complicated, beautiful, miraculous, cruel, messy and loving.

Life caught up with the most talented, the most beautiful, the best dressed, the most popular, and the most famous. And finally, after 45 years no one gave a damn who was the loser, how many times someone was married, who was the sports star, who was the captain, who was the smartest, or who was the reject.

Because at our age, we finally understand that no one has escaped the pain and disillusionment of loss, outer beauty, disappointment, illness, drama, death, poor decisions, bad relationships—you name it, we’ve been through it.

We spoke of our children, and grandchildren, of siblings, wives, and husbands who were taken away from us way too soon, parents who committed suicide, and a son in desperate search of his birth mother. Doctors, lawyers and Indian Chiefs. A pastiche of 1971 spirits cloaked in 2016 bodies.

Yes, I made it to my reunion—the one and only Staples class of 1971. I was surrounded by compassion, confidence, vulnerability, and genuine interest in what I have been doing with myself for the past 45 years. With no awkwardness and no judging.

Okay, there was one moment of awkwardness when a former classmate excitedly pointed to me and exclaimed “OH MY GOD! YOU’RE ALIVE!!!”

“Uh, yeah, last I checked,” I responded warily. She proceeded to explain (as best she could) that she had been telling people I was dead because my photo was on the deceased table.

The deceased table?????? I sprinted over to the table and to my relief there was no Teri photo. Whew.

But on the serious side, we lost so many classmates. A heartbreaking reminder that life is short, and that if you believe in God, He most certainly works in mysterious ways.

And how about that Reunion Band? Wow. A bunch of 60 somethings dancing and grooving to outstanding music thanks to the talented Charlie Karp, Brian Keane, Mike Mugrage, Bill Sims, Bubba Barton, Bonnie Housner Erickson, Rob McClenathan, Julie Aldworth McClenathan, and Jeffrey Dowd. And a shout out to the incredible singers Kim Sullivan and Linda Satin Pancoast. And of course, let’s not forget David Jones on the spoons.

And who knew that Charlie had recorded with Buddy Miles, opened for Jimi Hendrix, and toured with Aerosmith? Or that Brian was the winner of four Emmy Awards?

And I don’t know about anyone else, but they really got me with their last song of the evening: Forever Young. Oh, if it were only possible.

The photo booth, the hand painted rocks from Compo Beach, the old time candy, new friends, and old friends. All in all, it was an incredible couple of days thanks to the tireless and I’m sure often thankless effort by Joanne Romano-Csonka and Bonnie Housner Erickson. Without the two of them, I don’t know if we would even have a reunion. Time and time again, every five years, they put their all into making a beautiful event for the rest of us.

At the end of an incredible Saturday evening, we all said our reluctant goodbyes, full of bear hugs, kisses, and good wishes, promising to keep in touch. We probably won’t.

And the woman who thought I was deceased? Well, she wished me well and reiterated that she was thrilled that I was still alive. Me too, girlfriend!

So for anyone stressing out over an upcoming reunion—and who, like me, keep going back and forth anxiously asking themselves the “to go or not to go” question. I say go. Take a chance. Reach back in time. Feel like a kid again.

And God willing, I’ll see my 1971 buds in 2021!

Long ago it must be
I have a photograph
Preserve your memories
They’re all that’s left you
~ Paul Simon

Reunion 45th Deceased Table

My Staples High School Reunion—to Go or Not to Go

Nervous woman

As of right now, I plan on attending my 45th reunion from Staples High School in Westport Connecticut next weekend.

But to be honest, over the past few weeks I have gone back and forth and forth and back about whether to go or not to go.

At 63, I see myself as independent, confident and strong willed. But I wasn’t always that way.

My looming reunion has me going back in time to my 1968 self—anxious, teased, meek and weak.

Taunts like “Theresa the Greaser,” “Olive Oyl,” and “The Mod Martian,” were some of the names I painfully recall when I look back on those not so wonderful years.

I wasn’t invited to any of the fancy schmancy parties, although I would strain to hear the popular kids excitedly talk about them before class, in the gym, and at lunch.

At dances, I was the perpetual wallflower, sitting in a corner uncomfortably observing high school life passing me by.

And the fear of having my name “Theresa” be forever associated with the word “Greaser,” was the reason I decided to drop the name altogether and use my nickname, “Teri.”

I grew to hate my own name. If anyone called me Theresa, I refused to answer to it. As a result, I haven’t referred to myself or been called Theresa for over 48 years.

Now, I don’t want you to think I had zero friends because that wasn’t the case at all. I had some really terrific friends, which is why I’m on the fence about going to the reunion. But what if they don’t show up? Who will I talk to? Who will I hang out with? To go or not to go.

And I also don’t want you to think there were hundreds of haters out to get me. No, not hundreds, but enough to make my 10th year in high school unbearably lonely and downright miserable.

To ward off the haters, I reinvented myself in the summer of 1969, in preparation for the 11th grade. To give credit where credit is due, my best friend at the time showed me the wealthy way to fit in: the latest and greatest hairstyle, expensive, somewhat revealing trendy clothes, push-up bras, and makeup. Lots and lots of makeup.

I called it my war paint. To this day I despise wearing makeup and still refer to it as war paint. I artfully paint it on whenever necessary and wipe it off as quickly as possible.

But in the summer of 1969, I wore that war paint proudly—and often. And with the makeup, along with all the other superficial fixes, I succeeded in throwing Theresa far far away.

And I won the war. Because guess what? The haters stopped hating. Which was weird, because I was the exact same person. Okay, to be sure, I had way nicer clothes, straighter hair, and at least the appearance of bigger boobs.

My early high school experience definitely shaped who I am today; steadfastly intolerant of bullying and totally and utterly unimpressed with the rich and famous.

And all of that rejection was forever ago, so in preparation for possibly attending my 45th reunion, why is it that I can’t stop feeling like that anxious, skinny, homely girl back in 1968?

Which is why last night I made a final decision not to go.

Only to wake up this morning and decide to just suck it up and go already.

I don’t know if I’ll show up or not. I guess I’ll wait until next Friday and see how I feel.

At least I don’t have to worry about getting a huge ass pimple on my face. That was so 1968.

But, to all my fellow Stapleites: if I do happen to show up for the reunion, and you happen to see me sitting in a corner—wallflower style, pretending my phone is blowing up with activity, please say hello and let’s remeet each other.

Because I’m Theresa, hear me roar.

Teri Gatti 1971

The Fledgling Bird – Was It Pushed out of the Nest or Did It Fall?

The-baby-bird

My daughter stopped by today to explain as lovingly as she could to stop trying to fix things. She asked me to listen to a podcast about accepting that some things aren’t fixable, nor should they be. It’s part of life. Situations happen. Things aren’t always meant to be fixed. Accept situations for what they are. Accept people for who they are.  Face it. Mommies can’t fix everything.

After my daughter left, I decided to spend a little time trimming back some flowers. Chillax. Reflect on non-fixing.

As I hummed along, I thought I heard a faint cry of a bird. I looked around and couldn’t see anything so I resumed my trimming.

As I reached to pull a weed out from under one of my Leyland Cyprus trees, there it was—a tiny fledgling, struggling to fly and crying. I immediately and angrily looked up into the trees. Where was its mother? Couldn’t she hear its call of distress?

The phone rang, and it was my girlfriend. I told her about the bird. “Leave it be,” was her advice. It’s not me to leave anything be.

I ran into the house and pulled apart a slice of bread and ran back to the tiny bird who was still crying helplessly. I was fairly cognizant of the fact that the fledgling probably couldn’t eat bread, but I was in the fixing mode.  Podcast shmodcast.

I cooed softly to the baby bird asking “where’s your mommy?” I inspected the ground to make sure there were no ants or other bugs that could hurt it. And then I went into my office to try to finish up a project I was way past deadline on.

But every couple of minutes I had this nagging pull to go outside. To see what was going on. Look around for the mommy. And make sure no cats or squirrels were lurking about.

All afternoon I ran in and out of the house watching this stupid little bird. Why wouldn’t it just fly away? Jump onto a bush already, get to higher ground. Why didn’t it stop crying and try to help itself?

I googled what to do if you find a baby bird out if its nest. What I read was that maybe the baby fell out of its nest or maybe it was pushed. Pushed? What mother would do that I asked myself.

After some reflection, I answered myself. Okay, I suppose it depends on the child, or in this case, the fledgling.

No matter whether it fell or was pushed, I frantically continued to run back and forth from my office to the fledgling. The hell with my deadline.

On my way out of the house for like the fiftieth time, I saw the mommy, perched on my deck. I got very close to her and was able to take a photo. Okay, it was a little blurry because my hands were shaking but she never moved. This mother was defiant.

The-Momma-Bird

When I tried to get close to her baby, she swooped down but kept her distance.

I felt tremendously relieved that this baby bird had someone who cared after all. The mommy was hopping closer and closer to the fledgling while keeping an eye out for me.

I went back into the house, but I couldn’t focus on work at all. As a matter of fact, I couldn’t focus on anything but that damned baby bird. How long was it going to hop around? Was it hurt? Was it incapable of flying? Was it hungry? Please stop crying already.

Was there anything I could do to fix it?

I poured myself a glass of wine to calm down a bit. This bird had me all nerved up. I had been at this for five hours already! If you’re wondering, yes, I recognized the ridiculousness of the situation, but I simply couldn’t control myself.

That’s when I decided the only thing to do was write this blog post. Try to calm myself down and record it.

In between running in and out of the house checking on the bird situation, I was writing this post—cell phone in hand, should a photo op present itself.

The mommy bird was edging closer and closer to its baby but not fast enough for me. What was she waiting for? Come on. Help out your crying kid already. Fix the situation. Solve the problem. Avert disaster.

I finally had them both in my window view so I could now stay comfortably inside my house and go from window to window between the baby and the mommy. Willing mommy to come closer, I couldn’t stop going back and forth, window to window, the glass of wine still in my hand.

My husband warily observed the absurd situation and just shook his head in amazement. Nothing surprises him about my behavior any longer. He knows my MO.

I finally gave the bird fiasco a break and forced myself to try to burn some of my energy on the recumbent bike. All the while forcing myself to stay put—to keep peddling. Willing myself not to think about the fledgling. Leave the worrying to someone else. Someone else? Get a grip Teri. We’re talking about birds here.

Okay, so forget about working out. I jumped off the bike to check on mommy. She was still standing guard and hadn’t budged.

I thought about getting back on the bike, but I just couldn’t. I was too anxious. So back on the deck, I went.

The mommy was gone! But the baby was still crying. My husband, relaxing on the outdoor swing watched in astonishment as I ran in and out, out and in.

And then I saw the mommy! She was hidden in the tree coaxing her baby bird to join her, teaching survival tactics. Showing her baby how to blend in and conquer a dangerous world.

The sound of the ringing phone brought me back into the house. It was my girlfriend again. “You’re still screwing around with that bird? It’s been over eight hours!”

While on the phone with her I ran back out to the deck listening for the crying bird, my husband now in tow. And to my relief, the baby was still crying but high up in the tree this time.

Kudos to the mother. She had done her job. She had fixed things. Her baby was safe for now.

 

Ms. New York Senior America–Wait, Me?

Beauty Pageant Winner Brunette
I recently received a call from a colleague asking me if it would be okay if she nominated me as a Ms. New York Senior America contestant.

Me? Ms. New York Senior America? Oh, puleeze.

I mean I’m all for world peace, but this was a stretch, even for me. I wasn’t sure how to respond. So I said nothing. Which is highly unusual for moi.

I guess my pregnant pause caused my colleague to assume that I was interested, or, at the very least mulling it over.

So she enthusiastically jumped right in assuring me that I had an excellent chance of winning because I exemplify what a senior woman is all about. Geez, thanks.

My response was to tell my overly zealous colleague that I was honored she thought of me while simultaneously trying to drum up a way to say NO CHANCE IN HELL diplomatically.

But before I could muster up the words she gushed away: “I’m e-mailing you the information right now. Don’t move.”

A few minutes later I had the lowdown in my e-mail box.

CHARM  •  DIGNITY  •  INNER BEAUTY  •  APPEARANCE  •  ATTITUDE • ACCOMPLISHMENTS  •  ENTHUSIASM  •  TALENT  •  GRACE • ENERGY

Hmmm. My competitive self couldn’t help but read on…

The 60 years or older contestants, are judged in 4 categories:

1. The Interview: Private meeting to analyze personality, poise and ability to effectively communicate. Ms. New York Senior America needs to be able to wow the public-at-large as well as the media.

I could like, sooo do that.  

2. The Evening Gown: A runway look-see for judges to establish the presence of elegance, poise, and grace.

No brainer, duh.

3. Life Philosophy: A brief statement limited to 35 seconds.

Hmmm, since I am the queen of verbiage, I like, literally can’t even. But I could try.

4. Talent: Music, the arts, or any other activity appropriate for an elegant, senior woman.

I take this to mean that pole dancing is probably off the table.

Oh and the talent presentation is limited to a maximum of two minutes and 45 seconds.

Since I am basically talentless, this category was the deal breaker. Plus, sorry people, but two minutes and 45 seconds seems like eons.

I responsibly called my colleague back to explain to her that I had no talent whatsoever. I left out the eon part.

“I’m sure you can come up with something,” she cajoled and asked me to get back to her.

Now I’m supposed to get back to her?

Okay, maybe I do have some talent.

Let’s see: I could write a poem or read a snippet from one of my blogs. Snoring.

I could whip out a George Foreman grill and create a killer egg-in-a-hole. But could I debut egg-in-a-hole in 2 minutes 45?

I consulted my husband, who had a brilliant idea: I could take a computer and a screen on stage, and create an Excel pivot table from scratch!

OMG! I got so excited about the genius of his suggestion that I started to imagine all sorts of possibilities and scenarios.

Me, in an interview wowing the judges with my bada bing bada boom.

Me, in a ball gown, strutting and sashaying my creaky self.

Me, and my philosophy and mission of world peace and my game plan for obliterating ISIS in 35 secs.

Me, formulating and titillating the audience with my Excel spreadsheet brilliance.

The more I thought about it, the more invigorated I became. And the more sense it made.

I admittedly give a mean Queen of England wave, and I love to travel.

I could be the face of dignity, glamor, maturity, and inner beauty, to all old people.

I could share my spreadsheet talent with AARP chapters, nursing homes, senior Expos, and the elderly like.

As Ms. New York Senior America 2016, I could be the touchstone for the geriatric masses.

I could be a contender!

I CAN SEE IT NOW:

AND THE WINNER IS…

TERI SCHURE • MS. NEW YORK SENIOR AMERICA 2016

Teri Schure, a peppy 62-year-old, grew up on the wrong side of Bridgeport Connecticut, and has been a fairly reputable Long Island resident for the past 32 years. She never graduated from Brevard College in Brevard, North Carolina, and wasted precious time majoring in music theory and minoring in piano. She never obtained a degree of any kind, nor did she earn any certifications. Her passionate and fascinating working career consisted of Excel spreadsheets and calculators. Since she doesn’t have enough money to retire, she continues to eke out a living doing a plethora of grunt work and continues to bust her butt every day to improve her skills.

Since Teri does nothing but slog and toil, she has yet to devote her time and skills to charity, volunteering for various non-profits, or any other causes in her community. Since she is a slave to the almighty dollar, she does not actively support any organizations at all.

Her interests include cleaning the house, paying bills, grocery shopping, laundry, and making sure there is dinner on the table every night.

Since she is still trudging and grinding away, she has no interest in art, dance, horseback riding, gardening, travel, piano, or theater.

Teri is thrilled and honored to be Ms. New York Senior America 2016. She looks forward to proudly promoting a positive image of oldness, while simultaneously extolling the importance of graceful perseverance and acceptance of the inevitable, to all women past their prime.

Her dream is to pageant beyond New York and become Ms. Senior America of 2017.