That’s Entertainment

A whole lot of fascinating stuff has happened to the world since I got here.

The way we travel, dress, eat, all changed.  Dramatically. What was a Sci Fi movie when I was growing up is laughably dated. Buck Rogers doesn’t even have his own century any more.

But for me, that past is still amazing.

This first story was handed down by my father, and, not surprisingly, it has to do with radio, since that particular area sort of ruled his world.

This particular memory seems to predate even the use of the name RADIO.  Dad talked instead about the family gathering around the kitchen table in order to listen to some very poor transmission coming from a bunch of earphones tossed into a crystal bowl.

“Well,” my father said “the thing is we had always used earphones for listening up to this point. But then somebody, somewhere, figured out that by putting several pairs of earphones into a cut glass bowl, they could raise the sound to a level where a whole family could listen at the same time!”

He reckoned “early 1900” as the time of this wondrous discovery. Now, since I am working in today’s time I can say with some certitude that the year was around 1910. Google knows everything.

By the time he shared this particular bit of history, we had been dealing for quite a while with a rather over sized cabinet style hunk of furniture which served as our  “RADIO” that took up a good part of what we referred to as our “Parlor”.

That word – Parlor – has disappeared from casual usage,…it’s sort of a Downton Abbey kind of word, meaning the room the family stayed out of most of the time so it would always be sparkling clean when a guest arrived. Mom seemed to feel that her reputation depended on it.

Once radio moved into everyone’s home, the audience started drifting outside for entertainment…So we got vaudeville and silent films. And then there were TALKING PICTURES.

Actually, “Talking pictures” were already a fact of everyone’s life by the time I joined the crowd that spent every Saturday at the movies.  By the time I became aware of films and theatres, Al Jolson was already singing his heart out about his “little Mammie”.

No more did the beautiful damsel in distress have to rely on raised eyebrows and typed-in dialogue. And handsome heroes like Tarzan of the Apes could yodel their way though the jungle to save poor frightened, but always loyal Jane, from the evils lurking there.  Subtlety was not big on screen

All this was available for a nickel and a Saturday spent at the moves was really a WHOLE Saturday.  Typically we’d get to see a weekly serial like Flash Gordon, and a News reel and then either a double feature or a live vaudeville show. Which usually included a clown and maybe some magic tricks and some dancers.  None of it was very good, but we had nothing to judge by so it was all considered great.

I remember one Saturday when my sister Jackie and I went to see Nelson Eddy and Janette McDonald in “Rose Marie.”

My sister aspired to becoming the next Janette, so we stayed to see the movie three times. I, the alto in the family, really hated Janette MacDonald but Jackie was the older sister and I wasn’t allowed to walk home without her – so there I sat fuming.

I stubbornly refused to change my mind about Janette, until one time, many years later, I was at a live theatre show and so was she… seated in the audience like a regular person!

The show was about two and a half hours long, and never once did she curl into the back of the seat, but casually sat, ramrod straight, for the entire performance. Now that was a performance I could admire, but when I tried to achieve it, all I got was a major pain in the neck.

Personally, I think films did themselves a disservice by revealing the magic-like special effects of automobiles flying off cliffs and soldiers killing each other…some with a sinister smile on their faces and some just sad depending on whether they were the bad guys or us.

We could (almost) believe that the noble men we were watching were actually dying to save us all, or that the really rotten bad guys died when their brakes gave out and they sailed off the end of the earth!  And when Florence Nightingale and her nurses marched into those hospital wards, I could just imagine me leading the women into battle.  Brave. Unflappable.  And pretty – even in war!

I remember going to see a short film about how Hollywood could create robot-people, or blow a random planet filled with terrifying aliens right out of the sky.  Or, on a happier note, bring us singing mermaids and mice turned into horses for Cinderella.

Now we give prizes for the most successful Special Effects. Which is probably as it should be, but I really enjoyed the thrill before I knew everything was faked – an illusion.

Among my father’s many talents was that of magician. He had nothing but respect for the concept of illusion. I have to disagree with him here. My feeling is more in line with the Hungarian novelist Arthur Koestler (a contemporary of my father’s time) who said:

“Nothing is more sad than the death of an illusion”

Mr. Koestler probably meant some big life-illusion, like love-lost but I really miss the days of watching those stalwart mice, Jac and Gus turning into horses and waiting on the edge of my seat wondering what would happen next.

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See you at the movies – or not.

 

 

 

Mother was spelled N-I-C-E

My mother had to be one of the nicest people you could ever meet.

And therein lies my explanation – and excuse – for her absence from most of the stories I have written about my life and good and bad times.

NICE is difficult to write about.

It isn’t colorful. Or Funny! Or “simply fascinating” –  it is merely NICE. And these days, it is said frequently with a touch of derision as in “Oh, god, yeah. She’ so damned nice she can’t even spell a four letter word.”

Growing up I took that niceness for granted. I knew that, no matter what happened, my Mother would be nice about it. She could fix small cuts and bruises on her own, but she could also call the doctor and ask him to come over immediately if she thought her family was showing signs of – well – anything she didn’t want them to be showing.

If either my sister Jackie or I was feeling hurt by another child, she wouldn’t tell us we were being silly.  Or that it wasn’t important that your classmates didn’t pick you for the team.  Instead, she would find a way to make us feel that there were obviously better things that needed our particular attention, and that obviously no other child could do them as well.

Mom looked pleased each summer when my father announced that the Steck family was scheduled to take its yearly vacation in Wildwood-By-The-Sea in New Jersey. I didn’t like Wildwood-By-The-Sea then, and I still don’t. Too much sand. It gets in your toothpaste and soap and shoes and…well, anyplace else you didn’t want it.  It also burned your feet. Every summer, I ranted and raged and cried and threatened to run away. Mother, on the other hand, smiled encouragingly and started to pack.

I begged my father to let me stay home with him but it turned out that every year that we went to Wildwood, Daddy went on a friend’s boat and they had all kinds of fun. But no kids were allowed. It was a law, he said.

Mother bought Jackie and me new bathing suits so everyone would think we were the prettiest girls on the beach.  I didn’t believe that, but it helped get me into the car.

And Oh, god help us, what a mess that car was.  It was a Model T, one of the last ones off the line in 1927. It was small, and dark and hot and there were about seven of us plus an extra suitcase or two and, as the youngest, it was my place to sit on one of the suitcases, on the floor, where I promptly got violently ill and everyone had to get out of the car while we stopped at the closest gas station where the attendant (yes.  There was an attendant who normally filled the car with gas, checked the oil and washed the widows) anyway – the attendant hosed down the floor for us and dragged out a fan to dry it.

Then we would pile back in and Uncle Harry would take his place behind the wheel and glower at me.  But Mother was NICE about it. She dried my tears and, defying anyone to accuse me of doing it on purpose, sang me pretty songs to soothe my fevered brow.

It took me years to find out she didn’t want to go either.

“Too much sand,” she whispered.

One time a lady friend of my mother told me that she thought my Mom was the nicest person she had ever known.  While I wouldn’t disagree with her, I wondered why.  And she told me.

“You know,” she said, “how people call when a friend is in trouble and offer to help?”

I assured her I did know that, so she continued. “Well, most people call and ask what they can do, and usually the person who has the problem can’t think of what she needs.

“But YOUR Mom doesn’t do that. She calls up and tells you that she is on her way over.  She is going to pick up the kids and take them to the playground for a while and then she will get them lunch.  Then she shows up and does it!  And you realize that she was right, that’s exactly what you needed.”

My mother was too nice to be a good liar. During World War II, when butter was scarce, it was replaced by a white, oblong blocks of white margarine that looked like lard. To make the margarine look more palatable, a packet of yellow dye came with the suspect-looking margarine. The idea was, you softened the margarine, mixed it with the dye, then patted the oblong back into shape.

My mother would add the dye and do her best to reshape the now bright, almost neon, yellow oblong, to very sad results. Jackie and I would have none of it. When my mother was lying, her mouth formed into a straight line. Every time she presented the margarine-as-butter, her mouth was almost non-existent. My mother was nice – Jackie and I…not so much.  We never humored her and ate dry toast until butter went back on the table.

One more nice thing.  Neither of my parents went to college. They grew up in tight communities and there was prejudice all around – which neither of them bought into.

But it’s easy to be open-minded when you never come in to contact with any of those “Others.”

Well, one Christmas I offered my Mom a real chance to put her “love thy neighbor” outlook to the test…even if the neighbors came from far, far away.

I was at Temple University and I was distressed by the number of my friends who would be staying in the dorms for the holidays. So asked my Mother if I could invite four friends to Christmas dinner and, she, of course, said yes.

The friends were astounded by the invitation but I assured them it would be fine.

Come Christmas day, when the doorbell rang somewhere around dinner time, Mother went to the door to be greeted by four slightly insecure young Arabs.  You would have thought she met their folks at the market every day judging by the casual way she greeted them and made them welcome and loved..

But there was no one around to take notice or offer her a medal for just being herself.

Yep, my Mom was that Nice.  You would have loved her.

I did.

I do.

Attachment-1.jpeg Jackie (l), Mother (c) Me (r) “down the shore”

Do You Believe in Santa Claus or Wish You Did?

Like the old grey mare, Christmas “ain’t what it used to be.”

I’ve been thinking about that a lot recently.

Christmas, when I was a child…and remember that was 90 some years ago… was full of Magic.  And Joy.  And Music.  And – well – almost any good emotion you’ve ever experienced.

I think I was about four when Christmas became recognizably special in my world because, by then I was old enough to be taken to see Santa Claus.He showed up at Wanamaker’s Department Store in downtown Philadelphia about three weeks before Christmas and the whole family, mother, father sister and I, went to visit him so we could tell him what wonders we hoped to find under the Christmas tree.

Two very important things I knew. The Santa who showed up at Wanamaker’s was the real, true Santa, and the one at Lit Brother’s was only an elf pretending to be Santa because there could only be ONE Santa but lots of kids couldn’t get to Wanamaker’s so he sent out make-believe, magic men to pretend so nobody would get left out.

On the walk to Santa’s throne in the Wanamaker Court,, there were wonderful scenes of snow-covered cottages in small villages…where people of all ages skated on frozen ponds. Most of the little people skater were VERY good skaters, but every once in a while someone of them would fall down and the boys and girls in line would laugh.

But it was a kind laugh because we really knew no one ever got hurt waiting to talk to Santa.

When it was my turn to tell Santa what I wanted, and this is something my mother told me because I don’t have a big memory of the occasion, I had trouble climbing up on Santa’s lap, and the kids close to me laughed. But it didn’t sound like a kind laugh like the ones for the pretend skaters, so apparently I cried a bit and Santa pulled out a big red handkerchief to dry my eyes and he whispered to me not to worry about the laugh.

As a matter of fact, my mother told me later that Santa whispered to her that he would give me an extra present for being a brave girl. I ask her to tell that story every Christmas for the next several.  And bless her motherly heart, the story got better, and I got braver, every year.

I loved those years, where Santa and Mrs. Claus showed up and bestowed great gifts on everyone we knew.  And we put out homemade cookies for him, which was easy because Santa’s favorite cookies were Mom’s special Butter Cookies that Dad loved best in the whole world.

When the magic of Santa was no longer an option, I still had the story of the baby Jesus and his mother traveling around on a mule to find a place to live. We always had a live tree.  I’m not even sure there was such a thing as artificial trees at the time.  And we had a special “family night” for decorating.  My sister, Jackie and I got to arrange the special spot under the tree for the stable in Bethlehem according to the Steck Sisters. Somehow or other the crèche magically became more wonderful after we went to bed.  By the time we woke on Christmas, every last figure, from the baby lamb, the three kings, something called oxen (which look like camels as I remember them)…everything was in perfect position. And that was the miracle of Christmas for a very long time.

But the biggest thing of all was the way everyone we knew or cared about was happy that day. There was no worry about much of anything.We had no word for what we felt but we figured it out much later in our lives.

There was love all around us. Every gift was bought with great care. And much attention was paid to hints we had broadly provided during pre- holiday time.

Of course, our idea of “great gifts” was very limited. I have to remember that we didn’t have television to show us what was available that Santa couldn’t afford to give us. And, of course, gift cards were unheard of.   Mommy and Daddy dutifully wore or happily celebrated, whatever fantastic surprises we chose to buy them with our carefully saved up five cents a week allowance.There is no thrill in watching your mother open her Target gift card that can match the joy of watching her go out for an evening, all dressed  up, and sporting a horrendous $1.50 ring that my sister and I pooled our money to buy her one year.Oh lord, it was ugly. Huge, and pink and the gold band turned her hand green.  But she wore it, and swore she loved it.

And so the circle was complete.  It was all about love.  And if you’ve got that, a $1.50 ring can be the most beautiful jewelry in the whole big world.  She said it was her favoirtie gift of all time.

All these years later, i still believe her.

Maybe more than ever.

Time has changed a lot about Christmas, but I’ve been lucky to have shared memories not only with my parents and sister, but my children and their children. Christmas has evolved. It’s now “the holiday season” – which is fine. The more the merrier.

But if you’re lucky – which I am – it’s still all about love. Even if it is often tucked inside a gift card.

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Have a love-filled Christmas. And if Christmas isn’t you cup of eggnog, pour yourself whatever your doctor says you can drink.

HAPPY EVERYTHING!

I Couldn’t Sleep a Wink Last Night

For those of you too young to remember it, I COULND’T SLEEP A WINK LAST NIGHT was a popular song many years back, and I thought it appropriate to this very belated Blog. And just to prove I am willing to do some research , the song was written in 1943.

(Thank you Siri)

Anyway, what kept me awake was the fairly pervasive thought that when we all go to heaven – which, in itself, doesn’t seem all that likely- we will be reunited with our most loved person(s) and pets.

Quite frankly, I love the idea.

But there is a problem.  What happens when YOUR favorite person is someone else’s favorite person?

Or suppose you are someone like Mahatma Ghandi?  No doubt you are beloved by milions. Can you imagine how tired you would get flitting through heaven for all eternity determined to keep all your worshipers happy?

Well, first of all I suppose is the fact that when you’re in heaven you don’t get to be worshipped unless you are God, and  God can be as many beloveds as H/She decides to be

So back to individuals.

Most of us would cite our parents, husbands or wives, children etc.  Unfortunately, they, especially the children, have gone on to be husbands and wives to other adoring people.

So who gets the girl at the end of the movie?

There are those who say that we are dealing with the essence of the person and apparently essence has no boundaries so you can split up as many tmes as you are needed.

OOOPS!  I see a definite problem here.  Suppose the one you adore spends more time with someone else than with you? Wouldn’t you hate that?.  Or, worse yet, when one of the essences who wants to share YOUR essence is someone you only pretended to love on earth and now you are stuck with them forever because you did such a good job of convincing the person of your  earthly love?

Sometimes I think heaven and hell have a lot in common.

However, YOU need not loose sleep over this as I did because I have followed the thread of reason to a solution.

ADAM AND EVE!

How much further can we reduce our essence than to that joyous couple, who were created for the purpose….I’m guessing now…of fulfilling God’s plan for the world.

And they are still the best example of undying love available to (wo)mankind.  And according to all the paintings I’ve ever seen, they were a perfect pair…good looking, slim, well endowed in al physical  aspects.  And so in love they never even bothered with clothes…just an occasional fig leaf.

Now THAT sounds heavenly!

The New Guy

I’m not, as a rule, inclined to tell the world a whole lot about my private life.  Maybe largely because I don’t have a whole lot of “private” stuff going on. And what there is mostly has to do with doctors. Doctors of all sorts.  From my teeth to my toes, I have doctors who know a great deal more about me than I do.

But a new male has come into my life, and I need to chat about him.

First the obvious stuff. He’s quite good looking – I think. Not that that is the most important thing I look for, but when it comes with the package, it is a nice bonus. He has wonderfully thick hair – dark over all but with a streak of gold that (almost) any woman would pay a fortune for…it is dramatic without being bold.

And his eyes…those beautiful eyes, have reflected that golden streak.  They are dark and – yes – soulful.

I admit I wish he were a bit more athletic looking.  Not that that is essential, but it would be nice if he could be a bit more intimidating when we want to take romantic walks by a little stream we have discovered, and we are the only ones there – except for the occasional threatening presence of another couple, either one of whom is bigger and tougher looking than both of us.

But’s get back to accentuating the positive.

My companion is almost intuitive when it comes to my moods.  Not that I am given to giant, temperamental tantrums or anything. NO.  He picks up o the little things.  The paper cut kind of things that happen everyday and go unnoticed by the world.  He will take the time to sit quietly with me if I need to cry and rejoice when I need someone to share a wonderful moment.

The big red flag for me is that I see a growing sense of “She’s my girl” in his approach to others. He has begun to resent anyone who gets too close to me, and, since I have many friends of both sexes who are big kissers and huggers, this is becoming awkward.

I guess what I really need to tell you is this:  If you are coming to visit, just call ahead will you, and I will put Milo into his crate until you are settled and he has accepted you.

In case you are a breed snob, Milo is a Yorkshire Terrier.  Not a Teacup Terrier, but more of a  TEAPOT.  I love him and he loves me.

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A Special Night? Yep. But Why?

I went to dinner the other evening with three friends.  It was a vey normal kind of evening out.  TWO new friends.  Many new stories.  Even a relatively new restaurant.  But when I thought about it, it seemed outstanding.

It wasn’t the food, which was quite nice, but not startlingly so.  Or the conversation.  We bashed Trump for a while but decided we shouldn’t let that wreck the night so we stopped. It certainly wasn’t the drinks. I had a very nice white wine spritzer but what I really wanted was a Crown Royal on rocks, but that’s not allowed.  Doctor’s orders you know.

No, it wasn’t any of those obvious things.   Maybe it was what was missing. For example, there was no loud music — which I hate with a passion – when it is served with dinner.  No. No.  That wasn’t it.

Deep thought here.

Then there it was…sitting on my table. Defiently staring me in the face.

THE CELL PHONE.

During the entire evening no one reached for his or her cell phone.  No one said “Excuse me a minute, I have to take this” and then proceeded to talk for ten minutes to an unknown (to the rest of us) friend.

That was it!  The bloody cell phone didn’t come to our party!

I don’t believe I had really thought out just how much I hate it when that happens. Think about it.  You are having what seems to be a lively conversation when one of your companions opts to interrupt with a lengthy, and, apparently much more interesting exchange than your own, with an unseen, and uninvited guest.

I think lovingly of the days of old when the waiter would come to the table to announce that you had a call waiting.  Everyone knew it had to be important.  Otherwise no one would even consider interrupting an occasion like dinner out – with friends. And even more importantly, no one would accept a call that was less than a life and death situation.

Maybe restaurants could introduce a No Cell Phones During Dinner policy, the way they do in theaters.

I suggested that once – but only once – to a group of convivial, young friends. One of them looked at me as if I had suddenly become a dangerous new species.

“No phones?” she said, her eyes filling with horror at the thought.

“No phones. Just four good friends talking to each other instead of having to sit there, fiddling with our food while one of us chats on the phone with someone from the office whom he had just left an hour ago.

The woman looked at me, rather confused.  “Well, when you say it like that,” she said, “it sounds – well – rude.”

“By god I think you’ve got it,” I said in my best Professor “enry ‘iggins voice.”

And we danced around the room.

OUT, OUT DAMNED FLY

Okay.  Just don’t try to tell me that the average life of a Housefly is 28 days!  I know better. I have been haunted and taunted by two of the evil species for – oh it must be at least a month!

It all began innocently enough.

I woke up one pleasant California morning, to a perfect (I thought) day.  The sky was blue and clear, the winds just enough to ruffle the trees.  The sounds of birds and dogs and an occasional siren wafted across the lawn. I opened the door to welcome all of that into my Tiny House.

First thing to ripple through the door was the aroma of fresh made coffee, followed by the scent of roses in the air.  (Scratch that.  I didn’t really stop to smell the roses.)  But then a new sound, a low buzzy kind of irritating noise reached me…and in flew Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde in the guise of Houseflies.

Even their entrance was irksome. They didn’t slip thru subtly. No.  They buzzed and circled and gyrated in a most ostentatious manner. They whirled about my head and aimed right for the (open) jelly jar.

“Ah ha!” said I to me. “Gotcha1” and I slammed the lid on.

But of course I didn’t. “Gotcha.” Or hadn’t.  Whatever. I missed.

And so began a long, challenging and frustrating war.

On the first day of battle I discovered that I had no fly swatters in my Tiny House…so I chased the little monsters with folded up newspapers. On the second day I visited Walmart and bought a fly swatter….and on the third day, I bought five so that wherever and whenever they landed, I was within reach of a weapon. I swatted and swung and I skulked around the house, but they were always there. I felt like a character in a Hitchcock movie being driven mad by invaders.

Friends began to worry for my sanity, I think.  Apparently they believed that if they said “But Betty, those can’t be the same flies” often enough I would believe them.  But they were wrong.  I recognized my enemies and I hated them.

By this time it was definitely personal.

Then one morning I woke up as usual, grabbed one of the fly swatters and opened the door…sure enough, in they flew. I admit I snapped.  I whirled and twirled around that house like a mad woman, but they eluded me.  I lost track of them for a while and thought, perhaps, they had given up.

But no!  There, on my desk lay my yellow fly swatter. And there, too, were Jekyll and Hyde, resting luxuriously on said weapon.  I grabbed the nearest swatter – the red one as I remember – and crept quietly up behind them.

I paused.  I studied. I took a practice swing and then slammed my bright red swatter down on the pale, weak yellow one.  It clattered to the floor, followed by a cup which fell off the desk from the vibration.

Then there was a glorious moment when I realized I didn’t hear that buzz.  And then I did.  Jekyll and Hyde rose like Phoenix from the debris and flew gracefully out the open door.

Jekyll gave me the one wing salute as they left.

*********************       For those of you who have not met my newest favorite pet….Let me introduce Milo, the Wonder Dog…..Milo is the one on the right…the purple pup to HIS right is Lavender…Milo has already acknowledged that Lavender is a scent…not a toy.

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