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Sunday, August 30, 2009

Inventions in My Lifetime

You want me to name some of the inventions during my lifetime? My life has already been so long that I could name 300, if I only had a memory.


Let's see. The bicycle?  No, that was already around, though it was, of course, new to me when I began riding one. I remember the feeling of freedom occasioned by my first bicycle? Suddenly I was faster than my parents. Suddenly no one knew where I was. I could be anyplace. One hot summer day my older brother and a friend rode to Kokomo, but they overestimated their stamina and the power of the sun and found themselves exhausted and beet red at 8 in the evening, unable to pedal the remaining ten miles to home. Ready to forego their independence and freedom, they hoped someone would come hunting for them in a car. It all ended well, of course. But a bike is like that: it leads to adventure.


What other inventions? Radio? Oh, the days of radio.Bob & Ray. Arbogast. Fibber McGee and Molly. Fred Allen. They fill a big part of me even today. "Oh no, McGee!" Molly would exclaim. "Not the closet! Don't open the closet!" And yet he did, every week. And when McGee opened the door, out tumbled everything that had been stuffed in there. The sound-effects man played a one-minute riff on all his instruments to simulate for us the sounds of McGee's belongings hitting the floor. And as we listened we could see the whole thing in our minds. And then we imagined that someone would have to pick it all up and put it away again so they could do it all over again the next week, as they surely would.


No, bicycles and radio weren't invented in my lifetime. What about TV? I remember how proud I was that my family did not own a TV. Even in those days, through high school and college, I was a raving snob, and I knew that no good could come of TV, that it would lead to tears. It might make you laugh now, but soon it would have you laughing on the other side of your face.


So imagine my chagrin when I came home from college for spring break one year, probably around 1956, and found the new piece of furniture solidly settled in front of my father's reclining chair. That was the end. We were no longer elite. There was no longer any hope of converting my family into intellectuals who read only the New Yorker. Atlantic Monthly, and Harpers. Now we were just like every other family in town.


If I brought my thoughts all the way up to the present, I'd have to list the inventions of computers and cell phones and all their kin. They have indeed revolutionized the world in many ways. But I stick to my stubborn mantra: change is not necessarily progress. And progress is not necessarily change for the better. We're throwing the baby out with the bathwater. But you really don't want me on my soapbox again.


A kitchen invention in my lifetime that I like is the food processor. An invention that I love is my KitchenAid mixer, with its meat grinder attachment for making sausage and my grain-grinding attachment for making my own flour. Now these are things worth the inventor's time and energy!


Copyright 2009 Ann Tudor

Sunday, August 23, 2009

The Flirt

The flirt wears eye make-up; her long lashes are lengthened and filled out and blackened by mascara. The flirt has lips puffed by injections of toxic substances; she has no wrinkles, for the same reason. The flirt has very big hair. Over the years, the flirt's clothing has become more and more revealing, using less and less fabric.


The flirt wears Manolos or, if she's a low-rent flirt, Manolo knock-offs. Whichever they are, she can't walk in them any longer than it takes to get from her front door to the waiting taxicab. She can, however, when she wants, dance in them all night long.


The flirt smiles a lot, especially when she is surrounded by men. Where did she learn to do this? As a four-year-old winding daddy around her little finger? As a pre-teen giggling with her buddies during a sleepover? As a teenager watching music videos that glorify the flirt? However she learned it, her kittenish mannerisms are natural to her now, not second-nature but first-nature. Her kittenish ways are what she thinks of (were she to think this way) as her true self.


Does the flirt have long-term goals? A short-term goal might be to attract all the men at the party, or to go home with one of them. But long-term? Does she want my husband? Yours? Any? If she were to marry, would her husband insist that she stop her flirting ways and avoid parties? Can a leopard change its spots? Well, if the leopard is actually wearing a skin-tight leopard-skin print, she certainly can change it. She can wear sweatpants and stay home and cook bacon and eggs for her hubby.


What an ignominious end for a flirt!


I am not a flirt. When I am among my husband's business associates, I am invisible. Three or four of them, after several years of opportunity, have learned to acknowledge my existence. But only one actually talks to me at length. He is not a flirt, but compared to the lack of attention afforded me by the others, his attentions feel as good as if he were. He responds to what I say. He smiles at me. If this be flirting, I say, let's have more of it.


At a party, wives keep their eyes peeled for flirts. Tightly knotted around the mantel, the chatting wives seem to be engrossed in their conversation. But, like the ant-guards posted around an ant-hill, certain of the women are on the alert for flirts. They know where their men are and what they are doing. And if they see a predator (sorry, a flirt) approach the hockey-talking, weather-reporting men, they warn the other women in the knot without a word, and action is taken. The knot untangles and the women drift slowly throughout the room, throwing blocking maneuvers or distractions at danger points. A flirt doesn't stand a chance against this determined and aware spousal sideswipe.  Wives 1, Flirt 0. Men: still without a clue.


Copyright 2009 Ann Tudor   

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

These Johnson Bones

Some people have bones that float, bones that are filled with air. These people can swim easily. Buoyed by their bones, they stay afloat with little effort and they devote their swimming energy to the business of propelling themselves forward.


My bones are heavy. Oh, I know, that's the goal established by today's medical gurus. And I don't know whether the lifelong density of my bone structure is the same kind of density that the doctors are exhorting us to achieve.


Let me get to the point here: I am a terrible swimmer. The history of my body in water is not a pretty one. I like to attribute this failure to my extraordinarily heavy bones, though my reluctance to put my face in the water probably also has something to do with it.


We had no swimming pool (or Old Swimming Hole, either) where I grew up. But one summer when I was 13, the high school organized swimming classes at a pool in the big city down the road. The classes were to be taught by our own Coach Miller, who led all our local high school sports teams.


Coach Miller was over six feet tall, young, and handsome by anyone's standards. He was the kind of teacher who inspires high school boys to great loyalty and high school girls to ardent crushes.


Here's what I remember about that first swimming class. We beginners were in the water, hanging on to the edge of the pool in a tuck position with our feet on the pool wall. At a signal from Coach Miller, we were to push off with our legs and float on our backs. Coach Miller described what this would be like, this floating. We would be able, he said, to extend our arms, relax our legs and torsos, and just float, breathing naturally.


On the signal, all ten of us little fledgling fish pushed off and floated. I relaxed. I kept my eyes closed so as to concentrate better on what I was doing, or to keep the chlorine out. But I was floating. I was relieved to know that I had passed the first test of the class. Look, ma! I'm floating on my back!


The next thing I knew Coach Miller had jumped into the water and was lifting me up. It seems I was doing everything exactly right. I was indeed floating. Unfortunately, I was floating a foot below the surface and thus in danger of drowning should I try to take a breath.


My body does not float.


This was the start of my confrontational relationship with water.


A one-term swimming class was compulsory for freshmen girls at my university. The teacher was Miss Somebody (her name is gone, but I can see her as clearly as if I'd seen her yesterday). She assigned us positions in the lanes. My position was right next to the pool wall. And as I swam, pluckily attempting all the strokes she was teaching us, Miss Somebody walked along the edge of the pool. Right beside me.


I thought nothing of this. Someone had to be in that lane, after all.


It was only years later that I learned that my sister Sari, who entered that same university four years after me, also had Miss Somebody as her swimming teacher. And she also was assigned to the lane beside the wall. And Miss Somebody walked alongside her through every exercise.


These family bones: long and lanky, and apparently as dense as bricks.


Copyright 2009 Ann Tudor   

Monday, August 10, 2009

On Angels

I was brought up to believe in angels and, as a pupil in a two-room Catholic school, to pray to my guardian angel before recess each day. Like my classmates, I delivered the prayer in a rapid-fire monotone, but I was nonetheless praying to an angel.


In the course of our school lessons, angels came and went, appearing to virgins, wrestling with prophets, and even challenging the authority of God (and didn't THAT lead to trouble!). I don't remember any math problems based on the number of angels that could dance on the head of a pin, but we were just one step away from that.


Angels afford endless speculation to theologians of all religions. Christian theologians revealed a lot about themselves when they drew up their hierarchy of angelic orders, insisting that there were seven angelic divisions headed by archangels and categorically stating that the various seraphim, cherubim, and others added up to a total of 496,000 angels.


When I withdrew from my childhood religion, having chanced upon its enormous feet of clay, I threw out the baby with the bathwater. I renounced angels as well as the dogma that I found as encrusted with man-made rules as a sunken ship is with barnacles. Organized religion and its baggage were not for me.


Well, you can take the girl away from the angels, but apparently you can't take the angels away from the girl. When I began writing stories from my life, I gradually saw that the stories were connected by two themes: first, every story involved an automobile; and second, I was a lucky duck to have survived each event. It was not a great leap to realize that angels must have been involved. It couldn't have been coincidence alone that led to my escaping my just deserts so many times. The conclusion was inevitable: angels were in my life!


When these stories took place, angels were far from my mind. I neither believed nor disbelieved; I just didn't give them a thought. But it is clear from the stories that the angels were there. If you believe in angels, that is.


Now, I see that angels guide my life. Something kept me safe through that series of missteps, misadventures, and just plain stupidities. Maybe it wasn't angels, for how on earth can one tell for sure? For my part, I don't categorize my angels as the medieval theologians did. I don't even envision them. I just know that some energy, some spirit or being, has, many times during my life, turned away almost certain disaster. I have to admit that these may not have been MY angels. It's quite possible that they were protecting another person in my little drama: someone else, for example, in that car that spun off the road. So I won't claim any of these as my own personal guardian angel. But some force, some being or group of beings, has exerted a lot of effort over the years, and I certainly did profit from it.


So I say hallelujah!

Copyright 2009 Ann Tudor   

Saturday, August 1, 2009

Things That Get Lost

I've lost so many things in my life. For long periods of time I have lost the ability to be happy, though I usually find it again eventually. During the big move from Hawaii to Tennessee in 1961, I lost my most favorite pair of navy blue sling-back calf-skin pumps with three-inch heels. They had cost $25 before I went to Hawaii, and my father had been furious: "$25 for a pair of shoes!" he yelled.


We lose our direction, lose our goals, would lose our own souls if they weren't fastened to us with golden strings. We're careless with all our things, taking them for granted, assuming that we'll always have our health, our friends, our ability to live just as we want to. One look at the world around us should suffice to wake us up and make us treasure whatever we have: health, love, a mind that more or less works, stability.


But no-o-o. We consistently move into complacency, accepting all these gifts as a birthright. We secretly blame those not so gifted: if they had just been more like us, they would still have what they have lost. What arrogance! What arrant nonsense we allow ourselves to believe. Helen Keller has that wonderful bit about how security is not natural to man, that security is a foolish goal and striving for it distracts us from more important pursuits.  But do we heed these words? They come from someone who certainly knew about facing the world without security. And do we heed them? What do you think?


As I've moved on in this world of loss (oh, the things I lost in childhood), life has become a journey of acquiring rather than a journey of loss. With hard work, the grace of the Universe, and the help of a world of teachers, I've found more than I ever lost. I've found my self, my soul, my voice, my voice again. I've found my being. And as I settle in to this new-found-ed-ness, I begin to recover even what was once lost.


Memories of childhood days return, not lit by gold as one might have wished, but outlined boldly against the dying light. In fact, I've found most of what I'd lost, except for the navy sling-backs. Someone other than me got the box they were packed in, those beloved shoes, and I hope they enjoyed wearing them. Me, I've lost the ability to wear high heels of any kind, and that's a loss I don't regret.


Nothing is really ever lost at all. Life is like a big computer. It seems to gobble up what you've just written, but if you know enough (or know someone who knows enough and can teach you), you can always find that disappeared piece. It's just in hiding, taking a break, waiting for you to be ready to hear it again.


Lost things aren't necessarily lost; they've just decided to belong to another person. My favorite beret, which I had trimmed with beads and buttons, is now on someone else's head. But that gives me the chance to make another one, using even prettier beads, taking even more time with it, making it more precious and admirable and mine. Until I lose this one, too (and that would be the third buttoned-and-beaded beret I will have lost) and it lands on someone else's cold head.


Everything lost is found again—by someone.

Copyright 2009 Ann Tudor