My Grandmother

My grandmother – Ruth – would occasionally speak of the Great Depression – an agonizing time when unemployment skyrocketed and nearly everyone had financial problems. She said that periodically there would be a knock at the door. And a man would be standing there wearing coat and tie – with his “hat in hand.” Or it might be a lady in a dress.  “Ma’am, I’m just wondering if you have any food that you can spare.”

My grandparents did not have much.  But they went to Church every Sunday and they believed in charity — however small.  My grandfather – Frank – volunteered his time and scarce dollars to the venerable Pacific Garden Mission in downtown Chicago while my grandmother was busy raising three children.  But Grandma said that she would always answer that knock on the door.  She would tell the stranger to wait.  She would go to the kitchen, take a slice of bread and smear it with butter. Then sprinkle it with sugar. She would put it in a paper bag with an apple (if she had any) and give it to the grateful stranger.

We are going through unprecedented times. Many economists say that we are entering a recession. Some say it could be worse. . . .  Regardless of our means, I tend to think that each one of us will be receiving a “knock on the door.”  Whether from a charitable or religious organization, a family member or from a stranger.  The question is – will we answer the door. . . . ?   

So this little old lady. . . .

[I need a smile.  Here’s a chuckle from May 4, 2016]

So this little old lady is working in a hardware store. She is dusting and cleaning and fussing. In walks a large workman wearing bib overalls and high-top boots.
She smiles “Can I help you?”
Lady, I need to buy a file.”
She puts her hands together “Oh my – we have all sorts of files.” She turns and points to the array of tools.  “We have these.  And these.  And these. . . . .”
I really need a bastard file,” he says.

The little old lady puts her hand to her mouth and runs to the manager. She glares sternly and points “that man used a bad word in front of me.  He said he wanted a ‘bastard’ file.”
The manager smiled and said “it’s not a bad word. There are wood files and metal files and a ‘bastard’ file is actually a type of file for metalworking [this is true]. Why not go back and sell him the file.”
So she did.

A few days later another big workman came in. He said “Ma’am, I need a file.”
She smiled and held one up. “Would you like this bastard here?”
“No” he thought. “I’ll take that SOB* over there. . . . ”                             

*This term is subject to personal preference

American Sign Language

On February 23, 2014, I recalled sitting on the train — waiting to pull out of the station. Three young girls (probably high school) bustled in and sat in the 4 seater ahead of me. They began conversing animatedly. Laughing. Giggling. And I watched. Fascinated.  What caught my attention was — they didn’t make a sound. One of the girls was deaf. And the three were mouthing words to each other and using sign language.  They were fast.  And fluent. 

I am reminded of that post given the recent press conferences and political offerings – which often include a person who is “signing” for viewers who are hearing impaired. 

American Sign Language (“ASL”) originated in the early 19th century at the American School for the Deaf in Hartford, CT.   Today, it is used by nearly a million people.  I have two friends who are conversant in ASL:  one of my partners and my former priest (both Eagle Scouts by the way).  

Watching these three young women “talking” was a wake up for me.  Since then, when I have lunch at my desk (which is often), I will sometimes log onto an ASL site just to stretch my small brain.  Do yourself a favor.  Check out https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Raa0vBXA8OQ   And learn a bit of ASL.  There are many YouTube opportunities to learn ASL.   It is neat and valuable to creak open this door.  

I have a special reason to look into ASL.  You see my father was clinically deaf from World War II.  And he never learned ASL.  And neither did I. . . . .  

Back Pain

There are times when I get out of bed in the morning that my lower back pain is so intense that I can barely move. It sometimes takes a couple minutes to put on a my Jockey Juniors and a pair of sweatpants to head downstairs for breakfast.  From what I hear, there are a lot of back issues going around.   Mine have been diagnosed as spondylosis (i.e. arthritis).  Recently – sciatica pain was added to the mix.  

It’s interesting that once I get up – and moving around – the issues subside and the back pain distills into a dull ache.   And soon, I’ll be hoofing off to the train station.  Or heading off to the golf course  

What has helped immensely is physical therapy.  And stretching.  Before getting out of bed, Donna and I are often doing stretches.   But I want to share one – that has so far scotched the sciatica pain.   It sounds simple – but I lay on my back and raise one knee up to my chest.   And pull.  And with the leg that is flat – I stretch it downward.  With toes up.  It’s almost like the sciatica is going “no no no!”   And the pain abates.  

It’s interesting too how sugar, gluten and alcohol are all known to exacerbate the pains of arthritis.  That said, I can’t say I have fully ditched the occasional Oreo, the spaghetti carbonara or glass of red wine.   Maybe if the pain gets really bad. . . . .

April Fools!

I think we all need a smile.   Here’s a repeat from August 30, 2011.

The first mention of “April Fools Day” as being on April 1st was in Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales in 1392 (in the “Nun’s Priest’s Tale“).

Jonathan Swift (1665-1745) was the foremost prose satirist for the English language. And he was also a twinkle-in-the-eye practical joker who authored a doozy of an April Fools’ prank bringing the tradition to a whole new level. In February 1708, using the name “Isaac Bickerstaff,” he published an article solemnly predicting that John Partridge, a local author of astrological almanacs, would die at 11:00 p.m. on March 29, 1708. All of London held its collective breath. When the fateful day arrived, Swift – still writing as Isaac Bickerstaff – penned a moving obituary announcing the death of Partridge at 7:05 p.m. — four hours earlier than predicted.

Of course Mr. Partridge was very much alive – and outraged over Swift’s prediction and the false reporting of his death. Because the story of John Partridge’s demise was printed on April 1st, there was ignition and lift off for a new – and more creative – breed of April Fool pranks. I think I’d like to have Jonathan Swift join Aristophanes and me for that very special dinner. . . .

Hitchhiking

[A repeat from September 4, 2016] Does anyone hitchhike anymore?  I can’t remember the last time I saw someone standing on the side of the road.  Arm extended.  Thumb pointed up.  

When I was at Augustana College in Rock Island, when I wanted to go home, my options were to take the train (to the tune of twenty bucks) or hitchhike.  I nearly always chose the latter option.  My modus operandi was to Magic Marker a sign “Augie Student to Chicago.”  And on the back “Augie student to Mt. Prospect.”  And I’d stand on the street outside my dorm.  Hold up the sign.  And stick out my thumb.  And always got a ride.  And I lived to tell the tale. 

The first rides would usually cart me off to Interstate 80 and drop me off.  There, I’d stand at the entrance ramp looking forlorn and holding my sign.  And I was always picked up.

Once (Scout’s Honor) a big tractor trailer stopped.  I hustled up and climbed in.  The driver said “I’m sick and need to sleep.  If you wanna drive, I’m going to Route 47.”  Soooooo I traded places with the driver.  He shifted a few of the floor gears and off I went piloting this 48 foot rig.  The driver conked out instantly leaning against the door.  At Rte. 47, I slowed to a stop.  My “passenger” woke up, took over and I hopped out, walked to the down ramp and held up my sign. 

Hitchhiking was so popular back in the day that Marvin Gaye wrote a song with the title “Hitch Hike.”  The song was released in 1962 in Gaye’s “That Stubborn Kinda Fellow” album.  In 1965 the Rolling Stones released their own version.  Listening to this music does bring back memories. . . . .    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rUai4j0QrKE  

Port Wine

Port (Vinho do Porto) is a “fortified” wine that comes from the Douro Valley in the north of Portugal.  The Douro Valley was established as a protected wine area (or appellation) in 1756 making it the oldest wine region in the world.  The wine received its name from the port city of Oporto – hence “Port.” 

Port became popular in England in the early 1700’s when England and France were at war – thus depriving the Brits of French wine.  Merchants tried importing wine from Portugal but the long, rough ship journey – in extremes of temperature – would often cause the wine to spoil.  A bit of brandy was added to “fortify” the wine before shipping and voila (or I should say ai esta) the wine arrived in good order and with a slightly higher alcoholic (about 20%).  Today, aguardente (like brandy) is added to this classic dessert wine (best served with cheese). 

The ongoing British involvement in the Port trade can be seen in the names of many of the shippers (Cockburn, Dow, Warre, Taylor, Croft and so on).   There are different kinds of Port (white, ruby, tawny, crust) but the king of Ports is the Vintage Port.  My old pal David and I used to enjoy a small squidge of Port – following family dinners.  Ahhhh. . . .  But do not expect to enjoy a Vintage Port if it is less than 15 years old and you are over 21. . . .