Iowa City 2017

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The week long class I took was called Finding Your Threads, which I thought might help me to tie together the assorted bits and pieces of writing about my family history into something of a document that might be worth reading by people who were not related to us as well as a legacy to those who are.  The class was interesting and I did write a few more bits about my Slovak heritage.

A classmate named Sara, who calls herself Wokie (like cookie) because there are so many women with the same name, it just simplifies classroom life, asked me if I’d like to accompany her on a drive to Cedar Rapids to the Czech and Slovak museum and I said yes.  We headed out after our morning conferences with our teacher and made it back just a few minutes into our last class of the session.   My camera ran out of charge just as I was posturing to photograph the gigantic crystal chandelier in the lobby.  I had to be satisfied with a post card.

After the class ended, a lady from Philadelphia and I were slowly walking down the hill from the old Capitol.  Lyn had gone to the Women’s March to Washington, D.C. and I wanted her to meet Claudia, who was sitting in the hotel lobby when we arrived.  We all chatted for a minute and then agreed to get freshened up and meet back in the lobby in a half hour and go out to dinner together.

I was really surprised that Claudia arrived so early – my memory of driving between Naperville and Cleveland was that it took me a full eight hours and so I did not think she’d be here at her estimated time of arrival, but there she was.  We had a very enjoyable dinner at the Atlas restaurant and returned to the hotel to wind down and prepare for the Saturday registration and class.

We trudged up the hill to the old Capitol and were there before the registration actually began, which seemed to be a good thing to me, because we were able to get seats and get hot coffee and pastries – my favorite is the pan au chocolat, or chocolate filled croissant.  Once the registration began we got underway and soon the room was filled to capacity.  Claudia and I gathered our stuff and made our way down a floor to the assembly room where we would be greeted by Kate, who reminds us every year that if we have fallen in love with Iowa City, we should be sure we have employment before moving here.

She went on to dole out other information and then to introduce the line of teachers at the back of the room.  Completing her introduction and welcome, Kate sent us off to our classes and Claudia and I agreed about where to meet after class.

She was signed up for Tell a Tale and I took a poetry class, where I was delighted to find people I met in other classes in other years, but my favorite is John, who is still outrageously funny and he loved it that I laughed at his jokes.  On his way to the vending machine for a coke he asked if I wanted a pop and I said no thank you, then asked if I wanted a water, and my bottle was over half full so I nixed that offer as well.  His last offer was, “…chocolate cake?” now I was listening, but laughed because the machine only contained drinks.

After class Claudia and I walked up Jefferson to St. Mary’s Church.  The Methodist Church was the building before it and she tried to get into it but all the doors were locked, they did not have a Saturday evening service.  I was glad she agreed to accompany me to Mass, though she was not at all obligated to do so.  St. Mary’s is very old and the statues and stained glass windows are quite lovely, so I thought she would enjoy seeing them.  Her husband and her son-in-law are Catholic, so she was not troubled by joining me at Mass.

From there we walked a couple blocks further to a delicatessen for dinner and signed up to participate in the open mic poetry reading.  Claudia is not primarily interested in poetry but she did have a nice piece she wrote after viewing a statue in a museum, on her laptop so that is what she read and was later complimented by an attendee on that work.  My poem elicited some laughter because of its surprise ending.

On the walk back down Jefferson we talked about the poetry we had heard.  The road takes a steeper descent a couple of blocks before the Iowa House Hotel, and last year I decided I would be safer taking a detour back to the diagonal walk from the old capitol, but Claudia offered her arm if I needed to lean on her and we inched along step by step until we got safely to the bottom of the street.

When the Sunday sessions ended I walked toward the Prairie Lights Book store in search of poetry by Ilya Kaminsky, a teacher I had last year and Claudia was going to spend some time at yoga and meet me at the book store.  She enjoyed being in the old fashioned real book store and found a book by the teacher she had.  To my delight she had not only enjoyed her experience at the festival, but felt like she was just getting started and hated to be leaving the next morning.  We went into an Irish pub and indulged in fish and chips, which was very tasty and very filling.  A couple of ladies stopped us to ask if we were locals and we said no, so they were about to keep going when I offered, “We’ve been here a week, maybe we can help you.”  They were looking for a good place to eat and had been to the Atlas the evening before.  After telling them about the meal we had just eaten, thanking us they headed off in the direction of the Irish pub.

A hip joint

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With a week between returning from Cape Cod and my departure for Iowa, I scurried around the house getting laundry and dishes done and squeezing in time for my very part time job and two trips to the pool for water exercise, oh yes, then pack the suitcase.  Since Claudia from the Word Lovers Retreat was planning to drive out to Iowa City for a weekend class, I had only a one way flight to Iowa with the plan to ride back home with Claudia.

On the 8th of July the cab that I had called on the day before to come at noon was not here by 12:10 so I went back into the house and called them to be told, “You’re not even on the books!” But before I could faint, he said they would be right out and get me to my 2:20 p.m. flight on time.  The driver did arrive shortly and after assuring me it was not his fault, did get me to the airport though I was sure my blood pressure was up and I was wet with perspiration.

I could not print out my boarding pass from my computer though I had tried a couple of times.  At the check in counter I found that the TSA KTN (known traveler number) did not show up on my boarding pass, though the airline clerk was able to confirm that the number I gave her was my KTN number, thus I was subjected to a humiliating pat down at the TSA entry.  With the KTN number I should not have to remove my shoes, so for the first time since 9-11 I wore laced shoes and of course I had to take them off, though the airline person said anyone over 70 did not have to do so.  The TSA person said it was 75 years of age.  She asked me if I wanted a private room for the pat down and I said absolutely not, I wanted anyone going by to see that her hands were all over me, from my chin to my ankles, across my chest, rear, and up and down the insides of my legs from ankle to groin.  First they put me through an X-RAY like unit that looks through my clothes, then the pat down.

Personally I have never heard of anyone over 70 years of age ever getting radicalized, nor of trying to cause a terrorist action.  At no other airport in the world have I encountered such treatment, not New York, Newark, Rome, Austin, Colorado, or Iowa. Cleveland Hopkins is certainly the worst experience I have ever had in my trips since 9-11.

Once I arrived in Cedar Rapids, Iowa I had calmed down and tried to focus on the lush greenery along the route to the Iowa House Hotel.  I phoned Dorothy, one of the two ladies I stay in touch with from the Mediterranean Cruise in 2015.  Dorothy lives right in Iowa City and we agreed that she would pick me up in the morning and to go to Mass together and then have lunch.

I walked across the campus to a noodle shop that I like, for dinner and took my time coming back and partially unpacking.

At the appointed time I saw Dorothy’s white car pulling onto the street where I had been standing in front of the Iowa House and I raised my thumb as if hitch hiking as she pulled up and let me into the car.  We went to her parish, St. Pat’s, and from there to a bright and charming restaurant for lunch.  We planned to go back to sit on her veranda like we did last year, but she wanted to make a quick stop at her realtor’s house to sign a paper and I sat in the car while she did that.

Instead of Dorothy coming back, the realtor came out to the car and invited me to come into the house and have some water, Dorothy had fallen, missed her footing on the one step porch on her way back out of the house.  In a matter of minutes the EMS folks arrived and took Dorothy off to a hospital which has a good orthopedic department and the realtor drove me to the Vetro Hotel on the Pedestrian Mall where the evening’s registration and dinner would be held.

Things just had to go upward from here.  Registration and dinner were fun, as always and that encouraged me because I was beginning to wonder if I should not have come.  Later when I got back to the Iowa House I called Cindy, the realtor and got the lowdown on Dorothy’s condition – the fall had broken her hip and she would end up with a partial hip replacement.

 

Cape Cod by Bus

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Usually I am anxious to chronicle my summer travels, at least as a journal of how each segment of each trip went and what I may want most to remember about them through the long dark winter evenings ahead, but I have had some hesitation getting started this time.

I had already committed to a bus ride up to Cape Cod late in June and made all the arrangements for a couple of courses during the annual Iowa Summer Writing Festival for early to mid-July when I learned the specifics about my sister and her family driving out from Washington state to visit with our Wooster, Ohio cousins. I was able to get out there for a couple of days to join in their activities, but missed all the others who flocked into town later in the week.  Missing any or all of these gatherings is always a disappointment since we are scattered and do not connect often.

On the bus ride to Cape Cod there were 49 of us and the driver.  Once we rolled across the state boundary into Massachusetts, the scenery became more varied with striations of mountains sliced into for the highways, so my camera got more exercise than it had up to that point.

Every day was sunny and warm and we were constantly on the go, off to get the ferry to Martha’s Vineyard and once there we divided up and packed ourselves into a few vans for additional touring.  Our van driver took us to a fresh fish market where we got the best “lobster roll” sandwiches, we were also able to get them at the first Mc Donald’s inside the Massachusetts border.  From that point on it was fresh lobster at every opportunity including a lobster salad at a place called Fresh Ketch.

There are many small towns which make up Cape Cod and we went through quite a few spending the better part of a full day in Provincetown or P-town as the locals call it, where I was able to break off from the group and wander at my leisure, taking pictures and going at my own pace.   We heard tales of sea captains and a haunted hotel, there were beautiful Victorian houses within a sneeze of each other, we walked through the John F. Kennedy museum and his memorial in a local park; we stopped at a glass factory and crossed the street to fill our water bottles at a spring which was reputed to have healing waters.

Our tour bus driver told us about his experience driving a bus of people out of New Orleans right after Katrina; he later told us that he and his wife after raising children of their own, are raising her niece’s two young children, who were not being properly cared for.  So I was not surprised when Dave suggested that those of us on the bus, step aside and let a few local customers at the last restaurant we stopped in before crossing back into Ohio, ahead of us, as they had children sitting at tables, and he would not leave without any of us.  A few of our number did not feel so inclined, but a few of us did as asked and I said to him, “Dave, you are a good man.”  It seemed to me he never misses an opportunity to be his best self.

Busy Signal

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It used to be my father’s habit to just show up at the home of one of his siblings and their families, thinking nothing of the fact that he had not phoned ahead to schedule a visit.  They were his family after all, and it should be okay to just come when it was possible to do so.  Before highway 71 was built we drove for a few hours on old route 42 to visit his sister next in age to him only to find that no one was home.

In today’s culture, visits are by appointment only, and just showing up unexpectedly is considered by some, to be rude.  I don’t mind, except that I’m usually in some grubby outfit and may or may not have any particular refreshment to offer so if someone surprises me, what you see is what you get, as they say.

Having spent yesterday afternoon with travelling friends, Kay, Diane and her cousin Janice, I was surprised to find Kay at my front door pounding loudly to get my attention.  I invited her in and asked what was up and she told me she and Diane had been trying to reach me as late as 10:00 p.m. last night and as early as 9:00 a.m. this morning until she decided to come and hunt me down.  I told her I had no phone calls but thought nothing of it since it is not unusual for me to get anything but robo calls, sometimes for days.  I went over to my landline and picked up the receiver to hear no sound.  Dead.  So I pulled out my little track phone and we called Diane.  Line busy.

I fooled around with the telephone on a stand in the kitchen until finally the dial tone returned and I tried Diane again.  Still a busy signal.  Kay and I sat down while she told me they were talking about the Strawberry Festival out in Bedford today and hadn’t we had plans to go?  Yes, we did and I had forgotten all about it and was now in the process of moving things away from the windows as I had a man coming over in the morning to wash the all the windows in the house.  We finally got Diane and she and Kay agreed where to meet at the festival while I would skip it this year, and go on about my chores.

This reminded me about the time when I had a surprise visit from my cousin, Tom.  He doesn’t live that faraway, just far enough that we don’t see each other coming and going.

Nevertheless, I was pleasantly surprised to open the door to find him standing there.  He sighed and said, “You don’t know how glad I am that you came to the door!”  He and his family had just returned from a trip to Indiana to see his elder daughter’s Master’s Degree graduation and my cousin Theresa, his sister, was calling him frantically to check up on me as she hadn’t been able to reach me for a week.

I said, “Oh, the phone’s been out of commission for eight days, so no phone, no computer and since I get so few phone calls any week, it had not occurred to me that anyone would be looking for me”.  Tom said he was prepared to break the door down as Theresa was sure I was in a heap at the bottom of the stairs in the basement.  I keep telling her, that such a fall would surely do some serious damage, but it is much more likely that I will die from the stupid stuff, like arguing with the supplemental insurance company, which I am convinced is the source of skyrocketing blood pressure not only for me, but many a frustrated senior.

Word Lovers Spring Retreat

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Amazingly enough, I found my original directions for getting to highway 90 West from highway 480 so I read them a couple of times before embarking on the drive and this time it was smooth sailing all the way through the entering and leaving of the in-between highway 176.  My guardian angel must have propelled me so that I got out the door of the house before the mid-afternoon traffic rush as well.  It probably helped that I started packing a few days earlier so everything was not pushed to the last minute.

The weather was perfect, a little warm, sunny, and dry, in spite of a forecast that suggested rain for most of the weekend.  The Sandusky Bay looked beautiful and calm. Arriving at the Chautauqua village of Lakeside and parking the car, I was happy to be there again.  Another guest was sitting on the porch of The Idlewyld Bed + Breakfast and she came down to help me lug my roller bag up the steps and porch and even rolled it all the way to the Rose Bud room at the end of the long hall of rooms, to where I was assigned to stay for the weekend.  Jeanne was new to the Word Lovers Retreat and is a friend of our guest speaker, John Ettorre, a Cleveland native, and free-lance writer who would be talking to us about memoir writing.

As soon as I settled into the room, I headed back out and down the street with an eye on the lake.  I browsed around in a couple of stores and bought a lemon yellow tee shirt with the Lakeside logo which had been marked down from $23.00 to $5.00, oh yes, much better and a nice souvenir.  A little further along I stopped for a soft cream cone and sat there enjoying it before walking on to the lake where I crossed paths with Claudia, who was leading a group of the newer guests on a short tour of the town.   Sitting on a bench I enjoyed looking at the lake and people playing on the beach.  When the bells tolled five p.m. I started walking back up the street.  Dinner on Friday nights is usually half past five and I wouldn’t want to be late for that.

We walked around the table filling our plates with open tacos and assorted goodies and settling into the snug dining room to talk and eat.

On Saturday morning coffee is available at seven a.m. and people either walk down to the lake, sleep in, spend time writing, or join in the yoga exercise before breakfast.  After the meal we re-shuffle and get ready for the first workshop.  There is usually a brief free time and then lunch, then the main speaker does a presentation, then more free time before we all decide where we are going to dinner.  There are usually a couple of groups heading in different directions and a few folks who opt to stay at the house and have left overs.  I went with the group who ended up going to the Canoe Club because the Japanese restaurant couldn’t seat thirteen of us before seven p.m. We ate out on the veranda, which was very pleasant.

Back at the Idlewyld we re-convened for open mic; there were three of us who read poetry, I also read one essay and Elise sang.  She is a very gifted singer and her poetry is profound. Debra read the latest chapter in a science fantasy novel she is working on, Claudia read the prolog for her memoir about participating in the Women’s March earlier this year.

As the day winds into dark balmy evening hours, many of us go out to the porch, claim a rocking chair and though sleep beckons, we drift along sharing thoughts and memories before slowly saying goodnight and closing our individual doors to find sleep.

In the morning after breakfast there is one last workshop, the weekend’s rain has come; we do a group hug and part once again filled with inspiration to write as well as we can and wish each other safe travels until we meet again.

The Big Picture

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In the summer of 1969 shortly after I moved to California, Carol, my then roommate, dropped me off at St. Rita’s Catholic Church in San Jose for an all-day conference given by a husband and wife team of philosophy teachers from San Jose State College.  They launched into a lecture about Pere Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, a Jesuit Priest who was about a hundred years ahead of his time in proclaiming “…we are the stuff of the stars…”

Teaching at a University in Paris got him in trouble with the Church with his advanced views.  After removing him from teaching, the Church sent him to China since he was a paleontologist, where he unearthed one of the important early skulls and so made his name in that field as well.  He was just too brilliant to fade quietly away in Asia.  He wrote several books, The Phenomenon of Man, Hymn of The Universe, To Save the Earth, and others.

After listening and taking voluminous notes at the seminar, I was awe-filled and greatly inspired with hope for humankind.

A recent episode of Call the Midwife was ending and the narrator spoke softly about “…the invisible but real cord that connects us all…” which took me back to the words of Deepak Chopra one evening in an auditorium in Akron, when he said all of us sitting there were not the same people who we had been when we first took our seats, since we had been together there breathing the same air.

Listening to a video of Tom Chi, co-founder of Google X really tied together all of these thoughts on interconnectedness for me.  He talks about the heart – there is a molecule of iron in the cells – and iron, is formed in supernovas; and breath – how a breath exhaled travels completely around the world in 4 or 5 days.  He spoke about Laniakea, the super cluster of galaxies of which we, on the Milky Way, are a little dot in the big swirl.

Tom Chi spoke about how what each person does – contributes to the palate of the rest of the people on earth.  For example, he said that the piano was invented in 1700.  Before the piano was invented, the beauty of piano music was not available for people to enjoy.  So each generation builds on what the previous generations have contributed to society. Even when we feel small and alone, it seems we are not at all, and are actually doing our part to paint the big picture.

Forever known to the world as Captain Kirk of the Starship Enterprise, William Shatner, a recent guest on the Tavis Smiley show, said he believes that all living things are related and that from life through death we evolve into something else.  He is, however, very concerned that once that happens, he will be alone and that causes him to fear dying.  He also does not believe that we will then have to atone for our sins.  This is the difference between one who has faith in God, and one who does not.  Perhaps he will be pleasantly surprised to find himself in the company of not only all of his ancestors, but all creatures who once inhabited the earth.

Commercial Holidays

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The greeting card industry has capitalized on the acknowledgement of assorted sentiments for many years.  Mother’s Day is the single busiest day for the phone company, no doubt as a result.  But for the reminders about this and other appointed times to take a moment to say thank you and/or I love you, people today might keep right on with their insanely busy schedules, completely forgetting to even call or write to the ones they do deep down care about.  So the commercial value is somewhat overlooked and everyone feels as if they have done their duty or are at least rewarded by the pleased responses from the folks who receive the cards, flowers, candy, calls or some token of affection.

My cousin Maryann’s two children have always been generous to her in their show of love and affection, so this first Mother’s Day without her son, I expected would be especially difficult for her.

I was invited to join Maryann and her daughter for dinner which would be shishkebabs that Becky’s beau, Kevin would grill.  He is the chef in that couple and he enjoys grilling.  Each skewer held an assortment of tomato, pineapple, onion, pepper, chicken, shrimp and beef chunks.  He went on to spend the day with his own mom, but still did the grilling and the three of us really enjoyed his work.  They brought fried rice from a nearby Chinese restaurant and Maryann made a fruit salad, so that was a very nice meal.

Becky only mentioned her brother a few times and showed some pictures from his childhood that she had on her i-phone, but otherwise the mood was comfortably light, for which I was really grateful.   Of course, I could not help remembering past celebrations when our numbers were larger and we were indulged by Aunt Elizabeth for prime rib at her favorite restaurant.

I was glad to be with family and to share a nice meal.  As if that were not enough, Becky presented me with a lovely flower arrangement which had white roses and other pink flowers in it.  I was really touched.

When I got back home there was a phone message from my Lebanese next door neighbors inviting me to come for dinner.   I thought I should stop there at least for coffee.  I seem to be getting accustomed to their super strong espresso like coffee.  After an hour or so I tried to take my leave, but they insisted I stay for a serving of watermelon, so I sat back down and when I finally left my “family” next door, it was beginning to get dark, so I had spent the whole day in good company.