Sante Fe

I am in Santa Fe visiting a 90-year-old friend. I feel like it’s important to come and visit her every year because you never know when you’re going to lose her. Of course, that’s true about life in general. You never know when you’re going to lose anything. They say being resilient is a very good quality to have in life as those of us who are resilient seem better equipped to deal with what life throws at us.

I never thought I was resilient, as a matter of fact, I sort of thought that I was a wimpy whiner. I seem so scared of so many things. Of course I had this well hidden but there were those who knew about these irrational fears. I made a list of things that scared me when I was in my 40s because I was just done with it. The first thing I did was number one on my list and that was learn to shoot a gun. My teacher said I was a “born shooter” whatever that means but I loved my gun. To be honest I still do. The other night I had a young boy here with his mom and he asked me if I had a gun and I said yes of course I did and so we went upstairs and got my shotgun keys and brought it down and then his mother and I tried to remember how to put it together. It was really hysterical how complicated it seemed but we didn’t give in and let the boy do it.

Here in Santa Fe I went for a walk the other night before dinner because I had been on an airplane all day and I wanted to stretch my legs. The center of town has a lovely Square which is lit up with Christmas lights year-round and surrounded by interesting and often touristy shops. I love to walk around when all the shops are closed and look in the windows and just imagine which things I would buy if I were going to buy anything.

As I was rounding the corner of a jewelry store a white Volkswagen bug pulled up beside me and a young woman stuck her head out the window and said ” hey you !I saw you steal that!”

I have to tell you this frightened me.I thought oh my god who is this person and why is she saying this and screaming this at me? I said, “I beg your pardon?” her screaming got louder and louder and she said “I’m going to call the police right now and they’re going to arrest you because you’re a thief.”

You know, there are many of you will read the story and think how ridiculous that she was upset by it. Most guys would just laugh at her. But here I was alone on the Square in the dark next to a car full of young strong women who were clearly enraged at me and on drugs and repeating nonsense. It was deeply upsetting.

For the rest of my time in Santa Fe I discreetly asked around about increases in crime and anger and problems with tourists being harassed and unfortunately found that this happens all too often. Apparently the police drive around the Square every five minutes. I must’ve missed their minute.

I really love Santa Fe because it’s beautiful and to anyone who is at all creative you can’t help but be moved by the colors of the Adobe houses, the sky, the painted signs in blues and pinks and the presence of wonderful museums and galleries that inspire you.

From the first time I visited here however, I felt a darkness but I couldn’t get out of until I left the town. There are many people here living in extreme poverty and many of them are Indians and many of them owned this land centuries ago.I don’t blame them for being angry.

I think things like what happened to me in Santa Fe are going to start to happening all over this country. In fact, they already have. Every time I get on an airplane I am saddened to see the rudeness particularly among young men who push and shove right by you to grab the last space in the overhead bin. I remember the days where gentleman would help you put your bag in the bin and then say “after you “if your seat was by the window.

In my youth the worst thing I saw was Jimmy Mellon stealing my Halloween candy and he only took the Red Vines, Sure, I was lucky, I lived in a very safe spot. I don’t know how we’re going to turn this around. I have a feeling the anger is too deep. I was reading Elizabeth Warren’s article in Rolling Stone in the airplane on the way here and she spoke about how minimum-wage 20 years ago could actually support a family and allow them to have a house and food on the table and a cozy life. Now the average cost of food for a family of four monthly is approximately $900. The average minimum wage is $12 an hour.

I am teaching math to my fourth graders using this as an example . I am hoping that it won’t make them sad to think that they’ll never be able to make enough money to have a decent life. I’m hoping it will inspire them to look for new elected officials and new ways to behave and to work hard in their lives. I want them to learn the practical skills of survival but I also want them to maintain a hopeful attitude that they can change things in the world. We can’t let it continue on the way that it’s heading. I am on the end of my runway but these kids are just beginning.

I don’t want to be frightened in Santa Fe anymore or anywhere But I don’t know what the answer is.

Happy Mother’s Day, Olive!

Vogues of 1938
Image via Wikipedia

Happy Mother’s Day, Olive

Olive C. Watson was born in Montclair, New Jersey, to a family with not many resources.  It was clear from an early age to Olive that all she had to parlay herself into a better life were her looks and her mother reminded her of this on a daily basis. She attended the Kimberly School where they had two programs: one for the girls that were college bound and the other, for girls who hoped for a good marriage. My mother fell into the latter group. She spent her senior year making mountains out of papier mache while the other group studied for final exams and applied to the seven sisters. Her mother told her often that “It was just as easy to fall in love with a rich man as a poor one”.

My mother describes this period as a fun one, however, despite the bleak expectation for her future. She was the Peanut Queen of Montclair and wore a dress made out of peanut shells in the parade and spent a lot of time with her aunt who lived in the Hamptons in summer. She went to dances and dated Jack Kennedy.

My mother moved to New York at 18 and was hired by the Powers Agency to model. In those days a girl who was only 5’5 was still a good prospect for work in the glossy pages of Vogue. After a few months of living in the Barbizon and dating men she met at El Morocco, she was sent to Hollywood with a group of fellow models to work in a Walter Wanger film called “Vogues of 1938. They paid my mother $1000.00 dollars which was a fortune in those days and when she got home to her small bedroom she threw the cash up in the air over her bead and delighted in the sight of all that money falling around her. Unfortunately the next day she got appendicitis and had to spend all her hard earned money on the surgery.

She met my father, Thomas Watson, on a blind date arranged by friends. After dinner at a lovely restaurant in Manhattan he asked if she would like to go for a ride and, dazzled by my father’s handsome looks and persuasive charms, she accepted. They drove to a small airport outside of Manhattan where my father kept his single engine plane and they took off for a tour of the city. It was a full moon and they held hands.

They were married within the year and after six months my father returned to war leaving my mother to live in his mother’s country house in New Canaan with his sisters. Upon arrival she was instructed to make 100 double damask napkins by my Grandmother who insisted this was a wife’s duty and no household was complete without them. Night after night my mother sat in her third floor room heavily pregnant hemming the napkins while listening to the sounds of her sisters in laws entertaining friends for dinner. We used those napkins for as long as I can remember.

How alone she must have felt.

Once my father returned from war they settled down in Greenwich, Connecticut and added to their family almost on a yearly basis. My mother had a cook, a butler, a nanny, a housekeeper, a laundress, and nothing to do but stay in her room with the door closed. Even her children were forbidden to her.

I wonder now what she did in there. Was she napping or talking on the phone or simply lying on her bed and wondering how it would all end? Surely she was the most beautiful of all the women in Greenwich. Surely she had had all the children expected of her. She told me once that her biggest fear was getting fat as then “no one would want her”.

My mother invented reality for all of us. On Sunday nights when there was no one on duty she said it was “Make your own dinner night” which meant we could actually go into the kitchen and use the stove to make whatever we wanted. My sister, Olive, made pea soup while I always made tomato. Thank goodness for Campbell’s Soup with its red and white cans, always ready to be served. In summer my mother made ice tea which was always a production as she never went into the kitchen. She told a story of how on her honeymoon she cooked a chicken for dinner by putting the entire chicken, feathers and all, into the oven in a pan. She couldn’t bear to touch it and hoped it would emerge looking edible.

When hurricane season arrived she would pile us all into the station wagon and take us to the beach so we could really see the waves happening. In winter she would tie five flexible flyers to the back of the same station wagon and drive down Meadowcroft Lane in the snow with us screaming with fear behind the car swinging wildly back and forth on the slippery road. She taught us to ride a two wheeler by pushing us donw a hill behind our house all the while saying she wouldn’t let us go.

Sometimes she seemed happier than others. She loved summer and the deep heat of Connecticut and we would often find her in front of our house when we got home from school with her bra straps falling over her shoulders, and a scarf tied over her front so she could sunbathe and turn her olive skin even darker.

I think of her now on Mother’s Day and am grateful for what she gave us. Magic, imagination, spontaneity, romance and the best she could give as a mother. My clearest memory of her in old age was sitting in the seat of her airplane on our way to a meeting in Providence with her purse firmly on her lap saying to me. “Just look at me, Lucinda, little Olive Cawley sitting in her own airplane going somewhere! “

The Secret Lives of Single People

Family watching television, c. 1958
Image via Wikipedia

                                                  The Secret Lives of Single People

We can’t imagine how we would feel if others saw us alone at home. They might catch us lying on the couch in the middle of the day reading a junky magazine or eating popcorn for lunch. We might be seen staying home all day without speaking face to face with one single person. We sometimes can be found on the floor with our dog on our tummy just staring deeply into their eyes. Sure some of us work but some of us don’t and if that is the case life can sometimes be a bit perplexing to the subconscious. One hears voices at funny moments and these voices berate us for not getting out there and doing something with our lives. Reading is not an acceptable option. Nor is watching TV unless, that is, it is the middle of the night and you can’t sleep. There are different codes of conduct for all of us single, live at home people, some more strict than others. It is not easy to be past retirement age and living alone. The voices inside our heads are more demanding than those in the real world.

I found myself spending a lot of time at home when I became a full time writer and some days are easier than others. I hate a schedule which is part of the problem. The only thing I seem to be able to schedule is exercise which I do every morning. After that, it’s a crap shoot as to what I do with my day. This is how I like it so I can’t complain.

I have a few nonprofit things I am working on, a writer’s retreat I am organizing, a new house I am restoring, and some good friends, but I still feel I don’t have enough work to do. This feeling started as a child. I liked cleaning up all my toys. I liked this so much I never took them out as then I would have to clean them up again. Once I was in serious school I learned very quickly that it was not a good thing to complete your class assignments in a timely manner or the teacher would see you sitting there twiddling your thumbs and give you more work. I do things quickly no matter how many times I tell myself to take my time, when I have a task to complete I stick with it until it is completed. I am like a dog with a bone. Most people would enjoy their work and spend hours doing what I do in one hour. I hate this about myself. I don’t know what all this speed is doing for me.

Anyway the other day I was talking with a friend about this feeling of worthlessness as I wasn’t going to work anymore and she said she knew exactly what I meant! She told me that she writes down in her calendar exactly what she has done all day even if it is mundane just so she can show herself what she accomplished that week. She has the demon voices as well. It was at that moment I began to realize there were other people who were driven by this unknown taskmaster who tells us we are lazy and useless. So interesting.

I keep buying books. They are my biggest extravagance. There are so many things I want to know about. I like the feeling of all these books surrounding me in piles all over my house. I really want to stay home and just spend all day reading but I can’t because of the voices. At least that’s what I tell myself. I really want to read the classics again and have read two of Fitzgerald’s books in the past month. I am on a tear of watching Hitchcock films as well. Sometimes I feel I want to fill my mind with all these things and then maybe it will be enough. I know it never will be enough, though, as I am always more curious about something else. I exhaust myself sometimes.

Anyway, in the long run, this is the reason single people get more worn out than people who are partnered. If you have a partner you know at the end of the day someone will be coming home to be with you. If you have that simple bit of information in your mind you also have a stopping point to your activities. You have a time to relax. For some reason this is easier to do if there is someone else in the house.

Homestead Happenings…

I spent the morning at the Homestead with Dawn and Neil and was given a tour of the place. I saw the one room schoolhouse where my Grandfather went to school located on the property. I imagined him walking there each day probably under the supervision of one of his older sisters holding leather strapped books and maybe a lunch pail. I can’t imagine him with hair. I wish I had been able to find a picture of him as a young man. The only ones I have see are when he was in his 70’s and one that showed a younger man probably about 30. Of course people in that day looked older than we do today and they never smiled in photographs. They stared solemnly at the camera as if they were afraid of moving one inch.

There was a picture of my Grandfather with Grandma Moses in the old schoolhouse and I remember that he owned a few of her paintings. I have always wondered  if he was a chauvinist as many men of that generation but have the feeling my Grandmother kept him on the straight and narrow. There is a story about how during the war IBM lacked enough factory employees and my Grandmother suggested hiring more women which they did. IBM also had some of the first female executives in the business world. Everything I saw made me want to know more about his childhood in this peaceful valley where he was raised.

Why, I wondered, did he decide at the end of his life to buy his childhood home and create this place where people might gather and enjoy the spiritual nature of life? He left specific covenants as to how it should be used and a generous amount of money to support it. I am grappling with the very strange idea that none of my family cared to visit after his death? Why is this? Why didn’t my father bring us here to show us the farm, the schoolhouse and what had been created?

I am going to think about why the death of my grandfather was a true death in that his memory was not perpetuated by his offspring. Some years ago I was driving around with my daughter in an attempt to entertain her as she had suffered a head injury and wasn’t supposed to do anything strenuous. We were on a highway driving rather aimlessly when I saw a sign for the Sleepy Hollow Cemetery and I remembered my grandparents were buried there.

We exited the freeway and drove to the cemetery parking in the small lot outside the caretaker’s cottage. The caretaker let us know we had only a half hour to see the graves as the place was closing for the day. He took us inside and looked up the correct plot in a thick, dusty book finally showing us on a map where my grandparents graves were located. Annabel and I got back into the car and with Annabel as the navigator we drove through flower beds, shade trees and many leaves still unable to find the right plot. The caretaker had noticed our lost path and came down to guide us correctly to the plot. He told us it was “right down the path from Carnegie.”

The plot was untidy with overgrown trees and a lot of weeds covering the stones. I asked him why it wasn’t in better shape and he replied the endowment had been for $10,000 in 1957 and that had almost run out. There was a lot of room for others to be buried there as my Grandfather was an optimist. His wife was buried about 6 inches lower than he and there was a small headstone for my baby brother. None of my grandparent’s children had chosen to be buried here. The plot seemed enormously sad to me .I imagined my grandparents choosing it and making sure their plot was equal if not grander than those around it. Believing they were creating a place for their family to come to and remember them. Believing they were creating a final resting place for a large clan. Imagine how they would feel should they be able to see what remained of their dream and how lonely a sight it was. What happened?

Watson Homestead, East Campbell, NY

 

Once I began to be curious about my grandfather information started coming my way. It was as if a window had been uncovered in my mind and memories I had from my childhood became alive. I could actually remember his voice and the look of his knarled and veiny hands. I could see his house in New York City and remember the small red velvet seat in the elevator which ran from floor to floor. I remember his chauffeur and the elegance of his feet. I remember sitting beside him in a car looking at my feet in shiny May Jane’s just grazing the edge of the seat, kicking slowly up and down with each foot. I remember listening to a lecture he was giving to family about a painting in his townhouse in Manhattan and wondering why everyone seemed so fearful of him.

I felt happy yesterday morning as I left the Radisson in Corning after a breakfast of scrambled eggs and bacon in honor of men of old. I carefully imputed the address  found on the internet into the GPS system in my car only to be told by the lady under the dashboard I would be traveling on unmarked roads and would have to use the map for guidance. I laughed aloud at this statement from a computerized source and wondered who was channeling information  this morning. I skipped the highway and drove along country roads with a small river to my left. The mountains were still hung with the green/blue light of early morning and the slight mist of frost. My computer guide had informed me the address I was seeking would be 7 miles from the start of my drive. After 6 miles I saw a large sign on the edge of the highway stating “Watson Homestead” and I took a sharp right hand turn onto the asphalt. Traveling down the country with Rosie on my lap I felt happy and excited and as if I were on the verge of an amazing discovery. I drove past several red barns and a white house before seeing a sign, another “Homestead” sign about cabins. I kept on driving down the country road feeling certain I would find what I was supposed to find at the end. Rounding a corner I saw a long and low building which hugged the hillside and a curving driveway up on the right. As I drove up the driveway I imagined what life was like  for my grandfather some 100 years plus ago. There were horses in the field and a soft cold rain was falling yet the valley was harshly beautiful and very peaceful. I pulled up to the front door of the homestead, put the car in park, and looked around me for a sign of life. As I had not notified anyone I was coming I wasn’t certain of what I would find. I wasn’t worried, just curious as I knew I was in the right place. The place was not what I had imagined as it was so impressive. I thought I might find a small white house with a plaque on the side but I had found a community from the looks of things.

I walked into the front hall of the homestead  and looked around seeing pictures of my grandfather in several wall cabinets as well as a few “THINK” signs posted above the doorways. A woman’s voice called out to me asking if I needed help. I looked around and saw a sweet face. I announced I was Thomas Watson’s grand daughter and I was here to see his birth place. I couldn’t think of any other way of introducing myself. She replied  ” I have been waiting for you!”

Believe it or not, we both hugged each other and cried. She told me she had been waiting for a family member to visit since the place had been incorporated. I told her I didn’t doubt this as I had not known the homestead existed until two days before my visit.