Things Are Not Always Just Things

Jim Schoettler at Fresno State College

Laughter can shift your perspective. 
Cuff links spark a memory and a drama.

When I met my husband, Jim Schoettler, he usually wore a white shirt with French Cuffs when he was dressed for church or to go “out”.  With that shirt he wore a pair of simple gold ovals with an engraved “S” in the center of the oval. I learned later that these were more than favorite cuff links they were his only cuff links. 

His high school sweetheart gave them to him.  He laughed when I told him I was jealous of them.  “Why? That’s over.”  Although he added others over time he was loyal to those early cuff links because they carried and acquired history and he wore them often until he died. I got over being jealous as I came to understand that Jim was not one to waste money on something he already had and liked. Things were just things to him.

We never did agree about that. I am one of those people who is apt to imbue "things" with mystical power and sentimental meaning.

One day recently when I was reviewing my list of the things that I had to do for the day I remembered that I had taken my red striped shirt, the one with French cuffs, to the cleaners and had not picked it up yet.  I was startled as I thought about those French cuffs and the cuff links I had been wearing with it - - Jim’s oval cuff links.  I do that a lot. Wear some thing of his as a way to feel he is close by. But this time the more important point was that I could not recall removing them before I dropped the shirt off at the cleaners.

I squeezed back the tears realizing that if they dropped out of the sleeves they would  be lost to me. I felt terrible.  I quickly finished dressing so that I could get to the cleaners as soon as possible.

I was glad the familiar friendly woman was behind the counter at the cleaners when I pulled open the door and rushed in.  I told her my problem, “Do you have my husbands cuff links in your lost and  found?”  

“I will look.” But they were not there. She looked at my face and added, “If you left them in and they found them at the plant they will be in a little envelope pinned to the invoice on the shirt." She walked into the back room and I heard her pushing the heavy revolving rack around and the crackle of plastic as she checked the names on the garments. 

It seemed a very long time and I was beginning to tear up again. When she returned she hung all my items on the front rack - and then she handed me a small envelope. "Here you are sweetie." I opened it and inside were two familiar gold ovals. The tears I had been struggling to hold back slipped freely down my cheeks.

A  woman waiting behind me who had heard it all volunteered, “I don't get that attached to things.”
“I try not to care so much but my husband died  last year and those are his cuff links.”
”OK.  I get it. That's terrible – sort of like flushing your engagement ring down the toilet.”

Choking back a laugh, and working hard to keep a straight face, I nodded. 

Back in the car I laughed out loud but none-the-less I am grateful that the cleaners agree  - -  small things do mean a lot.

In 1954, the year I met Jim, this was Kitty Kallen's TOP OF THE CHARTS HIT.

I remember listening to the song with Jim. We agreed on the importance of all the small things in Kallen's song - but he thought I was a little over the top in the way I put so much stock in bits of anything that held a memory. So I wonder how he would have felt about this cuff-link incident.


Ah, Shakespeare!

A few lines I found, a Facebook Post yesterday, and Shakespeare - -
 that's the way I like to work to remember where I am - my kind of memoir.

Yesterday I saw a short and touching video on FaceBook of a widower in his 90s who so yearns for his wife who died recently that he wrote a song for her. I was so touched by him and their love story that his words linger with me and seem to have come through in this blog post.

25th Wedding Anniversary

I woke up about 5:30 this morning.   Swaddled in a warm quilt I felt safe in my cocoon while I drifted in and out of the comfortable drowsy sleep state.

This way I put off that moment when I am fully awake and once more feel the daily emptiness in our bed without Jim next to me.

Was it a dream?

When I hold on to the comfortable drifting I do my thinking. The thoughts seem to flow In and out .... big problems, ideas and dreams. Often I settle on a problem and ask Jim what he thinks I should do about it.

And many times he answers. I don’t mean that he talks to me. That would make me sound a bit crazy. Not that I am not a bit crazy, sometimes more than others. But, sadly, I don't hear his voice

I feel his answers. I won’t try to explain it anymore than that. Anyone that has experienced “sensing the answer” will understand what I mean.

Its true I have a good idea what he would have said about many things. As my life has not changed radically since he died his “take” on things is still pretty accurate. I am grateful to experience that because then I don’t feel as desperately alone.

Jim and I were married for almost 57 years. We knew each other. We grew up and grew old together. We carried each other’s history. A long marriage is truly intimate on many more levels than just in bed.

Today people seem to have lost appreciation for that. I cried yesterday when I watched a short video on Facebook about a widower in his 90s. As he talked about the loss of his wife of 75 years his eyes filled with tears. He told  about the song he wrote for her - -about the "good times."

 When he said, “its like it was all a dream - but I know it was real.”  I burst into tears.

And I thought of Shakespeare.

“We are such stuff

As dreams are made of;
and our little life

Is rounded with a sleep.

The Tempest,  Act 4, Scene 1.


"Giant" is the right word for Texas

This afternoon I was tired so I sat down to relax.
Watching television takes me out of myself and usually, if I am tired,  I select things that don't require any thinking. 

When I landed on a Channel and saw the opening scenes of the 1956 movie "Giant" with Rock Hudson and Elizabeth Taylor, I came to a screeching halt.
Not that I have not seen that movie. I have seen it many times - and each time loved watching it. Texas is "big" and so it this story.

I remember reading Edna Ferner's novel in the 1950s and being drawn into the story through the plot, the characters and the vivid descriptions. Feeling Texas bigness even though I had never been there and never dreaming that I would live in the Lone Star State one day.

Jim and I were married in 1955 when he was a third year medical student at Johns Hopkins in Baltimore.  By Christmas 1958 Jim had graduated and then completed his internship at Kings County Hospital in Brooklyn, NY so the United States Air Force scooped him up in the "doctors" draft. We had two children, 2 year old Jimmy and 2 week old Karen.

While Jim went to Montgomery, AL to be schooled as a new Officer - a Captain - the kids and I waited out the month in North Carolina with my family.

After four weeks Jim returned driving a brand new apple green Ford station wagon. He told me he bought one uniform and used the rest of his uniform allowance for the down payment on the car.

All this to explain how in February we loaded ourselves, our luggage and our two children into the new smelling station wagon parked in front of my parents home in Charlotte, NC and headed out for San Antonio, Texas for  Randolph Air Force Base and the School of Aerospace Medicine his first assignment. A new world was opening.

We sped down the highways in NC to SC to GA to MS to LA for two days before we crossed the Mississippi River to Texas. It took 2 more long days of hard driving before we saw the first arrows pointing toward San Antonio.

Watching Giant prompts many memories of that long car trip and reminds me how I learned that Texas is BIG.


Art-filled Week in Review

This has been a busy week with lots going on on many different fronts.

ART WORK: Started the week taking art work to the Katzen Rotunda Gallery at American University for the hanging of the new Group 93 show.  Its going to be an exicting show - 180 plus contemporary works hanging in a lightfilled, marvelous space. Can't ask for more - but there is more for me in showing with this group of artists. Many of us have known each other since the 1970s and it is exciting and satisfying to see their work and to appreciate how much it has grown and expanded over time. I am always grateful to be a part of this group.

Check it out. HERE And get the information on the opening and the run of the show.

WRITING: Monday was the first day of the week-long work shop on "Building Characters " taught by author Solveig Erggez at the Writers Center in Bethesda. Meet Solveig HERE in an interview. After reading "Seal Woman"  I trusted the workshop would be good but it has been so much more than that. Solveig's approach has opened windows and doors in my imagination and pushed my approach to the writing.

I have been writing since I was in  High School but turned to Storytelling because I was more at ease with the spoken word than struggling with the writer's craft. This week has nudged me into grappling with  characters,  scenes, dialogue, and experimenting with time are now front and center as I think about a new story. Words have been pouring onto the paper so that I have practically completed a first draft for a new one-woman show.

Truthfully no one is more surprised than I am that this new story has emerged. I think it happened because I approached the workshop differently than I usually do. I arrived Monday morning with a new blank composition book, two pens, and no plans. I had decided that I would go without an agenda and just be OPEN to what was presented and see what happened. As it turned out that was exactly the right approach. I listened to Solveig's well-planned discussions and followed the promts and instructions and VOILA!!!

As always when you are winding up a successful and challenging workshop experience the question is - "how do I keep this up -on my own." I have a few ideas about that and all I can say at the moment is - more will be revealed.

READING:  Bumped into an author, Charles Todd, on the Mystery Shelf at the Chevy Chase Library and am enjoying journeying with him onto the battlefields and mysteries of World War 1. I appreciated my sister Kathy for not batting out a crisp "I told you so" when I told her because she had recommended the series several years ago. But I wasn't ready for Charles Todd then so passed it by.
He is commended for his historical research and I am thoroughly enjoying his suspenseful plot, believeable characters and vivid descriptions.


Two VIDEOS: Two Baltimore-based Storytellers

Diane Macklin

Diane told me about several new projects she is involved in.
Especially exciting is her new work collecting griot stories and songs. This is real cultural preservation.

Stories in Focus Interview

Jon Spelman
Jon talks about two of his new projects - "The Lincoln" and "The Prostate Dialogues".

Listen and learn as he describes how he developed them and brought them forward to audiences.


Summer Slides

Its a sunny morning and the cicadas are singing as if they are heralding the heat ahead. Memories of other summer days flow over me. • Sitting by the Andrews Air Force Base swimming pool while my kids practiced their laps for swim team • Eating bright red and juicy watermelon. In the days before fruits were shipped in Mama would not buy a watermelon before July 4 - saying they weren't ripe. • Wearing strappy sandals • Going barefoot at the beach - feeling the heat of the sidewalk, trying to avoid burrs, the feel of warm sand between your toes • Running in the hose on hot days - I especially liked it when we had the rotating sprinkler on • Home grown tomato sandwiches - thick juicy slabs of tomato slathered with Dukes mayonaise between slices of white bread.
• The sweet smell of honeysuckle on the vines covering fences. • Sitting on the front porch with my grandparents on the evenings before air-conditioning and listening to the grown-ups talk. • The sound of a metal floor-stand oscilating fan stirring up a breeze in the living room. • Tall glasses of iced tea with a layer of white sugar granules on the bottom of the glass. Memories are like snapshots or slides in a carrousel. Once you start looking at them its hard to stop. Each one is a doorway to more pictures or to a story.


A Taste for Stories

This is storytelling like you would hear if we were sitting on the front porch. I made it up as I went along - just like a conversation. In the North Carolina of my childhood that was the way it was done. I still like to tell my stories with the words tumbling out with one thing reminding you of another until finally they all bind together. I hope the story prompts you to jump in with your own memories. Tell them to someone.


Dog Days

We have had a few "cooler" days lately but when I walked out of the house this morning I could feel that it was heating up again. I was grateful to walk back into our air-conditioned house.

Its been so hot this summer . The days have been burning hot. We have been surrounded by humid, heavy air that sucked the breath right out of me.

My mother and her mother called hot summer days when the sun scorches the earth the "dog days”.  In this kind of weather dogs stretch out, pant and keep still.

Lately there have been times when I wanted to lay down on the floor with my wise dog.

Do they call them the dog days because of those sleeping dogs?

Wikipedia knows most things so I looked it up.

The name " dog days" came about a long time ago from ancient times when people first noticed that the stars formed shapes in the sky. Canis Major - the big dog - also called Sirius - is the brightest star.  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Canis_Major  From July to September it rises and sets with the sun. Because of this the Romans believed it added extra heat to the sun - hence--dog days.

Today we know that Sirius does not add extra heat --that comes from the tilt of the earth - but the name stuck. We still call these hot days - the "dog days". 

It's like other bits of knowledge our elders hand down through the family - a knowing that didn't come from a book - but from hearing the stories of your family and remembering the people that told them. Their voices creep into our heads when we invite them in and whisper the "old wisdom."


Venice Summer

Last  month was so hot around Washington, DC  that when I stepped out of the air-conditioning I felt as though the air was being sucked out of my body. That feeling brought back memories of another perfect July.

In 2003 Jim and I spent the month of July in Venice during the hottest summer recorded in Europe in a 100 years.

Our rented apartment was not air conditioned. We kept the windows open. The hum of an oscillating fan lulled us to sleep. We woke to the cooler early morning breezes tossing the curtains out into the room,

We sat outside when we ate supper at local restaurants. When we prepared our meals in the apartment we did not cook so we would not heat the apartment. We feasted on local cheeses and large loaves of crusty bread, salads, cold meats and ices.

With the windows open we heard the chatter and laughter of all the passers-by below our second floor window. Bells from a near-by church which we noticed the first week gradually faded into just being part of the background.

We often retreated into large dark churches to escape the intense heat. We sat on the marble steps near the altar and the cold stones cooled us
or we took long rides on a vaporetto on the canals to feel a cool breeze from the water or catch some spray while sitting in the back of the boat.

We ate delicious flavored ices.

I wore loose fitting dresses that swirled around my legs as I walked
and large straw hats like my grandmother had done. 
Jim who rarely wore hats shaded his face with a wide-brimmed straw hat he bought from a convenient stall in a neighborhood plaza.

We drank iced tea
we read and talked in the evenings.
and we listened to radio music because we did not understand the language on television.

Was it because it was Venice - that incredibly captivating place that we were so satisfied

or - because the heat slowed us to enjoy our time together?

Afterwards Jim and I often looked back together at our perfect summer - - 

now I relish those memories on my own.


NEW VIDEO: My Arlington Story - 52 minutes

VIDEO:  Arlington National Cemetery: My Forever Home - 52 minutes
A live filming July 26 - during the Capital Fringe, Washington, DC

Many people have told me they wished they could see this program - and I want people to see it - so I am publishing it here
and on You Tube as a public file for the next week - August 5 - 12.

Comments are welcome.


When Plans Changed

This morning the images in my memory files were shifting quickly like the racing ball on a Roulette Wheel. Finally the ball landed and settled on the time Jim and I went to Provence, France in 2001.

We had looked forward to this trip for months. We would be traveling with a congenial group and the leader was someone we had toured with before, and more importantly really liked and admired.
But as it turned out it was not exactly the idyllic art tour we visualized.

Things were on schedule until 9/11/2001. Jim and I were in Italy with a group of artists hanging exhibitions in four cities.  Our plan was to complete that business and then meet the tour group in Nice on September 14.

But, as the world remembers - on 9/11 the terrorists attacked New York City and everything was violently turned upside down.

The ripples of that horror reached across the Atlantic and changed our trip.

Jim and I arrived in Nice on the 14th as planned. But the only other person to arrive was the tour director who had also been in Italy.

The skies snapped shut.
Planes were not flying in or out of the US. 
The others could not arrive.
They never left Dulles Airport.

Although our impulse was to head home immediately but there was so much confusion and upset with flights returning to the States we were told not so make changes. So, Jim and I and the tour director decided to rent a car and proceed with the tour. We valiantly followed our schedule even though the hotels began to sell tour-reserved rooms to others. And our nerves frayed with each other.

Let's just say - it was not the trip we had imagined - but we did see wonderful art and visited legendary sites from the art history books.