MY HOBBY IS … SLEEPING?

By Suzanne Sparrow Watson

I have been knitting since I was 14 years old.  It is a passion that has held me in good stead through my youthful dating years (more sweaters knit for undeserving boyfriends than I can count), marriage, divorce, singledom again, and re-marriage.  I have turned to knitting in good times and bad and the craft has not only provided me warmth and some Zen-like moments, but a whole host of friends with like-minded interests.  Only someone who also has a passion can understand the joy of immersing yourself in a hobby and learning everything you can about it.  I came to that realization a few years ago when I hosted a dinner party with people who also had a passion for something.  One guest was having a long conversation with a man about her horse show experiences when she suddenly said, “Oh, I’m so sorry.  I’m sure I’m boring you to death with this stuff.”  To which he replied, “No, I get it.  I love racing cars.  So while I don’t understand the horse show particulars, I can relate to anyone who has a passion.”  I’ve never forgotten that moment.  It was when I realized that it was less important what my hobby was than the fact that I had one, even if some people think of it as a “grandma” sport.

As I gave more thought to hobbies I decided it might be interesting to see how other people choose to spend their time – what tickles the imagination or gets people wound up.  I found the latest Harris Poll on the subject and the answer is so discouraging that I wish I could “un-know” it.  First of all, there is a wide definition of what constitutes a hobby.  For example, the number one hobby in the United States is reading.  Okay, I get that reading could be a hobby, especially if you are researching or have a particular interest in a subject matter.  But “reading” also included romance novels and magazines which, frankly, sound more like something one would do in the bathtub or while waiting for the clothes to come out of the dryer.  But at least “reading” has some virtue to it which was comforting because the second most popular hobby is “watching television”.  Wow.  Under that definition everyone who sits on a Barco lounger eating Doritos and drinking Miller Lite is taking part in their hobby.  I know people who have gotten divorced over one spouse spending too much time with their “hobby” during football season.

Gardening and fishing are also very popular, depending on the region of the country you live in, but “Computer” beat them both out.  I’d like to think that some people listed that as a pastime because they are learning about programming or graphic design.  I think the reality is that people are watching cat videos on You Tube or playing endless games of Candy Crush.  “Shopping” cracked the Top 15 in terms of hobbies but that also seems like cheating to me.  I think shopping falls into two categories:  1) things that are necessary like work clothes and groceries or 2) stuff we don’t need but buy because we’re bored/lured by a sale/haven’t hit the limit on the credit card yet.  Housework and sleeping were also on the list, which again, seem to be skirting the real definition of a hobby.  For many years my former company asked people to list their hobbies on the employment application and I can tell you that not once did anyone list “sleeping”, although we later found out the hard way that it was, in fact, their strong suit.

I’m glad that I have my knitting to sustain me.  I have a walk-in closet full of yarn and feel quite confident that in the event of a nuclear holocaust I will be able to remain in my home and entertain myself for weeks on end.  I have recently purchased a knitting machine which, despite how it sounds, is an entirely different craft and is keeping my feeble brain exercised in trying to master it.  Another reason I’m glad I knit is that I also golf.  As any golfer knows, the very act of swinging the club wreaks havoc on just about every body part.  So, as my knitter-golfer friends like to say, golfers who have no other passion are just one bad back – or rainy day – away from having nothing to do.  Maybe those guys on the PGA should learn how to knit.

WE PLAN, GOD LAUGHS

By Suzanne Sparrow Watson

This blog was supposed to be about Santa Fe.  I had planned a trip there last weekend to attend a birthday bash for one of my closest friends.  I planned to eat a lot, drink too much and soak in the sites.  I planned to roast her with a birthday tribute and re-connect with old friends.  Those were my plans.  But on the Tuesday prior to the event the honoree’s 45 year-old daughter died of a pulmonary embolism. Suddenly, our plans changed.  Instead of flying off for a fun, celebratory weekend in Santa Fe, we were boarding a plane to Chicago to attend funeral services.  Oh, how quickly our lives can change.

As we reach “senior status” it becomes more common to experience loss.  In the last five years both my brother and I have lost our mother and our childhood best friend.  Numerous friends have lost spouses or are supporting them through life-changing illnesses.  Somehow we expect to encounter these events as we grow older.  But losing a 45 year-old, in the prime of her life, happily married and with a 12 year-old daughter just seems so wrong.  It is wrong.   And it is a good reminder that tomorrow is not guaranteed for any of us.

That notion was hammered home to me many years ago when a friend lost her husband to cancer at an early age.  After his diagnosis she lamented, “I think about all the hours I stayed at the office doing busy work when I could have gone home.  I wish I had those hours back.”  Her sincere regret about her prioritization had a profound affect on me.  After that I never spent more time at work than I needed to.  I resisted the “how late did you work last night?” competition that seemed to pervade every workplace.  I had seen first-hand the downside of that game.  It was a good – if painful – lesson on making sure those around us know how important they are.  It’s why, as sappy as it sounds, I never leave the house without telling my husband that I love him and I end each day by telling Dash the Wonder Dog how much I appreciate all that he does for us.  Dogs don’t live nearly as long as they should.  But then again, neither do some very good people.

My friend’s life is forever changed and those who care about their family are also struggling to make some sense of it.  I think most people when faced with these horrible events take some stock.  It’s a good reminder that we can’t take anything for granted.  All of our checklists, day planners and to-do lists can be just wishful thinking.  And it’s a wake-up call (at least for me) on how we spend time.  It’s too easy to get sucked into surfing the internet on the iPad or watching dog videos.  It’s also worth remembering that not all things – or all people – are worth our time.  We need to make each day count, spent with people and activities than enrich, rather than detract.  For me the only small way that I can think of to pay tribute to a life lost too soon is to cherish every day I’m given and live it to the fullest.

Rest in peace, dear Staci D’Ancona Levy.

 

Heroes

Recently I was on a conference call at work, the subject of which was marketing to seniors; we were referred to an outline of a book by Dan Kennedy entitled, No BS Guide to Marketing to Lending Edge Boomers & Seniors: The Ultimate No Holds Barred Take No Prisoners Roadmap to the Money.  Quite a long title and I was to later learn that the only thing worth remembering is the ‘BS’.  As a senior (I’m not sure if I’m a ‘Leading Edge’ senior, but I thought I had a pretty good idea of what works in marketing to me and my peers), so I listened and read the outline with particular interest.

There is a section in the book that talks about our heroes and that people selling to us should be aware of who our heroes are and talk them up when possible or at least don’t degrade them during your communication with seniors.  I couldn’t wait to see the list.  When I saw the list, I was waiting for the punch line, this couldn’t be real!  Who was on the list of heroes you ask? John Wayne, Clint Eastwood, Sally Field, Oprah and Meryl Streep.  These are people that we supposedly ‘identify’ with.  Really?!!!  Five very polarizing people – 2 very conservative male actors and 3 very liberal female entertainers.  I thought this list was totally contrived.  I identify with none of these people and they are certainly not on my list of heroes.    So I wondered whether I was out of step with my generation or the author was, so I did a little research on the author, Dan Kennedy.

I quickly learned that he felt very highly of himself as being a ‘leading edge’ Boomer.  In his book introduction he states, “I have, and in random rotation drive, three classic automobiles including a Rolls-Royce convertible previously owned by Dean Martin.  I also have a stable full of Standardbred race horses and two homes, blah, blah, blah”.  He goes on to liken himself to Paul Newman, who used to race automobiles as a hobby, while Dan harness races for fun.  He then says, “I am the gold standard for seniors, if you can figure out how to successfully sell to me and satisfy me as a customer, you can open the vault to all boomer and senior gold . . .”

I guess I should have been impressed, but I’m typically more impressed with people who don’t have to tell me how wonderful they are, but still I wondered where he got his list of heroes and was he out of step or was I?  So I sent an email blast to about 25 of my peers asking them who their heroes were and to send me at least one male and one female ‘hero’.  I said nothing else, I didn’t give them the list of five that Kennedy put forward, no coaching, no prodding, just give me your heroes.  The results are in and my initial reaction to Kennedy’s list was justified and my faith in our generation renewed.  Four key findings from my survey:

  • The most popular response was a parent or parents or grandparents
  • Many cited heroes that were just people they knew, ordinary people who did extraordinary things to make this world a better place in which to live.
  • Five world leaders were named: Ronald Reagan, Nelson Mandela, George H W Bush, Margaret Thatcher and Winston Churchill
  • Not a single actor, actress or entertainer was named!

Other ‘heroes’ named included: Jesus Christ, Condoleezza Rice, Archbishop Desmond Tutu, Mother Teresa, Pat Tillman, Carly Fiorina, Thomas Sowell, Dr. Ben Carson, Clarence Thomas, Anne Frank, Rosa Parks, John Glenn, Alan Shepard and Sally Ride. 

Hero groups: Navy Seals, Mercury 7 astronauts, anyone in the armed forces

Thank you to those who participated in the survey!

I realize that my sampling was very small, but I’d bet Mr. Kennedy’s Rolls-Royce (then maybe I’d be a Leading Edge Senior) that if he actually did the survey, instead of providing his own BS that he wouldn’t find many entertainers as heroes for our generation.

Care to chime in?  We’d love to hear who your heroes are.

ONCE UPON A MATTRESS

By Suzanne Sparrow Watson

 

We bought a new mattress last week.  For those of you who have not ventured into the nightmare that is mattress shopping I have one piece of advice – DON”T.  We put off buying one as long as we could but my aching back required some relief.  Thus began the “mattresses shopping experience”.  I have to admit, a lot has changed since we bought our last mattress 17 years ago.  The Mattress Manufacturers Association suggests you buy a new one every 8-10 years.  So we were a little overdue.  We did buy one of those foam mattress toppers about eight years ago which over time has developed a decidedly large hump down the middle.  It looks like we’re trying to hide an elephant.  My husband has been perfectly comfortable with this situation but I think “the hump” was getting to him too.

So on a rainy Sunday afternoon we traipsed down to our local mattress store.  I did a bit of research ahead of time – I was not going to let some slick salesman bamboozle me into buying more mattress than I needed.  I was under the naïve impression that reading Consumer Reports would protect me from being the lamb going to slaughter.  I was wrong.  The first thing I learned is that there is a very wide variety of mattresses out there – coil, hybrid, foam, pillow top, gel, water, memory foam, and latex.  If you’re interested in buying a horsehair mattress for $100,000 that’s available too.  It’s a dizzying array and then to make matters worse, once you decide on the type of mattress you then have to zero on the “firmness”.  Ah…and there’s the rub, so to speak.  What is firm to one person is soft to the next.  What is firm for one brand is medium-firm for another.  We found ourselves flopping down on mattresses like flounder on a ship’s deck.  And this is probably the place to mention that lying on a bed with your spouse, trying to replicate your actual sleeping positions while a salesman looms over you, is quite awkward.  Only to be outdone when the salesman puts you on a mattress with a moveable foundation.  There we were, lying on the mattress with him at the end of the bed wielding the remote control like a mad scientist.  Our legs and feet and shoulders were moving all over the place.  Then he started the massage feature.  I hated it.  It had all the soothing qualities of those massage beds you used to find in cheap hotels where you inserted a quarter and the mattress jumped around for five minutes.  But I must say I loved the idea of being able to sit up while reading in bed.  And the salesman, assessing our age, also noted helpfully that if one of us was ever incapacitated the mechanics of the bed would help us get out and on our feet easier.  We could choose from dual mattresses with individual controls or one big mattress.  And that’s where we ran into problems.  How would we handle Dash?

Despite my early intentions that our dog would never sleep on the bed, Dash and my husband conspired against me.  Dash now has a full-size pillow right between us at night.  I have to admit, I love hearing his breathing and he is always cuddling so now I wouldn’t think of kicking him out.  My husband has gone so far as to say he’d kick me out before the dog.  It’s always nice to know your station in life.  But…back to the mattress.  The problem with dual control is that there is a huge split down the middle of the bed – right where Dash sleeps.  The one big mattress with one control is – in my opinion – just another way to fight with your spouse.  Since everything moves at once you have to be in perfect agreement about when to stop reading so you can lower the bed.  I don’t know about your house but in ours we seldom turn off the light at the same time.  So all I could envision were endless arguments about bed raising/lowering and we have enough trouble just agreeing on the thermostat setting.

After trying out so many beds we were as confused as when we walked in.  I discovered that testing mattresses is a lot like wine tasting – after a while you have a tough time distinguishing between them.  Finally, we were, in fact, bamboozled by the salesman’s pitch and purchased the Tempurpedic mattress that can sense our body temperature, understand our pressure points, and adapt to our weight (good luck with that, buddy!).  It was twice the price of my first new car.  They will be delivering it this week and all I can say is – I hope Dash is happy.

 

 

Postcards and Postscripts

by Bob Sparrow

You would have had to be living in a cave for the last several weeks to not have seen a tribute or two about Carrie Fisher and Debbie Reynolds, after their passing on Dec 27th and 28th of last year.   We were reminded of how Debbie, at 19 and with zero dancing experience, partnered up with Gene Kelly and Donald O’Conner to create one of the most beloved musicals of all time, Singing in the Rain. She went on to have a number of successes as an actress, singer and businesswoman. But for my money, Carrie was the most talented one in that family.

I was first introduced to Carrie Fisher not in Star Wars, which came out in 1977 (and I didn’t see until sometime in the 90s), but by my dearly departed amigo, Don Klapperich, while he was in Saudi Arabia. We were not only sending music and audio cassette tapes back and forth to one another (prior to Al Gore inventing the Internet), but also our writing efforts in the hopes of publishing something. After reading a few samples of my efforts he recommended that I read the novel Postcards from the Edge (1987) by Carrie Fisher, that that seemed like the writing style I was trying to master. I read the book and loved it and of course he was right, it was indeed a style that I have tried to emulate without really knowing it . . . and without really much success.

Carrie followed Postcards, which was turned into a movie starring Shirley MacLaine and Meryl Streep , with a number of other novels, all of which had semi-autobiographical themes, as the heroine usually had a number of issues from which Carrie suffered – bipolar disorder, alcoholism and drug addiction.  She has also written some non-fiction books, the best in my opinion is Wishful Drinking, which she subsequently turned into a one-woman show that she performed to rave reviews! I’m sure some of you have seen it, but it’s worth another quick visit and for those who haven’t seen it I’ve inserted below a 10 minutes ‘taste’ from the hour+ performance. One of the highlights of that performance, which I could not find a short enough clip to insert here, is her explanation of her ‘family tree’ to her daughter Billie, when Billie asked if she could date Reese, the son of Mike Todd and Elizabeth Taylor, or were they somehow related?  Very entertaining!

Her life was filled with many highs and lows as she both dwelled in the limelight and suffered from failed relationships, but she has indeed left her mark.  If you’re not familiar with her work, I’d recommend taking a look; she’ll make you laugh as well as give you some very candid insight into relationships.

I’m thinking Don and Carrie would have made a great couple – great intelligence, great wit, a flare for the dramatic and both were just a bubble off plumb.

THERE’S A GADGET FOR THAT

By Suzanne Sparrow Watson

This past weekend the Consumer Electronics Show (CES) was held in Las Vegas.  It’s a major event for high tech companies; an opportunity to showcase their latest innovations and launch trial balloons on some pretty goofy gadgets.  I love technology, although the relationship is not always reciprocated.  My language while trying to fix our computer, iPad, Direct TV or cell phone systems would make a sailor blush.  But still, I am fascinated by gadgets so it is with more than a passing interest that I follow the CES each year to see what’s on the horizon.  For those of you who are sensible and don’t pay any attention to this stuff let me give you a bit of background.  CES was started in 1967 in New York and featured such marvels as pocket radios, the Scottie record player (pictured) and the first TV’s with integrated circuits.  Integrated circuits meant that TV’s no longer had those blasted tubes, which invariably blew out right before the Ed Sullivan Show or Gillette’s Cavalcade of Sports.  Each time a tube faded out it required the services of a repairman to come and replace it.  Or at least it did in our house because our dad could barely tell a screwdriver from a hammer.

                            Kuri – the nag

Over the years the CES has become the place for companies to showcase their latest inventions.  It has featured such advances in technology as the cordless phone (remember when we had ONE phone in the house and it was attached to a wall?!)  and the cassette tape, which eliminated vinyl records from the mainstream for decades.  This week I’ve been reading about the trends for the coming year.  They range from the scary to the ridiculous.  First, virtual reality seems to be huge, with phone attachments and special glasses that can sweep you into another dimension.  I guess given all of the drama of 2016 maybe a little “virtual” in our reality isn’t such a bad thing.  The other popular trend is robotics.  There is the Kuri, a home robot that has a cute little face and will perform tasks or provide information at your command.  It can autonomously patrol around the house and – get this – has its own unique personality.  Somehow that seems just the slightest bit creepy.  Maybe I’ve watched too many episodes of Westworld but I am highly suspicious of a robot with personality.  Oh sure, at first it’s bringing me my newspaper and giving me the answer to who starred in On the Waterfront, but what stops it from telling me that I shouldn’t have that second helping of chocolate cake?  Or that I really should clean up the mess in the kitchen before I sit down to read.  With my luck I’d get a Kuri that had the “personality” of a nag.   I think I’ll stick with Dash the Wonder Dog getting my newspaper for now.

There are all sorts of “connected” gadgets this year – ones that hop onto your wireless network and interact with each other or with you, even in your sleep.  The Sleep Number company has a new bed that can sense what you’re doing all night long and make adjustments.   It will automatically adjust if you snore, add an automatic night light on the bed if you get up in the middle of the night,  and pre-warm the mattress to toast up your feet on a cold night. It also connects to an app to offer information on how you’re sleeping.  Do we really want a machine “sensing” what we’re doing all night long?  Just imagine if your local neighbor’s 15 year-old hacked your system and sent that information around the neighborhood?  Or worse, if somehow the Sleep Number bed and Kuri teamed up.  Maybe a robot’s idea of fun is to goof around with the Sleep Number elevation system.  You’d be bobbing up and down all night.

The Vacuum Shoe

I think I’ll stick with lower tech gadgets for now.  The best thing I saw come out of the show is the Shoe that Vacuums.  Yes!  You can buy a pair of shoes that will pick up dust and crumbs as you stroll along your carpeting.  Now that is innovation!

 

HAVE YOURSELF A FIZZY LITTLE CHRISTMAS

By Suzanne Sparrow Watson

Music, in all of its forms, always seems to evoke memories of times past.  That is never more true than at Christmas when emotions run a bit higher and hearing a carol on the radio can make even the most hard-hearted a bit sentimental.  I have been listening to the “Holly” station on my satellite radio and find myself drawn back to some wonderful Christmas memories.  Here are just a few – and to make sure you read until the end – I am also including Pop’s Christmas Ice Cream Fizz recipe.

“Silver bells, Silver bells, it’s Christmas time in the city.”

The City of Paris tree

The City of Paris tree

“Silver Bells” was our mother’s favorite Christmas song.  I remember back in the 1950’s we had a record player that was roughly the size of a modern day refrigerator.  I thought it was a miracle of engineering that we could stack records on top of each other and they would drop in succession.  At Christmastime our mother couldn’t get enough of “Silver Bells” so each time it concluded she rushed to the record player to keep the next record from dropping so she could hear it again.  The song was our anthem; every year during the Christmas season we got dressed up, including gloves and hat, to make the 22 mile trip into San Francisco.  We had three destinations:  the Christmas tree in the City of Paris rotunda, the windows at Gump’s, and getting a sundae at Blum’s on Union Square.  Only Gump’s has managed to survive.  Blum’s closed in the 70’s and Neiman Marcus is now in the City of Paris building.  The magic of the City of Paris Christmas tree was not only its 40 foot size, but the decorations – tricycles, dolls, trains and all manner of toys, bright lights, glass bulbs and a huge star on top.  Each year it was a bit different and each year I stared at it in wide-eyed wonderment.  When Neiman Marcus bought the store they tried to carry on the tradition but judging by this year’s effort – a metal, blue spiral cone hung upside down – they have done an abysmal job of it.  Where is the magic in that?  Makes me glad I grew up when I did.

 

“Silent Night, Holy Night”

Our grandmother was in her 50’s when our grandfather died in 1948.  She never re-married.  She referred to him constantly and loved to keep his memory alive through stories.  She had a full life but was always a little sad around the holidays when she missed him most of all.  His favorite Christmas carol was “Silent Night”.   When all of our relatives would come on Christmas morning our mom would always have Christmas albums playing (by now we had graduated to a “console”).  The problem was that “Silent Night” would bring our grandmother to tears.  Unfortunately, of the approximately 87 Christmas albums our mother had, “Silent Night” seemingly appeared on all of them.  So my job was to remember the various “cuts” on the albums where “Silent Night” was placed and then race to the console to skip over the track before grandma dissolved into tears.  I can’t hear that song today without thinking about her and about the countless times I practically tripped over the Christmas tree lurching for the record player.

Through the years we all will be together, if the Fates allow…”

A jolly man indeed!

A jolly man indeed!

This will be the 15th Christmas without our dad.  I miss him just as much this year as I did that very first one.  He was a happy, joyful guy, always kind and helpful to others.  He was also one of the funniest people I’ve ever met.  All year long he embodied the Christmas spirit and when I was very young I thought he even looked like Santa,  with his twinkling blue eyes, rosy cheeks and a stomach that shook like a bowl full of jelly.  He loved the holidays, welcoming friends and family alike into our home.  Our whole family misses his loving spirit but we also recognize we were very lucky to have him as long as we did and are grateful that he left us with so many cherished Christmas memories.

“…So have yourself a Merry Little Christmas now.”

One of Pop’s hallmarks was the Ice Cream fizz he served every Christmas morning.  Oh sure, most families had hot chocolate and cider while we were drinking gin.  But don’t judge – it has given a roseate hue to many a Christmas morning.  So this year we are once again sharing his recipe so that you and your family might also enjoy this wonderful tradition.

 

 

POP’S CHRISTMAS ICE CREAM FIZZ

Fill a blender 1/4 full with ice cubes

Add 6 jiggers of gin

Add 4 scoops of French Vanilla ice cream

Add 1 small bottle of soda water (the size you get in a 6-pack)

My brother Bob adds an egg so the white adds some froth, brother Jack doesn’t add an egg.  Personally, I’d add it just because you can then claim it’s a protein drink.

Just blend it well and – voila – you have a concoction sure to put a positive spin on everyone and every thing!

Our mom served them in a wine glass with a dash of nutmeg.  As we got older we would conspire with Pop and ditch the wine glass for  a chilled beer mug from the freezer. Saved having to go back for seconds…or thirds.

 

We wish everyone a Happy Holiday season – we’ll be back in 2017!

 

THE CHRISTMAS CARD DILEMMA

By Suzanne Sparrow Watson

christmas-cardI love everything about Christmas – the decorations, the tree, the festive spirit that seems to permeate the air.  Of course, all that egg nog and hot buttered rum helps.  The only Grinch to my Christmas spirit is the dreaded Christmas cards.  Don’t get me wrong, I love to receive them, I just hate sending them.  So while our house is now ready for Christmas (my husband has opined that it looks like an elf vomited in here), I have put off my decision on cards until this week – do I send some out or just forget the whole thing?  Christmas cards just seem so 80’s to me – the 1880’s, which is when Christmas cards became popular in America.  The sending of cards is reminiscent of a time before the internet, when you didn’t hear from people except for the annual Christmas card.  Social media and email have completely changed that; today I can tell you what my friend down in Texas had for breakfast because she posted it on Facebook.   I know of every birth, death, marriage, divorce and trip to the mall.  So I don’t really need to get a Christmas card or worse yet, a Christmas letter, to know what my friends have been up to.  I know what my friends are doing right down to their scrambled eggs.

My Christmas cards seems to fall into four major categories.  First are the corporate cards.  You know, the ones from the banker or  insurance agent.  The first card we received this year was from our attorney, which seems only fitting since we bared our souls to him a few months ago while drawing up new life and death documents.  I don’t know whether he’s sending genuine greetings or he’s just checking to see whether the card gets returned and he needs to start filing paperwork.  The second category are from distant friends – people that we don’t see all year long but somehow the need arises to wish each other the very best for the holiday season.  Mostly they are old neighbors or workmates I couldn’t pick out in a crowd.  Am I morally obligated to continue this exchange of well-wishes?  The third group are the true friends – some of whom we see or keep in touch with all year long.  Heck, some of us are golf partners or good friends with whom we socialize every week.  We will be wishing holiday greetings in person, some of them several times.  Do we really need to send cards too?

christmas-letter

The last category is the Christmas letter.  There are some that are really well done.  Some.  But most seem to have turned the Christmas tradition of wishing others a happy season to one giant “let’s talk about me” exercise. Generally, people just don’t know where to stop.  Johnny got into Harvard?  Great.  Snookie was elected president of her third grade class?  Good for her!  But too often it goes into such minutia that it borders on the ridiculous.  My parents used to receive one that was so full of trivia and self-aggrandizement that our mom used to wait until we were all gathered on Christmas Eve so that one of us kids (by this time adults and full of “cheer”) could read it in dramatic fashion, everyone breaking into gales of laughter.  Each year my husband and I receive one from one of his former co-workers that last year had me going from the start.  In addition to a litany of the various trips taken, there was a review of golf handicaps (they went down, of course), a tabulation of their granddaughter’s Girl Scout cookie sales and the net worth of the company that their son-in-law went to work for, along with its employee count and various office locations.  Seriously.  As they’re writing this tome do they really think anyone cares about the headcount in Poughkeepsie?

christmas-ornamentPerhaps the best take on Christmas cards was from a friend of our parents back in the 60’s.  They kept every card they received the previous year.  Then they re-addressed it to the sender inserting a note that read “We liked your Christmas card so much last year that we have decided to give you the pleasure of seeing it again this year.  So, we’re sending it back to you.”  Now that is clever.  And it beats using old cards to make ornaments.  As for all the Christmas letters?  They could be shredded into bird cage liner and the circle would be closed.

So, here I sit in mid-December still trying to weigh the pros and cons of sending cards.  Mailing cards has become exponentially easier with the advent of computer-generated mailing labels so I don’t have that arthritic wrist to provide an excuse anymore.  And since I do like to see photos of people’s kids, grandkids and dogs I feel like I need to somehow reciprocate.  After all, who am I to deny the world of one more cute picture of Dash the Wonder Dog at Christmas?

 

 

 

GROUCHO MARX MAY BE RIGHT

By Suzanne Sparrow Watson

Thanksgiving

I’m betting they didn’t have Jell-o salad

Well, here we are, launched into the holiday season.  “Holiday season” being a euphemism for “gain five pounds”.  Like most people, I consumed more food than normal last week, further endangering my cholesterol numbers.   I dove into mashed potatoes, gravy, pies and whipped cream like I was going to “the chair”.   In my food stupor I also gave some thought to the original Thanksgiving – the one where people actually got along and shared stuff.  Can you imagine?  The Pilgrims have been on my mind lately because earlier this year I applied for membership in the General Society of Mayflower Descendants.  To say that the requirements for entry are stiff is an understatement.  These people take their mission seriously; one can imagine hunched-over researchers with green eyeshades taking delight in stamping “Reject!” on the hundreds of applications they receive.  Actually, there is ONE man who is the gatekeeper to the organization – it is he alone who makes the decision as to whether your documentation is up to snuff.

I’ll spare you the details but let’s just say this research is not for the faint of heart.  One must provide birth, marriage and death certificates for every person in the descendant line, including spouses who aren’t even a blood relation to the original Mayflower passenger.  I don’t know about you but I can’t even find my own marriage license.   I asked myself several times during the research and collection phase of this process why I was going through this effort.  I’m not sure I ever satisfied myself with a great answer except that I am a history buff.  I love not only the facts and figures but the people who lived before us and shaped our world.  No detail is too small.  I am the type of person who goes through the National Gallery, looking at the portraits wondering what the subject had for breakfast that morning.  In the case of the Mayflower passengers I have also been looking for any hints of DNA that might have trickled down to our generation and I have been pleasantly surprised to find some similarities.

The very serious William Brewster

The very serious William Brewster

John Alden, for example, was our forefather and was a “cooper” – or barrel maker – in England before setting sail.  I immediately saw a connection; our brother Jack works for Fess Parker Winery and has great knowledge about barrel-making, not to mention his excellent ability to consume their contents.  We are also related to the Elder William Brewster, the religious leader of the Plymouth Colony.  No relatives I know of inherited his pious devotion, but prior to becoming an elder he worked as a postmaster and an English teacher.  Brother Bob also worked for the post office during college and then taught high school English upon graduation.  Finally, Priscilla Mullins (who later married Alden), was the spinner and weaver for the colony.  And anyone who has seen my vast collection of yarn or knows me as president of the local knitting guild would see an immediate link.  So who knows?  Maybe there are some genetic traits that filter down.  So far I haven’t found any horse thieves  but we are descended from several rabble rousers and a heretic burned at the Salem witch trials.  Anyone who knows my brothers or me would testify that that apple didn’t fall too far from that tree either.

It’s also been interesting to see which famous people are related to Mayflower passengers and, by extension, us.  John Adams, Dan Quayle and Marilyn Monroe are also related to John Alden.  I’m not sure about John or Dan, but I know I’m related to Marilyn because, as my brother can confirm, every year on his birthday I do my best Marilyn Monroe to Jack Kennedy version of the “Happy Birthday” song.  William Brewster’s descendants include Bing Crosby, Cokie Roberts and Julia Child.  I’m questioning my relation to Julia – I think the gene pool mutated somewhere between her and me.  But I can carry a tune and I love history so I figure two out of three isn’t bad.

mayflower-descendants

As I say, it’s a long and laborious process.  I submitted my application on June 1 and I have yet to hear the status of it.  I’m hoping that I catch the man who is the arbiter of all things Mayflower in a good mood the day he reviews it.  Otherwise I may have to adopt Grocho Marx’s philosophy – “I wouldn’t want to belong to any club that would accept me as a member”.

 

That Day in Dallas

by Bob Sparrow

kennedy-in-carI had the pleasure a couple of weeks ago of attending the wedding of Reid Hendrix in Dallas, Texas; Reid is the son of good friends and former ‘hood residents, Cap & Sharon Hendrix, but no relation to Jimmy Hendrix. It is hard to mention the city of Dallas to people of my generation and not have them think of the Kennedy assassination. It was 53 years ago this week when we all not only remember the date of November 22, 1963, but we all know exactly where we were and what we were doing when we heard the news – “President Kennedy has been shot”. Our generation saw Kennedy as a young, energetic, charismatic leader; who we were less concerned about his politics and policies than we were about the goings-on of Jack and Jackie in ‘Camelot’.

That day in Dallas was an historic day in many ways. To me ‘the 50s’ started in 1954 when Bill Haley and the Comets released Rock Around the Clock and ended with the Kennedy assassination. The age of innocence was gone as it was less than three months later when the Beatles made their first appearance in the United States and the psychedelic 60’s were underway.

book-depository

6th Floor Museum at Dealey Plaza

Although I have traveled to Dallas many times on business, I have never visited the site of the Kennedy assassination, the Texas School Book Depository, or as my colleagues called it, the Book Suppository (Ouch!), maybe that’s part of the reason it’s been renamed the Six Floor Museum at Dealey Plaza. Regardless of the name, they’ve done a great job of telling the complete, albeit controversial, story of the assassination and the strange series of events that followed. The self-guided tour through the museum exposes you to historic films, photographs, artifacts and interpretive displays that document the events surrounding the assassination. The museum presents the background of Lee Harvey Oswald and what might have been his motivation to shoot Kennedy, the story of Jack Ruby, who shot Oswald two days after Oswald shot Kennedy, and the Warren Commission’s report that unconvincingly concluded that Oswald acted alone.  It is a conspiracy theorist’s paradise.

The highlight of the tour for me was standing by the window on the 6th floor next to the site from where the gunshots came (one can not stand exactly where Oswald was as it is surrounded with Plexiglas). While standing there, one can see a video simulation of the Kennedy convertible turning the corner and coming right toward Oswald (presenting him with what seemed to be a much better target than the car later offered), then taking a left turn on Elm Street (Elm Street?!) where after Kennedy’s convertible moved laterally away from Oswald’s perch until it was about 100 yards away, at which time the shots were fired from the rear.

grassyknoll

 Me searching the ‘grassy knoll’

What about the ‘second gunman behind the grassy knoll’ you say? As you can see by the photo, I examined it quite thoroughly and came away more confused than I was back in the 60s. There’s a lot of stuff that just doesn’t add up. To wit:

  • Oswald was not a particularly good marksman
  • The alleged weapon was an average quality bolt-action rifle, meaning one would have to manually discharge the spent shell and move a live shell into the firing chamber, which makes firing 3 or 4 bullets (they’re not exactly sure) accurately in just a few seconds very difficult
  • Critical documents were withheld from the Warren Commission and they ignored some of the testimony and some of the evidence was tampered with
  • Certain film and photographs of the assassination were confiscated

And to me the most interesting controversy revolved around the ‘Magic Bullet Theory’, which goes as follows: Allegedly one bullet passed through President Kennedy’s neck and Governor Connally’s chest and wrist and embedded itself in the Governor’s thigh. If so, this bullet traversed 15 layers of clothing, 7 layers of skin, and approximately 15 inches of tissue, struck a necktie knot, removed 4 inches of rib, and shattered a radius bone. A magic bullet indeed!

While the tour told an interesting and detailed story, I came away disturbed, disturbed that we still don’t know all thewho-killed facts of what really happened that day, and why. Viable cases have been made for various murder suspects, including Vice President Lyndon Johnson, the CIA, the KGB, Fidel Castro, a Secret Service agent and the mafia, just to name a few!

A lot stuff just doesn’t add up.  So if our government didn’t give us the real scoop on this, I’m going to look into that so-called moon landing we did back in 1969 and perhaps start searching for Elvis, who may still be alive.