Why Remember - - -

Johns Hopkins Hospital, circa 1954.

Jim took this picture when he was a 1st year medical student at Hopkins. A California guy raised in the shadow of the Sierras he loved the snow in the mountains but never had to slog through it to work until he landed at Hopkins.  A camera buff he enjoyed seeing the world transformed into black and white.

This morning snow is pelting down outside my window and I am thinking a lot of Jim, even more than usual.

Tomorrow is the 3rd Anniversary of Jim's death. Its been rough lately  - - because you see he is not really dead for me. He is very much alive to me - and I intend to keep it that way through my stories.

Some days I forget to write checks to pay bills but I have vivid memories of most of the 57 years of days Jim and I shared starting with the first time I set eyes on him at St. Michael's Catholic Church on N. Washington Street in Baltimore.

Maybe its my storyteller mind-side that keeps me remembering like I do.  And, you know something- -I am grateful for it. I have worked hard to hone the ability to retrieve times, places and people. Since I tell family stories memories are the "stuff" I work with.

Twenty years ago I attended my first five- day-out-of-town storytelling workshop which was led my favorite teacher, the incomparable Donald Davis. He started the first session with the instruction "take us somewhere we can't go if YOU don't take us."  Donald's direction was electrifying for me as I walked into my grandmother's long-gone house.  Every step brought it more clearly into view. 2301 East Seventh Street, Charlotte, NC wasn't gone after all.

On a trip to Fresno our daughter Robin and I sat in the car with Jim outside his favorite childhood home. Talking it through he brought the interior of that house to life for us without stirring from the car. He also pointed out the spot on the block where he ran his bike into an oncoming car when he was 11 years old. He laughed, "I was showing off for a girl coming down the street". He was tossed in the air, hit the hood of the car and landed in the street. His brother Tom told me, " I saw it. We thought he was dead." Lucky and  foolish yes, fortunately not dead.

 An African folk tale, The Cow Tail Switch is a golden nugget for me. In the story five sons find their father's bones in the jungle where he was killed by a wild animal when he was hunting. They conjure him back to life. The story ends with the wisdom, "no one is truly dead as long as people tell his story." 

I came to storytelling through Genealogy and that "raising of the dead", at least on a chart, has always been the heart of my mission. When my kids were not interested in my charts I turned to storytelling to breathe  life into those names and dates I had worked so hard to find.

And what about this?

The STORY of Jesus has kept HIM and his message alive for centuries. As a Christian I am HIS follower - and was long before I set foot in the Holy Land. Jim and I made that journey with our friend Father Larry Boadt, a talented teacher and preacher who brought Old and New Testament stories to life, especially when you are walking in the footsteps of the Bible and the Gospels.  Having been there brought new life to the old stories for me.

At this time in my life I want to take my children and their children back through time to know Jim and me over the years. Seems to me that is a good thing for me to be doing. I have been known to say, "Your Story is Your Legacy." Now is the time to do more than talk about it ---


Wrapping Myself in 50s on 5

We are supposed to have a snow and ice storm here tomorrow. Drat. So you have to plan for it.

I made it in to Channel 16 this morning to tape a new story even though I didn't like the way my hair looked, and would rather have climbed back into my bed.  Some days you just have to show up - even if the camera's going to catch it all!

Glad to get that done before we are iced in. Then to the Safeway to pick up ice cream and other staples so see us through what ever Mother Nature throws our way.

Other wise it was one of those ordinary days that are so precious - - - and that you forget too easily.

Looking back on a few happy moments today - feeling self-satisfied and smug to pick up groceries before the crowd descended, putting drops in my little Shih Tzu's infected eye and having her trusting me to do it, catching up on some paper work, taking an afternoon nap, talking with my dear long-time bestest friend in PA, finishing a bit of laundry, answering emails and thinking, thinking, thinking.

To complete the day I have done something for myself that I have meant to do for weeks, maybe months. I chatted with a young man in the Phillipines who troubleshoots for SiriusXM subscribers. He helped me re-activate my computer access to 50s on 5. My neighbors will probably wonder what's happened to me now that won't be sitting suspiciously in the car out front to listen to my favorite music. For me having this music in the house is happiness  - - having those long ago familiar sounds and words swirling out of my Mac, filling the air with sweet memories of being young and filled with hopes. ... holding hands and dancing close with Jim at the Phi Chi House.  Ahhhhh....

When I was living in a single room at Hampton House - the nurses home for students at Johns Hopkins Hospital, I had a small 45rpm record player and a radio. I was always surrounded by music when I was in that room. Later in our first apartment when Jim and I were first married - before television entered our lives the radio and music kept me company while Jim studied or worked several jobs. Look what's happened since then - television crowds the space - lately shouting disturbing news, violence and sex. I find myself wondering what I have come to that I watch it ( except Downtown Abbey) - - so SiriusXM is going to help me turn back the clock to a time when my thoughts were more important to me than what's coming from the mouths of talking heads.

Wouldn't it be wonderful, I think, if I could learn to think as clearly, honestly, and profoundly as Anne Lamott - - not that I honestly expect that to happen - - but it sure is a good goal for getting a grip on life.

Just like the tall, classy Tar Heel and lady, Jeanne Robertson has such a funny take on everyday life!

Always good to have role models!!!


Wearing my White Hair Proudly - 1

Lately I have begun to really appreciate my white hair. 

For instance, last week I attended a large professional gathering where folks had come to meet and greet, to see and be seen, and hopefully to make some contacts. This is not the first one of these cattle calls I have attended but I have not been to one in a few years. It hasn't changed but I have.

I do remember a time when people wanted to talk to me but certainly on this day, a white haired woman, a storyteller at that, was not someone today's eager beavers, up and coming 40-50 year olds thought had anything of value to impart, so I was free to watch them and to learn.

These days government buildings in the Washington, DC area are set up like airports with long lines for baggage screening, ID checks and waiting. Finally when the checking in was done, it was a long walk to the building where the meeting was being held. Since I am no longer a daily sprinter I was gasping for breath by the time I got inside, out of the cold, and took my place in another long, slowing snaking line to approach the registration table. Finally I was next. What a relief! But just as I was about to give my name a
tall, well-suited man, chatting with his companion, stepped in front of me and gave HIS name. The woman behind the registration desk scurried away to retrieve a red packet and name tag for him. He noticed me, smiled a charming smile, and said, sheepishly, "I guess I broke the line."
" Yes. You did" 
" Well, we are co-sponsors."
"Oh - then you knew you could get away with it." I replied, smiling sweetly.
He blushed, took his packet from the woman and dashed off.

I picked up my registration tags and my red packet and stepped to a near-by table to re-assemble my belongings.
It was a surprise when the very same man approached me. "I want to apologize for cutting in front of you."
I smiled and nodded graciously like a benevolent grand-mother and asked, "Well, who are you?" 
He was indeed from an Agency that co-sponsored the meeting. 

I was glad to meet him and we had a few minutes of polite and interesting conversation. 
He was surprised to learn that I was familiar with his Agency and with the subject of the day. 
I could see in his face that he was also surprised there was a person under my white hair.

We exchanged cards.

That would never have happened if I had not laughed at him and spoken up.  
Something to think about.

Definitely a lesson learned! A day well-spent.


Harry Potter at Starbucks

This afternoon there was shrinking snow on the ground and dripping ice on the trees. The sun was bright and the air was warmer so I went out of my house and off to Starbucks. It was like escaping from prison after a week inside because of iffy weather.

At mid-afternoon Starbucks was practically empty and strangely quiet. I was served quickly - my usual - a Vente 7 pump Tsai Latte - with a top off shot of hot water to release the spices - a treat from one of the gift cards my family supplies.  Some years ago Jim and I asked that the family stop giving us gifts that we had to keep and they picked up on the suggestion. 

 After I into a seat at one end of a long table I noticed a young father and his son, about six I guessed, sitting across the table a few seats down from mine. The father was quietly reading to his son from a very large hard-back book. His voice was low which drew the child close. The boy leaned in against his father. His big blue eyes were intent as he listened to the story. It was a private moment between them.

Suddenly for no apparent reason the boy interrupted his father, "Cedric dies in this one Daddy. Not yet, not in this chapter, but in this book.Voldermort kills him."

WOW. When I heard the child's familiar knowledge of this Harry Potter volume I was impressed, thinking how bright he must be - and mentally applauding the parents who obviously read to him. I wanted to ask some questions - - but I didn't - it was a lovely moment between these two - why tamper with something so sweet.

Part of my hesitation was also about me. The father's gentle manner and attention to the boy reminded me of Jim's patience and enjoyment with our children and grandchildren. Talking with them would have intruded into my memory.

I left glad that I had come and silently fussing at myself for not coming more often.

Grains of Sand

When I woke up this morning before the alarm, I felt warm and safe in my quilt cocoon. I did not want to break that mood so I snuggled in a bit deeper. I love this time before the day has started. Its  thinkable time.

Under the covers I opened my mini iPad to check my email for the day. Nothing too interesting so I moved on to check Facebook where I stopped to read an essay about "the right to die." A woman wrote very beautifully and compellingly about her decision to end her own life when her body is seriously breaking down or has broken down. That she will know when it is the right time to flip the switch on her life. Personally I am not sure of any answers for those questions but she started me thinking.

Since she is a writer of beautiful prose it was fairly comfortable to read on such a tough topic and end-of-life is creeping into my thinking more often. Not to worry. I am not thinking of ending my life - it is the furtherest thought from my mind - but I am thinking about time running down on its own. When the sand in the hour glass is dribbling toward an ending you have to acknowledge your mortality.

Its funny how your perspective on that can change. Between the ages of 20 - 50 I shuddered and was fearful at the idea of death. Gradually I have settled into a sort of acceptance that it will happen. Especially since Jim's illness and death three years ago when the reality of the inevitability of death settled on us.

Now that I am emerging from the heaviest fogs of grief that over-took me following Jim's death I have to look at myself and the new life I wake up to every day. Alone, without Jim and hey - oops - I am getting older. Once I laughed and made bucket lists to ward off the reality of ending. Now I am sure that things end - but I no longer think a bucket list is the best way to start summing up.

First, I know I have to clear out and clean up the "messiness" and collecting Jim and I did in 57 years. It would have been better if we had done that together but instead Jim helped me focus on my storytelling business so that I would have a job when he was gone. Focusing on that created a safe screen for what was really happening to him and I am eternally grateful to him for both that and making sure I had "something" to hang onto later. Now I have storytelling true - and I also have 57 years of "stuff" to get rid of.
So that's the first item on my list.  Now just to get that done and be free of the weight of it!!!

I am lucky that I am in pretty good health for someone marching toward her 79th birthday - so- check- taking care of that with a new doctor and firm resolve to do what she tells me to.

Storytelling of course - on several fronts. I have stories I want to keep telling and there are new stories I have in mind to write and work on. Creating art work has been my salvation since my daughter died in 1964 - now is not the time to slack off on the most life-giving medicine I know.

There are a lot of other things I thought would be on my list - but they don't seem to make it anymore. I am reminding myself of mentors I have known who turned down enticing projects because they no longer fit into their scheme and were not worth any of their grains of sand. There were times when I thought one or more were being selfish. Now I understand. Nothing I like better than an exciting project, especially one that has a deeper benefit - and I hope I will find one that is worth the gift of time.

That's where I am - taking a breath before I commit to something enticing that sparkles at first glance.

it really
fit my plan?



Do you ever ask yourself why you do what you do? For me I ask that question about storytelling -
Here is an answer:


NEW VIDEO: An Overdue Thank You to John Sanders

Is there anyone you want to thank for something they did for you?

All my life I knew that John Sanders, the young man who worked for my grandmother, had done me a big favor. People told me "John Sanders saved your life Ellouise when you were a baby."

In this story I have included a long-over-due thank you to this young man from me.



A Surprise Ripple of Memory

Would you believe - this week my face broke out like I was a teen-ager. Since I have a performance of the Hello Girls next week I asked my doctor to send a prescription for the usual antibiotic I take when this happens.

The quick fix concern reminded me of a conversation I had with actress Polly Bergen in the early 1980s when we were working together for the ERA. During our three years together on a Project - The National Business Council for ERA we got to know each other pretty well and had some good times.

Polly was a smart and savvy woman who was also charming, warm and very funny with a down home Southern sense of humor. She was also a very strong feminist. Polly gave three years and her own money to the effort to pass the ERA as the public face for the National Business Council for ERA - a project I organized for the League of Women Voters. Once she came on board she was an "in the trenches" player not just a paper figure-head.

One afternoon she and I were working on some plans at her apartment in New York. When we took a break from the paper work and telephone calls we were gabbing about girlie things when she noticed that she had a possible break-out on her face. "Ellouise, would you look at this - you could get one of these and go on with your life - -  depending on what I am doing I might have to hide in the hospital for a week while they fix it."

We laughed and giggled about the hard life of a public performer.  It never crossed my mind that there would come a day when I would be picking up an antibiotic to take care of something on my face pretty much like she showed me. I am sure she would laugh and give me a hard time about it.

Polly Bergen died last year. I was surprised and sad that she was not mentioned in the Memorial Rembrance list at the Academy Awards Sunday night.  

Surely they remembered her films like Cape Fear (1962) with Robert Mitchum and Gregory Peck. Polly was very effective as the frightened wife who was kidnapped by Mitchum and I remember being quite scared by this movie of revenge and danger.

and in the 1980s TV mini-series Winds of War, again with Mitchum at the top of the cast, to name a few. She was a member of the movie community for years and active as a fundraiser for many causes. I was working with her when she was filming "Winds of War" so her role in that film was a favorite for me because I knew some of the back-story.

One of the personal benefits for me of working for ERA ratification was the opportunity to work with and have a lovely friendship with Polly during that time. Our paths rarely crossed over the campaign was over outside of occasional phone calls.

I cheered her from the side-lines as she continued her performing career on television and in the movies.  As always a gutsy lady, she successfully appeared in a character role in Cabaret on Broadway which opened new avenues. She was singing again after she worked to recover her voice which was damaged by smoking.

Anyway - my prescription started a ripple of memories of a very interesting time and a lovely brief friendship with Polly Bergen.

R.I. P. Polly